Saturday, October 08, 2005


Oops. I forgot to announce the Storyblogging Carnival again. This week it's over at Tales by Sheya.

This is the time to dust off those dusty diskettes with old stories that will never see the light of day if you don't post them on your blog. Unfortunately, you only have until midnight tonight to submit entires for this week's carnival, but there is always the next one two weeks from now.

Scale 7 Artifact, part 13


Journey (part 3)

Daniel was feeling pleased with himself as he glided down the walkway of the Enterprise. The interplanetary lander was shaped like a large airliner, with atomic rocket engines on the wings, powered by atomic reactors at the wing tips, far from any human-occupied areas of the ship. In addition, there was a tail fin nearly as long as the wings, with its own engine and another reactor at the tip. The tail engine was only used for redundancy during in-air flight.

The airliner design allowed the spacecraft to work much more efficiently in air, making it a planetary exploration craft as well as a lander. Also, airliners don't rely entirely on downward thrust to land, so they don't land in a radioactive pool of molten rock as a large tail-landing atomic space-craft would do.

The main problem with the airliner design is that when the ship is in air, the gravity is in the direction of the ship's belly, but when the ship is under power in space, gravity is in the direction of the ship's tail. Depending on what the ship is doing, a given bulkhead may be either a deck or a wall.

Mere orbital landers do not have to deal with this problem; instead, they have seats arranged for air travel. The passengers simply lie on their backs during the short periods of acceleration in free fall. Such a solution worked for ships that only spent short times in free fall, but for interplanetary landers such as the Enterprise, people had to work and live in space as well as on the ground.

Most makes of lander solved the problem by having furniture and other fixtures that worked in either orientation. Much of it had to be moved when the ship went from one mode to another. A few never-built designs had entire rooms that rotated, but such ships would have far too much dry mass to make practical space craft.

The Enterprise used a different solution. Instead of a fixed direction of thrust and a rotating interior, the Enterprise had a fixed interior and a rotating direction of thrust. When accelerating in free fall, the Enterprise would rotate the engines on her wings to point downward, or what would be downward if the spacecraft were landed. In effect, the Enterprise flew upward through space instead of forward.

About halfway through the trip, the pilot would shut off the engines rotate 180 degrees to point the ship's belly at her destination, and then fire up the engines to decelerate. For the passengers, gravity was always in the same direction, whether it came from acceleration or deceleration, or from a planet or moon.

As Daniel wandered down the upper corridor along the spine of the Enterprise, a hand reached out and snatched him into a hydroponic bay. It was Jackie. She closed the hatch behind him with a muffled click.

"Daniel," she told him, "I just want to let you know that you don't have to do anything about Peter."

"What makes you think I'm going to do anything about Peter?" Daniel asked innocently.

"I've seen the way you look when he pesters Sarah," Jackie said. "You look like you've bit into a lemon..."

"I like lemons." Daniel interrupted. "A good sour slice of lemon with a bit of salt..."

"Very funny." Jackie interrupted him back. "Look, I know you were about to go all daddy-doesn't-want-you-messing-with-my-little-girl on Peter."

Daniel grinned. "Damn straight. Except that it would be more 'granpa' than 'daddy'. And granpa knows how to assemble a cattle prod from some of the exploratory equipment. But thanks. I'm glad you were able to take care of it without the testosterone issues."

"You're welcome. I'll bet by the time we make moon-fall those two will be an item."

"What? Didn't you tell Peter to leave Sarah alone?"

"Of course not!" Jackie said. "I gave him some advice on how to approach Sarah without putting her off."

"But that's all wrong! Sarah likes Zareda! Peter is an interloper!"

"But Zareda obviously doesn't like Sarah. She needs to move on."

"Bah." Daniel waved his hand dismissively, "The kid just needed a little kick in the pants. He's going to be all over that girl by the end of the week. Trust me."

"You didn't encourage Zareda to court Sarah!" Jakie said, shocked, "You couldn't be that stupid!"

"Yes I ... ah ... could?"

"Do you want two young men going after the same young woman on a small ship like this? Are you nuts?"

"Well ..."

"Zareda was willing to step out. Peter won't!"

"Well, Peter needs to ..."

