Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Limits of Physics and Time Out for Humanity

In reaction to a paper by Igor Markov published in Nature, John Timmer at Ars Technica asks,

Let's assume for a moment that the answer is "yes" (because it is). This simply begs the more important question,

"So What?"

I don't ask this facetiously. We've recently been through a period of technological upheaval, and I've been privileged that the bulk of it happened in my own lifetime. We are so used to constant change that we now feel that this is the normal state of affairs.

Well, it isn't. Before the Industrial Revolution, the world continued on pretty much unchanged for thousands of years. Horses and oxen pulled carts. People walked. They ploughed. Fashions changed a bit, but all in all, change was gradual, and slow, and people expected this to continue as surely as we expect change. Look at a timeline of humanity and highlight the periods of rapid technological change vs. those of stagnation, and you'll find that most of the time... the vast majority of all of history... we maintain a status quo. But don't get the idea that all of history until modern times was a gradual incline, with a graph of "progress" looking like a hockey stick. That's not true either.

6,000 years and still going
This isn't the first age of upheaval and rapid change. Humans were hunter-gatherers for millennia before they became farmers. Almost the very moment they became farmers, the concept of a "city" was born. Specialization happened almost literally overnight. Industry was invented, albeit the manual sort of industry performed by carpenters, masons, bakers, tailors, farriers, and the like. All this happened in the blink of an eye, not unlike the rate of change in our own information age.

Afterward, there was a plateau, and occasionally a decline when the reason for a technology dissipated, as with megalithic works. This has happened at several times and places in history. In Western culture, an indication of this is in our names. Surnames are treated as being quite abstract today, but once there was a time when you met a man named Cooper, you expected him to be able to make a barrel, which he'd likely sell to a man named Brewer who used it to make beer. And a man named Farrier would shoe the horse that transported the beer on Mr. Carter's wagon. And so on. These became family names because the stability of the culture was such that these talents and tasks were passed on from one generation to another within a family business. And the perfectly logical and reasonable naming convention of that lost time survives as an anachronism long after the stability that birthed it became a memory.

I see no reason to expect that we will not reach another technological plateau in the relatively near future, and nearer than you might think. The expectation that "smaller and faster" can continue indefinitely seems to me to be completely unwarranted and logically unsupportable. Nevertheless, we in the "developed world" are already so accustomed to constant change that the mere thought of a year without "advancement" is trauma-inducing... so much so that people delude themselves into believing that a white iPhone is an improvement over a black one. It is now enough to simply have change for the sake of change, which has nothing whatsoever to do with substantive technological improvements. The physical limits of technology, coupled with this irrational desire for change for change's sake, leading to an acceptance of the mere appearance of change, will eventually and paradoxically lead to the impending plateau.

Certainly we still have some breakthroughs to make... for instance, as continued miniaturization is stymied by the laws of physics, computers will nevertheless continue to grow in power through networking, becoming in function (if not form) the giant behemoths of Asimov's imagination... but this isn't an advancement of technology; rather, a continued application of existing tech. But if people even now get excited over a mere change of color, it won't be long (as ages are measured) before they're excited over nothing at all. To be clear, I think the biggest changes 500 years from now... 1,000 years from now... will not be technologies that are incomprehensible to us. However, the uses to which those technologies put may be mind-bogglingly bizarre, as social change is shaped by psychology and not by physics. I challenge you to find any pundit of even 50 years past who could have predicted that, once humanity was given ubiquitous access to instantaneous face-to-face conversations, millions of people would voluntarily eschew it in favor of tiny telegrams they type with their thumbs.

Yes, I know... "limits of human imagination", yadda, yadda, yadda. Once, thousands of years ago, our ancestors invented stories in which they could climb a high mountain and meet the gods. Today they invent stories about using warp drive to meet aliens. Is one any more naive than the other?  Not really, though if you're like most people, it almost certainly irks you that someone is awake enough to say it outright.

To be perfectly frank, humanity needs a breather now and then. We haven't yet perfected the use of those cities that were invented way back in the Agricultural Revolution thousands of years ago. We are enslaved and weakened by technologies that were intended to free and empower us. We've allowed that tech to be used to confuse us to the point where we wouldn't know true freedom and power if it bit us in the ass. We've thrown tech on top of tech, very little of which we've demonstrated that we have the competence to use. Thus far the most prevalent product of the Information Age is a generation of cat-video-watching couch potatoes who play at loving science without even knowing what science is.

Humanity is better than that.

We could use a long time out.

History being my guide, I think we're going to get it.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Hamas is responsible for their own war crimes.

I'm doing a no-no. I stuck my nose into some friends' conversation, and now I'm posting those thoughts here. I'll keep it as generic as I can here.

One friend re-posted a graphic regarding Israel, expressing, among other things, that you don't dictate how your allies fight a war. A second friend took exception to that, saying (paraphrased slightly) "So friends don't haul their friends off of people that they are kicking the sh*t out of and say "Okay, okay-they've had enough?"

To be sure, while sovereign countries are sovereign, I personally think you certainly do have a say in whether an ally remains your ally based on their behavior.But I also think that the specific situation in Israel is grossly misrepresented in my second friend's statement. Nor do I think that's his fault. So I responded as follows... and this is edited a bit for format and clarity:

Friends know when to discard metaphors that have been stretched beyond their bounds.

Hamas has not "had enough". If they had, then they would not be the first to fire missiles at the end of every ceasefire. They would accept peace.

