Stardate 20010915.2243 (On Screen): It is remarkable what you can deduce from indirect information. In the case of anthropology, it's sometimes possible to actually get inside the minds of individuals from the distant past. For instance, sometimes footprints are preserved, and there are in Africa a set of footprints from three hominids who walked across a fresh patch of volcanic ash. There are three sets: a big one, a middle sized one and a small one. The big one and middle sized one are parallel to each other. The small one is remarkable, because each small footprint is inside one of the big footprints, and on top of it. The image of a man and a woman walking next to each other, followed by a kid stepping in Daddy's foot prints is nearly inescapable -- it's a very human scene. It's also a very old one, because the footprints date back about 4 million years. And yet that kid's actions already seem very modern; it's almost like a modern kid who likes to try to wear Daddy's shoes which are much too big.
Remains left by the Neandertals indicate much more than that, though. They are quite modern as hominids go, and were tool users and intrepid hunters. It isn't known how or why it was that they got displaced by an invasion of Cro Magnons (modern humans) out of Africa a hundred thousand years ago; that remains an unsolved problem. There are various guesses but no real evidence yet. Still, the evidence is strong that they felt considerable affection for each other. Neandertal graves often contain gifts of tools and flowers and foodstuffs, showing deliberate burials and even indicating some sort of ceremony. But analysis of the skeletons reveals more. This article describes a jawbone which was broken; the person it belonged to lived for at least six months without being able to chew -- and didn't starve. What did he (?) eat? Someone was feeding him. Why? Because they cared. But there was an even more remarkable case. A skeleton was found of a Neandertal who died as a teenager. He was horribly deformed and would never have been able to care for himself, and yet he lived nearly to adulthood. That couldn't have happened by accident.
Lions don't do that. While the members of a pride cooperate and work together, if a lion is injured none of the other lions will attempt to help it; if it cannot recover it will die. If a lion cub is hurt, the tribe will abandon it. But Neandertals did; they cared for a baby which would never be able to contribute to the tribe; cared for him until apparently he died of natural causes. And his grave had flowers and offerings in it. That is a very human thing to do; it means the Neandertals were very much like us culturally, despite their physical differences. (discussion in progress)
Stardate 20010915.2055 (On Screen): There have been collapsed buildings before but never like this. In the last few years earthquakes have destroyed buildings all over the world, and sometimes survivors are found in the wreckage. But rarely is anyone found after five days. Between exposure and lack of water and likely severe injuries, even if a person didn't die in the initial collapse they are very unlikely to survive this long. And that in buildings which had been only five or ten stories tall; no-one has ever tried to find survivors in the collapse of a skyscraper before. There was never much hope that anyone would survive anyway. Those who had been high in the building would have died from the fall; those low would be crushed by a million tons of debris. All of us wanted survivors to be found, but now it's too late. The rescue crews will continue to look, of course, but there isn't going to be any miracle. From now on, the most important thing is to make sure none of the rescuers become casualties. (discuss)
Stardate 20010915.2028 (Crew, this is the Captain): I have had several people comment in the last few days that my character seems to have changed. Used to the cerebral unexcited persona of normal times, the passion and rage I (and my fellow Americans) have expressed since Tuesday seems frightening. And so it should be. It also seems unexpected, though it shouldn't have been. But rather than trying to explain it myself, I will defer to a much greater author than I could ever hope to be: Winston Churchill. In his book The Grand Alliance, the third volume of his omnibus history of World War II, he describes his reaction to hearing about the attack on Pearl harbor:
Stardate 20010915.1525 (On Screen): Senator McConnell wants to bring back War Bonds. He says that they'll help finance the war we're about to go into. Senator McConnell doesn't understand why there were War Bonds during World War II, or he'd understand that it is a pointless waste of time, for the moment.
The US economy went onto a war footing beginning in 1942. Factories which had been working to manufacture consumer goods like cars and refrigerators and stoves switched over to producing military goods. Some things like tires and gasoline continued to be made, but much of the output went to the government. Employment actually rose, and hours were long. Many dollars were issued as pay, but there were far fewer consumer goods to buy; if that situation was not rectified, the result would be runaway inflation. The purpose of War Bonds was not to raise money but rather to take cash out of the economy, cash which had been injected into it to pay for manufacture of war supplies. In a sense, it meant that the people doing the work were being paid with I.O.U.'s instead of with real dollars. With something like half the output of the US economy going into war production which was shipped overseas. this was necessary.
For the moment, the US does not face that problem. While we are about to enter a war, our economy is not switching to a war footing. War Bonds now would actually have the effect of causing disinflation, since right at the moment there is plenty of product to buy. If War Bonds start soaking up substantial amounts of cash then there will be more product than cash to buy it, which will cause prices to fall. Disinflation is a bad thing to have happen; it puts companies out of business and can set off a recession. (discuss)
Stardate 20010915.0524 (On Screen): After Tuesday's bombing, I saw TV coverage of Arafat making an announcement saying that the Palestinians had nothing to do with the attack, and condemning it. He looked distinctly shaken, almost terrified. He had every right to be. Up until a week ago, Israel's ability to respond to the terrorist campaign against it was distinctly limited by world opinion. Now those shackles have been removed; now Israel will have the ability to respond in much more force without being condemned by world leaders on its every action. The violence against Palestinians is now going to take a major stairstep upwards, and it won't go back down again for months or years. Instead of being a near-pariah among democratic nations, Israel has been transformed itno the point man in the struggle against terrorists. The Palestinians who were shown celebrating on the news of last Tuesday's attack were fools; their situation is now immeasurably worse. Arafat knew; no wonder he was shaken. Any remaining chance for a political settlement in Israel went up in smoke and flames in NYC Tuesday morning. (discuss)
Stardate 20010914.2305 (On Screen): Just what we don't need right now: Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell have decided that the real culprits in Tuesday's bombings were (wait for it) civil rights organizations, feminists, homosexuals and abortion rights advocates, not to mention the ACLU. (And they didn't mention "secular humanists", but clearly they were thinking it, so as an atheist I proudly take my place with the other villains.) The acts of we infidels have turned God against the US, so He decided to stop protecting His chosen people (Americans) from the other infidels and thus we got bombed as a punishment and a warning. If only we'd prayed harder, it would never have happened. Marvelous.
Actually, I welcome this. Falwell and Robertson are now thoroughly discredited; any remaining political influence they might have had is now in the toilet. No important politician will be returning their calls any longer. The influence of the Religious Right collectively just took a hit below the waterline. Thank goodness! (I don't Thank God because of course there isn't one.) And decent Christians (yes, Virginia...) all over the US are rolling their eyes in sheer frustration. (discussion in progress)
Update: Falwell has apologized. Fat lot of good that's going to do him.
Stardate 20010914.1643 (On Screen): Congress is opening its wallet and beginning to spend money. The budget is blown and we'll be running a deficit. Perhaps this tragic event will provide the political cover needed for everyone to acknowledge that last spring's tax cut was too deep, and that some of it needs to be rolled back. One can only hope. (discuss)
Stardate 20010914.1639 (On Screen): And in the category of non-news, we have this announcement that Pakistan has consented to let the US use its airspace for any attacks the US might decide to launch against Afghanistan -- not that they had any choice in the matter. Pakistan doesn't have the ability to defend its airspace against the US even if it wanted to, and in any case I have a suspicion that the US made them an offer they couldn't refuse. In this conflict there will be no neutrals; either you're for us or you're agin us. (And no-one who can avoid it is going to want to be against us.) (discuss)
Stardate 20010914.1609 (On Screen): Well, the first international coalition determined to fight terrorism is already in place, and it consists of teenage hackers. 14 to 18 year olds in a dozen countries have determined to attack computers all over the Middle East in nations plausibly implicated in this. It will be interesting to see what, if anything, comes of it. (Like as not it will be as useless as the now-legendary hacker-war which took place between the US and China, but you never know. "The systems that handle their money"? Good heavens!) (discuss)
Stardate 20010914.1553 (On Screen): They've recovered the flight data recorder from flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania without hitting a major target. This flight has been the subject of substantial speculation about the possibility that passengers on the flight tried to take the jet back. The question, of course, is why it crashed. If they did take it back, you'd think they'd try to land it safely; and if the terrorists retained control, you'd assume that they would try to hit their assigned target. One possibility is a struggle in the pilot's cabin, but I don't think I believe that.
The door on the pilot cabin has a lock on it; one of the things that the hijackers did was to lure the pilot out and then take over the jet. Presumably they would then have locked that door themselves. The passengers may have been able to overpower hijackers left in the cabin of the plane, but would have been no more capable of forcing that door than were the hijackers in the first place. But a jet is a tricky thing to fly; the hijackers who were flying it had never actually been in control of one. They had minimal training and were capable of handling it in benign conditions, but would not have had the ability to react to unexpected events that an experienced pilot could handle. What I'm wondering is whether, after regaining control of the cabin, the passengers opened one of the doors on the jet? That would cause the cabin to depressurize, and it would radically unbalance the jet for a while as the air escaped. It may have been enough to cause the hijackers to lose control of it and crash (which would have been the objective). If this is actually what happened, there may be enough information from the flight data recorder to reconstruct that. (discussion in progress)
Update: Apparently my idea is untenable. So it goes.
Update 20010915: They've found the voice recorder and it looks like it is in decent shape. Maybe we'll find out now.
