Archive for June, 2013


CAFOs and Democracy

Today I listend to a podcast about CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operation). These are basically places that raise a lot of livestock. Today the issue was how CAFOs pollute the water supply.

Apparently, human shit is very closely regulated. Where it can and can’t be put, how it has to be cleaned etc. We’re particular about our own. But animal shit can go anywhere. Because some people realized that animal shit would help crops go, there seems to be unlimited regulatory latitude about where it can go. In fact, the animating issue of this entire podcast was that there is too much shit for it to used as fertilizer and so the excess just goes in waterways, which then causes enormous algal blooms where the nutrients are. The algal blooms in turn eat up the oxygen in the water causing everything else to die.

The ins and outs of this problem seemed complex, but I heard two things over and over.

1. There are laws against dumping this stuff into the water and about using too much of it on land, which then seeps into the groundwater and into rivers and lakes. However, no one brings enforcement actions because big agriculture is, well, big. And powerful. Or maybe the enforcement agencies are understaffed. They interviewed a few farmers from Wisconsin who said that there are just never any enforcement actions.

2. Random redirection of the question, and denials that anything is wrong.

2 gets so old so fast. It was standard redirection, non-answer type stuff. The science appeared to be overwhelming judging from the other guests.

1 made me even more upset, because I hear this line ALL THE TIME. Banks, pharma, military, etc. etc. The pattern of our government appears to be; there is a problem x that we have already addressed, but not really, since nothing that we actually make into law affects anything. This is incredibly aggravating and disconcerting.

What does it mean to have a law against dumping waste in the river if it is so non-enforced as to become a running joke of those people who are supposed to be obeying the law? It seems that it is not law at all. But worse than that, there is a legitimacy problem. If we are supposed to be getting together to make the laws, but then the interests that are meant to be regulated just make the rules themselves, then this is a disastrous state of affairs. This no different than a modern kind of feudalism in which some people get to set the rules for some people and can, in this instance, dump waste into the water of other people if they so choose.

It makes me think that a candidate who simply promised to enforce the laws as written would actually have a powerful philosophy, because even if a law were actually intolerable, it would at least spur people to actually change the laws, rather than let them linger on the books as they do now.


Iron Man 3 is Awful

I’m pretty upset. I liked Iron Man a lot, and Iron Man 2 started to get pretty cheesy, but was ok, I guess. The suit battling wasn’t that cool.

In Iron Man 3, I started to get really angry. What a load of garbage! The ground for complaint are endless I feel, but there is a special sense of anger I have for being sequelized, for being turned into a hapless dupe of Hollywood’s franchise machine. The idea is simple: if people liked it, then the formula has legs, and so, run with it.

Here are some of the things that bugged me about Iron Man 3.

First, the main bad guy is not someone I am familiar with from the comics. I don’t think that villains have to slavishly follow the comics, but I know Iron Man fairly well, and did not know of a close analogue to Killian, the head of A.I.M. In fact, A.I.M. in the comics is a shadowy organization that is usually associated with the evil Modok. Instead, they used the comic book enemy, the Mandarin, but then turned him into a joke, played by an actor. The fake Mandarin didn’t even purport to have any of the comic book Mandarin’s powers. You don’t want to use an outdated comic book villain, fine, but at least put some juice into the A.I.M. as enemy idea. Give them a boardroom, introduce some boardroom drama, and maybe a different technological theme, not BIOLOGICAL. Iran man’s universe is supposed to be about tech.

Then there is the laughable attempt to add dimension to Iron Man’s character. He is supposedly vulnerable to panic attacks because of what happened in the Avengers. Really? Iron Man faced some tough stuff, but nothing that a superhero psyche, at least in the marvel universe, is not supposed to handle. Besides, the emotional paper mache job here is so thin. WHAT specifically traumatized Tony? We are never shown a dream or given an explanation. He’s just supposed to be on edge somehow from a previous movie in the expanding marvel franchise.

Last. There is a ridiculous almost satirical feel about the movie. I honestly don’t know what they were going for. The movie has funny parts, but it’s not particularly funny, but every scene involves wise-cracking by Tony and the action sequences hover between cartoon violence with slapstick absurdity to technological babble. Is this supposed to be an action movie? I came to see one and was really disappointed. Even the scene with all the other types of armor is horribly wasted. These robots were available the whole time? And because of the way the plot goes, we never get introduced to the abilities or special features of all of those suits of armor, which in the comics have definite identity.

There was also the weird stuff about Tony controlling his suits from remote control. Who cares. Pepper is kissing the robot, remote control versions at least 3 or 4 times and it just comes off as weird.

A really unfortunate end to what I thought could be an interesting look at a classic marvel hero. My guess is that Hollywood did the same thing to Wolverine, which will be a crying shame, since he’s one of my favorite heroes.


Scooping the Loop Snooper

I just wrote a paper on recursion and some examples of uncomputable functions. These are standard fare for computer scientist types, but they were interesting and challenging for me. A mathematician, Geoffrey Pullum, has a wonderful Dr. Seuss-like poem summarizing how the proof that the halting problem in insoluable. It’s called “Scooping the Loop Snooper” and it’s here.