August 2006 Archives

Everyone is talking/laughing about the Naked Gun-style oopsie by CNN's Kyra Phillips when she left her mic on-air during a bathroom break, and although she must be embarrassed, her husband is probably feeling pretty good about himself. From the beginning of the transcript:

Phillips: "Yeah, I'm very lucky in that regard with my husband. My husband is handsome and he is genuinely a loving, you know, no ego--you know what I'm saying. Just a really passionate, compassionate great, great human being. And they exist. They do exist. They're hard to find. Yup. But they are out there."

With all the ragging on men these days, it's refreshing to hear such genuine praise for a husband.

I've only been following the "secret hold" on the porkbusting database story peripherally, but I'm as unsurprised as anyone that the Senator holding up the bill is Ted "Bridge to Nowhere" Stevens (R-AK). (In case you missed it, the "bridge to nowhere" debacle was over the $223 million of taxpayer money Stevens earmarked to connect the mainland to Alaska's Gravina Island -- population 50.) Ted Stevens is the king of pork, so it's only natural that he'd want to kill a $15 million database that will allow the public to easily search federal contracts and expenditures. Hey Senator, time to retire.

Update:
I changed the title of the post because now it lookes like ex-Klansman Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) also has a hold on the bill. Again, not surprising, since you can hardly drive through West Virginia without seeing 100 structures named after the old man and paid for by federal tax dollars.

The winner of contract to build the next lunar spacecraft will be announced this afternoon. The project is now called Orion, but many in the industry still know it as the Crew Exploration Vehicle, or CEV. Regarding the contract:

Aug. 31 (Bloomberg) -- Northrop Grumman Corp., maker of the vehicle that landed a man on the moon 37 years ago, may beat out Lockheed Martin Corp. for a $4.5 billion contract to build the next lunar spacecraft.

The new vehicle, called Orion, is the centerpiece of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's $122 billion effort to return to the moon as early as 2018. Northrop is the leading contender for the award to be announced today, analysts including J.P. Morgan Securities Inc.'s Joseph Nadol said.

Not only is the contract worth a lot of money, but the project itself should be very exciting. One of the most interesting features of the announcement is that NASA has been so good at keeping the secret, after telling Congress who they selected over a month ago.

It's easy to predict the weather in Los Angeles: it's pretty much the same every day. I never realized how bad meteorologists were at predicting the weather until I moved here to St. Louis. They're commonly off by 10 degrees or more, and they can't even say if it's going to rain or not. For instance, yesterday was supposed to have a high of 78, but by late morning the temp was already 86 and the weathermen didn't even bother to update their forecasts! Today is forecast to be "8 degrees warmer than yesterday" but it's definitely not going to be 94... which means that it will probably be 86 again, and that the weathermen didn't even notice how far off their predictions were yesterday!

I can't wait for feminists to leap all over the Hong Kong scientists who are claiming that men need women to keep them from "anti-social and violent behavior".

Researchers have expressed alarm about cultures that favor male babies, saying sex-ratio imbalances could destabilize society because more men will remain unmarried, raising the risks of anti-social and violent behavior.

In a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, they said parts of China and India would have 12 percent to 15 percent more men over the next 20 years -- many of them rural peasants with limited education.

"The growing number of young men with a lack of family prospects will have little outlet for sexual energy," wrote Zhu Weixing of China's Zhejian Normal University and Therese Hesketh of the Institute of Child Health at University College London.

"This trend would lead to increased levels of anti-social behavior and violence, as gender is a well-established correlate of crime, and especially violent crime," they said, adding the trend would threaten stability and security in many societies.

If fish don't need bicycles, then bicycles certainly don't need fish!

Seriously though, I've written about the dangers of gender imblance before, and Arab/Muslim countries tend to have even worse problems than China.

I was just reading the Wikipedia entry for Confederate States of America President Jefferson Davis and it includes the fascinating factoid that, despite being elected to numerous offices, he never completed a whole term in any of them.

The year 1844 saw Davis's first political success, as he was elected to the United States House of Representatives, taking office on March 4 of the following year. ...

The year 1846 saw the beginning of the Mexican-American War. He resigned his House seat in June, and raised a volunteer regiment, the Mississippi Rifles, becoming its colonel. On July 21 they sailed from New Orleans for the Texas coast. ...

Because of his war service, the governor of Mississippi appointed Davis to fill out the Senate term of the late Jesse Speight. He took his seat 5 December 1847 and was elected to serve the remainder of his term in January 1848. When his term expired, he was elected to the same seat (by the Mississippi legislature, as the Constitution mandated at the time). ...

He had not served a year when he resigned (in September 1851) to run for the governorship of Mississippi on the issue of the Compromise of 1850, which Davis opposed. This election bid was unsuccessful, as he was defeated by Henry Stuart Foote by 999 votes. ...

Pierce won the [1852 presidential] election and made Davis his Secretary of War. ... Davis's term was to end with Pierce's, so he ran successfully for the Senate, and re-entered it on March 4, 1857. ...

Though an opponent of secession in principle, Davis upheld it in practice on January 10, 1861. On January 21, 1861, he announced the secession of Mississippi, delivered a farewell address, and resigned from the Senate. ...

Davis was elected to a six-year term as president of the Confederacy on November 6, 1861. ...

On April 3, 1865, with Union troops under Ulysses S. Grant poised to capture Richmond, Davis escaped for Danville, Virginia, together with the Confederate cabinet, leaving on the Richmond and Danville Railroad. He issued his last official proclamation as President of the Confederacy then fled south to Greensboro, North Carolina. On May 10, he was captured at Irwinville, Georgia.

It looks like Albania's capital of Tirana is struggling with a problem I've wondered about for a long time: they're running out of cemetary space.

Tirana municipality has shut down one of the city's two cemeteries and said the other has space for only one more week. It blames the government for holding up the expropriation of nearby land that would add space for two years' worth of graves. ...

Most Albanians see black humor in the situation.

"Could you spare some space for me?" an old lady asks the gravediggers in one popular joke. "Of course, just don't be too late," they answer.

There's certainly an enormous amount of unused land in the world, but the problem is that most of it is very remote. Not many families will want to bury their loved ones 100 miles deep into the desert, jungle, or tundra. Cemetaries take up a lot of space, people want them close (but not too close), and once they're built they last pretty much forever (or until your civilization collapses). Maybe we should start burying people vertically or in layers.

A new study has proven once and for all that left-handers are better.

College-educated left-handed men earn almost 15 percent more on average than similarly educated right-handed men, according to a recent study. ...

The college-educated-lefties-are-richer finding isn't what the economists expected when they started looking at data from a decades-long study that has followed 5,000 men and women since 1979. They had suspected that hiring discrimination, right-handed machinery and other factors might lead to left-handed people making less than their right-handed peers.

"Surprisingly, it turns out that left-handedness leads to increased income amongst educated males," said Christopher S. Roebuck, an economist at Lafayette College in Easton, Pa., and one of the study's three co-authors. ...

The frustrating part of the study -- for readers and researchers -- is that no one's sure why college-educated left-handed men make more than right-handed peers. Or why there's no similar correlation for women.

"We do not have a theory that reconciles these findings," Roebuck said.

Not being left-handed himself, Professor Roebuck misses the obvious truth: left-handed people are simply extraordinary.

Specialists calculated that every tenth human being is left-handed. ... Latest research works conducted in many countries of the globe showed that the IQ level of left-handed people is higher in comparison with the one of right-handed individuals. Every fifth outstanding person is left-handed as a rule.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg!

"There are a lot of extrasensorial individuals among them," doctor of medical sciences, Alexander Lee said. "We checked the supposition. There are hardly any right-handers among those, who have the gift of remote viewing, telepathy, or X-ray viewing," the doctor said.

Right and left-handers are virtually different types of people with their own special mindsets and perception of the world. "They get along with each other perfectly, but there is a hidden evolutionary struggle taking place between them, which reminds the struggle between primeval humans, Cro-Magnon and Neanderthal men. It seems to me that left-handers will eventually win the fight owing to their anomalous abilities," scientist of anomalous phenomena, Pyotr Chereda said.

No doubt.

... and now 53% of Brits recognize the Islamic threat.

The alleged plot to blow up transatlantic airliners and last year's terrorist attacks on London have made more people fear Islam as a religion, not merely its extremist elements, a poll for The Daily Telegraph has found.

