Friday, March 31, 2006

Throw the book at Cynthia McKinney.

If assaulting a police officer is a felony, then throw the book at her. McKinney thinks she can get away with acting like petulant, spoiled royalty. Most Congresscritters do. McKinney clearly thinks the fact that she wasn't recognized entitled her to smack people around.

Nail the bitch.

Somewhere, a line needs to be drawn in the sand that says to the political class "you exist to serve, not to be royalty."

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Yes, Rico... Kaboom.

Wish I could see this little firecracker when it goes off. Not to belabor the obvious, but if these things ever actually got deployed, you're looking not merely at bunker-busters, but at tacnukes minus the nuke part... here's a good rough simulator. This is serious boom. Overpressure's one thing, of course, but in any situation where we'd likely use this air-to-mud, the "chunky salsa" effect from time-on-target bombardment simply boggles the mind.

.7kt Urban Renewal comes to B.A.'s neighborhood...

But the other part of it is that such damage is actually not all that large, geographically speaking. You could drop a .7kt charge on the middle of DFW airport, and still have buildings standing (not to mention about 340,000 very irritated neighbors). The really bad parts of the blast from 70kt on the same location wouldn't even make it to my house (which is close by). Put that in the perspective of some of the clearing operations performed in Al-Anbar, where civvies were known to have been cleared out of the way prior to engagement, and you can see why folks would like to have this as an option.

Milton Ezrati skips whistling past a plan to bring the Mullahcracy to its knees.

In this CSM post, Ezrati comments on the Iranian oil bourse, noting it as a complete fantasy, for several good reasons, most of which can be summed up as "who wants to depend on Iranian law?"

But he also provides a very careful little suggestion of how to bring the Iranian dictatorship (for that's what it is -- Iran's rulers use religious extremists who are actually in the employ of the intlligence community to crush their people, no differently than Milosevic used the Chetniks) to its knees: Iran is hardly in a position to make threats regarding oil: he brushes past the obvious implications as if they're hardly there.
And Iran, whatever its political agenda, simply does not have the economic and financial wherewithal to hold back its oil altogether. Petroleum amounts to 80 percent of all Iranian exports, 45 percent of the country's GDP, and 60 percent of the government's revenues. With the economy there already rickety, any shortfall in oil sales would tempt financial, economic, and consequently political suicide for Iran's current regime.
While Mr. Ezrati may feel the need to tiptoe past the obvious, there's no need for us in blogistan to do so... if the US wants to retaliate seriously against the Iranian regime, while drying up the international money that goes to Hezbollah, Hamas, and al Quaeda, and doesn't feel secure about its ability to take down Iranian air defenses... wiping out oilfield infrastructure would be a breeze.

And what's more, such a strategy would not be out of place: if we document Iranian security elements engaged in direct or proxy actions against US troops, we have our casus belli for limited countermeasures, and neither Russia nor China will able to do anything else but make predictable but polite noises in protest. China, because it will follow Russia's lead, and Russia because cannot it afford to lose one of its most effective propaganda levers for the justification of both legitimate defense and military adventurism in the Caucasus.

In this respect, US geopolitical and military strategy becomes quite clear:
1. Allow Iran to gain the lead in the leadership and financing of terrorism abroad.
2. Encourage other entities to cut funding, such that terrorists become dependent on Iranian oil money.
3. Open up the press conferences documenting Iranian proxy war, and declare war on Iran with said Iraqi casus belli, completely bypassing the UN (it's not required, and although NATO troops wouldn't be needed for such operations, the US can, if need be, put NATO in a diplomatic hammerlock on this issue).
4. Chop the oil money off at the kneecaps as soon as Iran takes one step over whatever is determined to be the red line.

Since Iran is completely dependent on imports for its gasoline -- imports that cost money -- its military will be effectively hamstrung. In this respect, Ahmadinejad may be trying desperately to obtain a nuclear trump card... but otherwise, he is holding an extremely weak hand. It is encumbent upon us to force him to play those cards, and sooner, rather than later.

Blogroll updated: Dictator of the Month

Check it out: your handy desktop reference to tyrant losers in the world.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Why all the turmoil in France?

That's what this insightful little blurb asks. I think we need an outcropping of common sense here.

1. "contra la precarite"... The french students are protesting because they're cowards who are afraid to take a job where they might have to actually do something in order to keep said job.
2. Everybody in France seems willing to put up with these jerks interfering with traffic and shutting down the works in order to let them protest. Sorry, buddy, some old granny's right to have an ambulance arrive on time trumps your right to take a nap on the street. But that would involve thinking through one's actions, rather than simply arrogating to oneself the mantle of moral superiority.
3. The cops were perfectly willing to stand by and let thugs from les banlieues beat the snot out of the whiny little bastards. Marking the worst with paintguns? Where does that come from? If you see somebody in danger of being kicked to death, you pull out your truncheons and you lay it down.
4. And if you're the police superintendent who refuses to back your cops for doing so... well, then you must be in France!

