THE VIEW FROM CHAOS MANOR
View 399 January 30 - February 5, 2006
Highlights this week:
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January 30, 2006
My column deadline shouldn't be before next weekend, but I note that BYTE has fired itself dry, so I'll have to get at least part of it done by Wednesday night or so. That means working harder than usual.
(By "fired itself dry" I mean they have no material for next Monday. My deadline wasn't until then, so I would have had the weekend to work on this, but clearly I will have to get this column done this week.)
There is a series in the Los Angeles Times on education that illustrates the entire problem. Too many students are dropping out of high school. Most of them leave because they can't do algebra. Algebra has become mandatory for a high school diploma. Meanwhile, because of No Child Left Behind, the students who won't graduate and drag the collective scores down are not wanted: perhaps they can be persuaded to go somewhere else. And it all gets worse.
This is not Lake Woebegon, and all the children are not above average. And we all know this, even if we don't act as if we know it.
State of the Union tonight. Hang on to your wallets. Meanwhile the filibuster failed, as everyone including its advocates knew it would. We live in interesting times.
And I just brought up an AMD Dual Core system. It started first time and I'm installing the OS.
By "fired itself dry" I mean BYTE has no material for next Monday. My deadline wasn't until then, so I would have had the weekend to work on this, but clearly I will have to get this column done this week, and get at least 2500 words done by Thursday. That will leave the weekend to get the rest done.
The new AMD Dual Core system is formatted. It took hours for the new Seagate 500 GB drive. Now that's a drive!!
|This week:||Tuesday, January
The LA Times has a long series on High School Dropouts. One feature is about algebra, which is now required for graduation. The reporters doing the article didn't have any good reason why algebra (which I would suspect none of the reporters are any good at, and which I know has never been required for anything they ever did in their lives) should be required. So they went to a Union Leader.
"If you want to work in the real world, if you want to wire buildings and plumb buildings, that's when it requires algebra," said Don Davis, executive director of the Electrical Training Institute, which runs apprenticeship programs for union electricians in Los Angeles.
That's it. The rest of the arguments have to do with how valuable college is. Of course there is nothing pointing out that union programs have their own agenda, and controlling entry into the union ranks is very important. And no one bothered to ask any working electricians or plumbers if they ever used algebra in their work, or if they could do any. My own suspicion is that I don't know any garage mechanics, plumbers, or electricians who use or do algebra, or would want to.
Algebra is the essence of abstract reasoning. The ability to do it is highly predicted by IQ. Indeed, IQ tests generally have algebra-like questions, for obvious reasons.
The LA statistics are that about 44% of all students flunk algebra. I would guess that corresponds to an IQ cut about about 98 or so. In other words, this is not Lake Woebegon; all the children are not above average, and in fact about half aren't going to do well with algebra. Why should they?
Algebra has two uses: it's a pretty good screening tool for sorting out those who should go to college for general education and those who probably would do better learning skills: that is, who can profit from "learning how to learn" and those who do best at just learning something. If you can't do algebra you probably will not do well at other tasks requiring abstract reasoning. That's not a 100% prediction, but it's a good start. It doesn't mean that those who can't do algebra ought not be in college, but it does mean that those who can't do algebra should think hard about what kind of higher education they should pursue. Incidentally, most of those who think they can't do algebra, but can do abstract reasoning and are proud of their intellectual abilities, probably can learn algebra, which is, after all, only a form of low cunning. It's not all that hard for those who think abstractly, and it is the very devil for those who don't think that way.
I don't mean to say here that those who can't do algebra ought to go into manual trades. The professions that don't need algebra include teachers at most grades, sales people including primary sales -- making change requires arithmetic, not algebra -- driving trucks, construction, music and entertainment, real estate, and the like. The scores aren't in on lawyers, which is very much a profession of abstract reasoning.
What we need in this country is education tailored to the population. That means high school educations that understand that half the children are below average in ability to do abstract reasoning including doing algebra; and not trying to shove half the population through the university.
(And I have stopped this essay because I was interrupted by a call from Wisetronics, and it was an upsetting experience. I'll finish it later.)
I ordered a camera from WiseTronics in New York, and it was perhaps the most unpleasant experience I have had on line. I was telephoned by "Mike" who insists that he is the account manager. He has cancelled my order after saying "Da Da Da Da" to me interrupting me. I am not sure what he wanted, but apparently ordering from WiseTronics is an exercise in being deferential to their clerks on the telephone.
