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[ 20031128 ]

Friday Quagwatch!

Sorry for getting around to this so late, but anyway, here it is:

That's all for this week. Be sure to check in every Friday to see who's been quagging!

Jay Manifold [8:14 PM]

[ 20031127 ]

What I'm Thankful For

That human abilities permit 1,000 times more of us to live than the populations of other species of similar body size:

Unlike other species, humans can eat almost anything, adapt to any environment and develop technologies based on knowledge shared through written and spoken language.

Of course, there are risks:

[William] Rees[, professor of community and regional planning at the University of British Columbia] added, "It would be a tragic irony if, in the 21st century, this most technologically sophisticated of human societies finally succumbs to the unconscious urgings of fatally self-interested primitive tribalism."

But that would require the anti-globalists to take over and the rest of us to allow them to destroy civilization in the name of "local economies." And we won't do that.

Jay Manifold [4:50 PM]

[ 20031126 ]

Servings of Free Ice Cream to be Limited

-- until next Monday, most likely, as I am off to the in-laws for Thanksgiving. Obsessed fans are directed to graze over here for a photograph, in which I am seated at the far left (others are Mr & Mrs "Lexington Green," Andy Bizub, and Sylvain Galineau; photo by Jonathan Gewirtz).

Jay Manifold [8:49 AM]

[ 20031125 ]

Why We Drive

Again via Technorati, GMU Professor Urges Commuters to Do the Math, in which reporter Michelle Boorstein makes a possibly inadvertent argument against "mass transit":

... almost 1,500 commuters were asked: How much would you be willing to cut your salary in exchange for a shorter drive to work?

About 31 percent said they were willing to take an annual pay cut of $5,000 to $6,000 in exchange for a commute that was 30 minutes shorter each way. About 17 percent said they would forgo $10,000 a year for that extra daily hour.

[Stephen] Fuller[, a public policy professor at George Mason University and director of the Center for Regional Analysis] tries to get people to think about the hard arithmetic that drives their lives. For example, $5,000 a year might sound like a lot, but how does it compare with the cost of the commute? A 50-mile round trip each day adds up to 13,000 miles a year -- using the generally accepted standard that people work 260 days each year. At 36 cents a mile, the rate at which the government reimburses its employees, the cost is $4,680, Fuller said. That must be added to other costs, such as lunch, which is pricier in Washington and its nearest suburbs.

Then there is the cost in free time -- the time spent in traffic. "People think their time is worth nothing," Fuller said.

A person who commutes an hour each day spends 260 hours a year driving to and from work. At the average Washington area hourly wage of $29.50, that time is worth $7,670.

Now, comparing KC with DC has to be done carefully, largely because wages are at least one-third lower out here than in DC (see also the Cost of Living Index). But the fact is that if you're going to ride buses and trains, other than in a few very high-density cities, you'd better think your time is worth nothing. Especially around these parts. Perusing this table, we find that out of the 50 largest cities in the country, KC is the 28th largest (I note that the list breaks NYC and LA up into several separate entities), but has the 45th shortest average commute; according to this table, it clocks in at just under 23 minutes, in spite of the fact that three-eighths of us work in another county.

Meanwhile this source notes that: "Among the large and very large cities in the study [extract], Kansas City ranks as third least congested. Among these cities, Kansas City also ranks third in freeway and arterial lane-miles per capita."

My commute is less than 25 minutes -- to go 15 miles! But if I were to begin patronizing the KCATA, I would have to leave the house at 6:11 AM, transfer twice, and walk half a mile -- to arrive at work around 7:35 if everything went perfectly. Making the round trip, that's an extra two hours every working day. For the mythical average Kansas Citian, following the methodology of the WaPo story, the marginal cost of that extra time is around $9,700 per year, sufficient to cover a $600 monthly vehicle payment with plenty left over for gas, maintenance, and insurance.

So -- drive a two-year-old Lexus or ride the bus for two hours a day? No wonder only 1.3% of us use public transit.

Jay Manifold [8:19 PM]

Fan Mail

Kenn Brown gets a gratuitous link simply by sending an e-mail that says "you rock ...," thereby proving that flattery works. He didn't even say which post he liked, so I'll just assume that he likes them all! Meanwhile, Mike Daley wrote in to say "I may be unknown, but I have been acknowledged." Why that didn't turn up when I searched on his last name, I have no idea. Given the cascading reaction to that post, which included an Instalanche and my busiest day ever, maybe I should write something about the other thing that he recently sent (to half a dozen unbelievably smart people, plus me for some reason); but right now I'll just link to the subject article.

Jay Manifold [4:39 PM]

Just Venus, This Time

Via Technorati, Venus has 'heavy metal mountains':

... at Venus's hot lower layers any metal would be vaporised and exist as a metallic mist. Only at higher elevations, where it is a little cooler, would that metal condense to form a thin, highly reflective layer on the ground.

Using detailed chemical calculations involving 660 metal compounds, Laura Schaefer and Bruce Fegley, of the Washington University in St Louis, conclude that ... common lead probably is [responsible].

Venus, incidentally, is becoming visible in the evening sky. Look for it low in the southwest, half an hour after sunset; tonight it will appear just north of a very slender crescent Moon. In another month, Venus will be shining at magnitude -4.0 and will be at least 15° above the southwestern horizon an hour after sunset.

Jay Manifold [4:23 PM]

Lest We Forget

Currently tied at #31 on Blogdex, something that I invite my fellow bloggers to help run all the way up to #1; a sort of visual companion to this earlier post -- forty-nine pages of photographs.

Jay Manifold [10:50 AM]

First Major Guest Post on Chicago Boyz

-- just in case anybody who reads Arcturus hasn't been over there already, graze on in and enjoy it!

Jay Manifold [10:50 AM]

[ 20031124 ]

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Er, I mean, observatory picture of the day. I snapped this one around 2 PM CST on Sunday the 16th, having driven up into southern Wisconsin after attending the Chicago Boyz blog bash.

The largest refracting telescope in the world is inside that dome. You can read lots more about it here.

Jay Manifold [4:03 PM]

Venus and Mars (II)

Well, actually, Venus and Earth (ref this earlier post). Previously unknown (or perhaps merely previously unacknowledged) readers Mark Ayres and Mike Daley sent various comments; Mike liked the TV show: "... this was NOVA's best program of the last decade, if not two" -- and pointed out that it didn't mention Venus at all. Which is probably just as well, for as John J. Reilly noted in e-mail: "A greater objection to [the] erosion hypothesis is Earth, with its formidable magnetic field, heavier gravity and greater distance from the sun. Maybe there are special reasons why Earth's atmosphere is not denser than that of Venus, but the erosion hypothesis seems to have little explanatory power."

Mark appears to have been thinking of Swamp Castle when he wrote: "I have always assumed that Venus' thick atmosphere was created when its entire crust burned down, fell over, and sank into the magma a mere few hundred million years ago (source).

"Aren't we about due for a hysteria about this happening to the Earth? Couldn't it be caused by global warming, unsustainable consumption, or unilateralist cowboy diplomacy?"

I don't think they've gone quite that far yet. We should occasionally recall, however, that

Earth's climate and atmosphere have varied greatly over geologic time. Our planet has mostly been much hotter and more humid than we know it to be today, and with far more carbon dioxide (the greenhouse gas) in the atmosphere than exists today. The notable exception is 300,000,000 years ago during the late Carboniferous Period, which resembles our own climate and atmosphere like no other." (source)

A brief search finds this paper, which says:

Quantitative calibration of Late Carboniferous (330–300 Myr ago) and Permian (270–260 Myr ago) lycopsid stomatal indices yield average atmospheric CO2 concentrations of 344 ppm and 313 ppm, respectively.

