Wednesday, May 31, 2006
DeLong on how to be a treasury secretary
New Orleans will not be entirely rebuilt
New Orleans sinking faster than expected:
... The research, being published Thursday in the journal Nature, is based on new satellite radar data for the three years before Katrina struck in 2005. The data show that some areas are sinking - from overdevelopment, drainage and natural seismic shifts - four or five times faster than the rest of the city. And that, experts say, can be deadly.
'My concern is the very low-lying areas,' said lead author Tim Dixon, a University of Miami geophysicist. 'I think those areas are death traps. I don't think those areas should be rebuilt.'
For years, scientists figured New Orleans on average was sinking about one-fifth of an inch a year based on 100 measurements of the region, Dixon said. The new data from 150,000 measurements taken from space finds that about 10 percent to 20 percent of the region had yearly subsidence in the inch-a-year range, he said...
Molly Ivins: Enron's President Bush
WorkingForChange-The takeover is completeI like my campaign reform proposals better than Molly's generic appeal to public financing.
...The extent to which not just state legislatures but the Congress of the United States are now run by large corporate special interests is beyond mere recognition as fact. The takeover is complete. Newt Gingrich and Tom DeLay put in place a system in which it's not a question of letting the head of the camel into the tent -- the camels run the place.
It has all happened quite quickly -- in less than 20 years. Laws were changed and regulations repealed until an Enron can set sail without responsibility, supervision or accountability. The business pages are fond of trumpeting the merits of 'transparency' and 'accountability,' but you will notice whenever there is a chance to roll back any of New Deal regs, the corporations go for broke trying to get rid of them entirely.
I'm not attempting to make this a partisan deal -- only 73 percent of Enron's political donations went to Republicans. But I'll be damned if Enron's No. 1 show pony politician, George W. Bush, should be allowed to walk away from this. Ken Lay gave $139,500 to Bush over the years. He chipped in $100,000 to the Bush Cheney Inaugural Fund in 2000 and $10K to the Bush-Cheney Recount Fund.
Plus, Enron's PAC gave Bush $113,800 for his '94 and '98 political races and another $312,500 from its executives. Bush got 14 free rides on Enron's corporate jets during the 2000 campaign, including at least two during the recount. Until January 2004, Enron was Bush's top contributor.
And what did it get for its money? Ken Lay was on Bush's short list to be energy secretary. He not only almost certainly served on Cheney's energy task force, there is every indication that the task force's energy plan, the one we have been on for five years, is in fact the Enron plan. Lay used Bush as an errand boy, calling the governor of Texas and having him phone Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania to vouch for what swell energy deregulation bills Enron was sponsoring in states all over the country...
A diversity of minds: are humans less alike than we imagine?
First of all, I think it's really not one thing. It's probably several disorders of brain development, largely arising from genetic and intrauterine effects, that manifest with a few common features and many atypical features.
That's not all that interesting, so I'll go further. I also think that what's common in autism is the brain's frantic efforts to adopt to being broken. So one or many things is/are going "wrong" (quotes are important) in brain development, but there are common compensatory mechanisms that still work. The developing brain is breaking and trying to repair itself -- all at the same time. Somethings get repaired well, some don't. Sometimes the result works -- but it works differently.
Temple Grandin's mind works differently. Grandin is a famous interlocutor for autistic persons. She has several books and essays out, including this one: My Mind is a Web Browser: How People with Autism Think. Grandin has since recognized that she's really describing how she thinks, and that not all autistic persons think the same way . The point, however, is that she has an "alien" way to thinking. It doesn't work all that well most of the time, but it is well suited to certain types of problem solving. She is a visualization 'savant' , in a way that some autistic persons are numerical 'savants'. She has enough symbolic reasoning and language to be able to translate from her world of visualization to the more common world of language.
Variations in neurodevelopment resulting by "malfunction" and adaptation/healing, yielding diverse minds that function better in some environments, worse in others.
Remind you of anything?
Isn't that how natural selection works?
We think that humans haven't evolved much in the past few hundred thousand years because our bodies seem similar. We are creatures of the brain though. What if there's an adaptive advantage to a "flaky" neurodevelopmental process? Maybe there's a reason we have so many "malformed" brains. It's not only that brains are hard to make, but also that there's a species advantage to having diverse brains and minds being created - even if some individuals bear a heavy price for being maladapted to the common environment.
Perhaps if we truly understood the human mind, we would discover that we are much less alike than we think.
 Grandin is nothing if not definite, but she also changes her mind. It's an interesting trait, and very scientific in a way. Overgeneralizing from self to all is a classic autistic trait, and not uncommon in neurotypicals either.
 It would be interesting to see how well Grandin could talk to a dolphin, presumably they think in sonar.
Tuesday, May 30, 2006
War crimes at Hadithah: not unique, inevitable
Early Warning by William M. Arkin - washingtonpost.comI am 100% certain that allied forces fighting in WW II committed many similar atrocities.
...The truth of the matter, I hear from military sources, and an explanation I suspect is completely true, is that what happened in Hadithah that day has happened more times than the Marines and the Pentagon would like to admit, and more times certainly than the American public would like to admit.
And that's the issue.
American volunteer soldiers are fighting a frightening and frustrating battle against a never depleting and highly motivated enemy. The enemy is not in uniform, chooses to fight on a civilian battlefield, intentionally using civilians as fodder and shields to manufacture enough blood and chaos to drive the conventional army from the country.
The fog of war in Iraq, and part of the inhumanity particularly of the current situation on the ground is that the enemy chooses to look like everyone else on the streets, thus eliminating the fundamental element of "distinction" between civilian and military that is so essential to fight any kind of a just and humane war.
We are left then with the U.S. military, the finest conventional military force on the planet, a force that does more to train and prepare and comply with the law of war than any other country, a force that is uniquely accountable not just to the American people but to the entire world.
I suspect in this impossible war there are hundreds of incidents of accidental and intentional killings of civilians that have gone by without an investigation of any sort.
This is not to say that I am excusing what happened in Hadithah in any way. Bu Hadithah happened as much because war never follows the predictable script, and war can never be fully controlled. No matter how grave the justification for war, no matter how grand the experiment, the unleashing of human beings to justifiably kill other human beings exposes an animal instinct so basic and horrifying that training and leadership and uniforms can only tentatively arbitrate.
When killing in war become murder, we can delude ourselves into thinking that a few bad apples have stepped out of the "uniform" code and need to be punished. Right now though, we should be honest with ourselves and admit the hopelessness of our endeavor and the impossible situation we have created for our soldiers.
The difference between then and now is that our standards are higher than they were 70 years ago (progress happens), the battle conditions for US troops are consistently worse (occupation and insurgency) and the stakes are far lower.
Time to withdraw, and I believe the US military decided that some time ago.
Monday, May 29, 2006
The Deborah Howell affair: can bloggers improve a lazy (or corrupt) journalist?
She was pilloried by blog, and got some nastymail. She ranted about the nasty mail -- I suspect she's distorting how nasty it was but that's not the interesting topic.
The interesting question is whether this kind of feedback loop has any hope of improving someone who's a fairly weak journalist. If it does, that's something new in journalism.
Sunday, May 28, 2006
Establishing identity: Bloomberg's DNA database
BREITBART.COM - NYC Mayor Advocates U.S. Worker DatabaseHe's wrong about the SSN; even if one were as wealthy as Bloomberg, and didn't need to work, it's difficult to live in the US without having at least a fake SSN. The SSN is used very widely now; in fact one advantage of a true national ID number is that it would make visible abuses that are now obscure.
... You don't have to work _ but if you want to work for a company you have to have a Social Security card,' he said. 'The difference is, in the day and age when everybody's got a PC on their desk with Photoshop that can replicate anything, it's become a joke.'
The mayor said DNA and fingerprint technology could be used to create a worker ID database that will 'uniquely identify the person' applying for a job, ensuring that cards are not illegally transferred or forged...
