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Journal: False Memories in Real Time

Journal by DumbSwede
My wife and I enjoy watching the Chinese mini-series "A Taste of China." How clearly I can recall the English narration, spoken in a deep baritone voice and with a strong, but easy to understand, Chinese accent. The narrator's voice, style, and cadence are all very professional -- the only problem with this memory is that it is totally false.

My wife and I were watching the series online on YouTube with our daughter and she asked me to get something from the kitchen. There had been a pause in the narration and while I was in the kitchen it began again. This time though there was no pleasant Chinese accented English, but unintelligible Mandarin. I was startled for a second, then remembered I had been reading subtitles. I returned to the table and continued watching the program. As I sat I was aware I was listening to Mandarin and I was reading subtitles, but the second I reached into my memory to recall what had just happened the English narration returned.

If I had not had this realization and had you asked me a year from now had I watched the series I would have been convinced I had listened to an English dubbed version. This may not seem like a false memory in the traditional sense, I had merely converted the subtitles into an easier to remember and integrate English narrative, but it illustrates how malleable our memories are. My unconscious mind knows I do not know Mandarin and yet I remember words of the narration. I don't believe it was merely being lazy, but resolving the paradox by inventing the remembered narrator's voice.

Sometimes our perception of an event is in conflict with what seems to be fact. Rather than flag the contradiction it seems our memory will often edit the memory to be whatever our subconscious feels to be the most likely internally consistent explanation. None of this is news. However just like 90% of all drivers think they are in the top 10% of safe drivers, most of us believe our memory of events to be superior to those around us. We are startled when our recollections differ and often assume malice or ulterior motives in those who misremember what we remember.

We probably all know someone who either thinks they are never wrong or have a far more altruistic explanation for some past behavior that on the surface seemed quite self-serving or selfish. We intuitively believe their memories are false (which they probably are). We then give ourselves a mental pat on the back for not living in such a self-deluded state. Obviously our own memories are as infallible and as unyielding at the Rock of Gibraltar. The only trouble is that everyone's memory is fallible -- memories are in constant reedit. Evolution didn't evolve memory to be accurate, evolution evolved memory to be useful. Memory is therefore a repository of non-contradictory facts (also non-contradictory as we perceive or wish our personality to be). As new facts become evident, old memories are revised to fit with the facts. Sometimes this can even make them more accurate, say looking at an old photograph and remembering more accurately the Members Only jacket you use to own (a fact your stylish new self may have edited out).

Unfortunately our desire to be part of a clan or to please others can be the motivation to reedit the facts in our memory. We know that lying is wrong, but if our memory is in conflict with what allows us to have what we want, then memory is often what needs to be changed.

I think it would be the truly rare individual whose head isn't full of false memories. The best we can do is to be aware that memories are not the concrete remembrance of past that they seem. Evolution has probably installed a chalkboard in our head not a printing press. Be cautious of believing only what you see on the board.
Space

Journal: SETI Fireflies and Lighting

Journal by DumbSwede

This paper has received a new title since being put online. It has had two comments over on Space.com and I now realize that the title gave the wrong idea as to contents and intent. I would like to thank _a_lost_packet_ for being one of the few people to read and reply to my post over at Space.com, but his comments uncovered what I realized would be a common misconception with my essay given its original title (which had the word Supernova in it) and likely few people did more than read the title and jump to some erroneous conclusions about the content. This essay has NOTHING to do with triggering or harnessing Supernova explosions. It is about exploiting the natural occurrence of Supernovas to facilitate the initiation of communications between extraterrestrial civilizations much in the same way fireflies my all flash in unison when lighting strikes. The fireflies don't cause the lightning nor are they close to it, but you would know they would all flash in unison to it. Now replace lightning with Supernova and ET with fireflies and given the immense distances between stars we would see the resulting 'simultaneous' signals spaced years apart (except in certain rare situations outlined below).

_a_lost_packet_ also posits that waiting around for Supernovas isn't what Extraterrestrial civilizations would do -- in this case we would be one of those civilizations waiting around. Since we have already waited 40 plus years without contact, this isn't necessary a matter we have control over. ETs are probably using more than one method to try an communicate with us and others, this would be one more method that if exploited would be long in coming, but efficient and productive when available. If there is more than one civilization within signaling distance, then the times between observable signals would be roughly 100 divided by the number of civilizations within signaling distance (assuming they too participate in this signal synchronizing strategy).

Again with emphasis - this strategy while exploiting the occurrence of Supernovas for reasons of timing does not require the triggering of Supernovas, the channeling of Supernovas nor being close to Supernovas by ether the senders or receivers, they are merely timing aids to narrow search parameters.

There is a large camp, perhaps a majority of people that see SETI research as a waste of time and effort. Considering the world changing implications of finding an ET signal it is hard for me to see this as a waste even if it hasn't as yet provided results. Of course the search itself has provided results and knowledge, just that the results so far have pushed the boundaries of where near technological societies might be farther. How much farther? Well that is a little hard to quantify and is made murkier yet by the problem of synchronicity. Stated simply we have to not only be looking towards where they will be transmitting from, but during a window of time when they will be transmitting -- and this is the problem this paper hopes to address. Many or most people probably think that SETI has been listening to all planetary systems in the Milky Way Galaxy on a more a less continuously for the last 40-50 years and come up with nada. The truth is we have only scrutinized a relatively few close star systems in any great depth and only for relatively limited amounts of time. There are a larger general sky surveys, but they are piggy backed on other general astronomical research and also suffer from problem of synchronicity.

The core problem is the amount of energy needed to send signals across light years of space is quite large, especially omni-directional continuous signals. Even with megawatts of transmitting power, reception is problematic beyond a few dozen of light years distance, and it is only beyond these distances we are likely to encounter other technological civilizations, even if the Milky Way has thousands or millions of such civilizations. Even assuming conventional SETI and being generous and assuming ET could have detected our early radio broadcasts 75 years ago (a very big assumption) then the round trip reply would be possible from less than .000007% of our cosmic brethren. Or put another way, if there are 1,000,000 technological civilizations out there we would have a less than 1 in 10 chance of detecting them even under the most ideal circumstance for a return signal (and it is pretty safe bet our efforts to date have been far less than ideal).

If it were possible to look in the right direction at the right time things would be far simpler for both sender and receiver. But how to determine the best look and send times before communications have been established? Fortunately the universe has provided such synchronization assist mechanisms in the form of various astronomical events; the most familiar and spectacular of these being Supernovas though there are probably others that might also be exploited.

For ETs to make their presence known they would wait for such a spectacular event and set off a large Electromagnet Pulse (EMP) or other highly energetic signal carrier when observed. Assuming we know the distance to the Supernova and the distance to target star systems we can work out when their respective signals would arrive and thus know when to look for them.

While the core concept is simple there are a lot of problems remaining to be ironed out, the chief one would be working out accurately when to observe each target star system. Unfortunately we do not have the distance to even relatively close stars known with great precision as the data below from the Hipparcos satellite shows.

accuracy level -- stars known -- light years
1 percent -- 400 stars -- 30 light years
5 percent -- 7,000 stars -- 150 light years
10 percent --28,000 stars -- 300 light years

Since there are approximately 100 billion stars in the Milky Way, this means we know the distance with 10% accuracy to less than .000028% of them.

Cosine to the Rescue

If we assume an ET on a star system 300 light years away sent a signal 300 years ago, naïvely we would have to observe the system continuously 30 years to detect the signal event if we knew it to coincide with a Supernova event. Even with only .000028% of the Milky Way to look at, that makes for a lot of systems (28,000) to look at continuously.

Supernovas are not only rare, but also most likely to be tens of thousands of light-years distance from us. If we assume the Milky Way is relatively densely populated with ETs then some star systems will lie close to the line along which the Supernova's light is travelling to us. Take the case where a Supernova goes off 2000 light years from us, and there is an ET civilization a mere 1 light year off this line at 1000 light years (I have kept the numbers simple for purposes of illustration). The pulsed signal sent when ET observes the Supernova would arrive 1/3 day later.

