blueollie

Current Events in the Middle East: root causes

When I read about these sad events I was reminded of the following segment of the video The Root of all Evil:

(the relevant part starts after the Colorado segment ends and continues into the second segment)

Some of this is summed up here:

Under the terms of the Oslo Declaration of Principles signed in September l993, Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) agreed to settle the thorny issue of Jerusalem in the final stage of permanent status negotiations. This marks the first offi­cial recognition by the key parties of Jerusalem’s negotiability. What exactly was negotiable and to be negotiated about the issue was not yet specified or agreed, on paper or otherwise. A pre­dominant view outside of Israel was that negotiations must cover the core question of sovereignty. But before signing the Oslo Ac­cords in Washington Simon Peres, then Foreign Minister, stressed Israel’s recognition of Jerusalem’s religious significance to other groups and its continued commitment to securing freedom of ac­cess to and worship at the holy sites for all faiths.[1] The Israeli government under Prime Ministers Rabin, Peres and Netanyahu alike all continued or stepped up the policy of establishing a stra­tegic presence on the ground through land confiscations and Jewish settlement. It thus sought to undermine the Palestinian claim to a capital in the Arab sector, and to pre-empt future ne­gotiations on divided rule over the city. It made clear that Israel plans to stand by its traditional position that the city is the exclu­sive capital of the Jewish state: What would be discussed were solely “matters pertaining to united Jerusalem under Israeli sov­ereignty.”[2] As reflected in the l994 Israel-Jordan peace treaty, the Israeli government aimed to reduce the problem to a religious one involving Christian-Jewish-Muslim relations and the manage­ment of the holy sites. According to this view the permanent status negotiations would consider a religious solution for Jeru­salem, with the participation of both the Palestinians and repre­sentatives of “all the other religions.”[3]

In short, much of the problem has to do with, surprise, RELIGION.

The whole Root of All Evil DVD is well worth watching; I have a copy (from the Dawkins website) but here are some googlevideo copies:

As an aside, here is the 34 minute uncut interview between Dawkins and Bishop Harris.

December 31, 2008 Posted by | Middle East, politics, politics/social, ranting, religion, world events | 52 Comments

Comments on a Windy December 2008

The wind is howling up a storm outside; the temperature hit in the 40s today but that I will change for tomorrow’s New Year’s Eve 2-mile (3.2 km) run.

Football

Alamo Bowl Football

Last night’s game (Alamo Bowl) between Missouri and Northwestern was exciting. Northwestern was dominating the first half until Missouri hit a big punt return just prior to the half.

In the second half, Northwestern would take the lead and Missouri would respond; eventually the Tigers tied the Wildcats just before the game ended and so it went into overtime.

The Wildcats also missed an extra point; otherwise they gave a good account of themselves.

Humanitarian Bowl Football

I didn’t see much of the Humanitarian Bowl; I caught a few minutes (maybe 5-10?) of the first quarter. That was enough to see

1. A touchdown drive by Nevada.
2. A kickoff return for a touchdown
3. A botched kickoff which turned into an unintentional squib; this was returned to the Maryland 10 yard line.
4. Then Maryland intercepted the ball end the end zone
5. Then there was another touchdown; this time by Maryland followed by
6. A Nevada score.

The final ended up 42-35, Maryland. A benched starter ended up coming back into the game and went wild.

Holiday Bowl Football

Currently I have the Holiday Bowl (Oregon vs. Oklahoma State) on the TV and am watching the Texas Bowl (Rice vs. Western Michigan) on the internet. The Cowboys lead the Ducks 17-7 in the Holiday and the Owls lead the Broncos 24-0 in the Texas Bowl. The Owls are moving at will and stopping the Broncos effectively.

(photos from yahoo)

Science: here is a good article where the late Stephen Jay Gould’s views on evolution are explained. Note: the purpose of this article is to show that many of Gould’s critics didn’t bother to fully understand his arguments to begin with.

Politics
Disgraced and indicted governor Rod Blagojevich has selected Roland Burris for Barack Obama’s vacant Senate seat.

Here is Obama’s Statement:

“Roland Burris is a good man and a fine public servant, but the Senate Democrats made it clear weeks ago that they cannot accept an appointment made by a governor who is accused of selling this very Senate seat. I agree with their decision, and it is extremely disappointing that Governor Blagojevich has chosen to ignore it. I believe the best resolution would be for the Governor to resign his office and allow a lawful and appropriate process of succession to take place. While Governor Blagojevich is entitled to his day in court, the people of Illinois are entitled to a functioning government and major decisions free of taint and controversy,”

Harry Reid’s Statement (Senate Majority Leader, for now)

“It is truly regrettable that despite requests from all 50 Democratic Senators and public officials throughout Illinois, Gov. Blagojevich would take the imprudent step of appointing someone to the United States Senate who would serve under a shadow and be plagued by questions of impropriety. We say this without prejudice toward Roland Burris’s ability, and we respect his years of public service. But this is not about Mr. Burris; it is about the integrity of a governor accused of attempting to sell this United States Senate seat. Under these circumstances, anyone appointed by Gov. Blagojevich cannot be an effective representative of the people of Illinois and, as we have said, will not be seated by the Democratic Caucus.

