Octavo Dia

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Double Dubya

The Economist has an article discussing the realignment of the conservative movement as a result of Bush. In their dichotomy of different types of conservatives, here's how I believe I fall:

Small government v. Big government:
I am for effective, efficient government. It is my understanding that, just like business, there is an ideal size for government. As the size of an organization grows, its organizational structure grows exponentially. As a result, the larger an organization becomes, the less efficient it will become. However, organizations can also reap economies of scale. A government the size of Luxembourg's, for example, would have tremendous difficulty governing the U.S. The ideal size, then, is where the increased effectiveness of size is equal to the cost of running such a government. What size is that? I don't know, but I think that it's smaller than the one we have now.

Faith v. Doubt:
Oddly enough, for those who know me, I fall more strongly under the conservatives of doubt. I do believe that the government can legislate morality (what are laws against theft, except enforcing thou shalt not steal?), but I believe that it can also legislate immorality. I believe that I am better off limiting the government's excursions into the field of morality, for the morality legislated will be much less moral, and the immorality much more immoral, than I would otherwise choose. The only moral legislation I support is that which is necessary to the establishment of a stable society (killing people is bad, for example).

Insurgent v. Establishment:
I'm an insurgent conservative; I distrust what comes out of Washington. I have a theory about why this is so. Most nations, the United States and Brazil being the major exceptions, have capital cities that were cities for some other reason. The United States and Brazil created their capitals for the purpose of being capital cities. I believe this is a mistake, because it creates groupthink government. Everyone who is in D.C. is there because of government. Those who do not work for the government work to support those who are in government. The entire city is entirely dependent on the government, and, as such, the people who spend their time in D.C. never come into contact with ordinary people whose livelihoods depend on other things. There's no one who will question the government, because they all depend on it. As an example of a city that was a capital city for some other reason, Moscow is the capital of Russia because it was so far out in the sticks that the Mongols didn't bother to conquer it.

Business v. Relgion:
I'm undecided on this one.

Neo v. Traditional:
Traditional, with a tendency towards a Realpolitik "whatever works" approach. Even though it interferes with the economy (gasp) I support some programs like a tax on pollution, because it seems to be the best way to deal with the problem. I support some limited redistributive programs (gasp) because it seems to be an efficient way of stabilizing society.

I want more dichotomies like this one. They are very helpful in analyzing your political views, particularly if you have a blog and can comment on why you picked the way you do.


Noumenon was talking with me (via e-mail) about an article which claimed that democracy is not necessary for creating wealth, example, China. Authoritarian regimes have learned how to organize an economy without granting freedom. I'm not so sure I would abandon the growth = freedom equation just yet. Free market forces are dangerous, because they grant a form of independence. As Alexander Hamilton said, "Power over a man's subsistence amounts to power over his will." The more prosperous people become, the less power the government has over their subsistence, and the harder they are to control. I'm not saying that the it is impossible, I'm just saying it's unlikely, and as China becomes better and better off, we'll see more and more incidents like this one.

For further reading, Foreign Affairs published "Why Democracies Excel", in the September/October, 2004 issue. It's well worth the read, I took a page and half of notes from it.


Here's an article from WatchingAmerica.com that I can't tell if it's tongue-in-cheek. It praises Bush, but a little too much so. I'm wondering if it's just the translation that's sending such mixed messages to me. Check it out, and tell me what you think.


Here's one of the funniest political comics I've seen in a while:

Wednesday, September 28, 2005


I was talking with one of my work friends today, and he said that it sounded crazy, but he was thinking about preparing to survive. I told him that, if you went to the website of the Department of Homeland Security, you could find a list of things you should have on hand to survive a few days after a major catastrophe (hurricanes, anyone?). He said, no, that wasn't what he was worried about, he was worried about the collapse of civilization and acquiring trade goods and that sort of stuff for a new world.

