Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Who Are The Good Guys?

What a tangle the Middle East is, with countries composed of tribal and ethnic rivalries in which many of the factions tolerate each other at best, and openly form battle lines, or resort to terrorist strategies when the best cannot be achieved; and the best frequently cannot be achieved. Here in the U.S. there are ethnic tensions as well, with some places seeing more discord than others, but generally, the concept of a complete breakdown of law and order is totally foreign. Most of us can't even imagine living in a place where one terrorist group controls one area of a country or city, another may hold a different section, and the official government, which may or may not be legitimate, has its lines drawn to stake out yet another. To most Americans, gang activity in some of our more dangerous city neighborhoods may be an approximation of the uncertainty and danger of living in some Middle Eastern regions, but it's on a much diminished scale. We know there is conflict here, spawned from longstanding grievances, but we do not base our entire world view on the notion of us and them, nor expect us and them to roam the streets armed with automatic weapons and rocket propelled grenades.

I've been doing a smattering of reading on various ME countries for a long time. Writers like Michael Totten and Michael Yon have taken me into such strongholds of ethnic and religious strife as Iraq, Afghanistan, Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, and Israel, and one of the things that always amazes me is how blurred the lines are between good guys and bad guys, or at least how much each side in these age-old conflicts thinks that they are in the right, and thinks that being in the right justifies any action they may take. Maybe it's because these conflicts are so very old, and the origins of the hatred are so buried in tradition, but the hatred itself seems to become a virtue to the poor souls indoctrinated with the poison of self-righteousness from the cradle.

What I read today was an essay by Peter Church, in The Weekly Standard, on the Kurdish people, and the way things stand for them in the countries where they currently live, especially Turkey, where approximately half of them reside. I learned from Church that the Kurds are a people mostly spread through one region, but divided among four countries. They live where Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria meet, and have faced rejection and persecution from all of the governments that have claimed dominion over them. In 1920 they were briefly offered autonomy, via the Treaty of Sevres, but in 1923 it was snatched away by the Treaty of Lausanne before that self-governance ever came to fruition. So, they are a people who are separated by borders--the borders of countries with which they feel little affinity. They have occasionally rebelled in search of independence, but have suffered the consequences. Here's an example:

Under both Attaturk and the Turkish nationalists (following the 1980 military coup), Kurds had their language and ethnicity denied in Turkey. Rather than "Kurds," they were called "Mountain Turks" and speaking Kurdish became a crime. In the 1970s there was a revival of the Kurdish nationalist movement under Abdullah Ocalan, who eventually formed the PKK. The group took up arms in earnest in 1984 and continued their fight until Ocalan's arrest in 1998.
They are a people with which one can truly sympathize. Any people denied the right to their identity has the claim to compassion. The rub comes when that claim manifests itself in ways that deny compassion to others, when it leaps the boundaries of rebellion and crosses into the darkly selfish terrain of terrorism, when it puts its own claim above all others' rights to the same compassion they long for themselves. The PKK, referred to in the quote above is the Kurdish Workers Party, and is acknowledged by the U.S. as a terrorist organization:

The Turkish response to the Kurdish rebels was harsh, crippling the southeast, where today unemployment tops 50 percent. But the PKK were no angels. They targeted teachers throughout the southeast (who they considered "agents of the state") and are known to have slaughtered entire Kurdish villages for not cooperating. Yet, despite its classification as a terrorist organization, the PKK continues to enjoy broad Kurdish support in Turkey. In Van a man told me that without the PKK, Kurds would be unable to speak their own language today--which conveniently ignores the fact that Turkey's pro-Kurd reforms were enacted only after violence ceased following Ocalan's arrest.
Church's article goes on to discuss the PKK and its "political face", the Democratic Society Party (DTP). They are not letting go of the concept of terrorism as a way of achieving their ends, which are laudable on their face, but tempered by their method. Singer interviewed the DTP's Van provincial party minister, Ibrahim Sunkur:

Publicly, the relationship between the DTP and PKK has been somewhat akin to that between Sinn Fein and the IRA: They are known to be linked, but while the DTP does not publicly endorse the PKK, it doesn't disavow it either.

So I asked, "Is the government correct to call the PKK a terrorist group?" Sunkur's response was evasive: "DTP works for all Turkish people," he said. "PKK works only for Kurds."

I asked what the DTP is trying to achieve for the broader Turkish people. Sunkur replied, "Kurdish language rights and the right to practice Kurdish culture, human rights for Kurds, and an economic plan that includes Kurds."

"Is that everything?" I asked.

"And amnesty for PKK," Sunkur added. "The Turkish government must stop attacking PKK and let them enter politics at the negotiating table."

The exchange was instructive. Rather than being a program "for all Turkish people," Sunkur's list of political goals was Kurd-specific. And including amnesty for the PKK in the party platform seems, on the face of it, unrealistic, if not outright antagonistic to the Turkish government. On the other hand, the DTP's reluctance to distance itself from the PKK likely does have broad support amongst its constituents.

"If PKK is fighting after Kurds are given rights to practice their culture, then we will say they are terrorists," said another man I spoke to in Van. "But for now PKK is trying to do something Kurds support."

So what I am reading here is that as long as the people support it, it's not terrorism, that as long as they are being denied their rights, they have the right to kill innocents. Where does that kind of standard come from? From everything I have read in Michael Totten's accounts of his travels, the Kurds are a lovely people, generous and kind, at least the ones in Iraq, and have suffered greatly under intolerant regimes. So what makes a lovely, generous, kind people, who know what it is like to be treated unfairly, willing to support people who target teachers for assassination and slaughter entire villages of their own people who don't cooperate? Perhaps the latter has a fair bit to do with it, fear, but I can't believe that's the sum of it.

This whole situation between the Kurds and the Turkish government puts the U.S. in a very awkward spot. Turkey is an ally, with a terrorist group working within their borders . Kurdish Northern Iraq is an ally, with sympathy for their fellow Kurds who have suffered under harsh oppression. They are on different sides of the argument, but both share what appears to me to be a common Middle Eastern state of mind: "If I do it, it is justified, and comes at the end of my long-suffering patience. If you do it, you are a villain, and in my retribution you are only getting what you deserve." All the major players seem to see themselves in the role of martyr or victim, and the conflicts go back so far that everyone can latch onto a list of grievances, while conveniently ignoring their own culpability. Why do the Turks continue to deny the Kurds the right to their own cultural expression? Do they only see themselves as victims of terrorism, and not as perpetrators of injustice? Why do the Kurds see terrorism as a justifiable means to end their subjugation? Do they not see how they become the thing they hate when they hurt others in the name of their own freedom? I don't know enough to answer these questions, but I do know that what the whole region needs is a lot more grace and mercy. Who are the good guys here?

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Stuck On Stupid, Revisited

Hilarious, in a sad sort of way.

HT: Instapundit

The Planets Align

This makes me wish we had a telescope, and that we weren't expecting showers in the Portland area tomorrow night (and that cities weren't so darn bright). From NASA:

May 30, 2006: Something remarkable is about to happen in the evening sky. Three planets and a star cluster are converging for a close encounter you won't want to miss.

The action begins at sundown on Wednesday, May 31st, when the crescent Moon glides by Saturn: sky map. You can see them side-by-side about halfway up the western sky, shining through the glow of sunset--very pretty.

Got a backyard telescope? Point it at the Moon. You'll see craters and mountains casting long shadows. Next, look at Saturn. The planet's rings will take your breath away. Also, look around Saturn. There's a star cluster! Saturn is sitting right next to "the Beehive," a swarm of stars 600 light years from Earth.

This is just the beginning of a three week pageant in the heavens, with everything visible in the same general area of the early evening sky. Saturn feels lonely after the Moon moves on Thursday, so Mars gets invited, and then Mercury hears about all the fun and joins the party in mid June. The Beehive keeps providing soft party lighting. Sounds like a great bash. Wish I could see it.

Microbial Power Plants

Technology Review put out a nifty article last week on creating fuel cells out of bacteria. Emily Singer interviewed bioengineer Tim Gardner, who has elaborate plans for study and experimentation. Bacteria can use a wide range of substances as fuel, and some bacteria already produce electrons from what they digest. The trick is going to be to get the industrious little bugs to produce enough power to be really useful, which is where all the experimentation comes in. There are some pretty cool applications, if they can up the amperage enough. The article mentions things like houses powered by sewage, and pacemakers that run on blood sugar instead of batteries. What if all the talk about hydrogen fuel cells someday becomes superfluous, because they've engineered bacteria that you only need to feed waste in order to reap a harvest of energy? We do live in amazing times, don't we?

HT: Futurismic


At TCS Daily, Dr. Henry Miller has a piece on biopharming and the effects of over-regulation on this promising scientific industry. Biopharming, for those of you who, like me, had never heard of the term, is "the programming of plants to produce pharmaceuticals that can be purified, or that might even be delivered by eating the plant material itself." He describes one woman's efforts to introduce genes into bananas so that they essentially "grow" vaccines for typhoid fever, rabies and the HIV virus. She's trying to make vaccine that's deliverable by banana chip. It's a fascinating article, that looks at the possibilities for amazing medical advances, the potential risks and abuses of the field, and the roadblocks to further progress. Have a look. It's educational.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Memorial Day

Here's a Memorial Day tribute to fallen soldiers, and an exhortation for the rest of us to go and find a soldier's grave, and remember what duty costs.

