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May 30, 2006

Back up and Running

Sorry for the unannounced server outage; there was a problem with a loose nut in front of the keyboard. It's rebuilt now, apparently. A couple of the last blog comments may have been lost, but that should be about it.

Posted by jeff at 8:14 PM | TrackBack

May 26, 2006

My Favorite Honkey

We've been chasing the King Tut exhibit for a while. Steph saw the original, and I wanted to see it; plus we wanted the kids to see it. After the timing being wrong several times (leaving just before we got to a place, or starting right after), we had pretty much given up. So it was a great surprise when we came into Chicago this week to see that the Field Museum would be hosting the exhibit again, and we'd be able to come back some other time in the next few months and see it.

To our great surprise, when we went to the museum yesterday, the agent was able to get us in before the official opening (had we arrived ten minutes earlier, we would not have been able to get in). The thing is, this was far, far better than going through the exhibit normally, because there were only a few people there. We were not rushed through the exhibit at all; we were not crowded; we were able to see every artifact and (to the varying extent they were interested), read the descriptions to our kids and then answer their questions. It was wonderful!

There were two things that they didn't have that surprised me: Tut's funerary mask (despite using it to advertise the exhibit) and his coffins were not on display. Nonetheless, it was a great exhibit and a fantastic experience.

Plus, we got to meet up with Dave Schuler for dinner, which was quite a bit of fun. Yesterday was a pretty good day.

Posted by jeff at 9:18 AM | TrackBack

May 23, 2006


Dave Schuler had an interesting post on Iran, in which he argues that our options are to get Russia and China on board with sanctions, or we have no options. I do not concur.

Well, let me be more clear. I concur that our best option is to get China and Russia on board (for real) with sanctions, and I hope that the government is focusing its will and bending its enormous resources to that task. My failure to concur arises from one likelihood and one fact: the likelihood is that Russia and China will not come on board with tough sanctions, and the fact is that we do have options past that point.

In my opinion, the US goals, in order, must be to (1) prevent genocide, (2) keep the oil flowing, (3) minimize attacks on the US and allied interests.

If Iran appears to be close to getting nuclear weapons, or if it is found to have done so, Israel will use its nuclear arsenal to destroy Iran utterly. Failure to do so implies that Israel will itself be destroyed, because 9/11 showed us pretty clearly to take our enemies at their words when they say they want to kill us. And the Iranians have been very clear about their goal to test their nuclear weapons in Tel Aviv and Haifa. So to accomplish goal #1, the US must prevent Iran from even getting close to a nuclear weapons capability.

Sanctions as a tool to accomplish that violate goal #2, but are more politically palatable than an outright attack on Iran. Assuming that diplomacy has failed to convince the Iranians to abandon seeking nuclear weapons (and I think that is nearly a given at this point, and will be assured when Iran rejects the latest EU proposal that would give Iran guaranteed access to commercial-grade nuclear fuel), sanctions will be our next attempt; indeed, we are already moving down that road.

But in order for sanctions to work, as you note, Russia and China must be on board. The history of N. Korea, and of the Oil For Food program, indicate that a tight sanctions regime is unworkable. I think we have to try, but I also think that we are unlikely to get what we want, and must keep in mind the timeline to achieve goal #1 is shrinking rapidly - particularly since it now appears that the Iranians (quelle surprise) have a parallel, secret military nuclear program in place.

So let's say that we can't get a tight sanctions regime. Do we go for a leaky sanctions regime? This is where, I believe, your "Without that we’ve got nothing" comment comes into play. No, we cannot accept a leaky sanctions regime that makes us the bad guy while letting Iran continue to develop their nuclear program essentially unhindered, in practical terms. Remember all the stories of starving Iraqi children? Think those won't come back in Iranian clothes? If so, think again.

So if leaky sanctions are not going to help us achieve goal #1, and would in the meantime lessen the oil flow (goal #2 violated) while giving excuses to the Iranians to attack us (goal #3 violated), we cannot do leaky sanctions.

