Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Daily Deliberation #5

I've heard the following advice many times in my life: "Never apologise". Is it good advice?

Corollary: celebrities always answer the question "Do you have any regrets?" with "No regrets". Are they lying? Is it possible to live life without having regrets?

Sunday, July 29, 2007

A "Nixon goes to China" moment

When the New York Times publishes an editorial titled "A War We Just Might Win", its a signal for Al Quaeda to start looking for another failed nation to infect:
Here is the most important thing Americans need to understand: We are finally getting somewhere in Iraq, at least in military terms. As two analysts who have harshly criticized the Bush administration’s miserable handling of Iraq, we were surprised by the gains we saw and the potential to produce not necessarily “victory” but a sustainable stability that both we and the Iraqis could live with.

After the furnace-like heat, the first thing you notice when you land in Baghdad is the morale of our troops. In previous trips to Iraq we often found American troops angry and frustrated — many sensed they had the wrong strategy, were using the wrong tactics and were risking their lives in pursuit of an approach that could not work.

Today, morale is high. The soldiers and marines told us they feel that they now have a superb commander in Gen. David Petraeus; they are confident in his strategy, they see real results, and they feel now they have the numbers needed to make a real difference.

Everywhere, Army and Marine units were focused on securing the Iraqi population, working with Iraqi security units, creating new political and economic arrangements at the local level and providing basic services — electricity, fuel, clean water and sanitation — to the people. Yet in each place, operations had been appropriately tailored to the specific needs of the community. As a result, civilian fatality rates are down roughly a third since the surge began — though they remain very high, underscoring how much more still needs to be done.

In Ramadi, for example, we talked with an outstanding Marine captain whose company was living in harmony in a complex with a (largely Sunni) Iraqi police company and a (largely Shiite) Iraqi Army unit. He and his men had built an Arab-style living room, where he met with the local Sunni sheiks — all formerly allies of Al Qaeda and other jihadist groups — who were now competing to secure his friendship.

It's also a signal for Democrats to get serious if they really want us to lose this war. The jaws of victory won't stay open forever.


Buried in the comments of this post at Great Guys Weblog, is this excerpted trivia gem:
I think you are wrong about the telephone. Early adopters included the rich, but the real go-getters were doctors (who gained greatly in efficiency in the days of house calls) and dry-goods merchants. Not poor, but hardly to be counted among the overprivileged.

And cowboys. At the XIT, the world's biggest ranch, cowboys carried handsets in their saddlebags with magnetos. They would hook them to the barbwire and were able to shout simple messages back to the ranchhouse. The first mobile phones, and these were adopted at least as early as, if not earlier than, the installation of phones in mansions.

~ Harry Eagar

Fast Facts Nation

For the amount of money spent on health and diet issues, we as a civilization are still appallingly ignorant on what causes us to be fat. To judge by food advertizing, you would imagine that the number one dietary culprit is fat. it isn't. Fat does not make you fat. The only macronutrient that has the capacity to put fat on your frame is carbohydrates, pure and simple. Yet we continue to indict meats, with their associated fat, and fried foods drenched in oil and shortening. Yet if you broke down the real culprits in the McDonald's diet made famous in the book and documentary film "Fast Food Nation", they would be the bun in the Big Mac, the potato in the French Fries, and the sugar in the supersized drink. The meat and the frying oil are innocent.

Now there are other health issues related to the consumption of fat. More precisely it is the kind of fat that matters; trans-fats and saturated fats, which are not natural products but manufactured, present risks for cardio-vascular disorders. But the natural fats from meats, fish and plants, especially olive oil, do not present health risks by and large, and do not contribute to weight gain.

As a personal example, I've lost over 30 pounds since April on a low carbohydrate diet, first popularized by Dr Robert Atkins - and that's without any exercise program to speak of. The beauty of the low carb approach is in the knowledge of why it works. The only way that fat comes to be stored is through the workings of the hormone insulin. Insulin is released into the bloodstream in response to elevated blood sugar levels. It converts blood sugar molecules to body fat. If blood sugar levels rarely or never rise to an excess level, then insulin will not be triggered to convert it to fat.

Dietary protein and fat have negligible impacts on blood sugar levels. No matter how much of these macronutrients you ingest, your blood sugar level will never spike to excessive levels necessitating the release of insulin. But when the body is starved of blood sugar, it reverts to a secondary metabolic pathway to meet the body's energy needs, involving the hormone glucagon which acts in an opposite manner to insulin:
Glucagon is an important hormone involved in carbohydrate metabolism. Produced by the pancreas, it is released when the glucose level in the blood is low (hypoglycemia), causing the liver to convert stored glycogen into glucose and release it into the bloodstream. The action of glucagon is thus opposite to that of insulin, which instructs the body's cells to take in glucose from the blood in times of satiation.

Yet contrary to the established science, we're still fed the low fat mantra. Food has such political and cultural significance that I doubt that the science of nutrition can ever get a fair, unbiased hearing in the public eye. The cultural and political forces arrayed against meat and fat are considerable. First and most obviously are the vegetarian and anti animal cruelty lobbies. The subversive idea that Homo Sapiens evolved as a carnivorous omnivore that isn't capable of producing all of its needed proteins from plant sources alone is just too dangerous for them to admit to.

Secondly, I think that the legacy of the Food Pyramid makes the idea that any diet that is not dominated by breads and cereals is somehow redical and dangerous. Breads and grains are embedded in our culture, but from an evolutionary timeline perspective agricultural products are a very recent innovation to our diet for which our "legacy" metabolic hardware has not properly adapted to as a primary source of nutrition. In The Paleolithic Prescription, by by S. Boyd Eaton, M.D., Marjorie Shostak, Melvin Konner, MD PHD, the authors explore the diet that our hunter-gatherer Paleolithic ancestors, which our body has evolved to emulate, and how different it is from the agricultural diet that has been our legacy for the last 12,000 years. The book presents the evidence that the Agricultural Revolution was disastrous for the health and longevity of the great mass of mankind for the majority of history leading up to the modern era, where the ready availability of animal protein has restored some of the bodily vigor that was lost in the transition to agriculture. Food "traditionalists" who worship agriculture and the settled agrarian lifestyle may be put out by this realization, but the true traditional diet for mankind is heavy on meat and wild, unrefined plant sources like nuts, seeds and fruits, and has no place for refined breads and cereals.

Update: This article by Gary Taubes goes into great detail about the development of the low fat mantra, beginning in the 1970s with Congressional hearings chaired by Senator George McGovern, and shows how the government, the AMA and leading medical institutions conspired (with good intentions, of course) to inflict an obesity epidemic on the American people through politically correct junk science. It is long, but well worth a read. If you're not a low carb believer now, you will be after reading his article. Here are a few worthy quotes:
Atkins was by no means the first to get rich pushing a high-fat diet that restricted carbohydrates, but he popularized it to an extent that the American Medical Association considered it a potential threat to our health. The A.M.A. attacked Atkins’s diet as a ‘‘bizarre regimen’’ that advocated ‘‘an unlimited intake of saturated fats and cholesterol-rich foods,’’ and Atkins even had to defend his diet in Congressional hearings.

Thirty years later, America has become weirdly polarized on the subject of weight. On the one hand, we’ve been told with almost religious certainty by everyone from the surgeon general on down, and we have come to believe with almost religious certainty, that obesity is caused by the excessive consumption of fat, and that if we eat less fat we will lose weight and live longer. On the other, we have the ever-resilient message of Atkins and decades’ worth of best-selling diet books, including ‘‘The Zone,’’ ‘‘Sugar Busters’’ and ‘‘Protein Power’’ to name a few. All push some variation of what scientists would call the alternative hypothesis: it’s not the fat that makes us fat, but the carbohydrates, and if we eat less carbohydrates we will lose weight and live longer.

