October 2, 2007

Working Links

Sy Hersh's article on the coming invasion of Iran: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2007/10/08/071008fa_fact_hersh?printable=true

Vaclav Havel on global warming: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/27/opinion/27havel.html?ex=1348545600&en=ade3d5bdf14b602a&ei=5088&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss


Planning for the eventual withdrawal in the New Yorker: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2007/09/17/070917fa_fact_packer?printable=true

A.V. Club idolizes the music of 1997; I remain skeptical: http://www.avclub.com/content/feature/it_was_40_10_years_ago_today_18/1

The relay computer is awesome: http://www.electronixandmore.com/project/relaycomputertwo/

"Order is illegal! It goes against the laws of thermodynamics!": http://dieselsweeties.com/archive.php?s=1778


Yours(1) Latino(2) Lover(3)

1) Not really "yours", more "community". I love "you" but "you" need to realize that I need to be seeing other people.
2) Not really "Latino". Unless of course my Spanish or Brazilian friends would like to name me an "honorary Latino" or "Latino by association". I'd be definitely down with that. The only food I can make that is eatable and doesn't force the fire department to evacuate the building before are nachos. I'm a definition of grace in the kitchen. "Whatever you have in the kitchen I will make it burn" is my motto. Plus I'm sporting quite an attitude to boot. "Make Zack a Latino" campaign. We can make it work!
3) Not really "lover". More "no feelings haver". Though technically I've worked on software for so long that hate is, next to sarcasm, my primary export.

Posted by mill1974 at 2:35 AM

June 3, 2006

Scavvy Prospies

Here's an idea I saw floated recently as a way to counteract some of the perceived changes in culture at the UofC (i.e. away from us Life-of-the-Mind types who took pride in the "Where Fun Comes to Die" slogan and towards something more typical of your average high-end university): prospie the ScavHunt. Which is to say, organize a guerilla prospie weekend that coincides with the Scavenger Hunt, and distribute them to the teams as, I don't know, something like interns.

It seems to me that getting this off the ground could be logistically tricky, but given ScavHunt's standing, it shouldn't be hard to actually recruit the sort of students who would go for this. On the other hand, mixing high-school students with ScavHunt might be a recipe for the sort of shenanigans that would attract the Administration's attention very quickly.

Posted by mill1974 at 3:45 AM

May 14, 2006


ScavHunt generally, and the FIST in particular, are the most amazing communities I've ever had the joy of existing within. However, they're very ephemeral, and before and after, somewhat fragmented. This is less true among the Hyde Park residents who daily inhabit this physical, if not particular, mileaux. And what I really want is to live among them in this fantastic life they lead. But I can't, since I'm in Minneapolis.

The first step to change that is to keep the group in more active communication. Social networking tools could play a role here. A FIST blog community, for instance, as a natural outgrowth of e.g. the commenters on Connor's Blue Skies Falling could go a long way. So I'll send a poll to the FIST list shortly after the hunt asking if people would be interested in this, what format they'd prefer (blogspot, LJ community, wiki with forums, Facebook linkage, other).

The second step is to immerse myself in similar community structures in Minneapolis, and get away from the model of living out of my desk space in the lab. This will require that I be more directed and efficient in my research, so that my evenings are more routinely my own. It will also require that I identify and explore the social venues that provide the physical milieux for such communities.

Posted by mill1974 at 7:42 PM

December 18, 2005

Permalinks for posting over break

The BBC photoessay on Separation Fence graffiti, if I can ever get the Walls essay in order. And to accompany that, Hillary Clinton being a doofus.

Apropos the NSA blowup, WaPo article on the FBI's use of secuity letters and databases worrying people. A little dated, but still relavant.

Old vs new in Tallinn. This goes with NYT on technology boom in Tallinn.

NYT on Frisco to illustrate my extreme reluctance to get a car. This op-ed takes an interesting position on energy environmentalism.

Posted by mill1974 at 8:57 AM

May 16, 2005

Linguistic Profile

It would appear that my usage of the English language has remained relatively unimpacted by spending quite some years in the Midwest. Interesting, though, that I exhibit so many more "Yankee" versus "Dixie" usages, considering that I have never lived in the Northeast. On the other hand, they don't have a category for "Texan," which from all accounts is quite distinct from broader Southern usage.

Your Linguistic Profile:

55% General American English
30% Yankee
10% Dixie
5% Midwestern
0% Upper Midwestern
What Kind of American English Do You Speak?
Posted by mill1974 at 6:37 PM

May 13, 2005

Batman is my savior

Priceless article in the Onion this week panning the Scientologists.

