Thursday, August 31, 2006

NYT: genetic role in longevity is small

“You really learn very little about your own life span from your parents’ life spans,” Dr. Vaupel said. “That’s what the evidence shows. Even twins, identical twins, die at different times.” On average, he said, more than 10 years apart.

The likely reason is that life span is determined by such a complex mix of events that there is no accurate predicting for individuals. The factors include genetic predispositions, disease, nutrition, a woman’s health during pregnancy, subtle injuries and accidents and simply chance events, like a randomly occurring mutation in a gene of a cell that ultimately leads to cancer.

The result is that old people can appear to be struck down for many reasons, or for what looks like almost no reason at all, just chance. Some may be more vulnerable than others, and over all, it is clear that the most fragile are likely to die first. But there are still those among the fragile who somehow live on and on. And there are seemingly healthy people who die suddenly.

James Lyons used to think his life would be short. Mr. Lyons, a retired executive with the Boy Scouts of America, thought of his father, who died at 55. “He had one heart attack. It was six hours from onset to death, and that was it.”

Then there were his first cousins on his father’s side. One died at 57 and another at 50. “He was in a barber chair and had a heart attack,” Mr. Lyons said of the 50-year-old. “He died on the spot.”

“He was a big strapping guy, 6-4, healthy and energetic. Then, boom. One day he was there, and the next day he was gone.”

“I approached my 50’s with trepidation,” said Mr. Lyons, who lives in Lansing, Mich.

But his 50’s came and went, and now he is 75. He is still healthy, and he has lived longer than most of his ancestors. He is baffled as to why.

It seems like common sense. Family members tend to look alike. And many characteristics are strongly inherited — height, weight, a tendency to develop early onset heart disease or to get diabetes. Even personalities run in families. Life span would seem to fit with the rest.

But scientists have been trying for decades to find out if there really is a strong genetic link to life spans and, if so, to what extent.

They turned to studies of families and of parents and children, but data analysis has been difficult and any definitive answer elusive. If a family’s members tend to live to ripe old ages, is that because they share some genes or because they share an environment?

“Is it good socioeconomic status, good health or good genes?” Dr. Christensen asked. “How can you disentangle it?”

His solution, a classic one in science, was to study twins. The idea was to compare identical twins, who share all their genes, with fraternal twins, who share some of them. To do this, Dr. Christensen and his colleagues took advantage of detailed registries that included all the twins in Denmark, Finland and Switzerland born from 1870 to 1910. That study followed the twins until 2004 to 2005, when nearly all had died.

Now, Dr. Christensen and his colleagues have analyzed the data. They restricted themselves to twins of the same sex, which obviated the problem that women tend to live longer than men. That left them with 10,251 pairs of same-sex twins, identical or fraternal. And that was enough for meaningful analyses even at the highest ages. “We were able to disentangle the genetic component,” Dr. Christensen said.

But the genetic influence was much smaller than most people, even most scientists, had assumed. The researchers reported their findings in a recent paper published in Human Genetics. Identical twins were slightly closer in age when they died than were fraternal twins.

But, Dr. Christensen said, even with identical twins, “the vast majority die years apart.”

The investigators also asked when the genetic factor kicked in. One hypothesis, favored by Dr. Christensen, was that the strongest genetic effect was on deaths early in life. He thought that deaths at young ages would reflect things like inherited predispositions to premature heart disease or to fatal cancers.

But there was almost no genetic influence on age of death before 60, suggesting that early death has a large random component — an auto accident, a fall. In fact, the studies of twins found almost no genetic influence on age of death even at older ages, except among people who live to be very old, the late 80’s, the 90’s or even 100. The average age at which people are dying today in the United States is 68.5 for men, and 76.1 for women, according to Arialdi M. Minio of the National Center for Health Statistics. This statistic differs from life expectancy, which estimates how long people born today are expected to live.

Finding Randomness

Even though there may be a tendency in some rare families to live extraordinarily long, the genetic influence that emerged from the studies of twins was significantly less than much of the public and many scientists think it is.

A woman whose sister lived to be 100 has a 4 percent chance of living that long, Dr. Christensen says. That is better than the 1 percent chance for women in general, but still not very great because the absolute numbers, 1 out of 100 or 4 out of 100, are still so small. For men, the odds are much lower. A man whose sister lived to be 100 has just a 0.4 percent chance of living that long. In comparison, men in general have a 0.1 percent chance of reaching 100.

Those data fit well with animal studies, says Caleb Finch, a researcher on aging at the University of Southern California. Genetically identical animals — from worms to flies to mice — living in the same environments die at different times.

The reason is not known, Dr. Finch said.

“It’s random,” he said. “Since we can’t find any regular pattern, that’s the hand wave explanation — randomness.”

And random can mean more than one thing.

“There are two phases of randomness,” Dr. Finch said. “There’s the randomness of life experiences. The unlucky ones, who get an infection, get hit on the head or get mutations that turn a cell into cancer. And there are random events in development.”

Random cell growth and division and random differences in which genes get turned on and how active they are during development can cause identical twins to have different numbers of cells in their kidneys and even different patterns of folds in their brains, Dr. Finch pointed out. And random differences in development early in life can set the stage for deterioration decades later.

Even diseases commonly thought to be strongly inherited, like many cancers, are not, researchers found. In a paper in The New England Journal of Medicine in 2000, Dr. Paul Lichtenstein of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm and his colleagues analyzed cancer rates in 44,788 pairs of Nordic twins. They found that only a few cancers — breast, prostate and colorectal — had a noticeable genetic component. And it was not much. If one identical twin got one of those cancers, the chance that the other twin would get it was generally less than 15 percent, about five times the risk for the average person but not a very big risk over all.

Looked at one way, the data say that genes can determine cancer risk. But viewed another way, the data say that the risk for an identical twin of a cancer patient is not even close to 100 percent, as it would be if genes completely determined who would get the disease.

Dr. Robert Hoover of the National Cancer Institute wrote in an accompanying editorial: “There is a low absolute probability that a cancer will develop in a person whose identical twin — a person with an identical genome and many similar exposures — has the same type of cancer. This should also be instructive to some scientists and others interested in individual risk assessment who believe that with enough information, it will be possible to predict accurately who will contract a disease and who will not.”

Alzheimer’s disease also has a genetic component, but genes are far from the only factor in determining who gets the disease, said Margaret Gatz of the University of Southern California and Nancy Pedersen of the Karolinska Institute.

Dr. Gatz and Dr. Pedersen analyzed data from a study of identical and fraternal Swedish twins 65 and older. If one of a pair of identical twins developed Alzheimer’s disease, the other had a 60 percent chance of getting it. If one of a pair of fraternal twins, who are related like other brothers and sisters, got Alzheimer’s, the other had a 30 percent chance of getting it.

But, Dr. Pedersen noted, Alzheimer’s is so common in the elderly that it occurs in 35 percent of people age 80 and older. If genes determine who gets Alzheimer’s at older ages, Dr. Pedersen says, “those genes must be very common, have small effects and probably interact with the environment.”

