Just say no to the TSA

When we fly we put up with an awful lot of caca that there is no reason to tolerate. You need to arrive at the airport 1 or 1-1/2 hours before your flight time. Add an extra half-hour for international flights. That's a big dose of extra time. On a short flight like LA to San Francisco, it more than doubles the time. Even on a long flight like LA to Boston, you're adding 20% or more to the time it takes.

And what are we getting for all this? The last two attempts to bomb a plane were foiled by alert passengers, not by official security. In fact, when the airport security systems were subjected to a test, about half of those trying to smuggle "firearms" and other simulated weapons went undetected. This is not a very good ercord.

This isn't security. It's security theater. It makes us feel like the government is "doing something" about the problem. In fact, it's simply a waste of money, and -- more important -- the time of the millions of passengers who have to put up with it.

Consider Israel. Israel faces an environment that is much more hostile than the US. Yet in all the years since 1948, there has been exactly one Israeli plane hijacked. None have been blown up in mid-air. Nobody gets groped. Only a few passengers get searched, selected by the way they behave during a brief interview. And they seem to be meeting their target of 20 minutes from terminal entrance to departure lounge.

Compare that with the US, where you are told to arrive at the airport 1 hour before domestic flights, 1.5-2 hours before international flights. And groping seems to be routine. Or maybe you prefer an "X-ray" that -- in addition to subjecting you to unnecessary radiation -- shows the TSA employees the exact shape of your body -- including your penis or vagina. Isn't that fun?

What's the difference? Israel uses highly trained people to check passengers. You need a college education to be a security screener for El Al. Their people know what questions to ask, and what to look for in the way of evasiveness or nervousness. And those people who fit the threat profile -- by behavior not by ethnicity -- get pulled aside for additional questions and/or a search.

The US uses security screening as a way of creating jobs for the unskilled. Take somebody off the street, give them a couple of weeks of training, and send them to operate complex metal-detection and X-ray equipment. It's no wonder that we do so poorly at finding threats, while Israel has a near 100% success rate.

So... just say NO! Say no to airplane tickets. Don't buy them. Want to go on vacation? Choose a place you can drive to. Or take the train, or the bus. Need to conference with other business people? Use Skype or other videoconferencing technologies, and you don't even need to leave your desk.

Say no. When enough people refuse to put up with this and stop buying tickets, the airlines will get the message. And then the airlines will make sure that Congress gets the message.

One unfortunate thing about our current political system is that it is hard for the average person to be heard by those in power. But big corporations will be heard, because they have the money to make "campaign contributions" (bribes) to Representatives, Senators, and other elected officials. So hit them in the pocketbook, and they will get Congress to change the rules.

When we spend the money -- and, more important, the time and thought -- to revamp our security to be more like Israel's, then it will be time to think about flying again. When you can arrive at the terminal 1/2 hour before your flight time, check your luggage at the curb, and stroll to your gate in time to board your flight, and planes don't get hijacked or blown up, then we will have a security system that works. Until then, just say no.

Now... why I no longer fly:

My first airplane trip was in 1966, LA to Cleveland. I took a cab to the airport, checked my suitcase, and walked to the boarding gate. The plane was completely full. I was 19 years old, and had been working less than a year, I flew on a standby "youth fare". Standby means you get on the plane if some of the passengers with reserved seats don't show up. I did, but just barely. And nobody hassled me about the portable typewriter I carried on board. I spent about half the trip with it on my knees, typing an essay I was working on.

That's right. A typewriter. The kind with little keys that come up and hit the ribbon so ink goes onto the paper. Imagine the reaction if you tried to bring something with that much metal onto a plane these days.

My second trip was very similar, but I'd been working longer and had some money. I flew LA to Boston for a conference, then on to London. Again, we went to the airport, went to our gate, and got on. No searches.

We started flying regularly in 1975. By that time, there'd been a couple of hijackings, so you had to put your carry-on through an x-ray machine. But still, it was walk up, put your carry-ons on the belt, and walk through the metal detector. I don't think we had to wait as long as 5 minutes.

This continued throughout the 80s. I had a job -- customer serviced on some software -- that involved flying to San Jose once every 3 weeks. This was a treat, especially coming home. I'd leave work about 45 minutes before my flight, drive to SJ airport with a stop to refill the tank along the way. The rental-car check-in was right next to the terminal, so I'd just drive in, write the mileage on the envelope, and hand the envelope & keys to a Hertz employee. Then I'd walk to my gate (with brief stop at the x-ray) and get on the plane. I could calculate how long it would take to within 3 minutes.

