September 2005 Archives

Lest anyone think American politics is exceptionally corrupt, take a look at the vote-buying scandal undermining Brazil's ruling party.

Now, even the modestly progressive elements of these reforms have now been overshadowed by the corruption scandals that exploded in June 2005 after a revelatory TV interview by a member of congress from a small party allied to the PT, Roberto Jefferson (who has himself fallen victim to the process he unleashed). It is generally admitted that the cúpula (group at the top) of the PT bribed political parties of the right to join their parliamentary alliance and gave monthly payments to congressmen of the right to support their legislation.

The corruption extended also to the PT's strategy for winning the 2002 election. This, it turns out, was based on a secret slush fund or caixa dois (literally "a second cash till") sourced by donations from businesses contracted by PT municipal governments, public companies and private companies seeking government contacts. The publicist responsible for Lula's 2002 advertising campaign admitted he had received money from these PT funds through an illegal account held by the PT in the Bahamas.

Despite the ethics problems of our representatives, if anything they may be far more honest than the politicians plaguing the rest of the world. For Brazil, corruption is a way of life that reaches back centuries.

As a result of this tradition of corruption, people in Brazil seem to have become quite lax about the problem. In fact, there are politicians who have been re-elected after many evidences of corrupt behaviour. On certain occasions it seems that corruption has even enhanced the popularity of the politician.

This might be true for the case of Adhemar de Barros, the governor of São Paulo in the 1950s and 1960s. Voters knew that he liked very much to steal public money, but kept voting on Barros for considering him a 'generous' leader for themselves. Believe it or not, the slogan of Governor Barros during his political campaigns was 'Rouba Mas Faz' ("He Steals but He Makes Things Happen"). ...

In another and more recent scandal, the Workers' Party (PT) has been found paying bribes to members of other political parties in return for their votes in Congress. The case started being unveiled when a political appointee who works at the postal service was filmed telling two bogus businessmen that they could win public contracts by paying bribes to Roberto Jefferson, the parliamentary leader of the Brazilian Labor Party (PTB).

In an attempt to deviate the attention of the media from himself, Jefferson ended up disclosing another and more serious scandal. On June 15, 2005, he told a congressional ethics' committee that the PT was paying a monthly allowance of US$ 12 thousand to some parliamentarians, in return for their support to government-sponsored law proposals. If the allegation is confirmed, as it has been on an almost daily basis, the PT government has built a 'de facto' parliamentary majority by means of bribery.

Fascinatingly dysfunctional.

It looks like the Simputer is facing some American competition in the ultra-low-cost computing market.

One man in Boston has a plan that he hopes will bridge the world's gaping digital divide - and quickly. The visionary is Nicholas Negroponte, director of the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and his idea consists of a new kind of laptop computer that will cost just $100 (£57) to buy. ...

In fact, he expects to churn out about 15 million of them within one year, shipping most of them at first to children in Brazil, Egypt, Thailand and South Africa.

Describing the unusual design of his sub-laptop yesterday, Mr Negroponte insisted that it would "have to be absolutely indestructible". The mission is to create a tool that children almost anywhere can use and can easily carry between their classrooms and their homes. For that reason, for instance, the AC adaptor cable will double as a shoulder strap.

Few things will improve the quality of life around the world more than cheap computing.

Bill Bennett is rightly in trouble for suggesting that, although it would be "morally reprehensible", aborting more black babies would reduce crime.

"But I do know that it's true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could, if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down," said Bennett, author of "The Book of Virtues."

He went on to call that "an impossible, ridiculous and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down. So these far-out, these far-reaching, extensive extrapolations are, I think, tricky."

Interestingly, Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, specifically saw blacks as "unfit" and argued that they should be prevented from reproducing, "by force if necessary".

Planned Parenthood's founder and matriarch, Margaret Sanger in the 1930s ingeniously promoted her ideology that the "unfit" should be prevented from reproducing, "by force if necessary." Since the economic plight of many Blacks placed them and their families in the position of living in an environment that Sanger believed breed "unfit" individuals, her organization zeroed in on the "Negro" population. Establishing the "Negro Project," Sanger and her cohorts set out to push their birth control agenda which as she writes "is nothing more or less than the facilitation of the process of weeding out the unfit, of preventing the birth of defectives or of those who will become defectives" (The Pivot of Civilization written by M. Sanger)

In November 1939 a "Negro Project" leader feared that the project would be in "a great danger" of failing because "the Negroes think it a plan for extermination." Therefore, "let's appear to let the colored run it ...." (Gamble memo "Suggestions for Negro Project" excerpted from pamphlet issued by the African American Committee, A.L.L.) Sanger later wrote him back saying, "We do not want the word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population ..." She goes on saying that use of the Negro minister would effectively "straighten ... any rebellious members." (Letter from Sanger to Gamble, excerpted from pamphlet issued by the African American Committee, A.L.L.) "With social service backgrounds, and engaging personalities" the "hired ... Colored Ministers" would "propagandized for birth control ... "through a religious appeal." To help maintain control, the colored ministerial staff would be carefully controlled. "A project director lamented 'I wonder if Southern Darkies can ever be entrusted with ... a clinic. Our experience causes us to doubt their ability to work except under White supervision'." Through her Negro Advisory Council, Sanger's dream of discouraging "the defective and diseased elements of humanity" from their "reckless and irresponsible swarming and spawning" has been successful. (Excerpts from Grand Illusions: The Legacy of Planned Parenthood)

The difference is that Mrs. Sanger didn't find the idea morally reprehensible, but laudible.

Israeli politicians are warning the West that Iran must not obtain nuclear weapons. Their fear is pretty rational, considering that many Iranian mullahs have openly called for nuclear strikes against Israel. From 2001:

One of Iran’s most influential ruling cleric called Friday on the Muslim states to use nuclear weapon against Israel, assuring them that while such an attack would annihilate Israel, it would cost them "damages only".

"If a day comes when the world of Islam is duly equipped with the arms Israel has in possession, the strategy of colonialism would face a stalemate because application of an atomic bomb would not leave any thing in Israel but the same thing would just produce damages in the Muslim world", Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani told the crowd at the traditional Friday prayers in Tehran.

He's wrong though, of course, because the first time Muslims use nuclear weapons will also be the last.

Further, the US might be playing good-cop/bad-cop with Iran, casting Israel as the bad cop. The Muslims hate Israel more than the US already, so if someone has to take action it may as well be them. Afterwards the US can step in, protect Israel, and try to cool the situation down. This sort of strategy gets more difficult as the Islamic world starts to hate America more and more.

Here's my take on how you should vote on the various propositions that will be on the ballot in November, 2005.

Yes! on Proposition 73 -- Waiting Period and Parental Notification Before Termination of Minor's Pregnancy. Initiative Constitutional Amendment.

Yes! on Proposition 74 -- Public School Teachers. Waiting Period for Permanent Status. Dismissal. Initiative Statute.

Yes! on Proposition 75 -- Public Employee Union Dues. Restrictions on Political Contributions. Employee Consent Requirement. Initiative Statute.

Yes! on Proposition 76 -- State Spending and School Funding Limits. Initiative Constitutional Amendment.

Yes! on Proposition 77 -- Redistricting. Initiative Constitutional Amendment.

Soft yes on Proposition 78 -- Discounts on Prescription Drugs. Initiative Statute.

Soft no on Proposition 79 -- Prescription Drug Discounts. State-Negotiated Rebates. Initiative Statute.

Both 78 and 79 look confusing and bloated, I doubt we need either.

No! on Proposition 80 -- Electric Service Providers. Regulation. Initiative Statute.

What does it say about our society when these three women are mentioned in the same paragraph?

Angelina, Condoleezza and Hillary combined their considerable star power Wednesday night to cast a spotlight on the international effort to fight HIV and AIDS.

For one night, the campaign against HIV trumped the buzz over Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's re-election bid, speculation over whether Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will run for president, even gossip about actress Angelina Jolie's relationship with Brad Pitt.

First off, isn't calling them all by their first names a little diminutive? Secondly, society is pretty screwy when two of the most accomplished women of our times have to share a stage with someone who makes her living by playing pretend and has been otherwise described as couch-like.

Doug Kern explains why he thinks he washed out of engineering school, but while criticising his teachers (often justly) I think he too-hastily dismisses what may have been the real reason for his failure.

I am an engineering washout. I left a chemical engineering major in shame and disgust to pursue the softer pleasures of a liberal arts education. No, do not pity me, gentle reader; do not assuage your horror and dismay at my degradation by flinging a filthy quarter into my shiny tin cup. Instead, hear my story, and learn why the United States lacks engineers.

Not long ago, I showed up for my first year at Smartypants U., fresh from a high school career full of awards and honors and gold stars. My accomplishments all pointed towards a more verbal course of study, but I was determined to spend my college days learning something useful. With my strong science grades and excellent standardized test scores, I felt certain that I could handle whatever engineering challenges Smartypants U. had to offer. Remember: Kern = real good at math and science. You will have cause to forget that fact very soon.

Being "real good" at math and science isn't the most important thing for engineers. I know engineers who are brilliant mathematicians, but many aren't. I've taken years and years of calculus, but whenever I have to apply it to a difficult problem I need to scour the internet for pointers. As for science, most science classes are just memorization.

As Clayton Cramer recently wrote, it takes more to succeed as an engineer than just intelligence.

When my wife and I first met, she asked me what I did for a living. I explained that I was a software engineer. She was impressed, and assumed that it was a very difficult job, requiring exceptional skill. I told her that I thought you could almost teach chimpanzees to do it. I was exaggerating for dramatic effect, but my perception was that the skills that I had were really very widespread.

I've since found out that not ony can't you teach chimps to do this, you can't even teach a lot of very smart people to do this. My wife is a very bright, very thoughtful, very logical person. With my encouragement, she took a programming class when she was attending Santa Rosa Junior College. For reasons that I could not understand, this very smart woman that I am married to just didn't get it--and I've discovered that she is not alone in this respect. It is apparently somewhat harder to learn how to program, at even a very simple level, than I realized.

... Most important of all, from the standpoint of wage rates, most people seem to lack something fundamental that allows them to be effective software engineers. They may be able to write simple programs--or even write programs that should have been simple, and turn them into steaming piles of incomprehensible crud--but they will never be a software engineer. Hence, wage rates are pretty darn good for this line of work.

Engineering requires a certain attitude: a morbid cynicism mitigated by can-do; deep curiosity with ruthless practicality. Most people don't have it. As an engineer myself, I think it's pretty fun, and I wish more people thought like engineers... we might not end up with so many stupid messes. But then again, most artists wish others thought like them; it takes all kinds.

Mr. Kern goes on to lament what sounds like a rather pathetic engineering school at Smartypants U., but I don't think his experiences are atypical in America or abroad. The qualities that make for good engineers are often orthogonal to those that make for good teachers, which makes such combinations rare. The result is that most engineers, even highly-educated ones, are significantly self-taught; a person who can't bootstrap himself into engineering probably won't make a good engineer. Many of the best engineers I've known, however, weren't engineers by training or profession.

NASA chief Michael Griffin made a startling admission yesterday, echoing what many private space pundits have been arguing for years (including myself): the Space Shuttle program was a mistake.

The space shuttle and International Space Station — nearly the whole of the U.S. manned space program for the past three decades — were mistakes, NASA chief Michael Griffin said Tuesday.

In a meeting with USA TODAY's editorial board, Griffin said NASA lost its way in the 1970s, when the agency ended the Apollo moon missions in favor of developing the shuttle and space station, which can only orbit Earth.

“It is now commonly accepted that was not the right path,” Griffin said. “We are now trying to change the path while doing as little damage as we can.”

As many have argued, the right path is for the government bureaucracy to open up space to private industry, and to encourage innovation and exploration through the use of prize money. If space is worth exploring but isn't yet profitable, prizes are the most efficient form of subsidy possible because they prevent the government from picking the recipients and they allow market forces to choose the methods.

JV sends along a link to The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity. In short:

1. "Always and inevitably everyone underestimates the number of stupid individuals in circulation."

Similarly, P. T. Barnum once said, "You’ll never go broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public."

2. "The probability that a certain person be stupid is independent of any other characteristic of that person."

The main problem I have with the second law is that it doesn't admit that self-selected groups may contain a disproportionate number of stupid people.

This idea was hard to accept and digest but too many experimental results proved its fundamental veracity. The Second Basic Law is an iron law, and it does not admit exceptions. The Women's Liberation Movement will support the Second Basic Law as it shows that stupid individuals are proportionately as numerous among men as among women. The underdeveloped of the Third World will probably take solace at the Second Basic Law as they can find in it the proof that after the developed are not so developed. Whether the Second Basic Law is liked or not, however, its implications are frightening: the Law implies that whether you move in distinguished circles or you take refuge among the head-hunters of Polynesia, whether you lock yourself into a monastery or decide to spend the rest of your life in the company of beautiful and lascivious women, you always have to face the same percentage of stupid people - which percentage (in accordance with the First Law) will always surpass your expectations.

There's a difference between the group of headhunters and the group of monks: headhunters don't normally make a decision to join their group, they're just born into it, whereas monks do. And stupid people are, obviously, inclined to join stupid groups. In fact, I'd argue that the Second Law is fundamentally wrong-headed, since membership in a destructive, stupid, self-selected group is one of the best ways to identify stupid people before they can hurt you.

