Economics & Political Bloggery
Mars Rover Exploration Territory Viewed from Orbit
Two graphs from a book I am currently reading which I think everyone should see:
Pregnant in these is the possiblity of immortality. Imagine backing up your brain to a USB drive every night in case your body dies the next day. Imagine being diagnosed with terminal cancer and being given the choice between a painful fight against it with a low probability of success and "transcending" - downloading all your thoughts, memories, algorithms for life to a better, more powerful synthetic system. Imagine human minds unleashed from the limitation of human brains, processing information a million times faster, that is, thinking a centuries worth of thoughts in a few moments.
I have always been unhappy with the adult/child distinction in society because all the adults I have ever met are more like children than the idealized adults one reads about. Human civilization, our childhood, is coming to an end. If present trends continue to their physical limits we will all be able to evolve into the adults which we have only hitherto been able to imagine, leaving our childhood human frailty behind.
Such is the view of an optimist however. Cinema like The Matrix trilogy and the Terminator series have already shown us the darker view. Undoubtedly this will be the most important development of the 21st century, whether it is our transcendence or extinction. Ted Kaczynski saw this dystopian view much earlier however, and acted to prevent technology from advancing. His abject failure as the Luddites before him adequately demonstrates that there is too much momentum in the system - resistance is futile. Humanity can only hope that those who midwife the birth of an a AI superior to ourselves bring about our Childhood's End rather than Judgement Day.
Why the future doesn't need us.
The Unabomer Manifesto: Industrial Society and Its Future
The Singularity is Near
Libertarians give up on GOP, but is a Liberal alliance possible?
Antikythera Mechanism Reconstructed
Butt it wasn't supposed to be funny...
Hugo Chávez's Unfulfilled Promises
The Return of Hillarycare
Hawking Says Space Colonization a Must
ACS Honors Tide
My wife recently pointed me to a political page modestly entitled www.savetheinternet.com and proporting to expose a looming crisis which the Democrats are ready to save us from. Look at who is for this initiative (mostly Democrat congresspeople, but also Google, Yahoo, eBay, etc.) and who is against (of course AT&T, Comcast, etc, but also the Cato Institute). Congress is just dying for the power to regulate the internet and this is their wedge in. "Protecting" freedom is the same way the FCC got created, and, not surprisingly, it became an organ of government censorship. When has government regulation of business ever led to more freedom? Look at the cases where companies tried to censor things. Consumers got pissed off and the company changed it's policies within a matter of hours or days. What do you think the next step will be? The government regulating how much bandwidth must be given to content from existing websites like Google, Yahoo, etc. to make sure none is discriminated against? How then will new websites break into the market? They won't. Which is why these companies are for this regulation as well.
The market will sort things out just fine.
The big companies with big money are Google, Yahoo, etc. They want regulation because they think government bureaucrats will be easier to control than markets. That is surely a devil's bargain. Unfortunately there is nothing we can do to stop the growth of government - it is like a malignant cancer. Only the eventual death of the patient can kill it. Jefferson and many of the other founding fathers did not believe that our government would last as long as it has. If the union had been broken by New York, or Massachusetts or even South Carolina a decade earlier, history would have evolved as Jefferson expected - with a multitude of sovereign nations populating North America. The critical clause the founders left out of the Constitution was how the union would end - because they didn't think they needed it! Just look at the other governments throughout history. Where has government reduced its powers through it's own volition? Where has even one government agreed dissolve and no longer exist?
The internet will eventually be regulated by the US government. All we can hope for is that that day will come later rather than sooner.
The City of Zara
The Last LHC Superconductor arrives at CERN
Seeing the Singularity
How to recover a stolen thesis...
Here is an interesting farce, Stanford has to "compete" for the contract to run SLAC.
The Power Law Distribution of Modern Warfare
The Fall of Constantinople in 1453
Protest before Pope's visit to Turkey
AIDS cases still on the rise
Saturn's Polar Vortex
1071 - The Battle of Manzikert
Adriatic Real Estate Comes Cheap in Montenegro
Owning a Language?
The Arab Siege of Constantinople in 717
The Great Firewall of Canada
Russians murdering dissidents?
The Most Dangerous Sports
The most expensive golf match ever
Chirac excited about ITER
The First Arab Attack on Constantinople
Why the US should spring for a new particle accelerator - see if you buy the speculative cow excrement we're selling
Harper says Québécois form a nation "within" Canada
quote of the day:
Ask a deeply religious Christian if he’d rather live next to a bearded Muslim that may or may not be plotting a terror attack, or an atheist that may or may not show him how to set up a wireless network in his house. On the scale of prejudice, atheists don’t seem so bad lately. - Scott Adams (Dilbert Cartoonist)
Peter Jackson won't be making the Hobbit
Cartman gets a Wii part 1 part 2
Two more hadrons predicted by the standard model discovered
Nintendo Launches Wii
Thinking about money lowers socialization
The third Spiderman movie will finally include his symbiote nemesis.
Science projects using the GRID
Milton Friedman Dies
BaBar Re-feathers its Nest
... and the Italian perspective
Samsung is has now earned itself a place on the boycott list of all senient organic life on Earth by developing a Machine Gunner Robot austensibly to patrol the DMZ between the Koreas. No doubt later models will hunt our offspring if given the chance. Don't support this work by buying their electronics products.
James Van Allen And Astrobiology
A Message from the Speaker Elect
Bush Meets Detroit
What Empire Does to a Culture
World's Largest Artificial Whitewater Park
Message from Dan
Updating the Outer Space Treaty of 1967
searchmash - Google's new search engine to test new features amongst us geeks
11 Nov 2006
Firefox just released version 2.0 and I have to say the thing is pretty shweet. With extensions like hbar and gspace being written all the time, it's hard to imagine any function going long unimplemented. The searchbar with direct access to Wikipedia, Yahoo, Ebay, Websters and any other search available is a real simplifier for those of us to lazy to go to the website and then search.
The R Meter
Electronic Footprints & Google
Soft Tissue in Dinosaur Fossils?
On their 231st Birthday...
Carnivore Comeback in Western Europe
Shenzhou 7 to Include Spacewalk?
