Saturday, June 15, 2002

As promised, the Ecosystem has been updated. Changes this week include:

- About 40 new blogs have been added, bringing the total tracked up to around 250

- Added indicators on the Ecosystem list to track each blog's change in ranking from last week

I still have not tracked down the problem where some blogs do not appear to get scanned correctly for links, so you will still see some listed with 0 outbound links that should have some; sorry. Anyone willing to debug this problem (on their own blog or others) is encouraged to do so; I'd be happy to have some help. And on a more general note: if you believe your blog is listed incorrectly, please feel free to contact me and complain, but please: do as much investigation and debugging on your own as possible, and provide me with as specific information as you can about what links you think are being missed. And please do not send me mail unless you've read my posts about exactly how the system works and are comfortable you understand it.

If your blog is not listed here, please don't take offense: I am now basically only adding blogs that folks explicitly request to be added. So if there's anybody that I've linked to within my blog who expected to get added but didn't; sorry. I'll hopefully be implementing a more automated system for requesting to be added when we make the move to the new domain, which will reduce headaches for all involved. (Bottom line: if you aren't listed and want to be, send me an email, and to make my life really easy, use the subject line "ADD TO ECOSYSTEM".)

And finally, the Hall of Link Sluttage remains named as such --- for now. If you have an opinion on whether it should stay that way, then go vote on the poll in the left nav bar --- the next update will probably include the final decision to keep the name or find a new one.

Enjoy, folks!

Friday, June 14, 2002

Why we will win: a brief recap

We will win because:

Their women live in oppression and fear. Our women are free and joyous.

This is what they think a football stadium is for. This is what we think a football stadium is for.

Their society produces no weapons that can possibly harm us. They are reduced to stealing our own tools to use against us.

They believe all wisdom comes from a single book, and pleasure is weakness. We have a national anthem based on a song about drinking and sex.

Our civilians defeated their trained killers in 109 minutes.

They said they would "teach us a lesson". They were the ones who got schooled.

Bruce Hill and Prof. Reynolds say that we need not hate our enemies in this war.

Indeed, we should pity them.

In case your wondering, no, I haven't forgotten about the Blogosphere Ecosystem. Expect an update over the weekend, at the latest.

And while we're on the subject of upcoming updates: The Truth Laid Bear will be moving to its own domain name, and off of Blogspot, sometime over the next week or so. The move will also include a complete site redesign, which hopefully will spiff up the look of things around here a bit. So for those of you who have (kindly) put permament links to me on your pages, consider this a "heads up" that a move is in the works...

Next Stop: Alpha Centauri
ICAN-II Spacecraft Design
This post from Prof R on a potential (real) warp drive reminded me of a subject I've been meaning to post on for a while: anti-matter !

Yeah, I'm the kinda guy who thinks things like "I really should post about anti-matter soon." Learn to live with it; otherwise hey, the back button's right at the top of the screen, buddy.

There's an occupational hazard of being a devout science-fiction reader. Which is that in your mind, you build up a collection of technologies and milestones which exist in a a grey area where you have to stop and think: "Is that real yet? Or did I just read that in Baxter's latest?"

The problem is worse if you focus on writers who actually do good science (see the Creative Dream Team if you're looking for a list). Growing up on Heinlein, I continually had to remind myself that no, we don't have rejuvination treatments for life extension yet, and no, there is not a former prison colony called Luna City on the moon.

Anyway, to get to the point: anti-matter has been floating in that bucket in my mind for years. But recently, doing some research, I stumbled across the fact that not only is anti-matter real (which I knew); not only has it actually been produced (which I suspected), but folks have actually got legitimate designs for spacecraft to be driven by it (which I had no idea).

The good folks at the Antimatter Space Propulsion group at Penn State University have developed designs for not one, but two different potential antimatter propulsion drives.

The first method is known as antiproton-catalyzed microfission/fusion (ACMF), uses very very very tiny amounts of antimatter to generate energy sufficient to trigger a fission reaction. This minimizes the amount of actual antimatter required as fuel --- which is the major problem with any of these concepts, as our capacity to generate antimatter is very limited --- and will be for some time. The Penn State team has designed not just the drive, but a spacecraft to use it, dubbed ICAN-II. It is shown in the top-right picture above, and the full description can be found in this PDF file.
So what could you do with ICAN-II? How about a manned mission to Mars? ICAN-II would allow a mission to be be launched in a window that occurs every two years for a 90-day round trip to Mars, with a 30-day stay at the planet itself. Feel like a longer drive? Try Jupiter: ICAN-II will get you there and back in eighteen months, and give you 90 days to enjoy the sites while you're there. Really need to get away from it all? Pluto is a mere three year (one-way) trip away.

All that's fine and good, but only weenies just want to stay within our own Solar System. ("The meek shall inherit the Earth... the rest of us are going to the stars.") And sadly, even ICAN-II doesn't provide a powerful enough drive to get you to anywhere worth going outside our system before you're, well, dead.

But no worries: the Penn State folks have got it covered. First, enter AIMstar, a spacecraft based on Antiproton Initiated Microfission/fusion (AIM). This design uses antimatter to spark a fusion reaction, generating a larger specific impulse and enabling longer voyages. It's not all good news, though: AIMstar is designed as an unmanned craft, and will still take 50 years to get to the Oort cloud (at 10,000 AU).

Future designs, though, could bring Alpha Centauri into reach for manned missions. "Plasma Core" and "Beamed Core" drive designs --- which come closer to the direct "antimatter+matter = large boom" design of science fiction, make starships capable of reaching up to 40% of the speed of light feasible --- enabling a trip to Alpha Centauri in a long-but-feasible 10 years.

The problem, though, is that beamed core engines require huge amounts of anti-matter: well beyond our production capabilities for at least the next few decades, unless an unforseen breakthrough occurs. The Penn State team provides a throrough review of our (and by our, I mean the planet Earth) anti-matter production capabilities for the near future, which assesses not just the raw mass being produced, but the actual cost (real dollars!) to do so. It also includes a very very spiffy graph, which I reproduce as the final image here, which shows exactly how much antimatter mass is required for various voyages using the different propulsion methods being discussed.
Propulsion Concepts
One final thought, which is somewhat of a downer: antimatter is, without exaggeration, the most dangerous substance ever created by man. I think that's a truism, when you consider that the energy released by a antimatter-matter reaction is near total. And given our current climate of concern around securing nuclear and biological materials... I think you see where I'm going.

