THE VIEW FROM CHAOS MANOR
View 280 October 20 - 26, 2003
Highlights this week:
This is a day book. It's not all that well edited. I try to keep this up daily, but sometimes I can't. I'll keep trying. See also the monthly COMPUTING AT CHAOS MANOR column, 4,000 - 7,000 words, depending. (Older columns here.) For more on what this page is about, please go to the VIEW PAGE. If you have never read the explanatory material on that page, please do so. If you got here through a link that didn't take you to the front page of this site, click here for a better explanation of what we're trying to do here.
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October 20, 2003
I would really like to think I am suffering from paranoid delusions brought on by my cold; but on the radio today I hear they are going to throw the book at the kid who hid the box cutters on the airplanes.
Terrible. Dangerous. Etc.
Really? Well, yes, he was dangerous, but to the TSA and the Homeland Security Department and the entire establishment of "security" people, all of whom are in mortal danger of having to find work suited to their talents and intelligence, which is to say of starvation. OK. That's extreme. OK. There are a few adults in TSA and Homeland Security.
There aren't many.
Let's do a thought experiment. Suppose they issued box cutters to every passenger. Get on an airplane, pick up your cardboard lunch, and get a box cutter. Get a good pocket knife while you are at it, a Buck with a 4 inch blade that locks open; a fighting knife.
Everyone in the airport can have one of those before they get on the airplane; why are they more dangerous on the airplane than in the airport lounge?
Why, Pournelle, you idiot, it's obvious, they are on an AIRPLANE! Think of the Twin Towers, think of 911!
Yeah, I am thinking of them. So what?
What can you do on an airplane with a box cutter that you can't do in the airport?
And of course the answer is nothing whatever. On an airplane I can start cutting throats until I am subdued by enraged passengers wielding seat cushions, using cameras as flails, and heavy laptops as bludgeons. What I can't do is get into the cockpit and take over the plane.
Well you can crash the plane!
With box cutters? Don't be ridiculous. And in fact that brings us to this point: I would suppose that fully 90% of my readers here could devise ways to bring down an airplane provided they don't mind being killed in the process, and do it with essentially zero chance of being detected. What would stop you or me from bringing down an airplane with ourselves aboard is (1) we don't want to, (2) there might be failure of will anyway, and (3) in my case at least I was brought up in Catholic schools and while not everything they taught stuck, the prohibition on suicide certainly did. But there is nothing the TSA can do to stop me.
And we all know this, and that lad has exposed the emperor's nakedness, and he's going to Federal prison for a good long time and will probably come out with AIDS since prison rape is very common and we are doing essentially nothing about it.
Meanwhile, we have made no progress whatever on finding out who really attacked the United States with anthrax (probably the 911 gang, but that hasn't been proven: not enough resources. They had enough resources to put 60 agents on Tom Butler's case but that's another story).
The fact is we haven't caught bin Laden, we haven't got Saddam Hussein (who wasn't a lot of threat to us until we made him one; now he's getting a trooper a day); we haven't a clue as to who sent the anthrax; the airplanes are safer because we changed the rules of engagement, not because of the Airport Avoidance Conditioning Corps known as TSA --
We have made sullen enemies of a lot of intellectuals who used to think the threat to liberty came from outside, but after the Butler case aren't so sure.
We have done to ourselves more than bin Laden ever did. And we are poised to do more.
If this is paranoid raving, please enlighten me.
|This week:||Tuesday, October
I seem to be recovered of lungs: I can actually sleep through the night now. Still no energy. But recovery is in sight.
I'm reading Neal Stephenson's new book. A long book and a slow read, but I think worth it.
I see that not only the courts but the legislature have got into the Terry Schiavo case. I also see her on TV: she doesn't appear to be a vegetable.
Since this isn't anything like my business, and I would pay a lot to keep it that way, thanks for all the letters, but I am not sure this is the right place to continue that discussion. Now that I have seen her I withdraw my offhand opinion that I would have pulled the plug long ago. But once again that is my personal view, and my views don't count here.
I note the new law allows a judge to appoint a new guardian for her, someone with, perhaps, less conflicted interests that her husband who seems to have some incentives to wish her dead. Incidentally, it is those conflicts of interest that draw the state into these matters, sometimes with the best will in the world. But the end of the game is far too often boards of ethicists sitting to determine matters of life and death. It has happened before.
Hard cases make bad law.
I put up the above and some mail including the Rumsfeld memo, then went for a haircut. While I was there the barber had some idiot sports program on. Lou is Italian so I know better than to ask to change channels if it's soccer (football), but this was wrestling. They changed to Fox News just in time for me to see Daschle being hysterical about the memo.
On the radio on the way home there was more.
My initial impression was that perhaps the administration had learned a lesson and was asking fundamental questions. On reflection that's still my conclusion. That memo is a good thing.
October 23, 2003
New MAC OS out today. Assuming I get a few more subscriptions I'll be buying the new Mac 15" laptop shortly. We'll then set up one machine here as a Linux server and see how it all works to connect all my systems; we'll also be doing a wireless sub-net.
October 24, 2003
Madame Chiang, RIP
The Microsoft Developers Conference happens starting Sunday and most of next week. I'll be going, so expect things to be thin. I'm having a relapse on this cold. Nothing serious. Just no energy, and not a lot of sleep. I seem to be taking it better than a lot of people younger than me, so I guess all the pills and potions and exercise have done me some good, but I sure wish this post-nasal drip and totally drained feeling would GO AWAY.
