Archive for February, 2008

Sipping from the Internet firehose

February 9, 2008 12 comments

Paul from Cafe Philos discusses Is This Why The Scientific Community Hates Intelligent Design?  It includes a letter from a scientist friend of his, which begins;

There is a very real phenomenon of prejudice within the scientific community towards ID. However, some prejudices are well founded. I think this prejudice comes from a number of traits prevalent in the ID movement…

—— And then there’s this from American Friends Service Committee:

Tip ‘O the hat to Revere at Effect Measure

I often hear people who think military force is the answer to everything say they’re “tired of hearing about” the humanitarian uses of the money we waste on warfare.  My answer; “Hey, take it up with that doe-eyed liberal hippie, Dwight Eisenhower:”

An excerpt:

…“This world in arms in not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.
The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities.
It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population.
It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals.
It is some 50 miles of concrete highway.
We pay for a single fighter with a half million bushels of wheat.
We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people…

The speech is much longer, and is wrapped in the context of answering the Soviet threat.  But we cannot indefinitely complain that the other side must first disarm before we will; that way lies indefinite license to the murderous status quo.  We have invaded too many other countries to make that claim.  Driven by xenophobia we have undermined the UN until it is a corrupt shadow of what it might have been, and then derided it for being what we made it become, to make that claim.  We have been too transparently and violently obsessed by our addiction to foreign oil, to make that claim.

We have been beating the same old (oil?) drum too long.  At some point we are going to have to become smarter about peace.


The Scientific Activist rips Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, a new one for his stunningly idiotic suggestion that England allow Sharia law to exist alongside English common law:  Archbishop to England: Take Your Fancy Schmancy Legal Tradition and Shove It

My answer to the Archbishop; even Saudi Arabia knows if you want progress, you have to keep the religious police out.  Letting guys in white robes go around abusing women for wearing their headscarfs wrong is asking for a better society… to happen somewhere else.  The Archbishop should ask himself if he really wants any of this in England.


Finally, Mike The Mad Biologist links to Mythbusting Canadian Healthcare.  Written by someone who has experienced both systems, the piece rips the lid off the socialist horror that is single-payer medicine.  Here’s a sample:

#5. “You don’t get to choose your own doctor”.
Scurrilously False. Somebody, somewhere, is getting paid a lot of money to make this kind of stuff up. The cons love to scare the kids with stories about the government picking your doctor for you, and you don’t get a choice. Be afraid! Be very afraid!

For the record: Canadians pick their own doctors, just like Americans do. And not only that: since it all pays the same, poor Canadians have exactly the same access to the country’s top specialists that rich ones do.

There’s more, and it’s a good antidote to scare-tactics seeping out from well-funded astroturf organizations in this country.

Categories: observations

Who’d a thunk it?  New hippie-peacenik army manual

February 9, 2008 1 comment

One of the worst aspects of being a superpower is that it gives us an illusion of influence.  Oh, we can bully other countries around, but if our objective is something more complicated like getting people on our side (and this is a tough concept for some people to grasp) no amount of firepower will buy the desired result. 

It doesn’t matter how advanced our weapons and tactics might be, we still can’t seem to make peace in countries where we’re not wanted.  To say the very least, the supply of terrorists and insurgents is a function not a fixed quantity.  What to do?

The US army has drafted a new manual which for the first time puts an equal emphasis on winning hearts and minds as it does on defeating enemies by force. The manual is expected to be published later this month.

The new guide is seen as a major development that draws on lessons of the wars being fought by US troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. Initial military successes there have given way to long struggles, with insurgents in both countries.

Winning the peace

The commander of the US Army’s Combined Arms Centre, Gen William Caldwell, told the BBC that the US army had learned from its experiences since 2001 that stabilising countries and winning over locals required more than just military skills. Knowledge of foreign languages and local cultures are also important, he said.

The US army might win every battle it fought, he said, without achieving its real goal – winning the peace.

BBC News, New Approach for US Army Manual (emphasis mine)

The Strategic Air Command motto is; “Peace is our profession” though some have likened it to a balance of terror.  Looks like the Army is going a step further.  It’s difficult, complicated, but it’s a step in the right direction.  Maybe our foreign policy people should read the new manual.

Categories: defense, Politics

Science Friday: More Asimov!  And friends…

February 8, 2008 1 comment

Asimov on the relationship between science writing and science fiction writing (he did both).  I wish the whole essay were online but here’s a little bit of it.  First, on science writing:

Why write about science?  What does it accomplish?…

First, through the wise use of scientific knowledge humanity has a chance to solve the otherwise overwhelming problems that face it.  How do we increase our supply of materials and energy and prevent waste and pollution?  How do we make life more comfortable and secure?  How do we ameliorate the ravages of disease and old age?  If these problems can’t be solved by science, they can’t be solved at all.  On the other hand, the unwise use of scientific knowledge may destroy us all through nuclear warfare, pollution, desertification, uncontrolled population increase, and so on.