The good news is, the quantities of antimatter being produced today are, to my understanding, nowhere near anything that could be used as a weapon. But eventually, they will be. And antimatter weapons come with a particularly nasty attribute: if there's a nuclear missile coming at you, you can shoot it down with conventional weapons and feel reasonably assured that there won't be a nuclear reaction.

Not so with antimatter warheads. 'Cause if you destroy the containment system keeping the antimatter in place with that conventional warhead, there's going to be a reaction --- whether it reacts with the material in the warhead designed for that purpose, or with the ground as it crashes down after your takedown.

Anyway, sorry to end on a depressing note, but we will have to think about a way to produce this stuff without it being an easy target for nutcases, sooner or later.

Trans-orbital antimatter production facilities, anyone?

Final Note: The work done at Penn State has now apparently been taken up by a commercial entity; a company called Positronics Research. The initial website I provided as the first link to the Penn State team's above is a sub-page of Positronic's site; however, if you wish to see the actual Penn State page (which appears to be orphaned and no longer being updated) you can view it here.

Final disclaimer: I am not a spaceflight expert by any means, and I have not fact-checked the sources above in any real way. They could, I suppose, be complete nonsense, but I'm assuming that Penn State keeps at least a slight eye on what their professors publish. And it is also worth noting that money has become involved here with the introduction of Positronics Research: which on the one hand suggests that somebody thinks these ideas are credible enough to spend money on, but on the other hand should lead us to consider the information with the skepticism that we view any presentation by someone with a commercial interest at stake. I would, therefore, welcome any pointers to additional info and/or opposing viewpoints on the feasability of the Penn State team's work, or any other research in this field.

Thursday, June 13, 2002

Essay Question (25 points)

Select one (and only one) of the following and defend the position in an essay of no more than 1,000 words:

1) The American Catholic Church stands on the verge of a full-fledged rift with the Vatican, as American Bishops move towards policies that are more open and inclusive of the laity, while the Vatican hierarchy stands firm on the top-down command-and-control structures of the past centuries. Provide specific policy examples, and compare the current crisis with past upheavals in the Church. Extra credit: Outline the conditions that could lead to an American Reformation, in which the Church in the United States fully and completely splits from the Vatican hierarchy, and assess whether such a split would be a positive or negative development for Christianity worldwide.


2) The crisis gripping the Catholic Church will not result in significant reforms, to the detriment of the Church's hold on its American faithful. Catholicism will wane as a significant power in American spiritual life; membership will plummet as formerly devout Catholics drift away from a Church they no longer trust. The financial base of the Catholicism in the United States will crumble, forcing a significant retreat for the Church, which will be compelled to significantly scale back social programs and other spending both in the United States and worldwide, resulting in a smaller, less worldly institution focused inward on itself.


3) A third way will be found, in which satisfactory reforms will be implemented which restore American Catholics faith in the institution of the Church, while simultaneously remaining within the bounds set by the Vatican hierarchy. Describe in detail the steps that must be taken by the American Bishops, the concerned laity in the United States, and the Vatican for such a solution to come to pass, and why you believe such an outcome is feasible. Students successfully addressing this position will likely be asked to follow up with a precise six-week plan to achieve full and lasting peace in the Middle East.

Submit all essays to your section lead; exceptional responses will be shared with the class.

And remember: spelling counts.

Blatant Anti-Bear Propoganda

I am shocked --- shocked! --- at the speciesism on display at the WaPo. Observe columnist Robert Kagan's otherwise thoughtful analysis of U.S. - Europe differences on how to attack terrorism:

Because of the disparity of power, Americans and Europeans even view threats differently. A person armed only with a knife may decide that a bear prowling the forest is a tolerable danger -- trying to kill the bear is riskier than lying low and hoping the bear never attacks. But a person with a rifle will likely make a different calculation: Why should he risk being mauled to death if he doesn't need to?

Excuse me! What is with this killing of bears? Somebody's getting a terse letter, I'll tell you.

On a less disturbing note: I'm just not sure I buy this whole Europe-and-America-are-parting ways argument. Yes, Europeans and Americans are viewing the current crisis differently, and Kagan provides good reasons for why this may be so.

But my instinct, at least, is that this is less a fundamental shift than a perceived difference in circumstances.

Europe does not view itself to be directly under threat from the current war. If you doubt this, consider that even now, America is having difficulty remembering that we are under threat. When (fate forbid) a European city loses a few city blocks and a few thousand citizens, and al Qaeda (or some other group) declares the French to be their sworn enemy, the European tune will change. American unilateralism --- otherwise known as "could you please come fix our mess again?" --- will once again be back in vogue.

And I suspect that underneath it all, there is a current of relief in Europe that America is there to do the nasty things than Europe can't get its consensual ass together to do itself.

So will we see the support we want from our European allies? Probably not in the ways we truly want, not anytime soon. Will they actively stand in our way? Also probably not.

So the rational approach is to keep doing what we're doing: charting the course that we think best serves the interest of the United States, and best serves the interest of the world as a whole. Europe will drag its feet at times, but when the chips are truly down, they will come around. And the best way to make that happen is to ensure that our policies are not just self-serving realpolitik, but are genuinely geared at improving the safety and security of the planet. Simply because a policy is blessed by a consensus of gnomes in Brussels or Geneva doesn't make it moral or just; nor is a policy conceived by a single nation by definition immoral.

If we use the power we have simply to advance U.S. hegemony, then Europe will leave us to struggle alone. But if we choose to lead the fight to defend the security and liberty of the world --- Europe will follow. If not the gnomes of Brussels, than the men and women who they claim to serve. My faith in the European elites is slight: but my faith in the people of Europe is strong. If we show them that we're serious, and that we're interested in more than our own petty gains, they'll come on board. Because they know the right side of this fight, even if their bureaucrats don't.

Wheaton Ass-Kicking Update:

The Truth Laid Bear: Up to 3.3181818181818 on the user rating

WILL WHEATON DOT NET: Holding steady at 4.0382695507488

So Wheaton thinks he's better than me, huh? Well the numbers say he's only 0.720087732567 better. And not for long.

Wesley, can you come stand on this transporter pad for a sec? I want to try something...

