Thursday, December 22, 2005

ANWR Debate

I'm posting a lot of comments on FreeFrankWarner, most of them for the ANWR oil drilling debate. I actually got fisked! My first fisking! Kevin feels that I am taking the Democratic Party line by suggesting that the government has a role to play in controlling the use of fossil fuels. No one wants to drill ANWR except the oil companies and die-hard Republicans. The oil up there will supply no more than a year of our requirements. Why are we even thinking about it?

12/22/2005 5:15 PM

Links to this post

Control Freaks in Paradise

Stephen Schwartz has an article posted at TCS, Why American Muslims Stay Silent (pointed out by Instapundit), which discusses the peculiar radicalization of Islam in America. Just as illegal immigrants find that the stresses of living here are much greater than imagined, Muslim immigrants, expecting some sort of moderate places to worship are corralled into a system run by Wahabis. This is largely due to the huge influence of the Saudis here -- in other words, oil politics.
In some places, from Bosnia-Hercegovina to Indonesia and from Morocco to Mozambique, the moderates are winning. Yet the Islamic communities of the U.S. (dominated by the Saudis) and Britain (run by radical Pakistanis) suffer under a totalitarian regime of thought-control.

In particular, Schwartz discusses an anti-press initiative reminiscent of the Danish cartoon battles, which I have discussed here, among other places.

12/22/2005 3:40 PM

Links to this post

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Don't Panic Pandemic

My neighbor asked me what I thought about the possibility of a Bird Flu pandemic. I talked for 10 minutes without stopping, so I guess I really did have something to say on the issue. I'm not sure what he thought of my answer, or whether he'll ever ask my opinion again, but since I think it's worth something, here goes.

This is not 1918! In that year, as others have pointed out, tens of thousands of soldiers, wounded and healthy, were being transported in trains and ships and lying in hospital beds, all packed together like cigarettes in a box. No space was wasted. When a single case of Influenza appeared in this kind of surrounding, it jumped easily from person to person through coughs, physical contact and shared objects, maybe even cigarettes.

Now in evolutionary terms, a virus has two ways to go. It can minimize its footprint on the health of the host, maintaining a semblance of life and mobility, in order to maximize the chances of further transmission. AIDS would fall into this class. Alternatively, it can reproduce as fast as possible, creating as many copies of itself as possible, without regard for the damage it does, in order, once again, to maximize the chances of further transmission. Ebola virus exemplifies this strategy. In fact, it spreads so quickly and destructively among humans that it actually burns itself out by using all the fuel too quickly.

Humans will eventually develop resistance to the first class of virus. Humans who survive longer with the disease are more likely to reproduce before they die. Humans who are less likely, no matter how small the advantage, to become infected, will preferentially pass their genes to the next generation. The contest between humans and the virus becomes who adapts faster. Humans have always won. A plethora of childhood diseases represents the residue of past battles.

With the second type of virus, humans don't necessarily have a chance to develop immunity, but it doesn't matter because they just have to be lucky. Such pathogens will flare up in rare outbursts quickly disappearing. This will continue until such time as they learn to be kinder to the host. If that occurs, the virus falls into the first class and after a few pandemics will become too gentle to fear much.

The Flu is not really like Ebola. It is for most people, more like the common cold. It is in the evolutionary transition phase of becoming like the common cold. The reason it didn't act like that in 1918 was because of the unusual crowded conditions. It spread so quickly through the trainloads of soldiers that it evolved into a new thing. Note that by the time it reached civilian populations in Europe and the US it had specialized for that particular ecological niche. Young men and women were the preferential targets. Very few old people and very few children died of Influenza in the 1918 pandemic.

The Avian Flu will not be bad this time around because, under evolutionary pressure, it has changed and so have we. Since the majority of the world was effected, most people alive today are the descendents of those who were challenged and survived. Myself as well. Most of my antecedants shrugged it off, but one grandmother contracted the disease and came close to dying. In subsequent years she had three children, twelve grandchildren, and many more great-grandchildren. Are they all immune? Maybe not, but it won't be as bad as it was.

This is not 1918 in other ways as well. When SARS struck cities in Asia, people wore surgical masks to inhibit transmission. If a pandemic strikes the US, we will be wearing custom-made designer versions of HEPA respirators. Antiviral medications will be used whereever an outbreak occurs, and researchers will be working to find better antivirals and new immunization procedures, with generally good chances of success. Doctors will develop new techniques for sustaining patients long enough for the gamma globulin injections to take effect, and the internet will allow all these new techniques to be widely shared. Remember, in 1918 the germ theory was still relatively new, no one knew about viruses and there wasn't a microscope on the planet that could capture the image of a virus.