The end of civilization survivalism has always seemed kind of silly to me. I am assuming that, with the collapse of civilization will come the temporary collapse of agriculture (at least for a season or two). Without agriculture, we have about 6,000 times as many people as we can support. With 6,000 people competing for enough food to feed one of them, there's only one skill that you need. Sure you may know how to fillet the three kinds of edible North American salamander, but the person who has the truly needed skill, the efficient application of deadly force, will take your carefully prepared salamander fillets from you. Unless you're that one most violent person out of 6,000, and have a good-sized collection of other equally violent people with you, I'd kiss you chances of surviving goodbye.

The kind of survival that I worry about is how to survive political repression. Unlike the end of civilization, political repression happens constantly, all over the world, to all sorts of people, for all sorts of reasons. How would I survive an American version of the Holocaust with my people as the target? That's what I worry about. So I started thinking about how to survive political repression, and I came up with this preliminary list of the things you need to know and learn (feel free to add to it, by the way):

1. A hiding place. How many people survived by having someplace to hide? Hiding for days, months, or even years, has kept many people alive who should be dead.

2. Friends. Stockpile as many of these as you can, with particular emphasis on people outside of your traditional groups. It didn't do the Jews a lot of good to have lots of Jewish friends, but those with gentile friends who were willing to help them, even ever so slightly, were much more likely to survive the Holocaust. Bonus points if your friends are foreign, and can arrange to get you out of the country, which leads to:

3. Escape routes. Plan how to leave, and multiple routes to get where you're going. They'll probably close off the more obvious ones.

4. Skills. Learn some trade other than your own, preferrably one that is semi-skilled and in a normally unregulated sector, gardening, for example. You want something that will earn you a living that people are used to hiring somewhat random people to do. Find out what the illegal immigrants in your area are doing, and learn how to do that. You will essentially be an illegal immigrant in your own country.

5. Camoflauge. Urban camoflauge. I don't mean the mottled grey that soldiers wear, I mean looking precisely like everyone else, and therefore like no one. The best bet, it seems, would be to go into a bank, see what the tellers are wearing, and wear that. Bank tellers are a good bet, because they are good, upstanding citizens, meaning that they won't draw undo attention from police, but they are also rather meagerly paid, meaning that they'll have common, affordable clothing. They look just like everyone else. Furthermore, if possible, remove your most distinguishing features. Get a boring haircut and remove piercings. Anonymity is the best camoflauge.

6. Documents. Have the requisite documents to get out of the country. Money is a document.

7. And most important of all: SHUT UP! And get your kids to shut up as well. I remember watching a documentary about WWII, in which a woman was told by her child, that her neighbor listened to the radio the exact same way she did, with her ear against the speaker. Suddenly, that woman realized that she and her neighbor both had the power of life and death over each other, all because two little kids had gotten to talking.

8. This is the thing which you don't need: firearms. There is only one time when a firearm may be useful, and that is when they first come to arrest you. After that, drop the heater. You are not going to start a revolution, no matter how hard you try. The heater is counterproductive for several reasons: (a) it offers justification that your people are dangerous and need to be dealt with, (b) every security force in the world is trained to spot people carrying weapons, (c) in the days of the radio, even if you should happen to blast your way out of a tight spot, you won't be able to blast your way out of the next one, (d) those security forces who might have been sympathetic, or who you might have been able to talk your way out of, will suddenly lose all interest in talking with you.

Be afraid, be very afraid.

The Constitution

If I could, with a wave of my magic wand, pass any Constitutional Amendment that I desired, I would pass two:

First, I would decree that, when elected the House of Representatives, every state would comprise a multi-member district with the cut-off point being a single seat. In other words, when you voted for your Congressman, you would have two votes: one for the political party, one for the particular candidate. The number of seats each party had in Congress would be determined by the total percentage of the vote. If, for example, your party won 60% of the vote in a ten representative state, you would have six seats. (Smaller percentages can be dealt with, but it's complicated.) If a party in that state doesn't get 10%, they don't get a seat.

There are many advantages to this: first, it would eliminate gerrymandering. Second, it would reduce the whole popularity contest diva thing that our representatives do. Third, it would strengthen political parties. (In our current system, every congressman is essentially his own political party with his own interests and, of course, his own need for pork to pay off his supporters. By strengthening the parties, we reduce the number of people who need to get theirs.) Fourth, it would create a two-and-a-half party system (which seems to be the most stable). There would have to be two large parties, because in smaller states, with only a couple of representatives, one would need to garner a substantial chunk of the vote to get a seat, but the parties would have to be more responsive, because, if they didn't, smaller parties would absorb disaffected voters. (See the post Dubya, for what I'm talking about.) That's amendment number one.

