New Links

I’ve added a couple of sites to my list of links. Donald S. Crankshaw at Back of the Envelope posts commentary on topics from quantum computation to politics, and writes some pretty good fiction as well. Watch for the Storyblogging Carnival.

Colin Gregory Palmer is an American living in London. Lately he’s been writing interesting stuff about the teacher-training program he’s in.



After giving it some thought, I’m voting for President Bush.

Senator Kerry’s service in Vietnam was heroic. I’m prepared to assume that his subsequent opposition to the war was based on principle. I’ll go further and say that he’s continued to serve his country in the Senate, and has surely done a good job representing the people of Massachusetts, since they’ve reelected him. I think Senator Kerry is a decent guy who means well. I believe he is sincere in his religious beliefs. He’s an intelligent and articulate man who can speak French.

When President Bush was a young man he ran around, partied a lot, and drank too much. I don’t think he took seriously his duties in the National Guard. He didn’t go to Vietnam, and didn’t do anything heroic, but he got an honorable discharge. At some point, he realized he wasn’t doing the right thing, stopped drinking, and started going to church. Since then, he’s behaved himself about as well as any of us. He served his state and nation as Governor of Texas, and for the last four years as President. He’s an intelligent but inarticulate man who can speak Spanish. I believe he is sincere in his religious beliefs.

Neither of these men are so bad or so good that I’d base my vote solely on that. There seem to be people on both sides determined to convince me that one of them is the Anti-Christ. I don’t buy it. These men, though career politicians, are decent guys.

If the most urgent issues we faced were economic, I’d give Senator Kerry another look. Last week I drove for a few hours on I80 in Iowa. Somebody’s getting paid to drive those trucks, and the trucks aren’t empty. Ryan’s buffet is packed, and it’s not with “George Bush’s rich friends.” This time, it’s not the economy. It’s the war.

Bruce Schneier wrote, By its very nature, defense against terrorism means we must be prepared for anything. That’s a great point. To defend against terrorists, we have to get everything right, all of the time. This makes me think we need to stay on the offense. We need to decide where the next attack will come.

Senator Kerry would take a more defensive approach. Building alliances and playing defense was how we won the cold war. But that’s not the war we’re fighting today. The Senator’s focus on Osama bin Laden is misplaced. This isn’t about catching a murderer, it’s about winning a war.

Senator Kerry’s commitment to diplomacy is commendable, but I’m afraid it will cause him to shrink from ordering military action when it’s unpopular. I don’t believe that Iran, Syria, Sudan, or North Korea will respond to anything other than force. They only negotiate to buy time.

President Bush’s strategy is to go to where the terrorists are and kill them, and to discourage the governments that aid them. In the longer term, we’re undermining terrorist recruitment by encouraging the formation of democratic governments. The President is doing this by diplomacy when there’s any prospect of it working, and by force when there isn’t, whether the United Nations likes it or not. Bush’s strategy is primarily one of attack.

I’m convinced that President Bush, whatever he was four years ago, is the man we need today.

That’s what I think. Whatever you decide, make sure you vote.

For us the living

In his posthumously published novel “For Us the Living”, Robert Heinlein refers to “the US Medical Academy.” This is where all the doctors are trained in his fictional World of Tomorrow. He’s not specific in how it all works; his point is that things could be different and still work quite well.

We could train bright people to do heart by-pass surgery. No need for years of med school. Just follow the procedure step by step, like it says in the flow-chart; There would need to be recognized levels of skill: apprentice, journeyman, master. Two years of technical training, followed by testing, apprenticeship, and certification; Clearly, a master by-passer would make good money. Possibly as much as a master plumber.

Master bypasser? Okay, we’d also have to develop good terminology, but we’re Americans; we excel at that.

I maintain that the success rate would probably be as good as we have now, and the whole thing would be way cheaper. To the extent that patient outcomes were suboptimal, this would be offset by enhanced access. (See? Think a European could have coined that phrase? And I’m just an amateur. We rule!) But it’s not just about medical efficacy. There’s a whole set of social consequences to consider.

