Sunday, February 26, 2006

1264 Feet


I hiked to the summit of Phoenix's Camelback Mountain yesterday via the Echo Canyon trail. It was one of those things I'd been meaning to do for years and years. Camelback is virtually in my back yard. It's the centerpiece of the view I enjoy from the desk where I'm typing these lines.

Climbing to the summit of Camelback is a lot more challenging than my more usual weekend walks. The Phoenix Camelback Mountain Trail Guide chracterizes the Echo Canyon trail as "strenuous and difficult". Climbing over Papago Butte is a piece of cake by comparison. You have be somewhat careful on both, but climbing Camelback involves an altitude gain of 1264 feet, during parts of which it's necessary to use hands and feet.

The climb took me 80 or 90 percent of way to my limits, and taught me that I need better hiking shoes. At one point during the decent my foot landed on a rock and I twisted my ankle. Just a hair more and I've have been in trouble.

I also learned not to try this again without wearing a sweatband. You can't see very well (a bit dangerous on this trail, particularly on the decent) with sweaty glasses.

The view from the top of Camelback is well worth the climb, as is the view along various parts of the trail. I particulary enjoyed the view looking back towards Echo Canyon from about a quarter of the way up. Unfortunately, my one regret is that I stupidly forgot to take my camera (even after having checked to be sure the battery was charged). I'll take my own pictures when I go again next week, but in the meantime there's always good old Google.

Happy Sunday!

Friday, February 24, 2006

Wall Street Journal - Musings About the War on Drugs - Global View:
Economist Milton Friedman predicted in Newsweek nearly 34 years ago that Richard Nixon's ambitious 'global war against drugs' would be a failure. Much evidence today suggests that he was right. But the war rages on with little mainstream challenge of its basic weapon, prohibition.
Could it be that a tipping point is approaching with respect to the US War on Some Drugs?

I tend to doubt it simply because I have come to view the socially conservative mindset as unchangeable under any circumstances. Thirty five years ago I was optimistic that a libertarian stance would emerge and prevail, but it's been downhill all the way since then.

Between Walter Cronkite's recent appeal for support of the Drug Policy Alliance, and the Wall Street Journal editorial that prompts this post, one would think there's a possibility that sanity is emerging. Time will tell, but I've learned not to be optimistic.

The references I mentioned above are in comments 1 and 2 below, and some money is on the way to the Drug Policy Alliance.

Monday, February 20, 2006

U.S. on Verge of Energy Breakthrough?

My Way News:
Saying the nation is on the verge of technological breakthroughs that would 'startle' most Americans, President Bush on Monday outlined his energy proposals to help wean the country off foreign oil.
Why am I not holding my breath?

The article goes on to say how the President is proposing newer, smaller batteries for plug in hybrid cars, how he wants to develop celulosic biofuels,

"Our nation is on the threshold of new energy technology that I think will startle the American people," Bush said. "We're on the edge of some amazing breakthroughs - breakthroughs all aimed at enhancing our national security and our economic security and the quality of life of the folks who live here in the United States."

"Roof makers will one day be able to make a solar roof that protects you from the elements and at the same time, powers your house," Bush said. "The vision is this - that technology will become so efficient that you'll become a little power generator in your home, and if you don't use the energy you generate you'll be able to feed it back into the electricity grid."
Just like that! Imagine! Excuse me while I scoff.

The man's not serious.

Here you go, Mr. President. Watch this presentation by the late Nobelist, Dr. Richard Smalley. HE was serious.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Good Conservative

The young lady modeling the conservative T-shirt looks rather unhappy about it, doesn't she? "Jeez, hurry up and take the picture so I can get out of here!"

On the other hand, maybe she's just a social conservative, pissed off about the article to the right of her picture in Human Events, The Right to Dissent on the Right, in which Chuck Muth, President of Citizen Outreach, a public policy non-profit advocacy outfit, essentially tells a social conservative to go piss up a rope over his expectation that everyone on the right march to HIS goose-step.