Most likely ET will not lie so close along the line we observe the Supernova from, but this does illustrate how powerful the concentration of time can be for signals not too many arc seconds off its path -- whether we know their exact distance or not. If we do know the distance then we can work out the likely window of observation needed, the closer to this line, the much less time is needed.

We can use the Law of Cosines to work out the arrival times for candidate star systems (assuming reasonable guess as to distance, which for even very distant systems can be worked out by various methods, though with very large error bounds).

b^2 == a^2 + c^2 - 2*a*c*cos(B) (where a, b, c are the sides of a triangle and B is the angle opposite side b).

If we keep distances in light-years, then the final delay off a Supernova event is given by: T == d1 + sqrt(d1^2 + d2^2 - 2*d1*d2*cos(B)) - d2 Where d1 is the distance to the target star system, d2 is the distance to the Supernova, B is the angular separation between them and T is the time in years (when B is small, T will probably/hopefully be a small fraction of a year).

It is my hope that Supernova events would trigger a flurry of activity galaxy wide. Not only would this activity be useful in alerting potential fledging civilizations where to concentrate their observational energies, but such signals would be useful as a cosmic surveyor's aids, helping pin down the distances to star systems with greater accuracy.

Assuming dozens if not hundreds or thousands of civilizations take this opportunity to signal their place in the heavens, it would appear as an expanding disc of flashes around a Supernova. While we may not know exactly wherein the disc the flashes might occur, we can still work out statistically the circular arc where 95% plus of the flashes could occur. Observing this disc while it is still small and synchronicity is at is best is probably our best chance of bagging an ET signal. Though we may never be able to communicate directly with the first ones we observe, as they will likely to be many hundreds or thousands of light-years distant -- observing just one such synchronistic event might be proof enough we are not alone -- two or more a dead certainty. More targeted observations can be made of the few hundred thousand stars within say 200 light years. A synchronization signal from them would justify building huge new space based observatories in multiple EM bands to try and detect not just simple hello pulses, but any directed message or stray EM leakage, even it is just reruns of "I Love Lu-C-Prime".

I have the Power

During the Reagan Presidency there was an exotic missile defense scheme posited employing the use of X-Ray lasers to knock out intercontinental ballistic missiles in mid-flight. Such exotic devices were never built, but exist in theory. The X-Ray lasers proposed were essentially focused atomic blasts. A nuclear devise was to be placed in orbit and affixed to it where several long pipe like attachments each one of which could be pointed at an individual incoming missile. When the nuclear devise was detonated the immense initial EM pulse was focused, converted, or caused lasing in the X-Ray portion of the spectrum along these beam pipes. A short intense X-Ray beam would then have streamed out before the devise was obliterated by the blast-wave to follow scant milliseconds later. Here then in theory is at least one devise that could send a strong unmistakably technological in origin signal. I'm not suggesting this is the only way to send a strong pulsed signal on cue, just positing one devise that could work -- though it obviously would be too dangerous a contraption to build in low Earth orbit.

It is possible to generate ultra strong EM pulses with conventional explosives, I imagine they could be focused and harnessed in much the same fashion as the proposed Cold-War X-Ray Laser if needed. In any event we need not obsess on how such signals are generated, we know that they can. Truly gargantuan EMPs could be detonated on the far side of the moon, thus shielding the Earth from any unintended electronic damage fallout. Our intended recipients would of course be seeing a signal many orders of magnitude smaller given the immense distances.

Depending on the technological level of the sending society they may just use some brief omni-directional brief pulse and not worry about focusing on likely candidate worlds. If it is a society with high enough technology to know with certainty which worlds harbor life, they may use directional beams for greater efficiency and signal strength. The signal may last milliseconds or a day or two. Regardless, the onus in now on the receiving world to listen at the right time and in the right direction.

Where to Look Now

While not in the Milky Way proper, but in the Large Magellanic Cloud, Supernova 1987A might still be worth investigating for transient SETI activity in star systems not far off its coordinates. 21 years is a relatively short time astronomically, and with this Supernova being 170,000 light years away there are lots of candidate systems relative close to its sight line that would just now be having a visible synchronized pulse. Similar to our previous example a civilization at 85,021 years away could be 1890 light-years off the Supernova 1987A's sight line and its beacon or pulse would just now become visible. (note 85,021 was chosen so the light would arrive now, 21 years later, so 1890 is the result of sqrt(85021^2 - 85,000^2) )

If we truly want to join an intergalactic community we should put some effort into creating and EMP signal of some sort. I imaging a few million dollars would buy a firecracker of sufficient size to serve as a beacon. More importantly what I hope to emphasize, is we need to be working out what we should be look for and where in the aftermath of a Supernova explosion. The Supernova itself will be a wonderfully informative event, but I hope this paper stirs to action possible tangential discoveries potentially even more important. I speculate we could get some dual use research out of this search. It is likely in the few years after a Supernova it's light will briefly illuminate the interplanetary dust clouds of systems close to it, providing additional astronomical information and a means to refine our galactic yard sticks. Since we might be looking in this direction anyway, we should be alert to the possibility of extremely transient events that might be intelligent in origin.

Editorial

Journal: Judeo-Christian-Values Omit the Value of Freedom 3

Journal by DumbSwede
A high percentage of my essays this year have dealt with Freedom of Religion issues, or more accurately Freedom FROM Religion issues. The Religious Right would have you believe that the Christian faith is under attack in America from various and nefarious quarters and that something must be done to stem this tide. I see no evidence of such attacks, but rather an attempt by the Christian Right to hold on to a privileged status for Christianity above other religions in America.

Fox News recently questioned viewers whether Keith Ellison, the recently elected congressman of Muslim faith, should be allowed to be sworn-in with his hand on the Koran instead of the Bible. Response was quick and negative. I couldn't help but feel the question shouldn't even have needed to be asked. How can we live in a country with true religious freedom if we only have the choice of the Bible as a stand in symbol for fidelity and truthfulness? One can imagine the stink this same group would make if there were a move to ban the Bible from being used for swearing-in ceremonies.

As a matter of record Keith Ellison dropped his request to be sworn-in on the Koran -- one can only imagine the death threats he and his family received over the matter.

And it isn't just an uneducated and intolerant Joe-Six-Pack on the street decrying Ellison's request to be sworn-in on the Bible, but people like columnists Dennis Prager of Townhall.com who recently appeared on MSNBC and who writes in his column "America, Not Keith Ellison, decides what book a congressman takes his oath on." Wow, you can't get much more authoritarian on this issue than that. I for one would rather live in a country where the inductee, not America, decides what book they (any public official) take their oath on.

Just like Creationism has the gussied-up surrogate "Intelligent Design" to try and keep religion in schools, Christianity has the relatively new surrogate of "Judeo-Christian Values" as in "This country was founded on Judeo-Christian Values" to try and maintain its privileged status in law and government.

I for one start to shiver anytime someone in government talks about values, ignoring aside the numerous incidents of hypocrisy from those extolling the need for government to do something about them, because generally it means giving up freedoms and being coerced in to some kind of groupthink, most generally Christian groupthink, because lets face it, Christians are the majority in America.

One has to admire a well crafted phrase like "This country was founded on Judeo-Christian Values" though, it is just burgeoning with positive connotation words like: values, founded and country. It even has boasts pseudo-inclusionism by hyphenating Judeo and Christian, a pair of words I believe is also used subliminally to evoke JC as in Jesus Christ. To a Christian ear such a phrase can only sound self evident. What I see is as self evident though is that the struggle for freedom on all quarters continues, least we no longer be able to pursue Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness as we choose.
Editorial

Journal: Homosexuality as an Evolutionarily Adaptive Trait 2

Journal by DumbSwede

Submissiveness's Role in Sustaining Homosexuality as an Evolutionarily Adaptive Trait

For decades there has been a debate about the root causes of homosexuality. One camp favors nurture, one camp favors nature. For the nature camp it has always been problematic explaining how homosexuality is adaptive and sends it genetic legacy forward. This is also a problem for the nurture camp, because if homosexuality is maladaptive then strong defenses against it should occur even if nurture plays a factor in its expression.