My second amendment would be a declaration that Supreme Court Justices be appointed for a single, twelve year term, and that three of them come up for appointment every four years. Every president would get to appoint three Justices, a two-term president would get to appoint eight. This would ensure that there was a steady rotation through the Supreme Court, which would moderate the court's rulings, since people are loathe to make drastic changes when the next guy can change it all right back, and make appointments less of a political issue and more of a routine--a.k.a., help depoliticize the court. Besides, fresh blood is always good--are we really convinced that we cannot come up with three suitably qualified candidates every four years?


I am finding myself more and more opposed to Bush's policies. He does things which I disagree with (big government, big spending, etc.) again and again. Now here's my problem, every time I disagree with Bush is because he is being too liberal for my taste. In the last election, we had a choice between too liberal and way the heck too liberal. I still support the president, not because he's any good, only because he is the least bad option available to me.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005


Ye gods! "Louisiana Goes After Federal Billions!" According to Dante, the sin of greed will only land you in purgatory, but ye gods! For $400 billion, we could pay every resident of Louisiana $89,505.96 to move.


Men's Health has an article concerning the reasons men buy guns, but this is the best part of the article:

"I use the pink test. If someone ask whether they should buy a gun, I say, 'Do you care if it's pink?' If you have a good and legitimate reason to own and carry a gun as a tool, then it shouldn't matter if it's pink. If you're buying it for machismo reasons, as a [manhood] extender, then you won't want to own a pink gun. If it matters if it's pink, don't buy it."

Monday, September 26, 2005


Ye gods! Word verification is everywhere! I just sent an e-mail, whose topic, admittedly, was very spam-like, and my e-mail made me type in word verification before they would let me send it! I was only sending it to one person!

Saturday, September 24, 2005

In my endless admiration of the well-turned comeback, I present this excerpt from the Economist's Letters to the Editor:

In response to economist James Galbraith's opinion that Katrina showed that government does not work unless it is big, demanding, ambitious, and expensive, the author replied, "Which model [of government] would James Galbraith prefer: an inept government at low cost, or an inept government at enormous cost?"

Friday, September 23, 2005


There's a bill currently before congress that would force the government to compensate private property owners for the loss of use of their land when it is declared a protected habitat. The clinching argument for me was that individual property owners should "not be forced to shoulder the financial burden of conserving endangered species for all Americans." It seems to be a very reasonable proposition.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Bad People

I find myself agreeing with some disreputable people. The European Court of Justice has ruled that the E.U. can freeze the assets of people on the U.N.'s terrorist suspect list. "The defendents argued that their human rights had been breached, because the U.N. had not allowed them to defend themselves before adding their names to the list, and because their was no right of appeal."

Those seem to be very reasonable claims.

The court ruled, "The freezing of funds constitutes one aspect of the United Nations' legitimate fight against international terrorism."

This does not seem very reasonable, as it does not address the claims of the defendants. I'm not saying that the freezing of funds does not constitute a legitimate aspect, but the manner in which it is done is not legitimate.


I've been reading The Counter-Insurgent State: Guerrilla Warfare and State-Building in the Twentieth Century edited by Paul Rich and Richard Stubbs. One of the essays said that the British, who have the world's most successful record in terms of counter-insurgency--in Malaysian, Oman, Rhodesia, and Kenya (all of which are textbook examples of successful counter-insurgency)--failed quite dramatically in Northern Ireland, which should have been the easiest such operation.

One thing mentioned in passing was the type of media involvement. In prior counter-insurgency, the British press, though there were a comparable number of reporters and resources devoted, where primarily print journalists and still photographers. In Northern Ireland, the media was primarily television/video journalism. In Vietnam, it was a similar story, for in prior wars, including counter-insurgency such as the Phillippines and Haiti, the press was primarily print, and in Vietnam is was mainly visual.