A brief post from David Janes, which I quote in its entirety:

Sweden is modifying its constitution to ban criticism of homosexuality and alternate lifestyles. How if your alternative lifestyle is based on criticizing homosexuality? More seriously, isn't the point of freedom of speech to be able to adopt and advocate positions that the majority disagrees with?

Yeah. It's amazing how many people (and legislators) in supposedly enlightened democracies really don't get that concept.

Douglas Turnbull over at Beauty of Gray reminds us of the fifth plane to be lost last fall -- American Flight 583. He's got a wrap-up of the latest from the NTSB investigation --- which has not released conclusions as yet, but has provided some info on their web site.

Jay Manifold thinks small is beautiful. Or at least, short is.

The topic du jour is about rebuilding the WTC, which from a safe distance of 1200 miles, I ... still oppose. The density of central cities is an artifact of an earlier time, where the value of information combined with limited bandwidth and personal transportation to require close physical proximity ... I have seen the future, and it's about 50 feet high.

Well, sure, out there in the cornfields of Kansas City it's easy to say that. But I would point out that Manhattan is an island. There ain't no more space to build any direction but up there... and hasn't been for some time. And so for some patches of civilization, I think you're going to have those big buildings... not necessarily out of architectural hubris, but out of simple geometry...

Thanks to those who cast some votes over at The Weblog Review. I'm #4 on the "Readers' Top 5" list, and am now up to a reader rating of 3.1428571428571.

New goal: Kick that punk Wil Wheaton's ass. He's got a reader rating of 4.0434056761269. Approximately.

And he's all that stands between me and that #3 slot.

C'mere, Wil. I've got this nice red shirt I'd like to lend you...

Wednesday, June 12, 2002

A new look for The Truth Laid Bear

Finally -- A logo submission !

To the left, you will behold the new TTLB logo, submitted by a self-described "huge fan of my stuff". Cower in fear of its aesthetic beauty, foolish mortals ! You are not worthy !

I'm late to acknowledge this, but better late than and all that:

Mr. Patio has replied to my pleas (well, whines, actually) to declassify me from Comedies on his blogroll.

His new category for this humble bear is, I suppose, appropriate, given how "smokin" this site has been lately. Ahem.

Heather Havrilesky is a strange lady. She's also very tired.

Heather on manic episodes: "The Manic Episode is our friend. We need it to function. Without it, how would we alienate our friends and relatives, or do the laundry in a timely fashion?"

Heather on the Good Things In Life: "Well, there's pizza with extra garlic. There's great sex and even better sex. There are places in Palm Springs where they bring you cold beers to reward you for tanning so evenly."

Heather on her plans for children: "I'd prefer to have kids who grow up wretchedly poor in some foul, twisted city."

Go ahead. Click it. You know you're curious. Just don't say I didn't warn you.

I don't think Jason Rylander likes Ralph Nader much.
Shameless plea for validation

Okay, I'll admit it. I paid $5 to The Weblog Review for them to get off their butts and get around to reviewing my site. I'm a narcissist, and I was curious what they'd have to say.

Well, turns out they said nice things, rating TTLB at 4.5 out of 5. Which is great.

But then, some meanies decided to cast their own votes on the site, and they don't seem to like this bear much at all. My average "user" vote is 2.5, with only two votes cast. And that... well, that just hurts my feelings. Sniff.

So if only to stroke my pathetic ego: go vote! Unless of course you think I suck, in which case: don't !

I think you have to register, but it's free and relatively painless, so it's a small price for you to pay for... well, for me.

Brian Finch has a column today over at TechCentralStation which InstaGuy advises us to read, so never to be one to turn down He From Whom All Traffic Flows, I did.

It's a good piece, and reminds us of the paradigm shift the September 11th attacks forced on our ideas about aircraft hijackings and how they obliterated the "old" approach to dealing with terrorists in flight. Finch calls this "The Delta Force Paradigm", and describes it as "stay calm, listen to what the hijackers say and wait until the plane gets on the ground so the military or police can come and rescue everyone."

On September 11th that, of course, didn't happen, and now we know that there is something worse than the terrorists destroying the plane and killing everyone on board. And we're adjusting our approaches to countering them accordingly.

But I wanted to take this opportunity to remind everyone --- as Finch does --- of exactly how long it took American society to analyze this new threat and change our policies to deal with it appropriately.

The change didn't come from Congress, or from a new Cabinet office. It came through the reactions of civilian passengers on Flight 93, and their loved ones on the ground. And it took one hundred and nine minutes.

This has been commented on before, but it's worth revisiting, especially in any moments of doubt we may be having about our ability to prevail in this struggle. One hundred and nine minutes after the first plane hit the World Trade Center, our society was able to recognize the new threat, determine how to counter it, and act.

As an occasional Star Trek geek, I find myself compelled to bring up a comparison to the Borg; the race of humanoids who function as a collective mind, completely integrated with their technology. One of their greatest strengths is that no weapon works on them more than a few times --- they use their combined abilities to analyze, assess, and adapt to the attack, nearly instantly.

Welcome to the benevolent Borg collective, folks.

Wanted: Soccer Mom Bloggers

The recent New York Times piece on bloggers has stirred up yet another round of metacommentary on blogging ("another round" is probably generous --- it's more accurate to say the metacommentary never really stops), and many bright folks have weighed in with their two cents on the future o' blogging.

Personally, I was unimpressed with the Times piece; despite Glenn's comments that he was satisfied, it certainly seemed to me to be trying to create a story where there really wasn't one --- i.e., the "rift" between techblogs and warblogs. Am I just dense --- is there a war going on and I just didn't notice it?

But the substance of the piece aside, it has certainly had the salutory effect of driving out some interesting self-reflection in the community, such as Jeff Jarvis's comments (via Eric Olsen ):

To survive and succeed, weblogs must be embraced by many, many interests and their communities. I've seen some good food blogs. We need more entertainment blogs. I can't believe there aren't many more sports blogs, from pro all the way down to Little League. I hope to see local blogs and ethnic blogs and, of course, biz blogs.

This is exactly right, but I'll take Jeff's points a few steps further.

Once-A-Week Bloggers

In the heart of the warblogger community, a normal rate-of-posting is at least once a day. Many (not just Glenn) are updating many times throughout the day, every day. This is great. But what we really need is not 100 more blogs being updated six times a day --- what we need is 100,000 more blogs that are all being updated once a week.

