Monday, August 31, 2009

Afghanistan: The Sequel to Vietnam?

From today's The Washington Post:
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said any recommendation for more forces would have to address his concerns that the foreign military presence in Afghanistan could become too large and be seen by Afghans as a hostile occupying force. "Clearly, I want to address those issues and we will have to look at the availability of forces, we'll have to look at costs. There are a lot of different things that we'll have to look at," he told reporters.[1]
I'm starting to get a bad feeling about how this operation is going. It appears the current administration is too politically chicken to put it on the line and dump more troops in. Of course we are occupying the country, but since it's so politically fragmented to not do so would be an increasing danger to us.

This is actually the real instance of what was a bullkrap theory back in the 60s about Vietnam--that the communists would take over and we'd be in danger. Well, as the 9/11 plane crashes have shown, this time there really are clear and present dangers to the U.S. by well-financed terrorist organizations operating out of Afghanistan. (Just where is their money coming from, anyway?) Yet the secretary of defense is worried about costs? Perhaps he should wonder what the cost of another strike on U.S. soil would be.

Here, Secretary Gates, I'll tip you this Afghanistan Taliban banknote. Maybe that will help with the costs.


[1] Peter Graff and Andrew Gray "U.S., NATO must change to win Afghan war says commander" The Washington Post Aug. 31, 2009.

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Saturday, August 22, 2009

Mr. Marshal Brain on Customer Service Robots.

Marshal Brain makes some fascinating observations about how robots will change the economy.[1] I was especially interested in his case scenario of the McDonald's robot service worker. Since a McDonald's robot (attractive and humanoid in appearance) will remember every interaction with you, as the customer; along with what you ordered, what you talked about on your last visit, etc., it will present a very emotionally impacting experience. But what's more strange, if you go to another McDonald's in another state, that robot there will have all the same information as well. So you as the customer will have the very surreal experience of every McDonald's robot treating you like you're their best friend, most valued customer (of the moment) -- somewhat like Starbucks employees try to fake, but which the robots might really believe, if they have beliefs, by nature of their programming.


[image] Raina's Thoughtful Thoughts blogsite Feb. 19, 2008 (Accessed Aug. 22, 2009)

[1] "Marshall Brain speculates on how robots will change the economy and replace human workers" Singularity Summit 2008.

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Monday, August 17, 2009

Good Maslow quote

"It isn't normal to know what we want. It is a rare and difficult psychological achievement"[1]



[1] Taken from Alain DeBotton The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work (Pantheon Books, NY. 2009) p. 113.

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Friday, August 14, 2009

People are pattern seeking primates

From The Chicago Tribune:
When asked about climate change, half of Americans recently polled by the Pew Research Center and the American Association for the Advancement of Science said they didn't believe in it. (Nearly all scientists said they did.) And how many of us, when Michael Jackson died, thought yes, of course, he completes the Ed McMahon-Farrah Fawcett trio? Scientists say this is no surprise. We're wired to do this. Our brains are great at solving scientific puzzles -- and to leading us to believe that celebrities live and die under different rules of the universe than the rest of us.[1]


[image] "Examples Of Kinetic Illusions In Op Art" Popgive blogsite: Funny stuff, Videos, Pictures, Gadgets, Bizarre, and much more (Accessed August 4, 2009)

[1] Trine Tsouderos "Humans often deny science while trying to find meaning in patterns" Chicago Tribune August 4, 2009.

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Thursday, August 13, 2009

Yet Another Opinion on Francis Collins' Confirmation to the NIH

Some people are really worried that Francis Collins, a well-qualified scientist and out-spoken, moderate Christian will soon be in charge of the National Institutes of Health. For example, Jeff Schweitzer, a marine biologist, neurophysiologist, and the author of Beyond Cosmic Dice, writing in Religion and Science Today, says:
When I worked at the White House as the assistant administrator for international science and technology in the Clinton administration, our paths crossed a few times, and he always left a favorable impression. Nevertheless, I am deeply disappointed in the choice of Collins to lead the NIH. Collins has become the public face for the insupportable idea that science and religion are compatible, and therein we discover the real problem with Obama’s nominee. His appointment gives that curious notion a patina of legitimacy when, in fact, science and religion are no more miscible than oil and water.[1]
I recently was asked to write a response to his article and submitted the following short essay:

Having just read Mr. Schweitzer's, letter, I noted several odd positions in his worries about Francis Collins, a Christian, being appointed as head of NIH. First, for example, why is it that science and religion are somehow incompatible because one discipline searches for mechanisms while the other discipline appeals to purpose? On this view, it looks like there should be no conflict, thus Mr. Schweitzer's oil and water analogy seems misapplied.

Second, Mr. Schweitzer holds that "Religion seeks meaning and the answer to 'why' the world is as we know it, based on the unquestioned assumption that such meaning and purpose exist." On the contrary, even atheists hold that life can have meaning without there being some grand purpose to it all. So it is hardly necessary that religion confuse meaning with purpose, much less hold it as an unquestioned assumption that they both exist. For instance, I happen to hold there is both meaning and purpose in life; but, I question those assumptions almost everyday as a professional philosopher and as an advocate of the religious life.

