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[ 20030331 ]

Another D/FW Blogger Gets LASIK

Virginia Postrel did this a while back; now Alan Henderson has a detailed account of his experience with LASIK.

Jay Manifold [6:07 PM]

Or Maybe: First Iraq, then Boston and Austin

Another great catch from Rand Simberg: idiot legislators in Massachusetts and Texas are about to ban encryption and firewalls. As I rhetorically asked a while back: How long can the equilibrium of technically incompetent rulers lording it over technologically advanced societies be maintained?

Jay Manifold [6:35 AM]

The Two-Micron All-Sky Survey

aka 2MASS -- got brief mention in a very short AP article that ran on p A 8 of yesterday's KCStar. Lots more info and pretty pictures here and here.

Jay Manifold [6:21 AM]

First Iraq, then California

Via a comment on The Command Post, Diana Hsieh suggests next steps.

Jay Manifold [6:05 AM]

[ 20030329 ]

Light Pollution

In an article about National Dark Sky Week (and here it is en Español, just for you, Juan!), UPI's Dan Whipple quotes an acquaintance of mine:

"The beauty of our night skies has been inspirational to mankind for eons, and it is an important part of our heritage," said Robert Gent, president of the Astronomical League. "The time has come to recognize the ill effects of light pollution. Better quality lighting can reduce glare, save energy and protect the nighttime environment," he added.

I also recommend perusing the website of the International Dark-Sky Association, which has some examples of award-winning lighting.

Jay Manifold [11:19 AM]

[ 20030328 ]

Fun Site of the Day

Bill Walker (who doesn't pay me, honest) points me to the Animal Genome Size Database, and comments: "... the flying animals have less DNA, birds being more efficient than bats as one would expect from their longer history (flightless birds have gained some of the weight back)." Cool!

Jay Manifold [9:04 PM]

The Mathematics of Collateral Damage (II)

Well, I was in the ballpark. Bill Walker wrote to note that: "Collateral damage from air blast from 2000-lb. bombs landing on target shouldn't be too bad. However, projectiles are a big problem. Hiroshima was made a lot worse by bricks from the factories traveling out into the paper homes. Anyway, anyone with any brains in Baghdad should stay in a bunker or basement." (Bill suggests a dictator-risk-management strategy here; Pat Buchanan won't like it.)

But my really high-powered validation comes from Robert Higgs of the Independent Institute, who weighs in with Military Precision versus Moral Precision, from which I excerpt:

For purposes of the present discussion ... let us concede that the bombs and missiles strike with all the accuracy claimed for them. What happens then? As described recently by Newhouse reporter David Wood, the 2000-pound JDAM “releases a crushing shock wave and showers jagged, white-hot metal fragments at supersonic speed, shattering concrete, shredding flesh, crushing cells, rupturing lungs, bursting sinus cavities and ripping away limbs in a maelstrom of destruction.” Hardly anyone survives within 120 meters of the blast, where pressures of several thousand pounds per square inch and 8,500-degree heat simply obliterate everything, human and material. Metal fragments are spewed nearly three-quarters of a mile, and bigger pieces may fly twice that far; no one within 365 meters can expect to remain unharmed, and persons up to 1000 meters or farther away from the point of impact may be harmed by flying fragments. Of course, the explosions also start fires over a wide area, which themselves may do vast damage, even to structures and people unharmed by the initial blast.

I am no munitions expert, but I am pretty good at basic math. Baghdad is a city of some 6,400,000 persons living in an area of approximately 734 square kilometers—roughly comparable to the urban areas of Boston or Detroit. If it were a perfect square it would be approximately 27 kilometers (17 miles) on a side, but the central, most densely populated part, where the prime military targets are concentrated, is a much smaller area. What are the odds that the damage wreaked by exploding 2000-pound JDAMs and other powerful munitions, such as the 1000-pound warheads on the Tomahawk missiles, will not touch the ordinary people of the city? Well, the odds are zero.

Unfortunately, that's as good as the analysis gets. Targets in Baghdad aren't, as it turns out, immediately adjacent to dense populations. Either that, or the civilians are awfully good at keeping their heads down (actually, I expect they are pretty good at it; people learn rapidly in wartime). The bombs are large because the structures they are intended to destroy are of steel-reinforced concrete. Security concerns -- and dictatorships have plenty of security concerns -- suggest that sensitive installations not be placed too close to large numbers of ordinary people, who after all are the ones being controlled. Noncombatant casualties to date, even accepting the Iraqi government figures, support this hypothesis; they are, by the standards of any large-scale 20th-century conflict, tiny.

Dr Higgs, whose work I otherwise immensely respect (this is the man who wrote Crisis and Leviathan) proceeds to accuse the US of moral equivalence to the September 11 hijackers and intone that everyone from GWBush down to the airmen loading munitions onto planes is guilty of indiscriminate killing and is "deeply, outrageously immoral." But it has required ten bombs to be dropped on Baghdad to injure a single civilian, and one hundred bombs for each civilian death.

Employing mathematical arguments implies that numbers matter. And the lights are still on in Baghdad.

Jay Manifold [8:58 PM]

[ 20030327 ]

Project Risk Management and the Triple Constraint in Combat

I wandered into Tony Adragna's blog from InstaPundit and found this:

Noncombatant immunity is such an important consideration that if you've a choice between attacking a legitimate military target in a way that A) maximizes force protection while putting noncombatants at greater risk, or B) in a way that puts you[r] force at greater danger while minimizing noncombant casualties, your answer MUST be B.

This is useful, but like many such discussions, does not reflect the full range of possibilities. Behold, a matrix:

Risk to Noncombatants

























Risk to Combatants

Complete risk avoidance, which as I have noted before is effectively the strategy advocated by opponents of the war, is in quadrant III.

