Mister Pterodactyl
Friday, July 30, 2004
The newsgroup I subscribe to has been down recently, so I missed this story.  Over 400 North Korean defectors are coming to the South, the largest group ever at one time.  Groovy.  22 million to go.

Reaction fron the North?  Typical.  Still beating out the loony left for crazy talk.

Saturday, July 24, 2004
Okay look, could we possibly at long last stop with the notion that by disagreeing with somebody we're trying to take away their right to free speech?  I realize that was a poorly structured sentence but stay with me.  If you read blogs (and, well, you're reading this one), you may have guessed that this post was provoked by a certain Vegas lounge act, who got a rather ugly reaction from her audience when she began praising a certain giant tub of lard whose name is not to be mentioned here ever.  [Another goofy sentence... must be my day for it.]  Rather the news coverage, really, which included interviews with some of the audience members.  Some complained they don't care for a dose of politics in their entertainment.  Some blasted the loony left, some praised it.  Others said things to the tune of "she has the right to free speech and they shouldn't be trying to take it away from her."
Now, I don't know exactly how ugly the crowd got, but they paid their money and if they want to boo and walk out, that's their business.  Y'know what?  They're exercising their right to free speech too.  If anybody ever tries to derail an argument with you this way, tell them that.
Side note: I was amused by the initial reaction of Democrat talking heads to the Sandy Berger deal.  Also by the spin showing up in the press.  It's a Republican plot!  Now, I'll give you that it's possible that someone leaked this to steal thunder just prior to the convention, but you have to give me that Berger's actions are pretty damn suspicious.  Supposing both are true, I'll expect that they're dealt with in the order in which they occurred.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004
Reading Instapundit the other day, I followed a link to Ann Althouse's blog.  The post was about federal air marshals and their dress code.  Guess what?  She suggests dressing up while flying to give them some support.
I've emailed her to congratulate her for her creativity, perspicacity, and Wisconsin mailing address.
Mister Pterodactyl: one team, one fight.

Monday, July 19, 2004
Rantingprofs is on vacation.

Heavy sigh.  This is definitely something I wanted to show her.
Here’s yesterday’s NYT article on the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report (here’s Instapundit’s discussion, where I got it; make sure to read Tom Maguire's remarks).  Note the headline: “New Reports Again Question Whether Iraq Sought Uranium in Niger.”  Now, here’s the headline of the exact same article picked up by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: “Reports reopen question of Iraq seeking uranium.”
What’s more, the piece in the MJS print edition contains a bit that's not in the NYT online version.  Here it is:
News coverage earlier this month disputed Wilson’s assertion that he had “debunked” suspicions that Iraq attempted to buy uranium from Niger.
“Time and again, Joe Wilson told anyone who would listen that the president had lied to the American people, that the vice president had lied and that he had ‘debunked’ the claim that Iraq was seeking uranium from Africa,” committee chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) pointed out in a statement of “additional views” signed by two other GOP senators. 
In fact, the report said Wilson’s information, instead of steering the CIA away, “lent more credibility to the original Central Intelligence Agency reports on the uranium deal.” 
Unfortunately, being a Times article it isn’t on the MJS website, and I haven’t found it anywhere else on the net, either.  I actually had to type it in instead of copy/pasting!
I assume the difference is the result of the editorial process; the NYT puts stuff on the wire and each publication edits it as they see fit.  In this case, the NYT’s editor cut this part out (for “space considerations,” no doubt – Fox News is biased!) while the MJS’s left it in.  Still, it feels odd to find the longer version in a different paper.
Anybody know if that’s the case?  Anybody know where the full article might be found?

Sunday, July 18, 2004
Charles Robert Jenkins is returning to Japan with his wife and daughters.
The U.S. government has agreed not to extradite him right away, as he needs medical care.  Wish him luck.

