This Raises All Sorts Of Interesting Questions
Sunday, August 18, 2002
I rediscovered an interesting web site today, and I encourage you to take a little time to have a look. Even if you are not especially interested in the topic at hand, this site is an excellent example of a half-dozen or so scientific principles that I'll probably be yammering about for years. Besides, it's fun, in a creepy sort of way.
First, the good news. This site offers an amusing, interactive test to see if you are racist. I am not totally ignorant of the ways of science and I'd bet this test is probably quite valid and repeatable (although I do harbor some doubt as to what it is they are actually measuring). I don't think you can subconsciously cheat on it, and the results will become obvious to you anyway, about half-way through.
The bad news is that this site is run by the Southern Poverty Law Center, who I consider to be first-class wackos. Nonetheless, it's a good test. Give it a try.
Once you're done, come back and we'll have a little talk.
I love things like this. All sorts of interesting stuff to think about, and the really interesting, truthful parts are probably not immediately apparent.
So, let me guess... you're racist, right? (Add a comment below to tell me how you did, and note your race, too, if you don't mind).
According to the SPLC, most people are racist, and they should feel guilty about it too. I have to agree that this test did do an interesting job of measuring something, even if it is not what the SPLC hopes it is.
Personally, I took three tests. I'm white, and I showed a strong preference for white adults and while children. Interestingly, I showed zero preference when associating weapons with race. Since I personally enjoy weapons and even collect them, I took this as a further sign of the validity of these tests. (Such a surprise that the folks at the SPLC would assume that everybody would think of weaponry in a negative light).
So what does it mean? Well, three points come immediately to mind:
1) They will first ask your age and race, and they will tell you exactly how many people hold the bias that they are testing for. They do not mention the racial breakdown of the people who are biased, even though they obviously know it. I'd bet a week's pay that a substantial percentage of black people turn out to be 'biased' against blacks, and that blacks are at least as biased against whites as whites are against them. I'd also bet two week's pay that there is not enough intellectual honesty at the SPLC to fill a thimble.
2) Is it wrong, or even uncommon, to associate people like you with goodness, and people who are unlike you with danger and uncertainty? Personally, I'm surprised that the test didn't reveal bias in almost everybody. I'd think it would be pervasive.
3) Did anybody else notice this test, down near the bottom?
This stereotype test measures the strength of automatic association between women and men and the concepts "liberal arts" and "science."
Last I heard, engineering schools were running about 75% male, while women made up a strong majority in liberal arts (strong enough that women comprise a solid majority of college students overall). Is it a stereotype if it's not only true, but obvious as well? Sure! The only thing required for a belief to be a stereotype is for it to disagree with the SPLC's official point of view.
I'd like to see the tests comparing pictures of the Clintons, and pictures of ordinary Americans, with words like "Trust", "Honesty", and "Integrity" (do you subscribe to the harmful stereotype that the Clintons can't be trusted? Click here)! Or maybe the one which allows you to choose among tofu and carob on one hand, with steak and fries and bags of potato chips on the other, with words like "delicious" and "good" (have you been brainwashed by big corporations)? Or maybe cute baby animals compared with ugly dirty rabid ones, and words like "profit" and "ownership" against "volunteering" and "activisim"...anyway, you get the point. There is a lot more to good experimental design than getting the details in the pictures right.
Nonetheless, the bottom line is still sort of interesting. I do believe they did detect a bias I really didn't know I had (the part about the little kids did surprise me). I'm not sure what it means, but it is something to think about. I'd very much like to take a similar test with babies from India and China and Indonesia mixed in, too, but I suppose that one will have to wait.
Thoughts On "The Committee of Safety Musket of 2002"
Thursday, August 15, 2002
This post at Weck Up To Thees got me thinking.
I enjoyed the historical descriptions, and I agree with his interpretations as well. I also agree with the sentiment, and I agree with his comments about the relative merits of the various technologies he describes.
I just feel I should add something.
I think ordinary people ought to be armed. Jeff Cooper once offered that every well-appointed household should have a 30 caliber rifle available, and I concur. Cooper also pointed out that a person is no more "armed" simply because they own a gun, than they are a musician simply because they own a piano. He is correct.
