Tuesday, August 30, 2011

What does your car say?

I wonder if the supervisor saw the man's car before he hired him at the lumberyard. His vanity plate says QTN TYM.

On another, a spot of irony: One of those "COEXIST" bumper stickers, next to another that says "Recall Walker." I guess they just can't get along...

Monday, August 29, 2011

Libya Continued

Don't count chickens before they hatch. The rebels haven't won yet. Even if Q!daffy meets his Maker tomorrow, they still won't have won--unless their goal was partition.

What a mess. If Libya was a military problem for us, we should have seized the hour when the revolt first started and the regime was still fragile, instead of waiting for permission from the Arab League (promptly withdrawn as we knew it would be) and the UN. We couldn't have put much in the air quickly, but just knowing it was coming would have made a huge difference. If it wasn't a military problem for us (as I suspect), why should we have gotten involved in an Italian effort? They're the ones who need the oil deals. (Or are we not supposed to notice that?)

Granted, Q!daffy was a menace to his own people--that's the reason given for intervention. But one of the points of having nations in the first place is to limit complexity and conflicts. The price you pay for this is sovereignty--within a country they do what they like and you only quarrel if they threaten you. Complain, posture, sanction--but not drop bombs.

Q!daffy's mischief-making in other lands earned him retaliation, so this isn't unjust--but that's not the justification given for NATO's intervention.

There are many spellings of the villain's name, and I'm trying this to see how it looks

Friday, August 26, 2011

A bas les moustiques!

I think I got that right. At any rate, some places are seeing a mysterious decline in the number of malaria-carrying mosquitoes, which does not seem to correlate fully with the use of treated nets.

Prof Meyrowitsch added: "Other scientists are saying they can't test their drugs because there are no children left with malaria.

"They observed this in communities with no large interventions against malaria or mosquitoes. It may be the same scenario that the specific mosquitoes that carry malaria are declining very fast now"

The rainfall has been a bit chaotic, but I can testify that that doesn't always help much here in Wisconsin, and the study's PI speculates that there's a mosquito disease of some sort awing--"a fungus or a virus, or they're may have been some environmental changes in the communities that have resulted in a drop in the number of mosquitoes." Or maybe there's an invader in the water--some wasp that likes mosquito larvae, for instance.

Good luck to whatever it is.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

the Last Guardian of Everness by John C. Wright

I'd read a little of his stuff on the web and decided to try one of his books. This one is fantasy. The name soup at the beginning is a bit hard to deal with, but skim over it and go on. He owes a huge debt to Lovecraft's The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath--the youth's adventures are in that exact tone, until things start going south. Wright upends fairy-tale conventions about youthful adventurers, and mixes selkies, kelpies, storm giants, witchcraft, Eden, unicorns and Camelot into the plot as well (with a hat tip to Zelazny?).

The family charged with watching for trouble from within the dream-castle (moved from England to New England) has only two faithful watchers left: the grandfather and the grandson Galen. A warning comes, and you've three guesses which one sets out to learn what's going on. A crime repented too late, various treacheries, and overwhelming odds run up against layered defenses understood almost too late.

Wright goes into some detail about what selkie culture would be like--they are seal creatures that like to take human form by donning a human skin (and unlike the Wikipedia variety, skin humans to get their collection). Who is who, and who can you trust?

I didn't read the cover blurb carefully enough. This turned out to be book 1 of several. I guess I'll have to locate the others.

Race in Science

The news was full of reports about breathless claims of racism in awarding science grants. Careful reading past the headlines would tell you this was in the National Institutes of Health. But where were the details? Forbes has details. Look beyond the headline and read the story.

While the data showed no racial disparity in award rates for grant proposals that earned high priority scores through peer-review, it seems that mediocre proposals from white scientists were 10% more likely to ultimately receive funding than mediocre proposals from black scientists.

And then when you look in more detail at the proposals you discover that the disparity has other origins.

