Saturday, May 07, 2005

Scale 7 Artifact, part 3


Exploration (part 1)

The explorer hangs motionless in the bright blackness of space. The stars around him are brilliant points, neither sparkling nor glittering in the great void, but shining steadily, pinpricks in the tent walls of the universe, cosmic apertures to a greater world beyond, gloriously bright.

The explorer turns slowly, taking in the spherical panorama. One of the stars --there, that one just to the left and downward a bit-- is noticeably brighter than the rest. More, it is greater than a pinprick; there is breadth to it, a tiny shining disk. A gesture and the explorer drifts toward the special star. He drifts along faster than light can race, yet the stars remain still, caught motionless in the web of simple vastness. The explorer would have to move thousands of times faster than light to see the distant stars streaming past like the scenery along a train track. He has moved so fast before, but now he has only one interest, one focus: the star before him.

A boiling planet appears. It begins to grow faster than the still distant star. A gas giant. Medium-sized for such planets, but this one is roiling with some titanic internal furnace. Perhaps a tiny black hole, releasing energy as it slowly consumes the planet from within. Perhaps simply a core of fissioning metals. Whatever the source of the heat, it keeps the surface of the planet in a constant state of awful storms, many thousands of miles across, with winds typically over five hundred miles per hour. And those are the gentle effects of the heat. More terrifying still are the bubbles of incandescent plasma that surge from the depths. By the time it reaches the upper atmosphere, a plasma bubble will have expanded to a size comparable to the Earth. It will explode with a light brighter than the sun, hurling radioactive matter miles into space. The planet will continue turning, trailing a scythe of light with its point embedded in the upper atmosphere. Eventually, the scythe will elongate and drift upward as if striving to become a planetary ring, but soon it will fade away in the blackness, frustrated and disappointed.

The explorer pauses at the planet and adjusts the progress of time so that he can watch several of the beautiful cataclysms in a few minutes. He is enchanted by the scenic violence, but he has no more time to linger. He has a goal.

The explorer drifts on until he sees the simmering planet, another medium-sized gas giant. This planet is on the other side of the star from the first, but by the magic of abstraction the explorer will pass each planet in order, as if they were lined up, a string of immense pearls on a strand of gravitation. This planet, like the last, has a source of internal heat, but it is less spectacular than the boiling planet. The storms are tamer; the bubbles are fewer and smaller, so small that they do not even cast material into orbit. Seeing that this planet is only average-spectacular, the explorer pauses but a moment before continuing on.

At the next planet, the shield-bearer planet, he finds his goal. This gas giant is enormous, even for such as these, three times the size of Jupiter. It is spinning so fast that it looks slightly flattened. The planet is positively charged and the spinning produces a magnetic field so enormous that it reaches thousands of miles out from the plant to trap charged particles thrown out from the star. The magnetic field turns a speeding electron from its straight path and the electron emits a photon of light in protest. Billions of truculent electrons create a glowing hemisphere between the gas giant and its star. A beautiful shield protecting the planet's four moons from the harsh radiation. The shield intersects an enormous, thick ring, circling the planet. Not a thin disk-shaped ring as those of Saturn, nearly as thick as it is wide, a belt to hold the titanic shield in place.

One of the moons is the goal. The explorer approaches it in awe, a lovely white-shrouded world. The white clouds --actual water clouds-- are laced with streaks of green like lime sherbet in vanilla ice cream. What is the green? Could it be ...? The explorer keys for data ...

"Dr. Greaves?" Daniel was annoyed at the interruption, but he politely took off his visor to look at the med tech. "You're all checked out." the tech told him, "You can read your orders and go now."

"May I have a moment, Sir?" Daniel asked, "I am doing some research."

"I'm sorry, Dr. Greaves, but we need to use this facility for the next patient." the tech looked uncomfortable. "And, besides, I expect if you check your orders, you will find that they call for immediate action."

