Friday, October 31, 2003

Grand nit-picking article from one Mike O'Sullivan of CorpLogBlog, in which he complains, rightly, about the near-universal abuse of "among" to mean "between" in contracts between more than two parties. Apparently the delusion that "between" can be only used between two individual parties is extensive, widespread, and entrenched. I have a very, hrm, nonrational grasp of grammar. That is to say, I've absorbed most of my grammatical notions through casual reading rather than intensive or systemic study. Thus, my use of language is far more habitual and instinctive than it is conscious or deliberate. Even so, when the writer brought up the use of "among" and "between", my immediate response was, "'among' when dealing within a group, 'between' when dealing with individual entities, regardless of number". Who the hell teaches otherwise? Apparently law schools, if the general content of business contracts are taken as evidence.

Via Professor Bainbridge, who is looking more and more like an excellent daily read. Duly blogrolled.
Steve Den Beste has a long post about why he thinks space elevators are impossible. Essentially, his argument can be summed up as "any carried load will induce destructive oscillations in the elevator shaft". Now, I know only slightly less than shit about orbital mechanics, but my impression of the way people develop ideas is that if such a thing was true, there wouldn't be serious talk about elevators in the next fifteen years. Oscillations *must* have been considered by people working on the idea. And it seems as if it has:

One oscillation that Pearson investigated was that of transverse waves induced by climbers. The bottom line on this oscillation is that large oscillations can be induced when the climber transverses the length of the cable in one period of the cable's characteristic frequency. (Pearson assumed no counterweight so had the climber traveling twice the length of the cable during one period.) Since we just calculated our cable's characteristic period to be 7.1 hours we will only need to worry about this particular affect when we plan to have climbers traveling at close to 10,000 km/hr.

A little more googling pulls up a set of presentation slides demonstrating (I think) how oscillations from "climber" loads would be damped by modulation of "tension".

I just had another discussion with an officemate who is dubious of the idea of a 120,000 km object being in "geosynchronous orbit", and says that you can't have a gravitational force diagram, treated as a single point, of something that extends over planetary scales. Eh, I figure that if it works for planets, why not something much smaller, if considerably longer?

I don't claim to understand this stuff, or that any of the above is right. I'm just wondering if there isn't a certain class of problem in which you can know just enough to make a fool of yourself in. If there is, Den Beste is definitely a specialist in that field. Me? I'm just an idiot with a Google taskbar.
OK, this post from the Evangelical Outpost is self-involved, self-referential, and so goddamn meta it bleeds critical analysis instead of blood, but it made me laugh. (Rhetorically Notational) God bless the New Blog Showcase.
Speaking of not knowing shit when it comes to economics, there's an interesting post entered in this week's New Blog Showcase from Professor Bainbridge. He discusses the "10,000 Ceiling" of the Dow Jones as an example of markets adjusting to irrational biases. In this case, investors have learned to sell on reaching numerical plateaus due to the perception that the rest of the invester herd is inclined to do so. He offers counter-examples to demonstrate that markets can learn to reward investors that recognize persistent pricing errors due to irrational behavior, and thus smooth out those irrational behaviors over time. He made me understand that. This is the sign of a good writer - the ability to make a technical and difficult point understandable to someone who is not trained in the field. The rest of his blog contains similarly lucid posts. I'm still working my way through his recent work, but this post about "precommittment strategy" is particularly striking. I'm thinking about blogrolling this guy. He may be a keeper.
That toad who tried to hijack Riverbend's blog with one called "Riversbend" turns out to be a longtime internet shit-stirrer named "Troy", some sort of obnoxious dittohead active with the NRA. Now, I have no particular use for Riverbend, myself - I think she's a sniveling lightweight - but impersonating someone online is a vile and stupid act, and should be roundly denounced.

Via Ilaria of Into the Woods.
Scott Talkington of Demosophia examines the Sy Hersh "Stovepipe" article in the New Yorker on CIA/Neocon conflicts over intelligence evaluation.

His continued points about alpha method/beta method judgment - roughly, "presumed innocent" vs. "presumed guilty" - are interesting. I fear that his approach is somewhat theoretical, and his argument that administration Neocons were attempting to impose a "beta method" intelligence evaluation method strikes me as, itself, demonstrating the limits of an "alpha method" approach. That is, I think he's giving them too much credit, and presuming their intellectual innocence.

The second half of the article examines Hersh's wild conspiracy story about ex-CIA forgers, and I think Talkington is absolutely right that the utterly dysfunctional and borderline treasonous attitude of the CIA reported by Hersh is far more alarming than the typical, tired story of overly pessimistic Neocons looking for threats under every Eurasian rock. Is Hersh's reporting *accurate*? At this point, I feel I have to approach Hersh with a "beta method" - he's been the source of too many misleading stories in the last decade for it to be safe to presume his work "innocent".
I haven't known what to think of the third quarter economic news. I'm not exactly a tower of economic wisdom. My judgments about economic reports tend to be sadly ad hominem. Thus with some trepidation, I thrust one toe into the subject...

Slate has easily the most schizophrenic take on the news. Gross's actual article is moderately optimistic, if skeptical. The various headlines that point to the actual article are wildly erratic:

"Bush's Bogus Boom"
"Has the Bush Economic Boom Started"
"The Bush Boomlet"

It would make sense if these are headlines in different papers or for different articles. They're links or headlines on the same "paper" (Slate) for the same article!

Dan Dresner has a useful post summing up the news. I hadn't noticed that inventories are still down. That's a pretty good sign that it isn't an isolated quarter, isn't it? I mean, it suggests that there's plenty of slack for industrial expansion if it isn't just consumer demand eating through inventory overstock. Only complaint I have is his post-title. I've got that damn song playing on auto-rewind in my head...

Even Krugman can't find anything nasty to say about the news. I'd call that a fair sweep, wouldn't you?

Thursday, October 30, 2003

Speaking of 101-280, he links to a dissertation of his which, in the course of dissecting a literary critic's claim that chaos theory and postmodern literary analysis are synonymous or interconnected, has some interesting comments touching on knowability. Specifically, he notes that postmodernism postulates nonexistence, while chaos theory is simply another method considering unknowability. The two are not at all the same thing, as anyone dealing with data ought to be damn well familiar. Essentially, this transitive point of his is that the scientific methods known as "chaos theory" have more relevance in a Kantian system than in a postmodern system.

I don't claim to understand his paper entirely - I have the sneaking suspicion that you can't understand nonsense. Not to cast aspersions on the writer of the paper, he does as good a job as possible in laying out the claims for the inner-relation of Derrida and chaos theory, but Derrida's theories are, I am beginning to suspect, inherently incoherent. Furthermore, there's some reference to two distinct "entropies", one statistical and the other thermodynamic. That kind of went over my head, and obviously that's due to my limitation, and not any on the part of the writer.

The later part of the paper goes through a number of examples of literary analysis whose authors use "chaos theory" mainly as a source for strained metaphor and analogy.
My main reason for preferring John Edwards, prior to his Iraq Reconstruction meltdown this month, was my sense that he was hot to do something about institutionalized corporate corruption. Well, this issue still doesn't outweigh foreign policy for me, but Joe Lieberman has made an interesting and forceful mutual fund reform proposal that definitely raises my interest in his campaign. As I understand it, he's proposing an end to aftermarket resolution of mutual fund trades, making market timing explicitly illegal, a requirement for greater mutual fund management transparency, independent compliance officers that report directly to boards of directors instead of through mutual fund managers, and a tightening of the requirements for mutual fund board of directors with an eye towards greater independence from management.

Via the TNR Primary.
Hah! The Sims Online is an open-architecture MMORPG. Apparently it's now suffering from an in-game mafia issue that arose out of "griefers" running amuck, and other gamers ganging together in mutual protection societies. Those mutual protection societies then morphed into mobs or mafias. I hope some sociologists are keeping close tabs on this sort of thing. It strikes me as great material for "harder" social science work, along the same lines as those minimalist social-engineering computer models that the computational sociologists have been playing with.

Via 101-280.
Hey! Allah is no longer in this house! He's moved off Blogspot, and is now Allah Pundit. I think the sound you just heard was Blogspot's "struck down by lightning or jihadi DDoS attack" premiums dropping through the floor. Congrats on the upgrade to the Infinite, the Glorious, the Merciful Allah.
Porphyrogenitus continues to flail away at straw men. I think I'll leave it at that. I'll look in now and then to see how his civic seminary project is coming.
The big boys of warbloggerdom have noticed the Gender Genie. Andrew Sullivan is amused to score male, despite being "a big fag", as he puts it. Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit, on the other hand, is amused by his high "female" score, and wonders if he's a metrosexual. I don't think he quite gets the Gender Genie - you'd be more "metrosexual" if you can actually get a majority-opposite score on a couple of pieces. I've found that my scores are almost exclusively majority-male, regardless of what I feed the Genie.