The perversity of this alternative hypothesis is that it identifies the cause of obesity as precisely those refined carbohydrates at the base of the famous Food Guide Pyramid—the pasta, rice and bread—that we are told should be the staple of our healthy low-fat diet, and then on the sugar or corn syrup in the soft drinks, fruit juices and sports drinks that we have taken to consuming in quantity if for no other reason than that they are fat free and so appear intrinsically healthy. While the low-fat-is-good-health dogma represents reality as we have come to know it, and the government has spent hundreds of millions of dollars in research trying to prove its worth, the low-carbohydrate message has been relegated to the realm of unscientific fantasy.
It was Ancel Keys, paradoxically, who introduced the low-fat-is-good-health dogma in the 50’s with his theory that dietary fat raises cholesterol levels and gives you heart disease. Over the next two decades, however, the scientific evidence supporting this theory remained stubbornly ambiguous. The case was eventually settled not by new science but by politics. It began in January 1977, when a Senate committee led by George McGovern published its ‘‘Dietary Goals for the United States,’’ advising that Americans significantly curb their fat intake to abate an epidemic of ‘‘killer diseases’’ supposedly sweeping the country. It peaked in late 1984, when the National Institutes of Health officially recommended that all Americans over the age of 2 eat less fat. By that time, fat had become ‘‘this greasy killer’’ in the memorable words of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, and the model American breakfast of eggs and bacon was well on its way to becoming a bowl of Special K with low-fat milk, a glass of orange juice and toast, hold the butter—a dubious feast of refined carbohydrates.

In the intervening years, the N.I.H. spent several hundred million dollars trying to demonstrate a connection between eating fat and getting heart disease and, despite what we might think, it failed. Five major studies revealed no such link. A sixth, however, costing well over $100 million alone, concluded that reducing cholesterol by drug therapy could prevent heart disease. The N.I.H. administrators then made a leap of faith. Basil Rifkind, who oversaw the relevant trials for the N.I.H., described their logic this way: they had failed to demonstrate at great expense that eating less fat had any health benefits. But if a cholesterol-lowering drug could prevent heart attacks, then a low-fat, cholesterol-lowering diet should do the same. ‘‘It’s an imperfect world,’’ Rifkind told me. ‘‘The data that would be definitive is ungettable, so you do your best with what is available.’’

It isn't surprising that the deplorable Senator McGovern's fingerprints would be on this government engineered health disaster, as he and his co-conspirators in the Democrat party had earlier managed to turn an American victory in Vietnam into a full-fledged massacre of the Vietnamese and Cambodian people by withholding support from the South Vietnamese government. But there's plenty of blame to go around for the quack science underlying the low fat debacle that made Americans the fattest people on the planet.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Daily Deliberation #4

Oroborous points out one aspect of the "Future" world that we live in today, which is the dominance of women in the halls of higher education. Beyond the implications for mate selection, one question demands answering: why? Is it reverse discrimination, a onetime blip that will even out in time, or are there deep socio-biological and evolutionary forces at play?

Thursday, July 26, 2007


Rodents to the rescue
Tue Jul 24

BOGOTA, Colombia - [For] the past year, a special Colombian police unit has been locking rats in cages with cats as part of a project to train the rodents to sniff out the more than 100,000 landmines planted mostly by leftist rebels across this conflict-wracked Andean country.

Bringing the rats face to face with an enemy allows them to stay more focused once they are released, veterinarian Luisa Mendez, who's been working with the animals for two years, told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

[The rodents are taught to freeze in front of mines, but had difficulty staying put for fear of being attacked by predators.]

"Here the cats play with the rats instead of attacking them," Mendez said. "The cats wear shields on their nails so they can't cause any injuries and as a result the rats feel comfortable playing around them."

Col. Javier Cifuentes, who oversees the project, said the rats' success rate in mine detection is 96 percent. Unlike dogs, the rats weigh a lot less and therefore don't trigger explosions.

Colombia is home to the world's largest number of land mine victims. Last year, there were 1,108 victims, or about one every eight hours, the government says. Nearly a quarter of the victims die from their injuries...

Welcome to the Future

Full article by Dinesh D'Souza here.

[At American colleges], the male-female ratio is approaching 40:60. That means that colleges are facing the scary prospect of having only 40 men for every 60 women. The men aren't complaining: even very ordinary guys now have a good chance of dating the attractive gals. But the women aren't happy at all. The Chronicle of Higher Education observes in its July 20 issue that "women are expected to fulfill a guy's sexual desire immediately or risk losing a prospective mate to the next girl in line."

So what are the colleges doing? The Chronicle reports that several colleges, both private and public, are making it easier for boys to get in, even though girls apply with comparable or better grades and standardized test scores. At William and Mary and the University of Richmond, for example, the acceptance rate for boys is around 13 percent higher than that for girls with matching credentials. The most surprising aspect of this gender discrimination is that no one seems to be objecting to it.

At first the feminist groups considered putting pressure on colleges to stop discriminating in favor of men. Then two things got in their way. The first was their own ideology of diversity. The feminists have been calling for gender balance for two decades now, and it's bit difficult to turn around and take the opposite line when the women outnumber the men. The second factor is women themselves, who have made it very clear that they want more men on campus...

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Whom for VP ?

Assuming that Hillary, (white female member of Congress), is the eventual Dem nominee for Prez, does it help her or hurt her to choose Barack Hussein Obama, (black male member of Congress), as her running mate ?

And does the calculation change if the nominee is Bill Richardson, (hispanic male Governor), or any of the white male members of Congress (current or emeritus), who are seeking the Dem nomination ?

What I did with my Summer Vacation

Memes on Parade

One way to look at the agglomeration of behavior and expectations that make up a culture is to view it is a set of interacting memes: discreet ideas that come to life, propogate, thereby affecting other memes as they do so, and, ultimately, pass into history.

Globalization has not only upset economic apple carts the world over, it has also provided an opportunity to assess the whole notion of memes, by examining how a culture absorbs new idea units.

Especially when it involves sex.

Notions of female beauty vary across societies, and even within the same society over time; the contrast between a 20s flapper and Marilyn Monroe, accomplished within merely several decades is striking.

No more striking, or faster, though, than the transformation sweeping Brazil.

Brazil may well be the most body-conscious society in the world, but that body has always been Brazil’s confident own — not a North American or European one.

For women here that has meant having a little more flesh, distributed differently to emphasize the bottom over the top, the contours of a guitar rather than an hourglass, and most certainly not a twig.

Until some memes invaded, and spread like kudzu.

[That] was before the incursions of the Barbie aesthetic, celebrity models, satellite television and medical makeovers made it clear just how far some imported notions of beauty, desirability and health have encroached on Brazilian ideals once considered inviolate.

The transformation has taken only a generation, going from

... Martha Rocha, a Miss Brazil from the mid-1950s. She finished second in the Miss Universe competition supposedly because her body was a bit too generous in the hips, buttocks and thighs, but since those characteristics were so highly valued [in Brazil], as suggested by cartoons and the popularity of the semi-pornographic drawings of Carlos Zéfiro that circulated, it was the rest of the world whose taste was questioned.

to a proportional inversion:

[Brazilian] Gisele Bündchen, the top model whose enormous international success has inspired the thousands of Brazilian girls who dream of emulating her to enroll in modeling schools and competitions. But very little about Ms. Bündchen’s body — tall and blond, rangy yet busty — connects her to her homeland and its traditional self-image.

This memetic transformation has not stopped at the runway. Girl's dolls have faithfully followed fashion, leading to the near extinction of a "fleshier" plastique to Barbie's top-heavy pneumaticism.

What Brazilians would have once viewed as odd quickly went from nouveau to norm.

Not without cost, it must be said. Anorexia, once practically unknown in Brazil, has claimed six young women within the last year, and diet pills are hurtling out of shops.

