Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Shelbyville Times-Gazette: Story: Readers respond to global warming issue

Shelbyville Times-Gazette: Story: Readers respond to global warming issue:
...evolutionary ecologist Eric Pianka told a Texas audience that 90 percent of the world's population should be eliminated by an airborne Ebola virus.

He received a standing ovation for his 'humane' remarks.

That is not true. What's it called when you repeat an untruth? A lie? Yes, that's it. A lie. It's a lie that Pianka advocates genocide by ebola, and it's a lie that his standing ovation was for any such suggestion.

People like Reid say they care about the future of humanity, but their ideas are usually at the expense of individual humans.

Well, of course! It's the mass of individual humans that is the source of the problem, so how could it be otherwise?

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Four Innocents Murdered in Mistaken Drug Hit


Well, well, well... The four killer policemen have been killed.


Or so the story goes went.

Three El Salvadoran delegates to the Central American Congress were traveling by car in neighboring Guatemala (to or from some official function), with a driver. They were ambushed and all four were killed.

Now four Guatemalan police officers have been arrested for the crime. They were supposed to be off investigating theft from cargo containers, but instead, the GPS tracking device in their vehicle placed them at the scene of the crime at the time of the crime.

Guatemalan authorities have implicated at least one Salvadoran in the crime. This Salvadoran apparently had phone conversations with the chief of an organized crime police unit, and with one of the arrested officers, before, during and after the crime. Now, according to the Guatemalan paper, Prensa Libre:
Los policías capturados comentaron que fueron contratados para cometer el crimen por un grupo de narcotraficantes de Jalpatagua, Jutiapa, que tiene nexos con una organización en El Salvador.
The captured policemen said they were contracted to commit the crime by a group of drug traffickers from Jalpatagua, [a city in the department (state) of Jutiapa, Guatemala] which has ties with an organization in El Salvador.

When I read crap like this it causes my contempt for United States drug policy and the War on Some Drugs to surface for a while. Stupid stupid stupid! We breed corruption, finance terror, diminish our own supposedly precious freedoms, waste some $60 billion (with a "b") yearly, and foster disrespect and hatred with our idiotic policies. And for what?

The thing is, for all I know (and it's not too outlandish a possibility) it was a "legitimate" hit. As in, the delegates to the Central American Congress "deserved" to be hit by a rival syndicate.


How can we be so dumb? Or is it that our corrupt are good at keeping us that way?

Other coverage here.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Robert Randolph and The Family Band

I happened to catch PBS's Austin City Limits last night on TV. Though I had missed about half of it, thanks to the magic of the DVR, when I pushed the record button it snagged the whole thing, which I watched this morning.

Outstanding! The band was joined by a few of Randolph's mentors, so this may be a special show worth keeping an eye out for. Local listings can be linked from here.

I wasn't familiar with Robert Randolph and The Family Band, but now I am. If I get a chance to see them in concert, I probably will.

Here's a sample from YouTube. The Wikipedia article links to, which has a collection that's probably worthwhile (though I have not checked it out).

Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Authoritarians

The Authoritarians

Professor Bob Altemeyer, University of Manitoba, Department of Psychology, brought to some prominence by former Nixon lawyer John Dean, has apparently spent most of his life studying authoritarianism. He's releasing his new book, The Authoritarians, on the internet, he says,
...partly because this book would never have rung up big sales. I did make one attempt to place it with a trade publisher, but when their editor said no I stopped acting out of habit and started reflecting. I think what I have found is rather important to the survival of American democracy. As such, it should be made available to everyone, and be essentially free. The “www” makes this possible...
In Chapter 1, which is as far as I've gotten, there is the RWA Scale. "This survey is part of an investigation of general public opinion concerning a variety of social issues." He gives three reasons why one should take a personal score with some salt, and says his presentation of the survey in the book is to have the reader "experience for yourself the instrument used to identify and study authoritarian followers." And so on. It's pretty interesting so far.

