Thursday, July 09, 2009

Do not taunt Happy Fun Ball

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

My new ride

I picked it up in London last month. They're certainly not as ubiquitous here as they are there. Here in Geneva I saw another one only yesterday...

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Researchers find their political views awesome, study shows.

According to studies cited in this New Scientist article "political positions are substantially determined by biology and can be stubbornly resistant to reason". The over-simplification of political views into "red" and "blue" as well as the idea that others who hold differing ideas are really some sort of "others" in the biological sense and immune to reasoning really irks me. I wrote this letter in response:

The studies cited in Jim Giles' article entitled "Born that way" (p. 29, 2 February 2008) perpetuate the false dichotomy that the spectrum of political thought lies on one axis, running from left to right, with liberals on one end and conservatives on the other. In this formulation, the liberals tend to exhibit the personality trait of "openness", described as being "open to new experiences, focusing on change as an opportunity rather than a problem, and thinking about the world as it might be." One wonders what sort of questions were asked to ascertain the prevalence of this trait. Consider opposition on the left to the dynamic change wrought by free trade and globalisation and to scientific advances such as genetically-modified crops. I doubt many on the left would regard these sort of changes as opportunities rather than problems.

Menino madness

Catching up on posts...

Boston Mayor Tom Menino's thinking is sometimes as muddled as his speech. After reading about his views regarding in-store medical clinics in this Boston Globe article I wrote this letter:

Mayor Menino, opposed to retailers opening medical clinics in their stores, states that "Allowing retailers to make money off of sick people is wrong." Clearly there are more pressing problems for the Mayor to tackle. From my time in Boston I remember, much to my horror, that there were retailers who had the gall to make money off of hungry people. I suggest that the Mayor oppose this proliferation of these so-called "grocery stores" in the city limits of Boston as his first priority.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

You're a cow, it's your place to be milked.

After reading an execrable column by Polly Toynbee in The Guardian, which contained this gem:

A generation of voters has never heard the basic reasons why they pay tax, and why it is the most necessary and honourable part of citizenship. Why avoiding, let alone evading, it is dishonourable.

and then reading another article in the same issue where I learn that:

The government is working on a multi-million-pound blueprint to improve standards of coaching in primary schools to help create a new generation of footballers equipped with the skills to qualify for major tournaments.

Following England's Euro 2008 humiliation, the failure to deliver players with the right technical ability has been identified as the underlying problem. Clubs feel that by the time children reach their academies aged seven it is already too late to teach them the necessary skills.

Yesterday the two most senior government figures in sport - the secretary of state for culture, James Purnell, and sports minister, Gerry Sutcliffe - visited Fulham's academy to find out what the government can do to help tackle the problem.

I was inspired to write this letter to The Guardian:

Polly Toynbee, in Comment and Debate (Nov. 27) laments that a "generation of voters has never heard the basic reasons why they pay tax, and why it is the basic and honourable part of citizenship". Perhaps she could have pointed members of that generation to the Sport section (Nov. 27) where they could hear that the government is looking to spend millions of pounds to tackle the problem of native footballers lacking "the skills to qualify for major tournaments". It would then be clear to them that the secretary of state for culture and the sports minister (both essential government positions) need the resources necessary to solve such an important and pressing problem.

I'm doubtful that it will be published. I'm also doubtful readers of The Guardian will get the sarcasm.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Commutation relations

Moving to Geneva means that not only am I missing the 4th of July but also that my Blogger controls are now in German. Nevertheless, in honor of American Independence I'd like to take the time to "celebrate" behavior that our Founding Fathers would have disapproved of. I'd like to imagine them giving Bush, Cheney, Rove, Addington, and Gonzales each many swift kicks in the ass (or worse) for treating the executive branch of our government like a monarchy.

Andrew Sullivan covers all of the outrage.

p.s. As a physicist I take a special pleasure in the title of this post.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Ron v. Rudy

I was reading the transcript of last night's debate and came across a statement by Giuliani that seems (to me) to have been overlooked. During Hume's ridiculous line of "24" questioning (bold mine):

MR. HUME: Mayor Giuliani, the former director of Central Intelligence, George Tenet, the current head of the CIA have both said that the most valuable intelligence tool they have had has been the information gained from what are called enhanced interrogation techniques to include, presumably, water-boarding.

What is your view whether such techniques should be applied in a scenario like the one I described?

MR. GIULIANI: In the hypothetical that you gave me, which assumes that we know there's going to be another attack and these people know about it, I would tell the people who had to do the interrogation to use every method they could think of. It shouldn't be torture, but every method they can think of --

MR. HUME: Water-boarding?

MR. GIULIANI: -- and I would -- and I would -- well, I'd say every method they could think of, and I would support them in doing that because I've seen what -- (interrupted by applause) -- I've seen what can happen when you make a mistake about this, and I don't want to see another 3,000 people dead in New York or any place else."

Perhaps it was a bit of a throwaway line, the purpose of which was to mention yet again that he was mayor of NYC during 9/11*, but is he betraying ignorance about the circumstances of 9/11? I don't recall any "mistake" in regards to not being hard enough with terror suspects.
In fact, his nemesis from the debate, Ron Paul, was more spot-on regarding the mistakes of 9/11 (bold mine):

"MR. GOLER: You would eliminate the Department of Homeland Security in the midst of a war, sir?

REP. PAUL: Well, I think we should not go to more bureaucracy. It didn't work. We were spending $40 billion on security prior to 9/11, and they had all the information they needed there to deal with the threat, and it was inefficiency. So what do we do?"

