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[ 20020430 ]

In Which the Personal Becomes Political

Some years back, I heard Dave Ruff, who is now with Forest Hill Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, NC, (here's a picture of Dave) give a talk on Numbers 13:33b (he was probably using the NIV, in which it reads: "We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.").

So, OK, DodgeBlog or somebody linked to the Daily Pundit, where Bill Quick had an item about Islamic Arabia as an honor-shame culture, which he analogized -- accurately, I fear -- to Imperial Japan, and helpfully pointed to a background piece defining Shame-culture and Guilt-culture. And I thought of Dave's talk, which of course was about the danger of allowing your self-image to be constrained by what you imagine that others think of you.

The whole issue of shame ought to resonate with bloggers, who are more likely to have been techno-geek types in adolescence, and therefore that much more susceptible to a deadly cycle of negative self-regard -- while at the same time, in their technical competence, exemplifying the diametrically opposed attitude of Numbers 13:30b: "Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it."

We've all seen people who are bright, talented, and capable -- but also blatantly insecure: disputatious, difficult, and ultimately ineffective. I've seen one in the mirror for a good portion of my 42 years on Earth. It would be a melodramatic exaggeration for me to say that I fight this battle within myself every day. But I probably do fight it at least once a week. The tragedy of people who never take up that struggle, or conduct it poorly, is that they not only lose, they do wrong.

In the book of Numbers, chapters 13 and 14, we find a tale of memetic selection, a tale being re-enacted in the Middle East today. You need not approve of the details of the conquest of Canaan to perceive that a more optimistic culture defeats a more pessimistic one. When a society whose attitude is "we are well able to overcome it" meets one whose attitude is "we look like grasshoppers to them," only one result is possible.

And when the entire world is divided between two camps, one forward-looking and motivated by technophilia (and frequently by faith), and the other motivated by defining itself as not-the-first-camp, by technophobia, by secularism, and (where religious) by a desire to kill and destroy, suicidally if necessary -- in other words, between the United States and Israel on the one hand and almost everyone else on the other -- then, also, only one result is possible.

Jay Manifold [8:00 PM]

The Time Axis

Something I've been meaning to say for a while is that Alex Rubalcava deserves a lot more hits than he's getting, so graze on over and munch on some goodies, starting with Sallie Baliunas Watch:

Wind farms may not be pretty, but they don't leak anything that can kill animals or people.

Well, they sort of "leak" kinetic energy, insofar as they kill birds when they hit the blades. The noise of the windmills themselves, plus the carpet of rotting bird carcasses on the ground, does require that wind farms be kept away from people (and from nesting sites of endangered avian species). But I quibble. Alex nails it in this paragraph:

It is, of course, unrealistic to claim that renewable resources can unseat fossil fuels in the near to medium term future as the dominant source of energy, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't encourage progress and encourage scientific development such that renewable resources become more affordable. Given the political and environmental price we pay for depending on fossil fuels, we would be fools to stop seeking alternatives just because current alternatives are not yet competitive.

Any article discussing the economics of new technology should mention timescale, and Dr Baliunas simply didn't. I'm always amused when someone says that photovoltaics are impractical. And for how long will that continue to be the case? (Maybe not much longer.) Where's the time axis in your worldview?

Jay Manifold [7:59 PM]

As I Suggested --

This week's Gallup briefing includes Protestant Tilt Toward Israel Partially Explained by Biblical Connection, in which we find, as I noted here, that:

19% of Protestants say they favor Israel because it has a biblical claim to the land, compared with only 11% of Catholics who cite that reason

There's also this interesting tidbit, which implies that the Democrats would do well to become more hawkish:

ideology is highly correlated with Middle East sympathies. The current poll shows that conservatives support the Israelis by [over 5 to 1], moderates support the Israelis by [nearly 3 to 1], and liberals do so by [about 2 to 1]

Finally, the historic American pro-underdog attitude comes out:

the major reason for support of the Palestinians is the perception that the Palestinians are the victims

Which suggests a strategy for the Palestinians as well -- but they'd have to begin emphasizing the ways they're really victimized (mainly by their fellow Arabs, and by Israeli restrictions on a free market) -- rather than making stuff up.

Jay Manifold [7:55 PM]

[ 20020429 ]

Maybe I Should Shut Up More Often

So I don't post anything all weekend, and the Sage of Knoxville gives me a permalink! You are to imagine me making nonspecific elated noises (whoo! whoo! whoo! and the like). Those of you grazing in from InstaPundit are hereby welcomed and encouraged to poke around. I've got a whole bunch of (I think) pretty good stuff all queued up -- inside my head; if I can get it as far as a keyboard you'll be seeing lots of new posts in the next couple of days. And we're just six days away from those groovy survey results!

Jay Manifold [5:06 PM]

[ 20020426 ]

Utterly Unsurprising Results

Take the What High School Stereotype Are You? quiz, by Angel.

Jay Manifold [3:38 PM]

[ 20020425 ]

Early Results of Survey

If you're reading Arcturus for the first time, have a look at this. If you've been around for even a few days, you'll know what survey I mean.

The main result so far seems to be that I don't know how to design a survey. But there's nothing like testing something against reality to find out whether it's really any good or not, so perhaps I couldn't have known. Without giving the game away entirely or skewing the results of this thing any more than they would be anyway, I will say that if I ever do this again, there is one thing from the past that I will rule off-limits for retrieval, by way of making contestants think a lot harder.

I'm going to have fun ranting about that one thing, though, come Cinco de Mayo (the entry deadline, remember).

Now, as to what I've gotten so far: besides lots and lots of entries naming that one incredibly predictable (in hindsight) thing, there's been about an equal mix of fairly predictable things and delightfully nonobvious things. And in ten days, I'll tell you what they are.

But all the suggestions so far have been Western, in the broadest sense; nothing central or south Asian, black African, Oriental, native Australian, or native American. So if you want to stand out, branch out.

Jay Manifold [6:35 PM]

You Know?

For something that relates to Communities, Audiences, Scale, and Tom DeLay about the way Monticello relates to a trailer park, read From Weddings to Football, the Value of Communal Activities (registration required), in which we find:

These activities help solve "coordination problems," in which taking action requires knowing that other people know what you know and that you know that they know that you know.

Right now, I know that I'm no Professor Chwe, and I may need to read his book.

Jay Manifold [6:34 PM]

Take Your Children to Work Day

Here's the Palestinian version. My source says "most of them are originally from AP and Reuters, but often removed quickly." Prepare to be reminded of this.

Jay Manifold [4:13 PM]

The Return of the Rick

Good news for Rick Wakeman fans. Tip o' the keyboard to Leo Johns for passing this along.

Jay Manifold [10:16 AM]

Lest We Forget

(Thanks to Glenn Reynolds and Charles Johnson.)

Jay Manifold [6:59 AM]

[ 20020424 ]

The Two Cultures (A Continuing Series)

In Persian poets need not apply, Alistair Cooke (still writing the weekly Letter from America at age 93), draws an intriguing parallel between CP Snow's "Two Cultures" and the cultures of the US and UK:

... nearly a half a century ago ... the late CP Snow raised a cultural storm, especially in the ancient universities, by saying that in England then there were two cultures that lived side by side in mutual incomprehension and even hostility.

There was the culture of literary arts people who think of themselves as the cultivated and there were the physical scientists who may know little literature but are amazed at the narrowness, the constraint, the literary intellectuals' ignorance of so much of the life and the world about them.

This has certainly been true in my time but as I say it has been very much less so in America, perhaps it never was so here.

... whereas ... Macmillan found Eisenhower deficient I imagine in quotations from Virgil and Wordsworth, he was woefully ill-educated in mathematics, engineering, strategy and tactics, especially the economics of industrial warfare about which Eisenhower's prescience had made General Marshall insist he become supreme commander.

In fact strong hints are peppered through various memoirs of the difficulty American leaders had in discussing hot and cold war nuclear problems with British cabinet ministers who had had a mainly literary education, or being Labour men an all-absorbing interest in problems of trades unions and management.

I suspect that the contrast between America and certain other Western European nations in this regard is even greater, and that it may go far toward explaining their political classes' anti-Americanism, to say nothing of their bizarre departure from clarity when it comes to defending civilization from terrorists.

And it is why Americans will never consent to rule by a world government, which is sure to be made up of "intellectuals," as opposed to people with a working knowledge of science and technology. Indeed, as I have wondered elsewhere, how long will Americans endure the arrogance and ignorance of their own technically illiterate politicians?

