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[ 20020628 ]

The Brain as an Anti-Terror Weapon

Previously unknown reader Edwin M. Walker, III sends this somewhat nondirective but intriguing essay by "a partner and managing director of Toffler Associates©," advocating that we all use our heads in stopping the terrorists.

Jay Manifold [8:04 PM]

John Entwistle, RIP

Can you see the real me? This sad news put me in mind of this astonishing incident, in which The Who played at a local high school dance. A friend of mine who was there called it "a spiritual experience -- not necessarily a good spiritual experience, but a spiritual experience." That stage was never the same after Pete Townsend got through with it ...

Jay Manifold [6:20 AM]

[ 20020627 ]


Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States:

Yesterday a court in America made a ruling that I want to comment on. America is a nation that is -- a nation that values our relationship with an Almighty. Declaration of God in the Pledge of Allegiance doesn't violate rights. As a matter of fact, it's a confirmation of the fact that we received our rights from God, as proclaimed in our Declaration of Independence.

I -- I believe that it points up the fact that we need common-sense judges who understand that our rights were derived from God. And those are the kind of judges I intend to put on the bench.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Constitution of the United States:

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the members of the several state legislatures, and all executive and judicial officers, both of the United States and of the several states, shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.

Impeachment, anyone?

UPDATE: Geez, can't I get a rise out of anybody around here? OK, just to rub it in a bit more: In addition to violating Article VI, Paragraph 3, GWBush's religious test is, from a strictly Christian viewpoint, worthless.

Jay Manifold [8:11 PM]

Trains, Planes, and ... (A Continuing Series)

UPI has a roundup of What U.S. papers say about Amtrak; the Baltimore Sun chimes in with:

One hundred years ago this month, the New York Central railroad introduced a new train on the run from New York to Chicago, and called it the Twentieth Century Limited. It became the most famous and most glamorous train in America, and by the time Cary Grant, in the movie North by Northwest, was stowing away in an upper berth, it was streaking between the two cities in 16 hours. It left Grand Central at 5 p.m. and arrived in Chicago at 8 the next morning.

A century after The Century, Amtrak runs a train over the same route -- in 19 hours. When it's on time, that is. Americans, in truth, can't run passenger trains as well as their grandfathers did.

Trains make sense. They're good for the environment, for clearing congestion, for convenience, for providing an alternative to the airlines. The price tag for a sensible, restructured national system would not be excessive, especially compared to the billions that the administration has lavished on the airlines just since Sept. 11.

United Airlines is now asking for an additional $1.8 billion loan guarantee. Let's spend it on the trains instead -- it's high time this country got acquainted with the Twenty-first Century.

Unfortunately, this would reacquaint us with the 19th century. Let's look at some numbers:

  1. Distance from NYC to Chicago (source: MapQuest): 788 miles.

  2. Driving time from NYC to Chicago (same source): 13½ hours.

  3. Flying time from NYC to Chicago (source: Newport Beach Travel): 2½ hours.

(New readers may also wish to review my travel math post of a while back.)

Doesn't compare so well with a 16-hour train trip, does it? -- Let alone a 19-hour-if-it's-on-time trip. So much for "convenience" and "providing an alternative to the airlines." "Congestion" doesn't apply to inter-city travel. That leaves environmental concerns.

Inter-city trains are propelled by diesel engines, which emit soot, nitrogen oxides, or both; this source notes that: "At the present time, there is no method to simultaneously reduce NO and particulate emissions." Jet engines, by contrast, emit almost no particulates and are getting steadily cleaner in terms of NOx, as this source indicates. Further work is underway.

Of course, the editorial writer may have had something like this in mind. Great, except for where electricity comes from. We'll have clean electric power eventually -- this source predicts "... (for example) photovoltaic stick-on film at a cost below $0.10 per square meter, and mechanically suitable for road resurfacing." But as for intercity travel in the 21st century ... we should be looking forward to something like this.

(Just for a bit of irony: I enjoy trains immensely and have probably logged more miles in intercity train travel in the US [well over 10,000] than almost all of my readers. The two-legged members of the Manifold household will be taking the train from KC to St Louis and back in early August -- we think. But they're not for serious business travel.)

Jay Manifold [7:27 PM]

[ 20020626 ]

A Brief Descent Into Topicality

Most "news" stories like this are far too silly to be worth commenting on -- though apparently the Senate didn't think so; what part of "Congress shall make no law" don't they understand?

The Pledge of Allegiance was always stupid, as anyone who had to recite it a few hundred times in school can tell you. And the courts struck down mandatory recitation of it in 1943, eleven years before Congress added the "under God" clause (which made it even stupider). But I'm here to be constructive, so I propose as an alternative The American's Creed:

I believe in the United States of America as a government of the people, by the people, for the people; whose just powers are derived from the consent of the governed, a democracy in a republic, a sovereign Nation of many sovereign States; a perfect union, one and inseparable; established upon those principles of freedom, equality, justice, and humanity for which American patriots sacrificed their lives and fortunes.

I therefore believe it is my duty to my country to love it, to support its Constitution, to obey its laws, to respect its flag, and to defend it against all enemies.

No faux religion, no modern-day emperor-worship, no veneration of a secular emblem: just the essence of the country.

Jay Manifold [7:47 PM]

[ 20020624 ]

Who Says Astronomy Isn't Practical? (II)

Meanwhile, over on UniSci, we find Telescope Will Provide Ultra-High Angular Resolution:

The telescope array, costing some $40M, will consist of 8 to 10 telescopes, each with a diameter of 1.4m, separated by distances of up to 400m. The signals from the telescopes will be combined in a central laboratory, forming what is known as an interferometric array.

In a process known as aperture synthesis, the combined signal is used to make an image which is equivalent to the image that would be formed by a space-based telescope with a 400m diameter primary mirror -- this can be compared with the 2.4m diameter mirror on the Hubble Space Telescope.

The feasibility of this novel type of optical and infrared telescope was first demonstrated by Cambridge scientists in the late 1980s. This same team, then headed by Professor John Baldwin, built the world’s first separated-element optical/infrared aperture synthesis telescope -- the Cambridge Optical Aperture Synthesis Telescope (COAST) -- in the mid 1990s.

Of the Magdalena Ridge Observatory (New Mexico) telescope, the COAST website news release says:

An interferometer using 1.4m diameter telescopes and separations of up to 400m, would have an angular resolution of a quarter of a milli-arcsecond, i.e. roughly the angle required to read the writing on the [sic] penny in orbit (seeing features of 0.2mm or less). Unlike conventional ground-based telescopes, the angular resolution of interferometric arrays is not compromised by atmospheric fluctuations.

Those of you with plenty of time to spend grazing Arcturus may wish to read, or re-read, this post, in which I explain how I came to learn that the Air Force had Hubble-sized telescopes in low Earth orbit in the mid-1960s -- pointing down, of course. So the question naturally arises: are there any optical interferometers in orbit pointing down?

The advantage is not merely one of resolution, but of the distance from which that resolution can be achieved. Reading the markings on a penny from low Earth orbit is one thing, but the same instrument would have ~2 mm resolution -- adequate for facial recognition; it's the equivalent of 20/20 vision from 30 feet away -- from geosynchronous orbit (40,000 km). A spysat in such an orbit would of course permit continuous monitoring, for years at a time, of sites of interest scattered over an enormous area. Say, everything between latitudes 10° and 40° N and longitudes 10° W to 80° E.

