April 2007 Archives

Hoards of insipid movies are made every year, but Hollywood is reluctant to distribute movies that challenge the elites' perception of the world. Indoctrinate U is one such film, and it probably won't get wide distribution unless you follow that link and indicate your interest by filling out the form.

In 2004, the American Film Renaissance festival selected Indoctrinate U as its "most anticipated documentary." We include here a sampling of the "buzz" about the film and its short film predecessors, Brainwashing 101 and Brainwashing 201.

"one of the most horrifying and hysterical documentaries I have ever seen."
- Ain’t It Cool News, On Brainwashing 101

“If any of the films shown at this festival are going to breakout and become huge mainstream hits, it's either going to be Michael Moore Hates America or Brainwashing 101 [the short-form precursor to Indoctrinate U]. Directed by new, sharp-witted, gonzo-journalist Evan Maloney, 101 is an unbiased look at censorship and P.C. run amuck on college campuses. This is one of the most horrifying and hysterical documentaries I have ever seen.”

"For those who haven’t been on college campuses recently, Maloney’s documentary is eye opening. "
- American Enterprise, On Brainwashing 201

"Non-left academics are harassed for their political views. Students who show a conservative bent are threatened... Campuses are supposed to be marketplaces of ideas where issues stand and fall on their merits. Brainwashing 201 [the short-form precursor to Indoctrinate U] demonstrates effectively that this is now far from the case."

I've seen the short films, and I can't wait to see the long version in the theater, so go sign up. You won't get any spam or anything, but you will be notified if and when Indoctrinate U is playing in your area.

(HT: Instapundit.)

Price-optimization software is helping retailers price discriminate and capture more value from shoppers.

A large retail chain had a problem. It sold three similar power drills: one for about $90, a purportedly better one at $120 and a top-tier one at $130. The higher the price, the more the store profited.

But while drill know-it-alls flocked to the $130 model and price-fretters grabbed its $90 cousin, shoppers often ignored the middle one.

So the store sought advice from a new breed of "price-optimization" software from DemandTec Inc. What followed offers us a clue about important shifts that technology is bringing to retail shopping.

After analyzing an array of variables, including sales history and competitors' prices, the software suggested cutting the middle drill to $110.

That might have made the top drill seem more expensive. But drill aficionados still were fine shelling out $130. Sales of that drill didn't change. However, now that the $90 version seemed less of a bargain, the store sold 4 percent fewer low-end drills - and 11 percent more of the mid-range model. Profits rose.

My prediction is that 10-20% of the recommendations made by this sort of software are actually profitable, and that the store manager acts like a gatekeeper by rejecting bad ideas and recognizing good ones. My prediction of a low success rate isn't a criticism of the software! Artificial intelligence is great for augmenting human decision-making, even when humans can't be replaced entirely.

And consumers shouldn't fret that retailers are getting the technological upper-hand. After all, they've got to respond to increased competition and consumer-friendly technology like craigslist, Froogle, and Frucall. I think consumers are getting the best of the revolution so far.

(HT: Nick.)

Barack Obama has a very strange "Christian" heritage.

CHICAGO — Members of Trinity United Church of Christ squeezed into a downtown hotel ballroom in early March to celebrate the long service of their pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. One congregant stood out amid the flowers and finery: Senator Barack Obama, there to honor the man who led him from skeptic to self-described Christian.

Twenty years ago at Trinity, Mr. Obama, then a community organizer in poor Chicago neighborhoods, found the African-American community he had sought all his life, along with professional credibility as a community organizer and an education in how to inspire followers. He had sampled various faiths but adopted none until he met Mr. Wright, a dynamic pastor who preached Afrocentric theology, dabbled in radical politics and delivered music-and-profanity-spiked sermons.

I've never heard of "Afrocentric theology", and I can't really conceive of what it could mean within a Christian context. Other than Egypt, Africa doesn't feature prominently in the Bible (though mentioned a dozen or so times), so I can only assume that "Afrocentric" teachings aren't really about theology at all, but rather modern racial politics.

Few of those at Mr. Wright’s tribute in March knew of the pressures that Mr. Obama’s presidential run was placing on the relationship between the pastor and his star congregant. Mr. Wright’s assertions of widespread white racism and his scorching remarks about American government have drawn criticism, and prompted the senator to cancel his delivery of the invocation when he formally announced his candidacy in February.

Mr. Obama, a Democratic presidential candidate who says he was only shielding his pastor from the spotlight, said he respected Mr. Wright’s work for the poor and his fight against injustice. But “we don’t agree on everything,” Mr. Obama said. “I’ve never had a thorough conversation with him about all aspects of politics.”

A major presidential candidate who doesn't discuss politics with his closest spiritual adviser? I find that hard to fathom. In fact, the article goes on to describe a relationship between Obama and Wright with a very explicitly political foundation.

Still, Mr. Obama was entranced by Mr. Wright, whose sermons fused analysis of the Bible with outrage at what he saw as the racism of everything from daily life in Chicago to American foreign policy. Mr. Obama had never met a minister who made pilgrimages to Africa, welcomed women leaders and gay members and crooned Teddy Pendergrass rhythm and blues from the pulpit. Mr. Wright was making Trinity a social force, initiating day care, drug counseling, legal aid and tutoring. He was also interested in the world beyond his own; in 1984, he traveled to Cuba to teach Christians about the value of nonviolent protest and to Libya to visit Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, along with the Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. Mr. Wright said his visits implied no endorsement of their views.

The article portrays Wright as a left-wing nut masquerading as a Christian minister. He'll reap the rewards for his own heresy in the end, and it's tragic that he's leading so many followers into the maw of hell; more than anything, this article highlights the importance of digging deeper into the beliefs of those who claim the name of Christ. The world is full of charlatans like Mr. Wright. Obama may recognize the lunacy of his spiritual mentor, but no Christian could in good conscience associate with such a man or his church.

(Side note: I love that the NYT has started offering an option to view their articles as a single page. Thanks!)

Researchers at IBM have used a giant parallel computer to build a high fidelity model of a mouse brain that runs at 1/10th real time.

Neurobiologically realistic, large-scale cortical and sub-cortical simulations are bound to play a key role in computational neuroscience and its applications to cognitive computing. One hemisphere of the mouse cortex has roughly 8,000,000 neurons and 8,000 synapses per neuron. Modeling at this scale imposes tremendous constraints on computation, communication, and memory capacity of any computing platform.

We have designed and implemented a massively parallel cortical simulator with (a) phenomenological spiking neuron models; (b) spike-timing dependent plasticity; and (c) axonal delays.

We deployed the simulator on a 4096-processor BlueGene/L supercomputer with 256 MB per CPU. We were able to represent 8,000,000 neurons (80% excitatory) and 6,300 synapses per neuron in the 1 TB main memory of the system. Using a synthetic pattern of neuronal interconnections, at a 1 ms resolution and an average firing rate of 1 Hz, we were able to run 1s of model time in 10s of real time!

Very cool stuff. I predict a future (perhaps 50 years hence?) when we can build realistic artificial human-like brains but still can't figure out how to imbue them with consciousness. (I'm a subscriber to the weak AI school of thought, which boils down to a belief that knowledgeable observers will always be able to distinguish between real and artificial intelligences.)

(HT: BM, BoingBoing, Open the Future.)

Thousands of Japanese were tricked into buying sheep that were shaved to look like poodles.

Flocks of sheep were imported to Japan and then sold by a company called Poodles as Pets, marketed as fashionable accessories, available at $1,600 each.

That is a snip compared to a real poodle which retails for twice that much in Japan.

The scam was uncovered when Japanese moviestar Maiko Kawamaki went on a talk-show and wondered why her new pet would not bark or eat dog food.

This. Is. Hilarious. I love the Japanese.

