30 August 2005

Global warming? Just turn up the A/C.

The AP recently published a list of the 15 most destructive (in financial terms) hurricanes and tropical storms. Alarmingly, 4 of the 15 happened in one year — 2004.

Now, I hear many people say that, OK, global warming is melting some glaciers and parts of the icecaps, but things don't seem warmer, really, and besides, how about that record cold snap, huh? Doesn't that prove it's nothing to worry about?

Now, with global warming we're only talking about a couple of degrees increase in temperature. You're not going to, say, find your pool boiling away. The big thing about global warming is that it represents an increase in the average temperature of the earth, and that is a very big deal, because raising the earth's temperature by a degree or two represents a huge amount of energy. That energy drives weather, so what you'd expect from global warming, at least initially, is a large increase in the violence of the weather.

And that's just what we're seeing. This year alone, we've had three times as many major storms as in an average year. As pointed out above, more than 1 in 4 of the most destructive storms happened last year.

Worst of all, there's nothing we can do to stop this now. Even if the entire world today became as green as green can be, things will still get worse for many years to come. Let's hope that things start getting better before we're all blown away.
Some of them were angry
At the way the earth was abused
By the men who learned how to forge her beauty into power
And they struggled to protect her from them
Only to be confused
By the magnitude of her fury in the final hour
— Jackson Browne, Before the Deluge

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Macs in Bangkok

As I sit here in this coffeeshop, I look around me at the other computer users, and I see:
a 12" iBook
a 14" iBook (with a tray load optical drive, so an older model)
a 12" PowerBook
a 15" PowerBook
my 17" PowerBook
Amazingly, Apple's entire laptop range is represented.

Oh, and lest I forget — there's also a guy with a Dell, swearing at it.

Some things just make me smile.

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A Jewish family's lawn recently had swastikas and obscenities burned into it, possibly in retaliation for their participation in a neighborhood watch program. The article goes on to say:
...police are investigating the vandalism in the town northeast of Atlanta and are uncertain whether to classify it as a hate crime...
That's just the problem with "hate crimes". Determining intent is hard enough, but the distinguishing mark of a hate crime is in someone's soul. How do you determine if the perpetrators of this crime burned swastikas into this family's yard because they hate Jews, or because they thought that since the family was Jewish, this would be the most effective way to terrorize them? Is one of those really deserving of worse punishment than the other?

Put another way, is it really worse to murder someone for his religion than for his money?

Judge the act, not the thought.

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Something I learned during surgery

Have you ever noticed that when people get stabbed in movies, sometimes they scream in pain, and sometimes they just look surprised?

Well, when I had my biopsy, the surgeon numbed everything between the outside world and my thigh muscle, but not the muscle itself. So after cutting through all of the layers, the surgeon warned me that when he took the samples, I would feel a "deep pain". And so I did — but it wasn't like anything I'd felt before. More of an electric shock, really. What struck me, though, was the unearthly sound that I involuntarily made. That, and I knew that what my face was showing was surprise.

So that thing, at least, hollywood gets right.

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If you see someone hobbling down Rama I Road...

Well, I'm in Bangkok. And I'm out of the hospital. I'd e-mailed for a doctor's appointment just before I arrived, and I had the appointment just after I arrived. The doctor listened to what I had to say and referred me to a specialist, who was able to see me two hours later.

The next day, I was in the hospital having minor surgery (a muscle biopsy, in case you're interested).

There are a couple of things to note here. One is the speed with which things happened, compared to the United States. The only time things happened that quickly for me there was when they thought I might have lymphatic cancer that they'd been missing for a while. (It turned out to be sarcoidosis that they'd been missing for a while.)

The standard of care here is the equal of anything I've seen in the US, at least at the fancy hospital I go to. It's clean, extremely efficient, fully accredited, and has well-qualified doctors, most of whom studied in the US. And just like at home, most of the medical personnel speak English with a non-US accent.

But what I wanted to talk about here was cost. I saw two doctors, had minor surgery, stayed a night in the hospital in a private room, and took crutches and painkillers away with me. In the US, this could easily cost $7500.

Here, I was quoted a range of 28,000-35,000 baht ($683-854), and asked to pay the lower amount as a deposit. And in the end, it turned out to be only 25,500 baht ($622), and I received a refund.

Now, the vast majority of Thais could never afford this. But to an American, those prices look pretty good. It's easy to see why this hospital gets 350,000 foreign patients every year.