Saturday, July 17, 2004
I've been reading a lot in the 'sphere about this account of an airplane passenger witnessing what she thought might be a terrorist cell preparing an attack (all links via Instapundit).  Michelle Malkin is on the beat and seems to have confirmed the basic facts.  I nevertheless share Donald Sensing's skepticism; I mean, fourteen guys in one attack is way too many.  [Hey, they say AQ's structure is a lot more horizontal these days, maybe it was three cells that happened to target the same plane?  Aw, shaddap.]
However, it got me thinking about what I'd do in that situation.  So armed with some really good advice from the dead-on Den Beste (and I'm starting to wonder what planet that guy's from), I've come up with a plan.  Rather than get up to address the whole plane, as some have suggested, I'll start moving around and talk to the other passengers in small groups.  Ask them if they're willing to help if the worst happens, pass on the aforementioned advice, make suggestions for coordination (cover the areas they're sitting in, guard external doors, and don't forget, chivalry's out, knees to the groin are encouraged.).  Also, I'll go to somebody in first class and have them protect the cockpit.  I want a human wall around that thing.
I figure this'll accomplish three things.  First, knowing that others are going to get involved will encourage people to act.  Second, it may reassure the frightened.  Third, it will probably make them aware that we're aware and maybe even forestall the attack.  And I am aware of all the 'yeah, but' factors, BUT it's worth a shot.
Of course, I'll have to remove my coat and tie, since I'll be dressed like a fed.
[Full disclosure: I altered this post.  I didn't like the way it was written the first time.]

Thursday, July 15, 2004
Well, the Federal Marriage Amendment failed in the Senate in a procedural vote.
Show of hands: who thinks the attempt to modify the Constitution was anything other than an election-year stunt?
Friday, July 09, 2004
Shortly after this post about Brian Greene's book, I find a review, of sorts, on Slate Magazine. The article is written by Amanda Schaffer, and says she's a science writer from Brooklyn.
Schaffer doesn't seem to like Greene very much. She does say that his "technical explanations are often effective," but she seems annoyed by some of the language he uses, particularly to express his excitement over the promise of string theory.
It's true, the book is full of that, but Schaffer goes out of her way to emphasize it. "Elaborate scenarios often characterized by cute and slightly corny imagery," "the rhetoric of self-help literature," "a pandering sort of lyricism." It really didn't bother me that much.
She's also disturbed by his use of the word 'elegant' to describe the (eventual) completed theory, and thus the unifying of relativity and quantum physics. I wouldn't even mention it but, well, that's what elegant means: "adj. [common; from mathematical usage] Combining
simplicity, power, and a certain ineffable grace of design."

When I think of science, I think of philosophy too. All science begins as philosophy; as I've often put it, the difference is that scientists do experiments. They discover things a posteriori, through experience, then modify their theories to fit. As knowledge advances, more subjects become open to experiment and so move from the realm of philosophy to that of science.
The reason some scientists are leery of string theory is its inaccessibility to experiment. The idea is that the fundamental particles - quarks, bosons, photons, etc. - are actually tiny loops that vibrate in different ways. Those vibrations give each particle its characteristics and cause the forces that govern their behavior. These 'loops,' however, are so small that they can't be observed. In fact, it's possible that we'll never be able to observe them (it's possible that there's a limit to how small we can go, that the energies required to detect these loops are so great as to be physically impossible). So the only predictions made by string theory can't be verified by experiment. It's a reversal of the standard method and does make string theory resemble philosophy more than science.
String theory is still very popular though. Why? Because the math works. By inserting new ideas into existing theory, mathematical contradictions are eliminated, and often the new results agree with experiment. Some of these ideas get pretty crazy; did you know that in addition to the three 'extended' spatial dimensions, there are six (maybe seven) more that are 'curled up' in what's called a Calabi-Yau shape? You don't notice because they're too small to detect.

Eventually, some way will have to be found to prove string theory experimentally. Even if it someday fully unites relativity and quantum physics theoretically, the structures it postulates can't be accepted on that basis alone. But until then (I'm talking to you, Ms. Schaffer), everybody lighten up. I'm having fun.

P.S. There's a little more commentary here, with good comments from people who sound like they know what they're talking about. I'm gonna keep an eye on this guy.
Monday, July 05, 2004
There's a sucker born every minute.

Often when I refer to my ‘local paper’ I’m talking about the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. But the city I actually live in has its own paper, the Racine Journal Times. The RTJ has a feature called ‘Debatable,’ which takes an issue of the day and presents (usually superficially) the case for each side. On Sunday, July 4th, the issue was “Does the U.S. need foreign observers to ensure a free election in November?” It's not on their website yet.
Here’s what they’re talking about. Nine members of Congress wrote a letter to Kofi Annan asking that the UN keep an eye on things, ostensibly to prevent another Florida fiasco. Link via Rantingprofs, who had something to say to them:
“While you were making your point, did you take even thirty seconds to stop and wonder how this would play in the Arab world, where we are struggling to make even the smallest democratic reforms possible, but where no matter what we do the anti-American elites and press assume our motives are self-centered? Where no matter what we do we are always labelled hypocrites?”

