Archive for November, 2005

Reforming Iraq

November 15, 2005 3 comments

“I saw signs of physical abuse by brutal beating, one or two detainees were paralysed and some had their skin peeled off various parts of their bodies ”
- Hussein Kamal, Deputy interior minister; BBC News,  Iraq detainees ‘found starving’

It seems a bunch of Sunni detainees were found tortured and starved by Shia-dominated security forces.  Those are the ones on our side, remember?

I have been saying for years, we hook up with monsters in pursuit of some higher goal, we lose the goal and share in the monstrosity.  We are not going to win this battle with guns alone.

Categories: News

Poor little guy…

November 14, 2005 5 comments

Found this little guy in our building this morning.  He was very lethargic – my guess he was suffering from thirst.  Lost in a giant building, there was no place for him to get a drink except the restrooms, which of course he wouldn’t know about.

I really like bats – they eat a lot of mosquitos.  I put him in a bush outside and sprinkled some water on the branches around him.  Hope he makes it.

European Union’s Ariane rocket puts on training wheels, says “Look at meeee!!!”

November 12, 2005 1 comment

The European Union is getting ready to launch a new heavy-lift Ariane-5 rocket, which has the awesome capacity to lift ten tons into orbit.  They’re nervous because the first attempt at launching the Ariane-5 failed when it veered off course and had to be destroyed (and two extremely expensive sattelites with it):

“We are going to put a record payload into orbit,” said a spokesperson from the France-based company. “We will show that we can launch the heaviest payloads from Kourou.”

The Ariane 5-ECA is designed to haul payloads of up to 10 tonnes into orbit.

BBC Online: Super-Rocket’s Critical Test

Uh, just for future reference, Frenchie; that’s not even close to a record payload.  The US Saturn V rocket could lift 53 tons to the moon, far beyond the geostationary orbit specified in the Araine’s capacity.

Even our crappy space shuttle can put 32 tons in low orbit, though it can’t reach the geosynchronous position specified by the capacity of the Araine or Saturn.  So what the hell are you talking about?

(Wikipedia’s article about the Saturn V has a good comparison of rockets and their payloads.

Categories: Geeky

What Monty Python sketch character are you?

November 12, 2005 1 comment

Finally!  A quiz that understands the real me… I took the “Which action hero are you?” quiz and wound up as that twit, Neo, from a movie that sucked almost as badly as “Steaming Pile Of Sith”.  I took the “What kind of soldier are you?” quiz and wound up as an engineer, which is great (and rather close to what I do as a civilian) except that I have never been a soldier and feel quite ridiculous speculating about it.  But along comes a can’t-miss, sure-fire quiz:

You are the Minister of Silly Walks…Dare to be different!
You are the Minister of Silly Walks

What Monty Python Sketch Character are you?

brought to you by Quizilla

“…I’m afraid that the Ministry of Silly Walks is no longer getting the kind of support it needs. You see there’s Defence, Social Security, Health, Housing, Education, Silly Walks … they’re all supposed to get the same. But last year, the Government spent less on the Ministry of Silly Walks than it did on National Defencel Now we get £348,000,000 a year, which is supposed to be spent on all our available products. (he sits down) Coffee?…”

From Orac (Respectful Insolence), who came out as a Spanish Inquisitor!  NO ONE expects…

Categories: Humor

A peacenik looks at Veterans Day

November 11, 2005 Comments off

When you’re generally anti-war, you meet a lot of anti-war people who are also anti-military. This is (pun intended) an indefensible position; soldiers, even generals, do not decide when to go to war and once they are sent, their decisions are often micromanaged by people who seem to have little regard for their chances of safely doing the job they were ordered to do and then coming home intact.

I know little about my grandfathers’ Navy service; I gather one was quite a hero and the other served well.  My father was a Seabee, who drove a truck through WWII and said he later regretted not learning more from the tremendously capable machinists and construction specialists he knew then.  My brother was in the Navy in the ‘70’s and my sister recently finished 20 in the Marines.

I have visited the Vietnam memorial; it is mercifully free now of the anti-soldier plague that complicated the effort to bring that conflict to a halt.  I could only stand quietly and look at the wall, then ascend the hill to the sculpture of three weary soldiers.  Made of bronze, they seem lifelike in looking dead on their feet.

When one conceives of a war as misguided, and opposing the war as a patriotic duty, an invisible line is laid out which must nevertheless be walked as carefully as possible.  Our politicians need to be held accountable for how easily they (in perfect safety) could puff up their chests, talk tough, and ‘let slip the dogs of war’.

Diplomatic and economic solutions require the patience of a Zen master, the wisdom of a sage, and tremendous salesmanship to a voting public that prefers easy answers.  As elections loom, politicians crave the appearance of ‘man of action’ even if it is the wrong action.  Has anyone noticed that it us usually the politician who was never in battle who is quickest to open the cage?  It is they, and not the soldier, who deserve hard questions, and occasionally ridicule or even contempt.

