Thursday, June 23, 2005

things that make you go "hmm..."

Roscoe has discovered an interesting connection.

what's in an apology?

There seem to be two schools of thought about Durbin's apology. One group, represented by Patterico, Dean and Citizen Smash think it is a real apology while others, represented by LGF and Michelle don't. The difference seems to be due to different expectations. The acceptors wanted Durbin to say that he's sorry for opening his big mouth, and for saying mean things about American soldiers. He did so. The rejecters seem to want Durbin to say he's sorry for what he believes and to say that he doesn't believe it any more.

I don't think it's reasonable to ask a person to pretend to change their mind in an apology. Durbin really does believe that the minor punishments going on at Gitmo are equivalent to torture and genocide. Never mind that his beliefs are completely irrational and are inspired by a contempt for his own country and the defenders of his country, he really believes it. We can't expect him to change his mind. And we shouldn't ask him to recant his faith. That would violate his freedom of conscience, one of our most cherished liberties.

What we can expect, is for the Democratic party to see that someone with beliefs like Senator Durbin's should not be in a position of leadership. But they won't. And hopefully in the next election they'll be disciplined by the voters for not disciplining their own ranks.

What I would like him to say is that he's sorry he gave aid and comfort to our enemies. His words will be used to inspire young men to kill Americans. But he can never admit to that and hope to keep his political career.

What's ironic is that all this criticism of Durbin is going to make him immensely more popular among the left wingers. And that means that the party leaders will start putting major efforts into rehabilitating his reputation as they have for Klansman Byrd. "Soul of the Senate" is taken. Maybe he can be "Soul of Gitmo".

Scale 7 Artifact, part 7


Exploration (part 5)

Later, everyone had dinner together in the lounge. The couch and chairs that were set up for viewing the big screen disappeared into the floor and a round table for twelve lowered from the ceiling, already adorned with elegant place settings. The center of the table was cut out for a holographic waiter who appeared as soon as everyone was seated to announced the special of the day: prime rib roasted in rock salt, dressed with fresh shredded horse radish and with young asparagus shoots on the side. For those who preferred lighter fair, there was crab-stuffed halibut, also served with asparagus. The waiter didn't announce any vegetarian, kosher or other specialized meals, by which Daniel inferred there was no one on the team who required them.

All of the food would be fresh, Daniel knew, grown on board the ship. On spacecraft that voyaged only a few months between stops, most of the fresh food would be grown with hydroponics. And a large part of the diet would be synthesized from algae. But since this ship was designed to voyage for generations, most of the fruits and vegetables would be grown in real dirt on the residential levels. The growing plants served two purposes: they made food, and they made the environment seem more natural. The fish were grown in an aquarium. Since halibut are ocean-going fish that need to keep swimming constantly, they would be grown in the large saltwater aquarium that circled the ship. Even the prime rib would have come from a real cow grown on board the ship from a frozen embryo.

Daniel had the prime rib, medium rare: the only proper format. The food was prepared mostly by machines and served by robots that were basically just mobile trays with arms. The dinner conversation was animated and most of the group were drunk with excitement, but Daniel was quiet, thinking.

There was something odd about the data. For one thing it was too hard to find. A simple date search ought to be able to get all the research material written in the last few months, but the ships received a gigabyte a day from Earth, and there didn't seem to be a way to look for material generated only on the starships. That was a serious oversight in the search program, so Daniel filed a bug report. Beyond that, it ought to be possible to narrow down the search with keywords, but that didn't seem very effective. To much junk. And once you did find a report from ship scientists on Moon 3, it often turned out to be dense and hard to read, contain little actual information, and repeat much of what was in other reports. If the scientists had deliberately set out to make their work inaccessible, they could hardly have done a better job.