3. "A stupid person is a person who causes losses to another person or to a group of persons while himself deriving no gain and even possibly incurring losses."

That's a pretty good definition. The author (Carlo M. Cipolla) also defines three other types of people: bandits, who help themselves while hurting others; helpless people, who hurt themselves and help others; and intelligent people who, who help others while helping themselves.

4. "Non-stupid people always underestimate the damaging power of stupid individuals. In particular non-stupid people constantly forget that at all times and places and under any circumstances to deal and/or associate with stupid people always turns out to be a costly mistake."

5. "A stupid person is the most dangerous type of person."

PZ Myers misconstrues Mark Steyn's appreciation for small differences and goes on to argue both that small differences are of little significance, and that small differences illustrate that mankind does not rule the planet.

[PZ Myers is quoting Mark Steyn, but with a link that no longer points to the source material.]
Well, I dunno whether it's right-wing rubbish, and I'm not much into the intelligent-design debate. My view on genetics and evolution was stated in my Crick obituary for The Atlantic. Some geneticist had pointed out that man (and woman, oops) is 89% identical to the pumpkin. If that's so, then clearly it's the 11% difference that's key, not the 89% similarity. Likewise, with our 98% or whatever identity with the ape. The remaining one or two per cent is so awesome in its difference as to make you wonder whether a scale of measurement that produces those percentages is really terribly useful. The fact is that this is a planet overwhelmingly dominated and shaped by one species, and our kith and kin – whether gibbons or pumpkins – basically fit in in the spaces between. That's pretty much the world the Psalmist outlined in the Old Testament thousands of years ago. By comparison, the evolutionists' insistence that we're just another "animal" seems perverse and irrational and refuted by a casual glance out the window. I am coming round to the view that hyper-rationalism is highly irrational.

That's a truly remarkable upchuck there, and it's impressive how much he got wrong.

We aren't 89% identical to a pumpkin. If you use a very loose determination of homology (so loose, that mice and people are nearly 100% identical, having the same suite of genes), we're about 20-25% homologous to plants.

I seem to have just summarized the latest assessment of genetic similarity with chimpanzees. There is only a few percent difference…but rather than something "awesome", most of it is in the immune system, recognition proteins in sperm, a few obscure regulatory proteins, that sort of thing. Our differences aren't awesome at all, but subtle.

The thing is, as any engineer realizes, subtle changes tend to be the most awesome. Changing a single line of code can turn a program into incomprehensible garbage; a single subtle systemic change can mangle the code itself into indecipherability. Adding or removing resistors -- mere hunks of metal or ceramic -- can completely change the operation of a circuit. A few quarts of oil will drastically affect the performance of a vehicle weighing several tons. A single skipped heartbeat, out of three billion in an average lifetime, constitutes an awesome yet subtle difference.

Later, PZ Myers goes on to ridicule the idea that mankind rules the earth, but each of his points falls flat.

His last ideas—that he lives in a world dominated and shaped by his species, as he can tell simply by looking out his window—are chilling. They reveal differences far greater than can be found between Homo sapiens and Cucurbita pepo.

He must not possess a gut populated by intestinal bacteria. We are at their mercy; without them, we suffer horribly for a while and die.

We're not at their "mercy", since bacteria have no will; using that word anthropomorphizes unconscious biological machines. Bacteria don't process our waste out of generosity, but because their own survival depends on it.

He must live in a world without parasites or other small creatures. I'm a home to all kinds of interesting invertebrates nesting in my eyelashes and pores and crawling on my skin.

None of which, presumably, impede PZ Myer's actions even slightly.

He must not have any wooden furniture in his home, or plastic…made from the carbon left by ancient forests.

These implements are, in fact, perfect examples of how man has brought nature under his dominion. We are not ruled by our furniture, rather we rule it.

He must not eat. We human beings are heterotrophs, entirely dependent on the production of other organisms as an energy source.

Energy which we grow and harvest according to our tastes and whims.

It's a good thing he doesn't eat, or he'd have to excrete—without any bacteria or fungi or nematodes or flatworms, the shit would just pile up (this would explain his written output, though).

Again, animals that process our waste, generally in locations designed by humans for that purpose.

Steyn must never, ever have a cold, or the flu, or an infection.

All dominated by man through the use of medicine; they're still a threat, but only because our control is not yet complete. It may never be, but who's winning?

Good ol' dirt. It's made by the action of wind and sun and ice on rock, processed by bacteria and fungi and more of those tiny creatures invisible from Mark Steyn's window. We didn't make it. They did.

So what? We use the dirt however we want, and no other organism has a say in the matter.

And oh, my gosh…oxygen! Our entire atmosphere is the product of action by billions of years of work by bacteria and algae and plants! There must not be any air where he lives.

Ironically, oxygen is a waste product of the plants and bacteria PZ Myers just praised for processing our waste. We take care of theirs, and they take care of ours. The difference is, we could make our own oxygen if we wanted to.

He must not have ever watched lizards bask in the desert sun, or seen the life swarming in a rich Pacific tide pool, or stood in an old growth forest and listened to the wind blowing through the hemlocks, or seen fish darting in a Cascade lake so clear it was like canoeing on glass, or watched salmon thrash and spawn in an icy cold mountain stream. I'm sure he's never put his eye to a microscope to see what lives in the puddle outside his door, or split slate to expose 400 million year old fossils. There's a world of millions of species living outside my door, built from the struggles of millions more over billions of years, and all he sees is one.

No; if I may speak for Mr. Steyn, he sees one species that dominates all the others, and that power is due to an awesome 2%.

(HT: Chris Bertram.)

I haven't been neglecting to mention my desire for a pro-life Supreme Court nominee because I'm hoping for one to fly in under the radar, but rather because I figure that my desire goes without saying. However, Manuel Miranda -- whose Supreme Court nominee articles have been invaluable -- suggests that pro-life Republicans have allowed themselves to be sidelined by the Bush Administration, and that we should speak up.

Preparing for the Supreme Court fight, pro-lifers were told by White House surrogates to stay out of the light and out of the newspapers, to be quiet so as not to scare the horses. Even before Justice Sandra Day O'Connor announced her retirement this summer, while liberal reporters worked to connect conservative concern over the Supreme Court with the abortion issue, pro-lifers were measuring their words, beating each other up, and trying not to appear too demanding of the president that, in the small margins that matter, they had elected.

Ever so smoothly, pro-lifers were corralled and managed, so that if the president appointed yet another Republican disappointment to the Supreme Court, it would be too late after the fact to do anything about it. It isn't that pro-life leaders don't trust President George W. Bush. They do. They trust what they think is a working internal compass. Yet there is the fear that for some who surround him "Roe versus Wade" are merely two alternative means of exiting New Orleans.

Not that I'm any sort of "pro-life leader", but I'm not sure how much I trust President Bush. He's been pretty reliable when it comes to moral issues, granted, but his prolifigate spending has made me wary in general. So, for whatever it's worth, let me throw in my $200 billion and urge the President to nominate someone who will vote to overturn Roe v. Wade on legal grounds.

Our Constitution should be construed to protect federalism, and Roe v. Wade violated that principle and laid the groundwork for ever-more intrusive government intervention into local politics. As Charles Krauthammer wrote, has any other judicial decision ever disenfranchised so many?

In our lifetime has there been a more politically poisonous Supreme Court decision than Roe v. Wade ? Set aside for a moment your thoughts on the substance of the ruling. (I happen to be a supporter of legalized abortion.) I'm talking about the continuing damage to the republic: disenfranchising, instantly and without recourse, an enormous part of the American population; preventing, as even Ruth Bader Ginsburg once said, proper political settlement of the issue by the people and their representatives; making us the only nation in the West to have legalized abortion by judicial fiat rather than by the popular will expressed democratically.

The corruption continues 32 years later. You could see it played out hour by hour in the Senate confirmation hearings of Judge John Roberts. Question upon question that pretended to be about high constitutional principle was really about abortion in ill-concealed disguise.

End the farce. Let the people vote.

And when we can, I will do my best to convince people to vote to protect the sanctity of life.

I've just been thinking that the political spectrum is a lot like a giant rubberband, with politicians stretching it in every direction, pulling against each other. One significant characteristic of this metaphor is that only the movements of the politicians on the outside are constrained, in that it's hard for them to push the rubberband out further from the center of mass. Politicians on the inside can move around freely until they bump up against the rubberband, and those on the outside can move away from the band, possibly allowing the band itself to move inwards. For instance, as we've seen with the Bush Administration, it's easy to Republicans to become big spenders because the Democrats' constituents want the money, so the Dems can't oppose spending even if they don't like it. Likewise, as with Bill Clinton, Democrats can declare war on anyone they want because Republicans are eager to exercise American military might to protect the country.

The flaw with the rubberband model is that even inlying politicians affect the size and shape of the rubberband, so maybe we should picture the entire thing sitting atop a balanced table of some sort that shifts as the politicians move around. The problem is that I don't like the idea of a fixed fulcrum, since the political "center" moves around in correpondence with the edges of the rubberband.

I usually like statistics, but what I've come to realize is that I only like reading statistics, I don't like calculating them. I've spent most of my school time for the past few days trying to figure out how to calculate confidence intervals and p-values for some data sets I've generated as part of my dissertation project. Aside from not knowing how to do this for simple cases, my sets of data are far from simple.

Briefly, I've got dozens of trials, each of which produces, among other variables, a score for each tribe of animats (artificial life agents) in the trial. However, this score is actually the average of 1,000 intermediate scores taken at 1,000 second intervals (total of 1,000,000 seconds per trial). Further, the animats in each tribe change over time, as animats are born and die; an animat dies and a new one is created, in each tribe, every 20,000 seconds. So, there are 50 distinct (overlapping) sets of animats per tribe over the course of a trial, and complete turn-over within a tribe every 200,000 seconds (since there are 10 animats per tribe). This yields five non-overlapping sets of animats per tribe per trial, but they aren't independent because the whole point of the experiment is that animats transmit knowledge and behavior (culture) across generations.

Whew. So, I have a bunch of data, and some experiments consist of only 20 trials. However, because of my setup, I think that these 20 trials have the statistical significance of nearly 100 shorter trials because of the non-overlapping sets and multiple tribes per trial. I have calculated correlation coefficients between scores and other measurements, and between scores and various animat characteristics that I want to test the usefulness of, but I am getting thoroughly lost as I try to figure out the statistical significance of my numbers, if any.

Here's a good example of the difference between theory and practice: The St. Petersburg Paradox.

The St. Petersburg game is played by flipping a fair coin until it comes up tails, and the total number of flips, n, determines the prize, which equals $2n. Thus if the coin comes up tails the first time, the prize is $21 = $2, and the game ends. If the coin comes up heads the first time, it is flipped again. If it comes up tails the second time, the prize is $22, = $4, and the game ends. If it comes up heads the second time, it is flipped again. And so on. There are an infinite number of possible ‘consequences’ (runs of heads followed by one tail) possible. The probability of a consequence of n flips (‘P(n)’) is 1 divided by 2n, and the ‘expected payoff’ of each consequence is the prize times its probability. ....

The ‘expected value’ of the game is the sum of the expected payoffs of all the consequences. Since the expected payoff of each possible consequence is $1, and there are an infinite number of them, this sum is an infinite number of dollars. A rational gambler would enter a game iff the price of entry was less than the expected value. In the St. Petersburg game, any finite price of entry is smaller than the expected value of the game. Thus, the rational gambler would play no matter how large the finite entry price was. But it seems obvious that some prices are too high for a rational agent to pay to play. Many commentators agree with Hacking's (1980) estimation that "few of us would pay even $25 to enter such a game." If this is correct, then something has gone wrong with the standard decision-theory calculations of expected value above. This problem, discovered by the Swiss eighteenth-century mathematician Daniel Bernoulli (1738; English trans. 1954) is the St. Petersburg paradox.

Similarly, and more simply, no one would risk their life savings of (say) $100,000 on a one-in-a-million chance to win $100 billion, or even $200 billion. Remember: in theory, theory and practice are the same; in practice, they aren't.

(HT: Daniel Davies I think, somehow.)

JW points me to a Lloyd Grove article about the new Steve Rosenbaum movie "Inside the Bubble", which promises to finally give John Kerry and his campaign the attention they deserve.

It features, among other not-ready-for-prime-time moments, Clinton scowling and rolling her eyes over an apparent Kerry gaffe during a presidential debate; Kerry pretending to interview himself and babbling in Italian while waiting for a real interview to begin; Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) cursing at reporters during a campaign stop, and Kerry message guru Robert Shrum confidently declaring a few days before the 2004 election: "Zogby [a prominent pollster] just announced who's gonna win. Us!"

Sounds like a blast! I expect that, similar to "Fahrenheit 9/11", most of the enjoyment will come from how terrible it makes the other side look, but hopefully unlike the earlier movie this one will be at least loosely based on reality.

Interestingly, I can't find any reference to "Inside the Bubble" on the Internet Movie Database.

Last year I noted that a giant pro-abortion protest appeared to consist of nothing but old, infertile women, and this year the old folks are at it again, protesting everything under the sun, and particularly President Bush, despite the fact that he'll never run for anything again. Stupid on the surface, yes, but once you dig deeper you'll see that it's even stupider underneath.

