Saturday, December 30, 2006

100 New Laws!

Illinois residents, rejoice! As of January 1st, you will have 100 new laws telling you what aspect of your life the government has seen fit to poke its nose into.

Actually, it's not all bad. Most of it is just legislative odds and ends. Still, things seem to get more complicated all the time.

(Hat tip: Capitol Fax Blog)

The Myth of Climate Consensus?

I'm not entirely familiar with Hernando Today. Still, this article on a recent survey conducted by the National Registry of Environmental Professionals caught my interest (hat tip: Moonbattery). According to the survey, the idea that the scientific community is 99.9999%+ sold on global warming might be spurious. Their results:
  • 34 percent disagree that global warming is a serious problem facing the planet
  • 41 percent disagree that the planet's recent warmth "can be, in large part, attributed to human activity"
  • 71 percent disagree that recent hurricane activity is significantly attributable to human activity
  • 33 percent disagree that the U.S. government is not doing enough to address global warming
  • 47 percent disagree that international agreements such as the Kyoto Protocol provide a solid framework for combating global climate change
The article doesn't get into the survey methodology, so I can't speak for the accuracy of these statistics. Still, if they're even remotely comparable to reality, then the claim that "scientists" as a whole are on board with Al Gore is at best misinformed and at worst deliberately misleading.

After browsing through the actual survey results, I do see a few problems with the article in question. For example, Hernando Today says that the survey participants exceeded 12,000; the reality is that is the number of participants in the NREP. The actual number of survey respondants was ~800. Still, the general reach of the article seems to be reflective of the survey results.

For me, the bottom line is that the general media is, at best, untrustworthy when it comes to scientific reporting. Most of those doing the punditry and reporting know little about the subjects they cover and tend to insert their own politics or opinions into the coverage. Yes, it's become convenient to let the larger media outlets act as the gatekeepers, crunching the swell of information out there into compact, digestible bits, but reality is a bit more complicated. The public at large would be much better served by having access to research and information, especially if more effort is poured into helping the public to interpret those results rather than simply telling them what the interpretation should be.

The internet age is bringing more of just that, but I'd prefer to see the transformation speed up a bit.

Post Christmas Wrap-Up

I guess it's been a few days since I've posted. You know how the Christmas holiday can be . . . family time, relatives, and of course, playing with all your new toys. I suppose I've neglected some of the more significant pieces of news, such as Saddam's recent demise, but what is there to say? He earned it.

Let's talk about something much more trivial but still fun.

Aside from family outings, what's been occupying my time recently? Well, Twilight Princess, for the most part, but that wasn't a Christmas gift. I'd bought that with my Wii, but held off since I figured it'd be best saved for after finals. (As an aside, I managed to pull off two A's and an A-, so a certain former research advisor can bite me)

In terms of Christmas gifts, I've been enjoying some time rocking out. I picked up a new bible. The New English Translation is pretty good, and relatively new, but the biggest draw to it (for me, at least, are the translator's notes. All 60k+ of them.

I have other reading to do, though. I received a copy of Robert Spencer's newest book. It seems interesting enough, and I love the premise: Why listen to endless "experts" tell you what Islam is all about when you can go straight to the source? The book is practically a synopsis of the Islamic scriptures and theological and scholarly commentary on Muhammad, especially those that shape the world around us today.

However, the book that's occupied most of my time thus far has been Mark Steyn's America Alone. I'm about 2/3 through the book, but it's been pretty gripping so far. The premise for the book is fairly similar to a column of his I wrote about before. Birth rates in the Western world are dismal; America is the only country with a replacement birthrate (2.1 children/woman), and the rest of the West is sinking past the point of no return. For example, Canada is similar to Europe as a whole (1.8) while the lowest point in Europe is sterile Spain (1.1). The problem is that between muslim immigration and the extraordinarily high birthrates of the incoming immigrants, Europe is going to be facing a demographic crunch in a few decades. What will happen to the culture of France if it becomes majority muslim? He also highlights the problems that the welfare state and politics will bring into this mix, but the end result seems to be that America, alone, will be the bastion of Western civilization in the coming generations.

Whether you agree or disagree, it's an interesting premise and a well-written book. My only gripe is that he hasn't taken a very scholarly approach to his book. While he cites countless statistics, facts, and stories, he uses no footnotes and offers no citations. So unless he says specifically where he found his data, you're left to wonder if it's real. I've no reason to think he'd make such things up; it's not like it would be hard to fact check the birth rate of these countries, but that's the type of criticism you open yourself up to if you're not thorough.

Anyhow, I'm distracted in the meantime, but things should be back to normal after the start of the new year.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Stupid Flaming Protestor

It seems a man in California set both a Christmas tree, and himself, on fire in an attempt at a public protest. He was protesting that the local school board changed the names of "winter break" and "spring break" to "Christmas break" and "Easter break."

I tend not to fall into the victimized, "War against Christmas" mentality some Christians do. I call out silliness when I see it. If you want my opinion on this guy, glance up at that post title again.

Overreacting much? I can think of far worthier causes to self-immolate over.

Target Stops Che

Hey, here's a pleasant update: Target has yanked the Che Guevara CD case.

If only every story involving this lunatic had such a happy ending.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Target Sells Che

Target is now in the business of selling merchandise, in this case CD cases, with that infamous picture of Che Guevara, according to this article in Investor's Business Daily.

The editorial author is right, of course. Target does a disservice by selling such merchandise, if for no other reason than they're liable to tick off large numbers of customers and investors. Again.

Economic concerns aside, Guevara was a maniac. I've written about him on this blog before. Quite a while ago, in fact. (Try here, here, and here)

So, yeah. Not a wise choice, Target.

News Dump

Since I've been absent lately, I thought I might just toss out links to things I've found interesting lately.

Food Chemistry Blog

Harold McGee, a contributor to the NYT, has a blog about food science and chemistry. Check it out, it's neat-o.

Liquid Condom
This is interesting on two fronts. It's a liquid condom that a woman would insert, and at the internal pH it becomes a gel, more akin to a traditional condom's consistency. When exposed to semen, the pH change causes it to become liquid again, and to release an anti-HIV drug.

I haven't come up with any jokes about this yet, but the story just begs for them.

Sea creatures vs. CO2
Hm . . . a tiny sea creature eats tinier sea creatures that have absorbed dissolved CO2. Then, they excrete solid blocks of carbon rather than CO2. Apparently, the researchers are thinking this might be a way to minimize mankind's CO2 output. It seems difficult logistically, and I wonder how useful it would be to start dumping piles of solid carbon into the ocean, but it's an interesting concept. I wonder where they'll take it.

Nintendo recalls Wii straps
Hey, I haven't broken anything. Everyone else must be a moron.

Ban Ki-Moon snubs the French
Heh, silly French people. France insists that french remain the second official language of the UN, and that any Secretary General should be fluent in it. A French-Canadian asks the new guy, in french, what his thoughts are on it. His response? "Sorry, I didn't understand the language, could you translate that?" Hilarious.

Done

One semester down, two more to go. At least, two more for the master's degree. Check back when I'm 30 about that PhD.

In the meantime, I have the next four weeks off, so blogging should return to a normal pace.

In other news, I'm thinking of trying something new while I have the time off. This could be fun.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Light at the End of the Tunnel

Well, the semester is nearly over. I have one exam next week, along with some grading to do. All in all, not a bad schedule. In my mind, I'm on break already.

It's been an . . . enlightening semester. I've learned a lot, both in my given field and in being a teacher. Should I ever become a professor, here are some things I am ready to apply:
  • All of your students are weasels.
Some of them are more weasily than others, but make no mistake, they are all weasels. If they can get out of work, they'll try their best. Extra points? They'll forfeit any notion of dignity to whine and beg for them. Any sign of weakness, and you'll hear accusations of incompetence and ill intent.

