Saturday, October 30, 2004

That's Just Freaking Cruel

Doc in the Box links to a photo puzzle from Germany. For those who speak German, the instructions are to find three differences.

Happy Halloween.

Friday, October 29, 2004

The Local Take on the Osama Tape

My boss/best friend, who believes that Bush is 180 degrees wrong in how the country is going, lost a brother-in-law in the World Trade Center. His thoughts on the reappearance of Osama Bin Ladin is, "Why the fuck is this guy still alive?" The boss is very much against the war in Iraq and sees it as a tremedous distraction in the war on OBL.

My thought is that Iraq was necessary in that it attacked the spectre of WMD armed terrorists from the other angle. If OBL would have been a cunsumer of WMD, then it looked to all the world that Saddam would have been the supplier. OBL: the Will, Saddam: the Way. If you can look at the terrain of Tora Bora, one chain of mountains endlessly after another, one should be able to see that we could have sent in the entire Army, Marine Corp, Navy, and had the Air Force doing air recon, and we would still be looking for him while fighting every militia in the area.

Then again, and the boss and I are in complete agreement on this one, is that if you took down the back dropp behind Bin Ladin, you would have seen the swimming pool and back yard of the Pakistani Presidential Palace.

Halloween on Today

So the cast of the Today Show came out in their Halloween costumes this morning. Here's the video (Internet Explorer required). Check out Katie Couric (second after Anne Currie's Tina Turner). Obviously she was going for Donald Trump. Personally, I think she ended up a lot closer to Ted Koppel.

A Funny Thing, Language

George Carlin has always been one of my favorite comedians. Odd that it took a CNN article to figure out why. I am an engineer by training, but the misuse of words is a pet peeve of mine. Perhaps because as an engineer I need things to do their jobs, and arbitrarily assigning meanings to words breaks that. I think it bothers George too:

"Middle-aged" has become "pre-elderly," he writes, suggesting that perhaps "elderly" should become "pre-dead."

Euphemism is Geroge's main target. My biggest gripe is word inflation, using words to describe situations that don't quite make the cut. Things like describing Guantanamo Bay as an "atrocity". The way that "fascist" gets thrown around is particularly irksome.

One last thing: Wal-Mart, please grow a spine.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

For Truth, Turn to Comedy

I make it a point not to listen to pundits on TV. Some of them slam Bush for saying what he says regardless of what really happens. Of course, they are the ones who invented the art. In troubled times, it is good to find that I am not a lone voice in the world. Sadly, however, my brother in arms in this matter is Triumph the Insult Comedy Dog. In a world where it takes Jon Stewart to speak the truth to Crossfire, I don't suppose that I could really ask for better.

Let Me Introduce You to Reality

Sometimes you read something and think, "Dear Lord, please let him be kidding." Now, I am a single guy, and I can tell you why this guy is a bachelor as well. It is just too hard to carry on a long distance relationship from different realities. Could it be that her liking you was not the reason she continued to beat you past unconsciousness? Who knows, maybe she'll answer the ad and want to recreate your first date.

link via Radley Balko

An Experiment in HTML

A Small Victory

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

This is NOT Covered by the 1st Amendment

You can put a candidate's sticker on your bumper, but you should not try to put a candidate on your bumper. This story just adds to my certainty that this election cycle is going to bring out hordes of lone wackos. It just warms the cockles of my heart that this scholar is relying on his knowledge of the Bill of Rights. (/sarcasm)

End of a Tradition

Another in my line of pessimistic projections for this coming election cycle:

The tradition of the concessionary telephone call on election night is as dead as dodos. Anything above state representative, especially for federal office, is going to have arguments and challenges loaded and waiting for court filing the next day. Any concession call will be avoided because, well, it might actually be taken as a concession.

Thoughts While Watching CNN

1. The commercials are more entertaining.
2. Yet another reason that I'll be glad that this election is over will be that "I approve this message" as a humorous tag line for non-political messages will go the way of "Where's the Beef?"
3. It is a strange statement about baby boomers when E-Trade uses a '60's protest song to advertise its stock brokerage. Just who are they protesting again?
4. I agree with William Bennett that everyone is pretty sick and F'ing tired with this election. (obliqe use of the "F" word is the author's - ed)

Monday, October 25, 2004

On a Lovecraftian Riff

Via The Agitator:

They say that some buildings are just bad. Either it was built on desecrated ground, or else a great tragedy occurred there. Or else it was built in the heedless lust of ego. One such building is The Ryugyong Hotel. If the name were not Korean, it would surely be counted among the inane babblings of Azathoth. Those who know of it, if they could be found, for its existence is denied, say thus:

The Ryugyong Hotel looms over Pyongyang like some kind of slumbering bat. Something deep inside my brain tells me that the 75° angle of the hotel's outer walls is exactly the wrong angle; it says sinister, it says creepy, it says get away.

