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Movie Night

March 5, 2013

Story by Stanislaw Lem.  Music by Arvo Pärt.  What more could a girl ask for?


Finally, a UN Conspiracy I Can Believe In

March 5, 2013

Apparently, medical marijuana in the US violates a bunch of treaties.

“They also undermine the humanitarian aims of the drug control system and are a threat to public health and wellbeing,” said [Raymond] Yans [president of the International Narcotics Control Board]. He claimed that so-called “medicinal use” initiatives were little more than “a back-door to legalisation for recreational use”.

Science be damned, I guess. Raymond knows someone is having fun, just knows, and that’s enough reason to consign others to misery by ignoring medicine.  The mindless brutality of prohibition is supposed to be “humanitarian,” you know, like a bombing campaign in Serbia.

But notice the language surrounding “legal highs,” which I find darkly amusing:

The INCB’s annual report also warns of the “unprecedented surge” in the growth of legal highs – new psychoactive drugs that have been largely synthesised by chemists in south-east Asia and are not subject to international controls.

And this is bad because … ?

Yans said legal highs were now multiplying at an alarming rate, with more than one a week appearing on the market – almost 10 times the number that were being marketed a decade ago. Many so-called designer drugs attempt to imitate the effects of illicit drugs such as cannabis, ecstasy and cocaine.

And this is bad because … ?

“The total number of such substances on the market has been estimated to be in the order of thousands, posing a significant challenge to public health systems in preventing and dealing with their abuse,” says the UN drugs annual report.

“Abuse”? They just came out, more than one a week as you’ve just said. So, how did we get to “abuse,” unless “use” is the same thing as “abuse”? And if they are, I’m going to need to see a rational argument … for a change.

Can’t you just go after the harmful ones, with education and treatment for addiction where it arises?  And wouldn’t more safe legal highs make it less likely that people would seek out the ones that do actual harm?

Of course not, because they’re concerned with something other than harm: Read more…

Shields Up!

March 4, 2013

The choice is clear: either fry in radiation or wrap yourself in crap.  Inspiration Mars will gradually peel bags of food, or their contents, off the perimeter of the vessel and replace them with dehydrated human waste packets, going from a water-and-food shield to a poo shield.

I am not making this up.

Water has long been suggested as a shielding material for interplanetary space missions. “Water is better than metals for protection,” says Marco Durante of the Technical University of Darmstadt in Germany. That’s because nuclei are the things that block cosmic rays, and water molecules, made of three small atoms, contain more nuclei per volume than a metal.

Water shielding also has another benefit – you can drink it. Such dual use is essential aboard a spacecraft, where space is at a premium. Applying this rationale, the Water Walls concept involves polyethylene bags that use osmosis to process clean drinking water from urine and faeces.

Lining the walls of a spacecraft with layers of these bags creates a 40-centimetre-thick liquid shield. All of the bags would initially be filled with drinking water. The crew would then fill other bags with waste during the trip to Mars and swap them out for the now-empty water bags.

The osmosis-based processing is much simpler than the automated life-support systems aboard the International Space Station, making it less likely to fail during the long ride to Mars.

However, there are problems to be ironed out. The urine-to-water processing bags were tested in orbit on the last ever flight of the space shuttle in 2011 and found to be 50 per cent less efficient in microgravity than in ground-based tests.

Along those lines, may I suggest a product first proposed in 1973 that might ease the passage?

Today’s Most Disturbing Image

February 28, 2013


via the cheezburger universe

“This is not a novel, like 1994.”

February 28, 2013

No.  Not it is not.

Better to Remain Silent and Be Thought a Fool

February 28, 2013

Professional intellectual worried that being a public idiot will have professional consequences?  OK, I guess we’re all guilty, at one time or other, of wanting to have our cake and eat it, too.  A former colleague directed my attention to one of his colleagues, who has apparently taken up the martyr’s white.  Hear his cry:

We don’t wind up in the gulag for dissenting from the received wisdom of the progressive left, but we can lose our reputations and jobs. The threat of such loss is real enough to make dissenters think twice about speaking at all. The diminution of freedom after speech tends to inhibit freedom of speech.

There are at least three sets of issues about which dissent is not allowed: the sexual revolution, climate change and honest talk about race.

I’d prefer honest talk about the Oxford comma, but if you want to whine about the sex other people are having, prefer ignorance to climate science, and insist on an imaginary right to look down on darker people, that doesn’t make you a conservative, that makes you an idiot.

And, if you have chosen a career as a public intellectual, then being a public nitwit is probably toxic to your professional health.  You don’t have to be a member of the “progressive left” to deal with the real world, just an adult.  If, instead, you insist on treating everyone who doesn’t blow smoke up your ass as part of a conspiracy, I’m going to have to laugh at you.  Consider it a kindness; other than entertainment, I can’t imaging what these people are good for.

There are no Atheists in Fo’c’sles

February 28, 2013

Yesterday, I was convinced that I had a non-negligible chance of dropping dead at any moment.  Why isn’t really that important, only that a similar condition has already killed three members of my family, so the threat was more than hypothetical.

And I wasn’t afraid.  That’s odd, because it’s moment like that in which non-believers are commonly believed to doubt their doubt, to reach out to a higher power.  Um, no.  I might as well have been a gay guy holding a copy of Penthouse.  I felt nothing.

knowyourenemyOr rather, I felt no fear for myself.  I blasted down the highway in mid-afternoon non-traffic, blaring stupid songs from the radio and laughing at the possibility that I might lose consciousness at 70 mph and take a few of my fellow travelers with me before I could reach my doctor.  But I did feel a sadness for my children, my wife.  I honestly want to die with their names on my lips.  I felt sad for my friends, some of whom have already lost too much.  For a few minutes, I thought about posting something on FB, “so long, just in case,” it might have read, “you’re reading this because you’re dear to me.  I don’t friend assholes.”  Or something.

But I looked around in the blasted, blue clear Austin day and thought, “this could be it.  Ayup.  There ain’t no more.  Had a good ride.  Got some things left over that I wish I’d done.  A novel or three.  But at 42, I’ve had more wine, women, and song that I deserved, and if this is it, well … OK.”

And now, two doctors have told me I’m probably not dying, so I can set that aside.  I told my eldest daughter about the danger, as I tucked her in, and that I was probably OK, but that if something happens to me, it’s her job to tell her sister (only 3) that I loved her.

We are the part of the universe that is privileged to be able to perceive it and know it.  That’s why I see superstition and ignorance as blasphemy and obscenity.  Even I have worried, though not recently, that my Christian upbringing might return as a kind of crutch.  Struggling with some pretty nasty stress this year, it occurred to me how nice it must be to have a sort of Cosmic Daddy who says it’s going to be OK (even if He does occasionally massacre whole populations or keep His omnipotence shiny and uncontaminated by the prevention of said massacres).  Sailors are notoriously superstitious people, most likely because they are at the mercy of so many variables and unknowables.  They have to add meaning and pretend to have agency, I guess, or go mad/-der.

But this time around, at least, a truly existential threat did not alter who I am.  I am an atheist.  I’ve held my wife’s hand through two births and seen some terrifying shit elsewhere, so there’s not a lot I’m afraid of, other than bounced checks and growing ugly.