Presidents as Poets

The US Library of Congress has launched an interesting site called “Presidents as Poets“, which has information about the following men:

  • George Washington
  • James Madison
  • John Quincy Adams
  • Abraham Lincoln
  • Jimmy Carter

The collection includes an infamous poem attributed to Lincoln:

    To ease me of this power to think,
    That through my bosom raves,
    I’ll headlong leap from hell’s high brink,
    And wallow in its waves.

Haiku for today

Dag Hammarskjold, Markings, p. 190-191 (Translated from Swedish by Leif Sjoberg and W. H. Auden)

    Congenial to other people?
    It it with yourself
    That you must live.

    Denied any outlet,
    The heat transmuted
    The coal into diamonds.

    Alone in his secret growth,
    He found a kinship
    With all growing things.

The manuscript for the book was left by Hammarskjold to be published after his death. He was Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN) when he died in an air crash on September 18, 1961 en route to negotiate a cease-fire between the UN and Katanya forces in Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia). I was introduced to his writings while studying the origins of the conflict.

Belief in evolution may prevent bird-flu

I was riding in an airplane not very long ago, seated next to a young woman who was on her way to visit a college. She was from somewhere in Oregon where everyone goes to a Christian school and practices strict rules of virtuous living. For example, she said, children are not allowed to carry bags or boxes in the school buildings in order to ensure that everyone can safely escape during a fire.

Makes sense, right? I didn’t think so either. But I wasn’t content to just nod blithely and let her discover reality on her own. No, I had to argue with her for several hours and try to help her arrive at a more logical conclusion about rules that ban kids from carrying bags.

One item in particular that really seemed to surprise her was that Darwin might have contributed something meaningful to the modern world. Believe it or not, this intelligent-seeming woman had been told that Darwin wrote a Theory of Evolution because his daughter died at a young age and so he became an athiest and just wanted to thumb his nose at God. I’m not making this up. She said they learned this in school, as well as bible camp. It’s amazing what passes for an education in America these days. Anyway, the story only became stranger when the woman said she was planning to study biology or chemistry in college. “How it doesn’t really exist?” I asked with glee.

To make a long story short, I don’t know if I made a positive impact on this woman, but I did my best to help her emphasize critical thinking and using the scientific method to arrive at conclusions in order to gradually help her debunk most of what she had probably been raised to believe as absolute gospel. And then today I read the amusing news that a NY museum has said that without Darwin’s theory we would be far less able to research and fight the bird flu:

“Without his insights, we would fail to appreciate the dangerous potentials of rapid evolution in the avian flu virus,” Michael Novacek, curator of paleontology at the museum, told a news conference on Tuesday.

To which the creationists replied “Obviously God created Darwin so that he could create the insights that would create the understanding that will create the ultimate vaccine for those who are chosen to survive. Isn’t that self evident? You say ‘proof’, I say banana.”

Auto-nomy no more

I’m a big fan of digital camera technology, and thus I usually am quick to support intelligent uses related to detective controls. Take for example a Bed & Breakfast that had issues with people loitering across the street dealing drugs. The B&B installed a camera, took some extracted video to the absent property owner and the next thing you know the neighborhood felt safe again. Here’s another example. Some well-intentioned system administrators were moving equipment in the racks when suddenly a core network device went off-line. Everyone started pointing fingers but a simple review of the video at the exact moment that the services were terminated shows who was in the cookie jar pulling power cables, and who was not.

Surveillance doesn’t happen in a vacuum, however, and there should be the same care and caution applied as with any other detective controls. Sadly, some investigators get so excited about the opportunity to nail every tiny infraction with uncontestably strong evidence that they start to sound like rabid dogs, ready to chase down every living thing and chew it to the bone.

Take for instance this proposal, recently captured in The Times:

BRITAIN’S top traffic policeman is pushing through plans to create a national network of roadside spy cameras that will be able to track the movements of motorists around the clock.

Meredydd Hughes wants the cameras to be installed every 400 yards on motorways, as well as at supermarkets, petrol stations and in town centres.

They are designed to crack down on uninsured driving, road tax evasion and stolen cars, but will also monitor millions of law-abiding drivers.

It sounds expensive and invasive with little return, if you ask me. One thing that surveillance camera projects should never do is start with an overly broad objective. It is similar to saying you want to write software to improve security every 400 yards on motorways…if you don’t start out with a good focus on the purpose of the system, then you will never end up with a clear picture of its usefulness.

On the other hand, when someone actually reveals that not only is there no intended benefit to the public but the real purpose of the surveillance (detective control) system is to become a source of revenue/taxation for the police, well, that should ring some alarm bells under the category of “clear conflict of interest”:

An Acpo strategy document, seen by The Sunday Times, makes the controversial suggestion that every ANPR “intercept officer� should aim to issue at least 310 fixed-penalty notices a year.