In centuries past there was less debate; homosexuality was outlawed; tolerantly accepted; or in some societies like ancient Greece considered just one variation of human sexuality to be pursued or not as long as it didn't interfere with siring an heir.

About 10% of the male population in America identify themselves as being homosexual with some studies citing as many as 1 in 3 males having had at least one homosexual encounter. With this high an incidence there must be some evolutionary explanation.

Many men who don't consider themselves homosexuals engage in male on male sex under certain circumstances; prison inmates for instance. In a prison setting dominant males force or coerce less dominant males into providing sexual release. Much the same has occurred in other all-male settings throughout history. I doubt the modern Navy has a much higher occurrence of homosexuality than any other sector of modern society, but it was definitely a feature of ancient seafaring life.

Most of the evolution that led to modern man occurred before the written word, teasing out the sexual practices of our Neolithic ancestors might be less than straightforward. Polygamy has been common all through recorded history. It would not be hard to imagine alpha males hoarding all the reproductive age females during most of the ascendancy of Homo sapiens. Where there are alpha males there are also beta males and gamma males and a system arises to determine dominance. Submitting sexually to more aggressive males probably allowed males lower in the caste system to survive and possibly procreate at a later date. Even future alpha males would have to had make it through the challenging time of adolescence before developing a physicality allowing them to survive not being submissive. Given millennia of evolution it is a possibility the anus adapted to accommodate the male penis and even derive pleasure from the experience so as to make submission more likely, lessening the risk of serious physical harm from being forced to submit.

All this is prelude to speculating that the evolutionary installed tripwire for homosexuality is male submissiveness. This would explain why homosexuality seems to have genetic and developmental environment components. Males raised in households with dominant mothers and passive fathers have a higher expression rate for male homosexuality. I suspect there is a tendency to learn submissiveness in this environment, which in turns then triggers the desire to please and submit to other males. Neither genes nor environment would be absolute in determining the final sexual orientation, but would work in concert. There would be males genetically predisposed towards submissiveness that nurture in such a way that they do not become homosexual. Some males would be dominant by genetic heritage, but nurture in such a way that they become submissive and more likely to become homosexual.

Not all homosexuals are submissive, homosexual couples often (mostly?) have a dominant male and a submissive male. It seems unlikely passivity is the sole determining factor in determining homosexual tendencies. We have already given examples where dominate males in all male situations will demand sexual gratification (the prison settings or ancient mariner settings we cited earlier). Beta males of our very distant ancestors may have used forcing sexually submission of lower caste males to maintain their right to succession when the current alpha male dies, ages, or becomes injured. It probably would also make them more attractive to lower caste females that would engage in sex with them when given unobserved mating opportunities. I have no figures, but this would be predictive for the dominant member of a homosexual pair to being more likely to engage in bisexual behavior.

Our sexual preferences are probably not totally hardwired at birth. This would be adaptive in that taking on whatever sexual role society offers (whether officially approved or not) and probably leads to the best overall compromise between opportunities to mate versus survival.

This still does not address what adaptive value there would be to totally submissive males that would never engage in heterosexuality voluntarily. And yet ironically the most vocal self-avowed homosexual males often seem the most obsessed with female culture and expression. Many females, especially young female are attracted to submissive, androgynous, non-threatening males. In this case the female may more often initiate the sexual liaison even though the submissive male is less naturally attracted. It is easy to imagine male homosexuals trying to perform an act of reciprocation for their close female friends even though it is not a natural act for them. This provides and evolutionary path forward even for the most submissive males. Given this would be a direct lineage, even if it were a rare occurrence, would probably factor in with equal or greater force than other kin-support theories I have seen use to explain the persistence of homosexuality in Homo sapiens.

I am not a psychiatrist, evolutionary biologist, archeologist, or sociologist so perhaps these speculations are naive and flawed, but I haven't heard these particular speculations put forward as and explanation for the expression and evolutionary persistence of male homosexuality in society. If this theory were true (and I will leave that for others to determine) it would answer whether homosexuality is a sickness or maladaptive -- the answer to both would be a firm no. It also puts nurture and nature on near equal footings.

One prediction of this theory is that modifying behavior to induce submissiveness should be accompanied with an increase in homosexual expression, though this effect would be less pronounced once the subjects have passed puberty and sexual preferences have solidified. It would be hard to perform this experiment directly in an ethical fashion, but it should be possible to find statistical evidence for it. The dominant female mother household having more homosexual male children would already be one example cited in the literature on the subject supporting this view.

I don't know with what accuracy rate people who claim to be able to identify homosexuals in a crowd are actually able to do so. It is not impossible though that there are body-language clues or even voice-pitch clues that point to submissive tendencies which then might be used as rough predictors.

I have not speculated on factors that would lead to female homosexuality, but they probably have some of the same components as speculated for male homosexuality. Except for all but the most dominate of female lesbians the tendency towards lesbianism seems less set in stone. It could be that female sexual preferences are less hard wired than in males, in which case the old saying: "Homosexuals are born. Lesbians are made" may be more than a little bit true. Some adaptations that benefit males would probably express in females as well as long as they simplified genetic expression and didn't decrease reproductive opportunities too unduly.

Editorial

Journal: Any Religion That... 1

Journal by DumbSwede
Any religion that needs to silence dissent or disagreement through intimidation, coercion, or violence, is tacitly admitting its message is too weak to stand on its own.

Any religion that is at odds with the interpretation of scientific facts, is too concerned with matters of the physical plane and not concerned enough with matters of truth, beauty, humility, and humanity.

Any religion that insists that all its tenants and teachings handed down from one generation to the next are literally true and that all other religions are false or incomplete, is not only indulging in hubris and intolerance, but is also likely the source of suffering somewhere in the world.

Any religion that glosses over questions and doubts with the answer, "all that is needed is more faith" lacks true answers despite whatever solace its believers may find.

Any religion that draws lines or assigns roles based on race, sex, or parentage, fails to see that the spirit transcends these.

Any religion that needs miracles to support the words of its prophets, is a religion whose God is capricious in whom he reveals his truth to.

Any religion that demands societal laws reflect and reinforce its own moral codes denies that free will is one of God's gifts.

Any religion that has leaders that are strident is a religion most likely led by hypocrites, whom even if they believe their own words, rarely follow them.

Any religion that labels being an apostate as one of its highest crimes is a religion that fears anything approaching true discussion, accommodation, or intellectual challenge.

Any religion that makes threats about what will befall its followers in the next life for deviating from dogma buys its followers' belief with fear.
Editorial

Journal: Iraqi Amnesty Proposal Risks Outright Rejection

Journal by DumbSwede
I haven't offered many political opinions online about the war in Iraq, which I'm not quite sure qualifies as a war by classic definitions because it isn't currently be fought against any organized government or country (at least any that claims credit). But I have come to believe that going into Iraq was a huge mistake, but once having had been made can't be so easily corrected. There are a few recent rays of light however, staged withdrawal debates are now common and it seems certain that withdrawals to some degree will occur by the November elections.

Add to this hopeful news from Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki who has offered a proposal aimed at accelerating Iraqi take over of Iraqi security. Key to this proposal is a suggestion of an offer of amnesty for those that have participated in the insurgency, but not committed war crimes against Iraqis.

Democrats had been the most vocal about setting timetable for withdrawal (BTW, I am not a "timetable" proponent, but probably am an accelerated staged withdrawal advocate). So it was with great dismay as I listened to Democratic Senator Carl Levin of Michigan say "the idea that Iraq should even consider talking about amnesty for people who have harmed those responsible for their freedom 'unconscionable'" on Fox News this last Sunday. He also went on to say, "For heaven's sake, we liberated that country." To which I would have to say of course one man's liberation is another man's occupation. And just to wrap himself in the flag a little tighter he continued on with "We got rid of a horrific dictator. We've paid a tremendous price." I guess our "terrific price" is more important than the terrific price the Iraqis have paid. How dare they with their mere 40,000 civilian dead be for a plan that diminishes violence when with over 2,500 American service men have died?

