Tuesday, May 31, 2005

My God, Its Everywhere!

I put in about 200 miles of driving this Memorial Day weekend. For my weekends, that is absolutely nothing special, I do it every weekend.

What was different was every last road condition display was showing the logo Click It or Ticket, just a little reminder that the government does not believe the typical American motorist is smart enough to make decisions about the risks they take. I thought that it was just California, but the website lays the blame for the campaign at the door of the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration. Evidently no state with a seatbelt law was safe.

Seat belt laws rate right up there with helmet laws. Whether a person wears a helmet or a seat belt should be up to them. In fact, I would appreciate more people not wearing seat belts. One such idiot can provide life saving organs for up to six people.

Monday, May 30, 2005

My Family's Take on Memorial Day

My father was born May 30, 1946. Back before we all got into that shifting-federal-holidays-around-to-make-three-day-weekends, his birthday always fell on Memorial Day. Usually not a big deal, I think that kids got that day off of school back then as well, so that must have been nice.

Memorial Day, being a holiday of somber reflection, does have its drawbacks as a birthday, however. Especially when your Boy Scout troop is sponsored by the local VFW hall, and you have to spend a good chunk of your birthday in a cemetary. I think he had a new perspective on that period of his life after he came home from Vietnam.

So, Dad, happy birthday. If I may offer a reflection on the past year: For God's sake! Don't do that again! I don't think any of could handle another round.

Friday, May 27, 2005

On Matters Extraordinary


1. Beyond what is ordinary or usual: extraordinary authority.
2. Highly exceptional; remarkable: an extraordinary achievement.
3. Employed or used for a special service, function, or occasion: a minister extraordinary; an extraordinary professor.

Extraordinay claims require extraordinary proof.

I never really liked that expression. It always smacked of moving the goal posts, because it is those asking for the proof who decide what is and is not extraordinary. If the person does not wish to be convinced, then he could simply declare that the extraordinary standard has not been reached.

That thought came up after reading the post by Roger L. Simon in response to the question wheter the newly formed Pajamas Media will be "Fair and Balanced". Short on an answer, he turned the question to his readers. Silicon Valley Jim wrote about balance in sourcing:
Proper sourcing, including disclosure of sources if it can be done, is important, although it may go more to the point of responsibility rather than fairness and balance. There can be disagreement as to what proper sourcing means, but, as in science, extraordinary conclusions require extraordinary evidence.

Jim is making an unsupported assumption here, namely that there is a standard measure of "extraordinary". This stems from the fact that Left and Right don't agree on what "ordinary" is.

Ordinary, in the case of liberals in general and main stream media in particular, is that Liberals are people of good faith and caring of their fellow man, and that Conservatives are scheming manipulators and liars. Anything that claims outside of that worldview is therefore extraordinary, in need of extraordinary proof. Compare the Vietnam dust up of the past election. John Kerry was given a pass on any claims that his actions in the war were different that what was in his (self-penned) after action report, while George Bush had to release his dental records to show that he did his duty, and even that did not stop the questioning. That's not even going into the Texas Air National Guard memo forgeries for an instance of variable scrutiny of evidence. It came down to who was seen to be ordinarily truthful.

Another instance is the NEWSWEEK Koran desecration fiasco. The ordinary regarding the military is that they will do anything and everything to reach its goals. Anything that supports that thesis is considered to be ordinary proof. Therefore, one unnamed source in the government is sufficient to run a story that claimed the government had uncovered abuse of the Koran as an interrogation tactic. The fact that the story relied upon was ultimately shown not to be true is of little consequence. Since the ordinary is that the military is made up by people unwilling to consider human rights, the rules of evidence can be reversed:
The article starts with a description of the current unrests and continues:

Late last week Pentagon spokesman Lawrence DiRita told NEWSWEEK that its original story was wrong. The brief PERISCOPE item ("SouthCom Showdown") had reported on the expected results of an upcoming U.S. Southern Command investigation into the abuse of prisoners at Gitmo. According to NEWSWEEK, SouthCom investigators found that Gitmo interrogators had flushed a Qur'an down a toilet in an attempt to rattle detainees. While various released detainees have made allegations about Qur'an desecration, the Pentagon has, according to DiRita, found no credible evidence to support them.

How did NEWSWEEK get its facts wrong? ...

Up to this point there is no evidence in the article that Newsweek DID get the facts wrong.

