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Earth

Endangered Species Condoms 61

The Center for Biological Diversity wants to help put a polar bear in your pants with their endangered species condom campaign. They hope that giving away 100,000 free Endangered Species Condoms across the country will highlight how unsustainable human population growth is driving species to extinction, and instill the sexual prowess of the coquí guajón rock frog, nature's most passionate lover, in the condom users. From the article: "To help people understand the impact of overpopulation on other species, and to give them a chance to take action in their own lives, the Center is distributing free packets of Endangered Species Condoms depicting six separate species: the polar bear, snail darter, spotted owl, American burying beetle, jaguar, and coquí guajón rock frog."

Comment Re:The Great Circle of Hack (Score 1) 555

Of course, that frustration is well worth the bribe money, kickbacks, golf junkets and lucrative post-retirement corporate positions...

I think you're confusing the radicals that get into office with the professional hacks. The radicals usually wind up on the city council for one term where there aren't any particularly good goodies up for grabs. There they find that the one issue which they are completely passionate about is 5% of their total job portfolio, potholes need to be filled, sewers need to be maintained, etc. There's no money to do those jobs properly, and the pet project you campaigned on? There's no money for that either.

I know one professional trouble-maker who was able to get on the gravy train (wasn't her name Tina Fey or something like that?), but I suspect that train will be pretty short, and she'll be back feeding iron dogs with her husband in a few years.

Comment Re:The Great Circle of Hack (Score 2, Insightful) 555

The government need not fear real elections as it has already brainwashed the voters into voting for the establishment every time.

Ah, the good old "We the sheeple" argument.

The United States has somewhere around 130 million voters. As much fun as it would be if it were otherwise, people's political philosophies do not rocket from left to right and back again every four years. The national candidates will generally reflect the center of the bell curve, and will thus wobble just a bit to one side or the other.

The other issue is that running for any office beyond the council of a small town is expensive. There's money involved, sure, but that's just part of it. You need people to go knock on doors, stuff envelopes, make phone calls, etc. If you don't have a fairly large group of people helping you along, you aren't going to get very far along on the process. The larger your group of people, the fewer wild-eyed crazies you'll be able to keep.

Frankly, the older I get, the less enthused I get by radicals, even ones who I'm philosophically aligned with. The ones who do make it into office generally get frustrated with the day-to-day realities of governance. The ones on the other side of the fence probably get burned out and frustrated too, but manage to scare the wits out of us in the process. Establishment hacks are boring and hopefully somewhat competent. That's supposed to be the point.

Comment Re:Why fear terrorists... (Score 3, Insightful) 689

In a negative light, this means "find the people saying things we don't like and replace them with people who say what we want."

I'm sure it depends a lot on how you look at it. The devil is in the details.

There are a lot of echo chambers out there where some pretty odd ideas get kicked around. I define this in the "ZOMG! OBAMA IS A SECRET MUSLIM AND WANTS THE WIMMIN OF AMERICA TO WEAR BURKAS!" category. If you think the US government is spending too much, borrowing too much, or that the health care plan is a Really Bad Idea... Well, we have freedom of speech and you're allowed to say that. I suppose you're also allowed to say the president is a secret Muslim.

What Sunstein is advocating requires a very close reading. He is suggesting that subject matter experts go into these groups to set the record straight. He also says that SMEs MUST be kept at arms-length from employees of the Federal government. The minute that anyone in these areas gets the idea that someone is a bought and paid shill for the government, the game is over. That person is branded a shill and their word is worthless.

It seems to me to be an interesting thought experiment, but almost impossible to implement as policy. We're talking about a group of people with VERY sensitive antenna about the comings and goings of the Federal government. If there is an open information program with a budget and a line item to buy the time of SMEs to "get the story out", the game is up. If there's a secret program, it has to stay secret. The moment anyone says anything, not only will the intended targets go ape, a lot of people like me who don't reflexively mistrust the government but are wary of state power in general will also get upset.

End result: Nothing Happens

Comment The most important line of air defense... (Score 2, Informative) 582

was completed by early morning on 11 September 2001.

Once upon a time, people hijacked airplanes. Airplanes were flown to Cuba, Russia, Taiwan, Mainland China, Africa, wherever people wanted to go for whatever personal or political axes they had to grind.

After this, the ICAO convened a treaty in 1970 which required that any country that flew airplanes treat hijacking as a felony. No exceptions. In the old days, if an airline pilot flew from (China/Taiwan) to (Taiwan/China), he would get gold, women, his name in the paper, etc. as a propaganda tool to show that (Capitalism/Communism) was a superior form of government which people yearned for. No more. Do that today, you go to prison. Period.

Even wacky countries we don't like much like Libya, Cuba, North Korea, etc. are signatories to this treaty. Hijack an airplane, go to jail. No exceptions. Anywhere.

