Friday, December 31, 2004

Mice: seven down, more to go.

A mouse stumbled into a live trap last night and spent the night in a plastic prison. I released it into the wild this morning. That was mouse seven for this season, and I was hoping it was the last (silly me, I always hope that).

Minutes ago we spotted another one well away from the kitchen.

After a brief search with a flashlight, I left it alone, but our dog has more patience. After I sat down, he pounced on something. We couldn't tell if he actually ate the mouse, but we still can't find it.

Which do I prefer? Doggy tummyache or mouse infestation? I suspect we'll have both.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Is DRM evil? Does a bear shit in the woods?

Cory Doctorow (whose DRM talk is known far and wide) says that this Wired article is "a little soft on DRM." This post responds with the "DRM on the market is better than nothing on the market" argument that I argued against in another thread by saying that this means "lousy products on the market are better than nothing on the market." Later, I also said that when a monopolist puts a lousy product into the market that sells well, that can't be considered a "success" for the market the same way a well-sold product with competition is a success. Cory's response is longer and more thorough, but there's something that still bothers me.

The iTunes Music Store has been successful. As I say, this is not the same kind of success as a market with competition, and if you've read the links above, you know what's bad about what they're selling. Still, I fear The Market may really believe that bad products are good enough. If that's true, it's a sad day for the masses who've consigned themselves to suffer with DRM, but it's also a sad day for me. Since I'm already trying to be patent-free, I already see a limited market before me to support my ideals. If DRM becomes the standard, Cory and I might find ourselves without the same toys as the unenlightened kids down the block.

Ex-hostage says Rebels wanted Bush re-elected

I heard about this story while I was out of town for the holiday. My lazy Googling didn't bring it up, but Cursor had a reference.
French journalists held hostage for four months in Iraq said their militant captors told them they wanted President Bush to win re-election.
Remember that al Qaeda said they wanted Bush to win. It's impossible to know for sure if these people are telling the truth, and it's not as if there's a spokesperson who articulates the Official Position of The Terrorists. Still, I find it interesting that stories that come "from the source" as much as possible seem to agree on this point: Bush is good for terrorists.

The Indian Ocean earthquake

I didn't hear about the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake when it happened. My Disneyfied daughter had mandated round-the-clock showings of "Cinderella", and we were without an Internet connection that I'd normally use to get news.

I can't comprehend the thousands and thousands dead. It's staggering.

Impeach Bush.

David Weinberger rounds up some of the latest on detainee torture. Shortly before the election, I alluded to what a disgrace this is, but David came out and said it. I'm starting to hope Bush will be impeached, that his low approval rating is an indication of things to come.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Pestilence, war, death...

The mouse pictured earlier died after drop-off in the park. It was left outside overnight and when I dropped it off, it was alive but lethargic. When I returned with another one, it was in the same place, apparently frozen to death. Since then, overnight prisoners stay in the basement (away from the dogs).

I don't want to kill the mice. I've remarked time and again that I think they're very cute. I'd like to think this is some kind of humanitarian quality, but the truth is that I just don't want to look at dead mice.

We poisoned some that we'd seen outside this summer, and what I didn't like about it was finding (and disposing of) dead mice on the lawn.

We got old fashioned killing traps, and I didn't hesitate to put them were I thought they'd be effective. What I didn't like about them was—again—getting the corpses out of them to reuse them.

Anyway, I'm glad that with the live traps, and the trip to the park, the last I see of the mice is them scampering off into the bushes.

Said over food.

Me: You call them trees at your house too?
Her: Yes, she won't eat broccoli, but she eats trees.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Meta: I'm not here.

  1. There's some holiday going on.
  2. I'm not here (and neither are you).
  3. I made it my goal some time ago to average a post per day, and I'm way ahead of that goal, so I feel comfortable taking the Holiday That Shall Not be Named off.
  4. You know what really stinks? Zombies.
  5. Regular posting on important matters will resume sometime between this weekend and next year.
I encourage you to enjoy yourself, unless you've made other plans.

The True Spirit of Xmas

Reason: The True Spirit of Xmas: How 4/5 of the country became an oppressed minority

Says it much better than I did, though I'm still sinfully proud of my work.

Voting irregularity.

I registered to vote in my home town when I turned 18, and I voted in that election, against the incumbent. I didn't vote again until recently.

This summer I registered to vote where I now live. I was at some fair, and we stopped at a booth to fill out the forms. I don't remember much about it other than the expectation that I was then registered locally.

I never saw the voter registration card in the mail, so I wondered if I missed it. Between the registration deadline and the election, I made a phone call and asked if I was registered. They said I wasn't.

On election day, I went to the right polling place and voted with a provisional ballot. The folks there were polite and patient in confirming that I was at the right place. Again, I voted against the incumbent.

Last week, a voter registration card appeared in the mail.

So, what happened? Did they finally find the registration form I filled out half a year earlier? Was my provisional ballot taken as a registration?

I'm not worried about it, but I thought it was odd.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

The war for 'hearts and minds' is lost.

US admits the war for 'hearts and minds' in Iraq is now lost
The war on terror and the invasion and occupation of Iraq have increased support for al-Qaeda, made ordinary Muslims hate the US and caused a global backlash against America because of the "self-serving hypocrisy" of George W. Bush's administration over the Middle East.
This is from a report written by the Defense Science Board for Donald Rumsfeld at the Pentagon.

I haven't read the 111 pages in the PDF, but I notice that page 2 says, "Statements, opinions, conclusions, and recommendations in this report do not necessarily represent the official position of the Department of Defense." So, maybe it's not as official as the Herald's headline implies.

I notice also that page 4 says "This page is intentionally blank." (I'm not making this up) and page 5 actually is blank.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Captured: two mice.

At 6:30 this morning, I received an unconfirmed report of a mouse rattling around in a trap in the kitchen. Upon further investigation, I discovered that both traps were occupied by Mouse Invaders. I dispatched them to the big plastic holding cell and left them to contemplate their predicament in the basement.

Are these the same two mice I saw Saturday night? I know not. One of this morning's mice is clearly larger than the other, so this further confirms that we have old and young (the fourth insurgent captured was also a bit long in the tooth compared to the first three).

The last few days we've heard squeaking in the kitchen area. We've assumed it was a mouse distress signal, but we were never able to find the source. The idea of one of them getting in trouble and croaking somewhere we can't find gives me the creeps.

After releasing the prisoners down the street this morning, I dropped the tub over the fence onto concrete before going back in the house. A peice broke out of the corner on impact. Now I'll have to repair it or use something else for confinement. Since it now reeks of mouse odor, I'd much rather repair than ruin another. I suspect I'll stuff the hole with steel wool and then duct tape over that.

Scared of Santa photo gallery

I laughed out loud at the Scared of Santa photo gallery. I hope you do too.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Bill O'Reilly loves Christmas

Bill O'Reilly: Christmas haters have an agenda

I guess Bill O'Reilly is the Champion of Christmas now. I suspect that he witnessed the huge response from earlier remarks and decided to troll for more attention. I feel a little ashamed giving it to him, but answering shoddy arguments always was a guilty pleasure.
The fall of religion in Canada has corresponded to a change in public policy. Canadians have legalized gay marriage and any kind of abortion, and the age of consent for sex is 14. Can you imagine American adults being allowed to fool around with children that age? I can't.
Age of consent in some United States has been as low as 14, and may still be. I see that the South Carolina state Constitution Article III, Section 33 puts the age at 14 for "unmarried women", and this is dated 1999, not some left-over from the birth of the state. It's also interesting that this page says confusingly that some South Carolina laws outside its constitution place the age higher. In any case, if Mr. O'Reilly really finds it hard to imagine, perhaps a visit to Missouri could help with that.