And they'll do anything they can to convince you they should have points for a grade they didn't turn in.
  • Your students are never prepared for class.
This is every teacher's bane, I suppose. Nobody reads the book. Then they complain when you expect them to come infused with, at the least, cursory knowledge of the topic at hand. I never realized how annoying this was until I actually was on the receiving end of it.

This goes beyond that, though. Students are never prepared for what class will require of them (tying into the weasel part). Your students will try to get as much credit as possible for as little work as possible. The problem will come when they suddenly realize that your idea of the "minimum" amount of work and their idea of the "minimum" are vastly different. They'll get angry (I did), they'll feel cheated (don't we all?), and they'll blame you (ah, memories). And they'll wonder why they received zero credit for turning in a lab report which reads, "This lab was too hard, so we couldn't do it."
  • Preparation is the key.
Always know how to do the problems you expect your students to do. They get cranky when you try to remember it in the middle of class.
  • Sometimes you have to have standards.
In some graduate courses, professors take a rather subjective view of grades. They base the letter assignments more around how much you comparatively learned as a group rather than look at a list of things they expected you to learn, since often times it can be hard to determine what it is you actually taught them. Yes, for some professors that is a problem.

However, this should not be the case for entry level courses. Putting the top 10% of students at an 'A' makes no sense if this is introductory material. It leads to awkward situations, like people with scores of 40% making B's and C's in a course, then moving on to the second part of the course and knowing nothing about the subject.

Finally,
  • The internet is not the place to talk badly about people who control your grades. Especially if they can see it.
We covered this one already. Still, it doesn't hurt to restate the obvious.

So there you have it. Lessons learned.

Addendum
  • If an exam is going to be all multiple choice, it is going to be scan-tron.
I'm not a happy grader at the moment.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Christianity's Credibility - Part 1

Oliver Thomas wrote an editorial in USA Today, not so long ago, about the credibility of Christianity. Specifically, he argues that Christianity, in opposing homosexuality and homosexual marriage, will lose all credibility and fade into the dustbin of history. There's a lot to parse in his editorial, so I thought I'd tackle the most important parts separately.
Religion's only real commodity, after all, is its moral authority. Lose that, and we lose our credibility. Lose credibility, and we might as well close up shop.
This statement I find quite interesting, because it works at an important truth without ever dealing with the truth itself.

The question this really strikes at is, from where does religion (in this case, Christianity) derive its moral authority? Based on the arguments Thomas makes, I would say that two answers could be argued: Either moral authority comes from the truth of the claims, or it comes from the people who grant it authority.

Thomas seems to be arguing the latter. It's not explicit; he makes his argument more of a "how could God condemn science?" kind of argument, likening homosexuality with Galileo's heliocentric apostacy. But in its essence, this is the argument he is making. Christianity would only have credibility if it learns to accept homosexuality. By regaining the credibility, it regains moral authority. The connection here is that Christianity won't attract followers if it doesn't have credibility (which, to those followers, only comes by accepting homosexuality). In the end, it almost seems as if Christianity must change its teachings to become palatable to the rest of the world.

I don't buy it. Moral authority derives from the truth behind that authority. If Jesus was just some schmo who conned a bunch of silly Jews in a backwoods Roman colony, what makes his views of how a man should live worth any more than the paper it's printed on? If Muhammad wasn't a prophet, but a paranoid schizaphrenic who suffered epileptic seizures, wouldn't that necessarily change the way people should interpret his example?

There's a lot to say here, yet. I'll continue this in a further post.

Christianity's Credibility - Part 2

Thomas goes on to argue about why Christianity ought to accept homosexuality:
This time, Christianity is in danger of squandering its moral authority by continuing its pattern of discrimination against gays and lesbians in the face of mounting scientific evidence that sexual orientation has little or nothing to do with choice. To the contrary, whether sexual orientation arises as a result of the mother's hormones or the child's brain structure or DNA, it is almost certainly an accident of birth. The point is this: Without choice, there can be no moral culpability.
This illustrates one of the reasons I dislike non-scientists writing about scientific issues. Thomas calls it a settled issue. I'm unaware of any scientific research that puts an ironclad, no-doubt-about -it seal on the issue.

It's been a while, but I seem to recall that most of the research doesn't effectively deal with the cause and effect relationship for biological traits that have been linked to homosexuality. Did the trait cause the homosexuality, or did the homosexuality cause the trait? Was it something that was set at birth, or did it occur during development? Again, it's been a while, but it's pretty bold to declare it an open-and-shut case.

Still, that's really beside the point he's arguing. "Without choice, there can be no moral culpability." This argument, I believe, is the achilles heel of his position.

"Without choice," Thomas says. What choice would that be? In general, it would be the choice to sin or not to sin. Thomas intends it be applied to homosexuality, but the general argument should be considered.

I tend not to argue with people when they say that being homosexual isn't a choice. I know that if someone told me not to be attracted to women, it'd take a good deal of brainwashing to make it stick, and even then I can't say relapse would be beyond possibility.

But the Bible never states that being homosexual is a sin. No, it says homosexual acts are sinful. This is a significant difference. I can't help my heterosexual inclinations, yet the Bible also condemns pre-marital sex, adultery, incest, and lust. Yes, I can lust after my wife (should I ever have one), but that's only one woman in the entire world. Is that significantly more restrictive than telling the homosexual that he cannot lust after men?

This is my conclusion, then: If Christianity holds me accountable for heterosexual lust, why shouldn't homosexual lust be made accountable, too? You could argue that no lust should be held as sin, but that is not the argument Thomas makes.

Christianity's Credibility - Part 3

Finally, I want to deal with Thomas' use of scripture to bolster his argument. He deals with it in three parts. I'll sum up his arguments:
  • The Old Testament condemns homosexuality, but Christians don't follow any of the other things in the OT, so why should they worry about this?
This is an argument I've seen before, and it is one that frustrates me in this case because it operates from a position of ignorance about Biblical theology. Thomas has had leadership in Southern Baptist organizations. He should know better.

Even a cursory glance at the Old Testament would tell someone that Christians don't follow most of its precepts. When was the last time you saw a priest butcher a goat and smear its blood on the altar? The reason we don't do so is because Jesus instituted a new covenant, different from the old. The old no longer had to be followed. This is a very important concept to Christian theology.

So then why do Christians even bother with the OT at all? Proper biblical theology acknowledges that the OT laws can be broken up into different types: Theological, Moral, Dietary, Ceremonial, Governmental, etc. The way those laws were split up is important, because the category can determine whether or not Christians should be concerned with it anymore. For example, why should Christians worry about following laws that only concerned the governance of Israel as a nation?

I won't delve into this any deeper, but of great importance is that many of the laws which fall into the theological and moral categories do so because they appear in the New Testament as well. This leads to Thomas' second argument:
  • Paul doesn't actually condemn homosexuality, just pederasty.
Thomas doesn't actually explain this argument very much. Yes, pederasty wasn't unheard of in Greek culture, but that doesn't mean homosexuality wasn't either.

Not to be graphic, but some of the pederasty that was present in Greek culture involved the older man putting his penis between the thighs of the younger man. No penetration was involved. While I'm sure Paul wouldn't have been keen on this, I don't think this is what he was referring to.

As a former professor explained to me, the Greeks had two words for homosexuals, and they were both related to sexual position. Forgive the crudeness of this, but of the two terms, one was for the giver, and the other was for the receiver. When Paul condemns homosexuals, he uses the word for the receiver. If Paul were merely condemning pederasty, he wouldn't have been condemning the receiver.

Even then, there's no hint in the Biblical record that he was talking about pederasty. The text offers no reason to accept that interpretation.
  • Jesus never mentioned homosexuality, so it's not a big deal.
This argument, once again, belies an ignorance of Biblical theology that is unbecoming of a man in Thomas' (former) position.

