March 2005 Archives

New Scientist has a column about "13 Things That Don't Make Sense", but I think two of them should be combined. They're all pretty interesting, particularly the cosmology items. (HT: John Vescio.)

Peter W. Huber and Mark P. Mills have an excellent article in City Journal about "Why the U.S. Needs More Nuclear Power". They explain the history of American power generation and consumption, how we've switched from fuel to fuel over the decades, and why the best solution for the future is nuclear power. It's far cheaper than coal or oil, safer for the environment, and carries far fewer political costs than Middle Eastern oil.

Many Greens think that they have a good grip on the likely trajectory of the planet’s climate over the next 100 years. If we keep burning fossil fuels at current rates, their climate models tell them, we’ll face a meltdown on a much larger scale than Chernobyl’s, beginning with the polar ice caps. Saving an extra 400 million tons of coal here and there—roughly the amount of carbon that the United States would have to stop burning to comply with the Kyoto Protocol today—would make quite a difference, we’re told.

But serious Greens must face reality. Short of some convulsion that drastically shrinks the economy, demand for electricity will go on rising. Total U.S. electricity consumption will increase another 20 to 30 percent, at least, over the next ten years. Neither Democrats nor Republicans, moreover, will let the grid go cold—not even if that means burning yet another 400 million more tons of coal. Not even if that means melting the ice caps and putting much of Bangladesh under water. No governor or president wants to be the next Gray Davis, recalled from office when the lights go out.

The power has to come from somewhere. Sun and wind will never come close to supplying it. Earnest though they are, the people who argue otherwise are the folks who brought us 400 million extra tons of coal a year. The one practical technology that could decisively shift U.S. carbon emissions in the near term would displace coal with uranium, since uranium burns emission-free. It’s time even for Greens to embrace the atom.

It must surely be clear by now, too, that the political costs of depending so heavily on oil from the Middle East are just too great. We need to find a way to stop funneling $25 billion a year (or so) of our energy dollars into churning cauldrons of hate and violence. By sharply curtailing our dependence on Middle Eastern oil, we would greatly expand the range of feasible political and military options in dealing with the countries that breed the terrorists.

It's a great read, and a must for anyone interested in energy policy.

(HT: GeekPress.)

The Guardian has a great article about brain-computer interfaces, including brain implants and explants that allow users to control computers and other electronic devices. The fascinating thing to me is that these advances could lead to technology that allows thoughts to be put into brains as well.

Getting the signals is one thing; deciphering them is another. But Donoghue's team found that some simple rules held - if the brain wanted to move the hand to the right, certain cells would fire a rapid series of impulses. If the brain was willing the hand to move left, the cells fired a different number of times. Other information, such as where the hand should end up, what trajectory it should take, and how quickly it should move, is also embedded in the electrical signals.

Part of the difficulty in reading brain signals is that while even a simple movement such as raising a hand requires electrical signals from many regions of the brain, the implanted electrodes pick up just a tiny fraction of those that fire. "We're recording only a dozen or so, when a million might be active," says Donoghue, who likens the process to dropping a microphone into a crowded room and trying to get the gist of all the conversations going on.

So what would happen if the embedded electrodes were used to apply signal pulses to the brain rather than merely reading them? Would they need to be applied all across the brain, or would localized applications be sufficient to create thoughts? Would the brain get confused, or just adapt? What would it feel like to the patient?

Despite Hollywood's glamorization of communism, that evil ideology still holds the record for murder and destruction, far surpassing even the Nazis. Take for instance last year's The Motorcycle Diaries that portrayed a beatified "Che" Guevara but neglected to note the millions of people he helped murder and oppress.

Villains [of truthful movies about communism] would include--you guessed it--Che Guevara, whose legacy includes both ordering and conducting executions and founding forced labor camps. "Guevara . . . quickly gain[ed] a reputation for ruthlessness; a child in his guerrilla unit who had stolen a little food was immediately shot without trial," writes Pascal Fontaine in "The Black Book." Guevara also wrote in his diary about executing peasant Eutimio Guerra, a suspected informant, with a single .32-caliber shot to the head. Guevara, in his will, praised the "extremely useful hatred that turns men into effective, violent, merciless, and cold killing machines." He tried to spread the havoc caused by the Cuban revolution in other countries from Africa to South America, rallying for "two, three, many Vietnams!"

Guevara oversaw executions at La Cabana prison; some of those executed were his former comrades who wouldn't relinquish their democratic beliefs. "To send men to the firing squad, judicial proof is unnecessary," he said. He didn't assuage his barbarity by being a brilliant statesman, either, helping drive the economy to ruin as head of Cuba's central bank and minister of industries. "Though claiming to despise money," writes Fontaine, "he lived in one of the rich, private areas of Havana." Guevara told a British reporter after the Cuban Missile Crisis that the nukes would have been fired if they were under Cuban control--which would have wasted all of those future American suburban revolutionary wannabes.

I don't like communists, and naive, healthy, rich Americans who sanitize the history and evil of communism disgust me.

Philip Klinker has some stats from the National Election Survey that demonstrate that George Bush won re-election because of terrorism. Terrorism and Iraq were the number one and two issues for voters (42% and 18% respectively), but those who cited terrorism were 70% likely to vote for Bush, whereas those who cited Iraq were only 31% likely to vote for Bush. Interesting numbers. From this, T. Rex concludes that morals played no role in the outcome of the election.

Kerry lost because he couldn't overcome the fact that no terrorist attacks had happened on U.S. soil since 9/11. People who think about such things in passing concluded that since there were no more attacks and Bush was president, he must've been doing enough to prevent further attacks. Values were 100% unimportant in the election. People who say values such as abortion and gay rights are the most important issue are NEVER going to vote Democrat, so they are not a swing constituency and they didn't determine the election. Voters who supported Bush on terrorism can be won, Kerry just didn't make the sale.

I don't buy T. Rex's analysis. Sure, terrorism was the most important issue this time around, but eventually it won't be. Plus, there are pleny of gay voters (such as Andrew Sullivan) to whom gay rights are the number one concern, and who vote for Democrats. Perhaps T. Rex should have said that voters for whom morals are a number one concern are much less likely to be swayed from one party to the other... as long as morals remain their number one concern.

However, a great deal of time is spent trying to convince voters that issue A is more important than issue B. That's why of the 9% of the electorate who cited the economy as their most important issue, 75% voted for Kerry. Does that mean Bush was weaker on the economy, or that Bush hasn't the economy well? Not at all. It may be the case that many of the people who cite terrorism as their top concern also approve of Bush's economic performance. The survey simply doesn't say. What it indicates is that the people who were persuaded that the economy (or Iraq) was more important than terrorism tended to prefer Kerry -- which makes perfect sense since the Democrats were constantly arguing that Bush was overstating the threat of terrorism, and their most ardent supporters would have been eager to believe that to be true.

Hugh Hewitt has a great post that demonstrates that the term "religious right" cannot be well defined and is just a rhetorical device that allows speakers to attack anonymous, ambiguous people that the listeners can define for themselves.

Many e-mailers have tried to define "the religious right" thus far this morning, but their definitions are either ad hominem attacks or way too broad as they inevitably end up including folks like the African American pastors who oppose same-sex marriage even when those pastors are pretty reliable Democrats. Here's one example:

"A member of the Religious Right is a person who, for whatever reason, believes that his or her interpretation of a religious doctrine ought to be reflected in the laws that apply to all Americans - especially those who do not adhere to the proponent's personal belief system."

Not only too broad, but also applicable to pretty much every American who thinks polygamy ought to remain illegal. See Under the Banner of Heaven. The inability to define "religious right" reveals it is a term used rhetorically to allow the audience to hear whatever it wants to hear.

I think this sort of non-specific attack reflects that, more than ever, the left has lost its way. It'll probably take a very charismatic leader to pull the left together under whatever banner he chooses to raise, and then we'll have to listen to nonsense about how all the flip-flops were really what the Democrats have stood for all along.

(HT: Michelle Malkin.)

Russia has been reaping the peace dividend since the end of the Cold War and has thus been able to drastically increase funding for spanking research.

It may sound a bit kinky but everything from depression to alcoholism can be cured with a beating on the bare bottom, scientists claim.

Spanking is more effective than exercise at keeping the blues at bay, say Russian researchers who carried out tests on caning.

They recommend that people receive 30 weekly sessions of 60 of the best. High levels of pain make the body produce endorphins or 'happy chemicals' and this leads to feelings of euphoria.

Endorphins also boost the immune system, release sex hormones and reduce appetite.

So, uh... put this into practice however seems best to you.

(HT: Rush.)

Illuminaria has an excellent post connecting sexual deviancy and sexual abuse. As I wrote the phrase "sexual deviancy" I paused to consider whether anyone would be offended by my decision to label the actions of a girl who "on at least four occasions within a very short time period [] performed oral sex on several boys at a time while others watched" sexually deviant. But then I thought, if we have to throw out sexually deviant then we may as well throw out sexual abuse as well, right? Anyway, Illuminaria writes:

What the hell? The allegations are that on at least four occasions within a very short time period she performed oral sex on several boys at a time while others watched. I understand that more teens are having sex and stuff, but this is not normal teenage sexual behavior. The only ones who think it is are NAMBLA and other perverts, people who watch too much porn, and idiots.

Kids who are abused start to sexualize everything. They see themselves as having no worth other than through sex. They are the sort of people who are servicing 13 boys in a week’s time, while others watch. And sexual abuse is very common, more common than many people think.

Normal human behavior for females, even in a sexually permissive society, looks nothing like this. Yes, these days there are many more young girls out there having sex with their boyfriends, but the “sluts” have most likely been abused, and that’s how it’s been over time immemorial. The only reason that it seems to be a new phenomenon now, is that it’s more socially acceptable to reveal it. You think in the 50’s there weren’t any girls who were giving multiple blow jobs? No, that stuff probably went on then as much as it does now, it’s just that there weren’t any Katie Couric specials about it.

I think this is probably right, though as a commenter on her site points out, birth control was much more difficult in the 50s without the pill or latex condoms, and studies do show -- for whatever they're worth -- that teenagers are more sexual now than in the past. I think a large part of the problem is that the baby boomers have made absolutely terrible parents, as a generation. I've written about my own generation of millennials and I think we may turn out to be far less licentious than our parents, because we've seen the horrible effects first-hand.

I got a call this morning from my new employer informing me that I've passed my background and medical tests and that I'll be starting on April 4th, as expected. Sweet! I can't wait to get back to work, and I think I'm really going to enjoy this new job.

I had a dream last night that I was at home alone in a huge mansion and that bandits were after me. All I had was a .38 revolver (with a 12 round capacity, somehow) and I went around shooting them. It was pretty sweet. But there was one bandit that I couldn't kill, no matter how many times I shot him in the head. Each time I shot him he got stupider and stupider, but he kept coming after me like a zombie. When the sun came up (in the dream) other people came into the mansion -- including a dun dealer who kept selling me more ammunition. I tried to get other people to help me with the zombie, but they just laughed. Half the bullets the dealer sold me were duds, and he thought it was hilarious! The people said, well, he isn't hurting anyone else, just you, so why should we get involved? Other people said I should "pull his feeding tube". It was all very frustrating, yet amusing in hindsight.