Jay Manifold [5:03 PM]

We're Rich Because We're Efficient

-- not because we use up more stuff and trash the planet. Andrew Hofer (link to More Than Zero at left) e-mailed me (and some really smart people, too) a tip to this phenomenal bit of blogging over at Sophismata, in which Raghu Ramachandran demolishes, in particular, a graph from the Thu 21 Mar 02 NYTimes and, in the following post ("Unscientific American"), the entire notion that American bounty implies American befoulment of Our Only Home.

Jay Manifold [3:00 PM]

Tambora and the Ozone Hole

Toren Smith, trapped among relentlessly politically-correct San Franciscans, discusses the ozone hole in a fine post over at The Safety Valve. The takeaway quote:

In 1815, the Indonesian volcano Tambora exploded, injecting at least 200 million tons of chlorine directly into the stratosphere (over 266 times the total amount contained in one year's world-wide production of CFCs). Why did this not wipe out the ozone layer completely, leading to the death of billions of people, animals and plants due to increased ultraviolet levels? There are no historical records of any such mass fatalities.

This is an area in which Americans' ahistoricity serves them especially ill. Volcanic eruptions, magnetic field reversals, ice ages, and asteroid impacts -- all routine events over geological time -- have resulted in far larger-amplitude (and equally rapid) changes to ecosystems than any which human beings will ever bring about. As I remarked over on Transterrestrial Musings (see comments on post), Earth may be a more-or-less self-regulating system, but the rest of the Solar System has other ideas.

Jay Manifold [6:10 AM]

[ 20020423 ]

At the Height of Our Power

Thanks to Virginia for pointing to A matter of minutes (emphasis mine):

Citigroup lost 472 file servers and 4,300 workstations when 7 World Trade Center was destroyed, and the financial firm had to evacuate 16,500 of its employees in the aftermath of the attacks ... Citigroup lost 1.3 million square feet of property.

... all Citigroup employees were up and running the next day ...

As Amygdala reminds us: "There exists in human nature a strong propensity to depreciate the advantages, and to magnify the evils, of the present times." -- Edward Gibbon

I'll address risk management, disaster recovery, and business-continuity planning in a future post (or posts). For now, I'll just state the obvious: the smart money is not on American decline. Fantasies of collapse remain fantastic; crisis-mongerers remain a species of social parasite; arcadian worldviews remain absurd. The US is the strongest society in which humans have ever lived, and is likely to remain so indefinitely.

Jay Manifold [4:56 PM]

Today's Asteroid Post

(If you came here from Brink Lindsey's blog, read this and this for background.)

The geopolitical-risk-from-small-impacts meme may not be far from taking off. A LexisNexis search on "asteroid" finds 16 hits just today, including Scientists step up efforts to track asteroids, assess risks to Earth (registration required), in which we find:

Also of concern are smaller asteroids, which could still wipe out a city if they hit.

"Those are bullets out there that can really ping us, too, and we can't overlook those," says longtime asteroid hunter Eleanor Helin of the Jet Propulsion lab.

The closest known near-miss was a small asteroid, about the size of a flying couch, that zoomed by in 1994 at a distance of about 70,000 miles, or three-tenths of the way to the moon.

I note that if it were made of relatively dark rock, like the Moon, then at closest approach it could have been as faint as magnitude +17, about 25,000 times too faint to be seen by the unaided eye from dark rural skies; a telescope nearly a meter in aperture would be needed to detect it.

Now, assuming that --

  • "flying couch" means 2 meters in diameter;

  • the object was made of rock similar in density to Earth's crust (2.8 g cm-3); and

  • its velocity relative to Earth, had it hit us, would have been 40 km sec-1 ...

-- then its kinetic energy would have been just under 1013 joules, equal to the detonation of just over 2 kilotons of TNT. Were such an explosion to take place within a few hundred meters of Earth's surface in an American city, the death toll could be in the hundreds (in a Third World city, it could be in the thousands). Far more important, of course, is what it would look like, even if it struck a sparsely populated area.

Jay Manifold [4:54 PM]

[ 20020422 ]

What Would You Save?

"... tell me if you really, really believe human civilization is not some cruel delusion," says the Kolkata Libertarian, shortly before departing on a much-needed vacation.

While Suman will almost certainly return with a far better disposition toward humanity, this is the sort of cri de coeur which I would prefer not to leave unanswered. The news item that inspired his post is revolting, and I do not use the term lightly. It reminded me again just how much "a child of the kindly West" I am; not born of a fundamentally different nature than the people who are tormenting and murdering one another halfway around the world, but privileged to live in a society with functioning institutions and a great thicket of protective memes.

So by way of answering, I hereby initiate the first reader-participation survey on Arcturus. It's based partly on one of Ray Bradbury's more famous ideas ("what book would you be?") and partly on a conversation I had a while back with She Who Must Be Obeyed. Here are the rules:

  1. You have a time machine, which you may use exactly once.

  2. You may return to any point in human history and retrieve one artifact.

  3. The artifact must be known to have existed and to have subsequently been destroyed, so you are saving it for our time.

  4. The artifact may be a collection or corpus of work, and it may be of any physical size, but it must be man-made.

  5. Send your nomination to my e-mail address, preferably by Cinco de Mayo, which is about the time Suman and Courtney get back from Bonaire; I'd like to have a nice list waiting for him.

Incidentally, Leigh Ann's answer is the written collection of Germanic tales and songs compiled at Charlemagne's orders in their original languages, and promptly consigned to the flames a few years later at the orders of his son, Louis the Pious.

Me, I'm still thinking about it.

Jay Manifold [8:06 PM]

Brink Lindsey Gets It

Those of you grazing in from Brink's excellent post on asteroids are directed to 1) read through the "Asteroid Warning System" posts (links at left) and any items they link to and 2) direct any questions to me here. Otherwise, just poke around and have fun!

I owe Brink a considerable debt for helping spread the geopolitical-risk-from-small-impacts meme, and am hoping that it turns up additional discussion and risk-management proposals. I'm used to thinking that if I'm the first person to come up with an idea in a given organization, that organization is in trouble. Well, if I'm the first person to think of this, the whole world's in trouble. ;)

PS - Rand Simberg is way smarter than I am.

Jay Manifold [10:11 AM]

[ 20020421 ]

The Classical Planets

I've been waiting for the weather to improve in KC before posting anything on this, and after several days of rain, it's finally clearing off. So for locals ...

The Sun will set just after 8 PM tonight, and in the next hour, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn, Jupiter, and the Moon will appear in a line reaching from the horizon in the west-northwest to just south of the zenith. All seven classical planets in one hour!

Go to the Sky & Telescope Sky Chart for an excellent diagram of the alignment. Mercury, in particular, is rarely (knowingly) seen by anyone other than dedicated amateur astronomers, so this is an opportunity not to be missed.

UPDATE, 9:20 PM CDT: It's quite easy to see; the best time to try is about 40 minutes after sunset, on any clear evening over the next couple of weeks (the Moon, of course, will be moving quite a bit eastward each night, so if you want to see it at the same time, don't wait more than another couple of days). I walked westward from our house half a block to the top of a hill, and even looking directly through the KC "light dome," all the planets were easy to find. The faintest member of the alignment is Mars; do not confuse it with Aldebaran, which is nearby but not in line with the planets.

Jay Manifold [4:55 PM]

[ 20020420 ]

Communities, Audiences, Scale, and Tom DeLay

Thanks to Alex Rubalcava for pointing to Clay Shirky's fine essay Communities, Audiences, and Scale. Indulge me while I appear to wander far afield for a few moments.

Reader Patrice Barron forwarded me an e-mail from Charlotte H. Coffelt, who is President of the Greater Houston Area Chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. The e-mail refers to this Houston Chronicle article and recommends perusal of the Vision America website.

Not surprisingly, Ms Coffelt finds Vision America threatening, particularly the "America Plan," and ominously notes that "instructions are available to help 'Activate the Congregation' in a Community Impact Ministry." But the America Plan is utterly innocuous, with the possible exception of the "I" portion:

Inform the congregation about important policy and moral issues

Help create an awareness of pending legislation at the local, state, and national levels. Address current moral issues from the pulpit, including sanctity of life, protection of marriage, family values, protection of religious freedom, and the need to strengthen and enforce pornography laws.

