Detritus Along the Great Information Highway

In my newspaper* today the columnist Mike Royko was quoted as saying, “It’s been my policy to view the Internet not as an ‘information highway’ but as an electronic asylum filled with babbling loonies.”

Mike must not have seen a highway before he left us.  Alongside those long ribbons of cement stretching far into the future lie a great deal of garbage.

The Internet is no different.  Instead of paper bags, bottles, used baby diapers and tin cans, the ‘Information Highway’ is littered with thoughts of the barely literate.  Those thoughts may have all the value of a used diaper but many fall short of that goal.

Mike died in 1997.  It is a good thing he is not around to view the Internet’s roadside today.   We have learned to survive the last fifteen years because we were made of sterner stuff.  Or, maybe because we learned to look down the highway toward our goal, not letting ourselves be distracted by the babbling loonies.

Well, some of us, anyway.

*Orange County Register

Obvious but Unasked Question

Now that Americans have had their ears hammered by Mr. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran and by Mr. Hugo Chavez of Venezuela as they addressed the UN and the American press, it is time that someone in the press ask them the obvious question: “May a representative of our government go to your country, get on your national television stations and give his opinion of you and your government?”

Aussies Shape UP Muslim Immigrants

It seems that the Australians are fed up with political correctness.  Their leadership recently told the Muslim population to accept the political and legal structures of Australia or find another place on the planet.

One of the major concerns of the Australian government was the statement by a Muslim leader that there were two sets of laws—Australian and Sharia.  The Sharia law was brought to Australia from Islamic nations.  It includes stoning of women and amputating the hands of thieves.

Is the government action just another case of “Islamophobia?”  Last year, it was reported that Abdul Nacer Ben Brika, a radical cleric in Melbourne, was asked in an interview whether he thought Australian Muslims had a responsibility to adhere to Australian law.

He replied: “This is a big problem. There are two laws – there is an Australian law and there is an Islamic law.”

And the Australian government has replied in effect, “No problems exist.  There is one law.  You signed on to it when you took the oath of allegiance to our country.”

Australians concluded that it was disrespectful to say of the new homeland, “Your laws are not good enough.  We have our own.”  And it is disrespectful.  Further, what if Baptists suddenly decided to hang Presbyterians for their stand of predestination?  Most people would call that “vigilante law” and would stop it in its tracks.   Sharia law imposed in Australia or in the U.S. or in England is no different.

Of course, the politically correct and whining crowd has complained bitterly.  But the toothpaste is out of the tube.

Add to this the story that news reporter Steve Centanni and a cameraman have been released in Gaza, but not before they converted to Islam at the point of a gun.   Those Americans who are tired of having Christians ramming their gospel down their throats by means of persuasion should try Islam at the point of a gun.  Some of these Muslim folks are not as peaceful as we have been told.

Question 28

This test question for middle school children is coming:

28) Name six homosexual inventors and tell what their contributions were.

All I know is what I read in the newspapers.  Very recently there have been two stories about education.  One was that many people could not find Israel or Iraq or even Mississippi on a map.  The other story was that California’s legislators want to alter children’s textbooks so that the sexual proclivities of historical persons could be identified (but only if they are gay).

Am I the only person in the world who sees the disconnect between these two realities?  It is embarrassing to reside in a state where idiocy is so very rampant.

Given that a large number of high school students cannot read well (if at all), perhaps from this population come the ones who go into politics.  Perhaps these people do not know that the sexual proclivities of people mentioned in textbooks are not as important as being able to read the textbooks or, (and this is connected) being able to find states on a map.

I suppose there is no requirement that legislators be literate.  But perhaps voters should insist that they be able to set priorities (even if someone has to read the alternatives to them).

As for the answer to Question 28, I do not know.  I do not care.  I do not want to know, do you?

Rumors of Tumors

In a recent Reuters news story, some eighty-five users of cell phones had malignant brain tumors and used cell phones “a lot.”  What was the scientific quantity of use?  “A lot.”  Big science employed here!  So a correlation was established by the writer, between cell phone use and malignant tumors.   Two valuable rules of evidence were ignored.

One is that we all know that correlation is not cause and effect.    We all drink water and we all die.  Does water cause death?  Only to those who drown in it.

The second rule is even simpler.  It is exemplified by the story of people who lived near electric power poles whose children contracted cancer.  Immediately, some people (and their lawyers) jumped to the conclusion that the electricity in the wires caused the cancer.  What else did the children have in common?  They played near the base of the poles where the power company had sprayed a herbicide to keep down the growth of weeds.  It turned out that the herbicide was behind the cancer and not the electrons flowing through the wires.

Here is the second rule: One correlation does not rule out other correlations.   In fairness, I can say that author of the study wrote that some “other agents” were ruled out (such as cigarettes).   Probably not all of them.  What they did not write about was the mechanism that causes human cells to become cancerous while in the presence of the electro-mechanical field of a cell phone.  There doesn’t seem to be one.

Perhaps cell phones cause malignant tumors in some people, but probably not. The preponderance of evidence says not.

These kinds of “folk science” stories give good science a bad name.  You’d think an educated Media would be more responsible.  At least, more demanding.

Faces of Heroism

Today I talked to the widow of a long dead scientist.  I explained that I was researching materials for a book She confided in me that her husband had worked on the first atomic bomb.  She said she only found out after her husband had died, and she found out from another scientist.  She did not even know her husband had gone to Los Alamos, New Mexico to the test site.  It was all a deep, dark secret in those days.

