robotic air wars on the horizon, photos of america’s nonrevised past, enjoying conflict

From Weapons of Fast Destruction,

Obama’s NPR embraces two volatile leftovers from the previous Bush administration: A robust strategic missile defense program, as well as a controversial program called “Prompt Global Strike,” or PGS. PGS aims to develop and deploy non-nuclear missiles capable of reaching anywhere on the planet within, at most, one or two hours of being launched from the continental US.

There are two competing arguments at work. One is such non-nuclear capability in a long-range missile will enable a fast, precise and non-nuclear response, to say an act of terrorism. The other argument is this approach will encourage nuclear proliferation as a response. A non-nuclear response capable of traveling to the other side of the planet would throw off the mutually assured destruction element of balance. Thus a new arms race of such a missile defense system would follow or nuclear states would be reluctant to down scale their nuclear arsenals. Or since nuclear missile technology is widely available and building just a few is relatively cheap, states that currently lack a missile defense would be motivated to go the nuclear route.

Another test of PGS-enabling technology failed in late April, when the HTV-2 hypersonic glider operated by DARPA malfunctioned and crashed into the Pacific Ocean. But this seems only a temporary setback: The technologies involved are somewhat similar to those on already-deployed vehicles like NASA’s space shuttles and the Air Force’s X-37B reusable spaceplane. Systems like the HTV-2 could be crucial for PGS as they enable more maneuverability at hypersonic speeds, allowing substantial mid-flight course corrections for precision strikes. They also would have several uses in peaceful aerospace applications.

We’ve all heard about the increased use of drones in warfare – pardon the overused simile, but this emerging new generation of supersonic pilot-less aircraft capable of delivering a variety of payloads – food or bombs would be like drones on steroids.Visions of The Terminator.

Famine Victims: An elderly woman watches over her weakened husband October 1921

Mine “Tipple Boy”, West Virginia coal mine Photograph by Lewis Hine 1908

One of the favorite memes of the Right and some libertarians is the mythical years of America’s past when everything was good, men were men, families danced about white picket fences and it rained dew drops in the shape of little bunnies. There was certainly no need, so the meme goes, for any large organized programs to provide basic things like food and shelter when the rainbows fail from the ever blue skies. Nope there were churches and private beneficial societies organized to take care of such things. That version of history doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.

The Norman Conquests

Even in his grave, Norman Mailer is providing gossip, with memoirs this year by his widow, his cook, and one of his mistresses. Yet despite the sea of women in Mailer’s life—six wives and countless lovers—his great literary handicap was the failure to learn from them.

Worth a read just to enjoy James Wolcott’s prose and thoughts on the subject. Though I disagree somewhat with the premise. Mailer probably knew what he was doing. Judging from his writing and interviews (YouTube) he was one of those people who enjoyed the drama of conflict. So much so that he was addicted.

Desktop Wallpaper Calendar: June 2010

Desktop wallpapers can serve as an excellent source of inspiration. However, if you use some specific wallpaper for a long period of time, it becomes harder to draw inspiration out of it. That’s why we have decided to supply you with smashing wallpapers over 12 months.

Some very nice designs with and without an embedded calendar. Some are 3-d inspired, while others are photos or vector based or mixed media composites. And I think they’re taking contributions for those looking for a showcase for their work.


fabricating butterfly wing colors, following the sun wallpaper, israel’s assault on the gaza freedom flotilla

How butterflies’ wings could cut bank fraud

Using a combination of nanofabrication procedures – including self-assembly and atomic layer deposition – Kolle and his colleagues made structurally identical copies of the butterfly scales, and these copies produced the same vivid colours as the butterflies’ wings.

According to Kolle: “We have unlocked one of nature’s secrets and combined this knowledge with state-of-the-art nanofabrication to mimic the intricate optical designs found in nature.”

“Although nature is better at self-assembly than we are, we have the advantage that we can use a wider variety of artificial, custom-made materials to optimise our optical structures.”

[  ]…”These artificial structures could be used to encrypt information in optical signatures on banknotes or other valuable items to protect them against forgery. We still need to refine our system but in future we could see structures based on butterflies wings shining from a £10 note or even our passports,” he says.