I ordered from these people because they had the model I wanted and the color. I had never done business with them before, and I guarantee you I will never do business with WiseTronics (www.wisetronics.com) again; nor do I advise anyone who likes to be treated with any courtesy to do so.
That man was as rude as anyone I have ever had telephone me. And I still don't know what they wanted. As far as I know, the order was accepted. They sent me some kind of email from "customercare" which, it turns out, demands that I talk to them on the telephone. I never opened that. Why should I? So they telephoned. I told them I had placed the order. That wasn't enough. They want me to verify the order. I don't know what verify the order means, and Mike decided that I was stupid, I guess. When he got to the "da da da da" stage I decided I didn't want to do business with those people.
I never heard of this company before, and I wonder how they manage to stay in business.
Can anyone help with this: I am unable to find where FrontPage stores the dictionary for spelling. I have a couple of words in there I need to delete, but HELP is no help and I cannot find out where they store the dictionary. Someone must know.
Subject: -- Radiologic release
On Jan 31, 2006, at 12:06 AM, Jerry Pournelle wrote:
> > Radiological release in Jacksonville, FL.
A single bottle of hydrogen / krypton-85 gas mixture burst in an industrial accident. Reports indicate exposures no higher than 200 ppm of krypton-85 at any time to any employee, and no significant atmospheric leak detected by EMS. That is unlikely to yield exposure to significant amounts of radiation, and krypton-85 (a noble gas) is not absorbed or retained by humans (or anything else in the local biome). The Mayo Clinic has one of their "nuclear physics specialists" -- probably one of the medical isotope safety officers -- acting as liason to assist Jacksonville Fire/Rescue.
Bottom line -- local authorities activated a local mass casualty incident, which in turn became a good training and review exercise. Approximately 100 people were even at risk of exposure, and no more; EMS didn't even have to activate a recall of off-duty personnel. So a low-key "exercise".
If you *have* to hear about "radiological release" in your evening news, this is the kind of incident you want it to be.
cordially, Bill Ernoehazy, Jr, MD
Aggressive fighting for the right is the noblest sport the world affords.
I need to write an essay on Hansen and the attempts to "silence" him...
February 1, 2006
It was a traditional State of the Union message.
I can tell the President how to end dependence on foreign oil, but then I've said it all before. A series of X Prizes would do the job, and at very little cost. Turn loose the engines of free enterprise. That doesn't mean we have to stop the government sponsored research projects, but we can stop relying on them exclusively. Alas, there was little of that in the speech.
If there is anyone who doubts that Jacobinism is the fountain of our national policy, read the State of the Union speech again.
Now understand: the American experiment is important and was a great success. That is not the same as saying that spreading liberal democracy through the world is the remedy to all problems. The world needs order, and ordered liberty; but universal suffrage democracy is not necessarily the way to obtain that. Democracy, when it works, is rule by the middle class, the middle class being those who possess the goods of fortune in moderation: those who have enough that they don't want to risk it trying to take more from the wealthier. Democracies can tolerate a spread of wealth so long as there are not too many very rich and very poor people in the society. Jealousies and envy can destroy the social order. Disparities of wealth are the usual means of destruction of a democracy.
There are two ideological remedies to great inequalities of wealth. One is socialism: take the money from those who have it and give it to the have-nots who need it so much, in the words of one President. This creates an enormous bureaucracy which soon becomes the actual ruling class. The second is distributism: taking money from the very rich and giving it, no strings attached, to those who don't have so much. This adds to the middle class without creating a bureaucracy, and was seriously considered by conservative social thinkers including Chesterton and Hillaire Belloc. Distributism has a number of theoretical justifications; its drawback is that it interferes seriously with the idea of rule of law and the general idea of the market. One proposal is relatively stiff death taxes, with the proceeds distributed, not spent by a bureaucracy. Certainly that would be preferable to confiscatory taxes that do create bureaucracies.
Distribution by lottery, incidentally, works as well as any other and better than many: it's simpler, doesn't give great power to anyone by giving them lots of money to pass along to others (and thus suffering the temptation to keep some), and doesn't say that one person is better than another. I must admit that when I see some of the payments made to CEO's of companies for liquidating much of the company and firing most of its workers, I can be persuaded that confiscation and distribution by lottery is preferable.
