Monday, April 30, 2007

Buying the War

Bill Moyers put together a nice little program on PBS that I think you are going to like. It is an expose on the press complicity which turned the hunt for Osama into a problematic nation-building exercise in Iraq.

Buying the war

Enjoy the show.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Be a homefront hero

Isn't it time to make the Iraq war history?

Scientific Govermental Method

I wonder how government would change if it were forced to apply the principles of Scientific Method to legislation.

What if laws were subjected to peer review for possible mistakes before being accepted?

What if each law had to adhere to the falsifiability principle by including a series of objective benchmarks that would invalidate the law? That is, what if a law were invalidated if it's predictions were contradicted by reality?

What if important positions in government could not be obtained without satisfying certain merit requirements?

What if results had to be reproducible by others within the governmental community?

What if government workers were expected to maintain detailed records of their experimental procedures in order to provide evidence of the effectiveness of the tactic?

The Achilles Heel of this concept is that it demands the intellectual honesty of the participants.

But I can dream, can't I?

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Sometimes the boat needs to rock

Even though we have what is arguably the most corrupt administration in American history very few legislators in Washington talk about impeachment.

This is a moral failure, since impeachment is accountability.

One Congressperson, Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, has decided to rock the boat and introduce House Resolution 333 whose purpose is to Impeach vice-president Richard Cheney.

Why such a resolution should be considered boat rocking is beyond me.

Perhaps Ms. Pelosi feels it would be a conflict of interest for her to publicly support impeachment since she would be the primary beneficiary?

If that's how she views the issue she should reconsider, since it is we, the American people, that would have the most to gain by ridding ourselves of president Bush.

Perhaps Ms. Pelosi doesn't want a Democrat to be saddled with the unwinnable situation that is Iraq?

That would be a shame since that attitude places party ahead of country, and that is precisely what makes the Bush administration so bad for America.

The choice is either impeach president Bush or wait him out. Dennis Kucinich seems to favor the former, while Nancy Pelosi seems to favor the latter.

Waiting him out likely involves more catastrophes for America and quite possibly for Iran and Israel as well. Waiting him out means his corrupt cronies get off Scott-free (via presidential pardons) and Americans pay the penalty (via higher taxes or a lower quality of life).

I say impeach because there ought to be penalties for abusing trust and power. Without that it won't be long until the next pampered prince of privilege comes along and treats the United States government like an unguarded candy store.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Sony PRS-500 Reader Review

Here is a picture of my Sony PRS-500 reader. I set this outside in the noonday sun and snapped off a digital picture. What should strike you right away is that the text is legible and that is due to something new...

Sony PRS-500

ADDENDUM: Here is another link

This reader uses a new display technology called E-Ink, also known as an electronic paper display. My layman understanding of it goes like this. Imagine magnetic ball-bearings painted half-black and half-white. Imagine that beneath these ball-bearings is a magnet whose polarity can be reversed. Imagine that when this polarity is reversed the black half of the ball-bearing is either attracted to the magnet or repulsed by it (thereby showing the white half).

What makes this technology especially well-suited to books, aside from it's black-and-white nature, is that it works in bright sun or the direct glare of a reading lamp. In fact, I would say that the contrast improves with light, as opposed to a normal laptop which glares illegibly. Also, the Reader only needs to consume power when reversing the polarity of the tiny magnets and therefore boasts a long life per charge.

While there are reviews "out there on the web", many of them seem to miss an important distinction. The Sony reader is not meant to be a replacement for a laptop computer, but rather a replacement for a book. As such, the interface to the device consists mainly in menus to navigate your library and to turn pages. I feel that is a strength, rather than a weakness, having seen countless confusing contraptions collapse under the weight of all their functionality.

Some of the most common complaints seem to be:

1. The book cannot be searched.
2. You cannot double-click on a word and jump to a dictionary definition.
3. The book does not have it's own light source.

These complaints can all be directed at Shakespeare's "Merchant of Venice" in traditional book form.

When you compare the Reader to a book, rather than to a computer, you arrive at different conclusions.

The Major Advantages

  1. Sony claims that the e-book can store 80 normal books. I cannot personally vouch for that fact, but it can easily store the 11 I currently have on it.
  2. At the press of a button you can increase or decrease the font size, so near-sighted people (or is that far-sighted people), ought to be able to read a book at a more natural distance (particularly relevant on a plane or bus I imagine).
  3. The battery life ought to be sufficient to cover a normal vacation without the need of dragging cumbersome chords that may not work at your destination anyway.
  4. In addition to handling Sony's e-book format, the reader can also store RTF documents and PDF files. It can also store unencrypted MP3 and AAC files. The audio file format support means you may store audio books on the device, although you may want to spring for...
  5. The Reader supports removable memory sticks and SD memory cards to increase the storage space.
  6. You can authorize a book for 6 machines, one of which must be a computer.