This starship, the Santa Maria, was almost deserted. Daniel had taken a few moments to consult the ship's log and confirm that there were no more than three hundred people awake on the starship, and apparently no one else on this entire level. But the other two starships had nearly full complements and that's where all the research was going on. Four of the people in this room had originally been in other ships and they had been transferred to this ship while still in CISA. Why not revive them up on their original ship? It would have been less trouble to revive them where they were and then send them to the Santa Maria awake.

Why was the data from probes so scarce? Why had there been no manned visit to Moon 3 yet? Why no discussion of a manned visit? Why were the three starships hiding behind the gas giant furthest from the system instead of orbiting inside the Van Allen belt of the interesting planet? Why hadn't there been someone here to orient them when they woke up? Why were they left to figure out for themselves that the expedition had discovered alien life? Why had the medical technician that attended him been so reticent? What was going on?

Daniel tried half-heartedly to share his worries, but no one seemed interested. He could hardly blame them when there was so much exciting news to discuss. Daniel noticed that Zareda didn't have much to say either and he wondered if Zareda was sharing his reservations. He probed during a lull in the conversation.

"Zareda," they were all on a first-name basis by now, "You haven't said much. Couldn't find out anything interesting?"

Zareda paused so long before answering that Daniel began to wonder if he had heard. Finally he said, "I found out something interesting."

"What was it, Zar?" Peter asked him. "Did you discover the aliens?"

"No, nothing like that that."

"Something we would want to know?" Daniel asked.

"Yes." Zareda said. Then he added, almost as an after thought, "But it's pretty speculative. I'm not sure I should speak about it."

"Oh come on, Zareda." Jackie said, "Speculation is the sport of the day. Give it up."

By now the whole table was silent, waiting on Zareda's next words. He paused for a long time again, then he said, "I think I know why we were all woken up and teamed together."

"That's not much of a mystery, Zar," Peter said. "I'm a xenobiologist, Harold and Sarah are geologists. Daniel specializes in signal analysis. We were woken up to help study Moon 3."

"I'm a detective." Zareda answered. "Dr. Walenski --excuse me-- Jackie, is a medical engineer. Flareout is a technician. The three of us wouldn't be much use. And why are they teaming geologists with a biologist and a signal theorist?"

Peter looked at him with furrowed brows for a minute. Harold said, "OK, Zareda, you have our attention. What do you think we were woken up for?"

Zareda paused again, thinking, "Instead of sharing my speculation with you, why don't I just give you the data that led me to it?"

"Oh boy!" Peter said, "A game!"

"Yeah." Zareda said quietly. Another pause. "Let's go around the table and each tell you about ourselves. I'll start. By the time we get all the way back around to Daniel, let's see who has come to the same conclusion that I did."

"That's a great idea," said Daniel. "We've been talking so much about Moon 3 that we really haven't had time to learn very much about each other. Go ahead, Zareda."

There were more agreements from around the table. Zareda paused for a long time again. "Basically, I'm a police detective." He said. "But more than that, I do research on how to examine crime scenes, or any scene for that matter, in order to infer what has happened there. I learned to track as a small boy. I went to college and got a Master's degree in chemistry, specializing in analysis --the kinds you can do with portable equipment. After working as a detective for a couple of years, I went back to school to study biochemistry for two years. Then I got a degree in archeology and did some field work to learn their techniques of reconstructing sites. A lot of my field work was underwater, in lakes and wells high in the Andes. I've done criminal investigation work all over the Earth, much of it in very rugged areas." Zareda stopped, looking at the table. "Well, that's it."

"Hmm." Peter was next in line. "I'm thinking we were woken up to investigate a crime. One that involves alien life? Because like I said, I'm a xenobiologist. I study unusual forms of life and search for life in places where it doesn't seem to exist."

Peter seemed to be done, but Zareda prompted him for more, "You also have an MD."

"Yes, I did my residency in surgery, but I only practiced for a year before I went into xenobiology."

"Still, you could do surgery now if it were needed."

"I guess." Peter looked at Zareda, wondering what he was getting at. "If there were no one else who could do it."

"And tell us about your field work." Zareda said.