Anyways, it's amusing that this particular meme took this long to sweep the warblogger end of the 'net. It made the rounds of the more techie-geek oriented blogs last month. Jessica, did you point it out to us then?

Could we please put this "metrosexual" meme to sleep? It's a deeply dopy neologism.
Hey, kids: it's that time of the month again. Fred Ramsey emailed to remind us:

First Sunday Poetry Slam
Spring Creek Slammers will host
A First Sunday Poetry Slam
Sunday Nov 2nd, 5pm
Zeno's Pub, 100 W College Ave, State College, PA

Dora McQuaid, Slammaster

Cash prize for top finisher.

This slam is open to all poets 21 and older.
Original poetry only.
Please bring three poems.
National Poetry Slam rules observed

$2 cover
$3 entrance fee

An open meeting of the Spring Creek Slammers will follow the competition. We
will discuss plans for this year's First Night Poetry Extravaganza and kick
around ideas to increase our audience size and competitor pool for our

All Interested Persons Welcome. Please bring ideas and comments.

Fred Ramsey
Lord High Curmudgeon
Spring Creek Slammers

I'll be there as usual, the token conservative. ^_^

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Donald Sensing has a counterfactual arguing that all of the 20th century's bloody woes can be traced to the actions of a couple hundred Paris taxicabs in September of 1914. It's an interesting setup, and it does what counterfactuals are supposed to do - demonstrates an argument about the interplay of causation in a particular sequence of events. His argument - that the excision of all of those bad political effects would have resulted in a much less bloody century - isn't one I find particularly convincing, but that's because he doesn't extend the line of causation in any direction. A short World War (really, more of a brief, oversize repeat of the Franco-Prussian War) wouldn't have caused the exact chain of events, of course. I find his short-term series of events convincing.

But I have to wonder if our hypothetical survivors of the 1914 war mightn't have come back for a second try a few years later. Additionally, one has to wonder if a second French defeat mightn't have brought on the proletarian revolution in France. The Ottoman Empire had been rotting for the better part of a century. The first half of the century wouldn't have closed without a fall of some sort. Fascism was a pre-war heresy of the left; it wouldn't have enjoyed the overwhelming advantages of the great cataclysm, but what happens in an unstable Europe of limited, long, brutal wars? The Liberal order was due for a collapse - the "Peace of Dives" was a tinderbox. Even if the initial brushfire had been contained in 1914, I have to wonder if later, now-obscure lightning strikes might not have lit the remaining brush unburnt by our hypothetical.

In the end, my hypotheticals reflect my personal prejudices. Historical momentum tends to be conserved. Actions have chaotic, but converging consequences. "Everything that rises...must converge."
Hey, remember that troops-molest-fig-orchards piece I went off on a while back? Sgt. Stryker has a photo and excerpt from an Iraqi daily about a weapons cache the 1st Armored found under a fruit grove near Tikrit. Think we'll hear horror stories of American economic terrorism about this one?
In the midst of the Cedar fire, Adam Sullivan's house was spared, by grace of the 1401st Strike Team and a floating pool fire pump. I'd been worried about him.
Nelson Ascher has a fascinating autobiographical post up, or at least the first half of it. He talks about Brazil, Hungary, and some of his experiences during the collapse of the Wall. I don't actually know that much about Hungary, other than the stories my Latin teacher told.
John Moore at Useful Fools went out and did some photographic fisking of an "environmental racisim" objection to an Arizona refinery construction project that was apparently based on the fact that the nearest town was founded by black sharecroppers. It can be insanely easy to lie with photographs, but he does do a full 360 spin to demonstrate just how empty the area is, and has census data showing 33 people, majority white, anywhere near the affected location.

Via this week's Carnival of the Vanities, hosted by Who Censored Blogger Rabbit
Porphryogenitus is a wee bit ticked off about my misunderstandings of yesterday. However, his extension of remarks sparked a few ideas. My apologies if I'm misunderstanding him again.

So lets go back to attitudes about the Humanities and how this applies. Some seem to have the mindset that because of the difficulty of reaching definitive conclusions in the Humanities, this means they should be scorned. That their study is somewhat pointless and people will not only reach different conclusions but those with axes to grind will, as one letter writer put it "obfuscate in fields where one man's opinion screeched loudly and repetitively can be fobbed off as 'fact'"?. I hold though that the situation is more akin to that of complex scientific questions: you are much better off, then, having the deepest and widest range of knowledge on these matters than not, especially since (again as is common in science) knowledge remains incomplete even while advancing.

That sounds like "scientific methods should be used in the humanities". Am I mistaking the point?

Yes, that means things are somewhat fuzzy and indistinct and people will have different interpretations of the same "data" and thus are more likely to reach different conclusions than they are when it comes to the answer of what 2 + 2 equals. This makes sound judgement all the more important, and fostering it all the more vital. It also makes knowing as much as you can more important, assisting in reaching sound judgements and conclusions.

That definitely sounds like it.

I have some thoughts on judgment. I don't think judgment a characteristic of the scientific method. A theorem that rests on judgment is by definition unfalsifiable - it relies on an element of opinion. Judgment is, itself, a creature of opinion. You can educate opinion - school it with bodies of facts and sharpen it against the strongly-held opinions of others. Opinions that have done their tour through the hot and clangorous smithy might be properly called judgment, and held worthy in the thrust-and-parry of argument. Judgments might be built of facts and theories and logical constructs.

But they're still, in the end, opinions.

At this point, I should note that I don't think that the intellectual world is a simple black-and-white world of Humanities and Sciences, of judgment and the scientific method. Between the Humanities and the Ultimate Hard Science lie a swale of "social sciences" and "soft sciences". As the experts work, the soft sciences have "hardened" as ways have been found to better quantify disciplines like biology, and falsifiable physiologies crowd out the dogmas of psychiatry. Even the hardest of sciences rest on a bed of shrinking assumptions, axioms.

Most of the swale will eventually be filled with mountain, if gravity is allowed to have its way. The scientific method will dominate all disciplines in which it is suited.

My concern is that the scientific method is not suited to all disciplines equally. Of what use is a scientific method in comparative literature?

How about history? A vital element of the scientific method is repeatability. How do you prove that a result is valid, and not a false positive? You have others repeat the experiment or study, and see if they get a similar result. This is necessary to isolate biases, including, most importantly, observer bias. History suffers, intrinsically, from the mother of all observer biases.

How do we know what we know about the American Revolution, for instance? Documentary sources. Testimony. Accounts of battles, letters, records of political meetings, death records, legal records, publications, memoirs. These are given facts, each genesis steeped in its own, unavoidable, individual observer bias. Then? Hundreds or thousands of secondary sources, articles, dissertations, books, historical novels - the considered opinions of all who have studied the series of events, clashing and shattering and reforming until bodies of accepted opinion, judgments are formed. But you can't disprove a historical judgment - you can only discredit it. We can't re-enact the Brandywine campaign to see what might have happened if the British had advanced overland, or landed in the Delaware instead of the Chesapeake. Some folks use counterfactual history or wargaming as a fictional substitute for experimentation, but it's all gameplaying. It's simply an elaborate form of argumentation.

(Now I have a mental image of a panel of English professors leaning over a cluttered table, gaming out a first-person servant's narrative version of Pride and Prejudice, or a poetry class being instructed to re-write "the Second Coming" with Islamic imagery replacing Yeat's Christian eschatology. This might actually be kind of entertaining.)

My point is that the more humanistic of the Humanities aren't especially fruitful grounds for the use of scientific methods. I rather think that too many practitioners in the Humanities have chosen a pseudo-scientific approach to their subjects, in which they force their material into the unsupported confines of airy theoretical constructs, aping the language and habits of rigour while reaching for a substance that isn't there to be grasped. The end result is an ideology of theoretical rigour, which makes sense to no-one but the practitioners themselves, which is often indistinguishable from the wholesale application of political bias by ideological imposition.

I'm concerned that a confusion of judgment with knowledge is at the heart of the rotting of the Humanities. This is not a call, nor an endorsement, of the intellectual abandonment of judgment. I am quite fond of judgment. I am, in fact, excessively addicted to judgment, even in the absence of proper understandings. I am simply unwilling to elevate judgment above knowledge, to allow that judgment has a right to the command of knowledge.

The irresponsible abuse of judgment can quite easily be used to destroy knowledge - to suppress facts or information, to discourage investigation. Both Orwell and Huxley confront that. Huxley, in my opinion, illustrates how bad judgment, under the Ford-worship pretense of "science", can suppress or distort historical fact. It's this Humanities-as-(Pseudo)Science that concerns me.

Perverted judgment is, itself, a threat to knowledge. Look at what happened when Marxists got the whip-hand over agronomy and biology in the Soviet Union - Lysenko and Lamarckian genetics gave both a pretty rough handling when "scientific" political judgments decided which experiments and studies were valid, and which were reactionary mistakes.

