Octavo Dia

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

As the good book says

"With her flattering lips she seduced him."

So what's so wrong with flattery? All you're doing is confirming what they already think.

Monday, August 29, 2005

The old one two.

You know what I love more than good writing? I love writers who jump in with fists flying. This article, about the demonstrations in Uzbekistan is an example of both.

Evil Corporate Blog Commenting Spam Bots

I have been forced to use the annoying text-box thing for comments because of one of the above.

Sometimes a cigar

The Sunday Forum section of the area paper had a section of letters to the editor concerning the trade embargo with Cuba. Not one of the letters was in favor of it. Anyway, there are six of them, and I'm not going to write in depth about each of them, but instead comment on snippets.


Letter 1: Embargo contrary to free trade.

As my friend Mandles from college would say, "No s*** Sherlock." We didn't put an embargo on them because it made the best economic sense in the world, we put an embargo on them because it hurts them more than it hurts us.


Letter 2: Embargo's effect harsh, extreme.

Exactly, that's what embargoes are supposed to do. They're supposed to punish people. I would argue that the embargo is not harsh enough or extreme enough, simply because it hasn't worked. Embargoes work for three reasoning: first, relative economic size; second, extreme and sudden imposition; and third, the nature of government (the more democratic, the more effective they are). One must question who is causing the suffering. Trade and investment is readily available, on the condition that Cuba open and liberalize. Castro could even remain in power, as Qaddafi has, and trade liberalization would commence. For an example of what Castro could be doing, see what China's doing. Castro could have ended the embargo years ago. I put it to you that, even if the United States were to drop the embargo, Cuba would not prosper. Cuba would not prosper because it is a closed, authoritarian, "planned", economy. Cuba could only prosper by pursuing the course which we are demanding, openness and liberalization.


Letter three: U.S. Actions towards Cuba Morally Wrong.

"Cuba poses no military threat to the U.S. It does, however, pose a huge threat in the war of ideas. It has supplied thousands of doctors to poverty-stricken areas of Latin America, trained thousands of doctors from other countries for free."

It doesn't pose a threat in the war of ideas. Cuba is a remnant from a battle long-since over. With regards to the doctors, one must look no further than economic motivation. How does a talented and ambitious person achieve success in Cuba? One does not acquire land, or machinery, or technology, one acquires knowledge. Why? Because knowledge cannot be collectivised. As Solzhenitsyn said, "Let your mind be your suitcase." A doctor cannot have his means of subsistence taken from him. A businessman can. A farmer can. A merchant can. That's why they produce far more doctors than they need.


Letter four: "Cuba is sovereign, not a child to be punished."

Nazi Germany was sovereign, not a child to be punished with tanks, planes, and millions of troops.


Letter five: "Interests of Cubans should be the focus."

I agree, but we don't know what the interests of the Cubans are. Why don't we know? Because they live in a dictatorship that censors free press. All we hear is what the communist regime wants us to hear. Hey, Castro, add a free press and we'll know what to do.

"What the forum lacked was a counter perspective from an average Cuban whose life has improved under socialism."

I hereby brand you a commie. Cuba can only be described as a socialist state by those using the communist distinction. A "socialist" state, in communist terms, is a transitional state on its way to a communist state. Since no true "communist" state has ever existed, according to the communists, all of them, including the U.S.S.R., were socialist. In normal parlance, France is socialist, Cuba is communist.


Letter six: "Cuba succeeds despite U.S. interference."

I don't see many boat people heading the other way. If its worth a 50/50 chance of drowning just to leave, it can't be that much of a success.

To heck with the Taliban;

Bomb these people instead.

Take out the trash

Question for the world, because I'm too lazy to google for it. Is the amount of "junk" DNA increasing, decreasing, or remaining constant?

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Sportmanship

I read an article about forest conservation in a back issue of Foreign Affairs. A point he brought up that really struck me was one of his variables for the future of the world's forests: organic farming. You see, organic farming isn't as efficient as modern farming, which means that, to provide a similar number of calories, you need more land under cultivation. Thus, to save the lakes and streams from chemical runoff, we farm organically, which means we cut down the trees and plow up the meadows.

So the tree huggers are going head to head with the water wuvers. I will do the sportsman-like thing and cheer them both on.

Here kitty, kitty.

The Economist had a very interesting article this week about restoring part of the North American ecosystem to its prehistoric balance, by importing equivalent animals (such as elephants for mastadons), which would also help preserve these equivalent species, most of which are threatened or endangered in their home habitats. The article is well worth the read, where else will you find the quotation, "It is important to realize that we're not advocating backing up a van full of cheetahs and kicking them out the door." I believe I support this proposal, since, should these large mammals make a nuisance of themselves, they can be disposed of reasonably easily--they're not small, hard to see, and extremely fertile. I have one caveat, any law that permitted the importation and release of such animals must have a clause allowing for the manner and cause for their destruction. We don't want to end up like Australia, with 500,000 camels that we "can't" get rid of.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Dumb People

Shooting dumb rich people to the moon? I would like to nominate Paris Hilton for the first flight.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Quotation

"Well, if crime fighters fight crime and fire fighters fight fire, what do freedom fighters fight? They never mention that part do they?" -- George Carlin

Monday, August 15, 2005

Baiting your friends for fun and profit

One of my coworkers received an unusual assignment from her psychology class. She was to bring up a controversial topic at work (and it could not be about work), then observe her coworkers' reactions and how the controversy developed. She figured that either religion or politics would get a rise out of someone, so she started with religion, and never managed to make it to politics.

