Tuesday, July 29, 2008

What is the White Thing to do?

The state of African-American America, particularly the specific subset descended from chattel slavery, makes for very depressing reading.The blanket statistics hide an even more awful reality in poor neighborhoods.
That 70 percent illegitimacy rate, troubling in itself, isn’t evenly distributed but is concentrated in poor neighborhoods, where it soars above 85 percent and can approach 100 percent.
Ghettos like Detroit, Washington D.C., Memphis, etc. have become nearly perfect distillations of self-reinforcing social pathologies. African-Americans, in contrast to the experience of other immigrant groups, have a very low intermarriage rate, most of which is attributable to black men. For these areas, the intermarriage rate must be very close to zero. We cannot count on the time honored method of blending disparate social groups to make this problem go away.

Despite an improvement in US racial relations so rapid and substantial that there is probably no parallel in human history, large portions of black America are intractably mired in self-reinforcing pathology, made somewhat ignorable to the rest of us by it being confined to areas we need not ever see.

These self-perpetuating hells, for which the term "dystopian" does not qualify only because they are not imaginary, are the spawn of chattel slavery, institutionalized racism, and Great Society welfare policies that proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that the road to ruin can be lavishly paved with good intentions.

The article at the top of this post, as well as this one, indicate that African-Americans are moving from victimology (the Left's default position) to personal accountability. Unfortunately, the corrosive effects of welfare and denial of human agency have so riddled African-American culture that all these efforts run head on into charges of acting "white", while denying some essence of blackness that is as essential as it is undefined. Stating, or doing, the obvious has become group betrayal.

For we white's, who collectively, if not at all individually, bear some responsibility for this, what is the right thing to do? Is there even a right thing to do that won't be completely counterproductive?

Standing back and watching with the best wishes for success amounts to nothing more than benignly knowing which parts of the country to stay the hell out of. However, absent dynamiting the school system (which runs into the problem of whites imposing a solution on blacks), what are the options?

Listing all the ones I can think of would leave a fresh sheet of notebook paper unblemished.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Not the NYT Headline

Analysis: US now winning Iraq war that seemed lost
AP BAGHDAD — The United States is now winning the war that two years ago seemed lost. Limited, sometimes sharp fighting and periodic terrorist bombings in Iraq are likely to continue, possibly for years. But the Iraqi government and the U.S. now are able to shift focus from mainly combat to mainly building the fragile beginnings of peace — a transition that many found almost unthinkable as recently as one year ago.
Considering the source, AP veterans who have been in Iraq for several years, and the conclusion, one would think that this story deserves somewhat more prominent display than, say, an article in the Life & Style section questioning whether there is a cat heaven.

While this story appeared to merit widespread spiking, other events treading that same path did reach the light of MSM day. In what must come as an unwelcome surprise to a locally prominent blogger,
BAGHDAD — The militia that was once the biggest defender of poor Shiites in Iraq, the Mahdi Army, has been profoundly weakened in a number of neighborhoods across Baghdad, in an important, if tentative, milestone for stability in Iraq.
Call me bold, but I predict there will be no apologies coming from MoveOn.org for bringing us the maliciously mangled "General Betrayus."

In hindsight, this turn of events, nearly unthinkable only 12 months ago, is the consequence of a fiendishly brilliant neo-con plan, unless it is proof positive of blundering to success.

How so? By giving the various Islamist forces a chance to get what they asked for. As with communism, this was a baby best defeated by not strangling it in the crib, but rather waiting for death through ignominious failure on its own terms.

Having been confronted with the consequences of sectarian slaughter bringing to mind the Reformation, the surge had the opportunity to walk through a door the Islamists had themselves opened. As an allied benefit, this also provided an opportunity for the Iraqis to act as moral agents, rather than mere puppets of the ugly unshaven head of the Western cultural imperialistic hegemon.

But wait, there's more! When bin Laden attacked the US, his goal was to demonstrate that the West had become so thoroughly degenerate that, even when faced with such an outrage, it would be unable to fight in its own defense. Toppling the Taliban, since it was accomplished primarily through proxies and airpower, failed to provide meaningful contradiction.

However, through conducting a ground war in Iraq, and accepting the losses coming with the territory, the US demonstrated bin Laden's, and, by extension, fundamentalist Islam's fallacy. An eventual victory in Iraq, looking ever more likely, will only serve to drive the point home.

