Saturday, March 03, 2007

(3089/898) The Language Instinct (2) - The elephant's trunk

685) The elephant's trunk is six feet long and one foot thick and contains sixty thousand muscles. Elephants can use their trunks to uproot trees, stack timber, or carefully place huge logs in position when recruited to build bridges. An elephant can curl its trunk around a pencil and draw characters on letter-size paper. With the two muscular extensions at the tip, it can remove a thorn, pick up a pin or a dime, uncork a bottle, slide the bolt off a cage door and hide it on a ledge, or grip a cup so firmly, without breaking it, that only another elephant can pull it away. The tip is sensitive enough for a blindfolded elephant to ascertain the shape and texture of objects. In the wild, elephants use their trunks to pull up clumps of grass and tap them against their knees to knock off the dirt, to shake coconuts out of palm trees, ad to powder their bodies with dust They use their trunks to probe the ground as they walk, avoiding pit traps, and to dig wells and siphon water from them. Elephants can walk underwater on the beds of deep rivers or swim like submarines for miles, using their trunks as snorkels. They communicate through their trunks by trumpeting, humming, roaring, piping, purring, rumbling, and making a crumpling-metal sound by rapping the trunk against the ground. The trunk is lined with chemoreceptors that allow the elephant to smell a python hidden in the grass or food a mile away.

Elephants are the only living animals that possess this extraordinary organ. Their closest living relative is the hyrax, a mammal that you would probably not be able to tell from a large guinea pig. Until now you have probably not given the uniqueness of the elephant's trunk a moments thought. Certainly no biologist has made a fuss about it. But now imagine what might happen if some biologists were elephants. Obsessed with the unique place of the trunk in nature, they might ask how it could have evolved, given that no other organism has a trunk or anything like it. One school might try to think up ways to narrow the gap. They would first point out that the elephant and the hyrax share about 90% of their DNA and thus could not be all that different. They might say that the trunk must no be as complex as everyone thought; perhaps the number of muscles had been miscounted. They might further note that the hyrax really does have a trunk, but somehow it has been overlooked; after all, the hyrax does have nostrils. Though their attempts to train hyraxes to pick up objects with their nostrils have failed, some might trumpet their success at training hyraxes to push toothpicks around with their tongues, noting that stacking tree trunks or drawing on blackboards differ from it only in degree. The opposite school, maintaining the uniqueness of the trunk, might insist that it appeared all at once in the offspring of a particular trunkless elephant ancestor, the product of a single dramatic mutation. Or they might say that the trunk somehow arose as an automatic by-product of the elephant's having evolved a large head. They might add another paradox for trunk evolution: the trunk is absurdly more intricate and well coordinated than any ancestral elephant would have needed.

These arguments might strike us a peculiar, but every one of them has been made by scientists of a different species about a complex organ that that species alone possesses, language. [...]
Stephen Pinker
The Language Instinct (1994)
[Note: Pinker also wrote on this subject:

"[The elephant's trunk] evolved from a fusion of the nostrils and some of the upper lip muscles of the extinct elephant-hyrax common ancestor, followed by radical complications and refinements."


"Imagine a mouse that was subjected to a minuscule selection pressure for increased size, say a one percent reproductive advantage for offspring that were one percent bigger. Some arithmetic shows that the mouse's descendants would evolve to the size of an elephant in a few thousand generations, an evolutionary eyeblink."

See also #2157 Douglas-Hamilton.]
Note: "3089/898" is the designation I've given to the project of posting all my collected quotes, excerpts and ideas (3089 of them) in the remaining days of the Bush administration (of which there were 898 left when I began).

As of today, there are 688 days remaining in the administration of the worst American President ever.

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/03/2007 10:02:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


(3089/898) The Language Instinct (1)

679) In contemporary middle-class American culture, parenting is seen as an awesome responsibility, an unforgiving vigil to keep the helpless infant from falling behind in the great race of life. The belief that Motherese is essential to language development is part of the same mentality that send yuppies to "learning centers" to buy little mittens will bull's-eyes to help their babies find their hands sooner.

One gets some perspective from examining the folk theories about parenting in other cultures. The !Kung San of the Kalahari Desert in southern Africa believe that children must be drilled to sit, stand, and walk. They carefully pile sand around their infants to prop them upright, and sure enough, every one of these infants soon sits up on its own. We find this amusing because we have observed the results of the experiment that the San are unwilling to chance: we don't teach our children to sit, stand, and walk, and they did it anyway, on their own schedule. But other groups enjoy the same condescension toward us. In many communities of the world, parents do not indulge their children in Motherese. In fact, they do not speak to their prelinguistic children at all, except for occasional demands and rebukes. This is not unreasonable. After all, young children plainly can't understand a word you say. So why waste your breath in soliloquies? Any sensible person would surely wait until a child has developed speech and more gratyifying two-way conversations become possible.
Stephen Pinker
The Language Instinct (1994)

680) Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.
Oscar Wilde
"The Critic as Artist" (1891) [CQ]
quoted by Stephen Pinker in
The Language Instinct (1994)

681) When I questioned our local computer wizard about what she meant when she said she was going to frob my workstation, she gave me this tutorial on hackerese. When you get a brand-new equalizer for your stereo and aimlessly slide the knobs up and down to hear the effects, that is frobbing. When you move the knobs by medium-sized amounts to get the sound to your general liking. that is twiddling. When you make the final small adjustments to get it perfect, that is tweaking.
Stephen Pinker
The Language Instinct (1994)

682) Computer parsers are too meticulous for their own good. They find ambiguities [...] that would never occur to a sane person. [...] The sentence Time flies like an arrow is surely unambiguous is there ever was an unambiguous sentence (ignoring the difference between literal and metaphorical meanings, which have nothing to do with syntax). But to the surprise of the programmers, the sharp-eyed computer [at Harvard in the 60s] found it to have five different trees!
  • Time proceeds as quickly as an arrow proceeds. (the intended reading)

  • Measure the speed of flies in the same way that you measure the speed of an arrow.

  • Measure the speed of flies in the same way that an arrow measures the speed of flies.

  • Measure the speed of flies that resemble an arrow.

  • Flies of a particular kind, time-flies, are fond of an arrow.

Among computer scientists the discovery has been summed up in the aphorism "Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana."

Stephen Pinker
The Language Instinct (1994)

683) [T]ry to think of the life cycle in a different way. Imagine that what the genes control is not a factory sending appliances into the world, but a machine shop in a thrifty theatre company to which props and sets and materials periodically return to be dismantled and reassembled for the next production. At any point, different contraptions can come out of the shop, depending on current needs. The most obvious biological illustration is metamorphosis. In insects, the genes build an eating machine, let it grow, build a container around it, dissolve it into a puddle of nutrients, and recycle them into a breeding machine. Even in humans, the sucking reflex disappears, teeth erupt twice, and a suite of secondary sexual characteristics emerge in a maturational schedule. Now complete the mental backflip. Think of metamorphosis and maturational emergence not as the exception but as the rule. The genes, shaped by natural selection, control bodies during the life span; designs hang around during times of life that they are useful, not before or after.
Stephen Pinker
The Language Instinct (1994)

684) If my grandmother had balls, she'd be my grandfather.
Yiddish folk saying
quoted by Stephen Pinker in
The Language Instinct (1994)


[CQ] - The Columbia Dictionary of Quotations (1993)

Note: "3089/898" is the designation I've given to the project of posting all my collected quotes, excerpts and ideas (3089 of them) in the remaining days of the Bush administration (of which there were 898 left when I began).

As of today, there are 689 days remaining in the administration of the worst American President ever.

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/03/2007 03:55:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


(3089/898) A meeting in the morning

678) "Good Morning!" said Bilbo, and he meant it. The sun was shining, and the grass was very green. But Gandalf looked at him from under long bushy eyebrows that stuck out further than the brim of his shady hat.

"What do you mean?" he said. "Do you wish me a good morning, or mean that it is a good morning whether I want it or not; or that you feel good this morning; or that it is a morning to be good on?"

"All of them at once," said Bilbo ... Then he took out his morning letters, and began to read, pretending to take no more notice of the old man. He had decided that he was not quite his sort, and wanted him to go away. [...]

"Good morning!" he said at last. "We don't want any adventures here, thank you! [...]" By this he meant that conversation was at an end.

"What a lot of things you do use Good morning for!" said Gandalf. "Now you mean that you want to get rid of me, and that it won't be good till I move off."
J.R.R. Tolkien
The Hobbit (1937, revised 1966)
[Note: Two psychoanalysts meet on the street. "Good morning!" "I wonder what he meant by that?"]