Giuliani is running as the security candidate? It bothers me that all he seems to need to do to project this impression is merely allude to the fact that he was mayor of NYC during 9/11 (as the applause indicates). Well, that and advocate "enhanced interrogation techniques".

Unfortunately, Ron Paul's line regarding this seems to have been lost in the noise:

"I think it's interesting talking about torture here in that it's become enhanced interrogation technique. It sounds like Newspeak."

*"I was just informed that Rudy Giuliani was actually the mayor of New York City during 9/11. Somehow, I didn't know this. He never points this out.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

AL East weirdness

Tampa Bay1316.4486.5
NY Yankees1215.4446.5

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Abstinence-Only Education

From The Onion:

A government report ordered by Congress shows that abstinence-only education is ineffective. What do you think?

Xander Griffey,
Construction Worker
"I find it astonishing that our public schools were unable to beat out the most basic human instinct that perpetuates our species."

Amen brother.

In related news...

Deputy Secretary of State Randall Tobias resigned April 27 after confirming to ABC News that he's on Jeane Palfrey's little list. Palfrey is a D.C. madam under prosecution who's been receiving, through her attorney, phone calls from lawyers for various prominent johns begging her not to make their clients' names public. Tobias is administrator of the State Department's foreign aid programs.

Tobias' resignation was announced at 5 p.m. on a Friday, traditionally the hour for releasing bad news, because reporters are busy making weekend plans, and readers, at least in theory, pay less attention to news that comes out on a Saturday. The strategy seems to have worked in this instance, because neither ABC News nor the Post reported one highly relevant detail: Tobias is the Bush administration's leading advocate of abstinence-only programs abroad!

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Cross country 2006

  • August 26, 2006
    Berkeley, California - Winnemucca, Nevada
    383 miles
    12:30 PT - 19:00 PT
  • August 27, 2006
    Winnemucca, Nevada - St. Anthony, Idaho
    526 miles
    8:00 PT - 19:00 MT
  • August 28, 2006
    St. Anthony, Idaho - Cody, Wyoming
    250 miles
    8:00 MT - 19:00 MT
  • August 29, 2006
    Cody, Wyoming - Wall, South Dakota
    475 miles
    8:30 MT - 19:00 MT
  • August 30, 2006
    Wall, South Dakota - Albert Lea, Minnesota
    482 miles
    8:00 MT - 18:45 CT
  • August 31, 2006
    Albert Lea, Minnesota - Holiday City, Ohio
    601 miles
    8:00 CT - 20:00 ET
  • September 1, 2006
    Holiday City, Ohio - Hinsdale, Massachusetts
    683 miles
    8:00 ET - 21:00 ET

Thursday, February 01, 2007

"It had a very sinister appearance. It had a battery behind it, and wires."

What else is there to say about yesterday's marketing gimmick gone awry in Boston except that city and state officials should be deeply embarassed? Bruce Schneier has a good post covering the madness. He also points to a story in the Boston Globe where:

Of the 2,449 inspections between Oct. 10 and Dec. 31, the bags of 27 riders tested positive in the initial screening for explosives, prompting further searches, the Globe found in an analysis of daily inspection reports obtained under the state's Freedom of Information Act.

In the additional screening, 11 passengers had their bags checked by explosive-sniffing dogs, and 16 underwent a physical search. Nothing was found.

Still, MBTA officials said the searches have been effective at thwarting potential terrorists and have been supported by passengers.

How in the hell can you determine their effectiveness if you haven't caught anyone? To crudely gauge the veracity of the latter statement, there is a poorly-constructed electronic poll:

Should the MBTA continue its random bag searches?
Yes: the random searches serve as a deterrent to future terrorist attacks.
No: the searches are a violation of privacy.

Not offered was the option "No: the searches are completely useless."

There was at least one bright spot in the story:

...records show that six riders refused to have their bags inspected and were asked to leave the stations. All complied, but some not without some harsh words, according to the inspection reports.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

". . . a board game by two idiots in North America"

Who are the fat police?

Rogier van Bakel can predict the future:

Two months ago, I wrote about Britons being hauled into court on animal-abuse charges — for having pets that the authorities deemed too fat. I concluded, "The first child-abuse lawsuit against parents for having a fat child is surely just around the corner."

From The Times:

Social workers are placing obese children on the child protection register alongside victims thought to be at risk of sexual or physical abuse.

In extreme cases children have been placed in foster care because their parents have contributed to the health problems of their offspring by failing to respond to medical advice.

The intervention of social services in what was previously regarded as a private matter is likely to raise concerns about the emergence of the “fat police”.

Some doctors even advocate taking legal action against parents for illtreating their children by feeding them so much that they develop health problems.


Earlier this month two brothers were convicted of causing unnecessary suffering by letting their dog become obese. The labrador, Rusty, was 11 stone, more than double the weight he should have been, and could hardly stand. “We wonder whether the same charge should be applicable to the parents of dangerously obese children,” said Dr Tom Solomon, a neurologist at Royal Liverpool University hospital.

“I think it should be considered. It depends on the parents’ attitude. If the parents say there is nothing they can do because their child only likes to eat chips and biscuits then perhaps it might be worth the state intervening.

“The state intervenes with schooling. Parents who do not send their children to school are prosecuted eventually. To be badly educated is not dangerous but we are making our children diabetic, and even killing our children by our feeding habits.”

