Thursday, August 31, 2006

A Paint Snob's Lament

Well, I spent the day up in the bucket of the lift again, painting trim on our church. Eight hours of trim painting. Eight. I think the building has been growing. I'm sure there are more windows now than when we started this project. However, it might just be that I'm seeing double from fatigue. It's still nice to be making progress, though. The project is getting to that stage where you can really see what it'll look like when it's all done. It's going to be beautiful, and I don't just think so because I was on the committee that chose the colors--although that does help.

Color is very important to me. In fact, I'd say I'm a bit of a color snob. My friends and family would probably phrase it a little less delicately. My husband calls me the paint police of Portland, which isn't really fair. I'd call myself more of a color consultant--who wishes she had more actual power. It's not that I'm uncomfortable with most people's choices, but some people have no business being allowed to make their own paint decisions. I think there is a genetic flaw, or maybe it's a disease, that causes some homeowners to neglect consideration for their neighbors when "decorating" the outside of their houses. This condition is rare, but I find that it does cause some people to violate the Meow paint codes.

Their offenses fall into several legal categories. The first is Class A misdemeanor paint. It's really just a little problem. It's when the body color for the house is good, but the trim was chosen while the culprit was recovering from minor surgery, and is still on heavy pain meds. A Class C felony involves the trim being fine, but the main body color is just plain bad. Perhaps the person's dog has just died, and they aren't really ready to make important decisions yet. Class B felony, of course, should be obvious. Both the trim color and the main color are bad, and one must assume the person who chose them is going through a divorce, or something equally traumatic. The final category is the one for which I can find no excuse, no mitigating circumstance which could justify the lapse in judgment. Class A felony paint involves obvious intent to cause psychological damage. Class A felony paint makes me conjure up words like "flogging" and "retribution."

I had never, until recently, believed that a case of Class A felony paint could be the result of but one color, and the trim color at that. I had always, innocently, thought that it required a particularly egregious combination of offensive hues to incite me to laying that awful charge at the door of any of my fellow human beings, but I was wrong. I was dreadfully wrong. About a week ago, after a long day of painting at the church, I came home to see that my neighbor across the street and two doors down had also been painting. I remember, in the stupor of my exhaustion, thinking as I saw him painting in the dim evening light, "Wow, I hope that's just primer," and then letting my tired mind slip away from the reality of the situation.

When I woke in the morning, it was with nary a thought of the horror that waited just outside my door. As the morning wore on, it finally dawned on me to again peruse the neighbor's handiwork. I may never look out the front window again. Even my husband, whom I have trained well, but who has not yet reached my level of paint snobbery, actually jumped (I am not making this up) when he saw the color that the man across the street had chosen to inflict upon his neighbors. All the trim on his nice, neutral, beige-ish house--columns, doors, fascia, eaves--is now bright, neon, Halloween ORANGE.

My doctor has prescribed sedatives to get me through this trial. We figure I will only be on them for seven or eight years. The neighbor's just got to choose another color by then, doesn't he? Or move. Maybe he'll move so someone with better taste can move into the house and rescue it. (The following is to be read in a whimper.) Please.

Okay, now that I've gotten that off my chest, I will send you on to the thing which I was planning to write about when I started this post. I probably shouldn't have foisted all this pain onto you, but the analyst that I am now seeing to cope with the turmoil of emotions caused by this felony paint situation says that it is good for me to let things out. Anyway, I was asked recently how I feel about political satire. I like satire. Satire helps us deals with the ridiculous, frustrating, and uncontrollable things in life, like felony paint and politicians. Perhaps this is why I responded so well to the piece that I now recommend for your satirical amusement, at TCS Daily, by Bill Smith. I will warn you ahead of time--it pokes fun at the common Democratic stance on the war on Terrorism, by exploring what key Democratic politicians would be saying if Democrats of today treated national security the same way that Democrats of old did. I must confess, that when I first read it, I didn't catch that it was satire, and it rocked my world a bit, but the meds I'm on for that other problem really helped, and once I figured out that it was, indeed, satire, I simply relaxed into it and enjoyed it for what it was. I hope you do the same. (Actually, the fact I didn't know it was satirical at first might have been why I enjoyed it so much, so perhaps I shouldn't have told you, but, oh well. The damage is done already, so try to enjoy it the best you can. Please don't take offense if your politics are the ones currently being satirized. I've taken swipes at the other side too. If it really upsets you, I recommend sedatives. They really help when taken in moderation. Only three or four at a time, and I can almost forget what's just outside my window. Almost.)

The News In The News

With all the scrutiny on the media lately, triggered by the recent exposure of altered news photos and inaccurate captioning, there continue to be new issues brought to light. Examples of questionable ethics are pretty easy to find these days. I don't think that we can automatically assume that there are suddenly more offenses to journalistic integrity than there used to be, but there certainly are a lot more people actively looking for them, especially in the ultra-vigilant world of the blogosphere. I came across a blog post today that I thought was worth bringing to your attention. It doesn't expose any great fakery, or staging, and Photoshop is nowhere in the picture. It doesn't reveal blatant misrepresentation of facts, nor does it place journalists in bed with terrorist organizations. All it does is offer a comparison.

It compares a speech, as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said it, to the way that the Associated Press reported it. The speech and the AP report differ greatly in tone. I don't think the AP misquotes Secretary Rumsfeld exactly, and I don't think that's what the author of the post at Q and O blog, McQ, is saying either. What the AP does is sum up what he said in such a way as to shade it to the black and white, taking out the nuance and historical context that Rumsfeld used to convey a broader message than the article conveyed.

I realise that news reports have to condense things for space and the convenience of their readers, otherwise they could just put in the whole written speech, or play the whole video, but within the realities of those space and time limits, it should be the goal of any media outlet to retain the essence of what was said. The article paints Rumsfeld's speech as accusatory and confrontational. Read it for yourself and see whether you agree with their interpretation. (Of note is the fact that after the post at Q and O came out--a couple of days ago--the AP changed some of the article's content, adjusting it in those areas that McQ specifically examined. Looks like they found some of his arguments persuasive.)

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Global Warming

An inconvenient scientist? (via Instapundit)

From Sea To Shining Sea

Hey, here's startling new evidence that some people in the oil industry are not bent on the destruction of the world. Sometimes those evil oil industry exploration types, when they're not engaged in corrupt and destructive practices like making a profit and encouraging our dependence on petroleum, can actually be useful for providing alternatives to fossil fuels. (Note for those of you who don't read the Meow often: I am being facetious here. I do not really think making a profit by providing energy to the world through legal means is evil, although I do think alternative sources of energy are necessary and good.) is looking at an MIT project that takes advantage of off-shore deep-sea oil-drilling expertise (I have now almost used up my hyphen quota for the day) to develop big, powerful, non-coastal-view-ruining wind-farms (quota now definitely exceeded), using floating oil drilling platforms as their model. Excerpt:

Paul D. Sclavounos, a professor of mechanical engineering and naval architecture, has spent decades designing and analyzing large floating structures for deep-sea oil and gas exploration. Observing the wind-farm controversies, he thought, "Wait a minute. Why can't we simply take those windmills and put them on floaters and move them farther offshore, where there's plenty of space and lots of wind?"

As with many things in life that are useful or necessary, a lot of folks see the benefit of wind-farms for producing power, but oftentimes people also don't want to look at them. Hundreds of giant turbines spinning in the wind may generate a good deal of electricity, but they don't do much to enhance a view. (They've been having to work out methods to keep them from killing birds, too, but that's a different post altogether.) People who may be all for alternative power, still aren't clamouring to have a whole lot of windmills blocking their view of the ocean. Apparently, up till now off-shore wind-farms have been anchored in relatively shallow water, and have been placed fairly close in to shore (because of the whole anchoring part of the equation.)

Well, three cheers for inventive scientists. They're figuring out ways to make this floating wind-farm thing work, and it looks like the floating systems will be bigger, cheaper and produce more power than other wind-farms currently churning out the wattage. The other really cool thing is that the floating system will be flexible. Each turbine will be tethered to a larger group, with individual windmills that can be detached and moved where they are most needed. I can't imagine that this would be done to compensate for every heat wave, or cold snap, but I could see this being very useful for situations where energy usage changed because of population shifts, and availability of alternatives and the like. I was asking the other day when we were going to see the really big developments that would change the energy landscape. Maybe I should have been considering things that would change the energy sea-scape as well.

Hat tip: Futurismic

Genius, Or Exceptionally Hard Worker?

There's a fascinating article at Scientific American, by Philip E. Ross, that looks closely at the question of whether expertise in any given area is more a matter of aptitude, or application. Are virtuoso musicians, and championship athletes, and chess masters just naturally more gifted than the rest of us, or are they really more motivated instead? The quick and dirty answer according to SA is the latter. Ross delves into the world of chess to illustrate how masters think so much more effectively than the average player, and boils it down, essentially, to the notion that the greats are accessing more stored information at any given time, but that they are retrieving it in essentially the same way as the rest of us, in chunks. He says we can all access between 5 and 9 chunks of information at a time. For example, a chunk of information can range from a single letter, for those just learning their alphabet, to a whole poem, or story, including how it fits into a cultural context, for those who have mastered a certain knowledge of literature and culture. A novice musician might know a few notes of a song, which for them is a chunk, while a virtuoso pianist might hold a concerto in a single mental chunk of information. According to this theory, those we think of as really gifted may not hold any more natural ability than you or I. Their chunks simply hold more information than ours, because they've applied themselves to acquiring the knowledge, either through inherent interest, or some other motivation.