A great, as in huge, theological debate ensued between, to use nicknames, the Saint, the Agnostic, and the Atheist. The Saint and the Atheist actually got on quite well, once they realized that none of the words they were using meant anything to the other. What does "sin" mean to the Atheist, who doesn't believe it exists? And how can God be evil to the Saint, who believes that evil is the absence of God? The Agnostic, however, received the worst of both worlds. The most interesting response of the myriad topics of the night was the Agnostic's question to the Saint, how do you know which belief is the right one? The answer: hope.

An atheist or agnostic cannot have hope. For an atheist, it all ends. For an agnostic, it might, but even if it doesn't, how does believing that there is a supreme being(s) help one worship and serve the correct one? It doesn't, yet an agnostic still believes that they are good enough to be rewarded. How do they determine whether they are good enough? It is a consequence of their own feeling, conscious, intuition, or what have you. Therefore, an agnostic is the final arbiter of right and wrong. Jiminy Cricket is god. What hope is there in serving nothing or serving yourself?

Of the religions, how can one determine which is true? The Saint was reminded of Groucho Marx saying that he wouldn't join any club that would accept him as a member. In a similar vein, the Saint said that any Supreme Being(s) that demanded anything less than perfection was not truly supreme. How could one hope in an imperfect god? But, on the other hand, looking at one's own self, no one could claim that they were perfect, for if such was the case, they would be the god. So now they arrived at an impasse; regardless of how one believed, one could never measure up to the standards of a perfect and just God. There was no hope, unless one didn't have to be perfect, unless one was cleansed through a means other than their own. Thus, the Saint concluded, if one is to have any hope beyond this life, one must be a Christian.

Truth

And a third letter to the editor, which I will reproduce completely.

As we near the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, I am sure there will be ceremonies to remind us of that awful day. Flags will be waved, prayers recited, close-up shots from news cameras highlighting tear-soaked cheeks. But one thing you will not see is discussion of the lack of any investigation of those responsible for the treasonous events of that day.

Treason, hm. You're right. Bin Laden managed to achieve precisely the opposite of what his countrymen desire--getting Americans out of the Middle East. That traitorous fiend.

The official government tale says 19 Muslim hijackers flew planes into the World Trade Center Towers and into the Pentagon, with a fourth plane heroically crashed to prevent another strike. That is what one would believe if they never questioned how jet fuel, primarily kerosene, with a burning point well below the melting temperature of steel, could cause the towers to collapse. Or how buildings fell at almost the speed of gravity despite the massive resistance of concrete and steel core columns.

Okay, three things about steel. First, the temperatures did not have to be high enough to "melt steel". They have to be high enough for steel to be malleable, which is much lower. Second, those girders were supporting a lot of weight. The more pressure you put on metal, the less heat you'll need to bend it. Heck, I can bend thin pieces of metal with no added heat at all. As a few girders give way, including those destroyed by the initial impact, the stress (and the angle of the stress) on each girder becomes more severe, meaning that less heat is needed. Third, buildings burn too. The temperatures achieved in the firestorms of the WWII were more than enough to metal steel.

Or how many firemen, recorded on tape, reported hearing many explosions during rescue operations. Or the demolition-style collapse of three buildings on one block. Or the lack of plane debris at the Pentagon.

Note: fuel vapors are not only flammable, they are also explosive. Pockets of vapor that collected in the building could have ignited, creating explosions, (which would also blast down girders). Explosion is also a very vague sound. How would they know from many floors below that a sound was an "explosion" and not a ceiling collapsing? With regards to the plane at the Pentagon, see what snopes has to say.

Modern buildings are designed to fall in on themselves. They do it deliberately so that a skyscraper doesn't fall over and squish the rest of the city, instead it is a "demolition style" collapse.

Ignorance and denial of a cover up has led us to the brutality of Iraq and beyond, the perpetrators still free to continue the slaughter. Searching for and exposing the truth used to be a common American trait. Sadly, it has now become a revolutionary act of defiance. Count me among the revolutionaries.

Not that I'm judging you, but I'd count you among the crazies. He signed his name too. What can I say... isn't America great? One can accuse the presidential administration of not only misrepresenting, taking out of context, sexing up, or whatever, but accuse them of treasonous behavior to deliberately kill hundreds of American citizens, and yet one is so confident in American freedoms, that one is willing to sign one's name. Vive la libertie!

Mother Earth

In another letter to the editor, we find this sentence, which I shall not approach academically, but shall only mock. "We have been beating on one another since Cain slew Abel, but now we're teetering on the edge of destroying no just each other, but earth herself with nuclear and biological weapons."