Note: "3089/898" is the designation I've given to the project of posting all my collected quotes, excerpts and ideas (3089 of them) in the remaining days of the Bush administration (of which there were 898 left when I began).

As of today, there are 689 days remaining in the administration of the worst American President ever.

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/03/2007 02:25:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Friday, March 02, 2007

Just an ordinary day in America

[updated below]

NORCO [California]– More than 1 million rounds of ammunition, a cache of weapons and a tunnel were found inside a man's home after an explosive fire that forced a neighborhood evacuation, authorities said Friday.

Three 25-gallon containers filled with an unknown fluid were found in the tunnel, which began in the garage and stretched about 10 feet into the backyard. The fluid was being analyzed by hazardous material experts, said Norco Fire Department Battalion Chief Ron Knueven.

Firefighters responded to a blaze Thursday afternoon at the Norco home, about 45 miles east of Los Angeles, and found what was believed to be the largest amount of ammunition ever discovered in the county, authorities said.

The fire caused some of the ammunition to explode, forcing evacuation of the neighborhood and keeping firefighters at a distance. The blaze, which caused the roof to collapse, was eventually extinguished.

“It sounded like firecrackers, they were going off quite a bit,” said neighbor Frank Jackson, who rushed home when he heard about the fire.

When he got there, he said firefighters were swarming over the burning house but the explosions were so intense that firefighters on the roof had to abandon it.

“The shells were going off and you had to back off,” he said.

On Friday, sheriff's deputies aided by agents from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives combed the house for evidence.

Dozens of metal and cardboard boxes filled with ammunition for shotguns, small handguns and assault rifles recovered from the home sat in a driveway. Two of the assault rifles were illegal and the man had no permit for 75 pounds of black gunpowder that was found, said Riverside County sheriff's Deputy Juan Zamora.

Authorities also discovered a machine in the garage that was used to load the gunpowder into empty casings. The practice known as “reloading” is common and not illegal because ammunition is often expensive, ATF spokeswoman Susan Raichel said.

No arrests have been made. The man, whose identity was not released, was taken to a hospital where he will receive a psychological evaluation, authorities said.
Right, 75 pounds of unpermitted black powder, 75 gallons of an unknown liquid, a tunnel into the back yard, a million rounds of ammo, a reloading machine and a cache of weapons, a fire that caused ammunition to explode -- no reason to prejudge the guy by arresting him. Break it up, nothing to see here, move along please.


Update (3/5):
The Sheriff's department has now released the identity of the Norco man who allegedly stashed more than a million rounds of ammunition and dozens of guns in a tunnel underneath his garage.

62-year old Thomas McKiernan is being held at the Robert Presley Detention Center for possession of assault weapons, illegal ammunition and explosives.

It all happened Thursday, when deputies and firefighters were called to a fire at the house. Deputies say they detained McKiernan after he became aggressive with firefighters.

They say inside the garage, they found a tunnel, reportedly loaded with more than a million rounds of ammunition, about 60 guns and rifles and about 75 pounds of black ammunition powder.

McKiernan's bail is set at $100,000. [KESQ]
Update (3/7): McKeirnan pleaded not guilty today. The number of guns he had is now listed as more than 125, and the amount of ammunition is still being described as "more than a million rounds." (If the initial description came from the casual observation of a fireman, it seems as if he was pretty good at quickly counting, because the authorities appear to be sticking with it.) The amount of black powder is now 75 pounds. Clearly, some weighing have counting has been done.

Another article says that McKiernan was initially held on a 72-hour psychiatric hold after fighting with police at the scene of the fire.

An earlier article had more details, along with an assessment of the man by his neighbors:
After the fire was put out, authorities discovered the cache of firearms, ammunition and gunpowder in the garage, along with a tunnel about 10 feet deep and more than 25 feet long under the house, officials said.


The tunnel was found to contain barrels of water, cooking oil and rice, as well as other non-perishable foods.

Sheriff's Sgt. Dennis Gutierrez said that due to the stockpiled goods and the man-made tunnel under the house, McKiernan "appeared to be a survivalist."

Many neighbors and friends of McKiernan have defended his affinity for guns and ammunition - calling him a collector and hobbyist.

Residents along Pali Drive have overwhelmingly described McKiernan as a quiet and considerate neighbor who always provided help when asked, enjoyed working in the yard and cared deeply about his family.

"He's ex-Army. I think they're making it bigger than it is," neighbor "Tiny" Bosch said. "He was a quiet, good neighbor, but (gun collecting) was his fetish."

Bosch's wife, Jennifer, concurred.

"He comes out of war with all the weapons he's comfortable with, and now it's illegal all of the sudden and he's in trouble," she said. "He's been here like 40 years."

Gutierrez said the rifles and handguns were not the problem. It was the possession of five semiautomatic weapons and ammunition larger than .60-caliber, which is illegal, he said.

While it is fine to have one pound of black powder, McKiernan had more than 20 pounds.

More than 40 pounds of smokeless powder was found at the house. Thus McKiernan's cache surpassed the legal limit of 20 pounds, Gutierrez said.

William Price, 84, of Arkansas said he has known McKiernan for decades. A war veteran like McKiernan, Price said his friend was being unfairly persecuted.

"I knew he used to shoot a lot at the range, and he'd reload his own," said Price, who fought in World War II. "He was a collector. I guess he collected too much.

"When people are in the war, they get a little messed up. ... They drill it into you so much - you've always got to be protected."

Sheriff's officials have said the amount of ammunition retrieved from the house was likely the largest in Riverside County.

The city of Norco released the house, roofless and unstable in its foundation due to the tunnel, back into the control of McKiernan's family members.

Kneuven said the house may be demolished and rebuilt, as its current condition has been determined unsafe and unlivable.
I stand by my intital assessment: this guy was a disaster just waiting to happen. It's not like he was living on a ranch in Wyoming, Norco is a city of 24,000 with a population density of 1700 people per square mile -- that's twice the density of my home town, and I wouldn't want someone like that living next door to me. And it's not as if the guy is living on a spread, or on the outskirts of town, it looks to me as if 1853 Pali Drive is part of a pretty dense suburban-style development:

It's located near the public library and just a mile from city hall.

People like McKiernan, so quiet and unremarkable, are a danger to society. It's one thing to put away supplies and protection in the event of a natural disaster, it's quite another to be preparing for and expecting a holocaust. People such as that have little reason to connect with society, they stand alone and isolated, and when they break, they usually take some of us along with them.

I'm not advocating house-to-house searches to find illicit caches of weapons and explosives, but I do think that once one falls into the laps of the police, the proper response is not hesitation, it's to make an arrest. I'd glad that the Norco police (eventually) saw that, and I hope that McKiernan gets the book thrown at him (not likely if the attitude of his neighbors is generally in effect there).

If this was your neighborhood, would you want all that stuff around?

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/02/2007 09:52:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


The effrontery of the common man

Bob Parks' What's New newsletter:
Early in his presidency, George W. Bush issued an executive order creating a White House Office of Faith-Based Initiatives that gives billions of dollars to religious groups of its choosing without oversight. No politician dares to challenge it, but a group of atheists who pay taxes sued in federal court, arguing that it violated the "establishment clause" of the 1st Amendment. An appeals court ruled that the case can go forward. However, the White House director short circuited the process by asking the Supreme Court, stacked with conservatives, to weigh in. The issue is whether taxpayers have standing under the establishment clause to challenge the way the executive branch uses money appropriated by Congress. The Court heard oral arguments this week and is expected to rule before adjourning for the summer. [Emphasis added. -- Ed]
Yeah, how dare those taxpaying citizens, in whom the sovereignity of the nation rests and from whom the legitimacy of the government flows, interfere in the actions of the Executive Branch. What gall!

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/02/2007 06:16:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Friday Photography: Boats

click to enlarge

Daryl Samuel

Location: Paros, Cyclades Islands, Greece

Previous: Hands With Softball / On Alcatraz / Cameras / Lighthouse / Photographer At Work / Patio Chairs / Greek Church / Santa Fe Mailboxes / Rocking Horse / Sunset Sandpiper / Hands / Bird of Paradise / Feeding the Pelican / Sunset Silhouette / Staircase / Mallards / Masts / Greek Column / Paddlewheel / Olive Trees / Madison Square Park in the Snow / Pagoda / Ferry / Sand Tracks / General Store / Taverna Tables / Finger Piano / Bridge at Sunset / Snowfall in Cambridge

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/02/2007 12:19:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


(3089/898) Life in the theatre

673) I will argue [...] that the theatre is the natural art form of democracy; that it promotes a kind of thinking necessary to democracy; and that our leaders both of the left and right thereby have a stake in promoting it. By democracy I don't mean a liberal free-for-all of instant individual and group rights or the conservative establishment of unregulated capitalism. I mean a system of popular rule that implicitly values the individual's contribution to defining, legislating and regulating the common good. [...]

