Archive for July, 2006

Public Service Announcement

July 30, 2006 Leave a comment

Yes’s Machine Messiah is a great song.

That’s all.

Categories: Music

Montana pseudoscience

July 30, 2006 16 comments

I mentioned the Montana Vortex a while back. It seems that since then they’ve built themselves a web site with all sorts of wacky information.

Did you know they have a circle you can walk around? I bet not:

The healing Labyrinth is a new addition to the vortex grounds and we invite you to take a walk in this unique area.

Walking a labyrinth is an interesting approach to meditation and is claimed by many to have very special healing and spiritual powers. Our Labyrinth has been built right in the center of the largest vortex on the property and is ready for your personal journey.

Oh, sorry, it’s a “labyrinth.” Wait. No, it’s a circle.

The true mystery at the Montana Vortex is the question of how human beings can appear to shrink and grow in the eyes of others and themselves by simply walking a few short feet along a level surface?

“The Platform” is a level cement area that sits on one of the lines of energy of the vortex. When you stand on one end of “The Platform” in the energy field you will shrink any where from four to six inches. Standing on the other end of “The Platform” will bring you back to your normal size. Visitors are continually amazed at being able to see this natural occurring phenomenon and leave with pictures and video to prove it.

Ooooh, spooky, eh? They have pictures of this, though not on their magic concrete. It’s ably explained here.

Here’s a solid chunk of pure woo:

Does anyone know what a vortex is? Basically, it’s a swirl of energy that can be clockwise or counterclockwise. In Yoga one learns of 7 main chakras which are spinning wheels of energy that are also known as gateways between the outer world and inner world within the body. I equate the body to the living earth as the same except for the information exchange is different. These vortexes can be opened or closed depending on ones intent. They can also amplify whatever energy is present …negative or positive. Of course, everything is entirely subjective and your intent does make a difference.

I use this Montana vortex as a platform to introduce people to the world of quantum, the field of all potentiality, as Deepak Chopra would say. Although this is ancient knowledge it has only recently become popular.

Which apparently means it’s a “genuine…anomaly,” except to the people who don’t believe in it. I think someone’s confused about the meaning of “genuine.”

Then there are the orbs. Oh lord, the orbs. Also known as “dust,” these have been fascinating the credulous for years. Here’s one getting ready to attack a child. Another one is spying through a window. This one is headng for the trees. Not content with “orbs,” they see a new phenomenon. Ecto mist!

I think this is what you get when you take pictures with cameras that have “moderate noise, artifacts, and a compressed dynamic range that tended to blow out highlights” and “a tendency to blow out whites and highlights.”

They do have a section labeled “Scientific” on their site. It’s empty.

Categories: Silliness, Skepticism

The Good Fight

July 30, 2006 Leave a comment

Peter Beinart’s The Good Fight is an interesting, but flawed, book.

The Good FightBeinart’s book breaks down into two parts. The first half of the book is a history of cold war liberalism and its influence on American foreign policy. Beinart lionizes Harry Truman as a model for hawkish liberal foreign policy, as would be expected from a hawkish liberal. As others have pointed out, his portrait of Truman and his history of the cold war is oversimplified and a bit contrived. Beinart attemps to paint Truman as more of a multilateralist than he may actually have been, using NATO as an example of deference to foreign countries. Just how much influence other countries in NATO had or wanted is debatable, though it does look like Truman made some statements in the direction of allowing other countries to have a say. More than you can say for the current administration, but it doesn’t make Beinart’s examples any more convincing. In all honesty, I wonder about the point of this half of the book. Beinart wants to make some points by analogy, but is 100 pages of history necessary? It feels like an extended introduction more than a necessary portion of the book. Given the short length of the book (just over 200 pages), I’m inclined to think it’s just padding.

The second half is a critique of Bush’s approach to the war on terrorism and an argument for what we should actually be doing. Beinart makes a powerful argument for taking the war on terrorism seriously. Instead of seeing actual harm from terrorists as the main worry, he points out that further attacks will almost certainly curail our freedoms more than they already have been. So while terrorists will likely not cause a lot of actual damage, they’re still a threat to our country due to the fear they create.

Beinart continues with an explanation for terrorism. This is where he begins to go off course. He correctly notes that it is who we are that causes terrorism, but what we do. He correctly notes that our presence in Saudi Arabia is a major contributor to terrorism, but also argues that the poverty of the region is a significant cause.

Now, we know suicide terrorists are not poorer and less educated than the societies they come from. It’s the opposite, in fact. The data we have shows that. Beinart argues that this is a result of skimming off the top:

Terrorist groups are, after all, like any other employer: They accept the best candidates who apply. The University of Pennsylvania’s Marc Sageman estimates that only 10 to 30 percent of the people trained at Al Qaeda camps in the 1990s were invited to join the organization. And of those, an even smaller number were selected for spectacular attacks like 9/11, which require living undercover for years in the West. By design, these jihadist elites are more cosmopolitan, and better educated, than the movement they represent.