Sorry, but the onus on a reporter is to prove that they got the facts right, a proof that did not appear in the "retraction" either.

So back to the issue of extraordinary, fair and balanced is as subjective as ordinary. Sometimes it is necessary to ask "what is ordinary in your universe?"
Power Line, Instapundit, and LGF already have multiple stories up. Reynolds is already claiming "People died because Newsweek rushed to get out a story designed to make Bush look bad."

I don't think Newsweek would write an article about Newsweek getting its facts wrong unless they really thought it was so. But they do reveal that they delivered the story up the chain of command to the Pentagon for confirmation and they didn't dispute it. Doesn't that sound suspiciously similar to the WH verifying the TANG documents for CBS?

If the WH deliberately verified parts of the Newsweek story simply to make Newsweek look bad, then who is really responsible for the riots and the deaths? Either that or it was completely overlooked by the staffer, in which case they're not exactly well-versed in the meaning of the Koran to the Muslim world.

"Killing a man to defend an idea isn't defending an idea. It's killing a man." -Jean-Luc Godard, "Notre Musique"
by dday on Sun May 15th, 2005 at 16:39:53 PDT [to the Daily Kos article linked above]

Thursday, May 26, 2005

So Many Straightlines!

In the spirit of Mystery Science Theater 3000, I offer my collected thoughts from CNN's coverage of John Bolton's non-confirmation in the Senate today.

"It does disappoint me," Frist said after the vote. "It looks like we have, once again, another filibuster."

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid took issue with Frist's comment.

"This is the first filibuster of the year,...

True that, Senator, thanks to the Republican cave in.
... and maybe the last. [I] hope so," the Nevada Democrat said.

Ooh, and Reid strikes out, going 1 for 2.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat, pointed to negative comments Bolton has made about the United Nations.

Bolton said during a Federalist Society forum in 1994: "If the U.N. secretary building in New York lost 10 stories, it wouldn't make a bit of difference."

Boxer asked: "What kind of credibility does he have walking onto the floor of the United Nations?"

He might have a good deal of credibility on the floor if people believe he was talking about the top ten stories.
Sen. Ted Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat, added: "The United Nations is the one and only organization where the nations of the world can link their unique strengths in a realistic hope of building a peaceful future for all humanity.

Its also the one and only organization where a person can monitor human rights without ever leaving the comfort of their four-star resort. Its also the one and only organization where the nations of the world can link their unique strengths to keep those pesky human rights monitors off each other's backs.

On the serious side, Sen. Kennedy's line continued:
"We need a representative at the United Nations who supports that vision and is committed to that future for us all," he said. "John Bolton is not that person for that job."

The UN, as it currently is, may stand for that vision, but it acts in the opposite. I don't think that Bolton is the man for the job of straightening up the UN. There might have been such a man once, but he would have been representing Greece.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

ID's High Risk Strategy

Continuing on with the Kansas Board of Education "debate" on including intelligent design theory, I think that the groups that are pushing ID are taking a very dangerous position for themselves. That is, assuming they really do give a damn about science.

The danger is that in postulating that there exists a designer, it becomes the obligation of the postulators to provide scientific evidence of said designer. It is not merely enough to say that whatever indicators of order exist prove an orderly cause. Many experiments involving chaos theory have modeled how large scale order can occur as a result of the interaction of large numbers of sub-units acting according to small sets of rules with minimal communication amongst themselves. That being the case, order does not automatically imply an order-causer.

Therefore, proponents of Intelligent Design must concoct a scientific experiment that provides data that can only fit ID rather than evolution, and do so in a way that is repeatable. The bacteria experiment from this oft-cited hoax might make for a good one, but only if they split the newly-resistant bacteria into two groups, kept the antibiotics present, and got one group to die from praying to God for the resistance genes to shut off. Once all of the other factors were dealt with, you might just be onto something.

Unless they were capable of demonstrating these effects, then ID would find itself in the uncomfortable position of having to accept that there is no creator intelligence. By ionvoking science, they risk having to acknowledge the non-existence of God the creator. Either way, they have taken on the onus of proving God.

This assumes that ID really is about science, however, and all observations to date have indicated the opposite.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Channeling Terry Pratchett

An odd thought keeps barging its way into my brain whenever I think about the judicial compromise in the Senate. I keep recalling, from the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett, the agreement between the city of Ankh-Moorpork and the University of wizardry in the city.
1. The City has the right to call upon the University at any time for assistance and have the request granted.