The "had enough" metaphor simply doesn't work, nor can it, ever. Here's why:

Hamas will never have "had enough". We know because they say so in their charter as well as in their actions. From Article 11 of their charter (the Hamas Covenant): "Those who are on the land, are there only to benefit from its fruit. This Waqf remains as long as earth and heaven remain. Any procedure in contradiction to Islamic Sharia, where Palestine is concerned, is null and void."

What does that mean? Hamas claim that the Israelis profit from the land in violation of an Islamic waqf. In Islamic law a "waqf" is something akin to a charitable trust, in which ownership remains with the original owner (and survives his death), but from which no individual profit may be derived. All profit is reserved for the beneficiaries. In this specific case the beneficiaries are "all Muslims for all time" (and only Muslims). There are some restrictions, such as it cannot violate Islamic principles, and those declaring the waqf must actually own the items being used to found the waqf. The claim by Hamas is that Muhammad himself, upon occupying the lands of Syria and Iraq, declared them to be a waqf. That is, "set aside for the Muslim generations until Judgement Day". 

There is no contract, no agreement, no discussion, no negotiation, no settlement, no mediation, no anything whatsoever that can possibly supercede this waqf --ever-- in the minds of Hamas. Everything else is null and void. You can talk all day without changing the fact -- and they will do that, completely devoid of any feelings of guilt caused by their deception, because they know every assurance they utter on the subject to be as void as if it never existed. No loss of life will ever dissuade them, either. Article 8 of the Hamas Covenant, in full, says of Hamas: "Allah is its target, the Prophet is its model, the Qur'an its constitution: Jihad is its path and death for the sake of Allah is the loftiest of its wishes."

The cited authorities for the claim of waqf are hadiths (traditions about Muhammad), as the story does not appear in the Qur'an. The hadith is necessary to lay the claim that the waqf was established while Muhammad was in direct possession of the land. (ISIS appears to be using the same argument when they claimed authority over all of Syria and Iraq as an Islamic caliphate.)

Defenders of Hamas point to Article 31 of the Hamas Covenant, which declares how Hamas is a "humanistic movement" guided by tolerance in which Islam, Christianity, and Judaism may coexist in peace. They fail to note the 30 preceding articles which in aggregate explain that this is ONLY the case "under the wing of Islam", a necessary condition of which is that Israel, as a state, be destroyed. We furthermore note the extent to which their stated ideal is practiced by the events occurring in Western Iraq even as we speak; and by the continued use of human shields in Gaza. Death for the sake of Allah. That ideal is not practiced at all, nor will it be until the whole is "under the wing of Islam".

Here's an English translation of the Charter. No commentary, no interpretation:

At around this point my second friend responded with "That would all be well and good... if it was only Hamas they were attacking. It is not." I'm going to need a little room, so I'm moving my response out here to my blog.

I want you to keep in mind that my criticisms here apply to Hamas, and to ISIS and like-minded Jihadist groups. There are plenty of Muslims who view these radical organizations with the same disgust and disdain that a Christian reserves for the Westboro Baptist Church. The difference here is that where a Christian will denounce and shout down the WBC, Most peaceful Muslims make only feeble protests against Jihadists. In part it is because these people will kill you.

Short answer: The only target in Gaza is Hamas.

Long answer follows.

Hamas violates international law and commits war crimes by placing themselves among human shields. To be clear, it is illegal to use human shields, and those doing so are committing the crime. They are liable for the casualties among the unwilling victims who are used as shields. To the extent that people voluntarily shield combatant resources, those people are not civilians, but active combatants.

That's not just my opinion. There are more than a few world leaders who should take a little time to actually read the Geneva Conventions. Article 28 states that “the presence of a protected person may not be used to render certain points or areas immune from military operations.”

And this makes common sense as well. The presence of human shields cannot render you immune from loss, as the moment that is allowed to happen, then every infantryman, everywhere has merely to strap a baby to his chest and become invincible. Put a rocket launcher in a schoolyard and Bob's your uncle! Instant victory! I won't join anyone in endorsing that practice or in allowing it, but of course Hamas has no problem with that. Use of civilians is their tactic, There are no Hamas non-combatants, as explained by their own charter (Hamas Covenant, Article 12).

While asserting the right to retaliate, the Israeli Foreign Ministry notes:
"But callous disregard of those who hide behind civilians does not absolve the state seeking to respond to such attacks of the responsibility to avoid or at least minimize injury to civilians and their property in the course of its operations."
So Israel sends warnings first, so that Hamas will remove the citizens. Of course it doesn't happen. And by "warnings, I don't mean that they drop leaflets, as the United States has been known to do. I don't mean a shot across the bow. They actually telephone the target and personally advise the people to evacuate, combatants and non-combatants alike. No other country in the world does this. Not the US, not the UK, not any other civilized nation. Yet the media report that Israel is attacking non-combatants. That is completely wrong. What is correct is that Israel takes extraordinary measures to warn civilians away from a target, to which combatants then gather.

I'm well aware of the arguments of op-ed pieces like this one [link] that argue about the "hypocrisy" of this stance toward human shields, saying that it's a "deliberately and dishonestly confusing" to argue that these are human shields because, they claim, those "shields" just happen to live in neighboring apartments, and are just going about their business. The video to which I linked is from Palestinian television, not Israeli, and even they don't make that astoundingly whitewashed claim. My opinion is what it is because I've looked at what the Palestinians say to each other. It is formed from their news sources, their documents, their statements.

Around the globe, civilized countries have passed laws making it illegal to use human shields... including Israel. Israel's law is very precise compared to most... it has to be, because they are under constant siege by those who would use them, and have been from the day of their founding.