Somehow, what had been a 5 minute wait had turned into a half-hour of standing in line. Folks, whatever a "reasonable" search may be, this isn't it.

My last airplane trip was in 2006. We went because Boskone (an annual SF conference in Boston) invited us. We got to the airport 1-1/2 hours before our scheduled departure. Why? For "security".

Listening to God

This is actually part of an occasional series of posts about prophecy and prayer.

Everybody who believes in a God prays from time to time. If you belong to an organized religion, you probably have some fixed prayers for certain occasions, but for some people there are also times when you just feel you must pour your feelings out to God (or gods). So you pray, aloud or silently as your feelings or religion dictate. Most of the time, God doesn't answer, at least not in a way you can say, "God spoke to me and said thus-and-so."

Reminds me of a joke we used to do when I was working on the Unix kernel. We would add a pseudo-device, /dev/god. It's similar to /dev/null: You can write any number of bytes to /dev/null (they are discarded); if you read from /dev/null you get an instant end of file. Like /dev/null, /dev/god will "listen" to whatever you send it. But if you try to read from /dev/god, the read never completes. It's like reading from a terminal (tty) that nobody ever types on. And ioctl directed to /dev/god gets an error, EPERM: you cannot control God.

Still, every once in a while, God will speak to us. Sometimes in answer to an explicit prayer, sometimes out of the blue. But here's the problem: how do you know it is God talking to you? We have lots of voices inside us. Our parents. Teachers. A priest or minister or rabbi or guru. Our own desires, anger, etc.

There are clues. One is the volume of the voice. A loud voice, shouting inside your head, is probably your own feelings -- and often these are negative feelings, anger, hatred, jealousy, fear. There have been a few times in the Bible when God spoke as a voice from heaven -- sometimes quiet, sometimes a voice that resounds like thunder from heaven (Ezek. 1:25; Jer 25:30; Joel 4:16–17; Amos 1:2, etc.) But most of the time, when God speaks to us, it is as a still, small voice.

"And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice."
1 KINGS 19:11-12

So that's one clue: God usually speaks quietly. You have to listen. The shouting voice that overwhelms all other thought is probably not God.

Another clue lies in what the voice is telling you. There are two opposed Hebrew phrases:
Kiddush haShem: Sanctifying The Name
Chillul haShem: Desecrating The Name
"The Name", of course, is the Name of God.

Kiddush haShem is to make God's Name more respected. It includes the Jewish version of martyrdom: not by killing other people, but allowing yourself to be killed rather than do something awful (engage in murder, worship idols).

Chillul haShem is the opposite: to bring God's Name into disrepute. Killing people, torturing people, stealing, other despicable acts, and claiming that God authorized it.

So if that inner voice is telling you to kill, torture, burn crosses on people's lawns, etc., then it is probably not God's voice. The same applies if it is telling you to go demonstrate at military funerals, thanking God for 9/11 and yelling "God hates fags". Because God doesn't hate any of his creatures. He may hate what they do, but he loves all of us.

But if that inner voice is telling you to heal the sick, feed the hungry, help widows and orphans, free political prisoners, etc., then maybe, just maybe, that is God talking to you.

You can fool some of the people...

Abe Lincoln said, "You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time." This makes for a great aphorism, but it has a great big logical hole.

The problem is, you don't have to "fool all of the people all of the time". You don't even have to "fool all of the people some of the time."

You only need to fool 51% of the voters on Election Day.

Some thoughts on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (part 1)

As I write this, we are still seeing reverberations from the Israeli raid on the Turkish ship, Mavi Marmara. A convoy of Turkish ships, allegedly carrying humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip, refused to stop for the Israeli blockade. Israeli soldiers boarded the ships to inspect the cargo. This was done "peacefully" (without fighting, deaths or injuries) on all but one of the ships. But members of The Foundation for Human Rights, Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (IHH) on board the Mavi Marmara fought the soldiers with knives, metal pipes, and stun grenades.

Nine IHH members were killed during the fight, and the dead were found to be carrying large quantities of cash.

Let's look at the situation under International Law. It seems clear to me that a state of War exists between Israel and the Gaza Strip. Hamas is the government of the Gaza Strip, both de facto and de jure. Hamas has the avowed goal of destroying Israel; if not a formal declaration of War, it is pretty damn close. In addition, the repeated suicide bombings and rocket attacks on Israeli towns are all acts of war, and more than enough to justify Israel's use of force in response.