It would also be much harder to shoot down; an antisatellite weapon sufficient to destroy something in low Earth orbit need be no larger than a sounding rocket -- the total Dv required, including what is needed to overcome air resistance during ascent, is no more than 4 km sec-1. (The warhead could be something as simple as a bag of sand with a lump of high explosive in the center; detonate it a few kilometers ahead of the satellite and the effect would be that of firing several shotgun blasts into it at close range.) But putting something into geosynchronous transfer orbit takes nearly three times as much Dv, and of course the guidance required to manuever to within a few kilometers of something at 40,000 km is much more demanding than at 400 km.

Of course there is one nation right in the middle of the area I outlined above, one which just happens to 1) be surrounded by enemies and 2) home to lots of bright people and high-technology industries. Just a thought ...

UPDATE: Another math error: that should be ~2 cm, not ~2 mm, so facial recognition would require a rather larger array, on the order of kilometers. However, once an aperture-synthesis telescope is in GEO, scaling it up should be relatively easy.

Jay Manifold [7:42 PM]

Who Says Astronomy Isn't Practical? (I)

Via UPI and UC Santa Cruz, this delightful story about how adaptive optics is leading to greatly improved diagnoses of retinal illnesses and improved ophthalmological surgeries:

... technology derived from adaptive optics (AO) research is already being used by ophthalmologists to measure aberrations in the eye with unprecedented accuracy, and it may not be long before AO-based devices replace the conventional phoropter used to calculate prescriptions for eyeglasses and contact lenses. In addition, researchers are using adaptive optics technology to obtain extraordinary views of microscopic structures in the eyes of human subjects.

Read the whole thing.

Jay Manifold [6:58 PM]

[ 20020623 ]


This is why I need an editor: a couple of posts down is a huge thing that I figured nobody in their right mind and not in the LP -- an overlap of sets which some people would no doubt tell me should be total -- would ever bother reading. In it I offer some advice about the platform.

That 8-point thing, whatever it should be called, is not supposed to be the new LP platform. It is rather my idea of an approach to take in doing many things, one of which is writing a platform that voters won't gag on. An actual platform should look something like this.

Now, having said that ... both Bill Walker and John Braue commented that my point #5 ("We will argue from observation. Every policy we propose will have a sound historical precedent.") doesn't seem to allow a lot of room for innovation. Since both Bill and John were a lot nicer to me than I deserved, I'm going to try to explain that one further.

This was an attempt on my part to avoid argument from authority, any effort to redesign society from the top down, and any dodge from empiricism in political theory. It's the American Revolution vs the French Revolution. The Americans of the 1770s could draw on developments from the 13th through the 17th centuries in their defense of English liberties. We can draw on all of those plus our own Bill of Rights and the 13th-15th Amendments, plus of course a vast body of economic experience. I contend that this is all that's needed; even things like privatization of roads and mail delivery have readily available examples, or at least close analogs, to which we can point.

The crucial thing is that policy be tested against reality. Jacob Bronowski said it far better than I ever could:

It is said that science will dehumanize people and turn them into numbers. That is false, tragically false. Look for yourself. This is the concentration camp and crematorium at Auschwitz. This is where people were turned into numbers. Into this pond were flushed the ashes of some four million people. And that was not done by gas. It was done by arrogance. It was done by dogma. It was done by ignorance. When people believe that they have absolute knowledge, with no test in reality, this is how they behave.

That is the evil I would avoid, and being a Libertarian is no protection against it.

Jay Manifold [8:01 PM]

Results of Planet-Naming Contest

Refer to this post. Response was a bit thin, unlike my previous effort, from which I suppose I should learn to stick to questions with longer answers. She Who Must Be Obeyed -- whose reaction to all astronomical phenomena is "hmm, shiny thing up in the sky. I wonder what's on TV?" -- immediately chimed in with "Larry, Moe, and Curly" and "Tic, Tac, and Toe." Someone known to me only as "Occam24@aol.com" suggested:

  1. "Juliana" after Julian Simon, the apostle of infinite imagination and infinite resources.

  2. "Normana" after Norman Borlaug, creator of the Green Revolution.

  3. "Zubrina" after Robert Zubrin, advocate of self-sustaining planetary expeditions and terraforming.

Alan Henderson:

Cancer is Latin for "crab," right? Then why not go along with that theme and name the three discovered planets - and the star itself - after major characters from the comic strip "Sherman's Lagoon?"

55 Cancri - Hawthorne (the larcenous hermit crab)
Largest planet - Sherman (the gluttonous Great White shark)
Second-largest planet - Fillmore (the sensitive, poetry-reading sea turtle)
Third-largest planet - Ernest (the bespectacled mad-scientist blue fish)

If any other gas giants are discovered, they can be named after Megan (Sherman's wife) and Thornton (the beach bum polar bear that occasionally vacations in the lagoon).

Sean Kirby:

Can we please, please call it Krypton? It's got a red sun and everything.

Suman Palit:

I always wanted a constellation named after me, but I guess I'll have to settle for a planet.

As for names, I think we should pick one mythology per star system and stick to it. E.g pick Indonesian mythology, or Alaskan mythology and use names of mythological characters from them in a consistent manner. This way, every human culture will be able to eventually claim an entire star system for themselves.

Ken Summers also suggested the Three Stooges.

Other than that, Pejman noted that naming it the Yousefzadeh system would prevent it from being found by future starship crews, due to their inability to pronounce its name.

I'll try harder next time.

Jay Manifold [5:15 PM]

An Open Letter to the Libertarian National Platform Committee

To: Dean Ahmad, Greg Clark, Mike Dixon, Keith Edwards, Lorenzo Gaztanaga, Henry Haller, Sean Haugh, Joe Hauptmann, Ed Hoch, Erin Holliden, Austin Hough, Michael Gilson de Lemos, Robert Murphy, Bonnie Scott, George Squyres

Cc: Mark Hinkle, Carol Moore, Tom Stahl

Dear Committee Members -

I served on the National Platform Committee in 1996 (my credentials, such as they are, are at the end of this message). That experience led me to compose a short speech which I had hoped to make from the convention floor, offering a minority report recommending that the word "demand" be globally replaced by the word "urge" everywhere in the platform. Unfortunately the opportunity for me to make this recommendation never arose. Here is the speech, reproduced as I drafted it six years ago:

One word: marketing.

Now a few words about the procedure of the Platform Committee. It was impossible for us to introduce more than a tiny fraction of our proposals. I had to decide very quickly which one of my items I wished to place on the table. Now, I could have picked a personal hot button. For example, it is incredible to me that our platform nowhere mentions the National Security Agency, a monster needing to be slain if ever there was one. Our platform also implies that the Federal government should default on its debt, an action which would precipitate more suffering than anything short of a nuclear war.

But a platform made up of people's hot buttons will be a bizarre and disjointed document. What is needed are global changes to make the platform more marketable. As Mark Hinkle of California stated, our platform is not suited for marketing -- and unfortunately, he's right. And as Tom Stahl of Washington state noted, after 25 years we are still a club of 15,000 people.