"What possible excuse could you have for doing such a moronic thing?"

"I ahh..." Daniel trailed off.

"Well? What possible excuse can you have?" Jackie tapped her foot, glaring at Daniel. When Daniel didn't answer for a moment, she prompted, "Well?"

"Sarah likes Zareda." Daniel said.

"Oh. I see." Jackie said sternly. "Some cute young girl hugs you and calls you 'Danny' and cuddles up against you on the couch, and you are ready to endanger one of the most significant missions in human history just to make her happy. Is that about the size of it?"

"Well ..." Daniel hesitated. "Yes."

Jackie threw up her hands in frustration.

"So," Daniel said, "You are just going to have to go back to Peter and tell him to lay off. Sarah likes Zareda."

"No," Jackie said, "You are going to have to go back to Zareda and tell him to lay off, because Peter made the first move."

"Bah. It's not a move until Sarah says it's a move." Daniel said stubbornly. "You saw the way she..."

"Enough!" Jackie held up her hands. "We are going to..."


"Whoops. Gotta go!" Daniel announced.

Daniel quickly popped open the hatch and ducked his head to leave but Jackie grabbed his coveralls by the utility loop. "Not so fast, mister." she said ominously.

Daniel had just begun to consider his options when he saw his salvation walking down the corridor. "Harold!" he called. "Your wife has abducted me. For what nefarious purposes I can only imagine. I demand, sir, that you speak to her about her felonious disposition."

Harold laughed and Jackie let go of Daniel who slipped the rest of the way out of the bay.

Harold poked his head into the bay to see Jackie, who was not laughing. "Dear, what did we agree about kidnapping our fellow crewmen?" Jackie turned her glare from Daniel to her husband. Harold visibly flinched and turned to Daniel, saying seriously, "Sir, the situation appears fraught with peril. I implore you to retreat with all haste and leave me to cover the rear."

"You will be remembered in song and story for your valor." Daniel assured him. He offered a sloppy solute and turned toward the galley.

Behind him, Daniel heard Jackie, "That's not funny, Harold. I wasn't finished speaking with Dr. Greaves."

"You will have time to browbeat him later," her husband consoled her. But we have been ordered to a meeting and ..." the rest was lost to distance.


Tom Harrison mentions pre-algebra and my first thought was "Pre-algebra? Isn't that also called 'long division'?" It's funny, but I can't remember any mathematics between fourth grade (long division) and seventh grade (algebra). We must have had some math in fifth and sixth grade, but I can't remember it. I can remember the teachers: fifth grade: Miss Chriswell, who was pretty and nice and I had a crush on; sixth grade: Mrs. Griffin who was even meaner than Mrs. Jordan, my third-grade teacher. Or was Mrs. Griffin my nice, older fourth-grade teacher? I can't remember the name for sure, but I can picture her. I remember her like she was twisting my ear yesterday.

I can vaguely remember various other subjects we learned in fifth and sixth grade, but I don't remember math. Did we just skip math for two years?

This is going to be bothering me for a week.

is George Bush brilliant?

I don't normally dream about Supreme Court picks, but I've been pondering the nomination of Harriet Miers, and early this morning I woke up with a sudden thought that was so startling, I had to get up and blog about it.

First, I couldn't care less that Miers didn't go to an Ivy-League law school nor have previous experience as a judge –except for the lack of paper trail, and under normal circumstances her lack paper trail would be a minor problem. What really has been bothering me about Miers is the fact that Harry Reid supports her. For reasons I outlined earlier, the lack of a paper trail makes Harry Reid's support especially ominous. And the lack of paper trail, combined with Reid's support makes every hint of liberalism worrying.

But what if there were a completely different explanation for Harry Reid's support? What if Harry Reid is supporting Miers, not because he knows something about her that we don't know but because he has noticed something that is sitting out there in plain sight? A reason that everyone else is just ignoring?

What is Reid's essential problem? He is worried that for the rest of his tenure in office, he will be forced to openly support and vote for unpopular social reforms like gay marriage because there will be no unelected leftist Supreme Court to force the reforms on an unwilling populace. He is worried that George Bush's eight years in office will have consequences that will last for generations.

