January 9, 2007

That's Just Cool

Apple released a cell phone — ummm, maybe I should say cell phone/iPod/mobile computer/camera — today, and I'm almost sold. This is the first phone since the Samsung i500, which I currently use, that has everything I want in a phone: good phone in a reasonable form factor (I'm assuming a little on the Apple form factor, not having held one yet), built-in contact list sync'd to my computer, web browser and various miniature productivity applications.

The iPhone goes further, adding the camera (which would be cool for a personal phone, but might be enough to keep me from getting one: many of my clients wouldn't let me bring a camera into the building) and the iPod (though at only 4 or 8 GB, it's a far cry from my current 30GB model in terms of storage). The storage issue is actually significant, because even with 8GB, I'd have to select what I wanted available beforehand, especially if that 8GB is used not just for data, like songs, but also for applications that aren't built into the phone.

Being run off of OS X would be a definite plus, because I'm very familiar with the OS internals, and could write stuff I need that other people don't provide. Plus, it's a GSM phone, which actually bit me last year when I had to take a trip to Europe on notice too short to get a GSM phone to take with me. The SMS support, basically iChat on the phone, would be useful to me, and is something the i500 doesn't have (it's receive-only for messaging). Finally, the 5 hour talk time is nice, but doesn't equal the extended battery on my i500, which would be annoying when I'm traveling, particularly because that's when I'm likely to be using the maps and browser, as well as other widgets like local weather.

The phone is only offered in the US through Cingular (as an aside, I hate this practice of cell phones being locked in to particular carriers), and the biggest unknown is the service plan setup: how much will service cost, and will I be paying by the minute for data as well as voice? Will I be able to get free roaming (well, no-extra-cost roaming) and no-charge family-to-family calling?

Frankly, the odds of me getting one of these, at least for now, are pretty low. But I can see the attraction, and I wouldn't be surprised if I changed my mind with the next generation of this device.

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November 20, 2006

I Have Questions

There are a lot of ideas going around in broad circulation in the US that just don't make much sense to me. I am a reasonable person; I can be convinced by facts and logic. And on these issues, which tend to be (at least putatively) very important to the people at large, I see a lot of heat and no light, a lot of argument (mostly ad hominem at that) and very little evidence and reason. So if anyone wants to help me out, I'd appreciate it.

1. Where is the evidence for global warming? As far as I can tell, the global warming thesis in its most extreme manifestation is as follows:

  1. The Earth's global average temperature is increasing.
  2. This increase is largely or entirely caused by man-made effects, particularly pollution from burning fossil fuels.
  3. The Earth will eventually become warmer than it ever has been, or at least warmer than it ever was while humans were on Earth.
  4. This will cause a variety of catastrophes to life on Earth.
  5. Only immediate and drastic action to lessen or eliminate the man-made effects causing global warming can mitigate or avoid these various catastrophes.

My initial thought was to provisionally grant point 1, because it is clearly based on temperature measurements and thus is fairly indisputable. But is it really? Take a look at NOAA's graph of temperatures since 1880. What is the deal with the plateau between 1945 and 1980, in the period when industrial pollution was at its second highest point, or for that matter the late 1800s, when industrial pollution was at its highest point? Does pollution prevent global warming? Moreover, this data covers less than 150 years, an insignificant amount of time in climate terms. (Imagine measuring your heartbeat for three beats and then making a calculation that, since the interval between the second and third beat is shorter than between the first and second beat, your heartbeat must clearly be slowing dangerously.) Finally, the data from different sources is somewhat ambiguous even within the same time scales and temperature scales.

Assuming good faith in presentation of data, which I suspect we can do with NOAA at least (as opposed to activists on either side of the debate), the reliable evidence for temperature change is over such a short time period that its validity over longer periods is questionable. The first point gets much more questionable looking at reconstructed average temperatures for the last thousand years, and worse still looking at 25000 year data for a localized area.

So if there is so much question about the degree to which we are warming, and how much it fits within normal cycles, how are so many people so sure of their opinions on what is happening, and what must be done about it? If the first, core point of the thesis is in some doubt, what about the rest of it?

2. If we withdraw from Iraq, then what? I constantly hear noise about how we have to withdraw, or how we cannot. I tend to fall very strongly on the "cannot" side, because the lessons of history tell me that it would be a rout, a disaster of possibly unrecoverable proportions. But my opinion is not very relevant to my point: I have not heard anyone who is urging withdrawal candidly admit what that means, and discuss what we should do about that. There was an essay recently, which I don't have a link for, in one of the major papers, that was very candid about the immediate results: that those who supported us in Iraq would be killed or driven into exile, and that we could not then count on any support in the future for any other attempts to intervene in the Middle East. But even that only talked about the immediate results, and shied away from the most important result: to leave Iraq without first destroying the enemy would lead the enemy to attack here, and even sooner in Europe. And then what?

3. Are we prepared to live with a nuclear Iran? Here, again, I see those urging us to do so avoiding any discussion of the consequences of allowing Iran to obtain nuclear weapons. Since those consequences are potentially grave, it would take some convincing to get me to believe that letting Iran go nuclear is the best option. But I'm willing to be convinced; it just seems that no one is willing to do the convincing, and instead there is a lot of emotionalism and ad hominem flying, as on both the global warming and Iraq issues, but precious little reasoning or discussion of the real pros and cons of the various options.

4. The ever-increasing power of government, and the true threat of tyranny in the US, is virtually never addressed by anyone except the Libertarians. My life is less free than that of my father, and his was less free than that of his father. In part, this is because of well-intentioned efforts to keep us safe from any possible harm. In part, it is because bureaucracies need ever-increasing spheres of influence to justify ever-increasing budgets, and thus ever-increasing power for the bureaucrats. But this continued invasion of our private lives, under both Republicans (who want to control our morality) and Democrats (who want to control our money) leaves ever-smaller areas for us to live our lives freely. Can we reclaim our freedom, or even halt the loss of our freedoms? What is the stopping point? How do we know when we are there?

Posted by jeff at 10:20 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

October 12, 2006

Snow Day

At lunch time, I had to run to another office. It was 34 degrees Fahrenheit, and I drove through two snow storms. Michigan ain't gonna be nothin' like Texas this Winter, that's for sure.

Update: Steph got a picture.

Posted by jeff at 4:21 PM | TrackBack

September 30, 2006

Citing Mother Nature for Polluting the Environment

Does a bear shit in the woods? Why, yes, yes it does. With Mother Nature unable to meet clean water standards, one has to wonder whether the problem might just be with the standards themselves, at this point.

Never fear: Al Gore is protecting us! Or lining his pockets on the backs of hysteria which, coincidentally, happens to work to his political benefit. Either way, he's on the job!

UPDATE: I wish I had seen this first.

Posted by jeff at 1:03 AM | TrackBack

August 26, 2006

What is Math for, Anyway?

Steph, in teaching Connor math, came across a problem that was difficult for her to solve. She did it, but it took a while. Mark's comments, too, are instructive. I learned a great deal of math calculation in school and college (side effect of engineering major), and it was only after I left college, and tried to explain math to people who didn't get it, that I finally realized that there are some fundamental truths about math that are generally not taught in school, but without which math makes almost no sense. Here they are:

Math is a tool for solving problems you encounter in life that are related to counting, comparison, estimation and the like. Problems come to you in life presented as fancy counting (everything up through algebra), like:

I have $23 and some change. Those pants cost $21, and tax is 8.5%. Do I have enough to buy the pants, or will I look like a fool at the register?

I have a quarter tank of gas. Each tank holds 12 gallons and I get 18 miles to the gallon. I'm tired and may or may not have remembered my credit card. Can I make it home and deal with this tomorrow, or must I stop at the gas station and deal with it now?

Or as geometry, like:

Do I have enough carpet to cover the living room? How about after I have to cut some out for the fireplace and add some for that odd corner?

Where can I put my garden where I have the most space for plants with the least inconvenience to mowing the lawn?

How far is it to that hill over there, and at what angle should I elevate my cannon to hit it?

Or in combinations, like:

What do I need to buy — how much wood, how many nails, etc — to build a shed in the back yard?

When you get an equation handed to you to solve, you are not doing a problem. The problem is already boiled down for you into an equation. Solving the equation is an exercise in applying mathematical rules; there is little creativity and thought required, just memory recall (or learning new rules if you don't already know them). Word problems are what matters about math, unless you are a theoretical mathematician developing new ways of solving equations that will help others solve their problems.

Posted by jeff at 12:43 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 14, 2006

I Think I'm in Love

I like airplanes. A lot. I took pilot training, but never quite got the private pilot's cert (something about feeding children). But I'm in love.

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August 12, 2006

Antidote to Politics

Thanks, Fran: Cute Overload

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August 11, 2006

Essay Worth Reading on Muslims in Britain

Eteraz has an essay worth reading on his blog. (hat tip: The Glittering Eye) In it, he addresses the reasons as he perceives them for the radicalization of (some? many?) Muslims in Britain.

One thing that he addresses is the Romanticism of the nihilist imams that are radicalizing the young Muslim men. Yet more evidence for my contention that the most evil philosophy ever promulgated was Rousseau's version of the Enlightenment. (It has been the root for Marxism, Communism, Fascism, Naziism and apparently has featured heavily in Islamism.) The core point of Rousseau is that man can be perfected, if we just come up with the right system, and get rid of the unperfectable ones. It is a philosophy that is a recipe for mass murder, and has resulted in mass murder several times. When will we get a countervailing philosophy that effectively argues against Romanticism in all its variants?

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August 10, 2006

Quote of the Day

"Bush certainly seems to have hit the sweet spot -- prosecuting the war vigorously enough to anger the antiwar left, but not vigorously enough to please the prowar right." — Glenn Reynolds

That's about the size of it. At this point, we are in very near danger of losing the ability to defeat the enemy conventionally absent another successful enemy attack on the scale of 9/11 or worse. We have not built up the force structure or public will to fight a fast war, and we have been losing the propaganda and proxy battles so one-sidedly that our victory in Iraq is in danger of being rendered meaningless: even if we establish a successful democracy in Iraq, and even if (unlikely) it becomes a liberal democracy, it may still be taken as a reason not to democratize by the regimes in the region. So our options are narrowing dramatically, right about the time that Iran is reaching the critical points on its nuclear weapons development programs.

I think President Bush's strategy, as I understand it, was the right strategy to adopt, far better than either an outright fast war (invasion of all of our enemies, at once or in sequence, with possibly millions of dead enemy and tens of thousands of dead Americans) or doing nothing more than the minimum against the enemy (Afghanistan). If the President and the Iraqis succeed at making Iraq an example of the good that an Arab democracy could do, there is a chance that democratic revolutions could sweep through the Arab/Muslim world, and moderate Islam could neuter Islamism. If it works, this is probably the optimal result.

However, there is a very good chance that the President's strategy will fail; it has always been a high-risk strategy. If we fail to make Iraq a state that other Arabs/Muslims want to emulate, or if we fail to remain engaged against groups like al Qaeda and Hizb'allah everywhere in the world, there will be no real pressure on Iran and Syria and Saudi Arabia to change their methods. In that case, we must either invade Iran and occupy it, removing its government and establishing a new one as we did in Iraq, or we must destroy the governments of Iran and Syria, and leave their people to clean up afterwards. We do not have enough unengaged forces for either of these strategies. That means that we are purely defensive: we have ceded the initiative to the enemy and must await his move before we can alter our posture. It should be fairly clear that that is no way to win a war.

