Saturday, December 31, 2005

Happy New Year, Everybody

I'm heading out for the evening. Everyone, stay safe, designate drivers, etc. etc.
See you in the new year.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Complexity and Memetic Illness

Michael Chrichton gave a lecture last month entitled Fear, Complexity, Environmental Management in the 21st Century. He mostly decries the concept that the world is linear rather than complex. The illusion that the world is linearly predictable has given rise to many doomsaying predictions over the years.

The part of the lecture that I want to look at describes the impact on people's health that dire predictions can cause. From UN data regarding the Chenobyl disaster:
But most troubling of all, according to the UN report in 2005, is that "the largest public health problem created by the accident" is the "damaging psychological impact [due] to a lack of accurate information…[manifesting] as negative self-assessments of health, belief in a shortened life expectancy, lack of initiative, and dependency on assistance from the state."

In other words, the greatest damage to the people of Chernobyl was caused by bad information. These people weren’t blighted by radiation so much as by terrifying but false information. We ought to ponder, for a minute, exactly what that implies. We demand strict controls on radiation because it is such a health hazard. But Chernobyl suggests that false information can be a health hazard as damaging as radiation. I am not saying radiation is not a threat. I am not saying Chernobyl was not a genuinely serious event.

Chrichton draws a parallel, potentially identical, mechanism with ancient beliefs in curses:
In fact, we need to recognize that this kind of human response is well-documented. Authoritatively telling people they are going to die can in itself be fatal.

You may know that Australian aborigines fear a curse called “pointing the bone.” A shaman shakes a bone at a person, and sings a song, and soon after, the person dies. This is a specific example of a phenomenon generally referred to as “hex death”—a person is cursed by an authority figure, and then dies. According to medical studies, the person generally dies of dehydration, implying they just give up. But the progression is very erratic, and shock symptoms may play a part, suggesting adrenal effects of fright and hopelessness.

Yet this deadly curse is nothing but information. And it can be undone with information.

A person's mind and body are far from distinct. They share a deep system of positive and negative feedback systems. Doctors tell of patients who just give up and die, while others never seem to give up. It is as if the mind provides the thumb to the scales, or sometimes even a fist to one of the plates. What I find interesting is the idea that the mind can be a pathway for ideas to alter body function. Maybe the holistic medicine movement may be on to something in theory. Get some rigor in the process, and we may start to see real effects.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Watching Evolution Happen

Science Magazine has announced its BREAKTHROUGH OF THE YEAR, studies of short generation species undergoing evolutionary speciation. The cases described are fascinating.

Stick this in your ID pipe and smoke it. [/gloat]

Monday, December 26, 2005

Light Blogging Ahead

Over the next couple of weeks, I intend to be going out of my mind for a while. In addition to writing for Two Fisted Tales of Magic and my regular role-playing game group, I was gifted with Myst V. I anticipate the insanity to be enjoyable.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Hung Up on Randomness

Via Orack Knows, we have a link to La Shawn Barber’s Corner where La Shawn bemoans the court ruling that Intelligent Design does not belong in a science classroom. La Shawn posts the following:
“[C]omplex design is random—didn’t you know that?” — James White

Just took a look at the site linked to in the above quote, and it is clear that Mr. White is hardly a neutral commenter on the concept of evolution. Where he goes wrong in this one statement is that evolution is only half-random. Mutations happen when they happen, but natural selection is no more random than a football game, the best team wins. In fact, if you go with Robert Wright's view from Non-Zero then you can see that complexity is a highly successful method of survival in and of itself. From that point of view, not only is complexity not extraordinary, it would take a miracle for it not to happen.

“If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down.” — Charles Darwin

When natural selection selects, it isn't looking for perfection. All that is necessary is that it is better. And that definition of better is not very picky. To use the football analogy, natural selection only cares about who wins. Blowout or squeaker matters not, there is no point spread in evolution. So if a proto-eye can only tell what direction light is coming from, it is still better off than those eyes that can't. When it comes to the evolution of the eye, the half-eyed man still rules the blind.

As I’m sure you’ve heard, a federal court has decided that it is unconstitutional to teach Intelligent Design, the audacious claim that precious life didn’t emerge by chance — out of some primordial muck, randomly evolving from single-celled organisms, which are themselves astoundingly complex beyond our meager understanding, into thinking human beings — but from an Intelligent Being who designed it all, from the entire universe, including planet Earth, which happens to be PERFECTLY suited for life, down to the irreducibly complex eye, breathtakingly stupendous in its design and function.

I won't belabor the chance/randomness misunderstanding any further. The first point I will belabor is that La Shawn is very precisely stating the Strong Anthropic Principle, much as I had pointed out below. The problem with teaching it in science class is that it is a why question, whereas science is about the how. And even then, science is not certain about all the how's. That does not mean that those who wish for the deity to be involved should rush in. That leads to the trap of the God-of-the-gaps.

She also says something that I think is very enlightening about the entire debate. The idea that the world is perfectly designed for our life is precisely the opposite view taken by evolutionists. For evolutionists, life is perfectly adapted for our world. I'll leave it here for now to come back later for this idea in more detail.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Old Power, New Purpose

One thing I like to say is that one should not give power to the government that you wouldn't want the next president to have. Don't know who that next president is and don't know if you can trust him? Well, too bad.

That is the case with the NSA wiretap story. Evidently, this power had been recognized as Constitutional for the executive to monitor non-purely domestic communications:
In the Supreme Court's 1972 Keith decision holding that the president does not have inherent authority to order wiretapping without warrants to combat domestic threats, the court said explicitly that it was not questioning the president's authority to take such action in response to threats from abroad.

Four federal courts of appeal subsequently faced the issue squarely and held that the president has inherent authority to authorize wiretapping for foreign intelligence purposes without judicial warrant.

The only thing that really seems all that different in this case is that we know that this particular administration was using that authority. I leave it to your particular sense of cynicism as to whether you think that previous presidents did the same. I also leave it to you to decide if more of this might have helped prevent previous attacks, or if there were potential attacks that never happened because of this.

Link via Instapundit.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Dover ID Requirement Struck Down/A Way Out for ID

Judge rules against 'intelligent design' in science class

Something I did not know about this school board (in that this is the one that had almost complete turnover of 8 of 9 members in the last election): the original vote to require teaching intelligent design was 6-3 in favor. Sounds like at least 2 board members who didn't deserve the bounce got it anyway.

There is a curious theory regarding intelligent design, and that is that it would be better as a religious theory if it did not confine itself to the study of life. If life is studied as part of the physical science whole, then one could argue that the whole, including the process of evolution, was intelligently designed. It would then be part of the Strong Anthropic Principle, which holds that the physical constants of the world are as they are so that intelligent life could come about. Follow that up with infinite control of the initial conditions, and a sufficient intelligence could guarantee human kind coming about. Such control would be the miracle of miracles, but then, what would a God be for?

Monday, December 19, 2005

Objectivity can get ugly

Coming off of that last post, I got hit by an idea. Snide references aside, it has been some time since the divine ahah settled upon me.

Someone might say that the majority of people in America are Christian, and therefore we should eschew Happy Holidays in favor of Merry Christmas. I thought next, just because the majority favors calling the accoutrements of the season “Christmas” X, it doesn’t mean that the primacy of old pagan claims to the symbolism can be ignored.

The thought carried on to Intelligent Design and the scientific method, particularly when pro-ID’ers use the issue to run for school boards. And without further ado, here’s the thought:

Just because a majority wants an idea to be true, that does not mean that idea is a fact. Popular opinion has no role in the scientific method.

This applies equally well to any findings that there may be racial differences in physiology, or any other finding that might violate the sacred precepts of political correctness.

Just Be Merry, Dammit

Too bad the War on Christmas seems to be petering out, or never really started.

Anyway, if you are still looking for a side to take, try this one: start calling it a Yule Tree, or wish people a Happy Solstice (Dec. 22). Just be sure to remind folks that if there is a war on Christmas that Christmas is really an occupier of this particular patch of calendar territory.

This post brought to you by the Holiday Agent Provocateur.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Score One for Doonesbury

Today's comic.