2. The City agrees to never call upon the University for assistance.

The above paraphrasing has been badly mangled on the way to this page, but I think the gist is clear enough.

Update: Ah ha! This first graf demonstrates where the resonance was coming from:
So a deal has been struck on the filibuster. Republicans will allow Democrats to keep the filibuster as long as Democrats never use it. This way, both sides win (except for the Democrats).

Link courtesy of Il Bloggo di Tutti Bloggi

Monday, May 23, 2005

Vocabulary Inflation From the Right

Here are a pair of good posts about the overuse of the terms judicial activism and liberal media bias. Both have cases where they have actually happened.

Of late, however, both terms have been used in very questionable circumstances. The Terri Schiavo case had people crying judicial activism when in fact the judges were solely interpreting the law as opposed to making up new law to suit the conservative position. Also, many are using liberal media bias to slam the messenger upon every unsatisfactory message. Maybe, just maybe, there really is some truth in the report. You may not trust that little wolf-crying brat, but it would still be smart to at least peek out the window.

Is It Extraordinary When You Can See It Coming?

First of all, I am really pissed that the Senate has reached a compromise regarding the judicial "filibuster". Personally, I think that the nation is better off when the government can't get anything done. Does anyone know of a way to filibuster the Executive Branch? Some of those regulatory agencies need at least a few months off work.

From the CNN article, I can't see what each side is gaining from this agreement. Near as I can tell, the Republicans got a solemn promise from the Democrats to play nice from here on, saving the big guns for when it is really important.
Under the deal, judicial nominees would only be filibustered "under extraordinary circumstances," McCain said.

Hmm, what are the chances that the nomination of a new Chief Justice would count as an extraordinary circumstance? Bring it on, I say, I'm just waiting for the promised gridlock.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Let's Keep This Simple

What would be the easy way to disarm the tension between feminism and multiculturalism? Simple, give each person the same rights and, equally importantly, the same responsibilities. Regardless of culture, a woman has an equal right to her life as a man. Anyone found guilty of committing a murder should face the same sentence and condemnation, regardless of the victim or the murderer's motivations.

Of course, one could say that focusing on the commonalities of individuals, and hence allowing the past injustices done to groups by groups to remain in the past, would be throwing the multiculturalist and feminist babies out with the bathwater. Then again, once they got past equality and into greivance, those kids were turning pretty ugly anyway.

Friday, May 20, 2005

A Bold Prediction

John Cole puts out that Republicans may be in serious trouble of alienating enough voters to potentially lose thier Congressional majority in 2006. By way of their profligate spending and intrusive "values" mongering, people are starting to turn away from the newly self-stereotyped GOP.

I could have sworn that I wrote about my predictions for how the Republicans will be the new Democrats by 2010, but I shall rewrite it here:

Phase 1: Well under way. Republicans are acting as if they are entitled to wield power as they see fit because more people voted for them than for the Dems. This is precisely why I voted third party, because I knew that they would have misrepresented my vote against Kerry as a vote for Bush.

Phase 2: A rough election for the Republicans, but they will maintain a reduced majority in Congress and not learn a damn thing.

Phase 3: Hillary Clinton will establish herself as leader of the moderate wing of the Democratic Party and be "persuaded" to run for President in 2008.

Phase 4: Conservative commentary will focus on attacking Hillary to the exclusion of all else, including any type of plan or vision for the country.

Phase 5: Republican primary voters, the die-hards of the extreme agenda, will refuse to nominate a centrist, thereby conceding the middle to the Democrats.

Phase 6: Hillary wins in 2008. The vitriol goes up a notch, especially if the election is in any way close in a key state.

Phase 7: Acting out of a sense of outrage that their right to power has been denied by Hillary, the Republicans become more and more shrill, putting people off of any idea of voting for whomever runs against Dems in 2010.

I could be wrong, but I see history repeating itself in the near term.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

This Was Inevitable

Is anyone really surprised that Revenge of the Sith was out on the web as soon as it hit the theaters? Let's see, massive demand, especially from a lot of tech-savvy geeks, and lines longer than the que to hang Jar Jar by his tongue. Almost as certain as Anakin turning into Darth Vader.