Here's a map. In green I've marked the member states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). Basically, these are the countries of the world that wouldn't mind seeing Israel wiped off the map. On this same map I've marked Israel in purple:

click to enlarge

No really. It's right there in the middle. You have to squint. So let's zoom in...

click to enlarge

Remember, purple is Israel. Green wants Israel gone. Some of green act upon it.

Now imagine for a moment that you live in Israel. You're cognizant of your environment. Not just Hamas, but ISIS in Syria, Iraq, Iran, and your other neighbors want you dead. They don't want peace with you. They don't want to share jack shit with you.They want to step over your rotting, stinking corpse and take over. They say so at every opportunity. They write it down. They broadcast it, they teach it to their children. They will strap bombs to themselves, walk into your restaurants, and detonate themselves to prove their devotion to achieving this goal, and often do. Furthermore, you've tried peace talks. You've tried appeasement. You've tried every diplomatic channel possible. You've agreed to land grants. You've agreed to share your capital city. You've agreed to cease-fire after cease-fire. And they want you dead.

Don't roll your eyes, this has factually happened.

If Israel is hyper-defensive, it's with good reason. Israelis are surrounded by people who want to murder them in cold blood. There are two big reasons that it hasn't happened yet. The first is that Israel cannot afford to show weakness, ever; and in the very literal interests of self-preservation, retaliate against those that attack, wherever they may be. The second is that, contrary to the lofty claims of the Hamas Covenant, Arabs are anything but of one accord. They're kind of busy at the moment kicking the shit out of each other, as they have done for many decades.

But here's Hamas, in Gaza, throwing rockets at Israel, and literally daring them to shoot back at the schools and mosques and hospitals from which they've illegally placed their launchers and command posts. It is Hamas and not Israel that converted these from protected areas to combat targets. Don't take my word for it, read the Geneva Conventions yourself.

The reason Hamas does this is YOU.

At this moment they are not fighting to win a war, and they are most certainly not fighting for their survival. For that, all they have to do is peacefully go about their business. They are fighting to win YOU. They actually believe that you and millions just like you are gullible enough that you will believe the outrageous lie that Israel is the aggressor here. Israel, who unilaterally gave them the Gaza Strip. Israel, who violated none of the cease fire agreements. Israel, who is acting in accordance with the Geneva Conventions while Hamas deliberately hides their soldiers behind women and children.

Hamas do this because they have lost in the past and they believe that staging this lie will cost Israel her allies. And the sad part is that they are right. There are millions of people exactly that gullible. But that's not the only reason. They do it because despite their disregard for their own lives, they know that the Israelis are morally disinclined to attack through a crowd.

There is a principle in Islam called taqiyya. There are 2.5 million Muslims in the US, and many of them have no idea what that is. Not so with the jihadists. It is the principle of religious guile, and while it's intended to mean that a person can conceal his identity as a Muslim in order to escape persecution, it's interpreted by jihadists to mean that it's ok to lie to your enemies. Let's look at some practical examples. I don't want you to pay any attention to what the commentators say. Just the Muslims. The part I want you to see starts at around 2:46.

While many Muslims are honest and forthright, you can trust nothing of what a jihadist says to you regarding Israel. You can only trust what he says to another jihadist, in private.

Every Jew, every Christian, every non-Muslim is "kafir" (plural "kuffar"). In case you missed it, go back and watch at 4:55. You are like a cow: on Muslim land you may be captured, sold, or killed without a second thought. That is not mainstream Islam, that is these radicals that would have you take up the defense of poor, poor Hamas. But it is mainstream among Hamas, and ISIS, and al-Qaeda; and left unchecked it will be mainstream Islam.

Israel understands their neighbors. Hamas will give no quarter. Hamas quite literally pray that every rock and tree the Jews shelter behind will give them up so they can be murdered. (Hamas Covenant, Article 7). A few rockets, poorly aimed, are merely to goad Israel into attacking. And should their human shields die, then it is willingly. When Hamas' attacks are unanswered then the rockets will not stop. It will simply embolden them to fire more, with tighter aim. And we can even test this... Just yesterday (as I write this) Hamas once again violated the latest cease-fire with a launch of two rockets, to which Israel did not respond. I say they're not the last. Do you want to bet against me?

If Hamas cares about the lives of their people they have only to stop firing. There would be lasting, permanent peace starting right now. They launched two more rockets just hours before the ceasefire expired. One can only conclude that they do not care.


Addendum. It stands to reason that this shouldn't have to be spelled out, but apparently it does. Hamas, it doesn't matter who owns the school you're using for military purposes. You're still war criminals. You could paint "UN" directly on the babies you hide behind. You're still war criminals.

