Saturday, December 31, 2005
Happy New Year!
Tuesday, December 27, 2005
For some reason, this has gotten me to thinking about Galileo Galilei, 1564 - 1642, mathematician and natural philosopher. His brief biography, on the University of St. Andrews's excellent web site, fills in some of the background to the famous dust-up between Galileo and the church authorities of his day which is the only thing most of us know about him:
Galileo first turned his telescope on Saturn on 25 July 1610 and it appeared as three bodies (his telescope was not good enough to show the rings but made them appear as lobes on either side of the planet). Continued observations were puzzling indeed to Galileo as the bodies on either side of Saturn vanished when the ring system was edge on. Also in 1610 he discovered that, when seen in the telescope, the planet Venus showed phases like those of the Moon, and therefore must orbit the Sun not the Earth. This did not enable one to decide between the Copernican system, in which everything goes round the Sun, and that proposed by Tycho Brahe in which everything but the Earth (and Moon) goes round the Sun which in turn goes round the Earth. Most astronomers of the time in fact favoured Brahe's system and indeed distinguishing between the two by experiment was beyond the instruments of the day. However, Galileo knew that all his discoveries were evidence for Copernicanism, although not a proof. In fact it was his theory of falling bodies which was the most significant in this respect, for opponents of a moving Earth argued that if the Earth rotated and a body was dropped from a tower it should fall behind the tower as the Earth rotated while it fell. Since this was not observed in practice this was taken as strong evidence that the Earth was stationary. However Galileo already knew that a body would fall in the observed manner on a rotating Earth.
So: Galileo advocated the Copernican view of the organization of the solar system, to the displeasure of the authorities and against the consensus of the majority of his putative peers. The authorities served him a nice hot cup of Shut the Hell Up, and so he did. And now our authority, Federal Judge John E. Jones III, whose official bio reveals not the slightest hint of any scientific credential, has slapped down a few heretics by the exercise of pure, raw power, and again All Right-Thinking Folk are pleased. Hmmmmmm. If Marxism weren't out of style, I might ask the authorities and all right-thinking folk if they aren't concerned about being, perhaps, on the wrong side of history. But let's hear from Galileo himself: "In questions of science, the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual."
A few other (related) things:
1. I'm not here to advocate for whatever is meant by "intelligent design" theory. For one thing, I know next to nothing about it; and for another, I have entirely insufficient interest to learn about it. When Federal Judge John E. Jones III asserts that it ain't science, I would guess that he's right; science is mathematical in character, and must be falsifiable by repeatable, controlled experiments. The same can certainly be said about the evolutionary account of the origin of life on Earth. In fact, in my as-always-humble opinion, biology itself isn't science; it's scholarship and categorization -- button-sorting and stamp-collecting, at least once it leaves the strict realm of organic chemistry. Physics is the true and fundamental science: the study of the intersection of mathematics and nature. The other sciences, to the extent that they are sciences, are best understood as particular applications of physics.
2. If this terrifying monolith of a nation still bore any resemblance whatever to a constitutional, federal republic, what pretense of authority would a federal judge have over the curricular decisions of a local school board? The First Amendment forbids the Congress to make laws "concerning an establishment of religion." That's plain language, surely; did the Congress do any such thing in the case in question? I didn't think so.
3. You evangelicals out there, who heeded the urgings of James Dobson, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, et nauseating cetera, and re-elected Dubya because it was sooooooo important that "good" judges be appointed to the federal bench: rejoice and be glad! Federal Judge John E. Jones III was appointed by Our Amazing Christian President in 2002. Mission accomplished. Don't forget to vote in '08!
Friday, December 23, 2005
Reid said the delay meant that "vital intelligence operations are on hold while the bill languishes." But congressional and intelligence community sources said it would not affect current intelligence programs, which are also guided by defense authorizations and appropriations.
Democrats were informed last week that Republicans would clear the bill if three amendments, two by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and one by Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), would be stripped from the consent agreement.