The Democrats have been derided for failing to offer an alternative to President Bush's Social Security reform plan, but Brendan Miniter relates House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer's take on the Democrats' manuvering and how they hope to wrestle even more power away from the American electorate.

First what ideas do Democrats have for reforming Social Security? Mr. Hoyer wouldn't put a clear plan on the table, saying that in this fight the side that puts out a detailed plan first will likely lose. President Bush is "tanking" on this issue, he said, and Democrats aren't going to help him out by giving Americans something else to focus on and pick apart. He did say that Mr. Bush should consider as a model for compromise the deal President Reagan struck in 1983 to raise the retirement age. He also noted that there are several other options, chief among them raising the "wage cap" (so that Social Security taxes would be due on income above $90,000) and repealing Mr. Bush's tax cuts for the so-called wealthy.

Mr. Hoyer also made a concession first reported last week in our premium e-mail newsletter Political Diary (subscribe here). The No. 2 Democrat in the House said that he is in favor of private accounts as an "add-on" to Social Security. He also said that Social Security trustees--one of whom is Labor Secretary Elaine Chao--should be given the authority to invest Social Security funds in the stock market and other high-yield financial instruments. Instead of personal accounts, Mr. Hoyer is envisioning public accounts controlled by the government and used to raise funds for Social Security, much the way Calpers invests funds to pay for California state employee pensions. More on this in a minute. ...

The danger in losing the Social Security fight this year isn't that President Bush's reform agenda will die along with it, but rather that it will live on. President Clinton had to be brought to welfare reform kicking and screaming. But President Hillary or another Democrat will likely be more shrewd and embrace reform. Doing so would allow Democrats to infuse those reforms with Mr. Hoyer's ideas of using the government to invest funds in the stock market. We'll likely get a mix of higher taxes, reduced benefits for some, and "diversified risk" with publicly invested money. It will sound like a middle-of-the-road compromise. But if it comes to pass, it will give the secretary of labor and the other trustees a new tool to influence financial markets for political reasons.

Republicans didn't have to let this genie out of the bottle. But they were sent to Washington to make fundamental changes to the welfare state, and now they have a limited time to get their ownership society wish. If they miss this opportunity, it may turn out that all Republicans will have succeeded at doing is setting the stage for a massive expansion of the federal government.

Add-on accounts are a scam "fix" that wlll do nothing but increase the reach of Social Security without solving the fundamental problem of too many recipients and too few workers. The very last thing we need is goverment bureaucrats manipulating the stock market with vast Social Security money.

I'm no fan of Jesse Jackson -- he's a charlatan and a blowhard -- and it's weird to see him getting involved at this late date with the Terri Schiavo debacle. First off, I've never heard of him doing anything without a racial angle. Secondly, there's basically no hope of saving Mrs. Schiavo now. Is her situation very high profile among black evangelicals? How odd.

Good thing these helpless Florida dolphins don't have husbands that want them dead.

Dozens of volunteers toiled through a chilly night Thursday to tend to the 60 dolphins remaining from a group that stranded off the Middle Keys, using small boats to ferry some to a makeshift pen that has become the marine mammal equivalent of a triage ward.

By afternoon, six dolphins had died and 14 were still in painstaking transit, as U.S. Coast Guard personnel, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officers and others helped move the listless animals one by one from offshore flats to safety.

Volunteers in wet suits used feeding tubes to hydrate the most vulnerable and fed fish to those able to swim, their dorsal fins affixed with red tags and numbers.

But what about their right to die?! Maybe these dolphins were trying to commit suicide by stranding themselves. Who are we to play God?

(HT: James Caulfield.)

I think I'll echo the position of Heather Graham at the Independent Women's Forum who says about her "right to die": "whatever any guardian might someday allege, I DO NOT want anyone to enable my death unless there is zero hope, constant uncontrollable pain, and no one who cares enough to come visit."

This website isn't a legal document, but hopefully my friends who read this will take note and testify on my behalf should it ever be necessary. Or better yet, come and visit.

It's really odd to me that people get offended by my comments on this site when I imply -- apparently subtly -- that I think Christianity is "better" than other religions. Writes Mike Guitiz on this post about public execution:

I read many of us claim to be Christians. That torture and public executions are for savages. Like the public execution of the child killers in Iran recently, who were flogged and hung. Who the hell are you to claim to be so much better than any other race, creed, or faith. They did what they saw fit. We on the other hand just let "Mrs. Terri Schiavo" die slowly. My, how Christian a people are we!

Posted by: Mike Guitiz at March 27, 2005 08:13 PM

Who do I have to be to claim that my faith is "better" than another? Don't most substantial and consequential spiritual belief systems directly assert that they are superior to any other? Christianity is the same in doing so, and a Christian will necessarily believe that non-Christians of whatever religious/irreligious stripe are wrong in their thinking.

Thinking that your system is true and others are false is a sort of "better"-ness, but in a very objective fashion that doesn't track Mr. Guitiz' connotations. It's not that I think that if one were to compare the various costs and benefits of Christianity, atheism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddism, etc. -- like comparing health plan coverage -- that Christianity would come out on top. To a believer, that sort of comparison is meaningless. Likewise, the wordly "results" of the belief systems -- such as Terri Schiavo's starvation and Iranian executions -- are meaningless. To the believer there is no comparison to be made, because one system is true and the others are mere figments of imagination. It's pointless to argue over which is "better" when only one is real.

I don't see why this assertion is offensive to anyone, considering how common it is. Yes, I believe that non-Christians are going to Hell because they have rejected Christ. I am only going to be admitted to Heaven because I have accepted Christ, not because I'm holier or smarter or "better" than anyone else in any way. That doesn't strike me as an arrogant position.

One of the toughest things about covering up a murder is disposing of the body. In the past I've dismissed conspiracy theorists who have claimed that Terri Schiavo's husband Michael may have attempted to kill her, but the recent revelation that he wants to cremate Terri's body has made me reevaluate those suspicions. Terri's parents have accused Michael of strangling Terri, but burning the body would obviously make it impossible to investigate.

Just like last year, Mexico disgraces herself by booing America and cheering Osama.

MEXICO CITY (AP) - Mexico topped the United States 2-1 and the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying group on Sunday, and upheld its 71-year unbeaten record at home against the Americans. ...

The crowd booed the U.S. national anthem and a spattering of fans chanted "Osama! Osama!" before play started, and shortly after Lewis' goal.

Let's see video of those chants playing on the mainstream media news shows... I think the Minutemen might get more volunteers. I have zero sympathy for poor and desperate people who want to come here yet lack the civility to side with us against terrorist scum like "Osama". Plenty of Mexicans were killed on 9/11.

How many Mexicans are buried beneath the rubble of the World Trade Center may never be determined.

A dozen kitchen helpers who worked in the 107th floor "Windows on the World" restaurant are missing, and as many as 500 are thought to have toiled in and around the twin skyscrapers that were dismembered by a kamikaze attack on Black Tuesday, Sept. 11.

The Mexican consulate has no census of its countrymen and women who worked at the toppled towers, but given the swelling Mexican population in New York City, the numbers are sure to devastate feeder communities back home.

The behavior of these soccer fans is sick and disturbing.

I'm playing a game with a friend that made me curious about the population density of historical nations, and I found this excellent page on medieval demographics. I'm not sure how accurate the information is, but S. John Ross cites sources and I expect his numbers are roughly correct (which is all he claims). Some interesting tidbits:

The average population density for a medieval country is from 30 per square mile (for countries with lots of rocks, lots of rain, and lots of ice—or a slave-driving Mad King) to a limit of about 120 people per square mile, for countries with rich soil and favorable seasons. No land is wasted if it can be settled and farmed. There are many factors that determine the population density of a land, but none as important as arable land and climate. If food will grow, so will peasants. ...

From 1% to 8% of the population will be urban to some degree - living in cities and towns. The factors which influence this figure range all over the map. Pick a number you like, or roll 1d8 for the percentile.

The remainder of the population will be rural, living in villages and hamlets and huts and so on. Individual village populations should be determined randomly or by fiat (the average will range from 100 to 400 people or so). From 2-5% of the country's populus will live in settlements too small to be called villages—isolated dwellings, or collections of huts with a total population of under 20—or will be itinerant workers and wanderers. ...

At the medieval level of technology, a square mile of settled land (including requisite roads, villages and towns) will support 180 people. This takes into account normal blights, rats, drought, and theft, all of which are common in most worlds.

He also has a handy table for estimating the number of people it takes to support various types of businesses, such as inns, taverns, and blacksmiths. According to Ross, shoemakers were by far the most common trade in medieval towns -- who knew?

Some people have emailed me asking if I think President Bush or Governor Bush should be "doing something" to prolong Terri Schiavo's life, but it looks like Jeb is doing everything he can, legally, and it's not clear what anyone thinks the President should do. Send in federal marshals to put the tube back in? I suppose he could do that.

It seems to me though that most people who want to see that happen are less concerned with Terry Schiavo than with seeing one of the Bushes force a constitutional showdown with the obstructionist courts. I agree that our judges are far overpowered and should be more deferential to the executive branch, but in this case I think the courts have pretty much followed the letter of the law, even if I don't like the results. No legal system is perfect, but I'm hard-pressed to think of a different set of rules for dealing with disabled patients. Most of the time, allowing the next-of-kin to make life decisions in the absence of a living will is the right thing to do.

If anyone should be pissed, it's the state and federal legislators who have been ignored and dismissed by every judge involved in this case, from top to bottom. By extension, the public who elects the Florida legislature and the American Congress should be angered by these unelected tyrants spurning the instructions of our representatives and assuming that they know better than our legislators what is and what is not Constitutional. Judges aren't the only people who can make that determination, and they should be more humble and keep in mind that they are not representatives of the people, but appointees. (Although Florida state judges other than those on the Florida Supreme Court are elected. About the Florida Government.)

So what, if anything, would you do if you were President or Governor?

Beyond mere notification, I think a minor girl should need her parents' permission to have an abortion. Oh, ideally, the vast majority of abortions should be entirely illegal, but if we must have them doesn't it make sense for them to be treated like the major medical procedures they are? You may remember a bill in New Zealand that would have required parental notification for abortions by children; I have no idea if the bill became law, but it was very popular and vehemently opposed by the left in New Zealand. The article I quoted earlier said:

Many parents are horrified at the notion of school staff whisking their under-16 year old daughters off for an abortion during school hours, leaving parents out of the loop in what is likely to be the most traumatic decision their child has ever made. ...

The pro-life Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child points out that schools are obliged to inform parents if even mild medications are given to children while away from home, yet abortions are exempt from this policy.

Fantasy, right? That would never happen? But it looks like something even worse in going on in Illinois where an unrelated adult snatched a kid from school for an abortion. The mother of the girl tried to intervene, and got arrested.

The girl was allegedly taken to an abortion clinic by the mother of the man allegedly to have impregnated the 14-year old.