Stardate 20010914.1538 (On Screen): This is the latest in a series of articles describing Taliban defiance, but it provides some interesting background. In particular, it describes a credible reason why it is that the Taliban is so reticent to turn bin Ladin over to the US. It turns out that a significant number of the soldiers fighting for the Taliban against its opposition, which holds the NE corner of the country, are fighting because of their strong religous beliefs as much as anything, and if the Taliban weakens ideologically they may cease to support it or may even turn on it. So the public announcements being made by the Taliban are actually for internal consumption. This is completely plausible; it wouldn't be the first time that a nation's foreign policy was being driven by internal politics.
It's also no excuse. I'm not sympathetic. The course of the struggle by the Afghanis against the USSR was changed by the introduction of high tech weapons by the US. The US could, if need be, begin to heavily support the opposition and turn the tide of the war against the Taliban -- and this may indeed be a tactic that the US ends up using. There's a lot the US could provide to the opposition which would seriously change the balance of the struggle. The opposition stronghold borders Tajikistan, and that nation has already granted the US permission to operate from within its borders. Think the opposition could find a use for a hundred thousand mortar shells? (discuss)
Stardate 20010914.1518 (On Screen): I think the government of Israel is going to fall soon. I think the coalition is going to fall apart as a side effect of the NYC bombing. Sharon has cancelled a conference between Peres and Arafat which was originally intended for this week, and there has been a dramatic increase in military activity by Israel against the Palestinians. I think that eventually, possibly within the next three weeks, Peres will quit the cabinet and lead his party out of the coalition. This will lead to new elections, and the new government will be more hardline because the hardliners won't have to share a coalition with moderates. (discuss)
Stardate 20010914.1146 (On Screen): The US economy was already in trouble before this attack, and it's likely to make things worse. Not only was the economy itself damaged (by the loss of the offices and people who worked in them in those buildings) but the loss in confidence is liable to change people's behaviors in a way which will negatively affect the possibilities for a short term recovery. US stockmarkets remain closed today, but stocks in Europe are dropping like a stone. Which brings us to the Fed.
Usually, when the Fed wants to stimulate the economy it does so by manipulating interest rates. Early this year it engaged in the most rapid cutting of interest rates in its history, but usually there's a substantial time delay before that takes effect, if it does at all. The latency is generally considered to be nine months or a year, but of course if the results of this disaster do what is expected to the economy then the effects of the January cuts will now be nullified. But the Fed has a different way of stimulating the economy, and that's to pump up the supply of currency. The effect of that is more immediate but the Fed generally doesn't like to use it because it has a high chance of causing inflation. But when the economy actually faces disinflation because of people hording cash, that's the only answer. (Understand that this doesn't mean "hording paper bills"; you can horde cash in a bank account.) Facing concerns about a mass sell-off of stock next Monday when US markets are scheduled to open again, the Fed has pumped over a hundred billion dollars worth of cash into the economy to maintain liquidity. I've been wondering when they would come to this; I hope we don't regret it. (discuss)
Stardate 20010914.1042 (On Screen via long range scanners): Eventually the rescue efforts will cease. The rubble will be cleared away; the subway station repaired, and a year from now there will be a huge empty lot in the middle of the most valuable real estate on the planet. Then we're going to have to decide what to do with that site: do we rebuild? If so, what do we build? It's private property but I think at this point it's basically a public decision (especially since if we do rebuild it's likely to be done at least partially with public money). Roger Ebert thinks it should be a park, a green area. Others have said that we should rebuild the towers exactly as they were, or that we should build even taller as proof our our resolve and our unwillingness to be bowed by brutality. I myself am torn; I don't know what should be done there. (discussion in progress)
Stardate 20010914.1003 (On Screen): The detectors currently used at airports are actually rather crude. The one you walk through is really little more than a big coil. It's looking for large conductors. When you put a conductive material into an operating inductor, the magnetic field sets up eddy currents in the conductor, which feeds back to the inductor's magnetic field -- and changes it. This can be detected by the electronics driving the coil and if the change is too great it sets off a buzzer and a light. But it doesn't work for insulators like plastic or ceramic. The new detectors use different principles; one technique which uses a very low level X-ray scan is actually looking for objects which are dense irrespective of whether they conduct electricity. Not only will it detect such objects but it will actually image them quite closely.
This raises concerns, naturally, about our Fourth Amendment right to be secure against unreasonable searches without probably cause. I don't think it's a problem, actually. If it were not possible to go through life without being searched, then that would be unreasonable. But no-one actually has to ride on a jet, and it's clear now that there is a substantial danger for the passengers and for everyone else associated with not doing adequate security for jets. I don't see any constitutional issues here; if someone doesn't want to be subjected to this kind of security scan, let them take a train or a bus or a boat or a car. (Also, the security scan is not being done by the government; it's being done by the airlines themselves as a condition of buying a ticket. As such, the Fourth Amendment doesn't even apply, since it bans the government from performing searches.) (discussion in progress)
Stardate 20010914.0503 (On Screen): China says that before the US or NATO perform any kind of armed response to the bombing that they should "conduct prior consultation with countries outside of Europe" i.e. China. Yeah, our buddies in China, who themselves knocked one of our planes down and then tried to blame us for it, who held the crew hostage for days, and who set preposterous conditions for the return of the crew and the plane; China is just our good friend with whom we gladly share every secret including providing warnings of impending military actions -- so they can tell our enemies and warn them that the attack is coming. You betcha. We'll consult with people we trust. Guess who that doesn't include? (discuss)
Update: More about our good buddies the Chinese.
Stardate 20010913.2257 (On Screen): My generally hawkish attitude towards using military force against the bin Laden organization and my essay on terrorism regarding Israel seem on the face of it to be contradictory. But they are not equivalent cases. My essay on terrorism describes cases where the terrorist groups live in an occupied country and are attempting to fight against their oppressors within that country in order to accomplish a political goal. That's the situation in Israel and the Palestinian territories now, for instance, and what I wrote about it (that forceful responses by the occupying power were pointless) is true. But that is not the situation with bin Laden's war against the US.
Bin Laden's struggle against the US is Jihad. He has no goal; he's just piling up points in heaven each time he strikes a blow against us. There is no political objective to his campaign; the US couldn't appease him even if it were willing to do so. Moreover, he and his people do not live here. So in a sense, his struggle against the US isn't really "terrorism" in the technical sense of the word, although it uses some of the same tactics as a true terrorist campaign: unusual attacks, cells and so on.
Even if the US were willing to negotiate, there's nothing to talk about. There isn't any common ground; there isn't anything the US could offer in negotiation which would satisfy him. So the US has to fight. But let's be clear that this will be a long struggle. It will be extremely difficult to wipe out his organization; it may take years, and in the mean time they are likely to launch further attacks against the US. Some of those may succeed and then there will be more crushed bodies on the streets of US cities. But even if we don't fight, his organization will do that anyway and they'll do more of it because their organization will be intact. The US will attack bin Laden's organization because there is nothing else whatever that the US can do to try to abate the threat. (discussion in progress)
Stardate 20010913.2218 (On Screen): Kermit writes in and asks me what I think of this plea for mercy from the Taliban. I think it's a bunch of despicable lies. There's a story about a man who murdered his parents, and then asked the court for mercy because he was an orphan. This is about that low.
The Taliban itself is responsible for most of that suffering, and has been for a long time now inflicting even more suffering on its own people.
We don't think that the Taliban had anything to do with the attacks; we think that they are giving aid and comfort to the ones who did it. That makes them our enemy. They've been claiming all along that bin Laden had nothing to do with it, but they have presented no credible evidence beyond their "Would we lie to you?" act. They claimed bin Laden had no means of communication and the next day he used a satellite phone to call a newspaper in Pakistan.
I believe at this point that the US government really does have substantial evidence of the involvement of bin Laden not only in this bombing but in at least three previous bombings or bombing attempts. We've been "presenting evidence" to them for years, and no matter what we tell them somehow it never seems to be enough. One of the great aphorisms of politics and business is "delay is the deadliest form of denial." They're trying to get us to lose our will and go back to begging them for bin Laden so that they can keep refusing by claiming that the evidence is not yet strong enough. No. We're through begging. Now we're demanding. We want him and we won't accept any more excuses. We want his organization. We want it shut down. We aren't going to take "no" (or "later") as answers.
"Killing our leaders will not help our people any. There is no factory in Afghanistan that is worth the price of a single missile fired at us. It will simply increase the mistrust between the people in the region and the United States."
Actually, there's good reason to believe that killing the top command of the Taliban would substantially improve the lot of the people of Afghanistan, especially their women and religious minorities. But leave that aside. There isn't any trust left between our peoples, and it's their fault. We've tried to play square with them, and now that time is over. It isn't possible to reduce trust below zero, which is what we're at now. We don't trust them at all anymore, and we no longer care whether they trust us. And as to any possibility that an attack by us will increase antagonism by terrorist groups and cause them to retaliate, they're going to attack us again whether we retaliate or not. But if we retaliate effectively, we may wipe some of them out before they can do so. At this point we no longer have anything to lose.
