Monday, December 30, 2002

It takes a checkbook to raise a child?

Somewhere out there a baby cries. The govt knows just what to do. Cut a check.

Jane Galt posts about poverty and govt intervention here. As usual, she's right on.

IMO most of the real poverty we have is social poverty - people with bad or no mentors and connections for even the most fundamental life skills and attitudes. Or those whose mentors and connections teach them the wrong things.

What do you do for such people - hire them new friends and acquaintances? It doesn't appear that something as coarse and heavy-handed as a govt and its bureaucrats can ever have anything to offer in such situations. The closest it might come would be in the armed forces, and such a solution is anathema to most social do-gooders.

If "society" is at fault as some do-gooders claim, then it seems that the right thing to do is to take them out of their "society". That is, relocate them and teach them the stuff their community didn't.

You can't do that with cash or with govt programs. It takes people in the trenches, not lobbyists for new social programs in Washington. The liberals will have to get their hands dirty if they really want to solve this problem.

But who says they want to solve it?....

Sunday, December 29, 2002

You mean you didn't know?

Jay Manifold knows everything, including the true barbecue capital of the world.

Gates, Hayward's, Jack Stack, Arthur Bryant's.... - do I have to choose?

Politicized medicine

One recurring theme here at NWA is the politicization of science. Now I look over at MedPundit, and there are two excellent examples of politicization of medicine.

This one speaks of doctors and Nazis, and how many Nazis thought of governing as applied biology. Besides, the enema theme fits in well with what follows on this blog.

This one speaks of bitching by pro-abortion types (my words, not hers) that govt websites are no longer biased in their direction. Heaven forbid that people should be told of the failure rates of condoms for both the prevention of disease and for contraception, even under ideal conditions.

And while I'm in the neighborhood...

So what did I do over my Christmas vacation? Yep, I researched the history of feminine hygiene. Apropos of nothing in particular, I must be careful to note. Of course, so is most of what I post on this blog.

Anyway, after the Kotex thing I had to include the stuff I found about tampons. I'm sure women used variations on the concept for a very long time before they were commercialized (just as I'm pretty sure that they discovered the clitoris years before Renaldus Columbus in 1559), but the commercialization posed unique problems.

The first hurdle was probably more psychological than anything else. Tampax dealt with this when they introduced their tampons in 1936. They used attractive, active models ("you can run, swim, climb trees, ride horses..."), and always dressed them in white.

The Tampax people might well have done some substantial R&D before releasing their product, but if they did I didn't find anything about it online. Anyway, stuffing something into the vagina sounds simple enough to be harmless as long as it is removed eventually. But this fails to account for the eternal presence of bacteria of various species in the vagina. It's an ecosystem of sorts, and this ecosystem's composition can be changed radically by seemingly trivial external changes such as the type and composition of underwear.

This composition can also be changed by introduction of germs from the outside, such as by the insertion of a tampon. So it is important that tampons be sterile themselves, and that they be handled with clean hands. Failing to do this can have fatal consequences.

How? By a condition called toxic shock syndrome (TSS). As I understand it (and I am no medical professional), it is a severe staph or strep infection with flulike symptoms that can strike rapidly. This 16 year old spent 5 days in ICU recovering from it.

TSS can be caused by other things, but it has been associated with highly absorbent tampons. After Procter and Gamble introduced superabsorbent Rely tampons, the US Center for Disease Control released a study that showed a high correlation between toxic shock syndrome and the use of those tampons. This culminated in a $75M recall/buyback program by P&G.

What does absorbency have to do with anything? It's not clear that researchers know to this day. The cynical among us would be very willing to conclude that the absorbency and duration issues are nothing but scams to spur tampon sales, and of course lefties would call this further evidence that corporations run the govt. Believe what you will, but it so happens that the US Food and Drug Administration has established standards for absorbency as noted here.

No, I'm not trying to spread terror like this person is. Toxic shock syndrome is not very common, so tampon use isn't exactly Russian roulette. But there's no harm in awareness, and I'll note that I'm kind of partial to some of you vagina-bearers out there even now that I'm through doing the dishes.

PS - This is another way to get killed via your vagina. To my knowledge there is no corresponding threat to men, but I support further research.

Rags to riches

Now that dust is out of the way, it's time I took on feminine hygiene.

Nowadays with the near-ceaseless advertising, even we men know a little about this topic. Before it's over I'm sure Tampax will sponsor a bowl game. How did it get this way? This book gives an outline which is heavily ripped off in what follows.

Just before World War I the Kimberly-Clark Company developed a highly absorbent form of cellulose that they called Cellucotton. It was 5 times as absorbent as cotton and more resistant to infection at half the price, and during the war they got a big federal contract for bandages. But when the war ended they had this huge production capacity without a ready market. Now what?

They discovered that nurses had been using the pads as what we now call 'sanitary napkins' and thought they could commercialize it. But how? - the management didn't want the company name associated with the product, and even ladies' magazines wouldn't take ads for it. And of course the whole campaign was to be run by men.

The association problem was solved by setting up a whole new subsidiary. The ad agency addressed their issues by renaming the product Kotex, as in 'cotton textile', and simply noted that it was highly absorbent without further hints. And even this was too much for Ladies' Home Journal back in 1921.

Women weren't making the connection. Then women started showing up in the ads, with a headline 'in stores and shops that cater to women', but it still didn't work. The dealers who would stock Kotex often kept it hidden, women wouldn't ask for it, and when a Woolworth's in San Francisco displayed the stuff in a window a men's organization lobbied successfully to have it removed. So sales were slow.

Then the company switched ad agencies, and the new firm began pitching "A Safe Solution to Women's Greatest Hygiene Problem" and a character named "Ellen J. Buckland, Registered Nurse". By 1925 Kotex was on sale at Carson Pirie Scott, and in 1926 it was in the Montgomery Ward mail-order catalog and competing against more than three hundred brands. By 1928 the company had another character, faux socialite "Mary Pauline Callender", who said that "80 percent of better-class women have discarded ordinary ways for Kotex".

Of course you have only to watch TV for 10 minutes to see how far we've come since then. (I've learned a lot too, like when I found out that the adhesive on mini-pads goes to the panty side). Near as I can tell the latest thing is mini pads with wings suitable for thong underwear.

Maybe next they'll make one that sticks to Mama with wax - it would seal tighter and would exfoliate upon removal. Yeah, that's it - we could use sealing wax, so it could be worn all month as discreet chastity belt. (I'm kidding, for crying out loud!)

PS. I meant to link to this but somehow left it out - the Museum of Menstruation and Women's Health.

Friday, December 27, 2002

The Boston Globe discovers NWA

Right here.

Link via Glenn Reynolds, but you've already been there, right? So now you can check out the dashing Charles Austin, or the boundlessly charming and delightful Susanna Cornett, or any of a gazillion other links on my blogroll to the left.

Thursday, December 19, 2002

The Jim Crow Presidency...

...of Woodrow Wilson. Stolen from Virginia Postrel and VodkaPundit.

Wonders of dust

I'm not the only reader in the family, but I'm miles ahead of whoever is in second place. Nobody would dare buy me a book as a gift and allegedly I'll read anything.

One day in a bookstore a relative thought she had me. In the sale rack she had found a book so useless even I wouldn't read it - "Wonders of Dust".

It was only a buck, so I bought it. And she hasn't challenged me since.

So why would anyone care about dust? Actually it's a major problem in a lot of areas besides housekeeping. Don't even fantasize about making computer chips where there is dust. Fine particles can enter your lungs and cause problems such as pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis, or even worse when allergens or radioactive substances are involved. Combustible dust can ignite and cause explosions. Dust storms reduce visibility, hurt your eyes and can even render homes uninhabitable. It can cause short-circuits and even fires in electrical appliances and distribution equipment. It can affect the rains and the climate. You can spread diseases with it without "weaponization" - remember the Sin Nombre hantavirus? And it's a way to spread contamination far and wide.

Alright, so it is worthy of study. But what is dust? Just "little bits of stuff"?

That depends on where you are. In the house it's probably flakes of skin from people or pets (dander), dust mites or other small critters, pollen, spores, settled particles of smoke from cigarettes or other combustion, and silica from dirt. So it is highly nonuniform and comes from diverse sources.