How would the tech know what his orders said? Daniel didn't ask. Instead, he raised the visor/wrap-around sunglasses back to his eyes to check his orders. But he didn't need to. A text box was already floating in space, pre-empting his program. Sure enough, he was to report immediately to his quarters. Well. That was interesting. He lowered the visor back to his chest where it hung by a chord around his neck. Thoughtfully, he stood up and left the revival chamber.


Friday, May 06, 2005

the new and improved number of the beast

According to this article in a Canadian Newspaper, the National Post, a manuscript fragment of Revelations has been found, one that gives the Number of the Beast as 616 instead of 666. Since this is also the oldest fragment that contains this passage, some people are claiming that this proves the original had 616.
Ellen Aitken, a professor of early Christian history at McGill University, said the discovery appears to spell the end of 666 as the devil's prime number.
That doesn't follow, of course. In fact, with a single text, it isn't even very good evidence. The most that this shows is that the number 616 is an old version. It can't possibly show that 666 isn't older or that it isn't the original. Other texts have been found that used the number 616 (and 665), so this isn't even a surprise (although the article doesn't explain this very well), and translators have already argued over and hashed out the subject.
Dr. Aitken said, however, that scholars now believe the number in question has very little to do the devil. It was actually a complicated numerical riddle in Greek, meant to represent someone's name, she said.
I very much doubt that "scholars" now believe this, implying that this is the consensus of nearly all scholars of Revelations. I suspect that Dr. Aitken is only counting non-Christian scholars in her summary. She also says
It's a number puzzle -- the majority opinion seems to be that it refers to [the Roman emperor] Nero.
But this site disputes that the numbers even add up correctly for this interpretation. But he seems to only be considering Greek letters, while apparently the argument for Nero relies on Hebrew. It's all very confusing.

There is Wikipedia article where they seem to show that the numbers add up to 666 but there is a confusing footnote to the effect that "[some Greek spelling] should strictly speaking be [some Hebrew spelling]". In other words, to get Nero to add up to 666, they had to translate the name from Latin to Greek, from Greek to Hebrew, and then, apparently, misspell it in Hebrew. If this is the case, then I'm inclined to view it as a stretch.

Anyone who has read anything by the numerologically inclined is familiar with the many tricks they use to make anything into anything. Add, multiply, divide, pick arbitrary base points in encodings, include or skip characters at will, count letters or digits instead of using them, etc, etc.

In fact, given any set of letters L and any number n, there are functions that map L into n. In fact there are an infinite number of such functions. To make this statement even remotely interesting, you have to limit the way in which the functions are constructed. There are rules to numerology (very flexible rules, but rules, nonetheless). Maybe I'll try to come up with a general proof about what you can do with numerology...

I'll wait for confirmation, thanks

I think we are seeing another example of the liberal media slandering Christians and the libertarians eating it up like candy. Both Andrew Stuttaford at the Corner and Instapundit link to this article which claims that the Family Research Council is opposed to a vaccine that prevents a group of sexually transmitted diseases called HPV. Here is the money quote:
The trouble is that the human papilloma virus (HPV) is sexually transmitted. So to prevent infection, girls will have to be vaccinated before they become sexually active, which could be a problem in many countries.
In the US, for instance, religious groups are gearing up to oppose vaccination, despite a survey showing 80 per cent of parents favour vaccinating their daughters. "Abstinence is the best way to prevent HPV," says Bridget Maher of the Family Research Council, a leading Christian lobby group that has made much of the fact that, because it can spread by skin contact, condoms are not as effective against HPV as they are against other viruses such as HIV.

"Giving the HPV vaccine to young women could be potentially harmful, because they may see it as a licence to engage in premarital sex," Maher claims, though it is arguable how many young women have even heard of the virus.
I call foul. The New Scientist couldn't come up with a quote from the FRC that actually opposes the vaccination of preteens. All they have is an out-of-context quote where Maher observes a possible negative effect of the vaccine. We have no idea what the larger context of her comment was.