Connie McCroskey, 58, came from Des Moines, Iowa, with two of her daughters, both in their 20s, for the family's first demonstration. McCroskey, whose father fought in World War II, said she never would have dared protest during the Vietnam War.

"Today, I had some courage," she said.

Oh yeah, it takes a ton of courage to walk around Washington DC for an afternoon. How did you manage to avoid Karl Rove's stormtroopers? Weren't you scared that Donald Rumsfeld's death squads would hunt you down? You were really brave to be quoted by name in a major newspaper! Bravest move of all: waiting to protest till your father died.

While united against the war, political beliefs varied. Paul Rutherford, 60, of Vandalia, Mich., said he is a Republican who supported Bush in the last election and still does _ except for the war.

"President Bush needs to admit he made a mistake in the war and bring the troops home, and let's move on," Rutherford said. His wife, Judy, 58, called the removal of Saddam Hussein "a noble mission" but said U.S. troops should have left when claims that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction proved unfounded.

"We found that there were none and yet we still stay there and innocent people are dying daily," she said.

Right, and if we had left once we'd proven proven that, I'm sure Iraq would be Disneyland Middle-East now and all the ba'athists would be too busy singing "It's a Small Dar al-Islam, After All" to meet their rape quotas and top off Saddam's mass graves.

Anyway, the ages of the people quoted in the article are: 58, 60, 58, 47, whatever age Cindy Shi'ite is (103?), and 48. One has to wonder what government program is enabling all this pointless protesting -- I highly doubt that people who earned their own living would now be wasting their time on this nonsense.

Louise Story has a fascinating article about young women in my generation preparing for motherhood and recognizing early that the feminist dream is an illusion and that they can't really have it all.

Many women at the nation's most elite colleges say they have already decided that they will put aside their careers in favor of raising children. Though some of these students are not planning to have children and some hope to have a family and work full time, many others, like Ms. Liu, say they will happily play a traditional female role, with motherhood their main commitment.

Much attention has been focused on career women who leave the work force to rear children. What seems to be changing is that while many women in college two or three decades ago expected to have full-time careers, their daughters, while still in college, say they have already decided to suspend or end their careers when they have children.

"At the height of the women's movement and shortly thereafter, women were much more firm in their expectation that they could somehow combine full-time work with child rearing," said Cynthia E. Russett, a professor of American history who has taught at Yale since 1967. "The women today are, in effect, turning realistic."

I'm very happy that my own fiancee is more concerned with our future family and children than with her future career. I have no doubt that she will make an outstanding geologist, but I also know that she will rear our children better than any nanny could. I'm eager to be actively involved with our children as well, and family will always come before work, but I'm enormously blessed to have a woman whose desires complement mine so well.

Uzezi Abugo, a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania who hopes to become a lawyer, says she, too, wants to be home with her children at least until they are in school.

"I've seen the difference between kids who did have their mother stay at home and kids who didn't, and it's kind of like an obvious difference when you look at it," said Ms. Abugo, whose mother, a nurse, stayed home until Ms. Abugo was in first grade.

Indeed it is. In my experience working with children, there's often a very large difference between those raised by mothers and those raised by hired help. Go figure! For one particular example, consider the results of the Milwaukee project.

At the beginning of the project, Heber selected forty newborns from the depressed area of Milwaukee he had chosen. The mothers of the infants selected all had IQ’s below 80. As it turned out, all of the children in the study were black, and in many cases the fathers were absent. The forty newborns were randomly assigned, 20 to an experimental group and 20 to a control group. ...

The experimental group entered a special program. Mothers of the experimental group children received education, vocational rehabilitation, and training in homemaking and child care. The children themselves received personalized enrichment in their home environments for the first three months of their lives, and then their training continued at a special center, five days a week, seven hours a day, until they were ready to begin first grade. The program at the center focused upon developing the language and cognitive skills of the experimental group children. The control group did not receive special education or home-based intervention and enrichment.

By the age of six all the children in the experimental group were dramatically superior to the children in the control group. This was true on all test measures, especially those dealing with language skills or problem solving. The experimental group had an IQ average of 120.7 as compared with the control group’s 87.2!

Yes, these improvements were the result of teaching the young children largely at a "special center", not at home with their mothers, but most kids don't have access to such "special centers" at any price. Energetic, enthusiastic, loving mothers could be in abundant supply, if our society would quit insisting that our young women become something else.

I can't remember how I found this article, but Wendy McElroy recently raised an issue I wrote about earlier: will science trump politics with regards to the abortion issue?

For better or worse, new reproductive technologies are redefining the ground rules of reproduction. (And, no, the force of law can not hold back scientific 'progress,' as authorities have discovered repeatedly since Galileo's day.) ...

This possibility becomes more likely in the presence of two factors.

First, viability is being established at ever-earlier stages of pregnancy.

Recently, doctors have been successful in administering perflubron — a liquid that replaces the amniotic fluid — to babies as young as 23-weeks-old, with a 70 percent survival rate.

Second, ectogenesis [growing an embryo outside the mother's womb] seems to be experiencing breakthroughs.

In 2002, a team at Cornell University used cells from a human uterus to grow an artificial womb. When a fertilized human egg was introduced, it implanted itself in the uterus wall as in a natural pregnancy. After six days of gestation, the experiment was halted due solely to legal constraints.

Meanwhile, half-a-world away, Dr. Yoshinori Kuwabara of Juntendo University in Japan has been removing fetuses from goats and keeping them alive for weeks in clear plastic tanks of amniotic fluid with machine-driven 'umbilical cords'.

The point is, it won't be long until there are more choices available than birth or abortion. Currently, mothers of unwanted children can't really be rid of them without abortion until after birth. However, upcoming technology will allow a woman to have her baby removed and grown elsewhere from a very early age, even as soon as the pregnancy is discovered.

That sounds like a fascinating possibility, but it also raises a lot of questions.

1. Is there a segment of the population that currently believes in abortion rights, but would be in favor of outlawing abortion if the mother could simply have the baby transferred out of her body without harm? Such a procedure would probably be invasive, even if no incisions had to be made. Even if not required by law, such a procedure would likely dramatically reduce the number of abortions.

2. Who would pay for these procedures? If abortion were outlawed, would the public have a duty to pay to remove unwanted babies, or would the mothers be forced to pay (just as they pay for a birth or an abortion)? Who would pay to preserve the babies in artificial wombs? Who would pay to support the babies after "birth" if they aren't adopted?

3. Should the federal government get involved? State laws requiring transplant instead of abortion would certainly depend on a reversal of Roe v. Wade, but aside from that should there be federal standards for the programs? Should there be a federal baby-care program?

The worst part about the gun siezures in New Orleans following Katrina is that, contra the National Rifle Association and the Second Amendment Foundation, they aren't arbitrary at all.

Two national gun rights groups yesterday joined individual Louisiana gun owners in a federal lawsuit to stop authorities from confiscating firearms from private citizens in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

The National Rifle Association (NRA) and the Second Amendment Foundation (SAF) filed a motion in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, seeking a temporary restraining order to halt the seizures of guns from law-abiding citizens. They described the confiscations as "arbitrary," "without warrant or probable cause" and thus "illegal."

However, a New York Times article shows that some private citizens are allowed to keep their weapons.

No civilians in New Orleans will be allowed to carry pistols, shotguns or other firearms, said P. Edwin Compass III, the superintendent of police. "Only law enforcement are allowed to have weapons," he said.

But that order apparently does not apply to hundreds of security guards hired by businesses and some wealthy individuals to protect property. The guards, employees of private security companies like Blackwater, openly carry M-16's and other assault rifles. Mr. Compass said that he was aware of the private guards, but that the police had no plans to make them give up their weapons.

So if you're rich, or Sean Penn, you can carry weapons or hire people to carry them for you; if you're poor you're screwed and you have to depend on the New Orleans Police Department to protect you from rapists and robbers in their free time between looting and deserting.

(HT: Hit & Run and Orin Kerr.)

Maybe with all the recently revealed questionable circulation numbers from dead-tree media, advertisers will lose their justified wariness of buying internet ads. As I've written before, improving technology will continue to undermine the shaky assumptions that modern ad-driven media is based upon; this, combined with low marginal costs, will eventually turn most forms of media into loss leaders for profitable services or goods producers.

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The U.S. Attorney's Office in New York asked for information from Time Inc. on so-called sponsored sales programs, such as courtesy copies of magazines given to doctors' offices or promotional copies for other uses, a source familiar with the matter said on Thursday.

A spokeswoman for Time Inc., which publishes 155 magazines including Time, Sports Illustrated and People, said the company was subpoenaed for information on its circulation practices but could not specify the scope or the direction of the federal prosecutor's investigation.

In a comment, TM Lutas pointed me to Porkbusters, a new endeavor by The Truth Laid Bear to help Congress find and cut excessive spending from the federal budget. As of now, only one politician has committed/offered to cut federal funding for projects in her district, and I want to give credit where credit is due: to the much-lamented House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-CA. Now if only her Republican collegues would follow suit!

I'm glad I'm not getting married in India!

An Israeli couple being married in India have found that you may not kiss the bride - the pair were fined $22 for indecency for their wedding embrace.

A court in Rajasthan imposed the fine after Alon Orpaz and Tehila Salev had decided to get married in a traditional Hindu ceremony in Pushkar.

Priests were offended when the couple kissed and hugged during the chanting of religious verses.

The apologetic couple said they were unaware public kissing was banned.

(HT: RV.)

As most of you know, the federal government is planning on spending billions of our tax dollars on two enormous endeavors, neither of which it is actually empowered to perform. First, the government proposes to spend as much as $200 billion to rebuild New Orleans -- a city that's 80% below sea level and just about to be further destroyed by yet another hurricane. Second, they want to spend more than $100 billion to send men to the moon -- a project that will be "very Apollo-like, with updated technology". I like moon bases and underwater cities as much as the next guy, but the Constitution doesn't grant our federal government the authority to spend our money on either of these things. If we as a nation want our government to do them, we should insist upon amending our Constitution to allow it.

However, I have an even better idea! Why spend $200 billion and $100 billion on separate projects when we could just put the two together and rebuild New Orleans on the moon? Our satellite doesn't have any hurricanes, and its oceans are full of dust! Plus, there wouldn't be any shortage of entrepreneurs eager to take up residence.

If House Majority Leader Time DeLay was joking (as some have argued) last week when he said there's simply no fat left to cut from the federal budget then there's no one more at fault than him for failing to implement the cuts. He's in charge of the House Republicans, and there's no one to blame for soaring federal deficits other than the majority. Sure, the Democrats want to spend more, and on different things, but they're not in power now. Being more frugal than Ted Kennatee isn't anything to brag about, and refusing to face reality in the wake of Katrina is childish.

There's an old adage that no one in Washington can tell the difference between $1 million and $1 billion. Seldom has that Beltway learning disability been more vividly demonstrated than in the weeks since Katrina.

When President Bush announced last Thursday that the feds would take a lead role in the reconstruction of New Orleans, he in effect established a new $200 billion federal line of credit. To put that $200 billion in perspective, we could give every one of the 500,000 families displaced by Katrina a check for $400,000, and they could each build a beach front home virtually anywhere in America.

Instead what are we going to do? Build the levees higher and buy more pumps? And borrow money to do it? Stupid.

Congressman Todd Aiken of Missouri complains that Congress was forced to vote on the $62 billion first installment of funds "even though we knew a lot of the money may go to waste." Mr. Aiken and several dozen other House conservatives proposed an amendment to the $62 billion hurricane relief bill that would offset at least some of the emergency spending by cutting other government programs a meager 2.5 cents out of every dollar that federal agencies spend.

Was the amendment defeated? No. The Republican leadership would not even allow it to come to a vote, on the grounds that there was no waste which could be easily identified and cut.

Dozens of other reasonable proposals to offset Katrina's tidal wave of deficit spending have been similarly repelled. Mike Pence of Indiana suggested a one-year delay on the multitrillion dollar new prescription drug benefit for senior citizens. For 220 years, seniors have managed without this give-away; one more year of waiting would hardly be an act of cruelty. It would save $40 billion, but there were no takers. Then there was the well-publicized idea by Republicans and several Democrats in Congress to cut $25 billion for bike paths, train-station renovations, nature trails, parking garages, auto museums and 6,000 other such pork projects in the just-enacted highway law. It was torpedoed by the powerful committee chairmen who patched this abominable bill together in the first place.

The problem is that Americans have become whiny cry-babies, many of whom can't fend for themselves. We're becoming a nation of 30-year-old adolescents who don't have the nerve to move out of Uncle Sam's basement... but there's no real "Uncle Sam"... that's just what we call the middle class taxpayers (and their children's children's children) who finance the present with nary a thought of the future.

It seems inevitable to me that, given enough time, the United States of America is doomed to an end state similar to that facing Germany after it's recently ambiguous election.

The late economist Mancur Olson argued that the downfall of democracy would be its tendency to calcify into special-interest gridlock. Germany's extensive welfare state has created millions of voters who fear the loss of any benefits. Combine that with voters in eastern Germany who cling to outmoded notions of state support and you have an formidable challenge to bring about real reform.

"The lesson for America is do not go down the road as far as Germany has," says Horst Schakat, a German who created a series of successful businesses in California for 30 years but retired to his native land in 2001. "You may find yourself unable to go down a different but correct path once too many people have become dependent on the state."