But all this is theory. It's not likely we'll do it here. We certainly are not likely to export distributism abroad. Yet, perhaps, that is exactly what we ought to be doing. You cannot have democracy without a middle class, and many of the places we want to convert to democracy do not have a middle class even though they have a great deal of money. Indeed, distribution of that money is one of the major problems of Iraq. A national lottery for the oil revenue might be preferable to what they're doing now. One million prizes of a few thousand dollars each would get the money into the economy, and end the political fights over what to do with the money. Cheap lottery tickets, prizes comparable to a couple of years annual income, and the oil money is distributed without rancor. Of course it won't happen.
The USSR could have had some kind of distributist revolution when communism collapsed. Instead, it devolved to a kleptocracy, and Putin is now trying to take state control of the national wealth that was passed along mostly to a gang of crooks. Of course he will control the bureaucracy that will take over the wealth...
I haven't seen anyone in government think about how to create a middle class in the Middle East. Perhaps I have missed something. But democracy is rule by the middle class, and the middle class are those who possess the goods of fortune in moderation: who own property they wish to keep, but not so much wealth that they can dominate the society.
Incidentally, when commentators speak of "redistributist" politics, they generally mean building a bureaucracy, not genuine distributism that creates independent voters and increases the influence of the middle class. See mail.
Bush has committed us to stay the course, probably rightly so; but continuing interference in the Middle East is not the answer; nor will the mild measures Bush proposed free us of dependence on Middle East oil. Still, he recognizes the addiction. Perhaps that is a first step to a cure? And he did speak positively of nuclear power. Not, I think, with the kind of enthusiasm that will bring us new power plants; but I could be wrong on that, too.
A traditional State of the Union speech.
I do need to continue some thoughts on algebra and high school, but I'll wait for comments: should we require algebra as a condition for graduation from high school? Why? Unless we want to assure ourselves of a supply of dropouts to be hewers of wood and drawers of water.
Regarding the Iraqi Oil Curse, see Mail.
The San Bernardino sheriff shooting gets worse. The deputy was black. The Airman was Latino with no accent, a USAF security troop. The deputy used street language that can't be played on the radio. One presumes that the next step is that the Reverend Jesse Jackson will be out here. Not sure who will take the Airman's side. The FBI is supposed to get in the act. "Get up! Get up!" Bang. Bang. Bang. It sure doesn't look good.
If you ever go to Burdoo, better walk just right....
This is done on my new communications machine. One thing is instantly clear: you do not want a top of the line nVidia board in a business machine. The text looks awful. Since this is a PCI Express system it's not going to be easy to find a substitute, but I'll have to try.
There is worse. While Firefox can IMPORT cookies and bookmarks, apparently it cannot EXPORT them; and it can only import them from Internet Explorer. Now to look for some other way to move Firefox from one machine to another.
I had asked for suggestions on how to move Firefox from one computer to another. I know how, now, and have managed to do it. I expect there is mail telling me how, but in fact I found out on my own. It's easy but the instructions aren't as clear as they might be, particularly in telling you where things are stored. More both here and in the column. Thanks to all who tried to help.
February 2, 2006
I have figured out how to migrate Firefox, and how to make the text look good on my new communications machine.
Now I need to know how to migrate Outlook EXPRESS news groups etc. from the old machine to the new. It shouldn't be hard to do, but Microsoft Help isn't very helpful.
There's a lot on algebra in education over in mail.
Hi Jerry, looks like there is mounting evidence for Greg Cochran's "almost all disorders are due to infections disease" hypothesis: http://www.forbes.com/lifestyle/health/feeds/hscout/2006/01/30/hscout530627.html
Note the 'party line' opinions that refuse to believe the physical evidence near the end of the article. The PC crowd marches on! (Apologies if you've already seen this or related stories already, but it just went up online).
-David Mercer Tucson, AZ
Cochran takes evolution seriously, and asks, "How can anything that makes reproduction less likely survive to be an hereditary disorder?" Sometimes there are answers. Sickle Cell is an adaptation to some environmental conditions (note that Sickle Cell is almost unknown in Africa south of the Zambezi; in the US it's a "racial" inheritance, but in Africa it's a localized condition). But usually conditions that impede reproduction are bred out in a few generations. Thus, Cochran concludes, many "hereditary" disorders are in fact infectious diseases.