And I'm fine, thanks. I've been spending a lot of time in bed, but as I've been unable to lie on my stomach or left side, typing has been hard. Today I'm out and about for the first time in a week, and I'm writing from Starbucks in Siam Discovery Centre.

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25 August 2005

Maybe I should start operating on myself

A doctor in Vietnam needed an endoscope, but at $30,000, could never have afforded one. So he built one. Cost him $800.

Now, I used to work for a medical device company, so I know that much of the cost of a medical device is in proving, and creating the documentation to prove, that the device is both safe and effective. That, and tracking the devices and any "adverse events" that might occur with their use.

A good example of this is my fingertip pulse oximeter, which measures the oxygen saturation in my blood. The one that's made for climbers costs about $350; the one sold for medical use is about $200 more. I have been assured by many people that they are the exact same device with different labels and packaging. I bought the sports model, and it gives the same readings my doctor's big fancy device does (about 94%, FYI, which is up from 85% a few years ago).

The bigger price differential for the endoscope is probably mostly due to its being intended for use inside the body; the most intrusive thing about the oximeter is some red light.

Is the price difference in medical devices worth it? I think that depends on your financial situation, and how much value you put on the added risk, and that calculation is obviously going to be very different for a wealthy American and a poor Vietnamese.

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22 August 2005

Hagel puts his finger in the wind

The unpopularity of Bush and Bush's war presents Republican candidates with a dilemma. Either they state their continuing support for Bush and adventurism in the Middle East — thus losing the majority of the electorate which is against the war — or they risk alienating their core support. Expect a lot of dancing around this question.

And now, at least one very powerful Republican, Chuck Hagel, has made it clear where he stands. He compared Iraq to Vietnam, said that "stay the course" is not a policy, and said that we are not winning. And he added:
"I don't know where he's going to get these troops," Hagel said. "There won't be any National Guard left ... no Army Reserve left ... there is no way America is going to have 100,000 troops in Iraq, nor should it, in four years."
Hagel added: "It would bog us down, it would further destabilize the Middle East, it would give Iran more influence, it would hurt Israel, it would put our allies over there in Saudi Arabia and Jordan in a terrible position. It won't be four years. We need to be out."

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Enforcing groupthink

A Salt Lake City television station is refusing to air an ad featuring Cindy Sheehan, in which she asks Bush to bring the troops home now. The station explained this decision by saying that the ad "could very well be offensive to our community in Utah, which has contributed more than its fair share of fighting soldiers and suffered significant loss of life in this Iraq war."

Excuse me, but wasn't Casey Sheehan a fighting soldier who lost his life fighting Bush's war? Notice that the station assumes that everyone who has lost loved ones in the war would be offended by the ad, which is directly contradicted by Cindy Sheehan herself.

21 August 2005

Four more years! Four more years!

The US Army has announced that they're planning to keep the current troop levels in Iraq for four more years.

I have mixed feelings about this. I don't want more Americans dying there, but then again I also don't want to see civil war in Iraq.

At least we might have competent grown-ups in charge who aren't itching to start another war. And Bush will yet again have made a mess and left it for others to clean up, just like the spoiled brat he is.

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18 August 2005

Are you a jerk? Find out!

Some of you may remember the Dog Translator, a device that would, when it heard your dog make sounds, interpret those sounds for you. I mocked this invention, as dogs have prospered by being emotionally attuned to humans, and by making their emotions completely obvious to humans. Anyone who needed translation of what a dog was feeling must, I felt, have an emotional intelligence in the low single digits.

Now there's a device for those who are having trouble reading people's emotions. This is indeed a more challenging task, mostly because people are very practiced at masking those emotions. But just analyze their voice, or your own, with the Jerk-O-Meter, and you'll know how they're feeling. And if they catch you doing this, and the meter doesn't read "righteous indignation", it's probably broken.

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17 August 2005

3 out of 4 doctors agree

I have before used video games to distract me from physical pain; they seem to work quite well for that purpose. A Medscape poll shows that most health care professionals — nurses more so than doctors — agree.

But just try explaining to your boss at work that you're playing the latest twitch game on orders from your doctor.

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16 August 2005

Light blogging ahead

I have decided to move to Bangkok so that I don't have to take an international trip every time I need to see my doctor, and so I can see English-language films in an actual cinema.

I'll be spending a lot of time this week making sure everything I need to do gets done, packing up, and giving stuff away, so don't expect too much bloggage.

Also, I'm trying to decide if I'm going to rename the blog. Maybe I'll just keep the current name, as I'll always carry a little Phnom Penh around in me, at least until new antibiotics are devised. If you have any opinions on a new blog name, please leave a comment!