Consider the theatrical process. A group gets thrown together to put up a play. Over weeks of planning, weeks of rehearsal and weeks of performance, all the people in the group have to agree. This doesn't mean they have to like one another or refrain from shouting at one another. It doesn't mean they don't have political and philosophical or racial and religious differences. It doesn't mean there isn't a hierarchy of power, with anything from a nitwit to a proto-Facist at the top. It doesn't mean everyone's equal in talent. It means that all these people have to work together and negotiate decisions and delegate authority together, whether they like one another or not, in the interest of some agreed-upon better good, in this case a play.

Putting up a play is, in small, a civilizing process [...]
David Ives
"The Ancient Greeks Did It; Why Can't We?" in
Sunday New York Times Art & Leisure Section (2/26/1995)

674) Theatrical Logic

In is down, down is front;
Out is up, up is back;
Off is out, on is in;
and of course -
Right is left, and left is right.

A drop shouldn't and
A block and fall does neither.
A prop doesn't and
A cove has no water.

Tripping is okay;
A running crew rarely gets anywhere;
A purchase lie will buy you nothing;
A trap will not catch anything and
A gridiron has nothing to do with Football.
Strike is work (in fact, a lot of work) and
A green room, thank you, usually isn't.

Now that you're fully versed in
Theatrical Terms - "Break a Leg..."
But not really!
Circular frequently found on backstage call boards,
found at the Parker Playhouse Fort Lauderdale, Florida

I'm just your customary wretch
So who am I to kvetch
Eternity is stretching out before me
"My One and Only Shlemiel" (song, 1994)
lyrics by Arnold Weinstein
from Shlemiel the First (play, 1994)
musical based on the writings of Isaac Bashevis Singer
(including his play "Shlemiel the First"),
adapted by Robert Brustein
edited by David Gordon

I lead my life respectfully,
And nobody respects me.
I do my job correctfully,
And everyone corrects me.
"Beadle With A Dreydl" (song, 1994)
lyrics by Arnold Weinstein
from Shlemiel the First (play, 1994)
musical based on the writings of Isaac Bashevis Singer
(including his play "Shlemiel the First"),
adapted by Robert Brustein
edited by David Gordon

677) Working with your family is a lot like working with your family, which is really a lot like having dinner with your family, which is like going on vacation with your family ... which is like ... hell. Everyone thought it would be wonderful, but we fought like cats and dogs.
Ain Gordon (2/95)
on working with his father, David Gordon,
and his mother, Valda Setterfeld,
on The Family Business (play, 1993)

Note: "3089/898" is the designation I've given to the project of posting all my collected quotes, excerpts and ideas (3089 of them) in the remaining days of the Bush administration (of which there were 898 left when I began).

As of today, there are 690 days remaining in the administration of the worst American President ever.

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/02/2007 12:10:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Thursday, March 01, 2007

The age of the Blue Dogs?

In a post from yesterday, Daily Kos's mcjoan complains about the Blue Dog Democrats:
In true full Broderism, the likes of Reps. Allen Boyd, Dennis Moore, and Mike Ross are trumpeting their moderating influences on the Democratic party in today's Roll Call [subscription]. Here's a choice bit from Boyd:
"Let's face it, we all know that both parties, in large part, are controlled by extremes that in some cases are different from what we might represent in the middle," Boyd said. "We don't think the Speaker's philosophy or her particular district's philosophy is important. What we think is important is the management style she uses. How she is inclusive with us, how she acts."
We all know that Nancy Pelosi is an extremist? Only Allen Boyd and his band of 44 Blue Dogs represent the middle? The remaining 190 Dems are a bunch of far-left whacked out extremists?
Taking what's been quoted here at face value, the difference would appear to be where the defining points of the political spectrum are considered to be -- where the center is, and what is considered to be "extreme." I had the idea that the difference in perception between the Blue Dogs and the rest of the Democratic House caucus might be explained by demographics.

One of the recurring things I've written about over the years (and it's hardly an original thought) is that the recent triumphs of the right-wing have been made possible by their concerted effort to create and grow a political-social-media infrastructure through which they've influenced our national political conversation in such a way as to have ideas that were considered on the far fringes of the extreme right-wing become an accepted part of the discussion. By getting their whack-jobs notions into the mainstream, via their think tanks, media outlets, op-eds, talk radio, Fox News, and all the other parts of the Noise Machine, not to mention through their capture of one of the two mainstream parties in American politics, the Right has effectively moved the political center rightwards by extending the acceptable part of the right end of the spectrum. This effort on their part began with their regrouping after the defeat of Goldwater in 1964, and reached a high point with the election of Reagan in 1980.

That is where demographics enters the picture. Last night, when I had this idea, I took a look at the birthdates of the 44 Blue Dog Democrats and compared their average age to that of the rest of the caucus. What I found was that while the average age of non-Blue Dog Democrats was 59 (born in 1948), the average age of the Blue Dogs was 53 (born in 1954). While 6 years doesn't seem like much of a difference, I think it might have been critical in creating a difference in the political perceptions of the two groups.

While I'm in no way an expert, I did a little Googling on the subject, and found a study which indicated that the age of onset of political awareness in children is around 10 to 12, around the 4th and 5th grades. That seems reasonable to me, and comports with my own memory and my observations. And, of course, the right to vote begins at age 18, which would suggest that this is a landmark age as well in terms of developing political consciousness. My supposition, therefore, is that the ages of 10 to 18 are a critical period in determing a person's perception of politics, and that the differences in what occured in American politics during this period for the two groups (Blue Dogs and non-Blue Dogs) might explain their differing perceptions.

For the 190 non-Blue Dog Democrats, whose average age is 59 (born in 1948) the critical age range falls in the years from 1958 to 1966. This period begins with the moderate Eisenhower, continues through the Kennedy years, and ends with the defeat of Goldwater and the triumph of LBJ. The overall thrust of this time is the ascendancy of liberalism (as defined at the time) and the utter humiliation of right-wing extremism.

On the other hand, the Blue Dogs, with their average age of 53 (born in 1954), have their period of political development from 1964 to 1972. This time period begins with the defeat of Goldwater and proceeds from there. The social liberalism of Kenndy and Johnson is degraded by the morass of Vietnam, which brings Johnson down. Nixon, on the other hand, wins the Presidency using the conservative "southern strategy," and is triumphally re-elected. While not a movement conservative on the order of Reagan, Nixon's power is clearly linked to the acceptance of right-wing tropes in the nation's political byplay.

The six year difference between the groups seems critical. While the non-Blue Dogs developed political consciousness at a time of liberal ascendancy, the Blue Dogs did so during a period of conservative rise. That the Blue Dogs can see themselves as moderates and the rest of the caucus as being controlled by extremists may well be an effect of when they were born.

Related (3/5): Kevin Drum on generationally-defined political perceptions (in relation to Joe Klein's blindness about the dangers of the radical right).

Addendum (7/22/2009): Got this today, I've got no idea what it's about:

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Ed Fitzgerald | 3/01/2007 03:31:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Bizarre behavior

Say hello to a
senior administration official."

There truly is something very wrong here, I think. As the Brits say, he's balmy.

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/01/2007 03:09:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


(3089/898) Information wants to be...

665) On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it's so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other.
Stewart Brand
First Hackers' Conference
transcript published in
Whole Earth Review (5/1985)
[Note: Aphorized as "Information wants to be free."

Brand refined his original comment for The Media Lab: Inventing the Future at MIT (1987) to:

"Information wants to be free because it has become so cheap to distribute, copy, and recombine---too cheap to meter. It wants to be expensive because it can be immeasurably valuable to the recipient. That tension will not go away. It leads to endless wrenching debate about price, copyright, 'intellectual property', the moral rightness of casual distribution, because each round of new devices makes the tension worse, not better."

In various talks Brand gave at about this time, he used this expression of the idea:

"Information wants to be free (because of the new ease of copying and reshaping and casual distribution), AND information wants to be expensive (it's the prime economic event in an information age)... and technology is constantly making the tension worse. If you cling blindly to the expensive part of the paradox, you miss all the action going on in the free part. The pressure of the paradox forces information to explore incessantly. Smart marketers and inventors quietly follow-and I might add, so do smart computer security people."