The question that prompted this addendum pains me to the core, seriously. I really thought I'd let it go, but I just can't. It was a rhetorical question as to whether children in a UN school are innocent. I can't let it go because it communicates one or more of several things:
  1. It tells me that the questioner did not read this post before attempting to rebut. The very fact that children are innocent is precisely why using them as human shields is a war crime.
  2. It indicates that the questioner believes that somehow I might have not bothered to consider it. "Wait a minute... don't schools have innocent children!!?" "Well by golly, I never thought about that when I wrote a bloody monograph claiming that Hamas are war criminals for putting those children in the line of fire!"
  3. Let's be clear, by "building" we mean "school", and the question implies that there's something worse about shelling a UN school than another, There's not. I don't care if it's a UN building or a one-room schoolhouse on the frontier. I refuse to get pulled into a discussion of "which kid is worth more?" 
  4. It assumes that children are targets. Wrong. Military targets are the targets. The children are on them thanks to Hamas. There are rules by which all sides are expected to conduct themselves... these are the Geneva conventions. They are intended to minimize the loss of innocent lives, and if one side refuses to abide by them, then the resultant loss of life on their side is their own damned fault.. even the lives of innocents.. I posted video examples of Palestinians running to areas where they knew maximum damage would certainly occur. So whose fault are the casualties? The Palestinians'. When the Palestinians use a UN school as a weapons depot it turns the building into a legitimate target. Who did that? The Palestinians! 
Also, it communicates a profound lack of understanding of the purpose of warfare. Warfare -- even modern warfare -- is not a fucking video-game. It is nothing fair about it. It is not romantic. It is not bloodless. It is not sanitary. It does not have a level playing field. It is not won by a scorecard tally of rockets fired into desolate areas to no effect, but by inflicting damage on your enemy. It is not about having some mythical equity in the number of casualties. There is no "casualty quota" in war. you don't stop so your enemy can catch up. It is not your enemies' job to safeguard your citizens, it is yours. Your enemies will avoid certain safe zones, but you are responsible for ensuring that those conform to the conventions. You are asking those who would rain death upon you to spare your people. It is an astonishingly generous concession for which you are tasked only to keep them out of the way. It's not too much to ask. In war, as many people die as stand between you and the goal, which is to destroy your enemies' ability to make war upon you. In many situations it would preferentially mean to take out the enemies' desire to make war upon you, but as those who read the above post know, in the case of Israel vs. jihadists this is not an option.

The Palestinians do have that option. To remove the Israelis desire to make war, all that Hamas have to do is cease fire and don't start firing again. Done. Peace at last!

In contrast, Israel has one and only one viable option regarding jihadists: remove their enemies' ability to make war temporarily, until they come back for more. Then do it again, and again, until Judgement Day. And to remove that ability even temporarily they absolutely must destroy military targets, wherever they may be, no matter how distasteful Hamas makes the task. Israel pre-announces its targets because it is not targeting innocents. The location of those targets and the number of people on them are entirely up to Hamas.


Addendum 2: In response to another off-line comment:  This is not heartless; it is heartbreaking.


Addendum 3: In response to another emailed comment: No, Hamas is not justified in firing upon Israel because of the maritime blockade of the Gaza Strip. For one thing, Egypt is participating in that same blockade. And whereas Egypt's reasons for maintaining a blockade on land and sea are admittedly political, Israel's participation in that blockade is clearly for defense purposes only, to block weapons. and the blockade began long after Israel evacuated Gaza and Hamas began hostilities. Nevertheless, thousands of trucks carrying food, medicine, and other goods have entered and continue to enter Gaza from Israel, even as Egypt turns back aid, and even as Hamas continues to hurl their rockets. The Israeli MOD keeps track, and even publishes weekly reports [PDF]. The plain fact is that if Hamas was the cause of the blockade in the first place (both the defensive blockade by Israel and the political blockade by Egypt) and if Hamas wants the blockade to end they have it within their power... today... merely by ending their bad behavior. So, nice try, but as usual, pro-Hamas propaganda has nothing whatsoever to do with reality.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Vacuum Propellers and Junk Science

A little while back NASA "confirmed" a revolutionary space engine design known as the EmDrive. It was the sort of thing that some people call a "quantum propeller" and I like to call a "vacuum propeller", and it's a pretty obvious engineering question once you've learned of the concept of "virtual particles". It's where the mind immediately goes when you ask yourself the question "how can I make this work for me?"

The thing is that even if real, this is such a fleeting and small phenomenon that it's not the sort of thing you're likely to leverage with a glorified boat screw or a pair of oars. It's so close to a violation of the accepted laws of physics that extraordinary evidence is required.

While I'd LOVE to say that I posted a wonderful take-down of this subject, I did not. Ethan Siegel at did, in a cogent and well-authored piece that you should definitely read.

Here's the link:

Yes. Sometimes even NASA does bad science.


Addendum: So you noticed that there's a big difference in length and tone between this "Junk Science" post and some others that I've done? Good... now know why... it's because this is how science works. When people make mistakes, other people point them out. Then the ones who make the mistake blush a little, but then say "my bad" and move on. They don't defend the mistake and attack the people who pointed it out. That's behavior reserved for pseudo-science. Real science is self-correcting, and real scientists know and accept that.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

CDC Study on LBGTetc.

"1.6 percent of adults self-identify as gay or lesbian, and 0.7 percent consider themselves bisexual.
The overwhelming majority of adults, 96.6 percent, labeled themselves as straight in the 2013 survey. An additional 1.1 percent declined to answer, responded “I don’t know the answer” or said they were “something else.”"
-- The Washington Times
For simplicity's sake, rather than list every form of politically-correct non-traditional gender roles, The study refers to them all together under the label "gay". But there will still be people who get hung up on labels. Even when you use the currently in vogue "LBGT" there are people who argue about whether "their letter" is being included, or whether their group is adequately represented by a letter [don't believe me? Click]. So I'll be using the just-now-invented word "curfs" to mean "every form of non-traditional gender role". There. Now i'ts defined, and as it is now a real word, we don't have to waste any more time on it. (And yes, this is me protesting the corruption of plain language. Making up new words is frankly better than fucking up old ones. It doesn't matter what a word IS so long as everyone agrees on what it MEANS. That's not possible when you hijack a common word.)