In any case, he's right that we will do biometric identifiers one day -- whether iris scans or thumbprints or DNA fingerprints. Our failure to deal now with identity theft (by, for example, making banks liable for financial losses) will eventually make Americans happy to accept an identity management solution they might otherwise have refused. Funny how that works.
In any case Americans would gladly trade their privacy for convenience -- really, Americans are not very private people. The convenience/identity theft issues are a double whammy for biometric identification.
Oh, yeah, and "security" and immigration too. Make that a quadruple whammy, even though Schneier makes a good case that the security benefits are marginal or negative. (When identity is trusted you can do far nastier things once you breach the system borders than when it's not protected.)
Eventually we will also do a full DNA registry, which will be handy for identifying children likely to sin; including identifying future secular humanists. and finding evildoers and rebels through their kin. Might as well sign up now. I'll be registering for the 'authenticated flyer program' myself...
PS. I was going to write something caustic about the NRA's belief that owning weapons was some protection against state tyranny, but then I realized they don't talk about that any more. They only talk about using guns against fellow citizens -- not the state. I guess they feel the state would be on their side ...
All alpha all the time - convicting the CEO
Remember OJ Simpson? It's extremely likely that he visciously murdered two people (he lost the civil suit of course), and yet, despite strong evidence of his guilt, he never cracked. An alpha.
How many politicians, caught with both hands in the jar, stand their ground no matter what? Tough. How many senior mobsters fight for 30 years without tiring? Tough.
Victorious alphas fight to live and they live to fight. Bloody battle does not tire them, it engages them.
So it makes sense that if you're going to go after corporate criminals, you use the techniques developed for mobsters:
Tough Justice for Executives in Enron Era - New York TimesThat's harsh. Very harsh. I'd have cracked long before my wife was sent to jail. But if you're going up against someone who makes the average gang-banger look like a kindergarden kid, what choices are there?
... When the former chief financial officer of Enron, Andrew S. Fastow, balked at cutting a deal with the government, prosecutors started putting pressure on his wife, Lea. She eventually pleaded guilty to income tax evasion for not reporting tens of thousands of dollars in kickback checks from one of Mr. Fastow's off-the-books schemes. Ms. Fastow went to prison for a year.
PS. Thanks to M for the "all alpha all the time" title!
Saturday, May 27, 2006
Taking the brains out of our prey
It's time to stop killing meat and start growing it. By William Saletan: "The case for eating meat is like the case for other traditions: It's natural, it's necessary, and there's nothing wrong with it. But sometimes, we're mistaken. We used to think we were the only creatures that could manipulate grammar, make sophisticated plans, or recognize names out of context. In the past month, we've discovered the same skills in birds and dolphins. In recent years, we've learned that crows fashion leaves and metal into tools. Pigeons deceive each other. Rats run mazes in their dreams. Dolphins teach their young to use sponges as protection. Chimps can pick locks. Parrots can work with numbers. Dogs can learn words from context. We thought animals weren't smart enough to deserve protection. It turns out we weren't smart enough to realize they do.I went vegetarian primarily for ethical reasons for several years, but the burden of getting food into some difficult children broke that. I do like to eat meat, no denying it.
It's wrong though. The solution, as many people have noted for several years, is to take the brains out of our prey. We could breed a chicken with purely autonomic nervous system, likewise for cattle, sheep, etc. (Ok, let's not take this to its obvious conclusion. I don't want to ruin my appetite.)
Thursday, May 25, 2006
Using pain to prevent secular humanism
How bad an idea is this? Does it really prevent the development of humanist tendencies? We don't really know. What research there is suggests it's probably a bad idea, but the studies are very hard to do well. To get good answers we'd need to randomize children to being hurt physically vs. hurt psychically (time out); the study would enver pass ethics board tests.
In the absence of evidence speculation is indicated. All child raising and puppy training is mixture of positive and negative reinforcement. For some children a 2 minute time out is agony, perhaps some of those children would actually prefer a slap on the wrist. For one child a spanking would be emotionally devastating, for another it might provoke more anger, for another it might be accepted and remembered. I have 3 children and have had two dogs. They are and were all over the map in terms of self-regulation and response to negative (loss of privileges and time-outs for the humans, training collars and in-your-face-yelling for the dogs) and positive (sticker charts, dog treats) reinforcers.
Practically speaking, however, there's a real problem with using physical pain - especially on human children. The problem is the parent.
We have lots of evidence that it's extremely hard to hurt a child in a measured and dispassionate way. Most parents can't manage it -- it takes a lot of anger control. (Same problem with using it on adults of course, as we all ought to know by now.)
The chances that a parent will be very good at using physical pain, and that a given child will actually respond well to it, are pretty low. I'd guess less than 5% of parent-child dyads. (If 1/5 parent good at it and 1/5 child benefits, then success probability is 1/5*1/5 = 1/25 = 4% -- so it's a bad idea 96% of the time).
On the other hand, the timeout by its nature gives both parent and child time to think. As do deferred privileges, etc. Inflicting physical pain is not a good approach, even though most children will survive it. Psychic pain, as in the time-out and the hostage light saber, is safer.
It won't prevent secular humanism anyway. Kids do things like that.
The Harvard Business Review and Home Depot
With Links to Board, Chief Saw His Pay Soar - New York TimesI was impressed with HBR when I started reading it, but after a year I've seen a common pattern. A few good articles amidst a pile of Pravda style ego inflating propaganda. I won't be renewing.
... The discussion inevitably turns to the changes at Home Depot under its chief executive, Robert L. Nardelli. A growing source of resentment among some is Mr. Nardelli's pay package. The Home Depot board has awarded him $245 million in his five years there. Yet during that time, the company's stock has slid 12 percent while shares of its archrival, Lowe's, have climbed 173 percent.Why would a company award a chief executive that much money at a time when the company's shareholders are arguably faring far less well? Some of the former Home Depot managers think they know the reason, and compensation experts and shareholder advocates agree: the clubbiness of the six-member committee of the company's board that recommends Mr. Nardelli's pay. Two of those members have ties to Mr. Nardelli's former employer, General Electric. One used Mr. Nardelli's lawyer in negotiating his own salary. And three either sat on other boards with Home Depot's influential lead director, Kenneth G. Langone, or were former executives at companies with significant business relationships with Mr. Langone.
The marines learn the lessons of Abu Ghraib
Top Marine Visits Iraq as Probe of Deaths WidensWould the marines have pursued this if not for the TIME magazine article? I don't know, but they seem to be learning the lessons of Abu Ghraib. Instead of denial, they are preparing their response.
The commandant of the Marine Corps flew to Iraq to address his troops yesterday, and members of the Senate Armed Services Committee were briefed on allegations that Marines had purposely killed as many as two dozen Iraqi civilians in November...
Modern HIV is 75 years old
BBC NEWS | Health | HIV origin 'found in wild chimps'Humans may have contracted SIV before, but it never made the transition into an epidemic -- the victims would have died without passing on the disease. In 1930 it began the long ascent to its current pandemic status.
The origin of HIV has been found in wild chimpanzees living in southern Cameroon, researchers report.
A virus called SIVcpz (Simian Immunodeficiency Virus from chimps) was thought to be the source, but had only been found in a few captive animals.
Now, an international team of scientists has identified a natural reservoir of SIVcpz in animals living in the wild.
It is thought that people hunting chimpanzees first contracted the virus - and that cases were first seen in Kinshasa, in the Democratic Republic of Congo - the nearest urban area - in 1930.
I was in medical school when HTLV-III was identified, I grew up in the pre-AIDS era. Things were different then.
The return of estrogen?
Controversial? A bit.
So the idea persists is that estrogen-like drugs may have a role in Alzheimer's prophylaxis in women.
I thought this idea bit the dust two years ago, but apparently it's still around. Undoubtedly pharmas want to split off the alleged neurprotective effects of estrogen from its effects on breast tissue.
How to dismantle a democracy
The Bushies are writing the 21st century book on how to dismantle a democracy.
Why are we so different from one another?
BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Spotty mice flout genetics laws [jf, aka: RNA directed paramutation in mice]Did you know that biologists are quite puzzled about why we humans, who seem so similar at the DNA level, are so different in practice? I'd thought that research in the control of gene expression suggested that tiny changes in DNA control could produce large changes in protein expression. It appears the question is not so settled.
... Researchers found that mice can pass on traits to their offspring even if the gene behind those traits is absent.
The scientists suggest RNA, a chemical cousin of DNA, passes on the characteristic - in this experiment, a spotty tail - to later generations...
... They found the mutant Kit gene produces large amounts of messenger RNA molecules (a type of RNA which acts as a template for the creation of proteins) which accumulate in the sperm of these mice.
The scientists believe the RNA molecules pass from the sperm into the egg, and they "silence" the Kit gene activity in the offspring - even those who do not inherit a copy of the mutant gene. Silencing the activity in this gene leads to a spotted tail...
...The phenomenon whereby the characteristic of a gene is "remembered" and seen in later generations, even if that particular version of the gene is no longer present, is called paramutation.
It has previously been identified in plants, but this is the first time it has been shown in animals together with a proposed mechanism - if the explanation is confirmed in future experiments...
Could transfer of RNA in sperm explain other so-called epigenetic phenomena as well?
... "A particularly intriguing possibility," he writes, "is that such RNAs regulate other non-genetic modes of inheritance, such as metabolism or behavioural imprinting."...
... "This brings valuable information about modification of our genome," said Minoo Rassoulzadegan, "and perhaps this research may eventually help us to understand why we are all so different from each other."
Biology reminds me quite a bit of physics. When I was a child we had protons, neutrons, photons and electrons (at least in popular science books for children). Shortly thereafter there were bazillions of particles. A simple story became rather complex. So goes biology ...
Wednesday, May 24, 2006
US nursing gets it between the eyes
That was a love tap, however, compared to the shot aimed at US nurses. The Senate immigration legislation removes the limit on the number of foreign nurses who can immigrate to the US. Completely removes it.
The gates opened a while back, with about 50,000 nursing visas being used from 2005 to 2007. That's a lot of nurses. With the new rules the number is expected to increase by about 10% a year, reaching up to 100,000 nurses/year by 2014.
It would take very good data to persuade me that this kind of influx is not going to stabilize or reduce nursing compensation in the US. In the absence of this resource US payors would have had to increase benefits and compensation, and improve work conditions and career development, to fill empty slots. That costs money, so healthcare costs would rise. With this foreign resource, the US gets a supply of nurses with no training costs willing to work for lower wages.
A net gain for healthcare and for the US economy - sure. Great news for the immigrants and probably for their families. Good news for the hospitals that paid off the Senators through campaign contributions and PAC contributions. Bad news for their host countries and awful news for any US grad considering a career in nursing.
Tell me again how immigration does not impact workers in the US? Let the debate continue.
An exceptional survivor: Cousin May
When I asked my mother what May was like as a young person, I learned a bit of history.
May was born about 1916, one of five children in a "working class" neighborhood (slum I suspect) in industrial Manchester. Her mother was my maternal grandfather's eldest sister. May's father died young, and her mother raised the children in a Manchester pub she came to own. It sounds like a rough life, but the children were known for their genteel diction. A bit of a puzzle.
As happened fairly often in the 1930s slums of Manchester, May developed tuberculosis. She spent the years from 17 to 21 in a Sanatorium (aka Sanitorium) -- I don't know which one. Sanitoria were common then, Davos in Switzerland started that way. Tuberculosis struck rich and poor alike, though certainly more of the latter. Somewhere along the way one of her diseased lungs was removed.
She died - 70 years later. I am sure that none of her caretakers ever imagined, in their wildest dreams, that their patient would outlive them, outlive the sanitoria, outlive perhaps everyone who entered there. I don't know how the rest of May's life went, I'm sure it was tough enough. All the same, she had her own victory.
The part that puzzles me though -- who paid for her stay? I've read that Sanitoria were not generally available to the poor of Manchester. Did her siblings have money? Did her mother sell the pub? That's a bit of a mystery ...
A wonderful lesson in evolution and survival: The Dicynodonts
Darren Naish: Tetrapod Zoology: Dicynodonts that didn’t die: late-surviving non-mammalian synapsids IWe mammals are but the shards of rich group of species that mostly died in the Triassic ...
... Sad to say, during the Late Triassic, dicynodonts dwindled in diversity until by the Norian (the penultimate stage of the Late Triassic) they were down to just three genera, and all of these were close relatives within the clade Kannemeyeriiformes (King 1990, Maisch 2001). I always liked Richard Cowen’s suggestion that these last forms were ecologically peripheralised, endangered species that hung on to existence in remote ecosystems where life was harsh ... dwindling in numbers, and living in a world where big archosaurs were now controlling all the terrestrial ecosystems, those poor last dicynodonts gradually faded into oblivion, until they were but dust in the wind, dude. That was a Bill and Ted reference.
In June 1915 several fragmentary fossil bones were discovered near Hughenden in Queensland (Australia)... a 2003 reappraisal of the specimens by Tony Thulborn and Susan Turner showed that the bones could not belong to anything other than a dicynodont....
But here’s the big deal: the fossils are from the late Early Cretaceous, and thus something like 100 million years younger than the previously known youngest members of the group... So dicynodonts didn’t disappear in the Late Triassic as we’d always thought. They had in fact been sneakily surviving somewhere, and as Thulborn & Turner (2003) wrote, their persistence in Australia and absence from everywhere else suggests that ‘Australia’s tetrapod fauna may have been as distinctive and anachronistic in the Mesozoic as it is at the present day’ (p. 991)...
This is why blogs are great, even though they are transient. Soon Darren will be too busy to put this kind of mini-article together.
Zolpidem and the nature of consciousness
It's not completely surprising. Over the past few years it's become apparent even to laypersons that consciousness (whatever that is), and lack of consciousness, are not simple or binary states. A human can have a lot of intact nervous system and yet not be "conscious", conversely humans can be "conscious" and responsive with a lot of damaged tissue. (One of the reasons Ms. Schiavo's physicians were confident of her prognosis was that she was both non-conscious and had severe tissue damage.)
The theory is that this medication can allow non-damaged parts of the brain to 'go online' and allow responsiveness, even in the absence of the normal mechanism of consciousness.
The story suggests that there are many grades and states of "consciousness" arising from interacting "islands" of neuronal subsystems, and that this and similar medications allows "islands" that are normally unable to interact, perhaps due to a physiologic suppression mechanism, to interact with each other and with the sensory and motor systems. Whether those interacting subsystems could ever produce a "person", and whether that would be the same "person" as the "original", is a matter for some thought. I would suspect that they may lack access to memory ...
[55 yo veterans of past "altered states of consciousness" can comment below ...]
Tuesday, May 23, 2006
The evolution of Christianity: a feature of the Da Vinci code
It's a fascinating tale. I'd like to read some of the wannabe gospels that didn't make it into the Book. Gnostic shmostic, what about Philip, Thomas, Mary, Didache and Hermas? I suspect the book's success will give those writings a platform.
I am left, however, as the author no doubt intended, with the impression that Dan Brown was perhaps trying to push an odd agenda as well as tell a fun story. Given the number of people who bought into the Left Behind narrative I'm sure there are millions that will believe just about anything ...
Minnesota - point!
Crooked Timber� Incarceration RatesThis really is a pretty decent state -- despite the Republican governor. We have a much larger urban population than Maine, so I'd say we come in first.
... Maine and Minnesota had the lowest rates of incarceration (with 0.3 percent or less of their state residents incarcerate)d.
Ok. I need to say something positive once in a while! The rest of the article points out that the US puts more people in jail than Belarus or Russia. About four times as many people, per capita, as does Canada. Minnesota is inline with the civilized world. What the heck must life be like in those states that bring our average up to its current insane level?