Then just bow your head and, as Gen. George S. Patton said, do not mourn that such men died, but thank God that such men lived.
I am ashamed to say that I tend to think of Memorial Day as an opportunity to get caught up on yard work, or a chance to make progress on a project that I haven't managed to finish yet. I rarely think deeply about what the day stands for, even in this time of war, when our soldiers are dying for the freedom and ideals of people who may not even be grateful for that sacrifice. My father is buried in a military cemetery, for service during World War II, and yet, because I don't believe he's there in the ground where his body lies, I never go to that place just to remember. I seldom even think of his sacrificing a part of his youth so that I could grow up in safety and liberty, let alone about those who have sacrificed their lives. I need to take this opportunity that comes around every year, and do a little more reflecting about those men and women who have served our nation. A friend reminded me recently that the day is more than just another day off, to fill with projects and barbecues. I'm going to try to remember that.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Can't See The Forest For The Trees

I learned an interesting piece of trivia as I was reading an article in The Weekly Standard, written by James Thayer, called Fire On The Mountain. Did you know that during World War II there was more than one Japanese attack on Oregon? News to me. According to Thayer, in September of 1942, the Imperial Japanese Navy tried to burn it down, in a manner of speaking:

The Los Angeles Times' banner headline read "REPORT OREGON BOMBING. Jap Aircraft Carrier Believed Sunk." It was September 15, 1942. A seaplane had been spotted near Mt. Emily, Oregon, nine miles north of Brookings. A forest fire had been started near the mountain. Harold Gardner, a forest service lookout, rushed to the area and quickly extinguished the flames.

Then a forest service patrol found a foot-deep crater. Nearby were forty pounds of spongy pellets and metal fragments, some of which were stamped with Japanese ideograms. A metal nosecone was also found.

That same day a Japanese submarine was sited in the Pacific thirty miles off the Oregon coast due west of Mt. Emily. An Army patrol plane bombed the sub, but results of the bombing were unknown.

Less than a year after Pearl Harbor, the Japanese had set out to strike a blow against the American mainland, but they failed to cause a massive fire in the dry Oregon forest.

I'm glad they didn't succeed. One of the joys of my life is all the natural beauty that surrounds me here in my home state. It's an interesting bit of historical flotsam, though. Of course, nowadays even most homegrown Oregonians (from a sampling of one--me) haven't heard about the attempt to set our stomping ground on fire, or Oregon's place in the history books (Wikipedia) as the object of "the first aerial bombing of mainland America by a foreign power," from an earlier attack on Fort Stevens in June of the same year. So, why does Thayer bring up this minor element of WWII history? Precisely because it didn't work. The forest failed to burn. In 1942, a single Forest Service lookout managed to extinguish the flame.

Thayer uses this to contrast with today. In the last few years we have had some major fires; the Biscuit fire, which burned in 2002, being one example of many. Once started, "It burned for the next five and a half months, destroying half a million acres of forest." So why the difference? What made one fire so easy to put out, and another turn into a five month nightmare? Thayer says it's an issue of forest health:

A hundred years ago, each acre of a ponderosa pine forest contained about 25 mature trees. A horse-drawn wagon could be driven through the forest without the aid of a road. Ponderosa pine is intolerant of shade, and the trees grow aggressively toward the sun, throwing shadows that discourage growth below. Today that same forest might have 1,000 trees per acre. Usually these are Douglas firs, which prosper in shade, and which grow in thick stands, often so dense that a hiker cannot pass between the trunks.

As a result of this fuel load (Forest Service terminology), forest fires today are entirely unlike those of a century ago. They are hotter, faster, and more destructive. Today, 190 million acres of public forests are at an elevated risk of fires, and twenty-four million acres are at the highest risk of catastrophic fire.

What happened to the forests? Why did they degrade? Two main reasons: the suppression of small fires that destroy weak trees and underbrush and that create fire breaks, and a lack of thinning. Which is to say, logging. The failure to cull the forests has left them little more than kindling.

This all leaves the question: why have our forests been so neglected? By Thayer's reckoning it is due to the enormous amount of regulation brought about by the efforts of an aggressive environmental lobby, and an overwhelming number of expensive lawsuit challenges to Forest Service action. "Only one in ten of the Forest Service's decisions to thin a forest is reversed by a court on appeal." However, that hasn't stopped the suits from coming and causing extensive delays in the work of promoting less fire-susceptible forests.

President Bush's response was to propose new legislation. In August of 2002, "...the president proposed his Healthy Forests Initiative, which Congress soon passed as the Healthy Forest Restoration Act. The President signed it into law on December 3, 2003." It streamlined the red tape, and directed the courts, in various ways, to speed up all the processes involved in moving forward with Forest Service actions, including limiting how long a proposed thinning could be tied up in court. Needless to say, President Bush was accused of what I will call "pandering to big logging." Many environmentalists were not happy with this new direction in forest management. However, Thayer asks the pertinent question:
Does thinning work? In early May 2004, 35 acres of the Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge were given a "fuels treatment," as the Department of Interior calls thinning the stands of trees and removing dry brush. On May 11--a week later--lightening started a fire which the wind drove toward Ortonville, Minnesota. But the thinned forest provided the fire fighters with staging areas and fire breaks, and allowed them to quickly suppress the fire. Only 350 acres were burned.
It's anecdotal, I know, but does provide some evidence that this approach might be effective in preventing small fires from becoming major ones. This next bit is anecdotal, too. Last summer my husband and I were hiking on the Oregon coast. We took a trail through what we guessed was a stand of 50-60 year old trees that was so densely packed that, without the old road we were on, we would not have been able to pass through those woods. It was dry and full of brush, and we thought at the time what a fire hazard it was. Moreover, we couldn't see how there was any way that stand of trees could survive to maturity intact. They were simply too tightly grouped to get much bigger, unless they melded into a single solid, a contiguous mass. Either people are going to have to thin them, or God is.

I love the Pacific Northwest and all its wonderful forest land. I am glad that it wasn't burned down in 1942, and I'd like to see it preserved now. I am in complete sympathy with the desire of environmental groups to preserve our beautiful natural environment and the wildlife it shelters. The stumbling block is a matter of method. We will not preserve our forests by neglecting them, or by refusing to see that cutting down the few may save the many. The attempt is ongoing by some in the environmental movement to impede the thinning of at-risk woodlands. Although they are losing some of their support, those most determined to prevent forest thinning are still waging their campaign, and still not seeing the forest for the trees. I'll give James Thayer the last word:

Even reliable friends are deserting the extreme environmentalists on this issue. The liberal San Francisco Chronicle said that "leaving forests alone equates to watching them burn," and lamented that the enviros "still cling to no-action ideologies."

But facts don't mean much to ideologues. In Montana, the first major plan under the Healthy Forests Restoration Act is to remove the fuel load from the Middle East Fork drainage area in the Bitterroot National Forest. The Missoulian reports that the plan calls for logging 6,400 acres out of the area's 26,000 acres. In April, the Missoulian cautioned, "Some people view commercial logging the way others might regard loan-sharking in a cathedral."

Sure enough, earlier this month, Friends of the Bitterroot, the Ecology Center, and the Native Forest Network filed a suit against the Forest Service seeking an injunction.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Intellectual Honesty From The Left

Here's a shining example of intellectual honesty, called The Euston Manifesto. Excerpt from the preamble:

We are democrats and progressives. We propose here a fresh political alignment. Many of us belong to the Left, but the principles that we set out are not exclusive. We reach out, rather, beyond the socialist Left towards egalitarian liberals and others of unambiguous democratic commitment. Indeed, the reconfiguration of progressive opinion that we aim for involves drawing a line between the forces of the Left that remain true to its authentic values, and currents that have lately shown themselves rather too flexible about these values. It involves making common cause with genuine democrats, whether socialist or not.
Here's a portion of their Statement of principles:

1) For democracy.We are committed to democratic norms, procedures and structures — freedom of opinion and assembly, free elections, the separation of legislative, executive and judicial powers, and the separation of state and religion. We value the traditions and institutions, the legacy of good governance, of those countries in which liberal, pluralist democracies have taken hold.

2) No apology for tyranny.We decline to make excuses for, to indulgently "understand", reactionary regimes and movements for which democracy is a hated enemy — regimes that oppress their own peoples and movements that aspire to do so. We draw a firm line between ourselves and those left-liberal voices today quick to offer an apologetic explanation for such political forces.

3) Human rights for all.We hold the fundamental human rights codified in the Universal Declaration to be precisely universal, and binding on all states and political movements, indeed on everyone. Violations of these rights are equally to be condemned whoever is responsible for them and regardless of cultural context. We reject the double standards with which much self-proclaimed progressive opinion now operates, finding lesser (though all too real) violations of human rights which are closer to home, or are the responsibility of certain disfavoured governments, more deplorable than other violations that are flagrantly worse. We reject, also, the cultural relativist view according to which these basic human rights are not appropriate for certain nations or peoples.

Read the whole thing. It's really a positive statement. I don't agree with everything they say, but I do agree with a great deal of it, and I truly admire their intentions.