Japanese police believe there could be 2,000 people affected by the scam, which operated in Sapporo and capitalised on the fact that sheep are rare in Japan, so many do not know what they look like.

"We launched an investigation after we were made aware that a company were selling sheep as poodles,'' Japanese police said.

"Sadly we think there is more than one company operating in this way."

Be careful! Someone find me a picture of these sheep-poodles so we can see how good the scam is for ourselves.

(HT: SW.)

RD passes on this list of 301 useless facts, but I put "facts" in quotes because just scanning the first few I already see one that's wrong.

3. The “57″ on the Heinz ketchup bottle represents the number of pickle types the company once had.

Actually, Heinz saw a similar claim in a shoe ad on a train and decided to take the idea for his own.

I'm skeptical of several other "facts" as well, but hey, that leads to a whole new use for the list: a mistake scavenger hunt.

Another SmartMoney article, this time explaining why renting is better than buying because stocks are better investments than real estate.

Shares of businesses return 7% a year over long time periods. I'm subtracting for inflation, gradual price increases for everything from a can of beer to an ear exam. (After-inflation or "real" returns are the only ones that matter. The point of increasing wealth is to increase buying power, not numbers on an account statement.) Shares have been remarkably consistent over the past two centuries in their 7% real returns. In Jeremy Siegel's book, "Stocks for the Long Term," he finds that real returns averaged 7.0% over nearly seven decades ending 1870, then 6.6% through 1925 and then 6.9% through 2004.

The average real return for houses over long time periods might surprise you. It's zero.

There are a few factors that Jack Hough under-weights in my opinion (being a homeowner) such as the value of diversification. (Of course, one could buy shares of a real estate holding company instead of an actual house....) Still, I essentially agree with him, which is why I'm not eager to buy investment rental property. However, I'm not going to sell my house and rent an apartment; I enjoy the lifestyle of living in a house and the security of owning my own property, and those are worth something to me.

I hate junk mail... and it's bad for the environment too! So here are a few easy steps you can take to reduce the quantity of junk mail you receive.

Most senders of unsolicited junk mail get your name and address from one of three sources: Abacus Catalog Alliance (catalogs), Direct Marketing Association (fliers, brochures, etc.), or the credit bureaus (credit card and insurance offers), says Paul Stephens, a policy analyst with Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, a consumer advocacy group. If you do nothing else, take the time to wipe your name from these lists. "That'll get rid of most of your junk mail," he says. Here's how to do so:

Abacus Catalog Alliance: Signing up permanently halts the catalog mailings from association members. Email optout@abacus-direct.com with your full name and current address.

Direct Marketing Association: Stops direct mail marketing from association companies for five years. There is a $1 fee. Access forms here for online or mail-in submission.

OptOutPrescreen.com: This joint venture of the three credit bureaus puts a stop to prescreened credit and insurance solicitations. Sign up to halt these mailings for five years, or stop them permanently. Call 1-888-5-OPTOUT, or fill out a form here.

(HT: SoundMindInvesting.)

Here's a neat article in Wired about CIA efforts in 1979 - 1980 to sneak six Americans out of Iran after the seizure of our embassy. A fascinating look behind the scenes of a successful covert operation.

(For some reason I feel like I read this story years ago, but I can't remember where.)

(HT: Nick.)

What's the most money you've ever found? I found two $20 bills on the sidewalk in front of my house when I was nine. One of my friends from church in Los Angeles once found a satchel with over $100,000 in cash inside, and he turned it into the police. A family was planning to use it to buy a house and they somehow lost it out the window while they were driving in the rain.

Clayton Cramer always has great coverage of the intersection of mental health and public policy, and today he linked to an editorial in the WSJ that gives the history of deinstitutionalization in America and how it contributed both to homelessness and crime.

When I entered graduate school in 1972, so pervasive was the push to deinstitutionalize that a newly minted course was added to the mandatory curriculum: Community Psychology, a cobbled-together travesty that stood apart from all my other coursework due to its emphasis on polemics and aversion to science.

The basic premise of Community Psych--that severely mentally ill people could be depended on to show up for treatment voluntarily--never made sense to me. The core of the most common and debilitating psychosis, schizophrenia, is degradation of thought and reason. So the idea that people with fractured minds could and would make rational, often complex decisions about self-care seemed preposterous.

One day, I voiced that opinion in class, questioning if any mechanisms were being set in place to prevent a flood of schizophrenics from ending up on the streets, homeless, helpless, victims of crime and, in some cases, victimizers. The Community Psych professor--one of the liberationists--responded with a patronizing smile and a folksy account of the success of a program in rural Belgium or some such place, where humble working folk created a therapeutic milieu by volunteering to house psychotics in their humble homes and everything ended up peachy.

I didn't challenge what amounted to flimsy anecdotal data, but I did question its relevance to the plight of thousands of severely mentally disabled individuals set loose in vast urban centers. The professor's smile tightened and he changed the subject; and I resolved to get through this joke of a prerequisite and concentrate on becoming the best psychologist possible.

By the time I received my doctorate in 1974, the doors to many of the locked wards had been flung open and the much vaunted community mental health centers were being built--predominately in low-rent neighborhoods. A few years later, government funding for these allegedly humane treatment outposts had been cut, as yet more fiscal belt-tightening was inspired by findings that they didn't work.

To which Mr. Cramer adds:

This Texas Law Review paper by Bernard Harcourt examines institutionalization--as measured by both prison and mental hospital inmates. He makes the shocking discovery that if you combine both measures and plot them against U.S. murder rates for the period 1928-2000, there is an almost perfect negative correlation: as institutionalization (in either prison or mental hospitals) goes up, murder rates go down, and vice versa.

As I wrote myself in the wake of the Virginia Tech slayings, our society of "tolerance" bears some responsibility for the massacre because we were too idealistic to stop Cho Seung Hui before he struck. The problem is that there seem to be so few adults left in the world, and few of them want to sacrifice their lives and reputations to lead our public institutions.


"Gun Control: The theory that a woman found dead in an alley, raped and strangled with her panty hose, is somehow morally superior to a woman explaining to police how her attacker got that fatal bullet wound." -- Women Against Gun Control

I'm glad I've stayed behind the television technology curve and haven't spent thousands of dollars on a large LCD or plasma TV. I've considered buying an HD projector, but my 1995 Hitachi projection television is still working just fine... and hopefully I'll be able to hold out till I can buy a laser tv next year!

IT'S being hailed by its developers as the next revolution in visual technology - a laser television that will make plasma screens obsolete.

Soon-to-be-listed Australian company Arasor International and its US partner Novalux unveiled what they claimed to be the world's first laser television in Sydney today, with a pitch that it would be half the price, twice as good, and use a quarter of the electricity of conventional plasma and LCD TVs. ...

With a worldwide launch date scheduled for Christmas 2007, under recognisable brands like Mitsubishi and Samsung, Novalux chief executive Jean-Michel Pelaprat is so bold as to predict the death of plasma.

“If you look at any screen today, the colour content is roughly about 30-35 per cent of what the eye can see,” he said.

“But for the very first time with a laser TV we'll be able to see 90 per cent of what the eye can see.

“All of a sudden what you see is a lifelike image on display.”

(HT: Reader JV.)

Full Disclosure reports on an advancement by law enforcement in California that they claim might provide an ultimate solution to the gang problem. Good luck implementing it under a wave of ACLU lawsuits.

The biggest break ever in the war against gangs is ready to be employed. So says 20 year veteran prosecutor Steve Ipsen, all that is needed is for law enforcement and judicial officials is to endorse the use of new technology available for a GPS tacking system and a few modifications to the California Penal Code. Sky Detective, Inc CEO Thompson confirms the technology is here and already being deployed for similar uses.