(As an aside, I can't help but notice that all states that are listed as having an age-of-consent of 14 also voted for President Bush in the most recent election. Not that that means anything.)

My point?
  • Bill O'Reilly is out of touch with the reality of age of consent in the United States.
  • Bill O'Reilly didn't check his facts about age of consent.
  • Quit knocking Canada.
I don't know where I'd set age of consent if it were up to me. I notice that in at least one state, the age depends on the age of the other partner (e.g., you can fool around with a 15-year-old, but only if you're under 21), so clearly it's not as simple as a line in the sand.
The anti-Christmas forces say it's all about diversity, protecting the sensitivities of those Americans who get offended by the mere mention of the birth of Jesus. Somehow I haven't been able to locate any of these folks who find a baby in a manger so off-putting it ruins their day.
This is in something published December 13. On December 3, someone called into O'Reilly's show who said he, "grew up with a resentment because I felt that people were trying to convert me to Christianity." The caller also said, "Christmas carols or gift exchanges being done in school, that kind of sets the kids up to being converted." Perhaps the article published ten days after the call was actually written before, but I suspect Mr. O'Reilly is disingenuous here when he says he can't find anyone who holds the beliefs he's discussing.

I'm going to summarize some of Mr. O'Reilly's other points.
  1. Most people marginalizing Christmas think they're supporting the minority of Americans who don't celebrate the birth of Christ.
  2. The secular-progressive movement knows that organized religion stands in the way of their causes (e.g., legalized narcotics).
  3. "Committed secularists in the media, courts and education system" support the causes in question (referred to as an "agenda").
  4. Canada already has some of those causes supported and has also secularized Christmas.
  5. Marginalizing Christmas is a strategy to make it easier to push on these other progressive causes.
Let me tease out some implications here. The best is that "committed secularists" have duped people into supporting the secularization of Christmas, that those people support it for reasons other than what they themselves actually believe. This is like saying Arkansas is against same-sex marriage because Jerry Falwell told them so. I also like how support of same-sex marriage in Canada is a result of the secularization of Christmas, as opposed to being simply two things that Canadians have agreed on.

Ultimately, what really bugs me about a piece like this is how cheaply it lies. Forming a solid argument is difficult. It's easy to vomit onto a page and see what sticks, and it's comparatively hard to clean up the mess.

There are good reasons for celebrating Christmas in public. None of those reasons involve insidious secularists or legal narcotics. If Bill O'Reilly really wants to keep Christmas alive, I suggest that a piece about the wickedness of Christmas's enemies is a lousy way to champion the cause. Write a piece about what makes Christmas great. That's something I'd love to read.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Sighted: two mice.

I'm sitting at our table, next to the kitchen, and I see a mouse run right in front of me from under the table to the kitchen. I figure by the time I got out of my chair, it would be under the fridge, so I let it go.

Seconds later, a second mouse runs from the other side of the table also to the kitchen. The nerve! That one goes down the air duct that comes out under our trash. Again, gone faster than my reaction.

Before this, I knew there was at least one left to catch, and we haven't caught any for a couple of days. Now, I'm starting to imagine a mouse army amassed in our basement.

Right now our dog is standing in the middle of the kitchen ignoring the bags of groceries and staring at the edges of the floor. He's intent, and I'm just sitting here musing.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Fourth Amendment protections good for security.

Quickly,Seth draws an analogy to doctors. Doctors learn of illegal drug use but are required not to reveal that to police. If patients are afraid of the police, it makes it harder for the doctor to do a good job.

Likewise, if innocuous travelers are afraid of the police, they are induced to behave suspiciously (hiding things), which distracts screeners from real threats that also behave suspiciously. We're less secure as a result.

And, oh yeah, it's unconstitutional.

Christmas time conversions

Media Matters for America highlighted remarks by Bill O'Reilly in which he told a Jew to go to Israel if he doesn't like Christmas. Then O'Reilly attacked Media Matters. That's interesting enough, but I want to talk about a particular argument the caller made.

He said he, "grew up with a resentment because I felt that people were trying to convert me to Christianity" and "Christmas carols or gift exchanges being done in school, that kind of sets the kids up to being converted."

First, many Christians (and people of most other faiths too) believe that converting others is part of serving God, just as saying, "thank you for choosing Domino's" when answering the phone is part of serving that employer. In Christianity, this derives from Matthew 28:19-20 which drives Jehovah's Witnesses to go door to door trying to spread the Word. So if people think that Christians are trying to convert them, it may be true.

Second, the Christmas holiday was originally a pagan holiday. The church decided to celebrate the birth of Christ at the same time as the pagans were having their winter parties as a way to convert them to Christianity. In that sense, Christmas has always been about conversion.

I don't expect Christmas to go anywhere. It's very popular (whether that has anything to do with the Lord or not). That having been said, I don't think it's fair to dismiss concerns about its possible converting nature.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Fornicating for chastity.

A wise guy once said that fighting for peace is like fornicating for chastity. Today we have a call to complain to the FCC about a conservative commentator who made some remark to which I personally didn't have much reaction. It was kind of boring, really.

We know that Activists Dominate Content Complaints to the tune of 99.8%, which is to say that most FCC complaints are motivated by a political agenda rather than actual outrage over content. That's an outrage, but also boring.

Can we not find something better to do than emulate the childish behavior of our enemies? I thought it was hilarious when Howard Stern fans swamped the FCC with complaints about Oprah, but this is getting silly.

It reminds me of something else a wise guy once said. Stupidity got us into this mess; why can't it get us out?

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Vitamin E reduces ALS risk.

Vitamin E May Stave Off Lou Gehrig's Disease
  • Patients who used vitamin E for 15 or more days per month for at least 10 years had a reduced risk of ALS death of 62 percent.
  • Most cases in the study were spontaneous, so this may not apply to hereditary ALS.
  • Study included 1 million patients, over 11 years, and 525 died of ALS.
The article also talks about how Vitamin E is an antioxidant, as is Vitamin C, but only E confers the benefit, and they're not sure why.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Mouse arrest.

Since Saturday night we've apprehended two more of our invader mice. This brings the total to three this "season."

While we had one in a tub outside, our dog tried to eat it, so we're extra careful to keep the lid on now. We've shown the prisoners to our curious daughter, and she gets a kick out of that. Of course, she wants to interact with the mice, but we tell her that they're not pets (like Baby, the hamster). The tub I'm using for confinement has clear sides, so the dog can stare at the mouse in it...and paw at the tub, and jump around when the mouse moves, and scare us into thinking he's going to tip the thing over.

In confinement this time, I got some good pictures with the good camera. Here's one.

Mouse mug shot

I'll note here that last season the live traps worked a lot better than the death traps. I set out baited death traps only to find them the next day still cocked but without the bait. No mouse has ever stolen the bait from a live trap and escaped. The best use I found for the death traps was just to put them in the path I knew they used. I put an unbaited death trap in an often used escape route, and it killed a mouse who didn't even know he was in danger when he was making his escape.

The problem with live traps is you have to tend them. The house was empty for a weekend last winter, and a mouse starved to death in a "live" trap in that time.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Napoleon Dynamite

I finally got to see Napoleon Dynamite recently. I didn't like it at all, but near the end I finally figured out what the movie was about. It's a whole movie based on the "Weird Al" Yankovic song, "That Boy Could Dance."
Well, his hair was a mess, and his clothes didn't fit
He'd smell pretty bad, and he'd drool just a bit
But you got to admit
Boy, that boy could dance
I await the sequel in which Napoleon owns half of Montana, but I won't be going to see it.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Mouse warfare.

