30 December 2005

A Trip to Tripoli

When you visit another country, it’s hard to get a feel for what it’s actually like until you leave your hotel room, go for a walk, take a look around, and hang out while soaking it in. Not so in Libya. All you have to do there is show up. It will impose itself on you at once.

Michael Totten, who blogs on things related to (and I believe lives in) the Middle East, visited Libya shortly after the American government removed the ban on travel there for U.S. citizens, and wrote a piece describing his experiences there. It was recently published online, by LA Weekly. The article makes for a very interesting look into a country that, AFAIK, very few people here in the States know much about. (Warning: the article contains occasional profanity, which is censored below ’cause I’m like that.)

At one point, he addresses what would probably be my first reaction if anyone told me they were going to visit Libya:

Almost everybody I know thought I was crazy to travel to Libya. The unspoken fear was that someone might kill me.

Well, no. Nobody killed me. Nobody even looked at me funny. I knew that’s how it would be before I set out. Still, it’s nice to have the old adage “people are people” proven through experience.

Libyans are fed a steady diet of anti-Americanism, but it comes from a man who has kicked them in the stomach and stomped on their face for more than a third of a century. If they bought it, they sure didn’t act like it.

Another section (among others) highlights inevitable problems that I think would tend to arise in the context of any totalitarian government:

Most apartment buildings were more or less equally dreary, but one did stand out. Architecturally it was just another modernist horror. But a 6-by-8-foot portrait of Qaddafi was bolted to the façade three stories up. It partially blocked the view from two of the balconies. The b****** couldn’t even leave people alone when they were home.

The posters weren’t funny anymore. There were too d*** many of them, for one thing. And, besides, Qaddafi is ugly. He may earn a few charisma points for traveling to Brussels and pitching his Bedouin tent on the Parliament lawn, but he’s no Che Guevara in the guapo department.

I felt ashamed that I first found his portraits even slightly amusing. The novelty wore off in less than a day, and he’s been in power longer than I’ve been alive.

He was an abstraction when I first got there. But after walking around his outdoor laboratory and everywhere seeing his beady eyes and that arrogant jut of his mouth, it suddenly hit me. He isn’t merely Libya’s tyrant. He is a man who would be god.

His Mukhabarat, the secret police, are omniscient. His visage is omnipresent. His power is omnipotent.

And he is deranged. He says he’s the sun of Africa. He threatens to ban money and schools. He vanquished beauty and art. He liquidates those who oppose him. He says he can’t help it if the people of Libya love him so much they plaster his portrait up everywhere. F*** him. I wanted to rip his face from the walls.

But what really struck me was this:

I heard footsteps behind me, turned around, and faced two Arab men wearing coats and ties and carrying briefcases. One wore glasses. The other was bald.

“It has been a long time since I heard that accent,” said the man with the glasses.

I smiled. “It’s been a long time since this accent was here,” I said. Until just a few months ago, any American standing on Libyan soil was committing a felony.

“We went to college together,” he said, and jerked his thumb toward his friend. “In Lawrence, Kansas, during the ’70s.”

“Yes,” his friend said as he rubbed the bald spot on his head. The two were all smiles now as they remembered. “We took a long road trip up to Seattle.”

“We stayed there for two weeks!” said the first. He sighed like a man recalling his first long-lost love. I watched both their faces soften as they recalled the memories of their youth and adventures abroad in America.

“What a wonderful time we had there,” said the second.

They invited me out to dinner, but I was getting ready to leave. I didn’t want to say no. They looked like they wanted to hug me.

We shook hands as we departed. And as I stepped into the elevator, the first man put his hand on his heart. “Give two big kisses to Americans when you get home,” he said. “From two people in Libya who miss you so much.”

The piece is on the long side, but is definitely worth the read. Highly recommend.

(H/T: Scott @ Power Line)

17 December 2005

Bush, The NSA, And Phone Taps

If you pay much attention at all to the news, be it TV, newspaper, radio, etc., odds are you'll be hearing a lot about this in the days to come (from NY Times):

WASHINGTON, Dec. 15 - Months after the Sept. 11 attacks, President Bush secretly authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the United States to search for evidence of terrorist activity without the court-approved warrants ordinarily required for domestic spying, according to government officials.

Under a presidential order signed in 2002, the intelligence agency has monitored the international telephone calls and international e-mail messages of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people inside the United States without warrants over the past three years in an effort to track possible "dirty numbers" linked to Al Qaeda, the officials said. The agency, they said, still seeks warrants to monitor entirely domestic communications.

The previously undisclosed decision to permit some eavesdropping inside the country without court approval was a major shift in American intelligence-gathering practices, particularly for the National Security Agency, whose mission is to spy on communications abroad. As a result, some officials familiar with the continuing operation have questioned whether the surveillance has stretched, if not crossed, constitutional limits on legal searches.

"This is really a sea change," said a former senior official who specializes in national security law. "It's almost a mainstay of this country that the N.S.A. only does foreign searches."

Nearly a dozen current and former officials, who were granted anonymity because of the classified nature of the program, discussed it with reporters for The New York Times because of their concerns about the operation's legality and oversight.

Before forming an iron-clad opinion on the matter, please read what Captain Ed and Michelle Malkin have to say on the matter. Essentially, the illegality and radical nature of this surveillance by the NSA and of the presidential order supporting it seems to be rather highly overblown. For those of you, dear (few) readers, who are particularly sensitive to issues of policy impinging on civil liberties, odds are this whole thing will appall you no matter what arguments are presented. For others, please consider carefully the whole situation before leaping to accuse Bush and his administration. Also, please consider that he (Bush) has consulted with both judges and members of Congress—both Republican and Democrat—over the four-year existence of this program. This is not some wild power-grab excursion on Bush's part.

Also, John over at Power Line raises an interesting point—essentially, if the "outing" of (supposedly) undercover agent Valerie Plame was a breach of national security worthy of legal action against the parties responsible, then those members of the intelligence community that leaked information about this surveillance program to the press should be equally deserving of said legal action. Somehow I don't think either the mainstream media or Patrick Fitzgerald will be jumping right onto this idea...

14 December 2005

Lucas: Lucky, or Prescient?


The upper image is, as you probably recognize, the backside of an Imperial Star Destroyer, clearly showing the massive ion engines used for its propulsion1. The bottom image, which is probably less immediately obvious, is a shot of a lab-scale prototype of a double-layer plasma drive, which might potentially be used on spacecraft at some point in the future. Note that, according to Wikipedia, a 'plasma' is simply "an ionized gas"—therefore, this is actually an ion engine. As in, TIE-Fighter-Twin-Ion-Engine ion engine.

Now, after acknowledging the "rad kewlness" of all of this, notice that while the Star Destroyer plasma is a very pretty sky blue, the one in the earthbound engine is a nice shade of lavender. Now, lavender plasmas are very often air plasmas (79% N2, 21% O2), and air is really easy to work with, so the lab plasma is probably an air plasma. However, the blue color of the Star Destroyer engine plasma could be from any number of chemicals, including chlorine and helium. Chlorine plasmas would probably be a poor choice for propulsion, as the energetic chlorine ions would probably rip apart the engine over time. However, helium is a very logical fuel choice, as it's very light on a volumetric basis and, as a noble gas, is quite inert.

So. I ask again: was Lucas lucky, or brilliant? (Please, feel free to comment :-P)

1This image from here.
(H/T: By The Way)

05 December 2005

Points Granted for Ingenuity...

...but this kid still deserves at least some kind of punishment—to convince him never to try anything like it again, if nothing else. What's really mind-boggling to me is that he went back to the same store to try the same trick. No matter how clever you think you are, you are, you have to figure that once you pull something like that once, someone in security will get suspicious.

I guess he just couldn't handle waiting until Christmas...

(Hat tip: Schlock)

25 November 2005

I Think They're Saying Something About The Weather...