Link via Balloon Juice

2nd Blogiversary

Today is two years since I started this thing. I certainly hope to keep going so long as interesting topics in the areas of science, philosophy, and politics keep up. Thanks for reading.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Patriot Act Shot Down

While I am not entirely happy with the methodology (inability to overcome a threatened filibuster), I certainly am glad that the Patriot Act reauthorization failed to pass the Senate. Mission creep was starting to set in. Call this one a victory for the concept of sunset clauses.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Talk About High on Life

I didn't know there was such a thing as the 'brain's own cannabis'. The subject of the story is an experimental anti-depressant that increased levels of endocannabinoids by blocking their decomposition. This definitely gets filed under "more please". Now if science can come up with the 'brains own Twinkies', we'd be all set.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Any Landing You Can Walk Away From

Via Castle Argghhh!

Good on this pilot for getting himself and passengers down safely. In the meantime of the getting down, I would not have wanted to have been on that chopper.

Friday, December 09, 2005

The Blind Watchmaker's Revenge

Does God have backaches? Did Jesus ever need to have his wisdom teeth pulled? If you do believe that God made us in His image, then one would think that he would have the same physical maladies that we do. Particularly the ones that could be described as fundamental design flaws, as described in Incompetent Design Theory. The article discusses the skeletal system primarily, but the interviewee, Prof. Don Wise, makes a very salient point about the eye:
Intelligent designers and, in fact, everybody from the creationists and so on back to the beginning of the last century used to talk about the wonderful design of the eye—which somehow has all your receptor cells behind a membrane curtain!

The following ditty sums up the theory quite succinctly:
Sung to the tune of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic")
My bones proclaim a story of incompetent design.
My back still hurts, my sinus clogs, my teeth just won’t align.
If I had drawn the blueprint, I would cer-tain-ly resign.
Incompetent Design!
Evo-Evo-Evo-lution! Design is but a mere illusion.
Darwin sparked our revolution. Science SHALL prevail!

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Just How Curious is George?

Epidemiologists have identified a potential path for interspecies communication of disease via performing monkeys. Just remember, that the limelights of showbiz can blind even the most serious minded primate over into unsafe behavior. And who knows who that monkey had been climbing on previously.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

What He Said

"Society is something emergent that occurs when people interact with each other, you cannot point at it and you cannot owe it anything. When any politician says the word 'society', you can be damn sure what he really means is 'the state'.
- Perry de Havilland"
I've been having a running discussion with a friend about whether society really exists or not. He claims there is, and I say that it is nothing more than an aggragate of individuals. I hold that my view is actually stricter than his. If so much as one individual has his personal rights violated, then one's action should be curtailed. Drive recklessly? No go, as you don't know if you will run into (figurative or literal) someone on the street.

My friend then says that what I am talking about, the unknown other, is society. My response is that when one invokes "society", it carries the implication of everyone else. It is fundamentally impossible then to effect society, and hence it becomes a non-entity, at least on the first order of interaction. Beyond the first order, the responsibility an individual has decreases rapidly as predictability becomes more and more tenuous. Someone, somewhere, is driving recklessly. Is that person harming you as you read this? If not, then the society that person is threatening does not include you. If yes, then I hope you're the passenger because you shouldn't be reading blogs while driving.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

A Short Lesson in Natural Selection

The Intelligent Design Debate is still going strong, darn it. One of the big points of distate in evolution is the nature of random mutation. What the randomness qualm misses is the non-random nature of natural selection.

Case in point: my hunting ground has rabbits that are slow enough for me to run down and catch, and when I catch them I eat them, killing the rabbit in the process. Now suppose that one of the rabbits has developed a random tick that makes it faster, be it longer legs, faster reflexes, or even sharper senses to see me coming from farther away. Either way, I won't catch that one, but I will still be dining on slow rabbit. My "selection" is not random, and after several generations, the local breed of rabbit is going to have the "faster than an out of shape human" quality. Once that happens, my progeny are going to have to develop the in shape quality or the hunting tool quality to keep up.

In the first instance, I have had a hand in the evolution of the rabbit. In the second, the rabbit has had a paw in the evolution of humans. Yet another idea for ID'ers to choke on.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Shadows of Venus

No, it is not the tale of some pulp sci-fi novel, though I should probably save that one. What I mean is that this week is the time to discover that Venus is the third body in the solar system capable of casting shadows on earth.
Instructions: Find a dark site (very dark) with clear skies and no manmade lights. Be there at sunset. You'll see Venus glaring in the southern sky: diagram. When the sky fades to black, turn your back on Venus (otherwise it will spoil your night vision). Hold your hand in front of a white screen—e.g., a piece of paper, a portable white board, a white T-shirt stretched over a rock—and let the shadow materialize.

If anyone gets a photo of that, drop me an e-mail with a copy, please.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Free Analysis

It appears that the CIA has taken to blogging about bloggers. I was once told a story about the CIA asking for hypotheticals from people outside of the Agency based solely on news reports. Much like virtual markets, the general consensus tended to be fairly accurate.

Now, with blogs, you have all sorts of people, on their own initiative, offering their views on current events. Once again, it is based only on open source information.

Hope this helps, guys.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Offensiveness Test

Imagine that you have this on a test:
One example: "I wish Bush would be (coherent, eschewed) for once during a speech, but there are theories that his everyday diction charms the below-average mind, hence insuring him Republican votes." "Coherent" is the right answer.

Replace "Republican" with "black" and lets see how long he keeps his job.
"The kids know it's hyperbolic, so-to-speak," he said. "They know it's tongue in cheek." But he said he would change his teaching methods if some are concerned.

Sorry, buddy, too little, too late.

Not Suing? How Un-American

Maybe the story about the sisters who were injured by the M&M balloon at the Macy’s Parade should give me some hope for humanity.
"We just count our blessings that they weren't seriously injured," the father said.

The family won't sue because it was "a freak accident," and "accidents just happen," he said.
I’m sure there are some lawyers tearing their hair out about this one. Thankfully, the worst of the injuries only required a few stitches. I am thankful, also, about the not suing part. It is more in keeping with the idea that a tragedy or near tragedy is more than a shot at the tort lottery.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

My Service to Humanity, Happy Thanksgiving

A list of phone entries that will bypass the robot at several major companies and take you directly to a human being. Not that the human will necessarily be better than a robot.

Link via John Cole

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Saved By a Hair

Looking for a plentiful, easily accessible source of adult stem cells? Try looking at your hair. More precisely, look at the follicle cells so beloved by the CSI franchise. Evidently, those cells harvested from a mouse have been effective in healing peripheral nerve damage in the same mouse. The beauty of this method is that it is the same genetic material, hence no issues of immuno-rejection.

Nice to know that I have plenty of follicular stem cells to spare. Particularly if more than the stuff on the head is useful.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Technology and Law Enforcement

I don't usually give a "read the whole thing", but I'm making an exception for Liquid Laws and America's Security Technology Quandary. From the extract:
The argument over new security technologies in America seem to always center around the proverbial "Big Brother Police State." However, this is not the paramount issue. The real issue is how our overly complicated and often "liquid" set of laws interacts with this new need for much more precise and flawless law enforcement technologies. And that is where a lot of our anti-terrorism efforts will break down.

Namely: too many laws with the main apparent check for liberty being the incomplete enforcement of the laws. Cool for speeding, not so good for anti-terrorism. It is a round about argument for a libertarian: enforce the laws fully, and then the focus will shift to bad law rather than cursing one's luck at having gotten caught.

Link via Electric Venom.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Right on More than Evolution

No scientist gets more negative press than Charles Darwin. Evidently he knew more than just biology. Add public affairs as well:
Darwin's theory has always been a lightning rod. In fact, Darwin worked on it in secret for more than 20 years because he was reluctant to deal with the controversy he knew it would engender.

It may not have been a survival advantage, but I certainly think that a peaceful life is the way to go.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

This Can Not Stand!

When is Congress going to do something about the outrageous price of coffee these days and the obscene profits posted by Starbucks and its ilk? One only has to look at the line of the drive-thru at five o'clock in the morning to see just how valuable a commodity Venti Lattes have become. $123.7 million in a single quarter profits, in summer no less, shows that Starbucks is only interested in lining its own pockets and not in the personal energy needs of its customers.

[/tounge in cheek]

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

What Happened to the Boys?

Paralysis Through Analysis links to a Canadian study showing a linkage between endocrine disrupting compounds in the environment and female skewed birth ratios. Evan takes the position that this could potentially sound warning bells for other industrialized towns.

My question for this study is in what way are the compounds compromising the births of males. Are there children born female who are genetically XY? Or are males being miscarried due to errors created by conflicting chemical signals? What I am asking for is the linkage between cause and effect in this system.