I feel that it is likely that the President's strategy will fail, clearly, within the next 18 months. If so, I really, really hope that the President, and his successor, have a backup plan. Right now, the majority of the Democrats seem to have a plan: ensure that the President's strategy fails, and hope everything turns out well after that. The enemy seems to have a plan: keep fighting proxy wars and planning big terrorist strikes. Both of these strategies are bad for America and the West. I'd like to see evidence that there is an intent to fight the war more aggressively, should Iraq fail, but I've yet to see any such evidence.

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August 1, 2006

Modern Miracles

Twenty-four hours ago, I was working at my desk when the Chief Architect, for whom I work, asked how fast I could get to Strasbourg, France. Since I already had a passport, and no visa is required for less than 90 days, I am posting this from Strasbourg. Here are the minor miracles of the last day of my life:

  • I paid about the same as a cup of coffee to send a package of books halfway across the United States. I have more than a 99% confidence that it will arrive within a week or two, and more than a 95% confidence that it will do so undamaged. Actually, it's about half of a price of a Starbucks coffee.
  • I booked a flight from Detroit, MI, USA to Strasbourg, France, for the same day I booked it.
  • I was able to get US currency after business hours in the US, and Euros without visiting a bank in France, through the magic of ATMs.
  • I had wireless internet connectivity at the airport after I landed, to find the hotel I had not even bothered to reserve before I left the US, and now at the hotel, where I am waiting for a call from a person who will be using a US cell phone to call me. He is in France, too.
  • Without talking to an operator or making any special arrangements, I was able to call the US and get a line as clear as if I had called from within the US.

Sometimes I forget how miraculous the world is. On-line travel booking, ATMs, an efficient postal service, globally-accessible credit cards, globally-usable phones — just the taken-for-granted tools of everyday life, but consider that none of this would have been possible for a private person for any amount of money just thirty years ago. Fifty years ago, I am not convinced that a government could have pulled that off on less than eight hours' notice. One hundred years ago, these things were impossible dreams, each and every one.

Posted by jeff at 9:27 AM | TrackBack

July 3, 2006

Munchkinly Victory

Munchkinly Victory Is Mine!

Steph, this looks like a great home school project for the boys, though Connor will probably want to do it with Starfleet Battles instead. :)

Posted by Nemo at 7:11 AM | TrackBack

June 29, 2006

Jawa Report Back Online

After a couple of weeks off the air due to a DDOS attack and server troubles, Jawa Report is back online. Welcome back, guys.

Posted by jeff at 4:51 PM | TrackBack

June 24, 2006

Murphy's Law and Texas Summers

When would you most expect your home's AC to go out? A nice, spring Monday morning? When it's not so bad finding a service tech to come out?

Nope, Friday evening in the summer with the temperature in the 90s. Still, it could have been worse. It could be August with temperatures in the triple digits.

The good news is that a little internet searching yields that some AC service centers really do answer their phones (and might even come out) 24 hours a day.

This morning at 6:30 am I called such a service. He was already at someone's home. Fortunately, we're next on the list. Hopefully, he'll be here and have us up and running before the mid-afternoon heat sets in.

I'm preparing myself for a nasty repair bill, though. Maybe it's not as bad as I think it's going to be.

But I doubt it.

Posted by Nemo at 8:29 AM | Comments (5) | 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 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

April 20, 2006

A Terrible Loss

RIP Scott Crossfield, one of the greatest pilots ever.

Posted by jeff at 9:15 PM | TrackBack

April 9, 2006

Car Buying Fun

While the Medcalfs were breaking down yesterday, I was on an entirely different car buying adventure. We have been on the lookout for another car for a few weeks now. Both our vehicles are around 100,000 miles. I plan on running them to about twice that, but since they are both so close in mileage and miles per year, they would both be there (and probably worn out) at about the same time. I really don't want to be saddled with two car payments at once, so we were wanting to either buy new to replace a car, or buy an additional used to take the load off my car. When we added our 12-year-old into the mix, we decided with the latter option. I'm sure at 16 she'll have an entirely different opinion of what kind of car she will want to drive, so taking that decision out of her hands seems like a good idea.

We have been looking at the "Certified Pre-owned" cars. They are often rentals or single-owner vehicles that are dealership-serviced. I like the warranty on them, plus the cost is comparable to the "used" price that has no service options. You can search for them relatively easily (autotrader, carsdirect, plus the manufacturer sites). We decided on the Taurus/Sable as the best deal overall. Parts are plentiful plus the cars are safe and well-made. Since Ford has discontinued them, there are plenty of them around at reasonable prices.

The hard part is finding the right deal. Most of the CPOs are 2005 models, and they were just a little out of our desired price range. I found three deals that looked good over the last three weeks. One was 75 miles away but was gone when I called to ask. The second I found had just had an offer placed when I arrived to look at it. The salesman was very nice here. He asked what I wanted (model, price, etc.) and said was going to be on the lookout for me. He didn't try to sell me something I didn't want, which I really appreciate.

The last car I found was also gone when I got to the dealership. Here, the salesman wasn't so smart. He showed me a couple of other deals, which I told him were out of my range. He gave the "let's see what we can do speech". I humored him, knowing it wasn't likely. Once he gave me his best offer, I told him it wasn't doable, and tried to thank him for his efforts, and asked him if he could keep a sharp eye for a deal for me. At this point, he pulled out all the stops: what's your preferred payment? price? What can they do to get my business today? When I tried to explain that it wasn't possible, he got the sales manager. After a few more minutes of this I just got infuriated and walked out. I really hate high-pressure tactics. I stormed out of a dealership a few years ago because their second "better offer" actually would have cost us more since they reduced the value of our trade-in on the second offer letter. All these tactics accomplish is to get me to not ever do business with a dealership.

So, I came home a bit frustrated and angry. I checked the web sites again, and there it was: a certified 2003 Taurus with about 24k miles on it - and it was in the right price range. I was hoping for about 20k miles, but I'll trade 4000 miles for a few thousand in debt. The only problem: it was 150 miles away. Still, it was the best deal out there. A quick check of Kelley Blue Book showed their price was already about halfway between "sticker" and direct sale, so it looked very promising. I called the dealership, and it was still on the lot. When I told the salesman I wanted to come have a look, but was 2-3 hours away, he immediately pulled it from the lot - just on my word.

We drove to the dealership, did the test drive and found it to be in very good shape overall. So, we made the deal and drove it home - just to find out that Jeff and Steph were stuck on the side of the road 20 hours away, and that they were now in the market for a new minivan. I had to chuckle at the timing, though I don't think they appreciate it at the moment.

Posted by Nemo at 6:10 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

April 8, 2006

Do They Make iPods Big Enough for This?

Someone has decided to record a reading of the US tax code in MP3 format. As someone else commented, this must be what people listen to on their iPods in Hell. Presuming they make iPods big enough.

Posted by jeff at 9:58 PM | TrackBack

March 30, 2006

Ask And Ye Shall Receive

As if Muchkin Impossible wasn't enough. What I asked for casually just a couple of days ago is apparently coming to pass. Toon Munchkin.

Per Steve Jackson Games Daily Illuminator - March 30, 2006:

And more of that good stuff is coming, including . . . REAL soon now . . . Doc Cross' unholy blending of Toon and Munchkin, creatively titled Toon Munchkin. That's not a link because it's not up yet. But REAL soon now.
Posted by Nemo at 7:43 PM | TrackBack

March 24, 2006

Language Purity

So Jacques Chirac got in a tizzy because a French businessman spoke English at a European language, to which Agnes Poirier responds:

France must be one of the very few countries in the world, if not the only one, where the Prime Minister is officially in charge of national language policy. The Prime Minister's cabinet has direct authority over Le Conseil supérieur de la langue française. In France, one can use only words that are correct, authorised by law and sanctioned by the dictionary.

Well, I'm all for the purity of language. From now on, let's only speak to the French in Latin. Wouldn't want to corrupt the language, you know, which all these debased words and idioms and pronunciations.

Posted by jeff at 8:19 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

March 19, 2006

Adaptation

Something struck me today, involving (incongruously enough) Sacagawea dollars and the war: people by and large really have no clue how to apply their own experiences to the world.

A lot of people gripe about the Sacagawea dollars. For example, Gerard van der Leun says:

People just don't like them.
Case in point: While waiting in line at the Laguna Beach Post Office to speak to a clerk, a woman came in and rustled to the front to ask a question. She was clutching this bronze object that at first glance seemed to be a quarter, but was of course the dreaded dollar coin. She'd been purchasing stamps from the PO's vending machine with paper money and had been given several dollar coins in change from the machine.

She then decided that she needed a few more stamps and had tried to use the dollar coins. But of course the machine that gave them to her wasn't configured to accept them. This, needless to say, peeved her. But since today the US Post Office exists only to drive customers away and put itself out of business by 2010, the clerks only shrugged and went back to their SOP of imitating every slo-mo work film you've ever seen. The hapless woman interrupted them again and asked if she could please have some dollar bills for the coins so she could use the stamp machine. The clerk said, "We're not supposed to give bills for the coins, but we can give coins for the bills." There were about 12 people waiting in the snake line for the clerk and I think I saw each and every one slump down and despair at this perfect government employee epiphany. The woman just shook her head and made for the exit.


Yeah, OK, looking to the Post Office for a model of efficiency and common sense is not a very useful exercise. There's a reason for the aphorism "going postal", after all. And yes, it's stupid to have machines that dispense change they cannot accept. But the reality of the situation is this: what incentive do makers of vending machines, parking meters and so forth have to adapt their machines to take the dollar coins? After all, the last dollar coin went down in flames for good reason: it was too similar to a quarter for people to tell the coins apart at a glance, or a feel if they were blind.

But the Sacagawea dollar only intrinsically suffers from being difficult to spell. It's visually and tactilely distinct from other coins in US use, and thus is easy to identify at a glance. So why is it really not in use? Because of the catch 22: machine owners and makers won't adapt their machines until the coin is accepted, which won't happen until the coin is widely adopted.

The Federal Reserve could fix this, though, trivially: simply announce that dollar bills would not be printed after some period, say five years. This would give both time and impetus for manufacturers and operators to adapt, and would get people resigned to accepting the change in the nature of their money (a kind of change that every human everywhere feels opposed to almost by instinct). It would ensure that people have both time and motive to adapt. Instead, the Federal Reserve waits and waits for people to adopt the coin as the standard, while their dithering makes adoption less and less attractive to everyone.

Then there's this criticism of the government's — specifically, the military's — handling of the war in Iraq. (hat tip: Wretchard)

Three years on, the U.S. military is finally becoming adept at fighting a counterinsurgency war in Iraq. Sadly, these are precisely the skills that should have been mastered before America launched its invasion in March 2003. It may prove one of the costliest lessons in the history of modern warfare.

I had a chance to see the new counterinsurgency doctrine in practice here this week. U.S. troops are handing off to the Iraqi army a growing share of the security burden. As the Iraqis step up, the Americans are stepping back into a training and advisory role. This is the way it should have happened from the beginning.


