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[ 20020228 ]

Spring Forward, Fall Back

No sooner do I post that nukes-in-space thing than the Doomsday Clock gets moved forward to 7 minutes to midnight. It was the lead item on Yahoo! news early this morning; here's the Reuters story.

Digging a bit, we find this lengthy statement by the Board of Directors of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists explaining the change, the introduction to which cites seven "negative developments." By my count, one is nebulous, three are PC-speak, and three are legit; here they are as presented:

Fortunately, the main body of the statement, headlined "Troubling trends and missed opportunities," is much less silly, and contains some interesting data, viz:

Russia and the United States continue to maintain enormous stockpiles of fissile material. Russia has more than 1,000 metric tons of weapon-grade uranium and about 140 metric tons of weapon-grade plutonium, and the United States has nearly 750 metric tons of weapon-grade uranium and 85 metric tons of weapon-grade plutonium. (Just 55 pounds—25 kilograms—of weapon-grade uranium, or 17.6 pounds of plutonium—8 kilograms—are needed to construct a rudimentary nuclear weapon.)

The statement's two problems are 1) an absurd belief in the efficacy of treaties and international law, especially as a means of controlling weapons; and 2) a lack of understanding of both economics and the motivation of terrorists. At one point it favorably mentions "the global movement to limit the spread of small arms," and elsewhere asserts that "the growing disparities between rich and poor increase the potential for violence and war."

To end on a positive note, the Bulletin's continued advocacy of deep cuts in nuclear arsenals and the end of "launch-on-warning" status by the United States and Russia are, to my mind, entirely supportable.

Jay Manifold [9:33 PM]

Black History Month

On its last day, some forward-looking ideas from a random white guy who lives in a 50-50 white/black neighborhood:

  1. A big statue to commemorate the Middle Passage, the slave experience, and Emancipation. Roughly the size of the Statue of Liberty (which has only a tenuous connection to Emancipation). Suggested location would be somewhere in the vicinity of Charleston (the one in South Carolina, not West Virginia). (Apparently Savannah, Georgia is doing something like this, but I suspect it's on a much smaller scale.) Think whacking great tourist attraction.

  2. A campaign to urge greater media coverage of African events. I have the impression that it takes around 1 million deaths in Africa to get the attention of 100 deaths in Europe, the Middle East, or North America.

  3. As a subsidiary of the above, more attention to the continuing problem of slavery in Mali, the Sudan, and perhaps other places.

  4. (This one needs a lot of work) Some kind of program in which African-American elected officials mentor African counterparts. In this case, I have the impression that the worst day in, say, Coleman Young's Detroit was probably better than the best day in, say, Kenneth Kaunda's Zambia.

  5. Probably most difficult of all, replacement of anti-scholastic memes among young African-Americans by a desire to hit the books.

I'll do some more digging on all of these soon. Probably should have started this during the first week of the month so that I'd have something substantive by now. ;)

Jay Manifold [6:00 PM]

[ 20020227 ]

Nukes In Space

Thanks to Iain for pointing to a post on Transterrestrial Musings which discusses the ultimate alternative means of nuclear waste disposal. The following is adapted from a comment I left over there.

A possible interim measure/demonstration project would consist of moving the 33 Soviet-era nuclear reactors in low Earth orbit to the lunar surface. This would test all components of a lunar nuclear-waste disposal system except for the Earth launch itself.

These satellites, called RORSATs, are loaded with 31 kg of weapons-grade uranium apiece, which is to say that each one contains more than enough 235U for a kiloton-range bomb, no reprocessing required. I infer that they will someday become tempting targets for theft by Bad People™.

Why the Moon? It is a superior location in many respects:

  1. It's 400 times farther away than where the reactors are now.

  2. The specific storage location could be well-characterized (and eventually monitored).

  3. It's easier to get there than a lot of other places. The energy requirements of landing something on the Moon are greater than those of putting something in nearby Solar orbit, but much less than those of shooting something into the Sun or into the outer Solar System.

  4. Even without monitoring, it would be harder to steal. The energy requirements of bringing something back from the surface of the Moon (Dv= ~2.4 km sec-1) are up to an order of magnitude greater than those of bringing something back from nearby Solar orbit, and nearly two orders of magnitude greater than deorbiting the reactors from their current location.

Public awareness of the RORSATs, in spite of Cosmos 954's uncontrolled re-entry over northern Canada, is essentially nil. One wonders how much support an effort to remove them to the Moon would obtain were they to be openly discussed in the context of 9/11.

Jay Manifold [5:53 PM]

The (Dull) Edge of European Opinion

The proprietor of The Edge of England's Sword is quoted in View From Abroad: Concern and Criticism Replaces Post-Sept. 11 Solidarity in Europe:

Broad Criticism, But How Deep Does It Run?

Iain Murray, research director at the Statistical Assessment Service, a nonprofit research organization in Washington, believes the criticism of U.S. policy is mostly confined to politicians and writers.

"There's still a residual sentiment in favor of America among the general populace," he says.

He also says upcoming elections in France and Germany may be pushing politicians there to show they are not merely towing [sic] the American line.

"There's definitely a [backlash against America] but I think many commentators are exaggerating it," he says.

This is the lead story on ABCNews.com this morning.

Jay Manifold [7:21 AM]

[ 20020226 ]

E Pluribus Unum

Over on The Daily Dose, Orchid points to this powerful article (unpublished, unfortunately), about Karleton Fyfe, of whom KC-area residents are aware by virtue of his uncle, Bill Tammeus, an editor and columnist at the Kansas City Star, who has written eloquently about the loss of his nephew (please note that I have already forwarded the link to him; he responded within minutes that he has printed the article and will read it at home tonight).

Everything in Tristin Laughter's article describing Karleton Fyfe is congruent with what his uncle has written about him in the paper here. He was a young man with an astonishing ability to do good and make it look easy.

The article also demonstrates its author's ability to think independently and transcend political stereotypes, without betraying her ideals. I think this is something which has happened to many people, left, right, or libertarian, in the past five months. The common thread is a rejection of some of the pronouncements and ideas of one's ideological "leaders," while keeping one's greatest concerns (usually involving the well-being of others) intact, plus a profound dedication to the ultimate victory of the United States, as the best available venue in all of human history for the working out of one's ideals.

If our enemies understood how united we are in our diversity, they would be broadcasting their surrender to the world.

Jay Manifold [8:26 PM]

Next Generation Saved from Early-Onset Alzheimer's

See this story, which sounds like unambiguously good news to me, for the usual caviling about "ethics" and bogus privilege-vs-right phraseology.

Jay Manifold [8:07 PM]

Threats to Science (cont'd)

After Chris Mooney teed off on Sen. Brownback for using "near-Chomskyite code words," I took a look at a CWA news release and noticed, among other things,

the biotech industry's drive to have no barriers, no questions asked, no limits on their Frankenstein experiments


scientists excited in the moment, driven by their need to discover, or the corporations who hire them, driven by their desire for profit

This could have been written by an SDSer for the first Earth Day in 1970.

Jay Manifold [6:44 PM]


Full Moon Wednesday to Be Brightest of Year

Jay Manifold [6:31 PM]

[ 20020225 ]

Gun Control Swap By Major Parties?

Over on More Than Zero, Andrew Hofer notes that the Dems may drop gun control. Here in Missouri, rural Democratic elected officials have been under considerable pressure to back away from gun control for some time; conversely, suburban Republicans are under even greater pressure to adopt it.

A right-to-carry ballot initiative-referendum in 1998 won in 91% of the state's counties but lost in KC and St Louis, and lost heavily in suburban St Louis, which was enough to defeat it statewide.

HCI has taken note of the suburban Republican softness on RKBA in a news release; after backing out the ideological statements, enough hard numbers remain to alarm anyone who expects the GOP to stand firm.

Urban and academic Democrats -- the PC crowd -- also have reason to embrace concealed carry, as it empowers some of their favorite constituencies.

Jay Manifold [6:06 PM]

-- That Is, Unless It's Being Threatened From The Right

Everybody's favorite hyperblogger now points to this, in which Sam Brownback echoes Friends of the Earth (I am not making this up).

The convergence of the authoritarian elements of both right and left on this issue is thoroughly creepy. Nor are matters improved by the poll I pointed out to Glenn, from which we learn that more than one-fifth of our fellow Americans think that cloning "interferes with human distinctiveness and individuality" and "could be used for questionable purposes like breeding a superior race or clone armies," and seven in ten claim discernment of God's will in the matter. I doubt many of my readers fall into either of these categories, but for those who do:

Blade Runner and The Mote in God's Eye are works of fiction.

Genesis 1:28 and Genesis 11:6 do not support your theology.

