Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Thought for the Day: What's a Fanatic?

"A fanatic is one who can't change his mind and won't change the subject."
Sir Winston Churchill, via The Quotations Page

Lemming Tracks: Blasphemy! Or, 'We're All Gonna Die' Predictions That Fizzled

If you're absolutely convinced that the coming ice age, food riots, acid rain, or hordes of Elvis impersonators are gonna kill us all, the Lemming recommends that you stop reading right now.

Really. The Lemming is going to write things that are heretical, blasphemous: and not at all fashionably hysterical. Why the religious terms? The Lemming will get to that, after a list from today's news. Or op-ed.

Excerpts that follow aren't from one of America's old-school journalistic institutions. Like, say, The New York Times or Village Voice.

Still with the Lemming? Well, you've been warned.

'And We're All Gonna Die!'

The idea that the end of the world is nigh, and that our only hope is to repent of our evil/polluting ways, seems deeply rooted in American culture. Details on just what the end of the world will be have changed as the decades rolled by.

Here's a top-eight list, from today's news. Or op-ed:

"Eight Botched Environmental Forecasts"
Maxim Lott, (December 30, 2010)

"A new year is around the corner, and some climate scientists and environmental activists say that means we're one step closer to a climate Armageddon. But are we really?

"Predicting the weather -- especially a decade or more in advance -- is unbelievably challenging. What's the track record of those most worried about global warming? Decades ago, what did prominent scientists think the environment would be like in 2010? has compiled eight of the most egregiously mistaken predictions, and asked the predictors to reflect on what really happened.

"1. Within a few years 'children just aren't going to know what snow is.' Snowfall will be "a very rare and exciting event." Dr. David Viner, senior research scientist at the climatic research unit (CRU) of the University of East Anglia, interviewed by the UK Independent, March 20, 2000.

"Ten years later, in December 2009, London was hit by the heaviest snowfall seen in 20 years. And just last week, a snowstorm forced Heathrow airport to shut down, stranding thousands of Christmas travelers.

"A spokesman for the government-funded British Council, where Viner now works as the lead climate change expert, told that climate science had improved since the prediction was made.

" 'Over the past decade, climate science has moved on considerably and there is now more understanding about the impact climate change will have on weather patterns in the coming years,' British Council spokesman Mark Herbert said. '"However, Dr Viner believes that his general predictions are still relevant.'..."

The Lemming suspects that we won't be hearing quite so much about "global warming:" at least, not for a while. "Climate change" appears to be what's going to destroy civilization, and all that. The Lemming will get back to the idea of change in a bit.

More, from the article:

"...2. '[By] 1995, the greenhouse effect would be desolating the heartlands of North America and Eurasia with horrific drought, causing crop failures and food riots…[By 1996] The Platte River of Nebraska would be dry, while a continent-wide black blizzard of prairie topsoil will stop traffic on interstates, strip paint from houses and shut down computers.' Michael Oppenheimer, published in 'Dead Heat,' St. Martin's Press, 1990...."

"...3. 'Arctic specialist Bernt Balchen says a general warming trend over the North Pole is melting the polar ice cap and may produce an ice-free Arctic Ocean by the year 2000.' Christian Science Monitor, June 8, 1972...."

"...4. 'Using computer models, researchers concluded that global warming would raise average annual temperatures nationwide two degrees by 2010.' Associated Press, May 15, 1989...."

"...5. 'By 1985, air pollution will have reduced the amount of sunlight reaching earth by one half.' Life magazine, January 1970...."

"...6. 'If present trends continue, the world will be ... eleven degrees colder by the year 2000. This is about twice what it would take to put us in an ice age.' Kenneth E.F. Watt, in 'Earth Day,' 1970...."

There's a good explanation for why this doomsday prediction was a tad inaccurate:

"...'Present trends didn't continue,' Ehrlich said of Watt's prediction. 'There was considerable debate in the climatological community in the '60s about whether there would be cooling or warming … Discoveries in the '70s and '80s showed that the warming was going to be the overwhelming force.'..."

There: now we can feel properly terrified of an "overwhelming force" that's gonna kill us all - and probably the fur seals and spotted owls, too.

Armageddon tired of all this? Sort of, but there are still two to go:

"...7. 'By the year 2000 the United Kingdom will be simply a small group of impoverished islands, inhabited by some 70 million hungry people ... If I were a gambler, I would take even money that England will not exist in the year 2000.' Ehrlich, Speech at British Institute For Biology, September 1971...."

"...8. "In ten years all important animal life in the sea will be extinct. Large areas of coastline will have to be evacuated because of the stench of dead fish." Ehrlich, speech during Earth Day, 1970..."

Change Happens

It would be a little disturbing, from the Lemming's point of view, if things didn't change at all as decades passed.

Like the fellow said: "Nothing endures but change." (Heraclitus, 540 BC - 480 BC) And, as I opined in another blog, "So why are conservationists trying to keep everything just like it was?"

Repent! The End is At Hand?!

The Lemming also notes the zeal with which staunch defenders of the environment have preached of coming doom, guilt, and a need for repentance. The words are different, but the 'tune' seems to be pretty much the same as those Christian groups which have been insisting that Armageddon is upon us.

One set of 'true believers' is generally (although not exclusively) secular; the other is stridently religious.

The Lemming's not in either camp. Not that I'm "apathetic," except in a peculiar cultural context. The Lemming's written about that before.

There was a time when the Lemming saw lovely piles of suds floating down the Mississippi River: That was in the mid-seventies. Suds in the river, a canal that caught fire (briefly), and clueless waste management policies encouraged the Lemming to be rather concerned.

That was then.

Problems? Yes - Panic? No

Folks learned that it's a bad idea to dump raw sewage in their drinking water, developed social and political controls over what we drink and breathe, and got lyrics like "If the hoods don't get you, the monoxide will." Decades later, the Lemming remembers snatches of that song: Pollution, Tom Lehrer (1965), lyrics at The Mad Music Archive)

This is now. We've still got problems: including what to do with landfills, and how to dispose of old CRT monitors.

But 'it's the end of the world?'

The boy who cried wolf (AKA The Shepherd's Boy and the Wolf) found out that after a while, folks stop listening. Or, rather, did: back in Aesop's day.

Today, the Lemming supposes it helps that it isn't always the same dire threat. That, and in our case the 'shepherd's boy' apparently really believes that there is a wolf out there.

The (alleged) coming end of the world and getting a grip, from the Lemming's point of view:Climate, change, life, and the Lemming:More:

Winter Storm: Here It Comes Again!

The Lemming opined on the way New York City, New Jersey, and central Minnesota deal with winter storms, yesterday:It's not that high winds, bone-chilling cold, and smothering snow don't affect us. We freeze to death as easily as someone living in lower Manhattan.

The difference, in the Lemming's opinion, is that we've learned how to deal with inclement weather. Most of us, anyway. Those who don't, get rescued, move to places like New York City, or, well: die.

Here's a sample of how folks here in Minnesota and North Dakota are handling the current storm:

Winter Storm: North Dakota, Minnesota, December 30, 2010

"Stay Home!"
Valley News Live (December 29, 2010, updated December 30, 2010)


"Interstate 94, Highway 10 to close at 7 p.m.

"DETROIT LAKES, Minn.— (6:30 p.m.) The Minnesota Department of Transportation and the Minnesota State Patrol will close Interstate 94 from Moorhead to Alexandria and Highway 10 from Moorhead to Detroit Lakes at 7 p.m. due to hazardous road conditions. The highways will remain closed until further notice.

