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Catfish and Cod
Monday, August 04, 2003
No better words in the world.
(Link path: Boston Globe)


Oliver Willis, how can you be talking about Redskins at a time like this?
They've waited almost too long.
(Link path: Washington Post; the Gray Lady, free and pointless registration required)

The peacekeepers are finally arriving, and the Liberian government and rebels are withdrawing. Finally.

Taylor, under the watchful eye of diplomats and armed soldiers, is initiating his extrication process. Finally.

People are eating their last reserves and beginning to cook dogs and cats to stay alive. Finall -- what?!

Forget niceties about whose troops go first, or whether the US troops are going to come ashore or skulk in their ships. Get some Humanitarian Daily Rations there, and get them now! Else this is all an academic excercise, because everyone will starve.

This is what comes of pussyfooting about peacekeeping expeditions.
A magician's trick.
(Link path: Washington Post)

The removal of "unauthorized outposts" is just like an old magician's trick. The Israelis know it; the Palestinians know it; I suspect that the Americans know it, too. Sharon announces demolitions, which are duly shown on TV. The settlers lodge protests with the Israeli Supreme Court, some of which succeed, most of which fail. And then they turn around and build an equal, or greater, number of outposts elsewhere. Watch my waving hand as it vanishes the coin...

...not my slow-moving hand, placing the coin in my pocket. While the meaningless drama of bulldozers plays itself out, the large and established settlements experience "natural growth" and push their boundaries over Palestinian villages and fields. What the Israelis don't tell you is that "natural growth" is, and always have been, propped up by immense subsidies for anyone willing to move to the territories. The huge majority of "settlers" are not Jewish pioneers or Eretz-Israel fundamentalists, but ordinary Israelis who have followed the paths of economic least resistance. The Israeli government is, and has through successive administrations for the last thirty-five years, maintained a housing market such that people must inevitably move to the territories.

Eliminate those subsidies, and you'd see a massive population shift back to Israel proper, where people are shot less. Except for mega-settlements like Ariel, which are deep enough to give protection to people in its center, most settlers are well within Palestinian firing range, and they all know it. Much of Israel proper is, too, but then there will soon be a wall between Israel and the territories to protect them.

The Palestinians have been clamoring for quite some time for territorial contiguity -- that is, for the right to go from one point to another within their territory without having to worry about Israel's permission. Shouldn't the Jews demand the same?
The cracks are showing.
(Link path: Electric Venom, the Command Post, the Beeb)

North Korea is saying, "My gun's jammed. Why don't you put yours down? It would be the fair thing to do, old chap." But if you're playing to win, if you're in a war, you keep firing. Trust me, the North wouldn't stop their propaganda if the South asked. And it won't hurt South Korea to ignore the suggestion; North Korean propaganda doesn't have anywhere near the effects that South Korean propaganda has. One reason why is that South Koreans know beforehand (except for those with idiotarian self-blinders) what North Korea is like; the reverse is not true. Another reason is that South Korea is much, much richer than North Korea. The South Koreans are far less desperate.

The only logical reason North Korea would make an obvious capitulation is because those broadcasts are working, to the extent that the Nork leadership is nervous. Things must be moving faster than I thought; a few more months could bring the end of another cheap imitation of Hell on Earth. Here's hoping
Sunday, August 03, 2003
The sound you hear is the system working.
(Link path: The Grey Lady, free and pointless registration required)

The Grey Lady seems suspicious that surgical procedures aren't put under FDA approval. It's true, they aren't. But surgery isn't pharmacology. It's cutting and pasting, a quite straightforward system for fixing what ails ye. (It's also the most invasive, traumatic, and dangerous, but then you can't have it all.) If a large set of qualified surgeons oversee animal experimentation, all appears well, and (most important) the patient and his/her family are fully informed, the testing system should proceed pretty much as described.

In case anyone wonders why I went into this profession, this is one of the reasons. In this business, your inventions can save lives.
Wisdom of the day.
(Link path: the View from Chaos Manor, Newcastle University)

The English learned long ago never to pay the Dane. Neither should we pay, or allow our money to be paid to, terrorizing Arabs or blackmailing North Koreans.

DANEGELD (AD 980 - 1016)

IT IS always a temptation to an armed and agile nation,
To call upon a neighbour and to say:—
“We invaded you last night—we are quite prepared to fight,
Unless you pay us cash to go away.”
And that is called asking for Dane-geld,
And the people who ask it explain
That you’ve only to pay ’em the Dane-geld
And then you’ll get rid of the Dane!

It is always a temptation to a rich and lazy nation,
To puff and look important and to say:—
“Though we know we should defeat you, we have not the time to meet you.
We will therefore pay you cash to go away.”

And that is called paying the Dane-geld;
But we’ve proved it again and again,
That if once you have paid him the Dane-geld
You never get rid of the Dane.

It is wrong to put temptation in the path of any nation,
For fear they should succumb and go astray,
So when you are requested to pay up or be molested,
You will find it better policy to says:—

“We never pay any one Dane-geld,
No matter how trifling the cost,
For the end of that game is oppression and shame,
And the nation that plays it is lost!”

-- Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)
Knowledge: a clear advantage.
(Link path: the View from Chaos Manor, New Scientist, Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine 96:384)

A better argument for a science and/or medicine career I've never heard. In fact, a better argument for education of any sort I've never heard.

Buck up, all you oppressed high school geeks, for you shall dance on your enemies' graves. :-)

I don't think they got the message.
(Link path: the Footballs of Rabid Pro-Semitism, MSNBC)

I don't think al-Qaeda is paying attention to their enemies.