Off course the angles are wrong. The profane geometries of those beyond time can not be comprehended by mortal minds. Once the final angle was installed nothing could stand in the way of the planes of existence being torn away and the descent of all minds into madness.

This was no hotel. It was the ultimate WMD, and Kim Jong Il is the gate keeper.

Alright, enough weirding myself out. Here's me signing off for the night with early wishes to you all for a Happy Halloween, and a brief political message:

Cthulu for President: Why Choose the LESSER of Two Evils?

This Week in Religion

Piggy backing off Scott Burgess at The Daily Ablution, I present a few thoughts at points of religion in the news:

The Payallup School District in Washington state has banned school Halloween parties out of an effort not to be offensive to Wiccans. I bet the Werewolf Defamation League and Parents and Friends of Vampires and the Undead had their hands in this as well.

The British Royal Navy has granted a satanist sailor permission to practice his beliefs on board ship. I guess this gives new meaning to the expression: Caught between the Devil and the deep blue sea.

Evidently Jesus was black and made his appearance on a top 100 list of black icons about a dozen spots ahead of Michael Jackson. I have heard this rumor before, but I don't believe it. There is no way on earth the Michael Jackson is black.

Hey, if you can't blaspheme among friends, where can you?

Saturday, October 23, 2004

The Advantage of Religion

I have just come off of Jinderella's post on a genetic basis of God-belief. I haven't read the book that she is referring to, but her post has added a new dimension to something I've already given some thought to.

I approached the discussion of religion from the evolution of the concept (meme) "Religion". I started with the rough observation that the regions where day-to-day survival was the most difficult tended to produce the religions that were the most restrictive of individual freedom and the more focused on afterlife reward/punishment. The primary survival advantage that humans have is our cooperative social structure. As the demands placed upon the tribe by the environment increase, the need for tight functioning as a group increases. Often times this would require some individuals to gain less than they might feel they deserve. To take what they want would be detrimental to the group. This is where I envision the meme "Sin" developing. The individual could be placated with the idea that small sacrifice now would be more than offset with a greater reward later, even if the reward is delayed until after death. Too much "Sin" could change the reward into punishment. Essentially this is the old argument that it is better to for go the small pleasure of sin now in favor of the bliss of heaven than to take the small pleasure now and face the eternal torment of hell.

If this process has been active long enough to register on the genetic evolution scale, then I could easily see that additional reinforcement in the genes is possible. Instinct, I believe, is an artifact of the reality producing functions of the brain.

Friday, October 22, 2004

Financing is NOT Available

I have just picked my jaw up off of the floor after seeing this in the catalog: the child-size Mercedes 500 SL from FAO Schwartz.

A few thoughts that have crossed my mind so far about this:
1. I've never paid that much for a real car.
2. Anyone who could buy this for their kid had better be ready for the little darling begging for a real one when they turn 16.
3. Do you really need four-wheel disk brakes when the top speed is 15 mph?
4. I sure hope a lot of people are employed making those things.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

A Note to Red Sox Fans

All that has happened is that your team has won a championship. That is hardly a reason to be tearing your town apart. Who do you think you are, Laker fans?

So please, try not to act like you've never been there before. Oh, never mind.

My Take on the Ashley Photo

Sometimes I seem to miss th obvious point that most people take from a photograph. For instance, I didn't get all that worked up over the Elian Gonzalez photo were he had been hidden in a closet and the SWAT officer was removing him. (I can't seem to find a link to the photo in question, if anyone has a link, please drop me a line) Much was made of the picture in that it supposedly revealed the jack boot of government action trampling on the dream of freedom. Aside from that whole business being a mess from the get-go, I just didn't see that interpretation. The officer had one hand off the weapon, and the barrel was not pointed in the same direction as the officer was looking. If anything, that was as non-threatening as that officer could be, given the body armor.

I am coming off the same type of situation with respect to the photo of President Bush and Ashley. The detail that really gets to me are President Bush's eyes and expression. His eyes are focused on the camera, and his expression reads to me that "this would make a great photo" was not entirely absent from his mind. All told, I don't think that that one photo is the political slam dunk for Bush that a lot of people feel it to be.

As a whole, I tend to be leery of photographs as opposed to video. I think it stems from the fact that I don't think that I photograph well at all. Hence why I don't have one posted here. A photo is just one split instant, image without the context of time. Too much can be read into the vacancy.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Umm, Guys?

I just saw a segment on CNN that has me scratching my head. It was on phantom ads, ads that are never aired on payed timed but see the light of day because news outlets like CNN and Fox deem them to be "news". In the course of the report, they showed a number of ads that fit that profile. The tone of the report was that the news outlets are being manipulated into giving the candidates free air time. The only thing that I can say it that the airtime is yours, oh noble reporters. Control your time.