As for other chronic diseases of the elderly, Parkinson’s has no detectable heritable component, studies repeatedly find. Heart disease appears to be indiscriminate, striking almost everyone eventually, says Dr. Anne Newman of the University of Pittsburgh, who has studied it systematically in a large group of elderly people.

But the general picture is consistent in study after study. A strong family history of even a genetically linked disease does not guarantee a person will get it, and having no family history does not mean a person is protected. Instead, chronic diseases strike almost at random among the elderly, making it perhaps not so surprising that life spans themselves have such a weak genetic link.

Matt McGue, a psychology professor at the University of Minnesota who studies twins, contrasts life spans with personality, which, he says, is about 50 percent heritable, or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, which is 70 to 80 percent heritable, or body weight, which is 70 percent heritable.

“I’ve been in this business for a long while, and life span is probably one of the most weakly heritable traits I’ve ever studied,” Dr. McGue said.

Seeking Rare Families

At the National Institute on Aging, the question still hovers: Is it possible to find genetic determinants of exceptional health and longevity?

“If you could identify factors for exceptionally good health, that might allow people to avoid disease,” said Evan Hadley, director of the institute’s geriatrics and clinical gerontology program.

There are two methods to do this, Dr. Hadley said. One is to look at how the genes of centenarians differ from those of the rest of the population. But, he said, that requires that if longevity genes exist, they are common among centenarians. And, so far, such studies have not yielded much that has held up — with one well accepted exception: a gene for a cholesterol-carrying protein that affects risk for heart disease as well as Alzheimer’s disease. Those who have that gene have double the chances of living to 100. But that chance is not much anyway. Only about 2 percent of people born in 1910 could expect to reach 100. The second approach is to look for rare genes in unusually long-lived families. “If there is something in a family, it may be in only one or a few families,” Dr. Hadley said. But it may have a big effect.

So the National Institute on Aging is starting a research project with investigators at three United States medical centers and at Dr. Christensen’s center in Denmark. The plan is to find exceptional families, those in which there is a cluster of very old, closely related members — two sisters in their 90’s, for example — whose children, who would typically be in their 70’s, and grandchildren, can be studied too.

Today, many families have a few members living to advanced ages, but very few families have many of them. And in large families, just by chance, someone may live past 90, but it is unlikely that most of the brothers and sisters will get there. For these families, there does not appear to be a genetic component to life spans.

For now, the study is in a pilot phase, testing a scoring system to define the families who seem to fit the criteria.

“If you are really, really old in a family, that gets you more points,” Dr. Hadley said. “You get more points for being 97 than for being 92. But we also are looking at the whole family structure. If there are just two siblings in a family and both live to 98, that’s very exceptional. But suppose there are eight kids and they all made it to 87. That’s pretty unusual, too.’’

If the researchers find genes in the oldest family members that seem to be associated with protection from a disease like heart disease and with a long life, they will follow the younger members of the family, children in their 60’s and 70’s, asking if the same genes seem to protect them as they age.

Some wonder if the project can succeed, said Dr. Newman, who is directing one study center, at the University of Pittsburgh. “The big debate is, is it possible for there to be a few genes that are protective or is it going to be so complicated that we won’t be able to figure out the genetic factors? Is it going to be that some people are just lucky?”

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Israel's vassal state

AIPAC meets with every candidate running for Congress. These candidates receive in-depth briefings to help them completely understand the complexities of Israel's predicament and that of the Middle East as a whole. We even ask each candidate to author a 'position paper' on their views of the U.S.-Israel relationship, so it's clear where they stand on the subject.
-- Howard Friedman, president, American-Israeli Political Action Commitee

You Go Girl 3

Bush told NBC’s Brian Williams that, besides Camus, he had recently read a book on the Battle of New Orleans and “three Shakespeares.” A White House aide said one of them was “Hamlet.”

The erudite Mr. Bush explained that his reading list is ek-a-lek-tic. See video here.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The inanity of the New York Times 2

"Conservative" government

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Study: Even a Few Extra Pounds Risky


Among about half a million healthy non-smokers, overweight people had a 10 to 50 percent greater risk of dying from heart disease or cancer than normal-weight people.


In a separate analysis of 186,000 healthy people -- who had never smoked -- overweight people were 20 to 40 percent more likely to die prematurely than normal-weight people.

Friday, August 25, 2006

You Go Girl 2

White House aides say the president has read 60 books so far this year.

That would be one book every four days. Most of the books on his list are huge history tombs that run about 800 pages. That's about 200 pages a day, every day, for the last 8 months.

And yet the man still has time to make fart jokes on junior aides.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Stuff happens, man

In the three weeks that followed Baghdad's fall, I was able to go unchallenged into sites of enormous intelligence value, including the Foreign Ministry, Uday's house, and a wiretap center right across Firdos Square from the Sheraton. All three had many sensitive documents but even weeks after the takeover, the only people to take an interest in these document caches were looters, squatters (who burned wiretap transcripts for lighting), journalists, Baathists, Iraqi factions looking for dirt on political rivals, and (possibly) agents of countries hostile to the United States. Neither the Pentagon nor the CIA had a workable plan to safeguard and exploit the vast quantities of intelligence that were available for the taking in Iraq's capital. That information might have provided insight into terrorism—the Foreign Ministry documents included names of jihadists who had come into Iraq before the war—and the incipient insurgency.
-- Ambassador Peter Galbriath

You Go Girl

According to Kim Jong Il's official bio, he claims to have written 1500 books during his college years.

JonBenet and Boulder

A column in the San Francisco Chronicle takes the recent JonBenet flare up to beat up on Boulder. Although a lot of the article is unfair, I must admit that this hit close to home:
The Ramseys were the wrong kind of people in Boulder. It's only OK to be rich here if you wear patchouli and pretend you live in a tent. The Ramseys didn't.

Inhabitants of Boulder are so convinced that a non-Boulder lifestyle is wrong that when JonBenet was killed, few people in town offered sympathy to the Ramseys. The killing was seen as a by-product of the Ramsey existence, of the conservative life. Violence is what you should expect when you aren't a feminist vegan who eschews leather shoes and practices bikram yoga.

Boulder has always carried the suspicion that if the Ramseys had behaved properly, JonBenet's life would have been saved. When you put your 6-year-old daughter in makeup and parade her around on stage, you've made a choice to live on the dark side and you get what comes to you. Boulder was smug when JonBenet was murdered. If the Ramseys' life went to hell, it was proof that the conservative life was the wrong one.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Iraqi Civil War -- the repercussions