Tam Fry, chairman of the Child Growth Foundation, a charity that fights childhood obesity, agreed. “It should be a punishable offence,” he said.

“Very obese children are taking up NHS resources that should be used for legitimate purposes. Parents have got to be held accountable for overfeeding their children or letting their children become fat without taking action.”

Defense of atheism from The Great White North

Colby Cosh on

If it's true that some form of religious faith is positively required for a satisfactory human life, then there is no need to oppose Richard Dawkins at all; any minute now, the professor is bound to see through the miserable shallowness of being a bestselling author, holding a chair at the world's greatest university, and enjoying marital bliss with a beautiful television actress. In the meantime we are confronted with the spectacle of Dawkins and thousands of other unabashed atheists going about their business without becoming deranged by existential nausea. On the evidence, they seem to become more common, not less, as one ascends the ladders of income, education, or cognitive ability. Nothing much visibly distinguishes their behaviour or fate except a notable tendency toward smugness.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Goodness from The Economist

Obama's secret vice:

But as habits go, Mr Obama's smoking is less annoying than John Kerry's poetry-writing and less odd than George Bush's obsessive brush-clearing.

A falling star:

Ms Rice was given a chance to redeem her reputation when she was made secretary of state in the second Bush term. Mr Bush signalled that he wanted a different foreign-policy approach from his first, which Mr Armitage once characterised as “Look, fucker, you do what we want.”

SOTU (a little late)

  • If the Capitol is destroyed by some catastrophe Attorney General Gonzales would be the man in charge? Yikes.
  • Who's the big guy with the "God is Good" badge greeting everyone? Why only "Good" and not "Great"? Why a badge?
  • Ahh, that's the stuff: "nu-clu-lar".
  • Dikembe Mutombo?! Baby Einstein?!
  • Right back at you NYC Subway guy.
  • Ahh, that's more of the stuff: "State of the Union is strong".

Monday, January 15, 2007

"Well, let's not start suckin' each other's dicks quite yet."

Washington Post reporter Rajiv Chandrasekaran's book Imperial Life in the Emerald City, chronicling the C.P.A.'s time in Iraq, prompted me to self-injurious behavior. Many times I had to put the book down, smack myself on the head and exclaim "you've got to be shitting me!" For a taste, go here.

In a new story he reports on some positive developments:

The plan unveiled by Bush last week calls for many people who lost their jobs under Bremer's de-Baathification decree to be rehired. It calls for more Sunnis, who were marginalized under the CPA, to be brought into the government. It calls for state-owned factories to be reopened. It calls for more reconstruction personnel to be stationed outside the Green Zone. It calls for a counterinsurgency strategy that emphasizes providing security to the civilian population over transferring responsibility to local military forces.

Carney believes such measures could have been effective three years ago. Today, he worries they will be too little, too late.

How and when did this turn-around occur?

Bush and his national security team began working on their new Iraq strategy in earnest shortly after the Nov. 7 midterm elections, which amounted to a rebuke of the president's war policy.

So this decision to change course was based not on what was actually happening in Iraq, but on the results of the election?

Another disturbing item: apparently things are still being carried out in seat-of-the-pants style:

But it wasn't until Monday, when Bush was going over a draft of the address he planned to deliver on television Wednesday, that they confronted the issue of who would coordinate the administration's new economic initiatives for Iraq.


"Who's going to coordinate this?" Bush asked as he read through the economic initiatives, according to two people with knowledge of the meeting.

When Satterfield got back to his State Department office, he told his staff to "give me names."

The next day -- less than 36 hours before Bush addressed the nation -- Satterfield called Carney.

If only we had someone like "The Wolf" in Pulp Fiction to clean up the mess. Lest we get any encouragement from any change in Iraq policy:

THE WOLF: Fine job, gentlemen. We may get out of this yet.

JIMMIE: I can't believe that's the same car.

THE WOLF: Well, let's not start suckin' each other's dicks quite yet.

Script here.

On the road again...

From the BBC:

A giant database of people's personal details could be created at Whitehall under government plans which ministers say will help improve public services.

Tony Blair is expected to unveil the proposal in Downing Street on Monday.

Blair needs to read his Hayek, or at least his Orwell. These two seem to get it:

Shadow Constitutional Affairs Secretary Oliver Heald said: "Step by step, the government is logging details of every man, woman and child in 'Big Brother' computers."

Shadow Home Secretary David Davis said: "The chances of it actually solving crimes is pretty small.

"The chances of it costing over £20bn is very high. It will be a white elephant."

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Bush on 60 Minutes

I missed the show but from reading the transcripts it's clear that the Decider not only has some big balls (apparently the Iraqis should be saying "Thank you Sir! May I have another?"):

PELLEY: Do you think you owe the Iraqi people an apology for not doing a better job?

BUSH: That we didn't do a better job or they didn't do a better job?

PELLEY: Well, that the United States did not do a better job in providing security after the invasion.

BUSH: Not at all. I am proud of the efforts we did. We liberated that country from a tyrant. I think the Iraqi people owe the American people a huge debt of gratitude, and I believe most Iraqis express that. I mean, the people understand that we've endured great sacrifice to help them. That's the problem here in America. They wonder whether or not there is a gratitude level that's significant enough in Iraq.

but a lack of a sense of irony:

PELLEY: What would you say right now in this interview to the Iranian president about the meddling in Iraq?

BUSH: I'd say, first of all, to him, "You've made terrible choices for your people..."