The price of criticism: Science and the Bushies
Uncertain Principles: Loose Lips Sink Research Grants:I suspect this would be quite familiar to any Soviet-era scientist. Criticism has a price. Just another brick in the wall ...
... this year's talk by a program director from the Department of Energy raised the average blood pressure at our table by a good bit.
... she took pains to state several times that both Democrats and Republicans in Congress support science, in a tone that basically came across as chiding us for thinking otherwise. That was annoying by itself, but at the very end of the talk, she specifically warned against taking partisan positions, citing the letter supporting John Kerry that was signed by a couple dozen Nobel laureates as something that made it harder to keep science funding. She said that after that, when she met with administration officials about budget matters, she could see them thinking 'Damn scientists...'
It's noteworthy because the Bush culture of loyalty has settled far down into our government. It's a spreading poison ...
Newton's editor? Emilie du Châtelet.
Love and the Enlightenment | The woman behind the man | Economist.com:Ok. That's not exactly a modest claim. If it's true there's one hell of a story that's been missed for far too long. We need to get this story into In Our Times, and start rewriting those history of science texts ...
EVERYONE, just about, has heard something about Voltaire, and most of it is flattering. Freethinker, dramatist, poet, scientist, economist, spy, politician and successful speculator to boot, he embodies the intellectual breakthrough of the Enlightenment...
... Almost nobody has heard of the woman with whom he shared most of his life, Emilie du Châtelet. But you can make a good case that she was a more rigorous thinker, a better writer, a more systematic scientist, a formidable mathematician, a wizard gambler, a more faithful lover and a much kinder and deeper person. And she did all this despite being born a woman in a society where female education was both scant and flimsy. Her mother feared that anything more academic than etiquette lessons would make her daughter unmarriageable.
David Bodanis's new biography of Emilie, Marquise du Châtelet, is a belated treatment of a startlingly neglected story...
... Born in 1706, Emilie had three pieces of great good fortune in her life. The first was to be born with a remarkable brain. Her greatest work was to translate the “Principia”, the path-breaking work on physics by the secretive Cambridge brainbox, Isaac Newton, who died when Emilie was 20. She did not just translate his writing from Latin to French; she also expressed Newton's obscure geometric proofs using the more accessible language of calculus. And she teased out of his convoluted web of theorems the crucial implications for the study of gravity and energy. That laid the foundation for the next century's discoveries in theoretical physics. The use of the square of the speed of light, c², in Einstein's most famous equation, E=mc² is directly traceable to her work.
How many individual dinosaurs were there?
The guest paleontologist took a rather wild statistical swag at it. Sad to say, I can't recall whether he said "40 quadrillion" or 40,000 quadrillion. I think it was the former. In any case he was far braver than the Google responses, which decline to answer the far duller question of how many have been identified based on the fossil record. Cowardly wimps.
That's 40 million billion, or roughly the national debt in dollars of the United States in 2000. About 5 million dinosaurs for each human alive today. That's fecundity. It gives one a sense of how successful triceratops must have been, and how many wonders remain forever lost (barring a time machine).
Actually, the question I've wondered is how many individual Homo erectus (erecti?) there were to have generated as many fossils as we find ...
I'm surprised science and history books don't give us more numbers. You get a very different sense of American history when you realize how very few people lived in Boston. Just about everyone in town must have known Ben Franklin ...
Sunday, May 21, 2006
Real ID: our National ID card
TIME.com: The National ID Card That Isn't, Yet -- Page 1Actually, I think TIME is correct that our privacy is history with or without Real ID (it's a national ID card, let's not pretend otherwise). I do think a reliable and robust indentifier will move things along faster than they would otherwise, but probably only by a four to five years.
...Most of the privacy rights — if there really are such things — vulnerable to a nationalized ID card have already been trampled under the wheels of increased security, more efficient law enforcement and better business long ago.
We should assume that anyone with money or power (but I repeat myself) will be able to know anything about us that they care to know. If you don't like that, don't vote Republican. If that's ok with you -- well, we'll see.
PS. I fully expect our government will have sold us out so comprehensively that the Real ID program will end up facilitating identity theft rather than alleviating it. What can I say? Don't vote Republican.
Over 55? You're toast.
For years commentators have announced that the boomers, a healthy lot, will work happily into their 70s. For years I've been astounded that so many seemed to believe this was true. Clearly denial is a big part of the human condition.
It never made a bit of sense. The average healthy 55 year old human has dropped a cognitive grade since their 20s. Experience helps close the gap, but it's not enough for most workers. True, in more senior roles a few exceptional individuals can be very productive into their 60s. Beyond that time, however, even they start to show their age. (Often by curious choices in mates.)
Unless we find a way to slow the natural aging of the human brain we must acknowledge that most "knowledge workers" are past their prime by 50 to 55 (I'm pretty close to that, and really my brain is nowhere near as good as it once was). That doesn't mean one is going to keal over, but it's a good idea to have moved from being a solo producer to a manager.
Once upon a time companies allowed for this. Those days are past. The modern publicly traded company is much too efficient to allow a cohort of sub-optimal employees to accumulate. One way or another, by hook or by crook, the aging will move out.
What's to do? We have to start by getting real. Boomers may work to 67, but they may be bagging groceries. Let's start talking about what that world will look like. Topic one is universal guaranteed healthcare ...
Are humans the best problem solvers?
John Hawks Anthropology WeblogObviously humans are not the fastest or strongest animal. We assume, however, that we are the "smartest" animals. We can solve "abstract" problems better than any other animal.
... Why are these kinds of stories always about 'how smart' apes are instead of 'how dumb' people are? I mean, it would be fairly hard to train people to do this task without talking to them. I think that there would be a good fraction of people who wouldn't get it.
Of course that's not universally true. A cognitively impaired human may be much worse at abstract problem solving than many animals. Still, it is presumed to be true of "normal" humans.
But is it really? It seems likely that there are certain abstract problems, particularly those that can be solved without language, that some animals will be better at solving than "normal" humans. It will be interesting to run those experiments.
Which brings us to the inevitable next topic. When I was a undergrad goofing off at Williams college (great school, but relaxing compared to Caltech) I struggled mightily in my Ethics course to come up with an ethical program that didn't start out with the premise that humans had special privileges. Problem is, I couldn't figure out how all humans ended up with more privileges than all animals. (Of course I was also thinking in terms of non-human sentiences.)
No-one has devised an ethical program that gives humans special privileges over animals or non-human sentiences without either a 'God said we're special' or 'pragmatically speaking' fudge. I doubt there is one.
That's going to get increasingly challenging.
Saturday, May 20, 2006
The Universal Library
Scan This Book! - New York TimesIt's pretty good really, but how could they manage to omit Nelson's Project Xanadu, The Memex (Vaneva Bush, As We May Think) and Dickson's The Final Encylopedia?
....Turning inked letters into electronic dots that can be read on a screen is simply the first essential step in creating this new library. The real magic will come in the second act, as each word in each book is cross-linked, clustered, cited, extracted, indexed, analyzed, annotated, remixed, reassembled and woven deeper into the culture than ever before. In the new world of books, every bit informs another; every page reads all the other pages.
They give the impression this stuff is 21st century! It's very mid-20th.
Friday, May 19, 2006
Managing the theft of your identity
So I should have some cred when I agree with Schneier that this is a great essay on responding to identity theft. It's trivially easy to take most people's identity, so it's only a matter of time before you'll need this:
HOW TO: Get Through Having Your Identity Stolen - ConsumeristThe police really, really, don't care about check fraud either.
9) Oh yeah, don’t really expect the police to DO anything about it. Even if you know the name and address of the person who did it (as in my case), they don’t do jack. You have to file with your own local police department who has way better things to do. If they live outside your city, oh well. Try not to be offended that they don’t actually care, spend the energy on getting it cleaned up. See Tip #3.
BTW, Schneier and everyone else who knows the banking industry also knows how to fix our identity theft problem. Banks must be made liable for the costs borne by the victims of identity theft. The problem would quickly become rare.
Eugenics - the real thing now.