According to the girl's mother, her 14-year old daughter was called off from school in Madison County by a woman posing as the girl's “grandmother.” The woman took the girl from her home only minutes before the girl’s mother returned home from work.

It's amazing how our courts bend over backwards to kill handicapped people in hospitals and unborn babies, and convicted murderers on death row take decades to execute. Disgusting.

Consonent-endowed Kyrgyzstan has had a mostly-peaceful revolution in the blink of an eye.

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan (AP) - President Askar Akayev's government collapsed Thursday after opposition protesters took over the presidential compound and government offices, throwing computers and air conditioners out of windows in a frenzy of anger over corruption and a disputed election.

The popular uprising in this impoverished Central Asian nation of 5 million forced Akayev to flee, was breathtaking in its speed and resulted in only a few dozen injured. The government was the third in a former Soviet republic - after Georgia and Ukraine - to be brought down by people power over the past year and a half.

I think President Bush deserves some credit for this series of democratic dominos. This is what can happen when America stops working merely for "stability" and actually encourages those around the world who long for liberty.

If Mexican President Vicente Fox wants an "open border" with America, then he'd better be prepared to make a few changes in the laws of his own country.

1. Mexico had better start extraditing murderers who flee south over the border. As it is, Mexico won't extradite anyone who is facing a death sentence or any "indeterminate" prison term (such as a life sentence). As you can imagine, there are hundreds of wanted killers living freely and openly in Mexico right now.

2. Mexico must allow foreigners to own property in the so-called "forbidden zones" that encompass most of the valuable land in the country. There's a complex scheme of trusts that allow foreigners to invest in real estate, but they can't own land outright and it's very difficult (impossible) for a foreigner to invest in any natural resource development. Mexico has a closed, largely nationalized economy, and if they want more contact with America (and more prosperity) they need to open it up.

As it is, I can see why Fox wants an open border: there's nothing but upside for him. But what's in it for America? Why is President Bush so eager to accomodate Fox's desires? It's amazing to me that a former governor of Texas can be so out of touch with the American will on border policy.

WACO, Texas — President Bush yesterday said he opposes a civilian project to monitor illegal aliens crossing the border, characterizing them as "vigilantes."

He said he would pressure Congress to further loosen immigration law.

More than 1,000 people — including 30 pilots and their private planes — have volunteered for the Minuteman Project, beginning next month along the Arizona-Mexico border. Civilians will monitor the movement of illegal aliens for the month of April and report them to the Border Patrol.

Mr. Bush said after yesterday's continental summit, with Mexican President Vicente Fox and Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin at Baylor University, that he finds such actions unacceptable.

If you want to do something to tell Bush how you feel on the matter, consider signing Bill O'Reilly's petition to President Bush.

(HT: DeoDuce and tallglassofmilk.)

Say you've got a modest-sized church with an annual budget of $200,000. A new member joins who makes $1 million a year and he starts tithing $100,000. What should you do? There are a few options.

1. Raise the budget to $300,000. This is probably what most churches would do, but it doesn't seem like a wise decision to me. The church would be dependent on one person for a third of its income, and individual jobs can be very volatile. The giver could die, retire, move, change churches, go to jail, get divorced, get fired, or even try to dictate church policy using his money. If the money he was giving is spent on normal budget items and recurring expenses, the loss of revenue could easily lead to foreclosed mortgages or laid-off staff members.

2. Invest it. I like this idea. The church can then add the interest to its regular budget without worry about the giver losing his job. However, from a spiritual standpoint it may not be the best solution. Churches are supposed to operate off giving, not business investments, and the government might not like a non-profit making money this way.

3. Spend it on non-recurring expenses. Rather than adding the new money to the budget, it makes more sense to spend most of it on non-recurring items. For example, rather than hiring a staff member who would need to be laid-off, the church could buy property (for cash, not a mortgage!). The church could also do construction or other improvements. The idea is to avoid financial committments that would be endangered if the big giver stops giving.

In general, I think it would be wise for a church to prevent any one giver from supporing more than, say, 10% of its recurring expenses and regular budget items. In the example above, the church could add $20,000 to its budget for a total of $220,000, and then spend the other $80,000 each year on non-recurring items. The solution may seem a bit awkward, but I think it's safer than becoming overly dependent on any individual.

So tempting...

16:08: I just felt an earthquake, it lasted about 3 seconds and jerked my house.

16:52: Drudges posts a link, 3.4 magnitude, under Santa Monica.

Well, they're not exactly what you may think, but chastity-branded products still strike me as a little odd. Not that I'm not intrigued by the idea, but... am I intrigued because I find them sexy?

Underwear. It can say "I'm sexy." It can say "I'm confident." But can it say "I'm waiting for marriage?"

That's what Yvette Thomas is banking on. Her growing line of clothing, WaitWear, plasters slogans like "Virginity Lane: Exit When Married" and "Notice: No Trespassing On This Property. My Father Is Watching" on underwear and T-shirts, and is meant to inspire young people to abstain from sex until they tie the knot.

Some of the slogans are pretty cheesy, but it's true that teens are more likely to stick with the tough decision to be chaste if they can share that identification with others who agree. Clothes like these (maybe not the thong underwear, but the t-shirts anyway) can be an integral part of forming a group identity, and it's easier to maintain life decisions when you have the support of others.

I'm not sure I agree with all the producers in this article who say that sex makes America nervous, but I'm pleased to read that people prefer to keep sexuality private rather than parading it publically.

As any theater owner will eagerly tell you, American audiences like their movies PG and PG-13, not R, and certainly not NC-17. At the recent ShoWest convention, National Association of Theatre Owners president John Fithian urged Hollywood to give theater owners more PG-rated hits and a lot fewer R-rated losers.

Last year, five of the top-10-grossing movies were PG. Of the top 25, only four were rated R. "Increasingly, if a movie is rated R," says producer John Goldwyn, "audiences won't go."

Not because Americans don't like sex, but because sexual material is so easy to access at home that it's easy to keep it private.

But they're not making movies like that anymore.

Why? These days, sex is in the home. In the privacy of your own room, you can see all the racy material you want in "Sex and the City," "The L Word," "Queer as Folk," "Deadwood" and "Desperate Housewives."

"Today's audiences aren't comfortable being seen in a mass-audience public place like a cinema complex seeing something that is inevitably notorious because of its sex," producer Bill Horberg writes in an e-mail. "If you go to a complex, you might run into your kids, much less neighbors, co-workers." ...

"We are a Puritan society," Press says. "We'd rather watch it at home."

And I say, good. It makes it easier for parents to control what their kids are exposed to. I don't really care what people want to watch in their own homes, but the majority should get to rule on what dominates the public sphere. In this case, it's market forces that are shutting out highly sexual movies, which is far better than if the government were getting involved.

It shouldn't be a surprise that the party that benefits most from fraudulent voting is now pushing to make voter fraud even easier.

A bill proposed by Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., would enable anyone to register to vote on election day and cast a ballot without a photo ID, proof of citizenship or other personal identification.

Clinton calls the Count Every Vote Act of 2005 "critical to restoring America's faith in our voting system," but critics see it as an open door to fraud.

In the wake of all the voter fraud perpetrated by Democrats over the past two election cycles, is it any wonder that Hillary wants pass laws to eliminate the evidence?

I'd prefer going in the opposite direction. If you want to vote, you should have to register in advance, not at the polling place. You should get a voting ticket mailed to you, and you can only vote when you turn it in; if you lose your ticket, too bad. Then we ink your thumb just to make sure.

But then Democrats wouldn't be able to win elections, so....

(HT: DeoDuce.)

Remember Susan Estrich? If not, don't feel bad, she isn't know for much other than contributing to losing presidential campaigns. Anyway, in a Dean-esque manner she's now going completely nuts and blaming her lack of publication in the LA Times on sexism. (That's like a sow complaining that the pigs are keeping her out of her favorite mudhole.) The brilliant Heather MacDonald sets her straight.

Gee thanks, Susan. Political pundit Susan Estrich has launched a venomous campaign (links here and here and here) against the Los Angeles Times’s op-ed editor, Michael Kinsley, for alleged discrimination against female writers. As it happens, I have published in the Los Angeles Times op-ed pages over the years, without worrying too much about whether I was merely filling a gender quota. Now, however, if I appear in the Times again, I will assume that my sex characteristics, rather than my ideas, got me accepted.

Estrich’s insane ravings against the Times cap a month that left one wondering whether the entry of women into the intellectual and political arena has been an unqualified boon. In January, nearly the entire female professoriate at Harvard (and many of their feminized male colleagues) rose up in outrage at the mere suggestion of an open discussion about a scientific hypothesis. That hypothesis, of course, concerned the possibly unequal distribution of cognitive skills across the male and female populations. Harvard President Larry Summers had had the temerity to suggest that the continuing preponderance of men in scientific fields, despite decades of vigorous gender equity initiatives in schools and universities, may reflect something other than sexism. It might reflect the fact, Summers hypothesized, that the male population has a higher percentage of mathematical geniuses (and mathematical dolts) than the female population, in which mathematical reasoning skills may be more evenly distributed.

Catherine Seipp has more on "the way of the woman", with insight into Maureen Dowd and female columnists in general. My favorite three are MacDonald, Seipp, and Wendy McElroy.

The idea of submission isn't particularly popular in our day and age, but the Bible teaches a lot about obedience. If one believes that one is justified in doing whatever one can "get away with", then the only reason to submit to anyone else is if you're afraid of resisting. That, and stupidity, is the connotation of being called a sheep for questioning an open invitation to civil disobedience, but as I wrote originally, I think there's a lot of value to a general policy of obeying the rules.

Sure, Patterico and the rest will probably get away with whatever they end up doing (not much, most likely), but to what end? They may succeed at resisting the expansion of stupid campaign finance speech restrictions, and if that's their most important consideration then they'll end up winners in their own eyes. My decision was made with a different calculus, however, because my highest ambition is to affect the world for Christ. That may ocassionally require opposing the forces that dominate the order of our world -- through legal or extra-legal means -- but the Bible is pretty clear in admonishing us that the governments of the world are established by God and should be obeyed.

Romans 13:1-7

1Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. 4For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. 6This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time to governing. 7Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

And Paul, there, was writing about the Roman Empire, which was far more oppressive than McCain-Feingold.

Now, I love free speech, and I think campaign finance reform is a stupid joke. Will I vote for candidates who oppose speech restrictions? Yes. Will I write letters to my representatives and urge them to protect my right to free speech? Yes, I already do that. Could speech restrictions eventually impede the cause of Christ? Yes, of course. I never said I was inconvincible. Perhaps Patterico is right and this battle is the one to fight, but if so it's not clear to me. Until it is, I'm going to err on the side of obedience, not because I adore the American government, but because of my love for God.

(HT: Doc Rampage for the pointer to Patterico calling me a sheep.)