A growing number of people fear that the country faces "a Muslim problem" and more than half of the respondents to the YouGov survey said that Islam posed a threat to Western liberal democracy. That compares with less than a third after the September 11 terrorist attacks on America five years ago. ...

The proportion of those who believe that "a large proportion of British Muslims feel no sense of loyalty to this country and are prepared to condone or even carry out acts of terrorism" has nearly doubled from 10 per cent a year ago to 18 per cent now.

The number who believe that "practically all British Muslims are peaceful, law-abiding citizens who deplore terrorist acts as much as any- one else" has fallen from 23 per cent in July last year to 16 per cent. However, there remains strong opposition to the security profiling of airline passengers based on their ethnicity or religion. ...

Most strikingly, there has been a substantial increase over the past five years in the numbers who appear to subscribe to a belief in a clash of civilisations. When YouGov asked in 2001 whether people felt threatened by Islam, as distinct from fundamentalist Islamists, only 32 per cent said they did. That figure has risen to 53 per cent.

Five years ago, a majority of two to one thought that Islam posed no threat, or only a negligible one, to democracy. Now, by a similar ratio, people think it is a serious threat.

I'd love to see a similar poll commissioned by our federal government, and I'd love to see the results. I'm impressed that the liberal Brits still have this much sense, and the next paragraph should serve as a reminder of why this nation once ruled the world.

The findings illustrate the huge task facing the Government's new ''cohesion and integration commission" which was formally launched yesterday, charged with finding out whether the multi-cultural experiment has failed and, if so, why.

Wait... they want to actually evaluate a government policy to see if it's working? Don't they know that's not how bureaucracies are supposed to work? Multiculturalism is tautologically good!

(HT: Larry Kudlow.)

Update:
Rod Liddle also writes about the death of multiculturalism (HT: Instapundit).

I've been following Tradesports odds on Republicans keeping the House and the Senate, and the numbers don't look quite as bleak for the GOP as Albert R. Hunt suggests. Says Mr. Hunt,

Barring an unexpected and big event, Democrats will win control of the U.S. House of Representatives in November and conceivably the Senate, too. Whether it's a tsunami or just a powerful wave, the political dynamics are moving in that direction, or more accurately, against the Republicans and President George W. Bush.

Democratic insiders, who months ago thought their chances of winning a majority in the House were no better than even, and that the Senate was a lost cause, have become far more optimistic. Now, they say, winning the House is a lock, and the Senate is within reach. ...

More telling is that the smartest Republican political minds agree. ``The issue matrix and political dynamics are not good for us,'' says Representative Tom Davis, a Virginia Republican. ``Only some big national or international event before the election can change that.''

Presumably the stupid Republican political minds are those who disagree, but in any event, the bettors on Tradesports (whose only incentive is to be right) don't see the House as a "lock" for the Democrats.

house-senate-2006.PNG

The bettors give Republicans only a 46% chance to retain the House, but that's a far cry from certainty for the Democrats. However, unlike the Senate which has remained a steady bet for the GOP, the House numbers have been trending downward for a long time.

house-chart-2006.PNG

In response to my previous post about Google's interview process, one Dr. Gene A. Nelson left a comment starting with:

As an experienced American citizen programmer with a Ph.D., I hope that you recognize that the real purpose of these "tests" is to discriminate on the basis of age and national origin - specifically to discriminate against older American citizens in favor of "fresh (inexpensive) young blood" from places like India and Communist China. Why?? So that the corporate owners reap higher profit margins.

That's an interesting claim, but I tend to be slow to buy in to conspiracy theories. Further thoughts?

I agree with Clayton Cramer that civil forfeiture laws are unjust and scary.

I am pretty hostile to civil forfeiture of property--where the government seizes something, and claims that it was used in a criminal act. Unlike a criminal prosecution, where the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt to a moral certainty that a person has committed a crime, with civil forfeiture, the government grabs the property, and says, "We only need a preponderance of evidence. If you disagree, you are welcome to file suit and try and prove us wrong."

In many California counties, if the police seize a gun--even if they later realize that there was no crime involved--they simply will not return a gun to the owner. You want a $400 gun back? Go hire a lawyer, and spend thousands of dollars trying to get it back. ...

There's a little problem, however: what if the police are wrong? I remember seeing a disturbing news show some years ago in which they interviewed a lot of people who had money taken from them by the police under civil forfeiture who were clearly not criminals. One of them was an orchid grower. It is a cash business. He had no criminal history. He broke no laws. The government didn't even make a small attempt at charging him with any crime--and he was out $9,000. They had a bunch of cases like this, where there was simply no reason to assume that this person was criminal.

Even worse, the civil forfeiture thing often leads to raids that make no sense--and get people killed. One of them was Donald Scott, shot to death in his Malibu home some years ago because the National Park Service wanted his land--and those accommodating sorts at the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department flew over his land, decided that he was growing marijuana there, and did a (depending on who you believe) no-knock raid--and shot him to death. (By the way, there's gobs of documentation on this case--I picked that particular account, but I read many of the news stories at the time about it. The only thing that made this one special is that Mr. Scott was rich--usually the victims of these crimes are poor or middle class.)

That's why it's important to never allow drugs or other illegal substances into your car or onto your property. Cops can seize anything they want, even if the owner isn't the one involved with illegal activities.

I've got a huge dataset of spam from the past few years of running my site. Unfortunately the Movable Type interface I've got available at the moment won't let me upload the whole Excel spreadsheet, but I'll be happy to email it to anyone who wants to see. Here are some highlights.

Top ten filter strings that have blocked the most spams:

51175 - <h1>

32347 - texas-hold-em

20657 - texas-holdem

17727 - qualitypornlinks4u.info

14717 - free-online-poker

13310 - payday-loan

11606 - hey.com

9204 - free--online--poker

6601 - 00120.com

6304 - pornlink4u.info

Five filter strings that were created on 1/1/2005 and caught a spam today, 8/24/2006 (a useful span of 600 days):

2944 - viagra

2216 - (diet|penis)[\w\-_.]*(pills|enlargement)[\w\-_....

700 - hydrocodone

382 - freewebs.com

175 - xenical

Total filter strings: 8144

Total spams caught: 417,385

Filter strings that never caught a spam: 63%

The top 14 filters caught 50% of the spams -- that is, the top 0.17% of filters caught half the spam.

Median number of spams caught by a filter: 11

Mean number of spams caught by a filter: 131

Standard deviation of number of spams caught by a filter: 1307

Defining rate as spams caught divided by useful span, the filter with the highest catch rate is "free--online--poker" with 9204 hits in 4 days, for 2301 spams per day. The filter with the highest rate with a useful span of over 50 days is "qualitypornlinks4u.info" with 17727 hits in 62 days, for a rate of 281 spams per day.

The International Astronomical Union has decreed that Pluto is not a "planet" by (re)defining the word. I put "re" in parentheses because it's not clear that "planet" was ever really defined other than as a list with nine members. So now there's a new definition that results in Pluto being stripped of its status, much to everyone's dismay except (some) astronomers.

So what is Pluto now? A "dwarf planet". But apparently "dwarf" isn't an adjective describing Pluto's size, it's part of a whole new term: "dwarf planets" aren't "planets". So what have we got?

The decision establishes three main categories of objects in our solar system.

* Planets: The eight worlds from Mercury to Neptune.

* Dwarf Planets: Pluto and any other round object that "has not cleared the neighborhood around its orbit, and is not a satellite."

* Small Solar System Bodies: All other objects orbiting the Sun.

The problem with the old definition of "planet" is that it included Pluto but had no specific criteria that would have prevented hundreds of other bodies (some, like 2003 UB313, larger than Pluto) from logically falling to the same category. Despite everyone's affection for Pluto, no one really wanted to expand the list of planets to that length... and scientists tend to dislike arbitrary classifications.

Unfortunately, the new definition appears to be based on the idea that a planet must "clear the neighborhood around its orbit", which is somewhat ambiguous. Says an astronomer in charge of exploring Pluto:

"I'm embarassed for astornomy," said Alan Stern, leader of NASA's New Horizon's mission to Pluto and a scientist at the Southwest Research Institute. "Less than 5 percent of the world's astronomers voted." ...

Stern, in charge of the robotic probe on its way to Pluto, said the language of the resolution is flawed. It requires that a planet "has cleared the neighborhood around its orbit." But Earth, Mars, Jupiter and Neptune all have asteroids as neighbors.