From Daniel L. Byman, director of Georgetown University's Center for Peace and Security Studies, and Kenneth M. Pollack, research director at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy. at the Brookings Institution
  • Civil wars tend to inflame the passions of neighboring populations. This is often just a matter of proximity: Chaos and slaughter five miles down the road has a much greater emotional impact than a massacre 5,000 miles away. The problem worsens whenever ethnic or religious groupings also spill across borders. Frequently, people demand that their government intervene on behalf of their compatriots embroiled in the civil war. Alternatively, they may aid their co-religionists or co-ethnics on their own -- taking in refugees, funneling money and guns, providing sanctuary.
  • Iraq's neighbors are vulnerable to this aspect of spillover. Iraq's own divisions are mirrored throughout the region; for instance, Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia all have sizable Shiite communities. In Saudi Arabia, Shiites make up about 10 percent of the population, but they are heavily concentrated in its oil-rich Eastern Province. Bahrain's population is majority Shiite, although the regime is Sunni. Likewise, Iran, Syria and Turkey all have important Kurdish minorities, which are geographically concentrated adjacent to Iraqi Kurdistan.
  • Foreign governments may intervene overtly or covertly to "stabilize" the country in turmoil and stop the refugees pouring across their borders, as the Europeans did during the Yugoslav wars. Neighboring states will intervene to eliminate terrorist groups setting up shop in the midst of the civil war, as Israel did repeatedly in Lebanon. They also may intervene to stem the flow of "dangerous ideas" into their country. Iran and Tajikistan intervened in the Afghan civil war on behalf of co-religionists and co-ethnicists suffering at the hands of the rabidly Sunni, rabidly Pashtun Taliban, just as Syria intervened in Lebanon for fear that the conflict there was radicalizing its Sunni population.
  • States often harbor designs on their neighbors' land and resources and see the chaos of civil war as an opportunity to achieve long-frustrated ambitions
  • Turkey may be the most likely country to overtly intervene in Iraq. Turkish leaders fear both the spillover of Turkish secessionism and the possibility that Iraq is becoming a haven for the PKK. Turkey has already massed troops on its southern border, and officials are threatening to intervene.
  • None of Iraq's neighbors thinks that it can afford to have the country fall into the hands of the other side. An Iranian "victory" would put the nation's forces in the heartland of the Arab world, bordering Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Syria. . . Similarly, a Sunni Arab victory (backed by the Jordanians, Kuwaitis and Saudis) would put radical Sunni fundamentalists on Iran's doorstep -- a nightmare scenario for Tehran.
  • Add in, too, each country's interest in preventing its rivals from capturing Iraq's oil resources. If these states are unable to achieve their goals through clandestine intervention, they will have a powerful incentive to launch a conventional invasion.
  • Such terrorist organizations as Hezbollah, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) were all born of civil wars. They eventually shifted from assaulting their enemies in Lebanon, Sri Lanka, Algeria, Northern Ireland and Israel, respectively, to mounting attacks elsewhere.
  • The turmoil in Iraq has energized young Saudi Islamists. In the future, the balance may shift from Saudis helping Iraqi fighters against the Americans to Iraqi fighters helping Saudi jihadists against the Saudi government, with Saudi oil infrastructure an obvious target.

How to negotiate a price break

From WSJ

Pick your store, and your moment. Try small boutiques and family-owned businesses. Look for somebody who seems knowledgeable and comfortable in their job, not the high-school student who started last week. Go in when the store isn't busy -- a harried staffer has less time or inclination to negotiate.

Ease into it. Chat with the salesperson, and ask a lot about prices, so they can see that is a concern. Ask if they take an American Automobile Association discount, or a local discount card, even if you know they don't. After a few leading questions, it's possible a shopkeeper will simply volunteer 10% off.

Offer to pay in cash. Credit-card companies take 2% to 3% of the price in fees out of the merchant's pocket. At some stores, nicely asking whether you get a break for paying in cash can quickly get you 5% or 10% off -- more than the credit-card fees.

Make it easy for them to pull it off: Ask if it's possible for you to ride on the coattails of a "friends and family" discount, or employee discount.

Call your phone company, ISP and cable providers and say you're thinking about switching. Often, you'll immediately get transferred to the company's "retention" desk, where the staff is prepped with special offers designed to retain wavering customers.

Finally, assume there is a promotion going on. Mr. Doble, author of the book "Savvy Discounts," says he never checks into a hotel before asking, "Don't you have a special at this time of year?" Much of the time, the answer is "yes," he says. And after he has finished cutting a deal, he asks for an upgrade. And free breakfast.

Censorship watch

"The comments were accurate: that I said I had been told this by people. I wish I hadn't said them, and I intend from now on to keep my mouth shut about it."

-- Washington Post reporter Thomas E. Ricks, author of "Fiasco," who said that U.S. military analysts had told him that Israel was intentionally leaving Hezbollah rockets in Lebanon "because as long as they're being rocketed, they can continue to have a sort of moral equivalency in their operations." The Post was immediately set upon by the Israel "lobby."

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Redneck phonies

Great TNR article on George Allen's and George Bush's good-ole-boy schtick:
It's one thing for some redneck raised around all that racist, ignorance-is-bliss nonsense to buy into it. It's quite another for some privileged twit from the West Coast to fall so in love with the cartoon image of Johnny Reb that he starts collecting Confederate memorabilia and dipping Copenhagen just to feel macho. As for Bush's message that intellectual curiosity and academic striving are for elitist girly men: Way to be your own man and thumb your nose at the tediously accomplished Poppy, Georgie Boy. Unfortunately, you make a lousy role model for the vast majority of Americans, who, sadly, don't have a rich, well-connected, exceedingly forgiving daddy to bail their butts out every time they get busted for drunk driving, need a safe place to sit out a war, or manage to drive an oil company into the ground.


John Mark Karr is lying about having killed JonBenet.

King George watch

The Government appears to argue here that, pursuant to the penumbra of Constitutional language in Article II, and particularly because the President is designated Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy, he has been granted the inherent power to violate not only the laws of the Congress but the First and Fourth Amendments of the Constitution, itself.

We must first note that the Office of the Chief Executive has itself been created, with its powers, by the Constitution. There are no hereditary Kings in America and no powers not created by the Constitution. So all “inherent powers must derive from that Constitution.
-- Judge Anna Diggs Taylor, striking down Bush's domestic spying without a warrent

What "last throes" looks like

“The insurgency has more public support and is demonstrably more capable in numbers of people active and in its ability to direct violence than at any point in time."

-- A senior Pentagon official quoted in today's NYT, which notes that July's fun included 2,625 roadside bombs, up from 1,454 in January and the highest ever. Wounded U.S. soldiers (mostly from bombs): 518 in July, up from 287 in January.

"The level of activity that we see today from a military standpoint, I think, will clearly decline. I think they're in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency."

-- Dick Cheney, June 20, 2005

The rock stars of the Middle East

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Just in case you didn't think you were destroying your America

"Every latte and macchiato you drink at Starbucks is a contribution to the close alliance between the United States and Israel"

-- Howard Schultz, Chairman and Chief Global Strategist, Starbucks Coffee Stores.

Dueling histories of the present


1942ists believe that we stand in Iraq today where the U.S. stood shortly after Pearl Harbor: bogged down against a fascist enemy and duty-bound to carry on the fight to victory. To the 1942ist, Iraq is Europe and the Pacific rolled into one, Saddam and Zarqawi are the Hitlers and Tojos of our era, suicide-bombers are the equivalent of kamikazes -- and George Bush is Churchill, or maybe Truman.

1938ists see Iran's march toward nuclear power is the equivalent of Hitler's 1930s brinkmanship. While most '38ists still support the decision to invade Iraq, they increasingly see that struggle as the prelude to a broader regional conflict, and worry that we're engaged in Munich-esque appeasement. If you hear someone compare Ahmadinejad to Hitler, demand a pre-emptive strike on Iran, or suggest that the Hezbollah-Israel battle is a necessary overture to a larger confrontation, you're listening to a 1938ist.