Observe: the Japanese character for sleet is the character for rain stacked on top of the character for England. Now, I've never been to England, but... ;-)

(If the characters come out looking like 'éA' or something comparable, you need to switch on Japanese character coding auto-detect. In Firefox, go to View > Character Encoding > Auto-Detect and select 'Japanese.' If you're using a different browser, there should be a similar option somewhere that you can turn on. If this doesn't work, go into the Control Panel, open up 'Regional Options,' and try to find something with a 'Japanese' checkbox and check it. Hopefully that'll take care of it. :-P)

11 November 2005

Let It Never Be Said MIT Students Aren't Creative

Found this linked off of MIT's main page tonight (it's no longer featured there):

Long ago and far away in Modesto, Calif., two young musical theater fans shared a vision: "Star Wars" with tap-dancing Storm Troopers! Ewoks with chirpy voices raised in song!

The two fans, MIT Theater Guild (MTG) members Rogue Shindler and Jeff Suess, wrote and wrote, grafting snappy Star Wars lyrics onto tunes from such Broadway hits as "Cats," "West Side Story," "Les Miserables" and "Phantom of the Opera."

The delirious result is "Star Wars Trilogy: Musical Edition," the MTG production opening Friday, Nov. 11, with shows Nov. 11-13 and 16-20 in La Sala de Puerto Rico, MIT Student Center.

The production, known as "SWT: ME," retells "Star Wars: A New Hope," "The Empire Strikes Back" and "The Return of the Jedi" in a three-act parody of science fiction, musical theater and George Lucas' famous Jedi saga.

I hadn't heard of it until I read about it tonight, but it sounds like it'd be pretty cool. And, barring that, also pretty funny. ;-) I'm way too loaded down this week to try to catch the show this weekend, but I might be able to make it Friday or Saturday of next week. If I go, I'll probably put forth some thoughts here. If not... well, you'll all just have to use your imaginations. Deal. :-P

10 November 2005

Sad But True

Today's Real Life.

Same thing can happen with medical records, too... anybody can get to your files 'cept you. Gotta love them privacy laws!

30 October 2005

My Newest Vocabulary Pet Peeve

From dictionary.com:

lude (lüd)

A pill or tablet that contains the drug methaqualone.

From m-w.com (format adapted to match dictionary.com):

lewd (lüd)

2 a : sexually unchaste or licentious b : OBSCENE, VULGAR

Therefore, untoward behavior is lewd, not lude. I’ve seen this mistake at least two different places in the past week or so, and for whatever reason, it’s really kinda buggin’ me. :-P

Just thought I’d share...

23 October 2005

Quickie Photoblog

Sorry for the long wait between posts... school’s been a bit hectic. I’m sure y’all’d’ve much preferred something more thought-provoking, but... eh, deal with it. :-P

I do think this shot turned out really well, though:

It’s a view of a small slice of MIT campus that I see on my way into work every day. It has elements that represent parts of my experience here thus far pretty well, actually... the dome visible center-frame is the highly recognizeable Great Dome at MIT and the nearer building on the right with the sun shining full on it is the Chemical Engineering building. This picture doesn’t really show off the impressive triangular profile of the building, but at least it gets part of it in there.

Incidentally, the building on the left with the dark window stripes is the Media Lab, and the angular concrete... er... thing... that frames the Great Dome is a (so far as I’m aware) mostly useless appendage off of building E17.

...<shrug> I just don’t ask about these sorts of things... I mean, take a look at the Stata Center. (Those from CWRU should immediately recognize the main elements of the architecture.)

21 September 2005

Can I Claim Spruce Green?

Longer, more introspective post hopefully to come soon (hah), but I just had to toss this up.

Click on the thumbnail for a larger (actually readable) version:

Are they serious? I’m assuming this has been pointed out before and I’ve just missed it, but... c’mon, one-click ordering, anyone?

09 September 2005

Token Vaguely Poetic Moment

I think I ate too much today;
It is though yet too soon to say.
If come the morn indeed I pay,
Why then at home I might just stay...

That is, if skipping Japanese weren’t such a terribly bad idea. Man, this semester is going to be busy!

(Oh, and I’m really just fine... it was just late, and I guess I was in a rhyming mood... and boom, there ya go. <shrug> So sue me. :-D)

30 August 2005



MARTIAL LAW DECLARED: Situation Deteriorating
CBS News - Tuesday, August 30, 2005 10:37 AM

New Orleans, LA (CBS) - Martial Law has been declared in New Orleans as conditions continued to deteriorate. Water levels in The Big Easy and it's suburbs are rising at dangerous levels and officials stated they don't know where the water is coming from. Residents are being urged to get out of New Orleans in any way they can as officials fear "life will be unsustainable" for days or even weeks.

(H/T: Michelle Malkin)

24 August 2005


My high school US History and World Lit teacher, Mrs. Parsons, was well known in the school for her strongly held political and social ideas. One position she held that has always stuck with me was her assertion that the United States is a declining power, and that China would rise up and take our place as the primary world superpower. I don't know how much I ascribe to that idea myself, given the broad spectrum of arguments on both sides and the unavoidable (and hopefully not entirely unwarranted) hubris that comes from being an American citizen.

Regardless, cf. the Washington Times:

Kazakhstan’s foreign minister yesterday pledged his country’s support for U.S. military operations in Central Asia and said his country worked to water down neighboring countries’ efforts to evict American troops from the region.

Foreign Minister Kasymzhomart Tokayev added that the U.S. military presence since the 2001 Afghanistan war and China’s emergence as a regional and global power were helping revive the 19th-century “Great Game” struggle for influence in the region.

“Yes, to some extent, the ‘Great Game’ is coming back to our region,” Mr. Tokayev told editors and reporters at The Washington Times.

“All of the major countries are expressing their own interest to be present [in Central Asia], which is only natural because this region turned out to be important geopolitically and from a strategic point of view,” he said.

Kazakhstan, a U.S. ally and the only Central Asian nation to contribute troops to the postwar mission in Iraq, startled the Bush administration last month when it endorsed a communique from the six-nation Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) widely interpreted as demanding a deadline for shutting down U.S. bases in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, set up to support the Afghan war.

The increasingly influential SCO includes Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, but is dominated by its two largest members—Russia and China. Both Moscow and Beijing have been unnerved by the prospect of permanent U.S. military outposts in their strategic backyard.

Whether or not China is on a crash course for a head-to-head confrontation with us, there are certainly plenty of theaters within which such standoffs might occur, including Hong Kong and the above-mentioned central Asia. And that doesn’t even address the economic grappling that’s likely going to happen in the next decade or so.

Eternal vigilance, the price both of freedom and success.

(Hat tip: Captain's Quarters)

20 August 2005

When CPU Fans Go Bad

... you see a BIOS ‘CPU Health’ status window that says:

     CPU Fan: 0 RPM
     CPU Temp: 60ºC

with the CPU Temp number rising roughly 1ºC every five seconds. (For reference, under normal conditions my CPU runs in the vicinity of 41-42ºC, with an occasional slight increase in really hot weather.)

Thank goodness $10 plus two or three days plus NewEgg equals ‘fixed’!

18 August 2005

I Guess I’m Just Not Artistically Enlightened

I’ll be the first one to admit that I’m very technically-minded. I like calculus, differential equations, computers, programming, chemistry, biology, biochemistry, etc. I also like to think that I have a creative side, viz. the clarinet and piano, and I’ve been known to compose a bit of music and draw now and again. Apparently, though, I'm just a dimwitted clod when it comes to “real art.” I mean, I thought this was ridiculous and just plain disgusting, but I think this (link is time-sensitive; look for the story ‘A Bomb Grows In Brooklyn’) is completely reprehensible and more than a little frightening:

Chris Hackett wanted to have the bomb completed on Monday. But at 4 o’clock that day, he was still out shopping for parts.

He said the strength of the bomb would be equivalent to “about four pounds of TNT. It doesn’t sound like much,” he allowed, “but it’s enough to kill everyone in the gallery.”

Mr. Hackett, who is an artist, doesn’t like to jaywalk; he crosses the Manhattan streets with caution. He looks something like a big paramilitary teddy bear, in work boots (his only pair of shoes) and all-black clothes. He’s in his early 30’s and has lots of big dreadlocks and many freckles. He’s a co-founder of the Madagascar Institute, a collective of radically minded artists in Brooklyn. This latest project, a functional suitcase bomb, will be included in a large art exhibition that will open under the auspices of the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council a few days before Sept. 11.


