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[ 20030730 ]

More Developments in News Story Power Law Distribution

(Those just grazing in should read this and this first.) Kevin Munden, who would be on my payroll if I had one, did a whole bunch more work on this topic and sent it to me. He also copied Dr Andrew Cline, whose report you may read here. I'm just going to post the graphic, once again kindly converted and uploaded for me by Leo Johns:

Please note that blogging will be light -- well, nonexistent, actually -- until Sunday night at the earliest, as I am taking a road trip to, among other places, Carhenge.

Jay Manifold [2:44 PM]

[ 20030728 ]

An Evening at Powell Observatory

I've mentioned this fine facility several times on this blog. Back in April I went through the "keyholder training," after which I was encouraged to begin showing up on the "public nights" and making myself useful. Other responsibilities, of course, then immediately intervened; but on Saturday night I finally made it down to Louisburg to help out.

(Note to visitors: due to construction on 271st and Jingo Rd, access to Lewis-Young Park is from 263rd at the moment. If you're driving out US-69 from KC, you're better off exiting at 247th and going down Old Metcalf to 263rd than driving through Louisburg itself.)

I arrived a few minutes after 8 PM, while the Sun was still up. The evening's program, "The Life and Death of Stars," was already being presented in the lecture room, since a large crowd had arrived early -- they did a second session later. I hung around outside, chatting with the members of the team assigned to man the observatory, and when the first session of the program ended, drifted over to the Louisburg Community Telescope (yes, that's Marvin the Martian on the side of the tube), expecting to fill a sort of assistant's assistant role.

What happened instead was that I wound up practically running both 'scopes -- the LCT is plural now; there's a 12.5" in addition to the original 16" -- for the next three hours. There was quite a mob. I probably escorted 50 people to the eyepiece of one or both instruments.

They're both Newtonian reflectors by Meade. The 12.5" is an f/4.8, focal length 1525 mm, and it had a 25 mm eyepiece, yielding 61x. The 16" is an f/4.5, focal length 1830 mm, and it had a 40 mm eyepiece, yielding 46x. The 12.5" didn't have a finder at all, and the 16" had a Telrad, which didn't seem to work very well (I hasten to add that this was anomalous; Telrads have an excellent reputation). This may have left me uniquely qualified to run the LCT, as my ancient Odyssey I never had a finder at all and is sufficiently decrepit that I've had lots of practice at pointing a big telescope under difficult circumstances.

I will hereafter refer to the LCT in the singular, so as to avoid having to recount (or remember) exactly which one was pointed at what at any given moment. I started out by pointing it at Vega, which was of course one of the first stars visible, just so people would have something to look at as the sky darkened -- no Moon or bright planets in the evening sky (later I also pointed it at, whaddaya know, Arcturus). Not having prepared anything in advance, I had no star maps and no red flashlight or LED with which to read any that might have been available, so I had to work from memory.

Fortunately, sky transparency was at least halfway decent, and the seeing was actually pretty good. A partial list of objects viewed by the crowd:

Eventually another guy showed up with an issue of Astronomy, with which we found M4 and M16/IC4703.

The visitors were all ages, from Cub Scouts and other small children who had to be picked up to get to the eyepiece to retirement-age people. They'd driven in from all over the metro area and beyond -- I talked to one man from Manhattan (the one in Kansas, not the other one), and there were several clergy from St. Mary of Egypt Orthodox Church.

A surprising number of people stayed late enough to see Mars, which didn't rise above the line of trees to the east of the main dome until at least 11:30 PM. Even at only 61x in the 12.5", it was spectacular -- some surface features (Mare Acidalium, I think) clearly visible and the brightness of the north polar cap at one limb. For the next couple of months, it's going to be at least that good; the opposition is one month from today as I write this. Don't miss it!

Jay Manifold [7:42 AM]

Apollo vs Woodstock, Canadian Version

I'm afraid that the historical relationship I noted here will not hold for this pair of events.

Seriously, it sounds like a phenomenal show, at least parts of which I would love to attend. Readers in or near Toronto who do so are invited to send a report.

Jay Manifold [7:41 AM]


Over on Alphecca, I've been assigned penance for thinking up a new cabinet-level department by being nominated to head it during the upcoming Reynolds/Lucas Administration -- in many ways, the roughest job suggested for me since Steve Crager nominated me to be ambassador to Sweden ... long story.

Well, I suppose it'll be a tough job, but somebody's got to do it. But I should go beyond that; I hereby promise to make the DoDFES hip. During my tenure, "Manage Risk" bumper stickers will become wildly popular, far outstripping such present-day favorites as "United We Stand," "War Is Not The Answer," and "Prevent Inbreeding: Ban Country Music." All the cool kids will be reading the PMBOK, especially chapter 11. Best of all, Rand will get stuck with NASA. ;)

Jay Manifold [7:41 AM]

Arcturus Acquired

-- by Fanatical Apathy, according to it. Most of FA's humor is DNC-approved (if not DNC-written), but some of it is funny anyway, like for example Greenspan Betrays America With Rogue Concept.