It was a very effective treaty. As a result, a set of "rules of engagement" came up around hijacking. Keep calm. Don't make any sudden moves. Fly the airplane wherever in the world the hijackers want to go. Wherever you land, there will be negotiators if they play nice, and SWAT teams in reserve if they don't. Getting in a fight in the air can only endanger innocent people's lives.

After 2001, nobody is EVER going to follow those rules of engagement again.

Comment Re:What's up, eh? (Score 0) 227

I heard it was pretty good, but then it turns out they must be dumping oil in the rivers and feeding toxic waste to seals.

It's good in the national mythology. Beautiful soaring mountains, pristine lakes. Verdant forests. I saw it on the CBC, so it must be true! (All those things do exist. I've been to them. They're really cool).

The reality is that British Columbia is a giant clearcut once you go more than 100 km from Vancouver, and the prairie is being torn up as fast as possible in Alberta to get to the black gold that lies beneath.

Comment Re:Worth about as much (Score 1) 227

Well, you do need to work on that bit in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms which allows for prior restraint. (i.e. you have freedom of speech until a judge rules that you don't).

The issue here is that an ISP outside of Canada got a nastygram from the Government of Canada and folded like origami paper rather than saying "We're sorry. This is not Canada. Please feel free to seek legal remedy from a court in this jurisdiction and we will comply with that request immediately!"

Comment Re:because no one wants to define the right (Score 1) 565

Once someone can define universal health care in appropriate terms instead of just being a buzz word maybe those of us who don't favor the idea will think twice.

Sure. I'll take that one.

Most of it comes down to that the economics of health care are unlike normal social services.

If you are a "hardship case", you get a bag of rice, a gallon of milk, and a block of government cheese. Want a steak for dinner? Good. Go out and get a job. We have decided as a society that it's better if you not starve, but don't see any need to subsidize you in high style.

The way the health care system works right now is the opposite of that. Have a toothache? Need to see a dentist to get it worked on? Can't help you there.

Once your toothache turns into a full-on abscess, and you're in danger of dying from it, yes, you can go to the ER to have it worked on. Rather than being the "government cheese" version of medical care, this will cost many multiples of what it would have cost to have the problem worked on when it was a garden-variety toothache.

But wait, it gets better! Of course, being indigent, the person who gets their abscess lanced, filled with antibiotics, and a day or two of bed stay at the hospital won't actually PAY for that. That is an unreimbursed expense that the hospital bears. Someone does pay for that of course. That "someone" is you and me, people with proper jobs and good insurance.

The economics of the current system discourage preventative care, and provide incentives for both the providers and the patients to seek out expensive treatments. While I'll cop to being a bleeding-heart liberal in a lot of respects, the argument for universal care can be cooked down to dollars and cents. The so-called "market-based" plan that exists now is not particularly competitive, and does not do a good job of providing financial efficiencies.

One of the biggest lies in the current debate is the line that "nobody should come between a patient and their doctor". Unfortunately, doctors are a lot like software engineers. If left to their own devices, they'll go for complex and gorgeous solutions rather than simple and effective ones. If left on a project without any oversight, they'll keep fiddling to wring out that last little bit of speed.

Software engineers generally have managers who tote a whip and say "that's wonderful. The milestone is in 3 weeks, and you will have code to ship at that point." Doctors are seldom managed at all, and if they are, it's by other doctors. If we translate "doctor" to "software engineer" and imagine a project where a bunch of engineers are turned loose with money flowing in to pay their salaries as fast as possible and no oversight, that's a recipe for disaster. In health care, it's "letting the free market do its job".

Comment Re:79% accuracy ... (Score 1) 132

.. you notice that it's backed up by similar interviews on video all over the net? Americans who think that the US invaded Israel, who point to Australia and think it's Iraq, etc...

I'm not going to stand up for Americans' knowledge of the world beyond their borders (of their country or their county), but remember that the interviews you often see on the net are the result of hours of interviews cooked down to the 4 minutes which are the funniest and most outrageous.

The reality IS bad, don't get me wrong, but it's not THAT bad!

Science

Programmable Quantum Computer Created 132

An anonymous reader writes "A team at NIST (the National Institute of Standards and Technology) used berylium ions, lasers and electrodes to develop a quantum system that performed 160 randomly chosen routines. Other quantum systems to date have only been able to perform single, prescribed tasks. Other researchers say the system could be scaled up. 'The researchers ran each program 900 times. On average, the quantum computer operated accurately 79 percent of the time, the team reported in their paper.'"

Comment Re:*First post.. (Score 1) 590

Average salaries are sometimes rather misleading. One issue with education is that it's highly seniority based.

Here's the salary schedule for the Seattle Public Schools:

http://www.seattlewea.org/images/static_content/certsalary0910.pdf

The SOONEST a teacher can break 50K is after 7 years of service, if they have a PhD.

