Saturday, October 26, 2002

This and that

Someone has hit this site querying Google for "Ann Coulter breasts". Good luck, pal.

Chris Johnson sums up the Chechen crimes in the Moscow theater. Keep going down for more.

My condolences to the Wellstones.

Vain expression

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic" - Arthur C. Clarke

The Gene Expression crowd seems to be incapable of taking any religiosity seriously - a typical reference is to "magical thinking". And of course this would all imply that religious people just aren't too smart. Thus from Razib we get this:
This is a rough measure, but I think my point holds, the further you go up the bell curve the less reliance there is on magical thinking, ergo the variations of Creationism.
An alternate interpretation is that the farther you go right on the bell curve (ie toward higher intelligence), the vainer the thinkers are. They don't want to be told answers or have to accept any divine authority - they figured it out themselves.

What is the point of teaching evolution in schools? It depends on how it is presented. If it is presented as preempting or disproving religious faith, it has overstepped its bounds. Or rather replaced existing religion with one that denies it is a religion - atheism.

Well, what will they teach in biology classes instead? Ecology. Anatomy. Epidemiology. Public health. Agriculture. Genetics. More health-related topics that are directly related to citizenship, as opposed to some intellectual exercise in figuring out which critter allegedly descended from what by blind chance. Just what value does evolution have to offer the average citizen?

Or maybe they can teach some real science. They certainly can show that it evolves. When I took high school biology, the taxonomy of the time had only two kingdoms, the animals and the plants. Nowadays we have the same critters as before, but at last count there were 5 kingdoms.

Here's some more vanity, from the same post:
Now, the fact remains that a large minority continue to accept Biblical literalism, but let's keep going up the bell curve. A 1996 study by Witham & Larson showed that 40% of scientists with doctorates were theists.
I suppose possession of a doctorate is solely a function of intelligence? Hardly. But it does show that they have been hazed by higher-ups in their faculty, and if they deviate too much they won't get their tickets punched.

Want to hear a story about magic? One day there was nothing at all, and then the next there was a universe! It doesn't sound any the less improbable IMO if you throw in deities. But scientists cut out the deities with Occam's Razor and place their faith in things as error-prone as objective observation and reason. They have faith that they'll find the answer eventually, and in the meantime would everyone please renounce their religious faith?

Can't predict the positions and momenta of subatomic particles simultaneously? Don't confess eternal ignorance, postulate an Uncertainty Principle.

You can't predict something's behavior? Don't admit you don't know - call it "random" or "chaotic" to cover the failure.

Your physics theory upon which you built theories of the beginning and the end of the universe is failing? Postulate the existence of new phenomena like "dark matter", hold out your hand for a few $millions more, and buy time to conjure up the next story.

Science has many wonderful achievements. But it will remain useful only so long as it remains humble. Don't let anyone make it into a religion, or displace existing religions.

UPDATE: And don't...well, we'll let Quana tell it.

They all look the same!

I'm lily-white, from a largely lily-white (mostly German, Irish and a little Italian) small town in IL (around 10,000 population). There's a very light sprinkling of nonwhites, but not enough to teach us to recognize one group from another. Without external media coming in and various generations of military veterans, we'd probably do little better than to be able to distinguish blacks from Hispanics from Asians.

I've covered a lot of ground since then and I'm doing better at telling different groups apart. But it looks like I'm not the only one who has a heck of a time distinguishing Chinese, Koreans and Japanese.

Let's see how well you do. Har har - I did better than Razib...

Stolen from Gene Expression.

Wish you were here behold that incredible meeting of the minds that happened in St. Louis this past Thursday. Tim Blair was passing through, and Charles Austin, Juan Gato, Chris Johnson and I were there to help spare him the torments of sobriety. We made short work of the world's problems, but I didn't think to write it all down.

Filling a much needed void

Did you forget to make out your grocery list? No problem - use one of these.

From Dan Pink

Friday, October 25, 2002

Can't they do better than this?

Surely no Bush administration official gets more undeserved flak than John Ashcroft. Such as this from Robert Prather:
Oregon voters passed an assisted suicide law via referendum -- twice -- and John Ashcroft, with no constitutional basis to do so, has tried to revoke the medical licenses of the doctor's who prescribed the lethal doses. The first judge to review the case over-ruled Ashcroft and it's on appeal.
The article in question says this:
The Death With Dignity Act, which allows a physician to prescribe a lethal dose of barbiturates to a terminally ill adult patient, was first approved by the voters of the state of Oregon in 1994. Assisted suicide opponents mounted a vigorous campaign against the law, delaying its implementation until referendum in 1997, when it passed again.

The federal Drug Enforcement Administration immediately stepped in and sought to overturn the law on the grounds that it violated the Federal Controlled Substances Act, which prohibits the use of certain drugs except for a "legitimate medical purpose"—which, the DEA said, did not include aid in dying. Then-Attorney General Janet Reno, however, overruled the agency, and the law was allowed to remain in place.

