Tom Moody - Miscellaneous

Tom Moody - Miscellaneous Posts

These posts are either "jump pages" for my weblog or posts-in-process that will eventually appear there. For what it's worth, here's an archive of these random bits. The picture to the left is by a famous comic book artist.

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What the Monkeys Can Teach Humans About Making America Fairer

Give a capuchin monkey a cucumber slice, and she will eagerly trade a small pebble for it. But when a second monkey, in an adjoining cage, receives a more-desirable grape for the same pebble, it changes everything. The first monkey will then reject her cucumber, and sometimes throw it out of the cage. Monkeys rarely refuse food, but in this case they appear to be pursuing an even higher value than eating: fairness.

The capuchin monkey study, published last week in Nature, has generated a lot of interest for a scant three-page report buried in the journal's letters section. There is, certainly, a risk of reading too much into the feeding habits of 10 research monkeys. But in a week when fairness was so evidently on the ropes — from the World Trade Organization meeting in Cancϊn, which poor nations walked out of in frustration, to the latest issue of Forbes, reporting that the richest 400 Americans are worth $955 billion — the capuchin monkeys offered a glimmer of hope from the primate gene pool.

The study's implication that we are, to some extent, hard-wired for fairness speaks with special force to the legal system. American law has undergone a transformation in recent years, led by conservative Supreme Court justices and scholars, away from a focus on broad principles of fairness and toward a willingness to subject people to treatment that might be unjust, on the grounds that it is legal. The monkey study suggests, however, that fairness might be more than a currently unfashionable legal concept. It may be integral to who we are.

Sarah Brosnan and Frans de Waal, researchers at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center at Emory University, chose capuchin monkeys because capuchins are among the few primates — along with men and chimpanzees — that hunt cooperatively. Team hunting has evolutionary advantages, allowing a species to capture prey, like squirrels, it otherwise could not. In many monkey societies the dominant male eats what he wants, and the others fight over the scraps. But in societies like those of capuchins — and humans — in which hunting is done cooperatively, food is more equitably distributed.

The reason for the sharing is obvious. Cooperative primates will be reluctant to engage in a group hunt if they cannot be assured that their reward will be properly related to their efforts. The capuchin monkeys in the study did not care merely about rules: it was not enough that they were given a cucumber slice when that was what they expected. They also wanted the rule that was applied to them to be, in a larger sense, fair.

What role an inherent, human sense of fairness should play in the law is a critical issue today. In the "rights revolution" of the 1960's, the Supreme Court found broad fairness principles throughout the Constitution — strong rights to equal protection and due process, for example, and an expansive notion of what it means to be free of cruel and unusual punishment. The court brought these fairness principles to every corner of society, from schools, to prisons, to welfare offices.

Today, in law's eternal battle between strictly applied rules and broader principles of fairness, the pendulum is rapidly swinging back toward strict rules. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court considered the case of Leandro Andrade, a father of three who, because of California's harsh "three strikes and you're out" law, was sentenced to 50 years to life for stealing $153.54 worth of videotapes. The court's four liberals protested the unfairness of the sentence, arguing in dissent that if it was not "grossly disproportionate" to the crime, and therefore a violation of the Eighth Amendment's bar on cruel and unusual punishment, "the principle has no meaning." But the court's five-justice conservative majority concluded, in effect, that rules are rules, and that the sentence "was not an unreasonable application of our clearly established law."

In death penalty cases, criminal appeals, discrimination suits, the conservative majority regularly shows an indifference to the sort of fairness claims that would have prevailed in the 1960's. Lower federal court judges are also engaged in heated battles between rules and broader fairness principles, notably over the federal sentencing guidelines. The guidelines can pressure judges to impose sentences that, given the facts of a particular case, would result in unfairness. But the Justice Department, egged on by Republicans in Congress, is collecting data on judges who give lighter sentences than the guidelines recommend, which critics say could be used to create a blacklist.