"It's patently clear that Earth's zone is not cleared," Stern told SPACE.com. "Jupiter has 50,000 trojan asteroids," which orbit in lockstep with the planet.

So, again, we seem to be stuck with an unclear definition that, though more aesthetically pleasing to some, doesn't add up to more than "I know it when I see it".

A South Carolina woman has been arrested for hosting sex and alcohol parties for teenagers, but take careful note of the difference between the complaint against her and the actual charge. Of the father who reported the situation to the police:

Deputies say the investigation began August 14 when a parent said her [sic] daughter had gotten drunk and had her first sexual experience at one of these parties.

"It really scares me that it's not that our kids have to worry about their peers anymore, it's they have to worry about other parents," said Rick Eaton, the father who went to police when he learned about the parties. "From my daughter has told me that Ms. Patricia has taken another woman's child up to get her birth control pills. Her excuse was that these teenagers having sex in her home was out of her control, which is wrong. You've got to have more control in your home than that."

The father here was concerned that his daughter was being given drugs and encouraged to have sex, which is certainly a horrific situation. But what did the police actually arrest 46-year-old Patricia Hartwell for?

"Hartwell's arrest should send a strong message to other adults who provide alcohol and drugs to children in Lexington County," [Sheriff James] Metts said in a written release. "We have zero tolerance in Lexington County for the transfer of alcohol to minors, and adults who provide alcohol to children will be vigorously investigated and prosecuted to the fullest extent allowed under South Carolina law."

Apparently Hartwell would have been in the clear if she'd restricted her parties to sex and drugs! Personally, I find it far more disturbing that young kids are being encouraged to have sex and take birth control than that they're drinking alcohol. There's no doubt that drinking is a serious problem for some teens and adults, but c'mon, it's obvious that the sexual aspect of this situation was by far the most harmful. Unfortunately, one of the legacies of the abortion industry is teenage sexual promiscuity (it's good for business!), and there aren't many ways left to legally restrain it.

Forbes offers some rather uh... non-PC advice: "Don't marry career women".

Guys ... whatever you do, don't marry a woman with a career.

Why? Because if many social scientists are to be believed, you run a higher risk of having a rocky marriage. While everyone knows that marriage can be stressful, recent studies have found professional women are more likely to get divorced, more likely to cheat, less likely to have children, and, if they do have kids, they are more likely to be unhappy about it.

Well well well... lots of blog commentary already, but I'll have to read it tomorrow.

Update:
Forbes apparently pulled the article and then put it back up next to a "counterpoint". (HT: Boing Boing.)

Update 2:
The counterpoint doesn't really address the statistical claims of the first article. Writes Michael Noer, the original author:

If a host of studies are to be believed, marrying [career] women is asking for trouble. If they quit their jobs and stay home with the kids, they will be unhappy (Journal of Marriage and Family, 2003). They will be unhappy if they make more money than you do (Social Forces, 2006). You will be unhappy if they make more money than you do (Journal of Marriage and Family, 2001). You will be more likely to fall ill (American Journal of Sociology). Even your house will be dirtier (Institute for Social Research). ...

In 2004, John H. Johnson examined data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation and concluded that gender has a significant influence on the relationship between work hours and increases in the probability of divorce. Women's work hours consistently increase divorce, whereas increases in men's work hours often have no statistical effect. "I also find that the incidence in divorce is far higher in couples where both spouses are working than in couples where only one spouse is employed," Johnson says. A few other studies, which have focused on employment (as opposed to working hours) have concluded that working outside the home actually increases marital stability, at least when the marriage is a happy one. But even in these studies, wives' employment does correlate positively to divorce rates, when the marriage is of "low marital quality."

The author of the counterpoint, Elizabeth Corcoran, attempts to refute these studies by sharing her own personal experiences.

I'm not usually a fan of dipstick tests, particularly when it comes to marriage and relationships. But a downright frightening story written by my colleague, Michael Noer, on our Web site today drove me to it. According to the experts cited by Michael, marrying a "career girl" seems to lead to a fate worse than tangling with a hungry cougar.

OK, call me a cougar. I've been working since the day I graduated from college 20-odd years ago. I have two grade-school-aged children. Work definitely takes up more than 35 hours a week for me. Thankfully, I do seem to make more than $30,000. All of which, according to Michael, should make me a wretched wife.

In spite of those dangerous statistics, my husband and I are about to celebrate our 18th wedding anniversary. You'll see us snuggling at a mountain-winery concert this month, enjoying the occasion. I don't think I'm all that unusual--so it seemed like a good time to test Michael's grim assertions.

It appears that Mrs. Corcoran has experienced "high marital quality", which is laudible and most likely due in large part her and her husband's own level of quality -- however, high quality marriages seem to be rather rare these days. The whole reason we do studies and generate statistics is because the personal experiences of a single person are often wildly divergent from reality.

Crystal at the Biblical Womanhood Blog writes that limitetime forces us to make choices that prevent us from having everything.

My applause to Noer for saying what few others are willing to for fear of being ripped to shreds by the feminist crowd. You can read his article here. For once, someone is willing to state the truth: Women who work full-time can't be as good of a wife. I don't understand what is so hard to understand. A woman who devotes 40 or more hours of her week exerting time, effort, mental capacity, and energy into a career is just not going to have as much to give to her husband.

Now, one may argue that the money a wife (or husband) earns is more important than whatever they'd otherwise be doing. It's certainly possible that there are men who don't want anything from a wife other than to earn some extra money -- there are certainly wives who would be pleased for their husbands to do nothing but work and send home a check. However, the studies above indicate that those are the long term desires of most couples, even if at any given instant they might think they'd prefer more money to the alternatives.

Bankers in the UK are introducing a new kind of mortgage that spans generations. Apparently these types of mortgages are common in Japan and other areas, but I've never heard of them.

Parents will be able to hand down their home loans onto their children under a radical shake-up of Britain's mortgage industry which starts today.

In a revolutionary move, homeowners would never need to repay a single penny of their mortgage before they die.

Instead, the debt will be passed to their offspring, allowing them to slash the amount of inheritance tax they would have to pay.

If housing prices rise faster than the mortgage interest rate, these types of loans could be incredible investment vehicles. Stocks tend to outperform real estate, but it's a lot harder to borrow huge sums of money to purchase stocks. So what happens when you die?

For example, a parent could have an interest-only mortgage of £100,000 on their home which is worth £150,000. When they die, the mortgage and the house would pass to their children. The children would only have to make a decision about whether or not to take on the mortgage when their parents died.

If they did not want the mortgage, it could be settled by selling the house or repaid by other means, such as an insurance policy or the sale of other assets. If they did agree, they could continue to pay the monthly interest payments which their parents were paying before their death - and keep the house. It would have an inheritance tax perk because only £50,000 - the value of the house excluding the mortgage - would be included in their parent's estate.

Of course, a simplified tax system could eliminate the need for all these twists and turns.

Everyone knows that Tom Cruise is insane, and combined with his exorbitant salary it shouldn't be a surprise that he's the latest in the line of huge stars dumped by major studios. But don't be deceived, it wasn't just Tom's bizarre behavior that did him in: movie star salaries have been dropping for years due to plummeting earnings. (Compare to stars' earnings in 2000.) Tom Cruise is just the low-hanging fruit, and now that he's been picked off the tree just wait for others to follow. What's more, advancing CG technology may eventually render (heh) actors entirely obsolete. Imagine our kids swooning over digital babes and hunks that only exist on a hard drive.

My prediction is that the next overpaid primadonnas to face the axe will be corporate executives -- eventually the spread of information on the internet and the explosion of MBAs will have to dilute their salaries.

Opinion Journal details a series of events in San Diego that demonstrates what has long been painfully obvious to Christians: atheists want to eliminate Christianity entirely, not just protect the "separation of church and state".

The cross was erected on city property in the 1950s as a tribute to veterans from both world wars and the Korean War. It was uncontroversial until 1989, when Mr. Paulson and his supporters sued to have it removed from public land. In 1991, U.S. District Judge Gordon Thompson ruled in their favor. So the city decided to sell the land to a private organization. In 1992 more than two-thirds of voters approved of the sale, and in 1998 it went to the highest bidder--a group that planned to keep the memorial intact.

Mr. Paulson, indicating that his beef is with the cross and not just its presence on public property, went back to court to block the sale. The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals obligingly ruled that selling the memorial violated the state constitutional prohibition on state-sponsored religion because it unfairly discriminated against any potential buyers who would have had to bear the burden of pulling the cross down.