The Democrats and Republicans have a rotten product to sell, but they have great marketers. We have exactly the opposite problem. We've got the best product in the world. We don't need to change it. But we've got it on a high shelf, out of reach; we've got it back behind in the storage room; we've left it on the loading dock -- and we might as well have a sign on it that says "not for sale."

Everything we produce should be marketable! Everything we work on should be a marketing tool! We are the only party which truly supports "the most fundamental human right -- the right to bargain in a free marketplace."* We should be the best marketers!

This minority report is a tiny, incremental step in the direction of marketability. We are in no position to "demand" anything. Successful marketers do not make "demands" of their customers. They persuade them. If you believe in marketing -- if you believe in markets -- please vote for this recommendation.

* Robert Heinlein, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

The purpose of this letter is not to dredge up a never-delivered minority report from 1996. It is to ask that you consider the marketability of a 12,000-word, 30-page document -- versus, for example, that of a 500-word, 1½-page document (the platform of the Missouri Libertarian Party). Something that fits on one page and runs about 350 words would be even better.

Nor would I suggest just what those 350 words should be, though like all good Libertarians I have some strong opinions in that regard; the curious may find them by browsing my weblog and selecting the "Advice for Libertarians" items listed on the left sidebar. But you're all bright, talented people, and anyone who truly internalizes the concept of competing in a marketplace of ideas won't need a lot of guidance from me.

My general approach, however -- and here I quote myself again, from the post entitled "A Modest Proposal" -- is as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am available to discuss these ideas via e-mail, by phone (send me an e-mail to set up a time to talk), or in person (for those of you who might be passing through Kansas City anytime soon).

My libertarian curriculum vitae are as follows:

I became a libertarian while attending the University of Chicago in the late 1970s and joined the LP in Missouri in 1981. I served as secretary, vice-chair, and chair of the Missouri LP at various times during the 1980s and ran for Congress in Missouri's 5th district in 1986 and for Missouri Secretary of State in 1988; I participated in every state convention in Missouri from 1981 through 1989. After relocating to Texas in 1990, I served on the State Libertarian Executive Committee, ran for State Representative in the 130th district in 1992, and began handling publicity for the Libertarian Party of Dallas County. In this capacity I organized many of the protests in Dallas and Waco which took place during the Branch Davidian standoff in the winter and spring of 1993, and subsequently organized the protest which took place in January 1994 outside the courthouse in San Antonio on the opening day of the trial of the survivors. I served as vice-chair of the Texas LP from mid-1993 until June of 1994, when I was elected to the first of two terms as state chair. I participated in every state conference and convention in Texas from 1991 through 1998. Having attended the National Conventions of 1981 and 1987 as a delegate from Missouri and that of 1993 as a delegate from Texas, I founded the "Fully Informed Delegate Association" several months prior to the 1996 National Convention, served on the National Platform Committee, and moderated the presidential candidates' debate at that convention. My second term as state chair in Texas ended in June of 1998. I have since relocated to Missouri and married. I work as a project manager for a major telecommunications firm.

Jay Manifold [8:45 AM]

The Joy of Gay Sets

Add some circles to that Venn diagram. The AP newswire has Conservatives Criticize Ashcroft, in which Concerned Women for America president Sandy Rios says: "It won't matter if we dismantle terrorism if we implode from within." Of course, the only implosion to occur in this cultural arena was the self-decimation of the gay male population a couple of decades back, but you can always get an audience in this country by claiming that we're about to be wiped out by something.

Culture and Family Institute director Robert Knight chimed in with: "Just because [Ashcroft] is fighting terrorist threats is no excuse to allow an officially sanctioned celebration by his department of immoral, unhealthy behavior that is illegal in nearly 20 states." Sounds like diversity to me. ;)

But don't worry -- there's still no pleasing some people; as the AP article says,

DOJ Pride board member Mark Hegedus said the group was divided between happiness that the administration allowed a representative to speak, and disappointment that Thompson didn't focus on gay and lesbian issues.

And the band played on ...

Jay Manifold [8:22 AM]

The Joy of Sets (A Continuing Series)

In the "this place seems weird even to me sometimes" dept., we have Conference in Liberty draws protests, in which a gay-outreach event put on by Focus on the Family was successively protested by 1) "Love Welcomes All"; 2) the "Rev." Fred Phelps, and finally 3) a couple of confused neo-Nazis who just stood around trying to decide what to do. None of this made things any easier for the Quaker mediation effort. As Dave Barry would say, I am not making this up.

Jay Manifold [8:05 AM]

[ 20020620 ]

-- And in the Sky

We dodged another asteroid on Tuesday. This page gives the numbers. Using the formula cited in this post establishes that a 20-megaton blast would wreck an area of over 400 square kilometers, or nearly 160 square miles. 2002 MN may actually have been too big to pose the kind of geopolitical risk I've been nattering about -- nobody would mistake an explosion that devastating for an Indian or Pakistani nuke.

Jay Manifold [9:05 PM]

Fire on the Mountain

Like most disasters, the Hayman Fire exerts a certain fascination. Readers interested in learning more about wildfire containment in the American West are directed to the first two chapters of this book. The first chapter is about the Lowman and Foothills fires, which took place in Idaho in the summer of 1989; an excerpt:

We pounded in low along a ridge and then rose and banked and circled and came in again. I could see yellow-shirted hotshots below us, shrouded in smoke. The fire was down in the valley. Several crews were downslope, strung out along the creeping line of black, and several more crews had just landed at the helispot on the ridge and were waiting for orders to proceed. The helicopter made one more approach and then settled down uneasily onto a ridge that plunged steeply away on both sides. The 'shot crews crouched down against the rotor wash, and the helispot attendant, dressed in a green flight suit and hard hat and goggles, flattened himself behind a boulder as if someone were shooting at him. When the aircraft had set itself down but with the rotors still thumping, the attendant scurried forward in a crouch and opened my door and took me out by the arm. Then he returned to get Casey. Occasionally people back up into the tail rotor or walk uphill into the main one, so there is always someone at the helipad to act as an escort. I dragged my pack over behind some bushes and knelt with my head turned away. The helicopter clattered up over our heads and then continued on to shuttle more overhead around the fire.

The second chapter is about the South Canyon fire in Colorado in 1994, which killed fourteen firefighters on Storm King Mountain near Glenwood Springs:

Above him, the BLM and upper Prineville crews had abandoned hope of reaching H-1 and scrambled north toward H-2. When that route too was blocked, they turned and plunged over the ridge. Due south, one hundred feet below H-1, the eight smoke jumpers who had been ordered out by Don Mackey fifteen minutes earlier were crawling under their foil shelters to wait out the approaching fire storm. At Canyon Creek far below, a crew of fresh smoke jumpers who were preparing to hike in watched in horror as eight little silver squares appeared on the mountainside. Meanwhile, hidden from view by smoke, Mackey, the Prineville nine, and the three smoke jumpers were running a race only one of them, Hipke, would win.

All this makes UPI's Airships to Fight Forest Fires? of more than passing interest. Wetzone Engineering is developing, possibly in conjunction with SkyCat Technologies, a new system which will permit round-the-clock, highly accurate delivery of huge quantities of water onto fires. As a bonus, there is also a mechanism for rapid reseeding of forests. Lots of juicy technical details and quotes appear in a New Scientist article.