Mr. Hackett’s bomb is designed to be triggered from “anywhere else in the world—you call a cell phone.” He said that he had already purchased the cell-phone trigger. Only he knows the number—but, of course, he has no plans to explode it.

The bomb’s construction will be, in essence, familiar to anyone who has seen a Die Hard movie. The two components that comprise the explosive, fertilizer and fuel oil, would be detonated with oxygen and propane, but they remain unmixed inside the suitcase until the bomb is triggered.

“As long as [the explosive materials are] separate, it’s like an aisle in Home Depot,” he said. “The whole thing is safe and inert.”


Mr. Hackett has a weird habit of talking of his bomb in an active—which is to say, explosive—tense. “To ignite it, I’m putting a resister [sic] in. What that does, it’ll take a while to get enough current in it—when it shorts out, it makes a spark. Two minutes later, the spark goes off and the thing explodes.”

“It won’t go off,” said Seth Cameron, creative director of the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. Mr. Cameron is the curator of the show, as well as an artist himself, and he was speaking from his Dumbo studio.

Did Mr. Cameron feel safe with the bomb’s construction? “Given Chris’ illustrious past, at first, no. Basically, I’m just making him swear up and down that he’s not going to …. ” He trailed off. “It’s one thing for him to blow himself up, but when it comes to other people … I’m just crossing my fingers.”

(“I’m just crossing my fingers”... now that inspires confidence! Color me glad I’m living in Boston, not NYC.)

Sooooo.... does this mean that all of the suicide bombers in Iraq and Palestine* and elsewhere, along with those responsible for the 1993 WTC and Oklahoma City bombings (to mention just a very few), are merely struggling, misunderstood artists? Should we petition the NEA to subsidize these visionary creative geniuses?

Or should we arrest Hackett for public endangerment and do our best to apprehend or kill those who are doing their best to try to kill us?

(Hat tip: LGF)

* By ‘Palestine’ I refer to the entire historical region of the British Mandate of Palestine—I should (more accurately) say ‘Israel,’ as no suicide terrorism (or very little if there is any) is taking place east of the Jordan River.

17 August 2005

Kelo Gets Even Worse

You may recall that I wrote a rather scathing post about the Kelo vs. New London SCOTUS decision that gave the Constitutionally dubious thumbs-up to the “eminent domain” land-grab by the city of New London to make way for a new hotel, conference center, and housing/office space complex. Well, turns out it gets even better (read: worse)—the city is now claiming that the people who are so stubbornly clinging to their homes owe back rent (and more, actually—they apparently want any and all rent collected for rental properties as well) for all of the time since the city initially made the eminent domain claim back in 2000. The amounts involved here are mind-blowing:

An NLDC estimate assessed Dery [who owns four buildings on the disputed property] for $6,100 per month since the takeover, a debt of more than $300K. One of his neighbors, case namesake Susette Kelo, who owns a single-family house with her husband, learned she would owe in the ballpark of 57 grand. “I'd leave here broke,” says Kelo. “I wouldn't have a home or any money to get one. I could probably get a large-size refrigerator box and live under the bridge.”

Dafydd over at Captain’s Quarters captures the mood well:

Sometimes, you almost have to laugh. But it’s a nervous sort of laugh, like when your next-door neighbor launches into a tirade about the interstellar aliens who have taken over all the PTAs in the county.

The development company is also (legally, actually) only reimbursing the erstwhile residents for the equivalent 2000 rent, since that’s when eminent domain was claimed. As Dafydd also points out, “[s]ince there has been a considerable rise in the value of real estate in the last five years, this means that the residents [...] will probably be paid less in compensation than they are assessed in rent... and far too little to buy a new house to replace the one seized.” If New London (CNL) is permitted to have its way, the lives of these people will be destroyed. They will have no homes, no money to buy new ones elsewhere, and will very likely be tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. Sounds fun, ne?

There’s been a lot of gab online lately about the judicial principle of stare decisis, much in the context of newly nominated SCOTUS prospect John Roberts and his position on Roe vs. Wade. In general, I think it’s a good thing, as it provides long-term stability to judicial decisions and prevents them from being overruled lightly. But, as above-linked m-w.com definition says, the principle should only apply when decisions don’t “contravene the ordinary principles of justice.”

Kill it! Kill it now, before it eats us all!!!

(Hat tip: Captain’s Quarters)

16 August 2005

I’m Really Not Dead!

And these people are crazy. For cryin’ out loud, folks! eBay!!

(Hat tip: By The Way)

31 July 2005

When Animals Don’t Attack

... it can look like this.

Anybody know if the stripes fool the tiger into thinking the pigs are tigers or something? I’d think the piglet smell would be a dead (no pun intended) giveaway...

26 July 2005

Pardon My Cynicism

... but if something like this happened at an Israeli airport, do you think there would be the same mobilization of Jordanian (or Egyptian or Lebanese or Syrian) medical personnel? I'm not saying that I'm confident they wouldn’t send help, but... I think it’s kinda sad that the question of a one-sided response even comes to mind.

Update, 07/26/05 2:30 PM — Well, the plane didn’t crash... looks like it just blew a tire and flipped or something, and all the crew is safe and healthy. Still... the Israeli crews were prepping to help, which IMO is a worthwhile gesture of goodwill.

(Article from AP)

Roberts – Highly Entertaining

The blogosphere debate over the impending SCOTUS confirmation process for recently-nominated John Roberts and how it will play out is in full swing, with voices from the left and the right weighing in. Many on the left are concerned about Roberts not being sufficiently forthcoming about his philosophical and ideological bent during Senate questioning, and most on the right seem to be cautiously optimistic that Democrats will forgo the filibuster and permit the (likely successful) Senate confirmation vote for Roberts.

However, I'm really not qualified to speak to any of that, save to express my hope that, whatever the outcome, Roberts's nomination is permitted to come to a vote. What I am writing about here is Basil's Blog, which I just ran across. Fortuitously, the first post I ran across was this one—I actually laughed out loud at a couple of points. Note that those leaning left may not appreciate this all that much, but those in the middle, on the right, or who are comfortably politically indifferent should be... well... highly entertained. ;-)

(Incidentally, check out the ‘El Edwards’ link early on in the post... 's a couple of shades above mildly cool.)

17 July 2005

Bungie Python

Well, I’ll be darned if I can remember where I was linked to this... I may have just been doing a Google search for “Not Being Seen,” but I’m pretty darn sure that I was pointed to it from somewhere. Ah well, it’s darn funny anyways!

By the by, if anybody out there has a copy of the original bit handy, do me a favor and hook me up... I couldn't find it on Google. Much obliged!

14 July 2005

A Whole New Meaning To ‘Picture-In-Picture’

Off of AP this afternoon:

At last, a way to end squabbles over which TV channel to watch - without buying a second set. Sharp Corp. has developed a liquid-crystal display that shows totally different images to people viewing the screen from the left and the right.

One person can be surfing the Internet, using the display as a PC screen, while another watches a downloaded movie or TV broadcast. It also works for watching two TV channels: One person can watch baseball while another watches a soap opera.

The “two-way viewing-angle LCD,” announced by the Japanese consumer electronics maker Thursday, will go into mass production this month and will cost roughly twice as much as a standard display.

According to the article, the new technology will still allow for a single show/screen to be displayed in both directions during those rare moments of channel surfing synchrony. (This is a rather obvious feature on reflection, since it likely just sends the same signal both directions. <shrug>) Aside from the issue of overlapping soundtracks, which likely will require one or both users to wear headphones, I think this is a really sweet piece of technology. It’s like those things that you can turn back and forth and different pictures show up, except that you can play videogames on it. ;-)

Something like this could also really revolutionize net parties by permitting two people to play at one monitor. Assuming the unit has two separate video inputs (and that they’re making a VGA/DVI compatible version) each person could connect his own computer (no offense to Annarchy :-P) and play from either side of the single two-way monitor. Super space-saver! Multi-console multiplayer games (e.g., Halo) might also work out well, though the audio conflict might be harder to resolve (convert from RCA to 1/8” headphone plug and route through a four-way splitter to individual headsets).