Ross goes on to explain how this has led to younger chess prodigies over the last century, because now there are better "training methods" and computer programs to aid in learning. They are building larger chunks into their mental storage at younger ages. He says the same thing applies to athletes, who train more effectively now, and thus achieve things it took previous generations much longer to master. He also says that early success can increase motivation and application, which leads to more success, which leads to more motivation, and the cycle continues. He applies this principle to kids in school today, and draws the conclusion that, with the proper motivation, there's no reason any kid can't learn anything. He uses an example of a school where they started paying kids money if they did well on tests, with encouraging results.

I wish someone had found a way to motivate me more when I was in school. (Maybe money would have helped.) I often regret how much of the time, before college, I skated by with doing just enough to get the grade I wanted (I think most kids can read a teacher and figure out how much it's going to take to get the A, or whatever they'll settle for, and don't do much beyond that), while very seldom applying as much effort as I was capable of investing. I put pressure on myself, but it was for grades, not for knowledge. Occasionally, though, a subject would come along that was sufficient motivation in itself, something that compelled me, out of interest, to put in that extra effort. Those, generally, fit the profile of the examples that Ross uses above. I had interest, which led to application, which led to success, which led to more interest. In college, of course, I was much more able to choose my own area of study, so things shifted a bit, but some of the same general rules applied. So far, I can see my way fairly clear to agreeing with what Ross explains.

Where I'm stumbling just a bit is in the other people I see around me who are particularly good at any specific thing. I'll use my husband as an example. He can pick up just about any instrument, and in what I (and most sane people) consider an astonishingly short amount of time, become at least adequately proficient at it. Call it hyper-accelerated application if you want to, but most of us would just call it gifting. He understands music in a way that I never will. I grant you, how quickly he progresses does depend on application, but that is only when gauged against himself--if his progress is gauged against mine, I don't care how hard I'm working, there is no comparison. He does have a larger knowledge base than I do musically, and these are the chunks that he's retrieving and applying to the next musical learning situation, so I suppose the theory Ross presents holds, but that's just not how it feels in real time. The truth is, he has always had the same gifting, despite having very little formal musical training through his early years. He was singing three part harmony with his brother and sister when he was eight. This, however, is where Ross would say that my own misgivings about this theory can be answered. Even when my husband was not receiving formal training, when he was just a child, music interested him, and thus he applied himself to sing that harmony part to "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" when the rest of us were singing "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" in rather halting and off-key melody. He wanted to learn it, and so he did.

I do believe that God wires people with certain giftings, but does he do it by instilling in them more natural interest, or more natural ability? According to this article in SA, it would be interest. Ross spends much more time on the scientific explanation of all this, and I don't have those chunks so readily at my own disposal, so I'll let him tell you more, if you're motivated to acquire that knowledge, but I certainly found what he had to say interesting. I would love to believe that what he says is true. I have always tended to believe that I wasn't interested in things I have no aptitude for, but if what Ross says is true, I really simply lack application for things which don't interest me. Now, if I can figure out some way to get interested in those things which haven't been my strengths over the years, maybe I can see some improvement, which will lead to more motivation, which will lead to more success, which will lead to more interest and effort, and so on. My biggest problem then is going to be finding time to do all these new things I will suddenly find myself so competent to do, now that I'm interested, like playing an instrument to make my husband happy. I'm not sure how that's going to work--I spend too much time on this blog to leave room for learning to play the tuba.

Hat tip: Sioux Lady

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The Birthplace Of Islamic Terrorism

At National Review Online--A former Soviet general discusses, from personal experience, how terrorism overtook the Middle East:

Today’s international terrorism was conceived at the Lubyanka, the headquarters of the KGB, in the aftermath of the1967 Six-Day War in the Middle East. I witnessed its birth in my other life, as a Communist general. Israel humiliated Egypt and Syria, whose bellicose governments were being run by Soviet razvedka (Russian for “foreign intelligence”) advisers, whereupon the Kremlin decided to arm Israel’s enemy neighbors, the Palestinians, and draw them into a terrorist war against Israel.
According to NRO, "Lt. General Ion Mihai Pacepa is the highest-ranking intelligence officer ever to have defected from the former Soviet bloc." Check out the rest. It's quite a read.

Hat tip: Smash

Hot Air Rises

There are so many "new and exciting" approaches to alternative energy being bandied about, and so few that we are yet seeing really transform the power landscape, that sometimes I wonder how much of the buzz is just hype, and when we are going to see some tangible advances. When does all this potential get realised in some way that announces, "Okay, now we're turning the corner. Now we're not just theorizing--we're producing?" So many hopeful energy solutions (can an energy solution be hopeful?)--nuclear, ethanol, hydrogen fuel cells, wind, solar, geothermal, ocean-current-based hydro power systems, etcetera, etcetera, hold promise, but there are no notable world-altering breakthroughs to this point. There are innumerable reasons to continue the alternative power quest, from environmental to socio-political. It's good that there are so many options to explore, and that there are lots of different companies, with lots of different scientists, searching down lots of different roads, for the Holy Grail of energy alternatives. The more people who go out hunting, the more likely it is that someone will come back with the prize--or lots of different prizes. Wouldn't it be great if someday we're faced with choices, all of which are sustainable, green and affordable? Sometimes someday seem just around the corner, and sometimes someday feels very far away, like when you're a kid waiting for your birthday.

I remember reading a year or so ago about plans for a breakthrough new solar tower on the horizon for one of the open, sunny, very hot places in Australia. The concept was based on the fact that hot air rises. The design incorporates a giant tower surrounded by a huge (from what I read, about two miles across) glass covered solar collecting field, using black rock, or some other naturally heat absorbing material to store heat through the day and gradually release it by night. The concept is that all this heat would cause the air drawn into the field to rise along the gradually inclining glass cover toward the tower, where it would then be sucked up through the over quarter mile tall structure, providing the impetus to turn giant turbines that surround it. So, it's a sort of solar-wind combo, taking advantage of a very simple scientific truth that we all learn in grade school: heat rises. Sounds promising, yes? It could be a perfect fit. If there's anyplace in the world that seems adaptable to solar power, it's Australia. Lots of wide open spaces. Lots of sun. Lots of risk-taking frontier types to back the project. That was a year ago, though; what's happened since then?

Well, CNN has an update on where things stand now. Todd Woody, assistant managing editor of Business 2.0, writes about a 24,000 acre ranch where the solar-wind plan is going forward. He says, "...Melbourne renewable-energy company EnviroMission, aims to break ground here early next year on the world's first commercial "solar tower" power station." This commercial power station could do more than just keep a few cars on the road, or heat a home or two. This power source could provide enough energy to run 100,000 homes, without producing pollution or greenhouse gases. Hurray!! Maybe that world-changing energy breakthrough isn't that far away. What's the thing that's holding things up for now? Money, of course. Although the station will cost very little to operate, it's going to cost a lot to build, and getting that much money together takes time. Things look hopeful, however, and there are potential investors lining up from as far away as China. The Chinese investor, "Xiang Jiang Industrial, a Shanghai developer and construction company" is looking to start building solar towers in China as well. That would also be a reasonable development, since China's energy needs are growing as fast as her ever- expanding economy.

I'm always interested in where the things I've read about in the past are setting here in the present. This one looks as though it might be sitting pretty, or at least be advancing significantly closer to the time when the dreamers can say, "Now we're not just theorizing--we're producing." I'm going to keep my eye on this one, and hope it's not just full of hot air.

Hat tip: Futurismic

Computing The Green

There's an interesting little blurb at the Greenpeace website that ranks electronics manufacturers based on their "Green" quotient. Considerations such as chemicals used in production and whether the company in question takes back its own product for recycling were the criteria used to calculate the score. The results actually surprised me. I don't know why, since I have no real basis for my preconceptions, but for some reason I expected Apple to perform better on the green scale than Dell. I guess you can't judge a Notebook by its cover.

Hat tip: Futurismic

Monday, August 28, 2006

Nuclear Woes

Here's a sobering examination of the potential fallout from nuclear proliferation in the Middle East, starting when Iran gets the bomb it is so earnestly pursuing. What happens if multiple terrorist harboring states all have nukes? Stanley Kurtz, at National Review Online, discusses the possibilities brought out in an article by Stephen Peter Rosen:

A key to deterrence during the Cold War was our ability to know who had hit whom. With a small number of geographically separated nuclear states, and with the big opponents training satellites and specialized advance-guard radar emplacements on each other, it was relatively easy to know where a missile had come from. But what if a nuclear missile is launched at the United States from somewhere in a fully nuclearized Middle East, in the middle of a war in which, say, Saudi Arabia and Iran are already lobbing conventional missiles at one another? Would we know who had attacked us? Could we actually drop a retaliatory nuclear bomb on someone without being absolutely certain? And as Rosen asks, What if the nuclear blow was delivered against us by an airplane or a cruise missile? It might be almost impossible to trace the attack back to its source with certainty, especially in the midst of an ongoing conventional conflict.

We’re familiar with the horror scenario of a Muslim state passing a nuclear bomb to terrorists for use against an American city. But imagine the same scenario in a multi-polar Muslim nuclear world. With several Muslim countries in possession of the bomb, it would be extremely difficult to trace the state source of a nuclear terror strike. In fact, this very difficulty would encourage states (or ill-controlled elements within nuclear states — like Pakistan’s intelligence services or Iran’s Revolutionary Guards) to pass nukes to terrorists. The tougher it is to trace the source of a weapon, the easier it is to give the weapon away. In short, nuclear proliferation to multiple Muslim states greatly increases the chances of a nuclear terror strike.