And if you're a Phnom Penh resident who knows me and wants some of my extraneous stuff (DVDs and books, mostly), just ask. It'll likely be yours for the taking.

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15 August 2005

Want a free iBook?

SingTel of Singapore is offering a free iBook to customers who sign up for their 10Mbps unlimited Internet, which costs $53/month. Makes my blood boil, it does. I've lately been advising a client to switch to an unlimited 256K account (that's one-fortieth the speed), which would cost them $550/month. On a price/bandwidth basis, that's 400 times as expensive as in Singapore. And no free iBook. That's the price of corruption, I guess.

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Kampuchea Crossings crosses Cambodia

If you haven't been there recently, pop over to Kampuchea Crossings and read her latest — it sounds like she's channeling a drugless Hunter S Thompson.

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Is it cold? That depends.

I was recently in the north of Cambodia for a few days, which meant that I was at about the same latitude as Honduras. The desk clerk at the hotel warned me that it would be cold in the mornings, so I should take an extra blanket. How cold? "28", she said, in an awed voice. That's about 82 degrees Fahrenheit.

And in Alaska, they're suffering from record high temperatures — the Fairbanks airport recorded a temperature of...83 degrees Fahrenheit.

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Do you have a web page yet?

Google and Yahoo! are currently tussling over whose picture of the web is the most complete. Yahoo! has 19.2 billion pages listed, whereas Google only has 8.1 billion. Google is saying that Yahoo! has many duplicate pages, something Yahoo!, of course, disputes. And a quick check for my name on the two turned up 72,200 pages on Yahoo! (including two that are really me in the top 10) versus "abouwt 21,000" on Google (I've got my language set to "Elmer Fudd" on Google).

In either case, though, the number of pages is greater than the number of people on the planet, which astounds me, given the large number of people who don't use the net at all. But then, I suppose that I've created enough pages to make up for all the net slackers in my neighborhood here in Phnom Penh.

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Scotland's colonial empire

Here's something I never knew — Scotland, in the late 17th century, spent approximately one-third of the wealth of the nation to establish a colony in what is now Panama. The area they picked, Darién, is known for its jungle, which is so dense and impenetrable that even today the Pan-American Highway, which is otherwise continuous from Alaska to Patagonia, has never been built there. The colony failed utterly, and this failure was a major reason that Scotland falls under British rule today.

This is in the news today because the three surviving letters from the colonists are being exhibited in Panama this week. One of those letters describes one man "pining for 'a barrel of oatmeal,' a 'stone of cheese' and 'a case of brandy'" — sentiments which will be familiar to any expat of any era.

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Who you calling "out of the mainstream"?

Bush's approval ratings continue to show that he's won over almost no one not in his hard-core base. Now top Republican operatives are saying things like this:
Charles Black, a veteran GOP strategist and close Bush ally, said Republicans are sticking with Bush for two reasons: personal affection and loyalty.

"I haven't seen anything like it since Reagan," he said. "Bush follows through on issues that are largely popular with the base, even when it's not popular with the general public to do so."
Doesn't "not popular with the general public" mean "out of the mainstream" — something the Republicans used to say was a bad thing to be?

And there's this:
For Trisha McAllister, a Republican from Grenada, Miss., Bush's willingness to ignore public opinion wins her over.

"I may not approve of every single thing he does," McAllister said, "but he's a true leader because he's not leading by the polls."
I, of course, translate that as "he may be leading us over a cliff, but at least he's giving us direction".

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You think you're paying too much for gas?

Gas prices in the US recently rose to an average of $2.50/gallon. Here in Cambodia, it costs about $4/gallon, or about a day's wages per quart. The poor motorcycle taxis wind up getting squeezed between the rising fuel prices and the unwillingness of their customers to increase the amount they pay for a ride.

Personally, I've started adding 500-1000 riel ($0.125-$0.25) to my fares. It's not hurting me, and the moto-dups really appreciate it these days.

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Fun with propaganda the North Korean way

For a taste of what propaganda looks like when done by amateurs, head on over to NK News and take a look at their compendium of North Korean stuff. From the Hall of Fame:
Not content to let Western democracies corner the market on outrage over nation-splitting concrete walls, North Korea has angrily demanded for years that South Korea tear down a 240 km, 10 m high concrete wall that transverses the entire width of the Korean peninsula, running just below the DMZ. This demand would be exceedingly difficult for South Korea to meet, however, for the following reasons.

