December 2005 Archives

Reader AH sent along an article by Rodney Stark that explores "How Christianity (and Capitalism) Led to Science".

When Europeans first began to explore the globe, their greatest surprise was not the existence of the Western Hemisphere, but the extent of their own technological superiority over the rest of the world. Not only were the proud Maya, Aztec, and Inca nations helpless in the face of European intruders, so were the fabled civilizations of the East: China, India, and Islamic nations were "backward" by comparison with 15th-century Europe. How had that happened? Why was it that, although many civilizations had pursued alchemy, the study led to chemistry only in Europe? Why was it that, for centuries, Europeans were the only ones possessed of eyeglasses, chimneys, reliable clocks, heavy cavalry, or a system of music notation? How had the nations that had arisen from the rubble of Rome so greatly surpassed the rest of the world?

He goes on to discuss how Christianity, as a lived-out religion with far more practical impact on daily life than the other religions of the world, led to greater respect for man, greater freedom, capitalism, and the rationality required for scientific research.

Christian faith in reason and in progress was the foundation on which Western success was achieved. As the distinguished philosopher Alfred North Whitehead put it during one of his Lowell Lectures at Harvard in 1925, science arose only in Europe because only there did people think that science could be done and should be done, a faith "derivative from medieval theology."

Moreover the medieval Christian faith in reason and progress was constantly reinforced by actual progress, by technical and organizational innovations, many of them fostered by Christianity. For the past several centuries, far too many of us have been misled by the incredible fiction that, from the fall of Rome until about the 15th century, Europe was submerged in the Dark Ages — centuries of ignorance, superstition, and misery — from which it was suddenly, almost miraculously, rescued; first by the Ren-aissance and then by the Enlightenment. But, as even dictionaries and encyclopedias recently have begun to acknowledge, it was all a lie!

It was during the so-called Dark Ages that European technology and science overtook and surpassed the rest of the world. Some of that involved original inventions and discoveries; some of it came from Asia. But what was so remarkable was the way that the full capacities of new technologies were recognized and widely adopted. By the 10th century Europe already was far ahead in terms of farm-ing equipment and techniques, had unmatched capacities in the use of water and wind power, and possessed superior military equipment and tactics. Not to be overlooked in all that medieval progress was the invention of a whole new way to organize and operate commerce and industry: capitalism.

He continues with a fascinating account of how the Church's monastic orders began lending money at interest and selling products at market-clearing prices.

My brother pointed me to a set of poll questions by the Pew Research Center about Wal-Mart and Christmas and the some of the results are pretty interesting.


I work in a technology company, so it's strange to me to see Microsoft rated so highly. I'm curious as to whether or not these are the only companies they asked about, because I'd like to know what other companies would be rated at less than 50% favorability. It's not surprising that people aren't too pleased with an oil company like Exxon/Mobil at the moment, considering recent gas prices, but Halliburton? Come on, that low rating is purely due to political persecution. Most people had never even heard of the company five years ago.


Despite the constant furor both ways over political correctness, many people prefer "Merry Christmas" and a plurality don't care. An earlier table showed that when people weren't explicitly given the "don't care" option, 60% said they preferred "Merry Christmas".


And despite the constant harping by the ACLU, a good majority of people think religious Christmas displays should be allowed on public property. Doesn't the ACLU's focus on this issue constitute an admission that there just aren't many legitimate threats to our civil liberties? I suppose I should be thankful that the biggest threat the ACLU can come up with is so innocuous.

In the coming decades it will be incredibly important that China continues to open up its economy and political process, and it's good to see that President Hu Jintao is saying many of the right things. I'm not sure how sincere he is, and it's important to remember that we can't trust China, but in the long run I think China is moving in the right direction.

This is quoted from a Drudge flash report, so the link will go bad pretty quick.

Chinese president stresses commitment to peaceful development in New Year Address Sat Dec 31 2005 09:22:59 ET

BEIJING Chinese President Hu Jintao reiterated China's strong commitment to peaceful development in his New Year Address broadcast Saturday to domestic and overseas audience via state TV and radio stations.

"Here, I would like to reiterate that China's development is peaceful development, opening development, cooperative development and harmonious development," Hu said.

"The Chinese people will develop ourselves by means of striving for a peaceful international environment, and promote world peace with our own development," Hu said in the address broadcast by China Radio International, China National Radio and China Central Television.

Notice there's no mention of Taiwan or terrorism, but holidays are the time for vague platitudes, not concrete policy.

He said the Chinese people are willing to join with peoples of all nations in the world to promote multilateralism, advance the development of economic globalization toward common prosperity, advocate democracy in international relations, respect the diversity of the world and push for the establishment of a new international political and economic order that is just and rational.

I'm not sure if "democracy in international relations" is the same as regular old democracy, or if it means equal representation and voting among nations, as is seen in the UN General Assembly. If it's the former, great, if it's the latter, then it's meaningless.

He pledged that China will adhere to its fundamental national policy of opening to the outside world, continue to improve the investment environment and open the market, carry out international cooperation in a wide range of areas and seek to attain mutual benefits and win-win results with all countries in the world.

If they continue to open their economy, it's inevitable that their political process will follow.

He mentioned in particular that China will do its best to help developing countries accelerate development and help people suffering from war, poverty, illnesses and natural calamities in the world.

I don't think they have the resources to help other countries much at this point, considering that most Chinese subjects live in third-world conditions, but it's a nice thought.

Maybe someone can interpret this dream for me. My brother Nick was going around hiding life-size statues of historical figures (famous and generic). When someone would find one, he would jump out and scare them, yelling "anachronism!" It was really hilarious.

As I said before, the people who leaked information at the NSA eavesdropping operation are traitors and should be executed, so it's good to see that there's finally an investigation.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Justice Department has launched an investigation to determine who disclosed a secret NSA eavesdropping operation approved by President George W. Bush after the September 11 attacks, officials said on Friday.

"We are opening an investigation into the unauthorized disclosure of classified materials related to the NSA," one official said.

Earlier this month Bush acknowledged the program and called its disclosure to The New York Times "a shameful act." He said he presumed a Justice Department leak investigation into who disclosed the National Security Agency eavesdropping operation would get under way.

I wouldn't be surprised if the information turns out to have come from a Democratic member of the House or Senate Intelligence Committee. I hope that's not the case, but I'm not sure if it would be worse or better than if the leak came from an employee of the NSA.

It was a hard decision in June of 2003, but I'm glad I sold my GM stock for $36.52 per share. Yesterday GM hit its lowest price in 20 years, slipping to $18.33 in the middle of the day. Yuck!

It's a feature of bureaucracies that they waste and steal money, and no bureaucracy is better at it than a government. It's no surprise whatsoever to discover that up to 85% of government subsidized 9/11 recovery loans were improperly awarded to businesses who weren't touched by the attack. Some of the problem is undoubtedly incompetence by bureaucrats who can never be fired, but I'm sure there's plenty of graft and outright theft going on as well.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Texas golf course, a Nevada tanning salon and an Illinois candy shop were among small businesses that may have improperly received U.S. subsidized loans intended for firms hurt by the September 11 attacks, an internal government watchdog has found.

The Small Business Administration's inspector general said in a report made public on Wednesday that in 85 percent of the sample of loans it reviewed, a company's eligibility to receive the money through the program could not be verified.

"Could not be verified" is a politico-speak for "lie".

At least with charities, if there's graft it can be criminally prosecuted when discovered and donors can redirect their contributions to less wasteful organizations. When it comes to government corruption there are rarely prosecutions because no politician wants to admit that his appointees are a problem, and bureaucrats protect their own. What's more, us "donors" (at gun-point) don't have many options for redirecting our contributions unless we want to move to another country.

I recently bought a Panasonic PV-GS19 (which I love) and have been making a lot of movies starring my family and my new wife. As you can imagine I'd like these movies to last for years, so I've been burning them to DVD. How long should they stay good? Apparently it's a matter of technology and quality. As with other products, DVD manufacturers mass-produce a huge number of units, many of which come off the assembly line with defects. The near-perfect units are sold under expensive brand names, and the slightly defective units are sold more cheaply through side companies. A knowledgable friend recommended Taiyo Yuden DVD-R discs to me through SuperMediaStore, and I haven't had any problems with them yet... but it's only been a couple of months.

Update 060117:
Reader John V. passes on this additional article about recordable media quality.

I suppose many people would find this article about the difficulty of finding an abortionist in South Dakota to reflect some sort of "primitive" moral value system, but since the Supreme Court has decreed that killing unborn babies shall be legal no matter what the public wants, social ostracism is probably one of the most effective ways to save lives.

Sioux Falls, S.D. -- The waiting room at the Planned Parenthood clinic was packed by the time the doctor arrived -- an hour late because of weather delays in Minneapolis.