The question of loyal opposition to a war belongs entirely in a different post.  Here, I only want to say to those who wear the uniform, or who ever wore it, an unqualified “Thank you.”

Categories: defense, Politics

Intelligent Design, holocaust denial, and postmodernism

November 10, 2005 2 comments

MrsDoF and I just returned from a lecture by Stanley Fish, a scholar of literature and law, entitled “Three on a match; Intelligent Design, Holocaust Denial, and Postmodernism”

I liked this guy a lot; he put his finger right on one of the two things1 that are bothering me about the liberal/conservative frame bordering today’s political environment.  I hadn’t thought of it this way, but both have adopted a charicature of postmodern thought for their strategic method.  Which is: to use intellectual relativism, the trivial observation that our conclusions about reality are colored by our experiences, to invalidate the other guy’s arguments.

Here are a few quotes, in no particular order, as nearly as I can remember them.  Some are just fragments:

  • “If anybody appeals to a higher value in your presence, watch your back.  There may be something really sinister going on.”  (I especially liked this one)

  • “Gerald Graff has never mentioned Intelligent Design, except to say that he was outraged his ideas were being misinterpreted and hijacked by Christian ‘teach the controversy’ Intelligent Design.”
  • Graff’s point is to teach real controversies among experts, not made-up ones from political activists.”
  • ”…liberalism’s privileging of tolerance over judgment”
  • “Demographic diversity is a simple fact that must be accounted for, but diversity as an agenda makes no sense at all”
  • “Intelligent Design advocates are rightly offended when someone links them – as I have just done – to holocaust denial.  There is no moral equivalency between the two, but they share an equivalent strategy hijacked from postmodern thought.  They are playing the same shell game.”
  • “Intelligent design seeks access to the debate by a strategy that empties the debate of content.”
  • “Postmodernism is liberalism taken very seriously” (Fish then exclaimed that this was the first time he’d put it in exactly those words.  He then repeated them with a very satisfied look on his face.)
  • “Attempts to translate the decorums of literary criticism to science, or science to religion, or religion to science, fall flat: interdisciplinarianism in methodology is a bad idea.  Each discipline has its tested and proven tradition of inquiry – precision is always local to the question it is there to answer.”
  • “The essence of postmodernism is that knowledge is historically contextual and not transcendental.  But this observation is not a method in any particular field of inquiry.  Postmodernism answers no questions, and does no work of inquiry at all, but you can do political or rhetorical work with it.”

There was a lot more, and I’m sure it will percolate through the moldy coffee grounds that substitute for my brain.  Fish came down on the side of my long-standing conviction that there are two kinds of authority; administrative and expertise.  One is conferred by status in a hierarchy, the other indicates you actually know something.  Occasionally the second coincides with the first, but not always.


  1. The other thing that’s bothering me about it is that each frame (‘liberalism’ and ‘conservatism’) represent package deals.  There is hardly any more certain indicator of cessation of thought than the acceptance of an intellecual package encompassing hundreds of issues.

  2. Here’s an interview with Fish on his book, There’s no such thing as free speech (and it’s a good thing, too)
  3. There was a hilarious moment when an obvious sophomore took to the question mic to ask a painfully sophomoric question from a postmodern perspective.  Fish engaged him for several minutes on the subject of historicity and reality (that the experts, most of the time, are right), and concluded; “The postmodern observation that experience colors perception of reality is something that occurs to most students around the third week of their sophomore year.  Get over it!”
Categories: Reviews

Guns on the ground

November 10, 2005 1 comment

Our soldiers over in Iraq use a staggering array of hardware, and some of it works better than others.  You could certainly write a really interesting book about the creative and political process that resulted in each one, from initial concept through design and manufacture, to trained soldier trying to use the thing on the battlefield.  And here is a sample of one of our soldiers writing about those weapons in Iraq:

“5) The M240 Machine Gun: 7.62 Nato (.308) cal. belt fed machine gun, developed to replace the old M-60 (what a beautiful weapon that was!!). Thumbs up. Accurate, reliable, and the 7.62 round puts ‘em down. Originally developed as a vehicle mounted weapon, more and more are being dismounted and taken into the field by infantry. The 7.62 round chews up the structure over there…”
Mostly Cajun: A Marine’s Iraq observations

Can’t you just imagine carrying a weapon designed for vehicle mount?  Creative repurposing is something designers learn to expect, but which is impossible to predict.

Leave for another essay the question of whether we should even be in Iraq in the first place: the fact is we are there and our solders should be well-equipped.  I hope someone at the Pentagon is tasked with reading informal assessments like this piece.  For the rest of us, it is a reminder that when senator Lardbottom stands up and pitches for funding a weapon system (that happens to be made in his home state) there are real consequences for our soldiers.