I'm alone in the house tonight, and by that I mean, I'm here without my wife. My sleepy daughter is peaceful in a way she has not been all day, and the dogs, well, you'd think they'd chased off an army of postal workers the way they're sprawled across the floor in exhaustion.

Last year in the cold months, we had some mice in the house, and we deemed this a problem. We caught or killed maybe a dozen of the critters in all. The prisoners we banished to a less-inhabited area down the street. I think they froze to death out there since it was so cold then that in the time it took me to carry them from the car to the park, the cold had convinced my unprotected face that it didn't exist.

We've heard them in the kitchen again recently, like the little sounds that lure hapless characters to their untimely deaths in horror stories since the first campfire. If we make enough racket in there, they don't come out, but tonight, the TV is off, and the laptop makes its noise only via headphones. I'm quiet as the baited trap I left on the stove. Not a creature is stirring, not even our hamster.

The quiet lured one to that live trap, and I heard it in the next room. Rattling around in there, it was the loudest thing in the house. It's now outside in a plastic tub with walls too high to jump and too slick to scale.

Later, I was in the kitchen and heard one in the bread box. I heard a rumor that they'd been in there, but I couldn't figure out how they could get in and out. With the door closed, there aren't any holes. These must be mice of limited teleportation because it was pretty clear from the loud potato chip chewing sounds that Something was in that box, unconcerned with any locked room mystery I'd concocted.

I removed an item at a time until I found the critter in one corner. At that point, I ran for my Palm to snap a picture. Holding the flashlight in one hand and the Palm in the other, I got a pretty good shot.

After that, I scared it into the opposite corner which is harder to see, and as I was looking for the new hiding place, the thing dropped from the ceiling of the bread box! Startled, I jumped back, and it took the opportunity to run right off the counter and across the floor to the ultimate safety of the stove.

It was just like some one-man-army movie where the ultimate bad-ass gets the drop on pursuers by hiding above their heads. It was like Richard Kimble jumping off the dam into the river. It was like Han Solo attacking the star destroyer head on. "They'll never see this coming!"

This is what I have to look forward to: another winter of mouse warfare.

The Costs of Staying the Course

The Costs of Staying the Course (registration required) tries to rebut the argument that the Iraq war has been cheap compared to earlier conflicts. The basic points are:
  1. Our military is smaller now, so each soldier lost costs more.
  2. More soldiers are surviving their wounds, so our attrition rates are higher than would appear from the death toll.
See the article for the details.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Good Results for ALS Drug CytRx Reports Good Results for ALS Drug

Of course, it's from Forbes, so it has to start with information about how the company's stock is doing.

The results really sound good, though. In animal trials, they saw some regeneration, so it's possible this drug could help ALS patients get better in the future. That future is, however, a way away.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

My white board is here.

My white board had:


I consider this a combination of YOU ARE HAPPY and "no matter where you go, there you are" from Buckaroo Banzai.

After that, I noticed a couple of boards around the office with notes like "gone until [date]", so I put up this:


I'm really enjoying including the reader in my message. I think my next white board will be:


Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Overlooked Films of the 1990s

The Online Film Critics Society's "Top 100 Overlooked Films of the 1990s"

Most of the movies on this list I couldn't remember at all. A few of them I recognized but hadn't seen, and a few of them I've seen and liked. There were a couple that I saw but didn't like.

All this leads me to believe that this is a list of movies I'd mostly like if I took the time to watch.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Mom's progress.

About five months ago, I said that Mom was considering how to keep living once she could no longer eat or breath naturally. Mom has ALS, a rare neurological disorder which has paralyzed most of her body without affecting her mind.

Her feeding tube is working fine. It's a plastic bag on a pole with a machine to regulate flow. Her husband periodically pours a can of fluid food into the bag. He disconnects the machine to take Mom to the bathroom or when he needs to use the same tube to give her medicine. Mom never swallows.

She sleeps with a machine on her face to push air in and out of her lungs. During the day, she has to pay attention to breathe. One day in the bathroom, she forgot to take a breath and passed out. When my stepfather noticed her, he pushed a few breaths into her himself, and she awoke.

Mom now has a machine to talk for her too. There's a big purple button we can velcro behind her, and she operates it with her head. A screen in front of her offers a selection of words or letters, and she spells out (slowly) what she wants to say. The machine gives the words a voice, but we typically read the text over her shoulder because the voice is hard to understand.

A lot of Mom's machinery is paid for by the MDA, and it will go back to the MDA (and to other patients) after she's passed away.

I've been more and more afraid of Mom's death. As much time as I have had to prepare for it, I do not feel prepared. I've spent a lot of time avoiding any kind of confrontation of what's to come, and I fear what will happen when that reality looms too large to be denied.

Mom asked her doctor how long she had, and he predicted six months to two years. I would not have guessed that she'd survive six months, but I'm not a doctor. In months past, I feared a day when Mom could not communicate, a day I thought very near. I see now that was premature, that communication will go on much longer. Maybe I'm wrong also about how long she'll last.

I think Mom's passing will eventually be something I grow from. I think I may recover from it as more of a family man and less as a son. Thinking that is comforting, and I think it also avoids fear. I can think about being stronger later because it keeps me from thinking about the funeral, the grief. I take it personally. It scares me like a nemesis, as if Death is vindictive and waiting to visit some wrath upon me by taking my mom.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Genetic risk factor for ALS

Important genetic risk factor for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
In the ALS group, 30.6 percent of the subjects carried the mutation, compared to 14.3 percent of those in the group without ALS.
That was in a study with 121 people.

They can't say that when you have this genetic defect, you get ALS, but it apparently makes you more prone to get it.

Work or stay at home?

My dad got a degree in electrical engineering from a good university. After that, he went to work for his father driving trucks and busses. Some people view that as a waste. Why get an engineering degree and take a job that doesn't require a college education?

The other day on the Dr. Phil show, a working mother asks of stay-at-home mothers, why go to college merely to raise children? This question was taken as an insult. Raising children is not to be taken lightly. I agree, raising children is not to be taken lightly, but isn't this the same question asked of my dad? Is it a waste of a college education to live a life that doesn't utilize it, even if that life is spent in an important pursuit?

The stay-at-home mothers responded that they go to college to enrich their minds and become well-rounded individuals so that they might be better parents.

My answer has always been much simpler: it's my life, and I can do what I want with it. You got a problem with that?

If I have an interest, and I want to spend time studying it, there's nothing wrong with that. If I then want to pursue some other occupation not related to my interest, that's fine too. Fulfillment comes by many paths.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Meta: Some thoughts on this blog and its future.

I have some ideas for "improvements" to this blog, and I'm writing this both to crystallize my ideas and to solicit feedback. So, if you're reading this, consider yourself invited to make a comment on what you like or don't like about these ideas.

Linking to my own comments. I write comments on other blogs sometimes, and I can link to those places for "my" readers to enjoy. I could do this periodically (e.g., weekly). I've done this already, but it's not a regular practice.

Reprints. I've been writing things in various places since long before I started writing things here. I can "reprint" those things. Again, I've done this already.

Favorites in the sidebar. I don't have a blogroll at the side, and I don't plan on it. Listing the blogs I follow feels like listing my video rentals or the books I check out of the library. What I do want to add there is a list of my own posts from the past that I consider my best. Maybe I'll limit myself to ten.

How to protect the anonymity of people around me. I've been careful not to mention any names other than my own even though it's probably easy to find those names. Exercising that care is difficult, and I'm looking for a way to make it easier. This topic is actually large enough to warrant its own post.