Next week we will start one of the most important debates of the year – outlining an economic recovery plan to create jobs and invest in America. And in the coming weeks, we will be working to protect homeowners and consumers, make America more energy independent, strengthen our national security, and improve health care and educational opportunities. There is much work to do and a lot at stake. It is thus critical that Illinois and every other state have two seated Senators without delay.

“We again urge Gov. Blagojevich to not make this appointment. It is unfair to Mr. Burris, it is unfair to the people of Illinois and it will ultimately not stand. The governor must put the interests of the people of Illinois and all Americans first by stepping aside now and letting his successor appoint someone who we will seat.

What will (might) happen?

Jesse White (Illinois Secretary of State) might attempt to block the appointment, but probably lacks the authority to do so. If this attempt to block fails, there may be no legal way the Senate can refuse to seat him.

What a mess. I don’t like this at all.

Here is one view that Burris ought to NOT be opposed (frankly, I don’t like this appointment, not because I don’t like Mr. Burris but because this appointment is indeed tainted).

The legally elected, not convicted Governor of Illinois did his job today and made an appointment to the US Senate. He choose a man with no ilicit taint. I would contend that if you worked for 40 years in state politics, you would have made a campaign contribution at some time, perhaps when the under-indictment person was not yet under indictment. And if you worked for a political law firm, and your firm did its job well, you’d get some state contracts over the years. Big deal.

The Secretary of State says he won’t certify. The Senate says they will not accept. Bobby Rush makes a good point that the people of Illinois are entitled to their two senators, each of whom comprises 5% of the voting body of the Senate. Think about it, if that seat remains unfilled, and we lose something by ONE vote, is that biting off our nose to spite our face?

If the legislature gets its act in gear and schedules an election, and a Republican wins, is that so good for the Democrats?

I am really beside myself here. Rod Blagojevich is under indictment. All things being equal, he might not get to trial until after the end of his term. He might be impeached by the Illinois legislature, but that depends on what Patrick Fitzgerald is holding back, and whether he will tip his hand prior to trial. If you talk to lawyers about what the “evidence”, it seems somewhat lacking. Fitzgerald has a good track record of evidence, so he’s certainly got more than he’s disclosed. But no one has said that he will keep his position under a new Administration.

Rod said “the Senate seat is worth something.” And?

He cursed. And?

The legislature wants to impeach him because they don’t like him. And even if he is proven guilty, pay-to-play is new? This is virgin territory in Illinois or any other state?

More importantly, people are letting emotion stand in the way of a competent, experienced, good man from filling a seat. A compromise might be to let him have the seat temporarily until an election can be held in the summer or fall. In my mind, the taint on Blagojevich is nothing compared to the emotion of so many people who are letting their hatred of Rod colour their understanding that the people of Illinois have the right to representation.

Again, this is not my view; in fact, I disagree with it. But I thought it was stated well enough to be considered.

Religion and the “New Atheists”

Larry Moran was called out by the author of someone who is whining about the New Atheists. Andrew Brown is a Guardian writer and has a 6 question quiz to find out if someone is really a “new atheist”. I’ll go ahead and take it, just for grins.

1. There is something called “Faith” which can be defined as unjustified belief held in the teeth of the evidence. Faith is primarily a matter of false propositional belief.

I agree.

2. The cure for faith is science: The existence of God is a scientific question: either he exists or he doesn’t. “Science is the only way of knowing – everything else is just superstition” [Robert L. Park]

Agree for all practical purposes.

3. Science is the opposite of religion, and will lead people into the clear sunlit uplands of reason. “The real war is between rationalism and superstition. Science is but one form of rationalism, while religion is the most common form of superstition” [Jerry Coyne] “I am not attacking any particular version of God or gods. I am attacking God, all gods, anything and everything supernatural, wherever and whenever they have been or will be invented.” [Dawkins]

I’d say that religious claims are non-verifiable and therefore shouldn’t be taken seriously. I wouldn’t call it “opposite” though; “incompatible” would be a better term.

4. In this great struggle, religion is doomed. Enlightened common sense is gradually triumphing and at the end of the process, humanity will assume a new and better character, free from the shackles of religion. Without faith, we would be better as well as wiser. Conflict is primarily a result of misunderstanding, of which Faith is the paradigm. (Looking for links, I just came across a lovely example of this in the endnotes to the Selfish Gene, where lawyers are dismissed as “solving man-made problems that should never have existed in the first place”.)

I’m not so optimistic; it is just that the gods 5000 years from now might be different from the current ones. I’d like to believe that we’d be done with superstition for good, but it may be the case that we’ll always have a percentage of the population which is simply incapable of living without superstition.

5. Religion exists. It is essentially something like American fundamentalist protestantism, or Islam. More moderate forms are false and treacherous: if anything even more dangerous, because they conceal the raging, homicidal lunacy that is religion’s true nature. [Sam Harris]

I think that the “religions” that don’t depend on supernatural intervention or communication from deities might be useful; those that see religion as a source of meaningful life-affirming myth and as a potential source for practices such as prayer (to calm one’s own mind), meditation and practices such as yoga (to stretch the body) might be helpful.