Occasional revolution is required to break up this calcification, though it need not be violent if undertaken in a timely manner. However, were there political will to foment a liberty-enhancing, non-violent revolution, then perhaps such a thing would not be needed at all. More likely America, the oldest republic on the planet, will eventually stagnate and be overtaken by the nations just now emerging from under the boot of totalitarianism.

Does anyone have any personal experience with the therapeutic use of Vitamin C?

Vitamin C is needed in the diet to prevent scurvy. It also has a reputation for being useful in the treatment of colds and flu. The evidence to support this idea, however, is ambiguous, unless the studies are divided by dose size and dosing regime. When that is done, it is remarkable that most of the studies showing little or no effect employ quite small doses of ascorbate such as 100 mg to 500 mg per day ("small" according to the vitamin C advocates). The Vitamin C foundation (1) recommends 8 grams of vitamin C every half hour in order to show an effect on the symptoms of a cold infection that is in progress. ...

A minority of medical and scientific opinion sees vitamin C as being a low cost and safe way to treat viral disease and to deal with a wide range of poisons. The large doses, in the tens of grams per day, put ascorbic acid in a different class to almost all other therapeutic agents. It has been suggested that ascorbic acid is really a food group in its own right like carbohydrates and protein and should not be seen as a pharmaceutical or vitamin at all.

Some vitamin C advocates hold that the wider adoption of vitamin C for therapeutic use is hindered by the fact that it cannot now be patented. This means that pharmaceutical companies are unwilling to fund research or promotion of a substance in which they stand to make little profit and which will compete with some of their own patented medicines in which they have invested large sums.

Does anyone know more about this?

As technology improves, particularly communication and transportation, human populations become more fluid and more distributed, able to flow in and out of geographic regions quickly, and to disperse more widely across larger areas. Over the past few decades we've seen a major population shift out of the densely urban East Coast into the deserts of the West, and why? Because many of the jobs required to support the business of the East can now be performed from anywhere in the world, and living conditions in the West (supported by technology) are higher than in the East. Land is cheaper, population is sparser... and the weather is more mild.

As we've seen recently with New Orleans, there's a periodic cost to living in a region with dangerous and unpredictable weather. For centuries New Orleans has been an essential waypoint into and out of North America, but with 21st century technology there's no need for half a million people to live there. Yes, we'll need dock workers, their supervisors, restaurants and supermarkets, utilities and car dealers, but most of the information services that our modern economy depends on can be moved elsewhere now with little transaction cost.

I've tried very hard to avoid learning anything about the moronic "emerging church" movement, but despite my best efforts I came across the prayer lamp (thanks to my fiancee, who couldn't stop laughing).

This is almost as retarded as the idea I had 15 years ago when I prayed into a tape recorder and played it back to God.

But is this *real* prayer?
Why not? What makes a prayer 'real'? Does prayer have to take place in a church building or using certain 'special' words? Christians prayer in wide variety of ways - if you mean it, then it's the real thing.

Christians apparently conjugate in a wide variety ways as well. But what does *real* grammar look like? Here's a clue: it doesn't make you look like an idiot.

I've written about deficit spending int he past and argued that it isn't necessarily bad, long or short term, but I still agree with President Clinton when he admonishes the current government for over-spending.

On the US budget, Clinton warned that the federal deficit may be coming untenable, driven by foreign wars, the post-hurricane recovery programme and tax cuts that benefitted just the richest one percent of the US population, himself included.

"What Americans need to understand is that ... every single day of the year, our government goes into the market and borrows money from other countries to finance Iraq, Afghanistan, Katrina, and our tax cuts," he said.

"We have never done this before. Never in the history of our republic have we ever financed a conflict, military conflict, by borrowing money from somewhere else."

Clinton added: "We depend on Japan, China, the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, and Korea primarily to basically loan us money every day of the year to cover my tax cut and these conflicts and Katrina. I don't think it makes any sense."

All true, and it doesn't make sense. Where I'd differ is that Mr. Clinton probably wants to increase taxes to reduce the deficit, whereas I think we should focus on slashing spending. (And no, tax cuts don't count as "spending".) Most of the blames rests with Congressional Republicans, but the President himself has motivated loads of new spending (like the prescription drug plan) and he hasn't vetoed anything that's hit his desk.

DeoDuce has more about Clinton from the same article, getting caught in a big fat lie.

I'm all for citizens carrying weapons, but I don't get the idea that the sudden influx of weapons from Egypt into the Gaza Strip is motivated by self-defense.

RAFAH, Gaza Strip - Palestinian gunrunners smuggled hundreds of assault rifles and pistols across the Egyptian frontier into Gaza, dealers and border officials told The Associated Press on Wednesday. The influx confirmed Israeli fears about giving up border control and could further destabilize Gaza.

Black market prices for weapons dropped sharply, with AK-47 assault rifles nearly cut in half to $1,300 and even steeper reductions for handguns.

News of the smuggling came as Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas tried to impose order following the Israeli troop withdrawal from Gaza this week. Militant groups scoffed at a new Palestinian Authority demand that they disband after parliamentary elections in January, saying they would not surrender weapons.

Without Israeli muscle, the Palestinian Authority will quickly be reduced to impotence, destroyed, or dominated by "militant" groups (i.e., terrorists like Hamas).

Abbas' top aide, Rafiq Husseini, outlined what he said was a new security plan.

"Our plan is that ... by the (January) election, the Palestinian street will be cleaned of militias and illegal weapons," he said.

Husseini said that starting next week, militants in the ruling
Fatah movement would be absorbed into security forces. Abbas would insist that all groups participating in the election disarm after the vote.

Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar rejected that. "We will not allow for even one gun to be taken away from us," he said. "Why should we give up our weapons while Israel still threatens our borders?"

Israel will be seen to be "threatening" as long as the Jewish nation exists, no matter how many concessions they make.

Ok, this is possibly the coolest thing ever. If you've ever wanted a creepy robot to call your friends and scare the crap out of them, now you can with NotifyPhoneBasic, a free service by CDYNE. Use LicenseKey == 0 to test it out.

(HT: Lifehacker.)

I'm a big fan of juries when it comes to criminal trials -- when fully informed, juries serve as a check on government power and ensure that verdicts are in line with not only the law, but also with the common conception of justice. Similarly, I think juries are decently equipped to apportion blame in civil trials. What juries are evidently terrible at is awarding damages. Without outside constraints, two different juries often award wildly disparate damages to winning parties in nearly identical cases, and the values of awards are often entirely arbitrary and reflect very little about the harm actually suffered. Why? Because calculating harm and assigning it a monetary value is very difficult to do and generally requires expertise and math skills that few people possess.

Non-uniform awards that don't accurately reflect harm are bad because they make it impossible for anyone to calculate the risks they face by doing business. A hot cup of coffee cost McDonald's $3 million, despite medical bills in the mere thousands, but how was the company expected to know that? When juries hand out random awards, people can't determine which risks are too risky, and which safeguards are most important to implement.

For some good news from the Gulf Coast, read about the recent tort reform in Mississippi. (Tort: "in law, the violation of some duty clearly set by law, not by a specific agreement between two parties, as in breach of contract.") Mississippi was previously ranked worst in the nation for insurance costs and cost of doing business because of the state's reputation as "jackpot justice capital of America".

Prior to the legislation, Mississippi was known as the "jackpot justice capital of America." The American Tort Reform Association had labeled certain jurisdictions "judicial hellholes." A survey of more than 1,200 senior in-house counsels for the U.S. Chamber Commerce ranked Mississippi 50th in virtually every category of judicial system nationwide. Insurance companies were fleeing the state. Others were refusing to write new policies. The medical field was particularly strained: Liability insurance was in many cases unaffordable, and in some cases unavailable. ...

Insurance was becoming less available and less affordable prior to the passage of the tort reform legislation. Now, the opposite is true. Some plaintiff lawyers and some consumer groups still contend that tort reform doesn't work--but it does not take a rocket scientist to understand that when liability exposure is made predictable and governed by reasonable rules, risk can be better assessed, and insurance companies are more likely to offer coverage.

Lawyers aren't bad people, but they respond to incentives just like everyone else. Winning lawyers get around one-third of any award, so they've got a huge incentive to keep bringing lawsuits until they hit the jackpot. Even worse, mass tort suits that combine hundreds or even thousands of small cases can make lawyers millions of dollars even when the plaintiffs themselves only get a few hundred dollars each. So lawyers have an incentive to find people with tiny grievances, lump them together, and then pull the lever. The end result is that the losing parties get mauled, the lawyers get rich, and the people who actually suffered harm get a tiny check. That doesn't sound like justice to me.

This problem is yet another area in which libertarian theory clashes with reality. Libertarians tend to argue that we don't need many government regulations because people can just sue, but anyone who examines our civil legal system should see that laws that precede and reduce harm are often more efficient than lawsuits aimed at correcting harm after the fact.

Yet another nifty Google Maps application, ACME Laboratories presents the Google Aerometer which allows you to measure the area of regions on a map just by clicking on a few points. It even calculates lines as great circles to correct for the shape of the earth so that measurements are correct for large areas. It probably treats the earth as a sphere though, rather than a collapsed ellipsoid.

(HT: Lifehacker and JV.)

I'm not exactly sure why, but it's amusing to me to read about flurries of ad campaigns for television networks, which are little more than ad campaigns themselves.

NBC executives refused to say how much they were spending to raise the network's profile this fall, other than that it was roughly a third more than what they spent last year at this time. (The popularity of "Desperate Housewives" and "Lost" on ABC last fall has been attributed in part to the network's targeted marketing, including dry-cleaning bags with the "Desperate" logo.)

One of the architects of NBC's strategy, John D. Miller, chief marketing officer of the NBC Universal Television Group, said the network had organized its priorities this year into two tiers. The first includes "Earl"; "E-Ring," a Pentagon drama; and "Surface," about organisms rising from the deep, which are each receiving more marketing support than any show last year. The second tier, also the beneficiary of heavy promotion, includes "Three Wishes," "Biggest Loser" and the Martha Stewart "Apprentice" offshoot.

I'm waiting for a show targeted at TiVo watchers.

I completely believe that the CIA needs to be reformed after the colossal failure of 9/11, and absent other knowledge I'm encouraged by the house-cleaning being performed by CIA Director Porter J. Goss, but I wonder if things are going as badly as page two of that article implies.

"The biggest problem for CIA can be summed up in two words: No spies," said one official.

The agency, in the two years since a presidential commission called for reforming human spying efforts, still has not succeeded in penetrating the major targets of U.S. intelligence with human spies, the official said.

Those targets include the terrorist group al Qaeda and the governments of China, North Korea and Iran.

But you'd hardly expect the CIA to announce how well it's doing placing spies in all those organizations, right? Then again, a CIA announcement that "Yeah, we've got several spies very high up in the North Korean military, in al Queda in Iraq, and in Iran" could eliminate a few enemies by playing on their paranoia....

Last night I watched an episode of Law & Order: SVU in which a prostitute purposefully sought out violent clients, waited for them to assault her, and then killed them. She subsequently stole their credits cards and so forth, confounding the situation, but absent that and other complicating factors (such as the illegality of prostitution) should her conduct have been punishable by law? Assuming she didn't instigate the violence but only sought out men she thought were likely to be violent, can she legitimately claim self-defense when she kills a violent man to protect herself?

Am I the only one who was just a little disappointed that the power outage on Monday was caused by an accident? I don't want anyone to get hurt, or even be seriously inconvenienced, but it sure would have been more interesting if the power lines had been cut by terrorists. I supposed I should be glad my city wasn't targeted, and I'm certainly glad no one was hurt, but incompetence by municipal employees is so mundane. Am I just bored, or am I perverse?

Just my guilty little confession for the day. Maybe this is why "real" journalists tend towards sensationalism?

Ok, everyone's going to be blogging about the recent pledge case in which a federal judge ruled that allowing students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance violates the Constitution. I don't have much to say on the matter other than that it's patently absurd. This is why I think we need to start cleaning the judicial house. Lifetime appointments should be eliminated, and curreent judges who issue facile, nonsensical rulings should face impeachment.

Then again, Clayton Cramer points out that it's not this judge's fault that Supreme Court precedent is "utterly standardless". Still, I say impeach 'em all and let God sort 'em out.

Representative Tom DeLay's declaration of victory over government waste is a parody, right?

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay said yesterday that Republicans have done so well in cutting spending that he declared an "ongoing victory," and said there is simply no fat left to cut in the federal budget.

Mr. DeLay was defending Republicans' choice to borrow money and add to this year's expected $331 billion deficit to pay for Hurricane Katrina relief. Some Republicans have said Congress should make cuts in other areas, but Mr. DeLay said that doesn't seem possible.

"My answer to those that want to offset the spending is sure, bring me the offsets, I'll be glad to do it. But nobody has been able to come up with any yet," the Texas Republican told reporters at his weekly briefing.

Asked if that meant the government was running at peak efficiency, Mr. DeLay said, "Yes, after 11 years of Republican majority we've pared it down pretty good."

It's just so absurd, I don't see how he could possibly utter those statements. Maybe Scott Ott has infiltrated the Washington Times?