Now, for readers of Arcturus who've been living on the far side of the Moon since 1970:

  • sanctity of life = laws banning abortion

  • protection of marriage = laws banning gay marriage

  • family values = whatever whoever's talking wants it to mean; broadly indicative of Prohibitionist approaches to cultural phenomena

  • protection of religious freedom = laws permitting (or requiring) teachers and administrators to lead prayer in schools (sometimes the prayers are actually composed by legislators); or laws requiring the posting of the 10 Commandments in classrooms

  • the need to strengthen and enforce pornography laws = self-explanatory; also Prohibitionist, but so is gun control

All this is a long way from libertarian, but it's also been out in the open for a generation. The religious right is not operating in stealth mode. So I regret to report that Ms Coffelt advises: "Between now and the November elections, remain alert for more efforts to enlist your local pastor or civic leader in the campaign to 'return America to biblical law' (otherwise known as the Taliban version of Christianity in this nation!)." Only if you can't tell the difference between Christian Reconstructionism and the Southern Baptist Convention. Which is tantamount to being unable to tell the difference between, say, Tom Daschle and Kim Jong Il. One is silly, and the other is deadly.

What started all this was a talk given by Congressman DeLay at First Baptist of Pearland (TX) in which he recommended -- to loud applause -- that church members not send their children to Baylor or A&M. This was, of course, nothing not routinely discussed in the Texas evangelical subculture; it should be no more controversial than an anti-genetic-engineering protester telling other protesters not to let their kids go to work for Monsanto.

But it might not have been the sort of thing DeLay would say to a more general audience, so when the unnamed AUSCS member who snuck in and tape-recorded the talk turned it over to the media, there was a bit of a dust-up. I admire this, by the way, and wish it happened more often -- and unless the church put up a sign saying TAPE RECORDING NOT ALLOWED, which is pretty unlikely, there's absolutely nothing wrong with it. So having quoted Ms Coffelt critically, I now quote her admiringly as she says "it truly is worthwhile to listen to politicians' public statements and compare them with remarks made before religious right audiences."

OK, so what's the tie-in to the Shirky essay? It's one of my favorite questions: what's the object of the game? -- or as Peter Drucker is fond of asking, what is our business?

I contend that while DeLay's ostensible purpose in speaking in support of (in this example) teaching creationism in high schools and colleges is to bring about public policy changes in that direction, his -- and nearly every other politician's -- actual purpose is simply to get votes from constituents. It's the difference between an audience, which is a relatively passive entity, and its ultimate opposite, a project team, which is entirely focused on accomplishment.

The formula Shirky quotes -- C = ((N ´ (N - 1))/2 -- is the math behind the cardinal principle of project management that teams have to be kept small. Heinlein famously said (in this book) that more than three people can't decide on anything; he may have had this formula in mind, as the number of connections exceeds the number of people whenever there are more than three. In any case, any audience a politician is going to bother speaking to will be far too large to do anything other than 1) listen and 2) vote. Deliberation is next to impossible.

The exception that proves the rule is the deliberative assembly. Having run a few of these myself -- and since they were in the form of state conventions of the Libertarian Party in Missouri and Texas, the latter of which in particular had the potential to become very unruly indeed -- I have some idea of what it takes to get an audience of, say, 100 members to actually discuss and evaluate an idea. It certainly takes Robert's Rules or the equivalent, with ruthless enforcement by the parliamentarian; and it helps a great deal if the presiding officer knows what he's doing and the members respect him.

I leave it to my readership to draw the parallels between deliberative assemblies and the "blogosphere."

Jay Manifold [5:35 PM]

[ 20020419 ]

To the NYC Bloggers on 4/19/02

I sent this to Orchid a short time ago for sharing at this event:

big apple blog bash; click for details

You meet on an anniversary full of portents -- of the shots heard 'round the world at Lexington and Concord, of a far more desperate uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto, of a dreadful blunder near Waco, and of a murderous act of revenge in Oklahoma City.

You meet in the greatest city on Earth, a city I will never again disparage nor suffer to hear insulted, whose scorned inhabitants, tested even to destruction, seven months ago proved once and for all how perfectly they have internalized the most profound and demanding moral precepts imparted to human beings.

You meet during a terrifying challenge to our civilization, one in which our self-proclaimed enemies do not so much as rise to the level of the predatory, but rather plot our complete annihilation with disregard for their own lives.

You meet as a new manifestation of an old phenomenon, a complex adaptive system, a parallel-processing network of human minds in the freest society humans have ever known.

I wish my words could adequately express how honored I feel to be on the periphery of what you have created; I wish I had the time to read every word each of you has written in these past months.

I hope my words can convey to you how good, and how important, is the work you are doing. Friedrich Hayek dedicated his book "The Constitution of Liberty" to "the new civilization that is growing in America."

You are at the forefront of that civilization, and of the far greater one -- in capabilities, in population, and in physical extent -- that is to come.

Its inhabitants will never need fear, or even be aware of, what you contend against; the risks to your lives and the life of your city and country. The terrors of the early 21st century will be as remote to their lives as Viking longships are to ours.

Because you thought carefully and worked effectively, they will live simply and sleep soundly.

And I will always remember what you have done, and hope that someday we can meet in person.

Thank you all.

Jay Manifold [3:05 PM]

[ 20020418 ]

The Osmium Age?

There are getting to be so many nanotech stories out there that I'd be an idiot to try to blog them all, but a couple of recent ones, both from Science News, struck me as particularly intriguing. First, from last week, Osmium is Forever: Rare metal's strength humbles mighty diamond's, in which workers at Lawrence Livermore Lab found:

"... the element's resistance to compression, a property called the bulk modulus ... was a hefty 462 gigapascals (GPa). Diamond's bulk modulus, which had been considered supreme, is only 443 GPa."

It seems that at least some of the "diamondoid" structural materials so beloved of nanotechnologists may instead be based on the heaviest of metals (osmium's density is a whopping 22.61 g cm-3).

Then this week we have Molding Atoms: Using a tiny template to make tinier structures (subscriber access only, I'm afraid). A 188-atom hydrocarbon structure "shaped like a four-poster bed" has been used by Danish and French researchers to lay down "strips of copper exactly two atoms wide by seven long." Since even the template molecule is only about 2 ´ 3 nm and the copper strips are well under 1 nm in width, this is nanotechnological fabrication in the truest sense.

Its immediate significance concerns the production of "nanowires" to connect already-fabricated nanoscale electronic devices such as transistors.

Jay Manifold [7:11 PM]

Asteroids, Yet Again

An article over on UniSci yesterday (explanatory graphics here) explains a proposal to use the European astrometric space observatory Gaia, which is to be launched at the end of this decade, to detect Apollo- and Aten-class asteroids. These are asteroids which, since their orbits take them closer to the Sun than Earth, can approach Earth from an area of the sky too near the Sun for easy observation.

"Astronomical twilight" is defined as ending when the Sun is 18° below the horizon. Combining this with the usual constraint of observatory telescopes, that they cannot point at anything closer than 10° to the horizon, yields an unobservable area centered on the Sun and with a radius of 28°. This is ~6% of the entire celestial sphere, and 99.99% of this area can be observed by space-based instruments, which need only block the solar disk itself.

Actually, 6% is best-case -- the true unobservable region is probably 10% or more of the entire sky, so this proposal fills a significant gap. An even larger one in my hypothetical distributed-observing program, however, is caused by the probable scarcity of small, automated observatories in the Southern Hemisphere. Few facilities in the US would be able to monitor the sky south of d = -50°. Outside of Australia and New Zealand, which will probably have (at least initially) no more than one-tenth the number of automated observatories in the United States, I expect that only Chile and South Africa will have any facilities at all. Thus about one-eighth of the sky will be significantly underrepresented in any automated search for small impactors.

Jay Manifold [1:21 PM]

[ 20020417 ]

Yucca Mountain (II)

The third of the four-part series over on UPI, Yucca alternatives could be problematic, discusses transmutation as a long-term solution for radioactive waste. Bombarding radioactive nuclei with gamma rays of the proper energy (that is, wavelength, not intensity) induces gamma-neutron reactions and causes the nuclei to decay much faster than they would on their own. This effectively greatly reduces the half-life of the material. As a by-product, the artificially increased radioactivity produces waste heat, which can be used to generate electricity to provide part of the power needed. (See this paper for a technical description.)

Chemical and isotopic separation of the waste into its constituent radionuclides makes the process more efficient, of course, since specific wavelengths of gamma rays can then be used for each. And development of a "gamma laser" would make transmutation more efficient still.

Though the article does not mention it, all these techniques, which are prohibitively expensive at present, will become orders of magnitude cheaper with nanotechnology, with which any technological artifact can be replicated for essentially the cost of the raw materials. So while transmutation with today's technology might require something on the scale of Fermilab, in another few decades we should be able to mass-produce thousands of small facilities, each capable of transmuting modest quantities of radioactives.