Ballot Measures Affecting Business
So a new set of schmucks is in charge of congress - good for them ... but probably not for the rest of us. Alas too many people will see this as more than the window-dressing it really is. That is the great steam value in our country's government which lets off the disdain of the people and allows the business of government to continue as usual. Taxes will still be collected, our military will still span the globe, lobbyists will still grease the works of government, the parks will still have camping, the TSA will still annoy us in airports, the departments of eductation & homeland security will continue to hemmorage money, DEA agents will hunt down people trying to have too much fun, the FBI will continue spying on us all, the CIA will still torture suspects off of sacred US soil, the dept of energy will continue to tighten its grip on basic science, the department of agriculture will continue to subsidize ADM and other agribusiness to the detriment of american consumers, interstates will still be built, government run inflation will continue, medicare will cover more people, etc. The leviathan waxes regardless of the face it now wears. Voting only gives this monster legitimacy, so yesterday I stayed home. I think when all the votes are tallied I will be in the true, if largely ignored, majority.
Check out the Schrödinger equation in the background of this new Wierd Al video.
Loser of the year, Aleksey Vayner.
This year the Nobel Peace Prize went to a guy who has gotten rich lending pennies to poor women in Bangladesh. Muhammad Yunus actually had to split the prize with the bank he started. Here is a prime example of capitalism making people's lives better. Yunus saw a unfilled niche in lending "microcredit" to poor women (yes, 97% of loans are two women). Instead of going to the government and trying to get those in power to steal from some to give to others, Yunus lent a total of $27 to 42 people in a village. This was the beginning of Grameen Bank, which was eventually incorporated in 1983. For the first 15 years Grameen accepted donations which helped maintain its profitability, but since 1998 they have refused them while recording ever higher profits (over 1 billion taka last year). The owners of Grameen bank are its depositholders, mostly women who once took out loans with the bank.
Voluntary transactions which profit all those involved generate wealth. This is the hallmark of capitalism. Sadly, many mimics of Yunus do not appreciate the profit motive of his venture and operate as charities, where not suprisingly a full quarter of donations often go toward "management & administration".
Yunus clearly deserves laudation, but I do wonder what Grameen Bank has done to further world peace other than intertwine people with eachother in voluntary transactions. The economics prize would have perhaps been more fitting, then again, how often does the peace prize go to someone who actually successfully worked for peace?
At Washington University in St. Louis researchers have wired a kid's brain to play space invaders. He could move the little ship at the bottom merely by imagining it to move. Sure, this is a rather trivial demostration, but a critical one on the road to blurring the lines between man and machine. The article talks about prosthetics, but that it just scratching the surface. Imagine a man sitting a on park bench not far in the future. He hears a ringing even though no sound waves are passing through his ears. He closes his eyes and through his wireless up link answers the phone. It's his wife, asking what he'd like for dinner by thinking the words through her uplink. He can't remember what it's called, but he imagines her a picture of what it looks like. After their conversation ends, he opens his eyes again and pulls up the presentation he's working on for this afternoon. Downloading video from a nearby surveillance camera he gets the visuals of himself giving the dialogue. He will upload it to the company server tonight when he uploads the days thoughts for storage.
That, however, is a benevolent view. Governments have no compunction about spying on phonecalls - how much more would they be about spying on thoughts? Or a computer virus that can hack your brain to control you, say by having you commit a crime and then erase the memories. Imagine no one dying, just uploading their conciousness from a carbon based to a silicon based neural network, which could then be placed in a new, wholy prosthetic body. What will we do when these silicon men represent a large minority of the population? What about when they are a majority? Do the silicon men have reproductive rights? These are questions for future generations of humanity to answer, but there is little doubt in my mind that someday they will have to be answered.
You have to be something of a political nutjob to stand in front of giant bulldozer tanks in a war zone, but I think Rachel Corrie's highlights what is just plain wrong about bulldozing the houses of your enemies' families. I don't understand why I didn't hear more about this three years ago instead of that crazy Cindy Sheehan who was cowardly trying to capitalize on her son's death. Rachel Corrie on the other hand was willing to put her life on the line for what she believed in. Her fans seem to want to sell her as a regular American girl, but she clearly was not. There is even a suit against Caterpillar over her death which I think is ridiculous.
The US government seems to be doing whatever it can lately to erode our moral highground in the socalled "War on Terror". Bush is pushing hard to redefine the Geneva Conventions to allow the boys at the CIA to "do what they need to do", just proving that such well-meaning treaties aren't worth the paper their printed on without enforcement provisions. For the past couple years much of talk radio outside of the ever faithful El Rushbo has been somewhat critical of Bush, so to help garner support for this afront on humanity the White House decided to use the mystique of the office on Boortz, Hannity, et al by inviting them to a secret meeting there. Not surprisingly Hannity was soon shouting about the need to "protect our interrogaters" and Boortz was joking about the Canadian guy we sent to Syria for "debriefing". That is the sad story of Maher Arar. Despite his Canadian passport he was picked up during a stopover in New York and send to Syria, the country of his birth, where he was imprisoned and tortured for over a year. Such is the Bush Administration's policy of extraterritorial rendition - if they can't torture information out of you, then they'll find somewhere to send you where they can. Arar has tried to clear his name through the US justice system, but all his attempts have been quelched in the interests of national security. Saddam Hussein gets better treatment!
Donald Kennedy, Editor-in-Chief of Science, wrote in a recent editorial that secession might be next in California's increasingly strained relationship with the despotic rulers on the other side of the continent. Thomas Jefferson, who believed that all men are created equal rather than non-US citizens have no rights, probably would have agreed. After all, a little revolution now and then is a good thing.
The Pope says Islam is a violent faith.
Muslims protest, attacking churchs in places like Nablus.
The Pope apologizes for his offending comments.
I really must visit Rome before Arabic becomes the official language there.
When we look back at the Aztecs it is easy to proclaim disgust at their religion which required human sacrifices of their defeated foes. Is this perhaps because there is no longer a large group of people practicing this religion today? I wonder if somehow a society with such a religion were encountered today if CNN would react with disgust or moralize to us about how we shouldn't judge them all based on the actions of a few of their priests who executed the sacrifices. Indeed, their's must be a peaceful religion (as all religions are) and we should try to understand them and their practices rather than trying to change them or be repulsed by the beliefs they hold. So what if it is an integral part of their religion to conquer and kill or convert all they encounter; that is merely history.