Eugene Volokh has been persuaded by Mark Kleiman that execution by torture cannot be reasonably provided by our legal system, but I never thought he was actually arguing that it could. Here's the bit of Kleiman's argument that Volokh found most convincing:

One reason is the tendency of power to corrupt, and for the conduct of the political game to become less rule-bound as the stakes increase. If the state has the power to torture, than the political process decides who is, and who is not, torturable. Those are high enough stakes to justify a considerable amount of cheating. (Would I help steal votes to prevent someone I cared about from being tortured? Of course I would. To keep him from being sent to prison, even unjustly? Probably not.)

A second reason is that putting torture on the agenda changes the job descriptions of public officials in a way that is likely to change the composition of the class of public officials. Presumably, if an execution requires a death warrant signed by the governor, a torture-execution will require no less. So anyone unwilling to sign such documents will be disqualified from seeking the governorship. You can think that there are arguments for cruel punishments and still be reluctant to be ruled by those most willing to order the infliction of such punishments.

That's a particular concern with respect to the office of juror. Under current American law, jurors who have scruples about capital punishment are excluded from juries in capital cases. Unsurprisingly, those are also the jurors most likely to vote to acquit. So someone accused of murder is more likely to be convicted if the case is a capital one. If the sentence were death by torment rather than simple execution, the exclusion of the scrupulous would leave a jury even more grossly stacked against the accused.

Those are certainly good arguments, but I didn't think Professor Volokh was claiming that his execution-by-torture preference could ever actually be implemented in law. Indeed, he ackowledged that his views are "pointless", "since they can't be implemented in my country without a constitutional amendment that isn't going to happen." And Kleiman's reasons are exactly why such an amendment would be impossible to pass. However, none of that speaks against the general principle of the justness of execution by torture in some set of very limited circumstances, and I'm not exactly sure what Professor Volokh has been persuaded of.

A lot could be done to ease traffic on some of the busiest streets and freeways in Los Angeles if someone would build a bridge connecting Vista Del Mar / Pershing Drive and Pacific Avenue. Such a bridge would neatly close up Route 1 -- the Pacific Coast Highway -- and reduce pressure on Lincoln Boulevard (where the 1 detours around the Marina), Sepulveda Boulevard, and the 405, presently the only three North-South corridors past LAX.

"Room temperature fire? Egads man, what's the point?!?!" -- The Tick

Ok, seriously, non-sexy cheerleaders would serve no purpose whatsoever. That doesn't mean I'd want my sister/girlfriend/whatever being a sexy cheerleader... but y'know... other people's girls are different....

This may be news to you, it was to me. My brother just sent me a link about craigslist winning an auction to transmit data into deep space.

Beam your craigslist ad into space

WHAT: craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster won an eBay auction for the first private communication transmission light years into deep space, with the idea of offering this opportunity to craigslist users.

HOW: The friendly folks at Deep Space Communications Network (DSCN) will beam the postings trillions of miles into space using redundant klystron transmitters and a satellite dish.

HOW MUCH: The winning bid was $1225, but craigslist is negotiating with DSCN for extra capacity to accomodate the anticipated volume of craigslist postings to be transmitted - 10,000 ads were designated by users for transmission during the first 24 hours!

WHEN: The transmission is currently scheduled for May 15th, 2005, directly following the launch of the space shuttle Discovery.

WHERE: Cape Canaveral, FL

WHY: It seemed fitting for craigslist users to be the first to beam internet postings and classified ads into deep space.

PRESS::::::::: craigslist press release ::::::::: google news search ::::::::PR contact - Susan Mactavish Best

They say there's more info here.

Whoa, I'm impressed. Quick-thinking Senator Mike Enzi has subpoenaed Terri Schiavo according to a Drudge exclusive.

**Exclusive Fri Mar 18 2005 00:50:07 ET** The Chairman of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pension (HELP) Committee, Mike Enzi (R-Wyoming) has requested Terri Schiavo to testify before his congressional committee, the DRUDGE REPORT has learned. In so doing it triggers legal or statutory protections for the witness, among those protections is that nothing can be done to cause harm or death to this individual.

Members of Congress went to the U.S. Attorney in DC to ask for a temporary restraining order to be issued by a judge, which protects Terri Schiavo from having her life support, including her feeding and hydration tubes, removed... Developing...

Gosh that's clever. Here's a FoxNews story about the subpoenas that doesn't mention Enzi.

I've written about the horrible inefficiencies of light rail lines in the past, and now P.J. O'Rourke is pondering the expense of mass transit in general.

There are just two problems with mass transit. Nobody uses it, and it costs like hell. Only 4% of Americans take public transportation to work. Even in cities they don't do it. Less than 25% of commuters in the New York metropolitan area use public transportation. Elsewhere it's far less--9.5% in San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose, 1.8% in Dallas-Fort Worth. As for total travel in urban parts of America--all the comings and goings for work, school, shopping, etc.--1.7 % of those trips are made on mass transit.

Then there is the cost, which is--obviously--$52 billion. Less obviously, there's all the money spent locally keeping local mass transit systems operating. The Heritage Foundation says, "There isn't a single light rail transit system in America in which fares paid by the passengers cover the cost of their own rides." Heritage cites the Minneapolis "Hiawatha" light rail line, soon to be completed with $107 million from the transportation bill. Heritage estimates that the total expense for each ride on the Hiawatha will be $19. Commuting to work will cost $8,550 a year. If the commuter is earning minimum wage, this leaves about $1,000 a year for food, shelter and clothing. Or, if the city picks up the tab, it could have leased a BMW X-5 SUV for the commuter at about the same price.

My favorite suggestion of his is, "a lot of commuters don't want to go to work anyway. Slot machines could be put on all forms of mass transit." I like it!

Anyway, mass transit is a wasteful joke. As Clayton Cramer recognizes, mass transit isn't designed to move people around cheaply, "the primary purpose of public transit is putting union workers on the public payroll". As I wrote about light rail in Los Angeles:

The Los Angeles light rail system is costing taxpayers around $500 million annually by now (that was written in 1999); for the price of light rail for one year we could add new lanes to freeways that people actually use. I know, it's a revolutionary thought.

Eugene Volokh says that it's just and right for Iran to brutally torture a serial killer to death. Of the killer,

Mohammad Bijeh, 24, dubbed "the Tehran desert vampire" by Iran's press, was flogged 100 times before being hanged.

A brother of one of his young victims stabbed him as he was being punished. The mother of another victim was asked to put the noose around his neck.

The execution took place in Pakdasht south of Tehran, near where Bijeh's year-long killing spree took place.

The killer was hoisted about 10 metres into the air by a crane and slowly throttled to death in front of the baying crowd.

Hanging by a crane - a common form of execution in Iran - does not involve a swift death as the condemned prisoner's neck is not broken. ...

The crimes of Mohammed Bijeh and his accomplice Ali Baghi had drawn massive attention in the Iranian media.

They reportedly tricked children to go with them into the desert south of Tehran by saying they were going to hunt animals. They then poisoned or knocked their victims out, sexually abused them and buried them in shallow graves.

Professor Volokh writes:

I particularly like the involvement of the victims' relatives in the killing of the monster; I think that if he'd killed one of my relatives, I would have wanted to play a role in killing him. Also, though for many instances I would prefer less painful forms of execution, I am especially pleased that the killing — and, yes, I am happy to call it a killing, a perfectly proper term for a perfectly proper act — was a slow throttling, and was preceded by a flogging. The one thing that troubles me (besides the fact that the murderer could only be killed once) is that the accomplice was sentenced to only 15 years in prison, but perhaps there's a good explanation.

I am being perfectly serious, by the way. I like civilization, but some forms of savagery deserve to be met not just with cold, bloodless justice but with the deliberate infliction of pain, with cruel vengeance rather than with supposed humaneness or squeamishness. I think it slights the burning injustice of the murders, and the pain of the families, to react in any other way.

Clayton Cramer disagrees as such:

What I find especially disturbing is the notion, expressed by Professor Volokh, that this torturous revenge constitutes justice. Does it bring back the dead children? Does it go back in time and prevent their suffering? Does it make the living less traumatized by what happened to their children? No.

There's a famous quote by Gandhi, "An eye for an eye will blind the world." Perhaps executing monsters like this makes sense, especially if you live in a society where it is impossible to keep them locked up for life, or where powerful forces (like the ACLU) argue that murderers should not be executed, but people who have committed no crime should be starved to death [Terry Schiavo]. Adding torture to the execution doesn't do anything but lower our society to the level of the savages.

I've never really liked that quote by Gandhi, because I don't think it's true. The Biblical standard for punishment is laid down not for personal revenge, but for justice imposed by the public.

Leviticus 24:17-22

17 " 'If anyone takes the life of a human being, he must be put to death. 18 Anyone who takes the life of someone's animal must make restitution-life for life. 19 If anyone injures his neighbor, whatever he has done must be done to him: 20 fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. As he has injured the other, so he is to be injured. 21 Whoever kills an animal must make restitution, but whoever kills a man must be put to death. 22 You are to have the same law for the alien and the native-born. I am the LORD your God.' "

Despite what Gandhi asserted, most of us don't intentionally attack or violate other people, or even cause property damage for which restitution must be made. Perhaps if these instructions for punishment were taken as license for vigilantism I could see Gandhi's point, but that's obviously not the intent.

As for Professor Volokh's original position, I think it's clear that he's right from a Biblical perspective. God commands that the punishment fit the crime, and it is by his divine authority that human agents are justified (and required) to carry out those punishments against another human being.

Patterico is asking for bloggers to make a pledge of defiance against the FEC.

Yesterday I said that, if the FEC regulates blogs, I will continue to blog the same way I always have. Some have warned me of the dangers inherent in such a position.

This led to me wonder how unusual my position really is. I suspect that my attitude is widely shared by bloggers, including those who have signed the open letter to the FEC.

I think it’s time to put the question to you directly. Who out there will make this pledge:

If the FEC makes rules that limit my First Amendment right to express my opinion on core political issues, I will not obey those rules.

I'm somewhat torn. On one hand, as a Christian I'm generally a fan of obeying the rules, even when they're rules I don't like. As long as a law doesn't prevent me from carrying out God's will -- through evangelism, discipleship, ministry, fellowship, and worship -- then it's hard to spiritually justify disobedience.

On the other hand, freedom is great, and a powerful help in doing God's will. Many Christians over the centuries have given their lives for liberty, their own and others'. Many noble wars have been fought to change evil rulers, and God himself curses those who oppress the weak through government. Regarding the evil in Israel (the northern Kingdon) under King Jeroboam II, God said through the prophet Amos:

Amos 5:12-15

12 For I know how many are your offenses
and how great your sins.
You oppress the righteous and take bribes
and you deprive the poor of justice in the courts.
13 Therefore the prudent man keeps quiet in such times,
for the times are evil.
14 Seek good, not evil,
that you may live.
Then the LORD God Almighty will be with you,
just as you say he is.
15 Hate evil, love good;
maintain justice in the courts.
Perhaps the LORD God Almighty will have mercy
on the remnant of Joseph.

Of course, verse 13 is instructive: the prudent man keeps quiet. The Hebrew word here translated prudent is sakal.