Loading the stuff on rockets and shooting it into the Sun or deep space is (presently) technically easier than transmutation, but given the historic failure rate of large rocket boosters (~1%), unacceptable. There are also no chemical rockets presently capable of dropping something into the Sun, which requires escaping from Earth (11 km sec-1) and cancelling all of Earth's orbital velocity around the Sun (30 km sec-1), for a total of 41 km sec-1 (92,000 mph) -- though I suppose that a gravity-assist maneuver using Venus might shave some Dv off of that.

But the most interesting passage in the article -- in fact, in the entire series -- is this:

Some Yucca opponents say there is no need to rush into picking a long-term solution, given the ability to store spent nuclear fuel in "dry cask" containers at reactor sites. Victor Gilinsky, a former Nuclear Regulatory Commission chairman now advising Nevada in its anti-Yucca effort, said current regulations allow such storage for decades.

"The Department of Energy and the nuclear industry think a 'permanent solution' to the nuclear waste issue is the key to getting permission for more reactors," Gilinsky told a group of reporters recently. "Despite DOE's current efforts to stampede the approval process, there's plenty of time to do much better."

This strikes me as the most powerful argument against using Yucca Mountain, or any other facility, to concentrate the waste for long-term storage. If we really are, as I believe, only 20-30 years away from being able to deal with this material far more effectively, and if risk management at the reactor sites is less expensive, we might as well just leave the stuff where it is. Such "design-ahead" decisions will become increasingly common over the next generation.

The fourth and final article in the series, Radiation a mystery to most people, covers ground all too familiar to fans of JunkScience.com. On this particular issue, it seems that the (entirely appropriate) "good cholesterol" vs "bad cholesterol" meme has an analog:

"The source of radiation is irrelevant to any risk or harm that it might carry," [Keith] Dinger [a past president of the Health Physics Society] told United Press International. "The general public readily accepts, for the most part, radiation associated with medical procedures ... and background radiation without question or concern. But if it's from an industrial source, there seems to be a perception that somehow it's riskier or more hazardous than these other sources."

Well, if I knew how to get bad ideas out of people's heads, I wouldn't have to work for a living. Dinger suggests visiting the HPS Web site, which is certainly a start.

Jay Manifold [8:18 PM]

[ 20020416 ]

Demographics at NASA

Another buried tidbit: browsing Teacher-Turned-Astronaut Says Space Worth Risk, we find

[NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe] said NASA hoped that putting teachers in space would help attract new blood to the space agency.

"Our under-30 population at NASA is about a third of our over-50 population, so as a consequence, just the actuary tables tell you we need to think proactively about future generations."

Hmm. This shows 42 million people in the US between 50 and 65 in 2000. Interpolating a bit, it looks like 30 million between 22 and 29, and 22 million between 24 and 29. So if we guess that half the people coming into NASA have bachelor's degrees and half have master's degrees, obtained at age 22 and 24 respectively, all other things being equal, the under-30 workforce would be about 60% of the over-50 workforce. Given that it is just over half that, younger people do seem to be underrepresented. This indicates that NASA's budget, measured against overall Federal spending, has fluctuated only slightly in the past 25 years, so money is not the issue.

Jay Manifold [3:25 PM]

Yucca Mountain

UPI is running a "four-part series ... examining some of the scientific issues related to using Nevada's Yucca Mountain as a nuclear waste repository site." So far, it's well worth reading. The first installment is entitled "Volcanoes wild card in Yucca equation," but this particular wild card is unlikely ever to turn up. This is as bad as it gets:

Authors Eugene Smith and Deborah Keenan, both with the Geoscience Department at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, along with Terry Plank of Boston University's Department of Earth Sciences, reviewed earlier studies of eruptions in Nevada and the possible makeup of the crust under the area. Based on a possible pattern of activity and the likelihood of Yucca-area volcanoes being part of a larger system, they said the area's current "quiet period" of several hundred thousand years could end during the repository's expected 10,000-year existence.

I contend that we shouldn't worry about anything which isn't likely to happen by 2100 AD, much less 10,000 years from now. Multiple converging lines of evidence suggest that nanotechnology will become widespread by 2020, and as Drexler has written:

Other wastes, such as lead and radioactive isotopes, contain dangerous atoms. Cleaning machines will collect these for disposal in any one of several ways. Lead comes from Earth's rocks; assemblers could build it into rocks in the mines from which it came. Radioactive isotopes could also be isolated from living things, either by building them into stable rock or by more drastic means. Using cheap, reliable space transportation systems, we could bury them in the dead, dry rock of the Moon. Using nanomachines, we could seal them in self-repairing, self-sealing containers the size of hills and powered by desert sunlight. These would be more secure than any passive rock or cask.

The second installment gives away the result in its title, "Missiles a minor threat to Yucca waste," but includes some information which should definitely be pondered by people who've watched too many James Bond films:

"First of all, getting a TOW and maneuvering it into position is going to be really problematic."

The missile is several feet long and together with its launcher weighs more than 200 pounds. The system is mounted on a vehicle or carried by a team of several people -- not something a terrorist could toss in a backpack and lug around, Cutshaw said.

The system is not "fire and forget," either. It requires an operator to keep the guidance scope centered on a moving target for the entire flight of the missile, possibly in the face of return fire from armed escort. This is something reliably achieved only with regular training unavailable outside military installations.

A more probable attack, Cutshaw said, would involve human-portable antitank weapons such as rocket-propelled grenades or the LAW and AT4 systems in the U.S. inventory. While these weapons are more easily obtained, they have smaller warheads, less range and are far less accurate, Cutshaw said.

"I'm not sure a LAW or an AT4 would completely penetrate a cask. I'm not even sure it would even get through one side," Cutshaw told UPI.

So far it's looking like a slam-dunk for storing the stuff in Nevada. While I would not be surprised if some of the residents of that state feel like the protagonist of this story, the risk is trivial by comparison with what's really killing us.

Jay Manifold [1:08 PM]

Unique Environmentalist Alignment on Nuclear Waste

Buried in UPI's House could vote on Yucca in two weeks is this tidbit:

Norris McDonald, president of the African-American Environmentalist Association, said maintaining nuclear power's viability actually will help global ecology.

"I know I'll get attacked for saying this, but look at the logic," McDonald said.

Fossil-fuel use has contributed to greenhouse gases, which many scientists feel is responsible for global warming. That phenomenon has markedly contributed to unhealthy urban atmospheric conditions and even an increase in airborne allergens, McDonald said, a particular point of concern for asthmatics, such as himself. Continued and increased use of emissions-free nuclear power could help alleviate these conditions, he said.

Browsing their website, we find:

AAEA supports renewed nuclear power plant construction in the United States using a standardized pebble bed modular reactor strategy.

While global warming is not a clear trend and the role of particulate air pollution in asthma is (in the West) minor compared to that of, for example, indoor insect waste, it's nice to see an organization with "African-American" in the title taking an active interest in technological issues; also that they are taking at least mildly contrarian positions.

Jay Manifold [12:32 PM]

Slaughter and Suicide

One more comment on the Middle East before I hit the techie subjects again. Dennis Prager's Why Jews Should Worry (recently forwarded to me by David Zviel) points out that

... while both Nazi and the Arab/Muslim anti-Semites have used closed societies with their controlled press to promote horrific lies about Jews, the Nazis hid their murder of Jews from the German public. They did not have confidence that enough Germans would support the murder of Jewish men, women and children. The Arab/Muslim anti-Semites, however, have no such problem. Those who kill Jews in Israel are public celebrities.

This is not, however, historically unique. The expulsion of Jews from Western Europe in the Middle Ages (timeline) had the enthusiastic support of, and participation by, the public. So did the pogroms in Eastern Europe in the 19th century.

But Prager also notes

The second more frightening aspect of Arab/Muslim Jew-hatred is that many of these haters do not value their own lives.

I'm afraid this is unique. European anti-Semitism always boiled down to "let's kill 'em and take their stuff." To borrow a quote from a different context (specifically a TV interview I saw in the mid-'80s with Arkady Shevchenko), Europeans were predatory, but they were not insane. If the working meme here is instead "let's kill 'em, even if it kills us" -- and especially if this is combined with a decentralized approach that sends large numbers of autonomous terrorists against civilian targets -- stopping it will be far more difficult.

Jay Manifold [12:20 PM]

Future ≠ Utopia

In The Call From the Wild, Michael S. Malone reminds us again that the world we are building is not Utopia:

... I suspect that what lies ahead are tales that will be the most documented in history.

We will not only observe them as they unfold, but, thanks to thousands of different embedded cameras shooting from every angle, we will know more of what is going on than the participants themselves.