I think ordinary people ought to be armed. If you are, at least, an ordinary person, and you have the desire and willingness to learn the things that you should learn so that you can be safe, responsible, and effective with your weapon, then by all means you should dive right in. It is not rocket science. It is, in my considered opinion, easier to be safe, responsible, and effective when operating a rifle than when operating a car. If you have the brains and maturity to manage the daily commute without killing a handful of small children by accident, you are well-equipped to learn all you need to know about your weapon of choice as well.
I think ordinary people ought to drive cars, too. Nobody wants you driving around their neighborhood in a three-thousand pound SUV if you have not learned the things you should learn to be safe, responsible, and effective. This is not much to ask, and neither is there any call for asking much more of you.
I'd bet the boss at Weck Up To Thees would agree, and of course he has not suggested otherwise. I just wanted to point out that there is a small risk of focusing so much on the specifics of the gun that the really important thing can be overlooked; you, and your capabilities with your gun, are what is important.
If there was a small fire in your kitchen now, could you deal with it, or would it become a costly disaster while you waited passively after calling for help?
If your child was hurt in a household accident, could you deal with it?
If your window was being broken right now, could you deal with it, at least well enough to keep your own family safe?
If not, well, why the hell not? Chances are, this is not an equipment problem. That's the point I wanted to add.
Of course, you knew I'd have to chime in about equipment anyway... in my opinion, the best bang-for-the-buck in a modern militia rifle is the .303 Enfield number four. Nothing too fancy, too pretty or too cute. Something to be used often, like a tool, and selected for simplicity in training others.
Of course, if you just want a house gun, get the 590.
Ready To Go To Work
Wednesday, August 14, 2002
Airman Vanessa Dobos of the 58th Training Squadron poses with a Gatling gun at Kirtland Air Force base in New Mexico August 7, 2002. Dobos is to become the first woman aerial gunner in the USAF, with an assignment to a search and rescue Pave Hawk helicopter, when she graduates from technical training in a few weeks, performing a combat duty that was formerly closed to women.
When push comes to shove, my money is on the pretty blonde with the minigun. Those poor fuckers don't stand a chance.
Port And Ditchwater
Tuesday, August 13, 2002
Please pay attention. A short quiz will follow this rant.
I recently recieved as a gift a book about someone I had previously known little about, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes. The author of the book didn't seem to like him much, and, despite his considerable knowledge of his subject, probably didn't understand him all that well, either. Perhaps because this book comprises my sole exposure to the good Justice, my mind remains almost perfectly uncluttered by facts, and I am free to imagine him as I wish. As it turns out, the guy I have in mind is pretty damn interesting.
The Holmes of my imagination seems to subscribe to a sort of healthy, robust, and unapologetic moral relativism that I would recognize as being similar to my own. His values are simply those things which he happens to value; his morality is just the sum of those things that he can't help but to prefer, as arbitrary as they may be.
...all I mean by truth is what I can't help believing... I can't help preferring port to ditchwater, but I see no ground for supposing that the cosmos shares my weakness...
I realize this might not strike you as the most profound thing you've read today, but this is something that goes right to the core of me. Consider these more timely versions:
"I can't help preferring that women be free rather than chattel..."
These are some of my values. Not everybody shares them, and not one of them is a universal truth. Nonetheless, I can't help but insist that I have these things my way, at least in my own backyard.
Some people see this as a sort of weakness; the lack of an objective truth makes it harder to insist, with any fairness, that you should have your way at all. I see it was quite the opposite - the lack of any objective truth means that I have every right to pursue my way, and to pursue it just as vigorously as I'd like, without apology.
Taken seriously, this sort of thinking yields a rather unusual world view; one "devilishly near to believing that might makes right". My Mr. Holmes has a habit of stating plain truths in such a clear and uncompromising light that his utterances may seem at first to be little more than derogatory rantings. In his view, rights are little more that "what a given crowd... will fight for" and law, stripped of it's pretty ornamentation, is nothing but force. "[A]ll law means I will kill you if necessary to make you conform to my requirements".
It sounds lunatic, doesn't it? Extreme, overplayed, unnecessarily harsh? It's also true, every word of it. This guy is speaking to my soul.
Now, please don't get the wrong idea - placed high among my values are kindness, fairness, generosity, and forgiveness, as they are with anyone who honestly calls himself a decent and gentle person. I live a life almost perfectly insulated from the heat of real force, and of course I prefer it that way, too. However, I do not imagine that my values, as kindly as they are, somehow exempt me from the reality of the world.
