May 2006 Archives

Edward Jay Epstein has a fascinating look into the history of diamonds and how a single group of investors conspired to invent the world's premier luxury consumable. This story is particularly timely considering De Beers' ongoing campaign to promote right-hand diamond rings for single women.

In 1870, however, there was a radical change in this situation. Huge diamond "pipes" were discovered near the Orange River in South Africa.

These were the first diamond mines ever discovered. Now, rather than finding by chance an occasional diamond in a river, diamonds could now be scooped out of these mines by huge steam shovels. Suddenly, the market was deluged a growing flood of diamonds. The British financiers who had organized the South African mines quickly came to realize that their investment was endangered: diamonds had little intrinsic value, and their price depended almost entirely on their scarcity. They feared that when new mines developed in South Africa, diamonds would become at best only a semi-precious gem.

As it turned out, financial acumen proved the mother of invention. The major investors in the diamond mines realized that they had no alternative but to merge their interests into a single entity that would be powerful enough to control the mines' production and, in every other way that was necessary, perpetuate the scarcity and illusion of diamonds. The instrument that they created for this purpose was called De Beers Consolidated Mines, Ltd., a company incorporated in South Africa.

As De Beers penetrated and took control of all aspects of the world diamond trade, it also assumed many protean forms. In London, it operated under the innocuous name of the Diamond Trading Company. In Israel, it was known under the all-embracing mantle of "the syndicate." In Antwerp, it was just called the CSO-- initials referring to the Central Selling Organization (which was an arm of the Diamond Trading Company). And in Black Africa, it disguised its South African origins under subsidiaries with such names as the Diamond Development Corporation or Mining Services, Inc. At its height, it not only either directly owned or controlled all the diamond mines in southern Africa, it also owned diamond trading companies in England, Portugal, Israel, Belgium, Holland and Switzerland. It was De Beers of course that organized the Japanese campaign as part of its worldwide promotion of diamonds.

By 1981, De Beers had proved to be the most successful cartel arrangement in the annals of modern commerce. For more than a half century, while other commodities, such as gold, silver, copper, rubber and grains, fluctuated wildly in response to economic conditions, diamonds continued to advance upward in price each year. Indeed, the mechanism of the diamond invention seemed so superbly in control of prices-and unassailable-that even speculators began buying diamonds as a guard against the vagaries of inflation and recession. Like the romantic subjects of the advertising campaigns, they also assumed diamonds would increase in value forever.

So my cheap elliptical machine finally broke after about a year of constant use, and I couldn't find a replacement in the same price range so I started looking at alternatives. Wal-Mart had a few options, but the low-end machines were all at least $300, and since I enjoyed my now-broken $120 machine perfectly well I didn't really want to spend almost three times as much on a replacement. So my wife suggested that we try the Tony Little Gazelle Edge Fitness System, yes the one from the Geico commercial.

gazelle.jpg

I was skeptical, but since the machine was less than $100 I figured that we might as well give it a shot; Jessica knew she liked it, having used one in the past. It didn't take long to set up, and I did a 20 minute workout on Monday and then a 30 minute workout on Tuesday morning. I didn't feel very winded after either workout, so I'm not sure if the machine is really going to push me in the long-term, but when I woke up this (Wednesday) morning I could barely move. Every muscle and tendon in my body hurts. The machine is doing something right, probably due to the incredibly wide range of motion and the fact that the left and right pedal/handle assemblies aren't connected to each other like they would be on an elliptical machine, so your body has to do all the synchronization and balancing on its own.

I haven't felt this sore and tired in a long time, so I'm going to give the machine a few more weeks before I decide whether or not I want to buy a more expensive elliptical. As of now, I can safely say that Tony Little kicked my butt.

David S. Kahn offers a whithering condemnation of America's mediocre public education system by laying the responsibility for plummeting SAT scores right where it belongs: on the schools.

People complain that the SAT is biased and that the bias explains why students don't do well. That's true--it is biased. It's biased against people who aren't well-educated. The test isn't causing people to have bad educations, it's merely reflecting the reality. And if you don't like your reflection, that doesn't mean that you should smash the mirror.

That the new SAT tests more reading comprehension than the old test did is a good thing. Colleges complain that their incoming students don't have sufficient skills to read and analyze the kind of material that their professors will assign them. I hope that the new SAT's emphasis will make students realize that you can't get much of an education if you can't read.

Maybe the decline in SAT scores will force people to notice that their children are not getting good educations. If your children don't read or do math, why would you think that they would do well on the SAT? I would love to get into a time machine and go back to 1960 and give this new SAT to high-school students back then. I suspect that they would do much better than today's students. If we want people to get good scores on the SAT, I have a suggestion. Stop complaining about how unfair the test is and do your homework.

I've written before that our society foolishly puts school teachers on a pedestal despite their rather poor results, and I think much of the blame rests with the teachers' unions which utterly refuse to move past seniority-based employment despite the demonstrated benefits of merit pay on teacher performance. We need to eliminate public education or at the very least create some economic pressure for schools and teachers to improve, such as widespread voucher programs.

Happy Memorial Day. Take a few minutes to thank God for the men and women who gave their lives for our great country, and to pray for those who are in harm's way today.

It doesn't speak highly of the Germans that one kid with a knife stabbed 35 people in a crowd before anyone could stop him.

Victims of a Berlin knifeman who injured 35 people in a knife frenzy late on Friday night are living in fear of contracting the Aids virus after it was discovered one of the knifeman's first targets was HIV positive. ...

The 16-year-old assailant, named only as Mike P, has a police record for violence after beating up a school friend. He used a butterfly knife to stab 35 people in the crowds of sightseers. ...

Police say the man lunged and stabbed at the audience around him for 10 minutes, many could not escape because of the packed crowd.

So there were plenty of people around and no two or three men were willing or able to subdue this kid? For 10 minutes?! The Germans have apparently been reduced to a herd of sheep.

Despite frequent dismissals of the slippery slope of abortion, babies in the UK are now being terminated for trivial handicaps that can often be fixed without surgery and would have zero impact on long-term health and happiness.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that between 1996 and 2004, 20 babies were aborted after 20 weeks because they had a club foot.

It is one of the most common birth defects in Britain, affecting one in 1,000 babies each year. That means around 600 to 700 babies are born annually in the UK with the problem, which causes the feet to point downwards and in severe cases can cause a limp.

However it can be corrected without surgery using splints, plaster casts and boots. Naomi Davis, a leading paediatrician at Manchester Children's Hospital who specialists in correcting club feet, said: 'I think it is reasonable to be totally shocked that abortion is being offered for this.