Nobody needs to be told that dust can be a nuisance. So how do you keep dust out? You don't - your own skin would fail you even if you could seal and clean the house. But there are mitigation measures for the household.

Of course there are dusters and vacuum cleaners. But these often just redistribute the dust, especially the finer stuff. If you want to get rid of it, there are HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filters and vacuum cleaners to trap it for good. HEPAs combined with charcoal filters can even help with cooking odors too.

But HEPA filters are expensive, and in industrial applications where I've used them they were limited to use at relative humidities of 70% or lower. So what else can be done?

There are various other methods yet. They usually take advantage of properties of tiny particles, which do have certain things in common regardless of their origin.

For one, small particles have a very high ratio of cross-section to volume. This means that it has lots of wind resistance relative to its mass. So dust is easily vacuumed, blown away or suspended in air, and it can travel great distances.

Tiny particles also have a high ratio of surface area to volume. Chemical reactions like combustion happen at the surface, at a rate proportional to the amount of surface available. So if there's a lot of surface available, things can happen fast. This is why diesel fuel is atomized in engines, and some otherwise innocuous substances are dangerous when finely divided. Other surface-sensitive phenomena will occur rapidly too - including heat transfer, absorption, adsorption and adhesion.

That high ratio of surface area to volume also means that electrostatic forces from static charges (which are acquired and which build up on surfaces) are very strong relative to the masses of the particles. So it is easy to get fine particles to cling to charged objects. In fact, it's hard to get particles to remain below certain sizes, because they'll start clinging to each other too (assuming the dust is not homogeneous - if it's uniform in composition the particles will all tend to have the same charges and thus will repel one another).

Armed with this knowledge, we know to use electrostatic filters like this one or this active one to provide cleaner, healthier air.

OK, suppose you filter your air - you're not through yet. Your ductwork is probably full of enough nasty crap to keep you in dust for years. So it can be a good idea to have your ductwork cleaned too.

That takes care of getting rid of dust - how do you keep from generating it? Stop smoking. Groom the critters outside. Exhaust your dryer properly. Close the windows. And so on - odds are that much of the time you know when you're making dust.

Admit it, you're impressed - what other blog could have filled up this much space writing about dust?

Monday, December 16, 2002

Megan's Law?

I didn't think I had time to post anything tonight, but then I read this.

I suppose everyone who has seen a doctor show has seen some resuscitation scene where the doctor puts the paddles on the patient's chest and gives them a big shot of electricity to restart the heart. Anyway, lately automated external defibrillators have become inexpensive, simple and sophisticated enough to be practical for use in police cars and private establishments.

What else could such an establishment have handy?

And would they dare? Good ideas have a way of turning into bad laws. Turn our unholy alliance of do-gooders and ambulance chasers loose and the next thing you know waitresses and bartenders will have to have EMT training.

Saturday, December 14, 2002

Another senator in trouble

Courtesy of Greg Hlatky, whose "A Dog's Life" blog is a year old now.

Yes, I do wear clothes

I swear this happened. I just looked up a book on Amazon, and of course it had to pitch some other stuff to me. But then I saw "Customers who wear clothes also shop for:" Methinks a programmer is having some fun.

A buddy and I worked in billing for a large firm once and had made some modifications to a module that applied federal, state and local taxes. For testing, we created some dummy taxes in a test environment. Originally they had names that were, uh, highly partisan, and we laughed about it. Then a supervisor allowed that maybe this wasn't such a good idea. So we changed them to "competence tax" and "gratuitous tax". We had also set the rates very high so we wouldn't have to finagle a lot of data to make their effects show up.

And it's a good thing we did, because some moron grabbed those dummy taxes and put them into production. Next thing we know account managers are getting calls from customers asking about $50,000 of "competence tax" on their bill. Most of them were amused by the names, which I would hope that any idiot could recognize as BS. We let people know what had happened as quickly as we could, and near as I can tell no lasting harm was done. We did thank our lucky stars that the original names had been changed though.

There really weren't any repercussions for my partner or me because we hadn't done anything wrong (we didn't even have access to the production file in question). But we kept our heads down for a while and got very busy cleaning up the data and creating the right accounting entries for reversal.

And when nobody was watching, laughing our tails off.

A stand-up guy?

There weren't any car wrecks around, so I turned on the TV. It was actually late enough that I found myself tuned to Maury. He was running a "where are they now?" segment following up on past episodes with the theme "I have another shocking secret to tell you!". I had a lot of catching up to do.

One segment showed a couple where the woman had two secrets. #1 was she was sleeping around, and #2 was that she wasn't sure that the child she and her boyfriend (or might have been hubby - I wasn't paying enough attention) were raising was his. Then they showed the results of the paternity test. He lost.

Then of course was the emotional payoff. Sobs and hugs all around backstage. Yep, "daddy" was going to support her kid, blah blah and Maury decreed him a "standup guy".

No, in fact you're a sucker. You're hanging around with a faithless slut who'll breed you into the poorhouse if you stick around.

Then again, you're attached to a kid who didn't do anything to deserve this. What to do?

Then Maury follows up. Who should show up on stage but the guy and the baby. Where is mom? Gone. Well buddy, I guess you're alright after all - you're the best chance that boy will ever have. As for her, time wounds all heels.

And he could have done worse. For some time now judges have been holding men accountable for child support for kids not their own. Sometimes prosecutors play dirty tricks - far better that innocent men should get screwed over than some govt body should deliver on its welfare state promises.

Well, there is one way out.

Friday, December 13, 2002

Once innocent

I'll bet you've never heard of the Bund Deutscher Mädel. It's an innocent enough name - "Association of German Girls". Then again, once upon a time you might have said the same thing about their brother organization, the "Hitler Youth".

Ach, Hitler! Has anyone in history been so demonized? That must be the price he paid for losing WWII. Otherwise we can't account for the comparatively more benign reputations enjoyed by the even more murderous Joseph Stalin or Mao Zedong, neither of whose names have become such worldwide epithets.

Nowadays perhaps only "racist" can compare to "Nazi" as a political insult. But Hitler didn't just show up one day and take over. Many saw his National Socialist German Worker's Party (Nationalsozialistiche Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, or NSDAP) as an alternative to other forms of socialism such as the various Communist groups (whose parties had names remarkable similar to Hitler's). He was the highly visible leader of what was from 1931 on the was the largest party in Germany, and he worked through existing political structures in the beginning. When the opportunity arose to consolidate power, he took it.

We'll never know how many voters stayed home during Hitler's rise out of "principle". Or maybe they said "my vote doesn't count".

Once Hitler had consolidated power, then what was the ordinary German to do? The police were beyond their control, and informers were everywhere. That old man who always looked out the window and waved at you? - he saw you talking to that non-Aryan the other day and wrote it down for his masters. Even well connected military men failed in attempts to kill Hitler.

Maybe on your way to a vacation in Munich you rode past Dachau and asked your father what it was. He told you that it was just an internment camp for foreigners, and you have no reason to believe he doesn't believe it himself. It was only after the war that the local officials were taken to tour the concentration camps.

And they were lectured:
Though you claim no knowledge of these acts you are still individually and collectively responsible for these atrocities, for they were committed by a government elected to office by yourselves in 1933 and continued in office by your indifference to organized brutality. It should be the firm resolve of the German people that never again should any leader or party bring them to such moral degradation as is exhibited here....
How scary to think of being called to account for the errors of your government because of your one vote out of tens of millions.

I expect that soon we will be going to war with Iraqis. There will be many innocent deaths, and I don't know of any way to avoid this.

But let's make sure we remember that this is about Saddam's goons and al-Qaeda, not Iraqis and Muslims.

[This post has been modified]

Wednesday, December 11, 2002

Over the top songs

Alright, I can tolerate some cutesiness, schmaltz or tearjerking in a song, but some of them really jump the shark. Here are a few nominations.

One rich source is fathers singing about daughters. "White on White" is Daddy singing about daughter's wedding day, and "Butterfly Kisses" is a father recognizing his daughter is growing up. (Warning - Christian Content! - do not open in a government building or other public place lest you should destroy the wall between church and state).

