Email notification to Brandon Starr's blog has been shown to reduce bad cholesterol in two-toed sloths, and has been used as an effective exfoliant.
Wednesday, November 17, 2004
Aliens preparing us for their eventual arrival?
UFO Expert: Aliens May Be Preparing Us for the Ultimate Encounter.
All right. Here's my rationalist take on aliens:
1) Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. Outer-space aliens haven't yet met this test by a mile. Lights in the sky? Claims of alien abduction that leave no trace evidence? Secret government projects on fallen saucers that haven't come to light decades after they happened? I'm less than convinced.
2) There's nothing that says aliens CAN'T exist. Actually, if you've read my blog for a while, you may have noticed I often link to NASA and astronomical stories. One subgroup is stories about scientists figuring out ways to detect planets in other solar systems. How common are planets? And how often are they Earthlike? Those are two of the questions that will lead to the more important ones: How often do Earthlike planets sprout life? And how often do planets with life lead to intelligent life? Currently those are strictly in the "speculation" file.
Personally, in my less-than-expert way, I'd have to guess that there are many planets with life within our galaxy, and at least a few with intelligent life. But that leads us to....
3) If aliens exist, they'd have to be advanced enough to do one of the following:
a) Have developed so early that they've sent out sub-light ships which have reached Earth over a period of decades or centuries, perhaps millenia, or
b) Have developed far enough to figure out rules of physics far in advance of ours, which allows them to travel faster than the speed of light.
Based on my thorough investigations (okay, I just watch PBS's 'NOVA'), I'd say that they'd have to be amazingly advanced to figure out a FTL means of travel. Because there is basically ZERO on the horizon as far as our current understanding of physics goes to allow it. The theories that even vaguely might allow FTL travel involve powers so awesome that the energies used would be greater than that contained in our sun. Criminy, how'd you even survive something like that? So, they'd have to be as advanced compared to us as we are to termites-on-a-stick chimpanzees.
So, while I'm not saying aliens don't exist, or even that they aren't here, I'd say there's NO WAY we can say that they are here based on the current, extremely weak evidence.
Which is too bad. Because I think it will change a lot of our perceptions when we do finally contact an alien species. There was a genuine global shift in thinking the first time astronauts took pictures of the entire Earth. (Anyone heard of the Whole Earth Catalog? It had one of those early Earth pictures on it, and everyone held their breath the first time they saw one.) Alien contact would make that mental shift look like the the shift between the colors black and off-black navy blue.
Virgin Mary sandwich back up on eBay
Virgin Mary sandwich back up on eBay
eBay, reasonably assuming it was a joke, pulled the sandwich before.
But the seller argued successfully that she was serious, and so the auction was reinstated. The link has a picture of the famed comestible.
If you ask me, that isn't a picture of the Virgin Mary. It's a picture of Marlene Dietrich
So, why do Jesus and Mary show up on so many tortillas, smears of peanut butter, mold growths, etc.?
It's the same principle that has us see clouds as objects, or makes the Rorschach ink blot psych test work. Or makes us see a face on mars
Essentially, our brains are set up as pattern recognition devices. It's what our brains do. We aren't good at straight on-off logic, like a computer. Instead, we take lots of information and see what fits best, and come up with an answer based on that. Sometimes this lets us recognize a long-lost friend. Sometimes it saves us when we see a dangerous stranger lurking in the bushes. Sometimes it fakes us out, and we see ghosts or other things that just aren't there. The brain is a better-safe-than-sorry mechanism, and gives lots of false positives this way. It's just how we work.
But if you're a true believer, I can have a grilled-cheese sandwich with Jesus's portrait out to you in three business days for the low, low price of $500. Or Elvis, your choice.
* The link is to the Skeptic's Dictionary, and I highly regard that site as a bastion of logic and irrationality debunking. Seriously, check it out.
FLA Supreme court to feel the Russssh...
Russssh Limbaugh's case to go to the Florida Supreme Court
Russssh is desperate to keep his medical records from becoming part of the prosecution against him.
As I read the story, it sounds like Russssh has a tough climb. There is a law protecting the privacy of medical records, but it's for civil cases, not
Sorry, I just get a little happy whenever I see Russssh and "felony investigation" in the same story.
Maybe. But not the worst kind. The worst kind is when you take pleasure in seeing nice people suffer. But Russssh is a lying, unethical arm of the right-wing propaganda machine. I'll be happy to see him go to jail, if he does and if he's guilty.