The French are in turmoil, because as a society, the French seem to have lost their flipping minds, and there's not a single contingent stepping forward that seems to have some grip on both sanity and basic testicular fortitude. If you wanted a recipe for how to turn a major international player into an third-world has-been, France seems to be turning into a splendid example. And it's a crying damned shame.

Cirque du Soleil in Dallas

"Delirium" was a pastiche show, but still very well done.

The opening act, which consisted of world-music by Nitza, not so much. She can belt it out, but the vocals, etcetera, was uninspired and the performance generally self-congratulatory. Good enough for what an opening act is supposed to do -- get the audience paying attention to the stage -- but more like an NPR Sunday-night "also ran." Definitely Nitza's stuff is nothing I'd ever pay money to see or buy on a CD.

Cirque du Soleil, on the other hand, I'd buy on video and leave running for days like we were still in the '80s and it was a favorite screen-saver by Beagle Brothers.

Cirque du Soleil has a good mix and match for a general audience. I prefer a heavier performer mix, rather than the mostly-dance-and-music with performers thrown in, which is how Delirium was constituted. I'm kind of a purist -- I love European circus, and can jazz for days about the raw physical skill involved. I don't even need a set, I'm so enthralled by what these folks can do with their bodies. But for a general audience, it's probably about right, and the song and dance themselves were very, very good. The art involved in presenting the "circus otherworld" was absolutely awesome.

I left totally jazzed. Practically danced all the way to the car. Did car-dance in the parking lot, to the alternating amusement and embarrassment of Those Who Put Up with Me.

Well worth catching when they come into town.

Easy solution to Connecticut "Psycho Kitty" Problem

Yes, there is a very simple solution to this crazy-ass cat and her sociopathic bitch of an owner. Yes, I called her a sociopathic bitch: when you own an animal that's mauling people and sending them to the hospital, and you simply don't care, then let the shoe fit the foot...

Here's the solution. KILL IT. We are the dominant mammals on this planet, and our proper course of action when attacked by a minor ambush predator with delusions of grandeur, is to KILL IT. In fact, the solution to a major ambush predator getting uppity, is to get five or ten of you together, and THEN KILL IT. Or, do the job with just yourself and your buddies Smith and Wesson. And then have your hunters take it to the skinners, who will make a pelt from it, and have your skinners take it to your cooks, who will see how well it goes with garlic.

By God's design or the steady progress of evolution, human beings are incredibly dangerous predators. We are vastly more dangerous than any other animal on the planet -- mosquitos included. The only reason mosquitos are outdoing us is that at the end of the day, most of us simply aren't annoyed enough to try harder. Bears are incredibly powerful. Tigers have power, grace, and stealth to humble a ninja master. Elephants have brains combined with mass tonnage and a bad attitude. Hippo and rhinos, ditto. Snakes and insects have incredible poisons. We, on the other hand, get the really insidious stuff.

We kill and eat them all. Tonnage is no match for being able to sweat, and therefore hunt all-out for hours under worst blazing sun the savannahs and deserts have to offer. Claws and strength are no match for being able to communicate hunting strategy in complete silence, simply by eye contact and minor motions of the head and face. Poisons are no match for being able to turn a prey item's shelter into a deadly trap. Notice that we haven't even gotten to opposable thumbs yet. Anybody who thinks that human beings pushing other animals into extinction is a new and modern thing needs to start cracking some books.

If you're a yuppie woman who's had all aggression beaten out of you since you were three and kicked somebody in the shins, then sit on it in a violent way. You'll be excused for that when the alternative is being hamstrung by a housepet, and we'll all stand back and golf-clap while you sue Ms. Cisero for every cent she owns.

Blogger ate another post.

I don't know what's up with these guys, but they're *incredibly* unstable as of late. Not just mine, either. I may or may not have posted to Sciolist: I don't know, I can't actually load it. Happens from home, too. I'm thinking about whether I enjoy blogging as a hobby enough to migrate to a paid service.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Financial jiujutsu for the paranoid.

So, since I don't prefer to be a peasant my whole life, and want to have a debt/income ratio that lets my wife and I do all the things we currently cannot do, I have a thought. I'm one year and no catastrophes (crossing fingers) from being totally out of consumer non-mortgage debt (a car). That's been a long time coming, and enough paychecks and bonus money signed away into the netherworld to make me want to puke, but it's done.

So, what, in principle, would keep one from doing the same thing with the mortgage? Not much. It's an old immigrant tactic. So, here's a strategy for the paranoid, folks like me who simply don't know if the reports they're reading from various stocks and funds is being reported correctly.