Regardless of the various minor issues, the boon to domestic tranquility from this thing is undeniable. Er, well... it’ll do okay until TV watcher number three gets home. :-P

13 July 2005

A CWRU-Born Timewaster

Derb on the Corner linked to this today. Good to see they’re still keeping the Comp Sci’s busy over there. :-P

06 July 2005

Alcohol Might Actually Stunt Your Growth

I ran across an interesting article while doing a literature search for my research—here’s a link; click on “Article via ScienceDirect” in the page that loads and then scroll down on the subsequent page to read the abstract for the paper. Those not connected to a university network will probably only have access to the abstract (you can try clicking the ‘PDF’ link on the right side of the page for the full text), but that should be sufficient to get the (admittedly rather technical) gist across.

In more normal language, they basically found that when they dosed rats with ethanol for long periods of time, it threw their hormone balance out of whack in a manner consistent with pituitary malfunction (decreased testosterone levels and improperly managed LH and FSH). They observed that the pituitary cells didn’t appear to be dying though, which implies that the damage may not be permanent. However, since the pituitary produces human growth hormone (HGH), which is critical for proper development and has to be carefully regulated, I’d say it’s quite possible that the alcohol-related damage could cause physical maturation problems for those who drink during puberty and adolescence.

An interesting corollary study that could be done in humans would be to examine the relationship between ultimate maximum adult height and alcohol consumption level. There’d probably have to be various control factors introduced (e.g., the height of each individual’s parents in order to adjust for intrinsic genetic differences), but it’d be neat (and informative!) to see any correlation that might show up. A similar experiment could also be done in rats, as long as there’s a similiar hormone produced by the murine pituitary with a similar mode of action (which, since according to this article there’s a receptor for MGH, it’s likely that MGH itself exists); the correlated variables would have to be things that MGH is known to influence (e.g., body girth or body length).

All in all, I draw from this the conclusion that heavy drinking is both a result and a cause of stupidity. :-P

28 June 2005

Souter Faces Kelo Backlash

Following up on the Kelo eminent domain decision in SCOTUS last week, this is rather interesting:

Weare, New Hampshire (PRWEB) Could a hotel be built on the land owned by Supreme Court Justice David H. Souter? A new ruling by the Supreme Court which was supported by Justice Souter himself itself might allow it. A private developer is seeking to use this very law to build a hotel on Souter's land.

Justice Souter’s vote in the “Kelo vs. City of New London” decision allows city governments to take land from one private owner and give it to another if the government will generate greater tax revenue or other economic benefits when the land is developed by the new owner.

On Monday June 27, Logan Darrow Clements, faxed a request to Chip Meany the code enforcement officer of the Towne of Weare, New Hampshire seeking to start the application process to build a hotel on 34 Cilley Hill Road. This is the present location of Mr. Souter’s home.

Clements, CEO of Freestar Media, LLC, points out that the City of Weare will certainly gain greater tax revenue and economic benefits with a hotel on 34 Cilley Hill Road than allowing Mr. Souter to own the land.

The proposed development, called “The Lost Liberty Hotel” will feature the “Just Desserts Café” and include a museum, open to the public, featuring a permanent exhibit on the loss of freedom in America. Instead of a Gideon’s Bible each guest will receive a free copy of Ayn Rand's novel “Atlas Shrugged.”

I have several immediate reactions to this. The first is, “Wow, NICE, that’s really clever!!” which is followed closely by “Geez, that’s a pretty drastic thing to do, despite his role in Kelo” and then “Well, however it ends up, it’ll be a good object lesson for him about the ramifications of his rulings.”

In the end, I hope/suspect that this will end up not going much of anywhere. But, if it makes Souter and his compatriots aware that the American citizenry is fully prepared to use their crappy decisions against them, perhaps it’ll make them think twice before pilfering liberties like they did last week.

(Hat tip: Volokh, though this has been linked all over the place)

Unspeakably Cute, Indeed

A sample from the Moggy Horde:

Check out the site... the feline contortions displayed therein are rather remarkable. And, of course, are... well, ‘unspeakably cute.’

(Link and phrase ‘unspeakably cute’ from By The Way)

26 June 2005

Some Unreal Scenery

I bought a whole bunch of old(er) games on eBay recently—probably far more than I should have—ranging from a copy of the original System Shock (1994) to Unreal II (2003). I think I may have gotten some that date from before ’94, but that gives the gist. Despite the difficulty of getting some of these old creakers to run on my new box, I'm quite satisifed with my purchases.

In any event, I've been playing U-II quite a bit lately, and I have to say, it’s really pretty, which holds true to how impressive the original Unreal was visually for its time. U-II’s soundtrack is also very impressive—high quality stuff with lots of dynamic music changes in response to game events.

The gameplay is excellent, with lots of fun weapons and challenging enemies. Some of the levels I’ve played thus far have been genuinely tough, requiring strategy and planning and often a bit of light-footed dodging. :-) There's a solid storyline there as well, with plenty of mystery and uncertainty about surrounding events and your character’s role in them. I think I’m close to a turning point in the plot, as I’ve got a pile of unanswered questions as big as the pile of enemies I’ve left in my wake. :-P

In any event, I grabbed some screenshots to share with y’all—the vista from this one level was really awesome, and one of the following levels had some... interesting landforms. So, here we go... the first set here covers various angles of aforementioned vista:

(This one’s my favorite, I think)

This next is a view through the scope of the sniper rifle, which I think is pretty nifty looking:

The next two are on the planet with the ‘interesting geoforms’—the first shows one of said geoforms (which might actually be a big skeleton or something) and the second shows the rolling rust-red hills:

25 June 2005

I Could Never Live In The South

Weather.com’s forecast for Boston:

Now, this is definitely unusual—if it hit 100 degrees today it’d completely blow away the previous record high. It strikes me as the kind of weather you'd expect in, say, New Orleans (with the possible exception that the nighttime low wouldn’t be as cool ;-). But, after checking New Orleans:

and Baton Rouge:

and Houston:


If you need me just holler, I'll be sitting over next to the A/C. :-P

24 June 2005

Thinly Veiled Socialism

For those of you who follow the news, the simple mention of ‘eminent domain’ should be enough to tell you what I'm writing about. For those who don't, read the backstory here. Essentially, the Supreme Court (of the United States --> SCOTUS) case Kelo et al v. City of New London says that local governments can make use of the ‘eminent domain’ clause in the Fifth Amendment to essentially transfer ownership of private property from one group/person to another so long as said transfer takes place for the nebulous purpose of ‘providing benefit to the public at large.’ From the Reason Public Policy Institute:

The New London case is a direct outcome of the judiciary's tendency, going back several decades, toward a “hands off” approach to eminent domain. Case law, including the groundbreaking 1984 decision by the Michigan Supreme Court in Poletown v. the City of Detroit, broadened the power of local governments and gave them license to effectively void individual property rights as long as they say it is for a public benefit.

The Poletown case, in particular, was important because the Michigan Supreme Court allowed a city to raze an entire neighborhood to accommodate a new General Motors plant to meet an explicit economic development goal.

Although Poletown was a state court decision, it had nationwide impact. Building on federal law that granted increasingly broad authority to state and local governments, cities and states across the nation have used eminent domain to seize property from some private owners and hand it over to others, with economic development as a justification.

The Michigan Supreme Court overturned Poletown in July 2004, however, when it ruled against use of eminent domain for a private business and office park in County of Wayne v. Edward Hathcock. The effects of this reversal are unclear because eminent domain has become so pervasive in urban redevelopment. The U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Kelo v. New London thus carries even more significance.

