THE VIEW FROM CHAOS MANOR
View 344 January 10 - 16, 2005
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January 10, 2004
I was driving to Las Vegas last week, and listening to tapes. One was Leslie Fish singing Rudyard Kipling poems, many of which were marching songs. This one came up. I know it, of course, and have for years; but suddenly I was struck by an infinite sadness, and I could barely stay on the road until it passed.
These are the songs of the armies of empire.
|This week:||Tuesday, January
Came home from Las Vegas, got the column out, and had a severe relapse of my cold. Sore throat, chills, stopped up nose, the works. Fortunately my nose pump lets me get some sleep.
More good stuff later. There's sunshine out and the dog wants to go enjoy it. She's finally dry. She won't sleep inside even when it is raining. Of course she doesn't get wet down there under all her fur, but everything else does when she's near.
Ernset Lilley got this shot of me in the CES press room. That's Lisabetta the TabletPC. I had the Apple 15" PowerBook with me, but it's a bit heavy to carry the mile or so I had to walk to get to LVCC -- and it's not a tablet.
January 12, 2005
There is a letter and reply over in Mail. It's time to walk the dog while the sun is shining and things are drying out.
Apple announces a $499 computer, just as rumor said. And a low cost iPod. Neither is what the auto salesmen call "nicely equipped"; as far as I can tell there's an "available" keyboard and mouse and monitor. For another $100 you can have 4o GB more internal drive space. I am not sure this is a bid for market share, but then I am not a marketer.
The iPod has some available equipment too.
They're neat and cool, and will appeal to the Apple market, but whether this is a serous bid to get more market share for Apple is not clear to me.
I'm waiting for reports from my Apple Enthusiast Associates. I regret I didn't manage to get to MacWorld.
Apologies: this thing I picked up in Vegas leaves me with little mental energy. Recovery is happening but slow.
January 13, 2005
Sun out briefly. We may or may not get more rain. Recovery is slow, but I'm getting there. We had our walk and that always helps, although it takes a while to get my head cleared out. It's hard to sleep when your head stops up.
Thanks to Ray Whidden, David McCullum and many others I have probably enough to put Strategy of Technology into decent pdf format.
I will now need some photographs, web quality, public domain preferred: a cover, and any interior illustrations as might be appropriate. Certainly a Minuteman and its silo. I should have some photos I took at Cheyenne Mountain, but I don't. They'd be 35mm slides anyway. Suggestions for COVER and interior illustrations welcome.
My plan is to set it up for sale by Amazon, but I am open to suggestions. Lightning takes a bit more than half for Amazon publishing; this includes storage and delivery on demand, and listing in the Amazon search engine, and it's not unreasonable. On the other hand, it means I have to charge $8 to get $4 per copy. I figure the book would sell as a hard bound for about $30 now, with 10% royalty, so $4 represents what I'd get if I published it conventionally plus $1 for expenses and trouble. I'll take care of sharing revenue, and although the original was agented, that agency agreement was specific to that publishing contract and has long expired. I don't know what will come of this. I do know some places want to use the book as a text so sales of a few hundred are not an unreasonable expectation.
I'll get an ISBN from Bowker and register the copyright for the new edition, and I am studying the pdf format to see what I should know about that.
I have been thinking about the tsunami. It's now up to 250,000 perhaps. Startling. Yet over a million a year die of malaria because we don't send DDT to appropriate places. Overuse of DDT was not a good idea and some Americans sprayed it everywhere. More was used in some farm counties than would be needed for one spraying a year in African residences -- all of them in Africa in mosquito areas.
Of course there is no funding for studies to determine safe uses for DDT and the benefits of insect control.
If we had a tsunami like that every month for a year it would be 3,000,000 people. That's about how many die every year from controllable infectious diseases of which malaria is a major factor. For about what's being spent on emergency aid we could eliminate many of those diseases. For a lot less than the Kyoto Accords would cost we could eliminate a lot of those deaths.
Well, a day. St. Matthew 20 and all that. But the great concern over the tsunami victims, and the indignation that the US didn't do enough, seems oddly misplaced when those most critical of US response to this disaster seem bent on perpetuating preventable disasters that keep on coming year after year.
And see below: this has generated a full discourse with participation by scientists.
January 14, 2005
Do we have any experts on this aboard? I certainly am not one. Like most outdoors people -- one of my very first published articles was on conservation, I grew up on a Southern farm concerned with contour plowing and other soil conservation efforts, and I've hiked a lot of wilderness trails; Muir's "In wildness is the preservation of the world" used to be one of my favorite quotes, and it still has an emotional tug -- like most outdoors people I bit heavily on Rachael Carson's propaganda book without looking much into the underlying science. Then people I know with some credentials in the matter, and others like George Scithers (Col USA Ret., USMA class of 1950) looked into it and came to different conclusions. There's no doubt that we used too much DDT at one time. It was like a miracle remedy. Then came Carson and now we are not to use any at all, while millions die. There are, we are told, substitutes, but none of them seem to have the effectiveness that DDT had.
Yesterday and this morning was this exchange of messages:
Thanks for responding. I'd be curious to know who
these people are, and what their justification is, given the toxicity
information I mentioned earlier.