Jay Manifold [6:03 PM]

[ 20020224 ]

Science is Threatened from the Left

Via Glenn Reynolds, an outstanding post by Charles Murtaugh which deserves to be quoted at length:

... the real threat to research in this country doesn't come from the right, despite the publicity given to the creationists, but from the left, where animal rights activists and Greens are hard at work to inhibit scientific progress with a tightening web of little regulations and large scare campaigns.

What these groups and their activities have in common is contempt for mankind. On the other hand, what motivates religious conservatives, whether in opposition to Darwinism or to ES cell research, is love of mankind, and fear that science misapplied will lead to a denegration [sic] of human dignity. In these specific cases, I don't agree with them, but I can see where they're coming from. When the lives of mice and rats conflict with human life-saving research, though, it should be no surprise where someone like Jesse Helms stands.

Jay Manifold [9:34 PM]

Advice for Terrorists

The following is intended as an illustration of how ineffective our enemies really are. It contains no information which is not readily available or has not been publicly discussed in major media in the last five months.


  1. Be fixated on large, visible targets. Knocked-down buildings may make good TV, but in a $10 trillion economy, their practical impact is slight.

  2. Try so hard to create prompt casualties. There are 285 million of us. A repeat of 9/11 every month would barely get one ten-thousandth of us in a year.

  3. Concentrate on the east and/or west coast. Security is generally less stringent in between.

  4. Believe so strongly in getting yourself killed for the cause. There are plenty of things you can do that won't get you a scratch, much less incinerated by flaming jet fuel.


  1. Read this or this for how to set up a tetrahedral-lattice cell system which would permit you to have thousands of operatives active simultaneously without any of them communicating directly with (or even being aware of) more than a handful of others.

  2. Recognize that our greatest vulnerability is in the clumsy official responses to threats. You can close an airport by jumping over a barrier or leaving a package out somewhere. You can close several gates by tossing an object over a partition.

  3. Carry out large numbers of small strikes rather than a small number of large strikes. If you carried out step 1 properly, you should have the manpower to snarl every major airport in the country every day for a month, or shut down thousands of businesses every day by mailing or sprinkling white powder there.

  4. Speaking of spreading things around, simultaneously starting foot-and-mouth disease in a few hundred locations around the Midwest is a potentially promising tactic. Were its effect on American agriculture as severe as what the UK experienced last year, tens of millions of people would soon be affected at the dinner table.

  5. If you nonetheless feel bound to do conventional things like blow up buildings, go for high-profile, irreplaceable cultural targets, like museums and art galleries. Knocking a hole in the Pentagon was one thing, but leveling the Smithsonian Institution or the Art Institute of Chicago would have had far more long-term effect.

  6. Give up. Even if you do everything on the above list, we'll find workarounds. And while we're at it, we'll hunt you down and kill every one of you who isn't smart enough to surrender.

Jay Manifold [6:45 PM]

"... do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement"

In a wrenching post that must have been difficult to write, to say the least, Iain Murray relaxes his opposition to the death penalty and says: "For people such as these, I cannot imagine any way that they could be redeemed."

I still oppose it. A couple of things make this easier for me:

  1. I see absolutely nothing wrong with defensive killing, either to save oneself or others, during the commission of a life-threatening act by an intruder. I expect to feel considerable distress, but no guilt, if I ever have to do so. This is a reasonably obvious penumbra of Luke 22:36 (sorry, Bible Browser's acting up again, so no hot link). I include within it actions by agents of the State; a policeman has the same right to use lethal force against a deadly criminal in public as I do on my own property (or as I do in public, for that matter, if no policeman is present).

  2. There are plenty of people whose redemption I can't imagine. There are plenty of things I can't imagine, period. There are plenty of things no one can imagine. None of this matters.

I object only to the execution of persons securely in State custody, simply because I do not want the State to have the power of exacting an irrevocable penalty. Although I am not a conservative, I should mention that opposition to the death penalty on similar grounds -- that no justice system made up of human beings can ever be good enough to carry out the ultimate penalty -- exists among religious conservatives, and even among some elected ones, in this country, but they are generally afraid to speak out.

I am aware that what I advocate is, among other things, potentially more expensive than the alternative. For precedent I point to the positive right of the accused to a "speedy and public trial" under the Sixth Amendment. This undoubtedly costs more than letting suspects pile up in jail for months or years at a time and then trying them in batches, but it protects us all.

Jay Manifold [5:21 PM]

[ 20020222 ]

Very Pretty Pictures

Here's an absolutely stunning gallery of images from Terra MODIS. Warning: high-speed connection recommended.

Jay Manifold [5:37 PM]

[ 20020221 ]

Dead Man Walking?

Over on The Daily Dose is a reference to a Salon article about Joseph Amrine. A quick search finds this site (the Public Interest Litigation Clinic is a local KC outfit), which contains much of the same detail and includes information about how to contact Gov. Holden.

Letters should be respectful and emphasize that getting the wrong guy means that the right guy got away. Unfortunately, Amrine, who probably did nothing worse than the check-kiting that got him in jail in the first place, was the subject of one of those breathtakingly tasteless Benetton ads a few years back. Will trendy European opposition to the death penalty result in an innocent man being executed out of spite?

Jay Manifold [8:32 PM]

Who Ever Saw A Dead Social Worker?

Over on Fevered Rants, drag racer Alex del Castillo ranteth thusly (emphasis added):

Because the US government achieved such spectacular results by throwing men and money at lofty goals (e.g. fission bombs to win WWII, a man on the moon before the Soviets) many think that such is the best or only way to meet any daunting task. In fact, most government sponsored attempts to tackle tough problems are wastefully inefficient at best and killers of initiative and invention at worst. Here I except the military because that organization actually has to produce and, consequently, is filled with and led by people whose nature it is to do so. Similarly, the aforementioned Manhattan and Apollo Projects were executed by people driven to succeed. In the former the impetus was their own survival while in the latter it was the promise of the stars.

Now, there are problems with extrapolating from rapid advances in one area (the post from which I have quoted really is mostly about drag racing) to many others -- some bulk technologies (as opposed to molecular, ie nanotechnology) are a whole lot more "scalable" than others. And the management (and worker) styles characteristic of the GI generation account for much of the disparity between its accomplishments and those of the Silent generation (read this book for the explanation). But these are quibbles.

What would have stuck in my craw until, oh, just about five months and nine days ago, is the notion that the military can avoid NASA-type inefficiencies. One of my earliest political memories is of this charming incident, which had the effect of convincing me that the grown-ups didn't know what they were doing and might easily get us all killed. Followed in short order as it was by Tet (10 days later), the MLK assassination (less than 3 months later), and the RFK assassination (a couple of months after that), with horrendous casualty figures being reported on the TV news every week, 1968 was easily, in a purely public sense, the toughest year for the US since WWII, including the year just past. In the end it was redeemed by this, but I digress.

And there are still plenty of $600 hammers out there and what not. But were the US military of 2002 to take on the US military of 1968, the results would be, well, a lot like the Gulf War, or what we're seeing in Afghanistan. Nor is this entirely a matter of technological differences; there have been enormous doctrinal improvements as well. I don't imagine we'll be building a bunch of "firebases" in southwest Asia.

There was another disaster in progress in 1968, one which did not begin to abate for another quarter century, and is not yet over. I submit that its veterans have learned relatively little. Of course, plenty of people died, or led terribly distorted lives, as a result of the "Great Society," but those people weren't the "troops," they were their clients. Like the infantrymen used to say during the Civil War, who ever saw a dead cavalryman?

Negative feedback loops make all the difference. The American military was humiliated in Vietnam, and as a result, it learned a lot. The American welfare state caused immense damage at home, and learned very little.

Jay Manifold [5:32 PM]

Because It Can Become Good (II)

After my earlier post on this topic (for which the Bible Browser links seem to be working again), I received a substantial letter from reader Richard Carr, and have decided to make an exception to my usual policy of not merely repeating something someone else has written (I will, however, have a few comments after quoting his letter):

You are right that there is something unique about America. I spent the first half of my life in England and developed the typical bored, tragic but slightly superior attitude of so many of my fellow country-men. I was saved by getting a job from an American company that sent me to places all over the world, before I finally settled in Texas ten years ago.