Nor is there any other evidence to support the article's claim that "religious groups are gearing up to oppose vaccination". Some Muslim women in Britain (referred to delicately as "Asian") are afraid of being killed if they are found to have the disease. Nothing really about vaccination there. Somebody from India is terribly concerned about possible reactions against the vaccine there. No actually reported reactions against the vaccine. No mention at all of any group besides the FRC. Nothing from the FRC except that one quote from Bridget Maher. The FRC has nothing about it on their website (If they want to start convincing people that vaccinating people is bad, they'd better get gearing).

I searched the web for these other gearing-up religious groups and couldn't find one. I found lots of concern about them though. Somebody writing for is horrified at how callous these religious conservatives are:
Religious people who oppose this because there is a risk that people may have more sex ... are putting their religious ideology over the others' lives. They would rather see women die than possibly have extra-marital sex.[all emphasis in original]
No evidence that anyone actually feels this way, beyond that ambiguous quote in New Scientist.

Over at Michael's Blog, someone (presumably Michael) gives us a cogent warning
Guess what Bridget! They are going to have premarital sex anyway! It's a fact, ABSTINENCE DOESN'T WORK! [all screaming in original]
Well, color me shocked. Millions of people throughout human history have managed to avoid sexually-transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancy by avoiding intercourse, but all the time, it didn't work. It must have all been their imagination. Oh, and the presumed Michael doesn't have any evidence other than that quote from New Scientist.

Of course, you can always rely on someone at the Daily Kos to have something conspiratorial to say:
The wingnuts are following this, though, and they're gearing up to fight it. They won't be blindsided by this, and we shouldn't be, either.
Yeah, this is the next big fight. Do we add another vaccination to the list or don't we? Of course this one will be a big deal because it relates to [in an embarrassed whisper:] sex. Again, there is no evidence for this burgeoning campaign beyond that one quote in New Scientist.

And we have the estimable Eugene Volokh, taking a break from his usual cautious appraisal of news sources:
This strikes me as a pretty wrongheaded attitude on the Family Research Council's part. I highly doubt that many women are now avoiding premarital sex because of the risk of HPV...
His evidence for the FRC's wrong-headedness? Apparently just that one quote.

Of course those are just bloggers. What do you expect from guys in pajamas? Let's go to a real journal, the Free Republic for some actual fact, shall we? Here is the money quote:
But the rollout of the vaccines promises to be anything but routine. Vaccinating children for a disease caused by sexual activity may be a tough sell, especially among parents who fear children will take it as a green light to have sex.
Yeah, that's what parents are afraid of: that bad little boy Tommy down the street telling Suzie, "Well, since you got that vaccine for genital warts, that means you're supposed to get it on with me." And poor naive little Suzie thinking, "Well, yeah, it's a green light."

But wait, this source actually has a bit of evidence (which was alluded to in the New Scientist article, BTW). It seems that a poll showed that 11% of parents wouldn't want their kids vaccinated before 18. Of course, with proper wording, you could probably get 11% of parents to say that they don't want their kids wearing safety belts, but that's another story. More important is the fact that these are parent, not religious groups. We don't know what their religions are, and most of them had probably never thought of the question before they answered the poll. This is not "gearing up" for anything.

Conclusion: this is much ado about nothing. The left will get hysterical about it. The anti-religious right will give some troubled sighs about those pesky religious conservatives. The FRC will come out with a statement that denies that they are especially opposed to the vaccines, and it will fade away, just one more little ghost story to make people afraid of religious conservatives. Like most of these scare stories, there will prove to be little substance to it, but it will have done it's little nibble of damage. Years hence, the Daily Kos will still be referring to the time that evil religious conservatives fought so hard to prevent the vaccination of kids against cancer, but were defeated by the forces of good leftism.

Meanwhile the only group that seems to actually be "gearing up" over these vaccines is the drug company,which is clearly gearing up a campaign to pass regulations forcing every 10-year-old in the world to have their patented drug. Just for the good of the kids, of course.