According to Wikipedia there is approximately 70 counterfeit dollars in circulation so a technology that might help business and tax payers cut down on that is a good thing. On the other hand technology, applied science, has taken a little of the poetry out of what was a beautiful and mysterious phenomenon.

Henry Drummond ( a fictionalized Clarence Darrow) on progress from Inherit the Wind (1960)

Henry Drummond: Progress has never been a bargain. You have to pay for it.
Henry Drummond: Sometimes I think there’s a man who sits behind a counter and says, “All right, you can have a telephone but you lose privacy and the charm of distance.
Henry Drummond: Madam, you may vote but at a price. You lose the right to retreat behind the powder puff or your petticoat.
Henry Drummond: Mister, you may conquer the air but the birds will lose their wonder and the clouds will smell of gasoline.”

following the sun wallpaper

Israel massacres unarmed peace activists

By now you will have heard about Israel’s assault on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, in the course of which, according to current estimates, at least 10 and as many as 20 peace activists were killed, and dozens injured. The flotilla was carrying hundreds of activists, including a Nobel Peace Laureate, along with thousands of tons of humanitarian aid to distribute to the besieged population of Gaza.

The full post goes into much further detail with a lot of interlinks to documentation. I got this snip from TPM, “09:41 ET: NBC: Eleven Americans were among the civilians aboard the ships, including a former ambassador and a former State Department official.” One of the remarkable customs in humanities favor should we ever have a real Legion and have to make a case on our behalf is the international recognition of the sanctity of humanitarian relief in the way of food, water and medical supplies. Even during the height of the Cold War we sold wheat to a starving Soviet Union.

maybe he or she is not nice, today’s college students lack empathy, beck still has nazi tourettes

Like the Graiglist’s essay “What happened to all the nice guys” you can substitute feminine pronouns in this article and see it through a straight or gay perspective, The Nice Guy’s Guide to Realizing You’re Not That Nice

Which brings us back to you! Given that nice guys get bedded and/or wedded all the time, you must have a more specific problem than that. Here are some specific behaviors I have witnessed in guys who think they’re “too nice” when actually they’re “unpleasant.” Is this you?

* You’re not actually nice. Ask yourself this question: All these nice, thoughtful things you do for women you have crushes on, do you do them for your friends whose panties you don’t want to chew off? Do you remember everyone’s favorite pizza topping? Listen to them bitch about work? Tell them when you see something neat on ThinkGeek that you think they’d like? Getting extra attention from someone who’s generally nice is flattering. Sitting under the laserlike niceness focus of someone who’s usually oblivious is actually pretty unnerving.

There are six bullet points in all. It never hurts to check. I forget who said it – “It always amazes me how little people know their own heart”.

poor lighting

Today’s College Students Lack Empathy

College students today are less likely to “get” the emotions of others than their counterparts 20 and 30 years ago, a new review study suggests.

Specifically, today’s students scored 40 percent lower on a measure of empathy than their elders did.

The findings are based on a review of 72 studies of 14,000 American college students overall conducted between 1979 and 2009.

“We found the biggest drop in empathy after the year 2000,” said Sara Konrath, a researcher at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research.

The empathy quiz Live Science links to is remarkably straight forward and less thorough than the research cited. So much so that it is easy to make yourself look like you’re more empathic than you actually are. Those inclined to take it should try to be as honest as possible – it’s not like you have to tell anyone you’re score. I can’t think of a pithy short name for it – we do seem to live in the I’ve got mine, if you didn’t get yours too damn bad age. Corporate America and the tea bag conservatives provide daily examples of the mentality.

saturday splash

One would think Glenn Beck’s Nazi Tourettes could not get any worse. Now he is accusing Jews of being pro Holocaust. Beck Accuses Jewish Social Justice Worker Of Advocating A New Holocaust.

history will judge whether his confidence in his own abilities is warranted, black and white spring, recruiting in 1791

The president recently presented his new National Security Strategy. No one watched it, but the speech President Obama gave at West Point gave the nation the highlights. On the other hand the details are a fine tuned version of the Bush doctrine, The Obama-Gates Department of Detentions

This passage in the National Security Strategy makes clear that Barack Obama and his team have abandoned the promises they made to reform detentions policy in the 2008 campaign. Even the commitment to stop torture does not appear to have been fully implemented, given the unaccountable practices of JSOC and the DIA in Afghanistan. Barack Obama’s belief in the rule of law apparently takes the back seat to Barack Obama’s belief in his own ability to make the right call as executive. History will judge whether his confidence in his own abilities is warranted, but the distortion of the constitutional system presents a continuing challenge for those who believe in the older and more fundamental principle of accountability under the law.