... but today we mark the 5th anniversary of such events. Millions have picked up books about Islam by its apologists, but far too few have turned a critical eye toward the Qur'an itself. To avoid offending Muslims we ignore the great threat to a free society Islam poses, take an undiscriminating approach, and ignore the celebrations on the streets of the Islamic world at our stupidity. Islamic populations growing in western countries are a ticking time bomb. It's time to take on the ideology of Islam as we once took on the ideologies of monarchism, slavery, fascism, and communism. Freedom is not assured as long as there are those who stand to gain from oppressing others. Oppressers will exist in every age and must be resisted.
Lets take a moment to celebrate the incredible life of Steve Irwin.
Age 6 - Steve gets his first Python
Age 9 - Steve handles his first crocodile
Age 29 - Steve takes over the family business which would become the Australia Zoo
Age 30 - Met and married Terri Raines; footage of their crocodile trapping honeymoon becaome the pilot of The Crocodile Hunter TV show
Age 36 - Daughter Bindi Sue born
Age 40 - Releases his first movie
Age 41 - Son Bob is born
Age 44 - Killed by a bull ray in the Great Barrier Reef filming a new TV show for his daughter
You know you are in California when NPR gives more balanced coverage of the new restrictions on "greenhouse" emmissions than the local news media. How many times must honest scientists remind the world that correlation does not imply causation?
In many regions where Truth is studied she is of late not welcome in the affairs of men. Here is a tale that adequately showcases the depths of our depravity.
Afganistan has a new democratic government, the Taliban is conquered and retains only a small minority of support, and there are thousands of UN troops there to provide security. So why hasn't Afganistan bloomed into a modern nation as many pundits expected? Freedom. As long as the Afgans lack it they will continue to fight for it. But didn't smashing the Taliban 5 years ago give then freedom? On many counts yes, but the one freedom that the Afgans are currently denied is choosing what crops to grow. Growing poppies for opium is currently illegal and yet represents 50% of Afganistan's economy by many estimates. The British especially tried to smash this trade, but when a farmer can make profits 10 to 100 times above that of growing wheat for many the choice is obvious. One wonders if the British general who dreamt up the failed eradication program had ever heard of his countryman Adam Smith!
Now that the UN has taken over poppy eradication is no longer an explicit goal of the troops, but it has been made fairly clear to the Afgan government that if they want to join the family of nations they must suppress the lucrative opium trade. How can one expect a country to flourish by destroying half its economy? Private militias continue to grow because farmers need them to protect their crops from their own government! The only way to end the fighting in Afganistan is to end the persecution of the farmers - if they feel protected instead of persecuted by their government they will rally around it and support for the militias will dry up.
The flip side of the coin is that without outside help the private militias will never be able to defeat the UN forces and topple the Afgan government, so as long as the persecution of the farmers continues the status quo will remain violent. The worse case scenerio would be for the UN forces to leave, but still require the government in Kabul to suppress poppy growing. That is a recipe for civil war and perhaps another Taliban. Opium is a solid cash crop on which to built a nation, and the Afgan people surely deserve that chance.
...facism waxes at American airports.
California is a state where one can buy a bottle of scotch at the grocery store but it seems little else. Today I went to get new glasses, bringing just my old ones. In Tennessee stores that sell glasses have nice machines that you can put an old pair of glasses in and measure the prescription. One would expect they'd have such machines in Silicon Valley, but apperently they are illegal here. They lady at the Lenscrafters was simply appalled that people might be able to go into a glasses store and buy glasses without permission from anyone. Unfortunately, my prescription from last year is in a file box deep in our storage unit back in Tennessee. I figured it was not a useful thing because if my eyes got worse I'd need a new prescription and if my glasses broke then they could just use that nifty machine (I have a backup pair also with broken frames, not lenses). The state of California has no problem letting me buy liquor in any store I want, but prohibits my purchase of two pieces of polished glass attached to some plastic ... and they think the south is backward. I'm sure the California Optometric Association has a cozy relationship with the legislature here to continue this paternalistic subsidization of their business.
Here's a nice bit of Polemic evangelized by one Gavin Menzies: Chinese sailors visited America in 1421. While some of his evidence requires the faith of a true believer, Menzies' weaving together of the histories of eastern and western Eurasia definitely fills in some gaps rather nicely. That is too say I like the idea alot, but the historical record does not yet provide unequivocable evidence either way so far as I can tell. Something like the Viking settlement at L'Anse aux Meadows would do nicely to support Menzies, but I fear if he is wrong the best criticism ever offerable will be that his evidence is merely circumstantial. www.1421.tv
Menzies' greatest flaw is that he ignores information which does not support his hypothesis. For example on p. 169 of 1421 Menzies claims results of genetic testing of the warrah will be posted on his website. The book was published in 2002, so this testing must now be complete, and yet searching the website one cannot find any information about the warrah. One can only surmise that the warrah's DNA was not similar to Chinese dogs as Menzies had hypothesized. And this on a site where every sort of heresay is presented as "evidence"! Men with crazier single-mindedness have been vindicated though (think Schliemann), so scholars of the Ming China ought to probe this idea to resolution none the less.
I guess having his man loose the election in Mexico was just too much for Castro. His brother Raul, to whom he has relinquished power, will not last a year after Castro starts pushing up daisies. The Revolution of 1989 felled Communism outside of Cuba and China, but China has progressively turned toward a Fascist sort of capitalism while Castro has driven Cuba further into the ground by socialistically trying to control the economy. The western hemisphere will breath a sigh of relief with his passing. They are dancing like it's 1989 in Miami tonight!
New Mexico has a small town off of I-40 named Thoreau. It's hard to imagine a more perfect irony.
Abortion is a complex issue. Anyone who says otherwise hasn't really thought about it. There are really two issues at stake: private property rights and the right to life. Ironically the right-to-choosers who favor a woman's private property rights over her body versus the baby's right to life in any situation are often socialistic in other areas like income. Libertarians are the great exception to this, but they often tend to favor private property rights over the right to life in other situations too - like in shooting trespassers without warning. Nevertheless, the right-to-lifers ignore a woman's property rights to her body, but there is no irony there, as they also often tend to believe god owns everything anyway.
Almost no one (except maybe an überliberal who blames society for everything) would feel bad for a robber who broke into someone's house for nefarious purposes and was killed by the occupant, but what if the robber brought a baby along? Would it be okay to shoot a baby trespassing in your house if the robber left it there and escaped? Almost no one (except maybe a Libertarian) would say this was okay, but then what about if the robber was instead a rapist? Now the answer is not so clear. The robber's baby could be given to someone else wanted to care for it - there is no shortage of such wonderful people, but the rapist forces his victim to care for the baby.