Over on Andrew Sullivan's blog he has started a book club (btw a more viable means of financing weblogs than your suggestion, but with the same basic element of payment, contribution and, potentially, personalized feedback). The first book is Warrior Politics, which while focused on international rather than domestic issues, raises the premise that the central organizing principle of human relations is self interest juxtaposed with the darkest forces of human nature. The interesting thing about the foundation of America is the pessimistic outlook our founders had about human nature. According to Robert Kaplan in the preface to his book:

Americans can afford to be optimistic partly because their institutions, including the constitution, were conceived by men who thought tragically. Before the first president was sworn in, the rules for impeachment were established. James Madison wrote in Federalist No 51 that men are so far beyond redemption that the only solution is to set ambition against ambition, and interest against interest. "If men were angels, there would be no need for government". Our separation of powers is based on a grim view of human behavior. The French Revolution, conversely, began with boundless faith in the good sense of the masses-and in the capacity of intellectuals to engineer good results-and ended in the guillotine.

Looking at your preferred sites, I assume you tend towards the engineering side of life, so I hope the following description is understandable. I myself am a control engineer, at least by training, and I still think in terms of feedback loops, open loop and closed loop stability, and disturbance rejection. I see the separation of powers as a disturbance rejection mechanism, not something designed for a fixed system to ensure closed loop stability. Notice how through history the three branches of government have had differing levels of power. When external threats become dominant, the presidency assumes greater power (war, worldwide depression). When internal threats become dominant, the supreme court dominates the landscape (civil rights). But when things are going along hunky dory, the congress becomes assertive (1990's, 1950's, 1920's).

In this way, the constitution permits our system of government to adapt to the challenges sent it. It does not try to maintain stability, i.e. isolate the disturbance and return to the same point, it simply absorbs the disturbance. One is stable when standing still, when walking one is simply rejecting disturbances and moving on. Past performance being something of a predictor of future behavior, when you know that you've got past the last disturbances OK, the next disturbance doesn't seem to bother you, and so you have to all intents and purposes a happy, optimistic disposition.

Other societies seem to have a greater propensity to desire stability, i.e. return to the same place. Metal, when bent, will stiffen and eventually develop a stress fracture. It happens when small flaws in the crystal structure of the metal migrate during the bending process and interlock with other flaws, eventually creating rigidity. If you never try to return to the same place before the bend started, far less migration of these flaws takes place. If you take the tragic view human nature, then one can easily see an analogy between human flaws and these crystal structure flaws. When human flaws interlock, human nature resents the friction, and starts down the path of hatred.

Referring back to Robert Kaplan:

...the totalitarian ills of the twentieth century are less unique than we might think. For what shocks us about the Nazis is that there crimes occurred in a socially advanced, industrialized society, where atavistic instincts were thought to have been vanquished. Yet it is precisely the taboos imposed by civilization that can make hatred feel at times like a "renewal of virility".

The economic stagnation in Europe, the inflexible power structures that promote and maintain a self selected elite, the constant desire to return to an excessively stable condition, all seem to fit the stereotype above. Beware, this is your grandfather's Europe.

Certainly a great part of the American difference is the result of the Founders' (very British) preference for empiricism vs the French Revolutionists' belief that they could redesign society at will; this is addressed wonderfully well in Hayek's The Constitution of Liberty. Ironically, in not aiming directly at homeostasis -- to use a biological rather than an engineering analogy -- the US may have achieved it, at least in ways which most readily facilitate internal peace and the pursuit of individual happiness. A few years back, an article in American Heritage (I think) reviewed the enormous changes in the labor market which have occurred in the West since 1900 -- when, for example, half the working population of the UK was domestic servants, and half of American workers were farmers -- and noted that all the subsequent transitions, greater than those of the previous several millenia, were achieved with almost no bloodshed.

The juxtaposition of external vs internal threats put me in mind of Generations, which remains my favorite work of American history more than a decade after its publication. Without reproducing its cyclical hypothesis here, I believe the model presented by Strauss and Howe to be both descriptive and predictive, while still very much hoping that our present conflict ends far more decisively than did the first World War.

Human nature is a great constant. Every new generation must be taught to resist its darker impulses. That imperfect human beings can nonetheless comprise a society which moves in the direction of greater fairness, compassion, and security, while maintaining freedom and increasing wealth, is the great example which America presents to the world.

In short, Richard, thanks for an excellent letter.

Jay Manifold [11:23 AM]

[ 20020220 ]

You Think UWB is Cool? Try UBL

Scientists Build Ultra Broadband Laser, says Reuters:

"We picked the range of six to eight micrometer (one millionth of a meter) for laser action as a good range for a convincing demonstration of the idea. In the future, one will be able to custom tailor the laser to the application, including fiber optics," [Bell Labs physicist Claire Gmachl], the lead author of the Nature report, added.

I picked that quote out because it gives the bandwidth. Meanwhile, in New broadband laser-on-a-chip, UPI says:

The researchers also are looking at making a broadband laser that emits communication wavelengths at trillions of bits per second.

They're not kidding. A few years back I built a spreadsheet based on pp 6-15 of this book, which includes some fairly hairy formulas and arcane terminology (eg, "transmitter modulation loss," "received signal-to-noise spectral density ratio in the data channel," etc). The bandwidth of the new laser is over 2 million times that of a VHF-TV channel (12.5 THz vs 6 MHz); plugging some numbers into my spreadsheet finds that its channel capacity is greater by a factor of 8 million. A cable modem or DSL line providing, say, a 2 Mbps downlink, could be replaced by a UBL/fiber line at 160 Tbps.

One hundred sixty trillion bits per second is nearly 13,000 channels of full-motion (30 fps), full-color (24 bit-planes, the ubiquitous "16.7 million colors") video 1 radian across at the resolution limit of 20/20 vision (about 43 seconds of arc) -- that is, 4800H x 3600V. That should hold us for a while.

Jay Manifold [5:03 PM]

[ 20020219 ]

Yet Another Clarification

Perusal of further correspondence suggests that I need an editor, because several people seem to think I'm suggesting that bloggers be paid to read e-mail. So, trying again, here goes:

My idea is that bloggers be paid to respond with a personal e-mail rather than simply be paid to blog, which is more or less the current model.

Example: I become wildly popular (you may have to exercise some willing suspension of disbelief here) and start getting 100 e-mails a day. I put one of those tip-jar things on Arcturus. If you want me to send you a little note saying that I read what you sent and thought it [was brilliant/kept me from falling asleep/stunk on ice] and that it reminded me of [some amazingly prescient thing from Postrel or Reynolds/the droning of a large insect/the ravings of a lunatic] and to [keep up the good work/have a nice day/don't ever write me again], you tip me:

$1 for a short, 1-2 sentence note

$5 for a couple of paragraphs

$20 for a page or so of text

And if you don't tip me, I don't write back.

Most of us can read at, say, 250 words per minute. But most of us can't type faster than about one-tenth that, and compose grammatically correct and comprehensible verbiage even slower. That's the bottleneck. So, as Spinal Tap sang, gimme some money.

Please note that no such policy is in effect on Arcturus yet; I merely reserve the right to be incredibly dilatory in my individual responses.

Jay Manifold [8:48 PM]

Caveat Emptor

Needless to say, after Reynolds linked to it, I got quite a few responses to the proposal below (but not near enough to make a living off responding to them, heh-heh). I should clarify its purpose: to pay for the beleaugered blogger's time.

Try to imagine answering a hundred e-mails after a full day of work and with household chores and/or pet- (or child-) care tasks to do, or any sort of appointment to keep in the evening. More to the point, try to imagine doing it with a spousal unit with a master's degree in economics wondering why you're glued to the PC. For a variety of reasons, making such activities pay for themselves starts seeming like a real good idea.

It is not intended to pay for the blog itself or to turn the blog into some kind of classified ad -- I pay you, you quote (or permalink to) me -- though such things could result.

There remains the non-trivial question of authentication. Over on The Daily Dose, Orchid pointed to a Technology Timeline from British Telecom which, albeit something of a grab bag of not-particularly-internally-consistent predictions, many of which will be obviated by nanotech, has its interesting moments. One such occurs on page 5: "People have some virtual friends but don't know which ones - 2007."

I think there will be a virtual blogger well before 2007 -- quite possibly by the end of 2002. A blog that does nothing but create hyperlinks to various news items and say things on the level of "this is cool" need be no more complex, conceptually, than Eliza. A blog more articulate than 90% of the blogs in existence wouldn't take much more coding than that.

It's a short step, if it's another step at all, from a virtual blogger to an auto-responder that uses a blogger's writing style to compose e-mails that don't sound like form letters.

I leave it to my fellow blog-readers to begin working out methods of verifying that those nice notes (or nastygrams) you've been collecting from überbloggers are for real.

Jay Manifold [4:47 PM]

[ 20020218 ]

An Entirely Serious Proposal Regarding Blogging, Payment, and E-Mail

Background: A while back, Virginia Postrel wrote (look for BLOGGERS & PUNDITGATE, THE HIDDEN CONNECTION) ...

