31 December, 2005

There's no way to fly

Sorry for the interruption. I spotted this on the Red Line, on the way home from First Night. Thank you, anonymous vandal, you made my day. I feel very sorry for that poor, stateless boy.

28 December, 2005

Movie Review: The Chronicles of Narnia

I went and saw this Narnia movie on Christmas. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is an allegorical work by C.S. Lewis, meant to make the concepts in Christianity more accessible to children. In this story, Jesus is represented by a giant lion named Aslan, and Satan is represented by an evil witch named Jadis. The allegory is fairly clumsy, but it does succeed in admirably demonstrating the fact that the fundamental notion of evangelical Christianity makes very little sense.

The high point of the book is the death of Aslan, who gives up his life to atone for the "treachery" of the boy Edmund, in order to satisfy the "deep magic". He is bound and shorn by the witch's henchmen, and then slain by the witch on a stone table. Like Jesus, he is discovered by two women, who witness his mysterious and poorly-explained resurrection. This is a plot device of the same caliber as a four-year-old who gets shot playing cops-n-robbers and hastily invents some bulletproof armor for himself. "So I'm not really dead! Nyah!"

We can't, of course, blame Lewis for this, since this particular lame plot device is two thousand years old (sometimes called "The Greatest Story Ever Told"). The original evangelists had much worse than mere plot problems to deal with: they had to explain away the fact that their cherished meshiach had just been executed by the Romans. This must have been especially embarassing around the time when the first Gospels were written, when the Jewish Temple was being destroyed and Jerusalem was in flames. What's remarkable is that the early Christians accrued any Jewish followers at all.

All the problems inherent in the Gospel account remain in Lewis's story. Where the hell was Aslan for the long, miserable period when Narnia was suffering under the rule of the White Witch? How come Jesus waited four-thousand odd years to show up and offer humankind the hope of salvation? What possible relationship could there be between Aslan's meager suffering and human redemption, and why is the former a prerequisite for the latter? Especially since we're given to understand that Aslan himself made the rules, that Jesus is the Word made flesh? The fundamental redemptive act is islam, surrender - acknowledging the authority of God. Whether or not Jesus suffered during the Passion should have little bearing on that acknowledgement.

The movie also does an excellent job of conveying the awkwardness of the notion of divine justice and moral law that prevails in Christianity. The sin of Edmund, after all, is hardly his own - he is a child thrust into an adult's world, reacting based on his child's understanding to the apocalyptic events unfolding around him. His sin, if anything, is innocence - not comprehending the serious consequences of his minor crime, petty vengeance on his cruel older brother. Aslan is unrelenting, admitting no mercy on Edmund's behalf and no willingness to acknowledge the gray nature of crime and culpability. At no point does divine law admit what the humans readily acknowledge: the fault lay equally with Edmund's siblings.

As a final note, I'll point out the movie's (and the book's) role in the despicable War on Christmas. Halfway through their travels in Narnia, the children are visited by Father Christmas, who bestows presents on them. This, we are told, is the first time that Christmas has been celebrated in Narnia in a hundred years. Whazza? What could they have possibly been celebrating? Christmas... meaning... the birthday of Christ, wholly unknown in Narnia? Or some sort of orgiastic Saturnalia? Lewis never clears up this point, which suggests that for him, Christmas isn't intimately tied to the Savior's birth. Tsk, tsk. Linus van Pelt would be disappointed.

24 December, 2005

Something clever

I recently needed to better understand the concept of electron hole migration. I looked in Wikipedia, which had the sweetest, simplest explanation imaginable.
Hole conduction can be explained by the use of the following analogy. Imagine a row of people seated in an auditorium, where there are no spare chairs. Someone in the middle of the row wants to leave, so they jump over the back of the seat into an empty row, and walk out. The empty row is analogous to the conduction band, and the person walking out is analogous to a free electron.

Now imagine someone else comes along and wants to sit down. The empty row has a poor view; so he does not want to sit there. Instead, a person in the crowded row moves into the empty seat the first person left behind. The empty seat moves one spot closer to the edge and the person waiting to sit down. The next person follows, and the next, et cetera. One could say that the empty seat moves towards the edge of the row. Once the empty seat reaches the edge, the new person can sit down.

In the process everyone in the row has moved along. If those people were negatively charged (like electrons), this movement would constitute conduction. If the seats themselves were positively charged, then only the vacant seat would be positive. This is how hole conduction works.
Hooray for Wikipedia.