Frustrated local voters fought back, and last year 76% of them approved Proposition A, authorizing the city to donate the memorial to the federal government. They were shot down again, this time by Superior Court Judge Patricia Yim Crowley, who invalidated the vote on the ground that it violated state law by showing preference for a particular religion. ...

The one judicial reprieve in this case came from Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, who last month stayed a U.S. district court order fining San Diego $5,000 for each day that the cross remained standing--giving Congress time to pass the eminent-domain transfer.

So Congress is buying the cross to protect it from idiotic judges who despise democracy and view themselves as aristocrats rather than servants of the people. Christians should remember this battle when the ACLU and others plaintively whine that they're trying to prevent oppression while underhandedly eviscerating the rights of the majority.

The title of the New York Times article is "Bush Argues Democrats Don’t Understand Threat to U.S.", but from the President's remarks it seems that he doesn't understand the threat that Democrats pose to America.

President Bush seized today on Democratic calls for withdrawal from Iraq to make an election-year case that his political rivals did not properly understand the threats to the nation and would create a more dangerous world. ...

In general, however, Mr. Bush struck a different tone than the vice president has used in recent weeks, including Mr. Cheney’s suggestion two weeks ago that implied that Ned Lamont’s victory in the Connecticut primary against Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut would embolden "Al Qaeda types."

In response to a question today. Mr. Bush said he agreed with that analysis, but added: "We’ll continue to speak out in a respectful way, never challenging somebody’s love for America when you criticize their strategies or their point of view."

When a person or a party consistently advocates strategies designed to weaken our country and turn over American security to pathetic "international" bodies, why shouldn't we question their patriotism? When a person or party is eager to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in Iraq and thereby strengthen not just "al Qaeda types" but Iran, Russia, China, and all the rest, shouldn't we wonder whether they want what's best for America? When a person or party sits idly by for a decade while Americans are murdered, kidnapped, and blown up by the hundreds, isn't it legitimate to ask if they really love our country?

It's not that Democrat politicians don't understand what's at stake in the War on Terror, it's that they care less about American victory than about their own jobs. They picked the wrong horse in the political race -- most of them decades ago -- and they fear that they can't switch now without losing their seats. Sure, they know it's bad when Americans get blown up, but it's better than the alternative in which Democrat Senators and Representatives have to find work in the private sector.

I'm back from my trip to DC and regular posting should resume shortly. I'm completely exhausted from my trip -- on top of the recent move and everything else -- and I really just want to relax at home and be with my wife, but alas. At least being at work is a little more low-key than traveling these days.

The trip itself was very good, and it was great to see my family from both coasts again. I also got to see my grandmother, probably for the last time, and that was both enjoyable and bittersweet. I've been blessed to have very few family members die yet during my lifetime (only my paternal grandfather), but my grandmother Mani is my last remaining grandparent (by blood). Once she's gone, I'll be in the second-oldest generation alive in my family, though I'm one of the youngest members.

It's pretty obvious to everyone that Israel lost its war against Hezbollah -- the Israelis know it, and the Lebanese know it. This is a disgraceful turn of events for Israel, and for the whole of Western Civilization. On the part of the Israeli public:

The 34-day war against Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas, widely seen here as just, had united Israel's fractured society. Hezbollah was considered a growing threat after it had vastly expanded its arsenal of missiles in recent years.

But the unity crumbled after Israel's fabled army pulled out of south Lebanon without crushing Hezbollah or rescuing two soldiers whose July 12 capture by the guerillas during a raid in Israel triggered the fighting. ...

The Dahaf poll, which had a margin of error of 4.5 percentage points, showed 70 percent opposed to a cease-fire that did not include the return of the captured soldiers, and 69 percent backing an official inquiry into the war's prosecution.

It's disgusting to me that Israel agreed to a cease-fire that didn't regain the freedom of its captured soldiers. Pathetic and ridiculous. What's more, no one believes that a UN multinational force will be able to disarm Hezbollah or secure Israel's northern border. There's no way to view the situation as anything other than a complete victory for Hezbollah and Iran... and they know it.

As stunned Lebanese returned Tuesday over broken roads to shattered apartments in the south, it increasingly seemed that the beneficiary of the destruction was most likely to be Hezbollah.

A major reason — in addition to its hard-won reputation as the only Arab force that fought Israel to a standstill — is that it is already dominating the efforts to rebuild with a torrent of money from oil-rich Iran.

Nehme Y. Tohme, a member of Parliament from the anti-Syrian reform bloc and the country’s minister for the displaced, said he had been told by Hezbollah officials that when the shooting stopped, Iran would provide Hezbollah with an "unlimited budget" for reconstruction.

In his victory speech on Monday night, Hezbollah’s leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, offered money for "decent and suitable furniture" and a year’s rent on a house to any Lebanese who lost his home in the month-long war.

"Completing the victory," he said, "can come with reconstruction."

Thereby entrenching Hezbollah (and Iran) in the Lebanese government and further empowering the very group that Israel ostensibly wanted to destroy. The whole war was a debacle for Israel and a complete win for Islamofascism.

However, the far more knowledgable Austin Bay sees it differently.

The Israeli strategy appears to be to allow the UN deal to self-destruct. If the UN peacekeepers can disarm Hizbollah, fine. If not, Israeli ground troops will come back in and clear everyone out of southern Lebanon. At that point, it will be obvious that no one else is willing, or able, to deal with the outlaw "state-within-a-state" that Hizbollah represents. Hizbollah will still exist after being thrown out of southern Lebanon, and it will be up to the majority of Lebanese, and the rest of the Arab world, to deal with Hizbollah and radical Shias.

Eh, I don't know... I think Mr. Bay is a little optimistic.

Hopefully you've been keeping up with The Daily Spork's three part series covering the murder of Lindsay Cutshall and Jason Allen, including an interview with one of the couple's childhood friends. Yesterday was the second anniversary of their deaths, so go read DeoDuce's wrap-up.

Wikipedia has a lot of information on military ranks around the world that I found interesting to peruse; the list of United States four star officers feels particularly insidey. There's also information on military pay. Your mileage may vary.

Last night I bought a Stinger 40 Watt Electronic Bug Killer from Lowe's to help control the insect population around my new house. Unfortunately, it looks like ultraviolet lights don't attract mosquitos very well, and those are the bugs I hate the most. The reviews of the product on the Home Depot site indicate that it works well, but How Stuff Works says that although it kills lots of bugs, most of them won't be mosquitos. Still, the device comes with an Octenol cartridge that's supposed to attract biting insects, so we'll see how it goes.

If it doesn't work, I'll just return it in a couple of weeks. I may end up having to spend real money on a mosquito magnet.

In my first post about owning intellectual property I laid out some of the difficulties that arise when a person tries to assert property rights over information stored in a digital format.

Once something (say, a song) is stored digitally, it is represented by a long series of 1s and 0s -- the song is essentially translated into a really big number. Depending on the format used for storing the song (MP3, WAV, &c.), the number that represents the song will be different. So does the owner of that song also own the number that represents that song? And if so, the number generated by what storage scheme? All of them?

That's a big problem because any number can be changed to any other number using the appropriate math. For instance, I could easily write a program that takes in the number that represents a particular song and then adds 1 to that number. Does the owner of the song own that number too? I could write a music program that takes this new number, subtracts 1, and then plays the song... so in a sense I simply created a new storage format for music. Adding and subtracting 1 is simple, but there are literally an infinite number of possible storage formats that haven't been invented yet, and they span every single number. Any number, when combined with the right algorithm, can be used to generate any song. So where is the copyright infringement? Is the song stored in the long binary number, or in the algorithm that decodes it? I could write another piece of software that no matter what file you put into it always plays the same song. Is every single file in existance now in violation of that song's copyright? ...

In the end, it's impossible to own numbers. Since numbers are used to represent everything stored digitally, it seems impossible to me that copyright as we now know it can continue to exist. Add to this other thorny issues such as digital child pornography ("that's not a picture, officer, that's just a really long number I got from my math equations") and decryption warrants and I think we're just on the tip of dealing with the changes that the digital revolution will force upon our civilization.

Rand Simburg delves into similar territory by questioning how anyone can verify that news photos are authentic, but his proposal doesn't look possible to me.