There's a good reason that giving speeches rates higher fees than writing articles. In-person performance is inherently scarce, unlike the easily duplicated bits that constitute articles. Offering an audience a live encounter gives them something particularly valuable, including the opportunity to ask questions of someone whose ideas interest them. That's why conferences can charge attendees more than newspapers charge subscribers. Paying speaking fees makes it possible to get interesting (or merely famous) speakers to give talks at obscure or inconvenient venues.

This is not exactly news. Let's go way back to those long-ago days when people who don't use Blogger were discovering that the Internet alters the economics of intellectual content. Esther Dyson wrote a famous article on the subject, which was published in Wired in July 1995 and originally published in her newsletter, Release 1.0 in December 1994. She argued that such qualities as "presence" and "individual response" would become increasingly valuable as the economics of the Internet drove the price of easily replicable content ever downward. "Precisely because it is scarce and unreplicable, this unreplicable kind of content is likely to command the highest rewards in the commercial world of the future," she wrote.

After reading the above, I jokingly wrote to Virginia that she should take the donation box, or whatever it should be called, off of her site but charge people for a personal e-mail. Having not heard back from her, I'm beginning to suspect that she took me seriously and is implementing just such a policy.

I have never given Virginia a cent for reading "The Scene" (and I'm grown-up enough to know that buying "The Future and Its Enemies," subscribing to Reason for 20 years, and paying to attend some kind of Reason Foundation shindig in Dallas in the mid-'90s don't count). Nor have I given Glenn Reynolds even the tiniest contribution for reading "InstaPundit."

And they're the best of the lot. (As far as I'm concerned, they're national treasures -- I literally feel good about living in the same country as Virginia and Glenn.) But no matter how good their stuff is, it's "easily replicable content." (I've made a few vague attempts at "paying" for it by submitting what I hope are sufficiently clever ideas. Try that, and you'll discover that Virginia's still an editor at heart; she's set the bar pretty high.) What's "scarce and unreplicable" is a personal communication from them, even one in disagreement or anger.

They get hundreds of e-mails a day, and other bloggers, eg "Sgt Stryker," are beginning to experience this phenomenon as well. Bandwidth may be going up all the time, but the days aren't getting any longer, folks.

I therefore suggest the following:

First of all, the rest of us, the ünterbloggers and readers, should start respecting other people's time. Don't expect much of a response from somebody who's getting three-digit numbers of e-mails every day, even if you've known them for a while and they don't think you're nuts.

For the überbloggers, I suggest an explicit policy of no pay, no e-mail. Gimme 50 cents in the old PayPal bucket and you get a one-liner (thanks to She Who Must Be Obeyed for a typically firm proposal). A couple of bucks gets you a paragraph, or maybe a favorable mention in the blog itself for a few thousand people to read. Something really substantial gets you a permalink.

Now, since my gimmick in Arcturus seems to be math, let's work up some price points. What's your time worth? Say you want to make twice the median household income in half the time, that is, 4x the equivalent hourly rate; that would be, very roughly, $80/hr, or $1.30/min. How fast can you write? An 80-character line of text at 5-6 bytes per word is 13-16 words. One of those per minute works out to close to 10 cents/word. So my prices above might actually be a little low.

Hey, if Thomas Kincade can charge people $50 to have their picture taken with him ...

Me, I get about three e-mails a week. Even if this works, I won't be quitting the day job any time soon.

Jay Manifold [10:19 PM]

"Music of Our Time, But for All Time"

We attended this concert Saturday night, two years almost to the day from another concert of Arvo Pärt's music in the same venue.

Salvum fac populum tuum, Domine.

et benedic hereditati tuae.

Et rege eos et extolle illos usque in aeternum.

O Lord, save Thy people/and bless Thine inheritance/and govern them/and exalt them for ever.


Jay Manifold [9:29 PM]

[ 20020217 ]

Because It Can Become Good

Over on The Edge of England's Sword, Iain Murray refs this depressing article from The Spectator, in which we learn that quite a few of the clergy in the C of E seem to have adopted the "let's-kill-'em-and-take-their-stuff" interpretation of Romans 11:17-24, all in the name of progressive politics, of course.

The endurance of certain politically-correct memes, such as the idea that Palestinians are always the oppressed and Israel always the oppressor, is one thing; it can be written off to simple-mindedness. But when European Christians, whose continent was the scene of genocide in the previous century, begin signing on to an ideology worthy of the Middle Ages, something much worse is happening. And the contrast with America, where the popular attitude toward Israel is based on something quite different, could not be more stark.

Of course, there is abundant historical precedent for this sort of thing; most European Jews ended up living in the East because the West had expelled them. But the question is insistent: why didn't Western Europeans learn anything from the events of 60 years ago?

And why did Americans learn? What kept us from falling into the hateful habits of centuries past? Why didn't we inherit the same poisonous attitudes? It's no good saying we're "better," or more literate, or less violent. We've got probably the highest percentage of (to coin a phrase) observably observant Christians on the planet. Per capita Bible ownership in this country is at least 1, suggesting that any textually transmitted memes which induce deadly anti-Semitism should express themselves as often here as anywhere else. But they don't.

(Digression: My mention of "textually transmitted memes" is by way of avoiding a virtual kick in the pants from David Zviel, a college friend who lives in Israel now. Said kick would come in the form of reminding me of Rosemary Ruether's "Faith and Fratricide," which ascribes the Holocaust to Romans chapters 9 through 11. Perhaps a necessary condition, but I do not think it a sufficient one; there are other ways of propagating anti-Semitism, ways which must have predominated for over a thousand years prior to Gutenberg. The printing press, which engendered Protestantism and incidentally saved the Talmud from eradication, can make it difficult for us to imagine life without the book [or the Book]. On a more positive note, I once heard a pastor ask: "What would your relationship with God be like if you couldn't read?" -- exactly the situation of the great majority of believers throughout history. To this day, the Eastern church makes powerful use of [admittedly somewhat stylized] visual imagery; many icons are intended to tell a story.)

Instead, this is arguably the best country in the world in which to be Jewish. And for people who don't think so, there's money available to help Jews from all over the world "make aliyah" and settle in Israel -- money donated by American evangelical Christians! I am in receipt (thanks to the aforementioned Dave) of an astonishing article in the Fri 14 Dec 01 edition of the Jerusalem Post (pp B5, B7) headlined "On Wings Of Faith" which details the extent of such operations, notably the International Christian Embassy.

It is certainly true that such activities are motivated by a set of eschatological memes of dubious merit which cannot be traced far back in historical Christianity -- perhaps no farther than the publication of the Scofield Reference Bible in 1915 -- and which didn't really take off until after the Six-Day War. Israelis could be readily excused for wondering how long this phase of Semitophilia in American Christianity will last. But it's happening, and it's happening, by the way, in the richest and most powerful nation in history.

Were all this in aid of merely another dreary authoritarian regime, its moral significance would be limited indeed. The Israeli polity, however, stands head and shoulders above every other in the region (and probably every country other than the US from which Jews are immigrating); as the Spectator article noted, "Israeli Arabs have the vote, are members of the Knesset and one is even a supreme court judge." I am no more comfortable than anyone else with strong-arm police tactics or the use of eminent domain to separate people from their property -- because as a libertarian, I oppose such things everywhere. I would be an idiot to single out Israel for criticism on those grounds. Moral-equivalency (or -inferiority) arguments are especially foolish in a situation where the opposition consists of communists and gangsters.

So we find ourselves doing a good thing, a thing without precedent in two thousand years, a thing in sharp contrast with the attitudes of our closest cultural relatives. I'd be going way too far if I said I knew exactly why we get it right when so many others don't. But that it can happen here is enormously important. It suggests that America has, to borrow a phrase from myself, "an ability to apply selective pressures to memes" that somehow nudges them in a benign direction. Or, to answer a much earlier question, America is good because it can become good.

Jay Manifold [8:35 PM]

[ 20020215 ]

Causes of the Late Unpleasantness

Beauty of Gray has a nice piece on the Secession Resolutions. As many Confederate soldiers were saying long before the end, it was a rich man's war and a poor man's fight. Thanks to Alex for the link.

Jay Manifold [4:47 PM]

Postmodernism in Washington

-- state, that is. From Effort to Rename Highway Draws Fire:

"At the time Jefferson Davis believed in what he was fighting for," said Rep. Tom Mielke, a Republican from southwestern Washington. "Right or wrong, it's not for me to decide."

Jay Manifold [6:49 AM]

Afghans Address Flight Delays

I would never suggest that Americans adopt this approach to encouraging change in our excellent Federalized air travel security system:

A mob of Muslim pilgrims enraged over flight delays to the Islamic holy city of Mecca stormed a plane at Kabul airport and beat Afghanistan's aviation minister to death, tossing his body to the tarmac, officials and eyewitnesses said.