The Gospel narratives are not encyclopedic. They were meant to capture the essence of Jesus' time on Earth. The disciples would have spent less than three years with him. While there is much contained in those scriptures, it is certainly not three years worth of information. Does this mean that everything left out is completely unimportant?

Yes, this comes off as a "You can't prove he didn't talk about homosexuality" argument, and that ends up falling flat. After all, Christians aren't concerned with what Jesus might have said, we're concerned with what the Bible records him as having said.

But the New Testament is not just the Gospels. While Jesus is by far the most influential and important figure in the New Testament, he is not the only one of importance. The Pauline Epistles, making up a large portion of the NT, are where the condemnations of homosexuality can be found. If Thomas wants to argue that they shouldn't be part of the NT, that's fine, but that is a separate argument and he doesn't make it here. It's completely beside the point to say that Jesus didn't mention something. There's much that Jesus didn't mention that is still morally significant in Christianity.

________________________
This concludes my analysis of Thomas' column. A big hat tip to Dr. Mohler, who has a post about the subject and offers the information about Thomas' former position in the Baptist Church.

Winter Weather - 1 St. Louis - 0

Two days ago, it was almost 70 outside.

Today, everything is covered in a thick layer of ice. Estimates say that ~500k people in the region are without power (or were). Ours finally came back on after being off for about 15 hours overnight. Unfortunately, the net is still down; our satellite dish is probably drooping under the weight of ice, same as the trees all over the area.

Thank goodness for Wi-Fi at Panera, but I have to leave. Not sure when I'll be back to blogging, but it might be a while.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Further Wii Thoughts

In the fine tradition of not having much time to digest the news, today's post is relatively unimportant. Still, I've had my Wii for almost 2 weeks now. Wouldn't you like to know more?

So far, I've played 4 games on the Wii: Wii Sports, Super Monkey Ball, Trauma Center, and Marvel: Ultimate Alliance. Each one is a good representation of a different genre: The first two exclusively for the Wii and its unique remote (but one made by Nintendo and the other not), a game that was initially for the DS, and a game that is on all of the major consoles.

As I said before, Wii Sports is both fun and easy to play. The motions aren't perfect, but they're pretty easy to pick up and translate pretty well on screen. Monkey Ball, on the other hand, doens't fare as well. Most of the instructions are vague and the controls do not translate well into on-screen actions. It could have been great, but the end result just wasn't too hot.

Trauma Center was a Nintendo DS game, so it was originally designed to be played with the touch screen and stylus. On the Wii, you use the remote controller like a mouse pointer, so the transition is actually quite good. The controls are a little hard to get used to, but once you're comfortable with them it becomes really natural. I imagine that any future translation of a DS game to the Wii should be relatively successful. The only stipulation I would put on that is that if Nintendo just makes a system transfer, they're ripping off the players. If they want people to shell out $50 for a Wii game instead of $30 for a DS game, there had best be some incentive (better graphics, new content, etc.).

Marvel: Ultimate Alliance was a fun game, nearly identical to the X-Men Legends series in game play, just with different characters and story. If you enjoyed those games, you'll enjoy this one. The major difference is playing it on the Wii instead of the traditional console controllers. The controls are slightly different since there are fewer buttons available to the Wii/Nunchuck controller. They attempted to circumvent this by making Wii remote motions control your on-screen attacks, but this ends up being somewhat unnatural and hard to pull off when there's a lot happening on-screen. Still, the control scheme ends up feeling natural after you become accustomed to the difference. Altogether, not a bad transition.

So there you have it. I maintain my previous advice, whenever the stocks of Wiis come back in, you should buy one if you have the chance. It's a great system.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Pope in Turkey

I don't have much to add here. The Pope is in Turkey. I'm hoping things go well.

However, I did see two interesting takes on this. Robert Spencer has his take on the status of Christians in Turkey. On the other hand, Jim Geraghty, currently blogging from Turkey, offers his perspective on things.

Interesting reading, if nothing else.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Blogging Schedule

The next two weeks are going to be, well, hectic. The semester is coming to a close, so I'm going to be working on projects, studying, and doing those other things that grad students do.

I'll post when I can (such as today), but don't be surprised if I only make occasional appearances.

Outbred by Eurabia

I want to have a big family. How big? Well, I always figured I'd start with three kids and see where things went from there. I'm not in any sort of position to be talking about future children for the time being, but that's been my general line of thinking.

Why do I bring this up?

This interesting "discussion" popped up over the weekend. Mark Steyn, an author noted for his pessimism on the direction of Europe in terms of Islam and the War on Terror, has something of a back-and-forth with Ralph Peters on how this is going to affect the growing "Eurabia."

Mark actually discusses this separately in a recent Chicago Sun-Times article. His general point: We talk about influencing the world, but given the ridiculous difference in birth rates between Muslims and the Christian/Secular West, we may find ourselves vastly outnumbered in a few decades.

I'm not very knowledgeable when it comes to demographics, but this is a good point. Most families in the US have 1-2 children anymore. We may have technological advantages as a culture and country for many more decades, but I'm not sure how much it will matter if the young, fighting-age men of our country are outnumbered 50:1.

Unfortunately, I don't see our country suddenly deciding to breed like rabbits on speed, even if people were agreed on this being a problem. I also worry that the solutions to such a problem won't be largely agreed upon either. For example, my father (jokingly) suggested that the only two solutions were to either forcibly sterilize Muslims or start humping everything in sight. A joke, yes, but it does bring up the valid question: How do you fight demographic trends?

Unfortunately, it seems that there are too many who would be happy to see the West fade into history. I hope that such attitudes don't carry the day when this turns into a real problem in the next few decades.

Clouds and Climate Change

Here's another interesting article about global warming that I just found, well, interesting. First, a quote:
"It's a new science, driven by the fact that everybody doing climate predictions says that clouds are perhaps the single greatest unknown factor in understanding global warming."

I love how they say that, then spend the rest of the article explaining how it's not unknown at all and how the Earth is in death throes. Could we make up our minds, please?

Either way, the part that grabbed my attention was this:
"Much to our surprise, we found that Arctic clouds have got lots of super-cooled liquid water in them. Liquid water has even been detected in clouds at temperatures as low as minus 30 degrees Celsius (minus 22 F)," said Taneil Uttal, chief of the Clouds and Arctic Research Group at the Earth Systems Research Laboratory of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Liquid water at -30? Too cool. (That was intentional)

Paintball Minigun Fires at 1200psi

Wicked cool.

It doesn't shoot paintballs yet, but that's okay. With that kind of pressure, you couldn't really use it in close quarters. But I can imagine having way too much fun sitting back by the flag with one of those things and just spraying all of the approaches.

Heh.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Wii - First Thoughts

Ah, the moment finally arrived. The Wii was home and the box opened.

It was a bit slow at first. Figuring out how to set everything up (apparently I can't properly remove protective labels from foam pads) and then downloading software updates (gracious, my wi-fi is slow). After that, the fun began.

I started by making my Wii Mii (not to be confused with AOL's Wee Mee . . . I smell copyright issues). I think my electronic doppleganger is quite adorable, but then I might be biased. The Wii remote is a bit too sensitive for my nervous hands. I tried to turn it down as low as it could go on the sensitivity, but it still doesn't seem right. No matter.

I played Wii Sports for about an hour. Tennis and Baseball, mainly. First, I learned that I should never play tennis; my timing is horrible (Yes, I know real tennis is different).

I also learned that this system is ridiculously fun, and I can't wait to 1) Try out my other games, and 2) Play these games with friends.

Seriously great. Whenever more stock arrives, go buy a Wii. Too much fun.

Wii Launch


Picked up my new toy last night. Now I must show it off.