6. Faith, as defined above, is the most dangerous and wicked force on earth today and the struggle against it and especially against Islam will define the future of humanity. [Everyone]

Blind adherence (sans thinking) is indeed a dangerous and wicked force, but this type of thing can take both religious forms and atheistic ones too (e. g., Communism as practiced by Mao or Stalin, Pol-Pot or Kim Jong-il.) Example: the false science that was forced on the Soviet Union retarded their advancement in genetics and could have lead to agricultural disasters.

December 31, 2008 Posted by | Barack Obama, evolution, football, Illinois, obama, religion | 2 Comments

What a Strange Crop of Conservatives we Have Here…

Jonah Goldberg at the National Review

Does anyone know what we’re supposed to call this decade? Is it the 2000s? The twenty-ohs? We’re coming up on the last year of it and I still have no idea. Personally, I always liked the “oughts,” as in, “Back in ought-six, I ate a brick of cheddar cheese in one sitting.”

But perhaps the best reason to call it the oughts is that one is left with the sense that this decade ought to have been about something, and yet it really doesn’t feel that way. [….]

Ok, some basic navel gazing….

Neither the pro-Bush nor anti-Bush segments of society seemed to control the commanding heights of the popular culture. After 9/11, the Bushian forces seemed to dominate — freedom fries, 24, the Dixie Chicks’ implosion — but that didn’t last long. And, with the exception of a brief counter-Bush surge led by the lefty blogosphere, Jon Stewart and the re-imagined coffeehouse rock version of the Dixie Chicks, the battle for decade dominance has been between a fizzle and a deadlock.

The war on terrorism doesn’t define young peoples’ lives, but neither does Bush-hatred. Virtually all of the antiwar or anti-Bush screeds put out by Hollywood over the last year, including Oliver Stone’s latest doggerel, have bombed.

It was during the oughts that Americans started drinking more bottled water than beer. As Susan McWilliams of Pomona College observes, you can tell something about a society that chooses clever water over humble beer. Bottled water is personal, inward-driven. Beer is social, outward-driven. Beer gets the party started. Water is the thirst quencher of choice for the solitary fitness addict, marching to the beat of his or her own drummer, digitally remastered for the iPod.

(emphasis mine)

Ahhh, there is the problem. We ought to be fat (ok, fatter than we already are) and drunk. 🙂

December 30, 2008 Posted by | political humor, politics, politics/social, republicans | 3 Comments

30 December 2008

Workout notes Last night, yoga with Ms. Nancy. This morning: 2650 swim (unbelievably slow; 100s were 1:40-1:44, IMs were 2:15) then yoga-lattes with Ms. Nancy.

Of course, Nancy wanted to rub my newly crew-cut head (got the hair cut at the DFW airport) and I let her. 🙂

We did something that involved down dog

three legged dog

Note: this is what photobucket censored:


pigeon

back to three legged dog all in a continuous motion. That helped loosen the piriformis.

Other topics

Gaza war and terror: Mustafa Barghouthi, Secretary General of the Palestinian National Initiative gives his side of it here. Here is one of his 7 points:

7. Israel claims that Palestinians are the source of violence.

Let us be clear and unequivocal. The occupation of Palestine since the War of 1967 has been and remains the root of violence between Israelis and Palestinians. Violence can be ended with the occupation and the granting of Palestine’s national and human rights. Hamas does not control the West Bank and yet we remain occupied, our rights violated and our children killed.

With these myths understood, let us ponder the real reasons behind these airstrikes; what we find may be even more disgusting than the act itself.

The leaders Israel are holding press conferences, dressed in black, with sleeves rolled up.

‘It’s time to fight’, they say, ‘but it won’t be easy.’

To prove just how hard it is, Livni, Olmert and Barak did not even wear make-up to the press conference, and Barak has ended his presidential campaign to focus on the Gaza campaign. What heroes…what leaders…

We all know the truth: the suspension of the electioneering is exactly that – electioneering.

Like John McCain’s suspension of his presidential campaign to return to Washington to ‘deal with’ the financial crisis, this act is little more than a publicity stunt.

The candidates have to appear ‘tough enough to lead’, and there is seemingly no better way of doing that than bathing in Palestinian blood.

‘Look at me,’ Livni says in her black suit and unkempt hair, ‘I am a warrior. I am strong enough to pull the trigger. Don’t you feel more confident about voting for me, now that you know I am as ruthless as Bibi Netanyahu?’

I do not know which is more disturbing, her and Barak, or the constituency they are trying to please.

In the end, this will in no way improve the security of the average Israeli; in fact it can be expected to get much worse in the coming days as the massacre could presumably provoke a new generation of suicide bombers.

It will not undermine Hamas either, and it will not result in the three fools, Barak, Livni and Olmert, looking ‘tough’. Their misguided political venture will likely blow up in their faces as did the brutally similar 2006 invasion of Lebanon.

In closing, there is another reason – beyond the internal politics of Israel – why this attack has been allowed to occur: the complicity and silence of the international community.

Israel cannot and would not act against the will of its economic allies in Europe or its military allies in the US. Israel may be pulling the trigger ending hundreds, perhaps even thousands of lives this week, but it is the apathy of the world and the inhumane tolerance of Palestinian suffering which allows this to occur.

‘The evil only exists because the good remain silent’

From Occupied Palestine. . .