As a phenomena, this transformation is interesting enough. However, it begs many questions that the article's author either never addresses, or, at best, implicitly views as a form of cultural colonialism, with The West as the active agent, and brown skinned people as pure, but powerless, victims.

Centrally, Dr. Elisado de Araújo's statement just how far some imported notions ... have encroached commits the sin of passive voice: it eliminates the subject. In doing so, it relieves the writer of having to face the who and the why.

Plunging into Terra Incognita

I shall take up this cudgel, which will require venturing to where monsters lurk, terra incognita: the female mind.

Cue the chord -- is it G-flat? -- portending doom.

For men, deciding upon First Cause is a doddle compared to ascertaining what is going on in any particular woman's brain; indeed, the laybrinthian inscrutability of the female mind is so fathomless as to lend the impression that no woman really grasps what's going on in there, either.

Perhaps, though, peering into the collective female mind, with the calming effect of numbers helping to tame individual vicissitudes that put the zig in zag, just might yield some insight.

Why are trees so tall?

No, this isn't a refresher course in the art of non-sequitors. The facile answer is that trees are tall because they require sunlight to survive. Glaringly obvious, as far as that goes. Go one step further, though. If all trees agreed to be short, then no tree would have to go to the bother, and considerable expense, of attaining great height.

There lies the problem: all trees. Just one defector, and its neighbors have to reach for the sky, and consequently their neighbors, etc.

Just so with women. Being a successful mother -- that is, obtaining sufficiently favorable conditions to allow raising children through prolonged dependency -- is so demanding as to require significant resources and protection from an external source. What's more, since paternity is much more uncertain than maternity, women have to pursue a passive - aggressive strategy in acquiring a mate.

Consequently, women engage in adornment to a far greater extent then men. And like trees, the degree of adornment is driven by defectors.

If all women agreed to forego heels and accessories, none would need them. One defector, though, is all it takes to start the race for the sky. And since the payoff for defection is so great, defectors are a certainty.

Which comes first, the Demand or the Supply?

According to Dr. de Araújo, neither:, “[Brazilian women] want to get thin no matter what, all because of images from north of the Equator. It is a cruel cultural imposition on the Brazilian woman.”

No doubt conducted at stileto point.

This statement perfectly substantiates AOG's assertion that the Left deprives all non-Westerners (although in this case Westerner = Northerner) of any moral agency: the non-Western/non-Northern part of the world is simultaneously noble and passive.

It also highlights the prevalence of self evident intellectual laziness, both among reporters and the reported: in the complete absence of force, just how did this imposition occur?

The good Dr. hasn't a clue, because he isn't asking the right question, and he isn't thinking about how discreet units of cultural information take hold and spread.

Just like trees, all it took was one, or a few women, to act as defectors, thereby garnering for themselves more resources than their non-defecting sisters, who in turn had to join the boobs-race in order to keep up.

Men obviously had to react to this new supply with demand, but just a little examination demonstrates that statement accords to men an active role that is more apparent than real: women continually try new ways to push men's buttons, then home in on the ones that work; in the mating realm, men are puppets, and women search for which strings to jerk.

Why does Barbie trump Ipanema?

In other words, why did these particular memes (or, this particular meme if you wish to consider the several appearance changes as inseparable), so quickly predominate?

There is probably no way of knowing. Guesses verging on "just-so" stories will have to suffice. How about:

  1. The halo effect of all things characterizing the more materially successful culture.
  2. Scarcity value, the same thing that made female corpulence a sign of beauty in times of much less plenty than today.
  3. Mate selection tends to exaggerate existing gender specific differences
  4. The prevalence of Barbie images in the popular culture. (This, too, implies more agency than is actually the case, in that it completely begs the question as to why that standard became predominant in the first place: it is an answer that answers nothing.)

Memes on Parade: Runway Models as Lab Rats

The replacement of one beauty standard by another amounts to three distinct memes -- breast size, hip-waist ratio and buttock size -- permeating a culture in barely more than a generation. This change in memetic frequency is more than a metaphor for evolution, it is evolution.

The "what" is easy to see. Equally, it seems pretty clear that women, rather than being passive victims, are themselves the active agents. This is ironic, though; being the active agent is not necessarily a barrier to acting against interest. Just as it would be easier for trees to be just tall enough, mutual competition ensures tall enough becomes far taller than necessary.

This demonstration of evolution in action demonstrates how irrelevant either a designer or plan is. Recursive systems have no need for such things. It also shows that the difficulty of explaining the "why" part of the problem is also no reason to look for the Divine. Stuff doesn't need our understanding for it to happen.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Daily Deliberation #3

Is the genetic engineering of humans inevitable?

Monday, July 23, 2007

It is to Laugh

This headline caused me to chuckle; read the full article if you like:

The Case for Not Waiting Out This Presidency

Some choice bits:
Impeachment, which is now on everyone’s table except Nancy Pelosi’s...

Absolutely, if by "everyone" the writer means "almost nobody".
Don't look to Congress for redress.

If true, then impeachment's an impossibility, so why broach the subject at all ?

A massive Democratic Party effort to impeach Bush is #3 on the GOP's wish-list for '08, as it would effectively destroy the Dem Presidential nominee's ability to win the general election. Not waiting out this Presidency is a fool's game.

Underscoring the silliness of it all is this headline:
At 8a.m. Monday July 23: Google Search Shows 2,000,300 Results under "Impeach Cheney Bush"

If the author of this thinks that a mere two million results are impressive, then they should try searching the phrase "free porn" - or even "free handbags".

Further, at 9:53 a.m. Monday July 23: Google Search Shows 2,040,000 Results under "Impeach Clinton", which is a strong 39,700 more mentions than the "Cheney Bush" search, and yet we all know how that turned out.

But what else can we expect from a moonbat who puts "Cheney" before "Bush" ?!
Clearly their understanding of the U.S. Constitution is a bit, um... Murky.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Delivering Your Star Trek-ian Universe Under Budget, and 300 Years Ahead of Schedule

This just in, from the alma mater of a couple of my brothers, the University of Utah in Salt Lake City:


A new targeted drug delivery method uses ultrasound to image tumors, while also releasing the drug from "nanobubbles" into the tumor.

Cancer drugs can be targeted to tumors by delivering them in packets of nanoparticles, then releasing them with ultrasound. But this approach can be difficult because it requires a way to image the tumor prior to treatment.

Natalya Rapoport, Ph.D., D.Sc., of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City and colleagues describe a new method of drug delivery that may address this problem. Their study appears in the July 10 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Nanobubbles filled with the chemotherapy drug doxorubicin were injected into mice. The bubbles accumulated in the tumors, where they combined to form larger "microbubbles." When exposed to ultrasound, the bubbles generated echoes, which made it possible to image the tumor. The sound energy from the ultrasound popped the bubbles, releasing the drug. In mice treated with this method, the nanobubbles were more effective at blocking tumor growth than other nanoparticle delivery methods.

"Microbubble formulations have been developed for combining ultrasonic tumor imaging and ultrasound-enhanced chemotherapeutic treatment," the authors write.

Apparently They Displeased the Sky-father. Next Time Buy More at the Gift Shop, eh ?

24 Die After Bus Plunges Off Mountain

By THIERRY BOINET, AP, with Associated Press Writer Ryan Lucas in Warsaw contributing
Posted: 2007-07-22

GRENOBLE, France (July 22) - A bus carrying Polish pilgrims from a holy site in the French Alps plunged off a steep mountain road, crashed into a river bed and burst into flames Sunday, killing 24 people, authorities said.

Another 20 people were seriously injured in the wreck, which occurred at about 9:30 a.m. [next to the La Romanche River in the French village of Vizille], not far from Grenoble, officials said. [...]