Roger Clark, who tracked down this information, has also found some predecessors to Brand's statement, including "Information should be free," said by Peter Samson of the MIT Tech Model Railroad Club circa 1959.]
666) For years, software publishers wasted countless work-years devising byzantine protection schemes, while hackers wasted an equal amount of time cracking them. "Bit-nibbler" software as cheaply available for anyone who wanted a bootleg copy of dBase or Lotus 1-2-3. Meanwhile, legitimate consumers were maddened by disks that couldn't be backed up and programs that didn't run properly on hard drives.

In the end, the software publishers gave in and abandoned copy protection. None of them has gone out of business as a result. As [satellite pirate] Fred Martin points out, many consumers are willing to pay for the legitimate product when the price is reasonable, especially if they reap extra benefits such as proper documentation and technical support.

But this compliance cannot be achieved by moral or legal pressure. For most people, theft of data is in no way a moral issue; it doesn't create even a twinge of guilt. Consumers today are unimpressed by the legalities of copyright or the potential penalties involved. Bearing this in mind, which is the better policy: to make concessions to consumers or to clamp down and try to force them to obey?

The history of copy protection proves that concessions can be workable. The history of satellite video piracy indicates that clamping down leads to draconian law enforcement, huge unforeseen expenditures, and a flourishing black market patronized by everyday, law abiding Americans. Our system tends to function best when consumers are given a fair shake and freedom to chose. Trying to limit their options and beat money out of them with a bigger and bigger stick has never been a viable long-term policy.
Charles Platt
"Satellite Pirate" in
Wired (8/94)

667) "The airwaves should belong to the people. If a TV signal comes trespassing onto my property, I should be free to do any damn thing I want with it, and it's none of the government's business."
A dealer of pirate satellite equipment
quoted by Charles Platt in
"Satellite Pirate" in
Wired (8/94)

668) Delivered to your door daily, newspapers are silent, highly portable, requiring neither power source nor arcane commands, and don't crash or get infected. They can be stored for days at no cost and consumed over time in small digestible quantities. They can also be used to line trash cans and train pets. At their best, they have been fearless, informative, and heroic - exposing corrupt practices and crooked politicians, delving into health care and other complex issues. They can be deliciously quirky, useful, even provocative - filled with idiosyncratic issues and voices.

They're under siege, of course.
Jon Katz
"Online or Not, Newspapers Suck" in
Wired (9/94)

669) Technology adds nothing to art [...] Two thousand years ago, I could tell you a story, and at any point during the story I could stop and ask, "Now do you want the hero to be kidnapped or not?" But that would, of course, have ruined the story. Part of the experience of being entertained is sitting back and plugging into someone else's vision.

The fact of the matter is, since the beginning of time, you could buy a Picasso and change the colors. That's trivial. But you don't because you're buying a piece of Picasso's fucking soul. That's the definition of art: Art is one person's ego trip.
Penn Jillette
interviewed by Joshua Quittner in
Wired (9/94)

670) I've noticed that the proponents of free image-appropriation [...] are people who don't have any images. Perhaps if they spent 22 years of their lives making original photographs, they would feel different. And if mass image-appropriation becomes the norm in the future and any published photograph is free for public use, you might find that artists who are making original images will keep most of their work out of the mass media. Imagine the ocean of mediocrity that would prevail.
James Porto
letter to the editor in
Wired (10/94)

671) In rural areas, there are thousands of miles of railroad tracks, unfenced and easily accessible. Any disaffected teenager can put something on a track to derail a train. Kids frequently trespass on railroad property and occasionally tamper with the system; yet for some reason this is no great cause for alarm. No one demands better railroad security or jail terms for trespassers.

Our information network is much better protected than our railroad network, and someone who cracks a system is able to cause far less human damage than someone who derails a train. Why, then, has "computer crime" caused so much hysteria? Perhaps because the public is so willing - eager, even - to be scared by bogeymen.
Charles Platt
"Hackers: Threat or Menace?" in
Wired (11/94)

672) We are as gods and might as well get good at it.
Stewart Brand
The Whole Earth Catalog (1968)

Note: "3089/898" is the designation I've given to the project of posting all my collected quotes, excerpts and ideas (3089 of them) in the remaining days of the Bush administration (of which there were 898 left when I began).

As of today, there are 691 days remaining in the administration of the worst American President ever.

Ed Fitzgerald | 3/01/2007 01:14:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

(3089/898) The eyes have it

661) Eyes are classically studied as input devices. The study of eyes as output devices is virtually unknown. Yet, if you are standing 20 feet away from another person, you can tell if that person is looking right in your eyes or just over your shoulder - a difference of a tiny fraction of a degree. How? It surely isn't trigonometry, wherein you are computing the angle of the other person's pupil and then computing whether it's in line with your own gaze. No. That would require unthinkable measurement and computation. There is some kind of message passing, maybe a twinkle of the eye, which we just don't understand.
Nicholas Negroponte
"Sensor Deprived" in
Wired (10/94)

662) [Bill] Clinton uses the language of seduction. He talks with the moist urgent sincerity of the junk-bond dealer who sits down next to you at the bar in the Atlanta airport. He is driven to ingratiate himself and find common ground. [...] [Newt] Gingrich uses the language of didacticism. He talks like your uncle, the amateur pedant who drinks one glass of wine too many at Thanksgiving dinner and insists on spending an hour dwelling on the finer points of "The Federalist Papers." He doesn't feel the need to be loved in the way Mr. Clinton does, and blurts out half-naked ideas more often. He talks so much because he loves playing the professor to a nation of captive students, recommending a raft of new books every week and expounding on his offbeat cultural theories.
Maureen Dowd
"Silence Is Olden" in
New York Times Magazine (2/26/95)

663) GODWIN'S LAW OF NAZI ANALOGIES: As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.

GORDON'S RESTATEMENT OF NEWMAN'S COROLLARY TO GODWIN'S LAW: Libertarianism (pro, con, and internal faction fights) is the primordial discussion topic. Any time the debate shifts somewhere else, it must eventually return to this fuel source.

MORGAN'S COROLLARY TO GODWIN'S LAW: As soon as such a comparison occurs, someone will start a Nazi-discussion thread on alt.censorship.

SIRCAR'S COROLLARY: If the Usenet discussion touches on homosexuality or Heinlein, Nazis or Hitler are mentioned within three days.

VAN DER LEUN'S COROLLARY: As global connectivity improves, the probablity of actual Nazis being on the Net approaches one.

MILLER'S PARADOX: As a network evolves, the number of Nazi comparisons not forestalled by citation to Godwin's Law converges to zero.

STOLL'S RESTATEMENT OF GODWIN'S LAW: Once a discussion reaches a comparison to Nazis or Hitler its usefulness is over.
Mike Godwin
"Meme, Counter-Meme" in
Wired (10/94)
[Note: cf. #817 Spafford, #846-848 Spafford, and #934-935 unknown.]

664) All action must, to a certain extent, be planned in a mere twilight, which in addition not infrequently - like the effect of fog or moonlight - gives to things exaggerated dimensions and an unnatural appearance.
Karl von Clausewitz
quoted by James Der Derian in
"Cyber Deterrence" in
Wired (9/94)

Note: "3089/898" is the designation I've given to the project of posting all my collected quotes, excerpts and ideas (3089 of them) in the remaining days of the Bush administration (of which there were 898 left when I began).

As of today, there are 692 days remaining in the administration of the worst American President ever.

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/28/2007 10:55:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Looking for big guys who throw hard

I'm always curious about the people who come by unfutz, so I check my referral logs occasionally to see what they were looking for. Today I came across this one for "pitchers of dwarf planets". I assume that pictures was meant, but the image it brought up, of a pitcher so humongous that he threw dwarf planets instead of baseballs was pretty amusing, very much in the Paul Bunyan tradition of tall tales.

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/28/2007 06:44:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Is this a reason why things feel worse than they're supposed to?

I freely admit to being a complete idiot about economics, and yet I'm a sucker for graphs and charts of all kinds. With those caveats, here is a graph from John Williams' Shadow Government Statistics which shows an alternate (in blue) to the official Consumer Price Index (in red):

As you can (barely) see, while the official stat has the CPI at around 2%, the SGS alternate has it at more like 10%. As I said, I'm an idiot, but I have to say it feels more tenish than twoish to me. (How's that for sophisticated analysis?)