He continues:

Deep mutual suspicion between an expansionist, apocalyptic, Shiite Iran, secular Turkey, and the Sunni Saudis and Egyptians (not to mention Israel) is likely to fuel a dangerous multi-pronged nuclear arms race. Larger arsenals mean more chance of a weapon being slipped to terrorists. The collapse of the world’s non-proliferation regime also raises the chances that nuclearization will spread to Asian powers like Taiwan and Japan.

Kurtz speculates at what the future holds, including imperative star wars missile defense systems, fallout shelters, and the demise of the dovish element in American politics (which Kurtz claims cannot survive Iran acquiring nuclear weapons.) We'd better not take our eyes off Iran. They're the ones earnestly seeking nuclear technology, which they claim is for energy purposes only, but who in their right mind actually is actually buying that bill of goods? As the inimitable Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit would say, read the whole thing.

Hat tip: Instapundit

Update: David Weigel, posting at Andrew Sullivan, is rebutting Kurtz's argument, but not very convincingly. It's more of a dismissal really, than a rebuttal, but here it is, for what it's worth.

As Enemies Become Friends

If you remember your World War II history, even just the smattering of it that I have managed to glean over the years, you know that after the U.S. war with Japan was called to a halt, there were some rather severe military restrictions placed on the Empire of the Sun, and incorporated into the Japanese constitution, written at the time the war ended. George Will, writing at, looks at the history of that constitutional prohibition, and how that plays out in the world today. These limits were pretty close to "Thou shalt not have a military"--not quite that extreme, but close enough to require some creative constitutional interpretation over time so that the Japanese could maintain a "defense force." The Japanese are very creative people (which is also why we buy so many Japanese products.) Japan has a substantial military budget.

The post WWII restrictions were designed to prevent further Japanese aggression (they did start the scuffle after all), and at the time the U.S. was pretty determined that these limits be imposed to end Japanese Imperialism. However, a lot has changed in the last sixty years, or so. America is no longer clamouring for such tight controls on the island nation. In one of the twists and turns of the ever unpredictable currents of history, Japan has become a strong American ally, an extreme rarity in East Asia. It's an encouraging example of an enemy, religiously married to the idea of their own superiority and destiny of world domination, relinquishing their ambitions of conquest and becoming our staunch friend. Let us hope it's a scenario that is oft repeated. Okay let me rephrase that. I really don't want any more enemies bent on world domination, but I'd like to see the ones we've got change their goals and become our friends. I realise that it looks pretty impossible right now, but who would have thought in the forties that Japan would turn out to be such a good ally?

Living in a dangerous neighborhood, our ally has some very unsavory characters breathing down her neck. The "beloved" dictator of North Korea is fond of tossing missiles in Japan's general direction, and China is a longtime adversary, and a considerable military threat. The U.S. also could stand to have a little of Japan's muscle in the various places we are currently engaged around the world, the Middle East being a prime example. As our friendship with Japan has grown over the years, our posture toward her military has undergone a similar change in direction. Their own attitude toward it has been undergoing some adjustment as well. Still pacifist (their loss in the Second World War carried some deep lessons), the Japanese are nonetheless aware of the dangerous and changing nature of the world around them. They, as much as anyone in the world, know how advances in technology can shift the balance of power and make fearsome opponents out of what once were mere nuisances. George Will is making the case that Japan's constitutional prohibition against maintaining a military could soon be history, and a decent argument that it should. It's an interesting read.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Next Step: The Holodeck

The world is getting more complex all the time, and an ever-increasing list of technologies can fool us into thinking something is a tangible, physical object, that doesn't actually exist, or make us believe something occurred that never happened, or cause us to experience something that seems so real, but turns out to be total illusion. 3D holographic images like the ones in the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland, can make us think something is right in front of our faces that is nothing more than clever video projection. Other amusement park rides can have us screaming in terror as we fly down the mouth of a giant dinosaur, or find ourselves in the middle of a battle with a Death Star; and, of course, we all know from recent journalistic experience that photographs can be altered to convince us that something occurred which actually didn't. However, the thing that all these illusions have in common is that they are primarily visual in nature. Some amusement park rides combine visual illusion with motion to make us believe we are flying and swooping at great speeds over treacherous terrain, but our brains wouldn't really buy it, if our eyes weren't seeing it. Seeing is believing, as far as our bodies are concerned.

So, would you believe that it's possible for the genius computer nerds to come up with ways to make your body and brain feel sensations that have you completely convinced you are physically touching shapes and textures that are nothing but computer generated fakes?--not something you see that convinces you it's real, but something you feel with your skin, and would even if your eyes were closed--like making your hand experience the sensation that it is petting a porcupine, or stroking sandpaper, when really it's stroking a smooth surface? Okay, from what I read today, they are doing this kind of thing. Maybe not at such a level that you'd believe you were petting a porcupine, but enough to make you feel like you were touching something sharp or pointy, when it was really all in your mind.

I don't get this at all. I think it's totally cool, but I really don't understand how it works. What I've been reading about are new developments in haptics, which, according to Encarta online dictionary is: "the science of applying tactile sensation to computer applications in order to enable users to receive feedback in the form of felt sensations. Haptics technology is used to train hand-eye coordination in tasks such as keyhole surgery and spaceship maneuvers." MIT's Technology Review has an article by Duncan Graham-Rowe, in which he looks at advances in the field of making computer's fool your brain into believing that your hand is feeling something other than it is. Graham-Rowe looks at research where they're using mechanical devices to simulate different surfaces, not by changing the shape of the device, but by varying the force the device applies to the hand that's touching it:

To create this illusion of sharpness, Robles-De-La-Torre, working with Carlo Alberto Avizzano and colleagues at the Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna in Pisa, Italy, used a haptic interface called GRAB, which consists of a thimble connected to the end of a motorized, extendable arm. A user is able to move the thimble freely when placing their forefinger in it. Then carefully controlled motors provide force feedback, so the thimble's movement is impeded in ways that create "virtual" surfaces.

By setting up the system so subjects can move only their finger along one axis, from left to right, the researchers were able make people feel like they were running a finger over a range of different sharp and pointed edges, just by applying lateral resistance to their movement. The sensation was so convincing that the subjects were even able to match the shapes of the edges to images of them, such as a saw tooth or a hump with a pointed peak.

I'm really not entirely comprehending this, but it sounds like we're one step closer to the holodeck from Star Trek: The Next Generation. If they can get our minds to believe illusions we feel as well as illusions we see, how far off can we be from the ability to completely immerse ourselves in totally illusory worlds? I'm not sure how I feel about all this. I mean, a vacation toy is one thing, but what are the more nefarious uses to which such technology could be put? Virtual torture chambers? Virtual coersion tool, say convincing a head of state that his family is being killed before his eyes, in order to make him agree to your terms? Of course, there are much more benificent uses of such technology. If the technology gets advanced enough, the physically impaired could know what it's like to experience things the rest of us take for granted. How about a walk on the beach for a paraplegic, or maybe skydiving? Of course, right now we're still looking at feeling sharp and pointy edges, not complete environmental transformation. I do wonder what's next, though. Don't you?

Hat tip: Futurismic

Truly Repugnant

Wow, I'm in a bit of shock. In the last week, or so, I've sent you to two different sites that I've thought were worth your time (well, more than two, but I'm thinking of these specifically.) One was a non-partisan, positive examination of what the two main political parties stand for, an excellent example of how someone can be objective and fair politically. The other was a painful thought exercise in how to combat terrorists' use of children as targets and shields in their jihad, concluding that it is our love for children that makes them valuable tools to terrorists. It was a discussion of what the most moral approach to this conflict is, to let the terrorists win because we cannot harm the children around them, or to save many more children by eliminating their value as shields and thus, hopefully, leading the terrorists to abandon that strategy. The later wasn't pleasant, and I was uncomfortable with recommending it, but I did because I saw value in what the author was trying to do--find answers to the problem of how we protect ourselves from the people who have declared war on us, while counting the cost of that defense. The post I'm going to send you to today is another thought exercise, but is actually the antithesis of what I found valuable in both of the pieces I already mentioned. It is neither objective, nor fair, and while in a way it purports to suggest answers to some of our problems as a nation, it is willing to consider such offensive means, and is so unrealistic in its conclusions, that its premise seems completely callous, and any morality to this "thought exercise" becomes lost to me.

Let me explain. The author, Russell Shaw, at Huffington Post, claims to pray that America doesn't get hit with another terrorist attack. He says even one life lost to terrorism is too many, but then he goes on to calculate all the political good that would come from such an attack. He trots out all the things that the current administration is doing wrong in his estimation, and figures the mathematical chances that, if we get hit again, enough voters would switch their ballots away from Republicans, making sure the next president isn't from that party. After that, he goes on to list all lives that will be saved, and the things that will get fixed just because no Republican is in the White House. They are as follows: no death by back-alley abortion, hundreds of thousands of lives saved by virtue of universal health care, cleaner air standards so people don't die of heart and lung disease (I'm assuming this is also after they start making us eat healthier), more mass transit to lower deaths from car accidents, gun control that would prevent thousands of deaths caused by crime, stem cell research that would save millions (just by virtue of government dollars--remember, embryonic stem cell research is legal, just not federally funded), raising the minimum wage (essentially to stop deaths by violent crime), less warmongering which costs soldiers lives and causes terrorism.

