Monday, July 31, 2006

A Modest Proposal

As you may know, in any electoral system, there are records kept of voting patterns. Political boundary lines are drawn that identify these voting patterns. One can, via gerrymandering pretty much guarantee any kind of electoral outcome.

We have in the Middle East a unique situation. The government of Lebanon is roughly divided into two Islamic parts, Sunni and Shiite and one Christian Maronite part. The government of Lebanon disarmed all the parties of the last civil war EXCEPT Hezbollah. And recently Hezbollah went to war with Israel. This is sort of like the Republicans or the Democrats deciding to attack Canada. Since these political parties do not go around with weapons, Hazbollah is probably a bit more like the brown shirts of the mid 20th century.

Of late, Hazbollah has made a point driving into non-Hezbollah neighborhoods, intimidating the populace, and then launching a bunch of rockets at Israel. When Israel attacks the launch points, a bunch of non-Hezbos are screwed.

In World War 2, the United States Air Force learned how to create fire storms in cities like Tokyo and Dresden. There is a precedent for this kind of thing.

What say that some guys in Jewish intelligence get hold of the voting patterns of the last Lebanese election, and turn those districts that voted most heavily for Hesbollah into scorched earth. Since Israel will be damned for inflicting civilian casualties, they might as well go after Hesbollah's supporters in Lebanon. This will help motivate the Hesbos to defend their own neighborhoods instead of taking their show on the road.

There's a story of two guys in a forest who see a bear charging. One guy stops to lace up his running shoes. The second guy asks why he's doing that b/c neither of them can possibly outrun the bear. The first guy replies that he need not outrun the bear, merely the second guy. This is the kind of dynamic that's needed in Lebanon. The non-Hesbollah folks of Lebanon need to find ways to drop a dime on the Hesbos. If they don't, they're just cannon fodder for the Syrians and Iranians.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

movies i'd like to see

I just left the family room in disgust. The TV was playing some movie. The blonde woman was being chased by some crazy guy with murderous intent. Let's see... a) will she run backwards from the guy and trip on a tree root? b) will she get into the car and it won't start, or no keys, or whatever? c) will she pull out a large calibre hand gun and put daylight through him? If you've seen any scary movies in the last couple decades you know the answer has only once in the entire history of cinema been #c.

And in juxtapose with the blonde demonstrating a total mastery of murphyesque ineptitude, there is the crazy guy. Whereas she does everything in haphazardly, he glides through the scene finding a rock of exactly the perfect size to bash the car's windshield. The glass is a marvelous tempered non-safety variety that shatters immediately into little crumbles. Obviously, the movie gods are merely toying with this crazy, because despite his invincibility and total command of the scene, and despite the utter ineptitude of the girl, YOU KNOW he'll be dead at the end of the scene after the girl demonstrates plucky determination and dispatches him in an utterly implausible fashion.

Hollywood needs to get out of its rut. Instead of showing the same tired scene over and over again with different types of slashers and different sorts of blondes with plucky determination, show us something new. Here are some suggestions:

1) the blonde dials 9-1-1, locks herself in the bathroom, and the cops arrest the crazy. He is locked up in some mental hospital and spends the rest of his days in counselling.

2) the police show up, put daylight thru the perp, and then are sentenced to prison for their "disproportionate" response.

3) the crazy proceeds to kill the blonde and everyone else who stands in his way. A grateful nation makes him supreme leader and the UN gives him a seat on the Security Council.

C'mon Hollywood, let's see #3. Bonus points: make the crazy Iranian and the girl Jewish.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Don't Judge Me

On two occasions I've seen someone on television say, "Don't judge me..." The first occasion, I was watching "My Name Is Earl" and the person who said it, Brett Butler, would perpetrate some aweful thing and immediately say mantra-like, "Don't judge me." Moments later, she'd do something equally bad and repeat her mantra. The second occasion occured when my daughter was watching a teen show, Gilmore Girls, and the young mom said to her teen daughter, "Don't judge me..." and then supplied some reason I forget.

In the first case, Brett Butler plays someone who screws up time and again, then uses the "don't judge me" line as a vaccination against self-improvement.