Update: Porphyrogenitus reacts poorly to my comments. After wading through a lot of rhetoric, I think what it comes down to is that he wants the "truths" of the Humanities respected. I thought we were talking about "ideas". As far as I'm concerned, "Truth" is a religious property, and while I love religious metaphors, I'm leery of people who ask that their judgments, however well-crafted, grounded, elegant, or clever, be taken for "truth".

"Truth" is the end of conversation, and the beginning of a sermon. Is that the purpose of this discussion? Sermonizing? I fear that this line of reasoning ends with Liberal Arts colleges transformed into seminaries for civics students. Not a grand prospect of the New Academy, is it?
This is bizarre. A British paper is claiming that the French defense military has changed its nuclear deterrence strategy, and that "rogue states" will be targeted with France's nuclear weapons. Oddly enough, China is explicitly included as being "potentially" on this list of "rogue states". At first I thought this had to be one of those sterling examples of Fleet Street excitability - the reported rumor of a rumor of a covert change in policy. Upon actually examining the article, I find that it has Chirac quotes! How utterly, utterly odd. According to other sources, China is crawling with French "tourists" apparently looking to strengthen bilateral ties, both military and economic.

Via Little Green Footballs, which continues to prove to be of use.

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Porphyrogenitus had a correspondent respond to his recent "clean out the Academy" posts with a suggestion that universities pull all humanities requirements, and let people just take technical courses. The following are parts of one of his replies, and my responses to them.
Cutting through the exposition (already), here is a better and more pithy response to Terrey Cobb's proposal and why I recoil from it:

To me, everything that we think of as Civilization, all the accumulated wisdom and examples of folly, are embodied in the Humanities. The techne is the product, not the source, of that. This again emphasized where I disagree with Marxists: as someone else once put it, ideas matter most.

I think one of the weaknesses of the autodidactic or self-educative approach to learning is a certain disregard for the authority of the academy -“ the need for teachers. On the other hand, one of the strengths of autodidacticism is the recognition that the Academy is not Civilization, and neither is the Humanities. Intellectual life cannot be encompassed by the walls of the University.

To wildly misquote William Jennings Bryan, "Burn down your universities and leave our libraries and your universities will spring up again as if by magic. But destroy our libraries and grass will grow in the streets of every university in this country!" It might be my state-college disregard for tradition and authority, but I can't help but think that the mighty Academy of Humanities is an efflorescence, a flowering. Flowers die, but the species survives in the seed.

As for the humanist contempt for techne, I have to object that it is exactly that -- a contempt, a Laputaesque disregard for the practicalities in favor of more noble pursuits. techne is the product of successful theory. To study only history, and neglect mathematics, is as intellectually destructive as is a course of study in computer science without history.

I strongly object to the notion that philosophy stands on a higher plane, that it is somehow more noble than those elements of study that find traction in the things of the world. There is not, and should not be, a hierarchy of study. Agronomy is as worthwhile a pursuit as philosophy or computer science. Philosophy will not grow a single grain of wheat; agronomy cannot establish the laws of the state. A body of laws is as much techne, as much a product of civilization, as is the glyphosate family of herbicides, or the latest Linux distribution. I see no functional moral distinction between the three. Each has great potential, for good or ill. Each should be treated with the same respect and an equal degree of caution.
But technical aptitude does not sustain, much less create, Civilization or its advances. It is fostered by the the Civilizational backdrop. This is a insight that many of us all too readily acknowledge when it comes to analysis of What Went Wrong in relation to why Islamic Civilization began to lag behind Western Civilization and does not foster much scientific or technological innovation.

The advantages of the Civilization to which Porphyrogenitus refers is not a creature of the Humanities, or even the University. It is a characteristic of Western intellectual life. We could take the great universities of history and plop them down in the centre of Cairo, endowed with every advantage and a bottomless fund of wealth, and a single generation would leave those universities a blasted expanse, intellectual ruins housing hordes of religious scholars and warring tribes of pseudo-Marxist ignoramuses. Without a general societal interest in the sciences, without a culture-wide embrace of the idea of progress, of the future, Western civilization would wither and die. I suppose the distinction here is that I consider the entire society to be the civilization backdrop, and the University and the Humanities to be equal parts civilization backdrop and techne.
Techne, advancements in method (a concept that includes but is broader than technology or even "hard sciences"), are fostered in a situation where people have the best (humanly) possible access to reliable data on results of past experiments (to use a less "soft, humanities" oriented description) - and, again, this is, when humans are concerned, not limited to the results of "hard science" experiments. It is, indeed, very Hayekian to say that it extends to all human experience. "Look, see, over here and over there and in this other place they tested Rousseau's theorem of forcing people to be free, and the result was a nightmare each time" (to take one of the more obvious examples).

But this Hayekian insight is itself a technification of the Humanities. I don't accept that political economics is strictly falsifiable in the fashion Porphyrogenitus suggests. Any claim to know that an exact input will inevitably result in a specific societal output is, I think, as essentially fantastical as the most doctrinaire Marxism. But I do admit the political utility of such theorizing, and there are certain limited, general cases in which a known class of inputs can be practically described as prone to produce a known class of outputs.
At least when I was at Uni, one of the things that was all the faddish rage among "Progressive" academics (both faculty and "Progressive" students) was that, well, the Western concept of time is linear but "Native Peoples"/"Traditional Peoples"/{fill in favored term of the moment} have a cyclical sense of time and, gosh, isn't that just the bee's knees? Wouldn't we be better off if we understood that things are cyclical?

Not to be a smartass, but cyclism was quite fashionable a couple generations back among historians. Remember Toynbee? I'm not fond of this postmodernist fad for cyclism, but then, it's the primitivism that I object to, and not the cyclism itself. I believe in the future. The past is past. Cyclism is, essentially, a form of reactionary ideology. I can't understand why its modern adherents can't see that.

...There is no real way of passing along knowledge or even forming the sort of decentralized knowledge that Hayek talks about as informing society and which no centralized elite can duplicate unless society is vastly simplified. . .

Well, no, it's called the publishing industry. Quite large, quite prolific, fairly independent of the Academy. If the Hottentots or a Pol Pot suddenly descended upon every Ivy League college in the country and murdered every academic in the country in a sudden orgy of intellectual genocide, the publishing industry would, the next day, go through its back-catalog for the next publishing cycle. Autodidactical professors appointed by shell-shocked boards of trustees would reconstruct the Academy. It would be a rough ten years or so, but it would, indeed, be only that long.
Those "annoying electives" that Computer Science majors are forced to take simply are requirements of a University education (as is at least a basic knowledge of sciences that us Humanities majors are compelled to take). Not necessarily in the form they're taught now. But spreading the meme that "the Humanities are Bunk" is not really a means of passing the torch of this Civilization forward or even keeping its flame lit.

Oh, I quite agree. I've a degree in history, after all. But propagating the "Humanities are Greater than Mere Techne" meme is not a particularly fruitful way to counter the wilful ignorance of the ill-educated.

Update: I've apparently run wild with a misunderstanding, and ended up arguing his point for him. Lesson learned: never try to be clever in the middle of the harvest. A combination of long hours and hyperactivity isn't conductive to critical thought....

Monday, October 27, 2003

Cosmos 1 is on track to be the first attempt at a solar sail deployment next year. Why is this a private-US-Russian project instead of a NASA project? The article suggests "risk", but how much risk is there in a $4 million investment? In aerospace terms, that's pocket change - worse, pocketlint. I don't quite understand how it could possibly be $4 million - I thought orbital insertion was more expensive than that. This less-than-authorative-sounding site claims that Soyuz launches have a base cost of $15 million, which makes me suspect that the $4 million is for the package itself, and not the delivery fee. Even then, $4 million is insanely cheap.

It might just be that this Cosmos 1 isn't NASA because it isn't going to work. Possibly something to do with trying to deploy a solar sail in Earth orbit will result in more atmospheric braking than the lift from the expected solar wind? The article indicates that they're going to try to deploy at 800km. I suppose somebody with a proper science background could try and do the calculations...

Via The Daily Blatt.


Since I've been seeing Riverbend's name a lot recently - Ilaria blogrolls her, and is very impressed - Maj. Sean Bannion's irate fisking of one of Riverbend's recent postings would seem to be in order. He's mostly right, as far as I can tell. I'd add that she's exceedingly fond of rumors and airy assertion, and her predominant tone is one of envy. She loves bagging on ministers and Governing Council members and ranting about how high on the hog they live. Zeyad, on the other hand, offers a lot of first-person information and interesting nuance. If you're going to follow an Iraqi blogger, try Zeyad instead.

Fisking link via Sgt. Stryker.
Alright, this fucking blows. It's this sort of local-politics Republican bullshit that made me change my registration to Democratic. Don't goddamn whine about the other side's get-out-the-vote efforts - get your own damn vote out!

