29 November, 2005

Some recruiters don't learn

One of the harms of innumeracy is that people hear statistics and just believe them. Sometimes this causes people to do badly on the GRE. Other times it convinces them to sign up to kill and die:
Recruiter: "It's dangerous. But it's dangerous walking down the street downtown Cincinnati too. You see what I'm saying? You have just as much chance of getting shot downtown as you would over there."

The truth is, even if you combine downtown Cincinnati and the surrounding communities, fewer than 200 people have been shot over the past three years. In Iraq during that time, 1,373 U.S. servicemen and women have been shot -- 346 have died.
This is definitely the most amusing and distressing piece of investigative reporting I've heard out of U.S. commercial television in quite a while. And note: The recruiters quoted in this story were all speaking after the scandal six months ago when the same station caught recruiters lying to get kids to enlist. So are they still lying? Let's do something I would not normally do -- let the TV station be the judge:*
Recruiter: "You're going to have people getting killed. You have more people murdered in Cincinnati in a day than you have in Iraq killed in a day. OK, I don't like to throw out statistics though, you know what I mean? But it's true."

According to statistics from the Cincinnati Police Department and Department of Defense, that comment is not true. Since Operation Iraqi Freedom began in March of 2003, 192 people have been murdered in Cincinnati -- an average of one person every five days.

In Iraq, nearly two U.S. troops are killed every day. Over the past 2 1/2 years, 2,000 U.S. servicemen and women have died -- 15,000 more have been wounded.
A friend of mine who is a teacher says the underfunding of education is just an effort to create more cannon-fodder for the endless wars. I want to tell her she's exaggerating. But if she's wrong, why do these recruiters do such a good job making her look right?

* That will teach me a damn lesson about trusting the TV people. While they properly debunk the idea that Cinci is as dangerous as Baghdad, they don't go nearly far enough. There are two ways in which the numbers are deceptive. First, talking just about Americans, there are 150,000 troops in Iraq. At about 75 killings a month, that's about a 1/2,000 chance of getting killed this month. There were 317,000 residents (never mind visitors and commuters) in Cincinnati in 2000. At about 6.5 killings a month, assuming they are all residents, that's about a 1/50,000 chance of getting killed this month. A big difference.

But why talk about only Americans in Iraq? The recruiter was talking about the number of "people" who are "killed in a day." The most comprehensive study of the issue had 100,000 Iraqis dead after 18 months of conflict -- about 6,000 per month in a population of about 25 million. That means Iraqis have about a 1 in 4,000 chance of being killed each month.

This all reminds us of why we don't look to TV for careful analysis. This sort of number-play makes bad enough Internet. It's awful TV.

27 November, 2005

In the "serves us right" department

Ski resorts suffering the results of climate change. Not that their die-hard resistance to mass transit could have anything to do with that.

26 November, 2005

In the "makes no sense" department

UN High Commissioner for Refugees says Iraq war created few refugees.
The war in Iraq caused no massive displacement... But despite the many difficulties facing Iraq's 25 million residents in the immediate aftermath of the war, most people appear ready to wait out this phase and look towards a new, vibrant post-war Iraq.
Washington Post says Syrian officials disagree:
Syrian officials say 700,000 Iraqis from various ethnic, religious and economic backgrounds have arrived since the U.S.-led invasion, far more than in any other country in the region. The flow has spiked in the past four months.
If any readers happen to be in Syria, could you please explain this discrepancy?

War is over.

By the time you read this, every blog on earth will be quoting this story. But anyway: LA Times says the war is over. Bush is "cutting and running," to paraphrase Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio). The timing was almost precisely predictable. Actually he's a month late.

In July, the generals briefed Congress on the military's status in Iraq. While no members would tell me what the generals said in closed session I had multiple conversations with them and I listened carefully to their questions in open session. It was clear that the generals had warned them that "the wheels will start coming off" of the effort in October, as the number of American troops available to serve and amount of materiel in working order in the battlefield dropped below the numbers that the Executive Branch had ordered. They saw that enough troops were retiring, getting injured, dying, and at least taking time back home with the kids, that there wouldn't be enough to keep 160,000 in the field. Sure enough:
President Bush will give a major speech Wednesday at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., in which aides say he is expected to herald the improved readiness of Iraqi troops, which he has identified as the key condition for pulling out U.S. forces...

The developments seemed to lay the groundwork for potentially large withdrawals in 2006 and 2007, consistent with scenarios outlined by Pentagon planners...

Some analysts say the emerging consensus might have less to do with conditions in Iraq than the deployment's long-term strain on the U.S. military..."
The midterm elections are apparently a worry, as well.
A former top Pentagon official who served during Bush's first term said he believed there was a "growing consensus" on withdrawing about 40,000 troops before next year's congressional election. That would be followed by further substantial pullouts in 2007 if it became clear that Iraqi forces could contain the insurgency.
If this is true, it will be the first time since at least 1990 that midterms serve as an excuse to end a war, rather than starting one. Then again, the withdrawal could be tactical -- maybe they just need the manpower for another invasion.

Uses of machines

Machines are useful. Political machines can make you money.
During that same period of Dick Cheney’s reign at Halliburton, Donald Rumsfeld served as chairman of Gilead Sciences Inc. Coming onboard in 1997, a year after this California biotech firm developed and patented the Tamiflu vaccine, the former salesman of nuclear reactors to North Korea remained at his lucrative post until joining the Bush coup in 2001.