And in the midst of all this heat, we still don't know if it would be a good idea to vaccinate kids with this stuff. Many vaccines actually cause the disease they are designed to prevent in a certain percentage of cases. I don't know if this particular vaccine has that risk, but I'm inclined to suspect that it does and that this is why the drug companies are trying to preemptively label any who resists the vaccine as a religious nut. If the vaccine does have this risk, and if you don't think your daughter is likely to engage in promiscuous sex, shouldn't you have the right to decide not to subject her to that risk?

How many easily preventable diseases should be vaccinating kids for? Shots are no fun. If we could vaccinate kids against a thousand different diseases that they could prevent just by avoiding risky behaviors, should we do it? Give the kids a thousand shots? That's an extreme example, but it's the kind of issue that needs to be considered. The "green light for sex" is a bogeyman. It will do nothing but detract from the real issues. Why are the people who seem to want this vaccine working so hard to make that the issue?

UPDATE: Roscoe did some homework at the New Scientist and says
they are just doctrinaire lefties, with articles blaming America for all the pollution in the world (we need to change our lifestyle, you see) and claiming that execution by lethal injection is not entirely painless (we can only hope). Maybe we should wait for a better source.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

George Will is a whiner

Glenn Reynolds links favorably to this embarrassing article by George Will. Reynolds says that Will is giving Republicans some "good advice", but in fact it is nothing but whining. George Will, like Glenn Reynolds and a lot of other non-religious conservatives like to pretend that Christians are somehow disrespecting non-Christians or squeezing them out of the party. This is total nonsense. What we are doing is working for our own priorities in a coalition of people with different priorities. Just like George Will and Glenn Reynolds are doing. But they seem to feel that when religious people do this, it somehow isn't quite kosher.

According to Will:
The state of America's political discourse is such that the president has felt it necessary to declare that unbelievers can be good Americans. In last week's prime-time news conference, he said: "If you choose not to worship, you're equally as patriotic as somebody who does worship."
If the state of America's political discourse is such, then it is entirely due to the whining of people like George Will and nothing to do with what the religious side has said or done. We have opinions. We express those opinions. Sometimes the opinions are different from George Will's opinions. That's the way it works. George, if you want to get your way, try convincing people that you are right instead of just whining about how all you big meanies keep arguing with me.