"Snow plows will be pulled from all area state highways and interstates in Mahnomen, Clay, Becker, Wilkin, Otter Tail, Traverse, Grant, Douglas, Big Stone, Stevens, Pope and Swift counties. Motorists are advised not to travel until conditions improve and Mn/DOT and the Minnesota State Patrol open the roads.

"Motorists should plan accordingly. When a road is closed it is illegal to travel in that area. Motorists can be fined up to $1,000 and/or sentenced to 90 days in jail. In addition, if travelers need to be rescued from a closed road, other expenses and penalties will apply.


"I-29 closed from SD border to Grand Forks; plows being pulled in south central and eastern part of state due to areas of zero visibility

"The North Dakota Department of Transportation (NDDOT) has CLOSED I-29 both northbound and southbound roadways from the South Dakota border to Grand Forks due to high winds causing near zero visibility. Conditions are such that they are creating a life-threatening danger to motorists. The roadway is impassable and it is against the law to drive past a road closure device on a closed road.

"South Dakota Department of Transportation has also closed I-29 from the North Dakota border to Brookings. For more information on South Dakota road conditions go to

"Other road closures and notices issued by NDDOT:

"DDOT snowplows will be pulled from the roads at dark due to areas of zero visibility in Bismarck, Jamestown, Valley City, Fargo, Wahpeton, Hillsboro, and Grand Forks areas. The plows will resume operation early tomorrow morning if conditions are safe to be out.

"I-94 closed on both eastbound and westbound roadways from Jamestown to Fargo due to high winds causing near zero visibility along with glare ice conditions. Conditions are such that they are creating a life-threatening danger to motorists. The roadway is impassable and it is against the law to drive past a road closure device on a closed road.

"No Travel Advisory in effect for the south central and eastern portion of the state due to high winds causing blowing snow and areas of near zero visibility. Motorists should be advised that roadways may be reduced to a single lane or become blocked by snow drifts at structures and sheltered areas..

"Cities affected by the No Travel Advisory include: East of Bismarck, Flasher, Selfridge, Fort Yates, Linton, Napoleon, Steele, Jamestown, Valley City, Edgeley, Ellendale, Devils Lake, Carrington, Rugby, Rolla, Langdon, Casselton, Fargo, Wahpeton, Hillsboro, Grand Forks, Drayton, Cavalier, and surrounding areas.

"A Travel Alert is in effect for central North Dakota through Saturday morning. Conditions are such that motorists can still travel, but may experience hazardous winter driving conditions due to high winds causing blowing and drifting snow and reduced visibility. Motorists should be advised that snow drifts may be encountered at structures and sheltered areas and are encouraged to reduce speeds.

Cities affected by the Travel Alert include: Minot, Devils Lake, west of Bismarck and surrounding areas....

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Teeth: Human, Very Old, and in an Unexpected Place

People who look pretty much like the folks you see in the papers and on television today may have been around longer than we thought. A lot longer.

Really Old Teeth: New Facts to Chew On

"400,000 year old teeth challenge evolutionary theory"Anne Barker, ABC News Online (December 29, 2010)

"ELEANOR HALL: Israeli archaeologists say they've uncovered evidence that could challenge the accepted theories on human evolution.

"A team from Tel Aviv found human teeth that they estimate are 400,000 years old: twice as old as any previous finds.

"But they say they can't be sure of the significance of their discovery until further tests are done as Middle East correspondent Anne Barker reports.

"ANNE BARKER: The accepted theory among evolutionary scientists is that homo sapiens originated in Africa around 200,000 years ago and gradually migrated around the world.

"And until now the earliest human remains were found in eastern Africa.

"But now Israeli archaeologists have uncovered a set of teeth that they believe are twice as old and if so would force a complete rethink of the whole concept of human evolution.

"AVI GOPHER: This conclusion may be of great importance because it may be a first hint at changing some of the paradigms we are used to think about, used to use in terms of human evolution.

"ANNE BARKER: Professor Avi Gopher at Tel Aviv University heads the team which was excavating the Qesem Cave, a prehistoric site in central Israel that was discovered 10 years ago where they found eight teeth believed to be 400,000 years old.

"AVI GOPHER: The dating of the cave shows that the presence of homo sapiens in this part of the world is earlier than any other evidence we have to date.

"The earliest we know until now is Homo sapiens found in eastern Africa dated to around 200,000 years.

"That means that we have to rethink the basic reconstructions we have for human evolution and spread.

"ANNE BARKER: Professor Gopher says more research is needed to confirm the remains are the earliest evidence of the existence of modern man.

"But scientists have already done a morphological analysis of the teeth which included CT scans and X-rays that indicate their size and shape are very similar to those of today's humans.

"And he says other findings suggest that whoever it was who lived in the cave were hunters who used fire and shared animal meat, all of which are consistent with modern man...."

The Lemming isn't all that surprised at this news. Folks who make a serious study of life on Earth have generally been discovering that things happened earlier than they thought.

This is a pretty big jump, though, in terms of time: from 200,000 years back being as early as folks looking pretty much like us were around; to 400,000 years back. The shift from west Africa to the east end of the Mediterranean isn't such a big shift, though. It's walking distance. If you're willing to spend a few years on the hike.

Human Origins, Teeth, Writing Headlines, and Accepting Change

Another article, from Monday:
"Researchers: Ancient human remains found in Israel"
Associated Press, via (December 27, 2010)

" Israeli archaeologists said Monday they may have found the earliest evidence yet for the existence of modern man, and if so, it could upset theories of the origin of humans.

A Tel Aviv University team excavating a cave in central Israel said teeth found in the cave are about 400,000 years old and resemble those of other remains of modern man, known scientifically as Homo sapiens, found in Israel. The earliest Homo sapiens remains found until now are half as old....

"...The prehistoric Qesem cave was discovered in 2000, and excavations began in 2004. Researchers Gopher, Ran Barkai and Israel Hershkowitz published their study in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology."

The Lemming thinks that phrase, "challenge evolutionary theory," in the ABC article should be taken with a grain of salt. Make that a few pounds.

Yes, the evolutionary theories that have folks looking like us starting in Africa about 200,000 years back may be due for an overhaul. At least.

But the general idea that homo sapiens sapiens didn't always look like we do now? And that if you go back far enough, our ancestors looked different enough to have another tag in the 'species' column? The Qesem cave finds don't change that.

The Lemming recognizes that news is written to sell newspapers. Or, these days, to attract visitors to websites. That "challenge evolutionary theory" thing in the headline was, the Lemming suspects, calculated to attract readers who are still wrangling over the preferred realities of Darwin and Ussher.

The idea that change happens, and that it's okay, is something the Lemming accepts. At any rate, change happens: and I've got the choice of dealing with it, or being miserable. It's not such a hard choice.
What, No Rant About Godless Science?
If you've been following this blog, you've probably learned that the Lemming is a practicing Catholic. Which doesn't mean what some folks in America apparently think it does:Bottom line, I believe that God exists. I also acknowledge that He's smarter and stronger than I am. More patient, too. And I'm inclined to take the world as it is: not as I'd like it to be.

Moving along.

One reason the Lemming wasn't all that surprised at the idea that folks who look "human" have been around longer than we thought is that 'things happened earlier.' Like I said, the time of the earliest known modern humans, fish, or whatever, has generally been getting pushed back as we learn more.