What these two paragraphs mostly tell me is that David Ignatius has little clue of two things: what the military has been doing in Iraq for the last three years, and how his real world experience is applicable to others. Surely, Ignatius has found himself in the same position that I have, or that every person I've ever known appears to have, where their assumptions, training, life experience and so forth prepared them to react a certain way, but changed circumstances made that reaction inappropriate. Was he able, unlike every other person I've ever known, able to anticipate all changes to his life circumstances in advance, able to determine the ideal change to his behavior in advance, and able and willing to make those changes even when the events causing the changes hadn't yet occurred? If so, I nominate him for Saint, and recommend that he be killed as he is likely not actually human.

When a change comes, people adapt. But adaptation requires that people notice a change, and also requires time for them to make the adaptations. The Fed made the mistake of not making a noticeable change, and Ignatius makes the mistake of assuming that adaptation to change can be instantaneous and perfect. Neither seems to have any clue that the things that happen to them also happen to people who use money, in one case, or the military, in the other.

Like the Fed, Ignatius misses the fundamental point that human adaptation does not come prior to the need, and when the need comes, adaptation is not instantaneous. The Fed refuses to create the need in the public mind to match the Fed's desire to save money on making $1 tokens, and fails to see that without the public feeling a need to adapt, the public won't adapt. Ignatius fails to see both that the military could not have adapted to circumstances on the ground prior to those circumstances becoming apparently different from the military's expectations, and that having adapted, the adaptations would take time to make a difference in the wider war. (It's not as if — even if the military could have, in 2003, foreseen every event of the last three years correctly — the military could have created Iraqi leaders and units that could work together the way they have in Operation Swarmer in very much less time than has in fact elapsed.)

But then, failure to assume that one's own frustrations and setbacks are unique seems to be a common human characteristic.

Posted by jeff at 11:38 PM | TrackBack

March 13, 2006

What do you Get When You Call Buzz Aldrin "A Coward and a Liar"?

Your due. (Note: Aldrin is 76.)

Posted by jeff at 8:10 PM | TrackBack

March 10, 2006

Where are Their Men?

There has been some commentary recently (for example, here and here) on the prevalence of gang rapes by Muslim men against Western women. But those commentaries, in focusing on the brutality and on the feminist movement's lack of response, seem to be missing a point: where are their men? I mean, if my wife, or one of my friends' wives or daughters or sisters, and so on for quite a broad expanding circle, were to be gang raped like this, you can be assured that I would be serving jail time as a multiple murderer (well, in Texas I might not end up in jail for taking my revenge). There would be a lot of dead rapists in short order. Where are the men who should be protecting or avenging these women?

Posted by jeff at 9:47 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

February 17, 2006

Quote of the Day

"If our journalists were as balanced and brave as they claim to be, then they would have as much power as they think they have." — VodkaPundit

Posted by jeff at 8:40 PM | TrackBack

February 16, 2006

Human Joy

Some times, when you are looking at the world and being cynical, a little human joy is a fantastic restorative.

The second link is so funny, I can't bear the thought of losing it, and it's got no permalink. So here it is:

February 12, 2006

Seattle, Washington
Written February 12, 2006

PLAYERS

Definition: Persons with enough nimbleness of mind to accept a surprise invitation to jump into a quick game of imagination.

Example: Here's a city bus driver standing in the door of his vehicle, staring into the rain. An invitation from me, passing by: "OK, here's the deal: I'll pay for the gas, and you'll drive us straight to the beach at Santa Monica."

He smiles. "OK, meet me here at midnight. It's the end of my run and they won't miss me or the bus until morning. I'll get some barbecue."
A player.

Example: This lady with a shopping cart full of oddball stuff standing beside me in front of the cheese counter at the grocery story. My invitation: "I like the groceries in your cart better than mine. Want to trade? You take mine and I'll take yours. Could be interesting when we get home."

She smiles. Checks out my cart. "You've got a deal,"she says. We take each other's carts and roll away. Later, she's waiting for me at the check-out counter. She knows and I know: we weren't really going to go through with it. But the few moments of madness brought new meaning to "going to the store for a few things."
A player.

Example: There's a tailor shop on Queen Anne Avenue. Sign in the window says "Alterations and Repairs for Men and Women." The tailor is standing in the doorway. I stop. "I'd like to get altered and repaired," I say.
She looks at me cautiously. Goes inside. Closes the door.
Not a player.

Example: Vivacious young woman who works at the sidewalk flower stand at a nearby market. Last year she called me "Babycakes"just before Valentine's Day, but I haven't seen her since. Invitation: "Do I still look like Babycakes to you?" I ask.

She looks at me shrewdly. "Sir, it is the policy of the store that employees are not to get familiar with customers." "Oh, too bad,"say I. She's no longer a player. As I turn my back and walk away, she whispers, "Thanks for coming by, babycakes."
An undercover player now.

Example: Me at a well-known company to pick up copies of a manuscript, I am visibly annoyed - this is my third trip to get what was promised yesterday. The anxious clerk, Miss Saucer-eyes, is obviously new to the herd behind the counter and doesn't know what to do with me or for me. The work is still not done, despite promises. Getting mad at her won't help.
"OK, I won't make any trouble," I say, "Just give me a really clever, off-the-wall creative excuse - the wildest thing you can think of. Make me laugh and I'll go away."
Miss Saucer-eyes is mute. This situation was not covered in training school last week. She whispers: "I'll speak to my manager."
Not a player.

Miss Saucer-eyes retreats to the back of the shop and consults with her manager, a high-energy, sharply-dressed woman. The manager marches briskly up to the counter, gives me a steely look, leans over the counter, and explains: "Sir, you may not know this, but this store has been a front for the Irish Republican Army for years. We're supposed to be turning in our firearms, and it seems a bazooka is missing from the inventory. When we find the bazooka, things will get back to normal. If I were you, I wouldn't make any trouble - just come back tomorrow, OK?”
A player.

Example: A garbage man with monster truck. Cold. Rain. As I pass by, he says, "You look prosperous." "Thank you. I feel prosperous." "You look like the kind of guy who might have some frequent-flyer miles." "As a matter of fact, I do. Lots of them." "Listen, I need enough to get me to Buenos Aires, one way." "I've got enough. They're yours. But what's in it for me.?" "Here's the keys to this garbage truck. Even trade.”
Yes! I've long had an urge to drive one of those things. I'd like to dump a whole load of garbage on a certain person's front porch. "It's a deal." "You got a license to drive a truck?" "Well, no." "Deals off - I can't be part of anything illegal, but no problem. Get a license. I'm here every Monday.”
A player.

Example: Early morning. Lady standing at a bus stop. All seven people waiting with her have wires coming out of their ears. Radios, I-pods, Walkmans, or something. All seven are in a zone - nodding heads in time to music or staring off into space. As I pass, I say to the lady: "They're all alien robots, you know. Their souls have been sucked out of them." The lady gives me a hard look and moves closer to the curb.
Not a player.

A man who has just walked up says, "Yes, but they aren't useless. They're a street-theater company and I'm their manager. We're on our way to a gig downtown." "Really? What's the name of the performance?" "Bus Stop Stupor. Look for us everywhere.”
A player.

Example: Clerk in a bookstore - older lady with dyed red hair. "Can I help you?" she asks. "Happy birthday," I say. (Makes people smile - sometimes you're early, sometimes late, but sometimes right on.) "Well, I hope you're coming to my party,"she says. "We need someone to jump out of a cake."
"I'm your man." "You'd be expected to go-go dance in the nude.”
"I'm not your man." "My mistake. Thought you looked a little kinky.”
A player.

The lady waiting in line behind me - who overheard this conversation - drifted away from the counter and then walked out the door.
Not a player.

Later, as I walked by a sidewalk table at a nearby coffeehouse, I spot the lady customer who fled the store. "Sorry, hope we didn't annoy you," I said.
She smiled. "Oh, no,"she said, "It's just that I jumped out of the cake last year. It hurts my feelings to think they're looking for a replacement.”
A player after all.

People in the real world are more full of mischief than I could ever invent. Most are primed and ready to play. While I didn't make up these stories, I had to make some of them down - they were unprintably creative.

Look for players. They're everywhere. You may be one.

Posted by jeff at 9:58 PM | TrackBack

February 8, 2006

Far Too Cool

Just wow.

via Peeve Farm

Posted by jeff at 6:01 PM | TrackBack

January 12, 2006

Podcasting How-To

Apple has put up a series on podcasting, giving a fairly complete how-to. (You need iTunes to listen to it, but it's applicable to podcasting from any platform.)

Link via InstaPundit.

Posted by jeff at 3:47 PM | TrackBack

December 25, 2005

Yes, Virginia

There is a Santa Claus.

Posted by Brian at 10:41 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

December 24, 2005

Best Christmas Stuff

Here's a "Best Christmas" meme to kick around:

Best Christmas Song: O Holy Night - it was always the final song of our midnight services growing up. Done correctly, it just about brings me to tears.

Best Christmas Gift Ever Received: A couple of years ago my wife gave me a credit card sized digital camera. We'd seen one a few months before, and I thought it was the coolest thing. I wasn't expecting it, so it was a great surprise.

The Atari 2600 when I was a kid has to come in a close second, though. Lots of fun hours spent on it....

Best Christmas Gift Ever Given (lingerie and jewelry don't count): It may sound silly, but I think it has to be the Piglet slippers I gave my wife a few years back.

Best Christmas Food/Drink: Christmas breakfast is coffeecake. Period.

Best Christmas Tradition: The hurling of the wrapping paper at each other after the gifts are given.

Best Christmas Special: I haven't seen it in years, but the one I remember loving growing up was called The Night the Animals Talked. The animals in the manger were able to speak on the night of Jesus' birth. They argue a bit before realizing the miracle of what was happening in their midst. As they try to spread the good news at dawn, their voices go away. It hasn't been broadcast in quite some time, which is unfortunate.

Best Christmas Movie: A Muppet Christmas Carol. It's hard to go wrong with Kermit.

Merry Christmas to all.

Posted by Nemo at 9:44 PM | TrackBack

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like April

Today's high in Keller, TX: 66
Tomorrow's high in Keller, TX: 68

It's really, really not going to be a white Christmas in any sense of the term. I suppose that's what we get for being at the same latitude as Morocco.

Posted by jeff at 1:45 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

December 21, 2005

That Didn't Take Long

I have only been a credit card holder for nine months, but it seems I have already been victimized by credit fraud. Thankfully my bank (Bank of America) considered it suspicious and didn't process it until contacting me.

It was a charge for $900+ dollars at AMAZON.COM*SUPERSTORE. I don't know if that is really Amazon or not. I had only one order recently placed at Amazon. The order had just been shipped and was listed on my recent orders as what I ordered for the price I agreed to pay (about $68). I Googled "Amazon Superstore" and found this post and this discussion.

What I just thought about that I find interesting is that the charge was placed on my BofA credit card, not my BofA debit card or my just acquired Amazon card. The BofA credit card was the only one of those three not on file with Amazon.

I don't know what happened, but the result is that my credit account has been closed and the charge wasn't processed, so it looks like no harm done. I e-mailed Amazon customer support about it and they sent a prompt reply which said to have my bank fax them pertinent info so they could start an investigation. I guess I'll have to call BofA customer service to make sure that's done.

Other than that, what else do I need to do, if anything? I'm in uncharted waters here.