More importantly why are those who have already died so much important than those both American and Iraqi that might be saved if the plan actually did have the effect of dampening sectarian violence? This plan achieves America's stated goals of having a self-governing democracy in place and disengages us from the fighting. To my way of thinking we would be dishonoring those who have died by ignoring this chance at success, the success they were supposedly fighting for. We'd be throwing this all away -- all in the name of revenge. To veto Iraq's amnesty proposal outright would damage America's image abroad, show that we are not about saving civilian lives, and show we are not for allowing an actual free autonomous Iraq.

Embrace the amnesty I say. How better to show our values to the insurgents than granting mercy to them -- mercy being a quality we so often (perhaps hollowly) state separates us from them.
Editorial

Journal: Drawing the Lines

Journal by DumbSwede
April 28th, 2005 I posted a journal entry entitled: Response to KJ's "Death To A Traitor" . In it I had posted some very pragmatic reasons for being against the death penalty, but today there is a CNN.com news story: "Midnight execution looms for killer, 76"

Last appeal rejected for California's oldest death row inmate
Monday, January 16, 2006; Posted: 7:39 p.m. EST (00:39 GMT)
SAN FRANCISCO, California (AP) -- The U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal Monday from a 76-year-old convicted killer who argued that he was too old and feeble to be executed

The ruling cleared the way for Clarence Ray Allen -- legally blind, nearly deaf and in a wheelchair -- to be executed by injection early Tuesday for a triple murder he ordered from behind bars to silence witnesses to another killing.
...

Today's arguments aren't about pragmatism however and more about the murky moral issues.

Life always seems to make these things a hard call. It seems morally repugnant to execute a frail legally blind crippled elderly man regardless of what he has done to deserve it. The same thing happens on the other end of the spectrum where children as young as 16 years old have been executed. Though to be fair that was back in the 40's. Currently Thomas E. Bevel at 24 years old is the youngest age death row inmate awaiting execution, though Randy Schoenwetter sentenced in 2000 at age 18 may be the youngest convicted and currently sitting on death row. So where do we draw the lines? Never too old, never too frail to be executed? Is 18 a good bottom bound on someone old enough? Why not 17, 16, or 15? How about an 18 or 19 year-old, but with the emotional maturity of a 15 year old? You wouldn't have to be legally mentally retarded to meet that definition.

It's odd that there don't seem to be a host of celebrities lining up to decry Clarence's death penalty like they did for Stanley "Tookie" Williams. Now in general I'm against death penalty, but Tookie seemed an odd poster-child for its misapplication. Tookie had supposedly changed while on death row however, so unfair to execute him. Tookie never "ratted" on his gang member friends, I would take this as an implicit approval of the gang-member life style, so I remain confused how he achieved redemption in the minds of so many. Tookie spent 28 years on death row, Allen has spent 23 years, both well over the 12-year average. But who doesn't change in 20+ years?

Every seven years on average every cell in your body is replaced, sometimes replaced with new cells, sometimes just chemically replaced as atoms and molecules flow in and out and are metabolically and constructively consumed. Materially, chemically, atomically these men aren't the same, but most assume there is some immutable soul attached to the body that awaits judgment. Scientifically however there is little proof that our identities extending beyond our genetic predispositions and the memories acquired by acting on them in response to our environment. Our genes we have no control over, our environment we have little control over during formative years.

So how to decide fairly. Who is truly redeemed and who is just acting? It seems a poor argument to make that Tookie had "changed" since this means you would almost certainly execute those who have truly changed inside, but haven't the celebrity cheering section to make their appeal to the public.

While I'm against the death penalty for just these reasons and many more, as long as we have it, I would never pardon for reason of redemption, to do this makes the system even more capricious, it even puts a lie to the reason for capital punishment - deterrence. We are then saying "Kill and you will be killed. Unless of course you can really-really convince us you are really-really sorry and have become a really-really good person."

No matter where you draw the lines there will always be cases right on them that make us uncomfortable. I would say that discomfort is a good indication that its is best not to draw the lines at all.

Editorial

Journal: Christians in Scientists' Clothing 1

Journal by DumbSwede
I have a short list of topics I submit to the Google News search engine frequently to keep abreast of recent developments in them. One such topic is SETI or "Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence." Doing this search on Google.com's main page would return close to 10 million page matches, while the news section produces a more manageable 300. These three hundred page matches are News coverage for about the last year, so about one item per day. Probably only about 1 in 4 are really about SETI. SETI matches many names around the World, and often SETI is referred to ever so tangentially. With duplication of news stories across news sites you get maybe one good piece of news on SETI a month. Of course we have yet to get the BIG news which would rocket SETI's numbers to past 300 mentions (if not 3,000) per day.

But I'm not really writing this essay about SETI, but about the ID (Intelligent Design) versus Evolution debate. As I mentioned in the first paragraph, web articles may only tangentially mention a topic you are looking for. Such was the case today while searching for SETI related items that I stumbled on a news item entitled "Intelligent Design is Empirically Testable and Makes Predictions". I am an Evolution proponent, but I like to consider myself open-minded. More importantly I like to hone my analytic skills dissecting poorly reasoned arguments.

What struck me first upon entering the website was how slick and professional its layout is. How very "Scientific" the look with a banner that shows the near occlusion of a star by a planet (Earth and Sun?), Leonardo da Vinci 's famous anatomy sketch, and a portion of a DNA molecule. All laid out in an artful graphic design that reads "Center For Science & Culture" I'm not exactly sure who's "Culture" but it sounds nice.

I began to read hoping to punch holes in Jay Richards' and Jonathan Witt's (the authors) article quickly, but the text is dry and pedantic, hard to slog through, and I suspect purposely so. It has the syntax and narrative style of a scientific paper, but no actual science. We get lots of pronouncements about what is right and wrong with other peoples science, but nothing in the way of actual supporting scientific evidence other than "we think this or that" in references to what are or aren't other peoples' good analogies.

The scientific terms are there to be sure: Empirical testability, correlation, falsifiability, criteria, conditions, continuously functional Darwinian pathway, natural selection, simple precursors, irreducibly complex. OK that last one, "irreducibly complex", is more an IDism than a scientific term, but it sounds pretty.

Lets be honest www.EvolutionNews.org is a shame news site hoping to sucker people in. Granted I knew what I would likely find when I got there because I had Googled a headline, but the site itself is an example of the Christian Right trying to wear Scientists' clothing, allowing them to mingle with a different flock in their battle for hearts and minds.

Oh you won't find a lot of scriptural quotes on www.evolutionnews.org, but you just gotta know people like Jay Richards' and Jonathan Witt's hands tremble over the keyboard as they compose their articles for www.evolutionnews.org. Oh how I bet they would like to slip in just a few quotes from Matthew or First Corinthians to bolster their arguments, but then the thin veneer of scientificating (you like that word? I just made it) would wear off.

Now I could spend another 5000 words trying to logically refute Jay Richards' and Jonathan Witt's illogical refutations of why the recent "Dover vs. Kitzmiller " court decision is bad science, which finds ID has no place in the public classroom. But that's the game they want you to play, because then they do get to be scientists because you're then in a debate with them as if their ideas had some underlining merit. No matter they haven't done one lick of scientific work, it's all words, bad thought experiments, and mostly poor analogies. They would like to elevate Michael Behe, main front man for ID, to the same stature of legitimacy as a giant like Darwin who spent years of study and years collecting, measuring, cataloging, meticulously getting the supporting facts for his assertions. Not to mention the millions of man years of study since by other dedicated researchers like Richard Dawkins, Stephen Jay Gould, Sewall Wright, Edward Osborne Wilson, Allan Wilson, George C. Williams, and hundreds more. Why do all the hard work when you can just form a hypothesis that resonates with a populace that generally have been raised as Christians?

Michael Behe and others would like to be considered scientists and their ideas considered science because they use scientific words. And this really shouldn't surprise as the Christian community as always been about accepting words as truth without question.