Jay Manifold [8:44 PM]

[ 20020618 ]

The Turn of an Unfriendly Card

Kathy Kinsley points to this astonishingly creative post over on File13's Amish Tech Support. The technique used is reminiscent of the Titanic exhibit, in which attendees are randomly assigned the name of a passenger or crew member upon entry, and find out at the end whether they lived or died.

Can this be generalized? Think of all the people who work on the same floor of the same building with you, or who live on your block, or go to your church, and pick 19 (or whatever the number of the massacre-of-the-week is) of them at random. Or use your high school yearbook, like Laurence did. How long before your name is drawn?

Jay Manifold [8:47 PM]

Oh, Let the Sun Beat Down Upon My Face

Time for break from all this serious stuff. InstaPundit links to this ... thing, which says:

Disinformation about U.S. intentions is being circulated by "midlevel" Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency operatives and some field-grade army officers. Samples:

Kashmir, under the U.S. plan, is to become an independent state.

The Kashmir declaration of independence is ready, and the United States will demand that Pakistan and India sign it. The U.S. Army will control the region.

Actually, I proposed this in an e-mail to some friends back in June of '99, long before I had Arcturus as an outlet. Specifically, I said:

The proposal I make below, which is of course nothing less than Earth-shaking, will truly leave the mark of Boomer leadership on the world. I know just how strongly all of you identify with Bill Clinton [yes, this was sarcasm - JDM]. Well, our generation has been in power for six years now, and what do we have to show for it? The Woodstock Memorial is still a puny concrete marker. Dead Presidents (and one dead Treasury Secretary) still appear on the coinage and currency. It is long past time for us to change the world into a better place, and what more appropriate way to do so than by arbitrarily intervening in a Gordian knot of ethnic and religious warfare in some of the harshest terrain on Earth in support of a complete abstraction?

My spousal unit, born into a later generation, points out that a conservative, predominantly Muslim society might hesitate to embrace a cultural artifact which is the product of a bunch of drug-addled Westerners (see the hyperlink below for evidence of less-than-perfect sobriety on the part of the composer[s]). That's what's wrong with these rotten kids today. They just don't understand the power of whining to change the world into whatever we want. In any case, should whining inexplicably fail, we have the wing of B-2s at Whiteman AFB which proved so efficacious in Yugoslavia.

Note the appearance of the proper plural for the United States in my wording. This is used frequently in Harry Turtledove's alternate-Civil-War novels, and deserves to be revived.

Without further ado ...

BE IT RESOLVED THAT the United States undertake to guarantee the territorial integrity of a free and independent State of Kashmir, conditioned upon its willingness to adopt the eponymous and totally excellent Led Zeppelin song as its national anthem.

It took three years for the ISI to pick up on this dangerous new American policy goal. Inexcusable!

Jay Manifold [9:01 AM]

[ 20020617 ]

Odd Alliances, Indeed

Alan Henderson posts a typical, in the best possible sense, question -- and example of how

America has the most peaceful ideological discord on the face of the Earth. Laws protecting speech, even disagreeable speech, guarantee a peaceful outlet for expressing ourselves without fear of government reprisal. The vast majority of Americans cherish the rights of all, including our ideological adversaries, to their physical safety, their property, and their choice of beliefs.

Now, over on Instapundit, we have

Compare the relative lack of attention to posters claiming that Jews eat gentile children (mentioned again in this article) to the New York Times reporting of anti-Muslim remarks by a Baptist preacher.

InstaPundit also links to this WaPo story, from which I excerpt:

The U.S. team included John Klink, a former adviser to the Vatican at previous U.N. conferences; Janice Crouse, a veteran antiabortion advocate at Concerned Women of America; and Paul J. Bonicelli of Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Va., a Christian institution that requires its professors teach creationism.

"This alliance shows the depths of perversity of the [U.S.] position," said Adrienne Germaine, president of the International Women's Health Coalition. "On the one hand we're presumably blaming these countries for unspeakable acts of terrorism, and at the same time we are allying ourselves with them in the oppression of women."

The World Policy Center, a Mormon group established in 1997 to promote family values through an alliance that includes conservative Christians, the Catholic Church and Islamic governments, is holding a conference next month at Brigham Young University School of Law. It will bring antiabortion advocates and legal critics of the United Nations together with more than 60 U.N. diplomats, including delegates from conservative Catholic and Islamic countries.

A group led by Mormons and including evangelicals and conservative Catholics, all allying themselves with conservative Muslims, at first glance seems like either 1) cats and dogs living together or 2) some kind of evil octopus (long post; skip to the 4th paragraph from the end if you want). It is neither. In The Joy of Sets, I discussed Venn diagrams and overlap of subcultures' interests, and concluded that

their effectiveness -- and that of all other "new and seemingly odd alliances" -- will depend on their ability to: assume nothing; identify any intersection of their interests; evaluate whether the relevant conditional probability is high enough to make mutual efforts worthwhile; and proceed accordingly.

So when Austin Ruse of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute says, "We look at them as allies, not necessarily as friends," he is making perfect sense, however unpleasant some of us might regard the goals of such an alliance.

The NYTimes and Adrienne Germaine (and Abe Foxman) should calm down. And so should Glenn when he says things like: "Perhaps the 'Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute' should focus its attentions a bit closer to home." If they're serious about pursuing their goals, they'll focus their attentions anywhere they have to. The sooner the rest of us appreciate that, the faster the American atmosphere of peaceful ideological discord will spread.

Jay Manifold [5:57 PM]

[ 20020615 ]

"A Workable, Sensible, Revolution"

Today is the 786th anniversary of this document, from which I excerpt this truly magnificent paragraph:

No Freeman shall be taken, or imprisoned, or be disseised of his Freehold, or Liberties, or free Customs, or be outlawed, or exiled, or any otherwise destroyed; nor will we pass upon him, nor condemn him, but by lawful Judgment of his Peers, or by the Law of the Land. We will sell to no man, we will not deny or defer to any man either Justice or Right.

Also over on UPI is the delightful article U.S. founders and the French Revolution. Read the whole thing.

I have commented elsewhere on the regrettable orientation of a certain political organization of which I am otherwise quite fond. I fear that the tone of this platform would be far more congenial to the French revolutionaries than the American. Ironic, and pitiable, but perhaps worthy of corrective action.

Jay Manifold [4:18 PM]

The "Pretense of Precision" Meme (I)

-- or, "those scientists don't really know that." Previously unknown reader Todd Morman e-mailed a bunch of really smart people and included me for some reason, pointing us to a thread over on Metafilter about the latest exoplanet discoveries, in which he comments (excerpts):

No room for intrepetive error ...? I dunno, seems there must be plenty of debatable assumptions underlying these searches, not to mention lots of room for debate over whether the signal that's being pulled out of the noise and taken as evidence of a "new planet" is really signal at all ... [i]nstead we get tossed-off references like this:

"Along with announcing the 55 Cancri discovery, the researchers also announced the discovery of an additional 14 planets orbiting other stars."