1. Pay down the mortgage (live on one person's check, use the other's to pay it off). Unless you're in Fairfax Co., Boston, SF, or one of those Officially Nutzoid Real-Estate Markets(tm), it shouldn't be that bad. We could do it in three to four years, and would have, had we not been still having to buy stuff that folks who haven't spent the last four years in another country take for granted or have three of. And we're pretty middle class. I knew guys moonlighting in freight yards doing the same thing.

2. Once the mortgage is gone, you're then out a tax shelter. If Congress continues with its current exemptions, which assume that you're paying down a mortgage, no biggie. But if not, you'll want that mortgage exemption. So, pick up another mortgage, and pay interest on it. Since you've got the total asset as collateral, it shouldnt' be all that hard to get a decent rate.

3. Roll the money into 3 or 6 month 25k minimum CDs and the like, for an average yearly return of around 5%.

That's not a stellar rate of return, but it's tax-defended, very liquid if you've staggered your deposits in time, and the returns are pretty-much guaranteed, in stark contrast to stocks, which might get me 8%... but which might vanish in a puff of corporate malfeasance tomorrow. If you're a financial smart guy, you could probably do much better, but anybody can pull this one off, and use their hard-bought asset to at least stay a little bit ahead of inflation.

So, come on, financial smart guys: what's a better strategy?

Monday, March 27, 2006

Just in case it's not totally obvious..

The Secret Lives of Staff Officers

Ahmadinejad officially embarks upon the Tyrant's Road

It's not a road anyone wants to travel. But by accusing Khatami of treason and spying for the West, we learn two things:

1. Ahmadinejad is probably very sane. But, if it can be taken at face value, he's rather paranoid. If not, clearly his notions of how diplomacy works are a bit off.
2. I would suggest that this gets viewed through a lens suggesting that the Mullahcracy is in serious trouble, and that the slow cementing of military-intelligence officers in the corridors of power is not long for this world, to be replaced with an outright military state.... aka, a Shia version of a Bathist islamofascist regime.

Alania? Or, the Russian bear goes a-conquering again

From the Jamestown folks: Russia seems to be planning to "annex" South Ossetia, which is Georgian territory, while daring the Georgians to do anything about it.

This is a disturbingly overt escalation of Putin's long, quiet war to force Georgia to knuckle under and return to being a powerless satellite of the Kremlin. But with world attention elsewhere, it looks like he may get away with it.

UPDATE: and this morning, they note that Russia has just cut off its nose to spite its face by banning Moldovan and Georgian wines and other agricultural products. Since the latter are WTO members, and Russia is a WTO applicant, Georgia and Moldova now have the right to retaliate to a politically-inspired "duh" move by blocking Russian WTO accession until such a time as the trade sanctions are done away with. Since both countries produce good products, the short-term hit is likely simply to hurt average Russians (about whom the Kremlin cares nothing), while spurring the latter two countries to go into high-gear cementing better EU economic ties.

Putin and his FSB cronies don't seem to understand that petrodollars will not save Russia, if he insists on swapping moves that exchange blatant economic self-strangulation, in exchange for internationally damaging and domestically worthless expansionism in South Ossetia. Had Putin developed some actual strength in his country, rather than squashing his population and hitching himself to the "oil curse" in order to implement the traditionally zero-sum Russian foreign policy based on the complete xenophobic domination of all its neighbors, Russia would currently be in a position to be globally dominant. But since "the vampire" still thinks that natural resources are more potent and powerful economically than the development of human capital, we see the Bear playing 19th-century games in a 21st-century world.

Once again, Russian tyrants seem to be snatching defeat out of the jaws of victory. It'd be hilarious if it didn't involve suffering people by the million.

Eat your bacon, it's good for you...

I would now like to officially gloat at all the people who thought I was nuts when I said that eventually they'd engineer meat animals to produce Omega-3 fats...

Hahaha. Can't wait until it hits the market. Now *officially* a part of this healthy breakfast...

Friday, March 24, 2006

And, Russ gets culture.

Just to make my twin and his Cupcake jealous, I'm going to see Momix in four hours, and Cirque du Soleil in not all that long, too. nyaa nyaa.

Froma Harrop doesn't get it.

This is an excellent rebuttal piece.

Unfortunately, she makes two assumptions:

1. Minorities are liberals by definition.
2. Conservative = Republican.

Numero Uno -- Now, plenty of minorities are Democrats. Currently, most. But huge swaths of the Hispanic and Black communities are socially very conservative when it comes to family-values questions. It's still a debatable point, but that's a caveat that needs pointing out.

Numbah Two -- by trying to cast matters as Dem-vs-Rep, she misses something important. Yes, better research is required. But the phenomenon itself is fairly widely noted. If you take a poll of people who identify as strongly liberal, and a similar poll of those identifying as strongly conservative... chances are, it's the latter with the kids.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Next time, let the ingrates rot.