Friday, November 17, 2006

On Faith and Debate

Newsweek is running a big "conversation" (i.e. a series of essays by people with opinions) entitled "On Faith." The question this time around:
If some religious people believe they have a monopoly on truth, then are conversation and common ground possible? If so, what would be the difficulties and benefits of such a conversation?
Dr. Mohler contributed here. I agree with him (surprise, right?). Here's a poignant part:
The only conversation worth having is an honest conversation among persons who respect each other's deepest beliefs as being honestly held and honestly presented. The reality is that too many "interfaith" discussions are held among those who have only a tenuous hold upon the faiths they claim to represent. We should not be afraid to disagree, nor to risk the conversation. So, let the conversation begin . . . and let us show up as who we are, beliefs and all.
I do disagree with him in some part, though. He says that if only doubt and uncertainty can be brought to any debate, then only liberals can take part. That's not entirely fair. In that case, only agnostics can take part.

I think something worthwhile can come of a discussion between two people who fervently believe in opposite directions. However, it requires that the two people be willing to actually listen to the arguments from each other. Too many people are ready to write off Christians from debate because they take "The Bible is infallible" and start off with "Whatever you say, you're wrong." That's not a productive way to begin.

And let's be realistic; it's not exclusive to Christians. Every ideology, religious or not, has its share of stubborn, bull-headed people who won't listen to arguments and refuse to even entertain the idea of a reasonable debate. It's, "You're wrong, end of story, and you're a puppy-raping pedophile for thinking like you do" (That's the last time I argue with someone about block scheduling in high schools).

You can have fruitful debate between people who disagree. I've done it on a number of occasions. It's just a matter of not being a jerk about it when you disagree.

UCLA Student (?) Tasered



So, here's the latest outrage floating around (apparently).

At UCLA, apparently the library computer labs are off-limits to non-students after 11pm. To enforce this, random ID checks are done. If you don't show ID, you are escorted out. Supposedly, this guy refused to show ID and refused to leave. When police showed up to force him out, well, that's when the trouble begins.

I watched most of the video. It's kind of hard to tell what's happening. The guy keeps saying he would leave, but I'm not sure if a person can walk after being tasered. Having never experienced it myself, it's hard to say. Since some people doubt the effectiveness of them, I suppose walking after a short stun is possible.

One of Michelle's readers remarks that it's better police procedure to just give the guy one good jolt and then carry him out, rather than asking him to walk out on his own power. I guess I can't disagree.

In any event, it's already interesting to see what's developing from this.

In related linkage, LAPD officer Jack Dunphy weighs in on related events here.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Not a hypnotic message



Read my blog. Reeeeeead my blog. Sennnnnnnd me $5. Annnnnnnd a puppy. I donnnnnnn't know why a puppy.

All glory to the hypnotoad.

Finding Sheldon

Just as an aside, I was pointed to the comic Sheldon sometime yesterday, and have promptly fallen in love with it. I was going to put up a few good examples, but after reading through about 4 months worth of archives I'd come up with so many that it'd overload the blog.

Just go read it. It's great. Start here.

Update
Okay, maybe one (click for full size):

Saudi Columnist on the Abaya

Interesting article, through MEMRI, by a Saudi columnist about the use of the abaya, the full-body covering showing only the eyes, and how it is used to dominate the muslim woman.

I wish I had advice to the Saudis and other muslims of the world on how to reverse this trend. Unfortunately, I'm better at pointing out social flaws than knowing how to correct them.

An excerpt:
To say the least, Donna was astounded by their remarks and realized that they were not simply talking about a garment to be worn but about their perceptions of what an abaya symbolized. They seemed determined to deny that a normal human being was under the black material. The truth is that those Saudi men articulated something that the Saudi lifestyle and customs have created. The abaya indeed covers a typically weak and frightened character (a woman of course), who views herself as a sexual entity confined in a well-defined space she can never escape from. This is why the whole culture of the abaya imposes so many restraints upon women. One of the restraints is that she must walk as if her feet were hobbled and she was unable to move easily and normally. Nor is she allowed to look around and observe the surrounding world comfortably, as slowly or quickly as she might like. The abaya has also contributed directly to preventing certain basic movements; for example, she can no longer move her hands normally. Aside from that, ordinary free conversation is forbidden and is replaced with low and often unclear speech that makes little sense.

Life: What is it good for?

You may have noticed, but I'm pretty much taking a "throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks" approach to blogging today (Thanks Fark). With that in mind, here are three articles I found interesting, and actually quite related:

Yuval Levin Dissects the results of the Amendment 2 vote in Missouri
Church of England wants to let sick newborns die
Doctor to pay support for unwanted baby after birth control device fails

They're all interesting articles, and I could do a big write-up on all three of them. I won't, of course; I'm feeling too lazy for that today. But I notice a trend floating through these three articles: Respect for human life.

I'm one of those people who argue that there is something intrisically special about human life, that ending the life of another person should be carefully considered and not taken lightly. I've argued about slippery slopes with people, and there are many who think that the "slippery slope" argument is faulty logic. And sometimes it is. But consider the evidence before us: A state consitutional amendment guaranteeing the creation of human embryos for the purpose of destroying them; A major Christian sect declaring that some life just isn't worth trying to save; A mother suing a doctor because she never wanted her son.

Think what you will, but I see a disturbing trend, and I'd rather not think about where this could lead.

Steampunk Laptop

Ooooh . . . old and busted hotness. I want one.

Great Moments in Irony

Do you remember that video of rescue workers, after having lovingly scrubbed a penguin down from an oil spill, releasing it back into the waters, only to watch it be gobbled down by a whale moments later?

This is almost as good. Some bird watchers in England were excited about the return of a swallow, not seen in nearly 20 years. Until a sparrowhawk devoured it before their eyes.

I like this story because "Sparrowhawk" is a handle I used when I played games online. Irony is fun!

New Brain Cells for Mice

Researchers have apparently found a way to promote the growth of new neural stem cells in mice brains. Widespread use of this treatment could change politics as we know it.

All jokes aside, there is one part of the article I find somewhat frustrating. One of the quotes they almost immediately pull from the lead researcher of the project is something about not giving up on embryonic stem cell research. Why is it that everytime there's some success involving adult stem cells, it has to be accompanied by reminders of the glorious potential for embryonic stem cells?

I'm not discounting that potential, but criminy, why does this have to be so political?

Not Creepy

Nope. Not at all. Uh-uh.

Incidentally, if you happen to get a shower-radio from me for Christmas, it's not one of these. Promise.

What next, badges?

According to this article, federal funding is becoming contingent on states tracking the names of HIV positive patients.

I understand the argument for tracking the progression of the disease. What is superior about this method as compared to, say, just asking doctors how many new diagnoses they've made in a year?

I'm usually not a big "The government is out to getcha!" kind of privacy person, but this strikes me as over the top.

Just for kicks and grins, I'm imagining the worst possible scenario for this: Some politician is running for office; Governor, let's say. This pol is HIV+, and some clever campaign flunky with connections in the health departments has managed to track down the pol's name in the database. This juicy little tidbit gets leaked to the media, and now it's everywhere: Gubernatorial candidate John Doe has HIV!

Politics aside, what if such a database became available to the "right" parties? Just as insurance companies or potential employers might avoid you due to your track-record on the net, what if you were short-shrifted because they found out you were HIV+? How could you know?

The problem with Pandora's box is that you can't really close it after it's been opened.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Imagine That

Elton John wants to ban all religion, because it promotes hatred of gays.

I'm glad it's not up to him.

Yeah, and never mind all the good things that religion has done for the world (*cough* Salvation Army, Red Cross *cough*). Religion "lacks compassion" because they "hate" homosexuals, so let's just get rid of it.

Good luck with that, buddy.

Law-Breaking Christians

LaShawn Barber points out two very interesting articles from the Washington Post. The issue seems to be that in some changing (i.e. gentrifying) neighborhoods of DC, black church-goers have been double parking like crazy for a long time, with the police looking the otherway. Now, with white people moving into the neighborhoods, complaints are arising about the double parking and the black church-goers are upset about that. They're even treating this as a religious freedom issue.