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Link clean-out

Milton Friedmann:

What most people really object to when they object to a free market is that it is so hard for them to shape it to their own will. The market gives people what the people want instead of what other people think they ought to want. At the bottom of many criticisms of the market economy is really lack of belief in freedom itself.

Robert Higgs:

American liberty will never be reestablished so long as elites and masses alike look to the president to perform supernatural feats and therefore tolerate his virtually unlimited exercise of power. Until we can restore limited, constitutional government in this country, God save us from great presidents.

David M. Walker:

The largest employer in the world announced on Dec. 15 that it lost about $450 billion in fiscal 2006. Its auditor found that its financial statements were unreliable and that its controls were inadequate for the 10th straight year. On top of that, the entity's total liabilities and unfunded commitments rose to about $50 trillion, up from $20 trillion in just six years.

If this announcement related to a private company, the news would have been on the front page of major newspapers. Unfortunately, such was not the case -- even though the entity is the U.S. government.

James Bovard:

George W. Bush has made absolutism respectable among American conservatives. And no one has done more pimping for president-as-Supreme-Leader than John Yoo, the former Justice Department official who helped create the “commander-in-chief override” doctrine, unleashing presidents from the confines of the law.


Yoo believes Americans should presume that the government always has a good reason for violating the law, even when it deceives the citizens about the reasoning. Yoo’s doctrines are absolutely unfit for any system with a pretense of self-government.

Paul Cantor:

In short, the underpants gnomes are an image of capitalism and the way it is normally – and mistakenly – pictured by its opponents. The gnomes represent the ordinary business activity that is always going on in plain sight of everyone, but which they fail to notice and fail to understand. The people of South Park are unaware that the ceaseless activity of large corporations like Harbucks is necessary to provide them with all the goods they enjoy in their daily lives. They take it for granted that the shelves of their supermarkets will always be amply stocked with a wide variety of goods and never appreciate all the capitalist entrepreneurs who make that abundance possible.

What is worse, the ordinary citizens misinterpret capitalist activity as theft. They focus only on what businessmen take from them – their money – and forget about what they get in return, all the goods and services. Above all, people have no understanding of the basic facts of economics and have no idea of why businessmen deserve the profits they earn. Business is a complete mystery to them – it seems to be a matter of gnomes sneaking around in the shadows and mischievously heaping up piles of goods for no apparent purpose.

Matt Welch:

If his issues line up with yours, and if you're not overly concerned by an activist federal government, McCain can be a great and sympathetic ally. But chances are he will eventually see a grave national threat in what you consider harmless, or he'll prescribe a remedy that you consider unconscionable. Nowhere is that more evident than in his ideas about the Iraq war.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The argument from masturbation

As airline reading The New Yorker never fails to deliver.

Julian Barnes:

My own final letting go of the remnant, or possibility, of religion happened at a more advanced age. As an adolescent, hunched over some book or magazine in the family bathroom, I used to tell myself that God couldn’t possibly exist, because the notion that he might be watching me with disapproval while I masturbated was absurd; even more absurd was the notion that all my dead ancestors might be lined up and watching, too. This wasn’t exactly a strong argument, more a mild yet convincing feeling. And it was, of course, self-interested: the thought of Grandma and Grandpa observing what I was up to would have seriously put me off my stroke.

As I record this now, however, I wonder why I didn’t think through more of the possibilities. Why did I assume that God, if He was watching, necessarily disapproved of how I was spilling my seed? Why did it not occur to me that, if the sky did not fall in as it witnessed my zealous and unflagging self-abuse, it was perhaps because the sky did not think it a sin? Nor did I have the imagination to conceive of my dead ancestors equally smiling on my actions: Go on, my son, enjoy it while you’ve got it; there won’t be anything like that when you’re a disembodied spirit; we wish we’d done more of it in our time, so have another one for us. Perhaps Grandpa would have taken his celestial pipe out of his mouth, given me an uncharacteristic wink, and murmured complicitly, “I once knew a very nice girl called Mabel.”

However, Santa Claus does exist, and he's watching. He doesn't like what he's seen.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

"Brutalist" indeed

Boston's Mayor Menino has announced a plan to sell City Hall and construct a new one in South Boston. I expect not many will shed tears over the loss. The building itself, as well as the stark, wind-swept plaza surrounding it have long been derided by residents and visitors alike. I was amused to learn that it is an example of the Brutalist style. This is an appropriate name if there ever was one, although it comes from the French béton brut: "raw concrete", not from its brutal assault on the eyes. According to Jay Fitzgerald in the Boston Herald:

The problem with City Hall Plaza “as a whole” can be traced to the guiding 1960s philosophy of its architects, Kallmann, McKinnell and Knowles, who reveled in their “brutalist modern” views.

“We have moved,” architect Gerhard Kallmann once wrote, “toward an architecture that is specific and concrete, involving itself with the social and geographic context, the program, and methods of construction, in order to produce a building that exists strongly and irrevocably, rather than an uncommitted abstract structure that could be any place and, therefore, like modern man - without identity or presence.”

Brutalalist [sic] modern design distilled into brutalist prose.

Campbell and Fitzgerald come not just to bury City Hall. They do raise a few good points:

  • While the building can be considered ugly, it is a landmark of sorts.
  • It is in a pretty central location with plenty of T access.
  • Some sensible improvements to the plaza would help immensely.
  • Most importantly, can a city government be trusted to not make the new City Hall even worse?

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Amen brother!