As if that isn't enough, the turn of events will demonstrate to the MAL the awful amorality of their position on the war in Iraq, their utter inability to reason through the deeper strategic consequences, and their near traitorous behavior.

Ok, actually I think it rather more likely that administration policy contained nothing like this Machiavellian brilliance, nor was that brilliance available to anyone except in hindsight.

As for that last bit about the MAL? That is pure fantasy. We would long since have bought steel umbrellas as defense against flying pigs before that would happen.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Duck's Top 40: Oumou Sangare

I've not been a big fan of "World Music", but a work associate turned me on to this tune by Malian singer Oumou Sangare, titled "Yala". It really rocks! Check it out.

Midsummer Distractions

Posting will be light for another week or two. I'll be moving to new digs on the 1st, much culling and organizing and packing to do between now and then. To compound matters, I've recently rediscovered a social life. Luckily, the redoubtable Skipper is in fine form and picking up the slack.

Never fear. In due time I will require distractions from my distractions, and regular or irregular service will return. Enjoy the summer!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

I blame global warming

So far, 2008 has been an achingly cold year in Anchorage. Near record low temperatures in January and significant snowfalls into April. Adding insult to frostbite, since the beginning of May, daily highs, with just a few -- as in three -- exceptions have been two to ten degrees below historical averages. The average number of summer days with temperatures exceeding 70 degrees is 15. So far this summer, two. That is the fewest on record.

Clearly, this is AGW's fault, since just as surely as weather warmer than average is standing proof, so is decided chilliness.

So far, so what.

This summer's undeniable chill, though, brought to mind this AP story of a month ago in the Anchorage Daily News. According to a leading ice scientist, [there's] a 50-50 chance that the North Pole will be ice-free this summer, which would be a first in recorded history.

The cause?
The explanation is a warming climate and a weather phenomenon, scientists said.

For the last couple of decades, there has been a steady melt of Arctic sea ice - which covers only the ocean and which thins during summer and refreezes in winter. In recent years, it has gradually become thinner because more of it has been melting as the Earth's temperature rises.

Then, this past winter, there was a natural weather shift called the Arctic Oscillation, sort of a cold weather cousin to El Nino. That oscillation caused a change in winds and ocean that accelerated a normal flushing of sea ice in the Arctic. That pushed the older thicker sea ice that had been over the North Pole south toward Greenland and eventually out of the Arctic, Serreze said. That left just a thin one-year layer of ice that previously covered part of Siberia.
There are a few things that should jump off the page to anyone even barely capable of critical reading:
  • 50-50 means the ice scientist is right, no matter what. Great gig if you can get it.

  • "Recorded history." Hmmm. Just what does that mean?

  • "Warming climate and a weather phenomena" conflates the two in such a way that it is impossible to determine the contribution of each.
Having been put to mind, there was nothing to do for it except Google. From which I learned a couple things:
  • Recorded history, in this instance, actually amounts to every bit of 133 years.

  • Arctic temperatures have risen 1.2oC over recorded history, or about 0.094 degrees per decade. Restrict history to the 20th century, though, and that increase amounts to all of 0.05 degrees per decade.

  • And, by the way, it was warmer in the 1930s and 40s than in recent decades, and there is a little matter of current and atmospheric pressure variations making untangling the causes of arctic ice melting nearly impossible.
Which, in turn, brings me to the real point: AP is guilty of agenda journalism, just as is the Anchorage Daily News in which this article appeared as part of the daily dose of AGW indoctrination.

Contrary to Harry Eagar, the newspaper business isn't failing because of the internet, at least directly, or bad management. It is failing because it has stopped doing what Harry says only newspapers can do: be the primary source for the facts of whatever matter is at hand.

Only a few minutes internet investigation revealed this story's shambolic nonsense. So, indirectly, I suppose, the internet is responsible for the demise of the news business. It is now a doddle to reveal otherwise steaming heaps of dung.

The alternative explanation, I suppose, is the cock-up theory of history: sheer, glassy-eyed professional incompetence.

Either way, replacing this story with an equivalent amount of blank newsprint, then using it to train the puppy, would have been a win-win.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Duck's Musical Flashback: 1976 - A Dream Within a Dream

Alan Parsons launched his epynomous Project in 1976 with the conceptual album based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe, "The Telltale Heart". Parsons combined lush, evocative and aetherial choral and orchestral flourishes with percussion and electronic keyboard effects to create a unique and dreamlike sound. A subject fitting for this treatment was Poe's poem "A Dream Within a Dream", here with a prologue recited by Orson Welles from some other unidentfied work of Poe. Enjoy.