Speaking of war and going and not going, this is one of the most honest pieces I’ve ever read:

Around four years ago I went to a military recruiter. As a 35 year old guy, with multiple degrees, and a good job the guy that interviewed me was confused. Why was I there? I told him I came from a family of military folks. I can run a 6 minute mile. And if I have to I can shoot somebody in the head from a hundred yards. I might have even said I want to hunt down and kill terrorist. I told him what I thought he wanted to hear.

But that wasn’t why I was there.

* webranding’s diary :: ::
*

Instead I felt guilty. My fellow Americans were dying in a far off land and I was sitting in my nice house doing nothing.

That I heard a guy/gal was going back for their second, third, and now even fourth tour just didn’t seem right. Maybe I ought to do something.

But when the time came to get serious I was gutless. I couldn’t do it.

I found it was easier to talk about projecting force, then actually picking up a gun and doing it myself. This realization made me feel really, really small.

Hey, the easy solution is to become a conservative. Then, talking big while not doing much yourself is perfectly acceptable. 🙂

December 30, 2008 Posted by | Middle East, republicans, swimming, training, world events, yoga | 2 Comments

29 December 2008 Part II

From around the internet:

Another Ed Current video:

Teaching of mathematics and science

This article is well intentioned; it talks about trying to teach science by hands on stuff. But in fact, at least in mathematics, students don’t really understand the subject unless the understand the concepts in the abstract:

A new study challenges the common practice in many classrooms of teaching mathematical concepts by using “real-world,” concrete examples. Researchers led by Jennifer Kaminski, researcher scientist at Ohio State University’s Center for Cognitive Science, found that college students who learned a mathematical concept with concrete examples couldn’t apply that knowledge to new situations.

But when students first learned the concept with abstract symbols, they were much more likely to transfer that knowledge, according to the study published in the April 25 issue of the journal Science.

“These findings cast doubt on a long-standing belief in education,” said Vladimir Sloutsky, co-author of the study and professor of psychology and human development and the director of the Center for Cognitive Science at Ohio State.

“The belief in using concrete examples is very deeply ingrained, and hasn’t been questioned or tested.”

Kaminski and Sloutsky conducted the study with Andrew Heckler, assistant professor of physics at Ohio State.

Teachers often use real-world examples in math class, the researchers said. In some classrooms, for example, teachers may explain probability by pulling a marble out of a bag of red and blue marbles and determining how likely it will be one color or the other.

But students may learn better if teachers explain the concept as the probability of choosing one of n things from a larger set of m things, Kaminski said.

The ability to transfer the concept from one seemingly unrelated area to another is what constitutes understanding.

Science articles:

Google maps lead to the discoveries of new species? Believe it!

Energy efficient houses in Germany: constructed so as to minimize seepage. This seems nice; I’d love one of these houses. Our old house is so drafty. 🙂

What do you do with old garlic salt? Use it (with regular salt) to de-ice roads? Note: the crews that used this salt ended up being more hungry than normal. 🙂

My new pet issue: high speed rail.
I’ve found some resources and blogs including these:

Trains for America.

Midwest High Speed Rail Association. If I have money after paying this month’s bills, I might look into joining this outfit. 🙂

Here is an associated blog.

A more familiar “pet topic”: Religion and politics (via Friendly Atheist) These are some 2008 “lowlights” which, yes, feature my favorite politician.

and of course, Pat Condell

Yes, I am enough of a realist to recognize that no politician will ever win a major election at the state or higher level without some nod to the public superstition or superstitions. The best we can hope for is what we got: someone who will at least make excellent science picks. But change takes time, and if we can continue to persuade more people that vaccinations will do more to prevent disease than saying prayers, well, we’ve made a big step in the right direction.

What makes me optimistic: it appears to me that, at least among many, that many people see their religion as more of a self help thing (something to help one’s own personal serenity and peace of mind) rather than some source of magic; that is, praying (in one form or another) can give the person doing the praying some calmness, peace of mind and relaxation in the way that, say, yoga can stretch and strengthen the body.

So, where I think that religion can provide a community and can provide techniques to improve the lives of some, I hope we can shed the superstition (e. g., the idea that a deity or spirit will intervene) and shed the tribalism that leads to such bloody conflicts such as the one we are seeing in the Middle East.

Israel and Gaza: The Daily Kos is a liberal website; many of the bloggers are Jewish and staunch supporters of Israel. So when diaries such as this one appear and get recommended, you know that things are bad:

Today I end my support of Israel Hotlist
by Chilean Jew [Subscribe]
Sun Dec 28, 2008 at 11:07:48 AM PST

Like davidminzer, I’m Jewish and descendant of holocaust survivors. Moreover, I’ve been a Zionist all of my life. I went to a Zionist school, I was active in Zionist youth groups. I’ve always been a fervent supporter of Israel as a refuge for Jews around the world who seek a place to exercise their traditions and embrace their identity in peace.

I sang the Israeli anthem in the train rails of Aushwitz-Birkenau and I pledged to fight every day of my life to make sure the savage crimes that had taken place there would never happen again. Every year I pledged: Never Again. Remember and Never forget.