Buses have been prohibited from using the 5-mile stretch of road -- which has a 7 percent grade -- without a special permit since a similar accident in the 1970s, also involving pilgrims.

The bus involved in Sunday's crash pilgrims had no such permit, firefighters said. [...]

A handful of missing passengers may have been thrown out of the bus and into the river, firefighters said. Crews were searching the river by helicopter and boat.

The pilgrims were returning from the shrine of Notre-Dame-de-la-Salette, about 25 miles south of Grenoble.

The prefecture of the Isere region in southeastern France said 49 passengers, a driver and another person -- likely a second driver -- had been on board the bus.

Marcin Szklarski, president of the trip's organizer, Orlando Travel [...] said 50 people were on the bus: 47 pilgrims, two drivers and a guide. [...]

Nestled between Alpine peaks, the Sanctuary of Notre-Dame-de-la-Salette is about 5905 feet above sea level. The complex was built on the site two local boys claimed the Virgin Mary appeared to them in 1846. It has since become an important pilgrimage site, drawing Catholics from around the world.

Since my concept of religion doesn't include any obligation upon God to continue people's mortal existence, I often find these kinds of stories to contain a macabre, ironic humor.

Kind of like the dozens (or often, hundreds) of people who get crushed/trampled to death EVERY YEAR by the fevered throngs on pilgrimage to Mecca.

Also, what's with "the Sanctuary of Notre-Dame-de-la-Salette is 'about' 5905 feet above sea level" ?!
Does the writer think that we care how many inches, exactly, the Sanctuary of Notre-Dame-de-la-Salette is above sea level ?

Friday, July 20, 2007

Power Politics in Asia

The stalemate with Al Quaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan has more behind it than the fevered reactionary hatreds of medieval Wahhabi clerics. There is a grand poker game of power politics between the regime of General Musharraff, his internal secular opposition, the Pashtun nationalists of Afghanistan and Pakistan's arch enemy, India. Vali Nasr thinks it is time for the US to deal itself in:
The National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) released this week paints a bleak picture of Al Qaeda's renewed strength and determination to attack America. And a major part of the blame, US officials charge, lies with someone President Bush has described as a critical ally in the war on terror: Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf.

Since 9/11, Washington has looked to President Musharraf to uproot Islamic extremism in South Asia. Nearly six years later, however, Pakistan is still a nuclear-armed crucible of jihadi culture, exporting terrorists and destabilizing its neighbors.

For too long, Washington has coddled the Pakistani general, turned a blind eye to his crushing of democracy, and read too much into his pro-West rhetoric. The US must change course. And there are signs it's about to. "There's no doubt that more aggressive steps need to be taken," White House spokesman Tony Snow said.

After almost a decade under Mush-arraf's rule, Pakistan hasn't changed much. He has initiated reforms and revamped the economy. But where he was expected to do most, fighting Islamic extremism, Pakistan's record is most disappointing.


It was only when Pakistani-backed Afghan mujahideen or the Taliban ruled Kabul that Pakistan felt secure in its relations with Afghanistan. Pakistani generals counted on the "strategic depth" that their neighbor to the northwest would provide in a war against India.

These days, they see Afghanistan as an adversary. They are irked by Afghan President Hamid Karzai's strong ties to Delhi and the mushrooming of Indian consulates across Afghanistan. The territory that they "owned" until 9/11, thanks to the Taliban, is now at best neutral and at worst the playground of their arch rival, India. Pakistan does not view Afghanistan through the prism of the war on terror, but in the context of its own vulnerabilities in the competition for power and influence with India. That's why Islamabad has everything to gain by playing the Taliban card, giving its fighters and their Al Qaeda allies a lair in Pakistan's border region, to keep Kabul weak and southern Afghanistan free of Indian influence.

In dealing with Pakistan, Washington has preferred to see the logic of the war on terror as self-evident, not recognizing that even close allies will not cooperate if it does not serve their interests. It is only by addressing Pakistan's interests that Washington can secure greater cooperation from Islamabad.

Washington cannot give Pakistan the sphere of influence in southern Afghanistan that it desires to make sure it will not be encircled by India. However, Washington can give Pakistan greater interest in Afghanistan's stability than it has now by encouraging Kabul to include Pakistan's allies and clients in government; and more important, to finally recognize its international border with Pakistan.

No doubt the Pakistan situation poses the greatest downside challenge to US interests than any other world hot spot. I'm frankly rather pessimistic that a deal could be brokered that would nullify the Al Quaeda presence in Pakistan. The only options in this are are bad and worse.

Daily Deliberation #2

Is one-world government possible?

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Have you no sense of decency, ma'am, at long last?

So does the Daily Kos accuse Cindy Sheehan, the military mom with absolute moral authority to criticize George Bush and the U.S. war effort in Iraq by virtue of her son's death in combat, for crossing the line that puts her beyond the pale by planning to oust Nancy Pelosi from her congressional seat. The Kos has revoked Sheehan's posting privileges at Daily Kos for hers betrayal of the one principle that is held sacred by all leftists: challenging an incumbent Democrat.

Now that Kos has proclaimed an official anathema on Sheehan, the left's rank and file are free to trash her memory, and the Guardian's Niall Stanage does just that in today's edition:
Even the American left's netroots are getting tired of Cindy Sheehan. It's a shame it took them so long.

Sheehan, the epic narcissist who became the face of the anti-war movement, has been banned from posting any further entries on Daily Kos, arguably the most influential of all liberal blogs in the US.

The Kossacks have pulled the plug on Sheehan because of her threat to challenge the speaker of the House of Representatives, Democrat Nancy Pelosi, for her congressional seat.

Sheehan has said she will decide on July 23 whether to go ahead with her attempt to oust Pelosi - who is, incidentally, about as liberal as congressional Democrats get - from her San Francisco district. "Democrats and Americans feel betrayed by the Democratic leadership," Sheehan recently proclaimed with her customary certitude.

As most people know, Sheehan came to prominence in summer 2005 when she set up camp outside President Bush's Texas ranch. She demanded to meet the president to discuss the death of her son, army specialist Casey Sheehan. He was killed in Iraq in April 2004.

It would be inhumane not to feel sympathy for Cindy Sheehan's loss. But it would also be softheaded to ignore the numerous inconsistencies, self-aggrandisements and missteps that have characterized her behaviour.

Sheehan's initial demands to meet Bush, and her escalating criticisms of him, had a peculiar genesis. Sheehan in fact had already met Bush before she rolled up to the ranch. Interviewed by a local newspaper after the early encounter, she restrained herself to rather mild criticisms of the war's conduct. Of Bush himself, she said he was "sincere" about wanting freedom for the Iraqi people. "I know he's sorry and feels some pain for our loss," she added.

That seems a rather circumspect judgment on a man she would later denounce as "the Fuhrer" and the biggest terrorist in the world.

Less than two months ago, Sheehan announced her "resignation" from the anti-war movement. "I am finished working in, or outside of this system," she wrote. She told the Associated Press: "When we come back, it definitely won't be with the peace movement with marches, with rallies and with protests."

All that remains is the show trial, and editing her out of all photos of her with prominent leftists.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Daily Deliberation #1

In homage to Bryan Appleyard's Ponder Posts, I am initiating my own brand of open ended queries into the seemingly mysterious workings of the universe. It also is a good way to keep traffic up in the face of a dearth of time to write proper posts.

Today's teaser: why are rural folk more conservative than urban folk?

Saturday, July 14, 2007


From the July 12, 2007 edition of WSJ.com's "Best of the Web Today", by James Taranto:
Writing at Wired.com, Bruce Schneier makes a counterintuitive but fascinating argument that draws on an academic paper by Max Abrahms titled "Why Terrorism Does Not Work." As Schneier sums it up, people have a "cognitive bias" that leads them to an erroneous conclusion about the motives of terrorists:

Because terrorism often results in the horrific deaths of innocents, we mistakenly infer that the horrific deaths of innocents is the primary motivation of the terrorist, and not the means to a different end. . . .