'It is entirely treatable. I can only think it is lack of information.'

Figures also show that four babies were aborted since 1996 because they were found to have webbed fingers or extra digits, which can be sorted out with simply surgery.

But, no -- of course there's no possibility that the already-depraved line will get pushed any further.

What's one of the most important factors that will determine a graduate's future financial success? Their major? Their height? Their GPA? Their alma mater? Maybe, but apparently the general state of the economy at the time of graduation can have far-reaching effects on salary.

Lost in the argument over whether young people today know how to work, however, is the mounting evidence produced by labor economists of just how important it is for current graduates to ignore the old-school advice of trying to get ahead by working one's way up the ladder. Instead, it seems, graduates should try to do exactly the thing the older generation bemoans — aim for the top.

The recent evidence shows quite clearly that in today's economy starting at the bottom is a recipe for being underpaid for a long time to come. Graduates' first jobs have an inordinate impact on their career path and their "future income stream," as economists refer to a person's earnings over a lifetime. ...

The Stanford class of 1988, for example, entered the job market just after the market crash of 1987. Banks were not hiring, and so average wages for that class were lower than for the class of 1987 or for later classes that came out after the market recovered. Even a decade or more later, the class of 1988 was still earning significantly less. They missed the plum jobs right out of the gate and never recovered.

The fact is that you will never catch up by "working your way to the top". The only way to use a good job market to your benefit is to jump ship and move to a different company altogether. Your existing employer will never increase your salary just because the job market is strong. By staying put when the job market goes down and then moving when the market goes back up you can continually stay on top by working your career like a ratchet.

(HT: Alex Tabarrok.)

I'm generally quite an optimistic person, especially considering my unrelenting cynicism, and one of the only things that ever gets me down is the realization that I'm surrounded by retards like the administrators and parents of the Keller school district. I suppose I should apologize for using the word "retard", since it's totally unfair to the mentally handicapped to be linked with the drooling idiots that run most public school systems.

A Keller school district parent said political correctness has run amok at her daughter's elementary school, where the principal chose to omit the words "In God We Trust" from an oversize coin depicted on the yearbook cover.

Janet Travis, principal of Liberty Elementary School in Colleyville, wanted to avoid offending students of different religions, a district spokesman said. Students were given stickers with the words that could be affixed to the book if they so chose. ...

Officials chose an image of an enlarged nickel for the yearbook cover because this is Liberty Elementary's first year and because the nickel has a new design this year.

The nickel design features President Jefferson and the word Liberty in cursive, with the words "In God We Trust" along the right edge.

Keller administrators agreed with the decision, which Travis made in conjunction with a school parents group, district spokesman Jason Meyer said. District policy states, in part: "The District shall take no action respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech."

Principals must strive to remain neutral regarding religion, Meyer said.

"It's not always easy to make everybody happy when we are making decisions," he said. He said Travis was unavailable for comment Friday.

Here's an idea: rather than worrying about making everyone "happy", why not just stick with the truth. Again, my apologies to the mentally handicapped, you shouldn't have to share the planet with these retards either. Naturally, the ACLU is thrilled.

Michael Linz, a Dallas attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, said the district's move was appropriate, sensitive and constitutional.

"Sometimes administrators and schools are really caught trying to make appropriate decisions with respect to people's views. Someone is always going to complain," he said. "I think that the school administrators were drawing the appropriate line by trying not to offend others."

Apparently "trying not to offend others" is now the highest American ideal. Dear God, please help me not to offend all the retards that surround me.

(HT: Clayton Cramer.)

It appears that my earlier report about Iran forcing Jews to wear identification badges was incorrect. I feel a little dirty making a correction that benefits the reputation of Iran, however slightly, but the truth is the truth.

(HT: Eugene Volokh.)

Glenn Reynolds has a good editorial in the Wall Street Journal about the social costs of parenting. As a newlywed who is looking forward to having children (in a few years) I'm glad to hear that I'm not the only one who regrets that childrearing has become less appreciated in our culture.

There's also the decline in parental prestige over generations. My mother reports that when she was a newlywed (she married in 1959) you weren't seen as fully a member of the adult world until you had kids. Nowadays to have kids means something closer to an expulsion from the adult world. People in the suburbs buy SUVs instead of minivans not because they need the four-wheel-drive capabilities, but because the SUVs lack the minivan's close association with low-prestige activities like parenting, and instead provide the aura of high-prestige activities like whitewater kayaking. Why should kayaking be more prestigious than parenting? Because parenting isn't prestigious in our society. If it were, childless people would drive minivans just to partake of the aura.

In these sorts of ways, parenting has become more expensive in nonfinancial as well as financial terms. It takes up more time and emotional energy than it used to, and there's less reward in terms of social approbation. This is like a big social tax on parenting and, as we all know, when things are taxed we get less of them. Yes, people still have children, and some people even have big families. But at the margin, which is where change occurs, people are less likely to do things as they grow more expensive and less rewarded.

All that, in addition to parents' lessened ability to discipline and greater supervisory responsibility, has led to a cost/benefit analysis that results in fewer children, to the detriment of our society.

These color photos from World War 1 are pretty interesting... I don't think I knew such things existed.

(HT: The site is pretty slow at the moment, because I got the link from Digg.)

Gregory Cole, aka Flap, has generously taken over the Bear Flag League administrative duties from Kasey Traeger and is discontinuing the mailing lists in favor of a new Bear Flag League forum. It's a logical progression that makes sense considering how much the League has grown and how much traffic the email lists tend to get. So if you're a member of the League, it's time to make the switch and go register at the forums; if you're a visitor, you're welcome to swing by too!

I've always enjoyed tracking the movements of the Voyager spacecraft, largely because they were both launched only a short time before I was born. In a sense, we're triplets! I doubt I'll ever get in far in life as the Voyagers have though, seeing as how they're both many billions of miles away from the Sun by now and I'm no further from the Sun than the day I was born (minor orbital perturbations notwithstanding). If we ever have the technology, I'd love to go visit one of the Voyagers out in interstellar space, just to say hi.

What are your favorite spacecraft?

The tale of Roger Clegg and how his criticism prompted the cancellation of an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission meeting is a perfect example of why our government needs a dramatic reduction in size and scope. The hubris of the bureaucrats on this commission is enraging, but hardly unheard of within our federal government in which every official sees his position of public trust as his own personal fiefdom.

Last month, I received an invitation to testify before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission about affirmative action and diversity in U.S. companies. The testimony was scheduled for today, and I was asked to share my written statement to the commission beforehand, last Thursday, which I did. Late Friday afternoon I received a phone call from the commission, telling me that because of what I had to say, my invitation had been withdrawn by its chairman, Cari M. Dominguez.

