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.

The Ultimate Geek Flashback To Childhood

Everybody remember Oregon Trail? :-)

(Requires IE, likely 5.5 or higher, with ActiveX enabled, and possibly Java)

24 May 2005

Baby Steps Toward A Dangerous 'Hate Speech' Ban

(via LGF)

Check here.

  1. Why in the world would Congress need to resolve itself to oppose religious intolerance? Isn't that implicit in the whole 'separation of church and state' deal? Shouldn't any law restraining individuals from practicing any religion in any way be summarily tossed aside as unconstitutional?

  2. Per my post's title, even though as a resolution (as opposed to a bill) this would have no binding effect, it would be the first step in generating momentum towards a law against 'hate speech.' Even though a 'hate speech ban' should also be summarily tossed aside as a violation of the First Amendment, this is a dangerous step towards the Thought Police.

  3. Why are any specific religions mentioned at all in the text of the resolution? Shouldn't a resolution against religious intolerance automatically cover all religions?

There's no need for this resolution. May it die a quick and expeditious death.

"...Full Of Sound And Fury, Signifying Nothing"

Macbeth, Act V, scene V - RhymeZone.com

Ran into the International Phonetic Alphabet on Wikipedia - this strikes me as a very interesting concept: a written language with no vocabulary or grammar of its own. Of course, it definitely doesn't 'signify nothing,' since the characters represent phonemes, but the only meaning of the written characters of IPA is the sound of a word in another language, which then secondarily has a conceptual meaning.

(And yes, I know that I've run into this concept every time I've looked at a dictionary, but I hadn't encountered something this detailed before. :-)

Not An Everyday Shopping Experience

Them dang kids are slippery!

I'm not sure how this compares to my shutting down an escalator at Elder-Beerman's for twenty minutes with my mortified parents looking on...

(Link from Stop the Bleating!)

Actually Carrying Through On The Name

Right, so I guess I'll write about chaos a bit here after all... it's really quite an interesting topic.

From m-w.com, chaos is "a state of things in which chance is supreme," "a state of utter confusion," or "a confused mass or mixture" (among other definitions). However, the mathematical definition of chaos (or perhaps more accurately, chaos theory) is rather specific, referring to systems governed by deterministic, non-linear differential or difference equations that display a strong sensitivity to initial conditions. The phrase 'strong sensitivity to initial conditions' means that selecting an initial value of 20 for some parameter will result in far different behavior than selecting 20.00001. Weather is a prime example of this phenomenon, explaining why the weatherman is wrong most of the time and why forecasts are never attempted more than a week or so ahead of time. In order to exactly predict weather patterns, atmospheric temperature, pressure, humidity, wind speed, wind direction, etc. would need to be known effectively to an infinite number of decimal places. Not so easy.

One curious (and frustrating - I will likely face this in my research) problem with the numerical simulation of chaotic systems is that by their nature, computers themselves can only handle a finite number of decimal places. Thus, even if you were (somehow!) able to exactly match the real starting conditions to those in your simulation, after the first iteration in the computer rounding would occur, causing the simulation to deviate from the real system. Tricky, no? :-)

So, enough of my long-winded description. A picture is worth a thousand words, so here:

Chaos Theory at Wikipedia (Okay, more words, but lots of background and very nifty links!)

Double-pendulum applet - fun to mess around with

Fractal fern, from here - Fractals obey 'self-similarity on multiple scales,' and while not strictly chaotic themselves, some chaotic systems can exhibit fractal-like behavior (again, see Wikipedia for more info).

23 May 2005

How Many Petals...

are there around the rose?

(Apologies to people I know who've probably already seen this... :-P)

Normal Function Is A 'Runaway Majority?'

Senator Ben Nelson, on CNN.com today:

What's at stake is the rights of the minority to make sure that you don't have a runaway majority.

I'll give you that restricting the filibuster could be perceived as a step toward an uncontrolled majority. But, um... what about the Dems' filibusters in the first place? The president nominates judges, the Senate votes yea or nay on them based on a simple majority. It's ridiculous to claim that Bush's nominations and the Republican desire for an up-or-down vote represent a 'runaway majority.' In this case, the Democratic minority knows (or strongly suspects) that the vote will come out against them, and thus we have a runaway minority engaged in unprecedented filibuster.

Update: Well, seems as though there was a compromise, life in the Senate can continue. Remains to be seen what 'extraordinary circumstances' we might be encountering over the next year and a half. This issue may be settled for now, but we're definitely not done with conflict over judicial nominations.

Brief Schiavo Retrospective

From Jonathan Adler's piece today on NRO (emphasis added):

Even if one thinks Justice Owen got this decision wrong, it is difficult to label her opinion “activist.” Deference to a trial court’s fact-finding is one of the bedrock principles of appellate review. If this is to be considered “activist,” the label almost loses its meaning.

Now, I felt that Michael Schiavo had some manner of ulterior motive regarding Terri's life (notwithstanding the obvious issue of his new de facto wife and children therewith). I felt that Judge Greer's decisions were very poor, and the legal fact-finding that he put forth was highly suspect. However, he made that fact-finding, and once he did, it seems that the appellate courts were quite right (in a strictly legal sense) to abide by those 'facts.'

However, since Michael intended to starve and dehydrate Terri despite the uncertainty in her wishes and the clearly stated willingness of her family to care for her, from a moral perspective perhaps the letter of the law and/or judicial procedure should not have been paramount. It's a sticky issue - for those (like me) who believe the law should have a moral foundation (respect for life, etc.), many efforts to introduce an absolute moral argument into our current legal system are seen as ideological and activist by those who don't share that same viewpoint. I suppose in the end it's the judges who decide.

Personally, that makes me uneasy...

22 May 2005

Forsooth, I Go To See Sith

Off to see E-III in half an hour or so... thoughts and reactions upon my return.

Image via Yahoo! Movies

Update: Well. I have to say, that was one of the most interesting theatrical experiences I've had in quite some time. The dialogue was, for the most part, inexcusably bad. (One of Yoda's lines in particular was... gyecch!!) However, throughout I found myself trying to look beneath the painfully stilted banter at the story that Mr. Lucas is trying to tell. In wordless emotions and images, it's quite powerful. I would very much like to see what a more capable writer (i.e., one who hasn't been busy running a multi-billion dollar company for twenty years) could have done with the script. Lots of potential there - if it weren't for the dialogue, I would say that E-III could have been the best of all of the movies.

No spoilers here, I don't have the energy to go into that level of detail. Suffice to say, though, that this semi-final installment greatly clarifies the purpose of the previous two movies. The psychology of Sith would be greatly diluted without the backstory of Phantom Menace and Clones.

In summary: Strong story, excellent use of special effects, and definitely better than E-I and E-II. Flimsy execution/acting/dialogue prevents it from being truly great, but overall it's a worthy contribution to the saga.

Obligatory Welcome Post

Hello hello, one and all! Welcome to what I've (likely rather misleadingly) called 'A Short Course in Chaos.' My posts will likely wander over a broad expanse of topics, covering politics, religion/faith/theology (they're three rather different things in my book), technology, movies, videogames... whatever. So, while perhaps technically not "chaos" in the mathematical sense, content here will probably be somewhat random. And, usually quite wordy. I know, I know... I just can't help myself.

So, thusly the ride begins. Hang on tight - who knows where this is going, or if it'll even get there at all....