If the world is to learn how to use science wisely and to shun the unwise, as many people as possible must learn about science – not, perhaps, enough to become scientists themselves, but at least enough to have a chance to come to sensible decisions and to exert a force of public opinion on their leaders in the direction of sense.

A fine example of this is the agreement to ban the atmospheric testing of nuclear explosions in 1963.  The governments involved were not keen on this, being driven by mutual fear and hatred in the direction of suicide.  It was an aroused world opinion that forced sanity upon them very much against their wills.

Second, science has reached the stage where it needs far more investment than the scientists themselves can supply.  Even private industry may fall short where the greatest projects are concerned.  No source remains but governments – that is, the public purse.  If the public is expected to pay, it would be best if they understood what they were paying for.

Third, for science to advance, there must be a continuing supply of bright young men and women who are willing to devote their lives to scientific advance.  The supply can best be increased in both quantity and quality if the general public continues to be well informed as to the nature and content of science.

And a bit on science fiction writing:

Change has always been with us, but the rate of change is what really counts.  That rate has increased steadily in the course of human history, and beginning about 1800, it became rapid enough to make change visible in the course of a single lifetime.  (It was soon after 1800 that science fiction began to be written).  The rate of change has further increased until it is now a whirlwind that is whipping us all into the unforeseen.

If we are to control our own destinies, we dare not ignore the inevitability of change, or fight it blindly as something that is annoying and undesirable.  We must accept it and attempt to channel it in what seems to us to be a desirable direction.  It helps if we are acquainted with science fiction and have therefore learned to treat change as something familiar.  Science fiction readers, in other words, are relatively immune to future shock…

As I said, I wish the whole essay, indeed the whole collection of essays and stories by many writers including Asimov, Clarke, Bradbury and a host of others, scientists and science-fiction writers, were available online.  But I can offer the next best thing: the book is available used at Amazon, cheap.  It contains factual essays as well as fictional, one of each kind about each of the planets of our solar system.  It may not be the latest dope (1985) but it’s GOOD stuff and it’ll cost you less than five bucks including the shipping.  And wouldn’t you rather read a good book anyway?

The Planets, edited by Byron priess, copyright 1985.

Categories: Books, Reviews

Immunology as an ‘80’s action movie

February 7, 2008 Comments off

I think what I am waiting for is for my immune system to finish reverse-engineering these nasty little virus beasties, and program enough tiny little terminators to go out into my bloodstream and kick their asses.  Preferably with a dry humorous quip:

“Hasta LaVista, Virus!”

Getting tired of waiting.  Being sick is very, very boring. This may be a good sign because on Tuesday and most of Wednesday I had no interest in anything.

Categories: observations

Presidential Quote Of The Day

February 6, 2008 7 comments

In case anyone is wondering, the rash of tornadoes that hit the South on Super Tuesday was NOT typical for this time of year.  Multistate tornado clusters aren’t very common in the first place but early February isn’t the peak season.  Seems like there’s been a lot of atypical weather lately.

And while there is nothing funny about people who lost their lives and property in a storm, for some reason our President’s reassurances jolted my funny bone:

“Prayers can help and so can the government.”

I guess Ronald Reagan is officially dead.

IPv6 is here

February 6, 2008 5 comments

ICANN turns on next-gen IP addresses.

IPv4 produces just a smidgen over 4 billion addresses and we’re running out.  You wanna try wrapping your head around a really big number?  IPv6 produces 340 trillion trillion trillion unique addresses.  That should keep us going for a while.

Switching over will be difficult.  Most of the equipment out there now supports IPv6 but the standard doesn’t interact well with v4 and there’s always a lot of inertia to stick with the current system.

Now that the root servers are v6’d does anyone know an IPV6 address I can try to see if it will work through my network?  It sounds like the client has to be either-or.

Categories: Science & Technology

Who are you voting for?

February 5, 2008 15 comments

I really liked Obama, listening to him in radio debates with that odious miscreant Alan Keyes during their state senatorial campaigns.  He was steady, avoided macho talk, ignored personal attacks and addressed the subjects with informed clarity.  He has real qualifications to understand our constitution, which we need right now.  His Illinois senatorial record shows he can work with people who oppose him.  So if I can, I’ll vote for him today.

Thing is, when I first moved to this Illinois county, 25 or 26 years ago, I registered as a Republican, having voted for Ronald Reagan.  But Reagan made a Democrat or at least an independent out of me and – I can’t remember if I changed my registration to ‘Independent’.  So I might end up just voting on the local school levy issue and letting the rest go. It might also be difficult to vote at all, because I’m quite sick and it will depend how I feel by late afternoon.  I’m going back to bed and will see how it goes.

(And yes, I will thoroughly wash my hands before approaching the voting area.  And afterward too.)

Who are you planning to vote for, and why?  Who would completely ruin the country if elected?

Categories: Politics

Movie Review: My Kid Could Paint That

February 3, 2008 1 comment

Last night I went to the Historic Normal Theater to see My Kid Could Paint That, a documentary about Marla Omstead, a child art prodigy.  At age four she became an international sensation by creating a number of abstract paintings that took the art world by storm.