Which is really stupid.

Hey guys, being a Christian doesn't give you license to do whatever you want. The biblical rule on this is that unless a rule forbids you from practicing the faith or mandates you violate the faith, you're supposed to obey the laws of the land. Laws against double parking do not prevent you from being a Christian. I don't think Paul ever stipulated that you have to park within 200 yards of the church or else you don't get to take communion.

C'mon, folks, this isn't hard. You're focusing on something really stupid when you could be spending your time and energy on worthwhile issues, and you're making all of us look bad in the process.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Controversial Chaos (part II)

Ooh, the time zones favor us on this side of the pond, at least this time around.

Turns out Monckton's second article, from the previous post, is now online.

Interesting.

Climate Chaos?

Chris Monckton of the Telegraph has an interesting article about global warming and climate change. It's an interesting read, if for no other reason than it's on the opposite side of the usual reporting.

I like the article because he actually gets deep into the mathematics of what's going on, something most journalists fail to do. Most of the articles I see include a few quotes of "The world is going to end!" from scientists, a summary of some recent research, and one or two "mock quotes" from skeptics. This one actually addresses argument and data, not just rhetoric.

Of course, I'm no expert on such matters, so take the article with a grain of salt. I just find it refreshing to not only have a columnist argue from the skeptic's position, but to do so with actual math rather than emotion.

(Hat tip: Ace)

Friday, November 10, 2006

Homage to an Advisor

First, I must say that if you're in grad school, you are required to read this comic.

Next, I must say that I did research for this man. It's closer to reality than you might think.

Enjoy.

A Man Possessed

Actually, there was something in the news recently.

MorganQuitno recently came out with its list of the 10 safest and most dangerous cities in the country, and St. Louis topped the list. In a not-entirely-unexpected move, UMSL's newspaper, The Current, had an article where students and professors expressed their skepticism.

Of course, most of it is inane, although I do give credit to the few professors they quoted along the lines of "We don't know their methodology, so we can't say much about the ranking."

The best quote, however, came from some boob of an alumnus: "I live in the most dangerous city and nothing has happened to me."

I'm guessing that college degree isn't working out to well for him.

More Funny Stories

Didn't have anything I felt like blogging about today, so I thought I might share some more random stories. For just having come through an election, the news is a bit slow. Also, I'm apathetic.

Anyhow, I've two stories. The first involves the guy in charge of our labs. After the students have an exam, all of us TAs grade the exams, but piecemeal. When we want to grade, we go grab the packets of exams from the guy's office and then bring them back when we're done. In the past, he's always told us that if he's not there we should just go in and get the exams.

The other day, I went to grab exams from his office. He has one of those things on his door where he can indicate his current "status." When I looked, it said "At Class," so I assumed he wasn't there. When I opened the door, well, I was wrong.

Thankfully, he was just eating his lunch. But if looks could kill, his would have said, "Why am I about to kill you?" I blabbered out something about his door sign and looking for the exams. He merely pointed at them. I snatched them up and scurried out the door, again mumbling something about not knocking and being dreadfully sorry.

Yeah, it'd be a better story if he'd been without pants, but it's still midly amusing. Well, as long as you consider me acting like a doofus amusing.

The other story is a bit older. In one of my classes, we were discussing micro-RNAs and the class of proteins which help deliver them to their targets. These proteins are known as Argonaute proteins. When the professor mentioned these, I asked during a brief pause, "Let me guess, are there any Jason proteins, too?"

She just stared. The class just stared. I probably turned about 12 shades of red (it's hard to tell when a mirror isn't handy). Finally, she reacted.

"What? Jason? Oh. Ohhhhh. Um, no, not that I'm aware of." And that was that.

I guess you had to be there.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Post-Election Thoughts

Well, another election as come and gone.

It didn't turn out as well as the Republicans had hoped. From what I understand, most of the races that were considered toss-ups ended up being blow-outs. Republicans will have to live with being the minority party again, for God only knows how long.

How did it end up like this? As a lot of people are saying, the Republicans earned this. Yes, the Democrats played dirty in some ways, but the Republicans gave them the tools with which to do it. For example, Mark Foley wouldn't have been as big of a deal if the leadership had looked into that whole affair long ago.

Also, the war of ideas was really not in play in this election, at least not as in times past. This time around, the main Democratic argument was "Hey, we're not the Republicans and we hate George Bush." The Republican counter-argument wasn't any better: "Hey, if you think we're bad, just wait until the Democrats are in power." It doesn't surprise me that voters weren't convinced.

I've read some people saying that Democrats may have won, but so did conservative values. Apparently, much of the caucus that the Democrats built this time around was with conservative candidates (pro-life, low taxes, so on and so forth). Also, some conservative ballot initiatives passed, such as an anti-Affirmative Action bill in Michigan, as well as gay marriage initiatives in other states.

I can't say much about that. In MO, the constitutional amendment for therapeutic cloning and embryonic stem cell research passed (though the cigarette tax failed), so I can't quite say what to make of it. Conservative Democrats will have a rough time in their caucus if history is any indicator. This election seems to have been dominated by a Republican vs. Democrat dynamic, with Iraq possibly being the only big issue in play. Perhaps in future election cycles, a move away from such party-based electioneering and back towards issue-oriented voting might take place. I don't think I'll hold my breath on that one, but the exit of President Bush from the political stage may play a role in that.

Despite the greater fears of some people, I don't think the sky is going to collapse. Democrats hold majorities, but it's especially slim in the Senate, 51-49. If any Democrats in the House attempt impeachment proceedings (which people are already calling them to do), I think they'll have an uphill battle with it, and I doubt it would succeed. Also, despite Democratic plans calling for a slide into socialism, I doubt they'll get anything too worrisome passed in the next few years.

My biggest worries fall into immigration and national security. I was never on the same page as President Bush on immigration, and unfortunately his plans for a "temporary worker" program and normalization for current illegals falls more in line with the party that was just put into power. I'm probably not goign to like what comes next.

As for national security, I see Democrats quickly calling for withdrawals from Iraq. I'm not sure they'd be so bold as to completely defund the mission, but it could happen. If we retreat as they want, I think that will do more to encourage Islamic terrorism at home and abroad than our continued presence ever would have. We'll see what happens.

As for Illinois, well, the voters will get what they deserved. More people voted to remove Rod from office than to keep him, but he still received the most votes. I guess there might be a chance of him being voted out if people actually get sick enough of him. We'll see what the next four years brings.

One last note: In the run-up to the election, I read a lot of frantic screeds declaring that Republicans would steal the elections, thanks to voter intimidation and Diebold vote stealing (not that they ever noticed dead voters or ACORN voter fraud). I'd like to know . . . what happened to all of that?

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Does it, or doesn't it?

Something's been bothering me about the punditry surrounding the race this year.

I mean, besides all of it.

There's been a lot of talk about black Republicans running for office, how they're labeled "race traitors," how people expect blacks to vote lock-step with the Democrats, blah blah blah.

Here's the thing that I find funny. There's this wide-spread attitude that black people are going to vote for the black politician, no matter what. I find it strange and bothersome.

If a black person votes only for the black politician because he is black, then we're right back to the identity politics, regardless of the party affiliation. For Republicans like Michael Steele, it's a travesty that they'd stoop to such pandering.

But if a black person votes only for the Democratic politician because he's a Democrat, is he being true to his ideals or is it a sign of the "Who else will you turn to?" style of politicking Democrats do with black voters?

I can't say either way. But for black voters, it's an ugly situation. You're a race traitor if you vote for the Republican . . . unless he's black . . . but then it's hard to say . . . but you're too stupid to show ID at the polls, so you may as well vote for both and spare your conscience, right?

Ugh. How soon to Wednesday?

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Illinois: Why Waste Your Vote?