The Taliban are essentially trying to say "Let's let bygones be bygones. Friends now, eh?" No. That all changed Tuesday morning. They've had their chance. If they want to be our friends now, if they want us to trust them, if they want mercy, then it's time for them to earn it. They are no longer entitled to the benefit of the doubt. They've made their bed and now they can die in it. It's still not too late for them to prevent a catastrophe, but it's their decision to prevent it, not ours. Our course is clear. The time for talking is over; it's time for action now. They can take action, but if they don't, we will. They have only two choices: give us bin Laden or be annihilated. They may choose which they prefer, but they're running out of time to make that choice, and there will be no third alternative. (discuss)
Update 20010914: They're still trying to claim that there's no way that bin Laden could have been involved. And their claim of cooperation is now exposed as an empty lie: if the US has evidence then bin Laden will be tried by an Islamic Court in Afghanistan. That's what they think.
Update 20010914: Now they're threatening retaliation if they are attacked. I think we really are seeing a case of culture shock. Do they really think their threats are going to be taken seriously? The Taliban have no ability to project conventional military force to the US or anything the US owns; the Taliban's only way of retaliating against the US would be by terrorism -- and we're already the target for that. One of their friends -- if they actually have any -- had better disabuse them of their illusions about the US damned quick.
Stardate 20010913.1701 (On Screen): It's official now. The US is definitely after Osama bin Laden and his organization for being behind the bombing. Now it's only a matter of time before we begin hostilities against Afghanistan. They'll be given one (and only one) chance to give him up and avoid this fate. Then we'll start bombing. They've already tried to disperse their government and their military, but that doesn't matter because that's not what we're going to be targeting. We're going to be attacking infrastructure: bridges, power plants, warehouses, ammunition dumps, factories, highways, rail switch yards (if there are any), dams. In other words, civilian targets. (discuss)
Stardate 20010913.1212 (On Screen): It is inevitable, I suppose, that everyone with some sort of axe to grind is going to try to find some way of using the recent tragic events in their favor. It is equally inevitable that some of those arguments will approach incoherence, and here we have a sterling example: it seems that anyone who actively opposes spam is actually a terrorist and an ally of Osama bin Laden. That makes sense to me! (Hmmph.) (discussion in progress)
Update: I gotta admit, this tops it: It is your patriotic duty to change your long distance service provider. (Simply amazing.)
Update 20010914: That last site has changed now, and maybe some of you were responsible. At least two members of the crew have written to tell me that they did something about this, including writing letters not only to the owners of the page but to other companies who might care about them.
I'm sorry, but that's idealistic horseshit. Trying to run a foreign policy out in the open is like trying to play poker with your hand exposed. In a sense she's right: our fear of terrorist attacks would evaporate because we'd have a lot bigger and more important things to be afraid of if we ever tried to do something so unbelieveably stupid.
The rest of her essay (on the left column, mirrored here) is equally misguided; it can be summarized in three words: "We deserved it." I recommend that she go in person to New York and tell that to the wives of the dead firemen there. I'm sure they'll be much comforted by the knowledge. (discuss)
Stardate 20010913.1103 (On Screen): There will be some survivors. I am extremely grateful to learn that five firemen who were buried have been found alive. They apparently sheltered in an SUV. (No word yet on their condition.) This is the kind of news that the wives of the missing firemen are praying for. Most will be disappointed -- most of the firement who were buried are dead -- but at least a few prayers will be answered. A few women will once again be hugged by those strong caring arms they feared were lost forever. (discuss)
Update 20010914: Unfortunately, the report was false.
Stardate 20010913.1047 (On Screen): The Taliban are taking precautions against an anticipated US attack -- and rightly so. If the US decides to attack Afghanistan, initially it will be a mixture of cruise missiles and air bombardment, and at this point everyone in the world knows how devastating the US Air Force and US Navy can be when performing those kinds of missions, from our attacks on Iraq and Serbia. But the attack on Iraq only involved at most three carriers at one time and the attacks on Serbia were even less heavy, despite their destructiveness. Any attack on Afghanistan will involve the full might of our air forces (and quite possibly a substantial part of the RAF), something not seen since Viet Nam -- and the state of the art has improved since then. But if it should become necessary for the US to move ground forces into Afghanistan, the primary formation involved won't be our Airborne troops, oddly enough. It will almost certainly be the 10th Mountain Division, one of the best infantry divisions in the US Army. It's a specialized unit, which became specialized during WWII. Possibly its most famous veteran from that time is Senator Bob Dole, who served as a lieutenant and was crippled in Italy (losing the use of his right arm). When the US decided to commit troops to Haiti to maintain order, it was the 10th Mountain Division that they sent. The 10th is particularly well suited to fighting irregular opposition if need be.
The designation "Mountain" comes from the fact that they are trained and equipped to operate in rough terrain. Although mechanized (as are all US infantry divisions now) they don't require it to the same extent that other infantry divisions do, and units of the 10th are capable of operating in mountains without mechanized support. All troops are trained to move on skis (skis to the 10th are like parachutes to the 82nd) and are also trained to climb with ropes and pitons; the 10th can move rapidly over terrain which would defeat any other unit except Airborne, and when they arrive they will be much more heavily armed than Airborne would be (because Airborne are light troops; the 10th emphatically is not).
It should be noted that "division" is an organizational term, not a statement of size. In history, "divisions" have varied all the way from 2,000 men to as many as 35,000 at various times. US divisions tend to be very heavy (almost all the largest divisions in history were American). A "division" is generally the smallest organization in an army which is capable of operating on its own and which contains organically nearly everything it needs to fight. The next step down is the Brigade. US infantry brigades don't have organic scout or engineer units, and inadequate artillery, communications and medical. Most of those assets are held at the divisional level.
The 10th Mountain Division has six infantry battalions, two artillery battalions, four attached air units (attack and transport helicopters), four support battalions (logistics), plus attached battalions to take care of administration, intelligence, signals and communication, engineering (sappers), medical, and air defense, There's also a battalion of Military Police, whose job is to protect all the non-combat elements and also to protect supply dumps and communications (i.e. roads in the rear) and to take care of prisoners and to keep the peace among civilians in captured areas.
Military "engineers" are not the same as what I do as an engineer. They're responsible for replacing bridges, laying and clearing mine fields, using "special weapons", and taking care of demolition. Against an entrenched foe, it's not uncommon for engineers to lead the attack to clear fixed obstacles and clear intervening mines and let other units through. (To rapidly clear paths through a minefield at the front, they have special vehicles which can fire what looks like a rope to lay across it. It's actually plastic explosive, and when it goes off it detonates any mines near by, leaving a cleared road.)
The 10th is not a unit you'd like to have standing on your border looking angry. The Taliban have nothing capable of opposing it.
Now inevitably people will ask "If the USSR couldn't do it, why do you think that the US can?" Because the goals of the operations would be different. The USSR did successfull invade Afghanistan; the problem was that they tried to hold it, and that's where they failed. That would not be the goal of a hypothetical US operation. This would be "search and destroy": move in, find bin Ladin and his organization and annihilate them, and then leave again. We don't want Afghanistan -- we just want bin Ladin. If we are willing to accept some losses (and we are, I believe, at this point; no-one is expecting a bloodless war anymore) then this is something we are capable of doing. If I were the Taliban, I'd be afraid now, too. (discuss)
Long term winners: the National Rifle Association, the Defense Industry, Israel, Conservatives
Short term losers: Insurance companies, Arab-Americans, Iranian-Americans, anyone from Asia who has dark skin, the stock market, stock brokerages, the broadcast networks
Long term losers: airlines, the tourism industry, gun control advocates, anti-death penalty activists, the Palestinians, a balanced US budget, Liberals (discuss)
Stardate 20010913.0926 (On Screen): Mayor Giuliani has announced that some of the dead may never be found. I think that was an unpleasant but necessary thing to say. In fact, it is absolutely certain that hundreds of the dead will never be found. It's natural for people to want to get back the bodies of their loved ones, to really know for certain what became of them. But in a disaster of this magnitude it isn't possible.
In particular, nothing will ever be found of the people who were on the jets or who were near (within a hundred feet of) the impact points. The violence of the impact would have destroyed their bodies, and whatever was left afterwards would have been incinerated in the resulting fire. Of those people there's nothing left but ashes, now spread all over New York City. I'm sorry to speak bluntly about this, but we have to be realistic. A human body is very easy to destroy, leaving no trace whatever. In this disaster, the number of "missing and presumed dead" (no trace ever found) will be vastly greater than the number of "confirmed dead" (i.e. people whose body parts are located and identified). (discuss)
Stardate 20010913.0711 (On Screen): If any part of this sad sequence of events ever gets turned into a half-assed TV movie, the episode of flight 93 will be it. That's the jet which crashed in Pennsylvania before reaching any kind of target, which now appears to be the case because passengers on the jet fought back against the terrorists who had taken control of the jet. The only problem with it is that it doesn't really have a happy ending, since the jet crashed and everyone on board died, but it's possible it could be cast as a heroic ending with some sort of "Well, they didn't reach their target" postscript by someone important. (discuss)
Stardate 20010913.0657 (On Screen): The extent to which coincidence or luck influences the outcome of war should not be underestimated. One of the few good aspects of the Pearl Harbor attack was that the US carriers were all at sea at the time and thus were not targets of the attack, which then concentrated on the battleships. And now the US has had another small piece of good fortune with its carriers, though nothing like as dramatic. On Monday USS Carl Vinson replaced USS Enterprise on duty in the Gulf. Enterprise was going to leave the area but after the attack it was ordered to stay there. If it's not already off the coast of Pakistan, it could easily be there in just a few hours. The exact sea speed of those carriers is classified but they're capable of at least 40 knots, which is really cooking for an object that size. And a carrier like that doesn't sail alone; it's part of a task force which includes cruisers and destroyers (and usually a couple of submarines) all of which will be equipped with missiles. While they don't ordinarily serve more than four months or so before returning to port, they are capable of necessary of serving nearly indefinitely. Enterprise itself won't need to be refueled for years, and though it will need substantial supplies of jet fuel, that can easily be done at sea. (That is routine; the carrier only has about five days worth of jet fuel on board.) If President Bush orders an attack on Afghanistan, the USS Enterprise task force will probably be involved. (discuss)
Stardate 20010913.0603 (On Screen): Apparently there are lines of decency that even Hollywood won't cross. In the era of exploitainment, I confess that I'm a bit surprised by this. Of course, they're not cancelling or postponing these shows out of any sense of propriety; it's just that they want to forestall backlash. (discuss)
Stardate 20010912.1801 (On Screen): NATO has decided that Article 5 applies, which states that an attack on any member nation is to be considered an attack on them all. Yesterday's bombing is now officially an "attack" and as a result the US now has the ability to call on NATO resources if it needs to. Damned right, too. For fifty years the US has contributed enormous resources to NATO and helped out other nations there in plenty of ways. Now that we might need them they damned well better be there for us.