1) to be prudent, be circumspect, wisely understand, prosper a) (Qal) to be prudent, be circumspect b) (Hiphil) 1) to look at or upon, have insight 2) to give attention to, consider, ponder, be prudent 3) to have insight, have comprehension a) insight, comprehension (subst) 4) to cause to consider, give insight, teach a) the teachers, the wise 5) to act circumspectly, act prudently, act wisely 6) to prosper, have success 7) to cause to prosper 2) (Piel) to lay crosswise, cross (hands)

Being prudent is generally wise, and God extols the virtues of wisdom, but here he does not command it. Verse 14 indicates that we are charged with pursuing what is good and hating what is evil, regardless of our desire to avoid attracting the attention of evil-doers; it's obvious that fighting evil is an obligation of all Christians, but doing so in a prudent way seems laudible.

On the third hand, it's not obvious, that potential speech restrictions by the FEC actually qualify as "evil". Sure, speech restrictions lay along the path to evil and oppression, but as Eugene Volokh has often argued, the slippery-slope argument is over-used without justification. Early Christians were thrown to lions, and the apostles never told anyone to fight against Roman oppression. When Christians were oppressed, it was for spreading the Word of God, not over political issues.

I'm entirely in favor of resisting speech restrictions through legal means, but I'm not confident that disobeying justly enacted laws is within my God-given authority, except insofar as such laws prevent me from carrying out God's will or are directly evil. What are your thoughts?

Roscoe has a good perspective on evil and the law.

So, here is where I come down. In the unlikely event that the FEC promulgates regulations that impact little-ole-me, I intend to try to comply with them if I can without compromising what I am trying to do with this blog. I am sort of with Sir Thomas More (well, the character playing More) in "A Man for All Seasons" that one should obey even those laws with which you disagree, if one can:
William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!

Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

William Roper: Yes, I'd cut down every law in England to do that!

Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's! And if you cut them down, and you're just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!

While we're on the topic of genetics, here's a new study that proposes to link genes and religion.

Until about 25 years ago, scientists assumed that religious behaviour was simply the product of a person's socialisation - or "nurture". But more recent studies, including those on adult twins who were raised apart, suggest genes contribute about 40% of the variability in a person's religiousness.

That actually makes sense. Religion correlates with many beneficial social traits, and although it's unlikely that religion itself is genetic, it's intuitive that many of the traits associated with "religion" have genetic components.

About a dozen studies have shown that religious people tend to share other personality traits, although it is not clear whether these arise from genetic or environmental factors. These include the ability to get along well with others and being conscientious, working hard, being punctual, and controlling one's impulses.

It's likely that these traits predispose a person towards accepting and thriving in a "religious" environment, and that religion is an effect rather than a cause. An interesting situation, considering that genetic predisposition is no excuse for sin -- or for disbelief.

Clayton Cramer discusses genetics in the context of predestination.

I've been researching home security products for a little while now, and I've found a few nifty devices that appear to rather useful. I'm making some purchases and I hope to report back in a few days. I don't want to give away all my tricks, but two of the most interesting products are both cheap and easy to install, and I think they'll be effective at deterring criminals as well.

The first is the Keep-I volumetric air pressure alarm.

Keep-I monitors air pressure. If any change occurs, such as a criminal opening a door or window, the alarm sounds. When the device is set to fine recognition mode, a simple touch on your door handle will trigger the 95 decibal alarm. Within the space protected by the Keep-I, you can move about freely, your kids can play and your pets can run around. This alarm allows you to live your life while still protecting yourself and those you love, giving this high tech system great practical advantages over infra-red and motion detecting alternatives.

Sounds pretty cool, and it's portable.

Then there are these simple magnetic door and window alarms that can be easily mounted onto any entrance.

Door Alarm provides several alternatives to keeping your household, children, displays etc. safe and sound. Uses 3 1.5V LR44 batteries (included) with replacemnt easily available. Use as an alarm system to sound a 90dB siren when anyone opens a door or window you want protected.

I particularly like the note near the end:

Use it to keep kids out of cupboards, drawers or rooms. Get notified if grandpa leaves his room unattended.

90dB isn't incredibly loud, but it'll sure wake you up if you're asleep across the house and it'll probably wake up your neighbors too. And they're cheap enough to cover every door and window in your house for under $50.

One of my old RPG friends pointed me to this awesome ceiling-mounted digital projector rig used for displaying maps directly onto a tabletop. I don't play many games anymore... but I still want to build one of these.

In an article about Social Security, John Fund quotes economist Paul Samuelson saying in 1967, "a growing nation is the greatest Ponzi game ever contrived. And that is a fact, not a paradox." He's right, and he said it in a more elegant way than I managed to do when I wrote about deficit spending or functional density. The reason modest deficit spending for a nation is perfectly sustainable for eternity is that a growing population will always be able to pay the debts of their ancestors more easily than the ancestors themselves -- simply because there's more of them. The system only starts to collapse, like Social Security, when the population growth can't keep up with the expenses. As I've explained before, the factor of increasing population explains why deficit spending works for nations but not for individuals... unless individuals bring in more money each year than the year before, and their deficit rate is less than their growth rate. That's the expectation college students have when they borrow money for tuition, and it's usually smart for them to finance the future.

AFP is reporting that upwards of 800,000 Lebanese have gathered to protest against Syrian occupation. That's mind-boggling considering that Lebanon has a population of under 4 million people. Here's a picture of the demonstration:

The shadow of Mohamad al-Amin mosque where late Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri is buried is cast on hundreds of thousands of Lebanese demonstrators who packed Martyrs Square in downtown Beirut. More than 800,000 people poured into the heart of the city for an opposition demonstration demanding an end to nearly three decades of Syrian military domination and to mark the fourth week since Hariri was killed.(AFP/Haitham Mussawi)

Yeah, I think President George W. Bush deserves some credit for this, don't you? Not to mention the brave people of Iraq and Ukraine.

Mark Smith, of La Crosse, Wisconsin, has proposed that hunting stray cats should be legalized.

Smith, 48, has proposed that any cat not under its owner's direct control, or not wearing a collar, should be considered fair game for any hunter with a small-game license. He wants to see the state reclassify free-roaming cats as an unprotected species, arguing that the ones out in the wild are no different than other invasive species.

Smith said his proposal was prompted by cats prowling around the bird feeder at his home.

Maybe he wouldn't have a cat problem if there weren't so many disgusting birds all over the place. Pigeons are rats with wings, and crows are even worse. Beyond merely hunting them, I think there should be a bounty for crows and pigeons, and the people who purposefully feed them should be forced to pay it.

Despite speculation, particularly among Bear-Flaggers, Condoleezza Rice says she has no desire to run for President.

"I don't have any desire to run for president; I don't intend to, I won't do it," she told ABC's "This Week." "I don't know how many ways to say 'No.'" Dr. Rice told CBS's "Face the Nation," "I've never wanted to run for anything." She says she enjoys being secretary of state, adding: "One of these days very soon, I am going to return and be an academic again and get back to the California life and to the world of ideas."

The CNSNews brief is undated, unfortunately.

Last night I went to see Robots, Fox's most recent animated adventure, and it was pretty dull. The animation and voice acting were great, but the plot was thin and the script was barely amusing; the only parts I actually laughed at were incidental background widgets thrown in by the artists (such as male and female robot bathrooms labeled with images of plugs and sockets). Aside from all that, the movie was incredibly frustrating because the writers chickened out on a golden opportunity to educate young viewers on the merits of capitalism.

To explain briefly, Robots takes place in a metal world inhabited entirely by robots. Apparently, the robots are all built by a company owned by a big round robot named Big Weld. Big Weld's company is taken over (somehow) by an executive named Ratchet, and Big Weld loses hope and retires into obscurity to play with dominoes. Ratchet is more obsessed with making money than with helping other robots, so he decides that the company is going to stop making spare parts and only sell "upgrades" from now on -- upgrades that are too expensive for the poorer robots to afford, which results in them being melted down once they can't be repaired.

These events set the stage for Rodney, the hero, to solve the problem. He's an inventor himself and gains some quick popularity by fixing some poor robots who can't get spare parts. Rather than charging money for this service -- as is sarcastically suggested by another robot -- he does it for free and then laments that the robots can't be fully repaired without parts. A clever writer would have realized that by charging money, Rodney and his friends could have set up their own company in competition with Ratchet and easily cornered a significant market niche that the villain intentionally neglected.

Children could have learned that only a foolish capitalist would stop making spare parts and thus eliminate a huge revenue stream and a whole host of customers. That's no way to make a profit! The motto of Big Weld was "see a need, fill a need", and the mantra was repeated many times throughout the movie. Indeed, that motto is fundamental to capitalism, and the film would have provided a great foundation for introducing the concepts to children. Obviously Big Weld understood how to make money, or he never would have accumulated the capital necessary to dominate the robot manufacturing market, so why did he allow Rodney and the audience to wallow in naivety?

In the end, Rodney rouses Big Weld from his self-imposed exile and helps him reclaim the company, thus re-establishing the monopoly structure that led to the problems in the first place. Why not instead teach kids to start their own company rather than depend on the moods of others? Why not teach kids the value of competition? Why not teach kids that the best way to make money is to provide something people want?

The Spork has a good post about being unable to vote for Condi because she's pro-choice.

As many of you know, there is running speculation that it may end up being Condi vs. Hillary. In that circumstance, who are we, Pro-Lifers, supposed to vote for? Condi is a self-coined "mild" pro-choice supporter, and well, we all know what Hillary is. Does the Categorical Imperative apply to this case? Are we suppose to vote for the "lesser of two evils" or vote for someone who is staunchly pro-life? Some argue that voting for Condi would help keep Clinton out of DC, which would absolve any concerned Pro-Lifers since they chose the "mild" abortionist versus the "staunch" abortionist. This issue is a weight on my shoulders, though.

On the face, it may seem obvious that voting for potentially fewer abortions is better than failing to vote and increasing the possibility of more abortions. However, no decision stands in isolation. If a pro-choice Republican wins there may be fewer abortions than if a pro-choice Democrat wins for the near future, but such a victory would open the flood-gate for pro-choice Republicans. Perhaps it would be better to endure a pro-choice Democrat for a short time just to ensure that the Republicans know that taking a pro-choice stance is a recipe for failure, thereby potentially reducing the number of abortions in the long-term.

Politics is like war, and sometimes it's inevitable that people will die. The decisions then are who?, and how many?. Voting for a pro-choice Republican over a pro-choice Democrat may spare a few lives now but cost many more lives in the future if the pro-life stance is weakened. In contrast, withholding a vote from a pro-choice Republican may result in more abortions now, but end up preventing many more by strengthening the pro-life position.

Tough call.

I've been thinking a lot about self-defense recently and looking stuff up on the net, and by far the most comprehensive (and free) site that I've found so far is No Nonsense Self-Defense. It has sections for home defense, avoiding burglary, robbery, and murder, recognizing dangerous people, being aware of your surroundings, and so forth. It's really an excellent resource, and I recommend you check it out; it's hard to stop reading.