I had a better post working for tonight, but a power outage ate the post. That's my story and I'm sticking with it.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

A Euphemism I Have Come to Loathe

Back in the days of the post 9/11 anthrax mailings, a new expression came into the parlance of law enforcement statements 'person of interest'. It was first used in reference to Dr. Steven Hatfill and other people under investigation for culpability in the anthrax mailings.

Later the term was used in describing John Muhammad during the investigation into the case of the DC area sniper. Again, it was a matter of investigating a person's possible responsibility for a crime.

A joke went that you could watch a car chase on TV, see the car finally stop, and the driver step out of the car. As soon as the police lay a hand on him, he suddenly becomes merely a "suspect". I think that is the type of situation that inflated the meaning of the word suspect. Now, people hear the word and it means "That's the bastard we're going to nail for the crime." Evidently, we needed a new word, or ungodly agglomeration of words, to describe a person that the police might want to nail for a crime.

Of course, don't you already think "The bastard whose going to get nailed for this crime" when you hear "person of interest"? I give it another six months before I have another post bitching about the new term to replace the loaded "person of interest".

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

My Month of Hell

OK, the eyes are feeling better now, no longer doing the Bela-Lugosi's-Dracula-in-the-sunlight thing. Hooray for that.

While celebrating my newly renewed vision, I was taking a stroll through other peoples's bloglists. From the list of Doc in the Box (for whom I am still grateful for my first ever list link) I found El Mundo de Cancer whose author goes by the Nom de Blog "Cigarette Smoking Man from the X-files". His post Racing Toward Idiocy: Team U.S.A. versus Team U.K. brought back some painful personal experiences I had as a teacher, particularly about the time I had to help grade the school's writing assessment papers.

So there I was, an engineer in between jobs who thought that I could make a go at teaching. Junior High no less, that wonderful age between child-like innocence and adult self-control. After a few months of bouncing from one school to another, I was offered a long-term assignment to take over a class whose teacher had been promoted mid-year to Assistant Principal (aka Seduced by the Dark Side in the parlance of my school-district employed relatives). The position taught two periods of math and two periods of "language arts", the unholy conglomeration of English, Writing, and Spelling. If there was anyone who might cross the conceptual gap and teach both subjects, I thought it would be me as I knew I could teach math and wrote well, I hope.

I might have stood a chance, but only if I had understood why someone said "Dead man walking" when I first entered the teachers' lounge. I might have been able to make a difference had I not spent so much time immediately fighting for control of the room. And my fighting for control of the room might have gone more smoothly had I not spent so much time banging my head against a wall, ie asking for help from administration.

The time came when all of the students in the school had to take the writing assessment. Essentially it is the practice of rating an essay on an assigned topic in order to gauge the students' writing skills. I came away from the experience with several pieces of knowledge:

1) Very few seventh graders at that school could write in cursive. More common was an oversized, blocky scrawl that probably would have looked better when executed in spray paint.

2) A misspelled word in a thought is like hitting a pothole. Twenty-five-plus misspelled words in a one page essay is like taking that final ride with Thelma and Louise.

3) A kid who can say "Like" three time in one spoken sentence can just as easily put three into a written sentence without realizing just how much more annoying it is to read than hear.

4) Somewhere in the twenty-five years since I was in junior high, someone got the idea that punctuation is optional.

So thank you, Cigarette Smoking Man from the X-files, for ripping open these wounds and setting my therapy back about six months, you go on the blogroll. I hope you are happy with yourself.

For Your Listening Pleasure

I'm keeping tonight's submission short. Just know that reading a computer monitor and dialated pupils don't mix.

Evidently these Norwegian soldiers had way too much time on their hands. They at least got something made, a rarity in most UN Peacekeeping missions, with this Beach Boys send up worthy of Weird Al entitled Kosovo.

If any of you are parents who survived the original Nintendo craze and have only just gotten those endlessly repeated tunes out of your head, do not click here. Don't say I didn't warn you.

You'll need Windows media player to see either of them. If you do have WMP and have spent any time blogging, then you've probably seen both of these. I'd apologize, but you try surfing the web while wearing those lame little "sunglasses" the optometrist gives you.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Another (Civilian) Intelligence Failure

Too much salt can be bad for you. Having had a check up this morning, where the doctor told me it is time to start monitoring my blood pressure, lends me a fresh insight on that. Lately, the metaphorical grains of salt are taking their BP tolls as well.

The credibility of mass media has been taking a pounding over the past year in particular. Between Dan Rather and now Newsweek, many people are taking anything reported with large grains of salt. Eventually, those same people are going to get sick of it and cut both out all together.