Legal philosophers have long debated whether there is such a thing as natural law — higher principles of fairness that trump the rules enacted by man — and if so, from where it is derived. To natural law proponents like St. Augustine, who said an unjust law is no law at all, the answer was God. The capuchin monkey study suggests, however, that part of the answer may be biological. It hints that, as Mr. de Waal puts it, "a lot of the notions we use in our moral systems are much older than our species."

None of this, of course, means human society is destined to be fair. We are also hard-wired for competition and aggression. And we have a tendency to establish societies in which, as Shakespeare observed, "to do harm is often laudable, to do good sometime accounted dangerous folly." But the capuchin monkey study suggests that fairness is at least part of the mix of traits that go with being human — and that over time, higher notions of justice that look beyond mechanical application of rigid rules may have a fighting chance.

In Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey," an ape-man throws a bone he has just used as a weapon into the air and it is transformed into a spaceship. The discovery of weapons was certainly, as the movie indicates, one of our key evolutionary moments. But the capuchin monkey study is a welcome reminder that the first time an ape-man angrily picked up his food allotment and threw it into the air because it was unjust was no less pivotal to the emergence of what it means to be human.

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- tom moody 9-21-2003 7:28 pm [link] [add a comment]

A Light Show Beyond Lasers

For decades, planetariums and science centers have mixed their offerings of instructive starscapes and educational films with more fanciful fare: laser shows customarily set to thunderous rock music. But in these times of computer-generated special effects and home entertainment centers with theater-quality sound systems, even lasers may be starting to show their age.

So early next month in Manhattan, the Hayden Planetarium will be turning its own supercomputer power to a new use: creating and projecting audiovisual tricks light years beyond the colorful straight lines that characterize most laser shows.

"SonicVision," which is to open on Oct. 3, is 35 minutes of soaring, churning and immersive visualizations set to a thumping score of techno-electronica and contemporary rock mixed by the recording artist Moby. A recent test screening revealed vast, surreal three-dimensional visions that morphed back and forth from the purely abstract - a kind of kinetic, cosmic tie-dye - to whirling wheeled machines, seas of blinking human eyes, architectural forms and optical puns. All of it is computer-generated and none of it involves lasers.

"As wonderful as the laser shows were, they weren't appropriate for a planetarium in the 21st century," said Myles Gordon, the vice president for education of the American Museum of Natural History, which houses the Hayden, part of the Rose Center for Earth and Space. "How do we harness the technology and advances that have been made in projection, sound and production over the last 30 years?"

Neil deGrasse Tyson, the director of the Hayden, agreed that laser shows have not aged well. "The novelty of that as a technology is not really there anymore," he said. "Now you can buy a laser at the checkout counter at Kmart."

Much of the wow factor of the three-year-old planetarium, which replaced the original 1935 building, is supplied by a supercomputer that, among other attributes, harnesses 118 microprocessors. (The typical home computer has only one.)

Housed in two air-conditioned rooms adjoining the planetarium, the system can manage as much as nine terabytes of data - about 13 times the typical file size of a two-hour feature film projected digitally in a commercial theater.

The system is tied to two 24-channel digital audio players, hundreds of speakers and seven ultra-high-resolution video projectors trained on the inside of the planetarium's dome, which has a surface area of more than 6,500 square feet, planetarium officials say.

Dr. Tyson, an astrophysicist, said the enormous computational power of the planetarium's computer system enabled not only the modeling, mapping and vivid display of stars, planets and distant galaxies, but the processing and projection of any other data that can be represented in three dimensions.

Philip Alden Benn, one of 19 animators who helped create "SonicVision," said the animation that he and his New York-based company, Atmospherex, were responsible for - about eight minutes of the show - was exacting and exhaustive work. "It is a new format of entertainment," he said. "It really is an immersive experience."

To achieve the desired effects, he said, he experimented with various types of color and imagery that he felt worked best in a spherical environment. In a computer-generated environment, he projected images on a virtual sphere with a highly reflective surface. The result gave him a sense of how his animations would appear on the planetarium's dome, 75 feet in diameter.

"This is the first domed music show in the world," Mr. Benn said.