There are so many things wrong with his reasoning, on so many levels, that I'm having trouble containing my thoughts. He's basically drawing the conclusion that another terrorist attack on American soil would solve all our problems, all of which exist, apparently, because Republicans are in political power. Never mind the fact that every "good" he posits is in itself a debatable issue, with many complicating factors, and moral conundrums. Never mind the fact that Democrats have had their opportunities to enact many of his "goods" and they failed to do so, or, when they did succeed is passing them, the action failed to do what was expected. (For example, raising the minimum wage has never stopped violent crime before. What makes him think it would succeed this time?) Never mind that he uses some cheap tricks like lumping "stem cell research" into one giant category, ignoring that adult stem cell research is funded with federal dollars, just not the kind that uses embryos. What blows me away is how he has this whole list of lives that would be saved, by virtue of eliminating Republican power, if we had another terrorist attack, and doesn't even deal at all with the question of terrorism itself, the fact that, until we defeat them, terrorists will keep attacking, or at least keep trying to. Some of these lives that he's planning on saving once the Reps are out of power may very well be lost to more terrorist attacks, after the one that Shaw's praying against, but can kinda, sorta see the good in.

We are at war with an enemy who wants us ALL dead, not just the Republicans. There is no room for hoping we lose a bit, just so another guy can get elected. That goes beyond petty, in my estimation. It is morally repugnant. We can debate our political differences all we want, and let the voters decide with whom they agree. We can talk about whether universal health care is feasible, and argue over abortion and embryonic stem cell research till we are blue in the face, but we should never, ever, even consider the terrorists being successful in their quest for murder as being a potential political boon. To do so is to show standards so low that he loses all credibility, no matter how worthy any of his other ideas might be. The ends do not justify these means. What he's saying is the equivalent of "If I can't get the voters to agree with me, and do what I think is best, then blow a few of 'em up. Maybe a terrorist attack will bring them around." Truly repugnant.

Hat tip: Instapundit

Friday, August 25, 2006

Virtue And Merit

A friend sent me the link to an interesting, educational, and non-judgemental treatise on the historic nature of the two main political parties in the United States, and how their traditional tendencies continue on today. Noah, at Gideon's Blog, looks at what he calls the "big picture identity" of the Republican and Democratic parties, and breaks down their basic belief systems into sets of three defining words:

Here are the two Iron Triangles of terms that define America's two major parties:


Nation === Liberty === Virtue


People === Equality === Merit

He proceeds from there to examine how each of those terms apply to the parties in question, historically as well as currently, focusing on the positive meanings behind the words, what the best intentions are of the parties in question. That's what I enjoyed most about the article, the way Noah focused on the positive, examining the root of the beliefs, not human weaknesses in carrying them out. He's got his own party affiliation, but doesn't argue that his is the "good" party, or that the qualities he attributes to it are superior to those of the other party. He simply acknowledges that he has an affinity for one set of values more than the other. It's quite refreshing, really. He doesn't examine the question of identity to gain victory over "the other side," or to gloat at the others' flaws, but because he believes such an examination will strengthen our society and help us grapple with the meaning of our nation as a whole:

I should stress that these identities are not absolute or exclusive. The things that each party stands for are good things; there is no party of light nor a party of darkness (nor, some might say, a party of life and a party of death). The differences between the parties are one way of framing an argument about the meaning of America, an argument that will never be concluded because both sides have a point, but that needs to be continued *as an argument* if our civilization is to remain vital. To the end of continuing the argument "for the sake of heaven" it is not a waste of time to investigate what, in the deepest sense, the parties stand for.

This is the kind of discourse we need more of in America--a look at the many sides of "us," rather than a drawing of battle lines, "us versus them." You may or may not agree with Noah's take on things, but we shouldn't fear to have the conversation. We need to stop looking at those who disagree with us politically as "evil," and engage in civil discourse for the sake of understanding one another, finding the good we can agree on, and trying to find the compromise between the various good intentions that may lead us to different conclusions and actions. The societies which squelch such discourse become the tyrannical regimes which smash satellite dishes and imprison bloggers for dissent. Have a look; it's worth your time.

I'm going to head off on a rabbit trail, here. You may or may not want to go there with me. I'm going to look at a classic example of the way we choose sides in America, where each side makes the other evil in our own minds--evil in intent, not just effect. Abortion is a dreadfully emotional topic. More than any other, I think this issue puts both sides into battle mode, and those who disagree with us are often perceived as the enemy. One side sees the other as wanting to control the lives of women, by making them bear an undue burden that will ruin their prospects for the future. They do not believe that an embryo is a baby, and do not believe that the potential for a baby should count as highly in a difficult situation as a living, breathing, suffering woman. They also often believe it is in the best interest of the child-that-could-have-been, since the baby could have been born into difficult circumstances that no child should face as life begins. The other side believes that an embryo is as fully human as the mother, and sees abortion as murder, the killing of innocent life, making one person suffer for the choices of another. They also believe that the mother will suffer just as much for having killed her child as she would for bearing the child and raising it, or letting someone else raise it.

I once heard abortion described as a permanent solution to a temporary problem. I agree with that statement, and as my husband and I were never able to have children of our own, I, too, have an emotional reaction to abortion. However, I do not see the people who believe differently from me on this issue as evil. The fact these other people disagree with me does not negate the fact that they see themselves as doing right. I believe they are wrong, but that is not the same thing as being evil. I also believe that we share the same ultimate goal. We both want what is best for the mother, and on some level, the child. If we can stop pointing the finger long enough to address that common ground, we might be able to at least aid potential mothers more in their struggle, sharing in the provision of alternatives, and possibly eliminate such obvious (to all but the most militant abortion advocates) evils as partial birth abortion.

I bring this up, not because I want to debate abortion, but because I think it is a strong example of where the discourse in America breaks down. The parties have chosen their sides, and now it's all about pointing fingers. Neither side can see that the other has a root of compassion to their perspective. I realise that this is not universal; not everyone sees those who disagree with them on this issue as evil, but that is how it often plays out politically, and frequently personally, as well. Some of the people on both sides seem incapable of recognizing any good in the other. We need to remember the good. We need to see it, and let it make the people we disagree with politically human again. Making the other side the evil enemy is what terrorists do to justify their heinous crimes. It's what enables people to bomb school buses and nursing homes, and abortion clinics. We mustn't allow ourselves to become that. We need to keep talking, and listening, to each other. Our identity depends on it.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Calling The Future

Have you ever seen the movie Minority Report? It's set in a slightly futuristic world, where people walking around town are greeted by billboards, by name, and asked by the store they just entered how they like the shirts they bought last week--not asked by the store clerk, but by the store, or a voice emanating from within the store, anyway. It creeped me out when I saw the movie; no anonymity at all. Everywhere people went in the world of Minority Report, there were invisible scanners watching their every move, connecting to advertisements that then tried to sell specifically to them. Eventually this universal recognition became a problem in the movie, as the powers-that-be (read cops) were also tracking our hero (Tom Cruise), as he went through the inevitable hero-based trauma that we expect from the movies. They were recognizing him by means of optical scanners, so eventually he had to swap eyes with someone. Headed right on down to Eye-Mart and bought himself a fresh pair. Walked around for quite a bit of the movie with the old pair in a plastic baggie. Yuck.

We're a few years from this whole scenario, right? (I personally do not relish the thought of having a vending machine address me personally and suggest that I try something new today, since the computer chip inside it thinks I'm stuck in a snack rut.) Well, yes we're a few years out, and no we're not. We are probably not headed immediately toward instant recognition and sales pitch based on optical scan, but we are coming close with other technology. I read today about new tech that's finding its way into cell phones so that they will do more than just be your camera, and phone, and PDA, as if that wasn't enough. Now they are adding the capacity for the phones to be a sort of transmitting electronic credit card and information retrieval system. You step on a bus, swipe the phone near a reader, and voila, you've paid your fair. You see a movie poster that interests you, swipe the phone nearby, and poof, you've downloaded the trailer. Want to pay for your purchases at the mall? No problem, this particular mall is set up to let you pay by phone--just enter your pin so they'll know it's you. The key to this little miracle is little tiny radio transmitters in the phone that communicate with other tech toys coming soon to buses, stores and movie posters near you. Can anyone tell the difference between technology and magic anymore?

Pretty soon you're just going to be able to leave your wallet at home, as long as you've got the all important phone there with you. Keys will probably become obsolete soon too. We'll just plug in a code for entry. The downside, of course, is if you're forgetful. All those functions in one little item make that item awfully crucial to keep handy. You can't just go leaving the phone on the table when you walk out the door. This then leads to the next inevitable phase--we're going to have to have the components implanted, once they make them small enough to implant without causing unsightly bulges. Of course, this takes us back to where we were in the beginning with Minority Report, and the logic of using eye-dent scans. Science fiction is just getting so hard to write these days, at least the fiction part of it. These things dreamed up in the imagination keep coming true.

Hat tip: Futurismic

Pluto Demoted

Poor Pluto can't get no respect. Remember that conference they were going to have where all the astronomy bigwigs were planning to decide what makes a planet a planet? The International Astronomical Union (IAU) General Assembly were scheduled to gather this week and cast their ballots for which astronomical bodies in our sun's orbit get invited to be on the official solar system "Who's Who" list. Well, today the vote happened, and Pluto is not going to get an invite. According to, Pluto, along with two others, Ceres and 2003 UB313 (I think that might be the one they call Xena) are being classified as "dwarf planets."