It's now 370 ppm, but this graph indicates that it reached nearly 20 times today's level during the Cretaceous. The thing to keep in mind when discussing global climate change is that there is no "natural" level of either carbon dioxide concentration or average temperature in the absence of human industrial activity. What we're doing is picking some value that's comfortable for us; notice the period of both exceptional warmth and exceptional stability at the end (the most recent 10,000 years or so) of this graph. That's what we want to maintain. But I digress.

OK, that's Earth. What about Venus? John correctly notes that the solar erosion mechanism cannot be the only one at work; Venus has no magnetic field, receives 93% more sunlight than Earth, but has an atmosphere 94 times as massive. This turns out to be the result of a positive feedback loop occurring early in the history of the planet. By contrast, on Earth, this happens instead.

Let's do some math:

  1. Venus' atmosphere is ~4.8 × 1020 kg, of which 96.5% is CO2 and 3.5% N2 by volume. Applying the Ideal Gas Law and recalling that the molecular weight of CO2 is ~44 while that of N2 is ~28, we find that the average molecular weight of the constituents is ~43.

  2. At STP -- which it most certainly is not -- 4.8 × 1020 kg of an ideal gas of molecular weight 43 would occupy 2.5 × 1011 km3; 96.5% of this volume that had mol wt 44 would have a mass of 4.6 × 1020 kg, representing 3.8 × 1022 moles.

  3. For simplicity's sake, assume that limestone consists entirely of calcite (CaCO3), and that one mole of calcite yields one mole of CO2. Since calcite has mol wt ~100, 3.8 × 1022 moles of it would have a mass of 3.8 × 1021 kg.

  4. The median density of limestone is 2360 kg m-3, so the volume of calcite required to produce the quantity of CO2 in the atmosphere of Venus is 1.6 × 1010 km3. Divided by Venus' surface area of 460 million km2, this would be a layer 35 kilometers (22 miles) thick.

Isn't this fun?

Jay Manifold [3:54 PM]

Your RDA of Tolkienesque Nit-Picking

Via Amygdala, Ethan Gilsdorf's otherwise excellent Lord of the Gold Ring, which contains one whopper:

But in 1969, when he sold the rights, merchandising was in its infancy. He was paid 10,000 pounds, about $17,000 in US dollars today, a figure dwarfed by today's multimillion dollar payoffs. By then, his books had sold only 3 million copies.

Skipped some steps there. Turning to the tab labeled NEWDATA1 in this workbook, we find that for 1969, the US CPI $24.08 = £11.69, so that £10,000 was worth $20,600 in 1969. Turning to this page, we find that the CPI in 1969 was ~36.7 at midyear. And turning to this page, we find that it is now ~185, so the multiplier is 5.04. Result: £10,000 in 1969 equals almost $104,000 in 2003. It's not millions, but it's not a pittance, either.

(With 3 million copies of LOTR having already been sold, Tolkien would have been affected far more by the top marginal tax rate in effect at the time. In any case, read the entire Gilsdorf piece, because it includes an interview with Michael Drout.)

Jay Manifold [11:34 AM]

[ 20031123 ]

Another Sunday Sermon

Anyone with even remotely honest memories of adolescence will recognize this situation described by Joanne Jacobs immediately, and the source article will really take you back: ordered to sit at lunch tables by birth month instead of sitting with friends (or, I should say, the people they feel least uncomfortable with, which is about as good as it gets at that age), high schoolers simply refused, with results like ...

A few tables over, junior Eddie Goss, who is developmentally disabled, found a seat at the table for students with July birthdays.

Though statistically it would seem impossible for no other student in the cafeteria [for the nearly 1,000 students at Tahlequah High] to share a birthday in July, Goss still wound up sitting alone (except for the college volunteers who stopped to talk to him).

Now, I'll give Tolerance.org credit for honest reporting. It would have been easy to sweep the actual results under the rug.

Having got that out of the way ... this is pathetic. Lest we forget, the kids are in school under compulsion to begin with and are therefore, at best, struggling to carve out an area of their lives over which they can retain control. Then there's the stubborn fact of human nature. Actual tolerance does not come naturally to human beings. It is acquired slowly through ordinary experience, or quickly through extraordinary experience, which implies two possibilities: some horrible disaster; or a religious revival -- for breaking the barriers between hundreds of cliquish public high-school students on short notice. We rightly guard against the first possibility and rightly avoid promoting the second in government-operated institutions.

I'm all for tolerance. For that matter, I'm all for learning from horrible disasters -- and might seem terrifyingly friendly, from the perspective of many of my readers, to religious revival. But public schools are not the place to inculcate values other than desire for proficiency and (via prompt negative feedback) sufficient honesty to permit results to be accurately measured. Civil society must handle the rest, no matter how badly students in government schools behave toward one another (well, short of assault, I suppose).

I was favored: in my own adolescence, the church fulfilled its ancient function of shielding the individual from the State: a literal sanctuary. Countless others are not so fortunate. There are few callings higher than that of loving the unloved, and we must do all that we can to save them. But a regimented "tolerance" is not compassion. Don't look to your local school district to provide it.

Jay Manifold [6:28 PM]

[ 20031122 ]

For the 40th Anniversary

The following is not recommended for true believers.

First of all, read this, which I've always wanted to read aloud through a bullhorn while walking around Dealey Plaza some November 22nd.

My other favorite artistic treatment of the event may be found here, from which I excerpt:


The platoon sits on bleachers facing HARTMAN.

HARTMAN: Do any of you people know who Charles Whitman was?

No response.

HARTMAN: None of you dumbasses knows?

COWBOY raises his hand.

HARTMAN: Private Cowboy?

COWBOY: Sir, he was that guy who shot all those people from that tower in Austin, Texas, sir!

HARTMAN: That's affirmative. Charles Whitman killed twenty people from a twenty-eight-storey observation tower at the University of Texas from distances up to four hundred yards.

HARTMAN looks around.

HARTMAN: Anybody know who Lee Harvey Oswald was?

Almost everybody raises his hand.

HARTMAN: Private Snowball?

SNOWBALL: Sir, he shot Kennedy, sir!

HARTMAN: That's right, and do you know how far away he was?

SNOWBALL: Sir, it was pretty far! From that book suppository building, sir!

The recruits laugh at "suppository."

HARTMAN: All right, knock it off! Two hundred and fifty feet! He was two hundred and fifty feet away and shooting at a moving target. Oswald got off three rounds with an old Italian bolt action rifle in only six seconds and scored two hits, including a head shot! Do any of you people know where these individuals learned to shoot?

JOKER raises his hand.

HARTMAN: Private Joker?

JOKER: Sir, in the Marines, sir!

HARTMAN: In the Marines! Outstanding! Those individuals showed what one motivated marine and his rifle can do!

UPDATE: Where were you when the Oswalds played their last gig?

Jay Manifold [2:00 PM]

A Model of Consistency

-- may be seen here (via I Heart Avril Lavigne, which I wandered into from Blogger's front page list of recently updated blogs).

Jay Manifold [2:00 PM]

Today's Alternate History Episode

Via InstaPundit and Don Sequiturs, consider that this event would have led to Lyndon Baines Johnson and Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev sharing the world stage. Instead of the Berlin Wall and the Cuban Missile Crisis, CoDominium?

Jay Manifold [8:34 AM]

[ 20031121 ]

Venus and Mars

John J. Reilly -- with whom I do not always agree, but who always writes well and, like all the best bloggers, asks the right questions -- wonders why Venus has a dense atmosphere and Mars does not, if the solar wind is responsible for removing most of the Martian atmosphere over the lifetime of the Solar System (column will eventually be found here). After all, as he notes, Mars is much farther from the Sun than Venus, and so should be much less affected by the solar wind. What's going on here?

