Archive for February 2008

Going To War – Over Head Scarves?

February 29, 2008

Head ScarfTerry Mattingly at Get Religion points us to a story that’s been ignored – not by the press, but by us. Did you know that Turkish troupes crossed into Iraq this week? Well, I did, but by the same token, I didn’t have the slightest clue as to why they did. The answer, he thinks, is linked to another story that I vaguely remember – The Turkish government just recently lifted a ban on wearing head scarves.

The military didn’t like that. Is it possible that the Turkish government wanted to keep the military otherwise occupied, and the population distracted? Mattingly points us to The Washington Post, and to an article that was [buried?] on page A14.

“There’s an obvious connection,” said retired Gen. Haldun Solmazturk, an administrator at Ahmet Yesevi University in Ankara, the capital. In founding modern Turkey in the 1920s, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk encouraged Western attire and restricted religious dress in public as principles of the republic. Turkey’s military, which has long viewed itself as the enforcer of Ataturk’s secular vision, was angered by recent legislation aimed at lifting the long-standing head scarf ban at public colleges. But the religiously observant president, Abdullah Gul, signed the amendments into law late last Friday, the first full day of the military’s strike into northern Iraq.

At the time, “the attention of the Turkish public was firmly focused on the operation,” Solmazturk said. For the observant Muslims who lead Turkey’s government, “it was a very clear and very successful strategy.”

Gee. Too often it’s said, unthinkingly, that religion has caused more wars than anything else. I suspect that the desire to protect our homes and families has been a bigger reason, myself.

But this is the first time I’ve heard that head scarves may be considered a reason to go into battle.


To Be A Planet, Or Not To Be A Planet

February 28, 2008

Few things in Astronomy have caused as much wailing and gnashing of teeth in the astronomical community as the IAUs 2006 re-defining of “Planet” to exclude Pluto. National Geographic has reopened this national wound by holding a contest for school children to come up with a new mnemonic to remember the planets.

The contest was won by 10 year old Maryn Smith. But, um, why did National Geographic have the contestants keep Pluto in the list, and add the asteroid Ceres and Kuiper Object Eris? Hum?

Phil Plait at Bad Astronomy asks, what’s up with that?

Um, NatGeo? I hate to break it to you, but our solar system, officially, has eight planets. Pluto was kicked out years ago. If you want to be a Luddite and still accept Pluto as a planet, that’s fine, but really, Ceres and Eris too?


He has a point.

So in the end, NatGeo would have done a lot better to leave Ceres and Eris off — they’re just not planets by anyone’s definition — and to be consistent they should have left Pluto off as well.

And if you want to consider dwarf planets, then why leave off Quaoar and Sedna, hum???

Just Askin’.

A Question of What’s Being Taught

February 28, 2008

Everyone is used to seeing this kind of sentiment:

According to a new AEI study by Rick Hess, the current fashion for emphasizing “skills” over knowledge has translated into “stunning ignorance.” 1,200 high school students were surveyed in January. Of these, only 43% knew that the Civil War was fought between 1850 and 1900. Only 52% knew what Orwell’s 1984 is about. Only 51% knew what McCarthyism was. One in four thought that Columbus sailed to the New World after 1750. One in four was foggy about who Hitler was. They weren’t sure about Job, either. But they knew the things that teachers had drummed in, scoring well on questions about Martin Luther King, Jr., and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.

But The Speculist has noted this in an old Gallup pole:

[W]e read the following:

In the new poll, about four out of five Americans (79%) correctly respond that the earth revolves around the sun, while 18% say it is the other way around. These results are comparable to those found in Germany when a similar question was asked there in 1996; in response to that poll, 74% of Germans gave the correct answer, while 16% thought the sun revolved around the earth, and 10% said they didn’t know. When the question was asked in Great Britain that same year, 67% answered correctly, 19% answered incorrectly, and 14% didn’t know.

So the US actually scored higher on this question than Germany or Great Britain.