From a correspondence to Nature:

Physicists do not spend their time debating the correctness of the atomic theory of matter; it is intolerable that biologists should constantly be forced to defend their unifying theory against ill-informed attacks.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Dennis Prager: Jackass

Exhibit A

Keith Ellison, D-Minn., the first Muslim elected to the United States Congress, has announced that he will not take his oath of office on the Bible, but on the bible of Islam, the Koran.

He should not be allowed to do so -- not because of any American hostility to the Koran, but because the act undermines American civilization.

First, it is an act of hubris that perfectly exemplifies multiculturalist activism -- my culture trumps America's culture. What Ellison and his Muslim and leftist supporters are saying is that it is of no consequence what America holds as its holiest book; all that matters is what any individual holds to be his holiest book.

Forgive me, but America should not give a hoot what Keith Ellison's favorite book is. Insofar as a member of Congress taking an oath to serve America and uphold its values is concerned, America is interested in only one book, the Bible. If you are incapable of taking an oath on that book, don't serve in Congress. In your personal life, we will fight for your right to prefer any other book. We will even fight for your right to publish cartoons mocking our Bible. But, Mr. Ellison, America, not you, decides on what book its public servants take their oath.

Exhibit B
In an exchange with Sam Harris titled "Why Are Atheists So Angry" Prager asserts:

You write: “Useful delusions are not the same thing as true beliefs.”

That is certainly true. However, if what may be a “useful delusion” is responsible for Judeo-Christian civilization’s abolishing slavery, discovering science and the scientific method, affirming rationality, believing in progress (the Torah was unique in repudiating the cyclic view of life), elevating women’s rights, affirming universal human rights, establishing the sanctity of human life, and so much more, then I would be loathe to dismiss it as merely a “useful delusion.”

I leave it to the commenters to point out the absolute absurdity of these statements. I must say though that it takes balls the size of church bells to assert that Judeo-Christian civilization discovered science and the scientific method and affirmed rationality. Galileo may have thought otherwise.

The muddled thinking of Prager is demonstrated in this exchange:

[Prager]: Unlike most atheists, you do acknowledge that the moral courage to fight today’s greatest evil is primarily to be found among religious Jews and Christians. I credit that courage to the moral clarity inherent to Jewish and Christian beliefs and to these Jews’ and Christians’ belief in God. I have yet to figure out to what you ascribe the courage among the religious and the lack of moral backbone in secular Europe and America.

You are right that this moral clarity and courage among the predominantly religious does not prove the existence of the biblical God. Nothing can prove God’s existence. But it sure is a powerful argument. If society cannot survive without x, there is a good chance x exists.

[Harris]: I should also point out that you sealed your last missive with a fallacy. You wrote:

“You are right that this moral clarity and courage among the predominantly religious does not prove the existence of the biblical God. Nothing can prove God’s existence. But it sure is a powerful argument. If society cannot survive without x, there is a good chance x exists.”

No, Dennis, this moral clarity is not a “powerful argument,” or even an argument at all; please keep your x’s straight. If humanity can’t survive without a belief in God, this would only mean that a belief in God exists. It wouldn’t, even remotely, suggest that God exists.

[Prager]: You write: “If humanity can’t survive without a belief in God, this would only mean that a belief in God exists. It wouldn’t, even remotely, suggest that God exists.” This statement is as novel as the one suggesting that Stalin was produced by Judeo-Christian values. It is hard for me to imagine that any fair-minded reader would reach the same conclusion. If we both acknowledge that without belief in God humanity would self-destruct, it is quite a stretch to say that this fact does not “even remotely suggest that God exists.” Can you name one thing that does not exist but is essential to human survival?

Talk about begging the question.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Jolly good fun... what this event sounded like.

First up to address the initial question was cosmologist Steven Weinberg of the University of Texas, Austin. His answer was an unequivocal yes. "The world needs to wake up from the long nightmare of religion," Weinberg told the congregation. "Anything we scientists can do to weaken the hold of religion should be done, and may in fact be our greatest contribution to civilisation."

Carolyn Porco, a senior research scientist at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo., called, half in jest, for the establishment of an alternative church, with Dr. Tyson, whose powerful celebration of scientific discovery had the force and cadence of a good sermon, as its first minister.

She was not entirely kidding. “We should let the success of the religious formula guide us,” Dr. Porco said. “Let’s teach our children from a very young age about the story of the universe and its incredible richness and beauty. It is already so much more glorious and awesome — and even comforting — than anything offered by any scripture or God concept I know.”

“What concerns me now is that even if you’re as brilliant as Newton, you reach a point where you start basking in the majesty of God and then your discovery stops — it just stops,” Dr. Tyson said. “You’re no good anymore for advancing that frontier, waiting for somebody else to come behind you who doesn’t have God on the brain and who says: ‘That’s a really cool problem. I want to solve it.’ ”

“Science is a philosophy of discovery; intelligent design is a philosophy of ignorance,” he said. “Something fundamental is going on in people’s minds when they confront things they don’t understand.”

Before he left to fly back home to Austin, Dr. Weinberg seemed to soften for a moment, describing religion a bit fondly as a crazy old aunt.

“She tells lies, and she stirs up all sorts of mischief and she’s getting on, and she may not have that much life left in her, but she was beautiful once,” he lamented. “When she’s gone, we may miss her.”

Dr. Dawkins wasn’t buying it. “I won't miss her at all,” he said. “Not a scrap. Not a smidgen.”