John over at Power Line disagrees somewhat about the significance of the ruling, noting that cases such as these (where the local legislature is given free hand in deciding whether to apply eminent domain) aren't entirely uncommon:

Here in Minnesota, we have had a couple of famous cases that have stretched the boundaries of "public use" at least as far as Kelo. In one instance, a block in downtown Minneapolis was condemned so that a local company could build its new corporate headquarters there. Thriving businesses who had no desire to sell out were evicted, and their buildings razed. In another instance, a Minneapolis suburb condemned a stretch along the metropolitan area's major beltway to serve as the new headquarters for Best Buy Company. This was prime real estate, which was already occupied by other profitable businesses--a major car dealer, restaurants, etc. They resisted the taking, but it was upheld.

My point is not that these decisions were correct--I have considerable sympathy for the other side--but rather that the Kelo decision shouldn't come as a shock to anyone who has been following this area of the law.

In any event, there's general agreement on the Right side of the blogosphere and among some more toward the center that this ruling is really pretty awful. Remarkably, there’s actually some agreement on the Left on this issue as well (in the comments—the post itself makes the argument that only right-wing extremists would want to keep the government from ‘improving’ the neighborhood by kicking everybody out), though for somewhat different reasons (e.g., giving Wal-Mart more land is BAAAAAAAD). I really don’t like the ruling—IMO eminent domain should be applied very rarely and only for projects that are explicitly “for public use” (quoting the Fifth Amendment verbatim!) such as roads and parks. A nebulous argument that the new (private, not public!) owner will bring about an improvement in the public welfare is not sufficient reason for the government to seize a citizen’s property.

This actually now ties into the title of the post. The SCOTUS decision in Kelo leaves to local governments (G) the power to transfer property (P) from one private entity (A) to another (B) and also to set the amount of the compensation provided to A. If this transaction were to take place in a purely capitalistic environment, free of governmental intervention, A and B would negotiate fair compensation based upon the value that A has vested in keeping control P. If A would accept no less than (say) $20 million as the cost of giving up the intangible benefit (in economics terms I believe it's called ‘utility’) of retaining posession of P, then that cost would have to be factored into B’s calculations to determine if they really want to pursue the transaction. But, with eminent domain in play, G gets to choose whether the ‘transaction’ takes place and what the compensation should be, regardless of the value that A places on P. Thus, it represents an egregious penetration of government into a matter strictly between two private parties. From m-w.com (emphasis mine):

socialism: 1 : any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods

Thus, granting the government the power to redistribute goods (land) among private entities is socialist. I don't use the term lightly (and to forestall accusations that I'm calling the Kelo majority Supremes socialists, I hereby restrict its application to this one instance while reserving the right to apply it again if I so choose), but I think it accurately describes the mindset of the opinion. SCOTUS is effectively saying, “We hold that government knows best how land should be allocated to private entities.”

I dissent.

Link Roundup

(Most of these were linked above, this is just for clarity)

22 June 2005

An Interesting Topical Convergence

First, watch the movie here.

As I was watching that movie, the headline for this article popped up in my RSS aggregator. :-P

(I'm not, of course, attempting to make light of the news article!)

(Hat tips: Movie - Aurora; News story - AP)

21 June 2005

A Vaguely Unfortunate (But Mostly Just Amusing) Product Name

See here.

Fans of first person shooters should enjoy this. Others may just end up being confused. :-)

The Hubris Of The Time Travel Paradox

From BBC:

Researchers speculate that time travel can occur within a kind of feedback loop where backwards movement is possible, but only in a way that is “complementary” to the present.

In other words, you can pop back in time and have a look around, but you cannot do anything that will alter the present you left behind.

The new model, which uses the laws of quantum mechanics, gets rid of the famous paradox surrounding time travel.


The main headache stems from the idea that if you went back in time you could, theoretically, do something to change the present; and that possibility messes up the whole theory of time travel.


According to Einstein, space-time can curve back on itself, theoretically allowing travellers to double back and meet younger versions of themselves.

And now a team of physicists from the US and Austria says this situation can only be the case if there are physical constraints acting to protect the present from changes in the past.


“Quantum mechanics distinguishes between something that might happen and something that did happen,” Professor Dan Greenberger, of the City University of New York, US, told the BBC News website.

“If we don't know your father is alive right now - if there is only a 90% chance that he is alive right now, then there is a chance that you can go back and kill him.

“But if you know he is alive, there is no chance you can kill him.”

To my knowledge, the ‘time-travel paradox’ has always been cast like this in science fiction—the laws of causality forbid you from altering ‘something’ in the past that alters the progression of human (or alien) history otherwise you might not ever go back in time to make the change resulting in the necessity of the change simultaneously both happening and not happening. Rather mind-bending. Even, well... paradoxical. :-P

Taking a step back from this human-centered view of the universe, in my mind the principles described in the article make an argument against time travel in any form. They posit that the space-time curvature/intersection necessary for Einsteinian time travel “can only be the case if there are physical constraints acting to protect the present from changes in the past.” But, one of the most fundamental tenets of science is that measuring a system inevitably alters the state of that system. If a theoretical time traveler looked at something in the past, his eyes would absorb photons that would otherwise strike an object in that past. The simple act of ‘entering’ the past would disturb air molecules from the trajectories they traveled in his absence. Thus, any time travel event would cause changes, and thus by the logic presented in the article, no time travel is thus possible. Only our prideful assumptions permit us to assume that the only changes that matter in our hypothetical mucking about in the past are those that perceptibly affect human events.

But, I'll give you... SF would be a lot more boring if everybody held to a strictly fundamental position on this. ;-)

More information on quantum measurement here; feel free to skip the heavy mathy stuff and start here. The Copenhagen interpretation is one (still rather imperfect) attempt at a resolution for all of these quantum questions. And this is something I ran into while I was Googling around that's even more technical and paradoxical and confusing than the other stuff, but at the same time is really neat.

(Hat tip: Strife)

19 June 2005

The (Science Fiction) Future... Today!!

Looks like we don't even need sentient AI to have robots running amok...

(Hat tip: Strife)

18 June 2005

Ford Fires

One reason why parking your Ford on the street might not be a bad idea.

This is an inherent problem with any product, from cars to toys to pharmaceuticals. A company can only carry out ‘quality assurance’ for a certain length of time. There is no way to tell what might happen after that QA period. The burden inevitably falls to the consumer in the form of perpetual vigilance.

Potential Identity Theft

On LATimes.com:

In the largest reported security breach of personal financial information, hackers infiltrated the computers at a Tucscon credit card processing center and stole as many as 40 million card numbers, it was disclosed Friday.

MasterCard International said card numbers and expiration dates were harvested by a rogue program planted inside the computer network at CardSystems Inc., one of the firms that process merchant requests for credit-card authorization. When a retailer swipes a customer's card, the information goes to companies like CardSystems for approval before getting passed along to banks.

At least 68,000 accounts have already had fraudulent charges posted to them, said MasterCard Vice President Linda Locke. Most credit card companies reverse bogus charges that are reported to them. Social Security numbers and other personal information were not taken.

The attack exposed the numbers of 13.9 million MasterCards and an unknown number of other brands of cards, including American Express. Atlanta-based CardSystems processes $15 billion in charges annually for MasterCard, Visa, American Express, Discover and other cards. Visa did not return a call seeking comment.

Keep a close eye on your credit statements - check them online daily for the next week or so, if you can. Be very prepared to report bogus purchases if they show up.

Is it just me, or has there been a lot of identity theft and loss/improper transmission of personal information in the news lately? The Berkeley laptop, the lost Citibank tapes, the data swiped from LexisNexis... it's getting out of hand. I guess the real question is, has there been an uptick in identity theft, or are the stories just making it out to the news more frequently?

16 June 2005

They Really Do Mean “This Side Up”

From The Sneeze:

Little did I know when I innocently bought a box of microwave Kettle Corn, it would result in a: Hidden Splenda Expose, A Destroyed Microwave, A $43 Auction, and A Cross-Country Trip for my little popcorn meteor...

Read the whole thing. And then be really careful the next time you make microwave popcorn. Especially the certain people I know who've had similar troubles in the past... ;-)

Additionally, if you have a strong stomach, consider reading the Steve, Don't Eat It! special. (Be warned, this guy is kinda fond of vulgarity and obscenities.)

(Hat tip: You know who you are :-)

And This Is Just INSANE!

