Transcendental Bloviation

Politics, Space, Japan

Monday, August 14, 2006

"Tea with the Queen ...."

Bush, on Iraqi speaker of the Parliament, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani:

I was impressed by him. He's a fellow that had been put in prison by Saddam and, interestingly enough, put in prison by us. And he made a decision to participate in the government. And he was an articulate person. He talked about running the parliament. It was interesting to see a person that could have been really bitter talk about the skills he's going to need to bring people together to run the parliament. And I found him to be a hopeful person.

They tell me that he wouldn't have taken my phone call a year ago—I think I might have shared this with you at one point in time—and there I was, sitting next to the guy. And I think he enjoyed it as much as I did. It was a refreshing moment.

Peter Galbraith asks, reasonably, who is this guy?

The incurious White House press corps never asked the obvious question: Why had the United States jailed al-Mashhadani? According to Sunnis and Shiites at the top levels of government in Iraq, al-Mashhadani was a member of, or closely associated with, two al-Qaeda-linked terrorists groups, Ansar Islam and Ansar al-Sunna. The first operated until 2003 in a no man's land high in the mountains between Iraqi Kurdistan and Iran while the second has been responsible for some of the worse terrorist attacks on Iraq's Shiites and Kurds. The Iraqis say they gave the Americans specific intelligence on al-Mashhadani's affiliations with those groups and his actions in support of terrorists.

According to Wikipedia
Ansar al-Islam is alleged to be connected to the al-Qaeda, and provided an entry point for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and other Afghan veterans to enter Iraq. According to the United States, they had established facilities for the production of poisons, including ricin. The US also claimed that Ansar al-Islam had links with Saddam Hussein, thus claiming a link between Hussein and al-Qaeda. Mullah Krekar denied this claim, and declared his hostility to Saddam.

Wow, WMD and the supposed Al Qaeda link, and this guy who was affiliated with them now sits in Parliament.

Ansar al-Sunna? It doesn't get better. Again, according to Wikipedia:
Jaish Ansar al-Sunna has taken credit for several suicide bombings in Iraq, including the devastating attacks on the offices of two Kurdish political parties in Irbil on February 1, 2004, that killed at least 109 people .... It also has a strong presence in Mosul and northern Iraq. It claimed responsibility for a major suicide bombing at the dining hall of a US base near Mosul on December 21, 2004 that killed 14 US soldiers, 4 US citizen Halliburton employees and 4 Iraqi soldiers.

We don't negotiate with terrorists. We kill them.

Yes, but ... someone once said that a failed revolutionary is a terrorist, and a successful one gets to have tea with the queen. And someday, someone will say that a successful one gets to go mountainbiking with the President.

"They're not missing, we just haven't found them"

You never saw the best footage of the first steps on the moon. And maybe you never will.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Lieberman: vote for Ned and the terrorists win!

It's all over the netroots blogosphere, and it's not funny. As quoted in the NYT:
If we just pick up like Ned Lamont wants us to do, get out by a date certain, it will be taken as a tremendous victory by the same people who wanted to blow up these planes in this plot hatched in England .... It will strengthen them and they will strike again.

Yeah, it's true. It will be taken that way. By those people. The real questions (1) are the alternatives any better? and (2) who got us into that corner anyway?

The GOP, limping into the midterm elections significantly hobbled by Iraq, must be overjoyed to see the Dems' left heel slamming down to break the instep of its right, and the right heel responding by breaking the instep of its left

It might be good in the end. In the sense that Dubya uses when he says that war can clarify things. A pretty ill-time strategic exchange in this case, though, if the Dems were hoping to go into the mid-term elections with an uneasy, unity-in-relative-silence stance on Iraq.

Monday, August 07, 2006

LEGO my brain, pointy-haired boss

This is a public service message brought to you by Doctor Science of LEGO SERIOUS PLAY. Seriously. I'm not playin' with your head, here. "LEGO o' mah leg", you might cry, but hold still: I have Doctor's Degree in ... SCIENCE!

The methods of Challenging Imagination include deconstruction and sarcasm .... Sarcasm is the recognition that there is no sacred thing [with the exception of LEGO, of course] as the "Truth." [Um, I guess those couldn't be sneer quotes in this context ....] The most popular manifestation of this approach is the comic strip "Dilbert." Scott Adam's sarcasm and parody of the business world has become a vital force within conversations among strategy makers across industries throughout the world. [At least, it is among the strategy makers who are Inner Party members of Dogbert's New Ruling Class.]

Whoa. I'm out of breath. Aren't you? Hold on a sec.

OK, let's dive in again:

Of course, one can take this deconstruction too far and negate and reject everything, leaving oneself with nothing. The trap or pitfall of Challenging Imagination, then, is a kind of strategic nihilism, in which all choices are seen as flawed, all plans unfeasible, all positioning imprecise and deceptive.