Finally, as I'm sure others will point out, the following argument of Schweitzer's is inadequate: since God is all knowing, God would know "every animal that would exist." That God knows all the possibilities for how random processes might obtain should not be confused with God knowing all and exactly what must obtain. The latter view affirms a kind of puppet determinism on God that is now (happily) passing out of fashion in Christian metaphysics, and is hardly an axiom of a life of faith. I affirm evolution and also happen to believe in God. Luckily, the US will soon have a director of the NIH that thinks likewise.

Brint Montgomery, Ph.D.
Chair, Dept. of Philosophy
Southern Nazarene University
Oklahoma City, OK 73008



[1] Jeff Schweitzer "Another Opinion on Francis Collins Confirmation" Religion and Science Today August 11, 2009.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Trapdoor Spider

The Trapdoor Spider is doubly wise
Hiding beneath her lid from enemy eyes.
Springing upon her victim with sudden surprise
Yields her another day of life via ants and flies.



[image] "Trap-Door Spider" (Accessed August 12, 2009)

[ * ] A slow-motion capture of a Trap-Door Spider in action.

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A.I. and Medicine: The Interview Kiosk

Here is where the next layer of artificial intelligence will enter the medical system. Note that the computer pays attention to where the faces are and gives empathetic responses. The .wmv video link is here. The technology was developed by Microsoft researcher Eric Horvitz.



[ * ] "Meet Laura, Your Virtual Personal Assistant" National Public Radio March 21, 2009 (Accessed August 2, 2009) - An interview with Horvitz when he was first announcing this technology on an NPR show this last March.

[ * ]
John Markoff "Software That Cares" NY Times (TierneyLab) July 28, 2009 (Accessed August 2, 2009) -- Author of a NY Times story talks directly about Horvitz' medical interview system. There is also an embedded version of the above video, but with a bit less resolution.

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Sunday, August 09, 2009

Research on naps nothing to snooze at.

From the New York Times:
Fully one in three adults admit that on any typical day they take a nap, according to a national survey released Wednesday [....] Napping, writes James B. Maas, a Cornell University sleep expert, “should have the status of daily exercise.” Mammals that divide their day between two distinct periods — sleep and wakefulness — are in the minority, according to the National Sleep Foundation, which pointed out on its Web site: “While naps do not necessarily make up for inadequate or poor quality nighttime sleep, a short nap of 20-30 minutes can help to improve mood, alertness and performance.”
Well, I'd like to write a bit more, but I'm feeling a bit...[yawn] know...


[image] Business of Life website.

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Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Thoughts about veterinarian care vs health care

Yes, there are interesting economic parallels to both expenditures, but that d@#n wiener dog's days are numbered.

I saw this interesting graph at The Enterprise Blog. Andrew Biggs makes a couple of comments which are doubly insightful:
Two things are interesting here: first, the rate of growth of spending from 1984 to 2006 wasn’t all that different—and in both cases, spending grew faster than the rate of economic growth. As new technologies are developed for humans, we adopt them for Bowser and Fifi—because we can afford to and we think it’s worth it. [...] Second, the level of spending was very, very different: we spend hundreds of times more on ourselves than on our pets. The main reason for this is obvious: we value our own lives and those of our families more than we do our pets or other animals. At the same time, however, veterinary care is one of the few areas of health where we are directly confronted with difficult decisions regarding the costs and benefits of additional treatments.
Well, I can afford that my WIFE'S Wiener dog get the once-a-year shots, but that doesn't mean I WANT to. (Public notice: I don't OWN a Wiener dog; I merely live with one.) Biggs claims about difficult decisions with pets only applies to the amount of subjective value I'd impute on the pet (which ain't much).

For example, suppose that this dog of seven years suddenly takes sick with an illness. I could expend around $50 having her put to sleep, or I could borrow a friend's 12-gauge shotgun, take a short drive, to a secluded area, and for the price of one, maybe even two shells (for both barrels to assure a merciful efficiency), produce the same outcome--a dead dog. Now the cost of paying the vet to do it would be much better for my wife, but for me, it's not that big a deal. Having shot animals in past hunting trips, there would be not a millisecond of suffering on the Wiener dog's part--believe it. In fact, there would be LESS suffering, since the doofy Wiener dog would always be with her recognized pack-mates. (And not "family" which would be WAY wrongly conceived.) So for the average cost of two new factory-loaded 12 Gauge Shotgun shells i.e., 50 cents total), and about 2 miles of gas (at $2.21 in today's prices in Oklahoma, i.e., 20 cents total for the round trip), I can off the Wiener dog. That's over 50 times cheaper. I should start a blackmarket business.[1]

And then, of course, it would be my turn to get a cat!



[image] Andrew Biggs "A Dog in the Healthcare Fight" The Enterprise Blog July 13, 2009. (Accessed July 30, 2009)

[1] I have a close friend who at one timed lived with a cat, and with equal disdain for the animal. Upon heading out to vacation, his wife warned him that if, per chance, that cat would suddenly disappear while they were all gone, even if I were likewise gone, she would place the blame fully on him for plotting thru me to have the cat terminated. (Luckily, the cat disappeared after I was gone to Hawaii and before my return. I purported a theory from known problems.) Besides, I might have ethical qualms about killing a cat.

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