Right now, the political blogs are dominated by --- well, political junkies. People who love to think about politics, news, events, and have an opinion on everything. This is, as I said, great. But what would truly be interesting would be to encourage a far, far wider group of people to become involved in blogging --- those who don't want to spend many hours a day on a blog, but who are willing to devote one hour a week.

To keep to what I know best --- the political end of the blogosphere --- I know what Stephen and Glenn and Mickey and Andrew have to say about homeland security. What I want to know is what the legendary soccer moms have to say about it. We do have a diversity of political opinion in the blogosphere (despite whining complaints of it being conservative-dominated). But what we don't have enough of is diversity of "time commitment". The people who are blogging are, by and large, those who are willing to devote a large chunk of time to blogging. And that skews the equation, and limits the spectrum of thought and opinion that we find.

Tools & Talent

What needs to happen for the soccer moms to start blogging? A few things.

First, nobody blogs if they don't think anybody is reading them. (Or at least, nobody I know). And right now, the tools available to us as blog readers are skewed to favor blogs that are updated very frequently --- and readers who are monitoring blogs continuously.'s main list is the worst example. It's great if you're monitoring it every few hours and looking to see when Glenn updates. But if you check it once every two days (let's not even think about only once a week) and are looking for three blogs that update about once a week, then good luck. You'll never find them; the tool isn't geared to that kind of usage.

(This is not, by the way, meant as criticism of --- it is a great service and I thank those who run it. But it fills a need --- not all needs).

Some add-ons to Weblogs' main data stream help; BlogTracker lets you select your list of blogs and shows you when they were last updated, and can be used to track blogs over long periods of time. But we need more --- more tools, more features on those tools, more flexibility in how to use them, and more independent tools that don't rely on the Weblogs,com data stream (because after all, the fatal annoyance of is that it requires the blogger to ping them. We need active monitoring tools to handle sites run by people who've never heard of

The point being, if there are no tools available to 'automate' blog tracking, a normal person is going to reduce down to the five or ten blogs they either remember the URL for, or bother to put in their bookmarks (or, is going to just rely on a major bloggers list like Glenn's). But with easy-to-use tools, there's no reason why that list can't expand to fifty or a hundred weblogs, many of which don't update frequently. And that sets the stage for the once-a-week bloggers to be able to actually publish with a reasonable belief that just even though they don't update six times a day, they will still get read.

And the tools need to get better on the authoring side, as well. Surely it is obvious when the blogging revolution will truly have arrived? That's right: when Microsoft starts bundling Blogger into a version of Windows. Or Internet Explorer (they're the same thing, right?).

And there's no reason why they shouldn't. Using Blogger is a bit harder than using Microsoft Word --- but only a bit, and it's not harder for any really good reason that couldn't be fixed. So why shouldn't we see Microsoft bundling a blogging tool and free (limited) hosting on MSN with the next version of Windows?

(I use Microsoft as the obvious example here, but I don't intend to get into the question of whether they, as the Evil Empire, are the best to do this. AOL could do it, as could any ISP. The ideal situation, of course, would be if they all did it...)

Spread the Gospel

Lastly, the obvious point. We need to spread the gospel o' blogging. This means reaching out to those who are not yet bloggers but should be --- and it also means encouraging those newcomers who are just getting started (and there ain't no lovin' quite like linkin' lovin' --- so that's the best way to encourage!).

The realization I've come to recently is that anybody who enjoys writing --- even a little bit --- should be blogging. It's not just to share your wisdom with the world. It's to clarify for yourself just what your wisdom is. The discipline required to sit down and state your case, to declare an opinion and back it up, forces a person to think critically about the issue at hand. By documenting your thoughts, you actually improve the quality of your thinking.

And that is the true promise of blogging. Not only to create a space where --- perhaps --- the embryo of a virtual democracy can form, but also to drag people out of their spoon-fed adherence on the Conventional Wisdom of the day. If nobody is listening to you, it feels like it doesn't really matter if you form your own opinion or just parrot back what you heard on Crossfire. But once you've got a platform --- the feeling that people are actually listening to what you have to say --- well, that makes you think.

And that's the whole idea.

VodkaPundit refers us to a Michael Kelly piece in today's WaPo online, in which Kelly stakes out the pragmatic high ground of the civil liberties vs. increased security debate.

First, Kelly:

The proper response to [complaints about security measures violating civil liberties] is: Yes, it is true, this action will indeed hurt or at least insult some innocent people, and we are sorry about that. And this action does represent an infringement of the rights and liberties enjoyed not just by Americans but by visitors to America, and we are sorry about that, too. But we must do everything we can to curtail the ability of the enemy to attack us. This is necessary.

And VP:

Readers here know that VP is as hawkish as they come. But Kelly frightens me a bit. Read him and report back.

Read and reporting as ordered, sir.

I think I know what the problem is here, and why VP is troubled by Kelly, despite being a rather pragmatic fellow himself. Kelly's central point is that in wartime, we may not, as citizens (or even simple residents) of the United States retain the exact same rights and privleges as we have in peacetime, and that this is a rational and necessary response to realize the greater good of defending the safety and survival of our country. To which most normal folks would reply: "Well, duh!."

But that's not the troubling part of Kelly's piece. The troubling part is that he takes aim at those who are raising concerns about the impact new security measures will have on civil liberties; in effect, the tone of his piece suggests that he thinks they should sit down and shut up.

And this is exactly, 100% wrong. It is precisely because we have people such as those Kelly bashes to raise objections to new policies --- and have a society and legal framework that ensures the right to such debate --- that we can safely consider rational tradeoffs between liberty and security.

Reader MarkD on VP's comment board points out that "Fingerprinting aliens is not the first step on a slippery slope to the American Secret Police knocking on your door just because you said mean things about the government. There's a million breaking points where lines can and will be drawn. This is a democracy and the people will never stand for intrusions on that level." And MarkD is correct. But Kelly doesn't seem to want any review of these policies; in describing the dialogue (he calls it "ritual") between civil liberties activists and government officials pressing for further security measures, he asks alound, "Would it be too much to ask that we cut this out?"

Yes, Mr. Kelly, it would. For while I'll support your position that some restrictions on liberty may --- may be necessary, I will absolutely not support the idea that such restrictions should be put in place without any public feedback or review. Many of the concerns raised may not be valid --- they may be stupid, foolish, and irrational. But some won't be. And in the dialogue between cop and civil liberties lawyer; between spy and protester; in that heat of discussion and opinion flowing back and forth, we will find the truth. The policies that are truly necessary and just will stand --- and those that aren't will get shouted down.