Form, not content

When I first started using e-mail in the early 90s, I knew people who had gotten Pretty Good Privacy encryption software, better known as PGP, and who insisted on sending their messages encrypted. But I quickly realized that the headers were unencrypted -- anyone who could tap a message could still see who was sending what to whom and with what frequency. It seemed to me that knowledge of networks was at least as important as knowledge of the specific words transmitted around those networks. If anything, I told my friends, PGP was a good way to attract attention; there's no better way to silence a room than whispering.

It turns out I was in smart if ignoble company. The New York Times reports Saturday that the National Security Administration spying that has gotten some of us atwitter this week was un-search-warrantable because it was not literally listening in on specific conversations so much as developing network maps.
Officials in the government and the telecommunications industry who have knowledge of parts of the program say the N.S.A. has sought to analyze communications patterns to glean clues from details like who is calling whom, how long a phone call lasts and what time of day it is made, and the origins and destinations of phone calls and e-mail messages. Calls to and from Afghanistan, for instance, are known to have been of particular interest to the N.S.A. since the Sept. 11 attacks, the officials said.

This so-called "pattern analysis" on calls within the United States would, in many circumstances, require a court warrant if the government wanted to trace who calls whom.
The NSA pulled this stunt by working with the telephone companies to get access to the main switches.
A former technology manager at a major telecommunications company said that since the Sept. 11 attacks, the leading companies in the industry have been storing information on calling patterns and giving it to the federal government to aid in tracking possible terrorists.

"All that data is mined with the cooperation of the government and shared with them, and since 9/11, there's been much more active involvement in that area," said the former manager, a telecommunications expert who did not want his name or that of his former company used because of concern about revealing trade secrets.

Such information often proves just as valuable to the government as eavesdropping on the calls themselves, the former manager said.

"If they get content, that's useful to them too, but the real plum is going to be the transaction data and the traffic analysis," he said. "Massive amounts of traffic analysis information - who is calling whom, who is in Osama Bin Laden's circle of family and friends - is used to identify lines of communication that are then given closer scrutiny."

POTS phone calls are not the only place where someone with access to the pipes can assemble a network map of human relationships. E-mail would be even easier. With access to the billing systems at the VoIP providers, someone could include those calls in a map. And on the Web, it is possible to map who goes to what websites, thanks especially to systems like the now-retired Carnivore and whatever secret system replaced it.

The result of all this data could be a gigantic Friendster-style map of who knows whom -- but far better than Friendster or MySpace or Tribe, in that it could recognize one-way relationships as well as quantify the frequency of contacts, the growth rate in contact frequency, and whether contacts seem anomalous (like frequent 3 a.m. phone calls within a time zone, for example).

Of course, it's hard enough to map out MySpace. Mapping all electronic contacts? Sounds like that could cause someone to be late for lunch. Is that where the tens of billions of classified dollars go in the intelligence budget? Perhaps my favorite social networking maven could find out from her new pals at the CIA.

Update: The California state constitution offers a right to privacy. I wonder if a resident of that state could sue the phone company for giving the NSA access to the switch logs.

Update II, the sequel: I'm surprised at how few analysts grasp the notion of social networking. AmericaBlog, which I usually find quite observant (even if I think the authors have a sweetly but dangerously benign image of the USA) is spreading the ridiculous notion that the NSA was taping every conversation in the country. And the usually incisive William Arkin, figures the NSA was looking for suspicious patterns -- like if someone is suddenly making lots of phone calls to Pakistan. That's possible, but it seems like it would suffer from the classic problem of adding dots to be connected, rather than connecting those dots already known. I think it's more likely that the spy campaign was aimed at mapping social networks.

22 December, 2005

What is in that white box?

Christian children all over North America might be asking themselves just such a question. But I refer not to a surprise gift. Rather to Dick Cheney's iPod. From the Associated Press, in which Nedra Pickler describes the ordeal of working on Air Force Two while most of the electrical outlets were out(let) of commission:
"Working passengers began lining up their laptops to share the power from a couple of working outlets - particularly the reporters who urgently needed to prepare their articles to transmit during a quick refueling stop in England.

"But when Cheney said his iPod needed to be recharged, it took precedence above all else and dominated one precious outlet for several hours. The vice president's press staff intervened so a reporter could use the outlet for 15 minutes to charge a dead laptop, but then the digital music device was plugged back in."
What is on the iPod?

21 December, 2005

ANWR's back

I have burrowed to Boulder, Colo., where the front page of the Camera screams that the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) is threatened again. As I wrote last month, when ANWR shows up in a bill, it is wise to look at the rest of the document. It will likely be filled with horrors unthinkable, yet the liberals will predictably chase the ANWR flare, will most likely succeed, and will then crow over their accomplishment.