Meanwhile, Congress is considering a formal Declaration of War under Article I, section 8, clause 11 of the Constitution. It may be surprising to learn that I have grave misgivings about that. It's not that I don't want the US to use military might to punish whoever is responsible for this and anyone who protects them or gives them aid -- I do. But this isn't like having a war with a nation. This is going to be a low level struggle for years with an occasional burst of activity, as the US seeks out and tries to annihilate a series of small cells and encampments all over the world. It may take upwards of ten years. The problem with it isn't starting it, it's ending it. How do you know when the war is over? A state of War has to formally end sometime, usually with an armistice or peace treaty; I don't like the idea of the US having a formal state of War indefinitely, and it's not obvious just who we'd sign such a treaty with. I would prefer something more limited: a renewable grant of power to the President to spend funds and use military might in this area, subject to consultation with Congressional leaders before any major operation: in other words, a slightly enhanced version of the "War Powers Act". (discuss)
Stardate 20010912.1226 (On Screen): It's clear that the Taliban still don't understand the US. "The Taliban appealed to the U.S. not to attack Afghanistan because the Afghan people are already in a great deal of misery." They really think that matters to us now? If the Taliban wants to keep us from attacking Afghanistan, all they have to do is give us bin Laden and close down all his training camps and facilities in Afghanistan. Simple, really. (And while they're at it, they can quit wasting their breath telling us that he's not involved; no-one cares what the Taliban says about that anymore.) (discuss)
Stardate 20010912.1143 (Crew, this is the Captain): There was a raid on a hotel in Boston this morning by heavily armed FBI agents, and now an Amtrak train in Connecticut has been stopped. The train terminal is isolated and has been evacuated and I get the impression they think there is someone really important on that train who may have eluded arrest in Boston. My only fear here is that law enforcement will get overenthusiastic and trigger-happy and end up shooting someone who isn't involved. (discuss)
Update: Three men have been taken off that train in handcuffs. I saw one of them; he was wearing a turban and had a full black beard.
Update: There wasn't actually anyone worth having on the train. False alarm. I guess they are getting a little over-enthusiastic; I hope they didn't arrest that guy just because he was wearing a turban. The last thing we need in this country is for every Sikh to get pounded on.
Stardate 20010912.1027 (On Screen via long range sensors): The mystery of the fourth plane, which didn't seem to hit anything particularly important, may now be solved. It appears that some of the passengers decided to fight back. Obviously they didn't win because in that case they would have tried to land the plane. But there may have been a struggle in the cockpit leading to a crash before the terrorists reached their actual destination. If this is true, I have enormous respect for the people who did this. Their deaths were not for nothing; by the way they died they may have saved the lives of countless others on the ground. (discuss)
Stardate 20010912.1006 (On Screen): The Taliban now have permission to start becoming afraid. US authorities have identified all the hijackers, three to five per plane, and nearly all of them are Egyptian or Saudi nationals. The link to Osama bin Laden is becoming very strong. It's been apparent for quite a while that the Taliban doesn't really understand American culture. I recommend they go watch a movie and learn what we mean by "an offer they can't refuse," because the Taliban will be getting one very soon. (discuss)
Stardate 20010912.0843 (On Screen): I really enjoy reading Lia's site, but on this one I think she has it wrong. Like a lot of people, she obsesses on the nukes which hit Japan in 1945, without realizing that these were not the most devastating attacks the US made on Japan. The firebombing of Tokyo killed more people than either of the nukes did. (She also badly overestimates the casualties caused by the nukes. Both of them combined killed about a hundred thousand people.)
But the real point is that the analogy of yesterday's bombing to the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki (or the firebombing of Tokyo) is deeply flawed. Those were the final episodes in a war which Japan started. It's also a historical fact that the nukes caused Hirohito to order a surrender. Had that not happened and had the US been forced to invade Japan in November of 1945, vastly more Japanese would have died than were killed by the two nukes. I have studied that period deeply and I have no doubt whatever that President Truman made the right choice to drop the bombs on Japan, and that by doing so he saved both Japanese and American lives.
The analogy to Pearl Harbor is, in fact, much better for several reasons. First, both were attacks made in peacetime. Second, both were made without warning. Third, Pearl Harbor did, and the WTC attack will, raise a righteous anger in the American people. (discuss)
Stardate 20010912.0743 (On Screen): Yesterday's attack wasn't just on America, it was an attack on the world. Reading the list of companies who used to be in those buildings makes that clear. (discuss)
Stardate 20010912.0735 (On Screen): The Washington Post put up a set of pictures of the disaster. Five of them are mind boggling.
This picture simply isn't believeable. It looks like something that was created with Photoshop, or like a still from a movie. It's not the kind of thing you expect to ever see in real life.
This one is the same way. It seems as if it was done with a miniature. It's almost as if our brains can't accept that this really happened -- or perhaps it's because we've seen this dozens of times in movies but never before in real life.
I can't find words to talk about this.
Another one that looks like a Hollywood special effect. I suspect we won't be seeing any more "disaster" films for quite some time, and good riddance.
After the collapses yesterday, for a while I hoped that all that had happened was that the top part of each building had fallen off, leaving the structure beneath it still standing. Now I know that didn't happen. There's nothing left, simply nothing. It's all gone. Eventually the smoke and dust will clear and we'll get a picture of the site taken from the air, but I no longer need to see it. It's all gone. Now I know. (discuss)
Stardate 20010912.0654 (On Screen): The big winner in this tragedy is Israel, ironically. Israel's position in the mid-east is now substantially strengthened. All the efforts by the Palestinian terrorists to make Israeli retaliations look brutal have been torpedoed. Today Israel attacked another Palestinian town and killed seven people in it. Last week this would have inspired world-wide horror and calls for Israel to knock it the fuck off. Today it's going to get hardly a notice by world leaders, who are suddenly much more sympathetic with military responses by a country which is the target of a terrorist campaign. (discuss)
Stardate 20010912.0650 (On Screen): In the wake of yesterday's attack, governments all over the world are temporarily tightening security. I don't understand why they're bothering; do they really think that whoever is responsible for this would launch one set of coordinated attacks against the US, give everyone else plenty of time to prepare, and then attack somewhere else? It's clear that they were able to coordinate four simultaneous attacks yesterday; if they had more prepared wouldn't they have launched them simultaneously as well? (discussion in progress)
Stardate 20010912.0555 (On Screen): As I was laying in bed last night, I finally found tears for this event. Thousands of people may have died but nearly all of them were simply unfortunates who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. But over 300 of the dead were firemen and policemen and paramedics and ambulance crews; these are people who rushed to the disaster area and died when the buildings fell. They sought out danger in order to help others, and paid with their lives. As horrible as it must have been for most of us to watch the events unfold yesterday, how much worse must it have been for wives of firemen to see this, and to know that their husbands might be there -- and then to watch the buildings collapse and fear that their men were under it? How many beloved names were screamed in agony as the buildings fell? How many women cried themselves to sleep last night, desperately wishing for one last hug by strong caring arms now crushed beyond recognition, wanting to hear snores one last time from voices forever stilled? How many dreamed about their men, only to wake and realize they were gone forever? Of all the victims of this, these are the ones I grieve for most. The real victims of this tragedy are not the thousands who died, but the tens of thousands who loved them and must live with their deaths. (discuss)
Stardate 20010912.0537 (On Screen): It's clear that the Taliban began to realize fairly soon yesterday that its initial statement about yesterday's bombing didn't accomplish what it was intended (to deflect American aggression) and their stance is beginning to soften. Now they're willing to consider any evidence of involvement by Osama bin Ladin and perhaps to discuss extradition. That's better but not good enough; if the US government reaches the point where it is willing to go public with a direct accusation, it isn't going to be interested in an extended round of negotiations. And even if there are negotiations, there aren't going to be any carrots. It's all going to be stick. There's no way we're going to buy him from the Taliban. So they won't be presented with evidence and a request, they'll be presented with an ultimatum and a deadline. (discuss)
Update: One of the excuses that that Taliban gave yesterday for their contention that bin Ladin wasn't involved was that he had no ability to communicate because the Taliban had confiscated all his equipment. So how did he contact a newspaper in Pakistan today to issue a denial?