I would like to think of the mainstream media as the intelligence service for the people in keeping its eye on the government. With professional standards and reliable procedure, the people it serves could then fulfill their duty to approve or disapprove. Sadly, it has become clear that the MSM has a definite favorite faction and that its reports have become more about the goal rather than the method. While it is nowhere near as bad of a scenario as the CIA theoretically trying to sway US policy in a particular direction via biased intel filtering, the bias of the MSM is just as cynical. How is one to think anything other than the majority of those in media wish the electorate to put candidates they agree with into office? It is almost to the point where the only difference between the MSM today and government propaganda is that the ones putting out the propaganda today aren't drawing government paychecks.

Here's what I see as the greatest danger of the apparently willfully poor reporting going on: What happens when the government does try something beyond the pale? The capital of credibility the media earned in Watergate has long been spent. The next Deep Throat revealing conservative misdeeds is going to be laughed right out into the street.

Update: The whole "Fake but Accurate" concept is utter bunk. The conclusion is never proof of itself. If there were to be conflicting sets of data, for instance two studies that show different measures of airborn pollutants, one can not be prefered over the other because they fit the conclusion, such as saying that air pollution always gets worse therefore the study with higher pollution counts must be correct. The world is what is correct, not the reports of it.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Greens for Nuclear Power?

I linked to a Samizdata post previously that pondered the possibility of environmental activists potentially coming to consider nuclear energy. Most of their commenters were down on the mainline environmentalists as being primarlity luddite, interested less in the environment and more about returning humanity to a "natural" state.

This New York Times cites some environmentalsts who are doing just that nuclear pondering.
"It's not that something new and important and good had happened with nuclear, it's that something new and important and bad has happened with climate change," Mr. Brand said in an interview.


But as mounting scientific evidence points to a direct connection between increasing carbon emissions and climate change, Mr. Brand and others have come to see conventional fuels like oil and coal as a greater threat.

In his article, Mr. Brand [Stewart Brand, a founder of the Whole Earth Catalog and the author of "Environmental Heresies," an article in the May issue of Technology Review] argued, "Everything must be done to increase energy efficiency and decarbonize energy production." He ran down a list of alternative technologies, like solar and wind energy, that emit no heat-trapping gases. "But add them all up," he wrote, "and it's just a fraction of enough." His conclusion: "The only technology ready to fill the gap and stop the carbon-dioxide loading is nuclear power."

It always makes me glad to see people who are willing to recognize the need to prioritize their objectives. That is the first step to any type of negotiation.

Link via Instapundit.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Ignorant About Ignorance

The Cannes Film Festival has screened The Power of Nightmares by Adam Curtis, a senior producer for the BBC. It is already being called the British Fahrenheit 911. From the CNN article
The film, a non-competition entry, argues that the fear of terrorism has come to pervade politics in the United States and Britain even though much of that angst is based on carefully nurtured illusions.

It says Bush and U.S. neo-conservatives, as well as British Prime Minister Tony Blair, are exaggerating the terror threat in a manner similar to the way earlier generations of leaders inflated the danger of communism and the Soviet Union.

It also draws especially controversial symmetries between the history of the U.S. movement that led to the neo-cons and the roots of the ideas that led to radical Islamism -- two conservative movements that have shaped geopolitics since 1945.

Curtis's film portrays neo-cons Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle and Donald Rumsfeld as counterparts to Osama bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri in the two respective movements.

I haven't seen either movie, but I will take the opportunity to write about one of the characterizations of the movie, namely that concerns about terror and communism were overblown. Essentially, that statement is entirely hindsight. One of the stories about the end of the Cold War was that the CIA was surprised by the collapse of the Soviet Union because it was reading the best intelligence available: the economic statistics that the Politburo was seeing. What was unknown at the time was how much the underlings were lying in those reports as shooting the messenger was a tradition that went back to the czars.

Anyway, my point is that it is easy to say that the danger was overestimated. Unless the movies can show that government agencies knew, and not just had information that said otherwise among information that supported the conclusion, then any examination is happening with hindsigt.

Donald Rumsfeld understands the imposition ignorance makes on strategic assesments, even if he is mocked for not being concise or articulate.
As we know,
There are known knowns.
There are things we know we know.
We also know
There are known unknowns.
That is to say
We know there are some things
We do not know.
But there are also unknown unknowns,
The ones we don't know
We don't know.