In this case, the proposal to drill for oil in that precious spot is included in a $363 billion defense appropriations bill. Some of the key items elsewhere in the document, as described in the House committee report:
  • $3.5 billion for Iraq, of which "not less than $2,500,000,000 is available only for classified programs." This line includes $13 million for 8.1 million rounds (at retail prices) of .50-caliber cartridges, each one of which can rip the organs out of a human at 5,000 feet.
  • A $45,254,619,000 slush fund for the war on terror -- an amount intended to cover only the first six months of the fiscal year, ending March 31.
  • Not a cent for peacekeeping in Darfur, despite support from Condi Rice for $50 million toward a mission.
  • The defunding of one of the more ecology-minded programs in the budget, Demanufacturing of Electronic Equipment for Reuse and Recycling (DEER2)
  • Another $7,631,531,000 for the Missile Defense Agency (actually a cutback from last year)
  • The continued erosion of the notion of "defense" in "Department of Defense," most obviously in the Navy's continued elimination of coastal defense vessels -- from 13 in 2004 to 9 in 2005 to 8 in 2006.
  • A cut of some $2 billion in military payroll, spread among all forces. (Note that Alaska Natives have among the highest enlistment rates among ethnic groups in the USA.)
Now remind me, what is the biggest threat faced by Alaska's caribou and the Gwich'in people?

Some awful reading

Everyone should read Khaled el-Masri's account of his wrongful imprisonment and torture.

I won't say that the United States has turned a corner and come to a place of unadulterated evil; that would be rather naive. What's clear is that this behavior cannot, must not, continue. Clear as daylight. And the people who perpetrate these sorts of outrageous acts should be utterly reviled, remembered in history on the same pages as Pol Pot and Robespierre. That much, at least, is in our power to effect: we can blacken the names of these people and make them wear the ugly brand of "torturer".

19 December, 2005

An Energy Revolution!

By all accounts this is a low point for this country.

Many people in Europe were upset to find out that some European countries may have been hosting secret CIA detention centers, implicitly condoning the legal and probable human rights abuses going on there. Some EU officials even went so far as to threaten sanctions against any countries that had been found to have aided the CIA in such a fashion. (Strangely, no one seems to have suggested sanctions against the United States itself, which, presumably, was the most responsible party.)

As if that weren't enough, the American president seems to be the worst one ever. He has now admitted to what is surely a flagrant violation of the law, for no other apparent reason than the fact that he could.

Never fear. I have devised a way for all of us to profit from these developments.

In fact, you might say my revolutionary scheme will solve a great number of problems for the entire world, like that whole 'peak oil' business we're always worried about here at Rhinocrisy. Things are going to start looking up for humanity. Way, way up!

Like most good ideas, this one came to me on the pot. I won't go into too much detail, but suffice it to say that this is a place where a lot of good thinking can be done. (Garbage out, garbage in, as they say.)*

Although I have not provided any working prototypes of my idea, I think the concept is fairly straightforward and doesn't require extensive proving. The basic premise is this:

Over the years empirical observation has taught us that outrages committed that offend the memory of the deceased causes them to revolve in their graves. (I'm a bit rusty on my Maxwell's equations, but the direction of rotation should be given by the right-hand rule, or something.) Since we know there is conservation of angular momentum, this means over the years some of our ancestors will have acquired quite a high rate of revolution. Someone like Mark Twain or Thomas Jefferson is probably running at a good two or three million RPMs.

This is a huge amount of stored rotational energy that needs to be tapped right away. A simple belt and turbine device, as illustrated, will suffice to capture the energy.

Even if it is not very efficient, I think it will be hugely beneficial, since this will basically result in another energy boom comparable to the discovery of petroleum. (Even better, this one produces zero emissions, and it's renewable, to boot. We're putting more dead people in the ground every day.) The great thing is, everything you do will outrage SOMEONE. Gays being persecuted? Harvey Milk is incensed! Fags getting hitched? Richard Nixon just sped up by a few hundred clicks.

There's only a few problems I can see with my scenario. One is that my own country will be at a distinct disadvantage, since we're in the habit of burning our dead and have no buried ancestors to exhume and strap into a generator device.

The other is that people will probably end up trying to increase ancestral outrage in order to increase power production. Funerals will be disrupted by people pissing on the casket during the eulogy. Babies will be given absurd names like "Mushelda" and "Smelly Poopy Pants". Carrot-Top will be elected Pope and will do prop comedy on the balcony of Saint Peter's basilica.