I think the reason the far Christian Right is so rabid in getting the secular world to back off from explanations of the universe that don't involve the daily intervention of an omnipotent God is some ill formed idea that the universe will melt into whatever notion a majority of people believe in -- that perhaps if we all believe in a statistical universe run on iron clad rules alone then that is what it will become. Perhaps heaven will wink out of existence, or as Tinkerbell put it: "Every time someone says: "I don't believe in fairies" there's a fairy that falls down dead."

Of course I'm not an evolutionary biologist, though I suspect my experimentation with genetic algorithms gives me an above average lay understanding of concepts like punctuated equilibrium and is superior to faux scientists like Behe. Still all I have provided here are words, not unlike those I am criticizing. I am an Agnostic. While I do not believe in Behe's explanations for why complex life couldn't come from lower forms guided by natural selection (notice how I didn't say chance) I have to allow some possibility Behe could be right. Only to the degree though that the "Flying Spaghetti Monster" could be the ultimate creator of the universe if we allow that all things are possible. I'm already running long or else I would spend a few more paragraphs on my odds on belief in an infinite number of universes where all possibilities and probabilities playing out, especially given an infinite time scale. So we end with the irony that I believe in Evolution, but believe that all things are possible, and Behe believes that not all things are possible, things like evolution for instance, but has to rely on the existence of a creator for whom all things are possible.
Editorial

Journal: Christian Rights Tread Upon -- NOT 1

Journal by DumbSwede
What the hell has happened recently to television news? I used to watch CNN and Headline News, but CNN turned into some kind of mushy celebrity gossip channel peppered with fashion model runway walks. I turned over to Headline News almost exclusively in the mid 90's until somebody had the bright idea of making it into some kind of hyper multiple text prompt overlay news feed. The actual news video hard to see in its shrunken 1/4 size window in the upper right that served up the exact same clips every 30 minutes for days on end. I just checked out Headline News now, having not tuned it in, in a long time -- I see it has retreated from its straight news feed format and is now showing "Showbiz Tonight" and other soft news programming. Evidently there is no true 24 hours pure news feed on cable anymore.

I disagreed with many of FOX News' editorials, but at the turn of the new Millennia they at least were presenting real news instead of B-list celebrity interviews with Larry King. I still like them in the late morning with "FOX News Live" after the insipid "FOX and Friends" is over, but the nighttime feed has transformed into the 700 Club (a Christian Faith broadcast emphasizing news important for Christians, for those of you not familiar with American cable TV lineups.) I should have seen it coming I guess, with FOX hitting on a ratings ploy called "The War On Christmas." I turned to FOX just now to see if there might be any news only to be assaulted by some celebrity guest belting out a hymn.

There is no "War On Christmas," there is however a war on atheists, agnostics and other religions. I won't deny that FOX can find some over-the-top PC school board somewhere that is having a winter solstice celebration instead of a Christmas program, but so what? It is a large country after all. What's the percentage of schools doing this? I would wager there is a higher percentage of kids belonging to Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Agnostic, and Atheist families that are all but forced to belt out "Oh Silent Night" in a school presentation. Please don't argue they can opt out; kids are unable to make informed decisions -- this is why you can't have a contract with a child. Non-Christian parents are portrayed as intolerant when they complain about their children's participation in singing hymns when the kids themselves have no complaint about singing said hymns. How dare a parent care about how religion is presented to their children. No Christian parent would complain if their children where forced to sing songs in praise of Allah or Buddha. Oh wait, they would.

FOX can't seem but to champion "Intelligent Design" in any debate they put on against Evolution. Mr. O'Reilly just "doesn't get" why we shouldn't mention metaphysical arguments in science classes. "Let the kids decide for themselves," is his glib reply. Kids don't have the freedom of deciding for themselves in the home. If parents don't want the government to interfere with the rearing of kids in the home under the "let the kids decide for themselves" defense, they can shut up about forcing religious debates in public schools and send their kids to parochial schools if they so choose.

My only D in high school was given to me during the second semester of civics class, the first semester I had received a B with a different teacher. The only difference in my habits and study as far as I could determine was that I was willing to debate with my second semester teacher after class about Creationism versus Evolution -- Evolution I believed in -- Creationism she believed in. I have no doubt had I conceded the debate to her I would have sported a much more handsome A on my report card. I still remember a little 16-page comic she gave me illustrating how modern scientists couldn't explain the natural world. For instance how physicists couldn't explain how an atom's nucleus couldn't possible stay together because of its likes-repel positive charge. Just the next year in physics class I learned about the strong force, which physicists had discovered as the explanation for this riddle decades before this comic was penned. Science apparently is a pick the parts you like thing for Christians and discard the rest.

I clearly remember being taught in public school that monotheistic religions like Christianity were clearly superior to ancient multi-theistic religions of the past -- which is what made them myths. Even then I found it vaguely disturbing that someone's firmly held religious beliefs could be discarded so blithely in light of modern reasoning. Ah, those poor misinformed ancient souls. Yes, yes, this line of reasoning shows why God is an OK term for the State to use. Freedom of religion means freedom to have a monotheistic religion and encourages you to do so by dint of superior reasoning about the universe. Freedom of religion apparently doesn't guarantee freedom from religion.

Much to the chagrin of my more liberal colleagues (and my wife) I actually do have many conservative views especially with regard to US policies abroad. I have probably agreed more often than not with Mr. O'Reilly (when he's not being a Christian Zealot), though to my credit I'm almost always 180 degrees opposed to Sean Hannity's views. I had ignored claims that the Christian Right was hijacking the Republican Party from liberal talking heads, but now I see they apparently have hijacked FOX News, so I no longer see this has mere Democratic or liberal hyperbole. And not just FOX News -- I see a huge splash of Christian commercials across the spectrum of cable channels.

The Cartoon Network is running a high percentage of Christian oriented ads these days. Maybe the churches have all saved up for an ad blitz this time of year. But somehow I see a huge irony sandwiching in between all the fantasy and make-believe, ads to believe in Jesus Christ as risen savior with no visible proof.

This is the time of year to train Children to suspend disbelief obviously. Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny, are just the warm ups till they can understand the bible I'm convinced.

Christian parents want to be able to raise their children in their faith. I understand this desire and support it, and yet for those of us who wish to be free to raise our children in a more skeptical fashion, we must have religion forced on our kids by commercial channels. Let's be honest here, the point of Christian commercials on Cartoon Network is to get the kids to ask about God outside of whatever presentation their parents have chosen for them.

I had fully come to embrace my agnosticism before I joined the Marine Corps for a short term of enlistment. During boot camp I was asked to state my religious preference. I should have perhaps been more firm in my insistence on agnosticism, but was recorded as "No Preference," which really isn't quite the same thing. On our first day in our permanent platoon the Master Drill Instructor asked us one by one what church we would like to go on for one hour out of the four free hours we were allotted every Sunday. I saw no reason to give up 1/4 my weekly free time to go to church and told the Master Drill Instructor so. This was a mistake, as I was informed I was going to church, so I'd better pick whatever one would be most in keeping with my upbringing, because I wasn't going to be the only boot to lounge around the barracks goldbricking.

During the few days of formation while waiting to be assigned a permanent platoon, I had learned how much one didn't want to be on the wrong side of the D.I.s over us and reluctantly agreed to Protestant services.

Nguyen was next. "What faith are you Nguyen" the Master D.I. asked.

"Sir, Nguyen is Buddhist, sir," answered back the diminutive Nguyen in a heavy Vietnamese accent.

"Buddhist, Buddhist...." mumbled the Master Drill Instructor, "OK Nguyen, from now on you're Catholic."

And that was that. For the next 13 weeks I marched off to Protestant services for an hour every Sunday and Nguyen marched off to Catholic Mass. This left less then 3 hours of free time, which really isn't free, but merely unstructured, as you has you have the freedom to choose what order you did your laundry, polished your brass, cleaned your rifle, squared your area away, showered, shaved, and wrote a letter home if you had time. Needless to say I would have preferred to the extra hour to get through these tasks.