Hat tip: Instapundit

There's A Difference

Pardon me if this is a bit snarky. I am so sick of the specious argument/implication that people who are against ILLEGAL immigration are against immigration in general. This article does not differentiate between the two at all.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Light Breaks The Rules

Okay, this really threw me. I read a relatively short article (as papers on physics go), at World Science, about experiments to manipulate light and make it behave in unexpected ways--unexpected at least to me, and I found the concepts rather challenging. Physicists, not sharing my confusion, and looking beyond normal expectations, have figured out ways to make light break the rules. Einstein said nothing could go faster than light in a vacuum (in the neighborhood of 190, 000 miles per second.) According to World Science, "If something broke that limit, then some observers could see it reach its destination before it left, violating a universal law of causality." However, scientists in recent years have already managed to defy Einstein, and make light speed up and slow down. This seems miraculous enough in itself, but I suppose the wacky experiment I read about as the article continued is the next inevitable phase.

What it said was that now they could make light travel backwards. Huh? How does that happen? My first thought was something along the lines of them causing light to reverse directions, kind of like a ping pong ball, and I wondered what the big deal was, but from the explanation and illustrations the article provides, what they're really talking about is a light impulse that goes forward and backward at the same time through a tube, like a clone that forms at the other end and races the light back to its source. Equally amazing is the fact that when it travels backwards, "the backward-moving pulse of light travels faster than light." So, the backward light wave, as it moves through the tube, comes out at one end before the forward light wave comes out at the other. Okay, light travels backwards faster than light. Sure it does, and if I jump out of mud puddle backwards my shoes are suddenly going to be clean, too. (The comparison is a bit non sequitur, but I'm just trying to convey a little of my confusion.) It reminds me of the Harry Mudd episode of Star Trek where the android Norman gets all confused because they tell him that everything Harry says is a lie, but then Harry says, "Now listen to me Norman. I am lying." Norman eventually starts babbling, and smoke comes out his ears. Well, smoke didn't come out my ears, but I had to work pretty hard to grasp any of this.

You might wonder what the point would be to changing the speed of light. I have a very limited physics brain, but I can think of a couple of reasons (and if I can think of even one lame reason, you know the Smart People can come up with lots of really good ones.) One would be related to space travel. There are such vast distances involved in exploring even our tiny little solar system. The possibility of travelling to other star systems is pretty inconceivable, even at the speed of light. However, what if we (and I use the term we extremely loosely here) could figure out how to make things go faster than the speed of light, starting with light itself? Wouldn't that make the vast distances a little more conquerable?

The second reason I came up with for trying to change the way light operates is related to the first, not limited to space travel, but still connected to it in a way. If scientists can learn how to defy one physical law, it stands to reason that they might be able to defy others, or at least alter their impact considerably. It's not really that humans could change physical laws, but by delving deeper and deeper into what's really happening, we come to understand how to work within those laws in new ways. As our understanding grows about the way things really work, we are able to do things that could not even be imagined centuries, or even decades ago. Who in the nineteenth century could have imagined cell phones? We take them for granted. What else is possible that we barely imagine in science fiction? Could they learn how to overcome gravity? The practical applications to that one are staggering, both for space travel and Earth-based travel. What would the shipping rates be for moving a large item that weighs nothing? Building space stations and lunar colonies gets a whole lot more feasible when you're not having to fight gravity the whole way out of our atmosphere. We could just chuck loads into space, without all those dangerous and costly rockets, or fascinating but complicated space pier schemes. Even moving something here on Earth would be easier. How about a piano moving company that employs only 90 lb. girls?

I could go off from here onto the whole concept of "beaming" things from place to place, since we're talking about out-there schemes for scientists to defy physical laws as they currently understand them. (Note that I did not use the word we, mistakenly implying that I understand them.) What will save you from more ventures into the realm of Star Trek is the fact that I'm having enough trouble grasping the topic at hand.

Fortunately, linked to the article, they have these handy dandy little animated demonstrations of what it means to have light speed up, slow down, and go into reverse. They're kind of like a "Physics for Dummies" teaching aid. Once I watched those, things got somewhat clearer, so I read the article again and it made more sense. However, I will not try to explain any of it to you. It would only hurt my head, and probably try your patience, but if you want a bit of an adventure, read the article, and then come back and tell me in the comments how slow I am, and how you grasped it all in the first paragraph. It actually is interesting, I think. Of course, that could be because it's 1:30 am, and at this point my mental processes are going backwards. I wonder what Einstein would say about that?

Hat tip: Armchair Anarchist at Futurismic--I think. (It's late.)

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Inconvenient Or Not, We Want The Truth

As some of you might know, Al Gore has a new movie out, on the topic of global warming, called An Inconvenient Truth. It's receiving some praise and some censure from scientists and non-scientists alike. This TCS Daily article called "Questions for Al Gore" caught my eye today. Climate scientist Dr. Roy Spencer, while complimenting Mr. Gore on an effective presentation, has some rather pertinent queries for the former Vice President turned town-crier. Among them are the following:

Why did you make it look like hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, floods, droughts, and ice calving off of glaciers and falling into the ocean, are only recent phenomena associated with global warming?

Why did you make it sound like all scientists agree that climate change is manmade and not natural?

Why did you make it sound like simply signing on to the Kyoto Protocol to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions would be such a big step forward, when we already know it will have no measurable effect on global temperatures anyway?

These are just a few of Dr. Spencer's rather detailed questions, of which there are eight, and as he asks them he expands on the reasons why he believes Mr. Gore's film presents an inadequate view of the complicated topic of climate change. Some of his questioning is a tad snarky. He's not playing neutral here, but they're also valid questions. I for one would like the answers. Seriously, I would, and I'm sure I'm not alone. There seems to be so much of politics, and so little open-minded science regarding the topic of global warming. Not that there isn't plenty of science being done, but much of it seems to be directed at proving a predetermined point, rather than discovering truth. What I read about the subject is frequently "your camp, my camp" oriented. Surely, there must be scientists and documentarians out there ready to look at all the relevant data, even when it doesn't shore up their particular opinion. (I'm not so optimistic about politicians.) The issue is one that requires long term study. We can speculate all we want about whether the climate is being damaged by humans, or just moving through natural cycles, but really it's time and observation that are going to answer the questions, and I don't mean years; I mean decades, centuries even. I understand the desire of people who believe that the cause is man-made to get started fixing the problem as soon as possible, but that doesn't justify ignoring questions or evidence that might prove inconvenient to their "Inconvenient Truth."

Update: Assuming with Al Gore that humans are, in fact, at least partly to blame for climate change, by artificially producing greenhouse gases, what would be some effective measures to counter the human factor? There's a common misconception that the Bush Administration has done nothing about them. Ready for a list of accomplishments?

Update II: Semi-related topic--NASA has some good news for us about Earth's ozone layer. The ozone layer isn't exactly global warming related. It's more about radiation, skin cancer, cataracts, crop damage, etc., but it is man-made effect related, at least in part, so I thought I'd toss it in here.

Update III: Here's another look at the science of global warming in response to Al Gore's movie.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Silkworm Pupae--Yum!

Over at Pink Tentacle, they're keeping us updated on the latest plans for nutritious Martian cuisine. Should we ever colonize The Red Planet, we'll have to be prepared to provide for ourselves, since a supply ship trip from Earth will take 18 months. Scientists in Japan are thinking about what should be on the menu.

At a recent meeting of the Japan Geoscience Union held in Chiba, Professor Masamichi Yamashita (58) of the Japan Aeropsace Exploration Agency (JAXA) unveiled a unique space agriculture concept that would liven up the rather mundane task of cultivating rice in greenhouse domes. In his concept, settlers would plant mulberry trees and breed silkworms, the pupae of which would be consumed as a source of animal protein.
Okay, I've eaten some weird things in Asian restaurants, and seen even weirder things on the menu, but I would never have thought this one up. Just too squishy. The pupae are being suggested as food for chickens and fish, which settlers could raise on Mars, but also as a tasty snack for humans.
“When cooked, silkworm pupae taste like shrimp or crab meat,” says Professor Yamashita. “People all over Japan ate them during the food shortages after World War II, and you can still buy canned pupae in Nagano prefecture.”
I need to remember to run to the store and stock up on canned pupae. Professor Yamashita says Japan's long-established culinary culture is an advantage when looking for efficient ways to carry out space agriculture. Yes, I can see how an ability to cook silkworm pupae creatively would be a great asset in the Martian kitchen. I really don't mean to make fun. We're the culture that invented Spam after all, but one thing I can tell from reading things like this: there's going to be a lot of adjusting to do for people who are serious about space exploration.

I'm not sure I'm cut out for it. I just can't see myself sitting around the dinner table saying, "Pass the pupae, please."

Hat tip: Futurismic

If Half A Fence Is Good...

There's a really good article by Duncan Currie at The Weekly Standard today, saying that now that the Senate has voted for the Sessions amendment to the immigration bill, currently in progress, which authorizes 370 miles of triple layered fencing on our border with Mexico, the real debate over border security can begin. (Just as a side note, our border with Mexico is 1,951 miles long.) So, why does the real debate begin after the votes are cast?