1. Dissembling the wall would take quite a bit of time
2. It would cost a lot of money
3. It would remove a deterant against a North Korean invasion
4. The wall doesn’t really exist

Of these, I happen to think that point #4 is the biggest obstacle, though no doubt others would disagree. The phantom wall was not-built in 1979, is 10-19 metres un-wide at bottom, 3-7 metres un-wide on the top...

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Sometimes the jokes write themselves

I was talking to a friend about sarcoidosis the other night, and she asked what the symptoms were. I listed many of the major ones — fatigue, malaise, vision problems, kidney stones, skipped heartbeats — but I forgot to mention one of the more disturbing symptoms.

What was it? Memory loss.

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13 August 2005

With allies like US...

Australians were already pretty unhappy about Bush's war. And now we go and bomb them.

(Thanks to an alert Australian reader in Jakarta for sending me the link.)

American wilderness

Just this morning I was talking with a couple of Europeans, and I mentioned that one big difference from the US I'd noted when I went to Europe as an adult was that there was no real wilderness in Europe. Scotland, for instance, had been described as "wild", but I found it almost impossible to get out of sight of a building, let alone 50km from a road.

Anyway, my friends seemed skeptical that there was anything in the US like I was describing. But from today's news, rangers in a wilderness area recently discovered a 122-meter waterfall that had been known only from legend. Here's the thing — they had looked for it before, and not been able to find it.

Now that's wilderness.

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09 August 2005

The smearing of Cindy Sheehan begins

Matt Drudge is reporting that he's shocked, shocked that Ms Sheehan is now saying different things about her meeting with Bush than she'd said a year ago.

Now, I don't know what's going on with this story, but I know from personal experience that when I learn something new, or my feelings change, about someone, I do tend to reinterpret earlier events in a new light.

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Off to the wild north

I'll be in Ban Lung, Rattanakiri, for the next few days, which is about as wild as Cambodia gets; jungles containing tribal peoples and tigers. As it's the rainy season, I expect the place to be a sea of red mud.

Anyway, net connections there are pretty iffy, so there'll likely be no blogging until Friday.

What one person can do

Cindy Sheehan has been camping out near Bush's ranch near Crawford, Texas, and says she will stay until Bush agrees to meet with her. She is planning to tell him to withdraw American troops from Iraq now. This is becoming a big problem for Bush, in a way that a large group of protesters wouldn't. It's easy to dismiss a group of people with a broad brush, saying "they're just a bunch of damn liberals" or "they're all rednecks — waddya expect?"

But one person gets seen as an individual, with a story, and Cindy Sheehan's son died in Bush's war. He met with her in 2004, as he does with the parents of many dead Americans:
Mr. Bush... acted as if he were at a party and behaved disrespectfully toward her by referring to her as "Mom" throughout the meeting.

By Ms. Sheehan's account, Mr. Bush said to her that he could not imagine losing a loved one like an aunt or uncle or cousin. Ms. Sheehan said she broke in and told Mr. Bush that Casey was her son, and that she thought he could imagine what it would be like since he has two daughters and that he should think about what it would be like sending them off to war.

"I said, 'Trust me, you don't want to go there'," Ms. Sheehan said, recounting her exchange with the president. "He said, 'You're right, I don't.' I said, 'Well, thanks for putting me there.' "
Bush may be forced into making a decision on dealing with her by Friday, when he will likely have to drive past her tent.

The image of a lone woman, mother of a dead veteran, standing at the side of the road while an uncaring president drives by would make for a compelling television image. And if Bush is to meet her, he'll want to control that meeting. It's my guess that he'll invite her to the ranch before Friday. The spectacle then will be of Scott McLellan furiously spinning, while a mother grieves for her son and laments her failure to prevent other children dying in Bush's war.

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Imagine a rodeo on the streets of Manhattan

India recently offered a reward of $46 per cow captured in New Delhi and delivered to a government corral. To the average Indian, $46 is a lot of money, and so this has ensued:
A cash reward on the heads of New Delhi's stray cows has triggered road chaos in the Indian capital as bounty hunters on motorbikes compete to round up cattle roaming the streets...
It must be quite something — it would be quite a job to outdo the everyday chaos.

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08 August 2005

Shootout at the not-OK corral

Two alleged men, fighting about the war in Iraq, got into a quickdraw contest "outside a snack shed". Both were gun dealers. One was 65, the other 56. Both easily old enough to know better.