Stardate 20010911.2200 (On Screen and On Scanners): Two reflections on today's bombing by two articulate men. James lives in Minnesota and heard about it on radio and by TV, while Chris lives and works on Long Island and has been tasting the dust from the collapse all day. One a thousand miles away, one within visual range, but both deeply affected by it. All of us died a bit today. (discuss)
Stardate 20010911.2132 (On Screen): At least three major buildings collapsed, thousands of people dead and many thousands more injured, and Manhattan paralyzed, and the US maybe to go to war: the effects of the attack today are catastrophic. But we may not have seen all the impact yet. These were not just buildings; they were offices where people worked and computers were housed and records were kept and which performed essential functions for dozens or hundreds of companies. All that is now gone; what effect will it have on the economy? How will it ripple out? Insurance companies will take a bath on this; there will be payouts in the billions of dollars. Those insurance companies will have to sell securities to raise cash to make their payments, which may drive the markets down -- once they open again. People may be afraid and may slow down purchases.
I read something once which was discussing the San Andreas Fault, and it included an analysis of the effects of a major quake in San Francisco or Los Angeles. It turned out that with our economy being as distributed as it is, destruction of one major city would have rippling economic effects such as to cause an economic crash in fairly short order. This was not as dramatic as taking out LA, and the effects will be smaller -- but not imperceptible. There has been speculation that this may actually set off a real recession in the US, as opposed to the "slowdown" we're actually in. For all the pain going on economically now, the US GDP continues to grow quarter-over-quarter. This attack may result in an actual decline, the first in nearly ten years. (discuss)
Stardate 20010911.1850 (Crew, this is the Captain): Apparently these jets were hijacked with knives; the security breach was the general policy of giving in to hijackers to prevent any injuries to crew or passengers. The assumption has always been that the hijackers themselves wanted to live, and thus if you gave them what they wanted then they'd let you land someplace and you'd get away. It's clear that this was a naive assessment, and it's going to change. The new rule will be that the cockpit door will never be opened even under threat of injury or death to a flight attendant or a passenger. It may well be that the flight crew will go armed from now on and that whenever the door to the cockpit is opened that it will be covered by a weapon. Airliners will no longer passively submit to hijacking; the crew will fight. It wouldn't surprise me to learn someday that there will be weapons hidden in the jet and that the flight attendants will also be trained to use them. The open question will be whether this will be publicized or kept secret: publicized both to increase the public's confidence and to deter hijacking, or kept secret to increase the effectiveness of the countermeasures should the need arise to use them. (discussion in progress)
Update 20010912: They're working out now more details of how the hijackings took place. It appears that the weapons they used were razor blades. The hijackers started killing stewardesses, and this caused the pilots to unlock the cockpit. The pilots were trying to save the lives of the crew and passengers. Certainly a couple of hundred people on the plane are important, but it's now clear that the jet itself is worth thousands of lives due to the fact that it is a weapon. From now on, protection of the jet itself must be higher priority than protection of the passengers and crew of that jet.
Stardate 20010911.1706 (On Screen): Do not blame Arab-Americans for this attack. They had no more to do with it than I did, until you can prove otherwise. This attack was performed by a small group of monsters, not by an entire ethnic group. (discussion in progress)
Stardate 20010911.1455 (Crew, this is the Captain>On Screen): There are at least three major political issues which will be permanently affected by this event. First is the US use of the death penalty. If the US manages to lay hands on whoever was behind the attack on the World Trade Center towers, they will be tried for capital murder and if convicted will be executed. If there was ever a case which deserved the death penalty, this is it. We're talking about thousands of deaths (including hundreds of heroic emergency workers who were crushed when the buildings collapsed) and tens of thousands of injuries; "Life imprisonment without parole" simply isn't a sufficient punishment. If Timothy McVeigh wasn't enough of a monster for anti-death-penalty activists, how about whoever is behind this?
If someone crashed a jet into comparable buildings in London or Berlin or Paris and killed comparable numbers of people, would the Europeans still be opposed to the death penalty for those behind the plot? In the last two years the US has been taking a lot of guff from overseas about our use of the death penalty. I suspect that is going to stop now.
Second is the entire issue of encryption and electronic snooping. One of the questions which is going to get asked is why it is that US intelligence agencies didn't pick up on this and prevent it. The answer is that it isn't possible to have perfect intelligence, especially in a free state with the kinds of privacy protections that we have in the US. Despite this event, we should not give the government more control over our communications and this should not argue against the free use of encryption.
Third is that moronic missile defense. Please note that this attack was not carried out using ballistic missiles and that if the missile defense had been in place it would have been completely useless in preventing it. Given that if a rogue power wants to attack the US they clearly won't use a ballistic missile even when we don't have a defense against such, what is the point of building a defense against ballistic missiles anyway?(discussion in progress)
Stardate 20010911.1432 (On Screen): The Taliban had its press conference while I was donating blood and I was wrong about what they said. They "feel our pain". They say bin Laden wasn't involved. They're full of crap, and it isn't going to wash out. That answer isn't good enough, and if they want to have a usable bridge left in their country after Monday next week, they better find that son of a bitch and turn him over to us. The US government will be cautious here and isn't going to accuse anyone unless they have convincing evidence, and as a result so far they haven't explicitly blamed Osama bin Laden for this attack. I don't have to be so cautious and I'm not going to be. I'd be willing to lay odds he's behind it, and I want his head. I don't want excuses and I don't want pious claims of sympathy. If they want to help heal our pain, all they have to do is give us the one man we want most. (discuss)
Stardate 20010911.0905 (Crew, this is the Captain): Everyone in the US who can possibly do so should go donate blood today. (discuss)
Stardate 20010911.0834 (Crew, this is the Captain): I feel ill. But I'm going to be going out on a limb today and start trying to make predictions based on my understanding of the politics and technical aspects of war. It will be interesting to see how accurate I can be. I just saw an announcement that the Taliban has called a press conference. I predict that they have arrested Osama bin Laden and will be turning him over to US authorities post haste. Everyone, and I mean everyone in the world who isn't actually involved in this is going to be scrambling to cooperate, because anyone who doesn't do so is going to be suspected of being involved, and no-one is going to want to be at the receiving end of what the US is going to dish out in retaliation for this attack. The US is at DefCon 5 now, and that's no joke. (discuss)
Update: Part of this is going to be that I'm going to leave my predictions up even if they're wrong. So I'll admit that earlier I made a comment about how the towers hadn't collapsed, just before they did so. I took that comment down, so I'm putting it back here.
Update: OK, another prediction: I expect there to be upwards of 10,000 dead in this attack.
Stardate 20010911.0643 (Crew, this is the Captain): The news is full of reports of a major terrorist attack on the US this morning. Two jets were hijacked and flown into the two towers of the World Trade Center in NY, and as I'm typing this just a couple of minutes ago there was also a blast at the Pentagon which may also have been a crashed plane.
So far no-one has claimed responsibility, so I'm going to take this opportunity to speculate. I think it was Osama Bin Laden. I don't think that any of the Palestinian groups would be stupid enough to do this. After the Pearl Harbor attack, Admiral Yamamoto mused, "I fear we have wakened a sleeping giant and filled him with a terrible resolve." Whoever did this is about to experience that same feeling of dread. There will be no half measures on this one; the US will use whatever means are necessary to find and kill everyone even remotely involved in this attack, up to and including ground war. I expect public announcements from Palestinian groups very shortly denying involvement, just as they did after the Okahoma City bombing.
If indeed it was Osama Bin Laden, this may lead to a war with Afghanistan as long as they continue to shelter him. We may be about to learn just how good an ally Pakistan is, since any such attack would have to be staged from there. In the mean time, don't be too surprised if all airlines are grounded for the next day or so until they find and plug the security hole that permitted these hijackings. (discuss)
The top of one of the towers has collapsed. I think it was structural failure, not another impact which did it. Those buildings are well designed, but they aren't capable of sustaining arbitrarily large amounts of damage without failing. In the meantime, the FAA has indeed grounded all flights and at least one Palestinian group has already disclaimed reponsibility. The reason that I don't believe any Palestinian group is involved in this is that they are trying to drive a wedge between Israel and the US. A Palestinian terrorist attack on the US would not only completely firm up any cracks in that alliance, it would make the US an active participant in the struggle. That's the last thing that the Palestinians want or need.
Stardate 20010911.0454 (On Screen): I like Las Vegas. I enjoy gambling. I don't gamble to win, because I know better; I gamble because I enjoy gambling. I like the feel of chips in my hands; I like watching the dealers; I like being served by the cocktail waitresses. I like the carpet. I like how a casino smells. I like looking at the ceiling and seeing the security cameras. I like looking at the crowd and knowing that some of them are plain-clothes security guards.
After fifty years of running gambling in Las Vegas, the folks there have seen every kind of scam and cheat there is. They are constantly on the alert, and they've adopted the highest of high tech to protect themselves. With millions of dollars passing through the casinos every day, no degree of security is too high. The expenses involved are simple prudence. There was a time when people would stage fights in order to tip a gaming table over, to give others opportunities to grab chips -- now the tables are anchored to the floor with bolts. They change decks at the tables once per hour to make sure that cards don't get marked inadvertently (or deliberately). Whenever a dealer is relieved and walks away from the table, they always clap their hands and then spread them in front of us -- it's a nice flourish but it also makes it impossible for them to palm a chip and steal it. They're not doing it for us, they're doing it for the security cameras.