Holmes once dismissed passivists as people who "... think something in particular has happened and that the universe is no longer predatory". He's right. He's exactly damn right.
Boil my imaginary Holmes to his essence; get the most forceful, untempered ray of truth out of the man as you can. Ask him for the sort of comment that sounds lunatic at first, the sort of thing that you'll realize, only later, was utterly correct. It might look something like this:
"[W]hen men differ in taste as to the kind of world they want the only thing to do is to go to work killing".
Yes, I know... this guy is a raving, bloodthirsty old fool.
Until you realize that he's not talking about the little things, the things that can be resolved or compromised... he's talking about the big things, the things that can't be resolved and won't be compromised. Imagine that these "matters of taste" are about your freedom or the safety of your loved ones, about something more important than port or ditchwater. Once again, he's got it exactly right.
I'd give my left nut to be able to think with such clarity. You can take a microscope to that sentence without finding a scrap of jingoism, not an iota of glorification or the shadow of a cliche. Just the truth of it. The ugly, pointless, perfect, unavoidable truth.
"[W]hen men differ in taste as to the kind of world they want the only thing to do is to go to work killing".
You almost see him reaching for his shovel as he says that, too. "Might as well get started, lads. Going to be another long night..."
I promised a quiz.
1) What kind of world do you want?
2) What rights would you fight for?
3) What law would you impose upon yourself and others?
4) Are you sure? Sure enough to be ready to go to work killing?
Show your work. Use back of page if necessary.
This Sums It Up Nicely
Sunday, August 11, 2002
"Imagine," says Lewis, "if the Ku Klux Klan or Aryan Nation obtained total control of Texas and had at its disposal all the oil revenues, and used this money to establish a network of well-endowed schools and colleges all over Christendom peddling their particular brand of Christianity. This is what the Saudis have done with Wahhabism. The oil money has enabled them to spread this fanatical, destructive form of Islam all over the Muslim world and among Muslims in the west. Without oil and the creation of the Saudi kingdom, Wahhabism would have remained a lunatic fringe in a marginal country."
This was good, too...
Pressed, he allows that it is the subjugation of women that is probably the single biggest cause of the problems besetting the Arabs. Lewis refers to a comment the Turkish writer Namik Kemal made in 1867, in which he likened the oppression of women to "a human body that is paralysed on one side". Lewis says: "It is a very striking and appropriate image. You suppress one half of the population and you bring up the other half in this autocratic, hierarchical household. It is a culture of command and obedience."
Personally, I think the "command and obedience" stuff is more important than many people realize. I honestly believe that we are up against a culture that often sees negotiation and compromise as weakness, and as an invitation for further hostility. We, on the other hand, are a culture deeply committed to the possability of compromise; we will return again and again to negotiation, until our backs are utterly against the wall. Consider the result of thirty years of negotiation with Arafat. Either we never, ever offered him anything that was any good, or he simply did not respond to our offers as we expected him to. Nobody wants another thirty-year cycle like that. There's a lesson there.
Part of that lesson, I think, is that we are the way we are, and we sort of assume that everyone else is, too. Of course it's better to talk than to fight. Isn't that a universal human truth?
Most of the time, a real reluctance to start killing - coupled with a remarkable patience for discussion, and a willingness to draw "one last chance for peace" out of a bottomless barrel of chances - is a fine attribute for a country to have, especially if it welds the strongest army on earth. That sort of tolerance, maturity, and (here's the key word) civilization is something to be proud of, something that makes the whole world a better place.
Most of the time. Part of our problem now is that if our latest crop of enemies does not respond well to protracted negotiation, we will be unwilling to adapt ourselves to that fact. Perhaps we are afraid that our enemies will make us into something we hate. Whatever it is, I'm sure that we are more afraid of ourselves, than of them. I'd be proud of that sentiment, too, if it weren't so terribly misplaced now.
My biggest fear is that will have to wait to be hit, again, before we are really willing to act.
Saturday, August 3, 2002
Absinthe, I hear, may be making a comeback. I like drugs (even though it's been many, many years since I've been able to enjoy them myself) but absinthe, in my limited opinion, is just not a good thing. It's sort of like one of those girls you see sometimes who looks great from a distance, but gets really hard and ugly once you come close enough to look her in the face.
