Friday, February 29, 2008

Too good not to share.

Today in History: February 29

  • 1860 American inventor Herman Hollerith born; invented the punch-card tabulating machine, predecessor of the electronic computer, used for the 1890 census.
Yesterday | Tomorrow

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Gun Free Zones

An oldie but goodie from the 1/2 hour News Hour

Ottawa: How Gun Bans Happen

An Ottawa councillor is pushing for a handgun ban. He gives excuses that sound reasonable.

Two fatal shooting deaths of innocent bystanders last month have spurred the city to consider asking Ottawa for a ban on handguns across the country.

St. Paul’s councillor Michael Walker says it’s about time.

“When people are being shot down in crossfire it’s clear that what we’ve been doing to now — hiring more police officers and trying to get more enforcement — isn’t working,” Walker said

But then he makes that leap of faith that only an elitist can make.

“In my opinion, if we ban handguns in the country, that sends a statement that we condemn their possession,” Walker said.

Notice that to elitist Walker, it doesn't matter if you're an honest upstanding citizen. Because in Walker's world, having a gun in your possession makes you an evil enemy.

“And we’re going to punish people who are caught having them in their possession.”

The councillor is also asking that city council support his proposal for Ottawa to institute a mandatory sentence of at least five years for anyone guilty of possessing, selling or buying a handgun.

Walker claims the insane "Moral High Ground" (MHG) three-step:

  • Guns Can Kill

  • Our People Are Dying

  • Ban Guns NOW!

'[H]e is steadfast on a ban that may send a strong message of gun intolerance.'

“I think there’s no justification in not dealing with this issue,” he said. “It’s time for the City of Toronto … to take a stand on this issue.”

The MHG 3-Step is how it will always happen. Because it's an easy sell politically to a population whose majority is no longer familiar with firearms. Everyone wants to stop crime, and everyone is afraid of being murdered while they are helpless.

While saying he is confident he’ll get support from Mayor David Miller and Premier Dalton McGuinty, who have both endorsed a handgun ban, he also believes society in general is ready for a ban.

L.A. Mass Shooting, Gun-Free Zone

Another badguy fires into a crowd of innocents. Today, in Los Angeles.

A gunman fired into a crowd of children and adults at a South Los Angeles bus stop Wednesday, wounding eight, authorities said. Three girls, ages 10 to 12, and a woman were in critical condition.

The police didn't happen to be right at the scene, so nobody was able to stop the badguy.

The gunman ran away, and streets in the area were shut down as numerous police officers rushed in.

L.A. doesn't like to give trained law-abiding citizens any concealed carry licenses for handguns. L.A. is a pretty much a gun-free zone. In this case, it was the *usual* gun-free zone, another school -- just outside.

Ezequiel Cornejo, 23, a tire mechanic, said he heard about 10 gunshots, probably from a handgun, just after neighborhood schools let out.

"After that I saw a little girl running, she was running back to the school, she was holding her arm," he said.

And, it being a gun-free zone, the badguy did his shooting in broad daylight.

The shooting occurred around 3:15 p.m. at Central and Vernon avenues.

Once again, the shooting didn't happen where there were a lot of guns: not in a police station, a military base, a gun store, a gun show, a shooting range, or a donut shop.

So, what is it that makes gun-free zones so attractive?

Today in History: February 28

  • 1901 American chemist Linus Pauling born; 1954 Nobel for chemical bonding; orbital hybridization, electronegativity, alpha helix and beta sheet for protein structure.
  • 1930 American physicist Leon Cooper born; 1972 Nobel (with John Bardeen and John Schrieffer) for the BCS theory of superconductivity; Cooper electron pairs.
  • 1935 Wallace Carothers invents nylon.
  • 1951 Linus Pauling and Robert Corey describe the structure of proteins.
  • 1953 James Watson and Francis Crick discover the structure of DNA.
Yesterday | Tomorrow

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Still Purging the GOP

The NRA just endorsed another Democrat. This time it was in Ohio. The NRA hasn't gone crazy. It's just that there are still pockets of Rockefeller-type elitists in various spots around the country. And Ohio is one of those spots. In 2006 the NRA endorsed about 500 Democrat candidates for state and national elections instead of their GOP opponents.

U.S. House Rep. Zack Space is a strong gun rights supporter. The GOP contenders in his neighorhood are not. As the former GOP Ohio governor learned in 2006, being anti-gun can cost you an election. It's also an issue if the GOP candidate is corrupt, as was Zach's former GOP opponent.

Gun-rights is an issue that cuts across Dem-GOP party lines at the grass roots level. At the national level, the Dem leadership is anti-gun rights and the GOP leadership is mostly pro-gun rights.

Being anti-gun rights is an elitist "We Know Better Than Thou" attitude. The slow revolt against GOP elitism started with Barry Goldwater's 1964 Presidential candidacy, and it's still going. As can be seen from this year's crop of GOP candidates, elitism hasn't yet been killed off. But we've been getting closer.

I hope that local GOP party in Zach Space's district gets the message.

Real Programmers write in Fortran

Source: usenet: utastro!nather, May 21, 1983.

A recent article devoted to the *macho* side of programming made the bald and unvarnished statement:

Real Programmers write in Fortran.

Maybe they do now, in this decadent era of Lite beer, hand calculators and "user-friendly" software but back in the Good Old Days, when the term "software" sounded funny and Real Computers were made out of drums and vacuum tubes, Real Programmers wrote in machine code. Not Fortran. Not RATFOR. Not, even, assembly language. Machine Code. Raw, unadorned, inscrutable hexadecimal numbers. Directly.Lest a whole new generation of programmers grow up in ignorance of this glorious past, I feel duty-bound to describe, as best I can through the generation gap, how a Real Programmer wrote code. I'll call him Mel, because that was his name.

I first met Mel when I went to work for Royal McBee Computer Corp., a now-defunct subsidiary of the typewriter company. The firm manufactured the LGP-30, a small, cheap (by the standards of the day) drum-memory computer, and had just started to manufacture the RPC-4000, a much-improved, bigger, better, faster -- drum-memory computer. Cores cost too much, and weren't here to stay, anyway. (That's why you haven't heard of the company, or the computer.)

I had been hired to write a Fortran compiler for this new marvel and Mel was my guide to its wonders. Mel didn't approve of compilers.

"If a program can't rewrite its own code," he asked, "what good is it?"

Mel had written, in hexadecimal, the most popular computer program the company owned. It ran on the LGP-30 and played blackjack with potential customers at computer shows. Its effect was always dramatic. The LGP-30 booth was packed at every show, and the IBM salesmen stood around talking to each other. Whether or not this actually sold computers was a question we never discussed.

Mel's job was to re-write the blackjack program for the RPC-4000. (Port? What does that mean?) The new computer had a one-plus-one addressing scheme, in which each machine instruction, in addition to the operation code and the address of the needed operand, had a second address that indicated where, on the revolving drum, the next instruction was located. In modern parlance, every single instruction was followed by a GO TO! Put *that* in Pascal's pipe and smoke it.

Mel loved the RPC-4000 because he could optimize his code: that is, locate instructions on the drum so that just as one finished its job, the next would be just arriving at the "read head" and available for immediate execution. There was a program to do that job, an "optimizing assembler", but Mel refused to use it.

"You never know where it's going to put things", he explained, "so you'd have to use separate constants".

It was a long time before I understood that remark. Since Mel knew the numerical value of every operation code, and assigned his own drum addresses, every instruction he wrote could also be considered a numerical constant. He could pick up an earlier "add" instruction, say, and multiply by it, if it had the right numeric value. His code was not easy for someone else to modify.

I compared Mel's hand-optimized programs with the same code massaged by the optimizing assembler program, and Mel's always ran faster. That was because the "top-down" method of program design hadn't been invented yet, and Mel wouldn't have used it anyway. He wrote the innermost parts of his program loops first, so they would get first choice of the optimum address locations on the drum. The optimizing assembler wasn't smart enough to do it that way.