The three big pieces of the puzzle are:

  1. The Sun, or rather, the solar flux. Turning to this handy compilation, we find that Venus is 0.72 AU from the Sun, and Mars is 1.52 AU from the Sun. Applying the inverse-square law, we find that the solar flux at Venus is therefore almost 4½ times what it is at Mars (actually 4.456). While coronal mass ejections and such don't expand along a perfectly spherical front like light does, this disparity does provide a rough indicator of how much less Mars is affected by the Sun -- all other things being equal.

  2. But they aren't, because the next big piece of the puzzle is the planets themselves, or rather, their gravitational pull. Venus is nearly twice the diameter of Mars (actually 1.782) and therefore has nearly six times as much volume (actually 5.659); when combined with its somewhat higher bulk density, this results in nearly eight times as much mass (7.582). Applying g ~ M / r2, we find that Venus has nearly 2½ times the surface gravity of Mars (2.388). More to the point, after referring to the bottom of this page, we can calculate the escape velocities at the surfaces of Venus and Mars, which turn out to be (since G = 6.673 × 10-11 m3 kg-1 s-2) 10.36 km sec-1 and 5.023 km sec-1, respectively. Since gas molecules must be accelerated to over twice the velocity to escape Venus as to escape Mars, and since kinetic energy varies as the square of velocity, we infer that the required solar flux at Venus is over four times (actually 4.256) that at Mars. Notice that this nearly wipes out the solar "advantage" of Venus.

  3. The last big piece of the puzzle is the atmospheres themselves. The mass of the atmosphere of Venus is ~4.8 × 1020 kg, while the atmosphere of Mars is only ~2.5 × 1016 kg -- a difference of over four orders of magnitude (a factor of 19,200)! Now suppose Mars once had an atmosphere 100 times thicker than it is now; suppose Venus had an atmosphere 10% thicker than it is now; and suppose that they've been losing their atmospheres at a constant rate for 4 billion years. Then the annual loss from Venus would be 12 million metric tons per year, but the annual loss from Mars would be just over 600,000 tons per year. So even if Venus lost its atmosphere at nearly 20 times the rate of Mars, we would still see the present disparity between them.

Readers are encouraged to do their own follow-ups on the obvious questions, namely, how did the atmospheres of Venus and Mars originate, and why are they so different?

(Unfortunately, I did not watch the TV program that prompted John's question, and the transcript will not be online for at least another few days, so I cannot judge how alarmist it was. Look for a follow-up at the appropriate time, perhaps during the second week of December.)

Jay Manifold [4:20 PM]

Friday Quagwatch!

Time for another round of shooting fish in a barrel ... and the quaggers are (emphases added):

That's all for this week. Be sure to check in every Friday to see who's been quagging!

Jay Manifold [3:08 PM]

The Greatest Disaster of All

-- in the literal sense of dis aster, that is, may have occurred a quarter of a billion years ago just off the coast of Western Australia: New Evidence that Earth's Greatest Extinction Caused by Ancient Meteorite or Comet tells the tale. The mass extinction at the Permian/Triassic (P/T) boundary wiped out nine-tenths of all species living on Earth at the time.

From an area in Antarctica called Graphite Peak, [Asish] Basu[, professor of earth sciences at the University of Rochester] and [Robert] Poreda[, professor of earth and environmental sciences at the University] took rock from a stratum that sat between a layer that contained many fossils and a layer nearly devoid of fossils called the Permian/Triassic, or P/T boundary. One of the fossils that had gone from prominence to sudden disappearance was Glossopteris flora, a plant that was widely known to have been wiped out in The Great Dying. This reassured the team that they had the right rock from the right period. Previous tests by Poreda on this same layer found shocked quartz and fullerenes, cage-like molecules, containing atoms of extraterrestrial gases, which again hinted at a meteorite or comet strike. These results, however, were disputed by some researchers.

Coming at the problem from another angle, Basu and Poreda separated out the magnetic particles from the samples from Graphite Peak and from a source of P/T strata in Meishan, China, and Japan. To their surprise they found that the grains that sorted out contained an iron alloy that does not occur on Earth. Some 40 pieces were tiny fragments of meteorite 4.56 billion years old, while other grains displayed metallic characteristics that were more indicative of being formed by extreme heat, such as that in a severe meteorite impact. The very fact that these grains had not deteriorated from weathering means they must have been buried quickly under sedimentary deposits, again, indicative of a major impact.

RTWT. The Antarctican setting adds a certain spice to the story, which already involves 1) worldwide destruction and 2) dinosaurs, always popular topics in science news. No wonder there are already 63 stories about this in Google News (as of about 11 AM CST today).

Googling "Graphite Peak" quickly shows, however, that this isn't entirely fresh news -- and turns up the Western Australia angle. Poreda, Basu, et al presented a paper (23 kB *.pdf) back in March at this year's Lunar and Planetary Science Conference; some excerpts from the summary:

The Bedout High, located offshore Canning basin, northwestern Australia, is an unusual structure and its origin remains problematic.

Our findings suggest that the Bedout structure and a possible newly discovered (~100 km) secondary crater may be good candidates for an oceanic/continental impact(s) at the end Permian, triggering the most severe mass extinction in the history of life on the Earth.

The location of the Bedout High is shown on this page, which you may wish to compare with this map; look for "Broome" on both. The structure is offshore of the Eighty Mile Beach; pictures of the area are here. Needless to say, any Aussies (or any other Arcturus readers, for that matter) who've been there are encouraged to write.

Jay Manifold [11:40 AM]

[ 20031120 ]

Who Says Astronomy Isn't Practical? (V)

(Previous post in series here.) Via EurekAlert, we find Space science joins battle against cancer:

The enormous amount of light emitted by a star makes it extremely difficult to spot a planet in orbit around it. By using a technique that combines signals from two or more telescopes, ESA astronomers are able to create an artificial solar eclipse, ‘neutralising’ the effects of the bright starlight so that the fainter light from a planet can be detected.

Using this technique, scientists can now obtain images of skin or tissue that are of much higher resolution than currently available. The technique is already being used to study changes in blood vessels and the retina, but it could be used as an early detection method for cancerous growths.

Jay Manifold [5:48 PM]

Human Genome Modified By Smallpox?

A chilling reminder of our shared past: genetic resistance to HIV may have been conferred on some Europeans by smallpox:

... the same genetic mutation that confers resistance to HIV-1 protects against death from smallpox.

The gene produces a receptor, called CCR5, that is the main entry port for HIV-1 into T cells and macrophages. While most people around the world have two CCR5 genes or alleles, about 10 percent of Europeans, on average, lack one of the alleles. They thus produce fewer CCR5 receptors, which hinders initial infection by HIV-1 and slows spread within the body once an immune cell has been infected.

Smallpox ... was a continuous presence in Europe for 2,000 years, and almost everyone was exposed by direct person-to-person contact. Most people were infected before the age of 10, with the disease's 30 percent mortality rate killing off a large part of the population before reproductive age.

"There are probably other alleles that have been selected by disease, but we just haven't found them," [Alison P. Galvani, a Miller Postdoctoral Fellow at UC Berkeley] said.

Jay Manifold [5:48 PM]

The Protesters' Inspiration

Over on The Daily Ablution, Scott Burgess finds that anti-war protesters in the UK are -- or should be -- inspired by an unlikely source. Over the centerfield wall with the bases loaded. This is one of those posts that reminds us why blogging was invented.

Jay Manifold [5:47 PM]

[ 20031119 ]

The Massachusetts Decision

For hope, read Rodney Balko (hat tip: InstaPundit); but for experience, read Eugene Volokh. Will hope triumph over experience?

Jay Manifold [11:42 AM]

Another Reason To Go To Space

-- is inadvertently provided by Paul Goldberger in Disconnected Urbanism (tied for #21 on Blogdex as I write this):

Even when you are in a place that retains its intensity, its specialness, and its ability to confer a defining context on your life, it doesn't have the all-consuming effect these places used to. You no longer feel that being in one place cuts you off from other places .... the cell phone has changed our sense of place more than faxes and computers and e-mail because of its ability to intrude into every moment in every possible place.