Well, the online casinos haven't been around very long and they're still learning about scams the hard way. The casinos in Vegas have the advantage of physical presence; people have to walk in and sit down. Anyone in the world with a net connection can visit an online casino, though, from the comfort of their own home country. It's hardly surprising in this day of hackery that they've been getting swindled, is it? From crude extortion (Pay us or we're going to bring you down with a DDOS) to the sophisticated, they're losing a bundle to cheats. The most clever mentioned here was someone who actually broke into a casino's computer and reprogrammed it so that everyone playing slots or craps won every time. It took the casino a couple of hours to notice -- wasn't someone paying attention? And how did their computers get broken into, anyway? When you have a computer where illicit access by the public can cost you millions of dollars, no degree of security is enough. (And you'd think that even if they didn't know that, their insurance companies would.)
In particular, the computer which serves the web site should be different from the computer which actually runs the game. The former is exposed and vulnerable, so all it should do is to serve text and graphics. It, then, should communicate requests for bets and plays to a second computer by a secure link through a firewall to a much more carefully guarded computer whcih actually contains the money. This isn't rocket science; this is something banks and other institutions have been doing for years. (discuss)
Stardate 20010911.0437 (On Screen): Man, you can't even trust philanthropists anymore. A few years back, during a McDonald's contest with big cash prizes, a children's hospital opened a letter and found a winning piece from the contest worth a million bucks. There was no way ot tracing where it had come from, but McDonald's agreed to pay the prize to the hospital and has been giving them $50K per month ever since. Now it emerges that the piece in question was stolen, by the same guy who was just caught and charged with stealing winning pieces from another McDonald's contest. Evidently their contests have been getting rigged for years. This is really a major black eye for McDonald's, and indirectly for everyone in that industry who will try to run contests like this. When you're dealing with sums of money this large, it's inevitable that there will be a temptation by people to cheat; you have to wonder why it was that McDonald's didn't institute controls to ensure the honesty of their games. They'll do so now, but it's too late; the bad taste of this will linger for years. (discuss)
Stardate 20010910.2141 (On Screen): Matt is concerned that he's getting old at the age of 28, because he's getting gray. SInce I'm a couple of decades older than him, I can assure him he's not old.
You're old when you won't bend over any more to pick up a penny because it's not worth it and it hurts too much.
Matt's not old. He's just a baby! (discuss)
Stardate 20010910.1942 (On Screen): With the collapse of online advertising, Geocities' business model ceased to make sense. Still, the original owners got out before the collapse and stuck Yahoo with the corpse. Now Yahoo is trying to salvage something from the wreckage by trying to force its customers to switch over to a paid model. (All good things come to an end.) There's a quote in this article from an industry analyst which I find to be curious. "If there's a free competitor that's widely known by consumers, then paid services will fail," says Jordan Rohan, a media analyst at investment banking firm SoundView Technology Group. Um, no. He's still thinking "new economy" here. Eyeballs don't matter; they're just a bandwidth expense. Free customers don't pay anything. One paying customer is worth a hundred free ones. If Geocities chases away 99 free customers and convinces one to start paying, Yahoo is money ahead, because expenses are down and income is up. (discuss)
Stardate 20010910.1757 (On Screen): One of the big debates about Dinosaurs has been "active like birds and mammals" versus "lethargic like crocodiles". Crocs are capable of moving quite rapidly and expending a lot of energy, but only for short periods of time. That's because their circulatory systems are inefficient. In mammals and birds, there is a two-chamber pump which moves blood through the lungs, and a second two-chamber pump which takes oxygenated blood from the lungs and circulates it through the body. In crocs and lizards, there's a gap between those two chambers and the blood from both mixes. As a result, the blood sent to the body doesn't carry as much oxygen as it could and the animal isn't capable of extended effort -- it runs out of breath, in a sense. Well, which way did dinosaurs live? The debate continued.
Now it may have been settled. In an extremely fortuitous find, a dinosaur was dug up with a concretion inside its rib cage which turned out to be its heart, fossilized. Extensive use of CAT scans later, they've reproduced a 3D model of it and the word is now in: it is much more like mammals and birds than like crocodiles and lizards. This agrees with more indirect evidence from bone cross-sections which suggested the same thing, but that was always open to much more doubt. This doesn't yet settle the ectotherm-endotherm debate but it strongly weighs in favor of endothermy. Ectothermic critters are usually called "cold blooded" which is a poor description. Endothermic animals are popularly known as "warm blooded" which is equally inaccurate. Ectotherms derive much of their body heat from external sources and their blood temperature tends to very quite a lot over the course of a day; endotherms create most of theirs from metabolism of food and have much better control over blood temperature. Endotherms can also survive in a much broader range of habitats, but ectotherms eat much less (on the order of a tenth as much per unit body mass). A big anaconda can get by on one good-sized meal (a monkey or a big parrot) per month, a level of food intake on which a panther of comparable mass would starve. On the other hand, the panther can hunt at night and is capable of actually chasing down its prey.
Of course, it's just one species of dinosaur, but it's difficult to believe that one group could have a heart developed like this without most of the others being similar. Every mammal has a four-chamber heart; none of them are croc-like, and that's also true with the birds. This almost certainly settles the issue for the Ornithischians, and very likely also for the Saurischians. I have to say that I'm much more pleased with the image of active and alert dinosaurs than I am with slothfully dull ones spending most of their time laying in the sun. All the convincing bioengineering arguments about this I ever heard all argued in favor of endothermy; most of the arguments in favor of ectothermy seemed to come down to "But they're fucking LIZARDS for God's sake!" (discuss)
Stardate 20010910.1714 (On Screen): HTML-encoded email is evil. There is nothing whatever that it can do which we actually need to do, and it opens its users up to endless abuses. As soon as I could find a reasonable one, I dumped OE and NavMail and switched to a mail program that doesn't support it, and I'll never again use one that does. One form of abuse is the ever-popular Active-X control invoked by email, which downloads a program from a site and runs it locally. ActiveX has no important security; such a program can do anything at all. I've seen such things a lot (which don't get executed by my non-enabled mail program).
Another fun thing that can be done with HTML-encoded email is to embed "bugs" in it. That's an image reference to a small (sometimes invisible) image file on a server. Often the reference will have a ? parameter attached to it with some keynumber. The number will be generated uniquely for each email address that the spam is sent to, and what this does is to permit the server to associate email addresses with IPs, since the requrest for the image contains the IP from which it came; and it also gives that server the opportunity to set a cookie on your system which contains an ID for you. Thereafter, that company can tell what sites you visit and send you additional spam "appropriate to your interests". Fun fun fun!
Stardate 20010910.1652 (On Screen): The war goes on. A top student woman at the University of Alabama has been informed that despite her GPA of 3.87 she will not be invited to join any of the fifteen all-white sororities on campus. She is black, and this is Alabama. The next step is for the University to start decertifying the sororities on the grounds of segregation, but it remains to be seen whether they'll go that far. Of course, while this case does demonstrate just how much remains to be done to break down segregation, it also demonstrates just how far we've come. Fifty years ago this woman wouldn't even have been permitted to attend that university. (discuss)
Stardate 20010910.1439 (On Screen): The single most widely followed stock average is the Dow Jones Industrial Average of 30 stocks. Like all selective averages, the member companies have changed over the years; originally it was a combination of the 30 largest industrial companies in the US (hence the name). But look at the list now:
Of those, only one third are actually what you'd think of as traditional smoke-stack industrial companies. Several of them are high tech (Intel, Microsoft, HP, Merck). But what the heck are Disney, Home Depot, McDonald's, Walmart, Citigroup and JP Morgan doing in a list of "industrials"? Maybe we need a new name for this. (On the other hand, there's a certain pleasing symmetry to having both Philip Morris and Merck in this list.) (discuss)
Stardate 20010910.1230 (On Screen): Aspen, Colorado, is a city built on tourism. Aspen is in trouble as the economic downturn disproportionately affects tourism. Aspen has decided to advertise to try to change its image as being a place for "rich, old farts", so they're going to run a series of ads to try to make it seem like the ultimate pick-up place. (In other words, they're turning to that old standard: sex.)
The idea is to try to attract Gen-Xers and Gen-Yers to come there instead of all us Boomers who too are busy dying of old age. But look at where they're going to run their ads: magazines like Bon Appetit, This Old House, and Metropolitan Home. Internet sites like Bloomberg.net; and radio sponsorship of NPR. Methinks someone has their head-wedged. I don't suppose they would have considered advertising on MTV, would they? Or maybe give Evan some money by advertising on Blogger? (He can use the help.) How many 23-year-olds read Metropolitan Home?(discussion in progress)
Stardate 20010910.1132 (On Screen): This article is breathlessly headlined "Baby talk more than babble!" Well, of course it is. The acquisition of language by babies is a minor miracle; they go from being unable to speak or understand language to a fluent ability to communicate in just three years. It's certainly worthy of research, and a lot of profound work has been done in it so far, but not every finding has necessarily been profound, and I think this is in the latter category. Still, the gross outlines have emerged by now.