Another interesting, and troubling, aspect of the essay is the sophistication of the enemy weapons and tactics being supplied by Iran.  Go read!

Categories: defense, Politics

Step away from the tape measure…

November 8, 2005 6 comments

Let a ‘guy’ loose in Sears or WalMart, and like iron particles suspended in liquid, we move toward the magnet which in this case is the tool department.

It was a really cool tape measure, with super-smooth ball-bearing action, wide blade, 1/8 fraction markings, 35 feet long with metric on one side.  And I’d had trouble finding a tape measure just the other day when I needed one…

No!  This is always how it starts!  If you had x-ray vision, you could look around my home and place of work and find a dozen tape measures.  Disorganization is the sole reason I can’t find one when I need it.

Here we have a 150-foot fiberglass tape, a 25-foot Lukfin, a 30 footer from Ace Hardware, a 3 Meter Lukfin, a 16-foot Stanley (my favorite), and a 25-foot Irwin.  Think that’s all of them?  Somewhere I also have a 6-foot folding rule, a green 8-foot Stanley, a 25-foot Stanley (at work), and an antique 12-foot Starrett that once belonged to my father.  I use the Starret to check the other tapes; the Stanleys and Lukfins are right, but the Ace is off by a quarter-inch in 12 feet.  Apparently Ace is not the place.

Thing is, I really like measuring tools, and calculating machines, and optical enhancements like binocular magnifiers and loupes and such.  The lowly tape measure is the most common, even vulger manifestation of this clan, but they’re so damn useful I just hate to put them down.

Categories: Artifacts

Das Bug

November 7, 2005 3 comments

In response to several requests for an update, here’s the current status of my Bug. 

Exactly one year has passed since installing the new engine, and I’ve driven the car only about 700 miles in that time trying to track down an overheating problem and lack of power.  It is in the nature of troubleshooting that multiple variables can complicate the goal, and in this case there were several; wrong spark plugs (thanks to Jay, Les’ dad, for that suggestion), fuel-pump pressure too high, a sticky float valve, problems with the gas itself (darned if it didn’t turn out my saurkraut sled runs much better on Wal-Mart gas than either Shell or Mobil), heat-riser tube too cold, an exhaust leak, and a flaky ground.

Find one problem?  Easy.  Find two?  Only slightly harder.  Diagnose seven at once?  Not so easy.  The longblock was brand new, but all the external components came from various sources and the mechanic who put them together is a little rusty.  (All my Bugs ran great back in the day.  Honest!)

But this evening I took it out for a spin and it ran strong and relatively smooth so I know I’m closing in on that perfect balance.  Now I need to get better preheating airflow (the original air cleaner doesn’t fit the new engine, so the Scat air cleaner will require some modification.  But it has that “I’m a boxer-type engine, now get out of my way!” – type enthusiasm I was looking for originally.

Other items on the agenda are repairing the wiper motor (one on order), new tires, and next year some body work, a paint job, and possibly a new transmission.

And a speaker system and some guages (voltmeter, tach, and oil temp).  And possibly new seats.  A front-disk-brake kit.  Blue neon lights under carbon-fibre running boards.  Interior LED lighting array.  Dual carbs.  Delco HEI ignition.  Monza exhaust.  Alloy wheels…

Now if anyone is wondering just how crazy you have to be to make a daily driver out of a 38-year-old car, well…

Categories: Personal, VW

Calvin And Hobbes is back

November 3, 2005 5 comments

After a several-year hiatus, Calvin And Hobbes is back in the comics pages.  Maybe Bill Watterson ran out of money, or maybe the current crop of comics just passed the pointless threshold – whatever, I don’t care.  It appears they’re re-running the whole series.

Calvin is sharply written, beautifully drawn, often deeply insightful, and utterly apolitical.  It involves the fantasy life of a little boy – in this case, working a math “word problem” and trying to get the answer off of Susie’s paper.  He often fantasizes that he is a detective, a spaceman, or a tyrannosaur. 

In yesterday’s strip, his recurring detective character walks down a dark, rainy street, lights a cigarette, and muses:

“I stepped out into the rainy streets, and reviewed the facts.  There weren’t many.

Two saps, Jack and Joe, drive toward each other at 60 and 30 mph.  After 10 minutes, they pass.  I’m supposed to find out how far apart they started.

Questions pour down like the rain.  Who are these mugs?  What were they trying to accomplish?  Why was jack in such a hurry?  And what difference does it make where they started from?

I had a hunch that, before this was over, I’d be sorry I asked.”

Yes, I said he lit a cigarette.  In his fantasies Calvin performs dangerous stunts, uses firearms, and walks alone down the dark and lonely city street with cigarette smoke trailing his Fedora.  Take that, whiny politically-correct turkeys!

In other words, his childhood fantasies are not shaped by the concerns of adults.  Just like those of real children.

Welcome back, Calvin.  I’ve missed you.

Categories: Books, Reviews