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[ 20030429 ]

Eucatastrophe in Iraq

(Oblique reference to this earlier post; readers are invited to look up "eucatastrophe" for themselves.) If this holds up, it's as wonderful as the museum looting was tragic: Gilgamesh tomb believed found.

Jay Manifold [2:52 PM]

[ 20030426 ]

Why People Don't Believe the Historical Sciences

As part of my continuing drive to reduce my readership, I'm going to jump into the controversy noted by Virginia, who refers to a story in her hometown newspaper, where we find "... state Sen. Mike Fair[,] who's stirring up the trouble." -- Namely:

He bases his argument on the fact that no one was there when life began to make a scientific observation about it.

Fair wants science books in South Carolina public schools to have the following statement posted in them: "The cause or causes of life are not scientifically verifiable. Therefore, empirical science cannot provide data about the beginning of life."

Virginia remarks: "Perhaps the South Carolina schools should give equal time to conspiracy theories of history and central planning models of the economy. But I wouldn't want to give them any ideas." This is a capsule version of Michael Shermer's lengthy parallel, in Why People Believe Weird Things, between evolution denial and Holocaust denial -- to my mind, a needlessly inflammatory comparison. I would nominate "moon hoax" theories as better examples of closely related thinking (indeed, they are sometimes found together, as on this immensely entertaining page).

But the real underpinning of evolution denial is a denial of the historical sciences. Jared Diamond masterfully explains the conceptual difficulties posed by "... historical subjects whose place among the natural sciences is nevertheless secure, including astronomy, climatology, ecology, evolutionary biology, geology, and paleontology" in his best-selling book Guns, Germs, and Steel (pp 421-2):

... laboratory experimentation can obviously play little or no role in many of the historical sciences. One cannot interrupt galaxy formation, start and stop hurricanes and ice ages, experimentally exterminate grizzly bears in a few national parks, or rerun the course of dinosaur evolution.

In most of physics and chemistry the concepts of "ultimate cause," "purpose," and "function" are meaningless, yet they are essential to understanding living systems in general and human activities in particular.

In chemistry and physics the acid test of one's understanding of a system is whether one can successfully predict its future behavior. Again, physicists tend to look down on evolutionary biology and history, because those fields appear to fail this test.

... small changes at a lower level of organization can lead to emergent changes at a higher level .... Although most biologists agree that biological systems are in the end wholly determined by their physical properties and obey the laws of quantum mechanics, the systems' complexity means, for practical purposes, that that deterministic causation does not translate into predictability.

Not surprisingly, most evolution deniers find the historical sciences all but incomprehensible (elsewhere, I have called this the "pretense of precision" meme) and are prone to using definitional arguments in an attempt to simply get rid of them. Of course, getting rid of them doesn't mean much outside of the context of public education. Back to state Sen. Fair:

"My intent is very simple — that the truth be taught in the classroom, and if they're calling something science that they be able to back it up," he said. "What that means, I'll allow the educators to come up with."

If he's serious, perhaps someone (ideally an otherwise sympathetic constituent) could lead him through the epilogue of Diamond's book. Effecting a conversion would be a tall order; Diamond demonstrates an admirable sense of self-awareness when he writes "... I acknowledge that it is much more difficult to understand human history than to understand problems in fields of science where history is unimportant and where fewer individual variables operate."

For a far more likely sequence of events, see my next post.

Jay Manifold [10:59 AM]

-- And Why It Doesn't Matter

Perhaps I shouldn't make too much of the distinction between historical sciences (astronomy, climatology, ecology, evolutionary biology, geology, paleontology) and nonhistorical sciences (physics, chemistry, molecular biology). In this background piece on the Fordham Foundation report that aroused (SC) state Sen. Mike Fair's ire, Lawrence S. Lerner writes:

In the broad sense, almost all of science is the study of the way that various systems evolve over time. The systems can be as large as the universe itself or as small as a neutrino; the relevant time scales can be as long as billions of years or as short as attoseconds. Biology is no exception; its central organizing principle is the evolution of living things. Without evolution, biology is no more than a vast, bewildering array of facts. One can teach a sort of natural history without evolution--"This is a horse and this is a rose"--but one runs into trouble almost immediately when some clever student asks, "Why are horses and roses different from one another?"

Not a great example -- few students are so "clever," especially if no discussion of cladistics is involved. And unfortunately, the Fordham Foundation "report" wasn't much more than a publicity stunt; it's the one that gave Kansas an "F-," neglecting to note that the teaching of evolution was never banned, or even restricted, by the infamous Board of Education vote in August '99.

Nonetheless, for all the political battles started by evolution deniers and apparent popularity of evolution denial as a belief (more nuanced, local data here), the long-term success of evolution denial is unlikely, thanks to the mindset of its most vehement adherents. David C. Wise describes the wilderness of mirrors that is conspiratorial thinking; try replacing "creationist" in the following passage with, well, just about any fringe movement:

... creationists don't do their homework -- they don't research their claims as they should nor to the extent that scholars and scientists do. They're not looking for valid or truthful sources as a scholar or scientist would; they're just looking for something that will sound convincing to a "lay" audience (ie, to people who lack sufficient training in that field of science). And, since the best place to find those convincing-sounding claims is in the creation science literature, that is where they do most of their "research" and they end up passing these bogus claims back and forth between each other without ever bothering to check any of them out. One side-effect of this is that they keep long-dead and refuted/recanted claims in circulation, making them appear to new audiences that these are the latest findings. Another side-effect is a form of natural selection within creation science, in which the more sensationalist (and more bogus) claims enjoy far wider distribution than the more truthful and cautious, and hence less convincing, statements of creationists trying to do serious and honest research.