The Reality of Ferrets

So a scientist decides to set up an experiment on how a brain processes visual information. Test subjects: ferrets. Dr. Michael Weliky studied the brains of ferrets as they were subjected to three different sets of stimuli: a dark room, white noise static, and repeated viewings of The Matrix. Personally, I can't think of a better movie for testing how reality is percieved. The experiments came up with some interesting conclusions:

1. Adult brains operate at 80% functionality as an idling state even when in a dark room, recieving no visual input. It is thought that this might be the state at which conceptions of reality are formed. It might also explain why infant brains, which do not run this background functionality, find peek-a-boo so endlessly fascinating.

2. That at least this one scientist has a sense of irony for selecting a brain twisting movie about the reality of reality to test perception of reality.

Via Virginia Postrel

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Do Something

A reader at Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish explains why the military mindset results in overwhelming support for Bush over Kerry. It comes down to, as a friend tells me, It is better to do something than nothing. Or as the author puts it, "It is an old military maxim that blunders can be forgiven, but a lack of boldness cannot." He goes on to say:

One thing the Marine Corps taught me is that a 70% solution acted on immediately and violently is better than a perfect solution acted on later. My experience has proven this true time and again. The sad fact is however, that a 70% solution is a 30% mistake. And those mistakes can be hard to take. In WWII for example, 700 soldiers drowned in a training accident in preparation for D-Day (that is about how many combat deaths we've experienced so far in Iraq).

Bush is making mistakes, absolutely he is. And I think that he is making a greater one by not owning up to them. When it comes down to the final tally, I think that his actions are creating more good than harm in the long run. From what I have seen of Kerry's foreign policy, it is more of the same old "anything but taking a risk of messing up" that characterized much of the past thirty years.

Unforseen Consequences

I don't really have a dog left in the fight for the World Series. Both of the local teams, the Dodgers and the Angels, got themselves eliminated in the first round. It does seem that the American League Championship Series is taking its toll on Red Sox and Yankees fans back east. If your stock trades seem to be going in a little slow this week, you know why: Your trader has been up all night for the last four nights watching baseball. This could be huge, imagine what type of consequences not getting your trade executed in a timely matter might just do to the whole market?

Fortunately, I don't have any stock, so I don't wrack myself with guilt over it.

Monday, October 18, 2004

You Too Can Live Blog, Sort Of

Andrew Sullivan delivered a link to video of Jon Stewart's smackdown of Tucker Carlson on Crossfire. I mentioned this appearance earlier, but now it is your chance to behold the beauty.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Is Post-Modernism Over Yet?

A lengthy and cerebral article by Johann Hari regarding the death of Jaques Derrida and the legacy he left behind. I have tried to understand post-modernism, namely in the form of buying Postmodernism for Beginners. Even the author of the book makes the point that post-modernism hides behind it's vocabulary:

The first thing you have to do to translate it in to Postmodernese is to make the sentence stop making sense. You do this by substituting buzzwords or phrases for ordinary words that do make sense.

Either the author is being playfully ironic or I'm making a straw man of a straw man. My biggest gripe with the book, and hence of the post-modernism the author portrays, is that it cavalierly dismisses science on the basis of science failing to satisfy the criteria established by non-scientists as necessary to "justify" itself. The author is explaining the theorems of Jean-Francois Lyotard where he describes the basis of explanations of events as dependant on meta-narratives. According to Lyotard, the meta-narative "science" was dependant upon the concepts of the French Enlightenment, characterized in the book as "Let the practical discoveries of science allow men and women to get on with the proper business of seeking happiness!", and Hegel's idea of Unity of Knowledge, that by the completion of knowledge mankind shall achieve "total being".

While those might best describe the philosophy of science at the beginnings of the enterprise, I do not believe that science needs any justification other than nature itself. So long as nature exists, mankind will use science as the method to create the best possible description of it.

Even allowing for that, Lyotard claims to demonstrate that science has failed to satisfy its philosophical underpinnings. The use of science as a means to bring misery a la the railroad schedules and gas chambers of Nazi Germany disproves the happiness bringing argument, while the opacity of quantum theory denies us the Unity of Knowledge.

There is no denying that the Nazis used technological advances to bring great death. However, the Nazi philosophy that created the actions was based on theories, namely genetic superiority, that were deliberately shielded from scientific challenge. I equally hold that the net happiness existent in the world is greater thanks to vaccines, antibiotics, and efficient means of producing food.

Second, becuase scientific learning is challenging us with concepts that are far outside of our common conceptions, it does not follow that the enterprise is therefore useless. If science is going to show us the way from "ignorance to total being", then it must be expected that there must be some transformation on the part of human kind. The book's example of the paradox of an electron jumping from one atomic orbit to another without traversing the intervening space as a death knell to the concept of Unity of Knowledge. What it does in fact does is challenge the recipient of the knowledge to reassess the idea that a material body must cross all of the space between the end points of its journey. This is very difficult, but no one said that acheiving total being would be easy.

