A common retort when people start taking about the risks of nanotechology (manipulating matter on the atomic scale) is saying something to the effect of:

Look at it this way – we have self-replicating nano-bots right now – they are called bacteria. Have they turned the world into gray goo in runaway exponential growth? Are we going to be able to make more efficient nano-bots than mother nature has done in the last 4 billion years?

The answer, of course, is yes. Here was the response to that Slashdot post, which was, unlike the parent, not modded up as “Insightful”:

We can build machines that fly faster and higher than any bird, that can travel over land and water faster than any animal, that can see and hear better than any living thing, that can survive higher and lower temperatures than any living thing, etc.

Yes, I think it could happen.

Your argument is stupid. Evolution is not about an intelligent attempt to create the best thing possible, it is about a random attempt to create something that will survive better then the things around it. There is a difference.

I laughed out loud when I heard this on my radio stream this morning:

Morning Edition continues on KCRW, where more Southern California public radio listeners go to get their news

Gee, who could they possibly be targeting?

Joyce McGreevy laments the fate of the poor SUV drivers in her latest column, and wonders why poor people are always upset:

People at the bottom have always had options. Every four to eight years some of us spend at least half an hour at the nearest charming little cafe, offering to register voters. It is truly disheartening to see how few poor people are willing to simply log on with their laptops, search out the right Web site, distinguish between a precinct and a district, take time off from their minimum wage jobs, pack up the kids, figure out which city bus connects with the gated community, guess the password, find the cafe, fill in a card with personal information and entrust it to a total stranger.

Some people just don’t care all that much about democracy.

Darn right.

Looks like Control Room, the documentary about Al Jazeera’s coverage of the Iraq war, is coming to Waltham screens on Friday, June 18th. I’m going to see it, anyone want to come?

Whatever your opinions about the war, the conduct of the journalists who covered it and the role of Al Jazeera in that coverage, you are likely to emerge from ”Control Room” touched, exhilarated and a little off-balance, with your certainties scrambled and your assumptions shaken.

A. O. Scott, The New York Times

I found a good burrito place in The Garage over at Harvard Square. Not as good as Baja Fresh, but easier to get to then Quincy Market. Just thought I’d throw that out there.

Oh, and across the street there is this really wonderful dessert shop called Finale.

Paul Krugman’s latest Op-Ed explains in clear, succinct terms what is going on with the media coverage of President Bush and his administration.

There are typical reasons for the media being easy on Bush, including many that I have elaborated on before and that have been written about in a lot of books that the public never hears about dealing with corporate ownership of media, the introspective nature of the press, etc. There are also, of course, those stemming from Sept. 11:

The truth is that the character flaws that currently have even conservative pundits fuming have been visible all along. Mr. Bush’s problems with the truth have long been apparent to anyone willing to check his budget arithmetic. His inability to admit mistakes has also been obvious for a long time. I first wrote about Mr. Bush’s “infallibility complex” more than two years ago, and I wasn’t being original.

So why did the press credit Mr. Bush with virtues that reporters knew he didn’t possess? One answer is misplaced patriotism. After 9/11 much of the press seemed to reach a collective decision that it was necessary, in the interests of national unity, to suppress criticism of the commander in chief.

Another answer is the atmosphere of Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt put forth by the White House, vitriolic conservative pundits, and well-meaning Americans, who attacked “negative” or critical coverage. Journalists who reported the “wrong” story would quickly see their sources dry up, their access revoked, and their sponsorship pulled.

Another factor that Krugman does not consider but that media critics are well aware of is the institutional nature of reporting — generally reporters don’t look report controversy unless it is put forth by public figures. If the scared and confused Democrats had put out some serious criticism, the press would have picked it up. But without “important” actors putting out opposition, the press will not do it either.

Krugman seems to think that that is all about to change, and I say it’s about time. After this Iraq mess, everyone, including the Times, is looking back at the last couple years and wondering where iit all went wrong, and how they can rebuild their shattered reputations. That introspective nature of the press is working for good, for once.

When my grandchildren read their history books, Bush is going to be portrayed as the worst and most harmful president in modern times. Seymour Hersh from the New Yorker has the most recent story. Rumsfield created the program to torture Iraqi prisoners. It began as a method of streamlining military red tape in the quest to kill or capture high-level Al Qaida operatives in Afghanistan. It was dramatically expanded and bolted on to a traditional military operation in Iraq. Rumsfield’s deputy ran it as a deliberate attempt to avoid military checks and safeguards. JAG was so concerned they went outside the military for help, to try to get outsiders to step up the pressure on the Bush administration. The program is so secret that no one in the DoD is allowed to talk about it, and only about 200 people officially know that it exists. For 50 years the US had held steadfastly to the Geneva Conventions. First with Guantanemo, now in Iraq, Bush has destroyed that legacy. And many are worried about what will happen the next time we have a war, and Americans are being captured.