A college buddy hated "I Will Be in Love With You", by James Taylor's younger brother Livingston - never mind what he used to say about it. For me it was "Sometimes When We Touch" by Dan Hill - I just want to throw a bucket of cold water on the guy. (I can't believe this - they just played it on TV in an ad with a girl and a lizard).

Then there's pathos spread with a trowel, like with the early 60's dead teenager songs. In "Teen Angel", the girl is killed when she returns to the car stalled on the railroad tracks to get her boyfriend's ring - it was written as a spoof and wound up as a hit. In "Tell Laura I Love Her" the guy is killed in a race trying to win some money for a gift for his girl. Then there was that poor girl "Patches" that they fished out of the river - who is not to be confused with "Patches" the son of a sharecropper who had to support his family at age 13. I thought there was another one where "the water ran red" or something like it - that time they should have really jumped the shark.

Bobby Vinton had a rough time - "Blue on Blue" was about a breakup and "Mr. Lonely" was a homesick soldier. Bobby Goldsboro sang of a lost wife with "Honey". Sing if you want to, guys, but IMO these pile it on too thick.

In the cutesy-poo category it helps to sing about kids. Bobby Goldsboro strikes again with "Watching Scotty Grow". Clint Holmes has "Playground in My Mind". I'm sure there are more, but I don't want to think about them.

Here is another set of selections. Or if you like annoying songs, look here.

Ha - now I've reminded you of all of these songs (if you'll admit to knowing them - they'll date you). The only way to get even is to make some counterproposals in the comments.

Tuesday, December 10, 2002

Why, they're just misunderstood!

Missouri apparently has these periodic meetings between assorted state prison inmates and various surviving victims and their families. The most recent one permitted access to the media and they showed it a week or so ago.

My overall impression was that it was phonier than a $3 bill. The prisoners spoke in counselor-speak, and generally didn't come off as representative of the prison population at large.

It's too bad John Gacy wasn't there:
It is no surprise that John Wayne Gacy, Jr. was admired and liked by most who had known him. He was a sharp businessman who had spent his time, when not building up his contracting company, hosting elaborate street parties for friends and neighbors, dressing as a clown and entertaining children at local hospitals and immersing himself in organizations such as the Jaycees, working to make his community a better place to live. People who knew Gacy thought of him as a generous, friendly and hard-working man, devoted to his family and community....During a three-year-period, Gacy went on to viciously torture, rape and murder more than thirty other young men, who would later be discovered under the floorboards of his home and in the local river.

Or how about Ted Bundy?
Some thirty-six women may have fallen prey to Bundy, but only he knew for sure.
But then
Ted was a man with a mission. He re-enrolled at the University of Washington and studied psychology, a subject in which he excelled. Bundy became an honors student and was well liked by his professors at the university.
What a fine citizen - anybody can make a mistake, right?

IMO Missouri is making a mistake. People might get the wrong message, concluding that "these guys don't seem so bad".

When the right message is "I can't trust my judgment - juries found these fiends guilty of horrible crimes".

These are a few of my favorite things

I forgot to turn off the TV again. And I just saw an ad for a show tonight on A&E, called "Cleavage". 9PM Eastern, 8PM Central.

And who could think of cleavage without thinking of Julie Andrews? About 99.99999% of the human race, I'm betting - she was "Mary Poppins", for crying out loud. As her husband Blake Edwards supposedly joked, "she has lilacs for pubic hair". But she decided to go against type by going topless in the movie "S. O. B.", and somehow I just had to work that in.

That settles it - I've run out of things to write about. See ya.

Scots-Irish in the US

I don't know how reliable this information is, but I found it interesting.

This is a brief history of the Scots-Irish from their origins to the US and elsewhere.

This tells of the purported origins of such words as "redneck", "cracker", "hillbilly", and "gringo".

Poor Pam

It was 20+ years ago, but I believe her name was Pam. Being one of the few women in my engineering classes, I knew who she was. One glance told me she was strongly Scots-Irish.

Well, what I really thought was 'hillbilly'. Because many of the settlers of rural mountain communities were Scots-Irish, and at the time I didn't know enough to distinguish between the two.

She had to have been smart or she wouldn't have been there - getting in as an out of state student cost at least an extra 100+ SAT points on each test. And she was in a big city at a major university instead of back home in what I believe was southwestern Virginia. Things were changing for Pam.

But then one fall she didn't return to the campus. According to the campus newspaper, back at home that summer she broke up with her long-term boyfriend. And he killed her.

Feminists would want to think of this as a male-violence thing, but to me it was about something else that nobody wants to talk about. Poor whites.

Although whites as a group are more affluent than blacks, there have always been more poor whites than poor blacks. But they usually don't live in urban areas, so they don't show up on TV except as exhibits on "Jerry Springer" (but they'd better not show up in blackface, huh?). They're diffused, so they don't have any influence, and they're too hard to mobilize on Election Day. They too have poor school systems that tend to keep them back home, where there's little opportunity. They often have associates that tend to pull them back down when they try to escape their rural ghettoes.

But they have no excuses. Poor blacks are there because they're kept down by the Man. Poor whites have all the advantages of course - they're white, aren't they?

And if you craft a political appeal to them, just watch the accusations roll in. Do you think they're racist? If so, what does that supposition say about you?

All of you who are so !@#$ sensitive to what you inferred Trent Lott might have meant with his silly throwaway line at a party a few days ago - see if you can't be as demanding the next time you hear references to "rednecks", or "crackers", or "hillbillies", or just plain old "white trash".

We miss you, Pam.

Heh heh

The spammer, spammed. From The Dodd.

Sunday, December 08, 2002

But they don't like lynching

This is what was published in The Note, which has been harped upon all over the blogs lately:
Here is what Senator Trent Lott, Republican of Mississippi, said yesterday at Senator Strom Thurmond's birthday party, according to ABCNEWS' O'Keefe. "I want to say this about my state: When Strom Thurmond ran for president we voted for him. We're proud of it. And if the rest of the country had of followed our lead we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years, either."

There is, as you might recall, an election in the Bayou tomorrow, where African-American turnout is crucial to the chances of Democratic incumbent Landrieu. Maybe Lott was being jocular. But a plain reading of what he said did generate some anger:

Wade Henderson of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights told ABCNEWS' Douglass: "This was an offensive and blatant attempt to rewrite the history of the last 50 years" … "Thurmond ran for president as a Dixiecrat, a segregationist. He gave the longest filibuster in history to try to stop passage of the Civil Rights Act. In his statement today, Lott also embraced those dubious achievements." ..'Lott betrayed his role as the Majority Leader of all Americans."
Good grief.

Lott certainly made a mistake, and probably cost a Senate seat in Louisiana. Anybody with real world experience ought to know that race baiters will seize upon anything, especially on the eve of an election.

The Note blurb said that "a plain reading of what he said did generate some anger". No, it took the addition of a lot of context on an occasion where Thurmond was retiring after long service. To make an issue of this is akin to using the Martin Luther King holiday as an occasion to air the gentleman's FBI file. As Jack Kennedy might have said, "No class".

And what was the context? That Thurmond was running as Presidential candidate for the States' Rights party, which overtly favored segregation. In retrospect it's refreshingly honest - few politicians were willing to be forthright about what was in fact was a common sentiment in Congress and throughout the country at the time.

So IMO the fuss by liberals is nothing but the usual race-baiting. And the fuss by conservatives is about getting a chance to posture while ridding themselves of a man who many found a disappointment as Senate Majority Leader.

The other nine-tenths (subscribers only) are capable of being gracious while acknowledging the service of a 100 year old, changed man.

Sasha send-off

In a move that will ruin our balance of trade for generations to come, La Blogatrice Sasha Castel is moving to the UK with fiance and blog cohabitant Andrew Ian Dodge. What with traveling, shipping her belongings, Christmas and a marriage coming one of these days, anybody who can tell their ass from their elbow ought to be chipping in to her tipjar generously.

But it gets better. Slip her a sawbuck and the saponiferous but never soporific Sasha will say "Mille grazie!" (That's "thanks a bunch" in Italian to you monolinguals out there.) by making you your very own bar of soap. Where else can you find an offer like that?