Complete risk acceptance is a somewhat caricatured pro-war position -- just do whatever we have to in order to win, regardless of consequences; that is, quadrant II.

What is actually occurring is (I believe) a combination of the other two risk-management strategies, which are rarely mentioned or even thought of in this context. Risk mitigation seeks to minimize noncombatant deaths, even if it places coalition forces in greater danger; this is represented by quadrant IV. Risk transference is what occurs from the perspective of the American taxpayer who is supporting military operations; impatience for a quick victory and concern for the safety of our troops could result in an operation characteristic of quadrant I.

In reality, the tradeoff is not necessarily between the safety of American soldiers and Iraqi civilians, but between the safety of both and the time (and cost) required to complete the operation -- the classic "Triple Constraint" of quality, schedule, and budget. We are going slow (and spending more money) to save lives. Of course, going too slow exposes the people of Iraq to grave dangers from the regime, so this tradeoff cannot be extended indefinitely -- any more than the patience of the American taxpayer.

Jay Manifold [6:55 PM]

[ 20030326 ]

What Gutenberg Hath Wrought

"Iphy" visits a Christian bookstore and finds shelves full of evidence of a deadly lack of self-awareness (some capitalization added):

Christian candy and "Bars of Judah" (fancy God-labelled granola stuff) and fortune cookies with scripture inside. Veggie tales action figures and puzzles and games and Christian coffee and dumb bumper stickers and keychains and row upon row of stupid kids stuff.

... they didn't have any NRSV's at all. After a few minutes it was a mission: find an NRSV. I searched the whole place and finally asked a young female employee. She had never heard of that translation.

I saw no section on Lent (surprising since, of course, it is). I saw no thoughtful books on any form of contemplative spirituality or spiritual disciplines. It was all foofy devotionals and marriage books, kids stuff and music. It was Christian gifts and row after row of Christian gimmicks and candy.

Rather like what P.J. O'Rourke found at Heritage USA, but on a smaller scale. I hesitate to comment further; as O'Rourke later said (page down to final quote), "I almost don't want to make fun of these people. It's like hunting dairy cattle with a high-powered rifle and scope."

There is a side of American evangelicalism that is intensely charitable and generous, profoundly self-examining, and deeply committed to loving the unloved. This side is often not on display, however, in the subculture's more visible manifestations (beginning with its preferred Bible translation). Those of us with an interest in this sort of thing would do well to begin nudging it away from overt tackiness.

Jay Manifold [8:55 PM]

More Lunar Ice

Five times more water on Moon? asks Philip Ball in Nature. The raw numbers:

Ben Bussey, of the University of Hawaii, and his colleagues ... [suggest] that there could be closer to a billion tonnes of water on the Moon.

... craters between 1 and 20 kilometres across create about 7,500 square kilometres of permanent shadow near the North Pole and about 6,500 square kilometres around the South Pole. And this is just a lower limit - other larger or more complex craters are likely to add even more permanent shadow.

Previous maximum estimates were 2,650 and 5,100 square kilometres of darkness for the North and South Poles, respectively.

Dividing 1012 kg into 1.4 ´ 109 m2 yields ~70 kg m-2; if the ice is all within 1 meter of the surface, and the average density of the regolith is 2 g cm-3, it's 3.5% ice by weight.

A billion tonnes is 1.4 million Shuttle flights' worth of hydrogen and oxygen propellant. At extravagant rates of consumption and with no recycling, this much water could support a colony of 10,000 people for three centuries. And these are almost certainly low numbers.

Jay Manifold [7:48 PM]

Active Detection of Heavy Metals Using Antimatter

If you're just grazing in, read this first. Previously unacknowledged Colorado Springs reader Mike Sargent, who wrote me about non-nuclear EMP back in January, sent a fascinating commentary, which I reproduce below with such edits as seemed appropriate.

... the conclusions drawn in the Science News article, specifically the comments of Brookhaven's Ralph James – “[the muon flux is] determined by extragalactic events. We're not going to change that” –- are a bit disingenuous and unduly pessimistic.

As arranged by Los Alamos, the device (which, for the purpose of this argument, I'll refer to as the Cosmic Radiation Ambient
m-on Deflection Angle Detector or CRAmDAD) depends on naturally-occurring muons passing through an object and being detected by an exquisitely sensitive array, producing a relatively low-resolution (< 106 pixels) planar “shadow” image. The muons used are presumably cascade particles resulting from the decay of other, higher-mass particles produced by cosmic ray collisions in the upper atmosphere.

While this arrangement has the benefit of taking advantage of a source of naturally-occurring, penetrating charged particles, for imaging purposes, it is less effective than starlight; this source says that cosmic ray muon flux at sea level is on the order of 100 m-2 sec-1 sr-1.

Assuming that the arrangement of the detector relative to a one-square-meter target limits the detection angle to around one steradian (and one would probably wish to limit the angular size of the target relative to the detector, in order to maximize resolution of angular dispersion caused by differences in nuclear mass within the target), an image requiring 106 events would take 104 seconds, or nearly three hours, to expose.

Fortunately, cosmic rays are not the only source of muons with which to “illuminate” a contraband cargo. Proton/antiproton annihilation produces muons as an intermediate step on the way to its final product of gamma ray photons.

This source details the economics of, and this source [a paper by the late Robert Forward -- JDM] details the techniques of, antiproton production. CERN (the European Center for Nuclear Research) is gearing up to produce antiproton fluxes of 300
m-Amperes, that is 3 ´ 10-4 Coulombs (1.607176462 ´ 1019 (!!) charged particles) per second with a beam area measured in square centimeters. Even making the worst-case assumption that the beam is a full square meter, this is a flux forty-eight trillion [4.8 ´ 1013] times more intense than that used in the Los Alamos device.