During the first six months of life, the primary job that the baby is doing is to learn how to parse phonemes. We don't pronounce sounds precisely alike; the goal is to figure out when two sounds are slight changes in the same phoneme or are actually different phonemes. This isn't trivial. There are sounds which in one language are different but which in another language may be the same. At age 4 months, all babies appear to be able to differentiate any sounds used in any language. At age 6 months they only are able to differentiate the sounds which are different in the languages used around them. This was proved with a very clever experiment which took advantage of two words in one of the American Indian languages which to them were distinct but to me as an English speaker sounded exactly alike. A baby from an English-speaking environment sat on its mother's lap in a room while a recording played one of the words over and over again, with the other one being interspersed once in a while. Whenever the second word was played, a moment later a light would go on to the baby's right and a toy monkey would bang cymbals together for three or four seconds. So the baby learned to associate the second word with the toy monkey. Careful analysis of film taken of the experiment showed clearly that after a while a four-month-old baby would turn its head and look at the monkey after the word was spoken but before the light turned on and the monkey started making noise; the baby was reacting to the word and anticipating the toy. When the same experiment is done with a six-month-old baby, however, analysis of the film shows that the baby turns only after the light turns on and the monkey starts banging. The baby is no longer reacting to the word; it's reacting to the sound, because it is not capable of differentiating the words. Clearly somewhere in there that baby learned that those two sounds really weren't different and ceased to be able to differentiate them. This is an essential step; it means that the baby has gone from hearing sounds to hearing phonemes. The first level parse has begun to work.
The second step is learning to make the sounds of the phonemes. This is done by "babbling". Now that the baby has the ability to hear and differentiate phonemes, it uses a closed loop to make sounds itself and listen to them to get them right. It will repeat them over and over, hence "ba-ba-ba-ba". This exercises the muscles and gets them into shape, and also reinforces the neural paths which control those muscles and helps make them more versatile. They've alreadly been exercises by nursing, but the controls neede for speech are much more complicated. And in the course of this, if it should happen to luck into creating a word, any adult nearby will instinctively perk up and repeat that word back to the baby. This is so deep an instinct in adults that most don't realize that they do it. And of course, certain sets of nonsense syllables have been seized on by adults and given meanings, especially "mama" and "dada" and "papa". The vowel sound in there is the easiest one a baby can make because both the tongue and lips are relaxed. The voice is going continuously and isn't modulating. Any other vowel sound requires use of muscles, and most other consonants require modulation of the vocal cords and possible control of the soft palate. "Mama" is a movement only of the lips, "Dada" only of the tongue, "Papa" is a different movement of the lips. ("Dada" is slightly more difficult because the soft palate is closed and air doesn't pass through the nose. Equally, "papa" involves a more complicated movement of the lips. But "Mama" is more important anyway, which is probably why adults have assigned that most primitive sound to the mother.) So these are among the very first sounds a baby will make, and they get assigned meanings to the baby by how adults react to them; the baby learns rapidly that "Mama" makes its mother perk up and smile, while "Dada" does the same to its father. (A side note: one of the earliest brain centers which activates in a baby is the ability to recognize faces; this appears to be working nearly at birth, and a baby can recognize a face nearly before it can recognize anything else. A baby learns to specifically recognize a small number of important adults very early, basically its care givers, and also can recognize smiles very early.)
This feedback from adults turns out to be critical. A study was done on families from four very diverse groups (I recall that three of them were Chinese, American and Inuit but I don't recall the fourth) and they found a consistent behavior by adults during the interval when babies were learning language. Whenever a baby babbles a sound near to a real one in the local language, adults will echo it back; it becomes a game where the baby makes the sound and then the adult makes it back again. Of course, this amuses the baby (which amuses the adult) and encourages it to keep experimenting, while providing a valuable baseline to compare its own sounds against those made by someone already fluent in the language. It amounts to error checking. "You're making a sound close to an important one, but this is what it really should sound like." Later on, when the baby is going into the next stage, adult feedback is equally important.
The child next has to understand what phoneme sequences are important and actually make words, and again adult behavior is critical. The baby is constantly listening to how adults speak to each other, but that's difficult because it's complex. When adults talk directly to babies, though, they use short sentences constructed with simple words and syntaces, they over-enunciate, spoken slowly and somewhat more loudly, and repeat several times: "baby-talk", in other words. This was also found in all four of the cultures which were studied. Of course each time it will be said slightly differently, with the differences unimportant, and again this gives the babe valuable information about what is and is not actually information. The over-enunciation helps to delineate word boundaries far more than normal connected speech. Also, the simplified language eliminates most of the sophistication and complexity of adult speech and permits the baby to start learning the core parts of the language: short important words and simple grammatical constructions. All of which leads to the next stage: One-word sentences.
The great leap is when the baby really begins to express itself by mastering a growing list of nouns. There are really two basic sentences that a baby uses heavily at this point: "Look, there's a ---!" and "I want ---!" and usually it isn't difficult to tell from context which the baby means when it uses a single word to fill in the space. Of those two, the former is far more important, because what it really is is the process of accumulating a dictionary. First, the baby points at something and the adult will say its name, in baby-talk. Later the baby will start pointing at things and saying the words it things refer to them, and the adult will echo those words back, pronounced correctly. (More feedback.) Verbs come next (verbs are a harder concept), and often they too are used in single-word sentences, as imperatives. The final achievement is two word-sentences with a noun and a verb; that's the summit and from there it's all downhill. The baby begins to learn adjectives and adverbs after that and the sentence structures get more complex, and within another year the child will be expressing complex ideas and will actually be able to carry on a conversation.
The surprising part of the studies which have been done on this is the extent to which babies rely on adult feedback in this process, and the extent to which adults are driven to provide that feedback. The best guess is that this is indeed instinctive in adults, one of the many behaviors towards babies which are ingrained in us. It's an interesting question as to whether this is genetic, however, or learned behavior. After all, all of us who have learned language have had this done to us, and we have seen it happen as we grow up later, since there are always babies around. A child raised without this feedback will never achieve the same proficiency in language that one given this feedback will attain. Would such a person as an adult still give that kind of feedback to a baby?
There are many interesting aspects to this process. Phonemes are not the same everywhere. I don't pronounce my words the same way that someone from South Carolina does, let alone someone from London. If a British couple come to the US and have babies here and raise them, the kids will speak with the local accent and not with the accent of their parents. Evidently they're doing their phoneme-learning not just from listening to their parents, but also from everyone else around them and are correctly determining that their parents are wrong.
Another interesting fact about this process is that it can take place with two or more languages at once. A married couple who taught foreign languages at my high school ultimately decided to have kids, and since both Lauren and Clint were fluent in French, they decided to speak French to each other at home on even numbered days and English on odd numbered days. The kids grew up bilingual. The same thing happens with immigrants from other countries. The parents may never achieve any great degree of fluency in the local language, but their kids will not only learn their parents' language and speak it without accent but will also learn the local language and speak it, too, without an accent. It's clear that during this early process the baby figures out that there are two distinct sets of sounds going on and learns to distinguish them. Even more, the child seems to pick up the second language without help from the parents. It's all quite fascinating. Since facility with language is one of the few things which seems to differentiate us from all other animals, it's also important to understand. (discuss)
Stardate 20010910.0629 (On Screen): Will the new 802.11a wireless networking standard replace 802.11b? It offers five times the bandwidth, which is pretty much unimportant. It uses more power, which may be. And it doesn't try to share spectrum with wireless phones and Bluetooth. But I think the real question which will decide its fate is security: will it have better encryption and protection than the wet tissue paper that 802.11b uses? (discuss)
Stardate 20010910.0602 (On Screen): There is a feeling among engineers in high tech that they should be the star of the show. The idea is that the companies with the best engineering should win. And when, somehow, this doesn't happen they feel betrayed. And the conspiracy theories begin to pop up. Of course, the history of the personal computer is littered with the corpses of products which were technically superior to their competitors but which lost out anyway. The reason? Marketing.
I'm an engineer; I've been one for twenty-five years. And in that time I've learned that marketing is more important -- and more difficult -- than engineering. Quality engineering is easy. This be heresy, but it's true. Quality marketing is rare, and if you analyze those corpses you find every one of them was killed by inept marketing. It's no accident that the two most successful companies in the PC industry right now are the two which have the best marketing: Microsoft and Dell. But when I use the term "marketing", I'm using it in a more general way than many might think. There's much more to marketing than advertisement and sales; marketing is the fundamental strategy which decides what a company will do and how it will do it. Companies which are driven by marketing will nearly always defeat companies which are driven by engineering. A lot of companies which have died early have begun with a cool engineering idea, and once they implement it then they start looking around for someone who might want to buy it -- and that's the wrong way to go about things. That's the classic form of engineering-driven business, and it nearly always fails. You begin by figuring out who your customer is going to be and what he needs, and then you figure out what you're going to build to satisfy that need, and only then do you actually implement. Engineering gets involved in this process to the extent that it tells the marketing department what is possible within the constraints of the marketing plan, but engineering does notdrive this process; it's driven by marketing.
Dell is a case in point. This article laments that Dell didn't get where it is by "technical innovation", which is true. It got where it is by marketing innovation. Dell built its entire business around direct sales, a fundamental marketing decision which then permitted it to optimize its business model in certain advantageous ways. Dell builds nothing for stock; it builds everything to order. What it builds is very good; Dell has a reputation for quality. But because it cuts out middlemen, because it maintains minimal stock of components and of finished product, all of this saves it money and Dell passes those savings on to its customers. That means that it was uniquely placed to capitalize on the PC business when it became a commodity, because commodity products mainly compete on price and no-one in the industry can build and sell a PC for less money than Dell does. So it can afford to sell its computers for a lower price than its competitors and has been ruining them all with a price war.
