Monday, October 31, 2005


This is a lighthearted response to all the bad news out there today.
Embedded Linux has been squeezed into all manner of devices, and its uptake continues at pace. Now DeLaval, a long-time dairy equipment company, has started using Linux in a robotic cow-milking system. A 200 MHz processor, running a heavily modified Red Hat 7.3 system, controls the robotic equipment which allows cows to decide when they want to be milked. To read more about Linux moving into pastures moo, see this report. Maybe this news will lead to udder distros being developed, such as Moobuntu? (Sorry.)


Sunday, October 30, 2005

Leaf, Partly Eaten

Just a Thought on Harriet Miers' Withdrawal

A future History, wherein three Unrelated Tales turn out to be Related:

It's just a thought, but maybe there's something to it. Some of you may recall that, a while back, President Bush nominated Harriet Miers to be an associate justice on the US Supreme Court. She withdrew herself from consideration. President Bush claimed that the the reason for the withdrawal was that the Senate demanded internal White House documents that were protected by executive privilege. He was quoting from her letter to him, announcing the withdrawal.

Legal analysts pounced on this. In an incisive essay, a professor of Law at UNC, Eric Muller, stated "The spin: she's withdrawing to protect executive privilege. What a load of crap."

In this post, I tie together three seemingly-unrelated news items and speculate that perhaps they are related after all, in a way that reflects very badly on our current administration. A lot of people have been blogging about these three things, but so far, I have not found anyone tying them together. Continue reading here.

UPDATE: Apparently, most people agree with the notion that there are broad ethical problems in the White House. According to the :
55 percent of the public believes the Libby case indicates wider problems "with ethical wrongdoing" in the White House [...]

Categories: politics: armchair musings Tags: , ,

Friday, October 28, 2005

Sparky At Charlevoix

Thursday, October 27, 2005

The Rosetta Project

click for info on the MECI thought the Middle English Compendium was an impressive project.  Completed in 2001, the MEC is an digital version of the Middle English Dictionary and associated works, all hyperlinked, available from the University of Michigan Press for $750.  
The electronic MED now contains the complete Middle English Dictionary, A-Z, corresponding to 115 fascicles of the print Dictionary, or about 14,940 pages. It contains exactly 54,081 entries and 891,531 quotations [...]
click to go to the Rosetta Project pageAs impressive as the MED is, the Rosetta Project promises to eclipse it.  Under development by the Long Now Foundation, the Rosetta Project is intended to result in dictionaries ofclick to go to the Long Now Foundation all human languages.  

Because of the fact that many languages face extinction, the Project is starting with those spoken by the fewest number of persons.  For example, they have cataloged Laal, which is spoken in only two villages in Chad.  So far, they have records of 1,384 of the approximately 7,000 known languages.  They claim to have 404,451 "distinct words" in their databases, although I am not sure how they define a "distinct word."

Meanwhile, the The international center for Advanced Communication Technologies (interACT) at Carnegie Mellon University, is developing a compact device that they hope will enable instantaneous translation of speech from one language to another, and produce an intelligible audio stream of the translated text.  
Current systems allow translation of spontaneous speech in very limited situations, like making hotel reservations or tourist shopping, but they cannot enable translation of lectures, television broadcasts, meetings or telephone conversations. The new technology fills that gap and makes it possible to extend such systems to other languages and lecture types.
For some reason, this reminds me of the end of Joe Haldeman's science fiction classic, The Forever War [Note: plot spoiler ahead].  After fighting an interstellar war that goes on for centuries, the two sides finally sit down to talk.

When they do, the conversation goes something like this (it has been a couple of decades since I read it, so this is an approximation):
Humans: Why did you start this war?

Taurans: Us? We thought you started it.

Rosa Parks Tribute

BlogPulse is a website that monitors, collates, and reports upon activity in the Blogosphere. They noticed a spike in activity right after the death of Rosa Parks, and prepared a memorial for her, in the form of a Macromedia Flash movie. The movie depicts their view of the Blogosphere lighting up with posts about her life and her death.

In BlogPulse News

As soon as news spread of the late Monday death of civil rights pioneer Rosa L. Parks, bloggers began sharing their memories, condolences and tributes to the meek but strong woman from Alabama who single-handedly, some say, mobilized an entire human rights movement. BlogPulse began capturing the tributes immediately, and the BlogPulse tech team compiled a short movie that visualizes Parks-related activity and posts in real time. "Deeply sad" to "God Bless You" to "Lugar Reservado" ("a place is reserved") are only a handful of the thousands of blog posts that mentioned Parks soon after her death was announced. A BlogPulse trend graph also captures the huge spike in discussion about Parks: Rosa Parks

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

"a heap of things that have been reported to us is bogus."

OK, there are real, if not professional, translations of the Italian news reports about the phony Nigerian yellowcake documents.  The correctly-translated versions are not funny at all, but they are informative.  The articles were translated by the mysteriously-named woman, Nur al-Cubicle, on a blog that is mysteriously named Nur al-Cubicle.  There are three parts, corresponding to the three installments in the Italian paper, La Repubblica.  (1 2 3) She ends with an epilogue, in which the Italian government denies the whole thing.  

There are parts that are interesting, for example:
So on September 8, 2002, Judith Miller portrays the aluminum tubes as “a smoking gun.” The next day, Pollari is seated in front of Stephen Hadley. So what does he tell him? Pollari keeps his mouth shut. He doesn’t reveal what he knows about the aluminum tubes, which are the source of so much concern (or even enthusiasm) for the Bush Administration. The shame is that those 7075-T6 tubes, 900 millimeters long, 81 millimeters in diameter, 3.3 millimeters thick, are well-known hardware to the Italian Army. They are 81-mm rocket artillery shells used in the Medusa air-to-ground missile system installed on Italian Army and Navy helicopters. In reality, the Iraqis are merely attempting to reproduce weaponry with which they became familiar during the long years of economic, military and nuclear cooperation between Rome and Baghdad. [...] Saddam’s General Staff needs to duplicate them, so to speak, because their inventory is stockpiled outdoors and is now corroded. That was the reason behind the new anodized aluminum tube purchases.
That excerpt does not make much sense unless you read the entire 3-part thing, which is rather long, to understand who Pollari is, and why his meeting with Hadley may have been significant.  The only reason it is interesting is that it may provide some insight into the means used to "fix" the intelligence that provided a rationale for the war.  Oh, and there is a reference to Judith Miller, which may explain why Fitzgerald was so interested in talking to her.  But there has been so much speculation about that, lately, that there is hardly any point in speculating any more.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Trial Blog Post Using Flock

