Monday, June 25, 2007

'Bong Hits 4 Jesus' case limits student rights -

'Bong Hits 4 Jesus' case limits student rights -

Well, that's pretty much what I would expect out of a court that sees interstate commerce in the absence of state lines crossed and the absence of money changing hands, all the while involving a legal activity in the state in which it occurred.


Saturday, June 23, 2007

Salman Rushdie's knighthood should be the last thing to offend Muslims

Salman Rushdie's knighthood should be the last thing to offend Muslims:
Above all, I'm offended that so many other Muslims are not offended enough to demonstrate widely against God's self-appointed ambassadors. We complain to the world that Islam is being exploited by fundamentalists, yet when reckoning with the opportunity to resist their clamor en masse, we fall curiously silent. In a battle between flaming fundamentalists and mute moderates, who do you think is going to win?

Friday, June 22, 2007

Speaking of Unity08

I've been paying some attention to Unity08 since shortly after they started up. At times, reading other opinions here and there about how Unity08 would only serve as a spoiler, throwing the election to one or the other major party, I've wondered whether there might be more than meets the eye, as they say.

Eventually, I decided to decide that Unity08 is what it seems to be. Since I agree with what they say about dysfunction, paralysis and partisanship, and since the major party candidates mostly turn me off, I signed up with Unity08 and sent them some money. The Unity08 banner at the top of this page might stand out, too.

I hope Unity08 creates a tremendous splash this election season. With any luck, the waves from that splash will wind up completely marginalizing the extremes. I don't know exactly what I expect out of this, but I'm completely confident that it's better than what can be expected of the usual two-party tango.

Time will tell...

Unity08 and Bloomberg: Perfect marriage? -

Unity08 and Bloomberg: Perfect marriage? -

Except that Unity08 is, as I understand it, going to nominate a ticket with one member from each of the two major parties. Mr. Bloomberg just left one party without joining the other.

I guess there's still time.

Unity08's statement on Mr. Bloomberg's move is here.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Well, that was certainly predictable

BBC NEWS | UK | Iran condemns Rushdie knighthood

I'm happy to see Salman Rushdie receive this honor.
The measure that has taken place for paying tribute to this apostate and detested figure will definitely put British statesmen and officials at odds with Islamic societies, the emotions and sentiments of which have again been provoked.
- Iran Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini
The emotions and sentiments of islamic societies aren't as much provoked by this knighthood as agitated by islamist demagogues for power points.

Not that the same sort of thing doesn't occur on our side of the cultural divide, of course.

It would have been interesting to observe the discussions leading to the decision to knight Sir Salman.

The Independent - Salman Rushdie: His life, his work and his religion:

[Rushie] senses soft racism in the refusal to see Islamic fundamentalists for what they are. When looking at the Christian fundamentalists of the United States, most people see an autonomous movement of superstitious madmen. But when they look at their Islamic equivalents, they assume they cannot mean what they say.
It's unfortunate that the title of The Independent's piece implies that Rushie has religion. He doesn't. Rushdie is a wholly secular person.

Fundamentalism isn't about religion. It's about power.
Hear! Hear!

"Sir Salman Rushdie" sounds good on him.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Pick a target with a pin

Well, I don't know anything about James Wimberley other than what it says in his bio (scroll down a bit) at Mark Kleiman's Reality-Based Community blog, and that he seems to be a very bright guy.

Today, Wimberley has a piece over there entitled, A radical thought experiment in halting climate change. In it, Wimberley writes
You wake up tomorrow as [a ruthless and utilitarian but benevolent world dictator]. Sitting down at the jade desk in your palace in Persepolis at 6 a.m - being emperor of the world is no sinecure - you find a file marked "Climate Change". What do you decide?

It is stipulated that you are as benevolent as Asoka, as strictly utilitarian as Bentham, and as ruthless as Tamerlane. Justice, rights, and national feeling are to you just petty foibles of your subjects, and there are few practical limits on your power to coerce obedience to your commands. (I won't bother making this male fantasy gender-neutral).

Let's open the file.

Wimberley then goes through some words from the G8 and from the IPCC, calls both of them something to the effect of more words, writes about GNP, GNI at PPP, tabulates some presumed costs of CO2 stabilization, and discusses how American GDP should be "downgraded (at least by half), and African GDP upgraded (at least doubled)" because of the different marginal values of different GDPs.

Wimberley packs a lot into a few paragraphs, then states that the optimum policy for his (ruthless and utilitarian but benevolent) dictator is to pick a target with a pin and order your satraps to get moving. You can always adjust as you go, but get going.

Wimberley says this is the only way things can change, and that it's been Angela Merkel's intended course at the G8. As for Americans,
The current health care debate in the USA is welcome but it's an impossible model for climate change. Health care reform will take the form of a set of once-off measures that can be implemented by federal legislation and budgets. It's reasonable to demand that the proposals are detailed, coherent and joined-up. Climate change is complex, world-wide and only partly understood: like unemployment during the Depression, or race inequality in the 1960s. Measures addressing them will start processes that themselves can't be fully predicted: as with a carbon tax, a right to reverse metering, massive research on renewable and fusion energy. On climate change, the models for American politicians should be FDR's New Deal and LBJ's Great Society, driven forward by men who were not wonks - though they listened to them - but visionary, flexible (and none too scrupulous) leaders.