Prayers at work are a common occurrence. I find them disconcerting. It would not be well received to say "Please don't pray in my presence, I don't really share your faith and dislike being coerced into showing some kind of faux solidarity while you do so. It is unsettling." Of course if you really did say this they would take the "unsettling" part to be a sign that the devil has a hold on you, and they must pray for you all the more to drive him out, lest your head begin to spin and you vomit pea soup. For purposes of job promotion and just being civil with Christian peers, one just naturally engages in a form of self-censorship.

FOX seemingly sides with pharmacists that won't dispense the morning-after-pill as it conflicts with their faith and objections to abortion. Woe to anyone that needs RU-486 for cancer I guess (yes it does have that use). So when can I expect to see Christian Scientist pharmacists that expect a weekly wage from Walgreens, but won't have to dispense ANY pills, as that would be against their faith.

On vacation in New York with my fiancée from China (now my wife) I felt I had to apologize for the evangelicals that laid in wait where people gathered in large numbers to assault them with fire-and-brimstone speeches. While waiting for the ferry to Staten Island we observed a Preacher sending his three preteen children off with military precision to work the crowd for the Glory of God. It seemed to me a form a brainwashing and child-abuse.

So here I lay the day after Christmas, hoping I don't loose my Christian friends out there in the blog-o-sphere. But enough is enough already. There may be a God, I don't know. But quit pretending like Christianity is the faith under attack. You guys are well over 80% of the American public and when we non-Christians complain about your unwarranted holier-than-thou attitude we are portrayed as the bad-guys. Yes I feel like my rights as an agnostic are under fire. I understood the upswing in religiosity after 9/11, but I don't understand its recent up-tick now (yes I'm inviting a well-reasoned explanation from any and all).

If you really think Christianity is under attack let me ask you one parting question: when likely will we see the first avowed Agnostic, Atheist, Muslim, Buddhist, or Hindu elected to the Presidency? Yeah, that's what I thought.

Biotech

Journal: Hollow Man

Journal by DumbSwede
I've noticed a curious neurological illusion in the wake of my recent lung surgery. Surgery that went well by the way and came up negative for lung cancer (mostly the surgery was unneeded). The approximately 6 inch incision just under the right side of my right pectoral muscle (breast) has resulted in a large numb region just above and below it and extending a little further down and to the left. Obviously some substantial amount of skin nerves where severed in the surgery and only time will tell to what degree they grow back and sensation returns.

OK this all sounds very dry and clinical, but what is unexpected is that when I drink cold fluids now I get a distinct feeling of cold fluid dripping down the inside of my right rib cage -- as if the drink were simpling splashing into some empty region and hitting the bones of my ribs directly. This sensation was so startling the first couple of days I actually wondered to myself if they had punctured something while operating on my lung.

Obviously there is more than just my deadened skin nerves causing this illusion, the cutting in and about the lung are also involved somehow, but it is still curious how the brain is reinterpreting this mangled information into a weird illusion of hollowness on my right side with drinks splashing directly on to my ribs.

Perhaps this might be of some interest to some neurologists. Sometimes these kind of observations provide useful clues as to how the brain and nervous system work. Then again I might just have an all too common post operative case of drinkus-spillingnus-againstus-innerus-ribcagenus.
Patents

Journal: Overhauling Intellectual Property Laws 9

Journal by DumbSwede
Overhauling Intellectual Property Laws
--or--
Balancing Capitalism and Communism

A lot of conservatives see the end of the cold war and the de facto defeat of communism as a preordained thing. These things didn't look so obvious in the turbulent late 40's and early 50's. Many (most) see communism as a failed experiment whereas I see it as a balancing force that forced western style democracy to treat its workers with fairness and compassion. Am I glad democracy and capitalism came out on top in America? You-betcha. That isn't to say that we couldn't now be entering a new dark age of exploitation when it comes to intellectual property rights that communist like ideals might either be needed as a balancing factor to combat or as a preferable model for how to handle.

Markets arise naturally when dealing with capital and goods; they have proven again and again the most natural and efficient means for allocating resources. When it comes to intellectual property, markets begin to break down as a good model for maximizing resources to the most people for the most good. Until recently, intellectual properties were tightly bound to some media like books, records, or film that give it a capital like handle with which the markets could grab a hold of and distribute efficiently. To quote a common anthropomorphism "information wants to be free," but current owners of information certainly don't want this and are looking for better and better ways to lock information away and control its distribution. The American government to a great degree has supported this trend, largely because any way to extract money leads to more tax revenues. Corporations are addicted to profits, (which in and of itself is not a bad thing) and governments are addicted to taxes, regardless of how best resources could or should be allocated for the public good. Gambling (a form of entertainment tending to be government run monopolies in most cases) has been called a tax on people who can't do math. It could equally well be called a tax on the poor who spend a disproportionate amount of their small incomes on government lotteries; often exacerbating already impoverished circumstances. State and local governments rationalize these lotteries and other allowed gambling ventures based on how this money should help with X Y and Z programs, but often the money just goes into general deficit reduction and the poor get poorer.

Is spending billions of dollars on entertainment best for the Public? Probably not. Money spent on entertainment circulates money through economy to be sure, but that isn't to say the current levels of spending are healthy for society as a whole. If you look at the projections of any entertainment corporation all trend lines are up with money being extracted at a rate greater than inflation so that more and more money is always spent on entertainment. Don't get me wrong, I like to be entertained, but I don't think we have to commit ourselves to an ever larger and lager slices of life's pie being devoted to it, and here I am only speaking in a dollar sense. Since there are more than enough songs, movies, games, and TV shows to keep everyone entertained 24/7 for the rest of their lives. This is of course if you adjusted your expectations of what it means to be entertained, and don't insist that old is synonymous with bad, and that only ever bigger and better explosions mean better and better entertainment.

Makers of most durable goods compete tooth and nail to bring us the highest quality products at the lowest price. Entertainment providers like the sports industry are provided anti-trust monopoly exemptions, then plot how to bring us the exact same entertainment at higher and higher price points every year. CD distributors collude to keep CD prices artificially high then rail against an ungrateful public, which has moved on to find new ways of acquiring music, not all of which are piracy. Ironically the most shrill decriers of the public's new found appetite for possibly illegally obtained music fare are groups like Metallica who built their following with a largely anti-social message. Similarly many rap acts see fit to glamorize a gangsta life style, but then have hissy fits when fans share bootlegs. Evidently robbing Korean liquor stores at gunpoint is a forgivable offense while downloading rap mp3s is not.

Copyrights and patents were originally designed to maximize the efficiency with which discoveries and entertainment are brought to the public to elevate everyone's general state of well being. Now they are being extended so as to make them maximum revenue extractors. It would seem anytime anyone invents a new way to make money, the process of making money becomes a protected species in its own right. Subject to all the governmental regulation needed to protect it from the encroaching threats of new technologies which might compete with it, but in a less revenue generating (and thus less tax producing) fashions. Conservatives often insist that lowering taxes can increase revenues by allowing for a faster growing economy upon which to tax. This may actually be true as is demonstrated by the economic concept called the Laffer curve, however whether we are above or below the all important inflection point that would maximize revenues in the long run is debatable. I suspect a similar curve could be demonstrated for intellectual property rights. Some ideal amount of IP rights for consumers versus corporations generating the optimal amount of stimulus for the economy and wealth for the citizenry.

It is clear to me that giving media producers the keys (DRM) to my computer and complete records of my internet access is not a good thing for me. It would be necessary however if media producers are to retain their old revenue models and extend them. Not only do they need more control of my resources to maintain there moribund business model, but they wish to relieve me of any and all assumed rights I had with said media in the past. And as mentioned before, with government's addiction to taxes on entertainment they may well assist them in this all too obvious conspiracy against the consumer.

Movie and Music studios are spending millions (and in the future I expect this to be billions) on propaganda to "educate" the public on the evils of piracy and how it deprives hard working artist of a decent pay check. Yes, what a tragedy that some egotistical prima donna of a movie star or recording artist might not be able to afford another Lamborghini, when someone far lower on the socioeconomic ladder buying a legal CD or DVD for someone's Christmas day present might have to balance that purchase against getting some other trivialities like food or clothing. Even more unfair is that the lion's share of entertainment money goes into the pockets of middle men distributors -- distributors who are no longer needed in the internet age and make no true contribution to society as a whole (unless you include their shareholders as society).