Currie makes the point that up till now the conversation has been "...fraught with demagoguery and suspect analogies. Witness Rep. James Sensenbrenner's recent description of employers who exploit illegal immigrant labor as '21st-century slave masters.'" Currie also cites the frequent comparison of a wall on the Mexican border with the Berlin Wall--you know, the wall that separated a previously united country/city into two parts, the free side and the communist side. However, the people who pull out the Berlin Wall/Mexican border analogy generally fail to note the primary difference between the two; The Berlin Wall was put up to keep people in the country, and a U.S./Mexico wall, while not exactly designed to keep people out, would serve to force people to stop entering illegally and start using the front door. Hardly a legitimate comparison.

Despite the assertion that building a wall would put us on par with repressive communist regimes, 83 Senators voted last week for the partial fence to be built. All of the Republicans voted for it, but 83 affirmative votes means that Democrats voted for it as well-- a lot of them, including "Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Harry Reid, Pat Leahy, Joe Biden, Carl Levin, Barbara Boxer, and Dianne Feinstein." Currie points out some inconsistency here:

Last December House Republicans took heat for endorsing some 698 miles worth of Mexican border fencing. So now we know the crucial difference between sensible border enforcement and crude "immigrant bashing"--about 328 miles of fencing. Fences that cover 698 miles are a noxious emblem of right-wing nativism. Fences that cover 370 miles are a reasonable means to fortify American security.

The fencing debate reflects the general frivolity of the immigration row. If building 370 miles of border fencing is worth the trouble, then building 698 miles of fencing seems to be at least a reasonable option to consider. Either fencing will help discourage illegal border crossings, or it won't. Yet many senators who pronounce themselves "serious" about dealing with illegal immigration scorned the House bill but then turned around and voted for the Sessions legislation last week.

His observation is a good one. So, now that 28 Senate Democrats are on record as supporting enhanced border security, what does it mean? If a partial fence is good, wouldn't a whole fence be better? Currie says that there are three main issues within the fence debate: symbolism, cost, and effectiveness. What would a fence say to Mexicans? What will it's price be, and can we afford it? Finally, the most important question: will it work? The answers to these questions, and others ( like what to do about the people already here illegally), are still in limbo, but Currie declares that, now, we are ready for a real discussion.
...when 28 Senate Democrats jump on board with the concept of security fencing, you know it's an idea that merits serious bipartisan debate, rather that just casual dismissals and partisan bombast. Thanks above all to Sen. Sessions, we may now have that debate.
Maybe if they put aside Berlin Wall comparisons and talk of "21st-century slave masters", and recognize that this is something the American people really do want addressed seriously, the Senate can truly act as representatives of the people who elect them; by voting for even a part of a wall they've made a small step or two in that direction. The Pollyanna in me would love to believe it's just the beginning. The realist in me is thinking they'll do just enough to pacify the public, and then fall back into the routine, holding televised hearings on such weighty matters as steroid abuse in baseball. I hope the Pollyanna is right this time. The realist would like a few days off.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Out Of This World Photo

Here's a really cool picture of Crater Lake from space, courtesy of NASA.

Nanobots And Your Health

I got an email from a friend yesterday that said this:

Here's my idea for some scientific dudes to make millions off of: I want a pill I can swallow that contains some kind of microtechnology that will scan my system to determine which hormones are not present or at insufficient levels and just release those hormones. Every time you take the pill it determines your need of the day and provides it. Vitamins, too.
There is at least one scientific dude who has a similar notion. The futuristic medical concept I read about today is not exactly the same as what my friend asked for. There are no pills to swallow. I'm doubting pill swallowing was really her goal, though. I think what she really wants is some sort of automatic health monitoring system, something that could collect and analyse physical data, and treat imbalances it found in her system. Thus we return to a favorite Meow topic, nanotech.

Tracy Staedter, at last October, wrote about one man's vision for a dermal display that would report all sorts of snazzy medical data, like heart-rate and cholesterol.

The dermal display, still a theoretical idea based on fact, is being worked on by Robert A. Freitas, Jr., a senior research fellow at the Institute for Molecular Manufacturing in Palo Alto, Calif.

The display would consist of billions of light-emitting robots implanted under the skin and capable of rearranging themselves to spell out words and numbers and produce animations.

They would display data received from other nanobots in the body designed to monitor a person's vital signs. Instructions from the patient could be communicated by touch-screen-like finger taps on the skin.

There would be billions of nanobots spread throughout the body collecting readings, and communicating them to the display. One cool thing is that the nanobots would feed off the same energy we do, so they would, in effect, be self sustaining. Staedter goes on to say:

Sitting about 200 to 300 microns below the surface of the skin, the display would consist of about three billion nanorobots that cover a rectangular area on the back of hand or the forearm about six by five centimeters.

The mote-sized machines would maintain their respective positions in a predetermined array and draw on local sources of oxygen and glucose for power.

When turned on, they would emit light through diode-like elements embedded in their surface. When turned off by the user, the skin would resume its natural color.

Here's the part my friend will like the best, "Not only could the dermal display be used for medical purposes, but it could also be used as an embedded PDA, MP3, or video player. " Arm TV--on every kid's Christmas list.

This article didn't talk about the treatment end of things, but good grief, if the time comes when they can invent Arm TV, I'm sure they will be able to deliver vitamins, and keep your hormones in balance, along with cleaning the cholesterol out of your blood, repairing heart tissue, eradicating cancer cells...

Hat tip: Futurismic

The Forgotten War

Michael Yon is an independent journalist currently working in southern Afghanistan. I first read his dispatches when he was embedded with the military in Iraq. I was drawn to his work because he writes what he sees. He doesn't sugarcoat it, nor does he have a political agenda. Through his writing, I got to experience, as much as one can through someone else's eyes, what our soldiers are facing and accomplishing in Iraq. He made me proud of them. He made me fear for them. He made me know that they can do the job they've been given, and do it with honor, even though that job is extremely difficult, and greatly under-appreciated. I have come to trust his perspective.

Now he's in Afghanistan, again as an independent journalist, but not embedded with the military this time, and once again, he's writing what he sees. It's sobering. Our soldiers call it the forgotten war. The Taliban is by no means a thing of the past. There are areas in the south that they still control, and the threat is growing. The opium harvest will be bountiful this year, and the heroin that will enslave a new generation of unfortunate children will finance more weapons for the Taliban to work their destruction. They like to target schools, especially schools that teach girls. They have not lost their desire to control the lives and thoughts of others, nor to some extent, their ability to do so.

By Yon's account, there simply are not enough Coalition Forces to quell the Taliban's continued quest for regional domination. The Taliban is bold, and growing bolder, and there are not enough troops to eradicate them. This is not a war the U.S. is fighting alone. The British and Canadians, Australians, Italians, Dutch, and even French are there beside us, but by Yon's tally, all of them, Americans and allies, are there in insufficient numbers. His own life is at risk, as an American journalist, especially one not travelling with the military, but I don't believe that this is coloring his view. He writes what he sees.

I know there are many people who will say that the reason there is still such unrest in Afghanistan is that we should never have gone on to Iraq, that we were diverted on to a completely separate, and unnecessary, confrontation. I don't agree, but I won't spend a lot of time and words here debating the merits of either war. At this point, it is what it is. What I will say is that there has been so much media and political pressure, from before either war even started (or the start of the general war on terrorism, if you will), to form an exit strategy, and avoid a quagmire, so many comparisons to Vietnam and accusations of imperialism, that our nation has been only half committed from the very beginning. We started seeing demands to bring the troops home before they even all got there. The generation that brought us the Vietnam protests were already primed to relive their youth, and all those calls for withdrawal, although they haven't made us leave Iraq or Afghanistan, have weakened our determination to do what it takes to win outright.

If, as an entire country, we were determined to commit the resources necessary to win outright, and kept an overwhelming number of troops in the theater until the task was completed, not just mostly completed, I do not believe we would be seeing the resurgence of the Taliban. They might still be there licking their wounds, but they would not have control over the lives of anyone else. If we were determined, as a united nation, to eradicate the poppy fields, or even just to pay the farmers not to grow poppies, and applied overwhelming resources to accomplish it, we certainly would not be having the biggest poppy harvest in years coming out of Afghanistan. This is not because of Iraq. This is because we were determined to get out as fast as possible, before we were even on the ground to assess the situation.

The will of the people may not seem very powerful when you look at what goes on in Washington. Corruption, and spending gone wild, and tin-eared politicians do tend to make it seem fruitless to even care what policy decisions are made. However, the people can be heard when they shout loudly enough. Look at the immigration reform debates. Whether you're on the side of illegal immigrants, or fence-builders, you are part of a vocal group that has forced Washington to at least attempt to deal with an issue it would much rather have ignored. The cries of quagmire and Vietnam also have carried weight in Washington. Where are the cries for more troops in Afghanistan, enough to do the job? Where are the calls to commit what is necessary now, rather than have this conflict drag on unfinished? Where is the commitment to finish the liberation of the Afghani people? Michael Yon is calling for it. He writes what he sees.

Note: Michael Yon also sent me to this photo essay by Phil Zabriskie. Watch it. Really.

Update: Strategy Page has news that's more encouraging.