That is why we call this a democracy, and why it is worth defending, remember?

PS - Stephen has now exceeded his quota of interesting pieces for the next day or so. No more links for you, VP!

If you haven't figured it out, I've backed off from the Hayman coverage. Not because it's any less important, but because there are folks who are doing a much better job of it that I could. If you are looking for information, please start with the official county sources which I have listed in the top-left of the page. If you can't find what you're looking for, then try the media resources. And good luck to all affected.

Tuesday, June 11, 2002

More Nonflamable Posting: The N.Z. Bear Name FAQ

To my surprise, I received far fewer questions about my nom de plume than I had expected when I started TTLB. However, they are starting to pile up. And so, while I've answered some queries privately, it is time, I think, to publicly address some of the common questions. So here goes.

Is N.Z. Bear your real name?

No. It is indeed an alias.

Why the alias, coward? Are you chicken ?

Well, yes and no. I don't particularly care if I potentially endanger myself by pissing off wackos. (And if I am not pissing off any wackos, I'm not accomplishing my goals for the site). However, I do have family, and they have the same name as I do. And so I'm uncomfortable with the possibility that, remote as it may be, some wacko might decide to show up on my doorstep and harass my fiancee or any other person I hold dear. And so, an alias.

Will you ever consider dropping the alias?

Yes, almost certainly. I think about it pretty frequently. (When I got the Salon piece published was certainly a big moment of decision... there was a heavy temptation to have it be my "true name" up in lights there). My conclusion, however, is that I can always "come out" later... but once "out", there ain't no going back. And so, for now, I remain a coward.

Does the N.Z. stand for New Zealand?

Probably the most common question. No, it does not. I've don't live there, and in fact have never been there, although I hear it is lovely. (I live in California, which those of you who have been paying close attention already knew).

So what does it stand for?

It's a private joke. And no, I'm not telling.

About the "Bear" part. Are you a large, hairy gay man?

Er, no. But thanks for asking. (I actually did receive this question -- asked very politely, I might add --- from a reader). Although I have now learned (also from said reader) that "bear" is a term some homosexual men of generally large build use to describe themselves, that would not be me.

If you have a N.Z. Bear name question that wasn't answered here, by all means, send it my way! I'll try to answer it --- or at least evade it in an entertaining fashion.

A Post About Something That Isn't On Fire -- With Special Bonus Nomenclature !

VodkaGuy, clearly befuddled by the unending dilemma of whether he wants to be Hef or Paul Wolfowitz when he grows up, misses the lead in his takedown this morning of accused "dirty-bomber" Jose Padilla.

VP cites Padilla's impressive rap sheet (Chicago gang member, assault, etc.) as evidence that al Qaeda will take anybody --- as opposed to our fine U.S. Marine Corps, who are of course looking simply for a few good men.

What VP forgets, however, is that to the Islamofascists, a disregard for human life, violent behavior, and a general lack of morality are assets. Viewed through that lens, Perdillo is imminently qualified.

By the way: let's drop the tag "dirty-bomber". There's a much better moniker to stick on Padilla and his ilk : wannabomber.

I think it summarizes both the facts of his (alleged) intentions, and also nicely captures the pathetic, cowardly loserdom inherent in a man --- or at least, a male human, not a man --- who would seek to kill innocents in such a manner.

It's a nice generic term, too, and can be applied with equal validity to the Palestinian murderers-to-be who are caught before they can carry out their attacks, and (with even greater enjoyment) to those who accidentally blow themselves up before they can harm any women and children...

Update: I goofed and got the wannabomber's name wrong. The error has now been corrected; thanks to Kevin at Flyover for pointing it out.
If you are truly desperate for the latest rumours about the Hayman fire, you can monitor the IRC channel that has set up. Keep in mind that anybody and everybody is chatting in there, so information you read may be inaccurate, completely wrong, or malicious lies. Or all three. This is not an official government source -- see the list of phone numbers at the top-left of the page for the appropriate local resources near you.

You can access the channel via your browser here, or via your own IRC client at, port 6667, channel #pinechat .

Folks -

I've taken down my handmade fire maps. I know this may disappoint some, but I am concerned that folks may start to rely on my information as "definitive" --- which it is not. In addition, I am fearful that even the official info coming out (which I based my maps on) is significantly behind the real fire, and I am worried about posting a map that is actually half-a-day out of date.

So: No more pretty pictures, sorry. But I will continue to post official info as I find it, as well as links to resources. Hope y'all understand.

I just updated the map to more accurately reflect the most current information on expected / "encouraged" evacuation areas. In addition, there is now a high-quality version of the map available; click on the map for the larger version.
The Douglas County Sheriff has a news release out this morning regarding evacuations. In a nutshell, it sounds like the areas to the northeast of the fire will be under mandatory evacuation orders sometime today, and the sheriff is encouraging residents of those areas to leave now. (Phone number for Douglas County sherriff's office can be found in the left navigation bar).

Release Date: 06/11/02 Release Time 8:00 a.m.

DOUGLAS CONTY, CO -- Although the Hayman fire did not advance much overnight, conditions today are right for the fire to once again advance rapidly and unpredictably.

The Sheriff's Office is contacting Neighborhood Watch block captains to augment its emergency notification capability. Evacuation notices for affected neighborhoods have been loaded into the EPN emergency telephone notification system to allow for immediate notification of citizens in the event of an evacuation order.

While NO NEW EVACUATION ORDERS HAVE BEEN ISSUED, the sheriff's office is highly encouraging residents of all urban-wildland interface areas between Perry Park (on the south) and Roxborough Village (on the north) - to include Sedalia, Indian Creek Ranch, Oak Valley and surrounding areas -- to give serious consideration to the idea of leaving now. If the fire advances quickly toward a residential area, an emergency evacuation order may not allow enough time for people to leave in an orderly manner, especially given inevitable traffic congestion.

Residents are STRONGLY ENCOURAGED to pack up medications in their original containers, insurance and other important papers, a change of clothing, and any other items they need at this time.

The sheriff's office is establishing and will maintain checkpoints in the area to discourage non-residents from trying to get into the area. Consequently, residents should make sure they have identification with their current address with them at all times.

Residents should also be aware that if an evacuation is ordered, residents WILL NOT be allowed back into the affected areas until it is safe to do so. Please DO NOT WAIT for an evacuation order to be issued to make these critical preparations.

