Monthly Archive: June 2008

Things not known in the 1860s

I find it fascinating that things part of common knowledge today were discovered relatively recently. Here is something not known in the 1860s, from Darwin’s Origin of the Species, p 29-30:

I do not believe, as we shall presently see, that all our dogs have descended from any one wild species; but, in the case of some other domestic races, there is presumptive, or even strong, evidence in favour of this view.

The whole subject must, I think, remain vague; nevertheless, I may, without here entering on any details, state that, from geographical and other considerations, I think it highly probable that our domestic dogs have descended from several wild species.

We now know that all dog breeds are descended from wolves through a domestication event or several closely spaced domestication events about 100,000 years ago. This explains why dogs are found with aboriginal human groups throughout the world.

This is from a section describing how in most domesticated animals have many breeds or varieties yet are descended from a single wild species. In the 1860s, the the evidence pointed to more than one wild ancestor for dogs.

Godel, Escher, Bach – An Eternal Golden Braid

I was thinking about Godel, Escher, Bach – An Eternal Golden Braid because I started up my ant farm. It’s an incredible book, a work of genius that blew my mind when I read it in HS. Turns out Douglas Hofstadter, the author, has a new book out that is described as covering similar ground titled I Am a Strange Loop. So I wanted to reread GEB. I looked around and checked my book list, but no GEB. I’ve really got to pick up a copy!

Great Health Nuttery

Ah, health nuttery, a spice that can be added to anything. I’ve heard it many times, that alternative medicine and quack cures have a collection of ideas (all bonkers) that often get combined together. You see all sorts of combinations. Qi magnets, detoxifying magnets, Qi detoxification. Most of these terms mean so little that they can be combined randomly to make a novel-sounding new types of alt. med.

It’s really just like advertising, where there is a pool of non-specific positive adjectives that are slapped on a product to jazz it up. Pick any two or three: new, brighter, improved, best, free, breakthrough, exciting.

That’s all background for describing something that made me bust a gut. Bear Grylls, star of the Man vs. Wild survival show, had caught and gutted a fish. As he often does, he starts chomping on it raw. Then he says it’s high in protein, gives you energy, and helps boost the immune system. Yes, boosts the immune system! One of the universal alt med claims! If you are stranded in the wilderness without shelter, fire, food, or water, ‘Does this boost my immune system?’ is not on your list of priorities. Bear didn’t think through his food options, and think, I could eat a caterpillar, but a fish will boost my immune system more, so I’ll try and catch a fish. No, the choice was a raw fish or nothing, and it is literally true that a fish, being food, would be better for the immune system than not eating for the day. Trivially true, but really, really funny!

President Reagan’s cartoon administration

From way back in 1986, Michael Kinsley reviews David A. Stockman’s The Triumph of Politics: How the Reagan Revolution Failed (1986). Stockman was President Reagan’s budget director from 1981-85.

The Reagan stories are priceless.

Cabinet members take skillful advantage of the Commander in Chief’s capacity for befuddlement. Secretary of Transportation Drew Lewis convinces him that quotas on Japanese cars are not a violation of free trade because Government regulations have hampered American producers. (Japanese cars must meet the same regulations, of course.) Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger shows up for a meeting intended to settle whether the defense buildup should be $1.46 trillion over five years or only $1.33 trillion. His chief prop is a cartoon of three soldiers – one, a pygmy without a rifle, representing the Carter budget; one, ”a four-eyed wimp . . . carrying a tiny rifle,” representing $1.33 trillion, Mr. Stockman’s defense budget; and one, ”G.I. Joe himself . . . all decked out in helmet and flak jacket and pointing an M-60 machine gun,” representing $1.46 trillion. This is how Presidential decisions are made. Mr. Stockman makes clear that Mr. Weinberger himself had absolutely no idea how to spend all this money at the time he argued it was essential to our national security. He would get as much as he could, then go back to the Pentagon and figure out what to do with it.

And this was before the Alzheimer’s disease was noticeable in Reagan’s second term. Government by cartoon. I wonder if this is the budget process they teach in political science classes. A $130 billion dollar cartoon.

Origin of the Species: Introduction

Quote from The Origin of the Species Introduction:

In considering the Origin of Species, it is quite conceivable that a naturalist, reflecting on the mutual affinities of organic beings, on their embryological relations, their geographical distribution, geological succession, and other such facts, might come to the conclusion that each species had not been independently created, but had descended, like varieties, from other species. Nevertheless, such a conclusion, even if well founded, would be unsatisfactory, until it could be shown how the innumerable species inhabiting this world have been modified, so as to acquire that perfection of structure and coadaptation which most justly excites our admiration.

The Push to Deploy the Pain Ray

The 60 Minutes TV show has joined the push to deploy the Active Denial System (ADS), a millimeter-wave transmitter that causes intense pain but doesn’t kill or cause burns with short exposures.

60 Minutes has covered the pain ray several times, but today aired a complete endorsement and argument for its immediate deployment. A parade of military, government, and ex-military police officers lauded the pain gun, said it was safe, harmless, and would save lives.

It was so over the top it got creepy. An assistant secretary of the Air Force, the woman in charge of buying the weapon, said the pain ray works so good that anyone that doesn’t run away is a ‘determined adversary’ and can be considered a ‘hostile’, a ‘terrorist’. The direct implication of that is anyone who doesn’t run away can be shot dead. Of course it has a range of half a mile, so if a person doesn’t see where it is coming from and runs the wrong way he or she will get killed. The weapon looks to have a small focus area, so if used on a crowd it would need to be waved around or several pain rays used. This also makes it hard to know the expected or ‘safe’ direction to run. And of course, the use of an intermittent pain ray in a crowd is likely to start a panic, with people trapped in the crowd running every which way.

Also creepy was the military’s test footage provided to 60 Minutes. People carrying anti-war and peace signs in English walking around peacefully were the targets of the pain ray. Err, so why exactly does the military think a demonstration on how the pain ray can disperse peace rallys is a great demonstration? The US does have a long history of peaceful demonstrations disrupted by illegal police actions, but doesn’t seem to suffer from a lack technology…

So what’s the plan? The 60 Minutes episode pushed the pain ray as a US/Iraq War weapon. This is no doubt mostly hype–every new weapon being pushed today is no doubt sold as an Iraq War weapon. But exactly why would the US Army be called out to disperse political protests in Iraq? Isn’t that exactly the role the US has been training the Iraqi police to handle for the last five years?

No doubt the end game has US police departments equipped with the pain ray and using it mainly on peaceful protests. Of course after the police starts firing the pain ray, I’m sure people will be running around screaming–a ready made riot for TV news condemnation.

After a few years to accommodate the US public to the pain ray it will likely get shopped out to foreign governments and used primarily for suppressing protests.

Of course the pain ray is just the most prominent of the anti-democracy technologies in the pipeline. There are many ways being developed to monitor and disrupt democracy activists and their efforts.