This is decent enough as an explanation of why terrorist organizations pick more upscale people. It doesn’t help Beinart’s argument much, though. He wants to claim that improving the Arab world socially and economically will solve our problems. First, it shows al Qaeda’s goals have a significant political attraction to people who are doing pretty well in life. Second, what makes al Qaeda so deadly is the competence brought by more cosmopolitan recruits. Shouldn’t we be focused on that? Without the people to organize, direct, and carryout complex operations, the threat just isn’t so impressive. Beinart’s claim is that the poor and uneducated masses in the Middle East provide crucial support to groups like al Qaeda. This is true enough. The nature of suicide terrorism is such that it depends on a replenishing pool of recruits along with popular support in order to hide among a population. Now, improving the living conditions of the Middle East isn’t going to decrease the pool of important recruits for al Qaeda. If anything, it increases them, as there will be more competent educated people in the region. What about the overall support of a community? Even if the poor are more likely to join a group like al Qaeda, we know that al Qaeda attracts the non-poor in significant numbers, as I said above. What guarantee do we have that the political attraction will diminish enough that the low level support of communities will disappear? None. I think Beinart fails to provide a full argument that his proposed remedies will do enough. His only example is the tsunami that devasted Indonesia. The citizens of that region became much less hostile to our war on terrorism after we reversed ourselves and offered a great deal of aid to them. However, Indonesia is hardly a significant source of recruits in the first place. Places that meet Robert Pape’s criteria (occupation by a democracy of a different religion) would be a real test.

Beinart’s proposed solutions are good in and of themselves, but I’m skeptical about their efficacy in eliminating jihadist terrorism. Sure, if we make Saudi Arabia look like Germany, it’s hard to imagine it spawning a significant number of bin Ladens. But how long is that going to take? 30 years? 50? We’re at rock bottom and we have the overwhelming hostility of the region to deal with. Perhaps we should be pursuing such policies, but I’m not sure we should be thinking it’s a good solution. Certainly we can’t abandon the region (which would, in all likelihood, solve our problems), but going the opposite direction is likely to take a long time and probably make things worse before they get better.

Beinart makes solid arguments that Bush’s policies are wrong and the ideas of the Michael Moores of the world are not much better. Beinart’s solution is more palatable than either of them, but I wonder if it’s really what we need. I’m all for national greatness liberalism and promoting reform in the Arab world, but I have my doubts about it being the solution.

Categories: Foreign Policy, The media

Cannibal Corpse as lounge music

July 30, 2006 1 comment

You can’t not think this is funny.

(via Respectful Insolence)

Categories: General

What the hell?

July 29, 2006 Leave a comment

So, I was flipping channels a bit ago and went past C-SPAN. I was slightly surprised at what they have on. They have Alex Jones and a bunch of like minded people discussing 9/11. When I say discuss, I mean ranting about how 9/11 was an inside job. That’s what’s on C-SPAN.

So, what, is the next show a panel discussion on how the Holocaust is a Jewish conspiracy? Surely C-SPAN has some useful programming somewhere.

Categories: 9/11, The media

Ubuntu again

July 29, 2006 3 comments

Well, I’ve finally put Ubuntu on my new desktop. The only serious problem I’ve had so far is my mouse not being recognized at certain times. Other than that, fairly smooth. My NTFS partition is mounted and read/writable. MP3s are playing and my video files work (even the WMV files, which was surprisingly easy considering I’m using the amd64 version). Amakrok doesn’t seem to want to play my surround sound FLAC files, though. Normal FLAC files, yes. I still could set up Flash, but I don’t care enough about it right now. Still have to try playing a DVD, too.

One thing I love about running Linux is using Gnomad2, a program for uploading to Creative MP3 players. After using the horrendous MediaSource program, this thing is a breath of fresh air. It does exactly what I want to do, without the bloat and finickiness of Creative’s software.

Categories: Personal, Tech

My my my

July 27, 2006 Leave a comment

Ever heard of Stop The ACLU? Buncha lunatics, more or less. Did you know there’s a Montana chapter?

Holy fucking shit. Just read the subtitle:

The ACLU (Satan’s Army) is hell-bent on removing the Christian God from American society in the name of other’s rights not to see, hear or speak of it. They are the tool of the New World Order, a bunch of shark lawyers who’s founder was a communist. Like true con artists they do a good deed now and then while planning many evils. BEWARE the wolf in shark’s clothing…

You sort of wonder if they fly those black helicopters, too.

If it’s anything like the national site, this is going to be very entertaining. That is, if the author starts posting again.

Categories: Montana, Silliness