A guide to Toehold. If the blog were more personal, I might want to include a dramatis personae for newcomers. It might also be handy to categorize my entries somehow and collect them by categories. A need like this seems to imply that I want software different from Blogger.

Reprints and linking to my own comments are cheap ways for me to fill my self-imposed quota of seven posts per week. Favorites in the sidebar is already in the works. I've considered having "pride" and "shame" categories for what I consider my best and worst works. When that goes live, I'll invite you, gentle reader, to nominate your favorites for placement there.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

A Hush Over Hollywood by Pat Sajak

In A Hush Over Hollywood, Pat Sajak wonders why Hollywood is silent about the murder of Theo van Gogh. Pat supposes that there would be a great outcry over a similar murder of someone who'd spoken out against anti-abortion activists. He notes no outcry over the murder of someone who spoke against the treatment of women in Islamic countries, and he offers three explanations for the silence:
  1. Fear for themselves.
  2. Criticism of the murder is criticism of Islam.
  3. Criticizing the murder implies agreement with President Bush.
It's a relay race of limping thoughts. There's barely time to notice one idea's leg-to-stand-on problem before it's on to the next idea.

Let me start by wondering who is this "Hollywood" you speak of? Is it the naval aviator played by Whip Hubley in the 1986 smash hit "Top Gun"? Maybe he's thinking of that guy who played Merlin in the same movie. Whether he's thinking of a character or an actor, he doesn't say, but he asks the reader to "picture" some metaphorical "Hollywood" doing something which he doesn't say ever happened.

Let me be clear. There's no Hollywood; there are only people within Hollywood. If some people in Hollywood have something to say about a murder, that's fine with me. If some people in Hollywood say nothing about a murder, that's fine with me too. I have my own opinion about murder, and it doesn't change according to whether I talk about it.

I don't think it's fair to Whip or to Tim to lump them together and assume they have the same views merely because they work in the same place. It's downright idiotic to infer what they think about a murder based on statements they haven't made.

I don't know why entertainers (besides Pat Sajak and Bridget Johnson and Rush Limbaugh) haven't said much about the murder of Theo van Gogh. If I had to guess, I'd say it was ignorance. Y'know, "Don't attribute to malice" and all that.

Complain about what celebrities say, and I may disagree, but I at least recognize some worthwhile debate there. But to complain about what celebrities don't say? My mind reels.

VEGF in the treatment of ALS

New possibilities for the use of VEGF in the treatment of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis
VEGF is a signaling substance that controls the growth of blood vessels. To a large extent, a tissue in need of oxygen manufactures the protein, thereby developing new blood vessels so that the need for oxygen again diminishes. VEGF also helps neurons survive under stressful conditions.
Testing the treatment on rats with a severe form of ALS and on rats with a milder form, the researchers found that, in both groups, the VEGF-treated rats contracted the disease later than the untreated animals, and they continued to live considerably longer.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

President Bush in Canada

Remember when I said that the Bush administration produced headlines that resembled The Onion?

Remember when I said that Bush is not too popular in the rest of the world?

Today, President Bush is quoted as saying, "I'd like to thank the Canadian people who came out to wave, with all five fingers, for their hospitality."

A wise guy once said, "There's no trick to being a humorist when you have the whole government working for you."

Batteries I track.

Here's a list of devices I use regularly that have rechargeable batteries.
  1. Dell laptop for my job.
  2. Mac laptop for myself.
  3. Wireless mouse
  4. Portable music player to listen to in the car
  5. Palm
  6. Cell phone
  7. Digital camera
For each of these, I have an idea in my head about how charged the battery is and how long before I need to charge it. They have a variety of their own indicators that I can use to help.
  • The Mac does the best. Its menu meter shows me an icon of how much battery there is, and an estimate of how long it will last. When it's charging, it tells me how long until it's fully charged.
  • The Dell has an icon, but it appears to have only three states (full, half, empty), and I need to hover on it to get details. When it's charging, I don't even get the three states; I have to hover to see how full it is.
  • The Palm has a full resolution battery icon. It has no time estimate, but it doesn't need one since I only use it a minute at a time.
  • The music player, cell phone, and the camera all have a battery icon with multiple bars to indicate charge. The cell phone (and maybe others) has "extra empty" indicators that come after all the bars are gone. I can never decide if this is a nice psychological effect (get the user to charge before the phone is really empty) or dishonest somehow (tell the user time's up when it's not).
  • The mouse has just one LED to indicate three states (low, charging, charged), and that's really all it needs.
The Mac, the mouse, and the Palm have the best indicators, in my opinion. The displays on the music player, the phone, and the camera are all good enough to show higher resolution graphics of how the battery is doing, but they don't. Perhaps the battery sensor doesn't have any better resolution than that, but I have trouble believing the battery in my Palm is that much different from the others.

What really led me to sit up and take notice of all these batteries is all the chargers that go with them. Every one of those devices has its own charger, incompatible with all the others. The phone is worse than that. I expect it to have separate chargers for car and wall socket, but those chargers use different ports on the phone itself. Perhaps this is so the phone can be charged with the same power meant for other devices, but I can't tell. To me it's two chargers for one device.

The camera's battery is probably the worst of all. It has the lowest resolution indicator, and charging it requires taking the battery out of the camera. The best I can say about it is that it allows you to replace the battery if it wears out before you decide to replace the camera. Would it be hard to put the charger (for the removable battery) in the camera?

Anyway, I'm hoping that in the future, I'll have fewer wireless devices doing more jobs and that those devices will accept power in some standard way so I don't need a whole power strip in my house just for chargers. Also, I won't have so many hazy battery states floating around in my memory, keeping me from focusing on more important things.

Monday, November 29, 2004

How to Fold a Shirt

Joho the Blog has an English translation of how to fold a shirt.

I saw the video a while back, but I didn't take the time to watch it closely and learn its secrets. With the translation, I finally sat down with a shirt and figured it out.

I don't know if it will replace my old "fold into quarters" method, but I'm glad I did it anyway.

A Sensible Elected Official

Schneier on Security: A Sensible Elected Official links to Huntsville Times, which says:
Atallo says the City Hall visitors log - another recent addition - also annoys people and doesn't do anything to make Madison safer. To prove it, he's been signing the names of famous terrorists - "O.B. Laden," "Carlos T. Jackal" - in the book.

No one's caught it.
I think it's cool that he did that. It reminds me of a crackpot idea I had on my long drive home.

I imagine that I'm President of the United States, and I'd like to improve national security by inspecting more of the containers coming into our country. Some American citizens object, citing higher costs to commerce.

I set a date three months away and offer amnesty to any foreign national who sneaks into the country in a container before that date. Make sure the folks in other countries know what we're doing, and when it's all over, do a commercial with all the refugees together to show how large the problem really is. You could even have them tell how easy they thought it was to make it across in a container they're 98% sure won't be checked.

Then I ask the people how much security they want to trade for commerce. Don't get me wrong; commerce is important. I just think that no one has really figured out exactly how much insecurity is costing us.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

How to explain DNA to a three-year-old?

Her: Is your hair brown or black?
Me: My hair's brown.
Her: Why your hair brown?

I don't remember what I said. In retrospect, a good answer might have been, "my Mommy and Daddy gave it to me." I've tried to point out to her before that she and I have the same eyes (though hers draw infinitely more compliments than mine), but how exactly we "come from" our parents is still over her head.

Her: Jesus made your hair brown?

This is a new one on me. She must have picked this up in Sunday school or some of the other church things she attends. I've seen the crafts that she comes home with, but I haven't thought much about what she's been taught. Lacking an answer in the time it takes her attention to waver, I reply in a way to confirm that I heard her.