I don't have a bad attitude, boss. I have strategic nihilism. But so do you. You know that we're in agreement that we're deceiving the customer about how uncertain our position is, and how infeasible the plan is that they've just signed off on. You know that I know that we had to hoodwink them into buying into that plan because all the choices are flawed anyway .... what you don't like is me saying so.

I'm taking my Lego and going home now.

A Wikipedia in Every Pot?

I got too excited about this: Wikipedia to ship preloaded on $100 laptops. I clicked. And ... it's not what you would think (a speculative headline from five years in the future.) It's about what to shoehorn into the $100 PC of One Laptop Per Child, a machine that ""will be able to do most everything except store huge amounts of data" and hence can feature only a "selection" of Wikipedia articles.

I'm ambivalent about efforts like these to bridge the Global Digital Divide. I'm not even sure that the GDD is a big issue for solving the problems of the world's poorest. But if it is, maybe leapfrogging all the way to laptops is a bridge too far? I don't think the laptop really took off in the west until it got below $1500. It had to get to the point where, even if your livelihood didn't depend on mobile computing, you were willing to shell out maybe 10% of your annual disposable income to just have that in your life.

Something like podcasting of compressed speech from radio transmitters at regular radio stations would make more sense, I think. The screen (if any) could be much smaller. You also wouldn't need a full keyboard. You'd need only enough to buttons scroll through menus and make selections. It would be so much cheaper. And it wouldn't presume literacy, or not much literacy anyway (the menus could have voice prompts, for that matter). Where people earn a dollar a day on average and where only one person in three can read, what kind of unit could you design along those lines for, say, $10?

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The Web is a Long, Strange Trip Sometimes

Do you ever have one of those browsing sessions that seems ... well, surreal somehow? Remember when weblogs used to be about the random linkwalk? Don't pretend you can't remember. Brace yourself for one of those.

The Space Review is one of the better wastes of time on the Web. So good, in fact, that I once wasted some time writing an essay for it myself, only to see it blown out of Rand Simberg's right nostril. I probably check The Space Review once every two weeks, there's always something good. And at ISDC 06, I even got a chance to meet Jeff Foust, its editor (while we both towered over somebody's improvised toy demo on the floor, trying to suppress skeptical expressions.) And I thought: here's a solid guy in an community featuring an awful lot of vapor at times.

Tonight, I was reading a review by Jeff of Beyond Earth: The Future of Humans in Space. Jeff's not too crazy about this book. And who but the crazy would be, when it has a chapter about how NASA ignores Cydonia, you know, the Face on Mars? The stuff of a thousand cult web pages?

In this review, an intriguing chapter title caught my eye: "Harnessing Bacterial Intelligence: A Pre-Requisite for Human Habitation of Space". Well, I thought, that's a new one. I'm not going to buy this book just to read that chapter. Maybe I can find an extended abstract at least? I Googled on the title, and found the whole chapter.

You must read this.

Dr. Eshel Raphael Breslav Ben Jacob is unquestionably possessed of a ravening, quirky, sometimes downright eerie intelligence. What makes this chapter unsettling reading is the impression one gets that he believes bacteria are possessed of a ravening, quirky, sometimes downright eerie intelligence. After pawing through some of the many papers and presentations he has on-line, one of which features lovely photos of bacterial colonies and less pleasant photos of Franksteinian culture growths on chip surfaces (with insets from Winnie the Pooh), I finally summoned up the courage to take a poke at his "Quotes of Wisdom" link.

And I find that, at the end of a list of quotes from luminaries such as Einstein, Laplace, Thomas Mann, he ... quotes himself. Uh-oh. But it gets worse -- look at the quote:

"“Darwin, a free thinker who dared make far-reaching conclusions based on observations, would have been dismayed to see the petrified doctrine his brainchild has become. Must we admit that all organisms are nothing but watery Turing machines evolved merely by a sequence of accidents favored by nature? Or do we have the intellectual freedom to rethink this fundamental issue?”
Eshel Ben Jacob, Endorsement on the Book Uncommon Dissent By William Dembski

Dembski, Dembski ... wait a minute: he's that Intelligent Design guy! And what's going on with him these days? A quick search takes me to his Wikipedia entry, and an external link takes me to his blog, where I discover that he was one of Ann Coulter's pre-publication reviewers (a "sounding board" for chapters 8-10") for her recent blockbuster best-seller, Godless.

The Web is a long, strange trip sometimes. And so is this quixotic (and maybe somewhat diogenesian) quest for the answer to a question that's been troubling me all my life: is it crazy to think that human beings have a future in space? In being among those who do, who seek permission to believe, I find myself in very odd company sometimes.