There's no doubt that she can look pretty good at first. I first got interested when I was about eight years old, when I asked my Dad about this picture that we had hanging in our living room.
He explained that the woman was probably drinking absinthe. It was a drug popular in Edgar Allen Poe's time, a jade-colored liquid that turns milky white when mixed with water. You can't get it anymore, he said.
I spent a lot of time looking at her face, so sad and dreamy, and made a mental note to check it out myself someday. Yes, as I recall, I was still in the lower levels of elementary school when I had this discussion. I suppose this might explain a lot.
Anyway, I as in my early twenties when I finally got around to running it down. It's compelling stuff. Some splendid writers of that age had used absinthe regularly and sweared by it, but it has since been almost lost to antiquity, with modern accounts almost nonexistent. It had been banned worldwide for many years but was once produced commercially and in substantial quantity. Something about it really attracted me; some combination of it's obscure roots, the fragmentary accounts, the sensual beauty of the liquid, the rareness that would only yield to those who followed the thread for themselves. Even the name - Absinthe - seemed like a word spoken softly by a mysterious and lovely young girl, the slight lisp at the end suggesting an intimate acquaintance.
Best of all, once you gathered the necessary knowledge you could make a nice batch for yourself with little trouble. The main ingredient, oil of wormwood, is legally available in reasonably pure form as an aromatherapy and perfume maker's supply. I did a fair amount of research into it, tried to discern the true ingredients and the hazards of manufacture, learned a bit about the effects and the problems it may have caused for those who used it. The news was, at best, uncertain; this stuff was only popular during the late 1800s and it can be hard to find objective data about it, but even the most optimistic information was not especially encouraging. Worse, the best of the information I found suggested that there were some real and serious health problems associated with its use.
I closed in and secured the necessary ingredients. My first approach was to explore the active components directly, without the traditional distractions of sugar or liqueur in which it was traditionally prepared. A CC of oil of wormwood in a half-cup of plain water would give an unvarnished view of the truth.
The wormwood oil looked and smelled exactly the way it should.
The water turned milky white on contact. Excellent...
The water smelled like turpentine.
Not in a nice way, like gin, but like, "Jesus chirst, this is fucking paint thinner in here". I went back to my notes, some small part of my brain making a connection I missed before. There it was - the substance which is thought to be the active ingredient is a member of a class of chemicals called "turpines". That explains all the sugar and the liqueur.
I tasted a small bit. It was exactly like drinking from a can of paint thinner. I poured the rest down the sink, and that was the end of that.
If you are going to explore like this, to go places where most people won't go, and trust your wits and your intellect to guide you to treasures that lesser people would overlook, you have to take responsibility for yourself. Just as the treasures are real, so are the dangers. Maybe I wussed out, but I'm not stupid, and I'm still here. I set my own limits and I'm happy with them.
I supposed I'd class absinthe with things like morning glory seeds or khat; potentially powerful, sure, but tainted with too many poisons. Using drugs like this is like eating some exotic but dirty food. I don't recommend it.
U.S. Navy Revives Old Rattlesnake Flag: Don't Tread On Me To Fly On All Vessels
The U.S. Navy is ordering its fleet to fly the defiant "Don't Tread on Me" rattlesnake flag aboard all its vessels to emphasize America's determination in the war on terror, reports TIME magazine on Monday.
That's fucking cool as hell. Good job, guys!
This Guy Is On The List Of People Whom I Trust
...and it's a damn short list, too. I'm not even on it.
When Bruce Schneier talks about security, I shut up and listen. Here's an excellent article in The Atlantic that offers a fine introduction to one of the guys we all ought to be listening to.
I'd Put Money On This One
Maybe it's just me, but something about his explanation has a real ring of truth to it. I'd bet that he's got it exactly right.
You Might Be Surprised At How Many People Actually Buy Into This
This remarkable open letter to the US (mirrored here) seems to have generated quite a variety of responses. Some people will instantly dismiss the writer as an idiot, others will agree he's over the top but will claim he "is making some good points" while others see this as a bold and refreshing summary of all the things they have been feeling over the years.