Technology will no doubt allow us to one day grow babies entirely outside of a mother's womb (a scary thought in itself), but as we live in a time when this is not yet the case we must confront the question of whether private property rights trump the right to life. Ironically, the Supreme Court which says that the government can take your private property and give it to someone else at its whim, also says that the private property rights of a woman over her body trump the life of the baby in almost every case. The law might be settled, but most people's consciences aren't.
Back in the 18th century John Locke wrote that a man's an inalienable rights are life, liberty and property. While Jefferson (who was trying to start a government after all) struck out the third, most assume that this list (or its modified version) is in no particular order and that these three rights stand on equal footing. However, this is an ordered list; life comes first and property last. Cousin Howie, recently doctor of jurisprudence, has disparaged these arguments because they are based on Lockian philosophy, whereas much of the legislation of the past century in the United States has been based on a much more Marxian worldview. Such is the case, but herein is a discussion of the way it ought to be, not the way it is. But I digress...
Why is Locke's list ordered? Most men value their lives more than their freedom and their freedom more than their possessions. The natural progression of governments is to deprive the citizenry of their rights in the reverse order. Just look at the classic example of a evil state: the Nazis first deprived Jews of their jobs, then put them in concentration and slave labor camps, and finally gassed them. Jews who were able to leave gave up their possessions to preserve their freedom and ultimately their lives. The general populace, however, was still treated badly by the Nazis though. Protesters against the Nazis lost their jobs, their homes and were also put in concentration camps and sent to their deaths.
American government, because of the founders' checks on its powers, has made a much slower progression down this road. As the checks are removed however, the pace quickens. No government at any level ever permitted the executed of unwanted slaves even at the height of this evil institution, but twentieth century government found a voiceless unwanted minority to play scapegoat to social ails in the unborn. If poor women are not allowed to kill the unborn, they will remain in poverty the government tells us, echoing the Jews need to be eliminated because they are holding back the Deutches Volk.
If a person's right to live trumps a woman's right to control her womb for 9 months, then why shouldn't people have their high income taxed to feed, and thus keep alive, the poor. Poor people are in many cases poor because of their own poor choices. Anyone who doesn't believe this should go to the foodstamp or medicare office in their area and see if they can locate anyone who does not a) own a cellphone or b) have a child less than 18 years younger than them. Many fall into both categories. These people have decided not to work hard enough to support their families, which they can easily due because of these government benefits. Which is not to say these are bad choices - why work hard at retail job when you can pull in the same income with a trip to the foodstamp office every 6 months? I can say from personal experience that the choice is an easy one. The choices are often just short-sighted. The frustration of loosing $500 worth of foodstamps for a $100 monthly salary increase also deincentivizes such advancement. Government of course has a solutions for such problems it's created: More Government! Government redistribution of income only leads to more social stratification, and voluntary charities fed the downtrodden just fine before government welfare started.
Now to complexify the issue further and to show it's relevance even after technology allows for a fetus's full gestation outside a mother's womb, one must also consider DNA. What rights does a person have over their DNA? Right now, virtually none. Believe it or not, private companies hold the patents to a number of genes in your body. Police also love DNA because it can be so definitive in prosecutions and detective work. People are increasingly being accused of crimes because one of their relatives has DNA in a database and it matched some found at a crimescene. Black people should be especially wary now that scientists have identified the gene for European white skin color. One might also think that the 5th amendment might reasonably apply to DNA, but this is not the case. Your blood can be forcibly taken from you to testify against you. But one should have some rights over their DNA. For example, most people would agree that having a clone made from their DNA against their will ought to be illegal. Returning to main issue, what rights does a parent have over the DNA given to an offspring? What if that offspring was unwanted? Rape is quite literally genetic theft.
The mantram life, liberty and property again provides an answer. A person's right to life should always trump your rights to their genes, whether they were given freely or not. I hope our society will never sink to the moral depravity of keeping clones just to harvest their organs or use as warriors, but even clones ought to enjoy the same rights as humans - unless they are so modified genetically as not to be humans, the species being defined in the usual way. We will no doubtless also have to deal with these issues in the next century or two.
One day technology will free woman from the obligations having a womb entails, but the fact that such technology does not yet exist does not justify murder of the innocent. As Gandhi would say, there are many causes for which I am prepared to die, but none for which I am prepared to kill.
28 June 2006
Yet another reason to dislike the government of Ohio: Arlie Stutzman, an Amish man, was recently arrested in a Dept of Agriculture sting operation for selling raw milk. Apparently the Amish giving away food they can't eat is a big problem in northeastern Ohio, especially raw milk which is illegal but advocated by health food groups. It's a good thing the government has enough money to fund sting operations to protect us from the free market. What kind of a world would it be where people could just sell milk to eachother without the government getting involved? Clearly such dangerous substances must be regulated by the government!
As any cook can tell you, to check if a pan is hot enough just throw a drop of water on it; if the drop dances, then the pan is hot enough. Physicists call this the Leidenfrost effect after the guy who studied it in the 19th century and realized that the water drop is actually levitating on a cushion of its own vapor. (For water a surface needs to be at about 200 degrees Celsius to exhibit this effect.) What hitherto had only been of use to cooks is now attracting the attention of physicists again after a team at the University of Oregon managed to control the direction the drops traveled in. Instead of the Brownian walks the Leidenfrost droplets take on normal surfaces, the Oregon group has engineered a surface with a sawtooth-like profile that causes the droplets to travel in one direction at speeds up to few cm/s (see their movies). Apparently the Leidenfrost point is not as sharp of a phase transition as was earlier believed either. Nevertheless, the group's idea to use Leidenfrost droplets to cool surfaces is dubious. Basically, they propose to use some refrigerant whose Leidenfrost temperature is just below room temperature to cool the next generation of microchips which will put off ~100 Watts. However, the reason the Leidenfrost droplets hang around so long is because the dissipate heat so very slowly from the surface!