Now, from what I read before, a dwarf planet Pluto might have still been classed as a planet, except for the fact it doesn't meet one of the three planetary requirements that the IAU determined would be the standard by which planethood is to be judged. The three criteria are as follows (from

(1) It must have enough mass and gravity to gather itself into a ball.

(2) It must orbit the sun.

(3) It must reign supreme in its own orbit, having "cleared the neighborhood" of other competing bodies.

So, Pluto fails to achieve full planet stature because he isn't a bully. He hasn't kicked out all the other kids in the neighborhood (or made them his satellite toadies.) There are loads of other large objects floating around out there in the Kuiper Belt where Pluto hangs out, thousands in fact. You could say that Pluto lives out in the suburbs with lots of other middle class objects, none of them important enough to live on their own private estates like Jupiter, Saturn and the other solar system hotshots with private gates and chauffeurs (and very high property taxes.)

I don't think this is as big a demotion as it sounds. Sure there are now officially only eight planets in our solar system, but there is also a new category just for Pluto, Ceres and 2003 UB313. Dwarf planets may not sound very important, but they're important enough to call a whole conference over, and have a vote and everything, and create a special category just for them; so Pluto's got to feel good about that. He's important enough to cause a fuss, and what more could any of us want, really? Actually, he may be better off this way. By Kuiper Belt standards, Pluto's still a big fish in a small pond, which might be preferable to being given full planet status and then having to try to keep up with the big boys. No, I think Pluto and the other dwarf planets can be very satisfied with today's decision. They get to feel superior to the mere asteroids in the neighborhood, without having to face a lot of planetary peer pressure--and their taxes will probably stay low, so who could complain about that?

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Pics In Space

My Kedley and I have been having a busy time of late. We're still up to our elbows in garage construction-related projects, and only have a limited amount of time before the famous Oregon rain kicks in to make chores like painting and dirt pile moving considerably more difficult. We're making some progress. The retaining wall is built, the raised patio is almost complete and I think we've figured out where we're going to tuck most of the remaining mountain of soil left over from garage floor excavation. (We haven't constructed all the tucking spots yet, but at least we now know where they're going.) There's wiring and the like to get to as well, but that's an indoor task and much more rain-friendly.

For the past couple of weeks, however, we haven't been making any progress at all, despite the time sensitive nature of the work outdoors. We've been taking some time off to help out at our church with another "gotta get it done while the sun shines" kind of project. In order to save the every elusive dollar, a group of volunteers from our congregation have been hard at it, painting the outside of the building. Big building. Small congregation. Lots of man hours per man. Lots of man hours per woman for that matter. So anyway, today Ked and I were tackling some of the trim work way up high on the south side peak, and the crown moulding under the eaves. When I say way up high, I mean way up high. Ked and I are guessing somewhere between 45-50 feet at the top. Have I mentioned I don't like heights? Mercifully, unlike with the remodel we did on the inside of the church, we're not using ladders and scaffolds to get the assignment done. We have this handy dandy lift jobby, with a bucket big enough for two, that carries us right up into the sky and parks us next to whatever the target of the moment happens to be. Today, as I said, we were aiming for the peak. Have I mentioned I don't like heights?

Now you might ask what the heck I was doing climbing in that bucket if I'm not particularly happy with the idea of floating around forty or so feet in the air. Good question. The church has the lift for a limited amount of time, and we need to make the most of the time we have, and take advantage of it when people are available. Today, Ked and I were available. So up we went. I discovered something interesting while I was trying to concentrate on my paintbrush, and not on my discomfort. I really only found the whole thing stressful when it was moving. Travelling from spot to spot had me clinging to the sides a bit (although what good that would do if the whole thing toppled I have no idea. We were already harnessed in, so that's probably as good as it gets anyway.) Swaying in place because one of us moved too abruptly, or breathed too hard, or thought quick thoughts, was equally disconcerting. (I used that word a lot today.) On the other hand, in those rare moments when the bucket was still and I stopped to look around, it was kind of fun. Looking over the rooftops and even straight down at the ground was an interesting, if not pleasant experience. I'm not going to volunteer to re-roof the building, or anything, but I survived this portion of the painting, and am feeling somewhat triumphant. My husband probably suffered more than I did, just because I was a tiny little eensy weensy bit tense, but he survived that as well.

So, why did I tell you all this? Mostly just to get it all off my chest--a decompression moment after coming in for a safe landing--but also because being up there reminded me I hadn't checked out this month's space photos from MSNBC. (Just click on "see the slide show" and let the fun begin.) I had a look when I got home, and decided they are worth passing on to you. All of them are pretty darn cool and interesting. Some taken of space, some taken from space, but all taken of things and places you and I aren't likely to get to see in person any time soon, since I'm pretty sure most of us Earthlings won't be heading out on the space shuttle, or hitching a ride on the Cassini spacecraft anytime soon, especially those of us who don't like heights much. Have I mentioned that I don't like heights?

Helping The Bad Guy

Yesterday I linked to an article by Michael Barone, which examines America's "covert enemies"--i.e. those Americans who choose to focus on what's wrong with their country and its actions in history, rather than acknowledge any of the good in the nation most of the world's refugees would vote "the one to which I'd most like to emigrate." These same people don't really want to see the Islamofascist enemy win the war we are in, because they wouldn't want to live in the world he would create, but they would still like to see us lose, because really we deserve it. On some level we are the bad guys, and the conflict really is all our fault anyway, or thus the reasoning goes.

Power Line has an example of something similar, but on an international scale. It seems that some people, supposedly on the side of truth, justice, and liberty, won't cross a line to confront, or even discuss, obvious corruption with programs like the U.N.'s Oil for Food fiasco, or the threat posed by the current regime in Iran, because it would mean giving aid and comfort to President Bush. The idea goes like this: "I didn't want to admit that there was massive corruption between Saddam Hussein and U.N. officials in the Oil for Food program, because that would have supported Bush's case for war." What brilliant reasoning. Did it ever occur to them that if they had reported it, the corruption might have been stopped and then the sanctions might actually have been effective, weakening the regime and its financial ability to create WMD, thus lessening the need for war?!! Can you imagine not reporting a child molester because doing so would help the police officer who gave you a speeding ticket? It's about the same mentality--helping the bad guy, so the good guy won't win. Why don't they just join the Taliban and get it over with?

Hat tip: Instapundit

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Everybody Needs A Mentor

We were discussing in the comments of an earlier post the role of technology in the Islamist world. One commenter wrote about terrorists' use of the Internet, how many terrorist websites have sprung up over the last decade or so, and another commented on what a shame it is that regimes such as Iran don't use technology to benefit their citizens, but rather fear its potential to give information to the masses, so they end up arresting bloggers and destroying satellite dishes. It's an odd combination, don't you think? One arm of Islamofascism fears the effects of technology, and the other is anxious to use it for their own twisted purposes. One can only hope that what Jesus said in Matthew 12:25, "Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand," applies to terrorists, fascist regimes, and the Internet.

Anyway, the comment about mushrooming terrorist websites made me take note of this Weekly Standard article, by Emily Hunt, who writes about the effectiveness of terrorists who forgo the usual camp training and go in for do-it-yourself bomb making and the like. What she has to say is on some levels encouraging. She makes the case that Internet-trained terrorists generally turn out not to be very good at it. Bomb-making is apparently a tricky business, frought with peril:

Even the savviest of terrorists have a low attack success rate, and Murphy's law--that everything that can go wrong, will--applies to terrorists and law enforcement alike. Inexperienced individuals are especially prone to error during the planning stage, and bomb construction remains one of the most daunting obstacles. Minor miscalculations in constructing an explosive device can result in significant setbacks, injury, or even death. Since September 11, hundreds of aspiring terrorists all over the world have been killed by the premature detonation of their own bombs.

Hunt says that it's not just the practicalities of bomb-making and the like that cyber-trained terrorists lack. She explains the benefits of learning from seasoned instructors:
But the psychological benefits of training and mentorship may be as important as the tactical ones. Learning from an expert can provide a novice with the necessary confidence to keep his cool and evade law enforcement. Time at a training camp also creates an opportunity for ideological indoctrination and interaction with a community of dedicated militants, which can galvanize the will of a young operative.
Okay, so the ones who go it on their own are going to be more likely to crack under scrutiny, and bail on the whole "martyrdom" thing when the chips are down. Good. That's what I like to hear. I vote for the do-it-yourself movement. Maybe more of these poor deluded souls will lose their nerve before they reach the actual exploding stage of their self-imposed missions, or at least be dumb enough about it that they get caught before the big bang.