The WP goes on to list a number of additional facts that seemingly reinforce curf stereotypes.
  • Curfs are more likely to be cigarette smokers (26% vs 18%)
  • Curfs are more likely to have five or more alcoholic drinks in one day at least once in the past year (33% vs 22%)
  • Curfs are more likely to have met federal guidelines for aerobic physical activity (56% vs 49%)
  • Curfs are more likely to have been tested for HIV (67% vs 37%)
  • Curfs are more likely to have received an influenza vaccine during the past year (46% vs 41%)

The actual report lists more information. To me, the fact that the data seemingly reinforces curf stereotypes is completely unsurprising. Stereotypes are stereotypes for a reason. A stereotype tells you what is likely to be true about a member of a group. They are derived from observation of that group. They are not pulled out of thin air. A stereotype is not a lie, it is a probability. Of course that doesn't mean that it will be true of any particular individual; and that is why it's wrong to apply a stereotype to an individual (such as thinking that all curfs are effeminate). And it doesn't mean that behavior doesn't change with time, which is why it's wrong to apply outdated stereotypes to a group (such as thinking that all Southerners are inbred hayseeds, or assuming that women don't have jobs outside the home).
But seriously -- as an aside -- if a member of  a group is offended by a stereotype, then it's misguided of them to direct their ire toward people who notice the stereotype. Instead, they could direct it toward the members of the group whose consistent behavior brought that stereotype into existence. Or toward themselves for believing that merely describing the general characteristics of their own group as being somehow "offensive". Or they could choose to understand what a stereotype truly is, in which case there's no cause for offense.
Here's a quick example of stereotyping in action. You invite someone to dinner, but knowing that he's Jewish, you assume (via stereotype) that he may have some restrictions regarding the menu. So you ask. And he doesn't get in your face and tell you that he's a non-practicing Reform Jew and then ask how dare you make assumptions about the level of his Jewishness. No. He says "No it won't be a problem," or "Anything but ham or pork," or "Why don't we eat out?" Show me someone who says they never use stereotypes and I'll show you someone who is either a liar or self-deluded. It's how you apply them that makes them either problematic or culturally sensitive. 
Aside complete. 
A couple of observations...
  1. The study doesn't posit any reasons for these trends. It is purely a fact-gathering exercise. Arguing the figures would be silly. These are self-reported statistics, so it would be accusatory, unprovable, and unhelpful to suggest that the "real" numbers are different.
  2. It's not clear whether all of those percentages in the detailed comparisons mean anything. When you're comparing 33% of 2.3% of the population to 22% of 96.6% of the population, is that a fair comparison? Is it even outside the margin of error? Either way it's still clear that mega-boatloads more straight people have had five or more alcoholic drinks in a single day within the last year. So if you asked some random person that question, the chances are terribly small that the person is actually curf. So there's a danger that people will misinterpret these data and conclude that there's a 33% chance that a heavy drinker is curf when in fact the probability is under 1%. 
To illustrate that second point... out of every 1,000 randomly-chosen people, the chances are that 7 curfs vs 213 straights have had a drinking binge in the last year. So, how useful is that? My point here is that any significance of these individual categories has yet to be determined. It's really easy for laypersons to get wrong, it's not in the report, and speculation isn't terribly useful.
A third observation is, 2.3% of the population is pretty small. Far smaller than one would expect given the representation of curfs in the media. And that's not unexpected, because (via perfectly valid stereotype) we know that many curfs tend to gravitate toward media-related jobs. So yeah, they're more highly visible in media than they are in the general public. So the study does seem to indicate that fears of being "overrun" by curfs in your community are irrational.

What's not irrational though, is how a solid number might reasonably shape social expectations and legislative policy. We have an expectation that "reasonable accommodations" are made for minority groups, and that there is a reciprocal expectation of "reasonable accommodations" BY minority groups. For instance, if I'm the only wheelchair-bound student in an existing school, a reasonable accommodation would be to make sure that all of the classes I'm scheduled to take are on the ground floor. It would be unreasonable to expect the cash-strapped educational system to build an elevator just for me (although new buildings may have that requirement as a result of updated building codes). After all, it's easier to switch a couple of teachers around than to build a lift. It would be unreasonable to change the rules of basketball so that I could play on the varsity team. After all, able-bodied students are equally excluded from the team under the existing rules. But if no restroom existed on the ground floor, it would be reasonable to expect that one be added, because it is a necessity; and I would expect to engage in some form of exercise within my physical limits. Likewise, where laws are not written to deal with necessity, it's reasonable to expect curfs to accommodate the majority.

What this means in practical terms to me is that this study changes nothing whatsoever. I think it's reasonable to expect that the average person I meet is straight. I see no reason to pussyfoot around bizarre pronouns, or to require of me that I remember your quirks specifically, and whatever invented labels you wish to apply to yourself. I see no reason for me to begin to care who you sleep with, or who you make love to, how often, or where, so long as it's not in any place that I would reasonably expect a straight person to get jiggy.

Since I don't give a shit about who my straight friends marry, I see no reason to begin giving a shit about who anyone else marries, and I don't have any reason to support any law that implies I give a shit one way or the other. I'd rather repeal laws rather than stupidly try to fix the system with more of what broke it in the first place. So I'd repeal just about anything that has to do with marriage, because I don't think the government has any business having a say in it. The First Amendment says that Congress can make no law regarding religion. If you believe that marriage is a religious affair then regulation of it is prohibited by the Constitution. If you think it's a secular affair it's still nobody's business. I'd repeal a lot of other laws, too, but that would be a digression. But if your brand of weird preys upon the helpless, then I see no reason to change anything that prevents you from doing it. A society exists to protect its citizens, and predators are predators no matter what twisted justification they invent for themselves. I see no reason to stop defending the underaged, or the physically weak, or the psychologically impaired, or the aged, or animals, for that matter.