But Democrats balked because Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), the chairman of the Senate intelligence panel, had agreed to the amendments. Roberts's staff did not return calls for comment yesterday.
Kerry's amendment would require the director of national intelligence to give the intelligence panels information on secret CIA prisons in several Eastern European democracies and in Asia.
Kennedy's amendments would require the White House to turn over copies of daily intelligence briefs that President Bush and former President Bill Clinton reviewed on Iraq.
So, is it the CIA's secret overseas torture prisons -- the ones that don't exist, and The Exalted is seriously torqued off because we found out about them? Or is it the intelligence briefings that Congress had all along anyway, and that it would be really, really bad if they got to see them (again) now?
I heard the other day, in the course of a radio interview, that there's a permanent sign posted somewhere in the football practice facilities of Ohio State: "What have you done today to beat Michigan?" Amusing. But, a good model for a serious question for each of our senators and Congresscreatures: "What are you doing, right now, to remove Bush and his entire unholy machine from power?"
Thursday, December 22, 2005
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
Also, the dog ate my homework.
Meanwhile, there's the Bush junta's domestic surveillance scandal. There's so much folly and contradiction involved in this business that it's hard to know where to begin.
First, I'd like to suggest that the Wee Emperor probably shouldn't bear all, and maybe not even most, of the responsibility. Yes, he's evil, but he's also stupid and childlike ... and the alleged grownups who populate the U.S. Congress should have smacked him down a long time ago. Bush is like a visiting three-year-old who's using magic-markers to decorate your walls; he's nauseating, but your real anger should be directed toward his parents, who watch but don't stop him. When El Presidente's Monday press conference was broadcast on radio and he was chittering about the unfairness of those who accused him of failing to "connect the dots," but now don't want him to have all possible dot-connection power, I can almost sympathize (except that he remains a nauseating combination of murderous tyrant and clown). There has been very little principled opposition to the war, and to the whole American Imperial enterprise in general; I am sure that the vast majority of my countrymen wish to go on sodomizing the rest of the world, but they want a magic leakproof condom to keep them from suffering any consequences at all. Bush is being judged as a condom vendor, and found wanting. It's true that he's a ludicrously bad empire-manager. But nothing will really change until we Americans renounce our self-awarded position as dictator and lecturer to the rest of the world, turn our attention homeward, and figure out that America needs real borders, far less government, and some real education, leading (hopefully) to a renewed ability to manufacture -- at home -- a few things worth having.
Secondly: Prexy says he really, really needs that brand-new, fully-permanent "PATRIOT" Act. Can't let a minute go by without it, else the streets will be thick with dirty-bombers. That's obvious nonsense, but equally nonsensical is the idea that we'll be any more free by refusing to re-authorize the thing. I really don't see why Bush wants it. He's already demonstrated that he and his thugs will do whatever the hell they want, law or no law; after all, he's "Commander-in-Chief," so whatever he does is legal, apparently. And I think, deep down in that black thing he uses for a heart, he prefers it illegal anyway. To people like that, I really think it's a matter of: why settle for sex when you can rape? I suspect he's actually happy that his domestic-spy program became public knowledge; it gives him a chance to puff out his chest and say, yeah, I did it, I'm doing it, and I'm going to go on doing it -- what are you going to do about it?
Thirdly: even the Congressfolk who affect to be all upset about the surveillance deal go to great pains to say, there was a legal way to do this, and it would be all fine with us if the legal way had been used. It seems that everyone who has a little power thinks that the Constitution is satisfied if the double-secret-probation court gives the OK for sneak'n'peek, wholesale wiretapping, etc. This should serve as a lesson for those of us who still put our faith and trust in constitutions. The people with the guns still do whatever they want, wiping their butts, as necessary, on any piece of parchment that gets in the way. The only solution is to get rid of the people with the guns. And even that solution doesn't last very long. Maybe the Christians are right -- this is simply a fallen world.