For classic absurdity, this quote wins:

"My personal savior is Batman," said Beverly Hills plastic surgeon Greg Jurgenson. "My wife chooses to follow the teachings of the Gilmore Girls. ..."

"Sure, it's total bullshit," Jurgenson added. "But that's Fictionology. Praise Batman!"

Whereas the toastiest clam-baking looks like this:

"Scientology is rooted in strict scientific principles, such as the measurement of engrams in the brain by the E-Meter," Kurz said. "Scientology uses strictly scientific methodologies to undo the damage done 75 million years ago by the Galactic Confederation's evil warlord Xenu—we offer our preclear followers procedures to erase overts in the reactive mind. Conversely, Fictionology is essentially just a bunch of make-believe nonsense."
Posted by mill1974 at 9:51 PM

Left Behind

Via John M's LJ, I acquired this link which is basically a page-by-page review/commentary/trashing of the Left Behind series (in principle; Slacktivist has only managed to trudge through 100 or so pages in a year).

Interesting reading; makes quite compellingly the case that the Rapture, and Evangelicalism in general (at least insofar as it is represented by the Left Behind books, which at least a certain wing of it is) represent an extremely pernicious heresy from the standpoint of any reasonable Christian doctrinal system.

Handy term for the notion, too: Pre-Millennial Dispensationalist Theology

Posted by mill1974 at 9:47 PM

April 10, 2005

Heh. It knows me!

My Unitarian Jihad Name is: Brother Rail Gun of Reasoned Discussion.

Get yours.

Beware the Unitarian Jihad!

Posted by mill1974 at 7:35 PM

March 20, 2005


I should look more closely into the destruction of the separation fence at Budrus recently. I first noticed this story in a passing mention in this Ha'aretz article about the demographic problems with the fence project in East Jerusalem.

ZNet claims that the IDF censored the story. I don't know the extent to which the IDF is involved in regulating the news here, so that's another thing I should investigate.

Tipped off by the ZNet story, I tracked down original coverage and photos from IMC Israel.

Posted by mill1974 at 1:19 AM

February 16, 2005

The Mythic God-Emperor

So much sycophancy surrounded official and unofficial accounts of the various royal peregrinations in India that it is impossible to measure exactly what the Queen Empress's Indian subjects thought about her. Sir Walter Lawrence, Curzon's future secretary, recalled that in Kashmir during the 1880s Victoria was a cult figure: her image on the coins was revered and many Hindu homes contained her portrait, an icon of benevolence often similar in style and execution to those in temples. A goddess in all but name, it was widely said that she asked every Viceroy to treat her Indian subjects with tenderness.

(Lawrence James, Raj: The Making and Unmaking of British India, pg. 318)

The figure of the distant god-king, known only through a name or image that radiates authority and demands reverence, is a stock device in fantasy literature. (That said literature routinely styles this figure the "High King" or "Dark Lord," depending on particulars, and almost universally sets the story in a dragon-infested Medieval Europe is beside the point.) The trope is in turn derived from ancient civilizations which actually did feature royal cults in which the bulk of the population had no contact at all with the leader and only interacted with the government via low-level tax collectors and police. The most notable examples are the Pharonic system and the post-Augustan deified Roman emperors.

However, the above quote struck me as one of the few concrete examples of this phenomenon attaching to a modern ruler. Although I suppose one could make similar claims about the Chinese and Japanese imperial cults right up into the 20th century. I don't know enough about them to say for sure.

Then again, this could be a trivial side-effect of the fact that, with the exception of the two east Asian empires I just mentioned, most empires in the past several centuries have been ruled by monotheistic peoples. While they might (and did) claim to derive their authority from the divine, it would have been blasphemy to claim godhood for themselves. Which in turn makes this quote all the more striking, since the Queen Empress Victoria was decidedly monotheistic herself.

But this raises another question that I lack the data to answer: besides the British Empire, how many recent examples are there of a monotheistic people conquering and ruling a polytheistic one?

Posted by mill1974 at 12:58 AM

February 13, 2005

Cool - Interactive Segre Chart

For those times when I just need to check on the stability of Fooium-42: interactive Segre chart of nuclide stability and decay modes.

Posted by mill1974 at 12:05 PM

January 6, 2005

Connor says: Ashley's Survey

Conner declared that we should all take the survey Ashley gave him. So I did. I've copied the thing below, so I needn't rely on whoever runs enetation.co.uk to hang onto it.

1. What did you do in 2004 that you'd never done before?
Exited North America.

2. Did you keep your new years' resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
I never seem to recall what I resolved the year before, so I'll (again) assume I did and not bother with more.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Nope. Baby drought in my circles.