How, then, to know if a published photo is, in a paraphrase of the old commercial, real, or Memorex?

There are no obvious easy solutions to this problem, other than the traditional ones for validating evidence -- chains of custody. Press photographers could be required to use certified cameras that time stamp pictures in an encrypted way that doesn't permit modifying the stamp. They could go to accredited image processors who would verify the validity of the original picture from the camera (perhaps even uploading it to a certified notary storage site), and describe any image processing they performed, at risk of loss of accreditation if they pull any funny business. This would, of course, come at a cost, in both dollars for the intermediary and (more importantly for the news business) timeliness. Unfortunately, in the wake of this and other news bias scandals, any news organization that doesn't pull in the reins on its stringers and freelancers, and implement a solution like this, is going to suffer in credibility as time goes on.

The part I bolded is the weak link in the proposal, because there's no way to generate encrypted timestamps that cannot be modified given the right knowledge (of the encryption algorithm) and tools (to modify/bypass whatever hardware restraints are built into the camera). For instance, how would one verify that a particular picture/timestamp pair was created by a "certified" camera? As soon as one such camera is sold, its encryption routine will be reverse engineered to allow anyone to generate timestamps on their own computers at any time -- e.g., after modifying an authentic photograph. Such a device might make forgery a little more difficult, but considering how easy commercial software is to crack I doubt it will take long for pirates to break into a camera. (Say about one day after the first camera is commercially available.)

Bill Quick does a good job of explaining why Americans are growing weary of the war on terror, and I think we can learn a lot by flipping the question around.

The problem is three years of what appears to be bumbling, fumbling, softness, lack of clarity, lack of purpose, and lack of will. The public will grow tired of any enterprise when it appears that those who purport to represent it have utterly lost their way. This is the "leadership problem" in a nutshell. As I have repeatedly stated, leaders find a way to lead. Losers find excuses. Eventually the public tires of excuses. ...

If you want Americans to sacrifice "blood, toil, tears, and sweat" to destroy a "civilizational enemy," then you have to name that enemy, describe its places of power, and be honest about how far you will go - and may have to go - to achieve victory. The pabulum about diplomacy and democracy may seem politically expedient in the short run, but in the long run it has sapped the will of Americans to fight the necessary - and very real - battles that must be waged in order to win the war at all.

To look at it from the other side, why aren't the Islamists growing weary of the war? They're taking far more casualties than we are. They're living in caves, running and hiding, blowing themselves up, and living in the shadows just to be a thorn in our side. Their side of the war is far harder on them individually than our side is on most of us, and yet they're more keen to fight than ever. Why? Perhaps because they, unlike us in the West, know what they're fighting for and are determined to win. Their leaders have articulated why they're fighting and how they're going to win, and ours are too consumed with multiculturalism and UN nonsense to even publically define our enemy.

In light of the ongoing terror warnings, Jessica and I have decided to cancel our trip to Washington DC later this week. We're really disappointed about it -- especially because I miss my family a lot after having moved to St. Louis -- but it just doesn't seem smart to travel to the capital when the threat level is at Orange.

The chances of anything bad happening to us are probably one in thousands or millions, but despite the fact that air travel is safer than driving, it can be more dangerous at some times than others, and this is one of those times. It was a hard decision, but so it goes. Live to fly another day.

Does anyone have any recommendations for home security systems? We're considering getting Brinks or ADT, but as I'm perusing the internet I see all sorts of do-it-yourself alternatives like this SecureLinc web-enabled home security kit that comes with motion detectors (etc.) and sends out alerts over the phone or via the web. Has anyone used any of these systems?

President Bush is poised to sign the Pension Protection Act of 2006 now that it's passed both houses of Congress. The Act affects employers and employees in some significant ways, most notably by retaining the freedom of choice created by the 401(k) revolution but allowing for employers to make choices for workers who are too lazy to do the work themselves.

Employers can boost participation in their retirement plans by automatically enrolling workers. Individuals could decline to participate but must formally decide to opt out. In addition, employers can boost worker contributions over time so that the savings grows along with the employee's salary. This tackles the rampant apathy Americans have about saving and turns inertia into a positive. There is a wide range of statistics available on the subject, but most boil down to this: About half of all eligible workers sign up for their retirement plan; in automatic-enrollment situations, participation rises to more than 85% because few workers stop the saving process. ...

Someone joins a company, and is enrolled automatically in the retirement plan. The worker doesn't bother to take an active role and, yet, the longer they work, the more money they pile up.

Says Maggioncalda: "It's going to feel a lot like the old pension plans, because 20 years from now, you'll wind up with a lot of money to use in retirement."

It will feel even more like a pension if consumers follow up with one other big change in the reforms. Among the many provisions of the pension-reform act is clarification of the "safest available annuity" standard. This is expected to encourage employers to offer an annuity distribution option from 401(k) and other retirement plans. That means that when someone reaches retirement, they'll have a choice to put the money they've accumulated to work buying an annuity, which would make them regular payments for life.

But those savers who want to control their own assets will have the power to do so.

There are some other changes that might have huge ramifications down the road, such as the expansion of the tax-free rollover "designated beneficiary" provisions.

Perhaps most interestingly, the act extends extremely favorable tax treatment of qualified plan distributions to beneficiaries following the death of the employee. Under current law, spouses named as beneficiaries of qualified retirement plans can roll the plan assets into their own IRA tax-free. But other beneficiaries, including children or unmarried partners of deceased employees, cannot. Instead, they must withdraw taxable distributions from the plan within a certain period of time. The act extends the tax-free rollover option to anyone who qualifies as a "designated beneficiary" under the provisions.

With this provision, families who plan carefully will be able to preserve substantial amounts of qualified plan assets for generations, without paying income tax. Although an employee is required to take taxable minimum distributions at age 70 or 71, upon death, the remaining assets could be left to a child or grandchild, who could then roll the assets over into an IRA. No distributions would be required from that IRA until the child or grandchild turned 70 or 71. Without any checks on the law's provisions, repetition of this strategy could create immense dynasties, composed primarily of qualified plan assets that would escape income tax for decades or even centuries.

In all, these changes look good for the American worker, whether he has the forethought to save for himself or not; only employees who actively undermine their retirement by opting out of their employer's savings plan (and the peripheral workers who are poor planners and self-employed) will be left in the cold.

This Reutergate video provides a great summary of the ongoing faux-tography being perpetrated by Reuters, the AP, and other international news media organizations -- all "mistakes" made to the benefit of the enemies of the West. Send this video to anyone who doesn't quite understand what all the fuss is about, and anyone you know who's naive enough to still trust what they see in the paper.

(HT: Little Green Footballs.)

Arnold Kling mentions the War on Terror within the context of Snow Crash and gives me an idea. He writes:

In Neal Stephenson's 1992 science-fiction classic, the two main characters have been hired by the Mafia and other ethnic corporate franchises to deal with a fanatic religious cult whose chief warrior possesses a hydrogen bomb. In the novel, governments are too powerless to deal with this threat. It is a brutal, post-national world.

He doesn't develop this idea much farther in his essay, but why can't corporations bring their ruthless efficiency to bear against the forces of evil? All we need is a way to motivate them, a way for fighting terror to be profitable. Now, it's arguable that the airline industry and others already have a profit-motive that could induce them to put their clout behind the War on Terror. The defense industry already makes money off the fighting, but so indirectly that the corporate efficiency is lost because the amazing weapons systems that get created have to be put into use by governments.

I say, let's cut out the middleman and just have the governments put up bounties, not merely for individual terrorists, but for less tangible goals.

- One month without a bombing in Baghdad? $1 billion bounty, with a bonus for six bomb-free months in a row.

- Return of Corporal Gilad Shalit to his family? $5 million.

- $1000 for every acre of poppies eliminated in Afghanistan.

- $10,000 for publishing the addresses of the families of radical imams.

And so forth. I'm just pulling numbers out of the air here, but you get the idea. Sure, innocent people might get caught up in all the bounty hunting, but then they could sue and it would be bad business for the corporations involved. There's plenty of incentive for them to avoid unnecessary casualties.

Bruce L. Benson has a great article explaining how environmental groups use lawsuits to raise money rather than to cure environmental ills.

Private prosecution of crimes has a long and sordid history, and that history isn't over. Bounty hunters no longer hound innocent people to death as some did in England in the mid-18th century, but environmental groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council have modified the tactic. They use "citizen suits" to reap rich rewards for themselves with little positive impact on the environment. ...