It's social engineering: it won't hurt you if you don't bite on it. But if you do you will very much regret doing so. Tell your friends.
Thanks to Doug Lhotka for the image.
If you like Mozilla, or are thinking of trying it, see mail.
October 25, 2003
In another conference, someone made a point, another commented "nonsense" and I replied. I thought my reply might be of use here:
1990 Baker inadvertently gave him (Saddam) the Green Light to invade
truth to it. Our ambassador delivered a highly ambiguous message. April
Glaspie was more interested in not stirring the burnt bottom of the soup
than in conveying any real messages, and particularly not threats or an
ultimatum. It wasn’t so much Bush who conveyed the wrong message as the
imbecilic policies that led us to career FSO cookie pushers as ambassadors
to important places. A real political appointed ambassador would have
leveled with Saddam. The FSO people have no idea what either the President
or the American people want: they have their own agenda, and they do not
hesitate to apply it rather than Presidential intentions. Glaspie was one
of the worst of a very bad lot. Saddling the US with career FSO types in
top posts was stupid when we did it, and it is stupid now.
Is this something to worry about? From the International Herald Tribune:
. . . Martin Van Creveld, a military sociologist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, writes that "the morale of the [Israeli] army has never been so low."
The military command has no strategic vision, he said. "Nothing it has done to defeat the intifada has worked."
There is a grave lesson in this for the U.S. Army in Iraq, which now teeters on the wall separating liberation from repression.
The official claim is that it is fighting attacks from remnants of a defeated regime and other enemies of democratic reform. Yet the number of daily attacks on U.S. forces has been rising.
Israel has countered the intifada by escalating, with increasing air and artillery attacks on "targeted individuals", which has had the effect of greatly increasing "collateral damage" (deaths and injuries to Palestinian Arab civilians including children). I am not here arguing for or against the Israeli tactics: the question is, are there lessons for the US here? And are we learning them?
The Rumsfeld Memo seems to be asking much the same questions.
How long will the army endure this? The loss of 4 troopers and serious injury to a dozen more is now on page 16 of the Saturday LA Times. That may be the right place for it. A trooper a day is something above training levels of casualties, but it's not unendurable for those sufficiently hardened to it. Whether it's a sustainable rate given the politics of the situation is another matter.
50 Years of Successful Predictive Modeling
Should be Enough: Lessons for Philosophy of Science
In 1954, Paul Meehl wrote a classic book entitled, Clinical Versus Statistical Prediction: A Theoretical Analysis and Review of the Literature. Meehl asked a simple question: Are the predictions of human experts more reliable than the predictions of actuarial models? To be a fair comparison, both the experts and the models had to make their predictions on the basis of the same evidence (i.e., the same cues). Meehl reported on 20 such experiments.
Since 1954, every non-ambiguous study that has compared the reliability of clinical and actuarial predictions (i.e., Statistical Prediction Rules, or SPRs) has supported Meehl's conclusion.
So robust is this finding that we might call it The Golden Rule of Predictive Modeling: When based on the same evidence, the predictions of SPRs are more reliable than the predictions of human experts.
Is there a lesson in here for TSA and Homeland Security? But of course another term for Statistical Prediction Rules is "profiling".
Seventy Five Years Ago:
"A void is made in the heart of Islam which has to be filled up again and again by a mere repetition of the revolution that founded it. There are no sacraments; the only thing that can happen is a sort of apocalypse, as unique as the end of the world; so the apocalypse can only be repeated and the world end again and again. There are no priests; and this equality can only breed a multitude of lawless prophets almost as numerous as priests. The very dogma that there is only one Mohamet produces an endless procession of Mohamets."
G. K. Chesterton
About the same time, Hillaire Belloc predicted:
"... I cannot but believe that a main unexpected thing of the future is the return of Islam. Since religion is at the root of all political movements and changes and since we have here a very great religion physically paralyzed but morally intensely alive, we are in the presence of an unstable equilibrium which cannot remain permanently unstable."
Do we want to help people or feel good?
If the money in the Head Start Program were instead put into indexed government bonds in the names of the individuals who go into the Head Start program and the proceeds paid out to them as additional retirement benefits when they reached the age of retirement, would they be better off?
It turns out they would be very much better off. The benefits of Head Start vanish after a few years. The bonds wouldn't.
But of course we will never do anything like that, which answers the question posed above.
The Probability That a Real-Estate Agent Is Cheating You (and Other Riddles of Modern Life) New York Times Magazine, 3.8.3 By STEPHEN J. DUBNER
The most brilliant young economist in America -- the one so deemed, at least, by a jury of his elders
In Levitt's view, economics is a science with excellent tools for gaining answers but a serious shortage of interesting questions. His particular gift is the ability to ask such questions. For instance: If drug dealers make so much money, why do they still live with their mothers? Which is more dangerous, a gun or a swimming pool? What really caused crime rates to plunge during the past decade? Do real-estate agents have their clients' best interests at heart? Why do black parents give their children names that may hurt their career prospects? Do schoolteachers cheat to meet high-stakes testing standards? Is sumo wrestling corrupt?
October 26, 2003
I spent most of the day at the LA Convention Center at the Microsoft PDC, the software equivalent of WinHEC. Today was the pre-conference all day press briefing. It was worth the effort.
The fires are nowhere near Studio City. Niven can see smoke but not fire out in Indian Hills where he lives; as far as I can tell the fire has not gotten east of the ridgeline west of his house. Tim Powers is all right in San Bernardino. I don't know anyone else near the fires. There's smoke through the valley including here.
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