A subculture that drives out excellence and promotes ever-wilder untruths will enjoy no more success than, say, neo-Nazi or Communist political movements (barring some kind of society-wrecking event that leaves the survivors in a desperate struggle for understanding).

Besides, there's a powerful critique of this sort of behavior lurking in the very heart of the subculture in question. See, for example, 1 Timothy 1:4 and 6:4-5 and Titus 3:9. The early Church survived and prospered thanks, in part, to avoiding "a morbid craving for controversy and for disputes about words," "endless genealogies," and "stupid controversies."

Jay Manifold [10:58 AM]

[ 20030424 ]

Opening of the Solar Ecumene (II)

A letter writer to Science News (163:15, p 239), Carol Bowles-Tyndale of Colorado Springs, gives me the phrase I needed when I was struggling to write this earlier post: "... phone conversation draws some part of one's attention to another place, time, and experience." The impossibility of truly interactive conversation across a distance of more than a few light-seconds will cause this "part of one's attention" to be more like that of reading a letter than talking on a cell phone while driving (the subject of the letter).

Jay Manifold [6:19 AM]

Welcome, InstaPundit Readers!

The usual drill ... poke around, read the "Important Stuff" (see left sidebar for list -- oh, and something particularly fun is here), and feel free to use that "send e-mail" link up at the top (yes, it'll make you do a confirmation, but only once). Obviously this has been a very light posting week, due in this case to a combination of mild illness and heavy workload. I still hope to address the risk-management aspects of protection of cultural treasures in wartime, so graze on back in another few days ...

Jay Manifold [6:18 AM]

[ 20030419 ]

Distributed Observing and Homeland Security

Glenn Reynolds points to a Jonathan Rauch column which uses a "distributed observing" model to deputize volunteers to spot intruders, the trick being that the deputies are anyone with an Internet connection and a few minutes to spare. In the spirit of incessant self-promotion, I direct my remaining readers to this post, in which I suggest something similar for potentially-hazardous-asteroid detection.

Jay Manifold [5:49 AM]

The Camera Eye (II)

(Ref this earlier post) I got to thinking about what I'd do if I were to get some observing time with the CFHT/MegaPrime instrument, which can take astronomical pictures with ~1-microradian resolution. I'd point it at some nearer targets. Possible results:



Smallest Detail Seen

Shuttle orbiter

300 km

30 cm (1 foot)


380,000 km

380 m (1,200 feet)

near-Earth asteroid

0.05 AU

7.5 km

Mars at opposition

0.38 AU

57 km

Mercury at greatest elongation

1 AU

150 km

asteroid Vesta at opposition

1.3 AU

200 km

Galilean moons of Jupiter at opposition

4.2 AU

630 km

Saturn’s rings at opposition

8.5 AU

1,300 km

Jay Manifold [5:47 AM]

[ 20030418 ]

Recycled Thought for Today

What I said then.

Jay Manifold [5:13 AM]

[ 20030416 ]

The Bitter Fruit of Incompetent Criticism

Glenn Reynolds points to his own "looting happens" piece, approvingly quotes Jeff Jarvis' airy dismissal of the significance of the loss of millennia of cultural artifacts, and asks "whether it’s fair to blame the United States military — which was rather busy dealing with fedayeen death squads, suicide bombers, and Republican Guard forces at the time — for the looting of Iraqi treasures by Iraqis."

Behold the bitter fruit of months of antiwar hectoring by the Left (and, I am truly sorry to say, some libertarians as well). They are The Movement That Cried "Wolf": about casualties, about duration, about expense, about diplomatic consequences, about environmental disaster, and of course about causes; and they got every major prediction wrong.

But then a real disaster happened.

So now the pro-war side -- not all of it, to be sure, but the louder voices -- can respond with arguments that reduce to: hey, you were wrong about the war, so there's nothing to see here, folks, just move along; the only thing that needs to happen is for your thinking to get straightened out.

Negative feedback needs to be accurate, or things will never get better.

I'll address the risk management aspects of this in my next post.

Jay Manifold [6:22 AM]

[ 20030415 ]

It Gets Worse

Instapundit has a roundup of items indicating that the looting of the Iraqi National Museum may have been perpetrated by Ba'athists hoping to survive by selling its treasures. I withdraw my earlier suggestion about managing the risk to the Museum with nonlethal weaponry; shooting those people would have been just fine. Now instead of putting bullets in their heads, our buy-back program will be putting American taxpayer dollars in their pockets.

Jay Manifold [3:28 PM]

A Reminder for Tax Day

Well, it's for Election Day, actually: remember this in another year and a half: "In less than two years [as of 25 Jul 02], President Bush has presided over more government expansion than took place during eight years of Bill Clinton." Read the whole thing. Thanks to Bill Walker for the tip.