An indication that self-interest, not environmental stewardship, propels these suits comes from comparing citizen suits filed under two different laws. Between 1995 and 2002, 1,371 citizen suits were filed under the under the Clean Water Act but only 143 under the Clean Air Act. Do environmental groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund think that water violations are more serious than air pollution? Probably not. They do know, however, that the Clean Water Act mandates record-keeping that makes suing under it easy and allows large fines that make settlements lucrative; the Clean Air Act does not.

Another sign that the goals are financial, not environmental, is that the Clean Water Act suits are disproportionately targeted at private firms, not municipal governments. Yet municipal governments generate much more water pollution.

Trial lawyers are the financial engine behind most of the crazy, hypocritical (Al Gore) leftist causes these days, and environmentalists are no different.

So everyone is following the news about the thwarted terror plot in the UK, but it's interesting to note in that article by the BBC that the races and religions of the captured terrorists aren't mentioned.

Police are searching premises after 21 people were arrested. Home Secretary John Reid said they believed the "main players" were accounted for. ...

According to BBC sources the "principal characters" suspected of being involved in the plot were British-born. There are also understood to be links to Pakistan.

Hmmm... I'm going to go out on a limb and predict that all 21 terrorists are Arab Muslim males between the ages of 18 and 45. The older members may have been born in Pakistan and then later moved to Britain, and they frequently travelled back and forth. The terrorists all attended local mosques, where the reagular Muslims all thought they were nice boys and that nothing at all was amiss. Sure, the imam periodically called for the subjugation of the West, but that's no big deal, no one takes him seriously. Call me cynical.

At least British law enforcement seems to be on the ball, even if their PR people are agonizingly politically correct. There's one security measure in the article that I particularly like:

Passengers are not allowed to take any hand luggage on to any flights in the UK, the department said.

Only the barest essentials - including passports and wallets - will be allowed to be carried on board in transparent plastic bags.

Works for me! I'm sick of waiting in line for hours while people drag their enormous carryons up and down the aisles.

In light of the recent terror threat in the UK, what does everyone think about the trip my wife and I are planning next week that will fly us from St. Louis (STL) to Baltimore (BWI) on Southwest? Any new danger that wasn't there before? Should we make the trip, or cancel it?

I haven't read many opinions about why anti-semitism has been so persistent and prevalent around the world for thousands of years, but the best explanation I can think of also accounts for the Jews' phenomenal success: Ashkenazic Jews have an average IQ a full standard deviation higher than other whites. In more concrete terms, normalizing IQ so that an average white of European extract has an IQ of 100, the average Ashkenazic Jew has an IQ of around 115. Since IQ correlates very closely with all forms of intellectual achievement (lifetime earnings, graduation rates, etc.) it's no surprise that Jews tend to outperform other groups, and it's likewise not surprising that this success leads to resentment among those groups who simply can't compete.

You may be interested, as I was, to read about some technical real estate terms that have drastic implications for how we own our property. (Of course, take everything from Wikipedia with a grain of salt.)

- Allodial title: It describes a situation where real property (land, buildings and fixtures) is owned free and clear of any encumbrances, including liens, mortgages and tax obligations. Allodial title is inalienable, in that it cannot be taken by any operation of law for any reason whatsoever.

- Fee simple: It is the most common way real estate is owned in common law countries, and is ordinarily the most complete ownership interest that can be had in real property short of allodial title, which is often reserved for governments. Fee simple ownership represents absolute ownership of real property but it is limited by the four basic government powers of taxation, eminent domain, police power, and escheat.

- Fee tail: It describes an estate of inheritance in real property which cannot be sold, devised by will, or otherwise alienated by the owner, but which passes by operation of law to the owner's heirs upon his death.

- Adverse possession: In real estate common law, adverse possession is a means of acquiring title to another's real property without compensation, by, as the name suggests, holding the property in a manner that conflicts with the true owner's rights. Adverse possession requires the actual, visible, hostile, notorious, exclusive, and continuous possession of the property, and some jurisdictions further require the possession to be made under a claim of title or a claim of right.

- Leasehold estate: An ownership interest in land in which a lessee or a tenant holds real property by some form of title from a lessor or landlord. ... Various forms of leasehold estates exist, or have existed in the past. Ancient forms no longer used include socage and burgage. There are four modern leasehold estates — the tenancy for years, the periodic tenancy, the tenancy at will, and the tenancy at sufference.

- Life estate: common law is an estate in real property that ends at death. Although it is technically a tenancy (the holder is called a life tenant), it is treated the same as a fee simple with respect to the constraints upon its use for the duration of the estate. Since it ends at death, and the owner of the life estate cannot leave it to his heirs or convey a larger interest in the land than what the owner actually owns, a life estate is not an estate of inheritance.

- And then there's a ton to learn about easements.

- The rule against perpetuities may also be of interest.

The average federal civilian employee makes twice as much as the average worker in the private sector.

New data was released today [August 2, 2006] by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis on federal employee wages and benefits. The data for 2005 shows that compensation for the average federal civilian worker ($106,579) is now exactly double the average compensation in the U.S. private sector ($53,289). ...

The federal pay advantage has been soaring in recent years. The ratio of average federal to average private compensation increased from 1.51 in 1990, to 1.68 in 2000, to 2.00 today.

Phenomenal.

I don't have any kids, but I suspect that when I do I'll keep a close eye on them. I don't know if I'll go so far as to use parental surveillance devices, but I'll do whatever is necessary to make sure my kids walk the straight and narrow.

Some years ago my older daughter, then a senior in college, listened to me fret about rumors of drinking at the parties her ninth-grade sister was begging to go to. "They're so young to deal with this sort of thing," I worried. "Mom," she began in a knowing tone, "What do you think was going on when I went to parties in the ninth grade?"

I lingered for a moment over the disconnect between this young woman standing before me, a premed student, an Organization Kid who would sooner live on bread and water than turn in a late paper, and the image of her 14-year-old self chugging a Budweiser. Then, I struggled with two contradictory responses. First, discomfiture; I had been naïve, a mental status that we been-there-done-that boomer parents find pretty embarrassing. How could I have been so out of it? And second: relief. Thank God I didn't know. If I had, I would have had to transform my parenting approach from trust-but-verify (check-in phone calls to friends' parents, "so how did the movie end again?" sort of questions, etc.) to all-out war.

Kay S. Hymowitz obviously was naive, didn't know her daughters' friends, and wasn't particularly involved in their lives. She also didn't beat them enough, apparently. It's great that her elder daughter turned out ok, but I know first-hand that many of the kids at those parties grew into alcoholics and drug addicts. Shutting one's eyes and hoping everything turns out ok doesn't seem like an ideal parenting strategy. What's more, I completely disagree with the implications behind the author's rhetorical arguments:

The more subtle, but equally important, objection to spyware is that it isn't good for parents either. By making snooping relatively impersonal, these technologies prompt mothers and fathers to bypass important moral questions about their relationship with their children. If it's all right to scrutinize your daughter's text messages, then it should be OK to read her diary. If it's all right to electronically monitor her driving, then it should be equally kosher to get in to your own car and follow her. Yet there are good reasons most sane adults would balk at these low-tech invasions of their children's privacy.

I wouldn't hesitate to read my daughter's diary or follow her in my car if I had reason to believe she was in danger or acting foolishly. Am I wrong? It would depend on the age and maturity level of the kid, I suppose. Privacy is great, and as kids get older they should certainly have more autonomy, but children shouldn't be treated like adults until they take adulthood upon themselves, with all the responsibilities thereof.

This story is a week or so old, but hey, what do you want? I'm not Reuters or something. Anyway, here's a town being put out of business by too many churches.

Stafford, population 19,227, is the largest city in Texas without a property tax, and it depends on sales taxes and business fees for revenue. Nonprofits have been attracted by its rapid growth and minimal deed restrictions. "It's thrown everything out of balance, plus providing zero revenue. Somebody's got to pay for police, fire and schools," City Councilman Cecil Willis said.

In 2003, around the time the 45th church settled in, city leaders began looking for a way to slow the pace of construction. Public meetings were held; "we had people of different religions attending, people in their religious garb, Buddhists in their orange gowns and whatever else, talking about this very openly," [Mayor Leonard] Scarcella said. ...