What's next? Embargo. We could shut off Iran's access to the sea, and (if we were willing to attack oil pipelines and road nets, particularly in the North) could shut off any significant Iranian imports or exports. But that is an act of war: we have gone from "we all agree not to trade with you" to "we will compel everyone by force of arms not to trade with you." At that point, we have lost goal #2 and goal #3, and goal #1 is still very questionable because we will not be able to guarantee a stoppage of the Iranian nuclear program short of their utter surrender, more complete even than that of Serbia. Now, it's possible that Iran will surrender, and we'll be able to go in and eliminate their nuclear programs to a degree we (and the Israelis) consider sufficient, get the oil flowing again, and not take massive attacks in the process (surrender may just mean entrapment, in an age and land of terrorism). Possible, but then it's possible that the Cubs will win the Series. Possible, but unlikely.

So we are past sanctions as an option at this point in the logic, and Iran continues onwards. We've looked at the possibility of an embargo, and it's just not an attractive option for obtaining our goals. At this point, we've exhausted all possibilities of obtaining goal #1 short of war, and the question is what kind of war it will be. As I noted in my response to Dave's post, we've got the resources to do considerably more than a limited embargo, and in the process to acheive all three goals.

To do this, we must actively destroy Iran's civilian and military infrastructure and occupy the oil fields and the territory around the Straits of Hormuz. This would take considerably fewer ground troops than occupying all of Iran (which we do not have the strength to do, frankly, and might not have even were we not also engaged in Iraq). We would achieve goal #1 by simply making it impossible for Iran to function in any way until they surrender utterly, thus making it impossible (by tautology) for Iran to continue nuclear development. We would certainly take terror attacks for this, as would our allies, and some of them would be big.

On the other hand, of course, which is better: taking those terror attacks, or waiting until either Iran or Israel attacks the other with nuclear weapons? Politically, I suppose we could just let Israel go for it, and denounce them afterwards. Morally? Well, that's another story.

Posted by jeff at 1:11 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

May 22, 2006

A Weekend of Serenity

I got a birthday gift last week from Jeff & Steph - the Firefly DVDs. I had not watched them, just heard passing comments about them. About the only advice I got was "Don't watch them around the kids." So, with wife and daughter out of town for the weekend, I watched the entire series - then went out and bought Serenity (on sale this week at Target for $10!) and watched it.


Babylon 5 is the high mark for me as far as TV science fiction goes. Firefly still doesn't beat it, but it was a whole lot of fun. I liked that it made space BIG. Science fiction shows have a tendency to (for storyline reasons) make space small - travel and communication are instant. It makes for an easy crutch. In Firefly, space is more like the Old West. If the ship breaks down in the middle of nowhere and you're hosed but good.

I still think Mal should have let Jayne be sucked out of the ship after trying to turn in River.

Steph posted a long entry a while back about why the show was cancelled. After watching it, I doubt it's as sinister as being too much about honor and personal responsibility. The show had the requisite amount of sex and violence to overcome that. I think it just has to do with the ratings system. Networks want an instant audience now, and don't have the patience to build one. With hundreds of choices, shows are rarely given "a shot" anymore. I really wonder if any of the mega-networks will ever give a science-fiction show a chance again. More than likely, Sci-Fi and the independents will get the nod, instead. Reality shows are cheaper.

Posted by Nemo at 11:07 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

May 19, 2006

What Are You Listening To?

Jeff and I were talking last night about how slow it's been on the blog lately. His life is too busy right now to have much time for blogging, and mine has gotten so routine lately, I haven't found much interesting to blog about. I suppose I could join the DaVinci craze, but it seems so stupid and pointless to get worked up over it. You either have the faith, or you don't - and no movie should matter beyond its entertainment value (or lack thereof). I think that's about all I need to say about that.

Anyway, on to something else. As you can see from my last post, I'm a big listener of audiobooks. I think it's safe to say there are more hours of audiobooks on my iPod than music - probably by a 2-to-1 margin or better. So, for one of the "here's what I'm listening to lately" posts, I present the following books I've heard to in the last 30 days or so:

Alexander Hamilton - I haven't gotten far into this yet, but after listening to Adams vs. Jefferson several months back, I thought a little perspective would be in order. I haven't gotten far into his public life, yet, but I'm at the Revolution, so it should get interesting very soon. The material is very detailed and enjoyable.

Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince - An excellent way to spend a drive to and from New Orleans. It got us there and back with a disc to spare. We still haven't listened to the funeral yet. No more spoilers in case there's someone who hasn't read it. It's a good setup for the final book.

Star Trek: The Eugenics Wars Volume 1 - Yuck. It takes a lot of work to screw up a book about Khan Noonien Singh. Greg Cox does it by ignoring him for most of the story.

To Rule Mankind and Make the World Obey - I'm almost done with this history of Ancient Rome. Barnes & Noble sells their Portable Professor series as college-level subject matter. This one seems more at a high school or middle school level - the teacher tries to make the material seem interesting by quickly boiling down motivations in an almost "folksy" way, but it almost makes the history trivial. Not one of the better entries of the series, but an interesting topic, and easy to listen to on the commute.

I've been hitting history a lot lately - especially American history. We're planning a trip to DC this summer, so it's a good way to get the juices flowing. I want to pick up some more philosophy and religion soon, but that's further down the list right now.

Posted by Nemo at 11:15 AM | TrackBack

May 15, 2006

Join Together Applescript for iTunes

Some days, you find a really neat tool on the Net, and you have to share. In this case, it's Join Together, one of Doug's Applescripts for iTunes.

I use my iPod primarily for audiobooks. Until a few months ago, I had been buying the audiobooks and importing them manually. Then, I discovered Audible, which can give you a single file for up to several discs/hours, complete with chapter marks. That's been great, but still doesn't help with the purchased CDs. Enter Join Together.

Take your playlist of files - in this example, 7 CDs that were split into 14 audio files. Tell Join Together that you want to merge them, edit the information to give it the name of the book, then tell it to use the same export settings as the originating set of files (which makes it easy and less time consuming since they were all imported at once). Next, tell it to save it as .m4b (to show up as an Audiobook on the iPod), and optionally, using Apple's Chapter Tool, create chapter marks in the file.

A few minutes later (very quickly with the default settings of the files), a combined file spits out into the iTunes Library. My 14 audio files are now one big file with 14 chapters. Quick and painless.

Doug - thanks a bunch! I'm going to be joining a lot of files now, and maybe using your utility to downsize them in the process.

Posted by Nemo at 11:00 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Ripe for a Demagogue

Throughout history, there have been moments of great crisis that were utterly unrecognized for what they were until after the crisis was passed. Instead, the crisis would be seen as something else: economic problems or partisan policy disputes, usually. But in these times, deep in the heart of the common people in the country in crisis, there is a growing sense that nothing is working right, and that the gaps in political discourse are unbridgeable. The people become, by degrees, more and more ready for someone to "just fix things". In other words, the country becomes ripe for a populist (and frequently nationalist) demagogue.

The canonical example of this is the rise of Adolph Hitler; who, it must be remembered, was after all just one of the many demagogues in Germany in the early 1930s. More recent examples include Jugoslavia's Milosevic, Venezuela's Chavez, Bolivia's Morales. Twentieth century examples besides Hitler include his contemporaries, Mussolini, Mao and Franco, the later Noriega and Castro and the earlier Lenin. Demagogues, it should be noted, are not always horrible people; in many cases they really do think that they are doing the best that they can to fix the problems that they see with their country. The problem comes in with two additional factors: unchecked power and insularity.

Unchecked power, which is the norm in all but a very few countries, allows the executive, sometimes with minimal interference, to push through whatever changes that he wants. Those changes almost always start with government "reforms" that serve to make that power unassailable by any but military means, and "security reforms" that serve to make rebellion essentially impossible. The resultant lock on power, and the perks of feeding from the essentially infinite public trough rather than having to earn money yourself, leads to isolation and then to insularity, so that the demagogue in power loses touch with the populace he initially set out to assist.