Taking the money out of it would, well, take the money out of it. Prosperous doctors need insurance to protect their assets from their own fallibility and from predation. An insurance company is a big pot of money held in reserve for emergencies. Money attracts lawyers like blood attracts ticks, in an ecological sense. That’s not to say that lawyers are uniquely wicked. In the past, money attracted armed bands of Anglo-Saxon reivers, so there’s progress, of a sort.

My point is that it’s an ecological process. Exterminate the brutes (I’m referring to the ticks, of course) and something else will emerge to take their place, because the blood is a tempting target. Blood necessitates bloodsuckers. Would you rather have tiny blood-sucking hummingbirds?

Of course people would oppose adoption of this new system. They’d cite safety concerns; They’d point out that only a highly trained physician could respond to the unexpected. Ignoring questions of cost and availability, they’d launch ad campaigns featuring the grieving and the grateful. Every identifiable group that’s part of the existing system, except the anesthetists, would line up to fight the changes. Even if it were finally adopted, my ingenious new system would evolve as part of an ecology as well.

Suppose we had a large union of smart, well-paid technicians whose livelihood depended on doing bypasses. What might the consequences be? Think that’d have any effect on surgical innovation? Would the union lobby urge caution in the approval of new drugs? How hard would it be to get into the union? Would the union have any political clout?

But this isn’t really about unions, or even the medical system. It’s about the limits of directed action; Our inability to do just one thing. Our whole system is so tightly optimized and interconnected that any change comes out somewhere else almost immediately. It’s the law of unintended consequences, on steroids. Faced with such a system, how might we move forward?

  1. We don’t; we just muddle along while avoiding complete collapse;
  2. Pursue a course of incremental, opportunistic change and hope it leads to a better arrangement tomorrow;
  3. Scrap the existing system, more or less violently, and replace it with a better system.

The third option is the most risky, but has the biggest potential payoff. If applied to the whole society, it could lead us to a workers’ paradise. A society of peace, justice, and universal prosperity that would endure until…

Right; until protestors tore down the wall and burned the headquarters of the secret police. So that one’s out.

I guess we have to choose between one and two.

…and the Madness of Crowds

A few weeks ago, I got a Gmail account, and subsequently some invitations of my own. There must be a general principle of social networking, that by the time I have Gmail invitations they`ll no longer be desirable. On the other hand, I didn’t buy one on ebay for big bucks.

As Doc Rampage generously notes, I’ve given in and started a blog. First I ignored blogging, then I posted a few things on my Slashdot journal, then the Zeitgeist won, and here we are. So, does my entrance mark the end of blogging as a social phenomenon? Time will tell.

Anyway, let me know if you want a gmail invite.

2 of 5

For lunch I had half a four-inch diameter pumpkin.

First I rinsed it off under the tap, then used a sharp, heavy-bladed knife and a hammer to cut it in half around its equator. I scooped out the seeds and fibers in the central cavity. I covered one half with plastic wrap and put it in the icebox for tomorrow.

The other half I put in a covered glass bowl and microwaved for 4 minutes. Poking it with a spoon, it seemed soft enough to eat. I let it cool for 4 minutes, then ate it from the shell, with butter, salt, and pepper.

It was okay, nothing special. Acorn squash is better this way, and pumpkins are better made into a pie.

I discarded the seeds because I didn’t want to mess with them just then. I’ll toast them another time. A few years ago I toasted some in the oven with indifferent results; Maybe I’ll try using a hot-air corn popper.

The pumpkin rind was quite tough, even after cooking. I could probably do something decorative with it, if I were that kind of person.

A Peculiar People

Choosing books largely at random, I sometimes discover surprising facts. In Witness Against the Beast, E.P. Thompson writes:

During the French Wars, when anti-Jacobin narks were on the look-out for seditious glee clubs, new divine songs were written to the airs of God Save the King, Heart of Oak and Rule, Britannia.

Seditious glee clubs; Who’d have thought? Clearly seventeenth century London was a very weird place. I’m not even sure who I should be rooting for. At first blush, I’d tend to favor the seditious singers over the ‘narks,’ but who knows? The singers might well have been completely obnoxious. They (it seems they were called Muggletonians) hated the Quakers; and I basically like the Quakers. But maybe the Quakers were less amiable back then.

The Jacobins, of course, were supporters of King James. That’s why they’re called Jacobins. You know; James, Jacob; Get it? Me neither.