May 24, 2006: The last two weeks have seen an ambitious Taliban offensive shot to pieces. As many as a thousand Taliban gunmen, in half a dozen different groups, have passed over the Pakistani border, or been gathered within Afghanistan, and sent off to try and take control of remote villages and districts. The offensive was a major failure, with nearly half the Taliban getting killed, wounded or captured. Afghan and Coalition casualties were much less, although you wouldn't know that from the mass media reports (which made it all look like a Taliban victory). The Taliban faced more mobile opponents, who had better intelligence. UAVs, aircraft and helicopters were used to track down the Taliban, and catch them. Thousands of Afghan troops and police were in action, exposing some of them to ambush, as they drove to new positions through remote areas.
On the less cheerful front, it looks like the Taliban is using remote regions of Pakistan as a hiding place/staging ground. The Afghanis and Brits are accusing the Pakistani government of looking the other way, while the Taliban operates, but in the government's defense, they've never really had control of some regions of their own country. (HT: Instapundit)

Monday, May 22, 2006

In This Corner...

There's an excellent post by The Futurist about whether the U.S. will still be the world's only superpower by the year 2030, or if China has a shot at the title.

Alternative Fuels: Another Idea Makes It Off The Pizza Box

Here's one from the "where do they get these ideas?" file. So many scientists have so many ways to approach the alternative fuels search. From biodiesel to more outlandish (and fictional) concepts like "Mr. Fusion" from the movie Back To The Future, everyone is looking for the perfect replacement for good old evil, polluting, gasoline. Of course, most of these ideas will never be more than that, one more notion jotted down on the back of a pizza box during a late night brainstorming session. Some of those pizza box ideas actually get developed enough to be patented. Some, like biodiesel from french fry oil, are at this moment making a few cars vroom their way down a state highway or two. Most, however, like biodiesel, carry their own flaws and environmental impact.

One of the potential alternates touted for its cleanliness and efficiency, hydrogen fuel cells, also has a list of problems a mile long, including the fact that it's highly explosive. Enter an idea that has just made it past the pizza box stage, and moved on to the patent application stage. At New Scientist today, Barry Fox is writing about a new proposal from the US Department of Energy to encase the hydrogen in tiny glass balls, balls so small and smooth they would flow like a liquid into your tank, where heat or vacuum would then be used to extract the hydrogen. The hope is that the hydrogen would "be so tightly locked inside the spheres that there would be no risk of explosion or fire if a leak occurs." Let us hope so indeed.

It will be interesting to see whether this plan will get to the "we actually made it work" stage, and then move on to being available to the average consumer. If it does, I envision some logistics issues. This is just my speculation, but I imagine that when you went to fill up your tank, you would first have to hit a station that could empty your tank--of all those slippery little glass balls. A little cumbersome, but it could still work. Just from personal preference, however, I'm still hoping the Mr. Fusion idea hasn't been scrapped. With that there was no trip to the filling station at all. Just a couple of banana peels, and a mostly empty beer can, and we're off. No more waiting in line, and your garbage becomes valuable. Heck of a deal.

Update: As if in answer to my request for Mr. Fusion to be taken out of mothballs, here's some progress on the nuclear fusion front--a potential solution to those things we all dread--ELMs. Hat tip: Futurismic

Ouch: Scrappleface has Senator Clinton's proposal for how to fund alternative energy research.

Just For Fun

A friend just emailed me this link to a funny YouTube video called Evolution of Dance. I used to dance a bit, so I'm rather partial to this kind of humor, but you might get a kick out of it too if you've ever watched Elvis, MC Hammer, Michael Jackson, (Who doesn't remember Thriller?) John Travolta, or any of a number of other blasts from the past. The Brady Bunch even works it's way into the mix. It's far out.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Renewable Petroleum?

With all the furor over gas prices, and conflicts in the major oil producing regions of the world, an essay I read today seemed appropriate to pass along to you, the discerning Meow reader. We all know that part of what drives the price of petroleum, and gives power to those who control the flow of black gold, is its perceived scarcity, the belief that there is a finite quantity of oil and natural gas in the world. We all believe that they're going to get harder to come by as time progresses, and as we find more and more uses for them. This belief that we are in a global competition for finite resources has led us as a nation down some questionable roads, including cozying up to unsavory regimes in order to keep the black stuff flowing--but what if it isn't true? What if petroleum is a "renewable resource" after all? It's not exactly "alternative energy", but still, the concept has its up side, don't you think?

Curious? Here's the link.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Redistribution: Round Two

My husband and I have been hard at it today. We're widening our driveway and putting in a garage. (I call it a garage, but anyone who knows us will cry foul and tell us to call it what it is--a shop.) We've reached the age where we have a little more money, and a lot less energy, so we're doing something we've never done before. We're hiring the shop built. There's still a lot of prep work to be done, though, and we can't afford to hire it all done, so we're putting our middle-aged bodies through the wringer a bit, reminding ourselves that we ought to be grateful for the exercise. People pay money for this kind of workout!!

Anyway, I'm taking a break from the exercise regimen for a few minutes, so I just got a chance to read the second part of the series at TCS Daily by Tim Worstall about a simplified system for the redistribution of wealth that I posted about last week. It boils down to eliminating all forms of welfare in our country, and replacing them all with a $10,000 check to every citizen 21 or older whose income falls below a certain threshold. You can find my post here, and his original article here. Last week's discussion was addressing the inevitable objections from the right side of the political spectrum, and why the new system would be an improvement over the old. Today's looks at how the left will respond to such a notion, and why they should be jumping on the bandwagon.

Unlike the conservative element, which is liable to respond favorably to reduction in bureaucracy, but object to the notion of handing money to people who don't earn it, the progressive argument is liable to be the reverse--no problem with the handing out money part, but a big problem with losing control over who gets it, and how it's spent. Worstall says that how the notion is received by liberal politicians will be a big indicator of what their motives are. Do they actually want to help people get out of poverty, or do they want to keep holding the purse strings?

Worstall points out the two main advantages to the proposed system that the sympathetic progressive ought to embrace. He says the Plan "increases equality of opportunity and inverts the perceived power imbalance between labor and capital." He argues that being handed lump sums of money could open doors for the less advantaged to escape the poverty trap.

There are indeed those born into, through no fault of their own, positions where climbing up out of poverty is almost impossible. There are many different possible ways of helping them but the most efficient is simply to make cash grants to all. Everyone, therefore, has the basics for survival and can turn their attentions and efforts to whatever it is that they wish. Those who seek education, an improvement in life can do so, those happy to laze on the porch can, as well. But what the Plan might do is to make it possible for all to unlock their potential, if they should so wish.
He goes on to discuss Marxian theory, and the outcome of taking power out of the hands of the employer/oppressor.

In Marx's original analysis, still fervently believed by some today, capital will ever conspire against labor and attempt to engender a situation where there is a large reserve army of the unemployed. These unfortunates will have no option but to sell their labor at whatever miniscule price the oppressors are willing to offer, leading to ever fatter profits and the ever increasing immiseration of the proletariat.

If that is, indeed, the view of the world people really believe in, then The Plan is actually the answer. By providing an unconditional grant sufficient to survive upon, this "power structure" is subverted. The unemployed cannot be forced to accept lower wages for they can survive with none.

Worstall's conclusion is that those liberals who really want to make the world better will support the idea of simplifying the redistribution process, taking the money right to the people. The rest will show by their reluctance the true nature of their aims--power and money. His argument is a bit more complex than this, but this should give you the basics. His two essays combined make for an interesting analysis, and I find a good deal of merit to the notion that if the government is going to hand out money, it might as well do it as efficiently and effectively as possible.

As I contemplate going back outside to fill another wheelbarrow full of dirt, I find myself thinking about the relationship between money and opportunity. I know that if I had more money, I would have the opportunity to hire someone else to wield the shovel I'm about to pick up. Of course, then I'd have to hire a personal trainer.

Da Vinci Reviewed

The Da Vinci Code opens in theaters Friday, and is certainly getting it's share of positive and negative attention. Stephen Bainbridge takes an interesting look at the film over at TCS Daily. He quotes C.S. Lewis. That alone makes his essay worth reading.

Update: Scrappleface has a report on how things stand at the Vatican.

The NSA Has Problems; Maybe Google Is The Solution

Here's another gander at the National Security Agency surveillance kerfuffle. Max Boot says, "Forget privacy, we need to spy more." He makes the case that, "When it comes to the war on terror, the biggest advantage we have comes from our electronic wizardry." There's this huge outcry about the alleged program to run myriad phone records through a computer (names deleted) to look for potential terrorist patterns, but it does seem silly for the government not to use this information when the average person could find so much more online.

With a few keystrokes, Google will display anything posted by or about you. A few more keystrokes can in all probability uncover the date of your birth, your address and telephone number and every place you have lived, along with satellite photos of the houses and how much you paid for them, any court actions you have been involved in and much, much more.

It is only a little more work to obtain your full credit history and Social Security number. Or details of your shopping, traveling and Web-browsing habits. Such information is routinely gathered and sold by myriad marketing outfits. So it's OK to violate your privacy to sell you something — but not to protect you from being blown up.
Maybe the NSA should just use Google to hunt for terrorist info. It could be Google's new ad campaign: "Need To Find Osama? We Know Where He's Shopping." At the very least they could find out which e-tailers are popular with the terrorist crowd, and where they find the best deals on incendiary devices. Why should the agencies charged with protecting us have less information than telemarketers?