Now, Todd is not this kind of "skeptic" -- and I should not accuse him of having actually been infected by this meme. But he may be flirting with it. So first, the specific case. I did some digging and responded (excerpted and edited):

Todd et al - The original message is what happens when I'm too tired to think straight. Here's what's really going on:

... kokogiak and vacapinta remind us that the technique is spectrographic, not astrometric, that is, a measurement of doppler shift rather than position. Turning to this story, we find that "[t]he stars' wobble is a movement of barely 50 yards per second ..." -- that is, 1/6,000,000 the speed of light. So the doppler shift, at 6,000 Å (orange light), would be 0.001 Å. Turning again to the 3-meter telescope at Lick Observatory, we find the Hamilton Echelle Spectrometer, which can resolve to 0.06 Å at 6,000 Å. You can read more about it here.

OK, still looks like they're using averaging and interpolation. This is implied at this source. A good overview of all the detection methods is here; it states that Doppler shifts as small as 3 m/sec (1/100,000,000 the speed of light) can be measured. A less technical and more pictorial explanation is here.

Hope this helps.

-----Original Message-----
From: Jay Manifold
Sent: Friday, June 14, 2002 8:08 PM
To: Todd Morman
Cc: Really Smart People (Rand Simberg, Charles Murtaugh, Paul Orwin, David Appell, Mary C, Wes Cowley)

Todd - Here you go:

The "33 light-years" is 10 parsecs (well, OK, 32.6, but that's what they meant), the standard distance used in computing the absolute magnitude of a star.

A dime is 18 mm in diameter. 1,000 miles is just over 1,600 km. So the angular resolution is ~1.1 ´ 10-8 radian, or just over 2 milliarcseconds.

The Hipparcos astrometry satellite "observed 118274 stars with a precision between 0.0008 and 0.002 arcsec depending on the objects magnitude." The telescope aperture was 0.29 m.

Browsing this source, we find that the instrument used for this search was "the 3-meter (118-inch) telescope at Lick Observatory, owned and operated by the University of California" -- that is, 10 times the aperture of Hipparcos. Turning here, we find resolutions as low as 0.064 arcsecs/pixel. Sounds like there's some averaging and interpolation going on.

For the general case, read on.

Jay Manifold [12:04 PM]

The "Pretense of Precision" Meme (II)

Over on Quark Soup, David Appell points out some of the ongoing difficulties with public acceptance of new scientific findings. These problems become much more severe, of course, if the issue has been politicized (climate change) or, to coin a word, theologized (practically all of astronomy, geology, and paleontology, for young-Earth creationists).

In the case of the "theologized," it's just a matter of conflicting memes. I don't mean to trivialize this; disarming someone who thinks the Universe is ~104 years old requires exceptional discretion (and is probably much easier for someone who shares many of their other beliefs). But politicized scientific issues run up against the living memory of -- in the US, anyway -- the Federal government's historic blunders. Hey, these are the same people who screwed up A, B, and C, the argument goes; how do we know they aren't screwing up X, Y, and Z?

It seems to me that there are at least a couple of ways to mitigate this. The obvious one is to teach science as a process, not merely as a set of outcomes. Our understanding improves over time. Some of the first pulsar planet discoveries were later retracted by their discoverers. (I consider many of the predictions about climate change to be unreasonable, but the general movement away from "we're entering the next Ice Age" [25 years ago] to "Earth is getting warmer" [today] is not one of them.) Together with this, there must be an attempt to increase awareness of peer review.

Implementing such a change in teaching technique through the existing American educational system would be a non-trivial project. Short-cuts might be available in the form of TV, movies, or even public forums. Various suggestions from another set of people way smarter than me may be found in my notes here.

No less ambitious, a gradual decoupling of scientific research from Federal funding would remove a source of historic distrust. The electorate does have some grasp, however weak, of public choice theory and can therefore understand how public money can be corrupting. The Cold War, progenitor of Big Science, is over, and the new conflict which has been thrust upon us is of a very different character. Science funded by private sources or state governments should lack the taint of "national security."

But containment of the "pretense of precision" meme may largely be attained in a vast number of individual conversations. When someone says "well, that's what they say now, but ..." or "they don't really know that," take it as an opportunity to gently explain how the findings were arrived at, and that it's not just a bunch of people making it up and enforcing conformity.

Jay Manifold [12:03 PM]

[ 20020614 ]

Planet-Naming Contest!

Reading this story, which appeared on the front page and above the fold in today's KCStar, and for which the headline in the print edition was "Planetary system similar to our own: Astronomers hail find as breakthrough," we find (emphasis mine):

The unnamed planet takes 13 years to circle its mother star, slightly longer than Jupiter's 12-year orbit.

Looking at this diagram, we find that there are actually (at least) three planets in the 55 Cancri system, and none of them have names.

Well, who could resist? Certainly not me! Submit your nominations here; names with creative rationales will be prominently mentioned. Deadline is 11:59 PM CDT next Friday the 21st (0459 UT Saturday the 22nd). I'll post the results next weekend.

(Me, I'm leaning toward naming them Postrel, Reynolds, and Murray. Or maybe Hofer. Or Lindsey. Or Lowe. Or Palit. Or Yousefzadeh. Or ...)

Jay Manifold [6:30 PM]

[ 20020613 ]

Reassessing Dirty Bombs (II)

Previously unknown reader Glenn Cordua, a clinical psychologist at the University of Houston, wrote to Brink Lindsey and copied me with several objections to the idea that "dirty bombs" are a serious threat. I recognize that junk science in the service of "anti-terror" measures which are in fact merely someone's authoritarian wish list is, at least potentially, as big a problem as terrorism itself, so I will take this opportunity to attempt to clear up any misconceptions caused by my earlier post.

Glenn's objections, greatly condensed, are: FAS is unreliable; the supporting epidemiological/radiological math is absent; and the "dirty bomb" threat has been debunked by Fred Singer. My apologies to Glenn in advance for not directly addressing any of these points and instead using this post to explain myself further.

Brink's point, if I may so characterize it, seems closely related to the Heinleinian dictum: "There are no dangerous weapons. There are only dangerous men." Therefore, proactive and decisive identification and defeat of our enemies is urgently needed.

I also view this as a problem in risk management, not an excuse for neo-Luddism or domestic authoritarianism. Indeed, our vulnerability to such attacks will begin only when or if our enemies adopt an approach directed at maximizing delayed casualties, rather than prompt casualties. They have not yet done so and have repeatedly demonstrated poor impulse control, which seems (to me, anyway) unlikely to overlap much with an attitude that it's better to kill, say, 10,000 infidels 10 years from now than 1,000 infidels today. And had four jetliners been crashed into water works in DC and NYC on 9/11/01, the death toll by now would almost certainly have been many times the number murdered that day.

But a radiological attack remains at least a technical possibility and may represent, especially insofar as cultural targets are vulnerable, the worst kind of attack on the US excepting only EMP. Imagine all the museums on the Mall in DC closed down and their contents sealed off, essentially permanently.

So how to manage the risk? Rereading the interview hyperlinked at this post suggests some strategies (lots of cheap devices tailored to detect certain isotopes and distributed around potential targets), but if detection fails to prevent the detonation of a device, we must proceed with mitigation. This may be proactive: the prevention of contamination, as by quickly switching a building's HVAC to 100% recirculation; or reactive: decontamination. Many decontamination techniques, unfortunately, physically damage or destroy the surfaces on which they are used, so art galleries, for example, would be well advised to be capable of preventing the entry of outside air at a moment's notice.