1948ists share the '42ist and '38ist view of the war on terror as a major generational challenge, but insist that we should think about it in terms of Cold War-style containment and multilateralism, not Iraq-style pre-emption.

1972ists hold that George Bush is Nixon, Iraq is Vietnam, and that any attack on Iran or Syria would be equivalent to bombing Cambodia.

As our crisis deepens, it's worth considering 1914ism, and with it the possibility that all of us, whatever year we think it is, are poised on the edge of an abyss that nobody saw coming.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Book notes

"Breach of Faith" by Jed Horne
  • Dr. Mark Perlmutter, an orthopedic surgeon from Pennsylvania who was the only medical practitioner at a Katrina medivac, was ordered to stop giving chest compressions to a dying woman because he wasn't registered with FEMA. The woman and another patient died untreated in front of him. In response to questions about this incident, a FEMA spokewoman said, "We have a cadre of physicians of our own.

"Assasination Vacation" by Sarah Vowell
  • The Lincoln assasination was actually a wider plot to kill the V.P. and Secreatary of State simultaneously. The Johnson and Seward attempts were unsuccessful.
  • The term "his name is mud" apparently came from Dr. Samuel Mudd, who treated Booth's wounds after the Lincoln assasination.
  • There is no plaque marking the spot where James Garflied was shot, close to what is now the National Gallery. But there is a beach named after him where he eventually died -- Long Beach, NJ, which was THE glamour vacation spot of the 19th Century, now a real dump.
  • Garfield's assasin, Guiteau, was a total kook, upset the Garflield wouldn't appoint him Ambassador to France. People attended his murder trial mainly for the comedic value.
  • McKinley was shot at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo. The exposition was supposed to build ties to Latin America but was postponed from 1897 until 1901, because the U.S. was busy invading Cuba.
  • Amazingly, Robert Todd Lincoln was in the vincinity of all three presidential assasinations of the 19th Century -- he was in Washington when his father was shot, he was in the same room when Garfield was shot, and was just rolling into Buffalo as McKinley was shot in the train station.
  • Loius Sullivan (of Lincoln's home state) really slammed the Lincoln Monument. Lewis Mumford said it is not at all a product of Lincoln, who was a down-home guy, not a Greek god. It was a product of the imperialist types of the early 1900's, when it was designed (1913).
  • Picasso's art was very much influenced by Spain's great defeat in the Spanish-American War (Spain calls the that war The Great Disaster)
  • Buffalo has a great constrast of the competing schools of architecture at the start of the 19th Century in the neo-classical Historical Society building, which was built in 1901 for the Pan American exhibition, and, around the corner, a Frank Lloyd Wright house built in 1903.
“The Fame Motive” by Orville Gilbert Brim. To be published. The book is based on data he has gathered and analyzed, with the support of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.
  • For most of its existence, the field of psychology has ignored fame as a primary motivator of human behavior: it was considered too shallow, too culturally variable, too often mingled with other motives to be taken seriously. But in recent years, a small number of social scientists have begun to study and think about fame in a different way, ranking it with other goals, measuring its psychological effects, characterizing its devoted seekers.

The Israeli prelude to a U.S. strike on Iran?

From The New Yorker

The Israeli plan, according to the former senior intelligence official, was “the mirror image of what the United States has been planning for Iran.”


A former intelligence officer said, “We told Israel, ‘Look, if you guys have to go, we’re behind you all the way. But we think it should be sooner rather than later—the longer you wait, the less time we have to evaluate and plan for Iran before Bush gets out of office.’ ”


The Pentagon consultant told me that intelligence about Hezbollah and Iran is being mishandled by the White House the same way intelligence had been when, in 2002 and early 2003, the Administration was making the case that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. “The big complaint now in the intelligence community is that all of the important stuff is being sent directly to the top—at the insistence of the White House—and not being analyzed at all, or scarcely,” he said. “It’s an awful policy and violates all of the N.S.A.’s strictures, and if you complain about it you’re out,” he said. “Cheney had a strong hand in this.”


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.”


A high-level American military planner:

“There is this almost comical thinking that you can do it all from the air, even when you’re up against an irregular enemy with a dug-in capability. You’re not going to be successful unless you have a ground presence, but the political leadership never considers the worst case. These guys only want to hear the best case.”


The long-term Administration goal was to help set up a Sunni Arab coalition—including countries like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt—that would join the United States and Europe to pressure the ruling Shiite mullahs in Iran

Some officials in Cheney’s office and at the N.S.C. had become convinced, on the basis of private talks, that those nations would moderate their public criticism of Israel and blame Hezbollah for creating the crisis that led to war. Although they did so at first, they shifted their position in the wake of public protests in their countries about the Israeli bombing.


The crisis will really start at the end of August, the diplomat added, “when the Iranians”—under a United Nations deadline to stop uranium enrichment—“will say no.”


The UN deadline is August 31, but President Ahmadinejad will probably announce Iran's intention to continue uranium enrichment on Ausgust 22 because, according to Bernard Lewis:
This year, Aug. 22 corresponds, in the Islamic calendar, to the 27th day of the month of Rajab of the year 1427. This, by tradition, is the night when many Muslims commemorate the night flight of the prophet Muhammad on the winged horse Buraq, first to "the farthest mosque," usually identified with Jerusalem, and then to heaven and back (c.f., Koran XVII.1). This might well be deemed an appropriate date for the apocalyptic ending of Israel and if necessary of the world.
And yet. . .while Iran's thumbing its nose at the U.N. is certain, how could Bush bomb Iran, producing $6/gallon gas right before the November elections? If the Democrats win big, the resulting investigations would make Watergate look like a Boy Scout project.

"Why They Hate Us"

Highlights from JULIA E. SWEIG, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations

Cold War legacy: U.S. intervention in Vietnam, and covert attempts to overthrow governments in Iran, Guatemala and Cuba, among others, created profound distrust of U.S. motives throughout the developing world. Europeans also disdain these policies and bemoan the cultural coarseness of Americanization sweeping their continent.

Americans, by contrast, tend to dismiss this side of the Cold War. Gore Vidal famously referred to this country as the United States of Amnesia. We're all about moving forward, getting over it, a nation of immigrants for whom leaving the past behind was a geographic, psychological and often political act. As the last guy standing when the Cold War ended, in 1989, we expected the world to embrace free markets and liberal democracy.

Power and powerlessness: Power generates resentment. But the United States has lost the ability to see its power from the perspective of those with less of it. In Latin America, for example, U.S. policies — whether on trade, aid, democracy, drugs or immigration — presumed that Latin Americans would automatically see U.S. interests as their own. And when denied deference, we sometimes lash out, as did Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld when he lumped Germany, a close U.S. ally, with Cuba and Libya because Berlin opposed the Iraq war.

Globalization: In the 1990s, our government, private sector and opinion makers sold globalization as virtually synonymous with Americanization. President Clinton promised that open markets, open societies and smaller government would be the bridge to the 21st century. So where globalization hasn't delivered, the U.S. is blamed.