Hat tip: Michelle Malkin

Interesting Update: Looks like Bellsouth is demanding a retraction from USA Today, the paper that started the whole NSA phone database story. The company claims not only did they not give phone records to the NSA, but that they were never even asked. They're facing lawsuits accusing them of violating privacy rights, and now it looks like USA Today could face a lawsuit of their own if they don't either prove it, or retract it.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Moroccan Encouragement

If you are one of the people who don't believe there is any such thing as moderate Islam, have a look at this Weekly Standard piece about Morocco by Joseph Loconte. Like many Muslim countries, Morocco has seen its days of mass protests. However, they haven't been like the ones we've witnessed of late, with people dying over cartoons and rumors about Koran flushing. Three years ago Casablanca experienced an al Qaeda linked terrorist attack that killed 41 people, and injured a hundred more.

"We should recall that Morocco has also been a victim of terrorism," Ahmed Abaddi, Morocco's director of Islamic affairs, told journalists at a recent Washington-area dinner. "We were attacked by al Qaeda, and a million people went out to protest."
Those protests included Jews as well as Muslims, marching together. Moroccan imams have denounced Osama Bin Laden and Muslim extremists in their mosques. Clerics there are receiving training very unlike that coming out of those madrasahs which indoctrinate Muslim youth in religiously inspired hatred of the West.
Earlier this year, a class of 210 imams graduated from a year-long seminar on moderate Islam and the religious roots of Western democracy. They're all being sent back to their local mosques to carry the message. Says Abaddi: "To be mute when all of this is happening would be a sin."
Read the rest. It really is encouraging.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Sci Fi Fun

I found a fun new-to-me website today, called Its self-description is "where science meets fiction." Ahh. Two of my favorite things combined in one convenient easy-to-open package. It's an exploration of "the predictions of science fiction writers coming true in today's world," and includes databases on authors and books, a glossary of sci fi innovations, a timeline of science fiction inventions and their counterparts in reality, as well as a blog on the latest sci fi inventions to come to real life fruition. Check it out.

Update: Among the plethora of sci fi turned reality tidbits I have read about today are these: "Medical Nanotubes" designed to deliver minute quantities of medicine to precise spots in the body (if they can get the cork out of the tube), Mice with the ability to regrow parts of their bodies (including organs), Liquid Armor that could give you comfortable protection in dangerous situations, and Fabric that can protect its wearer from the effects of energy weapons. (We're not quite to the age of phasers yet, but this fabric can protect you from Tasers, stun guns and cattle prods, so it looks useful for all your urban and farm apparel needs.)

Monday, May 15, 2006

The President Speaks...

I had a guest this afternoon, so I missed President Bush's speech on illegal immigration and border enforcement. Instapundit to the rescue. He has the text of the speech for those of us who failed our civic duty test and were otherwise engaged. A few things the President said encouraged me.

1) He called illegal immigrants illegal immigrants, and acknowledged that we have a problem with our borders. (Admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery.)

2) He said the government is increasing the number of Border Patrol agents, and implementing increased use of modern technology. He says he intends to have the National Guard shore up the Border Patrol until more agents and new technologies can be employed.

At the same time, we are launching the most technologically advanced border security initiative in American history. We will construct high-tech fences in urban corridors, and build new patrol roads and barriers in rural areas. We will employ motion sensors … infrared cameras … and unmanned aerial vehicles to prevent illegal crossings. America has the best technology in the world – and we will ensure that the Border Patrol has the technology they need to do their job and secure our border.
My response to this part of the speech? It's about time.

3) He said they're working on ending the "catch and release" cycle. (An illegal immigrant is caught. For various reasons they can't be immediately sent back to their country of origin. There aren't enough facilities to hold them while the legalities gods are appeased . They are released on their own recognizance, and told to come back to court on a certain date. Shockingly, they don't report as ordered. They are now roofing your neighbor's house.) My response to "We're working on it"? Work faster and harder.

4) An identification card for workers who are here legally that uses current technology to advantage, for example digital fingerprints, is a step forward. It would help both employers and law enforcement make sure that employees are here legally, and leave employers with less excuse for putting their pocketbook above national security.

5) On the "what to do about the people who are already here" front, I find pros and cons in what he said, but can agree wholeheartedly with one point that he made in particular. We need to make learning English a requirement for citizenship.
...we must honor the great American tradition of the melting pot, which has made us one Nation out of many peoples. The success of our country depends upon helping newcomers assimilate into our society, and embrace our common identity as Americans. Americans are bound together by our shared ideals, an appreciation of our history, respect for the flag we fly, and an ability to speak and write the English language. English is also the key to unlocking the opportunity of America. English allows newcomers to go from picking crops to opening a grocery … from cleaning offices to running offices … from a life of low-paying jobs to a diploma, a career, and a home of their own. When immigrants assimilate and advance in our society, they realize their dreams ... they renew our spirit ... and they add to the unity of America.
6) He called on the Senate to address this issue quickly and not to make political gain their goal.
America needs to conduct this debate on immigration in a reasoned and respectful tone. Feelings run deep on this issue – and as we work it out, all of us need to keep some things in mind. We cannot build a unified country by inciting people to anger, or playing on anyone’s fears, or exploiting the issue of immigration for political gain. We must always remember that real lives will be affected by our debates and decisions, and that every human being has dignity and value no matter what their citizenship papers say.
I have very little hope that anyone in office will actually heed this part of the speech. Just as water doesn't flow uphill, Congress doesn't ignore its own political interests, but I still think it needs to be said, and said often.

If you want more, go read the rest of the speech. For what it's worth, here's my two cents. I still struggle with the idea of letting people who came here illegally pay a fine and stay in the country, while others who have obeyed our laws before even coming here wait in third world limbo. There's a part of me that remembers playground arguments where everybody's goal was finding what was fair, at least from their perspective, and giving cuts was always on the "that's no fair" list. There's also the question of what we are saying to potential citizens if we wink at the fact that their first act in American society was to break the law. I recognize the difficulty of deporting millions of people, many of whom have children who are citizens. The issue is enormously complicated, and that's why we have people protesting from every conceivable angle. It will take a great deal of compromise, in the best sense of the word, to bring this situation to its much needed resolution. Maybe the President's speech, and his position on the issue will prove somewhat helpful to that end. I think the speech was generally adequate, and would like to see much of what the President said enacted. I think most of it should have been already, quite frankly, but I'm firmly in the "I'll believe it when I see it" camp. With so much political decision-making being driven by polls and protests, and with the polls and protests being so contradictory, I'm not sure whether we're going to end up with a security fence on our border, or a shuttle bus.

Data Mining: Tool Or Travesty?

If you haven't had enough of the National SecurityAgency's latest woes, or are out of the loop about the most recent charges that "the White House is trampling citizens' constitutional rights and creating a surveillance state," here's a summary, and some perspective, from The Weekly Standard.

The Flight Of The Aerospace Industry

The world continues to get smaller, and whether you like it, or fear it, the relative shrinking of the planet is transforming the way everyone relates to each other, from individuals to governments, and all points in between. Business, especially, is in constant flux as it adapts to new advantages and disadvantages brought about by changes in communication and transportation, opening markets and borders, and costs of production in various places around the globe. A friend sent along this Newsweek article by Emily Lynn Vencat, on the growing globalization of the airplane building industry. Boeing and Airbus, the U.S. and European rivals and leaders in the field, are disbursing their manufacturing processes throughout the world, and creating a sort of global manufacturing campus.

The prototype of the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner is being built in a virtual factory so big, it effectively spans continents. Engineers in Japan build the wings, Koreans add the raked wingtips, Brits refine the Rolls-Royce engines, while Italians and Texans fit the horizontal stabilizer and center fuselage. Project managers in Everett, Washington, watch it all take shape with 3-D glasses that allow them to walk around the digital prototype and monitor every change made by their 6,000 workers worldwide, just as if the model were being assembled in a real factory.
According to Vencat, the moves by the two biggest airplane manufacturers to outsource production have been "quiet, but dramatic" and Asian contractors are now doing jobs that Boeing previously had refused to entrust to other companies, because of the expertise required. Apparently, that expertise has been growing in countries not previously known for their engineering prowess.

The key to collaborating globally comes down to expertise, says David McKenna, an executive in Boeing's airplane-production global-strategy unit in Seattle. "We want to have the best partners in the world in our new program ... whether they're from Italy, Sweden, France, Korea, Japan, China [or] the United States," he says. China, for instance, can handle assembling metal aircraft like Airbus's A320 or building wingboxes, but doesn't yet have the skills to craft the newest composite wings, which the 787 will debut commercially.

Japan and China are reaping a good deal of the benefits as the competing giants shift away from home-based production. The big manufacturers are farming out part of their business in the name of efficiency and profitability, and of course Japanese and Chinese companies are happy to provide their services in exchange for hard currency. However, they are also gaining something of more worth, in the long run. They are gaining more of that valuable expertise and technology that will enable them to play an even larger role in the industry in the future.