There may be some situation analogous to the incubation opportunity of 1918, but I personally can't imagine what it is, and I've tried. Tell me if you think of one. But, even if such a thing exists, today is different. We will find a way to resist.

Really. Don't worry. Some people may die, but the Flu kills thousands every year anyway. The Avian Flu is not going to mark the coming of the Apocalypse.

12/21/2005 12:35 AM

Links to this post

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Possible Iraqi Election Debacle

Iraqi blogs, including Iraq-the-Model, Fayrouz and Iraq Rising seem to feel that the Iraqi election commission has totally corrupted the election, especially in Baghdad. Mohammed and Omar if ITM mention that people who required at least 500 votes to register, people who had enough immediate relatives to get substantial numbers of votes, and probably did much better in actuality, only received a handful as documented so far. This is very worrisome.

12/20/2005 9:29 PM

UPDATE 12/20/2005 10:58 PM
BBC reports that the Sunnis are rejecting the results and making threats. "You are playing with fire." As if they're not already making as much trouble as they can.

Links to this post

China's Self Awareness

According to the Scotsman, the PRC is investing a lot into biodiversity projects and is at least somewhat aware of it's growing impact on the world environment.

12/20/2005 2:27 PM

Links to this post

Friday, December 16, 2005

Typepad Outrage

Frank Warner tells me that Typepad blogs are having major problems. He's missing at least four days worth of posts. Let this be a lesson. Don't trust any single provider. For this reason, among others, all my stuff is double posted on AOL. Having said this, I know I'll look silly when both of them go down. In Rendezvous with Rama, Arthur C. Clarke made sure that the aliens' kept everything on their ship in triplicate. Triple systems with triple components with triple parts. People, on the other hand, are mostly way too optimistic. We are always willing to spend the rent money on air-conditioned trash trucks before the levees are secure, always assuming that we have a few years before the bad things start happening. But in real life there are surprises. I guess they wouldn't be surprises if we could learn to expect them.

At any rate, scientists investigating the source of the tsunami were confronted with quite a surprise recently. There is a kilometer-wide dead zone stretching along the fault line. One thing we should keep in mind while we lick our self-inflicted wounds. Humans are not responsible for all the calamities. Ecocide happens. Make sure you got backup.

Links to this post

Beating Malthus Down

There’re two ways to beat Malthus and his grim prophecy of unending suffering. You can out-produce him or you can fool him by artificially maintaining ZPG. The U.S. and its economic imitators have shown that free-market Capitalism can make your productivity increase at exponential rates, rates greater than the impact of your population growth, thus leading to the hope of, and actual happiness, through abundance. The People’s Republic of China has demonstrated that you can do it the other way as well, though, to be fair, they adopted free-market measures at the same time as population control policies. Their economic growth rate, however, has been unbelievable, exceeding even the decades long annual eight percent increase of GDP experienced by the renascent post-war Japan. How have they been able to do it without corruption eating up the excess? ans: Force!

Why doesn’t corruption eat up the US? ans: Force!

There is admittedly a difference in the application of force by the two entities. In the US force is applied by a legal system that allows all, the big and small, to protect the integrity of their contracts and property. That’s not to say that the crooks and pirates don’t find a way to squeeze us, but we can fight back, even in New Jersey. In China it depends on the wisdom and might of a central committee and its ideological pile-driver, total intimidation. It is tempting to pooh-pooh the virtues of the PRC’s governing structure, but you can’t argue with the kind of success they have been experiencing since the 80’s.

Our government’s policies have supported them as well, working on the hope that peace and freedom will follow economic well-being. The local emergence of party functionaries as robber barons, getting wealthy on the backs of the people, makes me worry sometimes that the warlords are returning, but I believe the balance is leaning toward the well-being of the long-suffering people of China. The central government at some point became enlightened. They saw that while the USSR failed, Hong Kong and Taiwan prospered. Mao was a monster, but the Kruschevs and the Gorbachevs of the PRC have learned to recognize type and how to control the totalitarian impulse. The only problem is the momentum of his memestorm, not to mention 5,000 years of brutalhistory. How to get from where they are to where we are is a very tricky question for them. While they visit our universities for a few years, the thinking types get to see how it could be. They can’t yet say what they think, but they can’t not think it. At home, they wallow in pollution, some of it the detritus of our own society, but they do not wallow in despair any longer. They can discern a path of stepping stones through the torrent of history to green fields of plenty on the far shore.