The US right now is in such an unrecognized crisis. The debate over illegal immigration, exacerbated rather than helped by the media's general refusal to separate legal from illegal immigration in any discussion, and most certainly exacerbated by partisan political tactics (hence Senate Minority Leader Reid's demands for President Bush to stake out a clear position, presumably so that Reid will know what he, Reid, is against), hides a much deeper issue. Americans are becoming convinced that their government is incapable of controlling the borders, incapable of competently prosecuting both the long war and the immediate campaign, and incapable of resolving any conflict because of partisanship. If the issue continues to heat up, expect to see an independent presidential challenge within the next couple of election cycles, at least as strong as the Perot challenge to outsourcing in the early 1990s, and most likely stronger.

Perhaps President Bush can navigate a way out of this mess; we'll see shortly. But even if he does, until the rampant partisanship and unbending buffoonery and constant corruption of the system is fixed, the crisis only waits for an issue to crystallize around.

Fortunately, the US and the other Anglosphere countries have, by and large, proven remarkably resistant to demagogues. Populism resonates from time to time, but has a hard time getting a solid foothold on power. This is largely because the Anglosphere countries tend to keep political power diffuse and to resist government changes (due, I think largely, to generally good governance for the last few hundred years). And it is in the end unlikely that the US will fall for an immigration demagogue. I wish I could say the same for Europe, but I fear that Europe is not only ripe for a demagogue, but susceptible to demagoguery.

Posted by jeff at 7:28 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

May 14, 2006

Peeve Farm

So what happened to Peeve Farm? It's been about a week, I think, since I've been able to get to the site at all, and I cannot find any news that makes me think that Brian Tiemann (the author) has come to any harm. Anyone have a clue?

UPDATE: Ah, host company failure.

Posted by jeff at 10:22 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 12, 2006

Not Dead Yet, so far as I can Tell

Sorry for the very, very light posting: life has been far too interesting lately. I'm off to camp with with my two older boys this weekend, so the outlook for posting in the immediate future continues to be grim.

Posted by jeff at 4:22 PM | TrackBack

May 10, 2006

In and Out of Our Lives

On Monday, we got a parakeet for Connor. He's been wanting one for a very long time, and we finally decided to get him an 8 week old, hand-fed bird. A sweet, tiny blue thing with a very curious disposition and a decided tendency to nibble whatever he could reach.

And this evening, we found him dead in his cage. There is no obvious trauma or injury; he wasn't acting sick; there was no sign of pests; he just died.

We hadn't even named him.

Tomorrow we will take him to the vet, and hopefully determine why he died. (And I am not sure whether I hope more that it was not disease, which would mean the other birds at the store we got him from are in some danger, or that it was not something we did wrong, which would make a heartbreaking situation crushingly sad.) RIP, little guy.

Posted by jeff at 9:45 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

May 8, 2006

Apple vs. Apple

I have to admit, I thought that the fact that the case was being tried in England might go against Apple Computers. However, in this case, the judge seemed to "get it". Apple selling music does not constitute producing music. Also, Apple Computer is distinct enough from The Beatles that no one can reasonably confuse the two.

Beatles’ Apple Corps loses trademark suit

“I conclude that the use of the apple logo ... does not suggest a relevant connection with the creative work,” Mann said in his written judgment. “I think that the use of the apple logo is a fair and reasonable use of the mark in connection with the service, which does not go further and unfairly or unreasonably suggest an additional association with the creative works themselves.”
Posted by Nemo at 9:44 AM | TrackBack

May 7, 2006

Plan? What Plan?

On the front page of MSNBC today there is link to an article titled: "WP: Confident Democrats lay out House agenda".

Curious, I clicked on the link. The resulting page told me everything I needed to know about the Democrat's plan for the next few years:

View image

(The real article is here, BTW.)

Posted by Nemo at 12:03 PM | TrackBack

May 6, 2006

Well, He'll Certainly Get That Impression

From AP, President Bush gave the commencement address at Oklahoma State University today.

From the article we get this illuminating statement from one of the protesters outside [emphasis mine]:

"If he's coming to my town, I'm going to let him know he's not welcome here and that Oklahomans are not as bright as they think," said Laurie Keeley, 25, a protester from Tulsa.