Well, I haven’t forgotten. And so to honor that pledge, to honor the memory of my family members who died in those death camps and because “there comes a time when silence is betrayal”, today I finally and publicly end my support for the state of Israel.

I do this with great pain in my heart, but nonetheless with the overwhelming conviction that it is the only right thing to do. I was patient: I tolerated the destruction of the Oslo process by refusing to end or slow down the constant and criminal construction of settlements. I held my nose and stood my ground when Barak killed the final status negotiations at Taba 2001. I even remained loyal after Sharon’s massacres in the West Bank, the brutal Annexation wall, the illegal “selective assassinations” and Olmert’s war crimes in Lebanon.
I had to defend Israel and Israelis with my friends and others who demanded I be consistent with my progressive views and oppose a country that was responsible for horrible crimes against innocent human beings. “Israelis are scared, they are traumatized, you have to understand…”, “Israel is responding to attacks on itself, tell me one other country that wouldn’t respond when attacked…”, I demanded understanding, I pleaded for a fair and comparative analysis.

ENOUGH. I’m done justifying crimes against humanity by a country that claims to be an illuminated western democracy. I’m done defending a country that is unwilling to grant self-determination to a neighboring people because it won’t let go of a few settlements and divide a city. I’m done tolerating the slaughtering of innocent kids, the murderous and barbaric occupation of an impoverished people, the utter disregard for human life.
Fuck them.
If they think their daily peace of mind is worth the lives of hundreds of innocent people, Fuck them.
If they think the best way to go right now would be to vote for Natanyahu (who is so far winning in the polls), Fuck them.
If they won’t bat an eye before keeping millions without electricity or water, before bombing civilian neighborhoods at exactly the time when kids are leaving schools, before breaking every standard of international law or moral decency, Fuck them.
It’s time for every true progressive in this country and around the world to do the only thing that our consciences should allow us to do, the only thing that can keep us consistent with our supposed beliefs that human life is precious and that unnecessary violence is always criminal, barbarous and unacceptable. We must demand that Israel stop violence and immediately put an end to its colonialist military occupation of Palestine.

This is a bit of a sensitive topic for me because I believe that Israel has an immoral foundation (expelling people off of their land) just as the United States does. On the other hand, if I were forced at gunpoint to live in a Middle Eastern country, that would be the one I’d choose, even though I completely disapprove of “X states”, no matter if X stands for Jewish, Muslim, Christian or whatever. Also, my best friend is a secular Jew who is staunchly pro-Israel, sometimes irrationally so (IMHO); it almost appears at times that “The Holocaust” is, to her, the world’s singular event rather than one sorry example out of many (e. g., Pol Pot, the great Communist massacres, the Mongol atrocities, or even the blood thirsty (alleged) genocide by Joshua in the Bible).

But this situation bothers me, not only because of the human misery, but also because the United States supports Israel so strongly (huge amount of foreign aid). So we have a moral obligation to put pressure on Israel; of course they can always choose do without our aid.

December 29, 2008 Posted by | 2008 Election, Barack Obama, education, evolution, High Speed Rail, Middle East, politics, politics/social, science, Transportation, world events | 2 Comments

29 December 2008

Workout notes I am feeling much better than last week; I’ll do something but I am not sure as to what. I was thinking about swimming but today’s running weather is simply too good to pass up. So I might do another 4-6 miles outdoors (33 F, sunny).

When you live in Illinois, you have to take advantage of the dry roads when you can! 🙂
But I have to be wary of double workouts right now; I am almost recovered from my cold and don’t want to relapse.

Update: I did my West Peoria Cemetery course (one hill loop) in 54:14; I was 19:40 at mile 2 (10:10 at mile one, coughing most of the way) and the last 2 was 18:55 or 38:35 for the course I did yesterday. I think that the course is about 5.4-5.5 miles; I am not sure.

Articles:
Football.
This article argues (correctly, IMHO), that the Cowboys were the biggest flop of the NFL season this year. Sure, the Lions didn’t win a game, but they were expected to be terrible. The Cowboys went 9-7 in a season where they strutted about having the “best talent”.

But think about it: The last time the Cowboys were really good was the 1991-1996 era, when the won the Superbowl following the 1992, 1993, and 1995 seasons. Though Barry Switzer was the coach in 1994 and 1995, those were really the Jimmy Johnson teams. Since then (back when Notre Dame was an elite college team!), the Cowboys haven’t had a great deal of success. So, I suppose it wasn’t the owner that made them so good on the field, was it?

Humor:

fail owned pwned pictures
see more pwn and owned pictures

🙂

Rate Your Students is doing a series about those “middle of the academic year” conferences which often features a “meat market” (places where prospective employers (aka “academic departments”) can visit with job seekers (aka “about ready to graduate graduate students”). Here is one such article. Note the associated artwork.

skepti1

It reminds me of the 1990-1991 meeting I went to (the combined MAA-AMS meeting) in San Francisco; I stayed in a discount hotel (room with communal bathroom/shower down the hall) due to graduate student finances. So I get ready to walk down the hall and here goes this shapey lass walking down the hall to the shower clad in her underwear.

Communal facilities aren’t always bad. 🙂

Oh yeah, I did land an interview that lead to my present job.