4. Did anyone close to you die?
Maternal grandmother.

5. What countries did you visit?
Spain, Israel. And spent a lot of time in Canadian airspace.

6. What would you like to have in 2005 that you lacked in 2004?
A bit more time for my own projects outside the lab, and a bit more motivation to be productive inside.

7. What date from 2004 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
October 2; my first day in Europe, spent playing the backpacker in Madrid en route to Israel.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Individual: passing my qualifying exams. Collective: my collaboration got funding.

9. What was your biggest failure?
Question six nicely sums up the bit that, rationally, I'm responsible for. But I can't help feeling badly about my relative lack of political involvement in such an important year, especially given how things turned out.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
Aside from the year-end sniffles, no. It's now been just over a year since my last bike-versus-car smackdown.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
I'm not generally big on gadgetry, but the digital camera I bought before leaving has opened a new avenue of expressiveness that I hadn't expected to enjoy so much.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
Anyone who had the courage to speak the truth in public. More proximately, three newly married couples come to mind.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
With a few important exceptions, nearly anyone who was allowed the opportunity to speak in public. Also, my students are often depressing.

14. Where did most of your money go?
That's a matter of some debate. Travel and rent are nearly tied, I think.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
The Hunt. My one writing project that tangibly advanced. The cache of snowballs I preserved through the summer.

16. What song will always remind you of 2004?
Big Whatever, Dirty Knobs remix of Amy Abts

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
a. happier or sadder?
By most measures, it's less stressful and more interesting. So happier seems like the sensible choice, but that's deliberately not a ringing endorsement.

b. thinner or fatter?
Thinner. More cycling, and now I'm on the hummous and falafel diet.

c. richer or poorer?
Between living cheaply and having a guaranteed stipend, I don't have to worry about money. Which makes me as rich as I feel like feeling.

18. What do you wish you'd done more of?
Work, actually, of both the school and personal varieties. Probably should have gotten out more, too.

19. What do you wish you'd done less of?
Yearn. Replay.

20. How will you be spending Christmas?
I suspect this poll was written pre-Yule, so this refers to the Christmas just past. But the answer's probably the same: with my family in Texas.

21. Who did you spend the most time on the phone with?
Collaborators in teleconferences. I didn't actually have a phone of my own for most of the year.

22. Did you fall in love in 2004?
Not as such. More trying to get out where I am in.

23. How many one-night stands?
A couple. But I'm prouder of the bookshelves.

24. What was your favorite TV program?
Scrubs. Ah, the schadenfreude.

25. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?
I tentatively assert that I have avoided the stain of hate this year. Which is not to say there aren't people I'd kill in an instant if I met them on the street. But that would be for the greater good.

26. What was the best book you read?
Always tricky, but easier than usual because of the embarassingly small number of actual books I've managed to read this year. I'm incluned to tap Robert Bonazzi's Fictive Music; this is partially because I'm probably too biased to faithfully judge, and don't actually recall on which side of last winter I first read, my father's epic poem Alms for Oblivion.

27. What was your greatest musical discovery?
The Minnesota indie music scene. And possibly Feedback.pl; we'll see where that goes.

28. What did you want and get?
A warmer winter. To not lose contact with my friends after moving away. NASA's money.

29. What did you want and not get?
A saner world. A little more human contact. Pecan pie.

30. What was your favorite film of this year?
While my loyalty to the old philologist tempts me to blurt out The Return of the King, I found Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind more interesting. However, for ideal combination of thought-provoking and relavent, I'm picking Control Room.

31. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
Work, mostly. But the following weekend there were food and libations at the local pub with my department, in a combined 25th-birthday and going-away party.

32. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Putting a genuine progressive in charge of this mess we call a country.

33. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2004?
I have to confess, after my students started calling me "Vader" in their evaluations, I kind of went with that for a while.

34. What kept you sane?
I think it's not yet entirely clear that anything did.

35. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
Honestly, nobody comes to mind. I obviously need to expose myself to more visual mass media, right away.

36. What political issue stirred you the most?
Good Lord, was this not the year that saw coined the phrase "outrage fatigue"? If it wasn't the hypocracy it was the randomly killing people; if it wasn't the lies it was the complacency.

37. Who did you miss?
My Chicago friends. Particularly Cate.

38. Who was the best new person you met?
Miriam, or maybe Katherine. But I'm purposely excluding the whole city of new people I met towards the end of 2003.

39. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2004:
Even working in a field where I'm expected to hyperspecialize, it'll be okay and healthy to be a few different things. But I'm going to have to choose a few, and set several aside.

40. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year:
"For who you were
and who you want to be."

Posted by mill1974 at 12:58 AM

November 21, 2004

More Internet Packrat-ism

Should work Terrorism 101 into my next post on the Mideast's problems and America's role therein.

Two from Ha'aretz: this one on blaming Arafat, and this one on non-violence and the IDF that help explicate the mood here.

www.FromOccupiedPalestine.org is a good aggregator of media and essays on the Palestinians. Not un-biased, but it isn't exactly hard to find the other side's opinion, as any regional or American newspaper will suffice.

The Lancet study on Iraqi civilian deaths, I've already linked to. There's a good sequence of articles on the New Republic's blog, including an interview with one of the study PIs.

I had been collecting a few links about the running vote-hacking paranoia, but that's all over Blogistan now, so it would be somewhat redundant to post about at this late phase, and all too easy to find links to, anyway.

"Revolutionaries always come from the hills, never from the beach," says one Gush Katif resident of the difference between Gaza and West Bank settlers (this article is a good read for a number of reasons). Think about this distinction. The ending quote is also diagnostic: "Why can't we stay, they ask, bewildered. If the Palestinians would stop the terror, we could all be neighbours once more. What country would your neighbours be citizens of, I asked. And they stared at me and said they did not know."

Posted by mill1974 at 12:05 PM

November 6, 2004

More blog drafting

Below the continuation, my response to Gemma's latest.

One last election-related post for EGAD, dealing with maps and more maps, and perhaps some speculation on demographics and where this is all going. But then we'll call it quits for the Amero-centrism. For one thing, I should say something about the Arafat situation, and in particular the interesting calm-before-the-storm tension dominating here, now that we don't know his status but suspect that he's not coming back.

In response to Gemma's thoughts on whether some people just want to be led:

I'm going to include by reference my response to your earlier post on BSF, since we are returning to the common theme of investigating how people decide which way to vote. Again, I would claim that on both sides of the political divide, large majorities do not put any real thought into the decision. In this political sense, they do want to be led.

People do not, in general, appreciate being forced to think. There is a feeling that life in modern America is so busy, so filled with tasks and distractions already, that it is altogether an imposition to "unnecessarily" ask that serious consideration be applied to question. We live in a just-tell-me-the-answer-already culture. Any suprise, then, that successful politicians have become adept at devising ready-made answers for their constituents? He who wins elections (and in America, it is generally a "he" anywhere above the school board level) excels at presenting himself and, to a lesser extent, his positions as obvious and sensible responses to the world. A natural consequence is that the incumbent powers will always have a vested interest in shielding the voters from the true complexity of the world, ensuring that they see only simplistic issues requiring knee-jerk responses.

This state of affairs offends the liberal sensibility, of course, since it strongly suggests that having the facts on our side, as we so often do, is unlikely to win us many elections in the near- to medium-term. Long term, of course, we can try to change the culture, but even there success is far from guaranteed. But in the shorter run, are we doomed to wring our hands and complain that we could have sensible and humane leadership if only the populace would sit still for long enough to understand our arguments? Perhaps not; there are plenty of media-savvy activists on our side trying to assemble a liberal message machine to compete with theirs. A descent into propagandism, perhaps, but at least ours will probably confine itself to generally true statements.

So here we are: about 30% of eligible voters sided with Bush because he seemed resolute, or they'd been frightened into believing that electing Kerry would invite the terrorists to dirty-bomb their suburbs, or they believe God hates gays and thus it's morally required to hate those who don't; another rough 30% sided with Kerry because Bush is either a liar or just stupid, because Cheney's either a crook or an evil genius, or just because they're tired of their jobs getting shipped across the Pacific while all the young men in their neighborhood are getting shipped the other direction. And 40% were too disgusted or apathetic to care. On each side, the decision comes down to emotion, impression, stereotype, preference. Almost nobody really thinks about their vote anymore.

Now, I'm sure you'll be quick to notice that we're using somewhat divergent notions of "wanting to be led" versus "wanting to think." I think the sense that you're getting at is more along the lines of, what would I want the people to want who will be under the command of the person I'm going to elect ? Or, what would I like my relationship to the leader to be, if I were to imagine myself in the White House with him? Perhaps one type of voter likes to picture policies coming out of reasoned, passionate debates over facts and goals, while another envisions a paternalistic commander-in-chief issuing decrees based on what his gut tells him is right. But I think this is just another artifact of the warm-fuzzies dynamic of politics. Recall, everybody cringed when Kerry's positions were described as "nuanced" -- even those of us who think that is a good thing could see that you don't run a campaign by telling the voters that it's a complex world out there. They don't want to hear it.