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
An irritated U.S. ambassador to Canada waded into the centre of the federal election campaign yesterday, firing a political broadside from the Bush administration aimed at repeated criticism from Prime Minister Paul Martin.
David Wilkins warned Canadians to back off the U.S.-bashing rhetoric in the campaign for the Jan. 23 election, suggesting Mr. Martin is risking relations with the U.S.
"It's easy to criticize the United States. We're an easy target at times," Mr. Wilkins said. "It may be smart election-year politics to thump your chest and constantly criticize your friend and your No. 1 trading partner, but it's a slippery slope and all of us should hope that it doesn't have a long-term impact on our relationship."
Those Canadians had best limit themselves to either humble adoration or respectful silence where the Great Vulture is concerned. Otherwise, they surely risk pre-emptive invasion. Better to fight them there, you know, rather than here.
Monday, December 12, 2005
I'll let Patrick Henry provide the commentary:
They tell us, sir, that we are weak; unable to cope with so formidable an adversary. But when shall we be stronger? Will it be the next week, or the next year? Will it be when we are totally disarmed, and when a British guard shall be stationed in every house? Shall we gather strength by irresolution and inaction? Shall we acquire the means of effectual resistance by lying supinely on our backs and hugging the delusive phantom of hope, until our enemies shall have bound us hand and foot? Sir, we are not weak if we make a proper use of those means which the God of nature hath placed in our power. The millions of people, armed in the holy cause of liberty, and in such a country as that which we possess, are invincible by any force which our enemy can send against us. Besides, sir, we shall not fight our battles alone. There is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations, and who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us. The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave. Besides, sir, we have no election. If we were base enough to desire it, it is now too late to retire from the contest. There is no retreat but in submission and slavery! Our chains are forged! Their clanking may be heard on the plains of Boston! The war is inevitable--and let it come! I repeat it, sir, let it come.
It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace-- but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!
Friday, December 09, 2005
The sport of surfing is in turmoil after the world's largest producer of the foam blocks used to make surfboards closed down, citing over-regulation.
Polyurethane foam "blanks" produced by California-based Gordon Clark are used to make many of the world's surfboards.
Mr Clark, who helped invent the modern all-foam surfboard, says environmental regulations forced him out of business.
Fears of a global foam shortage have led to a sharp rise in board prices as surfers snap up already depleted stock.
So, what will we be able to tell the teacher in the future -- when it will be completely implausible that we're surfin' USA?
Tuesday, December 06, 2005
The last time I wrote about downtown redevelopment, I noted the growing dispute over where to put a new hotel -- south of the Grand Wayne as originally envisioned, or north of it as now proposed -- without saying what I thought. I hadn't really decided yet, and I'm still not quite sure, but it's an issue people are going to have to choose a side on, so I thought I'd say what I think, at least as of now (and granted that some people don't think we even need another hotel downtown at all; see some of the comments after the linked-to post).
Wow -- what a libertarian! The question is, in what location does the new, tax-subsidized hotel get built, and Uncle Leo says, well, everybody has to choose a side. No suggestion that perhaps, if a hotel will make money, maybe it should be up to its ... ah ... owners to build it, without civic-minded corporate welfare -- and if it won't make money, why, maybe nobody should build it. No suggestion that if a money-making hotel is to be built privately (without slam-dunking the gummint Fist-O-Fury & Theft into all the locals' pockets), that perhaps its owners could decide where to build it (first step: find someone who's willing to sell the necessary land at a mutually-agreeable price, without the city's eminent domain gun shoved against the seller's forehead). But no, Uncle Leo's firmly ensconced in his planner's seat:
On balance, I think going north makes the best sense. There is so much already going on there that a new hotel will act as a connector that can make people think of downtown as a place that has to be checked out. Putting it south, which would tend to make the Grand Wayne-new hotel-Embassy a self-contained little enclave, I suspect would just encourage out-of-town visitors to make their one stop then leave without exploring anything else.
Glad to have your opinion, Mr. Morris. And how much money do you plan to invest in this venture? Oh, same as me, I expect: whatever sum it pleases our local officials to relieve us of.