Click only the red rectangle, as quickly as you can. If you miss, you go back to the previous layout.

My best time through the whole thing so far is 144 seconds. I bet y'all can beat that pretty easily. :-)

Update, 6/16/05 2:11 PM: New best, 53 seconds.

(Hat tip: Also By The Way)

This Makes Me Feel Less Like A Hopeless Geek

I like science fiction. Most who know me are probably not surprised by this revelation. However, I have a better-than-average knowledge of the Star Trek: The Next Generation universe than most people I know. <spreads hands> I like the show, what can I say?

However, when I run into something like this, I am quietly relieved that there are others out there who put a whole lot more time and effort into analyzing science fiction worlds/universes than I do:

If we accept all the Star Wars films as the same canon, then a lot that happens in the original films has to be reinterpreted in the light of the prequels. As we now know, the rebel Alliance was founded by Yoda, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Bail Organa. What can readily be deduced is that their first recruit, who soon became their top field agent, was R2-D2.

What I've read so far of this is quite well-thought-out, and (I think) very interesting. I'm just glad that somebody else came up with it. :-)

(Hat tip: By The Way)

15 June 2005

‘Healthy Candy’—Rrrrright...

Via AP:

Apparently energy-packed sports drinks aren't enough. Now there are vitamin-laced jelly beans and ginseng-stoked chews.

The nation's candy makers are targeting fitness enthusiasts seeking to boost athletic performance or quickly grab a jolt of energy.

Industry insiders and analysts who gathered this week in Chicago for North America's largest candy trade show say the odd pairing of candy and fitness might just make economic sense. Consumers are scooping up more than $3 billion a year in "energy" gels, bars and drinks, and the crowded, $25 billion confection industry must continue to innovate if it's going to sweeten the bottom line.

And when you consider that more than 60 percent of adults say they exercise, the new products stand a good chance of catching on, said Harry Balzer, vice president of a consumer marketing firm that tracks the food industry.

Oh goody, more processed, refined, extracted, extruded, treated, preserved, re-treated, modified “health food” for people to binge on, just what we need! Sports drinks with electrolytes and stuff, I can understand (though the food coloring really isn't the best). Sports bars probably aren't too bad, what with (as I understand it) mostly ‘real food’ contents with some extra nutrients thrown in. But candy? I guess it's the logical follow-up to all of the vitamin C lozenges and stuff.

<shrug> Just give me real, actual fruits and vegetables with an occasional granola bar and some really good dark chocolate every once in a while. Now that’s snacking!

13 June 2005

A Challenge For A Certain Subset Of My Friends

Here. (A certain member of the titular subset has very probably already seen this. :-P to you, I say.)

I admit, I'm completely unqualified to even begin to think about how to tackle something like this. However, I suspect several of the people I know could come up with something very respectable (even if the contest isn't ;-).

(Via Slashdot)

Chat With A Potential Employer

On Wired.com today:

In Hollywood, where everyone's a freelancer and career networking veers between art and warfare, a new weapon is emerging as champion: instant messaging.

Movie producers, directors, actors and crew workers bouncing from one job to the next have traditionally relied on agents and Rolodexes for finding their next gigs. But these days, many are discovering it's easier to post their job availability on IM.

Instead of displaying simple "away from my computer" messages, Hollywood buddy lists now overflow with come-ons, from "need work" to "wrapping up shoot." Producers hiring for a new production can tell at a glance who's available now, who's not and who might be free in the near future.

This seems like a really effective use of instant messaging - I mean, heck... I've been using it in much the same way ever since I first started using IM back in high school (oh-so-scarily long ago). It's almost like a personal classified ads board.

However, I'm forced to wonder if this job-posting use might entice the messaging service providers to try to charge for the service. I don't think pay-to-chat would work in the long run, though, because they'd lose many of their casual customers - either the users would stop messaging, or they'd go to a different, free application. I suppose they could encrypt the communications between the client and the server to prevent third-party tap-ins, but... I'm pretty sure it'd outright kill the medium for a lot of folks.


And This Is Just Neat

Via AP.

Given that (to my knowledge) date palms aren't the source of any kind of medicinal substance today, I'm afraid I'm a bit skeptical about the prospects of something coming from this seedling. But, hey, anything's possible!

Inspiring Story

This is really remarkable... powerful read.

(Hat tip: Michelle Malkin)

11 June 2005

One Hope Or Two?

Ghent over at Star Wars Blogs has some theories
on why Obi-Wan Kenobi doesn't seem to consider Leia a 'Hope' (follow link for more details). His conclusions:

What do we know for sure? Obi-Wan and Yoda's opinion of Leia's status as a "hope" differed. This difference was one of opinion, not sexism or a lack of knowledge.

There are plenty of possible reasons Obi-Wan may have favored Luke... his familiarity with Luke and unfamiliarity with Leia creating a bias, Luke's level of training vs. Leia's, evidence of differing gifts as the twins developed, secret midichlorian tests, or maybe just a difference in what was being hoped for as discussed above. There simply isn't enough evidence to know for sure.

Since there's no stretch of logic (if I do say so myself) for this line to make sense, this is no plot hole.

Personally, I'd like to propose another reason, if I may: Obi-Wan, knowing the intensity of Luke's feelings and the strength of his connection to Leia, feared that if Luke had any knowledge of his blood relationship to Leia it would pose a threat to Leia. In the Emperor's throne room battle scene at the end of ROTJ, this exact situation plays out - Vader picks through Luke's mind and finds out about Leia, and this drives Luke out of hiding and into an attack on Vader (likely motivated by Dark Side emotions). Thus, I think Obi-Wan's thinking was, "If he doesn't know she's his sister, then she will be safe."

However, Yoda had a different plan. I think Ghent's theory on this point is quite valid - that Yoda was thinking longer-term and attempting to ensure the continuation of the Jedi by making sure that Luke knew that he could (and should) train Leia in the Jedi arts. Perhaps he felt that Luke training Leia was important enough to risk revealing her existence to Vader and the Emperor.

In any event, it brings out yet again the mild conflict of style and foresight/insight between Kenobi and Yoda that was (if my memory serves) brought up in Episode I. (What I'm thinking of could've been between Kenobi and Qui-Gon in E-I, or Kenobi/Yoda in E-II...it's been awhile since I've seen either.) In the end everything works out, but it brings a bit of chaos to Luke's world, with various sides of the truth being thrown at him depending on who he talks to.

<shrug> My ten cents says, "No plot hole either." :-)

(Hat tip: Slashdot)

10 June 2005

This Is Just Ridiculous

Need some celebrity air?

You are bidding on ONE Jar of Celebrity Air which was captured at the movie premiere for “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” starring Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt.

In addition to the jar of celebrity air are two t-shirts from the Mr. & Mrs. Smith premiere.

As of this post there are 53 bids, with the current going price of $15,099. Wonder how long it'll take eBay to pull this one down...

Update, 6/11/05 3:40 AM: 83 bids, $21,100. And there are still more than nine days left to go!!

Update, 6/12/05 1:23 AM: eBay has removed the auction. However, there are plenty of copycat auctions up now, if you're really desperate to get your hands on this stuff. :-P

(Hat tip: The Corner)

09 June 2005

Got Tornado?

This is incredible, and a wee bit frightening at the same time (mainly the second of the three clips). The probe that they came up with to do this was very cleverly designed, too... something like a radially symmetric airfoil. Props to 'em for some darn nice footage.

(Hat tip: By The Way - John has a good point that this footage on an Imax screen could cause... errrmm... problems :-P)

06 June 2005

Even Judges Were Once Embryos

Over at Volokh Conspiracy, quoting Charles Lane of WashPo:

To be sure, when people hear the words "Supreme Court justice" these days, they probably do not think "youth." The youngest justice is Clarence Thomas, 56. The eight others are 65 or older. Yet each of them was once a child.

Connecting this observation to another ever-so-slightly controversial current issue, each of the current Supremes was also once an embryo. Who knows if they'd even be here, if their mothers had carried them in a post Roe v. Wade world! Craziness!