Anthony Braun, the executive producer of the Rose Center, who worked on the planetarium's two current space shows, "Passport to the Universe" and "The Search for Life: Are We Alone?" - said he had long been mulling the planetarium technology's pure entertainment possibilities. "We've been talking about it for a couple of years and developing the concept," he said.

Once the $600,000 project received the go-ahead from the museum administration early this year, said Chris Harvey, the show's creative director, he began searching for artists and animators with the skills and sensibilities he viewed as essential to it.

Oddly enough, he said, the music came first. While working with MTV2, Mr. Harvey said, he came to view Moby, who regularly incorporates high-tech themes and images into his music and videos, as the natural choice to mix the music.

"One thing that Moby did that I thought was great was that he picked up a certain quality that the dome has," Mr. Harvey said. "The quality of space is present in a lot of his musical choices."

Moby said the music for the show, which includes bits of songs by Coldplay, Radiohead, U2, the Flaming Lips, Queens of the Stone Age and David Bowie, was digitally stitched together with a computer and ProTools digital editing software.

He said he was enthusiastic about working with the museum. "I'm a dim musician," he said, "but whenever I get an opportunity to get involved in science, I do."

Once he had a mix that established a mood and narrative flow, Moby said, the music was transferred to the planetarium for storage in its supercomputer. (The same system will provide the playback, not unlike that on a college student's desktop PC but on an exponentially larger scale.)

With the music readied, Mr. Braun said, the project's artists and 3-D animators turned to creating images to accompany the peaks and valleys of the mix.

They were urged to have fun, but above all, Mr. Braun said, the creative team wanted the animators to take advantage of the planetarium's dome.

"The main thing was capitalizing and maximizing that feel of immersion that you get in the dome," he said. "Everything that we visualized and talked about initially was all geared toward giving the viewer the feeling of being steeped in the image and flying through the image."

But when the planetarium's creative team started crunching dozens of terabytes of data into the finished show, a process that animators call rendering, its members realized that the hardware was not up to the task: the Hayden's 78-processor system was taking too long to render the show. So Sun Microsystems donated racks of servers, adding 40 high-speed processors to the planetarium's 78, along with accompanying software, in a $1 million contribution.

About a dozen domed planetariums in the United States and six abroad have similarly powerful computer-driven audio-visual hardware, said Anne Canty, a museum spokeswoman. But the Hayden is the first to create such a technologically advanced program simply for entertainment, said Mr. Gordon, the museum's vice president, adding that there were plans to sell the program to be shown in other planetariums.

That prospect gratifies Alex Coletti, the executive in charge of programming and production for MTV, who worked with the planetarium's staff on "SonicVision."

"I hope it goes to other locations all around the world so it can get before as many people as possible," he said. "It is a group experience. That has always been what music is."

Carl Goodman, a curator of digital media and director of new media projects at the American Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, Queens, suggested that the show represented a broader reality than the communal music experience. From the design of telephones to highways, "today we live in a world that is rendered by computers in one way or the other," he said. "The same sort of software we use to create computer animation we also use to model, simulate and, in a sense, understand our world.''

"It would be kind of odd," he said, "if something like this was not happening in the planetarium."

- tom moody 9-18-2003 5:43 pm [link] [add a comment]

I'm posting this AP article detailing the "before and after" on claims made by the lyin' sacks of shit in the Bush Admin. to get us into war, in anticipation of revised justifications to be made in Sept 2003:

Point by Point, a Look Back at a 'Thick' File, a Fateful Six Months [After] the Most Detailed U.S. Case for Invading Iraq Was Laid
By Charles J. Hanley The Associated Press
Published: Aug 9, 2003

On a Baghdad evening last February, in a stiflingly warm conference room high above the city's streets, Iraqi bureaucrats, European envoys and foreign reporters crowded before a half dozen television screens to hear the reading of an indictment.
"There are many smoking guns," Colin Powell would say afterward.

For 80 minutes in a hushed U.N. Security Council chamber in New York, the U.S. secretary of state unleashed an avalanche of allegations: The Iraqis were hiding chemical and biological weapons, were secretly working to make more banned arms, were reviving their nuclear bomb project. He spoke of "the gravity of the threat that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction pose to the world."