Posted by Brian at 10:57 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

December 14, 2005

A Circus of Carnivals

The Carnival of the Vanities was a fantastic idea when Bigwig started it. It has aged badly, for two reasons: the format encourages the inclusion of posts that are not particularly worth reading for most people, and the blogosphere has simply grown so big that there is not enough time for a normal person to read all or even most of the carnival entries. (The latter is a problem that virtually all USENET groups hit in the mid-1990s, and the former has been a problem from the moment USENET was opened up to a general audience.) Internet size drives narrowcasting because it's the only way an employed human can keep up.

More even than that, the idea of carnivals has spread to the point that there is a Carnival of the Carnivals to keep track of them all — well, frankly, not even all of them.

On the other hand, Glenn Reynolds might have hit upon a fix: have ad hoc carnivals about specific topics, like digital cameras.

Posted by jeff at 7:10 PM | TrackBack

Does This Need "Ouch" or "Heh"?

Your pick.

Posted by jeff at 9:20 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

December 13, 2005

Collective Choice

Life with Alacrity has an excellent post on collective choice, covering various choice domains as well as options among them, and even a discussion of how to game them (of course, rigged voting is obvious, but some of the other systems need to be studied further).

UPDATE: The second in the series, on ratings, is up, and is as good as the first. Bumping this to the top. And as a bonus, one of the examples they use is a rating system judging one of my favorite games for playing with friends who aren't game geeks, Settlers of Catan.

Posted by jeff at 12:49 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

December 5, 2005

Football for the Non-Sports Fan

Stephen has posted The 8 Facts You Need To Know To Sound Brilliant About Football for Work Conversations:

Years ago, a friend of mine, an non-sports geek like myself, became concerned that he couldn't participate in a lot of the small talk conversations at work because those conversations almost inevitably opened with football before moving on to other topics. It was the opener de facto and the key to the "old boys network." Of course, as he didn't like football, actually learning about it was not something he wanted to do. So, after many test conversations at jobs, he and I worked out the absolute minimum set of data necessary to get through football season.

Now, Stephen lives in Austin - the place of all that is evil in college football (The Texas Longhorns), but is otherwise a very interesting place. Since it's a college town, college sports is probably a major topic. In Dallas, however, it's the Cowboys. When I moved here, I was amazed at the lack of attention to college sports. I grew up in college sports centered towns, so D/FW was a culture shock in this regard. Sports updates on the news are probably about 50% Cowboys/NFL, 20% other local pro teams, 15% high school and 15% college.

However, Stephen's system works remarkably well even in a pro town. I'm a college football nut, but I really don't care for the Pros much. However, on Monday mornings I usually manage to catch a couple of radio broadcasts about Sunday's game. If I catch: 1) the score, 2) the critical 1-2 plays everyone will be talking about and 3) the current overall/division record, I find I can do remarkably well in the conversations that usually start: "How 'bout them Cowboys!"

Note to Stephen: knowing the name of the coach is usually a good thing in the long run.

Posted by Nemo at 5:41 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

November 18, 2005

Nemo Maximus???

I really disliked this movie, but being tied with Spidey isn't half-bad.....

You scored as Maximus. After his family was murdered by the evil emperor Commodus, the great Roman general Maximus went into hiding to avoid Commodus's assassins. He became a gladiator, hoping to dominate the colosseum in order to one day get the chance of killing Commodus. Maximus is valiant, courageous, and dedicated. He wants nothing more than the chance to avenge his family, but his temper often gets the better of him.

Maximus

71%

The Amazing Spider-Man

71%

Lara Croft

63%

Neo, the "One"

63%

Batman, the Dark Knight

63%

Captain Jack Sparrow

54%

Indiana Jones

54%

The Terminator

54%

William Wallace

54%

James Bond, Agent 007

50%

El Zorro

42%

Which Action Hero Would You Be? v. 2.0
created with QuizFarm.com
Posted by Nemo at 11:33 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 7, 2005

Living Down to a Reputation

John Henke of QandO put together a satirical list of right-wing bloggers as a wonderful companion to his previous list of left-wing bloggers. Then he described Wizbang as:

[Y]ou know how you and your friends used to get into wandering, but interesting, all-night conversations about every subject imaginable -- school, politics, jokes, sports, news, girls, philosophy, etc -- in your younger days? Well, they're blogging at Wizbang now.

Well, Wizbang is certainly living down to that reputation.

Posted by jeff at 12:01 PM | TrackBack

October 31, 2005

Another Post #1

First, I need to thank Jeff for his generous invitation to start posting here. Caerdroia has been around for quite awhile, and Jeff has been a great contributor to the blogosphere. My blog, Ut Humiliter Opinor, hasn't been around that long, and getting real readership in a saturated market is a tall order - especially if you aren't someone who posts multiple times per day.

I suppose the next thing to address is "Why Nemo?" Nemo is Latin for "nobody". It seemed the perfect pseudonym for a blog name that means "In My Humble Opinion". No, I'm not a Latin scholar. I could probably give you the basics like "caveat emptor", "e pluribus unum" and even "post hoc ergo proctor hoc", but I think that's about it.

Lastly, what do I hope to bring here? What's different about me from our host? I suppose I could say I'm more normal , but that's probably a bit relative. Jeff and I have similar political views, though I'm almost certainly more conservative to his libertarianism. His kids are home schooled, we use the public schools. Jeff's Pagan/Wiccan, and I'm - well, I guess the phrase "Christian in remission" might be a good way to describe it. I was raised in, respect and know the faith well, but I won't say I attest to it anymore. That should give a bit of a hint on what I'm about. For more, fell free to peruse my old stomping grounds at UHO.

Thanks for reading. I hope you find my contributions here interesting.

Posted by Nemo at 8:26 PM | TrackBack

October 28, 2005

Meeting the Needs of the Company

Francis Porretto, like most people who actually have to do something to be successful at work, hates meetings. Until my job recently became largely a matter of attending meetings to prepare other people for the meetings they would soon be having for yet a third set of people, I would have joined him utterly in his rant. Now all I can think about is how much I'd love to cut down to 25 hours of meetings a week (one alone runs 4 hours, and usually runs over); yet on the other hand I have essentially no deliverables, so I'm getting paid for this, rather than having to do it at the expense of what I am getting paid for, which is the more normal situation. Interestingly, though, Fran brings up something that strikes a false note:

Companies tend to absorb the character of their most important customers, and a defense contractor has but one.

Certainly, the Pentagon side of the military is bureaucratic, officious, meeting-prone, inefficient and almost irrelevant in the short term — unless they badly bungle their jobs, such as forgetting to order enough MREs for next year or something like that. But the real model might be the other part of the military, the fighting part.

A friend and I have been discussing this idea for years, and it begun with two simple ideas: that any problem that persists in an organization for more than a few days is a management problem; and that if one is not efficient in some way, one should work on that problem from a management angle, rather than from a process or oversight angle. From this has flowed many, many ideas about corporate organization, and in the end the model we've come up with, for an organization that produces something other than reports, is very close to the military fighting leadership model. (For producing meaningless reports, the current normal business structure can likely not be improved upon.)

The key factors in this are personal responsibility at all tasks, and sidelining the waste in the organization. Waste, in general, is highest in those parts of the organization that do not directly create something. Finance, legal and HR come immediately to mind as great sources of waste. The corollary to this is that those departments should be small, and should be purely advisory, with no decision-making capacity of their own, except for their responsibilities over their own people. Instead, the central organizations of finance, legal and HR should exist to create and promulgate policy, and to train the people in each department who will act as liaisons to the actual managers in that capacity. The managers, in contrast, should have absolute control over what their group does: if they want to break a legal or financial rule, they may do so without regard to what the lawyers or accountants think. However, they will have to be accountable for that, to their managers, should their overriding of such a rule lead to troubles for the organization, or to failure to deliver.

In other words, past a certain level, all managers would have a staff of specialists for support services, and no one but the manager would be responsible for everything done underneath him. That leads to some interesting changes that would have to be made otherwise, as well. For example, groups would have to be attached from supporting organizations to business organizations. Take an auto manufacturer and their IT support. Putting an IT person on each team in the plant would be inefficient due to the small support load of each. Putting only a single person as staff advisor would be insufficient because there would likely be several plant-specific servers, as well as the connections to other plants and to regional and corporate offices. So there would probably be a small staff of IT people at the plant, detached (in organizational terms) from the corporate IT department, but entirely reporting to the plant manager. They would be responsible for both the in-house servers and the connections to other IT resources outside the plant, and the plant manager, not the corporate IT manager who has a hundred plants begging for priority, would be responsible for solving the IT problems of his plant, even if that means bypassing or ignoring corporate IT standards, restrictions and constraints.

There is more to this, but I think that conveys the flavor. It would be interesting to see how this would work in a real organization.

UPDATE: I suppose I should spell out one important part of this; the one, in fact, that led me to write the post. The purpose of meetings is to coordinate different groups that do not report to the same management chain, or to pass information to people in your own chain (up or down). The latter type of meetings tend to be short, and the former would be greatly alleviated by this kind of organization, because "units" would be cross-attached, and so any given project would not have responsible groups outside the management chain with whom coordination is necessary.

Posted by jeff at 1:33 PM | TrackBack

October 22, 2005

Ideology and Relationships

Francis Porretto has a thought-provoking essay on women's desires and constraints, well worth reading. It brought to mind something that I've been thinking about in another context: co-sleeping. Co-sleeping is the practice of having very young children sleep in the bed with their parents. For the advocates of co-sleeping, the benefits are numerous and significant: children generally seem happier and better-adjusted when they sleep with their parents, until (generally around age 4) they desire their own bed; the children obviously know that they want and need this closeness, security and protection, as evidenced by how they cry and cry when they cannot have it, and are contented when they get it; the parents also want and need this closeness, as evidenced by how difficult it is to not go pick up the babies and bring them to bed with you; the babies, especially, wake up in the middle of the night, but both wake up less often and go back to sleep far more easily if they are already with their mother. For the opponents of co-sleeping, the detriments are numerous and significant: it makes it much harder to find time and space for sex; you probably need to buy a bigger bed than you had before, or an accessory bed that attaches to the normal bed and where the baby can sleep; numerous child experts advise against it, and their "advice" usually takes the form of "you will suffocate your baby!!!!!!!!"; toddlers also wake up in the middle of the night, and when they are being potty trained they might wet the bed if they aren't wearing pullups, or the pullups might leak; children sleeping in the same bed as their parents aren't as "independent".

Frankly, I come down on the co-sleeping side, because of one and only one thing: I could not allow my first child to cry himself to sleep merely because he wanted his parents' comfort, because he couldn't deal with the world on his own and sleep soundly. Because, in effect, I didn't want my son to learn that "independence" often means "being alone and without protection, guidance or help". It worked so well, I kept it.

But here's the thing: there are enormous social pressures brought to bear on anyone who parents in a traditional way, if that means the way that humans have parented in all societies for all but the past 150 years or so, before we began to fetishize science over tradition. What is "traditional" now, and this is a big argument against anyone who parents otherwise, is to let children cry themselves to sleep, to feed from a bottle, to make birth and growth into medical events, and to fob your children off on strangers any chance you get and for as long as possible. The pressures — on mothers in particular — are enormous, particularly if the mother doesn't work outside the home. Perhaps this explains, at least in part, the rampant drug use and sex among teenagers, denigration of one's elders, and general rudeness of Americans these days: they've been taught their entire lives to grab what they can, because there's no one there to help out, particularly if you're not already in a massive crisis.