Today, Tamiflu is the most sought-after drug on the planet. Said to protect against a flu bug that annihilates chickens, along with a handful of Asian handlers sharing foul, windowless warehouses even worse than Abu Ghraib, the unproven vaccine has made America’s Secretary of Permanent War and Torture even richer. Still holding Gilead shares valued in Fortune magazine as high as $25 million, Rumsfeld’s dividends have reportedly made him more than a million dollars over the past six months of White House flumongering. 2005 sales for Tamiflu are forecast at $1 billion—up from $258 million in 2004.
And editing machines can make you giggle. (Always good to see a linguistics education getting used for something more than programming humanoid voices to say, "Hmm, I didn't get that.")

The truth about evolution and math

The truth lies at the Uncyclopedia.
Evolution is a process that allows dinosaurs to lay chicken eggs and monkeys to give birth to humans. Usually evolution is seen to be a sign of progress, but this doesn't explain George W. Bush. Evolution was a popular pseudoscience in the late twentieth century, before scientists finally proved the truth of Creationism.
Don't worry, it doesn't end there.

In other speciation news, Pharyngula was featured in the City Pages and some Aussie at Cal documented high-speed frog speciation, caught in midstream. A new species, yours in just 8,000 years. In the middle of the ID "debate," this might be big enough news to make the papers, but so far that pleasure has not been its.

And most importantly of all, some clever jerks have remembered the most basic response to the Intelligent Design folks. Point out such pleasures as the human appendix, which serves no purpose except to kill off otherwise healthy kids. Or my frickin back, which has left me for three days in the kind of pain that drives me to addle my mind with intelligently designed distillates of the opium poppy. If God designed us in His image, He must have a few seriously herniated discs. Or maybe just a sick sense of humor. Which can not be said for these guys.

24 November, 2005


Happy Thanksgiving. I deeply appreciate your coming here to read our random thoughts and musings. And I feel lucky to get to write on this blargh. And I'm thankful that no one is pressuring me to eat turkey today. I feel lucky to be alive in this time and place, no matter how much I make fun of it. Hooray.

Iraq inquiries

I am glad that there will be inquiries and that some more facts will come out about how several countries were conned into a war. But it's pretty annoying that so many of us saw through the lies in the first place -- not just about Iraq but about Afghanistan -- and that the Iraq lies are now being treated as though they were anything close to convincing. It looks to me like a lot of people were fooled because they wanted to be fooled, and now they are looking for someone to blame. But most of them have no one to blame but themselves.

The part that really worries me is that the current round of inquiries seem intended to protect the mindset that assumes that America is basically right in all things, that military force is value-neutral at worst, and that we are only the victims, not the perpetrators, of evil.

This type of denial of responsibility reminds me of the ongoing failure to take responsibility for the genocide of the First Nations and slavery. I think these traumas, which peaked in their intensity long ago, continue to haunt the USA by forming dangerous habits of mind.

More on how the changing zeitgeist isn't much of a change at all: go read Josh and Bob.

23 November, 2005

Our smart friend vs. anonymous racists

Intrepid commenter Saheli wrote something really really smart about myths and facts of "well-rounded educations." Go read it. The crux of her argument in case you're not in the mood to click: Liberal arts types like to complain that math and science folks just do math and science, while we liberal artsies are well-rounded and learn everything. Back in reality, artsies (myself included) squeak through our undergraduate years without anyone requiring us to take a college-level math class; many of us don't even know statistics. We "gleefully" take "dumbed-down" classes. Scientists, meanwhile, often have to take full-strength humanities courses. So who is really the well-rounded thinker?

Meanwhile, Daniel Gross points us to a Wall St Journal article in which white parents complain that majority-Asian-immigrant schools "are too academically driven and too narrowly invested in subjects such as math and science at the expense of liberal arts and extracurriculars like sports and other personal interests." It sounds like these parents need to have a nice sit-down conversation with Saheli. But they might not do that, as her ancestry on the Asian land mass apparently makes her one of those "majority-Asian-immigrant"s who are "too narrowly invested in subjects such as math and science." Whatever.

22 November, 2005

Will Kuwait bite the dust?

Just as we all get used to the idea that Saudi Arabia might not have as much oil as promised, Kuwait announces it's cutting back its oil production because of water intrusion into the reservoirs. And look forward to revelations on Iraq in the next month or two.

Updated midnight 23 November: The Bloomberg story is here. The basic gist of its implications on peak oil are well spelled out at The Booman Tribune, The Oil Drum, and elsewhere.

In comments, Saheli asked if I was sure this was from water. I passed the question along to Greg Croft, who wrote:
Yes, the problems are due to water incursion. The water cut information is a state secret (!) in Kuwait, so it isn't good to quote Kuwait Oil Company workers. The Burgan Field has a strong natural water drive in all of the four main sands. The production rates of all the fields in that geologic group are limited by water incursion, but I also have some specific information on Burgan.
I haven't got a second source or anything, but I tend to believe people who have done geology in the region. He concluded, "This one will decline like a North Sea field - watch."

Movie Review: The Island!