The inevitable has come to pass this past Friday. The Unmanned Arial Vehicles (UAVs) that the US military found so useful patroling the skies over Afganistan and Iraq will now patrol the skies above Los Angelas for the LAPD. The helicopters the LAPD has hitherto used are large and noisy whereas a UAV in the sky above your backyard is small enough to be virtually invisible and silent, perfectly designed to watch you without you ever realizing it. No doubt many other large cities will follow suit as the militarization of our police forces continues. And if there ever arises a sentient machine threat to human civilization we will have given them all the tools necessary for our annihilation.
Deutschland Take Heed...
Freedom longing folk in Nova Scotia are opening large stores and shopping in them in defiance of 2004 plebiscite which made this illegal. Religious leaders in Nova Scotia are decrying this as horribly immoral, and an affront to traditional Canadian values. Small shops are legally allowed to be open on Sundays however, which is how the large stores managed to obey the letter of the law while defying its spirit. Large retailers like Sobeys simply divided their stores into a fish store, a fruit stand, a bakery, and a deli. Markets will ever find a way to meet the wants of consumers despite legal barricades governments may set up.
Just when you thought every language envisioned time flowing the same way, Aymara provides us with a conterexample. It really makes one think about how much of one's notions about the world are really just arbitrary cultural choices. I remember reading Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End when I was 10 or 11 and first understanding how cultural differences could affect one's perceptions because the aliens had 14 fingers and so their number system was base 14 rather than 10. Up until than point I had thought of base ten numbers as a natural part of the universe, not arbitrarily chosen because humans have ten fingers. 25 years later I thought I had a pretty good handle on what was cultural in my perception of the world, but then here comes the Aymara who see the past before their eyes and the future behind them. Considering which perception of time might be more natural, since one has seen the past but not the future the Aymara's way of seeing time makes more sense. Nevertheless, if the past is always in front of you it could perhaps dominate your thinking and it is easy to see how societies that placed the future in front of themselves would be more future-focused, and thus more successful. Losing counterexamples like that provided by the Aymara is one of the really tragic consequences of language extinction.
This past weekend Cara's friend Kara (a preachers wife) gave me The Screwtape Letters to read in the hopes that I would finally see the error of my ways. Alas, I remain a scientist...
My dear Kara,
Thank you for giving me C. S. Lewis’s most excellent Screwtape Letters to read. I thoroughly enjoyed reading such an unfilmable moralizing work on fiction. While I don’t usually read fiction because of a bias toward truth, it can often be fun. Nevertheless, I think these Letters are a very clear illustration of all that is good and all that is bad in religion.
Firstoff, Screwtape’s writing from the devil’s perspective trying to tempt the man to do wrong is a fabulous vehicle to show how our natural inclinations often least us off a healthy, moral lifestyle. I guess at this point I should also address the possibility of morality outside religion. Morality is nothing more than the distilled experience of humans interacting with eachother – if it works and brings about a positive result, then it is moral; if not, then it is amoral. Since we now have thousands of years of human history to draw upon, this is not particularly difficult. The basic principles were obvious thousands of years ago: don’t kill, don’t steal, etc. More modern religious thought has attempted to distill this set of rules further to a single axiom for human interaction, Jesus’s “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” or Gandhi’s “Ahimsa paramo dharma” (Non-violence is the best path). I prefer the second formulation because it does not provide justification for the masochist becoming a sadist. I would also contend that personal behavior toward oneself cannot be amoral. I know of no ancient belief system that makes this distinction; seemingly its genesis is in 19th century liberal and 20th century libertarian thought. Suicide, doing drugs, eating too much, etc. are not amoral, but they are still bad in the sense that they are unhealthy. By telling Wormwood how to ensnare humans in amoral and unhealthy behaviors, Screwtape teaches the reader how to avoid ensnarement.
C. S. Lewis’s ending, however, eloquently displays the greatest danger of religion: “eternal” priorities. Hell and its demons are trying to keep the man alive, knowing that it will give them greater opportunity to tempt him. They know he is better off dead and in heaven than remaining prey to them. But is a man truly better off dead if life is not eternal? The big lie that leads to the continuation of all religions is that death is not final but merely a transition to something else. As a scientist I doubt first and then gain conviction through experiment. So I come back to my bias toward truth – a supposition can only be considered true for me if has been tested by experiment. An untestable hypothesis is sandy ground to build on; clearly a bedrock of truth is preferable. Islam uses eternal priorities to pervert morality so far that murder is no longer amoral, but in many cases jihad – the responsibility of Muslims to convert or kill the unbeliever. In Islam killing the unbeliever is doing him a favor by shortening the time he has for sinning, and thus his time in Hell paying for those sins. Even an after death conversion is okay for Allah! This is all too similar to Screwtape’s position on the man Wormwood is trying to capture: they must keep him alive to tempt him. Such is the perversion of morality by eternal priorities.
As I am trying to lead you away from the Enemy of The Screwtape Letters, I find it rather appropriate to sign this letter
Your affectionate uncle
After the militarization of our border with Mexico, I finally have to admit it. I'm sorry I voted for Bush. This is not to say that I'm not still proud to have voted against Kerry. I would gladly do that again if there was a candidate worth voting for. Bush is not a Hilter, but Bush is not a Washington either. Bush's business training has served him well in his growing of government. Under his tenure the federal government has diversified into airline security, border security, and monitering US citizens anytime they use technology to communicate. Revenues are up, and even though expenses have increased at a greater rate, the Federal Reserve has stopped publishing how much money they print so Bernanke can give Bush whatever money he needs. Bush has even expanded into the emerging markets of Iraq and Afganistan. The leviathan waxes.
If Democrats are bad and Republicans are bad, then who is left? I am becoming increasingly convinced that voting only legitimizes a government that is the enemy of it's citizens. The aftermath of Katrina saw veterans of the Iraq camapaign patroling the streets of an American city, taking guns from homeowners defending themselves from looters. Now we are sending them to the border with Mexico. Doubtless they will eventually need to cross that border to stop the illegal immigrants seeking freedom. How long before guerilla warfare starts between the troops trying to expel the Hispanics and those who would rather fight than leave. There are quite a few illegal immigrants in cities like LA, Denver and Atlanta. How long before troops are sent there to remove these lawbreakers? Shouldn't we have curfews to facilitate the National Guard's searches for illegal immigrants? Or would it be easier to just declare martial law? Maybe we should invade Mexico again to come to the root of the problem. Finish the job you know, like we did in Iraq.