I am quite confident that men were no nobler in the past than they are today, nor have we greatly improved. So what is it? I grant that Vietnam was almost a lost cause from the outset, but why should Britain fail on its easiest assignment with its generations of experience? Here are my thoughts:

Premise one: people do not normally assume that, that which they see is in any way falsified. We are quite used to people distorting the truth in their words and their presentation, but if we can see it, we are inclined to believe it. A lifetime of walking around and seeing the truth has taught us to trust our eyes, and only very rarely will cynicism dent our believe in our own infallibility. For example, the following photograph was part of a 52-second clip of an execution in Vietnam. However, according to The Vietnam Experience: 1968 this video clip had had the sounds of battle added in, the distance between the gunman and the prisoner altered, and the actual shot edited out because someone walked in front of the camera. Such alterations would be expected in print, people would expect the journalist to see it through his own eyes and interpret it for them. They do not, and did not, expect things which they see to have been interpreted for them.

Premise two: war is nasty, ugly, and brutish. Even if it is accomplishing desperately needed ends, the abolition of slavery, for example, it still is and appears evil.

Premise three: transparency is the best way to avoid atrocities. After Srebrenica became public, many Serbian troops began wearing masks. In anonymity is protection from justice.

Corollary one, derived from premise one: video is unable to portray nuance and subtlety. This is a direct consequence of people's natural inclination to accept what they see as true. Very few people have a nuanced view of truth.

Conclusion one, derived from premises one and two: since war will always appear evil, and the military is unable to provide the video journalists with the nuance, the necessity, of that evil, (because of video's limitations) the military will try to conceal their activities from the press.

Conclusion two, derived from premise three and conclusion one: once concealment has begun, the foremost defense against atrocities has fallen, making them much more likely. Once an atrocity has happened, this process becomes self-reinforcing.

Therefore, video media is an enabling cause of the very activities it is trying to prevent.

Monday, September 19, 2005


I just read the most bizarre thing. The use of frogs as pregnancy tests. Apparently, before the advent of artificial pregnancy tests, you could inject a frog with a sample of certain bodily fluids, and if it caused a female frog to ovulate, or a male frog to produce sperm, then you were pregnant. How on earth did someone discover this? Gee, I wonder if I'm pregnant, I think I'll inject this frog to find out. I can't even think of a plausible alternative way of making such a discovery. I mean, there was a Calvin and Hobbes strip in which Calvin asked, "Why do we drink cow's milk? Who was the first guy who said, "I think I'll drink whatever comes out of these things when I squeeze them." That's at least semi-plausible, you shoot a cow, cut it open, and you're hungry and it doesn't smell poisonous, so you try it. How does one start injecting frogs? Even the whole frog-licking thing was more understandable.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Freedom Fighters

I just read the distinction between a terrorist and guerilla in Leroy Thompson's The Counter-Insurgency Manual.. The difference is their relationship to the population. The guerilla tends to protect, aid, educate, and otherwise help the population in which they are immersed. The terrorist, by contrast, tends to harm the population, to fill them with such fear that they in turn achieve the terrorist's political goals. In Iraq, we are currently facing terrorists and guerillas, which is one of the things making it so difficult. I'll leave it at that, so that this doesn't turn into another monster post.


I hadn't considered the pumping of oil to be dissaving, but the Economist argues that it is the case in the third to last paragraph of "Don't Blame the Savers." If we take that into account, the Middle East economy is not only stagnant, but it is rapidly becoming poorer.

Big Government

I must admit, I am a good, old-fashioned conservative. The neo-conservative, big-government approach is not for me.

U.N. Reform

The BBC has an article about reforming the U.N. In short, several up-and-coming powers want permanent seats, with the attendant veto power, on the Security Council. Though I agree with the statement that the Security Council represents the balance of power of 1945 (And maybe not even then. How did France get on there? Perhaps 1938.), and has not adjusted to modern realities, I don't believe the solution proposed, more permanent seats, is the proper solution.

First, is it really any better to have the Security Council represent the balance of power of 2005 than 1945? In a couple of decades, we'll be faced with the same problem again, but we'll have even more permanent members jealous of the prerogatives.