Jay Manifold [4:57 AM]

Time to Put Up or Shut Up

This is the day when we should see these folks take this advice, right?

Jay Manifold [4:57 AM]

Your Tax Dollars At Work

Now we're going to close the barn door:

The United States has pledged to recover and repair the priceless antiquities looted from Iraq's national museum in the wake of the entry of US troops.

Secretary of State Colin Powell said the Baghdad museum was "one of the great museums in the world" and that the US would take a leading role in restoring it.

Here's what got out:

... 28 galleries of the museum and vaults with huge steel doors guarding storage chambers that descend floor after floor into unlighted darkness [have] been ransacked.

... thousands of looters ... poured into the museum after daybreak Thursday and remained until dusk Friday, with only one intervention by American troops, lasting about half an hour, at lunchtime Thursday.

As examples of what was gone, the officials cited a solid-gold harp from the Sumerian era, which began about 3360 B.C. and started to crumble about 2000 B.C. Another item on their list of looted antiquities was a sculptured head of a woman from Uruk, one of the great Sumerian cities, dating to about the same era, and a collection of gold necklaces, bracelets and earrings, also from the Sumerian dynasties and also at least 4,000 years old.

... ancient stone carvings of bulls and kings and princesses; copper shoes and cuneiform tablets; tapestry fragments; ivory figurines of goddesses, women and Nubian porters; friezes of soldiers and ancient seals and tablets on geometry; and ceramic jars, urns and bowls, all dating back at least 2,000 years, some more than 5,000 years.

... several acres of museum grounds were overrun by thousands of men, women and children, many of them armed with rifles, pistols, axes, knives and clubs, as well as pieces of metal torn from wrecked cars. The crowd was storming out of the complex, carrying antiquities on handcarts and bicycles and in boxes. Looters stuffed their pockets with smaller items.

This is a screw-up for the ages. If the anti-war movement hadn't lost all credibility through worthless predictions, it might have been able to do something. The pro-war folks seem to be ignoring it almost altogether (here's an exception).

Jay Manifold [4:56 AM]

[ 20030414 ]

Rumsfeld Responds to Catastrophe with Snotty Remarks

Some treaties are more worthwhile than other treaties. The Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict is one of the more sensible ones. Our Secretary of Defense just urinated all over it:

While Baghdad burned, Donald Rumsfeld fiddled. Questioned about the orgy of looting and pillaging taking place under the gaze of U.S. forces, Rumsfeld criticized the media for exaggerating the extent of the damage.

"The images you are seeing on television, you are seeing over and over and over," he complained. "It's the same picture of some person walking out of some building with a vase and you see it twenty times. And you think, my goodness, were there that many vases?"

After pausing for laughter, Rumsfeld delivered the punch line: "Is it possible that there were that many vases in the whole country?"

That's some response to the 21st century version of the bombing of Monte Cassino. Maybe this should be a one-term Administration.

Jay Manifold [6:20 PM]

[ 20030413 ]

Disaster in Baghdad

Fortunately it doesn't involve a high body count, but the Coalition is going to properly catch hell for this (more background here).

It's important to recognize that the same thing would certainly have happened in 1991 had the allies continued their advance. For that matter, it would have happened if Saddam Hussein had died in office without military action, unless someone equally fierce had immediately taken power. And it's most important to recognize that, in the masterful phrase of Esther Dyson: "The transition to a more fair system is very unfair."

But it happened on our watch -- literally; Coalition soldiers were in the streets nearby. Cultural treasures should have higher priority when objectives are seized. This implies more development and availability of nonlethal weapons; it's no good having nothing to stop looters with but M-16s. Shooting civilians in the street would have produced just as much criticism as this event will.

Jay Manifold [10:26 AM]

[ 20030411 ]

Opening of the Solar Ecumene

Chapter VII of William McNeill's masterpiece, The Rise of the West, is curiously entitled "Closure of the Eurasian Ecumene." An excerpt (pp 295-6):

In 128 B.C., just eighteen years after the Roman conquest of Greece, a venturesome Chinese diplomat named Chang-k'ien traveled westward to the valleys of the Oxus and Jaxartes, where he discovered -- rather to his surprise -- the easternmost fringes of the civilized Middle East. Thereafter, the Chinese maintained sporadic diplomatic and trading contacts with central Asia, until in 101 B.C., Chinese armies followed in Chang-k'ien's footsteps and conquered a string of oases extending as far as the Jaxartes. This enormous westward expansion of Chinese suzerainty led to the establishment of a regular caravan route between China and the Middle East -- the so-called "Silk Road."

Almost simultaneously, the sea routes of the Indian Ocean underwent decisive development ...

To the casual observer this might seem irrevocable, unless civilization collapses well beyond the point of elimination of all motorized transport (as McNeill notes, this "closure" occurred in classical times). But there is a sense in which a vastly larger ecumene will someday open, at least partially.

Imagine that space settlement proceeds as envisioned by O'Neill (or even this more conventional scenario). Millions of people come to live in a variety of habitats, most of them surprisingly Earthlike, scattered throughout the Solar System. How directly will they be in contact with one another?