One redeeming aspect of the change in administrations has been president Obama’s promise not to use torture. That is not a typo. There have been no new restrictions passed by Congress. Torture has always been against the law. Obama simply promised that questioning of subjects detained on suspicious of being ‘enemy combatants” would not undergo anything outside the guidelines set forth in the Army field manual ( Horton thinks those techniques are “torture lite”). It turns out even that deviation from Bush policy has not been implemented, Inside the Secret Interrogation Facility at Bagram

The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) runs a classified interrogation facility for high-value detainees inside Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan, defense and administration officials said, and prisoners there are sometimes subject to tougher interrogation methods than those used elsewhere.

Both the New York Times and the BBC reported that prisoners who passed through the facility reported abuse, like beatings and sexual humiliation, to the Red Cross, which is not allowed access. The commander in charge of detention operations in Afghanistan, Vice Admiral Robert Harward, has insisted that all detainees under his purview have regular Red Cross access and are not mistreated.

It has been previously reported that the facility, beige on the outside with a green gate, was operated by members of a Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC)  group, allegedly outside of Harward’s jurisdiction. But JSOC, a component command made up of highly secret special mission units and task forces, does not operate the facility.

Instead, it is manned by intelligence operatives and interrogators who work for the DIA’s Defense Counterintelligence and Human Intelligence Center (DCHC). They perform interrogations for a sub-unit of Task Force 714, an elite counter-terrorism brigade.

Called the “black jail” by some of those who have transited through it, it is a way-point for detainees who are thought to possess actionable information about the Taliban or Al Qaeda.

black and white spring

In Early Republic : People and Perspectives Perspectives in American Social History, Andrew Frank writes about the difficulty of finding recruits for the newly formed United States military in the year 1791,

Other recruiting ads and broadsides assured the interested and impoverished that, “the duties will be pleasant, the payment prompt, the cloathing elegant, and the provisions good” (Pennsylvania Gazette March 23, 1791).

As farmers increasingly struggled to make ends meet, some families enlisted their underage children. In these cases, the army became a substitute for an apprenticeship and a means to avoid poverty and starvation. These young boys often worked either as drummers or fifers or as powder monkeys, positions that often turned into becoming artillerists. Sponsors of children into the army, whether parents or guardians, often took half of the bounty for themselves and essentially sold the children as indentured servants to the United States military.

Parents could freely give their consent for young boys to enlist but found it was not so easy to get them discharged. On August 7, 1809, soldier and father Allan Rigsby enlisted his two sons, ages 12 and 10, for five years of service. Their soldiers’ rations meant survival for the boys, but survival came at a cost. Rigsby signed a statement promising that he would “not use any argument or means to dissuade or prevent my two sons Samuel or John Rigsby from re-enlisting when their period of service expires” (Rigsby 1809). Occasionally, parents had second thoughts and petitioned the government to have their children returned to them. For instance, William Mason enlisted in Philadelphia in 1811, but in 1813 his uncle wrote on his behalf to the secretary of war requesting Mason’s discharge. He claimed the boy was underage and already apprenticed at the time of his enlistment. Despite all the uncle’s efforts—no doubt encouraged by fears over the approaching war with Britain—William Mason did not get out of the army (James Gibson to General Armstrong, May 11, 1813, in Letters Received by the Office of the Adjutant General 1805–1821, 27). Young soldiers were not the only ones who wanted out of their service. In prosperous times, men of all ages deserted or looked for opportunities to leave. Similarly, many of the recruits who wanted food, clothing, or the bounty money tried to desert during the march to their first postings (Coffman 1986, 18; Heidler and Heidler 2004, 177).

bonobos treasure sex over violence, stella, mainstreaming crazy takes time

Why Bonobos Will Save the World

When I wake up this morning, someone might try to kill me. I live 10 minutes from a small town called Durham, NC, where according to the last statistics, 22 people were killed, 76 women were raped, and there were 682 cases of aggravated assault.