We accept it pretty easily, don’t we – that Americans are stupid. Could this something, well, less than true? He goes on:

[L]ike other memes — “Americans are stupid” is an idea that is easily and readily copied; it tends to be “sticky,” and it seems to be encoded with an implied (if not an outright) “pass it on.” People don’t believe that “Americans are stupid” primarily because it’s true; rather, it is accepted as true because it is useful. As noted above, it can serve as the rationale for any of a number of political positions; it has great attention-getting value; it has great entertainment value, and — for non-Americans, anyway — it provides a kind of self-aggrandizement (or at least self-validation) function: “Americans are stupid (unlike us).”

Seems to me that students all over are pretty much learning what’s being taught.

Now, about what’s being taught, I have plenty of questions.

It’s Getting Closer! March Madness

February 28, 2008

From ESPN:
AP Top 10
1. Tennessee (69) 25-2
2. Memphis 26-1
3. North Carolina (2) 26-2
4. UCLA (1) 24-3
5. Texas 23-4
6. Kansas 24-3
7. Duke 23-3
8. Stanford 22-4
9. Xavier 24-4
10. Wisconsin 23-4

ESPN/USA Today Poll
1. Tennessee (31) 25-2
2. North Carolina 26-2
3. Memphis 26-1
4. UCLA 24-3
5. Texas 23-4
6. Duke 23-3
7. Kansas 24-3
8. Stanford 22-4
9. Wisconsin 23-4
10. Georgetown 22-4

Little difference until you get to the AP’s 13th ranked Louisville, who is ranked 18th in the ESPN pole.
This will change, since top-ranked Tennessee got beat earlier this week by Vanderbilt, ranked 18 in the AP pole and 14 in the ESPN pole.

Competition For The Darwin Award

February 28, 2008

This actually got a 2 word mention in a recently broadcast repeat episode of House – base jumping. It came during a discussion of suicidal tendencies.

To Slow The Development of Future Combat Systems

February 28, 2008

In Sen. Barack Obama’s own words:

I will slow our development of future combat systems.

I’m currently employed and working on the development of one such system, and yes, this concerns me greatly.

When I first came to the D.C. area from the mid-west nearly 30 years ago, I looked at the politicians and policy makers (wonks) and wondered how such powerless people could think that they actually affected people in the heartland. After all, what they did had nearly zero effect in, say, Kalamazoo, where I had just spent a few years.

Foolish me. I now live in a era where half the votes they, the politicians, take directly affect my livelihood, and the other half are split between affecting (for the worst) the quality of my health care and affecting the price of the gasoline I buy.

Oh, except when they decided to investigate Roger Clemens. That doesn’t affect me at all.

The next time I vote I’ll remember the immortal words of Capt. Jean Luc Picard, who said “That [attack] was personal.”

How Long Does It Take To Build A Fence?

February 28, 2008

It took the Israelis 6 months to build a 60 km (~38 miles) fence.

During my time as Commander of Southern Command in the years 2000-2003, there were more than 400 attempts by Palestinians to cross the boundaries of the Gaza Strip, all of which failed. There are a number of key reasons for this:

  • Our first move was to rebuild the fence, which took six months from December 2000 to June 2001.
  • Together with the fence, a key security element was the creation of a one-kilometer security buffer zone. Sometimes there were orchards that allowed the terrorists to get within 50 meters of the fence without being spotted. The only way to face our intelligence alerts effectively was to remove the trees to allow clearer observation.
  • In addition, we constructed high technology observation posts that enabled soldiers to monitor about six kilometers – day and night, and we provided the troops with new rules of engagement regarding anyone approaching this area.

It will take us significantly longer.

The Bush administration has scaled back plans to quickly build a “virtual fence” along the U.S.-Mexico border, delaying completion of the first phase of the project by at least three years and shifting away from a network of tower-mounted sensors and surveillance gear, federal officials said yesterday.Technical problems discovered in a 28-mile pilot project south of Tucson prompted the change in plans, Department of Homeland Security officials and congressional auditors told a House subcommittee.

Gee. It’s almost like someone in the government doesn’t want it built.