Communication in cislunar space will be nearly instantaneous; Earth-Moon-Earth, or Moon-L5-Moon, is a bit under 2.6 seconds at lightspeed. This interval will introduce noticeable but not unduly awkward pauses in conversation (though L4-L5-L4 is about 4.5 seconds at c), and it can be ignored entirely in the transmission of written messages and data.

Travel in cislunar space -- assuming an advanced propulsion system capable of accelerating, then decelerating, continuously at 1 g throughout a journey -- will require amounts of time similar to intercity travel today, typically less than 4 hours from origin to destination. If the propulsion system is somewhat less wondrous and can do only 0.1 g, travel times will still be under half a day.

But move out to the distance of a near-Earth asteroid -- say 0.05 AU -- and the round-trip signal time is nearly a full minute, obliterating dialogue. Earth-Mars-Earth is, at best, 6 minutes (and typically 25 minutes). Exchanging greetings with the main asteroid belt would, on average, take an hour and a half.

The sense of emotional separation this will induce is profound. Long-distance telephone services and instant messaging are enormously popular not least for the feeling of presence they impart; I've been told that people who miss each other will place a call, not to speak, but merely to listen to the small noises in the other person's environment -- breathing, footsteps, rattle of kitchen items, etc. My employer, a telecommunications firm, once used the slogan "Be There Now."

Thanks to Einsteinian separability, if your friend or relative is much beyond lunar orbit, you won't be able to "be there now." Ever.

Nor will travel times be those which we have all become accustomed to over the past two generations. Travel to an NEA might, just might, be accomplished in less than a day, but the typical length of a trip in the inner Solar System will be closer to three days at best. A more realistic guess is 10 days. To the asteroid belt, 5 days minimum; realistically 2 weeks or more.

For the extreme case, consider a settlement constructed out of a Kuiper Belt object, at approximately Neptune's distance from the Sun (30 AU). Round-trip signal time to Earth -- or just about anyplace else where humans might be -- is more than 8 hours. Travel time, best case, is 16 days; more realistic travel time is 7 weeks.

A civilization in which messages cannot be delivered much faster than one business day, and in which journeys routinely require days or weeks, will be oddly reminiscent of the era of the telegraph, the steamship, and the railroad -- roughly the last half of the 19th century.

Few people now alive in the US can recall living without a telephone. Surprisingly few, probably less than a fifth of the population, can even remember a time without interstate highways and jet airliners. But some of our descendants (or even ourselves, if nanotechnological life extension arrives soon enough) will experience a great slowdown in the pace of their emotional existence.

Jay Manifold [7:50 PM]

The Camera Eye

Michael Jennings, who incidentally just heard a truly remarkable example of journalistic innumeracy, has a comment on this post in which he remarks: "Most of the coverage has carried references to 'the world's two largest digital cameras' which would tend to suggest to me that improved imaging or image processing technology is at least partly relevant."

I responded with a (stale) reference to the CCD array on the CFHT, but it turns out that Michael's supposition is quite timely. An article over on BBC Science/Nature by the esteemed Dr David Whitehouse, Advanced telescope camera astounds, is getting a lot of attention. And sure enough: "In its first few weeks of operation, MegaPrime participated in the discovery of new satellites of Jupiter ..." (These satellites, that is.)

I note that MegaPrime is said to be a 340-megapixel instrument, whereas the one I heard described at the meeting last spring was 400 megapixels. Leaving this discrepancy aside, if the pixels are square (and form a square array), MegaPrime is 18,439 elements on a side. It is said to cover one square degree, so each pixel would subtend about 195 milliarcseconds. This is less than one microradian; it's the size of a golf ball at a distance of 28 miles.

The press release puts the count at "40 e2v detectors (known as the 'CCD42-90') ... account[ing] for more than 9.5 megapixels [each], bringing the total number of pixels for the MegaCam mosaic to a staggering 377 million pixels!" Meanwhile, this page says:

... we follow a technique often used in high-quality commercial printing and shoot through three separate filters (blue, green, red). Our new system, the camera MegaCam mounted in MegaPrime is a mosaic of 36 CCD chips (a total of 340 megapixels) and there are physical gaps between them as shown on this image. To avoid images with a window-pane look, we must take several offset shots in each color and stack these to erase the appearance of the gaps.

If "several" = 5, then there are 15 shots of 377 million pixels apiece -- something over 5 gigabytes of raw data going into the Rosette Nebula image.

If the camera is operated for 9 hours a night for half of each month and each individual exposure is 5 minutes (therefore 1 hour and 15 minutes would be required for a complete image), then in one year, it could produce nearly 20,000 exposures, around 7 terabytes of raw data, and over 1,300 completed images. At this rate, it could cover the entire sky at ~0.2-arcsecond resolution in 32 years.

Jay Manifold [3:18 PM]

[ 20030410 ]

On the Second Iraq War

OK, Glenn already linked to it, but Frederick Turner's latest deserves all the links it can get. Hold onto this feeling, because the easy part's over; nobody knows how to make a liberal Arab nation, and the dictatorship we just deposed has been eroding civil society in Iraq for decades.

If you're not familiar with Turner's work, set aside 20 minutes to read this.