I recently had the opportunity to watch the movie The Island, which deals with Weighty Issues such as, "Will scientists grow power-mad and create a clutch of clones to use as organ banks for rich people, cynically denying their humanity?" These are, in fact, serious and delicate issues that deserve careful consideration, and director Michael Bay has clearly done extensive reading on the ethics involved from an essay his son wrote for his seventh-grade science class.

As annoying as the obtuse treatment of the issues involved was (I could actually feel my brow-ridge expanding as I watched), what was REALLY goddamn annoying was the product placement.

Here's a shot of Ewan MacGregor at the bar. There's some drinks. Oh look, the bartender is setting down a bottle in front of them, with the label turned so we can read it clearly. Wow, they still drink Aquafina in the year 20X6.

Oh! Here is hot blonde actress Scarlett Johansson engaged in some fancy-shmancy virtual kickboxing with Ewan MacGregor. Hey, what's that familiar logo being not-so-subtly flashed in the background? It's the X-box logo! Boy, those X-boxes are sure advanced in 20X6!

Here's director Michael Bay, counting his money. Hey, Michael Bay - do you think we're fucking baboons, or what? Do you think that sort of shit makes us do anything other than roll our eyes and mutter, "Jesus, that's some shameless, shameless product placement."? Did it occur to your advertising geniuses that maybe our disgust would make us less likely to buy those products?

Not that this kind of stuff is new. One of my favorite films from the early eighties, Blade Runner, has some equally glaring product-placement. There's Coke advertisements all over the dystopian future. Except Ridley Scott had the good taste not to insult us: in Blade Runner, those ads are just another garish, weird feature of the ugly urban landscape. Even in the future, this shit will haunt us.

I am awestruck

This is definitely the best thing on the Internet:
This website offers the best ideas and prices. For example, if you’re looking for "difference between llama and alpaca", you’ll find the top "difference between llama and alpaca" resources right here.

In addition, searching for "difference between llama and alpaca" will just give you lots of results about "difference between llama and alpaca". Your time is precious!

You can twist your tongue, you can tongue your twist, but you can't twist your friend's tongue unless you ask

Speaking of deep contemplation of ancient history, I challenge you and the rest of the Internets to provide a shorter and/or more diffult tongue-twister in American English than my proud invention:


It's easier when you read it on the page, but just try to say it a few times.

If that was too hard, try:


21 November, 2005


I took the train out to Salisbury on Saturday and saw Stonehenge. Sometimes the world surprises you by being more magical than you gave it credit for, but this was not such an instance.

Salisbury is a stark place, only ground and sky, completely shorn clean of any trees or rocks or even the barest susurrations in the surface of the earth. It's one of those places where you stand in the center of a yawning chasm, empty blue of impossible vastness above you and a flat, aspectless plain beneath you. You are a dot in the middle of nothing.

The Iron Age unknowns who created Stonehenge plainly understood the elemental quality of the magic of Salisbury, and their monuments speak the same simple language. Besides Stonehenge there are some four hundred-odd barrows in the area, grassy burial mounds for dead kings or shamans that have somehow endured over thousands of years. They speak quite clearly, "Here lie the dead," and let that weighty fact lend all the aura and majesty that is required to the monuments, probably better than any mausoleum covered with ghoulish iconography could.

Similarly Stonehenge itself. In its long history the site served an unknown purpose (I do not believe it was merely a calendar), but whatever the meaning of the mysterious syllable it sounds, it is plainly intended to be clear and resonant.

None of this is what you find when you reach it. Whatever eldritch energy the Salisbury plain has is clipped into fragments by the highway that trisects it, and whatever bottomless note Stonehenge may be singing is drowned out by the steady stream of cars zipping past it and the chatter of tourists and camera shutters that surrounds it.

Stonehenge is a UNESCO World Heritage site, but I'm uncertain what "heritage" it attempts to preserve. There are rope barriers laid out to keep you from walking amongst the stones, to prevent idiots from chipping off pieces of the stones, as if they could thereby carry a piece of Stonehenge home with them. But the site is cheapened by turning it into a spectacle, a mere thing to gawk at. It might as well be a bunch of stones, or some carnival curio. "Come see the World's Largest Spinning Dynamo! One of A Kind! Tonite Only!"

There's some effort in a positive direction; there are proposals for restoration projects to put the nearby roads underground so the site is unblemished by their proximity (although these were recently defunded by the British government). But I think far more damaging than the proximity of the roads is the attitudes of those who come to visit it, which is not one of pilgrimage at all.

Plainly this was an important site for whoever built it so many years ago. And thus it should be important to us, if, by attempting to understand its significance to those who lived so many years ago when our race was young, we can glean some greater understanding of ourselves. History has wisdom in it, and we should read it. But if we don't know how we should read it, what exactly are we remembering?

16 November, 2005

From worse to worser

Daily news! The U.S. Congress just did something goofy. They got rid of much-ridiculed earmarks for a couple bridges in Alaska, ostensibly saving taxpayers $432 million. But they still gave the money to Alaska, to spend as the state likes. So not only do the taxpayers still get the shaft, but so could the environment.

Have these people ever looked at the Alaska Dept of Transportation's priority list? Probably not. That's why they have furry creatures like me. Take a look at the Southeast Alaska Transportation Plan, with its $250 million road across Baranof Island. (Note to Alaska: This cost estimate for a 25-mile road through endangered ptarmigan habitat is very, very lowball.) It would connect Sitka with the Inner Passage, saving some ferries and ferry passengers a few hours on the water. In return, passengers would traverse 4,000-foot rockfields and glaciated peaks well above the tundra -- in cars -- to get to 9,000-population Sitka, which is currently one of the more car-free places to live in North America.