Now, forty-eight trillion times the intensity may not be exactly what is required at every border checkpoint and customs warehouse, but the device would be scalable. Also, antimatter production need not necessarily be co-located with the detector. “Bottled” antiprotons could be accelerated via a small (by research standards, at least) linear or spiral (synchrotron) accelerator to sufficient velocity that they could transit the target and detector during the approximately twelve nanosecond lifetime of the muon. Research into portable antimatter containment units has already taken place in connection with both fundamental physics research and space propulsion system development, and the quantities of antiprotons required for such a scanner (even for multiple images required by tomography) would be significantly smaller than for any sort of propulsion scheme.

Finally, the great circular trench in the middle of Texas, originally intended to house the cancelled Superconducting Supercollider, could be put to use as a purpose-built antimatter generator. The economics of production would be offset by the Department or Homeland Security and NASA could tie in propulsion research.

I'm going to read through those sources and play with the math a little bit. My initial sense is that the idea is technically sound; the difficulty is likely to lie with the politics. But it's an intriguing notion, and I'm glad to give it space on this blog.

Jay Manifold [6:38 PM]

[ 20030325 ]

Spot the Space Station

Locals, tonight there's an excellent opportunity to observe the ISS. At 8:08 PM CST, it will appear in the west-southwest and disappear in the north 4 minutes later, reaching a maximum altitude of 53 degrees. Go get it! (source)

Jay Manifold [6:01 PM]

[ 20030324 ]

The Mathematics of Collateral Damage

I have been following, as have countless others, the blogging by "Salam Pax," who appears relatively safe but understandably quite distressed. His recent postings (after a 2-day Internet outage in Baghdad) make note of considerable collateral damage. This is not propaganda; although such damage is a small fraction of what it would be if unguided munitions were being used, it is bound to occur when targets are in close proximity to non-military structures.

How close? Airblast overpressure scales with the cube root of weapon yield. Turning to this earlier post and building a spreadsheet from the equation therein, we find that a hypothetical one-ton explosive will demolish everything within about a 26-meter radius; a 5-psi overpressure will level most buildings, uproot all trees, burst all eardrums, and kill about half the people inside its radius.

But it only takes 0.5 psi to break windows, and this radius is (in this example) 60 meters; the affected area is over 5 times the destroyed area. I should note that what's important here is the general principle, not the exact numbers, because the equation I'm using was developed for nuclear airbursts. In the real world, a 2,000-lb JDAM would knock stuff down a lot farther than 26 meters away, and probably blow out every window for at least a few hundred meters in all directions.

Broken glass, needless to say, can produce plenty of injuries, and deaths if prompt medical treatment is not available to stop bleeding. Aircraft and munitions travel far too rapidly to provide any significant auditory warning of an attack, so if the air-raid sirens aren't working, the explosions will seem to come out of nowhere. Rule of thumb: anybody in Baghdad within a kilometer of a likely target should either board up their windows or avoid going too near them.

Jay Manifold [3:07 PM]

[ 20030323 ]

Victory Arch Theme Music

Ref the latest contest, and just in time, probably -- if the media are being allowed to report that coalition forces are within 100 miles of Baghdad, it's reasonable to assume that they're actually much closer. The virtual envelope, please ...

From Alan Henderson, the inevitable Rock the Casbah, "only the pace is a bit rapid for marching. Save that one for the party afterward." Alan's initial preferred pick was Red Sector A. Later, however, he wrote:

Come to think of it, Red Sector A should be playing in the unliberated sections of Iraq now ... instead, I recommend "Goodbye, Saddam" - idea inspired here, lyrics linked here.

If Virginia, Emily, and Eve don't want the gig, there's plenty of other blogstresses who might be persuaded to take up the mike :-)

Never did come up with a name for the group - how about the Fiskie Chicks?

Previously unknown reader (the best kind) Matthew Hiatt suggested Fanfare for the Common Man -- "or Star Wars." ;)

The indefatigable Bill Walker suggests:

  1. In Northern Iraq: The Turkish National Anthem

  2. There's No Business Like Show Business

  3. Brother, Can You Spare A Trillion Dimes?

(I must say that actually reading the lyrics to #2 put me in mind of the Onion headline: "Irving Berlin Pens 1,000th Annoying, Clamorous Ditty.") Moving on ...

She Who Must Be Obeyed suggests New World Man, from which I quote:

He's got a problem with his power
With weapons on patrol
He's got to walk a fine line
And keep his self-control

Trying to save the day for the Old World Man
Trying to pave the way for the Third World Man

Jay Manifold [10:05 AM]

Shuttle Tiles vs Foam

Once again, the KCStar's Rhonda Chriss Lokeman intuitively grasps the danger posed by the kinetic energy of any high-speed collision, even with relatively light material:

The speed traveled by [a Tomahawk cruise missile] in the assault on Baghdad is the same as the speed of the debris that struck the space shuttle. High-speed foam doesn't have the identical destructive capabilities of a Tomahawk armed with a warhead. However, the outcome, under certain circumstances, is the same: Ka-boom!

Recalling KE = ½mv2, a 3-pound piece of foam impacting at 500 mph is equivalent to 300 pounds hitting at 50 mph, or roughly the equivalent of a car-deer collision at 75 mph. Damage to the Shuttle's TPS from such an event suddenly seems much less unlikely ...

Jay Manifold [10:02 AM]

Repopulating the Great Plains?

Besides the obvious topic, the other front-page, above-the-fold story in today's KCStar is about the New Homestead Act of 2003 (I glancingly addressed this topic last September). Most perceptive quote in today's article:

"The question is, do we believe that this is in tune with the social trends that would enable people to do something they'd want to do anyway?" said Myron Gutmann, a history professor at the University of Michigan who studies Great Plains population trends. "The original Homestead Act really fit what people wanted to do then."