Angry Bear has more by people who seem to know what they're talking about (and certainly know a heck of a lot more than I do). It included a link to an article in the UK Daily Telegraph in which economists examine the British CPI and find that it's actually more than twice the official rate of 2.4%.

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/28/2007 05:31:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


(3089/898) Franklin's legacy

[updated - see note]

660) Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.
Benjamin Franklin
Pennsylvania Assembly: Reply to the Governor (11/11/1755)

[Note: According to Wikiquote, this quote served as the motto on the front page of An Historical Review of the Constitution and Government of Pennsylvania (1759), which was published by Franklin, but most probably written primarily by Richard Jackson. However, the motto itself seems to have been written by Franklin, who wrote in Poor Richard's Almanack (1738) the similar "Sell not virtue to purchase wealth, nor Liberty to purchase power."

Richard Minsky established that the quote is the more grammatically correct version given above, and not the more widely disseminated version "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety", which I originally gave, and which appears in Bartlett's 16th Edition (1993). The page on the quote, which provided the citation above, also cites Franklin's 1775 use of the Bartlett's version from Contributions to the Conference (2/17/1775). The site also notes that "this sentiment, with many variations, was much used in the Revolutionary period by Franklin and others."]

Note: "3089/898" is the designation I've given to the project of posting all my collected quotes, excerpts and ideas (3089 of them) in the remaining days of the Bush administration (of which there were 898 left when I began).

As of today, there are 692 days remaining in the administration of the worst American President ever.

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/28/2007 01:39:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

(3089/898) Foma & granfalloons (no cat)

653) "Show business," and old Hollywood saw has it, "is high school with money."
Neal Karlen
"What Hollywood Doesn't Know
About Money"
Sunday New York Times
Arts & Leisure Section
[Note: cf. Vonnegut #963]
654) You know, all Manny wanted at the end was a piece of cake. "Honey, give me a nice piece of cake." "Waddaya crazy? Cake'll kill you." Sometimes, now, I want a frankfurter with relish. I think about that. I shoulda given him that damn piece of cake.
Ain Gordon & David Gordon
The Family Business (play, 1993)

655) There is an old Jewish joke about a teacher who takes her class to the zoo and instructs her pupils to write a composition about the elephant.

The Protestant child writes a paper called "The Elephants are Our Friends." The Catholic child writes "The Elephant and Her Babies" and the Jewish child writes "The Elephant and the Jewish Problem."
Ari L. Goldman
"The Sacred Texts: Torah. Talmud. Contract?"
Sunday New York Times Week In Review (1/8/95)

656) We Bokonists believe that humanity is organized into teams, teams that do God's Will without ever discovering what they are doing. Such a team is called a karass by Bokonon [...]

"If you find your life tangled up with somebody else's life for no very logical reasons," writes Bokonon, "that person may be a member of your karass."

At another point in The Books of Bokonon he tells us, "man created the checkerboard; God created the karass." By that he means that a karass ignores national, institutional, occupational, familial, and class boundaries.

It is as free form as an amoeba.
Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
Cat's Cradle (1963)

657) Hazel's obsession with Hoosiers around the world was a textbook example of a false karass, of a seeming team that was meaningless in terms of the ways God gets things done, a textbook example of what Bokonon calls a granfalloon. Other examples are the Communist party, the Daughters of the American Revolution, the General Electric Company, the International Order of Odd Fellows - and any nation, anytime, anywhere.

As Bokonon invites us to sing along with him:
If you wish to study a granfalloon
Just remove the skin of a toy balloon.

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
Cat's Cradle (1963)

658) Nothing is this book is true. "Live by the foma [harmless untruths] that make you brave and kind and healthy and happy."
  • The Books of Bokonon 1:5
Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
epigram in dedication to
Cat's Cradle (1963)

659) Everything you know is wrong.
Firesign Theatre
(Phil Austin, Peter Bergman,
David Ossman and Philip Proctor)
title of record album (1974)

Note: "3089/898" is the designation I've given to the project of posting all my collected quotes, excerpts and ideas (3089 of them) in the remaining days of the Bush administration (of which there were 898 left when I began).

As of today, there are 693 days remaining in the administration of the worst American President ever.

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/27/2007 11:40:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Mind the gap

Australian Prime Minister John Howard, after formally revealing
his secret origins as a clone of Vice President Dick Cheney,
indicates the size of the Bush Administration's credibility gap.

[Houston Chronicle via WaPo, thanks to Cathy]

When I was back there in seminary school ... wait, start again ... I was channeling Jim Morrison, sorry.

When I was a kid in elementary school, I learned in my Weekly Reader about the terrible problems that the LBJ administration was having in governing effectively, because of the awful "credibility gap" they had. I mean, I was led to believe that Johnson, a war president, was basically crippled by the fact that after being fed lie after lie about how we were winning so brilliantly in Vietnam, no one believed anything he or his people said.

Why is it that with Bush's approval ratings down in the gutter, and Cheney's so low you need a magnifying glass to find them, and time and time again the Administration's statements -- about Iraq, Katrina, social security, global warming, bin Laden, Valerie Plame, the effect of gamma rays on man-in-the-moon marigolds, whatever -- having been shown to be wrong or outright lies ("inoperative" in Nixonspeak), how come with all of that we don't hear all that much about Bush and Cheney having a serious credibility gap? A Google News search only pulls up a few hits, usually in columns (and here) or editorials and an occasional news piece, certainly not enough to make the Weekly Readers of today's elementary school generation. But surely this Administration's credibility is significantly more compromised than Johnson's, and maybe even Nixon's?

How come we don't hear more about that?

Update: Froomkin:
According to the results of the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll, disapproving of President Bush's Iraq policy is not just the majority view; it is the sentiment of two out of every three members of the American public.

Support for a troop withdrawal -- and, specifically, for Congress to stay Bush's hand -- is not the domain of the antiwar left. It is the view of a solid majority of Americans.

Consider some of these findings, listed in order of how strongly those views are held. (And I'm only including those with over 55 percent support):

* 67 disapprove of the way Bush is handling Iraq.

* 67 percent oppose sending additional troops to Iraq.

* 66 percent support reducing U.S. military and financial support for the Iraqi government if the Iraqis fail to make progress toward national unity and restoring civil order.

* 64 don't think the war with Iraq was worth fighting.

* 58 percent want Congress to limit the number of troops available for duty.

* 56 percent feel the U.S. should withdraw its military forces from Iraq in order to avoid further U.S. military casualties, even if that means civil order is not restored there.

And in an somewhat related finding:

* 63 percent feel they cannot trust the Bush administration to honestly and accurately report intelligence about possible threats from other countries.
Quite a gap.

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/27/2007 12:02:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


(3089/898) Chaos and indifference

The Attractors - Mandelbrot Rock (1994)
649) [C]haos theory is vastly misunderstood. [...] [Doyne] Farmer suggests chaos is like a hit (vinyl) record with two sides.
  • The lyrics to the hit song go: "By the laws of chaos, initial order can unravel into raw unpredictability. You can't predict far."

  • But the flip side goes: "By the laws of chaos, things that look completely disordered may be predictable over the short term. You can predict short."
In other words, the character of chaos carries both good news and bad news. The bad news is that very little, if anything, is predictable far into the future. The good news - the flip side of chaos - is that in the short term, more may be more predictable than it first seems. Both the long-term, unpredictable nature of the high-dimensional systems and the short-term, predictable nature of low-dimensional systems derive from the fact that "chaos" is not the same thing as "randomness." "There is order in chaos," Farmer says.
Kevin Kelly
"Cracking Wall Street"
Wired (7/94)

650) In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won't find any rhyme or reason in it, or any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.
Richard Dawkins
River Out of Eden (1995)
[Note: This quote has mistakenly been attributed to Charles Darwin]
651) Some alleles [gene forms] are all but universal. They tell us little beyond their selected value to our common humanity. Some are rare save in the small region where they arose long ago. But most are found everywhere at some level of frequency. Thus, single alleles can say little. They are apparent in nearly all populations. On that rock the old and wicked idea of human races foundered utterly. People vary genetically within groups more than they vary from one group to another; most evolution took place during the long time before humans made it to the continents.
Philip Morrison
"Genetic Distance"
Scientific American (1/95)
[review of The History and Geography
of Human Genes
L. Luca Cavalli-Sforza, Paolo Menozzi
and Alberto Piazza]

652) [The] five elements of scientific endeavor - originality, detachment, universality, skepticism and public accessibility.
Robert K. Merton
cited by John Timpane in
"How To Convince A Reluctant Scientist" in
Scientific American (1/95)

Note: "3089/898" is the designation I've given to the project of posting all my collected quotes, excerpts and ideas (3089 of them) in the remaining days of the Bush administration (of which there were 898 left when I began).