What we stand for: Bush is wrong to say that foreigners hate us because of our values and freedoms. Quite the contrary. U.S. credibility abroad used to be reinforced by the perception that our laws and government programs gave most Americans a fair chance to participate in a middle-class meritocracy. But the appeal of the U.S. model overseas is eroding as the gap between rich and poor widens, public education deteriorates, healthcare costs soar and pensions disappear. Most recently, the U.S. government's seeming indifference to its most vulnerable citizens in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina further undercut belief in the American social contract. The immigration debates also have fostered the perception that the U.S. is vulnerable, hostile and fearful.

Monday, August 14, 2006

The liberal's George Bush

What do you do when the family business is tanking? Build a new $850 million headquarters, pay premium for a lot of new businesses you don't understand, and, for good measure, jack up your salary by a couple of million, while the stock loses half its value and multiple mismanagement scandals erode the good-will capital that the family had been built up over more than 1o0 years. That's the recipe of NYT publisher Arthur Sulzberger.

Nobody can make a mess of things quite like a not-so-bright rich-kid baby boomer who inherited his job.

Party of the South, Party of the North

Just as 1994 consolidated GOP control of the South (and vice-versa), 2006 may consolidate Democratic control of the Northeast (and vice-versa)

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Wine rating system "nonsensical"


THIS is what a blessing looks like in the wine business: Wine Spectator, a handsome glossy monthly that markets itself as a field guide for wine aficionados, recently bestowed a rating of 90 on a 2004 cabernet sauvignon from the Valentin Bianchi Famiglia winery in Argentina.
William R. Tisherman, who writes as Tish, said he reluctantly adopted the 100-point system during his tenure as editor of Wine Enthusiast.

This is what a blessing does: After the wine received the 90, Brian Zucker, who oversees online sales for K&L Wine Merchants, a large retailer in San Francisco, decided to promote the Valentin Bianchi cabernet in an e-mail message to tens of thousands of customers.

If it had scored an 89, Mr. Zucker said, “we would have sold a tiny fraction of what we’ll end up moving.” But because of the 90, and considering the wine’s price, $12.99, he declared himself “absolutely confident” that K&L would sell out its inventory of the Argentinean cabernet.

Mr. Zucker said he was promoting the Valentin Bianchi because he thought it an attractive buy even before Wine Spectator treated it to a 90. But that is hardly always the case with a high-scoring wine. “A wine that is highly rated takes on a life of its own,” he said. “It doesn’t necessarily represent the best value, but that doesn’t seem to matter.”

A rating system that draws a distinction between a cabernet scoring 90 and one receiving an 89 implies a precision of the senses that even many wine critics agree that human beings do not possess. Ratings are quick judgments that a single individual renders early in the life of a bottle of wine that, once expressed numerically, magically transform the nebulous and subjective into the authoritative and objective.

When pressed, critics allow that numerical ratings mean little if they are unaccompanied by corresponding tasting notes (“hints of blackberry,” “a good nose”). Yet in the hands of the marketers who have transformed wine into a multibillion-dollar industry, The Number is often all that counts. It is one of the wheels that keep the glamorous, lucrative machinery of the wine business turning, but it has become so overused and ubiquitous that it may well be meaningless — other than as an index of how a once mystical, high-end product for the elite has become embroidered with the same marketing high jinks as other products peddled to the masses.

“On many levels it’s nonsensical,” Joshua Greene, the editor and publisher of Wine & Spirits, said. He has been using the 100-point system to judge wines in his magazine for about a dozen years.

Mr. Greene’s ratings, especially when he awards a 90 or higher, often figure prominently in newspaper advertisements and promotional materials. Still, he said of the 100-point scoring system, “I don’t think it’s a very valuable piece of information.” To Mr. Greene, The Number is an unfortunate remnant of a time long past, when America was only starting to appreciate wines sold in something other than a green glass jug — akin to a set of training wheels that should have been removed years ago.

Yet Mr. Greene continues to use the 100-point system because he believes that he has no choice; to do otherwise is to court potential financial disaster. Because he is “determined to find a way to talk about wine without using scores,” he publishes a scoreless issue of Wine & Spirits once a year — and then braces for a corresponding decline in circulation and advertising revenue.

Once upon a time, a rating of 90 might have made a wine stand out. Today, so many critics are using the 100-point scale that the odds of a bottle earning a place on, say,’s listing of “90+ Rated Wines Under $20” have increased immeasurably — in part because, among other retailers, has joined the ranks of those scoring wines.

MANY wine buyers may think that The Number has the same integrity as the ratings that Consumer Reports bestows on products like cars or household appliances. But virtually every critic using the 100-point system deviates from the stringent standards that Consumer Reports, a nonprofit magazine, has adopted to ensure objectivity.

“The deeper you get into this, the more you realize how misleading and misguided this all is,” said William R. Tisherman, a former editor of Wine Enthusiast, who is more broadly known within the wine business by his nom de plume, Tish. Mr. Tisherman said he “only reluctantly” started using numbers to rate wines in Wine Enthusiast in the mid-1990’s.

Still, there is no denying the power of the 100-point system, no matter how flawed or hollow. It provides a simple point of reference in the often bewildering world of wine, a life preserver for anyone drowning in a sea of choice. As a consequence, its effects are felt throughout the industry. Even critics acknowledge that The Number has helped to elevate the overall quality of wine, and experts say it has also influenced the popularity of certain grapes that producers select. Its most direct impact, however, may be in the way that wine is sold.

Wine shop managers might dismiss ratings as overly simplistic — numbers devoid of context, such as a merchant’s sense of individual customer tastes. But the ratings are helping to feed two significant trends ripping through the business: the might of discount retailers like Costco and the growth of online retail outlets. For better or for worse, The Number is proving an effective stand-in for the knowledgeable wine shop salesclerk.

“It’s a guide,” said Marvin R. Shanken, the editor and publisher of Wine Spectator, which helped to popularize the 100-point system. “It’s not an absolute.” But a numerical score suggests anything but an approximation — and try telling a winery suffering the economic consequences of a disappointing 89 for its signature vintage that The Number is nothing more than a guide.

“Every day I have people come in the store,” said Larry Leventhal, a manager of First Avenue Vintner in Manhattan, “and they tell me they’re not interested in hearing about any wine unless Parker gave it at least a 90.”

IN the beginning there was Robert M. Parker Jr. This lawyer turned self-employed wine critic introduced the 100-point system to the wine world in 1978, when he started a wine buying guide called The Wine Advocate, published every two months.

Until that time, critics in both the United States and abroad tended to use a simple 5-point system — if they used any scoring system at all. But Mr. Parker fashioned himself after Ralph Nader, a crusading consumer advocate on a quest, in this case to enlighten the discriminating wine buyer. Scoring wines on a scale of 50 to 100 seemed the perfect vehicle to advance his cause.