Link via Open Source Media (Link in the Blogroll). So far so good with this new project, folks.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005


Seattle's Jones Soda offering salmon-flavored soda
Van Stolk, who built his Seattle-based soda company by selling traditional sodas as well as exotic flavors such as green apple, bubble gum and crushed melon, said that "the most important thing (about Jones Soda) is that we can laugh at ourselves."

Asked whether he liked his new salmon soda, van Stolk said: "I cannot finish a bottle, I just can't."

Nothing like a ringing endorsement. Please, Jones Soda, bring back Dave (yes, that's the name), green tea with hemp. That one was actually good.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Odd Assertion

I have always found the drive to get into medicine to be one off the strangest. Someone would have to have a profound interest in their fellow man to do so, but in order to function one would have to inure oneself to the human element much of the time.

That people don't go into medicine without a drive to aid people makes this statement by Bobbi Schindler, brother to the late Terri Schiavo, ring very oddly:
“The medical community wants to refer to people like my sister who are disabled as vegetative because it dehumanizes them, it takes away their personhood,” Schindler said.

If anything, Mr. Schindler, it was the severe brain damage that took away your sister's personhood. While "vegetative state" sounds harsh, it does describe a harsh situation. Every test prior to her death (I won't include autopsy results in this discussion) showed that the portions of her brain that would act to create a human creature were gone. Whatever might have stayed alive was not Terri, nor would it have been functionally human.

So to say that the medical profession seeks to de-humanize people strikes me as absurd on its face, both in cause and effect. I doubt that hospitals would be such tense places if the staff didn't give a damn as to whether their patients lived or died. I doubt there would be hospitals at all in that case. Terri Schiavo was a sad though fortunately rare case. I am sorry that you were unable to face facts in this manner, as doctors are forced to do every day in the most human of sciences.

Issues of quality of life are important to my family. With that in mind, I point out that my father is doing well one year after his close call. We knew, and the hospital knew, my father's wishes should certain events happen. Thank God they didn't. You can never tell me that those nurses and doctors didn't care about the people they were caring for. More than the patients, as Dr. Cey of Kaiser Permanente gave my mother and I pillows and blankets for our vigil in the waiting room one year ago last night.

I don't usually speak for a group, but this is one instance where the statement must be repudiated with all my strength.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Storage Locker Bound

Lately I've been getting ripped on by friends who think that I am way off base for defending the oil companies with regard to their profits this past quarter. Much like discussions about the steel industries, they take the position that the commodity is too important to be left to market forces and that the US must maintain its own capacity. I'm of the opinion that if its too important for the market to regulate, then it is far too important for the government to be mucking around in.

I wish that I had this script for that discussion. Also, I would ask these older friends just what the wait in those gas lines were like. They complain that the higher gas prices are hurting their business, but money can be recouped with a dose of pain to themselves and their clients. There would be no way to recoup the time lost sitting in a three hour line, and when you have your own business, like they do, time is money, namely $60/hour.

If anything, here in California we were shielded from the effects of Katrina in that we have the special eco-friendly (*spit*) gasoline that only a few refineries make, none of which were in the hurricane zone. We only got hit for the crude prices rather than compete with the rest of the country. IIRC the disparity between California gas and the rest of the country closed, but not in a good way as their gas became more expensive while ours rose by a slower amount.

Last point in closing: get rid of those damn tax deductions and credits the companies are getting. Then they might use these feast day profits to insulate themselves, and us, from future famine.

Link via John Cole

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Going Meta on the Meta-Bigot

Link via Protein Wisdom

Yet another wrinkle on the whole PC use of words issue has been the rise of Meta-Bigotry in comedy. Sarah Silverman is highlighted in Slate Magazine as a case in point. Combine a perfect deadpan with lines that would get someone shot on any college campus in country, and you have a comic performance that cuts right back on the audience.
Everybody blames the Jews for killing Christ, and then the Jews try to pass it off on the Romans. I'm one of the few people that believe it was the blacks." (The joke exposes not the ancient perfidy of any particular race but the absurdity of blaming entire races for anything.) Her best jokes are thought experiments in the internal logic of political correctness: "I want to get an abortion, but my boyfriend and I are having trouble conceiving." A Playboy interviewer, probing for something salacious, once asked Silverman if she had a nickname for her vagina. She answered "Faggot"—a throwaway joke that manages to kink sexual identity into such an ingenious pretzel it could fuel a doctoral dissertation.

This is comedy twisting around on itself so much that it has become abstract. There is nothing really here any more, the meaning has been lost under multiple layers of irony until the only things that are clear are the preconceptions of the audience. This is a perfect attack on the whole PC paradigm: Do you take it seriously or as deliberate baiting? Either way, you define yourself with your reaction.

Next time I hear of her in the LA area, I'm going for a show. This is clearly something that has to be experienced.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Sad Story This

Get run over once, shame on driver.
Get run over twice, shame on snake.
A rare snake that had been saved once after a tangle with cars and trucks has been found dead after being run over by a truck.
Andrews captured and tagged No. 039 in 2004 as part of scientists' rediscovery of the species, which had been thought to be extinct in Vermont.

Granted it was probably the nice warm road that attracted it, but getting run over twice implies that this snake was just not destined for the gene pool.

Link via Dave Barry

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Take a Moment and Reflect

If there was a power source that turns physics on its head, and even the headline calls it a fuel's paradise, don't you think there should be a little skepticism?

Just as a point of reference, if you ever read something online that says that quantum physics is wrong, simply remember that a computer functions off of quantum principles. Therefore, the story must be false, because either the computer works or you are hallucinating about reading a story on a magic box.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Testing the Boundaries of Frustration

I never had much patience for crossword puzzles despite the trivia like questions. Recently I have discovered Sudoku, a number puzzle that has very simple rules and, in theory, no guessing.

I can get the easy ones done only most of the time, even using a solution guide that uses emergent patterns that result from mulitple applications of the rules.

Good luck.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

I May Be No Milblogger

But I know a good cause when I see one. In this case, the cause is Project Valour-IT. The Project seeks to provide voice activated laptop computers to veterans who have taken injuries to their hands. Young vets, particularly those who serve in Iraq and Afganistan, rely on the internet as the means of staying in touch with their family and the rest of the world. Head over to Doc in the Box and make a donation via Team Navy. If the navy isn't your first choice of military branch, Sean provides a list of the bloggers representing the other services.

I haven't decided who to give through yet. It comes down to whether I still smart over that Air Force ROTC rejection back in high school.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Collective Syncronization as Excuse

Why does the most striking design for a footbridge wobble? Blame it on the occurance called spontaneous synchronization.
Collective synchronisation occurs in nature when crickets start chirping in unison. In some parts of the world, fireflies blink on and off in perfect synchrony like a Christmas tree. The monthly cycles of women living together have also been known to synchronize.

Sorry, guys, that explanation won't fly. Ever since the Tacoma Narrows bridge in Washington state collapsed, natural frequency analysis has been part of any bridge design. And yet someone designs a footbridge with the natural frequency of people walking. Way to score an auto-goal on yourselves, chaps.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

A Personal Note

I have been working on a novel for the past two and a half months that I have serialized online as it came out. Some people say that starting the story is the hard part. To that I say "Hah!" Writing the ending is practically terrifying. I've seen enough stories come to thud-like endings, and I am afraid of doing that to this story. I will talk myself through with the assurance that it is only a first draft, but damn this gets harder as I go along.

Wish me luck.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

More on Meaningless Government

This is in continuation of this post from earlier.

Glenn Reynolds has a response at Tech Central Station to the Peggy Noonan article from this past weekend. He has the point of view that the falling apart is more on the part of those who had the power over the years:
Yes, but what whole thing, exactly? Noonan seems to think it's the whole society, but that's not so clear. Certainly the extensive depression that Noonan attributes to coastal elites doesn't seem to show much in my circles. Nor in the circles of blogger Phil Bowermaster, who writes: "What is so all-fired important about the disposition of journalists and politicians?"

Patrick Eickert asks how Reynold's "Army of Davids" would handle issues of national security and immigration policy. Prof. Reynolds makes a good response in respect to energy policy (who needs the government in the first place?), and it touches on the better response to why those in government feel the wheels coming off.

That better response is that the government has too much on its plate is that it has taken on too much responsibility. How much better would the federal government function if it restricted itself to what the Constitution, closely read, allows? Better to do a few things well than to do many poorly. And repeatedly showing incompetence on many fronts is the fast track to irrelevance.