Final note, the founders of postmodernism seem entirely too fond of revolution. The whole effort seems to me as disdainful of incremental development. If the ashtray doesn't have enough room in it, trash the whole car.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Wish I Could Have Live Blogged It

Jon Stewart of The Daily Show was on Crossfire this afternoon. Oh, man, did he clean those guy's clocks or what? Tucker Carlson was particularly bad when he seemed to not get the point that The Daily Show is supposed to be comedy, with guys like Tucker Carlson being the butt of the joke. I found it particularly hillarious when Jon made the point, in response to Tucker's questions about the softballs Stewart pitched to Sen. Kerry shortly after the DNC. Stewart then pointed out that if they are looking to a show on Comedy Central for hard hitting news, then something is seriously wrong.

Stewart also skewered the whole idea of Crossfire being a called a debate show as opposed to, in Jon's words, "theater". Anyone who watches Crossfire knows that it truly is nothing more than political hacks, among whom Stewart explicity counted the hosts of Crossfire, talking over each other with their talking points. What didn't get said, and I thought that it was right on the tip of Stewart's tounge, is that if the news agencies didn't take themselves so seriously or allowed themselves to be spun so easily, then the Daily Show would not be as popular, or even necessary.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Inspiration Can Be a Funny Thing.

I picked up the latest issue of Scientific American and found the article The Hidden Genetic Program of Complex Organisms by John S. Mattick. If a system ever deserved the label "complex" molecular biology is it. Much of the article lost me in the myriad of positive and negative feedback loops. What really struck me however was the author's opening paragraph:

Assumptions can be dangerous, especially in science. They usually start as the most plausible or comfortable interpretation of the available facts. But when their truth cannot be immediately tested and their flaws are not obvious, assumptions often graduate to articles of faith, and new observations are forced to fit them. Eventually, if the volume of troublesome information becomes unsustainable, the orthodoxy must collapse.

I would expand the context of this statement from science out to politics. It seems to fit today's mood entirely too well.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Almost Live Blogging

Certainly livelier than the previous two. I guess neither one of the fellows wants to leave any blood unspilled.

By the way, don't feel bad about not getting this as I post it. I didn't know that I was going to do this until just now.

6:20 Who knew that domestic issues could make President Bush foam at the mouth?

Also, I am so sick and tired of hearing that Bush squandered the surplus. I knew those projections were BS as soon as I first read the word in a newspaper. The assumptions were that the business cycle had been broken.

6:23 If Senator Kerry does fight as hard for people as he fights for himself, then look out world.

6:30 I can't disagree with Kerry about imposing matters of faith on others. But what about those of us who do not have his faith in the government?

6:27 Keep twisting, George, you are not going to get anywhere on a marriage rights question. Kerry goes straight to Cheney's daughter, but lets see what he actually says. Damn, I looked down and missed the waffle.

6:26 I blinked, what was the question again?

6:30 I can't disagree with Kerry about not imposing matters of faith on other people. I wonder where those who don't have his faith in the government fit into it.

6:35 Moving medications to generic status quicker? Boy, that will play with the pharma corps.

6:38 Damn this is wearying. Steven Green has the idea to do this drunk. Fill it up.

6:40 Flashback to previous point: Did Senators Kerry and Edwards go back to Washington to vote against that corporate tax bill?

6:42 Good point by Bush that government funded health care will create an incentive for small businesses to drop their offered coverage.

6:46 Ah, yes, thank you, Senator Kerry, for pointing out that Social Security is fundamentally a Ponzi Scheme. And I still can't stop laughing whenever I hear a Democrat taking credit for balancing the budget. That only happened because congressional Republicans actually acted like Republicans during the Clinton Administration.

6:50 Does anyone recall how many people were employed by the Dot.Coms? The economy in 1999 was on perhaps the greatest bubble since the day before Black Monday. The numbers for employment were just as inflated.

6:53 Does either of these guys really have a philosophy with respect to any domestic issue?

6:55 The first point of Kerry's plan is that things suck now, even worse than before 9/11. And some people say that he doesn't really have a plan. Maybe those folks have a point.

6:57 Oh, goody, minimum wage. Just the thing that gets economist's blood pressure up. The President has skewed off into education. Not good for him.

7:04 Mr. Scheiffer, please cut down on the adjectives in your questions.
Also, why is it that percentage changes are not useful gauges? And for the "X kids have lost their after school programs," line, are all of X ones who had afterschool programs before?
And isn't this supposed to be a debate on domestic policies. Shame on Mr. Scheiffer for inserting this question into the debate.

7:08 Of course Sen. Kerry said exactly the opposite of the "Global Test" critique, he often says exactly the opposite after one thing or another. I have yet to hear how impressing the need for American action on the rest of the world is not a global test.

7:11 And drug dealers would balk at the need to smuggle in their AK-47's while smuggling in their drugs. Yeah right.