[  ]…I’ll tell you this: I would swap every gadget I own – my car, my laptop, the potential to fly to the moon – if I could wake up as a bonobo. No bonobo has ever been seen to kill another bonobo. There is very little violence towards females. The infants get an idyllic childhood where they do nothing but hang out with their moms and get anything they want. There is plenty of food.

Bonobos (Pan paniscus) belong to the same genus as the common chimp (Pan troglodytes), but they are far less violent. The author suggests that their is some prejudice against the bonobo in the scientific community – and thus one reason you might not have heard of one of our closet primate relatives Pan troglodytes, but not Pan paniscus. That prejudice is thought to derive from the fact that bonobos have gay sex. She might be correct. Without some supporting documentation its difficult to say for sure. P. troglodytes benefit from the legacy of Jane Goodall among others. Maybe its that wildlife programing is synonymous with family viewing to some extent. Certain subject matter is difficult for some parents to explain. Whatever the reason the bonobos do appear to have been unjustly slighted by way of public relations. Maybe M’s Woods will be their Jane Goodall.  As to bonobos setting an example for world peace. As much as my inner sentimentalist sympathizes with the thought, the rational part overrules any practical applications being adopted by Homo sapiens. M’s Woods even notes the Bonobos are only to be found in one place in the world – the Democratic Republic of the Congo, one of the most violent places on earth.

update: rewritten for grammar and clarity.

stella desktop

Is Rand Paul Crazier Than Anyone Else in D.C.?

The media mock libertarians and other candidates outside the mainstream. But are their ideas really any less valid than those of the ‘centrists’?

Forced to name the “craziest” policy favored by American politicians, I’d say the multibillion-dollar war on drugs, which no one thinks is winnable. Asked about the most “extreme,” I’d cite the invasion of Iraq, a war of choice that has cost many billions of dollars and countless innocent lives. The “kookiest” policy is arguably farm subsidies for corn, sugar, and tobacco—products that people ought to consume less, not more.

All sadly true up to a point. Most of the liberal and libertarian posts I read about poor Randall did confine themselves to the legitimacy of his claim in effect that supposed impositions on proprietors of public accommodations was worse than condemning a whole class of citizens to the fringes of society. ( some of the legal reasoning behind civil right legislation – Heart of Atlanta Motel v. United States and the dissenting opinion of Justice Harlan in The Civil Rights Cases, 109 U.S. 3 (1883)

My brethren say that when a man has emerged from slavery, and by the aid of beneficient legislation has shaken off the inseparable concomitants of that state, there must be some stage in the progress of his elevation when he takes the rank of a mere citizen, and ceases to be the special favorite of the laws, and when his rights as a citizen, or a man, are to be protected in the ordinary modes by which other men’s rights are protected. It is, I submit, scarcely just to say that the colored race has been the special favorite of the laws. What the nation, through congress, has sought to accomplish in reference to that race is, what had already been done in every state in the Union for the white race, to secure and protect rights belonging to them as freemen and citizens; nothing more. The one underlying purpose of congressional legislation has been to enable the black race to take the rank of mere citizens. The difficulty has been to compel a recognition of their legal right to take that rank, and to secure the enjoyment of privileges belonging, under the law, to them as a component part of the people for whose welfare and happiness government is ordained.

If we open up the debate to include Paul’s brand of “craziness” versus a the cornucopia of craziness available to us, sure Randy’s come off less deplorable compared to Mao or Pol Pot. Friedersdorf does do a service by reminding us how some kinds of extremism have become mainstreamed. George W. Bush and company lied us into a war – thus is responsible for the death of every soldier and marine killed under that pretense – yet he is enjoying a cozy retirement with a pension instead of a 6 by 8 cell where that kind of treason usually lands political figures. The recent passage of some very modest health care reforms includes legislation that prevents insurance companies from suddenly deciding your prostate or breast cancer is a preexisting condition and thus canceling your policy. For that – supposedly sane rational people have called Obama and Democrats Stalinists. In the purges of 1937-38 alone, it is estimated almost 400,000 people were executed by Stalin. Those that make direct comparisons between Stalin and health care reform are considered the main stream – Fox, The National Review, Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich and conservative members of Congress have used similar demonizing, sans any lucid rationale. Randy’s crazy is just part of the big circus of crazy. Randy’s particular marriage of one strain of libertarianism and conservatism at least so far, has not had the chance to mainstream their brand of extremism.