Jay Manifold [7:40 AM]

[ 20030726 ]

A Possibly Related Problem

-- related to the power-law distribution of news stories, that is; via Transterrestrial Musings, Donald Luskin quotes economist John Seater, of North Carolina State University:

Given such a cast of characters, it is no wonder the Times writes such vacuous, foolish editorials; their writers haven't the skills to understand the issues they hector us about. A first-rate writer not only writes well but also understands what he is writing. [But] the Times ... doesn't hire people like that, not in economics or anything else (except for legal issues). The problem seems to go well beyond the Times, afflicting many leading newspapers and television networks. I am puzzled by all this. Markets usually work quite well at weeding out the bad products and replacing them with good products. So either there is a market failure of some sort in the entire national news business, or there are a large number of news consumers who enjoy reading or hearing ignorant assertions by untrained people.

I suspect the latter. The structural biases of journalism, after all, have not come about by happenstance or conspiracy; they are a reflection of human nature. Science, in particular, is a far less intuitive pursuit than the narrative art (or we'd have developed it tens of thousands of years ago). The NYTimes' editorial writers may be somewhat less qualified to write about science than, say, I am; but they sure can write.

The interesting question, I suppose, is how to manage the risk this poses in the public-policy arena, where the whims of liberal-arts majors can become monumentally destructive.

Jay Manifold [8:25 AM]

[ 20030724 ]

Like Junkyard Wars, But For Real

There are two things wrong with the caption to this picture: the "gh" in Florida Straits and the repellent policy, both literally and figuratively, being enforced by the US Coast Guard. I'm sure that Castro's torturers welcomed these 12 people with open arms.

Jay Manifold [2:32 PM]

The Machine Recovers

Over on Redwood Dragon, Dave Trowbridge suggests that

The very strength of of the Internet that makes it proof against nuclear war and other physical attacks, its distributed nature, makes it even more vulnerable to [an] attack [on Cisco routers], because its defense depends on hundreds or thousands of organizations and individuals, while the attack can be mounted by one or just a few.

Being unqualified to properly evaluate the technical risk doesn't, as usual, keep me from commenting. ;)

  1. Putative disasters are routinely portrayed as uniquely hazardous, but in reality, catastrophes are rarely unprecedented; for example, this event was probably more severe than any deliberate act of biological terrorism this country is at all likely to experience. And we have obviously weathered any number of denial-of-service attacks.

  2. More generally, American society exhibits a tremendous degree of homeostasis. I need hardly remind my readership of the response of the residents and workers of lower Manhattan on 9/11/01, but I'm going to anyway, because one of the biggest things that got demolished that morning was the prejudice, common to Midwesterners like myself in particular, that NYC was a jungle where cooperation in the event of such a drastic stimulus would be nonexistent. We would have expected chaos and looting; what we got was an utterly incredible combination of open-air infirmary and chapel, where essentially everyone was either rescuing someone else or praying (or both).

  3. In the specific case of the Cisco router vulnerability, Dave's example says: "There were no immediate reports of outages or slowdowns, suggesting that network administrators heeded Cisco's warnings about the flaw and implemented workarounds or installed the free patch."

Dave's allusion to E.M. Forster is nonetheless appropriate in at least one respect: some of her story's characters seem dangerously like bloggers:

She made the room dark and slept; she awoke and made the room light; she ate and exchanged ideas with her friends, and listened to music and attended lectures; she make the room dark and slept. Above her, beneath her, and around her, the Machine hummed eternally; she did not notice the noise, for she had been born with it in her ears. The earth, carrying her, hummed as it sped through silence, turning her now to the invisible sun, now to the invisible stars. She awoke and made the room light.

So don't forget to go outside once in a while. ;)

UPDATE: Not that we don't have some serious challenges (warning: 398kB *.pdf): "Our analysis shows that this [electronic] voting system is far below even the most minimal security standards applicable in other contexts."

Jay Manifold [8:31 AM]

Quagmire in Antarctica

When will the occupiers learn their lesson and withdraw?

Jay Manifold [7:37 AM]

Perseid Meteor Shower Plans

Per this excellent explanatory page, looks like 4 AM local time on Wed 13 Aug is the best shot, what with all the moonlight (hat tip: Alan Boyle). Weather permitting, I'll be at Blue & Gray; see this earlier post for my preferred observing location.

Jay Manifold [5:46 AM]

[ 20030723 ]

Ancient Metaphor Enhanced

-- this metaphor, that is; in Astronomers count the stars, we learn that "there are 10 times more stars in the visible Universe than all the grains of sand on the world's beaches and deserts."

Jay Manifold [6:08 PM]

Why I Am Not A Conservative

Hayek's answer is here, and while agreeing with it, I also incline toward the findings of this study (the lead author of which is from Stanford, not Berkeley, so it's not "your tax dollars at work"; but many thanks to Glenn for bringing it to my attention).

UPDATE: Just to rub it in, this quote from Doc Searls: "Two oddly allied mentalities provide intellectual air cover for ... threats to the marketplace. One is the extreme comfort certain industries feel inside their regulatory environments. The other is the high regard political conservatives hold for successful enterprises. Combine the two, and you get conservatives eagerly rewarding companies whose primary achievements consist of successful long-term adaptation to highly regulated environments."

Jay Manifold [6:07 PM]

[ 20030722 ]

Power Law Distribution in News Coverage

Occasional correspondent Kevin Munden writes:

  1. I go to Google News.

  2. Now I whip out Excel and enter the story-related links numbers.

  3. Next I sort by number of links.

  4. Then I rate stories as a percentage of total.

  5. I have to assume there are 1000's of stories out there that didn't make Google's cutoff -- they are the equivalent of the meaningless microbes in NZ Bear's Ecosystem.

