Wizards of Oz

"Life is fraughtless ... when you're thoughtless."



September 26th is "European Day of Languages", encouraging language learning across Europe. Regretfully, I only know a smattering of words in a few languages (mostly Spanish) -- though at one time in my life I knew how to say Beer in 14 different languages. I have always been impressed by people that are able to become fluent in another language.

Like they say in France, a person who can speak two languages is bilingue, while a person who speaks only one is Américain...

Rather than wallow in my linguistic inadequacy, I decided to follow a link from blogger Layer 8 to determine "Which Ancient Language" I am. (I figured out after the test that this is a dating site, so hopefully the spam load in my mailbox won't increase...). The results:

You scored: Akkadian

You are Akkadian, a blend of the incomprehensible symbols of the Sumerians with the unwritable sounds of the early Semitic peoples. However, the writing just doesn't suit the words and doesn't represent everything needed, so you end up a schizoid mess. Invented in Babylon, you're probably to blame for that tower story. However, crazy as you are, you're much loved and appreciated, and remain actively in use by records keepers long after schools have switched to other languages.

Could it be coincidence that my characteristic "Ancient Language" is from what is today known as the Al-Anbar Governate in Iraq, the area recently stabilized in large part by the U.S. Marine Corps? And that my own ancestors (grandmother, grandfather, uncle, stepdad, cousin) are all Marines?

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Rollin' on the River

Man-cub Jarrett (aka "Wind Runner" to the Indian Guides Tribe in Oak Ridge) and dad (aka "Eagle Claw") joined the Tribe for a rafting trip down the Hiwassee River in southeast Tennessee this weekend. The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) was running both generators upstream at the Apalachia Reservoir's hydroelectric plant, so we had good flow on the river.

However, the lack of rain this past summer meant the water levels were particularly low -- so many of the lips and crests in the river meant a lot of abrupt halts for our raft. That, and the fact that Chief Big Trout and I were among two of the heaviest guys in the tribe (and therefore had the deepest draft of all the rafts...).

On the return trip home, my truck's new Optima battery began to fail. Since it was less than 24 hours old, I began to suspect my old battery (which was running just 9.6V after I exchanged it last night) was not the only problem... So, after tapping this new one out entirely (so that not even the spark plugs had enough current) and stalling a few miles south of the town of Etowah, we needed a short tow truck ride to the Advance Auto Parts in town to (a) buy a new alternator, (b) install a new alternator (a feat I haven't done in nearly 20 years), and (c) replace the now-dead less-than-24-hour old Optima battery. At least that battery was still under warranty....

I arrived home in time to watch the final three minutes of Cal's 45-27 victory over Arizona. ROLL ON YOU BEARS!

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Climate Change: Yes, but Why?

Personal opinion: I believe too many people are accepting what the mainstream media feeds them regarding climate change without digging into the data.

Is climate change happening? Certainly -- the receding polar ice is indisputable evidence of increasing temperatures. Where the train runs off the rails is when we try to ascribe causality.

We too easily accept the conclusion ("accusation"?) that humankind MUST be the cause -- that the increase in alleged "greenhouse gases" must be why temperatures are increasing, so therefore let's cut emissions -- reduce coal burning power plants -- buy E85 vehicles
-- spend BILLIONS on carbon scrubbers and other retrofits to "dirty" systems.

But too few are questioning the models that present that data. Too few are asking about those funky "weighting" factors to make the models fit the data (e.g., why methane gets a 1.1 multiple but CO2 gets a 1.4). I've asked a few climatologists, who have answered they don't know. Which proves the dictum, "All models are WRONG, but some are useful." In fact, one can correlate the data showing Republicans in the U.S. Senate to observed sunspot number. Gotta be a causal link, right?

Then I ask why, if CO2 is the cause, we haven't seen similar increases in atmospheric temperatures at higher altitudes over time. Wouldn't it make sense that the "greenhouse gas blanket" that traps heat would trap more heat at the ambient altitude of the gases? (And don't cite the planet Venus as "evidence" of CO2's infrared transport capacity -- Venus's atmosphere is nearly 90 times as dense as Earth's,with no carbon cycle for surface reclamation of carbon emissions, and their daily rotation is slower than their "year" around the sun.) Same answer from the scientists -- nobody was willing to assert causality when challenged with specifics (instead a couple retreated to "confidence levels", the refuge of the risk averse who don't really know for sure what they're talking about).