In the second case, the Gilmore mom is merely inarticulate. She mispoke. She intended to say "don't condemn me." And she gave reasons to justify herself. Judging is different from condemning. Best to remember that.

Self-justification is related to judging. When Brett Butler on My Name Is Earl said "Don't judge me" she had already judged herself and condemned herself.

We all know what Jesus said about judging: The way you judge others is the way you should expect to be judged. I want to be judged generously and mercifully. I hope I judge others that way. Tell me whether this is so or not.

I know the only way I'll improve is if I get feedback, positive or negative. Go ahead and judge me.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Cheeks and Teeth

Last week we had a discussion at work about whether the Christian ethic is inconsistent or not. Moses said, "Eye for an eye" and Jesus said, "Turn the other cheek." But Jesus endorsed the law of Moses.

What gives?

I've always regarded apparent contradictions as an opportunity to learn. These are generally resolved by finding distinctions. And one learns as one finds distinctions. (If you know how to distinguish between Monza Red and Candy Apple Red, you've learned something about cars.)

Resolving the "eye for an eye" versus "turn the other cheek" problem involves distinguishing between large injuries and small injuries. There's an old saying that, "it's all fun and games until someone loses an eye." If you're messing with a Red Ryder BB gun and someone puts an eye out with that thing, it's a big deal. You should get into legal trouble if it wasn't an accident.

But not every injury rises to that level. There's a popular book entitled, "Don't sweat the small stuff." When Jesus says to turn the other cheek, he's talking about a small thing that's best not blown all out of proportion. The Romans had a law that said that a Judean could be forced to carry a Legionaire's gear one mile. Jesus told people to go the extra mile. If everybody is doing more than what's required of them in a million small ways, society will get along better. I think of this as social lubricant.

Thou shalt cut the other guy some slack, give him the benefit of the doubt. We are imperfect beings who work with partial knowledge. Jesus's ethic of social lubricant provides a coping mechanism for this.

I once told someone this and she said, "Does this mean I should be a doormat?" And I replied, "No, sometimes you run out of doubt." There are times when there is no doubt that a crime has been committed. There are times when whatever social framework within which you find yourself, e.g. the laws of the state of Michigan, specifies sanctions and punishments for specific misdeeds. In those cases, you pursue justice.

The Christian exists in tension of Mercy and Justice. We care about right and wrong, so we recognize and we embrace Justice. But we acknowledge we're sinners and we seek Mercy.

So, where do you draw the line between small things that you make a point of mercifully letting things slide versus large things where you pursue justice? It depends upon you. Jesus said that the same strictness by which you judge others will be the strictness by which you will be judged.

Monday, July 17, 2006

The Billion Dollar Hamburg

If you're a private pilot, you've heard of the "hundred dollar hamburg." This is what you get when you climb into an airplane and burn a hundred dollars' worth of aviation fuel to fly to some locale to buy lunch--a hamburg. It's not about the hamburg; it's about the flying.

I just watched the Space Shuttle land. When it did, a NASA flack said, "Discovery's crew completing a 5.3 million mile mission to restore the International Space Station to an assembly-ready status and proving they can use a fifty-foot boom as a heatshield repair platform." Last night I heard Matt Drudge say the former consists of "taking out the space station's garbage." And when they were playing with the fifty-foot boom I heard it described as standing on it and jumping up and down a lot. This business about repairing the Space Shuttle heatshield is important because one Space Shuttle has been lost because a bit of foam nicked the fragile bricks that serve as the Space Shuttle heat shield. (Of course, if you didn't fly this turkey, you wouldn't have to worry about its heatshield failing.)

I've been watching Space Shuttles take off and land on TV for a quarter of a century. That's twice as long as I watched the "moonshots" on TV for the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo projects combined. During the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo projects NASA was working toward an identifiable goal articulated by JFK. The accomplishments of this Space Shuttle mission is fairly typical. NASA has spent billions of dollars in low earth orbit growing soybeans and watching spiders spin webs in zero gee.

It's not as if they haven't accomplished anything in this quarter century. They've built the International Space Station.