The Cons
  1. When you change the font size you will notice that the necessary and expected reformat causes the number of pages to change. After thinking about this I realized it could be a problem, since how is one supposed to cite a quote in a bibliography?
  2. When you purchase books it must be through Sony's storefront. That is a real shame since they don't have an impressive catalog (no Richard Dawkins for instance, who seems everywhere but in Sony's bookstore). I am certain someone at Sony saw Apples's success with iTunes and decided to duplicate it. I am not certain that this same someone knew what they were looking at, since the MP3 format is ubiquitous. I seem not to be alone in stating that this is the biggest limitation of using the Sony Reader. To stifle competition from the get-go seems a no-no to me.
  3. I am finding footnotes difficult, if not downright cumbersome, to deal with. I am currently reading a book by Walter Isaacson on Einstein and I haven't figured out how to view a footnote that I encounter. To navigate up, then into the table of contents, then to the footnotes at the end of the book is distracting and time-consuming. Worse, however, is that you always "continue reading" from the last viewed page which in this case would now be the footnote you just viewed. That means you need to navigate to the history and find the page you were on there and jump back to it. All this means that footnotes are too bothersome to reference which is a shame. The process would be much smoother if the reader had a hyperlink and a back button.
  4. Since the reader is dependent upon Sony's PC-based software to purchase books, that makes purchasing books while traveling unfeasible unless you drag along a computer too. The trick, then, will be to purchase all your books ahead-of-time unless Sony finds a way to sell a book outside their current strategy. This is perhaps why it is unwise of Sony to stifle content competition from the start.
This review will very likely be supplemented in the future with additional reviews. For instance, I haven't told you about the Reader's support for RSS feeds.

All-in-all let me sum up by saying the reader sports a revolutionary display technology (albeit black-and-white), long battery life, ample space to store many books, and is comfortable to read.

Juxtaposition Disorder

Speaking before a world affairs forum in Michigan, Bush said the two-month-old security crackdown under which he is adding 28,000 more U.S. troops to Iraq was "meeting expectations" and the ongoing violence reflected an expected reaction by insurgents.

Source: Sunshine and lollipops

In one of the deadliest attacks on American ground forces since the Iraq war started more than four years ago, a suicide car bomber struck a patrol base northeast of Baghdad and killed nine U.S. soldiers and wounded 20, officials said.

Source: 9 more deaths

How many "expected reactions by insurgents" should we put up with before demanding a change of course?

What are the expected rewards by which we are dismissing ever-increasing costs and casualties as mere tokens to be paid lightly?

Do boasts of progress without reference to maps reduce the wanderings of the lost?

Are these deaths for nothing?

Monday, April 23, 2007

Joe Klein nails Bush administration

President Bush seems to be held in rather low regard right now, but with extensive justification.

I hope to never again see such a petulant, under-achieving, pridefully ignorant, and unfit leader elected president of the US again. The fact that such an obvious moron could be reelected implies my desire could go unrealized, yet I am ready to hope, especially when I see an article like this one by Joe Klein in Time magazine:

Epic Collapse

Friday, April 20, 2007

Reid talks sense to the president

Apparently Harry Reid sat down with president Bush and told him he thought the surge wasn't working and the conflict in Iraq won't be resolved with military force.

The angry Bush minions (they are always angry it seems) railed that Harry doesn't support the troops.

Story here

It is president Bush that Harry Reid doesn't support anymore, and for the sensible reason that he has a track record of failure that is costing our country and our soldiers too much.

Is placing our young men and women in a dangerous situation where staying won't help the only way to look out for their best interests?

Is unflagging allegiance to doomed policies required of me to be considered in support of the troops?

It is my view that no amount of stubbornness will turn the surging disaster that is Iraq into a flower and candy strewn beacon of democracy.

Demonstrating what I like to call outhouse diplomacy, this administration fed lies to the American people and to our allies to get the war it wanted, then turned it all to crap.

Our troops are the ones paying the price for these lies every day. They are dying and

What a price that we pay when a life bleeds away.
Oh, Goodbye.
Oh, Goodbye.

I'm sorry to say that you die on this day...
For a lie!
For a lie!

What a price that we pay when we look on this day
In their eye.
In their eye.

I wish I could say this war stops today
We will try.
We will try.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Juxtaposition Disorder, 2

CNN's headline for the recent murder of 32 students at Virginia Tech:

"Massacre at Virginia Tech"

Their coverage of the event can be described as extensive.