The only other explanation I can think of is that DeLay and Congressional Republicans have completely different spending priorities than I and many other fiscally conservative members the party do. The federal budget has swollen by more than 25% from 2001 to 2004 -- the chart below doesn't even include 2005.

Note that the y-axis doesn't start at zero.

If you're more than four years old you may remember that the country seemed to operate pretty smoothly during the 1990s. Sure, there was some occasional philandering, but the budget at least stayed down. If all the fat has been trimmed, how come we weigh 25% more? If we survived the 1990s, is it fair to argue that the subsequent increases aren't "fat"? Sure, some of the extra spending is due to the War on Terror, but most of it is not. President Bush's prescription drug benefit alone will end up costing more than Iraq and Afghanistan combined.

Bush trumps the race card with hurricane vision!

In a startlingly frank acknowledgement, the ChiComs have acknowledged the fatal flaw of communism.

China has defended its refusal to lift pump prices to keep pace with rises in the global oil market over the last 12 months, saying further increases would damage local industries, the military and the economy.

Zhang Guobao, vice-chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission, the chief economic planning body that is also responsible for energy policy, acknowledged that Chinese rises had been allowed to fall behind the world, but said the issue was “complicated”. ...

China, especially in the south, has experienced oil shortages in recent months, partly because of the NDRC’s price controls. The local oil majors all but stopped selling imported crude because of the huge losses they were incurring.

Mr Zhang said subsidising industry to alleviate the impact of price rises was also difficult. “Even if we had the money for the subsidies, it would be very complicated to decide how it should be divided up,” he said.

Complicated because a central planning office can never match the efficiency of a free market when it comes to allocating resources. That's what markets do.

Nearly four years after American taxpayers gave $15 billion to the airline industry, two more carriers are preparing to declare bankruptcy.

Northwest Airlines and Delta Air Lines are both preparing to seek bankruptcy protection as soon as Wednesday, people close to both companies said today.

Northwest and Delta are each finishing the details of their bankruptcy cases, including the financing that they will require to operate under bankruptcy protection, these people said. That could cause delays, but the fundamental work of preparing each bankruptcy case is complete, they said. ...

If Northwest and Delta both file, that would mean four of the industry's seven biggest airlines were operating under bankruptcy protection, reflecting the deep competitive issues that have battered the airlines since the year 2000.

Backruptcy and restructuring are probably the best things the airlines can do, and they probably should have done them years ago. Maybe the $15 billion bailout was beneficial because it delayed this meltdown for a few years, but then again maybe it would have been better to get the worst over with as soon as possible. Our major airlines were burdened with unsupportably high salary contracts with their unions and obsolete fleet structures, and failure was inevitable, particularly after 9/11.

Continuing my series about being poor in America, here's an article by George Will that points out the failure of the exorbitantly expensive "war on poverty".

America's always fast-flowing river of race-obsessing has overflowed its banks, and last Sunday on ABC's "This Week," Sen. Barack Obama, Illinois's freshman Democrat, applied to the expression of old banalities a fluency that would be beguiling were it without content. Unfortunately, it included the requisite lament about the president's inadequate "empathy" and an amazing criticism of the government's "historic indifference" and its "passive indifference" that "is as bad as active malice." The senator, 44, is just 30 months older than the "war on poverty" that President Johnson declared in January 1964. Since then the indifference that is as bad as active malice has been expressed in more than $6.6 trillion of anti-poverty spending, strictly defined.

The senator is called a "new kind of Democrat," which often means one with new ways of ignoring evidence discordant with old liberal orthodoxies about using cash -- much of it spent through liberalism's "caring professions" -- to cope with cultural collapse. He might, however, care to note three not-at-all recondite rules for avoiding poverty: Graduate from high school, don't have a baby until you are married, don't marry while you are a teenager. Among people who obey those rules, poverty is minimal. ...

Given that most African Americans are middle class and almost half live outside central cities, and that 76 percent of all births to Louisiana African Americans were to unmarried women, it is a safe surmise that more than 80 percent of African American births in inner-city New Orleans -- as in some other inner cities -- were to women without husbands. That translates into a large and constantly renewed cohort of lightly parented adolescent males, and that translates into chaos in neighborhoods and schools, come rain or come shine.

If leftists are really concerned with helping the poor -- rather than maintaining them as a permanent class for means of pandering for votes -- they should focus on teaching and encouraging obedience to those three rules: graduate high school, don't have babies out of wedlock, and don't get married as a teenager. The biggest shortcoming of leftism is that it thinks every problem can be solved with a government policy, and it refuses to admit that problems caused by bad behavior can only be fixed if individual people are willing to change.

Meanwhile, SoCalPundit points to a piece by Rush Limbaugh in which the radio commentator says that leftist policies make people poor.

The reality is that liberal Democrat policies fail and make people poor, and do not do anything about it once that happens. The reality that we’re seeing on the media is 180 degrees different from the reality in the country. In the media and liberal Democrat world, Wal-Mart is evil. Wal-Mart, in the real world, has donated something like $15 million (story | story). In media real world, the pharmaceutical companies are evil and killing people. In the real world, the pharmaceutical companies work very hard to make drugs and medicines that save lives and have extended the life expectancy. They have donated more than $25 million in cash and pharmaceutical supplies. And what about the oil companies? In the media reality, the oil companies are the reason for all evil, it’s why we’re in Iraq, it’s why Bush is in the White House, it’s why Cheney is the vice president, it’s why Halliburton is there. But in the real world, ExxonMobil has pledged $7 million, ConocoPhillips and Shell, $3 million apiece, Marathon Oil, one and a half million, the BP Foundation, one and a half million dollars, and guess where that money came from? It came from profits from gasoline (story). The government already runs the oil business. The government tells oil companies where they can’t drill and where they can, where they can’t ship and where they can, on what kind of ships they can ship their goods and on what kinds of ships they can’t. They tell them what kind of gasoline to formulate for 40 different regions of this country. It’s the government that already runs the oil companies. If I were the oil companies, I would convene hearings and I would bring every member of Congress up and I would start asking them questions, “Why are you trying to destroy this industry?” There are two realities. Unfortunately, the Republicans in Washington buy into the media reality, and they think that’s what the rest of the country thinks.

That's the great irony of (true) liberalism and capitalism: by preserving the individual power to be selfish, we actually do more to promote the common good than could any top-down government program.

To the best of my knowledge, laws all around the country require cyclists to obey all the same traffic signs as motorists, but I can't even count the number of times I've watched bicycles zoom through stop signs without even so much as a "California stop". And now, a bicyclist has killed an old lady because of such recklessness, and he's being prosecuted for manslaughter just as if he'd been driving a car. Good!

In case it isn't common knowledge, almost every time you see picketers walking a line they aren't actual union members, they're shills hired by the unions and paid far worse than the union members could ever imagine.

The shade from the Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market sign is minimal around noon; still, six picketers squeeze their thermoses and Dasani bottles onto the dirt below, trying to keep their water cool. They're walking five-hour shifts on this corner at Stephanie Street and American Pacific Drive in Henderson—anti-Wal-Mart signs propped lazily on their shoulders, deep suntans on their faces and arms—with two 15-minute breaks to run across the street and use the washroom at a gas station.

Periodically one of them will sit down in a slightly larger slice of shade under a giant electricity pole in the intersection. Four lanes of traffic rush by, some drivers honk in support, more than once someone has yelled, "assholes!" but mostly, they're ignored.

They're not union members; they're temp workers employed through Allied Forces/Labor Express by the union—United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW). They're making $6 an hour, with no benefits; it's 104 F, and they're protesting the working conditions inside the new Wal-Mart grocery store.

"It don't make no sense, does it?" says James Greer, the line foreman and the only one who pulls down $8 an hour, as he ambles down the sidewalk, picket sign on shoulder, sweaty hat over sweaty gray hair, spitting sunflower seeds. "We're sacrificing for the people who work in there, and they don't even know it."

I'd have slightly more respect for labor unions if they weren't so blatantly hypocritical. Like, say, if members picketed for themselves instead of hiring others to do it for them. If you can hire others to protest on your behalf, isn't that a sign that you're paid enough already?

(HT: James Taranto.)

David Bernstein calls it "a strange protest" and Walter Olson calls the United Food and Commercial Workers "big-hearted" -- presumably in jest.

My brother tells me that the recent landslide victory by Japan's Liberal Democratic Party indicates strong popular support for the United States, for a robust Japanese involvement in the War on Terror, and for economic liberty.

The LDP, which has run Japan for nearly all the past 50 years, stormed to victory Sunday, boosting its standing in the lower house by nearly 50 seats in the 480-member chamber, to 296.

That success came at the painful expense of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan, which saw its standing plummet from 175 seats to 113. It won only one seat in Tokyo, a former stronghold.

Still, reports are that the pro-American, pro-defense actions of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi were not major campaign issues.

The funny thing about the Japanese election result was that by far the most important single issue of policy, and the one with the weightiest implications for the United States and the world, barely made any waves in the campaign.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi won a striking re-election victory by focusing on the single issue of domestic reform in a profoundly misleading way. He was able to campaign as the 'Lionheart' radical who would modernize Japan by privatizing the massive postal bank, and skirted the way that he has far more fundamentally changed Japan`s foreign policy.

Koizumi`s opponents tried to make his newly assertive and pro-American policies into an election issue, but failed. They promised to withdraw the Japanese troops that Koizumi had sent to Iraq (in a strictly non-combat role), and to repair relations with China and South Korea, and also attacked Koizumi for his regular visits to the Yasukuni shrine for Japan`s war dead, which included some World War II military figures accused of war crimes; the visits have also provoked angry comments from Chinese and Korean officials.

So, even if the populace isn't wildly anti-American, they're pro-American enough that the Prime Minister's affiliations didn't hurt him.

13:16, PDT: I'm receiving reports of widespread power outages across Los Angeles, along with building evacuations. Nothing on the news lines yet. Stay tuned.

13:32, PDT: Drudge links to a brief news bite about the outages. Radio sources indicate that some major power distribution lines were damaged, possibly by LADWP employees. That's exactly what I'd expect to hear if the real cause is terrorism. No word from the LADWP yet.

A major portion of Los Angeles lost power Monday afternoon. Outages were reported from downtown to the San Fernando Valley.

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power did not immediately have an explanation for what happened.

Reports are that traffic is [more] snarled throughout the city, with all stop-lights out of commission.

13:36, PDT: Drudge headline says:

Department of Water and Power does not know cause of mass outage... LAPD put on tactical alert... Developing...

13:39, PDT: Just got a report that power is back on. Clayton Cramer emails to say that there are serious solar storms at the moment that could affect power generation and distribution.

13:51, PDT: The California Independent System Operator (Cal ISO) has a system status page that forecasts electricity generation and usage. No real news there though.

Drudge headline now: "Dept of water and power snapped a power line; grid jolted..."

I find it hard to believe that the system is so fragile that a single point of failure could cause such widespread outages.

14:12, PDT: Reuters is reporting that for LAPD to be on a "full tactical alert" means that:

"The city is on a tactical alert and obviously traffic is going to be impacted," Los Angeles Police spokesman Kevin Maiberger said.

Maiberger described a tactical alert as "what happens when the city goes into a state of emergency. Police officers will only be responding to calls where there is a threat to life."

Hopefully no one will take that as a license to start looting.

It's unclear whether or not power is back on. Two of my sources said yes, but I don't see reports of restored power from internet news sites yet.

14:22, PDT: Some Bear Flag League members are still without power. Gary Aminoff in 90067 and the Pirate in 90017 (downtown) have no power or are on backup.

Citizen Smash has a power outage round-up with some quotes and a few links.

14:42, PDT: NBC channel 4 has a power outage map of the affected areas.

14:51, PDT: Reports are that 90% of Los Angeles has power again. Only Los Angeles Department of Water and Power customers were affected; Southern California Edison customers didn't lose power. LADWP avoided the power outages from a couple of years ago and avoided being shafted by Enron because LADWP is still highly regulated, unlike the somewhat-deregulated power companies throughout the rest of the state. This time, they were hit while everyone else escaped unscathed.

Boi from Troy reports what he observed downtown.

15:09, PDT: LADWP employees connected the wrong wires together. Don't cross the streams! At least we didn't experience total protonic reversal... try to imagine all life as you know it stopping instantaneously and every molecule in your body exploding at the speed of light.

15:38, PDT: The loss of power led to loss of refining capacity, which led to a 7-cent per gallon price jump for gasoline. Hm.

17:13, PDT: South Bay residents are advised to stay indoors while local refineries burn off excess gas they couldn't move while the power was out.

23:47, PDT: My final report on the matter... details about why the power went out.

The power outage that affected more than 2 million people in and around Los Angeles on Monday was triggered by an unlikely source: A utility crew installing a system upgrade.

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power workers cut several cables incorrectly, slicing the thin wires as a group, rather than one at a time, said Ed Miller, director of Power System Operations and Maintenance for the department. That triggered a short and tripped circuit breakers. ...

Cutting power quickly when these sorts of problems happen "is the correct thing to do," said Jan Smutny-Jones, executive director of Independent Energy Producers, a Sacramento-based trade association that represents power plants.

"If you don't do that, you end up with what happened in the Northeast," he said, referring to the nation's worst blackout in August 2003. "It starts jumping into other regions and control areas and then you have big problems."