I guess I'm a salty anti-authoritarian (I scored 34 on the survey), but I have mixed emotions about the issue. I worry that a preponderance of my mindset within the superorganism I inhabit may be suicidal (to my superorganism, that is). If there's to be a clash of memeplexes, and it seems likely that there is at least one serious clash in its early stages, it seems likely that the more cohesive memeplex (which I think implies "the most authoritarian memeplex" under present circumstances) may be the stronger. Is this self-evident or stupid?

Is it conceivable that an anti-authoritarian society could possess a ruthlessness sufficient to deal with this sort of clash? Is such ruthlessness conceivably compatible with a liberal society? Is such ruthlessness even necessary in such a clash?

I think the answer to the last question is probably "Yes". What, beside ruthlessness, will enable an anti-authoritarian society to survive in the face of conflict with a highly authoritarian and otherwise highly incompatible one, especially as the latter acquires the means, through various technologies and asymmetries, to threaten great or even terminal harm to the former?

Dunno. Given the trajectories of various other trends, it may not even matter. Sorry.

Hat tip to Pete Guither.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

BBC NEWS | Entertainment | Que Sera composer Ray Evans dies

BBC NEWS | Entertainment | Que Sera composer Ray Evans dies

What a great song. It's probably the most pleasurable earworm I get from time to time, and probably the song that's been burned into my memory longer than any other. I'm glad the authors had such long lives, and I hope they were good lives up until the very end.
or Sam Harris and Andrew Sullivan

Sam Harris and Andrew Sullivan on Faith, Religious Tolerance, Moderates, Islam, Atheism, Letter to a Christian Nation --

The other day my wife mistakenly deleted from the Tivo a program I was in the middle of watching, a back and forth involving Sam Harris (The End of Faith) and Reza Aslan (No god but God), moderated by Jonathan Kirsch (A History of the End of the World). I'm not prone to reading such books, but being somewhat familiar with Sam Harris I thought it would be interesting to see how he would do.

The program was gone from the Tivo, but BookTV sometimes makes their programs available over the internet, so I queried Google (which way I frequently find what I'm looking for more readily than by directly searching at the website of interest).

Book TV was only the second among Google's hits. The first hit turned out to be to the blog of Brian Flemming, the filmmaker who did the documentary, The God Who Wasn't There. A few posts down Flemming's blog was a link to the subject exchange between Harris and Sullivan on Beliefnet. That looked interesting so I followed the link.

I still haven't finished watching the Book TV segment, but I've read the exchange between Harris and Sullivan on Beliefnet. It's a civil exchange, and Sullivan seems to be a reasonable guy, but I thought he did a lot of eloquent sidestepping and arm waving. Shermer's bit about smart people being good at rationalizing came to mind.

To the meager extent I think any of this matters, I remain firmly sympathetic to Harris' position.

Monday, February 12, 2007

BBC NEWS | Health | Legal battle over 'right to die'

BBC NEWS | Health | Legal battle over 'right to die':
Dr Peter Saunders, campaign director for the Care Not Killing Alliance said: 'This is a very sad case but what is really needed is not a change in the law to allow lethal injections but access to the highest quality of palliative care to those who need it.'
And when that "highest quality of palliative care" doesn't work, it's ethical to deny the suffering patient autonomy?

Friday, February 09, 2007

BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Branson launches $25m climate bid

BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Branson launches $25m climate bid:
They are looking for a method that will remove at least one billion tonnes of carbon per year from the atmosphere.
I wonder how large a pile of diamonds that would be?

Other scientists are also looking at schemes that might "scrub" the air of CO2, collecting the gas for safe storage; but many critics say the energy required to achieve this would make such an approach self-defeating.
Nonsense. It depends entirely on the source of that energy. This criticism assumes a fossil source, but there are others.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Red Flags

BBC NEWS | UK | UK Politics | Stern assumptions 'implausible':
Some climate scientists were predicting 'another ice age' in the next 100 years, Lord Lawson added...
That's a big red flag. Once a person has repeated the canard about supposed past projections of an impending ice age I read no further. Where there's bullshit there's probably more bullshit.