"Well," Peter was getting really curious now. "I've done field work all over the Earth and some on Venus."

"Your Earth field work was in some pretty harsh environments, right?"

"Yeah. Try the peaks of the Andes and Himalayas, the bottom of the Marianas trench. Some underwater caves in salt mines. Some live volcanic craters."

"OK, what about you, Jackie?" Zareda looked to his next witness.

"Well, I'm not any kind of scientist," she started. "Well, I guess I am in a way. I'm an MD too, a medical engineer. I specialize in diagnosis of new and rare diseases. Harold and I have traveled all over the backcountry on Earth and some on the Moon and Mars. Sometimes we travel for his job and sometimes for mine."

When Jackie finished, Zareda again prompted for more, "What else can you do besides diagnosis?"

"I did my residency in emergency medicine. And I've done my share of emergency care." Jackie seemed about to stop, but she looked at Zareda and anticipated his question, "I also have a degree in linguistics. I've done some language research as a hobby and I speak ten languages. And I'm an aircraft pilot with lots of flying qualifications." Jackie kept looking at Zareda as if trying to read if he wanted more, then she settled back and Zareda looked at her husband.

Daniel felt a surge of adrenalin as he suddenly realized where Zareda was going.

Harold was next. He was still trying to figure it out. "Let's see. Everyone so far has multiple specialties. Is that part of the mystery?" Zareda shrugged noncommittally so Harold continued, "I'm a mining engineer. Degrees in geology and physics. Been all over the world with Jackie. Mine engineering problems. Toxic sites. Geothermal heat problems. Things like that. Of course, I spent a lot of time sitting around sipping margaritas while the old lady doctored people too."

"You don't really sit around, though." Zareda prompted.

Harold said, "No, not really. I do outdoor sports. Diving, hiking, caving, rock climbing. Oh, and I'm a pilot like Jackie. We both have lots of high-level qualifications."

"Oh my gosh!" Sarah exclaimed suddenly. She had figured it out too. Everyone else stared at her as if trying to read her mind, but she put her hands over her mouth and said no more. Her eyes were big as saucers and Daniel thought he could see her trembling.

"What about you, Primetech?" Zareda prompted.

"I am a spacecraft technician and pilot." Flareout shrugged. "I have no scientific background unless you count my interest in cybernetics. I've been involved in the design of some cybernetic systems, but I have no degrees. I've been planet-side all over the Solar system. Not much on Earth. Like the rest of you, I have multiple skills. In fact, I was quite widely considered the most versatile spacer in the System." He nodded at Sarah next to him, "Sarah was building up quite a reputation too. Everyone expected her to become the youngest primetech in history, but she split her time with college and never passed journeyman status."

"It never would have happened anyway," Sarah protested through her knuckles. She became conscious of her hands and put them down in her lap. "Those old guys weren't going to let a girl be a master technician before she even turned thirty, no matter how qualified I was." She looked around and realized it was her turn anyway, so she continued, "I'm a journeyman in all seven spacetech fields and I have a Master's degree in planetology. I mostly specialized in atmospherics. I've done field work in Antarctica and on Mars." She stopped. Obviously her mind was on something else.

Daniel was next. "I'm a philosophy professor," he said to throw them off. "Before that, I had bachelor degrees in both electronics and biology. I worked for Army intelligence. Some of it was reverse-engineering devices, but mostly it was field work, spying on factories and other high-tech installations. I became interested in the abstract nature of functionality. How do you tell whether some effect is accidental or intentional? After I, er, left the Army I got a Ph.D. in philosophy and wrote an artificial program to detect organization. After that, I went around openly spying, trying to improve my program. When I got too old for field work, I got a degree in linguistics. Language is another place where there are both accidental and functional features, so I could continue my research from an armchair."