I remembered blogging about Marla a couple years ago, but could not recall what I had said about her.  Fine, I thought, I’ll go see the movie and then look up my old post.

The documentary walks a fine line of agnosticism and is beautifully done.  My sympathies were mostly with photorealist painter Anthony Brunelli, who lamented that he spends a year on a painting and has never sold one for more than a hundred thou, only to see two splotches of paint on a canvas go for ten times that much.  He says; “Hey, screw you, abstract art world; I’ve got paintings by a four-year-old that you can’t tell from Kandinsky.  What do you think of that?!”

But despite the SF Chronicle’s attempts to posit Brunelli as the villain, I saw him as one of the most sane people in the documentary.  Of course if you have been reading this blog for very long you know that I just don’t ‘get’ abstract art.  My feelings are best described by this unfortunately erroneous prediction set in the futuristic year 2000:

7. “The cult of the phony in art will disappear.  So-called “modern art” will only be discussed by psychiatrists.”
- Robert Heinlein, 1950

The fascinating aspect of the documentary was how badly people wanted  to believe that this sweet little 4-year-old possessed a visual and conceptual sophistication of someone much older.  You could see it in interviews with people who had been taken in collectors who had purchased her works; they could expound at length on the symbolism and imagery.  “See, up in this little corner of the painting, this is a doorway, and another person’s face is looking back through the doorway, and in the distance, you can see an infant’s face, like a sonogram…” 

Yeah, OK.  And if you were deeply religious, you’d be seeing the face of Mary in a cheese sandwich.

At one point, 60 Minutes did a very negative piece about Marla, which left the impression she couldn’t possibly have done her own paintings.  The family fought back, and eventually made DVD showing her painting one of her works from start to finish.  Her reputation, which briefly bottomed out after the TV broadcast, recovered and today her paintings are selling again, if more slowly. 

I liked the small-newspaper arts reporter who broke the story of Marla – she had a sense of perspective on what fame could do to a little child and reached a point after the 60 Minutes broadcast where she wouldn’t report on it anymore.  She really cared about the little girl, and it’s difficult to find anyone in the story who didn’t – except that they were all caught up in the hype.

For what it’s worth, I think young Marla Olmstead, now 6 and now certainly doing her own paintings, probably did have some help from her dad on the early ones.  But to admit as much would open her parents to some rather giant lawsuits from collectors who paid big bucks for paint splotches putatively done by a 4-year-old. I just hope she manages to grow up without severe psychological damage from it all.

What’s going to happen to Marla?  And how do you feel abut abstract art?

End Notes:

  • Turns out, I hadn’t exactly been taken in by little girl’s story, as my previous post was titled; “With the right marketing…

  • Illustration above stolen from BBC which I photoshopped to make Marla black & white, pumped up the saturation of the painting and left background as it is.  When I think about the technological infrastructure needed for me to casually Photoshop a picture, and how much of that infrastructure was around when i was four, well… electricity had been commercialized and there were mainframe computers flipping punch cards around.
  • Other posts I’ve written about art – it seems likely that nobody will be offering me a position as the curator of a modern art museum.
Categories: Art

This is what the expression “WTF?” was invented for

February 3, 2008 17 comments

I was walking home from the theater last night when I came to a traffic light.  The walk signal was off and the light was about to change to red, so I stopped.  I waited, with my hands in my pockets. A shiny new white pickup was waiting for his light to turn green.  It did, and he began to move.

Then he slammed on the brakes in the crosswalk.  The driver leaned over and yelled at me in a shrill voice;

“Goin’ skiing?!!!”

To which his passenger added, yelling;

“F*king A*hole!!!”

Shocked, I made no response.  Then the truck sped off into the night.  How very odd!  The walk signal turned and I went on, amusing myself with the thought that the passenger was describing himself and the driver.  What was it about ski goggles that set them off?  There was at least 8 inches of snow on the ground and it was windy and cold.  And what did it matter to them anyway?  I wondered what had their lives had been like to explain such behavior toward a stranger on the street. I turned to a shortcut across the Methodist church parking lot.

And then I saw the white truck again, with its distinctive LED bar across the tailgate.  They had circled around the block and were driving slowly down the street, looking from side to side.  Having no wish to encounter two big guys half my age with an apparent vendetta against ski-goggle-wearing pedestrians, I stepped between two vans.  They drove on and I didn’t see them again.

I don’t know what it all means but there you go.

Categories: observations

Seriously freaky weather outside right now

February 3, 2008 4 comments

It’s a regular MidWest thunderstorm outside, with lightning and thunder … except it’s snowing instead of raining. 2 to 4 inches predicted by morning. The whole county had just dug itself out from last Friday’s 8-inch snowstorm. Tomorrow it’s supposed to get up to 55 degrees with possible severe thunderstorms.  Early last week it was zero degrees and last weekend it was in the fifties with a tornado or two in the transition. And before that, below zero.  And before that, shirtsleeves weather. 

Could be some flash flooding tomorrow from 12 inches of wet snow melting all at once.