The scientist told the widow how ashamed her husband had been for accomplishing his work so well.

The story of this scientist reminded me that heroism and patriotism take many forms.  A person might be afraid in the face of the enemy, or might lose an arm in an accident during battle, or might have to kill a large number of the enemy to protect his comrades.  Or, he might help make a new, terrible weapon.  But he does his duty, even though he might not feel so good about it later.  That is the nature of heroism.  Often it leaves scars.

The Citi-Bank Saga Continues

In my last post to this blog I reported on the UPS (Brown) situation that compounded my Citibank ATM card problems.

Citibank arbitrarily shut off my ATM card and shut me out of computer access to my bank account.  I have heard that I was only one out of many more that this happened to .  When I told Citibank that the new card they sent my was lost in the bowels of UPS somewhere, and in spite of what was reported I did not receive it or sign for it.  So they sent another one to my local branch bank.

My local branch told me the card had arrived, so I went see them and pick up the card.  I was told that the card was ready to go and already had my pin number included.

But when the teller at the ban tried to activate the card, it would not work.  She had a bad cold and coughed a lot and was not feeling well.  After many attempts, she had me call Citibank on the bank’s phone.  They had a direct line to Calcutta.  Either that or the guy on the other end of the line was doing a perfect imitation of the actor Ben Kingsley in the movie, Ghandi.

Ghandi could not activate my card, either.  He worked and worked on it some 10,000 miles away, interrupting the process to talk to his supervisor a couple of times and then pronounced the job as completed.  He wished me a nice day and ended the conversation.  I asked the teller to test his handiwork.  She could not get the card to work.

The teller and I spent some five minutes on my replacement card.  This required many applications of her finger to a pad that was checking her fingerprint.  That check was unreliable as well.  But she finally pronounced the job as done.  I went outside the bank to its ATM window and fearfully placed the card in its slot.

It worked!  Despite all UPS and Citibank could do, I actually possessed an ATM card that worked.

Then I had to go home and call a special telephone number that would gain me access to my bank account via the Internet.  It was back to India again, only this time with a female Ben Kingsley who had a high voice and spoke very fast.  Ms Ghandi and I were able, after a long time to break the code so that I could access my own bank account.

All was in order with my finances.   And I am developing some fluency with Hindi.

Driving Miss Economy

Ask most people what is driving the economy and they will guess that it is the computer revolution.  It seems that every day there is some new invention or way of handling information that retires an old device and makes necessary a new, expensive device.  VoIP and MP3s are examples of newer devices.

But there is another economic mover and shaker that lurks in the background.  Our nation’s inventory of houses is maturing.  We don’t throw houses away like we do old computers.  We upgrade them.  Home Depot and Lowes-type stores are not popular just because they are fast-moving retailers.  They are popular because they are filling a need caused by the aging of our nation’s houses.

Thanks to standardization of construction dimensions (2X4 construction is about the same in every state and door heights are usually the same), an innovation for repair or upgrading in New York is often equally useful in Texas.  In other words, it pays to innovate because there is a large volume of potential customers.  It seems that every week, my local home store offers a new tool or plumbing or electrical or bracket or insulation device that is easily handled by the average do-it-yourselfer.  This continuous upgrading for the upgraders is very good for our economy.  Because of the continuous revolution in electronics, people have jobs and the money to upgrade their homes.

If that weren’t enough, specialists are springing up with new products for those jobs where a do-it-yourselfer, can’t.  Some companies will replace all the plumbing in your house; others will replace all your windows and doors.  They do their jobs quickly and efficiently and that is all they do.  Specialization often results in lower prices.  Generally the replacements are better and use less energy.  This activity is sparking the economy, too.

Our revolution in communication allows new ideas to flow quickly and easily around the country and the world.  It allows a kind of marketing in which people read about a new product and then demand it from their local retailer.

If all this progress keeps up we may be able to afford an extra gallon of gasoline.

Those Evil Corporations

There is a very interesting program on cable TV called “Fox News Watch.”  At my house it is scheduled for Saturdays at 3:30 P.M.  On the show, two fairly liberal folks and two fairly conservative folks give their views about the way news was handled in the previous week.  There are usually four different “takes” on each event.

When the show was in its early stages, one of the Liberal pundits often began his comments with the observation, in effect, that the news media were owned by corporations and corporations were bad so they corrupted the news.   His response was simplistic and monotonous.  That may be the reason that he is no longer on the show.

But his argument lingers.  I often hear arguments that begin with some connection to “evil corporations.”  Proponents sound a bit like the early Rousseau, with a twist.

Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) was a French philosopher who argued early in his career that man is essentially good, a “noble savage” when in the “state of nature” (before the creation of civilization and society), and that good people are made unhappy and corrupted by their experiences in society. He viewed society as corrupt and thought that the furthering of society results in the continuing unhappiness of man.   In other words, people are all right, but institutions are evil.  Especially the Government.

These days, some folks agree with Rousseau without realizing it.  But to them it is the corporations that are evil; but Government?  Big Government is good.

But there is problem with this line of thought.  Corporations are things—arrangements of people.  Things are neither good nor evil.  It is people in corporations who are either good or evil (or indifferent).   So despite Rousseau, the argument goes back to people as it did in his day.

Rousseau’s evil “Society” was an arrangement of people.  So are corporations.  It seems to blame a mindless “arrangement” for today’s problems is somewhat like blaming the god Mars for a belligerent nature, or the god Bacchus for the hangover you get after a night of drinking.

But, some people are more religious than I am.