A naval blockade is one of the recognized and legitimate methods of waging war. The purpose is to deny the enemy access to weapons, ammunition and other war materiel. Any ship entering a blockaded area should expect to be stopped and either turned back or searched. Instead, the Turkish convoy continued steaming ahead at full speed.

At that point, Israel had three choices:
1. Call off the blockade (since it would be ineffective if there were no way of enforcing it)
2. Sink the ships (which would probably have killed everybody aboard)
3. Forcibly board the ships and carry out the inspection to make sure there was no war materiel aboard.

They chose the last option, and on nine of the ten ships everything went smoothly -- the soldiers absailed down from helicopters onto the deck, checked to make sure only food and other humanitarian aid was present, and allowed the ships to deliver their cargo. But some of the passengers on the Mavi Marmara attacked the soldiers with metal bars, stun grenades, and chains. The result was exactly what you would expect: soldiers responded to force with force, and the soldiers had more and better force.

Yes, people were killed. That is unfortunate. But it's clear to me that those on board Mavi Marmara intentionally provoked the confrontation for its propaganda value, and considered the deaths a fair price for what they got out of it.

As far as International Law goes, I believe that Israel was in the right. Just because the crew of a ship says it is carrying only humanitarian aid, doesn't mean that's really the case.

That said, however, this has been a public relations disaster for Israel. Egypt has reopened its border with the Gaza Strip. Turkey, formerly allied with Israel, has now turned against it. If Israel is to ever "win" this conflict, the government needs to think about image as well as the local conflict when dealing with situations of this sort.

Even more to the point, Israel needs to find a way to make peace with its Palestinian neighbors, even though that will be difficult. I will discuss the problems and a possible solution in a later entry.
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Why are there gays?

This is not some gay-bashing rant. The question is, if sexual orientation is (largely) genetically determined (as I believe it is), then how can an interest in only members of the same sex still be around.

Unfortunately, this can't be a real serious scientific discussion.  For that, you would have to go to studies published by real geneticists and evolutionary biologists.  But I'll try to summarize my understanding of it.

First of all, a little background.  Homo sapiens has a K-type reproductive strategy,  (wikipedia article).  This can be summarized as "put all your eggs in one basket, and watch that basket very carefully."  Each human female bears only a relative few offspring in a lifetime, and we want nearly all of our offspring to reach adulthood.  Contrast this with, r-type reproductive strategies, e.g., insects, frogs or small rodents.  An r-strategy can be summarized as "make lots of eggs, and scatter them as widely as possible. (And don't sweat the small stuff.)"

Now, basic evolutionary theory says that any trait that reduces your ability to reproduce should, over the millenia, disappear from the gene pool, or at least become a rare recessive.  In terms of evolution, I am a 100% failure: I survived to adulthood, I'm heterosexual and married, but I have no children.  Neither does my sister.  So my parents' contribution to the gene pool is lost.  (I have numerous cousins, however, on both sides of the family.)

The same would apply to an exclusive sexual desire for the same sex.  In the last 300 years we have had reliable artificial insemination, but some myths suggest crude solutions dating back to pre-roman eras.   Still, if you never (or rarely) have sex with someone of the opposite sex, you are less likely to have children, and the genes you are carrying will be less likely to show up in the next generation.

It's true that exclusive homosexual orientation does not prevent having offspring, even before modern technology.  A man might get married for social reasons, have sex with his wife a few times (possibly while imagining another man in bed with him) in order to have children and/or keep up appearances.  But a man who was completely uninterested in females might suffer from impotence and/or premature ejaculation.  Both of these make it less likely that he would have children.  And his wife was unlikely to complain, because he was also her main source of support.

Similarly in pre-modern times a woman might have gotten married and had sex with her husband, and had children, even if she was completely turned off by males.  In many societies, a man was allowed to have sex with his wife whenever he wanted, whether she wanted to or not.  But a woman who doesn't enjoy sex is likely to get out of bed immediately afterward and do something else (which reduces the chance of conception).

I also note that in some societies the marriages were arranged by the parents, and the adolescents being married off had little or no say in the matter.  Some variation of this practice persisted at least into the 1950s; it was considered normal among the upper class (those with inherited wealth).  If the couple didn't find each other attractive, they would be married, possibly produce some children to make their parents happy, but look elsewhere for sexual pleasure.

Nonetheless, anybody who has ever been married or even shacked up will understand the concept of "shalom ha-bayit": peace in the house.  A man may be allowed to force himself on his wife, but an unhappy wife does not lead to delicious meals, a clean and neat house, and other things that the man might like to have.  Not to mention that women were often found in the kitchen holding a heavy pot or skillet, or a rolling pin.  So men usually learn to make some accommodation with their wife, in sexual and other matters.