A Dream Within A Dream

Take this kiss upon the brow!
And, in parting from you now,
Thus much let me avow-
You are not wrong, who deem
That my days have been a dream;
Yet if hope has flown away
In a night, or in a day,
In a vision, or in none,
Is it therefore the less gone?
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.

I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand-
How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep- while I weep!
O God! can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?

Edgar Allan Poe

Evolutionary Fitness

The conventional wisdom on diet and health has been shifting to a new paradigm that takes as its basis the human body's natural processes, vis a vis our evolutionary heritage as hunter/gatherers. I've documented this new approach in Fast Facts Nation. Our body evolved to eat high energy, high fiber, low carbohydrate foods like wild game, fish, nuts and fruits. We are just now coming to terms with the terrible health consequences of our grain based, carbohydrate rich diets.

There is another side to the fitness equation than diet, and that is exercise. This field too is coming under the scrutiny of an evolutionary approach, and one of the pioneers leading the way is Arthur DeVany. This post from his blog circa 2005, when he started fleshing out the idea of evolutionary fitness, introduces us to the relationship between our paleolithic ancestor's environment and the types and levels of activity that were best adapted to survival in it.
Darwin and Fitness

In developing this idea, I take the Darwinian approach that has been so successful in the new fields of evolutionary psychology and medicine and apply it to physical fitness. But, I integrate a Darwinian perspective with the theory of chaos and complex systems. A deeper look at the evolutionary record, the new revelations in the biological sciences, my scientific work in complex systems, and my own personal experience as a life-long student of fitness tell me that the right model for understanding health and fitness must combine insights from evolution and chaos.

Non Linear Systems

When the body is viewed as a complex adaptive system exploiting evolved mechanisms, it becomes clear that conventional thinking about diets and obesity is wrong. The human organism is an open energy system, operating far from equilibrium. Diet and exercise programs that are mired in linear thinking (calories in/calories out) are inappropriate for understanding human energy metabolism. These models oversimplify the diet and fail to consider the non-linearities in human metabolism.

Ancestral Dynamic Patterns

Intermittent, intense, and playful exercise mimics the activity patterns that were essential to the emergence and evolution of the human species. High intensity, intermittent and brief training mixed with power walking and play is closer than aerobic exercise, high volume weight training, or sedentism to how our ancestors lived. We are hunter-gatherers and have been for all of human and pre-human history. Only 15,000 years have passed since the last Ice Age, not long enough for bodies suited for the sedentary modern age to have evolved. If such bodies ever do evolve they cannot have our minds, for the human mind evolved to live in a brain adapted to an energetic, versatile and dynamic body.

Metabolic Fitness from Chaos

The primary objectives for any exercise and diet program must be to counter hyperinsulinemia (chronically elevated insulin) and hypoexertion (wasting the body’s lean mass through inactivity)—these are the number one health risks in Western society. A natural diet, based on the evolutionary record effectively counters hyperinsulinemia. Intermittent, intense exercise in brief spurts promotes hormone drives that quench hyperinsulinemia and build muscle and bone density that keep you young and lean. These alterations in hormone levels and flux elevate your metabolic fitness.

In the book, I shall present new technology for exercise — power law training — that produces the hormone drives and metabolism that raises insulin sensitivity and lowers fat producing and muscle wasting hormones. The intermittent pattern of power law training is, in reality, as ancient as life itself. Power law training is the technology consistent with the intermittent and chaotic natural dynamics that science finds in all living things; it matches the rhythm of life itself and is found in the movements of wild animals, healthy heart beats, neuronal dynamics in the brain, and the music of Bach.

The Evolutionary Fitness Diet

The Evolutionary Fitness Diet is simple and nutritious. You eat nutritionly dense foods, that are low in calories and high in fiber and antioxidants. It will end your carbohydrate cravings and raise your energy level which is depleted by the blood sugar/insulin rebound and high serotonin levels promoted by high calorie foods. The diet is high in natural plant fiber, phenols, flavonoids, and phytochemicals, nature’s own cancer-fighting and antioxidant compounds that coevolved with human beings and were always an important part of the hominid diet before the agricultural and industrial revolutions.