Oh yes, this was right wen the first Iraq war was stating (Desert Storm) and the local San Francisco community were having protests all over the place. I remember one young woman, clad in jeans and a knitted poncho running down the street with her sign; she was just so eager to join the protest march. It was almost like being in a movie set from the 1960s.

Science: New Scientist is making it’s top 10 articles on evolution in 2008 available free of charge. I’ve got some reading to do! Hat tip to the Dawkins website.

December 29, 2008 Posted by | evolution, football, humor, running, science, training | Leave a comment

From Blogs that I read….

Just a bit of something to take my mind off of the spectacular play-off flops by Chicago and Dallas… 🙂

81705389JM041_Dallas_Cowboy

44-6???? At least the Bears made a game of it.

A conservative calls for an extra tax? No, I am not kidding:

Krauthammer dispenses with the phase-in and calls for an immediate $1 a gallon gas tax increase, offset by reducing other taxes so that the overall effect is revenue-neutral (thus the Net-Zero in his headline). The beauty of a gas tax is its simplicity, although there might need to be various offsets and exceptions to make such a system palatable.

Follow the link for details. Frankly, I wouldn’t mind seeing the money going to help out the various high speed rail projects as well as public light rail for the urban and suburban folks.

Science

Origins of eukaryotes (living things that have cells with nuclei; e. g., us, the various plants, etc. The commonly taught hypothesis is the “three domain hypothesis“; Professor Moran points out that this hypothesis is not a “done deal” and shouldn’t be taught as if it were.

Of course, I have no credentials to have a valid opinion on this matter. But I present this to demonstrate an example of honest disagreement and honest uncertainty in science. No one just “toes the line” because “the powers that be” says so.

Gravity: do neutrinos have anything to do with it?

One of the great mysteries of modern physics is why gravity is so much weaker than the other forces (strong, electromagnetic, and weak). Many great minds have worked to incorporate gravity into the same sort of relativistic quantum field theory that we use to describe the other three, and have failed more or less utterly for decades. Is there something fundamentally different about gravity? Einstein’s general relativity, which links gravity to the warping of spacetime in the presence of matter and energy, is extremely successful in accounting for a wide variety of phenomena from very short (millimeter) to very long (solar system) distance scales.

One might argue that GR is not working perfectly well on galactic or larger scales – unless and until we can identify the nature of the dark matter causing galaxies to rotate in a way which apparently violates Einsteinian/Newtonian gravity, and causes the lensing of light from very distant (billions of light years) galaxies.

Bob’s short paper, presumably a precursor to a much longer and complete description of his work, brings together several different lines of thought from different subfields of physics, including particle physics and condensed matter, to propose a new theory of how gravity arises. In a single sentence, it goes like this: What we know as gravity is actually the result of interactions with relic neutrinos, which satisfy all the conditions necessary to form a superfluid once the universe has expanded sufficiently. Oh, and another sentence, this time from his concluding paragraph:

“…WIMP dark matter scenarios are inconsistent: WIMPs cannot both be decoupled and localized for the age of the universe.”

That is to say, we cannot have dark matter particles of mass of the usual magnitude (the 100 GeV scale) and expect them to behave classically for the age of the universe.

Of course, at this stage, this is conjecture. But again, this shows how honest ideas come about.

Science Illiteracy Yes, even my favorite politician takes a (deserved) hit here. But at least Obama has made some excellent science appointments and he appears to be the type who will listen to reason.

By Steve Connor, Science editor
Saturday, 27 December 2008

When it comes to science, Barack Obama is no better than many of us. Today he joins the list of shame of those in public life who made scientifically unsupportable statements in 2008.

Closer to home, Nigella Lawson and Delia Smith faltered on the science of food, while Kate Moss, Oprah Winfrey and Demi Moore all get roastings for scientific illiteracy.

The Celebrities and Science Review 2008, prepared by the group Sense About Science, identifies some of the worst examples of scientific illiteracy among those who profess to know better – including top politicians.

Mr Obama and John McCain blundered into the MMR vaccine row during their presidential campaigns. “We’ve seen just a skyrocketing autism rate,” said President-elect Obama. “Some people are suspicious that it’s connected to the vaccines. This person included. The science right now is inconclusive, but we have to research it,” he said.

His words were echoed by Mr McCain. “It’s indisputable that [autism] is on the rise among children, the question is what’s causing it,” he said. “There’s strong evidence that indicates it’s got to do with a preservative in the vaccines.”

Exhaustive research has failed to substantiate any link to vaccines or any preservatives. The rise in autism is thought to be due to an increased awareness of the condition.

I do take exception to the first statement, given Obama’s excellent science picks.

Society and Religion

This post is a few paragraphs but I love this line:

“It is neither emotionally nor spiritually deficient to reject religions that seek to infantilise us with impossible beliefs. ”

Can I get an (r)Amen? 🙂

Here is another lovely nugget:

Here is an enjoyably impudent piece of research from Innsbruck University. People were observed buying newspapers, using an honesty box to pay. They were interviewed later – so the person with the clipboard seemed unconnected with the newspaper purchase – and asked about age, occupation and attitudes. Men cheated more than women; people over 50 cheated more than the young; higher education made no difference; and by a long chalk churchgoers cheated most. This may be a statistical anomaly. But we all know one thing: religion no more makes people good than lack of it makes the rest of us bad.