If only that were the end of it. While Hunt's assertion that isolated individuals picking up the terrorist trade from online instructions lack the skills and will required to make their plotting truly effective is something of a comfort, her article doesn't stop with a big sigh of relief. On the contrary, she looks at where the proper training is to be had. It turns out, many terrorist roads lead to Pakistan. The recent arrests of the would-be plane bombers have led straight to Pakistan, and highlighted Pakistan's, and President Pervez Musharraf's, bi-polar approach to terrorism:
Pakistan has a history of supporting militant groups in the region that long pre-dates Musharraf--a policy originally conceived to help counter-balance India's regional power. However, in the post-September 11 environment, Pakistan now has an interest in reining in those same militants, both to avoid provoking the United States and to assure the stability of Musharraf's regime. Simultaneously, the Pakistanis wish to maintain the militants as leverage against neighboring countries.
Hunt points out that the U.S. is generally pleased with the Pakistani government's cooperation on terrorism. The latest airplane plot was foiled with their assistance. However, and here's where it gets weird, the Pakistani government fears the terrorist element because of that cooperation, and yet wants on some level to keep them around as a way to keep India in check. Once again we are faced with a house divided. Pakistan is going to have to make up its mind on this one, hopefully coming down on the side of denying the terrorists a place to lay their heads. Hunt suggests that the recent arrests in London, which, as I said, lead back to Pakistan, should urge the U.S. to apply pressure in that direction:
This thwarted attack suggests that the United States must exert more pressure on reluctant states to crack down on terrorist sanctuaries and sympathizers. At the same time, the Bush administration must do more to assist those states that have the will but not the capability to fight terrorism. From Pakistan to Lebanon to the Sahara desert, this week's close call demonstrates that denying terrorist's sanctuary has never been more important.
Clearly, Hunt is right. If terrorists truly are less capable of carrying out their wretched plans without the benefit of mentoring, and the camps which provide the environment for that mentoring, then President Bush's original premise that we must confront any nation that gives them haven is even more crucial. I also think she is right in calling for the administration to assist those nations that have the will but not the capability to fight terrorism. What's been happening in Lebanon springs quickly to mind. Not every nation that has terrorists wreaking havoc in their land are inherently agreeable to the situation, and we don't need to threaten to bomb them to kingdom come to elicit their cooperation. As we've already determined, learning, oddly enough, from the example of terrorists, everybody needs a mentor. Some of these countries we really just need to stand firmly beside, without wavering, and assure them of our determination to assist them in their struggle--and then back it up with the actual "standing beside them" part. (Much like the U.N. is not doing in Lebanon.) Herein, of course, lies the rub. Determination and not wavering in our aid of them, as we take our mutual stand, can only happen if we ourselves are not a house divided. Judging from U.S. politics of late, that's a pipe dream. We're not only a house divided; the parts of the house are on floating islands growing farther apart by the minute. What I'm hoping is that there are enough of us on the "determined" island to make us able to stand, that our combined wills can bring us to anchor, and that the place we come to anchor is the right one.

Your Mission, Should You Choose To Accept It...

Michael Barone has written an excellent response to what he calls our "covert enemies," the blame-America-first crowd. He makes such good points that I probably shouldn't say any more, but should just say, "Go read it, and then come back and let's discuss it." So that's what I'm going to do. "Go read it, and then come back and let's discuss it." (Please.)

Monday, August 21, 2006

Jumping On Three: One...Two...

Is Kurdistan an inevitability? It seems to be. The northern section of modern Iraq was never a natural part of that country, ethnically or politically, but was cobbled onto it at the end of World War II, by the British, over the objections of the Kurds, whose territory was divided between Iraq, Turkey, Iran and Syria. My information comes from Michael Totten, writing at Reason Online, who says that it's only a matter of waiting for the right moment to jump, because Iraqi Kurds have already made up their minds to declare Kurdish independence. Kurdistan is already a reality in practice, if not in name. It has its own government, military, security, and state of being. It is safe, new, and optimistic, highly pro-American, highly pro-democracy, and does not see itself as having a bond with other Iraqis. In an informal referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan in January of 2005, in which there was 80% voter turnout, 98.7% of those casting a ballot voted to secede. Totten says it's not a matter of what the people intend to do; it's a matter of when they intend to do it. Their hunger for independence isn't a transient thing:

It’s hard to overstate just how long and how badly the Kurds have wanted out. Barzani’s father, the guerilla leader Moula Mustafa, once told Jim Hoagland of The Washington Post, “We can become your 51st state and provide you with oil.” That was back in 1973.
Read Totten's whole article. It's fascinating, and explains exactly what the Kurds are waiting for, and gives some perspective on what the rest of Iraq thinks of the idea of an independent Kurdish state splintering off from the Arab one. Hint: The main point of contention is oil.

Africa And AIDS

Here's some good news about Africa and AIDS. John Donnelly is writing at the Boston Globe that the program that President Bush started three years ago to help fight AIDS in Africa is bearing fruit. He quotes Dr. John Idoko, a doctor in Nigeria who treats thousands of HIV-positive patients, as giving credit to the President's program for having an effect on HIV prevention and treatment in Africa with which nothing else compares. His own practice has changed dramatically. Three years ago, according to Donnelly, Idoko frequently "made rounds in a hospital packed with people dying from AIDS because they couldn't pay for the antiretroviral drugs necessary to keep them alive." Now there are drugs available to treat the over 6,000 HIV positive patients in his rapidly expanding clinic:

The major reason for Idoko's success is the Bush administration's AIDS program, which in the last three years has sent billions of dollars to Africa and helped save the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. When I moved to Africa three years ago, the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR, was just getting off the ground. As I return to Washington this month, the $15 billion program is just hitting its stride, and many Africans believe it has become the single most effective initiative in fighting the deadly scourge.
I remember watching the State of the Union address at which President Bush announced the initiative and thinking what a good thing it was, but wondering whether it could possibly have any effect. Then I watched the reactions over time from various aid groups and political organizations, some of which said it was a diversion of money that our country needed for itself and far too free a use of American largess, not to mention fruitless considering the enormity of the task, and others which said it wasn't nearly enough and the President was being stingy, again because of the enormity of the task--the latter despite the fact that (as far as I know) it was the most generous gift to date toward fighting AIDS in Africa. It's encouraging to know that there are people on the ground in AIDS ravaged Africa who are definitely seeing concrete advances in battling the disease as a result of those American dollars. The Nigerian doctor is certainly appreciative. "`The greatest impact in HIV prevention and treatment in Africa is PEPFAR-there's nothing that compares,' Idoko said."

Donnelly's article then takes an interesting turn. He takes a look at the ongoing discussion of AIDS in Africa coming from the rest of the world. It seems there is controversy in international Aids policy circles centered around an objection to the amount of money in the Bush program that goes toward promoting abstinence and fidelity as part of AIDS prevention. It's not really that they object to a certain amount of abstinence education, but some aid groups think too many of the program's dollars are being spent on reaching people with the abstinence/fidelity message. (Okay, brief opinion moment here. What more effective way is there of counteracting the scourge of the HIV virus than not getting it in the first place? Using funds to reach kids while they are still young enough to learn the lesson before the school of hard knocks has a chance to teach it to them is not only prudent, but extremely cost effective in the long run.)

Another controversy that Donnelly mentions is the objection of many AIDS activists to U.S. cooperation with faith-based groups in implementing its AIDS treatment and prevention efforts. My question to them is how many hospitals and hospices are there around the world, including America, that weren't at least started by some religious group or other? Do they think that impoverished African governments are tossing loads of money at building hospitals and clinics? I suppose we could send the US contribution through the UN, or some other world body, but we've seen how well that's gone in the past. Anyone remember Oil For Food? Fortunately, Donnelly says that pragmatism prevents this cooperation with faith-based organizations from being the issue in Africa that it is to the rest of the world. Faith-based services are frequently the only ones available, and the situation is desperate enough that people need whatever help they can get. Donnelly quotes one Zambian man as saying that he's already lost 15 friends to AIDS, and that he's now an old man by his country's standards. He's 34.

Regardless of the objections of people who don't want religious groups and abstinence education to have such prominent places in US AIDS fighting efforts, by Donnelly's reckoning, the program's working. I for one am truly pleased by the progress, and can honestly say I think it's a worthy use of my tax dollars (and that's not an easy thing to get me to say.) I suspect, however, I'm not nearly as pleased as Dr. Idoko and others like him. They're seeing first hand their work, and American dollars, saving lives. Hopefully for the next generation in Africa, 34 won't be considered old age.

Hat tip: Instapundit

Update: Not all of Africa is seeing an improvement in the AIDS situation. South Africa has been living in denial on the issue of AIDS, and her people are bearing the consequences.

The Paragon Of Impartiality

Gateway Pundit has a rather damning roundup of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan's responses to Hezbollah and Israeli actions over the course of the past week or so. In case you're not caught up with the latest, the cease-fire has been shaky of late. On the sixth day after the hostilities were, for the most part, halted, Israel hit the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon by air and ground, claiming it was necessary to stop a shipment of arms already coming to Hezbollah from Iran. (Iran didn't waste any time if the Israeli government is to be believed, and I suspect that it in this instance.) Lebanon apparently is saying they think there was a different target, but in any case, neither side is happy with the situation, and where it goes from here is uncertain. Kofi Annan's statements and silences are telling, however. Guess who comes in for Kofi's condemnation while the other side skates? Aww, that was too easy.