Personally, I think this letter is an unusually valuable resource; it provides a put-up-or-shut-up moment for people who might be sympathetic to this philosophy without realizing it. Once you see the whole story, and it's implications, you can decide if you really feel that way after all.
You won't be surprised if I tell you I not only disagree with the guy, I can't even consider having a valid discussion with him. You might be surprised at how many people are willing to at least cut the man some slack, and entertain a few of his points.
So, if you do consider yourself to be at least a little left-of-center, have a look and tell me what you think. Do this guy's comments represent a valid viewpoint in your world?
Quote Of The Day
'Punch A Teacher' Day
I spend hundreds of dollars every year on medicine just to keep my blood pressure under control, and then I read things like this (from InstaPundit):
CHARLES JOHNSON IS OUTRAGED that the N.E.A.'s teaching suggestions for 9/11's anniversary tell teachers to be sure not to "suggest any group is responsible."
[...] Er, except that Osama bin Laden bragged about it, and Palestinians danced in the streets in celebration. And then there's the matter of these videotapes. Perhaps teachers should show those in class, so that students have a clear idea of who isn't responsible. And I suppose that showing this would be out of the question. It might make people angry or something.
Yes, I realise that when you're quoting somebody who's quoting somebody that things have gone too far, but goddamnit, this made me mad...
Update: Have a look for yourself. I notice they call it a tragedy instead of an attack... what a bunch of fucking wankers those people are.
Jesus god, it gets worse. Have a look at this HIGH-SCHOOL LEVEL LESSON PLAN:
That's it. That's the facts about war and terrorisim, kids! Glad we could help!
God help us all...
Correction: A reader correctly points out that the lesson plan above is intended for K-2, not high school as the NEA's link claimed. I admit this does make me feel better, but I wish that it weren't so easy for a mistake like this to go unnoticed. A lot of people saw this stuff and were willing to believe that they really would teach something like that to high school kids. I certainly did.
I Feel Sorry For Any City Where Women Like This Are Not Welcome
You know you're in a decent neighborhood when you see lone, young women out in the street. You know there is something right with America when there are women like this out on the web.
No, not the blonde with the minigun; this one.
Bad News For Liars Everywhere
This article is a bit long, but quite interesting anyway; it talks about some research into lying and facial expression, and a describes a fascinating phenomena called 'microexpression'. Check it out.
Gee... I Wonder Why They Are Doing This?
This is the most disgusting thing I've read in quite a while:
BAGHDAD, Iraq, Aug 15, 2002 (United Press International via COMTEX) -- Iraqi authorities have ordered Baghdad residents to stay put and warned that their money and property will be confiscated if they leave the city without permission, according to a well-informed source. The measures were taken, the source said, to prevent people fleeing in anticipation of a U.S. military strike.
The Geneva Conventions were designed to prevent exactly this sort of thing. How? By making it clear that countries that pulled these sorts of stunts were explicitly excluded from the protections that the conventions offered.
Of course, CNN won't be pointing that out anytime soon...
Golden Monkey With Oak Leaf Clusters Awarded
Today's winner is Robert Gann, who witnessed a recent child abduction:
The video showed Margarita Chavez putting her three children -- the baby, a 2-year-old and a 6-year-old -- into their minivan late Tuesday afternoon and returning her shopping cart to a storage rack a few feet away. She was gone for just a few seconds when Nancy was taken.
The reader who nominiated this young man added
That's some major maturity and courage from a kid. I wonder how many adults would be dumbfounded or simply wouldn't think to take any kind of action.
I can say from experience that it is fucking hard, busting glass like that with your fist. This kid has heart, brains, and balls too. Congratulations, and thank you, Mr. Gann.
The Golden Monkey Award For Ordinary Heroism honors ordinary citizens who perform ordinary, yet heroic acts; actions that are not necessarily dangerous or even difficult, but heroic, because they require uncommon effort and selflessness, and because they yield important results.
The Golden Monkey With Oak Leaf Clusters is for those who rise to extraordinary action.
The Golden Monkey With Bronze Or Silver Star is for reserved for those who enter into personal combat.
Was Today "Excellent Post Day"?
And why wasn't I informed?