As of today, there are 693 days remaining in the administration of the worst American President ever.

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/27/2007 01:21:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Monday, February 26, 2007

A new and fun source of information

So, comes there now the Conservapedia, a wiki-based conservative encyclopedia designed to compensate for a perceived liberal bias in Wikipedia. Let's do an A-B comparison. First, here's the first few paragraphs of the Wikipedia entry on Bill Clinton:
William Jefferson "Bill" Clinton (born William Jefferson Blythe III[1] on August 19, 1946) was the 42nd President of the United States, serving from 1993 to 2001. Before his presidency, Clinton served nearly twelve years as the 50th and 52nd Governor of Arkansas. Clinton was the third-youngest person to serve as president, after Theodore Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy.

During Clinton's presidency, the world continued to transition from the political order of the Cold War, and the United States experienced the longest period of economic expansion in its history. In 1998, he became the second president to be impeached by the United States House of Representatives. He was subsequently acquitted by the United States Senate and remained in office to complete his term. Clinton was a New Democrat politician and was mainly responsible for the Third Way philosophy of governance that came to epitomize his two terms as president.

Since leaving office, Clinton has been involved in public speaking and humanitarian work. He created the William J. Clinton Foundation to promote and address international causes, such as treatment and prevention of HIV/ AIDS and global warming. In 2004, he released a personal autobiography, My Life. His wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, is the junior United States Senator from the state of New York, where they both currently reside.
That seems like a fairly unbiased thumbnail account. How does Conservapedia do? Let's look:
William J. ("Bill") Clinton served as president of the United States from 1993-2001. Clinton never won a majority of the popular vote.

Clinton won in 1992 with 43% of the popular vote, capitalizing on public discontent with a weak economy. In his first two years in office, 1993 through 1994, Clinton failed at his massive attempt to "reform" health-care in the United States by some sort of government-backed universal health-care insurance, which would result in effective government control of the health care system. His approach consisted of appointing a planning committee with secret members to reshape this important sector of the economy. The Association of American Physicians and Surgeons successfully sued to force disclosure of the committee members and ultimately to defeat the program.

Clinton also signed into law the Violence Against Women Act, which opened the federal courts to claims of domestic disputes between men and women, which had always been handled under state rather than federal law. A key provision of this law was later ruled unconstitutional in United States v. Morrison.[1]

In 1994, voters expressed their high disapproval of Clinton by giving a landslide victory to Republicans in Congress, where Republicans won 49.9% of the popular vote (compared to the Democrat's 44%). This event was tagged the "Republican Revolution," in which Republicans promised America reforms including term limits, persidential line-item veto, and a balanced budget. That ended much of Clinton's power. He was reelected with 49.2% of the popular vote against a weak Republican candidate in 1996 ( Bob Dole) and a weaker "populist" candidate, H. Ross Perot. The re-election of Clinton despite the demonstrated preference of the electorate in 1994 for Republican candidates may well be due to the electorate's preference for a divided government, in which the executive branch and the congress are representative of different parties. Clinton spent the remainder of his presidency combatting scandals. A special prosicutor was named to investigate Clinton for allegations of impropriety in the Whitewater real-estate scandal, an investment of Clintons in a failed real estate venture. Although nothing came out of this investigation, and it turned out that Clinton actually lost money on his investment, one of the results of the investigation was that the special prosecutor turned to investigating other Clinton activities, one of which (the Monica Lewinsky scandal) resulted in an impeachment trial. Bill Clinton managed to serve two terms without botching the prosecution of two wars, manipulating intelligence, engaging in a systematic program of torture, or mishandling the federal response to flooding of a major American city. Obviously, he is the devil incarnate. Clinton also attempted to use the American military to kill Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda, an action which was properly seen as a mere attempt to distract the nation from the Monica Lewisnky scandal.

Bill Clinton's wife, Hillary Clinton, has long sought to become president herself. She used her position of influence to obtain the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate without opposition in 2000, and was elected in this safely Democratic state. Reelected in 2006, she is now running for president in 2008.
Nah, no bias there, not that I can see. Just the facts, ma'am. Let's examine the opposition, and take a look at how these two competing reference sources do with George W. Bush. First, Wikipedia:

George Walker Bush (born July 6, 1946) is the 43rd and current president of the United States, inaugurated on January 20, 2001 and re-inaugurated on January 20, 2005.

Bush was first elected in 2000, following one of the closest and most controversial presidential elections in U.S. history. After a month of ballot recounts and court challenges in Florida, the Supreme Court ended the dispute with its final ruling of Bush v. Gore, handing the electoral college victory to Bush.[1] Eight months into Bush's presidency in 2001, nineteen hijackers sponsored by al-Qaeda carried out the September 11, 2001 attacks. President Bush responded by announcing a "war on terrorism," which would become a central issue of his presidency. In early October 2001, he ordered the invasion of Afghanistan to overthrow the Taliban and attempt to destroy al-Qaeda.[2] In March 2003, Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq, asserting that Iraq was in violation of UN Resolution 1441 regarding weapons of mass destruction.[3][4] Following the invasion of Iraq, Bush stated his policy of promoting democracy in the Middle East, starting with Afghanistan and Iraq.[5]

Running as a self-described "war president" in the midst of the Iraq war,[6] Bush won re-election in 2004[7] after a heated general election campaign against Senator John Kerry in which President Bush's prosecution of the "war on terrorism" and the Iraq war became central issues.[8][9] Matters concerning Bush's execution of the war on terrorism such as the Iraq War, the Guantánamo Bay and Abu Ghraib torture and prisoner abuse scandals, and related domestic controversies such as NSA warrantless surveillance activities and the federal response to Hurricane Katrina would become some of the most controversial issues of Bush's presidency.

Bush is often referred to by the nickname "Dubya", playing on his Southern pronunciation of the letter W.
Weird the way liberals craftily obscure their biases behind a veneer of fact after fact. Let's check Conservapedia now:
Is the president of the United States of America. Republican. Was awared the office of President by a narrow decision of the U.S. Supreme court in 2000 in a disputed election race against Democratic candidate Al Gore. In 2004, George W. Bush won reelection by a popular margin of millions of votes, including a landslide victory in the State of Florida where the outcome had been so close in 2000. Democratic candidate John Kerry quickly conceded defeat the day after the election.

For many months after John Kerry conceded the outcome of the 2004 election to George W. Bush, some liberals continued to claim that the election had somehow been stolen by voter fraud. When Al Gore went on a speaking tour in 2006 to promote government controls over industry in the name of global warming, many liberal fans greeted him with the belief that he had actually won the election in 2000.

Son of president George H. W. Bush.

The current Bush administration is a Divided Government
It's worth noting that that's those are the sum totals of the entire Conservapedia entries on Bush and Clinton, while the Wikipedia entries go on for another 30 or more screens worth of material. Since Conservapedia's just starting out, I suppose we cannot hold that against them, but surely they're due some criticism for being so darned... well -- biased, aren't they?

The real problem, as so often is the case, is that conservatives believe that anything factual which they don't like, or don't agree with, or which contradicts their dogma and ideology is liberally biased, when actually it's simply the case that (for the most part) liberals tend to recognize facts when they see them. They may try to change the facts if they don't like what they see, but they don't pretend that they're other than they are. Reality doesn't have a liberal bias, liberals just know reality when they see it. Conservatives seem to have a problem with that.

Update: There's more on Conservapedia (which seems to be down right now), especially about its racial politics (racist, no surprise there) on Jack and Jill Politics. Read the comments there which have interesting information on the site's genesis as a project of Phyllis Schafly's Eagle Forum, and the authors of many of the entries (home-schooled high-school level conserva-kids and liberal pranksters, apparently).

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/26/2007 02:28:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Sunday, February 25, 2007

It's Oscar night! How many can you name?







Update: For those who have difficulty reading small print upside-down, or who cannot stand on their heads, the answers are here.