For the ultimate solution, read Opening of the Solar Ecumene (a brief follow-up is here).

Jay Manifold [11:22 AM]

The Turing Blogs Are Here

I have repeatedly predicted the appearance of "Turing blogs," where a program creates a realistic-looking blog without human input.

Well, it's happening. The incentive turns out to be getting a high Google ranking for porn sites.

In this connection, I note (as have many others) that Google is very, very fond of blogs; do a search on "power law distribution" (without the quote marks), for example, and you'll find that the entire first page of results -- every one of the top 10 hits -- is on a blog or about blogging. So fake blogs are an obvious strategy to increase online visibility for your product, especially if you're not too scrupulous.

Jay Manifold [11:09 AM]

Leonid Observing Report

As promised, I got up in the wee hours and drove half an hour out of town to my favored site for such things, where I withstood the cold for an hour and twenty minutes; saw a couple of dozen Leonids, most of which were bright enough to leave glowing trails; also saw several sporadics, most of which -- coincidentally, I presume -- appeared to radiate from northern Gemini; and spotted several satellites, including two at once moving from south to north through Ursa Major. Sky transparency and seeing were both quite good. I had no trouble finding the Beehive, and the Winter Milky Way remained visible even in the moonlight. It was a beautiful night, the sort that makes me wish I didn't have to worry about being at work the next day. Then again, having a job is a good thing. ;)

Jupiter and Saturn are both quite prominent in the morning sky, and will be excellently positioned for observation in the early evening in another 3 months or so. I'm old enough now that I can remember when they were last in their current constellations -- Jupiter in Leo at the Texas Star Party in '92, and Saturn in Gemini in the mid-'70s.

Jay Manifold [6:58 AM]

Root Cause Analysis

-- of the NOAA-N Prime mishap of a couple of months back has been provided by Rocket Man. RTWT.

Jay Manifold [6:24 AM]

[ 20031118 ]

Chicago Boyz Blog Bash Report

I got on the road shortly after 8 AM Saturday in a rental car -- riding to Chicago on a motorcycle in November didn't seem like a great idea, my superannuated van represents another category of risk altogether, and She Who Must Be Obeyed wasn't giving up the car for the weekend -- and reached the western suburbs just about eight hours later, via I-435, I-35, I-80, and I-88. Checked into cheap motel, relaxed, showered, and left for the bash 15 minutes before its scheduled start time.

Whereupon, having foolishly followed the literal MapQuest directions, I encountered the Hillside Strangler, and took three-quarters of an hour on the highway to go the same distance I could have covered in half that time on Roosevelt Rd.

Visions of dragging in so late I would be relegated to a dark corner and ignored for three hours immediately vanished, however, upon my arrival at the venue, as I was about the sixth person to show up. Those already present were the proprietors of the blog in question, namely: Andy Bizub; Sylvain Galineau; Jonathan Gewirtz; and "Lexington Green" and his wife ("Mrs. Green"). We were later joined by Dave S., an investor friend of Jonathan's, and by Sandy P., a frequent commenter on Chicago Boyz. Ralf Goergens is in Germany and starting a new job, so he couldn't make it, and Seth Tillman is a relatively infrequent poster.

So I was the only out-of-towner who doesn't write for the blog -- and that is in the process of being corrected; Jonathan graciously invited me to become a contributor, and I of course immediately accepted. I considered using a pseudonym ("Pierce Tower" would be appropriate), but reconsidered, as I want there to be some synergies between Arcturus and Chicago Boyz (that is, I want each to send traffic to the other, because I'm as vain as the next guy). My plan is to post something over there once a week, probably related to the physical sciences in some way, since Enrico Fermi is one of the "boyz" whose picture appears at the top of the webpage.

Jonathan and Dave told hair-raising stories of commodity trading and the Crash of '87. Most of the rest of the conversation was, unsurprisingly, centered on politics and economics. I remember yammering about the Space Elevator for a while, and also speculating about my possible imminent unemployment. Sandy is a "connector," in Tipping Point parlance, and had lots of suggestions for job hunting, which I am glad to say are not proving necessary (see final paragraph).

After the restaurant portion of FitzGerald's closed, we headed for the "Green" residence, which is less than half a mile away, and mixed for another hour or so. "Mrs. Green," with whom I share the honor of having attended the U of C for two years -- that is, we each went there for two years before bailing out; we weren't there simultaneously -- had her share of stories as well, many of them about various home-schooling neighbors ("their kids are so friggin' talented").

After a while it got late and "Mrs. Green" drove Sandy and I back to our cars. I returned to the cheap motel via Roosevelt Rd without incident.

I had promised Bill Roule (Chicago GSB '81) to call him at 9 the next morning and meet for brunch. I woke up right at 9 AM, probably the latest I've gotten out of bed in several years, hastily dialed, and was shortly agreeing to drive into town to pick him up. After parking nearby, and getting panhandled for -- I am not making this up -- 87¢, we ate at The Original Mitchell's, where I had a feta & sausage omelet, which was quite delicious, and yakked for a couple of hours.

(Note to panhandlers: don't ask for odd amounts of money. Ask for small and specific amounts, but not odd amounts. Ask me for a quarter, or better still, a dime, and there's a very good chance you'll get one. Ask me to "help you out" or for "bus fare" or for $1, and it ain't happenin'. Eighty-seven cents?!)

I spent the afternoon driving up into Wisconsin, where I took some pictures of Yerkes Observatory which I hope to post soon, and visited two neighborhoods where I lived in childhood in Beloit. Northeastern Illinois and eastern Wisconsin are in the northeast corner, as it were, of the Central Time Zone; the combination of their latitude and longitude, this close to the Winter Solstice, means that it gets dark there by 4:30 in the afternoon. So my sightseeing was limited. I drove back to the cheap motel and resumed studying for my PMP certification exam.

I got up at a decent hour (6 AM) on Monday, was back on the (extremely foggy) road by 6:30, and got home at 3 PM, even with several breaks. The weather was uniformly gray and damp all weekend, with the exception of a few patches of sun in northern Illinois on the return trip, but the only heavy rain occurred just south of Des Moines on the way back, and temperatures stayed well above freezing.

About half an hour out of KC, a group manager from work called me to discuss a position in his organization, and I called him back from home to talk through it. Since my employer is restructuring and laying off several thousand people, it was not difficult for me to accept the offer, especially since it's exactly the kind of project management/process improvement work I like to concentrate on. There are going to be a lot more folks out of work in this town very soon, and until that phone call, I was convinced that I'd be one of them.

Jay Manifold [8:15 PM]

Today's Lesson in Project Management (Among Other Things)

(See also this post from July on the same topic.) Now the KCStar's David Goldstein weighs in with Capitol Visitor Center's costs are monumental (registration req'd), which once again makes this project look like a textbook case -- in the sense of "object lesson." Here's what has happened to a project that was considered expensive back in '91, when the projected cost was $71 million:

“It's grown to $373.5 million, but that doesn't constitute one dollar of budget overruns,” said Tom Fontana, a spokesman for the Architect of the Capitol's office. “It's more money for more work.”

Fontana said Congress just kept adding features to the master plan. He said, “It's kind of like Congress was saying, ‘While you're at it …'”

Add-ons included $70 million for more House and Senate office space, and $10 million for a new tunnel between the Capitol and the Library of Congress.

In reality, though, the cost of the center is now $421 million, ever since the General Accounting Office reviewed the finances a few months ago.

The increase stemmed from Congress adding $48 million to deal with what the GAO referred to, among other things, as “unforeseen conditions,” additional contingencies and “scope creep” from a lack of final designs for some parts of the project.