In the extreme, we might see the development of "outrage factories", where electrical workers would have orgies featuring farm animals, copious quantities of Johnson's baby oil, and the current crop of Mouseketeers, all while reciting the Lord's prayer backwards. Parents would strive to raise the most ill-mannered, loutish children they possibly could. In other words, the immoral will become moral, and there will be an almost total breakdown of the social fabric. However, this all becomes worthwhile when you consider that otherwise you wouldn't be able to fill up your tank of gas in fifteen years.

Finally, it should be made clear that this boom time won't last forever. We can expect the law of diminishing returns to apply, as existing generations suffer from "outrage fatigue", and later generations will be forced to do more and more outlandish things to outrage the deceased. It's possible there will be breakthrough advancements in outrage technology (e.g. mime cloning), but we shouldn't count on these.

* Fortunately I had the good taste and presence of mind not to run out of the bathroom, half-naked, shrieking "Eureka!" when I had my idea, unlike SOME people I could mention.

Note that while cremation seems like a bad idea in general, some laid-back people who are not easily outraged (e.g. stoners) are just a waste of valuable graveyard plots and definitely should be incinerated at death. This probably comprises a good portion of my readership, but there's nothing for it.

I know it seems like parents are already doing this, but this is apparently an unrelated phenomenon.

15 December, 2005

Look, real news

I've gone through some U.S. government websites and learned that of all the agencies that could be taking part in the hurricane recovery in New Orleans, hardly any continue to release weekly progress reports. FEMA continues to update us on Mississippi housing. I found one for the Energy Information Administration, which each week updates us on how oil and gas are faring in the wake of this disruption.

FEMA filed its most recent Louisiana recovery "weekly" report December 3, almost 2 weeks ago.

The Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security stopped filing routine statements a month ago. Not that they were anything special -- what kind of Inspector General files an 11-line summary as his/her "inspection" of a $15 billion project? Hell, if that's all a CPA does, sign me up.

The next day, the EPA filed its last "Activities Update."weekly.

But the good news is that the Preznit has kept his destruction-prone self out of the region for two months. Relief, of sorts.

Forget Darwin

With all the pedagogical hubbub over Darwin, someone forgot that what the world needs is better poetry. Forturnately, Pakistan is on the case:
Patient and steady with all he must bear,
Ready to meet every challenge with care,
Easy in manner, yet solid as steel,
Strong in his faith, refreshingly real.
Isn't afraid to propose what is bold,
Doesn't conform to the usual mould,
Eyes that have foresight, for hindsight won't do,
Never backs down when he sees what is true,
Tells it all straight, and means it all too.
Going forward and knowing he's right,
Even when doubted for why he would fight,
Over and over he makes his case clear,
Reaching to touch the ones who won't hear.
Growing in strength he won't be unnerved,
Ever assuring he'll stand by his word.
Wanting the world to join his firm stand,
Bracing for war, but praying for peace,
Using his power so evil will cease,
So much a leader and worthy of trust,
Here stands a man who will do what he must.
I hope that this time next year, this masterwork will have replaced all that crud about, you know, "Stopping by woods on a snowy evening." Most of the world's people doesn't even live in snowy climates. I think The Leader is much more universal.

14 December, 2005

Kurt Vonnegut wrote my dream

This dream was too weird not to write down.

When I was young, in the war I was in the army. Except I never saw any action. All I did was take part in one mission where I was dropped in to blow up some hotel, I'm not sure why. Except at the last minute I was pulled out and never actually blew up anything.

After the war, I was in one of those G.I. bill work programs, to help you get by. But for some reason, they had written in my file that my expertise was social work, in advising people on pregnancy of all things. So they made me a pregnancy counselor for the rural hospitals in my area. For some reason I couldn't bring myself to tell them that the only relevant experience I had was that I aborted on some balcony.

This is where my memory cuts out... I meet someone equally strange while I'm at the hospital and he tells me something.

13 December, 2005


Idle back-of-the-envelope calculations to save the world are a favorite pastime of mine, the product of, believe it or not, long road-trips with my family, where my dad would work us through calculations such as the circumference of the world at our latitude and the like. Here's a fun one:

In the latest New Scientist, a reader inquires about painting roofs white to increase albedo and thus prevent global warming. Someone responds to inform us that about 3% of the world is covered by buildings. A third says that we would do better to instead cover the world with photovoltaic cells.