Harry Reid is in an untenable position. He has tried to stave off disaster so far by bluster and filibluster*, but he has to be aware that this issue is helping Republicans, and he has to be worried about a rule change that will end his obstructionist tactics permanently. And so far, Reid has completely failed in his efforts to force George Bush to nominate judges that Reid would find acceptable.

So what's the best likely case for Harry Reid and the other Democrats and RINOs that have supported Miers? It is a Bush-type Supreme Court pick who won't be there very long. Then, they can always hope to win back the presidency and Senate in time to replace whoever Bush puts in there.

I speculate that this is Bush's brilliant compromise –he nominates someone who isn't likely to be on the court long, someone who is already advanced in age. Bush gets the kind of justice he wants, and Harry Reid and Co. get the hope of replacing her soon with someone more to their liking.

I speculate that Bush's little session of advice and consent with Reid went something like this: "OK, here's the deal. I've decided to nominate Harriet Miers, a pro-life strict constructionist who is sixty years old. If that nomination gets filibustered or stalled in committee, I'll just give up on her and and nominate a pro-life strict constructionist who is forty-five years old. Now, Reidster, can I have your support on Harriet Miers?

Reid said, "Harriet? I love Harriet. Sweetest old lady lawyer I've ever met. Couldn't be happier."

This nomination puts the Democrats in the uncomfortable position of having to choose between a good tactical move and good strategic move. Supporting Miers is a good tactical move because it minimizes the bad consequences for them. But it is a lousy strategic move because after they let the conservative Church Lady from Texas sail through the nomination process, they are going to look silly opposing every other conservative Christian that comes up (the strategic consequences will be mitigated by the MSM, which will actively protect the Democrats from being perceived as hypocrites).

I'm still not thrilled with the nomination because I wanted a fight to end the presumption against pro-life strict constructionist candidates, but all in all, I'm now feeling a lot better about things.
* filibluster: a filibuster where you only have to threaten to debate endlessly and you don't actually have to do it.

Friday, October 07, 2005

trusting Bush

UPDATE: Additional considerations have made me far less pessimistic about this nomination.

Stanley Kurtz (via Volokh) points out that Miers, the woman nominated for the Supreme Court, was involved in creating a lecture series in a woman's studies department. Furthermore, she did it in the 90's, after she had left the Democratic Party. This raises the question of whether she is sympathetic to the radical feminist agenda.

What could be a minor oddity becomes a serious problem because we have no objective way to know how Miers will behave on the Court, so any sign that she has sympathies for the left is a sign that she has sympathies for leftist reinvention of the Constitution.

Again, we really have nothing to fall back on except for the word of people who know her. People like George Bush and Harry Reid who are both enthusiastic about her. But this is a conflict, no? Bush has nominated some very good people for the courts. Reid has opposed some very good people. Their stated views in what they want in a justice are polar opposites. Yet they agree on Miers. What are we to make of this? Is Miers really more of a Bush nominee or a Reid nominee? Or is she somewhere in between?

Consider this: Bush has, ever since he became governor of Texas, constantly tried to befriend Democrats and RINOs. He has always been looking for a compromise where everyone comes out good. He kept several Clinton Democrats on his staff and three of them have caused him serious trouble. Bush has been pals with Clinton and he tried to be pals with Kennedy. He let Kennedy distort and then take credit for his No Child Left Behind program. Bush supported Specter in a primary election against a true conservative. He seriously considered nominating Alberto Gonzales to the Supreme Court, a man who favors affirmative action and has other RINO legal ideas.

Harry Reid has been implacably partisan. He has done everything possible to prevent conservative justices from being appointed. He threatened to shut down the Senate rather than let any conservatives on the court. He has demanded over and over that nominees swear allegiance to Roe v. Wade as a precondition for sitting on any federal court and has never hinted at any willingness to seek a compromise or amicable solution. It's his way or no way.

Now, assuming that both men really know Miers and that she didn't manage to fool one of them, which one do you think is more likely to have compromised on this issue? Which one do you think stuck implacably to his political ideals and which one do you think let it slide a little? If one of them loosened up his ideals on behalf of a pal, which one would it be? Bush is the compromiser in this pair. Bush is the one who only sees good in people. Heck, Bush thought that Puttin had a good heart. Can you really trust Bush's judgment about his friends?