Why on earth would we risk the blood of good British and American soldiers to rescue these "peace activist" ingrates?

Here's their press release.
Yep. Not one word of thanks to the "occupiers" who liberated them.

This is the morally-superior left. Who would tell us that liberating Iraq was a waste of time, and actually evil, and who would instead have us invade North Waziristan.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Wrestle the bear, wheee!

Just in case today's previous post is a little too heavy for y'all, how about getting your aerobics with Caesar the 650-lb bear?

Oh, and, yes, PETA has formally come out against bears having fun. Or, I guess that'd be PABHF. Or PETABHF. Do you pronounce with a cheek waggle, or by flapping your lips?

Anyway, as long as the bear's having fun, and the people are having fun, sounds good to me. Because it's not like you could miss the existence of a problem, wrestling an unmuzzled hungry abused animal that can fold and spindle you like a pretzel...

Blogger's weird.

Took the system five hours to load that last post... and a couple weeks before that I got an email asking why I'd denied somebody access.

A.k.a., bear with me if the page does funny stuff.

Orwellian Double-Speak from the USDA

Well, guess what popped into my mailbox last night from the USDA?
The following is a response to your inquiry regarding the National Animal Identification System (NAIS).

As a *consumer* I would like to go on record stating that there is much good within the NAIS idea, but that the program's insistence on uniformity is poorly-considered. A commercial farm is *not* the same as a homesteader keeping chickens or rabbits on his back 20.

Or, if there's to be uniformity, let it be REAL uniformity, and let the 4H kids and the homesteaders share in the possibility of using premise tags, rather than having to buy an i.d. tag for every rabbit in the hutch.

If something is not done to allow for the disease-tracking of commercial animals (which I agree is overdue) without providing a regulatory hammer to beat upon small niche producers, then there will be little choice except to organize widespread opposition to NAIS' implementation standards on the state level, as has already begun here in Texas.

Play ball with us, and we're willing to see a lot your way. Write us off, and you're in for a fight. It's that simple.

Thank you for your interest in the National Animal Identification System (NAIS). The development and implementation of NAIS has been and continues to be an evolutionary process. The USDA is committed to developing NAIS policy in an open manner that invites feedback (like yours) and input from producers and stakeholders large and small.

[ed.-- Boilerplate, but so far, so good.]

NAIS is currently a voluntary program. The program is now voluntary so that producers of every size and makeup and other stakeholdrs can participate in the design, development and testing of the system. Obviously, the effectiveness of the NAIS will be directly related to the level of participation by all producers and stakeholders to include mid, small and hobby farmers. We are not taking a one size fits all approach to development of the program.

[ed. -- Uh-oh. Doublespeak: NAIS' own site indicates that it is currently voluntary, with the intention of becoming mandatory asap. "....voluntary so that producers of every size....can participate in the design...." a.k.a., if you exercise your freedom not to participate, we will not permit you any voice in how the program develops.]

[ed2. -- Flat-out lie: "We are not taking a one size fits all approach..." This is flatly contradicted by NAIS' own website (link further below in post), which touts program uniformity as one of its primary goals.]

How the NAIS will be applied will vary somewhat among the various species and producer groups. Species working groups have been and continue to work very hard to address the specific issues related to applying NAIS to specific groups of animals. They are working on and forwarding their recommendations to USDA on the types of identifications devices to be used, possible exemptions and what constitutes a reportable animal movement event in the NAIS. We encourage you to get involved with these groups. You can find additional information about species working groups at USDA’s NAIS Web site at

NAIS is not intended to track, capture and report every time an animal leaves its premises. Trail rides, a fence break through, and 4-H shows, for example, may not necessarily always be considered a reportable event.

[Ed.-- I have not altered this text in any way. This is Orwelllian "Newspeak" at its finest. "May not necessarily always?" In other words, it's already been decided that, not only must you register your house with the feds if you own a horse or a sheep, but you're going to have to tell them every time you take a trail ride.]

We appreciate and are encouraged by your "willing" spirit. We recognize that a system of this size and complexity needs to be developed with the opportunity for input by those affected. Thank you for taking time to share your concerns regarding this important animal health issue. We will keep concerns such as those you expressed in mind as we continue to work with you and all stakeholders to develop NAIS.

NAIS Program staff

[ed.-- Translated from bureaucratese, thanks for writing in, sucker, but we're going to go ahead and do what we want no matter what you think.]