The problem here is the same as that faced by Fran's amalgam woman: too many people don't trust themselves. To live without fear of arbitrary death or dismemberment, to do what you want without the unwarranted interference of others, and to seek your own happiness in whatever way seems most appropriate to you are all that matters; everything else is bunk. Unless you are an absolute idiot, if you do what feels most comfortable to you — in relationships, child rearing, career choices, politics, home computer preference, or whatever — you are almost certainly going to do the right thing. If you are an absolute idiot, no amount of help or advice is going to make a difference in any case.

Ideology will be the death of us.

Posted by jeff at 5:15 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 15, 2005

Marzipan Babies

Some serious artistry was at work here.

UPDATE: Thanks, Undertoad, now I have a source for these: according to Snopes, these are not marzipan, but clay. They are the creations of Camille Allen. (I'm actually relieved no one will be eating these.) Still, serious artistry, and quite cute.

Posted by jeff at 9:43 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 29, 2005

Borderlines

Curzon at coming anarchy is doing an interesting series on buffer states, so far including the China-India border, Afghanistan and Switzerland. Well worth reading.

UPDATE: Two more are up, completing the series: Thailand and Mongolia. Hmmm...shouldn't there be more, for say Namibia and Western Sahara?

Posted by jeff at 4:45 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

September 22, 2005

Preparations

When Hurricane Rita comes ashore, it is likely to pass East of Dallas. That's still close enough, though, that even if Rita follows the expected track and falls off in strength as expected, we're going to get a lot of rain and some notable winds. That means that it's likely that we'll have power outages. (A transformer blew earlier today, and the electric company came out to replace it. Stephanie deemed it "practice failure" for TXU. They've been better lately, but in my experience they don't really need the practice.)

To be ready if the power does go out, we fueled the van and decided on two different evacuation routes going in different directions. We got extra water, batteries, flashlights (for the kids, so they won't drain the important one playing), food that can be eaten uncooked like fruit and pop tarts, and a camp stove and fuel (which we needed anyway, because the older kids just joined the Boy Scouts). When I was in the local supermarket getting some last bits of this, the checkout lady said that they were selling a lot of water, and you couldn't get D cell batteries in the store any more. I saw a lot of people out doing the same kinds of things I was doing, a good two days in advance of when the storm will likely get here.

I don't know how much of the preparations people are making around here have to do with watching the aftermath of Katrina, but it's a good thing nonetheless to see people preparing.

Posted by jeff at 5:03 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

September 20, 2005

Captain No More

CPT 4ever is, after some 9 years, no longer a Captain. He was officially promoted last week, and the ceremony to pin on his oak leaves was today. (He's not changing the name on the blog, though.) Sadly, the intensity of his training is such that, at present, the Major cannot post about his experiences right now. Hopefully, we'll get a brain dump when time permits.

Congratulations, Major B.

Posted by jeff at 5:59 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 9, 2005

Distributed Responsibility

One of the things that is bad about traveling on contracts is that it's hard to blog when I'm doing so. There never seems to be enough time to fully form my thoughts. Fortunately, one of the posts I've been meaning to write, about how we should be decentralizing rather than centralizing our disaster preparedness, has been written. As Steph noted, depending entirely on the government is a bad idea.

Now, if anyone cares to observe upon how our fetish of blaming the President for any problem - as if he alone were the Prime Mover in the world - shows our affinity for Kings, that would save me some effort, as well.

Posted by jeff at 5:20 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

September 6, 2005

Katrina Response Timeline

I was going to put together a timeline on the government response (at all levels) to Hurricane Katrina, to sort out some of the crap that is obviously being put out by the media (CNN is particularly vile), from the less obvious crap, from the truth of what has been happening. Rightwing Nuthouse saved me the trouble. If you want to understand the magnitude of the actual response, fully sourced to media reports and statements from various involved agencies, this is your one-stop shop.

Posted by jeff at 11:39 AM | TrackBack

September 1, 2005

The End of All Flesh is Come Before Me

Genesis 7:23:

And every living substance was destroyed which was upon the face of the ground, both man, and cattle, and the creeping things, and the fowl of the heaven; and they were destroyed from the earth

Every culture has a flood myth. The most famous in the West, of course, is that from Genesis 6-9, the story of Noah. I could not help thinking of this as I viewed photos of the aftermath of Katrina. I do not believe that there has ever been a worse natural disaster in the United States.

Comparison of New Orleans with and without floodwaters

New Orleans residents wade through the water attempting to get to higher ground

National Guard soldiers help family

Perhaps the promise of Genesis 9:11 - "And I will establish my covenant with you, neither shall all flesh be cut off any more by the waters of a flood; neither shall there any more be a flood to destroy the earth." - only applies to world-covering floods.

(The title quote is from Genesis 6:13)

Posted by jeff at 9:21 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Connections

James Burke, in his phenomenal Connections, began with the story of the 1965 blackout of the Northwestern US. He uses this to illustrate the web of technologies and ideas that hold our society together, and he asks what do we do when the web fails? Everyone is trying to get out of the "technology island" of the city, that can no longer sustain itself. Everyone. Can you get out? Suppose you do, can you defend yourself? Can you find where the food is grown? Is there already someone there? Will they share, and if not can you take it for yourself? Can you grow food, remembering that everything on a modern farm runs on gas or on power? Then, and only then, can you say you have survived.

And now in New Orleans and along the coast, we see the trap sprung shut: the web has collapsed, both its technologies and its ideas, and into the void have come anarchy, chaos, and death. What worries me most is not the collapse of the technology web: unlike in Burke's scenario, the disaster is geographically limited, and the richest nation on Earth is sending in every resource it has, limited only by physics in how fast it can get there, and how fast it can get people out.

No, what worries me is the collapse of the ideas that support our way of life. I don't mean the looting: while I cannot condone the taking of luxury goods that is happening, I cannot condemn those who are taking food and diapers and other supplies - survival in such a condition is more important than the minimal increase in property losses that the looting represents. Rather, I am talking about the sniping at rescue helicopters, boats and vehicles; the random drive-by shootings at refugees; the gangs running rampant with murder and rape. This is the part that makes me weep, because it is the part that is most preventable. If the rescue vehicles cannot get in because of sniper attacks, the loss is not on the rescue vehicle - very few of the sniper attacks have been directly deadly - but the possible hundreds or thousands who cannot be rescued, many of whom will die waiting.

And I worry about the news media, too. Here on the road, I only get CNN, and it is appalling: the biggest priority of CNN seems to be fixing blame on the Federal government, to the extent of ignoring the physics of the situation as well as the reality of spending priorities. Paula Zahn is particularly vile, and just moments ago actually asked Sen. Landrieu if the situation as described by the head of FEMA was "acceptable"! As if he could actually control the realities on the ground: you can only get people into the area so fast, with the infrastructure having collapsed, and it's not possible for anyone to know every detail of everything going on in the city.

Or consider CNN's carping about the 3000 or so people not yet rescued from the Convention Center, ignoring the fact that the scarce resources available for providing security and rescue are dedicated to the larger problem of the 40000-50000 not yet rescued from the stadium. As "jeffers" put it:

If you aren't capable of walking past ten dying people to save 100 dying people, then at the very least, stay out of the way of those who can.

In fact, read that entire post, which does such a fantastic job of describing the physics of the situation, and the reasons why the government doesn't just pour people in willy nilly and as fast as possible, regardless of logistics or capability. This is the best summary of the problem faced in New Orleans, and why we will never be able to be prepared for such a disaster to the extent that we wish, that I have yet seen.

And I worry also about the blame game that will be played in the aftermath. With perfect hindsight, people will be claiming that the Federal government should have known that New Orleans was going to be destroyed, and should have spent unlimited amounts of money to prevent or reduce the damage, and to have more Federal personnel in New Orleans the day after the hurricane came ashore than the Federal government actually has staffed for disaster recovery work. Indeed, it is inevitable that people who would have decried any increased funding of the National Guard last Friday will be the loudest to claim that on Monday the National Guard should have been several times larger and better equipped for this one particular contingency than it is. The reason I worry about the blame game is because of two things: the warping of priorities and the flight from true responsibility.

The warping of priorities will come because politicians' basest need in a crisis is to be seen as "doing something". As a result, no doubt massive additional resources will be poured into the kinds of people and technology and supplies necessary to recover from hurricanes, at the expense of what? Surely, other homeland security measures will suffer, notwithstanding that hurricanes this large in such an inhabited area are such rare events. Almost certainly, resources to cope with other disaster types will be starved to feed the hurricane recovery needs, not just now as understandable, but for the long term. And what else will suffer to the need of politicians to be seen as capable of fixing any problem?

The flight from responsibility is related to the warping of priorities: there will be people decrying the lack of response - no matter how large it is (remember the carping about the funds allocated to recovery from 9/11?) - while at the same time yelling about the inevitable cuts in other programs or increases in taxes. Perfection will be demanded, and reality deemed inconvenient to the "essential truths" of the desire to get benefit without cost.

Yes, these are the things that really worry me about the aftermath of the hurricane.

UPDATE: The National Debate also noticed CNN's vapid and offensive coverage, and has some excellent discussion on posse comitatus. (via Kevin Aylward)

UPDATE: I didn't know that: there apparently was a plan to help NO survive a cat 5 hurricane (rather than cat 3, which is what the current system was designed for), but the plan was scrapped in 1977 for environmental reasons.

Posted by jeff at 7:36 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 23, 2005

Oh yeah, the blog!

I'm back from a long absence from the blogosphere. So many things I wanted to post about and haven't. So to sum up without links or much explanation:

In the last month at work I had the cool experience of a brief encounter with Newt Gingrich. I wish I had time to actually talk to him; the guy is truly brilliant whether you agree with his politics or not. I also had a brief encounter with syndicated radio host Mike Gallagher. Gallagher is far too bombastic for my tastes, but it was still pretty cool.

I went to see local band Better Off Dad at a coffee shop a few weeks back and had a good time. Go to their website and listen to some of their stuff. They are mostly a folk/country/adult contemporary band with some pop/alternative country/alternative rock stuff. Essentially they are pretty hard to pidgeon-hole. Jeff, you and Steph might particularly enjoy "STS-107". Kansas band Distance to Empty was playing when I arrived and they were pretty good as well.

I've avoided commenting on Cindy Sheehan 'til now. But it's becoming clear that she's not just a grieving mother being used by the lunatic fringe of the left, but is a member of that fringe herself. I have no problem with what she has been doing (though I whole-heartedly disagree with her), but when I heard that earlier this year she was a speaker at a rally defending Lynne Stewart, that raised serious concerns. I can't avoid links on this story, I guess. Lynne Stewart, if you don't know, has been convicted of providing material support to terrorists, specifically using her postion as Omar Abdel Rahman's lawyer to facilitate the passing of information to Abdel Rahman's terrorist organization in Egypt. Abdel Rahman is serving life in prison for plotting to bomb several high profile targets around New York City. Often we've heard the saying "A man can be judged by the company he keeps." Well, here was Cindy Sheehan and the company she kept at the Lynne Stewart rally.

I'm sure there was more, but that's all I can remember.

Posted by Brian at 9:42 PM | TrackBack

August 18, 2005

Military Service and Blogging

Rusty Shackleford of My Pet Jawa has done something quite interesting: he has posted a survey of top bloggers, left and right, on their military service.