By contrast, S.602's ostensible purpose is: "To reward the hard work and risk of individuals who choose to live in and help preserve America’s small, rural towns, and for other purposes" -- rather more stasist than dynamist. I may have more to say about this later.

Jay Manifold [9:59 AM]

[ 20030322 ]

Passive Detection of Heavy Metals Using Cosmic Rays

-- heavy metals like uranium and plutonium, hidden inside trucks crossing the border -- is explained in Science News:

... Los Alamos scientists placed a 10-kilogram cylinder of tungsten about the size of a hamburger and its bun into a cosmic-ray detector made up of two stacks of thin, aluminum chambers, each one filled with argon gas and electrified steel wires. One stack was situated above the tungsten target and another below, an arrangement that could be realized in a port or border post by placing chambers above and below a truck.

Cheap, fast, good: pick two. The two we get are cheap (relatively) and good ...

Since cosmic rays ricochet off the nuclei of heavier elements at larger angles than off those of lighter elements, the trajectories of the cosmic rays can betray the location of heavyweight nuclei. The Los Alamos researchers report that in a minute they can acquire telling images of, say, uranium surrounded by much lighter materials.

... but fast it ain't:

That sounds promising, but if the contraband materials were nestled among steel or other weighty materials, the technique would probably take too much time to be practical, says physicist Simon P. Swordy of the University of Chicago.

Moreover, if faster scans are needed, there's no way to turn up the muon rate, notes Ralph James of Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, N.Y. "It's determined by extragalactic events. We're not going to change that."

And if the cosmic ray flux did go way up, we'd have a whole different set of problems. ;)

Jay Manifold [6:57 PM]

[ 20030321 ]

Oil Well Fire Risk Management in Iraq

-- seems to be well in hand. In Iraq oil fields said nearly secure -- a story just over 3 hours old as I write this -- UPI's Deputy Science and Technology Editor, Phil Berardelli, reports:

Assuming no booby traps and if the number of wells burning stands at 10, the challenge would be fairly standard for [private firms specializing in oil firefighting]. On any given day, three to four wells are burning somewhere in the world, said Les Skinner, director of well control engineering for Cudd Well Control in Houston.

The situation in Kuwait in 1991 was literally orders of magnitude worse. You can read about it -- including some ingenious methods of well capping and extinguishing -- here.

Jay Manifold [7:55 PM]

Public Health Risk Management in Iraq

The WHO is on it:

The World Health Organization is prepositioning supplies and preparing skilled teams to do rapid health assessments and assess the medical needs of the Iraqi people, spokesman Iain Simpson told United Press International.

WHO also is preparing outbreak response teams to deal with and contain disease outbreaks if they occur, he said.

This document notes:

If 10 000 Iraqi people are unable to access health care for one month, at least:

  • 30 children with diarrhoea will not be treated

  • 55 children with respiratory infections will go untreated

  • 5 children with pneumonia will not receive life-saving antibiotics

  • 30 insulin-dependent diabetics will be unable to receive treatment

  • 150 pregnant women will not receive antenatal care

  • 20 pregnant women will deliver without trained assistance

The key variable, just as Niven and Pournelle wrote, is availability of clean water and electricity.

Jay Manifold [5:56 PM]

Intelligent Preventive Auto Maintenance

I wonder how long it will be before this service becomes commercialized? When it does, your car dealership will be calling you to schedule service, not the other way 'round ...

Jay Manifold [5:44 PM]

Instantaneous Detection of Biohazards

-- is offered by the Calorimetric Spectrometer:

... molecular absorption can induce stress changes that allow for an initial detection that can be used for measurement. The identification of chemical and/or biological molecules, along with DNA/RNA, creates a photothermal signature.

I think the clauses in the final sentence were reversed, and hope that these guys build stuff better than they write about it. In any case, the device is expected to reach the market next year, and it is touted as having the ability to "identify as little as a fraction of a spore of anthrax and other biological hazards within 30 milliseconds." Furthermore, it is described as "miniature." If this holds up, expect to see lots of them installed in public places over the next few years.

Jay Manifold [5:35 PM]

Ride now, ride now! Ride to Baghdad!

I know Virginia already pointed to it, but the Near Real Time Satellite Images of Iraq page is definitely worth a visit. Looks like our guys are already a quarter of the way to Baghdad after just a few hours.

A sword-day, a red day, ere the Sun rises ...

Jay Manifold [11:59 AM]

I Am Not Making This Up, and Another Contest

Via Glenn Reynolds, via Eristic Entries, GlobalSecurity.org's page on the Hands of Victory:

The day before the first bombing run on Bhagdad [sic] during the 1991 Gulf War, Iraqi TV showed a mass of Iraqi soldiers marching beneath the huge crossed swords of the Victory Arch, to the theme music from 'Star Wars'.

OK, Arcturians, it's time for a contest. Accepting the risk of snotty replies ... when coalition forces march through the Victory Arch, what music should be playing? Send suggestions here by -- well, I guess we better make this quick -- 2359 CST Sat 23 Mar (0559 UT Sun 24 Mar), and I'll actually look at my e-mail for once and compile the responses in a post. Winners, so-called, get the usual intangible prize of mention on this blog.

Jay Manifold [6:43 AM]

[ 20030320 ]

Quick Notes

For a different kind of warblogging, graze on over to Rhetorica for exceptionally incisive explications of the rhetorical devices in current use ("shock and awe," "the United Nations Security Council has not lived up to its responsibilities, so we will rise to ours," etc). If words are weapons, Andy Cline is the John Pike of global rhetorical security. ;)

Other than that, read this earlier post of mine about the different types of risk management as they apply to Iraq (more here and here for the truly obsessed dedicated).

Jay Manifold [8:15 PM]

[ 20030319 ]

Non-Nuclear EMP in Iraq?

