Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Wanted: Reason to Attack Iran

Aigh! Aigh! Aigh! Iran's arming Iraqi insurgents! Invade! Attack!

Well, guess that sort of fell to the wayside (TPM). Oops.

Guess it's not as easy to stir up panic as it was 2-3 years ago.

Just what does it take to incite a panicked attack of a random nation these days?

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

So *That's* Where All the RE Money Went!

Living in Silicon Valley and watching the real-estate market shoot up and up for the last 10+ years, I knew something was up.

I had a pretty-good handle on why people were able to get the easy money necessary to spend $600k+ on a 800 sqft crackerbox that any young professional couple should be able to afford but couldn't. I also knew that banks were giving huge loans to anyone willing to say, "Sure, I make that much money". I also knew that the banks were making money on bundling these loans and passing them off to someone else. The only thing unanswered was, "Who's getting stuck with these bad loans?"

Well damned if they aren't turning up now:

Jeff Matthews

Mystery solved?

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Military and Iraq: Criminals OK, Gays, Not So Much

Crooks and Liars

Relgion Conflicts with Reason, not Science

My letter to Andrew Sullivan regarding his "Blogologue" with Sam Harris about Religion vs. Science.


What is your goal in your debate with Sam Harris?

Is your goal to "win"? I can't help you there.

Is your goal to better understand what we are and why? I have a suggestion: stop it with the Faith vs. Science bit.

This debate about religion has never been about "science"; it's about reason, it's about rationality.

Religion is entirely subjective. Full Stop.

Anything that can be "anything I want based on my desires at a given time" conflicts with reason.

Science is but a small subset of reason. If religion were to (again) subjugate science, religion would still have reason to deal with.

Can Religion be objective? Good question. Bit the lack of objectivity is the core of religion's problems and society's problems with religion...not science.

Religion: Cargo Cults

Damned Interesting

John Frum and the Cargo Cults
Posted by Gerry Matlack on February 19th, 2007 at 9:07 am

John Frum Day paradeJohn Frum Day paradeEvery year on February 15th, natives of Tanna Island in the Republic of Vanuatu hold a grand celebration in honor of an imaginary man named John Frum. Villagers clothe themselves in homemade US Army britches, paint "USA" on their bare chests and backs, and run a replica of Old Glory up the flagpole alongside the Marine Corps Emblem and the state flag of Georgia. Barefoot soldiers then march in perfect step in the shadow of Yasur, the island's active volcano, with red-tipped bamboo "rifles" slung over their shoulders. February 15th is known as John Frum day on Tanna Island, and these activities are the islanders' holiest religious service.

The Vanuatu island group lies northeast of Australia and southeast of Malaysia and the Philippines. Prior to contact with Europeans, the people who lived there were primitive tribal societies. Many of history's stereotypes and legends regarding island cannibals originated from these societies; slain enemies and the occasional missionary were eaten, sometimes in the hopes of gaining magical powers, and other times due to food shortages.

Eventually the New Hebrides islands (as they were then called) were colonized and placed under joint British and French rule. Christian missionaries formed a makeshift government and court system which punished islanders for following many of their long-held customs, such as dancing, swearing, adultery, and polygamy. The colonizers also forbade working and amusement on Sundays. The islanders lived under this oppression for thirty years before a fellow native rallied the people and promised an age of abundance to any who would reject the European ways. He went by the alias "John Frum," a name possibly derived from the phrase "John from Jesus Christ"– namely John the Baptist. Many islanders joined him, and the cult moved inland to escape the missionaries and return to their old traditions.

One day in the early 1940s, the relatively isolated group of islands was descended upon by hundreds of thousands of American soldiers who arrived by sea and by air. The world was at war, and America had plans to build bases on the Pacific islands. The newcomers recruited the locals' assistance in constructing hospitals, airstrips, jetties, roads, bridges, and corrugated-steel Quonset huts, all of which were strange and wondrous to the natives. But it was the prodigious amounts of war materiel that were airdropped for the US bases that drastically changed the lifestyle of the islanders. They observed as aircraft descended from the sky and delivered crates full of clothing, tents, weapons, tools, canned foods, and other goods to the island's new residents, a diversity of riches the likes of which the islanders had never seen. The natives learned that this bounty from the sky was known to the American servicemen as "cargo."