But that's just part of its wonderful vision of killing ferries:
In southern Southeast, the construction of new highways would establish a through connection from Ketchikan to the Cassiar Highway in Canada. This new route would also include connections to Wrangell and Petersburg. Initially these highway routes would require several shuttle ferry links, which ultimately could be replaced with bridges. With these links in place, travel between these communities and trips into Canada, would no longer require a lengthy ferry trip.
That's all business as usual in Alaska, where transportation policy can be summed up as "we've got oil, we should use it." The state where they wisely created a water-ferry system and a scrappy bunch of bush pilots rather than over-engineered Interstates and jet airports now wants to join the rest of the USA in our oil-profligacy by building jet airports and highways throughout the vast, 600,000-population domain. Jeez, just build the bridge to nowhere already.

15 November, 2005

Toodle pip

Bye! I'm off to the other side of the pond for a merry jaunt, wot wot! While I'm there I'll be sure to smoke a kipper and throw a shrimp on the barbie. Wait... is that somewhere else? Um.

Anyway, while fretting about plane travel, I looked up mortality statistics at the National Safety Council. Turns out that almost no one dies in plane accidents. However, more than 10% of externally-caused deaths are people shooting themselves. Suicide overall is almost 18%. Holy cow! That's one sad country.

14 November, 2005

The ANWR bogeyman

Charismatic megafauna ate my food stamps. And my student loan, my utility regulations, and my Medicaid. Did I mention my child support payments?

The Alaska National Wildlife Refuge is home to an important caribou herd. There is no excuse for disrupting its existence -- and the existence of the Gwichi'in Indians who eat the animals -- for the sake of a few barrels of crude. There is also no excuse for the liberal establishment to protect ANWR at all costs, even if that means sacrificing other possibly bigger principles.

I recently spoke with the global warming campaigner for one of the biggest environmental groups in the country. I asked her why I hadn't heard a peep out of her group when Congress was about to approve the dreadful energy bill in August. She said she didn't know. I asked why I had received mailings and press releases trying to get ANWR drilling out of the bill. Was that the group's only priority, I asked. She agreed that they had spent far more time on ANWR than on anything else. As a result, this bill will markedly increase global warming, which will probably do more to wipe out the caribou than an oil drilling operation.

But hey, they "protected" the charismatic megafauna.

In general, if you see the Republicans putting ANWR oil drilling into a bill, you can go to the bank knowing that the bill contains many far more heinous provisions. And you can count on the Democrats to use all their political capital and parliamentary tricks to kill ANWR drilling while simultaneously sacrificing all the other policies.

The Repubs last week dropped ANWR drilling from a spiteful, mean-hearted budget-cutting measure. They left behind the cuts to "Medicaid, food stamps, student loans and child support enforcement," according to the Anchorage Daily News. The entire "budget-cutting" measure would have saved less money (about $10 billion a year) than the Repubs plan to spend by permanently repealing the I-guess-I-should-have-given-away-the-money-before-I-died Tax (more often called the Estate Tax).

The good news is that the Must-Drink-More-Oil wing of the Republican Party was so pissed at the loss of the ANWR drilling that they killed the rest of the bill. So I guess sometimes stopping ANWR drilling can have a bigger effect, especially when Karl Rove is in the doghouse.

Tabloid issue

White House says:
No Evidence Bush Lied About Iraq
Bush Administration officials denied earlier today that pre-war intelligence was manipulated or that Congress did not receive the complete picture. Speaking from his position knee-deep in a BFI dumpster behind the White House, National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley told reporters, "Look, guys, if that were true, we would have been lying, right? And if we were lying then, then we'd be lying about lying now. Which would be a double negative. And as we all know, that's just not possible in English. Now if you don't mind, I've, uh... lost... my... wedding ring... in here somewhere."

Vice President Dick Cheney, cornered en route to his home with two large, rustling garbage bags full of "table scraps" for his "new alpaca, Cecil", further commented, "Some of these Democrats who are kicking up a fuss were the same ones who voted for the war. If we knew then what they know now, then we should have been against the war. But we weren't." More questions proved impossible as reporters were terror-stricken by Mr. Cheney's determined grimacing.

13 November, 2005

With advisors like this...

I hope I'm not the only one to worry upon seeing that this guy is advising the Jordanian government on counterterrorism. Wasn't he the first of Bush's crony-nominees to get the axe? Sadly yes. He's the one who botched the training of Iraqi police and used his 9/11 budget bump to set up a bedroom for booty bumps. And now... the NY Times says:
"This is going to lead to a lot of good intel," said Bernard B. Kerik, former New York City police commissioner, who has been advising the Jordanian government on security issues. The bombing was "a demonstration that this is not about Zarqawi's hatred of America but about his hatred for his own people," Mr. Kerik said of the Jordanian-born militant.
And in other news, I wonder what the arrest of an embittered Iraqi woman will do to those who knee-jerkedly blamed Israel for the Jordan bombings. If only enmities were so simple.