Bill Frezza's observations are mine also: far from being old-boy bastions of racism, science in academia courts minorities and has special mentoring programs for women. I was on the committee to select the previous department chairman, and was startled at how many people said "We should have a woman this time." (We did.) To be fair, the group I was tasked with interviewing are, like me, not professors; and often our circles aren't as wide. So we typically have frequent contacts with people in the research group and not so many out of it. Outside the group we often have to guess based on reputation, or on a kind of fairness: "High Energy provided the chairman last time, and Plasma before that, so maybe it is Nuclear's turn." Hence the "this time" yardstick.

You are expected to deliver--the peer reviews I've worked with looked at the material, and were not informed of the race of the person submitting the paper. In some fields you know everybody anyway, of course.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Recent books

Yes, I have been reading. I detected a serious absence of knowledge about church history in ours, and have been putting together some lessons on the subject. So far I've read The Spirit of Eastern Christendom (600-1700) Jaroslav Pelikan, The Early Church by E. Glenn Hinson, and Early Christianity which are essays in honor of Freund. Freund's book is a bit too fat to survive travel in my pouch for bus reading, and I've not gotten very far.

Hinson's is more readable so far, though Freund is not bad. Jaroslav introduced me to much in Eastern Christianity I was not familiar with. His style is a little confusing sometimes, and there's been more work done on churches farther east since the book was written, but I found it interesting anyway, and you might too. A scorecard of who's who would be helpful, though.

One thing I've taken away from these is that the later Christology debates, including Chalcedon, were generally a waste of time. Not that the participants were stupid--some certainly weren't and the subtle points make my head ache. But ask the question: "Can you use the same word nature when referring to both the divine and the human without using caveats?" I didn't see the matter traced out, but I suspect that the developing interest in apophatic theology in the eastern church was at least partly driven by the head-splitting arguments about the nature of God. The west, merely trying to stay afloat, did not have the luxury of debates over fine points, and the lack of Greek in the west kept them out of the loop.

I notice that those discussing the very early church establish their bona fides as impartial scholars by stating or implying that Jesus had no interest in reaching the Gentiles. This differs somewhat from a statement that Jesus' mission was to the Jews--especially if you hold Trinitarian beliefs ("It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us").

Saturday, August 20, 2011


Is somebody having a little joke here?
A new type of Internet-connected television, due out before the end of the year, has built-in software and hardware that send data about what is on-screen to an Internet server that can identify the content. Web pages being viewed using the same Internet connection as the TV set can then tap into that information. The system can identify any content onscreen, whatever the source, whether live TV, DVDs or movie files playing from a computer.

I suppose this is technically feasible, but I'd think it fairly easy to spoof. And do you really want the world knowing you're watching Jackass? If you give the TV to somebody else they miss out on a critical little feature:

The first time the TV is switched on, it asks users if they would like to opt in to the data-sharing service. If they say yes, it prompts them to accept a terms-of-service agreement. Individual sites and apps must ask for, and be granted, permission to access the data the TV makes available.

Probably there's a reset somewhere, and it might even work. I suppose some people do surf while watching, and maybe want to see if there are pictures of one of the actors on the web, or want to see if the restaurant the hero smashed up is real. I'd think that attitude is either "induced ADD" or a sign that the TV show is boring. More likely the surfer is just somebody in another room.

Can you think of uses for this technology? How about keeping tabs on people watching Al Jazeera? It wouldn't be too hard for next year's model to build a snooper into the TV's ethernet controller. Not a fancy one, but something that scans the local net in promiscuous mode and watches for key words. You could even remotely reprogram the key words you are looking for. The modified system would not quite be a 1984 telescreen, but in the same family.

Given how good firms (and government agencies) are at keeping secrets, it wouldn't be long before the modified system was cracked. Spy on your neighbors?

It sounds stupid enough that somebody would probably build it.

Assuming this first generation system isn't simply a practical joke...

Friday, August 12, 2011

On the lighter side

NPR polled for the hundred best science fiction and fantasy books.

Let's see: I've read 9 of the top 10, 14 of the top 20, 20 of the top 30, 30 of the top 40 and about half from there on. Some clearly deserve the slots (Tolkien, Ringworld, and so on) and some are pretty mixed (the whole Dune series? not just the first?), and some I wonder about (a book by Moorcock is on the list? seriously?). Quite a few recent authors show up--I wonder how many would still be on such a list 30 years from now.