Here’s what I have to say to the RJT: don’t you know a publicity stunt when you see one?

Sunday, July 04, 2004
To fisk properly, one must first read carefully.
Which makes fisking Maureen Dowd a bit of an exercise in masochism. But, I can take it if you can.
[Note: following Dowd’s reasoning is not unlike finding the fire exits in a restaurant designed by M.C. Escher - click with caution. You have been warned. Also, the quotes I use may appear in different order here than there. Really, what’s the difference?]
She opens up with some snappy comebacks to the President’s ‘snappy aphorisms.’ You know – ‘mission accomplished,’ ‘bring ‘em on,’ etc. About ‘let freedom reign’ scrawled on Condi’s note, she says “Couldn't Karl Rove and his minions at least get that 'ad-lib' right about freedom ringing?” Ad-lib. Ringing. See? It's funny. She finishes with ‘not gonna cut and run:’ “we can't cut, but we certainly ran.”

What do you suppose she meant by that? Perhaps this will explain: “The administration went from Shock and Awe to Sneak and Shirk. Gotta run, guys — keep chins up and heads down. The Bush crowd pretended the country was free and able to stand on its own, even as the odd manner in which Mr. Bremer scooted away showed that it wasn't. The president acted as if Iraq was in control, but our forces can't come home because Iraq's still out of control.”
Mr. Bremer, now out of a job, has left Iraq after formally handing authority to the new Iraqi government. You seem surprised that he would do so. Nobody else is.

“If Americans needed any more confirmation that they're viewed as loathed occupiers, not beloved liberators, it came with the sad little spectacle of a hasty, heavily guarded hand-over that no Iraqi John Trumbell will memorialize in an oil painting of the Declaration of Iraqi Independence.”
Hey, I didn’t get an invitation either, but you don’t hear me crying about it. Where you see ‘hasty,’ I see ‘no reason to wait any longer.’ And you did point out that “American troops are still trapped in Iraq and being killed there” and the above-noted “Iraq’s still out of control,” but you don’t believe the event should have been protected? Now that would have been irresponsible, wouldn’t it?

“Mr. Bremer's escape from the Green Zone was uncomfortably reminiscent of the last days of Saigon. No one was hanging onto the skids of helicopters, but the mood was furtive, not festive.”
Ah, the Vietnam reference. There must be a quota.

“Instead, there was no real transfer of power because there was no power to transfer. It was a virtual transfer,” because all the actual power had already been transferred. The Iraqis were already in charge of all the government ministries. This was a formality. The real action’s been going on all along. You’re missing it. Maybe you went for popcorn.

“The White House pretended that the sovereignty was real.”
Pretended. So what will make the sovereignty real?
Will it be real in January, when Iraq holds its first elections (there's your 'Iraqi John Trumbell' moment)? How about when the troops start leaving? How many have to go before you agree that we’ve succeeded in making Iraq sovereign and free? [I’m guessing the answer is something like ‘all of them. But the embassy is still too big and we stole one of Saddam’s palaces to put it in.’]

Ms. Dowd manages to include references to Ahmad Chalabi, neocons, Halliburton, the 9-11 commission, and the recent Supreme Court ruling on detainees, while simultaneously making not one but two of the antiwar left’s favorite arguments. It’s a very busy column. Let’s recap:
1. We’re abandoning Iraq.
2. We’re stuck in an endless quagmire of violence in Iraq.
3. I’m gonna need a long shower and some post-Dowd stress syndrome counseling.

Fire exits are located at each end of the tesseract. In addition to having contradictory themes, Dowd is using a rhetorical trick by which any progress, no matter how significant, is made to seem false because it doesn’t end our involvement. She chides the administration for being in Iraq in the first place, then chastises it for failing in its mission, all the while denying that the mission might actually be succeeding.

Come to think of it, Dowd’s writing style is perfect for the message: incomprehensible.

Mister Pterodactyl: taking one for the team.

Saturday, July 03, 2004
Belated Self-Aggrandization Dept. It's been brought to my attention that Instapundit quoted me way back in January. Don't know how I missed that.