Mel never wrote time-delay loops, either, even when the balky Flexowriter required a delay between output characters to work right. He just located instructions on the drum so each successive one was just *past* the read head when it was needed; the drum had to execute another complete revolution to find the next instruction. He coined an unforgettable term for this procedure. Although "optimum" is an absolute term, like "unique", it became common verbal practice to make it relative: "not quite optimum" or "less optimum" or "not very optimum". Mel called the maximum time-delay locations the "most pessimum".

After he finished the blackjack program and got it to run, ("Even the initializer is optimized", he said proudly) he got a Change Request from the sales department. The program used an elegant (optimized) random number generator to shuffle the "cards" and deal from the "deck", and some of the salesmen felt it was too fair, since sometimes the customers lost. They wanted Mel to modify the program so, at the setting of a sense switch on the console, they could change the odds and let the customer win.

Mel balked. He felt this was patently dishonest, which it was, and that it impinged on his personal integrity as a programmer, which it did, so he refused to do it. The Head Salesman talked to Mel, as did the Big Boss and, at the boss's urging, a few Fellow Programmers. Mel finally gave in and wrote the code, but he got the test backwards, and, when the sense switch was turned on, the program would cheat, winning every time. Mel was delighted with this, claiming his subconscious was uncontrollably ethical, and adamantly refused to fix it.

After Mel had left the company for greener pa$ture$, the Big Boss asked me to look at the code and see if I could find the test and reverse it. Somewhat reluctantly, I agreed to look. Tracking Mel's code was a real adventure.

I have often felt that programming is an art form, whose real value can only be appreciated by another versed in the same arcane art; there are lovely gems and brilliant coups hidden from human view and admiration, sometimes forever, by the very nature of the process. You can learn a lot about an individual just by reading through his code, even in hexadecimal. Mel was, I think, an unsung genius.

Perhaps my greatest shock came when I found an innocent loop that had no test in it. No test. *None*. Common sense said it had to be a closed loop, where the program would circle, forever, endlessly. Program control passed right through it, however, and safely out the other side. It took me two weeks to figure it out.

The RPC-4000 computer had a really modern facility called an index register. It allowed the programmer to write a program loop that used an indexed instruction inside; each time through, the number in the index register was added to the address of that instruction, so it would refer to the next datum in a series. He had only to increment the index register each time through. Mel never used it.

Instead, he would pull the instruction into a machine register, add one to its address, and store it back. He would then execute the modified instruction right from the register. The loop was written so this additional execution time was taken into account -- just as this instruction finished, the next one was right under the drum's read head, ready to go. But the loop had no test in it.

The vital clue came when I noticed the index register bit, the bit that lay between the address and the operation code in the instruction word, was turned on-- yet Mel never used the index register, leaving it zero all the time. When the light went on it nearly blinded me.

He had located the data he was working on near the top of memory -- the largest locations the instructions could address -- so, after the last datum was handled, incrementing the instruction address would make it overflow. The carry would add one to the operation code, changing it to the next one in the instruction set: a jump instruction. Sure enough, the next program instruction was in address location zero, and the program went happily on its way.

I haven't kept in touch with Mel, so I don't know if he ever gave in to the flood of change that has washed over programming techniques since those long-gone days. I like to think he didn't. In any event, I was impressed enough that I quit looking for the offending test, telling the Big Boss I couldn't find it. He didn't seem surprised.

When I left the company, the blackjack program would still cheat if you turned on the right sense switch, and I think that's how it should be. I didn't feel comfortable hacking up the code of a Real Programmer.

[Click on the title above, or date stamp below, to see the full post.]

Today in History: February 27

  • 272 Roman emperor Constantine I born; First Christian Roman emperor; Byzantium renamed Constantinople after his death.
  • 1881 Dutch mathematician L.E.J. Brouwer born; founded modern topology; Brouwer Fixed Point Theorem.
  • 1910 American engineer Kelly Johnson born; created Lockheed's "Skunk Works", designing 40+ planes: P-38 Lightning fighter, F-80 Shooting Star, U-2, F-104 Starfighter, F-117A Nighthawk, SR-71 Black Bird.
  • 1932 English physicist James Chadwick discovers the neutron; 1935 Nobel.
  • 1933 Hitler uses Reichstag (parliament building) Fire as an excuse to arrest or murder opposition party leaders before 6 March elections.
  • 1951 The Twenty-second Amendment is ratified, limiting Presidents to two terms.
Yesterday | Tomorrow

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

500-mile Limit For Email

I should preface the following geek-post with some words for our gentle readers who may not have spent a lifetime handling bits, bytes, and software in general. True geeks can skip the intro (or read it an laugh smugly at my own limitations -- Jej).

Nowadays (and this includes the last decade), to send email to someone, one just puts his/her email address (like "", or "") in the address field of a form displayed on one's computer screen, and then click "Send". The "" or "" names a computer that receives email. It doesn't matter if that email computer is on the other side of the earth, or in space. The email is routed to that email computer. The email computer takes care of letting one's recipient know that email has arrived.

The internet is built such that the email being sent is routed along a path from the sending computer to the recipient's email computer. The length of the path doesn't matter. So, absolutely *any* talk about some limit on the *distance* one can send email is like talking about a magic beanstalk.

With that, sit back gentle reader and enjoy this true story. We'll try to degeek a few geekish terms for clarity as we go -- in square brackets [like this].

The case of the 500-mile email

Read the FAQ [FAQ = Frequently Asked Questions] about the story.

The following is the 500-mile email story in the form it originally appeared, in a post to sage-members [SAGE is an operating system, like MS Windows or Unix] on Sun, 24 Nov 2002.:

From Fri Nov 29 18:00:49 2002

Date: Sun, 24 Nov 2002 21:03:02 -0500 (EST)

From: Trey Harris


Subject: The case of the 500-mile email (was RE: [SAGE] Favorite impossible task?)

Here's a problem that *sounded* impossible... I almost regret posting the story to a wide audience, because it makes a great tale over drinks at a conference. :-) The story is slightly altered in order to protect the guilty, elide over irrelevant and boring details, and generally make the whole thing more entertaining.

I was working in a job running the campus email system some years ago when I got a call from the chairman of the statistics department.

"We're having a problem sending email out of the department."

"What's the problem?" I asked.

"We can't send mail more than 500 miles," the chairman explained.

I choked on my latte. "Come again?" [The Stat chairman talking about a magic beanstalk.]

"We can't send mail farther than 500 miles from here," he repeated. "A little bit more, actually. Call it 520 miles. But no farther."

"Um... Email really doesn't work that way, generally," I said, trying to keep panic out of my voice. One doesn't display panic when speaking to a department chairman, even of a relatively impoverished department like statistics. "What makes you think you can't send mail more than 500 miles?"

"It's not what I *think*," the chairman replied testily. "You see, when we first noticed this happening, a few days ago--"

"You waited a few DAYS?" I interrupted, a tremor tinging my voice. "And you couldn't send email this whole time?"

"We could send email. Just not more than--"

"--500 miles, yes," I finished for him, "I got that. But why didn't you call earlier?"

"Well, we hadn't collected enough data to be sure of what was going on until just now." Right. This is the chairman of *statistics*. "Anyway, I asked one of the geostatisticians to look into it--"

"Geostatisticians..." [Says our beleaguered email maintenance guy]

"--yes, and she's produced a map showing the radius within which we can send email to be slightly more than 500 miles. There are a number of destinations within that radius that we can't reach, either, or reach sporadically, but we can never email farther than this radius."

"I see," I said, and put my head in my hands. [Talk of magic beanstalks can get demoralizing in the 21st Century.] "When did this start? A few days ago, you said, but did anything change in your systems at that time?"

"Well, the consultant came in and patched our server and rebooted it. But I called him, and he said he didn't touch the mail system."

"Okay, let me take a look, and I'll call you back," I said, scarcely believing that I was playing along. It wasn't April Fool's Day. I tried to remember if someone owed me a practical joke. [Personally, I believe that if this geek had that thought then the answer should be, "Yes" -- but I digress.]