  6. I pull a chart off of this, and it sure looks like a power law distribution to me.

And with thanks to Leo Johns for formatting and uploading, here it is:

Kevin continues:

I hypothesize that repeating this process hourly, and over all the different topic subsections, will turn up an average curve that's extremely close to a perfect power law distribution.

What this means to me is that the news media is every bit the interlinked, cross-connected, and self-referential network that the blogosphere is [emphasis added -- JDM].

What makes one story bigger than another? I bet there are many in media who'd really like to know the answer to that one. I know scandal sells. Stories about kids sell. Celebrity and infamy Sell.

But I wonder why one story about an abducted kid takes off and has legs, while another pretty much identical one peters out after a day or two. Why the Niger Yellowcake story grows, while the bioweapon spewing drone aircraft story goes away.

Good questions all. I think this is both important and subject to greatly improved understanding once the blogosphere gets ahold of it, so I'm going to end this post with three suggestions:

  1. Read Dr Andrew Cline's explication of the structural biases of journalism as a starting point.

  2. Read my silly little parable; if you haven't already, read Clay Shirky's semi-famous application of power laws to weblogs; and if necessary, review the math.

  3. Send ideas and suggestions here.

More developments as they occur ...

Jay Manifold [5:39 PM]

[ 20030720 ]


What I said then.

Jay Manifold [1:34 PM]

[ 20030718 ]

Nanotechnological ... Pants?

As Dave Barry would say, I am not making this up.

Jay Manifold [5:15 PM]

[ 20030717 ]

Little-Known Historical Fact of the Day

Attendance at Apollo 11 launch, Wed 16 Jul 69: "Just less than a million"

Attendance at Woodstock, Fri 15 - Sun 17 Aug 69: "approximately 400,000 people attended the show"

Since the Woodstock figure is probably an exaggeration, we may safely assume that the crowd at Cape Canaveral was three times the size of the one at Yasgur's farm.

Jay Manifold [4:49 PM]

Asteroid Danger Refined

This story is being hailed as indicating much lower risk from asteroids, but Robert Roy Britt's article over on Space.com does an excellent job of explaining that it's not necessarily good news:

A stony space rock must be about the size of two football fields, or 720 feet (220 meters) in diameter, to endure the thickening atmosphere and slam into the planet, according to the study, led by Philip Bland of the Department of Earth Science and Engineering at Imperial College London.

"Stones of that size are just at the border where they're going to reach the surface -- a bit lower density and strength and it'll be a low-level air burst, a bit higher and it'll hit as a load of fragments and you'll get a crater," said Bland, who is also a Royal Society Research Fellow.


"An airburst would be a blast somewhere in the region of 500-600 megatons," Bland said in an e-mail interview. "As a comparison, the biggest-ever nuclear test was about 50 megatons."

Combined with:

The results suggest rocks about 720 feet across (220 meters) are likely to actually hit the surface every 170,000 years or so.

And a power-law size distribution, such that smaller meteoroids are much more numerous than larger ones, results in:

... as many as two or three dozen objects ranging from the size of a television to a studio apartment explode in the atmosphere every year, according to data from U.S. military satellites.

If a 200-meter-diameter meteoroid typically results in a 500-megaton blast, a 2-meter-diameter one -- that is, with 1/1,000,000 the mass -- at the same velocity would yield half a kiloton. If this happens 30 times a year over the entire surface area of Earth (oceans included), it should happen about once a year in the US.

And it does.

(Newer readers are encouraged to browse A Modest Proposal for an Asteroid Warning System and Asteroid Detection, Again for background information.)

Jay Manifold [1:32 PM]

[ 20030716 ]

Advice for Organizers of Flash Crowds/Mobs

Regular correspondent and Friday lunch-bunch attendee Leo Johns remarks that Flash Crowds and Flash Mobs remind him of this, and says: "I hope that no mob project creates some physical disturbance - like unexpected load on an older building balcony - that results in a catastrophe." Organizers, take note.

Jay Manifold [4:31 PM]

Regime Change #3 of ?

If this holds, up, chalk up another one for the Administration.

The analogy fails at many points, but GWBush is beginning to remind me of one of his predecessors:

As far as we know, as President, his only reading materials were government documents and Bible scriptures.

He was a man whose mind was closed to abstractions and new ideas. But one of the truly striking things about [him] was his self-confidence.

He doesn’t seem to have had any interest in or aptitude for conceptionalizing broader policy issues. He was much more interested in policy implementation. That’s not to say that [he] was not interested in the big picture -- he just needed someone to draw it for him.

The subtleties of diplomatic negotiations between nations were completely lost on someone like [him]. He practiced a policy of brinkmanship. It didn’t really matter [what] ... country [it] was ... the negotiating posture remained the same. [He] really believed that he could pressure ... nations into surrendering to American demands.

Many historians have never forgiven [him] for that. What they see in him is a president who waged a war of conquest against a weaker neighbor. But the consequences of that war clearly benefited the United States.

So, how do you reconcile the two? On one hand, do Americans want to accept their role as a world power or do they want to adhere to those lofty principles that were responsible for the birth of this nation in the 18th century?