(Sorry, I don't have any documentary proof that the judges were once embryos. You'll have to take my word for it.)

05 June 2005

Truly Worthwhile Science

From CNN.com:

WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) -- Canadian and U.S. scientists have developed vaccines that protect monkeys from the deadly Marburg and Ebola viruses and show promise for humans, a study published in Nature Medicine magazine said Sunday.

It will take five or six years to complete the research to show the experimental vaccines can be safe and effective for people exposed to the contagious viruses, which are almost always fatal, said Steven Jones, one of the Canadian-based scientists behind the study.

"The data would suggest that instead of 100 percent chance of dying, they would have an 80 percent chance of survival," Jones said.

There are lots of dangerous jobs. Some people walk around on the top levels of skycrapers under construction. Others grab highly venomous snakes with their bare hands while cracking jokes in front of a camera. These people work daily with viruses that kill in the most vicious, painful, awful ways imaginable. Very worthy of respect, I must say.

Me, I'm chicken... I don't do anything like that. :-P

The Public Face Of The Democratic Party

In the interest of disclosure, I believe I'm registered as a Republican. At the very least, if memory serves, I voted in the Republican primary. To my understanding, this requires that I be registered as a Republican. Please correct me if I'm wrong.

In any event, official or not, I'm probably best considered a Republican, as I tend to side more with the GOP than with the Dems, in terms of ideology and votes. In that light, I'm really glad that this guy isn't representing my party:

While discussing the hardship of working all day and then standing in line for eight hours to vote, Dean had said, "Well, Republicans, I guess, can do that because a lot of them have never made an honest living in their lives."

Enh, who cares about substantive argument and debate, anyways - it's WAY more fun to just toss insults around! Nyah!

(Although... I guess if you want to get technical about it, couldn't you probably say that no politician, Repub or Dem, really makes an all-around "honest living?" :-P)

(Article from Boston.com)

"A [Statistically] Rare Occurrence"

Michelle Malkin has a quality overview post covering the Pentagon's investigative report out of Guantanamo. From the official news release (three page PDF):

Since Korans were first issued to detainees (JAN 02), the JTF has issued more than 1600 copies, conducted more than 28,000 interrogations, and thousands of cell moves during which detainee effects, including Korans, were moved. From those activities, the inquiry team identified 19 incidents involving Koran handling by JTF personnel.

Ten of these incidents did not involve mishandling the Koran. They involved the touching of a Koran during the normal performance of duty.

“With the other nine incidents, there was either intentional or unintentional mishandling of a Koran,” said Hood. “We defined mishandling as touching, holding or the treatment of a Koran in a manner inconsistent with policy or procedure. We have confirmed that five of these alleged mishandling incidents took place. After thoroughly investigating the four remaining alleged mishandling incidents, we cannot determine conclusively if they actually happened.”

“Mishandling a Koran at Guantanamo Bay is a rare occurrence. Mishandling of a Koran here is never condoned,” said Hood. “When one considers the many thousands of times detainees have been moved and cells have been searched since detention operations first began here in January 2002, I think one can only conclude that respect for detainee religious beliefs was embedded in the culture of the JTF from the start.”

In the course of the inquiry, 15 incidents were identified where detainees mishandled Korans. These included using a Koran as a pillow, ripping pages out of the Koran, attempting to flush a Koran down the toilet, and urinating on the Koran.

So, some quick math. Assume 'thousands of prisoner moves' means 3,000 moves. That's 31,000 'guard action events' (I'll call 'em GAEs). Nineteen incidents involving the Koran, divided by that 31,000 figure gives us... a 0.058% chance of an incident involving the Koran (not necessarily even 'abuse,' mind you) over the course of any given GAE. Additionally, note that the probability of a detainee mishandling a Koran is comparable to that of a guard doing the same.

Would that our enemy afforded their prisoners as much consideration. <shakes head>

See Michelle's post for more good info and links. Specifically, the Pentagon's full findings (six page PDF) and the regulations in place regarding the handling of Korans (two page PDF) make for enlightening reading.

04 June 2005

Today's Public Service Announcement

Why we wear polycarbonate safety glasses where there's a risk of small flying objects.

(Obviously, in this dummy's case, he was foolish enough to stand in front of a BB gun. No hope for some people.)

(ASX format - requires Windows Media Player)

03 June 2005

Oops... But It's Still The Repub's Fault

No harm in a wee nip of Photoshopping, right?

Not when you make a campaign ad for a GOP gubernatorial hopeful by transplanting him into a shot of a certain well-known Democratic figure in front of a cheering crowd. At least the creative director of the ad company that pulled this little cut-and-paste was kind enough to "[issue] a written apology to Schundler [the GOP hopeful] and [say] the candidate had no knowledge about the photo's origin." I'm not entirely certain how this sounded like a good idea to the guy who put the ad together.

However, note the headline: "GOP candidate's Web site used doctored Dean photo" - this, err...doesn't exactly give the impression that the GOP candidate was innocent in the matter, despite the quote in the article stating that the GOP candidate had no knowledge of the photo's origin.

Granted, this was published on Boston.com, probably not the source most favorably disposed towards Republicans. But, this was an AP release, and thus (I have to assume) was geared towards generalized media outlets and should (ostensibly) be presented as neutrally as possible. Doesn't strike me that that's the case, though.

To those who say, "What liberal media bias?" I say, "Uh-huh, whatever."

31 May 2005

Do They Want Us To Fail?

This NY Times article is unbelievable. If you find out about how the CIA operates, do you just broadcast it for everyone to hear? Do you care about the lives of the agents that you may be putting at risk? Um, DUH!! I kinda wonder if this might violate some sort of law against revealing information about intelligence assets, even if all of the bits and pieces of information they used was in the public domain.

I don't get it.

The only good thing I see coming out of this is that it might educate the CIA on ways in which their operations might not be as well disguised as they should be. At the very least, seems like now they're going to have to re-evaluate and restructure this setup. Still, it's going to be a major task (that will likely represent a significant cost to taxpayers) to devise a new approach for transporting people inconspicuously.

(Hat tip: LGF)

Name That Ancient DOS Game

Most of the people who know me pretty well also know this game pretty well, and know that I like it a lot. Most of the people who know me, also can't stand it. Something about the lack of a defined up and down just messes with their heads. Also, I like using the keyboard to play, which is another aspect that my friends don't understand. <shrug> I really like the freedom of movement in the game (I never really get confused or anything) and the keyboard allows me to have all of the commands I need right next to one finger or another.

To each his own, I suppose. :-)

In addition, beyond the appeal of the inherent, archaic DOSsiness, the D1 X patch for the game makes it look all nice and pretty - OpenGL is quite a nice thing.

So, check it out... download the shareware version and have fun flying around and spinning all over the place. Or, get sick from it and feel queasy for the rest of the night. Your mileage may vary. :-P

Update: Per request, the most recent Descent shareware demo can be downloaded here. Hopefully the unmodified shareware version of will function sufficiently - apparently D1X only works with the registered version. (And work it does! Makes it all purty and such. :-)

Also, note that the controls will take some time to get used to. Ostensibly, Descent is best played with a joystick with lots of buttons and movement axes (handle twist, etc.), but I've had pretty good success with just the keyboard. Like I said, your mileage may vary. :-)

29 May 2005

Arizona Gun Safety Elective

From Fox News, last Saturday:

Gun Safety 101 Sparks Debate

Saturday, May 21, 2005
LOS ANGELES — Arizona schools have added a fourth "R" to reading, writing and arithmetic — rifles.

Students who choose to enroll in this new course learn the safe way to handle a gun and earn one credit — the equivalent to ceramics or photography electives. Critics are gunning the debate; they say handing teenagers loaded weapons equals trouble.

“I'm afraid these programs are really geared more toward increasing peoples interest in guns rather than safety,” said Dr. Mary Rimsza, director of the Student Health Center at ASU.

However, some students say it is on target with their curriculum.

“We learn life skills, like when we miss [a shot], not to get mad. You learn a lot of cooperation with your team members,” said student Kim Peters.

And many parents argue they would rather their children learn how to handle a gun and be safe, than be sorry.