Using an inflation calculator, we find that $421M in 2003 = $310M in 1991, so the project's cost has increased by 337% or thereabouts. Anyway, RTWT.

Now let's have a little fun. Notice the quote set off at the top of the page:

“Looking up from 65 million-year-old clay, it's a perspective of the dome that probably won't be seen again.”

U.S. Rep. Todd Tiahrt of Kansas

What's fun about this, of course, is that Tiahrt is one of the social conservatives from western Kansas who was elected in the '94 GOP landslide; he "attends Bible study classes at the Capitol and hosts impromptu prayer sessions with friends." Less admirably, Tiahrt can occasionally be a real piece of work, as noted in this account, which I've thoughtfully annotated:

“We humbly confess that we [= my political opponents] have sinned against you in thought, in word, in deed,” Tiahrt told God. He charged that [some other] Americans have “mocked you in our media” and “ruled against you in our courts.

“We [they] are [should be] truly sorry, and we [they should] repent,” he went on. “Call us [them] from death to life, from error to truth. Rebuild our cities and our country [reorder society the way I want You to].”

Tiahrt represents the Fourth District, which includes the entirety of the 8th and 10th, and portions of the 7th and 9th, State Board of Education districts. The 7th, 9th, and 10th Districts are represented by anti-evolutionists; the area is (except for the city of Wichita itself) not friendly to talk of 65-million-year-old clay.

But whatever else one might say about Todd Tiahrt, he's no young-Earther, and Google and LexisNexis find no comments by him about evolution. Could he be accepting the authority of a human institution in this area? If so, my hat is off to him.

Jay Manifold [2:20 PM]

It's Still Propagating

OpinionJournal is now spreading the urban legend I pointed out two weeks ago today. Come on, guys. This has got to stop.

Thanks to Untold Millions for the tip.

Jay Manifold [11:05 AM]

Leonid Reminder

See this earlier post for details. I should note that for locals, however, the applet now predicts a peak ZHR of 18 occurring at 5:06 AM. I expect to be at the observing site mentioned in this post by 4 AM CST.

A Google News search on "Leonid shower" yields 141 hits (and Lexis-Nexis yields 99 hits in print media alone from the past month), with both major and local media encouraging people to observe the shower -- this in spite of a waning crescent Moon (34% illuminated, per the Naval Observatory) and less than delightful weather this time of year in the temperate zone of the Northern Hemisphere -- local forecast is for clear skies with a low of 34°F and winds out of the west-northwest at 10-20 mph.

Jay Manifold [10:14 AM]

[ 20031115 ]

To The Chicago Abyss

As the saying goes, servings of free ice cream will be limited, as I am about to depart for the ChicagoBoyz blog bash. I hope to have a full report on Tuesday.

Now where'd I get that post title?

Jay Manifold [7:17 AM]

[ 20031114 ]

Speaking of Genetic Engineering

Mexican farmers were doing it by 2400 BC:

... modern corn alleles present within archaeological samples from 4000 years ago [suggest] that the genetic modification giving rise to these ancient plants resulted in superior crops that have been maintained as such for millennia (Science, 302:1206-1208, November 14, 2003).

[Viviane] Jaenicke-Després et al. [at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology] selected short DNA fragments (~50 bp) suitable for the comparison of allelic frequency from archaeological remains. DNA was extracted from cob samples ranging from 4000 to 650 years old and cloned. Reconstruction of each gene was achieved by sequencing of multiple clones. Comparison of these sequences with those from modern day maize and teosinte samples confirmed modern alleles were present in Mexican maize some 4400 years ago.

RTWT. In other news, a real "birds and bees" story is here:

... the breeding of near-isogenic lines (NILs) of the Mimulus flower by backcrossing two species pollinated by two different means—one by the honeybee and the other by the hummingbird—so that a gene controlling flower color from one species was substituted into the other. Their analysis showed that the effective swapping of the flower color allele also resulted in the swapping of the pollinator, strongly suggesting that a single major mutation can cause an adaptive shift in response to a change in environment in plants in particular, with implications for adaptive evolution in general (Nature, 426:176-178, November 13, 2003).

Jay Manifold [6:42 PM]

Friday Quagwatch!

Continuing the weekly monitoring of people who think that a nation of nearly 300 million people, with a $10 trillion economy, with nearly 1.5 million men under arms (all of them volunteers), can't handle a few hundred casualties per year ... and the quaggers are (emphases added):

NON-MASKABLE INTERRUPT: At this point I must break away from this week's Quagwatch, due to the sudden intrusion of an unwelcome statistic, for which I have none other than Derrick Z. Jackson to thank:

Medact, the British affiliate of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, this week published a report that estimates the number of Iraqi civilian deaths during the invasion to range from 5,708 to 7,356. The report estimates that the number of civilian deaths after May 1, when Bush declared an end to major combat operations, ranges from 2,049 to 2,209.

Rereading this post from exactly one year ago today, we find that Medact's pre-war casualty estimate was ... wait for it ... half a million.

Their undoubtedly manipulated "actual" total is, at most, 9,565.

Hint to my fellow citizens: maybe special-interest groups who make predictions that are off by a factor of 50 can't be trusted.

That's all for this week. Be sure to check in every Friday to see who's been quagging!

Jay Manifold [6:36 PM]

In Case Anybody's Been Wondering About Me

Via Catallarchy.net, the Mises Quiz -- and the results are:

Your score is: 88 out of 100.

All my answers, however, were libertarian. Specifically:

19 Austrian School answers

6 Chicago School answers

0 Keynesian-Neoclassical School answers

0 Socialist answers

Jay Manifold [3:19 PM]

Same Planet, Different Worlds

H. Josef Hebert of the AP writes (registration required):

Scientists announced significant progress Thursday toward creating an artificial organism that one day may have uses ranging from pollution control to clean energy production.

Scientists using commercially available DNA took only two weeks to build from scratch an artificial virus with the identical genetic code of a simple virus already known to infect and kill bacterial cells.

But Charles Arthur, Technology Editor of the Independent, reports that:

Scientists from the United States have created a simple virus from scratch, assembling more than 5,000 DNA building blocks, which they say could eventually lead to genetically-modified organisms able to eat carbon dioxide and clean the environment.

The idea provoked immediate opposition from environmental campaigners who branded it "very dangerous and a bit madcap" and warned that such organisms could run amok.

Sounds like the six-impossible-things-before-breakfast crowd is at it again. Stop global warming -- but don't build nuclear power plants. Feed the hungry -- but don't use genetic engineering to do it. "Address the root causes of terrorism" -- but don't use the American military to like, y'know, kill some terrorists. And so it goes.

IMMEDIATE UPDATE: Lileks - "... they love some idealized nonexistent America that can never exist as long as there’s individuality and free will."

Jay Manifold [6:36 AM]

[ 20031113 ]

More Domestic Vulnerabilities

Over on Sneaking Suspicions, Fritz Schrank comments on the imminent general availability of those infrared transmitters that force traffic lights to change. They're supposed to be for ambulances and fire trucks and police cars, of course; but what happens if unscrupulous motorists start using them?

In the real world, the answer will probably be some kind of retrofit of this technology (see this specification for technical background [warning: 383 kB *.pdf]).

Until this vulnerability is removed, it represents one more example of a potential nuisance attack that could tie a city in knots. Separately, Mike Sargent e-mails:

Now, change that "few hundred cars" to a mile-long freight train with a few carloads of anhydrous ammonia, or an LP-gas or crude oil tanker. Or, change the putative "Monsanto building" to the central control room of an oil refinery or chemical plant in Houston or East St. Louis (or Cheyenne, Wyoming, or El Dorado, Kansas -- no, I don't have anything against Frontier, they simply provide ready evidence that these sorts of operations exist in the American Heartland, in cities and towns of every size).