But Norman Mineta might want to be careful about who he mixes with. ;)

Jay Manifold [6:49 AM]

[ 20020214 ]

Memento Mori

This will be my only post today, as it is the first anniversary of my father's death.

Perhaps the greatest common circumstance I shared with my father is that neither of us was a firstborn. Later-born children often find rebellion natural, and it seems to me that the great challenge is to direct that inclination into a constructive path. I believe that my father had a deeply intuitive understanding of this. I once lent him my copy of one of my favorite science-fiction novels, one with a great deal of political content -- much of which he was unlikely to approve. It is one of my most cherished memories that a few weeks later, that book came back with one sentence underlined: "Revolution is an art that I pursue rather than a reality I expect to achieve."

But he did achieve it. In the spring of 1993 my father was diagnosed with colon cancer, and the circumstances of the diagnosis were such that we immediately realized that he had been suffering from this dread disease for two years. Nonetheless, it was completely treated with surgery alone, and subsequent discomfort and inconvenience were minimal. From that time on, my father held to an enviable level of emotional sobriety, a stability which had often eluded him earlier in life.

Before it arrived, I associated 2001 with the eponymous film, my favorite movie ever. Now it will always mark the end of one era and, as we may hope, the beginning of another. For me the exact measurement of the old era is 7/26/1926 - 2/14/2001, the span of my father's life on Earth. When I eulogized him at the memorial service in Springfield on the 24th of February, I chose to concentrate on the betterment of the human condition during his lifetime. I touched only lightly on his own condition, but the last years of my father's life were good beyond hope. I went from wondering how I could screw up as much as he did to doubting that I will ever set as fine an example. In the end, the life he lived made his passing, and his absence, far easier to bear.

Jay Manifold [7:44 AM]

[ 20020213 ]

What I Don't Like

In What We're Fighting For, the authors mention some things that they don't like about the US. While my policy for Arcturus implies keeping things on the positive side, I'm not wearing the proverbial rose-colored glasses. So in accordance with my standard for judging a sociopolitical system, here's what I don't like about this place:

Public policies that get people killed. Examples include:

  1. Slow approval of new pharmaceuticals.

  2. Narcotics prohibition.

  3. De facto mandates for the manufacture of small cars.

  4. Firearms prohibition.

Overtly idiotic behavior that gets people killed. Examples include:

  1. Smoking.

  2. Alcohol abuse.

  3. Poor diet.

  4. Poor sleep management (leads to heart disease; contributes to about as many vehicular accidents as alcohol abuse).

  5. Lack of exercise.

(Much less important) Mindless complaining about how lousy things are compared with how good they used to be -- Arcadian worldview (ie we have declined from an ideal state which existed some time in the past).

Complaining about things that don't involve a body count seems petty, if only because other problems are reversible, at least by comparison with death.

Jay Manifold [3:58 PM]

Innocent Until Proven Guilty, but also Stupid Until Proven Otherwise

Here's what happens when someone from the worst terrorist organization in the country testifies before Congress:

Rosebraugh's attempts to defy the committee's information-gathering were somewhat negated by his providing a lengthy written testimony. His 11-page, single-spaced document wandered between a personal history, concerns for U.S. political prisoners and overuse of natural resources, and condemnation of various American geopolitical and military activities since 1950.

He concluded with a strident call for revolution, violent if necessary, to create "a resemblance of a true democracy."

The paper contrasted with Rosebraugh's, "I'll take the Fifth," response to questions, including a request to acknowledge a direct quote. Committee members said the written testimony constituted a reasonable waiver of Fifth Amendment claims against self-incrimination.

Forget Enron; these are the really fun hearings.

Jay Manifold [10:52 AM]

We Need A Fix

The Manifold household needs to put this drug in its water supply.

Jay Manifold [10:45 AM]

[ 20020212 ]

What We're Fighting For

-- is well worth reading (thanks to Glenn Reynolds for the link). It is particularly encouraging that such a document could be authored by people who nonetheless believe things like this:

For many people, including many Americans and a number of signatories to this letter, some values sometimes seen in America are unattractive and harmful. Consumerism as a way of life. The notion of freedom as no rules. The notion of the individual as self-made and utterly sovereign, owing little to others or to society. The weakening of marriage and family life. Plus an enormous entertainment and communications apparatus that relentlessly glorifies such ideas and beams them, whether they are welcome or not, into nearly every corner of the globe.

Insofar as communitarians and PC-types can promulgate things like "the basic subject of society is the human person, and the legitimate role of government is to protect and help to foster the conditions for human flourishing," they're not so bad after all. Compare CS Lewis:

The State exists simply to promote and to protect the ordinary happiness of human beings in this life. A husband and wife chatting over a fire, a couple of friends having a game of darts in a pub, a man reading a book in his own room or digging in his own garden -- that is what the State is there for. And unless they are helping to increase and prolong and protect such moments, all the laws, parliaments, armies, courts, police, economics, etc., are simply a waste of time. -- Mere Christianity

And the quote from Solzhenitsyn, about the line between good and evil running through every human heart, is one of my favorites.

Jay Manifold [6:08 PM]

Alternate History

Readers familiar with the writings of CS Lewis should find this interesting, to say the least.

Jay Manifold [5:35 PM]

Science "Excellence" in Ohio

Thanks to JunkScience.com for pointing to In Ohio School Hearing, a New Theory Will Seek a Place Alongside Evolution (registration required). A search on "intelligent design" at the Columbus Dispatch Online (registration required) finds a couple of particularly informative articles by Catherine Candisky, one of which notes:

Since the proposed science standards were posted in December on the Ohio Department of Education's Web site at www.ode.state.oh.us, more than 3,000 people have clicked on to view them. About 450 from Ohio and elsewhere have submitted comments, nearly a fourth concerned about the evolution issue.

In addition, department officials say they have received nearly 200 letters, e-mails and telephone calls on the issue.

Given that Ohio has over 11 million inhabitants and, presumably, a couple of million school-aged kids, that's not very many viewers, commenters, letter-writers, e-mailers, and callers; if anything, it's a sign that somebody's trying to game the system. That somebody is Science Excellence For All Ohioans, assisted by the Intelligent Design Network, which is based right here in KC. IDN was founded by a lawyer and a medical illustrator during the Kansas Board of Education fight.

Science Excellence For All Ohioans' suggested modifications include swipes at, whaddaya know, macroevolution, trot out the "only a theory" line, whomp up a brand-new term ("origins science"), and have lots of language which boils down to "evolution is an atheist plot."

The wonderfully ironic thing about the "Intelligent Design" movement is that from the perspective of a New Testament believer, it is completely unnecessary; see Romans 1:19-20. Given such a contradiction, it is somehow no surprise to find that (quoting the NYTimes story):

John H. Calvert, a Kansas City lawyer who is co-founder of the Intelligent Design Network ... called on Ohio to establish "a level playing field" by having science teachers suggest in classes that "a mind or some form of intelligence is necessary to produce life and its diversity." Evolutionary science is elitist and unfairly "inhibits theism," he said.

This bizarre view of the scientific process as being arbitrary or closed in some way is common among cranks, as may be quickly verified by anyone masochistic enough to subject themselves to reading Usenet discussion boards supposedly dedicated to science. Crank theories of geology, magnetism, physics, and every other subject abound, and their proponents invariably complain about the unfair scientific establishment. Sure enough, SEAO complains about "censoring the evidence for design."

Jay Manifold [4:52 PM]

Living Lightly Upon the Land

Thanks up front to Alan Henderson for passing this one along: "... humans co-opt 32 percent of the total solar energy captured by land plants," notes There Goes the Sun. "The challenge now is to redirect our talents to the work of learning to live on a smaller fraction of the Earth's productivity."

Great. So where's the nanotechnology? Not in this article. Nor anywhere at the Sustainability Institute, founded by the late Donella Meadows, author of one of the greatest failed predictions of all time. But not to worry -- they're building an eco-village!

For the antidote, read Healing And Protecting The Earth and Restoring the Environment.

Jay Manifold [6:59 AM]

Holding It In

Turns out that KCI isn't the only place where it's hard to go to the bathroom.

My fellow Americans, this is your Federal government's idea of security aboard airplanes:

Richard Bizarro, 59, could get up to 20 years in prison on charges of interfering with a flight crew.

Bizarro was on a Delta flight from Los Angeles on Saturday when he allegedly left his seat 25 minutes before landing, despite two warnings from the captain to the 90 passengers to stay put as required under the 30-minute rule adopted for Salt Lake City by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Air marshals aboard the plane ordered all passengers to put their hands on their heads for the rest of the flight.