I logged into their department's server, and sent a few test mails. This was in the Research Triangle of North Carolina [a big high-tech area, like Silicon Valley], and a test mail to my own account was delivered without a hitch. Ditto for one sent to Richmond, and Atlanta, and Washington. Another to Princeton (400 miles) worked.

But then I tried to send an email to Memphis (600 miles). It failed. Boston, failed. Detroit, failed. I got out my address book and started trying to narrow this down. New York (420 miles) worked, but Providence (580 miles) failed.

I was beginning to wonder if I had lost my sanity. [The magic beanstalk begins to intrude on reality. It's an ugly disquieting sensation.] I tried emailing a friend who lived in North Carolina, but whose ISP [ISP = Internet Service Provider -- which often provides a central email recipient computer (an email "server") for its subscribers] was in Seattle. Thankfully, it failed. If the problem had had to do with the geography of the human recipient and not his mail server, I think I would have broken down in tears.

Having established that--unbelievably--the problem as reported was true, and repeatable [Scientific Method -- hence, magic beanstalk is real], I took a look at the file. [ = a file that tells the computer's operating system some specific preferences in how to go about sending email. "Cf" = "configuration file".] It looked fairly normal. In fact, it looked familiar.

I diffed it [diff = to check for the differences, or changes, or alterations, between two copies of a file.] against the in my home directory. It hadn't been altered--it was a I had written. And I was fairly certain I hadn't enabled the "FAIL_MAIL_OVER_500_MILES" option. [The configuration file allows preferences, also called options, to be change. Some of the options can be turned on, enabled. Geeks often talk about insane imaginary things -- this particular option is one of those: not real, a joke.] At a loss, I telnetted [telnet = a gritty underbelly way to communicate directly between computers] into the SMTP port [SMTP = Simple Mail Transfer Protocol; port = a virtual "door" into, or out of, a computer]. The server [a computer providing some service, like SMTP] happily responded with a SunOS [SunOS = another operating system, from the Sun computer company] sendmail banner [the standard heading information from the email-sender program].

Wait a minute... a SunOS sendmail banner? At the time, Sun was still shipping Sendmail 5 [version #5 of the email-sender program] with its operating system, even though Sendmail 8 [version #8, a newer version] was fairly mature [mature = likely to have few bugs]. Being a good system administrator [sysadmin = job is to keep the computers running correctly], I had standardized on Sendmail 8. And also being a good system administrator, I had written a that used the nice long self-documenting option and variable names [geeks talk cryptically, but some things are even too cryptic to geeks; hence, geeks often prefer long clear names for things -- to avoid getting themselves overgeeked] available in Sendmail 8 rather than the cryptic punctuation-mark codes [versus nice clear long names] that had been used in Sendmail 5.

The pieces fell into place, all at once, and I again choked on the dregs of my now-cold latte. [This sysadmin has just realized that not only has the magic beanstalk intruded into reality -- something that one must accept due to the Scientific Method -- the beanstalk was *really* real, it had a rock solid reason to exist.] When the consultant had "patched the server," [patch = upgrade part of, without replacing the whole thing] he had apparently upgraded the version of SunOS, and in so doing *downgraded* Sendmail [from version 8 to version 5]. The upgrade helpfully left the alone, even though it was now the wrong version.

It so happens that Sendmail 5--at least, the version that Sun shipped, which had some tweaks [tweaks = small changes]--could deal with the Sendmail 8, as most of the rules [rules = sendmail instructions to do "this" in case of "that"] had at that point remained unaltered. But the new long configuration options--those it saw as junk, and skipped. [Some computer programs are designed to die immediately (called a "crash") if they don't get pure nutritious input, and other computer programs are designed to ignore impure filthy incomprehensible inputs by ignoring them and keep on ticking.] And the sendmail binary [binary = a computer program finalized in the computers raw machine language of ones and zeros] had no defaults compiled in [built in] for most of these, so, finding no suitable settings in the file, they were set to zero.

One of the settings that was set to zero was the timeout to connect to the remote SMTP server. [timeout = wait for such and such time, then give up if you didn't get what you expected; "remote SMTP server" = an SMTP server program running on another computer somewhere.] Some experimentation established that on this particular machine with its typical load [load = the number and kind of programs currently running], a zero timeout would abort a connect call [connect call = a request to send or receive information directly between computers] in slightly over three milliseconds.

An odd feature of our campus network [network = a bunch of computers that can talk directly with each other] at the time was that it was 100% switched. An outgoing packet [packet = section of email text; all email is sent in small fixed-size sections] wouldn't incur a router delay until hitting the POP [POP = Post Office Protocol, how to retrieve email sitting on an email-serving computer] and reaching a router on the far side. So time to connect to a lightly-loaded remote host [remote host = a different computer providing some service] on a nearby network would actually largely be governed by the speed of light distance to the destination rather than by incidental router delays.

Feeling slightly giddy, I typed into my shell [a Unix line-at-a-time command receiver]:

$ units
1311 units, 63 prefixes

You have: 3 millilightseconds
You want: miles
* 558.84719
/ 0.0017893979

[$ = a prompt to type a command; units = a program to translate between different types of measurement units]

[units, prefixes = the number of different units and prefixes known]

[You have: = prompt; sysadmin enters his choice]

[3 millilightseconds = the distance light travels in 3 milliseconds. Electrons travel no faster on the internet.]

[You want: = prompt; sysadmin enters his choice]

"500 miles, or a little bit more."

Trey Harris
[Click on the title above, or date stamp below, to see the full post.]

Today in History: February 26

  • 1829 German-American Levi Strauss born; created heavy blue denim canvas jeans for the Forty-niners.
  • 1895 American inventor Michael Owens patents a multi-piece glass blowing machine, for mass-producing glass bottles.
  • 1903 Italian chemist Giulio Natta born; 1963 Nobel, for Ziegler-Natta catalysts, which build isotactic polymers, including polypropylene and Polyvinyl alcohol (used in Elmer's glue).
  • 1935 Scottish physicist Robert Watson-Watt demonstrates radar to the British Air Ministry.
  • 1936 Japan's February 26 Incident, an ultra-national military revolt, begins. While the revolt is put down by Empiror Hirohito, years later many Japanese come to believe in the conspiracy theory that he faked the revolt to expand militarism. What is old is new again.
Yesterday | Tomorrow

Monday, February 25, 2008

Today in History: February 25

  • 1570 Pope Pius V excommunicates Queen Elizabeth I; she survives unharmed.
  • 1616 Catholic Church threats cause Galileo to publicly renounce his heliocentric theory.
  • 1836 Samuel Colt patents his Colt revolver; "God made Men, Colt made them equal."
  • 1837 American engineer Thomas Davenport patents first practical electric motor.
  • 1948 Communist Party takes over the Czechoslovak Third Republic (1945–1948).
Yesterday | Tomorrow

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Today in History: February 24

  • 1663 English inventor Thomas Newcomen born; designed & built the first successful steam engine, at atmospheric (low) pressure.
  • 1803 The Supreme Court decides Marbury v. Madison establishing the principle of judicial review of laws.
  • 1839 American engineer William Otis patents the steam shovel.
  • 1871 Charles Darwin's Descent of Man is published.
  • 1896 French physicist Henri Becquerel announces discovery of radioacivity; 1903 Nobel.
  • 1968 The first pulsar (a neutron-star, collapsed stellar core) discovery published, by graduate student, Jocelyn Bell.
Yesterday | Tomorrow

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Connections: 107

Episode 7 of the original Connections.
(Click on the image to play — it will open in a separate window/tab)

Episode 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

Today in History: February 23

  • 1455 Johannes Gutenberg publishes 1st book using movable type, a bible.
  • 1836 Battle of the Alamo starts, in San Antonio, by Mexican first-time-dictator General Santa Anna.
  • 1847 Battle of Buena Vista; General Zachary Taylor defeats Mexican bad-penny-dictator General Santa Anna.
  • 1886 American chemist Charles M. Hall invents inexpensive extraction of Aluminum from ore.
  • 1924 American physicist Allan Cormack born; 1979 Nobel, for creating computerized axial tomography (CAT) scan algorithms.
  • 1945 Flag raised on Mount Suribachi, Iwo Jima, by U.S. Marines.
Yesterday | Tomorrow

Friday, February 22, 2008

The RKBA Wildfire in Illinois

Sen. Barack Obama's state, Illinois, has a quiet civil revolt on its hands. In response to a number of new gun-control bills in the legislature, individual counties have joined a revolt.