George Bush has made comments like this many times. So have lots of others on the religious right. They don't do it to counteract anything done by anyone on the religious right, they do it to sooth your ruffled feathers and little hurt feelings every time you find out that, gasp, not everyone in the Republican party is a libertarian. When prominent conservatives start saying that they don't want any stinking libertarians in the party, then you will have something to whine about. Until then, this is nothing but a pathetic plea for getting your way even though you are in the minority.
So Mark Twain, Oliver Wendell Holmes and a long, luminous list of other skeptics can be spared the posthumous ignominy of being stricken from the rolls of exemplary Americans. And almost 30 million living Americans welcomed that presidential benediction.
You are displaying your paranoia, George. Give me a list of the prominent religious conservatives who ever said that you can't be a good American unless you are religious. Can't think of any? Me neither.
The president, whose political instincts, at least, are no longer so misunderestimated by his despisers, may have hoped his remarks about unbelievers would undo some of the damage done by the Terri Schiavo case. During that Florida controversy, he made a late-night flight from his Texas ranch to Washington to dramatize his signing of imprudent legislation that his party was primarily responsible for passing. He and his party seemed to have subcontracted governance to certain especially fervid religious supporters.
Oh, but it's the religious right that wants to deligitimize the other side, right, George? Just what are you doing right here with that comment about "especially fervid religious supporters"? We all know what that means, don't we? It means "religious nuts". It means irrational people being swept along by superstitious hysteria. Never mind the many millions of non-religious people who wanted to save Terri. Never mind that many of the religious people who wanted to save her (like me) never mentioned religious reasons. You didn't like it and so you set out to deligitimize the other side. And to do so, you look for a nice way to say "religious nut". But we all know what you mean, George. Don't go whining to us about how people in the party are being mean to you when you say thing like this about other people in the party.
And last Sunday Pat Robertson, who is fervid but also shrewd, seemed to understand that religious conservatives should be a bit more meek if they want to inherit the Earth.
Shrewd, you understand. Clever in an underhanded way. You can't really trust those fervid people. If they say something reasonable, it's just a plot. Never imagine that anyone that fervid might just be a nice guy.
Some Christians should practice the magnanimity of the strong rather than cultivate the grievances of the weak. But many Christians are joining today's scramble for the status of victims. There is much lamentation about various "assaults" on "people of faith."
This is rich, coming in the middle of an article where George Will is applying for a status of victimized minority in the Republican party.
Christians are indeed experiencing some petty insults and indignities concerning things such as restrictions on school Christmas observances. But their persecution complex is unbecoming because it is unrealistic.
I can't believe that George is really this ignorant. Having your children indoctrinated against your beliefs at public schools paid for with your tax money is not a "petty insult" or an "indignity". It is a direct assault on our culture and beliefs. And even the petty insults take on a more ominous tone when they are done with our own tax money by our own supposedly democratic government, and are accompanied by the simultaneous embrace of religious and pseudo-religious beliefs that affront ours. This is supposed to be a democracy, yet our government routinely ignores or deliberately offends the sensibilities of the majority while paying ridiculous attention to the trivial complaints of the minorities.
In just 15 months, Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" has become one of the 10 highest-grossing movies in history, and it almost certainly will become the most-seen movie in history.
The relevance of this escapes George Will. He wants to prove how powerful the religious people are, but all this does is show that on a truly democratic field we are a dominant force, yet in our supposedly democratic government, we lose one battle after another. How is this supposed to encourage us to be magnanimous?
The television networks, which can read election returns and the sales figures of "The Da Vinci Code," are getting religion, of sorts. The Associated Press reports that NBC is developing a show called "The Book of Daniel" about a minister who abuses prescription drugs and is visited by a "cool, contemporary Jesus." Fox is working on a pilot about "a priest teaming with a neurologist to examine unexplained events."
Here, George Will demonstrates that he doesn't really know much about religious conservatives. "The Da Vinci Code" was offensive to most religious conservatives, it's success is hardly a sign of our power; that new NBC series sounds like it is designed to offend religious conservatives; the Fox program sounds like another pseudo-religious show to exploit interest in the occult; another thing that religious conservatives are not going to be thrilled about.
Religion is today banished from the public square? John Kennedy finished his first report to the nation on the Soviet missiles in Cuba with these words: "Thank you and good night." It would be a rash president who today did not conclude a major address by saying, as President Ronald Reagan began the custom of doing, something very like "God bless America."
I've got news for you, George. Most of use could really care less whether the president says "good night", "God bless America" or "th-th-that's all folks". We'd gladly trade those presidential "God bless"s for the power to keep our young children away from teachers (paid for with our tax money) who will tell them that their mommies and daddies are just too dumb and mean to understand how two men can love each other.
Unbelievers should not cavil about this acknowledgment of majority sensibilities. But Republicans should not seem to require, de facto, what the Constitution forbids, de jure: "No religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust."
And so he ends with an implied accusation that he never bothered to try to back up in the previous 647 words of whining. In fact, the only examples he could come up with were two religious conservatives that implicitly denied any desire for a religious test. The only person in this article who suggested that anyone might be unqualified for public office due to religious beliefs was --you guessed it-- George Will.

programmer appreciation day

I have this fantasy called "programmer appreciation day". This is the day, once per year, where we line up all the computer programmers that have made our lives miserable through their gross stupidity. Everyone gets to go down the line slapping whichever ones they think deserve it.

Today's nomination for programmer appreciation day is the guys responsible for jump drives. Stupidity number one is that you have to stop them before you pull them out. Fail-safe file systems have been around for at least thirty years and there is no excuse to require any special action before removal. Sure, if you pull one out while it is writing a file and you only get parts of the file, that's fine. But the idea that there might be volume data that isn't written, so that you can lose files that are already on the drive, that is just horrendously stupid.

