What Social Security 'crisis'?

In today’s Boston Globe, Robert Kuttner nails the myth about “The Social Security Crisis”. It’s just that: a myth. There is no crisis. Key quote: “In June, the bipartisan Congressional Budget office used more realistic assumptions about economic growth. CBO puts the first shortfall year at 2052, not 2042, and it projects Social Security’s 75-year shortfall at only about four-10ths of one percent of gross domestic product. Currently, that’s about $40 billion a year, or one-fifth of the revenues that the Bush administration gave up in tax cuts for the wealthy. Simply restoring pre-Bush tax rates on the richest one percent of Americans could bring the Social Security system into balance indefinitely, without reducing promised payouts by one penny.”

And why do so many Democrats as well as Republicans use the language of crisis? Kuttner’s explanation is that “many well-meaning Democrats who defend the Social Security system want to be absolutely [certain] that its funding is rock solid. So [they] talk of its shortfall and offer different ways to make up the gap. Unfortunately, that tends to play into Republican hands.”

If Republicans are ideologically opposed to the idea of Social Security, that’s their right. But if the only way to argue for the position is to lie about the situation, that doesn’t say much for their case.

Now everybody will know about IP addresses


As all news-junkies will know, the press is reporting that: “Police zeroed in on Lisa Montgomery [by] tracing an IP address,, to a computer at her Melvern, Kan., home.” Which reminds me of a recent trip to California….

I was at San Jose airport, en route for Boston, and I was wearing my favourite ThinkGeek t-shirt: the one that says "There's no place like". As I was waiting in line at Starbucks, a PHB type walked past, read my shirt, and said, “Hey, that’s cool. Is that the IP address of your website?” And since I have no shame, I replied with a straight face, “Yes it is. And it’s the address of your website… and his (pointing), and hers (pointing), and Yahoo!, and….” And I walked up and ordered my usual quadruple espresso macchiato, leaving the poor guy looking terminally confused.

(Via BoingBoing.)

Must… resist… temptation… to say "I told you so"

Poll: Most Americans Think Iraq War Not Worth Fighting (washingtonpost.com): “[A]ccording to a Washington Post-ABC News poll […] 56 percent of the country now believes that the cost of the conflict in Iraq outweighs the benefits, while 42 percent disagreed. It marked the first time since the war began that a clear majority of Americans have judged the war to have been a mistake.”

(And they want Bush to fire Rumsfeld. Doh!)

A year of blogging

This blog is one year old today. This is the 360th entry, which translates into almost exactly one entry per day. Checking the logs, I see that there are 349 entries in the database, so I must have deleted 10 entries. (Most of these were due to blogspam incidents.) There are also 493 comments: a fair number of these are from me, but that still leaves around one comment per day.

I started out hosted at logjamming.com, and by the summer I was bumping up against the limits (bandwidth and operational) of my account there In August I rehosted at Steve Lau’s grommit.com – thanks, Steve! Bandwidth has continued to grow: the last complete month saw 55K hits and 616MB transferred. I have absolutely no idea how many readers I have, for two reasons. First, the vast majority of the hits are from software agents: search engines and RSS aggregators. Second, I know that quite a few people read me through the planetsun.org aggregator (and perhaps others – how would I know?). After all, that’s how I read most of my colleagues’ blogs.

I’m still using the same software – Movable Type 2.6.4 – that I started out with, and I have no plans to change. It’s pretty solid, and with the tweaks that I’ve made the blogspam problem seems to be under control. Most of my authoring these days is done with MarsEdit on my Mac, although I’m actually writing this using the native MT interface.

My overall impressions?