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I still have my Kozmo.com CD opener

CNet has a fun list of the top 10 dot-com flops. For those of us who lived through that time, it's a real trip down memory lane. I miss being able to go online and get Ben & Jerry's delivered to my door — which, to be fair, was never available in Phnom Penh.

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Windows Vista has viruses before it's released

The current, and much-delayed, release date of Vista may be a year away, but there are already viruses out there which exploit its weaknesses.

Microsoft has yet to comment on this, but I'm sure they'll say "these viruses exploit weaknesses in a pre-release version of Vista, and the final version will be more secure than Fort Knox", or words to that effect. I'm also just as sure that the statement will be no more true then than it is today.

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07 August 2005

More people die in Iraq

The headline reads Two U.S. Troops Killed by Bomb in Iraq, and the article goes on to say that three Iraqis died in a drive-by shooting, while others were killed by a suicide car bomber.

That was just this morning's toll. The morbid drumbeat of death and destruction continues, and we still don't know why our troops are there, what the goals are, and if we're any closer to accomplishing them. The actions of the Bush administration belie their stated reasons for being there.

Now we're hearing that many troops may be pulled out in the next year, in time for the mid-term elections. Many are predicting a civil war as a result. If so, what did we gain there? Was it all really just to get rid of Saddam Hussein, so Bush could feel, for once in his life, that he'd been better at something than his father?

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Avian flu vaccine developed

If it passes tests, this is really excellent news. One little snag, though, is this:
Because the vaccine is made in chicken eggs, "a potential major stumbling block" to successful mass production is the number of eggs farmers can supply manufacturers, Dr. Fauci said.
Given that one of the first responses to an outbreak is to slaughter much of the poultry, hadn't we better start inoculating people now, while we can?

And what's the plan for inoculating people in currently affected areas — Cambodia, Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam — given the economic situation in those places? Or will this be available only to rich-country folk?

Canada's a little too scary after all

In the wake of the last "election", several of my friends expressed an intention to move to Canada, or at least somewhere outside the US. None of them actually did it, and it seems that makes them pretty typical Americans.

And I'm glad of it. Someone should be there, fighting the good fight. Besides, things are looking pretty bad for the Republicans in the next couple of elections. If only the Democrats could articulate a compelling vision, it'd be a lock — but "we're not Bush" may get them through anyway.

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06 August 2005

Advertising, bull

I've written before that one advantage the developing world has is the relative dearth of advertising. Now in Florida you can't even look at a bucolic farm scene without seeing advertising.

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Who benefits from high oil prices?

From the Financial Times:
Crude oil futures hit another record high this week on a series of factors including the death of King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, a coup in Mauritania, the death of Sudan’s vice-president, refinery problems in the US and concern about another tropical storm brewing in the Caribbean.

But probably the most important event this week was the move above $60 by all US oil futures dated until December 2011. This indicates that oil investors expect the current tightness in oil and petroleum product supply to remain in place for the foreseeable future.
I think I would add "possibility of civil war in Iraq" to that list above.

How much longer before "oil hits new highs" stops being news?

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05 August 2005

Do you want to gain the wisdom of the ages?

One of the luckiest things that ever happened to me was to have parents who read, thought reading was a valuable activity, and made it seem as essential to life as breathing. Some of my earliest memories are of my mother using a blackboard in the basement, teaching me to read. When I entered kindergarten, this gave me an advantage over my non-reading classmates that continued all through my schooling. I grew up in a house filled with books. What's more, I was encouraged to read whatever I wanted, not just the "age-appropriate" literature. Thus, at eight I was able to join my parents' reading group when they were discussing Shane; a couple of years later I was reading a physics treatise on piezo-electric crystals; and when I'd finished C.S. Lewis's marvelous Narnia series and pulled The Screwtape Letters off the shelf, no one stopped me.

Books are others' voices, talking to us across time and space, letting us know what they've learned. This ability of language to transcend a short lifespan and limited mobility is what has made humanity the successful species it is. This is why it's so crucial that children learn to read, and are allowed to enjoy it. And it's why Patrick Welsh's essay on how American schools are failing their students when it comes to reading is so important. Go and read it. And then sit down and read a book with your child.

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At what point do we get to stop calling Bush 'popular'?

Ye gods — Bush's approval rating among Americans for his handing of the war in Iraq has dropped to 38 percent, says the latest AP poll. His overall job approval is at 42 percent. Now less than half of people think he's honest, though that's within the margin of error. And 56 percent see his confidence as arrogance.

If things keep going this way, he may well wind up being a uniter, but not the kind he was predicting.