7:13 So its OK to give preferences to everyone except white guys. Check.

7:16 Either I am getting punchy or Bob Scheiffer asked that question about President Bush's faith as if a religious person is a strange specimen indeed.

7:18 Sen. Kerry, is tyranny a gift from the Almighty?

7:20 Some of the unity of the world has slipped away? Nice to see the CBS cocoon hasn't blunted Bob's perspective on the world.

7:23 Last question, thank god. And Bush has wiped the spittle off the corner of his mouth.

7:24 So President Bush can't keep a promise to his own wife.

7:29 Boy did Pres. Bush start slowly on his closing. Now that he is up to speed, he is doing OK. Perhaps he needs an overhaul on the lower gears.

First after impression: To my philosophical standing, this "debate" reinforced why I can't vote for either of them. Kerry is a modern liberal and Bush is not a true conservative. Bush came closer to what I wanted to see, and I think that Bush came out a hair ahead. At the bare minimum, Kerry has failed to cover the point spread against him given his higher standard his lead in the domestic issue polls has imposed on him.

Kerry Loses 3-4% in California

Rob Reiner has endorsed John Kerry. Anyone who smokes in California can thank Reiner for yet another 10 cents per pack or, in my case, upping the tobacco tax to 40% on my cigars. Thanks to this gentleman, California can not afford to have its people quit smoking.

I offer no proof that it will swing that many voters around here. I just that he makes people smoke without recourse to lighters or tobacco.

Vote With Your Thumb

Andrew Sullivan has his take on the Stolen Honor "documentary" that Sinclair is set to broadcast shortly before the election. It all strikes me as being tremendously dismissive of the population in general. Any programmer will tell you that people do not just turn on the TV and keep it on one station for the whole night. If you don't keep people's attention, they can change the channel with a twitch of the thumb. I think that the Sinclair stations are going to take a major hit in the ratings on that night. And much like Farenheit 9/11 it will only serve to harden the lines that the viewers have going into it. So maybe it will get an extra percentage point or two of the base out to the polls that wouldn't have. I'm just tired of the idea that the electorate are a bunch of empty skulled automatons waiting for their ideology downloads.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Things That Make You Say, "Huh?"

I try to find the rationale and reasons behind things, but this one just throws me. - Police aid Elvis,�chase 'Blues Brothers' look-a-like - Oct 12, 2004

Pre "Debate" Analysis

I caught bits and pieces of the last presidential debate. I was correct, listening to either of those guys speak is hard enough, going from one to the other in such rapid succession is like chewing on aluminum foil.

My decision to watch or not to watch has yet to be made. Either way, here is my pre-"debate" analysis: the point spread on domestic issues, to which this next debate is dedicated, favors Bush. Kerry's poll numbers on domestic issues are all to the positive. If the debate comes across as a draw, it will be translated as a Bush victory in that Kerry failed to put him away.

Fractal Rules

Dehydration is bad. It prevents the kidneys from working, impedes circulation, etc. If you had a map labeled "Dehydration", you would find almost all of it colored "Bad". Unless, of course, the dehydration is preventing something worse from happening, as seems to be the case with respect to the case of the girl trapped in her car for eight days.

Obviously, this is the exception. But I believe that what we call exceptions are the fractal boundaries between one set and another. In this case, the boundary between dehydration being bad and not bad. Where this particular case ended up on our map would be sensitively dependant on a whole host of details such as size and location of the clot, ambient temperature, possibly her blood alcohol level at the time of the crash, and other details that a person with a decent medical education could come up with.

Monday, October 11, 2004

The Most Consistent Read Yet

One of the big points of my philosophy is that there are relatively few causes for the way a person acts. It is the necessity for many decisions that create the illusion of complexity. Another aspect of this philosophy is that any given root principle will ultimately reveal itself because the effects of the principle can only be explained by that one principle and no other.

That is why I like this article by Jonah Goldberg at the National Review Online. It very succinctly puts the greatest amount of historical facts into a clean framework while showing the impossibility of many others.

There is no need for complex causes, simple causes create complicated enough effects as it is.

Real Nuisances

A big deal has come up from a New York Times Magazine interview with John Kerry in which he said something on the order of that the United States should come back to a state by the end of the war where terrorism is a nuisance on the order of prostitution or gambling or drugs. Even President Bush has stated in the past that the War on Terror shall not be "won" in the ways that wars have traditionally won. Both quotations are being spun out of their contexts in new ads.

I have slightly more concern over the real meaning of Kerry's remarks than Bush's in that it implies that Kerry believes that there is a tolerable level of terrorism. While I generally don't like slippery slope arguments, it is far easier to hold a line at an absolute than to maitain a shiftable standard such as "tolerable". Additionally, in the continuation of Bush's interview for the Today Show, he said that the War on Terror will have to be done so that supporting terrorism and terrorists will have intolerable costs for the supporters. An analogy of draining a swamp is useful, except that by trying to instill institutions of democracy and freedom in the Middle East, the current administration is also trying to create new high ground.