* Just a note- Friedersdorf is partially incorrect about tobacco subsidies. They are being phased out.

beans and wheat, concrete news, the enlightenment was wasted on david


Research on self-healing concrete yields cost-effective system to extend life of structures

Efforts to extend the life of structures and reduce repair costs have led engineers to develop “smart materials” that have self-healing properties, but many of these new materials are difficult to commercialize. A new self-healing concrete developed and tested by a graduate student at the University of Rhode Island, however, may prove to be cost-effective. Michelle Pelletier, a URI master’s degree candidate from Woonsocket, embedded a microencapsulated sodium silicate healing agent directly into a concrete matrix. When tiny stress cracks begin to form in the concrete, the capsules rupture and release the healing agent into the adjacent areas.

Concrete for buildings has to be able to stand so much stress under prescribed building conditions. Though cracking is not uncommon. In a test between a concrete with the healing agent and without the one with the healing mixture recovered 26 percent of its original strength. They think if they tinker with the formula and proportions the recovery percentage could be improved. Since concrete manufacturing and repair are an intensive process which produces a lot of CO2 emissions, a self-healing mix which prolongs the life of concrete could substantially benefit the environment.

While David Brookes comes off as pretentious in his newest column Two Theories of Change – ( he usually does so why should this column be different) I’m grateful that he at least pays lip service to the Enlightenment and the philosophical concept of reason. Far more than we could expect from Newt Gingrich or Sarah Palin.

Their great model was Descartes. He aimed to begin human understanding anew. He’d discard the accumulated prejudices of the past and build from the ground up, erecting one logical certainty upon another.

What Descartes was doing for knowledge, others would do for politics: sweep away the old precedents and write new constitutions based on reason. This was the aim of the French Revolution.

But there wasn’t just one Enlightenment, headquartered in France. There was another, headquartered in Scotland and Britain and led by David Hume, Adam Smith and Edmund Burke. As Gertrude Himmelfarb wrote in her 2004 book, “The Roads to Modernity,” if the members of the French Enlightenment focused on the power of reason, members of the British Enlightenment emphasized its limits.

Descartes also deserves credit for trying, but his reasoning often did not distinguish between the real world and what he imagined,

Rene Descartes’ Ontological “Proof of God.” is, roughly:

1. I exist
2. I have in my mind the notion of a perfect being
3. An imperfect being, like myself, cannot think up the notion of a perfect being
4. Therefore the notion of a perfect being must have originated from the perfect being himself
5. A perfect being would not be perfect if it did not exist
6. Therefore a perfect being must exist

That perfect god would thus exist in all its perfection inside the head of every human being. That is obviously not the case. I can picture a perfect flying giraffe in my head, since I am not perfect, the perfect giraffe must be a concrete precursor of my thoughts? If that passes for logical certainty with Brookes and his followers I’m not surprised.

Brookes is probably pushing the boundaries of how The Enlightenment is usually defined when he says there was a British Enlightenment. There was a Scottish Enlightenment and included Hume (1711-1776). Smith, likewise was Scottish. Burke (1729-1797)was an Irishman who moved to England. Maybe the cutbacks at the NYT preclude his editor from taking time to check David’s columns. Excusable for an unpaid blogger, but not for a highly paid purveyor of conservative hackery. All this praising of reason is by way of Brookes presenting himself and his ideas as the moderate center to which we should all swoon forthwith. The center being that holy place from which so much of the best of humanity has arisen – like? “arrangements that had stood the test of time”. David is not one to be bothered with concrete examples. So we’re left to disagree on the pabulum he offers up as his general proof, The Cold Evasions

Understand that David Brooks has spent his entire adult life as the mouthpiece of one of the most radical and destructive movements in American history; and as his beloved Reagan Revolution Conservatism laid waste to the middle class…destroyed not merely America’s political comity, but the idea that political comity is a good thing...razed not merely the American federal government, but the idea that governance is a good thing…Bobo was there, cheering it on.