When I was a kid, the Space Station was this spinning wheel in high orbit that served as a stopping-off point on the way to the Moon or Mars. (NASA has little more than paper studies--that they've paid millions for--to go there.) And the International Space Station? It's an unfinished tin can that circles the earth in low earth orbit doing stuff like growing soybeans and watching spiders spin webs in zero gee. It's "International" because the Russians send cosmonauts up there and we send astronauts up there. I suppose they spend all day shaking hands and toasting each other in the other-guy's language for world peace. The International Space Station must do something more significant than that, I hope they serve great hamburgers.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Greenhouse Effects

If Al Gore is to be believed, global climactic change caused by human activity is an inconvenient truth. Mr. Gore has spent the last couple of decades claiming that we are just ten years away from the point of no return. I recall claims of environmental devastation, just ten years away, dating back to the 1970s.

Let's suppose for a moment that carbon dioxide emissions are causing global warming. What is to be done about it? There was that Kyoto thing that levied carbon taxes on the countries that create wealth (while burning fossil fuels) and didn't do anything to poorer countries that also emit as much or more carbon dioxide. (I am uncertain where carbon tax money would be spent, but I suppose Mr. Gore has an idea.)

The whole idea underlying this is that since CO2 emissions cause global warming and reduced CO2 emissions will undo the badness. I think such a notion of causality is simplistic. Life is full of effects that are not negated when you negate their causes. A divorce can be caused by unfaithfulness, but subsequent faithfulness will not necessarily cause reconciliation. Is restricting CO2 emissions the most effective way to counter global warming? Are there ways to reflect more solar energy into space? For instance, clouds are white and provide shade. It's fairly easy to create clouds. Don't like clouds? OK, there are other ways. Let's treat global warming as an engineering problem.

"But, but, but," the environmentalist says, "we don't understand atmosphere dynamics well enough to 'engineer' climate." Is that so? Then how can you pontificate about global warming with such certainty?

My complaint is that Mr. Gore has his legion of Lysenkos who chant impending doom. The impending doom is too dire to wait until they understand the problem well enough to prove it. They say that emitting CO2 causes global warming and offer nothing more substantial than to stop emitting CO2. That wouldn't be a problem, except for the fact that we're talking about committing trillions of dollars to unproven hypotheses.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Caveat eBay

Earlier, I wrote of my little problem with a no-name thumbdrive I bought on eBay. To summarize, I found a 4GB thumb drive on eBay that checked out fine, and it reported 4GB capacity, but when I started copying files onto it that were greater than or equal to 1GB, the files read back corrupted.

I repeated the experiment with a 2nd no-name thumb drive (also 4GB advertised capacity). This time I found that it flaked out when I tried to write more than 1/2GB to it.

Now, maybe the vendors in question, obscure Hong Kong operators I've never heard of, are honorable and honest businessmen. But I now I have reason to doubt. Two no-name thumb drives each flaked out in roughly the same way and they flaked out in a fashion consistent with the manufacturer fraudulently substituting a cheaper 1/2GB or 1GB chip for the advertised 4GB memory chip and then hiding the fraud via firmware.

So, I thought, maybe this is a problem with WinXP or with my hardware. Easy enough to verify, I stopped by Best Buy and I bought a SanDisk Cruzer 4GB thumb drive. It's pretty cool. It has no cap to get lost, instead the USB socket retracts into the body of the thumb drive.

I repeated the above experiment with this drive, too: I copied 2.39GB worth of large MP3 files to the thumb drive. Then I checked each file for goodness. It was fine.

So, I learned something. Caveat eBay. If a deal on some big of cheap electronic gear seems like it's too good to be true, it is too good to be true.

Could I cause trouble for the two Hong Kong vendors who screwed me out of the difference between a 1GB and a 4GB thumb drive? I don't rightly know how. And I'm not highly motivated to take on the role of avenger of justice.

I am not happy with myself for having been taken. I am also unhappy with eBay for not shutting down these guys. On the other hand, I am quite happy with the 4GB thumb drive I just got from Best Buy.

Monday, July 03, 2006

The Bible and Immigration Policy

My wife pointed me to Leviticus 19:33-34 and asked if it applied to the debate about border security and amnesty for illegal aliens in the US. It reads like this:

33 " 'When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. 34 The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.