So, is there anybody here who doesn't think that this constitutes a massive power-grab by the USDA? I don't know what Glenn Reynolds thinks, but right now, the "Army of Davids" is getting its ass kicked. The State of Texas is dragging its feet a bit, but so far as I have been able to determine, the rest of the state governments have rolled over and stuck their butts up in the air. If you're uncomfortable with this, the time to start inundating your state officials and gutless Congresscritters with mail and email is NOW.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

State of the Russ Address, March 16

Okay, a general-purpose personal update:

1. Felt-making continues to progress. I am trying to figure out how to keep the felt as dense as it is when fully wet, and short of building a large press, have resorted to taking the bamboo mat when wet-rolled and sticking it in front of a fan in the garage. Kind of like storing my own Pod People, only likely to be fluffier.

2. All materials are on-hand to start making a vest and skirt for the Bunny out of horsehide. Don't recall whether she prefers the Burgundy, or the Oxblood. But, on the other hand, I've finally figured out how collars work(tm). It's once again something that's very simple once you can bridge the divide between seeing something in three dimensions, and arriving at a two-dimensional pattern for it.

3. I have a dilemma. No, I'm not a rabbi, with the pork loin on sale this Friday. Rather, it's supposed to rain this weekend. That's good, and with the peach and plum trees in bloom, we're glad to have anything to relieve the drought. On the other hand, I have purchased an Arrow "yard-saver" shed I'd like to assemble on the concrete slab in my side yard, so I can get the yard tools out of my garage and put that into some semblance of order. I intend to thoroughly re-organize that sucker, get the power tools set up, and still be able to pull the Jeep into the garage at night.

4. Last weekend, on the other hand, we set up a fantatic, Party-Party scene.. but I forgot a previous promise I made, and had to leave the party early, including stranding The Bunny with only hope of a ride home (it's close, so that was more a guilt thing than a real prospect of stranded-ness), so I could go up to Oklahoma and be a fighter's second in a cage match. THAT was weird: if I get off my ass, you'll see it soon on Sciolist. Said fighter owes me a big one.

5. The job is still untenable, as it is now officially Bank of America's policy that administrative assistants are not entitled to performance reviews. Yes, folks, we're now officially second-class employees. Rather galling, considering that I've re-engineered this job to the extent that I could now literally replace myself with a part-timer without inconveniencing the unit. So, I will either put up with it for a while while re-enrolling in feldenkrais training (contingent on finding crash space in Colorado, which should be do-able), or else getting a teaching gig. There's a job open nearby in Dallas, but I can't get their HR to return any calls, or the actual school's switchboard to even pick up the phone. This score is fairly frustrating.

6. On the other hand, my article on Crecy is not only accepted, but got me back an enthusiastic review, from a pair of guys whose publishing career has revolved around putting out work on the Hundred Years War. My work is mentioned in an equal place with the pros, as "Crecy finally makes sense." Actually, that's not what they said... they said "finally, the events at the Battle of Crecy seem to be rationally explicable." Because, well, they're professional medieval-nerds. Be that as it may, this is the second paper I've kicked out in the past couple of years, and my emphasis on using experimental archaeology to create a "worm's-eye view" approach to medieval milhist seems to be a starter. Now all I have to do is the destructive testing with The Machine, and start paper number three, in which I will make obscenely far-reaching comments on the role of medieval armor.

7. The credit card is paid off. Foundation payments left to go, and then we are almost out of non-mortgage consumer debt. Which is good, because one of the doors has started sticking, and if that keeps up, it may be time for more foundation work. Oh well, eventually the whole house will be done...

8. The yard is looking fantastic, and we're waiting for the grapes that I put in to wake up. I'm paranoid about grapes: I always think they've died on me... and the Fig hasn't woken up at all yet... but it may just be too early. If it's croaked, we'll just put in more Rose Monsters.

9. No bun in the oven, but we're working on it.

10. Was asked whether I wanted to be in the NCAA office pool, and realized that I don't have the foggiest clue how March Madness actually works, and who's got a prayer of winning... all my sports experience tends to be on the playing side, rather than spectating. (Though don't ask me about my lay-up, it's been years and years -- and my chances at "horse" are no better than even.)

I'm sure there's something I've forgotten, but I couldn't tell you what it is... since I've forgotten it...

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Syria's out, Iran is in, troop levels...

are going UP for Ashura, and in the face of the Iranians being publicly mentioned as the problem.


For those of you who don't get it, let me spell it out.

1. We never found an unproblematic successor candidate in Syria, and the ground for a democratic "colored revolution" needs serious watering before somebody reasonable could conceivably come to power. So we haven't toppled them, but we've made sure that Hezbollah and the Palestinians can no longer rely upon them.
2. Therefore, the latter two groups shift the purse strings upon which their survival depends (since their leadership is too corrupt and stupid to "grow the pie" and enact the reforms that would be needed to create something beyond a 1700s-level economy on their own) to Iran.

Now, I hear the rebuttal coming: "but now Iran runs the whole show!"
And my answer to that is, GREAT!