Well, let's see how well we can do with this. Let's restrict ourselves to the U.S., so we can get plenty of data. Let's assume the U.S. has a proportionate number of buildings according to its population; probably more, but it's always better to be conservative. This is 5% of 3% of 510,065,284.702, which is the surface area of the Earth in km2. For some reason I happen to know off the top of my head that the average incident sunlight in the U.S. is 200 W/m2 (I don't know how this stuff happens to me). Which means, if we do some multiplication, that American rooftops are drawing, on average, 1.53e14 W. Let's say a photovoltaic cell has an efficiency of 16%; this allows us to produce 2.44e13 W, or in a year, 7.7e17 kWH. To put this figure in perspective, the U.S. consumes something like 3.6e12 kWH of electricity annually. In other words, even if we only did this with 0.1% of buildings, or if the process is a thousandfold less efficient, we would still be producing two hundred times as much power as we consume annually. Sounds like a good idea!

11 December, 2005

Someone shat on the editorial page!

I don't understand how people can write editorials for widely-read newspapers and produce nothing but bloviation. Check out this editorial in the London Times, which raises the bugaboo of "liberal intelligentsia" complaining about the Christian undertones of "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe", but neglects to give even a SINGLE concrete example of such a complaint. Then again, people seem to have no problem hosting cable network "news" shows consisting entirely of bloviation. Amazingly, all these people work for Rupert Murdoch. Interestingly, I recently discovered that in 1980, shortly before he bought the Times, Murdoch acquired a majority share in a large hot-air concern. Apparently this has been fueling the success of his media empire ever since.

09 December, 2005


As you may have heard, there is a war on Christmas this year. Not a shooting war, so don't expect to run downstairs on Christmas morn and find Santa's bullet-riddled corpse lying under your tree where your presents ought to be.* Just a war of words. As usual, I go to Michelle Malkin for the goods. The salient bits:

A guy named John Gibson from Fox News has a book out called "The War on Christmas". Apropos! Check out the Amazon page - the book has an average of 2.5 stars, the result of an EXACTLY EQUAL NUMBER of 1-star and 5-star reviews. Holy shit.

Also, conservatives are apparently up in arms about the USPS refusing to sell religiously-themed stamps this year. Self-correcting blogosphere says: um, no.

Finally, Bill O'Reilly, who started this whole business last year, has re-entered the trenches. He fired off a few shots at the Daily Show, which prompted Jon Stewart to respond with a pledge to destroy Christmas: "I will not rest until every year families gather to spend December 25th together, at Osama's Homo-bortion Pot & Commie Jizz-porium." Awesome.

On a more serious note, I'm intimately familiar with the whole idea of 'majority as downtrodden, persecuted group, beset by evil secularists', coming from a Hindu nationalist family. This is a powerful rhetorical device, allowing you to cloak yourself in the righteous anger of the wronged and trample the minority in the name of justice. It's considered trite to offer such comparisons, but all of this smells strongly like the fascistic movement I grew up with.

* If you do, however, be sure and ransack the body. I hear that guy has tons of sweet magical items - Bag of Infinite Capacity, Levitation Belt, 5d8 Reindeer Whip (+2 dex!).

07 December, 2005


Eric Muller had a link to this BBC World Service piece about the Turner Prize, an art prize recently awarded to Simon Starling for his performance/piece "shedboatshed", where he took a shed, turned it into a boat, paddled it down the river to Basel, and turned it back into a shed. The BBC commentator Mark Whitaker interviews two art-world airheads about this bizarre business (starts at around 6:25 in above link). He's quite funny and seems to be peeved for the same reasons I am (I'll explain later). Here's a bit of a transcript, though you really should listen to the whole thing:
MARK: Eric Troncy at, uh, museum in Dijon - is it art? a shed?
ERIC: Why not?
MARK: Is the French view of sheds the same as the British art establishment?
ERIC: Well you know, I think the question is not about, it's not about 'I could do it', it's, it's, because in fact you did not... do it, and this guy did, and it's the difference between you and him.
MARK: Well, the difference is that he's got the gall to do it, then.
ERIC: Well, he decided to do so, and you did not decide to do so, uh, to try to make things, uh, simple.
MARK: (almost laughing) Because I don't think it's art! I mean, if I was to bring my underpants in next year, and submit them for the Turner Prize, would I have a chance of winning?
ERIC: Why not? But I am sure you will not do that, and that's the difference between you and an artist.
This has been one of my buttons for many years; I've often lamented the slow decay of the word 'art'. And I think this exchange captures it perfectly. If, indeed, the art world wishes to espouse the philosophy that anything can be art, or that, in the extreme, everything that human beings do, anywhere, any time, is art, then they should immolate themselves. They should give up the idea of an 'artist', wreck their museums, and distribute the Turner Prize equally amongst all people, from the housewife cooking deviled eggs to the homeless man sleeping in his own filth. The whole point of Duchamp painting a moustache on the Mona Lisa was to mock the idea of art as something special and figurative, to be brazen and tear down boundaries between art and the rest of life. It's foolish in the extreme for M. Troncy, above, not to recognize the hypocrisy of insisting that what Starling does is art, while Mr. Whitaker is not an artist, merely because he lacks the pretension to declare himself one.