The antics of the newly "liberated" "Gazans" highlight the reasons why I'm skeptical of future Palestinian self-governance.

GAZA CITY — Palestinians surged triumphantly into demolished Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip early today, torching empty synagogues and firing shots into the air, as the last Israeli soldiers withdrew after 38 years of occupation. ...

Controversy over the synagogues within Israel's government crackled until the last minute, when the majority of Cabinet ministers reversed course by voting against demolition after intensive lobbying by rabbis who opposed the razing of the houses of worship. Private homes in the evacuated settlements had already been demolished. ...

The decision left the fate of the synagogues in Abbas' hands. Palestinian officials had turned down an earlier Israeli request that they act as caretakers because of concerns that they could not prevent militants from defacing the synagogues as symbols of the Israeli presence.

"It is a very unfair decision to put us in a situation where if we demolish them we will be doomed, and if we don't, we'll be doomed," chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said. "This is the last thing we want."

Hm, isn't the definitional requirement of a government that it be able to maintain and enforce a monopoly on the use of physical force? If the Palestinians can't control their "militants", then they aren't capable of self-governance.

I've just been reading a little about making steel, and from the simple descriptions of the process it's easy to see how superstitions could form around the process.

Even in the narrow range of concentrations that make up steel, mixtures of carbon and iron can form into a number of different structures, or allotropes, with very different properties; understanding these is essential to making quality steel. At room temperature, the most stable form of iron is the body-centered cubic structure ferrite or α-iron, a fairly soft metallic material that can dissolve only a small concentration of carbon (no more than 0.021 wt% at 910 °C). Above 910 °C ferrite undergoes a phase transition from body-centered cubic to a face-centered cubic configuration, called austenite or γ-iron, which is similarly soft and metallic but can dissolve considerably more carbon (as much as 2.04 wt% carbon at 1146 °C).

So if a primative iron-worker accidentally turns iron into steel, what's the most likely source for the dropped-in carbon? Organic materials, particularly small animals. When the product comes out harder and more resiliant than than expected from an iron tool, the difference could be attributed to supernatural properties of the "sacrificed" animal, the carbon donor.

Clayton Cramer sent a link to a paper he wrote titled "What Caused the Iron Age?" in which he argues that the answer is a regional shortage of bronze.

Reader JV passes along another nifty Google Maps application that let's you pinpoint yourself on the globe and then tells you where you'll come up if you dig a hole through the earth. Madagascar, here I come!

Never Forget.

I was just musing today that I wouldn't be surprised if the Space Shuttle orbiters are armed with some sort of simple ballistic weaponry. Think about it... the commander and pilot are always military officers, and no one else aboard the shuttle would need to know.

Maybe some lawyers can shed light on the laws -- and the underlying moral evaluations -- that could determine whether or not BTK's family will/should pay for his crimes.

WICHITA, Kan. - A week after BTK serial killer Dennis Rader was sentenced to 10 consecutive life terms, his ex-wife is fighting to keep the money she stands to make from selling the couple's former home.

Paula Rader was expected to ask a judge Friday to allow her to intervene in at least six civil suits filed by the victims' families against her ex-husband. She is seeking to have Rader's name removed from the title of the couple's home, which has liens against it pending the outcome of the lawsuits.

The families' attorneys are opposing her efforts, saying the house sold for $30,000 more than it was worth because of BTK's notoriety.

On one hand, I'm sympathetic to the ex-wife... but I also find it hard to believe she didn't know anything about Rader's many murders. Let's assume though, for the sake of argument, that she was taken entirely by surprise and had no idea her husband was a serial killer. Do you think the victims' families should be able to sue and take all the assets that belonged to her and Rader jointly? What's the law, and what's the right thing to do?

Mark Steyn has a great piece about the benefits of British imperialism (from his August 13th, 2005, article in The Spectator).

In the Telegraph the other week, Boris Johnson mentioned Mary Seacole, a 19th-century black nurse from Jamaica who was in her day as famous as Florence Nightingale. And, reading of her, I was reminded for the umpteenth time of why the British, of all people, should never have fallen for the neo-apartheid of multiculturalism. ‘British’ was the prototype multiethnic nationality: if you were a doctor from Kingston-on-Thames or a nurse from Kingston, Jamaica, or an assistant choreographer from Kingston, Ontario, you were British — and, unlike the Germans, race didn’t come into it. ‘The British,’ wrote Colin Powell of his Jamaican background, ‘told my ancestors that they were now British citizens with all the rights of any subject of the Crown.’ That’s correct: in law, there was no distinction between a British subject in Wales and a British subject in Tobago. Britishness was far more of a genuinely multicultural identity than the yawning we-are-the-world nullity of modern multiculturalism. I’m still a wee young thing but my earliest passports bore in bold print on page three the words ‘A Canadian citizen is a British subject.’ It requires a perverse ahistorical fanaticism to decide that Britishness is some shrivelled Little-Englander thing that should never be passed on to our children. It’s always been the great outward, global, embracing identity.

Conversely, I don’t see why we should pretend that self-evidently deficient cultures are our moral equal. In so far as I understand the Arabist mindset of the FCO, it would seem to be something to do with the old Lawrence-of-Arabia routine, dressing up in robes and singing ‘The Desert Song calling/ Its voice enthralling/ Will make you mine...’. I’m sympathetic to the romance of the noble Bedouin riding his Arab on the moonlit sands, just as, apropos the Innu, I can see the attraction of seal and bear hunting. But both cultures seem to have a difficulty accommodating contemporary life. Even in corners of the Arab world that have the veneer of modernity, people say nutty stuff to you all the time. Not misfit weirdsmobiles in loser jobs, but fellows at the very heart of the community. To pluck at random, take Abd Al-Sabour Shahin, respected Egyptian professor, lecturer at Cairo University and head of the Sharia faculty at Al-Azhar university, the Harvard of Sunni Islam. On Monday on Saudi Channel One, Dr Shahin told viewers:

‘Our enemies weave many lies about us, which we are not necessarily aware of. For example: one day, we awoke to the crime of 9/11, which hit the tallest buildings in New York, the Empire State Building. There is no doubt that not a single Arab or Muslim had anything to do with these events. The incident was fabricated as a pretext to attack Islam and Muslims.’

Er, OK. So if no Muslim hit the, um, Empire State Building, who did? On that, Dr Shahin was in no doubt: ‘I believe a dirty Zionist hand carried out this act.’

And so on, read the whole thing. It should be pretty evident that, although most cultures have some interesting qualities, most cultures also suck and are stupid. Seriously. Most cultures, thoughout all history, have permitted slavery, have oppressed women, have been tyrannical dictatorships, and have contributed nothing to the technological advancement that is gradually lifting all humanity from the muck and mire of the natural world.

We should be eager to preserve knowledge about failed and failing cultures, but we should also be quick to encourage their children to abandon them. Save the artwork, the stories, the styles, but don't try to justify and preserve the primitive dogmas that doom future generations to short, miserable lives.

The aerospace industry is doing its part for the US economy, posting record export numbers for the first and second quarters of the year.

Arlington, Va. – Foreign trade in the aerospace industry is continuing to show strength, posting a surplus of about $19 billion in the first half of this year.

According to statistics compiled by AIA's Aerospace Research Center, the industry exported a total of $33 billion in products through June while importing $14 billion. The $19 billion surplus at the year's midpoint puts it on pace to surpass last year's total surplus of $31 billion.

AIA President and CEO John Douglass said the statistics show aerospace continues to be a vital keystone for the U.S. economy.

"This news comes on the heels of reports of growth in aerospace employment as well as orders, shipments, and backlog," Douglass said. "Our industry can boast the largest positive foreign trade balance in U.S. manufacturing." ...

Plus, we kill lots of terrorists.

AC sent me some screen shots of some AP/Yahoo photos with captions that may reflect racism among the journalistic elite. No links to the original photo URIs were sent, and AC claims they've been taken down.

Photo 1

Photo 2

Photo 3

The captions identify black looters as "looters" and white looters as "two residents" "finding" bread and soda in a grocery store. What do you think?

David Hiersekorn writes:

There are a couple of reasons. First, the two photos were taken by different agencies. The "looters" photo was from AP, and the "finders" photo was from Agence-France Press. There are very likely different editorial standards.

Secondly, the actual photographers were interviewed. The "looters" photographer observed the people entering a store and coming out with the merchandise. On the other hand, the "finders" photographer saw the people actual "find" the food outside a store. They never entered the store.

I think there is a genuine question as to whether a person can "loot" lost items. The different caption likely reflects a difficult editorial decision in an attempt to distinguish what was observed from the common understanding of what "looting" is.

This isn't an example of racism.

Sounds reasonable to me. It appears now that this story got quite a bit of play last week and I just never noticed it.

When it comes to secular theology, the worship of education is high in the statement of faith; and when it comes to education, dogma number one is the belief in the benefits of class size reduction. On the surface it seems logical that a teacher with fewer students can give more attention to each, and it seems logical that a student who receives more attention from teachers will learn more. Right? Well, apparently not. Despite America's devotion, class size reduction has little effect on learning.

Tennessee's Project STAR (Student/Teacher Achievement Ratio) - a study conducted between 1985 and 1989 - seemed to support that conclusion. Over 6,000 students were involved in the study in which children from 79 schools were randomly sent to large, medium and small classes. The study's conclusion was that smaller classes led to significant performance improvement, estimating that students who stayed in small classes for four full years - kindergarten through grade 3 - ended up 5.4 months ahead of their peers by the time all had entered grade 8. Moreover, benefits for minorities outpaced the positive affects for white students, producing nearly twice the gains. The STAR study seemed to substantiate all that pro-class-size-reduction forces had expected, and is now cited as fact by educators, academics and policy makers. ...

Harvard University's Caroline Hoxby argued that the methodology of STAR was lacking. Its biggest flaw was that study participants knew they were being studied and hence tended to work to achieve outcomes desired by the researchers. As Hoxby writes, "the schools in a class size experiment may realize that if the experiment fails to show that the policy is effective, the policy will never be broadly enacted. In such cases the schools have incentives that the fully enacted policy would not give . . . . the experiment alters the incentive conditions . . . In addition, some individuals temporarily increase their productivity when they are being evaluated."

Eric Hanushek, then at the University of Rochester, also examined the study's methodology, but pointed to different shortcomings. Among these were:

* Between 20 and 30 percent of students in STAR quit each year, leaving less than half of the original group by the study's end.
* The students who quit were disproportionately low performers, providing a statistical boost to smaller classes.
* No pretests were given to students at the beginning of the study, providing no baseline off of which to measure achievement gains.
* While students for the program were chosen randomly, teachers and schools were not.

In other words, STAR was bad science. The researchers found what they set out to find. Real-world experience in California -- at great expense -- has demonstrated that reducing class size has essentially no effect on student learning.

Inspired by STAR, the state of California forged a plan to implement a massive class-size-reduction effort. Starting in 1996 the Golden State set in motion a program to lower average state K-3 class size from an average of 28 to 20 students. Unfortunately for Californians, there have been no achievement gains as a result of reducing class size. According to a series of reports by the state commissioned Class-Size-Reduction (CSR) Research Consortium, class-size-reduction has not achieved anything like even the questionable gains reported in the Tennessee experiment. In its third and most recent report, the Consortium reported finding no evidence that class-size-reduction has produced improved scores, though it has indisputably cost a great deal of money and displaced many effective programs and teachers. While they found that "achievement has been increasing during CSR's implementation," the researchers concluded that there "was no strong association between differences in exposure [to reduction efforts] and differences in achievement effects during this period." In other words, there was no correlation between how long students were in reduced-size classes and changes in their test scores. And the cost to achieve so little? To date, an estimated $8 billion.

Go read the rest of that article and you'll see that countries all around the world have larger classes and higher performance than the United States -- if anything, it appears that large classes are beneficial, at least for some subjects. Why? Perhaps because large classes allow good teachers to work with more students. The paper goes on to argue that what really helps students is a reduction in school size.

It shouldn't be any surprise that the primary culprits behind the dogma of class size reduction are the teachers' unions. Smallers classes means more teachers with easier jobs, so the unions have a monumental incentive for advocating the failed programs. The $8 billion dollars wasted by California tax-payers went straight into the pockets of the unneeded teachers and their union organizers. What's more, larger classes with fewer teachers would mean that the best teachers could teach more children and the worst teachers could be dismissed -- a concept antithetical to the unions.

Choosing a version of the Bible is hard, and to tell the truth I haven't done a great deal of research. I've read what various scholars have said about the versions, but I'm not linguistically qualified to judge the translations based on their own merits -- if I were, I wouldn't need a translation, I could just read the Bible in the original languages! The main reasons I chose the NIV are:

1. The NIV is based on more (quantity) and more recent manuscripts than just about any other version.

2. It was translated independently by several teams who then compared their results to ensure accuracy.

3. I find it very readable.

4. It appears to accurately translate the thoughts of the original texts into the appropriate English words. That is, it is a "thought-for-thought" (TFT) translation rather than "word-for-word" (WFW). The main problem I have with WFW translations is that the meanings of words change over time, as can be clearly seen by examining the way the Hebrew word sheol is treated.

Here's a chart of how sheol is translated in different versions of the Bible. This chart doesn't explain any of the other differences between the translations or why one should one over another, other than to mention that the person who compiled the chart is a Jehovah's Witness who believes that the New World Translation (NWT) is the most faithful to the original.