Cheering it on, and getting downright hysterical if anyone tried to pry the Gipper’s actual, ugly legacy out of the vice grip of his revisionist acolytes.

It was not until the blowback came — until the catastrophic and long-predicted consequences of his toxic and predatory ideology began washing unstoppably up on America’s shores — that Bobo suddenly discovered the Joys of Centrism, and started rifling through his yellowing undergraduate term papers and dropping them wholesale into the New York Times.

If Brookes is going to treat America, ideas and history with the elitism of a country club philosopher he should be expected to be treated with scorn in return.

wheat wall

Pvt. Joe Bowers: [addressing Congress] … And there was a time in this country, a long time ago, when reading wasn’t just for fags and neither was writing. People wrote books and movies, movies that had stories so you cared whose ass it was and why it was farting, and I believe that time can come again!  – Idiocracy  (2006)

the first programmed life form, unbound, google taps into the wisdom and ignorance of crowds

Newsweek on Craig Venter and colleagues semi-creation of a human-made life form, Five possible implications of Craig Venter’s creation of synthetic organisms.

It’s easy to get carried away in the wake of Thursday’s announcement that Craig Venter & Co. have created what is in some sense the world’s first synthetic organism. Venter’s lab typed out the million letters of DNA that comprise the M. mycoides genome, had them translated into 1,000-letter chemical chunks, glued the chunks together using yeast and E. coli, and transplanted the result into the empty shell of a related bacterium (M. capricolum). Voilà: a cell “whose genetic heritage started in the computer,” in Venter’s words.

Venter and his team of researchers have and haven’t created a synthetic life form. They deserve credit for being able to assemble such a long strand of DNA. A major break through that has stalled other researchers ( the technique described above). As Newsweeks’s Mary Carmichael points out this is not the first synthetic genome. A polio virus was synthesized by Eckard Wimmer a few years ago. What Venter accomplished is like a programmer that takes some open source code, downloads it, writes some new code and cuts out some old, re-compiles it, and runs the new program. Venter downloaded the programming – gene sequencing, spliced out 14 genes that might make the bacterium pathogenic, appears to have rewritten and adjusted some code from one organism and uploaded it into and replaced another organism’s genetic code. Venter thus far has not said how he knows the new code works. That matters, but not as much as the fact the new code does work. That new code can be passed on to the next generation of  DNA code. The process of programming biology that can recreate its program process is what might be considered phenomenal. If not the first step, a major step forward in programming out oncogenes for instance. The native state of our genes is a lot of junk code, destructive code and some useless code. So just as digital programs can run with a few bugs it doesn’t matter if reprogrammed genes are not perfect or we’re not sure how they work as long as they do work. There are some ethical issues. Bacteria and viruses have been sliced and diced in every which way in order to understand their functions and make vaccines so the ethics questions are not completely new. Synthetic life forms do bring up the specter of who owns the life form and its code. Venter intends to patent the gene, but he received federal grants so does it really belong to him exclusively. NW’s analogy to Ben Franklin’s kite and electricity to the arrival of the first cell phone works to some degree. Though we’re probably not 200 years away from creating an organisms that creates wheat that will get all it’s water from the air even in the desert or a synthesized algae that makes clean fuel. Like a virulent strain of virus, researchers could create a nasty synthetic bio-weapon. That and other issues will likely need some updating as far as government regulation and oversight.


Web searches may sacrifice accuracy for popularity

By adding a subtle nudge to each of more than 1 billion search requests every day, Google may be steering the direction of public discussion.

Begin typing a word in the search box at, and the Google Suggest feature starts kicking in ideas — “tiger” begets “tiger woods,” “tea” draws “tea party movement” and “craig” will summon “craigslist.”

“It is meant to be helpful, but from a public discourse perspective it is worrisome,” says Dominique Brossard, a University of Wisconsin-Madison life science communication professor.

“Worrisome” rather than evil or no big deal seems about right. Google has always had that element to their search algorithms. Lately they seem especially attuned to breaking stories and the latest melodramas – which usually show up at the top of the search page. It demonstrates the both the wisdom and ignorance of crowds. Experienced web searchers can deal with that easily enough, but newbies will be guided to what is most popular not to what is most relevant and factual.