Best and Worst Presidents

A discussion over at Voter Vault got me thinking about who I would rank as the best and worst Presidents in our history. Here are my top five:

1. Abraham Lincoln
2. George Washington
3. Franklin D. Roosevelt
4. Thomas Jefferson
5. John Kennedy

I don't feel too strongly about Kennedy. Maybe Wilson should be there. Kennedy did get us into Vietnam, but he also pushed the Apollo program. I guess the nerd in me wins out.

Now, for the worst Presidents:

39. Franklin Pierce
40. Herbert Hoover
41. Andrew Johnson
42. James Buchanan
43. Warren G. Harding

It's still way too early to put George W. Bush in either list. Unless things turn around in Iraq in the next year, he'll probably find his place in the bottom five eventually.

Who would you put in these two lists? If you need some help, take a look at this article about scholar's rankings.

Attitude of Nature

Another interesting quote from the book I'm reading:

One major question needing to be examined is the general attitude of nature. A century ago there was a consensus about this: nature was ‘red in tooth and claw’, evolution was a record of open warfare among competing species, the fittest were the strongest aggressors and so forth. Now it begins to look different. The tiniest and most fragile of organisms dominate the life of the earth: the chloroplasts inside the cells of plants, which turn solar energy into food and supply the oxygen for breathing, appear to be the descendants of ancient blue-green algae, living now as permanent lodgers within the cells of ‘higher’ forms; the mitochondria of all nucleated cells, which serve as engines for all the functions of life, are the progeny of bacteria which took to living as cells-inside-cells long ago. The urge to form partnerships, to link up in collaborative arrangements, is perhaps the oldest, strongest and most fundamental force in nature. There are no solitary, free- living creatures; every form of life is dependent on other forms. The great successes in evolution, the mutants who have, so to speak, made it, have done so by fitting in with, and sustaining, the rest of life. Up to now we might be counted among the brilliant successes, but flashy and perhaps unstable. We should go warily into the future, looking for ways to be more useful, listening more carefully for signals, watching our step and having an eye out for partners.
-- Lewis Thomas, The Key Reporter (Autumn 1980)

Bill Gates totally insane, totally

Nowadays, security guys break the Mac every single day. Every single day, they come out with a total exploit, your machine can be taken over totally. I dare anybody to do that once a month on the Windows machine.
--Bill Gates in Newsweek

First of all, why is the world's richest man talking like a jr. high student? Like, I, like totally dare you to buy Vista, totally. Second, you couldn't do it once a month on a Windows machine because after the first month the computer has been crippled by spyware and can't connect to the web.

I'll admit that there are exploits for OS X and I'll admit that Vista is probably going to be more secure than Windows XP (it couldn't be much less secure). But come on! I've been running my Mac for 1.5 years with no antivirus program, no spyware remover and no problems. How many Windows users can say all three of those things? I hope that Vista turns out to be bulletproof and people can run it for more than a few months without feeling like they need to reinstall or toss their computer. But I'm not holding my breath. I'm not running out and buying Vista, either.

Does this make me a Mac bigot? I hope not. People should use whatever works best for them. But don't believe this crap about Windows being more secure than the Mac. In my experience it's just not true.

Eight Lies about the Iraq debate

In Washington we're now seeing the debate that should have happened in 2002. Sadly, at that time Congress was not performing its duty to oversee the people leading us into a war. Now that Congress has changed hands and there's a Presidential election looming, the debate is in full swing. The administration that worked so hard to quell debate in the run-up to the war is not about to welcome an open and full debate on the future of the war. They've apparently come up with some talking points that they're going to repeat ad nauseam in an attempt to silence their critics. I've heard them so many times over the last week that I can tell you what the administration shill is going to say even before he opens his mouth.

Lie #1: Questioning the war undermines the troops
If the troops are fighting to defend and spread democracy and freedom, then how are we undermining them when we exercise our freedoms and promote the full functioning of our democracy? As far as I know, everyone who is questioning this war and the proposed escalation is doing so because they love the troops and want them to come home. This charge should be turned around against those who would throw 20K more lives at an obviously failed policy.

Lie #2: Questioning the war emboldens the enemy
Yes, I'm sure al Qaeda just loves it when the hear that our democracy is still functioning. My personal theory is that they're smart enough to know that they can't beat the US in military conflict, but if they make us so paranoid that we voluntarily exchange our freedom for unquestioning devotion to a draconian government, then in a sense, they win. At any rate, we need to do what is right, regardless of how it makes our enemies feel. The debate is right and this argument against it is just a desperate appeal to emotion.