Salient points to expand upon:

1. America is not at war. There is no credible threat of invasion, of our crops being burnt, our peopel being carried off into bondage. Any threat to this nation's survival will be entirely of the self-destructive kind. This is not a war. Find some other term.

2. Far more people want to be led than voted for Bush. People do not, in general, appreciate being forced to think. The vast majority voted based upon what common sense told them was the obvious choice, this sense having been conveyed to them by various communicative and propagandistic processes over long periods of time. To win in the short term, we must convince the undecideds in the middle, who bother to think about their vote, however superficially. To win in the long term, we must recontextualize the larger former group's interaction with the political world, such that our approach is the obvious, sensible one. It is probably hopelessly naive to hold out for a world in which most voters actually consider the facts and decide based on rational arguments. The world is too complex for that to work in practice. Bush succeeds because he projects the dominating issues of terrorism and morality through his media apparatus to represent the world as far simpler than it is, as something his supporters can readily understand.

This argument draws some inspiration from this discussion of framing, but should be larger.

Posted by mill1974 at 7:12 PM

November 4, 2004

Blogging to-do list

Mention Minneapolis micro-radio experiment -- doesn't quite fit in the upcoming "thinking about time" meditation, but fit it in.

Talk about the survey of world opinion on Bush; this would be apropos to another election-related post.

Respond to Gemma's recent post on Connor's blog. We'll compose that response here.

In response to Gemma's recent pre-election post, now that we're immediately post-election:

This post has been made here as a comment to Gemma's post.

I don't know that you've provided any particular evidence regarding Tiera's intelligence as such. However, with all deserved respect to the American people, I can definitely say that she appears to have put more thought into her vote than 90% of voters, the roughly 45% on each side that reflexively cast its vote based upon only the vaguest impressions of the candidates. Even you and me. After all, we both knew we'd be voting for Kerry, or whoever the Democrats happened to nominate, within 30 seconds of hearing that the Supreme Court had effectively declared Bush president back in 2000. So I commend anyone who has bothered to agonize over their vote.

I still think she came to the wrong decision, of course, even taking into account her particular viewpoint. Abortion is a major issue for her. Fair enough; I don't know anybody who argues that there should be more abortions, and I would certainly prefer that fewer occurred. Voting for Kerry would have been the correct course of action, then. After all, the abortion rate has increased under Bush's watch, and there's no reason to expect that to change, given the theocratic right's instinctive opposition to readily available birth control and sensible education about sexual health.

The theocrats' other big wedge issue this year was gay marriage, which Tiera also has a problem with. Of course, the gay marriage that she and so many others were voting against is quite a different animal from the thing they are so uneasy about. She doesn't want her church to bestow the sacriment of marriage upon homosexual couples? This is a reasonable religious sentiment, and I can't think of a circumstance in which that would be likely to happen, anyway. A typical argument for taking this further, though, claims that married couples will feel their own marriages to be sullied if any church, anywhere, so sanctifies such a union. Unfortunately for anyone who feels this way, not even a Constitutional amendment repealing the freedom of religion would accomplish such a thing, any more than the Roman Empire was able to eradicate Christianity. The government can bar the issue of marriage licences if it so chooses, but cannot even in principle govern what blessings may be offered, or in which sacriments people have faith, barring the reinstatement of the Inquisition.

However, even if Tiera intended to lodge a vote against certain sacriments, that is not what she accomplished. Instead, she made it that much more likely that a certain type of legal document will not be issued, and that a bundle of accompanying rights will not be granted to certain people. Really, a marriage license differs little from a driver's license, and is arguably easier to obtain. By legally declaring themselves to the state, an eligible couple gains various various rights generally intended to simplify the legal aspects of operating a shared household and raising children. The only conceivable reason to declare that homosexual couples should be ineligible for this convenience is to be uncomfortable with the idea of gays "getting it on."

I would point out, though -- and this should be a particularly relavent argument to much of the population of Chicago -- that due to mostly identical sentiments it was illegal until the civil rights movement for couples of mixed race to marry in many states. While marriage licenses were withheld, priests mostly just worked in secret as they always had. Slaves, too, could not marry, and before the Civil War priests compensated by amending the closing rite to end "... until death or distance do you part." Thus, a politician militating against "gay marriage" can only sensibly be seen as promoting bigotry, which in and of itself should be enough to declare Tiera's vote for Bush to be flawed. This error is only compounded by recognizing that she was basically deceived to get her vote: the theocrats suggest that voting for them will somehow defend the sacrament of marriage, while it is clear that the most they can do is pass bigoted laws against legal marriage.