Stupidity number two (and this only applies to Windows) is the freaking five clicks to stop a jump drive when you pull it out. Six freaking actions. First you right click on the task bar. Then you pick the menu item. Then you get a list of devices (even if there is only one, it will be listed three different ways) and you have to pick one. Then you press the "stop" button. Then, and the order is important here, you have to pull out the drive. Then you press the "OK" button. What inverted genius thought that process up?

Leave your own nominations in the comments and I'll compile them.

Professor Bainbridge misses the point

From here:
My post on Gov. Schwarzenegger's sudden decision to run to the nativist right on immigration drew the usual hostile emails and trackbacks. Give it up folks; I'm pro-immigration, legal or otherwise.
He calls a bunch of people racists and nativists and then acts like he is above it all when they get hostile. Professor Bainbridge, here's a news flash for you: calling someone a racist is hostile. People aren't going to give up responding to your reckless slanders, at least not until they lose all respect for you and start classifying you with Atrios and Kos. Who also, by the way, tend to say "racist" to anyone who disagrees with them on any issue that is remotely related in any way, even if only in their own minds, with race.

I want to be perfectly clear here: my disappointment in Professor Bainbridge is not due to his views on illegal immigration, it is over the fact that he has called me a racist.

What started this was Bainbridge's comment on Arnold Schwarzenegger's comment on the Minutemen project: "In contrast to Schwarzenegger, President Bush has aptly referred to these nuts as "vigilantes." Let's hope he can convince Arnie that nativism and racism are bad politics and bad policy." When people objected to being called racists, Bainbridge responded by also accusing them of favoring apartheid. Note that there is not even a gesture toward an argument for these accusations, it is just hit-and-run slander of the kind that we are so used to hearing from the left. Unfortunately, there are too many people on the right who claim to abhor the tactics of the left, but who happily copy those tactics --to the very words and phrases-- whenever it is convenient to do so.

Are the Minutemen vigilantes? Only if you define a vigilante as anyone who is not a government-sanctioned law officer yet who actively works to stop law-breaking. Under this definition, the volunteers in neighborhood watch programs are vigilantes. So is the school principle that drives by the school frequently on the weekends to make sure no one is trying to break in. So is the man who gets up at night and checks the house out because his wife thought she heard someone downstairs. Under this definition, the term applies to the Minutemen but has no negative connotations.

On the other hand, you can define a vigilante as someone who takes the law into his own hands, acting as judge, jury and executioner (or other sort of punisher). In this sense, the word has negative connotations but does not apply to the Minutemen.

Professor Bainbridge is a smart man; he knows this. He is deliberately using the word with one definition and importing connotations from a different definition. It's a way to say the Minutemen are dangerous and violent people without actually saying it. Technically. The professor should be ashamed of himself.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

crime doen't pay ...

... when you're an idiot.

How dumb do you have to be to come up with a conspiracy among four men that involves television interviews, reporters, and lots of publicity, yet not bother to get your story right?

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

more on Bush's popularity

On further consideration, that poll about "what you would want to talk to Bush about" doesn't really hurt my argument and doesn't help Reynolds's. I couldn't access the actual poll, but apparently it shows no interest in Terri Schiavo (or presumably Reynolds would have said so). Since Terri Schiavo is the main thing that Reynolds picked out for Bush's falling popularity, this tends to discredit his views.

Also, I don't know how much stock you can put in the top three: Iraq, the economy, and social security. Those are all big issues among his supporters, but they are also the big three that his enemies would bring up. Once you take out the 40% of respondents that would never approve of him no matter what, those three items could fall considerably in importance (keeping in mind that I'm only interested in people who used to think he was doing a good job and now do not).

As to the small number of people who asked about judges, I'm not surprised. Most Republicans still think he is doing a good job on that issue. But if just one percent of his supporters have decided that he would just as soon leave the judiciary liberal (to help get Republicans elected), then that could account for 25% to 30% of his falling numbers.

Neither Silence nor Reynolds says where illegal immigration comes in and that's something I'd really like to know.


It's that time again. Time to start procrastinating on sending in your story to the Storyblogging Carnvival.