Map of VanuatuThese new occupiers proved to be far better guests than the British missionaries had been. The islanders were further astonished at the sight of black GIs among the ranks, enjoying all the benefits of cargo that the white soldiers enjoyed– something that the black islanders had been denied with rare exception. The islanders believed that their own dead ancestors continued to influence the communities of the living, and that their ancestors would one day come back to life and distribute to them unimaginable wealth. Therefore they reasoned that the white people must have had connections to their own ancestors, who would logically be the only ones powerful enough to rain down such wondrous riches.

It was during the war that the John Frum legend changed, recasting the religious icon as a black American infantryman. The black GIs were believed to have been John Frum's own detachment of the US Army, or perhaps the grown children of islanders believed to have been kidnapped by plantation owners long ago. It was said that John Frum lived inside the island's volcano, called "Yasur"– the native word for "God."

When the war ended several years later, the Americans departed as suddenly as they had arrived. Military bases were abandoned, and the steady flow of cargo which had altered the islanders' lives completely dried up. The men and women of Tanna Island had grown to enjoy the radios, trucks, boats, watches, iceboxes, medicine, Coca-Cola, canned meat, and candy, so they set into motion a plan to bring back the cargo. They had surreptitiously learned the secrets of summoning the cargo by observing the practices of the American airmen, sailors and soldiers.

The islanders set to work clearing their own kind of landing strips, and they erected their own control towers strung with rope and bamboo aerials. They carved wooden radio headsets with bamboo antennae, and even the occasional wooden air-traffic controller. Day after day, men from the village sat in their towers wearing their replica headsets as others stood on the runways and waved the landing signals to attract cargo-bringing airplanes from the empty sky. More towers were constructed, these with tin cans strung on wires to imitate radio stations so John Frum could communicate with his people. Piers were also erected in an effort to attract ships laden with cargo, and the Red Cross emblem seen on wartime ambulances was taken as the symbol of the resurging religion. Today villages surrounding Yasur Volcano are dotted with little red crosses surrounded by picket fences, silently testifying to the islander’s faith.

The priests and prophets of the John Frum cult, called "messengers," foretold the return of planes and ships bearing cargo for the people of Tanna escorted by John Frum himself. The movement declared that in addition to returning to their "kastom" [custom] ways, money was to be thrown away, gardens be left untended, and pigs killed since all material wealth will be provided in the end by John Frum. Their god has yet to emerge from his home inside the volcano to bring the promised riches, and at least one visitor’s guide offers this advice: "If you question a local about their beliefs, they will most likely reply that you have been waiting for your messiah to return for over 2000 years – while they have been waiting for only 70."

Yasur the volcanoYasur the volcanoDespite gaining their independence and becoming familiar with the workings of the world around them, new beliefs arise on the island regularly. A visit to the village of Yaohnanen in 1974 by Prince Phillip resulted in the formation of a Prince Phillip cult. Its followers believe that Phillip originally came from Tanna, albeit in a different form, and that he will eventually return to rule over them. A recent development is the appearance of the Prophet Fred, an actual person who claims to have raised his wife from the dead in early 2006. He preaches a turn to more mainstream Christianity, and his followers have had violent clashes with those of John Frum.

Vanuatu is not the earliest and far from the only place in Melanesia where cargo cults have existed. The origin of the earliest cargo cults in general can be traced back to 1871, when the Russian explorer Nikolai Miklouho-Maclay landed in Papua New Guinea bearing gifts of goods such as steel axe heads and bolts of cloth. Inevitably, missionaries soon arrived and began distributing goods. Initially all efforts to convert the natives proved useless, but one day the natives suddenly started converting in droves. The men and women of the island had theorized that learning the rituals of the Europeans would allow them to gain the secrets of cargo.