Good luck you two. And this time let's see a real Blogchild.

The truth about communism

The story of communism holds a malign fascination for me, so I've always made it my business to stay informed. However, there is much dross out there, and Communists are nothing if not good propagandists. So I've assembled a list of books on various topics to make it easier to know what *really* happened.

For broad strokes, one interesting recent work is "Heaven on Earth - the Rise and Fall of Socialism" by Joshua Muravchik. In the words of a cover blurb, "Socialism was man's most ambitious attempt to supplant religion with a doctrine claiming to be rational and 'scientific'". Muravchik follows the different strands wherever they lead through the present day.

Another interesting survey is "The Black Book of Communism". The authors trace the deadly legacy of Communism around the world in unsparing terms.

Some countries' experiences were particularly interesting. In "Spain Betrayed" we find out much about the Spanish Civil War which the left would prefer to have hidden. "A Twilight Struggle - American Power and Nicaragua 1977-1990" is about those left-wing darlings, the Sandinistas. "The Great Terror" is about the Russian experience. And "Hungry Ghosts" is set in China and talks of Mao's famines - they were so severe that peasants were driven to eating babies.

For the US experience, "Not Without Honor" is about American anticommunism, warts and all. "Hollywood Party" is about Communist efforts to take over movie studios. The legend of the Hollywood Ten is so deeply entrenched that diehards felt it necessary to disrespect Elia Kazan at his lifetime achievement award half a century later.

That great leftist bogeyman Joe McCarthy deserves an item of his own. He led a charge against Communists in government that was resisted with partisan fury by the long-incumbent Democrats. For a while he was a popular politician who owned an issue of great public concern. However, he had a drinking problem and he did not know how to handle that then-new technology called television. These shortcomings led to a loss of public support and subsequent censure by the Senate when his own party was in the majority. But in fact the US government was riddled with Communists and sympathisers, to the point where FDR dumped then Vice President Henry Wallace in favor of Harry Truman. Read more about it in "Joseph McCarthy: Reexamining the Life and Legacy of America's Most Hated Senator" Challenge question - can you name anyone McCarthy accused of being a Communist who was not a Communist?

Communists learned a long time ago that they could not be truthful and still be successful - truth was defined as what served the Party. So Gus Hall's Communist Party of the US always denied they were associated with the USSR, Alger Hiss still has defenders, and prominent anticommunists are smeared at every opportunity. But the truth will out, and all sorts of interesting revelations emerged after the Cold War when Soviet archives were opened to researchers. This information led to books such as "The Secret World of American Communism", "The Soviet World of American Communism", and "Venona - Decoding Soviet Espionage in America".

For a more personal look, IMO the best book is "Witness", by Whitaker Chambers. More contemporary books are "Commies" by Ronald Radosh and "Radical Son" by David Horowitz. You can also catch up with Horowitz here.

That ought to keep you busy for a while. Failing that, here and here are Amazon lists with much more.

Saturday, December 07, 2002

The latest health threat

So you're afraid of anthrax and smallpox. But don't forget about that ancient Hawaiian disease called "lakanuki". It is spread by lack of sexual contact.

Perhaps I exaggerate, but somebody seems to be worried about it. A while back we had a surgeon general advocating teaching masturbation in schools, and here I thought you had to teach the little varmints to stop. A few years ago we had a Miss America who was pushing condom distribution in schools and that was OK, but now we have one who pushes abstinence and officials told her not to talk about it. And now there's this:this:
Women suffering sexual problems ranging from a general lack of desire to severe genital deformity are being prescribed vibrators on the National Health Service to help them rediscover their sex drive....'Almost half of all women suffer from a sexual dysfunction, and sex shops and their accoutrements could be a vital part of their therapy,' said Dr David Goldmeier, consultant and lead clinician in sexual function at London's St Mary's Hospital.
I'm tempted to ask if this allocation of medical resources is the reason why we don't have cures for cancer yet, but I suspect the relevant personnel are not all-stars. Whatever the "necessity", to my knowledge vibrators have never required a prescription.
Although one in three women now owns a vibrator - according to recent research by Ann Summers sex shop - the instrument's use in medical circles remains controversial.

'Vibrators are completely a new concept for almost all of the doctors and nurses I come across,' said Sh! manager Angel Zatorski...
No way am I buying that one. I was a small town boy and I learned about these things in my early teens at the latest.

Story time: Once a bunch of us frustrated freshman engineers made a trip to a pr0n emporium. There was a glass case full of all sorts of strange looking devices. Form follows function, you know. It didn't take too much imagination to figure out what they were for or how they were used in most cases, although some seemed geometrically improbable.

Then the guy behind the counter caught me rubbernecking with that same dumb look that caused an experienced stripper to burst out laughing onstage a few years later. He asked if I was interested in anything, and I mumbled something about just looking at the 'hardware'. Just my luck - the clerk noted that they had a product by that name designed to cause erections if 'rubbed in briskly'. Of course about anything short of battery acid would also work in that application, and I was 18 at the time - if the neck of the tube had been bigger....

But really, aside from some moments like in the movie "40 Days and 40 nights", the frustration didn't kill me. I had some pretty clueless ideas about how horny women were, but I'm having a hard time believing it was any worse for them than it was for me.
Although vibrators started life as a medical tool back in 1883, Zatorski says that the majority of medical experts she has spoken to had never seen a vibrator before she arrived at their offices with her 'party bag'.
Interesting. I had read elsewhere that Victorian doctors occasionally diagnosed a condition they called 'hysteria' which required vigorous application of some ointment to the vulva, so this isn't exactly new stuff.

Then again, maybe it's a local problem. There is a movie called 'No Sex Please, We're British', and we've recently had a heavily-linked article by an American woman suggesting that Brits are lousy lovers. Or perhaps Andrew Ian Dodge has gotten to the bottom of it.

Link stolen from Alex Whitlock via American Kaiser. Yes, this post has been lying around for a while.

Thursday, December 05, 2002

Thought pollution

If we could burn ignorance and mendacity we'd have a limitless supply of energy. The San Jose Mercury News already warms the hearts of lefties, with their crack reporting and this asinine distortion about changes in EPA regulations. Of course part of the left's legend about George W. Bush's administration is that it is in hock to energy companies, so any administrative decision that doesn't go against such companies is automatically suspect.

Congress has been abdicating responsibility in many ways for a long time. One of the most egregious ways is in giving bureaucrats too much leeway in writing regulations. In the case at hand there is confusion about what constitutes a "new source" of pollution wrt the Clean Air Act.

Alright, what would a "new source" of pollution be? One might well expect a reasonable person to say a "new source" would be a new generating facility, chemical plant or other regulated entity. No, in fact this can be applied to existing facilities under certain conditions, as described here.
The Bush Administration will soon introduce much-needed reforms of the New Source Review (NSR) program. NSR, adopted in 1977 in an amendment to the Clean Air Act (CAA), was intended to regulate air pollution from new "sources" by requiring newly constructed facilities and old facilities undergoing "major modifications" to go through extensive permitting requirements and to install top-technological pollution control equipment. 1 But since 1996, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has applied a new and extreme interpretation of the law, subjecting old and existing plants to the stringent NSR rules in cases where the modifications were not significant and where they had actually improved the safety of operations, increased energy efficiency, or reduced the emissions of the regulated air pollutants.

Congress intended the New Source Review program to target plants that were built after 1977; it exempted older ones, unless companies made extensive physical modifications to them. Congress recognized when it enacted the program that to require existing plants to be retrofitted with the most up-to-date technological emissions controls would be an extreme, prohibitively costly, and unnecessary burden on industry. 2 Congress also recognized that it is "cheaper to install control technologies" at the time a plant is being constructed or extensively modified than "to retrofit old units." 3 It therefore intended that existing plants would be subjected to NSR at the time they underwent "major modifications," defined under NSR as "any physical change or change in the method of operation of a major stationary source that would result in a significant net emissions increase of any pollutant subject to regulation under CAA." 4 Activities of old plants that were not "major modifications," such as "routine maintenance, repair, and replacement," did not fall under the modification rule and therefore did not trigger NSR. 5

Despite Congress's intent, the Clinton Administration expanded the NSR program by making it applicable to existing facilities that make efficiency or operational improvements, even if the changes are routine and regardless of whether or not those activities actually increase emissions. Under the EPA's reinterpretation of the law, existing facilities that improve their capacity, efficiency, or even the safety of their operations would now fall under NSR's costly and exhaustive modification requirements. The direct result has been to discourage energy-efficient modification and the safety of plant operations.
Much more is available on the Heritage link above.