I don't think any student of humanity doubted that we'd travel this road. It's simply too hard to resist. Of course Lincoln would not have made the cut.
Thursday, May 18, 2006
Hawks skeptical on hominid-chimp miscegenation
I do have an opinion about the way this is being presented in newspapers. They show an image of a modern human next to a modern chimp.
Hmph. Based on Hawk's writings, it sounds like the 'miscegenation'/bestiality "event" was 7 million years ago. I don't think the proto-human of 7 megayears BCE would pass for human today. I have no idea what the proto-chip of 7 megayears BCE looked like - presumably they didn't look like a modern chimp.
I'd like to see a picture of those two side-by-side ...
Cheney and the Agnew strategy
Molly Ivins isn't interested in impeaching Bush. For one thing:
WorkingForChange-Wreckage of the Bush administrationSaying Cheney is insane is the kind of thing we bloggers do. Molly Ivins is a veteran journalist; about as veteran as one can be these days. I doubt she tossed that line off without some thought, and some background evidence.
...I believe Dick Cheney is seriously off the rails, apparently deeply paranoid -- let's not put him in charge....
Cheney is too old to develop paranoid schizophrenia. He has, however, had several episodes of cardiac bypass, and he's not a young man. It's conceivable that he could have developed an organic brain syndrome with paranoid features -- partly due to his age, partly due to preexisting temperament, and partly due to the cumulative neurotrauma of several stints on bypass.
So it's an interesting question. Is Cheney truly fundamentally impaired, perhaps more severely than Reagan was by his early Alzheimer's Disease? Is anyone else saying this?
Hmmm. I wonder there's any legal maneuver one could use to expose a disabling condition in the VP ...
Exxon is pro-CO2
Maybe Exxon is just trying to help out depressed cartoonists. The Onion should be able to smack this one out of the park.
My Lai, without the heroes
Wicked. Friedman humbled.
Wednesday, May 17, 2006
Galloway on Rumsfeld
Defense Tech: Galloway Goes for the ThroatWe haven't called enough attention to Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld's macho pissing on the Europeans prior to the invasion of Iraq. It was completely pointless. Even if the Bushies were going to ignore the Europeans, there were plenty of ways to do that calmly and without burning bridges. It was a leading indicator of the massive incompetence that lay ahead. I remember the sinking feeling I got when they did that. That's when I realized that however strong the case might have been to invade Iraq (turns out it was a faked case), Bush et al were the wrong team to do it.
PS: those [tens of thousands of soldiers in fixed garrisons in germany who could not deploy] were called VII Corps in the Persian Gulf War. they deployed. they formed the armored spear that penetrated kuwait and broke the republican guard. the garrisons were guarded, while they were gone, by the german army and police. they would have been so guarded in OIF too had we tried a bit of diplomacy instead of bitch-slapping Old Europe as your boss did at a crucial moment.
The history of invasion by immigrants
It doesn't change my opinion on immigration though. I'm reserving judgment until I see more data on how it affects low wage earners. For now I think we ought to look at what Canada has done to get a big economic boost out of immigration. Canadian immigrants are not taking low wage jobs, they are selected for entrepreneurial behaviors and they create jobs at all wage ranges.
Java on the server, AJAX on the client
Today the battle has been rejoined. Google has released their Java based (server) AJAX Framework. The Slashdot reviews are basically favorable.
Wow. We could have done a LOT with this 6 years ago. Today's independent small development shops now have some very powerful tools, tools that may deliver the vision that Sun and Netscape destroyed. Microsoft cannot be happy today.
Google does so do lock-in. Fool.
Information technology | Is Google the new Microsoft? | Economist.comAnyone try changing an email address lately? Move one's blog from blogger? Switch from Gmail? Google is far more open than Yahoo! or AOL (they support POP transfers from the mailbox), but it's not like you can move a 1 GB image repository from Picasa to Flickr in a keystroke. Data ownership is a far bigger lock-in than mere software UI. Just ask any corporation running SAP.
... Try to avoid using Microsoft's software for a day, particularly if you work in an office, and you will have difficulty; but surviving a day without Google is relatively easy. It has strong competitors in all the markets in which it operates: search, online advertising, mapping, software services, and so on. Large firms such as Yahoo!, which previously farmed searches out to Google, have switched to other technologies. Google's market share in search has fallen from a high of around 80% to around 50% today. Perhaps the clearest evidence that Google's continued dominance is not inevitable is the fate of AltaVista, the former top dog in internet search. Who remembers it today?
Without a proprietary lock-in to protect its dominant position, Google will have to work hard to stay on top.
In any case Microsoft's lock-in was never Word (really), it was .doc. That's an immensely important difference.
How can The Economist miss something as fundamental as this?
There's a lot more to this topic than I can discuss in a few moments, but here's an exercise for the reader. Describe how the following items relate to lock-in and how a manufacturer can obsolete a product they seem not to control ... (hint. Stop making the stylus.)
1. Apple's new magnetic power cord attachment.For extra credit note that Apple's lock-in is not merely the FairPlay DRM, it's that nothing but an iPod can sync with iTunes.
2. Any proprietary battery for any device.
3. Any charger for a device.
4. Any patented connector. (Think iPod connector.)
5. Any stylus or any other non-generic consummable that gets lost or broken.
Update 5/17: Hey, is the Guardian reading my blog?
... Received wisdom says there's no lock-in on the web, with rival search engines just a click away. But if you develop a Google search habit, and Google has your email and address book, calendar, news feeds, bookmarks (in Notebook), back-up files (in Gdrive, soon) and other data (in Base), and if it handles your voice calls, organises your photos and so on, then you're going to find it increasingly tedious to switch. That's the idea.Seriously, Jack Schofield must have written this independently of me, but it is noteworthy that The Guardian has pipped The Economist. And not for the first time. Jack has a blog btw, which I've added to my bloglines list.
The power of Google and Wikipedia
I cheated. My wife remembered Stephen Jay Gould's name, but nothing about the term -- though I'd have found his name easily enough on Google.
A Google search on him suggested Wikipedia. Wikipedia had the term:
Stephen Jay Gould - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:Of course it's easy to then research spandrel. This must all seem mundane to young-uns, but it's still miraculous to me.
...use of the architectural word 'spandrel' in an evolutionary context, using it to mean a feature of an organism that exists as a necessary consequence of other features and not built piece by piece by natural selection...
Manipulating memory by photo display - unexpected results
Gordon's Notes: Happiness is a selective memory - manipulating memory for good and for profitIt turns out there's a reason humans don't look at old photo albums all that often. I have now thousands of family related images spanning about 100 years that cycle, at various times, on up to 5 displays. I find that images that are older than about 1-2 years, which is roughly the memory range that I live in, are often unsettling. For the children, 6 months is about the limit.
My approach to creating a selectively-false and happy set of memories is a large collection of family photos that cycle across our array of computer displays. These leverage the principle of selective reinforcement of memory -- given two proximate events, unbalanced reinforcement of one will decrease retrieval of the second. It as though as one memory grows it usurps the foundation of its "neighbor" memories. In this experiment the happy photos selectively blur away all other events.
Truth is fundamentally overrated in our current universe.
Even edited for happy events, the pictures show beloved pets that are gone, loved ones that are gone, friendships that have sundered, children that are now different (too quickly), our younger prettier selves.. It all it is a richness of living that we cannot truly contain, we are not "made" to remember...
It feels all too much like a source of wisdom, and I have a considerable fear of wisdom (the price seems always high). It seems to enforce a perspective I otherwise lack, and changes my thinking ...
And yet I am addicted to it. I will likely add tens of thousands of additional legacy images over the next few years ...
Unexpected results indeed!
Screening for berry aneurysms -- genomics
Today's harvest from a month of fishing included 19 articles on Berry aneurysms. Much of the new activity is in identifying genes that predispose to forming berry aneurysms. As well as furthering the understanding of the disorder, it suggests that we may one day be able to identify persons at risk for subarachnoid hemorrhage and thus screen them by MRI. Whether this will add anything to our current screening criteria (two first degree relatives with SAH or BA) remains to be seen.