The revolt started last April with Brown County. Then Pike County followed suit. Since then, a wildfire of 2nd Amendment support for the right to keep and bear arms (RKBA) has been burning across the state of Illinois. A website is providing coordination and tracking results.

So far, sixty-nine counties of the 102, comprising more than half the state, have passed such an RKBA resolution. Only 4 counties have shot down the resolution so far. Each of the counties have, in varying ways, said they would not enforce gun-control laws that the current state legislature is contemplating. Here's an excerpt from their RKBA Resolution template.

the People of ______________ County, Illinois, do hereby oppose the enactment of any legislation that would infringe upon the Right of the People to keep and bear arms and consider such laws to be unconstitutional and beyond lawful Legislative Authority!

Isle O'View, USA

It's often said that "no man is an island". I think every American is an islander. What's your isle o'view?

Ellis Island

Ellis Island sits in New York Harbor, on the New York-New Jersey state line. Between 1892 and 1954, over twelve million immigrants passed through the processing facility there. While there were other ways for people to enter the country, Ellis Island has come to symbolize all of the people who voluntarily emigrated to the USA.

My patrilineal great grandfather was a typical Ellisian (including the fact that he came to the US before Ellis Island began processing immigrants). When Wilhelm was proclaimed Kaiser of the new German Empire, his parents decided it was a good time to head for America. When he'd lapse back into the mother tongue, they would admonish him: "No, Karl. We live in America now; we speak English." They chose to be Americans, and jumped in with both feet. No Hyphenated-American status for them.

This is not to suggest that Ellisians as a group went to the extreme of forgetting their Old Country culture altogether; many ethnic enclaves formed, with restaurants serving traditional foods, and bi-lingual residents who still spoke the language they learned as children. But the mindset of the voluntary immigrant was such that American English would be their children's first language, so that they could succeed in the New Country.

Île de Gorée

Just off the coast of Senegal, Gorée was first colonized by Portugal in 1444, and was held at various times by the Dutch and British before becoming a French possession in 1667. It served as the mirror image of Ellis Island, holding African slaves awaiting shipment to the New World colonies of whatever European power held it at the time, from the 1500s until the early 1800s, when Napoleon finally abolished slavery in France.

Exact numbers of slaves that passed through Gorée are not known, especially during the periods when clandestine slave trade continued even though officially banned, but "25 to 30 million" has been a widely-accepted estimate. Many of the slaves shipped out of Gorée went to French holdings such as Haiti or Guiana, as well as the Louisiana territory that was later sold to the United States.

While other slave markets, such as Zanzibar, may have sent more Africans into bondage in European colonies than Gorée did, the latter has (largely because of media exposure, such as Bryant Gumbel's Today visit) come to symbolize the involuntary migration to the West.

A common attitude of the Goréean was most famously expressed by Malik X. Shabazz:
We didn't land on Plymouth Rock; Plymouth Rock landed on us.
Many of the descendants of African slaves resent being forced to "act white" by speaking Standard English, abiding by (formal or informal) dress codes, etc., and rebel against the majority culture. Some of them mock, or even physically menace, others who do well in school. Voluntary immigrants to the US, such as the Jamaicans whose ancestors were (involuntarily) drawn from the same West African gene pool, may have more Ellisian attitudes, and held up to ridicule (such as in the Hey, Mon! recurring sketch on In Living Color, which had a predominantly black cast and creative staff).

Turtle Island

Many Native American tribes named the continent on which they lived "Turtle Island" (not the English words, but their equivalent in their languages). They didn't get on a boat to join the new nations being developed here by European powers; their ancestors had been here for millenia, at least since the last ice age. Increasingly, these people found themselves overwhelmed by people speaking Spanish, Portuguese, English, French, or Dutch; today those are the first languages of nearly the entire population of both Americas and nearby islands. The legal systems of the Americas are drawn from those same European powers', as are the mixture of religious sects and other cultural influences.

The various European spheres of influence ebbed and flowed, with the Anglosphere gaining much territory previously held by others. The most obvious example is the United States itself. The Dutch lost their holdings here to the British before our revolution; Louisiana was held by Spain and France before it was purchased from the latter. Florida was ceded by Spain to the United States. The Southwestern United States, from Texas to California, was transferred from Mexico either directly or indirectly (Republic of Texas).

The attitude of many of the people in that area, who identify with the Spanish-speaking Mexican culture, appears deliberately constructed as an homage to Shabazz':
We didn't cross the border; the border crossed us.
Some residents of Hawai'i, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the US Virgin Islands (as well as the continental populations of Native Americans) consider themselves in the same situation, including those who have moved to other areas inside the United States.

Even many of the people who voluntarily cross that border from Mexico seem to identify more with the culture they've chosen to leave physically, than the one they're entering. "Bilingual" education efforts encourage this.

East Germany?

The Gorée and Turtle mindsets are fundamentally the same; people who feel that they have been coerced into membership, rather than joining of their own free will. Last century, one of the more extreme demonstrations of such coercion was performed in the post-WWII Soviet occupation zone of Germany, which became the "German Democratic Republic". While Communist cant has always pretended to liberate the working class from enslavement to the property-owning class, the reality was shown to be the opposite.

Since it wasn't geographically an island, people were leaving it in droves. In order to keep those workers in their alleged paradise, the government had to metaphorically turn it into one. They built walls, manned with snipers ordered to shoot anyone who approached in an attempt to escape. The physical walls were built only along East Germany's borders with West Germany and Austria; travel out of other Warsaw Pact nations was already highly restricted. After three decades of this arrangment, Hungary started allowing East Germans to travel into Austria. There they could hop a train for West Germany, where they were guaranteed citizenship under its constitution. The game was up: in a span of a few weeks, the East German government had agreed to reconstitute the Länder, and allow them to claim their reserved places in the Bundesrepublik.

In contrast, two walls that are often rhetorically conflated with the "Berlin Wall" serve the opposite purpose. The US border fence will keep illegal immigrants out. The Israeli security fence keeps Palestinian suicide bombers out; Israelis, whether Jew, Arab or Druze, and people in the US, have the right to leave.

Parris Island

Other than during World War II, everyone who joined the Marine Corps was a volunteer (some may have volunteered for the Corps after receiving a draft notice that would have sent them to the Army). Without disparaging the other branches of the armed forces, I think it's fair to say the Corps has earned a reputation as an elite force, to a significant extent as a result of its ability to take only the best of those who volunteer. Since 1972, there has been no conscription into any of our armed forces, but the Selective Service registration system remains in place in case there is a need for massive mobilization on the scale of WWII. The overwhelming consensus among military leaders is that the all-volunteer forces are vastly superior to conscripts. Every one of the men and women in the US armed forces today consciously chose to be there. And quite a few Ellisians who took the Oath of Citizenship also took an oath in becoming servicemen. I believe there's something to that....

I'll Land

Of course, most people live in the nation of their birth. The descendants of voluntary immigrants, as well as those who came to be in the US unwillingly, are equal in this respect. We all unconsciously choose to be Americans every day by default; simply by not moving elsewhere. The Dred Scot decision has been long repealed by the Emancipation Proclamation, Grant v. Lee at the Appomattox Court House, and the Thirteenth Amendment. No chains or armed overseers prevent emigration to those who choose it. There's a classic bumper sticker that tries to make the choice explicit: "America: love it or leave it". The nuanced leftist response is that such slogans are simplistic, to which I'll agree. Anything that can fit on a bumper sticker is probably over-simplified. Take "No blood for oil", or "Visualize World Peace". Please.