It was clinic day, the one day a week when the only clinic in South Dakota that provides abortions could take in patients. This time it was a Wednesday. The week before it was a Monday.

The day changes depending on the schedules of four doctors from Minnesota who fly to Sioux Falls on a rotating basis to perform abortions, something no doctor in South Dakota will do. The last doctor in South Dakota to perform abortions stopped about eight years ago; the consensus in the medical community is that offering the procedure is not worth the stigma of being branded a baby killer. ...

[Kate] Looby, [Planned Parenthood's state director,] whose father is an obstetrician-gynecologist, said she has talked to many doctors in South Dakota who say they have no personal objection to performing abortions but cannot risk their careers and community standing by offering the procedure.

The abortionists and the mothers should be ashamed of themselves. They and the men who fathered these children (when they enabled the abortion) should all be thrown in jail.

It's kind of sad that despite a multi-billion dollar gun registry and draconian gun laws, Canadian gun violence is skyrocketing. Naturally the United States is to blame.

While many Canadians take pride in Canadian cities being less violent than their American counterparts, Toronto has seen 78 murders this year, including a record 52 gun-related deaths -- almost twice as many as last year.

"What happened yesterday was appalling. You just don't expect it in a Canadian city," the mayor said.

"It's a sign that the lack of gun laws in the U.S. is allowing guns to flood across the border that are literally being used to kill people in the streets of Toronto," Miller said.

Guns don't kill people, people kill people. Blaming poverty doesn't seem much more accurate.

"There are neighborhoods in Toronto where young people face barriers of poverty, discrimination and don't have real hope and opportunity. The kind of programs that we once took for granted in Canada that would reach out to young people have systematically disappeared over the past decade and I think that gun violence is a symptom of a much bigger problem," Miller said.

The problem isn't povery, it's a lack of opportunity. Ironically, yet tragically, the more socialist programs a well-meaning government enacts the less liberty its people have, which just makes the problems worse.

Leave it to the outgoing Prime Minister Paul Martin to make an even stupider suggestion:

The escalating violence prompted the prime minister to announce earlier this month that if re-elected on January 23, his government would ban handguns. With severe restrictions already in place against handgun ownership, many criticized the announcement as politics.

Hopefully Canadians won't be entirely castrated by their nannies.

John Thompson, a security analyst with the Toronto-based Mackenzie Institute, says the number of guns smuggled from the United States is a problem, but that Canada has a gang problem -- not a gun problem -- and that Canada should stop pointing the finger at the United States.

"It's a cop out. It's an easy way of looking at one symptom rather than addressing a whole disease," Thompson said.

But dealing with gangs is hard, and signing a piece of paper that says "all guns are banned!" is easy. It's much simpler to take rights away from everyone than to nurture a culture that respects property, loves liberty, and in which people take responsibility for themselves.

There isn't a lot of news at the moment, and I'm enjoying my week off. The only productive work I have to do is to get together a rough set of slides for my dissertation defense next quarter, but that shouldn't be too hard since all the information I need is already in my nearly-complete dissertation.

The rest of the time I'm spending with my wife and playing Might and Magic III. I played MMII several times through but never got the sequel, and I'm enjoying it quite a bit. Once I have some free time on my hands (i.e., I'm done with school) I think I might write a hybrid of MMIII and Shining Force 2, another of my all-time favorites. I'll write them in C# so they're platform-independent, and it'll give me a good opportunity to learn Gtk#.

Anyway, I'm sure I'll be posting more this week, but it probably won't be as mind-blowing as usual.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Apparently the Moschidae Deer is a real thing, but I'm sure glad they don't pull Santa's sleigh. Instead of antlers, they have fangs.

How'd you like to see a few of those nasties climbing around your roof at night?

HowStuffWorks claims to have a pretty complete list of Christmas songs with only twenty-six members. As they say, that explains why we tend to hear the same songs over and over.

  • Away In A Manger
  • Carol Of The Bells
  • Deck The Halls
  • God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
  • Jingle Bells
  • Joy To The World
  • Hark, The Herald Angels Sing
  • Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas
  • I'll Be Home For Christmas
  • It Came Upon A Midnight Clear
  • Little Drummer Boy
  • O Come All Ye Faithful
  • O Holy Night
  • O, Little Town of Bethlehem
  • O Tannenbaum
  • Rudolf the Red-Nose Reindeer
  • Santa Claus Is Coming To Town
  • Silent Night
  • Silver Bells
  • The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire)
  • The First Noel
  • The Twelve Days of Christmas
  • We Wish You A Merry Christmas
  • What Child Is This?
  • White Christmas
  • Winter Wonderland

And over.

Also see my post from two years ago about The Twelve Days of Christmas.

Ok, so by now everyone in the world knows They got married?!, but what's the big deal? These two people have been in more internet ads than anyone or anything else I can think of. Who are they? Why do we care if they got married? Did they really get married?

I've been wishing everyone Merry Christmas and just generally refusing to recognize that the decorations at work are merely for "Happy Holidays". So far no one has lectured me on my cultural insensitivity, or even seemed to notice. I'm just glad no one has wished me Happy Channukakkah yet or I'd have to punch them in the face for disrespecting my people!

I've written about the follies of foreign aid and derided the UN for calling America "stingy", and the recent devestating earthquake in Pakistan has provided America with yet another opportunity to prove our critics wrong.

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan--From the air, the town of Balakot, at the lip of the Kaghan Valley in Pakistan's mountainous North-West Frontier Province, resembles pictures of Hiroshima circa late summer 1945: All but a few buildings have been reduced absolutely to rubble. There were some 50,000 people in this town on the morning of Oct. 8; a six-second earthquake that day killed an estimated 16,000 outright. Now survivors live mainly in scattered tent villages, not all of them properly winterized. And winter has begun.

The people of Balakot and dozens of other devastated towns are much on the mind of Rear Adm. Michael A. LeFever, 51, the man in charge of the U.S. military's 1,000-man, $110 million-and-counting relief effort here. "I'll never forget landing and smelling gangrene and smelling death," he says of his first trip to the disaster zone where 73,000 died. "The first couple of days were overwhelming."

It was Pakistan's good fortune in those critical days that Adm. LeFever could call in heavy-lift helicopters, particularly the tandem-rotor Chinook, from bases in nearby Afghanistan. Every road into the Frontier Province and the neighboring Azad Kashmir region had been rendered impassable by huge landslides. Every hospital in the region except one had been destroyed. The Pakistan government, which lost nearly its entire civil administration in the region as well as hundreds of soldiers, lacked the airlift capacity to bring adequate relief north and the critically injured south. The Chinooks were among the few helicopters able to reach, supply and evacuate places that, even under normal conditions, are some of the most inaccessible on earth.

Since then, U.S. helicopters have flown 2,500 sorties, carried 16,000 passengers and delivered nearly 6,000 tons of aid. Just as importantly, the Chinook has become America's new emblem in Pakistan, a byword for salvation in an area where until recently the U.S. was widely and fanatically detested. Toy Chinooks (made in China, of course) are suddenly popular with Pakistani children. A Kashmiri imam who denounced the U.S. in a recent sermon was booed and heckled by worshippers. "Pakistan is not a nation of ingrates," a local businessman told me over dinner the other night. "We know where the help is coming from."

The American military is one of the greatest forces for good in the world at this moment, perhaps second only to Christianity.

My wife has been attending Saddam's trial in Iraq and has the inside scoop on the proceedings, including information that substantiates Saddam's claims of abuse.

You've gotta love this essay by Daniel Gross about journalists coming to terms with their place in the social structure.

The New York real-estate boom is claiming a different kind of casualty, according to an article in Sunday's New York Times. Keying off a new report issued by the Center for an Urban Future, Jennifer Steinhauer noted that, thanks to high housing prices, many of the creative types who work in Manhattan-centered fields like advertising, publishing, and the arts are being priced out of the city. This, presumably, could damage New York in the long run, since it's an article of faith among nouveau-urban thinkers that the creative classes are a huge economic advantage, as the author Richard Florida has persuasively argued.

It could also damage journalism. The journalists who write these stories about people who can't afford to live in New York can't afford to live in New York, either. And that's a trend that may prove just as corrosive to establishment media as any disruptive technology.

The "disruptive technology" being, presumably, blogs and the internet media.

Journalists have long suffered from what David Brooks (in his excellent Bobos in Paradise phase) identified as status-income disequilibrium. Journalists received low wages compared to many of their peers and neighbors but enjoyed higher prestige and job security. But for employees of the media Big Three, both the prestige and job security are fading as the publications hemorrhage audiences, advertisers, buzz, and public esteem. Meanwhile, the wages for other professions that New York journalists' neighbors and peers work in (law, consulting, financial services, hedge funds) have been rising fast.