The Evolutionary Diet is more than a diet, it is a program that integrates physical activity, food variety, and timing of meals to promote the growth and retention of lean muscle mass and shed fat. According to the research and my own experience, the sophisticated eating patterns of the Evolutionary Fitness Diet provide the anti-aging benefits of severe calorie-restricted diets without the costs.

Mind-Body Integration

Our brains and bodies are dynamic objects that thrive on challenge and movement; intermittent intensity brings key adaptations in hormone drives, neurological function, and body composition. The mixture of variety, intermittent intensity, and play of the Evolutionary Fitness program bind perception and kinesthetics to create a dynamic and positive self image which is the reference point on which our knowledge and living are organized. Movement and play build muscle and cognitive maps in the brain and repair the mind/body continuum.

The Big Idea

Your brain and body are evolved for life in 40,000 BC; take care of the hunter gatherer body and mind that you carry in that pin-striped suit.

DeVany's blog carries four years worth of blog entries chronicling the development of the idea. He is now charging a subscription for new content, has been developing seminars and will soon release a book. Interestingly, DeVany shares a mutual intellectual admiration with Nassim Nicholas Taleb, whose book The Black Swan explores power law dynamics at work in the world around us, the nature of extreme events and risk, and the evolutionary environment that fostered a human mind that is ill suited to understand and comprehend the nature of risks posed by our modern global technological society. I've read the book and highly recommend it.

The key to DeVany's approach to exercise is to model the distribution of physical activity that our paleolithic ancestors would have experienced, which followed a power law distribution across levels of intensity, where many hours and days of low level activity like walking were interspersed with short, intense bursts of physical energy - sprinting, climbing, throwing, fighting. This stands the current consensus regime of regular daily routines of moderate to high intensity exercise on its head. Indeed, DeVany has a whole category on his blog dedicated to the excessive exercise habits of amateur and professional atheletes titled Death by Exercise.

I think this idea has legs.

Update: Here's a link to a pdf article where DeVany explains his theory of evolutionary fitness in more detail.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Seeing is Believing Redux

Last week I compared religion and UFO enthusiasms in Seeing is Believing. In response Peter asked this quite reasonable question:
And BTW, what is spiritual or transcendent about UFO's and extra-terrestrial visitations? Aren't they perfectly rational and logical possibilities for those who believe there is nothing unique about the Earth and human life?

They may be perfectly rational and logical possibilities, but where I think they part company with rationality is not in the possibility, but in the calculation of probabilities. I've yet to hear or read an analysis based on reliable science that puts the probability that there are advanced alien civilizations within radio contact range with Earth at anything more than infinitesimally tiny.

To put it another way, it is perfectly rational to acknowledge that winning the Powerball lottery is possible. However, it is quite irrational for someone who understands the odds to play the lottery with an expectation of winning. Buying a lottery ticket is a faith-based act.

So I find this discussion by David Brin about the dangers posed to the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) movement, and possibly global civilization, by a dangerous, heretical offshoot called the Messages to Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence, or METI, to be far more of the realm of faith than science. The METI heretics, frustrated by the inability of the SETI effort to detect signs of ET transmissions through passive listening, intend to break the ice by actively transmitting signals to our intergalactic neighbors.
Let there be no mistake. METI is a very different thing than passively sifting for signals from the outer space. Carl Sagan, one of the greatest SETI supporters and a deep believer in the notion of altruistic alien civilizations, called such a move deeply unwise and immature. (Even Frank Drake, who famously sent the "Arecibo Message" toward the Andromeda Galaxy in 1974, considered "Active SETI" to be, at best, a stunt and generally a waste of time.)

Sagan — along with early SETI pioneer Philip Morrison — recommended that the newest children in a strange and uncertain cosmos should listen quietly for a long time, patiently learning about the universe and comparing notes, before shouting into an unknown jungle that we do not understand.

Alas. To date, groups that plan to engage in METI have done the opposite, keeping a low profile and avoiding discussion with experts in near-related fields like exobiology, bioastronomy, or evolutionary biology... or even historians who are knowledgeable about human "first-contact". Especially biologists and historians. (For reasons that will become clear.)

(In The Third Chimpanzee, Jared Diamond offers an essay on the risks of attempting to contact ETIs, based on the history of what happened on Earth whenever more advanced civilizations encountered less advanced ones... or indeed, when the same thing happens during contact between species that evolved in differing ecosystems. The results are often not good: in inter-human relations slavery, colonialism, etc. Among contacting species: extinction.)