But individual choice is powerful. When people are free to choose their situation, they can't be oppressed; they can join a community where they're treated decently. The essence of the American Dream is that people have that liberty to find a better life (however they personally define "better", not some nanny-state politician's definition of what's best "for their own good").

I think that we need to perform triage on our population.

For those people who claim that America is a horrible police state... For those who think our nation is cruel beyond measure for not giving everyone within her borders "free" health care, as "every other country" does... For those who insist that their religion must be enforced by law upon others... For those who would prefer a government with the power to forbid expression of distasteful views... I would happily pay my share of the taxes to cover this Special One-Time Offer: Not only are you free to "leave it" in the sense of "free" that means "freedom", we'll make it "free" in the sense of "no cost (to you)" as well. The US government should pay for a first-class ticket to any country willing to accept a US citizen willing to sign away that citizenship. If you can't be an Ellisian here, be an Ellisian somewhere else. That will make you an engaged, productive citizen somewhere in the world, and the world needs as many of them as it can get. Consciously choose the country that you think best fits your values, and may you live a long, healthy, and prosperous life there.

For those who can't find a better country to live in, simply staying here is still an unconscious choice. We require something of our naturalized citizens other than achieving the age of 18 before they're allowed to vote; I can think of no reason why we shouldn't apply the same rules to those who are fortunate enough to claim US citizenship as their birthright. Before anyone may vote in any election for any government office under the United States, any individual state, territory, or district therein, they should have to raise their hand before witnesses, and take the same oath of citizenship as naturalized citizens. In English. And they should know what the words mean.

Those who won't take that oath aren't committing themselves to this country. I don't think they should be deported, nor taxed at a discriminatory rate, or otherwise have a different status in our legal system. But the minimum standard for participation in our government's decision making should be a bit more than having a pulse for 18 years.[Click on the title above, or date stamp below, to see the full post.]

Today in History: February 22

  • 1632 Galileo publishes his Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, about the heliocentric and Ptolemaic solar systems.
  • 1732 George Washington born; leader of the Revolutionary Army, First President.
  • 1857 German physicist Heinrich Hertz born; first to broadcast and receive radio waves.
  • 1930 American singer Marni Nixon born; singing voice for numerous Hollywood films: Deborah Kerr in The King and I (1956), Natalie Wood as Maria in West Side Story (1961), Audrey Hepburn as Eliza in My Fair Lady (1964).
  • 1946 Dr Selman Waksman announces the first antibiotic, streptomycin, effective for tuberculosis.
  • 1958 United Arab Republic is created by Syria merging with Egypt; First modern attempt at a pan-Arab superstate; Syria seceded in 1961; Egypt dropped the UAR name in 1971.
Yesterday | Tomorrow

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Today in History: February 21

  • 1804 First self-propelled steam locomotive makes its first run, in Wales, carrying some 20 tons of iron, wagons and men, from the Pen-y-Darren ironworks to Abercynon, a distance of 9.75 miles; designed by Richard Trevithick.
  • 1836 French composer Léo Delibes born; wrote ballets Coppélia (1870) and Sylvia (1876) and the opera Lakmé (1883).
  • 1848 Marx and Engels published The Communist Manifesto; inaugurating the socialist assault on Liberty, now 160 years old.
  • 1916 The Battle of Verdun begins; site chosen by German General Falkenhayn to destroy the French army through attrition; 61,000 French killed, 142,000 Germans killed.
  • 1953 Francis Crick and James Watson discover the DNA molecule structure, and how it encodes genetic instructions, the double-helix and hydrogen-bonded base pairs of purines and pyrimidines.
  • 1960 Cuban Marxist dictator Fidel Castro nationalizes all businesses in Cuba.
Yesterday | Tomorrow

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Coming Obamination!

Sure, "Change" is wonderful. But what actually *are* Sen. Obama's political views? What will we have to look forward to once he's elected?

Well, he's finally beginning to mention a few details recently, in economics.
For example, everyone under $50,000 per year... no taxes. (I wonder if you could get a chicken in every pot with that?)

Oh, and here's another theme. The rich are soaking the non-rich; that's apparently how they get rich according to Obama. While he definitely claims to favor free markets, he says that they are clearly broken. They will need to be fixed: by taxation and regulation.

But even though that's about it for details, I'm sure we all want to know the Obama nitty gritty in other political areas.

Fortunately, Project Vote Smart provides some answers to Sen. Obama's political positions. Unfortunately, Obama "repeatedly refused to provide any responses to citizens on the issues through the 2008 Political Courage Test when asked to do so by national leaders of the political parties, prominent members of the media, ..." As a result, Project Vote Smart has made available Obama's responses to the Illinois State Legislative Election 1998 National Political Awareness Test. Let's just have a look, shall we?

Racial/Sexual Discrimination?

So, should Illinois government agencies should take race and sex into account in giving out contracts? In choosing whom to employ? In university admissions? Obama scored a clean sweep; "Yes" to all of those.


Should no parole be allowed for repeat violent felons? Not according to Obama. How about prosecuting juveniles (gang bangers, for example) as adults if they commit murder or other serious violent crimes? Nope, Obama didn't like it. Maybe criminals should be required to pay restitution to the crime victims? Well, apparently this doesn't look that good to Obama either.


Obama supports education. Just ask him; he'll tell you so. But he's dead set against vouchers for parents to send their kids to any good school (public, private, religious).


Obama wants you to use cleaner burning fuels, and is willing to pass a law to make sure you do.

Campaign "Reform"?

Obama would love to pass laws to impose spending limits on campaigns. But it's okay because he's willing to give tax dollars to candidates to make up for preventing supporters from contributing. At least that way, he can control how much supporters can contribute.


What about favoring allowing citizens to carry concealed firearms? Nope, Obama doesn't trust law-abiding trained citizens. He's even willing to increase the currently onerous Illinois restrictions of the purchase and possession of firearms.

Are you familiar with auto-loaders? They're also called semi-automatic guns. They were invented in the 1800s. They work like this: one trigger pull, one shot fired. They don't work like machine guns, or like military assault rifles (which were invented in WWII), and they don't work like machine pistols -- for these, instead, you just hold down the trigger. What do auto-loaders include? Many hunting rifles and shotguns, target pistols, and nearly all police firearms.

Well, bad news, Obama wants to pass laws to eliminate "all forms of semi-automatic weapons".
[Click on the title above, or date stamp below, to see the full post.]

So, there you have it. This is what the coming Obamination will look like: grim.

(H/T to my daughter's razor wit for the title.)

Today in History: February 20

  • 1844 Austrian physicist Ludwig Boltzmann born; father (with Willard Gibbs) of statistical mechanics; the Stefan-Boltzmann law.
  • 1872 American inventor Luther Crowell patents a machine to make his folding (brown) paper bag, today's world standard.
  • 1931 American mathematician John Milnor born; 1962 Fields, for differential topology on 7-dimensional spheres.
  • 1934 American physicist Ernest Lawrence patents the cyclotron, the first particle accelerator; 1939 Nobel.
  • 1945 Actor Brion James born; Leon: "Wake up! Time to die!"
Yesterday | Tomorrow

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Attention Silicon Gulch Space Cadets

Want to lose weight without losing mass? Has skydiving become, what's that word, boring? Well, Pete Diamandis has an answer for you. Surely, you remember Pete? He created the X-Prize foundation and the Rocket Racing League.

Well, his new company, Zero Gravity just finalized an agreement with NASA to help you out.

"Commercial, weightless flights will be offered this weekend at Moffett Field, Calif., under the terms of an agreement with the Zero Gravity Corp, Las Vegas. Although corporation officials said the first flight scheduled Saturday, Feb. 16 is already sold out, additional flights will be scheduled later this year."