It was the most comprehensive presentation of the U.S. case for war. Powell marshaled what were described as intercepted Iraqi conversations, reconnaissance photos of Iraqi sites, accounts of defectors, and other intelligence sources.

The defectors and other sources went unidentified. The audiotapes were uncorroborated, as were the photo interpretations. No other supporting documents were presented. Little was independently verifiable.

Still, in the United States, Powell's sober speech was galvanizing, swinging opinion toward war. "Compelling," "powerful," "irrefutable" were adjectives used by both pundits and opposition Democratic politicians. Editor & Publisher magazine found prowar sentiment among editorial writers doubled overnight, to three-quarters of large U.S. newspapers.

Powell's "thick intelligence file," as he called it, had won them over. Since 1998, he told fellow foreign ministers, "we have amassed much intelligence indicating that Iraq is continuing to make these weapons."

But in Baghdad, when the satellite broadcast ended, presidential science adviser Lt. Gen. Amer al-Saadi appeared before the audience and dismissed the U.S. case as "stunts" aimed at swaying the uninformed.

Some outside observers also sounded unimpressed. "War can be avoided. Colin Powell came up with absolutely nothing," said Denmark's Ulla Sandbaek, a visiting European Parliament member.

Six months after that Feb. 5 appearance, the file does look thin.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told U.S. senators last month the Bush administration actually had no "dramatic new evidence" before ordering the Iraq invasion.

"We acted because we saw the existing evidence in a new light through the prism of our experience on Sept. 11," Rumsfeld said.

Much happened between Powell's February presentation and Rumsfeld's statement of July.

That Baghdad conference room was turned into an ash-filled shell, like countless rooms in countless buildings across the bombed and looted capital. Many were killed, including thousands of Iraqi civilians and at least 170 U.S. soldiers. Al-Saadi and hundreds of other Iraqi functionaries were hauled off in American handcuffs to secret imprisonment. And the U.S. force that invaded in March has found no weapons of mass destruction.

Meanwhile, President Bush's credibility has come under attack because he cited, in his State of the Union address, a British report that Iraq tried to buy uranium from Niger. That allegation, which Powell left out of his own speech, has been challenged by U.S. intelligence officials.

How does Powell's pivotal U.S. indictment look from the vantage point of today? Powell has said several times since February that he stands by it, the State Department said Wednesday. Here is an Associated Press review of the major counts, based on both what was known in February and what has been learned since:


Powell presented satellite photos of industrial buildings, bunkers and trucks, and suggested they showed Iraqis surreptitiously moving prohibited missiles and chemical and biological weapons to hide them. At two sites, he said trucks were "decontamination vehicles" associated with chemical weapons.


But these and other sites had undergone 500 inspections in recent months. Chief U.N. inspector Hans Blix, a day earlier, had said his well-equipped experts had found no contraband in their inspections and no sign that items had been moved. Nothing has been reported found since.

Addressing the Security Council a week after Powell, Blix used one photo scenario as an example and said it could be showing routine as easily as illicit activity. Journalists visiting photographed sites hours after the Powell speech found similar activity to be routine.

Norwegian inspector Jorn Siljeholm told AP on March 19 that "decontamination vehicles" U.N. teams were led to by U.S. information invariably turned out to be simple water or fire trucks. On June 24, Blix said of the entire Powell photo package, "We were not impressed with that particular evidence."

Amid Powell's warnings, a critical fact was lost: Iraq's military industries were to have remained under strict, on-site U.N. monitoring for years to come, guarding against the rebuilding of weapons programs.


Powell played three audiotapes of men speaking in Arabic of a mysterious "modified vehicle," "forbidden ammo" and "the expression 'nerve agents'" - tapes said to be intercepts of Iraqi army officers discussing concealment.