Because once we put the kabosh on the Iranian regime, which has much greater prospects for satisfactory regime change than Syria does... the gig's up. All that will be left are a bunch of Pakistani madrassas and the local "Al-Qaieda (sp) in (fill in franchise name here)" chapters. And we are actually very, very good at rolling up these little groups when they try to take over and piss on the locals, as recent events in Yemen and Somalia show.

3. And we're publicly moving extra troops in b/c of Iran's agents sneaking across the border. What signal does that send? Well, signal numero uno is that we're NOT stretched to our limits already, and that the Iranian political calculus has been made with a couple of incorrect values on our side of their equation.

If I were a mid-level Iranian officer without exceptionally-good ties to Ahmadinejad's new "even more loyal than my other superloyalbestestBasijbuddies" units, I'd be a very worried man.

The Fire Celebration is coming... and in spite of their best efforts, the regime is a laughing-stock, and powerless to prevent the Iranian people from celebrating their heritage.

Zahak will fall.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Wait, wait: the Canadian Army has guns?

And they're planning to use them?

I thought they mostly stood by while people who aren't Canadians get shot and mortared and hacked up with machetes...

Well, um, good for Canada!!

Pardon me, while I stroll off into cognitive-dissonance-land...

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Liquid Water near Saturn

Woohoo! Liquid Water, in view of Saturn's bee-yooo-tiful rings...

Now, all we have to do is:

Launch an Orion ship (Yes, I'm obsessive on this one. Got a better idea?)
Spool down the incredible amount of material required to cement a Space Elevator.
Set up a nuke plant on top of the elevator to produce clean power.
(Profit, w/ sales of energy, elevator, and use of half-tethered "whippy end" for inertial launches)
Send said ship, with spare cargo holds now available, to do some serious asteroid prospecting.
(Profit by "ultimate strip mining")

There. A plan fit for a supervillain. Or, for the bright boy who wants to sell incredibly exclusive vacation trips to the Hanging Gardens of Enceladus.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Body Mechanics Geekery

Just a quick note... I think the body angle to use is to work off Feldenkrais' observation that large muscles drive large movement, and that the small muscles' work should be reserved for small refinements of movement. You see this all over, but it's very tough to retrain consciously. (Seriously, try letting your forearms be mostly passive while using a mouse, or try signing your checks like a Chinese calligrapher, with the motions coming out of the shoulder. For most folks, including lil' ol' moi, we're talking order-of-magnitude refinement in how one is able to move.)

For the record...

I'm not a very big computer gamer. I play them, unapologetically: you get a lot of bang for your dollar, especially if you tend to pick up just a couple titles and play them forever (I have very specific tastes).

Particularly, in my case, I like to do this for a few hours whenever I need to recharge, and to percolate on ideas that aren't going anywhere. Like taking a hella-long bath, only quite a bit more social. And the percolation works: I've pulled some fairly interesting research ideas out of playing Medieval:Total War and it's successor titles. (For instance: "mechanical artillery was a largely mature technology in the high-medieval world. So why did not a single European medieval power make notable use of field artillery except in relation to siegecraft? Or, put another way, why was it such a shock to the late-medieval world that the Taborites did make use of it, when the wagon-laager had been around as a tactical element in Central and Eastern Europe for centuries?")

And late last night I once again proved to myself that I am a total nerd by looking at Galactic Civilizations 2 and thinking "oh, no wonder I can never seem to get anywhere economically. The economic engine isn't built upon a capitalist model, but a mercantilist one. Duh...." This realization should have reached out and slapped my forebrain around like the former was a 1930s gangbuster, and my brain a sleazy pimp running wood alcohol. "Of course it's mercantilist, you idiot, it's a colonization game..."

And in the course of that, I think I solved a serious issue I'd been having with felt-making. Because that's, um, relevant to far future space opera, yeah, that's the ticket... if I'm right, I have to figure out now how to make a hat-maker's press large enough to produce that kind of felt in large pieces. Once that's achieved, I'll be able to replicate the kind of felt used for cavalry coats in Hungary, and which is largely never seen even in the online felt-making communities outside of people making extremely expensive hats for rodeo folks.

But, anyway, back to video games. If it's quite clear that at the beginning level of development, a mercantilist system is as good as one is likely to get (whether the power receiving raw materials is a government or a corporation), does it not behoove anybody who's serious about strip-mining the asteroids to chunk this silly notion of getting into space with lightweight materials, and instead develop the political will to build an Orion Drive? Forgiveness is easier than permission, and when the world sees a four-hundred-thousand-ton spaceship bigger than the Starship-freaking Enterprise loft into orbit, complete with huge water banks for eating up radiation and giant spherical rotating sections for artificial gravity, nobody will give a crap how it's launched. You want to motivate kids to do well in math and science? Watch those imaginations catch fire, when you tell them that if they work hard, one day they can grow up and work on THAT....