Damn, This Looks Cool

I know next to nothing about musical instruments. Writing is as close to "playing the keyboard" as I get. So I can't speak for the sound of this new guitar design, so I'll take the press it is getting as a hint that it might just play as well as it looks.

Ribs and skin are molded plastic. The formulation of the plastic was chosen to highlight the body's resonance. Resonance was something I thought wasn't picked up on an electric; that being the reason that solid body electrics work.

Any thoughts from those in the muscial know? I'd really love to hear from someone who has experienced this beast.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

If You're Going to Waste Your Time...

then please waste it at Game the World. I certainly don't waste much time writing it, unless it is a truly important issue where I refuse to characterize the time as wasted. Come for a chuckle, stay for the strategy.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Yeah, He's Divisive

I'll use the roundup at Michelle Malkin for the links to opinions on the selection of Alito for the Supreme Court.

My take on the choice: There will be disagreement between Reps and Dems on this one. About freaking time there was some difference between the two in the Senate. Now if we can accomplish that on legislation.

OH, and Happy Halloween.

Friday, October 28, 2005

So You Say You Want a Singularity

Apologies to John Lennon.

Peggy Noonan has a piece regarding a supposed sense that the world is on the edge of falling apart. Numerous commentators at Protein Wisdom observe that there always prophets of doom, that cycles have down turns, or that it is a matter of reacting differently this time around.

I'm with those who see cycles, not only in nature but in society. Consider it a continuation of the gene/meme analogy. One of those cycles, a Giant Red Spot in the sea of variables that make up human history, is the United States of America. Using this image, I do get a sense that the cycle may be broken in the mid-term, if not short-term. Perhaps I should tighten down my vocabulary here: I think the government of the United States of America is going to be breaking down in a history relative short term in a manner very similar to that described in the Bruce Sterling book Distraction.
It's the year 2044, and America has gone to hell. A disenfranchised U.S. Air Force base has turned to highway robbery in order to pay the bills. Vast chunks of the population live nomadic lives fueled by cheap transportation and even cheaper computer power. Warfare has shifted from the battlefield to the global networks, and China holds the information edge over all comers. Global warming is raising sea level, which in turn is drowning coastal cities. And the U.S. government has become nearly meaningless.

The most telling part of what is coming is that last part. I think we are already seeing it. From Noonan's piece:
Roiling history, daily dangers, big demands; a government that is itself too big and rolling in too much money and ever needing more to do the latest important, necessary, crucial thing.
Everyone was laughing. Then, writes Mr. Lawford, Teddy [Kennedy] "took a long, slow gulp of his vodka and tonic, thought for a moment, and changed tack. 'I'm glad I'm not going to be around when you guys are my age.' I asked him why, and he said, 'Because when you guys are my age, the whole thing is going to fall apart.' "

Right now, we have cycles that have happened before and things on the horizon that haven't, and we don't know what cycles are going to survive the changes, the government and nation of the United States of America included. I can't say whether my feeling (and yes I say "feel" as opposed to "think", a distinction I make very conciously) is accurate, because the whole point of a singularity is that it is the breakdown of causality. What happens immediately after a historical singularity is unpredictable because all patterns had been wiped clean for new ones to form. Maybe not wiped clean utterly, but it would certainly be the end of the world as we know it.

I think one sign of the singularity will be a critical mass of the population will realize that the Federal Government as we know it has become impotent and unimportant. Hurricane Katrina showed the impotence of all of the applicable levels. Hurricane Wilma in Florida showed that even an experienced and capable government can only do so much. Some signs point to the fact that people are learning that they need to provide their own security in addition to food and water after a disaster.

I will be the end of the world as we know it. We don't know what it will be afterward. Sometimes, I wonder if it would be better?

Thus endeth the ramble.

Link via Protein Wisdom

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Definition: Judicial Activism

I'm sure that you have come across this definition implicitly in many other places, but I propose to make the definition of "Judicial Activism" explicit.
Judicial Activism: The interpretation of the law, or the Constitution, so that a particular social or political result is obtained.
If the objectives are of a base nature, then this is also a good definition of judicial corruption, and it certainly rips off the blindfold. A good way of phrasing the separation of powers is that the Judiciary is concerned with method, the Executive with acting, and the Legislature with planning. It is the job of the Legislature to make law with the goal of creating the society we live within, the Judiciary is to ensure that no one's rights are trampled in the process.

Flush This Idea

Report: Ford plant clamping down on bathroom breaks.

The link from the CNN front page read "Paper: Ford to collect data on potty breaks". Does anyone else read that as studying the habits of its customers on long trips?

Anyway, the article says that employees get 48 minutes per shift. Sounds pretty generous to me. While there may be an issue with employees doing some overtime in the can, I can't see how it could be a significant factor in a company losing $191 million a year.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Strategy Revealed

One of the key elements to any game is to ge the opposition to reveal their strategy. That is necessary in order to establish a strategy of one's own, either setting a solid defense or launching a crushing attack before the opponent's defense is up.

Can there now be any question whatsoever as to Iran's key strategic goal? What should be our response to it? Israel almost certainly has its plans, either a pre-emptive strike or a MAD policy. Someone is going to lose here, and I don't see anyway to keep it from becoming a complete negative sum game.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

How Far They Have Come

I doubt that the ancient Romans would have had much problem with the fraternity ritual of swallowing live goldfish. While the new law in Rome doesn't mention swallowing per se., they have banned the use of goldfish bowls. Has anyone done a study of fish lifespans, which I imagine would be the only measurable quantity impacted by cruelty?

Then again, as the old saw goes, don't goldfish have such short memories that each lap is a new and exciting experience? Either way, it would sure beat getting eaten.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Why These Targets?

Maybe the "insurgents" in Iraq are getting wise to the fact that Western reporters in that country seldom leave their hotels. Then again, there is the symbolic value of the location as well.
The bombs went off near the Palestine Hotel and another hotel, which overlook Firdos Square, where Iraqis and U.S. troops pulled down a statue of Saddam Hussein after the April 2003, U.S.-led invasion.

Then again, that was a big story largely because it was in eyesight of the hotels as well.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Advances in Molecular Transport


How to move atoms from point A to point B.

How you ask? By nanoscale vehicles, of course. I'd be curious to see how it would be steered. Perhaps you simply allow for the cars to act as resistance reducers, thereby letting the atoms travel more freely, and let random brownian motion get the components to where they will naturally adhere.

No word yet on the International Brotherhood of Teamsters reaction to this breakthrough.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Rat 1, Scientists 0

I don't like fishing. I find the thought that I am matching wits with a fish and losing to be tremendously depressing.

So imagine the chagrin (word bill: $0.50) of scientists when they could not hunt down one rat with a radio collar.

Then again, at least it was a mammal that beat them.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Demand Your Right to Free Hearing

I've long thought of the First Amendment to be that directional, less about the speaker and more about the listener. I want to hear non-mainstream, non-approved political messages. That is the only way for me to know if there is a better way according to my principles or whether my principles need re-examining. Jeff Goldstein has yet another brilliant post on the necessity of meaning being set by the speaker of words than making the meaning contingent on the listener.

Here comes the Lone Libertarian: I have no responsibility not to speak offensively. I may speak offensively if I wish, and I would then accept that people will be offended and that they may react in accordance to the offense. So long as that reaction remains within their own power, is within the power of other individuals who hear of the incident, and does not involve the power of the state to levy punishment, then all is good. Please note the distinction: Joe Blow may take offense and act upon it by shunning, but Dean Joe Blow of Public University may not act with his power as Dean to punish the speach.

I choose not to offend, because I value the respect of those with whom I speak over whatever value may come from uttering offensive words. Hence, I seldom use profanity on this blog. Whatever virtue reflects upon me, whatever respect comes from my civil language, would be entirely nullified under a speach code. Yet another way that the current culture devalues language.

One last thing: the practice of current post-modernism places primacy in the receiver of words, thereby making the words change to the world view of the listener. By doing so, the practitioner of post-modernism consigns their pupil to an intellectual stasis. Words can have no impact if they may only go "Splat" upon a closed mind.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Statistical Heresy

From what I recall of statistics (read: not much) a wager is considered worth while if the buy-in multiplied by the pay-out is greater than the odds against winning. So, when they say that
Ticket buyers played their kids' birthdays, their wedding anniversaries, even a set of numbers taken straight from the TV show "Lost," in hopes of winning $340 million Wednesday in the second-biggest lottery jackpot in U.S. history.