Good for you Chuck Muth. I don't know whether I agree with you on other matters, but I keep wishing that you capitalized "TRUE, SMALL-GOVERNMENT CONSERVATIVES" would do something about the annoying moralizers among you. Maybe your comments about the CPAC agenda are a good start.
Back in the "old days" before political parties took root in our system of government, delegates to Congress pretty much sat wherever they wanted. When an issue came to the floor, those who wished to speak to it divided in the room; those against lined up on one side, those for on the other. It was the issue which mattered, not political or philosophical loyalties.
That's what some leader ought to shoot for, placing the country's priorities ahead of the parties'.

But Mr. Muth, why the disclaimer at the bottom of your piece?

ps: I think it's cool that Human Events has the Muhammad Cartoon Gallery, but I think they ought to pick up Jesus and Mo, too.

R.E.M. - Perfect Square

Yesterday I watched R.E.M - Perfect Square on DVD for the first time. What a pleasure! What a great show!

I've known of R.E.M. for a long time of course, heard some of their stuff, read of them here and there and generally liked them, but I didn't pay much attention and wasn't much of a fan. There are probably hundreds of bands of whom I could say the same. With respect to R.E.M., though, that changed yesterday. I appreciate R.E.M. much more today than the day before yesterday.

While Perfect Square contains separate documentary features (and the feature about putting on a concert at Scottland's Stirling Castle was interesting and enjoyable), Perfect Square is mainly a straightforward concert shot of a group of great musicians. I intensely dislike some music DVDs that feature artists yaking about things I couldn't care less about between songs, or clowning like asses for an audience apparently programmed into a reality-TV mindmode that I can't stand. None of that stuff in Perfect Square.

Unfortunately, the DVD I watched was from Blockbuster, so I added it to my Amazon wish list. Hint hint. ;>)

I would have added another, but also unfortunately, there is apparently no DVD of a performance of Bach's Peasant and Coffee Cantatas. If I could save only one thing from my burning house it just might be my old Telefunken Das Alte Werk LP recording of Concentus musicus Wien, Nikolaus Harnoncourt conducting, Rotraud Mansmann (Soprano), Kurt Equiluz (Tenor) and Max von Egmond (Bass). I have heard other renditions of the Peasant and Coffee Cantatas, but the old LP I picked up at Kaufhalle in Pirmasens back in 1977 just takes my breath away. I really should rip it to the computer one of these days.

So much music, so little time.

Match in the gas tank... boom, boom!

An outfit called ExxposeExxon has a funny, fitting Flash movie called "Toast the Earth". The authors are apparently the Austin Lounge Lizards. A company called Powerhouse Animation did the Flash work. I think it's great! Hat tip to The Ergosphere.

After you watch the animation you may notice some buttons to the right, which are 1) a link to email your friends to watch the movie, 2) a link to send a message to Rex Tillerson, ExxonMobil's CEO, and 3) a link to replay the movie.

By all means, replay the movie! ;>)

The message to Tillerson starts out
Our country remains overly dependent on oil, which has serious consequences ranging from rising gasoline prices that burden every American to global warming that threatens current and future generations.
So far so good, though I tend to think gasoline prices should be much, much higher, possibly this much higher. [Update: I added "this much higher" as comment 1 below.] The message to Tillerson continues:

This addiction to oil represents a failed energy strategy, one that your company not only supports but has helped to develop. I am most disturbed by:

* ExxonMobil's active support of drilling in the pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge;
Unfortunately, I tend to disagree on drilling in ANWR. It's just that, given what we face, it's a lesser evil than what might be. In fact, it's probably a lesser evil than what will be anyway, but it seems to me we've got to go for every energy source available until we have time to come to our senses. Otherwise, the odds that we'll have time to come to our senses are diminished.

* ExxonMobil's efforts to block meaningful action to cut global warming pollution and its funding of junk science to hide the real facts about global warming;
Well, yes, I think ExxonMobil is guilty of that charge. Guilty as hell, along with many other companies regarding many other issues. Here, or here.