"Freedom is about authority"

I agree with a poster on this thread and would have a real problem supporting anyone who would say the following:

Freedom is about authority. Freedom is about the willingness of every single human being to cede to lawful authority a great deal of discretion about what you do and how you do it.
- Rudy Guiliani


Or if you like, controlled chaos:

Psychologists have long revealed the senselessness of such exaggerated regulation. About 70 percent of traffic signs are ignored by drivers. What's more, the glut of prohibitions is tantamount to treating the driver like a child and it also foments resentment. He may stop in front of the crosswalk, but that only makes him feel justified in preventing pedestrians from crossing the street on every other occasion. Every traffic light baits him with the promise of making it over the crossing while the light is still yellow.

The result is that drivers find themselves enclosed by a corset of prescriptions, so that they develop a kind of tunnel vision: They're constantly in search of their own advantage, and their good manners go out the window.

The new traffic model's advocates believe the only way out of this vicious circle is to give drivers more liberty and encourage them to take responsibility for themselves. They demand streets like those during the Middle Ages, when horse-drawn chariots, handcarts and people scurried about in a completely unregulated fashion. The new model's proponents envision today's drivers and pedestrians blending into a colorful and peaceful traffic stream.

It may sound like chaos, but it's only the lesson drawn from one of the insights of traffic psychology: Drivers will force the accelerator down ruthlessly only in situations where everything has been fully regulated. Where the situation is unclear, they're forced to drive more carefully and cautiously.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Security theater on the MBTA

In response to this story in the Boston Globe I wrote the following letter to the editor:

It was disheartening to read that most commuters interviewed regarding random bag searches on the T supported them ("First day of MBTA bag-search initiative goes smoothly", Oct. 11). This support no doubt comes from the vague feeling that this program is keeping us safer.

Unfortunately we're giving up our civil liberties (and don't doubt that we are) for just that: a feeling. This program will not make us any safer. Given the unlikelihood of a terrorist attack, the sheer number of total passengers, and the small fraction of those passengers searched, the chance of actually catching anyone is minuscule. And clearly, searching every single person is not only unfeasible but also unconstitutional.

The program's potential affect as a deterrent is short-circuited by the fact that the bag search can easily be avoided by simply refusing to consent to it and leaving. What will prevent a potential terrorist from simply going to another station or catching another bus? Mandatory searches would be unconstitutional as well.

This program is nothing more than "security theater": a program that provides the feeling of security but unfortunately provides none of the real thing. The loss of civil liberties isn't worth it.

Unfortunately it never made it in the paper. At least I felt better after writing it.

U.S. States visited, Part 2

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

"You psychopathological beast, we will resolutely smash your desperate war moves!"

The fact that North Korea is likely now a nuclear power is frightening. Lightening the mood a bit is the Korean Central News Agency's perverse "command" of the English language as show in the text of the announcement:

"The field of scientific research in the DPRK successfully conducted an underground nuclear test under secure conditions on October 9, 2006, at a stirring time when all the people of the country are making a great leap forward in the building of a great, prosperous, powerful socialist nation.

"It has been confirmed that there was no such danger as radioactive emission in the course of the nuclear test as it was carried out under scientific consideration and careful calculation.

"The nuclear test was conducted with indigenous wisdom and technology 100 percent. It marks a historic event as it greatly encouraged and pleased the KPA and people that have wished to have powerful self-reliant defense capability.

"It will contribute to defending the peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and in the area around it."

You bloodthirsty gangster, we will mercilessly crush you with the weapon of singlehearted unity!

Friday, August 18, 2006

The borders of Red Sox Nation

New England is solidly Red Sox country, with one exception: Connecticut, with its proximity to New York City, is the only state with divided loyalties. Where precisely though is the border that divides Connecticut between Red Sox and Yankee country? This NY Times article answers the question. In a not-quite scientific study, it was determined that the broder can be approximated by drawing a line from Old Saybrook through New Britain to Canaan (with a few bulges on either side near New Britain). Thankfully, the Berkshires are solidly in Red Sox Nation (whew!). It's nice to see Hinsdale, MA get a mention in the article, by the way.


From Slashdot by way of Bruce Schneier (Bold mine):

Back in the 1980s, Yosemite National Park was having a serious problem with bears: They would wander into campgrounds and break into the garbage bins. This put both bears and people at risk. So the Park Service started installing armored garbage cans that were tricky to open -- you had to swing a latch, align two bits of handle, that sort of thing. But it turns out it's actually quite tricky to get the design of these cans just right. Make it too complex and people can't get them open to put away their garbage in the first place. Said one park ranger, "There is considerable overlap between the intelligence of the smartest bears and the dumbest tourists."

In a happy coincidence, last night I watched the classic Simpson's episode Much Apu About Nothing. The following exchanges are pure gold:

Homer: Not a bear in sight. The Bear Patrol must be working like a charm.
Lisa: That's specious reasoning, Dad.
Homer: Thank you, dear.
Lisa: By your logic I could claim that this rock keeps tigers away.
Homer: Oh, how does it work?
Lisa: It doesn't work.
Homer: Uh-huh.
Lisa: It's just a stupid rock.
Homer: Uh-huh.
Lisa: But I don't see any tigers around, do you?
[Homer thinks of this, then pulls out some money]
Homer: Lisa, I want to buy your rock.
[Lisa refuses at first, then takes the exchange]

Quimby: Are those morons getting dumber or just louder?
Assistant: [Takes a moment to check his clipboard] Dumber, sir.
Quimby: They want the bear patrol but they won't pay taxes for it. This is a situation that calls for real leadership. [Opens the door to his office to confront the angry mob.] People, your taxes are high because of illegal immigrants!
Moe Szyslak: Immigants! I knew it was them! Even when it was the bears, I knew it was them.