Second, will adding more permanent members improve the deadlock? The trouble with a consensus-based organization, which a multiple-veto system is, is that all programs are lowest-common denominator approaches, which is why the U.N. tends to opt for the "strongly-worded memo" approach to most problems.

Third, the veto is not as necessary as it seems. Change the rules so that, for example, one needs an 80% majority to pass a resolution. If one member of the security council cannot persuade two others to vote with them, then that member is surely behaving irrationally.

Fourth, we have permanent members, but we have no way of getting rid of them--they're permanent, after all. Among our permanent members we included one of the greatest violators of world peace and human rights--the Soviet Union. In a similar vein, we have some very nasty members on the human rights council. Suppose that one of those permanent members turned against the United Nations (and it may well be the United States), it would still be able to go about its merry business, undermining the U.N. at every turn, because it was permanent. The U.N. is an organization that cannot even defend itself.

It seems to me that the U.N. has achieved universality by degrading its aims. The conundrum is that, while the U.N. achieves its legitimacy by representing nearly all states, its ability to use that legitimacy is hampered by the very process which gained it its universality.

Friday, September 16, 2005

The War in Iraq

I've never liked the term "the war in Iraq". It's clunky. You have to use an entire phrase, rather than the noun "war" with an adjective. It's a non-standard formulation. The Korean War. The Vietnam War. The Civil War. The Revolutionary War. The First (and Second) World War. The Russo-Japanese War. As I was pondering this, I have, after all, a degree in communications, I realized that this awkward phrase was a profound bit of propaganda.

The standard phrasing that "the war in Iraq" uses is a geographical designation. The war in the Pacific. The war in the Atlantic. The war in the trenches. It is used to refer to fighting contained in a particular location within a larger war. Thus, by saying, "The War in Iraq", we are including it within the larger "War on Terrorism" every time we speak. If you think that this is too subtle to have any effect, I reply that subtlety is the mark of fine propaganda. Overt propaganda is rarely effective, and is usually the target of sarcasm. Overt propaganda is self-contained counter-propaganda. Such subtle, covert propaganda can influence our thinking and leave us none the wiser. I was bothered by it, but for the wrong reason. I realized that something was wrong, but not what was wrong. At any rate, it influenced my thinking.

Another aspect of this phrase is that, by treating "Iraq" as mere geography, rather than a political entity, we have granted ourselves wide leeway in determining who we are actually fighting. If we attacked the Iraqi state as a whole, we needed only capture or kill Saddam and overthrown the Ba'ath party. Since Iraq means only a place, not a thing, we can stay as long as we wish to fight the "War on Terrorism".

However, the "War on Terrorism" is also a non-standard phrase. It doesn't follow the typical pattern for declared wars listed in the first paragraph. Rather, it takes the phrasing of a political campaign--the war on poverty, the war on drugs, the war on crime. This however, makes sense. It is the use of "war" as a metaphor which attributes the seriousness of purpose with which we approach the problem, although this one is much more militaristic than were previous "wars on".

The size of government

The first article blames the apparently slow response to hurricane Katrina on "small government." The second article blames bloated, inefficient government.

Consider government agencies not as organizations but as organisms:

Government agencies are competing with each other for resources. Given limited resources, government agencies face natural selection. Natural selection does not mean that the best and most useful agencies will survive, it means that the most efficient at survival will survive. For a natural example, the mosquito, the antithesis of a good and useful animal, is dramatically successful. In terms of government, those agencies that are well connected and popular can garner benefits to themselves out of proportion to their actual impact. For example, who has heard of the Federal Railroad Administration, which regulates 42% of our transportation? Who has heard of NASA?

Government agencies are also competing with their hosts, or rather, they are trying to strike a balance with their hosts. Given enough parasites, any host will begin hunting them down. If a government agency gets too burdensome, the host will either shed it completely or cut it down to size. A natural response is for agencies to break themselves up. Large agencies, created for some purpose of efficiency, will dissolve into many smaller agencies, neither of which is large enough to attract undo attention. An exception would be the military, which is constantly forced to reunite, thereby keeping it in the sites of the host, even though other, far-less-useful organizations take comparably substantial chunks of the budget.