Prof. Freeman Dyson, harshly maligned by climate change ideologues, has some good points in A Many Colored Glass that challenge the popular theories. But Dyson's main point is that there are not enough "heretics" in science -- that we need more people to stand up to popular opinion and challenge presumptions, at risk of their own reputations. I'm reminded of the late U.S. Air Force Colonel John Boyd, who would tell his subordinates that they will come to a choice: they could either be somebody (and fit in the "corporation" with its individual rewards) or they could do something (and make a real difference).

Of course, it's easy to accept as fact the slick presentations of a former-politician-cum-businessman. But ask yourself, next time you see "An Inconvenient Truth", why the preponderance of data shown only goes back 80 years. And why polar caps on Mars are receding at an even faster clip than on Earth. And why there is such intolerance of debate -- especially by noted professionals who suggest decertification for meteorologists who disagree with human-based causality.

Bottom line: we are good at reductionist analysis -- breaking problems into tiny pieces and solving each one in turn. But we are lousy at the complex interactions of billions upon billions of entities. And if you want to see for yourself the paucity of research in the infrared transport properties of greenhouse gases (or any gas for that matter), check out this query from Google-Scholar showing a grand total of six articles -- including one related solely to Venus, and one to financial transactions.

So, take the leap. Remove the veil. And ask the hard questions, rather than simply accepting what the Wizards tell you.


Endnotes: I do not work for the oil industry (or any energy-related industry, for that matter). I have no vested interest in any kind of policy (or lack thereof) regulating carbon emissions. We have over 100 trees on our property, so our calculated "carbon footprint" is negative (and certainly far less than fellow Tennessean Al Gore's, even with his "purchased offsets"). And a hat tip to Dr. Ed Smith Jr., from whom I grabbed the photo at the top of this post -- it's Earth, but it's upside-down and sideways.

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College Football Update

As the NCAA's PAC-10 conference winds up the pre-conference phase of its football season, the dust has settled and the verdict is PAC-10: 20, Everyone Else: 6.

What's particularly funny about those six losses to non-conference teams is: not one is from the SEC, Big-12 or ACC. One loss to the Big East, two to the Big-10 (ranked Ohio State and ranked Wisconsin beat PAC-10 teams), and three losses to the mighty Mountain West. Of course, two of those three losses were by the same PAC-10 team (Arizona, Cal's opponent this coming weekend). But the Utah Utes looked impressive against formerly #11 UCLA last weekend.

There are still a few non-conference games tucked into the PAC-10 "round robin" (where most of the PAC-10 teams will face all nine of the others). For instance, hapless Notre Dame (who has scored just one touchdown in three games this season while allowing over 100 points) has three games against PAC-10 schools, and Washington State will travel to Hawaii in December.

Whomever wins the PAC-10 will certainly be deserving of that Bowl Championship Series (BCS) berth. And one can argue that the PAC-10 runner-up also deserves a berth in a BCS bowl as well. Otherwise we'll renew our grievances against the "Broken Computer System". I suspect even MountainRunner would agree with that!

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¡Viva México!

On this date, September 16th, in the year 1810, Miguel Hidalgo (a parish priest in the central highlands of the Spanish colony of México) declared independence from Spain. What began as a peasants' rebellion against colonial rule led to nearly eleven years of war, with the coup d'état against Ferdinand VII (the last Bourbon monarch of Spain) in 1820 setting the conditions for recognized Mexican independence.

The annual celebration of "Cinco de Mayo" is not related to early Mexican independence, but rather to México's initial victory over French forces at Puebla in 1862. Cinco de Mayo is a relatively minor holiday in most of México (despite what many cerveza advertisers would have you believe).

Author-Blogger John Robb has posted recently on "system disruptions" affecting PEMEX's distribution pipelines in México; click here (10-Sep) and here (15-Sep). What a way to celebrate your 197th anniversary of independence....

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Alabama Capitol

After yesterday's persistent rainfall, today is a beautiful day in south-central Alabama. Temperatures in the high-60s F., and not a cloud in the sky. After dropping MSgt Tom off at the airport, Grandma and I turned north to drive to Buffalo Valley, TN (near Al Gore's hometown of Carthage) where my aunt Kathy and other uncle Tom have a farm.