In essence, Clinton's regulators abused their discretion. Some plants had been grandfathered, and regulators were attempting to force those out of business the minute they needed maintenance. Bush's administration is simply attempting to return to past practice, and this will not result in increases in pollution.

It's fashionable to question the motives of "polluters", and of course there is a concern that old plants would be kept limping along forever under their grandfather arrangement. That's unlikely - eventually something becomes too expensive to fix and the plant is shut down.

And if we can extend the useful lives of existing facilities, that's a good thing. There has been so much regulatory turmoil involving refineries and power plants that we aren't building enough of them. Building a new facility isn't exactly pollution-free - we shouldn't do that any more often than necessary.

Mercifully we have a President who understands these industries and their vital importance to the economy. The flak he's catching should be recognized as just more partisan yapping.

Tuesday, December 03, 2002

Genetics question

Picture this - a geneticist is on a show like Letterman with a studio audience.

Unknown to the geneticist, several volunteers give a DNA sample and fill out a questionnaire about personal characteristics (IQ, height, weight, age, how long did their parents live, sex, ethnic/race mix, education....).

Then the geneticist is given one of the DNA samples and a blank questionnaire and given 10 minutes for analysis of the sample. After this, the geneticist is to fill out the questionnaire with the answers that follow from the DNA sample, and then is to select that person from the crowd.

Could anyone do this consistently? How closely would the geneticist's answers match those of the subject? If this is somehow unfair, how is that?

Monday, December 02, 2002

Into the Bookstore

A few years ago I lost a car in a flash flood. Remember that rainy Sunday night game a few years back between the Chiefs and the Seahawks? That was the night.

I swore that the next vehicle would sit higher, and I wound up with an SUV. It's also handy for all the moving I do, and it can pull a decent sized loaded trailer up a decent hill at 70+ MPH.

But then, shouldn't I have the lifestyle to go with it? No, not as a suburban mom. I'm talking something straight out of the Jeep or pickup commercials. Yeah, I'll be like the guy who cuts a hole in the ice and dives for fish.

Yeah, that's me all right - Robinson Crusoe, meet Walter Mitty. The closest I came to being an outdoorsman was hitting a !@#$! deer once in a while. But I did buy some books...

Two of them were by Jon Krakauer. Into Thin Air was about the author's own ill-fated excursion up Mt. Everest. If you liked that one, you might also like "The Climb", "Touching the Void", or "The Perfect Storm".

The other Krakauer book was "Into the Wild". Primarily it was about Chris McCandless.

Mr. McCandless was from a well-off family and was well educated, but he decided to go wander around the US and live off the land. He made it his business to know what was safe to eat and what wasn't. After doing this for a while, he got it in his head to spend a summer in Alaska.

He brought a few essential supplies, including a journal, and by this time he was an experienced outdoorsman. He planned it well, and hitchhiked north just as the weather was getting tolerable. He had studied the local ecosystem in advance so he'd be able to live off the land. And he wound up making an original contribution to our knowledge of poisonous plants.

So he hitchhiked north, walked deep into central Alaska and...well, why don't you take a look at the book?

Dead diet doyens

I'm a pathological pack rat. Mere pack rats just keep worthless stuff - I pick up others' worthless stuff. So that's how I came upon a hardcover edition of Euell Gibbons' "Stalking the Wild Asparagus".

You don't remember Euell Gibbons? Here's a taste: "Without going more than a half mile from the house, I saw, identified and recorded more than sixty species of plants good for human food and several of these had more than one edible part".

He's dead.

Alright, I'm insensitive, and in fact he was 64 or so when he died. But he's not the only one whose credibility would have been enhanced by greater longevity.

Then there's the late Nathan Pritikin:
In 1957, when he was 40, Pritikin was diagnosed as having heart disease. Faced with a lifetime on drugs and ever-increasing restrictions on his movements, he exhausted the scientific literature and formulated a diet and exercise program to treat his disease. After nine years of trial and error he had cured himself.

Long before most doctors and scientists were willing to acknowledge that something as simple as diet might be causing serious illnesses, Pritikin had, on his own, created a scientifically sound program to treat them, using food and exercise as medicine. It was a revolutionary departure from current medical thinking.
The final proof that his program works was his own autopsy which showed his arteries were akin to those of a young man and totally clear of any signs of heart disease.
Wouldn't everyone like to leave such a healthy corpse? He was 68.

Remember Herman Tarnower? His thing was the Scarsdale Diet. We don't know how long Mr. Tarnower might have lived, because he was murdered at 69 years of age by a jealous woman.

Meanwhile Dr. Robert Atkins is still kicking in his seventies. I understand he has had some health problems lately, but he's at least up there closer to his life expectancy.

Yes, this has been a strange post. Isn't free association wonderful?

Sunday, December 01, 2002


Historically geometry has been the chosen vehicle for teaching sound logical reasoning. You could start with a few undefined entities and postulates and derive a very useful system of theorems, which in turn could be used as shorthand to develop other theorems, and so on. The results aren't merely useful, but can be very intellectually satisfying.

Sometimes they're too satisfying. There was no obvious endpoint to what could be known by using logic to extend existing knowledge. And if there was no such limit, logic tells us that eventually, with enough work, we could know as much as there was to be known about geometry. Maybe it's no coincidence that the culture that gave us so much of our geometry, the Greeks, also gave us the concept of hubris.

Geometry was born as a means of solving practical problems. It was found that rules derived logically from geometry also could be used to solve practical problems. This invited the conclusion that the real world behaved by logical rules. That in turn implies that if we work long enough, we'll find them.

There are problems with those idea though. It so happens that we can construct consistent logical systems in many ways. So even if we assume that the universe behaves by logical rules, we still don't know what set of rules to use. For an example, consider non-Euclidean geometry.

When Euclid constructed his geometry, he sought to do so with a minimum number of undefined entities (points, lines, planes...) and postulates. Then he got to what is called the parallel postulate.

In essence, Euclid's parallel postulate says that given a line and a point not on the line, exactly one line exists which contains the point and is parallel to the given line. This seems intuitively logical and appears "right" in plane geometry.

Euclid didn't like it though. He thought he ought to be able to derive it from other postulates and theorems. He never succeeded in doing so, and thus concluded that because it appeared to be true, he had to include it as a postulate if he wanted to use it.

Pragmatically this was a sound decision, but was it sound logically? Yes and no. Yes, because it leads to useful results. No, because it is entirely possible to construct a consistent, useful geometry without doing so. The resulting geometries are called non-Euclidean geometries.

One non-Euclidean geometry replaces the parallel postulate with one that says there are many parallels. Another says there are none. Both "work", and have practical applications.

OK, which one is "right"? Wrong question. You use the right one for the job. For most of us that's almost always Euclid's geometry.

What's important here is to realize that abstract logical systems like geometry are one thing, and real life is another. Science is about bridging the two - building logical systems that behave like real life.

But we can't ever know what is "right", only what is "better".

Friday, November 29, 2002

No more for today

Really. Because my clan is observing Thanksgiving today, and I have some relatives to argue with and some rugrats to rassle. Best wishes to all.

Thursday, November 28, 2002

Does your Tivo think you're gay?

I just got through looking up a couple of books on Amazon for the links, and they're not particularly representative of my purchases. Amazon will duly record them though, and I'm sure I'll see no end of strange book recommendations for a while. A couple of them are even on a list that some lefty compiled to help in getting an FBI file.

That reminds me of an article in the dead-tree Wall Street Journal with a headline I stole above, which discussed how the behavior of Tivo led to some amusing situations. If you're not familiar with Tivo, it is a disk based video recording system which not only records TV content, but makes recommendations for future viewing based on past selections.