So...this episode depicts a society that enacts over-the-top security measures to protect itself from a rare threat and a government that exploits the issue of illegal immigration in order to deflect criticism (although to be fair Quimby was put in a tough spot). A bit too spot-on for my comfort.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006


After using the word dreck to describe two movies in the previous post, I was inspired by the appropriateness of the word to look into its etymology. It almost sounds like a exclamation one would make when exposed to dreck, and sure enough it seems that in the earliest quotation in the OED (in Ulysses?!) it was used in this sense:

[a. Yiddish drek (G. dreck) filth, dregs, dung, [...], Ult. origin uncertain but connection with Gr. [...]

Rubbish, trash, worthless debris.
1922 JOYCE Ulysses 511 Farewell. Fare thee well. Dreck! 1947 Horizon Feb. 90 The anonymous countryside littered with heterogeneous dreck. 1965 E. LACY Double Trouble v. 58 Drek your dolls are!.. I wouldn't stick my customers with such junk! 1966 E. WEST Night is Time for Listening i. 13 ‘You are dreck,’ she said. ‘I hope you are killed.’ 1967 O. HESKY Time for Treason v. 38 Meat better than the usual drek we get.

I solemnly vow to never watch the following movies:

  • Titanic: From what I can gather, a mawkish special effects extravaganva. Combine this with the then-ubiquitous Celine Dion theme song and you have my own personal Kryptonite.
  • The Passion of the Christ: I'm not a big fan of gore-fests. I especially don't like them with anti-Semitic overtones.
  • Fever Pitch: The shock and disgust I felt seeing Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore celebrating on the field after the Red Sox won the World Series has not left me to this day.
  • The Da Vinci Code: Any movie based on such ridiculous and ridiculously popular source material must be dreck. I shudder to think of what a movie version of Angels and Demons would be like.

Also, in light of the release of World Trade Center, I also vow never to see any fictionalized account of the events that occurred on September 11. However respectful the treatment may be, I feel that such an effort can only subtract, not add. It's been said that the only comparable event in American history is the attack on Pearl Harbor. I fear that in 50 years, moviegoers of the future will be subjected to the September 11th equivalent of dreck such as Pearl Harbor. A revolting thought.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

The right to privacy

A popular response is: "If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear."

By that reasoning, of course, we shouldn't mind if the police were free to come into our homes at any time just to look around, if all our telephone conversations were monitored, if all our mail were read, if all the protections developed over centuries were swept away. It's only a difference of degree from the intrusions already being implemented or considered.

The truth is that we all do have something to hide, not because it's criminal or even shameful, but simply because it's private. We carefully calibrate what we reveal about ourselves to others. Most of us are only willing to have a few things known about us by a stranger, more by an acquaintance, and the most by a very close friend or a romantic partner. The right not to be known against our will - indeed, the right to be anonymous except when we choose to identify ourselves - is at the very core of human dignity, autonomy and freedom.

If we allow the state to sweep away the normal walls of privacy that protect the details of our lives, we will consign ourselves psychologically to living in a fishbowl. Even if we suffered no other specific harm as a result, that alone would profoundly change how we feel. Anyone who has lived in a totalitarian society can attest that what often felt most oppressive was precisely the lack of privacy.

But there also will be tangible, specific harm.

The more information government compiles about us, the more of it will be wrong. That's simply a fact of life.


But if our privacy becomes ever more systematically invaded by the state for purposes of assessing our behavior and making judgments about us, wrong information and misinterpretations will have potential consequences.

If information that is actually about someone else is wrongly applied to us, if wrong facts make it appear that we've done things we haven't, if perfectly innocent behavior is misinterpreted as suspicious because authorities don't know our reasons or our circumstances, we will be at risk of finding ourselves in trouble in a society where everyone is regarded as a suspect. By the time we clear our names and establish our innocence, we may have suffered irreparable financial or social harm.

Worse yet, we may never know what negative assumptions or judgments have been made about us in state files. [...]

Decisions detrimental to us may be made on the basis of wrong facts, incomplete or out-of-context information or incorrect assumptions, without our ever having the chance to find out about it, let alone to set the record straight.

That possibility alone will, over time, make us increasingly think twice about what we do, where we go, with whom we associate, because we will learn to be concerned about how it might look to the ubiquitous watchers of the state.


The bottom line is this: If we have to live our lives weighing every action, every communication, every human contact, wondering what agents of the state might find out about it, analyze it, judge it, possibly misconstrue it, and somehow use it to our detriment, we are not truly free. [Bold mine]

That sort of life is characteristic of totalitarian countries [...]

All here.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

"America's Finest News Source" indeed

"It's funny because it's true" is an old saying; so is "it's sad but true." Here is where the two sayings meet at "it would be funny if it weren't so sad."

Friday, July 21, 2006

Presidential wisdom

Any American who is prepared to run for president should automatically, by definition, be disqualified from ever doing so.
- Gore Vidal

Anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job.
- Douglas Adams

There is a tragic flaw in our precious Constitution, and I don't know what can be done to fix it. This is it: Only nut cases want to be president.
- Kurt Vonnegut

In America, anyone can become president. That's one of the risks you take.
- Adlai E. Stevenson Jr.