This prompts Vencat to look at the question of future competition coming from the same globally diverse companies that Boeing and Airbus are now using to to try to give themselves an advantage over each other in the current market. The governments of China and Japan would certainly not be averse to having home-grown aerospace industries of their own, and are investing to that end, but is it enough to endanger the success of the industry leaders?
It could take decades for Japan or China to pose a serious threat, analysts say. Boeing and Airbus are flying high, with record sales in 2005, and complete domination of the market for planes that carry 150 or more people. Richard Aboulafia of the Virginia-based Teal Group says that Japan simply isn't investing the massive amounts of money—billions over decades—necessary to get a full range of passenger jets off the ground. "All-American defense spend-ing is what you need for this industry, not METI's $29 million annual investment—that's corporate welfare for engineers," says Aboulafia. Indeed, the manufacturers most directly in competition with the next generation of Chinese and Japanese passenger planes are the smaller ones, like Brazil's Embraer or Canada's Bombardier.
So, the threat to Boeing and Airbus doesn't look too imminent. The people who worry about U.S. preeminence in the field of aerospace can breath a sigh of relief. Or can they? Vencat concludes her article with the following:
Of course, the whole idea of "national" aerospace giants may be doomed now that Boeing and Airbus are increasingly less American or European. "What's the point of doing it all yourself when you can do it better and more cheaply when you spread it around the world?" says one industry insider, who declined to be named because he works for a high-profile aerospace company. "In 20 years it will be impossible to distinguish what is an American, Asian or European aircraft." That's likely to be true, too, for a Boeing of Japan, or an Airbus of China, if they ever take off.

Personally, I don't find this too threatening. I've heard it said that a rising tide floats all boats. In this case, it might be said that a rising air current lifts all planes. With the increasingly interconnected nature of the world, it is to everyone's benefit for previously backward countries like China to grow in prosperity. Poor countries, it is true, do not produce airplanes and do not compete with American companies that do. However, they also do not buy airplanes, or much of anything else, for that matter. As long as there are efforts to prevent trade restrictions from hindering a mutual exchange of goods, American companies benefit from the expanded markets that come with the advancement of emerging economies. (Note that I'm not talking here about sending technological secrets to the Chinese government so that they can threaten us with impunity. Very different scenario.) If the airplane coming out of Japan or China in 15 years is a competitive threat to Boeing, or Airbus, it will be because the product is more attractive to the consumer, by virtue of quality or cost (a la Japanese cars in the 70s.) In which case, the current leaders had better work on putting out a better product. That's called progress, and is one of the big advantages that competition brings to the consumer. I don't have fears for Boeing, as long as they work on putting out the best product they can, wherever it's manufactured.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Fake But Accurate Science

I'm having a low-key day today. My husband's off at a sibling-fest, and I'm taking the opportunity to read to my heart's content. Okay, okay, I'm doing the odd bit of housework now and then, so I'm not completely at leisure, but enough so that I'm searching a bit farther afield than usual in my quest for mental stimulation. The Internet is so chock full of current, pertinent information that I wouldn't have thought to get my mental kicks from something that's at least five years old, (insert gasp here) but it's a strange world, and occasionally things do stand the test of time. Here's a paper from 2001 documenting textbook fakery used to support the theory of macro-evolution.

One of my pet peeves, in a small-scale kind of way, is how often I run across the argument that anyone who has not bought into the idea that life randomly evolved on this planet, but actually believes there was a designer/creator who made it all happen, hates and fears science. I know lots of Christians folks, and I don't know a one that runs in terror at the first sign of scientific reasoning. Most of the Christians I know believe that, because God created an ordered universe, we can understand that universe, as far as our limited capacities allow, and that scientific study and experimentation are wonderful tools to help us grasp some of the complexity around us, and make the most of the resources God has given us on this planet. Still, I see the accusation everywhere that Darwinian evolution is a proven fact, and anyone who doesn't acknowledge that has Swiss cheese for brains, or simply can't face reality and must make up fairy tales to help them function in the big scary world. (Does that sound too sarcastic? I told you this was one of my pet peeves.)

Well, speaking of reality, the essay I've linked to has a look at school textbooks, from high school to graduate level, and examines some of the "evidence" still being used way back in 2001 to lend credence to the theory of macro evolution. Yes, it is a theory. I know that will come as a shock to some of you, but there are actual scientists who call that theory, and the evidence used to support it in school textbooks, into question. Much of this evidence doesn't quite stand up to scrutiny. In an essay called "Survival of the Fakest" Jonathan Wells puts some of the standard pillars of Darwinian theory to the test, and questions the standards of the texts that still rely on them. This isn't a quick read, but it's really worth the time if you are interested in the question of origins, but please, if you read the essay and still want to cling to the theory of evolution as gospel, and keep the old proofs as your standard, don't use the "fake but accurate" line. It's been done before.

Who Pulls The Strings At Border Patrol?

Michelle Malkin has a look at "the longstanding battle between DHS management and rank-and-file employees over strict, tough, and unapologetic immigration enforcement." Her extensive summary comes on the heels of accusations that the Mexican government is being tipped off by U.S. Border Patrol as to where the Minutemen (civilian border watchers, a.k.a. Undocumented Border Agents) have been patrolling and detaining illegal immigrants. DHS denies these allegations, but by Malkin's account, not very convincingly. She makes the case that the Mexican consulate has more pull with the Department of Homeland Security than do the field agents and citizens who patrol our borders. It does make me wonder why we have a border patrol at all, if their effectiveness is being hindered from the top down.

Simplified Redistribution Of Wealth

So, how would you feel about the U.S. scrapping our entire welfare system and replacing it with an annual payment of $10,000 to every American citizen of 21 or older? That's the idea being floated in Charles Murray's book, "In Our Hands," as Tim Worstall tells us at TCS Daily.

Here's the gist of it:

The basic plan is so terribly simple. Take all of the money we currently pay out through the tax and benefit system on everything like Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, food stamps (whatever the current name of that program is) student aid, all the programs which take money from one group to give to another, and abolish those programs. Yes, simply do away with them.
Worstall continues:
Instead of sucking all this money into Washington DC and then allowing the Congresscritters to parcel it out to favored constituencies, along with the heavy tithe taken for the bureaucracies, simply hand it out as a $10,000 a year payment to each and every adult citizen.
There would be, no doubt, myriad objections from left and right in response to so radical an idea. This article is the first of a two part series, answering objections to the plan from both. Worstall's first in the set answers some of the anticipated howling from both the right, and the libertarian schools of thought. The objection boils down to a rejection of the redistribution of wealth as an intrinsic part of our social system. Worstall's response is basically that redistribution of wealth is here to stay. We'd better get used to the idea. He instead focuses on the practicalities.
I'll stick with my basic thought that the reason to oppose statism isn't that redistribution is immoral (although it may be, to your taste) it's rather that the actual way it is done is so hopelessly complicated that it manages not to achieve its stated aims. The Plan, to my mind, neatly sidesteps almost all of these problems. Instead of a web of grants, tax breaks, allowances, subsidies for this or that, there is simply one payment to all. It's not enough to live comfortably on, but it will provide for the basics.
Worstall goes through a number of the pros and cons of reducing the redistribution system to such a basic level, but there was one argument I found particularly intriguing. He noted how, in the current welfare system, marriage can actually be a liability. Women raising kids alone get more money from the state, so men who are not very financially productive are in effect a hindrance to prosperity. On the other hand, when both a father and mother are receiving that same ten grand, suddenly both parents are a financial asset, merely by their existence.

The simple advantage of eliminating massive amounts of bloated government bureaucracy makes the simplification scheme an idea to consider, but the notion of government subsidies actually being an encouragement to stable family life, rather than a deterrent, gives added punch to a concept already holding some natural appeal.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

From The Junkyard To The Schoolyard

For those of you who think that Christian rap-metal music is an oxymoron, and possibly even that the terms Christian, rap, metal, and music are all mutually exclusive, here's an interesting look at a band that's spent the better part of a decade combining those same elements to create a very effective ministry. Matt Labash, writing for The Weekly Standard, goes touring with Junkyard Prophet.

The most compelling thing about Labash's jaunt with this group of "independent missionaries" is where they go touring--public schools. He says that their ministry was "laboring in the vineyards of near total obscurity. Or at least they did until last winter." No one was raising a fuss over a Christian band performing at public schools, yet.

That's when the left-wing blogosphere discovered them, and grew apoplectic at the notion of their existence. How dare Junkyard Prophet preach to our children, sometimes getting paid out of Department of Education funds provided to cash-strapped schools--funds that could more usefully be spent on federal initiatives like anti-bullying programs, workshops on why kids shouldn't construct crystal-meth labs, and free condoms for students who need to work out pent-up sexual frustrations after being bullied by their meth dealers.

Sounds like the left is none too happy about Junkyard Prophet headlining at Kennedy High School. (Any Kennedy, you choose.) Lest you think, however, that the right side of the political spectrum would be less compelled to throw a fit, there's more.

It will come as a great disappointment to Junkyard's leftist critics, who've assumed they're propagandistic Bush puppets, that the strongly pro-military band is also more antiwar and anti-Bush than most of the Chomsky-spewing cyberdorks who pilloried them. The band's drummer and leader, Bradlee Dean, calls Bush a "punk, lyin' stinkin' kid," and says Dick Cheney is a "straight-up liar" who he expects "will be in Hell pretty soon." He regards our two-party system as "professional wrestling," and says if he had to commit, it would be to Howard Phillips's Constitution party.

So, with the potential to tick off pretty much everybody in one way or another, what's their message? Most of it comes out of their own mistakes, and the consequences that led them to Christ. Bradlee Dean is the group's drummer, and the guy who takes the mic, after the music's gotten the kid's attention. Labash says he's about straight talk.