“How do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam -– How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”
-- Vietnam War veteran John Kerry in his 1971 appearance before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee

Lie #3: No one who is against the war has a plan
Although there's disagreement about details, most opponents of the escalation agree about what should be done instead: Get out. You can call it cut and run or defeat or, as seems to be the new strategy, you can pretend that this plan doesn't exist. Just this week there have been several new proposals for how to exit most gracefully. They should all be considered and debated in Congress until they have merged them together to form some sort of cohesive alternative to the Bush/McCain escalation. The President may still reject it and call it defeat, but he can't really say that there's no alternative plan. Bush claims that defeat is not an option, but sometimes you don't get to choose. Sometimes defeat happens whether you want it or not. The choice we do have is how long will we keep digging this hole? How many men and women will die in our vain attempt to salvage an ill-conceived war?

Lie #4: Talking to Iran is not worth a try
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may be a megalomaniac who is generally working against our interests, but that doesn't mean he can't be persuaded to play ball. Statesmen like Jim Baker and Lee Hamilton wouldn't suggest talking to Iran if they thought there was no chance that it could help. As the old saying goes, "If you want to make peace, you don't talk to your friends. You talk to your enemies." I don't get why sending 20K more troops to Iraq is "worth a try," but we can't be bothered to talk to Iran because we "don't talk to evil."

Lie #5: The Congress has no say
While the President is the Commander in Chief of the military, the Congress does have certain war powers. This New York Times article does a good job of discussing those powers. In my opinion, the current war has gone far beyond the original authorization for force. I think Congress should revoke that authorization and vote on a new authorization with more specific benchmarks, scope and deadlines.

Lie #6: Congress should skip non-binding resolutions and go straight to funding cuts
This may be the lie that I've heard most often. It's really more like a schoolyard taunt. The President's men are trying to bait the opponents of escalation into the potentially unpopular position of cutting off funding. I like the idea that we're actually seeing a debate and the resolutions will serve as a clear message to the President about where they stand. He'll still have a chance to do the right thing and heed the advice of Congress, the public, the military leaders that he's fired and most of the rest of the world. Bush would much rather have the decision taken out of his hands by a funding cut so he can have someone else to blame.

Lie #7: The news media is going to lose the war
Speaking of blame, I hate that I even have to address this lie. It's plainly false, but I've heard it so many times that I must respond to it. I'll admit that a lot of reporting is sensationalized and yes, perception does affect reality, but blaming the problems in Iraq on reporters is just stupid. Our government invaded a country without good reason and without a plan for stabilizing and rebuilding that country. The consequences of that were accurately predicted by a great deal of people. Reporters are simply doing their job when they tell us what's happening over there. Even if we somehow managed to keep the problems in Iraq a secret, they would still be happening. Ours are not the only reporters there, anyway. If the American media was under state control and didn't report anything that wasn't handed on a Presidential spoon (is that what they want?), the world would still hear about the trouble in Iraq from European and Arab reporters.

Lie #8: It's too late to discuss mistakes made before the war
There are still a number of unanswered questions about how we got into this war. It's late, but it's not too late to find out the truth and hold people responsible for it before they're out of office. Books like The Assassin's Gate and The Greatest Story Ever Sold have begun to reveal how badly this war was planned and justified. This is not some insignificant historical detail, it's the very essence of why we're in Iraq. It should have an effect on what we do in the future. I hope to see Congressional hearings on this subject.

These aren't the only lies, but they're the lies that I'm hearing the most right now. In time they may be abandoned like so many of Bush's earlier lies (Don Rumsfeld is doing a fine job, I listen to my generals on the ground, etc). There's one other thing I've noticed about this. Bush's influence in the Congress has slipped to the point that he can't even get any big names to go tell these lies for him. On all the interviews and debates I've seen, the person taking up the Administration position is someone I've never heard of. With the exception of McCain, Bush is having a hard time finding anyone to support him. And McCain has to support this plan because he came up with it.

Here's to speaking truth to power and bringing our brave men and women home.

Silencing the Critics

Bush Admin. Misled Public About Global Warming

Two private advocacy groups, meanwhile, presented to the panel a survey of government climate scientists showing that many of them say they have been subjected to political pressure aimed at downplaying the threat of global warming.

The groups presented a survey that shows two in five of the 279 climate scientists who responded to a questionnaire complained that some of their scientific papers had been edited in a way that changed their meaning. Nearly half of the 279 said in response to another question that at some point they had been told to delete reference to "global warming" or "climate change" from a report.