This sounds more like the Senate version than the House version of pending immigration reform legislation. Of course, in this fight I've been more interested in the corporate lawbreakers who get a cheap workforce to exploit via illegal immigration. If the guy's illegal, how can he sue you for OSHA or Minimum Wage violations. So, my first application of this passage is to corporate welfare queens, not my Bircher friends who want to secure the borders with some kind of wall. (This reminds me of Hadrian's wall, or the Berlin Wall, or the Great Wall of China and I'm not wild about it. Before 9/11, I'd be perfectly happy to dispense with the whole business of borders. I know it is impractical because other countries don't have welfare and laws regulating emergency room medical care and lawyers aiming to get rich suing corporations, etc.)

But the Bible says I'm not to mistreat immigrants, legal or otherwise. So, is this why Mr. Bush is screwing over the House of Representatives? Just begging them to make him a lame duck BEFORE the mid-term elections? Maybe. Mr. Bush's hijinks as well as those of various RINO Senators have transformed me from a free-borders type to an immigration hawk.

So, what about Leviticus 19:33-34? I looked at the fine print and then my eyes happened to spy Leviticus 19:28. " 'Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the LORD.

Hmmmm, this verse generally gets quoted by those who forbid all body piercing along with tattoos. So, I told my spouse to go ahead and cite Leviticus 19:33-34 when you're debating immigration policy, but when you do, you'd best not be wearing peirced earrings.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Mystery of the missing 3 Gigabytes

Months back I was looking on eBay for a cheap thumbdrive. I noticed something odd. A lot of no-name Chinese vendors were selling higher capacity thumb drives than American vendors I'd done business with before (Sandisk and PNY). And these drives were cheap, too! So, I bought a couple 4GB drives and they worked fine. I was one happy camper.

That was until I replaced the hard disk in my basement computer and that entailed reinstalling a bunch of software, including that of my RadioShark. I don't use my basement computer much. It basically sits down there and waits until Sunday morning whereupon it wakes up and runs a Tivo-like program on my RadioShark that records Jazz Brunch on my local classic rock station, WLAV. About a month went by and I had a lot of recorded stuff downstairs piling up. (Jazz Brunch runs when I'm in church and I figure it's a fair use to time-shift it for listening during the week. Disagree? Sue me.)

After a while, I copied the recordings to a thumb drive and took it upstairs to my laptop to listen to. Didn't work. I was distracted and I let more time pass. I figured the problem was some stupid DRM on the Windows WMA recording format. I switched to WAV. It seemed to work at the expense of massive files. After working once, that failed, too. A week later, I switched to MP3s. Still no workie.

Hmmmmm. I really am not dumb, though I act that way occasionally. I finally got bothered enough by what was obviously something that should be working not working that I payed attention to what I was doing. And I couldn't find my no-name high capacity thumb drive, so I picked up a 1GB drive from PNY. It took all the files and carried them to my laptop safely.

This is what they say in the detective business is called a clue.

(Oddly, I had already done an XCOPY/v and it said everything was fine. Liar.)

Then I formatted the cheapo 4GB drive and carried files to my laptop just fine. I copied more files and this time I tested each file after copying it. After a dozen or so files, everything I copied afterwards would be corrupted. Strangely, even if I deleted some files, subsequent files would be corrupt. So, I reformatted the 4GB drive and copied a bunch of MP3s thereto. I looked at each file to see where the file corruption started.

Turned out that the first bunch of files were OK, but the next one was bad half-way through and all files copied thereafter were bad. I deleted just the bad and half-bad files and then checked the properties of the good files. They summed to 933MB and the half-bad file had been over 100mb.

OK, the drive lets me format and thereafter copy up to 1GB of files thereto correctly. After that WinXP, and even DOS's XCOPY, say that all is fine while copying data into corrupt data. Just writing to that 2nd GB and beyond causes the thumbdrive to thereafter store corrupt data without warning. Not good.

Is this a cautionary tale? Not to buy el cheapo thumb drives off eBay from insidious Hong Kong merchants, but to stick with known vendors like PNY or SanDisk?

Idunno. I'm going to repeat this experiment with a different cheapo drive. And I'm CERTAINLY going to be more thorough about testing thumbdrives in the future.

Update: I performed these experiments on the 2nd el-cheapo thumb drive and also on a 4GB SanDisk Cruzer drive as described here