In reply to one of his posts, I wrote an email that included the body of this post from way back. I replaced the final paragraph with this:
"It seems like the "Bush Lied" story is a sort of hot potato that gets passed around a group of like-minded writers, and everybody gets a turn at doing it."

Instapundit observed, "Yes. And everybody gets a turn refuting it, apparently!"

Charles Robert Jenkins will go to Indonesia to meet his wife, Hitomi Soga. Here's the story.

I hope he brings his daughters with him. I further hope that the U.S. government will eventually relent and allow them to live in Japan without fear of extradition, but if not at least they'll be free.
Friday, July 02, 2004
The new commercial for Michael Moore’s crappy movie shows him conversing with an unidentified woman; he says, “it’s a great country.” She agrees. I wonder what country they were talking about. As David Brooks points out, it couldn’t have been this one.

To the British newspaper The Mirror: “They are possibly the dumbest people on the planet...we Americans suffer from an enforced ignorance. We don't know about anything that's happening outside our country. Our stupidity is embarrassing.”
To an audience in Munich: "That's why we're smiling all the time...we've got that big [expletive] grin on our face all the time because our brains aren't loaded down."
At Cambridge: "You're stuck with being connected to this country of mine, which is known for bringing sadness and misery to places around the globe."
[All quotes come from the Brooks piece. I recently thought of tracking down documentation for these quotes in order to write a post like this one; Mr. Brooks has beaten me to it. I defer to his credibility.]

That said, I now begin my boycott of Moore and his stupid movie. Never again will either be mentioned on this blog, unless I think of a really, really good insult.

Spread the word...

This article appeared in yesterday’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
“The nation's largest flight attendants union on Wednesday came out against a dress code that it said is ‘forcing federal air marshals to dress like stereotypical G-men.’
Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) also spoke out for the first time against the dress code, which is coming under increasing fire for exposing the undercover marshals.”

I’ve heard about this issue before, as I’m sure you have. People tend to dress comfortably, and thus casually, when flying. A guy in a suit sticks right out. It’s hard to believe this policy hasn’t been changed yet.

But I’ve got an idea. Next time you fly, get a fresh haircut and wear a nice suit and tie. If you’ve got long hair or a beard, at least make sure they're well-groomed. Dress like you’re going to a job interview. Ladies too. If the government won’t change its policy to help our air marshals blend in, the rest of us had better give them some cover.

Imagine you’re a terrorist looking to murder people; you get on the plane watching for someone dressed like a fed, and instead of one or two you see five dozen of them. Like the big guy says: a pack, not a herd.
Thursday, July 01, 2004
Just finished The Elegant Universe, by Brian Greene. It’s about string theory. [Two branches of physics in a very brief nutshell: general relativity deals with the force of gravity and the movement of large bodies, quantum mechanics deals with electromagnetism and the interaction of subatomic particles. Both are very successful in experiment, but when used together lead to contradictions. String theory is an attempt to unite the two theories.]
This post is about a side issue. Stay with me now...

Imagine you’re standing to the west of a table that’s at eye level to you. I roll two marbles on the table at precisely the same speed; one going straight from north to south, one going slightly diagonal southwest. Because the table is at eye level you’re only able to discern the north-south movement of the marbles, not the east-west movement. So what happens? To you, the second marble appears to be going straight north-south, but at a slightly slower speed than the first.
The motion of the first marble is in one dimension only. The second, though, is moving in two dimensions, and some of its velocity bleeds off from one in order to feed the other (think vectors). So even though it’s moving at the same rate as the first marble, to someone viewing just the one dimension it appears to be slower.

One of the results of Einstein’s theory of relativity is that we’re all in constant motion through four dimensions – the three spatial dimensions plus time. And, this motion is constant at the speed of light. We’re all moving at the speed of light through time. When we move through the other three dimensions some of that velocity bleeds off to support it.
This has two consequences. One, the speed of light is the maximum velocity one can reach moving through space. Two, when in spatial motion our motion through time slows, so that a person attaining a significant percentage of lightspeed would age more slowly. If one were moving through space at the speed of light, one’s velocity through time would be zero.

Got all that? It gets more complicated when you consider that two people moving relative to each other have equally valid points of view; that is, each can claim to be motionless while the other is moving. Then, though, you have to figure in the effects of gravitational fields. That part gives me a headache.

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