Non sequitir

This bleg post is a non sequitir. It comprises two utterly unrelated snippets of information. The attempt to draw a connection between them is a futile journey. Save yourself the trouble. Have another beer.
Rumsfeld's growing stake in Tamiflu

Defense Secretary, ex-chairman of flu treatment rights holder, sees portfolio value growing.

October 31, 2005: 10:55 AM EST
By Nelson D. Schwartz, Fortune senior writer

NEW YORK (Fortune) - The prospect of a bird flu outbreak may be panicking people around the globe, but it's proving to be very good news for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other politically connected investors in Gilead Sciences, the California biotech company that owns the rights to Tamiflu, the influenza remedy that's now the most-sought after drug in the world.

Rumsfeld served as Gilead (Research)'s chairman from 1997 until he joined the Bush administration in 2001, and he still holds a Gilead stake valued at between $5 million and $25 million, according to federal financial disclosures filed by Rumsfeld.
That has nothing to do with this.
Report: Tamiflu is 'useless' for avian flu

LONDON, Dec. 3 (UPI) -- A Vietnamese doctor with experience in treating avian flu says Tamiflu, the drug being stockpiled for treatment of avian flue is useless against the virus.

Dr. Nguyen Tuong Van of the Centre for Tropical Diseases in Hanoi has treated 41 victims of H5N1, following World Health Organization guidelines and administering Tamiflu to her patients. She told the Sunday Times of London the medicine had no effect.

"We place no importance on using this drug on our patients," she said. "Tamiflu is really only meant for treating ordinary type A flu. It was not designed to combat H5N1."

06 December, 2005

Conventional wisdom

For years I've been hearing the bullshit hypothesis that there are more colds in winter because people tend to spend more time indoors in the winter and thus are more likely to transmit infections. This makes very little sense, especially in cities. I've also been hearing there is "no evidence that exposure to cold weather makes you more likely to get a cold". This is more likely a failure of the crappy case-control studies performed to measure the effect. I'm much happier with the "cold weather causes immunosuppression" hypothesis, which I'm gratified to read is favored by some "rhinologists"*. From Eccles, R., "An explanation for the seasonality of acute upper respiratory tract viral infections." Acta oto-laryngologica, Mar. 2002:
Despite a great increase in our understanding of the molecular biology of the viruses associated with acute upper respiratory tract viral infections (URTIs) there is a remarkable lack of knowledge and ideas about why URTI should exhibit a seasonal incidence. Most publications in this area either acknowledge a complete lack of any explanation for the seasonality of URTI or put forward an explanation relating to an increased "crowding" of susceptible persons in winter. This review will discuss some of the ideas concerning the seasonality of URTI and put forward a new hypothesis for discussion, namely that seasonal exposure to cold air causes an increase in the incidence of URTI due to cooling of the nasal airway. The hypothesis is supported by literature reports demonstrating that inhalation of cold air causes cooling of the nasal epithelium, and that this reduction in nasal temperature is sufficient to inhibit respiratory defences against infection such as mucociliary clearance and the phagocytic activity of leukocytes. A case is also made to suggest that warming of the nasal airway during fever and nasal congestion may help to resolve a current URTI.

* Unfortunately, they do not actually study rhinos, and the journal "Rhinology" is not full of papers on rhino anatomy and dietary habits.

05 December, 2005

All our base are belong to them!

An al-Qaeda operative?
I was browsing through the White House's recently-released "Strategy for Victory in Iraq", a document refreshing in its clarity. A few years back I saw a copy of the White House's "Strategy for Victory in Chess", which read:
We intend to win by:
  • Gaining control of the center of the board.
  • Maintaining an advantage in number of opponent's pieces taken.
  • Capturing the king.
But even in moist pablum like this, there's some good grist. Occasionally even our paranoid national security apparatus screws up and lets a secret of Teutonic proportions slip out. Check out THIS gem!
The terrorists regard Iraq as the central front in their war against humanity.
That's right! Al-Qaeda is not JUST composed of evil Mohammedans, it's composed of evil, non-human Mohammedans! It's clear that once again this administration is privy to information that they don't deign to share with the rest of us.