Nothing changes for me. Must be a slow news day.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Getting rid of foot fungus

OK, I've long had a problem with foot fungus, and particularly on and under the nails. There are a LOT of products out there, including some that work "internally" (pills), which some doctors will tell you are the only effective way to get rid of such an infection.

However, in my case I got it licked, on my own and it was easy-peasy. If you don't mind some possibly squeam-inducing descriptions, keep reading. I won't be posting pictures because I didn't think to take any pictures, primarily because I had no real expectation that this would work. But it did, faster and better than I'd hoped for. (update: I found some creative commons pictures that are fairly close, though)

First I cut back the nails as far as they would go. I'm not talking about down to the quick... I'm talking about scraping away as much of the damaged and flaking nail as I could, as far back on the toe as I could, using a nail clipper, file, and pocketknife. That turned out to be about halfway up the toe. It didn't hurt... this stuff was beyond help anyway. I just resigned myself that I'd have a pretty gross-looking toe until it healed.

I had no worry about whether it would heal. My little brother's was removed entirely when he got his caught in a door, and it grew back. And again, this isn't painful. When I started to feel it I just stopped scraping. Good thing I don't wear open-toed sandals.

Then I doused my feet in ethyl alcohol once a day until they were healed (about 4 months).

That's it, really.

Not my foot, but pretty close to
what the nail looked like before I
got started. Under the cracked and
discolored surface it was opaque white
and flaking and crumbling.
I doused the whole foot... just wiped it down with a very wet cloth... with special attention to the toes. Ethyl Alcohol (ethanol) is the stuff in Germ-X and in most other germicides. It kills 99.99% of germs according to just about every reference, so there's no reason to think it wouldn't be effective here. It does dry out your feet, so following it up with a moisturizer isn't terrible. I eventually saved myself some trouble by using Germ-X hand sanitizer with Aloe, once a day, before putting on some socks.

It not only got rid of the toe fungus, but also stopped the flaking skin, the over-production of callouses, and any foot odor.

It works so well, I'll probably just keep doing it as a preventative measure.


This isn't the first time I've found that simple measures are better. My first job was in a pet shop. While I was there we experienced an outbreak of mouth fungus among the snakes. One of the hardest parts of treating a snake for anything is getting it to take medication. Snakes are famously talented regurgitators. Sadly, mouth fungus is often fatal to them because it prevents them from eating.

So on a hunch I ran and got a bottle of plain-old garden-variety Listerine mouthwash and some cotton swabs. With finger and thumb on the hinges of the jaw I forced the constrictors' mouths open and swabbed each of them down. They had immediate relief overnight and were completely cured within the week.

As an FYI, Listerine's active ingredients are the essential oils eucalyptol, menthol, methyl salicylate, and thymol dissolved in ethanol.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

SCOTUS vs. POTUS... etc.

Reuters reports the following:

In her decision, U.S. District Judge Anna Brown doesn't rule that the no-fly list itself violates the Constitution, but that it's unconstitutional because it denies due process. Basically, if you're on that list you have no recourse. You don't get to face your accuser. It's all punishment and no proof.

In her ruling [PDF], Brown states, "The court concludes international travel is not a mere convenience or luxury in this modern world. Indeed, for many international travel is a necessary aspect of liberties sacred to members of a free society."  She goes on to write, "Accordingly, on this record the court concludes plaintiffs inclusion on the no-fly list constitutes a significant deprivation of their liberty interests in international travel."

In so ruling, Brown opines on the law's violation of the rights of due process as stated in the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. I think the more interesting argument is the one that isn't made, and is rarely, if ever, made in recent years. In this ruling it's simply accepted and assumed that we have a right to travel, something that's not listed in the Constitution. Does such a right exist? Well, think about it for a moment and I think you'll find yourself asking, "how could it not?"

The most forgotten and ignored affirmation of rights lies in the Ninth Amendment:
"The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people."
It's a tiny amendment, but one that in all good sense we should be brandishing like a stick. There's a funny thing about "rights". They are absolutely, categorically not granted to you by the Constitution, or by the Court, or Congress, or the President, or by any human authority. Rather, these rights are affirmed and acknowledged by the Constitution. And that acknowledgement of the affirmation of the extra-constitutional source of rights is stated here, in the Ninth Amendment.

The right to travel is common sense. When denied to the extreme, it's synonymous with imprisonment. That's no less true when the jail is spacious. The government argued that while you have a right to travel, you don't have a right to travel by any particular conveyance. So instead of flying to Europe you could take a steamer, or your yacht, or drive on the Arctic ice, or swim, or get Scotty to beam you over. Imagine being told that you're not actually imprisoned because you can always climb the high wall, avoid the dogs, and slip through the razor wire... you're just inconvenienced.

Mostly the government means "travel by boat", but the argument is exactly as stupid as I'm portraying it. In today's world, with today's economics, conveyance by aircraft is the only practical option for international travel. The judge, to her credit, noticed.