There are a couple of things that I find interesting about this. The first is, the general level of service in the population is 8% (24,000,000 population with current or prior service from a population total of 294,500,000). This means that both conservative and liberal bloggers serve at a substantially higher rate than the general population (note: this assumes a statistically valid sample, which I realize Rusty has not yet achieved).

The second thing is that of military connections. While I have no service record, for example, my parents were both Marines (and my Dad was later in the Air Force as well), my wife's father was in the Air Force, and both of my older brothers were in the Navy. It would be interesting to see bloggers connections to the military in a statistical form. The reason why is that I feel pretty comfortable writing about the military because of long familiarity, though I have not served. (CPT 4ever, of course, is a National Guardsman currently on active duty, and Brian (my younger brother) has no military service record.) I have many friends and relatives in the military, or prior military, and grew up on and around military bases. I am curious to what extent this experience relates to political inclination, and an expanded version of Rusty's survey would certainly be a step towards understanding that.

Posted by jeff at 4:08 PM | TrackBack

August 6, 2005

Quick Shots

General McCaffrey has evaluated the situation in Iraq and released a very thorough report. It is not that long - at least the meat of it is not - and is not laden with military terminology that would be inaccessible to those unfamiliar with military details. I consider this report required reading for anyone interested in the situation in Iraq, and the prospects for both victory and defeat there. Most interesting to me was this series of observations:

January thru September 2006 will be the peak period of the insurgency —and the bottom rung of the new Iraq.

[snip]

4. Top CENTCOM Vulnerabilities:

1st - Premature drawdown of U.S. ground forces driven by dwindling U.S. domestic political support and the progressive deterioration of Army and Marine manpower. (In particular, the expected melt-down of the Army National Guard and Army Reserve in the coming 36 months)


There it is, guys, what those of us who support the war effort must do to ensure success: we have to work to solidify public opinion during the upcoming election cycle, which will largely correspond with the peak of the fight in Iraq, and the collapse of the lousy reserve/Guard system that was put in place after Viet Nam. (That system is a whole series of posts in itself. Let's just say, for the moment, that our reserve/Guard strategy is severely flawed for anything except preventing a long war without full mobilization, which is in fact what it was designed to do.)

On another and unrelated note, it's remarkable to me how many otherwise intelligent and reasonable people (no links because I don't want to alienate anyone in particular, or leave out anyone, either) cannot grasp a simple fact: even if the Intelligent Design idea is true, it is not science. ID is at best philosophy or religion, at worst an attempt to undermine science. Here's the rub: to be a scientific theory, it must be possible for the theory to be disproved. That is, if I state that the Universe was sneezed out of the nose of the Great Green Arkleseizure, that is only a scientific conclusion if, in addition to having evidence to support it, I can articulate a set of facts that would show it to be false.

Let's try it with gravitation: if I can show that two bodies in space do not attract each other so as to create a specific acceleration towards each other, based on their masses and locations and the masses and locations of other objects "nearby", I have disproved our current belief in gravity. Let's try it with one that has been disproved: if I can show that no colorless, odorless, massless fluid exists in a particular system, and yet that system can still transfer heat internally, the phlogiston theory is out the window. I can do that.

However, this doesn't work with intelligent design. Let's say that I prove that it is possible for one phylum to undergo such changes that it becomes another phylum. Let's also say that I can show that there is no such thing as "irreducible complexity", that the laws of chance are such that, with proper preconditions, the development of a single-celled organism of requisite complexity is an eventual certainty, somewhere in the Universe. Even if those two things are conclusively demonstrated, there could still be an "intelligent designer" - or, as those of us who are not blinkered by trying to take a conclusion for a premise might say it, a god - who kicked the whole thing off. To disprove that, I would have to prove that there is no possibility for a god to exist outside of nature. But I cannot disprove that, because I am within nature, as are most of us. So it is not possible to disprove an intelligent designer without ourselves being outside of nature - gods each of us, and not just any gods, but transcendent gods not subject to the whims of time, space or physics (essentially, that pretty much leaves the Abrahamic god among major religions, and not many gods among minor or extinct religions). That is not science. It is philosophy or religion, perhaps, but not science.

In fact, it is a fundamental premise of science that science can only discover what can be known within the natural framework. There is no "supernatural" in science. Indeed, if the existence of ghosts can be shown, they become, inherently, natural. Supernatural is, within the scientific framework, superstition. This does not mean that the "supernatural" does not exist, merely that science is intentionally blind to it. Science is not intended as a belief system (despite the aspirations of Carl Sagan and many like him), but as a toolkit for understanding how the world works.

What is depressing is that, in a society supposedly founded on reason, educated to a high degree, and slavishly devoted to "science" (or at least following the latest studies as if they were carved in stone), so few people seem to understand this.

Posted by jeff at 9:52 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

July 21, 2005

Terrible Claw

Dr. John Ostrum has died. It was Dr. Ostrum's discovery in the early 1960's of Deinonychus ("terrible claw"), and subsequent work, that utterly changed the modern conception of dinosaurs. We now believe that the dinosaurs, at least the therapods, were warm-blooded (or some similar physiology), smart, fast and agile. In addition, it was Dr. Ostrum's work that established the link between dinosaurs and birds, and his work had an enormous influence on the book "Jurassic Park". Interestingly, while the Deinonychus has not, so far as I know, been found with fossilized feathers or imprints, other dromeosaurs have, much much later than Dr. Ostrum's theories about bird links to dinosaurs having become accepted. Dr. Ostrum was a treasure of the human race, and we are poorer for his departure, but richer for his having lived.

UPDATE: Political Animal also takes note, but of course the commenters cannot resist the temptation to bash the free market, young Earth creationists (which is, well, appropriate in this context) and Dick Cheney. Bah! Just remember the man for what he was; not everything has to be political.

Posted by jeff at 5:17 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

July 19, 2005

Pottering Theories

A few theories I've had about what Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was doing below the surface, and many I hadn't really considered very deeply, are recounted here. (Major spoilers there!)

One theory I've had for a while, that for me was "confirmed" by the DA, is that the book will end with Harry being offered the position of Professor at Hogwarts, teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts - and whom better? This didn't come out in the site I linked, so I figured I'd throw it out for consideration.

Posted by jeff at 1:12 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

July 12, 2005

LA Police Get it Exactly Right

A tragic situation occurred Monday in LA, where LA police officers shot and killed a man and his 19 month old daughter. (hat tip: Best of the Web)

The standoff started when officers were called to an intersection in South Los Angeles west of Watts where Pena was behaving erratically and aggressively.

He fired at the officers and ran inside a fenced area that included his apartment and his car wash and detailing business. He had a 9 mm handgun and a shotgun and was intoxicated on drugs and alcohol, police said.

Police called in a special weapons team and tried to talk to the man. At one point, as officers helped a neighbor escape, he fired at them and they fired back, police said.

[the following text was actually earlier in the referenced article]

"You aren't going to stand there with somebody shooting at you," Bratton said. "The person responsible for any loss of life ... was the individual who held his child out as a shield and continued to shoot."


The situation, as I said, is tragic. Yet the police had it exactly right: Jose Pena (the father) was posing a danger to the entire area, having already shot at least one police officer. How would it be if the officers, for fear of hurting the child, had not returned fire? Well, the first bad thing would be that anyone killed by Pena at that point would have been killed because of police inaction. The much worse and longer-term effect would be that criminals would be tempted to kidnap small children to use as shields, leading in the long run to more children being killed.

That said, if it turns out that it was the police, not Pena, who fired the shot that killed the child (an autopsy apparently has yet to be performed), those officers involved will be haunted by this their entire lives. That is a further tragic cost of such incidents as this.

By the way, I'd like to commend CBS for their article: that is how news reports should be written; there was no editorializing, and the entire incident was portrayed without sensationalism and in a "just the facts" manner. This is how reporting is supposed to be done.

Posted by jeff at 3:54 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

July 4, 2005

My Independence Day

I don't really care for baseball - fun to play, boring to watch. Or maybe just boring on TV? To celebrate Independence Day, I decided to take in a baseball game (only my second ever). After all, what's more American than baseball, the nation's pastime. Honestly, the reason I went was largely that I figured the postgame fireworks display would be one of the best in my area.

Professional baseball is expensive. One ticket (one of the cheaper ones - lower level, just over the wall in left field) and two Dr. Pepper's cost about $34. That doesn't include parking, which would have been about $12 more had I driven to the game. People in Texas don't walk, they drive everywhere; you pretty much have to. I walked, probably a longer distance than anyone else at the game (an announced crowd of over 50,000, the fourth largest [second largest in the regular season] crowd in the, admittedly short, history of The Ballpark). It's a five minute drive from my apartment to The Ballpark, maybe ten with the traffic, but the walk took only 35 minutes. I would prefer to drive, but for the cost, I'll take the walk. It's good exercise, and I need it! I stopped to get a soda from a concession stand, and because of it, unfortunately missed the singing of the national anthem and actually seeing the F-16 flyover. But that, I heard - a roaring like the sundering of Heaven itself coming from out of nowhere, a thunder that shook the stadium. That's a sight and sound I remember so well, from all those airshows of my childhood, when the Thunderbirds, in their F-16's, would soar low over the crowd, coming up from behind, just under the speed of sound, so that you didn't know they were there until they were directly overhead. I would love to have seen that again!

The matchup, itself, was excellent symbolism for Independence Day. Texas, a state that knows a little something about independence, having once gained it from Mexico to become its own sovereign nation, and whose team colors happen to be red, white and blue hosting Boston, one of the most important cities, and site of many important events, during the Revolutionary War.

The home team provided the fireworks early, its first five batters all reaching base safely and taking a 3-0 lead after the first inning. But twice in the next few innings the Rangers left the bases loaded. Boston edged back into the game, tying it in the sixth. Then in the eighth, Beantown's Manny Ramirez hit the game's only homerun giving the Red Sox a 5-3 lead. Things began to appear dicey for the Rangers, but they did score a run with two outs in the bottom of the eighth to make it 5-4. Then with one out in the ninth, the home team pulled it together. First, Michael Young hit a shot to center field getting a triple. Then Mark Teixeira doubled to right scoring Young to tie the game. Hank Blalock drew a walk and Alfonso Soriano was hit by a pitch loading the bases. Then with the outfield playing in, Kevin Mench popped one to left field over Manny Ramirez to give the home team a thrilling 6-5 victory.

Then the fireworks began, and they were wonderful. I watched them, thinking about just what we are celebrating today, cherishing the memory of those who faught, those who led, and those who fell in the effort to secure the blessings of Liberty for this great nation. I am not ashamed to say that I teared up a couple of times. "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" was chosen for the grand finalé.

John Adams wrote a letter to his wife, Abigail, on July 3, 1776. In it, he spoke of how Americans should remember the momentous events taking place: "I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more."

I think John Adams would be proud. In beautiful, spacious skies, over amber waves of grain, over purple mountains' majesty, above the fruited plain, from sea to shining sea we have illuminated this continent tonight.

We are America and we are free!

Hope you had a wonderful Independence Day!

Posted by Brian at 11:27 PM | TrackBack

"Our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor"

If you haven't read Rush Limbaugh Jr.'s (the famous Rush's father) story of the men behind the Declaration of Independence and just how much they sacrificed when they pledged their Lives, Fortunes, and sacred Honor, I encourage you to do so. If you have read it, it is still most definately worth reading every Independence Day. Let us not forget or take for granted the actions of these men.