Bizarro, of Park City, was jailed overnight and released on his own recognizance.

How long will we put up with this?

Jay Manifold [6:33 AM]

[ 20020211 ]

Patriotism Honor Courage Vomit Vomit Vomit

Virginia Postrel beat me to the punch on this one, leaving me no alternative but to direct you on to this related topic.

(The somewhat alarming title of this post is lifted from this source.)

Jay Manifold [4:25 PM]

Forensics of the Hunley

There have been two recent news items, one from the Associated Press and one from Reuters, concerning what I consider to be the most interesting archaeological work going in the US at the moment.

You can read lots more about it here. Enjoy!

Jay Manifold [10:19 AM]

Quote of the Day

Thanks to JunkScience.com for pointing to Food science, by Professor Tom Sanders (director of the Nutrition, Food & Health Research Centre at Kings College, London), which contains the following delightful quote:

It is worth remembering that until relatively recently British food was feared throughout the world.

Jay Manifold [8:51 AM]

[ 20020210 ]

The War Process (II)

In "The War Process," I promised further thoughts on the final three items: Exit Criteria ("victory conditions," in wargamer parlance; these are negotiated with Customers and used to judge Outputs); Standards, which support both Entrance and Exit Criteria; and Entrance Criteria, which are negotiated with Suppliers and used to judge Inputs.

I should first correct a couple of items from my earlier post which were written in haste. Inputs to the war process, in addition to "all consumables used in military operations," consist of stimuli which might invoke the process itself. Suppliers, therefore, include not only those entities providing the consumables, but our enemies as well!

This leads directly to two historical analogies from which we may draw possible exit criteria for our current conflict. The first is a surprise attack, eg 12/7/1941. The resulting overriding exit criterion for WWII was "unconditional surrender by the Axis powers." The second is a recognition that a former ally's expansionism and interventionism have become inimical, eg 3/5/1946 -- Churchill's "Iron Curtain" speech (actual name: "The Sinews of Peace") at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri. The equation 12/7/1941 = 9/11/2001 has been drawn many times, but I think we have more to learn from 3/5/1946, and the foreign-policy doctrine developed by the Missourian President whose guest Churchill was on that occasion, if we are to properly foresee our victory over the evils of our time.

In the event, the Truman Doctrine was not promulgated until 3/12/1947. An excerpt from his speech (my emphasis in italics):

At the present moment in world history nearly every nation must choose between alternative ways of life. The choice is too often not a free one. One way of life is based upon the will of the majority, and is distinguished by free institutions, representative government, free elections, guarantees of individual liberty, freedom of speech and religion, and freedom from political oppression. The second way of life is based upon the will of a minority forcibly imposed upon the majority. It relies upon terror and oppression, a controlled press and radio, fixed elections, and the suppression of personal freedoms. I believe that it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures. I believe that we must assist free peoples to work out their own destinies in their own way. I believe that our help should be primarily through economic stability and orderly political process.

The webpage from which I quote is part of a lesson plan intended for high school students, but those discussion questions aren't bad, especially #2: "What is Truman asking for?" Even better -- what did he not ask for? What should we, the Customers of the War Process, negotiate with the Process Owners as acceptable Exit Criteria?

Looked at this way, item 1a on Glenn's list of "victory conditions" may be asking a bit too much. The core idea of the Truman Doctrine, which I have italicized above, eventually condensed into one word: containment. "Iranian mullahs, Saudi royals, Saddam Hussein out of power, replaced by nonhostile, preferably democratic regimes" is going well beyond containment.

Of course, the Cold War did end with Soviet-bloc regimes out of power and replaced by reasonably nonhostile and varyingly democratic regimes. But this goal was not aimed at directly; and indirect pursuit might serve us well. To be sure, sizeable majorities in Iran and Iraq would welcome a change of regime -- but the only likely popular change in Saudi Arabia or Pakistan is to something overtly, rather than covertly, anti-American. Pakistan has nuclear warheads and short-range missiles. Were a set of these to be smuggled into the contiguous United States and fired straight up into the ionosphere, even a relatively low-yield weapon could devastate a large region via EMP effects. In 1947, the Soviets did not have the Bomb, and the West, being unaware of the treachery of Klaus Fuchs and others, did not believe they would develop it for many years -- and when they did, they lacked aircraft capable of delivering it and required until 1957 to launch an adequate ICBM. Yet Truman did not suggest forcing a change of regime in the USSR.

Even without a direct threat to the United States, there are other problems with extensive American intervention in south and southwest Asia. One is the risk of a nuclear war on the Indian subcontinent, or between an Islamist government and Israel. Another is the prospect of a religious war, an awkward fit for a country whose constitution contains:

... no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States. (Article VI)


Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ... (Amendment I)

Readers, please do not mistake my sentiments. The House of Saud, in particular, is thoroughly obnoxious, and I wish they weren't there. I have no problem with the rest of Glenn's list -- essentially friendly governments in central and south Asia and the successful intimidation, er, I mean deterrence, of all others in the Islamic world.

But I am not prepared to put "unconditional surrender" on my list of exit criteria, partly because the standards behind them should be drawn from the liberal worldview on which our Constitution is based. This still leaves plenty of room for action, not only in apprehending (or killing) everyone in Al Qaeda and anyone who harbors them, but in informing the Saudis that they will no longer be our allies unless they stop exporting Wahabi fundamentalism. Which I'm afraid is much farther than the Bush Administration will ever go.

My ultimate political nightmare is Hillary Clinton as the Democratic nominee in 2004, promising to aggressively contain Saudi Arabia. ;)

Jay Manifold [6:10 PM]

I'm As Good As You (II)

Following up on my earlier post, here's an excerpt from a timely letter in the KCStar (scroll down to "Teachers disrespected") which more fully explains the feedback loop ratcheting public education ever downward:

"The teachers are afraid of the principal, the principal is afraid of the superintendent, the superintendent is afraid of the board of education, the board of education is afraid of the parents, the parents are afraid of their children, and the children...why, they are afraid of nobody."

Jay Manifold [10:25 AM]

I Am Not Making This Up

Actual line from AP newswire story, Gay Priest Fights to Change Church:

``I have no interest in fame,'' he told the news conference.

Jay Manifold [10:09 AM]

[ 20020209 ]

Pretty Pictures

Here's the KCStar's Images of the ice.

Jay Manifold [10:05 PM]

In the Piper School District, I'm as Good as You

Over on InstaPundit, Reynolds notices the Piper High School plagiarism case in KCK. The latest KCStar article includes this synopsis:

Biology teacher Christine Pelton resigned after the board on Dec. 11 apparently overturned her decision to give zeros to 28 sophomores whom she accused of plagiarism. The board's action, taken after several parents claimed their children did not plagiarize, allowed many of those students to pass the course.

CS Lewis would not be surprised. From Screwtape Proposes a Toast:

... we may reasonably hope for the virtual abolition of education when I’m as good as you has fully had its way. All incentives to learn and all penalties for not learning will be prevented; who are they to overtop their fellows? And anyway the teachers – or should I say, nurses? – will be far too busy reassuring the dunces and patting them on the back to waste any time on real teaching. We shall no longer have to plan and toil to spread imperturbable conceit and incurable ignorance among men. The little vermin themselves will do it for us.

Of course, this would not follow unless all education became state education. But it will.

Anybody out there taking bets on how much longer standardized testing will survive? As Virginia Postrel has noted:

George W. Bush's cure-all for education ills, lots of testing, may be in Texas-sized trouble. Today's eighth graders will be the first Texas students to face a new battery of tests in order to graduate from high school. Instead of showing they can do eighth-grade work, the current standard for high school graduation, they'll have to pass exams in such subject areas as algebra, junior-level English, American history, chemistry, physics, and biology. Based on current end-of-course tests in those subjects, more than 60 percent would fail the new test today. (Ninety-eight percent pass the current graduation exam.)

When I was in high school (graduated in '77), the chairman of our school board tried to pressure the school's National Honor Society chapter into lowering their GPA requirement and making the change retroactive so that his daughter would qualify for membership. To their eternal credit, our NHSers stood up to him. "First, God created idiots. This was for practice. Then He made school boards." -- Mark Twain

Elected school boards have a built-in feedback loop -- angry voters demanding non-threatening mediocrity rather than excellence -- which ratchets performance downward with every generation. Universal, "free," compulsory public education is often next to worthless, and "democracy" makes it worse.

Jay Manifold [9:48 PM]

[ 20020208 ]

H. sapiens and D. melanogaster

This item (and the news release and graphic) is getting a lot of attention. Technically it's an unsurprising but significant extension of our understanding of the operation of homeobox genes. But why the mention of "creationists"?