The recommendations feature is what leads to the weirdness. As I recall, the article suggested that one episode of "Queer as Folk" was enough to stamp a pink triangle on you. Some people cited in the article were trying to pick countervailing programs to get Tivo to change its behavior. Apparently this concept has even made it to certain sitcoms.

Like with Amazon, Tivo can be "trained". This involves "thumbs up" and "thumbs down" keys on the remote, and you can press them more than once for a given selection. After enough of this presumably you'll get better recommendations, and you won't have to worry about your Tivo talking behind your back.

College politics

Oh, to be a college kid and know everything again. Sgt. Stryker has some fun with one here. May the kid live long enough to appreciate just how asinine he was.

Not that I was different at that age. Once in college I called in to a radio talk show host about something that offended me - I don't remember what. I was folded, spindled and mutilated, and then got to listen to the editorializing about how poorly educated college students were to boot. The host was right about me at least, and generally all I had had to offer were some vague sentiments and some attitude.

We won't ever cure this. You can't tell kids they're smart all their lives, then send them off to college and expect them suddenly to develop humility and keep their less informed opinions to themselves. When I run into it I try to point the victim to alternate sources of information which might not have been available, just to see if I'm dealing with someone aware enough to realize that nobody knows everything. It sure would have helped me.

I also seemed to give more credence to things I had discovered on my own than I did to things that were mainstream or part of an established curriculum. It was another chance to preen - I was an independent thinker, dammit. So there was a subversive thrill of sorts from reading stuff like "Steal This Book" and "The Anarchist's Cookbook" (follow the link to see what the author has to say about his own work now that he's grown up). There was other crap too like "The Greening of America" and Carlos Castaneda. Moral: forbid, censor or discourage something and watch how fast the kids find it and soak it up.

Then the day finally came when I got honest 40 hour professional paychecks, complete with brutal deductions. Oh no, the net cash flow between me and the feds had suddenly switched directions. That did wonders for my attitude - good grief, what could the feds possibly be doing with that much money just from me alone?

Hopefully similar epiphanies await some of the current staff of the Hoosier Review. Joshua Claybourn generally has his head screwed on straight, but others there need some work yet.

Fortunately we also have Campus Nonsense, Bo Cowgill, Robert Bauer, Patrick Carver, Ben Domenech, Hanah Metchis, Patrick Ruffini, Kyle Still, and sundry others who deserve mention but I don't happen to remember right now. Any of them do a better job than I probably would have at that age.

A big bust

John Scalzi gets cosmological:
I was initially a little confused by the cover, in that with the exception of a couple of unregenerate Hoyle-loving solid-statists out there, probably the entire of the magazine's 185,000-member subscriber base has probably already signed off on the whole Big Bang thing; it'd be like Parenting magazine having a cover story that asked if its readers believed in pregnancy.
No, Mr. Scalzi. The parents were around for that big bang. OTOH no one has ever seen the kind you're talking about.
The second aim is to give non-Creationist parents some reasonable ammunition at the next school board meeting, when some Bible-brandishing yahoo demands the science curriculum be changed to give equal footing to whatever damn fool brew of mysticism and junk science they've cobbled together this year to make an end-run around the separation of church and state, and someone rational needs to step in and point out what evidence exists to suggest the Big Bang actually happened.
Of course we must insult those we don't agree with.

All you really have to do is point out the obvious - creationism isn't science. And to get along with your neighbors as any decent person would want to do, you drop the offensive part of the curriculum - is anyone going to miss the big bang?

Mr Scalzi seems blind to the possibility of science and creationism living in harmony.

And Mr. Rationality doesn't explain just how local control of the school curriculum has anything to do with separation of church and state. Maybe that's because it doesn't, and he doesn't want to expose the fact that he has no basis for intervening on such grounds.
I'd go straight to the endgame, which would be to inform the school board that if it went ahead and confused science and theology, I'd be more than pleased to drag in the ACLU and make it take all the tax money it was planning to use on football uniforms and use it to pay lawyers instead.
Mr. Scalzi doesn't much like democracy, does he? He thinks it's ok if one horse's ass decides to trump the will of an entire town by dragging in goons from the outside. Why would he want to live amongst such a benighted populace, anyway? - let him go elsewhere.
Fundamentally, one doesn't "believe" or have faith in much of anything as it regards science, since as a process science isn't about believing at all.
Dead wrong, and the next post down is devoted to this in detail. The short answer is that you have to believe in the process - if Mr. Scalzi is aware of this he doesn't let on.

I expect better from a professional journalist.

Faith in science

I'm not through with the Scalzi post yet.

Mr. Scalzi doesn't like Creationists. OK, that's his prerogative. The problem here is that he thinks that he has reason on his side. In particular he tells us that there is no faith behind the big-bang theory.

Actually there is. Here are a few of the assumptions:
  1. The universe behaves as the rules of logic do.
  2. The model physicists are using for the behavior of the universe is correct, despite being extrapolated back 5 billion years and being applied to conditions never experienced since.
  3. The behavior of matter and energy has not changed over the entire period, nor has it changed over the extreme range of conditions postulated by the big bang theory.
  4. That we know all of the relevant phenomena.
Science can't function at all without #1. That science leads to many useful results is beyond question - not for nothing did I go to engineering school. But this is still an assumption. There is no way to prove it with logic - that would require circular reasoning.

#2 requires a huge leap of faith. Big-bang believers would use the assumption that the behavior of the universe is invariant over such a long period in deriving a theory that would tell us that an entire universe can just show up without cause. Nothing like having it both ways, is there?

#3 seems plausible enough, but ordinarily we expect to demonstrate such things in a lab by mimicking the conditions and showing the consequences. And it's not so easy to duplicate the conditions that supposedly happened in those first critical moments.

This is a severe problem. So under ordinary circumstances one might expect more modest claims about the big bang theory. Likewise with evolution - no one can show us any appreciable fragment of the purported chain of evolution in a laboratory demonstration. That this is a tall order is irrelevant - it's necessary to support the theory.

But non-religious explanations for the origins of the universe, the earth and the life on it are essential to atheists. So atheists hide these shortcomings which would be fatal to any other scientific theories to provide themselves with intellectual cover.

#4 is tempting, but really now - is anyone prepared to say that we've discovered every last scientific phenomenon that might be relevant? How could we know the answer even in principle?

In conclusion, science in general and the big bang theory in particular rely on all manner of unprovable assumptions. That is, upon faith. Just like the creationists' beliefs do. The major difference is that the creationists acknowledge their faith.

Mr. Scalzi is impressed with the fact that the big bang theory is "scientific". Of course scientists offer a theory - that's what they do. But they'll never offer a theory that invokes deities because scientists don't know how to investigate deities. Thus the mere existence of a scientific theory that explains something that otherwise would have been explained in religious terms proves nothing in itself.

I agree with Mr. Scalzi that creationism should not be taught in science class. That's because it's not science. It's that simple - case closed.

However, there's no reason to teach the big bang theory or any other scientific alternative to creationism either. Especially when it goes against the express wishes of the locals.

If the big bang theory must be taught, then the shortcomings above should be noted with it, with special emphasis on the faith upon which all science ultimately rests.

Because you can't understand science without understanding the underlying faith.

Tuesday, November 26, 2002

Charles Johnson for President

Well, maybe not. But he's got a terrific website named Little Green Footballs, worthy of a permalink of anyone capable of walking erect. And don't forget he has tipjars for both Amazon and PayPal.

Monday, November 25, 2002

Our tax dollars at work

According to the local news, the city of St. Louis was about to distribute some calendars when a controversy erupted about one of the pictures in it. It showed several kids standing in a circle with their feet pointed inward. All had shoes on except for a black kid - the others aren't showing any skin.

OK so far. But there was a caption beneath that said "Eeny meeny miney moe".

This made certain sensitive souls think of the next line of the old non-PC kids' rhyme, one version of which goes "catch a nigger by the toe".

So it looks like the calendars won't be distributed after all.

UPDATE: According to Juan "Scoop" Gato, it was U-City, not St. Louis itself.

Christmas shopping ideas?

Never having been a 10 year old girl, I'm trying to figure out a good present for one. I'm thinking of crafts and such, preferably avoiding whatever stains, chokes or makes noise. Any suggestions?