Polk was an unpleasant person, but he may have been the most effective President in American history:

Texas, which he regarded as having once been a part of the country, must be restored to the United States, and the Oregon country, to which America held a clear and unquestionable title and which at that very moment was being settled by thousands of Americans, must be brought under the jurisdiction of American republicanism, in spite of the grasping hands of British imperial power. To these goals were added the reduction of the tariff to a revenue level, with the elimination of the protective principle so dear to the hearts of Whigs, and the establishment of the independent treasury system, the democratic alternative to the Whig preference for an all-powerful central bank. Finally, Polk added the acquisition of California, an aim that sprang from economic and manifest destiny considerations as well as from signs of British encroachment on the Pacific coast.

Texas: check. Oregon: check. Tariff reduction: check. Independent treasury: check. California: check.

Hmm ... Afghanistan: check. Iraq: check. Iran? North Korea? Zimbabwe?

Robert W. Johannsen concludes:

Harry Truman, a person of no little presidential experience himself, put it best: Polk "exercised the powers of the Presidency ... as they should be exercised"; he knew "exactly what he wanted to do in a specified period of time and did it, and when he got through with it he went home."

So take heart, Democrats. This may be a one-term Administration after all. ;)

Jay Manifold [4:13 PM]

[ 20030715 ]

They Didn't Use My Suggestion

(That would be this suggestion.) But they did manage the risk rather cleverly. Hat tip: Rand Simberg.

Jay Manifold [5:07 PM]

The Bringer of War

Put the Holst on and graze over here. 44 days until the best opposition in 60,000 years.

Jay Manifold [4:56 PM]

Flash Mobs

For all your mobbing needs, graze on over to Mob(b)log, which kindly referenced my tie-in to Niven's "flash crowd" concept.

Jay Manifold [9:37 AM]

[ 20030714 ]

Technolaters, Technophobes, and Technoneutralists

A thoughtful post covering various attitudes towards technology is over on Dienekes' Anthropology Blog.

Jay Manifold [4:56 PM]

[ 20030712 ]

While Liberals Slept

As an equal-opportunity offender, I point my readership to this scathing criticism of CALEA by Robert X. Cringely, currently tied at #18 on Blogdex. This is what resulted from Clinton's fecklessness and a supine Left -- the same Left that now howls about CALEA's inevitable offspring, PATRIOT and PATRIOT II, only because there is a Republican in the White House:

... it can be hacked.

And it has been.

Israeli companies, spies, and gangsters have hacked CALEA for fun and profit, as have the Russians and probably others, too. They have used our own system of electronic wiretaps to wiretap US, because you see that's the problem: CALEA works for anyone who knows how to run it. Not all smart programmers are Americans or wear white hats. We should know that by now. CALEA has probably given up as much information as it has gathered. Part of this is attributable to poor design and execution, part to pure laziness, part to the impossibility of keeping such a complex yet accessible system totally secure, and part because hey, they're cops, they're good guys. Give 'em a break. Have a donut.

This vulnerability is never discussed in public because it is an embarrassment to law enforcement and because the agencies that pay for CALEA don't want its vulnerability to be known. That might compromise national security. Alas, national security is already compromised by the system itself, and the people who might take advantage of the vulnerability have known about it for years. Only we are kept in the dark.

We'll probably fix the abuses in time to avert another 9/11. Probably. But none of it had to happen. Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty, folks. Some things really are more important than who's in the White House.

UPDATE: Graze on over to Transterrestrial Musings and read this. Stupidity is breaking out all over.

Jay Manifold [7:37 AM]

[ 20030711 ]

In Which I Coin A Term

(See #2 on the list below.) Thanks also to Glenn for pointing to the Technorati Link Cosmos of this incident (the original is here), which I hope we will all take to heart; lessons learned should include:

  1. Somebody out there has borderline personality disorder and has been playing spy for twenty years, rather like the losers who pass themselves off as Medal of Honor recipients.

  2. "Terrance J. Wilkinson" is still at large; beware lest you be, well, Wilkinsoned.

  3. In a country of 290 million people and a technological civilization of, say, 1 billion, there are bound to be more Wilkinsons. Lots more; the site I point to in #1, above, leads off with: "During two tours in Vietnam, I never met as many Rangers, Green Berets or Navy Seals as one can find on almost any given evening at the 'watering holes' of virtually any American city."

  4. I stand by my earlier prediction of deliberate "subculture hacks" via blogging.

  5. Finally, for members of a certain subculture, two words: Mike Warnke.

Doug Thompson has done us all a great service. We should thank him, and follow his example.

Jay Manifold [6:24 AM]

The End Justifies the Means

Well, that's what the Nevada Supreme Court says -- if the end is publicly-funded education and if the means is the deliberate, explicit suspension of a provision of the state constitution. Thanks to the InstaMan and, per Eugene Volokh, Rick Henderson for bringing this travesty to light.

God help us all if this kind of reasoning catches on ... but locals will recognize that there has been something like a precedent around these parts:

The judge may have been misinformed about the solutions. But no one can accuse him of being timid or indecisive. To pay for all the changes. improvements, programs and new schools, he unilaterally increased property taxes 150%, imposed a 1.5% income tax surcharge and, when that wasn't enough, ordered the state of Missouri to make up for the shortfall.

Jay Manifold [5:09 AM]

[ 20030710 ]

Truman Diary

Leave it to the WaPo to put a hysterical spin on the story; they're describing this as "anti-Semitic":

"Put an underdog on top and it makes no difference whether his name is Russian, Jewish, Negro, Management, Labor, Mormon, Baptist he goes haywire. I've found very, very few who remember their past condition when prosperity comes."