The religions introduced by missionaries were completely inconsistent with islanders' long-held beliefs, yet the natives could not deny the call of the cargo. The people therefore attempted to reconcile their existing beliefs with the missionaries' teachings, a practice which led to some strange interpretations. In New Guinea, one resulting version of Christianity described a god named Anus who delivered cargo of canned meat, steel tools, rice, and matches to Adam and Eve. When they discovered sex, Anus ejected them from Eden and struck them with a flood.

On the Island of New Hanover in the Bismark Archipelago, another cargo cult arose in 1968 claiming that the true secret of cargo was known to only one man: President Lyndon Johnson. The natives of this island revolted against their Australian rulers, saved up $75,000, and sent a letter to Johnson offering to buy him and make him King of New Hanover. Strangely enough, he didn't accept.

Renowned physicist Richard Feynman coined the phrase "cargo cult science" based on such cults. The term draws a metaphor for research which is polluted by the mind's tendency to cherry-pick evidence that supports the desired outcome. Though it is tempting to look down on these islanders for their misguided assumptions, they are simply an extreme example of this very human bias. For them it was easier to believe that the control towers, headsets, and runways were the cause of the cargo-carrying airplanes rather than an effect, so they closed their minds to alternative explanations.

Some of these cargo cults continue to operate today, such as the parade-marching pseudo-marines of Vanuatu. So far no black US infantryman have crawled from the volcano to deliver the islanders' salvation, but every year they confidently hoist their flags and don their uniforms, so they'll be ready when that glorious day finally arrives. Perhaps one day it will.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Repulicans Supporting Our Troops

Brilliant at Breakfast

Washington Post

Iraq War: Lowed Expectations

The Big Picture gives an interesting summary of lowered expections and partisan whining.

Unfortunately, the discourse over the war has been reduced to swapping emotional images and lamenting the PR battle. It saddens me, because it shows how far we have fallen from grace.

To answer the emailer's question, it is not all over the newspapers because its not news. The good guys are supposed to do things like this.


We saved the world from anarchy in the early parts of the last century, from Fascism in the middle of the century, from Communism later in the Century.


Can you imagine partisans whining that US Servicemen had freed the camp victims at Auschwitz -- but there wasn't enough coverage, it wasn't front page news? That rebuilding of Germany and Japan after WWII wasn't getting enough airplay? The foodlifts to Africa, the inventions of life saving medicines, the racing to comfort earthquake victims, tsunami survivors, disasters anywhere on the planet neneded to be exploited further? Back then did anyone cry "Hey, where's our credit?!"


That was a different era. We had leaders of great intellect, courage, and judgement. They surrounded themselves with the best and the brightest. They purposefully kept aides around them who challenged their views, thought strategically, mapped out all possible consequences, believed in Science. They were pragmatic, not idealogues; they were experienced experts, not partisans.

Too many people have lowered their standards to a point that is absurd. Hey, everyone, we repainted a school in Baghdad!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Predicting the Future: The New Dollar Coin Fails (Again)

I've not even seen or felt the new dollar coin and I can already tell you it's gonna fail.

How do I know this? Because I know a "secret" that apparently every coin minter in the US either doesn't know or ignores: It's too close to the size and feel of a quarter.

The Mint is making sure the coins, which are golden in color and slightly larger and thicker than a quarter, will be widely available.

Why did the Susan B. Anthony and the Sacagawea dollar coins fail? Well, according to mint experts, it was because it didn't have an interesting picture.

Do we really need to be wasting our time and expertise on minting coins with pretty pictures? Shouldn't we be requiring that coin collectors pony up for the expense of generating new coins if its really that important to them?

Look, if you insist on making a new dollar coin, you're gonna have to make it a truly unique size. You damn-well DO NOT make it almost indistinguishable from a lower-denomination coin. If there ain't any more "good" coin sizes avaible, then DON'T MAKE IT.