Among the novel uses for the device in fighting gang crimes and a proposal on how to pay for it:

* Change Penal Code: Adult gang members found using juveniles would be guilty of a felony
* Send juveniles gang members to a 2 week boot camp to learn about “Three Strikes Law”
* Send juveniles to 1 week boot camp to learn how GPS tracking systems sounds alarm to monitors when curfews are violated, they skip school, fail to show up for work assignments or even wander into rival gang territory
* The cost of the GPS devices and monitoring service could be paid by taxing released criminals and parolees $50 per year for Drivers Licenses
* Parolees could be monitored as well, so if suspected of a particular crime their location could be verified and they could be arrested or removed from suspicion

It sounds like a promising avenue, and my only question is why it took so long to pursue it? Any technophile could have proposed it years ago.

Soldiers aren't yet fans of the new Land Warrior gear that Raytheon has been developing for 15 years.

There's a half-billion dollars invested in the gear hanging off the heads, chests and backs of the soldiers of Alpha company. Digital maps displayed on helmet-mounted eyepieces show the position of all the men in the unit as they surround a block of concrete buildings and launch their attacks. Instead of relying on the hand signals and shouted orders that most infantrymen use, Alpha company communicates via advanced, encrypted radio transmissions with a range of up to a kilometer. It's more information than any soldiers have ever had about their comrades and their surroundings.

But as Alpha kicks in doors, rounds up terror suspects and peals off automatic fire in deafening six-shot bursts, not one of the soldiers bothers to check his radio or look into the eyepiece to find his buddies on the electronic maps. "It's just a bunch of stuff we don't use, taking the place of useful stuff like guns," says Sgt. James Young, who leads a team of four M-240 machine-gunners perched on a balcony during this training exercise at Fort Lewis, Wash. "It makes you a slower, heavier target." ...

The hope is that Land Warrior will perform so well under fire that the Army's chiefs will have no choice but to keep funding the system. "It's kind of a Hail Mary pass," one Pentagon insider tells me. Give guys like Gelineau and Starks a few months with Land Warrior, the thinking goes, and they'll grow to love it, saving the 15-year effort.

So far, no dice. "Oh yeah, I can't wait!" an Alpha company soldier writes sarcastically in an e-mail months after I visit Fort Lewis and just before he's due for deployment to Iraq. "We still aren't fans."

That attitude could change — quickly — with a single good combat experience.

The older soldiers won't like it, but the younger ones and the future soldiers who are spending their teenage nights playing Halo will love this sort of system. Land Warrior may be too heavy, too cumbersome, and too buggy at the moment, but either it or some future replacement will fill the niche and connect our soldiers each individually to the net. It's inevitable, and I'm glad we're working on it now.

(HT: Nick.)

Everyone knows that tall people make more money (and get more girls) than short people, so Greg Mankiw is right to wonder how much we should tax height.

Should the income tax system include a tax credit for short taxpayers and a tax surcharge for tall ones? This paper shows that the standard utilitarian framework for tax policy analysis answers this question in the affirmative. This result has two possible interpretations. One interpretation is that individual attributes correlated with wages, such as height, should be considered more widely for determining tax liabilities. Alternatively, if policies such as a tax on height are rejected, then the standard utilitarian framework must in some way fail to capture our intuitive notions of distributive justice.

In other words, if you're against taxing tall people based on height, then your view of "distributive justice" is flawed and you should reconsider your support for tax policies that take from the rich and give to the poor.

(Also, tall people may earn more simply because they're smarter.)

Donald L. Luskin posts a great tax parable from one of his readers named Z. Here's how it starts:

Suppose that every day, ten men go out for beer and the bill for all ten comes to $100. If they paid their bill the way we pay our taxes, it would go something like this:

The first four men (the poorest) would pay nothing.

The fifth would pay $1.

The sixth would pay $3.

The seventh would pay $7.

The eighth would pay $12.

The ninth would pay $18.

The tenth man (the richest) would pay $59.

So, that's what they decided to do.

The ten men drank in the bar every day and seemed quite happy with the arrangement, until on day, the owner threw them a curve. "Since you are all such good customers," he said, "I'm going to reduce the cost of your daily beer by $20."Drinks for the ten now cost just $80.

The group still wanted to pay their bill the way we pay our taxes so the first four men were unaffected. They would still drink for free. But what about the other six men --- the paying customers? How could they divide the $20 windfall so that everyone would get his 'fair share?'

Read the rest if you want to understand the unfairness built into our system. The numbers are pretty good, except that in reality the rich and the poor get slightly more beer than the fellows in the middle.

Our society is built on equality of opportunity for all, but it galls many leftists that equal opportunity doesn't always lead to equal results. Writing specifically about the millions of media choices available in the world today, Adam D. Thierer points out that the fact that some outlets get more attention than others is the result of freedom, not an impediment to it.

When Rush Limbaugh has more listeners than NPR, or Tom Clancy sells more books than Noam Chomsky, or Motor Trend gets more subscribers than Mother Jones, liberals want to convince us (or themselves, perhaps) that it's all because of some catastrophic market failure or a grand corporate conspiracy to dumb down the masses. In reality, it's just the result of consumer choice. All the opinions that the left's media critics favor are now readily available to us via multiple platforms. But that's not good enough, it seems: they won't rest until all of us are watching, reading and listening to the content that they prefer.

Similarly, in a free economic market some people will grow rich while others grow poor. Does this mean that the people who grew rich had more opportunity than the ones who grew poor? Not at all. In fact, it's exactly the result we'd expect to see in a free market, in which consumers are able to give their money to whomever produces the product they want to buy. Those who produce good products will attract a lot of customers, by the customers' own free wills. Hence Wal-Mart, Microsoft, Google, Honda, etc.

Yes, it's good that the partial birth abortion ban was upheld, but as the news accounts take pains to point out, the ban will affect very few abortions. The decision is a step in the right direction because it sets precedent for abortion restrictions, but it appears that there are still five justices on the Court who would vote to affirm Roe v. Wade if it were challenged now. Statistically Justice Stevens won't be around much longer and he's a pro-Roe vote, which is a big reason that Hillary Clinton shouldn't be elected president.

Russia's plan to build a tunnel from Siberia to Alaska is not only a great idea, it might be essential if Russia wants to retain sovereignty over its sprawling eastern territory. Analysts have long predicted that demographic forces will eventually hand Siberia to China, and if Russia continues to allow the territory's population to decline the point of no return will be reached even more quickly.

The first area for consideration is one of demographics. Let us begin by addressing Russia’s demographic crisis. Few will doubt that Russia is experiencing a demographic crisis today as its population declines steadily with each passing year. What is most troubling is the fact that there seems to be no end in sight for the decline. The problem is especially acute in Eastern Siberia and the Russian Far East, which is populated by only 7.5 million out of the 146 million in the Russian Federation as a whole. According to Garnett, the rate of Russians leaving Siberia in 1991 was 12 per 10,000, while in 1992 that rate jumped to 56 per 10,000. Overall, 225,000 left the area in 1990-1992 as the economic situation and standards of living plummeted in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet state.57 This demographic crisis has the potential to cause serious political instability in the region. Somewhat pessimistically, Trenin writes that "Russians must realize that if they cannot ensure development of the Far East and Siberia, Russia will lose those territories one way or another and somebody else will then develop them".58 When one looks across the border, it is easy to see where Trenin’s concern stems from: the Heilongjiang province on the other side is home to nearly 120 million Chinese. Furthermore, while Primorskiy Krai is home to 2.3 million Russian citizens, its neighboring region in China has a population of 70 million.

So the tunnel won't just be great for America, it will also facilitate the economic development that will be Russia's only chance at maintaining its hold on its eastern frontiers. Details about the tunnel:

Russia plans to build the world's longest tunnel, a transport and pipeline link under the Bering Strait to Alaska, as part of a $65 billion project to supply the U.S. with oil, natural gas and electricity from Siberia.