Government agencies pursue a variety of survival strategies. Some, such as the lowly Federal Railroad Administration, maintain a low-key helpful approach, much like intestinal bacteria. Some seek out crises. Some even create work for themselves. For example, the Army Corps of Engineers created the definition of "wetland", and then proceeded to protect them. In terms of benefiting the host, government agencies span the spectrum from vital to fatal. But no agency fails to do at least one useful thing, one reason to justify its existence.

But the problem is that, when things get tight, when the host is fighting the parasites, it is not the most helpful that will survive, it is the most efficient. Thus, in any small-government Putsch, we will lose more good material than bad. My conclusion: small government has left us both weak and bloated. The problem goes far beyond the total size, just like health is much more than a certain weight. We could have half the government we currently have and still be dreadfully burdened. We could have twice the government we currently have, and be ten times as effective for half the cost. I want to buy an effective and efficient government. No one seems to be selling.

Monday, September 12, 2005


Reading an article about Yulia Tymoshenko's creating a splinter party within the Orange Revolution made me think that Tymoshenko is the best possible thing that could have happened to Ukraine. Ukraine's ancien regime was hopelessly corrupt. They were rightly ousted by the Orange Revolution, but a new problem emerged. With such solidarity, there was no way to contain corruption within the Orange Revolution, and corruption quickly emerged. "The Opposition", the remnants of the ancien regime, were so corrupt and disgraced that they couldn't call the members of the Orange Revolution to account. With the schism, Ukraine now has a credible watchdog keeping the Orange Revolution honest. It is the best thing that could have happened. The Orange Revolution will endure, for it will no longer collapse under its own weight. If it begins the slow slide downward, Tymoshenko's party will audit it like no CPA could. Long live the revolution!

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Hussein Follow Up

Referring back to the Hussein post, I think we should take the idea one step further. Throw it open to everyone. Ask the Saudis and the Kuwaitis to bring their cases against him for damage done during the first Gulf War. We could invite the Israelis, but politically, we would be better off pretending that those incidients had not happened. Pull in as many people as we can who had a beef with Saddam. Make him the focus, rather than us. Play the role of international guarantor of justice. I think this would be a start to recovering lost ground.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Treason doth never succeed

What ever happened to good, old-fashioned treason? I just read about a very disturbing case, in which it was decided that the President can "indefinitely detain a U.S. citizen captured on U.S. soil without any criminal charges, holding that such authority is vital during wartime to protect the nation from terrorist attacks."

First, there are times when suspension of the writ of habeas corpus are necessary. I refer to article one, section nine, clause two of the U.S. Constitution. "The privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it." If plotting terrorism can be constituted as rebellion, so be it--but CHARGE them with rebellion, don't do this Gestapo crap.

Second, the "war on terror" is such an ill-defined concept that the term "wartime" is meaningless. Essentially, unless this is overturned in a higher court, habeas corpus has been overturned. It is my opinion that democracy can survive terrorist attacks. I am not sure that democracy can survive this.

Third, there are things with which a person suspected of attempting terrorism can be charged with, sedition for example, or shall we say, treason? Heck, come up with a new legal category, attempted terrorism. Conspiracy to commit terrorist acts, or something. Don't detain people without charges. If we don't have a legal reason to detain people who are dangerous, we need to create a new law, not subvert the laws and legal protections we already have.


I just saw this caption in an article from China's official press, "The Source of the Human Rights Friction: 1989 Pro-Democracy Protests and the Brutal Massacre that Followed." I had no idea that China was that open. I thought that, that was something which was simply not discussed. I assumed that it was one of those things that "hadn't" happened. I mean, you won't hear many National Guardsmen discussing Kent State, the British don't often bring up the Boer war, the Japanese heavily edit their textbooks, and the People's Republic of China describes government actions of all of 16 years ago as a "Brutal Massacre." I'm astonished.


Saddam's name sounds like a sneeze, doesn't it? Hussein! But I digress. I find myself in agreement with the theocratic state of Iran. Either they're talking sensibly or I need a punch in the head. Noting my intro, I think it's the latter.