Rich Miller at the Capitol Fax has a look at the latest polling numbers for IL governor, as well as a host of other IL race round-ups. The polls put Topinka down from Blagojevich anywhere from 4-15 points. The average of all of these polls shows 44-35-11, with that 11 going to Green Party candidate Whitney.

I've read or heard several times that people are voting for Whitney to "send a message" that they're sick of the usual batch of politicians and various political shenanigans.

You know what message it actually sends? That 11% of the electorate is dumb enough to waste its vote on a lost cause.

I don't know much about Whitney. And I'm sure that some of that 11% is voting for him based on his positions and proposed policies (though those voters are most likely coming from Blagojevich's pool, not Topinka's). But Whitney is relatively unknown amongst the electorate and has virtually no chance of beating out Rod. Yet most of the people who will vote for him do so because they don't want to see Blagojevich elected to another term.

That being the case, why vote against Blagojevich's strongest competitor?

This is another one of those cases of the perfect being the enemy of the good. Topinka may not be everyone's ideal choice for IL governor, but how could she be any worse than Blagojevich?

If you don't like the choices you're presented with in November, then start paying attention during primary season and vote for the person you actually think will make a good choice. And even if your perfect choice doesn't end up on the ballot, try to keep in mind that American politics is about compromise. You can't always get everything you want, but you vote for the person who will give you more than the other person. If you're tired of corruption in the governor's office, voting for someone who isn't Topinka will only send one message to Rod Blagojevich: "Keep up the good work."

Friday, November 03, 2006

Funny Moments

I saw a new doctor today. Something funny happened when I was talking to the nurse about patient history. You know, exercise, drinking, smoking, diet, etc.

Nurse: "Are you sexually active?"

Me: "Nope."

Nurse: "Is that a problem for you?"

*Snicker* I couldn't help but laugh. It sounds like a cheesy pickup line.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

A Methodist Defines the Issues

(Just a quick post from school)

As a conservative Christian, it's been strange at times to hear about the decline of mainline Protestantism due to the increasing liberality of the denominations. It's been especially strange because, as a Methodist, I often see stories in the news about the liberal factions in my denomination.

Al Mohler has a post about a recent magazine article, published by a conservative Methodist, discussing the liberalization of the UMC. The article is not online, otherwise I'd link it directly, but Mohler's thoughts (and I can only assume those of the article's author) mirror mine. The issues being disagreed upon in the churches, homosexuality being chief among them, are only a symptom of the problem.

My take on it: If you are willing to deny the fundamental underlying principles of your religion, then why claim it at all?

(I'm an atheist who believes in God! Woo!)

Sounds silly, doesn't it?

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Craziness Abounds

So much insanity happening in politics right now. I wish I had time to be posting.

However, in the meantime, here's something for fun. This has been sitting around the house for a while. My dad's wondering how much he can get for it on eBay:

Friday, October 27, 2006

On Quiet and Blogging

This has been a busy week, so the blogging has been light. Unfortunately, it will continue to be light over the weekend and the coming week due to my class schedule ramping up in difficulty.

On the bright side, by neglecting my blog I've been doing fabulously in my classes. Eh, I was never going to be a top-dog in the blogosphere anyhow.

Sporadic blogging in the near future. Regular schedule . . . eventually.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Monday, October 23, 2006

Happy Mole Day!

I nearly forgot! October 23 is Mole Day!

Go celebrate by experimenting with your favorite chemist.

Location, Location, Location

Sometimes, there are just no words sufficient to describe how horrible a crime is. Or how stupid the criminal is. Or a combination thereof. Consider the following:
A 44-year-old Saginaw man remains jailed today on charges of bestiality after he was seen engaged in sexual acts with a dead dog, Michigan State Police troopers said.

The man was arrested after police searched the area of Midland and Carter roads Friday for a man who ran away from a Bay County Animal Control officer. The entire incident was within view of a nearby day care center.

Troopers said a woman from the day care center called for animal control because there was a dead dog near the property which had been hit by a car several days earlier.

Before officers could arrive, the man showed up and began engaging in sexual acts with the dog, police said. The animal control officers also reported seeing the man involved in the sex act and as he approached the man, the man shoved him away and ran off.

Hat tip: Ace

Israeli Ambassador Attacked in Ireland

Well, his car was attacked, at least.

I never heard about this in the news, but it's utterly ridiculous. I'm a person who's made up his mind on most issues, but I can't help but wonder how people who are undecided think about such matters.

I've read a lot of stories by people who had one political opinion and subsequently changed it after seeing the behavior and attitudes of the people on their side. If you're generally pro-Palestinian, what goes through your mind when the people on "your side" attack ambassadors and protest outside synagogues? When you're against immigration enforcement and reform, what do you think when "your side" assaults speakers and prevents them from giving their speeches?

I realize it's foolish to characterize any political movement by the looney toons at the edge of spectrum, but they're certainly the most visible, and they certainly bring your, um, perspective into the highest focus. Even if that is in a caricaturized format.

Obama "open" to a Presidential bid

If you haven't heard it in the news, Barack Obama has been telling the media, in between the warm cocoa butter massages, that he's open to the possibility of a Presidential bid.

The conventional wisdom is that he's so popular now, so why not take advantage of it and just run for President.

I hear more from the arguments that Senators haven't made popular Presidential material in the last several decades because they have little to no executive experience. Still, I'm more convinced that he's too politically undeveloped to consider a Presidential bid. He's two years into his first term in the Senate. I won't discount that he was qualified to be a Senator, but also recall that his competition for the position was Alan Keyes.

Anyhow, most of the coverage the blogs are giving to this is divided between expressing why that would be a bad idea and lamenting the loving tongue baths the media seems to be stroking his ego with. Myself, I'm wondering whether or not the public at large would go for electing a political neophyte to office.

And of course, the requisite questions arise: Do they like him because he's black? Would he be elected just because he was black?

Things that don't need to be "pimped"

File this under "stupid."

The creator of this is one of two things: A diabolical genius, or an evil, evil person trying to drag our civilization past rock bottom.

Maybe I should buy some stock.

Theater or Theatre?

Posting was light over the weekend because I travelled up to Chicago to visit my friend Jen. The occasion was a short play she wrote being featured in the Stockyards 7th Annual Women's Performance Art Festival.

Her play was great; it was funny, creative, and poignant. Most of the other acts . . . well, they're trying. Good for them.

Some of the acts were interpretive dance. I'm not a big fan of this style of "performance art," and I've had some bad experiences sitting through it in the past. Thankfully there were other genres to break up the silliness.

Will be back to a regular posting schedule this week. Whatever "regular" is for this blog, at least.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Impeachment and Power

Captain Ed discusses some of the potential happenings that may occur should Democrats take back the House, including a look at who might become the new Speaker. This has left me to wonder.

If Democrats recapture the House, there is talk that they would begin impeachment proceedings against both President Bush and Vice President Cheney. Never mind whether or not such proceedings would go anywhere. If the proceedings were to succeed, then the next President would be the new Speaker of the House.

Could all of this just be a naked power-grab by the Democrats? I hate to sound cynical, but I wouldn't just brush it off. Considering the way they enjoy circumventing the will of the people by having the judiciary act almost as a super-legislature, I would put it in the realm of possibility.

Regardless, there is a lot is riding on this coming election.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Political Gold

This guy, Tim Nieukirk, is a write-in candidate for IL Governor.

He'll get few votes, but this is pure comedy.

Dean reaches out to conservatives

Not really. Still, as far as satire pieces go, Iowahawk did a good job with this one.
That's why we would like to take this opportunity to start a dialog with you, the conservative "values voter," by addressing an issue of vital importance to all of us -- the growing Republican homo menace.
Heh. Funny.

(Hat tip: Ace)

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

British student arrested for "racism"

Read the article. This entire story is stupid.

A girl was placed in a science class discussion group with students who were not speaking english. She asked to be put in another group so that she could actually figure out what was going on, and the teacher had a conniption. A week later, due to the teacher's complaint, the girl is arrested for racism.