Now imagine a world where all movies and music were free. Would Hollywood collapse? Probably not. It might cut back to one tenth its former revenue stream, give up hopes of growing faster than the economy as a whole, and have to rely and patrons instead of consumers. But it would go on in some fashion, and ironically it is not all the hard to see how artistically what gets produced might be ten times better without the pressure of the mass market buy in. Music? A new utopia of previously unappreciated artists now able to flourish in a garden that that isn't maintained with herbicides to maintain a monoculture stock.

The world might still resent us for our over representation in the arts in world markets, but they needn't hate us for trying to strong-arm them into to paying for non-essentials. Non-essentials that cost nothing to distribute and do little to improve quality of life of their citizenry in the long run. Far worse is the bully type tactics the US will have to engage in to force foreign markets to pay for American entertainment in the future. Yes, it is a revenue stream for now that helps balance trade, but the future is bleak for it continuing to do so. I doubt the world as a whole will willing adopt the new draconian DRM schemes needed to put the digital distribution genie back in its bottle. To continue with the current models will only purchase us enmity in long run. If America really wants to conquer the world with its culture, then it should give it away for free!

It is easy to see from a resource standpoint why we can't just give luxury cars to everyone rich and poor alike; not so with IP and entertainment. The rich can well afford to underwrite the entertainment industry and allow the poor to have at no cost that which costs nothing to reproduce. With the top 10% of our population holding the same in wealth as the bottom 90%, it seems the least the well-to-do can do for those not as well off. Some might even consider entertainment an addiction, in which case those in the media business begin to look like drug pushers, promoting a product that saps their clientele of what they need to survive rather than nourish. Does anyone think having profit as the largest single determining factor in what get produced enhances art and expression? Like the kings of yore, the billionaires of today could patron new masterpieces of expression that will last through the ages and be free to all of mankind, masterpieces that needn't have their central messages and themes watered down so as to be palatable to the lowest common denominator.

Remember that when you share an idea, you still have it and others can build on it at no charge to you -- and OK, in most cases no profit either. BUT, there is always a profit to society when ideas are being brought forth and developed upon. Don't let greed and government interference get in the way of the greater good that spreading and sharing ideas has. It is likely that had corporate business seen what personal computers and the internet would evolve into they would have tried to make it a for-profit service and ironically killed all the business that have sprung up that now depend on it and all the jobs and wealth thereby created. Free exchange of ideas is what made the internet explode. If someone had an attractive web interface all one had to do was look at the source code for the HTML to make something similar for oneself and millions of people and business did. Now business is attempting to reign in this practice by patenting every trivial idea that can be applied to the web and bringing the progress of the internet to a slow crawl. All this as they attempt to gain monopoly like powers by getting a large enough user base before others can use the same methods. Patents ill serve these types of service industries because once critical mass is achieved it is too hard to woo people away from a well-learned interface, time-tested relationships, and the low prices that come from economies of scale. Only other huge corporate entities can then stage reasonable business challenges, which in most cases then could be seen as "picking one's poison."

In a simplification of Karl Marx's communist ideas, Marx believed all goods should be shared equally, all workers should, could, and would perform to the best of their abilities so that everyone could have what they need. The trouble is that the smart and the hard working hardly see it is as fair when not everyone pulls the yoke with equal effort. At the bottom, those who would tend to be laggard only do the minimum to get their share; those at the top also under perform because they receive little more in incentive than those at the bottom. In old Soviet Russia the familiar refrain was, "they pretend to pay us, so we pretend to work." Only a truly fanatical cult of personality can drive a communist style system in the short run like Mao or Lenin, or in the slightly longer run an incredibly totalitarian one like Stalin's. Pure communism has to rely too much on the stick and not enough on the carrot.

Unlike goods and services however, ideas and entertainment will get produced whether they are paid for or not, thus work well with communist ideals. The best writers don't write to make money, they right to express themselves to their fellow men and for posterity. Scientists and engineers are largely driven by the thrill of discovery and are often undervalued in comparison to the managers and capitalists that use their discoveries to make a profit. Many programmers share code for free either to be part of a larger enterprise that they can benefit from in the form of a larger shared code base, or for the pride that comes from recognition by their peers. Actors will come forward willing to act just the for the love of acting and the adoration of their fans -- multi-million dollar movie deals unneeded. Many athletes will play for the shear love of the game, a game played all the better as a metaphor for striving for excellence for excellence sake. And make no mistake society will still find ways to reward those who excel in all these fields regardless if what they produce gets paid for directly.

Don't get me wrong, managers and capitalists are needed to keep the economy going, but it would be a more efficient economy if ideas and information where largely free allowing for lower barriers to entry for competition. Managers and capitalists should be rewarded for maintaining efficiency in bring goods and services to market -- not on how cleverly their full time staff of lawyers can lock out competitors.

Microsoft employs tens of thousands of programmers to produce products of questionable quality, while groups of a few tens to perhaps hundreds of individuals can create a reasonably competitive and, from a security perspective, superior products, the quintessential example the open source OS project Linux. One reason this happens is because Linux's source code is visible for all to see, learn from, criticize, and build on. Microsoft's coding skeletons remain hidden from view. Imagine if construction projects never had to have their architectural plans reviewed for public safety, or the finished product inspected for possible faults, flaws, and violations. And yet this is exactly the state private software is in, and make no mistake in many cases your safety does rely on this software, not to mention your entire financial existence.

For all these reasons and more IP laws need to be overhauled and largely repealed. China's economy surges ahead using capitalist ideas with regard to goods and services, but retaining communist ideals with regard to IP. I predict that the second half of the 21st century will belong to China if America fails to learn this lesson that ideas should indeed be free. Given China's inability to completely give up on censorship, we should actually be able to pull ahead of China in setting information free if we so choose. We shouldn't let the failures of applying Marx's ideas in the 20th century to goods and services blind us to the possibility that they possibly work well in the realm of ideas. How about we abandon capitalist dogma and embrace pragmatism they the way the Chinese have in abandoning pure communism? Totalitarianism was the only way to make communism work in the past when applied to goods and services, I fear totalitarianism will the be the only way to make capitalism work in the future when it comes to intellectual property. Niether communism nor capitalism are inherently evil despite the shrill debate the majority of the 20th century. What is needed now is a truce between capitalism and communism and an amalgam economic model to take the world the rest of the way through the 21st century and beyond.

Media

Journal: Mixed Modes

Journal by DumbSwede
My last journal entry was a bit over the top with whining as Frisky070802 pointed out (though he was kind enough not to use the word "whine"). I have indeed become overly dependant on seeing my shows at a minimum of DVD quality, and had I made the effort I probably could have caught "Six Feet Under" Season 4 on a standard definition channel and taped it to (ughhh) VHS or archive Season 5 on VHS. Instead I am watching Season 5 now (in HD) and will catch Season 4 later.

Onto the main meat of Today's post which is a reprint of a post I just made to a general discussion for the thread DoubeClick Warns Against Ad-Blocking Browsers, but at post 800+ I am unlikely to be highly moderated, viewed or read. So here is a bit of recycling with the content of my post.

It occurs to me that one reason that popup advertising and flash advertising is so aggravating to many is the mixed media types it employs.

When you're in the mood for a read, you read. So the ads in magazines and newspapers match the type of sensory input you have chosen which is READING, and don't require any action to un-obscure what you are reading. Popup ads transform the passive act of reading into a forced interactive one.

When you watch a TV show or movie on TV you're in a video watching mode and ads while sometimes obnoxious or overly abundant don't tend t to be a jarring experience because they are presented in the same sensory input experience you have chosen to engage in. Ironically while many TV ads employ printed text also, it is rarely the only content of the ad and tends to be supplementary. If during your 30 minute viewing of a TV show you were subjected to 7 minutes of static, music less, text only ads you would probably have a similar amount of irritation.