Earth herself. Not itself. Our dear, dear, Mother Earth. "Your honor, my client, the human race, has been charged with matricide. Yet it takes much more than simply giving birth to be a mother. It takes caring, training, and discipline. 'Mother' Earth, however, shamefully neglected the human race to such an extent that they were tiger food for countless generations. It is only through pluck and ingenuity that my client managed to survive, and as a result developed a great fear of the 'bounties' of 'Mother' Earth. Planetocide, perhaps, but never matricide."

Game Time

It's time for everyone's favorite game: Textual Analysis!

Our subject today is that endless source of ill-thought-out ideas: letters to the editor. I must admit that the letters to the editor of the Economist are always witty and urbane, but they are a rare exception. Here it is:

"By calling [terrorists] Muslim or Islamic, we foster hatred of these religions. They are not religious; no true reading of their holy texts allows killing of innocent people."

The first independent clause in the second sentence says that they are not religious. The second clause provides the rationale, which, one can assume, is that religious people do not kill the innocent. However, this is problematic because there have been religions that advocated killing the innocent (sacrificing children to Moloch, and all that). Therefore, "religious", in this context, must refer to the first sentence, meaning that terrorists are not true Muslims. The justification for this is that "no true reading of their holy texts allow killing of innocent people". Essentially, the author is arguing that the terrorists are heretics, but how does he come to this conclusion? How can we know that it is heresy to kill innocent people? Because heretics do so. And how do we know that they are heretics? Because they kill innocent people. His definition is self-referention, a.k.a., circular. Therefore it does not prove that the killing of innocent people is heresy. I'm saying that it is, but that this argument fails to prove that it is not.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

The Supreme Court

Term limits for the Supreme Court. I agree, your excellency.

M*A*S*H

I watched an excellent episode of M*A*S*H yesterday. It's a season five ep, titled "Hepatitis," in which Hawkeye has to go around giving everyone Hepatitis shots in their caboose. The episode's single punchline, repeated in endless variety through the episode, is Hawkeye saying, "drop your pants". How that can be rollickingly funny a dozen different times in a dozen different manners and for a dozen different reasons (only one of them the obvious, risque one) is a mark of excellent humor.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Religion and Politics

Since I've made several posts about creationism, and several about politics, I thought I'd combine the two with my views on teaching creation in schools.

I believe in special creation. It is a belief--it is not, and cannot, be scientifically proven. Nor can it be scientifically disproven. It was a unique event in history. A major advantage of creationism is that it incorporates the testable, repeatable, aspects of evolution: micro-evolution, mutation, natural selection, adaptation, population bottlenecks, the island effect, etc. Since I'm quite confident someone will bring up radiometric dating methods, you can read about them here. What I reject is evolution's unique historical events, which, let me stress, can neither be proven nor disproven.

I do not support teaching creationism in schools. I do not support it because of attitude inoculation: "How might we stimulate people to commit themselves? From his experiments, Charles Kiesler offers one possible way: Mildly attack their positions. Kiesler found that when committed people were attacked strongly enough to cause them to react, but not so strongly as to overwhelm them, they became even more committed." Myers, David G. Exploring Social Psychology. 2nd ed. p. 136. Having teachers who do not believe in creation teach creation will inevitably lead to its being argued for weakly. (Note, I am not discrediting the abilities of the teachers, nor their objectivity, but there are almost always verbal and nonverbal cues that let someone know, intuitively, that the person does not believe what they are saying.) Those students who accept evolution will have their beliefs weakly challenged, which will make them even more committed to those beliefs. Thus, in my hope for conversion, I would strongly prefer that we don't inoculate most of the population against my beliefs.

I would prefer, however, if we did not teach evolution either. No, I am not accusing schools of deliberately indoctrinating students, but the process of indoctrination has several aspects which are shared by education: attitudes follow behavior, the communicator, the message, and the audience. First, "people usually internalize commitments they have made voluntarily, publicly, and repeatedly." (Ibid. 132.) How could you better describe answering questions in a classroom? Second, the teacher is a very credible communicator. Since one's parents sent you to school, and, one assumes, one trusts ones parents, one should also trust the teacher. Third, the message, shrouded with the scientific aspects of evolution that I mentioned above, is readily accepted. Fourth, those who are in school are children. Their attitudes and beliefs are still maleable. They are surrounded by their peers, and therefore don't want to express any belief which might expose them to ridicule. Even if they didn't care about their peers, their ability to successfully counterargue against a far more knowledgeable and articulate teacher, is highly unlikely.

There is an enormous amount of extremely non-controversial science that can be taught. Add an extra chapter on chemistry. You can teach the geologic column, but add half a paragraph about lamination of sediments (though one does not need to use that term). Teach more about genetics. Spend the few days that would be spent teaching evolution teaching how mathematics (the least controversial of sciences) is used in this field. For example, give examples of how we calculate the variety of bird species using sampling. Show them how chemistry and physics are chock-full of calculations. In short, stop teaching about science and start teaching science. Teach the tools, and let them use those tools.