A recent article got me thinking about the difference between myself and Werner von Braun. I have always been obsessed with space travel just like any other little kid, and I really would like to live on the moon when I get old - it's much easier for the heart to pump in one sixth Earth's gravity! Von Braun was a rocket enthusiast first and foremost. He dreamed of putting a man on the moon as a child and dedicated his life to that project. Von Braun was Deutsch, so when the Nazi regime started warring around he saw this as a funding opportunity. Von Braun convinced Hitler to fund rockets to bomb Britain with cash and Jewish slave labor. Later, when Hitler had destroyed Europe and himself von Braun needed a new funding source, so he made sure he was captured by US forces. While many high ranking officials of the Nazi regime were being tried at Nuremburg, von Braun was sittin g poolside in the western US, frustrated about the lack of funding to continue his work. Eventually he established a rocket testing facility in Huntsville, Alabama and Sputnik's success provided the impetus for a massive funding increase. Eventually his Saturn V rocket design put men on the moon, fulfilling his dream ... and making his profile high enough that he got recognized by several of his former Jewish slaves. Von Braun was too valuable to the US to be made to answer for his crimes though, although his status in NASA did suffer.
High Energy Physics also requires slave labor, of course the US government is much more subtle than the Nazis were. Every year millions of people of people toil and a portion of their labors' fruits are stolen to fund my accelerator at SLAC. Just as Werner von Braun, I choose to ignore where the funding comes from and concentrate on the scientific discoveries. Science before morality. And yet here is a confession of this culpability I am clearly cogniscent of. Surely it is a matter of degrees and I am just not as bad as Werner von Braun. I have not gone to Hitler and asked for this money. Well, I did propose my research to the DOE though ...
Why then, can I be cogniscent of my culpability and continue on this path? I see no escape. When I drive on the highways, I am culpable for the slave labor that funds them. When I go to school, I am culpable for the slave labor that funds it. When I own land, I am culpable for the slave labor used to fund land purchases that create scarcity and drive up the value of my land. And so on ad infinitum. To live in the US today is to be culpable, just as the Deutsch populace who lived under the Nazis were forced to be. And so I dream of a Galt's Gulch on the moon, but continue to live in the US - there's still no better place in the world.
Akrotiri - a name that has little meaning for most. But brought through Egyptian heiroglyphs to ancient Greek and then on into English most will recognize it as Atlantis. Plato recorded the story as he found it in Egyptian records: Atlantis was swallowed into the sea. Only 50 years ago did we learn the true fate of Akrotiri; that it was built on a volcanic island and shared the fate of Pompeii, burial under ash and debris. The Aegean island Thera is the home to what was once Akrotiri. Their civilization's end was quick and terrible as is oft Nature's wont.
Empires, however, are not so fragile that Nature can destroy them in an afternoon. Rome decayed for two centuries from its height before Alaric led the Goths to sack that city on the Tiber. Rome had no one but unorganized barbarians left to conquer. They moved their capitol to the decadent east, filled their armies with conquered peoples rather than Romans, and established a state religion in Christianity, persecuting even those believers who demurred from the trinitarian doctrine. Italy, once a land of martial discipline and virtue, became a the center of a partying Empire. Years of drunken revelry was a rite of passage for youths who could afford it. Women, seeking sexual liberation, left unwanted babies exposed on the streets. Empires must decay from within before being conquered from without. Fortunately for the people and future of Europe, the Roman Empire disintigrated and as differing areas sought their own ways to success out from under the Roman thumb.
But this need not always be so ... in China the state apparatus that was constructed by the Han Dynasty contempory with Rome's conquest of the Mediterranean has passed unbroken to this day. Zhōngguo what the Chinese call their country, means "Middle Kingdom" just as the Mediterranean is the "Middle of the Earth". China did not disintigrate when the Han Empire decayed from within, though. It was conquered whole again and again until it passed into the hands of the current Maoist dynasty who have greatly expanded China's size.
So what will be the fate of the American Empire as it decays from within and "barbarians" rush across the border to the south? Will it share the fate of China or Rome? I hope am not alone in wishing for the disintigration of the USA rather than see Washington, DC become another forbidden city. History will force such a decision upon us in this century whether we like it or not. 145 years ago Abraham Lincoln chose to subjugate those states seeking independence from the Union and demographics may force us to again confront this issue. Illegal immigrants represent a growing underclass in America that in all probability will represent a majority in several western states before this century's end. If they choose to secede to free themselves from the Anglophilic majority to the East, how easy will it be for our government to claim that these Illegals stole those seceding states and we must reconquer them? How much worse will the situation be as the supply of oil drops and the price skyrockets? Oil is a scarce, finite and non-renewable resource and will run out sometime. There are good replacements, but they are alot more expensive.
Who will decide the fate of the American Empire? You will; and your neighbor; and that guy who works at the gas station; and your boss; and the guy who cuts your lawn; and everyone else living in the US. Our government grows more authoritarian each day and with each passing administration - Republican or Democrat. If the future of the America is decided in Washington, it will be One Empire to rule America and the World forever. People in Chicago, Reno, Atlanta, Tuscan and all the other cities in America must decide the future if men are to rule themselves.
Marriage became a serious issue in the last election as many places in the United States sought to legalize or prohibit gay marriage. What did not enter the public discourse was a discussion of multiple marriages - usually referred to as polygamy because historically it has been a man having multiple wives. While gay marriage has no historical precident, polygamy does. Now polygamy is often degrading to women and gay marriage is just digusting, but why does the government get to decide what sort of relationships people can and can't have? In the past governments in the United States have used this power to prevent retards from marrying and forceably sterilized people it saw unfit to breed. Now the federal government has gone on yet another crusade to protect us all from Morman polygamy. Even though polygamy was encouraged by Joseph Smith, the religion's founder, the Morman church was forced to renounce polygamy before Utah could become a state in the 1890s. Now the FBI has added known polygamist Warren Jeffs to its Ten Most Wanted list. Jeffs was the leader of a small Morman sect based in Utah and Arizona which encouraged a revival of polygamy, going to great lengths to follow the letter of law to avoid the angry hand of government. Are the gigilos of LAs beaches worried they are next? Or the prostitues of Nevada's brothels? No. Promiscuos sex is not a crime - only trying to legitimize multiple sexual relationships in a way that looks like marriage. Now Warren Jeffs stands on a list next to Osama bin Laden as one of the most dangerous enemies to US power. Bin Laden is a threat to the US government's domination of the world; Jeffs is a threat to the US government's domination of it's citizens. Caesar would not accept holding imperium throughout the empire except in Italy.