Military's Advice to Reporters: 2,000 Dead in Iraq 'Not a Milestone'

By E Staff

Published: October 25, 2005 1:11 PM ET updated 3:30 PM
NEW YORK CNN reported this morning that the U.S. death toll in Iraq had reached 2,000, and a little later The Associated Press confirmed this. AP said the 2,000th military fatality was an Army sergeant who was wounded by a roadside bomb north of Baghdad and died in Texas last weekend. He is Staff Sgt. George T. Alexander Jr., 34, of Killeen, Texas.

But the chief spokesman for the American-led multinational force has called on the media not to consider the 2,000 number as some kind of milestone.

U.S. Army Lt. Col. Steve Boylan, director of the force's combined press center, wrote in an e-mail to reporters, "I ask that when you report on the events, take a moment to think about the effects on the families and those serving in Iraq. The 2,000 service members killed in Iraq supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom is not a milestone. It is an artificial mark on the wall set by individuals or groups with specific agendas and ulterior motives."

Boylan, according to AP, added: "The 2,000th Soldier, Sailor, Airman, or Marine that is killed in action is just as important as the first that died and will be just as important as the last to die in this war against terrorism and to ensure freedom for a people who have not known freedom in over two generations."

He complained that the true milestones of the war were "rarely covered or discussed," and said they included the troops who had volunteered to serve, the families of those that have been deployed for a year or more, and the Iraqis who have sought at great risk to restore normalcy to their country. It also includes, he added, Iraqis who sought to join the security forces and had became daily targets for insurgent attacks at recruiting centers, those who turned out to vote in the constitutional referendum, and those who chose to risk their lives by joining the government.

"Celebrate the daily milestones, the accomplishments they have secured and look to the future of a free and democratic Iraq and to the day that all of our troops return home to the heroes welcome they deserve," Boylan wrote.

E Staff (letters@editorandpublisher.com)

UPDATE: Flock has potential, but it is buggy, which is to be expected in a product still under development (version=0.4.9). See their 13 things you can do with Flock (and how to do them) page to get an idea of what they have in mind. It integrates with del.icio.us and uses it to store your bookmarks online. It also integrates with Flickr. The integrated blog posting tool does not allow HTML editing (yet?) so I probably won't use it much, and I have no idea if it will use Firefox extensions, and I haven't tried using it with Flickr. Still, it is a great idea. It loads pages quickly, too. BTW, I forgot to include the link to the article above. It is here.

Flock Browser

Announcement posted at Tux Magazine:

It's really new and not quite at click-and-run status yet, but the Flock Web browser now can be downloaded and experimented with here. Flock is a freely available open-source browser based on Mozilla Firefox that combines several tasks and applications in one place. It can, for example, be used to post blog entries, create and share photo albums and create and share favorite Web site lists. Flock also has a built-in RSS feed for scanning headlines. Aimed mostly at the ever-growing blogging population, Flock so far has partnerships with Flickr and del.icio.us. Flock is calling this release a Developer's Preview and doesn't suggest anyone use it as the primary browser just yet. The group hopes to have a Consumer version ready by December.

Nasa Images of Wilma, Aftermath

NASA images

Nasa image

Grand Rounds 2.05 Up

Grand Rounds 2.05 is up, at Hospital Impact.  H.I.'s banner poses the question: what will it take for our hospitals to be the best run organizations on the face of the planet?  It's a good question.  Right now, according to the WHO, the American healthcare system ranks 37th in the world.  Just ahead of Cuba, in fact.  

Actually, hospitals are just a part of the healthcare system, and there are serious people who are trying to improve them, and doing a good job of it.  The problem with health care in the USA is not a lack of bang; rather, it's the old bang:buck ratio thing.  The point of sites such as Hospital Impact is to figure out how to get more bangs for fewer bucks.

Grand Rounds is a celebration of those bangs, and it doesn't cost any bucks.  The host this week is to be commended for an arduous task of compiling the submissions, and presenting them in a nice, palatable format.  

Readability hint: Sitemeter tells me that 70% of you are still using Internet Explorer.  Don't do that.  It is no way to read a carnival.  Instead, use a tabbed browser, such as Firefox.  Set the preferences to 1) open new tabs in background, and 2) load middle-clicked URLs in tabs; then, just middle-click on all the links.  You get all the posts open in individual tabs, ready for you to read at your leisure.  

Get Firefox!

Infinite Wonders of Babelfish:
"a heap of things that have been reported to us is bogus."

Like every other liberal blogger on the planet, I checked the usual places this evening for any advance information about Fitzgerald's possible announcement.  There are rumors on Huffington Post so far, but only rumors.  Following that thread, however, I came across this, at Talking Points Memo:

I mentioned yesterday that the Italian daily La Repubblica ran a story reporting alleged new details about the origins of the Niger/uranium forgeries. Today they followed up with a second part of their report which, if accurate in its particulars, could rock the foundations of official Washington.

Let me note first, as I did yesterday, that the article is of course written in Italian. And it has not yet had a professional translation.
No translation? No problem.  Just use Babelfish.  The Corpus Callosum now presents the following juicy morsels of data that stymied Marshall:
The outline of the game is somewhat transparent. "the authentic" papers on an attempt of purchase in Niger (old "Italian intelligence" of the years the Eighty) door in dowry vicecapo of the Sismi Center of Rome (Antonio Nucera). They come bundled with constructed other cartaccia to beautiful and the better one with a theft simulated in the embassy of the Niger (if of it they gain registered paper and you stamp).
It is the first instantaneous one. Profit returns in order to tell the second understood it of the Great organized Deceit in Italy in order to construct the necessity of a military participation in Iraq.
Null it can be said of this coincidence if not to take to action of one circumstance: the Italians have damning want of give themselves to make.
500 tons of uranio. One hyperbolic amount. The news is evidently lacking in whichever reliability.
    And perhaps the most damning statement of all:
George Tenet, crippled from the holes of the 11 intelligences of september, ago good ace to bad game and becomes quite sordo when the intelligence of the Department of State, as it tells to Republic Greg Thielmann, opposes to it that "the information collections in Italy are inconsistent. That the history of the uranio nigerino is false. That a heap of things that have been reported to us is bogus ".
Don't you hate it when you get crippled from the holes?  And you find out that a heap of things is bogus?