Another is that archeologists/paleontologists (the distinction seems to be getting blurred) found a kitchen in the same general area - that folks used some 800,000 years ago. They didn't have a dishwasher, freezer, or microwave oven: but they did have an area that was designed around the tasks of preparing food.

Related posts:More related posts:

Kitten; Foosball; Video: Fun

"funny kitten playing foosball "

mykidsthrillme, YouTube (December 26, 2010)
video, 1:21

"kitten, funny, foosball, playing, cute," - - - and the Lemming couldn't have put it better, myself.

The kitten seemed to be having a great time, stepping (with the occasional stumble) over the foosball bars, batting the ball into the goals, and entertaining the people around the table.

A tip of the hat to Cute Overload, which featured this video today ("Gooooooooooooooooooaaallll!," Not That Mike The Other Mike), and to irish_brigid, on Twitter, for the heads-up on this video.

Oddly Enough Blog: Basil Strings Along

"Seeing the world with strings attached"
Robert Basler, Oddly Enough blog, Reuters (December 28, 2010)

"Blog Guy, you haven't mentioned your brother, Basil, in a while.

"I believe you once told us he works overseas, in an expatriate job. He's an expert at export, as I recall?

"No, he's no longer an expat export expert. Basil left for a career as a folk musician. He moved to the Gulf, to play guitar in Doha.

"He plays guitar in Qatar?

"He didn't like it, so he said aloha to Doha...."

The post goes on like that for a while. Playing with the sounds of words like this appeals to the Lemming. As I've said before: Your experience may vary.

For the sake of seeming to be analytical, the Lemming noted that Basil plays - or played - the guitar, banjo, spoons, and mandolin. Also, the Lemming notes with some surprise that there is lacking a report of Basil playing the viola in Angola.

Perhaps biographical detail will appear in a subsequent post.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A Thought for the Day, About Wisdom

"Science is organized knowledge. Wisdom is organized life."
Immanuel Kant, German philosopher (1724 - 1804)
The Quotations Page

Not-altogether-unrelated posts:

New York City Blizzard, New Jersey Common Sense, and Central Minnesota Routines

"Nearly 10,000 flights canceled since holiday blizzard began"
CNN (December 28, 2010)

"Close to 10,000 total flights have been canceled since the beginning of a holiday blizzard that blanketed much of the U.S. northeast with snow and left thousands stranded.

"Airline representatives from AirTran, American, Continental, Delta Air Lines, JetBlue, United, U.S. Airways, Spirit and Southwest reported a total of at least 9,726 trips were called off due to weather since Saturday.

"Of those, at least 1,335 flights were canceled on Tuesday as major airports across the region slowly got back to normal...."

"...By early Tuesday evening, LaGuardia was still operating well below its normal 70 flights per hour, he said.

"John F. Kennedy Airport, in the New York City borough of Queens, and Newark Liberty International, in northern New Jersey, opened to incoming and departing traffic at 6 p.m. Monday, Port Authority spokeswoman Sara Joren said...."

The Lemming acknowledges that heavy snow in America's largest east coast city is news: and isn't a strictly 'local' matter, since so many folks travel to, from, and through there.

The Lemming is also profoundly glad to live in central Minnesota, where this sort of thing isn't all that unusual: and where folks are prepared, for the most part.

Another look at New York City, the weather, and what to do when it snows:

"One Blizzard, Two Markedly Different Approaches in NJ and NYC"
Bob Hennelly, WNYC News (December 28, 2010)

"On Tuesday, Mayor Bloomberg was careful not to overpromise. With dozens of ambulances and hundreds of buses still stranded, he was trying to manage expectations. Outer borough council members said constituents had not yet seen a snow plow.

" 'I don't know that you ever get everything plowed because there always are streets, there are streets not even on the map... but I think you can expect another 24 hours before we'll get to everyone, and even then I'm not so sure,' he said.

"That was quite a contrast to the mayor's stoic detachment a day earlier, when he didn't seem to fully grasp just how dysfunctional things had become for most New Yorkers...."

"...Mayor Bloomberg kept the city open for business on Monday and held the NYPD's graduation ceremony for more than 1,100 police cadets and their families at Madison Square Garden.

"Meanwhile, west of the Hudson in New Jersey, Acting New Jersey Governor Steve Sweeney had declared a statewide snow emergency the night before (New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was out of state.) That declaration marshalled all of the state's resources including the National Guard. He bought himself time by granting the state workforce a two-hour delayed opening.

" 'The State of Emergency gives us the ability to get a lot of vehicles off the road where we can get our roads cleaned up as fast as possible and this evening there are going to be some really high winds so we are going to have blizzard conditions this evening so it is best for people to get off the road,' Sweeney told WNYC Sunday night.

"The next moning, Sweeney closed state government except for the state's essential emergency personnel...."

There's quite a bit more detail, that's probably of considerable interest to folks living in and around New York City.

The op ed has a distinct point of view - and the Lemming doesn't know enough about the personalities and situations to have an informed opinion.

On the other hand, it seems daft deal with a blizzard by declaring that everything's fine.
Warning! Old Coot Reminiscing
Which reminds the Lemming of a store manager in Fargo, North Dakota, several decades back, who didn't kill his employees by forcing them out of the store at closing time.

He locked them out - in a blizzard - at night. Maybe he didn't realized that the shopping center was on the outskirts, and that employees were required to park their cars on the opposite side of a parking lot that was filling in with snowdrifts.

They survived, but weren't all that cheerful about the incident. Managers take note: If you kill your employees, you'll have all the fuss and bother of hiring new ones.
Back to New York City and the Real World
The lemming doesn't envy folks who run a city - or town. Or keep emergency services running.

Back to that op ed from WNYC:

"...On Monday, the city's 311 phone line had 250,000 calls. One major problem was that out of the close to 50,000 911 calls the NYPD received, only 10,000, or one in five, were actual emergencies.

"Floating in the background is the question of whether cutting of 400 Sanitation Department slots was part of what slowed the response...."

On the whole, the Lemming would rather live in central Minnesota, than either New York City or New Jersey.

But, judging from what's been in the news about the east coast blizzard, if it was New Jersey, New York City, or nothing: The Lemming would pick New Jersey. It sounds like folks running the place are a tad more firmly attached to the space-time continuum there.

Meanwhile, in Sauk Centre, Minnesota

This isn't likely to get into national news: Sauk Centre's street department was out shortly after snow stopped falling, plowed the streets clear, spread sand upstream of intersections, and went on with their other tasks. Most folks got their own walks and driveways cleared - or had someone do it for them. It's a legal requirement, and simple common sense, too.

But that's not news: It's the routine we go through, to keep our town in working order.

IceCube Neutrino Observatory: Again

"The World's Biggest, Iciest Particle Detector"
Dave Mosher, Wired Science (December 28, 2010)

"Construction of the world's largest particle detector is now complete after 10 years of drilling deeper than a mile into ultraclear Antarctic ice.

"Called the IceCube, the three-dimensional array of sensors can detect neutrinos expelled by some of the universe's most violent sources, including black holes, supernovas and energetic stars.

"Neutrinos weigh hardly anything, so the particles usually travel through matter — including the sun and Earth — without interacting. But every now and then they slam into the cores of atoms to create nuclear particle showers. The events emit faint blue trails of light which IceCube's 5,160 sensors can track with extreme precision...."

If the IceCube neutrino observatory sounds familiar, maybe you read the Lemmings micro-review on another article, ten days ago.