The project, which Russia is coordinating with the U.S. and Canada, would take 10 to 15 years to complete, Viktor Razbegin, deputy head of industrial research at the Russian Economy Ministry, told reporters in Moscow today. State organizations and private companies in partnership would build and control the route, known as TKM-World Link, he said.

A 6,000-kilometer (3,700-mile) transport corridor from Siberia into the U.S. will feed into the tunnel, which at 64 miles will be more than twice as long as the underwater section of the Channel Tunnel between the U.K. and France, according to the plan. The tunnel would run in three sections to link the two islands in the Bering Strait between Russia and the U.S. ...

The planned undersea tunnel would contain a high-speed railway, highway and pipelines, as well as power and fiber- optic cables, according to TKM-World Link. Investors in the so- called public-private partnership include OAO Russian Railways, national utility OAO Unified Energy System and pipeline operator OAO Transneft, according to a press release which was handed out at the media briefing and bore the companies' logos.

I hope it works out, because the project will give us cheaper access to non-Muslim oil sources as well as manufactured goods from the Far East. I expect that transporting goods on a trans-Siberia-Alaska railroad will be cheaper than moving them via ship across the Pacific.

I'm still developing this idea, so tell me what you think. It seems to me that Cho Seung Hui's success as a killer at Virginia Tech is the direct result of our culture of "tolerance". Reading the WaPo profile reveals a whole host of sociopathic behaviors that everyone around him recognized but failed to act on because of our society's profound adoration of inclusion and tolerance. All the indicators below should have pushed Cho out of the embrace of society, but instead they were tolerated as "different" but equally valid.

"He never spoke a word," Kim said. "Even when the professor asked questions, he never spoke. He constantly looked physically and emotionally down, like he was depressed. I had a strong feeling to talk to him on the first day of class, but I didn't get to talk to him because he sat right beside the door, and as soon as class was over, he left."

For Kim, one detail stood out. The classroom was rectangular. The class was split in half, with one half facing the other. "I always sat directly across, looking directly at him," Kim said. "He never looked up." ...

Charlotte Peterson, a former Virginia Tech student, said she shared a British literature class with Cho in 2005. On the first day, when the instructor asked students to write their names on a sheet of paper and hand it up, Cho wrote a question mark.

"Even the teacher laughed at him," Peterson said. "Nobody understood him." ...

"He would keep his headphones on a lot," she said. "I remember one instance where the teacher had addressed a question to him and he really just stared off into space. He didn't even recall acknowledging that she was talking to him. We were like, 'What are you doing?' The teacher said, 'Will you please see me after class?' and he still didn't even acknowledge her. It was an awkward silence, and then she went back to lecturing." ...

One of Cho's suitemates in Harper Hall said the killer began the day looking like he had every other day since moving in. Karan Grewal said Cho's face was blank and expressionless. "He didn't have a look of disgust or anger," Grewal said. "He never did. There was always just one look on his face."

In August, when Grewal, Cho and four others moved in, Cho's suitemates tried to talk to him but never got a word in return.

"My impression was that he's shy," said Grewal, 21, a senior accounting major who lived in a room across the hall. "He never looked anyone in the eye. If you even say hi, he'd keep walking straight past you."

The six students lived two to a room in a three-bedroom, one-bathroom suite. The others never saw Cho with any women or friends. He would turn his head away to avoid conversation.

In any natural -- uncivilized -- setting, a group of animals with a member like this would quickly cast him out or kill him. Instead, because of our "over-civilization", most of the people who encountered Cho and got bad vibes just decided he was a little strange and that they should mind their own business. One professor tried to follow her instincts, but was shot down by the forces of civilization.

[Professor Lucinda] Roy said she warned school officials. "I was determined that people were going to take notice," Roy said. "I felt I'd said to so many people, 'Please, will you look at this young man?' "

Roy, now the alumni distinguished professor of English and co-director of the creative writing program, said university officials were responsive and sympathetic to her warnings but indicated that because Cho had made no direct threats, there was little they could do.

"I don't want to be accusatory or blaming other people," Roy said. "I do just want to say, though, it's such a shame if people don't listen very carefully and if the law constricts them so that they can't do what is best for the student."

Not only best for the student, but best for the civilization, too. I'm not sure what the solution is, but in this case all the warning signs were seen and ignored because our society so highly values inclusion and abhors "judgment". If we choose to continue in this manner, then occasional rampages by the psychopaths in our midst are the price we'll have to pay. Maybe that's better than the uncivilized alternative.


Clayton Cramer explains how our treatment of mentally ill people has changed over the past decades.

Here's more behavior that shouldn't have been tolerated by society.

Cho Seung-Hui was evaluated by mental health professionals after female students complained to police about him and his parents became afraid he was suicidal.

Virginia Tech police chief Wendell Flincham confirmed moments ago that Cho Seung-Hui had targeted two female students in November and December of 2005.

He made contact with the first woman through phone calls and in person. Though she complained to police, she later declined to press charges, referring to Cho's attentions as "annoying".

The matter was then handled within the university, outside the scope of police. ...

Teachers and fellow students at Virginia Tech lived in fear of Cho Seung-Hui in the 18 months before he struck, it was revealed this afternoon.

A lecturer was so frightened by Cho's violent fantasies that she made up a secret codeword so that she could alert security without him knowing. ...

One teacher even suggested today he was given A grades because he was so "intimidating and staff wanted to keep him happy". ...

Further indications of the Virginia Tech gunman's weird behaviour and deep psychological problems emerged with the publication on the internet of plays written by Cho, 23, for his English literature class.

Murder and paedophilia featured so prominently in the writings that in October 2005 Professor Roy, the English department's head of creative writing, contacted campus police, counselling services, and other university officials. ...

Two of Cho's plays were posted on the internet by former classmate Ian MacFarlane, who said the contents had caused fellow students serious worries at the time.

"When we read Cho's plays, it was like something out of a nightmare," Mr MacFarlane, said in an internet blog.

He added: "The plays had really twisted, macabre violence that used weapons I wouldn't have even thought of ... we students were talking to each other with serious worry about whether he could be a school shooter."

Everyone knew this guy was a lunatic, but no one could do anything about it without violating the norms of our tolerant society. Is this a flaw with our society, or just the price of our freedom?

Geeks of Doom has a tax day tribute to Louis Tully, one of the silver screen's most dedicated tax professionals.

For his four-year anniversary as an accountant, Louis celebrates by throwing a party complete with Nova Scotia lox and Brie cheese kept at room temperature and as well as breakdancing, Twister, and Parcheesi. Being the clever tax man that he is, Louis invites not friends, but clients to the gathering so that he can write off the event as a promotional expense.

Unfortunately, his clever tax deduction gets crashed by Vinz Clorthos the Keymaster, a minion of the shapeshifting god Gozer, who while in Terror Dog form possesses the unsuspecting Louis. On the bright side, the possessed Louis finally gets some real action from Dana, who’s equally possessed by another Gozer minon Zuul, the Gatekeeper.

(HT: RD.)

More than 50% of Americans receive public aid in one form or another, and that number is likely to explode as baby-boomers retire. Unfortunately, I'm afraid that we might have finally reached critical mass and started an inescapable slide towards government dependence -- since we're majority-ruled, once a majority is on the public dole there's every likelihood that they'll keep voting more and more of other peoples' money into their own pockets via taxes and regulation. I think these Thomas Jefferson quotes are instructive:

"The democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not." Thomas Jefferson

"Timid men prefer the calm of despotism to the tempestuous sea of liberty." Thomas Jefferson

“A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine.” Thomas Jefferson

The most oppressed minority in America will quickly become one not of race or religion, but one defined by taxpaying status as the publicly-supported majority sucks the productive citizens dry. Remember: democracy is a means, not an end.