Pricks. Well, I suppose there is some justification for Josh Marshall in the general scheme of things. Now, if he'd only concentrate on these sorts of posts instead of sucking on the beltway scandal teat...
OK, this freaks me out. Dan Drezner pointed out Ilaria, a blog with nearly the same layout as mine, who is apparently reading the same goddamn books I'm reading. She also hails from Television Without Pity land, and uses Bujold quotes like hippies use the I Ching, and is fond of Buffy fanfic.


Her post on Joan of Arcadia reminded me of just how annoyed I was at myself for forgetting that there was an episode on last Friday night. Admittedly, I was busy working at the time, but I could have, oh, I don't know, gone and taped the damn thing. Maybe I can talk Dave into d/ling last week's episode.

I see she blogrolls Anna S. I haven't been over there in over a year. Wonder what Anna's up to?

Syngenta/Ecorisk Atrazine Dispute?

Erin O'Connor points out a "creeping corporatism" scare story about a Berkeley researcher who ran afoul of a no-independent-publishing clause in a contract with Ecorisk, Inc., a research company doing work on the effects of atrazine (popular American herbicide) on amphibians. An examination of their projects page shows that this extensive survey is Ecorisk's only current project of note, and that they've been working on it for several years.

This article gives some idea of the controversy. Here is a press release that Syngenta released last year.

My feeling is that the Berkeley member of this particular research project decided to bail on the project when it became clear that the rest of the panel showed little inclination to run with the most alarming interpretation of their collective data. He apparently pulled out of the project in 2000. It's hard to tell who has their thumb on the scales in the scientific dispute - I've been involved in similar situations in which the activists were the malefactors. The contractual dispute, on the other hand, stinks. Hayes's publications seem to be several years after his 2000 resignation from the Ecorisk project. Exercising contractual restraint upon a research scientist who has resigned from your project is a damned ugly way to run a business. It's as bad as AccuWeather's noncompetition clauses, in its own way.
Fascinating article in the Guardian about the decline of the Israeli Left. It points out a number of things I was sort-of-aware-of but hadn't really thought through. The writer explicitly notes that the Left in Israel is a creature of the European (or "Ashkenazim") elite, while the working class are mostly Likudniks or further to the right. This is baffling to a British leftist-journalist, because there is a sizable portion of the British working-classes which are honestly left-wing. It makes more sense to an American, because the labor unions were purged of communists and leftist ideologues in the late 40s; the American Left is an urban-elite coalition. Still, all the same, Israeli leftism is not American leftism, despite the current superficial similarities. Israel is itself a Leftist Project - Zionism an explicitly non-religious creature of socialist ideology. The Likud, on the other hand, is a product of Sephardic (or Middle Eastern) pragmatism, nationalism, and religiosity. Interesting.

Via the handy Winds of Change wrapup.

Why I Hate Protests II

Pacifists waving effigy heads on sticks, and anti-war activists agitating for the destruction of the United States. You can't make this shit up. Apparently the protests were much smaller than the claims I heard earlier today of 100,000. More like 10,000, and all the on-the-ground anecdotal reports made it sound (and look!) positively sparse.

Via the ever-helpful Winds of Change wrapup.

Karmic Inquisition has some comments on the D.C. protests: "So the anti-war movement has now transformed 'not in my name' into 'not on my dime.' "
Article on why Tarantino-the-director is essentially bulletproof, and why Kill Bill, a simultaneously great and terrible movie, is impossible to criticize. I find myself sympathizing with Tarantino. The world is a smaller place without him and his Fountain of Eternal Cool.

Via Crazy Kimchi.
I went walking north of town around the old limestone quarries. The foothills of Bald Eagle Mountain are riddled with abandoned quarries that are more-or-less wide open. Some of the ones up past Zion are fenced in, but the land owners haven't bothered with the ones closer to town. Go figure. I had forgotten just how much of the old buildings were still intact. Free-standing concrete pillars stand everywhere in pretty minimal brush. I don't know just when these quarries went out of business, but it was long enough ago that a full-scale climax forest has grown over what must have been the parking lots, and compounds. The quarry floors themselves are mostly open, with medium-light scrub, except for the one closest to town, which is a near-impenetrable tangle of sumac and so on. That particular quarry is also the one with the fewest ruins - I'm not sure what to make of that. Possibly it's been abandoned for a much longer period of time, and the scrub is finally breaking the quarry floor down into useful topsoil? We're talking limestone, here. It isn't the most resilient of bedrocks.

The ruins that stand between the second, third and fourth quarries (in a more-or-less sequence from Water Street trending northeast towards the interstate) are clustered around a healthy little stream that's fed from the pond in the fourth quarry, although the stream doesn't originate entirely from the quarry complex. It must have preceded the flooding of the fourth quarry, because there's an intact concrete bridge over it that's clearly part of the older ruins. Half-standing two-story buildings, towers, and gutted windows loom out of the forest dark like the shattered remnants of ancient fortresses. The construction is all much more sturdy than today's industrial complexes, unless they were doing some sort of on-site processing that I haven't heard of. Maybe the gravel plant used to be in that complex? There isn't nearly enough ironmongery laying about for that, I don't think. There's plenty of rubbish back there, but it's all consumer-trash - entire wrecked cars, mufflers, busted-up consumer electronics, mattresses, that sort of thing.

I ran into a group of about ten rock-climbers in and around the fourth quarry, including one guy halfway up the eastern rockface, with two guys belaying him below. The rest of them were packed up and making their way out of the quarry area. The sheer bulk of ropes, pinions, and so on is mildly staggering. Every one of them was carrying a full backpack, stuffed as full as if they were on a two-week trek through the backwoods. It left me wondering how rockclimbers got around before the days of nylon, alloys and other light-weight materials.

I suppose I ought to throw in some sort of warning about how old quarries are dangerous, notably lacking in fences, full of rusty rubbish, uncertain footing, and unexpected sudden drops. But from what I've been told these quarries are a part of any Bellefonte childhood, and if you survived a childhood here, you know about them. As I was walking back through town in the twilight, I passed two ten-year-olds racing their skateboards, body-surfing them head-first down a steep suburban street. Kids can find a way to risk their necks anywhere, I suppose.

Saturday, October 25, 2003

Zimbabwean Scots refugees from Mugabe's land-reforms have, according to this article, begun turning neighboring Zambia's agricultural economy into a boom sector. The details provided in the article seem to suggest that the refugees took their credit ratings with them, and have been using European capital to finance bumper crop harvests. This seems to illustrate just how stupid confiscatory "land reform" is - it wasn't the land that provided the white farmers of Zimbabwe their competitive advantage, it was their solid credit with world financial markets. The seized farms have mostly disappeared, with over 200,000 acres in cultivation declining to a little more than 20,000 this year.

After some googling, I've come across some background that is missing from the article. Zambia has been suffering from starvation conditions due to several years of drought and a stiff-necked refusal on the part of its dirt-ignorant president to accept genetically-modified grain from American donors. Of course, GM crops aren't necessary for improving on typical south African crop yields - chemical fertilizers and pesticides are more than enough to improve on the declining agricultural standards of the area. Further investigation seems to show that this year's Zambian maize harvest was more than twice the April projection. The Scotsman report seemed to indicate that the white farmers were just getting started in Zambia, and only represented around 2% of the harvest. Thus, it's hard to tell whether the bumper crop was mostly due to a feast year coming after two famine seasons, or whether the white refugees have been spreading the credit around, thus bootstrapping the Zambian agricultural sector with imported capital resources.

Original link via Joe Katzman at Winds of Change.
Wonderful. It seems as if the New Blog Showcase's newest sponsoring organization, the League of Liberals, is full of people who believe firmly in linkwhoring - using repeated redundant links to scam page-ranking schemes like the voting apparatus at the New Blog Showcase and Truth Laid Bear's Ecosystem. They've spammed this week's showcase in this manner such that a blogger clique with 27 members produced, for a worthless we-hate-Halliburton agitprop site, 41 votes as of yesterday, and 71 this morning. The various right-center cliques have responded in kind, such that the second-place contestant, a decent blog-entry to which I had already linked earlier as my contribution to this week's contest, which had 30 more-or-less unique votes yesterday, now has over two hundred "votes", mostly from hotheads physics geek and Susie. In Susie's defense, she might just be overly enthusiastic. Physics geek outright states that he's trying to blow the contest out of the water by making the results so outrageously fraudulent that Truth Laid Bear will have to adjust the rules.

This here is why I haven't joined any cliques yet. Stupid blog tricks. Clowning around is fine and dandy, people, but linkwhoring is... dishonourable. It's a cheat. Please don't do it.

Update: Pixy Misa of Ambient Irony gets in on the game with a bit of over-the-top quotage. OK, OK, I give. Once you get to this point, it's hard to be all Methodist scold about it. Especially after it degenerates into an exchange of whipped-cream pies.

Update II: Hrm, it looks like The Bear has noticed the whipped-cream-pie fight, and slapped a filter on the proceedings. Good!