It's called reality. You may have come into peripheral contact with it while writing disparaging, condescending articles about those of us who have lived in it for our whole lives.

Most experienced reporters and editors at the publications in question earn salaries in the low six figures. They can expect salaries to rise by a few percentage points a year, if they're lucky. Salaries that barely pierce six figures certainly aren't insulting to most Americans. But everything is relative. A couple doing quite well—he's an editor at the Journal, she's a reporter at the Times—could make up to $250,000. But after New York taxes, New York child care, and New York housing, you're not left with much. In New York City, you can't buy a co-op or a condo with only 10 percent down. In most desirable suburbs, you can't buy a starter house for less than $700,000. When children arrive, the couple has to choose between living in an expensive town with good public schools (which means long, painful commutes), or the prospect of private-school tuition at $25,000 per kid per year. Given the types of lives many journalists wish to lead—and think they're entitled to lead by virtue of their education and positions—the wages aren't anywhere near sufficient.

Oh no! They have to make agonizing decisions between public and private school? The horror! These observations demonstrate, economically, that journalists' sense of entitlement is misplaced and that their actual value is far less than their perceived value. The real tragedy here is that media consumers have been overcharged for the past century.

Apparently Mr. Gross agrees:

Today, neither journalists nor their employers have aligned their self-perceptions with the wages they pay and the space they occupy in the world. For decades, companies like the media Big Three have seen themselves as among the elite employers of New York, analogous to Goldman Sachs, or McKinsey, easily able to recruit and retain the best and the brightest. The Times, the Journal, and Time Inc. want to hire yuppies, the better to connect with their yuppie readerships. And reporters and editors want to be yuppies. But the economics of the business—and of the home town—no longer allow for the upwardly mobile portion of yuppiedom. (It's somewhat different in Washington, where the rich aren't so rich and housing isn't so expensive.)

We New York-area journalists shouldn't ask for pity, and we don't deserve it. As a class, we're bourgeois and ambitious. We like comfort and access, but we don't want to work all that hard. Working for clients, as our lawyer neighbors do, is anathema. So is taking on risk, the task for which our neighbors who toil in the financial vineyards are so richly rewarded. Most people who choose to become journalists have great advantages—good educations and the sorts of skills that can translate into other professions. Writers unhappy with their wages can always switch fields, seek other jobs, or leave. If housing prices continue to rise, and if wages continue to stagnate, the media Big Three may find that their captive creative class might quit for greener pastures.

It's optimistic to assume that veteran journalists will be able to find greener pastures and higher-paying jobs -- after all, those who can, do, and those who can't, write. Without a willingness to work hard for, you know, customers, it's hard to see how any of these journalists will even be employable. The real, precious irony will be if these elitists are forced to move into fly-over country just to find any pastures at all.

On the whole I think it's a great thing for our society that journalists are going to have to live in the real world with the rest of us; let's hope similar changes hit academia. Perhaps once our "thinking class" has a little tougher time making ends meet they'll come to appreciate the value of cutting taxes and the annoyance of governmental interference.

(HT: Rush Limbaugh's radio show.)

Richard Russell provides a list of twelve characteristics of the "ideal" business, most of which I've considered intuitively but could not have written and encapsulated as consisely as Mr. Russell has. Cutting out all the valuable explanations in the article:

(1) The ideal business sells the world, rather than a single neighborhood or even a single city or state.

(2) The ideal business offers a product which enjoys an "inelastic" demand.

(3) The ideal business sells a product which cannot be easily substituted or copied.

(4) The ideal business has minimal labor requirements (the fewer personnel, the better).

(5) The ideal business enjoys low overhead.

(6) The ideal business does not require big cash outlays or major investments in equipment.

(7) The ideal business enjoys cash billings.

(8) The ideal business is relatively free of all kinds of government and industry regulations and strictures.

(9) The ideal business is portable or easily moveable.

(10) Here's a crucial one that's often overlooked; the ideal business satisfies your intellectual (and often emotional) needs.

(11) The ideal business leaves you with free time.

(12) Super-important: the ideal business is one in which your income is not limited by your personal output (lawyers and doctors have this problem).

(HT: Sound Mind Investing.)

The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals has slapped down the ACLU and its most recent attempt to eliminate religion from the public sphere.

We will not presume endorsement from the mere display of the Ten Commandments. If the reasonable observer perceived all government references to the Deity as endorsements, then many of our Nation's cherished traditions would be unconstitutional, including the Declaration of Independence and the national motto. Fortunately, the reasonable person is not a hyper-sensitive plaintiff.... Instead, he appreciates the role religion has played in our governmental institutions, and finds it historically appropriate and traditionally acceptable for a state to include religious influences, even in the form of sacred texts, in honoring American legal traditions.

That's the essence, but there's more criticism of the ACLU, including a passage accusing the group that supposedly favors "civil liberties" of purposefully conflating "endorsement" and mere "recognition".

(HT: Clayton Cramer.)

Saddam Hussein claims he's been beaten and tortured while in captivity, making it obvious yet again that the enemies of America are quick to grab every lifeline the Democrats throw to them. Although I personally think it would be great if his allegations were true, I doubt they are; it wouldn't make any sense for his guards to risk their necks beating such a high-profile prisoner. Anyway, I've yet to hear a MSM outlet point out that al Qaeda training manuals instruct captured terrorists to make accusations of torture and abuse even when they aren't true, and why? Because they know that the American left is eager to believe such accusations and quick to use them against America's interests... and to just coincidentally help the terrorists.

And how long will it be until we see a terrorist try to free himself by citing an "illegal" NSA wiretap?

I enjoy art, but I don't have a lot of respect for the profession of "artist". Art, like legislation, seems like something that's best created by people who are otherwise capable of doing more important things. Art is a fine hobby, even noble, but just about everyone I've met who has tried to make a career of it has been lazy and pretentious. Anyway, I say all that to point to this story about an "art expert" who got fooled by a chimpanzee.

A GERMAN art expert was fooled into believing a painting done by a chimpanzee was the work of a master.

The director of the State Art Museum of Moritzburg in Saxony-Anhalt,

Katja Schneider, suggested the painting was by the Guggenheim Prize-winning artist Ernst Wilhelm Nay.

(HT: James Taranto.)

Four months ago I proposed an idea for an international aid organization to be called Guns Without Borders whose mission would be to deliver weapons to oppressed people around the world. As the genocide in Darfur continues to worsen, Dave Kopel argues that "the victims of an on-going genocide have an over-riding right to acquire and possess defensive arms, notwithstanding any contrary national or international laws on the subject", and I agree. I don't have the knowledge or wherewithal to organize such a charity, but I'd be will to donate money to send weapons to the Darfuris who are being slaughtered by their own government.

Perhaps my earlier belief that the majority of UN member states are tyrannical dictatorships was mistaken, seeing as how Freedom House rates 147 out of 192 nations as "free" or "partly free".

Freedom House listed 89 countries as "free," meaning that 46 percent of the world's population now enjoy a climate of respect for civil liberties.

Another 58 countries were judged "partly free," while the number of countries considered "not free" declined from 49 in 2004 to 45 this year, the lowest number in over a decade.

Of course, depending on the methodology, "partly free" nations could be pretty tyrannical, and the total number of "partly free" and "not free" states is greater the number of "free" states in the United Nations. So, for the moment I'm going to stick by my earlier assessment and continue to consider the United Nations to be a dictator's playground with no moral or philisophical standing whatsoever.

Flatirons Surveying has a great page that describes the difference between accuracy and precision.

Precision: the degree of refinement in the performance of an operation, or the degree of perfection in the instruments and methods used to obtain a result. An indication of the uniformity or reproducibility of a result. Precision relates to the quality of an operation by which a result is obtained, and is distinguished from accuracy, which relates to the quality of the result. ...

Accuracy: the degree of conformity with a standard (the "truth"). Accuracy relates to the quality of a result, and is distinguished from precision, which relates to the quality of the operation by which the result is obtained.

So precision tells you how good your method is, and accuracy tells you how good your measurement is. As Yiding Wang is quoted at the top of the page, "Accuracy is telling the truth . . . Precision is telling the same story over and over again."

Pilot lights have always bothered me. They seem so out of place in a modern society, reminiscent of the hot coals that cavemen would hoard from lightning strikes so they could start fires back at camp. My car doesn't have a pilot light, so I'm sure there's some alternate technology that could be used to light natural gas, and yet even new appliances like water heaters require you to have a standing open flame in your house. I just counted in my head, and there are at least five pilot lights in my house burning gas continually.

I wonder if there's a way to build a gas-powered television that doesn't just convert the gas directly into electricity?

The typically brilliant Mark Steyn has a great piece on how secular atheisists are rationalizing themselves out of existence. Particularly pithy for the holiday season.