This is very bad news indeed for Republicans — this president will have coattails only among the true believers who will always vote for the person with the 'R' by their name. He's alienating everyone else. It'll be interesting to watch Republican candidates run from him in the mid-term elections.

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What's Robert Novak afraid of?

Robert Novak walked off the set of CNN's "Inside Politics" just as Ed Henry was about to ask him about his role in the outing of a covert CIA agent, Valerie Plame, in an attempt to discredit the agent's husband, Joseph Wilson.

Novak knew that he was going to be asked about this, and he made it seem that he was simply in a fit of pique over some comments from James Carville. Now, I would think that it would be easy to get incensed at Carville, but Novak's been doing this stuff too long for that to be plausible. It seems likely that he just wanted to avoid the questions about the Plame/Wilson affair. The question is, why? What's enough to make Robert Novak drop his professionalism?

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Apple to join the "Trustworthy Computing" dark side?

Someone who's been using Apple computers about as long as my dad has — since 1979 (I'm a newcomer, having bought my first Apple in 1984) — reviews what's known about Apple's plans for the Intel platform and finds evidence that they're planning to include Trustworthy Computing in the MacOS. He says that if that happens, he'll not only stop being an Apple customer, he might even have his Apple tattoo removed.

I agree with his concerns. And although it would break my heart to give up the Mac, I simply refuse to give even Apple the ability to control how and when I can read my own data.

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More like writing a book than building a bridge

Joel Spolsky has an article up which should be read by everyone who manages programmers. In it, he discusses the little-known fact that the productivity difference between programmers is extraordinarily wide. I have heard it estimated that for most professions, the best performers get about twice as much done as the worst; in programming, the difference is a factor of 10. What's more, the time spent on a project is almost completely uncorrelated with the quality of the work done.

But Spolsky goes further than that. He goes on to say that some things can only be done by some programmers; most will never accomplish some tasks, no matter how much time they are given. And it doesn't help to hire more people:
Five Antonio Salieris won't produce Mozart's Requiem. Ever. Not if they work for 100 years.
Better programmers produce better programs, which work better, are more desirable, and which require less support. In the end, there's an uncomfortable conclusion to be drawn: to reduce software costs, hire better programmers, who are likely to cost more.

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04 August 2005

Japanese postal reforms

First-time visitors to Japan are often surprised when they ask someone for their address so they can visit them, and are either told that they'll be met at the train station, or are asked in turn for a fax number so a map can be sent.

The reason for this is that a mailing address is almost useless in finding the place to which it refers. My old address in Tokyo, for instance, read:
1-9-27 Kami-Osaki
OK, so Tokyo is the city; Shinagawa was an area in the city — I think it was once a separate town which got incorporated into Tokyo; Kami-Osaki is the neighborhood. But then the fun begins. The "1" is a section of Kami-Osaki; said sections are numbered very haphazardly. "9" is the block number, said numbers being assigned even more capriciously than the section numbers. Finally, "27" is the number of the house on the block. House numbers are assigned in the order in which the houses were built.

Notice something missing? One of my phrasebooks had, under "Emergencies", the phrase "Help! I'm at the corner of two nameless streets!" And it's true — only very major streets have a name.

So if all you have is an address, the thing to do is to go to the local police station and examine their map.

The Americans, when they were there after WWII, instituted American-style street names and house numbering, but that was discarded as soon as they left.

The theory has been put forward that all of this is simply a barrier to entry for non-post office delivery services.

And those reforms in the title of this post? Well, Koizumi is trying to get the Japanese Post Office out of the banking business. It's currently the world's largest bank, with $2.9 trillion in deposits. No reform of addresses is contemplated — I'm just using this as an excuse to rant.

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Oops — GWOT not over yet

Earlier, I'd welcomed the Bush administration to the reality-based community after they recognized that there isn't any way to wage "war" against a tactic. And yes, I understand that war is frequently used as a metaphor. The thing is, they're not shooting metaphorical bullets, and the many tens of thousands have died real deaths.

But Bush has now made it clear that he's going to remain fantasy-based. I should have expected no less.

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What about Susan Torres?

Susan Torres, a 26-year-old woman, fell into a coma last May following a stroke, which had been brought on by the spread of melanoma to her brain. She was pregnant at the time, and she was kept on life support until the fetus was developed enough to be delivered. That happened on Tuesday, following which her life support was turned off and she died.