Written by a man who knew his Proverbs, specifically 30:22a, which the Washington Post apparently does not.

For a considerably more clear-headed account that covers the real story, see this article.

Jay Manifold [6:02 PM]

A Classical Liberal, That Is

Liberal Idiot
You are a Liberal Idiot. Your heart is bleeding
and on your sleeve. Your celebrity icon is
Hillary Clinton.

What Kind Of Idiot Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

Jay Manifold [3:08 PM]

Bob Herbert Nails It

With this, currently at #14 on Technorati: "These are not small issues. They are the day-to-day reality for millions of people, in most cases good and talented people who have had an already tough road made tougher by self-imposed roadblocks, and bad advice from their peers." Read the whole thing.

Jay Manifold [9:33 AM]

Don't Step in the Pula, Mr President

I'm kidding. But after reading this article, the suggestion is irresistible:

"The people of this nation have the courage and resolve to defeat this disease and you will have a partner in the United States of America," Bush told Botswana's President Festus Mogae in a toast kicking off a festive luncheon.

"This is the deadliest enemy Africa has ever faced, and you will not face this enemy alone."

Bush's brief remarks were greeted with chants of "Pula! Pula!," which means "all good things."

Jay Manifold [7:27 AM]

[ 20030709 ]

No Surprises Here

What rating is your journal?

brought to you by Quizilla

Jay Manifold [6:30 AM]

[ 20030708 ]

For Iranian Liberty

I was introduced to her at a church singles meeting. Not knowing what else to say, I asked where she was from, and she told me to guess. I guessed, and guessed again, and again, and a few more times, before giving up. She enjoyed this considerably.

The answer was Iran, specifically Ahwaz, the capital of Khuzestan province, the flat bit in the southwest corner of the country; the corner with most of the oil. She had been in the US for several years in the mid-'80s. But not ever since the Revolution.

I owe you a description of her, but a sense of discretion -- and my status as a married man -- leave me reluctant to start down that road. So my heterosexual male readers are merely invited to recall the most exotically beautiful woman they've ever seen and imagine her two or three notches better-looking. No name, either, mostly because although I could probably reach her with a couple of phone calls, I haven't, and so haven't gotten her approval to tell her story.

She was smart, too. And very determined. Should have been swarmed with guys. A bit temperamental, and the looks/brains/personality combo was utterly intimidating, which is one reason why we never hit it off too well; my self-concept just wasn't up to it in my mid-twenties.

We got together a few times a year. Once I hosted a "dinners for eight" at my place, again with various church singles, and invited her. After a couple of hours I kicked the rest of them out and took her down to Powell Observatory, which was then quite new. It was a lovely summer evening. We sat on the lawn that stretched south of the main dome between two stands of trees, and watched the sun go down and the stars come out, an uncertain young man with a gorgeous young woman; and in that setting, of all places, she told me part of her story.

When Saddam Hussein invaded Iran in 1981, Ahwaz was the main objective. She endured artillery barrages and air raids. During aerial attacks, in particular, there was almost no warning. She would take a shower, wondering if she would hear the jets in time to leap out and dive under something.

A few months later, she was apparently conscripted into some kind of state secretarial pool -- I'm not at all sure how this happened, partly because her English wasn't that good and there were terms she couldn't easily translate. In any case, she began to be sent to various places to work, mostly associated with the oil industry, of course.

Then they rotated her out to Kharg Island for twenty days. The Persian Gulf was beautiful and the water invitingly warm, but no swimming: sharks. Considerably more relevant to her situation was that Kharg Island was, for a time, the largest oil refinery in the world, and the Iraqi Navy was accordingly trying to blow it up.

The gunboats came at night, and the sound of their motors carried over the water. The facility was entirely blacked out to avoid detection. So night after night, she lay in utter darkness, literally unable to see her hand in front of her face, waiting to be blown apart.

She survived, and escaped the mullahs the next year, through Switzerland, Germany, and France, to the very middle of America.

On this day -- it is already July 9th in Iran -- young Iranians will march for their freedom. Notwithstanding the clarity of purpose given us by 9/11/01, many Americans have only a vague idea of what we are fighting, or why, or even who, and are surprisingly reluctant to confront the enemy. (This extends even to the current Administration, with its ties to the Saudis.)

I therefore offer this image of why we fight the Axis of Evil: Because it puts beautiful young women in places like Kharg Island.

And young men in worse ones; she lost a brother in the war before it ended.

May the rising generation in Iran replace evil with good.

Jay Manifold [8:29 PM]

State Budget Watch

Missouri may be bad, but California is always worse. It ain't a resource problem, folks -- it's a prioritization problem. Possibly, in Missouri's case, made worse by Ashcroft's botched highway program (see p 3, "Summary of Results").

Jay Manifold [5:10 PM]

I Told You So (A Continuing Series)

Looted from the Iraqi National Museum: 7 "masterpieces," 40 other exhibition-quality pieces, and ~104 random objects from the storage room. It's a classic power-law distribution.

The BBC story also makes reference to the difficulty of managing risk in the aftermath:

Archaeology professor Elizabeth Stone, from Stony Brook University in New York .... said antiquities were being traded in markets - souks - but the US military were "too scared to go in there because people were going to get killed."

"It's not an easy thing to do to shut these down," she said.

Another job for the Dept of Defeated Former Enemies' Security?