Some taxpayer polls from Mystery Pollster. I'd like to see some polling on whether or not taxpayers have any idea what percentage of their tax dollars go to various government programs. One good piece of news: 53% of Americans say their taxes are "too high".

Great news for parents: a new study concludes that omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil can help relieve symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in kids.

At the end of the 30-week-long trial, almost half of the children taking eye q for the whole study saw "significant" reductions in ADHD symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity, researchers said.

After the placebo group switched to the combined oil supplement for 15 weeks, they showed significant improvements in parent behaviour ratings and attention span.

The original eye q group continued to show improvements after an additional 15 weeks of taking the combined oil supplement in cognitive problems, inattention, restlessness, impulsivity and hyperactivity.

Taking a multivitamin/mineral supplement showed no additional benefits for ADHD symptoms, indicating that fatty acids are more important, it was claimed.

After doing some reading on my own, I started taking fish oil supplements a few months ago. Through passive observation of myself, I haven't noticed any effect on my mental condition. Research shows that fish oil fights heart disease, doesn't prevent cancer, might improve math ability, and appears to be better than flax seed oil.

From reading those blog posts, I may not have noticed an effect of my supplements because I'm not taking enough fish oil. I'm going to increase my consumption to 1 g per day (from about 200 mg) and see what happens.

In a disgusting move that reveals their all-consuming pro-abortion agenda, California's two Democrat senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, voted for the Stem Cell Enhancement Act of 2007 which seeks to provide more federal funding for embryonic stem cell research / murdering babies, and then voted against the HOPE Act which seeks to increase funding for adult stem cell research and would allow embryonic stem cells to be harvested from babies that die from natural causes.

There are only two reasons why Feinstein and Boxer opposed the HOPE Act: 1) it doesn't allow the abortion industry to profit from murdering babies for scientific research, and 2) it doesn't further their agenda of legitimizing abortion. The second point is key! Pro-abortionists dream of the day when a cure for some horrible disease can be provided by sacrificing babies, because then they'll be able to claim a justification for abortion other than their own selfishness.

I withdraw my earlier call for Paul Wolfowitz to resign from the presidency of the World Bank. Apparently his order to give his girlfriend a raise was the result of a decision by an ethics committee that formed when Wolfowitz tried to recuse himself from any supervisory responsibilities over the woman.

The paper trail shows that Mr. Wolfowitz had asked to recuse himself from matters related to his girlfriend, a longtime World Bank employee, before he signed his own employment contract. ...

That would have settled the matter at any rational institution, given that his girlfriend, Shaha Riza, worked four reporting layers below the president in the bank hierarchy. But the bank board--composed of representatives from donor nations--decided to set up an ethics committee to investigate. And it was the ethics committee that concluded that Ms. Riza's job entailed a "de facto conflict of interest" that could only be resolved by her leaving the bank.

Ms. Riza was on a promotion list at the time, and so the bank's ethicists also proposed that she be compensated for this blow to her career. In a July 22, 2005, ethics committee discussion memo, Mr. Danino noted that "there would be two avenues here for promotion--an 'in situ' promotion to Grade GH for the staff member" and promotion through competitive selection to another position." Or, as an alternative, "The Bank can also decide, as part of settlement of claims, to offer an ad hoc salary increase."

Five days later, on July 27, ethics committee chairman Ad Melkert formally advised Mr. Wolfowitz in a memo that "the potential disruption of the staff member's career prospect will be recognized by an in situ promotion on the basis of her qualifying record . . ." In the same memo, Mr. Melkert recommends "that the President, with the General Counsel, communicates this advice" to the vice president for human resources "so as to implement" it immediately.

And in an August 8 letter, Mr. Melkert advised that the president get this done pronto: "The EC [ethics committee] cannot interact directly with staff member situations, hence Xavier [Coll, the human resources vice president] should act upon your instruction." Only then did Mr. Wolfowitz instruct Mr. Coll on the details of Ms. Riza's new job and pay raise.

It looks like Wolfowitz did everything humanly possible to avoid a conflict of interest and that I was hasty in my call for his resignation. My apologies!

(HT: Commenter AllenG.)

Doctors in the UK are increasingly refusing to perform abortions as illustrations mount of life-before-birth.

Rising numbers of doctors are refusing to carry out abortions, leading to a crisis in NHS provision.

The stance by staff, taken on ethical grounds, has led to a doubling of abortions carried out by private clinics, according to the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.

The swell of medical staff joining the unprecedented moral revolt means that there may soon not be enough doctors to carry out sufficient terminations to meet the public demand.

Scientific advances provide undeniable proof that unborn babies are no different from born babies, and doctors are logically among the first to recognize and appreciate these developments.

Katherine Guthrie, a spokesman on family planning for the RCOG, said: "You get no thanks for performing abortions. You get spat on. Who admits to friends at a dinner party that they are an abortionist?

"There is an increasing number of young doctors who are not participating in training. The Department of Health is really worried." ...

James Gerrard, a GP in Leeds, said: "Out of the six doctors in our practice, three of us object to abortion. I had made up my mind on abortion before entering the medical profession. I feel the foetus is a person and killing that foetus is wrong."

Look forward to a wave of legislation in the UK requiring doctors (who work for the nationalized health care system) to perform abortions whether they want to or not.


I was wrong, Wolfowitz shouldn't resign.

I've long been a fan of Paul Wolfowitz and I think he's done a generally good job managing the World Bank, but having admitted to using bank resources to reward his girlfriend it's clearly time for him to resign. It's a really unfortunate situation and a loss for the world, but this sort of lapse in judgment is significant, even by public figures I quite like.

Paul Wolfowitz was under pressure to resign as president of the World Bank on Thursday after admitting he was personally involved in securing a large pay rise and promotion for a Bank official with whom he was romantically involved.

The Bank president issued a public apology, saying: “I made a mistake for which I am sorry”.

The apology came after the Financial Times revealed that Mr Wolfowitz ordered the World Bank’s head of human resources to offer Shaha Riza the pay rise and promotion as part of a secondment package.

I wasn't familiar with the world secondment before having read this article, so, bonus.

My brother sent me this utterly fascinating article that claims that overpraising kids' intelligence can lead to under-performance.

Dweck sent four female research assistants into New York fifth-grade classrooms. The researchers would take a single child out of the classroom for a nonverbal IQ test consisting of a series of puzzles—puzzles easy enough that all the children would do fairly well. Once the child finished the test, the researchers told each student his score, then gave him a single line of praise. Randomly divided into groups, some were praised for their intelligence. They were told, “You must be smart at this.” Other students were praised for their effort: “You must have worked really hard.”

Why just a single line of praise? “We wanted to see how sensitive children were,” Dweck explained. “We had a hunch that one line might be enough to see an effect.”

Then the students were given a choice of test for the second round. One choice was a test that would be more difficult than the first, but the researchers told the kids that they’d learn a lot from attempting the puzzles. The other choice, Dweck’s team explained, was an easy test, just like the first. Of those praised for their effort, 90 percent chose the harder set of puzzles. Of those praised for their intelligence, a majority chose the easy test. The “smart” kids took the cop-out.

Why did this happen? “When we praise children for their intelligence,” Dweck wrote in her study summary, “we tell them that this is the name of the game: Look smart, don’t risk making mistakes.” And that’s what the fifth-graders had done: They’d chosen to look smart and avoid the risk of being embarrassed.

Read the whole thing, it gave me a whole new perspective. Hard work is more praiseworthy than latent intelligence, so it shouldn't be a surprise that kids respond better to praise directed in that way. It would be silly to praise a good basketball player for being tall.

The article goes on to completely debunk the self-esteem industry.