[Abrahms] analyzes the political motivations of 28 terrorist groups: the complete list of "foreign terrorist organizations" designated by the U.S. Department of State since 2001. He lists 42 policy objectives of those groups, and found that they only achieved them 7 percent of the time. . . . Terrorism is a pretty ineffective means of influencing policy. . . .

This theory explains, with a clarity I have never seen before, why so many people make the bizarre claim that al Qaeda terrorism--or Islamic terrorism in general--is "different": that while other terrorist groups might have policy objectives, al Qaeda's primary motivation is to kill us all. This is something we have heard from President Bush again and again--Abrams [sic] has a page of examples in the paper--and is a rhetorical staple in the debate. . . .

Since Bin Laden caused the death of a couple of thousand people in the 9/11 attacks, people assume that must have been his actual goal, and he's just giving lip service to what he claims are his goals. Even Bin Laden's actual objectives are ignored as people focus on the deaths, the destruction and the economic impact.

Perversely, Bush's misinterpretation of terrorists' motives actually helps prevent them from achieving their goals... [Emphasis added]

What Value Human Life ?

While having a discussion about how human life is valued, and whether the U.S. ought to be keeping the peace in Iraq, and whether it means anything that many people in America are outraged over the ~3,000 military deaths due to hostile action in Iraq over four-and-a-half years*, while accepting without protest the annual kill-rate of ~43,000 traffic deaths, my brother Siddhartha wrote this essay:

I think most people will agree, or at least profess,
that life is of primary importance; that is, that life
is more important than temporal possessions or
personal comfort. You cannot kill a person for
stealing property, for example. In such a world it is
wrong for me to refuse to give aid to a person in need
for the sake of my own convenience or comfort. We do
what we can to preserve life.

Most people soon realize that there are more
struggling and dying people in the world than they
have resources. The struggle then becomes an economic
one. How much of my own welfare am I willing to forgo
so that others might live? The answer is usually
proportional to our emotional attachment to the
suffering person. If they are a close family member
we are likely to give all that we have and all that we
can negotiate for, to secure their life. The more
detached we are from them the less of our resources we
are willing to part with. Immediate family, distant
relative, countryman, ethnic kin. The connection
becomes weaker and weaker.

Additionally, it is not merely our comfort that we are
giving up, in some ways it is our own survival. The
less money we have the less likely we will be able to
save for our own illness or accident in the future.
We buy cheaper product that are more dangerous
(smaller, lighter cars for example or cut rate food
products that are more likely to be unsafe), and we
subject ourselves to less healthy lifestyles. Stress
is implicated in many life-threatening illnesses. If
we agree with such a finding, every time we forego a
stress-releasing activity we are increasing our
chances of dying. Viewed in this light, the vacation
to Disney Land is not a luxury but an investment in
our future health.

Of course there are degrees, and no one would argue
that going to Disney Land is more important than
feeding a starving child, but when you factor in that
the child is a black child thousands of miles away, a
child whom you will never see or even know existed
except as a theoretical example, a child who is
unlikely to receive the food that she needs even if
you gave up your vacation due to corrupt governments
and other criminals who will intercept the aid, a
child who even if she did survive to adulthood (which
is not guaranteed even with adequate food) would most
likely be raped as a teenager and contract AIDS, a
child whose life even under the most optimistic
circumstances will be unpleasant, unproductive and
short. When you factor all that in, the trip to
Disney Land starts to look like it might just be best
for the world.

So in a world of economic tradeoffs we have to weigh
the possible good our money can do for others with the
good that it can do for ourselves. Additionally, if
we are going to give up some of our resources, we
would probably start with those closest to us

We also, as a culture, value self-determination and
believe that we are not subject to fate but are the
masters of our own destiny, suffering for bad
decisions as well as prospering with the good ones.
With such a paradigm we must also consider how we
spend our money as an intervention into the microcosm
of another person’s life. Remember the Prime
Directive is to not interfere with the internal
affairs of other civilizations. When we use our
resources to disrupt the natural consequences of
another person’s actions we are changing the outcome
of their personal evolution. Not to say that it
shouldn’t be done, but it must be done with caution
and consideration.

That paradigm forces us to question ourselves before
we get involved in someone else’s mess; what did they
do to put themselves into this situation? What are
they doing to help themselves? What will they do if I
use my resources to get them out of the situation?
The answers to these questions will guide whether or
not we get involved and, if we do, the extent to which
we get involved.

But let me get back to my original assertion: life is
more important than temporal possessions or personal
comfort. Let me challenge this assertion by stating;
life is merely an extension of comfort. In fact, life
in a constant state of extreme discomfort is torture.
There must be at least some hope of the discomfort
easing or a person’s will to live will not long
endure. Many people have been so miserable that they
would rather be dead than alive. Certainly this is
true of emotional pain as well as physical pain. We
can see that this is true in our own lives.

So, all life is not the same. We do not need to
compare our lives with others to see that is true, we
simply need to admit to ourselves that when we talk
about life we are really talking about the pleasure
that is derived from life. Where there is even a
small bit of pleasure derived from life we will say
that life is worth preserving. There are many people
in the world who live lives so miserable that I
wouldn’t wish to trade places with them who yet take
some infinitesimal amount of pleasure in there
existence and I say, there is value in that. But we
can make comparisons, and value judgments, and
allocate our resources based on the relative value
that we perceive both with regard to our own life as
well as the lives of others.

* While there have been ~3,600 military deaths to date, not all of them have been due to hostile action. People still drop dead of heart attacks, and have fatal traffic accidents, when deployed to a combat zone.

Bush Diplomacy Carries the Day

[No. Korea decides that the deal's as good as they're going to get]
By BO-MI LIM, Associated Press Writer
14 Jul 07

U.N. inspectors arrived in North Korea on Saturday to monitor the communist country's long-anticipated promise to scale back its nuclear weapons program, while the top U.S. nuclear envoy said he expected Pyongyang's reactor to be shut down in a matter of days.

An initial shipment of oil aid arrived hours earlier Saturday, in return for Pyongyang's pledge to close down its main nuclear reactor. The move would be the North's first step in nearly five years toward the de-nuclearization of the peninsula.

The 10-member team from the International Atomic Energy Agency was heading directly to Yongbyon, about 60 miles northeast of the capital, to begin monitoring the shutdown. [...]
[IAEA team chief Adel Tolba] said the team would stay in North Korea as long as needed to complete its work.

After years of tortuous negotiations and delays — during which the North argued its nuclear program was needed for self-defense — the reclusive communist regime said earlier this month that once it received the oil shipment, it would consider halting its reactor.

North Korea did not give any timetable for starting the shutdown but top U.S. nuclear envoy Christopher Hill said it would happen over the next few days.
"I think it's a matter of today, tomorrow, maybe Monday," Hill told reporters in the Japanese resort town of Hakone south of Tokyo.

Hill also said he expected the North to submit a list of its nuclear facilities within months, as was agreed to in February's round of talks.
"We expect the comprehensive list in a matter of several weeks, possibly several months," Hill said. [...]

Saturday's delivery was part of 50,000 tons of heavy fuel oil the North has been promised in exchange for shutting down the Yongbyon reactor. Pyongyang eventually will receive 1 million tons of oil for dismantling its nuclear program.

After the IAEA team installs monitoring equipment, personnel will remain at Yongbyon to ensure the reactor remains shut down, said a diplomat familiar with North Korea's file at the IAEA.
"The IAEA plans to have a permanent presence there, with some experts remaining at the site continuously," said the diplomat, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

North Korea agreed earlier this year to shut down its reactor and take other steps toward disarmament in exchange for the oil and other financial and political concessions in a deal with the United States, China, Japan, South Korea and Russia...