Update III: Suzie points out in comments that I gave the League of Liberals too much credit - there's 15 of them, not 27. I stand corrected.

Friday, October 24, 2003

"Fanfare for the Common Crackhead"

I had not been made aware that Gehry's new "democratic" concert hall has over a thousand less seats than the previous concert hall, the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Per-seat prices have tripled, as well. Yeah, that's embracing "the people". Hypocrites!

Department of I Needed a Good Laugh

Ah! I hadn't heard of the Bonfire of the Vanities before. Well, I've heard of the Tom Wolfe novel. Read it, too. But this weekly compilation of bad and/or silly posts? New to me.

Jim of Snooze Button Dreams revels in providing too much information.
Sgt. Stryker & Sparkey of the military groupblog Sgt. Stryker's Daily Briefing have spun off a new groupblog called "Iraq: the Good, the Bad and the Fugly" as part of an attempt to collate a balanced summary of news from Iraq. Originally, Sgt. Stryker was going to report bad news, and Sparkey was going to concentrate on good news; I'm not sure if this division of labor will be continued on the new groupblog.

Sparkey notes reports that the 101st Airborne is starting to ramp down deployments in Mosul and other areas in the North as the new Iraqi police take over day-to-day policing duties; it's suggested that smaller units will be garrisoning the North when the rotation takes the 101st out of Iraq. Meanwhile, crime rates have plummeted in the last two weeks as the police start to hit the streets in earnest.

Sgt. Stryker, on the other hand, passes along a series of rumors, presumably from personal sources in Iraq, as he gives no links. He also notes an article on how tribal chauvinism is complicating reconstruction in some Iraqi localities, as feuding tribes and sheikhs squabble over Coalition improvements in what should be public, common areas like the construction of water pumping stations.
Nelson Ascher of Europundits has posted an excellent essay on why Zionism isn't a classic nationalist movement, but rather a late-period reaction to exclusionary nationalisms - specifically, in Herzl's case, the Dreyfuss Affair.

Personally, I wonder at his assertion that there may not be any such thing as a "Palestinian people". The hostile pseudo-Judaizing fashion in which non-Palestinian Arabs treat Palestinian Arabs seems to me to demonstrate a sufficient proof that the rest of the Arab world perceives the Palestinians as "Other", to steal a Saidism. Furthermore, the irrational anti-Semitism of the Palestinian Arabs are no bar against the concept of a Palestinian nationalism; such xenophobias have, historically, been vital elements of the creation of nationalism in a population. The combination of an inability of Palestinians to assimilate in ethnically identical Arab populations, and the adoption of a "Palestinian" identity seems to put the existence of a "Palestinian" people well beyond the realm of reasonable argument.

Update: Porphyrogenitus has, as usual, more to say about the subject. I suppose I ought to extend my remarks by noting that the existence of a "Palestinian" people doesn't dictate the need for a Palestinian nation-state, nor does it require the forced Czechoslovakization of Israel into a Judean chimera. The Czechs and the Slovaks didn't even get along that badly - you never heard of Slovaks gunning down Czechs in cafes, or Czech aircraft bombing Slovakian terror cells. Given the recognition of a distinct "Palestinian" people and a working Israeli nation, what fool would voluntarily shove both cats into the same sack?

Not that I'm enthused about the current prospects for a two-state solution; the "Palestinian" people are caught between abominable popular political instincts and reprehensible political leaders. A recognition that all possible Palestinian leaders are, to varying degrees, worthless, does not remove the problem itself. Meanwhile, the Israeli insistence on pushing settlement just makes the problem worse.

An imposition of a "one-state" solution will result, inevitably, in Israeli democide and another Islamist tyranny. The current situation will, one day, peter out in a slow-motion Palestinian expulsion. I don't find myself cheering either prospect. Do you?
George Galloway has been expelled from the Labour Party. Excellent.
Zeyad is arguing in favor of a reinstitution of the death penalty in Iraq. When did Bremer get rid of the death penalty? And why, for god's sake?

Thursday, October 23, 2003

It seems I was correct in seeing the hand of Berman in Demosophia's Totalitarian 3.0 essay. He's got an essay on Berman's Terror and Liberalism that demonstrates the passion and fire of the new-converted. It's an interesting, if highly charged, discussion of the book, from a political-philosophy point of view. It's definitely a better-thought-out review than Josh Marshall's narrow, blinkered whinging.

Update: on further inquiry, Demosophia is an accredited political research scientist. Interesting. I'm somewhat annoyed that I discovered him via the New Blog Showcase. His blog operates at a fairly high level; I would have expected to have seen links to him before this. Further investigation shows that he started briefly at a Blogspot site last month.
While taking a look at this week's New Blog Showcase, I noted Irreconcilable Musings. Hrm, that's a pretty toxic blogtitle, there - "Musings" is a major cliche no-no. The subtitle "Examining cognitive dissonance one paradox at a time..." isn't a cliche, but it ought to be. I was surprised to see that the blogger is a member of that silly anti-Reynolds "alliance" ("Instapundo delenda est!"), but upon consulting his backlog, his blog is actually younger than mine, so - it's definitely a new blog!. His sample post is an article about the recent DDoS attacks on Internet Haganah and, indirectly, everybody on Hosting Matters. His take on the obvious "Internet Front of the War on Terror!" meme is somewhat different - he feels that supporting Internet Haganah (which tracks and exposes online al Queda resources to the public and the authorities) is a way for a philosophical pacifist to participate in the War on Terror without all that ooky killing and wounding and arresting and throwing of terrorists into Cuban oubliettes.

Demosophia definitely gets cool points for an excellent neologism - "Wisdom of the People" - as a blogtitle. The subtitle - "When the statues of Daedalus come to life no men will have masters, nor masters slaves." -- Aristotle - definitely isn't a cliche, but it is a bit opaque. His sample-post - proposing that there is a "Totalitarianism 3.0" that needs to be fought - isn't particularly earth-shattering, but it demonstrates a solid, full-winded grasp of the historical essay-blog that shows promise. It's essentially a summation of the arguments of Paul Berman, Christopher Hitchens, and Steven Den Beste. It's a very good summation. It just isn't anything else, yet. He also needs to be careful with his terms - he seems to demonstrate a certain sloppiness with his constructions that could lead to misunderstanding by those unfamiliar with the subject matter. For instance, he uses "liberal democracy" in a fashion that might lead an unwary reader to think that he meant to say that Athenian democracy was a "liberal democracy". In the full context of the article, I'm fairly sure that he is aware that "liberal democracy" refers to the modern, post-Enlightenment construct, but the opportunity for confusion is definitely there. He isn't alone in this flaw, however: Den Beste himself is prone to commit this kind of error at least once a week, on average. Further study of his later posts seem to indicate that he's definitely got things to say. I'm adding him to my list of blogs to watch for now. Interesting.

Iraqi Newspaper Describes Pre-Sept. 11th al-Queda Training at Salman Pak

What infuriates me about this is that if you ask members of the mainstream media about Salman Pak, they'll give you the same tired Ba'athist cant that it was a "counterterrorist" training facility, and go on to repeat the same tired bullshit about how Saddam Hussein and al-Queda didn't co-operate.

There was an unbearably smug poll by PIPA/Knowledge Networks a few weeks ago. This poll's press release claimed that Fox News viewers were suffering from "misperceptions" of the war, and one of these key misperceptions was the idea that Iraq had something to do with al Queda. All right-thinking people know, of course, that there's no such thing as a postwar link between the Ba'athists and al Queda.

At the time the poll was making the rounds of the self-righteous left, I couldn't find clean links to defend the common right-wing notion of Ba'athist-al Queda linkage. They do exist, and quite extensively, due to a Weekly Standard article by Stephen Hayes and a James Lileks column using that article. However, I couldn't find authoritative non-partisan links that didn't descend eventually to those two articles at the time, and I dropped the subject. But this Salman Pak story qualifies, I think, as definite evidence.

Pardon me while I cover my left flank on this:

Some are worried that the Al-Yawm Al-Aakher article might be bogus - what is the Al-Yawm Al-Aakher and who publishes it? MEMRI, the proximate source of the article (it's an Israeli site that monitors and translates Arabic-language publications across the Middle East - it's generally balanced, unlike say, DEBKA) identifies the publisher of Al-Yawm Al-Aakher in this wrapup as "Al-Munajjed Publications", elsewhere as "Al-Munajjed Publishing", which had previously produced pro-Saddam material, and here as "Al-Munnajed Publishing House". From a scan of the editorials and quotes provided by MEMRI in the above links and elsewhere, I conclude that Al-Yawm Al-Aakher is, indeed, a cranky, nationalist, independent publication, prone to hectoring Bremer, Iraq's neighbors, Jews, and Chalabi in fairly equal terms of scorn and disrespect. This Salman Pak article might still be a fraud, but it doesn't sound as if it could possibly be an American or American conservative fraud. At any rate, it does indeed qualify as evidence from an utterly independent source. Maybe not proof, but definitely evidence.