Sunday, October 23, 2005

When Health Insurance Is Not

The New York Times has an article on problems caused by inadequate health insurance coverage:

Being a Patient
When Health Insurance Is Not a Safeguard

Published: October 23, 2005

[...] The Dorsetts, Sharon and Arnold, were concerned about Zachery's health, but they were not worried about the financial consequences. They were a young, middle-income couple, with health insurance that covered 90 percent of doctors' bills and most of the costs of prescription drugs.

Then the bills started coming in. After a week in the hospital, the couple's share came to $1,100 - not catastrophic, but more than their small savings. They enrolled in a 90-day payment plan with the hospital and struggled to make the monthly installments of nearly $400, hoping that they did not hit any other expenses.

But Zachery, who was eventually found to have an immune system disorder, kept getting sick, and the expense of his treatment - fees for tests, hospitalizations, medicine - kept mounting, eventually costing the family $12,000 to $20,000 a year. Earlier this year, the Dorsetts stopped making mortgage payments on their ranch house, in a subdivision outside Indianapolis, because they could not afford them. In March, they filed for bankruptcy. [...]
This is exactly the kind of thing that got the attention of Physicians for a National Health Program, when they published a study showing that medical expenses are a major factor in many bankruptcies.

Not to worry, however, Congress is on the case.  

Not long after the PHNP study came out, Congress acted to tighten restrictions on personal bankruptcy.  Just to make things more perverse, they continue to permit corporations to use bankruptcy (permanent link here) to avoid their obligations to their workers.  

Now, we learn that Congress is not content with the current situation.  They want to make it worse.  According to a study by Mila Kofman, J.D.
(Assistant Research Professor, Georgetown University):
Association Health Plans: Loss of State Oversight Means Regulatory Vacuum and More Fraud
This report analyzes the impact of legislation introduced in the U.S. Congress (H.R. 525/S. 406) that would federalize the regulation of health insurance arrangements called association health plans (AHPs). It concludes that by exempting AHPs from state oversight, the legislation would create a regulatory vacuum and allow scam operators to use new federal AHP preemption provisions as a shield to avoid regulation and oversight. As a result, the passage of this legislation would have the unintended consequence of widespread fraud threatening the coverage and financial security of millions of Americans.

There has been a 30-year history of health insurance scams involving associations and multiple employer arrangements. Scams flourished after Congress exempted these arrangements from state oversight in 1974 through the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). Operators targeted small businesses and self-employed people through legitimate and phony associations. They collected premiums for non-existent health insurance, did not pay medical claims, and left businesses, workers and providers with millions of dollars in unpaid bills and patients without health insurance coverage. The U.S. Department of Labor, having the responsibility for oversight, was not able to protect businesses and their workers. [...]
HR 525 has passed, with little fanfare.  S. 406 is pending.  

Kofman, being an attorney, analyzed the legal aspect of the legislation.  But that is only part of the story.  The loosening of regulation of AHPs would permit greater exposure of patients to uncovered medical expenses.  It would permit health insurance plans to impose greater restrictions on coverage.  According to the Congressional Budget Office, the legislation could result in higher premiums for 80 percent of small businesses.  In addition, there is evidence that AHPs would increase the number of persons without health insurance.  

It light of these findings, it really is rather mysterious why Congress would think this is a good idea.  Patient advocates (i.e. every one who possesses a body) might want to consider asking their Senators to oppose S. 406.

Categories: medicine, politics
Tags: , , , ,

Fruit and Vegetable Detail

Ginger Root

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Best Science Photographs of 2005

National Geographic has posted five of the best science photos of 2005, here.

What looks like a grisly end for a little shrimp is actually a study in symbiosis in this winning picture from the 2005 Visions of Science Photographic Awards.

Photographer Jim Greenfield took the picture off the coast of Curaçao in the Dutch Antilles islands. The image shows a lizard fish opening wide for a shrimp, while the shrimp cleans its teeth of parasites.

Good Blog Writing

The recent GAO report (1.3MB PDF) on security flaws in electronic voting machines is likely to be a big topic in the Blogosphere.  US Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) has a nicely-written post on the subject, here.  Voting machine security is an important issue, obviously, but the report speaks for itself and I won't belabor that.  What got my attention was not so much the conclusion of the report (there are serious security problems), but the way that Conyers blogged about it.

Mr. Conyers has long been an advocate for fair voting practices.  He wrote a book about the problems in the 2004 Ohio vote: What Went Wrong In Ohio: The Conyers Report on the 2004 Presidential Election.  (A 3.2MB PDF version is here.)  Given Conyers' ardent activism in this matter, one might expect that he would blog about it with fire and brimstone.  Instead, he says this:
There have been discussions and debates about whether this or that election was "hacked." I would like to suggest putting that discussion aside for the moment (or longer -- I understand some such discussions can result in a ban from this blog community). In this context, we should focus on what we all agree on, and what the GAO found: these machines have substantial problems. To me, in addition to being an issue that goes to the heart of our democracy, this is a consumer protection issue. There are certainly voting machine manufacturers who produce a good product. But by and large, when it comes to a voting machine, the average voter is getting a lemon -- the Ford Pinto of voting technology.   We must demand better. [emphasis added]
He avoids casting this as a partisan issue.  Rather, it is an issue that affects everyone.  We all are affected by the security of our voting machines, and we deserve good security.  We're spending a lot of money on these machines, and we deserve to get a good product for our money.  

By avoiding the temptation to turn this into a polarizing, conspiracy-theory-laden, partisan polemic, he focuses on the main point: there is a serious problem here that we all should be concerned about.