I certainly am glad there's such a vital diversity of editorial opinion in our fine two-daily-newspaper community.
Sunday, December 04, 2005
We were able to get seats for one of the two performances for which the Fort Wayne Philharmonic provided the music (they use recordings for the other performances). The orchestra was as much on its game as the dancers. With a large children's choir on hand to provide the "ahhhh - ahhhh" parts for the Land of Snow scene, all was complete. Once again, I am mildly amazed that Fort Wayne, Indiana -- a decaying rust belt city of about 250,000 -- has so good a ballet, and so good an orchestra.
Of course, I have nearly zero knowledge of dance. But when a woman can start off at the left front of the stage and travel a diagonal line all the way to the right rear -- couldn't have been less than twenty meters -- on alternately the heel and then the toe of a single foot, gracefully, under perfect control, in exact time to the music ... well, even I know I've just seen something very cool. So, my hat's way off to Lucia Rogers, who did this tonight, and will be doing it next weekend, too. I bet her toes hurt.
I'm not at all sure why this performance moves me so, every year. It's not as if I'm knowledgeable about ballet; I'm sure I miss all the finer points and subtleties. I think it's a matter of spending some time in the presence of people who work very hard for, and achieve, excellence: dancers, musicians, and the others who accomplish the production. It's a cheering thought that I'm part of the same species as they.
Life is good.
Thursday, December 01, 2005
Businesses have to buy a certain amount of people's labor in order to make, sell, and service their products, which may themselves be nothing but services anyway. To decrease their costs and increase their profits, they buy that labor as cheaply as they can. They will pay less for it if the labor market is a "buyer's market:" plentiful supply = low price. Clearly, the supply is made larger and the price is driven lower if there's a lot of people whose expectations, in terms of wages, benefits, and working conditions, are low. To the people who run many businesses, then, the tide of Mexicans crossing the border daily represents wealth. For many Americans, it represents either no jobs or no decent compensation. Which brings me back to Dear Leader, who is working heroically for his corporate friends and benefactors. Here he is, working:
The president has been urging Congress to act on a guest-worker program for more than a year. Under his plan, illegal immigrants would be allowed to get three-year work visas. They could extend that for an additional three years, but would then have to return to their home countries for a year to apply for a new work permit.
Bush's plan pairs a guest-worker program for foreigners with border security enforcement, an attempt to satisfy both his business supporters, who believe foreign workers help the economy, and other conservative backers who take a hard line on illegal immigration.
He said the program he's proposing would create a legal way to match foreign workers with American employers to fill jobs that Americans will not do.
''This program would help meet the demands of a growing economy, and it would allow honest workers to provide for their families while respecting the law,'' Bush said.
"Jobs that Americans will not do:" that's one of George the Slow's favorite memorized catchphrases. Others echo it for him:
... he is offering a guest-worker plan to provide a continuous flow of low-wage labor to job sites nationwide whenever an American doesn't step up to work for the going wage.
So what, exactly, determines what the "going" wage is? I suppose it's the wage that an employer must offer in order to attract suitable workers. But that wage depends on the social and economic context in which the offer is made. Flood the country with
I have argued in the past, and will do so in the future, I expect, that minimum-wage laws are wrong in principle, because they are a warrantless government interference with the freedom of individuals to voluntarily enter into contracts with each other. The owner of a construction business, for example, can't force me to carry concrete blocks for two dollars an hour if I'm not willing to do so. But Bush, with his proposed "guest worker" program, plus his manifest disinterest in actually establishing control over our southern border, is effectively implementing a "maximum wage" law. By flooding the labor markets with low-wage, low-expectation, desperate foreign people, he makes certain that there'll be lots of jobs that "Americans won't do." Of course, there are cultural consequences associated with the Mexicanization of the American economy. But neither the Bushes, nor the people with whom they hang and chill, are lacking in social insulation from those consequences. Why, pool boys are cheaper than ever! Hoo-rah!