* ExxonMobil's conscious decision to forgo investment in clean energy solutions - despite your record profits at a time of rising gasoline prices;

* ExxonMobil's failure to pay all of the punitive damages awarded to fishermen and others injured by the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill.

ExxonMobil represents yesterday's energy policy; I would rather spend my money and time moving forward, not backward.

That's why I will NOT purchase ExxonMobil's gas or products, invest in ExxonMobil stock, or work for the company.
I don't think I've bought a drop of Exxon gasoline since I cut up my Exxon card after the Exxon Valdez, with its single hull, ran aground. I think Exxon did screw a lot of people in the aftermath of that fiasco. I don't think I'd turn down a job offer, though, if I needed one. After all, in future years the energy industry will probably be the place to be (though I'd much rather be in the nuclear, solar or wind fields than the fossil energy industry).

Enjoy the movie. If you can't see Flash movies for some reason, here are the lyrics:

Toast the Earth

The globe is slowly warming, real scientists all know.
But ExxonMobil's here to claim it really isn't so.
They pay for puppet scientists to dance upon a string,
And contradict the obvious so no one does a thing

So raise your glass to ExxonMobil.
Drink some more; refill your cup.
Have some more, there's always plenty.
Drain it dry, now bottoms-up.

Toast the Earth with ExxonMobil.
Run the tap 'til closing time.
Let those others tilt at windmills.
Ride the tiger, you'll be fine.

Beyond the frozen Yukon, the polar bears are scared.
The caribou are nervous; the seals feel ill-prepared.
ExxonMobil's come to drill the Arctic refuge!
Trashing wildlife... Oh, who cares?
Profits will be huge!

So raise your glass to ExxonMobil.
Everybody's friend, indeed.
Nice to know they're thinking global,
Twisting science to serve their greed.

Toast the Earth with ExxonMobil.
Just ignore that burning smell.
Sweltering is second nature
When the world gets hot as hell.

Match in the gas tank...
Boom, boom!
What I'd like to see now is a similar movie heaping scorn on Hummer drivers.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Turkish Tremors

Turkish Tremors: A Society in Knots over Headscarfs - International - SPIEGEL ONLINE - News:
Islamist member of parliament Merve Kavakci triggered an uproar when she appeared at her swearing-in ceremony in 1999 wearing a headscarf. As she walked into the parliament building, other members of parliament jumped up from their seats and yelled: 'Get out! Get out!' Kavakci was expelled from the parliament and has never returned.
That's great, but I wonder whether the same will occur in 10 or 20 years? It seems to me there'll either be no need for such outbursts, or the ones wanting to yell "Get out! Get out!" will have been silenced by religious bullies. The tightrope of today seems the least likely eventuality. The most likely seems to favor the bullies.
What is the greater good -- the individual's religious freedom or the secular principle of the state?
The question is incorrect. Religious "freedom" today facilitates the suppression of secularism tomorrow, which implies the sort of religious "freedom" presently enjoyed in places like Saudi Arabia.
Turkey's secular forces, on the other hand, feel vindicated by the Strasbourg ruling. "The system worked," says historian Cagaptay, who is convinced that Turkey has "no potential for fundamentalism."
No potential for fundamentalism. I certainly hope he's right.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Guatemala fears drug lords will buy candidates

Reuters AlertNet - Guatemala fears drug lords will buy candidates

Like other businesses, drug lords will support candidates that will look after their interests.

GUATEMALA CITY, Feb 14 (Reuters) - Guatemala's government warned on Tuesday that powerful drug traffickers plan to back candidates in upcoming 2007 elections who if elected would turn a blind-eye to their criminal activities.

Voters in Guatemala, a major gateway for illegal drugs heading to the United States, next year will elect a new president as well as congressmen and local officials.

"We're in a pre-election phase and drug traffickers have the capacity to finance their own candidates," Vice President Eduardo Stein told Reuters on Tuesday. "They want a government to rise to power that would be tolerant of a narco-state."
Sounds logical.

The rise in drug trafficking with links to violent street gangs is contributing to a wave of violence sweeping Guatemala, with over 20,000 murders in the past five years, according to the human rights ombudsman office.