Update: Allahpundit at Hot Air believes that Islamists need a major military defeat to keep them from believing that they are invincible, with God on their side. He says they're learning the wrong lesson from the Hezbollah/Israeli UN brokered cease-fire. Of course, he's right that the cease-fire was of highly questionable benefit from the Israeli perspective, and it's clear that the terrorists aren't skipping a beat in their quest to rid the world of the Jewish state. There's been no movement at all toward disarming Hezbollah--quite the opposite, in fact. Iran is keeping Hezbollah well supplied. The big question is, if Allahpundit's right that it's going to take a major beating of an Islamist power, is it going to have to be the US versus Iran, as so many claim? Is that the only sword that has any real hope of severing the snake's head? There's an awful lot of punditry out there that says that war is inevitable, either before or after Iran develops nukes, because Iran will insist on it.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Katrina And The Media has an article by Lorie Bird which, as we're approaching the one year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, grades the media for its performance in covering the storm and its aftermath. Summing it up, she flunks the mainstream media, and so do I. Katrina is where the MSM lost me completely. I gave up on most newspapers and local broadcast stations long ago, because of their blatant biases and agendas, but I had always watched cable news for major breaking news events--generally Fox News since they seemed the most balanced--not perfect, but making an effort to show more than one side of a given story. 9/11 had me watching TV for three days straight, and Katrina also kept me watching, and praying for the people in her path. What I saw over the days of coverage made me truly frustrated, however, not because of the storm, but because of the inaccurate and hysterical reporting, and I haven't been able to trust any of the major media sources since.

What I saw was hyperbole and premature (and thus inaccurate) blame. This hyperbole endangered people, causing the delay of rescue efforts, by shifting the focus of emergency responders off of rescuing victims and placing it on non-existent sniper threats and gang violence. What I saw was the media blaming the federal government for not being there quickly enough, when what was occurring was the fastest disaster relief effort in U.S. history. What I saw was almost instant accusations of racial discrimination, because black people were suffering from the resulting chaos after the levy breach in New Orleans, when most of the population of NO was black--how could they not be affected? Add to that the fact it was the black Mayor of New Orleans who failed to utilize the resources at his disposal to evacuate the residents (everybody remembers those buses), and that many of those who got out left because of proactive federal government pressure on the local authorities to call the evacuation in the first place. Exactly where was the racism? (The American Thinker put out an article in September of 2005, that deals very thoroughly with the issues of race and Katrina. It's quite informative, even for early information.) In a more specific example of misplaced media blame, I remember watching in amazement as an ABC reporter tried to get victims to blame the President for the disaster, after his speech to the nation post-hurricane. The part of that scene that was actually very gratifying was watching the mostly black interviewees refusing to go along with the reporter's leading, and him seeming more and more befuddled. It was priceless. (Follow the link and watch the video. It's hilarious in a sickening kind of way.) Don't even get me started on the Superdome and the mass murders and rapes that didn't happen there.

Bird's article points out that many of the mistakes the media made in the thick of the storm are still the tale they're telling today. Why would they correct themselves? The fact that all this misinformation is still the official media line is not surprising, but it is darned aggravating. At this point I get most of my news online. It may not always be accurate, but it's a whole lot easier to check sources, and the centrist portion of the blogosphere has a pretty solid self-regulating mechanism, which filters out the fact from the fiction before the fiction becomes unchangeable holy writ.

Hat tip: Mary Katherine Ham--Guestblogging at Michelle Malkin

Update: Here's an article that ran soon after the storm that looks at what went wrong with the media and local government, and right with the rescue effort, from Homeland Security on down to the local Fire Department. The rescue effort was really impressive. (via Instapundit)

Friday, August 18, 2006

You Can't Watch That From Here

You'd think that a society so sure of its own greatness, virtue, and superiority wouldn't be afraid of a little contrast and comparison. Gateway Pundit has the lowdown on the Iranian government's latest efforts to control the thought-lives of its citizens. The targets: satellite dishes, bloggers and student activists--i.e. anything that could tell the Iranian people that they might not have it as good as the Mullahs like to claim, or that the West isn't as evil as depicted in Tehran, or that the War Against All Evil People--meaning everyone who isn't them (especially Jews and Americans), isn't necessarily going as well as they boasted it would. Notice there are still Jews living in Israel, and not all floating around as Mediterranean fish food. Hezbollah was supposed to have had some great victory by now, weren't they? (No, I'm sorry, having some of your people survive the war is not victory. That's mercy.) What's worse from Tehran's point of view, there were actually Muslim governments speaking against the Iranian backed Hezbollah attack of Israel. That's enough reason right there to want to keep information from the Iranian masses. Not only did they not win the war, but the only other acceptable humans on the planet didn't even all root for the right team. Time to clamp down on alternate sources of info!! So, to keep their citizens from getting any more of an inkling that their supreme leaders aren't perfect and invincible, they're fighting an enemy they can probably defeat, at least temporarily. Stationary inanimate objects make easy targets, so they are showing their military prowess by destroying as many satellite dishes as they can. Satellite dishes are illegal, you know. Most evil things are. I'm sorry if this post sounds a little more snide than usual, but good grief, this kind of thing is so pathetic, it just ticks me off. I think about all the people who are stuck in that world and I just get steamed. What a great place to live that must be. Let's sell the satellite dish and move there--whaddaya think?

Seriously--there are about three to four million satellite dishes in Iran, and they're hunting them down and destroying them. Big victory for the Mullahocracy, huh?

Rant Over. Hat tip: Instapundit

Thursday, August 17, 2006


I learned a new word today: neologism--meaning a newly invented word or phrase. The word it referenced was Islamofascism. Stephen Schwartz, the Executive Director of the Center for Islamic Pluralism, and the writer at TCS Daily delving into this topic, has some grounds for expertise in the subject, and a definite perspective as to its meaning:

I admit to a lack of modesty or neutrality about this discussion, since I was, as I will explain, the first Westerner to use the neologism in this context.

In my analysis, as originally put in print directly after the horror of September 11, 2001, Islamofascism refers to use of the faith of Islam as a cover for totalitarian ideology. This radical phenomenon is embodied among Sunni Muslims today by such fundamentalists as the Saudi-financed Wahhabis, the Pakistani jihadists known as Jama'atis, and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. In the ranks of Shia Muslims, it is exemplified by Hezbollah in Lebanon and the clique around President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran.

Political typologies should make distinctions, rather than confusing them, and Islamofascism is neither a loose nor an improvised concept. It should be employed sparingly and precisely. The indicated movements should be treated as Islamofascist, first, because of their congruence with the defining characteristics of classic fascism, especially in its most historically-significant form -- German National Socialism.

What follows in the article is an exploration of what makes fascism distinct from other far right ideologies, which, according to Schwartz, seek to enforce laws and reinforce authority. By contrast, he says, "...the fascist organizations of Mussolini and Hitler, in their conquests of power, showed no reluctance to rupture peace and repudiate parliamentary and other institutions; the fascists employed terror against both the existing political structure and society at large. " He stresses that, "Fascism is not merely a harsh dictatorship or oppression by privilege." Where he says groups like Al Qaeda and Hezbollah converge with fascism is in their "...willful, arbitrary, and gratuitous disruption of global society, either by terrorist conspiracies or by violation of peace between states." Schwartz also claims that, as in fascist Italy and Nazi Germany, Islamofascism has a root in economic dissatisfaction and frustrated ambitions. He goes on to explain that fascism is imperialistic, totalitarian, and paramilitary. This is the common ground which Schwartz sees the Islamofascism of today, and the forms of fascism we find in history, as sharing.

Where Schwartz takes his analysis from there is his stated belief that this fascism is not intrinsic to Islam:
Islamofascism is a distortion of Islam, exactly as Italian and German fascism represented perversions of respectable patriotism in those countries. Nobody argues today that Nazism possessed historical legitimacy as an expression of German nationalism; only Nazis would make such claims, to defend themselves. Similarly, Wahhabis and their allies argue that their doctrines are "just Islam." But German culture existed for centuries, and exists today, without submitting to Nazi values; Islam created a world-spanning civilization, surviving in a healthy condition in many countries today, without Wahhabism or political Shiism, both of which are less than 500 years old.
Schwartz then goes on to examine fascists movements that have been tied to Christian extremism, citing several examples. Of course, as a Christian myself, I would say that these "Christian fascists" were not really Christian at all, by any spiritual standard, but merely co-opting Christian terminology, or historical cultural tradition, to attract others to their cause and invest themselves with legitimacy. I think this is the point Schwartz is making about the Islamofascists as well. It is definitely true that the people who have declared war on the West are Islamic. It is true that most of the terrorist attacks around the world are committed by young Muslim males (as Michelle Malkin frequently points out when parts of the media refuse to acknowledge this fact after any given terrorist act of violence.) There is no question that some Muslims believe their faith justifies, and in fact commands, their aggression. However, it is also true that there are many Muslims throughout the globe who do not share the Islamofascists world view.

Because of this distinction, Schwartz thinks the definition of the term Islamofascism is extremely important, as well as the way civilized people, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, respond to the threat of this particular fascist ideology:
Similarly, the violence wreaked by al-Qaida and Hezbollah, and by Saddam Hussein before them, has been different from other expressions of reactionary Arabism, simple Islamist ideology, or violent corruption in the post-colonial world. Between democracy, civilized values, and normal religion on one side, and Islamofascism on the other, there can be no compromise; as I have written before, it is a struggle to the death. President Bush is right to say "young democracies are fragile ... this may be [the Islamofascists'] last and best opportunity to stop freedom's advance." As with the Nazis, nothing short of a victory for democracy can assure the world's security.
What I find encouraging is seeing this kind of argument from the Executive Director of the Center for Islamic Pluralism. I've read Mr. Schwartz's writing before, and it's always been something notable to me to read this kind of reason from a very vocal Muslim. What discourages me is that it is so very notable, by reason of being rare. What I can hope, being by nature an optimist, is that he speaks for a large, if relatively silent majority. Now, if that majority could become more vocal, and stop the prevalent drumbeat that any use of such terms as Islamofascism is by nature racist and bigoted, instead acknowledging that the term has its roots in reality, we as a civilization might be able to come to a more unified consensus and strive for and achieve "nothing short of victory."