With a WFW translation it's very easy to think you understand the thought behind a word but be entirely mistaken. Some readers prefer WFW translations because they don't want to trust translators to attribute the right thoughts to the words... but they're still trusting the translators to put the right English words to the original words. It seems to me that even if you learn the original languages yourself you're still going to have to trust that your teachers are teaching you the language properly. Since you can't escape trusting someone, I prefer to cut out all the middle steps and just buy a TFT translation.

Former Representative Bob Williams points out that state and local governments control the first-responders, and that Governor Blanco and Mayor Nagin bear most of the blame for the debacle following hurricane Katrina.

Many in the media are turning their eyes toward the federal government, rather than considering the culpability of city and state officials. I am fully aware of the challenges of having a quick and responsive emergency response to a major disaster. And there is definitely a time for accountability; but what isn't fair is to dump on the federal officials and avoid those most responsible--local and state officials who failed to do their job as the first responders. The plain fact is, lives were needlessly lost in New Orleans due to the failure of Louisiana's governor, Kathleen Blanco, and the city's mayor, Ray Nagin.

The primary responsibility for dealing with emergencies does not belong to the federal government. It belongs to local and state officials who are charged by law with the management of the crucial first response to disasters. First response should be carried out by local and state emergency personnel under the supervision of the state governor and his emergency operations center.

The actions and inactions of Gov. Blanco and Mayor Nagin are a national disgrace due to their failure to implement the previously established evacuation plans of the state and city. Gov. Blanco and Mayor Nagin cannot claim that they were surprised by the extent of the damage and the need to evacuate so many people. Detailed written plans were already in place to evacuate more than a million people. The plans projected that 300,000 people would need transportation in the event of a hurricane like Katrina. If the plans had been implemented, thousands of lives would likely have been saved.

FEMA hasn't been flawless, but it should be clear to any thinking person that most of the blame for the deaths around New Orleans belongs to Governor Blanco and Mayor Nagin.

This is pretty ridiculous... why should Katrina victims who were smart enough to buy insurance be penalized?

The federal government plans to begin doling out debit cards worth $2,000 each to adult victims of Hurricane Katrina, The Associated Press has learned. ...

Not everyone will qualify for a debit card, said Ed Conley, a spokesman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency in Houston.

"For instance you may have some people who have insurance and insurance is meeting their living expenses while they have been displaced. You have some people who may be looking at an option such as a cruise ship where all of their needs are going to be met. It is going to vary by family," said Conley.

If we as a society insist that our government be positioned to help people who were capable of providing for themselves but were too foolish to do so, we shouldn't also penalize the victims who did plan ahead.

Of course, as a Californian, I'm basically counting on federal aid if there's ever a major earthquake. Most insurers in California don't provide any earthquake coverage; it can be purchased separately in some cases, but it's horrendously expensive. Typical policies have deductibles of over $50,000 and annual premiums around 2% of the property's value.

Most people would look at the AD-1 Oblique Wing aircraft and think it's crazy.

Why is the wing at such a strange angle relative to the fuselage? If you think that's weird, get ready for the Oblique Flying Wing, basically the same as the AD-1 but with no fuselage -- a wing that points at an oblique angle relative to the direction of flight. DARPA is requesting proposals for a program called Switchblade that will explore the feasibility of building and controlling an OFW at low supersonic speeds.

The trick is that the optimal sway angle depends on the speed of the craft, which means that it has to change during flight... which means that the engines and any sensors/weapons systems on the aircraft have to pivot. Ultimately, there's talk of building a wing 400 feet long to carry passengers across continents at supersonic speeds.

Eugene Volokh asks does God hate poor people? In response to the assertions of some Christians that hurricane Katrina was a judgement from God on New Orleans:

If this is so, then wouldn't it follow that God must really dislike poor people? After all, poor people generally bear the brunt of most natural disasters: It's harder for them to evacuate; they are less likely to have insurance; their assets are less likely to be diversified, so the economic damage is more likely to be severe for them; they are closer to the poverty line, so even small losses may harm them more than larger losses harm rich people; and so on. If you live in a poor country, you're much more likely to suffer from disasters than if you live in a rich country. If you're poor in any country, you're much more likely to suffer from disasters than if you live in a poor country.

The same is in considerable measure true for wars, at least since World War II: Tragic as 9/11 was, the loss of life in America was far less than the loss of life in Rwanda, Uganda, Cambodia, and who knows how many other poor countries in recent decades. And it's true for AIDS and most other diseases: Rich gays in the U.S. are much more likely to survive AIDS than poor people -- gay or straight, promiscuous or monogamous but infected by nonmongamous spouses or in other ways -- in Africa or Asia.

So, which is it: Does God dislike poor people? Or might it be that disasters, wars, and diseases are actually not God's punishment for sin?

The general explanation is that some disasters are intended to punish, and some disasters are merely allowed to happen.

As a rather conservative Christian myself, it appears to me that most of the evil and terrible things that happen to people in the world are either the direct result of their own evil actions, or the direct result of the evil actions of others. Arguably, much of the suffering in New Orleans is due to poor/incompetent preparation by local officials who neglected their duties -- and some of that blame then rests with the voters who elected them.

However, the Bible certainly does teach that God punishes evil-doers, though not all bad events are punishment. From Jesus' teaching on two specific events in his day that killed a lot of people:

Luke 13:1-5

Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish."

A pseudonymous Reader at the VC makes a pithy observation:

This explanation of killing sinners would also make God into one heck of a liar. I have it on substantial authority that God promised not to kill any more sinners with flood waters. . .

What's the explanation for people's apparently irrational bidding schemes on eBay? I don't understand why almost everyone, myself included at times, will place an initial bid on an item that's lower than what they're actually willing to pay and then watch the item like a hawk as it nears the end of the auction and continually up their price if they get outbid. There's no reason to get into a bidding war on eBay, since the system automatically increments your bid as necessary up to your maximum. The only reason to continually up your bid near the end of an auction is if the price you're willing to pay keeps rising... but why would that be the case? Because there's some pride in winning, or because you misjudged your maximum price earlier? In either case, it seems the wise thing to do would be to stick with your earlier, less impassioned maximum.

However, there's at least one instance in which I can imagine rationally wanting to increase a bid: if you're bidding on multiple similar items. You may not want to put in high bids at the beginning because you won't want to win all the items at high prices, but as you start to lose some items you can increase your bids on the remaining items to increase your chance of winning at least one.

Anyway, I generally try to exert self-control and not increase my initial bid when someone tops it. Yes, I want to win, but the item doesn't suddenly become more valuable to me just because someone outbids me. I open with the highest price I'm willing to pay and let eBay increment the price up to that level. If I lose, I lose because the price went above my estimation of the item's value.

I don't often disagree with Clayton Cramer, but he recently posted that New Orleans' refugees should be helping more and relieving soldiers and I don't think that would work very well.

As I was watching news coverage of the rescue operations, I was struck by something: how much of the labor moving water and food was being done by soldiers. I know that many of those who were stuck in New Orleans were elderly, and others are just children, but why don't we see large numbers of these refugees involved in moving relief supplies? This is just a little disturbing. You might almost get the impression that the reason so many were stuck in New Orleans when the hurricane hit was a certain unwillingness to do anything for themselves.

In this case, I think there are several factors at work preventing more refugee involvement.

1. The soldiers know how to work with each other and with their vehicles and equipment.

2. How could one determine which refugees were trustworthy to take possession of supplies and distribute them?

3. The refugees often have entire families to care for with no home and no communication.

4. The refugees are generally the least educated, least able-bodied ex-citizens of the city, and probably the least capable of assisting with relief efforts.

So, I agree with the sentiment, but I think it would be a short matter of time before refugee volunteers started falling out of helicopters, getting crushed under trucks, or absconding with supplies. In fact, Mr. Cramer posted earlier on the reasons some people didn't evacuate.

There's a lot of reasons.

Some career criminals didn't leave, I suspect, because they were looking forward to the chance to loot the city.

I would expect that many of the mentally ill (of which New Orleans, like any big city, has a lot) did not leave because they either didn't get the message, or were too fearful to accept transportation even if it had been offered.

Some stayed because they were hospitalized.

Some stayed because they didn't see any need for it--New Orleans has been hit by hurricanes before.


Continuing my unhealthy obsession with Sean Penn, it looks like he just can't manage to keep his mouth shut long enough to maintain his aura only moderate idiocy: now he's accusing President Bush and the federal government of "criminal negligence" for their handling of the aftermath of the disaster.

Oscar-winning Hollywood actor Sean Penn, who has been assisting rescue efforts in New Orleans, said the US government did not "seem to be inclined to help".

"We were pulling drowning people out of the water, it's the ultimate distress and human suffering ... dead bodies," he told GMTV.

Penn said he had spent nine hours on Monday searching the water for people and during all that time he saw just three boats carrying US officials.

More like he spent nine hours with his personal photographer bailing out his boat with a plastic cup, but why quibble about the details?

"There are people that are dying right now and I mean babies and old people and everybody in between - they're dying. There are people dying and (the US government are) not putting the boats in the water, I think that's criminal negligence. I don't think anybody ever anticipated the criminal negligence of the Bush administration in this situation."

But alas, Mr. Penn is ignorant of the actual definition of criminal negligence.

A gross deviation from the standard of care expected of a reasonable person that is manifest in a failure to protect others from a risk (as of death) deriving from one's conduct and that renders one criminally liable.

So, the federal government's handling of the disaster could only be criminally negligent if Mr. Penn is arguing that President Bush created the hurricane but then failed to operate it in a safe manner.

While Mr. Penn the disaster recovery expert and psychic is handing out blame, maybe he should read up on how poorly local officials have performed, particularly New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin. I'm not arguing that the feds have handled the disaster flawlessly, but all the preparatory work, including an actual evacuation of the city, was the responsibility of the state and local authorities.

Updating my earlier post, the WaPo has corrected their article, now saying that Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco declared a state of emergency on August 26th, which was the Friday before Katrina actually hit on Monday the 29th. (HT: Mannish.)

However, it looks like Mayor Ray Nagin deserves more blame than I thought.

Then on Sunday morning, when I checked in again with local NO bloggers and local NO news sites, I again saw no mention of Nagin's behavior. The I watched Nagin's TV interview and I saw how the local news media was too cowardly to confront him about his doing nothing - and I mean absolutely, nothing - to get the poor and the sick and the physically incapacitated OUT of the city when the city was projected to be either totally destroyed or completely flooded with water.

I also watched as local reporters were too afraid to contradict him when he claimed - and this was at the time the then Category 5 was projected to directly hit the city - that in just two weeks - all the water would be pumped out and all the utilities would be back!

Again, not one person anywhere in the MSM said... anything... about this lie, then or since.

I then watched as the news media again said... nothing... as Nagin claimed on TV that the flood waters after the hurricane would NOT be toxic. At that point, I belatedly started blogging non-stop (unaware of Brendan and the handful of others pre-existing efforts), asking - doesn't anyone out there realize that the mayor of New Orleans.... is crazy?

B. Preston at Junk Yard Blog has more pictures of school buses left to the flood rather than used by Mayor Nagin to evacuate his citizens.

With the improved resolution we count 255 buses in that one lot. That means at a capacity of 66 on board, 16,830 New Orleans residents could have been evacced out in one trip. Even if you have a lower capacity per bus, say 50 per bus, you're still getting nearly 13,000 out in one run. In an emergency mandatory evacuation, you could probably get away with putting more than 66 on each of those buses.

When we said that the buses are now expenses instead of assets, this is what we meant. Not only are those buses ruined, their disuse resulting in lives lost, but now they're spilling oil and gas out into the already polluted water. A spark near that slick could cause yet another fire and a whole new set of explosions.

(HT: Clayton Cramer.)

In light of the lost city of New Orleans, Dennis Overbye has an interesting look at vanished cities from history.

Joel Kotkin writes about "What determines if a city recovers from disaster?"

Although it's certainly too early to begin finger-pointing, since it's already started I may as well join in. Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) protests so much that her complaints readily identify the group that deserves most of the blame.

Underscoring the strain of the disaster, Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., lashed out at federal officials who she said have denigrated local efforts to deal with the catastrophe.

"If one person criticizes them or says one more thing, including the president of the United States, he will hear from me," she said on the ABC's "This Week." "One more word about it after this show airs and I might likely have to punch him. Literally."

Maybe the Senator didn't see this picture linked to by Drudge of hundreds of school buses under water that Mayor Ray Nagin didn't deploy to assist residents with the mandatory evacuation. Sure, some residents were too poor or sick to evacuate, but it seems like 25% of the city stayed. Local officials didn't do their jobs to get them out, and the fact that these buses weren't used shows that the locals didn't take the impending disaster seriously.

To some extent it's understandable that local civilian authority broke down so quickly, but no one anticipated it. I don't blame police officers for abandoning their jobs in efforts to care for their own families. Even if my family were safe, I'm not sure I'd want to risk my life wading into a toxic swamp to try to rescue people who were more likely to shoot at me than thank me. Local police aren't equipped or trained for this sort of operation, but the fact that they had to perform it indicates that their superiors didn't do their jobs very well.

What about this WaPo article that mentions how long Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco (D) waited to accept federal aid.