"Passengers aboard the aircraft will experience for brief periods the same weightlessness that the space shuttle astronauts encounter while orbiting the Earth, as well as the same gravity conditions they would experience on the moon and on Mars."

Hillary's "Gun Summit"

Hillary needed votes in Wisconsin. So, at a rally near Green Bay
at St. Norbert College she spoke about more regulations: on food
safety, and more importantly on private gun ownership. She said
the following in response to a question about the recent massacre
at Northern Illinois University.

“I believe we really should have a summit where
everybody comes together on all sides of this issue"

“Let’s figure out how we can be consistent with the Second
Amendment, which I wholeheartedly support, and do more to keep
people safe"

“I think we can do that, but it’s going to require us all to
maybe give a little..."

So, what does Hillary think "a little" is? And how do you think
she'll apply it to private gun ownership in order to stop
massacres in gun-free zones?

The last time she was "in office", her husband (with the help of
a Democrat-controlled Congress) banned thousands of ordinary
rifles that looked evil. Not the assault rifles the military
use, just ordinary rifles. But to make them sound evil, they
were called "assault weapons".

It's already a given that that 10 year ban, which expired 3 years
ago, will be coming back when either Hillary or Obama get
elected. But if she can ban these ordinary auto-loading rifles,
why wouldn't the solution to the gun-free zone massacre problem
mandate a ban of auto-loading handguns? I can't think of a
reason, why it wouldn't. After all, you could probably still buy
a revolver, so it would be "consistent with the Second

Today in History: February 19

  • 1473 Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus born; heliocentric theory.
  • 1626 Italian physician Francesco Redi born; disproved spontaneous generation of maggots in rotting meat.
  • 1807 Former Vice President Aaron Burr is arrested for treason, in Alabama; acquitted.
  • 1859 Swedish chemist Svante Arrhenius born; 1903 Nobel, for his theory of electrolytes.
  • 1942 FDR signs Executive Order 9066 which led to internment camps for Japanese-Americans living on the West Coast; some Italian- and German-Americans were also interned.
  • 1945 30,000 Marines land on Iwo Jima; 20,703 Japanese and 6,825 Marines killed in action; more than a fourth of all Marines WWII Medals of Honor.
Yesterday | Tomorrow

Monday, February 18, 2008

Sabrina Aero

What do you get when a 14 year old girl combines a Rolls Royce engine with parts from Continental and Superior? In one case, a Sabrina O-200A

For more of the story, check the 4 youtube links. There are a lot of teenagers out there that talk big. This is one who backs it up.

Social Darwinism

Researchers at Stanford University have done a study they claim proves that evolution not only can weed out unsuccessful genes, but also can operate on societies to weed out unsuccessful memes:

Deborah S. Rogers, a research fellow at Stanford, said their findings demonstrate that "some cultural choices work while others clearly do not."

"Unfortunately, people have learned how to avoid natural selection in the short term through unsustainable approaches such as inequity and excess consumption. But this is not going to work in the long term," she said. "We need to begin aligning our culture with the powerful forces of nature and natural selection instead of against them."
The intellectual leap between those two paragraphs could not be further. Time and again, the countries that allow "inequity and excess consumption" greatly outperform those that repress them by force. The free market works. I'm afraid that Ms. Rogers comes to the table without the proper scientific attitude. Reality simply is; the job of science is to observe it, not try to prove the biases of the researcher.

I guess I should just be happy that "Social Darwinism" is no longer assumed to be evil.

Today in History: February 18

  • 1677 French astronomer Jacques Cassini born; proved stars move.
  • 1745 Italian physicist Alessandro Volta born; invented the electric battery; the "volt".
  • 1838 Austrian physicist Ernst Mach born; Mach 1.
  • 1871 English metallurgist Harry Brearley born; invented stainless steel.
  • 1901 English engineer Hubert Boot patents the vacuum cleaner.
  • 1913 English chemist Frederick Soddy coins the term "isotope"; 1921 Nobel.
Yesterday | Tomorrow

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Calif. (NRA) Political Issues

The California Rifle and Pistol Association (CRPA) is the key NRA organization in California. The keynote speaker at this year's annual CRPA Members Banquet, held yesterday in Irvine, was General Chuck Yeager, USAF retired. He's the man who broke the sound barrier, in the Bell X-1.

Before Gen. Yeager gave his reminiscences talk, he mentioned the recent shootings in gun-free school zones. He thought it was outrageous that a bad guy could wander around a campus randomly picking targets because in a gun-free zone, no law-abiding citizen had the means to stop him. Yeager's definitely in favor of concealed carry on campus.

Sorry, but I'm not going to talk much about what Gen. Yeager said. Instead, I'm going to give you a glimpse into the political outlook at the dinner. Now, to be fair, while the CRPA is a hunting organization, it did mention concealed carry by law-abiding citizens in a positive light several times. But this wasn't what caught my attention.

The two main CRPA speakers at this annual awards Banquet, held yesterday in Irvine, were Tom Thomas, CRPA President, and John Fields, CRPA Executive Director.

Early on there was a theme of honoring veterans as heroes. The speaker had the veterans in the audience stand, and the banquet hall applauded long and loudly. Then, one of these two CRPA executives (I don't remember which one) extended this theme of honoring heroes by mentioning other people. All the way to calling CRPA staff members heroes. My thought? That was a very nice way to water down the heroes theme. I guess we're all heroes now. The result is captured nicely by this paraphrase, "And when everybody's a hero, nobody is."

Of course, the CRPA claims it does a tremendous job. They mentioned that the Katrina-inspired anti-confiscation law passed in California. But they didn't mention that the nation's first cartridge microstamping bill passed as well. Microstamping, if it remains law, will kill the gun industry in the state. And, of course, that is its intent. They didn't mention any problems they might have had, or how they failed to overcome those problems. As far as I could tell last night, the CRPA didn't know about the microstamping law getting passed.

The first award honoree was a Dept of Fish and Game (DFG) warden. He is also DFG's legislative liaison, which may have been why he was there. I'm sure he's a nice guy. But, I noticed that he had two main concerns. One was reptile poaching. I thought that this was interesting given that California isn't home to a lot of large reptiles. The other concern was the large amount of guns DFG had successfully confiscated this last year. This struck me as fascinating: that a guy from DFG would get up in front of an audience of gun-lovers and praise his agency's confiscation of guns.

Awards were also given to a couple members of our legislature, one each to a CA Senator and an Assemblyman. One of the two legislative awardees mentioned that the DFG wardens are grossly underpaid for the risks they undertake, and that there are just too few of them -- they are spread too thinly. Oddly, he also mentioned that as the audience is sure to know every year the hunting license fees go up. Now, maybe it's just me, but putting one and one together, one has to wonder where the money is going? New buildings? Management salaries? "Borrowed" to pay for the state's fiscal "crisis"?

Well, maybe the problem is that DEFG spends a huge amount of their budget in funding wacko environmental studies, such as the program to find out if the deer in California really use the highway underpasses that were built, at great expense, for them to use. Perhaps, the audience isn't expected to know about such budget uses. All in all, I wouldn't give these politicians high marks for intelligence. But maybe that's their view of their audience.

By the way, DEFG, isn't a typo. It refers to the Dept of (Environment,) Fish and Game. It makes sense. Just go to their web site. The DEFG is always on the lookout for more Environmental Scientists. Of course, if you're accepted, you'll have to "conduct extremely complex and difficult scientific investigations and studies", and eventually, you'll have to "develop courses of action". And the pay is good, too. In fact, to become a Senior Environmental Scientist at DEFG, you just need a B.S. in a field related to Environmental Science and a couple years time served at DEFG. Don't all apply at once.

[Click on the title above, or date stamp below, to see the full post.]

So, I just thought I'd bring you up to speed on what's happening in California on the 2nd Amendment front. The good news is that we are still allowed to own guns, at least for the moment. And maybe, in a crisis, they won't be confiscated.