Both of these arguments have smacked strongly of pragmatism, which you worry might be in opposition to voting morally. I argue that there can be no difference. Morality deals with the rightness of an action, while pragmatics is concerned with the desirability of the outcome. But nobody can be harmed by my filling in the "Bush" oval versus punching the "Kerry" chad. Alone in the voting booth, my choices cause no suffering, no loss. I can tell my ballot no lies. Within the strict confines of voting one way or another, there is no activity upon which morality impinges.

Instead, the impact of my vote lies wholly upon the eventual outcome to which I am contributing, the election of a ruthless theocratic demagogue or a fair-minded moderate leader. I vote pragmatically, in the way that I believe will produce the best outcome. But how am I to decide which outcome is best? This is a fundamentally moral question. Morals -- religious or otherwise -- dictate what kind of world one must work towards, and it is for reason to deduce what actions support that goal. Thus a moral vote is a pragmatic vote, and vice versa. A vote for Bush is not a decision to put morality over pragmatism; it is merely (given what I think are Tiera's morals) a failure to adequately consider which outcome would better agree with morality.

Bluntly, a vote for Bush was a short-sighted error.

Posted by mill1974 at 12:53 PM

October 9, 2004


On this week's Tangled Bank we find an Introduction to Multiple Designers Theory, an attempt by one Richard Hoppe to inject some scientific method into the ID scrum.

I suppose my initial, visceral reaction to reading it is some displeasure at the fact that, given the intent of the effort, the best he can do towards fabricating a real academic discipline out of ID is to reduce evolutionary biology to something like art history. More substantively, I detect two areas of intellectual sloppiness; I'm not sure to what extent I should blame this on Hoppe, and to what extent I am simply reading unfairly based on my admittedly sparse experience with current ID writing (I hesitate to call it "scholarship").

The first is the insistence on an "unembodied" set of designers. I understand that this would be absolutely vital if one tried to postulate that intelligent design is an ongoing process, effectuating biological change from one generation to the next in a broad class of organisms -- there is no reasonable method by which some intelligent, physical entities could access and alter so many pieces of matter, in so many locations, without someone noticing. Not unless there is some heretofore-unrecognized variety of intelligent virus, which would run into severe information theory difficulties. However, if one already concedes that design is an activity that can take place in punctuated bursts, at various times during the Earth's history, then there seems to be no reason why physical designers are ruled out, so long as no widespread instance of design has taken place since humans became globally dispersed and keepers of accurate observational records -- which is to say, not in the past millenium or so. If designers are inclined to work in more geographically localized domains, however, who's to say that it isn't ongoing somewhere on Earth that we simply haven't noticed.

Moreover, the appeal to one or more "unembodied" designer entities raises the serious question of physical mechanism. The "infinite wavelength-zero energy" proposal raised in this article falls somewhere between mumbo-jumbo and nonsense. The author suggests that MDT research need not concern itself immediately with the mechanism by which the design activity occurs. This is fine, if a tad incurious, but proves that there is no crisis of understanding connected to this mechanism question, only a lack of data. If there isn't an extremely good reason to require such noncorporeal beings, Occam's razor alone strongly militates against them, and good sense likewise advises against inventing new physics to explain a phenomenon the existence of which your theory is indifferent towards.

The second objection, stemming from the first, is that no mention is made of conventional evolution taking place in tandem with designed processes. There is a wealth of evidence that selective mutation-driven evolution can account for some, if not all, of the biological diversity currenlty observed, and plenty more data support the proposition that this mechanism is ongoing. Therefore, and especially if one posits punctuated design, it seems vital to include "mechanistic" evolution alongside the intelligent process.

With regards to this second point, I may be simply misunderstanding ID theory as it currently stands. It could be the case that the ID crew implicitly assumes that conventional evolution does take place, and thus never mentions it. Indeed, the presently ubiquitous notion of "irreducible complexity" would seem to concede that evolution works just fine, except for the genesis of those features judged to be "irreducibly" complex.

One reason that I am somewhat intrigued by MDT is that it offers a potentially coherent line of investigative activity that would, if pursued, validate it as a true empirical science. So long as the ID community declines to take this bait, it gives me an exceedingly handy piece of ammunition against the creationist hecklers that keep showing up to astronomy outreach events. It becomes a perfectly valid question to ask, then, why if evolution is so obviously deficient, are no ID proponents actively researching the one area of ID thought so far to suggest a realistic research programme.