Ok, in my defense, when I get coffee from our lounge, (35 cents a cup by the honor system) I sometimes put in 1 dollar and get one cup then the next day get another cup but put in nothing figuring that I had already prepaid the day before.

December 29, 2008 Posted by | Barack Obama, evolution, politics, politics/social, religion, science | Leave a comment

Put American Airlines Out Of Business: Back High Speed Rail Initiatives!

More about my trip (and then I will let it go): the first thing to remember is that, thanks to Congress and airline deregulation, you have practically no rights as a passenger. If they cancel your flight and delay you for days, well, you have no recourse. They have you at their mercy:

Delays/Cancellations:
Airlines are not required to compensate passengers for delayed or canceled flights. Each carrier differs in its policy and there are no federal requirements for passenger compensation. Most airlines will book you on the next available flight if your flight is canceled. If your plane is delayed, the airline may pay for meals or a phone call, so it’s worth asking. Some will offer no amenities if the delay is caused by bad weather or other conditions beyond their control. Compensation is required by law only if you are “bumped” from a flight that is oversold (discussed below).

Editor’s Note: If you are traveling in the European Union, you do have the right to compensation if your flight is canceled or delayed, but only under certain circumstances. If the airline can claim “extraordinary circumstances which could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken” — this could include weather, political instability, security issues and other similar situations — the airline does not have to provide compensation. For more information, visit the European Union’s Web site.

In short: Congress represents the powerful interests and not you. So, the only power we have is to inform each other about the poor performance of the airlines and to not to use the bad ones. So, that is what I am doing.

Also, if so inclined, you can push for your elected leaders to develop other types of transportation to compete with the airlines so as to drive these lousy companies out of business.

I should point out that my story is not isolated; most of the other non-Southwest Airline carries pretty much suck too.

About 26,000 people responded to the survey during the first quarter of this year, rating their level of satisfaction as customers of companies in a variety of industries, including airlines. An American Customer Satisfaction Index, on a scale of 1 to 100, was created based on the responses to questions about overall satisfaction, intention to be a repeat customer and perception of quality, value and expectations.

The index for the airline industry as a whole fell to 62 from 63 last year, barely above its historical low of 61 in 2001. Southwest led the way with an index of 79, up from 76 last year.

“We’re always excited and thrilled that we can offer some of the best customer service in the industry,” Southwest spokeswoman Christi Day said.

After Southwest came a huge drop in customer satisfaction, with scores of 62 at AMR Corp.’s American Airlines and Continental. Delta Air Lines Inc. scored 60, and Northwest Airlines Corp. slipped to 57 from 61 in 2007. US Airways’ score dropped to 54 from 61 a year ago, taking over the bottom spot from United, whose score held at 56.

My story: I submitted it here (where you can read other stories)

Just the facts: I was flying from Austin, TX to Peoria, IL via Dallas. The Austin to Dallas flight left at 4:30; when we got to Dallas we find out that the Dallas to Peoria flight is canceled (due to fog). Ok, that happens.

But American’s response was terrible.

1. The dense fog had settled in prior to the Austin flight leaving; why weren’t we notified at the gate? It is better to be stuck at the start of the trip rather than at a midway point.

2. Only one gate agent was available to deal with this whole flight. We were given a number to call and the operator seemed to not understand that being stuck in a midway point of the trip for 48 hours was unacceptable.

3. When I did finally get a gate agent, he didn’t read the computer correctly; he said that we were rebooked on a flight leaving the next day when in fact it was two days later.

4. Of course, we had to pay for our overnight accommodations even though AA’s scheduling policies were in part responsible for our being delayed for so long.

5. Finally the next day I manage to rebook a flight that got me 90 miles away; fortunately I had someone to give us a ride. We would have been up a creek without that.

6. Of course, the luggage didn’t make it to the final destination.

I find it absurd that one has to have an extra 100-150 dollars extra for the trip because AA couldn’t deliver what they promised to deliver.

I wish I had done what I have done in the past: drive 2.5 hours to a larger airport, pay the parking fees and to have flown Southwest. I’ve never had a problem with Southwest.

The problems go beyond this incompetent, uncaring airline. Some of these carriers need to go out of business and we, as a country, need to develop alternate forms of transportation.

Solutions

Maybe, just maybe in a few years, we can get alternate transportation and end up putting pathetic airlines such as American Airlines out of business for good!

John Kerry and Arlen Specter have an idea that I think is promising:

There’s been a lot of talk in Washington and the media lately that one way for the federal government to give the economy a boost would be to start making massive investments in the nation’s infrastructure. Such spending would both create jobs in the short term and give the U.S. the kind of infrastructure to build its economy around in the future.

In that vein, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) introduced a bill on Wednesday that would allow bonds to be issued to raise more than $23 billion for high-speed rail projects around the country. Some of that money — it’s not clear exactly how much — could be used on the proposal to build a high-speed rail line in California. Here’s a link to a story about the bill in the Boston Globe.

That is interesting, of course, since voters here earlier this month approved Proposition 1A, which allows the state to issue $9.95 billion in bonds to plan and construct a high-speed rail line. It’s not nearly enough to finish the proposed line from Anaheim to San Francisco — the California High Speed Rail Authority said recently the cost will be $33 billion; critics say it will be much more.