11 November, 2005

Another reason to blow up the TV

The San Jose Mercury News makes me say "whoa":
Over the next decade, our gadget fetish -- when combined with microwaves, coffee makers and the like -- will require more power than we use to heat or cool our homes....

The nation's 266 million TV sets already consume about 4 percent of all residential energy. That's enough to power all the homes in New York state for a year, according to a National Resources Defense Council study.

At this rate, there will be more televisions in the United States than people in the next five years. TV energy consumption will increase by more than 50 percent, as people replace their old sets with high-definition, home theater-size screens.

Plasma displays are particularly porcine, snarfing two to three times as much energy as other types of TV screens.

10 November, 2005

Win some, lose some

The Dover, Pa., evolution trial wrapped up last Friday. I must say I was rather disappointed by the whole thing, mostly because the prosecutor was long on invective and short on argument and came across as smarmy rather than informed.

We won't know the verdict on the case until January of 2006, but for Dover the question is moot. Yesterday the citizens of Dover voted out eight of the nine school board members who were up for reelection and elected in their foul Darwinists from the Dover CARES group. But even though it won't have any material effect, the federal court's decision will set precedent. If it rules in favor of the (defunct) school board, it could produce ten, a hundred - nay, a thousand! - Dovers all over the country.

Meanwhile, those cranks in Kansas are apparently getting in on the game early. The Kansas State Board of Education yesterday released a new set of science standards which prompted a great hue and cry across the land (like this Bloomberg story, "Kansas State Board Votes to Teach Intelligent Design in Schools"). The National Academy of Sciences actually wrote them a nasty letter a few weeks back, stating that they are unhappy with their draft standards, which they feel is designed to undermine the theory of evolution. Therefore, they are refusing to allow their copyrighted "National Science Education Standards" to be used by Kansas.* It might seem a bit extreme of them to be bringing the hammer down like that. They seem especially wroth that Kansas has changed the very definition of science. Here's the new text:
Science is a systematic method of continuing investigation that uses observations, hypothesis testing, measurement, experimentation, logical argument and theory building to lead to more adequate explanations of natural phenomena. Science does so while maintaining strict empirical standards and healthy skepticism. Scientific explanations are built on observations, hypotheses, and theories. A hypothesis is a testable statement about the natural world that can be used to build more complex inferences and explanations. A theory is a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can incorporate observations, inferences, and tested hypotheses.

Scientific explanations must meet certain criteria. Scientific explanations are consistent with experimental and/or observational data and testable by scientists through additional experimentation and/or observation. Scientific explanation must meet criteria that govern the repeatability of observations and experiments. The effect of these criteria is to insure that scientific explanations about the world are open to criticism and that they will be modified or abandoned in favor of new explanations if empirical evidence so warrants. Because all scientific explanations depend on observational and experimental confirmation, all scientific knowledge is, in principle, subject to change as new evidence becomes available. The core theories of science have been subjected to a wide variety of confirmations and have a high degree of reliability within the limits to which they have been tested. In areas where data or understanding is incomplete, new data may lead to changes in current theories or resolve current conflicts. In situations where information is still fragmentary, it is normal for scientific ideas to be incomplete, but this is also where the opportunity for making advances may be greatest. Science has flourished in different regions during different time periods, and in history, diverse cultures have contributed scientific knowledge and technological inventions. Changes in scientific knowledge usually occur as gradual modifications, but the scientific enterprise also experiences periods of rapid advancement. The daily work of science and technology results in incremental advances in understanding the world.
Chilling, isn't it? It's so... um... Yeah. What's wrong with that, exactly? I'm not sure.

The bits on evolution, on the other hand, are unequivocal. From the Life Science standards for 8-12 graders, benchmark 3 (biological evolution):
The student... 3. understands biological evolution is used to explain the earth’s present day biodiversity: the number, variety and variability of organisms.
d. Whether microevolution (change within a species) can be extrapolated to explain macroevolutionary changes (such as new complex organs or body plans and new biochemical systems which appear irreducibly complex) is controversial. These kinds of macroevolutionary explanations generally are not based on direct observations and often reflect historical narratives based on inferences from indirect or circumstantial evidence.
and later:
The student... 7. explains proposed scientific explanations of the origin of life as well as scientific criticisms of those explanations. Some of the scientific criticisms include:
a A lack of empirical evidence for a “primordial soup” or a chemically hospitable pre-biotic atmosphere;
b. The lack of adequate natural explanations for the genetic code, the sequences of genetic information necessary to specify life, the biochemical machinery needed to translate genetic information into functional biosystems, and the formation of proto-cells; and
c. The sudden rather than gradual emergence of organisms near the time that the Earth first became habitable.
This is pretty clearly cribbed from some Discovery Institute pamphlet and represents lunatic ignorance unworthy of a state science standard. And remember, kids: the more lunatic ignorance we have, the closer we get to the Kingdom of God.

* Hedgehog points out this Wired article decrying the use of evil copyright schemes to enforce good sense. Although frankly I doubt the NAS actually had any principles on the subject to compromise; it's only the sensibilities of their lefty fellow-travelers that are offended.

09 November, 2005

Good reasons not to melt skin off children

I liked number 3. BECAUSE IT FUCKING MELTS SKIN OFF CHILDREN. But numbers 1 and 2 are worth perusing as well.

Don't know what I'm talking about? Hopefully you're not American. Because if you are, I am talking about your tax dollars at work.