I got her a little sewing machine last year. She liked it, but nobody was around to show her how to use it. It seems that domestic talents died out in my family's women with my generation.

I may compromise on the "makes noise". The kid's a ham, so a karaoke machine might be a good idea - they have one at Sam's Club.

Sunday, November 24, 2002

Below the belt

Blogdex has several entries for the story about the scientist who supposedly burned his penis with his laptop PC.

I'm skeptical, mainly because of the claimed 0.8" blister on his scrotum. I suppose it's geometrically possible if he was reclining, or if he's this guy (not work safe), but I'm thinking we're not hearing the real story. People have never shown a lack of ingenuity in explaining pregnancies, venereal diseases and other below-the-belt injuries.

For pregnancy, my favorite is this claim that in Civil War times allegedly a woman was impregnated when she had been struck in the low abdomen by a bullet that had previously struck a young man's testicle. Of course those killjoys at Snopes say it never happened.

There are innocent ways you can get VD, such as during childbirth, but not enough to account for its incidence. I suppose you could get VD from a toilet seat, but not when used as intended. Despite graffiti, I don't think you can get "crabs" from them either (hmm - is this the real reason for the increase in popularity of depilation?). But it could be that you could get gonorrhea from an inflatable "love doll" (that's when you know you're really a loser - your love doll is running around on you).

Then there have been "accidental" penis injuries thanks to encounters with vacuum cleaners and at least one motel's swimming pool pump intakes (gotta trust me on this, I couldn't find a link). This guy claimed an intruder had cut off his penis, but in fact had done it himself.

We didn't get to hear this guy's excuse, but we know he really shouldn't have relieved himself on a 600V power supply.

Of course accidents do happen - This guy allegedly got hurt by a toilet seat at Starbucks (do not suffer a toilet seat that slides from side to side, trust me). This poor drudge was bitten by a snake (the article doesn't address any measures taken to extract the venom). I'm thinking that a guy could get hurt from the Bungee Sex Experience too.

Women have their problems too. Get ready to cringe, ladies...years ago I read about this in "Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (but were Afraid to Ask)". It seems that a couple was trying to have a baby without success. The doctor examined the wife and found that her hymen was intact, but her meatus (the exit from the urethra) was stretched out of shape. She had been told sex was painful, and he didn't know any better, so... That must have taken some work.

And watch where you sit - things get, uh, misplaced. Yes, here too - gerbils beware.

While I'm filling you in, here you can find some MRI images taken of a copulating couple. It doesn't really fit in with the rest, but if you wanted something well edited you'd be reading something else.

Saturday, November 23, 2002

Kids' books

Back in grade school the teachers used to read to us. I'm not sure, but I think it continued into 4th grade. Is that still done?

We heard several Marguerite Henry and Laura Ingalls Wilder "Little House" books. There were some interesting singletons too, like "A Wrinkle in Time" by Madeleine L'Engle, and of course "Charlotte's Web".

Did this reading get kids interested in books? I think so. I know I read about everything I could get my hands on, and not just because we didn't have cable TV in those days (I still have forearms like Popeye from turning that !@#$! mechanical TV tuner). Much of it was the public domain books that were bundled with a set of encyclopedias (remember those?).

Often the books I liked were part of a series. Encyclopedia Brown was one - there have been dozens of books in this series by now. I just bought a mess of those for assorted rugrat relatives.

Then there were the Danny Dunn books, by Jay Williams and Raymond Abrashkin. (Actually Abrashkin conceived the stuff, but he was almost completely paralyzed - he survived to work on the first 5 books). Danny lived with a professor and had all sorts of adventures that were high-tech by 50's/60's standards. Technology has a short shelf life, so it's no surprise that these are out of print.

Oh yes, there were the "Happy Hollisters". I thought they were great at the time - I was offended when I found that these were ground out by the yard by the Stratemeyer syndicate (Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, etc.). All of the HH books appear to be out of print.

On my own I found some others, like Albert Payson Terhune's dog stories like "Lad, A Dog" - the style of writing is dated and the author worries about then-current issues like vivisection, but animal lovers might still enjoy them. Once in a while Aesop's fables would show up in English books, and I sought out others - it's hard to imagine anything pithier. Of course there was Ayn Rand's Satan, Robin Hood, who I prefer to think of as robbing the govt to give to the taxpayers. All of them were about old-fashioned virtues that often are seen as utterly cornball now.

So what are kids reading today? Well, I investigated Harry Potter to see what the fuss is about, and unless you have some sort of religious issues IMO they're terrific books. What little I've seen of other series like "Captain Underpants" and "Bailey School Kids" seems harmless enough, and about anything is fair to get the kids to read.

But let's keep on pushing the older stuff too, such as "The Children's Book of Virtues" and the new release from National Review, "Treasury of Classic Children's Literature". I'm convinced that it did me a world of good.

Harry Potter and the Delay of the Publication

I'll admit it - not only have I read all of the Harry Potter books, I've reread them and enjoyed them. And I'm waiting for the next one like a kid.

It will be a while yet though. Apparently the author, J. K. Rowling, is having a hard time with some of it. Among other things, she has to deal with 15 year old witches and wizards, who presumably are as horny as we Muggles are.

Another complication has been a lawsuit alleging that Rowling stole some of the characters. That has been settled in Rowling's favor, but it's just one more thing on top of a marriage and a pregnancy to make things harder.

But when she delivers the book, watch out. The last one had so much impact on book sales that Borders and Barnes and Noble mentioned it on their annual reports. Maybe there's a stock market play in this.

You know you've lived in St. Louis when...

You know what a billiken is.
Your pizza crust is thin like a cracker and cut into squares, and covered with a gummy cheeselike substances that locals claim is "Provel".
You bleed blue.
You know how to get to the Hill, Soulard, Laclede's Landing and Ted Drewe's, and why you want to.
You hear the name "Schlafly" and you think of beer.
You've heard of bands like Head East, Shooting Star, Colony, and Dr. Zhivegas.
You know you can go to Washington University without going to Washington.

A native might have done a better job, but that's a start. Maybe some of the usual suspects can help. Or how about that St. Louis expatriate known as VodkaPundit, or globetrotting recent visitor Tim Blair?

Addendum: How could I forget the Dirt Cheap tobacco and liquor stores? Ya gotta love a place that advertises that "the more she drinks, the better you look".

Thursday, November 21, 2002

Football and management

So why do I and innumerable others watch professional football?

There are many fashionable explanations. Reliving youth. It's easier than going into the woods and banging a drum. It has commercials with great babes, and don't forget the cheerleaders. It's an established ritual. It's one more thing to gamble on. And so on.

But it does offer appeal north of the brain stem. For me at least, the major attraction is a chance to second-guess the players, coaches and management. In games you get to see a rapid succession of decisions and their outcomes. The rest of the time you can watch how the capital is used to get an optimum combination of competitiveness, profitability and return on investment.

Of course most of the fan's attention is focused on the players and coaches. But players can only do their assignments, and coaches can only use the players they have. Assembling the whole works is a challenge of its own which is developing into a discipline of sorts. Give the right general manager the authority and funding he needs and you can have a powerhouse.

Is managing a professional football franchise fundamentally different from running other businesses? There is a theory that a good manager can manage anything - is professional football an exception?

Consider Daniel Snyder, owner of the Washington Redskins. He has spent a lot of money and intervened many times since he showed up about 3 years ago. Is the franchise better for his efforts?

It's up to him to round up the right personnel. How well has he done?

We'll leave discussion of the players to the rotisserie leaguers, I'll talk about the head coaches. Snyder has had 3. I didn't have an opinion about Norv Turner, but he had a gem last year with Marty Schottenheimer. Then he dumped Marty after one season for Steve Spurrier, a controversial coach who had never been in the pros. The results? The Redskins will do well to match last year's record, and Marty has revived the San Diego Chargers.

Snyder was going to establish a winning team to Washington. It seems safe to say that if winning is the measure of success, so far he has not been successful as a football executive.

Dare we infer anything broader about his talents as a businessman?

External combustion engines

It has come to my attention that some of you have never taken classes in thermodynamics. And in this day and age...