Only at the bottom of the ocean or in space there will still remain limited access or blackouts in time due to the laws of physics. We may find those limitations welcome ...

Some of what we will see will be ennobling, like the disciplined firefighters heroically racing to their doom ...

But most of it will be brutal, horrifying and depraved. And it will be pumped, uncensored, unedited, and nearly unstoppable, into our Palm Pilots, our car dashboards and our wall-sized home monitors. The Heart of Darkness, coming to a screen near you.

Jay Manifold [11:55 AM]

Thu 20 Aug, 8 PM, Sandstone Amphitheatre

Tickets go on sale 10 AM CDT Sat 20 Apr. Details here and here.

Jay Manifold [10:50 AM]

Israel, etc.

I'll get back to the science stuff Real Soon Now, promise. But 'til then ...

The latest Gallup poll data show continuing strong sympathy for Israel in the US, accompanied by a natural desire for cessation of hostilities. Relatively few Americans advocate that we openly take Israel's side -- but they outnumber those who want us to take the Palestinians' side by 11:1. This report also contains the intriguing historical statement: "During the Gulf War, in February 1991, the ratio in favor of the Israelis was the highest recorded by Gallup, 64% to 7%." We may infer that in the event of war with Iraq, an almost instinctive sense of alliance will manifest itself.

Meanwhile, Questions and Answers About American Public Opinion and the Middle East reveals a significantly larger margin of support for Israel (that is, % favoring Israel minus % favoring the Palestinians) among Republicans than among independents or Democrats, and among whites than blacks. There is relatively little gender difference, however, and almost no difference by age.

Three-fifths of Americans do not believe "that there will ever be a time when Israel and the Arab nations will settle their differences and live in peace," a remarkably pessimistic assessment no doubt influenced by religious beliefs. Interestingly, "about half ... would support the idea of using U.S. troops in the future as part of a peacekeeping force."

Must reading: Pejman Yousefzadeh magnificently deconstructs British "journalism" on the Jenin "massacre."

Jay Manifold [7:14 AM]

[ 20020415 ]

(Male) Crocs Need Love Too

Says UPI (emphasis added):

Unable to cope with the its growing crocodile population, zoo authorities at the Ramnivas Bagh Zoo of Jaipur have decided to keep male and female crocodiles in different zones, Sifynews.com reports. Deprived of love and sexual interaction, the male crocodiles often go wild and frequently resort to fights among themselves. Some have been hurt quite badly in these noisy encounters. The male crocodiles also appear moody and dejected. However, the female crocodiles appear to be accepting the situation well and have their emotions firmly under control. Jaipur Zoo has been famous for its crocodiles, but the uncontrolled birth rate of crocodiles has started creating budget problems so the amphibians have been secluded into separate male and female zones and no interaction is allowed.

I presume that "amphibian" is to be taken in its literal sense, rather than in the sense of a taxonomic class like mammals, reptiles, etc. But how does a crocodile "appear moody and dejected"?

Jay Manifold [11:26 AM]

[ 20020414 ]

What did I do ... ? (A Continuing Series)

More Than Zero has me in the third category, below only the Olympians and the Trojans, in someplace called Kroton, with four others the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie: Iain Murray, "David" (that is, Derek) Lowe, Sophismata's "Raghu," and J Bowen of "No Watermelons Allowed."

Kroton appears to have been a Greek colony in southern Italy. The wife of Pythagoras, Theano, was from Kroton. Here is a clip of an evidently different Kroton attacking the Tardis. Some historical information about Kroton is here.

Yes, I'm floundering. Anyone who can help me understand why Andrew put me in Kroton is encouraged to write.

Jay Manifold [3:51 PM]

Another One of These Sunday Pieces

InstaPundit points to Red-Heifer Days, which in turn points to How Evangelicals Became Israel's Best Friend, an excellent overview of the astonishing philo-Semitism prevalent in American Christianity.

I have one point of disagreement with Weber's analysis. He writes:

Every year thousands of evangelicals take what amounts to a religious pilgrimage to Israel to "walk where Jesus walked" and see for themselves places they have read about their whole lives.

Evangelicals' view of the Bible gives them a proprietary interest in Israel. It is the Holy Land, the site of God's mighty deeds. In a way, they think the Promised Land belongs to them as much as it does to Israelis.

In my thirty years' experience inside this subculture, evangelicals certainly have an active interest in Israel, but it is not proprietary in any remotely literal sense. If it were, the US would have intervened to obliterate Israel's enemies long before now; the evangelical subculture is a plurality in the US and a solid majority in the South and Midwest, and it is utterly dominated by the dispensationalist eschatology Weber explains in the CT article. It is indeed most fortunate for the Syrians, Palestinians et al that our attitude does not, in fact, resemble that of the Crusaders to which they sometimes incautiously compare us. See Deus Volt!, below.

Weber's most intriguing point, to my mind, is this:

Part of the problem is the overconfidence evangelicals have about their prophetic views. Bible teachers are not inerrant; and they have changed their minds often. The history of prophetic interpretation shows that the Devil is in the details. Premillennialist prophecy pundits have been wrong over and over again about identifying Antichrist, setting dates for the Rapture, and a host of other things. Nobody anticipated the demise of the Soviet empire or most aspects of the Gulf War. When history takes unexpected turns, the experts have to make adjustments, redraw their maps, and come out with new editions. History is still full of surprises—so why make categorical statements about what cannot happen between Israel and her neighbors?

This brought to mind, among many other things, a conversation I had sometime in the early '80s with a friend who, like me, had come to reject the popular version of future events in the Middle East. We were discussing Hal Lindsey's The Late Great Planet Earth, a book so full of wretchedly inaccurate predictions as to nearly defy description (and as Weber notes without emphasizing the point, literally the best-selling book in the entire world published in the 1970s). My friend said, "I wonder what those people are going to be saying in about thirty years when we're all still here."

Well, twenty of those years have passed. Prophetic countdowns with their starting points in 1948 have expired, and any starting in 1967 are looking unhealthy. The Soviet Union is gone. The United States stands astride the world like a colossus, culturally, economically, and militarily. None of the other major players in the scenario have behaved as predicted -- the EU is turning into a thoroughly nasty bureaucracy, but in a sense it's exactly the opposite of a polity dominated by a single powerful personality. China is not expansionist and is lacking in logistical capabilities in any case.

And the best-selling series of books in the US for several years running has been the "Left Behind" series, which simply recycles the old scenario. The American appetite for apocalyptic predictions is apparently bottomless.

So the question remains: What will it take for dispensationalist eschatology to completely collapse? Resetting the scenario to start only when the Third Temple is built is certainly one way to stave off criticism. But what if -- and for American evangelicals, this is "thinking about the unthinkable" in a far more profound sense than contemplating, say, the thermonuclear destruction of the US -- Israel were to suffer a serious reversal? A nuclear (or other unconventional) strike, a crushing military defeat, a new diaspora, or a (further) Balkanization of the area, with the dissolution of the existing state and the countryside in the hands of international peacekeepers -- any of these events would seem to take us back a century or more. That they would likely be accompanied by the destruction of one or more Arab capitals is no consolation, because that doesn't fit the popular picture either.

I am left wondering where believers in this country will turn in the next decade or two. I cannot imagine that there will not be some event that makes it clear that we are no longer in the program called for by the Scofield Reference Bible and Dallas Theological Seminary. What then?

Jay Manifold [3:14 PM]

[ 20020412 ]

Scientific vs Political Debate

Virginia Postrel writes:

One quick note about the unpleasant intersection of science and politics: No one can promise that any line of basic research will lead to any particular treatments [sic] -- a point that the anti-research side makes repeatedly. That's true of all basic research. And it's definitely true of the alternatives touted to excuse a ban. No one knows those alternatives will work either. People who want to make cell cloning a crime are asking to pick a winner by putting the loser in jail. They're trying to criminalize the path of discovery itself.

What this battle about is the right to try to figure things out, to ask questions, to do experiments, in the belief that knowledge will lead to "the relief of man's estate."

Those of my readers who look through the items in the left section, or masthead, or whatever that thing is, will have noticed one labeled "Shameless Plug." This is for the Societal Connections of Planetary Exploration List over on Yahoo! groups, of which I am moderator. At the panel discussion which inspired me to form the group (you can read my notes here), Bob Nelson of JPL wisely remarked that much of the confusion attendant upon public discussion of scientific matters is caused by the differences between scientific debate and political debate. He cited the scientific definition of the word "theory," which means something much more tentative to non-scientists than it does to scientists.