Peter Watson, the author of a new book called Ideas: a History of Thought and Invention, from Fire to Freud, was interviewed by the New York Times the other day, and was asked to name ‘the single worst idea in history’. He replied:

‘Without question, ethical monotheism. The idea of one true god. The idea that our life and ethical conduct on Earth determines how we will go into the next world. This has been responsible for most of the wars and bigotry in history.’

And a Merry Christmas to you, too. For a big-ideas guy, Watson is missing the bigger question: something has to be ‘responsible for most of the wars and bigotry’, and if it wasn’t religion, it would surely be something else. In fact, in the 20th century, it was. Europe’s post-Christian pathogens of communism and Nazism unleashed horrors on a scale inconceivable even to the most ambitious Pope. Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot: you’d look in vain for any of them in the pews each Sunday. Marx has a lot more blood on his hands than Christ — other people’s blood, I mean — but the hyper-rationalists are noticeably less keen to stick him with the tab for the party.

So the big thinker would seem to be objectively wrong in what, for a secular rationalist, sounds more like a reflex irrational bigotry all his own. A thinking atheist ought to be able to appreciate the benefits the secular world derives from monotheism — for example, the most glorious achievements in Western art and music. By comparison, militant atheism has given us John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’, that paean to nothingness whose lyric — ‘Above us only sky’ — is the official slogan of John Lennon International Airport in Liverpool.

Yet another study has been issued that demonstrates the liberal bias of the mainstream media, this one from Tim Groseclose of UCLA who has compared news reports with political speeches.

"I suspected that many media outlets would tilt to the left because surveys have shown that reporters tend to vote more Democrat than Republican," said Tim Groseclose, a UCLA political scientist and the study's lead author. "But I was surprised at just how pronounced the distinctions are."

"Overall, the major media outlets are quite moderate compared to members of Congress, but even so, there is a quantifiable and significant bias in that nearly all of them lean to the left," said co‑author Jeffrey Milyo, University of Missouri economist and public policy scholar.

I'm not sure I agree with all of their methodology -- such as their quantification of "liberalness" that gives the average American voter a more liberal rating than the average member of Congress -- but any changes I'd propose would simply make the resulting measure of media liberalness even more pronounced.

Matt Pottinger explains why he quit reporting and joined the Marines.

A year ago, I was at my sister's house using her husband's laptop when I came across a video of an American in Iraq being beheaded by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The details are beyond description here; let's just say it was obscene. At first I admit I felt a touch of the terror they wanted me to feel, but then I felt the anger they didn't. We often talk about how our policies are radicalizing young men in the Middle East to become our enemies, but rarely do we talk about how their actions are radicalizing us. In a brief moment of revulsion, sitting there in that living room, I became their blowback. ...

Friends ask if I worry about going from a life of independent thought and action to a life of hierarchy and teamwork. At the moment, I find that appealing because it means being part of something bigger than I am. As for how different it's going to be, that, too, has its appeal because it's the opposite of what I've been doing up to now. Why should I do something that's a "natural fit" with what I already do? Why shouldn't I try to expand myself?

A fascinating personal journey that illustrates exactly why we're going to win.

More so that most celebrities, Tom Cruise is a lunatic. Even if it weren't for the bizarre pseudo-religion of Scientology I have a feeling he'd be a nutcase.

Maureen Bolstad, who was at the base for 17 years and left after a falling-out with the church, recalled a rainy night 15 years ago when a couple of dozen Scientologists scrambled to deal with "an all-hands situation" that kept them working through dawn. The emergency, she said: planting a meadow of wildflowers for Cruise to romp through with his new love, Kidman.

"We were told that we needed to plant a field and that it was to help Tom impress Nicole," said Bolstad, who said she spent the night pulling up sod so the ground could be seeded in the morning.

The flowers eventually bloomed, Bolstad said, "but for some mysterious reason it wasn't considered acceptable by Mr. Miscavige. So the project was rejected and they redid it."

Other ex-members say it wasn't the only time that Miscavige put them to work to please Cruise.

Miscavige, a firearms enthusiast, introduced Cruise to skeet shooting at the compound, according to an ex-member who said the actor was so grateful that he sent an automated clay-pigeon launcher to replace an older, hand-pulled model. With Cruise due to return in a few days, Miscavige again ordered all hands on deck, this time to renovate the base's skeet range, the ex-member said.

Dozens worked around the clock for three days "just so Tom Cruise would be impressed," the ex-member said.

The Times also helpfully enlightens its readers about the true beliefs of Scientologists, sharing secrets that can cost adherents a fortune to learn.

In his own spiritual life, Cruise has continued to climb the "Bridge to Total Freedom," Scientology's path to enlightenment. International Scientology News, a church magazine, reported last year that the actor had embarked on one of the highest levels of training, "OT VII" — for Operating Thetan VII.

At these higher levels — and at a potential cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars — Scientologists learn Hubbard's secret theory of human suffering, which he traces to a galactic battle waged 75 million years ago by an evil tyrant named Xenu.

According to court documents made public by The Times in the 1980s, Hubbard espoused the belief that Xenu captured the souls, or thetans, of enemies and electronically implanted false concepts in them to keep them confused about his dirty work. The goal of these advanced courses is to become aware of the trauma and free of its effects.

Interestingly, the article also says that Isaac Hayes is a Scientologist, despite his performance in an episode of South Park that ruthlessly mocked the cult. I recommend watching "Trapped in the Closet" for more detailed information.

My brother passes on these secret Scientology papers.

Update 2:
Some commentors say that Isaac Hayes wasn't in the Scientology episode.

President Bush's speech tonight on Iraq was just about perfect. It was succinct and went straight to the heart of the matter. He showed humility in admitting that administering Iraq after the war has been harder than expected, and he was wise to ask his political opponents to support the effort for the sake of the country.

It's plain and simple: the person or persons who leaked information about highly classified NSA surveillance programs are traitors in a time of war and should be sought out, prosecuted and executed. President Bush is right to be outraged, and every American should feel the same way.

One Democrat said Bush was acting more like a king than a democratically elected leader. But Bush said congressional leaders had been briefed on the operation more than a dozen times. That included Democrats as well as Republicans in the House and Senate, a GOP lawmaker said. ...

Bush said leaders in Congress have been briefed more than a dozen times. Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., told House Republicans that those informed were the top Republican and Democratic leaders of the House and Senate and of each chamber's intelligence committees. "They've been through the whole thing," Hoekstra said.

Congressional leaders knew about the progam and allowed it. Leaking national security secrets on a personal whim, because you happen to think the secrets aren't worth keeping, is one of the most dishonorable actions an American can take. "Unpatriotic" doesn't begin to describe the traitorous scum who betrayed the secrets entrusted to them, and The New York Times isn't much better.

Doc Rampage and Dean Esmay agree.

I have a great deal of respect for Jews that I know and for Judaism in general (as do most Christians that I know). However, it is also evident that modern Judaism is suffering from a lack of theological purpose. From conversations I've had with Jewish friends -- Conservative, Reform, and Orthodox -- it seems to me that Judaism offers very little to answer the question "so what?" Many Jews I spoke to either don't believe in an afterlife or claim that Judaism as a whole doesn't teach anything about an afterlife. Many also said that the Messiah is only figurative, and that not only wasn't Jesus the Messiah but that there will never be a literal Savior.

All fine and good, but those beliefs leave little reason to be Jewish, and to most (all?) Jews I know Judaism is more of a culture or ethnicity than a religion of substantial spirituality. It's no surprise to me, then, that Jewish leaders are panicking about demographics as Jews intermarry with Genitiles and the children of such unions rarely identify as Jewish.

It is one of the most commonly understood notions about Judaism that its adherents do not proselytize. And yet there in the Boston Globe last week was the headline: "Conservative Jews Set a Conversion Campaign." What was going on?

As it happened, Rabbi Jerome M. Epstein, the head of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, had set a somewhat limited campaign. At the group's convention he had urged: "We must begin aggressively to encourage conversions of potential Jews who have chosen a Jewish spouse."

Such a desire has more to do with practical reality than with theology. (Gentiles still do not need to become Jews in order to live according to God's wishes.) With the intermarriage rate at about 47% and less than 8% of children of intermarried couples actually identifying as Jews, it is easy to see why the chosen people are in a state of demographic panic.

Honestly, it's amazing to me that Judaism has survived so long after its primary earthly purpose was fulfilled, that of bringing about Jesus' life and sacrifice. There are no more Moabites or Philistines, yet the Jewish people continue to prosper -- how? The only explanation I can think of is that God has promised numerous times to care for his Chosen People, and so they continue to survive despite being so reviled by much of the world throughout history. Eventually they will come into their full inheritance.