CNN's headline when 4 bombs kill 157 people in Iraq:

Phrase "Iraq" not found

Has American media become overly nationalistic?

Iraqi's are Soylent Green!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Being still

Have you ever thought about the fact that nothing is ever still?

Even when you're standing still you're still on the Earth which is orbiting the sun at about 29.7 kilometers per second.

And of course the sun travels around the center of the galaxy, and the galaxy moves through space.

And if you move in the other direction, even the cells which make up your body are moving, and the molecules which make those up have orbiting bits, and the sub-atomic particles comprising them are like jumbly, nervous packets of photons.

So, it is move, move, move always and everywhere. Nothing is still, or at rest.

It used to drive me crazy, like a claustrophobia sufferer caught in a coffin with no way out scratching and scratching at the lid...

Well, maybe not that crazy, but it was unsettling to think about. We live in a bumping and grinding, cause-and-effect, whirling dervish of a universe.

But then it occurred to me that there is one place which can possibly be still and that is the focal-point of the big bang.

That's a modest comfort.

Nothing is ever still.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Juxtaposition Disorder

McCain to Obama: Iraq Surge Plan Working

Republican presidential candidate John McCain, who has criticized the conduct of the Iraq war, said Wednesday the situation in Iraq is changing under a new commander and strategy.

And Democratic rival Barack Obama, for one, ought to take notice, the Arizona senator said.

"We are now executing a new counterinsurgent strategy. We have a new general in command who believes in it," McCain said during a campaign swing in Florida.

March 29, 07

Two killed in Iraq parliament blast

A blast ripped through a canteen in the Iraqi parliament complex inside Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone today, killing two MPs, state television said.

April 12, 07

The problem is not that we have leaders insufficiently committed to following the president's policies, but the opposite.

We could be saving American lives by getting out of Iraq right now, and I care more about that than exhausting the stubbornness of every politician unable to admit they are wrong.

Perhaps a meteoric rise like Obama is what we need to rid the swamp of its dinosaurs?


From the New York Times...

The New York Times | DINITIA SMITH | April 11, 2007 11:46 PM

Kurt Vonnegut, whose dark comic talent and urgent moral vision in novels like "Slaughterhouse-Five," "Cat's Cradle" and "God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater" caught the temper of his times and the imagination of a generation, died last night in Manhattan. He was 84 and had homes in Manhattan and in Sagaponack on Long Island.

Source: NYT

I've enjoyed the writing of Kurt Vonnegut over the years, to the point which I am sad to see him go. He reminded me of Mark Twain fused with a beat poet, and it was his book Breakfast of Champions that first captured my heart.

My favorite book by him is Bluebeard.

Since your happiness depends upon the quality of the objects of your affections, it is no wonder that Mr. Vonnegut always made me smile.

So long Mr. Vonnegut, and thanks for all the books. I'm sure Kilgore Trout will live on.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

We vote to end it and...

In November Americans overwhelmingly voted to elect Democrats and end this war in Iraq. In poll after poll since then Americans list the war in Iraq as the number one issue of concern.

In response to these concerns, and in light of the fact this is a democracy, president Bush has essentially said, "F.U."

Today, in like fashion, the defense department announced:

"Beginning immediately, all active-duty Army soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan will serve 15-month tours _ three months longer than the usual standard, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Wednesday."

Translation: F.U.

The reason we need a back-door draft (as John Kerry called it), is because Americans don't want to fight for empire.

I expect there are a lot of soldiers that can't wait for 2008.

Dieting Dunno Work

Between 1980 and 2000, the proportion of obese Americans has doubled, from 15 to 31 per cent of the population.

Source: Diet Study

Only one in seven Americans exercises enough and eats enough fruits and vegetables, and men are worse than women...

Source: Dumb-eatin' sloths?

I read an article in the Scientific American recently which said if you want to diet you should think about what you can add to your diet that is healthy (i.e. vegetables), rather than focus on what you are taking away (i.e. Whoopie Pies and beer).

Maybe a genetic bio-engineer needs to make vegetables taste like whoopie pies so the kids will eat 'em?

The diet I use is to drink strong black coffee (no sugar and no cream - it must be black). I believe it keeps my heart-rate up as if I were exercising without all the arm-waving, knee-pounding, bother of moving around. Since caffeine is also a well-known appetite suppressant I believe I am getting a double health benefit.

I am told that a variant of this diet includes smoking cigarettes as well, but have not tried that. Perhaps this adds additional strain (or exercise) on the ol' ticker with each rattling breath.

If you Google it you will find it: Coffee and weight loss

Foot Quotes

"Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge"

Charles Darwin