Categories: Politics
Tags: , , ,

They Seldom Limp and Quack This Early

Sometimes The Economist comes up with some hilarious stuff.  Unfortunately, this howler is subscription-only, but perhaps a few quotes will convey the idea.  In this post, I have some fun with the humor in their latest Lexington column,The waning of the imperial presidency,  then expand on their explanation for the reasons for the MSM turning against the President.  Continue reading here.

Categories: politics, armchair musings
Tags: , , , , ,

Friday, October 21, 2005

Too Bad It Is Meaningless...

Things Found While Looking For Other Things

Looking for a site with etymology of medical terms, I found PandoraWordBox.  They have a post about Halloween and witches, with the following tidbits:
Before exploring the past, it is noteworthy to note a "new" "informal" "earth religion" called WICCA. This "movement" was energized by the publications of Mr. Gerald Gardner who in the 1940's stimulated beliefs in "Wicca" or "the Craft of the Wise" and WITCHCRAFT. The current penchant for "spiritualism" and "magic" is reflected in bookstores prominently displaying manuals like a "Complete Idiot's Guide to Wiccan Witchcraft" by D. Zimmermann and K. A. Gleason and other publications that explain this neo-pagan religion as having roots in ancient Celtic and Native American beliefs.

Before Christianity, ancient witches were portrayed as CHARming CHARismatic CHARacters. Clearly, Circe, Calypso and Medea represent CHARismatic women.


Charismatic Calypso captivated Odysseus until Zeus ordered her to free him from her charms.

As humanistic values upheld by the Roman civilization were replaced by religious fanaticisms, the status of women deteriorated. Worse yet, those who had CHARM and CHARISMA became emblems of temptation, and as with Eve, feminine CHARM came to be seen by many as diabolical in nature. In England, Germany and France, at one point, "hunting" for witches became a craze. During this pandemic of mass hysteria, any old woman who was ugly, difficult or vociferous, particularly if she had a wart on the nose, could be declared to be a WITCH.
Now I don't know if it is fair to attribute the demonization of feminine charm to Christianity, but it does appear that our society has a tendency to do this.  

Categories:  ?

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Ode to ODF

One of the big advantages to OpenOffice is that it stores documents in OpenDocument Format.  Unlike the various formats used by Microsoft products, ODF is free of restrictive license requirements, and can be used to store almost any kind of computer document.    
Could ODF be the Net's new, frictionless document DNA?
Posted by David Berlind @ 11:41 am

Between the way the recently OASIS-ratified OpenDocument Format (ODF) was approved as the Massachusetts standard file format for productivity applications, and the way it was submitted for consideration as a global standard to the International Standards Organization (the ISO) and the way the thin-client discussion has suddenly moved front and center again, could we be on the verge of an ODF-inspired document revolution?  Could ODF serve as the frictionless DNA that allows any thick or thin  authoring tool to create, edit, and exchange documents of all types? [...]
The reason that the State of Massachusetts formally adopted ODF is that they can be sure that ODF documents will be accessible forever.  They do not have to rely on one vendor to supply applications that can read those documents.  They do not have to worry about a vendor dropping support for a document type at some point in the future.  

The article quoted above suggests another possible reason that ODF might be preferable.  For various technical reasons, it may be the ideal format for documents that are edited collaboratively.

OpenOffice.org 2.0 Is Here

OpenOffice.org 2.0 Is Here

OpenOffice.org 2.0 is the productivity suite that individuals, governments, and corporations around the world have been expecting for the last two years. Easy to use and fluidly interoperable with every major office suite, OpenOffice.org 2.0 realises the potential of open source.

With new features, advanced XML capabilities and native support for the OASIS Standard OpenDocument format, OpenOffice.org 2.0 gives users around the globe the tools to be engaged and productive members of their society.

Download it now. If it is not ready today in your language, it will be shortly. OpenOffice.org 2.0 is yours.

This is the final release for OpenOffice 2.0, now the best office suite available at any cost. If you are curious about why you should care, read this: Why OpenDocument Won (and Microsoft Office Open XML Didn’t).

Wednesday, October 19, 2005


When I first saw this headline, I though it must be a sly reference to the potential sacrifice of Cheney, Libby, and Rove in an effort to save the Bush 43 presidency.  But no, it is worse than that.  The headline is meant to be taken literally: Republicans really do want to slaughter horses.  By the thousands.  

This serves no valid purpose.  Government has no business passing legislation such as this.  It is a sick and bizarre form of corporate welfare in its sleaziest form.  Read the story at Huffington post, here.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Evidence-Based Legislation, Part I

Recently, the US FDA has been criticized extensively for failing to adhere to scientific principles.  However, one fact has gone unnoticed:  For all its failings, the FDA is the most scientifically-based part of our government, and the rest of the government could learn a lot from how they do things.  In this essay, I examine the differences between the approval process for new drugs, and the process for crafting new laws.  I demonstrate that the FDA uses the scientific method, to great advantage, whereas Congress uses a cumbersome, unscientific, and unnecessarily dangerous process to develop new legislation.  When I get around to it, I will post a Part II, describing a proposal for a new way to draft laws: evidence-based legislation.  Continue reading here.

Categories: politics, armchair musings
Tags: , , ,

Another Picture

Swan at Gallup Park
Ann Arbor, Michigan


Monday, October 17, 2005

Did Christian Conservatives Receive Assurances...?

Posted without comment:

Judgment Call:
Did Christian conservatives receive assurances that Miers would oppose Roe v. Wade?

Monday, October 17, 2005 12:01 a.m. EDT

Two days after President Bush announced Harriet Miers's Supreme Court nomination, James Dobson of Focus on the Family raised some eyebrows by declaring on his radio program: "When you know some of the things that I know--that I probably shouldn't know--you will understand why I have said, with fear and trepidation, that I believe Harriet Miers will be a good justice." [...]