If you're looking for even more Hayman fire information, check out In addititon to a blog, they've also got folks who are monitoring scanner frequencies and posting updates to a message board on what they hear.

In particular, you'll find information in the blog about resources that fire fighters are in need of --- snack foods, water, minor first aid supplies, things like that. Check it out, and if you are in the area and can spare anything, help them out!

PS - And no, my father's not on the Hayman fire today (I think), so I'm not plugging this to get my Dad some chips!

Okay, as I've been focusing my efforts almost exclusively on the Hayman fire, I've implemented a temporary site redesign. I'll be updating the map above with additional information as it comes in, as well as the statistics to the right.

As always: I'm doing what I can, but please, please, contact your local authorities for official information.

With the redesign, I may even be able to cover some non-fire stuff today without reducing the prominence of the Hayman info, so we'll see how that goes.

Monday, June 10, 2002

[Map has been relocated to the top-left of the page]


1) This is not an offical fire map, but rather is my own personal attempt to combine information I've found on the official fire sites and other media outlets into a single, readable map. If you believe you may be in danger, consult your local authorities (see below for phone #s).

2) The data I've based the map on is virtualy guaranteed to be many hours behind the actual fire. The fire services are not able to keep their data updated so quickly, so the "current" data is always stale. The map that was just posted to the web is most likely based on a survey of the fire that took place three, six, or even twelve hours before.

The fire continues to grow, obviously. The Colorado media are all over the story, and KUSA in particular seems to be staying on top of things (I got the evacuation data for my map from one on their page).

KUSA is now reporting the fire as the largest in Colorado history. Some additional updated stats:

Size: 77,000 acres (I would bet it is most likely 90,000 - 100,000 by now)

Personnel Assigned: 400 firefighters on scene, 2 Type 1 crews, 8 Type 2 crews (see my earlier posts for descriptions of Type 1 vs. Type 2 crews)

Equipment Assigned: Type 1 Helicopters, Type 3 Helicopters, Type 1 Air Attack, Type 1 Air Tankers, Lead Planes, 11 engines, water tenders and dozers

Structures Lost: (This is directly from the fire services:) "Several with potential for many more"

Evacuation Information:

Park County Sheriff 719-836-2494
Douglas County Sheriff at 303-660-7500.

The American Red Cross is assisting and may be reached at (719) 748-3911 or 748-8215.

Jefferson County - Elk Creek Elementary is now changed to Chatfield High School 7227 S. Simms cross Freemont, Littleton 303-982-3670

Teller County - Woodland Park High School, 151 N. Baldwin 719-331-3645

Douglas County - Sedalia Elementary School, 5449 Huxtable St. 303-814-4735

Park County - Lake George Elementary, Hwy 24 in Lake George 719-748-3911

Continued good luck to all, and stay safe...

I'm out to deal with some reallife things for a few hours. If you are genuinely in need of immediate information on the Colorado fires, first: contact your local authorities and listen to your local media. But if that doesn't help, VodkaPundit now has the same primary source information that I do, and can hand it out to those in genuine need.

I'll be back later tonight and will try to do another fire update. Be safe everyone...

VodkaGuy put in a special request for a larger map showing the Colorado fires in context of the entire state with major roads & cities. So, never one to reject the VP, I've attempted to comply.

The first map shows the fires (Hayman, Coal Seam -- also known as Glenwood Springs, and a few others) in the context of Colorado as a whole, with major cities & roads marked.

The second map is a satellite image from yesterday which shows you the fires and their smoke plumes. I crudely annotated it with the major highways and cities of Colorado for context (placement of these was handdrawn in very approximate).

Note: Both of these maps are out-of-date; the most accurate map of the fire boundaries remains the one below in my previous post. (But keep in mind even that one is at least twelve hours out of date.)

I strongly urge anyone in the areas affected by these fires to stay closely tuned to your local media, and contact your local authorities if you are looking for official information on evacuation status.

Hope that helps VDude...

New Hayman Fire Map
[Map removed; see most current map at top-left of page]

The fire has now "split" and has two forks, each heading northeastward.

The black and white line map comes direct from the fire teams. The color terrain map is a modified version of the first map I posted today, which I marked up (very roughly) with the new information on the fire's spread so that the fire's relationship to the surrounding area can still be shown.

[Map removed; see most current map at top-left of page]

Brief non-fire item: Suman Palit has another excellent (if grim) analysis of the prospects for war between India and Pakistan.

We are now getting very close to the time when reports suggested India would launch a limited attack into Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, if the terrorist attacks being launched from that territory were not stopped.


- We will see another major terrorist attack against Indian targets very soon, most likely this week. These people don't want peace, and we've seen this game played out in Israel before: they will attack to ensure that there is no possibility of peace. I highly doubt Musharraf has the ability to stop the attacks entirely, even assuming he has the desire to do so.

- India will proceed with their attack, probably within the next two weeks, using the latest terrorist killings as the trigger.

- After that, I have no idea. As Suman points out, the threshold for useful prediction will get really short, really fast.

Hayman Fire Update

The fire is now being reported as follows as of 10am CDT:

Acres: 60,850 (up from 20,000 at last report)

Percent Contained: 5 % (down from 10%)

Teams Assigned: There are now two Type 1 teams assigned to the fire.

Air Equipment: 3 Type 1 helicopters, 2 Type 1 Air Attack, 4 Type 1 Air tankers, 2 lead planes, water tenders and dozers

Fire Behavior: Continues to be described as "extreme" and the fire is heading north / northeast

I'm finding mixed messages about the total # of personnel involved and the structures threatened; the 10am report indicates 220 personnel assigned, and only 20 residences threatened. I am inclined to believe the previous, more grim report, however --- but maybe I'm just a pessimist.

Finally, the following narrative description of the situation is being published:

The Great Basin Type 1 team is assigned and assumed operational management of this fire effective this morning at 6 AM. A second Type 1 team will be arriving sometime this morning and will be stationed in Castle Rock. This second team will focus efforts on the northern end of the Hayman fire, especially working with the Sheriff's offices in Douglas and Jefferson counties to coordinate evacuations. This wind driven fire, which was reported approximately 5 PM Saturday, grew very quickly due to the high wind conditions, high temperatures and low relative humidity's. Last night, crews worked to burn out portions of the line along Platte Springs, in efforts to secure the heel of the fire. Today a priority for crews is to continue working along the eastern perimeter, anchoring and flanking the fire. Along the northern end of the fire, the priority will be on any additional evacuations, should they become necessary. We continue to receive resources in support of firefighting efforts.