Interesting NYTimes piece on Teresa Heinz Kerry and the foundations she oversees. The article worries about political influence, but I just love what she is doing. Revitalizing Pittsburgh with green buildings, forcing public schools to improve as a condition of receiving grant money, creating new public spaces, and just giving back to the community in very targeted ways. She is making a real, measurable, sustainable impact by leapfrogging the traditional politial processes. I think I know what I want to do when I grow up. 🙂

The conventional wisdom was that girls would go see movies with boys as the main character, but boys wouldn’t go see movies with girls carrying the lead. Now the realization hits (or the culture shifts) — we don’t need boys to see our movies to make them profitable. And these forumla movies are so cheap, we can crank ’em out by the barrel. Here, let’s make one of our own:

The main themes of our movie: girl-power and self-esteem. Our plot: An idiosyncratic, but pretty female protagonist outfoxes her more popular, blond archrival—think The Karate Kid meets Little Women! Let’s hire hunky boy-toy Chad Michael Murray for eye candy and a little—but not too much—romance. Hey, and how about a pop ballad sung by our lead actress during a particularly emotional or triumphant moment (on-screen dancing, optional)? Studio bosses, please call my agent.

The only question is, which of these stars is going to survive the transition into adulthood? The Olson twins are remarkable in that they’re still going strong, 17 years later. But don’t you just get that “ick” feeling when you see their pictures? And feel really dirty? I liked them when they were one, thankyouverymuch.

The latest study by economists of file sharing supports the techie view of the last three years, mainly that online file sharing does not significantly impact music CD sales. The study is explained in some detail in the NY Times article. The record industry is enraged, and the NYT reporter does a pretty good job of making fun of their illogical responses. Best paragraph is the last one:

“They can’t get to that using the two sets of data they are using – they aren’t tracking individual behavior,” said Jayne Charneski, formerly of Edison Media Research […] “There’s a lot of research out there that’s conducted with an agenda in mind,” said Ms. Charneski, now the head of research for the record label EMI.

(Emphasis added.)

Meanwhile, I just don’t know if it’s funny or sad to watch the dying beast of the record industry hold on to it’s outdated ideas. The Wall Street Journal reports that in response to growing online music sales, specifically of individual tracks that people like, as opposed to force–fed albums of a few good songs and a lot of filler, the 5 major record labels are considering raising prices on individual popular tracks or forcing those tracks to be bundled with less popular ones. Additionally, in many cases popular albums are being sold online, i.e. in a lower quality, restricted digital compressed form, with no liner notes, no physical CD to distribute, etc, at a higher price then what it costs to buy them in stores.

Finally, the creator of the DeCSS hack of yore has released his latest masterpiece, a program called PlayFair that removes the Apple “FairPlay” digital rights management from legally purchased iTunes songs, removing the restrictions on copying and the like. The songs still maintain their unique digital watermarks, including the purchaser’s account information. This reminds me of the late, great eMusic, which offered unlimited music downloading of non-big-5 music, but the music contained digital watermarks and people who shared on P2P networks were dealt with, strongly. Seems like a sensible approach to me, and PlayFair removes the bitter aftertaste I get every time I purchase an iTunes track, because now I know that the possibility exists for me to get out of this crazy DRM scheme at some point in the future.

An official in the occupation authority said Wednesday that allied and Iraqi security forces had lost control of the key southern cities of Najaf and Kufa to the Shiite militia, conceding that months of effort to win over the population with civil projects and promises of jobs have failed with segments of the population.

“Six months of work is completely gone,” the official said. “There is nothing to show for it.”

He cited reports that government buildings, police stations, civil defense garrisons and other installations built up by the Americans had been overrun and then stripped bare, of files, furnishings and even toilet fixtures.

Sigh. (via Atrios)

Looks like Wellesley is going about a project very similar to our Shapiro Campus Center. Strange, angular building, theirs is named the Wang Campus Center. Except they seem to be doing things right…making it a student building. It will contain dining, mailboxes, and a whole bunch of student meeting spaces and club storage. Also, all the highlights that we’ve talked about – a pub/bistro (heh, echos the debate about whether The Stein is a pub or a bistro here at Brandeis), a game room, an expanded bookstore, a large multipurpose room (no theater, though), and, most exciting, a big parking garage hidden down the hill and behind trees.

Just like Brandeis wants, but can’t afford. I have no clue what the deal was with Carl Shapiro and the architect Charlie Rose and the University, but boy was it a mess, whatever it was. Something went seriously wrong along the way, and we were left with a monstrosity of a building that really didn’t fulfill any of the goals set for it. Well, except the theater isn’t horrible. That’s about it.

The strangest thing just happened to me. I was reading through an Everything node when I hit a writeup (the last one) that I thought made a lot of sense and was meaningful to me. Yeah, I thought, I should be more like that. Work towards more positive change instead of opining about the glory years of the past. Still, this person is walking a dangerous line, they could get a lot of negative reputation points for this post!

The last sentence mentioned Ted Koppel speaking at the person’s school and I thought, that’s odd, he spoke at Brandeis’ commencement a year or two back, I wonder if this person goes to Brandeis.

Looked at the name of the author. Realized it was me.