Louisiana did not reach out to a multi-state mutual aid compact for assistance until Wednesday, three state and federal officials said. As of Saturday, Blanco still had not declared a state of emergency, the senior Bush official said.

"The federal government stands ready to work with state and local officials to secure New Orleans and the state of Louisiana," White House spokesman Dan Bartlett said. "The president will not let any form of bureaucracy get in the way of protecting the citizens of Louisiana."

Blanco made two moves Saturday that protected her independence from the federal government: She created a philanthropic fund for the state's victims and hired James Lee Witt, Federal Emergency Management Agency director in the Clinton administration, to advise her on the relief effort.

You can't protect your bureaucratic fiefdom and then turn around and complain that the resulting failures are someone else's fault.

Updated and corrected!

Leftists to the Rescue!

My mom just sent me this forwarded email with a bit of advice I'd never heard before. Does anyone know if this is true? It feels like a hoax.

Paramedics will turn to a victim's cell phone for clues to that person's identity. You can make their job much easier with a simple idea that they are trying to get everyone to adopt: ICE.

ICE stands for In Case of Emergency. If you add an entry in the contacts list in your cell phone under ICE, with the name and phone no. of the person that the emergency services should call on your behalf, you can save them a lot of time and have your loved ones contacted quickly.. It only takes a few moments of your time to do.

Paramedics know what ICE means and they look for it immediately. ICE
your cell phone NOW!

Please pass this one along to folks that YOU care about...

According to Snopes the ICE strategy has some basis in fact, but they link to a Los Angeles Fire Department site that says other preparations are more important.

Contrary to several chain e-mail warnings, ICE is not something that Paramedics will rush to look for the instant they arrive at an emergency, and is certainly not required in order for LAFD Paramedics to provide quick, focused and compassionate emergency care.

We tell people: Add ICE to your cell phone only after you've affixed similar information to (or near) the official photo identification you routinely carry in your wallet.


With so many types and brands of wireless phones, it can take precious minutes to learn how to access a phone's directory. Many wireless devices are also found to be locked, damaged or have discharged batteries following an incident, rendering ICE unusable.

Please do encourage your interested friends and colleagues to make an ICE entry in their cell phone, especially if it will give them peace of mind — but not at the expense of written emergency contact and medical information.

Subsequently people began to create hoaxes claiming that adding ICE numbers to your phone would trigger viruses, malicious text messages, or hidden cell phone charges. These are all obviously untrue.

I was the first person I've seen to write that New Orleans should be abandoned in the wake of Katrina, but now the meme is spreading. Don Singleton and Greg Ransom have concurring posts, and the latter has satellite pictures that show the city post-apocalypse.

Contra all the comments to my earlier posts about the myth of depletion, it looks like rising oil prices actually are increasing the quantity of available oil. As I've explained many times, as oil prices rise, oil sources that were previously un-exploitable due to high costs become profitable.

The United States has an oil reserve at least three times that of Saudi Arabia locked in oil-shale deposits beneath federal land in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming, according to a study released yesterday. ...

For years, the industry and the government considered oil shale — a rock that produces petroleum when heated — too expensive to be a feasible source of oil.

However, oil prices, which spiked above $70 a barrel this week, combined with advances in technology could soon make it possible to tap the estimated 500 billion to 1.1 trillion recoverable barrels, the report found.

Yes, oil will stay expensive, but prices will drop once refining processes are optimized and infrastructure is in place. It's simple economics: as price rises, so does supply.

(HT: Glenn Reynolds.)

Burns: Smithers, we're at war!
Smithers: I'll begin profiteering, sir.
Burns: And hoarding. Leave it to the Democrats to let the Spaniards back in the pantry.

-- The Simpsons, "Brother's Little Helper"

It sounds like state and federal officials are taking a measured approach to accusations of price gouging over gasoline and other essentials in the wake of Katrina.

Meanwhile, attorney's general from a number of states held a telephone strategy session to discuss the rapidly escalating gas prices and possible investigations into gouging. Prosecution for price gouging is generally a state matter unless it involves some form of collusion or other activity in violation of federal antitrust laws.

Gas prices jumped 35 cents to 50 cents a gallon overnight in some areas pushing to well over $3 a gallon after Hurricane Katrina shut down nine Gulf Coast refineries, disrupted gasoline pipelines to the Midwest and East and stopped 90 percent of the oil production in the Gulf of Mexico.

"If we get consumer complaints about (gasoline) prices, we'll look at those complaints to find evidence of anticompetitive conduct," said John Seesel, the FTC's associate counsel for energy issues.

Collusion among suppliers to jack up prices should be punished, since it undermines the competitiveness our markets rely on, but it's only prudent for the people and companies who supply essential products and services to hedge against present or future disruptions by raising prices. Most libertarians (I'm not one) dispute that the concept of price gouging is useful and argue that suppliers should be able to charge whatever price they want at any time, and theoretically I agree. The problem is that, as with many libertarian theories, in practice price gouging can lead to the breakdown of civil order; once violence erupts, suppliers may be robbed and killed, and it's unlikely that anyone can accurately account for the cost of that possibility when they're setting prices. The Wikipedia entry on price gouging gives four reasons why anti-gouging laws are a good idea, even in a free market:

In a market economy, laws against price gouging are justified as a valid exercise of the police power to preserve order during an emergency, and may be combined with anti-hoarding measures. The usual argument is fourfold.

1. The community as a whole may well possess sufficient stocks to sustain it through the emergency, provided that panic can be avoided. Sharp increases in price may trigger such panic.

2. When people's resources are strained by a situation beyond ordinary prudence, the corrective tendencies of the market are too slow and communication too uncertain.

3. In an emergency, ordinary legal protections are impractical. Thus, refusing to sell lumber at an advertised price may constitute fraud and refusing to honor a reservation may constitute a tort, but the harm is likely to be irreparable long before a case can be brought.

4. Regardless of theory, when people become desperate, public order becomes precarious. Emergency services are likely to be strained by both increased need and reduced capacity. Riots by otherwise law-abiding citizens could prove overwhelming.

Though most libertarians hate to admit it, there are cases on the fringe of experience in which the survival of the group depends on limiting the freedoms of some of its members. Yes, it's a slippery slope; welcome to real life.

In the wake of Katrina I've found this useful: from the American Red Cross, a list of things to include in your disaster supplies kit. Please leave comments with anything you think they may have left out.

We need to do everything we can to rescue people still trapped in that annihilated city, but beyond that I think it's time to face facts: New Orleans should be almost entirely abandoned. Let everyone collect their insurance checks and spend their money how they will, but I don't think I single dollar of public money should be spent rebuilding a coastal city that's 80% below sea level. That's just insane. Experts had been predicting this distaster for decades, and now that it's finally come it's time to cut our losses and pull out. No tax dollars should be spent rebuilding or repairing any structure less than one foot above the high water mark.

Nicole Gelinas has an article in City Journal in which she points out that New Orleans was collapsing before Katrina, and the job of reconstruction will be nearly impossible.

The truth is that even on a normal day, New Orleans is a sad city. Sure, tourists think New Orleans is fun: you can drink and hop from strip club to strip club all night on Bourbon Street, and gamble all your money away at Harrah’s. But the city’s decline over the past three decades has left it impoverished and lacking the resources to build its economy from within. New Orleans can’t take care of itself even when it is not 80 percent underwater; what is it going to do now, as waters continue to cripple it, and thousands of looters systematically destroy what Katrina left unscathed?

A city blessed with robust, professional police and fire forces, with capable government leaders, an informed citizenry, and a relatively resilient economy can overcome catastrophe, but it doesn’t emerge stronger: look at New York after 9/11. The richest big city in the country in more ways than one mustered every ounce of energy to clean up after 9/11 and to rebuild its economy and its downtown—but even so, competing special interests overcame citizens’ and officials’ best intentions. Ground Zero remains a hole, and New York, for all its resources, finds itself diminished, physically and economically, four years on.

In New Orleans, the recovery will be much, much harder. The city’s government has long suffered from incompetence and corruption.

We need to help the survivors rebuild, but somewhere else. The WaPo has an article explaining why most ex-residents won't bother waiting around.

First they have to pump the flooded city dry, and that will take a minimum of 30 days. Then they will have to flush the drinking water system, making sure they don't recycle the contaminants. Figure another month for that.

The electricians will have to watch out for snakes in the water, wild animals and feral dogs. It will be a good idea to wear hip boots and take care of cuts and scrapes before the toxic slush turns them into festering sores. The power grid might be up in a few weeks, but many months will elapse before everybody's lights come back on.

By that time, a lot of people won't care because they will have taken the insurance money and moved away -- forever. Home rebuilding, as opposed to repairs, won't start for a year and will last for years after that.

Even then, there may be nothing normal about New Orleans, because the floodwater, spiked with tons of contaminants ranging from heavy metals and hydrocarbons to industrial waste, human feces and the decayed remains of humans and animals, will linger nearby in the Gulf of Mexico for a decade.

Who'd want to return to that?

(HT: James Taranto for the City Journal link, Orin Kerr for the WaPo link.)

I just received an email from reader JC with a link to a letter of apology by Joshua Heldreth, the 10-year-old buy who was arrested for trespassing while trying to bring a glass of water to Terri Schiavo. reports:

TAMPA BAY, August 31, 2005 ( - Ten year-old Joshua Heldreth, the eldest of eight children, was arrested on Good Friday of this year for trespassing while attempting to bring a drink of water to Miss Terri Schaivo. Days later Schiavo died of intentional dehydration. In court Joshua pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 25 hours of community service and ordered to write an apology for his actions.

The boy whose arrest photo was splashed on front pages of newspapers across the nation wrote in his apology letter, "I was arrested on Good Friday for trespassing on the hospice center's property . . . Not giving Mrs. Shiavo (sic) food or water was wrong. The reason I had to go on your property was because Jesus would do the same thing. It made me sad that she was so thirsty and it made Jesus sad too. I knew she would die without water and I am called by Jesus to be a defender of the defenceless. So I had to go on your property to try to bring her a drink."

Joshua added, "I am sorry that you didn't like that and wouldn't allow me to help save her life and one day you will have to tell God why. I won't be able to help you then like I tried to help her. I will pray for you every day . . ."

It may not be a hoax, but I doubt the letter was written by a 10-year-old... and I'm entirely on his side. But hey, I've been wrong before!

If anyone remembers the Los Angeles riots in 1992, it's refreshing to hear Louisiana's governor actually condemn the looting taking place in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina.

Gov. Kathleen Blanco said she has asked the White House to send more people to help with evacuations and rescues, thereby freeing up National Guardsmen to stop looters.

An additional 10,000 National Guard troops from across the country began pouring into the Gulf Coast on Wednesday to shore up security, rescue and relief operations. The new units brought the number of troops dedicated to the effort to more than 28,000, in what may be the largest military response to a natural disaster.

"We will restore law and order," Blanco said. "What angers me the most is that disasters like this often bring out the worst in people. I will not tolerate this kind of behavior."

In Los Angeles in 1992, and even in the Wikipedia entry I linked to above, almost all you heard was sympathy for the rioters civil-disturbance-causers and how they were rising up against oppression by burning down buildings, killing innocents, and stealing electronics. Stealing food and essential goods is one thing, but stealing televisions and beer is quite another. Situations like this serve as a stark example that humanity is not, at its root, "basically good", as many like to believe.

A reader just pointed me to a site feed tracker that I hadn't seen before called PubSub. PubSub scours RDF and XML feeds from sites for links to other sites and compiles a set of daily statistics. The interface is clean and much faster than many of the other link tracking sites that I've seen, and Master of None was already listed without me having to do anything, so it must be fairily comprehensive.

The big evil defense contractor I work for is sending millions of dollars to the Gulf Coast to help with disaster relief.

In response to the mounting damages caused by Hurricane Katrina, I am pleased to announce that [the company] will contribute an initial $2 million for relief assistance. This contribution is based on the current needs assessment. It will support the company’s Gulf Coast employees through a relief fund established specifically for this purpose, and will support their local communities with a contribution to the American Red Cross. ...

Many of you asked how you can help your Gulf Coast colleagues. I am pleased to announce that a matching gift program has been established for those wishing to contribute to the Disaster Relief Fund. The company will match employee donations dollar for dollar. Accompanying this announcement is a Q&A document explaining how you can contribute.

In addition to immediate monetary assistance, resources are being tapped across the company to help our employees and operations. We are working to deliver food and necessary supplies, vehicles, temporary office trailers, generators, compressors and other equipment. Company aircraft have been pressed into service. Satellite telephones have been sent to the area to address the communications problems, and personnel issues such as payroll distribution are being addressed. We will continue to do everything in our power to ensure the comfort and well-being of our employees and hasten the resumption of business.

Taking care of people is good business.

And evil corporation Wal-Mart has set up a community crisis contact page that people can log in to from home or from any Wal-Mart and leave messages for friends or family affected by Katrina.

(HT: Glenn Reynolds.)

Update 2:
Wal-Mart is donating another $15 million, and promising to open up "mini-Wal-Marts" in affected areas to give away essentials to people in need.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from September 2005 listed from newest to oldest.

August 2005 is the previous archive.

October 2005 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.


Email blogmasterofnoneATgmailDOTcom for text link and key word rates.

Site Info