Daniel was about to stop but he realized there was still a piece missing, so he continued before Zareda could prompt him, "Also, I volunteered for an experimental medical procedure that was carried out while I was in suspended animation. It seems that there are a lot of potential CISA-related medical procedures that are hard to experiment with because the patient has to be in CISA for months or years. So they took this trip as an opportunity to ask for volunteers for experimentation. I volunteered. While I was frozen, they did some major nanosurgery on me. Nanobots rebuilt my joints and some major blood vessels and reinforced my bones and tendons. In some ways, I'm physically tougher now than I was at twenty."

"How can I get that surgery?" Peter asked, "You're ready to..." Suddenly he stopped speaking and his eyes became as wide as Sarah's.

Sarah couldn't contain herself any longer. She got up from the table and paced in a small area, fluttering her hands like she was trying to shake water off of them, saying, "Oh my gosh. Oh my gosh."

Peter suddenly got a big grin on his face, yelled "Yahoo!" and jumped up from his chair. "Yes! Yes!"

Harold was glaring back and forth between Sarah and Peter. "What?" he shouted. "Give it up!"

Peter stopped capering long enough to grab Harold's face in his hands, "Harry! Write home to mom. Tell you are going to be one of the first people to land on Moon 3."

Daniel could see Harold's mind digesting the comment. Everyone in this room had at least two different skills useful for exploring a planet with alien life. All had extensive field experience, much of it in hostile environments. There were three pilots, two doctors, and two highly qualified ship's technicians. This team had been designed to be self-sufficient in a hostile environment. It had been designed for planetary exploration. Harold's face lit up with understanding. He leaped up, almost hitting the ceiling in the low gravity, and began dancing with Peter.

As the team started celebrating, Daniel remained pensive. He was thinking about his own role in the expedition. He had a degree in biology, true, but his work in that area was pretty minimal. Surely they could have found someone better qualified to explore alien biology. No, Daniel's real specialties were in two areas: technology and language. And there was Zareda's secondary specialty: archeology. And Jackie's secondary specialty, language. Only one thing could require specialists in language, technology, and archeology. And although there were hints, why had they found nothing in all the research that plainly said it? Someone, somewhere --the unknown people who had organized this group-- had put together a team to encounter alien intelligence.

Sarah grabbed Daniel's hands and tugged him from his chair to share her excitement. He tried to put his worries aside for her. After all, it looked like one day soon, he would be exploring an alien moon. He wondered if it would be as exciting as it sounded.


Wednesday, June 22, 2005

the Terri Schiavo autopsy

Donald Crankshaw has a great post on the Terri Schiavo autopsy. I didn't think there was anything interesting to say about it, but he found something.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

flying colors

Where I sit in my office, I see planes coming in for landings at the San Francisco Airport. Just now I saw a plane painted all over in baby blue and yellow. I've never seen such an ugly plane before. I wonder what airline would do that to an innocent airplane.

those pesky memos

I'm a bit behind on this story, but I just read my first anti-Bush rant based on those British government memos. Greg Palast thinks this is the smoking gun that ought to get Bush impeached. My question is: even if the memo actually was as damning as Palast's exaggerated rhetoric claims, even if it did come right out and say that Bush ordered up fake intelligence to support his pernicious need to go to war with innocent little Saddam, why would it be any kind of "smoking gun"?

It's just a memo. It's the opinion of some British functionary that no one has ever heard of. Sure, maybe he was an insider during the process, but does that make him immune to partisanship and subjective reporting? Millions of people are firmly convinced to their very souls that George Bush is evil incarnate and that he did all these awful things. Just because one of these people happens to work for the British government and to have written a memo expressing his heartfelt opinion, does that make it a fact?

This is just more grasping at straws by a group of people who have given up any claim to intellectual respectability.

how can you not despise America?

People get really bent out of shape when they are told that they hate and despise America. They deny it stridently. But how can they believe the things they believe about America and not hate it? How can they not despise the loathsome country they describe whenever they talk about America?