“Consumers understood the 100-point rating system almost viscerally,” said Elin McCoy, author of “The Emperor of Wine: The Rise of Robert M. Parker Jr. and the Reign of American Taste,” published last month in paperback. “Whatever a person knew or didn’t know about wine, they understood that a grade of 98 is a good thing, and a 72 not so good.” To avoid being influenced by the name or reputation of a winery, Mr. Parker tasted batches of wine together, slipping the bottles into individual paper bags and then mixing them up and rating each one. Under his system, a 96 to 100 is an extraordinary wine, 90 to 95 is excellent, and 80 to 89 is above average to very good.

As Mr. Parker’s influence grew, retailers started quoting “Parker Points” in advertisements and other promotional materials. That raised his profile and that of The Wine Advocate — and inspired other publications, eager to market their own titles, to adopt a 100-point scale, Ms. McCoy said. Wine Spectator was the first, in the mid-1980’s.

Wine Spectator actually began scoring wines in 1980, Mr. Shanken said, shortly after he paid $40,000 to buy it. A buying guide, he understood, would be crucial to the Spectator’s success. The magazine experimented with 9- and 20-point scales before adopting the 100-point system. Mr. Shanken bristled when asked if he adopted the 100-point scale in a bid to emulate Mr. Parker’s success, but he also gave his better-known rival his due.

“He certainly deserves the credit for using it first in wine,” Mr. Shanken said.

Another 10 years or so passed before the next set of magazines, Wine Enthusiast and Wine & Spirits, adopted 100-point systems, both in the mid-1990’s. But by that time the American wine industry had changed notably.

Wine consumption in the United States began to grow appreciably beginning in the late 1960’s, analysts say, but that translated primarily into a huge increase in the sale of jug wines, like Gallo’s Hearty Burgundy and sweet fizzy concoctions like Riunite Lambrusco.

America’s lusty embrace of pricier wines sold in 750-milliliter bottles did not start until about 1980, those same experts say. Mr. Parker and Mr. Shanken both rode and drove that trend. Today, those in the wine industry — wine makers, wine merchants, wine writers and other self-described “cork dorks” — say the United States is in the midst of a golden age of wine, in no small part because of the Parker scoring system.

“There’s no doubt that the 100-point score has played a role in the growing popularity of wine,” said Jon A. Fredrikson, a wine consultant in Woodside, Calif.

Per capita wine consumption in the United States fell in the 1980’s, when the industry weathered a national antidrug campaign that lumped in alcoholic beverages with narcotics. The greatest factor in reversing that trend, Mr. Fredrikson said, was studies demonstrating the health benefits of moderate consumption of red wine. Assigning numerical scores to wines also proved pivotal, he said, as the uninitiated began looking for a way to distinguish one bottle of wine from another by a means other than price.

“The retail trade didn’t pay attention until we moved to the 100-point score,” said Mr. Greene at Wine & Spirits, who had been using a four-star system to rate wines until he switched in 1994 or so.

Mr. Tisherman, then editor of Wine Enthusiast, also realized that he risked irrelevancy if he did not follow suit. He watched the Spectator use what Mr. Shanken called “the advance”— the scores his magazine sends out weeks ahead of the actual publication date so that retailers can stock up on highly rated wines — to entrench itself as a central player in the wine industry.

“Basically the Spectator was saying, ‘Use our numbers, which we’ll send you ahead of time, so you can order a lot of that wine and then watch it fly out of the store,’ ” Mr. Tisherman said. “We didn’t feel we had any choice.”

Apparently, others felt the same way: today, at least a dozen sources publish a 100-point score, including assorted Web sites and Beverages and More, a 55-store chain in California.

The Number has also found a partner in shelf talkers — the capsule wine reviews that sometimes adorn shelves beneath select bottles in retail outlets. “The way the industry works now,” said David Graves, a founder of Saintsbury Winery in Napa Valley, “if you send out enough wine samples, you might get a real high number that you can put on your shelf talker.”

Cork dorks say that even today, the only scores that count are those of the first two publications to embrace the 100-point score: Mr. Parker’s Wine Advocate and Mr. Shanken’s Wine Spectator. That has not stopped retailers from cherry-picking high scores no matter who comes up with them. uses no less than seven sources when fishing for members of the 90+ club, including The Wine News, the Connoisseurs Guide and the International Wine Cellar. And in a pinch, is not above turning to an eighth source.

When promoting Capcanes 2001 Costers del Gravet, a Spanish wine, for instance, quoted a well-regarded publication, International Wine Cellar, written by Stephen Tanzer, in its review. But the source of the 91 that earned the 2001 Costers a place on its 90+ list was itself. (The company did not return a call seeking comment.)

Consumer Reports, which began rating wines in 1997 (without a numerical system) never sells products it reviews and thus has no financial incentive to promote a product. In contrast, Wine Enthusiast operates an online wine store. Tim Moriarty, the magazine’s managing editor, said that he and other editorial employees “hardly ever have dealings with the sales part of the organization.”

The sales arm employs its own wine critic, Josh Farrell, a professional sommelier. On the Wine Enthusiast Web site last week, no wine that he reviewed scored less than a 90. That, Mr. Farrell says in a note on the site, is because “of our commitment to finding only the best.”

Consumer Reports accepts no advertising — again, to ensure that it steers clear of conflicts of interest. For that same reason, Mr. Parker runs no ads in The Wine Advocate.

The glossy magazines, of course, can make no similar claim; the economic health of publications like the Spectator and the Enthusiast are wholly dependent on the ad space they sell to many of the same wineries whose bottles they review. And Mr. Parker himself does not meet one of the gold standards established by Consumer Reports, whose testers refuse freebies. Like other tasters, Mr. Parker primarily tests sample bottles sent to him at no cost.

“It’d be economically impossible to buy all those wines, especially the ones that are $100 to $300 to $500 a bottle,” said Mr. Shanken, who noted that the Spectator rates a minimum of 12,000 wines a year. All the Spectator’s tastings are blind, Mr. Shanken said, in contrast to those of some rivals.

Tim Moriarty at Wine Enthusiast said his magazine “encourages,” but does not require, his reviewers to perform blind tastings.

Yet no critic working for a print publication seems to wrestle with the conflicts that regularly confront Wilfred Wong of Beverages and More, the retail chain. Mr. Wong allows that working as a wine critic inside a large retail operation can be tricky. At times, he said, his bosses nudge him to lavish a high score on a wine, especially one that has failed to earn a 90+ from Mr. Parker or Mr. Shanken’s crew of critics. His bosses may have secured a good price on a big shipment of wine but that does not necessarily mean, Mr. Wong said, that he treats it to a good score.

“We have fights all the time,” Mr. Wong said. His reputation among the chain’s customers, he said, keeps him honest — a view the founders of Beverages and More say they support.

Still, Michael De Loach, the vice president of the Hook and Ladder winery in Sonoma County, wonders if scoring mania is healthy for the industry. “Wilfred is a bona fide wine guy, but really, think about it, who needs Parker when you can make up your own numbers?” Mr. De Loach said. “If Parker or Spectator don’t give you a high enough score, you can make up your own.”

THE 100-point rating system is imperfect, said James Laube, the Spectator’s chief critic of California wines. But he also sees it as the best safeguard against paying too much for a painfully mediocre product, especially if someone takes the time to read his tasting notes.