On the other hand, heredity plays a major part in development of intelligence. For more on that see http://www.economist.com/science/displaystory.cfm?story_id=4032638 or look here on "How the Ashkenazi got their smarts."
His most controversial claim is that there are good theoretical reasons to believe that homosexuality is an infectious disease. One reasonably dispassionate (but disapproving) discussion of that theory is found at http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/calebcrain/gaygerm .
Science is science; or so we are told when the subject is inserting a 4 line section on Intelligent Design in the school curriculum of a place few of those who got so excited about it have ever been, or inserting an alternate view about Darwinism in the Kansas curriculum. We must have science and only science, and we must all learn Darwinian evolution.
Of course we must not take it seriously if it leads to politically incorrect hypotheses.
I'm still looking for a way to migrate newsgroups from one machine to another using Outlook Express and Outlook 2003. I only look at one newsgroup on this machine, but I don't remember what the heck I did to get access to newsgroups at all. I'll experiment with it another time I guess.
Remind me never to drink Coke Zero again. I am weary of those stupid advertisements in which some dimwit tries to bully someone on a help line. What makes advertising agencies believe that having stupid people act like bullies is a good way to sell their products? I don't need guesses -- do we have an advertising agency executive here? What is the theory of this imbecilic ad campaign?
.c The Associated Press
LISBON, Portugal (AP) - Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates said Wednesday that attempts by governments to censor Web site contents were doomed, because banned information can seep out despite official injunctions.
``The ability to really withhold information no longer exists,'' Gates told a government forum on the Internet.
Gates said his company must comply with legal requirements in the countries where it operates.
Late last year, Microsoft shut down the site of a popular Chinese blogger at Beijing's request. The blog by Zhao Jing, writing under the pen name An Ti, appraised sensitive topics such as China's relations with Taiwan and media freedoms in China.
But the spread of free, private e-mail enabled users to disseminate information anyway, Gates said. <snip>
Which is what I said back just after the Falklands Island war. Arthur Koestler said that a sufficient condition for the destruction of totalitarian society is the free exchange of ideas within it. I am not sure that this alone is sufficient, but it's certainly one way to get there. I pointed out back in those days that a modern society needs computing power to survive -- but you can't have computer power without the free exchange of ideas within your society.
Of course the politicians have to get into the act. Why Silicon Valley puts up with Lantos is I suppose a question of abnormal psychology.
WASHINGTON--Politicians on Wednesday attacked Google, Microsoft, Cisco Systems and Yahoo for declining to appear at a briefing about China's Internet censorship and called for a new law to outlaw compliance with such requirements.
The four technology companies said earlier this week that they were not able to schedule an appearance with short notice but would testify at a similar House of Representatives hearing scheduled for Feb. 15.
"These massively successful high-tech companies, which couldn't bring themselves to send their representatives to this meeting today, should be ashamed," said Rep. Tom Lantos, the California Democrat who is co-chairman of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, which organized the briefing.
"With all their power and influence, wealth and high visibility, they neglected to commit to the kind of positive action that human rights activists in China take every day," Lantos went on. "They caved in to Beijing's demands for the sake of profits, or whatever else they choose to call it."
Because his caucus is not an actual congressional committee, it does not have the power to compel companies to testify at its hearings. The U.S. House of Representatives International Relations Committee, which plans to convene a Feb. 15 hearing on the topic, does have that force.
Rep. Christopher Smith, the New Jersey Republican who chairs the subcommittee holding the Feb. 15 hearing, showed up late at Wednesday's briefing to issue a reminder that he and his colleagues are working on a draft legislation related to the foreign censorship matter.
"Our request to these companies is: Reverse yourselves; you can," he said. <snip>
That ought to really do a lot of good.
If you want Cindy Sheehan's side of the story about what happened at State of the Union it is here, and you can believe as much of it as you want to. http://www.truthout.org/docs_2006/020106Z.shtml I will tell you that once, when in the House gallery as guest of the Speaker, an usher asked me to remove a badge that had a mildly political statement on it. I did so at once.
February 3, 2006
I see we will strengthen math and science in our schools. Washington will solve all our educational problems. Ain't it grand?