Where are the screaming crowds that surrounded Terry Schiavo's death? The pronouncements from conservative politicians, the emergency flights from Crawford to sign legislation, the thundering from sermonizers?

There are differences between this case and Schiavo's, to be sure. There have been no reported disagreements between family members over the best course of action, and no court cases. No one, no matter how ill-informed, has been heard claiming that she was anything other than brain-dead. But that shouldn't matter to the "culture of life" crowd. She was alive, the means that kept her alive were removed, and she died.

It's hard to avoid the conclusion that the Republicans, and the Bush administration, have been silent this time simply for political reasons. It turned out that their actions in the Schiavo case just didn't poll very well. Funny how those principles get abandoned, huh?

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An Apple mouse of many buttons

That's right — after a couple of decades of pushing the single-button mouse as the one true pure input device, Apple is now selling a multi-button mouse.

Of course, many of us Mac users have been using multiple-button mice for many years — I'm using an iceMouse Jr right now — and they've been genuinely plug-and-play on the Mac much longer than they have on Windows. But they haven't been Apple mice.

There's no real Apple dealer in Cambodia, so I look forward to seeing one on my next trip to Bangkok.

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Schizophrenia linked to mother's diet

A study of Chinese children born before, during, and after a famine in the late 1960s, combined with a prior study of a Dutch famine during WWI, provides evidence that children born to severely malnourished mothers are about 70% more likely to develop schizophrenia.

Researchers are interpreting this as supporting the theory that schizophrenia results from a genetic predisposition, combined with environmental triggers.

Given the devastating nature of schizophrenia, which would give sufferers a very low survival rate, a natural question to ask is why the gene has survived. Many other disease-causing genes have survived because they offer their bearers some benefit — a classic example is sickle-cell anemia. A person with two copies of the sickle-cell anemia gene will get this devastating disease; but someone with only one copy is partly protected from malaria. This is why sickle-cell anemia is today seen in people descended from ancestors who once lived in malaria endemic areas.

What benefit could derive from having some of the genes responsible for schizophrenia? There's a surprising, if speculative, answer:
Researchers into shamanism have speculated that in some cultures schizophrenia or related conditions may predispose an individual to becoming a shaman. Certainly the experience of having access to multiple realities is not uncommon in schizophrenia, and is a core experience in many shamanic traditions. Equally, the shaman may have the skill to bring on and direct some of the altered states of consciousness psychiatrists label as illness.
If this is true, schizophrenia may have survived genetically because the behavior enabled by those genes caused the person to be more valued as a shaman by the society in which they lived — behavior which does not fit well into more modern societies.

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03 August 2005

US State Department says Bush has made us less safe

They were a little more diplomatic about it than that, of course — not everyone there is a John Bolton. What they have done is issue a "Worldwide Caution", which tells Americans overseas to watch themselves:
U.S. citizens are strongly encouraged to maintain a high level of vigilance, be aware of local events, and take the appropriate steps to bolster their personal security.
And when they say "worldwide", they mean it.
Current information suggests that al-Qa’ida and affiliated organizations continue to plan terrorist attacks against U.S. interests in multiple regions, including Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
So I guess that non-US North America, South America, Antarctica, Australia, and assorted small islands are, for now, low risk. But this administration still has a few years, so they may yet succeed in making the entire world pissed off at America.

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02 August 2005

Labor leader Chea Vichea's "killers" sentenced

Longtime readers might remember that I mentioned Cambodian labor leader Chea Vichea in a previous post. Today, two men, Sok Sam Oeun and Born Samnang were sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment for his killing. The judge based this on witness statements, but none of those witnesses appeared in court for cross-examination.

The accused continued to protest their innocence, and one of them reminded the judge of the judiciary's supposed independence before the verdict was handed down. Both men had alibis attested to by many people. But one of them confessed after spending a night in jail, then recanted, saying that he had been beaten and threatened by police into making the confession.

Chea Vichea had been a prominent opponent of the government, and his funeral was the largest mass gathering I have ever seen in Phnom Penh. Every Cambodian I have talked to about this case believes that he was assassinated by the government, and that Sok Sam Oeun and Born Samnang are innocent. The judiciary is wholly beholden to the government, and unquestioningly carries out its wishes.

It is this government that $600 million a year from the international aid community has failed to reform. It is this government that today has made Cambodia scream.

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A conservative axiom isn't quite so axiomatic

I've heard it from my conservative friends, over and over again — and I think I've been heard to say it on occasion — that people who are given something for free won't value it or will misuse it.