In page 61 of the ruling Brown explains her reasoning
Although the Court holds Defendants must provide a new process that satisfies the constitutional requirements for due process, the Court concludes Defendants (and not the Court) must fashion new procedures that provide Plaintiffs with the requisite due process described herein without jeopardizing national security.  
Because due process requires Defendants to provide Plaintiffs (who have all been denied boarding flights and who have submitted DHS TRIP inquiries without success) with notice regarding their status on the No-Fly List and the reasons for placement on that List, it follows that such notice must be reasonably calculated to permit each Plaintiff to submit evidence relevant to the reasons for their respective inclusions on the No-Fly List. In addition, Defendants must include any responsive evidence that Plaintiffs submit in the record to be considered at both the administrative and judicial stages of review. 
In other words, Eric Holder has to come up with procedures that allow individuals to be aware of the their no-fly status and the reasons for it, and to allow them to appeal. His deadline for presenting these new procedures is July 14th, 2014.

Supreme Court Smackdown.

In related news, this week the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) had to whack the Administrative Branch on a number of items regarding the abuse of administrative power:

Administrative Overreach
On MONDAY the SCOTUS ruled [PDF] that agencies do not have the freedom to "tailor" laws and regulations in ways not authorized by Congress. In this case it's the EPA's definition of "pollution" as being "any airborne substance", which taken literally could include clouds.
“when an agency claims to discover in a long-extant statute an unheralded power to regulate a significant portion of the American economy. We expect Congress to speak clearly if it wishes to assign to an agency decisions of vast economic and political significance.”
It remains to be seen if the SCOTUS will remember this decision when someone pulls Obama's unilateral changes to Obamacare back into court. But I'm close to 100% certain that the plaintiffs will, and will argue it forcefully.


Warrantless Searches
On WEDNESDAY the SCOTUS ruled [PDF] that police need a warrant to search a cell phone. This is such an obvious decision based in the unambiguous clear language of the Fourth Amendment that it's astoundingly perplexing that it got as far as the Supreme Court.
"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."
If you see an exemption for cell phones there, you probably also see pink elephants, ghosts, and leprechauns.


Illegal Recess Appointments
On THURSDAY, the SCOTUS unanimously struck down three of Obama's appointments to the National Labor Relations Board [PDF]. Obama had made what he called "recess appointments". The Court ruled that a three-day break doesn't put the Congress "in recess". And rightly so, otherwise "King Potus" would be issuing decrees every weekend.


And finally, there was this rebuke of the Massachusetts legislature:

First Amendment Violations:
Also on THURSDAY, the SCOTUS struck down [PDF] a Massachusetts law that had banned anti-abortion protesters from entering a 35-foot "buffer zoner" around abortion clinics. This doesn't address a previously-enacted "floating" buffer zone that keeps protesters 6 feet away from anyone who is within 18 feet of a clinic. This last bit is important to note, in that the Boston Globe reports the recollections of Martha Walz — president of the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusett as follows:
Before, protesters could stand in the clinic doorway, shoulder to shoulder, forcing people to squeeze through. Walz recalled a visit when a protester screamed at her from just inches away. “It was, to say the least, frightening,” Walz said. “That is what is of such concern to us. The court is essentially saying that kind of behavior may resume.”
What it really means is that Martha Waltz has no idea what the word "essentially" means, because in no way is that what the Court is saying. Read the ruling yourself. I linked the PDF above.

The Massachusetts law was passed in response to the fatal shootings of two staff members at abortion clinics in Brookline in 1994. This was a sad event. However, murder is already illegal... unless you're an abortionist... and the Massachusetts law does absolutely nothing to prevent a repeat of the event. A person who is willing to commit murder is not going to be held magically at bay by an imaginary impenetrable force-field erected by public sentiment. Even if he were, how long do you think it would take a bullet to traverse the 35-foot distance? The law is plainly ineffective for its stated purpose.

What the law effectively does is the source of the plaintiff's complaint. It prevents peaceful, law-abiding people from having one-on-one conversations with people about alternatives that don't include killing a baby.

The plaintiffs successfully argued their case on First Amendment grounds. As characterized by lead counsel Mark Rienzi:
"Americans have the freedom to talk to whomever they please on public sidewalks. That includes peaceful pro-lifers like Eleanor McCullen, who just wants to offer information and help to women who would like it. The Supreme Court has affirmed a critical freedom that has been an essential part of American life since the nation's founding."
The Court agreed, holding that the law unduly restricted access to sidewalks and public places that have traditionally been open for speech activities and that the Court has accordingly labeled “traditional public fora", and that the government’s ability to regulate speech in such locations is “very limited.”

Friday, June 20, 2014

About that rant...

I shared a link to a post on on Facebook recently. The title: Brigitte Gabriel gives FANTASTIC answer to Muslim woman claiming all Muslims are portrayed badly.

The headline editor should be spanked. Or severely chastised. Or frowned at. Or whatever it is you do to lousy headline editors. Yes, the woman claims that all Muslims are portrayed as "bad". But that's not the main thrust of her question. She wants to know how we can fight an ideological war with weapons. First, here's the question
Salaam-Alaikum. Peace to you all. My name is Saba Ahmed. I am a law student at American University. I am here to ask you a simple question. I know that we portray Islam and all Muslims as bad. But there is 1.8 billion Muslim followers of Islam. We have 8 million plus Muslim Americans in this country, and I don't see them represented here. But my question is how can we fight an ideological war with weapons? How can we ever end this war? The jihadist ideology that you talk about, it's an ideology. How can you ever win this thing if you don't address it ideologically?
And here's the question followed by answers from the panel:

A friend takes exception to the responses, particularly that given by Bridgitte Gabriel. I won't reproduce the entire post (it's long, and you'll get the gist of it here), But I do want to address these points:
  • That the panel bullies the woman in response to a reasonable question.
  • That the response was "not respectful" and "completely illogical"
  • That the woman was "blamed" for Muslims not speaking out. 
  • That her question about ideology wasn't answered.
He concludes that "This is one of the most illogical rants I've seen lately. Deplorable in my opinion."