If they fail, I fear the world may spiral into a night of chaos in which the despairing peoples may, as many of them have done before, sacrifice their freedom to a Strong Man. There is zero probability that such a man would be an Asoka, and very little a Bentham or Augustus. What they would likely get would be more like an unvarnished Tamerlane.

Aside from a slight quibble about the title (because it's too late for halting climate change), this sounds about right to me, except he doesn't give the odds I'm sure he's thought about a lot. I wonder if he's got as bleak an outlook as mine?

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Wireless Energy Inefficiency

Wireless Energy Lights Bulb from Seven Feet Away: Scientific American

The idea of not having to deal with a power cord for recharging portable devices has appeal, but it's an example of where government regulation has a role.

On the MIT tabletop, this system of energy transfer is only 40 percent efficient, meaning that it takes more than twice the energy to do the job a power cord would do (reasonably assuming that resistive losses in the power cord, though non-zero, are negligible).

Efficiency will improve somewhat (possibly to as much as 70 percent) by the time this sort of product is generally available, but that still represents a large energy premium, especially when you include significant upstream losses. Considering the large number of portable devices out there, that's a lot of coal burned and CO2 emitted. It's an unnecessary load on an already overloaded national energy grid. It's the wrong way to go.

We live in an age when increasing energy efficiency is critical for various reasons. Just as some jurisdictions are beginning to ban incandescent lighting, this sort of wireless powering of portable devices probably ought to be disallowed for non-essential applications.

In some applications this mode of energy transfer may make good sense, but if you believe (as I do) that humanity is rapidly (and increasingly so) trashing the atmosphere to the globe's and humanity's severe detriment, if you're in favor of wind, solar, nuclear and other atmospherically benign, renewable sources of energy, then you ought to be opposed to this development for the consumer electronics market.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Edwards, Clinton and Obama Describe Journeys of Faith - New York Times

Edwards, Clinton and Obama Describe Journeys of Faith - New York Times:

Reading that some reporter had asked candidates if they'd be willing to discuss the biggest sin they'd ever committed made me want to puke.

Reading about how Mr. Obama spoke about the role for faith in forgiveness among those screwing each other in the Middle East, rather than the role of faith in fomenting the screwing, it made me want to puke.

Reading about how Ms. Clinton and Mr. Edwards spoke about how prayer helped or they weren't sure they could have gotten through some ordeal without their faith, it made me want to puke.

What a bunch of studied bullshit in response to idiotic questions.
The participants sought to walk a fine line between appealing to religious voters, while not turning off secular voters...
Well, guess what?

Friday, June 01, 2007

Jack Kevorkian, Hero, Released from Prison

Kevorkian Out of Prison After 8 Years -

I admire Dr. Kevorkian, and wish him well for the rest of his days.

He can speak about assisted suicide, but can't show people how to make a machine like one he invented to give lethal drugs to those who wanted to die, Department of Corrections spokesman Russ Marlan said.

I wonder if he's prohibited from mentioning Derek Humphry's book, Final Exit: The Practicalities of Self-Deliverance and Assisted Suicide for the Dying?

I wonder if he's prohibited from telling people about the Internet as a means of finding information?

Long live Jack Kevorkian!

The Nuclear Temptation: The Perils of Pushing Atomic Energy as the Climate Change Panacea - International - SPIEGEL ONLINE - News

The Nuclear Temptation: The Perils of Pushing Atomic Energy as the Climate Change Panacea - International - SPIEGEL ONLINE - News

This article leaves me frustrated. There's nothing new, and the anti-nuclear slant gets old. Even the title is annoying. "... the Climate Change Panacea ..." Anybody who uncritically uses the word "panacea" in a sentence containing the phrase "climate change" ought to be shot, not only because there is no climate change panacea, but because nobody with half a brain claims that there is.

Uncritical association of "panacea" with "climate change" is suitable for setting up a straw man, and nothing more.

What might have been new would have been some sort of analysis of exactly how humanity can expect to obtain the energy needed to replace depleting energy presently liberated from polluting fossil sources, all the while providing vast quantities of new energy to meet the needs of expanding economies and many millions of new people (two or three billion of whom already exist in squalor).

But no. The question is acknowledged as pressing, but that's about it.

The article acknowledges the "largely carbon neutral" nature of nuclear energy, but only as a back-handed explanation that the fact "allows the industry to accept and promote the worst-case climate change scenarios while simultaneously presenting itself as a potential solution to the problem of global warming."

In a variant of the "panacea" fallacy, some activist doctor is paraphrased as saying that "Nuclear power simply doesn't have the ability to influence global warming decisively..."


Does the good doctor actually think that any option could be individually decisive? Human dieoff would be decisive, but that's not much of an option. I wonder if this doctor has considered the decisiveness of battle deaths in resource wars, the likelihood of which is some function to energy availability?