Perhaps driven by frustration over the lack of SETI-gleaned signals, so far, the few dozen radio astronomers in this international community-of-interest now aim to poke at the experiment in hope of provoking a response from the stars. Moreover, those few who have objected — asking for a conference to discuss the matter — are dismissed as paranoid worrywarts.

Gee, you think so?

Though Brin is not an example of belief through perceptual error, like the Welshman I discussed in Seeing is Believing, he does demonstrate another path that leads to quasi-religious belief systems, what Nassim Nicholas Taleb describes in his book The Black Swan as the narrative fallacy:
We like stories, we like to summarize, and we like to simplify, i.e., to reduce the dimension of matters. The first of the problems of human nature .. is what I call the narrative fallacy. (It is actually a fraud, but to be more polite, I will call it a fallacy.) The fallacy is associated with our vulnerability to overinterpretation and our predilection for compact stories over raw truths. It severely distorts our mental representation of the world; it is particularly acute when it comes to the rare event.
The narrative fallacy addresses our limited ability to look at a sequence of facts without weaving an explanation into them, or, equivalently, forcing a logical link, an arrow of relationship, upon them. Explanations bind facts together. They make them all the more easily remembered; they help them make more sense. Where this propensity can go wrong is when it increases our impression of understanding.

I think the fallacy is in full view in this passage from Brin's article (bolding is mine):
In Russia, the pro-METI consensus is apparently founded upon a quaint doctrine from the 1930s maintaining that all advanced civilizations must naturally and automatically be both altruistic and socialist. This Soviet Era dogma — now stripped of socialist or Lysenkoist imagery — still insists that technologically adept aliens can only be motivated by Universal Altruism (UA). The Russian METI group, among the most eager to broadcast into space, dismisses any other concept as childishly apprehensive "science fiction".

(Ironically Dr. Alexander Zaitsev has modified this doctrine to suggest that advanced aliens are not only altruistic but also cowardly — thus explaining their failure (so far) to create beacons or beam messages at Earth. He reasons that the youngest and most ignorant technological race (humanity) is behooved to overcome this universal cowardice by boldly announcing ourselves.)

(This is not the place to analyze the logical faults of this assumption. I have a whack at it in a different article: Let me just offer one thought here. If aliens are so advanced and altruistic... and yet are choosing to remain silent... should we not consider following their example and doing likewise? At least for a little while? Is it possible that they are silent because they know something we don't know?)

Notice how the fact of no discernible communication from an ET civilization is narratized into cowardice or superior knowledge on the part of said civilization. Why is the most logical explanation, that they just aren't out there, at least within shouting distance, not entertained by these scientists?

Friar Ockham must be sorely disappointed.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

My Idea for a new Reality TV Show

Wild Suburbia

Concept: Human encounters with wild animals in Suburbia.

Last weekend my wife and I were in Talkeetna, about 60 miles south-southeast of Denali, celebrating our 16th anniversary.

It was also the first weekend we had left the woman-child and man-child on their own.

When we checked in Saturday morning -- our B&B having no cell phone coverage -- we heard a tale of daring and adventure.

With the sun just setting at midnight, they let Rusty the Alaskan Wilderness Adventure Dog out the back door for his evening constitutional before bedtime. Ordinarily he lopes to his designated area in the backyard, does his thing, then lopes back for his treat.

Not this time: he instantly went all hackles, started growling and barking, then took off around the corner towards the front yard. The not-yet-adults no-longer-children, with no small amount of trepidation, peered around the house to see what was going on.

Rusty had chased a bear up a beech tree in our front yard1.

A beared tree. The claw marks span about five inches.

Rusty, being the obedient sort, came when called, but was reluctant to go back inside the house when there was pack defending yet to be done.

Whereupon my daughter grabbed him by the scruff of his neck, greatly accelerated his progress through the back door, then slammed and locked it.

Three days later, while riding her bike in an east Anchorage park, a 15-yr old girl was jumped and mauled by a bear.

Is Marlin Perkins available?

At about the same time this was happening, my wife and I were in a bar, responsibly enjoying adult beverages when a couple just a few stools away settled their bill.

Whereupon the bartender returned their 30/30 lever action rifle and a .44 pistol.

To absolutely no one's surprise except ours. But then, we are still kind of new around here. After a moment's reflection, though, our simultaneously dropped jaws slowly retracted: after all, when hiking probably half the men we come across are carrying a gun of some sort (women seem to prefer pepper spray). Almost everyone I know has at least one gun in the house2.