If people are still making such lists 30 years from now, I'd suspect "Stranger in a Strange Land" and "The Handmaid's Tale" will be nowhere as their respective politics ages away, also "2001" where the movie was better than the book.

Your guesses as to which will be absent?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Mobs and Riots

The "flash mob" thugs can always be where the police aren't. Without massive proactive cell-phone surveillance there's no way to be ready--and even that wouldn't be useful for long. The mobsters are clever enough to come up with new code phrases, or buy cell phones via proxy, and all the surveillance would do is provide evidence for conspiracy charges against those the police were actually able to find. And that word "proactive" should make you nervous. It will worry people who happen to look something like the current groups of thugs.

So to first order--forget the police. They cannot stop the attackers and will probably never catch any but the very careless.

As usual, the problems are both acute and chronic and efforts to deal with one aspect will make dealing with the other problematic.

So how do you deal with the acute problem--the threat of a mob of thugs breaking your head or robbing you blind? There are limits to what you can do with dogs or concealed carry--no doubt sometimes helpful but not a general solution. Situational awareness: yes, know who's around and where retreats and impromptu weapons are; that can help. But without a group willingness to join together to fight back you're still going to be alone against the mob. Unless people will run to help when they hear a cry for help, the odds of a short-term good outcome are poor. Do we have that? Can we get it?

Also poor are the odds of a long-term good outcome. One contributing factor to grand lawlessness is the lack of social constraint on petty lawlessness, and a big factor in that lack is the absence of a sense of "we're all in this together." Remember the broken-window effect in New York? Successful petty crime and a lack of any push-back or cleanup breeds a sense of invulnerability in the criminals and potential criminals--"the winners are the destructive and violent, so let's be winners."

I suggest that a willingness of honest citizens to band together both to fight off attacks and to present a united front against petty offenses is good in the short and long term. I'm not sure the surviving thugs will reform in the medium term.

The devil finds work for idle hands, and one classic approach to dealing with youth disturbances is to try to get the youth employed. This won't work well with the older thugs--and I'm afraid from what I've seen over the years that "older" here probably means not out of grade school. I'm not sanguine about the odds for older youth because: well, who's going to hire them? There aren't a lot of jobs to start with, and most employers like the help to show up and actually work--and the ghetto doesn't train you to do either. And the jobs there are aren't going to pay enough to match what Americans of all stripes think they're entitled to. Even with a thorough-going "moral cleanup" I fear we have a lost generation in the pipeline there. A sense of envy, of entitlement, and of despair don't motivate a lot of Horatio Algers. Add consumerism pumped in by ubiquitous ads and nihilism and hate from the music--it is an uphill climb.

Its been climbed before, though.

The racist aspect to the flash mobs is an ugly complication. It won't help race relations if situational awareness demands that we start keeping a wary eye out on the movements of black teenagers in the vicinity. Undoubtedly other criminal groups will find the flash mob technique useful (department stores circulated warnings about gypsy gangs with similar tactics years ago), and that will somewhat dilute the racial factor. Just like in Britain--the initial rioters were black, but the followups are ghetto youth of all races, attacking and looting for the joy of it.

For some reason that doesn't encourage me.


It may come as a surprise to some, but in this hotbed of recall mania I was paying no attention to the recall elections. First--our Senator/Representative was perfectly safe and under no recall threat whatever. Second--I knew one man who was recalled, and remember what he thought of recall elections. They should be for substantive things--not political maneuvering like hiding in Illinois, or unpopular votes.

To give a flavor of the rhetoric: the paper quoted a local 'expert:'

"The revolution has not occurred," said UW-Milwaukee political science professor Mordecai Lee, a former Democratic lawmaker. "The proletariat did not take over the streets."

One could just as easily say that the counter-revolution by the Praetorian Guard didn't quite come off.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Debt Deal is Meaningless

AP reports that the spending cuts proposed don't appear in any substantive way until 2014. By the rule I proposed in April, this agreement is a lie--the spending reductions are not real. The first announcements told me the reductions were going to be trivial: \$1T in 10 years=\$100B/year which is chicken feed for the feds. But if they aren't even going to kick in until 2014, they aren't real, they're only promises--and the lifetime of a Washington promise is less than one budget cycle.

They're not serious.