The Father-Daughter talk

A young woman was about to finish her first year of college. Like so many others her age, she considered herself to be a very liberal Democrat, and among other liberal ideals, was very much in favor of higher taxes to support more government programs, in other words redistribution of wealth.

She was deeply ashamed that her father was a rather staunch Republican, a feeling she openly expressed. Based on the lectures that she had participated in, and the occasional chat with a professor, she felt that her father had for years harbored an evil, selfish desire to keep what he thought should be his.

One day she was challenging her father on his opposition to higher taxes on the rich and the need for more government programs. The self-professed objectivity proclaimed by her professors had to be the truth and she indicated so to her father. He responded by asking how she was doing in school.

Taken aback, she answered rather haughtily that she had a 4.0 GPA, and let him know that it was tough to maintain, insisting that she was taking a very difficult course load and was constantly studying, which left her no time to go out and party like other people she knew. She didn't even have time for a boyfriend, and didn't really have many college friends because she spent all her time studying.

Her father listened and then asked, 'How is your friend Audrey doing?' She replied, 'Audrey is barely getting by. All she takes are easy classes, she never studies, and she barely has a
2.0 GPA. She is so popular on campus; college for her is a blast. She's always invited to all the parties and lots of times she doesn't even show up for classes because she's too hung over.'

Her wise father asked his daughter,

'Why don't you go to the Dean's office and ask him to deduct 1.0 off your GPA and give it to your friend who only has a 2.0? That way you will both have a 3.0 GPA and certainly that would be a fair and equal distribution of GPA.'

The daughter, visibly shocked by her father's suggestion, angrily fired back, 'That's a crazy idea, how would that be fair! I've worked really hard for my grades! I've invested a lot of time, and a lot of hard work! Audrey has done next to nothing toward her degree. She played while I worked my tail off!'

The father slowly smiled, winked and said gently, 'Welcome to the Republican party.'

If anyone has a better explanation of the difference between Republican and Democrat I'm all ears.

[Click on the title above, or date stamp below, to see the full post.]

Today in History: February 17

  • 1600 Philosopher Giordano Bruno burned at the stake for heresy, in Rome, by the Vatican.
  • 1801 Jefferson and Aaron Burr tie for president; House elects Jefferson P. and Burr V.P.
  • 1856 American photographer Frederic Ives born; invented half-tone printing.
  • 1864 H. L. Hunley: first submarine to engage and sink a warship, the USS Housatonic.
  • 1888 German-American scientist Otto Stern born; 1943 Nobel for the 1922 Stern-Gerlach Experiment (Gerlach, a Nazi, lost).
  • 1936 The Phantom's debut, the world's first comics superhero.
Yesterday | Tomorrow

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Connections: 106

style="margin-right:10px" src="" title="Click on the image to play">Episode 6 of the original Connections.
(Click on the image to play — it will open in a separate window/tab)

Episode 1 | href="">2 | href="">3 | href="">4 | href="">5

Today in History: February 16

  • 1771 Charles Messier presents his original list of 45 astronomical objects to French Academy.
  • 1937 DuPont chemist Wallace Carothers patents nylon.
  • 1956 Britain abolishes the death penalty.
  • 1972 The Netherlands releases the Breda Three from prison, Germans responsible for the murder of 120,000 Jews.
Yesterday | Tomorrow

Friday, February 15, 2008

Five Minutes of Waterboarding

[Don sent this into the tipline]

Did you know... that we spent less than 5 minutes (total!) waterboarding (all 3) terrorist detainees? Jonah Goldberg on waterboarding:

Yet none of these interrogations were the result of a "rogue" CIA or the mad whims of a "torture presidency." The relevant Democratic congressional leadership for intelligence — including current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, and former Sen. Bob Graham — were briefed on CIA operations more than once. "Among those being briefed, there was a pretty full understanding of what the CIA was doing," Porter Goss, who chaired the House Intelligence Committee from 1997 to 2004 before becoming CIA director, told the Washington Post. "And the reaction in the room was not just approval, but encouragement."
As the Blogfather says, read the whole thing.

Cackle, Homeschooling?

Just because the gov't is giving out "free" schooling doesn't mean that you break the law if you don't "go along quietly". Instead, you can thank them for offering you that moldy bread and homeschool instead.

So, why would you do that? Two reasons: socialization and education. If you've kept up with current events, then you already know that private schooled kids have better tempers and more maturity than gov't (so-called public) schoolers; and that goes double for homeschoolers. They are the best-behaved and articulate students you're likely to find. They play well with kids their own age, or kids that are older, or kids that are younger. And when they're with adults, they behave like adults.

So, if you're thinking about taking up your local gov't on that offer of moldy bread, we homeschoolers just want you to know that we're worried about how your kids will ever get properly socialized. We don't see how spending hours hiding from the playground bullies, that gov't teachers claim is a "rite of passage", is all that conducive to growing up to be a calm and collected reasonable adult. (Oh, yours is the bully? Never mind.) As the Education Experts say, nothing teaches kids to learn to act like mature adults than to hang out with other kids their exact same age (for 12 years) -- just like in real life. Tee hee.

By the way, given the American separation of church and state, it turns out that you can homeschool even if you don't want to be religious about it. Most homeschooled families aren't doing it for religious reasons.

But what if you're not a credentialed teacher? How can you do a good enough job teaching? Well, there are three answers to this. The first is that you probably won't need techniques to corral 30 kids at a time. (I'm addressing only the small families -- under 20 kids. Heh.)

Secondly, you probably remember your two to four hours of hands-on driving instruction before you were put behind the wheel and sent to the store to get groceries. Teaching is about that difficult. And that's about what credentialed teachers know. You don't need lesson plans. You don't need curricula. You probably don't want those really bad textbooks that keep getting mandated by your state's bored [sic] of education. It turns out that if you're interested in the subject, then your kids likely will be too. The hardest part will be asking them to explain things to you rather than you lecturing things to them. If you talk, they might be listening. If they talk, you know what they've learned. Avoiding being over-burdening on them is the most difficult thing to learn. Kids naturally want to learn -- just maybe not what you want them to learn at the moment. (I'll get to math/science in a moment.)

Thirdly, if you'd really like a shock, it turns out that kids that are left to their own devices (with a lot of books and such lying around) will automatically learn on their own. You could act just like a credentialed 30-kid corraller, and just watch that they don't set the house on fire. This style of homeschooling is actually called "unschooling". There are books about it. It also works well, but it's very frightening at first.

What about testing? Well, some states want you to do more than what's done in gov't schools, and some states want less. But since different kids learn at different rates, you shouldn't be concerned about it. Focus on what they need, and if Johnny needs an extra year to learn something, that's fine. At least he'll be well-adjusted while doing it. And if Jill learns twice as fast, then she won't be bored out of her mind sitting in a class with squalling immature kids who just happen to be her same age.

Everyone (except that San Diego school teacher) can read and write -- so that's easy to teach. But what if you aren't that good at math or science? Well, you could brush up on it and stay a chapter ahead of your kids -- it's only through 12th grade after all, and you can spread it out over several years. Alternatively, you could have your kids read and then explain how it all works so that you'll finally get it. However, one common way that makes parents feel good is to join a group of homeschooling families, and have one of the parents who *is* good at the subject teach kids from the group. Homeschooler parents are typically very friendly, helpful, and well-behaved -- like their kids.

But how will the kids get into college? Fortunately, college's aren't altogether dumb. They are aware that homeschoolers are smarter, better trained, more well-behaved, and better motivated to learn. You just write up a school transcript, standard "course" names, think up some useful grades (hint, does your child know the material? Then it's an "A"), and check for merit scholarships.

I've left this last part last because it's the most difficult to face for many parents.

What if you both work for a living to make ends meet? One of you can't quit your job just to teach your kids. Besides, the gov't school is already "paid for". Good question. If you'd really like to get away from gov't schooling, but feel you can't, what you can do is have your kids perform their "homework" during the day while supervised (i.e., corralled) by the aunt, grandmother, or day-care sitter. Then the "lecture" portion of their learning can take place once you get home. Of course, this is an extra burden on you.
[Click on the title above, or date stamp below, to see the full post.]