Dweck and Blackwell’s work is part of a larger academic challenge to one of the self-esteem movement’s key tenets: that praise, self-esteem, and performance rise and fall together. From 1970 to 2000, there were over 15,000 scholarly articles written on self-esteem and its relationship to everything—from sex to career advancement. But results were often contradictory or inconclusive. So in 2003 the Association for Psychological Science asked Dr. Roy Baumeister, then a leading proponent of self-esteem, to review this literature. His team concluded that self-esteem was polluted with flawed science. Only 200 of those 15,000 studies met their rigorous standards.

After reviewing those 200 studies, Baumeister concluded that having high self-esteem didn’t improve grades or career achievement. It didn’t even reduce alcohol usage. And it especially did not lower violence of any sort. (Highly aggressive, violent people happen to think very highly of themselves, debunking the theory that people are aggressive to make up for low self-esteem.) At the time, Baumeister was quoted as saying that his findings were “the biggest disappointment of my career.”

Now he’s on Dweck’s side of the argument, and his work is going in a similar direction: He will soon publish an article showing that for college students on the verge of failing in class, esteem-building praise causes their grades to sink further. Baumeister has come to believe the continued appeal of self-esteem is largely tied to parents’ pride in their children’s achievements: It’s so strong that “when they praise their kids, it’s not that far from praising themselves.”

Reader Adam sent me this great post about Desmond's faith and purpose. (Who's Desmond?) The post talks about Desmond's transformation from a drifter-through-life into a purposeful, world-saving hero -- even if only in his own mind.

What made Desmond worthy of admiration was, exactly, that he did not know for sure he could predict the future. He took it on faith that he could, and then proceeded to live his entire life based on this single, faith based, assumption. He put his money where his mouth was.

Desmond took a leap towards faith, not a leap of faith. He didn't have faith to leap with. He went towards it, picked it. He didn't know the button needed pushing, and so, like a soldier, took responsibility to push it. He took on faith that the button needed pushing and then furthermore decided it was his responsibility to push it, defying logic and sanity and evidence and, well, everyone else. The action wasn't just heroic; it was heroic and defining.

He decided that he was going to give his life meaning, importance, even if it was the most insane, solitary, depressing meaning available; and at the great risk that he could be wrong, a life wasted.

An interesting exploration of faith.

If the writers of Lost intended this exploration, then they named the character Desmond David Hume with a heavy sense of irony. Desmond's philosopher-namesake practically defined empiricism and skepticism in opposition to faith.

Hume believed that all human knowledge comes to us through our senses, a school of philosophy that came to be known as "Empiricism" (derived from the Greek "empeiria", which became later the Latin noun "experientia", in English, "experience"). Our perceptions, as he called them, can be divided into two categories: ideas and impressions. He defined these terms thus in his An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding: "By the term impression, then, I mean all our more lively perceptions, when we hear, or see, or feel, or love, or hate, or desire, or will. And impressions are distinguished from ideas, which are the less lively perceptions, of which we are conscious, when we reflect on any of those sensations or movements above mentioned." He further specifies ideas, saying, "It seems a proposition, which will not admit of much dispute, that all our ideas are nothing but copies of our impressions, or, in other words, that it is impossible for us to think of anything, which we have not antecedently felt, either by our external or internal senses." That formed an important aspect of Hume's skepticism, for he said that we cannot believe that a certain thing, such as God, a soul, or a self, exists unless we can point to the impression from which the idea of the thing is derived. The Enquiry concerning Human Understanding concluded with a statement of what has become to be known as Hume's Fork. "When we run over libraries, persuaded of these principles, what havoc must we make? If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion."

Hume's ideas are interesting, but problematic in that they tend to deny the existence of things like cause and effect relationships, the validity of induction and deduction, and reason.

A couple of great pieces on the differences between men and women. First, new research on how men and women experience sexual desire.

According to the sequence put forward in the mid-20th century by the pioneering sex researchers William H. Masters, Virginia E. Johnson and Helen Singer Kaplan, a sexual encounter begins with desire, a craving for sex that arises of its own accord and prods a person to seek a partner. That encounter then leads to sexual arousal, followed by sexual excitement, a desperate fumbling with buttons and related clothing fasteners, a lot of funny noises, climax and resolution (I will never drink Southern Comfort at the company barbecue again).

A plethora of new findings, however, suggest that the experience of desire may be less a forerunner to sex than an afterthought, the cognitive overlay that the brain gives to the sensation of already having been aroused by some sort of physical or subliminal stimulus — a brush on the back of the neck, say, or the sight of a ripe apple, or wearing a hard hat on a construction site and being surrounded by other men in similar haberdashery.

In a series of studies at the University of Amsterdam, Ellen Laan, Stephanie Both and Mark Spiering demonstrated that the body’s entire motor system is activated almost instantly by exposure to sexual images, and that the more intensely sexual the visuals, the stronger the electric signals emitted by the participants’ so-called spinal tendious reflexes. By the looks of it, Dr. Laan said, the body is primed for sex before the mind has had a moment to leer.

Second, an excellent discussion about women in combat. The post is short, but the comments are priceless. I've written quite a bit about women at war myself.

(Both courtesy Transterrestrial Musings.)

Did you know that in 2006 America's highest paid CEO was black? I didn't. The total 2006 compensation for E. Stanley O’Neal, CEO of Merrill Lynch, was valued at more than $91 million. Given Merrill Lynch's performance since 2003, stockholders have no reason to complain. What's the significance of this? I don't know, maybe nothing. I don't know anything about Mr. O'Neal's politics, but one can hope that the era in which leftists can divide and conquer America by race and class is drawing to a close.

In any event, congratulations to Mr. O'Neal!

Dr. Leonard Peikoff wrote an article in 1993 explaining why health care is not a right, and it deserves to be read by every American in advance of the inevitable debate over the issue during the next presidential election cycle.

Under the American system you have a right to health care if you can pay for it, i.e., if you can earn it by your own action and effort. But nobody has the right to the services of any professional individual or group simply because he wants them and desperately needs them. The very fact that he needs these services so desperately is the proof that he had better respect the freedom, the integrity, and the rights of the people who provide them.

You have a right to work, not to rob others of the fruits of their work, not to turn others into sacrificial, rightless animals laboring to fulfill your needs. ...

Some people can't afford medical care in the U.S. But they are necessarily a small minority in a free or even semi-free country. If they were the majority, the country would be an utter bankrupt and could not even think of a national medical program. As to this small minority, in a free country they have to rely solely on private, voluntary charity. Yes, charity, the kindness of the doctors or of the better off--charity, not right, i.e. not their right to the lives or work of others. And such charity, I may say, was always forthcoming in the past in America. The advocates of Medicaid and Medicare under LBJ did not claim that the poor or old in the '60's got bad care; they claimed that it was an affront for anyone to have to depend on charity.

But the fact is: You don't abolish charity by calling it something else. If a person is getting health care for nothing, simply because he is breathing, he is still getting charity, whether or not any politician, lobbyist or activist calls it a "right." To call it a Right when the recipient did not earn it is merely to compound the evil. It is charity still--though now extorted by criminal tactics of force, while hiding under a dishonest name.

The idea of socialized health care is worse than impractical, it is immoral. (As are almost all socialist endeavors.)

(HT: GeekPress and Transterrestrial Musings.)

Sometimes I amaze even myself. Apparently I've been unknowingly quoting Milton Friedman by pointing out that "If cutting taxes raises government revenues, then you haven't cut taxes enough."

As the Bush tax cuts proved, cutting taxes can increase government revenue -- which is unfortunate. Conservatives should argue for a smaller government with less revenue, not simply for lower taxes.

Latest in the sequences of miracles from adult stem cell research is an experiment in which stem cell therapy cured type 1 diabetes. Note, of course, that the research involved adult stem cells and not embryonic stem cells which are "harvested" from unborn babies have have yielded zero medical breakthroughs.

Diabetics using stem-cell therapy have been able to stop taking insulin injections for the first time, after their bodies started to produce the hormone naturally again.