Which in turn implies planning and rehearsals. As this source says: "Due to the complexities of sealing off large buildings, each building must have a plan that may require the coordinated efforts of administrative staff, facilities engineers and security personnel. To be effective, the plan must be understood and practiced." This source discusses how to "address existing and potential IAQ [indoor air quality] problems."

But if the worst happens, there arises the truly nontrivial question of payment -- not only to replace facilities, but to displaced persons. Even the resources of the US Federal government, the insurer of last resort, would be strained by million-dollar payments to hundreds of thousands of people. I feel it would be wise to allow a radiological-attack-insurance market to develop, since private providers of such insurance would have the greatest possible incentive to estimate risks correctly and train and enforce safety practices with their clients. This will not happen overnight, if it happens at all; so we are back to finding and stopping the dangerous men.

Jay Manifold [7:08 PM]

[ 20020612 ]

I'm A Blogfather!

Alan K. Henderson's Weblog, the first known weblog inspired by Arcturus, is open for business. Alan's a lot like me, except that he can write.

The topic du jour is about rebuilding the WTC, which from a safe distance of 1200 miles, I ... still oppose. The density of central cities is an artifact of an earlier time, where the value of information combined with limited bandwidth and personal transportation to require close physical proximity. Information is still valuable, but bandwidth is cheap and getting cheaper by at least an order of magnitude each decade. Commuting by car, even with only one person per vehicle, is only one-third as expensive as it was in 1980.

Back in '89, when I worked for what became this outfit, then co-owned by TWA, I met several people who had been relocated from NYC to KC at some point in their careers. They were, without exception, pathetically grateful; my impression was that they all pretty much thought they'd died and gone to heaven. Of course, having spouses and kids undoubtedly had a great deal to do with their attitude -- but after all, that's what most people do.

I admire tall buildings as much as anyone, but they're obsolete. My day job is at the main headquarters office campus of a telecommunications firm, which I understand to be the largest build-to-suit office construction project in the world. The tallest building is five stories. I have seen the future, and it's about 50 feet high.

Jay Manifold [7:58 PM]

[ 20020611 ]

Reassessing Dirty Bombs

Those of you who consider "dirty bombs" to be a non-threat, which included me until a few minutes ago, had better have a look at what Brink Lindsey found. To my (unpleasant) surprise, significantly elevated cancer risk for everyone living in an area of several square miles is a distinct possibility; situated properly, one of these things could kill hundreds, or even thousands, of people -- unless the area were evacuated and quarantined for decades.

Brink trots out the usual examples of Manhattan and DC. But consider this facility, which President Bush visited this morning. It sits directly below Water Works Park, which is up on the Missouri River bluffs. Vaporize one cobalt "pencil" up there on a day with a north wind, and the entire city (plus those of its suburbs which rely on water passed through the KCMO water works) would have to be evacuated until the plant could be replaced -- at a guess, three-quarters of a million people for two years. It is not easy to imagine the other million or so in the CMSA being able to remain; the local economy would be devastated. An interesting problem in risk management, to say the least.

Jay Manifold [7:22 PM]

Asteroid Impact in the Blogosphere!

So far this morning, both Brink Lindsey and Glenn Reynolds are prominently hosting the geopolitical-hazards-of-small-impactors meme I reported on last Friday. Advantage: Arcturus! (Seriously, I have written to thank both Brink and Glenn, and will be keeping an eye out today for other bloggers to pick up on this.)

Now, what I'm really pushing is the "distributed observing" model (analogous to SETI@home) as presented in this post, so you are hereby instructed to get infected and start spreading it around. ;)

UPDATE: Rand Simberg is on it, and so is Dave Trowbridge, big time.

A Lexis-Nexis search led me to a Scripps-Howard News Service article by Michael Woods which appeared in the Sun 9 Jun Halifax Daily News. The article included this sentence: "In February, NASA announced the Workshop on Scientific Requirements for Mitigation of Hazardous Comets and Asteroids, which will be conducted in Washington in September." A brief search via Google immediately found the conference website. Hmmm ...

Jay Manifold [7:13 AM]

[ 20020610 ]

Smallpox Outbreak?

As Kathy Kinsley (who has seen more tornadoes than I ever have) notes, probably not. A LexisNexis search finds only 6 items from today with the word "smallpox," and 4 of them are from NewsRx Network and begin with: "Acting on fears of bioterrorism, the World Health Organization has formally reversed a long-standing order for the destruction of all smallpox virus stocks and recommended they be retained for research into new vaccines or treatment." Nothing about an outbreak.

Jay Manifold [1:47 PM]

A Less Metaphorical Meme War

Sometimes meme wars turn hot. In any case, the survivor of this one didn't get Stockholm Syndrome; she's calling for the liars and murderers of Abu Sayyaf to be brought to justice. For more info about the Burnhams and the organization sponsoring them, read New Tribes Mission's Burnham special report.

Jay Manifold [5:57 AM]

[ 20020609 ]

Welcome, KCStar Readers!

Mine is the lead letter in the paper today. A heartfelt thanks to (I presume) Miriam Pepper, who has an excellent column which quotes from a century-old editorial in the Natoma (KS) Courier. Today's politicians, so often uninterested in or even fearful of nuclear power, therapeutic cloning, and space exploration, would do well to emulate the attitude depicted therein.

As usual, those of you just grazing in are encouraged to look around and provide feedback, especially (but not only) if you're a fellow blogger. Enjoy!

Jay Manifold [10:35 AM]

[ 20020608 ]

A Minor Departure

From my usual routine, that is; after all, science is hard. Anyway, some years back in Liberty magazine, Bill Kauffman, author of Country Towns of New York, wrote a delightful essay on the need to revive local culture in an environment dominated by Big Media; the last line of the story was: "America awaits the flowering of Batavia."

Blogging is bringing this about. I adduce (though with Birmingham as the example) this post from Terry Oglesby's Possumblog, one of the best "day in the life" -- well, OK, weekend in the life -- pieces I've seen in a long time. (Also irresistible for its name -- KC almost got named Possum Trot.)

And while I'm at it, will anyone who reads this thing and lives within, say, a 100-mile radius of KC please drop me a line? I don't anticipate going to a purely local focus but would like to establish some degree of feedback from people around here. Especially if they blog.

(Thanks to The Truth Laid Bear, which has categorized me as a "slithering reptile" in the blogosphere ecosystem [and "playing hard to get" in the Hall of Link Sluttage], for the pointer to Possumblog. I was pleasantly astonished to appear in the diagram.)

Jay Manifold [11:49 AM]

War of the Memes

-- is the title of Bill Walker's latest, from which I excerpt:

... how do we end the meme wars? We don't, if we want life to continue to increase in complexity, diversity, and range. No meme can be allowed to win and impose the peace of stasis; we call times when single memes dominate Dark Ages. The Liberty meme is our best countermeasure. Liberty promises that all other memes will be allowed to survive and copy themselves, but that they must refrain from acquiring hosts by forcible means. Liberty promises that minds will have access to all memes; mutualistic memes [those that confer advantages to their hosts] will tend to predominate as the minds they infect prosper and proliferate.