The head of the study is at UCSD. San Diego is also the home of this organization, which does not appear to have responded to this development; searches on "McGinnis" and "macroevolution" turned up nothing concerning it, and searches on "homeobox" and "Hox" turned up nothing at all.

I also note that a search at the San Diego Union-Tribune on "Institute for Creation Research" turned up nothing of substance within the past two years -- only the same mentions which occurred in the national media, mostly about the Kansas Board of Education election. Searches on "creationist" and "creationism" also turned up only the sorts of things which could be found in any major paper. Additional searches at the ICR site indicate that while the organization publishes a newsletter, it does not issue news releases and appears to have no media relations officer.

This article, however, quotes the president of ICR at some length to the effect that his chief objection to evolution is macroevolution. I speculate that the biology dept (and others as well) at UCSD gets its share of, shall we say, unusual inquiries from persons inspired by ICR.

So what happens next? Probably not much, at the popular level. Things like the
definition of "homeobox gene"
(scroll down) and explanations of Hox gene expression aren't even going to make a whooshing noise as they pass over the heads of the 45% of Americans who reject every formulation of human evolution (hit "Guest Pass" for access).

And quite possibly nothing will happen among full-time young-earth creationists, either. It's not as though they're doing battle with the science of the 2000s, after all: much of the worldview to which they object emerged between the mid-1890s and mid-1920s, that is, between the discovery of radioactivity and the discovery of the expansion of the Universe. The odd reality is that the plurality culture in the United States -- the majority culture in much of the country -- rejects the bulk of astronomical and geological discoveries of the past century and a half, to say nothing of the biological and paleontological ones.

But they don't reject the resulting applications -- by, for example, refusing to complete full courses of antibiotic treatment, at least not any more often than anybody else, and they won't object to the prevention of "development of cancers and many different genetic abnormalities, such as syndactyly and polydactyly," to quote the UniSci report, which may come about as a result of better understanding of Hox genes.

Jay Manifold [5:09 PM]

Mitigating Factor in "Delay At Origin"

Those of you just grazing in may wish to read this and this for background.

An iris-recognition system is now being beta-tested at Heathrow by 2,000 frequent flyers from North America.

EyeTicket™ claims that it "... allows travelers to check themselves in and board aircraft ... without credit cards or other ID, and without standing in line."

I expect biometrics like these to replace most ID, nearly all card-keys, and perhaps even door and ignition keys, within the next decade.

Jay Manifold [10:57 AM]

[ 20020207 ]

The War Process

Over on InstaPundit, Glenn Reynolds takes a whack at defining exit criteria for the war. His wargaming analogy is a good one, but the whole question of how to measure success in this area put me in mind of process analysis, which is my day job.

Before continuing, readers may wish to browse page 3 of this document, which provides a visual representation of how the following terms fit together. In the process maturity model used by my employer (not the employer of the people who wrote the paper being referenced, but a competitor), they are to be defined in the following order, as one progresses from "initial" through "repeatable," "defined," and "managed," to "optimized."

  1. Process Purpose (why)

  2. Owner (who is responsible for process execution and improvement)

  3. Outputs (what to whom; judged by Exit Criteria)

  4. Inputs (what from whom; judged by Entrance Criteria)

  5. Customers (receive Outputs)

  6. Suppliers (provide Inputs)

  7. Tools (act on Inputs in Work Procedures to create Outputs)

  8. Work Procedures (creation of Outputs from the action of Tools on Inputs)

  9. Exit Criteria (judge Outputs; negotiated with Customers)

  10. Standards (support Entrance and Exit Criteria)

  11. Entrance Criteria (judge Inputs; negotiated with Suppliers)

OK, let's take a whack at it:

  1. Purpose - "... insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense ... and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity."

  2. Owner - Commander-in-Chief, Dept of Defense, etc.

  3. Outputs - Physical security of United States, its possessions, and its allies according to treaty obligations.

  4. Inputs - All consumables used in military operations.

  5. Customers - Citizens of United States, and to some extent its allies.

  6. Suppliers - Long-suffering taxpayers of United States; IRS; elected representatives in Congress; military personnel; defense contractors, etc.

  7. Tools - Military hardware, software, infrastructure, etc.

  8. Work Procedures - Whatever it takes: survellance, raids, air strikes, invasions, etc. Unpacks into large number of sub-processes.

  9. Exit Criteria - Vary widely according to situation; Glenn's list is a good start (by which I mean that it is actually reasonably complete).

  10. Standards - These should be relatively fixed and reflect values consistent with the Constitution (and ratified treaties). Recent history suggests that we should not shy away from casualties.

  11. Entrance Criteria - The subject of great debate after Vietnam and some debate after Lebanon and Somalia. Killing 3,000+ civilians on US soil and knocking big buildings down, however, should have no trouble passing the test.

I'll have more to say about those last three items in a future post.

Jay Manifold [5:59 PM]

Devastating Fiscal Consequences of Republican Leadership

Not only is the Bush Administration wretchedly unwilling to address the root cause of 9/11 by going after the Saudis, it is by almost any measure the most profligate in US history. Thanks to Iain Murray for pointing to this devastating analysis by UPI Business and Economics Editor, Martin Hutchinson. An excerpt:

... look at how much of the FY 2002 increase in GDP was represented by an increase in public spending, in other words, how much of FY2002's extra resources has the great maw of government absorbed. The answer, since GDP growth in FY 2002 was minuscule, is a staggering 4,102 percent. 41 times the amount of extra GDP generated by the economy was absorbed by government. Not only is that the highest figure for decades, it is in fact the first time since 1943 that the government's absorption rate has been above 100 percent (though in a couple of years of deep recession, notably 1975, 1982 and 1991, real GDP growth was negative.) Let's face it, 1943 was not exactly a normal year.

Should friends let friends vote Republican?

Jay Manifold [10:20 AM]

Dialing 9-1-oops!

I call it the "91X" dialing problem. Our subject, a 42-year-old male who, ironically, works in the telecom industry, dials his spousal unit to inform her that the house still has electric power but that it may not for much longer and that he picked up a few groceries, etc. Except that instead of dialing 913-NXX-XXXX, he hits the "1" key twice, thereby inadvertently dialing 911. Call is instantaneously rerouted to local emergency-response center. Recording begs him not to hang up. Knowing the consequences -- the E911 system will already be physically locating the phone, and police will be dispatched if the call is interrupted -- our subject waits. And waits, because an ice storm is knocking out power for ~740,000 people spread across 8 counties in 2 states, and it's generating quite a few emergency calls (a smart criminal could have run amok in Kansas City last Wednesday night). After several minutes, a live operator comes on the line; subject admits to his inability to properly utilize a push-button phone. Hey, these things have only been around since 1970. Operator thanks subject, who hangs up and places call correctly on 2nd try.

I'm not the only idiot out there. Ten-digit dialing is becoming common in KC, thanks to that annoying state line. From 1967 until a couple of years ago, 7-digit dialing from 816 (MO) to 913 (KS) and vice versa was allowed locally, but with the overallocation of NXXs -- phone numbers are sold in blocks of 10,000 -- it became necessary to use some exchanges on both sides of the state line, so 10-digit dialing is now required. Result: lots of fumble-fingered people dialing 911 when they meant to dial 913-whatever.

Nor is the Kansas City CMSA the only place where this can happen. Browsing the North American Numbering Plan Administration's area code info, we find the following area codes beginning with "91" and for which the standard dialing plan for "Foreign NPA Local Calls" is 10 digits, ie the area code and the local number, but without a preceding "1":

  1. 910 - southern North Carolina (Fayetteville, Jacksonville, Wilmington, etc); affects adjoining areas in both NC and SC.

  2. 912 - southeastern Georgia (Brunswick, Savannah, Vidalia, Waycross, etc); affects adjoining areas of FL and SC.

  3. 913 - Kansas portion of Kansas City area; affects entire KC MO-KS CMSA and portions of eastern KS.

  4. 915 - trans-Pecos and Permian Basin areas of Texas (Abilene, Alpine, El Paso, Midland-Odessa, etc); affects adjoining areas of NM and TX.

  5. 919 - north-central North Carolina (Durham, Raleigh, etc); affects adjoining portions of NC and VA.

One additional NPA which will someday experience this problem is 918 - northeastern Oklahoma (Bartlesville, McAlester, Tulsa, etc); affects adjoining portions of AR, KS, MO, and OK. Currently its standard dialing plan for foreign NPA local calls is 7 digits, just as Kansas City's was until recently.

Finally, there are those area codes which already require 1+ dialing, and which are therefore protected against this sort of mistake:

  1. 914 - southern New York (White Plains, Yonkers, etc); affects portions of Hudson Valley, Catskills, New York City, and adjoining areas of CT and NJ.