Biology of aging: telomeres predict your age
Open source Java and a classic strategic blunder
Chief Says Sun Plans to Offer Open-Source Version of Java - New York TimesIt's unlikely to save Sun, but at least a part of their legacy might live on. Sun is following the path of the 1970s computer hardware companies that once ringed the twin cities -- shrinking and becoming a "services" company.
One of his first appearances since taking the helm of the struggling company three weeks ago, the executive, Jonathan Schwartz, told a gathering of software developers here that Sun viewed open-source software as a major part of its turnaround strategy...
Meanwhile Microsoft, in one of Gates' most brilliant and ruthless moves, blew away all of its old software strategy and embraced, extended, and corrupted both the browser and Java. Gates is an evil force for computer geeks like me, but there's no denying his strategic brilliance. Nobody could shoot their own horse like Gates in his prime.
Sun destroyed Java on the Windows desktop with an unending series of tiny updates -- each of which destroyed a generation of installed software. Sometimes there were unmarked incompatible versions!
Sun delivered a second fatal shot when instead of building a cache solution for applets they persisted in a ridiculous vision of ubiquitous high speed computing. Applets should always be instantly available. Oh, and forget version control.
In the meantime, Microsoft sprinted while Netscape and Sun fought like psychotic wolverines.
Sun and Netscape destroyed one another. A classic lesson in strategic incompetence. Bottom line -- never forget that the 'enemy of my enemy is my friend'. It's better to take half of a trillion dollar market than nothing at all ...
Tuesday, May 16, 2006
100 years: likelihood of human survival
Pharyngula: The Seed Crystal Ball:To which someone responds (comments):
Our Seed Overlords have submitted yet another question to their blogulous oracle, i.e., us: Will the "human" race be around in 100 years?
I don't think it's a particularly good question, I'm afraid. The answer is simply "yes". If the question were about prairie chickens, cheetahs, or chimpanzees, it would be a more challenging question, but with a population of 6.5 billion of us, I don't think there's much doubt. We'll be here. The only question is what state we and the world will be in. I'll speculate a bit on possible outcomes.
... 100 years is now a very LONG time. In terms of the accelerating rates of change in our de facto environment (which is technological and increasingly virtual) it's probably equivalent to 30,000 years of pre-10K BCE living.
I can't imagine any ecosystem catastrophe that would wipe out humans. So the options are:
1. Wild tech: Gray-Goo nano disaster, some weird vaccum energy thingie, etc. I'd put these all down as unlikely.
2. Engineered plague: A pimply 15 yo in southern China is upset by social rejection and engineers a virus using his home biotech kit that wipes out humanity. I'd put this at 20% when you consider all the folks that might try this.
3. AI: If we ever did produce a sentient AI, and if it turned out that 'intelligence' scaled to an IQ of, say, 100,000, then all bets are off on everything. I'd put that down as a 40% probability over a course of 100 years.
Since we have to survive both 2 and 3 to make the 100 year mark I'd say:
.8 * .6 = .48 or less than a 50% survival probability.
PS. The Fermi Paradox (aka the great silence) is not comforting here.
Monday, May 15, 2006
The surveillance society: Us and Them
Early Warning by William M. Arkin - washingtonpost.comI wired cash to my sister in Canada a few months ago. I was electonically interrogated to match me and my transaction to an identify database entry. For all I know that alone added me to a watch list - at least added a few points to my Threat Score. This is how it goes now. Everything you do now, you can justifiably ask yourself -- will this put me on The List?
... The government's position is that if you are "innocent," you have nothing to hide. It is a new version of 'you are either with us or against us.' Massive monitoring is of course meant to find terrorists; I completely believe that this is not some 1960's enemies list politically motivated effort. But these post 9/11 programs signal a new and different problem.
People of Middle Eastern and South Asian descent and Muslims are potential terrorists, machine selected as "of interest."
Throw in there callers and travelers to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, recipients of wire transfers, purchasers of fertilizer, flight school attendees. These are the new guilty until proven innocent.
Innocent means of course mostly white, mostly Christian Americans who accept that the government knows best and that the national security state is only after the bad guys and would never apply its new found capacities in any illegitimate way.
The government and its new seamless surveillance culture are build ing a digital dividing line, even in our own society. The assumption is one of an enemy in our midst.
The government's failure to provide for domestic tranquility and basic security in our homes is rewarded by more power for the government; "innocent" Americans are increasingly primed and frightened to accept that greater government surveillance is required by the realities of infiltration, ceding even more power. It is as much a way of thinking as it is a way of life...
Just being Muslim may take you halfway to The List. Supporting Greenpeace might add some points too. Who you know, who your family knows ...
Being a white evangelical right wing Bush supporter will tend to keep you off The List.
Anyone remember the internment of the Japanese-Americans? That was about 63 years ago; I have a rather good book at home that was self-published by a child caught up in that despicable American mistake. I wonder if one of the forty remaining journalists in America might be troubled to interview a survivors of that time...
There's an election coming. How you vote will matter, again (sigh).
Talking Points Memo: by Joshua Micah Marshall: May 14, 2006 - May 20, 2006 ArchivesI believe him when I read that he doesn't feel compelled to run. I believe Tipper Gore is deadset against it.
Andrew Sullivan just published an email from a reader who says it'll be Al Gore in 2008 for the Democrats, not Hillary. I could see it. I could totally see it.
I don't think Hillary is anywhere near as strong as she looks or as people seem to think she is. And Gore would be formidable.
However, I also recall that his daughter wants him to run again. Daughters can be very persuasive. He'd have my vote of course. If he runs, I'd expect a late entry.
Troops at the border? Humor is indicated
 I saw this term first used in an early 20th century newspaper article. I wish I'd noted the reference. It may be an older term than "wetback"; illegal french canadian immigration was a big deal in the northeast back then. I wonder how my wife's Grandfather ended up there ...
These students, when they go to work, will use the same techniques. DeLong is annoyed with the reporter's gullibility, but it's neat to see a widely predicted future happening. There's a generational gap here -- I lack the outsourcing skills these college kids will have. I have, however, long had ideas about other uses for this sort of resource network ...
PS. I think Vernor Vinge's Fast Times at Fairmount High is our best current guide to the world ahead.
Are cars overbuilt?
So are cars overbuilt? Should we be buying cars based on the costs of replacing body panels? A side blow to a van with motorized doors may be prohibitively expensive to repair, but a van with manual doors might survive the same accident.
Sunday, May 14, 2006
Rove to resign?
Saturday, May 13, 2006
The Descent of Dog
BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Exploring the wolves in dogs' clothingThere's a very long interval between when "dogs" divide from wolves and when they become pets. Shortly after they're known to be pets humans begin building civilizations.
.... According to DNA studies, domestic dogs owe their origins to a wolf cub that probably fell into the hands of humans some 40,000 years ago somewhere in Southeast Asia.
... "Originally, according to DNA samples, it would appear that the domestic dog is most closely related to the grey wolf.
"Point-two-percent is the difference between domestic dog DNA and grey wolf DNA, whereas the difference between coyote DNA and dog DNA is 4%.
... Experts are divided on how wolves first entered the lives of humans. Some believe that a band of hunter gatherers took wolf cubs back to their caves, perhaps to act as early guard dogs.
Others believe that wolves adopted people - creeping ever closer to human settlements to scavenge on discarded food.
By about 15,000 years ago, at the time of the last Ice Age, they were probably living alongside humans, perhaps retrieving wild animals felled with axes or bows and arrows.
The earliest archaeological evidence of dogs as true pets dates back to 12,000 to 14,000 years ago.
That is the estimated age of the remains of an old woman holding a puppy in her hand excavated in what is now Israel.
... Inside a glass case is the skeleton of an Early Bronze Age dog dug up in Tell el-Duweir near Jerusalem - the site of the ancient city of Lachish.