“I don’t see how it can be harmful for consumers when you have 4 or 6 or 10 people offer an opinion on a bottle of wine,” Mr. Laube said. “I think it’s a very valuable service to let people know if there are imperfections in a wine.”

Almost any oenophile will tell you that wines have improved in recent years. They cite factors including global warming and advances in the science of viticulture, but also the widespread adoption of the Parker scoring system.

“Over all, it’s been one of the most important things elevating the quality of wines around the world,” said Mr. Fredrikson, the wine consultant. “Producers care about their scores.”

Yet there are grumblings that some wine makers may care too much about them. It is easy to start an argument in the wine industry by positing that many wine makers fashion wines to please the palettes of Mr. Parker, Mr. Laube and other high-profile critics. Mr. Parker and the critics from Wine Spectator tend to save their highest ratings for robust-tasting, more intense wines, and consultants like Enologix, based in Sonoma, Calif., understand that. In its promotional materials, Enologix promises to use chemistry to “assist wine makers” in “boosting average national critics’ scores.”

Some fear that the worldwide influence of Mr. Parker, who has been described as the planet’s most powerful critic, will eventually mean a homogenization of wines. “It is perhaps a shame that the two dominant sources of wine advice in the U.S., the estimable Robert Parker of The Wine Advocate and the diligent team at Wine Spectator, seem to favor approximately the same styles of wine,” Jancis Robinson, author of “The Oxford Companion to Wine,” wrote in an e-mail exchange.

Ms. Robinson, who is based in Britain, uses a 20-point rating system, though she wrote that she is “not enamored” of numerical scoring.

Analysts say that the rating system, at least as deployed in the United States, favors certain varietals. Wines made from so-called noble grapes — cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir and chardonnay — tend to dominate the 90+ lists because they tend to be more complex wines with blockbuster potential. Wines using chenin blanc grapes, on the other hand, taste less powerful by comparison. So simpler wines like chenin blancs tend not to generate show-off scores.

“That’s another way numbers are misguiding people,” said Mr. Tisherman, the former Wine Enthusiast editor who now calls himself a “recovering critic” and helps clients sponsor wine-tasting parties. “A 96 is better than an 86, but not if you want a light-bodied wine, and Americans tend to prefer light-bodied wines. Yet those are also the wines least likely to get a good score.”

Mr. Tisherman argues that it is time to drop the 100-point system because it limits the spectrum of wines that sell well. Still, the 100-point scale may have once been a useful bridge, he and others said, helping many Americans attain a more refined, perhaps even European, preference for premium bottles. If current trends continue, the United States will pass Italy in two years as the world’s second-largest consumer of wine, behind France. (But that is only in total volume: America still does not rate in the top 25 countries in per capita consumption.)

In recognition of this growing sophistication, Mr. De Loach says it is time to switch to a three- or four-star rating system because “applying a 100-point scale to wine is dishonest. It makes the consumer think it’s scientific.” He expressed his appreciation for the publications that have established their reputations by using it, but also declared it a “noble experiment whose time is over.”

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Get ready for the new AIDS

From today's WSJ:
A controversial prevention pill to shield people from infection by the AIDS virus cleared a key safety hurdle during a small test, which also offered intriguing hints that the drug could prove effective.
For at least the last year, there have been Tenofovir orgies, in which sexually addicted gay males pop the anti-HIV pill ("Taking a T") and engage in unprotected mass sex. According to the LA Times, Tenofovir is already being sold in gay dance clubs in packets along with Viagra and Ecstasy.

Now that there is actual proof that Tenofovir works, this trend will explode.

But the prevention of HIV does not repeal the rule that the anus is a much more effective receptacle for sexually transmitted diseases than is the vagina. Combine that with the infinitely more frequent opportunities that males have for male-on-male promiscuity than they have for male-on-female promiscuity + no fear of AIDS, and you have a fantastic vector for a new opportunistic disease.

One thing is for certain: once the new disease's victims emerge, it will be heresy to suggest that it's their fault.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Doom and gloom about Iran

Great article in National Review:
If liberals are lost in wishful thinking about the prospects of negotiated settlements and nuclear containment, conservatives are naive about the possibility of ending terror by a decisive military blow. Gerges is right that Hezbollah is not some finite terror force, but the expression of the will and aspirations of a massive portion of the Lebanese people. As such, it is unlikely to be bombed out of existence.
The lesson of Castro:
It's also clear that a posture of anti-Western defiance, combined with nationalism, ideology, and dictatorial rule is perfectly capable of sustaining a miserable, poverty-stricken, failed system far, far beyond the point that Westerners would consider tolerable or believable.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

U.S. foreign policy: wait for the Rapture

"Diplomacy would only make God angry"

-- John Hagee, founder of Christians United for Israel and author of end-of-times book "The Beginning of the End." Hagee believes that Israel will be the site of the Rapture.

According to The Nation
, Hagee has had a series of high-level meetings in the White House over the last two months over Bush's Middle East policies.

Who knew the little shit was so important?

"People are understanding that what's on the line is their future."

-- Joe Lieberman, on why people should vote for him in the Connecticut primary

"For the sake of our state, our country and my party, I cannot and will not let that result stand."

-- Joe Lieberman, on why he will not accept the vote against him in the
Connecticut primary

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Iraqi freedom

NPR reporter in Iraq says that shepards have been ordered to put modesty panties on their goats and that a grocer was exectuted and his store firebombed because he arranged his vegetables in what the authorities perceived as a sexually suggestive manner.

Global warming beer

The water, the brewers say, is the beer's key ingredient, having been locked away for more than 2,000 years in Greenland's vast ice sheet.

"Today, with all the pollution … you cannot get cleaner water than melted ice-cap water," Greenland Brewhouse co-founder Salik Hard told the AP.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Our huge gift to Iran

Christopher Hitchens in WSJ:
  • To suffer all the consequences of being imperialistic, while acting with all the resolution and consistency and authority of, say, Belgium, is to have failed rather badly.
  • Iran hands out missiles to a theocratic gang that was until recently mounting pro-Syrian demonstrations in Beirut, all the while spitting in the face of the U.N., the U.S. and the EU on the nuclear issue -- and is subjected to precisely no consequences.
  • Syria openly parades the leader of Hamas in a Damascus hotel, while accepting Iranian largesse (and incidentally proving once again that "secular" Baathists can indeed collude full-time with religious fundamentalists), sends its death-squads to murder Lebanese politicians and journalists -- and is subjected to precisely no consequences.
  • Syria and Iran send sophisticated explosives for the use of Shiite sectarians in Iraq, who employ them to murder American soldiers and Sunni civilians -- and are subjected to precisely no consequences.
Of course, we can't do anything to Iran and Syria because we are bogged down in Iraq. And Iran and Syria know that (indeed, have helped engineer it). That's why they are making their move.

But, oops, this suggests that wider violence in the Middle East is a result of our failure in Iraq. And Condi says that making such a connection would be "grotesque."

Another positve feedback loop in global warming

It has always seemed to me that the most worrisome part of global warming is the positive feedback loops -- changes that feed off of global warming and contibute to it, thereby accelerating what would have been a gradual, linear trend.