The odds of hitting all six numbers were 1 in 146 million.

mean that for once the lottery is actually a worthwhile bet? By a factor of 2+? Of course that does assume that one gets all of it, and takes into account that the value would be even less if taken as a lump sum.

Update: Shows you what I knew about the math. Corrected to multiply

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Coming Out and Saying It

It has been said that the Republicans have been spending money like drunken sailors. Let's put that old saw to rest as many sailors are taking offense to it. A Mallard Fillmore cartoon put it more succinctly by describing the Republicans as spending like drunken Democrats. (Insert Ted Kennedy joke here)

Now I am writing it: I am against George W. Bush for his domestic policies. Foreign affairs are another matter, but that can only take someone so far, and Bush has crossed that line. Just who is President Bush for? Between the excesses of compassionate conservatism to the nomination of the stealthiest of stealth candidates for the Supreme Court, the President has pissed off just about everyone who call themselves Republican. I don't, and I still think that I made the right decision not voting for Kerry, and doubly glad of not voting for Bush.

This has been a seat of the pants presidency, and it has finaly worn thin.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Pre-Paid Minutes as Currency?

That seems to be one of the odder outcomes of the explosion in cell phone usage in Africa.
Prepaid air minutes are the preferred means of usage and have created their own $2 billion-a-year industry of small-time vendors, the Celtel chief says. Air minutes have even become a form of currency, transactable from phone to phone by text message, he says.

This is particularly useful in Africa, where transferring small amounts of money through banks is costly.

Or other uses of cell phones themselves.
Wildlife researchers in Kenya and South Africa have put no-frills cell phones in weatherproof cases on a collar that goes around an elephant's neck. The phone sends a message every hour, revealing the animal's whereabouts.

It cuts the cost of tracking wildlife by up to 60 percent, said Professor Wouter van Hoven of the University of Pretoria's Center for Wildlife Management.

Comparing social evolution to biological evolution is old hat. Still, this is such a clear example of unforseeable memetic evolution that it deserves to be added to any arsenal of cases.

In any evolution, however, there are parasites.
On the downside, however, bus passengers on cross-country journeys have to turn off their cell phones because criminals are known to use them to coordinate highway robberies.

If anything, this outcome is even greater reinforcement of the concept of social evolution being highly similar to biological evolution.

Friday, October 14, 2005

For the Sake of Clarity

I am in no way related to Ted Rall, he of the juvenile cartoons and whatever-word-means-the-opposite-of-astute political commentary. That I shared my nickname with both him and Ted Kennedy always gave me a chill of unease. So, in the meantime, and in pursuit of a career writing, I've gone over to my professional, legal name.

New label, same content, take it for what its worth.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Not The Desired Synergy

Can I be the only one who sees the potential for technology that would allow the new Apple Video I-Pod and Digital Video Recorders (TiVo et al.) to develop in the very near future? While Apple may promise pristine downloads of the videos, that is the same promise that digital cable companies and satellite providers make. Commercial free? I doubt that the I-Pod would lack the ability to fast forward.

DVR's already offer the ability to download to video tape. Combine that with existent digital conversion tools, save it to the format (which will be the first hack someone would have to come up with for this scheme to work if the I-Pod uses a proprietary format) on which the I-Pod saves video.

Of course, this is all going to take a bunch of savvy that the average person who will buy the I-Pod would possess. But that's the beauty of the internet, it allows you to partake in someone else's genius.

Update: Point made, take a look at the first comment. I had forgotten about the PSP playing recorded video. Any word on how the pictures compare? Would it be more worthwhile for someone who already has an I-Pod to shell out for the video model or to get the PSP and play games to boot?

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

A Long, Strange Trip

That I will not go into here.

Let's just say that I have had some time to do some deep reflection on the path that I have taken thus far in my life, have found said life wanting, decided to continue contemplation on a new direction, and leave it at that.

The one thing that I am certain of is that I will be devoting more time to writing, either here, or at my fiction site Two-Fisted Tales of Magic. Check it out, and drop me a line with constructive criticism.

Oh, and I'm sorry that I wasn't here to make a big deal out of my 5,000th hit. The pace at which visitors are coming here continues to increase, and for that I have all of you to thank.

So see you all around here later. Or maybe over at Two-Fisted Tales of Magic.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Word of Mouth and the Future of Serenity

A quick thought on the advertising and reviews for Serenity. I don't think that the movie was all that strong in character for someone who is coming into it cold. If you are hoping that big box office is likely to help resurrect the show, then you have to be really careful not to over-hype this. Box office is only half of the equation, the other half is going to be the rate at which box office drops after the first week. I would recommend that fans don't flood the theatres the first week (that goes particularly to multiple viewings the first weekend) and instead save their Serenity binges for the second week. A huge drop off after the first week will be taken as their not being a significant market beyond the series's fanbase.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Go On, Pilfer the Nest, I Dare Ya'

At last, an environmentally friendly use for landmines. Talk about your protected habitat. There are a couple of good lines:
Grant Munro, director of Falklands Conservation, says the boost to wildlife is a bit anecdotal since "it has really not been looked into, for obvious reasons."

"There is a risk that only 95 percent would be removed," said Falkland Islands Gov. Howard Pearce. "You would bring a sense of complacency to the community and increase rather than reduce the chance of injury."

Besides, he noted, "The environmentalists like them."

Now when was that last time you heard that said?

Monday, September 26, 2005

Your Reactions May Vary

Actually, that is going to be a given, because there are two very distinct audiences for Serenity, those already familiar with the characters, and those who are not. For those familiar, you are going to love this film.

For those of you who are brand new to this 'verse, don't blink during the first fifteen minutes of the film. There is a lot going on in giving the audience a crash course in the personalities of the characters (the panning shot following the captain through the ship was very well executed).

The best parts of the movie: Joss Whedon's writing is right where his fans expect it to be. There is a great deal of humor in the character relationships, even in the tensest moments. The Operative (played by CHIWETEL EJIOFOR) was pitch perfect as the soul-less face of the Alliance. No emotion, no self, only the role granted him in the greater machine. No sneering, no cackling, yet this guy is just flat out scary.

Down side: While Joss Whedon uses every bit of space the big screen gives him, I think the medium restricted him too much on time. There was too much that needed to be done, and I would have prefered to have had more character time than special effects budget.

For fans of Firely, this is a must see. For a fan of science fiction, you won't be disappointed. For me, it was good to see some old friends again.

Doc in the Box offers his assessment.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

We've Been Punk'd, Right?

You know its coming, the announcement that the wholeDemi/Ashton relationship has been one big joke from the beginning. The statement that this has been one big prank targetting the credulity of mass media in the soap opera lives of celebrities is immminent.



Friday, September 23, 2005

Please, God, Don't Let This Suck

And I am very confident that it will not:


Joss Whedon, the Oscar® - and Emmy - nominated writer/director responsible for the worldwide television phenomena of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE, ANGEL and FIREFLY, now applies his trademark compassion and wit to a small band of galactic outcasts 500 years in the future in his feature film directorial debut, Serenity. The film centers around Captain Malcolm Reynolds, a hardened veteran (on the losing side) of a galactic civil war, who now ekes out a living pulling off small crimes and transport-for-hire aboard his ship, Serenity. He leads a small, eclectic crew who are the closest thing he has left to family –squabbling, insubordinate and undyingly loyal.

I have been looking forward to his for a while now.

I enjoyed the series Firefly when it was on Fox, but I haven't seen it for a while. Just realized that I am at the moment of wrtiting this missing the repeat on the SciFi Channel, damnit. Anyway, I have been invited to attend an advanced screening of the film this coming Monday. [Brief pause for blogger to do happy dance and for you to be happy that there shall be no visuals of blogger doing happy dance] I'll be coming in with a mid-way perspective on this, a proud fan of the property and of heroic science fiction in general, but not completely loaded down with expectations.

Road Maps and Bold Predictions

I have been working a pair of predictions as to how the Republicans become as politically irrelevant by 2010 as the Democrats are today. As with any work, I reserve the right to amend as necessary.

From my roadmap:
2. Meanwhile, social conservatives continue to push their legislate and regulate agenda upon the rest of the country. Any gains in Congress in 2006 will only hasten the course to the right.

When I wrote that, I only had the religious right agenda in mind. I'm going to add George Bush's "Compassionate Conservative" fiscal agenda to that.