The Wired Science article is short, but has a favorable content/fluff ratio. And, pictures. Also this extra content on the article's home page:

"...Video: Animations show the drilling of IceCube's 1.5-mile-deep holes, the completed array of light-detecting sensors and a simulation of a neutrino collision event.
"Credit: NSF, IceCube/University of Madison-Wisconsin and Chris Bickel...."

Another page, "Last Sensor," displays photos of the sensors: and a closeup on the last one to be set in place. The crew autographed in.

That page also explains a little more about just how the IceCube array detects neutrinos. The sensors pick up Cherenkov radiation: "Light emitted by particles that move through a medium in which the speed of light is slower than the speed of the particles." ("Appendix A Glossary of Nuclear Terms," The Nuclear Wall Chart, The ABC's of Nuclear Science, Lawrence Berkeley National Lab)

That "through a medium in which the speed of light is slower than the speed of the particles" isn't as exotic as it sounds. Although warp ships (the Lemming will get back to that) would almost certainly generate Cherenkov radiation, neutrinos in ice are a more ordinary sort of thing.

The speed of light is, as far as physicists can tell, as fast as anything can travel through space. That's speed of light in a vacuum. Light slows down, a little, when it travels through matter. Like ice. light doesn't slow down much, but a neutrino screaming in from space is going faster than the speed light makes, going through ice. Which is, again, why IceCube works.

There's a pretty good explanation of Cherenkov radiation at a page titled, reasonably enough, "Cherenkov Radiation," at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia's website. (Department of Physics & Astronomy)

"Warp Ship?!" What, the Lemming's a Trekkie?

The Lemming enjoyed the original Star Trek series, and quite a few of the subsequent series and movies. There are even episodes that I'd be willing see again. But Scottie's warp drive, with it's not-entirely-consistent performance limits, isn't real.

What a physicist named Alcubierre came up with a few years ago is. Or, rather, might be. The power requirements are, literally, astronomical. But it looks like once we're able to generate enough power, and can use the energy to bend space, it's possible to create a semi-independent pocket of space, and move that pocket around through the rest of space at any speed.

The math is beyond what the Lemming's learned: but the last I heard, quite a few other physicists were taking the Alcubierre equations seriously. The last I heard, the 'common sense' physicists are saying that an Alcubierre warp is possible: but isn't stable. (Links in "Humanity in Space: The Next Few Centuries")

Now, Back to IceCube and Frozen Photomultipliers

Since IceCube's senors are lowered down very deep shafts melted in Antarctica's icecap, and left to freeze in place as water flows back in and turns to ice: once they're in place, they're not coming out.

The good news is that it's a comparatively low-maintenance piece of hardware. The bad news is that if something goes wrong with a sensor, there's no way to pull it out for repairs.

More good news, though: The array should be good for about 20 years of observations. And the researchers already have a little data from the parts of the array that are already online. ("Sky Map")

Related post:

Monday, December 27, 2010

Lemming Tracks: The Lemming Took Monday Off

Somewhere in the late afternoon today, the Lemming realized that no micro-reviews had been written, no posts posted, and pretty much nothing at all had been accomplished today.

Nothing of a 'productive' nature, that is. The Lemming had a great time, hanging out with family and playing Sim City 4.

Even a Lemming can take a vacation, now and again, I suppose.

I plan to be back on a 'normal' schedule, whatever that is, tomorrow.

But then, the Lemming has planned a lot of things, over the decades. Like Rabbie Burns wrote: "...The best laid schemes o' mice an' men Gang aft agley...." The Lemming suspects the poet may have been having a hard week when he wrote that.

Full text of the Robert Burns poem:

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Financial Cons: An Example or Two

"Tough Times Breed Financial Cons"
John R. Emschweiller, Top Stories in U.S., Wall Street Journal (December 27, 2010)

"Hard times are generating a growing number of financial scams in which victims are tempted to invest money on the false promise of big returns, often from supposed caches of overseas money.

"Louis Michael Pihakis, an 80-year-old convicted swindler, was recently indicted in a Phoenix federal court for one such 'advance-fee' scheme, in which prosecutors allege he falsely promised business people multimillion-dollar investments from a nonexistent trust in return for an advance fee that was usually several hundred thousand dollars....

"...The current economic climate, with often-tight credit markets for small businesses and swooning housing prices, has given advance-fee crooks fresh opportunities, federal officials say. 'You have people in desperate situations. Suddenly someone gives them a ray of hope' by promising to solve their financial problems, said Robb Adkins, executive director of the Justice Department's Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force. As a result, he said, advance-fee frauds have become a priority for the department.

"The Federal Trade Commission says consumer complaints related to advance-fee and credit-repair schemes more than doubled in 2009 to over 41,000 from about 17,000 in 2008, the latest figures available....

"...'We have victims who normally wouldn't have been sucked into such a scheme,' said Evan Davis, the case's lead prosecutor. 'But they were facing eviction. This was their last hope and they weren't asking questions.'..."

Desperation isn't Greed

It's one thing, when a 'clever' fellow buys 'never pay income tax again' advice: and later has frank and open discussions with IRS accountants. Or a 'get rich quick' scheme turns out to be the sort of thing Mr. Madoff became famous for.

People who fall for that sort of scam are victims, and sometimes lose a great deal. But the Lemming thinks that tax evasion and get-rich-quick efforts may often be motivated by greed.

When someone can't make mortgage payments, a sort of greed might have been involved. The Lemming can imagine someone buying more house that the person's finances could handle for a number of unpleasant, unreasonable motives.

On the other hand, someone could wind up defaulting on a mortgage because the person's just not good at math. Setting up terms for a mortgage can be a complicated process.

Then, there's things like getting sick and staying that way, being laid off: you get the idea.

Someone whose home or business is is imperiled by a mortgage gone bad faces a huge loss: and desperation can make folks somewhat less clear-headed than they'd normally be.

Making a Bad Situation Worse

In a situation like the one discussed in that article, targets of the (alleged) fraud "...'...were facing eviction. This was their last hope and they weren't asking questions.'..."

It's easy to say, for someone who's not about to be evicted from his home: but the middle of a crisis is not a good place to stop using common sense - and checking out what looks like a "last hope."

There seem to be few situations which are so desperate, so hopeless, so catastrophic: that a bad decision can't make them worse.

Related posts:

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Chaser and 1,022 Toys: The Dog Knows What Each One's Called

"World's Smartest Dog Knows More Than 1,000 Words" (December 23, 2010)

(Mark Olencki, via, used w/o permission.)
"A border collie named Chaser has learned over 1,000 words -- more than any other animal"

"If you thought Rover or Sparky was smart, think again: Chaser just took him to school.

"A border collie named Chaser has learned the names of 1,022 individual items -- more than any other animal, even the legendary Alex the parrot. But it's all in a day's work for these researchers.

"Psychologists Alliston Reid and John Pilley of Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C., wanted to test if there was a limit to the amount of words a border collie could learn, so they taught Chaser the names of hundreds of toys, one by one, slowly and patiently, for three years.

" 'We put in a lot of work on it,' Pilley said in a conversation with While border collies are an especially smart breed, he said, the research doesn't allow them to conclusively call it smarter than, say, pit bulls or dachshunds.

" 'We can't say anything definitive about this, but there is agreement among breeders,' he said, citing decades of breeding for herding that makes the dogs particularly attuned to learning words. 'The hypothesis is that they do have a special propensity to language, they listen to the farmer.'

"Chaser the border collie's mountain of toys -- all 1,022 of them -- and a group of Wofford College students.