Fortunately, clever detective work can compensate. Although we don't know exactly what sort of villainous non-humans al-Qaeda may be, we know they must fall in one of the following categories*:
  • Aliens from another planet/dimension
  • Mole people
  • Demons
  • Robots
Each one of these has valid evidence to show for it. For example, we know that al-Qaeda is adept at hiding out in tunnels, which they used to escape the U.S. Marines in Tora Bora, Afghanistan. This, combined with their pinched features and propensity towards long whiskers lends credence to the idea that al-Qaeda is, in fact, an organization of mole peoples.

Classically, mole peoples have not waged war against the human race except to redress some grievance, usually involving a disturbance of their subterranean realm. In Superman vs. the Mole Men, an especially deep oil well was responsible. However, since we haven't heard any complaints about underground nuclear testing, twenty-gigaton drills or a tunnel through the earth's crust in any of the speeches made by al-Qaeda leadership, we ought to look at other theories.

Aliens from another planet has a lot going for it. There have been numerous instances of attempted alien takeovers in the past, usually thwarted by a plucky gang of Americans, sometimes with the aid of a Macintosh. Aliens are also fond of trying to disguise themselves as normal earthlings and make use of mind-control.

A typical feature of alien invasions is the use of advanced technology. Aliens have many devices that we have not invented yet, like hyperdrive, heat rays and flying saucers. They may also make use of bio-warfare. In the documentary "Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers" by Haim Saban (which I viewed as part of my research), the alien queen Rita Repulsa sends giant monsters down to destroy the city of Angel Grove (I couldn't find this on my map - can anyone help?). Fortunately in this case they were defeated by the superior technology and kung-fu of a plucky, ethnically-balanced gang of Americans. I have ordered a copy of one of their lycra suits in case I need to take part in an alien-monster resistance movement in the future.

It does not appear that al-Qaeda has made use of any advanced technology, preferring to use explosions and box-cutters. It's possible that they are only the vanguard of an alien force, sent to test our weaknesses before the arrival of a much larger space armada. We should leave open this possibility. I am honing my space-fighter skills in anticipation of such an eventuality by playing "Galaga" instead of working, according to the recommendations of the documentary "The Last Starfighter".

Although I have suggested "robot" as a possibility above, I do not believe this is correct. I have listened to audio from Osama bin Laden's speeches, and unlike a robot, he does NOT speak in a monotone. Also, as far as I can tell, he does not have glowing red eyes or a radio antenna protruding from his head, although these may have been digitally edited from the video and/or hidden by his head-dress.

This leaves the most likely possibility, demons. This agrees with other details that the White House has let slip, e.g., the fact that George Bush was charged with this mission by God, or the direct admission by General William Boykin that the war on terrorism was a battle against Satan. Also, in the documentary "South Park: Bigger, Longer, & Uncut", we see that there was in the past an alliance between Saddam Hussein and Satan. I believe this is the unspecified evidence that Dick Cheney referred to when he assured us that Saddam and al-Qaeda were working in cahoots. Hopefully our government will be more forthright about this in the future.

* I am aware that this list ignores the possibility of intersections between these categories, for example alien mole people or demon robots from another dimension. However, due to limited resources I was unable to consider these intersections in my research.

03 December, 2005

More on net addiction

From Undernews, an article from the Independent:
Hilarie Cash, who heads Internet/Computer Addiction Services in Redmond, near Seattle, has identified a specific chemical rush - a dopamine high - which can be generated by even something as simple as receiving an email. She told The New York Times that she has seen instances of anxiety and depression in her patients.
YES! I was right, it's dopamine. OK, bedtime!

02 December, 2005


By the way, everyone here knows about The Darkness, right?

End-of-the-year poll!

The people have spoken! I look forward to this year's Christmas Riot.

New poll courtesy of Hedgehog. It being December, it has an appropriate contemplative, year-in-review feel to it.

Italian ice, anyone?

Don't miss this alarmist piece of nonsense from New Scientist, which reports on new findings that the northward flow of warm water in the Gulf Stream has apparently reduced by 30% over the past 50-odd years, with most of the reduction happening between 1992 and 1998. This current is, as you already know, the only thing keeping Europe so warm and balmy at those ridiculously high latitudes. Looks like my plan to move off to Barcelona is out (just when I had nearly perfected my lisp). Crumb. Any other good suggestions?

Post-riot laugh-riot

I feel vindicated in my reluctance to laud Chirac two years back for his refusal to support George Bush's war effort.

In response to widespread rioting that covered most of France and lasted for several weeks, eventually forcing the declaration of an emergency and the imposition of curfews, the government announced a few days back that they would be imposing some new regulations to help smooth over the problems in French society.

As you will recall, the rioters were mostly second-generation Algerian and Moroccan immigrant youth, jobless and disaffected, feeling alienated from French society at large.