I found a hint at that some of the libertarian right are growing tired of the fiscal irresponsibility happening under a supposedly small-government Republican Party. I, for one, am beginning to wonder if a divided government would be preferable to what we have going. This might be exploitable by the Democrats in the upcoming 2006 election cycle, especially by someone trying to posture as a moderate **cough-Hillary-cough-cough**.

The sad part is if this tactics works in ultimately slowing the rate of growth, it will knock a major pillar out from under the traditional Republican platform. The loss of this positive position would make the temptation of a purely negative campaign all the more attractive. From there, carry on with the plan.

The Only Constant is Change

There are some people who say that the recent upswing in hurricanes is a symptom of global warming, while others say that this is a predictable aspect of temperature cycles in the Atlantic. Here's my problem with arguments that say that x is causing deviation y from the normal: Just what exactly is normal? The problem is that defining normal is a conditional thing in a world filled with cycles. The normal that we know from the past five years may be all well and good for oil prices, but that is nothing when it comes to climate patterns.

Another hiccup: even if we do know the proper time scale for determining normal, do we have enough information to accurately describe the normal?

Our only recent measuring of the world, combined with the conceit that a human lifetime is significant, has left us in a poor position to complain about change. Another millenium or so should give us a sliver of perspective.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Shh! Type Quieter

Just what I need in my life, another reason to be paranoid. Now what you are typing can be revealed merely by the sound of typing. Do you keep that window open? Do you trust the person in the next cubicle? Beware.

Not that I have anything to worry about. And if there was, I'm sure someone is coming up with muffled keyboard designs by now. If any of you get something like that marketed, I am certainly not too proud to accept gratuites. The E-mail is in the profile.

Budget, Now!

I'll grant that it is not entirely reasonable to start planning on the costs of repairs prior to the storm hitting. Still, having some idea where the money can possibly come from would be wise.

Sounds like another good reason to be following up on Porkbusters.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Emergency Airliner Landing

Good news, a Jet Blue airliner has just completed a safe Emergency Landing at LAX after its nose gear became stuck in a 90 degree turned position. A couple of quick thoughts.

1) Good on the designers of that gear that it was able to withstand the shearing force of a touchdown while in full drag contact with the runway.

2) Someone is going to get their ass handed to them when the investigation goes through every piece of paper generated in the production of that gear gets sifted. Figure on at least a dozen pieces of paper for each step from pulling the metal out of the ground to installing the finished part onto the plane. You would have to think that someone at Jet Blue is already organizing the data pull.

3) Jet Blue advertises live TV at each seat. Was that service still active as the plane circled to burn off fuel? If yes, could you imagine how surreal that would have been? I'm sure someone is going to be starting a study as to whether such access to information during an emergency situation is a good thing or not.

Is Solar System Warming the Hazard?

New information from NASA from its Mars probes has shown a much more active environment than previously expected. One point would have been the basis of a Greenpeace press conference if it happened on earth:
And for three Mars summers in a row, deposits of frozen carbon dioxide near Mars' south pole have shrunk from the previous year's size, suggesting a climate change in progress.

One of the competing theories for the increase of Earth's temperatures is that the sun is putting out more energy. That theory would indicate effects felt throughout the solar system. So that leaves me a question for astronomers: have there been other changes on the other planets that would or would not be indicative of increased solar radiation? Comparisons of storm activity on Jupiter might be a good place to start.

H/T Instapundit

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Symbolic Reset

Jeff Goldstein offers a post on the differences between intentional and unintentional symbols. It all started with two different stories, the Flight 93 Memorial and the British Burger King affront to Islam. From a purely intellectual angle, I enjoy when two different stories come together and spark an inquiry into a deeper level about the creation and meaning of symbols.

I offered in the comments about how the red crescent that describes the memorial grounds might have happened incidentally from a ground-up design that results in an unintended symbol forming within an artificial perspective. I can allow that the architect might never have considered his design explicitly from the elevated view implied by a model. From the ground, being within a crescent implies an enfolding and a demarcation of an area. That the ground so encircled is important should really go without saying but is the essence of a memorial.

I propose that I can create a different pitch for this design that would completely flip the sides of the complaint over the design:

In the land encompassed within this memorial, on the day of September 11, 2001, forty innocent lives on board Flight 93 came to an end. The deaths that occurred that day are not the reason for this memorial. The reason for this memorial is that it happened here.

Look about the land; it is empty as it was on that day. Grass and flowers and hills.

Look about the land; and imagine how much city could fill this space. Businesses and people and families.

Here, we commemorate those who chose to sacrifice their own lives to deny an enemy a weapon to strike at other innocents. We do not place a memorial here by our choice, we honor the choice already made.

No changes to the physical layout or structures or landscaping of the memorial. If the memorial had been described this way, that the memorial encompasses the area of destructiveness of the crash, then who do you think would be complaining that the area has been contained within a symbol of the Islamic faith?

Monday, September 19, 2005

A Little Slow Getting on the Bandwagon, er, Pirate Ship

In recognition of Talk Like a Pirate Day, I direct your attention to The Pirate Name Generator.

For instance, I, Ted, am to be renamed Cap'n Edmund Bloodgut. Cap'n will suffice until 12 midnight PDT, at which time I shall return to being high lord and potentate of all I survey.

This Move Seems Familiar

It seemed like good news on sunday: N. Korea Agrees to Stop Building Nukes. Many conservative commentators wanted to start talking this up as another Bush foreign relations victory. While right on, Bush probably won't get any points for sounding cautious:
President Bush called it a positive step, but he expressed some skepticism about whether North Korea will live up to its promises.

"They have said — in principle — that they will abandon their weapons programs," Bush said. "And what we have said is, 'Great. That's a wonderful step forward.' But now we've got to verify whether that happens."

"The question is, over time will all parties adhere to the agreement," Bush said.

Score one for the presidential prognosticator. North Korea has whipped out a deal killer:
But the North's statement Tuesday indicated it was again raising the reactor demand as a prerequisite for disarming.

"We will return to the NPT and sign the safeguards agreement with the IAEA and comply with it immediately upon the U.S. provision of LWRs, a basis of confidence-building to us," the North's Foreign Ministry said in the statement, carried by the North's official Korean Central News Agency.

"The U.S. should not even dream of the issue of (North Korea's) dismantlement of its nuclear deterrent before providing LWRs," the North said.

The countermove to this stategem is to hurt North Korea in some way, probably through China's leverage. Then again, recall that I am among the non-privy to details, especially just what the cost that China will exact in order to use said leverage. The game plays on.

Beware the Easy Answer

First impressions are usually correct. First reactions are almost always wrong, particularly on the political level.

Toss some blame around, and people are looking for some easy problems to solve. I get very worried when someone points at a downside of old principles and say that the principle must be discarded. "Damn the consequences, I have to do something now!"

First is the Mississippi Attorney General seeking to invalidate flood exclusion clauses in home owners insurance policies. Sure, it makes it look like the AG is looking out for the injured little guy, but what happens later? Suddenly, the AG has precedent to step in and say that a mutually agreed upon contract is unfair and that the terms to which the parties are bound must be changed. The beauty of contracts is that it allows a person to make an agreement with the ability to predict what that agreement's costs and benefits are going to be. How likely are you to enter into a contract where you can wake up one day and find yourself with huge new obligations? Contracts reduce risk for both sides. Good job AG Jim Hood, for injecting yet more arbitrary risk back into the economy.

Second is the pressure for the Federal Government to send in troops faster. Posse Commitatus, however, is a powerful check against that power. Therefore, it's gotta to go. President decides that there is a state of emergency, send in the army. Of course, once the army is there, who's going to argue with them? Do you trust President Bush not to use that power capriciously? I'll be fair and say that half of you do and half of you don't, and leave you hanging on my answer. Next question: do you trust President Bush's successor? Don't know who he or she will be? Neither do I, and I don't trust people I don't know (especially without a contract).

That's the problem with the world, its being run by people. Have a good monday.

Friday, September 16, 2005

We Missed You, Cindy


The screed Cindy Sheehan has at Michael Moore's site ends on a very odd point:
George Bush needs to stop talking, admit the mistakes of his all around failed administration, pull our troops out of occupied New Orleans and Iraq, and excuse his self from power. The only way America will become more secure is if we have a new administration that cares about Americans even if they don't fall into the top two percent of the wealthiest.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't the biggest slam on President Bush that he didn't get the occupation of New Orleans going quickly enough? Just wondering.