It's almost Easter, the time of year we remember all the poor bunnies and chickies who gave their lives for some of the best candy ever! Why does egg-shaped candy taste so good? No one knows.

The king of all egg-shaped candy is of course the Cadbury Creme Egg, shown here in its pope-mobile-style conveyance.

CCE's are top-of-the-line Easter candy, and everyone loves their cremey (?) goo and thick chocolate shell. Warning: eating more than a dozen per day may lead to illness or weight gain, so if you eat that many be sure to cut out all other food from your diet.

The prince of egg candy is the Reese's Peanut Butter Egg.

They're better than peanut butter cups because the egg geometry allows for a higher peanut butter to chocolate ratio than can possibly be achieved with the traditional cup shape.

Next up is the Zachary "real chocolate marshmallow eggs" crate. They're so top secret that they don't have a website, and they hide their delicious product inside what appear to be real egg cartons.

The thin chocolate shell surrounds a delectable marshmallow interior, and I particularly enjoy refrigerating them before consumption.

Finally, the most highly-trained and deadly candy of the Easter season... that's right, Peeps. (They aren't strictly shaped like eggs, but whatever.)

One look into their dead, dead eyes is enough to scare most men witless, which is why I always bite their heads off first. After that, they're mostly harmless... right? Wrong! Extensive Peep research has shown that even headless Peeps are nearly indestructible and more than a match for any mere mammal. It is highly advised that Peeps be completely consumed and thoroughly chewed and swallowed rather than left unattended for any great length of time.

It's been an interesting couple of months, but I've finally accepted a job offer from a local company as a software engineer. I struggled with decisions over possibly changing careers or moving in a different direction, but it looks like this is the path that makes the most sense at this time. Finding a job can be pretty stressful -- not to mention negotiating a salary -- and I'm happy to be done with it. I'm also relieved that the job I accepted lessens some pressure I was feeling over the timing of my PhD completion, and the job is a great opportunity to advance in the engineering profession. I'm excited to get started!

Thanks to everyone for the leads, advice, and prayers.

Dr. Desmond Morris in his book Intimate Behavior describes a bonding process whereby humans interview each other for intimate relationships. I found this on a page about self-defense, and how women can lessen the chance of being raped.

                 Stage    Corresponding action       Key point
1) Eye to body First look Someone catches your eye
2) Eye to eye Preening gestures Yes/no signal (given by the female)
3) Voice to voice Talking Verbal screening
4) Hand to hand (or shoulder) Initial physical contact Usually initiated by female
   Until now these behaviors occur in public or social settings
5) Arm to shoulder Bodies closer together Possible isolation
6) Arm to waist More intimate contact Likely while withdrawing from public
7) Mouth to mouth Kissing Less likely to be in public
8) Hand to head/face Probable isolation
9) Hand to body Sexual contact Isolation
10) Mouth to breast Foreplay Isolation
11) Hand to genitals Isolation
12) Intercourse Isolation
Repeat steps three through 12. Up to stage 8 often publicly displayed

These interactions are integral parts of "love at first sight" and other inexplicable reactions we have to people that we usually attribute to "chemistry" or "biology". Each person has a unique set of expectations for these negotiations, and when two people fulfill each others' requirements they see each other as "compatible". When one person fails the tests of the other person -- due to bad timing, misinterpretation, or cluelessness -- then the situation gets awkward, and neither person may be able to pin down exactly why.

I've written about alternative punishments in the past, and I like Rajahmundry's idea of using drummers to force tax evaders to cough up.

Tax evaders in a southern Indian city are having cash beaten out of them - by troupes of drummers.

Authorities in the city of Rajahmundry in Andhra Pradesh state are sending drummers around to create a noise outside homes until evaders cough up.

Officials say they recouped 200,000 rupees ($4,600) on the first day.

Harried residents emerged from their homes to be told by accompanying tax collectors to pay up or continue facing the music.

I like the idea of public shaming, plus the nuisance of the noise would encourage pressure from the neighbors of the evaders.

Remember when Yahoo looked like this? As Director Mitch points out, we've come a long way. The thing is, in 1995 it would have been possible to visualize websites from 10 years in the future -- more graphics, sounds, video, &c. -- but I'm not at all confident that 2015 will simply be more of the same.

Sherry F. Colb has a great break-down of the sperm theft trial I mentioned earlier in which Sharon Irons received sperm from Richard O. Phillips via oral sex which she then used to inseminate herself and conceive a child. Phillips sued for emotional distress and to be free of paternity obligations, but he was nonetheless ordered to pay $800 a month in child support. Ms. Colb writes that there must be some point at which "a man's lack of actual responsibility for the creation of a child must absolve him of financial responsibility as well."

Men, in other words, can seemingly be conscripted into fatherhood against their will and then forced to take care of the child whom they never agreed to have.

Some say, in response, that the man, in effect, agreed to have the child when he had sex with a woman and thus risked such an outcome. On this view, a man who engages in sexual intercourse assumes the risk of becoming a father. If he wants to avoid paternity, he must abstain from sex or undergo sterilization. Because pregnancy as well as its termination have such physically intimate consequences for a woman, the man -- physically separate from these experiences -- loses control over paternity once he consents to having intercourse.

This argument, of course, is in some tension with the notion that a woman does not consent to maternity when she engages in intercourse. Such tension is surely not lost on disgruntled fathers.

But even if one accepts that intercourse equals consent to paternity, what happens when a man does not consent to intercourse? Does he still bear the risk of becoming a father? The case of Phillips and Irons - as described in Phillips's complaint - tests our intuitions about that very question.

The bolding is mine; if society acknowledged that a woman does consent to maternity when she has sex (as I believe to be the case) then the issue of abortion would necessarily be considered in a different light.

In a bizarre man-bites-dog twist to a predictable headline, 50 Iranians have peacefully hijacked a plane to protest against the EU's involvement with the Mullahs in Iran.

A group of unarmed Iranians staged a protest aboard a Lufthansa jet at the Brussels airport Thursday, refusing to leave the plane and calling for the return of the monarchy in Iran, officials said.

The plane landed at Brussels International airport at 3 p.m. (9 a.m. EST) on a flight from Frankfurt, and the protesters stayed behind after most of the 59 passengers got off.

"This is not a hijacking," said police spokeswoman Astrid Kaisen. ...

Christina Zia, who said her father called her on his cell phone from the plane, said they were supporters of the late shah and wanted to draw attention to Iran's problems.

"There are no weapons. This is nothing dangerous. They only want the world to see the problems, to see that Iran is not what the world sees today," said Zia, who spoke to The Associated Press by telephone from Germany.

The group had a letter for NATO and refused to leave the plane until they are allowed to hand it over to the alliance, Zia said, adding that she did not know its contents.

Jonah Goldberg has posted an email from a source that often updates him about Iranian issues.

Today 50 Iranians, inspired by the comments of Iranian scholar and righteous activist, Frood Fouladvand (who runs a TV station out of his home in London) gathered in London, boarding a plane to Brussels. In Brussels they refused to get off the plane that is still sitting on the tarmak of the Brussels airport and they are conducting a very quiet and peaceful protest against the heads of the E.U. who refuse to stop doing business with the bloodthirsty regime of the Islamic Republic and the Mullahs in Iran. The protestors have been verbally abused by the Belgian authorities, being accused of hijacking and though the protestors are doing nothing but singing Iranian national anthems of a free Iran and asking to speak to the UK, French and German representatives to the E.U. they are being nonetheless abused by Belgian authorities who are refusing to allow the media on plane.

How fascinating. I'm generally not in favor of this sort of civil disobedience, but I must admit that the irony of the situation is rather appealing.

Scott A. Hodge and Curtis S. Dubay at the non-partisan Tax Foundation explain that the same leftist groups who brutally denounce President Bush's Social Security modernization plan trust their futures to pension systems that are based on the same principles.

The debate over allowing younger workers to invest a portion of their Social Security payroll taxes in personal retirement accounts has become increasingly politicized, with some groups charging that the plan will amount to “gambling” in the stock market and giving billions in Social Security dollars to Wall Street pension fund managers. ...

Despite these harsh attacks, in reality pension fund investing is anything but a political exercise. Fund managers have a fiduciary responsibility to maximize the rate of return on the fund’s investments by carefully balancing short-term and long-term risk in order to assure enough assets to pay future retirement benefits.

Some of the largest pension funds in America today are public employee and union pension funds. Most of these funds are managed on a contract basis by private investment houses such as Alliance Capital, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and Solomon Smith Barney. Very few are managed in-house.

According to the Federal Reserve Board, public employee pension plans alone had nearly $2 trillion in assets as of September 2004. Overall, 54.8 percent of these assets were invested in corporate equities, 36.1 percent were invested in fixed income instruments (such as corporate and foreign bonds), with the remaining funds in cash or other investments.

I've already written about the "transition cost" myth which explains why implementing a modern Social Security system is affordable, and these existing pension plans demonstrate that a modern Social Security system will be effective.

Hat tip to Larry Kudlow, who also links to a Peter Ferrara piece warning against a potential Bush sell-out. Mr. Kudlow also writes that unions are pressuring pension managers to oppose Social Security modernization. Some of my commenters who worry so much about hypocrisy should take a look.

I'm not a doctor and you certainly shouldn't use expired drugs (or any drugs) based on my recommendation, but you may be interested to learn that most drug expiration dates are arbitrary and most drugs don't lose potency until long after the dates written on the bottles.

Do drugs really stop working after the date stamped on the bottle? Fifteen years ago, the U.S. military decided to find out. Sitting on a $1 billion stockpile of drugs and facing the daunting process of destroying and replacing its supply every two to three years, the military began a testing program to see if it could extend the life of its inventory.

The testing, conducted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, ultimately covered more than 100 drugs, prescription and over-the-counter. The results, never before reported, show that about 90% of them were safe and effective far past their original expiration date, at least one for 15 years past it.

In light of these results, a former director of the testing program, Francis Flaherty, says he has concluded that expiration dates put on by manufacturers typically have no bearing on whether a drug is usable for longer. Mr. Flaherty notes that a drug maker is required to prove only that a drug is still good on whatever expiration date the company chooses to set. The expiration date doesn't mean, or even suggest, that the drug will stop being effective after that, nor that it will become harmful.

Some people assert that drug companies want us to throw away potent drugs so they can sell us replacements, but misleading labeling does more damage that simply costing consumers money.

Meanwhile, poor countries - under urging from the World Health Organization - often reject drug-company donations of much-needed medicines if they are within a year of their expiration dates.

It isn't known how much of the $120 billion-plus spent annually in the U.S. on prescription and over-the-counter medicines goes to replace expired ones. But in a poll done for The Wall Street Journal by NPD Group Inc. of Port Washington, N.Y., 70% of 1,000 respondents said they probably wouldn't take a prescription drug after its expiration date; 72% said the same of an over-the-counter remedy.

"People think that, upon expiration, drugs suddenly turn toxic or lose all their potency," says Philip Alper, professor of medicine at University of California at San Francisco. In his own practice, Dr. Alper says, "I frequently hear - from patients who can't afford medicine - that they have thrown away expired drugs." He says companies should be required to test drugs for longer periods and set later expiration dates when results warrant.