Laurie Keeley, 25, from Tulsa, may know of what she speaks.

From a greekchat.com forum we get this from a 2000 post by one Laurie Keeley of Tulsa (who was to attend OSU):

I will be a freshman this fall and I REALLY want to join a sorority. The problem is my G.P.A. is only 2.28.

To borrow from Glenn - indeed.

Posted by Brian at 9:57 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

May 4, 2006

Hitchens v Cole

Frankly, I am amused at the whole Hitchens v. Cole dustup. I hope they both lose: here we find a vile and disgusting attack dog with a brilliant command of the English language and a vast capacity for ridicule (and not much else) fighting with a vile terrorist enabler who has no apparent command of any language, merely a passing acquaintance that seems to be literacy until you pay attention to him. May they both find joy in their downwards spiral, because I certainly will. Actually, I probably won't, because I won't be paying attention.

Posted by jeff at 10:48 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

George Lucas Finally Caves In

As Darth Vader once said: "The circle is now complete." George Lucas is caving in to customer demand (but only for a limited time) and releasing the original "Star Wars" trilogy on DVD unaltered from the first theatrical releases.

I've held out on buying the movies for this - I knew they would go for the money at some point. Now Han will shoot first, and the Ewoks will celebrate the fall of the Empire.

Original Unaltered Star Wars Trilogy on DVD!

Posted by Nemo at 7:37 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Holy Crap!

That's all I can say after the end of this week's Lost. Didn't see that coming!

Posted by Brian at 1:47 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

May 2, 2006

A Modest Immigration Proposal

You know, if we just conquer Mexico, and turn the current Mexican states into territories, within maybe 20 years we can kill the worst of the drug trade and corruption, teach the new population how to live as citizens of a free Republic and in particular how to be prosperous, and make all of the new territories into US states. I believe that would solve the vast majority of the immigration problem.

Posted by jeff at 8:49 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 1, 2006

Closing the Border

I have to say that I am generally an open borders proponent. I believe in the New Colossus:

“The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of Exiles.
From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!"” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

I am not certain how many illegal immigrants I have employed in the last month, loading the truck before my move to Michigan or doing the remodeling of my house. At a guess, I'd say about 6-8 of the people involved were unlikely to be here legally. And I don't care. Nor do I care what language you speak; English-only or even English-first requirements for government miss the point: the government exists to serve the people, rather than to create the rules by which you have to abide to pass muster with the government.

But I do have to make one point to those marching in the streets, especially the La Raza and MECHA types who want to restore the southwestern United States to Mexican rule: don't tick us off. Seriously: come here and work and we'll be happy to have you; we like it when people want to better themselves and their family. But in the process, pay your taxes and follow the rules — yes, they are stupid right now, and we doubtless need to seriously reform them to allow more people to come here legally and work. But pay the taxes (not just some of them: send a money order and keep a copy if you don't want to identify yourself to the IRS) and follow the laws and we really won't hassle you. The last couple of decades should certainly prove that point.

But when you come out demanding amnesty for your illegal entry, and don't pay your share of taxes (which for most of you will be quite small in comparison to what most people pay; first-generation immigrants tend to be poorer than their children and succeeding generations), and start making noises about returning rule of parts of the US to Mexico, then there is something that you should consider. The United States has, for the past three and a half years, been interdicting trails through the mountains of Afghanistan and the deserts and river valleys of Iraq. We have an extraordinary amount of soldiers and Marines trained to stop infiltration. We have sensors and other equipment to aid in that task. And we have significant experience at mapping social networks to find specific individuals that we want to find, which is much easier to do when you are trying to find a class of people rather than a specific individual. If you piss enough of us off, what you are risking is that the US will get serious about the border. In about three months, that border will be closed, hard. And within about three years after that, 80% or more of the people here illegally will be deported.

Now, it would take a lot to get us that annoyed. We don't like to use our military to guard the border; and we don't want to turn our immigration services, which should be welcoming to those who want to come here, into search and deport squads. But we can do it.

So just don't tick us off, OK?

Posted by jeff at 6:09 PM | Comments (15) | TrackBack