Still, the federal bill is worth watching. If it passes, it would arguably be a boost for passenger rail along some Amtrak corridors after decades of the nation making heavy investments in the nation’s airports and highways.

The press release from Kerry’s office is after the jump.

The press release on the Kerry-Specter high-speed rail bill:

Kerry-Specter Bill Would Create Jobs, Stimulus, Infrastructure Investment

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Governor Ed Rendell Applaud National High-Speed Rail Initiative

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) introduced a bill to create new jobs by updating the nation’s crumbling infrastructure. The High-Speed Rail for America Act of 2008 would transform America’s outdated and underfunded passenger rail system into a world class system.

“At a time when our economy desperately needs a jumpstart, we need an effective national investment that puts Americans back to work,” said Sen. Kerry. “A first-rate rail system would protect our environment, save families time and money, reduce our dependency on foreign oil, and help get our economy moving again. The High-Speed Rail for America Act will help fix our crumbling infrastructure system, expand our economy, and match high-tech rail systems across the globe.”

“We must continue to focus our energies on building and maintaining a strong national passenger rail system in order to ease congestion of air and highway corridors connecting high-growth markets, as well as to meet energy and environmental goals,” said Sen. Specter. “The High-Speed Rail for America Act is an investment in our nation’s infrastructure and has the potential to provide tremendous economic opportunities throughout Pennsylvania and the nation.”

Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Daniel Inouye (D-HI), Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), Joe Lieberman (I-CT.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), cosponsored the legislation.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell both voiced their support for the high-speed rail initiative.

“Creating a national high-speed rail network is an ambitious goal, but one that gets more urgent by the day,” said Mayor Bloomberg. “Investing in modern infrastructure is vital to the nation’s long-term economic and environmental health – and in the short-term, it would help put more Americans back to work. Many countries in Europe and Asia are investing in high-speed rail, and if our economy is going to remain competitive, we have to start catching up. Greater investment in our railways is a top goal of Building America’s Future, the infrastructure coalition that Governors Rendell and Schwarzenegger and I created. I applaud Senator Kerry for tackling the issue head-on, and I strongly support his efforts to create the high-speed rail network our country needs.”

“This long-overdue national investment in high-speed rail would help to stimulate economic recovery while creating good jobs that cannot be outsourced,” said Gov. Rendell, one of the founding co-chairs of the Building America’s Future coalition. “Expanding our nation’s critical rail infrastructure will make our transportation network more efficient, reduce traffic pressure on our already busy interstate highways, and improve the environment.”

The High-Speed Rail for America Act of 2008 builds upon the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 which reauthorizes Amtrak and authorizes $1.5 billion over a five-year period to finance the construction and equipment for eleven high-speed rail corridors. It provides billions of dollars in both tax-exempt and tax credit bond and provides assistance for rail projects of various speeds. The bill creates the Office of High-Speed passenger rail to oversee the development of high-speed rail and provides a consistent source of funding.

Specifically, the High-Speed Rail for America Act of 2008 provides $8 billion over a six-year period for tax-exempt bonds which finance high-speed rail projects which reach a speed of at least 110 miles per hour It creates a new category of tax-credit bonds – qualified rail bonds. There are two types of qualified rail bonds: super high-speed intercity rail facility bond and rail infrastructure bond. Super high-speed rail intercity facility bonds will encourage the development of true high-speed rail. The legislation provides $10 billion for these bonds over a ten-year period. This would help finance the California proposed corridor and make needed improvements to the Northeast corridor. The legislation provides $5.4 billion over a six-year period for rail infrastructure bonds. The Federal Rail Administration has already designated ten rail corridors that these bonds could help fund, including connecting the cities of the Midwest through Chicago, connecting the cities of the Northwest, connecting the major cities within Texas and Florida, and connecting all the cities up and down the East Coast.

December 28, 2008 Posted by | High Speed Rail, politics, ranting, Transportation, travel | , , , | 3 Comments

Bags on the way…

and I did my first post-trip run.

The first mile was horrible; I felt as if my blood were sludge and I coughed (very productively) most of the time. Mile two felt better, 3 even better and mile 4 felt GREAT. I had to make myself stop running; that is a good sign.

Sunshine, crisp air (high 30’s F), mostly dry roads; it doesn’t get better than this.

Time: 39:13; 20:17, 18:56.

Update: the bags have arrived (intact), the Bears are choking and life is returning to normal. Maybe, just maybe, the Texans can make enough mistakes to keep the Bears in it. But the Texans are on the Bear 14, less than 5 minutes are left and the Texans are up by 7.

Never mind that the Vikings are down by 9; the Bears are losing. Wait: make that first and goal at the 3.

Bears Texans Football

Whoops! Make that 31-17, Texans. Face facts: The Bears are NOT a play-off caliber team.

December 28, 2008 Posted by | football, injury, Peoria, running, travel | Leave a comment

Back in Peoria, Sans Bags

I hate American Airlines. I’ll detail their sorry performance tomorrow; but let’s just say that when these idiots go under, I’ll throw a party.

December 28, 2008 Posted by | ranting, travel | 1 Comment