I urged the commission to reconsider this decision because it would put the commission in general and the chairman in particular in a bad light. Yesterday I was notified that the entire meeting--not just my panel, but two others--has been "indefinitely postponed."

The problem is that my testimony told the unwelcome truths that (a) American companies, in their "celebration of diversity," frequently discriminate on the basis of race, ethnicity and sex, (b) this violates the law, and (c) the EEOC is not doing anything about it. I was told that it would lead to a "mutiny" among the career people at the commission if I was given a "platform" to say such things. It might even turn the proceedings that morning into a "circus," and Ms. Dominguez, I was told, did not want the EEOC "to look like the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights back when Mary Frances Berry headed it."

So the chairman of the EEOC cancelled the meeting rather than allow Mr. Clegg to testify about the Commission's tolerance and encouragement of racial and sexual discrimination. This episode reflects morally disgusting behavior on the part of Cari M. Dominguez, a public servant in a free society, and should be profoundly disturbing to anyone who cares about "government of the people, by the people, for the people".

You know, I'd have a lot more time for blogging if I didn't have to spend so much time deleting spam. It would be pretty awesome to set up a website dedicated to publicizing personal information about known spammers, such as their addresses, phone numbers, pictures, etc., along with similar information about their family members. If anyone wants to collaborate with me on such an endeavor, shoot me an email. Maybe "real life" social pressure can be brought to bear on the spam epidemic.

So I'm here in Tennessee with my wife visiting her mom and I'm totally exhausted from the trip and the busy afternoon we've had touring the Southern middle of the state. The flight was nice, and the countryside is absolutely gorgeous. I feel very relaxed and at peace, which is nice, and I've come up with some great ideas for a new book I'm going to start fleshing out. I'm looking forward to a few days of rest, so don't expect much more here than a few pictures when I have a chance to upload them.

(And, incidentally, why I'm tentatively opposed to drug legalization despite my libertarian leanings.)

Apparently "girls gone wild" is reality in Britain, where almost 30% of young teenaged girls defined themselves as binge drinkers. Considering the level of denial that normally accompanies addiction, I bet the real number is actually a lot higher.

Teenage girls are now more likely than boys to drink, smoke, steal and take drugs, a survey has shown. ...

The study of 14 and 15-year-olds was conducted by questionnaire, in schools under exam conditions, and the results compared with a similar one from 1985.

Professor Colin Pritchard, who led the research, said: 'Girls now significantly smoke and binge-drink more than boys. They truant, steal and fight at similar rates, and start under-age sex earlier than boys.'

He said binge-drinking, which was admitted by nearly a third of girls in their early teenage years, drove other anti-social behaviour such as stealing, fighting, taking drugs and engaging in risky sex.

It should be pretty obvious that America's relatively puritannical history has given us a great cultural legacy that protects our society from many of the ills that pervade the rest of the world. I think we'd be wise to avoid Britain's "alcopop" culture.

And Sir John Krebs, principal of Jesus College Oxford, attacked the marketing of alcopops specifically for young people. 'The Government has stood by and let that happen, whereas it wouldn't have accepted the alcopop equivalent of cigarettes targeted at children,' he said.

Additional info:

When your teenage child is showing signs of substance abuse, always keep in mind that there are resources for detoxifying your system for good that can help.

The problem with Godwin's Law is that it undermines legitimate uses of Nazi/Hitler comparisons by dismissing them ipso facto. However, when we see Iran force Jews and Christians to wear identification badges, it seems that a Nazi comparison is incredibly apt.

Human rights groups are raising alarms over a new law passed by the Iranian parliament that would require the country's Jews and Christians to wear coloured badges to identify them and other religious minorities as non-Muslims.

"This is reminiscent of the Holocaust," said Rabbi Marvin Hier, the dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles. "Iran is moving closer and closer to the ideology of the Nazis."

I'm sure that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would disagree, since Iran wants to wipe the Jews off the face of the earth and he believes that the Nazis attempted no such thing and that the Holocaust was a fraud.

Update:
Then again, maybe the story is false.

The National Post is sending shockwaves across the country this morning with a report that Iran's Parliament has passed a law requiring mandatory Holocaust style badges to identify Jews and Christians.

But independent reporter Meir Javedanfar, an Israeli Middle East expert who was born and raised in Tehran, says the report is false.

"It's absolutely factually incorrect," he told The New 940 Montreal.
"Nowhere in the law is there any talk of Jews and Christians having to wear different colours. I've checked it with sources both inside Iran and outside."

I wonder what the average gift certificate/gift card utilization rate is? I'm sure it varies by store, but I bet that gift certificates are pretty profitable. I keep pretty good track of things, and I know that I've got a fistful of gift certificates that I haven't used. Does anyone have any hard data? I bet that the percentage of gift certificate value used is less than 80%, which makes the sale of such certificates very profitable. (And even moreso, since the value of the certificates don't adjust for inflation.)

A friend wrote to me regarding the "evolution of morality" and whether or not Islam would ever undergo the kind of transformation experienced in Christianity during the Reformation. After a brief introduction I wrote in reply:

But to the larger point, you're approaching morality as an atheist, not as either a Christian or a Muslim would, so you're bound to misunderstand their views. To both, there is no such thing as "the evolution of morality". Right and wrong are not a matter of debate and consensus; right and wrong are revealed by God.

What you see as the evolution of morality among Christians is actually a different phenomenon. Most of Christian history was dominated and warped by the Catholic Church, which propounded purposefully incorrect teachings about God's revelation to man (the Bible) to sustain its political power. With the Reformation, Christians as a whole reclaimed the gift God gave them and resumed interpreting the Bible in the correct manner rather than as a tool for social control. (People will argue over the term "correct", but the plain textual meaning of the words in the Bible are pretty clear.) This was not an evolution of morality per se, but rather an evolution of the Christian institutions towards the form they were intended to take in the first place.

As for Islam, Muslims they believe that their god, Allah, revealed divine truth though, primarily, the Koran. However, they are not faced with the potential for the same kind of institutional change that rocked Christianity because the existing Muslim institutions are interpreting the teachings in the Koran correctly and as intended. That interpretation is horrific, thus causing Muslims around the world to suffer.

Just my impression, though I'm no Islamic scholar. If I'm wrong, show me some sources.

Isaac Asimov's Caves of Steel and its sequels explored the possible effects on humanity of robots that were so lifelike they could not be easily distinguished from real people. Well, we don't have that kind of technology to worry about yet, but apparently robotics and artificial intelligence are sophisticated enough to build robots that can fool cockroaches and even take leadership roles in their "society".