It may get a try, according to the AP's Matt Crenson. The best part's at the end:

Defense experts are particularly eager to see if e-bombs can reach into deep underground bunkers that could otherwise be neutralized only by tactical nuclear weapons. By shutting off the electricity, a microwave weapon could render a bunker uninhabitable by disabling lighting, security systems, ventilation and computers.

Eventually, [Lt. Col. Piers] Wood [, a military analyst at the defense policy think-tank globalsecurity.org,] said, other nations may acquire high power microwave weapons; American forces, which depend so heavily on technology, would be particularly vulnerable to them. He predicted that soon all military electronics will have to be protected from high power microwaves by metal casings, with sophisticated circuit breakers connected to any incoming wires.

GlobalSecurity.org has a page about this weapon, which notes that

[A] method of protection is to keep all essential electronics within an electrically conductive enclosure, called a Faraday cage. This prevents the damaging electromagentic field from interacting with vital equipment. The problem with Faraday cages is that most vital equipment needs to be in contact with the outside world. This contact point can allow the electromagentic field to enter the cage, which ultimately renders the enclosure useless. There are ways to protect against these Faraday cage flaws, but the fact remains that this is a dangerous weakpoint.

In my recent reading, I inadvertently discovered that the E-bomb has a surprising pedigree:

In 1951-1952 I proposed two designs to produce super-strong pulse magnetic fields and electric currents by using the energy of explosion. The designs were subsequently named MK-1 and MK-2, where MK is the Russian acronym for "magnetic cumulation." Certain modifications of those designs were later proposed by other authors, but all of them use the same basic principle: the full magnetic flux of the field generated by a coil carrying current does not change if the coil is rapidly deformed. Should the deformation lead to the decrease in the coil's inductance, the energy of the magnetic field will increase. This is possible only if the coil is deformed by external forces, in case of MK by the pressure created by the explosion. The simplest MK-1 system is a hollow metal cylinder compressed by pressure from the products of an explosion. The explosive charge is placed outside the metal cylinder; the initial magnetic field in the hollow interior is directed along the axis of the cylinder. The action of the device can be visualized as the compression (the gathering or "cumulation") of a bunch of magnetic force lines by the moving metal walls of the cylinder (hence, "magnetic cumulation"). (pp 149-150)

Compare Sakharov's description with the diagram on the GlobalSecurity.org webpage. Another remarkable invention by the genius who developed the Soviet H-bomb and later won the Nobel Peace Prize for his dissident activities.

Jay Manifold [7:12 PM]

Report from Israel

Arcturus' Israeli correspondent writes (some details obscured to preserve anonymity):

We certainly heard the news (although we didn't get up at 3:00 AM to hear the speech live on Fox News -- we try not to watch CNN and watching major speeches in English live on local TV is a maddening process because they use a non-professional simul-tran voice-over. Much more fun to watch the recorded version with subtitles and try to catch as many mistakes as possible in the translation).

We (i.e., everyone in Israel) were told yesterday to prepare our sealed room, which we (i.e., the [name] family) did today. Both yesterday ("regular" Purim, observed in [town] and most other places in the world) and today ("Shushan" Purim, observed in Jerusalem and other cities which were walled in the time of Joshua) are days off from school; I took both as vacation days. (Just catching up on e-mail at the moment, which I guess will save me 1 hour of vacation time). This morning we did most of the sealing work ([daughter]'s bedroom), and [wife] is finishing up now. We (everyone again) will probably be told to open and check our "protective kits" (mask and atropine syringe) today and keep it with us at all times starting today, but the official word hasn't gone out yet.

The part of the army which deals with such issues is called in English "Home Front Command," but in Hebrew "pikud ha-oref," or "Back-of-the-Neck Command." Has a nice ring, don't you think?

Otherwise, trying to keep life normal.

If your bedroom didn't get turned into a shelter from chemical attack when you were 6, be grateful.

Jay Manifold [6:07 PM]

Iraq WX, etc

Middle East weather satellite photo here; forecast here; forecast and almanac info here.

Good compilation of general Iraq info here.

Jay Manifold [4:46 PM]

[ 20030318 ]

Walking the Walk

A remarkable instantiation of this may be found here.

Jay Manifold [8:15 AM]

[ 20030317 ]

The Final Countdown

So, okay, 8 PM EST on Mon 17 Mar + 48 hours = 0100 UT Wed 19 Mar. Turning to this handy application and entering March 19th, longitude 44 degrees 00 minutes east, latitude 33 degrees 00 minutes north, time zone 3 hours east of Greenwich, and place name "Iraq," and hitting "Get data," we find:

U.S. Naval Observatory

Astronomical Applications Department

Sun and Moon Data for One Day

The following information is provided for Iraq (longitude E44.0, latitude N33.0):


Universal Time + 3h

19 March 2003


Begin civil twilight




Sun transit




End civil twilight




18:20 on preceding day

Moon transit







07:30 on following day

Phase of the Moon on 19 March: waning gibbous with 99% of the Moon's visible disk illuminated.

Full Moon on 18 March 2003 at 13:35 (Universal Time + 3h).

We're hitting them at Full Moon. And presumably around 4 AM local time, if the attack starts just at the end of the 48-hour period, only about 2 hours before sunrise. Illumination conditions would not seem to play much of a role here.

My armchair strategist's guess is that the first couple of hours will be a cruise missile barrage, followed by an immediate airborne assault: an entire division of American ground forces landing directly in the middle of Baghdad. For now, let's hope that our intel is good -- so that we hit the right targets and don't hit wrong ones; that we get it over with fast; and that we leave Iraq a much better place than we found it.

UPDATE: We're also hitting them on Purim: "In the walled cities of Israel - such as Jerusalem and Safed - Purim is celebrated on the 15 of Adar, which this year falls on March 19, 2003."