Another aspect is that MDT, preferably with punctuated design and physical, "embodied" designers, offers some insight into Fermi's paradox. Namely, the evidence for biological design in the Earth's past would, if confirmed, represent the strongest support yet for the "They are already here" solution to the paradox. This could, likewise, help move the SETI research program toward some actual conclusions, by posing questions grounded in fact instead of conjecture. Questions like, "Now that we know someone was here, where did they go?"

Posted by mill1974 at 1:26 PM

September 21, 2004

Travel Blog Titles

Started working on graphics for the travel blog, to open here in a day or two. The most important factor, of course, remains: the title.

The following list wound up in my notepad. Some obvious themes seem to peek out.

  • Place, Deconstructed
  • Texan, Delocalized
  • Demythologizing Place
  • Geospatial Fetishization
  • Locality Fetishism
  • The Cult of Place
  • Anthrogeospatial Adventures
  • EGAD: Empirical GeoAnthrospatial Didacticism

I spent some time this afternoon making a cool graphic for the masthead if I settle on the last one there. Or, actually, anything that anacronizes to EGAD.

Of more concern out in the real world, of course, is setting up appropriate templates so as to avoid, gasp, exposing the public to the default MT style, and then writing up a few pilot posts about the recent trip to New York. Also, I might do some work at some point.

Late update: Sept. 23

And, we have settled on a rough blend of the above, in the grand tradition of not settling on a title. It is: EGAD ... or, (de)mythologozing the fetish of place. Check it out; I'm fond of the design. Vaguely reminiscent of sand and sea and sky.

Posted by mill1974 at 7:52 PM

September 14, 2004

Chicago Winter revised

Yesterday I finished this summer's project to revise the Chicago Winter poems. I think the result is somewhat stronger, and vastly more cohesive, than the previous version.

For reference, a PDF copy (nearly identical to the one I sent Dad and Bonzzi for review last night) is on the flash drive along with the text files.

Which brings me to an interesting point. I have long complained that, much writing as I do on a computer, I can't really compose poetry electronically. This continues to be roughly true, I think -- the spontaneity of a pen on paper, the complete lack of formatting restrictions on what I write or how I write it, and the freedom from technical details of insertion, deletion, and version control, mean that I will probably continue to write and revise poetry this way.

That said, an electronic format is vastly more convenient for storing the resulting mess of poems, revisions, words and associated dates. So after each revision, I type the changes into a copy of the previous version, give it the next available version number, and dump it on the flash drive (for portability). This also lets me do cool things, like write a few little Perl scripts that read in the text and autoformat it into Latex for printing. One more tweak, and it'll even let me keep a versioned table of contents, and will auto-assemble the entire collection.

I am still conflicted on one question, though: should I keep the paper revisions that I've written all over as a backup, or rely on the sequence of digital files to be my record of each poem's evolution?

Posted by mill1974 at 2:56 PM

August 30, 2004

Voter Intimidation

Link via ACT: PDF report from the NAACP documenting recent instances of voter intimidation, misdirection, etc., aimed at suppressing the minority vote, with invariably pro-Republican results.

We've all heard the recent, high-profile examples: the supposed "election fraud" investigation targetting the Orlando black population, right on the heels of the latest felon purge list in Florida. But the things happening at a more local level are really egregious.

  • This summer, Michigan state Rep. John Pappageorge (R-Troy) was quoted in the Detroit Free Press as saying, "If we do not suppress the Detroit vote, we're going to have a tough time in this election."
  • In 2002 in Louisiana, flyers were distributed in African American communities telling voters they could go to the polls on Tuesday, December 10th three days after a Senate runoff election was actually held.
  • In 2003 in Philadelphia, voters in African American areas were systematically challenged by men carrying clipboards, driving a fleet of some 300 sedans with magnetic signs designed to look like law enforcement insignia.

And that's why I'm spending my remaining free weekends in this hemisphere doing get-out-the-vote canvassing.

Posted by mill1974 at 3:53 PM

August 27, 2004

Reading at Risk

The NEA just released a study entitled "Reading at Risk" which empirically demonstrates the disturbing but obvious fact of our times that, suprise! -- people are reading less.