Jay Manifold [5:34 AM]

The Bravest Man I've Read About Recently

-- is identified by the AP's Jasper Mortimer in a roundup of Arab reaction that includes this remarkable quote:

"I don't like the idea of having the Americans here, but we asked for it," said Tannous Basil, a cardiologist in Sidon, Lebanon. "Why don't we see the Americans going to Finland, for example? They come here because our area is filled with dictatorships like Saddam's."

It would be slightly more accurate to say that they come there because of the uses to which oil revenue is put in the Arab world. But this is a man from Lebanon, a Syrian protectorate with no independent existence for the past quarter-century -- and Syria is a one-man show just like Iraq was until three weeks ago -- denouncing the regional political norm and allowing his name to be quoted in a story that will be read by millions of Westerners.

Jay Manifold [5:10 AM]

[ 20030409 ]


Your chance to see the most difficult classical planet ... Sky & Telescope says:

Mercury, normally elusive, is now in good view low in the west during twilight. Look for it about 45 minutes after sunset. Mercury shines at about magnitude –1 and is getting a little higher every day.

For locals, sunset tonight is 7:49 PM CDT, so look west around 8:30.

UPDATE (8:40 PM): It's ridiculously easy to find. Brightest thing in the western sky -- actually the only thing in the western sky visible through the KC light dome. Maybe 10° above the horizon.

Jay Manifold [4:32 PM]

Speed of Gravity: ?

(Ref this earlier post). Or, not so fast:

Clifford Will, of Washington University in St. Louis .... an expert on general relativity, said he conducted a detailed analysis of the twin effects presented by [Sergei Kopeikin of the University of Missouri in Columbia, and Edward Fomalont of the National Radio Astronomical Observatory in Charlottesville, Va.] and discovered gravity's speed simply drops out of the equations.

Will presented his findings at a meeting of the American Physical Society.

"It turns out the effect depends only on the velocity of the moving object -- in this case Jupiter," he said. The speed of gravity "can't affect the propagation of the light rays" in such a situation.

What hasn't changed, though, are scientists' expectations:

Einstein's theory predicts the two velocities must be equal, Will said, adding although the comparative measurement is so difficult no one yet has been able to test it experimentally.

The first generation of gravitational wave detectors, which soon will begin operation, should settle the matter within a few years, he added.

And here they are. Good background info at this page, apparently compiled in support of the development of one or more science-fiction novels and RPGs.

Jay Manifold [12:02 PM]

[ 20030407 ]

What Do We Do Now?

Victory is ours -- but so is the expenditure, and the aftermath. I will not denigrate this achievement, but my view of the larger risk-management context facing the US is not the same as the Administration's. Antiwar or reluctantly pro-war libertarians may find the tone of Arcturus becoming steadily more congenial in the near future.

Jay Manifold [6:00 PM]

How to Rock the Casbah

Via AtlanticBlog, a NYTimes article (registration req'd) on how the IDF managed the risks of urban combat in Nablus and Jenin:

In Nablus, the Israeli Defense Force achieved its most remarkable success — taking control of the city's casbah, a densely populated maze of narrow alleys and old stone buildings — in just a few days. Israeli forces used no artillery, and despite estimates predicting dozens of casualties, sustained just four.

The key to success was a sort of "planned unpredictability." Instead of using conventional linear tactics — taking the outskirts of the town first, then systematically clearing every house — Israeli forces simultaneously attacked from many directions. They used a technique known in military jargon as swarming, in which many small units, moving in zigzag patterns and other seemingly random formations, infiltrate to the middle of the city and attack from the inside out. Units constantly disappeared, only to re-appear in completely different places, attacking from new angles that kept the defenders disoriented and unable to dig in.

The swarming tactic, of course, isn't a magic cure for the problems associated with urban combat. It is a nightmare for the staff officers trying to coordinate the various units, and it is extremely difficult for the fighters themselves to keep abreast of the big picture. Yet American forces, which have more communications technology than even the Israelis, are surely capable of engaging in unconventional fighting tactics. Furthermore, Iraqi forces are not well coordinated and, long out of contact with the outside world and recent military history, would likely be hard pressed to understand what a swarming force is trying to accomplish, let alone confront it.

The shareef don't like it ... see this earlier post for a failed prediction of mine which suggested just such a "swarming tactic." In the event, the decapitation strike appears to have worked well and saved us a great deal of effort.

Jay Manifold [9:53 AM]

Contest Update

Just to help get the creative juices flowing, here's a sample entry to the latest contest, from Alan Henderson:

Emaciated villagers spoke of how the Soviet authorities would seize all grain production until quotas were met. Since the quotas were unreasonably high, they were never met, which meant that the peasants would never eat. They spoke of summary executions and deportations that awaited those caught stealing food.

A Soviet official told the interviewer that the famine successfully demonstrated "who is the master here. It cost millions of lives, but the collective farm system is here to stay."

Stealing food? Marxism taught that everything belongs to everybody. Master? Marxism was supposed to end class hierarchies. The reality is that Communism is nothing more than a modern form of feudalism that uses the pretense of egalitarianism to gain power.

And why did I have to turn to an upstart news network to learn this awful truth? Didn't any of my college professors have a clue? Doesn't the New York Times have a reporter in Moscow?

And now President Roosevelt is seeking closer ties with the USSR. Maybe someday this country will care if a dictator kills six million people. But not today.