LATER UPDATE: Dumb math mistake: local Iraq attack time is early on the 20th, not the 19th. Doesn't change things much, though -- you can check for yourself at the Naval Observatory site.

Jay Manifold [8:41 PM]

Gee, D'Ya Think?


Libertarian - You believe that the main use for government is for some people to lord it over others at their expense. You maintain that the government should be as small as possible, and that civil liberties, "victimless crimes", and gun ownership should be basic rights. You probably are OK with capitalism. Your historical role model is Thomas Jefferson.

Which political stereotype are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

Jay Manifold [6:48 PM]

[ 20030316 ]

thelonia inuista, Nash Equilibria, and Afghanistan

An article by Malcolm Garcia on p A 18 of today's KCStar, headlined "Road rebuilding can help or hurt Afghan president" and unfortunately not available online, describes an economic situation strikingly reminiscent of medieval Europe. Excerpts:

Major road-construction projects to begin next month will pit President Hamid Karzai's government against regional warlords for control of Afghanistan's highways -- and the country.

At issue is whether the improved infrastructure will enable Karzai to extend his power beyond the capital, Kabul, or whether the country's warlords will enhance their power by "taxing" the increased traffic that will pass through the territory they control.

Karzai expects the warlords to surrender future road revenue to the central government. But the warlords need the money to pay their supporters and see little reason to help a government that's too poor to provide even basic services.

Road reconstruction would open isolated areas to commerce and unify a country torn by ethnic strife. But preventing the warlords from profiting on increased trade won't be easy.

Local rulers have agreed to patrol their stretches of the [500-mile] road [from Kabul to Kandahar] against bandits and rebel fighters. They'll also keep control of the road in their hands.

"Yes, we take money from trucks and cars," Cmdr Haji Mirzaman said. He said he asked truckdrivers for about $50. "We're not paid by the government. [Haji Sifulla] Ahmadzi [, governor of Meydan-Vardak,] pays us. We need the tax."

At Gomrok Custom House in south Kabul, truckdrivers complained to authorities recently about the fees they had to pay at three military checkpoints on the Jalalabad road. The troops belong to Gov Haji Din Mohammed of Nangahar province.

"When the road is improved, more and more people will be stopped and made to pay a tax," truckdriver Mohammad Malu complained. "If you don't pay, they won't let you through. Those guys have guns."

Malu said he'd paid from $100 to $1,000 at checkpoints on the Jalalabad road.

Replace the guns with swords and maces and the roads with rivers, and you've got Germany, three-quarters of a millenium ago. In National Geographic Traveler's Rhine Journey, we read:

Some 50 castles stand along the Middle Rhine, the greatest such concentration in the world, according to the ship's commentary. Almost nowhere between Mainz and Cologne are you not within sight of a castle—often two or three. Most were built by medieval princelings to extract tolls from passing boats.

Sound familiar? In Tolling the Rhine in 1254: Complementary Monopoly Revisited, Roy Gardner, Noel Gaston, and Robert T. Masson write:

These tourists are touring not just picturesque historical landmarks but also the scene of interesting Nash equilibria. The castles and ruins mark the sites of former tolling stations along the Rhine River valley. History records that at one time or another during the millennium 800-1800, 79 different locations served as toll booths along the Rhine and its tributaries ...

A definition of "Nash equilibrium" is here; further along in the Gardner et al, we find:

There were certainly many non-cooperative tolls set, but cooperative gaming was also important. The purchase, building and positioning of castles, the attention paid to defensibility and credibility and the charging of tolls will be described as a game of strategy between these major actors.

However, there were other players as well, players who broke the Empire's rules. Such players could be found doing the following:

  • operating a toll booth without permission

  • charging a higher toll than authorized

Both these practices were called thelonia iniusta (“unjust toll”) by contemporaries, and the historical record suggests that unjust tolls were rampant. In an era when the doctrine of just price dominated economic analysis, the injustice of excessive tolls was apparent. Even worse behavior occurred, such as robbing ships' cargoes or stealing the entire ship, especially in times of political disorder. These were capital crimes. Such behavior merited the terms “robber baron” (the robbers were usually low-ranking nobility) operating out of “robber castles,” terms which were coined then and live on today. [Mueller-Mertens et al, p. 767]

One of the periods of greatest disorder in the Holy Roman Empire was the Interregnum, 1250-1273, when there was no Emperor. The number of tolling stations exploded after 1250, at least doubling in 4 years [Pfeiffer, p. 391]. These stations could not possibly have got permission from the Emperor, as there was none. The behavior of “robber barons” was clearly noncooperative, and there was no central authority to deal with it. In response, a historically (for that time) unique coalition arose -- the “Rheinischer Bund,” the Rhine League.

Perhaps President Karzai should read this paper ... could the work of John Forbes Nash (subject of this movie) help restore order to Afghanistan?

Jay Manifold [12:55 PM]

An FBI Air Force?

There's got to be a better way to manage risk than this:

The FBI has a fleet of aircraft, some equipped with night surveillance and eavesdropping equipment, flying America's skies to track and collect intelligence on suspected terrorists and other criminals.

The FBI will not provide exact figures on the planes and helicopters, but more than 80 are in the skies. There are several planes, known as "Nightstalkers," equipped with infrared devices that allow agents to track people and vehicles in the dark.

Legally, no warrants are necessary for the FBI to track cars or people from the air.

Uh, can we get that fixed, please?

Jay Manifold [11:11 AM]

[ 20030315 ]


I just had to say that today. ;)

Jay Manifold [7:16 PM]

Mars, the Irradiated Planet (II)

Given that terraforming Mars won't give it a magnetic field -- therefore no magnetosphere to shield it against solar flares -- and that it's going to be a while before a thick atmosphere gets built up anyway, how dangerous will the radiation be for early explorers and colonists?