The El Dorado facility, thanks to its flare of waste gas, has become a familiar sight to me on my many trips between KC and Texas, as it is readily visible from I-35. It is my understanding that one reason for the volatility of gas prices at the pump is the surprisingly small number of operational refineries in the US. It would not take many E-bombs to drastically and adversely affect the economy.

Jay Manifold [8:25 PM]

Still More Pretty Pictures

Jon Osborne, who would be another Horseman of the Arcturcalypse if he had a blog, e-mailed this link to pictures of aurorae from Iceland.

Jay Manifold [6:03 PM]

McNeill Review of Diamond

I've got some pressing business to attend to today, so amuse yourselves by grazing over to Gene Expression for this outstanding review of Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel. The review is by McNeill himself, and is about 4,000 words, so reading time is 15-20 minutes.

Jay Manifold [2:42 PM]

[ 20031112 ]

Just For Fun

To the bloggers among my readership ... let's see if we can't get this run up to the top of Blogdex, shall we?

Jay Manifold [7:56 PM]

Speaking of If This Goes On ...

(Ref this earlier post) I've always wondered what a Heinleinian "unicycle" would look like. Well, now I know.

Jay Manifold [7:04 PM]

[ 20031111 ]

The Precautionary Principle (III)

Has it been adopted by NASA? That's the implication of 'Flexible' Russians, Cautious Americans, an AP article by Mike Schneider appearing in the Moscow Times: "... explains Shirley McCarty, former head of NASA's safety advisory board: In the U.S. program you must prove it is safe. The Russian approach is 'prove it's not safe.'"

(Earlier posts on this subject are here and here.)

UPDATE: Rand Simberg has much more on this.

Jay Manifold [10:11 PM]

Will Mars Be Off Limits?

Graze on over and read How bugs hitch-hike across the galaxy, in which David Derbyshire notes the most important discovery of the Apollo 12 mission, and writes:

Over the past three decades, bacteria and archaea have been found in some of the most inhospitable places on Earth. Known as extremophiles, these organisms have coped with life in a vacuum, pressure as high as 70 tons per square inch, depths of four miles beneath the surface and scorching waters around deep-sea volcanic vents. They have also survived 25 million years inside a bee preserved in resin.

If unicellular life can adapt to bizarre terrestrial environments and survive for years in non-terrestrial ones, do our space probes become vectors for, to coin a phrase, scientifically transmitted disease? The possible "forward contamination" of Mars by robotic landers is the subject of this project, although this source notes that as our understanding of the Martian environment improved, especially with the Viking missions, "... the value adopted for the probability of growth of imported terrestrial microbes on Mars (Pg) used in the probabilistic approach to contamination control applicable at that time fell from 1 in 1964 to 10-10 in 1978."

Contaminating a pristine environment is one thing -- such contamination, while regrettable, could be identified and subtracted from any findings. But what if something's alive there already, and we introduce terrestrial microbes?

"It's not just about ruining the science, although that's crucially important. What we don't want to do is ruin the Martian ecosystem," says Prof [Colin] Pillinger[, the Open University scientist who heads the Beagle 2 project].

The idea of Earth germs killing Martians is, of course, hardly original; but this invasion would be proceeding in the other direction. And it's not difficult to imagine -- actually, it's difficult not to imagine -- that in today's regulatory environment, any finding of life on Mars will result in the entire planet being ruled off limits to anything other than the most rigorously sterilized unmanned probes. (One more possible reason that no American President will send men to Mars.)

How such a ban will be enforced once there is a substantial human presence in space is not obvious, but it would be no wiser to predict that there will be no institutions capable of such enforcement than it is to avoid considering the likelihood of a ban in the first place.

Besides, it's not clear, even from a libertarian perspective, that designating Mars as a scientific reserve (12 kB *.pdf) is an altogether bad idea. While I reject the "existential shock" prediction regarding the discovery of vaguely terrestrial planets in other Solar Systems, there can be no doubt that the discovery of living, native organisms -- however primitive -- anywhere else in our Solar System would do more to alter human self-concepts than any scientific development since Copernicus and Galileo. The public, to say nothing of the scientific community, would demand some kind of institutional effort to safeguard such a discovery; and after all, there would be a great deal to be learned from it, even if (as I believe) it were eventually shown to be related to Earthly species, by virtue of ballistic transfer of living material.

Hayek himself wrote (ch 23, § 9; emphasis added):

While most of the arguments advanced in favor of governmental control of private activity in the interest of conservation of natural resources are thus invalid and while there is little in them beyond an argument for providing more information and knowledge, the situation is different where the aim is the provision of amenities or of opportunities for recreation, or the preservation of natural beauty or of historic sites or places of scientific interest, etc. The kinds of services that such amenities render to the public at large, which often enable the individual beneficiary to derive advantages for which he cannot be charged a price, and the size of the tracts of land usually required make this an appropriate field for collective effort.

I of course hope that any moratorium on a human presence on Mars would be temporary. The tremendous interest generated by any discovery of life on Mars would surely result in an armada of spacecraft landing, rolling, gliding, and floating on or above the surface as quickly as they could be built and dispatched. Since good launch windows occur every 26 months, a single decade could see five separate flotillas of Mars probes, and a concomitant wealth of new understanding of Martian ecosystems. Indeed, a human presence in "cismartian" space -- undoubtedly on Phobos and Deimos -- would very likely be part of the program.

Besides, the idea of colonizing planetary surfaces is so mid-20th-century. Let us away to The High Frontier (pp 34-35):

We are so used to living on a planetary surface that it is a wrench for us even to consider continuing our normal human activities in another location. If, however, the human race has now reached the technical capability to carry on some of its industrial activities in space, we should indulge in the mental exercise of "comparative planetology." We should ask, critically and with appeal to the numbers, whether the best site for a growing advancing industrial society is Earth, the Moon, Mars, some other planet, or somewhere else entirely. Surprisingly, the answer will be inescapable: the best site is "somewhere else entirely."

Space colonies built from asteroidal or lunar materials will have appropriate "gravity" (via centripetal force), atmosphere, and sunlight, without any of the problems associated with deep gravity wells, dense atmospheres, and insufficient (or unfiltered) solar or cosmic radiation. And their construction will harm no native life, even microbial life. Mars might be a nice place to visit. But why live there?

Jay Manifold [8:39 PM]

The Dark Secret of Prince Charles

-- revealed! Thanks to Scott Burgess of The Daily Ablution, who -- thanks to his residence in Henderson House, Pierce Tower Dormitory, University of Chicago, late 1970s, is yet another Horseman of the Arcturcalypse.

Jay Manifold [5:10 PM]


On this anniversary, let us read this word of warning (via Stanley Kurtz at NROnline):

Not since Kim Philby was an undergraduate at Cambridge has the intellectual elite of the West been so inclined to bite the hand that feeds it.

And be grateful that not all have succumbed:

One does encounter exceptions, such as General William Boykin, an evangelical Christian who evidently does not subscribe to the relativism of the academics and who heads the hunt for Osama bin Laden, among others.

And thank any living veterans we know.

Jay Manifold [1:39 PM]

Source Text on Proposed UN Takeover of Internet

Since I expect this to be getting a great deal of attention soon, as a public service, here's the substance behind the report in the Financial Times (which I expect many of my readers have already seen). Turning to the WSIS Draft Plan of Action (78 kB *.pdf, warning: ~6,600 words, reading time ~½ hour), on page 7, we find:

C) Action Lines

C6. Enabling environment

14. To maximize the social, economic and environmental benefits of the Information Society, governments need to create a trustworthy, transparent and non-discriminatory legal, regulatory and policy environment. Examples for actions include:

[f) Call on the Secretary General of ITU, in his capacity as chairman of HLSOC*, in collaboration with relevant international organizations, to establish and coordinate a task force to investigate and make proposals on the governance of Internet by 2005, addressing the following:

i) A universally representative solution on the international management of Internet resources, including but not limited to root servers, domain names, and Internet Protocol address assignment.
ii) Preliminary work towards the establishment of regional root-servers.
iii) Development and deployment of a broad-based internationalised domain and host name solution that is compatible with the current DNS architecture.
iv) Coordination and implementation of internationalised domain name strategy among country code registries interested in implementing internationalised domain name capabilities in their top level domain names.]