Can I please have a status report?

I want to know when this Global War on Terrorism is going to start, you know, reducing terrorism. Because this is getting ever less fun.

I am impressed by the growing use of "citizen journalists" on the BBC site. Now if some of those emotional testimonials -- which are great -- could also add to the news story with direct quotes, exact numbers of injured, number of emergency personnel on the scene, etc., that would be even better.

Where it goes

Sometimes I think that rather than becoming an investigative reporter who covers business, I should have just gone into finance myself. Instead, I get to watch as the wealth of the world is sucked up into vanity while billions of people shiver and lose their teeth. Our teeth, I should say, as I have not been to a dentist in way too long. Wall St Journal (subscription):
Overall, compensation on Wall Street is expected to go up an average of 20% this year and many executives will see even bigger gains, according to a soon-to-be-released study by New York-based executive search firm Options Group.

Investment bankers, who arrange mergers and stock offerings for corporations and have received a smaller percentage of the bonus pie in recent years, are expected to be among the Street's biggest winners this year, with compensation rising 20% to 25% on average, according to the study.

For an investment banker at the managing director level, a senior post on Wall Street, that will translate into an average pay package of between $2.2 million to $3.3 million this year. A global head of investment banking could pull in on average anywhere between $7 million to $10 million.

The study estimates that bonuses won't be so hot for some in the bond crowd. Traders and others who focus on convertible and junk, or "high yield," bonds are more likely to see their paychecks shrink by about 10% on average as their business wasn't as good in 2005 as in previous years. For a managing director level convertible-bond trader that will translate into a 2004 pay package of $700,000 to $900,000 on average.
This information does not make me envious. Instead it fires me with an emotion in which I take no pride. I am fueled with destructive hate.

Isn't that sweet?

It's nice to see a potential flashpoint getting potentially defused. I have a pet obsession with the Spratly Islands, an archipelago of tiny rocks and atolls in the South China Sea. They are disputed among 6.5 sovereign countries. China and Taiwan are the 1.5., adding to the Philippines, Vietnam, and partial claims by Malaysia and Brunei. I have been wondering for a while whether there was some sort of intrigue in the fact that China, Vietnam, and the Philippines signed a joint oil-exploration pact last year, cutting out the other claimants. Turns out I was being paranoid. The Philippines are now inviting the other claimants to join in. So if there is going to be war there, it won't be over oil, but rather over fish or shipping lanes. Awwww.

Recorded history

According to the Democrats, the White House has once again changed something on its website to avoid embarrassment. This wouldn't be the first time -- during the last Presidential campaign, quite a few pages disappeared.

At the same moment -- as I write -- two of the Internet's greates pioneers are on the White House website responding to "Ask the White House" questions from the public. Somehow I doubt they will respond to my question:
How can we ensure that history remains accurately recorded when pages on the Internet can so easily be changed? Does the Internet make it easier or harder to change recorded history?
UPDATE: They did take it. Their vaguely satisfying response:
That's a really good question! There are projects underway to capture the dynamic contents of the World Wide Web. Brewster Kahle is running an Internet Archive project for example. The content of the WWW is dynamic and often ephemeral and potentially modifiable, as you suggest. Digital Signature technology is one way of protecting information by exposing any attempt to modify it. But even that may not guarantee absolute integrity protection forever. The use of digital objects and its underlying ability to verify the integrity of digital content through the use of the Handle System that Bob Kahn has been working on at CNRI offers another fruitful avenue towards solving this problem. In addition efforts such as the American Memory project at the Library of Congress and recent efforts to automate the National Archives represent institutional approaches to this problem.

Strange country

Draft-dodger gives Presidential Medal of Freedom to draft resister. Compared to last year, anyway, this year's list of awardees should be cause for celebration. Better a lame comedian, a very skilled golfer, and just one war-criminal.

Holiday decoration changes

Woops. Past time to take down that old poll. I guess those fetus jokes weren't as funny as they sounded.

Continuing in that vein, new lackadaisical poll up. In case you can't tell, my creative energies are running at a low ebb, here. I think they're actually being funneled into graduate school. (Can you imagine? What, me, conscientious?) Next time I'm going to make Hedgehog do the poll.

08 November, 2005

Vatican evolution

In 1996 the Pope made a famous statement that was construed by many parties as endorsing the theory of evolution. Therein he acknowledged that evolution is "more than just a hypothesis". But he also included several caveats:
Pius XII stressed this essential point: if the human body takes its origin from pre-existent living matter the spiritual soul is immediately created by God ("animal enim a Deo immediate creari catholica fides nos retinere inhet"; Encyclical Humani generic, AAS 42 [1950], p. 575).

Consequently, theories of evolution which, in accordance with the philosophies inspiring them, consider the mind as emerging from the forces of living matter, or as a mere epiphenomenon of this matter, are incompatible with the truth about man. Nor are they able to ground the dignity of the person.
Philosophical naturalism, especially as it concerns the human mind, might be incompatible with the Christian understanding of the soul. But he concludes by saying this need not necessarily dismay us:
Consideration of the method used in the various branches of knowledge makes it possible to reconcile two points of view which would seem irreconcilable. The sciences of observation describe and measure the multiple manifestations of life with increasing precision and correlate them with the time line. The moment of transition into the spiritual cannot be the object of this kind of observation, which nevertheless can discover at the experimental level a series of very valuable signs indicating what is specific to the human being. But the experience of metaphysical knowledge, of self-awareness and self-reflection, of moral conscience, freedom, or again, of aesthetic and religious experience, falls within the competence of philosophical analysis and reflection while theology brings out its ultimate meaning according to the Creator's plans.
Earlier this year a cardinal wrote an op-ed downplaying this statement and expressing his support for "intelligent design" theory.