A matchbox-sized robot that can infiltrate a pack of cockroaches and influence their collective behaviour has been developed by European scientists.

The tiny robot smells and acts just like a roach, fooling the real insects into accepting it as one of their own. Through its behaviour, the robot can persuade a group of cockroaches to venture out into the light despite their normal preference for the dark, for example.

The researchers behind the robot believe it could be used to catch cockroaches and that bots designed to mimic other animals could one day work on farms controlling flocks of sheep and chickens by similar means.

I think it's interesting to consider interactions between creatures and robots, but it's also important to consider emergent relationships amongst artificial agents such as I did in my dissertation. As the number of computers/robots increases, the majority of interactions will turn out to be machine-machine rather than machine-man.

I for one welcome our imminent robot overlords, if they aren't already among us.

I think one of the most important prerogatives of a person with power is control over who can come into his presence and who can leave -- perhaps moreso the latter than even the former. Even unimportant people with few claims on their time tend to value privacy and seek to control and limit who they interact with, who comes into their presence. Important people tend to have secretaries and assistants who answer phones and emails and who make appointments for personal meetings when necessary. Time is valuable, so it's understandable that just about everyone attempts to control who they spend their time with.

Power over who can leave is almost unknown in America, and one implicit cornerstone of a free society is that a person generally has the liberty to leave wherever they are and to go somewhere else. The President may refuse to meet with me, but if we do meet and I tire of his company he cannot detain me on a whim. This sort of freedom is assumed in American culture, but historically a king has not only had the power to compel attendance, but also to dismiss or detain those in his presence.

The most visible modern American connection may be seen when children ask permission to leave the dinner table, although in my experience few families abide by this formality anymore. However, as I consider it, being required to ask permission to come and go could help a child understand his position in the family structure and lead to humility, and I think that when I have children I will enforce this practice.

I think my speculation that The Others on Lost are particularly interested in children with psychic potential was completely vindicated in last night's episode, "Three Minutes", but Anthony Martin suggests that perhaps it's size that matters.

I just realized why perhaps Walt was at the other terminal on the island chatting with his Dad, and why perhaps "the others" kidnapped all of the children.

The other facility had a near mishap, perhaps their blast doors have partially closed, which prevents adults from entering the dome to access the terminal. Only children are small enough to get in there and enter the code. That's why Alex was stolen from Danielle 16 years earlier. That's why the children were stolen from the tail section survivors. And that's why they attempted to steal Claire's baby, and of course Walt.

In other words, the other terminal is in a similar setup as the Swan facility, but the code is inaccessible by adults.

Personally I think The Others are pretty much in charge of the island, and we know now that they're "testing" Walt's abilities and not just using him to push a button.

As for the boat at the end of the episode, I bet it's Desmond returning for the season finale. He'll be pissed when he realizes that he's back on the island!

Entertainment Weekly has a cool photo gallery of many of the lostaways from before they became (really) famous.

My wife and I call Wednesday "Lostday". Hopefully tonight's episode about Michael doesn't suck. I had previously found him to be a rather boring character, but he redeemed himself by killing Ana Lucia.

Well I can't get to Tradesports to find the odds at the moment... maybe their site will be up again later. After watching last night, I have to agree with Simon that Eelliioott will be the one going home. It's an easy call. McPhee's performances were very good, even though I don't like her, and Taylor was as fun as ever. I hope he wins, but I'm afraid that Katherine has been getting better for the last few weeks and that people are going to want to vote for her pretty face (despite her mediocre talent).

The saying says that "the grass is always greener on the other side", and yet there are a lot of circumstances in which people will fiercely defend their present circumstances, even when they're pretty clearly inferior to the alternatives. For example, most people show great devotion to their hometown, even when from an objective standpoint it may have little to recommend it. This isn't universal, but even people who have left their hometown often speak very highly of it.

So what makes some situations ones in which the grass tends to look greener elsewhere, while other situations elicit loyalty despite their faults? Does it depend on how much of an investment the situation demands for entry? A person who has invested years into a company might be reluctant to admit that another company is better. Yet, a person who invests thousands of dollars in a new car will often have second thoughts and wonder if he should have bought something else. Are there other factors? People may show more loyalty to situations that involve other people who have become their friends than to situations the relate only to inanimate objects.

My wife pointed me to an article suggesting that the EU wants to give Iran a nuclear reactor to try to dissuade the mad mullahs from continuing their own nuclear program. This offer/payoff will be rejected because Iran clearly wants nuclear weapons, not just nuclear power. (As an aside, is it a good policy to bribe rogue nations to prevent them from building weapons? What message does that send to tyrants?)

Although I don't think this is a viable approach to the Iranian problem, it's a good opportunity to link to the US Department of Energy's SSTAR project: the small, sealed, transportable, autonomous (nuclear) reactor.

A nuclear reactor that can meet the energy needs of developing countries without the risk that they will use the by-products to make weapons is being developed by the US Department of Energy.

The aim is to create a sealed reactor that can be delivered to a site, left to generate power for up to 30 years, and retrieved when its fuel is spent. The developers claim that no one would be able to remove the fissile material from the reactor because its core would be inside a tamper-proof cask protected by a thicket of alarms.

Known as the small, sealed, transportable, autonomous reactor (SSTAR), the machine will generate power without needing refuelling or maintenance, says Craig Smith of the DoE's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California.

Cheap, reliable nuclear power would be a God-send for developing nations, and I hope the DOE is still pursuing this technology.

In an SSTAR the nuclear fuel, liquid lead coolant and a steam generator will be sealed inside the housing, along with steam pipes ready to be hooked up to an external generator turbine.

A version producing 100 megawatts would be 15 metres tall, three metres in diameter and weigh 500 tonnes. A 10-megawatt version is likely to weigh less than 200 tonnes.

The US will deliver the sealed unit by ship and truck and install it. When the fuel runs out it will collect the old reactor for recycling or disposal. The DoE hopes to have a prototype by 2015.

There's no reason why American cities couldn't purchase similar reactors to supply their power, and a network of small power generators like these could really spur progress towards the idealistic "hydrogen economy".

Here's more, "Nuclear Energy To Go", and here's an article about how useful small nuclear reactor technology would be to our military.

Apparently kissing is good for your health, especially if you suffer from allergies.

A 30-minute kissing session may suppress the body's allergic reaction to pollen, providing welcome relief from hay fever, a new study suggests.

Scientists based at the Satou hospital in Japan found that kissing worked by relaxing the body and reducing the production of histamine – a chemical that the body produces in response to pollen, causing the sneezing, runny noses and streaming eyes that characterise hay fever attacks.