Associated Press Writers Anita Chang in Beijing and Bo-Mi Lim in Seoul, South Korea contributed to this report.

Not that I think that No. Korea will honor this deal over the long term, any more than they did the '94 deal with the Clinton admin., but the Bush admin. has long argued that a multi-nation process, rather than the bilateral talks between the U.S. and NoKo only that Bush critics pushed, was the best way to go.

And now those critics have no leg to stand on, as it's quite difficult to argue with apparent success, without giving the impression that one is as nutty as is Harold Pinter.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Filed under "Defeating the Purpose"

Subheading: camping - More campgrounds going Wi-Fi

Monday, July 09, 2007

Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus

Extreme bodybuilders turn into ugly muscled balloons

Anorexic girls look like Nazi camp victims as they try to look like size zero models

Our friends at Pravda are still at it, pointing out the decadence of Western capitalist materialism. Did you know that there is a thriving female sex tourism industry across the globe, and that the biggest tippers are women from Ottawa, Canada? Peter, do you know where your wife is?

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Thoughts on cultural diversity, assimilation and secular religion

This post is an exploration of ideas I've been pondering lately in the wake of the London and Glasgow bombing attempts, and pulls together some disparate threads from blogs and articles. It will ramble a bit, but that's what explorations are, extended ramblings.

In a comment on my post "Going wobbly on Modernity and the West" I referenced data from a recent Pew Research survey of American Muslims and their sense of loyalty and identification with America. Though the survey points to some reasons for concern, in general it shows that most American Muslims have integrated into their adopted society.

It also shows, surprisingly if you take the critiques of America as a bigoted, jingoistic, fundamentalist society at face value, that American Muslims identify with their adopted culture to a greater degree than Muslims in Britain, Germany or Spain. The disparity is most apparent with Britain, where 81% consider themselves Muslims first and British second. The same number for American Muslims is 47%.

I believe that the transfer of alliegance to America is so much greater because of America's strong sense of national identity and purpose. In fact, Americanism is rightly seen as a religion. I started reading Gelernter's book and will write more on it in the near future, but one of the points he makes about Americanism is that it is a religion of the here and now, and not the future afterlife.

I don't remember who said it, but I read somewhere that religion is mainly about the worship of the state (the tribe, the people, etc.). When the Zurich city assembly gathered to debate and decide upon theological issues surrounding the reformed Protestant Christian faith that they would approve for worship within their city, the issue of infant baptism was raised. They decided in favor of infant baptism based on the view that the word sacrament was derived from the Roman word sacramentum, which was an oath of loyalty that a soldier took to his unit, it's commanders and the Roman state. To the leaders of Zurich this aligned well with their own ethic of a community held together by covenants of loyalty to the city and to its way of life.

The genius of the American religion is that it is able to split off this civic aspect of religion from the metaphysical commitments of traditional religions. Thus it is able to integrate with any and all theistic religions, including "noe of the above". Thus it can bind the loyalties of Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Pagans and Atheists to a single shared sense of purpose. It can also do so across racial and ethnic distinctions.

So, in short, Muslims find it easier to assimilate to Americanism because Americanism is a positive, strong belief system and identity. Which is why I believe Muslims are not successfully adopting British identity, because the British do not possess a similarly strong and compelling national identity. In a review of Peter Mandler's book "The English National Character: The History of an Idea from Edmund Burke to Tony Blair" Max Hastings illustrates how confused and ambivalent the English sense of identity and purpose is:
Mandler notes that, from the late 1940s onwards, there was a steep decline in the traditional continental fascination with the English character, and, indeed, in home-grown analysis of it. We mattered less. The English, as well as foreigners, saw little to admire in themselves, and became increasingly confused about who we were. “Gentlemen” became unfashionable. The amateur spirit was perceived as having got Britain into the awful mess it had become by the 1960s. Mandler’s study pays insufficient attention to literary sources. One learns more about the English national character from Dickens and Trollope or, indeed, from any novelist, than from a study of this kind, which records various jokes, but fails to make any of its own. Just as Dickens contributed vastly to English self-perceptions in the 19th century, so Len Deighton’s 1960s spy thrillers vividly depicted the new Englishman’s contempt for the old one.

The expatriate Alan Pryce-Jones observed in 1968 that England was “an aquatinted country, full of very nice people, half asleep”. Mandler’s concluding pages portray a nation that has become deeply unsure of what it is, or wants to be. In the past half- century, most of this island’s inhabitants have become more concerned with personal than national identity. A 1963 poll for New Society showed that 73% of respondents thought that “individual happiness” was much more important than “national greatness”. I fancy that majority would increase in a similar poll taken today.

Even the nationalistic historian Arthur Bryant gave up, lamenting that “there is no unifying faith to bind us together”. In the late 1970s, the novelist Antonia Byatt without embarrassment applauded the virtues of multiculturalism: “I see our nation increasingly as a bright mosaic of little, unrelated patches.” Today, of course, we can see what dangerous tosh this was.

We perceive the threat not only to our social cohesion, but to our physical security, posed by an ideal of a nation in which nobody is required to display commitment to anything beyond self. If the age of John Bull, and that of Bulldog Drummond, is unlamented, we are learning by bitter experience that it is preferable to acknowledge almost any national character than none at all.

It is easy to mock our past ideal of identity, overwhelmingly defined by military achievement. Yet the replacement of the old national culture with one rooted only in personal self-fulfilment, in which the highest loyalties are offered to football teams, and new immigrants are permitted to live here as mere economic campers, is plainly a failure.

You can almost characterize this attitude as an anti-identity, or a revulsion against identities. It explains the sense of fear that some English commentators have of the strong, unambiguous sense of identity displayed by Americans, as evinced by an excerpt from Sandy Balfour's book "Pretty Girl in Crimson Rose" (via Random Distractions):
Swamped by the noise and heat I felt a disquiet at what I now realise was a relatively modest exhibition of American triumphal gloating. My response was to engage a colonel of the United States Air Force in conversation.

I told the colonel that I found the idea that he could kill me anywhere, anytime and under any circumstances unsettling. I mentioned that as a foreigner I found this less comforting than perhaps did the massed ranks of Americans at the air show. I pointed out that those of us who have disagreements with the United States assert our right to disagree, and to assert our own view of the world.

He said I was the first person he had ever met to say these things.

I asked him had he ever been abroad. He said no. We agreed that this probably explained it.

….at some point in the conversation the colonel mentioned a particular game of baseball. It is a game he umpired, and it took place one time in Sarajevo, in

‘But,’ I objected, ‘you said you had never been abroad.’

‘Hell no,’ he agreed, and then seeing my look of doubt he went on to explain. ‘By the time I got there, it was ours.’

Bryan Appleyard also displays this fear of a strong, unambiguous national identity, and identifies this fear, incorrectly I believe, with conservatism:
The two right wing movements of the last thirty years have both been anti-conservative. Neo-liberalism's glorification of the market subverted community, locality, custom and tradition. Neo-conservatism's rabid idealism is an affront to the anti-idealistic pragmatism of old conservatism. Thus 'right wing' and 'conservative' can no longer be regarded as synonyms. In fact, they never should have been. It was commonplace for late Victorians and Edwardians to regard socialism as a conservative movement. And G.K.Chesterton defined his own high Toryism as the support of the working man against vested interests. It was probably when the Russian revolution polarised political debate that the idea of conservatism as an anti-working class movement was born. Conservatism is not a matter of any specific policies, but rather it is an attitude defined by realism and a reverence for custom and tradition.

The problem with identifying conservatism with a love of custom and tradition is that customs and traditions are constantly shifting. What someone considers traditional today was borne of a wrenching, dislocating social change for our grandparents. Identities that are focused on the contingencies of time and place will dissolve as quickly as those historically brief, contingent social alignments.