Jay Manifold [1:56 PM]

The Roads Must Roll

Well, OK, the trottoirs roulant rapide must roll:

[the trottoir's inventor, Anselme] Cote says one obvious application would be to speed up transfer times between train stations - for example the Gare de Lyon and Chatelet in Paris, or Euston and King's Cross train stations in London.

Two TRRs in sequence could be used over a distance of one kilometre - on the Champs-Elysees or at Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport for example, Mr Cote says.

"The real problem nowadays is how to move crowds; they can travel fast over long distances with the TGV (high-speed train) or airplanes, but not over short distances (under 1km)," he says.

You can travel from Le Mans to Paris in 50 mins, he points out, but crossing Montparnasse Station may take you 20 minutes.

Jay Manifold [12:05 PM]

New Found Lands (VI)

Continuing a series ... Randy McDonald's latest essay on space colonization may be found here.

Jay Manifold [12:04 PM]

Project Management in DC

-- suffers from the same problems all projects do, only more so:

  1. High scope/quality demands: "Because it's part of the Capitol, the Visitor Center needs to be impressive, said Alan Hantman, the congressionally appointed Architect of the Capitol, whose office is in charge of the project. 'We're trying to make sure that it's of a quality that says we are a great country .... This is the people's house.'"

  2. ... and a firm schedule ("A vast and very secure new underground welcome center for Capitol visitors will fill the void by 2005, if all goes as planned"), resulting in the third arm of the Triple Constraint -- cost -- extending way out there: "Congress authorized $265 million for the new center .... unexpected contingencies will bring the cost to between $380 million and $395 million." The people's house is going to cost the people plenty.

  3. Expensive materials: "Tennessee Pink marble for flooring and decorative details cost up to $200 a cubic foot, depending on how it's cut and finished. For historic trees that frame the site, the cost of keeping them alive during construction already tops $1.3 million."

  4. Scope creep, thanks to guess who: "... the most costly addition being $70 million for new subterranean House and Senate offices added after the design's initial approval."

  5. Unanticipated/missed requirements, in the form of "post-Sept. 11 security upgrades."

I suspect that this project will someday be a textbook case. Not in the positive sense.

Having said that, I should immediately add that the Capitol Vistor Center, however annoying its financial aspects, is likely to be something we can be proud of someday. And the only failed project is the one you don't learn anything from.

The meta-risk here is that Congress, as an institution, will not be able to learn from this sort of mistake. Whoever comes up with a way to keep those people from doing the same stupid things over and over again deserves a place in history alongside the Founders.

Jay Manifold [12:03 PM]

[ 20030706 ]

Flash Crowds (cont'd)

(Ref this earlier post.) Currently at #3 on Blogdex, E-Mail Mobs Materialize All Over.

Jay Manifold [12:02 PM]

[ 20030704 ]

Patent Pending

Currently at #5 on Blogdex: I'm glad Arthur C. Clarke lived long enough to see this:

What's more, the sensory data can be saved, allowing one sensation to be accessed indefinitely.

The technology has obvious applications in distance learning, remote diagnostics, virtual reality and entertainment.

Including, I suppose, a certain kind of entertainment ...

Jay Manifold [8:50 AM]

For Independence Day

I'm not ordinarily a fan of Thom Hartmann's material, but I don't mind passing this one along. A nice rejoinder to the strange idea that a right to privacy isn't in the Constitution, and a timely celebration of American exceptionalism. So don't pay too much attention to the odd title, and Read The Whole Thing.

Published on Thursday, July 3, 2003 by CommonDreams.org
Dear Clarence Thomas: It Happened on July 4, 1776
by Thom Hartmann

In 1789, Thomas Jefferson wrote a note to James Madison about the future possibility of a president who didn't understand the principles on which America was founded. "The tyranny of the legislatures is the most formidable dread at present," he wrote, "and will be for many years. That of the executive will come in its turn, but it will be at a remote period."

The new so-called conservatives claim the power to violate citizens' private lives because, they say, there is no "right to privacy" in the United States. In that, they overlook the history of America and the Declaration of Independence, signed on July 4, 1776. And they miss a basic understanding of the evolution of language in the United States.

Of course, they're not the first to have made these mistakes.

When I was a teenager, it was a felony in parts of the United States to advise a married couple about how to practice birth control. This ended in 1965, in the Griswold v. Connecticut case before the U.S. Supreme Court, when the Court reversed the criminal conviction of a Planned Parenthood program director who had discussed contraception with a married couple, and of a doctor who had prescribed a birth-control device to them.

The majority of the Court summarized their ruling by saying, "Would we allow the police to search the sacred precincts of marital bedrooms for telltale signs of the use of contraceptives? The very idea is repulsive to the notions of privacy...."

However, Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart disagreed back in 1965, saying that he could find no "right of privacy" in the Constitution of the United States. Using his logic, under the laws of the day, the couple in question could themselves have been sent to prison for using birth control in their own bedroom.

As Justice Stewart wrote in his dissent in the case, "Since 1879 Connecticut has had on its books a law which forbids the use of contraceptives by anyone.... What provision of the Constitution, then, makes this state law invalid? The Court says it is the right of privacy 'created by several fundamental constitutional guarantees.' With all deference, I can find no such general right of privacy in the Bill of Rights, in any other part of the Constitution, or in any case ever before decided by this Court."

In that view of American law, Justice Clarence Thomas - George W. Bush's "role model" for future Supreme Court nominees - agrees.