As a further thought, comparing terrrorism as an evil that can be controlled such as prostitution and gambling is particularly bone-headed to this voter. There are no real crimes (meaning damage to persons or property without the consent of both parties) being committed in prostitution, gambling, or drugs. The only violence that occurs are from the business ends which are dominated by those willing to break the law to advance their business. Since those niches are occupied by those willing to break the law to be in business in the first place, you can see how much respect they would have for other laws. It would be far better to remove the resources spent trying to bar the public from being exposed to those products and reallocate them to attacking those whose product is death of innocents.

Somehow I Doubt it was Worth It.

A plan to impress the significant other with staged heroics has gotten one high school teacher a misdemeanor citation and probably a lost job.

A couple of quick observations about this case:
1. They did not use enough duct tape.
2. There must have been some desire satified on the part of the teacher in hitting one of his students with a board. I have known situations where the feeling was mutual.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

A Very Lazy Debate Roundup

Why do a round up when the Blogfather, aka Instapundit, aka Prof. Glenn Reynolds has done it for you? I'll just use his list to make a point of my own: how the hell can anyone say that one person or another has won a debate like this when it seems like no two people were watching the same "debate"?

Second point: Kerry has finally found a meme against Bush that is gaining some traction. The idea that Bush is out of touch with reality is much the same one that helped doom his father (please recall the supermarket scanner). It attacks directly Bush's perceived strength over Kerry by turning it into a weakness, Bush is too resolute while Kerry can reassess and change. I have not seen a decent counter-meme for this one yet.

Friday, October 08, 2004

Paging Dr. Beam

I am considering watching the "debate" tonight, but I am facing a massive ambivalence. I would like to be on the cutting edge of blogosheric discourse.

The problem is that I can't stand the sound of either Bush's or Kerry's voices. I don't think that Jim Beam makes enough product for me to willingly inflict that on myself. I might move onto vodka straight out of the freezer, but at that point its easier to just turn off the TV and call it a party.

Blogging With My Head in the Myst

Time to start scratching some pennies together, Myst IV: Revelation has just been released. The interactivity of the settings has been described as extremely high, and a new hint feature is present to help keep the frustration to enjoyable levels. Time to do some tracking.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

The Design of Natural Selection

I came across this dicussion between Robert Wright, author of Non-Zero, and Daniel Dennett, chief proponent of the view that evolution is fundamentally purposeless, via Andrew Sullivan. I found it very edifying to read and watch (a portion of the filmed interview is available through the article) an exchange on this topic. Of late it has been gratifying to see any discussion of a contentious issue without one side trying to shout down the other. It would seem that the current political environment selects toward obnoxious boors at this point.

Back to my main point, I find it interesting of how the development of the entire biosphere is likened to the development of a complex organism from it's initial germ cell. One of the key points of Chaos Theory is the idea of similarity across scale. If one were to look at a mountain chain from a distance of twenty miles it would have a similarly rough outline to a single mountain peak which in turn would be similar to a single outcropping upon that one mountain. The images remain highly similar to one another despite the distance (space) at which one views the images. Their is a similar pattern if one were to look at a graph of stock prices over a year, month, week, or day. In this case, it is similarity across the scale of time.

What Wright proposes, and Dennett reluctantly agrees to, is that there are clear signs that there are clear parallels between the gestation of a complex organism and the development of the biosphere. That one is a lower level component of the other is a strong indicator that there is a similarity across scale in both space and time. It follows that if there is a design behind the gestation, then there might also be a design behind the development of the biosphere.

As it was used in the article, I use the word "design" to indicate that there is a strong direction in the expression of species and the biosphere as a whole, not that there is a divinity shaping His will upon the world. The analogy runs more on the line that species, in finding their niches within the environment, function within the biosphere much as specialized cells function within each organism. Humanity is evidently becoming the nervous system of the biosphere. I can imagine that some in the environmental movement would seize upon this analogy to push their agenda. For my point of view, I no more want to see humanity actively trying to manage the environment than I would want a homo erectus to perform an appendectomy on me. We just aren't at the level of awareness or understanding yet to accomplish something so bold.

Update: I meant to bring this up during the main body of the post, but Andrew Sullivan really overstated the matter in his original post. The way he phrased it made it seem that Daniel Dennett had recanted his atheism. Far from true, as the concession that Dennett had allowed was in no way was on the existence of God. The concession was that there might be an ultimate design to Natural Selection. The idea that intelligence is behind natural selection was never even considered.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Succinctly Put

Via Little Green Footballs

Bill Whittle has penned a very moving piece on how to separate the two political camps in the country today. He also makes very clear as to which side he comes in on. In my mind, his key point is:

And all of this rage and fury and spitting and tearing up of signs, all of these insults and spinmeisters and forgeries and all the rest, seem to come down to the fact that about half the country thinks you deter this sort of thing by being nice, while the other half thinks you deter this by being mean.