Saturday, October 15, 2005

The Other March of the Other Penguins

The recent National Geographic film, March of the Penguins, has generated a tremendous amount of controversy: an avalanche of deconstructionism that surely was not intended by its creator.  It seems that the controversy started when Micheal Medved claimed, in an NYT interview, that MOTP is "the motion picture this summer that most passionately affirms traditional norms".  Andrew Sullivan was quick with a rejoinder, pointing out that some penguins have been observed to engage in homosexual behavior.  Others pointed out that some penguins engage in a form of prostitution.  Maggie Gallagher jumped in (1 2) when it turned out that some penguins in zoos that previously had been reported to be homosexual, later started to engage in heterosexual behavior.

I am not sure how the disclosure that the penguins are in fact bisexual, rather than homosexual, was supposed to salvage the point made by the Christian conservatives, but that did appear to be their line of argument.  Many bloggers and editorialists joined in the fray.  (1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12)

Having an entire Saturday to consider this issue, I realize now that all of these commentators are missing the point completely.  

You see, there is a whole nother (another whole) group of penguins, on an entirely different kind of march...and these blokes won't stop for anything...not even global warming.  And the lesson they teach, about the controversy over evolution vs. creation, is far more profound.  Continue reading here.

San Diego Zoo Pandacam

Giant Panda Research Station: Panda Cam
Send a Panda Cam postcard!

President Bush:
Champion of Human Dignity

I would like to be reassured by the statements below, found in the second chapter of the President's National Security Strategy.  
"Some worry that it is somehow undiplomatic or impolite to speak the language of right and wrong. I disagree. Different circumstances require different methods, but not different moralities."

President Bush
West Point, New York
June 1, 2002

In pursuit of our goals, our first imperative is to clarify what we stand for: the United States must defend liberty and justice because these principles are right and true for all people everywhere. No nation owns these aspirations, and no nation is exempt from them. Fathers and mothers in all societies want their children to be educated and to live free from poverty and violence. No people on earth yearn to be oppressed, aspire to servitude, or eagerly await the midnight knock of the secret police.

America must stand firmly for the nonnegotiable demands of human dignity: the rule of law; limits on the absolute power of the state; free speech; freedom of worship; equal justice; respect for women; religious and ethnic tolerance; and respect for private property.

These demands can be met in many ways. America’s constitution has served us well. Many other nations, with different histories and cultures, facing different circumstances, have successfully incorporated these core principles into their own systems of governance. History has not been kind to those nations which ignored or flouted the rights and aspirations of their people.
I am not a student of History, but I suspect he is correct on that last point.  History has not been been kind to those nations which ignored or flouted the rights and aspirations of their people.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Unsuccessful Friday Cat Blogging

Patches just does not want her picture taken and posted on the Internet. Patches thinks it is undignified for cats to be displayed in such a manner.

One of the More Interesting Surveys...

...pertains to public attitudes toward stem cell research.  Although the media tend to portray embryonic stem cell research as a "deeply polarizing" issue, the survey shows that there is considerable nuance in people's perceptions of ESC research.  Furthermore, the opinions do not alway arrost the way one might expect:
While the moral status of human embryos has been the centerpiece of the political debate about ESC research, often articulated as an all-or-nothing proposition that is fully predictive of all of an individual's other views on embryonic stem cell research, the public's views about the moral status of embryos and the relationship of those views to ESC research policy preferences has not been fully explored. The survey showed that nearly the same number of Americans believe that an embryo in a Petri dish has no or low moral status (30 percent) or maximum moral status (28 percent). The remainder (42 percent) accord embryos some intermediate moral status.

A third of those who believe an embryo in a Petri dish has maximum moral status nonetheless approve of ESC research. Similarly, a third support ESC research policies more permissive than the current policy and which involve funding for research using new ESCs.

In a parallel fashion, 17 percent of those who accord an embryo in a Petri dish no or low moral status nevertheless disapprove of ESC research and support the current ESC policy or an all-out ban (22 percent). Thus, even for a sizeable number of respondents who fall at the polar ends of the moral status continuum, the commonly held expectation that they will support the corresponding policy extreme does not hold true.
This is good to see.  Despite all the hype, people are actually thinking for themselves about this topic.  How did that happen?  More importantly, how can we get this to keep happening?  

Gosh, just imagine...if we could figure out how to get people to think for themselves all the time, maybe we could get this country going on the right track.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Interesting New Blog

I just happened to notice this science-oriented blog, now entering its second month of existence:

What is a muton?

mu·ton (mytn) n. The smallest unit of DNA at which a mutation can occur; a nucleotide.

Francis Collins on Life

Francis Collins is the director of the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).  He was interviewed by Robert Krulwich, for the PBS series, NOVA.  They discussed the prospect of humans creating life from scratch, using only synthesized biomolecules.  Krulwich was interested in knowing what Dr. Collins thought about the notion, that such an act of creation might have spiritual implications.

Krulwich: If a human being were to create life from nonlife, that would cross—in my view, anyway—a line that I didn't know that we could cross. A mystery would be demystified. It doesn't strike you that way?

Collins: We have been demystifying life for decades. Ever since we figured out "spontaneous generation" is not right, that, in fact, life comes into being from things like spores and eggs, and so forth, we have been learning that life follows certain principles and rules. I think you'd be hard-pressed to find a microbiologist who would say, "There is something unscientific, some vital force about E. coli that allows it to keep going."

Krulwich: So, really, you feel that way?

Collins: Yeah.

Krulwich: A very little, itty-bitty thing gets along because it's just chemicals in the right order.

Collins: Right. Now does that apply to human beings? No, I happen to think human beings fall in a different category. I think we, of all the organisms on the planet, have a spiritual nature which can't be explained by those common elements and "instruction books" and references to machine analogies. We have these remarkable features such as the understanding of what's right and wrong, which I don't think is something that will come out in the study of biology. Nor is it something that I think evolution can explain.

So I am a person of faith, as you might be able to tell from that last remark. But my faith is not in any way resting upon whether or not it's possible in a test tube, at some point, to generate something that looks like it replicated and had the properties of life.

Krulwich: So God wouldn't be a little bit diminished if a human could make a living thing from a nonliving thing? Or humankind wouldn't be inflated if we could make a living thing?

Collins: Well, God would certainly not be diminished. God, if it's the God that I worship, created the universe and all the laws that regulate it, and gave us this incredible gift of an intellect. And I, like Galileo, don't think that he gave us those abilities in order for us to forego their use. And so I think God kind of thinks that science is pretty cool!