Take Richard Durbin, the second highest Democrat position in the US Senate, who recently compared the US military prison at Guantanamo to Soviet gulags. When he was criticized, he "apologized" by saying that he was misunderstood. He never said that Guantanamo isn't comparable to a gulag, only that everyone had misunderstood him. He didn't offer an alternative reading, and his defenders seem to have understood him the same way his detractors did.

So here we seem to have a wide-spread belief that America tortures prisoners as a matter of course. And not only at Guantanamo, also in Iraq where senior Democratic Senator Kennedy says the US committed torture and then whitewashed the investigation. How can you not despise a nation that behaves so?

None of this would have been an issue if we hadn't gotten into the Iraq war in the first place. Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said that the war in Iraq was "blood for oil", copying a very popular slogan of the anti-war types. Kennedy said that the war was a fraud echoing the sentiments of a lot of people who had been saying so for a long time. This group has recently been excited to find what they consider proof of their claims.

Most of the anti-war people believe that America tortures and murders prisoners and callously bombs and kills civilians. They blame George Bush, but after a long election with all this irrefutable evidence about how George Bush lied us into war for oil or to defend the terrorist nation of Israel or for some other nefarious purpose, the people still re-elected him. What else can you feel for such a country than utter contempt?

But Iraq is only the latest horror. According to many of these people, America brought 9/11 on ourselves by our policies in the rest of the world. Our policies are so grotesque that they actually justified, or at least reasonably motivated the mass murder of thousands of civilians in response. Can you have any good feelings toward a country that has had such policies for generations?

And that's just our recent ignoble history. What about Vietnam and Korea and the other Cold War actions where America stood in the way of social justice and equality for our imperialistic ambitions? Our selfish geopolitical warfare against the peaceful Soviets cause warfare all over the world, held back social progress, and brought the world to the brink of utter destruction in a nuclear holocaust. Meanwhile, America was purging all political dissent, ruining the lives of innocent activists who only wanted to make life better for the working man, and sending innocent nonconformists to prison on trumped up charges of espionage. You have to be angry about all that.

And that's just recent foreign policy. What about the way that religious fanatics are taking over the country, eliminating freedom of speech and trying to force their Christianity on everyone else, oppressing minority groups and encouraging violence against gays and abortion providers? These awful people are numerous enough to elect a president and control congress. Don't you have to despise a country that is made up of such people?

It's been like that for the entire history of the country. Before gays, there was oppression of black Americans in one of the worst episodes of national racism in recent history. Black people were lynched almost daily, all over the country, to the cheering of massive crowds and the nodding approval of the clergy. Before that, women were enslaved and forced to do the wills of their husbands who mistreated and abused them. Even today, one out of three women is raped in this country during their life. And poor working people are abused by evil corporations who use them up and throw them out. Corporations used to have people killed on a regular basis, just for trying to form a union. What a loathsome history.

Before that, America acquired all of its territory through genocide. They used to give smallpox-infected blankets to the natives to kill them off through disease. Then they sent the troops out to lay waste to the native population, leveling villages and killing all the women and children. What a despicable past.

And of course American slavery was one of the worst blights in the history of mankind. In other cultures, slavery was really more of an extended family arrangement where the owner cared for the slaves. Only in America did the potential for abuse flower into the enormous brutality of beatings, rapes, tearing families apart, maiming people who tried to escape, and working people to death. You have to revile the country that invented such a brutal custom.

I could go on a lot longer, but you get the idea. If you believe everything the left believes, and if you have any sense of moral outrage at all, you have to despise America. You don't have any moral choice. How can you not abhor such an oppressive, brutal, warmongering, racist, bigoted, hate-filled, theocratic horror of a country?

I would. What kind of a monster wouldn't?

Monday, June 20, 2005


The new Storyblogging Carnival is up. Go check out all the stories.

In his comment to my entry, Donald blames me for all the cliffhangers in Eyes in the Shadow. Pretty low if you ask me, blaming the victim.

light blogging

Well, it's been light blogging the last couple of days. I'll try to put up something Monday.

I did mention that I was going to be playing Half-Life 2, remember? Think of it as a vacation.