Across the street from Montgomery's capitol is the "First Confederate White House". Before Jefferson Davis moved his capitol to Richmond, Virginia, he lived in Montgomery, Alabama. The flag flying in the yard is the Confederate "Stars and Bars" -- the first national flag of the Confederate States of America. Since this flag was difficult to discriminate from the Union flag during battle conditions, the more familiar "Southern Cross" (with 13 stars instead of the original 7, accounting for the four additional states that seceded from the Union as well as the divided states of Kentucky and Missouri) was adopted for military operations.

After a pleasant drive back into Tennessee, Cal is leading Louisiana Tech 42-12 late in the 4th quarter while Dan at tdaxp's Cornhuskers are holding a precarious 10-7 lead over the trojans of 'sc...

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USAF SNCO Academy 07E, Flight 24

We spent the afternoon driving Grandma (visiting from Michigan) to my uncle's graduation from the Air Force's Senior Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) Academy at Maxwell Air Force Base's Gunter Annex in Montgomery, Alabama. Though we had to drive through the remnants of Hurricane Humberto, it was well worth the trip.

NCOs are the backbone of our military -- the tactical leaders and technical experts who ensure our force remains effective and capable. And who "protect" young junior officers from themselves. Tom, who will be up for Senior Master Sergeant (E-8) later this year, spent most of his career in Nebraska with the 1st Airborne Command & Control Squadron (1st ACCS, the guys who fly the National Airborne Operations Center). He is now on staff at Pacific Air Forces in Hawai'i.

Grandma, BTW, was a Marine in World War II. OOO-rah!


Marathon Anniversary

Today is the conventionally-accepted anniversary of the Battle of Marathon (490 B.C., nearly 2,500 years ago). As the legend goes, a professional long-distance runner named Phidippides was dispatched from the field at Marathon, running the 42km over rocky and mountainous terrain to Athens to announce the Greeks' victory over the invading Persians. (The Battle of Thermopylae, recounted in historic fantasy in the movie 300, took place ten years later).

The irony of Phidippides's tale is that it probably never took place. The original historian Herodotus notes that Phidippides ran from Athens to Sparta (about 250km, or 150 miles) in two days to request their help. On the way, Herodotus says, he encountered the god Pan in the mountains who asked why the Athenians had forgotten him. Upon Phidippides's return to Athens, the Athenians built a shrine to Pan under the Acropolis -- and Pan fought alongside the Athenians to hold off the Persians until the Spartans arrived after the full moon a couple weeks later.

The inspiration for the modern Olympic "marathon" is a 19th-cent. poem by Robert Browning:

So, when Persia was dust, all cried, "To Acropolis!

Run, Pheidippides, one race more! the meed is thy due!

Athens is saved, thank Pan, go shout!" He flung down his shield

Ran like fire once more: and the space 'twixt the fennel-field

And Athens was stubble again, a field which a fire runs through,

Till in he broke: "Rejoice, we conquer!" Like wine through clay,

Joy in his blood bursting his heart, - the bliss!

The Spartathlon, a 152-mile ultramarathon between Athens and Sparta that has been held annually since 1983, will be held later this month.

Today, September 12th 2007, also marks (at sundown) the beginning of both the Jewish New Year Rosh Hashanah (starting the Ten Days of Repentance that end on Yom Kippur), and also the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

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Never Forget


PAC-10 Tough!

Long maligned as a pushover conference in college football, the PAC-10 is storming into the 2007 season with a vengeance. Cal improved its record to 2-0 today with a win against scrappy Colorado State (who kept it interesting, scoring two TDs a minute apart with 3:00 minutes to play to close within 6), Washington broke Fiesta Bowl champ Boise State's 14-game winning streak, and Oregon has continued the dogpile in Ann Arbor started by Appalachian State last week.

Bottom line: PAC-10 teams are 10-3 in non-conference games so far -- including several victories against supposedly "storied" programs -- and has three teams in the top 13. Given the PAC-10's "round robin" schedule (meaning each team will face the other nine in regular season play), USC has a much tougher schedule than LSU, West Virginia, or even Florida.