If you're gonna make new coins, you might as well explore how to make them as light as possible. Again, no one wants to be carrying around a pocket full of dollar coins. Anyone who uses the stamp machines at the USPS can attest to this.

It should also tell you something when the only people that use dollar coins are the USPS vending machines... and only for dispensing change at that.

Bye, bye dollar coin... again.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Kudos to Bush Admin

Kudo to the Bush administration for standing up for a government official from the opposition:

Tony Snow:
"As speaker of the House, she is entitled to military transport and ... the proper arrangements are being made between the Sergeant of Arms Office in the House of Representatives and the U.S. Department of Defense," White House spokesman Tony Snow said.

"We think it's appropriate," he added. "And so, again, I think this is much ado about not a whole lot. It is important for the speaker to have this kind of protection and travel."


Thursday, February 08, 2007

TCR: How's the Hunt Going?


My comments on the matter:
If you kill the Bogeyman, who are people to fear?

If there is no fear, what are you to threaten them with?

If you cannot threaten people, how else do you coerce them?

If you cannot coerce people, how can you make them vote for you?

Watch actions... not words.
If you cannot make them vote for you, how do you get elected?

If you cannot get elected, then how do you...

Hmmm...A question there, eh?

What exactly *are* the administrations goals? 'w' certainly does seem stupid, but as inept as this administration seems, it *has* accomplished a few goals.

Look at what this administration *has* accomplished. That will reveal their true intentions.

Hint: GWoT, Bin Laden, et. al are a means, not an end.

Watch actions, not words.

Why Leak Plame?

Sullivan has some interesting questions about the matter and the Libby trial to date.

Ownership Society

Michael Krasney was interviewing P.J. O'Rourke was on KQED this morning as O'Rourke made the lecture circuit shilling his latest book.

The conversation enevitably turned to the Iraq War.

(I'm paraphrasing this conversation)

Q: For or against?
A: Well, I originally supported it - I have no problem admitting that...

Then O'Rourke takes the next five minutes to hem and haw, almost admitting that its a failure but never quite saying that we should do anything other than what the admistration wants to do with it.

A few minutes later a caller rang in to begin berating George w. for starting the war, screwing it up and adding gasoline to the already burning fire.

O'Rourke counters (again I'm paraphrasing) that we can't hold w responsible for the war.


This type of deflection, subject changing and pointing at the moon is now rife in Republican circles. To me, this begs the question: Who is responsible for the war, if not w?

Perhaps its the usual Republican scapegoats.

- Was it "entitlement programs"?

- Are Social Security recipients to blame?

- Did masses of peaceniks gather on the front lawn of the White House demanding that we invade a random country? Did these throngs of people demand that we divert attention from OBL to attack Iraq instead?

- Perhaps it was all that "intelligence" that no one can seem to find anymore.

- Did Congress stand up and demand that w stop ignoring Iraq and do something about it?

I recall watching the build-up to the Iraq War very closely. I distinctly remember the administration selling this war with all the scare tactics that even life insurance salesmen are now loathe to use.

Must have been Nancy Pelosi.

Another favorite diversion is to ask, "Well, if not The Surge, then what?"

I've got an idea: let's do the surge, but instead of the current plan, let's send all the supporters of the war over to clean it up. They've been so full of good ideas for risking other people's blood and treasure, let's give them the opportunity to use some of the those good ideas with their own skins.

Too old, feeble, flat-footed for combat? No problem. We'll set up a "Personal Account" for each war supporter and split the cost of the war amongst them ($400 billion, anyone?) Then we'll raise their taxes by the amount necessary to pay off the current war debt and the amounts going forward to pay for war injuries to American GIs. Think of your country.

Honestly, given the manifest benefits this war has brought us, it's only logical that war supporters should help shoulder some of the glory.

Personal Responsibility
. You knocked her up, war supporters.. now you make the child-support payments for the "birth of a new democracy".

Ownership Society indeed.

Update: Doonesbury finds the person responsible.