Me: Jesus made my hair brown?
Her: Jesus made you and me and Mommy
Me: Jesus made our family?
Her: Jesus made me special.
Me: You're very special, dear.
Her: Jesus made my hair...

She doesn't know how to describe her hair, and I don't know how to describe her origin. We've talked a lot about bringing her a sibling "in Mommy's tummy." She's seen pregnant women, and she knows that's where babies come from, but not how they get there.

I wonder how she really understands this stuff. It's simple for her to repeat that Jesus made her, but I don't know how much she understands what she's saying. We can talk about Mommy's tummy till we're blue in the face, but what does that mean to her?

It's getting close to Christmas, and it will be time to talk about Santa. I'm anxious about that, about being a reliable and honest voice for her, but that's just peanuts compared to explaining that other prominent Christmas figure.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Black out vs. white out.

"Blacked Out" talks about something that was floating around the net a while back. In a court case about government abuse of power, a government censor blacked out something that talked about government abuse of power. Two things about the article stood out to me. One is this:
Geoffrey Stone, a former dean and provost of the University of Chicago law school, has a theory. "If you look at the whole letter, you see that they probably had some flunky go through and censor every reference to 'security' or 'national security,'"
It's not really a conspiracy. No one took the time to do a good job, so it was made into monkey work. Don't attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

That's reassuring. It's also confirmed by what I consider the story's punchline:
However, the government has made some changes in the way it goes about marking up documents. "We're finding that in other cases the censors are apparently realizing that it looks really bad when they delete large sections with that black Magic Marker," the A.C.L.U.'s Beeson said. "So now they are starting to use whiteout instead."
Nyuck nyuck nyuck! Don't have time to censor with a brain, so we get a monkey to do it instead! Black marks look bad, so we start using white marks instead! It's almost like solving the problem, but with less work.

My Space IQ

Fact vs. Fiction: 10 Questions to Test Your Space IQ

Darn, I got one wrong. Knowing that, "Some organisms can survive in space for years -- without any kind of protective enclosure.", I also thought that, "We now have evidence that some form of life exists beyond Earth, at least in primitive form." Turns out, that's just speculation.

Friday, November 26, 2004

Tipping is not a cow in China.

I'm not sure why tipping is such a hot topic, but it is. People get very worked up over the right way to tip. How much do you tip? Do you tip on tax or not?

In my early days, I thought tipping was a bad idea, but I went along most of the time with a very large variance in how I tipped. I basically agreed with Mr. Pink's opinion expressed in "Reservoir Dogs."

What I didn't know at the time was that it's legal for restaurant owners to pay less than minimum wage, counting on tips to make up the difference. In this light, tipping is not so optional.

The question I run into most often is whether to tip on tax or not. The Straight Dope answered this question in "Should a restaurant tip be based on the check before or after tax?" It says, basically:
  • You don't know what the waiter is expecting.
  • It's better to (perhaps) overtip a little than (perhaps) disappoint.
  • The cash difference is minor.
Do the math. On a $100 bill, with 7% tax, and a 15% tip, the difference between tipping on the tax or without the tax included is $1.05. I just bought a $100 meal, and I'm trying to save a buck-oh-five in tip by leaving out the tax?

Here are a few other pages with still more to say about this hot topic:Happy dining!

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Legislators declare Justice corrupt.

The back story, briefly.
  1. There's a rule that says indicted House leaders must leave.
  2. A Republican is about to be indicted.
  3. Republicans voted to get rid of the rule.
I've been reading about this sporadically over at TPM, and I've gotten a little bored of the scandal of it. Scoundrels in power try to keep their power. Yawn. I now think there's a more fundamental problem here.
"It's a recognition that the rules of politics have changed," said Rep. Kevin Brady, R-The Woodlands. "The courts and judges and prosecutors are all now part of what used to be the voters' decision. We're in an ugly world."
Indeed, it's an ugly world. Justice is supposed to be blind, but Congress now says it's political.
In Austin, Mr. Earle said the rule change would not affect his investigation. "But," he said, "it should be alarming to the public to see their leaders substitute their judgment for that of the law enforcement process."
This is the disconnect: I see the justice system as blind, fair. The GOP lawmakers see it as biased, partisan. In other words, the people who are part of the government don't believe in it.

If they honestly don't think that indicted members of Congress should face any penalty for that, fine, change the rule. What I hear from our lawmakers, however, is that they believe it puts power in a place they don't consider worthy of it, and that place is our justice system.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

My unoriginal white board.


More on DRM in the market.

The argument goes that DRM is good for the market because the music industry refuses to sell on the Internet without it. DRM is good because it enables the market.

I said before that this is like saying that the huge dent in my car helped sell it because otherwise I wouldn't have put it up for sale.

The other problem I have with the market argument is that copyright grants the music companies a monopoly on what they're selling. When a monopolist puts a lousy product into the market, I can't justify the product with its obvious popularity.

Any color you want, so long as it's DRM.

Third of Americans Say Evidence Supports Evolution

When I first saw the title of this Gallup poll, it didn't strike me much. "Yeah, so," I thought, "evidence has supported Darwin's theory of evolution. What's new?" Then I noticed that it said one third agreed with that. Over half of Americans don't know that evidence supports Darwin's theory.

I notice that Gallup says this on a page that invites me to pay to get more information, so I wonder if this is the most outrageous way they could find to say something that's otherwise not controversial enough to induce readers to become customers. For instance, perhaps the poll's definitions of "evidence" and/or "Darwin's Evolution Theory" are such that even I could agree that "evidence" does not support "Darwin's Evolution Theory." Still, it's troubling.

I think it's possible to believe in both evolution as a process and in creation as an origin. It's possible to witness the process of evolution, and I can't imagine saying it just doesn't happen. I could imagine someone saying that evolution does happen but that it's not the origin of life. That is, life on Earth was created (in whatever form you imagine), and it evolved after that.

In 1992, Popular Science had a poll that showed that some startlingly large number of Americans thought they could make radioactive milk safe by boiling it. The poll also picked out some other scientifically unsound beliefs in the populace, perhaps even this same disbelief in evolution. So, I think this Gallup poll isn't really news, but it's good to keep tabs on this. I'll be interested to see if anything's changed in another ten years, but by then I'm sure I'll be less concerned with what's in the country's head as with what's in my teenage daughter's head.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

TiVo to add banner ads to service when fast forwarding

PVRblog tells us that TiVo will soon add banner ads when fast forwarding. TiVo says it will be unobtrusive, but TiVo fans say it's no longer "TV your way" (TiVo's slogan). I'm withholding judgement, but it reminds me of TBS putting their ads after the commercial break, presumably to foil fast forwarding. Advertisers just can't stand to be ignored, but it's not personal. It's strictly business.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Terrorist Strategy 101: a quiz

"Terrorist Strategy 101: a quiz" makes a point that I'd heard before but hadn't really thought about in relation to today's world. The basic point is that violent extremists on opposite sides of some conflict actually derive power from each other. Applied to today's world, Bush has power because Bin Laden attacked the US. Likewise, Bin Laden has power because the US attacked the middle east. Essentially, each is working toward an ultimate conflict where one or the other's civilization is obliterated.
Naive observers frequently decry the apparent counter-productivity of extremist attacks. Don't the leaders of Hamas understand that every suicide bombing makes the Israelis that much more determined not to give the Palestinians a state? Don't they realize that the Israeli government will strike back even harder, and inflict even more suffering on the Palestinian people? Of course they do; they're not idiots. The Israeli response is exactly what they're counting on. More airstrikes, more repression, more poverty -- fewer opportunities for normal life to get in the way of the Great Struggle.