The violence creates a climate of instability that could affect the outcome of the upcoming presidential elections, Stein said.
This is entirely the fault of the United States and its war on some drugs. If nations were people I'd want to slap this idiot silly. Rather than face our domestic drug problems domestically, we continue to insist on a failed policy of prohibition, and we don't care about all the problems it creates here and abroad. Violence, herbicides in the wilderness, erosion of civil liberties at home, corruption of law enforcement everywhere... It goes on and on.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency has estimated that some 75 percent of the cocaine bound for North American markets passes through Guatemala.

A U.S. general was startled by Guatemala's vast drug-trafficking infrastructure on a recent visit to the lawless Peten jungle region close to the border with Mexico.

"The drug trade is so lucrative that airplanes -- some of them large enough for 45 passengers -- are disposable," Gen. Bantz Craddock, the head of the U.S. Southern Command, said in a speech to military personnel in the United States earlier this month.
We are so stupid.

Friday, February 10, 2006

France upgrades capacity of nuclear arsenal

Guardian Unlimited | Special reports | France secretly upgrades capacity of nuclear arsenal:
In reducing the number of warheads, down to one per missile in some cases, the weapon is lighter and has a longer range. It can also be targeted more accurately.
By reducing a missile's payload to just one warhead, the possibility of actually being able to use a nuclear weapon is also increased. You don't have to let fly three or more when you only need one. This adds to the difficulty of an enemy's calculus.

What is not mentioned is deployment of cluster neutron warheads.

Modern neutron weapons produce almost no explosive yield from fission, the fusion release having been greatly increased with respect to the fission trigger. This virtually eliminates fallout by virtue of both the greatly reduced fission component of the release and the minimal explosive effect. In the most modern systems the fission trigger is replaced with special irradiated metallic fulminants (and lately by electronically pulsed proton spallation), reducing explosive yields to those of a hand grenade and less.

Unfortunately, neutron flux is radically attenuated by the atmosphere in comparison with heat and other radiative effects characteristic of explosive nuclear weapons. To achieve a wider-area effect, you have to spread the neutron sources, thus the clustered release of independent bomblets according to target characteristics.

I have always felt it quite likely that I would live to see the use of nuclear weaponry in war. As time goes by I only see those odds increasing. This is partly a function of the increasing irrelevance of TNT tonnage equivalent measures traditionally used to class nuclear weapons.

The larger cause of these rising odds is the exponentially increasing density of technologically advancing human populations frequently characterized by irreconcilable worldviews.

The good news is that I made some of this up. The bad news is that I didn't make it all up. Nobody knows what the future holds, but it's pretty scary from my point of view.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Cartoon Jihad

Cartoon Jihad: Rotten Judgment in the State of Denmark - International - SPIEGEL ONLINE - News:
When I did my interviews with European Muslims, many religious leaders told me that in their view the central problem was a general lack of respect for religions. They reported that in day-to-day politics they found it easier to work with the local rabbis, pastors or priests than with the politicians.
What does it say about religions, each claiming title to different and incompatible absolute truths, that one of them finds it easier to work with the others than with the secular state?

I think it says something about a shared propensity to acquire and retain power on the basis of authority claimed from thin air.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

What a Bummer, Man

BBC NEWS | Europe | Italy approves new marijuana law

How discouraging. With every reason to do the opposite, the Italians have equated marijuana with cocaine and heroin.

I guess the mafia needs to make more money.


Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Ayaan Hirsi Ali: 'Everyone Is Afraid to Criticize Islam'

SPIEGEL Interview with Ayaan Hirsi Ali: 'Everyone Is Afraid to Criticize Islam' - International - SPIEGEL ONLINE - News

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is one hell of a woman.

She's under threat of death, as Theo van Gogh was killed, for her part in making "Submission", a powerful, 11-minute film criticizing the treatment of women under contemporary islam. (Yes, I know all muslims are not that way. That's not the point.)