Americanism, as an ideals-based identity as opposed to a traditions-based identity, can survive and thrive across temporal and geographical contingencies. The English mode of time and place based identity is the global norm, it's identity crisis is being shared by most national and ethnic groups, including the Muslim societies both in Europe and in their home lands. Paradoxically, multicultural policies do not soften these identity conflicts but intensify them. Americans might seem racist because of the demands they place on incoming immigrant communities to assimilate to American values and norms. It is not racist, but culturalist. I was chided by some of my non-American brethren for making a big deal about Muslims demanding foot washing stations in airports and other public accommodations of their traditional ways, but it is the little things like these that make or break the preservation of a single cultural framework in which multiple cultures can simultaneously share a single civic identity.

In that sense Americanism is a meta-culture. It allows for local expressions of cultural diversity while at the same time binding citizens together (sacramentum) under a shared, common identity and purpose. It makes demands on those it assimilates, but human nature yearns for belonging to a greater whole that makes demands and expects sacrifice. I think that many Muslim youth are turning to radical Islam out of frustration that their national societies, especially in Europe, are not making demands upon them or expecting sacrifices of them in the service of a greater purpose.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Climate Change: Apocalypse Now! Please!

By J. Christoph Amberger

As my business schedule ebbed and subsided toward the end of last week, I was able to combine my travels through Germany with visiting family -- and even a wedding. [...]

The day was warm, probably around 90 degrees. But if you heard the constant complaining of the wedding guests, you could have thought the wedding party was stranded on a downtown Baltimore concrete lot on a mid-August day wearing only paper napkins. The whining! The griping! Given that there is no self-respecting German who does not spend at least three weeks every summer roasting on Mediterranean beaches, trekking through remote Africa, or exploring Indonesia, the preoccupation with "heat" at home might strike you as slightly ridiculous.

But postwar Germans are keen on crisis. After living 40 years in the potential hot zone of the Cold War, peace and democratization of the East have left a void that needs to be filled. Accordingly, everyone in Germany has by now thoroughly convinced himself that he is experiencing the cusp of "climate catastrophe" firsthand. Right here. Right now.

My sister's boyfriend told an interesting story. He's a cameraman for a local news station. In May, a week or two of no rain had refreshed pop-climate theorists’ predictions of an immediate and instant "Versteppung" (turning into steppe) of the Mark Brandenburg, [the heartland of Prussia and in the former East Germany], as a result of the average American soccer mom's reckless driving of an SUV. He and his team were sent out to shoot pics of just how bad things are already.

Problem was, he found no steppe. He drove for hours and only found lush, green fields, forests and meadows, with multitudes of cranes and herons wading through well-filled waterways. He finally had to go to an agricultural institute to find yellow leaves on a test field that had to serve as irrefutable evidence that the Sahara is inescapably marching toward Berlin.

The next day it started raining...
London Bombers Sped to Glasgow, Authorities Say

Published July 6, 2007
The New York Times

HOUSTON, Scotland, July 5 — British investigators have concluded that the two men who carried out an attack at Glasgow’s international airport last Saturday had sped there after a failed attempt to bomb a nightclub in central London, a British security official said Thursday. [...]

A week after the intended bombings in London and Glasgow — with the potential to kill scores of late-night revelers and travelers — law enforcement officials say that the evidence emerging is that the two doctors were the main operatives, if not the leaders, of a network of other medical professionals. [...]

Much still remains unknown about the plot, including whether it was planned inside Britain, in Iraq or elsewhere. Altogether, eight suspects are in police custody in the
case. [...]

A British security official, who spoke anonymously under government rules, said investigators now believed that Dr. Abdulla and Dr. Ahmed had also tried to set off two car bombs in London a day before the fiery airport attack in Glasgow.

In the early hours of last Friday, the police discovered a silver green Mercedes outside the Tiger Tiger nightclub in London’s Haymarket. An ambulance crew saw what was thought to be smoke in the vehicle and called the police. A police officer removed a detonation device that used a cellphone, police officials said at the time. The Mercedes was packed with gasoline, gas canisters and nails.

A short time later, a second Mercedes laden with the same dangerous cargo was discovered in a “no parking” zone near Haymarket and towed away. Afterward, the police said that this vehicle, a navy blue Mercedes, had also been primed to explode but had failed to detonate, [for reasons that have not been made public...]

How stupid do you have to be to fail to cause gasoline and cylinders of natural gas to explode ?!?
All it takes is a spark or open flame...

And, what does it say about the British NHS that both of these certified morons were working as doctors in the UK ?
Possibly more lives were saved simply by ending these buffoons' medical careers, than by the failure of the bombs to explode.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Welcome erp to the blogosphere!

Longtime occasional commenter erp has opened her own blog "ERP's New Blog". Bring your six-shooter.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

How Common is This ?

Maybe I'm simply ignorant about how many beauty-contest contenders come from gritty backrounds, but I was a bit disconcerted to read that the new Miss Utah, Jill Stevens, crowned on the 30th of June, is a combat veteran who did an 18-month tour in Afghanistan, and is still serving in the Utah National Guard with the 1st Battalion, 211th Aviation.

So instead of the cliched "work for world peace", it's "one shot, one kill"... Hooah.

(Or maybe it's "actually do something that might bring some measure of peace to the world, instead of mouthing knowingly empty rhetoric").

More about Jill Stevens, good article.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Great, Now I Have to Respect Michael Moore

During an interview, Michael Moore reveals this:

In the film, you mention anonymously helping the man who runs the biggest anti-Michael Moore Web site to pay some medical bills. Now that your assistance is no longer anonymous, have you had any further contact with him?
Yes, I called him before the first time we screened it at the film festival in Cannes and told him it was me. I didn't want him to be surprised by it.

The moron misguided but at-least-somewhat-honorable-person still thinks that Cuba has a better health care system than do the U.S., which is a conclusion which cannot be supported by any real-world evidence, just ideological brain vapors.

One Trumps the Other

Exxon Mobil and ConocoPhillips [are] giving up their projects in Venezuela, rather than put up with any more guff from President Hugo Chavez — [reflecting] the troubles international oil companies are having as more and more governments around the world nationalize their oil and gas reserves. [...]

[The Wall Street Journal writes]: “One response is to move aggressively to find opportunities in politically stable nations. The wave of nationalization that swept the Middle East in the 1970s led to the development of the giant fields in Alaska and Europe's North Sea. Conoco pursued a similar path by creating a joint venture to tap Canada's heavy-oil deposits, which hold enormous reserves of oil, but are expensive to produce.”

The subtext here is subtle, but unmistakable: “Don’t worry about the stability of the world oil supply. And don’t worry about Peak Oil. Even if Chavez and Russia’s Vladimir Putin make it hard on the Western oil majors, they’ll rescue us with new finds in “politically stable nations.”

Readers given to paranoia might think this is part of some diabolical conspiracy to suppress awareness of Peak Oil. But that’s giving the financial media too much credit for ingenuity. After all, Peak Oil is already out of the bag — as I explained last month. It’s being debated openly on CNBC. BusinessWeek is giving space to guest columnists who take Peak Oil seriously. But among those in the media who’ve been familiar with Peak Oil for a while, the comfortable mind-set still prevails that further exploration, or new technology, or some other panacea will assure the continued steady supply of oil for the foreseeable future — because that’s how it’s always worked in the past...

~ Dave Gonigam

[The] world is full of X-factors, the unarticulated and unrealized knowledge that can be elicited only by experience and experiment. [...]

In his bet with Paul Ehrlich ... Julian Simon was able to predict confidently that the prices of five metals would decline from 1980 to 1990, [instead of there being catastrophic shortages, as Ehrlich maintained]. His prediction was based on a dynamic understanding of resource use; his mental model assumed increasing knowledge about alternative sources and applications, feedback from prices, and competitive pressures to do more with less. [...]