"Pilley stressed that the training technique more than anything resulted in the incredible skills of the dog...."

"...She learned common nouns that represented categories, such as “ball,” and she learned to infer the names of objects by their association with other objects.

Rico the border collie, from the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany, was previously top dog — he had a vocabulary of about 200 words. Chaser’s feats are chronicled in the journal Behavioural Processes.

There's a 10-minute video embedded in the article, showing part of Chaser's training:

"Chaser responding to the combination of verb noun phrases071410.mpg
pilleyjw, YouTube (July 12, 2010)
video, 10:28

"Chaser responding to commands to match three verbs with three nouns, thereby demonstrating combinatorial understanding and the independent meaning of verbs and nouns in the verb noun phrases."

No question about it: Chaser is a smart dog. Still, like the researcher said, it was "the training technique more than anything resulted in the incredible skills of the dog."

That, and working with a breed of dog that's been developed to be particularly interested in what one of us says. In the Lemming's opinion.

Still: the experiment had impressive results. Particularly since what Chaser did was apparently more than a simple 'one sound/one response' trick. The trainers used simple sentences: a noun and a verb. And Chaser apparently understood what was said.

Dog owners won't, the Lemming imagines, be all that impressed - although that is a large vocabulary. Folks who work around dogs, or most animals, learn that they're smart. Although many aren't quite as frantically eager to please a person as dogs are.

And that's another topic.

Vaguely-related posts:More about Chaser:

Holiday Santa: 'How Much for Just the Head?'

"Time to beheading home, Santa"
Robert Basler, Oddly Enough, Reuters blog (December 24, 2010)

Reuters photos, Baz Ratner - A vendor holds the head of a Santa Claus doll as he arranges a display outside a shop in Jerusalem's Old City (December 21, 2010)
(Reuters photos by Baz Ratner, via Oddly Enough blog, used w/o permission)

"Blog Guy, like many of your readers, I come here for news about other cultures. I'm curious about how Christmas is celebrated in Israel.

"Sure, I can tell you about Bethlehem and the Church of the Nativity, which…

"Not THAT Christmas! The real, commercial one. Santa Claus and reindeer and stuff.

Reuters photo,  Baz Ratner - A man wearing a Santa Claus costume places an inflatable Santa Claus doll in an alley in Jerusalem's Old City ahead of Christmas (December 22, 2010)"Oh. I'm not big on doing research, but we do have some photos from Israel this week which you may find interesting. On the left you can see the custom of 'Sleazy Santa.' They take an inflatable Santa down narrow narrow alleys in Jerusalem and pretend to peer in windows…..."

The Lemming isn't entirely convinced, regarding Mr. Basler's claim to be "not big on doing research." The "Sleasy Santa," for example, isn't a fabrication. This post includes a photograph of the phenomenon.

As for the top photo from that post, the Lemming has noted the custom of displaying Santa heads - just the head - here in central North America, too. Or, rather, mini-heads: perhaps intended to represent Santa's elves. Maybe a dozen of them in a tree, each hanging from a branch.

It's a festive sight, in its own way: perhaps the Lemming knows a bit too much of my Viking and Celtic ancestors' more colorful habits.

Anyway: That's a typical Oddly Enough blog post. Odd; informative after its own fashion; and, in the Lemming's opinion, funny. As I've said before, your experience may vary.

Almost-related posts:
Posts in another blog, about the Lemming and Christmas:

Friday, December 24, 2010

Lemming Tracks: Christmas Cookies, Fruitcake, and Eggnog Nightmare #1

Here in America, it's the season for folks to get together with family, spend ludicrous amounts of money on presents, and scarf down prodigious quantities of everything from leftover 20th-century fruitcake to cookies and high-octane eggnog.

The Lemming thinks that's great - providing that folks don't imperil their finances or health in the process.

Now, without further ado: This year's Christmas picture.
There's more to Christmas than the commercial and cultural angles. The Lemming's discussed that in another blog: Blocked: Disappointing, but Not Unexpected

The Lemming would be writing a micro-review about a article now. It has to do with a moon of Saturn.

That micro-review won't get written. Not soon, anyway.

A few minutes ago, when I followed a link on one of my 'iGoogle' pages, I got a message titled "Google Safe Browsing diagnostic page for" It gives a few details on what why got flagged.

I'll be back, with a reason I'm not surprised at this situation, after that "Google Safe Browsing diagnostic page" text:

"Safe Browsing

"Diagnostic page for
"What is the current listing status for
"Site is listed as suspicious - visiting this web site may harm your computer.

"Part of this site was listed for suspicious activity 1 time(s) over the past 90 days.
"What happened when Google visited this site?
"Of the 81 pages we tested on the site over the past 90 days, 10 page(s) resulted in malicious software being downloaded and installed without user consent. The last time Google visited this site was on 2010-12-24, and the last time suspicious content was found on this site was on 2010-12-24.

"Malicious software includes 12 scripting exploit(s), 10 trojan(s), 8 exploit(s). Successful infection resulted in an average of 3 new process(es) on the target machine.

"Malicious software is hosted on 2 domain(s), including,

"This site was hosted on 1 network(s) including AS6315 (XMISSION).
"Has this site acted as an intermediary resulting in further distribution of malware?
"Over the past 90 days, did not appear to function as an intermediary for the infection of any sites.
"Has this site hosted malware?
"No, this site has not hosted malicious software over the past 90 days.
"How did this happen?
"In some cases, third parties can add malicious code to legitimate sites, which would cause us to show the warning message.
"Next steps:...."
("Advisory provided by Google," Google ( (December 24, 2010)

The "Next steps" would be relevant, if you were on the original page, or the site owner.

The Lemming hopes that the owners of take note of what's been happening, and change their policies. That leads me into why I wasn't surprised to read that Google diagnostics message. Using Malicious Software? Disappointed, but Not Surprised

For some time now, has been using -- or allowing their advertisers to use -- increasingly aggressive software.
Advertising's Okay
The Lemming doesn't mind advertising: the working relationship between bloggers like me and companies with products and services to sell is one reason why blogging - and online publishing in general - isn't limited to independently wealthy folks.
Self-Destructive Stupidity is Not Okay
The Lemming does, however, mind advertising that blocks a reader's view of the page, takes up screen space toward the bottom of the display, and otherwise interferes with reading the page.

Advertising like that is, in the Lemming's opinion, as stupid-clever as the old trick of disabling the browser's "back" button. I've discussed disabling back buttons before. (December 6, 2010, May 1, 2008)

Back to, aggressive software, and that blocking message. Second Strike

The Lemming won't be going back to again today. Or, most likely, until after New Year's.

That's not an arbitrary date, by the way. Syntax and content in strongly suggests that their writers and editors, at least, are in the United States. That, in turn, suggests that the folks who make executive decisions are in this country, too.
Holiday Break SNAFU?
If's executives are in the United States, the odds are pretty good that they won't be back from their Christmas-New Year's vacation until early January, 2011. The same goes for most of the senior staff.

Including the folks who are savvy enough to know that it's not a good idea to sell advertising space to someone who started the conversation by telling you that he was the president of Booga-Booga and needed your help to get ten billion dollars out of his country. Which is another topic.
Beware Clueless Executives
Almost. I briefly discussed clueless executives and managers, illustrated with a Dilbert strip, yesterday. (December 23, 2010)
Second Strike
The Lemming wouldn't be quite so annoyed, if this was the first time had pulled something like this. This is the second time I've had issues with the website and naughty software - presumably put there by their advertisers.