Now, why doesn’t it work in Nigeria? It’s got to do with the nature of the Force.

12/16/2005 12:13 AM

Links to this post

Sunday, December 11, 2005

The Cost of Freeing Others

I was just thinking about the sacrifices of the American Civil War. These sacrifices were made by one people, ostensibly for another people. The question is, were the Northern losses worth the goal of freeing Southerners, black and white, from the vicious system that locked them both into a hopeless future? There were many Northerners who did not think so, with some justification. I'll let you guess how many died in that effort. Suffice it to say that there were mass burials of just amputated arms and legs.

It has been pointed out by many that more Americans soldiers died in a single day during the invasion at Normandy than have died in Iraq since the Invasion of Iraq commenced. There were also many Americans that doubted the need for World War II, but the doubts of most were swept away by the revelations of Auschwitz.

I think the Civil War comparison, though, is more apt, because of the temptation we all have to say that "those people" were just as happy with the system "they" had. "We" were happy before. Why did "we" have to interfere in "their" affairs? No one today says that about the Civil War, automatically thinking it was a good thing without reckoning the cost.

Tigerhawk has a very good and very thorough reassessment of the reasons and history behind the invasion of Iraq.

12/11/2005 11:30 PM

Links to this post

A Head for a Head

The Islamic World's response to the Jyllands-Posten images continues without mercy. There is no bottom apparently. Islamo-fascists in Kashmir have found out just recently and promptly went on strike. Employers in Srinigar will be quivering and, no doubt, put serious pressure on the consulate. I-Fers in Pakistan are calling for the head of one of the artists, mistakenly thinking he created all the evil images. I'm sure they'll settle for any Dane who walks down the streets of Islamabad. Isn't it amazing that these people think they can affect political activity on the North Sea by bellowing in the muddy streets of South Asia? But in fact they have; the UN is now on the case. What if they find out about what it was that Pastor Fritch said in church last Sunday?

Hindus are getting outraged as well. They heard that Arnold Stolzfus chased his cows back into the barn last week, actually hitting one with a stick.

12/11/2005 10:55 PM

Links to this post

Friday, December 09, 2005

LW&W Review of Reviews

Here is a good rebuttal, from the National Review, of some left-inspired negative reviews of the Narnia movie. I am sure the accusations of sexism, racism, Christian revisionism and bad writing are appropriately leveled at others, but certainly not against C.S. Lewis, who was a profound thinker and a kind person as well as a great writer. Do yourself a favor. Read the first few chapters of The Magician's Nephew.

Links to this post

Yoohoo, I'm Baack!

The floor is done and some of the furniture is back. The story of my computer hutch (I'm told it is not officially a credenza) was epic. It's a huge red oak affair that weighs more than several people can lift by quite a bit. Since I didn't want to have to rewire everything, I pushed it, as is, from the dining room into the kitchen on its wheels, which were meant to be temporary. Unfortunately, the wheels broke off one side as it went over the threshold between the rooms. Since I was under the gun to get the room cleared, my daughter helped me push it up a makeshift ramp that we built in the kitchen. And there it sat, even after the floors were completed, defying my headscratching best ideas to get it back to its homeland.

A friend finally gave me some useful advice. Just lever up the ends with a two-by-four to get something under it. I did just that. I broke off the wheels on the other end as well and put felt sliders underneath, then tried to slide it off the ramp. Unfortunately the ramp moved along with the hutch, scratching the newly finished floors. A comedy of errors. I think the scratches will come out, or newer ones will make them look normal. We struggled some more and got it in place, with some actual improvements. My daughter patiently untangled the wires for me. My wife helped me arrange things a little better. At any rate, I'm back on line. And tired too.

Links to this post

Monday, December 05, 2005

Offline

I'm out of comission for a while. Too much excitement. My younger daughter has been dancing in a ballet and we've had floor sanders working on the ground floor of my house. All my stuff is dislocated. We're living in the kitchen, at least when the polyurethane odor isn't too bad. Unfortunately, we've uncovered some fundamental problems with the floor which need to be addressed. No time like the present. I'm posting from the library right now.

One really exciting aspect of our banishment to the kitchen is that we share it with all the furniture from the dining room. The big oak computer credenza and the diningroom table are all in there. Unfortunately, I broke the wheels off the computer credenza while moving it. It weighs in at about 400lbs, so it'll be interesting when I have to move it back. My friend and I moved the piano to the porch. That was a chore. One hopes that middle C will still be somewhere between B and D after we move it back.

I'll post when I can.

Links to this post