There are so many elements here to lay blame on I don't even know where to begin. The school? The teacher? The police? The laws?

The bottom line is that things are looking bad in Britain. If this were an isolated incident I'd brush it off, but stories like this are coming out of the UK at ever increasing rates. Britain may be one of the first societies to self-implode due to insanity.

Activist Outs Gay Republican

Mike Rogers, a "gay liberal activist," apparently followed through with his threat to out gay republicans if they didn't do so themselves.

I suppose the philosophy there is that you can't be homosexual and a republican. Even if Rogers is lying, this kind of thing could ruin that politician's life and career.

Democrats and liberals . . . is this really an acceptable strategy?

(Hat tip: Ace)

Join the Army, Burn Marijuana Forests

Crazy, crazy story.

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian troops fighting Taliban militants in Afghanistan have stumbled across an unexpected and potent enemy -- almost impenetrable forests of 10-feet (three metre) high marijuana plants.

General Rick Hillier, chief of the Canadian defence staff, said on Thursday that Taliban fighters were using the forests as cover. In response, the crew of at least one armored car had camouflaged their vehicle with marijuana.

"The challenge is that marijuana plants absorb energy, heat very readily. It's very difficult to penetrate with thermal devices ... and as a result you really have to be careful that the Taliban don't dodge in and out of those marijuana forests," he said in a speech in Ottawa.

"We tried burning them with white phosphorous -- it didn't work. We tried burning them with diesel -- it didn't work. The plants are so full of water right now ... that we simply couldn't burn them," he said.

Even successful incineration had its drawbacks.

"A couple of brown plants on the edges of some of those (forests) did catch on fire. But a section of soldiers that was downwind from that had some ill effects and decided that was probably not the right course of action," Hiller said dryly.

Those crazy Afghans and their drugs.

Terran Wobbles Causing Evolution

Well, actually the wobbles cause climate variations, which in turn spur evolution and extinction. According to the researcher, who specifically points out this cycle is on the order of millions of years but notes that other cycles can occur on smaller time scales.

They also give voice to a critic, who says that the sample size of species is too small to draw this conclusion, and that any noticed pattern is just a coincidence, noise in the data.

Which is exactly why I'm often skeptical of this variety of research. Interesting, yes, and you can draw reasonable conclusions. However, this isn't the kind of research where you can run multiple trials and verify your data. You're looking at historical aspects and data derived from biology/geology/astronomy etc. records. The questions there are usually focused on how you obtained the data and whether or not you're interpretting it correctly.

The only reason I keep skepticism of the research is that with such a limited sample set (we only have one Earth, after all), it's hard to determine whether or not someone is interpretting the data properly.

Oh well. I'm a biochemist. What would I know about orbital cycling and its effect on the climate and speciation?

Piercing Causes Pain

Say it ain't so!

Actually, I think tongue piercings are probably the stupidest piercing. Well, second stupidest. There are certainly more sensitive areas where I don't think I want to break any skin.

Let this article be a bit of advice for those who think nature intended for you to shove metal rods through your tender bits.

Clarity

I find the discussion, as it has taken place below, interesting. But I've been thinking, and I believe we might be chasing around in circles. I thought I'd open this up with a new thread (new threads = more traffic) with a question that I think might bring clarity to this discussion:

Why is it wrong to harm other people?

You could ask when, as well, but we'll stick to this for now. Have fun.

Update
Bumped to the top, because I want to see what everyone has to say.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Tug of War: North Korea

Captain Ed discusses an Australian article in this post about how the Chinese government may be considering regime change in North Korea. It doesn't seem to be that China would go through military action to do this, but they have high enough stakes in preventing the sudden collapse of North Korea that it must be at least one of their considered options in stabilizing North Korea.

Not to bring back Cold War containment strategies, but I can't imagine that military action against North Korea isn't being considered by the administration. The current regime in North Korea was, until recently, crazy but mostly toothless. If it becomes a Chinese puppet, the South Koreans might find themselves rather uneasy, and understandably; it was the Chinese who helped the North Koreans in the original war.

Would the US go to war with North Korea? Not without the approval of the Chinese, and I doubt they'd let the US expand its hegemony in the region so easily. Japan already gives them cause for concern; another western foothold in the area might be more than they could bear.

Would the US go to war with China over North Korea? It's a possibility, though I'm hesitant to guess how much of one. With troops invested in Iraq, the military is going to be less interested in starting a full war elsewhere in the world, especially one as taxing as a war with China would be. Could the US win a war against China? Again, with troops in Iraq, it would be a much harder endeavor. We already have a military presence in South Korea, but not nearly enough to fight the full might of China. I hate to say it, but I imagine the only way to quickly and easily win a war against China would be the use of nuclear weapons, and I don't think anyone wants to open that Pandora's Box.

I ask whether or not the US would fight, but I imagine that South Korea would be a bigger instigator in this. I imagine their government having more to say about China taking over North Korea than the US would, but if South Korea went to war with China, we would be dragged into the fight almost immediately.

So, if it comes to it, does North Korea have the strategic significance that the US would fight China for it? Maybe. I can't say either way. I suppose we wait with baited breath to see what happens over the next several months.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Adventures in Teaching: The Interweb

One of the interesting things about being a TA is that I'm a teacher, but my students are nearly the same age as I am. This has the potential to lead to interesting situations. If it weren't for the title, you might think this was a story about students trying to romantically entice their teacher. No, this is far more amusing.

You see, I tried searching some of my students out on Facebook. Facebook pages have privacy settings where you can allow only your friends to view your page, preventing the public at large from getting a glimpse. Some of my students did not think to do this. What I found on their pages was . . . interesting. Here are some relevant screen-captures (click for full size):









The names and faces were blurred out for their protection. The net is full of weirdos, after all.

Here's some helpful advice girls: Be careful what you put on the internet. You never know who might end up reading it, such as somebody who grades all of your papers.

And to the rest of you students out there: If you're going to slam your teachers on the internet, you'd better be absolutely certain your teachers will never see it.

Muslim Scholars Respond to Pope

I thought this was interesting. Apparently, 38 Muslim scholars responded to Pope Benedict's calls for a reasoned dialogue by publishing a letter in Islamica Magazine.

Unfortunately, they only have a graphical version of the letter, no text. Still, it's a lengthy piece of work. If I get the time to read it in its entirety, I might share some of my thoughts on it.

North Korea vs. Iraq

Steve asked below about the difference between the government’s approach to foreign policy between North Korea and Iraq, and it’s a big enough question that I thought the response merited its own post. I’m by no means a policy expert, and smarter men than me have written about the subject. So, take this post in an “as I understand it” light.

First, let me say that if there were any country I would support military action against, North Korea would be the first. Kim Jong Il’s regime is horribly brutal. His policies have led to international isolation, starvation for his people, and government sponsored international crime. All aid, whether food or financial, only props up his regime. There is documented evidence of gulags in his country the likes of which we haven’t seen since Nazi Germany. If there are any people that need to be rescued from a sociopathic leader, it’s the North Koreans. For the curious, the Chosun Journal is a good resource on North Korean human rights.

That being said, the Bush administration chose a path of military action against Iraq and not North Korea. I’ve been asked to justify this. Here is how I understand it:

Terrorism
Iraq was a known financial backer of terrorism, both regionally and into parts beyond. There’s some evidence of a relationship with Al Qaeda, although there are disputes over how significant or developed that relationship was. Still, after 9/11, the issue of state (sponsored) terrorism, especially in the Middle East, was something the administration was not going to be ignoring anymore.

North Korea, on the other hand, has no ties that I’m aware of to any terrorist organizations. There have been some issues between Japan and North Korea on the issue of kidnapped citizens, but that is in a different ballpark.