Must be why I don't have allergies.

I'm baffled by the media's surprise and astonishment at the fact that government agencies are trying to catch reporters' "confidential sources".

A senior federal law enforcement official tells ABC News the government is tracking the phone numbers we (Brian Ross and Richard Esposito) call in an effort to root out confidential sources.

"It's time for you to get some new cell phones, quick," the source told us in an in-person conversation. ...

The official who warned ABC News said there was no indication our phones were being tapped so the content of the conversation could be recorded.

A pattern of phone calls from a reporter, however, could provide valuable clues for leak investigators.

No duh. What Brian Ross, Richard Esposito, and their sources are doing is illegal. It's nice that their sources may possibly be leaking information because they think it's in the best interests of Americans, but even though I'm skeptical that that's the true motive, it's irrelevant. The sources don't have the authority to release information. That's a decision to be made by our elected representatives, not by anonymous, unaccountable bureaucrats or reporters looking for a scoop. I personally hope that law enforcement cracks down hard on both the sources and the recipients of the leaks.

(HT: Chicago Tribune and Digg.)

I heard on the news this morning that Bill Cosby just gave a graduation address at Spelman College, a black all-woman institution. I'd appreciate it if anyone can find the text of his speech online.

Here's an old Mad TV sketch in which the Terminator goes back in time to save Jesus.

The Greatest Action Story Every Told.

If you like that, don't miss Old Glory Robot Insurance.

It's pretty common for wise, experienced adults to admonish children not to "sink down to the level" of whomever is antagonizing the child, be it a bully at school or an annoying sibling. This is generally a good policy, because in most cases nothing but ego and convenience are at stake. Most disagreements are entirely pointless and should be avoided with the minimum of fuss; maintaining a polite and honorable demeanor and reputation is generally more important than winning.

However, a recent post by Clayton Cramer about why we must win the war on terror prompted me to point out that sometimes it's more important to win than to maintain your principles. Mr. Cramer points to a post by Eugene Volokh who describes a Dutch court decision that forced a Dutch citizen out of her apartment because her neighbors were afraid that the Islamic terrorists who threatened to kill her would also kill them in the process. Writes Mr. Cramer:

She was relocated by the Dutch government into a high security apartment--and now her neighbors have successfully sued to force her to move out, because of their understandable concern about their own safety. The rationale for this was the European Treaty on Human Rights.

Now, there's some troubling aspects to this. Why should the neighbors have to live in fear that Islamofascists are going to blow up MP Hirsi Ali's apartment--and kill them as well? But at what point does this turn into a situation where the Islamofascists get to use their threats to hound Hirsi Ali out of her adopted country (as she apparently is beginning to think she will have to do)?

This is going to be very troubling to a lot of people on the left end of the spectrum, but it appears that Islamofascism and human rights are mutually exclusive, not just in one country, but on this planet. You can have one, or you can have the other, but not both. I'm not sure that there is a solution here that doesn't involve truly horrifying violations of Western norms of religious freedom--and that, after all, is probably the Islamofascist goal--to force us down to their level of barbarism.

It would be unfortunate, even terrible, if Western Civilization is forced into temporary barbarity by Islamofascist terrorists, but if the only alternative is destruction then we have to be strong enough to make that choice. All war is inherently barbaric, but America has spent the last several decades pursuing the luxury of the "civilized" war in which no one but soldiers is killed, and of those as few as possible. Our vast wealth and technological superiority has put us in a position where we can use military force more humanely than has ever been possible, but in the process I'm afraid that we've deluded ourselves into thinking that every war can be fought so cheaply. And I'm not talking about "cheap" in terms of money, but in terms of blood and liberty.

This War on Terror is a religious war in the minds of our enemies, the fanatical Islamofascists who target not only infidels but also their own Muslim brethren who do not adhere to as extreme an ideology. Ignoring the spiritual dimension of this conflict is foolish, even for a secular humanist, because if the Islamofascists win atheists will be at the front of the line for beheadings.

So yes, it will be tragic if we in the West are forced to descend into barbarity to defeat those who would destroy us. I hope we are powerful enough to continuously maintain the luxury of liberty while we fight for our survival, but the more we hesitate and retreat from what is necessary now the more liberties we will have to sacrifice later when the threat to our existence has drawn even closer. "Give me liberty or give me death!" is a noble, necessary cry for an individual in defense of his nation, but not for the nation itself as a whole. Even if we must constrain our freedoms to ensure victory, we can always reclaim them. Even if we must "sink to their level", the light of liberty can never be extinguished, particularly not among a people who hold it so dearly.

Steve Pavlina has a brilliant article about how to get the right amount of sleep and be an early riser. The method he advocates is one that I discovered for myself several years ago, and it definitely works! (Not that I adhere to it as closely as he does, but I try.)

If you sleep set hours, you’ll sometimes go to bed when you aren’t sleepy enough. If it’s taking you more than five minutes to fall asleep each night, you aren’t sleepy enough. You’re wasting time lying in bed awake and not being asleep. Another problem is that you’re assuming you need the same number of hours of sleep every night, which is a false assumption. Your sleep needs vary from day to day.

If you sleep based on what your body tells you, you’ll probably be sleeping more than you need — in many cases a lot more, like 10-15 hours more per week (the equivalent of a full waking day). A lot of people who sleep this way get 8+ hours of sleep per night, which is usually too much. Also, your mornings may be less predictable if you’re getting up at different times. And because our natural rhythms are sometimes out of tune with the 24-hour clock, you may find that your sleep times begin to drift.

The optimal solution for me has been to combine both approaches. It’s very simple, and many early risers do this without even thinking about it, but it was a mental breakthrough for me nonetheless. The solution was to go to bed when I’m sleepy (and only when I’m sleepy) and get up with an alarm clock at a fixed time (7 days per week). So I always get up at the same time (in my case 5am), but I go to bed at different times every night.

I never have trouble falling asleep because I only go to bed when I'm tired. I get tired at the "right" time because my body knows when it's going to have to wake up, at nearly the same time every day. Mr. Pavlina picked 5am, but the time for me is either 7am or 7:30am, depending on whether or not I'm going to exercise.

He also mentions a way for most insomniacs to cure themselves.

I read that most insomniacs are people who go to bed when they aren’t sleepy. If you aren’t sleepy and find yourself unable to fall asleep quickly, get up and stay awake for a while. Resist sleep until your body begins to release the hormones that rob you of consciousness. If you simply go to bed when you’re sleepy and then get up at a fixed time, you’ll cure your insomnia. The first night you’ll stay up late, but you’ll fall asleep right away. You may be tired that first day from getting up too early and getting only a few hours of sleep the whole night, but you’ll slog through the day and will want to go to bed earlier that second night. After a few days, you’ll settle into a pattern of going to bed at roughly the same time and falling asleep right away.