What if we did listen to the Iranians and asked the Iranian supreme court to bring their case against Saddam? In descending order, I predict that it could draw world opinion towards the United States, particularly if we asked the World Court to assist the Iranians in preparation of their case--which would have the dual benefit of getting them involved and also prevent them from adjudicating. I predict that it would give the United States a much less shaky position, regionally, since Iran would, by addressing a court in the new republic of Iraq, be granting it de facto recognition. I believe it would also solidify the support of the Iraqi Shi'ite majority behind the new government, but it would also drive the Sunnis further away.

However, it seems to me, at this point, that all the Sunnis have learned is that by being uncooperative they can force concessions from those desperate for a consensus. It's time we called their bluff.

Thursday, September 08, 2005


I have a stress fracture in my heel. I'm not supposed to do anything strenuous for four to six weeks. I was at work yesterday when an alarm went off. The alarm meant I had thirty seconds to fix the problem before the line went down. Since machine time is worth a good $300 an hour, and it'd take at least 20 minutes to get it started again, I was watching $100 burn up before my eyes, so I did what I habitually do in such a situation: I took off running to stop it. I made it two steps. The first one on my good heel. On the second one I did my best impression of Tarzan. AAAEEAAEEAA! This is going to be a long four to six weeks.

The Onion

The Onion has the greatest headline this week: God Outdoes Terrorists Yet Again.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Crazy People

If you want to read about a variety of crazy people, check out "Where most see a weather system, some see divine retribution." The best part of the article was a comment that blamed the Army Corps of Engineers, who, up to this time, had been cast as the misbegotten missionaries of flood safety. It says that, by building levees and draining marshes, it encouraged the sinking of New Orleans and eliminated natural flood control methods. My main question, however, is how we can stop people from living in flood plains.

WalMart take two

I have a second theory about WalMart. One's political viewpoint can be more or less placed by one's opinion of WalMart.


I have a theory about WalMart's exploitation of the proletariat. It seems to me that a good portion of WalMart's employees are only marginally employable. The alternative for many of WalMart's employees is working at WalMart or not working at all. So how can WalMart afford to hire these people when other places can't? Because a good portion of the "wages" received by WalMart employees are in the form of training. WalMart may pay $1.50 less than the place next door, but its employees are receiving $1.50 worth of training--training that will allow a WalMart employee to apply to the place next door and start earning that extra $1.50. So not only does WalMart make unproductive citizens into productive citizens, but it also allows prepares those newly productive citizens for yet more productive employment.


I just finished rereading the entire Ringworld series, including the new volume, which I had never read before. I'm not terribly visual when I read, but the descriptions Larry Niven gives in the Ringworld series are work well for me. I can look up and see the ringworld in my mind. For those of you who don't know, the concept is that, eventually, as we run out of living space, we'll take a gas giant the size of Jupiter or so, and, using fusion for both energy and materials, create a giant ring that we rotate around the sun. You'd put walls a thousand miles high on to keep the atmosphere in, spin in to give it "gravity", and place shadow squares in orbit above it to give day/night periods. A ringworld would have approximately 3 million times the surface area of earth, so it would be a long time till anyone felt crowded, and, since we don't need to include things such as the Sahara desert, the habital area would be still greater.

He never intended for there to be sequels. He wrote the first book, Ringworld placing it in the universe he created in the first short story he ever published, "The Man-Kzin Wars." People began flooding him with problems in the Ringworld he created, such as how to deal with solar flares, erosion, etc. From that, he wrote The Ringworld Engineers to work in the mechanics of the ringworld. With more suggestions, and criticism, he wrote The Ringworld Throne, to discuss the politics needed to keep the ringworld maintained. Finally, he wrote The Ringworld's Children, to tie up the loose ends in the previous three stories.