"As best as we've been able to determine, the overwhelming majority of people who attend here don't even live in Stafford; they're coming from everywhere else," Willis said. Elsewhere includes Houston, about 15 miles northeast, and nearby Sugar Land.

"I don't hate God. I'm not against America and apple pie," Willis said. "We just have to protect what's left for commercial development."

And of course every church has the same convenient justification for moving to property-tax free Stafford:

Willis said he asked the last six applicants why they wanted to build a church in Stafford. "Every one of them said they prayed about it, and God said to come here," he said. "I can't compete with that, so here we are."

Strange that God wouldn't tell them to build a building in the city where the church members live.

The fact of the matter is that churches and other charities are tax free-riders, meaning that they enjoy all the same benefits that taxpayers do, but don't have to bear any of the cost. That isn't necessarily a bad idea, but the system will collapse when the number of free-riders grows too large in proportion to the contributors. The obvious solution for Stafford is to institute a property tax or some other tax that will hit charities and individuals alike, possibly offset by an elimination of the local sales tax.

Since Reuters is pulling all of Adnan Hajj's photos from its sites, you won't get to see some of his best work. Fortunately my source inside the "news" agency has wired me some exclusive shots.

In response to my earlier post about being poor in America, Suleman writes the following desperate plea:

sir i,m poor student i want studies for law but i,m really poor i have not moey for studies i want to help plz help me sir as behumanty sir i hope u anser me plz sir name of god

But put your checkbook away! Unfortunately, despite his evident qualifications for the field of law and his invocation of God, we can't help him because Suleman didn't leave an email address.

It's good to see that both the UK and Australia are buying some C-17s to improve their heavy lift capabilities. Although many countries in the world have more military manpower than the United States, none of them can project that power around the globe like we can, thanks to the C-17 Globemaster. As our allies increase their capacity, they'll be able to contribute more to the War on Terror and carry their weight protecting Western Civilization.

When confronted by apparently related statistics A and B it's often difficult to determine whether:

- A causes B

- B causes A

- both A and B are caused by some third factor C, or

- A and B are totally unrelated.

An article about a recent study of music and the sexual habits of teenagers contains no information that indicates how the researchers reached their conclusion -- that listening to sexual music prompts teens to have sex.

Teens whose iPods are full of music with raunchy, sexual lyrics start having sex sooner than those who prefer other songs, a study found.

Whether it's hip-hop, rap, pop or rock, much of popular music aimed at teens contains sexual overtones. Its influence on their behavior appears to depend on how the sex is portrayed, researchers found.

Songs depicting men as "sex-driven studs," women as sex objects and with explicit references to sex acts are more likely to trigger early sexual behavior than those where sexual references are more veiled and relationships appear more committed, the study found.

Teens who said they listened to lots of music with degrading sexual messages were almost twice as likely to start having intercourse or other sexual activities within the following two years as were teens who listened to little or no sexually degrading music.

But isn't it just as likely that teens who are predisposed towards sexual activities will seek out sexual music? Perhaps the music doesn't make the teens sexual, but rather the sexual teens gravitate towards the music. Absent further information, there's no logical reason to favor one direction of causation over the other. It's important to remember that just because A and B are seen together doesn't imply that A and B are related, much less that one causes the other.

Kevin Perrott sent me a link to the Technology Review's announcement that no one won the SENS Challenge by demonstrating that Aubrey de Gray's "Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence" proposals were so fantastic as to be unworthy of scientific discussion. (Granted, that's not a very high standard.)

In the end, the judges felt that no submission met the criterion of the challenge and disproved SENS, although they unanimously agreed that one submission, by Preston W. Estep and his colleagues, was the most eloquent. The judges also noted, however, that de Grey had not convincingly defended SENS and that many of his ideas seemed somewhat fanciful.

The judges of the challenge wrote:

SENS has many unsupported claims and is certainly not scientifically proven. I personally would be surprised if de Grey is correct in the majority of his claims. However, I don't think Estep et al. have proved that SENS is false; that would require more research. In some cases, SENS makes claims that run parallel to existing research (while being more sensational). Future investigation into those areas will almost certainly illuminate the controversy. Until that time, people like Estep et al. are free to doubt SENS. I share many of those doubts, but it would be overstating the case to assert that Estep et al. have proved their point.

Here's a press release by The Mprize in support of SENS.

I'd never heard of the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America until reader JV pointed me to this seemingly paranoid rant against the program at Right On!. Described as "NAFTA on steroids", Heidi explains how our government is selling us out to create a "North American Union" with Canada and Mexico, akin to the disasterous European Union. Well yes, that would be bad, if it's true. I'm pretty right-wing and paranoid myself, and since this is the first I've heard of the idea I'm skeptical that it's any more than a bureaucrat's wet dream at this point. Still, I suppose it's worth keeping an eye on....

The same writer says that NAFTA has been bad for America, but she quotes from a Lou Dobbs article about free trade and interprets it in a way that shows she doesn't really understand economics. Writes Dobbs:

U.S. workers have lost nearly 900,000 jobs as a result of the North American Free Trade Agreement, most of them in the higher-paying manufacturing sector, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

But NAFTA's effects are even more evident in our exploding trade deficit. Exports to Canada and Mexico have more than doubled since 1993, but imports to our neighboring countries have risen by 173 percent, from $151 billion to $412 billion. As a result, the trade deficit with Canada and Mexico has ballooned from $9.1 billion in 1993 to $110.8 billion last year.

As this data shows, there's a lot more trade happening now. As Dobbs doesn't explain, the concept of "trade deficits" is basically a protectionist myth. When we exchange some of our money for goods from another country, that's called a "trade deficit", but in fact there's no deficit at all because equal value moves in both directions -- money moves one way, and goods worth the same amount as the money move the other way. The whole idea behind capitalism is that in a free exchange both parties benefit because each party trades one thing for something else they find to be more valuable to them.

CAFTA may bring lower prices to consumers, but it would most likely lead to more jobs being shipped to cheap foreign labor markets. And a new poll on CAFTA shows American consumers do not want to give up their jobs for lower prices, according to the nonprofit organization Americans for Fair Trade. In fact, 74 percent of those polled said they would oppose CAFTA if it reduces consumer prices but eliminates jobs for American workers.

If others can do the job cheaper, our country as a whole benefits from losing these jobs. It's obviously sad for the individuals and families who are affected -- and they may not ever benefit from the job loss -- but creative destruction is an inescapable part of capitalism. Whole classes of jobs are eliminated all the time as technology advances and economic restrictions are eased, and there's no way to prevent that without abandoning advancement entirely. The typical example of this effect is that when the automobile was invented the buggy-whip manufacturers were suddenly unemployed, but also think of all the horse-related jobs that quickly became obsolete. Would anyone argue that we should have prevented mass-production of cars to protect these job or prevent them from moving to other countries? More recently, digital cameras are putting tremendous pressure on Polaroid.

As flawed as the American justice system is, at least we don't bring live bombs into court as evidence.

A court in Bangladesh trying suspected Islamic militants was thrown into panic when five live bombs were produced as exhibits during the hearing of a case.

The discovery prompted the presiding judge to order a hasty adjournment as the court was evacuated.

A security force officer said that he got the "shock of his life" when he realised that the bombs were live.

Officials blame police for not defusing the devices before coming to court. The police say they were not asked to.

Must be a union thing.

(HT: RV.)

"Argh!" isn't the invective I'm really thinking....

So we're largely moved in to our new home, and yesterday evening we started working a bit on the outdoors. The exterior of the house is very nice, but during the six months the property sat on the market the ivy in the flower beds got way out of control. I'm not sure why anyone would purposefully plant ivy, but now Jessica and I are on a mission to eradicate it all.

I did a 2' x 8' section last night in about an hour, but I left tons of roots behind because I just couldn't get them out of the ground. Pulling by hand sucks, and we're thinking of hiring a crew to pull all the ivy out. However, I'd really prefer a chemical solution, possibly in combination with a roto-tiller machine if I can find an appropriate one.

Does anyone have any good ivy-elimination tips? Here's what I've found so far:

- Use Round-Up in the autumn.

- Removing ivy from trees and bricks.

- Controlling ivy with borax.

This story about Jack Nicholson demolishing Marlon Brando's house is a good reminder that worldly success doesn't count for much.

IT WAS dark, cramped and run-down, but for nearly half a century it was Marlon Brando’s home. Now his neighbour Jack Nicholson, who paid £3.4m for the house after Brando died two years ago, is planning to demolish it and plant frangipani flowers over the plot. ...