If you read this closely, I think what it says is that on the northern end of the fire --- the front of the fire --- the teams are essentially focused on getting people the hell out of the way of this thing. I'm not sure they can do much to contain or stop it, at least until they get a break from the weather.

Some additional information on the Hayman fire:

- The map to the right shows the fire shaded in red. Populated areas are shaded in purple. Although this data is from the past 24 hours, it is still most likely out-of-date; the fire has almost certainly grown since this map was created. (Note: I've removed this version of the map; see above for a more current map)

- This morning's report from the National Interagency Fire Center, which tracks all fire activity nationwide, describes the status of the Hayman fire as follows:

HAYMAN, Pike-San Isabel National Forest. A Type 1 Incident Management Team (Martin) has been ordered. This fire is burning six miles northwest of Lake George, CO in ponderosa pine and mixed conifer forest. High rates of spread to the north and east with extreme fire behavior were observed. Several camps, ranches, recreation areas and towns are being evacuated with 3,700 residences threatened. Twenty commercial structures and one outbuilding were lost.

A Type 1 team represents the highest level of escalation. Fires are generally managed by local resources, and then a regional team is called in if needed -- a Type 2 team. For the most serious fires, a Type 1 team is called in --- these are Federal fire management professionals. There are about twenty teams nationwide, and three active in Colorado currently. The Federal teams come with both experienced management resources to determine the most effective methods to attack and contain the fire, as well as personnel and equipment such as air tankers.

- The incident teams are reporting the following statistics about the fire:

269 people are currently dedicated to fighting the fire

3,700 homes are currently identified as threatened

The fire is estimated at 10% contained, which indicates it is essentially uncontrolled at this time

The fire behavior is being described as "extreme", and the rate of spread is estimated at 1-2 miles per hour. (Look again at the map and the scale to understand the significance of that number).

The following media resources are tracking the fire closely and have photos & video of the situation:

KUSA - NBC affiliate

KMGH - ABC affiliate, "The Denver Channel"

The Denver Post

The Colorado Springs Gazette

PS - In case you are wondering, none of the data I'm providing is "inside" info from my father; it is all coming from publicly available resources. However, I'm going to break a blogging rule-of-thumb and not provide URLs for the moment, as these resources are the same ones that the actual fire teams use. And on the unlikely event my traffic spikes today, I don't want to be responsible for hundreds of unanticipated hits bringing down those sites...

The Hayman Fire in Colorado is shaping up to be one of the worst ever. Keep an eye on this one, folks: I'm afraid it may get worse before it gets better.

And best of luck to the teams fighting it. Stay safe, and remember that motto: we can replace houses. We can't replace firefighters.

Minimal Disclosure: I have a vested interest, here. My father is one of those who has been fighting this thing --- although hopefully, from the safety of the command post today, though I think he might rather be out in the field. Hang in there, Dad...

Sunday, June 09, 2002


Technically, I guess I'm a warblogger.

Get it?

Technically a warblogger?

Oh never mind....

Chicks with dick jokes

Okay, time for some serious sociology. Or at least snarky media criticism, which often passes for serious sociology in our particular culture (well, mine, if you happen to not be reading this from the good ole' US of A ).

But first, let me unload my official position on aesthetics: when it comes to art, there are no right answers.

None. Zip. Zero. Nada. Bupkiss.

Art, by definition, is subjective. If it weren't, they'd call it science, and they'd have to peer-review TV Guide.

Stating that one particular musical composition is "better" than another is a complete absurdity. Same goes for television, theater, movies, painting, sculpture, and abstract compositions of religious icons composed solely of dung from endangered species found only in and around MOMA.

The only criteria commonly used to assess art that can be said to be objective is how many people like it. This is a painful realization. It means Britney Spears comes out ahead of Moby. It means that Independence Day is "better" than Vanilla Sky. It means that Friends is superior to Buffy.

I'm trying to point out unpleasant ideas here, if it isn't getting through.

But that's the way it is. So best not to worry about it. And therefore: best to approach any discussion of art with the idea that, unlike history, politics, and science --- there are no right answers. There's just the noise you're making in your argument, and the noise the other guy is making with his. And the question is: who can shout louder.

And so: On to the shouting.

I will put it simply: I do not understand Sex and the City.

Sopranos, I get. (I have issues with it, but I enjoy it, and I wouldn't for a second try to say it's not an extremely well done show --- and my qualms are subject for another post). Six Feet Under, I haven't seen. But Sex and the City, I have, and damnit, it drives me nuts.

So what's the problem? you ask. Don't watch it. Take your own advice, and sleep soundly knowing that there are no objective measures of culture.

Surely you can figure this part out.

Yup. You got it right. My fiancée. A lovely, intelligent woman, with a successful career in a male-dominated field, two degrees from a high-end university, and more smarts than you and I put together. She eats highly intelligent guys for lunch at work, and looks great doing it.

And I think she wants to be Carrie when she grows up.

And so, I am the proud (co-) owner of the first three seasons of Sex and the City on DVD. I know Carrie, Miranda, Samantha, and Charlotte far better than I had ever intended to. I know who Big is. I know who Aidan is. And I can hum that goddamn theme song jingle in my sleep.

How is SatC deeply, fundamentally and morally wrong? Let me count the ways:

1) Dialogue that makes The Phantom Menace look like Shakespeare. Are the Carrie-while-she's-writing-voiceovers supposed to be corny? Tell me they are some ironic, post-modern and self-referential in-joke and I'll be happy. But I just am filled with fear that they are not, and that they are meant to be Deeply Important Thoughts on Relationships. (shudder).

2) Fascination with bodily fluids that makes American Pie look like.... well, Shakespeare. (Sorry, low on analogies today). Hence: Chicks With Dick Jokes. (Hey, I just told that line to my mother on the phone and she laughed, so who the hell do you think you are to not be amused?). It's not that this stuff offends me; far from it. But there is a difference between not being offended, and being amused, and the gulf is a large one in this case. The ha-ha-we're-women-talking-about-semen thing got old around Season 1, Episode 2. Move on, ladies, move on.