The Lemming hopes that whoever is running decides to reconsider what seems to a piratical philosophy, where it comes to advertising. They may be making a few extra dollars this way, in the short run.

But as word gets around that they're putting malicious software on their visitors' computers: I don't think I'm the only one who's considering staying away from Permanently.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas Tree Lights: From Candles to Electric

"The History of Christmas Lights"
Mary Bellis, Inventors,

"It begins with the tradition of using small candles to light up the Xmas tree.

"The tradition of using small candles to light up the Christmas tree dates back to at least the middle of the XVIIth century. However, it took two centuries for the tradition to become widely established first in Germany and soon spreading to Eastern Europe.

"Candles for the tree were glued with melted wax to a tree branch or attached by pins. Around 1890, candleholders were first used for Christmas candles. Between 1902 and 1914, small lanterns and glass balls to hold the candles started to be used...."

Decades later, safe Christmas tree lights were invented.

There's more on the website, about Christmas stuff. The articles called, accurately if not pedantically:
It tells, briefly, about tinsel, artificial Christmas trees, Christmas Cards, and what got this "Christmas" thing going, about two thousand years back.

Which is another topic.

Sort-of-related posts:

Comets: Looks Like They May Not All be From Around Here.

"Wanted for Theft: Sun Stole Its Comets From Other Stars"
Nola Redd, (November 23, 2010)

"It turns out our sun may be a cosmic thief that's stolen most of its comets from other stars, a new study suggests.

"Comets are small icy bodies that flare up when they near the sun as solar radiation vaporizes their ice to create a glowing tail.

"New computer simulations of the billions of comets crisscrossing the solar system suggest that most of them originated beyond our local neighborhood, but got grabbed and pulled in by our sun's gravity later...."

Current models of how the Solar system formed give a pretty good explanation for where comets come from: There's good reason to think that they formed from the same cloud of gas and dust that our sun, Earth, and the other planets did.

Just one problem. Although the Oort cloud comets are too far away to detect - directly - so far - we've got a pretty good census for comets that swing in close to the sun. That's not the problem.

It's the numbers.

They don't add up.

Back to the article:

"...[Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colorado's Hal] Levison and his team say there seem to be around 400 billion comets hovering just beyond Pluto. In comparison, the conventional model predicts only 6 billion.

" 'That's...a huge discrepancy,' Levison said. 'Too huge to be explained by mistakes in the estimates. There's no way we could be that far off, so there has to be something wrong with the model itself.'..."

Assuming that comets - some of them, anyway - came from the neighborhood of other stars helps explain the number of comets we see. It also explains the orbits of quite a few long-period comets: which can go far into the depths of space.

That means that we may be able to get samples of material from other stars a whole lot sooner than however long it takes to build really fast starships.

"...Comets are generally regarded as excellent snapshots of the early solar system, because they spend much of their lives encased in ice. But if some of these comets come from outside our solar system, then they can tell us about their parent stars, as well.

" 'We can study the orbits of comets and put their chemistry into the context of where and around which star they formed,' Levison said. 'It's intriguing to think we got some of our "stuff" from distant stars. We're kin.' "

Intriguing: and somewhat 'old news,' too. Our current models for how the universe works say that everything we're made of, apart from hydrogen, and maybe helium, was made in the cores of very old, very massive, stars.

And that's another topic.

Related posts:

FCC, the Internet, Regulations, Freedom of Speech, and a Ranting Lemming

The Lemming should probably say it again: this isn't a political blog.

In other words, the Lemming thinks that daft ideas are daft, no matter who expresses them.1 Or, worse, pushes a daft idea through Congress.

Like the nifty new "net neutrality" regulations that the FCC is getting. This week's articles - the ones I found, anyway - didn't mention the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA) by name, so maybe the current bill is another effort to grab control of the wicked, wicked Web.

"Wicked, wicked Web?" The Lemming will get back to that.

The Lemming will get back to copyright infringement and intellectual property rights later, too.

This post is mainly about what looks like a really bad idea: giving a government agency the power to decide who gets to stay online, and who doesn't.

Law, Reality, and an Old Joke

Decades back, the Lemming heard this joke: Back then, most lawyers were "he," so don't have a stroke, please. Anyway:

A lawyer got a call from one of his clients, who said that he'd been charged with some offense. The lawyer reassured the fellow, saying 'they can't put you in jail for that.' 'You don't understand,' the client said: 'I'm calling from the jail!'

'The Government's Doing It, So It's Legal?'

Now, an op-ed from today's news:

"FCC amok"
NEWS, Worcester, Massachusetts (December 23, 2010)

"New rules for Internet lack any legal basis"

"On Tuesday, the Federal Communications Commission pushed ahead with so-called 'net neutrality' regulations, asserting that it has the right to tell Internet service providers how to manage their networks. In fact, not only does the FCC lack specific and explicit authority to do so, but a federal circuit court in April ruled against the agency on precisely the same matter.

"The issue of net neutrality pits those who believe that free markets should be allowed to shape the development of the Internet against those who believe that Uncle Sam needs to play some role in assuring that companies don't discriminate against certain kinds of Internet traffic. The fear is that, left to the marketplace alone, the information superhighway will eventually become a divided highway, with a high-speed express lane for the information 'haves,' and a slower, more congested lane for the information 'have-nots.'

"There's no getting around the fact that individuals, families and companies with the means to do so have always enjoyed advantages in the information age. They were the first to have Internet connections of any kind, were first to dump dial-up service for zippier DSL, and subsequently switched to fiber-optic services. That's just how markets work...."

In a way, the Lemming feels a little sorry for big, old-school, pre-Information Age managers and executives. Some of them - the ones who aren't like the clueless wonders in Scott Adams' Dilbert comic - may realize that times have changed, and are trying to catch up. Others? Well, here's today's Dilbert:

Scott Adams understands the Internet, by the way: Unlike the executives in his comic strip, he does not live in constant fear that tens of thousands of people, all over the world, may send visitors to his website. In fact, he encourages it. Which is how I got the "embed" code for today's strip. What you're seeing here is a reduced-size version, by the way: the original is 640 pixels across.

Like I said, Scott Adams understands the Internet. But then, he's not an old-school executive.

Folks who are old enough to have gotten into a high-level corporate job aren't necessarily stupid. They're just specialized. For another era. The Lemming's discussed one scenario in another blog:
It's easy, for the Lemming, to see the bill discussed in the Telegraph, and elsewhere, as an effort to put economic and political power back into the hands of the 'right sort.'

Now, an excerpt from a political blog entry. Not mine:

'If It Moves, Regulate It'

"FCC Regulatory Overreach Threatens the Internet"
U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, Wilson County News, Texas (December 23, 2010)

"The Internet has grown and flourished for more than 20 years without burdensome federal regulations. Absent government roadblocks that could hold up progress, the Internet has been able to evolve and rapidly advance as technology develops. Along with it, business development and job creation, spurred by web-based innovation, have been strengthened by a free market-oriented environment. Unfortunately, this could soon change because of new Internet regulations issued by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in a three-to-two party line vote on December 21, 2010.

"The new rules represent an unprecedented power-grab by the unelected members of the FCC, to whom Congress has delegated very limited authority to act in the area of broadband services. This unaccountable group of regulators is creating authority to intervene in an area that represents one-sixth of the nation's economy. The move installs a government arbiter to force their idea of how the Internet should be run on users and the companies that are trying to make broadband access available to Americans throughout the nation.