Jay Manifold [5:32 AM]

[ 20030406 ]

The Joy of Sets (A Continuing Series)

Arcturus seems to occupy a unique position on the Venn diagram of the blogosphere. I am linked to by Armavirumque (the New Criterion's blog) -- and The Lefty Directory. I'm also among the blogs4God -- but the proprietor of A House at Pooh Corner found me by Googling "atheist blogs." I suppose I could say that I resist categorization, but evidently I don't resist it at all. And I've given permalinks to all of them. ;)

Jay Manifold [5:09 PM]

[ 20030405 ]

Still More New Real Estate

Read all about it here, or you can jump straight to the diagram and table. More retrograde irregulars!

The new moons -- 18 so far this year, bringing the total to 58 -- orbit Jupiter at average distances of, typically, 23 million kilometers. From such a vantage point, Jupiter would appear about two-thirds the size of the Moon as seen from Earth, but would be about a hundred times fainter than a full Moon. Their average orbital period is just over 700 days, so they travel around Jupiter only about six times in one Jovian year.

Nearly all are at least 10,000 times too faint to be seen by the unaided eye, and most are perhaps 2 kilometers in diameter, assuming their albedo is around 0.15, meaning that their surfaces are fairly dark but slightly lighter than that of the Moon. Assuming a bulk density of 2 g cm-3, surface gravity on one of the new moons would be about 0.006% of Earth's; "orbital velocity" around the moon would be about half a meter per second, and "escape velocity" would be about two-thirds of a meter per second.

Jay Manifold [8:56 PM]

Throwing Rocks At Them

Nice discussion of kinetic-kill weapons over on Transterrestrial Musings. In fact, concrete bombs have been in use for years in the no-fly zones, and now they're being used against tanks (the blue color is a convention for duds or practice rounds -- see this earlier post for another recent significant occurrence of blue-painted munitions). Just as with the strikes on air-defense radars, the idea is to avoid killing noncombatants.

So how does dropping a high-tech rock on something compare with using high explosives? Recalling KE = ½mv2, and that 1 kg of TNT = 4.2 MJ, let's run a few different cases:

  1. The VOA transcript I linked to above states that the mass of the bombs used against air defenses was 900 kg, and implies that their velocity was 220 m sec-1. Plugging these values into the equation yields ~22 MJ, or 5 kg TNT equivalent.

  2. The current story involves 450 kg bombs being dropped by Tornados traveling at an unknown velocity. If it's high subsonic, say 300 m sec-1, we get ~20 MJ, just under 5 kg TNT equivalent.

  3. But looking at the specs and imagining a 450-kg projectile at the Tornado's top speed, 650 m sec-1, ups the KE to ~95 MJ, or nearly 23 kg TNT equivalent.

  4. For the extreme case, we turn to Project Thor (an actual proposal developed at Boeing in the early 1960s by, among others, Jerry Pournelle, and accordingly immortalized in Footfall). Now the projectile masses only 27 kg*, but it's doing orbital velocity, around eight thousand meters per second. KE = 864 MJ, the equivalent of over 200 kg of TNT.

For any given projectile, the velocity at which its kinetic energy becomes equivalent to that of the explosion of the same mass of TNT is about 2,900 m sec-1. For comparison, howitzer muzzle velocities are typically well under 1,000 m sec-1, and the speed of sound at sea level is around 340 m sec-1.

* Assumptions: 5 cm diameter, circular cross-section, 2 m long, composed of steel with a coating of ablative material, bulk density 7 g cm-3.

Jay Manifold [8:09 PM]

Letter to the Editor from a Parallel Universe

Well, they don't label it as such (scroll down to "War to end all wars"), but evidently it is:

When we dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, unspeakable acts to end the war, I watched my TV with my hands almost covering my eyes.

OK, Arcturians, it's time for another contest. Draft a letter to the editor describing a famous historical event that you "watched on TV," and describe your emotional reaction. As implied by the above, actual television transmission and reception hardware need not have been present. In fact, you need not have been present. Send your letter here by, oh, we'll give this one a week: deadline 2359 CDT next Saturday the 12th (0459 UT Sun 13 Apr). I'll publish a selection of the best submissions shortly thereafter.

Jay Manifold [10:00 AM]

Western Superiority and "Salam Pax"

With apologies in advance to all the readers whose e-mails I haven't gotten to yet: occasional correspondent Scott Cole, writing from a USNavy facility in Japan (this is heavily edited, as it was a multi-topic e-mail), says:

Even though we are busy (no role in the war for me though, our job is in the West Pacific and we stay here in case North Korea acts up) and have not had time to write I feel I want to write about the Salam Pax bandwagon. I wish the guy well but I do have problems with his thought process.

And the biggest problem is something I've noticed too:

He quotes Samuel P. Huntington: "The West won the world not by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion but rather by its superiority in applying organized violence. Westerners often forget this fact, non-Westerners never do."

But this simply begs the question: where did that "superiority in applying organized violence" come from? Scott points out, in so many words, that it ain't the violence, it's the organization:

... our ideas and values (and probably religion) [brought] to life a culture that is superior in applying organized violence, and ... we are superior in applying human rights, a clean environments, woman's rights, gay rights, you name it.