With some things, that might be true, but it turns out that when their lives are at stake, people are pretty careful with things they're given:
A new study from the University of Alberta reveals that people with HIV in developing countries do just as well on antiretroviral therapy (ART) programs as do people with HIV on ART programs in developed countries. It also shows that people with HIV who are given free ART drugs will do "significantly" better at fighting the disease compared to those who must pay for the drugs.
And what that says to me is the reason many people in the developing world aren't following their ART therapy properly is that they simply cannot afford the drugs. That means that all of the delays and roadblocks the pharmaceutical industry put in the way of supplying these drugs cheaply or free to developing countries killed even more people than has been thought.

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01 August 2005

Today's trivia

Twenty-four years ago today, MTV started broadcasting. The first video? Video Killed the Radio Star. That, of course, was way back when MTV actually showed music videos.

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"Trustworthy computing" will not be in Longhorn/Vista

In what is a reprieve for computing in the developing world, Microsoft announced at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference that the Next Generation Secure Computing Base (aka TC) will not be part of the next release of Windows, currently scheduled for release next year.

Although I've previously focused on the effects of these initiatives on the developing world, I'd like to explicitly say this: TC is an attempt on the part of Microsoft and its partners to wrest control of your computer and the software on it away from you, the owner, and put it squarely under Microsoft and other software publishers and content providers. You will only be able to do what those companies suffer you to do, and they will be able to stop you from doing anything at all at their whim. If you install software they don't approve of, they can stop your computer from functioning until you remove that software.

It's a terrible idea to give a company that much control over something as important as computing. At the very least, it's an enormous national security problem. A hacker who managed to compromise this system could disable every TC computer in a country he was unhappy with. This alone is unacceptable.

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He can Hackett, she's Schmidt

Go and take a look at this video of Hardball interviewing Hackett and Schmidt, the two candidates in the Ohio 2nd district.

Hackett, the Democrat, is a veteran of the current war in Iraq, and makes the statement that he would be willing to put his life on the line to protect the President, no matter how much he disagrees with him.

Schmidt, the Republican, says that her constituents — and, presumably, she — think that he's being "disingenuous".

Hackett has already risked his life on the orders of this president. It's not even logically possible for his statement to be disingenuous. Ohio could hardly do worse than to elect Schmidt. But I bet Diebold is up to the job.

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Music pirates are the biggest online buyers, too

This is big news for the music industry — turns out that the people they've been antagonizing with their lawsuits are also their best customers, at least online:
Digital music research firm The Leading Question found that [people who illegally share music files online] spent four and a half times more on paid-for music downloads than average fans.
I remember arguing this with a friend some time ago. I thought that individual file-sharers were likely to be those who were the most interested in music, and thus the most likely to sample music online, and then buy what they liked. My friend disagreed pretty vehemently — I think that was mostly because she was a big Metallica fan, and they were leaders of the anti-piracy fight.

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It is not anti-Jewish to oppose Israel's policies

I was trolling around my spam mailbox, and ran across this, which was sent to me a few weeks ago from the Jerusalem Post newspaper:
Dear Friend of Israel,

This weekend, the United Church of Christ voted on divestment from Israel. Other prominent churches are looking at divestment, including the 77-million-member Anglican church.

Divestment is worse than a simple boycott — it is an expression of hate.

Our petition against divestment already has more than 7,000 names. But our goal is to collect more than 10,000. Mainline church leaders must get a strong message: Economic attacks on Israel are unjust and must stop.

Help us send the message that Israel's enemies can't ignore: Anti-Semitism by "mainline" Christians will not be tolerated.

George W. Mamo
Executive Director, Stand for Israel

Time is critical! Please sign the petition today ... and thank you for standing with Israel and the Jewish people.
I don't really follow the "divestment = hate" equation; it seems to me that if you disagree with the policies of a government, you should be free to stop supporting that government. It doesn't mean you hate its citizens. It just means you want the policies to change.

Similarly, opposing Israel's policies is not the same as being anti-Jewish. If the UCC was recommending divesting from Jewish businesses, that would be anti-Jewish, and I would oppose that, as I would any racial or religious boycott.

Full disclosure: I grew up in the United Church of Christ. Not a member — or even a Christian — now, but still.

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Good or evil? You choose

Just for fun, go to UltimateJudgment and vote on a few things (I got "Black People", "Ernie (from Sesame Street)", "chocolate chip cookies", "Adolf Hitler", and "the sun"), and then take a look at their list of the Top 50 EVIL Things. Spam got voted as more evil than Satan, which seems about right.

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