Take that, SEC! :-)

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Public Education, Reprise

At this morning's weekly breakfast meeting of the East Tennessee Economic Council in Oak Ridge, hosted at the Y-12 National Security Complex by BWXT/Y-12 President and CEO George Dials, George told the collected community and business leaders that fully half of his skilled labor force (e.g., machinists) is eligible to retire. While there are more than enough physicists and engineers to go around, there is a dearth of master machinists, pipefitters, electricians and other skilled craftsmen to meet the growing demand -- both at Y-12 and in the burgeoning nuclear power industry. George has often said, "You don't want a physicist to fix your plumbing!" (Dr. Thom Mason, Director of the neighboring Oak Ridge National Lab, is a physicist. :-)

So, how many high schools have abandoned teaching "shop" in favor of computer science? Probably too many... (Even vaunted Oak Ridge High School has canceled Auto Shop; that teacher is now teaching Engineering.) My previous post on "Great Public Schools" has elicited a great dialog between some 'blogfriends. In response to an offline question, Überblogger ZenPundit (who has also commented on the previous post) offered the following assessment of education in America. It is reprinted here with his permission:

Speaking analytically and from close to 20 years of firsthand professional experience, the public school system's fundamental problems are an anachronistic orientation (Agrarian calendar, industrial mass production, and Taylorist model, hierarchical control), a breakdown of the home to school social contract and iniquitous, unreliable & irrational funding mechanisms disconnected from the system's legally required objectives. There are other problems, naturally, but those are the major systemic stumbling blocks to wholesale improvement.

That being said, it is not obvious to me that the primary alternatives to public education are any better when measured with identical yardsticks (surprisingly, often they are worse). Those that are (usually idiosyncratic programs of high quality) suffer from a lack of scalability. You just can't set up a top-notch Montessori program for 75 million kids - in fact, it's tough to do so for 75. Anything that is scalable - like curricular reforms and high standards featured by many charter schools - can be done more efficiently in public education for reasons of economies of scale. The only reason it isn't done is lack of political will and budget.

Homeschooling works best when the parents are exceedingly motivated and well educated, and their children are young and intellectually curious. Many home schoolers abandon the effort when their kids hit junior high and high school and the subject matter becomes more specialized - these kids either come to me performing well-above grade level (about 25-30%) or below grade level due to significant gaps in content knowledge because Mom really didn't understand fractions or the Civil War or whatever and skipped teaching it.

Catholic schools vary in quality these days just like public schools because the number of members of religious orders teaching in them (highly educated folks working cheap) has declined severely. In Illinois for example, St. Ignatius College Prep is a top high school but the average Catholic high School here is staffed by secular teachers who weren't good enough to find jobs in the public school system. What Catholic schools offer as a system that public schools do not is a culture, discipline and a sense of identity that some people find valuable (and a leg up in applying to Notre Dame, DePaul, Gonzaga etc.).

Other private schools, military academies etc. tend to be highly specialized in terms of mission.

Essentially, instead of judging which system is best, I'd look at what specific schools are available in your area and select the one that is relatively better than the others. If they are about even, save yourself a bundle of cash and use the public school system - unless safety/discipline is a concern.

Has the pendulum swung too far toward the "knowledge worker", and away from the skill crafts that build the infrastructure of our society? And what can we do to reclaim the "social contract" between parents and educators? I fear that my grandchildren will be left with a non-competitive economy competing against a hungry, agile, cheap global workforce.

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Great Public Schools (Yes, in America!)

While the U.S. collegiate system is the envy of the world, our primary and secondary schools have become punching bags for the media, politicians, and disaffected parents. This week's U.S. News & World Report even has an article on "education consultants" who, for a fee, will help parents find "good grade schools". This same article decries our nation's "sagging SAT scores", with a USA Today-esque graphic helpfully showing the downward trend in Reading (508 two years ago to 502 today), Math (520 two years ago to 515 today) and Writing (497 last year, when this module was introduced, to 494 today). Maximum possible is 800. Überblogger ZenPundit has blogged extensively on the topic of public schools.

This is why we're so glad to live in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Who'd have thunk that one of the best public school systems in the nation would be nestled in the hills of southern Appalachia? In fact, both Newsweek and Expansion Management magazine have consistently ranked Oak Ridge as among the best school districts in the nation -- with Oak Ridge High School garnering accolades from them as well as the Wall Street Journal as one of the best high schools in the country.

Note that these are public schools, paid for by the city (through sales and property taxes), the state (through franchise and excise taxes) and the federal government (through income taxes and other revenues). And even citizens outside of the Oak Ridge district can send their kids to our schools: annual tuition is about equal to what the "education consultants" in the USN&WR article mentioned above charge for simply finding a good grade school.

Is this because of our city's founding as an integral part of the Manhattan Project during World War II (city motto: "Born of War, Living for Peace") and its close proximity to one of the nation's finest National Labs, or because of proactive citizens and School Board members like blogger Citizen Netmom, or because of the forward-leaning Oak Ridge Public Schools Education Foundation? Or some combination of all of those (and other) factors?