Now that the new Spanish government has committed to removing it’s troops from Iraq, it’s probably worth noting (in an I-told-you-so way) a statement made a month ago by James Webb, former Secretary of the Navy under Reagan, in a WashPost Op/Ed. It’s probably been widely quoted, but this is the first I’ve seen it:

Bush arguably has committed the greatest strategic blunder in modern memory. To put it bluntly, he attacked the wrong target. While he boasts of removing Saddam Hussein from power, he did far more than that. He decapitated the government of a country that was not directly threatening the United States and, in so doing, bogged down a huge percentage of our military in a region that never has known peace. Our military is being forced to trade away its maneuverability in the wider war against terrorism while being placed on the defensive in a single country that never will fully accept its presence.

I keep finding interesting tidbits on Dean. This is a consolidated entry — I’m taking three I wrote over the last day and trimming them down, since the good doctor doesn’t really deserve this much play on my blog.

  • Why the startling loss in Iowa? A good theory from a Kaus reader (scroll to Jan 21): “The decline in Dean’s numbers in Iowa coincided with the arrival of his vaunted 3500 ground troops.” Apparently they just wouldn’t shut up. The New Republic compares them to Scientologists. Yikes!
  • Dean may just have some Jesse Ventura appeal, says Slate‘s Chris Suellentrop: “[…] as Vermont governor, Dean never quite grasped that he was something other than an ordinary person, and that his words had unusual power.” Chris thinks that, more then any gutteral yells, is what is most hurting Dean.
  • To Be A New Hampshirite – “The populated part of New Hampshire is about the size of my living room. With nine candidates careening around it like pool balls, it’s nearly impossible to avoid getting struck by one,” says David Plotz. Clark corners him, the reporters stomp on him, and he likes the pushy New Hampshire voters more then the Dean cultists with the glazed eyes.

It’s just amazing how fast things change.

John Perry Barlow talks about the phenomenom of iChat’s AV capabilities. He sat in Salt Lake City with an open audio connection to Joi Ito in Kyoto, Japan for several hours as each went about their work, talking to each other as thoughts came up, integrating each other into their lives as other people entered the room. He says this is a Big Thing for social interaction. I’ve done the same in the past with a few people I know, notably I did it a lot with Kelly (over the phone), and I like to use IMs the same way. But IMs are not the same, and Barlow is onto something here — it really is a wonderful experience, and a capability that needs to be expanded. You have to try it to get just how cool it is to be working next to someone a few thousand miles away.

On a seperate note, and I’ve said it before, the blogspace is just too darn big, and there are too many interesting things for me to read. How do these other people do it? Do they have nothing else to occupy their day?

Scary Boston Globe story about a student being kicked out of school for violation of rights and responsibilities, on the grounds of, we are led to assume, sexual assault. As in the infamous Brandeis case, the student was tried in some type of campus judicial system and expelled, and, as in the Brandeis case, the world will not get the full story because neither side will waive their FERPA rights. I am moved by the guy’s story, I am worried about him and this potential travesty of justice, yet another example of the possible problems with student judicial processes, but I cannot form a real, concrete opinion on the matter when the student can talk to the papers and the school cannot. The Family Education Rights and Privacy Act gives strong protection to student’s personal information, including provisions that deny schools the ability to talk about any of the specifics of students in cases like this. If the student will not waive his FERPA rights and let the school talk, how can I trust that anything he is saying is trustworthy?

In other news, Brandeis is floating the idea, apparently, of abolishing student boards of conduct all together, making the already inscrutable and (potentially) patently unfair hearing process even more so. Sadly no one outside of that office really understands what goes on inside of it, least of all students, and it leads to strange and unfortunate situations like we have before us.

From BosGlobe, talks about Jeff Corwin, an Animal Planet host, and his wife and child, who live on their own little island. Memorable because he travels the world and loves his life. I aspire to live like him, not necessarily in the same profession, but exploring the world and doing what I love:

“I’m extremely grateful that I’m able to do something I love and get paid for it,” he said. “I’ve found my niche, and even when I’m tired or sick or stressed, it’s easy to take stock of the good things in my life.”

A TV host’s exotic experiences never end

A review of a movie I haven’t heard of:

bq. In the ’30s, corruption-of-innocence movies were made about 21-year-olds in the big city. By the ’50s and early ’60s, the age had dropped to 16 or 17. That it’s middle school now changes everything, I think, and not just because I have two little girls. Thirteen is too early for kids to be at the mercy of rapacious market forces.Lock up your children! Our culture is getting very, very nasty. It scares me.

Intriguing review of a movie that looks like it tackles a very, very important problem. Read it in Slate. And maybe see the movie…

But I’m not really looking for anything “down” right now. So maybe someone can report back to me?

Via Punditwatch: Mark Shields [of Meet the Press] had a different view on why many Republicans wanted to talk about Iraq:

Is there anybody in the White House who is unaware of the fact that there are six weeks remaining in a campaign in which no Republican can run on Bush’s record domestically?

Two million jobs lost, $4.5 trillion gone from the stock market, shenanigans in the CEO’s that is just a shock to the country, you know, two million people had jobs to go to when Bush was President, sworn in, don’t have jobs to go to Monday morning. No, they can’t. But they can run on George Bush as commander in chief is a far more popular figure than a steward of the economy.