When I was a boy I was told that anybody could become President; I'm beginning to belive it.
- Clarence Darrow

Anybody who wants the presidency so much that he'll spend two years organizing and campaigning for it is not to be trusted with the office.
- David Broder

courtesy of The Quotations Page

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

"The Da Vinci Code" foofaraw

Personally I have no plans to see The Da Vinci Code movie or read the book. I once skimmed through someone else's copy of Dan Brown's previous effort Angels and Demons and found it utterly ridiculous, so I don't expect much from his later efforts. For me, I think Umberto Eco covered this ground much better in Foucalt's Pendulum (incidentally my copy was given to me by my old priest).

Instead of indifference some are greeting the movie with indignation, especially those of the Christian persuasion. I don't care to get into why here, but unless you've been living as a hermit the last year or so, you likely know. However, as this story indicates, the movie has incurred the wrath of another group as well:

Also, while not planning a protest or boycott, members of the National Organization for Albinism and Hypopigmentation expressed unhappiness with the film's heavy, a monk-assassin, being an albino, as described in the book.

Michael McGowan, an albino who heads the organization, said "The Da Vinci Code" will be the 68th movie since 1960 to feature an evil albino. He said the group aims to use the movie's popularity to raise awareness about the realities of albinism. People with albinism have little or no pigmentation in their skin, eyes and hair.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

NSA phone call database

According to this story in USA Today:

The National Security Agency has been secretly collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth

apparently in a large data-mining effort. I find several parts particularly troubling:

"It's the largest database ever assembled in the world," said one person, who, like the others who agreed to talk about the NSA's activities, declined to be identified by name or affiliation. The agency's goal is "to create a database of every call ever made" within the nation's borders, this person added.

Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden, nominated Monday by President Bush to become the director of the CIA, headed the NSA from March 1999 to April 2005. In that post, Hayden would have overseen the agency's domestic call-tracking program.

The NSA told Qwest that other government agencies, including the FBI, CIA and DEA, also might have access to the database, the sources said. As a matter of practice, the NSA regularly shares its information — known as "product" in intelligence circles — with other intelligence groups.

Unable to get comfortable with what NSA was proposing, Qwest's lawyers asked NSA to take its proposal to the FISA court. According to the sources, the agency refused.
The NSA's explanation did little to satisfy Qwest's lawyers. "They told (Qwest) they didn't want to do that because FISA might not agree with them," one person recalled. For similar reasons, this person said, NSA rejected Qwest's suggestion of getting a letter of authorization from the U.S. attorney general's office.

One silver lining in all this is that Qwest didn't roll over to the NSA's demands. Too bad I can't switch to their service.

Friday, May 05, 2006

"ILLEGAL is not a sick bird, it means you shouldn't do it!"

All other problems in the country having been solved, our fearless leaders in the U.S. Senate now are finally getting around to tackling the twin scourges of flag desecration and recitation and singing of the Pledge of Allegiance and national anthem in languages other than English. It about fucking time someone stood up and did something!

Recently, Reason editor Nick Gillepsie debated (on The O'Reilly Factor) Sen. Lamar Alexander on his resolution regarding the Pledge and anthem. A transcript can be found here. I think Gillepsie effectively eviserates Alexander:

I want to congratulate the senator because who knew that war in Iraq was over? Who knew that the out of control spending the Republicans have brought to Washington 11 years of budget control and that the saber-rattling by North Korea and Iran and other countries, it's over. And we can spend time on a completely inane and asinine issue. To be talking about passing resolutions in a way even, especially if they're nonbinding about what language people should be able to sing the national anthem or say the pledge after allegiance is ludicrous beyond belief. One of the great things about America is our First Amendment which guarantees political expression. Certainly the pledge of allegiance and the national anthem are political speech. And now you're trying to say that only way can you be truly American is to say it in English, which the last time I checked was the language of our colonial overlord from a couple hundred years ago.

However, many of Bill O'Reilly's viewer didn't share my assessment, and said so I many, many emails to Gillepsie. To say that the response was overwhelmingly negative is an understatement. Some of my favorite responses:

Go back to Italy you *&^%&&^% WOP

The changing of the words to be sung in Spanish by these invaders are making fun of the American Citizen only you are to stupid to see it.

I live in Redding, CT. and probably am smarter and wealthier than you. If you ever try to peddle that self hating american crap here in front of me, I will confront you. I will also add that I am better looking as well. I say this last thing because I know that it bothers you. Nice wussy leather jacket too!

Your day of reckoning with “TRUE” Americans is coming soon. You will have to answer for the years of stupidity and bias that you have thrown into the fan of life!! You certainly have smelled up my America with your crap!!! And to think you have the audacity to have a doctorate in English!! Holy Crap, what a rip-off of the American University system…one that has been corrupted and poisoned by the likes of morons like you!!!

Jesus Will Rule With a Rod of Iron Like it OR Not

If you guys were in charge of WWll the Nazi's would rule the world today, "Hands Up," no contest !!!!

By the way the black leather "Fonz" look is now the rage in the Castro District of San Fransisco !

What don't you dipshits get about ILLEGAL. ILLEGAL is not a sick bird, it means you shouldn't do it!

I believe that you are a fucking idiot who does not care for the country or anything other than the benefits you will receive from the illegals entering the country. Shame on you, and, I sincerely hope that you go to hell.

Take your ILLEGAL Mexicans and your whining and bitching and get the hell out of MY America. Wait and see. Americans have had enough and when we are all finally pushed far enough - we will in force and WITH force; THROW the Mexicans (and people like you) out of this country, back over the river, and where ever else your kind crawled in from.