The response from Chirac and Villepin: 'Yes, that's right.'

The new regulations tighten down rules on who can enter this country and set a higher bar for entry. Fluency in the French language is a must. Angry growling about those disgusting immigrant swine is thinly veiled at best:
Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, who threatened to expel any foreigners involved in the riots, told parliament on Tuesday that France no longer wanted "those people that nobody else in the world wants."

"I agree with what the prime minister said. We want selective immigration," Sarkozy said.
The government is also cracking down on polygamy, because, don't you know, it was a strong contributing factor to the riots.
Some French officials cited polygamy as one reason that youths from underprivileged Muslim households joined in the rioting, saying that children from large polygamous families often have social-behavioral problems stemming from a lack of a father figure. The suggestion outraged opposition politicians, human rights groups and others.
But if you think that's the height of idiocy, check out this disavowal that Villepin was forced to make: French leader says rap not rioting cause.

01 December, 2005

Noise vs. Quiet

Our blargh-mate Jonathan Schwarz has been writing recently about the need for more quiet. Quit reading, quit writing, just sit quietly for a while. He quotes T.S. Eliot:
Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn
Desiring this man's gift and that man's scope
I no longer strive to strive towards such things
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still.
He adds, "It may be significant that Eliot didn't write, 'Teach us to care and not to care/Teach us to start a blog.'" But before you head to the monastery, a few ruminations, slightly rewritten from a long comment I just left at Attitude Adjustor.

My journey to the blegs began with the birth of Indymedia but got much worse in the 2000 elections and then with 0.81818. Soon I stumbled on Tom Tomorrow's blog, my first. Through that period of 1999-2001, my day-job grew more boring and the office Internet hookup was fast enough that I could click just one more link. Just one more.

There seemed to be so much information hidden in the minds of regular folks -- in Seattle, New York, Central Asia, academia, and later Iraq -- information I could find if I just look hard enough. The blargosphere always promises to peel back the veil, revealing pure information just under the surface.

Normally I don't like to get so obsessed with anything, but in the case of politics, I have convinced myself that it's necessary -- these people want to kill me. I need to defend myself and those I love from those, like the President of the United States, who would kill us all over a golf bet.

But that's a justification. Because when I really let myself feel it, I know that the feeling of clicking through the web is identical to that of flipping channels, hoping that somewhere in there will be some hot sex, a belly-laugh, sex, a revulsion, or maybe some sex. While visiting my ancestral burrow (which has digital cable, while I don't even have a TV), I have spent hours holding a remote control, my hand losing its body heat to the night, waiting for something to break my stupor, even as a frigid moon reflects off the snowy trails just outside, where I could go with almost no effort, for real thrill, for something that raises the pulse through direct experience rather than simulacra.

I have read that web-surfing causes dopamine releases in the brain in the same way as gambling and other instantly rewarding activities (other than vacuum-cleaning). I believe it. At this point I believe I am an Internet addict. And that's ok for a while. Now is past a while. It is 1:21 am, my alarm is set for 6 am, and I have a full day of work ahead tomorrow, which is now today. It is getting self-destructive to even have Internet in the burrow.

Not that it's an option. We were cut off for a few weeks, but I found that from the couch in my nest, an unusually strong open network across the street just barely makes it to me. Sometimes, sitting on my favorite heap of leaves and moss, I must hold my laptop over my left shoulder to get reception, but that's nothing compared to tying a strap around my pubescent foreleg and tapping a vein.

And then there's writing. I admit it, there's a thrill to being listened to (whether or not one is heard is another question). When I had my first job at an on-line news service, I got a big thrill from looking at the daily logs to see how many people read the articles I wrote or edited. Wow, 88,000 people clicked it today. Cool. Here at Rhinocrisy, the numbers are lower -- more like 100 people a day -- but it's still exciting to get to talk to that many of you. And more of you come here on days when there are fresh posts. Much more -- a heavy-posting day will get 200+ visitors, while light days cause readership to taper down to double digits. So now I am addicted to not just reading but also speaking. More noise.

I wonder how much of the information hunger is not aimed at revealing truth but hiding it. So long as I can keep my hollowness turgid with a constant flush of information, I can ignore the decaying skeleton of faith in myself that would otherwise maintain my posture.

Fixing my mind on external threats, I ignore the grief and doubt and terror of mediocrity that leach strength from my joyful spirit, leaving it osteoporosic, on the verge of fracture.
We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet ahttp://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gifnd meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats' feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar

Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;

Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death's other Kingdom
Remember us -- if at all -- not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men.
Read the whole thing. Come on, just one more click.

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