In his dissent in the Texas sodomy case, Thomas wrote, "just like Justice Stewart, I 'can find [neither in the Bill of Rights nor any other part of the Constitution a] general right of privacy,' or as the Court terms it today, the 'liberty of the person both in its spatial and more transcendent dimensions.'"

Echoing Thomas' so-called conservative perspective, Rush Limbaugh said on his radio program on June 27, 2003, "There is no right to privacy specifically enumerated in the Constitution." Jerry Falwell similarly agreed on Fox News.

Limbaugh and Thomas may soon also point out to us that the Constitution doesn't specifically grant a right to marry, and thus license that function exclusively to, say, Falwell. The Constitution doesn't grant a right to eat, or to read, or to have children. Yet do we doubt these are rights we hold?

The simple reality is that there are many "rights" that are not specified in the Constitution, but which we daily enjoy and cannot be taken away from us by the government. But if that's the case, Bush and Thomas would say, why doesn't the Constitution list those rights in the Bill of Rights?

The reason is simple: the Constitution wasn't written as a vehicle to grant us rights. We don't derive our rights from the constitution.

Rather, in the minds of the Founders, human rights are inalienable - inseparable - from humans themselves. We are born with rights by simple fact of existence, as defined by John Locke and written by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence. "We hold these truths to be self-evident," the Founders wrote. Humans are "endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights...." These rights are clear and obvious, the Founders repeatedly said. They belong to us from birth, as opposed to something the Constitution must hand to us, and are more ancient than any government.

The job of the Constitution was to define a legal framework within which government and business could operate in a manner least intrusive to "We, The People," who are the holders of the rights. In its first draft it didn't even have a Bill of Rights, because the Framers felt it wasn't necessary to state out loud that human rights came from something greater, larger, and older than government. They all knew this; it was simply obvious.

Thomas Jefferson, however, foreseeing a time when the concepts fundamental to the founding of America were forgotten, strongly argued that the Constitution must contain at least a rudimentary statement of rights, laying out those main areas where government could, at the minimum, never intrude into our lives.

Jefferson was in France when Madison sent him the first draft of the new Constitution, and he wrote back on December 20, 1787, that, "I will now tell you what I do not like [about the new constitution]. First, the omission of a bill of rights, providing clearly, and without the aid of sophism, for freedom of religion, freedom of the press, protection against standing armies, restriction of monopolies, the eternal and unremitting force of the habeas corpus laws, and trials by jury in all matters of fact triable by the laws of the land..."

There had already been discussion among the delegates to the constitutional convention about whether they should go to the trouble of enumerating the human rights they had held up to the world with the Declaration of Independence, but the consensus had been that it was unnecessary.

The Declaration, the writings of many of the Founders and Framers, and no shortage of other documents made amply clear the Founders' and the Framers' sentiments that human rights were solely the province of humans, and that governments don't grant rights but, rather, that in a constitutionally limited democratic republic We, The People - the holders of the rights - grant to our governments whatever privileges our government may need to function (while keeping the rights for ourselves).

This is the fundamental difference between kingdoms, theocracies, feudal states, and a democratic republic. In the former three, people must beg for their rights at the pleasure of the rulers. In the latter, the republic derives its legitimacy from the people, the sole holders of rights.

Although the purpose of the Constitution wasn't to grant rights to people, as kings and popes and feudal lords had done in the past, Jefferson felt it was necessary to be absolutely unambiguous about the solid reality that humans are holders of rights, and that in no way was the Constitution or the new government of the United States to ever be allowed to infringe on those rights. The Constitution's authors well understood this, Jefferson noted, having just fought a revolutionary war to gain their "self-evident" and "inalienable" rights from King George, but he also felt strongly that both the common person of the day and future generations must be reminded of this reality.

"To say, as Mr. Wilson does, that a bill of rights was not necessary," Jefferson wrote in his December 1787 letter to Madison, "...might do for the audience to which it was addressed..." But it wasn't enough. Human rights may be well known to those writing the constitution, they may all agree that governments may not infringe on human rights, but, nonetheless, we must not trust that simply inferring this truth is enough for future generations who have not so carefully read history or who may foolishly elect leaders inclined toward tyranny. "Let me add," Jefferson wrote, "that a bill of rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on earth, general or particular; and what no just government should refuse, or rest on inference."

Madison took Jefferson's notes and shared them with Hamilton, Adams, Mason, and others, and then sent a letter to Jefferson outlining the objections to a Bill of Rights that had been raised by the members of the constitutional convention.

On March 15, 1789, Jefferson replied to Madison: "I am happy to find that, on the whole, you are a friend to this amendment. The declaration of rights is, like all other human blessings, alloyed with some inconveniences, and not accomplishing fully its object. But the good in this instance vastly overweighs the evil.

"I cannot refrain from making short answers to the objections which your letter states to have been raised [by others]:

"1. 'That the rights in question are reserved, by the manner in which the federal powers are granted.' Answer. A constitutive act [the Constitution] may, certainly, be so formed, as to need no declaration of rights. ... In the draught of a constitution which I had once a thought of proposing in Virginia, and I printed afterwards, I endeavored to reach all the great objects of public liberty, and did not mean to add a declaration of rights. ... But...this instrument [the U.S. Constitution] forms us into one State, as to certain objects, and gives us a legislative and executive body for these objects. It should, therefore, guard us against their abuses of power, within the field submitted to them."