One final thing to note is that some drugs definitely do decay quickly and can even become dangerous. These include tetracycline drugs and drugs in liquid form, as well as others. Do some research on your own, or talk to a doctor.

Being on the "terrorist watch list" -- officially the Violent Gang and Terrorist Organization File -- already makes it rather difficult to travel by plane, but now some of our leaders are saying that people on the list shouldn't be able to buy a gun.

( - Being on a terrorism watch list does not mean you really are a terrorist -- and therefore, your right to buy or own a gun should not be infringed, Second Amendment supporters say.

But FBI Director Robert Mueller, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and gun control groups disagree.

In testimony before Congress on Tuesday, Mueller said lawmakers "ought to look at what can be done" to prevent people on the government's terrorism watch list from buying guns.

By my understanding, the FBI has almost complete autonomy over who gets added to the list, which means that such a scheme would effectively allow the FBI to arbitrarily determine who can carry a gun.

His comments followed the release of a government report showing that more than 40 people included on a terrorism watch list were allowed to buy guns last year.

According to the audit by the Government Accountability Office, 35 people on the government's terrorist watch list legally bought guns in the United States between Feb. 3 and June 20, 2004. Twelve more people on the list were allowed to buy guns between July 1 and Oct. 31 of last year.

But none of those people had been charged with, or convicted of, any crime, said the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms.

By law, convicted felons, illegal aliens and people declared mentally ill are not allowed to buy guns. Being included on a terrorism watch list may invite more scrutiny, but it does not automatically disqualify someone from legally buying a gun.

Our natural and Constitutional rights cannot be taken away arbitrarily by some federal agency. Does that make it easier for terrorists to get weapons? Yes. Freedom isn't free.

Rape is such a heinous crime that women who falsely report being raped should face serious consequences.

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- A woman who told police she was raped and beaten in a restroom at Assembly Hall but later said she made up the story has been charged with false informing, authorities said.

IU student Mary E. Bray, 19, reported the assault to staff members at Bloomington Hospital, where she was taken after IU police cited her for illegal possession of alcohol during an IU-Purdue basketball game on Feb. 22.

Authorities on Tuesday included a charge of misdemeanor false informing, court documents said. A police investigation into the reported rape revealed a "time line which does not offer the opportunity for this crime to have occurred," court documents said.

IU police had said they believe the woman made up the story because she was drunk.

Miss Bray didn't falsely accuse a specific person, so I suppose that charging her with a misdemeanor is sufficient. If she had pointed a finger at someone and purposefully lied then I would support a punishment for her equivalent to that faced by rapists.

For instance, if Michael Jackson's accusers are found to be lying, then they should be punished severely via criminal prosecution. Now, Mr. Jackson may be acquitted because the charges cannot be proven to be true, but that alone wouldn't be sufficient to prove that his accusers were maliciously lying. If, however, the prosecutor does believe the accusers made false accusations (rather than simply unprovable ones), he should bring charges against them and try to prove it in court.

Intergalactic Photo

Here's an interesting bit of discussion over whether or not black boys should be segregated in the UK. It's strange that Europe is seen as liberal and progressive, yet nothing like this would be conceivable in America.

The chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, Trevor Phillips, has said that black boys should be taught separately in certain subjects to improve their grades. Do you back Mr Phillips' views on segregation in schools - or do you feel that such measures would be counterproductive by branding all black children as needing special help?

Anyway, it sure doesn't sound like a good idea to me... we have de facto racial segregation in schools due to neighborhood selection, and the poor, majority black schools don't tend to do too well. Ideally -- regardless of race -- the worst performing students would be distributed evenly throughout the school system so that they could be lifted up by their peers. Unfortunately, there are so many terrible students in our education system that the good students and parents tend to segregate themselves into private schools.

The Iraqi government has released new pictures of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi that show him looking "slightly older and chubbier than previous mugshots". I wonder what the differences are in personality types between someone like Zarqawi and someone like Dennis Rader?

Clayton Cramer has a cool post on building precision tools in a broken civilization using existing machined parts of known measurements, such as screws. What other devices will make useful salvage in a post-apocalytic world?

Power-generation would seem to be one of the most difficult problems, but hydroelectric dams don't require the same extensive infrastructure that coal and oil plants do, so I bet they could be kept running given the right personnel. Same goes for solar collectors and wind generators.

What about clean water? It would be tough for Los Angeles to survive without imported water.

Cell phones might be easier to get up and running than landlines, depending on the physical damage in the immediate area.

Refining oil for gasoline would be nearly impossible, especially since we ship in so much oil from around the world. The oil-producing nations would probably be able to maintain their gasoline civilization, but I doubt America could. We have oil, we just haven't drilled it yet and our production capacity is low because of environmental concerns.

With more limited electricity, clean water and gasoline, agricutlure would revert back to much more primitive -- and labor intensive -- techniques. Cities would disperse, and a huge number of people would have to take up farming. Tearing down buildings and cultivating land would be too much trouble, so most of Los Angeles would probably be abandoned, despite its ranching history.

I've written before that Hillary is unelectable due to her incredibly high negatives among conservatives, but I also was one of the first to say that the adoration she enjoys from the far left will enable her to take moderate positions that no other Democrat could get away with. If Hillary wants to win in 2008 she doesn't need to win over a huge number of Republicans, she just needs to lower her negatives so that the right doesn't turn out in droves just to vote against her.

Another Republican, Representative Peter T. King of Nassau County, struck a similar note in recent interview. He described Mrs. Clinton as a celebrity senator who is willing to take a subordinate role on an issue she cares about, rather than allowing her involvement to become a distraction.

For instance, Mr. King recalled an occasion when Mrs. Clinton suggested that he find another senator to be a co-sponsor of legislation that would benefit New York, because she figured that her presence on the bill would fire up the opposition. "There are very few politicians in public life who have the composure to step back, knowing that they will win in the end," he said.

Mr. King also said that Mrs. Clinton had been anything but the liberal extremist that her conservative critics accused her of being. "I'm not going to vote for her and probably disagree with her on 70 percent of the issues," he said. "But I think that too many Republicans who criticize Hillary Clinton sound like Michael Moore criticizing George Bush."

The New York Times article couldn't have been better framed if Hillary had written it herself. Will she be able to completely reinvent her leftist-lunatic persona over the next few years without losing the love of the other leftist lunatics? If so, then it'll be the Republicans sounding like hate-machines in 2008, just like the Dems did in 2000 and 2004.

This sort of thing doesn't seem likely to help her chances.

It's absurd when adults tell kids "you can do anything you set your mind to". What a lie. Every adult knows that there are some things he cannot accomplish no matter how much he wants to. In the typical example, there's only one President of the United States at any given time, and the vast majority of people aren't even remotely qualified for the office. Any kid who believes such tripe is destined for disappointment when he meets harsh reality.

What would be more helpful would be to tell kids, "you can try anything you set your mind to". At least it's true. Kids should be taught to try things, to take risks, and to accept failure. One of the most important lessons is life is learning when to give up. Many people give up too early, and some people give up too late, but an essential part of wisdom is knowing when enough is enough. Most people will never be President, no matter how hard they try -- and it should be obvious that the most qualified people don't even run for the office. Why? Because they're smart and they know that the path is long and hard, and largely a crapshoot. Running for President isn't a good investment of time, because it's likely to be a complete waste.

Whether it comes to relationships -- you know, the ex who just won't go away -- or school, or a career, or anything, giving up at the right time is a key to a healthy and happy life. Myself, I hate giving up, and I've written on the primacy of tenacity when it comes to grad school, but some of the smartest decisions I've ever made involved knowing when to call it quits.

Lots of people, including myself, bought fixed-rate mortgages over the past few years, but in a twist that's surprising to most economists interest rates haven't risen even as the economy has heated up and the Fed has raised their funds rate significantly. Robert Samuelson thinks low rates may indicate a healthy economy, and he looks at some of the possible indicators.

Via Tom Maguire, as he wishes Paul Krugman happy anniversary for his many wrong predictions. The thing with Krugman is that I just don't believe he's stupid enough to be wrong so often... I think he's wrong on purpose, because he's more intent on politics than economics.

My pastor, Craig Henson, has started a blog for our church called Venice Touching Base. It's just getting off the ground, but I'm pretty excited about it.

One of the main arguments you'll hear against President Bush's plan to modernize Social Security is that the "transition costs" will be too high. However, most economists -- including Edward Prescott, the winner of the 2004 Nobel Prize in Economics -- recognize that the "tranistion costs" are a myth; all that will happen is that instead of borrowing from the Social Security trust fund, as it does now, the federal government will have to borrow from another source once SS is modernized.

"We hear a lot about transition costs," Arizona State University professor Edward Prescott, 2004 winner of the Bank of Sweden Nobel Prize in Economics, said. "But I'm going to use some economic jargon, not 'political accounting' jargon.

"There are no transition costs," Prescott said at the Cato Institute Feb, 9. "Re-labeling debt is not a cost." ...

Prescott and Hunter are two of a growing number of economists who argue that the so-called "transition costs" are actually an accounting fiction, a misrepresentation of the current status of Social Security by those who do not want to see the system changed.

Basically, the FICA money that isn't immediately paid out to SS recipients is immediately "borrowed" by the federal government and spent on other things. Once SS is modernized, the government won't be able to "borrow" that FICA money, so they'll have to borrow money from somewhere else. That won't be new borrowing though, it will just changing the type of borrowing, so there really is no transition cost. It's a myth.

The so-called "transition costs" are, according to Hunter, really just the money Congress has to find elsewhere to pay for current Social Security benefits, the other programs it has been funding with FICA tax revenues and the amount already borrowed from the Social Security "Trust Fund."

Under a partially privatized Social Security system, "the balance sheet looks better because they're borrowing less money," Hunter explained. "But, in the short term, because they're not borrowing the [FICA tax] money, that means they've got a cash flow problem.

"If the government turns around and borrows money to alleviate that cash flow problem, it hasn't borrowed 'new money,'" Hunter continued, "because, by putting the [FICA tax] money in personal accounts, it's borrowed a dollar less [from current taxpayers]. Now, if it turns around and borrows a dollar [from another source] to cover the cash flow problem, all it's done is to replace that dollar in debt.

"In other words," Hunter concluded, "it's substituted one form of debt for another."

If it's hard to understand, it's because the government has been screwing us with Social Security for decades and purposefully obfuscating the program.

One of the toughest things about searching for a job is evaluating an offer once you get one. Here are a few free tools for finding salaries for various professions, as an employee or consultant.

Salary Information at CareerJournal
Salary Survey results from
Engineer Salary Calculator
PayScale salary comparisons

There are more, but these should be more than enough to give you a ballpark figure.

I got a phone call from Google today asking if I'd like to join their AdSense program, which I found a bit odd... but I decided to try it out. So now there are "targeted" ads in the right sidebar, and it's actually quite entertaining to see how they change depending on what I post.