Looks like the Democrats have given up on trying to form a coherent message on national defense and are throwing their hands up in the air... in frustration, not surrender!

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said yesterday that Democrats should not seek a unified position on an exit strategy in Iraq, calling the war a matter of individual conscience and saying differing positions within the caucus are a source of strength for the party.

Pelosi said Democrats will produce an issue agenda for the 2006 elections but it will not include a position on Iraq. There is consensus within the party that President Bush has mismanaged the war and that a new course is needed, but House Democrats should be free to take individual positions, she sad.

"There is no one Democratic voice . . . and there is no one Democratic position," Pelosi said in an interview with Washington Post reporters and editors.

Definitely the people we should put in charge of the country. Anyway, I suppose having no position is better than enabling your opponents to make commercials with you waving white flags.

It's always interesting to hear a terrorist labeled as "al Qaeda's number-three man", but apparently these terrorist rankings are pretty subjective.

The reported killing of a senior al Qaeda operative by a CIA-launched missile in Pakistan on Dec. 1 has sparked debate among terrorism experts over the true identity of the target and the accuracy of numerical rankings that the Pentagon and White House have attached to other captured or killed terrorists. ...

On Dec. 3, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf told reporters that Abu Hamza Rabia had been killed in an explosion two days earlier. An aide to Musharraf told reporters that Rabia was "very important in al Qaeda, maybe number three or five" in the terror group's hierarchy. Pakistani Interior Minister Aftab Sherpao added that Rabia's death was a "big blow to al Qaeda."

Several American news organizations, including the Washington Post and Los Angeles Times, then quoted multiple, unnamed U.S. intelligence officials as saying that Rabia was al Qaeda's number-three man, the operational commander or military commander, all terms typically used interchangeably. Headlines around the world trumpeted the death of the "al Qaeda number three man". ...

But the day before Hadley's appearances, terrorism expert and author Christopher L. Brown was labeling it all a case of mistaken identity. Rabia was wanted for plotting to assassinate Musharraf, Brown said, was probably a local senior member of al Qaeda, but was far from being its military mastermind. ...

Rabia has never appeared on the FBI's "Most Wanted Terrorists" list and no known reward has been posted for his capture, Brown points out.

A LexisNexis database search turns up no news articles written about Rabia prior to his reported killing, except for an Aug. 18, 2004, announcement by the Pakistani government of a reward for his capture and that of six other al Qaeda suspects accused of attempting to assassinate President Musharraf on Dec. 14 and 25, 2003.

The 'real' al Qaeda number three, Brown contends, is Saif al-Adel (also known as Muhammad Ibrahim Makkawi), who was previously reported by numerous independent sources to have become al Qaeda's chief of the military committee (operational commander) following the capture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in March 2003.

Anyway, there's a lot more info to be found online, and I wouldn't trust Pakistani rankings too far.

My brother Nick has started posting again at Nick No Nihon, and I think his post answering the question "is King Kong racist?" is a great place to start. He also knows a lot about Japan, and I think his take on Japan's inevitable militarization is quite worth reading.

PM Koizumi knows that if Japan is to become a world super power, it will need a full blown military, not just a Self-Defense Force. To the extent that Koizumi can make the war in Iraq a good thing for Japan, politically and economically, he will also be able to undermine domestic opposition to the eventual creation of a Japanese military. Article IX of the Japanese Constitution (promulgated in 1946) prevents the creation of such a military, but Constitutions can be amended, and some in Japan think it is time to revise or repeal Article IX. Pacifism is not deep-seeded in Japanese culture, after all... In a culture characterized by more than fifteen centuries of isolation, homogeneity, and civil war, sixty years of outward-facing pacifism is not enough to establish a tradition. Article IX is going to go. And Koizumi is showing it the door.

With respect to the more immediate issue of the joint missile development project undertaken by the U.S. and Japan, well, that's just another sign that Japan is beginning to recognize the potential collateral benefits of having a well-funded military-industrial complex.

As Nick says, America stands to benefit a great deal from Japanese cooperation. Looks like the investment we put into Japan at the end of WW2 is still paying dividends.... Just imagine how great an ally Iraq might be in 50 years.

Iraqis are voting at this very moment. I'm going to ink my finger in purple tomorrow to show my support.

Looks like it's going pretty well. Big winners: Iraqis, President Bush. Big losers: terrorists, Democrats. Funny how those tend to line up.

My poor dog was neutered when we took him from the pound and he just doesn't look right anymore... but there's hope, thanks to Neuticles, the artificial testicle implants for dogs! They're also available for horses and bulls... but I wouldn't advise implanting bull testicles in your dog.

Why does someone need PC133 memory so badly at 11pm that they're willing to drive 50 miles to pick it up and aren't concerned that it might not work? Strange.

According to my wife's reading from CrimeLibrary's entry about Steven Seagal:

1. Steven Seagal really claims he's done Covert Ops for the CIA in REAL LIFE!!!

"You could say that I became an advisor to several CIA agents in the field and through my friends in the CIA, met many powerful people and did special works and special favors."
- Steven Seagal

2. Steven Seagal was shaken down by the Italian Mafia because he wanted to stop doing action movies. The Mafia guys, now in prison for death threats against Seagal among other things, said Seagal was "petrified."

3. Steven Seagal married two women at the same time and didn't tell them. They found out. They got mad.

4. Steven Seagal claims to have fought off several members of the Japanese Mafia...all at the same time.

5. Steven Seagal routinely embellishes stories about himself and has been called a "pathological liar."

6. Steven Seagal refers to himself onset as a "deadly marksman."

7. Steven Seagal once challenged a stuntman to a judo match during a break in filming. Seagal was left lying unconcious on the ground.

8. Steven Seagal has a custom tux tailored to conceal two handguns.

9. Steven Seagal put out a $50,000 hit on a former colleague because "he was out to get me."

10. Steven Seagal was granted legal immunity in order for his testimony about his ties to the Gambino family.

11. Steven Seagal paid the Gambino's rival mob family, the Genoveses, to protect him from the Gambinos.

12. Steven Seagal's movies are allegedly all about his real life experience...according to Steven Seagal.

Plus, according to his energy drink advertizing, "There is no telling what will happen once you get his juices inside you!"

Although I link to Wikipedia pretty frequently, it's important to take everything you read there with a grain of salt.

Brian Chase, 38, ended up resigning from his job at a Nashville delivery company and apologizing to John Seigenthaler Sr.

Chase said he didn't know the free Internet encyclopedia called Wikipedia was used as a serious reference tool.

The biography he posted--since replaced--falsely stated Seigenthaler was linked to the Kennedy assassinations.

But... is it really much less accurate than printed encyclopedias? I've got no idea.

Tis the season to be busy.

I just saw The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and, not having read the books, I thought it was just ok. Everyone who has read the books and seen the movie said it was very faithful to the source material, which is great, but part of the problem with faithfully rendering a book onto film is that good books and good movies are paced very differently. Parts of the movie dragged, but even with the slow pacing the timeline of the plot was hard to follow. I didn't get a sense of days or weeks passing, and yet armies were mustered and battles were fought seemingly overnight. Characters remarked on how large Narnia was, and yet they seemed to traverse the world in mere hours.

The acting was more than sufficient, particularly Tilda Swinton as the White Witch, who was strangely reminiscent of Cate Blanchett's Galadriel from The Lord of the Rings movies. The kids did a great job, and the voice acting for the animals was good. Some of the animation was a bit lackluster, but that may have been by design since the movie was clearly aimed at kids and probably steered away from visual violence on purpose.

On the whole the movie was definitely entertaining, and it gave me an inkling to read the books that I've had on my shelves for years.

It's sad to see great figures like Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher succumb to time and human frailty, but such is life. Although it be torturous for the individual and hard for the family, there's no disgrace when our bodies begin to fail us. I hope God blesses Mrs. Thatcher and comforts her family in this difficult time.

Who? Charlie Munger, Warren Buffett's partner for the past 45 years. Anyway, he has a great perspective on the investment market and knows whereof he speaks.

Charlie Munger has been Warren Buffett's partner and alter ego for more than 45 years. The pair has produced one of the best investing records in history. Shares of Berkshire Hathaway, of which Munger is vice chairman, have gained an annualized 24% over the past 40 years. The conglomerate, which the stock market values at $130 billion, owns and operates more than 65 businesses and invests in many others. Buffett's annual reports are studied by money managers. But Munger, 81, has always been media shy. That changed when Peter Kaufman compiled Munger's writing and speeches in a new book, Poor Charlie's Almanack: The Wit and Wisdom of Charles T. Munger ($49.00, PCA Publications). Here Munger speaks with Kiplinger's Steven Goldberg. ...