"Finds like these are really interesting for scientists because they give us clues as to how and when dogs became domesticated," says Dowswell.
"Although this is a relatively late example - examples have been found dating back as far as 15,000 years ago, the end of the last Ice Age - it seems that the dog skeletons they are finding are similar to wolf skeletons but much smaller.
"As a reduction in size is one of the first signs of domestication, and the fact that it's been found in a human settlement, this shows us pretty clearly that that's what's going on."
Friday, May 12, 2006
Total Information Awareness Lives
It is an opportunity, however, to point out that Poindexter's 'Total Information Awareness' was not, of course, really terminated. The names were changed and the plans were executed. Only a naif would have bought the press stories a few years back that the program had been shuttered.
Christian nationalism and the scent of fascism
Salon.com Books | "Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism"Jews. Secular humanists. Intellectuals. Same old, same old. As Bush's support dwindles he needs this base more and more. There's more similarity than meets the eye. True, Bush has is no racist or anti-semite -- but he speaks of atheists and unbelievers in much the same fashion as Cabaniss (as did his father, for that matter). He shares an ideological heritage with this group; a heritage that Goldberg details for us. Note the remarkable connection to the immensely popular Left Behind theo-fantasy books:
... On November 13, 2003, [Roy] Moore was removed from his position as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court after he defied a judge's order to remove the 2.6-ton Ten Commandments monument he'd installed in the Montgomery judicial building...
... Moore installed his massive Ten Commandments monument on August 1, 2001, and from the beginning, he and his allies used it to stir up the Christian nationalist faithful...
... As the controversy over the statue ignited, Moore's fame grew. At rallies across the country, he summoned the faithful to an ideal that sounded very much like theocracy. "For forty years we have wandered like the children of Israel," he told a crowd of three thousand supporters in Tennessee. "In homes and schools across our land, it's time for Christians to take a stand. This is not a nation established on the principles of Buddha or Hinduism. Our faith is not Islam. What we follow is not the Koran but the Bible.This is a Christian nation."
... After the Commandments were removed, a group of retired military men from Texas who called themselves American Veterans in Domestic Defense spent months taking the monument -- now affectionately called "Roy’s Rock" -- on tour all over the country, holding more than 150 viewings and rallies in churches, at state capitols, even in Wal-Mart parking lots...
... The group says it exists to "neutralize the destructiveness" of America's "domestic enemies," which include "biased liberal, socialist news media," "the ACLU," and "the conspiracy of an immoral film industry." To do this, it aims to recruit former military men...
According to Jim Cabaniss, the seventy-two-year-old Korean War veteran who founded AVIDD, the group now has thirty-three chapters across the country...
... "People who call themselves Jews represent maybe 2 or 3 percent of our people," Cabaniss told me after a January 2005 rally in Austin. "Christians represent a huge percent, and we don't believe that a small percentage should destroy the values of the larger percentage."
I asked Cabaniss, a thin, white-haired man who wore a suit with a red, white, and blue tie and a U.S. Army baseball cap, whether he was saying that American Jews have too much power. "It appears that way," he replied. "They're a driving force behind trying to take everything to do with Christianity out of our system. That's the part that makes us very upset."
Ed Hamilton, who'd come to the rally from San Antonio, interjected, "There are very wealthy Jews in high places, and they have significant control over a lot of financial matters and some political matters. They have disproportionate amount of influence in our financial structure."
Roy Moore and Rick Scarborough are Baptists, D. James Kennedy is a fundamentalist Presbyterian, and John Eidsmoe is a Lutheran. All of them, however, have been shaped by dominion theology, which asserts that, in preparation for the second coming of Christ, godly men have the responsibility to take over every aspect of society.I'm proud that when Salon was dying, I chipped in money to help keep them going.
Dominion theology comes out of Christian Reconstructionism, a fundamentalist creed that was propagated by the late Rousas John (R. J.) Rushdoony and his son-in-law, Gary North....
Reconstructionism is a postmillennial theology, meaning its followers believe Jesus won't return until after Christians establish a thousand year reign on earth ... Most American evangelicals, on the other hand, are premillennialists. They believe (with some variations) that at the time of Christ's return, Christians will be gathered up to heaven, missing the tribulations endured by unbelievers.
... Since the 1970s, though, in tandem with the rise of the religious right, premillennialism has been politicized. A crucial figure in this process was the seminal evangelical writer Francis Schaeffer, an American who founded L'Abri, a Christian community in the Swiss Alps where religious intellectuals gathered to talk and study. As early as the 1960s, Schaeffer was reading Rushdoony and holding seminars on his work. Schaeffer went on to write a series of highly influential books elucidating the idea of the Christian worldview. A Christian Manifesto, published in 1981, described modern history as a contest between the Christian worldview and the materialist ...
... Schaeffer was one of the first evangelical leaders to get deeply involved in the fight against abortion, and he advocated civil disobedience and the possible use of force to stop it. "It is time we consciously realize that when any office commands what is contrary to God's Law it abrogates its authority," he wrote.
Tim LaHaye [Left Behind] ... was heavily influenced by Schaeffer, to whom he dedicated his book "The Battle for the Mind." That book married Schaeffer's theories to a conspiratorial view of history and politics, arguing, "Most people today do not realize what humanism really is and how it is destroying our culture, families, country -- and, one day, the entire world. Most of the evils in the world today can be traced to humanism, which has taken over our government, the UN, education, TV, and most of the other influential things of life.
"We must remove all humanists from public office and replace them with pro-moral political leaders," LaHaye wrote.
... In 1984, Jay Grimstead, a disciple of Francis Schaeffer, brought important pre- and post-millennialists together to form the Coalition on Revival (COR) in order to lay a blueprint for taking over American life. Tim LaHaye was an original member of COR's steering committee, along with Rushdoony, North, creationist Duane Gish, D. James Kennedy, and the Reverend Donald Wildmon of the influential American Family Association.
Between 1984 and 1986, COR developed seventeen "worldview" documents, which elucidate the "Christian" position on most aspects of life. Just as political Islam is often called Islamism to differentiate the fascist political doctrine from the faith, the ideology laid out in these papers could be called Christianism. The documents outline a complete political program, with a "biblically correct" position on issues like taxes (God favors a flat rate), public schools (generally frowned upon), and the media and the arts ("We deny that any pornography and other blasphemy are permissible as art or 'free speech'").
In a 1988 letter to supporters, Grimstead announced the completion of a high school curriculum "using the COR Worldview Documents as textbooks." Since then, there's been a proliferation of schools, books, and seminars devoted to inculcating the correct Christian worldview in students and activists. Charles Colson accepts one hundred people annually into his yearlong "worldview training" courses...
Those who don't have a year to spare can attend one of more than a dozen Worldview Weekend conferences held every year in churches nationwide. Popular speakers include the revisionist Christian nationalist historian David Barton, David Limbaugh (Rush's born-again brother), and evangelical former sitcom star Kirk Cameron. In 2003, Tom DeLay was a featured speaker at a Worldview Weekend at Rick Scarborough's former church in Pearland, Texas. He told the crowd, "Only Christianity offers a comprehensive worldview that covers all areas of life and thought, every aspect of creation. Only Christianity offers a way to live in response to the realities that we find in this world. Only Christianity."
Using father's dna to catch the son
Here's how it works. We take DNA samples from criminals when convicted. Later we find DNA samples at crime scenes. The proposal is that if past criminal's DNA resembles that found on a crime scene, we should test the criminal's relatives. One of them is likely the culprit. The implication is that the testing might not be voluntary.
FuturePundit likes this idea.
Of course, even if this were a good idea (I dislike it), it wouldn't end there. Inevitably, everyone's DNA would be on file.
Eventually we'd analyze the DNA to identify hi risk persons. They would need to be monitored. At first. Then they'd need to be sterilized....
They say the first kill is the hardest. The next steps are always easier. Before you know it ...