I submit that Virginia's remarks on "the unpleasant intersection of science and politics" illustrate another symptom of the same problem -- in this case the tendency of the winners of political debate to foreclose possibilities altogether rather than merely redirect future efforts, as happens in science. Ironically, the Bush Administration, or some portion of it, is quite interested in the search for life elsewhere in the Solar System; thus the budget increases I reported from LPSC. But it also struggles with a crank view of the scientific process which attributes absurd motives to scientists. And the consequences are far more serious (that is, deadly) than those attendant upon fights over public school curricula.

Jay Manifold [1:22 PM]

Asteroids (An Apparently Endless Series)

Bill Walker forwarded me this article, which describes a search with an infrared telescope which, in combination with visible-light observations, yielded an estimate of 1.2 million asteroids > 1 km diameter in the main belt, nearly twice the previous number (and I'm old enough to remember when the estimate was 100,000). "The new 'best estimate' of about 1.2 million asteroids of 1 kilometre or larger in the main belt will not change the current estimates of impact hazard, the IDAS astronomers say; at least not yet."

Segue to Alex, who's after me to comment on The Real Threat to the Planet, a Sallie Baliunas column over on TCS, which states:

To date, about half of approximately 1,000 destructive asteroids that may cross the earth's orbit have been catalogued, and their orbits give assurance that there would be years of warning before a strike.

In reading the following, please note that Dr Baliunas, among other things, "... is Staff Astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and Deputy Director of the Mount Wilson Institute. She is also Visiting Professor at Brigham Young University and Adjunct Professor at Tennessee State University. She was awarded the Newton Lacey Pierce Prize by the American Astronomical Society and the Bok Prize from Harvard University." So when I say that her definition of "destructive" is too narrow, you should probably keep our relative accomplishments in mind. ;)

I nonetheless refer my readers to A Modest Proposal for an Asteroid Warning System and Asteroid Detection, Again. My contention is that the geopolitical risk posed by large atmospheric explosions caused by meteoroids -- and the available data indicate that we get a ~100 kT event every decade and a ~10 MT event every century -- is orders of magnitude greater than the purely physical risk of a large impactor destroying a city or devastating a coastline.

Furthermore, the meteoroids causing such explosions are well under 100 meters in diameter, making them typically 5-9 stellar magnitudes fainter than the NEOs being sought in the high-profile search efforts. For how to get around that problem, I direct you to my earlier posts, cited above. As for the political factors which make this a matter of some urgency, I can do no better than to say that "the fault lies not in our stars, but in ourselves."

Jay Manifold [6:19 AM]

[ 20020410 ]

Sign Up!

The anti-cloning-ban petition over at The Franklin Society is ready, so graze on over and sign it. Even the mainstream media stories about the Brownback-Landrieu bill (supported by Enemies of the Human Race Friends of the Earth) admit it's creepy; here's Reuters:

Opponents of cloning research began a push this week to outlaw all forms of human cloning, including experiments aimed at helping patients produce their own tissue and organ transplants. In a speech at the White House on Wednesday, President Bush is expected to ask the Senate to pass legislation that would ban all human cloning experiments.

See also my letter to the KCStar on this subject back in December.

Jay Manifold [6:45 AM]

~109 "Earths" in Milky Way?

That's the suggestion of Barrie Jones and Nick Sleep of The Open University. Note, however, that this represents the broadest possible definition of "earthlike world" -- simply a rocky planet 0.8-1.7 AU from its sun (adjust this range appropriately for stars of different luminosity). This is a long, long way from saying that this galaxy is full of planets with biospheres even remotely comparable to ours. See Rare Earth for a long list of unlikely conditions which may well be sufficient to make us unique in the Universe.

Jay Manifold [6:43 AM]

Crossing the Ice

Adventurers Quit Bering Strait Trip, says AP. Here's a really cool picture.

Well, there's only one thing to do about that: build this. I wanna be able to drive to Siberia! ;)

Jay Manifold [6:43 AM]

[ 20020409 ]

You Read It Here First

Computer scribe hits the web, says the BBC. Hah, says your not-especially-humble-on-this-occasion correspondent. Perusing the archives, we find Caveat Emptor:

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.

Advantage: Arcturus!

Jay Manifold [2:25 PM]

Chlorophyll on Mars?

I didn't want to post anything on this until I had something substantial, and thanks to Allen Treiman of the Lunar & Planetary Institute and the MARS-L listserv, now I do. I've inserted a couple of helpful hyperlinks in these excerpts from his posting:

... here is the abstract where Carol Stoker and others suggest chlorophyll on Mars. They looked through the superpan image spectra for those where the reflectance in red was less that that in green or infrared. They found six areas, four on the spacecraft and two on the ground near the spacecraft that fitted their criteria.

Question #1. Presumably, there is no chlorophyll on the spacecraft. Doesn't this prove that other materials besides chlorophyll pass their test? (I would imagine that many compounds of ferrous iron, copper, and chromium would pass).

Question #2. If , on the other hand, the four areas on the spacecraft are chlorophyll, is NASA's Planetary Protection office involved and "deeply concerned"???

Question #3. Could these four areas have unusual lighting rather than an unusual compound? Direct sunlight on Mars is rather blue, because the atmosphere scatters so much red (and IR). If a surface were shadowed from direct sunlight, and illuminated by bright sky and some reflected sunlight, it might very well pass Stoker's criteria for chlorophyll.

I'll keep an eye on this.

Jay Manifold [6:29 AM]

[ 20020408 ]

What Might Have Been

The Scene's pointer to the amazing rendition of Star Wars via ANSI terminal escape sequences gives us a fascinating glimpse into a parallel world in which ubiquitous e-mail and home terminals predated high telecommunications bandwidth and powerful microprocessors.

Imagine that regulatory foot-dragging had not delayed television by a decade and a half and that FDR had acted on his campaign promise to end Hoover's interventionist policies that were prolonging the Depression. We'd have had ubiquitous broadcast TV by the late '30s, tens of channels from cable and satellites by the early '50s (and concomitant development of rocketry for peaceful purposes instead of ICBMs), and a text-based web by the early '60s. Where we would be by now is difficult to imagine.

Jay Manifold [2:33 PM]

Deus volt!

Imagine for a moment the reaction of European Christians a millennium ago to a story analogous to Israel: Palestinians fired from church. Excerpts:

Palestinian gunmen who found refuge in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem exchanged gunfire with Israeli forces and two Israeli border police officers were wounded, sources on both sides said on Monday.

The Church of the Nativity is believed to be built over Jesus Christ's birthplace.

The Israelis said some 200 Palestinian gunmen are in the church along with priests and nuns. The gunmen set up a shooting position in one of the windows and clerics who have left the church said the militants had booby-trapped the doors, the army reported.

But American Christians aren't clamoring for the President to vaporize half the Middle East. Will the Europeans notice -- and wonder why?

And will the Palestinians ever understand just how lucky they are?

Jay Manifold [11:25 AM]

Quote of the Day Follow-Up

Reading Marburger: Terror war tops science list, we find John Marburger, the President's Science Advisor, unsurprisingly (and in my view correctly) advocating an incrementalist approach:

Science and scientists must approach the this [sic] war effort with careful steps, unlike the Manhattan Project's all-out effort to build nuclear capability with the blunt force of atomic bombs exploding in American deserts.

A quick look at Marburger's vitae suggests that he was born in 1940-41, making him a "last-wave Silent," in Generations parlance.

Jay Manifold [11:08 AM]

[ 20020407 ]

Advice for Libertarians - A Modest Proposal

This is the second of several follow-ups to this. In the previous member of this series, I casually accused some Libertarians of having a cartoonish view of what's wrong with the world. In this post, I roll out an idea for taking things in a different direction. Future entries will explain the following wish list and {gasp!} discuss implementation.

Here is my idea for an appropriate direction for the Libertarian Party:

Whereas the magnitude of the assault on the United States of America which occurred on September 11th, 2001 requires a principled reassessment of the long-standing libertarian advocacy of strict noninterventionism in foreign affairs; and

Whereas the domestic policies developed by the 107th Congress and the George W. Bush Administration in response to the assault of September 11th are saddeningly characteristic of major-party politics and demonstrative of insufficient regard for American liberties; and

Whereas the Libertarian Party's unique ability to expound the politics of freedom during each election cycle is imperiled by an appearance of irrelevancy arising from: 1) a seeming dismissal of the electorate's reaction to the assault of September 11th, in the form of "blaming the victim" and advocating only passive measures in response; and 2) a long-standing advocacy of an impractically abrupt cessation of governmental activities across a wide range of endeavors ...