Do you think the stock market will return its long-term annualized 10% in the next decade?
A good figure for rational expectation would be no higher than 6%. I think it's unreasonable to assume that the world is going to try to arrange itself so that the inactive, asset-owning class is going to get a much higher share of the GDP than it normally gets. When you start thinking that way, you get into these modest figures. The reason the return has been so good in the past is that the price-earnings ratio went way up.

Read and learn.

(HT: SMI Weblog.)

Lots of financial-help gurus make a point of advising clients to rid themselves of debt before they worry about investing, and that's generally a good idea. However, there are at least three kinds of good debt that can actually put you in a better financial position if you use them wisely.

Remember, just because you have the cash to pay for something doesn't mean you shouldn't borrow if the rates are right. For instance, if you have $100,000 in cash and want to buy a house that costs $100,000, you could put it all down and have no payments. However, if you can borrow $80,000 at 5% interest you'd be smarter to do so, put $20,000 down in cash, and invest the other $80,000 in a diversified stock portfolio that will probably earn more than 5% interest.

Buying a home: The chance that you can pay for a new home in cash is slim. Carefully consider how much you can afford to put down and how much loan you can carry. The more you put down, the less you'll owe and the less you'll pay in interest over time.

Although it may seem logical to plunk down every available dime to cut your interest payments, it's not always the best move. You need to consider other issues, such as your need for cash reserves and what your investments are earning.

A house is often a family's largest financial asset, but it's also a highly undiversified investment. It's foolish to have such a huge chunk of your net wealth tied up in a single investment, which is one reason why borrowing to buy a house makes good financial sense. Of course, there's a cost to diversifying that value: you pay interest on the loan. But home loans are cheap and tax-deductible for loans of less than $1 million, so the debt is pretty cheap.

Paying for college: When it comes to paying for your children's education, allowing your kids to take loans makes far more sense than liquidating or borrowing against your retirement fund. That's because your kids have plenty of financial sources to draw on for college, but no one is going to give you a scholarship for your retirement. What's more, a big 401(k) balance won't count against you if you apply for financial aid since retirement savings are not counted as available assets.

Like home loans, college loans come with low interest rates and the borrower often won't have ot make any payments till after graduation. Those are incredible terms that you just can't beat, so it's smarter to borrow for college and invest your assets in other areas with higher returns.

Financing a car: Figuring out the best way to finance a car depends on how long you plan to keep it, since a car's value plummets as soon as you drive it off the lot. It also depends on how much cash you have on hand.

This one is more dubious, but since cars are big-ticket items that most people can't live without it's unreasonable to advise people not to buy them without borrowing. Of the three kinds of "good debt" car loans are the worst, so pay them off promptly (but while you're carrying a balance on your credit cards!).

If you've got a faucet at home that makes a lot of noise then you know how annoying it can be. I used to hate washing dishes because I couldn't even carry on a conversation with my wife over the shrill whine that erupted from the kitchen faucet every time the water ran. But I fixed it! It seems that the primary source of noise in a faucet is the aerator, numbered "1" in the diagram below.

First, unscrew the aerator and check it for mineral deposits. Removing debris will often eliminate a great deal of noise. Try running the faucet without the aerator to hear if the noise goes away. If not, then your problem is something else. Screw the newly-cleaned aerator back on and check if the noise returns. If so, buy a new aerator from Home Depot for 50 cents.

Leftists who are eager to grow the government and extend its control of our private and economic lives should look to Detroit and take note of its failure. Heck, if they really want to live out their dreams they should just move to Detroit.

But another bankruptcy is looming, and this one involves a real welfare state: the city of Detroit. Fiscally challenged communities across the country may find themselves watching Motown with equal fascination.

Kwame Kilpatrick, Detroit's "hip-hop" mayor, insists that the city is "a long way" from insolvency. Recently re-elected (a recount demanded by his opponent is very unlikely to change the outcome), he has pledged to bring to heel a projected deficit of about 10% of the city's $1.4 billion general fund. In his first term, he reduced the city's work force to about 16,000 from 20,000, mainly by allowing vacant posts to go unfilled.

But the near-collapse of General Motors, Ford and their major suppliers is posing a big drag on city finances. This comes atop a long-running failure to adjust to Detroit's decline to less than 900,000 residents from a peak of more than 1.8 million after World War II. With an accumulated deficit of $300 million, union opposition to reform, and a bond rating rapidly approaching junk status, Detroit is in crisis. As Joseph Harris, the city's auditor general until he was term-limited out of office last week, flatly declared: "Insolvency is certain. The only question is the timing of the inevitable." ...

Before Chapter 9 was adopted, judges regularly imposed judgment levies on impecunious communities. But that would only compound the problem in heavily taxed Detroit, where the income tax has already chased away most job creators and property taxes of about $8,500 on a $250,000 house have impoverished most of those who remain.

The most immediate problem is on the cost side. The Citizens Research Council of Michigan, a privately funded watchdog group, found that as of 2002, Detroit was still employing more than twice as many workers per 100,000 residents as Phoenix, San Diego or Portland, Ore. Mr. Harris, the former auditor general, calculates that in order to make ends meet, Detroit still needs to lay off half of the 12,000 workers paid from the city's General Fund--or cut the compensation for civilian workers by $27,000 each.

That level of property tax is nearly four times what we pay in California, and I wouldn't be able to afford my house if our rates were that high. Detroit also has a city income tax of 2.35% (in 2005). There's also a 6% sales tax (lower than California) and a 3.9% state income tax (much lower than California).

CNN Money rates Detroit as one of the best places to live in 2005, but the city has barely one-third the number of colleges that other "best" cities have and more than five times the crime. There's also no mention of Detroit's unemployment rate (October 2005) of 6% -- second worst among metropolionly after New Orleans in the wake of Katrina (which had just struck in August).

It looks like I misread the graphics on the CNN Money page and that Detroit wasn't actually listed as one of the best places to live. I guess it's just included in the system for comparison purposes.

The new spam strategy is to post spam comments full of real, non-spam links with just a fwe spam links scattered about. That forces me to pay attention when I ban domain names so that I don't accidentally ban a site that some real commenter might actually want to link to. Argh. How I hate spammers.

In my post two years ago about shrinking government I wrote that although cutting tax rates can increase tax revenue, growing revenue shouldn't be conceded as beneficial. In the wake of some much-needed tax cuts, I think conservatives need to make the point that in order to limit the power of government we need to limit the resources available to the government.

"By cutting taxes, you grow the economy, and you generate an enhanced flow of revenues to the Treasury," said Rep. David Dreier (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Rules Committee.

Although the federal tax revenue has grown since the passage of the 2003 tax cuts -- from $1.9 trillion in 2004 to $2.1 trillion in 2005 -- the tax revenue measured against the size of the economy remains below the 2002 level and well below the level of 2001, when the first of Bush's five tax cuts was passed. "The argument that tax cuts will grow the economy and pay for themselves is very attractive, but it's just not true," MacGuineas said.

Revenue grew after Reagan's tax cuts, but ultimately the goal of conservatives should be to convince people that cutting government revenue is good. Of course, to be credible Republicans will have to also be willing to cut spending.

Here I am behind the curve on just about every internet joke, but whatever, I have a blog so I can post what I want when it's new to me. That said, here's the Top Thirty Facts About Chuck Norris.

My favorites:
- Chuck Norris' tears cure cancer. Too bad he has never cried.
- Chuck Norris does not sleep. He waits.
- Chuck Norris does not hunt because the word hunting infers the probability of failure. Chuck Norris goes killing.
- In 1959 Stephen Hawking became the first and only person to outsmart Chuck Norris. He learned his lesson.
- If you can see Chuck Norris, he can see you. If you can't see Chuck Norris you may be only seconds away from death.
- Superman owns a pair of Chuck Norris pajamas.
- Chuck Norris clogs the toilet even when he pisses.

(HT: Mike and Monkeyfilter.)

This "Baby Got Book" video is awesome in a totally non-ironic way.

It's my 28th birthday, huzzah! For whatever reason I don't have the mixed uh-oh-I'm-getting-older feeling this year that I've had in the past. Maybe I've embraced my decrepitude? Anyway, I'm now the same age I was when my mom had me, which is kinda weird because I'm a long way away from having kids and I don't feel that old. <Cartman voice>Whatever, I'll do what I want!</Cartment voice>

ThinkGeek has a few pretty sweet/nerdy gifts that might be perfect for that special geek in your life.

Sneakier Uses for Everyday Things, a book that tells you how to, e.g., make a metal detector from a calculator.