So I'm not worried about God. I am worried about humans, because we have a long tradition of assuming greater importance for ourselves than we deserve. And so this does slip into the zone of hubris: "I'm no longer just an ordinary person; I am creating life. That makes me a little closer to God, and maybe a little less in need of Him, after all." If somebody were to wrap themselves in that kind of philosophical mantle, then I think we've actually not upgraded man, we've downgraded him.
In reading the entire article, I get the impression that Dr. Collins does not think there is any particular magic moment that occurs in the process of taking atoms and arranging them into a configuration that is alive.  Yet he thinks that there is something fundamentally different about humans, compared to other living organisms.  I'll have to think about that.

Presented Without Comment

From Medscape News (free registration required)

Children of Same-Sex Couples Do as Well as Other Children
Linda Little

Oct. 13, 2005 (Washington) — An analysis of multiple studies of 500 households shows that rearing children in a same-sex household does not affect the their self-esteem, gender identity, or emotional health, a Boston researcher reported.

"Pediatricians need to recognize that there are variations in families and learn what kind of advice to give them to optimize the child's development," said Ellen Perrin, MD, professor of pediatrics at Tufts-New England Medical Center in Boston, Massachusetts.

The researcher and colleagues looked at data from 15 studies evaluating possible stigma, teasing, social isolation, adjustment, sexual orientation, and strengths. The findings were presented here at the American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference and Exhibition.

"The vast consensus of the studies is that children of same-sex parents do as well as children whose parents are heterosexual in every way," Dr. Perrin said. "In some ways, children of same-sex parents actually may have advantages over other family structures." [...]

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Not Exactly...

This is not exactly the sort of headline I like to see in the morning...or anytime, for that matter.
Scientists warn of possibility of drug-resistant avian flu
By Justin Teo, RSI
First published 11 October 2005

US scientists warn that a drug-resistant Avian flu strain could arise with unrestrained and improper use of available drugs.

The warning came as governments around the world are stockpiling antiviral drugs and the H5N1 avian flu strain threatens to break out into a flu pandemic.

The virus has killed 65 people in Asia since late 2003 and recent reports of an outbreak amongst poultry in Turkey are unnerving European states.

How could improper or unrestrained use of antiviral drugs affect the battle against Avian flu?

Justin Teo spoke to Dr. Jeffrey Staples, Senior Medical Advisor at International SOS, for more.  [...]
The warning about the possibility of drug resistance is not based upon any new information; there is alway a risk of drug resistance.  What he points out it that the risk of drug resistance developing in the avian flu virus may be increased by the limitation in supply of antiviral medications.  

One thing the article does not address is the fact that a limitation in the supply of money is just as big of a factor as limitation in the supply of medicine.  

The do make one more point that is very important.  Dr. Staples points out that we cannot assume that we will be able to beat this disease.  We have to think about how we are going to make society work if the disease gets the upper hand:
So alternatives are really good, comprehensive planning for infrastructure, communications, transportation, logistics and supplies, and planning alternative sources and alternative means of getting critical operations done. We basically have to figure out how we can operate our society should a pandemic occur and we shouldn’t just rely on vaccines and drugs.
I think he's talking about humility there.  Even the great US of A might not be able to win this particular battle.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Pandemic Preparedness

Another WaPo editorial today deserves a little comment.  A month ago, I wrote about the warnings that the USA is not adequately prepared for an outbreak of avian influenza, should the virus mutate such that human-to-human transmission occurs readily.  (Note that the link to the article I cited has expired; the new, still-working, link is here.)  Bloggers have been keeping up with the risk of a pandemic, especially Hedwig at Living the Scientific life, in her weekly Birds in the News posts.  In her 21st edition, she laments the decline in funding for public health offices.  Those cuts are reminiscent of the recent cuts in funding for FEMA, as noted by Kevin Drum at Washington Monthly:
June 2005: Funding for the New Orleans district of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is cut by a record $71.2 million. One of the hardest-hit areas is the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project, which was created after the May 1995 flood to improve drainage in Jefferson, Orleans and St. Tammany parishes.
The WaPo editorial makes the point that there are things that the government could be doing, but is not:
The solution lies not in antivirals but in a vaccine that could be tailored, relatively quickly, to whatever form the virus takes, as well as help for U.S. hospitals, which are filled to capacity. The administration is aware of the former problem; the president met Friday with vaccine manufacturers, and the National Institutes of Health has been conducting vaccine research. But legislation is needed to facilitate research and rapid production of vaccines. That's a difficult task, given that American pharmaceutical companies, scared off by liability issues and low profits, no longer make vaccines at all.

Some in Congress have been working on a successor to last year's failed Bioshield legislation, which was intended to break the vaccine deadlock. Sens. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) and Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.) have introduced Bioshield II, which would absolve vaccine manufacturers of liability and give them patent incentives to produce vaccines. Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), chairman of the bioterrorism and public health preparedness subcommittee, has announced his intention to introduce an innovative bill that would set up an agency, similar to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, to invest in early research into drug and vaccine development in conjunction with the private sector.
Personally, I agree with the notion of removing or limiting liability for vaccine manufacturers, because that is a major impediment in the industry.  At the same time, however, I would like to see a fund established for the few claims that would arise, inevitably, from the widespread use of any pharmaceutical agent.  In the case of vaccines, there is obviously great public good to be had from their use, but that good cannot be realized without exposing some individuals to harm.  I  think it would be fair to compensate persons who are harmed by their participation in a vaccine program, since they took on a risk for the benefit of society as a whole.  I would hate to see the potential legal liability have the unintended consequence of heightening a threat to the entire population.

World Mental Health Day

As pointed out by Deborah Serani, Psy.D., Today is World Mental Health Awareness Day.  Details are in Dr. Serani's post, here.
World Mental Health Day was observed for the first time on October 10, 1992. It was started as an annual activity of The World Federation for Mental Health by the then Deputy Secretary General Richard Hunter of the United States. The day is officially commemorated every year on on October 10th.
The WFMH announcement is here.  Their theme for this year is: "Mental and Physical Health Across the Life Span."  It is nice to see that they recognize the fact that there is not a clear boundary between mental and physical health; each depends upon the other.  Of course, some of the most pressing issues in out health care system today have to do with mental health care for children and adolescents -- who still are scandalously underserved -- and both mental and physical health care for the elderly.  It sounds as though the organizers are aware of this and would like to underscore these points.