If he's actually innocent, then I hope he gets off. I never have and never will want someone to be convicted of something they haven't done, no matter how ugly they act in the other aspects of their life.
If he really did rope his housekeeper into becoming a drug mule for him, I really, really, really hope he goes down. No one should be spared who pulls other people into crime.
Tuesday, November 16, 2004
Time is debating who should be its Person of the Year
"Based on the enthusiasm expressed at the lunch for each nominee, it would seem that the frontrunners, for now, are President Bush, Bush campaign strategist Karl Rove, God and Jesus Christ."
I am going to ask my wife to cancel our subscription if ANY of those are chosen.
If God or Jesus Christ are chosen....
shouldn't the Person of the Year be an actual person
? Otherwise, why not call it Idea of the Year or Character of the Year?
"We are the bor...n again. You will be assimilated..."
"...resistance is futile."
Another perfectly-named religious blog: assimilator.
I love the November 16th entry about how new converts to Christianity are like rabbits: they're skittish, they stay close to safety, they run away if you scare them. A must-read.
My take? Very typical of how I think many Christians think about new converts.
Or, as I commented on the blog:
"Also, 'rabbit' is a con man term for 'sucker' or 'mark.' So there's another parallel to converts."
What do you think?
What's up in the stock market
This isn't meant to be an all-encompassing market view, just a highlight of some things I've been acting on.
Google is down today on its first lockup period ending
. You may remember Google just went public a few months ago. Since then, the price has more than doubled. But the number of shares available for trade was limited to a few sold by the company to the public during the IPO. No longer. "Lockups" are for insiders holding shares during the post-IPO period. Eventually these lockups end and the insiders can sell. The first such lockup ending happened today. More are coming. Although I'm confident the company will do fine financially, stock-wise the price is just too high. Thus, I have a bearish position in the stock (betting it will go down).
I don't have a position in Netflix, but it's been hammered lately because of all the big companies (Blockbuster, Amazon, and more) who have either gone into Netflix's movie rental service. (For those who don't know, you pay a per-month fee, and you can have a set number of movies out at a time. When you're done with one, you send it back and that frees up a slot--Netflix then sends the next one on your list to you.) This relative ease of competition is ugly. This is why I love love LOVE eBay as an investor. I currently don't have a position, but I have in the past and probably will again in the future. I was recently sold out via limit order on eBay's recent price jump. eBay has the largest number of auction bidders and sellers, and this means that they attract the majority of FUTURE bidders and sellers. After all, if you're looking for something obscure to buy, you're most likely to find it at eBay. And if you want to have the widest audience to sell something obscure, you're most likely to do well with the millions of eBayers. This creates a barrier to entry to everyone else in the industry. Amazon, Yahoo!, and others have all tried to enter the auction business. All are limping along or have shuttered.*
I have a position in Sirius Satellite Radio. Why? Two words: Howard Stern. I believe he will be the catalyst to both make satellite radio a common way of receiving entertainment and to vault past the current leader, XM Satellite Radio. When the number of folks having Sirius in their car moves from its current hundreds of thousands to millions or even tens of millions, I believe that Sirius stock holders will benefit mightily. That is why I made a gamble on Sirius, even though I usually only buy stock in companies who are both already profitable and reasonably priced. With Sirius, it is not nearly profitable yet and a "reasonable price" is nearly impossible to gauge.
Inflation jumped again. Energy and food made the overall inflation number
jump a huge 1.7%, the largest since 1990. Even when you strip out those often-gyrating factors, the "core inflation" rate was 0.3%, more than the 0.1% expected. When inflation raises its ugly head, gold and silver benefit. I think silver is a better bet than gold, for reasons I've talked about before--it boils down to the fact that for the last 15 years, more silver has been used by industry than was pulled out of the ground. This is leading inexorably to a scarcity of available mined silver. I believe that this will continue to help the price of silver, possibly even leading to a real jump in prices. I've chosen SSRI (Standard Silver Resources, Inc.) because they are a pure silver mining play and because they have a good reputation, as far as I have been able to determine.
Again, this is why I'M doing things in the market. This doesn't apply to anyone else. I just hope it's at least vaguely interesting to a few people out there.