In a breakthrough trial, 15 young patients with newly diagnosed type 1 diabetes were given drugs to suppress their immune systems followed by transfusions of stem cells drawn from their own blood.

Unfortunately the article goes on to unjustifiably praise embryonic stem cell research with false claims and condemn President Bush for opposing it.

But research using the most versatile kind of stem cells — those acquired from human embryos — is currently opposed by powerful critics, including President Bush.

The claim in the first phrase above is false: embryonic stem cells are no more "versatile" than stem cells taken from, e.g., amniotic fluid. Furthermore, embryonic stem cells tend to turn cancerous and cause brain tumors.

Why are so many people so eager to slaughter babies and harvest their stem cells despite the fact that embryonic stem cells can't cure anything? I can think of only two explanations. First, scientists who have invested their careers in this direction want to keep the grant money flowing. Second, pro-abortionists recognize their need to increase acceptance of abortion among an increasingly pro-life population.


Ironically the Senate was debating embryonic stem cell research today and claiming that only embryonic stem cells could help cure diabetes. Their conviction is strange, considering that embryonic stem cell therapy hasn't led to a single treatment for any disease or condition.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who introduced the act with Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), drew particular attention to a 12-year-old diabetic girl he recently met, who he said must inject herself with insulin 120 times a month. “If adult stem cells could provide a cure for juvenile diabetes, she'd gladly take it,” Harkin said, suggesting that only embryonic stem cells have the capacity to cure diabetes. In research to be published in today's Journal of the American Medical Association, scientists from Brazil and the United States showed that adult stem cells may indeed help cure diabetes.

The quote in the title isn't in the essay I'm about to link to, but we've all heard "he's just doing his job" a million times as an excuse for immoral behavior. I couldn't care less about the manufactured Don Imus fiasco, but Constance L. Rice trots out the "he's just doing his job" argument in an otherwise excellent reframing of that situation.

But there's also no basis for firing him or ending his show. Firing Imus for racist riffs would be like firing Liberace for flamboyance. It's what he does.

Setting aside the specifics of the Imus circus, I find it curious that the question of whether or not a person makes a living off some type of behavior is a legitimate justification for actions that would otherwise be unacceptable. I've heard drug dealers excused in this way, along with all sorts of other ne'er-do-wells. The sequence in Aladdin in which we're introduced to the title character features him stealing food, evading the authorities, and singing "One Jump Ahead":

[Aladdin:] Gotta keep
One jump ahead of the breadline
One swing ahead of the sword
I steal only what I can't afford
( That's Everything! )

One jump ahead of the lawmen
That's all, and that's no joke
These guys don't appreciate I'm broke


[Aladdin:] Gotta eat to live, gotta steal to eat
Otherwise we'd get along
[Crowd:] Wrong!

Judging from the accompanying escape sequence Aladdin was an able-bodied fellow, so it's not at all clear why he couldn't work for food like the crowd who despised him and the guards who chased him rather than "working" as a thief.

Imus, Howard Stern, and their ilk make money from paying customers, but their customers are essentially paying them to be rude, arrogant, useless jerks. Most such people are rightly ostracized by mainstream society, but apparently the profitable ones can be forgiven.

My brother sent me this article about dating that includes a brief analysis of the monetary values of height and other physical traits.

By tracking the success of online daters, the researchers calculated precisely how much extra income a man had to make (relative to the average man’s income of $62,500 per year) to offset a less than ideal attribute. Some of their findings:

Suppose you’re an ordinary-looking guy whose online picture is ranked around the median in attractiveness. (In the study, the ratings of attractiveness were done by independent male and female observers hired by the researchers.) And suppose you’d like to be as successful with women as a guy whose picture is ranked in the top tenth. Then you’d need to make $143,000 more than him. If your picture is ranked in the bottom tenth, you’d need to make $186,000 more than him.

Similarly, according to the study, a 5-foot-0 guy would need to make $325,000 more than a 6-foot-0 man to be as successful in the online dating market. A 5-foot-4 man would need $229,000; a 5-foot-6 man would need $183,000; a 5-foot-10 man would need $32,000. And if that 6-foot-0 man wanted to do as well as a 6-foot-4 man, he’d need to make $43,000 more.

For women in the online study, shorter is better. A 5-foot-6 women would need to make $59,000 more than a 5-foot-0 or 5-foot-2 woman to do as well. She’d need to make $50,000 more than a 5-foot-4 woman.

Frankly, I'm skeptical about all those numbers. I can't imagine an experimental set-up that could discern such enormous variations in income vs. height preferences -- most experimental subjects couldn't make such distinctions. Does anyone believe that an average woman could determine that she'd demand an income of $291,500 from a 5'4" tall guy in order to choose him over an average-earning 6'0" fellow? Such numbers are meaningless, especially since most people can't comprehend the lifestyle differences between incomes of $62,000 and $291,500. Maybe the women just pick random, ever-increasing numbers from multiple choice lists, but I don't believe the results of this study have any application to real life except for confirming what everyone knows: women like dating tall, rich men. Unsurprisingly, marriage is different from dating, and women looking for husbands prefer men who will be good fathers (a "parenting strategy" rather than a "mating strategy".)

A more interesting result from the study is a quantification of the observation that women are pickier than men.

When Robert Kurzban and Jaspon Weeden of the University of Pennsylvania studied more than 10,000 American customers of HurryDate — a company that gathers a couple of dozen people at a time for a round robin of three-minute speed dates — the psychologists found that, on average, a woman got a “yes” from about half the men she met (meaning that the guy would like to go out with her). But a man, on average, got the thumbs-up from only a third of the women.

A study of speed daters in Germany showed that women were not only pickier than men but also more realistic about their own appeal in the dating market. Correctly divining that men put a premium on looks, the more attractive women set a higher bar for their partners than less attractive women did. But the German men set about the same bar for their partners no matter what they looked like themselves or how successful they were professionally.

These German men apparently cast their nets as wide as possible to take advantage of what the researchers call the “low mate-choice costs” — the chance to ask out a lot of women without getting any embarrassing face-to-face rejections.

Men try to date as many women as possible and then screen out the losers, whereas women try to pre-screen the losers so as to avoid dating them at all. This difference makes sense from a privative biological perspective: men don't risk much by impregnating as many women as possible, but women have to devote a lot of time and energy to each pregnancy they participate in. Fortunately we humans can transcend our biology (basically the definition of "civilization").

Apparently dietsing can damage your health due to repeated weight gains and losses. Also, most people gain back more than they lose.

More than two-thirds pile the pounds straight back on, raising the danger of heart attack, stroke and diabetes.

Indeed most dieters end up heavier than they did to start with, the researchers found.

They warn this type of yo-yo behaviour is linked to a host of health problems. And they say the strain that repeated weight loss and gain places on the body means most people would have been better off not dieting at all.

That's a pretty incredible result that flies in the face of a mega-billion dollar industry. What about those few people who do manage to keep the weight off?

The psychologist, who advises would-be slimmers to swap calorie-controlled diets for a balanced diet coupled with regular exercise, added: "Exercise may well be the key factor leading to sustained weight loss.

Studies consistently find that people who report the most exercise also have the most weight loss."

The point of the article is that one cannot take on a short-term diet, lose weight, and then expect to keep the weight off despite returning to one's original habits. The key to taking weight off and keeping it off is a complete change in lifestyle, including exercise and abstention from crappy foods. This isn't easy, and most people can't/won't/don't do it.

I hesitate to criticize the Brits -- they've been good allies for decades now and America owes them a lot of thanks -- but their government has been treating the Iran hostage crisis and its aftermath in a bizarrely unserious manner. First they hamstrung their troops with "de-escalatory" rules of engagement, then they essentially abandoned the hostages to Iranian torture rather than recognizing the escalation that had already occurred, and now the UK government is allowing the former hostages to cash-in on their ordeal due to the "exceptional circumstances". I suppose this deal is some sort of penance on the part of the government for letting the troops get screwed earlier, but it's still a continuation of fundamentally unserious behavior.