A Little Tax Talk

Interested in an article that's a month and a half old? No? Even if it's really good? Well, it may be over-the-hill in Internet years, and not your favorite topic, but I found it interesting, anyway, and better late than never. I was reading a TCS Daily article from today's edition, by Pejman Yousefzadeh, about the political wisdom of pushing for tax reform before the coming November election. Yousefzadeh (thank goodness for copy and paste) wasn't just saying that tax reform was good politically; he's for it on principle as well, but did think the timing could be auspicious as a Republican effort. (Personally, I think it could be meritorious coming from the Democratic camp as well. Tax simplification should know no political boundaries.) That article kept me intrigued enough to read it to the end, but the one that really caught my attention was the one Yousefzadeh linked to by Max Borders. Excerpt:

Eventually, if an idea is simple and elegant enough, it will triumph. Consider HR 25, the “FairTax” bill. Rarely, if ever, have the words “brilliant” and “bill” earned the right to appear together in a single sentence. But for once we have a policy option that a) doesn’t require voters learn complicated economics, b) genuinely benefits everyone, and c) should be able to get support from both parties.

The elevator pitch behind this idea comes in a series of questions: Would you like to stop paying income tax? Would you like to have the IRS off your back forever? Would you like to see people stop manipulating the tax system unfairly? Would you like to see the economy boosted and low-income families helped all at the same time? We all want these things. And that’s what the FairTax provides. Skeptical? Read on.

And that's what I shall leave you to do--Read on if you're skeptical, or interested, either one. I was a bit of both. I did like what I read, though.

Of War And Children

I hesitated to direct you to this, because it deals with an extremely difficult and emotional topic, but I believe it is a subject which needs to be explored and discussed, thoroughly and calmly. About a week ago, Grim, at Blackfive, posted a disconcerting exercise in logic, basically concluding that it is our love for all children that makes terrorists target ours, and use their own as shields. Thus, he says, ultimately it is we who endanger them, by making them valuable to the enemy, a tool to be wielded, and we must change the way we fight war, refusing to let the presence of children hinder our necessary decisions.

Here is another link, to a blog that rebuts this argument, basically by means of an emotional accusation. The real reason I include it is the comments. There are a few more thoughtful voices, but most react with the same emotionalism as that in the initial accusation, with name calling, and accusations of racism and desire for genocide. I must admit, when I read Grim's post I didn't see any indication of racism, or enjoyment of the conclusion he had drawn. I saw a sorrow about what the enemy has forced him to conclude--that our own love of children was putting them in danger, and that we need to pursue the war we must fight "without thought of the children," so that they "lose their value as hostages, and as targets." He is not saying we should target children the way the enemy does, but he is saying that we have to stop letting their presence deter necessary action.

That is really hard stuff. So, I'm looking to find out if there is a response to this piece other than complete agreement with Grim, or total emotional vitriol. I'd love to have you read the Blackfive post, and then answer a few questions. What I want to know is this, is the emotional content of the general topic--children in war--too potent to rationally address Grim's initial post and counter his argument with a logical rebuttal? Is there a logical rebuttal possible? If so, what is the logical refutation of Grim's position?-- not the emotional one we all want to have that just doesn't want him to be right, and thus refuses to believe it, but the rational one, that can calmly say, "Here's where you are wrong, and this is why the hard way you see as inevitable is unnecessary."

I have to admit, I see the logic in Grim's argument, and I have not personally been able to refute it. At the same time, anyone giving way completely to an undisciplined application of Grim's conclusions risks becoming the thing he is fighting. It is our value for life, our children's and theirs, that makes us different from the enemy. I don't believe a turning from all value of life is the thing he is espousing. In fact, I think it's quite the opposite, that his goal is ultimately to save as many as possible through an approach that takes fear as a weapon out of the hands of people who would use the death of children to make us capitulate to their dark world. What do you think? Is he right?

Hat tip: IMAO (for both links)

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

I Absolutely Had To Blog This

I have never heard anything like this. Do you believe in miracles? I bet these three fisherman do. Hector Tobar, of the Chicago Tribune, writes that three men, lost at sea in November, have been found alive, after floating halfway from Mexico to Australia. Their 30 foot fishing boat had lost two outboard motors, but was otherwise in good enough shape to stay afloat for all these months. Good shape for floating along on ocean currents, but not for calling for help--the boat apparently lacked a radio. My goodness, they spent just about nine months at sea, when they were supposed to be out for two or three weeks. Shades of Gilligan's Island, without the coconut cream pie. The men said they drank rainwater and ate birds to survive--and one presumes fish, as well. They sure could have used the Professor to make them a satellite phone out of seagull feathers and fish bones. I wonder if these men will change professions now, or if from this point on they'll just figure they're invincible? Maybe they could cash in and host a TV reality show. or something. "Survivor: Wherever The Current Takes You." Beats catching seagulls.

Hat tip: IMAO

Math Quiz

I have a math question for any really smart people who happen upon the Meow. I've wondered this for a very long time--twenty years in fact. I mentioned yesterday that today was the twentieth anniversary of the day I married my beloved. What I didn't mention (because seriously, why would you care?) is that Friday is also our birthday. Yes, I said our birthday, as in both my husband and I have the same one. What are the odds of that? Really, I want to know the answer to that question. I took a probabilities and statistics class in college in the early eighties, but I have definitely lost the knowledge of how to calculate this one, if I ever learned it in the first place. I think that the odds of any two people having the same birthday can be calculated by multiplying 365 by 365--the number of days in the year multiplied by the number of days in the year--this accounts for all possible combinations--I think that will get you close, or at least start you in the right direction. Maybe. It's been a long time. (Although the chances of a specific person having your birthday is one in 365, right? Or wrong. Is that wrong?) How do you factor, though, for the odds of two people who meet, fall in love, and get married, also having the same birthday? The numbers have to go way up at that point, don't they? So anyway, if you're a really smart person, who has happened to stumble by accident onto the Meow, would you please take a little of your time and calculate this one out for me? You would be answering a very old question, and letting me move on to more important things, like why does one sock always lose its mate in the wash?

Nano Power

If you read the Meow at all, you know I'm completely enamored with all things nano: carbon nanotubes, nanoparticles, nanobots, nanotech. There's just something magical about them. These incredibly tiny workhorses (the width of a few atoms) do such an amazing array of things. Carbon nanotubes can deliver minuscule amounts of cancer fighting chemo medicine to exactly the spot where cancer lies in the body. They're working on nanobots that will act as an in-body monitoring system to diagnose and display individual health stats through the equivalent of "arm TV." Nanotubes can regrow bone, and reconnect severed nerves, and let's not forget that they are the miracle on which we're pinning our hopes for a space elevator. There are more applications of nanotech than I can even begin to list, and more being thought up every day.

A comment on the "Cool and Interesting" post from yesterday brought up another nano miracle; a nanofiber battery, which doesn't use chemicals to store and release energy. No using chemicals hopefully means less pollution, eh? This got my curiosity up and led me to do a little research this morning, and guess what I found? Nanotech earns another blue ribbon at the "cool and interesting" fair. According to Massachusetts Institute of Technology's News Office, researchers at MIT are charging ahead (pardon the pun) with work on this battery breakthrough:

Work at MIT's Laboratory for Electromagnetic and Electronic Systems (LEES) holds out the promise of the first technologically significant and economically viable alternative to conventional batteries in more than 200 years.

Joel E. Schindall, the Bernard Gordon Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) and associate director of the Laboratory for Electromagnetic and Electronic Systems; John G. Kassakian, EECS professor and director of LEES; and Ph.D. candidate Riccardo Signorelli are using nanotube structures to improve on an energy storage device called an ultracapacitor.

Capacitors store energy as an electrical field, making them more efficient than standard batteries, which get their energy from chemical reactions. Ultracapacitors are capacitor-based storage cells that provide quick, massive bursts of instant energy. They are sometimes used in fuel-cell vehicles to provide an extra burst for accelerating into traffic and climbing hills.

However, ultracapacitors need to be much larger than batteries to hold the same charge.

The LEES invention would increase the storage capacity of existing commercial ultracapacitors by storing electrical fields at the atomic level.

Okay, quick and easy: Ultra capacitors have some advantages and disadvantages over regular batteries. They have "--a 10-year-plus lifetime, indifference to temperature change, high immunity to shock and vibration and high charging and discharging efficiency." Those are the advantages. However, they traditionally also have " energy storage capacity around 25 times less than a similarly sized lithium-ion battery." This makes them pretty impractical for putting in your portable radio. MIT's article goes into the particulars of why the ultracapacitors have to be so big, but suffice it to say that the materials used before now made them too big to be practical for cell phones and iPods. Enter the nanotubes--nanotubes are minuscule, and very organized. They conduct electricity extremely well. Aligning them in the ultracapacitors gives the battery a whole lot more surface area, which means they can hold a whole lot more energy. The nanotube ultracapacitors can be made in all the battery sizes we have now. All of this sums up to a best of both worlds scenario. What's on the horizon is a small "battery", that's based on electrical fields rather than chemicals, is durable, works in heat or cold, has more power than your lithium-ion rechargeables, and lasts for ten years.

Nanotubes are so cool.

p.s. Thanks Sioux Lady!!