Short answer: not very. This paper concludes:

Within the context of present radiation environment models and conventional dosimetry, long-term exposures to astronauts while on the Martian surface largely are shown to remain well below prescribed [International Space Station] exposure limits. The protection is assumed to be provided solely by the atmosphere and planetary shadowing.

The estimated [galactic cosmic ray] annual exposures to blood-forming organs range from 6 to 12 [rem] for solar maximum and solar minimum conditions, respectively, at the Mars datum altitude of 0 km (sea level). At an altitude of 12 km, these doses increase by approximately 15 percent. For the present analysis, the only circumstances for which short-term (1-month) and annual exposure limits are approached or exceeded occur when large solar proton events deliver exposures at high altitudes (10-12 km). In these cases, some additional provisional shielding is required.

So don't climb Olympus Mons right after a solar flare and hang around at the summit. Simonsen and Nealy also note that, for manned missions to Mars: "The doses incurred during transit to and from Mars will most likely dominate the total mission dose." Get there and back fast enough, and you can stay on the surface a lot longer.

Jay Manifold [6:53 PM]

If The US Were Like The UN

Thirteen states (including the most-populated state) would be outright dictatorships, and 14 more would have limited freedoms; only 23 of the 50 states would have freely elected governments.

Of the 290 million people in the US, over 100 million would live under a dictatorship, and over 60 million more in a partly free state. A minority, 130 million, would live in a free state.

But that minority of 130 million in the 23 free states would produce $9 trillion of economic output every year. The other 160 million, living in the 27 unfree and partly-free states, would produce the remaining $1 trillion of the total GDP. Per capita GDP in the free states would be $77,000 per year; in the partly-free and unfree states, it would be $6,000.

Nearly 50 million Americans would be Muslim. They could be a majority in as many as 17 states. If so, only 4 of those 17 would have freely elected governments. But of the 33 non-Muslim-majority states, only 8 would not be free.

How legitimate would the Federal government be if only 46 out of 100 Senators, only 200 out of 435 Representatives, and (at best) every other President had gained office through election, while all the rest had been appointed (or assassinated their way) to office?

How inclined would you be to defend such a polity? To obey its laws? To pay its taxes? To believe that it represented, in any meaningful way, the future direction of mankind?

(All figures derived from Freedom House data.)

Jay Manifold [6:16 PM]

[ 20030314 ]

Mars, the Irradiated Planet

NASA'S Mars Odyssey Changes Views About Red Planet is the bland headline of a news release from NASA that nonetheless includes this tantalizing paragraph:

Odyssey has measured radiation levels at Mars that are substantially higher than in low-Earth orbit. "The Martian radiation environment experiment has confirmed expectations that future human explorers of Mars will face significant long-term health risks from space radiation," said Dr. Cary Zeitlin, principal investigator for the Martian radiation environment experiment, National Space Biomedical Research Institute, Houston. "We've also observed solar particle events not seen by near-Earth radiation detectors," Zeitlin said.

So can we go to Mars or not? Zeitlin is quoted more informatively in a Space.com article, which explains that the Martian radiation environment is a combination of cosmic rays and solar flares (charged-particle radiation on Earth is greatly attenuated by the magnetosphere and atmosphere, which are effectively absent on Mars):

The radiation is measured in sieverts, and NASA sets lifetime limits for astronauts. The limits vary by age and gender, but generally are between 1 and 3 sieverts and tend to go down as more health studies are done, Zeitlin explained. Odyssey's measurements suggest radiation above Mars is about 2.5 times higher than at International Space Station, he said. Extrapolated to three years, they represent about 1 sievert, he said.

I remember rads and rems from nuclear-fallout scenarios, but what's a sievert? This says it's 100 rems (more definitions here), so, yeah, a 3-sievert dose is pretty unhealthy. Some helpful folks up in Idaho put together What's Your Radiation Dose?, in which we learn that the average annual dose in the US is .36 rem = 0.0036 sievert. Around Mars, it's ~0.33 sievert, that is, about 90 times as much.

One more reason for the NSS Glenn Reynolds to fly to Mars and back on a fast, high-energy trajectory ... about time for me to pick that series of posts up again.

Jay Manifold [9:55 PM]

If It's Clear Where You Are ...

Step outside and check out the conjunction of the Moon and Jupiter. Here's a picture of a similar event.

Jay Manifold [9:20 PM]

Happy 124th!

And the birthday song is here ...

Jay Manifold [7:21 AM]

[ 20030313 ]

Freeze Frame

My blood runs cold. ;)

Jay Manifold [7:46 PM]

[ 20030311 ]

A Sure Sign of Recovery

Afghanistan Launches Country Domain, says Marie Horrigan of UPI Technology News:

Afghanistan Monday staked its claim in cyberspace, taking control of the .af top-level country domain. "For Afghanistan, this is like reclaiming part of our sovereignty," said Mohammad Masoom Stanakzi, minister of communications for the transitional Afghan government. "It is the country's flag on the Internet."

Here's a bit of perspective for the stop-Ashcroft crowd -- I don't like him much either, but compare PATRIOT II to this:

Afghanistan's control of the domain marks a significant departure from the previous Taliban regime, under which non-governmental Internet use was prohibited and prosecuted by the government's Ministry for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, punishable by death.

First up are the Ministry of Communications (getting an "Under Construction" message as of 7 PM CST) and the U.N. Development Program in Afghanistan, which actually loads. Check it out!

Jay Manifold [7:23 PM]

[ 20030305 ]

NASA vs E-Mail

Friday lunch-bunch buddy Clif Guy points me to John Dvorak's E-Mail and the Columbia Disaster, a fascinating if depressing tale of bureaucratic unresponsiveness and emergent organizational behavior:

About a year passed after the Challenger disaster before we discovered what really happened, and the best report was in IEEE Spectrum, not in the New York Times, where the report would have been perceived as old news.

