Saturday, December 20, 2008

Pick five, any five

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Friday, December 12, 2008

Brain Boosting FAQ: What You Must Know

Brain Boosting FAQ: What You Must Know
Polls suggest that as many as one in five scientists already take brain-boosting drugs -- usually the stimulants Ritalin, Adderall, or Provigil.

And there's nothing wrong with that, suggest the authors of a provocative editorial in this week's issue of the science journal Nature.

"We call for a presumption that mentally competent adults should be able to engage in cognitive enhancement using drugs," they write. The editorial also calls for further research into the risks and benefits of using drugs in this way.

It's a prominent list of authors:

I'm no scientist, but I am my own ethicist, so I went to my doctor a couple of months ago and asked him for a prescription for Provigil, which I wanted in order to check out the anti-sleepiness effect and the cognitive boost. Mostly the latter. He said No, it wasn't indicated, and he was cautions about the possibility of severe side effects, as small as the odds may be.

"Get more sleep," he told me. Yeah, I know, but that's just not working out. Not enough time in the day to do the things I want to do.

Oh, well...

Is it cheating or unnatural to use brain-boosting drugs?

Yes, say critics such as Leon R. Kass, MD, chairman of the President's Council on Bioethics. It is cheating. But even worse, it's unnatural.

"One major trouble with biotechical (especially mental) 'improvers' is that they produce changes in us by disrupting the normal character of human being-at-work-in-the-world ... which, when find and full, constitutes human flourishing," Kass wrote in 2003. "With biotechnical interventions that skip the realm of intelligible meaning, we cannot really own the transformations nor experience them as genuinely ours."

This loss, Kass argues, subtracts from our humanity.

Bullshit, Dr. Kass. Bullshit.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

KopBusters- Barry Cooper goes undercover to expose Odessa Police :: Dallas Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog

KopBusters- Barry Cooper goes undercover to expose Odessa Police :: Dallas Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog

Good for Barry Cooper! More power to Barry Cooper!

I think I'll show some support. It'll have to be later, though, because his shopping site is down due to high traffic as I type. I hope it's due to many new supporters surfing to Cooper's web site, not because of some authoritarian schmuck's denial of service attack.


Conscientious Objector to ONDCP's "Moral Seriousness"

Hit & Run > John Walters' Well-Kept Secret: 'Our Drug Policy Is a Success' - Reason Magazine

"The good news in drug policy," Walters writes, "is that we know what works, and that is moral seriousness." Moral seriousness on this subject would require taking into account half a million nonviolent drug offenders behind bars, the victims of black market violence, avoidable deaths caused by the unreliable quality and unsanitary practices that prohibition fosters, the risk-premium subsidy to thugs and terrorists, the corruption of law enforcement officials, and the loss of civil liberties resulting from the drug war's perversion of the Constitution. Walters' claim to moral seriousness is therefore hard to take seriously. I'd settle for a little bit of intellectual seriousness from whomever Barack Obama chooses to succeed Walters, but it seems to be incompatible with the job.

Yesterday I happened upon the John Walters piece in the online WSJ that Jacob Sullum responds to above. The claim to moral seriousness by Mr. Walters jumped out at me immediately and filled me with contempt and disrespect.

Our national drug policy is the stupidest goddamn thing I've ever seen.

I am a conscientious objector in the War on Some Drugs.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Appeals court rules no jury trial for strippers

Appeals court rules no jury trial for strippers | Arizona Politics |

Hmmm... Let's see...
People accused of violating city ordinances ... are not entitled to ... a jury, the Arizona Court of Appeals ruled Thursday.

... The judges said the right to trial by jury is not available to everyone.


... two sections of the Arizona Constitution guarantee the right of a trial by jury. But he said those provisions are not absolute.

One governs only crimes which were eligible for jury trials when Arizona became a state in 1912. The other covers crimes the Legislature or whoever adopted the law considered "serious," regardless of the punishment available.


As to the issue of whether the crime is "serious," Thompson said the general rule of thumb is that no right of a jury trial exists for misdemeanors which have a punishment of no greater than six months in jail. That is the maximum penalty for the charges at issue here.


Six months in jail sounds pretty damned serious to me. In any event, if it's not serious, why is all this time and money being tied up in dealing with it. Are there no truly serious issues at hand?

Damned puritans...

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Light Echo Mind Warp

NASA's APOD site featured a four-frame animated GIF of this sequence of shots back in 2003. Yesterday, the Boston Globe's Big Shot feed featured a larger, five-frame version at the top of their growing Hubble Space Telescope Advent Calendar 2008.

What appears to be a spectacular explosion, complete with ejected matter, is actually a "light echo".

(By the way, I snagged the pictures in this post from this HubbleSite news release and included them here for better flow.)

Light echo? What seemed, at first, to be a pretty simple concept, got more complicated the more I thought about it. Eventually I just let it go, but now I think I've got it.

OK, the basic idea of a light echo is pretty simple. Shine a flashlight on something and see the light echo off of it. Look at the night sky and see the sun's light echo off of the moon. Simple, so what was my problem?

The star V838 Mons had been observed producing a tremendous burst of light, like a strobe flashing light in all directions. Once. Think of an old-time flash bulb.

I could easily envision a spherical shell of light expanding outwards from the central source. Obviously, when that thin, expanding shell of light encounters something, it illuminates it for the duration of the original flash, and then the shell moves on. Whatever we see in these dramatic images, we see thanks to the original, central flash of light echoing off of the matter it encounters as its thin, sperical shell expands at the speed of light.

Once I accepted the notion that what we see is not ejecta from an explosion, but rather, illumination of matter that was already there, things got a little bit clearer.

But wait! How could it be that, whereas we'd already seen the original light pass the Earth's position some time back, now we're seeing that same light bounced off of matter surrounding the star from whence said light came?

Well, light that bounced off of something before it reached you had to take a longer path, so it took longer to get here.

Yes, but look at the image. We're seeing light supposedly bounced off a shell of matter surrounding the flash star, which is presumably at the center of the illuminated matter. The distance from Earth to the star is much, much greater than the apparent distance from one edge of the illuminated matter back to the central flash point. How could the expanding shell of light have illuminated that surrounding matter that we see in the images after we've long since seen the original flash from the star? Something didn't seem to make sense to me.

What I had failed to assimilate is the concept illustrated below:

The matter off of which the light from the flash is echoing (the reason we can see it) is actually only coming from a small part of the spherical shell of light from the original flash, the part behind the star that flashed. The distance from edge to edge of the image we see is defined by an almost flat, circular disc within the thickness of the spherical shell (which thickness is the duration of the original flash times the speed of light). The reason it's an almost flat disk is that all of the light in the image had to arrive at the Hubble at about the same time, which means it must have originated at the intersection of the two spheres defined by the flash sphere and the sphere defined by the distance from the Hubble to the back edge of the flash sphere (which is essentially a plain within the tiny piece of that much larger sphere).

Maybe I can draw a picture to illustrate this, but it'll have to be later.

I feel SO much better now that I think I have a decent understanding of this "light echo" business. The picture is not of traveling ejecta, and it is not of interstellar matter surrounding the flash star. The picture is of matter behind the flash star that was illuminated by the original flash. The distance from the flash star to the back surface of the spherical shell of flashed light, and then back to the flash star (on its way to the Hubble), defines the difference in time between the original flash and its echo as seen here on Earth by the Hubble Space Telescope.

I'll have to try to wordsmith this a bit more, but later. Stuff to take care of now.

Amazing stuff.