Meanwhile down in San Diego they are learning about the tunnel. Wow. Here we have an engineering enterprise of some magnitude, and no one knew it was being built, and if you believe that I have some more stories for you.
I am still working on the column. I've done what will show up Monday, but I try to get the whole month done at once.
Does this need comment?
Teenagers value the role of science in society but feel scientists are "brainy people not like them", research suggests.
The Science Learning Centre in London asked 11,000 pupils for their views on science and scientists.
Around 70% of the 11-15 year olds questioned said they did not picture scientists as "normal young and attractive men and women".
The research examined why numbers of science exam entries are declining.
Researchers Roni Malek and Fani Stylianidou are completing their research in April but have analysed around half the responses so far.
They found around 80% of pupils thought scientists did "very important work" and 70% thought they worked "creatively and imaginatively". Only 40% said they agreed that scientists did "boring and repetitive work".
Over three quarters of the respondents thought scientists were "really brainy people". <snip> =======
Some of the shouting:
In its first comment on the furore, the State Department said: "These cartoons are indeed offensive to the belief of Muslims."
A protester in London invokes Osama bin Laden Answering a reporter's question, its spokesman, Kurtis Cooper, said: "We all fully respect freedom of the press and expression but it must be coupled with press responsibility. Inciting religious or ethnic hatred in this manner is not acceptable."
Crowds of Muslims answered calls for "an international day of anger" over the cartoons - one showing Mohammed with a turban in the shape of a bomb - which were first published in Denmark last September.
Fiery sermons were preached in mosques in several European cities during Friday prayers.
A Danish imam, Ahmed Abu Laban, told worshippers in Copenhagen: "In the West freedom of speech is sacred; to us, the Prophet is sacred."
Mullah Krekar, a radical imam living in Norway, was quoted by the Dagbladet daily as saying: "These drawings are a declaration of war."<snip>
Anyway, you can see them for yourself, at least for a while. I suppose at some point the US government will shut down all archives in deference to the Arab Anti-Defamation League or some such. I also presume that the furor over the cartoons has some bearing on the "House of War" debates.
And a subscriber who does not care to be identified sends this:
re: the furour over the cartoons, for a historic perspective please see: http://www.zombietime.com/mohammed_image_archive/
(courtesy of boingboing. If you've already see it, I apologize for the duplication. Please be patient, some of the sites load slowly)
It's difficult to comment about this when someone might decide my words warrant a response. Talk about a "chilling effect..."
The site is indeed interesting and rather authoritative, including dozens of illustrations including not only the original Danish cartoons, but some riffs on them which may have been the cause of much of the uproar.
It does all add to the House of War debates.
We saw a sneak preview of Eight Below, the Disney movie about a dog sled team left behind in Antarctica. If you have Husky dogs you will go see this of course. Of course parts of it will tear your heart out... Recommended.
Regarding those Danish cartoons, this exchange from another conference:
Ralph asks, > Just curious, has anyone here in the States seen one of these cartoons?
The Wikipedia article is more comprehensive than any of the articles I have seen in the European or U.S. press.
Aside: Some busybody deplores Wikipedia and wants it replaced by a free on-line encyclopedia with only refereed articles. I wonder how long it would take the above mentioned article to get through a refereeing and editorial process.
Which is well worth thinking about.
February 5, 2006
Fortunately the world hasn't entirely gone that way.
Has anyone noticed just how well organized the riots were? And how plentiful was the supply of Danish and Norwegian flags?
I can recall a time when sacking the Danish Embassy would get you a visit from some Vikings. I expect it might be fun to sack Damascus. Not sure the Vikings ever got there. Normans did have Antioch and Sicily at one time, as well as the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem. But of course we mustn't think that way, even though everyone knows the Syrian g0vernment is playing distraction games. They're pretty sure we don't do anything about, and they are probably right. Perhaps we can outsource the job of bombarding ports and sacking cities? Alternatives might be to drop bombs from 15,000 feet, or send cruise missiles. Dropping a bomb from high altitude can't be much fun. Sacking cities is up close and personal..
There is a report by FPRI on the future of American strategy. I intend to refer to it for future discussions. I have copied it here to make it easier to find if you want to refer to it.
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, 8,000 - 12,000 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. This site is run on the "public radio" model; see below.
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