Not sure about that definition of "Dark Ages," which I would ascribe instead to breakdowns in communications so severe that memes can't even propagate. But I quibble. And since I'm toting lots of memes around myself, I'll express one right now by stating that Richard Dawkins (for whom I have the utmost respect) was anticipated on this point by a little over 19 centuries. But Bill's paragraph above is particularly interesting in light of this passage.

I have argued elsewhere (here and here) that America appears uniquely capable of -- to borrow a phrase from Bill -- fostering mutualistic memes. I believe that it is this ability, rather than any momentary snapshot of our moral condition, that makes this country a fundamentally good place. That's one of the memes I'm pushing.

Jay Manifold [9:05 AM]

[ 20020607 ]

Asteroids (A Continuing Series)

(Those of you just grazing in may wish to read A Modest Proposal for an Asteroid Warning System and Asteroid Detection, Again before proceeding.)

The geopolitical-hazards-of-small-impactors meme may be taking off, thanks in no small part to Kashmir (thanks to Glenn and Shoutin' Across the Pacific for the link). Reading First Strike or Asteroid Impact? The Urgent Need to Know the Difference, we find:

With world tensions being the way they are, even a small incoming space rock, detonating over any number of political hot-spots, could trigger a country's nuclear response convinced it was attacked by an enemy.

"These things hit every year and look like nuclear weapons. And a couple times a century they actually hit and cause a lot of damage," [Air Force Brigadier General Simon Worden, deputy director of operations for the United States Space Command at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado] said.

"We now have 8 or 10 countries around the world with nuclear weapons ... and not all of them have very good early warning systems. If one of these things hits, say anywhere in India or Pakistan today, we would have a very bad situation. It would be awfully hard to explain to them that it wasn't the other guy," Worden pointed out.

For further reading, see Evaluation of the Asteroid Impact Hazard, 15-9130 and The Comet/Asteroid Impact Hazard: A Systems Approach. I have e-mailed several of those involved to point them to my "SETI@home" analogy.

Jay Manifold [4:09 PM]

[ 20020606 ]

More Reasons to Move Here

Not only is KC crawling with high-minded women, it's booming:

Median household income in Kansas and Missouri rose faster than in such coastal states as New Jersey and California and faster than the nation as a whole, according to census data released Tuesday.

During the 1990s, median income grew 7.7 percent nationwide when adjusted by the government's most recent inflation factor. Kansas nearly doubled that, with a 14.7 percent gain. Missouri improved 10.9 percent.

The 11-county Kansas City area ranked 36th in median household income among metropolitan areas. However, it became the nation's 17th most prosperous area, up three notches from 1990, according to a prosperity index compiled by a New York university that draws heavily on census data for its research.

Kansas City surpassed Chicago, Philadelphia, Portland and San Diego for prosperity among the nation's 50 largest metropolitan areas, said John R. Logan, director of the Lewis Mumford Center for Comparative Urban and Regional Research at the State University of New York at Albany.

Although education levels and occupational status improved nationwide, the economic data disclosed a surprising comeback in the Midwest ...

The Midwestern boom marked a reversal from the 1980s, when states on the two coasts generated 69 percent of the nation's economic growth, said Daryl Hobbs, an emeritus professor who founded the Office of Social & Economic Data Analysis at the University of Missouri.

But in the '90s, as the Internet blossomed and the economy became more global, people could move away from the coasts and still do the same or similar work, Hobbs said.

Wyandotte County, the poorest in the metropolitan area, came closest to representing the middle of the nation. It ranked 1,565th, meaning 1,576 counties were poorer.

Locals reading that last paragraph will realize just how fortunate we are; the area described (Kansas City, Kansas) is the "poor cousin" of KC, MO and its suburbs -- analogous to places like Gary, Indiana and East St Louis, Illinois -- and is accordingly not highly regarded, to put it mildly. But nationally, it's the median. Our poor folks would be just above the 50th percentile in most places.

Jay Manifold [3:37 PM]

The Joy of Sets (II)

I got Reynolds to link to the earlier post on this topic; he was, as usual, highly complimentary -- I perceived a certain deliberate effort to flout Virginia's earlier advice. So, anyway, a few thousand people read The Joy of Sets.

One of them was Bruce Baugh, Writer of Fortune, who sent me a whole bunch of great stuff, from which I excerpt:

There's a long Christian tradition of judging technology by its results - if it makes people turn away from piety, it's bad, but if it carries on the work of mission and holiness, then it's neutral or even actively desirable. Darned few evangelicals, fundamentalists, or Pentacostalists would, for instance, share the Christian Scientist's or Jehovah's Witness' rejection of medicine, and indeed might well denounce it as itself a sin of pride, rejecting a good thing God has made available to humanity through human labor.

The caricature of the Bible-thumper who certainly doesn't trust this new-fangled DNA business and has his doubts about electricity is really a conflation of several separate styles of thought and belief, and they almost never come together.

From my own personal experience in "set A," I can say not only that anyone who would, for example, advise someone who is sick to be prayed for and avoid going to a doctor would be regarded as a fraud, but anyone who merely failed to advise a sick person who is being prayed for to also see a doctor would be so regarded (a penumbra of this passage, I believe). However these people feel about evolution, they don't reject modern biology in any immediate, practical sense.

Now, over on Transterrestrial Musings, I just left a comment that included: "The commonly-held beliefs and practices of set A exhibit a strong negative correlation to high-risk behavior; these people are much less likely to smoke, drink, or, well, otherwise dissipate themselves to death (though a fair number of them will eat themselves to death). The future of America, circa 2020, is very likely one of political domination by set A; the outstanding question is what they will want to do with that power."

Coincidentally, previously unknown reader Bill Pickut wrote in response to "The Joy of Sets" to suggest one possibility, one that would probably not have occurred to me. An excerpt:

It seems to me that we evangelicals may ultimately find that we have at least as much in common with the subset of fiscal liberals as we do with the subset of social conservatives.

From an insider's point of view, it's hard to imagine that social justice is going to trump protection of the unborn as a determining factor in evangelical politics just yet, but I don't think that evangelical political involvement is going to stop developing with our emerging interest in the plight of the 3rd world poor and persecuted, either. Eventually, we evangelicals are going to need to do a better job of applying "the poor have the gospel preached to them" as an aspect of the advent of the Kingdom of Heaven, not only around the world, but also in the US. It might entail some serious re-assessment of evangelical political affiliation, perhaps sooner, rather than later.

Of course, part of the reason this is hard for me to imagine is that I'm a Libertarian and therefore profoundly distrustful of direct political efforts to alleviate poverty. But remember that 30 years ago, "Christian Republican" meant somebody like GHWBush, that is, wealthy Episcopalian types; now it's equally likely to mean somebody living in a trailer park.

In other news, the latest bumper sticker combination, spotted while commuting in to my day job yesterday morning, is: LINE DANCING: WATCH WHAT HAPPENS WHEN COUSINS BREED and MY BOSS IS A JEWISH CARPENTER. More on Venn diagrams and sets, plus the meme I'm trying to get started, in my next.