I Think They Call it Synergy

New Orleans is in trouble. Now, what is the first thing you think of when you hear the name New Orleans? Mardi Gras, of course. And what is the most infamous aspect of Mardi Gras? Think: Girls Gone Wild.

So, bringing together those two great ideas, a genius called J. Ross has created Boobs for Bourbon Street!. The basis of this site is anonymously donated photos of flashing and the request of a donation to see the photos. The only way to make this more perfect is to rig the photo donors's computers to spew beads each time their photos get down loaded.

H/T Andrew Sullivan.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Not Good

It is a simple deal, really. We let biologists experiment on animals, and they agree to keep track of the little biters. I'll let slide that infected mice and plague bacillae are physically small health risks for now.

Fortunately, it isn't the rodents themselves that spread the plague. Bearing that in mind, anyone care to join me for a pre-emptive flee dip?

Teaching an Old Material New Tricks

With my background in materials science, I tend to gush like a fanboy over new methods in alloys and composites. That includes annual contests in such strange concepts such as concrete canoes.

I have to say that I hadn't considered working on natural materials in this way. Then I found (via Core77) an article out a wood product that is extremely flexible for stylistic applications. A blurb on how they do it:
The patented production technique involves steaming and then compressing hardwood along its length. This process concertinas the cell walls at microscopic level and rather like a bendy straw, allows the cell walls to straighten out again on the outside of a bend without getting into tension.

Click over to the gallery pages and take a look at some of the applications. Way cool.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

How to Mangle a Story

Compare and contrast the impressions left by this article regarding a process for creating bio-diesel fuel, with this follow-up. So what was more important, providing information regarding new sources of energy or making an attention grabbing headline and follow-through controversy?

H/T Dave Barry

Can You Ask the Nominee About This One?

Just in time for the Supreme Court nomination processes, a US District Court Judge rules public school recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance unconstitutional on grounds of separation of church and state.

The snap analysis is that this puts the issue of judicial activism square in the spotlight of the confirmation process. At this point, it is a sure thing that this decision is going to be headed for the High Court, and that many people are going to want to know how the present and future nominees are going to decide on such a case.

This is where the anti-acitivists had better be careful. If they wish to stick by the "Ginsburg Rule" where it is improper for a nominee to pre-judge cases from the witness table, then they must stick by that principle when it comes to the inevitable pledge case. They'll get nailed with Roe v. Wade questions if they open that door. (If you're wondering: no relation so far as I know)

But We Can't Do Anything Without the Figurehead!

     If there were ever a job that could be done by telecommuting, wouldn’t the Presidency of the United States be it? The sum total of responsibilities is to tell other people what to do. I tend to have nothing but disdain for governmental workers, but I still give them enough credit that they could achieve a reasonable facsimile of high gear with a mere phone call as opposed to being hauled into the Presence. So I don’t think that FEMA would have worked any better if President Bush had been in Washington as opposed to Crawford. The demand that he should have cut his vacation short and have been in Washington seems more like a desire to have a talisman that says that government is working because government is at work.

     So, once again, we have proof that George W. Bush is a heartless, evil bastard because he is not using the magic wand of federal power properly. Lord knows everything was wonderful in the world when we were under the benevolent protectorship of William the White.

     Thus endeth the screed.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Science Works, Got a Problem With That?

Here’s a lovely column from the Guardian regarding a bias of sorts against science in the media. Give the man (woman?) a byline, please, I need a name to laud. The author offers a characterization of this bias
It is my hypothesis that in their choice of stories, and the way they cover them, the media create a parody of science, for their own means. They then attack this parody as if they were critiquing science. This week we take the gloves off and do some serious typing.

Postmodernism, wherein the whole notion of being "true" or "correct" in an answer is considered risible, is the faith of the humanities (journalism included) portion of just about any school of higher learning. Any claim to being correct is seen as merely a means to exercise power over those who claim another truth. Thus it follows that science is a tool of oppressing the have-nots and must therefore be destroyed.

There’s a huge problem with that project: the pursuit of scientific knowledge and the technology that derives from it is creating power. By focusing only on mocking the pursuit of science, the media is denying the knowledge to those who do not make it their living. By limiting the spread of knowledge, the postmodern attack on science in the name of social justice defeats itself.

Those who carry the mantle of dissent claim to be “Speaking Truth to Power”. I’d recommend that they start speaking truth, scientifically tested and thoroughly reasoned truth, to the powerless. They’re the ones who need it.

H/T Instapundit.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Two Thoughts on the So-So LA Blackout of 2005

(Owing to the lack of duration and absence of anything really bad happening, this event does not rate a Great)

First, this was a kick-ass opportunity to practice the first reactions of the first responders. No amount of pre-planned exercises can simulate that moment of "What the hell?" that a real event starts off with. Hopefully the LA Times will keep the pressure on in the next few months or so for a study to assess the efficiency of responses.

Second, if I were the guy who cut the cable, I'd be down there in the hole, doing my damnedest to fix it. Then, once the break was repaired, I'd be pulling the hole in behind me just out of embarasment.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

A Show of Hands, Please

A number of firms with ties to the present administration have been awarded contracts by the White House to carry out reconstruction efforts.

Is anyone surprised by this? Anyone? Buehler?

Scream Bush cronyism all you want, this is just an indication of governmental cronyism, period. There are only so many people one can maintain in one's professional circle. When people cycle out of government service, they are going to end up somewhere, and typically they go someplace that values their connections. If one company realizes an advantage by doing this, then the market goes up on connected individuals across the industry and soon the whole industry is connected to the administration. Given the inbred nature of our government class, all of the companies in question can be connected to pretty much any White House administration you could make.

So wake me up when we get real news, like Joe's Construction getting the bid and how no one in the government knows anyone who works for now or has ever worked for Joe. Then I'll be impressed.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Five Days with Katrina

A ground eye view of New Orleans before during and after Hurricane Katrina from a resident. The pictures are amazing, but the captions give the all-important context.

H/T Arrgghhh!

My Hurricane Katrina Summation

I've been pointing out a lot of failures that occurred on the local and state level. I in no way letting the fed gov entirely off the hook. I do not intend to indict Republicans or Democrats. I think that the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina has been an indictment of government from top to bottom. The only positive (and that in an entirely relative sense) is that the primary area of clusterfuck has been limited to the New Orleans area. From the lack of general reportage of bad news from Biloxi and Mobile and their outlying areas is that their local and state responses have not been as incompetent as that in Louisiana, despite however the fed gov might be "helping" in those areas. If those areas had counted as much on the fed gov as NO/LA had, then the horror would have been spread across a much greater area.

Sounds like the best argument for self-empowered localities under a federal system that I have ever come across.

Pry'em From My Bloated, Water-logged Fingers

One of the failures that occurred in the path of Hurricane Katrina was the failure of individuals to plan for survival. That's a hard one, and I know that I'd probably face those problems myself when the Big One hits, and it is in its very nature self-punishing. The fact that people have suffered for their lack of foresight does not relieve my resposibility to give what aid I can, the punishment already felt it enough.

One thing that never gets discussed as being the part of a well stocked emergency kit is your security supply, namely a gun. Now the police are going about denying people that measure of self-reliance. These people are on their own, they need to protect themselves now more than ever. Get some priorities FEMA, LDHS, and NOPD.

H/T Samizdata.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Feed the People? Nah...

From all of the noise surrounding the Superdome and New Orleans Civic Center, you'd think the title was George Bush's line. In truth, it was the state of Louisiana that had other priorities.

I might, just might, understand the decision if there had been means available to accomplish that evacuation. Something like school and municiple busses returning from pre-storm evacuations would have been perfect. Seeing as how nothing beyond wait-for-the-feds was being pursued, however, that plan borders on criminal disregard.

Something needs to be done with the people who made those simultaneous decisions. Murder trials feel like a good idea.

Update: Funny because it shouldn't be true.


Viva Mexico!

When do you think was the last time that the Mexican Army entered Texas and had people happy to see them? Every little bit helps, and everything goes better with molé.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

I've Had It

I'm sorry, this post is going to devolve into a real screed at the beginning of the next paragraph. Expect grammatical and rhetorical breakdown very soon.

I've defended Andrew Sullivan in the past, but his post here has pushed me over the edge. Yes, the people on the scenes were heroes as well as villains. But to say that the federal government failed and that the federal government is blaming them is hackery of the first order. So let me break it down.

