Digital Existence, Bane of


I’m still using an iBook G4 laptop I bought six years ago. I’ll knock on wood and note also that it’s not as impressive as it seems. I had a hard drive die when the computer was in its third year, and I’m running on a refurbished one that Apple installed “free”–I had bought the long-term service plan. Although I got a functional computer out of the deal, I hadn’t backed up the big library of pictures on the original drive. That included a bunch of nice shots from a trip down to Southern Illinois my dad and I took in 2004.

Being a bottom-of-the-line machine from ancient times, the iBook doesn’t have a huge hard drive. It’s got about 25 gigabytes of total storage. I now back things up on a 200-gigabyte drive I bought after the Mac died. But here’s the thing about the pictures I download: I always want to sort through them and post some online and maybe someday do something ambitious such as actually make photo albums for relatives or friends. So I tend to keep them on the laptop than dump them on to the external drive (from which I have to transfer them to edit them). Of course, those projects, big and small, tend to get put off. So my laptop drive still gets eaten up, and I have accumulated a big pile of pictures I think about but do nothing with. Such as the ones here.

They’re nearly a year old. I took them during a drive Kate, my dad, and my brother John made to Lake Pymatuning, on the Ohio-Pennsylvania state line during our visit to Lake Erie last August. More specifically, these are pictures of carp that congregate at a spillway between the eastern and western sections of the lake. Why do they congregate there. Because the nice people who stop to see the sights throw them food; a nearby concession stand sells loaves of bread for tourists to throw, slice by slice, into the roiling mass of eager fish. I have about 20 pictures of the scene I took and another couple of dozen from my brother. I would say we documented the scene well. The question remains, do the carp go on to a less hellish-looking existence after the people leave for the day

Maybe now, having posted this, I can store the pictures on some other drive and move on to the next scene from last summer’s travels. After that, I might get to the pile of images still left to sort through from our 2008 trip to Japan. It could happen.


Exit Polls Again …

Well, the polls are closed in Pennsylvnania and the The New York Times says that Obama and Clinton are “locked in a tight race” and that the result is “too close to call.” Others appear to be on the same page: CNN says it’s a “competitive race.” The Philadelphia Inquirer, on its home page, perhaps tellingly, doesn’t offer a take.

So what do the exit polls say? Well, you never know what you’re really dealing with here, especially given your analyst’s near perfect state of ignorance of what other information is out there.

That said, the exit numbers show a close win for Clinton. If the poll numbers displayed on CNN reflect something close to reality, about 78 percent of those voting in the Pennsylvania Democratic primary are 40 or older; Clinton is winning handily with that group. Some 38 percent of the Democratic poll respondents are 60 and older, and Clinton wins that group 59-41. Obama wins the 39 and under voters decisively, too. Based on the numbers in the age category only, Clinton comes out with something like 52 percent of the vote in the end.

For the vote by race, the CNN exit poll appears to have statistically significant results only for white voters. Among white voters, Clinton got a significantly larger share in every age group except the youngest (18-29), where she has a 50-50 split with Obama. My guess from this category and from others (education, religion, gun ownership, region) where Clinton seems to enjoy large advantages–and considering also that the exit polls show 58 percent of the Democratic voters in Pennsylvania were women–I think Clinton will wind up with something like 55 or 56 percent of the vote. Not as close, probably, as the major news outlets are saying (or hoping, perhaps).

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Iraq Reader

Demise of a Hard-Fighting Squad

Washington Post, May 12

“Among the four Marines killed and 10 wounded when an explosive device erupted under their Amtrac on Wednesday were the last battle-ready members of a squad that four days earlier had battled foreign fighters holed up in a house in the town of Ubaydi. In that fight, two squad members were killed and five were wounded.

“In 96 hours of fighting and ambushes in far western Iraq, the squad had ceased to be.

“Every member of the squad — one of three that make up the 1st Platoon of Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 25th Regiment — had been killed or wounded, Marines here said. All told, the 1st Platoon — which Hurley commands — had sustained 60 percent casualties, demolishing it as a fighting force.