And even if they did meet in the middle, where would that middle be? Where is the middle between a man who thinks that the constitution subliminally encodes a fundamental right to pull an eight-month old fetus half-way out of a woman's womb and scramble its brains with an ice pick and a man who considered nominating Alberto Gonzales? The middle ground between those two is no one I want sitting on the Supreme Court.

Some people who know a lot more about the law and courts than I do think we can trust Bush in this area. I just don't think we can trust Bush, period.

political prosecution

Roscoe has some hard evidence that the prosecution of Delay is politically motivated.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

smart people

I saw "The Prince and Me" on cable a few nights ago. There was one scene where the scientifically-dull-but-culturally-smart prince is trying to explain the concept of metaphor to the scientifically-smart-but-culturally-dull maiden. It struck me as extraordinarily unlikely that someone, especially a woman, who was smart enough to go to medical school would not understand the concept of non-literal speech. In fact the whole scene was slightly ridiculous: a man explaining to a very intelligent woman that sometimes "the sun" doesn't really mean the sun.

I've seen similar scenes in other movies, but in those other movies the dullard who doesn't grasp the concept of non-literal speech was a genuine dullard (or at least a career under-achiever) so that the scene was believable. In this case it was just silly. It was just tacked on as an excuse for why the maiden would have anything but contempt for the prince: "He's lazy, selfish, and dumb, but he can explain Shakespeare! Oh be still, my fluttering heart!"

I'm not sure what to attribute this failure in the screenplay to. Is it that the screenplay writer was just not bright enough to convincingly portray a very bright character? Is it the result of a stereotype of smart or scientifically-inclined people, that they are computer-like and don't get the full richness of art?

Speaking for myself, as a very smart and scientifically-inclined person, I "don't get the full richness of art" if by that you mean that I don't see what's so great about Shakespeare (or Rembrandt or Mozart). But it isn't because I don't get it, it's just that I don't find it particularly enjoyable.

It amuses me how often in stories, love of Shakespeare is used as a measure of character. When a character learns to appreciate Shakespeare, that shows personal growth. I'd be more impressed by a character who learns to love Gilligan's Island. Now that would be a sign of personal growth.

On a related note: has anyone seen the show "Numbers"? It's about a family that includes a lawyer, a mathematician, a physicist, and some other "really smart people"(TM). I think the show is intended to appeal to geeks and to women who are turned on by really smart guys (which, I can tell you from personal experience is a tiny demographic).

As a man who likes math and science and would be interested in a detective show that deals with those things, I'd like to say that "Numbers" is an abomination. The mathematics is lame and the efforts to show how these really smart people apply math and science to their romantic lives is maudlin, insipid, and downright painful to watch.

I suspect that the problem with "Numbers" is another instance of writers who aren't themselves bright enough to believably portray very bright characters. Or maybe the screenplays are written by very bright people who don't understand dialog. It's probably all that non-literal stuff that throws them.

Monday, October 03, 2005

like father like son

Don't let anyone tell you that George Bush didn't learn a valuable lesson from his father's presidency. Remember "read my lips; no new taxes"? At least this George Bush waited until his second term to break the campaign promise that got him elected. Bush's promise, of course, was to nominate justices like Scalia.

UPDATE: In reading around the blogosphere I've concluded that I was too quick on the draw. Those contributions to the Democrats were back in the eighties. Lots of good people left the Democratic party during the eighties in response to the Democrats gradual radicalization. Miers may well have been one of them. And as Hugh Hewitt points out, the president knows her views.

This is another nomination that will just have to remain in doubt until we see her decisions on the Court. That in itself is a bad thing. The party that controls both houses of Congress and the presidency should not have to nominate stealth candidates.

Unlike some of the other blogosphereans, I couldn't care less that she didn't go to Harvard or Yale and didn't have some impressive clerkship. Those things tell you more about a person's ambition than about their intelligence or judgment. I don't think we will suffer by having someone a little less personally ambitious on the Supreme Court.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

who is my neighbor?

Luke 10:25-29:
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"

"What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?"

He answered: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself."

"You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live."

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"
Jesus, as he so often did, "answered" the question with a parable that didn't actually answer the question. Instead, the parable showed what it would mean to love one's neighbor. Ever since then, Christians have struggled with the question of who our neighbor is.