So... exclusive homosexuality is a significant disadvantage in terms of passing on your genes.  Even  being bisexual creates some disadvantage.  That being the case, why haven't the genes for homosexual orientation disappeared from our genome?

There are several possibilities.  Two that I like:

1. The "maiden aunt" hypothesis: Let's say that an ancient tribe faced a problem(*) that could wipe out the whole tribe, but happened rarely, about once in 100 or even 200 years.  Often, no living member of the tribe would remember the last time it happened, and -- in particular -- what the tribe did to get through it.  Remember, this is before the invention of writing.  Some history gets transmitted orally, but details can get lost over the generations.  Men can live to be 80 or so, even in primitive societies, but women are likely to die before menopause, worn out by frequent children.  Also remember that in many primitive groups, the men and women have separate councils, oral traditions, etc.

(*) E.g., locusts, extreme drought, tsunami.

So it's useful having a few 80-year-old women around.  They can transmit their memories of "how we coped with X disaster" to the younger women, who will pass it down etc.  And the simplest way to have 80yo women is to have women who never have children; in a primitive society that means they don't have sex with men.  So, the "homosexual" gene may have been the "maiden aunt" gene (which would manifest in men as exclusive interest in men).

2. Recent studies have shown that there is no single "gay gene".  That is, there is no single allele (gene-variant) which always causes homosexuality.  Current genetic theory suggests that several different gene-sites are involved, and that exclusive same-sex interest occurs only when multiple sites contain the less-common allele.

What if each of those genes, separately, were beneficial?  At least one study suggests that one of the genes involved also causes increased fertility in heterosexuals.  Or perhaps some of the genes are beneficial when paired with the more common counterpart, but genetically disadvantageous when homozygous.  A gene like that is likely to be preserved: if only one parent carries the gene, you will have an advantage.  Even if both parents are carriers, you have only a 25% chance of being disadvantaged, but a 50% chance of gaining an advantage.

One easy example of this type of thing is sickle-cell anemia.  This is a genetic disease which produces misshapen red blood cells that clog up capillaries.  If you are homozygous for this gene, you have the disease.  Even moderate exertion will be painful or crippling, and your chance of surviving to raise children is very low without modern medicine.  But, if you are heterozygous, you have nearly normal red blood cells. The cells will "sickle" if you go up to high altitudes, or if you become dehydrated, but most of the time they cause no trouble.  But let's say that you become infected with the Malaria plasmodium.  When the plasmodium infects a red blood cell, the cell "sickles" and is destroyed by the bodies normal mechanism for clearing out dead or useless cells.  As a result, the plasmodium does not reproduce.

So, sickle-cell disease is an advantage in areas where Malaria is common -- primarily tropical and sub-tropical areas.  And, in fact Sickle-cell Disease is most common in people from semi-tropical Africa and areas around the Mediterranean sea.

Bottom line: it is likely that homosexuality is caused by some combination of genes that are individually advantageous, or that are advantageous when heterozygous but not when homozygous.
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Financial advice

I have 3 main pieces of financial advice to give:

First, and most important, go to a bookstore and buy a copy of The Richest Man in Babylon and read it. If you can't afford to buy a copy, go to a public library and borrow one; use interlibrary loan if they don't have a copy. If you can't read the whole book, at least read the Wikipedia article.

Assume that you start work at age 22, fresh out of college. If you invest just $100/month and earn 8% a year, you will have over $400,000 when you reach 65.
"A part of all I earn is mine to keep".

Second, if a stockbroker suggests you should buy individual stocks, ask yourself this question: Where are the customer's yachts? Come to think of it, it wouldn't hurt to read the book of the same title. The meaning of that question is: the broker goes around in a $2,000 suit and owns a second home, an expensive car, and a yacht. But what about his customers? Most of them barely manage to keep up the payments on their first (and only) homes, and they don't own any yachts.

Third, regarding derivatives: I'll refer you to a quote from the movie "Guys and Dolls", (IMDB quotes page -- search for "cider"). If you buy (or sell) derivatives, you will wind up with an ear full of cider.