The cycle of violence may be vicious, but it is not pointless. Each round of strike-and-counterstrike makes the political center less tenable. The surviving radical leaders on each side energize their respective bases and cement their respective holds on power. The first round of the playoffs is always the two extremes against the center. Only after the center is vanquished will you meet your radical counterparts in the championship round.
The article goes on to discuss what Bin Laden wants (a topic I discussed a while back) and how he plans to go about getting it.

I highly recommend reading the quiz. I'm not sure I agree with all of it, but it's interesting, entertaining, and relevant regardless.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Fun with signs.

CORPORATE FUN! is a list of phony signs to put in corporate workplaces. It reminds me of a piece of the Illuminatus Trilogy in which a group would put up signs purportedly from 'THE MGT' that said slightly offensive things like "don't spit on the floors" for subversive reasons I can't recall.

This list is the kind of thing to keep around for years until one of them actually happens. Then point out that years ago it was a joke. My favorite of the bunch is this:

Refrain from bringing toys, food, photographs, music CD's, books, magazines, mugs and other personal belongings with you. Your desk must be kept clean at all times and any unauthorized object found in your individual space after office hours will be thrown away. Not following the dress code previously provided while on office grounds can result in immediate termination of contract.
I like this one because it reminds me of a place I actually worked. There was a night shift that came in and used the same desks as the day shift, so everyone either shared space or just didn't use it. In some cases, the day people would own a desk and keep the night people from personalizing it. As a member of the night shift, it very much looked as though "the office is not your home."

Meanwhile, here's a real sign that's nearly as bad.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Revelation at the vending machine.

The choice before me:
  1. Sprite (12oz.)
  2. Tropicana grape "juice" (16oz.)
I look at the Sprite can through the glass, and it says 140 calories. On the Tropicana, it says 150 calories. I know juice is loaded with calories, but I'm surprised it outpaces a can of sugar water. Calories per ounce, the juice is still ahead, but I still expect to drink all 150 calories by the end of the day. I buy the juice anyway since that's what I feel like having, and a few other things jump out at me once I get it back to my desk.
  • There are two servings in the bottle, so I'm really holding 300 calories.
  • Below the big "grape" label, it says, in smaller print, "flavored juice beverage from concentrate." It reminds me of Dad making fun of "pasteurized processed cheese food."
  • Near the top of the bottle, there's a stamp that says "JUL 21 04"
Oh yeah, and the "juice" was more expensive.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Badly behaved RSS readers gobble bandwidth

Boing Boing: Badly behaved RSS readers gobble bandwidth

I'd been wondering about this for a while. Since RSS gets its updates by polling, how much bandwidth does all that polling take? Someone has looked into this question, and it turns out that supplying a popular RSS feed can be expensive.

I've always thought that I help solve this problem by using Bloglines because that one service polls for many people.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Researchers trying to determine if stem cell activity can be used in ALS, Parkinson's

Researchers trying to determine if stem cell activity can be used in ALS, Parkinson's

This is a general stem cell article that mentions ALS.

An election night memory.

Shortly after Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected Governor of California, Conan O'Brien did a bit where a Clutch Cargo mock up of the Governor discussed his victory. There had been talk about a connection to Nazis, and there had been talk about sexual harassment. The simulated Schwarzenegger commented on the election, "the people of California have spoken. And they have said a resounding yes to the groping and a resounding yes to Hitler!"

That bit is what I kept thinking about when I saw a state go to President Bush. They said yes to the torture and yes to the groping and yes to the scare tactics and yes to the flip-flopping and yes to the dodging.

Voting for Bush tells the world, "yes, we wanted that to happen."

Sunday, November 14, 2004

The pets have got it good.

Since the vet told us to lay off the pellets, our rabbit, Vanilla, has gotten nothing but fresh vegetables and hay. The diet FAQ at the House Rabbit Society site says our Vanilla should have unlimited hay, so we just shovel it in there for her.

Tonight I found her lounging around on a pile of the stuff. So, again we have a pet sleeping in a bed of food. The dogs might be envious if they considered hay food.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

My problem solving daughter.

While visiting Grandma's house, my brilliant daughter wanted to let the cats out of their room so she could visit with them too. Bingo, the more-balls-than-brains member of the cat herd, is her favorite. When she asked me if Bingo could come out, I told her, as I had before, that the cats don't like our dogs (that's why they're in their room in the first place).

She pauses a moment and says to me, "put the dogs outside."

This amazed me. Not only did she solve the problem put before her, but she did it by making a request she'd never made before. She's probably heard her parents say, "put the dogs outside," but I've never heard her say it to us.

She just keeps surprising me.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Fun with correlation

Since the election, I keep seeing maps of how places voted and other correlations. I'll get to that in a minute.

Before the election, I heard Zogby say that the biggest predictor of how someone will vote is whether that person is married or single (never married). This leaves out people who used to be married, but set that aside. It just makes my head spin that that is what really sets Bush voters from Kerry voters. I quote:
In a blue state, you are seven points more likely to be single, never married, and, let me tell you, we talk about a gender gap in politics, but it's minuscule compared to the married-single gap.
Of course, correlation is not causation, but that didn't stop someone from trying to correlate red states with low IQ, which was then debunked. Then someone correlated red states with generosity. I also saw a table showing that states with the highest mean income voted mostly for Kerry, but I can't find it again, so you don't get the benefit of a link.

I haven't even gotten to the fun part yet.

"Maps and cartograms of the 2004 US presidential election results" starts with the usual red/blue map one might see on a national news broadcast and then proceeds to twist that map in various ways, such as making the sizes of states on the map proportional to their populations. I also saw similar maps here, here, and here.

And finally, the biggest stretch from correlation to causation, a map comparing states that voted for Bush to states that had slaves before the Civil War.

Mary Poppins

If Mary Poppins were a movie made today, there would soon be a spin-off on TV. There'd be a Saturday morning cartoon series. There'd be plush dolls and toys. There would be direct-to-video sequels. Disney would exploit the success of their masterpiece to the supercalifragilisticexpialidocious extreme, until the market was frankly sick of it.

I don't mean to be down on capitalism, and I sure can't attest to some good old days that took place nearly a decade before I was born, but I'm glad Mary was made back then, and not today. We'd have had better special effects today, but I don't think that would add enough to make up for the exploitation.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

ALS Drug Candidate Myogane

Phytopharm plc; Fast Track Designation Granted by the FDA for ALS Drug Candidate Myogane

This is garden variety:
  1. Delays onset.
  2. Extends survival.
  3. Approved for testing.
  4. Prominently mentions the company involved, complete with NASDAQ ID.
Light on details, of course.

Electronic Voting

I don't have anything new to add to this topic. Two things popped up recently that I thought worth sharing.
  1. Schneier on Security: The Problem with Electronic Voting Machines - Schneier gives a good account of what the problem is and why it's hard.
  2. This mock ballot receipt gives an idea of what some people would like to see implemented.
The first article is long and detailed. The second is a quick easy to digest picture.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

The smell of defeat.

We're both in the living room on our respective laptops, soaked in Wi-Fi and fatigue.

"I stink," she says.

It's true. Our ailing daughter just threw up on her, and even after a change of clothes, the smell is on her skin. I don't say anything, and time passes.

"I stink," she says.

It's still true, and it will probably continue to be true. During the vomit clean-up effort, we discovered we no longer have hot water. Further investigation revealed a wet trail running from the water heater to the basement drain.

"I stink," she says.

It's well into the day after the day I woke into, and comprehension has halted. I suggest we go to bed.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

A marijuana breakthrough?

This article talks about possibly using cannabinoids, the class of chemicals that give marijuana users a high, to help ALS patients (among others).

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Why ask why.