Of those loops, the worst has seemed to be the melting to the Russian tundra, which up until now has kept under seal billions of tons of methane, which is 20 times more effective as a greenhouse gas than CO2.

It turns out that the Russian tundra is not the only vast, frozen earth surface that contains billions of tons of methane. The ocean floors do as well.

Scientists have just released video showing how, for the first time, they have been able to measure these natural up-wellings to tell whether, if large amounts of this methane ever thawed out from its deep sea beds, it would reach the atmosphere, rather than being absorbed in the water, and thus make the earth even hotter.

The findings of oceanographer Ira Leifer et al, published in a strictly peer-reviewed scientific journal, are that it would do just that.

According to the AP article, there are millions of methane bubbles right now off the coast of Santa Barbara coming up from a vast under-sea resevoir and releasing into the atmosphere.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

The Flags of Our Sons

By Billy Shore


WHEN you fly as often as I do you learn to mind your own business as soon as you take your seat. But that wasn’t possible once I saw the military honor guard boarding US Airways’ 1:45 p.m. flight from Boston to Washington earlier this week.

I was heading through the gate when I first noticed Senator Ted Kennedy, walking down the concourse and arriving fashionably late, not an uncommon sight on this route. I stepped aside and followed him down the ramp.

As we got to the arched entrance of the plane, the members of a Marine honor guard in their dress blues were coming up that outside staircase usually used for stowing strollers and allowing mechanics on board. The marine in charge held in both hands a flag that had been folded into a triangle as if it had been previously draping a coffin, which it had.

Senator Kennedy extended his hand to the marine and said, “Thank you for your service.”

“Thank you, sir,” replied the marine.

“Are you escorting remains?” asked Senator Kennedy.

“Yes, sir, a marine.”

“And the funeral is at Arlington Cemetery?”

“Yes, sir, on Wednesday.”

“Thank you, I’ll try to get out there.”

The marine went back to sit in coach, but a man in the last row of the first-class cabin went over to him, shook hands and offered his seat. The marine reluctantly accepted. Half the passengers broke into applause.

The rest of the flight was uneventful, though quieter than usual. When we landed, the marine took his white gloves from where he’d stowed them inside his hat, put them on, and again gripped with both hands the precious cargo of the folded flag.

Then he went over to two people quietly sitting in first class — the parents of the fallen marine. None of us had known they were there.

He escorted them off the plane and into the terminal. Because of the afternoon’s oppressive heat and humidity, he had persuaded them to wait inside instead of on the tarmac.

The father looked as if he might have once been a marine himself, a handsome man of perfect posture, with bristly silver hair, dressed smartly in a blue blazer and gray slacks. The mother, blond, wore light-colored pants and an orange jacket. Her glasses made her eyes seem bigger than they were. They both looked calm, if a little lost, and gave off an aura of deep quiet. As she walked by me she noticed that a tie had fallen as I was removing something from my carry-on bag and she stopped and pointed. “I think you dropped something,” she said softly.

They stood at the window between Gates 43 and 45 and watched as a full Marine honor guard marched up the tarmac, coming to attention between the plane and a silver military hearse. The unloading of their son’s coffin from the cargo hold was very slow, and every time someone inside the terminal noticed and stopped to stare, someone else noticed and did the same, and this kept happening until about 20 people stood in silence watching out the window.

The mom leaned her elbows on the window ledge, supporting her chin and cheeks with both hands. She remained perfectly still. She stared for 10 or 15 long minutes and never moved. The father stood nearby, rocking from foot to foot and pacing a bit. They did not touch; they did not say a word to each other. Neither wore a wedding band. Perhaps they were divorced, or simply isolated in their pain.

Standing nearby was a man wearing the T-shirt of a suburban fire and rescue department that he may have earned 20 years and 35 pounds ago. He went over to the parents to chat, not knowing who they were, just one curious spectator to another.

But whatever he said to the mother caused her to turn and look at him in disbelief. Her lips didn’t move, which only encouraged him to repeat it. Her eyes widened and her chin tilted upward like a boxer who had taken a blow. She stared at him and then looked back outside toward her son. Down on the tarmac the white gloves of eight marines snapped their final salute as the doors of the hearse closed.

The P.A. system announced flights for Atlanta and Chicago. Travelers rushed to business meetings or summer vacations. The line for Auntie Anne’s pretzels was as long as ever.

Except for a handful of us standing frozen at a respectful distance from the window, the war and its carnage might as well have been on another planet. The disconnect between those who serve and those of us who are beneficiaries of their service has always felt great to me, but never greater than at that moment.

The mom and dad stepped away from the man in the T-shirt and to another window, still not touching, their movement synchronized by grief. They waited until the marine in charge came back up from the runway to escort them to a government vehicle. I went to my car and drove to work with no ambition for the day other than to be worthy.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Did Bush know the difference between Shiite and Sunni before invading Iraq?

According to former U.S. Ambassador Peter Galbraith, Bush met with three Iraqi Americans two months before invading Iraq.

When the Iraqi Americans started discussing Iraq's tensions between Shiites and Sunnis, Bush is reported to have responded, “I thought the Iraqis were Muslims!”

It's a bit hard to believe that Bush didn't know the difference, especially since his father had banked on a Shiite uprising 1991 to topple Hussien. But as each day passes, this sort of ignorance seems more and more plausible.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

King George watch

From The Onion

WASHINGTON, DC—In a decisive 1–0 decision Monday, President Bush voted to grant the president the constitutional power to grant himself additional powers.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Promiscuity is gay

Ann Coulter has been ridiculed for suggesting that Bill Clinton is gay. As Jay Leno said, Clinton sure has a great way is hiding it. Here's what she said specifically:
Ms. COULTER: I think that sort of rampant promiscuity does show some level of latent homosexuality.

DEUTSCH: OK, I think you need to say that again. That Bill Clinton, you think on some level, has — is a latent homosexual, is that what you’re saying?

Ms. COULTER: Yeah.
The easiest way to manipulate a young man is by challenging his masculinity. This method has been used by the military and by a certain type of woman for thousands of years, at least. So if society wanted to encourage young heterosexual men to self-restrain their appetite for sexual variety, a brilliant way of doing so is by saying, "promiscuity is gay."

This turns an idea of masculinity on its head. The Ladies Man is no longer the height of masculinity, but its opposite -- the Lacanian "Other".

It also raises a somewhat rational, if unstated, reason to keep homosexuals at the margins of society.

In the military, if gay men are understood to be as good soldiers as anybody, it is hard to keep heterosexual soldiers in line with the threat of calling them gay. How can bad soldiering or cowardice be gay if everyone knows gay men who are good soldiers?

Perhaps it is the same with marriage. If gay men are understood to be promiscuous loners, then monogamy can be part of the heterosexual male's self-identity. But if the gay-promiscuity idea is taken away, then perhaps it will feel a bit less masculine to be pushing baby carriages, driving minivans, and changing diapers.

American Authoritarianism 2

"And so it was necessary to teach people not to think and make judgements, to compel them to see the non-existent, and to argue the opposite of what was obvious to everyone" -- Boris Pasternak, "Doctor Zhivago"