Amplifying on #1: in today's market it is probably better to buy mutual funds than individual stocks (see #2). It is good to diversify your investments: "Don't put all your eggs in one basket". But to do that with stocks requires researching -- and managing and tracking -- several dozen different stocks. Buy a mutual fund, you get over 100 stocks. It may not perform as well as a few really well chosen stocks, but the chances are you don't have the time (or the inclination) to do the in depth research necessary to figure out which companies are going to do well in the future. So you trade possible future gains for less risk. Not that mutual funds are risk-free. Just less risk than any individual stock.

As far as I'm concerned, a low-load or no-load fund is better than a regular (high-load) fund. If you pay a 5% sales fee on that investment I mentioned above, you will end up with $380,000 instead of $400,000. Just make sure you don't give it away on high "management" fees -- if you pay a management fee of 1%, that's the same as taking your 8% return and turning it into a 7% return -- and end up with under $320,000 instead of over $400,000. Anything over 1% is too high, unless you've found the next Warren Buffett. 1/2% is better.

As I write this, Vanguard mutual funds are not significantly worse than other funds available, have no "Load", and have low management fees. This is subject to change, of course.

Thoughts on Terrorism

I think the word is being overused, and that's unfortunate. If we call everything we don't like "terrorism", then
a) the term will gradually lose its pejorative meaning, and
b) we don't know what we are fighting against, so we won't know when/if we have won.

A friend and former co-worker, Jordan Brown, offered a distinction that I think is useful:

In Police Action, you don't expect civilian casualties. You accept that they may sometimes happen, but they are rare, and usually lead to an investigation into what you did wrong.

In War, you expect civilian casualties, but you do your best to minimize them. When you bomb weapons factories, transportation facilities, etc., it is inevitable that some noncombatants will be killed and injured. But that isn't the purpose of the action -- the purpose is to disable the enemy's war machine.

In Terrorism, civilian casualties are the goal.

I consider this distinction important, because in the last 10 years there has been a tendency to refer to nearly every action against the United States as "terrorism". When a member of the resistance kills US soldiers with an IED, that's not terror. That's war. Guerrilla war, to be exact. Soldiers, by definition, are there to be in harm's way. The same applies to "civilian" employees of contractors like Blackwater: they may not be part of the army, but they are doing military-type activities: surveillance, patrolling, guard duty, etc., and they are armed.

IMO, we need to distinguish between "enemies" and terrorists. The men who damaged the USS Cole were engaged in war, even though President Clinton referred to it as "an act of terrorism, it was a despicable and cowardly act." No. The USS Cole was a warship, a legitimate military target.

If everybody who dares to oppose the US armed forces (even when we are in their country) is a "terrorist", then what incentive do those who would like to keep us out of their country have to restrain themselves to only attacking our armed forces and war machine? After all, civilian targets are so much "softer" (less well defended). If you're going to be tarred with the same brush (and tried for the same "crime"), why not go after the easier target?

Good news/bad news

For me, at the moment, the good news and the bad news is the same: My weight is the same today as it was in mid-October.

Why is this bad news? Because I lost over 20 pounds in the first 6 months after being forcibly retired, but haven't lost any weight since then. Ideally, I should lose another 35-40 pounds.

Why is it good news? Because it means I got through the Halloween candy madness, Thanksgiving, an SF convention (LosCon), our chanukah party (with potato latkes, fried in oil of course), and a filksing with bagels, cream cheese, chocolate, and fruit cake, without gaining any weight.

SO, is the glass half full, or half empty?

Gold's first law: another example

Back in the 1970s, when people were really worked up about the war in Vietnam, some anti-war protesters started doing things like lying down on railroad tracks and chaining themselves to gates, to block shipments to and from factories that made stuff for the war. It probably seemed a "logical extension" of civil disobedience to the protesters, but it set a bad precedent. Then came PETA and other animal activists. Simply blocking people wasn't enough. They started breaking into labs, destroying equipment, letting the animals loose — often with no regard for how animals that have been raised by humans are to survive in the wild... And sometimes they even attacked the researchers. So "protest" had been taken one step further:
  • First there was the simple refusal to cooperate — to pay your taxes or do something else you were ordered to do.
  • Then there was the refusal to stop doing something. This was Gandhi's technique. The British in India kept a monopoly on making salt, Gandhi led his people to the seashore to make salt. And when the soldiers came and beat them with truncheons they just stood there and took it, until they were beaten to the ground. A highly effective technique, when the beatings were reported in the (free) British press.
  • Then came actively blocking other people from using things: sit-ins, "sit down" strikes, blocking railroad tracks to defense plants, etc.
  • Then came destroying and stealing property
Then came the anti-abortion protesters. They, too, felt they had the moral high ground. After all, the abortion clinics were murdering babies (from their point of view). So they went from picketing, to blocking entrances, to destroying property, and then to actually killing the doctors. And now we have Glenn Beck, and Bill O'Reilly actively preaching hatred. When the SLA ("Symbionese Liberation Army") went around killing people, almost everybody, including almost all of the extreme left, was horrified. But now we have people on TV preaching that same kind of hatred, and all the Right can say is "Freedom of Speech".