Molly Ivins takes a swing for the "progressives"

Hey now, you think it's hard to be a moderate, centrist Democrat? Try surviving this during your primary season:
I don’t know about you, but I have had it with the D.C. Democrats, had it with
the DLC Democrats, had it with every calculating, equivocating, triangulating,
straddling, hair-splitting son of a bitch up there, and that includes Hillary
Rodham Clinton.

This kind of thing is good news for Democrats and Republicans both.

For Donkeys: you're either leftist, or you're not. Molly Ivins is a standard Democratic Progressive. Aka, typical Austin-style leftist. There are a lot of leftists in the Democratic Party, and the Dems have a serious identity crisis that is not going to be papered over without a serious party struggle. Any Democrat who tries to sail between the Scylla of the DNC and the Charybdis of Harold Ickes' new database is going to suffer the slings and arrows of "Flip Flop!" But this time, it's going to be from a very loud, very vocal, and thanks to leftist softies with deep pockets and an atrocious taste in ties like George Soros, probably well-financed. The Dems, if they are going to survive as a party, need to decide whether they are the 1930s torchbearers of Progressive Socialism, or whether they are going to reinvent themselves as something else.

For Elephants: short term, anything that divides the Dems is good news. Medium-term, if the Progressives win, the Republicans are likely to wipe the walls with them electorally, forcing the emergence of a new party as the tension between the ideological and the "country club" wings of the party finally can no longer be contained.

Either way, it's a plus for voters, because all of this potential for conflict is predicated on politicians actually paying a slightly higher percentage of lip service to what their constituents want. Rove has the Republicans play to the base for a reason, and had Bush not consistently governed as the Country-Club semi-moderate that he is, he'd have higher approval ratings. Senator Clinton's crowd would govern as socialists... but don't dare actually say that in public... and their constituents who are honest-to-goodness '68ers have finally decided to truly call them on it.

Should be interesting.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Geekery: Body Mechanics

It's nobody's secret, unless you're one of the poor schmucks who has bought into the JKD mythology, that different martial arts use the body in different ways, and that a punch isn't a punch isn't a punch. Some martial arts styles move from the feet, some from the hips, some from the spine, some from the shoulders. Some transfer their power on a circle, some in a line, some in a combination of the two. An aikidoka rolls by turning his body into a sphere... I learned to roll by turning my body into a ribbon...

but there are certain formative basics which must remain equal, no matter what style of martial arts, or what sport one practices. One of those is the basics of the body. Men have particular bodies. Women, another. Teach a woman to roll the way a man does, and BANG! -- you're looking at a likely injury... because of the differences in the shoulder-to-hip ratio.

One of the things that I'd really like to do in life is get certified as a Feldenkrais practitioner. I think, on top of simply helping older folks re-learn how to get around without help (which would be valuable in and of itself), that I could make a contribution, because it seems that the discipline, which is inherently non-prescriptive, misses a real chance to make a contribution, based on not just movement in the joints, keeping with the functional aspect of the discipline, but by also addressing the specific role of soft tissue -- the "structure" that other folks like Ida Rolf and Michael Leahy observed in order to come up with Rolfing and Active Release Technique.

Is it possible to jump the bridge between them? Using a crude version of ART, I can get somebody's locked-up muscle to let go, and break up some fascitis. Using a crude version of Feldenkrais' hands-on work, I can teach somebody how to move in a way that they couldn't figure out.

This is well and good... but not truly mutually supporting. Function ought to be able to be integrated with structure, since the two are inter-relying concepts. If I know that I have a problem lifting my leg in the air because of tight hip muscles (this is true), and I know that I also have a problem lifting my leg in the air because I'm still learning how to really use the muscles in my lower torso to control the movement of my leg (since, after all, the quad is not REALLY the muscle being used to do this, even though one often feels it tense), both are part of the process. Similarly, if I teach a guy how to move in a way that he no longer shrugs in order to raise his hand, that's good, but it doesn't actually heal the damage caused by years of doing that... and conversely, without re-educating the body, simply fixing the damage isn't going to stop the underlying organization of the nervous system that causes it.

Now, the Alexander Technique *does* do this, at least to an extent... but only to an extent. You won't find an AT guy directly countering fascitis in order to restore soft-tissue function. But AT also makes explicit prescriptive postural assumptions, and while those assumptions are absolutely perfect for, say, taiji, they're not so great for full-court basketball.

I'm sure that this circle can be squared. I *know* it can... and I'd like to be the guy who does it. Now, how, that's another, very, very good question.

The "unconference." Or, "a blogger falls prey to hype."

David Winer presents a little notion called the unconference, based upon the following premise:

The sum of the expertise of the people in the audience is greater than the sum
of expertise of the people on stage.