This question isn't just for Christians. All men who want to be good instinctively understand this law of God: that we should love our neighbor. As a Christian, I view this as largely a struggle within Christianity, but in order to make this accessible to non-Christians, I'll describe it instead as a struggle of civilization against barbarism. I think either description is apt.

So we all know what it is to be good, we have to love our neighbor. Which means we have to love all other human beings. But this is too hard; no human can live up to it. So sometimes, instead of struggling with the impossible, we try to distort what we know is right in order to find something that is not right but is achievable. So we constantly seek to narrow the scope of who our neighbor is, to dehumanize those that prove inconvenient to love. This way we can fail to love without failing to be good.

In Europe, civilization fought against tribalism: the idea that our neighbors are just the members of our tribe and everyone else is less than human. Many cultures around the world still struggle with this form of barbarism. The moral justification of slavery was also, at its core, a dehumanization, a failure to recognize that slaves were our neighbors. The West (meaning Christian Europe and her children) defeated tribalism and slavery in a series of wars. But we didn't defeat them in all places or for all time and both slavery and tribalism still exist.

As we were fighting tribalism and slavery, we saw the rise of nationalism and Marxism and racism: the dehumanization of others based on nation, class or race. Again, we fought against these pernicious doctrines, through hot and cold wars and at the ballot box. And we mostly won, although these doctrines are still around, ready to flower when conditions are right.

But getting men to love their neighbors is like herding cats. As soon as you round up one escapee, three more dart out of the herd. Even as we were defeating nationalism, Marxism and racism, we saw the renewed flowering of some of the most ancient ways of dehumanizing people --barbaric doctrines that we thought we had stamped out a thousand years ago, about how the old or the infirm, or the very young do not live lives that are valuable in themselves, but only as they relate to others.

Oh, we're better than the ancients of course. It used to be that when someone got too old or too sick to be useful, you would just toss them out of the city and let them die of exposure. Now we worry much about how much pain they are in and ask if they would like to die instead. Or if they are unable to communicate, we leave the decision up to family members. And of course where the ancients might kill a child just after birth if they didn't want it, we only kill children just before birth. That few minutes before the head comes out of the womb makes all the difference in whether you are a barbarian you know.

However, not all anti-human doctrines result from a too-narrow understanding of who my neighbor is; others result from too wide an understanding. What good does it do to love your neighbor if you love your money and comfort more? Sure, I'd like to jump in and help that poor drowning man, after all he's my neighbor and I love him, but my clothing would be ruined and I'd be soaking and cold besides. Loving your neighbor means nothing unless you love your neighbor more than you love other things.

The twentieth century saw the growth of some of these too-wide doctrines. The environmental movement has morphed into a religion where people put Life or The Environment on the same level as human beings. The Earth is their neighbor and in some cases they love the Earth more than they love their human neighbors. Many people have died as a result of policies intended to preserve the environment or save species from extinction.

Others think that pet animals are their neighbors, or even all animals. I once new a couple who both said that if they had a choice between saving the life of their own dog or the life of someone else's child, they would pick the dog. Not only were they not ashamed of this view, they were positively outraged that I was shocked about it. It was obvious to them that their dog was just as valuable as a human being. This doctrine is every bit as barbaric as racism or Marxism; perhaps more so, because a racist at least loves the members of his own race more than he loves animals.

I don't know that people have died yet because of this pro-animal barbarism, but people have certainly gone to prison over it. Even shooting a sick dog in your back yard can get you in trouble these days.

You don' t even have to kill an animal to go to prison. Just watch any episode of Animal Precinct. You will see some pathetically neglected animal being pulled out of someone's yard and then see the owner taken away in handcuffs. Now, I get angry when I see those mistreated animals. I feel badly for them. But animals end up like that all the time in the wild. A horse that breaks its leg or a dog that gets its bowels twisted up is going to die horribly.

In fact, most animals in the wild eventually get too old or sick to eat, and they die pretty much like those poor neglected animals --unless they get lucky and fall to some predator that strangles them to death or rips their belly open. You have to compare the fates of neglected animals, not to the fates of people, but to what nature had in store for them.