—Feb. 12, 2002, Department of Defense news briefing

If I may come to the SecDef's defense and attempt a translation:
Known knowns: We have the answers we need for these.
Known unknowns: We have the questions, but the answers are yet elusive.
Unknown unknowns: These are the questions we don't know need to be asked.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Almost Fun

If you were able to get into the heads of scientists, an odd exploration into some odder territory, you'd probably find a little kid in there. Of course, the childish sense of wonder at the universe is there, but you would just as likely find the little scamp that likes to break stuff or just play with the stuff your mother would have had a fit over. Electricity and lasters for physicists, deadly poisons for chemists, the really gross creepy crawlies for biologists. Me, I always liked destructive testing. Putting a rod of metal in a loading frame and stretching it until is breaks. I got to where I could give you a decent estimate of the final load of the test by how loud the BANG was. Now, I get to see the pretty patterns on metal made by some of the nastiest acids known to man.

So I suppose that there might be some appeal to this explosion simulator at UC San Diego. You do get to watch things get hit really, really hard and see how they break, so that is cool. But come on, guys, wouldn't you rather just use the explosives?

Thursday, May 12, 2005

This Again?

Yet again evolution is the battleground for control over school curricula. Namely, it is the desire to include intelligent design theory in Kansas schools. During the debates (add scare quotes if you side with the scientists who say the fix is on) intelligent design proponents pulled out some of their stand by points:
Intelligent design says some features of the natural world are best explained by an intelligent cause because they are well-ordered and complex.

I would like to offer a question to the intelligent design side: Why can some species of tortoise not right themselves when they fall onto their backs? Certainly this is a serious design flaw that a truly intelligent creator would have spotted in design or at least issued a recall.

Why would evolution have not made a perfect creature? Because evolution does not work to perfection, only to "good enough". A creature only needs to be good enough to be the best within its own ecological niche. All of the wonderfully tuned species are the good enough results of some highly competitive niches. One might as well ask why elephants aren't stronger or eagles don't have better vision. The loss of a few tortoises from falling onto their backs is a relatively minor flaw, one that does not threaten their niche possession. It may have been a greater problem in the past, and I think (not really wanting to do the research right now) that it was made less of a problem by lowering the tortoise's center of mass or expanding its base, both of which decrease the likelihood of falling over in the first place.

So, in my mind, one of the key questions that intelligent design needs to answer is not why the natural environment is so well-ordered, but why it is not perfect.

For a much more detailed view on evolution and genetics, I recommend that you check out Gene Expression.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

A Hit and Run Post

I'm having one of those days where the mental clutch gets stuck and none of the gears engage. So I will instead ask you the one thought that managed to get through:

If Bush were to start publicly rattling sabres toward the Saudi government how long before people
a) start complaining about oil prices rising to new heights based on political instability?
b) claim that it was all a plot to enrich his Big Oil cronies with higher gas prices?
c) accuse him of only focusing on Saudi Arabia in order to control their oil?

Bonus points for speedy examples of opinion reversal.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Ponder This One

Here is an interesting angle on the choice to die conundrum. Superficially, we have a person whose death is on the near horizon and, despite the wishes of family, wishes to take no action that might delay it or potentially even put it off indefinitely. The wrinkle in this case is that there is no medical reason for this person to die, only legal reasons. Specifically, it is about a death row inmate who does not wish to pursue further appeals.

Michael Ross, the inmate awaiting execution for the murder of eight women, has repeatedly expressed his wish to not fight any longer. His father and a state appointed lawyer argue that Ross is not competent to accept execution:
His relatives argue Ross suffers from "death row syndrome," in which a person's mental state is degraded by being on death row for a long period and he thinks it would be better to die.

There is a certain perversity at work here. Ross is incompetent to accept execution because he chooses to do so. Its a classic Catch-22. Pity the prison psychologist who has to say, "Go ahead and put him down, he wants to live." It is common that appeals are automatic for death penalty cases, but it seems to be going too far when not even the wishes of the condemned would be considered.

Monday, May 09, 2005

The Geek Does Philosophy

One of the themes I like to touch on here is to use Science Fiction as the laboratory for running thought experiments. Books or movies, good concepts make the story. Jinnderella opens the box with a post combining a discussion on biomedical morality and an anime entitled Full Metal Alchemist. That story builds on the line of what price should one be willing to pay to acheive good for themselves or others. Jinn adds the classic what-if scenario first written (I believe) in The Brothers Karamazov where would one sacrifice an innocent child to acheive a world with no more suffering, would you do it?