A laudable observation: I can see why Glenn on Instapundit linked it. However, "Army of Davids" material, this ain't, because the following premise is used to support a terrible conclusion:
Okay, now you have a room full of people, what exactly are they supposed to do?
Choose a reporter, someone who knows something about the topic of discussion (yes, there is a topic, it’s not free-form) and knows how to ask questions and knit a story together.

Oh, dear. So, we're reducing conference sessions to Oprah, only with the Discussion Leader calling on random participants as if they were students at school? What does it mean, to "weave a story?" Well, I can tell you what it doesn't mean:
  1. You cannot hear and form effective, rational judgments based on somebody's research findings.
  2. You cannot visit any session about which you are a neophyte in the hopes of learning from an expert.
  3. You have no means by which to differentiate who possesses specialized knowledge, and who does not.
  4. You cannot present meaningful visual materials, because the topic at hand, given a population of sixty-some active participants, will never remain sufficiently focused.
But what we're really dealing with, is a disastrous assumption, which the author seems to assert as a given good:
I walked into the room and said Time Out, and told the panelists to take their seats in the otherwise packed classroom. I saw Jarvis’s eyes light up — he “got it” right then and there. No crutches. No droning. We’re all equals in this room. No one’s ideas are presumed to be better.

This is the sort of egalitarian promise that fascinates reporters in general -- it plays into their overarching mythology. Sadly, however, it's just not true except in the squishiest conference sessions. We do presume that some people have more and better ideas, or else we wouldn't bother to go to conferences in order to hear them.

We have words to describe what is advertised: for "unconference," substitute discussion. And for "unconferences" involving sufficiently unfalsifiable discussions that everybody's opinion is as good as everybody else's, substitute roundtable session. Yes, roundtables. Aka, ugh. There's a good reason that roundtable sessions are usually poorly attended, and they're precisely the reasons why Mr. Winer seems to be advocating them.

This whole blogging and "Army of Davids" deal rests on a premise: technology is allowing more voices to kick into the public debates. But that is only a virtue because of the generally-untapped reservoir of expert voices who can increase the quality of the general discussion. Simply because there are hundreds of thousands of experts out there, does not imply that all bloggers' opinions are equal. Would I dare to debate Joe Katzman of Winds of Change on defense issues? Nuh-uh. Or how about Michael Yon regarding small-unit fighting in Iraq? Nuh-uh again.

Blogs are nice, and expanding technology has the potential to do us a lot of good. But falling prey to hype isn't going to get us anywhere.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

First Epistle to Saint James the Apostate

Why might a person who is theoretically hostile to religion argue that religion is still necessary?

The article has its ideological blinders, to be sure.

The author might have shelved some bitterness at the "patriarchy" by noting the serious burdens that said system places upon men. Men may theoretically become more powerful under such a system, but in reality, they are also drastically more controlled -- and an emphasis on male self-control is a consistent hallmark of traditional patriarchies. There are good reasons why those seemingly bizarre homemakers' tracts of the 1950s seemed to make sense at the time... Technology has changed quite a lot. Even in the 19th and early 20th centuries, it took somebody performing hard work (in the 19th century, back-breaking work) in order to keep a home a fit place to live. Ever done a few loads of laundry without mechanical assistance? In the winter?

It seems to me that most of what the author decribes can readily be described as the results of societies that have become fundamentally out of balance. Modern secular dogmas become ideologically myopic to the point of solipsism... and why make a life-altering, permanent investment in the heavy duties of parenthood, if one has no concrete notion of any good but one's own? (For instance, the supposed "activist" who never actually goes out to engage in charitable work, but only critiques others' attempts to do so on ideological grounds. Said activist may remain ideologically pure by his standards, and thus avoid creating harm, but he generally does little to no good, either). Religion tends to become the counterweight by default, since no purely philosophical -- atheistic, agnostic, or even simply apathetic -- system of thought has ever been devised that sufficiently orients large members of societies away from themselves and towards other people the way that healthy religion does. Some of the unhealthily individualistic (and I'm speaking here as a publicly-avowed "small-l" libertarian) ideologies of the 20th century are already becoming known as profoundly solipsistic failures in this respect.

If Mr. Longman wants an antidote to "Patriarchy" as he sees it, he should seriously work to devise a philosophical system that will allow for individualism without the demographically crushing solipsism that often attends it, and which therefore will square the circle, and use a secular argument to preach satisfaction in providing for others. I could devise a philosophy like this off the top of my head in about twenty minutes. Whether such a philosophy would be acceptable to Longman is a bad bet: it would be explicitly futurist and consistently expansionist. Whether it would be accepted, and prove, over time, to be more *effective* than religion, is another bet entirely, and one I wouldn't put much money on. However hostile Longman may be to religion, it is quite clear that, society can measure religion according to secular standards, and discover secular arguments in favor for it.

Religion *works.*