It’s really just that simple.

For my two cents worth: we can guess which method the enemy respects because its the one he is using.

Moratorium Broken

Alright, I watched the debate last night. I did it the hard way by not getting a fifth of Jim Beam and doing a shot each time the word "Halliburton" was spoken. Not that it made much difference, I was feeling pretty loopy trying to follow the logic of the answers. One thing that helped was writing down the questions so that I wouldn't lose track of the point despite the meandering of the answers. That technique also let me judge how hard the candidates were trying to steer their answers away from the thrust of the question onto their own talking points.

My judgment of the performances depends largely on how obviously each candidate did so. Cheney was set on expanding any question regarding Iraq into the larger War on Terror. While bringing up the context is allowable in my opinion, he used too much context in order to hide from problematic specifics.

Edwards's evasions were more glaring in my opinion. When asked if Chirac's and Schroeder's declarations that France and Germany will never send troops to Iraq, President Kerry or no, made Senator Kerry's coalition demands naive, Edwards failed to even mention those two countries in his answer.

Cheney scored all of the memorable lines of the evening, ranging from "This is the first time I've met you," to Kerry "does not display any the qualities of someone with convictions." That last was reinforced when Cheney truly flustered Edwards with Edwards's own history of establishing a tax-loophole corporation.

My call, Cheney's performance is going to leave a longer lasting impression than Edwards's, and the points he made are going to be sticking around as memes longer as well.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

This One's a Keeper

Found another one for the storgate locker. This analysis and the article it references should be kept and examined frequently:
PressThink: Political Jihad and the American Blog: Chris Satullo Raises the Stakes

Embrace Gridlock

I'm all for small government. The government that governs best, yadda yadda. I have even flirted with the idea Andrew Sullivan puts forth about embracing gridlock. I have seriously considered voting for Senator Kerry for just this reason. Having a Democrat in the White House would force Republicans in Congress to start acting like Republicans again.

Too bad this decision is coming at a time when I want the government to be doing something, ie killing terrorists. At any other time, John "Debating Society of One" Kerry would be my ideal choice.

Monday, October 04, 2004

Beware the Power

Thanks to Michele at A Small Victory for helping the idea break through to daylight. In the wake of Danron (I still think that anythinggate is officially cliche) some bloggers are starting to show way more pride than is warranted. Michele, like myself, is concerned with the attitude of some bloggers on her side of the political aisle believing that they are just as capable as MSM at journalism and that they are somehow transcending blogging.

I still believe that the blogosphere will not replace Old Media because there is no way, currently, to aggregate the resources necessary to have full time data collectors, read reporters. Our position is better suited to replacing the Editorial boards. Give us the information, and the blogosphere/meme petri dish will figure out what it means.

What I am concerned about is that elements of the blogosphere will ultimately fall into the same trap that Old Media has: the power to create change with which it found itself invested causing its corruption. For the old media, this was Watergate. No doubt many in the media at the time (a few hold out McGovern supporters no doubt) thought that America was better off without Nixon, scandal or no. Suddenly, journalism became a way to create change, leading to new generation of activist journalists with the unfortunate results that we see today.

The blogosphere, being internet based, has had and still fights to remove the stigma of unaccountability. We are still tarred with a long history of e-mail and other web based rumors. The new connectivity has created strong feed-back loops that select for accuracy, and several bloggers have used that to good advantage in the Danron fiasco. To think that that means we are identical in effect to journalists is mistaken. Like Michele, I am not interested in dedicating myself to writing only about news. I'm especially not interested in wearing out shoe leather in chasing down leads.

The claim that bloggers are like unto journalists smacks of the same hubris that has corrupted the main stream media. So, as a member of the blogger peerage, I would like to say to those bloggers making that claim: Get off your high horse, you'll get a nosebleed.

(Shape of Days link via Instapundit)

X-Prize Accomplished

Pilot Brian Binnie and Scaled Composites have just captured the Ansari X-Prize with a trip of 368,00 feet and back in Mojave this morning. Obviously this trip was in the hardest direction, namely up, and add in that Brian Binney may now live down a rough landing from last year by having executed a near perfect landing.

Also, I have to say that I was very impressed with the tracking system used by CNN developed at a small school outside of Boston.

Clearly I didn't make it out to Mojave this morning. I decided to stay home and watch through the telephoto lenses provided by CNN. That and I think that $20 for parking this time around was a little steep.

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Why Iraq is Different.

Libertarian purists and true conservatives would agree that an idea such as using Iraq as an examplar of freedom and democracy in the Middle East is too grand for a mortal government to achieve. Normally I would agree that any type of social or economic engineering is doomed to failure by nature of humanity's inherently limited understanding.