Well they're your kids. What are you willing to give up so that they get a great education?

Why Gun-Free Zones?

Another guy off his meds massacred 5 people at college. A bunch of others were wounded.

The people concerned about gun violence claim the problem is guns. But I'm not so sure.

He didn't try to shoot up a police station.

He didn't try to shoot up a military base.

He didn't try to shoot up a gun store.

He didn't try to shoot up a gun show.

He didn't try to shoot up a shooting range.

He didn't even try to shoot up a donut shop.

So, what is it that makes gun-free zones so attractive?
That's a real stumper.

Today in History: February 15

Yesterday | Tomorrow

Thursday, February 14, 2008

No Excuse For Self-Defense?

There are people in America that think the Founders were ignorant and dangerous. They're the ones who think that free speech is vital, but only when they use it. If you use it, it's called "hate speech".

They are also the ones that think there is no excuse for self-defense. Just give the criminal whatever he demands. They think the Founders were crazy, and the 2nd Amendment is for the retarded. They don't trust you with a gun, any kind of gun; and (as in England) if you fight back then you're the bigger criminal; and soon they won't trust you with a kitchen carving knife.

Janet Reno is one of them. Remember her? Clinton's Attorney General. She's filed a "friend of the court" amicus petition in the 2nd Amendment Supreme Court case (D.C. v Heller). She has buddies, too. Lots of them.

They are the guns-only-for-government crowd. They include the American Bar Association. These lawyers don't trust trained law-abiding citizens with a gun. Then there are the University professors -- a bunch of history and linguistics profs; and some criminal justice profs. Then there is the American Academy of Pediatrics. These child doctors doesn't trust you either.

All these groups, and more, are claiming that the 2nd Amendment doesn't mean what it means, and that the government has the right to "infringe" on your right to "keep and bear arms" -- to the extent of keeping you from having a working gun for your own personal inside-the-home self-defense.

You want to know the details? You can find out here. This is a website linking the filed documents in the D.C. v Heller case. D.C. is the "Petitioner". Heller is the good guy, I mean the "Respondent".

Fortunately, Heller has some good company as well. For example, check out the "Retired Military Officers" amicus brief.

Know your enemies. Know your friends.

Something From Nothing

So, the boys (and probably some girls) at the CERN lab in Geneva are worried about the unclean vacuum. They're building a new particle accelerator. Why? Because it's going to accelerate really heavy atoms to really high energies. Their new toy is called the Large Hadron Collider (LHC).

And why are they worried? Well, because then need to economize on tremendous amounts of electricity. So, they build their electro-magnets out of superconductors that take a lot less electricity. But to be superconducting, they need to be super-cooled. But the electro-magnets need to be right up next to the beam of particles (those heavy lead atoms) so the beam can be easily (and cheaply) controlled. The beams are in their own tube, or pipe, so that all the air can be gotten out of the beam's way -- a vacuum. The magnets keep the beam centered in the pipe so that beam atoms don't accidentally collide with the pipe walls.

So, what's the problem? Nothing. Nasty nothing. The nasty nothing that is a vacuum.

See, when the beam particle energies get high enough, sometimes a beam particle will reach into that vacuum like it was a closet and pull out a pair of brand new particles (an oppositely charged particle/anti-particle pair, usually an electron-positron pair). This is a well-tested effect of what's called the quantum vacuum energy, first predicted by Georges Lemaître in 1934. Usually, such a brand new pair of particles will annihilate themselves without any release of energy -- effectively going home, back into that vacuum closet.

Now here's the nasty part. In a beam environment like the LHC, the boys worried that when a new pair was pulled out of the closet the positron would immediately fly off (and not be much of a problem, it's too light). But the electron would glom onto one of the beam particles. That would change the particle's charge. That would change the particle's direction, and it too would fly off -- hitting the beam pipe. And with a heavy particle, that would cause the pipe to heat up a tiny amount. So, what's nasty? The number of beam particles that this would happen to. The amount of heating. If there is a bit too much, then the super-cooled superconductors no worky. And the plan is to have them at 1.9 K -- super-cold.

To figure out how much heating (or whether they were just screwy wrong), the boys at LHC took a trip to visit the boys at the Brookhaven Lab on Long Island where the fairly new Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC, "Rick") lives. The RHIC beam isn't as powerful as CERN's LHC will be. They found the heating -- a minuscule amount. But that was with a beam of middling weight copper atoms.

The bad news is that the vacuum closet's propensity to open up scales as the seventh power of Z (i.e., Z times Z times Z times Z times Z times Z times Z), the number of protons in the nucleus. Copper's Z is 29. Lead's Z is 82. That means about a 1,500 times bigger effect. The vacuum closet also opens easier with higher energies. LHC will be running about 100 times higher energy beams than RHIC. So the boys expect over 100,000 times more heating than seen at RHIC.

What does it all mean? The LHC boys will have to add extra cooling, because of something from nothing.
[Ed.: Click on the title to see the full post]

Today in History: February 14

  • 1869 Scottish physicist C.T.R. Wilson born; 1927 Nobel (with Arthur Compton) for the Wilson cloud chamber, for studying nuclear particles.
  • 1894 Comedian Jack Benny born; supporter of racial equality, "Well!".
  • 1989 Iranian leader Khomeini issues fatwa authorizing the murder of Salman Rushdie, for writing The Satanic Verses.
Yesterday | Tomorrow

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Medved: Talk Radio Dead

Under the title "SOUTH CAROLINA'S BIG LOSER: TALK RADIO", talk radio's Michael Medved wrote a Townhall piece that relegates Talk Radio to the ash heap of political influence.

The big loser in South Carolina was, in fact, talk radio: a medium that has unmistakably collapsed in terms of impact, influence and credibility because of its hysterical and one-dimensional involvement in the GOP nomination fight.

For more than a month, the leading conservative talkers in the country have broadcast identical messages in an effort to demonize Mike Huckabee and John McCain. If you’ve tuned in at all to Rush, Sean, Savage, Glenn Beck, Laura Ingraham, Mark Levin, Hugh Hewitt, Dennis Prager, and two dozen others you’ve heard a consistent drum beat of hostility toward Mac and Huck.

Medved backs up his estimate of Talk Radio's demise with SC exit poll data.

Among “Very Conservative” voters, however, Huckabee won handily (with 41%). Again, the Huck-and-Mac duo, representing talk radio’s two designated villains, swept 60% of the “Very Conservative” voters in very conservative South Carolina while Mitt and Fred combined for only 38% (22% for Thompson, 16% for Romney).

And with those details, Medved reiterates his conclusion, Talk Radio is dead, dead, dead.

In other words, even among the most right wing segment of the South Carolina electorate, talk radio failed – and failed miserably – in efforts to destroy and discredit Huckabee and McCain.

Well, okay, at the very end, he ameliorates his prognosis a bit.

In other words, the talk radio jihad against Mac and Huck hasn’t destroyed or even visibly damaged those candidates. But it has damaged, and may help destroy, talk radio.

The Obamathon Is On!

Will the Obamathon save America? That's the trillion dollar question.

America is a very sick place (please, no laughing in the bleachers). To help cure America, Barack Obama has been collecting pledges. The Obamathon is on! Nothing's certain but with a full nine month pregnancy ahead we think he'll be able to deliver a beautiful bouncing trillion dollars in pledges.

"So, what's the catch?", you ask. Well, for the Obamathon, the catch is that Obama is the one doing the pledging, and he is pledging your money. Not to worry, though. If you get a steady paycheck, it'll all come out automatically. A small price to pay for curing America.

Wow! Those crazy people over at the GOP have helpfully provided "thermometer" services to this year's Obamathon. Check out their cool graphic: "Barack Obama's Spend-O-Meter". As of this writing, he's at $850,350,000,000. Another $149,650,000,001 and he'll be over the top.