Yeah, I agree. "Freedom of Speech": they have a right to say what they want as long as it's not a direct threat against anybody or suggesting that people commit a specific crime. But that doesn't mean you have to listen to them, buy the products advertised on their shows, calling in to tell them how great they are. So I have a message for the Conservative movement (at the moment): you might just want to tone the rhetoric down a notch or two. And try to reel in the crazies in your movement, the "lone wolves" who go around killing abortionists and those who encourage them with websites listing the names and addresses of the doctors, and drawing a line through their names when they are killed. Because whatever tactics you approve of for "your side" today, you can bet those same tactics — and maybe the next step beyond — will be used by the "other side" next decade.

And the same message to the Left wing. Tone down the violent rhetoric, so and so would be better off dead, etc. To the extent that you can find and influence them, try to get your crazy extremists to stick to words and not actions. Because whatever you legitimize now, will be used against you the next turn of the wheel. What's sauce for the goose is good for the gander.

If you want to engage in "civil disobedience", I suggest you go back and read Thoreau's essay of the same name. Thoreau's disobedience was just that: a refusal to obey orders (in his case, to pay taxes that would be used to enforce slavery and pay for an unjust war against Mexico). It did not involve active resistance — trying to block entrances or injure or kill those who were engaged in the injustice — but simply refusing to be a part of it. This is a critical distinction: trying to actively stop people is in fact a form of violence. It's a little like the bully who stands in the way of the little guy, and every time the little guy tries to go around, the bully steps in front of him. It's easier to see with a big guy/little guy scenario, but it's still violence if it's the little guy doing it — or a group of little guys, in the case of war protesters. The legal term is "false imprisonment." Another part of Thoreau's civil disobedience was an acceptance of the consequences. He would refuse to pay his taxes, and go to jail for his refusal. He didn't argue that his disobedience was more just than the Government's and therefore he should be let out (in fact, somebody else paid his taxes and he was freed).

So, if you are going to refuse orders as a form of protest against injustice, you should be prepared to go to jail, or whatever punishment is typically given for that refusal. This a key element that is missing from a lot of modern "civil disobedience". Anti-abortion activists murder doctors who perform abortions, but they do not turn themselves into the police afterward — they act sneakily and try to get away with it. Similarly for PETA activists who destroy labs and free the animals. If you are going to violate the law as a form of political protest, at least have the courage to take your lumps for it.

One caveat here: I'm 63 years old. When you're as old as I am, things don't seem quite so urgent. You've lived through a few crises, and you've learned a few important lessons:
    a) 90% of the problems you see coming down the road at you will go off in a ditch before they reach you, and most of the rest will get solved, eventually. Often, even, soon enough to prevent a disaster.
    b) The World has a certain amount of inertia. It takes time to get things done. Yes, it's urgent: we are in danger of losing millions, maybe billions of species. We may end up walking around coated with opaque zinc oxide, or just spending all our time indoors. People are getting murdered every day in Darfur (as I write this, it may be somewhere else if you are reading this a couple of years later). Still, impatience doesn't solve the problem. You need to start soon (because it takes time to move the world) and keep working at it.

But trying to get results today just pisses everybody off. And finally, if you have reached the point where you think things are so bad that extreme solutions are needed, ask yourself this question: Is the problem so bad that it's worth seeing Civilization destroyed over? Because every time you use extreme tactics, it stretches that thread of agreements that keep us away from each other's throats just a little thinner. I'm reminded of a line from Barrayar by Lois McMaster Bujold. Cordelia Vorkosigan is looking at the way things are done on Barrayar, which is almost totally alien to her (Betan-raised, democratic) way of thinking. Yet somehow, it works. She thinks of it as "pretending a government into existence" and has a moment of satori: maybe all governments are like that: working because people are willing to pretend that it works. If that willing suspension of disbelief gets strained too hard, people no longer believe in it, and you get violent revolution.


Anser is the latin word for goose, and one of the two major genera of geese. Sub-anserine is a neologism, a made-up word. If I say somebody is "sub-anserine", I mean that he "doesn't have the sense God gave a goose."
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