  • I’ve enjoyed blogging even more than I expected to: it’s become a regular part of my life. I’m actually thinking of firing up a second blog just for technical (software engineering) stuff, using http://thecomputeristhenetwork.com. If I do, I’ll probably use a different software system – maybe MT 3.1, maybe Roller. We’ll see.
  • I’ve spent less time on visuals, underlying technologies, tools, and so forth than I expected to. This is good: I’ve been able to focus on the content, and expressing myself, without the medium getting in the way. There are at least two consequences, however. First, the site is stylistically rather bland. I should tweak the CSS some time. Secondly, rehosting was A Big Deal. Even though both sites used Linux and Apache, each had slightly different configurations, virtual hosting setups, Perl versions, and so forth. If you have to do it, plan carefully, and test everything twice. And don’t even think of trying to do it without shell (ssh) access.
  • Right now, there is no standard content interchange format. This means that unless you are prepared to (a) lose your old content or (b) do a lot of grunt-work with scripts, you’re going to be stuck with the software that you start out with. My original scheme of playing around with a free (blogger) account and then setting up my own one seems to have worked just fine.
  • When Sun offered blogging at blogs.sun.com, I jumped on the bandwagon and grabbed myself a blog. It didn’t work. Trying to maintain two non-specialized blogs is just too much: what goes where? should you duplicate stuff? In the end I just put my b.s.c blog on ice; if they’re smart they’ll clean up all of those vestigial blogs some time.
  • I’ve really enjoyed the interactions with those who have visited and commented or emailed. I expected more flames and bozos, but I’ve only had a few. I’ve reconnected with friends from my past, and established promising connections. It’s been a lot of fun.

Antony or Anthony? Confusion reigns…..

If you look at my two recent blog entries on “l’affaire Flew”, you will see that the first spells the philosopher’s name Anthony Flew and the second Antony Flew. Which is correct? I’m pretty sure that the answer is Antony Flew, but it’s by no means as clear as it should be. First, that unreliable but influential yardstick – the Google hit count – gives Anthony 36,300 and Antony 32,800. (Curiously there are 618 pages that include both forms!) How about publications? Amazon lists his books under both names, but I assumed that this was simply data entry error. But then I consulted my bookshelf, and found both forms!

Perhaps we should simply use the construction which appears in much of his professional vita: A. G. N. Flew (or even AGN Flew).

Turkey and the EU

I’ve been watching the current debate on EU admission for Turkey with a fair amount of confusion. Understandably, much of the discussion has revolved around such issues as European “identity”, religion, the effect on the labour market, human rights, Cyprus, Armenia, the military in politics, and so on. The question of precedent is also critical: if Turkey, why not Russia? Etcetera. Things have also been complicated by the insensitive meddling of the US administration.
Setting aside such issues, I am surprised that there hasn’t been much said about the sheer volatility of the Turkish economy. Even the Economist profile doesn’t discuss this as one might expect. The latest EU report makes sobering reading. Recent inflation rates between 28% and 101%; public sector deficits between 10% and 28%; exchange rates oscillating wildly, dropping 50% and then gaining 12%. In part this seems a consequence of the fact around 50% of all business falls into the “underground economy” category. It is hard to imagine how to integrate such an economy into a supra-national body that has been defined since day one by economic convergence.

More on Antony Flew

Update on my recent blog entry about Antony Flew:
The Raving Atheist published an unhelpful satirical piece, and in a comment to this someone posted a link to an interview between Flew and the philosopher/theologian Gary Habermas. In the interview, Flew accepts Habermas’ description of him as a “deist”, in the tradition of Thomas Jefferson and other 18th century thinkers.
Perhaps the most disheartening statement by Flew was this: I am very much impressed with physicist Gerald Schroeder�s comments on Genesis 1. [in Schroeder’s The Science of God: The Convergence of Scientific and Biblical Wisdom] That this biblical account might be scientifically accurate raises the possibility that it is revelation. The idea that Flew believes Schroeder’s laboured interpretation of Genesis might be “scientifically accurate” simply shows how little Flew knows of science. Schroeder’s bizarre notions of probability would cause him to fail Statistics 101, and his howlers in genetics and relativity are equally juvenile. (For a thoughtful analysis of Schroeder from a religious – Jewish – stance, I recommend R. David Hazony’s review in Azure.)
Towards the end of the interview, Habermas asked: “Do you think any of [Bertrand Russell, J. L. Mackie, and A. J. Ayer] would have been impressed in the direction of theism? “ Flew replied, enthusiastically: “Russell would have regarded these developments as evidence.” On this, I think Flew is dead wrong. Russell was, first and foremost, a mathematician: he would not have been taken in by the innumeracy and illogic that pervades the works of Schroeder et al.
The bottom line seems to be that Flew has decided that the scientific evidence demands a designer. It’s unfortunate that he doesn’t seem to have bothered to ask any real scientists: cosmologists, geneticists, geologists. What a pity.