In this, Jefferson is stating openly that the purpose of the Constitution - and even the Bill of Rights - is not to grant rights to the people, but to restrain government. It doesn't grant, it limits.

And, Jefferson said, his proposed Bill of Rights was only a beginning and imperfect; it would be nearly impossible to list in detail all the rights humans have. But a start, a try, is better than nothing - at least it will make clear that the purpose of the constitution is to limit government:

"2. 'A positive declaration of some essential rights could not be obtained in the requisite latitude.' Answer. Half a loaf is better than no bread. If we cannot secure all our rights, let us secure what we can."

His third point was that the states may try to limit peoples rights if the explicit nature of government and rights wasn't spelled out in the Constitution through a Bill of Rights, so the constitution protected citizens from tyrannical state governments who may overreach (as the Supreme Court ultimately ruled Connecticut had done in banning birth control).

And, finally, Jefferson noted that if they were to err, it would be better to err on the side of over-defining rights - even if past efforts had proven unnecessary or nonviable - than under-defining them.

"4. 'Experience proves the inefficacy of a bill of rights.' True. But though it is not absolutely efficacious under all circumstances, it is of great potency always, and rarely inefficacious. A brace the more will often keep up the building which would have fallen, with that brace the less. There is a remarkable difference between the characters of the inconveniences which attend a declaration of rights, and those which attend the want of it. The inconveniences of the declaration are, that it may cramp government in its useful exertions. But the evil of this is short-lived, moderate and reparable. The inconveniences of the want of a declaration are permanent, afflicting and irreparable."

A Bill of Rights wasn't necessary, but it was important. We all knew the constitution was designed to define and constrain government, but it's still better to say too much about liberty than too little. Even though this thrown-together-at-the-last-minute Bill of Rights doesn't cover all the rights we consider self-evident, and may inconvenience government, it's better to include it than overlook it and risk future generations forgetting our words and deeds.

Beyond that, there's good reason to believe - as the majority of the Supreme Court did in the Griswold case, the Texas sodomy case, and at least a dozen others - that the Founders and Framers did write a right to privacy into the Constitution. However, living in the 18th Century, they never would have actually used the word "privacy" out loud or in writing. A search, for example, of all 16,000 of Thomas Jefferson's letters and writings produces not a single use of the word "privacy." Nor does Adams use the word in his writings, so far as I can find.

The reason is simple: "privacy" in 1776 was a code word for toilet functions. A person would say, "I need a moment of privacy" as a way of excusing themselves to go use the "privy" or outhouse. The chamberpots around the house, into which people relieved themselves during the evening and which were emptied in the morning, were referred to as "the privates," a phrase also used to describe genitals. Privacy, in short, was a word that wasn't generally used in political discourse or polite company during an era when women were expected to cover their arms and legs and discussion of bedroom behavior was unthinkable.

It wasn't until 1898 that Thomas Crapper began marketing the flush toilet and discussion of toilet functions became relatively acceptable. Prior to then, saying somebody had a "right to privacy" would have meant "a right to excrete." This was, of course, a right that was taken for granted and thus the Framers felt no need to specify it in the Constitution.

Instead, the word of the day was "security," and in many ways it meant what we today mean when we say "privacy." Consider, for example, the Fourth Amendment: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated...."

Similarly, "liberty" was also understood, in one of its dimensions, to mean something close to what today we'd call "privacy." The Fifth Amendment talks about how "No person shall be ... deprived of life, liberty, or property..." and the Fourteenth Amendment adds that "nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property...." And, of course, the Declaration of Independence itself proclaims that all "are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

So now, on the anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, we have come to that remote period in time Jefferson was concerned about. Our leaders, ignorant of or ignoring the history of this nation's founding, make a parody of liberty and, with their so-called "Patriot Act," flaunt their challenges even to those rights explicitly defined in the Constitution.

Our best defense against today's pervasive ignorance about American history and human rights is education, a task that Jefferson undertook in starting the University of Virginia to provide a comprehensive and free public education to all capable students. A well-informed populace will always preserve liberty better than a powerful government, a philosophy which led the University of California and others to once offer free education to their states' citizens.

As Jefferson noted in that first letter to Madison: "And say, finally, whether peace is best preserved by giving energy to the government, or information to the people. This last is the most certain, and the most legitimate engine of government. Educate and inform the whole mass of the people. Enable them to see that it is their interest to preserve peace and order, and they will preserve them... They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty."

The majority of the Supreme Court wrote in their opinion in the 1965 Griswold case legalizing contraception that, "We deal with a right of privacy older than the Bill of Rights [and] older than our political parties..." saying explicitly that the right of privacy is a fundamental personal right, emanating "from the totality of the constitutional scheme under which we live."

Hopefully Americans - including Clarence Thomas - will realize that the Constitution doesn't grant rights but instead constrains government. Our rights predate any government, a fact recognized when the Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776. We must teach our children and inform the world about the essentials of human rights and how our constitutional republic works - deriving its sole powers from the consent of We, The People who hold the rights - if democracy is to survive.

Thom Hartmann (thom at thomhartmann.com) is the author of over a dozen books, including "Unequal Protection" and "The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight," and a nationally syndicated daily talk show host. www.thomhartmann.com This article is copyright by Thom Hartmann, but permission is granted for reprint in print, email, blog, or web media so long as this credit is attached.


Jay Manifold [6:56 AM]