For a couple of weeks now, my inquisitive daughter has taken to the magic question: why. It's the childish question of legends, the bane of parents everywhere, the mightiest of the three-letter words in a three-year-old's vocabulary.

My curious daughter has a variation on this common behavior. Instead of merely "why" over and over, she asks full questions each time.

"Why the bees buzzzz?"
"Why the bees fly?"
"Why the bees go to the flowers?"
"Why the bees make honey?"
"Why the bees eat?"
"Why the bees hungry?"
"Why that's the way it is?"

Somehow, getting a full question like that really takes the sting out of the conversation.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Gloating rights.

I lurked on IRC while watching the election coverage, and someone threw out a link to this post which says, "it's all about gloating rights." It goes on to say that if Bush wins, "the Right Wing Bullshit Cannons" will say, among other things:
The Forces of Liberalism, EVEN WITH their millions of dollars, their unfair Media Monopoly, their celebrity endorsements, their slanderous documentaries, and their arsenal of dirty tricks, were UNABLE to keep a Good Man down.
I found it humorous. I figured it was only slightly exaggerated from what the most over-the-top commentators would say. I already don't take them seriously. Then I came across "Four More Years! AKA: Take That, You Sons of Bitches." I quote:
All of the resources they had accumulated over a generation of struggle were thrown into this battle: and they have failed. Despite all of their tricks, despite all of their lies, the people have rejected them.
Despite all of the books, movies, television shows: despite the seeming involvement of all of Hollywood and all of Academia, they lost. They used every trick in the book against us: and they lost.
More than once in the last four years, I saw real headlines that looked as if they came from The Onion, and I heard others remark similarly. Here again we have people seriously writing what otherwise sounds exactly like satire. I hope that in the time it takes my daughter to go from 3.5 to 7.5 years of age, I'll be able to see the humor in the clowns running the country. The fact that I voted helps with that; I feel no guilt, no shame.

So, here's to four more years of comedy.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Zen white board

I finally got a compliment on my last white board, so I guess it's time to change it. Now the very top reads:


Below that, it's blank.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

The meaning of birthdays.

On my way home from work, on a rainy night, I'd been on the road over 90 minutes when my loving daughter got on the phone and started talking to me about my birthday, which was the following night. I couldn't quite make out what she was telling me, but it involved a party at home, and some surprise. In our conversation, we had this exchange.

Me: Do you know what Daddy wants for his birthday?
Her: Yes.
Me: You do! What do you think Daddy wants for his birthday?
Her: Cake!

You may now marvel at my daughter's brilliance. I did.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

From unity, division.

After September 11, America was united. Today, we're deeply divided. What happened?

We were attacked, and that united us. We looked at each other, and we knew we were all thinking the same thoughts. We were united in our sorrow, fear, anger, and even pride.

Time passed, and differences arose, as differences do, but they seemed greater because of our solidarity. Compared to our unity, differences felt like betrayal as they never had before. Hey, we thought, aren't we all in this together?

I think that may be part of why feelings are still running so high lately. It's not merely differences of opinion, though those are there. It's not merely that we're frightened, though I do think there's a lot of fear in the decisions people are making. It's also that we feel betrayed by those who stood with us at an unspeakable time in our lives.

E pluribus unum, folks.

An ideal President

I asked for a new President for my birthday, and a concerned reader asked, "do you want an off the shelf choice or something more idealized?"

It's a good question. The one that came to my mind first was Jeff Bridges's in "The Contender". It's a small part of the movie, but I liked it. Then there are a few easy choices: Kevin Kline's imposter in "Dave", Michael Douglas's widower in "The American President", and Martin Sheen's President Bartlett in "The West Wing". I didn't see that asteroid movie with Morgan Freeman as the President, but it makes me think of someone else who I wish were on the ballot: Barack Obama.

I could stop there, but I'd also like to propose Superman for President. I know he can't really run because he wasn't born in America, but that's beside my point. Superman is a man of integrity, a man of action, and a man of steel. The Secret Service wouldn't have to worry about snipers during his term; they'd just have to collect all the kryptonite in the world. Superman comes with his own indestructable security.

Finally, if you can't get behind Superman for President, I can only assume your favorite candidate would be Cthulhu.

Monday, November 01, 2004

Political roundup: summarizing my summaries.

Here's a collection of all the stuff I've written so far about Iraq and other political stuff. This is more-or-less a list of things that may be on my mind as I wait in line to vote tomorrow.

Sorry about the glut.

Since I still had a number of political posts in my queue, and the election is tomorrow, I flushed them onto you, my unsuspecting readers, formerly used to no more than three posts in a day.

I have a couple more lightly political items to push out tomorrow, and then I should be back to talking about digital calamity, ALS, movies, etc.

Where's Osama bin Hidin'?

So, if he's not in China, and he's not dead, obviously, he's in Pakistan, getting help from the United Arab Emirates and high-ranking ministers inside Saudi Arabia, and making tapes.

The President said on Sep. 20, 2001, "From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime." Given that, I wonder what we'll be doing about this little problem.

Apologies to The Tonight Show with Jay Leno for stealing the name of their bit for my title.

John Kerry's faith guides him, except when it doesn't

I saw "John Kerry's faith guides him, except when it doesn't" as a link off of some blog I hit with the Next Blog button that Blogger puts at the top of my blog. I'm going to quote a few bits here and then try to refute them.
So, let me get this straight. Fighting for the environment, equality and education—in the name of God—is righteously doing the Lord's work, but abortion must be kept legal because otherwise we'd be legislating religion?

I suppose liberals would say, "Yes, because banning abortion would be coercive."

Public schools get built by taking away money from the people who earned it. The environment gets cleaned up by imposing regulations, seizing land, and taxing people.
Believe it or not, taxes are not coerced. We choose our taxes for ourselves in as much as we vote for the people who write tax law. (As an asside, what I enjoyed most about this argument is that it erects a straw man and then fails to tear it down.) Likewise, we control (indirectly) those who would ban abortion.
It seems to me that you shouldn't pick and choose at all. You shouldn't infringe on, say, the property rights of citizens out of religious convictions about a clean environment and then conveniently fall back on the argument that it would be outrageous to invoke religion when it comes to abortion. Either your faith informs your views or it doesn't.
I fail to see the contradiction. Faith guides without controlling. Kerry is saying that faith is a good start without being the last Word.
But what does offend me is the selective invocation of God. George Bush is basically consistent. He says God guides him in everything he does. John Kerry says that, too, but it's hard to see how he's not lying.
George Bush is consistent, you say? Someone else said it better than I could. Yeah, That's what Jesus would do. Jesus would bomb Afghanistan. Yeah.

I frankly don't like faith being brought into an argument as reasoning. People have values, and I think that's good. Some values are derived from faith, and that's good too. I don't blame the politicians for making their decisions based on their values, and I don't blame them for basing their values on their faith. What bothers me is when they attribute their decisions to God. It's one thing to say, "my values are God's values" just as one might say, "my values are Kerry's values." It's something else to say, "my decisions are God's decisions."

Liberators, not occupiers.

Remember those bases we took out of Saudi Arabia (perhaps to make it easier to bomb the place later)? We're basically moving them to Iraq. I don't see how the people in Iraq can get a feeling of independence with American troops building themselves long-term housing inside Iraq.

(For the record, I'm not saying that bases in Iraq are a bad idea generally, merely that they run counter to what's perceived to be a main reason for being there.)

100 Facts and 1 Opinion

I saw "100 Facts and 1 Opinion" not too long ago. I think one could argue with some of the facts there, but not all of them. In any case, I think the same about this that I thought about Fahrenheit 9/11: even if not all of them really are as they appear, there are enough true charges against Bush to make me think he's been a lousy President.