Here's the hedge: there is a type of system that can theoretically be delivered onto a populace with reasonable expectation that it will work due to the fact that it has worked in the past. That is the free market system. It is the imposing of restrictions that result in unforseen consequences and calls for new measures to fix the new problems, new measure that inevitably come with unforseen consequences of their own. By releasing strictures, the rules become simple enough that people can come to learn them and forcast far enough ahead to make reasonably accurate predictions of the future. Brian Micklethwait of Samizdata has a very good article, How Hockey Sticks Explain the Relative Attractions of Statism and Free Markets, that shows how the true costs and benefits of economic systems are typically disguised by transient changes in the opposite direction.

I have written before about how what results of a given politician's economic policies will not be realized typically until well after that politician's term in office has ended. I am coming to believe that the "blade" of the graph coincides nicely with American politic's four-year cycle. From where I sit, that's just another reason for government to get the hell out of economics.

When it comes to Iraq, the US acted in what it believed was its own best interests, both in removing Hussein and attempting to create the examplar. I do believe that things will get worse for the Iraqis in the short term, but the long term holds promise beyond the imaginings of Iraq if Saddam was still in power.

Sadly, I do think that things will get worse for Iraq before they get better. If the course is stayed, however, the people of Iraq will learn how to take care of themselves uder the free market, and their lives will ultimately be unimaginably better than if the Hussein regime had continued.

Political Inversion

This one is my analysis of Andrew Sullivan's analysis of a David Brooks column in the New York Times (registration required). Brooks separates the candidates according to their apparent foci: Kerry on process and Bush on ideal:

The atmosphere of Kerry's mind is rationalistic. He thinks about how to get things done. He talks like a manager or an engineer.

The atmosphere of Bush's mind is more creedal or ethical. He talks about moral challenges. He talks about the sort of personal and national character we need in order to triumph over our enemies. His mind is less coldly secular than Kerry's, but also more abstracted from day-to-day reality.

Andrew Sullivan largely agrees with the assesment and follows it up with the aforementioned political inversion:

But what strikes me in Brooks' defense of Bush is how it's traditionally a liberal defense of a liberal president. It's liberalism that has historically enunciated grand, abstract themes and conservatism that has always emphasized the difficulty of translating abstraction into reality, of finding the proper means to achieve certain ends, of the limits of our intellect when faced with the world of practical life.

So who was the brain surgeon who came up with this triangulation nonsense? I don't recall, but the way my head aches, I sure could use one.

Friday, October 01, 2004

Bravely Delving the Frontiers of Science!

In science, it is often important not to have too big of an impression of yourself. If you are too big, you might just miss out on some interesting discoveries. Hence, the The Ig Nobel Prizes handed out for the lighter side of scientific discovery. The prizes this year included awards in Engineering (The Comb Over), Public Health (Investigating the Five Second rule for dropped food), Medicine (the discovery of a positive correlation between country music air time and suicide among whites), and Invention (Karaoke).

Just the thought of Nobel Laureates belting out "Can't Take My Eyes off of You" should show that these guys do have senses of humor.

Know the Rules

James Lileks has penned his thoughts on the debates and the philosophy that John Kerry seems to live by. I agree, the vision is very striking, but there is a problem.

Here’s the thing. I’d really like to live in John Kerry’s world. It seems like such a rational, sensible place, where handshakes and signatures have the power to change the face of the planet. If only the terrorists lived there as well.

There are two types of thinking that one needs to use in the course of daily life: strategic and tactical. Strategic is what you want, tactical is how you get it. In the daily life of people in the industrialized world, we want to make our lives as pleasant as possible while still remaining civilized, because being civilized and moral is a pre-requisite for most people to be able to live with themselves.

This past weekend I was watching the new DVD release of the original Star Wars trilogy with some friends. (This is not as big of a digression as it seems, bear with me, please) The scene were Luke Skywalker leaves his training on Dagobah to rescue his friends came on. Yoda and the ghost of Obi Wan try to convince Luke that he must harden himself to the plight of his friends and continue the training. Luke, knowing full well it was a trap, went anyway. I, putting words into Luke's mouth, said, "There is no way I could live with myself, Jedi or not, if I let them die." My friend Drew said, "Wouldn't self-hatred lead as quickly to the Dark Side?"

My point being, we in the West value our honor as compassionate enough so that it tempers our actions, that we would count ourselves held by a handshake and a signature. That we would respect the feelings of others enough not to destroy something they value even if the enemy uses it for war (snipers in mosques, etc.).

The problem is that we are facing a foe that embraces cruelty as noble. They capture and behead unarmed workers, they bomb children, and they take war to those who do not fight them. Their goals, whatever they may be, are judged so lofty that they forgive any slight to any other value, be it compassion or mercy.

How far can a person who sins against those ideals be trusted to uphold the honor of a handshake or a signature? Let us ensure that we don't lose sight as they have.