Octavo Dia

Friday, July 29, 2005

"intellectual security"

I read another letter to the editor today (yeah, yeah, I'm doing some heavy reading), which begins with this doozy of a paragraph.

"We want things protected from commercial forces. The Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution prove that we need government to do this, and the Bill of Rights tell us what the most important things are. Freedom of religion comes first, then freedom of speech and the freedom of the press. But the government is not restricted from promoting free speech, as it is in the case of religion."

Item one: The first sentence is awfully broad, but I will grant that there are things that pure capitalism cannot do.

Item two: The second sentence is a non sequitur. That an organization exists which does something does not prove that (a) that thing should be done, or (b) that, that organization is the proper one to accomplish whatever is accomplished.

Item three: Many of the complaints in the Declaration of Independence are actually our complaints about King George interfering with commercial forces, for example, he restricted the use of new land (all environmentalists, three cheers for King George), he harassed our businesses, and he cut off our trade. There is no mention of King George failing to protect us from commercial forces.

Item four: The ranking of items in the Bill of Rights is not an indication of their importance. For example, I would rank IV and VI (searches and seizures and trial by jury) as more important than III, since the clause "but in a manner prescribed by law" (in reference to the second part) means that in time of war this amendment can be overturned. I would also place IX much higher in the list, since (and I know that some of my conservative readers will be aghast) it means that those rights which are not specifically limited by the Constitution (for example, the "right to privacy" is not covered by the Constitution) are reserved to the people, regardless of whether they are enumerated in the Bill of Rights

Item five: First, following from item four, simply because the government is not specifically limited with regards promoting speech does not mean that it maintains power in this area. Second, how does one promote free speech? One can compel speech, but that is unfree. One can promote free speech solely by removing impediments. Once there are no legal impediments, one can only promote free speech by removing natural obstacles (such as broadcasting and printing costs. However, supporting free speech in such a manner necessitates making value judgements about which kinds of speech should be supported, and is therefore making some people's speech more "free" than others, since some do not face the same obstacles. Though this does not seem to be a restriction, by limiting the amount of media time available to some, one is restricting their ability to communicate.

The rest of the letter gets better, but not by much. It goes from downright wrong to rabidly misinformed.


I read a letter to the editor today that has a perspective on an issue I hadn't heard before.

"The school system should not be running buses, and here's why:
*They are stealing ridership from the city buses.
*They are duplicating a functino of the transportation departments responsibility...." (the other two reasons are not very good)

I had never considered the possibility of eliminating "school buses" per se, and turning them into regular buses on which children could ride (perhaps with a special "school pass"). It seems to be a reasonable proposal to me.

If wishes were horses...

You know what I want on a blog, I want a way to ask someone their opinion of something they have not addressed, without just randomly adding a comment to some unrelated issue. Perhaps there is a way to do this, and if anyone knows, could they tell me?

Monday, July 25, 2005


I was pondering universal suffrage, and whether having absolutely everyone vote was the best approach. In my reasoning, I thought that there were clearly some groups who should not be allowed to vote, but then I thought, why should I be the one to make that determination? This line of thought led me to the realization that no one is qualified to determine who should or should not vote, because no one would exclude themselves from that category, even if they were eminently unqualified. Thus I determined that the only people who I would listen to with regards to the proper distribution of any privilege are those who exclude themselves from the privileged group. In a similar manner, when someone is critical of their own position, it greatly enhances their credibility to me. Thus I approve of the collection of articles, Arguments that Creationists Should NOT Use. On the other hand, the communists raised self-criticism to an art form, and I don't consider them very credible.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Mars Bars II

Noumenon made a very good comment, which many people won't read, so I'd thought I'd post it and add my comments.

So--what if we do find independently originated life on Mars? Wow! We will know twice as much about the origin of life as we did previously. We'll know that explanations based on random chance should be dismissed almost immediately.

Finding extraterrestrial life would actually be much more of a boost to the creation theory than to the evolution theory, as the probability of divine intervention remains the same regardless. If there is an infinite God, it's no more difficult to create life on every planet, moon, rock, etc., than it is to create life on one perfectly placed planet.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Mars Bars

They wouldn't be serving water at Mars bars, anyway, according to this article. The whole thing that puzzles me about searching for life on Mars is why we care. Even the most ardent advocates of evolution have to admit that it is an incredibly unlikely event. For it to have happened not once, but twice, reduces the probability from almost zero to entirely absurd. If there is life on Mars, it came from earth. We've found extremophiles 40 miles above the surface of the earth, in the upper reaches of earth's atmosphere, in a location where strong solar winds (such as those resulting from solar flares) can displace them into space, blowing them outward--away from the sun--which, ironically, puts them right on target to hit Mars. So here's the probabilities for you: the most unlikely event in the universe happening not once but twice, versus the probability of an endless shower of microorganisms happening to hit a suitable home on the nearest planet that is directly downstream. I'm not a gambling man, but I know which odds I'd take.

Friday, July 22, 2005


"There is an old joke that says that the exam questions in economics remain the same every year--only the answers change."

I have a collection of 1950's and 60's Reader's Digests, and remember reading several articles about import-substitution industrialization, which was then in vogue. It seems to me that the key to humor is that it has to be close to reality, but not so close as to be a serious discussion. For example, I didn't really like Dave Barry's book, Dave Barry: Hits Below the Beltline because it was just a little too real. It was more tragi-comic than strictly humorous. This is funny because I know how much things change in economics, but there's enough stability to make the joke a slightly warped version of reality. I grok humor (which, by the way, was a very lousy book).