In general, it takes 10 years to hit the 50K mark.

Stay in your chair long enough, get enough college credits, and the pay gets all the way up to "OK".

Would any of you guys give up your tech jobs for pay like that?

Comment Re:First post.. (Score 1) 590

Obviously lesson plans produced at government funded public schools should be kept free and open so that they can be effectively refined and tailored for specific environments.

I think it depends on the district, the teacher, and the material.

The district my children are in (Seattle) has been notoriously chaotic about dispensing curriculum and lesson plans. In the name of fostering academic freedom, choices about textbooks and curriculum are devolved to the individual schools and frequently the individual teachers (schools not being given a budget for a curriculum developer). Only in the last few years has there been any central curriculum development whatsoever.

In this case, the teachers design these plans outside of regular work hours on their own nickel. I'd say the curriculum no more belongs to the school than the web apps you make on your off-hours belong to your employer.

Another district across the lake (Bellevue) takes exactly the opposite tact. Their curriculum is highly standardized and highly centralized. Teachers are given detailed lesson plans and materials and are expected to execute those faithfully.

In that case, you have a curriculum which is developed by a taxpayer-funded district, by a professional curriculum coordinator, and very clearly falls into the public domain.

In between, I suppose there are a lot of gray areas, but I don't have enough exposure to teaching to comment on that.

Comment Re:I call bullshit (Score 1) 1345

(disclaimer: I found your post on TAGMAX. I went to finishing school for a good three days or so, and am not going to argue homeschooling on a list full of homeschoolers. Slashdot, however, is fair game).

First, saying that parents who send their children to "government sponsored day care" are lazy is showing a tremendous quantity of prejudice. Do you KNOW any parents of public schooled kids, or are you so far in the bubble that they don't exist in your life?

I don't have any objections to homeschooling per se (I'm on TAGMAX, so I follow what people are doing and apply as much of this as possible when I can). However, parents approach to schooling and education can be extremely engaged when one's child is in public school as well. You have a choice as to whether you spend your evenings blobbing out over the TV, or reading books together, doing computer programming, teaching them to cook, etc.

You are a former teacher and have the intellectual and academic chops for the job. Good on you. I genuinely believe your children are getting a first-class education from you.

Where my issues arise is that I personally know homeschoolers who pulled their children out of school for fear of them being taught evolution, or "moral relativism" (whatever in Eris's sake that means), etc. These are not particularly bright or worldly people. You talk to their kids and there are some pretty severe gaps in their view of the world, and I have to put the responsibility for this directly on their, uhm, "teachers".

I think where we would agree is that parents have an immense role in the education of their children. If you drop your kids off at "government sponsored daycare", pick them up later, and think no more of it, you won't get good results. If you use the day's school lessons as a jumping off point for more discussion and inquiry, you're getting somewhere.

There's one lingering question I have which has never been satisfactorily answered. Perhaps you can help. Advocates for homeschooling say early and often that homeschooled kids perform above average in academics. In my home state of Washington, children who go through the district's homeschool resource centers get to take our wonderful standardized achievement test (the WASL). While the pass scores ARE above average when you take in the population set as a whole, when they are compared against their socio-economic peers (homeschoolers are generally an economically pretty well-off bunch) the average pass rates are considerably below average.

Perhaps it's not a representative sample, and the only ones who are going to these centers are kids the state thinks are struggling at home. Do you know anything about this?

Comment Re:Safety first? (Score 1) 410

Numerically impaired?

Nope. I count fine thanks.

The study was interesting, and I should be very precise in what I am saying, which the study does not refute.

Let's split hairs between "high level of ownership" and "easy access". Because everyone gets all weird when we talk about guns, I'll go back to cars.

If I want to drive a car in Italy, I am required by law to take a $3000 course which runs over several months. I'll do a rigorous written and driving test. After this, I will be allowed to drive a car.

If I want to drive a car in Washington State (the province South of BC, aka the bits that you guys didn't want), I will take a 10-minute multiple choice exam and not scare the examiner too badly as I drive a rigorous 1 km course followed by demonstrating my mad parallel parking skillz in an uncrowded lot.

As any vistor to Italy can see, there is a high level of car ownership. However, there is NOT easy access to car ownership.

The study is simply correlating per capita ownership to levels of violence and accidents and demonstrating that ownership alone does not correlate to accidents or violence. I find this very easy to believe. The inference that you are drawing, which the study appears to be completely mute on is what correlation there is between violence/accidents and ease of access to firearms. This is admittedly a much harder value to correlate. There are differing laws (and legal systems) in the jurisdictions mentioned in your study. While levels of ownership and numbers of injuries and deaths are easily quantifiable values, legal restrictions are not.

However, if you assert there is no correlation between ease of access and violence/accident levels, I find that very difficult to believe. I'm very patient, and will be delighted to compare Washington and Ontario law with you to build my case.

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