"The public is largely happy with the way the Internet currently works - as a private resource. The FCC action is a solution in search of a problem.

"The FCC's proposed regulations are particularly concerning because they would impose new directives onto communications companies that will stifle the Internet's well-known and successful spirit of innovation...."

The Lemming was born during the Truman administration. I might be more nostalgic for the 'good old days,' but I've got a pretty good memory. I remember the trailing edge of McCarthyism, the 'kill a commie for Christ' attitude, political correctness, and disco. Also Jimi Hendrix and postmodern architecture. The 'good old days' weren't all bad, either.

What looks like the latest power-grab by America's national government is just that, in the Lemming's opinion: the latest.

Back when the Internet was young(er), some folks were shocked on horrified at the pornography that was rampant. Others were shocked and horrified at online "hate speech." Emotion seemed to run high.

The Lemming is of the informed opinion that emotions and reason don't play well together. ("Emotions, the Frontal Cortex, The War on Terror, Anarchists, and the Illuminati," Another War-on-Terror Blog (December 23, 2008)) - - -

Protecting the Masses from the Wicked, Wicked Web

- - - Which might help explain why the Christian Coalition and the Feminist Majority teamed up, a few years back, in an effort to get a federal agency that would decide what Americans were allowed to see and read. They didn't put it quite that way, of course.

That time, Americans escaped with our freedom of expression intact. This time? Time will tell.

New Rule: Everybody's Equal: As In 'Alike?'

"Internet regulation proposal sets off political firestorm"
Alexander Mooney, Political Ticker, CNN (December 21, 2010)

"The Obama administration is facing a fresh round of heat from Republicans Tuesday amid the passage of a Federal Communications Commission proposal that aims to impart new regulations on internet providers.

"The so-called 'net neutrality' rules, proposed by the Obama administration, is the federal government's most high-profile move yet in connection with a debate nearly as old as the modern-day Internet itself. The proposed rules would require high-speed providers to treat all types of Web content equally, instead of allowing providers to favor some types of websites or apps at the expense of others.

"While some Democrats say the proposal doesn't go far enough in leveling the Internet playing field, Republican critics – including the two on the five-panel FCC commission - say it is the latest example of government overreach into a place it has no business to be.

" 'Analysts and broadband companies of all sizes have told the FCC that new rules are likely to have the perverse effect of inhibiting capital investment, deterring innovation, raising operating costs, and ultimately increasing consumer prices. Others maintain that the new rules will kill jobs,' wrote Robert McDowell, a Republican member of the FCC, in a Wall Street Journal op-ed....

"...'Let's face it, what's the Obama administration doing? They're advocating net neutrality which is essentially censorship of the Internet,' GOP Rep. Michele Bachmann said earlier this year. 'This is the Obama administration advocating censorship of the Internet. Why? They want to silence the voices that are opposing them.'..."

Phrases like "level playing field" sound nice. Problem is, in the Lemming's opinion, that not everybody's on the same page when it comes to defining whose playing field we're talking about, or which direction it should be 'leveled' in.

The Lemming doesn't mind living in a world where some folks have faster computers than the ones in my house, or better Internet connections. And I certainly don't mind the sort of opportunities that encouraged others to develop the faster, more powerful information technology that's available today. Because after the new technologies aren't so new any more, they'll get less expensive - as folks who can start ignoring last year's models.

The Lemming did mind the 'good old days,' when students with the 'wrong' views were shouted down. And I'm sincerely glad I (barely) missed the older 'good old days,' when The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit became a cultural landmark. Hollywood blacklists? The Lemming thinks those were a really bad idea.

Today there's another lot in charge, but the urge to control the culture hasn't changed. My opinion.

'You Know Too Much?'

"Republicans Aim to Block FCC's New Internet Rules Before They Go Into Effect"
Stephen Clark, Politics, (December 22, 2010)

"The Federal Communications Commission this week adopted a plan to police the web, but it will take at least a couple of months to implement the new rules – a procedural delay that could benefit Republican critics in Congress who are determined to erect a blockade.

"The Internet regulations -- which aim to prevent service providers from discriminating against websites and companies using their networks -- cannot go into effect until 60 days have passed after they have been posted in the Federal Register. But the rules won't be released until the dissent by commissioners who voted against them are addressed.

"A source with knowledge of the FCC's workings told that the rules are likely to be made public in January, putting them on track to be enacted sometime in March.

"But it might be too late by then...."

A central authority deciding who gets to have which information services? What could possibly go wrong?

After all, the government says they'll tell us what the regulations are. Someday.

Kept in the Dark: 'For Our Own Good?'

"Why is FCC's 'net neutrality' order still a secret?"
Amy Gahran, Internet, CNN (December 21, 2010)

"The Federal Communications Commission adopted new rules Tuesday governing one of the most controversial issues facing that agency: 'network neutrality.'

"This FCC order would require internet providers to allow access to all kinds of legal Web content. And it also would reportedly make it harder for broadband internet access providers to slow delivery of some kinds of internet content while putting others on the fast track...."

Putting it that way sounds: nice.

The Lemming doesn't exactly trust "nice." Maybe it's because I remember what the "Happy Days" of the fifties was really like. Which is almost another topic.

'In the Interests of National Security' - Sound Familiar?

"Homeland Security Violating Due Process and Free Speech In Internet Power Grab?"
Hans Bader,, (December 2, 2010)

"Law professor David Post notes that the Department of Homeland Security is seizing entire domain names, not to protect national security, but to enforce run-of-the-mill copyrights. He calls this an unconstitutional due process violation, noting that '80 websites . . . have now been prevented from speaking to US citizens even though the website operators, whose domains were seized, had no notice or opportunity to respond to the charges against them (and to argue, for instance, that they are NOT infringing copyrights or trademarks), no adversary hearing, and certainly no adjudication before a neutral [judge], that anything unlawful is going on at these sites.'

"He also notes that Congress has not yet passed a bill that would have granted the federal government the specific authority to seize domain names. (Senator Wyden of Oregon has put a hold on a bill known as COICA, the Combating Online Infringements and Counterfeits Act, that would allow U.S. courts to 'seize' domain names belonging to U.S. or foreign websites simply upon a charge, by the Attorney General, that the site was 'primarily devoted' to infringing activities.)

"Earlier, CEI's Ryan Radia and 40 law professors criticized COICA, arguing that it contained 'egregious constitutional infirmities,' and would lead to restrictions on speech that are unconstitutionally overbroad and violate First Amendment rules against prior restraints. Professor Post also argues that the domain-name seizures would be 'prior restraints on speech' that are 'blatantly unconstitutional.'..."

Well, if the government's doing it, it must be okay, right?

The Lemming didn't believe that in the sixties, and I don't believe it now. I don't think America's national government can do no right, but I don't think it can do no wrong, either. And I remember when 'in the interests of national security' was used as an excuse too many times. Which, sadly, is not quite another topic.

Copyright, Intellectual Property Rights, and the Lemming

The Lemming is a content provider on the Internet. That's a fancy way of saying that I've got a number of blogs and websites, and produce new information for them.

This blog, and some others I do, contains excerpts from other blogs and websites. But that's part of the micro-review format I use. That big blue eye of mine doesn't, I think, give me the status of, say, a Hollywood celebrity: so I figure that I need to show you a sample of what I'm talking about in these posts. Besides, I've read too many 'professional' reviews in which I'd read or viewed the object (target?) of the review: and noticed little similarity between the original and whatever the reviewer was ranting about. That's yet another topic.