Carl Levin: Disappointment and Encouragement

Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) does not agree with me.  He thinks that the US should keep the troops in Iraq, at least through 2006.  That is disappointing.  However, he does make some interesting and encouraging points in his recent WaPo editorial.
Our military leaders have long told us that there can be no purely military solution in Iraq and that a genuine, broad-based political settlement among the Iraqis is essential for success and for the defeat of the insurgency.

There is, however, one point on which leaders of the three main groups in Iraq agree: None of the Iraqi groups wants U.S. troops to leave precipitately. The Shiites want us to stay until Iraqi security forces are strong enough to deal with the insurgency on their own. The Kurds want us to remain for the impending future. And the Sunni Arab leaders want us to stay as a deterrent to those who might seek revenge against them for the actions of Saddam Hussein.

We must use that leverage -- the possibility of an American withdrawal -- to achieve the broad-based political settlement that is essential for defeating the insurgency.

I believe that if the Iraqis fail to reach a political solution by the end of the year we must consider a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. forces. This does not mean setting a date now for departure. It simply means conveying clearly and forcefully to Iraqis that the presence of our forces is not indefinite and that our staying there requires them to come together politically, since Iraqi unity offers the only hope of defeating the insurgency.
Mr. Levin goes on to point out that the current Administration is sending the opposite message, by insisting that the troop will stay as long as they are needed.  Good point.  I would say that if we have any leverage at all, we should use it.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Arrrggh...Not Another Internet Quiz!

Uncannily accurate.  Best quiz ever:

I am a d10

This survey is completely scientific. Despite the mind-boggling complexity of mankind, the billions of distinctly different personalities found on Earth can easily be divided into seven simple categories that correspond to the five Platonic solids, a pseudo polyhedron, and whatever the hell a d100 is. The results of this quiz should be considered not only meaningful but also infallible, and pertinent to your success as a fully realized individual. If you feel the results of this examination do not match your perceived personality, you should take whatever drastic measures are needed to cram your superego back into proper alignment, as described by the quiz results.

And if you believe that, we have some really great critical-hit insurance to sell you.

Take the quiz at dicepool.com

Raucous House Vote:
Question About Corporate Welfare

The forces of environmentalism won a rare victory today, as an amendment to a House bill was removed at the last minute. The bill was produced under the guise of responding to the devastation wrought by Katrina, and helping consumers get lower gas prices. This is to be done by subsidizing the construction of new refineries for production of petroleum products. The amendment in question would have relaxed standards for the upgrading of pollution controls.
In Raucous House Vote, G.O.P. Oil Refinery Bill Squeaks By By CARL HULSE Published: October 8, 2005 Even before bringing the refinery measure to the floor, its authors had to strip out language that the White House sought to make it easier for utilities to expand without installing new antipollution equipment, a provision that Republican leaders acknowledged would have doomed the bill. But stiff resistance remained among Democrats and a handful of Republicans led by Representative Sherwood Boehlert, Republican of New York, who is chairman of the House Science Committee. Mr. Boehlert complained that the bill promised federal subsidies to the builders of smaller refineries but did nothing immediately about pump prices. "We're enriching people, but we are not doing anything to give the little guy a break," said Mr. Boehlert, who campaigned hard against the measure.
There are several issues raised by this congressional action. There are some who argue that we should not be building refineries now, since the rate of oil production may decline soon, as the world runs out of accessible oil reserves. Instead, we should either make do with what we have, expand existing refineries, or find ways to increase their efficiency. Clearly, though, such technicalities were not a big part of the congressional debate.

Another issue here is that of the appropriateness of corporate welfare. The free-market folks would have us believe that if the market needs more refineries, then industry will build them. Perhaps the fact they are not being built, is an indication that they are not really needed, or that the industry fears that they will not get used enough to recoup the investment before the oil runs out. But that kind of economic rationale seems to be outside the scope of our congressional process.

What I want to know, is this: Why should government be giving handouts to the world’s most profitable industry? Yes, there are times when such things may be appropriate. An example would be a subsidy to build more vaccine-production facilities. The public good would be sufficient to justify such a thing. Although pharmaceutical companies generally are doing well these days, vaccine production is economically risky, and it is not where the profits come from. But this argument does not hold in the case of petroleum products.

It is possible that some public good could come from the subsidizing new refineries, so long as they are environmentally sound, and the employees and construction workers get good wages. But why make it a subsidy? Why not give them government-backed loans? Industry could build the refineries, and then repay the loan. If it turns out that the refinery goes out of use because of a lack of raw product, they could stop paying back the loan. That would be bad, but not so bad as an outright subsidy.

I argue this case from the position of a perpetual sophomore. As far as I know, there are good economic reasons for not proceeding in this manner. But I cannot imagine what those reasons would be.

Categories: politics, rants

An Award for the Struggling Nuclear Detectives...

...and the resulting meandering rant:

This year's Nobel Peace Prize went to the IAEA and its leader, Mohamed ElBaradei.  The liberal hemiblogosphere has been buzzing with the notion that this was in part a slight toward the USA, which has not given nuclear nonproliferation much serious attention (despite the fact that both Presidential candidates in 2004 agreed that it is a top priority for the USA.)  

Personally, I do not think it was much of a slight toward the USA.  Rather, I think that perception comes from our ethnocentric attitude, under which we assume that everything that happens in the world has something to do with us.  In fact, probably most people elsewhere in the world spend most of their time not thinking about us.  When they do think about us, it is to wonder why we waste so much food, when so many people are starving.  Even some of our own people are starving.  They wonder why, in a Christian nation, it is OK for people to go hungry.  They wonder why we would be talking about cutting funding for food stamps, when we are still spending a brazillian dollars on a space weapons program that we do not need, and that is not going to work anyway.  They wonder why a Christian nation would vote in a President who claims to be pro-life, who spends hundreds of billions of dollars (PDF file: The Cost of Iraq, Afghanistan and Enhanced Base Security Since 9/11) fighting terrorists, yet gives our own corporations license to poison our children.   No terrorist attack has ever killed as many people as irresponsible corporations have.  No terrorist organization has the capacity to spread toxins around the world the way large US companies can...and do.