Other red flags include inability to model climate given weather forecasting difficulties and derision of global warming based on cold weather here and there. There are others.

A week or so ago Larry King had an economist on who said, essentially, that we ought not burden the economy with carbon concerns because by 2050 the expanding economy would raise the average Bangla Deshi to a $30,000 standard of living, making them better able to adapt to the consequences of global warming like the flooding of their sea-level country.

Lord Lawson said Britain would see "great benefits" from climate change over the next 100 years.
Oh, OK then.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Ice Halo Pics

Here are the ice halo pictures I took in Minneapolis last Friday. I should have tried for a shot including the sun, but I was in a hurry.

The shot below was taken through a tinted third floor window a little while after the one above.

Pretty day. I started to write something about wishing I could have spent it outside instead of in a classroom, but then I remembered how cold it was. I think it was around 6 degrees at the time. Later on it warmed up a bit, to the mid-teens or so, but there was enough wind to make flags unfurl completely. Going to and from the car was more than enough outside time for me.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Unity08: Select & Elect a Unity Ticket in the 2008 Presidential Race |

Unity08: Select & Elect a Unity Ticket in the 2008 Presidential Race

Yes, I am inclined to vote for a bipartisan ticket in 2008, as long as they don't do something stupid like nominate operators like Carville/Matalin.

Some people are against this effort because they see another spoiler. I don't care about that. As long as this thing turns out to be what it seems now to be, I say more power to them.

Here's what I'm looking for, in no particular order:
  • Pro-nuclear energy and pro- other atmospherically benign energy sources with significant positive net energy. (If they promote corn ethanol I'll know they're not serious.)
  • Effective administration of the death penalty
  • End that massive stupidity of a drug war
  • End earmarks
  • Establish independent ethics watchdogs. None of this business of We won't go after yours if you don't go after ours.
  • Modernize the nuclear arsenal. Have the best military, able to prevail in two simultaneous wars. DO NOT engage the military in police work or building democracy. If there's a need for military intervention, be bloody-minded, get the job done as quickly as possible, then get out
  • Direct the country's (and the countries') attention to the need for sustainability.
  • Promote family planning
  • Immigration reform
  • and so on


Looks like I got out of there just in time!

No, seriously...

I didn't get to see much of Minneapolis, spending most of my time in a classroom, hotel or restaurant out in the Plymouth area, but I left with a favorable impression of the place. The weather was quite cold, low 20's and below, with a couple of inches of crunchy snow on the ground. I very much prefer that to 35 degrees and slushy.

I hadn't been in weather like that since leaving northern Idaho 21 years ago. I seem to remember winters in Idaho that didn't see temperatures above about 25 for weeks and months on end. The most beautiful day I've ever experienced was during very cold weather like that. I wish I had a picture of one particular morning during which the temperature must have been -25 or so, ice crystals in the air sparkled all over a cloudless sky, wood smoke from every chimney rose in ruler-straight lines until encountering a layer of moving air quite a distance above our town, and the silence was complete. As cold as it was, I was perfectly comfortable outside in shirtsleeves. For a while. Gorgeous day.

I got some pictures of an ice halo (kind of like this) that turned out OK. This picture from the archives of NASA's Astronomy Picture Of The Day page is better, of course, but I'll put mine here when I get it off the camera. There's a good explanation of the ice halo linked from the NASA page.

If I had to chose, I'd prefer to live where the weather gets really cold, like Minneapolis, than where it just gets sloppy, wet cold. Given my druthers, though, I'd stay here in Phoenix where we don't have to shovel the heat. Yes, it gets hotter than blazes for a while during the summer, but the other nine months are excellent payback. That you can probably survive more easily without air conditioning in Arizona than without heat in Minneapolis is a factor in my energy-worried mind, too.

It's good to be home.