Why? Because, around here, being gunless means the predators are king.

Gun control is a total non-starter here. Only a drooling idiot desperately in need of round-the-clock supervision would advocate unilateral disarmament in the face of predators.

So why does anyone think it is a good idea in D.C. or Chicago?

1Since RTAWAD is so darn friendly, we assumed he would make the mistake of trying to play with a bear. All it took was his first whiff -- it was on the other side of the house -- to put him in the attack mode. Interesting how mere DNA can code for conduct based solely upon scent.

2Full disclosure. I don't own a gun. Yet. A short barrel 12-gauge and a .44 pistol are in my near future, though.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Duck's Musical Flashback: 1968 - Love is Blue

In February and March of 1968 a haunting lyric from France topped the American pop charts for five weeks, Paul Mauriat's instrumental arrangement of Andre Popp and Pierre Cour's entry in the 1967 Eurovision song contest "L'Amour Est Bleu". My father, a lover of beautiful tunes, what we now call "easy listening" or "maudlin", would turn up the volume on the radio whenever this song was played. I seem to remember that it was the first song that my cousin Freddie and his wife Denise danced to at their wedding reception.
I also remember seeing the song performed by Claudine Longet on her husband (at the time) Andy Williams show, which was memorable for me because being ten at the time Claudine was one of the first women I remember having a crush on, the other being figure skater Peggy Fleming, who won her gold medal in Grenoble, France at the 1968 Winter Olympics at the same time "Love Is Blue" was being played on the airwaves. I guess I had a thing for winsome, waifish brunettes. For those who share my appreciation, here is Claudine Longet's version.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Seeing is Believing

I know I'll get complaints for deconstructing all that is magical, poetic, spiritual and transcendent in the world, but if this story doesn't make you question the inherent reliability of human perception, and with it the likely veracity of any and all accounts of miraculous and extraterrestrial visitations, then there is nothing more I can do to help you.
Moon mistaken for UFO
By Urmee Khan
Last Updated: 11:17AM BST 05/07/2008

Police in Wales were called to investigate a mysterious flying saucer, only to discover it was the moon.

The confused caller asked: 'If you've got a couple of minutes perhaps you could find out what it is?'

The moon was mistaken for a "bright, stationary" UFO which had been loitering for at least half an hour, by a confused local in South Wales who made a 999 call to the police.

Today officers released a transcript in order to highlight the time wasted by unnecessary 999 calls.

The bizzare conversation ran as follows:

Control: "South Wales Police, what's your emergency?"

Caller: "It's not really. I just need to inform you that across the mountain there's a bright stationary object."

Control: "Right."

Caller: "If you've got a couple of minutes perhaps you could find out what it is? It's been there at least half an hour and it's still there."

Control: "It's been there for half an hour. Right. Is it actually on the mountain or in the sky?"

Caller: "It's in the air."

Control: "I will send someone up there now to check it out."

Caller: "OK."

After the police patrol car arrives, the script reveals the exchange between the control room and the police officer sent to the scene.

Control: "Alpha Zulu 20, this object in the sky, did anyone have a look at it?"

Officer: "Yes, it's the moon. Over."

Friday, July 04, 2008

In the Land of the Gunless, the Knifeman is King

England continues to experience fatal violence despite its strict gun bans:
A teenager called out for his mother as he lay dying in the street after being chased and cornered and then stabbed in south London.

Shakilus Townsend, 16, of New Cross, was attacked off Beulah Crescent in Thornton Heath at 1.45pm on Thursday by three boys and a girl armed with knives and a baseball bat. He became the 18th teenager to die violently in the capital this year.

Known as Shaki to his family, Townsend was pronounced dead just after midnight yesterday. A woman who went to his aid said he told her: "I want my mum, I don't want to die."

Yesterday the Metropolitan police announced it was setting up a dedicated 75-strong taskforce to target gangs and knife crime.

Witnesses said Townsend was chased down a cul-de-sac by youths wearing scarves around their faces, who shouted "get him from the other side" before cornering him at a block of flats. Police said the youths appeared unfamiliar with the area, and were not treating the murder as gang-related at this stage. They described the group as black and in their mid-teens.

Dee Bamina lives in the block and came to Townsend's aid before the ambulance arrived. She said: "I was about to watch the tennis and I heard shouting and I looked out the window. I saw [them] running and they were shouting 'get him from the other side' because he had run round the building. They were wearing black-and-red scarves which were covering their faces, you could just see their eyes. The girl was talking on her mobile behind them.

