Saturday, May 28, 2005


Over the Top

A few months ago some talking heads predicted that the Republican Party would start to fracture. This week I saw convincing evidence that such a fracture is occurring. Consider the following:

It seems to me that the influence of the "Bible Belt" on the Republican Party and on national policy has peaked. I hope it's all down hill from here.

Thursday, May 19, 2005


Revenge of the Neocons against Rather and Newsweek

Dan Rather of CBS and Newsweek Magazine have been caught in the same snare. Both have published stories that seemed to be true. However, the sources of the stories were suspect. Rather relied on documents that were shown to be at best recent copies of old documents and at worst forgeries. Newsweek relied on a single, supposedly reliable source. The story and source were later discredited by the Pentagon.

Everyone has been jumping on Rather and Newsweek for relying on bogus or weak sources. Nobody has been asking whether the stories might in fact be true. Both Rather and Newsweek have been blamed for jumping the gun to get the stories out quickly. They have been blamed for not checking sources more carefully, for trying to find independent corroborators, and other practices of good journalism. The result of the critical attacks on Rather and Newsweek has been to convince part of the public that the stories themselves are utterly false and thus divert attention away from the peccadillos of Mr. Bush and his administration.

Consider Bush's National Guard record. It's been widely publicized that he received some important favors. He was allowed to transfer from the Texas National Guard to the Alabama National Guard so that he could assist a family friend in a political campaign. No one denies the transfer. No one denies his work in the political campaign. He's the son of a rich and politically influential man. It would be surprising if he hadn't received other preferential treatment during his tour of duty in the Guard. Rather's story was entirely credible even though Rather's proof was suspect. Rather should have dug deeper and found other witnesses before airing the story.

The Newsweek apology, published and aired earlier this week, was an admission of regret for the damage that the story might have caused as well as regret for not finding other sources to back up the story. The story itself was credible, since other events of similar nature have been reported in other detention facilities run by the American army. It has been rather common practice to denigrate Islam as a technique to demoralize Muslim prisoners and to make them tell the secrets of the organizations they belong to.

Some seventy years ago a famous mathematician showed that there are theorems in various branches of mathematics that are unprovable but true. In some cases, one has to go to a higher level of mathematics to find the proof. Of course, it has always been the case that there are false theorems that can't be prooved. Journalism is like mathematics in this regard.

Some truths are unpopular. Bush and his neocon and conservative Christian allies have never liked Dan Rather and took the opportunity provided by his haste to air his Bush story to take him down. In fact, they took him out of his job as the anchor for CBS News. They didn't mind the Newsweek story until it seemed that it had caused embarrassing riots in Pakistan. These people don't like the whole truth, just the truth that suits them.

Thursday, May 05, 2005


About Indexing Social Security

Indexing is the name of some scheme for arranging Social Security payments so that if you are poor (by some definition of income) the benefits will increase in the same way as wages increase, while if you are not poor (middle class or rich) the benefits will increase less rapidly, according to the way prices increase. One long-term result will be that the middle class and rich will be less apt to support the program than the poor, since they will not get as much out of it. Divide and govern. The Democrats seem inclined to go along with this "compromise."

Conservative Republicans have hated the Social Security program from the beginning. The conservative belief is that all individuals should take care of themselves and not depend on government. It is not, according to conservatives, a proper function of government to take care of people. Government should take care of property, provide safe money, keep the communists from invading and taking over the country, and leave business alone. Now they have a chance to get rid of Social Security. A frontal attack can't succeed because the program has very wide public support. However, if that support can be split, if an important segment of the public can be persuaded that the program isn't worth keeping, then it will be possible to abolish it.

An attempt at splitting the support was made a few months ago by assuring that anyone born before 1950 would enjoy all the expected benefits on retirement. Younger workers, many of whom had expressed the belief that "social security would't be there for them when they retire," were tempted with the vision of personal savings accounts and a forever rising stock market. That ploy hasn't worked.

We shall see whether the indexing ploy works. It won't be necessary to convince the middle class workers that social security with indexing will make the program less desirable. That change of mind can come later, perhaps twenty years from now. Right now indexing seems to be a "humane" way of "fixing" a system that is predicted to go broke in forty years. Of course that prediction is rather dubious and depends on the choice and manipulation of statistical data.

My thought about this prediction? A saying comes to mind: Figures don't lie, but liars use figures. Another saying: There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005


I Go to Breakfast

After an absence of a year or so, I went this morning to the monthly breakfast in Torrance for us old geezers who have retired from the AiResearch Company. More specifically, we all used to work in the Laboratory Department. That's the department that tested prototypes of equipment under development. Testing of manufactured products was done in a different department with different personnel with different budgets.

This morning I set out from my home in Woodland Hills, California at 6:25. It was a cloudy morning and I didn't need to put on the clip-on sunglasses I carry in the car. I arrived at Billy's Cafe in Torrance at 7:20. It's a distance of about 33 or 34 miles, so you can calculate my average speed if you wish. The side room in the restaurant was set up for our group. We meet there on the first Wednesday of each month. Several tables were set up in the form of a tall "T". I was the first one and I took a seat next to the base of the "T" and waited. About 7:45, other retirees began to come in. Jim Matthews was first. He sat opposite me and we talked about his prowess at lifting weights and about a problem he'd had that left him temporarily senseless and paralyzed in his arms. He's back to lifting weights and has lifted 300 pounds, from a sitting position with the weight behind him. He must have strong legs and a strong spine.

Pretty soon the others showed up: Carlos Rivas, Ed Lee, Tom Chester, Art Kusuhara, Dick Burge, Ray Picarillo, Bob McCommon, Al Pearson, and Ed Blacksmith. Dick brought a slide and a viewer so that we could all look at the slide: a picture of a very fancy fish. I think it's called a lion fish. By that time there were two or three separate conversations going on. I couldn't keep track of all of them. There was mention of retirees we all knew who had died during the past year. Someone was talking about military strategy in the present Iraq war and about the strategy in the Viet Nam war. Perhaps strategy is the wrong word. The talk was about how the politicians mismanaged the war (both of them) and that if we get into a war we should do whatever it takes to win. As far as I could hear, no one raised the question as to whether we ought to have been involved in war to begin with, either in Iraq or Viet Nam.

Someone suggested that I should try to pick up Leo Procenko next time I come to the breakfast. He lives not far from the San Diego Freeway. I promised to get in touch with Leo and invite him.

I asked, but no one had any news about Lou Kelemen. Someone said that Buster Nissen lives close by to the restaurant. That triggered a pair of memories that I shared. Once when I was in Copenhagen on a tour, I met a Dane who looked exactly like Uffe Moller. Once when I was in Moscow on another tour, our group attended an evening performance. There was a tour group from Hungary also attending the performance. One of the Hungarians looked exactly like Lou Kelemen. Someone remarked that everyone in the world has a double somewhere. I commented that I felt sorry for my double, being such a homely fellow.

I recall that many years ago my wife and I attended a meeting of some sort in Van Nuys. My seat was on the end of a row. Across the aisle from me was a man who looked exactly like Don Nickolls. He didn't recognize me, so I knew it wasn't Don. Another recollection I have is that once, when my wife and I visited a historical area near Santa Cruz, I saw a disabled man, partly paralyzed, who looked exactly like John Ballenger. Again, he didn't recognize me. He must have been John's double. It's rather eerie. John had once moved from Florida to Santa Cruz for reasons having to do with his health. However, John has since moved back to Florida and for several years afterward was a tour guide, an impossible profession for the man I saw near Santa Cruz.

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