ANYways, this diversion was made to illustrate the point I had wanted to make about the PIPA/Knowledge Networks polling - that it was badly polluted by a classic case of confirmation bias. They were looking for people with opinions formed by stories like the Weekly Standard article and the Lileks column. They found them. And they discovered that, sure enough, those people's opinions differed from those of people more likely to listen to NPR or read John Pilger stories. Quelle surprise. What offends me, in the end is that the conductors of the poll decided to take their institutional biases, and project them as proper perceptions, and the targeted audience's as "misperceptions". At the time, they were both simple perceptions. I had been waiting for something like the Al-Yawm Al-Aakher Salman Pak story to break the Schrodingerian suspension of the two sets of perception, and make my argument something other than a conflict of opinions. All thanks to Winds of Change's Iraq War Wrapup and MEMRI for giving me that opportunity.
Porphyrogenitus offers a multiple-choice question that proports to show what kind of foreign-policy type you are by how you deal with anti-American Frenchmen yelling at you during a visit to that fine nation. What if your response is to ask him to kindly fuck off, as you're on vacation and uninterested in pissing contests with locals? To be strictly honest, I suspect I belong in the "evil NeoCon cabal" category, as I wouldn't be likely to visit France.

As an alternate, here's a multiple-choice quiz that made the rounds a month or so ago. I seem to remember that I came out as a neocon in that one, too.

Update: Porphy subjects me to a well-deserved mocking.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Fred at the Daily Blatt has pointed out a number of fascinating Scottish articles. Particularly interesting is this article on the role of Glasgow in the American colonial tobacco trade. My knowledge of colonial economic history is as shallow as the Missouri before the Army Corps of Engineers overdredged it, and it's always cool to get a little depth in a previously shallow channel. Except, I suppose, for wildlife.

The article basically argues that the 1707 Union Treaty led to the rise of Scotland and Glasgow in particular as a great commercial entrepot, as Glasgow came to dominate the tobacco trade in the 18th century. It also notes that the Scottish domination of the tobacco trade came about during a shift from a haphazard system of commissions and chartered shipping to a heavily-capitalized direct-purchase system featuring owned, dedicated shipping.

The Sunday Herald is apparently pushing the author, Tom Devine, and his new book, Scotland’s Empire 1600-1815 . There's also an article in which he makes the quite reasonable argument that Scottish identity, in the Highlander sense of kilts, sporrans, claymores and so on, is a product of Great Britain's first imperial project, in the late 18th century and first half of the 19th. It certainly jibes with what I've always heard, at least.

Fred also points out an account of Devine's feuds with a Scottish nationalist/revisionist historian named Fry.
I was reading this Instapundit-linked NYT article on declining TV ratings among men, especially the 18-24 demographic. I thought over my immediate circle of friends, and realized that I'm the only one who actually has cable TV. Of course, they're older than the demographic the article is talking about, but this realization was disquieting. There really is a drift away from broadcast television in my social circle. To tell the truth, I rarely watch TV except when I'm playing ancient wargames on my equally ancient home computer, and even then, it's more of a radio-with-pictures than the type of engrossed viewing that one thinks of when saying "I'm watching TV!".
It occurs to me that I'm a terrible mountain man. I don't actually live in the woods, I've never started a fire without matches, I don't even rake leaves any more - I mean, I could if I wanted to, but I suspect the locals would start classifying me with the semi-homeless guy who spends his days pulling weeds on public and semi-public property around Bellefonte. I suppose I could tell a sumac tree from another... tree, but I found that I couldn't even tell you what kind of trees were cut down in Bellefonte's courthouse square. Elms? Probably not, for the same reason they were probably not chestnuts - neither do too well these days, what with the various tree disease affecting them. They were probably maples, but I can't remember exactly. It's not as if I could tell an elm from a maple from... whatever else we have around here. They're all deciduous trees to me.

Well, at least I have the beard.
Josh Marshall talks about his recent jury duty, and how they convicted a man of distributing PCP, but acquitted him of "possession with intent to distribute". Take a moment to savor that pair of jury decisions. He didn't have the PCP, but he did distribute it. Right. This is the sort of "thinking" that passes for logic among newly-minted history PhDs. That's as boneheaded as the clowns on that Cain-and-Abel murder trial where they acquitted Cain of murder, but convicted him of manslaughter for killing and hiding Abel in a pile of leaves behind his hunting lodge. Some days I am sorely tempted by the French legal system.
Interesting debate between the Centre County commissioner candidates in today's CDT. I'm not seeing anything that's likely to make me change my mind - Conklin and Dershem it is. Exarchos is a fury of anti-tax hysteria, and Goreham seems to be a typical boneheaded Democrat. Both Dershem and Conklin were cautious about matters, and inclined to keep their eyes on future needs due to demographic expansion - the need to finance a fourth district judgeship, expansion out of the overstuffed Willowbank offices, the long-overdue courthouse renovation, etc. I don't know what to make of that preposterous baseball stadium boondoggle, but Conklin voted against it.

About that courthouse renovation - it seems like a bit of overkill, to my mind. The Bellefonte courthouse itself could stand with a bit of cleaning up - the lightning rod on the tower has been leaning drunkenly for as long as I've been in town, and the building had been getting a bit dingy. That being said, I don't understand why they felt the need to tear up the entire town square, and cut down all the trees. They were at least a hundred years old, and the town feels hollowed out without them dominating High and Allegheny Streets any more. They ripped up the fountain, the stone walls, and everything else, until Governor Curtin and his hulking war memorial stood above a muddy hole where the square used to be. At least they aren't tearing down the monument. I can't imagine what they're planning to put in there that would compensate for tearing out those magnificent trees, though.
I've been checking on the voting record of my representative, one John Peterson (R-PA). I caught him voting "yea" on yesterday's non-binding instruction in favor of that verkakte grant-to-loan business. What the hell was he thinking? For any readers in the Pennsylvania Fifth Congressional District, here's where you can contact him and give him a little hell. It indicates that he's going to ignore anyone without a Fifth District mail address.

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Wheeee! Office 2003 has been set loose on mankind like a flight of furies upon a sinful world! Any bets on how long it takes some half-trained sociopath to figure out a half-dozen new ways to exploit security holes in this innovative, massively integrated mess of spaghetti-software?
According to Newsweek, the FBI's Middle Eastern languages translation section is hopelessly backlogged. One of the more alarming points made was that dozens of volunteer American Sephardim from Brooklyn were rejected by the FBI screeners because they refused to renounce their joint Israeli citizenship. The Sephardim (Arabic-speaking Jews, roughly) are Israel's best front-line weapon in the intelligence business. The FBI is so worried about another Jonathan Pollard that they're jeopardizing our homeland security by refusing to use Israeli or Israeli-American translators. Jesus Christ, people - who cares if they're spying for the Israelis on the side!

Via Little Green Footballs.
There's an article in Slate lauding Frank Gehry's latest monstrosity, the Walt Disney Concert Hall. I cannot understand the appeal of Gehry's cancerous growths. They're hideous hypermodernist abstract abominations so unbalanced and erratic that they'd make an Elder God seasick. The architectural critics love to call his designs "organic" and "natural" when in point of fact, they're the exact opposite of organic and natural. The natural world is intrinsically biased towards a certain smooth symmetry - balance even in the breaking of balance. Gehry's designs are intentionally lopsided, ill-proportioned, and forced. His imbalances leaves me distressed, fretful, and inclined to set cars and incompetent architects on fire.


The hall interior itself is beautiful despite itself - elegant in a severe, undecorated fashion. I'm loathe to give Gehry the credit for this: he's been forced to implement elements of balance, proportion, and symmetry by the requirements of modern acoustic science. His trademark imbalances and broken symmetries are forbidden by the inexorable laws of acoustics. They would render concerts as dissonant and distorted as Gehry's design sense itself.

Thus, what I can see of the Walt Disney Concert Hall is the mirror opposite of democratic intent - a building that is offensive in its exterior affect, while beautiful and embracing to those held in its privileged heart.

"Fascists did with their eyes open what Communists did with their eyes shut."

Robert Dean at Samizdata links to an interesting article from the Libertarian Alliance on Italian Fascism and Mussolini. The author, David Ramsay Steele, makes the argument that Fascism is misunderstood due to the Marxist-Leninist prism through which most analysis has been conducted, that the "Mystery of Fascism" is a perceptual artifact. It also dances around the question of "is Fascism a form of Marxist apostatacy?" without ever really saying so - letting quotes from other writers carry the weight. This all sounds a lot like what I've heard from Paul Berman, and though the article has the occasional nasty swipe (calling Fascism a "third way" for inter-war intellectuals) at the enemies of libertarianism, it is generally restrained in its rhetoric and argumentation. I found the section on "the Crisis of Marxism" in the 1890s particularly illuminating, as what I've read of Marxist history tends to be an inpenetrable slog of misleading triumphalism and petty politicking.