This much I know: U.S. test scores may be failing -- but not in Oak Ridge. Our prowess in math and science may be slipping -- but not in Oak Ridge. And as a product of the California public school system (from elementary through undergraduate), I am proud to learn new vocabulary words like onomatopoeia from my 10-year-old daughter.

Click for a summary of Oak Ridge Schools awards and honors.

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Duty and Service

The blogosphere has been replete with dialogue on "service" and "duty" -- and the perception of grass-roots activism within the State. Noteworthy bloggers who have recently addressed this topic, in addition to my post last week, include Dave D. at Small Wars Journal, General of the Hordes Subudei Ba'adur, Purpleslog at D5GW, as well as both Chirol and Younghusband at ComingAnarchy. Even TIME magazine has made "The Case for National Service" a cover story topic.

Interestingly, there has been a good deal of honest (and sometimes contentious) replies to these posts. Some admit their personal lack of service, while others see the resurgent public interest in community service as a lack of confidence in "central governments". Could it be the looming anniversary of 9/11 (and last week's KATRINA anniversary)? Or the impending U.S. presidential election and a definitive change of administration?

I'm curious what visitors to Oz think. Care to comment?

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Roll on you Bears!

One year ago my son and I were sitting in Neyland Stadium at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, watching my alma mater Cal take on the Volunteers of the Orange Nation. Just two weeks earlier I had accepted a job offer from Enterra Solutions -- along with a relocation from southeast Virginia to east Tennessee. While Household-6 and eldest daughter looked at houses that afternoon, man-cub and I watched Cal get blown away by UT.

While I was among some 2,000 Blue-and-Gold Cal fans in Neyland Stadium last year (about 1.9% of the stadium's 106,000 capacity), today there were more than 20,000 Orange-clad Volunteer fans in Berkeley's Memorial Stadium (capacity 72,000 + a few hundred more on Tightwad Hill). I watched the game on our big-screen DLP at home in the Orange Nation, wearing the same Cal t-shirt and Cal ballcap as last year.

ESPN gave the game a lot of buzz, since this was the only matchup between ranked teams (UT #15 at Cal #12) this opening weekend. And though Appalachian State (from nearby Boone,NC) knocked off Big Blue Michigan at Ann Arbor, the Blue and Gold of California looked strong all night.

It wasn't the game the pundits expected, though. With UT starting quarterback Erik Ainge sporting a broken finger on his throwing hand and three green receivers on the flanks, it was expected they'd run the ball; instead Ainge completed 32 (including his first ten passes) and threw for nearly 300 yards with zero interceptions. Cal, expected to exploit the long-ball and Tennessee's inexperienced secondary, instead saw Head Coach Jeff Tedford do the play-calling -- with a ground attack amassing 240 yards.

Cal's defense and special teams stepped up (including DeSean Jackson's freaky prowess as a punt returner: this guy, in his senior year, has run more than 22% of his career punt returns for touchdowns!!), and both teams showed a lot of perseverance.

Hat tip to Tennessee's phenomenal offensive line -- the one mar to Cal's performance is that they failed to get more pressure on Ainge (other than in the first series and last series of the game). And say a prayer for UT defensive end Xavier Mitchell (#93), who had to be carted off the field on a back board late in the game after a collision with another Vol near the Cal goal line.

Final score: Cal 45, Tennessee 31.

Cal has two more non-PAC-10 games (at Colorado State next week, then hosting Louisiana Tech) before they begin a nine-week PAC-10 "round robin". One of the ABC commentators told Brent Musberger he predicted Cal's contest against USC (at Cal on the Marine Corps Birthday: November 10th) would feature two undefeated teams. Since Cal has more Marines than USC (defensive end Rulon Davis, #94, is a USMC reservist who did a tour in Iraq), I like our odds....

ADDENDUM: The last time Tennessee lost its opener was 13 years ago. Away. At UCLA. (Bet it will be a while before this SEC team decides to start another season in the PAC-10!)

SECOND ADDENDUM: Xavier Mitchell (Tennessee #93) was released from the hospital in time to make the team plane back to Knoxville. His neck and head scans came back negative, and he was diagnosed with having suffered a concussion. He'll likely miss Saturday's game against Southern Miss., but at least there is no permanent damage.

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