"Most experts believe that without deep changes in both industry behavior and government policy, U.S. microelectronics will be reduced to permanent, decisive inferiority within ten years," wrote MIT's Charles Ferguson in a famous 1988 Harvard Business Review article. He called for a government-directed policy to help U.S. chip companies threatened by foreign competition and denounced the "fragmented, 'chronically entrepreneurial' industry" of Silicon Valley.

Ferguson and his mandarin contacts just Couldn't envision an industry driven by microprocessors, software, and networks rather than memory-chip manufacturing. Instead, they assumed an essentially static world, anticipated disaster, and demanded industrial policy.

"Economists moved by the invisible hand," who understood the dynamic patterns of the industry but did not try to predict its exact evolution, knew more than Ferguson's "experts"-for the very reason that they recognized the limits of their knowledge.

Technocratic plans assume the very things they try to enforce: that the world is simple and easily controlled, that it changes only in predictable ways, that it can be mastered.

Predictions go wrong because there are many possible sources of error: environmental shocks, bad or incomplete models, bad or incomplete data, sensitivity to initial conditions, the ever-branching results of action and reaction...

~ Virginia Postrel, via Great Guys weblog


"Peak Oil" alarmists' worldviews seem curiously static, as if Americans won't drive smaller cars and burn more coal when oil prices rise enough to put a real hurt on, and as if there were no more oil to be discovered, a patent absurdity.

Like, Duh

A Challenge to Gene Theory, a Tougher Look at Biotech

Published: July 1, 2007
The New York Times

[Last] month, a consortium of scientists published findings that challenge the traditional view of how genes function. The exhaustive four-year effort was organized by the United States National Human Genome Research Institute and carried out by 35 groups from 80 organizations around the world. To their surprise, researchers found that the human genome might not be a “tidy collection of independent genes” after all, with each sequence of DNA linked to a single function, such as a predisposition to diabetes or heart disease.

Instead, genes appear to operate in a complex network, and interact and overlap with one another and with other components in ways not yet fully understood. According to the institute, these findings will challenge scientists “to rethink some long-held views about what genes are and what they do.”

Biologists have recorded these network effects for many years in other organisms. But in the world of science, discoveries often do not become part of mainstream thought until they are linked to humans.

With that link now in place, the report is likely to have repercussions far beyond the laboratory. The presumption that genes operate independently has been institutionalized since 1976, when the first biotech company was founded. In fact, it is the economic and regulatory foundation on which the entire biotechnology industry is built.

Innovation begets risk, almost by definition. When something is truly new, only so much can be predicted about how it will play out. [...]

For example, antibiotics were once considered miracle drugs that, for the first time in history, greatly reduced the probability that people would die from common bacterial infections. But doctors did not yet know that the genetic material responsible for conferring antibiotic resistance moves easily between different species of bacteria. Overprescribing antibiotics for virtually every ailment has given rise to “superbugs” that are now virtually unkillable.

The principle that gave rise to the biotech industry promised benefits that were equally compelling. Known as the Central Dogma of molecular biology, it stated that each gene in living organisms, from humans to bacteria, carries the information needed to construct one protein.

Proteins are the cogs and the motors that drive the function of cells and, ultimately, organisms. In the 1960s, scientists discovered that a gene that produces one type of protein in one organism would produce a remarkably similar protein in another. The similarity between the insulin produced by humans and by pigs is what once made pig insulin a life-saving treatment for diabetics. [...]

“The genome is enormously complex, and the only thing we can say about it with certainty is how much more we have left to learn,” wrote Barbara A. Caulfield, executive vice president and general counsel at the biotech pioneer Affymetrix, in a 2002 article on Law.com called “Why We Hate Gene Patents.”

“We’re learning that many diseases are caused not by the action of single genes, but by the interplay among multiple genes,” Ms. Caulfield said. She noted that just before she wrote her article, “scientists announced that they had decoded the genetic structures of one of the most virulent forms of malaria and that it may involve interactions among as many as 500 genes.” [...]

“Both theory and experience confirm the extraordinary predictability and safety of gene-splicing technology and its products,” said Dr. Henry I. Miller, a fellow at the Hoover Institution who represented the pro-biotech position. Dr. Miller was the founding director of the Office of Biotechnology at the Food and Drug Administration, and presided over the approval of the first biotech food in
1992. [...]

A 2004 editorial in the journal Nature Genetics beseeched academic and corporate researchers to start releasing their proprietary data to reviewers, so it might receive the kind of scrutiny required of credible science.

ACCORDING to [Jack Heinemann, a professor of molecular biology in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand and director of its Center for Integrated Research in Biosafety], many biotech companies already conduct detailed genetic studies of their products that profile the expression of proteins and other elements. But they are not required to report most of this data to regulators, so they do not. Thus vast stores of important research information sit idle...

Denise Caruso is executive director of the Hybrid Vigor Institute, which studies collaborative problem-solving.

This is news ?
Despite the foreboding tone of the article, bioscientists, doctors, and medical practitioners of every type have known for decades that biological systems have multiple redundancies and that there are few "silver bullets" that produce only one effect on the body.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

The Brits are going Biblical

The rains haven't lasted forty days and forty nights, but some religious leaders in Britain aren't willing to wait that long before identifying the real cuprit for the recent deluge: God's wrath.

The floods that have devastated swathes of the country are God's judgment on the immorality and greed of modern society, according to senior Church of England bishops.

One diocesan bishop has even claimed that laws that have undermined marriage, including the introduction of pro-gay legislation, have provoked God to act by sending the storms that have left thousands of people homeless.

While those who have been affected by the storms are innocent victims, the bishops argue controversially that the flooding is a result of Western civilisation's decision to ignore biblical teaching.

The Rt Rev Graham Dow, Bishop of Carlisle, argued that the floods are not just a result of a lack of respect for the planet, but also a judgment on society's moral decadence.

"This is a strong and definite judgment because the world has been arrogant in going its own way," he said. "We are reaping the consequences of our moral degradation, as well as the environmental damage that we have caused."

The bishop, who is a leading evangelical, said that people should heed the stories of the Bible, which described the downfall of the Roman empire as a result of its immorality.

"We are in serious moral trouble because every type of lifestyle is now regarded as legitimate," he said.

"In the Bible, institutional power is referred to as 'the beast', which sets itself up to control people and their morals. Our government has been playing the role of God in saying that people are free to act as they want," he said, adding that the introduction of recent pro-gay laws highlighted its determination to undermine marriage.

"The sexual orientation regulations [which give greater rights to gays] are part of a general scene of permissiveness. We are in a situation where we are liable for God's judgment, which is intended to call us to repentance."

He expressed his sympathy for those who have been hit by the weather, but said that the problem with "environmental judgment is that it is indiscriminate".

The West is also being punished for the way that it has exploited poorer nations in its pursuit of economic gain. "It has set up dominant economic structures that are built on greed and that keep other nations in a situation of dependence. The principle of God's judgment on nations that have exploited other nations is all there in the Bible," he said.

He urged people to respond to the latest floods by turning away from a lifestyle of greed to instead live thinking of the consequences of their actions.

The good Bishop needs to brush up on his Bible, as well as world history. The last chapters of the bible to be written date from the late 1st to early 2nd century AD, a few centuries shy of Rome's downfall. If you check the historical record, you'll see that Rome's decline accelerates after the empire adopted Christianity as its official religion, so I wouldn't be putting too much stock in a Biblical cure for Britain's ills.

His reference to "the beast" of institutional power contradicts itself. First he says that the beast controls people and their morals, then he blames the beast for letting people do as they wish. So which one is it?

But it doesn't surprise me to see quasi-scientific environmental doomsaying blending in with good old-fashioned Biblical variety. It was just a matter of time.