I linked to the long version of the video on purpose. Prior to the Gabriel's response, on which we'll focus, there was a lengthy response by Frank Gaffney. I'll leave it to you to decide whether the woman's question was received respectfully. I also assume below that you've watched the whole thing.

My thoughts:

The panel is correct. We are not at war with Islam. If we were, then most obviously we would not be selective in choosing our targets in the Middle East. Gabriel thanked Ahmed for good reason. It gave her an outlet for some important points that could only be delivered in a particular way, as I'll explain.

A war is not fought either with weapons or with ideology. Both are necessary. But there is a clear difference between knowing an ideology and agreeing with it. For example, Nazism most certainly represented an ideology. The Nazis knew full well that their ideology differed from their neighbors', and how. They didn't give a rat's ass. Nothing came of appeasement. Nothing came of diplomacy. The ideological front was lost when Hitler came to power, and the world went on to successfully fight an ideology with weapons. And that's how it's done. That, by the way, fully answers the woman's literal question. You win an ideological war with weapons by demonstrating forcefully and with united purpose that holding the ideology will get you killed. And you keep the peace after the war by demonstrating that continuing to hold the ideology will get you imprisoned. That's how it has been done in the past, and it does factually work.

That doesn't mean we could win such a war against this ideology in this region of the world today. In fact, I believe we could not.

Now for context, this is a Heritage Foundation-sponsored event about Benghazi. To ask the question that she did she had to ignore the proceedings to that point. And she did it in such a way as to divert the focus of her question away from the focus of the proceedings. They do not portray "Islam and all Muslims as bad", but that's her intro, directly quoted. The juxtaposition of an extended depiction of peaceful Islam in general with the word "ideology" leads one to initially associate "the ideology" with "Islam". That is misleading, and a law student should know this. Her later use of the term "jihadist" is softened by an opening that focuses on Muslims in general. (For the record, I don't believe she was intentionally misleading. But in her zeal to pre-emptively defend herself she missed the point. The panel discussion was NOT focused on Muslims in general, but on violent radical jihadists.

They do not ignore ideology... These guys talk ideology in their sleep. You may indeed fight an ideology with and without weapons, but you don't get to count yourself as fighting the ideology by pretending that the battle against it is instead a completely different battle... against you. Example:
Imagine if you would a white guy standing up in front of a panel that is denouncing the KKK and who takes pains to point out that most white guys aren't in the KKK. The appropriate response would be exactly what this woman got for her similar observations. "This isn't about 'white guys'... it's about the KKK. And we're not going to ignore the KKK because you as a white guy feel put out by the guilt by association. And by the way, Skippy, if you're so damned kumbaya then why aren't you and all those friends you talk about denouncing the KKK along with us?" 
Ahmed got exactly what a white man would have gotten in similar circumstances, by a Lebanese woman who who pointedly does not have to "check her privilege" at the door. Gabriel's response cannot be appreciated in a vaccuum, but should be taken in a broader context, as expressed by someone who grew up in war-torn Lebanon; as well as by someone who has heard the same question over and over again in multiple venues. Often in these venues the end result is to shift the discussion into the defensive... and if you watched the longer clip you'd have seen exactly that happening before Gabriel's response.

Regarding the "illogic" you perceive, there are a number of declamatory methods of getting a point across, one of which is to use some variation of "put your money where your mouth is". In this particular case it's to communicate quite bluntly that the 75% of Muslims who are peaceful need to become the vocal, not silent, majority. If they were motivated to do this of their own accord, the point would not need to be made. "Loving peace" alone isn't terribly effective. Sitting around doing nothing hasn't worked either, and if this point is to be made, it must be made directly to that silent majority. This Muslim woman is the face of that audience. For better or worse she put herself in the right place and the right time to stand as proxy for millions of peaceful Muslims.

And you can't effectively communicate your profound disappointment in the inaction of that majority by pretending to respect their right to sit idly by. Rather, they must feel your displeasure. That message was not addressed to her alone; but to the larger audience that received it. It is an emotional message. Intentionally so. And in that, you may miss the genius of the response. She answered "how can we fight an ideological war" with a demonstration. The answer itself is an ideological salvo.
You say you are peaceful. Prove it. Stand up for peace. Do not leave it for others to do alone. Do not say "what are YOU doing?" without being able to answer the same question for yourself. Do not distract attention away from the problem, from the terrorists. Do not expect to walk out of here with both your hypocrisy and your dignity intact. Make a choice. Be embarrassed today, so tomorrow when you're asked this question, you have an answer. 
Being challenged with the truth, however blunt it may be, is not bullying. Being of minority opinion in a room may be embarrassing and even intimidating, but it does not equate with being bullied. The initial response, from Frank Gaffney, was extremely respectful.

If you didn't stick around for the follow-up question, you go back and view it at timestamp 8:26.

Was that "illogical", "disrespectful", "deplorable" "rant" effective? When asked by the moderator, "Can you tell me who the head of the Muslim peace movement is," Ahmed's response was,
"I guess that's me right now"
One down. 1.8 billion to go.