[Alt. f) A private sector led body should undertake the international management of the Internet with governments serving in an advisory capacity with respect to limited public policy issues.
The policy making processes for both the technical and public policy aspects of Internet governance should be open and transparent, developed through a bottom up policy making process which takes full account of the needs and views of the global Internet community.
Government cooperation and coordination with respect to international Internet related public policy issues should be done on an ad hoc basis and not through the current intergovernmental structure of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).]

* High-Level Summit Organizing Committee

My initial reaction to this is that the original C6.14.f is going nowhere, and that Alt. f, essentially the status quo, and obviously the alternative supported by the US and EC, will prevail. Nonetheless, it's all one more reason to work around, not with, the UN. Maybe rejoining UNESCO wasn't such a great idea after all.

Jay Manifold [11:44 AM]

No Kiddin'?

Pulled this one off VodkaPundit ...

Robert Heinlein
Robert Heinlein wrote you - you stranger in a
strange land, you.

Which Author's Fiction are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

PS - Specifically, I've always thought of myself as a John Lyle type -- learning how the world really works at a far later age than I should have.

Jay Manifold [8:38 AM]

"Security," It's Called

Reading about the virtual three-day shutdown of central London (tied for #18 on Blogdex this morning) reminds me of a conversation I had back in 1988 with someone who had worked on Bob Dole's abortive campaign for the GOP presidential candidacy that spring, and had worked on Liddy Dole's staff when she was SecDoT.

My friend spoke of the ability to make one phone call and have the Brooklyn Bridge closed at rush hour. Imagine the hundreds of thousands of lives so casually disrupted at the whim of the American nomenklatura. Such is the reality of domestic interventionism, and the real price of flushing one-fifth of our economic output through Washington.

"No one ever spoke of national insecurity, which would have been much more appropriate." -- Oliver Lange, Vandenberg

Jay Manifold [7:55 AM]

[ 20031110 ]

Continued Good News About Smallpox Vaccination

-- may be found here (via EurekAlert!).

Jay Manifold [6:11 PM]

Nightmare on the Arabian Peninsula

One has only to read Dan Darling's analysis on Winds of Change to realize what a nightmare we face if Pakistan succeeds in transferring nuclear weapons technology to Saudi Arabia:

In the aftermath of the Riyadh bombings, US intelligence came to the sobering conclusion that the Saudi police, army, navy, and National Guard have all been infiltrated by Bin Laden's minions. This point was driven home even further by the fact that the explosives used in the Riyadh bombings came from the Saudi National Guard stockpiles. Now, the Saudi National Guard is not at all like its American equivalent; it is the royal guard charged with protecting the 6,000 or so members of the al-Saud family. If al-Qaeda can infiltrate the Guard undetected, they can probably get anywhere in the Kingdom.

Jay Manifold [3:49 PM]

Genocide By The Numbers

Graze on over to Alan Henderson's blog for the kind of number-crunching and deduction that's sorely needed in mainstream media:

268 ÷ 30 = 8.93 mass killings annually (those associated with mass graves) **
300,000 ÷ 30 = 10,000 bodies interred in mass graves annually
10,000 ÷ 8.93 = 1,119 bodies (rounded down) per mass grave

**It's not likely that a mass killing will not be accompanied by a telltale mass grave, but I don't put it past genocidal regimes to find other ways of disposing of the evidence.

Alan's suggestion in the footnote is highly warranted -- what about smaller mass graves, or executions of small numbers of people? What happens to the death toll of the regime?

Speculation about this need not be unbounded. Suppose the sizes of mass graves follow a power law distribution and that there are exactly 250 mass graves, with the largest containing the remains of 3,000 victims (this source says: "The largest mass grave discovered so far, a site near the southern town of Mahaweel[, is] believed to hold at least 3,115 bodies ...").

If so, with an exponent of -0.2, the cumulative total number of victims is 309,025, close to the present rough estimate of 300,000. But -- and readers familiar with my parable of 11 May know where I'm going with this -- only the 32 largest graves have 1,500 or more victims. The "median" mass grave, #125, has 1,142 victims. And the smallest has 994 victims.

As Alan implies, why should it stop there?

If there are 500 mass graves, the cumulative toll is over half a million. If there are 1,000, it's 940,000 -- and the smallest grave still has 754 bodies.

Obviously the series cannot be indefinitely extended -- but it is easy to guess that the final death toll of the former Iraqi regime by execution alone will reach into seven figures. This does not count the hundreds of thousands of military casualties in the Iran-Iraq war, or the hundreds of thousands of civilians who died for lack of purified water after the first Gulf War (see also my earlier estimate of 2-4 million total).

So call it 5 million over 30 years. At that rate, we've saved just about 100,000 lives since the easy part of the job ended.

Jay Manifold [2:13 PM]

[ 20031109 ]

Why Amateur Astronomers Should Get Lower Car Insurance Rates

-- is explained by American expatriate George Junior, who e-mailed: "It was too cloudy here last night to see the eclipse but my interest in the heavens was not in vain - I managed to disturb a group of youths who were intent on vandalizing our car. Boy, were they surprised to find someone up and about at that time of night!"

(I should mention that mid-eclipse was after 1 AM at George's location.)

George also commends the website of Max Tegmark to Arcturus readers. I just grazed over there, and it does indeed look like fun.

Jay Manifold [1:31 PM]

Stunning Pictures of Phobos and Deimos

These have got to be the highest-resolution photos of Phobos and Deimos ever taken.

Jay Manifold [10:40 AM]

I Knew It!

ISO-9000 is the spawn of Satan. Thanks to commenter Terry over on Transterrestrial Musings for this insight. ;)

Jay Manifold [10:39 AM]

[ 20031108 ]

Playing to the Cheap Seats

As you can see, I succumbed to the temptation to play with the church-sign generator.

PS - In the blogosphere, they're all cheap seats.

Jay Manifold [9:13 PM]

The Real Quagmire

The manufactured outrage over the missing WMD in Iraq would be better directed toward things like this, which, whaddaya know, didn't find any drugs:

On Wednesday, 14 officers went to the school "and assumed strategic positions," [Lt. Dave Aarons of the Goose Creek, SC, Police Department] said.

Within 30 seconds, officers had moved to "safely secure the 107 students who were in that hallway," Aarons said. "During that time some of the officers did unholster in a down-ready position, so that they would be able to respond if the situation became violent."

That's "respond" in the sense of "blow away a bunch of 14-year-olds."

Jay Manifold [1:27 PM]

Secret Operational Nanofactory!

The era of nanomanufacturing has arrived, with fearful ethical consequences. A secret laboratory is successfully (thus far) employing molecular nanotechnology, and using "a human guinea pig" to do it! It has already created "a mass of molecules that have been spreading out of control for the past 9 weeks." Read the shocking story here.

Jay Manifold [11:59 AM]

[ 20031107 ]

What Type Is Your Civilization?

Last Sunday, in Point 1 of that ET post, I mentioned Sagan's The Cosmic Connection, and this news item about "counting all the information the world produces in a year."

So, anyway, Andy Cline was reading something by Timothy Noah in Slate, and finds the report itself, which is an 822 kB *.pdf, so don't download it with a dial-up connection -- which is of course exactly what I did -- unless you don't mind staring at the screen for five or ten minutes. Andy asks, what do you think of this?