  2. 916 - Sacramento area in California; affects adjoining portions of northern CA, including easternmost "edge cities" of Bay Area.

  3. 917 - New York City (an overlay); affects entire NYC CT-NJ-NY CMSA.

Arcturus readers in the affected areas (besides KC, that would be primarily Georgia, North Carolina, and Texas) are invited to submit their stories of local 911 dispatchers' difficulties. The Kansas City Star ran one recently, but I haven't been able to find it.

Jay Manifold [6:59 AM]

[ 20020206 ]

What A Puny Effort This Was To Freeze A Great City

-- as Edward R. Murrow might have said. Some observations on processes and logistics in the aftermath:

  1. Over 90% of the three-quarters of a million people (two-fifths of the entire population of the Kansas City MO-KS CMSA) who lost electric power had it restored within six days. Nearly three hundred crews from twelve states did the work; most of them were on the job by the time the freezing rain stopped falling.

  2. During the same six days, four hundred tree crews cleared (my estimates, based on what I know about the densities involved) the broken limbs of 50,000 trees from 7,000 miles of streets and roadways.

  3. Within 48 hours of the beginning of widespread power outages, numerous local retailers made available tens of thousands of flashlights, lanterns, heaters, chain saws, and other highly useful items.

  4. Roadways were cleared of ice nearly as fast as it fell by trucks spraying a saline solution, which had the inadvertent effect of giving them an excellent cleaning; even the older surfaces now look freshly paved. All major streets and many side streets were cleared the next day, and all streets were largely clear of ice a day later -- this after a 1" accumulation which was sufficient to damage two-thirds of all the trees in the metro.

  5. I learned to split wood. At first, I could split enough in half an hour to keep a fire going for ... almost half an hour. After a while, my aim improved.

  6. I also encountered what I will call the "91X" dialing problem, which will be the subject of a future post. The 911 operator was profoundly grateful that I stayed on the line and explained that I'd misdialed, so she didn't have to send a cop to our house for nothing.

One point worth making for locals is that for a few days, we were all subjected to the kind of lifestyle continually being urged on us by hectoring, antitechnological eco-types. The next time a politician or special-interest "activist" starts down that rhetorical road by bemoaning our "separation from Nature," remind them of Thursday, January 31, 2002.

Jay Manifold [8:54 PM]


Those of you who are watching closely will notice that I have:

  1. Figured out how to make that headline thing in Blogger Pro work; and

  2. Added search capabilities.

When searching, be aware that it will take you only to the archive in which the word(s) you are searching for appear. You will then have to select "Edit" and "Find (On This Page)" -- or its equivalent in non-IE browsers -- and search for the same word(s) again to jump to the post(s) in which they appear. Not perfect, but a lot better than nothing.

I'm still resisting putting a counter up, so I don't know whether I've got 10 regular readers or 10,000. I suspect the number is closer to the former.

Jay Manifold [5:32 PM]

Ecology and Economics

Ecology and Economics: Under the headings "Retailing Dynamism" and "Willful Ignorance," Virginia Postrel has some thoughts about an industry that most of us don't think about much unless we work in it (I used to, but at far too humble a level to have any real appreciation for its dynamism -- about all it did for me, besides providing a consistent daily routine at a time when I badly needed one, was spoil Christmas for several years). Her best line: "If you can't beat Wal-Mart at its own game, you'd better change games," which is as fine a formulation of the Competitive Exclusion Principle as I've ever seen.

Things like this are why Václav Havel once said: "Though my heart be left of centre, I have always known that the only economic system that works is a market economy ... the only natural economy, the only kind that makes sense, the only one that can lead to prosperity, because it is the only one that reflects the nature of life itself."

For the math, read about the Lotka-Volterra model, which "... predicts that stable coexistence of two species is possible only when intraspecific competition has a greater effect than interspecific competition." Since retailers are presumably intelligent enough to avoid competing with themselves, this resolves to the idea that going head-to-head with an established organization almost never works. Differentiate yourself, or you've had it.

Here's a description of the Competitive Exclusion Principle, which notes: "May (1981; Theoretical Ecology - Principles and applications. Sinauer Associates: Oxford.) offers the definition of the Competitive Exclusion Principle as the instance where two species which make their livings in identical ways being unable to exist in a stable fashion. They cannot occupy the same niche."

Ironically, we greatly prefer our nearby K-Mart to our nearby Wal-Mart -- much cleaner, better lit, more spacious. An illustration of the perils of anecdotal evidence.

Jay Manifold [9:14 AM]

[ 20020205 ]

Electrical Power Has Returned

Electrical Power Has Returned to the Manifold household after 129 of our longest hours. I would have posted more today but was concerned with cleanup.

Jay Manifold [10:07 PM]

[ 20020204 ]

Ice Storm (IV)

Ice Storm (IV): With a further apology for yet another day-in-the-life (or in this case week-in-the-life) post ... it looks like it will be a few more days before things are back to normal around here.

For non-locals, I should explain that this part of the world was at the verge of forest and prairie when Lewis and Clark explored it in 1804. By the time of the Civil War, it had largely been clear-cut; the forest began to return with the establishment of the boulevard system and the acquisition of Swope Park in the 1890s. We lost the elms when I was very young (though thanks to genetic engineering, they may return), and with them the cathedral-like appearance of many of the residential streets, but new trees, mostly maples, were planted in their stead. So this is once again a city hidden in a forest, and a hilly one at that, thanks to the proximity of the Missouri River.

The worst night was Thursday, our first full night without power. Vast areas of the metro were completely blacked out, with the only light provided by lines of cars crawling along streets and roadways, necessarily treating every non-functioning signal light as a 4-way stop. The sky had not cleared, and a fog had set in; the omnipresent backdrop of trees, when glimpsed in car headlights, looked like a great mass of ice-bound kudzu vine, all bent over and tangled. The air was cold and wretchedly humid. In this Stygian gloom, we spent 2 hours finding 1) an open gas station (somewhere in Lee's Summit) and 2) an open restaurant with a table wait of under 1 hour (Figlio's, on the Country Club Plaza).

But when we finally got home, at least our streetlights were back on, providing some light in the house. The temperature indoors remained in the 50s Fahrenheit -- uncomfortable but endurable. And Missouri Gas Energy be praised, we have hot water.

Friday was the day of the "Varykino" scenes -- bright sunlight, fog all burned off, fantastic crystalline curves of ice-laden trees, all looking like frozen weeping willows, heavenly in forward-scattered light.

On Saturday, the ice all fell off the trees, in a continuous hours-long din, fortunately during daylight. It was well above freezing even though the forecasted sunshine did not appear. We shopped at the incomparable Mickey's Surplus, over in the Argentine neighborhood of KCK, buying an indoor-safe propane heater and several other useful items. We were amazed that anyone in town would have such things, after three-quarters of a million people went two nights without heat in midwinter. We were also amazed that evening when the unit we bought turned out to have a bad thermocouple, which kept it from igniting properly. So we slept downstairs on the futon, in front of the fireplace, with the dog (and the 2 "dog-rated" cats).

The pets aside, this is not as romantic as it may sound. Fireplaces have to be fed and tended, and we had almost no split wood as of late Wednesday night when we lost power. Plenty of raw material, though, in the form of a large oak tree out back which we had removed late in 2000 at the recommendation of a structural engineer. Also plenty of newly-downed branches from the ice storm. On Saturday afternoon, and intermittently on Sunday, the roar of chainsaws echoed everywhere. We had purchased ours at the new Lowe's in Independence -- they'd gotten pallet-loads of them in. So we trimmed logs and split them for a couple of hours on Saturday and again on Sunday. Also helped cut up some downed limbs in the yard of a blind neighbor.

We did make it out for barbecue yesterday. The word today is that KCP&L crews are beginning to enter our area, but our area as defined is quite a few square miles in extent, with presumably hundreds, if not thousands, of households without power. So tonight, we're checking into a hotel.

Jay Manifold [4:36 PM]

[ 20020201 ]

Hiatus and a Tradition

Hiatus and a Tradition: Readers, don't give up on me, but don't expect to see much here until Monday at least. Our power is still out at home, so despite the fact that there's a bunch of stuff I'm itching to comment on, including several tantalizing little blurbs over on The Daily Dose, Arcturus is likely to be silent for a few days.

On Übersonntag, the two-legged members of the Manifold household will, God and KCP&L willing, be headed out to the original Martin City location of the best barbecue joint on the planet to devour great slabs of protein during the one time there's never a wait to get a table. We do this every year. Not sure what I'll do if the Chiefs are ever in the Super Bowl again, because even I would watch that game.

Jay Manifold [3:18 PM]