Under Attorney General John Ashcroft, however, all of that changed. In November 2001, the attorney general took time out from cracking down on terrorists to crack down on physicians who prescribe lethal drugs to the terminally ill. He authorized the DEA to revoke their licenses.
There's nothing controversial about the idea that causing death is a "legitimate medical purpose"?

Listen, I'm all for state's rights. IMO people should see the Civil War as a gross abuse of federal power too. But surely there's a better case for dumping on Ashcroft than this.

Prather offers this:
John Ashcroft has stretched every conceivable aspect of the constitution since his term started. The assisted suicide law is presumably being challenged using laws based on the interstate commerce clause. What assisted suicide has to do with interstate commerce is a mystery to me.
The first sentence suggests that we are dealing with something other than objectivity. As for the rest, if the Reason article cited is accurate, it doesn't seem so farfetched that Ashcroft is totally within the bounds of the law. As Prather's cite shows above, the initial DEA determination predates Ashcroft. Can the DEA revoke medical licenses? Does the DEA report to Ashcroft? If so, then what is left to say? IMO the US District Court judge who made the decision (who is based in Portland, Oregon) was the one who overstepped his bounds, and my money says Ashcroft wins in a later round.

Remember all the crap Ashcroft heard during confirmation? How Democrats claimed that he would impose his own views upon the law, especially wrt abortion clinics? It looks to me like he's enforcing the law just as he pledged to do when he was confirmed. If there's something wrong with the law, then let's fix the law.

Prather continues with this:
The 4th amendment means nothing to him as well given his support for the TIPS program. I want the guarantee that I'll be secure in my person, papers and effects. I don't want it compromised for the War On Drugs™ and I don't want it compromised for the war on terror.
The War on Drugs long predates Ashcroft, and it's his job to enforce the law. And he inherited the cowboys at DEA, BATF and whatever you call what we have at the FBI, who have all sorts of institutional and civil service defenses against housecleanings. And given his late confirmation, the unending personal attacks and the subsequent frenzy after 9/11, just when was he going to be able to do that?

Let's hear something positive for a change. Who would have been better than Ashcroft? What should he have done differently that was consistent with the responsibilities of his job? And what is needed to clean up these rogue organizations?

Just for the record...

I'm late to this party, but I offer the following:

idiotarian - n. 1. Anyone who would claim that Charles Johnson's site is racist.

Radioactive litter

Cat litter, that is.
A man who ignored a veterinarian's order to flush his cat's radioactive waste down the toilet was hit with a $2,800 bill. ...Jenness' cat, Mitzi, an 11-year-old shorthair, was treated with an injection of radioiodine after developing hyperthyroidism, which is common in cats her age.

The treatment makes the cat radioactive for weeks, so special care is required, including limiting snuggling time, keeping the cat away from children and pregnant women and using protective gloves when flushing the cat litter......Mitzi's mess was discovered at an incinerator in Rochester when alarms detected radioactivity. Workers traced the waste to Jenness after finding mail with his name on it nearby.
My job is looking better all the time.
Radiocat's Web site says the amount of radiation from a radioiodine shot is probably less than the amount a person receives on a long plane flight or a day at the beach.

But Thomas Burnett, a Whitman public works commissioner, said any radiation in trash is too much.
Radwaste eventually becomes harmless, but stupidity is forever. With sensitive enough instruments, he'll find radiation in all of the trash in town.

Thursday, October 24, 2002

The first rule of government

Governments don't collect taxes so they can pay for services. Governments perform services so they can collect taxes.


I had an older relative who was fussy about manners. She would visit once in a while and I would be on pins and needles wondering what else I was doing wrong. Little did I know I could have used a dozen more like her.

Hey, we men have always been animals. Some of us believe that whenever civilization happens, it's because some women put their pretty little feet down. But women in particular, outside the South, seem to have lost most of their manners. Some of the younger ones are appalling.

I don't mean which fork goes with the salad - we're talking basics here. For instance, if you're wearing jeans there are still some ways you probably shouldn't sit, unless you want us to think your herpes is in bloom.

And if you're in a short skirt there are fewer options yet, I don't care how much you spent at Victoria's Secret. Or on depilation - I read somewhere that Hillary Clinton once caught an impromptu exhibition and issued a memo instructing White House staff to wear panties at work.

Never mind the conflict of interest - if a man points out such things he's likely to be accused of harassment just for acknowledging it. Where are the women?

Iran: going from the dogs

How will they top this?

Beauty from the Beast

Of the millions of things I'm not qualified to do, giving beauty tips has to be close to the top. But sometimes even I can give a hint or two.

Tip #1 is to smile once in a while. You know, a real honest smile, not one of those reflexive masks we see on politicians and spokesmodels.