Castro, Morales & Chavez
|Yesterday was the day that hispanic immigrants boycotted American society to show us how much we need them. No working; no school; no buying; no selling. Not coincidentally, it was also May Day, the international communist holiday. Latin American dictators were gladdened to see that their brand of socialism has come to El Norte. Evo Morales celebrated the day by nationalizing Bolivia's gas industry. Hugo Chavez probably read a folk tale to the adoring workers of Venezuala. It seemed like Fidel Castro would finally be vindicated as the wave of the socialist movement swept up from Latin America in the US.|
Failing to see any marches down Main Street in Knoxville, I decided to visit the hispanic part of town for dinner. At our favorite authentic Mexican restaurant Monterrey's we found a full house with the usual mixture gringos and hispanics. Do they not watch the news here? Or, perhaps the immigrant protests were swamped out by the protest in New York to end the US military's involvement in Iraq or the protest in Washington to get the US military involved in Sudan. Did they not know that this day brought us one step closer to the American socialist paradise? Why did these immigrants leave their homelands if not to further the socialist cause in the US? Better jobs? More freedom? Just because their lives are better off now than they ever were under Latin American socialism ...
Mexico, it seems, has moved ahead of the US in terms of realism. Possession of small amounts of marijuana, heroin, cocaine and many other drugs has been decriminalized. How can Mexico be so liberal while the US fights their drug war? Tourism. In Australia wild youths used to spend spring break in Indonesian cities like Bali. Indonesia decided to crack down on drug possession, jailing many teens including high profile ones like Miss Australia, who will spend the next few decades as a guest of the state there. Tourism in Indonesia has, not surprisingly, tanked. Mexico rightly realizes that the survival of cities like Cancun depends on American youths on spring breaks and summer vacations who don't what to end up in a Mexican jail for being caught in a club with an ecstasy pill. This is clearly a move to protect the Mexican tourist industry rather than wholesale legalization because those growing, synthesizing, and selling these drugs are still considered criminals - it is only the consumers who are protected by this new Mexican law. Nevertheless, it is a step in the right direction.
Many have heard my comparisons between France and Georgia, and this week we are presented with further evidence. Not only are the largest and capital cities both (Paris & Atlanta) centrally located; not only are the smaller units (departments & counties respectively) large in number; not only are both backward societies and continental leaders simultaneously; not only have they both gone through a plethora of constitutions over the past two centuries; but the Tour de Georgia is now the second largest bike race in the world, behind only France's Tour de France. The terminus is this Sunday in Alpharetta, the town I grew up in.
The movement of people between Mexico and the United States ought to be unrestricted, but the US is far more liberal in its policies to immigrants than Mexico. Just read this article on Mexico's Glass House. Here is the text of the Mexican constitution and an English translation for your further perusal. Our relationship should be reciprocal, and this debate needs to take on an international character if the issues are ever to be resolved. Vicente Fox has already involved himself in the debate in this country over immigration, why hasn't Bush involved himself in Mexican politics?
Nationalism has been rearing its ugly head in the United States as of late. In Congress there are bills to deport millions of illegal immigrants and build a fence on the border with Mexico. On the streets of LA and other cities hispanics are marching to "take back" America from the Anglo-Saxons, subjugating our culture with theirs. Both movements will ultimately fail, but why did such a Kulturkampf start in the first place?
NAFTA has intertwined Mexican and US cultures as their economies have become one. However, there are still several major roadblocks to a complete integration: 1) People cannot move freely from Mexico in to the US. American society has always a very mobile one; most people move away from the place wherer they were born to make their life better at some point. For Mexicans who are affected by this facet of American culture, often the way to better one's station can be found in "el Norte". 2) Only Mexican citizens can own land in Mexico. Were this one fact change I daresay the trade in population would become reciprocal as retirees flocked to these new sunny southern lands. Over the past half-century the American sunbelt has enjoyed a large influx of population from the rest of the country, why not Mexico? In twenty years Mexico could be the Florida of the west! 3) Language. Nothing scares Americans more than to think that they make wake up tomorrow to find a hispanic majority in their state has voted to outlaw English. In the US, the states have the power to declare their official languages. Many choose not to. Many more choose English. In Hawaii and New Mexico, however, there are dual official languages: Hawaiian and Spanish repectively are paired with English. Likewise, Mexicans fear that their culture and language will be lost as they adopt capitalist Gringo ways and speech to compete in the global economy. There is actually an intellectual movement in Mexico and among some Hispanics in the US that advocates going on the offensive, and has succeeded in making Spanish the sole official language of a small border town: El Cenizo, TX. Such language suppression hasn't reared its head in the US since WWI, when the German schools were forced to close in the midwest and English was made the official language of many states in that region.
Until Mexico liberalizes its laws to allow outright foreign property ownership and the US agrees to completely open its border with Mexico, there will be no resolution of this issue. If we continue to allow governments to restrict trade and migration, bad things will undoubtably happen. In the worst case senario we could find our self in a decade or two with a Hispanic majority in a southwestern state outlawing English, while a Great Wall of America is manned with machine guns pointed south. Interacting cultures needn't go to war to subjugate eachother when they have so much to gain through interaction.
The Republicans are idiots. How long until they try to re-enact the Hawley-Smoot tariff? In a truly free world there would be no constraints on the movements of people, goods, services, or currency. Bush has managed to drag the rest of the Republican party kicking and screaming to approve the latter three freedoms, but they have finally revolted. The power of the Republican party after the Civil War was built through the manipulation of the tariff schedules much in the same way as the income tax code is manipulated to benefit lobbyists today. It is only in the past 50 years that Republicans have tried to look like free traders. Now their true colors have shown through again. How dare an Arab company try to purchase an asset from a British company in America without first kowtowing to the all-powerful US Government! Of course, when it comes to restricting the free movement of people, even Bush cannot allow that to happen. Okay, they can come here and be "guest workers", but only as long as they promise to leave later. NAFTA allowed us to travel freely to Mexico an Canada without passports, the Bush administration has undone this, and we will need to get passports to do any travel there next year. All in the name of protecting America from terrorism...