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Jump Ropes

Have you ever wondered about jump ropes? In terms of exercise, what purpose do they serve? Other than forcing you to keep jumping over them, the rope is just meant to keep you from looking silly for jumping up and down. Boing boing boing boing.

Monday, July 18, 2005


Let me propose a scenario. Some drug company spends billions of dollars and develops a cheap, effective, and reliable vaccine for HIV. What would happen? Would the drug company then proceed to rake in the dough as everyone in the world was vaccinated (beginning with high-risk populations)? In my scenario, the drug company that creates this drug and attempts to sell it anything more than production cost (not development cost, production cost), with even a tiny sliver of profit, will be mauled in the press and popular opinion for consigning some to death for the lust of lucre. Share prices will plunge and the company will go under, selling off its patents to other drug companies to cover the debts incurred during the research to create the vaccine. Generic version will dominate the world. Let's back this scenario up a few years, to when the board of this drug company is contemplating the pursuit of such a vaccine. Unless altruism has driven out their business sense, the board will realize that the real money in HIV is in spin-offs (such as drugs to manage the disease, once contracted), and not in the cure.

So how can we counter-act this scenario? How were we able to put a privately-funded craft into space? In addition to funding current research, (which will most likely produce spin-off technology), we should create an X-prize for an HIV vaccine. Set the rules for exactly what the drug has to accomplish, and start piling up money. The drug company that first achieves the goal gets to claim the prize in exchange for surrendering its patent, thereby covering much of the research costs and perhaps (if the pot is large enough) providing a little profit, while still allowing that company to produce and sell it. We could even allow partial awards for treatments that meet part, but not all, of the criteria.

Such prizes could be applied to other things as well, such cures for various strains of malaria, in such areas were profit-taking causes (justified or not) moral outrage.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Why I'm not a cop

I was driving along the interstate on the way back from dropping my mother in law off at the airport, when a cop got on the freeway immediately in front of me. The cop was going EXACTLY the speed limit. As one of those annoying people who drive the speed limit, the presence of an officer of the law did not alter my behavior. There were others, however, who came zipping up behind me, started to pass and then slowed waaaaay down. After a good fifteen minutes or so, the cop had his own personal traffic jam. Bumper to bumper, three lanes, so far back that I couldn't see the end of it in my rear-view mirror, and all going precisely the speed limit. Ahead of the cop was open, empty road. So why am I not a cop? Because I would do that just for the fun of it. I'd see how big a traffic jam I could create just by making people obey the law.

Monday, July 04, 2005


As long as I'm making fun of people's names...

"These materials have not seen the light of day for 4.6 billion years," mission scientist Jessica Sunshine said.

"And then I opened it up and... drat! I should have had a swig of moonshine first."


In today's Washington Post, there was an article titled "Bork's 1987 Hearings on Senators' Minds." The third paragraph of the article states:

"The memory of Bork's tumultuous Senate hearings 18 years ago are very much on the minds of senators..."

This, of course, made me wonder how many senators actually have a memory of the hearings in the senate. Using the laborious process of comparing the Senators of the 109th Congress to their terms in office, I have compiled a list of the senators who were actually there:

1. Baucus, Max. (D-MT) 1978.
2. Biden, Joseph R. Jr., (D-DE) 1973.
3. Bingaman, Jeff. (D-NM) 1983.
4. Bond, Christopher. (R-MO) 1987.
5. Byrd, Robert C. (D-WV) 1959.
6. Cochran, Thad. (R-MS) 1978.
7. Conrad, Kent. (D-ND) 1987.
8. Dodd, Christopher J. (D-CT) 1981.
9. Domenici, Pete V. (R-NM) 1973.
10. Grassley, Charles E. (R-NY) 1981.
11. Harkin, Tom (D-IA) 1985.
12. Hatch, Orrin G. (R-UT) 1977.
13. Inouye, Daniel K. (D-HI) 1963.
14. Kennedy, Edward M. (D-MA) 1962.
15. Kerry, John F. (D-MA) 1985.
16. Lautenberg, Frank. (D-NJ) 1982. (He had a two year break from 2001-2003.)
17. Leahy, Patrick. (D-VT) 1975.
18. Levin, Carl M. (D-MI) 1979.
19. Lugar, Richard G. (R-IN) 1977.
20. McCain, John. (R-AZ) 1987.
21. McConnell, Mitch. (R-KY) 1985.
22. Mikulski, Barbara. (D-MD) 1987.
23. Reid, Harry. (D-NV) 1987.
24. Rockefeller, John D., IV (D-WV) 1985.
25. Sarbanes, Paul S. (D-MD) 1977.
26. Shelby, Richard. (D/R-AL) 1987.
27. Specter, Arlen. (R-PA) 1981.
28. Stevens, Ted. (R-AK) 1968.
29. Warner, John W. (R-VA) 1979.

Seventeen democrats and twelve republicans. However, given that there are only 44 democrats and 55 republicans, three term or more senators make up almost 31% of the democratic senators and almost 22% of the republicans. I'll let you draw whatever conclusion you want.

Not that I'm making fun of anybody's name or anything, but, "There is a Specter haunting Congress... his name is Arlen."