If, god forbid, there was a major earthquake in Southern California right now, I would feel a moral responsibility to save what people I could, if only so that I could look myself in the mirror for the rest of my life. I pray that I would have the courage to go into an unstable house to pull out injured people. As one person, there is only a small amount that I can do, but I would still have to do that. If I found an occupied room completely blocked with debris heavier than I could move, then it would be my responsibility to find those who can do what I could. That the situation has progressed beyond my ability to fix does not absolve me of the responsibility to do what I could. Because I can not save them all does not mean that I don't have to save who I could.

Where do I look for the tools to save the people in the blocked room? The Feds? The State? Hardly. Those people could be dead a day after the earthquake. That leaves only the city with the ability to have the tools at hand that fast. It falls upon the city to make it possible for individuals to save yet more people. There would be no way for the city to save them all, but that does not mean they don't have to save the scores they can.

The state is farther away, but when it comes it will have more resources. When the state comes with what it has, it will do what it can to make it possible for individuals to save more people. While the state may not have the resources to save them all, it still has the responsibility to save the hundreds they can.

When the most distant federal level arrives, it will do what it can to make it possible for individuals to save the rest. By then, no one should be saying that nothing has been done, only that not enough had been done.

The preparation before the event is just as important. I have the responsibility to see myself prepared for what I need to do upon the event. The city must be prepared to do what it needs to do upon the event. So the state, and so the federal.

One deep breath later. Where was the planning at the city and state level? Why were there 500 + busses unused for getting people out of the city? There still would have been the immobile trapped in the city by the flood, but I would much rather be concerned about 35,000 to 40,000 people than 50,000 people trapped and drowning in the city. There was a plan to evacuate people to the Superdome, but no plan to have food or water stockpiled there? So now it is the fed gov's fuck up for not getting goods there and for the lawlessness that happened because there were no police there? The city did not perform to the level of its insufficient capabilities, and those who died because the city failed to do what it could are just as dead.

Once the fed gov gets to the scene, they should expect to face the lions share of the work, but there should have been people who were out of danger equal to the city's and state's ability to do so. Inability to do everything does not mean permission to do nothing.

So, Andrew, I agree, the blame the locals you see is just wrong, and that the locals were failed by their governments. The groundlevel locals you saw were failed by their city and state governments. The city and state failed to provide the means of getting people out of the way or to send what little they could, or even to have a plan of doing that. Once we can recognize that happened, then we can say that the fed gov failed to aid the excess fast enough. Too bad we will never be able to separate the dead who were failed by their city government, those who were failed by the state, and then those who died from fed failures. Put it that way, I don't want to think about who's to blame anymore.

Update: Video of a Fox News report that gives the most concise descriptions of what the State of Louisiana's responsibilities precisely were in allowing federal aid into the disaster area.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Not only is it the way to Carnegie Hall, but it also seems to be the way to New Orleans. From the Washington Post report on Wal-Mart's response to Hurricane Katrina.
"I want us to respond in a way appropriate to our size and the impact we can have," he said, according to an executive who attended the meeting. At the time, Wal-Mart had pledged $2 million to the relief efforts. "Should it be $10 million?" Scott asked.

Over the next few days, Wal-Mart's response to Katrina -- an unrivaled $20 million in cash donations, 1,500 truckloads of free merchandise, food for 100,000 meals and the promise of a job for every one of its displaced workers -- has turned the chain into an unexpected lifeline for much of the Southeast and earned it near-universal praise at a time when the company is struggling to burnish its image.

Many people would be pleased at the display of good corporate citizenship. In addition to that, I take heart at the fact that Wal-Mart is capable of doing that at speeds quicker than the public sector disaster agencies.
But the chain's huge scale is suddenly an advantage in providing disaster relief. The same sophisticated supply chain that has turned the company into a widely feared competitor is now viewed as exactly what the waterlogged Gulf Coast needs.
During a tearful interview on "Meet the Press" on Sunday, Aaron F. Broussard, president of Jefferson Parish in the New Orleans suburbs, told host Tim Russert that if "the American government would have responded like Wal-Mart has responded, we wouldn't be in this crisis."

Why was Wal-Mart able to respond so quickly? They could because they have been deleviering goods through this well developed routing scheme for years. It has been grown around the conditions on the ground. Granted those years of practice have been under optimum conditions. Compared to the government's need to create a local distribution system from scratch, Wal-Mart's system was present with "forward deployed" supplies already in place when the storm hit.

A couple more points where Wal-Mart has the advantage over FEMA. One, the distribution system is already in place nation wide, while FEMA's is currently in the Gulf Coast. If another hurricane were to hit Florida or an earthquake were to hit California, those systems are still available. Two, not only is the physical transportation system well practiced, so is the managerial system well practiced. The people who make up the Wal-Mart chain of command have been working with one another for years, while the multi-jurisdictional agencies may meet once or twice a year, if that.

So Wal-Mart has pre-established system and a pre-established team while the government has neither. Score two for the free-martket.

(H/T Radley Balko)

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Good News From a Terrible Event?

According to the Chernobyl Forum, death rates due to released radiation may be far lower than feared.
VIENNA, Austria - Fewer than 60 deaths have been directly attributed to radiation released by the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident, and the final toll could be thousands less than originally believed, the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency said Monday.

While this is good news, I have always been deeply sceptical about this type of statistical forecasting. Methodology is king in this type of work, and the definitions used are too sensitive to political manipulation.

Speaking of political manipulation:
Greenpeace condemned the findings, accusing the IAEA of "whitewashing" the impacts of the accident.

"Denying the real implications is not only insulting the thousands of victims — who are told to be sick because of stress and irrational fear — but it also leads to dangerous recommendations, to relocate people in contaminated areas," said Jan Vande Putte, Greenpeace International nuclear campaigner.

Of course, Mr. Vande Putte is off base saying what the "real implications" are without offering any counter-evidence. Color me unconvinced either way.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Can His Ass

From John Cole:

A judge in Shelby County, Tennessee has recused himself from all cases in which minors go to judges for rulings on their ability to have abortions without parental consent.

With respect to displays of the Ten Commandments in judicial buildings, when a person acts in a role of State power, they are in effect the State. In this case, the judge actor for the state is refusing to fulfilled his role as adjudicator of the law in response to religious mandate. Especially in matter such as this, the judge is giving a de facto judgment against the petitioner on religious grounds. That can not be tolerated, and if the judge can not separate his beliefs as a private citizen from his role as judge, then he is unfit for his position.

Many commentors on this topic combine this issue with the matter of the pharmacists who will not dispense birth control, primarily on the basis of pro-life principles being used to reach the decision. I do not agree with that conflation. The pharamacist, unless he is working in connection with a governmental program, is a private business. By not acting with the power of the state and solely as a private citizen, the pharmacist does not face limitations as to his choice of operating principle.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Then It Would Have Been Different

I checked in on the coverage of the Hurricane Katrina aftermath this morning. Part of the report included a video commentary from Bill Schneider regarding leadership during the crisis. His conclusion, too little leadership and what there is has been inept.

At the end of the clip, he asks, "What if this had been a terrorist attack?"

Things would have been different then. There is nothing in human kind's arsenal that could create this type of devastation. A nuke could create a burst of 100+ mph winds, but the sustained force is beyond human capacity.

Supposing that it had been an explosives laden boat detonated next to the levy, causing this massive flooding. In that case, the information dynamics and social expectations would have been radically different.

No one in New Orleans would have seen the attack coming, nor immediately afterward would they have expected a prepared response from outside. The hurricane gave plenty of warning and prepared for the expectation that all of the results should have been foreseen. If the event had been unexpected, such as the levee failing on a bright and sunny day, then cause, and hence responsibility, would be unknown. An implicit social contract exists between the government and the people. People obey laws with the expectation that the government will then provide the structure for life to carry on, be it utilities or disaster response.

While one could credit Giulianni's leadership on 9/11, the fact that it was clear that it was clearly an attack on the World Trade Center was the psychological cue the prevented widespread civil disruption despite the outter burroughs being cleared of police. It is only necessary that outisde aggression be a potential cause for a community to stay coherent. Take for example the 2003 Northeast blackout. The difference with respect to a previous blackout is that the later incident had the doubt of being an attack by outsiders.

New Orleans did not have the benefit of the doubt with Hurricane Katrina. No one can take revenge against nature, so it then becomes a matter of individuals making demands of government in return for having obeyed the law, or in some cases making a pretense of obeying. Given the expectations fostered by the welfare state, those expectations were unachievable given the infrastructure devastation.