I left a comment about the idea that not making the sacrifice would be selfish if one believed one's soul would be damned in the decision and put that ahead of all of the rest of the world. I'm going to follow a different line for this post.

Mathematics has a tricky concept in infinity. It is not a number, since infinity is endless and any number N has N+1, thus proving N is not the greatest.

That bit of math was necessary to tie into the next part, namely Moral Calculus. When one says something like: "It is not right to steal, even if you are hungry," it implies that stealing is worse then being hungry. Another factoid of most moral calculus is that doing something for someone else is better than doing it for oneself. So make the substitution and the question becomes "Is stealing worse than letting someone else go hungry?" Add more complications with just what the end is (neighbor, friend, child, two children) or if the sin is committed actively or passively (is it a sin to not do good?) and suddenly you find yourself making a list of crimes and beneficiaries ranked in precedence. The biggest difficulty is when one has to ditch theory and face the situation in practice. You might say that you can kill an attacker to save a victim's life, but would you be able to pull the trigger when the time came?

One might hope to have a mental list of goods and evils, and that in the end, the ledger comes up positive. From what I hear, St. Peter conducts a really harsh audit.

Much like mathematics, moral calculus can not define infinity. Moral caculus can not state what is the greatest good or the greatest evil. Are there acts so evil that nothing can justify it? Are there ends so good that any means can be justified?

In my mind, the knot rests on the active vs. passive question: Does one sin by not doing good? To say yes implies that one must decide for everyone else around them what is good and enforce it, that for the sake of one's own soul, sacrificing the freedom of others is a good trade. It is not a large step from this reasoning to bombing abortion clinics.

To say no is to invite utter isolation, that one must not harm the attacker while he kills. It is to invite the wrath of the adage "All that is necessary for evil to triumph is that good men do nothing."

We try to make a heirarchy of virtues and sins, but without an absolute there is no end to the complication. Is there something so good that sacrificing one's own soul is a good act? Deep down, I believe that one can do wrong in inaction. So if I were truly faced with the Kill an Innocent/Perfect the world choice, I know that I would be damned either way. Either I would have literal innocent blood on my hands or the metaphorical blood of all who suffer. I'll end this on an incendiary note, if given this choice, what would Jesus do?

Friday, May 06, 2005

Judicial Smackdown!

Now this is one court decision that I hope comes to be a far-reaching precedent. In striking down the FCC's requirement for any and all devices that record HDTV signals, including digital recorders and personal computers, be required to have circuitry to prevent copying of received signals, the DC Court of Appeals took a shot directly at the basis of overbearing regulatory power:
The FCC argues that the Commission has "discretion” to exercise “broad authority” over equipment used in connection with radio and wire transmissions, “when the need arises, even if it has not previously regulated in a particular area.” FCC Br. at 17. This is an extraordinary proposition. “The [Commission’s] position in this case amounts to the bare suggestion that it possesses plenary authority to act within a given area simply because Congress has endowed it with some authority to act in that area. We categorically reject that suggestion. Agencies owe their capacity to act to the delegation of authority” from Congress. See Ry. Labor Executives’ Ass’n, 29 F.3d at 670. The FCC, like other federal agencies, “literally has no power to act . . . unless and until Congress confers power upon it.” La. Pub. Serv. Comm’n v. FCC, 476 U.S. 355, 374 (1986).

As I read it, this means that regulatory agencies can't just bluster their way through doing anything they want. Without a Congress passed/President signed law, the FCC and all of the other rules makers may do nothing. It makes my small government loving heart swell with joy.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

A Message to My Sister

I understand that my niece may not yet be two, but we both know that this is a critical age in laying down the foundation for her future development. I know you are reading to her and playing music for her, so she has the intellectual stimulation pretty well covered.

So, let's move on to her athletic development. She has you and her father as primary gene donors, so you shouldn't have to worry too much that she might have my coordination (or lack thereof). So when you start tossing balls around and move up to wiffle bats, remember that it is better to put some pepper on it. Evidently, really young brains have an easier time focusing on fast things than slow things. And given her well-known love for speed, she should have even less problem.

Then again, I don't know if Mom and Dad could keep up if she gets going even faster.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

They Call Themselves Scientists?