Posted in 1K

Bill O'Reilly the self-described coward

David Brock of MediaMatters.org just posted a scathing attack on Bill O’Reilly (King of the Unfair and Unbalanced). After listing the numerous occasions on which O’Reilly had attacked both Brock and MediaMatters, Brock calls him out:
As you can see, Mr. O’Reilly, you have repeatedly and personally attacked me, Media Matters for America, and my fine staff, calling us “vile,” “despicable,” and “weasels,” and comparing us to the Ku Klux Klan, Castro, Mao, and the Nazis. And you have refused my repeated requests to appear on your broadcast.
You once offered your viewers your definition of the word “coward.” On the January 5, 2004, O’Reilly Factor, you declared: “If you attack someone publicly, as these men did to me, you have an obligation to face the person you are smearing. If you don’t, you are a coward.”
Well, Mr. O’Reilly, you have attacked me publicly on numerous occasions, and you refuse to face me. You, sir, are a coward — by your own definition of the term.

Frankly, I don’t know why anyone would want to share the same studio with that bombastic bigot, but if O’Reilly continues to refuse Brock’s request we’ll know him for what he is. No surprise, of course.
(Via Sully)

Why anything instead of nothing? We load the dice….

In his latest contribution to this discussion, Masood asks why I feel that the question “Why is there anything rather than nothing?” is incoherent. It’s because I find it breaks down under either of the common senses of “why” – the causal or the teleological. In each case, the question self-destructs in two ways. Causality presumes a cause – something that made the “anything” happen. Teleology presumes an agent: one cannot have agent-less purpose. In each case, we presume “something”. Now, either we are faced with an “infinite regress” – “why does the cause/agent exist rather than nothing?” – or [my favourite] by invoking some antecedent “thing”, the “nothing” alternative is rendered moot! (Simultaneous annihilation of the antecedent and creation of the consequent feels like a stretch!)

The traditional way to make headway with the question is to constrain the universals (“anything” and “nothing”) to some category, assigning the causal or teleological agents to a different category. (This is the supernatural or religious turn.) Thus, “Why is there a universe rather than nothing? God made the universe, but God is not of the universe: She transcends it”. But this simply pushes the question back – why is there an agent/cause rather than nothing? At this point, most people adopt the device of decreeing that the two categories are causally or teleologically different; that it’s OK for a Prime Mover to be self-caused and eternal but not for everyday stuff. Of course this proposition is arbitrary and entirely unverifiable.

Those who believe that the orginal question must have an answer are pretty much forced into this dualism, of course. For myself, I have no need of that hypothesis; the question is not meaningful to me. I imagine that a psychologist would say that we actually start with the Weltanschauung of our choice/heritage (theist/dualist or atheist/materialist); we then interpret the meaningfulness of the question based upon our stance. Thus a theist believes that there is a Prime Cause, and therefore the anything or nothing question must be coherent. Etcetera.

Register 1, Merrill Lynch 0 – game over (on Sun & RH)

My colleague Jim Grisanzio noted Ashlee Vance’s piece in the Register about the Merrill Lynch analyst who thinks Sun should buy Red Hat or Novell. Surprisingly, Jim only cited the Merrill Lynch argument; he failed to mention Ashlee Vance’s devastating rebuttal. Key quotes (with my emphasis):

Merrill Lynch ignores how messy Sun’s purchase of a Linux vendor could be. We doubt that open source zealots would warm to the idea of Sun controlling the dominate [sic] version of Linux as quickly as the analyst firm suggests. We doubt that IBM, HP or Dell would let such an acquisition happen in the first place.
Merrill Lynch’s myopic focus on what Red Hat might mean to Sun is also totally absurd. The entire IT community would be shaken by such a buy. Sun would pay a premium for something it doesn’t really need. It can ship Linux on servers just as easily as Dell can.
Backing Linux in a major, major way would make Sun look like every other vendor, and this is not a role Sun is well suited to handle. At times, it seems that Sun exists for no other reason that to be different from the herd and offer customers a choice.

This last point is important. As I’ve mentioned before, people expect Sun to be the industry’s creative, iconoclastic contrarian. A “me too” Sun would confuse (and disappoint) them. We at Sun need to meet this expectation in our conversations with them – this is simply cluetrain 101 stuff. And this fits with Ashlee’s bottom line:

Sun has got to out-invent, not out-acquire its rivals to be “hot” again. Customers will pay more attention to a screaming fast, cheap Opteron box that can run either Solaris x86 or Red Hat than they will to Sun buying an expensive open source software unit in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Posted in Sun