And you have to look at the people too. Do you really think that someone who lets an animal suffer like that is really all there? These people they take away in handcuffs always seem to me to be a little bit insane or drugged-out or just not very bright. They just weren't capable of caring for an animal and they didn't have the judgment to see that they weren't capable. Many of them probably looked at the starving, sore-covered animals and didn't even see anything wrong. Is it really right to send someone to prison just for being too out of it to care for their property as they should have?

And others may have been all there but just don't see animals as people. Maybe the person grew up on a farm or used to be a butcher, or has some other background that prevented him from ever developing this sappy animals-are-people-too viewpoint that the laws are based around. In such cases, the law is actually sending these people to prison for their opinions.

Fines may be appropriate. Maybe some required education. And maybe even prison for repeat offenders. But what is lacking in these animal cruelty cases is a clear perspective on the essential difference between people and animals. People are our neighbors. And that drugged-out, inept, stupid person is infinitely more valuable than the animal he mistreated. A man who has no empathy for animals is also infinitely more valuable than the animal. The law needs to take that into account.

Now, Xrlq has accused me (in the update) of being heartless because I'm not willing to take money from other people by force and use it to rescue animals and because I do not want to use resources to rescue animals while people are still in danger. I am not heartless. It is not that I don't care about animals. Rather, I have a proper sense of just how precious a thing a human being is, and just how far an animal is from that exalted status.

People are my neighbors. Animals are not.

UPDATE: I made some edits to clarify my thesis

emergency animal control

Bill Quick posted a video clip (link from Xrlq) of dogs being shot by police in New Orleans (or so he says, one commenter makes me doubt this, but I didn't want to see video of a dog being shot so I haven't looked). He wants us to call the mayor. Presumably to save all the poor doggies.

Now look. I like dogs. I had two pet dogs as a kid and I spent more time with them than any of my siblings did. Heck, they were two of my best friends. But Bill and his commenters are going off the deep end. One commenter is just terribly disturbed at
the thought that someone can cold-bloodedly kill something as innocent as a dog
Good grief, people. Get a grip. Thousands of animals just as innocent as your pet dog are killed everyday to make your hamburgers and chicken sandwiches and leather shoes.

These are animals. If animals are as important as people, then people are no more important than animals.

And this isn't gratuitous killing. Dogs running around wild and hungry are extremely dangerous, especially to children. They quickly form into packs, and very quickly, any dog or human that isn't in the pack becomes the enemy. Yes, even your wonderful pet dog would quickly become a vicious predator and man-eater under the right circumstances. Dogs have no moral inhibitions.

Shooting those dogs may very well save lives. Considering what those dogs are eating and drinking, even one bite could kill someone from infection or disease.

UPDATE: Xrlq thinks I'm a heartless Republican. In his comment he says:
I always thought the bit about heartless Republicans being against cute puppies - or even against the people who own them - was some silly Democrat cliché. Apparently not.
First, I'm not a Republican and I don't know what the official Republican platform says about cute puppies. Second, I'm not heartless and I think Xrlq is actually smart enough to recognize the difference between a simple lack of empathy and an empathy tempered by reason.

So when he says
Maybe you think cops snatching a dog from a little boy and making him cry “Snowball! Snowball!” until he vomited was N.O.P.D’s finest hour
then I'd have to say, yes, it was a pretty fine moment for the NOPD. I assume it was as hard for those cops to do that as it would have been for me. I don't know if I could have done it at all.

But someone did have the guts to do it so I give him credit for that, just like I give credit to the rescue workers who can grab a little kid with severe acrophobia and carry him screaming his lungs out up to the helicopter in a sling. That can't be easy either, but you have to do hard things sometimes.

Bad things happen during a disaster. That's why it's called a "disaster".

Every seat taken by a pet on a rescue vehicle is a seat that is not avaialable for a person. All the vehicles and personel and equipment being used to rescue animals is not available to rescue people. I'm not willing to make that trade. I think every single rescue worker should be 100% dedicated to saving people as long as there are people whose lives are in danger.

Once the immediate emergency is over, then by all means, let animal rescue workers have a go along with jewelry store owners who want to save some of their merchandise and everyone else who wants to save property with special value. But it's always people first.