Monday, October 20, 2003

I stopped at the local Barnes & Nobles on Saturday, nominally on the way to visiting a friend in State College. I bought Tsouras' Gettysburg: an Alternate History based on a reference someone had made on one of the Civil War groups. I'm afraid to say that I never actually made it to that friend's apartment. Instead, I spent the rest of the day walking around the grounds of the Nittany Mall and the rest of the Benner/Rt. 26 strip, reading the book straight through. The fit occasionally takes me in this fashion; it really freaks some people out to see someone walking around in broad daylight reading a book. I don't know what they're getting excited about: this is what God invented peripheral vision for! Well, that or hiding from large predators - aggressive drivers in SUVs, for instance.

Anyways, Tsouras. He was writing for a specialist press that apparently does hard-facts counterfactual fiction - there isn't supposed to be anything utterly impossible in the course of these books. Confederate AK-47s, for instance. For those of you who are big on carnography - history books on war - it's a pretty neat read. It's written as if it was the five-billionth history of the Gettysburg campaign; it's full of footnotes, two-thirds of which seem to be valid citations of various sources and secondary-source analysis like Coddington's book and Douglas Southall Freeman's various multivolume apologetics. Tsouras also quotes a lot of utterly fictional sources and books of analysis, which he usually marks out with asterisks to separate them from the valid ones. I think I caught him dropping asterisks a few times, but I'll give it a pass.

I'm a sucker for counterfactual history; I think most history majors are in one fashion or another, though some mask it with violent denunciations and rants against the very notion. American Civil War counterfactuals are by far and away the most popular examples of this genre, composing a subgenre all their own, in a certain sense. Partially, this is because American Civil War history is a major publishing category in and of itself - entire counties of clear-cut timber have given their all in the service of Civil War publishing. I'll even still buy Harry Turtledove novels on the residual strength of my fascination with counterfactual history; it overwhelms my disdain for his feeble and declining capacity for minor literary trifles such as character, pacing, flow, prose, or style.

This is the second alternate history I've read this season on Gettysburg alone. A local named Douglas Lee Gibboney wrote an interesting alternate history of the Gettysburg campaign in the war-memoir style entitled Stonewall Jackson at Gettysburg. Gettysburg: an Alternate History, Stonewall Jackson at Gettysburg and a third book entitled Lee at Chattanooga all share a quirk that is becoming more and more common in alternate-history - a might-have-been which results in either the same result in the end, or else an unexpected intensification of the historical result.

Stonewall Jackson at Gettysburg gives those that bewailed Jackson's death after Chancellorsville, who thought that his presence would have won the battle at Gettysburg, exactly what they wished for. Jackson is present at the battle, which in this alternate series of events, becomes a disastrous but limited defeat, as Jackson's troops push a portion of the unprepared Army of the Potomac off of the heights to the southeast of the town. Then follows a week of hard campaigning as Meade falls back to his prepared Pipe Creek lines, re-enacting Sickles' and Longstreet's battles and "Allegheny" Johnson's disastrous frontal assault in northern Maryland. Finally, Jackson leads a wild ride around the deep Union left, wins one small battle and loses a larger one, echoing his punch-drunk ineptitude during the Seven Days. In the end, the Army of Northern Virginia is driven back in disorder on the Williamsport crossings, with the same exact result. Gibboney's most excellent conceit is the way he preserves a certain conservation of historical event, by fatally wounding A.P. Hill in the same friendly-fire incident at Chancellorsville that would have eventually killed Jackson in this world. At the end of the war, Jackson is killed in the exact same fashion as Hill was - shot down by Union skirmishers within the lines of a collapsing Petersburg defense in the last two weeks of the war.

Lee at Chattanooga, by one Dennis P. McIntire is a minor work that supposes that somebody could have talked Lee into leaving his Virginia theatre to relieve the hopeless Bragg just before the battles of Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge. McIntire doesn't do nearly as good a job as Gibboney or Tsouras - Lee does everything right, and yet inexplicable disaster unhinges everything at the end, leading to a devastating defeat. McIntire no doubt intends to demonstrate the same bewilderment as the Confederates of the Army of Tennessee displayed over the historical result - a wild, unplanned assault up the sheer mountain-face of Missionary Ridge - but instead it simply reads like deus ex machina.

Gettysburg, an Alternate History differs from the above two works in that the end result is quite different from the historical result; it is, however, in the opposite direction from the usual Confederate-victory supposings of a different Gettysburg. Tsouras allows the vagaries of fate to bring Stuart orders from Lee to meet him at Cashtown earlier than the historical event; thus, Stuart appears on July 1st instead of late on the 2nd. This gives Lee back his eyes, which leaves him ambitious enough to allow Longstreet his wide flanking move behind the Round Tops. It also hurries Ewell & Early to make disastrous night attacks that end up replicating the historical result on that field in a fashion I've only seen in indifferently-coded historical wargames. Longstreet's flanking move causes a very silly series of flankings and outflankings that requires Lee to personally intervene to preserve Hill's flank at one point (thus setting up his full-scale heart attack later in the book), and a lot of wild, bloody battles. The eventual, mortifying failure of the flanking move causes Longstreet to swing fully behind the Pickett assault, and inspires him to make it a full six-division assault rather than the three-division attack of history. This results in a much closer battle on the 3rd, with much higher Confederate casualties, the wounding of Meade instead of Hancock, and a Waterlooesque counterattack that captures a large fragment of the attacking column, their cannon, and Longstreet, effectively destroying the Army of Northern Virginia. The war ends a year later, and Hancock eventually becomes President in place of Grant.

As I said, the events start out in a historically reasonable fashion, but things become more and more unlikely as the book wears on. Additionally, Tsouras cheats. Good counterfactual history should be based on single-fault causation - one change from which all additional differences descend in proper butterfly-wing fashion. For want of a nail, and all that. Instead, Tsouras enhances his initial Stuart-arrives-early with the arbitrary and pointless addition of two brigades to Pickett's division, which had been detached for other theatres. This isn't really necessary for the flow of events which Tsouras is devising - it just gives Longstreet more forces to throw into the July 3rd assault. Additional events occur without any apparent causation - such as Sedgwick talking Buford into returning to the field with his division on the 2nd. In the end, Tsouras' book is lacking in that very virtue for which his publisher is most proud of - rigour.

Friday, October 17, 2003

You know, this sort of thing is how artists disappear into their own self-importance. "Oooh! Oooh! People who want to work for a living don't have any dreams!" It's a particularly smug species of elitist contempt, and the fact that I used to encounter it far too often in independant and small press comics contributed heavily to my current disinterest in the whole scene.

Bite me, McCloud.
For those of you unacquainted with frequent commenter Jessica Gothie (no relation to the Jessica of Jessica's Well, below), she has been working, on and off, on a chapter-by-chapter gloss on Moby Dick. So what? you inquire. There has to be five billion dissertations on Moby Dick weighing down the dusty unvisited stacks of the university libraries of the West. Jessica is reading Moby Dick as if it were yaoi doujinshi, or slash fanfic. More fun than literary analysis really ought to be, y'know?
Jessica at Jessica's Well has dug up a Life article from 1946, after the end of the war but before the Marshall Plan. It's written by John Dos Passos, a leftist novelist (he was well-known in his time, but his books haven't really aged well - unless you're a reader of the New York Times Review of Books, you've probably never heard of him). People have been making up satirical versions of this article for a couple of months now; this blogger has found the thing itself. After reading the article, I have to say I'm surprised. It's a remarkably and accurate report of what was going on in postwar Europe. Of course, we're talking about a leftist writing for Henry Luce - I imagine that the clash between socialist sensibility and Lucian conservatism was bound to produce something trembling on the balance.

Don't misunderstand: this is not one of Robert Fisk's or John Pilger's marvels of misdirection and mendacity. Europe really was wrecked, sacked, and on the edge of starvation. It was articles like this that shamed a nation and built a consensus in favor of the Marshall Plan.

Note, mind you, what the Marshall Plan was. It wasn't an accountant's construct of loans, guarantees, and mortgages on Europe's future. It was a set of carefully administered grants. GRANTS. Grants at a time when the United States was groaning under the burden of an enormous wartime debt beside which our current debts stand like the tailings of a child's excavation project beside Pike's Peak. Imagine what might have happened if the Lodges and Tafts of their day chose to burden the Marshall Plan with entailments upon the future economic potential of Europe. For god's sake, compare the EU's economic aggregate to today's America. They exceed us in size! And yet some Senators today dare make mouth about oil revenue potential.

Via Instapundit
A Fall's Night

The harvest moon hangs fat and orange from a wasting vine
Over ripe and drying fields dreaming under autumn frost's rime
Time to seal away the days to age with the new-casked wine

These nights stretch out forever under the skies of God's own mind
This is the fruit for which the year was spent, filled to the outermost rind
Now is the time to pull in casts, and back to the reel all catches wind.