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/25/2007 10:44:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


(3089/898) Diamond, Sagan, Dawkins

643) It ought to be obvious that both reductionist understanding and higher-level understanding are essential, and that it's pointless to berate scientists for failing to do controlled experiments on subjects for which controlled experiments would be immoral, illegal, or impossible.
Jared Diamond
"Portrait of the Biologist as a Young Man"
New York Review of Books (1/12/95)
[review of E.O. Wilson's Naturalist]

644) In July 1991 I visited Arizona's Biosphere II, the controversial effort to build a self-sustaining microcosm, while it was still being de-bugged before being sealed off. One of the organizer's many serious problems was earthworms, which were of course required to aerate the soil and thereby to regulate the atmosphere within Biosphere II. Alas, there was almost no one to whom to turn to for advice, because by 1991 the crusade [by molecular biologists] against "stamp collectors" [naturalists] had reduced the world's number of experts on tropical rainforest earthworms to two, one of whom was already unemployed. The result is now notorious: the Biosphere II organizers failed to solve the problem of soil aeration and failed to attain an atmosphere of constant self-regulating composition; gases had to be pumped into the Biosphere to safeguard the lives of its human residents. That failure in a microcosm can serve as a metaphorical warning to us to be concerned about the current breakdown of self-regulation of the whole Earth's atmosphere.
Jared Diamond
"Portrait of the Biologist as a Young Man"
New York Review of Books (1/12/95)
]review of E.O. Wilson's Naturalist]

645) We have a civilization based on science and technology, and we've cleverly arranged things so that almost nobody understands science and technology. This is as clear a prescription for disaster as you can imagine. While we might get away with this combustible mixture of ignorance and power for a while, sooner or later it's going to blow up in our faces. The powers of modern technology are so formidable that it's insufficient just to say, "Well, those in charge, I'm sure, are doing a good job." This is a democracy, and for us to make sure that the powers of science and technology are used properly and prudently, we ourselves must understand science and technology. We must be involved in the decision-making process.
Carl Sagan
"Wonder and Skepticism"
Skeptical Inquirer (Jan-Feb/95)

646) Science involves a seemingly self-contradictory mix of attitudes: On the one hand, it requires an almost complete openness to all ideas, no matter how bizarre and weird they sound, a propensity to wonder. As I walk along, my time slows down; I shrink in the direction of motion, and I get more massive. That's crazy! On the scale of the very small, the molecule can be in this position, in that position, but it is prohibited from being in any intermediate position. That's wild! But the first is a statement of special relativity, and the second is a consequence of quantum mechanics. Like it or not, that's the way the world is. If you insist that it's ridiculous, you will be forever closed to the major findings of science. But at the same time, science requires the most vigorous and uncompromising skepticism, because the vast majority of ideas are simply wrong, and the only way you can distinguish the right from the wrong, the wheat from the chaff, is by critical experiment and analysis.

Too much openness and you accept every notion, idea and hypothesis - which is tantamount to knowing nothing. Too much skepticism - especially rejection of new ideas before they are adequately tested - and you're not only unpleasantly grumpy, but also closed to the advance of science. A judicious mix is what we need.
Carl Sagan
"Wonder and Skepticism"
Skeptical Inquirer (Jan-Feb/95)

647) Clarke's Third Law doesn't work in reverse. Given that "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic," it does not follow that "any magical claim that anybody may make at any time is indistinguishable from a technological advance that well come some time in the future." [...] [T]here have admittedly been occasions when authoritative, pontificating skeptics have come away with egg on their faces, even within their own lifetimes. But there have been a far greater number of occasions when magical claims have never been vindicated. An apparent magical claim might eventually turn out to be true. In any age there are so many magical claims that are, or could be, made. They can't all be true; many are mutually contradictory; and we have no reason to suppose that, simply by the act of sitting down and dreaming up a magical claim, we shall make it come true in some future technology. Some things that would surprise us today will come true in the future. But lots and lots of things that would surprise us today will not come true ever.
Richard Dawkins
"Putting Away Childish Things"
Skeptical Inquirer (Jan-Feb/95)
[Note: Clarke's Laws - First Law: 110, 111, 751, 752; Second Law: 753; Third Law: 109, 647, 754, 755, 1013, 1057, 1402. Clarke's Law of Revolutionary Ideas: 1853.]
648) In childhood our credulity serves us well. It helps us to pack, with extraordinary rapidity, our skulls full of the wisdom of our parents and our ancestors. But if we don't grow out of it in the fullness of time, our [...] nature makes us a sitting target for astrologers, mediums, gurus, evangelists, and quacks. We need to replace the automatic credulity of childhood with the constructive skepticism of adult science.
Richard Dawkins
"Putting Away Childish Things"
Skeptical Inquirer (Jan-Feb/95)

Note: "3089/898" is the designation I've given to the project of posting all my collected quotes, excerpts and ideas (3089 of them) in the remaining days of the Bush administration (of which there were 898 left when I began).

As of today, there are 695 days remaining in the administration of the worst American President ever.

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/25/2007 10:04:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Investment opportunity!!

Keep your eyes and ears open, boys and girls. If you hear of the chance to invest in a new Broadway musical based on the life on Anna Nicole Smith, by all means grab it! A mythical little bird tells me it's going to be a big, big hit!!! It'll make Mama Mia look like yesterday's pasta.

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/25/2007 09:41:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Here come the water wars

New York Times:
The Colorado River Basin is more prone to drought than had been thought, a panel of experts reported yesterday, and as the climate warms and the population in the region grows, pressure on water supplies will become greater.

The severe droughts the region suffered in the 1990s and early 2000s would not stand out in the record of the last few centuries, the panel said, and the future presents “a sobering prospect for elected officials and water managers.” The panel said residents of the region should prepare for more frequent and more severe dry spells, and “costly, controversial and unavoidable trade-offs” in water use.

The data discussed in the report have been published before in scholarly journals and elsewhere. But Ernest T. Smerdon, a former dean of the College of Engineering and Mines at the University of Arizona, who led the panel, said its members hoped with this publication to pull the findings into a single document that ordinary people could understand.

Severe droughts will recur, Dr. Smerdon said, “and we better be prepared. That is the message.” He spoke at a news conference yesterday in Las Vegas, where the report was made public.

The panel recommended an “action-oriented” study of water use patterns and demands, including drought planning, population projections and possible effects of transferring water to urban areas from agriculture, still the dominant consumer. Dialogue between policy makers and scientists who study water issues should be “a permanent fixture within the basin,” it said.

The panel, organized by the National Research Council, the research arm of the National Academy of Science, noted that the water allocation agreement for the basin, the Colorado River Compact, was negotiated in 1922 based on river flow records dating to the 1890s, when gauging stations were established. The agreement assumed that the annual river flow was 16.4 million acre feet — enough to cover 16.4 million acres to a depth of one foot.

But for some time, the panel said, researchers have known that the early 20th century was unusually wet and that 15 million acre feet was a more accurate estimate of the flow. Recent studies based on tree rings put the figure lower still — as low as 13 million acre feet — and suggest that “drought episodes are a recurrent and integral feature of the region’s climate.”

Because trees grow more when it is wet, scientists use tree ring size as an indicator of water abundance. The report says the federal Bureau of Reclamation and other agencies requested the panel’s review in the wake of the new findings.

Global warming is already making things worse, the experts said. For one thing, warmer weather means less precipitation in the form of snow, which is stored in the region’s mountain snowpack. And the snowpack itself forms later and melts sooner each winter. As a result, the steady reliability of snowpack water storage is compromised. Also, warmer weather itself increases consumer, environmental and agricultural demands for water.

Rainfall patterns are difficult to predict, another panel member, Connie A. Woodhouse, a geographer at the University of Arizona, said at the news conference. But the report said it was probable that the region would experience less precipitation over all in a warmer world.

Cloud-seeding, water desalinization and improved underground water storage have yet to emerge as solutions, the report said, and even conservation, while helpful, “is no panacea,” Dr. Smerdon said.

The report, which is available at, notes that the basin, 240,000 square miles in Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, California and Mexico, has seen rapid population growth in recent decades. Until about 30 years ago, the panel wrote, growing demands for water were met through building dams and reservoirs. But today, the report says, “prospects for constructing additional large dams in the Colorado River basin have diminished.”

Instead, “there is going to have to be some kind of reallocation of who gets the water,” said Richard Seager, a climate expert at the Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory, who was not involved in the panel’s report.

Dr. Seager, who studies the drought history of North America, said that it was “silly” to put golf courses in the region’s desert areas and that hotels and other businesses were already installing water-conserving toilets and other fixtures.

But he added, referring to cattle and cotton raising, “Let’s think whether it makes sense to have all this subsidized agriculture in the region, people who aren’t even paying the full cost of the water they do use.”
Los Angeles Times (via Sun-Sentinel):
The U.S. Department of the Interior, which oversees the Colorado's management, is reviewing a drought plan the states put together last year.

Because California holds some of the most senior rights to the river, Arizona, Nevada and Mexico would all see cuts in deliveries before California, said Roger Patterson, the MWD's assistant general manager.