For websites and games that are interactive in nature I predict the acceptance of popup type ads should/would be better since you would already be in an interactive mode state of mind. At $50 dollars a pop no one would tolerate active popup style ads in video games, but if Pepsi or Coke sponsored free game content that rivaled paid game content then you can bet game players would tolerate (with little complaint) interactive ads built into the game at between level intermissions. Call me immodest, but I would be surprised if my little post here doesn't start the hamster wheel turning in some marketing type's head (granted this idea has already been implemented to varying degrees already, and is no doubt in some stage of development somewhere for something by somebody).

My advise to advertisers who don't want to be hated, if not to be considered downright EVIL, don't mix modes when presenting ads. People have expectations for the types of experiences they engage in and don't want to be forced into another one involuntarily.

Entertainment

Journal: HBO - What are you thinking? 1

Journal by DumbSwede
HBO - What are you thinking?

OK, here is the deal -- I like "Six Feet Under" the HBO drama a lot. HBO is now showing season 5 in HD, but I haven't seen season 4 yet. I've had HBO for close to a year now and I didn't see any season 4 episodes (I usually only check the HD offerings), and I can't just catch up on the season 4 episodes because they aren't out in DVD yet. Because the channel is encrypted I can't archive the episodes to watch later after I have watched season 4 when it comes out on DVD (who knows when, still waiting for them to release the last few seasons of OZ).

And these stupid TV executives wonder why people download stuff on Bitttorrent? I've paid my dues -- I want to watch my "Six Feet Under" in order. I rented seasons 1 2 3, but there is absolutely no legal path for me to watch this as intended now.

To add insult to injury HBO made no attempt that I know of to let me know that new episodes of "Six Feet Under" where coming up on HD. They just kept hyping the replays of The Sopranos' last season on Sunday nights. This crap makes me so mad I could just scream.

I'm willing to pay for the episodes HBO, you just won't let me have them, you and your stupid moronic shortsighted marketing droids. Sometimes it really feels like you want to punish your customers rather than serve them. I have money to pay for the episodes! Hello! Anyone there? Money, you know that's why you make this stuff, to make money!

Here is my guess. HBO feels they have to have you checking their listings every week, make sure you're not missing anything, and hey if you haven't been a customer for the last 6 years solid, screw you -- WE WANT LOCK IN. Miss your favorite show? Guess you shouldn't have quit checking the listing even when we haven't shown crap for the last 3 months and now summer movie season has started and we'll just sneak this in to keep you on your toes. Besides if they offered DVDs in a timely fashion people might only subscribe when there are new episodes of their favorite shows and not put up with the half-year long intervals of crap that stream out from time to time. As far as movies go I probably watch more classics on HDNet than the glut of recent Grade B fare HBO serves up.

I should just give up on HBO (I never would have subscribed if not for shows like Sopranos, OZ, and Six Feet Under). I'm not really getting my moneys worth, but there is so little HD available, and it does show my system off well for company, and it really isn't much extra compared to what I've already sunk into equipment and other cable services and high speed internet. BUT come next year, when HD-DVD or Blu-Ray HDTV compatible disks come out, bye bye HBO. I'll wait however long it takes for stuff to come out on disk rather than suffer with your programming practices.

Editorial

Journal: Oh the Tholian webs we weave -- or -- Fiction as Lie 1

Journal by DumbSwede
I don't know how sublime a realization this will be, but the topic of Star Trek and its various movies and spin-offs comes up semi frequently on Slashdot.com. . Chief complaints with modern Star Trek series are lack of continuity and various other inconsistencies. On the other end of the spectrum is Orson Scott Card's recently posted article Strange New World: No 'Star Trek'criticizing the original series for being unchanging, everything back to status quo by the end of every episode.

It then occurred to me that problem of writing episodic fiction, especially decade spanning episodic fiction, is that it is like maintaining an elaborate lie. Having to reconcile recent advances in science and past proclamations on the imaginary workings of Star Trek devices, ST-TNG used to lapse into near incoherent and overly elaborate "techno-babel" to motivate marginal plot lines.

Comic books have been dealing with these issues for far longer than television. Their solution has been to reinvent their more popular heroes from time to time. Battlestar Galactica is probably the only TV Sci-Fi to do this, and has done so to great and dramatic effect. Were I to revive the Star Trek line I would reinvent the universe from scratch and retell the story of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy with fresh actors and back-stories. Especially to be avoided would be reintroducing previous actors reprising roles from previous series in contrived and obvious attempts to boast ratings versus telling a good story. So many unlikely and incredible things happened in the course of telling a Sci-Fi story, why add to the improbability with time-travel and various other means of reincarnating characters? I'm not saying Sci-Fi time-travel stories can't be told, but of late in the Star-Trek universe time-travel has become a Band-Aid for explaining inconsistencies and a ratings ploy excuse to bring back popular characters [retch].

With the recent self proclaimed hiatus for Star-Trek TV series, I would be very surprised if they didn't go the Battlestar Galactica route when reviving the franchise at a later date.

User Journal

Journal: Response to KJ's "Death To A Traitor"

Journal by DumbSwede
I was out surfing random blogs on blogspot.com today and came across this one: KJ's No Government Cheese and its eye catching recent post "Death To A Traitor". Being the windbag I am I couldn't resist giving KJ a rather long comment with my take on opposition to the Death Penalty even in this case.

My response stands pretty much on its own, though it has probably been said over and over again by others and said more elegantly. Still it must not have been said enough as I see we still have the death penalty.

Comment to KJ:

I have no great moral opposition to your stance on the Death Penalty, but I'm still against it.

Since one can never know with absolute certainty in all cases the guilt of the accused, the Death Penalty is inevitably used with an unavoidable degree of capriciousness. As long as the Death Penalty is an option, the innocent may also be put to death, and those deaths most likely end any further search for the truth (the justice system burying its mistakes). Despite your creation of a "No Doubt" category there will always be doubt and cases on the edge.

Still assuming one could know with certainty, and the case of this soldier probably passes this test, I would be against it for more practical reasons. In the case of terrorists (homegrown or not) you create martyrs for the cause. Should this man or Zacharias Moussoui be put to death, their deaths would be celebrated in radical Muslim circles and probably inspire other to take their place. While keeping them in prison might invite attempts to blackmail for their release, their deaths would more likely inspire what is seen in their supporters' eyes as rightful retribution. I suspect if you took a poll as to the preference of gun toting radicals whether they would prefer life in jail or the death penalty they would enthusiastically vote for the death penalty and the speed with which it takes them to their rewards in Heaven. Granted this mind set might change after getting caught, but my point is the recruiting potential it has for those uncaught.

For an even more practical reason to give up the Death Penalty is the better footing it would put us on with those we consider allies and more clearly distance us morally from those we consider foes. Mexico will not extradite some criminals to the US because of the possible application of the Death Penalty, the same with many European nations. Many in the world see America as barbaric and backward because we haven't given up the death penalty. Even if it is not barbaric, and I don't think it is if you can guarantee certainty, it accomplishes so little in deterrence it is not worth the complications it creates in matters of international extradition.

We do not currently know all the factors that shape a human psyche. Who is to say a poor upbringing or some unseen congenital brain condition would not be mitigating factors in abrogating some of the blame. Still not to get all weepy liberal on you, but what is the point of the Death Penalty? Fairness, Revenge, Deterrence? The first is debatable, the second unworthy, the third proven again and again to be ineffective.

When you argue victims' rights you are arguing revenge. That it may salve some emotional wounds I won't deny. I for one don't think you should kill people just to make other people feel better.

Sure there are they that no doubt deserve to die. My arguments are about the complications and abuses that arise in the system when it is an option and the lack of cooperation it gets us when dealing with other nations.

I respect your opinion and reasons for it. I have no doubt you are a moral person. I have a different opinion, but unlike some shrill voices on my side of the debate, I can respect those on the other.

I tell them to turn to the study of mathematics, for it is only there that they might escape the lusts of the flesh. -- Thomas Mann, "The Magic Mountain"

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