Jay Manifold [5:51 AM]

[ 20020603 ]

Figures, Grounds, and Space Colonies

People See Lower Region Of Picture As More Important, says UniSci:

The perceptual system gives figures special treatment: People hold figures in short- and long-term memory longer than grounds; figures seem more salient than grounds; figures have a definite shape but grounds are shapeless; and figures are perceived as being closer to the viewer.

Not especially surprising for a savannah-dwelling biped, since what's above the horizon is generally nothing but blue sky, the best "ground" of all for the human visual system. But it raises an additional aesthetic question about space colonization -- "additional" because even the largest colony designs, like those shown in Space Colony Art from the 1970s, have the same illumination problem as this famous science-fiction construct: when it's daytime, it's always noon.

This can be addressed by building larger cylinders and dividing them into a larger number of lengthwise strips, then directing sunlight in through a window strip other than the one directly overhead.

But what about that weird horizon? It's kind of like looking up a hillside -- up to a point; but the interior view of even the largest colonies strikes me as terribly disorienting. How to make it easier on our fellow savannah-dwellers? Here are some ideas, none of them entirely satisfying:

  1. Make the cylinders large enough such that scattered sunlight, aka blue sky, obscures the "land" overhead. This implies a diameter several times the 6-km minimum required to produce blue sky when looking straight up at a window strip.

  2. Allow aerosols or fogs to lower visibility to a few kilometers or less.

  3. Perhaps in combination with the above, plant our artificial savannah with large trees at sufficiently close intervals to reduce line-of-sight distances to, say, 100 meters in any direction.

Anybody with better ideas is encouraged to send them in, keeping in mind that 1) I'm slow about answering e-mail and 2) implementation is not imminent. ;)

Jay Manifold [8:19 PM]

[ 20020602 ]

The Joy of Sets

Kevin Maguire, who wants to retrieve the project documentation for an Egyptian pyramid, and I have a low-level background discussion going in e-mail about Us and Them (and after all, we're only ordinary men). By way of letting other people do my work for me, and perhaps ever-so-slightly dispelling misconceptions among my readership, I've decided to turn this topic into a post.

Kevin's initial comment was:

Whoever wrote this is missing a camp, and is mislabeling the New Agers as "modernist." Where are the technologists, who don't believe in evangelical religion or frequently-Luddite New Age mysticism?

I wrote back at some length; my one phrase worth quoting was: "Around these parts, the overlap between evangelicals and technologists is huge" -- to which Kevin responded: "That's unexpected. Where do you think that comes from?"

Before proceeding, readers may wish to refresh themselves on the concept of the Venn Diagram (a more generalized and accordingly complex treatment is here). Visualize the "universal set" (everything inside the rectangle) as the American electorate. Define set A as "evangelicals" and set B as "technologists." I contend that these sets are not mutually exclusive (disjoint) and that the value of the conditional probability P(A|B) (read probability of A conditioned on B) can be quite high.

Set A, for one thing, is enormous. This source implies that it is 31% of the entire American population, but the NSF found that "... only about 50 percent of ... survey respondents knew that the earliest humans did not live at the same time as dinosaurs," that only 53% "answered 'true' to the statement 'human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals,'" and even more tellingly, "... more than two-thirds favored teaching both evolution and creationism in U.S. public school classrooms." The best data I've seen, from Gallup (and now available only to "premium subscribers" = $90/yr), indicated to me that the best working assumption would be about 45%.

Turning to this source, we find that there are 209 million Americans of voting age. I deduce that around 94 million of them are in set A (I note that even using the lower, 31% figure, it works out to 65 million, enough to deliver a near-landslide in a presidential election if they voted as a bloc). Other data indicate that evangelicals are distinctly underrepresented in the Northeast, overrepresented in the South, and moderately overrepresented in the Midwest and West.

How big is set B? This isn't easily answered (by me, anyway). This source states that median IT budgets as percentage of revenue across all surveyed industries was 3.6% in 1999. This source says "10.4 million people in the U.S. are IT workers," but it is hardly appropriate to call every IT worker a "technologist." This source shows the following percentages of GDP by industry: Electronic and other electric equipment, 1.8; Instruments and related products, 0.7; Communications, 2.8; total, 5.3% of GDP. Looking at these, my best guess is that "technologists" are 5% of the workforce, which in turn (per the Bureau of Labor Statistics) is 142.6 million -- ie 7 million people.

Of course, having some idea of how big the sets are doesn't tell us how much they overlap. In particular, it doesn't tell us whether -- or not -- 45% of that 7 million are evangelicals. There are, however, strong positive behavioral correlations among such things as 1) impulse control; 2) active religious affiliation; 3) higher socioeconomic status; and 4) technologically-intensive employment. That, of course, would be a whole different Venn diagram. My point here is that someone with a good, high-tech job is not necessarily less likely to be "churched."

I am quite aware that in many academic fields, active believers are few and far between, but that's a different arena. By way of demonstrating even more self-awareness, I expect that the idea of an electronic engineer playing a keyboard or running the sound during a church service seems a bit ... unusual ... to some people. But it doesn't raise a lot of eyebrows in the South or Midwest.

OK, now what? Kevin perceptively states:

What I find most interesting about 21st Century American politics is that it's no longer the case that affinity groups that agree about one sort of issue can also be expected to agree on other sorts of issues.

I think the canonical example for this is going to be the Pink Pistols and the Christian Coalition on the issues of guns and gay marriage.

And their effectiveness -- and that of all other "new and seemingly odd alliances" -- will depend on their ability to: assume nothing; identify any intersection of their interests; evaluate whether the relevant conditional probability is high enough to make mutual efforts worthwhile; and proceed accordingly.

Given that there are thousands of subcultures in this country, it behooves us all to keep our eyes open to the possibilities. I saw a pickup truck a few months back with bumper-stickers that read PROUD TO BE UNION and BORN-AGAIN PAGAN. I saw a car a few days ago with both DARWIN and ICQUS fish symbols. And thought, "finally!"

Jay Manifold [5:34 PM]

[ 20020601 ]

Practical Supersonic Transport

We've come a long way since Operation Bongo (page down; see also the first item here and here; and of course we have the inevitable lawsuit). The latest Aerospace America has "The New Shape of Supersonics," in which we find:

NASA research found the acceptable sonic boom is actually a function of frequency. For overflying a house only occasionally, as in a military aircraft on a training mission, 0.55 psf is acceptable. In the case of several daily overflights, such as for commercial aircraft in a standard flight corridor, a level no higher than 0.3 is required.

Sonic boom increases as the weight of the aircraft goes up and is related to weight divided by length. The 600,000-lb High-Speed Civil Transport design, for example, would have had, at best, a pressure level of about 1.0 psf; the Concorde typically exceeds 2.0 psf, and an F-5 gets about 1.5. A level of 0.3 might be compared to a distant rumble, without accompanying shock, rather than a sharp thunderclap.

The implication of the first sentence in the second paragraph quoted above is that the new designs will be long and thin, and indeed they are; the Northrop Grumman QSP (quiet supersonic platform) design as shown in the magazine (I couldn't find a similar image online) looks like a pencil with wings. The QSP program is intended to produce a commercially viable aircraft in about a decade, one that complies with FAR Part 36, Stage 3 landing-takeoff noise requirements.

Jay Manifold [8:40 PM]