Well, now the Vatican has stepped up to unequivocally support the theory of evolution (and secular science more generally) and shut down any nagging doubts about where the church stands. Cardinal Poupard, head of the Pontifical Council for Culture, says:
"The fundamentalists want to give a scientific meaning to words that had no scientific aim," the French prelate said at a Vatican press conference. The real message of the first chapter of Genesis was that "the Universe didn't make itself and had a creator".

This idea was part of theology, Cardinal Poupard said. Precise details of how creation and the development of the species came about belonged to a different realm - science. "Science and theology act in different fields, each in its own," he added.

Cardinal Poupard said it was important for Roman Catholic believers to know how science saw things so as to "understand things better".
Of course I don't think this will have any impact on Americans. Willful ignorance seems to be a priority here.

05 November, 2005


Paris is still rioting. Other parts of France are joining in.

Lots of idiots on the right-wing blogosphere are crowing about this. E.g., "What do decades of idle submission and spineless obiesance under the guise of tolerance reap?", as if French society has actually displayed anything resembling tolerance towards its large Muslim minority. The other widely-voiced sentiment is that this is just Muslims showing their true colors. Quoth Robert Spencer of FrontPageMag:
That decision is a small example of what the Paris riots demonstrate on a large scale: the abject failure of the multiculturalist philosophy that disparate groups can coexist within a nation without any idea that they must share at least some basic values. The French are paying the price today for blithely assuming that France could absorb a population holding values vastly different from that of the host population without negative consequences for either.
Michelle Malkin is a good place to go to get a nice taste of the sentiment.

I hate to be trite, but this picture is simply at odds with reality. France has been anything but multiculturalist, and in fact has been quite uniform in demanding that its Muslim minority conform, damnit, to the standards of French culture.

04 November, 2005

Another day, another hypocritical energy outrage

Let the Wall St Journal (subscription) do the talking:
On the road, Sergey Brin and Larry Page have owned environmentally friendly hybrid vehicles such as the Toyota Prius. In the air, they apparently prefer something roomier.

Google Inc.'s two billionaire founders, both 32 years old, will soon be cruising the skies in a Boeing 767 wide-body airliner. They bought the used plane earlier this year, Mr. Page says.
[Sergey Brin]

The 767-200, typically an airline workhorse, is an unusual executive jet. It commonly carries about 180 passengers. Delta Air Lines operates over one hundred 767s. The Italian Air Force has ordered a modified 767 as an airborne tanker for refueling military jets. The 767-200 is almost 70% longer and more than three times as heavy as a conventional executive jet, such as a high-end Gulfstream.
While the 767 is known as an energy-efficient jet, that efficiency is based on 180 passengers. With, say, 10 passengers, you have to divide the fuel efficiency by 18. 9,000 gallons of gas coast-to-coast, divided by just 10 people, is 900 gallons/person for 3,000 miles, equals 3.3 passenger miles per gallon. That compares to the 80 passenger miles per gallon that Doormouse and I got on a cross-country drive last summer in a 1989 Honda. "Do No Evil" indeed.

02 November, 2005

Tabloid Issue!


BREAKING NEWS: Americans think for selves

The remarkable thing about this new CBS News poll is not the President's pathetic 35% approval rating, which is comparable to the approval of rock singers who bite the heads off house cats, but rather Americans' apparent ability to see through the mass media's decorous quiet on Plamegate. The press has remained unsensationalistic, keeping stories very understated and never suggesting that the President was a traitor. Yet Americans see the scandal as equal to Watergate in importance. When I remember the number of stories I saw about Monica Lewinsky and Linda Tripp eight years ago, I find it pretty amazing that the public still sees Plamegate as a much bigger deal.

Plamegate (11/06)Blowjobgate (1/98)Whitewater (3/94)Iran-Contra (2/87)Watergate (5/73)
Great importance 51%41%20%48%53%
Some importance
Little or no importance

A spooky tale

Maureen Dowd chronicles the extent of the backlash in this week's New York Times Magazine, in a piece titled "What's a Modern Girl to do?" Depressing stuff. It has scary Halloween bits for boys AND girls:
At a party for the Broadway opening of "Sweet Smell of Success," a top New York producer gave me a lecture on the price of female success that was anything but sweet. He confessed that he had wanted to ask me out on a date when he was between marriages but nixed the idea because my job as a Times columnist made me too intimidating. Men, he explained, prefer women who seem malleable and awed. He predicted that I would never find a mate because if there's one thing men fear, it's a woman who uses her critical faculties. Will she be critical of absolutely everything, even his manhood?
Having boomeranged once, will women do it again in a couple of decades? If we flash forward to 2030, will we see all those young women who thought trying to Have It All was a pointless slog, now middle-aged and stranded in suburbia, popping Ativan, struggling with rebellious teenagers, deserted by husbands for younger babes, unable to get back into a work force they never tried to be part of?