Michael Dell is a genius; it's just that he doesn't happen to be an engineering genius. He's a marketing genius, and that's much more rare -- which is why it is much more successful. Engineering is easy; marketing is hard. (discuss)
Stardate 20010910.0525 (On Screen): The suicide bombings in Israel continue. But this last one has a new twist: the guy who blew himself up was an Israeli citizen. If so, this presents the Israeli authorities with an awesome dilemma. Technically, they have no more right to impede the movements of Israeli Arab citizens then they do Israeli Jewish citizens. These are tax-payers and voters; they have their own political party and some of them currently serve in the Knesset. Will Israel now begin to use what in the US is known as "racial profiling"? Will it oppress one fifth of its own citizens because of their race? This revelation has already raised cries (from members of the Knesset, no less) for retaliations against Arab Israeli citizens because of the acts of one of them. That would be morally indefensible and would represent a complete breakdown of law in the nation. Bunker mentality can only take you so far; perhaps it's time to settle, instead? (discussion in progress)
Stardate 20010909.2056 (On Screen): As if it needed to be demonstrated, we now have absolute proof that the people who vote for the Emmies have no taste whatever, let alone any trace of social conscience. They decided to give "Survivor" an Emmy. The grandfather of all reality-exploitation shows was given an award. This is the show which itself confessed to restaging dramatic events so they could get better camera angles, and the show where some participants claim they've been given hints by the show's producers about who the producers wish would be voted off next; it's the show which inspired such marvelous offspring as "Adultery Island" (or whatever it was really called), where the producers of the show deliberately tried to destroy relationships for the entertainment value. And in another show of this kind, one of the contestants tried to knife another contestant. This is the lineage, the concept, that the Academy is honoring with this award.
The Academy could have given a vote of confidence to good taste: they could have given the award to "Junkyard Wars" (the US name for "Scrapheap Challenge") on TLC, which was a nominee in this category. Everyone on that show is just there to have a good time; no-one's life is destroyed by the experience and there are no cash prizes that I've ever heard of. They're competing because the competition itself is fun. But it's low budget and off-networt, so it must be trash.
The winner of next year's Emmy in this category will be the upcoming show "Christians and Lions", coming to a big desperate network near you this fall. Look for it on your local network affiliate! (discussion in progress)
Stardate 20010909.1550 (On Screen): I like strip-clubs. I must admit; I'm heterosexual and I like looking at beautiful young women without clothes. (It's a weakness.) I'm also a teddy bear and I like being touched and I like to hug -- so what's not to like? I'm always polite to the dancers and talk to them, and I tip heavily. I honestly think that most of them enjoy what they're doing. I don't go very often, but I do enjoy it when I do. (Besides, Feynman used to go to strip clubs. So there.) But a lot of people, I think, still think there's something more than a little bit sleazy about them; it's sort of one step this side of prostitution. It's icky. Eeew!
Apparently it's going a bit more mainstream, though. A Stanford professor has bought a club in Vegas and intends to use the profits from it (and they can be very profitable) to finance his research into heart disease. Somehow or other he managed to wangle a license to permit him to serve liquor while having full-nude dancers. Every other club in Vegas which serves alcohol is topless; all the full-nude places are alcohol-free. I wonder how he did that?
But more than that, an exercise club in Los Angeles is now offering Aerobic Stripping. The instructor is a man but apparently all the participants are women, and it includes everything up to and including lap-dancing. (Who do they do it to? You need someone to sit on!) One of his participants is a 70-year-old woman. It's another step along the way. Folks, sex isn't evil.
Once I had to take a business trip to Dallas. (Terrible place; why does anyone live there?) I had some time off and went to a natural history museum where they were showing some ancient artifacts, among which were what they called "fertility goddesses"; these were small statues which caricatured the female form, with tiny heads and exaggerated hips and breasts. The current theory is that these were idols or perhaps some form of magic; apparently it never occurred to anyone that they might be the earliest known examples of porn. Anyway, I was standing there looking at a display of these and a woman walked up with her 9 year old son, and said "Back then people only had sex in order to reproduce." It was clear from how she said it that she approved of that concept. I was flabbergasted, and couldn't stop myself from saying "Actually, they only had sex for pleasure. The reason they had fertility goddesses is that they didn't know why women got pregnant." (I was wrong, by way; they did know. But she was even more wrong.) She kind of looked fussed and quickly hurried away. There was no hope for her, but perhaps her son remembered later that not everyone actually agreed with his mom that sex is icky. Folks, that was only 20 years ago; there are still people who think that sex is dirty. I wa raised that way, and to some extent I find myself thinking that way to this day; it runs deep, even though I know it's wrong. It's part of my Calvinist heritage. But when stripping and lap dancing is being taught to 70 year old women who are having a great time doing it, maybe there's hope. My grandmother lived with a man without marrying him for a few years after my grandfather died. Considering that her father was a minister, that was quite a feat. Things do change; the world is getting more liberal. This is good. (discuss)
Stardate 20010909.1026 (On Screen): And from the "You can find anything on the web" file, we have a site which sells synthetic ruby rods. I used to have one of these, way back when. A jewelry hobbyist store near where I lived sold them. They were rejects with off-balance coloring, and I used to carry one as a pocket piece, just because it was fun to play with as a fiddle-toy and it made a cool conversation piece. You could easily write on a beer-bottle with one, and I must admit that it represented a temptation when I saw people illegally parked in wheel-chair spots (back when those were new, they got abused a lot) to leave a helpful message etched on the widnshield of the car. I never did that but I sure considered it a few times. The one I had was about 3" long, but I actually wish it had been shorter, because it eventually broke. If it hadn't been quite so long I might still have it. Maybe I'll order another one -- and get a sapphire one to go next to it. Just in case. (After all, you never know when you might need to write on glass.) (discussion in progress)
Stardate 20010909.0827 (On Screen): the Navy said last week it was more confident than ever that it would be able to recover the 830-ton wreck from a muddy hole 2,000 feet below the waves. (Referring to the Ehime Maru, the Japanese fishing boat which was sunk by a surfacing US submarine.) Why are they doing this? What is the point of salvaging this ship? Yes, it's bad that a lot of people died on that ship, but raising this hulk won't bring them back.
Apparently the point is to recover bodies and personal effects for the relatives of the dead. I'm sorry folks; I'm trying to be sympathetic here, but the mechanistic atheist in me says that this is superstitious nonsense. A lot of people have died at sea over the years and centuries. It's how things are when you live with the sea. Sometimes nothing returns. (discuss)
Stardate 20010909.0817 (On Screen): So for the first time in about a hundred years, the government actually moved to sustained budget surpluses and started paying down the national debt. This during the administration of a Democratic President. So a Republican is elected and the first thing he does is to screw up government finances so badly that it's near the point of starting to run deficits again.
So what's his latest plan? To cut taxes again. Oh, that's good. Ever since Reagan, the Republican Party has been trying to cast itself as the party of fiscal responsibility. Reagan could pull that off because when he was still healthy Reagan could have sold sand to Gila Monsters, so no-one bothered asking questions like why it was that he was running among the largest peace-time deficits in recent history. He was still fiscally responsible because he was a Republican. He told us so. We exchanged "tax and spend" Democrats for "borrow and spend" Republicans. Myself, I prefer a balanced budget even if it involves higher taxes.
What we really need now is to roll back some of those stupid tax cuts that got passed last spring. They were simply too deep. I'd prefer to see the government continue paying down the debt. That, in fact, is even more fiscally stimulating than a tax cut, because it decreases the demand by the Government on the pool of loan money, leaving more available for investment in businesses. And in the long run it results in a virtuous circle of improvements in government finances as the cost of paying interest in the debt declines, leaving even more money in the budget for other things. How about let's have two pounds of butter next year instead of one pound now, please? (discussion in progress)
Update 20010910: Here's an article from the Washington Post about how nonsensical Bush's tax cut really was. It's scary reading; to justify the cut they made all sorts of false-to-fact assumptions.
Stardate 20010909.0621 (On Screen): I've had people ask me why I opted for a .nu domain instead of a more nomal .com or .org or something like that. There were two reasons: Network Solutions and ICANN. With a .nu TLD I don't have to worry about either of them. ICANN happens to have done the right thing in this decision (to not enforce non-profitness on possessors of .org domains) but they could just as easily have decided to do the opposite. Some of their decisions in the past have seemed to the casual observer as being totally arbitrary. ICANN is completely out of control; it's making bad decisions and botching management and supervision and is in thrall to big trademark holders. On the other hand, the .nu TLD belongs to the island of Niue in Polynesia, a flyspeck island near nothing in particular. ICANN granted them this domain to do with what they will, and like their neighbor Tuvalu (.tv) and the Cocos Islands (.cc) they're using it to cash in. The money I paid to NuNames partly went to pay for giving the people of Niue access to the Internet, instead of going to enrich Network Solutions. NSI will get some of my money when Hell freezes over. (discuss)
Stardate 20010909.0556 (On Screen): Cue the lawyers. A professor in NYC send letters to 240 restaurants claiming that he'd suffered food poisoning, in order to find out what they'd do. I suspect some of them are going to sue him for defamation, since he was lying and since it will be demonstrable in court that he was deliberately lying. In as much as those places spent real money (and quite a lot of it) to investigate his claim, they will be able to prove real damages. What was he thinking, anyway? The school's dean says that this professor's "future at the school was unclear." Actually, it ought to be very clear: he should be booted. This was completely irresponsible. (discussion in progress)