Therefore be it resolved that in order to defend the freest country on Earth and the freedoms best seen there, the Libertarian Party will adopt the following approach toward the challenges now confronting the United States of America.

  1. We will work toward a purely voluntaristic society, while recognizing that no one knows, or can know, whether a complete absence of state-sponsored coercion is possible.

  2. We will point to the best aspects of the United States of America as our model, and we will defend America -- and defend the idea of defending it -- to the best of our ability.

  3. We will concentrate on marketing liberty more effectively, recognizing that moral suasion is the methodological corollary of voluntarism.

  4. We will exploit the fact that over 95% of all elected positions in the USA are local, non-partisan offices requiring relatively small numbers of votes to win, and will thereby build a large group of experienced libertarian officeholders prepared to influence public policy.

  5. We will argue from observation. Every policy we propose will have a sound historical precedent.

  6. We will include transition plans in our policies wherever necessary and will promulgate all policy changes through the regular legislative, amendment, or initiative and referendum processes. We will avoid the advocacy or use of executive orders or other types of rule by decree.

  7. We will recognize that an open society has no "end state," and that no platform can adequately encompass libertarianism.

  8. We will avoid recriminations over past failures by American governments, "because it would blunt the duty that each of us faces today: namely, the obligation to act independently, freely, reasonably and quickly." (Vaclav Havel)

(Regular readers of Arcturus will undoubtedly recognize that I violated #8 recently. Nobody's perfect.)

Now I'm going to do something unusual, especially since I don't have a "comments" feature on Arcturus. Of course, e-mails are always welcome. But I'm making a point of asking that if you like the above list, write me.

The next installment in this series will explain a bit more about why I listed what I did. I will then begin to explain practical steps toward their attainment.

Jay Manifold [3:02 PM]

[ 20020406 ]

And Here's Another

Many thanks to Kathy Kinsley for pointing to this article (part 1 part 2):

... a lot of dark foreboding ... after September 11 ... doesn't look that impressive. The events of the past several months have cast doubt on a century of mostly bourgeoisophobe cultural pessimism. Somehow the firemen in New York and the passengers on Flight 93 behaved like heroes even though they no doubt lived in bourgeois homes, liked Oprah, shopped at Wal-Mart, watched MTV, enjoyed their Barcaloungers, and occasionally glanced through Playboy. Even more than that, it has become abundantly clear since September 11 that America has ascended to unprecedented economic and military heights, and it really is not easy to explain how a country so corrupt to the core can remain for so long so apparently successful on the surface. If we're so rotten, how can we be so great?


And if [the bourgeoisophobes] weren't wrong, how does one explain the fact that almost all their predictions turned out to be false? For two centuries America has been on the verge of exhaustion or collapse, but it never has been exhausted or collapsed. For two centuries capitalism has been in crisis, but it never has succumbed. For two centuries the youth/the artists/the workers/the oppressed minorities were going to overthrow the staid conformism of the suburbs, but in the end they never did. Instead they moved to the suburbs and found happiness there.

Jay Manifold [8:37 PM]

Quote of the Day

From the Sage of Knoxville:

What "desperate" Palestinians do isn't a patch on what Americans will do if they ever become desperate.

Lest you doubt, have another look at this. Or, for that matter, this.

Jay Manifold [7:55 PM]

Nice Try, But It's Junk Science

Far be it from me to discourage church attendance, but Faith May Be Healing is bogus:

... scientists found those who attended religious services less than once a week or never had a 21 percent greater overall risk of dying and a 21 percent greater risk of dying from circulatory diseases.

Notwithstanding that "this difference [remained] even after adjusting for factors such as social connections and health behaviors, including smoking and exercising," that is, the usual negative correlation between religiosity and high-risk behavior was accounted for, 21% is nowhere near enough to be meaningful. This is almost as bad as that atrocious air-pollution "study" of a while back that hyped a 12% greater risk. Rule of thumb: ignore any difference of less than 50%, and don't feel compelled to act on anything less than 100-200%.

Jay Manifold [4:20 PM]

Nonlethal Weaponry (A Continuing Series)

Researchers at Sandia have developed a reusable flash-bang grenade that produces a pressure wave of only 10 psi and, thanks to the materials used, is less of a fire hazard than existing models. Check it out.

Jay Manifold [4:03 PM]

Advice for Libertarians - Diagnosis

This is the first of several follow-ups to this, aimed at 1) readers of "The Scene" in general and 2) Libertarian Party veterans in particular. A decent sense of self-awareness requires me to say that others may find them of less interest -- but I also hope that many bloggers and blog-readers who fall into the "I'm a libertarian but {insert disagreement with Libertarian Party here}" category will take the time to read them.

As Virginia Postrel recently said:

MORE ON LIBERTARIAN ISOLATION: Jay Manifold, a veteran of Libertarian Party activism, offers what he promises is the first of a couple of posts on the problems with treating national defense as something "unnecessary or merely passive." I suspect that the quasi-official libertarian policy of eschewing defense beyond national borders (if that) is starting to crack. There are just too many libertarians who think it doesn't make any sense.


... libertarians, like various racial minorities, should stop whining, take advantage of the many opportunities they already have, and use their brains and entrepreneurial spirit to create more.

I rashly promised to say something about my credentials and then diagnose why some Libertarians continue to blame the US for 9/11 and its successor events. Let's get the credentials out of the way fast:

Attended University of Chicago, became libertarian. Decided to act on it a few years later after reading this. Joined Missouri LP in '81, subsequently served briefly as vice-chair, then chair, then several years as secretary. Resumed activity after moving to Texas; helped with publicity in Dallas, was appointed vice-chair of state party, elected state chair in '94, reelected '96. Ran for office three times: Congress (MO-5) '86; Sec of State (MO) '88; State Rep (TX-103), '92. Got on TV about a zillion $#^&%$*@ times during the Waco mess and this memorable event. Have not been active since end of 2nd term as TX state chair in June of '98; now pursuing quiet existence in the nearest thing I've ever had to a hometown.

I spent quite a bit of my time and energy while in the LP 1) commenting on LPers' inappropriate behavior and 2) simultaneously fighting and enabling the usual laundry list of project-management failings: weak leadership, poor communication, ineffective planning, minimal ownership or commitment, inadequate resources, and conflicting priorities. My campaigns for office showed sparks of influence but were generally ineffective.

As the saying goes, however, the only project that's a complete failure is one you don't learn from. I learned a lot.

Having said that, I don't have much to add to the many criticisms of the LP's most recent presidential candidate which have appeared in the media in the past six months. In brief, political candidates or organizations which assign blame to this country for the events of 9/11/2001 are not only marginal, but ludicrously so, and such a stance threatens to render them permanently irrelevant.

More generally, the abruptness of the "abolitionist" measures typical of the LP's national platform and its recent presidential campaigns are not conducive to true liberty, and are in fact frighteningly reminescent of a "continental," ie French Revolution, approach to politics.

So why does this happen? Other people a whole lot smarter than me have commented on the tendency of marginalized organizations to be led by extremists; I offer here some observations from my own experience.

Personality types correlate with occupation and political leaning. Most people in the LP are motivated by a desire for competence, are comfortable with being alone, are drawn to scientific and technical fields, are logical thinkers, and make decisions quickly. A group dominated by such people has several advantages: it has a common subculture -- its members will recognize, albeit often unconsciously, familiar characteristics within one another which will tend to make them more comfortable in each others' presence; and that common subculture has a common language, resulting in greater efficiency of communication through a kind of verbal data compression.

Unfortunately, a group dominated by a single personality type also has some disadvantages. The members' level of comfort with one another may cause them to prefer one another's company to such an extent that they shun interaction with outsiders. The removal of negative feedback loops by limiting contact with the "real world" often leads to bizarre excesses and blind spots which are immediately obvious to outsiders, reducing the group's perceived relevance.

Characteristics of the LP's dominant personality type correlate negatively with political skill. Introversion and linear thinking do not constitute adaptive fitness in politics, where enjoyment of interaction with large numbers of people and adeptness at emotional and non-verbal communication are rewarded.

And LPers often express a preference for written, non-face-to-face communication, and in discomfort with interactions considered normal by most people. Discomfort often shades into dislike for people who grew up surrounded by others with whom they had difficulty communicating or even relaxing.

Add to all of this our natural human tendency to group all the things we don't like together, and even to imagine that they are connected in some way, and the situation is ripe for the development of truly strange ideological superstructures.