HTTPanties, underwear emblazoned with HTTP error codes such as "403 Forbidden", "411 Length Required", "413 Requested Entity Too Large" and the ever-popular "200 OK". Everyone has gotten a "404 Forbidden" error before, but they could make use of other HTTP codes as well:
- "100 Continue"
- "202 Accepted"
- "300 Multiple Choices"
- "303 See Other"
- "305 Use Proxy"
- "402 Payment Required"
- "405 Method Not Allowed"
- "408 Request Timeout"
- "417 Expectation Failed"
- "503 Service Unavailable"

USB LCD display that provides a second display for your computer for when your monitor is otherwise occupied with games. This would have come in very handy back when I actually had time to play games.

They should pay me for this, but alas.

Unfortunately my email is down at the moment so I can't ask Ben Bateman directly... but is this really the best way to design a tax system?

When Congress is in session, it's best to arrange your financial affairs very defensively. Herewith, some specifics.

From the start of 2001 through this past september Congress made (by tax publisher CCH's count) 1,971 changes to the U.S. tax code--roughly 3 for each day it was in session. And all this tinkering produced what? The need for still more changes, of course.

The article goes on for several thousand words explaining a mind-boggling array of tax considerations that middle-class earners need to take into account, and it leaves me feeling utterly forlorn.

Orin Kerr raises an interesting question: when can machines be treated like people? He cites two cases.

In the first, a poorly-programmed ATM machine in Australia incorrectly dispensed money to a man who purposefully exploited its programming flaw. The man then argued that the bank, through the ATM, gave its consent for him to take the money, and that the money wasn't stolen. The Austrailian High Court rejected his defense and said that machines can't give consent.

In the second case, the American government had the phone company monitor the numbers dialed by a criminal suspect so they could record the conversations when he dialed certain numbers. The suspect argued that this was an invasion of privacy, but the Supreme Court rejected his appeal on the basis that if he had been using an old-style phone with an operator on the other end rather than a computer, he would have had no expectation of privacy and that operator could have legally told the police every number that was dialed. The SCOTUS said that, "We are not inclined to hold that a different constitutional result is required because the telephone company has decided to automate."

So in the first case, the ATM could not give consent for the thief to take the bank's money, but in the second case the presence of a machine serving in a capacity that used to be filled by a human could prevent an expectation of privacy. Fascinating stuff, and certain to become even more important as computers continue to replace humans.

I tend to think military strikes are more effective than economic sanctions at persuading rogue nations to comply with international will, but there's no denying that sanctions can have significant indirect effects. For instance, consider the recent plane crash in Iran in which more than 120 people were killed when an American-made C-130 crashed into an apartment building.

Iran has a poor airline safety record following a string of air disasters in the past 30 years although most have involved Russian-made aircraft.

U.S. sanctions have prevented Iran from buying new aircraft or spares from the West, forcing it to supplement its fleet of Boeing and Airbus planes with aircraft from former Soviet Union countries.

This plane crash was an indirect result of economic sanctions. Aside from the general economic hardship caused by sanctions -- and the resulting illness and poverty -- specific instances of civilian death like this incident should lead us to consider whether or not sanctions are actually more civilized than direct military confrontation. Poor civilians bear most of the costs of economic sanctions, and in the tyrannical dictatorships we're likely to oppose they're also the people with the least control over their nation's foreign policy.

A surprising number of commenters that I respect lined up to defend Ramsey Clark when I attacked him for defending Saddam Hussein. Wrote jez:

Ramsey Clark's job is entirely necessary. This trial must be fair, so Hussein must have representation. (afaik, Clark was mostly appealing for adequate protection for the remaining defence team, after two lawyers were murdered).

Remember, this is why we're the good guys, and they're the bad guys. If we cut any corners on the trial, we loose the moral high ground.

But I think he's giving Mr. Clark far too much credit. Ramsey Clark isn't interested in defending the rights of Saddam Hussein; his only goal in life is to use his stature as a former United States Attorney General to oppose and humiliate America at every turn. Ramsey Clark doesn't care about Saddam, but the trial gives him a stage from which to hurl insult at the United States. Just look at Wikipedia's "Ramsey Clark" entry for a list of people he has represented.

* Nazi concentration camp boss Karl Linnas

* The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws Advisory Board during late 1970s and early 1980s

* Branch Davidian leader David Koresh

* Antiwar activist Father Philip Berrigan

* American Indian prisoner Leonard Peltier

* Crimes of America conference in Teheran in 1980

* Liberian political figure Charles Taylor during his 1985 fight against extradition from the United States to Liberia

* Elizaphan Ntakirutimana, a leader of the Rwandan genocide

* PLO leaders in a lawsuit brought by the family of Leon Klinghoffer, the wheelchair bound elderly tourist who was shot and tossed overboard from the hijacked Achille Lauro cruise ship by Palestinian terrorists in 1986

* Camilo Mejia, a US soldier who deserted his post in March 2004, claiming he did not want any part of an "oil-driven war"

* Radovan Karadzic, of Yugoslavia and accused war criminal

* Counsel to Slobodan Milosevic, former President of Yugoslavia, accused war criminal

* Saddam Hussein, former president of Iraq and accused war criminal

In every instance Mr. Clark's goal was to hinder and harrass the United States. He opposed the invasion of Iraq from the start as a war of aggression, but he defends Saddam's massacres as legitimate self-defense. Christopher Hitchens in Slate mentions a few more interesting facts:

Clark used to be Lyndon Johnson's attorney general and in that capacity tried to send Dr. Benjamin Spock, Marcus Raskin, and others to jail for their advocacy of resistance to the war in Vietnam. (In a bizarre 2002 interview in the Washington Post, he took the view that he was still right to have attempted this, even though the defendants were all eventually exonerated.)* From bullying prosecutor he mutated into vagrant and floating defense counsel, offering himself to the génocideurs of Rwanda and to Slobodan Milosevic, and using up the spare time in apologetics for North Korea. He acts as front-man for the Workers World Party, an especially venomous little Communist sect, which originated in a defense of the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956. ...

The first charge being brought against Saddam Hussein is that in 1982, after his motorcade came under fire near the mainly Shiite town of Dujail, he ordered the torture and murder of 148 men and boys. It's a relatively minor item in the catalog, but there it is. The first prosecution witness in the case, Wadah al-Sheikh, has actually testified that he knows of no direct link between Saddam and the killings. The defense team has to hope that it can prove the same, or perhaps suggest that no such massacre occurred. Not so Ramsey Clark. In a recent BBC interview, he offered the excuse that Iraq was then fighting the Shiite nation of Iran:

He (Saddam) had this huge war going on, and you have to act firmly when you have an assassination attempt.

Just go back and read that again. Ramsey Clark believes that A) the massacre and torture did occur and B) that it was ordered by his client and C) that he was justified in ordering it and carrying it out. That is quite sufficiently breathtaking. It is no less breathtaking when one recalls why Saddam "had this huge war going on." He had, after all, ordered a full-scale invasion of the oil-bearing Iranian region of Khuzestan and attempted to redraw the frontiers in Iraq's favor. Most experts accept a figure of about a million and a half as the number of young Iranians and Iraqis who lost their lives in consequence of this aggression (which incidentally enjoyed the approval of that Nobel Peace laureate Jimmy Carter). And Ramsey Clark says that the aggression is an additional reason to justify the massacre at Dujail.

Ramsey Clark isn't an altruistic legal purist, he's anti-American scum.


Grotian Moment, a blog dedicated to Saddam's trial, speaks similarly of Mr. Clark.

Clark is founder and current Chairman of the International Action Center, the largest antiwar movement in the United States. A vocal critic of U.S. military actions around the globe, in Op Eds and newspaper interviews, he calls US government officials "international outlaws," accusing them of "killing innocent people because we don't like their leader." Clark has said that rather than Saddam Hussein, it is the U.S. that should go on trial, pointing to the unlawful invasion, the subsequent destructive siege of Falluja, torture in prisons and the military's role in the deaths of thousands of Iraqis.

Clark is known for turning international trials into political stages from which to launch attacks against U.S. foreign policy. He has represented Liberian political figure Charles Taylor during his 1985 fight against extradition from the United States to Liberia; Elizaphan Ntakirutimana, a Hutu leader implicated in the Rwandan genocide; PLO leaders in a lawsuit brought by the family of Leon Klinghoffer, the wheelchair bound elderly American who was shot and tossed overboard from the hijacked Achille Lauro cruise ship by Palestinian terrorists in 1986; and most recently Slobodan Milosevic, the former leader of Serbia who is on trial for genocide before the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague.


Meanwhile, it appears that Ramsey Clark heads several anti-American groups... all out of the same office!

Moonbat Fun House What do terrorists and "antiwar activists" have in common? Here's one nonobvious thing: On Friday and again yesterday we noted the tendency of terror groups to use a variety of names in order to create an illusion that they are more numerous than they are. Turns out left-wing fringe groups do the same thing here in America. Consider this list of "groups":

* International Action Center

* People Judge Bush

* Troops Out Now!

* No Draft, No Way!