The War of 1812 was our last bloody conflict with the British, and after tensions had cooled down the US signed the Rush-Bagot treaty in 1817 which, among other things, demiliterized the Great Lakes where so many battles had been fought during the war. This treaty stood for 189 years before the Bush administration decided to repudiate it. Of course they didn't say that, because it wouldn't look good for the US to be repudiating treaties, the machine guns the Coast Guard now carries on the lakes are for "law enforcement" and therefore do not represent a militerization. Stephen Harper, the newly elected prime minister of Canada, has let this duplicitous redefinition of the language slide because he has similar plans for the Arctic waters, which apparently Canada owns most of.
Trade is the glue which binds the world together. Bill Frist has demonstrated this week yet another reason why I am glad he is stepping down as Tennessee's senator next January with his denunciation of the Dubai Ports purchase of port space at several major American ports. Unlike the decadent Saudi Kings, the Emirs of the UAE have invested their oil profits well. Dubai Ports is just one of those investments. Now these people have major investments in several American cities. Why on Earth would they destroy these investments to attack America? They may be Muslims, but they are men first; and all men desire to aquire wealth, not destroy it. If an attack came from a dock run by Dubai Ports, the US would quickly move to seize all the foreign held assets of the Emir of Dubai. This is a country where they have built an indoor ski slope in the middle of the desert. To them America is not the Great Satan so much as the Great Consumer. Emirs do not hold onto power by impoverishing themselves.
Islam is a dangerous religion. Plenty of Muslims aren't. Bill Frist is pandering to the simplistic view that there is no distinction. Since he's stepping down as a senator, many people believe he is positioning himself to run for president. Hopefully he will fare as well as the last Tennessee senator who ran for the job.
George Bush, on the other hand, is such an adamant free-trader that he has threatened a veto on congressional meddling in the deal. Bush is the only US president not to use the veto since Garfield, so this is a big deal. What Bush realizes and Frist doesn't is that by engaging the Muslim world in trade they gain an investment in our society.
So when the sacred months have passed, slay the idolaters, wherever you find them, and take captive and besiege them and lie in wait for them in every ambush. But if they repent and keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate, leave their way free. Surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful. Sura 9, Ayat 5
Never forget that, for Muslims, Hell is not a place of enternal damnation as in Christianity, but a place to atone for ones sins before moving on to paradise. When the Muslim kills a non-believer he is doing him a favor, shorting his time for sinning and thus his time in Hell. It is this distorted worldview that allows Jihadis to murder without remorse. And then there's the added perk that path of Jihad earns one virgins in paradise (Sura 78:33).
Muslims at the Danish embassy in London protest the cartoons.
Today I'd like to share one of my favorite passages from the Qu'ran: Sura 78, Ayat 21-26
Surely a hell lies in wait, a resort for the inordinate, living therein for long years. They taste not therein coolness nor drink, but boiling and intensely cold water, requital corresponding.
Now that's quite a description of Hell! Undoubtably those frosty cold beverages must be made from a very special kind of water, because even water saturated with salt freezes at around -6 degrees. Ice cream is kept at colder temperatures! There is, of course, another possiblity... Muhammed lived his whole life in a part of the world where ice is never seen. Knowing hot water hurts, he made a logical extrapolation that cold enough water would also hurt. To me there is no clearer evidence that Muhammed was a charlatan who successfully fashioned a belief system for conquerors. As there is no place for conquerors in a free society, so should there be no place for Islam.
Currently, Google is at the top of the pack among search engines in terms of market share. So far ahead, in fact, that they've gotten cocky about it. To gain access to China they agreed to censor which sites they link to, but Google also has its own internal censorship blacklist. If you make Google mad, as BMW recently did, you get put on the blacklist. Admittedly, I have a personal bias. While most other search engines, like Yahoo and Metacrawler, place Wogsland.org at or near the top when one searches for "wogsland", one can go through 10 pages of Google search results without catching word of my site. Nevertheless, Google also recently took a stand for freedom, refusing a government order to turn over various records of who searched for what.
So I figured I best reprint these Danish Cartoons as well since so many Muslims find them so offensive:
This past month I also read Salman Rushdie's "The Satanic Verses". Despite it's title, the book is not really any more provocative than the cartoons. Two Indian actors fall out of an airplane that got blown up by terrorists and magically live. One becomes the angel Gabriel who talks to Muhammed and a peasant girl in India, and the other becomes a devil. The angelic one goes insane and kills some people and himself, while the devilish one rediscovers himself and lives happily ever after. The same line of reasoning which is condemning the cartoons earned Rushdie an in absentia death sentence. A death sentence for writing an artsy fartsy book where the prohpet is a minor character and is portrayed as he probably really was: human!
I have decided that wine is like baseball for grown-ups. My dad got me a Wine Spectator subscription for Christmas and I have spent quite a bit of time pouring over its pages. Wines, you see, have stats just like baseball players: year, vinter, grape variety, region, ratings, descriptions, etc. There are cheap wines that are very drinkable, and expensive wines that aren't worth drinking. Of course, I can't eat my Cal Ripken, Jr. rookie card. That's the thing about wine - you can't just collect it. But enjoying it is almost as fun as collecting and memorizing stats. And just like you can pretend to be Jose Canseco in your backyard, winekits now allow you to make your own wine. Unfortunately, that often matches the real thing about as well as an 8-year-old does Jose Canseco.
Science is always advancing the frontiers of mankind's abilities. Before he recorded his deeds, man learned to ferment - grain, grapes, horses milk, honey, or waterever else might be handy. Yeast used for fermenting can stand up to 14% alcohol in its environment before it becomes lethal. For thousands of years this was the only way alcohol was made, until Arab chemists discovered the distilling process just under a thousand years ago. Distilling allowed the alcohol content to be much higher - up to 95%. It was not until the later half of the 20th century though, that fermention started to catch up...
Samuel Adams brewery is the state of the art in this field. Their genetically engineered yeast have been able to ferment beer commercially up to a world record 25.6% alcohol, more than 4 times the alcohol content of normal beer and nearly twice what is commonly thought possible from fermentation alone. This development is no less of a paradigm shift that the discovery of distillation a millenium ago. Sam Adam's calls their marvel of modern technology "Utopias", and it sells for more than I can afford. Hopefully others will soon enter this field and make it affordable. I'd really love to try a fully fermented Australian Portwine...