Two of the brief, anonymous tapes, otherwise not authenticated, provided little context for judging their meaning. It couldn't be known whether the mystery vehicle, however modified, was even banned. A listener could only speculate over the cryptic mention of "nerve agents." The third tape, meanwhile, seemed natural, an order to inspect scrap areas for "forbidden ammo." The Iraqis had just told U.N. inspectors they would search ammunition dumps for stray, empty chemical warheads left over from years earlier. They later turned four over to inspectors.

Powell's rendition of the third conversation made it more incriminating, by saying an officer ordered that the area be "cleared out." The voice on the tape didn't say that, but only that the area be "inspected," according to the official U.S. translation.


Powell said "classified" documents found at a nuclear scientist's Baghdad home were "dramatic confirmation" of intelligence saying prohibited items were concealed this way.


U.N. nuclear inspectors later said the documents were old and "irrelevant" - some administrative material, some from a failed and well-known uranium-enrichment program of the 1980s.


According to Powell, unidentified sources said the Iraqis dispersed rocket launchers and warheads holding biological weapons to the western desert, hiding them in palm groves and moving them every one to four weeks.


Nothing has been reported found, after months of searching by U.S. and Australian troops in the near-empty desert. Al-Saadi suggested the story of palm groves and weekly-to-monthly movement was lifted whole from an Iraqi general's written account of hiding missiles in the 1991 war.


Powell said Iraq was violating a U.N. resolution by rejecting U-2 reconnaissance flights and barring private interviews with scientists. He suggested only fear of the Saddam Hussein regime kept scientists from exposing secret weapons programs.


On Feb. 17, U-2 flights began. By early March, 12 scientists had submitted to private interviews. In postwar interviews, with Saddam no longer in power, no Iraqi scientist is known to have confirmed any revived weapons program.


Powell noted Iraq had declared it produced 8,500 liters of the biological agent anthrax before 1991, but U.N. inspectors estimated it could have made up to 25,000 liters. None has been "verifiably accounted for," he said.


No anthrax has been reported found. The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), in a confidential report last September, recently disclosed, said that although it believed Iraq had biological weapons, it didn't know their nature, amounts or condition. Three weeks before the invasion, an Iraqi report of scientific soil sampling supported the regime's contention that it had destroyed its anthrax stocks at a known site, the U.N. inspection agency said May 30. Iraq also presented a list of witnesses to verify amounts, the agency said. It was too late for inspectors to interview them; the war soon began.


Powell said defectors had told of "biological weapons factories" on trucks and in train cars. He displayed artists' conceptions of such vehicles.


After the invasion, U.S. authorities said they found two such truck trailers in Iraq, and the CIA said it concluded they were part of a bioweapons production line. But no trace of biological agents was found on them, Iraqis said the equipment made hydrogen for weather balloons, and State Department intelligence balked at the CIA's conclusion. The British defense minister, Geoffrey Hoon, has said the vehicles aren't a "smoking gun."

The trailers have not been submitted to U.N. inspection for verification. No "bioweapons railcars" have been reported found.


Powell showed video of an Iraqi F-1 Mirage jet spraying "simulated anthrax." He said four such spray tanks were unaccounted for, and Iraq was building small unmanned aircraft "well suited for dispensing chemical and biological weapons."


According to U.N. inspectors' reports, the video predated the 1991 Gulf War, when the Mirage was said to have been destroyed, and three of the four spray tanks were destroyed in the 1990s.

No small drones or other planes with chemical-biological capability have been reported found in Iraq since the invasion. Iraq also gave inspectors details on its drone program, but the U.S. bombing intervened before U.N. teams could follow up.


Powell said Iraq produced four tons of the nerve agent VX. "A single drop of VX on the skin will kill in minutes. Four tons," he said.


Powell didn't note that most of that four tons was destroyed in the 1990s under U.N. supervision. Before the invasion, the Iraqis made a "considerable effort" to prove they had destroyed the rest, doing chemical analysis of the ground where inspectors confirmed VX had been dumped, the U.N. inspection agency reported May 30.

Experts at Britain's International Institute of Strategic Studies said any pre-1991 VX most likely would have degraded anyway. No VX has been reported found since the invasion.