The 69-year-old actor has been advised that it would be too expensive to restore the “derelict” house which has been beset by mould. Getting the mould out would be difficult. “It’s more likely that we will take the house down,” said Nicholson last week. ...

Nearly everything owned by Brando has been destroyed or sold. Yet there is one fragment of the legacy still unaccounted for: the Oscar he received for On the Waterfront (1954).

Relatives believe he either lost it, gave it to a friend or, in a darker mood, hid the 13in statue from debt collectors. The gold-plated knight may yet emerge from Frangipani’s dust during the demolition.

Sounds like the end of another famous man whose kingdom was quickly brought to ruin.

Ecclesiastes 2:1-11

I thought in my heart, "Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good." But that also proved to be meaningless. "Laughter," I said, "is foolish. And what does pleasure accomplish?" I tried cheering myself with wine, and embracing folly—my mind still guiding me with wisdom. I wanted to see what was worthwhile for men to do under heaven during the few days of their lives.

I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees. I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house. I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me. I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired men and women singers, and a harem as well—the delights of the heart of man. I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. In all this my wisdom stayed with me.

I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my work, and this was the reward for all my labor.

Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.

Now we've really moved in because I got the internet working! Yay! I had to run a phone line and move some stuff around, but now we've got a sweet office right off the kitchen, so I can be close to my baby while she's cooking and cleaning!

Reader David Diel says that Google Video has removed the video "Obsession: What the War on Terror Is Really About", which David calls "the most informative documentary on radical Islam I've seen". He wonders if it was taken down for political purposes. Can anyone find another link to the video? Here are some possibly related videos, but they're all too short to be a full movie.

Dennis Cauchon does a pretty good job explaining the differences between cash accounting and accrual accounting and why the federal deficit is much higher than anyone thinks.

The federal government keeps two sets of books.

The set the government promotes to the public has a healthier bottom line: a $318 billion deficit in 2005.

The set the government doesn't talk about is the audited financial statement produced by the government's accountants following standard accounting rules. It reports a more ominous financial picture: a $760 billion deficit for 2005. If Social Security and Medicare were included — as the board that sets accounting rules is considering — the federal deficit would have been $3.5 trillion.

The culprits are Social Security and Medicare, which Congress and the American public refuse to recognize as the costs they really are. Still, as some point out, we aren't really obligated to make future Social Security payments, so maybe it's right not to count them yet.

The retirement programs do "not represent a legal obligation because Congress has the authority to increase or reduce social insurance benefits at any time," wrote Clay Johnson III, then acting director of the president's Office of Management Budget, in a letter to the board in May.

So the explicit escape plan is to radically cut Social Security and Medicare. Too bad the public and Congress aren't yet ready to face facts.

Our furniture and boxes are all moved in to the house we just closed on yesterday... yay! After the debacle with the last house it's a real relief to finally have a home. We're at the hotel again tonight because not everything is hooked up at the house yet, but by tomorrow night we should really be in business. We won't get DISH for a few days, but everything else should be working.

"DISH", you say? Indeed. Despite my having been with DirecTV for something like six years, the company couldn't find a way to send an installer to our new house in less than three weeks time. I told them that was unacceptable, but they wouldn't budge! So, the Williams are jumping ship to DISH. We'll see how it works out.

I've been meaning to mention this for a few weeks but hadn't found the time or energy; however, now that I'm settled in my new, awesome, job I'd like to take a minute to say that the people I spoke with while interviewing with Google were rude, arrogant, condescending, and not nearly as clever as they thought themselves to be. I wasn't offered a position with them, but after doing several phone interviews I wasn't at all interested in working with the company.

The people I spoke with appeared not to have even read my resume. I got sick of explaining to them what programming languages I know, what technologies I've used, and what kinds of projects I've worked on. That's what resumes are for. The questions they asked were designed for entry-level employees and rarely captured any relevant information about my work experience and education.

Despite the direct applicability of my PhD research to the problems Google professes to be interested in, the interviewers seemed incapable of compehending my work and were uninterested in discussing it or hearing about its importance. Instead they focused almost exclusively on first-year computer science algorithm questions about sorting arrays and writing for-loops. I suppose they're eager to hire people with decent programming skills, but those people are a dime a dozen and I wasn't interested in that sort of job.

When I questioned the interviewers about their approach and tried to explain how my research could fit into the company vision in a way that wasn't really being captured by their freshman CS questions I was rebuffed. Each interviewer mock-patiently explained how important their questions were and told me Google hires only "the best of the best". Of what, code monkeys?

In any event, after my experience I don't think I'd ever want to work for Google and I will heartily denigrate the company to anyone I know who considers applying there. A company that wants to attract the best and brightest should find a way to treat their applicants as individuals, and should tailor their interview regimen towards discovering talent and intelligence, not just textbook coding ability. Unless, I suppose, that's all Google wants.

There are a plethora of fascinating -- tough perhaps troubling -- applied math articles up at La Griffe du Lion that are well worth reading if you can spare the brainpower. The pseudononymous writer analyzes statistics about demographics, economics, race, crime, and all manner of social phenomena.

Does anyone know how much work corporate executes actually do? I imagine it varies quite a bit, but do they tend to work really long hours and travel a lot? Or are most executive jobs pretty cushy?

I think the last line in this article about youth "fight clubs" really summarizes the problem with the modern approach to mass education.

Bernd and other school administrators say most teens, even the ones absorbing the bloodiest beatings, refuse to roll over on fight-club participants for fear of retaliation by ringleaders or gangs involved.

The teen beaten into bloody unconsciousness in the Arlington video has not come forward and is still unidentified, Hawthorne says. Grand Prairie police have made no arrests in their case because no one has filed a complaint, Brimmer says.

Citing such secrecy, Bernd says he suspects there are more fight clubs operating under the radar.

"It's almost like the kids have created a completely different world we don't have access to and don't understand."

That's because modern education (for the past ~150 years) has segregated youths into their own subculture based on age rather than keeping them integrated into the real adult world. It used to be that most male children stayed at home until they were old enough to work as an apprentice somewhere and learn a trade. Girls existed in social groups with large age ranges, and eventually got married.

Nowadays we stick kids into artificial structures based on age and a social hierarchy emerges based on appearance and popularity, two attributes which generally have no relationship to success or dominance in the real world. It's no wonder that adults have no concept of what their kids are doing, becuase their kids are living entirely separate lives.

The whole philosophy of modern mass education needs to be rethought and redesigned so that students grow up as integrated members of society who know their place is nearly at the bottom. No high school senior should be able to lord his age over a freshman, because both should recognize that their positions on the social ladder of the real world are equally low. This would be more likely if the freshmen and the seniors interacted with adults who lived in the same social hierarchy.

Apparently big-box realtors are driving out small business owners in Paris, just like everywhere else in the world... but in this case it's "porn megastores" versus "les traditionelles" ("the traditional ones", i.e., the quaint streetwalkers that Parisians apparently adore as part of their historic culture).

I was then writing a book about Paris which, among other things, set out to cover the underground sexuality of the city and, inspired by her call for a return to older Parisian traditions of sexual experience, I went to speak to Ovidie for the first time on a chilly September morning in a café near rue Saint-Denis. ...

Ovidie went on: pornography, she said, was about nothing more than the promise of human happiness. The physical and economic exploitation that are undeniably involved in the sex industry, she said, are wrong only because they are a betrayal of this original, quite innocent trust. The exploitation of women in particular, she said, was a betrayal of the original liberating aims of 18th-century pornography. It was this egalitarian philosophy that Ovidie claimed to recapture in her work. This did not preclude payment: indeed quite the opposite. "I have sex for money," Ovidie said, " and, of course, that demands respect." ...

"The problem is with Paris itself, and probably France itself," she told me. "They are both changing for the worse. Parisians are unhappy and that is expressed in their sexuality. A place like rue Saint-Denis represents everything that has gone wrong - it is not a place to go and have sex happily, as a person or as a couple. It is now just gangsters and girls who are sex slaves from Eastern Europe and Africa. The myths of the orgies to be found there, that you read in Georges Bataille, may not have been entirely true but they did correspond to some form of reality. Now it is practically impossible to have good sex with strangers in Paris."

If Paris was at all representative of Europe a couple centuries ago, it's easy for me to see why so many good people fled to America and our "puritanical" values.

(HT: Marginal Revolution.)

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