Things I can do with my eyes closed.

  1. Tie shoelaces.
  2. Buckle my daughter into her car seat (I can often do this one without her cooperation too).
  3. Sleep.
  4. Distinguish our two dogs by their bark.
  5. Touch type.
  6. Trip over obstacles, nearly breaking my neck.
  7. Visualize making this list ten items long (but not actually do it).
  8. Sign my name (but not at the X).
  9. Open my eyes.

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Pat Buchanan endorsing Bush

Pat Buchanan endorses Bush. This is not such a surprise, but I found it interesting to read anyway.

He starts out by saying that Iraq has been "the worst strategic blunder in our lifetime." He spreads the blame for that over not just Bush but also the people who talked him into it. In any case, Iraq is not the only issue on the table. He says, "Bush is right on taxes, judges, sovereignty, and values. Kerry is right on nothing."

That's a legitimate opinion (which I don't share), but the next argument from Buchanan is more interesting.
The only compelling argument for endorsing Kerry is to punish Bush for Iraq.
I think this is a lousy reason, and it puts the decision in the wrong context.

I'm not Bush's dad, and it's not my responsibility to punish him. Bush is my President, and it's my responsibility to decide who I think would be the best President in the next term. If I think Bush would be the best President (in spite of "the worst strategic blunder in our lifetime"), then punishment has nothing to do with it.

Then there's this:
If Kerry wins, leading a party that detests this war, he will be forced to execute an early withdrawal. Should that bring about a debacle, neocons will indict Democrats for losing Iraq. The cakewalk crowd cannot be permitted to get out from under this disaster that easily. They steered Bush into this war and should be made to see it through to the end and to preside over the withdrawal or retreat. Only thus can they be held accountable.
So, let me review the options:
  1. Punish Bush by voting against him.
  2. Hold Bush (er, the neocons) accountable by voting for him.
This again sounds like parenting to me (perhaps because I'm a parent). The argument here is, since Bush messed it up, Bush should clean it up. Have you learned your lesson, young man?

Maybe I'm reading too much into it. I encourage you to read it for yourself.

Sleepless Mac

Shortly after I got my new Mac, I wanted to run it with the lid closed. I figured I'd close it on my desk, protecting the keyboard from dust and youngsters, and connect to it over the network from the office.

By default, it goes to sleep when the lid is closed, and I couldn't find a way to change that. Web searches turned up a kernel extension and also lots of talk about the possibility of the Mac overheating disastrously.

So, I called AppleCare to get an authoritative answer. The response was that a 15" PowerBook can do it, but my 12" PowerBook can't. That wasn't definite, but the rep I talked to found documentation easily about doing what I wanted with PowerBooks other than the one I had and concluded that it probably wasn't a good idea to try it with mine.

Now I leave it on my desk part way closed. It may keep some dust out, but the youngsters could fool around. Some evenings I come home to find that it was closed sometime in the afternoon. Sometimes I just close it myself.

I suppose my next step will be to leave it open but log out or lock the computer some way. That way meddling hands can't hurt it. It'd probably also make me feel more secure if it were ever stolen. Every other computer I've had in the last ten years has had security like that, and they were tangled up on a desk their whole lives, not gallivanting around the state, sleek and wireless.

Friday, October 29, 2004

Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

I'd like to debunk a line of argument I've heard quite a bit. It goes like this.
Enemies of Bush criticize him for [some action], but if he'd [taken some alternative action], they'd criticize him for that too! Therefore, the criticism is invalid.
It's true that there are people who will criticize any action taken by someone they don't like. They see inadequacy first and find the justification for it later. Pointing that out is essentially an ad hominem attack, and it doesn't make their criticisms invalid. The (supposed) irrationality of your opponent doesn't prove your own rationality.

Here's a hypothetical. Bush has a choice between torturing people or not protecting the country. (This is a false dilemma, but pretend it's not, for hypothetical purposes.) I think it's reasonable to criticize him for not protecting the country. I also think it's reasonable to criticize him for torturing people. Answering either of those criticisms is not a matter of pointing out that I'd criticize both choices. To answer the criticism, you have to show that (1) those really were the only options available, and (2) the option selected was the better. In the (simple) hypothetical situation given, even that is hard because the judgment eventually comes down to values (human rights versus national security) on which people can fundamentally disagree.

I think this kind of argument often makes a different mistake as well, and that's taking members of a group as a whole. (I think of this as similar to outgroup homogeneity, a fancy way of saying, "people who are not my friends are all the same.") They see Alice criticize Bush for doing too much. They see Bob criticize Bush for doing too little. They conclude that "Bush's critics" are inconsistent, even though the individual critics may be completely consistent.

I feel better now. Straw man target practice is always comforting.

Azureus: Java BitTorrent Client

I've been using Azureus on my Mac for a while now, and it's been serving me pretty well. I look at once a day (being sure to kill the frames one way or another), slurp up new torrents that I'm interested in, and give them to Azureus to work on.

Things I like about Azureus:
  • I can set a global bandwidth limit and not worry about the individual torrents (before, I'd throttle them individually).
  • I can configure it to stop seeding once the ratio hits 1.0 (or other conditions).
  • I can set high and low priority for individual torrents and the files within the torrents, so I can somewhat control "what comes first" without starting and stopping things.
What I don't like about Azureus:
  • The interface seems sluggish at times.
  • Since it's in Java (and therefore cross platform), it's not very well integrated with Mac OS X.
  • I've had to kill it a few times, and not always because I'd pulled a fast one on it.
All in all, this means I can download entertainment much faster than I can find time to enjoy it all. Such is my hardship, thanks to Azureus.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

The Gadflyer: Believe

I'd like to laugh at "Why I believe in our President" but the topic still bothers me enough that I can't laugh at it. In any case, I encourage you to read it. The quote below gives the flavor.
I believe the president was right to oppose the formation of the 9/11 Commission, to change his mind but then oppose fully funding it, to change his mind but then oppose granting its request for an extension, to change his mind but refuse to testify for more than an hour, to change his mind but then testify alongside Vice President Dick Cheney so long as transcripts and note-taking were prohibited. I believe the investigation into the Abu Ghraib prison scandal shows it was the fault of a handful of misguided underlings who simply misunderstood a memo signed by the Secretary of Defense which authorized the use of dogs to interrogate prisoners.

My birthday, the Day of the Dead.

Does This Look Infected? this morning tells me that my birthday is the Day of the Dead. In the immortal words of Johnny Carson, "I did not know that."

So, while you're honoring the faithful departed and praying to assist souls from Purgatory to Heaven, perhaps think also of my birthday. I'd like a new President, please. Failing that, there's always my Amazon wish list.

Thank you.

Non-US Forces in Iraq

I keep hearing the candidates talk about the nature of our coalition in Iraq. Bush points out that we have 30 countries there together. Kerry points out that the United States is taking 90% of the casualties. So, I've wondered, how many troops are in Iraq from each of the coalition of the willing?

Recently, I found a nice summary of Non-US Forces in Iraq. Let me summarize the summary:
  • Six countries (besides America) have over 1,000 troops in Iraq.
  • Two countries have between 500 and 1,000 troops in Iraq.
  • Thirteen countries have between 100 and 500 troops in Iraq.
  • Seven countries have fewer than 100 troops in Iraq.
(Alert readers will note, that adds up to 28 countries.)

Norway has ten people there; Moldova has twelve. Those kinds of contributions make me wonder if someone at the White House said to them, "just send some token support, so we can say that another country is contributing." Then again, maybe those countries have hardly any military, and a dozen bodies is a major commitment for them; I really know nothing about their armies.