"We know that Iraq has embedded key portions of its illicit chemical weapons infrastructure within its legitimate civilian industry," Powell said.


No "chemical weapons infrastructure" has been reported found. The newly disclosed DIA report of last September said there was "no reliable information" on "where Iraq has - or will - establish its chemical warfare agent-production facilities."

Many countries' civilian chemical industries are capable of making weapons agents, and Iraq's was under close U.N. oversight. The DIA report suggested international inspections, swept aside by the U.S. invasion six months later, would be able to keep Iraq from rebuilding a chemical weapons program.


"Our conservative estimate is that Iraq today has a stockpile of between 100 and 500 tons of chemical weapons agent," Powell said.


Powell gave no basis for the assertion, and no such agents have been reported found. An unclassified CIA report last October made a similar assertion without citing concrete evidence, saying only that Iraq "probably" concealed precursor chemicals to make such weapons. The DIA reported confidentially last September there "is no reliable information on whether Iraq is producing and stockpiling chemical weapons."


Powell said 122-mm chemical warheads found by U.N. inspectors in January might be the "tip of an iceberg."


The warheads were empty, a fact Powell didn't note. Blix said on June 16 the dozen stray rocket warheads, never uncrated, were apparently "debris from the past," the 1980s. No others have been reported found since the invasion.


"Saddam Hussein has chemical weapons. ... And we have sources who tell us that he recently has authorized his field commanders to use them," Powell said.


No such weapons were used and none was reported found after the U.S. and allied military units overran Iraqi field commands and ammunition dumps. Even before Powell spoke, U.N. inspectors had found no such weapons at Iraqi military bases.


"We have no indication that Saddam Hussein has ever abandoned his nuclear weapons program," Powell said.


Chief U.N. nuclear inspector Mohamed ElBaradei told the council two weeks before the U.S. invasion, "We have to date found no evidence or plausible indication of the revival of a nuclear weapons program in Iraq." On July 24, Foreign Minister Ana Palacio of Spain, a U.S. ally on Iraq, said there were "no evidences, no proof" of a nuclear bomb program before the war. No such evidence has been reported found since the invasion.


Powell said "most United States experts" believe aluminum tubes sought by Iraq were intended for use as centrifuge cylinders for enriching uranium for nuclear bombs.


Energy Department experts and Powell's own State Department intelligence bureau had already dissented from this CIA view, and on March 7 the U.N. nuclear agency's ElBaradei said his experts found convincing documentation - and no contrary evidence - that Iraq was using the tubes to make artillery rockets. Powell's scenario was "highly unlikely," he said. No centrifuge program has been reported found.


Powell said "intelligence from multiple sources" reported Iraq was trying to buy magnets and a production line for magnets of "the same weight" as those used in uranium centrifuges.


The U.N. nuclear agency traced a dozen types of imported magnets to their Iraqi end users, and none was usable for centrifuges, ElBaradei told the council March 7. "Weight is not enough; you don't have a centrifuge magnet because it's 20 grams," ElBaradei deputy Jacques Baute told AP on July 11. No centrifuge program has been found.


Powell said "intelligence sources" indicate Iraq had a secret force of up to a few dozen prohibited Scud-type missiles. He said it also had a program to build newer, 600-mile-range missiles, and had put a roof over a test facility to block the view of spy satellites.


No Scud-type missiles have been reported found. In the 1990s, U.N. inspectors had reported accounting for all but two of these missiles. No program for long-range missiles has been uncovered. Powell didn't note that U.N. teams were repeatedly inspecting missile facilities, including looking under that roof, and reporting no Iraqi violations of U.N. resolutions.

"There are many smoking guns," the secretary of state said in a CBS interview later that Wednesday in February. "Leaving Saddam Hussein in possession of weapons of mass destruction for a few more months or years is not an option."

The U.S. bombing began 43 days later, and on April 12 al-Saadi, the science adviser, handed himself over to the U.S. troops who seized Baghdad. His wife has not seen him since.

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- tom moody 8-11-2003 7:42 pm [link] [add a comment]