Bound for war

It’s nice when two old friends share the same ideology and world view.  You can talk in a kind of short-hand, and easily agree on how you would settle things if you were in power. But it’s not so good when the two are heads of state George Bush and Tony Blair. And your shared world view blinds you to the reality that is so obvious to everyone else.

A recent report in the NYT, “Bush Was Set on Path to War” reveals the contents of a British memo written after the two leaders met in London in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq. And it makes it clear that once President Bush decided to invade Iraq, nothing was going to change his mind.

The memo indicates the two leaders envisioned a quick victory and a transition to a new Iraqi government that would be complicated, but manageable. Mr. Bush predicted that it was “unlikely there would be internecine warfare between the different religious and ethnic groups.” Mr. Blair agreed with that assessment.The memo also shows that the president and the prime minister acknowledged that no unconventional weapons had been found inside Iraq. Faced with the possibility of not finding any before the planned invasion, Mr. Bush talked about several ways to provoke a confrontation, including a proposal to paint a United States surveillance plane in the colors of the United Nations in hopes of drawing fire, or assassinating Mr. Hussein.

Why Data Mining Won’t Stop Terror

Security wonk Bruce Schneier crunches some numbers in Wired magazine to explain Why Data Mining Won’t Stop Terror. Even a system with a very low rate of false-positives will still still produce a huge number of false alarms. Maybe that’s why leads generated by NSA wiretapping were so useless to the FBI.

This unrealistically accurate system will generate 1 billion false alarms for every real terrorist plot it uncovers. Every day of every year, the police will have to investigate 27 million potential plots in order to find the one real terrorist plot per month.

Raise that false-positive accuracy to an absurd 99.9999 percent and you’re still chasing 2,750 false alarms per day — but that will inevitably raise your false negatives, and you’re going to miss some of those 10 real plots.

American Theocracy

‘American Theocracy,’ by Kevin Phillips

Prophetic Christians, Phillips writes, often shape their view of politics and the world around signs that charlatan biblical scholars have identified as predictors of the apocalypse — among them a war in Iraq, the Jewish settlement of the whole of biblical Israel, even the rise of terrorism. He convincingly demonstrates that the Bush administration has calculatedly reached out to such believers and encouraged them to see the president’s policies as a response to premillennialist thought.

Join the government and see the world

Garrison Keillor reflected on President Bush’s State of the Union address in his blog: Join the government and see the world

Washington is the perfect place for the slacker child who flubbed his way through college and flopped in business and whom friends and family kept having to prop up – find him a government job. Government service is a broadening experience. It certainly has been for Mr. Bush. […]

And he has met the families of soldiers killed in Iraq and visited with young people horribly wounded in the war, which would be a soul-searing experience for any commander. To see a beautiful young woman who must now live without an arm as a direct result of decisions you made – who could see this and not scour the depths of your conscience? And to suffer pangs of conscience even as you exhort the public to have confidence in you – this has to be an interesting experience. Your mistakes are responsible for terrible suffering, but you stand among your victims and urge public support for your policies as a sign of support for the people those policies have injured. This is a plot worthy of Shakespeare.

So why does he still seem so small, our president? In his presidential library, he’ll be portrayed as Abraham Lincoln after Chancellorsville and FDR after Corregidor, but to most of us, the crisis in Washington today stems from a man intellectually and temperamentally unequipped to rise to the challenge. Most of us sense that when, decades from now, the story of this administration comes out, it will be one of ordinary incompetence, of rigid and incurious people overwhelmed by events in a world they don’t dare look around and see.

I’m getting sexier just reading this

Blog-savvy surfers in it for the sex

According to Simon Dumenco, a prominent U.S. media analyst, people read blogs at least in part because they “want to get laid.” Dumenco contends that knowledge of the hippest, hottest blogs can increase hook-up opportunities and boost sexual attractiveness. He maintains some people are using niche blogs such as and to gain pop cultural insights that make them more socially desirable and ultimately more likely to get lucky.

[Robert Thompson, a professor of popular culture at Syracuse University] agrees that, in certain circumstances, people seem more attractive if they’re up on the latest news. But he says getting that news exclusively from blogs, which are largely cribbing from other media sources, cheapens the effect.

“On some level, that kind of approach to life makes you less interesting,” observes Thompson. “Ultimately, reading more blogs won’t help you any more than reading Lord of the Rings for the 50th time.”

Dumenco says that involvement in the blogosphere’s “obsessive, hermetically sealed self-referentialism” can indeed have a negative effect, turning people into shut-in bores.

We never eat our own dog food

Complexity causes 50% of product returns

Half of all malfunctioning products returned to stores by consumers are in full working order, but customers can’t figure out how to operate the devices, a scientist said on Monday.

The average consumer in the United States will struggle for 20 minutes to get a device working, before giving up, the study found. Product developers, brought in to witness the struggles of average consumers, were astounded by the havoc they created.

She also gave new products to a group of managers from consumer electronics
company Philips, asking them to use them over the weekend. The managers returned frustrated because they could not get the devices to work properly.

Most of the flaws found their origin in the first phase of the design process: product definition, Den Ouden found.

Getting an answer without asking the question

Whenever you think you understand a little about quantum computing, it just gets wierder. As in this story from New Scientist: Quantum computer works best switched off

A quantum computer program has produced an answer without actually running.

The new design includes a quantum trick called the Zeno effect. Repeated measurements stop the photon from entering the actual program, but allow its quantum nature to flirt with the program’s components – so it can become gradually altered even though it never actually passes through.

This scheme could have an advantage over straightforward quantum computing. “A non-running computer produces fewer errors,” says Hosten.

I’ll bet it consumes a lot less power, too.