Go here for the full version of the Declaration of Independence.

Posted by Brian at 12:01 AM | TrackBack

July 1, 2005

Mmmmm, Wonkishness

Open CRS collects Congressional Research Service reports (which are short, non-partisan summaries of issues requested by Congressmen) online. Woo-hoo!

Thanks to Kevin Drum for the link.

Posted by jeff at 8:59 PM | TrackBack

June 16, 2005

Happy Thoughts for Steph

Since Steph has been getting depressed by the political climate recently (and who can blame her?), I figured I'd link to this piece at Powerline. It makes an excellent and too-often overlooked point: the standard of living enjoyed by an average American today dwarfs that of the kings and emperors of ages past. OK, it would be nice to have 10 servants to do laundry, but we have washing machines, so that puts us ahead of any but the superrich of the past even on this one, trivial point.

Posted by jeff at 9:21 PM | TrackBack

History and Prediction

Kevin Drum has an observation on reading a history book written in 1963, and ending with the JFK assassination, and how it didn't foresee the massive changes impending at that time. But history isn't - never has been - predictive. History teaches us a lot about the consequences of actions in certain circumstances, but it cannot tell what will come next.

The reason for this is explored in James Burke's Connections and The Day the Universe Changed: history's shaping events - it's inflection points and tipping points, if you prefer - do not arise out of pre-existing trends. By definition, they upset the pre-existing path of events. And the reason that they do this is that we do not exist in a box.

Take what's happening today. If you want to determine the future of energy production, perhaps you would study oil, coal, gas, and nuclear technologies. If you were very clever, you'd probably study biofuels and so forth as well. And you would almost certainly miss the development of what we will base our economy on in 150 years. After all, 150 years ago, who could have predicted cars, jets and the like would be ubiquitous? Because someone, in some lab somewhere, will have a moment where he goes, "Huh??!!!" (A sound, by the way, that far more often presages revolutionary change than the more infamous "Eureka!")

And in that moment, when he realizes that if you put bit A together with bit B, you get not AB but C, the whole world will change. And we will have a new fuel source. And who knows what it will do to us?

But all of history is like that, not just the history of technology. Mickey Hart had a song on Mystery Box, Down the Road, that claimed "History turns upon the tides and not the deeds of man". He was wrong. The tides we see after the fact - or even as events unfold - are the extrapolations of the last world-shaping change. But the world-shaping changes are outside of those tides.

What history can do is give us guidance on how things have worked out in the past when confronted with a situation. For example, taking the calls for Guantanamo to be shut down, can anyone name the successful wars prosecuted without the capture and detention of enemy prisoners? OK, now how many of those did not involve simply slaughtering the enemy? My count at this point is zero. Enemy fighters that are released return to fight again. This was shown in a somewhat overdrawn way in Saving Private Ryan, where the German Upham releases later kills Captain Miller on the bridge. And it's been shown in this war with cases like that of Abdullah Messud.

Or take market economies versus controlled economies. The evidence of history unfailingly shows that market economies outperform controlled economies, and the tighter the control, the deeper the failure (because it is postponed). Does anyone seriously think that Europe's economy will outpace America's, given their tighter control? Sadly, many people do think that, despite all evidence to the contrary. And when that fails, they will claim (as they do now about the Soviet economy they once lauded) that the ideal was correct, it was just implemented badly. For some reason, it never occurs to the heirs of Rousseau that you cannot remake the fundamental nature of man.

But we can look back and derive lessons from the past, if we choose to. It requires first and foremost that we realize we might be wrong today; without that realization, no facts or evidence will be convincing. Once that hurdle is passed, the next one is to realize that there are no situations in the past that exactly mirror today's events, so we have to draw shaky conclusions, based on analogy and similarity, that might themselves be wrong. For the same reason, finding multiple similar circumstances with different outcomes is preferable to taking one point of view on one situation. The third hurdle to learning from the past is realizing that people then did not see things as we do: the universe has changed for us since then. You have to not only understand your bias, but also the biases of the people who wrote up the history in the first place.

At that point, you can begin to actually learn from history. And that learning - of how humans behave, what motivates us, what things go together, what causes change and what prevents it, and most of all humility - can help you to make better predictions. But you'll still be wrong more often than not, if for no other reason than that you cannot know everything about anything that is going on at the moment.

Still, it beats the kind of historical ignorance displayed all too often on both sides of the political isle. (For example, the Bush administration apparently didn't predict that the Ba'ath would try so hard to regain power (Why not???!!), and the Democrats today are apparently unable to see the consequences of not fighting with the intent to win (Why not???!!).)

Posted by jeff at 12:15 PM | TrackBack

August 20, 2003

Authority

Note: this is a post recovered from my old blog, before it died of an insufficient backup. Any comments/trackbacks on it have not been brought over, but can be seen with the original. The date is that of the original posting.

The Raving Atheist responds to a comment I made in response to a post of his that - well you get the idea; go read his post, and the chain becomes apparent.

I just wanted to add three quick notes. First, I didn't read Braue's material that Megan referenced. I'm not that interested in Talmudic law per se. I'm more interested in the structure of arguments, and the flaws I detected in Raving's argument. It seemed to me that he was making an appeal to a specific axiom set in order to refute an appeal to a different axiom set. I disagree with him that Megan was rejecting Talmudic law outright; or at least, I disagree that her comments show that she was so doing.

Secondly, I conciously recognize that the process of logic is the best way to conclusively and non-violently settle an argument. (This belief is itself axiomatic - and could be wrong, if a better way can be found.) Logic is not a belief system per se, but a set of tools to deduce or induce new meaning or information from meaning and information already known, including whatever axiom set you start with. Natural Law has an axiom set, certainly, and the belief in the axioms of Natural Law appears to coincide closely with a receptivity to using logic to settle arguments, or at least reduce them to axiomatic conflicts, because it arose directly out of logical philosophical study. Nonetheless, it is not only Natural Law that allows or encourages logic, and indeed most Western philosophies and religion do so (though some are late converts indeed). This is why Steven Den Beste and Donald Sensing, both using logic, but each starting from a different point, can come to different conclusions, and each respect the other's reasoning.

Finally, I'm not sure where "the claim that everyone has axioms that make sense to them and nobody's in any better position than anyone else to know what the truth is" comes from what I said. I would agree with a similar statement, though: everyone has axioms that make sense to them, and it is impossible to logically disprove those axioms, though it may be possible to logically disprove the belief systems based on those axioms (for example, by finding inconsistencies).

There is a difference between truth, which is what actually is, and belief, which is what is assumed to be. All beliefs arising from axioms are logically equal, because each starts with an unprovable set of axioms. It is possible to construct logical belief systems from unacceptable axiom sets. I don't think that it is possible to prove anything once you get to the point of axiomatic disagreement, which is not the same thing as saying that I accept all axioms as equally valid. Eliminating all self-contradicting axiom sets, I still think that some axiom sets are superior to others. Any axiom set that allows for, say, slavery, is in my opinion fundamentally flawed. I cannot logically prove that, however, because eventually an argument over slavery comes down to the axiomatic question of whether or not a person has a right to control his own life. Any axiom set that arises from a negative answer to that question is, in my opinion, morally flawed. But there is a difference between morally flawed and provably false.

Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

August 10, 2003

Pundit, thy Name is Arrogance

Note: this is a post recovered from my old blog, before it died of an insufficient backup. Any comments/trackbacks on it have not been brought over, but can be seen with the original. The date is that of the original posting.

In the interests of providing as much embarassment as possible to rude and unthinking assholes, I link to this. It's interesting that Mr. Fumento feels so insecure that he has to insult a blogger for disagreeing with him, and that he must appeal to authority based on his title and where he was published (as opposed to, say, arguing the merits). If Rich is so insignificant, then why does Mr. Fumento feel the need to attack him for disagreeing? How educational.

Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

August 9, 2003

Stupid People

Note: this is a post recovered from my old blog, before it died of an insufficient backup. Any comments/trackbacks on it have not been brought over, but can be seen with the original. The date is that of the original posting.

Michael Totten has a lot of quotes from really stupid people. Or, at least, stupid quotes from a lot of people. My personal favorite has to be:

As for you, the American people, you must start to worry that the performance of your military does not start to give ideas to your southern neighbors. If they continue to perform like they are doing in Iraq , then I for one believe the Mexican Army is a serious threat to your national integrity.

Saudi Prince Amr Muhammad Al-Faysal, Arab News


Um, yeah. Yeah, we should be worried about the Mexican military.

Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

July 24, 2003

Losing the Thread

Note: this is a post recovered from my old blog, before it died of an insufficient backup. Any comments/trackbacks on it have not been brought over, but can be seen with the original. The date is that of the original posting.

It always amazaes me to see people completely missing the point of their jobs, or their place in society. Particularly in our society, where we choose our own societal roles. This is a propos of nothing, but I'd like to list a few jobs that routinely get their places wrong, and suggest what those places are.

Librarians are not primarily needed for running libraries. Librarians are needed because they have the skills, training and temperment for cataloging and classifying information. While being the caretakers of books and the places that they are housed is important, it is far more important that librarians help us to organize the knowledge we are being continually flooded with. Some areas where librarians could help would be in organizing online content (or coming up with a uniform system of organization that would work online, and be easy to implement); creating a true encyclopedia, or at least a reference document that lays out where all of the definitive information on any given topic can be found (the encyclopedias we have are simply not comprehensive, and there is no universal catalog of knowledge); or working to define the proper scope of intellectual property protections to serve the interest of creating the largest possible public domain of intellectual property.

Lawyers are not primarily needed for filing lawsuits, or deciding what inoffensive text can be placed inside Spy Kids 3-D glasses to keep someone from being sued1. Lawyers are primarily needed to help non-specialists make sense of the requirements of the law, and to defend ourselves against the predations of an overzealous government.

Speaking of the predations of government, the purpose of politicians and bureaucrats is not to define what our society should be, but to create an environment in which our society can freely develop. Passing laws about private acts, or creating victimless crimes, or making regulations which have some feel-good benefit for "society" (but which actually end up infringing on people's rights) are not the proper actions of our government. The proper scope of our government is to secure to us, the citizens, our rights - and this means that we need to be secure from foreign intervention, violent domestic unrest, and government meddling. The government does a decent job on the foreign intervention part of the equation, and an arguably passable job on the domestic unrest part, but fails totally at protecting us from the intervention of our more meddlesome and power-hungry types.

Finally, the purpose of teachers is to pass along factual knowledge, cultural context, and techniques for gathering additional factual information and for connecting those facts and contextual hints through logic and reasoning. The total abdication of this mission by the teachers in favor of proselytizing for their preferred worldview, boosting self-esteem (without the necessary component of self-worth) and fairness (without the necessary component of justice) and enforced equality (rather than allowing personal achievement) - this abdication is, I believe, where we can lay the blame for the other misunderstandings noted above.

Note 1: the text is "WARNING: Not for extended wear, performing physical activity, or outside play. Not to be used as sunglasses or for any other use other than shown." It's in English, French and Spanish.

Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

July 13, 2003

Fantasy Policy in a Fantasy World

Note: this is a post recovered from my old blog, before it died of an insufficient backup. Any comments/trackbacks on it have not been brought over, but can be seen with the original. The date is that of the original posting.