* Minor exception: Yahoo! got into the Japan market early and managed to create the necessary critical mass of auctions first there. eBay then tried to enter Japan, and hasn't been successful there, despite the millions elsewhere that they have. THAT is how impassable a barrier to entry eBay's "big dog" position is in every other country they've entered.
Monday, November 15, 2004
In other news, man bites dog
Principal has himself whipped by teacher to punish boys for kissing girls.
Several things strike me about this story.
First: The principal got the idea for this while praying. So you know his mind was on torture and mayhem. He then adds that most religious of ingredients, martyrdom.
Second: But really, we know this isn't about him letting the discipline get lax and that he needed to be punished, as he says in the article. It isn't really about self-sacrifice at all, once you scratch the surface. This method of punishment is about guilt. You do something wrong, and an innocent victim gets hurt. It's like when the drill sergeant punishes everyone else with pushups while Gomer Pyle is forced to just watch in "Full Metal Jacket." Or when kidnappers start beating one person to keep another one in line.
It's a pretty sick thing.
By making the innocent victim in this scenario himself, he was hoping to evade punishment. Instead he got canned. Fine by me.
Third: What about the sexism shown by punishing the boys for kissing in the locker room, but not the girls?
Fourth: Really, should the punishment for kissing really involve whipping anyone at all? Was the principal afraid the kissing would lead to other things, like going to movies? Is the principal having problems with his own sex life?
Found via fark.com
. If you go there today, November 15th, or perhaps the 16th, you can find a link to some genuine Fallujah fighting footage, where no one shoots at anyone closer than 100 yards away or so. No enemy can be seen at all, though some distant AK47 fire can be heard. Look for (ugh) a Drudge label to the left of the description, saying: "Raw footage of Fallujah soldiers being told to STFU." If it's not there, let me know and maybe I can set you up.
Tunnel system below Fallujah
On NPR, I heard about the steel-reinforced tunnel system below Fallujah.
The speculations are that 1) it wasn't from the Saddam era, it was made by the insurgents, and 2) it generally went from mosque-to-mosque in the heavily mosqued city.
The U.S. troops have been using bombs to close off the tunnels as they find them. They have also found many caches of weapons in this tunnel system.
Fascinating stuff. It seems to me that this is an indication of more money and personnel in the insurgency than previously believed. It would take a ton of effort to make something like this.
I'm not sure it matters how many insurgents are killed in Fallujah. If the population doesn't like the multiple babies being killed and maimed during this attack
, they'll be replaced. And the speculation was that most of the leaders had already left by the time of the attack.
Thanks to LowRentRat
for finding the Fallujah pictures that won't be on your TV set any time soon.
To sum up, it's time to quote again from the masterwork, Sun Tzu's "The Art of War," specifically a principle that both sides are trying to utilize now:
Rapidity is the essence of war: take advantage of the
enemy's unreadiness, make your way by unexpected routes, and attack unguarded
Sunday, November 14, 2004
Here's a perfectly-named religious blog, in my estimation:
This isn't one of those ugly political blogs, just a Christian psychologically dependent on his God like a baby to the bottle.
Remember, it takes an awful lot of chanting and repetition to get a falsehood into your brain. That's why you repeat so many things at church, and are asked to do more on your own, which they call prayer. They even have premade prayers so that you can make sure you stay on the "right path."
Happily for the rest of us, the good news is, when something is objectively true, it's pretty easy for your brain to accept. No washing of the brain necessary. Down is the way the Earth's gravity pulls. Paper cuts hurt. Julia Roberts is overrated as an actress. Dogs have a great sense of smell, yet they stink. Facts like these you don't have to repeat over and over in order to "accept" them.
But you really, really have to try hard to get your brain to "accept" Christ. It'd take a lot of chanting and repetitive indocrination to believe in anything invisible and unfelt that yet is supposed to be everywhere and has immense power and influence over your life and the entire universe--or to believe in anything false, say, right-wing politics; why do you think they're called "dittoheads?" In fact, a lot of folks go through the motions of their religion, doing their best NOT to think about their "chosen" religion 98% of the time. It's a form of denial. If you don't think about religion AT ALL, you can pretend you're an okay Christian and get on with earning a living and so on.
If you're going to to church today, enjoy your indocrination, and hope it holds you over until your next brain-soaking session.
But know this: you can live a very happy, giving life and not believe that there's a deity out there watching your every move, and just waiting for an excuse to torture you until the end of time, and asking for a handout every week.