The Lemming has a short description of "fair use" in my Legal Stuff paragraph. It's not so much to discourage folks, as to reassure anybody who wants to do the sort of review-and-link thing I do.

That's just common sense.

Then, there's the AP:
What made the situation funny, two years ago, was that the AP declared a - goofy, self-destructive, in the Lemming's opinion - set of rules they called 'fair use' of their content. And then promptly violated their own rules.

Maybe, as Leona Helmsey said about taxes, the AP thought rules 'are for the little people.' (The quote is "We don't pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes." And L.H. says she didn't say it. (CNN))

Some of the Lemming's take on intellectual property rights and common sense:
  • Does the Lemming think that some folks copy what others produce, and use it without permission, for their own purposes?
    • Yes
  • Does the Lemming think that it's okay to copy what others produce?
    • Yes
    • No
    • It depends on the circumstances
  • Does the Lemming think that nobody should copy other people's content?
    • No
      • "Fair use" is - fair
      • Real "fair use"
        • Not weirdness like the AP gaffe
The Lemming isn't quite on the same page with America's dominant culture when it comes to some aspects like "fair use" and "privacy." Part of that comes from living in a small town, where the sort of anonymity that some folks call "privacy" doesn't exist; part from the sort of attitude expressed in the old, "I don't care what you say: just spell my name right!" And that's yet again another topic.

Related posts:
The Lemming's views on dangerous technology and personal freedom, in yet another blog:

1 I've often been described as a conservative. That's understandable, I think, given the assumption that there are only three possible philosophical stances: contemporary America's liberal, moderate and conservative views.

Four, counting apathy. I've discussed "apathy" and this blog's name before.

In the context of this blog, maybe being concerned about a government official deciding who's naughty and nice - and allowed to be online - likely makes me "conservative." A half-century ago, that sort of 'free speech' attitude would have made me "liberal" in the minds of 'real Americans:' and that's another topic, almost.

As for not fitting into the liberal/moderate/conservative pigeonholes, I've discussed that in yet again another blog:

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Cleaning the Employee Lounge: A 'Nuclear Option'

"Most Dangerous Object in the Office: GreenSteam Weed Killer"
Steven Leckart, Wired Magazine (November 29, 2010)

"D'oh! We left a cup of coffee on our desk—last Presidents' Day. A scouring pad will never kill all the germs living in this mug, but a blast of scalding steam at 930 degrees Fahrenheit just might. The GreenSteam Weed Killer is a propane-powered beast that flash-boils water in about half a minute, then disgorges it through a stainless steel nozzle. The 10-gallon tank provides enough blistering mist to wilt thousands of weeds—or sterilize a whole break room full of moldy dishware...."

There's a photo and video, illustrating a not-quite-on-label application of the GreenSteam Weed Killer. The fellow in the video claims that steam coming out of the thing is over 900 degrees Fahrenheit.

The Lemming trusts that nobody's going to try cleaning the break room that way. First, the business end of the GreenSteam Weed Killer is a good length for blistering weeds at ground level. Getting at the inside of coffee mugs at counter level might prove awkward.

On the other hand, there's the 'cool factor' of marching into the office, wielding something that looks a little like a prop from one of the Star Wars movies. Cool, yes: prudent, no. In the Lemming's opinion.

Gliese 581 System's Habitable Zone: New Numbers

"Alien Planet May Be in Habitable Zone After All"
Mike Wall, (December 20, 2010)

"The alien planet Gliese 581g has been getting a lot of attention recently as a possibly habitable world, but a case is building for its next-door neighbor as a good candidate for extraterrestrial life, too.

"Gliese 581d, another planet discovered around the star Gliese 581, may well lie in the 'habitable zone' of the star - that just-right distance range that can allow liquid water to exist — new atmospheric-modeling research suggests. The finding follows closely on the heels of a similar study, published earlier this year, that reached the same provisional conclusion. [Tour of the planets around star Gliese 581.]

" 'The fact that two models find conditions for liquid water could exist, that strongly implies that it is possible,' said the new study's lead author, Philip von Paris of the Institute for Planetary Research at the German Aerospace Center in Berlin. 'It doesn't seem impossible to have life there.'

"The Gliese 581 system: Worlds of possibilities

"Gliese 581 is a red dwarf located 20 light-years from Earth, just a stone's throw in the cosmic scheme of things. Astronomers have detected six planets orbiting the star...."

Actually, the number of planets circling Gliese 581 is under debate. Some scientists who didn't discover Gliese 581g say it's not there: and they may be right. Or, not.

The Lemming thinks that, at this point, it's safest to say that there 'about a half-dozen' planets in the Gliese 581 system, and leave it at that.

Mr. Wall discusses what a "habitable zone" is, and how scientists crunched the numbers to determine what the odds are that water and a breathable-by-something atmosphere could exist on one or more of the planets around Gliese 581.

Star Trek's 'class M planets' notwithstanding, places that wouldn't look much like southern California could support life. Like central Minnesota, for example.

There's even a possibility that Earth is about as small as a planet can be, and still maintain a breathable atmosphere. ("Earth May Not Be a 'Class M' Planet" (December 5, 2009)) And that's (almost) another topic.

That year-old post isn't all that far afield, though: the Gliese 581 planets found (so far) are more massive than Earth. But not by much, in some cases.

As for some balmy tropic world inhabited by beautiful space princesses? That's another topic. ("Beautiful Space Princesses, Almost Certainly Not: Flying Whales, Maybe," Drifting at the Edge of Time and Space (December 8, 2009))

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Solar System: In For Heavy Radiation, 'Soon'

"Earth Biodiversity Pattern May Trace Back to Bobbing Solar System Path"
Mike Wall, (September 22, 2010)

"A puzzlingly regular waxing and waning of Earth's biodiversity may ultimately trace back to our solar system's bobbing path around the Milky Way, a new study suggests.

"Every 60 million years or so, two things happen, roughly in synch: The solar system peeks its head to the north of the average plane of our galaxy's disk, and the richness of life on Earth dips noticeably.

"Researchers had hypothesized that the former process drives the latter, via an increased exposure to high-energy subatomic particles called cosmic rays coming from intergalactic space. That radiation might be helping to kill off large swaths of the creatures on Earth, scientists say.

"The new study lends credence to that idea, putting some hard numbers on possible radiation exposures for the first time. When the solar system pops its head out, radiation doses at the Earth's surface shoot up, perhaps by a factor of 24, researchers found...."

The article's got a picture that illustrates how our star bobs up and down, relative to the galactic plane, as it goes around the center of our galaxy. The motion is a bit like that of a carousel's horses.

So, should we be digging in, building fallout shelters: like Americans did back in my 'good old days?' ("Cold War, United States History)

Eventually, maybe: but according to the article, we don't need to rush. The next era of peak radiation is due in maybe 10,000,000 years. Okay: compared to how long life's been on Earth, that's not all that long. Compared to, say, the expiration date on milk containers? Like the Lemming said, there's no need to rush.

Mr. Wall does a pretty good job of outlining what's happened in terms of biodiversity over the last 542,000,000 years. Basically:
  • Lots of animals and plants died
  • Species
    • Appeared
    • Changed
    • Occasionally died out
  • Life went on
What's notable for its absence, considering contemporary conventions regarding biodiversity in the news, is that it doesn't look like the the sun's orbit is anybody's fault.

These days, that's a bit noteworthy. In the Lemming's opinion.

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