He said that under the states' drought proposal, there is only a 1% chance that shortages will fall to a level that will affect California.

The river is a major source for the MWD [Metropolitan Water District], Southern California's biggest urban water supplier. Last year about 30% of the agency's water deliveries came from the Colorado, which provides about one-tenth of California's overall urban and agricultural supplies.

Most of the state's river allotment — the largest in the system — goes to the Imperial Irrigation District, which distributes water to the sprawling croplands of the Imperial Valley, one of the nation's biggest lettuce producers.

Noting that farms remain the dominant water user in the Colorado River basin, the report called agricultural water "the most important and perhaps final large reservoir of available water for urban use in the arid U.S. West."

But that supply is also finite, the authors emphasized, and shifting water from farm to city can have negative impacts. Transfers can hurt rural economies, lower food production and rob wildlife of leaking irrigation water that nourishes important habitat.
Rocky Mountain News:
The Colorado River Basin covers portions of seven Western states. The river has an average annual flow of 15 million acre- feet and supports tens of millions of Americans.

As the population boom continues, Western water wars will grow fiercer, water costs will rise and more agricultural water will be diverted to urban use, the report notes. Now, about 80 percent of Western water is used for crop production.

But "the availability of agricultural water is finite," and all signs point to a future "in which the potential for conflict among existing and prospective new users will prove endemic," the report says.


The new National Research Council document calls for further study of the Colorado River Basin but offers no solutions for the West's water woes.

"The Colorado River has been called the hardest-working river, but how much more work can it be asked to do?" said study co-author Kelly Redmond, a climatologist at the Desert Research Institute in Reno, Nev.

"The issue of limitations has to be confronted eventually, and it's just a question of which generation is going to take it on," Redmond said.

"Down the road, we'll either decide that the population cannot continue to grow inexorably, or we will have to go to greater and greater lengths to find (other sources of) water and move it to where the people are."

"There's not much in here that should be a surprise to anybody," Eric Kuhn, manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District in Glenwood Springs, said of the new study.

"The big question is, will the water management infrastructure - meaning the big state and federal agencies - adopt it or dismiss it because it's telling them things they don't want to hear?"

River of trouble

The Colorado River has an annual average flow of about 15 million acre-feet of water. Several recent studies have concluded that the average flow will decline in coming decades because of climate warming. A look at different computer models' scenarios:
  • 20 percent decreases were projected by the end of the century in a 2005 study.

  • 14 percent to 18 percent declines were forecast over the next half century in 2004.

  • 8 percent to 11 percent drops were foreseen by the end of the century in a study completed last year.

Land is one thing: a map can be carved up however you will, walls and fences erected, ownership enforced. But rivers don't dally, they cross boundaries and national borders. So do aquifers: tapped at one location, their level may be lowered far awar. How, then, can flowing water be owned?

In trying to apply our concept of ownership to a resource whose very nature runs contracy to the idea, we have a recipe for conflict. Damming of the course of a river denies this nature, and complex social factors enter the equation of relative benefits and drawbacks. Yes, we can confer fertility on famished lands and provide electricity to cities - but among the overheads are the displacement of populations, disease, pollution, catastrophic flooding, and armed conflict.

The tensions that arise from the management of water provide a good litmus test for the prevailing social climate in which it is conducted. According to social scientists John Donahue and Barbara Rose Johnston, systems for controlling access to and use of water resources typically recreate and reproduce the inequities in the societies that generate them. Historian Karl Wittfogel goes further: he saw that "it was as the arbiters of water that tyrannies annointed themselves as legitimate."
Philip Ball
Life's Nature: A Biography of Water (1999)
citing Karl Wittfogel
Oriental Despotism: A Comparative Study of Power (1957)

Water is (obviously) the basic necessity for human life and for sustaining civilization, so water wars are notoriously harsh, and not infrequently result in actual warfare. We're unlikely to see a civil war over water in the Amercian West break out, but the war of words will surely be severe.

(These articles don't mention that Mexico is a player in this drama as well. Because of treaties between the US and Mexico, the Colorado, which passes through that country on the way to emptying into the Gulf of California, is required to deliver a certain amount of usable water to Mexico every year. Because of the allocations to the Compact states, in drought years the river fails to meet that requirement, and that results in potable water being trucked from the US to Mexico in huge amounts, to fulfill our treaty obligations.)

Clearly, the easiest way to adjust the Compact would be to determine the river's actual flow, and adjust the amount each state is slated to get by the percentage of difference. But that's hardly the fairest way, considering that some states (such as Arizona) don't actually use all the water they're supposed to get, while other states (most notably California) use every drop, and more. Big users, like the MWD, which provides water for 26 cities in California, including Los Angeles and San Diego, and the Imperial Valley Irrigation District aren't interested in percentages, they're interested in actual acre-feet of water that they need to provide for their customer. Since the Los Angeles basin is semi-arid, and the Imperial Valley is a desert, this water is vital for their continued existence.

Of course, one could argue with the wisdom of having our second largest metropolitan area, with a population of 13 million people and rising, in an area which can naturally support only tens of thousands, or of growing crops like lettuce and watermelon, which require a lot of water in a desert, regardless of how fertile the soil is. Still, since 95% of our lettuce comes from California and Arizona, the fate of our salads, not to mention the continued existence of celebrities in revealing gowns on red carpets, seems to lie in getting the Colorado River Compact straightened out.

I shouldn't make light of this, because it really is a serious problem. Rational planning wouldn't have put all those people in Southern California, but that's the way it happened -- they're there, they're not going away (any more than the millions of people who live in the flood plains of our rivers, or in the path of hurricanes, or in tornado alley, or in earthquake country, or along the eroding coastlines are going away) and they have to be provided for. That may in some ways squelch the continued growth of Arizona and New Mexico, not to mention Las Vegas and the rest of Nevada (whose growth is intimately related to that of Southern California, considering it's where many people fleeing Los Angeles seem to end up, thereby re-creating the same urban sprawl they're trying to leave behind), but that's the current reality -- there's just not enough water in the west for everyone to continue growing at an unbridled pace.

Then there's the problem that neither Los Angeles nor Las Vegas are exactly circumspect about the way the use their water.

In the West, of course, where water is concerned, logic and reason have never figured prominently in the scheme of things. As long as we maintain a civilization in a semidesert with a desert heart, the yearning to civilize more of it will always be there. It is an instinct that followed closely on the heels of food, sleep, and sex, predating the Bible by thousands of years. The instinct, if nothing else, is bound to persist.
Marc Reisner
Cadillac Desert: The American West
and its Disappearing Water

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/25/2007 05:55:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Ed Fitzgerald

Clowns to the left of me,
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Here I am...
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Martin van Creveld - The Transformation of War

Jay Feldman - When the Mississippi Ran Backwards

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Alfred W. Crosby - America's Forgotten Pandemic (1989)
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Bullshit, trolling, unthinking knee-jerk dogmatism and the drivel of idiots will be ruthlessly deleted and the posters banned.

Entertaining, interesting, intelligent, informed and informative comments will always be welcome, even when I disagree with them.

I am the sole judge of which of these qualities pertains.

All e-mail received is subject to being published on unfutz without identifying names or addresses.

I correct typos and other simple errors of grammar, syntax, style and presentation in my posts after the fact without necessarily posting notification of the change.

Substantive textual changes, especially reversals or major corrections, will be noted in an "Update" or a footnote.

Also, illustrations may be added to entries after their initial publication.
the story so far
unfutz: toiling in almost complete obscurity for almost 1500 days
2005 koufax awards


Carpetbagger Report
*Crooks and Liars*
Progressive Blog Digest


Daou Report
Media Matters
Political Animal
*Talking Points Memo*
Think Progress
James Wolcott

2004 koufax winners
2003 koufax award
"best blog" nominees
the proud unfutz guarantee
If you read unfutz at least once a week, without fail, your teeth will be whiter and your love life more satisfying.

If you read it daily, I will come to your house, kiss you on the forehead, bathe your feet, and cook pancakes for you, with yummy syrup and everything.

(You might want to keep a watch on me, though, just to avoid the syrup ending up on your feet and the pancakes on your forehead.)

Finally, on a more mundane level, since I don't believe that anyone actually reads this stuff, I make this offer: I'll give five bucks to the first person who contacts me and asks for it -- and, believe me, right now five bucks might as well be five hundred, so this is no trivial offer.

original content
© 2003-2008
Ed Fitzgerald


take all you want
but credit all you take.

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