...he speaks about how prevention is better than cure, about how we reap what we sow, about how we are not "sick" when we fall into alcohol and drug abuse, but rather "making bad choices," about corny notions like right and wrong and the Ten Commandments, and about how our culture is afraid to state the obvious. He talks straight to the kids, without pretense or euphemism. And they seem to respond, from the buckets of testimonials the band shows me, and from the "You rock" and "Thanks for being honest" attaboys that I witness firsthand. I also hear it in my own conversations with teachers and principals, many of whom prefer the cloak of anonymity as they quietly root for these Christian rockers. One teacher tells me that it's not the public school's place to parent the kids, but since the parents aren't doing it, somebody should.

There's a lot more to this look at a "Christian rap-metal band," and Labash's writing is hilarious. You get to know the band members a bit, through his eyes. I could tell there were things I would agree with them about, and things I REALLY wouldn't, but either way I admire their dedication to a ministry that doesn't give them many perks, and does give them a good deal of trials. Read the article and you'll see what I mean.

Throw It To Space

Instapundit pointed me to this piece at on the possibilities for a space slingshot. Just plain cool, with lots of rabbit trail links to follow. Space elevators are the wave of the future, of course, and will make all of our lives easier in so many ways, but don't underestimate the usefulness of a good slingshot. There are manifold applications, from technological to military, and don't forget the personal advantages. I think we all could use a way to get payloads into space quickly and inexpensively, don't you? I've got some relatives on Mars that I would love to send a care package, but the shipping rates are just astronomical. Sorry. It's bad joke day here at the Meow. I'll try to control myself.

A Gracious Response

Scrappleface has the unofficial scoop on President Bush's response to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's 18 page letter. Don't miss it. You'll be sorry. Well, actually, you won't be sorry, because you won't know what you're missing, but if you did know what you were missing, you would be sorry. Of course, if you did know what you were missing, it would be because you had read it, so you wouldn't have missed it, and this whole conversation would be pointless. On the other hand...okay, I'll just stop now.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Carbon Nanotubes--What Will They Think Of Next?

Carbon nanotubes are turning into the miracle cure for all problems scientific. Wikipedia says they "are cylindrical carbon molecules with novel properties that make them potentially useful in a wide variety of applications in nanotechnology, electronics, optics, and other fields of materials science. They exhibit extraordinary strength and unique electrical properties, and are efficient conductors of heat." I've read about them as the best hope for super-strong, super-lightweight cabling for space elevators, possibly enabling mankind to reach space without the pesky problems of lift-off and g-forces. Scientists are exploring their potential for use in medical applications, such as forming minuscule latticework for rejoining/regrowing severed nerves, and such out-there concepts as making nanobots to clean our blood. They are also considered one of the keys to the future extreme miniaturization of electronics (as if we need electronics to get much smaller--I can barely dial my cell phone now.)

Today's examination of the wonders of carbon nanotubes centers around this article I read at At the University of California in Riverside they're working on carbon nanotube bone grafts, structures upon which the body would grow new bone and fuse it to existing bone. There are new advancements being made in the nanotube bone graft arena by virtue of a new purification process that removes the heavy metals from the nanotubes--heavy metals that are harmful to living tissue. This is apparently necessary because the bone grafts would be permanent, and the nanotubes would stay in the body. This differs from the piece I read about advances in reconnecting severed nerves in the brain. In that case, after the nerves regrow, the lattice of nanotubes breaks down and is flushed from the body through the urinary system.

In both of these scenarios, though, the whole concept is amazing. Imagine someone who has lost some portion of their bone to an accident, or because they had to have a tumor removed. Now think of them being able to regrow their own bone to replace the lost section, not donor bone, but theirs, without the rejection factor. Imagine a person who's had to have brain surgery not losing brain functionality due to nerve damage, because doctors are able to use nanotubes to make the nerves reconnect. It really is an exciting time to be observing the strides the scientific community is making. I wonder what's next.

Update: More coolness. Here's one answer to the "what's next" question. From"Thin films of carbon nanotubes deposited on transparent plastic can also serve as a surface on which cells can grow. And as researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston (UTMB) and Rice University suggest in a paper published in the May issue of the Journal of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, these nanotube films could potentially serve as an electrical interface between living tissue and prosthetic devices or biomedical instruments." They're talking about making prosthetic devices that can be controlled by nerve impulses, and send sensory data the other way. Wow.

Poor Al Qaeda

Captain's Quarters has an update on the state of Al Qaeda in Iraq. It isn't pretty for the terrorist network. Dwindling numbers, poor organization and inadequate armament are seriously hindering their efforts to fight both the American military and the Iraqi government forces. It's all there in some recently captured correspondence. Captain Ed has the analysis. Read it there--you probably won't see this in the New York Times.

Hat tip: Instapundit


Those of you who know me (and I suspect that that's almost everyone who bothers to glance at my little corner of the blogosphere) know that my husband frequently frets over my lack of interest in food. Not only would he like to have me spend more time concocting tempting gourmet meals--he's something of a food snob--he also thinks I would benefit from more caloric intake. However, there is increasing scientific evidence that restricting the calories a bit can help slow the effects of aging, and potentially extend lifespans. Studies with rats are shoring up that claim. So, I figure when I don't feel much like a big meal, I'm actually just jump-starting human scientific trials on the benefits of a lower calorie diet. Hey, it works for the rats. Pass the cheese, please--but just a little. I'm really not that hungry.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Is President Bush' s New Pen Pal

Last week I wrote about an article I read by Lee Harris concerning the resurgence of socialist thought in Latin America. In it, Harris discussed Carl Marx's belief that "the would-be revolutionary had to learn to be patient; he had to wait until the capitalist system had failed on its own account, and only then would he be able to play out his historical role." Apparently, according to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, that day has arrived. The New York Times reports on a charming communication from Iran's leader, to President Bush, sent through the Swiss embassy in Tehran.

Iran's president declared in a letter to President Bush that democracy had failed worldwide and lamented ''an ever-increasing global hatred'' of the U.S. government. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice swiftly rejected the letter, saying it didn't resolve questions about Tehran's suspect nuclear program.

The letter coincides with negotiations currently underway in the U.N. Security Council regarding Iran's nuclear program, which Iran insists is only for producing electricity, despite its enormous reserves of oil and natural gas. The U.S. and its European allies are looking to "restrain Tehran's nuclear ambitions." China and Russia are resisting movement toward sanctions or threat of force to "send a message to Iran that its pursuit of uranium enrichment must be suspended to allay international concerns that it is pursuing nuclear weapons." Instead, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said Tuesday, "We hope relevant sides can show flexibility, restraint and calmness in order to create favorable conditions for the resumption of talks." The letter from Ahmadinejad looks likely to be used by the Chinese and Russians to support their position. Needless to say, it doesn't look like the talks in the Security Council will be wrapping up any time soon.

The Times article also contains some of the text of the unofficially released letter to President Bush. (Let's call a spade a spade here. It was leaked.) The letter largely ignores the nuclear issue, focusing for the most part on the various perceived failings and flaws of democratic America, including the standard declarations that the U.S. is a Zionist puppet. The part of the letter that would probably be of most interest to Marx is its conclusion that democracy has reached its expiration date.

Liberalism and Western-style democracy ''have not been able to help realize the ideals of humanity,'' according to the letter, which was obtained by The Associated Press late Monday from diplomats who declined to be identified because the text had not formally been made public.

''Today these two concepts have failed. Those with insight can already hear the sounds of the shattering and fall of the ideology and thoughts of the Liberal democratic systems,'' it read.

Ahmadinejad also suggests that Bush should look inward, saying hatred is increasing worldwide of the United States, and history shows how ''repressive and cruel governments do not survive.''

I'm sure Marx would be pleased to see there are those in the Middle East who are taking up his banner, although I doubt a theocracy is what he had in mind to replace liberal democracy. Satirist Scott Ott of Scrappleface has his own translation of the letter from Iran's president. It includes a list of things the U.S. can do to help ease the tensions with the Iranian regime.

5) Wipe Israel off the face of the map. Replace with goat ranch.
4) U.S. buys Iranian oil. I make threatening statements causing uncertainty in petroleum markets. We use the windfall profits to pay Russia to help us make nuclear devices, and to pay China to stop U.N. sanctions. U.S. continues to buy Iranian oil.
3) Get U.N. to adopt ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy regarding uranium enrichment.
2) Put Zionists in boxcars. Send back to Europe. Replace Israel with goat ranch.
1) U.S. joins global Muslim Caliphate, ensuring peace and bountiful supplies of enriched uranium for all of Allah’s people.

The New York Times article may be a bit more factually accurate than Scrappleface, reporting what the letter actually said. However, I'd be willing to bet that Scott Ott's translation hits closer to what the letter meant.

Update: May 10, 2006 My apologies. Yesterdays NYT article appears to have become fishwrap, even online. I tried to hunt it down, but can't find the same article in their archives. The link seems to be lost at Scrappleface as well. I'm not sure if this is a consistent NYT thing, that their links don't stay linked, but I'll have to keep that in mind in the future when referencing their articles.

Update II: Michael Rosen, at TCS Daily, has a good summary of the letter, and what it reveals about the regime in Iran.