Anyway, according to The Economist, the Nobel committee was interested in making a point about the need for continued multilateral support for nonproliferation, but there is no compelling reason to interpret that as a direct insult to the USA.  Rather, it probably was a deliberately vague implied insult:
An award for the struggling nuclear detectives

Oct 7th 2005
From The Economist Global Agenda

[...] Though the Nobel committee’s chairman, Ole Danbolt Mjoes, denied that the award was a veiled criticism of Washington and its unilateralist tendencies, the committee’s announcement made it sound rather that way: “At a time when the threat of nuclear arms is again increasing, the Norwegian Nobel Committee wishes to underline that this threat must be met through the broadest possible international co-operation.” [...]
I would interpret that as a forward-looking statement, not a condemnation of past behaviors.  The Nobel Committee is not in the condemnation business.  That's a job for bloggers.  

Categories: rants, armchair musings

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Tangled Bank #38: Up!

The Tangled BankThe classic dilemma for bloggers: to read, or to write.  This evening has been for reading, much from Tangled Bank #38, at Living the Scientific Life.  The  accretions there are enough -- almost -- to make me wished I had tried to become a real scientist.  Hedwig the Delightful does a nice job of pulling together a multifaceted lot of delicacies in the most fantabulous of all issues ever.  

Tuesday, October 04, 2005


Grand Rounds Is Up

Grand Rounds Volume 2 Issue 2 is up at http://nielsolson.us/archives/2005/10/grand_rounds_vo.php

It is an unusually large collection this time. Thanks to Niels Olson for hosting!

Monday, October 03, 2005

This Is Not A Scandal (?)

According to a report in today's Detroit Free Press, Armstrong Williams is negotiating to return some of the money that he was paid under a government contract.  You may recall that  Mr. Williams is a news commentator, and that he received $186,000 in order to publicly endorse the pending No Child Left Behind legislation.

According to the Free Press (actually, the article was written by a staff reporter for USA Today), Mr. WIlliams is going to return some of the money, because he did not actually do what he had agreed to do, under the terms of the contract:
Commentator to return federal cash

October 3, 2005


[...] Federal investigators, in findings issued Friday, said the contract violated a government ban on covert propaganda. Investigators said the Williams contract and others -- including a government-produced video made to look like a news report -- amounted to illegal propaganda because the government's role wasn't made clear to viewers or readers.

Williams, a prominent conservative columnist and pundit, denied some central findings of the investigation and said he was negotiating to return some of his fees because he didn't promote the law or ask others to do so, as the contract required. [...]
This would give the impression that the government paid for work that was not actually done.  I guess that would be bad: a case of poor oversight; not a scandal.  But the article is misleading.  The GAO report does not say merely that the contract violated a ban.  Rather, it says that the contract was illegal.  It says that our government used our own money to disseminate propaganda to us:
As explained below, we find that the Department contracted for Armstrong Williams to comment regularly on the No Child Left Behind Act without assuring that the Department’s role was disclosed to the targeted audiences. This violated the publicity or propaganda prohibition for fiscal year 2004 because it amounted to covert propaganda. As a result of this violation, the Department also violated the Antideficiency Act, 31 U.S.C. sect. 1341.
The provisions of the Antideficiency Act are here, in case you are curious about this curiously-named legislation.  

There is a similar article in the NYT, but the NYT does not mince words:
Buying of News by Bush's Aides Is Ruled Illegal

Published: October 1, 2005

WASHINGTON, Sept. 30 - Federal auditors said on Friday that the Bush administration violated the law by buying favorable news coverage of President Bush's education policies, by making payments to the conservative commentator Armstrong Williams and by hiring a public relations company to analyze media perceptions of the Republican Party.

In a blistering report, the investigators, from the Government Accountability Office, said the administration had disseminated "covert propaganda" in the United States, in violation of a statutory ban.

The contract with Mr. Williams and the general contours of the public relations campaign had been known for months. The report Friday provided the first definitive ruling on the legality of the activities. [...]
That is more accurate.  They broke the law.  President Bush's Department of Education broke the law.  

Mr. Williams now says that he did not do what he was hired to do.  If that is true, then maybe that part of the problem goes away.  But the other two acts (buying favorable news coverage, and hiring a public relations company to analyze media perceptions of the Republican Party) remain.  So the GAO has ruled that the law was broken three times, but maybe, if we can believe Mr. Williams, there were only two illegal activities, plus one instance of poor oversight.  

Now, for a special treat.  We get to find out how effective this blog post was, and we do not have to spend any tax dollars to do it:

Unpolished Ideas About Neuroscience Discovery...and Other Stuff

Every once in a while I take some ideas out of the tumbler before they are polished, and inflict them on the world, complete with grit and rough surfaces.

Those who read the Ann Arbor News, and perhaps some other sources, may have heard about this study.  One of the neuroscientists at the University of Michigan did a brain scan study on the placebo effect, showing that there are visible changes in the functioning of the brain when a person has a positive response to a placebo.  (For an interesting tangent, see also this study concerning gender differences in pain perception.)  Continue reading here.

categories: science, armchair musings
tags: , ,

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Panda Shots

Chicago Wave

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Ypsilanti 1971

Whilst in junior high, the author of CC had the nickname, Moose.  

Moose was fond of reading, thus visited the Ypsilanti public library often.  He rode his bicycle there, leaving it unlocked at the bike rack behind the building.  Nobody ever bothered it.  

In 1971, the library got its first coin-operated Xerox machine.  Moose made a copy of a picture of a Nike missile, from a book about military history.  It cost 10 cents: real money, back then.  It took about thirty seconds to make one copy, then the paper had to be left in the rack while hot air dried the toner.  Truly, a marvel of modern technology.  

(This is one of my aimless, armchair-musings-types of post.  Continue reading here, if interested.)