Sanctions
North Korea had no economic sanctions on it that I’m aware of (until very recently). Most of their economic hardships relate to Kim Jong Il’s disastrous economic policies.

Iraq
was still under sanctions from the first Gulf War . . . sort of. Oil for Food was a joke. So many parties to it were corrupt, using it to get rich, while too little food and medical supplies made it to the Iraqi people. The sanctions were not well enforced, and the way the winds were blowing, it seemed that the UN would be lifting those sanctions by now if Saddam had not been displaced.

This is especially significant because Iraq is an oil producing nation while North Korea is not. That oil gave Saddam a lot of economic and strategic leverage that made him dangerous, all the more so if those sanctions had fallen.

WMD
This is the specific point of contention amongst most people when it comes to arguments about military action in Iraq instead of North Korea. “They both had WMDs!” or so the argument goes. What is the difference, then?

Saddam’s program for weapons of mass destruction was probably more advanced than Kim Jong Il’s when the War in Iraq began. We have been slowly finding stockpiles of chemical weapons, though the evidence indicates that what was in Iraq may have been removed before the war for safekeeping. Some of the more dangerous programs were set to restart at full speed as soon as the sanctions were lifted.

Saddam’s weapons program was a big threat because of his relationship to the terrorist networks. It’s unlikely Saddam would ever have been allowed to build missiles that could target the US, but that was never the concern. The bigger concern was Saddam passing off a chemical or biological weapon to a terrorist group. If I remember correctly, Saddam was the main suspect for the mail-borne anthrax attacks in the months following 9/11.

North Korea
’s nuclear program is a great concern, no doubt about it. We’re still uncertain whether or not the recent test was a nuclear weapon. There is some radiation detected, but I’m not sure if they can link it to the underground explosion or not. The size of the explosion indicates that it was either a fake nuke (a trick North Korea has pulled before) or a mistimed implosion trigger. If it was a successful test, then the bomb was so small as to be comparable to only conventional explosives.

North Korea has been working on ICBMs, but there is no indication of success there. While not a direct threat to America (yet), regional allies and interests are within the threat range, so the North Korean weapons program is a concern.

However, the lack of any relationship to terrorist networks (so far) makes the threat level smaller. We can only hope that Kim Jong Il isn’t so suicidally crazy that he would drop a nuke on Japan or South Korea and expect to survive the retaliation.

Ultimately, I would call the North Korean weapons program an attempt to prop up the current regime. In the future, Kim Jong Il may try to sell any weapons to terrorists in order to make money for his destitute country. It is most likely also an attempt to dissuade military action against his country. South Korea would think twice before warring with the North if there were nuclear weapons pointing at Seoul. For the time being, however, Kim Jong Il will most likely continue to use the program as he has in the past: As a blackmail-like bargaining chip to get the world to offer him aid in the form of money and food. It’s only been the recent developments which make the reality of a North Korean nuclear weapon seem closer to reality.

Regional Issues
This is where I think the major difference lies in the Bush administration’s approach to policy between Iraq and North Korea.

The US had a lot to gain from Saddam’s fall from power. If Iraq manages to survive, the presence of a(nother) stable democracy in the Middle East will prove invaluable to American interests in the region. With the recent prominence of Islamic terror, the removal of someone with ties to the networks and access to deadly weapons was very fortuitous.

The involvement of Iraq’s neighbors is also a factor. Iran and Iraq have always had tension between them. Syria and Saudi Arabia are not what you would call “US allies.” Jordan, while a US ally, was probably not in a position to offer a lot of support to US policies in the region. Turkey, while also a US ally, was always more interested in the activities of the Iraqi Kurds than Saddam himself.

All of this makes for a major distinction with North Korea. The US already has some staunch, and militarily significant, allies in the region in Japan and South Korea. These two nations have great interest in North Korea’s actions, given their respective relationships. China, while only an ally in the sense of being an economic partner, also has a strong interest in North Korea’s actions. It is the main backer to Kim Jong Il’s regime, and is probably not content to give him free reign in the region. If Kim Jong Il were to provoke war, China would undoubtedly be affected, and may even be drug into it, something I’m sure China doesn’t desire. This is the main reason why the multi-party talks are much more important than bilateral negotiations; the other nations have high stakes in the outcome.

While I’m sure a unified Korea, led by Seoul, would be strategically important to the US, the presence of strong allies in the region decreases the significance of North Korea. Until North Korean threats become more tangible to the US, I suspect that military action won’t be on the agenda. Not unless other factors, such as strikes against allies or the development of terror relationships, come into play.

I’m open to alternative explanations and interpretations of US actions in this area, but this is my best understanding of the situation.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Fedspending.org Factoids

Ed Morrisey, of Captain's Quarters, was given early access to the FedSpending.org website, an interactive database of federal grants and contracts. A few weeks ago, he wasn't able to reveal any of the nuggets of information he had gleaned from it, but now that the site has gone public, he can reveal what he knew.

Over at his site, he has the answers to a teaser "quiz" he wrote from the early access. Interesting stuff. It's worth reading.

Friday, October 13, 2006

British Airways punishes employee

Her crime? Wearing a cross to work. Their claim: No visible jewelry. Her claim: Religious discrimination. Why? Muslims and Sikhs can wear visible signs of their faith, such as the veil, the turban, and the Sikh bangle.

Arguably, those religions are obligated to wear such adornment (although the veil is debateable in Islam), while crosses are optional in Christianity. Still, her argument has some merit. A turban is okay but a necklace isn't?

Britain has had issues with this kind of issue lately, and the natives seem to be getting fed up with policies that favor Islam and other religions over Christianity.

pWii-ordered!

It's official: I'm now the proud (semi)owner of a Nintendo Wii. Custody begins Nov. 19th. Excellent.

Also, apologies for the delay in posting lately. Part of the delay? We've a new cat in the family, so part of my time has been spent trying to acclimate it to its new surroundings.

Check it out:

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

North Korean Humor

I don't have anything to say about North Korea setting off what may or may not be nuclear weapons that you probably haven't already heard in the last few days. So, let's take this opportunity to find humor in all of it. First, this political ad. I'd link the YouTube video, but it seems people don't like the video so it's being flagged.

Next, this comic from Least I Could Do:

BlogRolling Down?

BlogRolling, the site that manages my list of links on the side bar, seems to be experiencing some technical difficulties. I'm not sure what the problem is, but it looks like my BlogRoll will be down for an undetermined period of time.

Sorry for the inconvenience.

Are Men of Science Scientific?

As I said, I'm going to be getting some blog-material out of these Bertrand Russell essays I'm reading right now. The first one I looked at was titled same as this blog post. Russell was writing about how men of science all too often have their own prejudices which get in the way of the supposedly objective stance that they ought to have.

His example was with the differences between men and women. Scientists thought that men were superior in terms of their brains. When it was found that male brains weighed more than female brains, this was considered their proof. When the argument turned around that elephant brains weigh more than human brains (in other words, so what?), they then argued that it was the ratio of brain weight to body weight . . . except this favored women. And so came more rationalizations, etc.

Society has a much different temperament these days (Russell wrote this particular essay in 1932), but here's the money quote:
But the alliance between politicians and pseudo-scientists is so strong that it will take a long time before such facts become commonly known. The general public cannot tell which among scientists is to be trusted and will therefore be wise to be very sceptical whenever they hear a man of science giving a confident opinion about a matter on which he has strong prejudices. Men of science are not supermen and are as liable to error as the rest of us.
It's a bit of general advice worth bearing in mind; that PhD next to your name doesn't shield you from uncritical thinking. I included the first sentence along with the quote because, whatever the issues where that he was writing about then, I'd say the relationship between scientific advocacy groups and politicians of any persuasion has become ever more complicated.
Think global warming. You have scientists on both sides of that divide spouting different facts and announcing either the salvation or doom of mankind. The truth of the matter may not emerge until this topic leaves the realm of politics.