Blunt assertions of Western cultural superiority are considered impolite these days, but alternative explanations are much worse: 1) Westerners are inherently more violent (an extreme-left belief) or 2) Westerners are just more superior people, period (an extreme-right belief). So for a dose of reality, let's turn to a recent article by UPI Chief International Correspondent Martin Walker:

... the real genius of the modern American way of war is the way they have combined their logistics with the best of civilian technology, from communications to information technology. It is one thing to marvel at the way the Vth Corps post office in Kuwait delivers 100 tons of incoming mail a day, quite another to see the massed ranks of PCs in the giant hangars at Camp Doha, with GIs e-mailing home and surfing the Web to see what al-Jazeera or the British media has to say about their war.

The supply systems are stupendous, because the U.S. military has applied the technologies of commercial companies such as Fed-Ex and Wal-Mart to track the use of equipment, locate spare parts through bar codes, and start shipping them forward to the combat troops even before they ask for them. German troops froze for months in their Russian campaigns. American troops outside Nasariya were able to take hot showers less than 48 hours after they reached the place -- despite the worst sandstorm in a decade.

There's a saying in the military that strategy is for amateurs, but logistics is for professionals. Those logistics, as Walker noted, are developed and honed in the private sector -- there's a more than passing resemblance between, for example, USArmy Field Manual 100-14 and the PMBOK. And as Harold Kerzner has said, nothing improves project management practices like economic recessions (I heard him speak a year and a half ago here in KC; he expressed a wish that the current downturn would "last 20 years"). As good as our organizing ability is now, it will be much better in the near future.

The outstanding risk to be managed in postwar Iraq won't be physical reconstruction or even security against terrorist attack: it will be the prevailing culture. If there are enough guys like Salam Pax -- who may have a thing or two to learn (and don't we all?) but is light-years ahead of the mentality usually on public display in that part of the world -- Iraq has a pretty good chance. So let's all hope he keeps his head down and is in a position to help out afterward.

Jay Manifold [9:44 AM]

[ 20030404 ]

"No Reason to Form an Image"

The latest issue of Science News has Pictures Only a Computer Could Love, a survey of the amazing new counterintuitive developments in optics:

By weaning themselves away from conventional optics, some researchers are bestowing microscopes and other optical instruments with extraordinarily crisp focusing powers across their entire field of view—a characteristic known as extended depth of field. The lenses under development for these purposes point to many other promising prospects, optics developers say, including cameras no thicker than business cards and improved iris-scanning devices for detecting terrorists in airports.

LASIK may soon seem primitive by comparison to

[t]he goal of another highly speculative project ... to restore visual acuity in elderly people even though their ocular lenses no longer focus adequately. The idea, says [Edward R.] Dowski [Jr. of CDM-Optics], is to use waveform-coding optics built into contact lenses—or perhaps even eventually carved into corneal tissue by a laser-not to render everyday scenes as recognizable images but as patterns that the brain could learn to decipher.

And the new techniques could apply to everything from radar to X-rays:

Going beyond optical phenomena, engineers anticipate making similar lenses that can process other portions of the electromagnetic spectrum, says David J. Brady of Duke University in Durham, N.C. "It's a general change in the way you think about sensing," he says. Among the technologies that may be strengthened are radar, computerized axial tomography (CAT) X-ray scanners, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) systems.

Read the whole thing.

Jay Manifold [7:22 AM]

Fun Reading

Well, I think it's fun ... via this entry by Judith Weiss of Kesher Talk over at the Command Post, Phil Carter points to the USArmy's field manual on risk management.

Jay Manifold [7:09 AM]

[ 20030403 ]

Red Sector A

'All we can do is try to stay alive' -- CNN

All that we can do is just survive
All that we can do to help ourselves is stay alive

Ragged lines of ragged grey
Skeletons, they shuffle away
Shouting guards and smoking guns
Will cut down the unlucky ones

I clutch the wire fence until my fingers bleed
A wound that will not heal
A heart that cannot feel
Hoping that the horror will recede
Hoping that tomorrow we'll all be freed

Sickness to insanity
Prayer to profanity
Days and weeks and months go by
Don't feel the hunger
Too weak to cry

I hear the sound of gunfire at the prison gate
Are the liberators here?
Do I hope or do I fear?
For my father and my brother, it's too late
But I must help my mother stand up straight

Are we the last ones left alive?
Are we the only human beings to survive?

-- Neil Peart, 1984

Jay Manifold [8:44 PM]

San Francisco Fantasy vs Mississippi Reality

"Matt" beautifully dissects vicious Left Coast bigotry (mild language warning):

For someone who's grown up in a deeply religious family in the Deep South, the thought that anyone could actually compare us with tyrants and murderers, or still believe we ("we" as in "Deep South religious types" in general, not necessarily me personally or my family) are "pro-violence,""anti-outsider,""desperately fearful of the different," or want "women and minorities in their place" is mind-boggling. We aren't "the most homogenic" or "the least culturally diverse;" for most of Mississippi's history, "minorities" have made up the majority of the state's residents, which sure can't be said for the lily-white Northeast. To clue you in who didn't know: it ain't 1954. We have gay bars, we have abortion clinics, we have strip clubs and porno shops, Unitarian Universalist churches and Buddhist temples, punks, freaks, goths and even a few anti-war protestors. They don't get picketed or vandalized or firebombed. We don't hold workshops on sex, we don't revere it as an "artform," we don't believe it holds any special powers for the proliferation of peace, but do we like it? Yes. I mean, Hell Yeah! If Mr. Morford imagines we "fear and tremble and fret" when sodomy - or any other "abomination" - is mentioned, he needs a better imagination. Because frankly, we don't give a damn.