This is further proof of what we already knew. The so-called controversy about global warming is manufactured by politically and economically motivated people.

For web devs

Expired: View > Source
Tired: Web Developer Extension
Wired: Firebug 1.0

Scratch

Emma and I have been doing some programming together using Scratch, a visual programming language created at MIT. The image above shows the code blocks that you drag and drop to create your scripts. It's very easy to get started. You can have the basics of your idea working in a matter of seconds. I think Emma is actually understanding some of the building blocks of computer programming like conditional statements, loops and variables. She's able to come up with an idea, then I tell her what code blocks to drag in and she can run the first lines of code and see the images moving around the screen. Not bad for a five-year-old. I'm probably having even more fun than she is, though. Together Emma and I made two games: Turtle Hatchling and Man Finding His Dog. Scratch is available for free for Windows and Mac. Once you've installed it you should be able to open up our games and try them.

Emma has been saying that she wants a robot. We've talked about saving up for a Robosapien 2 or saving up even longer for a Lego Mindstorms NXT. I'm more interested in the latter. I've told her that first she needs to know how to read, do some math and some programming. So she's on her way to being a robotisist.

Monkey business

This post was written before I became an atheist and does not represent my current views. You can find more up-to-date posts on religion in my faith/skepticism category.

Many kinds of monkeys have a strong taste for tea, coffee, and spirituous liquors; they will also smoke tobacco with pleasure.
-- Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man, 1871

Image from AmazonI'm 1/3 of the way through Darwin (Norton Critical Edition) and that's probably my favorite line so far. Growing up in the church, Charles Darwin was presented as a dark figure, a shoddy scientist who somehow duped the entire scientific community into agreeing with him. I've always been very interested in science and so after learning about evolution in school I thought about it a lot. I knew that it was heresy on some level, but it also made a lot of sense to me and it fit in with what I saw in the world. In time I did my best to compartmentalize my thoughts about science and faith. As long as I kept them separate I could enjoy the benefits of both. It's hard for me to say for sure what my opinion on this has been historically. I know that I read and probably even espoused the idea that evolution is just too unlikely to have occurred. But I've never lost my respect for science.

It has been nice to read about Darwin on my own time and with no agenda. I don't feel the need to take sides for any political or religious reason. There's no longer doubt in my mind that living things have been modified by natural selection over time and that's how the great diversity of life on earth has reached the point it's at now. There are questions that remain unanswered, but that much, at least, makes sense to me.

Geni - online collaborative family tree

This post was written before I became an atheist and does not represent my current views. You can find more up-to-date posts on religion in my faith/skepticism category.

I tried creating a family tree on the computer once, but I gave it up for two reasons. First, I only know so much, so there were lots of holes in the tree, and second, there wasn't an easy way for me to show it off to other people in the family. Geni.com fixes both of those issues. It's an online collaborative family tree. You can start out in about 2 minutes and quickly add your closest relatives. If enter a family member's email address when you add them, they'll be sent an invite to log in and work on the tree, too. Then they can add people and invite them to help. You can add all kinds of information for each person, including a photo that shows up in the main tree view.

In addition to solving my problems, this site is very easy to use. The interface may remind you of Google Maps. You can drag the tree around and zoom in and out. You can select any person in the tree and make them the center of attention so that it shows the people that are most relevant to them and hides the inlaws. This is all done gracefully and without requiring any input from you. It's very well done. Did I mention that it was free?

If you're related to me, even distantly, don't create your own account, contact me and I'll make sure you're in my tree, then I'll add you. Otherwise, I recommend trying this out. You can have your immediately family added and invited about 3 minutes after starting.

Thanks to Matt for telling me about this.

Pecans and More Launched

This post was written before I became an atheist and does not represent my current views. You can find more up-to-date posts on religion in my faith/skepticism category.

I'm proud to announce the launch of PecansAndMore.com, an e-commerce site for a local business. We've been working on the site for several months and now it's finally ready. You can buy Native Missouri and grafted pecans, which are grown right here in Bates County. They also have other nuts, jellies and crafts. If you're in the market for any of these items, please take a look at this shop. It's a local, family-owned business and they'll take great care of you.

If you would like to help get the word out about this site you could post a link to it on your site. The extra eyeballs and search engine traffic would be a big help. I've also listed the products in Google Base, which means they show up in Froogle.com searches. This looks rather promising. Only one day after submitting our items, we have results #1 and #2 when searching for Missouri Pecans.

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