If you're interested in seeing the film that was SO offensive to the same set that's reacting to the cartoons, you can download it here in AVI format. You may have to install a codec, which is available here. Google Video has it, though I have not watched the full Google feed of "Submission". I think the streaming feed necessarily causes deterioration, but it's another option.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is unsubmissive to those who would silence her. She's involved in making a sequel to "Submission", which I look forward to seeing upon release.

More power to Ayaan Hirsi Ali and courageous people like her. Credit, too, to the people who made the film available on the internet, and to those through whom I found it.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

A 24-hour period of absolute solitude

The third-to-last response to the 2006 Edge question,"What is your dangerous idea?," is by UC Davis Neurobiologist Leo Chalupa.

Chalupa's dangerous idea is that, while the unrelenting barrage of neuronal activity caused by the cacophony of modern life probably eradicates any benefit presumably to be had from brain exercise, developing a habit of absolute solitude is needed to attain optimal brain performance, brain exercise or no brain exercise.

By "absolute solitude" he means no verbal interaction with another human being. No spoken, written, live, recorded or other interactions of any kind.

I suppose that could be a day alone in the wilderness with no electronics, no books, no paper to write on. Nothing. It could be a day alone at home with everything turned off and put away.

There must be lots of possibilities for achieving "absolute solitude" for a day.

What to do to fill the waking hours? That's a question that each person would need to answer for him/herself. Unless you've spent time in a monastery or in solitary confinement it's unlikely that you've had to deal with this issue. The only activity not proscribed is thinking. Imagine if everyone in this country had the opportunity to do nothing but engage in uninterrupted thought for one full day a year!

A national day of absolute solitude would do more to improve the brains of all Americans than any other one-day program. (I leave it to the lawmakers to figure out a plan for implementing this proposal.) The danger stems from the fact that a 24 period for uninterrupted thinking could cause irrevocable upheavals in much of what our society currently holds sacred. But whether that would improve our present state of affairs cannot be guaranteed.

I think the dangerousness of Chalupa's idea is mitigated by the tiny likelihood that sufficient numbers of people could be induced to participate. The idea itself, though, from an individual perspective, seems very appealing.

I'll have to try it some time. Maybe I can refine my own dangerous ideas (or better yet, dispense with them).

Carlos and Danielle

Carlos and Danielle went walking in the desert near where I live one day not long ago. I happened to follow some of their very footsteps yesterday.

The desert is a great place for a walk, especially if you can share that time with someone you care for.

Along the way, Carlos and Danielle would have seen one great vista after another, and might have marveled at what they had available to them right in their own back yard.

Carlos and Danielle might have become entranced by the details of some of the magnificent rock formations at hand in Papago Park, and might have given thanks for the wisdom and foresight of past city fathers who set aside these areas for their, and their children's, enjoyment.

Carlos and Danielle might have reflected on how the setting evoked spiritual feelings in the Hohokam people who used to live in the area so many hundreds of years ago.

Carlos and Danielle surely found a serene spot in which they could enjoy each other's company in the sort of peace and seclusion that, unlike a great many people on Earth, they didn't need to long for.

But no. Carlos and Danielle were out to mark the desert like a couple of dogs in heat.

Carlos and Danielle forever? I doubt it. Not unless they became a lot more considerate of each other than they were of other people on that day in 2003.

Saturday, February 04, 2006


Spyware, Adware, Spam, Phishing, Viruses, Identity Theft Protection | SiteAdvisor

I've been using SiteAdvisor for a couple of weeks now, and I like it. From their press release:
SiteAdvisor is a consumer software company dedicated to protecting Internet users from Web-based security threats and nuisances including spyware, adware, spam, viruses, browser-based attacks, phishing, online fraud and identity theft. At the core of SiteAdvisor's ratings is a growing database of test results from millions of automated Web site visits, download installations and e-mail registrations. Headquartered in Boston with an additional office in New York City, SiteAdvisor began operations in April 2005.
They say they've covered the sites that account for most web traffic. So far I've seen nothing to indicate otherwise or that they are anything other than aboveboard.