As I said, I have no expertise here, and I can't claim to have made much of a study: I have seen conclusions from people I have some confidence in, but that is not quite the same thing.
Note that I am not asking for wild guesses, tirades, theories based on knowledge bases about like mine; what I am looking for is some science, not conclusions with some scientific terminology (which is what the above letter really is). I know the reasons the political authorities banned DDT, and those had far more to do with pictures of dying robins and eagles than with actual science (not that they were not relevant; not that it didn't happen).
Science is about numbers. The dose makes the poison. Are there safe doses of DDT? I am assured by people I trust to have done some research that there are, but I don't have primary data.
This is a subject worth looking into, since more people die annually from lack of DDT than from the tsunami.
What could we have done/ will we do in Iraq
January 15, 2005
Much action today, but it mostly happened in mail.
January 16, 2005
You will see this over in mail, because it began as an answer to a letter; but it ended up being a mini-essay on science and journalism and what I am trying to do here, so I have repeated it here.
Science and The Public
As with the DDT debates, we are well beyond my expertise here (regarding climate models and solar radiance mechanisms). At the same time, the politics of publicly supported science make it imperative that interested taxpayers keep an eye on what science is doing: we have far too many instances of research funds funneled into particular channels that may well be "valid" but which are getting far more money than the public interest warrants, sometimes to the neglect of competing theories and approaches. If the public is paying, the scientific community can't expect the citizens to sit back and take their word for it.
Which is where science journalism comes in. Many of the science writing corps have some pretty good grounding in their subject matter. I have known most of them over the years, and they're an admirable bunch, mostly, who respect their sources but have long since learned not to take all the statements -- particularly those that come out of the University PR deparments -- without some questioning. Arky Kantrowitz, whose science credentials are impeccable, has for decades tried to get a "science court" established in which science issues like the toxicity of dioxin, and other matters of both science and political importance, could be tried before a jury of real peers: people with both a knowledge of science and some detachment from the issues. He has not managed that, and as a result we have this strange pattern of "science" cases tried before lay juries, with sometimes intelligent but often ridiculous results (as with Dow Corning and silicon breast implants, and the dioxin cases as obvious examples).
Absent a science court, it is up to the journalists to raise questions. That raises the immediate point that the journalist isn't likely to be much of an expert on the subject. Does that mean that the instant someone with credentials makes a statement it is to be taken as the end of the matter? In the DDT debates, for example, everyone seemed to be talking past each other. The chemist was stating that particular compounds were more effective at mosquito control than DDT. I didn't see that challenged. The question then went to costs, and it soon turned out we don't know enough; yet this is probably the reason the "more effective" agents are not being used in some of the desperately poor places where malaria abounds. I can add that those who survive malaria are often "stunted", and crop production is much affected, so that another effect can be infant food deprivation, leading to a vicious cycle of poverty preventing malaria control, malaria causing poverty, and on to the end of time. For a short time in human history it looked as if DDT was going to break that cycle but now it is back. There may be no way out, but surely it is not harmful to discuss possibilities.
The climate issue is another such: I don't know if funds for research in this area are properly allocated, but given some of the tricks used by the opposition, my suspicion hackles rise: why do they need to play those games if their case is made scientifically? Why suppress the opposition as was done in the case of the Danish statistician and his book? Why try to humiliate people who dissent?
AIDS research is yet another such field. It absorbs a LOT of public money. Is that money being allocated properly? Some people with proper credentials -- a small number, but not a vanishingly small number, and some of them are impressive -- say that the allocation of funds is skewed badly in favor of unproved hypotheses. They propose some crucial experiments to test this. The experiments wouldn't cost very much in terms of what is being spent; but in 20 years they have never been done, and the opposition to anyone questioning the prevailing theories is both heavy and serious and employs ridicule and withholding funds from people and places that were formerly well thought of. I don't have to be a biochemist to wonder if there isn't something wrong with that picture.
I could continue into areas I do know something about, such as Ballistic Missile Defense. I watched the paid staff of the American Physical Society produce papers full of errors, every error in the same direction, without any rebuke from the scientists who supposedly head this organization. I could go on with some of the other aerospace controversies, all of which involved massive allocations of public money, and many of which involved "scientific" opposition that turned not to be scientific but political and in some cases ludicrous. I watched Richard Garwin testify to Congress that certain SDI concepts required kill mechanisms traveling at faster than light speeds. Garwin knew full well that he was taking two concepts, ground based terminal intercept and space based boost phase intercept, and combining them to produce a homeland ground based boost phase intercept system -- something no one had ever proposed or considered precisely because it would require faster than light kill mechanisms. Yet Garwin chose to ridicule his opposition for not knowing that we don't have any faster than light kill mechanisms. He didn't do this as an aside, either: he took time to explain that Relativity says nothing will exceed the speed of light, as if his opponents didn't know this.
When I see things like this I ask questions. I may be outside my field of expertise, but I learn fast. It was part of the Operations Research business to learn how to model things we weren't experts in. But that's another story.
Sorry to go on so long on this, but I have just received a "shut up, you don't know as much about this as I do so why do you keep talking about it" letter. I won't embarrass its writer by publishing it, but it deserved an answer.
Regarding the climate matter, do see tomorrow's mail.
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