Jay Manifold [7:23 AM]

[ 20030402 ]

Stony Meteorite Explodes Above Chicago

Continuing on a Chicago kick of sorts ... this is tardy -- Rand caught it last week when it happened -- and any Arcturus readers in Chicagoland are undoubtedly well aware of it, but anyway, here goes.

AP writer Rick Callahan reports (here's a picture) from Indianapolis:

Paul Sipiera, a professor of geology and astronomy at Harper College in Palatine, Ill., spent Thursday examining dozens of pieces of meteorites and plotting where they fell. The largest he saw was about 7 1/2 pounds.

He said the debris field appears to cover a path about 80 miles long by 20 miles wide from north of Bloomington, Ill., to Chicago's south side and possibly part of northwestern Indiana.

He said all of the pieces came from a stony meteorite he estimates was about the size of a Volkswagen bug when it exploded as it plunged into Earth's atmosphere.

A spokesman for the U.S. Strategic Command in Omaha, Neb., said the defense installation was not tracking any manmade space objects in the area at the time that the light show appeared over the Midwest.

So it wasn't a meteor shower in the usual sense; it was a shower of meteorites from a single large object. Now suppose "the size of a Volkswagen bug" means a volume of 10 m3, and it had a density of 3 g cm-3. Total mass would have been 30 metric tons, and mean radius would have been about 1.3 meters. The Kusaie event (~100 kT) was caused by a stony meteorite about 15 meters in diameter, and the famous Tunguska event (~10 MT) by one about 60 meters in diameter.

This suggests that the energy of explosion was, very roughly, seven-tenths of a kiloton. Had it occurred at low altitude, by which I mean on the order of 100 meters above the ground, it would have flattened everything in an area half a kilometer across and blown out windows over several square kilometers. And we didn't see it coming. Have a nice day.

Jay Manifold [5:46 PM]

Shock and Awe on Lake Shore Drive

Via Amish Tech Support, we read that Daley the Younger has created a "no-fly zone" -- over the Loop:

Without notice, he sent heavy equipment into Meigs Field under police guard to begin demolishing the lakefront airport.

In more innocent times, I recall using Microsoft Flight Simulator to take off from Meigs and crash into the Sears Tower. Now that's the only way it'll ever happen:

The mayor acknowledged there were no specific security threats to Meigs, but insisted that closing the airport could someday help prevent a tragedy in which a terrorist aboard a small plane might slam into a high rise or big crowd downtown.

Jay Manifold [6:24 AM]

America Never Started A War Before Now

Well, except for these:

Revolutionary War: Anti-government group amasses arsenal, including artillery (!). British authorities attempt to seize it, and Americans start shooting at them, subsequently surrounding entire North American contingent of British army in Boston. Continental Congress drafts Declaration of Independence fourteen months later.

War of 1812: President Madison pressured into asking for declaration of war by "war hawks" elected to Congress in 1810. Called "Mr Madison's War." Americans invade Canada three times, all failures.

Mexican War: Americans claim land between Nueces and Rio Grande rivers in Texas. Mexicans ignore claim. Americans invade and seize half of Mexico.

Civil War - South: Seven states refuse to accept result of presidential election and secede, making prominent mention of slavery in their secession resolutions. South Carolinians start shooting at Fort Sumter.
Civil War - North: Although no one was killed at Fort Sumter, Lincoln vows to invade and subjugate the South. After this announcement, four more states secede, giving the South a preponderance of talented generals and ensuring a long, bloody conflict.

Spanish-American War: Spontaneous combustion of coal in bunker next to powder magazine causes battleship Maine to explode in Havana harbor. Hearst newspapers claim Spanish sabotage. Americans attack, seizing Cuba and the Phillipines (10,000 miles away).

Vietnam War: Two days after covert operations against North Vietnamese coastal defenses by American patrol boats, an American destroyer is fired on, but is hit by only one bullet. After more shelling of coastal defenses by American patrol boats, another destroyer sees attacking North Vietnamese vessels on radar, and opens fire, but no visual contact is made. American aircraft carry out "retaliatory" airstrikes, and US Senate passes Gulf of Tonkin Resolution by a vote of 98-2.

For the sake of brevity, I left numerous interventions in Central America and the Middle East off the list. There are good reasons to oppose this war, but the "entrance criteria" of earlier wars do not provide them.

Jay Manifold [6:02 AM]

[ 20030401 ]

Great April Fools' Joke

There's a really good one here, full of long-since-demolished arguments (the US sold Iraq WMD, all UNSC resolutions are the same, all WMD evidence was fabricated, etc). At least, I assume it's intentionally humorous ...

Jay Manifold [11:00 AM]

Astounding Technical Breakthrough

It's one full year old, but still remarkable. You can read all about it here.

UPDATE: And here's another.

Jay Manifold [6:20 AM]