There's just great stuff everywhere I look (even if blogger's archives are fucked and you have to search by hand for some of the individual posts). From The Beauty of Wal-Mart (really!) to an untitled (and long) discussion about, um, discussion, to some fresh, hard-edged remarks from Jane Galt (search for "Adrian Hamilton") and Hawk Girl (search for "Fucktard"), which I find quite sexy, actually.
I got nothing to add. Go read the good stuff.
Our Friends The Saudis
Well, it looks like the cat's out of the bag.
Jesus, I couldn't have said it better myself.
You don't say?
If I remember right, Iraq shares a border with Saudi Arabia, dosen't it? Things might look pretty different than they do today, once the sun rises on a few tens of thousands of American mechanized infantry gazing south across that empty space between Baghdad and Riyadh...
This Raised The Little Hairs On The Back Of My Neck
Say what you will about the Israelis, but they are a practical people, especially when it comes to war. They don't often overreact, and they don't fuck around.
And they just saw fit to produce enough smallpox vaccine for everybody in their country, and to have it all ready to go within days.
Smallpox spreads like a motherfucker and would probably kill about a quarter of those infected, leaving about the same percentage of survivors maimed. It would not stay put, but would run its course across most of the world once released.
Interesting times, eh?
For Fuck's Sake...
Many of you have been on my PC Security Mailing List for a while now. Way back when I started the list, I had a very specific goal in mind: provide concise, timely warnings, and simple, specific solutions.
I was not really expecting things like this latest Outlook/IE vulnerability from my good friends at SecurityTracker:
Sorry, I don't know what to do about it. I'll keep you posted if I hear anything.
Something To Put Alongside The AntiAircraft Guns
Lileks weighs in on rebuilding the WTC:
Perhaps the latter could offer comfort to the former.
This Is Interesting
Here's an on-line IQ test that's actually pretty cool. You might want to take the five-minute test for a warm-up, but the twelve-minute test is the real challenge.
I very much doubt the validity of a test like this in measuring much of anything, but it seems like a very good, fair test and it's cool to see how you come out against other people. (And remember: they are trying to recruit high achievers to join their society, I suspect they may have some incentive for inflating your score, so don't let your head get too big or anything).
And no cheating! Only take it once.
The Golden Monkey Award
I've decided to inaugurate the Golden Monkey Award For Ordinary Heroism this month. It's awarded to ordinary citizens who perform ordinary, yet heroic acts; actions that are not necessarily dangerous or even difficult, but heroic, because they require uncommon effort and selflessness, and because they yield important results.
As you've no doubt heard, two teenaged girls in California were recently abducted and raped, but saved at the last minute by police before they could be murdered. The suspect was spotted driving a stolen white 1980 Ford Bronco with a gray hood, bearing California license plates 1AIZ962, and an alert motorist tipped off the police. The police did a splendid job containing the situation, and the only one visiting the morgue that day was the three-time rapist and murderer himself.
Said one of the girls:
Well, perhaps he was, but more specifically, an unnamed animal control officer - you know, a dog catcher - was listening, too, from sixty miles away. He heard about the crime and he (or she, I suppose) actually remembered what to look for, noticed it, and then followed through with a tip that made all the difference.
Without looking, try this little test: do you remember what sort of car I'd just said the suspect was driving? How many hundreds of people do you suppose saw it? How many heard the alert, but did nothing when that white ford bronco drove by?
Paying attention is hard work, but it matters. Lets give a little credit where credit is due.
So, to whoever today's hero is, congratulations, and thank you. You've done a damn fine thing.
Update: A reader informs me that there were three other heroes as well.
It's all good. I've got plenty of monkeys.
OK, Now This Is Creepy
I remember when people got upset when they bit the head off a bat...
Antron Singleton aka "Big Lurch," an up-and-coming rapper from Texas, was charged with murdering a Los Angeles woman in April, after a detective's report showed there were teeth marks on her face and lungs, which were torn from her chest, according to the Los Angeles Times.
You can't make this stuff up...
You Make The Call
Who recently uttered the following?
"If Iraq came across the Jordan River [into Israel], I would grab a rifle and get in the trench and fight and die".
Dick Cheney, speaking from an undisclosed location?
Jessie Jackson, in the heat of an impassioned sermon?
Paul Wolfowitz, during an unguarded moment?
Or Bill Clinton, fundraising in front of some Jewish people?
You can't make this stuff up...