Sunday, November 30, 2003

Practical Science

I see that Leeds University is doing its best to benefit humanity. Although perhaps folks might want just a tad more butter on the toast in Milwaukee than in Yorkshire... This is in the grand tradition of discovering that cheese flavors are different with different thicknesses, or how to dunk a cookie in tea (a "biscuit" to the islanders) or how best to mop up gravy. OK, maybe we snicker a bit, but there's value in checking that the received wisdom is actually right--sometimes it isn't.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

New fountains at the Capitol

The State Journal says that new fountains are planned to replace the old ones on the capitol square. It's a shame--the old ones were distinctive, and reflected Wisconsin's Dairyland fame: they looked like cow pies.

Greater Jihad

I'm told that most flavors of Islam recognize a lesser and a greater jihad, where the lesser is the physical war against infidels and the greater is the struggle for self-mastery. Does that mean the greater jihad is about inner booty?

Monday, November 10, 2003

Simile is not Causality

I find posters tacked up around the department today. "Carol Adams draws the parallels between women and animals, sexism and meat in The Sexual Politics of Meat Slideshow," sponsored by, among others, the Campus Women's Center and the Hindu Student's Council. The underexposed illustrations are of a cow showing the cuts of meat and a naked woman similarly outlined.

Pretending that metaphors are reality appears to be Adams' stock-in trade.

That pornography often objectifies the object of desire to be a mere body with automatic stereotypical reactions is clear, and bad; and that our arts and culture are being "pornographied" as porn becomes mainstream is also clear, and bad. But an sexually objectified body isn't meat, but skin and meat and reactions. A hamburger will just lie there; a pork chop never says "Do it again!" Even simple nude pictures have an implicit narrative of welcome.

I say nothing about comparisons with S/M and torture pornography, partly because I know little about it, but mostly because it doesn't form the majority of the market. You can't honestly take an extreme as typical.

So is her claim dishonesty or self-deception? I appeal to common experience: the constellation of feelings in erotic desire don't map into the sensations of desire for a chili-dog. To be self-deceived about something so obvious demands that she be horribly emotionally crippled. I think she's dishonest.

I think the Hindu sponsorship is telling. The claim that animals are equivalent to people is not supported by science--it is essentially a religious claim. If science could make any such statement (it can't) it would be more along the lines of "life forms are not all equivalent to each other."

The latest bombing in Riyadh

I've heard claims that al Qaeda had bad intelligence, or they wouldn't have attacked the compound they did. After all, there weren't any Americans there. I wish I were confident that this was a mistake.

It's no secret that Saudi controlled Arabia has internal problems, and some analysts have gone so far as to say it is unstable. We know that 'al Qaeda' is very popular in some parts of Arabia, and a crackdown by the royals might spark a civil war.

How does radical Wahhabi/al Qaeda benefit from a civil war in Arabia?

  • They might win, of course, though that may be a long shot.
  • They hurt the evil royals, who are on their enemies list. The price might seem a bit high for the rank-and-file, but the bigshots care more about their money pipelines--which I'd think would get pinched.
  • A civil war anywhere in Arabia would have to impact the price, and probably supply, of oil from there. Saudi controlled Arabia being pivotal in oil price stability, we'd have to see prices shoot up around the world. And if there are significant interruptions, Western (read "Crusader") economies get hurt badly.

    And if Western powers bring armies in to Arabia to help protect the supplies, it ticks off hundreds of millions more Muslims. Up goes recruitment and influence for 'al Qaeda.'

Is it worth to 'al Qaeda' to lose some supporters in Arabia to hurt the evil Crusaders so badly? Probably. They don't get the satisfaction of killing the infidels themselves, but they do get to watch Europe's economy and influence tank, and maybe replace their Saudi support with even more popular support from around the world. Donald Sensing disagrees in this piece from 2 months ago, but his analysis is predicated on Osama's stated policies. I don't think Osama is still alive.

By the way, I write 'al Qaeda' in quotes to include affiliated groups, splinters, and name changes.

Friday, November 07, 2003

Did I read that right?

On a hill near Reiner road is a pile of rubble--concrete, sheets of grimy metal and a nest of rebar. Beside it stands a sign declaring in huge letters BOMKAMP, and the site certainly looks like somebody planted a bomb there. The first thought through my mind was "I knew Madison was ultra-leftist, but I didn't know they were hosting Palestinian training camps.." Of course, the fine print on the sign says "Excavating" . . .

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

A walk around the main ring

I've been working at Fermilab off and on for 25 years, and I've never taken the popular walk around the main ring. Last Thursday afternoon was warm and breezy, so after shift I decided to finally try it, and started out on the bike path. The clouds thickened, and the wind shook the praire grass, and it seemed a pleasant enough walk--until I noticed that the path seemed to quit at the D0 site, and the only path out of there went to the power transmission towers (which crackled nicely in the moist air).

Ah--light dawns--the path is on the inside of the ring! And so it proved: take the access road over the berm and there is main ring road, running around just inside the berm. It was getting pretty dim by this time, and flock after flock of geese came honking overhead to bed down on the cooling ponds.

It seemed a kind of anti-Mordor. On one side of the road are gravel parking lots next to blue or red buildings full of alien hummings, high tech gadgets and huge cabinets seen in the garish fluorescent light. On the other side--4 foot high prairie grass, with geese swimming in the cooling channel beyond; and beyond that more grass hissing in the wind with more waterfowl gently honking on further hidden ponds.