"He was still alive when I got there, and I spoke to him - that's the saddest part of it. He said he didn't know them, and told me his name. I asked him twice if he knew them and he said no. I used a towel to compress and try and stop the bleeding but mainly I just comforted him.

"He said 'I want my mum, I don't want to die'. He looked terrified."

Fellow teenager Richard Higgins, 17, also came to help after he heard the commotion. He said he saw a large kitchen-type knife. "My neighbour went out to see people chasing one boy. I think it may have been something that set off with a girl.

"He tried to run back towards the flats. I think he thought he had lost them but when he came out they attacked him. They bludgeoned his head with a baseball bat, and used the knife to slash his side then stabbed him around the stomach.

"My neighbour shouted at them to stop it, and she came out. She ran outside to tell them not to kill him. I came out to see him laying in a pool of blood. He kept saying 'I want my mum' over and over and 'I don't want die'. He said his mum was called Nicole. He tried to get up a couple of times but he couldn't. I'm shocked. I'll never forget what I saw."

Police said they recovered two knives at the scene.

Detective Chief Inspector Cliff Lyons described the murder as "another senseless incident in which a young life has been taken away by a knife". He urged witnesses to come forward.

The attack came as three teenagers were charged with the murder of Ben Kinsella, the 16-year-old knifed outside a nightclub in north London on Sunday. Juress Kika, 18, Michael Alleyne, 18, and Jade Braithwaite, 19, were remanded into custody by Highbury Corner magistrates court yesterday.

The Met's deputy commissioner, Paul Stephenson, yesterday emphasised that tackling knife crime was the force's "No 1 priority".

Speaking at a Metropolitan Police Authority meeting, he said the gangs and knife crime taskforce would be deployed to the worst-affected of London's 32 boroughs "with immediate effect". Teams of officers have already been deployed to troublespots since the launch of Operation Blunt 2 in May.

Armed with wands and knife arches, the officers have been carrying out searches using powers under the Public Order Act, which allows them to act with the presumption of reasonable suspicion.

London's deputy mayor for policing, Kit Malthouse, said: "Yet another death on London's streets means we must redouble our efforts to protect young people and deter them from carrying knives. I am extremely pleased that the Metropolitan police are ramping up their already significant efforts on Operation Blunt 2.

Will the illogic of gun control ever sink in? In a land where guns are nonexistent, a man, or a boy, with a knife can rule the streets. If you think eradicating guns from a society was tough, how tough will it be to eradicate knives? Does any sane person think that these task forces can quell street violence by preemptively seizing knives?

When people are empowered to defend themselves, perpetrators of violence must always face the existential question posed by the famous street philosopher Dirty Harry: "am I feeling lucky?" It isn't their possession, or lack thereof, of deadly weaponry that makes a perp feel lucky. It is the prospect of possession, or lack thereof, of deadly weaponry of his would be victims, as well as the willingness to use them.

This doesn't help the matter, either:
The risk from violent crime is now so high that people should walk away if they see someone else in trouble - in case they end up losing their own life.

That was the depressing warning yesterday from the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson.

He said he would tell his own children to 'look after themselves first' rather than help a victim in distress.

The comments follow the knife murder of 16-year-old Ben Kinsella after he tried to break up an argument outside a North London bar at the weekend.

In another example of violent, broken Britain, a former soldier died yesterday after being attacked on a bus by thugs he had asked to stop swearing.

Father-of-three Stan Dixon, 60, politely asked them to stop using bad language in front of his partner.

To avoid trouble, the couple decided to get off early.

But as the bus doors opened, two men pushed Mr Dixon violently to the ground, leaving him with massive head injuries.

Mr Johnson's warning is a dramatic change from his stance last year - when he told citizens to 'take a risk' and tackle thugs, saying the chances of being stabbed were 'microscopic'.

Since then, there has been been a horrifying death toll of innocent people simply trying to stop violence.

One high-profile victim was Harry Potter actor Robert Knox, 18, stabbed to death outside a bar in Sidcup, South London, in May as he tried to protect his younger brother.

There are worse things than dying.

Dude, where's my solar car?