” ‘They used to call it Lucky Lima,’ said Maj. Steve Lawson, commander of the company. ‘That turned around and bit us.’ ”


Authorities find missing ex-soldier blinded by Iraq blast

(Associated Press, May 11)

“DUNBAR, Pa. — A former soldier blinded by shrapnel while serving in Iraq was found alive Tuesday night, a day after he disappeared after telling an ex-girlfriend he was depressed, police and his family said. …

“Salvatore “Sam” Ross Jr., 23, of Dunbar Township, will be admitted to a veterans’ hospital psychiatric unit for observation, his aunt, Tina Pifer, told The Associated Press. …

” ‘I just don’t understand what low he’s at right now because everything seemed to be coming together with building his house,’ Pifer said. ‘But, you know what? This kid is suffering so bad from depression. People just don’t understand the things this kid has been through over the last two years.’ ”

[I thought there was something familiar to me about Ross when I first read about his disappearance the other day. He’s one of the injured soldiers featured in Nina Berman’s “Purple Hearts — Back from Iraq.”]


Iraqi police vent anger at US after car bombings

(Australian Broadcasting Corp., May 10)

“Iraqi police hurled insults at US soldiers after two suicide car bomb blasts in Baghdad killed at least seven people and left 19 wounded, including policemen.

” ‘It’s all because you’re here,’ a policeman shouted in Arabic at a group of US soldiers after the latest in a bloody wave of attacks that have rocked Baghdad this month.

” ‘Get out of our country and there will be no more explosions,’ he told the uncomprehending Americans staring at the smouldering wreck of a car bomb.”


Army to Spend Day Retraining Recruiters

New York Times, May 12

“Responding to reports about widespread abuses of the rules for recruitment, Army officials said yesterday that they would suspend all recruiting on May 20 and use the day to retrain its personnel in military ethics and the laws that govern what can and cannot be done to enlist an applicant.

” … At least one family in Ohio reported that its mentally ill son was signed up, despite rules banning such enlistments and records about his illness that were readily available.

“David McSwane, a 17-year-old who lives outside Denver, also recently caught one recruiter on tape, advising him on how to create a fake diploma, and another helping him buy a product that purportedly cleansed his system of illegal-drug residue. This week, a CBS affiliate in Houston, KHOU-TV, played a voice mail message from a local recruiter that threatened a young man with arrest if he did not appear at a nearby recruiting station.

“Army statistics show that substantiated cases of improprieties have increased by more than 60 percent, to 320 in 2004 from 199 in 1999. Recruiters and former Army officials say they are related to the extraordinary pressure being put on recruiters, who must meet quotas of roughly two recruits a month. The strain is breeding not just abuses, they said, but also stress-related illnesses, damaged marriages and even thoughts of suicide among some.”

Fighting Evolutionary Terrorism

Link: News | The new Monkey Trial.

Salon (subscription, unfortunately, required) has a superb long review on the political advances that anti-evolution forces have made in public schools across the country. The piece focuses on the struggle in a Pennsylvania school district over the school board’s decision last year to order the teaching of “intelligent design” in high school biology classes. ID, as proponents call it, is calculated to undermine the teaching of evolutionary biology by pointing to cases that evolution (or physics) has a tough time explaining, thus suggesting that a higher creative intelligence was involved (guess whose?). ID is largely designed to get the Bible’s take on creation into science classes without overstepping the constitutional ban on teaching religion in public schools.

The Salon story contains one breathtaking quote from a state legislator in Missouri that says volumes about how extreme and cockeyed anti-evolutionary thinking can become:

“Speaking to the [New York] Times, state Rep. Cynthia Davis seemed to compare opponents of intelligent design to al-Qaida. ‘It’s like when the hijackers took over those four planes on Sept. 11 and took people to a place where they didn’t want to go,’ she said. ‘I think a lot of people feel that liberals have taken our country somewhere we don’t want to go. I think a lot more people realize this is our country and we’re going to take it back.’ ”

Oh, yeah — it’s just like that.

The reason orthodoxy of any stripe — religious, political, scientific — is not a good thing is that by definition it promotes rigid thinking and suppresses inquiry. The brand of Christian fundamentalism active in U.S. politics today is a menace because it insists on imposing the beliefs of many on all. But it doesn’t do for those whose world view is based on the fruits of the scientific method to laugh off the beliefs of others, either.

This is more a question of attitude than knowledge. I’m not suggesting that Judeo-Christian creationism be put on the same footing as science (if that kind of thing’s going to get into the classroom, I’m afraid I’ll have to insist on equal science-class time for the Norse creation story, the Navajo story, and the Celtic explanations for the world). But I do think those teaching science would be well-served by a sense of humility in approaching their task. Scientific knowledge is evolving. What comes to be regarded as established truth in one era — for instance, the origins and form of the universe, the nature and structure of matter, or our understanding of the processes that cause earthquakes (and trigger tsunamis) — can and often is unraveled by further inquiry.

The story should always carry a tagline: “To be continued.”