If you get up at the same time each day, getting tired and falling asleep will take care of itself.

In part 2 he address the issue of, "why bother?".

Think about what you could do with that extra time. Even an extra 30 minutes per day is enough to exercise daily, read a book or two each month, maintain a blog, meditate daily, cook healthy food, learn a musical instrument, etc. A small amount of extra time each day adds up to significant amounts over the course of a year. 30 minutes a day is 182.5 hours in a year. That’s more than a month of working full-time (40 hours per week). Double it if you save 60 minutes a day, and triple it if you save 90 minutes a day. For me the savings was about 90 minutes/day. That’s like getting a free bonus year every decade. I’m using this time to do things that I previously didn’t have the time and energy to do. It’s wonderful.

(HT: GeekPress.)

If you were like me you spent the last four years pondering President Bush's call in his January, 2002, State of the Union address for Americans to dedicate time to volunteer service. When would an official government organization be established to apportion praise and honor, finally rendering volunteer service worthwhile? Well that time has come, and I just received a solid gold President's Volunteer Service Award pin to prove it!

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It's about time I get some recognition and admiration for all those thankless years of humble, tireless service. Now that I'm a Colonel in the USA Freedom Corps, the tables have turned.

One of the most interesting aspects of last night's show is that Eelliioott did so well and McPhee completely bombed. Take a look at TradeSports contract listings in this screenshot taken right after the west-coast airing.

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As you can see, before the show Eelliioott was the strong favorite to get the boot, but after McPhee's miserable performances she leapt into last place.

She's the youngest performer left, and I think her youth and lack of experience are really showing through. She doesn't know how to pick good songs, she can't arrange them (or help arrange them) very well, and she isn't really growing as a performer. The men who are left are all older, more experienced, and much more sophisticated singers, and it shows. McPhee obviously has a pretty face, but it doesn't seem like she's used to working hard for anything, whereas all the remaining men seem to be busting their butts every week.

Based on last night McPhee clearly deserves to be cut, but I have a hard time believing that Eelliioott will garner more votes despite his excellent performances.

If you think the American media is full of defeatists just wait till you read this hopeless al-Qaeda correspondence captured in Baghdad. ("The Shiites" is how the terrorist writer refers to the elected democratic government of Iraq.)

1. It has been proven that the Shiites have a power and influence in Baghdad that cannot be taken lightly, particularly when the power of the Ministries of Interior and Defense is given to them, compared with the power of the mujahidin in Baghdad. During a military confrontation, they will be in a better position because they represent the power of the state along with the power of the popular militias. Most of the mujahidin power lies in surprise attacks (hit and run) or setting up explosive charges and booby traps. This is a different matter than a battle with organized forces that possess machinery and suitable communications networks. Thus, what is fixed in the minds of the Shiite and Sunni population is that the Shiites are stronger in Baghdad and closer to controlling it while the mujahidin (who represent the backbone of the Sunni people) are not considered more than a daily annoyance to the Shiite government. The only power the mujahidin have is what they have already demonstrated in hunting down drifted patrols and taking sniper shots at those patrol members who stray far from their patrols, or planting booby traps among the citizens and hiding among them in the hope that the explosions will injure an American or members of the government. In other words, these activities could be understood as hitting the scared and the hiding ones, which is an image that requires a concerted effort to change, as well as Allah’s wisdom.

So the terrorists in Iraq recognize that they're nothing more than a "daily annoyance" and have no chance or capability to actually take and hold terrority or to overthrow the fledgling Iraqi government. All they can do is attack innocents and hope to hit Americans by luck.

2. The strength of the brothers in Baghdad is built mainly on booby trapped cars, and most of the mujahidin groups in Baghdad are generally groups of assassin without any organized military capabilities.

3. There is a clear absence of organization among the groups of the brothers in Baghdad, whether at the leadership level in Baghdad, the brigade leaders, or their groups therein. Coordination among them is very difficult, which appears clearly when the group undertake a join operations

The terrorists are basically as well organized as a street gang. Booby-trapping cars is the extent of their ability.

The next section is particularly telling.

4. The policy followed by the brothers in Baghdad is a media oriented policy without a clear comprehensive plan to capture an area or an enemy center. Other word, the significance of the strategy of their work is to show in the media that the American and the government do not control the situation and there is resistance against them. This policy dragged us to the type of operations that are attracted to the media, and we go to the streets from time to time for more possible noisy operations which follow the same direction.

This direction has large positive effects; however, being preoccupied with it alone delays more important operations such as taking control of some areas, preserving it and assuming power in Baghdad (for example, taking control of a university, a hospital, or a Sunni religious site).

At the same time, the Americans and the Government were able to absorb our painful blows, sustain them, compensate their losses with new replacements, and follow strategic plans which allowed them in the past few years to take control of Baghdad as well as other areas one after the other. That is why every year is worse than the previous year as far as the Mujahidin’s control and influence over Baghdad.

The terrorists' whole strategy is aimed at convincing the American media that "the American and the government do not control the situation", when in fact the terrorists aren't much more than an annoyance with no chance (or conception) of victory. The American media is amazingly eager to take the bait.

The susequent sections give slightly more detailed information about the number of terrorists active in the various named regions of Baghdad.

10. (Salah): Northern al-Karkh groups are estimated at 40 mujahid, so is the Southern Karkh. They could double that number if necessary. Al-Rassafah groups in general is estimated at 30 mujahidin as I was informed by the commander of al-Rassafah. These are very small numbers compared to the tens of thousands of the enemy troops. How can we increase these numbers?

So there are between 110 and 220 terrorists left in the city contending with thousands of Americans and millions of Iraqis... why isn't this disparity discussed by the mainstream media? Even al-Qaeda knows we're winning.

(HT: Captain's Quarters and Glenn Reynolds.)

Don't mess with Texas, and apparently even Texas shouldn't mess with Austin.

In 1842, Austin almost lost its status as capital city during the Texas Archive War. President Sam Houston had tried to relocate the seat of government from Austin to Houston, and then to Washington-on-the-Brazos. In the dead of night on December 29, 1842, a group of men was sent to take the archives of Texas from Austin to Washington-on-the-Brazos. Angelina Eberly fired a cannon at the men, who made their escape, only to be caught by another group of men who returned the archives back to Austin.

Not that a capitalist like Rupert Murdoch needs political principles to back his business decisions, but it's interesting that he's planning to host a fundraiser for Hillary despite his reputation as a founding member of the vast right-wing conspiracy.