One of the key points about the scientific method is that particular types of information are or are not valid within a conceptual framework. One of the types that is almost always tossed out on its ear is anecdotal evidence. At a recent press conference regarding the effects of marijuana use in children younger than 12, John Walters, director of National Drug Control Policy, had some criticism for Canada's decision to start clinical trials of marijuana derivatives:
The question was tied to a decision by Canada last month to approve the prescription drug Sativex, an oral spray that contains the active ingredient of marijuana, to treat the symptoms of multiple sclerosis.

He responded, "We believe that there's a clear distinction" between validated medical benefits and what he said could be "a bunch of ads where people testify that their mother, dying, smoked a joint and was saved, and that means marijuana is medicine."

On its face, not a bad point, at least in terms of my not having the Canadian data at hand. However, Director Walters's rigor regarding anecdotal evidence does not seem to hold when the evidence supports his conclusion (from the section of the article immediately before the previous quote):
The parents of a teenager who committed suicide last year were also at the news conference, and they linked their son's death to his marijuana use.

Tanya Skaggs, of Colorado Springs, Colorado, said, "He had a severe lack of judgment that was because of the marijuana, this destructive behavior was continuing," in the months leading up to his death.

I have a real problem with people using science to support politics becuase the science always gets mangled in the process. (Much the same reason that I think it is better for religion to stay separate from politics.) I find it interesting that those who claim to be using science to more rationally set policy are very often the ones who take a single scientific datum and react emotionally to it.
"The evidence is collectively indicating that there is a causal connection," says Neil McKeganey, PhD, professor of drug misuse at the University of Glasgow in Scotland.

McKeganey notes that scientists have not yet uncovered evidence linking marijuana use to the brain changes routinely seen in people who suffer from mental illness. "If we wait until we understand that mechanism, we will lose thousands of young people," he says. [Link]

That attitude pretty much says it all.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Applying the Game

Work in progress

Samizdata is hosting a comment discussion on the idea that Green Party people, of which there are a few here in the states, might come around to the idea of expanding nuclear power. From this gamer's perspective, the cost/benefit breaks down like this:

1. A steady source of energy without a dependence on a politically volatile commodity.

2. Reduced emissions into the atmosphere. At the local level, decreased air-borne pollutants, regional decreases of chemical effects (acid rain), and globally with decreased levels of greenhouse gasses.

1. The generation of small amounts (comparatively) of vastly more potent waste. Namely, these would be spent fuel rods, reactor water, and reactor casings.

2. Potential release of region damaging, high-potency pollution. See Chenobyl and Three-Mile Island.

The key problem in this discussion is that, for most of the populace, the only knowledge comes from events twenty years out of date. Given that it was a Soviet reactor that blew at Chenobyl, that technology was twenty years behind the curve at that time. Either way, any assumptions made about nuclear technology that the public has is considerably out of date. This lack of information makes it nearly impossible to calculate the probabilities needed to make an accurate calculation of the costs of the risks.

Monday, May 02, 2005

The First Lady Upstages The President

Good material, she just needs to work on her timing.

He's Going to Take Her Back?

So John Mason, fiance to Jennifer Wilbanks, I refuse to use the term "Runaway Bride" is making all sorts of noise about forgiving Jennifer and going forward with the marriage. Does this guy have any idea what people were thinking about him? I'm sure there were plenty of folks out there who were contemplating what size needle he would need and how long the injection would take to put him down. Had she not surfaced, he would have been the prime suspect in any murder case the prosecutors might have put together. At least he wasn't out fishing when she disappeared.

As for Jennifer, through the book, and I don't mean Emily Post's Wedding Etiquette, at her. She cried wolf, and we won't know if the delayed reaction might do in the next Laci Peterson.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

A Tough Call

I was of divided mind about writing a post about the use of Rock, Paper, Scissors to make a very valuable business decision. Since I myself was divided, I resorted to the method described, and the part that said to pass won two out of three.

So, moving on...

I May Head Out for This Later

I don't think that I'll be able to make it to the one and only Time Traveler Convention at MIT on May 7, 2005. Or, I won't be able to attend it by proceeding directly from May 6, 2005. I am nothing if not an eternal optimist, and I believe that time travel will be possible, if ever, within my own lifetime. So if I don't make it via March 6, 2005, then I'll hopefully get there via some other future date. I will hopefully remember to send myself an e-mail about whether the party is worth my time or not.