Steve Bennett of the San Antonio Express-News is writing this up, and sent out the following email:

"Bennett, Steve" wrote:

> hola all,this is a mass message trying to get some feedback for a
> story i'm working on the recent NEA study "Reading at Risk."Basically,
> the 20-year study says that while there remains a huge audience of
> readers in the country (122,000 new titles in 2000, with sales of 2.5
> billion books), the number of people reading literature -- fiction,
> short stories, plays, poetry -- is declining. It's off 15 percent from
> 1982, with the steepest slide in the 18-24 age group (28 percent
> decline). reasons given are electronic media, video games, etc. men,
> for some reason, don't read novels. i wonder if you are familiar with
> the report and have any thoughts to share on the subject. as NEA chief
> Dana Gioia notes: "More than reading is at stake. As this report
> unambiguously demonstrates, readers play a more active and involved
> role in their communities. The decline in reading therefore parallels
> a larger retreat from participation in civic and cultural life."the
> report goes on to state that, "Indeed, at the current rate of loss,
> literary reading as a leisure activity will virtually disappear in
> half a century."pretty alarming stuff. is this, finally, the beginning
> of the "death of the novel"? do your students read literature for
> pleasure (without you having to assign it and then pound them over the
> head)? have you noticed a change in attitudes toward literature? what
> does this mean for our society? and what, if anything, can be done?i'd
> really appreciate your feedback for publication in the story/column
> i'm planning for upcoming national literacy day. of course, my
> deadline is yesterday. thanks so much.steve p.s. if you have any
> students who'd be willing to talk to a reporter on the record about
> their reading habits of lack of, please let me know.

In response to this my father composed this essay:

Response to the "Reading at Risk" NEA study from Bryce Milligan

As both a "literary" publisher and a writer, the NEA's findings are
horrifying, yet they come as no surprise. Publishing has become such a
huge business that all too often the creative sparks that generate
literary flames can be trampled into non-flamable dust. Literary
authors, once so doused by the major houses, may then turn to the
smaller regional presses where they know that their creative vision will
be honored and transmuted into a printed form that is intended for the
thoughtful reader rather than skewed to meet some imagined mass market.
These smaller regional presses struggle to get the attention of the more
important review outlets, but are basically outbid for review space by
the advertising budgets of the major houses. Thus most literary titles
published in the US today never even reach the awareness threshold of
most readers.

And that is only one scenario of the dozens that have been advanced to
explain the drop in the popularity of literary fiction and poetry. But
it explains a lot. Serious readers haunt bookstores, for the most part,
not websites. If new literary works are not on the shelves, how are
these potential readers to learn of their existence? This is like asking
why a certain plant no longer thrives in nutrient-depleted soil. But
this is merely a pragmatic explanation of a problem, the threads of
which run -- as the NEA study attempts to explain -- throughout the
fabric of post-World War II American culture. The thrust of all those
multiple explanations comes down to the fact that the world we inhabit
is no longer conducive to leisure reading.

No doubt, the pace of contemporary life has speeded up, driven by the
increased speed with which our tools allow us to accomplish work. To
take a single example from the trade itself: As a book designer, it was
only a few years ago that it took a full month or more to typeset and
lay out a book, taking it from the author's manuscript to a product
ready to be printed. I can do the same job now in a single day, and do
it "better" and more accurately. So what was lost? A month of creative
thought -- the kind of intense yet reflective rumination that goes into
the creation of any work of art. So the speed of the machines that allow
this 30-to-1 collapse of time in turn mandate the reduction of human
creative input by a similar ratio. Thus one struggles with one's tools
not to master their usage, but to make up for that loss of purely
creative time. Philosophically speaking, the worker who is engaged in
with a struggle with his tools simply cannot produce the best work of
which either is capable.

But again, this is one simple, pragmatic explanation to a complex
problem which may in fact not allow for a satisfactory solution. What if
our tools -- our computers and cell phones and all the rest -- have
created a world in which leisure reading is simply not possible? An
answer has been proposed by science fiction writers like Isaac Asimov
and Frank Herbert: revolution against the machines. We are not anywhere
near that point, it seems to me, but I do know that as a publisher, I
increasingly meet "writers" who do not read. This sad oxymoronic
character is an accidental victim of his or her arrival in the world --
gifted with creative genius -- at a time when there is no time to hone
their craft.

The bards and poets of antiquity were expected to know by heart most of
the important texts of their time before they were even permitted to
produce their own creative works. The literary authors of the past
several centuries were expected to be well read in many topics, from
literature to science to philosophy to history. Neither writers nor
readers can be expected to leap fully formed from the brow of Zeus. If
they are today so deceived by the illusion of our accelerated world as
to imagine that reading is a mere luxury, then we are in fact fated to
endure George Santayana's dictum that those who do not know the past are
doomed to repeat its failures. More to the point in today's political
environment, those who do not know the past have no way of knowing when
the prevailing political powers decide to reinvent the past to justify
their actions. One of the best things that a book has over a computer
screen is that you can be 100% certain that what the book says today is
the same thing it said yesterday. In an ever-changing world, that is an
element of certainty that is not lightly waived.

-- Bryce Milligan

Posted by mill1974 at 7:12 PM