David Cohen, not the secret one, posits three possible scenarios for how the US weathers the next seven years of increasing oil shortages: bad, worse, and game's over.
Conceptually, each of the 7-year scenarios below is very simple. It is a matter of making compensatory demand decreases. For example, if non-OECD demand rises 1 million barrels per day in a year's time, and the crude + condensate oil supply increases 285,000 barrels per day, then OECD demand must fall by 715,000 barrels per day during that year to keep the oil market in approximately the same balance it is in today.

It is the ability or failure to achieve the necessary offsets that makes for relative reward or punishment in the OECD economies. It will take 7 to 10 years (or more) to make significant structural changes that decrease OECD (and America's) oil demand. Such changes include significant market penetration for gas-electric hybrids or plug-in hybrids, some "2nd generation" biofuels from cellulosic feedstocks, more ultra-deepwater oil production, building extensive light-rail transit systems, expanding the railroad system (in the U.S.), and restructuring the geography of work & living patterns to encourage fuel conservation.

American oil demand makes up 40.6% of total OECD demand (EIA data, two-month average for 2008). I will assume that U.S. oil consumption stays constant as a percentage of OECD demand in future years. The price elasticity of demand measures the sensitivity of consumption to price. Low elasticity implies that demand does not decrease much as the price rises.


Scenario 1 � Buy Some Time
Yellow Alert

This scenario assumes a high price elasticity of OECD oil demand. Americans, Europeans, the Japanese, the Koreans and others are highly motivated to cut their demand sharply in the medium-term. The OECD countries achieve a 10% consumption cut over 7 years while keeping the economic performance stable at current GDP levels. The decreased consumption offsets non-OECD demand growth and sluggish oil supply growth, thus buying us some of the time necessary to implement significant structural changes. OECD consumers adapt well to high oil prices, which remain more or less at their current level. After 7 years, American oil demand comes in just below 18 million barrels per day. This is the "best case" scenario.

Scenario 2 � Close But No Cigar
Orange Alert

This scenario assumes a medium-to-low price elasticity of OECD oil demand. The developed economies achieve only a 5% consumption cut after 7 years. Competition for oil (exports) goes up because non-OECD demand growth is not offset, resulting in an ever-rising floor price for crude oil. Americans are slow to make adjustments, or find it too difficult to do in an anemic economy with sharply declining home prices. The real price of oil (in 2008 dollars) rises above $150, a price level which is sustained for years at a time. The housing market never recovers.The economy is slowly strangled by an ever-tightening stagflation noose. The economy is intact, but just barely. School districts, city & county services, businesses, et. al. are hit hard but do not shut down.

Scenario 3 � It's All Over Now, Baby Blue
Red Alert

This scenario assumes a very low price elasticity of OECD oil demand. The OECD nations achieve only a minuscule consumption cut in the next few years. Non-OECD demand growth and inadequate global supply are only slightly offset. Actually, a much larger consumption cut is "achieved" after 2011 because the economy is in a tailspin. Sustained prices of $200/barrel lead to the economic collapse. Demand takes a nosedive as duress causes the loss of many jobs when businesses (or public services) are forced to shut down. Home mortgage defaults are common. Driving becomes a luxury for many. Conditions are akin to the Great Depression for many Americans. Our quality of life deteriorates rapidly. This is the worst case.

As I've mentioned in other posts, catastrophic economic collapse from peak oil is the real problem that should be keeping everyone awake at night, not Global Warming. The latter problem, if it is being caused by fossil fuel based carbon emissions, will largely be solved by the former. Under any of the energy scenarios above, our collective carbon footprint will fall.

As I've also stated, the iron grip that environmental guilt has had over our political system, limiting investments in resource exploitation, is quickly slipping away. It is already happening. Add to the list of endangered species the practice called "environmental impact study". It will be a trying time for marginal species, and only the prettiest will survive.

But whatever scenario unfolds, we will eventually get to the other side of oil dependence. That's the positive thing to take away from this current period of economic anxiety. New technologies will be developed and perfected that will allow us to tap renewable sources of energy. World population will peak sometime after mid-century, putting a cap on worldwide energy demand. We will probably never return to energy as cheap as it was to Americans in the 1990s, but we will adjust to higher prices in ways that make its impact less severe. We are living through a historic economic and technological shift of epic proportions. The ride will be bumpy, but I think that America, despite the doomsayers, will come through stronger than ever. And we'll have flying cars!

Update: Four oil companies begin oil exploration off the Florida coast. Apparently a portion of the coastal waters near the panhandle were exempt from the Federal moratorium and the state ban, but until now the economics for exploiting these fields were not favorable.