The service is free for personal use. Check it out.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Dog Food Against Famine

A young lady from New Zealand visited Kenya and was disturbed by what she saw in the way of hunger there.

Her mother's friend, Christine Drummond, who is in the dog food manufacturing business, though it would be helpful to develop a food for the hungry in Kenya by altering the formulation of the food she manufactures for dogs. To make it suitable for human consumption, the vitamin mix was changed and the solid biscuit form was changed to a powder more suitable for small children.

The product is a perfectly adequate food made of corn, various kinds of meat, eggs and several plants including seaweed, cereals and flax. The manufacturer and her children eat the stuff every day. It sounds similar to Incaparina. Perfectly good food.

These kind-hearted Kiwis must be heartbroken that their efforts were shunned as insulting and insensitive by the Kenyans.

That the head of a provicial hospital reacts this way, in an area where people are starving to death, seems incomprehensible to me.

I would expect any deficiencies identified by locally hired experts to result in cooperation to bring about required changes in the formulation or processing of the food, not to feed the perceived sense of insult.

I don't know quite what to make of all this.

I tend to think that the insult reportedly felt by Kenyans is actually the product of demagogic tactics intended to serve the local political interests of certain prominent Kenyans.

On the other hand, maybe those raising their insulted voices are not so much demagogues as products of a culture such as Howard Bloom mentions in "The Lucifer Principle" - a culture in which, against a backdrop of pecking-order competition, unsolicited aid from those more fortunate is automatically resented.

Whatever the case, were I in the shoes of the insulted I would instead be grateful. After all, I eat pig food, dog food and chicken food nearly every day.

If starving I'd happily eat Soylent Green, prions be damned.

People are strange.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Capitalism or a habitable planet

Guardian Unlimited | Special reports | Robert Newman: It's capitalism or a habitable planet - you can't have both
There is no meaningful response to climate change without massive social change. A cap on this and a quota on the other won't do it. Tinker at the edges as we may, we cannot sustain earth's life-support systems within the present economic system.

Capitalism is not sustainable by its very nature. It is predicated on infinitely expanding markets, faster consumption and bigger production in a finite planet. And yet this ideological model remains the central organising principle of our lives, and as long as it continues to be so it will automatically undo (with its invisible hand) every single green initiative anybody cares to come up with.


If we are all still in denial about the radical changes coming - and all of us still are - there are sound geological reasons for our denial. We have lived in an era of cheap, abundant energy. There never has and never will again be consumption like we have known. The petroleum interval, this one-off historical blip, this freakish bonanza, has led us to believe that the impossible is possible, that people in northern industrial cities can have suntans in winter and eat apples in summer. But much as the petroleum bubble has got us out of the habit of accepting the existence of zero-sum physical realities, it's wise to remember that they never went away. You can either have capitalism or a habitable planet. One or the other, not both.

Denial again.

Hat tip: Energy Bulletin

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

France enters Muslim cartoon row

BBC NEWS | Europe | France enters Muslim cartoon row:
"Islamic tradition bans depictions of the Prophet Muhammad or Allah."
Who gives a damn?

Sam Harris provided a GREAT answer to Edge's question, "What is your dangerous idea?" Harris thinks science needs to destroy religion. I don't know how that can happen in reasonable time or with any grace, but I agree.

Here, read this, you religious bullies!

Most people believe that the Creator of the universe wrote (or dictated) one of their books. Unfortunately, there are many books that pretend to divine authorship, and each makes incompatible claims about how we all must live. Despite the ecumenical efforts of many well-intentioned people, these irreconcilable religious commitments still inspire an appalling amount of human conflict.

In response to this situation, most sensible people advocate something called "religious tolerance." While religious tolerance is surely better than religious war, tolerance is not without its liabilities. Our fear of provoking religious hatred has rendered us incapable of criticizing ideas that are now patently absurd and increasingly maladaptive. It has also obliged us to lie to ourselves — repeatedly and at the highest levels — about the compatibility between religious faith and scientific rationality.
Hear! Hear!