Indulge me momentarily while I illustrate this with an example from well outside the libertarian movement. An organization called Bill Gothard's Institute of Basic Youth Conflicts was enormously popular among American evangelicals in the 1970s (you can read lots more about this outfit here). The printed material distributed (only) at its conferences (and which was not supposed to be passed on or even discussed with anyone who had not attended a conference) included a chapter on politics. I got hold of a copy anyway. Gothard had an almost-Reconstructionist unbelief in religious freedom; he (at least back then) recognized only transitional states between dominating religions. Someone must rule, and if it's not "us," then we'd better get busy and take over.

But what sticks in my mind to this day is an illustration depicting a giant octopus with the limbs labeled "communism," "feminism," and six other -isms Gothard (and just about every politically conservative person in the country) didn't like. They were all part of the same thing, you see.

I hypothesize that what has happened among some Libertarians is a mental linkage of everything they don't like in the world to some policy of the Federal government of the United States. So if Islamic terrorists kill thousands of Americans, it's because of American interventionism abroad. If we'd just minded our own business, it would never have happened; the terrorists were just responding to some horrid thing the Feds did to them.

Unfortunately, contra Virginia, "the quasi-official libertarian policy of eschewing defense beyond national borders" is not starting to crack. But it can. Watch this space.

Jay Manifold [12:58 PM]

[ 20020405 ]

What's Killing Them (A Continuing Series)

Over on Turned up to eleven, Paul Orwin offers an intriguing hypothesis for the prevalence of AIDS in Africa:

In effect, it may be that the prevalent helminthic infections [definition] and other parasites are priming the population specifically for HIV infections, or they make the disease manifest more quickly (this is almost certainly true), or both (as I think most likely).

This explanation, of course, is not great news for social conservatives, who would like to believe that promiscuity or other societal factors are to blame, and therefore the solution lies there. It's also not great news for liberal activists, who would like to cure AIDS by handing out condoms or by ending poverty (that last bit would certainly help, although I think clean water is much more important).

See also this article.

Jay Manifold [10:59 AM]

One for Readers of "The Scene"

Those of you piling in here from Virginia's site will have recently read her comment:

Such anti-state libertarians often slip very quickly into alliances with the anti-trade, anti-immigration, anti-cosmopolitan reactionaries of the left and right. They imagine that at some golden age in the past, their perfect world existed until it was ruined by foreigners, industry, abolitionists, or some other force of change.

Well, in what I really wish was an April 1 piece but isn't, Paul Craig Roberts, of all people, writes (on World Net Daily):

Free trade with China boils down to U.S. firms purchasing Chinese labor to produce for the U.S. market. Wage attainment of U.S. white males will continue to deteriorate as the proportion of U.S. labor involved in the production of high-wage advanced technology goods declines. Having shipped out the jobs that pay, U.S. consumers won't be able to pay for the products they are accustomed to consuming.

The United States already has the export profile of a Third World country. The massive influx of poor immigrants from the Third World and the outflow of advanced technology will complete the transformation of the United States from a superpower into a colony.

Paul Craig Roberts, a Buchananite "fair trader"?! Thanks to Alan Henderson for passing this one along -- I usually find WND too scurrilous to read -- and for his perceptive question: "So what IS America's comparative advantage?" We need to keep an eye on Roberts' falsifiable prediction, such as it is; he carefully avoided providing a time scale for our supposedly inevitable transformation into a "colony." Just another right-winger afraid of the world. Sad.

Jay Manifold [7:12 AM]

[ 20020404 ]

Asteroid 1950 DA

CNN Headline News is already running with this story. The Asteroid Radar Research site says:

Integration of the orbit of asteroid (29075) 1950 DA, estimated from optical and radar astrometry, reveals a 20-min interval in March 2880 when the asteroid might collide with Earth.

However, the NASA NEO Program Web Page includes this:

When high-precision radar meaurements were included in a new orbit solution, a potentially very close approach to the Earth was detected on March 16, 2880. Analysis performed by Giorgini et al and reported in the April 5, 2002 edition of the journal Science ("Asteroid 1950 DA's Encounter With Earth in 2880: Physical Limits of Collision Probability Prediction") determined the impact probability as being at most 1 in 300 and probably even more remote, based on what is known about the asteroid so far. At its greatest, this could represent a risk 50% greater than that of the average background hazard due to all other asteroids from the present era through 2880 ...

Don't let anybody sell you any insurance on this one. For more of Steve Ostro's excellent work, read my report from LPSC.

Jay Manifold [8:33 PM]

Some Canned Remarks on Libertarianism and War

With respect to Virginia's comments on libertarian isolationists and Brink Lindsey's comments on anti-war libertarians, here's an excerpt from something I wrote during an otherwise idle moment on a business trip in early December, the first time I'd flown since 9/11:

The United States of America is "the last, best hope of Earth." It is the polity in which our hopes are nearest their realization. It contains by far the greatest number of people who share libertarian principles, as enshrined in its Declaration of Independence and Constitution. Its freedom and spontaneous order have produced, in the span of two centuries, cultural and technological achievements outweighing those of all earlier societies combined. Outcasts and refugees from throughout the world have immigrated to it and flourished as they could have nowhere else. For all these reasons, libertarians everywhere should point to America's successes as their model, and they should defend America -- or defend the idea of defending it -- to the best of their ability. There exists no alternative concrete example with which to inspire hope among ordinary people around the world. It is our country.

Defense of the United States is not metaphorical. Its inhabitants and material assets must be physically protected from attack. This protection may take proactive forms, and may entail substantial efforts to manage future risk by meliorating the effects of authoritarianism elsewhere in the world. Libertarians should work toward mechanisms for voluntary financing of such activities, but they should not pretend that defense is unnecessary or merely passive.

The issue of national defense is no easier for me to address than it is for most Libertarians. I have doubted the value of most American military expenditures for as long as I have been aware of world events. For that matter, I still do. What our new situation requires is surely far less than what is actually being spent on "defense." But it just as surely requires decisive and proactive measures.

We must address what is needed to forestall any repeat of the events of September 11th. Fantasies that a proclamation of noninterventionism will somehow have an incantatory protective effect are unworthy of rational people. The world will be just as dangerous the day after we have solemnly pledged to ignore its dangers.

To be sure, most of the new domestic policies so far developed in response to the attack are useless or worse. They fail to reflect the innate strength and self-organizing abilities of American society -- and thanks to their source, major-party politicians, they threaten to violate our liberties as well. Our criticism of bad ideas must be unrelenting.

I will follow up in the near future with some remarks on my libertarian credentials, such as they are, and a diagnosis of pathological noninterventionism which differs somewhat from, but is complementary to, Brink Lindsey's.

Jay Manifold [7:49 PM]

Comet and Andromeda Galaxy Visible Together Tonight

-- and tomorrow night. Viewing instructions courtesy of UniSci. If it's clear where you are, grab a pair of binocs and go get it!

Jay Manifold [6:08 PM]

Christian Reconstructionism = Saruman

Or, a typically sharp-eyed commentary from Alan Henderson, who sent me this, to which I replied with this. Alan then wrote:

If the political status quo is Sauron, [Christian Reconstructionists] are Saruman. The section in the Reason article titled Intellectual liberty (other religions department) is particularly instructive. If a government assumes the authority to prohibit the public expression of non-Christian faith, it will assume the authority to prohibit the public expression of misrepresentations of Christianity, which is arguably an even more serious offense in God's eyes. What government body is going to determine what is and isn't real Christianity? Will it limit itself to regulating expression of key doctrines only, or will it enforce minutiae? It will do the latter; because it adopts a Mosaic law that is full of minutiae (although far from the Byzantine code drafted by the Pharisees). How will a COR government that claims to have the highest religious authority in the land regard the Catholic/Orthodox doctrine of apostolic succession that challenges Protestant claims to official church office? And what will happen to those of us who believe that the Church should remain a private-sector concern to protect God's authority from being usurped by the government and God's word being re-created in the government's image? Three words: Radio Free Belize.

And how does one set up a Deuteronomy-correct government without Levites? Michael Medved, call your office.

So far as I know, the Scientology folks haven't drawn any parallels between L. Ron and Elrond. Better not - that volcano on the Dianetics cover kinda brings Mount Doom to mind.

Since Rushdoony is dead and North is -- I hope -- thoroughly discredited thanks to Y2K, we may reasonably hope that Reconstructionism will disappear.

Jay Manifold [7:53 AM]

[ 20020403 ]

Gold vs Brains (II)

The esteemed Andrew Hofer (link to More Than Zero at left) graciously compliments me on my earlier rant and points to additional evidence that gold isn't any better than any other commodity.

Jay Manifold [6:23 PM]