Tim Blair is astonished at a Christian school which has a "fantasy policy" (whereby they've banned Harry Potter books from their library). I'm not sure why Tim's astonished, frankly. There are members of every religion and spirituality who live in a world of fantasy, and the last thing that they'd want to do is promote a fantasy alternative to their own.

Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

July 12, 2003

Cultural Imperialism

Note: this is a post recovered from my old blog, before it died of an insufficient backup. Any comments/trackbacks on it have not been brought over, but can be seen with the original. The date is that of the original posting.

I thought that "cultural imperialism" had lost its currency long since, but of course the term has been resurrected in the wake of 9/11. I suspect that for most of the people concerned about this, the model that they'd really like to follow is multiculturalism, where each culture is theoretically seen as equally useful and valid. For as many areas as I disagree with the Objectivists, though, they have a point: multiculturalism is just dressed-up, politically-correct racism. Sure, it sounds good, but what the ethos of multiculturalism really boils down to, is devaluing majority cultures as non-authentic, because they are not "pure" in some way. Worse, there is a very exclusionary element, too: we don't want you to be soiled by our culture is not functionally different from we don't want to be soiled by your culture.

People who rail against "cultural imperialism" have missed two very big points: the United States did not steal its culture from anyone, and the people trying to adopt our culture are doing so willingly. Both of these points follow from one apparently not-so-obvious feature of America: our population is drawn from all the peoples of the world. Under the melting pot theory, which was commonly accepted until the late 1970s, the premise was that everyone who comes here could become American. The best parts of each culture - French cooking, English political philosophy, German technical ability, Spanish music - would become part of the American culture, while the worst parts of each - English cooking, French political philosophy, German music and Spanish technical ability - would be left behind. The result was a culture that was universal, because it drew from the best parts of all others, and therefore the American culture also took on a universal appeal.

This is something that for some reason the Leftists simply don't get, and neither do the various reactionaries fighting against the influx of American culture, from France to the Middle East to Africa to Southeast Asia: American culture is the emerging culture of the world, because American culture is the merger of all world cultures. And in fact, this process continues in a feedback loop, despite the attempts of multiculturalists to break it down, with imports from other cultures and with other cultures importing and changing the American culture. This is why in an American arcade you can find a Japanese "dance dance" machine, and in an American bar you can find karaoke, and in Baghdad you can find American movies.

Frankly, I think that this kind of cultural exchange and melding should be celebrated. It may not preserve "pure" cultures, but it certainly makes for a robust and valuable human culture.

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July 11, 2003

Appreciating Art

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Michael Totten has a post about why "proud Philistines" (John Derbyshire's criticism of Republicans who don't like high art) don't like high art: it's not about the "philistines" but about the pretentious Marxists teaching it.

I love art, of many kinds. I like certain paintings, certain ballets, certain music, certain statuary and so on. The problem is, I don't like pretentious assholes who see a uniform blue canvas lecturing me about the deep angst the artist is expressing. I like Mondrian's blocky paintings for what they are - interesting geometrical expressions. I don't think Mondrian's paintings express the alienation of the suburbs and the opression of minorities by the patriarchy. Yes, I have heard them described that way. I could pull examples of that kind of pretension from any field of art. (Especially music, actually, even more so than painting.)

I think that the reason that some people, obviously including Derbyshire, think that "philistines" (by which they actually mean "Republicans" (by which they actually mean any non-Leftists)) don't like art, is because we don't like them, and don't go along with the language that hides what shallow and unthinking ideologues they really are.

Not that I'm bitter.

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June 22, 2003

Making Money

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Chris at the Noble Pundit has been putting out essays on his experience as a stock trader. I am going to list them here, mostly for my own reference. That said, Chris has been putting out some wonderful work lately, and you should go read his blog.

Part I - Fundamental Analysis (picking good choices)
Part I addendum I
Part II - Technical Analysis (deciding when to enter or exit a position)
Part III - Options
Part IV - The Economy and the Market
Part V - Market Mechanics
Part VI - Mutual Funds
Part VII - Asset Allocation
Part VIII - Bonds
Part IX - Choosing Your Broker

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June 11, 2003

Random Thoughts

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So after being away from work for two weeks, away from blogs for most of that time, and in general taking a real vacation, I've found out - or relearned - a few things:

I get too much email at work, and too much of it actually requires me to do something (as opposed to just absorbing the contents). I cannot decide if this makes me more or less productive than I would otherwise be. My sense is that it makes me more productive, by allowing easier and more complete contact among me and the team and the users.

I am in too many meetings. No contest here: meetings sap productivity. This is the hidden(?) cost of distributed work, in that the more distributed the team (and the more separated from their customers) the more meetings need to be held just to synchronize actions and iron out misunderstandings. A two minute conversation in the hall becomes a one-hour meeting. Over time, this is a real drain on the ability of the doers to do, though it is probably more productive for managers than meeting everyone on an individual basis. This, by the way, is also why I think that foreign outsourcing of technical services is a temporary fad. It's just too expensive in ways that don't fit into the spreadsheets, and over time a good company tends to iron out those inefficiencies.

Reading blogs connects me to the world in a way that watching and listening to the news does not. I have stopped watching television news; it's too shallow, blindered and repetitive. I listen to NPR/BBC in the car, but find it too limited in viewpoint. (Frequently the radio news spends all of its time on an anthill, missing the mountain they're standing on. This beats TV news, which misses both the mountain and the anthill.) Newspapers and news magazines don't tend to have the urgency that other media do, but don't tend to make up for it by treating topics in depth, finding interesting angles, or tackling subjects not sexy or immediate enough for TV or radio.

As useful as they are, and as interesting, and as much as they broaden my perspective of the world, I spend too much time reading blogs. I need to spend more time playing with my children. I hadn't realized how much I had let that slip away, until I spent last week at home, not working and not reading blogs much.

My family is wonderful. My kids take car trips better than they could reasonably be expected to (better, in fact, than Steph and I sometimes did). My wife is the most amazing woman I've ever known. (Example: the kinds of things she does to educate our sons.)

It takes longer for me to fix up the house than it does for the kids to destroy it, and longer for us to clean the house than for the kids to mess it up. I am confident that this ratio will turn around as they grow older.

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June 10, 2003

Making up Numbers

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It goes without saying that groups like the BSA and RIAA just make up the numbers they use to try to influence public policy. Actually, it doesn't go without saying, but it's been said better elsewhere. Slashdot has an item today on BSA's latest made-up numbers:

JakiChan writes "According to this story on Yahoo! news the BSA commissioned a study that decided that 39% of all business software is pirated, down from 40%. The decline is attributed to the BSA's enforcement techniques. 'The piracy rate was calculated by comparing the researchers' estimates on demand with data on actual software sales.'" In other words, some guys sat in a room and decided that people probably wanted to buy ten copies of software, but only five were sold, so the piracy rate must therefore be 50%. By a similar process we can calculate that 99% of all ocean-front homes are pirated.

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May 23, 2003

Dividends

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Mark at Sha Ka Ree has some good points about the tax cuts. I think that there is something else, though, that needs to be pointed out: a company pays dividends out of cash on hand. As a result, Enron could not have happened to a company paying dividends. If your bank account doesn't have the money, the checks don't clear. If you are not paying dividends, though, and need the stock value to go up to keep investors happy, you tend to think very short term, and the incentive is to oversell the company's viability. Enron and Worldcom have a lot to do with tax law changes made a decade or more before these scandals.

I don't think that people really invest much in companies any more. Instead, they largely put money into 401Ks and other accounts that insulate them from the companies they invest in. People aren't really taking a risk on individual companies, but instead on the skills of fund managers and on general economic trends. This means that people don't get the benefits of investing well, although they are actually risking a large amount of their money. Of course, they also don't run as large of a risk of losing everything, so maybe that's a good thing.

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May 12, 2003

Induction and Magic

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Reading first Bill Whittle's Magic and then Steven Den Beste's post of deductive and inductive logic, I reached an understanding I hadn't had before. (Sometimes, it's useful to superimpose two ideas in your brain and see what falls out.)

I think that a lot of the reason people fall for fantasy ideologies (Islamism, Fascism, Socialism, Communism, the Palestinian idea of "right of return" and the like) is because of the heuristics we gain as we grow. Specifically, we learn to trust authority (in the form of our parents and teachers); to devalue particularly smart people (who get beaten up at school and don't get as many dates); to value the present, quickly-delivered idea over the old, written, well-documented idea; that humor often holds a deeper truth; and that people who say they care for us frequently do (parents and friends).

Some people never learn that authority figures can often be wrong - and when authority figures are wrong they are no more likely to change their behavior than when they are right; that smart people can in fact be right about complex issues, even if they miss the subtle clues of one-on-one relationships; that cracker-jack slogans on film with MTV-style quick-cuts can direct you away from the truth while well-reasoned and carefully thought-through ideas can be meaningful to you (even if they were written down 250 years ago); that someone can be both funny and wrong; and that people who say they care for us frequently don't.

The place for a charlatan or a person pushing a fantasy ideology to catch new converts is after they have a basic ability to understand reason but before they have a sophisticated ability to reason for themselves. In other words, in elementary school. I wonder if this is not why positions advocated by people like Michael Moore or Susan Sarandon seem like childish drivel and playground logic?

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May 1, 2003

What Kind of Brain do you Have?

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Via The Edge of England's Sword, we have a very interesting theory about brains and behavior. My test scores:

Empathy: 32
Systemizing: 67 (!!!)

I suppose that's not too surprising, given my inclinations and skills.

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April 28, 2003

Phrase of the Day

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Steven Den Beste has the phrase of the day: Innocent until proven American.

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April 17, 2003

Tolerance, to a Point

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From the comments to this post:

Every American, other than Native Americans and African-Americans, either is, or is descended from, someone who packed up and left his motherland because he'd had all the shit he could stand. This makes us one of the least tolerant peoples on Earth. Most of the time, this is a good thing. When a problem arises, we don't say "inshallah", we demand that the problem be fixed. Intolerance of inefficency and injustice has made America one of the freest and most prosperous nations on Earth.

We are taught, as children, to be tolerant of other peoples, but our tolerance is not infinite. At its limit, that tolerance is not like butter scraped over too much bread. It is more like a cable stretched too tight. When it finally snaps, the poor bastard who broke it, and anyone else in the way, will get hurt.

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April 9, 2003

Someone Tell the AMA

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One of my pet peeves is the routine genital mutilation of infant boys. Unless you are Jewish or Muslim, and thus have a religious reason for doing so, this procedure on a healthy boy is an abomination. (None of my four boys is circumcised, if you hadn't guessed.) Apparently, the BMA has figured this out. Sadly, the AMA has not:

The AMA supports the general principles of the 1999 Circumcision Policy Statement of the American Academy of Pediatrics, which reads as follows: Existing scientific evidence demonstrates potential medical benefits of newborn male circumcision; however, these data are not sufficient to recommend routine neonatal circumcision.

They don't recommend it; that's as far as they go? And less than half of the circumcisions even used anesthesia! Grrr....

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March 27, 2003

Common Human Decency

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I frequently hear anti-war Americans (and Brits, for that matter) claim "We support the troops, but not the war." My take has been, how? Are you arguing that showing common human decency, by not spitting on soldiers or throwing rocks at them constitutes "support?" Actually, though, I guess I'd prefer that to this.

And by the way, if you do disagree, you should read this. It's not an attempt to convince you on the merits of the war, per se, and is written by a classical and political liberal whose opinions I greatly respect.

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