Public concern over the NSA: greater than expected
Slashdot | Americans Not Bothered by NSA SpyingWhatever their rhetoric, Americans, like other humans, greatly value security over privacy. Alas, they don't realize that privacy is not the only thing they'll lose. They will also lose freedom, justice, and, ironically, security.
Snap E Tom writes "According to a Washington Post poll, a majority (63%) of Americans 'said they found the NSA program to be an acceptable way to investigate terrorism.' A slightly higher majority would not be bothered if the NSA collected personal calls that they made. Even though the program has received bi-partisan criticism from Congress, it appears that the public values security over privacy.
As long as the punishments for failing to stop an attack are high, and the punishments for false action are relatively low, humans will choose false action -- false accusation, false blacklists, false punishment.
It would be inhuman for a government, unrestrained by law, not to abuse its powers. Our government is manifestly human, and it will abuse this power as surely as night follows day. The most dangerous and terrible illusion we can have is to imagine we are "better" than those who've come before us. We are as they were, we need the safeguards that evolved to protect citizens from government as well as from each other.
Is there reason for optimism? Yes. The number that are concerned about the NSA's actions is higher than I'd have expected at this point in our history.
French universities and the revenge of the weak
Higher Learning in France Clings to Its Old Ways - New York TimesWhen I was in Thailand in 1981, I visited the campus of a lesser known Bangkok university. It was inexpensive or free, the students came from diverse backgrounds. Some worked in the tourist industry; a diverse trade back then. The main building was an enormous concrete block structure, ventilated by ceiling fans. Aging TV monitors hung from the ceiling. Somewhere a lecturer spoke ... It sounds better than Nanterre.
... There are 32,000 students at the Nanterre campus of the University of Paris, but no student center, no bookstore, no student-run newspaper, no freshman orientation, no corporate recruiting system.
The 480,000-volume central library is open only 10 hours a day, closed on Sundays and holidays. Only 30 of the library's 100 computers have Internet access.
The campus cafeterias close after lunch. Professors often do not have office hours; many have no office. Some classrooms are so overcrowded that at exam time many students have to find seats elsewhere. By late afternoon every day the campus is largely empty.
...Nanterre is where the French student revolt of 1968 broke out...
I wonder if France has public pre-university schools that are as miserable as some of our "local property tax funded" disasters.
I think of this as an instance of a much greater problem, "the problem of the weak". In the modern post-industrial world the ranks of the "weak" are growing daily. Once an IQ of 90 was consistent with a productive life working shifts in St. Paul's Ford assembly plant -- that plant closes next year. Once twitchy and restless men were able to fit into a less competitive corporate world. Once outsiders could find reasonably well paying jobs so their children could become insiders. Once poor children could get a good education, and find opportunities as adults.
Now the "weak" are warehoused in places like Nanterre. This is not a good thing. Eventually, they will become restless. The "strong" will neeed to study the residential architecture of South America.
From each according to their ability; to each according to their need may yet rise again ... 
 Follow the link to learn the provenance of the quote, and appreciate the serendipity of Google. I found this article because I could only recall a fraction of the quote, Google brought this reference up when I tried to complete it. This is what US political struggle is all about now.
Thursday, May 11, 2006
The viral invention of DNA
DNA has a lot of advantages over RNA as mechanism for heredity. In time the DNA encoding replaced the RNA encoding in cells. Modern life was on its way.
Qwest: An unexpected hero
USATODAY.com - NSA has massive database of Americans' phone callsA lot of people must be very worried about the health of this country to take the risk of talking about this. They are true American heroes.
... One major telecommunications company declined to participate in the program: Qwest.
According to sources familiar with the events, Qwest's CEO at the time, Joe Nacchio, was deeply troubled by the NSA's assertion that Qwest didn't need a court order — or approval under FISA — to proceed. Adding to the tension, Qwest was unclear about who, exactly, would have access to its customers' information and how that information might be used.
Financial implications were also a concern, the sources said. Carriers that illegally divulge calling information can be subjected to heavy fines. The NSA was asking Qwest to turn over millions of records. The fines, in the aggregate, could have been substantial.
The NSA told Qwest that other government agencies, including the FBI, CIA and DEA, also might have access to the database, the sources said. As a matter of practice, the NSA regularly shares its information — known as 'product' in intelligence circles — with other intelligence groups. Even so, Qwest's lawyers were troubled by the expansiveness of the NSA request, the sources said.
The NSA, which needed Qwest's participation to completely cover the country, pushed back hard.
Trying to put pressure on Qwest, NSA representatives pointedly told Qwest that it was the lone holdout among the big telecommunications companies. It also tried appealing to Qwest's patriotic side: In one meeting, an NSA representative suggested that Qwest's refusal to contribute to the database could compromise national security, one person recalled.
In addition, the agency suggested that Qwest's foot-dragging might affect its ability to get future classified work with the government. Like other big telecommunications companies, Qwest already had classified contracts and hoped to get more.
Unable to get comfortable with what NSA was proposing, Qwest's lawyers asked NSA to take its proposal to the FISA court. According to the sources, the agency refused.
The NSA's explanation did little to satisfy Qwest's lawyers. 'They told (Qwest) they didn't want to do that because FISA might not agree with them,' one person recalled. For similar reasons, this person said, NSA rejected Qwest's suggestion of getting a letter of authorization from the U.S. attorney general's office. A second person confirmed this version of events...
NSA phone monitoring: Call your bookie recently?
Or maybe you just dialed a really bad wrong number ...
Last January paranoid traitors like me figured the NSA wasn't exactly blindly wiretapping US phone calls, they were instead studying the call patterns to decide who to target. Five months later, this is now common knowledge:
The NSA has assembled a gigantic database of telephone calls in the United States, with the help of all of the major telecommunications providers (except Qwest). The database is not of voice recordings, but of calls made. It constitutes data on a huge network of ties between people who call each other...It's not really that hard to figure out what this administration is up to. If they were at all competent they'd be even scarier.
BTW, good luck getting off that watchlist ...
Molly Ivins can't resist Hookergate
Hookergate: Poker, hookers and the Watergate building
... On other hand, if you expect me to pass up a scandal involving poker, hookers and the Watergate building with crooked defense contractors and the No. 3 guy at the CIA, named Dusty Foggo (Dusty Foggo?! Be still my heart), you expect too much. Any journalist who claims Hookergate is not a legitimate scandal is dead -- has been for some time and needs to be unplugged. In addition to sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll, Hookergate is rife with public interest questions, misfeasance, malfeasance and non-feasance, and many splendid moral points for the children. Recommended for Sunday school use, grades seven and above...
The Terror: My education has been incomplete
In Our Time is usually reasonably calm, but a year ago things were intense. Mike Broers (Oxford), Rebecca Spang (University College, and pretty scary herself), Tim Blanning (Cambridge) and Melvynn Bragg (BBC) were going at it. Good. The Terror merits intensity.
Forget Marie Antoinette (thankfully she doesn't even merit a mention on this episode) or the King. What about 250,000 peasants slaughtered by the revolutionary army? The ten day week? The attempt to abolish Christianity? The new calendar? This is the "revolution" (madness really) that eats its own, ending with Robespierre guillotined after botching his own suicide.
My one criticism is the reluctance of these academics to call a spade. Robespierre was insane; probably severe bipolar disorder with psychotic episodes. That's not so unusual, but France seems to have caught the same disease for a few years. France gave democracy a bad name for a century and inspired the rest of the 'A Team of Evil'.
There's no way the French have come to terms with this bit of their history. They wouldn't be romanticizing their "revolution" if they had. It has taken America about 200 years to begin to come to terms with the slaugher of the Amerindians, but France doesn't seem even that far along.
I wonder if we could tie George Bush down** and have him sit through 100 episodes of IOT. (Lord, one can dream - alas, it would be cruel and unusual punishment to strain his brain that way). If he would listen he might reconsider the risks associated with democracy. It's not a trivial thing to put in place.
* I put Hitler in some other dimension of evil.
** Note to NSA: this is a rhetorical flourish. I'd be happy to put some episodes on his iPod however.
See also: Ta Mok.