Wednesday, August 16, 2006

On vacation for a few days

We're leaving Thursday for a few days in Door County, the Wisconsin "thumb" that juts out between Green Bay and Lake Michigan, above Algoma and its red lighthouse. No computer, no PDA, nothing that connects to the net, nada. Back refreshed with new posts Sunday or Monday.

During Letter from Here's brief hiatus, you might want to check out a baker's dozen of reruns from the archives.
Where did all the stuff go?

The trouble with the conventional wisdom is that it's conventional

Rest easy. Things could be a lot worse. The Rapture Index is holding steady at about 158, or thereabouts

Develop your powers of visual thinking by drawing stick figures

Where is Herblock when we need him?

Faith and reason at the abyss -- then and now

Isn't it a little early to give up on planet Earth?

Iran: Why not just go on and break all the pottery?

Were Martin Amis and John Updike taken in by blowback from an anti-Muslim disinformation campaign?

Bush to planet Earth: Drop dead!

Truth flies like a sparrow

The shape of the universe as ruffled crochet work

When the world revolves around you, it's easy to mistake a person for a Kleenex
Or, if you crave more current fare, check out the links to the blogs on our blogroll. You can't go wrong there.

Elephant in the room that needs to be discussed

Remember the anthrax attacks in the fall of 2001? The unsolved anthrax attacks? DarkSyde, the fine science writer at Daily Kos, raises the issue today. He also references a post at AmericaBlog. I blogged about this a few months ago here.
The elephant in the room that nobody talks about today and scarcely seems to remember is anthrax — specifically the attacks in the fall of 2001 that brought the U.S. Postal Service to its knees and traumatized not only the American public but their targets in the news media and in Congress. That's really when everything changed and fear became a driving force in our political life in a way it had not since the nuclear hysteria of the early cold war. It was the fear of anthrax, not nukes, that gave Colin Powell's presentation to the UN what credibility it had. It was fear of anthrax, more than anything else, that drove us into Iraq. The FBI eventually said the strain of anthrax used in the attacks came from U.S. weapons labs, the perpetrator has never been caught and — theoretically — could strike again, but the entire country acts as if this were unimportant, not worthy of discussion. Strange. We're probably still afraid. It's time we started talking about it.
It's entirely possible that Iraq would never have happened without this "little" extra bit of terrorism. All the other flimsy parts of the rationale might have collapsed of their own weight -- but the anthrax really terrified people, so much so that we've engaged in a collective, repressed amnesia ever since. Remember, Colin Powell told the UN -- and the world -- that Saddam had truckloads of this stuff.

How quickly we forget.

We'll probably never be able to sort out what really happened and whodunit. But we should at least discuss the crucial role it played in the buildup to the war.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Becoming just another corporate old fart?

Alas, Google is growing up and becoming as stodgy as all the other grownup corporations, firing off lawyerly letters to media companies, asking them to stop using their trademarked name in vain -- that is, as a noun or verb. As a trademark, it can only be used as a capitalized adjective. The Independent quotes this masterpiece of corporate-speak from a spokesman:
We think it's important to make the distinction between using the word Google to describe using Google to search the internet, and using the word Google to describe searching the internet. It has some serious trademark issues."
Interestingly enough, apparently the spokesman couldn't talk about this issue without violating the trademark himself -- i.e., using Google as a noun. From a legal standpoint, he should have said "doing a Google search of the internet" or "using the Google search engine to search the internet" -- i.e., he should have used Google as an adjective. As the examples they sent out with their letter made perfectly clear:
"Appropriate: I ran a Google search to check out that guy from the party.

"Inappropriate: I googled that hottie."
It's all pretty silly when you stop and consider that Google's core product is one that deliberately treats upper-case and lower-case spellings of the same word as identical. In other words, the Google search engine itself can't tell the difference between the trademark and its violation. Hmm ... would you call that a bug, or a feature?

I deal with these nits all the time in my other life, where I edit business magazines, so allow me to vent for a moment. The effort of giant companies to keep their trademarks from becoming as generic as kleenex and xerox has always struck me as benighted at best and absolutely malignant at worst. How has Kleenex suffered? Or Xerox? (Well, Xerox has seen better days, but that's hardly because of trademark confusion.) If anything, achieving generic trademark status is a marketing plus -- especially if customers reach you through a proprietary URL that everyone knows. If Google ever lost "" they would have something to worry about. The trademark? So what?

It's amazing how many attorneys corporate America employs just to enforce trademarks, leaving aside other varieties of intellectual property. It doesn't do much to increase productivity, but it sure does make work for lawyers.