Thermodynamics covers a very broad array of topics, but the central idea is accounting for energy and how to make various types of "transactions" with it. This is important because often we find that the kind of energy we have isn't the kind we want. So we swap the chemical energy in gasoline for mechanical energy in our cars, or nuclear energy in uranium et al for electrical energy at our wall sockets.

There are various major laws of thermodynamics - a couple of them have been popularized as 1) you can't win (energy is conserved), and 2) you can't break even (entropy is always increasing). Futurists warn us of waning energy supplies and that entropy thing, leading to an eventual "heat death" of the universe. And you thought economics was the 'dismal science'.

But there's good news. There are ways to use existing energy supplies more effectively, even the dirtiest of them. One of those ways is something called a Stirling engine.

The Stirling engine is called an external combustion engine for an obvious reason - it typically uses the energy of combustion to drive it, but the combustion occurs on the outside. You don't have to atomize the fuel, and you can't foul the engine internals no matter how dirty the fuel is. In fact, you don't need combustion at all - this company will sell you a small demonstration Stirling engine that runs off the heat of your hands.

Here is an exposition on Stirling engines by HowStuffWorks, complete with animations.

This site also has a working model of a Stirling engine and a bunch of other neat stuff for your inner geek.

Tom Swifties!

The canonical list.

Wednesday, November 20, 2002


I didn't post anything all day yesterday or today, and my traffic is up noticeably.

You guys are trying to tell me something...

Democratizing technology

A minute ago I saw a segment on CNBC showing some measures US troops will be taking to deal with Saddam and his potentially dangerous chemical weapon or other facilities. There's no end to ingenuity, such as bombs designed to incinerate or neutralize chemical or biological weapons where they are stored without human intervention.

What really caught my eye was a special purpose robot. It appeared to be about 18" square, maybe 6" deep, and was light enough to be carried and thrown by a technician. It had treads like a tank on each side, various sensors and remote controls and could be fitted for auxiliaries such as a shotgun. And it's amphibious - it "swam" right across a stream at a decent pace.

For the demo, someone threw it in a window, breaking the glass. The robot righted itself and proceeded to crawl over debris, up stairs and around various obstacles under remote control. If I remember right it runs about $40K.

That's the kind of stuff I went to engineering school to work with. As it was, we only had one real industrial robot that I recall, a Cincinnati Milacron T3 robot arm that only grad students and profs got to play with. Nowadays some !$@$ kids can put together BattleBots that blow away anything I ever got to work with.

And the computers! My first programming class was Fortran using punched cards (or if I was lucky, an actual teletype that was slower than a typist and loud enough to make your teeth rattle). Underclassmen couldn't use CRTs, and the command languages available made today's mainframes look friendly. Computers were such an utter PITA to use that I never ever considered computer science as a major. Little did I suspect that I'd be making a living with them not so many years later.

Calculators? Less than 30 years ago a four function calculator would set you back on the order of $100, and was slow, so I learned how to use a slide rule (a tolerable 10" plastic log-log decimal trig model could be had at a drugstore for about $5). People made fun of those of us who wore calculators on our belts, but the slide rule kind like a TI SR-50 was well over $100 in its heyday in the late 70's. An HP-65, which could read and write mag cards, ran about $700.

Oh yeah, there's CAD/CAM. I learned little rules for figuring out optimal ways to configure NAND gates to implement logic, or to design a mold for a casting to prevent solidification before the mold was full, or suchlike odds and ends. Engineering drawings were rendered with T-squares by students or by drafting machines and arms. But now software does all of it far faster and more accurately, and can even drive machine tools or other devices to fabricate items with little if any human intervention.

So here it is, two decades plus after engineering school. I have stayed reasonably current, but much of what I was taught that went much beyond the fundamentals is utterly obsolete. Talented amateurs can use computer and robot technology that was the envy of engineering schools not so long ago. Technical fields have been "democratized", and the results are fascinating.

I wish this process extended further into the sciences. No matter how sharp we engineers are, we can still use more ideas and we won't recognize every valuable application of technology. Sciences can always use more observers, and amateurs can help in various ways if mobilized (such as via SETI on your screen saver).

Given these incredible widely available resources, why don't we have more amateur scientists and engineers? How did expertise or knowledge in these fields become "geeky"?

Monday, November 18, 2002

Genetics question

I understand that geneticists have ways to calculate the percentage of match of different species' genomes. Let's harness that wisdom for a straightforward calculation.

What is the percentage match between Osama bin Laden and a pig? As nice as it would be to have his carcass handy, we'll assume for purposes of analysis that he was a human being.

C'mon GC...

Sunday, November 17, 2002

A kindred spirit

After I saw it on Userland's Recently Updated Weblogs, how could I not link to "Quest for Breasts"?

Someone sent her this joke:
I have to share this wonderful joke with you:
An old tarot card reader told a young woman that her deepest desires had been answered. Her breast size would be increased. However, the increase relied on the kindness of strangers. Everytime that a stranger said the word 'Pardon' to her, her breast size would increase 1 full inch.

Walking down the street, A man asked her 'Pardon me, can you tell me the way to city hall?' To her surprise her breasts immediately grew 1 inch. This happened again when a man who had trouble hearing her said 'beg your pardon?'

The unfortunate incident that occurred was at the chinese restaurant. She ordered a number 17 and they were all out of number 17. The waiter exclaimed...

'A 1,000 pardons!'

History of Special Forces

American Heritage offers this.

Their Time Machine item is interesting too.

He's the one!

Don't miss James Rummel's series on identification systems through history. Here, here, here, and here.

He doesn't mention an ill-fated experiment by the LA DA's office to use gloves for ID.

Herbert Hoover, Father of the New Deal

An interesting post by Orrin Judd.

Incidentally, as of yesterday OJ was the #11 reviewer on

Saturday, November 16, 2002

Food poisoning, courtesy of the United Food and Commercial Workers

Remember the UFCW? They're campaigning to unionize Wal-Mart.

They're also the creeps who endangered public health in their campaign to unionize the Food Lion grocery chain, with complicity of the ABC television network.

In view of that, shouldn't food processors that employ the UFCW be forced to disclose this fact? Perhaps we should boycott all food processing chains with UFCW labor in the name of public health.

At least we should be aware of the stakes. We know that the UFCW has shown that honesty and consumer health are secondary to their special interests, and that at least one TV network is willing to let them get away with it.

More corruption in the Nixon administration

Old news, right? You might have thought that the corruption was mostly in the Justice Department, but it ran far deeper. In particular, it reached Nixon's own creation, the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA).

From here:
DDT was banned by an EPA administrator who ignored the decision of his own administrative law judge.

Extensive hearings on DDT before an EPA administrative law judge occurred during 1971-1972. The EPA hearing examiner, Judge Edmund Sweeney, concluded that "DDT is not a carcinogenic hazard to man... DDT is not a mutagenic or teratogenic hazard to man... The use of DDT under the regulations involved here do not have a deleterious effect on freshwater fish, estuarine organisms, wild birds or other wildlife."

[Sweeney, EM. 1972. EPA Hearing Examiner's recommendations and findings concerning DDT hearings, April 25, 1972 (40 CFR 164.32, 113 pages). Summarized in Barrons (May 1, 1972) and Oregonian (April 26, 1972)]
Overruling the EPA hearing examiner, EPA administrator Ruckelshaus banned DDT in 1972. Ruckelshaus never attended a single hour of the seven months of EPA hearings on DDT. Ruckelshaus' aides reported he did not even read the transcript of the EPA hearings on DDT.

[Santa Ana Register, April 25, 1972]
After reversing the EPA hearing examiner's decision, Ruckelshaus refused to release materials upon which his ban was based. Ruckelshaus rebuffed USDA efforts to obtain those materials through the Freedom of Information Act, claiming that they were just "internal memos." Scientists were therefore prevented from refuting the false allegations in the Ruckelshaus' "Opinion and Order on DDT."
Wow, who would think even the Great Satan Richard Nixon would sink to this. Who did he think he was, Bill Clinton?

Much more is available at Jeff Kahane's Highered Intelligence, which does so have permalinks.

No, I've never kippled

But I do like Kipling (and reviving ancient jokes). And this Kipling poem, posted by boy wonder Ben Domenech, is a keeper.