Anyway, in this rereading, after having just finished Thor Heyerdahl's Early Man and the Sea, I realized that I too had a problem with the Ringworld. (Why just enjoy when you can analyze?) Because the ringworld is flat, even though it is being spun, there is no coriolis effect. As a result, there is no return route for currents. In Earth's oceans, the water shifted west by the earth's rotation hits a continent, and is diverted towards the poles, where the coriolis effect is less severe, and can flow back to its starting point. On the ringworld, there would be an equal pressure everywhere, meaning that the water would pile up on the anti-spinward (the side opposite the ringworld's rotation) side and not be able to flow back. Thus the oceans, which are meant to provide the Ringworld's ballast, are unstable.

A second problem is that the oceans he describes are far too shallow for the storms he describes. Most of energy of a wave is contained under the surface, which is why you don't get a tsunami out of the local fishing hole. By making the oceans as shallow as he has, most of the power of the storm would be fed into the ringworld floor, which would spread the waves, but limit their total size, thus the fierce storms he describes wouldn't happen. A connected problem is that the draft of the ships he describes is too deep for the ocean. The huge ships used might as well have tracks that pull it along the bottom. Otherwise, they would have to be built broad and flat like a raft.

A third problem is that they cleared away all of the debris in the system to protect the ringworld from impacting comets, asteroids, etc. But that means that there are no tides. Without tides, especially in an environment without currents, the seas would rapidly become stagnant and liveless. Without life in the seas, the atmosphere of the ringworld would rapidly degrade. Though we can't create currents on a flat surface, by adding considerable bulk to the shadow squares in orbit above the ringworld, we could at least create tides.

Good thing I don't read more science fiction. I blazed through all of those books in two days.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Easter Bunny

Where the heck did the Easter Bunny come from? I know where the tradition of Santa Claus came from. I know why we dye eggs at Easter. I'm not quite sure how St. Valentine got himself tied up in the whole hearts and cupid thing, but why did we come up with an egg-laying rabbit?


I read an article in the Washington Post criticizing Bush for "Repeatedly request[ing] less money for programs to guard against catastrophic storms in New Orleans than many Federal and State officials requested."

Let me explain to you about budgets. Why do we use budgets? We use budgets because there is not enough money to do everything we want to do. So we create a budget, with which we (for the sake of argument I'm pretending pork-barrel policies don't exist) try to get the biggest bang for our buck. We assess the riskiest ventures, and then see how much money we need to spend to reduce that risk below the level of our next most important risk. There are two reasons we stop spending, one is that there is no more money. The other is the law of diminishing returns.

The more you reduce a risk factor, the more money and effort it will take to get even more marginal results. Just as one can increase one's lifespan considerably by adopting a super-low-calorie diet, most people are unwilling to pay the price (in terms of enjoying the bounties of the earth) needed to reduce their risk of dying. Heck, most people are unwilling to turn down the extra Ritz cracker a day that will make them gain 20 lbs. in 14 years.

So President Bush took a risk: he bet that the limited resources available to him were better used elsewhere (I'm pretty sure the same people that are complaining about the lack of money for the Army Corps of Engineers are also complaining about the lack of money for body armor.) As it turns it, he took a risk and missed. What we don't see is the other catastrophic things that would have happened had we not used our money to reduce risks elsewhere.


I got this is an e-mail today. Nothing wrong with a little ethnic humor, eh?

"France's Jacque Chiraq was all over the news today. Of the four levels of terrorist alert in France, he upgraded it from a 1 to a 2. 1 is run. 2 is hide. 3 is surrender. 4 is collaborate."

As Bucky Katt said, "You're going down like a French border gate!"

Thursday, September 01, 2005


I have just found a feature I wish I had had in all of my textbooks. At the beginning of every chapter, except the first, there is a textbox that says, "to understand the concepts in this chapter, you need to know" and then lists the things discussed in previous chapters and page numbers where they can be found. It is my second favorite textbook feature. My first favorite is term definitions in the margins, particularly if they are complicated terms, for example "Communism", in which case they can put references to other pages on which other aspects of the concept are discussed, for example, "Communism: historical theory. Page 131." and "Communism: social class. Page 258." Most of the extra textbook features are a waste of space, and thus, a waste of my textbook money. The student who, for example, has the initiative to look up Zanzibarian widget production is not the student who needs help finding said information. Leave stuff like "for additional reading", "Find us on the web", etc., in the teacher's edition and give me a cheap textbook.