Here is the season to reap what was sown
Here is the reason the high grass was mown
Soon shall a cold sun collect on a summer's loan
Now comes the road's son, stumbling, home.

I never thought I would be blessing the conservatism, wisdom and restraint of a Republican House of Representatives, but here I am today, thanking them for refusing to be stampeded over the same penny-pinching cliff as the cowardly, sailtrimming U.S. Senate.

Let me read you a list of Republican Senators who chose to present a bill to the Iraqi people for a "gift" we promised to give them:

Ben Nighthorse Campbell (Colo.)
John Ensign (Nev.)
Lindsey Graham (SC)
Olympia J. Snowe (Maine)
Sam Brownback (Kans.)
Saxby Chambliss (Ga.)
Lisa Murkowski (Alaska)
Susan Collins (Maine)

Collins and Snowe are from what once was my wing of the Republican Party, when I was still a Republican. For that, I am remorseful. But I will point out that Voinovich, Chafee, and Specter are all missing from this list. At least some fragments of the Republican moderate wing came through.

But look who's up there. Lindsey Graham. Saxby Chambliss. SAXBY FUCKING CHAMBLISS! The man who stomped all over a three-time amputee WAR VETERAN to prove that he was STRONGER ON DEFENSE! Back when I was wavering on whether we should invade Iraq (oh, yes, it happened - I had to be convinced, and I never relished the idea of war), I noted in a moment of new-minted Democratic fury that chickenhawks like Saxby Chambliss ought to have been crucified across the front glacis plate of the first Bradley across the Iraqi international border. Graham is easily in the same class as Chambliss, but he was blessed by fortune and fate with an opponent who wasn't a VIETNAM WAR VET!

So, our friends the new-minted Southern chickenhawks show they're capable of turning into backstabbing, cheese-paring neoisolationists at the drop of a gimmie cap. What a surprise.

Let me take this moment to tell you all

I told you so!

Meanwhile, m'man John McCain has been out there talking to half the papers in the world about his vote against the amendment. Knew we could count on John.

Update: I don't know what to make of Lieberman not voting. On the one hand, his and Byrd's nonvotes would have cancelled each other out, unless I've misread Byrd's stance on the matter. On the other hand, it looks a hell of a lot like sailtrimming, or at least dodging a hard call. It's not a betrayal, but he isn't impressing me with his fortitude.

Thursday, October 16, 2003

For chromal, who was worrying over deficits over lunch today, here's Tom McGuire on the medium-longterm economic question. Mostly, it's a roundup over the latest Krugman squawk of "the sky is falling!". I don't really have the chops for this sort of analysis, I can only gaze back at Krugman's historically sub-Galbraithian record, which seems to exceed the usual economist preformative standard of "he's predicted five of the last two recessions".
The Good People of the World and their tactics. Cry "censorship", and silence witnesses. Scream "oppression", and threaten others. Hide. Conceal. Attack. Intimidate. Scurry when unexpectedly exposed.

Christ, do I hate "protests".

Via Instapundit.

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Fuck Edwards

I supported Edwards in the past because I liked his take on domestic issues, he was pro-war, and he wasn't burdened with Lieberman's distasteful social conservativism.

He is voting against the $87 billion reconstruction bill. He voted in favor of the UN authorization back in the day. He's willing to play the hawk when it's safe to do so, but is too much of a coward to pay the cost when it's required. This decision convinces me that he has no backbone, and that I can't trust him to do the right thing for the right reasons. It's an abominable act, and it convinces me that the man is unworthy of the White House.

Gephardt, on the other hand, has his heart in the right place. He's done his share of rhetorical tacking on the war, but when it comes to a head, he's a standup guy. Such a shame that Gephardt's an economic disaster. I guess I'm stuck with Lieberman.

Via the TNR Primary
Erin O'Connor links to, and excerpts, a screed by a poet named Tom Henihan against the evils of teaching poetry. O'Connor's agenda is the exposure of the faults of academia, and of course she concentrates on his criticism of academic instruction in creative writing, specifically poetry. I should point out that I have never taken a college course in poetry writing or appreciation. My college English experience was largely in literature, comparative religion, history, and Shakespeare. Maybe that's why I still like poetry, I don't know. O'Connor has her point, and she makes it well. I hold no brief in favor of the academy. But there are other ideas, dominating ideas, that make Henihan's essay... distinct:

Some years ago a guy I knew in Vancouver lost his job at an art gallery. Due to idleness and a lack of direction he fell in with the poetry crowd and of course started writing. His stuff was sloppy and obviously derivative but no one seemed to mind. One night sitting over a beer I cautiously asked him about his creative process. Without batting an eyelid, he told me that he typed other poets work on his computer, moved the verses around and substituted words until he had something that looked like his own. He then enthusiastically added, "This poetry thing is a blast."

What would you say if someone said this to you? Would you laugh and enjoy the joke? Or would you go off to a corner to rail against the barbarians at the gate, the barbarians within the gate, the snickering barbarians burning the shattered splinters of the gate in bonfires between their squalid yurts? I beg you, stop and marvel at the peerless shallows of a mind that is incapable of grasping the humor of that anecdote.

When student poets get up to read they almost always thank their teacher for making poetry fun. Poetry should be protected from fun. There is so much fun in the world it isn’t funny anymore. Poetry is essentially a solemn and devotional form. Funny poetry is a contradiction in terms…it’s the equivalent of kneeling in a church and saying funny prayers or chanting at a funny ritual. I am not saying that there is no room for humour in poetry but I am saying that there is very little room.

The above quote isn't selective. It is representative of the tone of the essay. There is no room for fun in poetry. Poetry is a devotional form. These sentiments makes me want to shout, makes me want to scream, makes me want to write bad haiku about my genitals and scrawl them on the sides of bathroom toilet stalls. No room for fun. What a monstrous, abominable notion.
"I am going with her tomorrow to take pictures of tough women holding big guns. " Salam Pax's first Guardian column since returning to Baghdad. I like what I'm hearing from Salam these days. It sounds... hopeful.
Mickey Kaus comments on a suicide at NYU from the 10th floor balcony of one of those horrible deep-vertical atriums that sadistic architects love to inflict on college campuses. I'm mildly acrophobic, and the University of Pittsburgh's plethora of buildings with vertiginous low-barrier balconies led me to reject that university in favor of Penn State's mostly-horizontal campus. Edges with low barriers over deep drops exert a horrible attraction for me - I find myself leaning backwards from them, as if I'm braced against a wind blowing towards the drop. Unsettling.

George RR Martin's A Clash of Kings has a great passage about this compulsion, featuring a "sky cell" - a jail cell where the wall on the side of a horrible precipice is missing, and the floor slightly sloped towards that side of the cell. The cell had a message scrawled on one wall: "The blue is calling me!".

I can't figure out how to defeat Slate's eccentric formatting of Kaus's pseudoblog - just scroll down to "A second NYU student has died after..."
I finished watching the first Witch Hunter Robin DVD last night. The transfer is supernaturally crisp and clean, considering the dark shadowy palette that WHR uses. If you compare this disc to MediaBlaster's DVD of Weathering Continent or ADV's Devil Lady DVDs, there's just no doubt about it. Both of those counterexamples are full of colorblocking and digital noise in the dark areas and shadows. I don't think I saw a single glitch on my copy of the WHR DVD. Phenomenal job.

One has to wonder if they put the effort into that brilliant encode that they skimped on things like translating credits. Bandai is a Japanese-owned company; what's so hard about stripping the Japanese credits out and replacing them with professional English credits? I don't know, maybe there's an alternate angle for the English dub with English credits; if so, that's pretty damn lame, people. If they just didn't bother - for God's sake, it's 2003! The masters have got to be digital; it's not as if it's some grand chore to remove the credits layer from the opening and ending and swap them out!

The DVD encode really brings out the subtle charms of this show. There's heavy use of computer graphics for background work, especially in the character's office space. The DVD looks better than the digisubs, which is really saying a hell of a lot - I hadn't expected them to exceed what had been a very high level of quality work on the part of the amateurs for WHR.

For those of you hiding under a rock, Witch Hunter Robin is an occult police-procedural show featuring the Japanese branch of a secretive witch-control organization, who take out witches who go wild and use their powers. Our protagonist, Robin Sena, is STN-J's newest member. She's quiet, convent-raised, stone-faced and affects a very stark and anachronistic mode of dress. She's a "craft user", which in the show is a euphemism for a witch who is tolerated by the authorities. She doesn't start out the series as a particularly adept "hunter", as she has virtually no control over her pyrokinetic talent, and blows a number of traps by setting fire to everything but the actual targets.

The show is lacking sex, fanservice, humor, flamboyant villains, hyperviolence, trippy editing, giant robots, and transformation sequences. It's slow-moving, dark, and somber. As such, I can't imagine it becoming much of a breakout hit. It isn't one for the kids. But it is a great show.