Before Google went public it did not waste its resources with frivolous legalities like this (frivolous, perhaps not in the strict legal sense, but the business sense). They were too busy. They had a company to build, a world to change.

After Google went public and they were rolling in even more cash than they already had, they may have started running out of productive uses for the money. The cost of hiring way too many lawyers must have seemed trivial compared to their total asset base. Probably they could no longer resist the temptation. This is the result -- a kind of hardening of the corporate arteries. Hey, guys -- remember your frugal youth and what you used to say?

"Do no evil."

Ceci n'est pas un lapin

New York Times/Xianfeng David Gu and Shing-Tung Yau

Topographically, this is not a rabbit. It's a sphere. The New York Times explains why this may prove to be the single greatest mathematical discovery of the 21st century.
To a topologist, a rabbit is the same as a sphere. Neither has a hole. Longitude and latitude lines on the rabbit allow mathematicians to map it onto different forms while preserving information.
Some things are just more surreal than even Magritte could imagine.

UPDATE: 8/26/06.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Monday Sunrise Blogging

Winning the apocalyptic jackpot

Had a terrific time Sunday at Madison's Goodman Pool, but for the first time, I happened to actually look at the number below the barcode on my pool pass:
I seem to have won the apocalyptic jackpot -- the Number of the Beast, and it's all mine.
Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six. -- Book of Revelation 13:18. (King James)
Other than that, it was a great day.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Does Lebanon foretell World War III as Spain did World War II? New Seymour Hersh report suggests it might.

Is it a dress rehearsal where the future combatants can test their tactics and try to intimidate each other? The perfect neocon wet dream? Seymour Hersh’s latest story in the New Yorker suggests that may be the case. It’s pretty spooky.
The Bush Administration, however, was closely involved in the planning of Israel’s retaliatory attacks. President Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney were convinced, current and former intelligence and diplomatic officials told me, that a successful Israeli Air Force bombing campaign against Hezbollah’s heavily fortified underground-missile and command-and-control complexes in Lebanon could ease Israel’s security concerns and also serve as a prelude to a potential American preemptive attack to destroy Iran’s nuclear installations, some of which are also buried deep underground.
There was plenty of hubris to go around on all sides.
The United States and Israel have shared intelligence and enjoyed close military cooperation for decades, but early this spring, according to a former senior intelligence official, high-level planners from the U.S. Air Force—under pressure from the White House to develop a war plan for a decisive strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities—began consulting with their counterparts in the Israeli Air Force.

“The big question for our Air Force was how to hit a series of hard targets in Iran successfully,” the former senior intelligence official said. “Who is the closest ally of the U.S. Air Force in its planning? It’s not Congo—it’s Israel. Everybody knows that Iranian engineers have been advising Hezbollah on tunnels and underground gun emplacements. And so the Air Force went to the Israelis with some new tactics and said to them, ‘Let’s concentrate on the bombing and share what we have on Iran and what you have on Lebanon.’ ” The discussions reached the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, he said.

“The Israelis told us it would be a cheap war with many benefits,” a U.S. government consultant with close ties to Israel said. “Why oppose it? We’ll be able to hunt down and bomb missiles, tunnels, and bunkers from the air. It would be a demo for Iran.”
That really worked well, didn’t it? While you might think that the bloody results in Lebanon, and the fact that the campaign was by no means a clear-cut victory for Israel, might curb some of the martial enthusiasm of the Mideast hawks. You would be wrong.
The surprising strength of Hezbollah’s resistance, and its continuing ability to fire rockets into northern Israel in the face of the constant Israeli bombing, the Middle East expert told me, "is a massive setback for those in the White House who want to use force in Iran. And those who argue that the bombing will create internal dissent and revolt in Iran are also set back."

Nonetheless, some officers serving with the Joint Chiefs of Staff remain deeply concerned that the Administration will have a far more positive assessment of the air campaign than they should, the former senior intelligence official said. "There is no way that Rumsfeld and Cheney will draw the right conclusion about this," he said. "When the smoke clears, they’ll say it was a success, and they’ll draw reinforcement for their plan to attack Iran."
Billmon has a terrific analysis of Hersh’s report and what it means in his Whiskey Bar blog. His conclusion is sobering, to say the least.
Yes, a difficult and delicate situation [Billmon writes, quoting Rumsfeld’s August 3 congressional testimony]. Which is why I wouldn't be surprised if we see the nuclear option put back on table very shortly.

Sunday Bumper Sticker Blogging