Rupert Murdoch, the conservative media mogul whose New York Post tabloid savaged Hillary Clinton’s initial aspirations to become a US senator for New York, has agreed to host a political fundraiser for her re-election campaign. ...

One media lobbyist said: "Murdoch will be for the Republicans but he is also smart enough to know that the Republicans might not win. At some level, whether nationally or in New York, Hillary is the future and what savvy businessman would not want to put a line of interest in someone who will be the future?"

That's the kind of thinking a shareholder wants from a corporate executive, and exactly the opposite of what a voter should want from a politician. The joint fundraiser says more about Hillary's principles than Murdoch's.

Furthermore, this event is a good example of one reason businessmen may not make good politicians. I tend to think that the business world has a lot of good thinking to contribute to politics, but MBA-think can also lead to ideological compromise that might work to make money, but isn't the best way to run a country. Cf. President Bush.

I'm reminded of a set of experiments in which rats were placed in cages and provided with levers that would dispense food under varying circumstances.

1) The lever never dispenses food; the rat learns not to press the lever.

2) The lever dispenses food every time it is pressed; the rat learns to press the lever when it is hungry.

3) The lever randomly dispenses food when it is pressed; the rat goes crazy and pushes the lever like mad because it never knows when it will get food and when it won't.

Don't be rat 3.

I'm almost finished with The Da Vinci Code and I have to say that I enjoyed it a lot more the first time I read it when it was called The Illuminatus! Trilogy. The first half of DVC was pretty engaging, but as soon as the premise of the book was revealed I quickly lost all interest in such a far-fetched, purposeless, facile reinterpretation of history.

To sum it up it for anyone who hasn't already heard, DVC is about a modern quest for the Holy Grail, except the Grail isn't a cup, it's Mary Magdalene's vagina. Surprise! The Grail didn't catch Christ's blood while he was on the cross, it caught other fluids and in fact spawned a brood of decendents that survives to modern times. The human Jesus, who was a wise teacher despite being a little crazy for falsely claiming to be God, intended his wife/girlfriend Mary Magdalene to carry on his ministry after his pointless death, but the male disciples decided it would be better to oppress women and erase "the sacred feminine" from theology. So they made up the story about Eve eating the fruit first (nevermind that the story was around long before Jesus' time) and put theological restrictions on sex to keep women down and rule the world. Pre-Christian paganism was a paradise of free sex and egalitarianism, epitomized by Jesus and Mary Magdalene, and then the Catholic Church squashed it all and ruined the party.

If you wade through all 400+ pages you'll see that it's even dumber than it sounds. I'm personally glad that I read it because now I've got a new yardstick to measure other peoples' stupidity: anyone who likes the book or thinks it's "deep" is a moron.

I can hardly blame the Vatican for implicitly comparing the upcoming release of The Da Vinci Code movie with the recent Mohammad cartoon nonsense, but I'd like to think that Christian beliefs can stand on their own without government intervention.

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - In the latest Vatican broadside against "The Da Vinci Code", a leading cardinal says Christians should respond to the book and film with legal action because both offend Christ and the Church he founded.

Cardinal Francis Arinze, a Nigerian who was considered a candidate for pope last year, made his strong comments in a documentary called "The Da Vinci Code-A Masterful Deception."

Arinze's appeal came some 10 days after another Vatican cardinal called for a boycott of the film. Both cardinals asserted that other religions would never stand for offences against their beliefs and that Christians should get tough.

"Christians must not just sit back and say it is enough for us to forgive and to forget," Arinze said in the documentary made by Rome film maker Mario Biasetti for Rome Reports, a Catholic film agency specializing in religious affairs.

"Sometimes it is our duty to do something practical. So it is not I who will tell all Christians what to do but some know legal means which can be taken in order to get the other person to respect the rights of others," Arinze said.

Here's something practical: tell people what's wrong with the movie and explain the truth about Christ, his ministry, and his church. Lawsuits aren't going to convince anyone.

Last month I wrote about how ability and equity can be used as hedges against each other because when salaries go up the equity markets tend to go down and vice versa. Well today stocks hit a six-year high on news of a softening job market.

Stocks rallied sharply Friday as moderating job growth reinforced Wall Street's hopes that the Federal Reserve may soon end its series of interest rate hikes. The Dow Jones industrial average climbed more than 110 points to a fresh six-year high.

Investors saw a slowdown in April employment growth as the latest sign of a softening economy, a reason for the Fed to stop raising interest rates. That countered worries over rising wages, which followed an upswing in employers' labor costs on Thursday. ...

In late afternoon trading, the Dow climbed 134.63, or 1.18 percent, to 11,573.49, about 150 points away from its all-time high of 11,722.98, reached Jan. 14, 2000.

Broader stock indicators were higher. The Standard & Poor's 500 index was up 13.03, or 0.99 percent, at 1,325.28, its highest level since February 2001; the Nasdaq composite index advanced 18.17, or 0.78 percent, to 2,342.07.

Most people have jobs, but job-holders should diversify their portfolio and buy equity so that they can take advantage of both ends of the cycle.

I found tonight's Lost episode, "Two for the Road" pretty boring and nonsensical... until the last three minutes! Spoilers below the fold.

Update:
Via some links from Bernardo, here's a great message board with a lot of information: Dharma Secrets.

Here's a pithy quote from Sheikh Yamani, former head of OPEC for 25 years, about the the prospect of running out of oil.

The market, that awful, corrupting, discriminating, resource-misallocating instrument of economic injustice that rewards oil companies and punishes the helpless consumer, is steadily guiding us to where we need to be — producing step gains in energy efficiency, shifting more investment towards alternative energy sources, and reducing dependency on a commodity that skews foreign policy priorities.

Foreseeing this epoch-making change that would be engineered by market forces, Sheikh Yamani, once the global icon of the energy business, is supposed to have said some years back: "The Stone Age didn’t end because we ran out of stone. And the oil age won’t end because we run out of oil."

Americans need to quit whining about the price of oil and focus on developing alternative energy storage technologies.

Shelby Steele from the Hoover Institution has an incisive analysis of how "white guilt" over the West's past sins prevents us from winning the War on Terror. He concisely and convincingly captures an amorphous opinion I've held for years, and I highly recommend that you read the whole article.