Alright, some of us aren't blessed. One minor celebrity I met usually looked sultry, but when I caught her smiling once she looked kind of goofy and rustic. They can be gummy or horsy or otherwise fubar, but there really aren't so many of these.

Another minor celeb had a nice smile because I had seen it on occasion. Then she stopped. When I asked, she told me she didn't smile for cameras because it made lines in her face. Heaven forbid.

One woman who worked in the same office with me was in her early twenties, and I would have sworn she had had a stroke. She would talk or blink, and once in a while she must have eaten, but other than that her face almost never moved. Then again, with the amount of makeup she wore it probably wasn't easy - near as I could tell her skin was fine. All the obvious effort she put into her face, but in a year or two I think I caught her smiling twice.

Another was a girl who must have been about 18 at the time. This one at least would smile, and she was very pretty, but she too wore makeup as if she were on stage. At her age and with her skin, I'd think lots of foundation et al would be more likely to cause problems than to cover them. I have to wonder if it wasn't intended almost like a mask to hide behind.

What do I know about makeup, anyway? Well, I've had to wear it before. But I had to quit - those lights and cameras put weight on you, and I've been trying to lose it ever since.

Wednesday, October 23, 2002

Shut up and blog

I have a particular blog in mind, but this works in general.

If you are going to be sensitive to nasty things people might say, maybe blogging isn't for you.

And if you're going to come out and say you're gay, well, where have you been living? Fair or not, you're begging for nastiness from the "God hates fags" crowd.

Shrug it off and tell them all to go to hell.

The 5th wheel

Curse that recliner. I have one that points straight at the TV set, and nothing short of drugs puts this historic insomniac to sleep sooner. The result is that at odd times I wake up with the TV on. So hours after the World Series game ended, I got to watch "The 5th Wheel", from the cultural savants who brought us "Blind Date".

At the beginning of the show we're shown two men and two women (Rana and Amanda). They get a chance to talk to each other as a group, then each man is paired with each woman. Of course the voyeuristic camera following along, with goofball editing, and each gets to make comments about each of the others.

Then another woman (Angelina) is introduced, and she is paired with each guy. After this apparently no holds are barred, and at the end all five participants select which partner they'd like to keep. Pairs that pick each other apparently are the winners, and the rest are "5th wheels".

It takes a, uh, special kind of person to perform on these shows. Amanda lost her bikini top with one of the guys. Rana was into biting. Angelina was the hottest. Each guy had a turn with two girls at once, then Angelina and Andrea paired off. Finally all of them met in a small space, and as the door closed on them a graphic appeared warning of "orgy in progress".

Then the finale - the naming of partners. Both guys picked Angelina. So did Amanda. And Angelina picked Amanda. Ha! - three fifth wheels.

Alright, I did sit still to watch an episode. No voyeurism here though, nosirree - purely detached observation and intense contemplation with the intent of adding my profundities to the sum of human wisdom. Yes, this was a study in human relations, evolving social norms, game theory, TV production...


Tuesday, October 22, 2002

Science vs. science

I'm thinking of getting a camcorder in the near future. Then, being me, I'll have to jack around with video editing and production.

Video editing takes lots of computer resources. And that's for a fairly narrow field of view. If you could use it to capture everything your eyes could see in every direction it would be far worse. And your eyes can't see everything.

Conclusion: we're missing most of what is happening around us all of the time. And that goes for the other senses too.

Of course human vision is inherently limited by the properties of our eyes. We can't see the radiation from a hot object until it starts emitting enough red radiation (by which time it's well beyond hot enough to burn us), and it would be nice if we could see predators at night by their body heat. We can't see ultraviolet rays, so we don't know to take cover when they are bad. Likewise our other senses have a limited "bandwidth".

Let's just say we had access to all of the observations made by all the people on the planet. Even then, they don't cover the entire biosphere,
and there's lots more stuff going on within the earth or in outer space. Even if everyone were a well-equipped, talented scientist, we'd still miss all but the tiniest bit of the data that is available.

And who says that we couldn't use more senses? Being capable of detecting radioactivity would be handy, as would detecting pathogens like anthrax or whatever else Saddam has been cooking up. There could be entire undiscovered phenomena out there that even our measuring instruments can't detect and that we don't even know to look for. And the instruments we do use generally work over a narrow range (just as we might use micrometers, rulers, and tapes to measure different length ranges), so you can miss things at each end. The result is that we don't even know all of what we're missing - we can't even place an upper bound on our ignorance of our surroundings.

And this whole process repeats forever, while our oldest quantitative observations might possibly date a millenium or two back out of the alleged 5 billion year age of the earth. I'm easy, let's call it 5000 years of science. That's one millionth of the life of the planet, and even less of the universe.