MSNBC reports that one element of their now-foiled new-and-improved hijacking plans is smuggling weapons onto planes concealed in everyday items. Well, perhaps they could get a knife or even a derringer gun onto a plane this way. In fact, given the attention span of the average TSA employee, I'd expect that such a subterfuge would work.

But it wouldn't matter. Any plane large enough to commandeer will also have a number of people willing to attack in order to prevent another September 11th. They would not hesitate or debate the issues. They would attack, immediately, because everyone now understands that you can't allow a plane to be hijacked, for the good of everyone. If the plane crashes and everyone aboard dies, that's still better than another Eleventh. They can't just kill the crew; they'll have to kill everyone, or at least every able adult, aboard.

Sun Tzu wrote that knowing your enemy and knowing yourself are the keys to any victory. al-Qaeda may or may not understand themselves; but they certainly don't understand us.

This is one of many reasons why we are going to win.
Hemophilia and sickle-cell disease.
(Link path: the Beeb, Lancet 632(9381):351-354)

Hemophilia is a terrible disease. Those who suffer from it must watch their actions very carefully, every day of their life, lest a scratch or a bruise become a major injury. Before the advent of synthetic blood clotting factors, it was close to a death sentence for everyone who couldn't afford to be watched every day of their life, i.e., everyone except descendents of Queen Victoria.

Sickle-cell disease is similarly debilitating. When sickle-cell crisis hits, the patient is helpless. Sickle-cell anemia is caused by a mutation in the beta hemoglobin gene that allows the hemoglobin molecule to polymerize within the red blood cell, deforming the cell and reducing its oxygen-porting efficiency. Even at sea level, a sickle-cell patient has significant anemia and hypoxia -- low red cell counts (because the sickled cells don't fit into capillaries and burst) and low blood oxygen levels (because of the lack of cells plus the loss of functional hemoglobin).

So if sickle-cell disease is so debilitating, why hasn't evolution rid us of the trait long ago? Why is it a common genetic disease, instead of a freak occurence that only comes up in Case Studies of the Massachussetts General Hospital?

Sickle-cell disease only occurs when an unfortunate individual bears two copies of the debilitating gene. If the patient bears only one copy, they are said to bear sickle-cell trait. And these individuals are not only healthy, they have an advantage over the average human. Their abnormal hemoglobin gives their red cells the ability to resist many times of malaria infection. This is not an insignificant trait, especially in the jungles of Africa where humanity evolved.

So while sickle-cell disease is a negative evolutionary factor, the far larger number of sickle trait bearers have such a positive advantage that sickle trait persists in the human population.

Researchers report in this week's Lancet that hemophilia trait has a similar evolutionary advantage. Hemophilia carriers have a lower chance of heart disease than the average population.

Are the hemophiliacs numerous for the same reason that sickle-cell disease sufferers are numerous? There's no data to suggest it yet. Maybe someone should go gather some.
The fog of "war" clears somewhat.
(Link path: Incestuous Amplification)

Incestuous Amplification, who has followed the North Koreans with far more attention than I, agrees that the North Koreans are not likely to negotiate nicely:

Knowing the history of North Korean negotiating tactics, it would be quite easy for them to minimize the multilateral sessions, breeze through them with no effort, and bring out the big guns and blustering rhetoric during the promised bilateral session with the United States. If the Norks know that bilateral sessions will take place (whether formal or informal) alongside the multilateral, what incentive do the North Koreans have to fully participate and push their agenda in the multilateral format? None.

But two can play that game. Den Beste points out that we forced the North Koreans to use trilateral, rather than bilateral, talks with the Chinese by the expedient of refusing to meet in the same room and forcing "shuttle diplomacy".

We may do the same if the North Koreans make a mockery of "big-tent" talks. Here's the idea:

1) The North Koreans act asinine at the big-table discussions, and they break up.
2) The North Koreans go into the bilateral negotiations, and similarly act asinine. The Americans get up and walk out, or insult the North Koreans so that they walk out.
3) Once again, we initiate "shuttle diplomacy", with everyone else in the role of "shuttlers".

What purpose would such activities serve? None, if we walk in with the intention of actually making a deal with the North Koreans. But if they serve up standard fare, i.e., threats and blackmail, then we force everyone else to endure North Korean guff. That will strengthen our arguments for the North Korean blockade that we've been arguing for. When the North Koreans act insane, these arguments will take root in the diplomats' hearts and guts, where humans are far more vulnerable to prejudice. The goal is to convince the Great Powers' diplomatic corps that no deal with North Korea is possible. If all five nations then agree that a blockade is necessary, a blockade will happen. (The participants include three of the five members of the Security Council, and every major economic power in the region.) The North Koreans will be forced to either launch a pre-emptive attack or face economic starvation within weeks. Either choice results in suicide for the North Korean regime.

The bet that's being made here is that behind the facade of bluff and bluster, Kim Jong-Il is a rational actor. That he will act to save his butt, and make a deal to try to gain time. That would give us more time to organize a deal with the Chinese that will resolve the "Korean Question" permanently. The shape of such a deal is clear: South Korea gets North Korea, with active Chinese participation in the dismantlement of the current North Korean regime, in return for an eviction of the United States from the Korean peninsula.

UPDATE: Facts on the Ground thinks "Agreed Framework Plus" will be the result of the negotiations. This outcome is possible, but it will only be a stopgap if it occurs. The Administration will continue its efforts to talk the Chinese into putting the Norks out of their misery, because there's really no way to guarantee North Korean complicity.