The collapse of white supremacy--and the resulting white guilt--introduced a new mechanism of power into the world: stigmatization with the evil of the Western past. And this stigmatization is power because it affects the terms of legitimacy for Western nations and for their actions in the world. In Iraq, America is fighting as much for the legitimacy of its war effort as for victory in war. In fact, legitimacy may be the more important goal. If a military victory makes us look like an imperialist nation bent on occupying and raping the resources of a poor brown nation, then victory would mean less because it would have no legitimacy. Europe would scorn. Conversely, if America suffered a military loss in Iraq but in so doing dispelled the imperialist stigma, the loss would be seen as a necessary sacrifice made to restore our nation's legitimacy. Europe's halls of internationalism would suddenly open to us.

Because dissociation from the racist and imperialist stigma is so tied to legitimacy in this age of white guilt, America's act of going to war can have legitimacy only if it seems to be an act of social work--something that uplifts and transforms the poor brown nation (thus dissociating us from the white exploitations of old). So our war effort in Iraq is shrouded in a new language of social work in which democracy is cast as an instrument of social transformation bringing new institutions, new relations between men and women, new ideas of individual autonomy, new and more open forms of education, new ways of overcoming poverty--war as the Great Society.

This does not mean that President Bush is insincere in his desire to bring democracy to Iraq, nor is it to say that democracy won't ultimately be socially transformative in Iraq. It's just that today the United States cannot go to war in the Third World simply to defeat a dangerous enemy.

White guilt makes our Third World enemies into colored victims, people whose problems--even the tyrannies they live under--were created by the historical disruptions and injustices of the white West. We must "understand" and pity our enemy even as we fight him. And, though Islamic extremism is one of the most pernicious forms of evil opportunism that has ever existed, we have felt compelled to fight it with an almost managerial minimalism that shows us to be beyond the passions of war--and thus well dissociated from the avariciousness of the white supremacist past.

This suffocating interplay between effectiveness and "legitimacy" prevents America from protecting herself from those who would destroy Americans of all colors. Unless we free ourselves from this concept of "legitimacy" imposed by our enemies' we are doomed to self-defeat.

Well, I'm now officially a victim of credit card fraud. Apparently someone decided to buy $2000 NBA playoff tickets using my (now cancelled) Citibank card. Fortunately the Citibank people responded quickly and I've got a new credit card on the way and will not be liable for the charges. Yet another reason why credit cards are better than debit cards or cash.

Here's a very interesting report about a topic I hadn't considered: gang members joining the military to learn urban combat techniques.

The Gangster Disciples are the most worrisome street gang at Fort Lewis because they are the most organized, Barfield said.

Barfield said gangs are encouraging their members to join the military to learn urban warfare techniques they can teach when they go back to their neighborhoods.

"Gang members are telling us in the interviews that their gang is putting them in," he said.

Joe Sparks, a retired Chicago Police gang specialist and the Midwest adviser to the International Latino Gang Investigators Association, said he is concerned about the military know-how that gang-affiliated soldiers might bring back to the streets here.

"Even though they are 'bangers, they are still fighting for America, so I have to give them that," Sparks said. "The sound of enemy gunfire is nothing new to them. I'm sure in battle it's a truce -- GDs and P Stones are fighting a common enemy. But when they get home, forget about it."

The story also mentions that gang-affiliated soldiers have been caught stealing military equipment such as body armor to send back home to their gangs.

I previously would have thought that the sort of people who become soldiers and the sort of people who join gangs would be pretty different, and that military training would overwhelm and replace any gang loyalties a soldier might have had in their former life, but apparently not. I can't imagine that gangster soldiers are a huge problem, but it's nice to know that someone is keeping tabs on the situation.

As we inch closer to the 2008 presidential election we're going to be hearing calls, primarily from Democrats, to eliminate the electoral college. Every politician who has ever or will ever claim to be proponent of eliminating the electoral college is merely posturing and is completely unserious. Most recently, from the link above, Indiana Senator Evan Bayh has said the following:

Q: Why do you think we should abolish the Electoral College?

A: "I think our president should be chosen by the majority of the American people. That is ordinarily the case. But in 2000, as we all recall, we elected this president with fewer votes than the other candidate got. I just don't think in the modern era that is appropriate."

Of course, in 2004 that same President went on to get more votes than any other presidential candidate had ever received, which completely undermines the Senator's assertion of what is "appropriate". In any event, as I wrote nearly three years ago, the Constitution will never be amended to remove the electoral college. It's simple mathematics.

The amendment process requires a 2/3 majority in both houses of Congress to make the proposal, and this proposal must then be ratified by 3/4 of the state legislatures. Since there are currently 50 states in the Union, all it takes is 13 states to bury a proposed amendment.

Under the electoral college system, states with low population have a number of electoral votes disproportionate to their size, and their populations clearly have a significant interest in maintaining this power. Wyoming's 3 electoral votes give the state 0.558% of the total 538, even though its population of 498,703 is only 0.173% of the total population of the country (288,368,698). Wyoming's electoral power (and representation in Congress, incidentally) is more than 3 times higher than it's population should warrent under a purely democratic system. As a result of this math, every state that possesses a number of electoral votes below the median would be harmed by the elimination of the electoral college, and so no such amendment could ever pass.

Half of the 50 states have populations below the median, by definition, and it only takes one-quarter of the states to scuttle an amendment. No state legislature will ever take positive action to reduce it's influence on federal policy, and so the electoral college is here to stay.

Famed author of the Wheel of Time series Robery Jordan has been diagnosed with a terminal disease that is expected to kill him before he can finish the series.

Now in my case, what I have is primary amyloidosis with cardiomyapathy. That means that some (only about 5% at present) of my bone marrow is producing amyloids which are depositing in the wall of my heart, causing it to thicken and stiffen. Untreated, it would eventually make my heart unable to function any longer and I would have a median life expectancy of one year from diagnosis. Fortunately, I am set up for treatment, which expands my median life expectancy to four years. This does NOT mean I have four years to live. For those who've forgotten their freshman or pre-freshman (high school or junior high) math, a median means half the numbers fall above that value and half fall below. It is NOT an average.

In any case, I intend to live considerably longer than that. Everybody knows or has heard of someone who was told they had five years to live, only that was twenty years ago and here they guy is, still around and kicking. I mean to beat him. I sat down and figured out how long it would take me to write all of the books I currently have in mind, without adding anything new and without trying rush anything. The figure I came up with was thirty years. Now, I'm fifty-seven, so anyone my age hoping for another thirty years is asking for a fair bit, but I don't care. That is my minimum goal. I am going to finish those books, all of them, and that is that.

Well good! I wish Mr. Jordan all the best. He also offers a link for making a donation to the Mayo Clinic earmarked for Amyloidosis research.

My brother pointed me to this nifty little endeavor: Congresspedia, the "citizen's encyclopedia on Congress". It's basically a public wiki that anyone can edit with information about the members of Congress.

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