3) Utterly predictable plots. Tell me true: in Season 3, was there anyone who for a second didn't think that Carrie would sleep with Big again and screw things up with Aidan? It's Gilligan's Island with relationships. The Skipper and the gang weren't ever gonna get off that patch of sand, and Carrie ain't never gonna have a peaceful, happy relationship. If they do, there ain't no show.

4) Kim Cattrall. I remember Mannequin, man. I was like 14, and she was the shit. What I wouldn't have done for that girl! And even in Star Trek VI, she was kinda hot as a Vulcan. But now? She's just scary.

One minor high point: Kyle MacLaughlan in Season 3 is delightfully creepy, in a Stepford Husband kind of way. I keep expecting him to say "My name is Trey, Charlotte. My name has become a killing word.". (Jeer within a cheer: So is Lynch only hiring lesbians these days, and MacLauglan has to actually look for real work?)

Anyway. You get the idea. And so, fearless TTLB readers, I lay down the gauntlet. I throw down my glove. I mix metaphors blatantly to taunt you into responding in some creative fashion to my feeble stab at media criticism:

Somebody, please, explain to me why Sex and the City is still on the air.

You know what to do.

PS - Since I'm bashing one program, I feel an obligation to lay my cards on the table and give others the opportunity to malign my taste. I think Buffy and Angel are fabulous. I think Babylon 5 was the best work of filmed science fiction ever, and one of the best end-to-end works of dramatic fiction to grace the screen, period. I think Vanilla Sky was amazing; I think The Usual Suspects was fabulous, and I even thought "V" was fun in an extremely campy kind of way. So take your best shots, punks.

Mickey says Coleen Rowley was wrong. He's right. And wrong.

Mickey had a brief entry this week on Coleen Rowley's testimony and the issue of which is more to blame for intelligence failures : the bureaucrats at the FBI, or the laws they must follow.

While I am taking to heart Mickey's own solemn admonishment to "Always trust content from kausfiles!" (like we didn't already?), I think the Mickster overplays his hand slightly on this one.

He starts out OK, pointing out (correctly) that there is more than just the problem of Those Damned Bureaucrats to deal with at the FBI in his reference to a piece by Stuart Taylor in the National Journal. His money quote, referring to the need under current law for a suspect to be a member of a terrorist group to merit full surveillance, is bang on as well: "So if it's just one guy who wants to blow up the Superbowl, we leave him alone!"

Flush with this nice turn of the phrase, though, Mickey slides over the line with his closer: "The problem is less dumb bureaucrats than dumb law."

Well, maybe. There are a whole heck of a lot of things that went wrong here, and I'm not convinced that we're in a position yet to point definitively to which factor was the most significant (although to be fair, Mickey's statement only explicitly compares two of them). But here's my list:

- A culture of caution at the FBI and other agencies where not screwing up was viewed as more important than catching the bad guys

- A particular fear of anything that resembled ethnic profiling (i.e., looking at Arabs taking flight lessons), particularly due to recent embarrassments in that area (i.e., Wen Ho Lee)

- Legal restrictions that set the bar for surveillance requests unreasonably high in a well-intentioned but misguided attempt to protect civil liberties

- Antiquated processes for analyzing incoming intelligence information which resulted in a failure to be able to add 2 and 2 and reach a number somewhere between 3 and 5.

To make matters more complex, these factors aren't independent, but all blend together and cause nasty little feedback loops with each other: if there was a culture more attuned to catching the bad guys than not rocking the boat, wouldn't somebody have bitched enough to get their analysis processes fixed long ago? And if there wasn't that culture of caution, couldn't a smart FBI lawyer have made a legitimate argument that the case Rowley complained about had met the standard of probable cause?

If that argument had been made and was rejected, then I'd put more credence in the idea that the problem is the law, not the bureaucrats. But the problem is that to my understanding, the folks submitting that request didn't even really try --- a token effort was made at best, and the request was torpedoed at worst. That suggests to me that the law may indeed be a major part of the problem -- but the bureaucrats are just as big a part.

That said, Mickey is absolutely right to keep hammering on his point o' the week: that those who just want to blame the bureaucrats are wrong. Blaming the bureaucrats is appropriate. But thinking that they are the only problem is the same kind of oversimplification that got us into this mess in the first place.

Whoo-hoo! The poll is now working. Thanks to the nice folks at PulsePoll for getting back to me.

For anyone else trying this, the problem was that apparently having the default for my page set to open new browser windows for links was screwing it up (go figure). Since I've been thinking about resetting that to remain in the current window anyway, I just went for it.

So go vote, already!

Finally saw Attack of the Clones yesterday with my lady.

Late, I know, but we had the opportunity to do so at one of the few digitial projection theatres, and so waited until we had the time to schlep over to it (it is not quite our local theatre).

So we saw it. And It Was Good.

I'm not quite sure how good yet --- it usually takes a few days for the buzz to wear off for movies like this. But it was definitely better than Episode I (by far), and I think compares reasonably with the first trilogy.

Mr. Lileks has some choice thoughts on the matter, and I'll add mine:

- Yoda kicks ass. Most folks knew that going in, but I'm here to tell you --- Obi Wan is cool. Anakin can deal it out. But Yoda --- Yoda will fuck you up.

- The dialogue wasn't as bad as I was expecting. Only one line really made me wince with the strong urge to hire Lucas an editor. And to my pleasant surprise, there actually are some wonderfully Han Soloesque one-liners thrown in here and there (an area in which Episode I was sorely lacking).

- Surprises. I hate movies where I know exactly what is going to happen from moment to moment. Lucas keeps things interesting, and while you certainly know that Anakin and Obi Wan aren't going to get killed by those beasties coming at them right now, the overall plot of the movie is nicely opaque. You genuinely have to think about who's actually on the right side. (Arguably, a little too opaque -- there's one aspect of how the clones get created that still has me scratching my head).

- Digital projection was pretty neat, but didn't totally blow me away. We had literally 2nd row seats, which turned out to be great. If there were any cracklies and scratches to be seen, we sure as heck would have seen them. There were zero, naturally. This was nice... but I will confess to being a little skeptical about how long its going to take to get theatre owners to convert, given that, as I understand it, the economics are pretty sketchy.

Anyway, all in all a darned good ride....and one that makes me really look forward to Episode III.

Hey. I think Lucas just regained my faith. Think of that!

We now return you to your regularly scheduled weblog... Blogspot had a nasty patch of downtime this morning, but seems to be back up now. Sorry about that, folks.