It's easy to picture a surreally familiar scene when women realize they bought into a raw deal and old trap. With no power or money or independence, they'll be mere domestic robots, lasering their legs and waxing their floors - or vice versa - and desperately seeking a new Betty Friedan.
Good reading, and it certainly raises my respect for Ms. Dowd (about whom I know next to nothing - a favorable first impression).

A Blog Revolution

I think it's neat how blargs are forcing interactivity on more traditional media.

Ha'aretz, for example, started putting comments on all their articles. They're not especially informative, but they are a remarkable juxtaposition, with the measured journalism of the paper on one side and the hotheaded rants of Israeli/Palestinian society on the other.

Or consider this salacious science article about the effect of make-up on attractiveness. The comments aren't especially enlightening in and of themselves, but they do say a little something about how (and what) people ingest when they read. This article, for example, describes a study whose essential conclusion was, (a) beauty is a strong cue for fertility, and (b) make-up can compensate for lack of beauty. The responses, mostly from women, run the gamut:
Natural beauty has always been that "natural" and beautiful, but at what point will women realize themselves, without looking at the latest magazine or model to pattern themselves after.

Great article, hopefully the light bulbs start glowing for some.

- Cath, Canada
Make-up won't help an ugly woman; if she's ugly, no amount of make up will help. Make up is only there to enhance features.
- Jennifer Fletcher, London UK
My favorite doesn't even address the substance of the article, but undercuts the assumptions of the person who wrote it:
"It is the most important part of a woman's day."

Words fail me about how offensive that opening statement is. It belittles all the other contributions and accomplishments that women make to society and their families and friends during the day, whether at the office or at home or elsewhere. Putting on make-up may "set the stage" for the day for many women, but it's hardly the most important part of the day.

- Anne, USA
I'm actually starting to expect it, now. The other day I was reading an article about two new moons discovered orbiting Pluto. I immediately thought, "How do they know these are actual moons and not Kuiper Belt transients? I better post a comment acting about it." It was only after I began searching for the comment link that I remembered, "Oh. Right. You can't do that everywhere." Yet.

Note to self: do not travel

While I was gone:

1. Someone bombed Delhi.

2. Bush appointed a strong conservative with an extensive judicial record. Simultaneously, Democrats released talking points about how the new nominee is really Samael.

3. Paris rioted.

4. ExxonMobil posted third-quarter profits of $9.9 billion.

01 November, 2005

I am happy.

It snowed over the weekend here in Boston. Three inches. I am not at all displeased at missing the season's first snowfall. In fact, cold is my nemesis and I do not relish the upcoming months.

Today, however, was quite balmy and pleasant. T-shirt weather. Just right for enjoying my newly-resurrected bicycle.

I took it apart in midsummer to deal with my busted pedals and bottom bracket, and also to re-paint the thing. My previous paint-job (yellow frame with black bubbles emanating outward from the joints) was wearing down and the frame was starting to rust. So I stripped it clean and repainted it with epoxy enamel. Supposedly you should get it blasted in a bead cabinet and painted in an autobody shop, but I doubt they would be willing to accomodate my masking requests, so I did it myself. Now it's a sleek, monochrome frame, black with white dragons. I also completely replaced the guts of it - cranks, bottom bracket, chain, chain ring, freewheel. It's a completely reborn bicycle. In hindsight perhaps I should have painted a tai on it rather than a lung.

I think I am one of those people who has always felt limited by the constraints of my physical body. This is a natural human tendency. The spirit wants absolute freedom of motion; this, the reason the Ford Mustang has been selling well for so many years. I feel this urge acutely. If I found a djinn in a bottle and it granted me one wish, I'd have to struggle to answer what that would be. But if it were three wishes, then the first, no question, would be for flight.

On a bicycle, sometimes you can fly, a little bit.

Teens growing more literate? E-mail to blame?

Is all that LiveJournaling and e-mailing and text-messaging turning us back into a society of epistolic wits? I dunno, but that's what these undersourced news stories claim. Hey, it's working for me -- look at my scintillating prose!

Via techdirt to personaltech to times online to -- well, nobody points to the original study. So much for fact-checking.

I am sad.

All told, I think I spent something like $60 trying to look like a monkey. This is probably one of the most appealing costumes I've had in a while. First, Sun Wukong is a trickster, and I have a passion for trickster figures. He is also a clear derivative of Hanuman, who is one of a handful of trickster-like figures that appear in Hindu mythology, and also happens to be the closest thing I have an isht-deva. His weapon of choice is the staff, which I've been learning for maybe a year and can actually fight somewhat effectively with. He's a magician. And, of course, he's a monkey.

Unfortunately, the buildup to Halloween coincided with this damned ENCODE (ENCyclopedia Of Dna Elements) meeting. The meeting went rather well. Seattle seems to be a nice city, and I'm somewhat alarmed by the fact that the West Coast is about ten-fold more progressive than the "liberal north-east", just at first glance. I made a lot of valuable contacts, greatly improved my education in a single night (as well as my confidence in my own powers). I did not, however, get to work on my rather elaborate costume. I never was good with deadlines.

Next year, I am going to do this thing in San Francisco, where Hedgehog says it's something like a week-long festival. And I will be a damn fine monkey. (Unless someone knows another holiday where you get to dress up.)

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