* People's Video Network

According to their Web sites, all of these groups are located in the same room, at 39 West 14th Street, #206, in New York City, and all share a phone number. According to this page, that room also is the headquarters of the Mumia Mobilization Office, which doesn't appear to have its own Web site. The International Action Center, run by crackpot (or, as the New York Times calls him, "contrarian") Ramsey Clark, seems to be the moonbat mother ship. Clark is off in Baghdad representing Saddam Hussein, which tells you something about what these "antiwar" "groups" actually stand for.

I like James Buchanan's perspective on governmental overreaching and the message of public choice theory:

A central message of public choice theory tells us that if politics generates undesirable results, it is better to examine the rules than to argue about different policies or to elect different representatives. Well and good. But those of us who have peddled this message have been too reluctant to get down and dirty with proposals for constitutional change. Hence, I felt challenged by the editor’s invitation to propose three specific amendments.

As many have observed, for better or worse, there isn't a lot of difference between our political parties... both want to spend us into bankruptcy, and neither is willing to leave us alone. Public choice theory says that the solution isn't to vote for different people (who will continue to let us down) but to change the rules of the game by, e.g., amending the Constitution.

Mr. Buchanan goes on to describe three amendments he favors, so I figure it's worth linking to one I have advocated for years: the Sunset Amendment, which would prevent Congress from passing any law that would stay in effect for more than six years.

Liberals are always wanting to give up, and always whining about how things are going to go wrong and fail. Whatever, losers. The key to success is tenacity, and the key to tenacity is confidence. Unfortunately the Democrats appear to have neither.

(SAN ANTONIO) -- Saying the "idea that we're going to win the war in Iraq is an idea which is just plain wrong," Democrat National Chairman Howard Dean predicted today that the Democrat Party will come together on a proposal to withdraw National Guard and Reserve troops immediately, and all US forces within two years.

Dean made his comments in an interview on WOAI Radio in San Antonio.

"I've seen this before in my life. This is the same situation we had in Vietnam. Everybody then kept saying, 'just another year, just stay the course, we'll have a victory.' Well, we didn't have a victory, and this policy cost the lives of an additional 25,000 troops because we were too stubborn to recognize what was happening."

My understanding of Vietnam is that we lost for political reasons, not military reasons. Is that even controversial? Do Democrats actually think we couldn't have won if we hadn't chickened out? Anyway, if Iraq is like Vietnam it's that the only way we're going to lose there is through political failure. And yes, the Democrat politicians can bring that about if they try hard enough... although if we pull all our troops out tomorrow it's hard to see how even the current status could be considered anything but a huge win for America.

"I think we need a strategic redeployment over a period of two years," Dean said. "Bring the 80,000 National Guard and Reserve troops home immediately. They don't belong in a conflict like this anyway. We ought to have a redeployment to Afghanistan of 20,000 troops, we don't have enough troops to do the job there and its a place where we are welcome. And we need a force in the Middle East, not in Iraq but in a friendly neighboring country to fight (terrorist leader Musab) Zarkawi, who came to Iraq after this invasion. We've got to get the target off the backs of American troops.

What "friendly neighboring country" would that be? Last I checked, putting troops in Saudi Arabia was part of what pissed Osama off in the first place... and the Saudis are hardly friendly. In fact, I can't think of any government or populace in the Middle East that's more friendly to America than Iraq... except Israel. Yeah, that'd be great, let's put our troops in Israel.

"The White House wants us to have a permanent commitment to Iraq. This is an Iraqi problem. President Bush got rid of Saddam Hussein and that was a great thing, but that could have been done in a very different way. But now that we're there we need to figure out how to leave. 80% of Iraqis want us to leave, and it's their country."

I doubt that statistic, but even if it's true, why does the country belong to Iraqis rather than to some tyrannical dictator? Hm. There must be some reason.

I don't have much to say about it, but seeing pictures of Saddam on trial rather than peacefully retired in Qatar or Syria sure is nice.

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) - Saddam Hussein's defense team walked out of court Monday, the former leader yelled at the judge, and Saddam's half brother shouted "Why don't you just execute us!" in an often unruly court session that also saw former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark speak on behalf of the deposed president.

Hopefully we'll be able to oblige Saddam and his brother. Ramsey Clark, however, probably won't get what he deserves.

I hope my heirs take notes and design my sepulchre in a similar manner.

Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris has fenced off a famous tomb to prevent lewd acts being performed on a statue.

The effigy of 19th Century journalist known as Victor Noir has long been popular with women visitors. ...

Officials concerned about damage to the icon's groin area have erected a fence around the grave, and a sign prohibiting indecent rubbing. ...

The statue shows Noir in a frock coat and trousers lying flat on his back, with a distinct enlargement in the groin.

The effigy has been held as an aid to love or fertility.

It is said that a woman who kisses the lips of the prostrate statue and slips a flower into the upturned top hat will find a husband by the end of the year.

Philadelphia has decorated their city hall with special effects lighting for a very cool effect.

I'm not much for putting up lights, but I love walking around the neighborhood and seeing what others have put up. Too bad my digital camera is too poor to take pics of the lights around my house.

An American Airlines pilot claims that a missile was shot at his plane while he was taking off from LAX.

Sources tell ABC News the pilot of American Airlines Flight 621, en route to Chicago, radioed air traffic controllers after takeoff from LAX. He told them a missile had been fired at the aircraft and missed.

The plane was over water when the pilot said he saw a smoke trail pass by the cockpit.

FBI agents believe it was a flare or a bottle rocket, but say they may never know if that's what it actually was.

I live near LAX and I'm familiar with the flight paths of the airplanes around the airport, and by the time the planes are over water they're a good 1000 feet up. You can use the LAX Airport Monitor to track the exact altitudes of flights around the airport if you want to see for yourself. It seems unlikely that a bottle rocket would reach that altitude... I don't know much about flares.

Wizbang points to a series of articles in the New Orleans Times-Picayune full of apparently damning evidence that New Orleans' canal levees were built completely below standard by the Army Corps of Engineers.

The floodwall on the 17th Street Canal levee was destined to fail long before it reached its maximum design load of 14 feet of water because the Army Corps of Engineers underestimated the weak soil layers 10 to 25 feet below the levee, the state's forensic levee investigation team concluded in a report to be released this week.

That miscalculation was so obvious and fundamental, investigators said, they "could not fathom" how the design team of engineers from the corps, local firm Eustis Engineering and the national firm Modjeski and Masters could have missed what is being termed the costliest engineering mistake in American history. ...

"It's simply beyond me," said Billy Prochaska, a consulting engineer in the forensic group known as Team Louisiana. "This wasn't a complicated problem. This is something the corps, Eustis, and Modjeski and Masters do all the time. Yet everyone missed it -- everyone from the local offices all the way up to Washington."

Perhaps most incriminating, the forensic group did their own calculations, using data from the Army Corps of Engineers, and came to the right conclusions.

"Using the data we have available from the corps, we did our own calculations on how much water that design could take in these soils before failure," said LSU professor Ivor van Heerden, a team member. "Our research shows it would fail at water levels between 11 and 12 feet -- which is just what happened" in Katrina.

As Paul at Wizbang points out, there are a slew of journalism awards just waiting to be handed out, but the MSM doesn't appear interested in covering the story. The Army Corps of Engineers is part of the federal government, but these levees were desgined and built long before President Bush was in office so the media may not see much point in attacking... especially since all the local government officials are Democrats.... But really, is this a political failure at all, or just plain incompetence? Hopefully we find out.

"This is the largest civil engineering disaster in the history of the United States. Nothing has come close to the $300 billion in damages and half-million people out of their homes and the lives lost," he said. "Nothing this big has ever happened before in civil engineering."

(HT: Ben Bateman.)

I think it's pretty disingenuous for some leftists to continually treat our soldiers like children who need to be coddled and protected rather than like adults. Every one of our soldiers is a volunteer and worthy of honor and respect for risking his or her life for our country. The only people who involve children in warfare are our opponents. Part and parcel with this infantilization is the common refrain that if some people think the war in Iraq is such a good idea, they should "send" their own children to fight it. Now the left is even turning this absurd idea against its own politicians. Writes Jimmy Breslin:

If Hillary Clinton wants this war to go on, then she should send her daughter to fight in Iraq.

But last time I checked, no parent in modern America has "sent" their son or daughter to fight; the sons and daughters that serve do so of their own volition. The interesting pervisity is that the left actually thinks they're honoring our soldiers by treating them like children, because to the left there is no higher status than victimhood. The left couldn't possibly honor a soldier who chooses to go and fight in such an evil, unjust war, so they're forced to reduce our soldiers to victims in order to excuse their actions. (And they have to at least pretend to honor the soldiers even if they hate everything the soldiers stand for and believe in.)

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