Well, here's what Carl Sagan had to say about this sort of thing: after introducing the Kardashev model, he writes (p 234):

The energy gap between a Type I and a Type II civilization or between a Type II and a Type III civilization is enormous -- a factor of about ten billion in each instance. It seems useful, if the matter is to be considered seriously, to have a finer degree of discrimination. I would suggest Type 1.0 as a civilization using 1016 watts for interstellar communication; Type 1.1, 1017 watts; Type 1.2, 1018 watts, and so on. Our present civilization would be classed as something like Type 0.7.

That was written 30 years ago. Where are we now? This source (84 kB *.pdf) says: "Worldwide energy production grew 47 percent between 1973 and 1995," and a moment with a calculator establishes that the annual growth rate was about one and three-quarters percent. Extending it to 2003 and assuming that the same fraction of the total could be devoted to interstellar communication as in 1973, we find that our civilization has "grown" by a factor of about 1.7. Since log10 1.7 = 0.23, and the Sagan-Kardashev scale assigns values by W log100 - .6, things haven't changed much since '73; if we were at exactly Type 0.7 then, we'd be Type 0.723 now. I prefer not to uglify the scheme by adding significant figures, so for the purposes of this discussion, I will regard us as still being a Type 0.7.

But then Sagan introduces another parameter: "An important criterion of a civilization is the amount of information that it stores." He suggests that this criterion be depicted as follows (p 238):

I propose calling a Type A civilization one at the "Twenty Questions" level, characterized by 106 bits. In practice this is an extremely primitive society -- more primitive than any human society that we know well -- and a good beginning point. The amount of information we have acquired from Greek civilization would characterize that civilization as Type C, although the actual amount of information that characterized Periclean Athens is probably equivalent to Type E or so. By these standards, our contemporary civilization, if characterized by 1014 bits of information, corresponds to a Type H civilization.

A combined energy/information characterization of our present global terrestrial society is Type 0.7H. First contact with an extraterrestrial civilization would be, I would guess, with a type such as 1.5J or 1.8K.

Now turning to the report (p 9), we find: "Information stored on paper, film, optical, and magnetic media totals about 5 exabytes of new information each year; this is less than one third of the new information that is communicated through electronic information flows – telephone, radio and TV, and the Internet – which is about 17.7 exabytes."

An exabyte, as the report explains on page 4, is 1018 bytes, and we all know that a byte is 8 bits. The total information generation of 22.7 exabytes is thus 1.82 × 1020 bits, which means we're already at least Type N -- because that's just the new stuff, although the growth rate is so high that everything prior to 1999 or so can practically be ignored; it seems to be going up at about 30% per year, which would increment our letter designation every 9 years or so.

Running that growth rate backwards, though, doesn't get us all the way back to Type H in 1973; a 30% annual increase since then would make us a type K now. So I'll go with that, and assume that we'll increment by one letter per decade.

So we're a Type 0.7K as of 2003. Now what about that asteroidal civilization I postulated last Sunday -- the one with ten times Earth's present population? If population growth is 2% per year, it would take us just over 116 years to grow by a factor of 10. So imagine that it's January 1, 2120. What's our type?

I projected a low population density in the space colonies: one household per hectare. Suppose the average household size is 3; then 60 billion people would take up 200 million square kilometers. I will assume that their total energy consumption does not exceed that of the energy of sunlight falling on the same area at the Earth's orbit, which is about 1.3 kW m-2. This works out to 2.6 × 1017 W, making us a Type 1.1 civilization.

If our civilizational informational content increases as described above, then we'd be about 12 letters farther along, that is, Type W. Sagan's info scale is showing some strain; he thought it would take a galactic civilization to get to Type Q.

Combined designation for humanity, ca 2120 AD: Type 1.1W.

Jay Manifold [10:14 PM]

The Possibilities of Civilization

I grazed into burchismo from InstaPundit and found Sun Sounds, which adds far more value than I did with Audible Solar Flare (sorta). RTWT and follow the links.

Jay Manifold [8:11 PM]

Speaking of "Situational Citizenship"

Previously unknown reader (the best kind) Magnus H., from Australia -- after sending me a rather strongly worded e-mail inspired by my assertion that American "stupidity" doesn't matter -- read my "situational citizenship" post (referenced below) and said that it reminded him of this, which is one of the more hugely flattering comments I've gotten in almost 2 years of blogging. I've promised Magnus a response to his original e-mail and will use it to frame what I expect will be a uniquely constructive discussion.

Jay Manifold [11:31 AM]

Pledge and Meaning

Longtime readers may recall that I think the Pledge of Allegiance is, in a word, stupid, that fights over it are a waste of time, and that it should be replaced by something else.

Beth Elliott, having read my essay on "situational citizenship", which includes a link to this post on "The American's Creed", now points out a certain tension between "a sovereign Nation of many sovereign States" and "a perfect union, one and inseparable." What does state sovereignty really mean if separation isn't allowed? Beth suggests a possible Crisis of 2020:

If urban California and the New York Metro/East Coast liberal belt gained control of Congress and began to tax the rest of the country the way the North was laying tariffs on the South before the [Civil War], shouldn't that "red area" have the right to say bleep you, go run your own affairs, we're outta here?

My response to that particular scenario is that it would be significantly less drastic for the "red area" to repeal or modify at least the second half of this -- and presuming that "red area" to include every state outside of southern New England, the mid-Atlantic states, the west coast, and Hawaii (10 states total), they would easily have the numbers to do so.

But the question remains. The struggle to assign the Civil War some lasting meaning produced, among other things, this bit of masterful prose; the answer for that time -- emancipation not being as widely supported as we like to think -- was that secession must be forbidden so "that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

Keep in mind that the Creed was written in 1917 and given official status by the House of Representatives on 3 April 1918. It was a product of wartime and appeared within living memory of our bloodiest conflict, which had ended 53 years earlier; plenty of veterans of that conflict were still around.

As a Libertarian, individual sovereignty is considerably more important to me than state sovereignty. And republican forms of government hardly seem likely to "perish from the earth" if some states secede. But I believe that we now have an overriding reason to stay together (hard-core masochistsArcturus fans may wish to read/reread this as well). We should all hope for, and work toward, a world in which secession is safe for all concerned (or perhaps "safe, legal, and rare," heh). But we're not there yet.

Jay Manifold [11:12 AM]

Friday Quagwatch!

Inspired by this earlier post and the example of Alphecca, I've decided to make this a regular weekly feature.

As you read each entry, keep in mind what the quaggers are actually saying: that a nation of nearly 300 million people, with a $10 trillion economy, with nearly 1.5 million men under arms (all of them volunteers), cannot long endure losing 2 soldiers killed and 10 soldiers wounded in action per day.

This week's quaggers are (emphases added) ...

That's all for this week. Be sure to check in every Friday to see who's been quagging!

Jay Manifold [10:11 AM]

[ 20031106 ]

Dean: "Manned Flights to Mars"

Previously unknown reader Allen Bryan e-mailed me from MIT to point to this WaPo story, which quotes Howard Dean thusly: "I am a strong supporter of NASA and every government program that furthers scientific research. I don't think we should close the shuttle program but I do believe that we should aggressively begin a program to have manned flights to Mars. This of course assumes that we can change Presidents so we can have a balanced budget again."

As irrelevant as a government-funded program to send people to Mars is, I can almost imagine it getting done if we get rid of the Shuttle (and the International Space Station) as a first step. Committing to retaining the most expensive launch vehicle in the world and initiating a manned Mars program is promising ... well, nothing. No American will set foot on Mars as part of any NASA program started during a Howard Dean presidency.

Lest I be accused of narrow partisanship, I also predict that whatever initiative W announces on the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brothers' first flight will also come to nothing.

Jay Manifold [8:44 PM]