In other news, I need a new whimage to post in the upper left corner, since Valentine's Day was nearly a month ago. Anyone got any ideas for a great picture to post?

I'll be really surprised if 2008 is Rice v. Hillary. Drudge is running a top story about Geena Davis playing the president on some new ABC show, and maybe I'm totally sexist, but it just looks absurd. I'm hesitant to write about this because I don't want to get deluged with hatemale, but I just don't think having a female for president would be a good idea.

I know, I know, lots of other countries do it. Margaret Thatcher did a good job for the UK, from what I know. Eh. Maybe my discomfort is due to my own experiences working for women: not good. I've worked for women employers and supervisors and professors in the past, and most of them have been very hard to deal with and not particularly effective. Not all of them, but most.

Maybe it has to do with Rice and Hillary. Rice will probably make a great Secretary of State, but she's pro-choice and holds some other positions that I just wouldn't want in a president. Hillary, of course, is straight out. Maybe if there were a female candidate I really liked I wouldn't feel so reluctant. Maybe I'm a misogynist pig.

Mostly I'm writing this because I'd like to be convinced that my gut reaction is wrong. And anyway, it's not like I'd vote against Rice if the Democrats nominate a man instead of Hillary.

Or at least more expensive.

Los Angeles teachers threw out most of their current union leadership Tuesday, electing as president a special education teacher and a slate of newcomers who campaigned on a social justice-centered agenda.

By more than 2,000 votes, teachers selected A.J. Duffy, a 35-year district veteran and longtime union activist, over incumbent President John Perez. About 11,300 teachers, or 27%, of the union's 41,000 members cast ballots. ...

"This is a really completely new look to UTLA," said Duffy, a special education teacher at Palms Middle School. "From the top down. We're all activists…. We're all organizers. We go to work with the community."

That's where I went to school, though it was called "Palms Jr. High" back then -- and isn't PMS an absurd acronym? Anyway, the name of this teacher sounds familiar, but who knows. The key words that makes me pretty sure things are going to get worse in every possible way are in the first paragraph: "social justice". Social justice is different from real justice in that it's not justice at all, it's fundamentally Marxist, leftist forced equality. Teachers love equality, but unfortunately (and inevitably) it comes by dragging the great down to the level of the mediocre.

But teachers who supported Duffy said they blamed the current union leadership for an 18-month delay in negotiations over a new contract.

Romer recently offered teachers a 1.5% raise; Perez countered that teachers should get at least 2%. Duffy, in campaign materials, told teachers that, because of cost-of-living increases, "any pay raise less than 7% means a pay cut."

Most teachers are already vastly overpaid. Why? Because the teachers' unions negotiate contracts that prohibit merit-based pay. Good teachers can't get paid what they're worth, and the profession attracts clueless incompetents who don't want to compete in the free market and like being teachers because their own performances never get evaluated. Plus, many parents are unbelievably lazy and think that if they pretend that teachers belong on pedestals they won't have to feel guilty about ignoring their kids.

Public education is a crock. We should replace our public education system with something that looks like our American university system -- a hierarchy of public and private schools that are mostly funded by tuition and donations, along with public financial aid for those who couldn't otherwise afford to go. We need competition within the system to stir it from stagnation.

The libertarian Cato Institute has graded the governors that it thinks are likely to run for president in 2008.

Colorado Gov. Bill Owens (R) leads the pack of governors eyeing a 2008 presidential run when it comes to small government, according to a new study from the Cato Institute.

The libertarian-leaning think tank’s Fiscal Policy Report Card scored governors on an A-to-F scale based primarily on whether they cut taxes and spending or raised them over the past two years. Owens was the only potential presidential contender to receive an A. Not far behind, with a B grade, was a Democrat, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.

Last among the ’08 possible contenders was Virginia Gov. Mark Warner (D), who pushed a $1.5 billion tax increase through the commonwealth’s GOP-controlled Legislature last year. Warner received a D. None of the potential White House aspirants got an F grade.

I'm pleased that my own Governor Arnold received the highest rating, but he will of course not be running for president. I'll be happy if he can just keep our military bases from closing, which neither Governor Davis nor Governor Wilson was very successful at.

The Spork posts a puzzle sent from BTK to the media.


Here's a PDF of the original "Chapter 8" puzzle. The Spork also adds some interpretation from her own expertise. For myself, I can add the following.

"USD 259" == $259 (USD is "US dollars")
"MO" ?= Missouri
"OAS" ?= Oklahoma Archeological Survey
"DOB" == Date of Birth
"PX" == Post exchange, possibly Leeker's grocery store at 61st North and Broadway, which has a post office.
"GAO" ?= Government Accounting Office
"AWOL" == Away Without Leave
"BOA" ?= Bank of America
"CIG" ?= Community involvement group
"ORCS" ?= the monsters? originally from Tolkien
"316" == Wichita area code
"8M" ?= something to do with football state champions
"VEND" ?= vending machines
"DAUB" and "HELM" ?= people by those names died in Wichita in 1978
"VICE" and "VISE" ?= both spellings, but not next to each other

I bet most of this is gibberish, with a few clues tossed in here and there. Interesting, nonetheless.

The Wichita Police Department and Chief Norman Williams are clashing with The Wichita Eagle over speculative -- and possibly inaccurate -- reporting.

The local media in Wichita, Kan., have long been connected to the BTK murders. Now that a BTK suspect has been arrested, local law-enforcement officials are instead decrying the media. And the local paper is fighting back.

In an interview with The Wichita Eagle Monday, Wichita Police Chief Norman Williams said he was misquoted by CNN -- which reported Williams saying that BTK suspect Dennis L. Rader was cooperating with law enforcement -- and lambasted reports containing, he said, speculation and misinformation. At a media briefing that morning, the chief even threatened to sue those spreading it. ...

By Monday, Chief Williams suggested the press was no longer being so helpful. An example he gave of the recent distortions was the suggestion that Rader was being held for more than 10 killings. Not true, Williams said. "At this time, Dennis Rader has been connected to only 10," he told the press. The police department also refused to comment on reports that Rader's daughter [Kerri Rader] played in his arrest.

Not only do the police need to protect their information to aid a successful prosecution, but Chief Williams also has to be mindful of the fact that this case is his big chance in the limelight, and I'm sure he doesn't want to screw it up. Obviously I assume his top priority is punishing the killer, not promoting himself, but his own reputation is on the line and it's only natural that he be concerned with how the reporting of the investigation makes him look.

Meanwhile, the Eagle reports that Rader has made his first court appearance and been officially charged with ten counts of first-degree murder -- all before 1994, which makes Rader ineligible for the death penalty. If prosecutors had a murder they could tie him to from after 1994 I think they would have done it, because there's little point in having yet another trial to put him to death if they could do it now. They must have some other murders as backup, however, because prosecutors generally don't like to put all their eggs in one basket by trying all applicable murders in the same trial. If something goes wrong with the prosecution and Rader is acquitted, they want to have more charges to file against him immediately that won't be prohibited by double jeopardy protection.

In other reporting, it looks like Rader's ignorance of computers helped lead to his capture:

The Rev. Michael Clark, pastor of Christ Lutheran Church, said Tuesday that police searched the church and found that a 3.5-inch diskette containing what is alleged to be communication from BTK had once been used in the computer in the church office. ...

As president of the church council, Rader was responsible for printing the agenda for council meetings. The printer Rader used at home was broken, so he had saved the agenda on a floppy disk and brought it to the church to print it out, Clark said.

He said Rader didn't seem to know a great deal about computers.

"He didn't know how to fire it up until I showed him how," Clark said.

Other than that one time, "he didn't have any reason to use the computer," Clark said.

Retired Wichita police Lt. Charles Liles said sources of his within the department told him that the disk had been a major break for investigators.

He said he was told that the disk had been reformatted, but "the FBI took that disk and found information leading to the church, which led to him (Rader)."

Which formerly free, non-Muslim nation will be the first to succumb to Islamisation and become a part of the Dar al-Islam? Perhaps the Netherlands?

Leave this stable and prosperous corner of Europe? Leave this land with its generous social benefits and ample salaries, a place of fine schools, museums, sports grounds and bicycle paths, all set in a lively democracy?

The answer, increasingly, is yes. This small nation is a magnet for immigrants, but statistics suggest there is a quickening flight of the white middle class. Dutch people pulling up roots said they felt a general pessimism about their small and crowded country and about the social tensions that had grown along with the waves of newcomers, most of them Muslims."The Dutch are living in a kind of pressure cooker atmosphere," Mr. Hiltemann said.

There is more than the concern about the rising complications of absorbing newcomers, now one-tenth of the population, many of them from largely Muslim countries. Many Dutch also seem bewildered that their country, run for decades on a cozy, political consensus, now seems so tense and prickly and bent on confrontation. Those leaving have been mostly lured by large English-speaking nations like Australia, New Zealand and Canada, where they say they hope to feel less constricted.

This is a cultural war, and if the West doesn't recognize that then it's only a short time before we're consumed.

According to Todd Zywicki, Arrested Development is in danger of being cancelled (yet again). I saw Jason Bateman on Conan last week or so and he was practically begging people to watch the show... it was kinda sad. It may get poor ratings, but the show is amazingly funny and I watch it every week. If you like it too and you're interested in keeping it on the air, sign the petition. Hey, what can it hurt?

Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz may be the American nominee for the presidency of the World Bank, and I think he'd be an excellent candidate. He's worked tirelessly for years in the international arena on behalf of America, and he's a key architect of our new democracy-spreading agenda. As I've written before about the follies of foreign aid, we need to use our aid money to further our own interests, not just to line the pockets of tyrannical dictators.

Leadership of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund is decided by all the shareholders in the institutions. But the US and Europe in effect divide up the top jobs, with an American heading the bank and a European running the fund. ...

European officials point to the dispute over Caio Koch-Weser a candidate for the IMF post favoured by Europe but blocked by the US as setting a precedent that could see them veto the US nominee. Developing countries have also demanded a greater say in the selection.

Of course "developing nations" want a greater say, because they're the recipients of the aid. In my opinion, they shouldn't be included in the decision at all. The leaders of most "developing nations" are thugs and criminals who hold their people in thrall through brute force, and our aid policy should be designed to reduce their strangleholds, not strengthen them.

The Daily Spork is your one-stop destination for BTK news and speculation. She's got a long list of potential Dennis Rader victims, some that could lead to the death penalty because they were murdered after 1994, as well as criticism of the Wichita Police Department and their attempt to silence anonymous sources. Maybe if they had listened to more anonymous sources themselves it wouldn't have taken 30 years to catch this monster, hm? My own thought is that they suspect Rader had an accomplice of some sort, and they're still trying to build a case against her (or him). The Spork was also one of the first people to post pictures of Dennis Rader that may be of interest.

I haven't accepted a job yet, but I also haven't been spending much money recently... so I felt justified in wasting $72 on this deluxe limited edition A Game of Thrones: RPG and Resource Book. At least it'll give me something to do once I finish A Storm of Swords, assuming my pre-order ships soon. Yes, I am somewhat addicted.

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