With the new e-mail world and Columbia, we immediately find out that the space crew was e-mailing friends from the vessel. Thus, Douglas Brown found out that his astronaut brother Dave Brown was concerned about Columbia's wing. Douglas discussed this concern with his US senator, George Allen. Wasn't it suspicious, then, in a NASA press release, Douglas said his brother never wrote about concerns with damage to the left wing?? We must conclude there was an obvious cover-up. Why would Douglas Brown discuss anything with his US Senator if there were nothing to discuss? This is all happening too fast for the agency. It's harder to buffalo the public in compressed time.

Dvorak notes: "A blockade of middle managers ... allows upper managers the luxury of isolation" and, perhaps most importantly: "The old ways in which bureaucrats covered their collective butts has changed. This is the untold story of the Columbia disaster. Let's see how agencies try to adjust to this."

While I am unconvinced that technology, in and of itself, is a substitute for competition, and am willing to give NASA credit where it is due, as for this inspiring quote from Chief Flight Director Milt Heflin, I think that Dvorak has uncovered a significant phenomenon, one that will have largely unforeseeable effects on large organizations of all types (think Enron; the Boston Archdiocese; the Social Forum, etc).

I would be remiss if I did not cite the work of Rhonda Chriss Lokeman, who has done some positively blog-worthy reporting on this for the KCStar. Read the whole thing.

Jay Manifold [6:34 AM]

[ 20030304 ]

Powers of Ten

Remember that groovy Powers of Ten film (and the SciAm book)? My sister just found an online version, which in spite of zooming in on Florida instead of Chicago is still very, very cool. Also not too hard on those of us struggling with slow dial-up connections.

Jay Manifold [4:23 PM]

John Poindexter Impersonates James Madison

-- though not at all well, in Bill Walker's latest, "a new Constitution that doesn't cause cognitive dissonance among the lower orders, one that provides a solid legal foundation for the President's edicts." Excerpts:

The House of Representatives shall be composed of members chosen every second year from among the ranks of Congressional incumbents and their heirs.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. These restraining functions shall all be performed by administrative Agencies.

All powers granted by this Orange Alert Constitution are doubled in the event of a Mauve Alert.

Needless to say, you should Read The Whole Thing.

Jay Manifold [6:55 AM]

Possible New Pro-War Slogan

Make Baghdad livable!

While that's going on, Gary Farber batters his way through SpamArrest to point me to "these pro-war voices of the left" -- Leon Wieseltier and E. J. Dionne and Paul Berman, and notes "an alarming -- though I hope still unlikely -- possibility, along with some further observations I make from this WaPo piece." He appends a general plea to read his stuff, which if I am to comply will certainly help exercise my time-management skills. Why am I bothering? That way-cool reference to flash crowds in the "alarming possibility" piece, that's why.

Jay Manifold [6:54 AM]

[ 20030303 ]

Helping Expose Fraud

Language aside, I enjoy this sort of thing, which points to this delightful exposure of an impersonator. Just for fun, let's spread it around.

This is a highly specific instance of a general topic, another class of which is here. Worth bookmarking.

Jay Manifold [6:28 PM]

[ 20030302 ]

Since it's Sunday, the Friday Five

I usually ignore this, but decided to make an exception:

  1. What is your favorite type of literature to read (magazine, newspaper, novels, nonfiction, poetry, etc.)?

    Science fiction and (some) fantasy.

  2. What is your favorite novel?

    I'm going to cheat and answer with a whole list of them, which you may find here.

  3. Do you have a favorite poem? (Share it!)

    Right here.

  4. What is one thing you've always wanted to read, or wish you had more time to read?

    Homer, Ovid, and Cervantes, in the original languages. Possibly Pushkin as well, also in the original. All this would entail learning those languages; I can read the Greek and Cyrillic alphabets, but my comprehension is minimal.

  5. What are you currently reading?

    I. Asimov: A Memoir; Caesar and Christ: A History of Roman Civilization and of Christianity from Their Beginnings to A.D. 325; Diffusion of Innovations; and Memoirs: A Twentieth-Century Journey in Science and Politics

Jay Manifold [5:12 PM]

167 Years Ago Today

Read all about it here.

Jay Manifold [12:20 PM]

Modeling the Solar System

Via From the Treetop, we have The Virtual Solar System, and in particular the scale model, which makes creative use of pixel size and the scroll bar to illustrate just how far apart the planets are relative to their sizes. Takes me back to about age 8, measuring out distances on the living room floor with a yardstick and placing marbles to represent the positions of the planets. I'll bet some of my readers did things like this ...

Jay Manifold [10:16 AM]

Polyhedral Plenitude

Via binkley's BLOG, a delightful page of Virtual Polyhedra.

Jay Manifold [10:16 AM]

Subverting the Dominant Paradigm -- Irresponsibility

Via Damian Penny, an eye-popping album cover from a performer whose website, Guerrilla Funk (language warning), is carefully larded with conspiratorial statements and far-left "explanations," as for example here and here, to encourage ... personal responsibility and good financial stewardship. Guerrilla funk, indeed. Given that marginalized people are often conspiracy theorists anyway, I see no harm in using existing attitudes as a hook to exhort them to things like thrift and better impulse control. Definitely not for everyone, but intriguing nonetheless.

Jay Manifold [10:15 AM]

The Non-Atrocity Exhibition

Again via Damian, a critique of proferred alternatives to war. I note that JG Ballard's comments arguing for the value of stability and judging options based on their effectiveness are by far the least silly of the lot. Not surprising, considering his background. I hasten to add that I do not agree that striking at the Iraqi leadership will create more problems than it solves -- I post this merely as an example of the form the discussion ought to take, but rarely does.

The usual prize of mention here (when I get around to answering my e-mail, that is) for telling me where I got the title to this post.

Jay Manifold [10:15 AM]