That tiny sampling of information we do have cannot be dealt with as is though, and it is subject to misinterpretation. We've all seen optical illusions to show how our senses play tricks on us. We invent all sorts of new illusions when we use optical devices like microscopes or even something as simple as a voltmeter. And we use categorical perception, which is a rich source of misunderstandings.

Yet somehow we get by. We learn to prioritize. We use external instruments for their presumed objectivity. We repeat experiments under differing circumstances. We use statistical methods to reduce information into its most useful forms, betting that we haven't found those uncommon but possible situations when the methods will lead to error.

That incredibly tiny, heavily processed sliver that remains from the original perceptions, taken from that absurdly short period of time in the life of the universe, is what is used by scientists to make claims about the beginning and the end of the universe.

One millionth of the life of a 70 year old man is less than 40 minutes. Imagine some alien coming here seeing Earth life forms for the first time, studying a human for 40 minutes, and claiming that he could predict every stage of development that had occured at conception, and what would happen until death. Good luck.

But there are people who find this credible, and scorn creationists.

Creationism is not science. As such it should not be taught in schools as science.

However, science should be taught warts and all. Ignoring its limitations is not scientific, and cosmology like the above makes an excellent example of just how expansive scientific predictions have been relative to actual observations. Believing the resulting predictions is very much an act of faith.

Further, It should be acknowledged that scientific theories are here today and gone tomorrow. For an example, curricula should include the flip-flops such as when global cooling predictings of the 70's gave way to the global warming predictions of the 90's.

It should be noted that science is influenced by personalities and politics, as it was with the theories of Trofim Lysenko.

Finally, it should be noted that science is subject to fraud. A classic example is Piltdown man, but there is much more than that.

Above all, it should be emphasized that science is not antithetical to religious faith. Otherwise we're introducing religion into schools in the form of atheism.

Sunday, October 20, 2002

No Watermelons Allowed: the Next Generation

So what is it about this blog that could be improved?

Sorry, nothing I can do about the author - he's the only one who works this cheap. If this is 'free ice cream', I refuse to speculate on the flavor, and it has yet to receive a documented sniff from Silflay Hraka. Hmm - I could put in a redirect to the Bleat...

The name? - by now it's a tradition, like the cranberries I don't eat at Thanksgiving. And the new domain name might be worse... Both resulted from the same process that named Peculiar, MO - the locals got tired of coming up with a unique name to suit the postal service. Incidentally, the 'watermelons' in question are those who pose as environmentalists (green on the outside) while actually serving the left (red on the inside).

The overall esthetics? Well, I'm an engineer/IT guy - it would be like putting lace on a bowling ball. If it all sucks beyond redemption, comfort yourself knowing that I see it more than anybody else.

Getting away from Blogspot? It's on the agenda. The new host, Hosting Matters, has the cojones to carry Instapundit and VodkaPundit, so they'll barely notice me between billings. I already have Movable Type over there too, but I've been so slow about it that they've upgraded in the meantime.

That obnoxious void comment page? I keep telling myself 'it'll go away after I'm on Movable Type'. So far I haven't been quite annoyed enough to fix it yet.

That @#$% hit counter needs improvement too. Apparently Bravenet has decided to cut back on referral logs, from 50 to 25.

And I'm among the world's worst for returning email.

On the plus side, I don't have a cat.

Well, I'm trying to learn from some things that annoy me about other blogs. I have a slow connection most of the time, and I don't want to see something more than once. So I'm starting to put labels on some of the links. That way if your browser permits you can see what it points to, in English.

Enough. Fire at will.

Your research dollars at work

You know, my hands are bigger than average. They're probably bigger than Eddie Van Halen's. All else being equal, you might think that would give me some advantages at playing guitar. But although I do play, you'd better stick with Eddie.

And now we have this, attempting to correlate penis size with index finger length.

You'll note that I already mentioned I have big hands, and I can hold up my end of a locker room bull session. But really, is this observation of any medical value at all?

Where are your kids?

I just saw a TV ad for Wherify Wireless. They sell a GPS wristwatch for kids along with a monitoring service that lets you keep tabs on them. Supposedly it can also tell if the device has been removed. It also has a pager and can call 911 - the latter can be disabled.

They are developing a locator for cars too. This has been around a while for major corporate clients, but now it would be available for the rest of us.

Cuban Missile Crisis 40th anniversary

The History Channel is running a show about the Cuban Missile Crisis, from almost 40 years ago today. This occurred when JFK found out that the Nikita Khrushchev's Russians had installed nuclear missiles in Cuba.

Many options for a response were considered, including a land invasion.

At that time, unknown to US intelligence, the Russians had tactical nuclear weapons in Cuba (including nuclear torpedos). These could have been used to vaporize many if not all of our personnel involved in the invasion. According to Khrushchev's son Sergei, these weapons were likely to have been used in case of an invasion.

Does this sound familiar?