“It is very important for a child to be proficient responsible with a firearm as a hobby or just practical shooting, he should know how to operate it just like you would teach a child how to operate a saw or any hand tool,” said parent Scott Marx.

Arizona's State Game and Fish Department said it will dispatch qualified, trained instructors to every school that signs up.

There are three arguments I can think of off the top of my head that people might make against this: (1) it gives students knowledge about and access to guns that they otherwise wouldn't have; (2) it heightens students' interest in guns above what it would have been otherwise; and (3) it inappropriately juxtaposes firearm education and more 'conventional' education.

To (1) I say, if a kid is sufficiently curious about guns, he is going to do whatever it takes to get his hands on them to mess around with them. I would prefer that he be introduced to them in a controlled setting with proper supervision, so that he appreciates their capabilities and is able to handle them safely and properly.

As for (2), while I agree that students interested in guns will probably become more interested in them by taking the course, I don't think that interest in itself is a bad thing. As with (1), if that interest is accompanied by an appreciation of their capabilities and knowledge of proper and safe handling, I don't see the problem. As to the reverse argument, inducing interest from those students with none, if someone really doesn't want to mess around with or learn about guns, then they'll simply just avoid this elective.

Point (3) I actually agree with, to a limited extent. Semantically, learning to shoot a handgun or a 0.22 rifle is different from learning how to throw a pot - usually ceramics aren't lethal weapons. From that perspective, I definitely think it would be inappropriate for a firearms safety elective to be imposed from a national or a state level. However, if a local school district wants to include something like this, more power to them. If there are enough citizens opposed to it, then it can be removed from the offered curriculum via action in the local School Board. This strikes me as something that is most effectively and appropriately managed at the local level.

So, on the whole, if people want something like this in their local school system, it's quite fine by me. On the whole, I think it would be a beneficial option for students to have, while withholding it as an option would not significantly decrease the risk of individual unbalanced students from engaging in violent acts with firearms.

28 May 2005

Sith Easter Eggs

WARNING: Link Has Spoilers

StarWars.com has some Easter Eggs to look out for in Revenge of the Sith. I can safely say that, with the exception of the "Wilhelm," I caught none of these. :-P

(Hat tip: Slashdot)

Admittedly, I Don't Read The Paper Much...

... and I watch TV news even less, but I get the impression that this sort of thing doesn't appear all that often. If indeed it doesn't, then the media is doing us a great disservice by not presenting this side of our armed forces.

26 May 2005

A Unique Form Of Entertainment

I have an RSS aggregator, SharpReader, which I find to be an extremely useful tool. However, it can be quite entertaining at times, too. For example, the Bolton nomination was just delayed further in the Senate. From The Corner over on NRO:

RE: BOLTON VOTE [Mark R. Levin]
Well, so much for Senate comity. That lasted about 48 hours.

From Daily Kos:

Bolton blocked. Temporarily
Looking that way. Democrats say this isn't a traditional filibuster -- Bolton isn't being killed. His nomination is merely being delayed until the administration delivers information Dems consider crucial to making a final determinatioon [sic].

Good move.

Both of these items popped up at roughly the same time. It's like I'm a fly on the wall of a great big ethereal shouting match. :-P

Scalzi's Weekend Assignment #61: You Named Your Pet WHAT?!?

Weekend Assignment #61: What is the most ridiculous name you've ever given a pet? Because, you know, once you've had a few, all the obvious names are taken, and I think most of us get a little slap-happy. "Ridiculous" could mean an absurd name, or a name in opposition to the pet's physical or character traits (i.e., calling a Great Dane "Tiny"), or something else that just points out that there's something goofy about your pet's title. The pet can be current or former, and -- since these are also a source of amusing names -- if you had a ridiculously named stuffed animal at any point in time, you can include that. Also, if you have a show dog or cat, their "formal" titles certainly belong in the ring.

(From John Scalzi's AOL Journal, By The Way)

Meet Pinkey:

(Click to enlarge)

This shot of her, caught mid-wash, clearly highlights the inspiration for her name. The pink stripe up her nose was an obvious and rather unique feature, quite suitable for her nom familier. While perhaps not a 'ridiculous' name in the strictest sense of the word (and technically, I think my mother came up with it, not me), it's certainly not one that I've encountered very often... or, well... ever. In any event, she's been a really good cat, and our family's been lucky to have her around. She's getting a bit crotchety and cranky now that she's fifteen, but she's hangin' in there just fine.

Syrian Intelligence In Iraq? Say It Ain't So!!

From The Daily Star - Lebanon:

A Syrian intelligence officer detained in Baghdad has admitted to launching the missile attack on the late premier Rafik Hariri's Future Television in June 2003, according to Al-Rai al-Aam Kuwaiti newspaper. [.... Hussein Ahmad] Tah said he worked for Syrian intelligence services, adding that he worked for a long time in Lebanon where he perpetrated several attacks. He then moved to Iraq, where he committed several attacks against mosques and Iraqi civilians.

To exhibit due caution, it must be noted that Tah's activities in Iraq were very much a sidenote in the article and were not explained in detail; thus the level and extent of Syrian involvement in the Iraqi insurgency is as yet quite unknown. However, if futher investigation reveals concrete evidence of direct, organized involvement of the Syrian government in Iraqi affairs.... Well, seems like that would be grounds for action of some sort, diplomatic or otherwise.

(Hat tip: Captain's Quarters)

25 May 2005

Isn't This... Illegal?

WARNING: Some links from the linked post are extremely graphic (i.e., X-rated).

Michelle Malkin writes about the newest trend in 'educational reading for kids.'

"Here, let's give the kiddies as many ideas as possible! Hey, while we're at it, why not completely destroy their innocence as well?"

Today's parents have a tough job.

U.S. Population Migration

Interesting data table over at Daily Kos.

Personally, I suspect a lot of the forecasted changes have to do with baby boomers retiring (2032 predictions): FL +9, TX +8, AZ +5 CA +2 (retirement to warm places); NY -6, OH -4, PA -3, IL -3, MA -2 (retirement from cold-climate major urban centers - NYC, Philadelphia, Chicago, Boston - and just generally fleeing Ohio, apparently). Even if the states' populations do change according to these forecasts, I strongly doubt that the red vs. blue balance will be quite that far off twenty years from now.

Whoever Designed The Voyagers...

deserves a bonus.

Arguments Are Good

Jonah Goldberg today:

A second and related annoying assumption is that arguments are bad. Whether you think the Democrats were right or the Republicans were, their disagreement over judicial nominations was healthy. It informed the public about extent of judicial power today. For the first time in a generation (at least), Democrats were speaking eloquently about the glories of constitutional tradition and the need for the Senate to curb government activism. I may disagree with the substance of many of their points, but this was a grand teaching moment for the public and both parties. But nooooo, once again, the assumption was that arguments are a danger to the republic.

I’m sorry, but the Senate is a debating society. Its job is to debate and then vote on the strength of the arguments presented. Comity and collegiality are fine, but they are supposed to elevate the arguments, not obviate them.

Besides, it is far more dangerous when democracies choose not to have arguments. This is because political arguments represent conflicts of legitimate interests and legitimate perspectives. Intellectually shabby compromises by their very nature don’t settle the disagreements, they merely postpone and exacerbate them.

Darn straight? Recalling my brief encounters with Speech and Debate back in high school, the purpose of the 'debate' side of things was to discuss both sides of the issue, with the ultimate goal of presenting a more persuasive argument than your opponent. Granted, one could be assigned to the side of an issue opposite how you really felt about it, but still... engaged, rational discussion should be the rule. The majority and minority will have their positions, each side should be given the opportunity to persuade the other of the validity of its position, and then in the end the position with sufficient support (strict majority, 2/3 majority, whatever) should have its way.

The filibuster is an interesting historical institution, though one that in the past has probably at times probably beneficial. However, as in the language of the Memorandum of Understanding put forth by the Senate on Monday, it should only be used in 'extraordinary circumstances' - when a Senator in the minority strongly believes that something should not be allowed to come to pass, not just to play partisan politics.

Debate is good. Let's stick to that.