The 15 sailors and Marines have been told they can sell their stories to the media by the Ministry of Defence, which bracketed the "exceptional circumstances" surrounding their 13-day ordeal with winners of the Victoria Cross.

The most senior member of the crew Royal Navy Lieutenant Felix Carman defended the right of comrades to sell their stories, but admitted he found the subject of being paid "a bit unsavoury" and has said he will hand over any money he makes to charity.

He told GMTV: "In the case of Faye Turney, she has a young daughter and the money could set her up for life."

I'm not sure what I'd do, given the chance to get rich off such a horrible situation, but I think the government would have been wise to keep the choice out of my hands by enforcing the existing policy. Thousands of lives have been lost, and these folks get special treatment?

News that Mrs Turney alone is likely to make at least £100,000 was condemned by former Defence Ministers, ex-soldiers - and families who have lost loved ones in Iraq and Afghanistan.

At Westminster, even some Labour MPs suspected a Government spin operation designed to distract attention away from embarrassing questions over the capture itself.

Well whatever. I hate being hard on the hostages, because they suffered enormous trauma, but is it too much to ask that we and our allies take the Global War on Terror seriously?


The WSJ editorial page also questions the UK's handling of the hostage fiasco.

The British military has performed magnificently in Iraq, where 136 servicemen and women have been killed. Even so, with the release of the sailors, we would like to learn the full story of why the hostages seemingly cooperated so readily with their captors. Videotaped confessions, in which the accused apologize for misdeeds they didn't commit, are staples of Iran's authoritarian regime, and the British apologies to their captors may well have been coerced. Yet it's hard to know what to make of yesterday's pictures of the sailors--in suits, not uniforms--smiling and shaking hands with a beaming Mr. Ahmadinejad. These weren't civilians but sailors presumably trained to resist propaganda displays.

While the release of the Brits is cause for celebration, we hope the world won't forget those who aren't getting out--the myriad political prisoners, often democrats, in Iran's dungeons. These are the truly courageous people the West has paid too little attention to as it focuses on diplomacy and business with Iran. Given his regime's persecution of Iran's tiny Christian community, Mr. Ahmadinejad's invocation of Easter as a reason for freeing the sailors is particularly offensive.

Hopefully the embarrassment the UK government is suffering will harden all our nerves for the future inevitable confrontations with the Iranian terrorist state.

My wife sent me this article about Starbucks opening nine new locations in St. Charles County -- it looks like we've finally made it to the big-time! I personally refuse to spend $4 for a coffee-flavored shake, but to each their own.

In less than a year, not one, not five, but nine Starbucks have either opened shop or are set to do so soon in a county that until recently had only one and was better known for its fast food pit stops. ...

As head of the St. Charles County Economic Development Center, Prestemon said the outpouring of stores indicated that the rapidly growing county had hit a milestone. "The Starbucks Factor," as he dubbed it, makes the area more attractive to new businesses, retailers and home buyers.

The brand indicates a certain economic prosperity and a level of spending power that's attractive to businesses. For home buyers, it hints that a community exists beyond the subdivision, he said. When it comes to high-tech companies, Prestemon said they tended to, um, perk up when they saw a Starbucks in the nearby mix.

There are plenty of housing developments sprouting up to provide customers for these Starbucks, and it's pretty exciting to watch all the development first-hand. Hopefully it will be a while before we get the Los Angeles style traffic....

Apparently my denunciation of Venezuela-based Citgo has provoked the terror-sympathizing Stalinist company to withdraw from the Missouri market entirely. Good. The stations have been replaced by ZX stations, which don't have a website anywhere I can find but are supplied by J. D. Streett & Company, Inc., a Missouri-based company.

On another note, I just learned that Royal Dutch Shell does billions of dollars of business with Iran, so I won't be filling up at Shell stations anymore.

Does anyone know of any other oil companies that support terror or tyranny and that sell their gasoline in America?

My respect for the Iraqi government continues to wane as they seem poised to award initial oil development contracts to China, India, Vietnam, and Indonesia rather than to American companies. The amount of money the Iraqis owe us just for military operations is nearly incalculable, and a few oil deals would have been a worthy show of appreciation for all we've done for their country. Instead, the contracts go to our competitors and at least one potential enemy.

While Iraqi lawmakers struggle to pass an agreement on exactly who will award the contracts and how the revenue will be shared, experts say a draft version that passed the cabinet earlier this year will likely uphold agreements previously signed by those countries under Saddam Hussein's government.

I'd like America to step in and void these contracts as the price for doing business with a tyrannical, fascist thugocracy, but as Austin Bay notes it probably is best for the Iraqis to make their own decisions at this point. Still, a little gratitude wouldn't be out of order. Maybe I'm making a big deal out of nothing... I hope Antonia Juhasz is right and American companies do have a plan to participate in the Iraqi oil market.

Steve Kretzmann, executive director of Oil Change International, an industry watchdog group, criticized the draft oil law for allowing long-term oil contracts to be awarded to foreign oil firms, a practice he said was unique in the Middle East.

"Giving out a few crumbs to the Chinese and Indians is one thing," said Kretzmann, who noted the draft law was seen by both the Bush administration and the International Monetary Fund before it was given to Iraq's parliament. "But the real prize are the contracts that award long-term rights. I think the [Western oil companies] are biding their time."

(As a side note, the practice of giving long-term oil contracts to foreigners is required in the Middle East because few of the oil-producing nations in the region have the knowledge or expertise to exploit their own natural resources.)

Bernardo sent along this long and exhaustive review of science fiction's evolving vision for futuristic human-computer interfaces, with plenty of pictures and references to all our favorite movies.

Tawfik Hamid, a former member of the Islamist terror group Jemaah Islamiya, has written a brilliant indictment of the Western left's tolerance for violent Islam. He knows whereof he speaks.

It is vital to grasp that traditional and even mainstream Islamic teaching accepts and promotes violence. Shariah, for example, allows apostates to be killed, permits beating women to discipline them, seeks to subjugate non-Muslims to Islam as dhimmis and justifies declaring war to do so. It exhorts good Muslims to exterminate the Jews before the "end of days." The near deafening silence of the Muslim majority against these barbaric practices is evidence enough that there is something fundamentally wrong. ...

Yet it is ironic and discouraging that many non-Muslim, Western intellectuals--who unceasingly claim to support human rights--have become obstacles to reforming Islam. Political correctness among Westerners obstructs unambiguous criticism of Shariah's inhumanity. They find socioeconomic or political excuses for Islamist terrorism such as poverty, colonialism, discrimination or the existence of Israel. What incentive is there for Muslims to demand reform when Western "progressives" pave the way for Islamist barbarity? Indeed, if the problem is not one of religious beliefs, it leaves one to wonder why Christians who live among Muslims under identical circumstances refrain from contributing to wide-scale, systematic campaigns of terror. ...

The tendency of many Westerners to restrict themselves to self-criticism further obstructs reformation in Islam. Americans demonstrate against the war in Iraq, yet decline to demonstrate against the terrorists who kidnap innocent people and behead them. Similarly, after the Madrid train bombings, millions of Spanish citizens demonstrated against their separatist organization, ETA. But once the demonstrators realized that Muslims were behind the terror attacks they suspended the demonstrations. This example sent a message to radical Islamists to continue their violent methods. ...

Well-meaning interfaith dialogues with Muslims have largely been fruitless. Participants must demand--but so far haven't--that Muslim organizations and scholars specifically and unambiguously denounce violent Salafi components in their mosques and in the media. Muslims who do not vocally oppose brutal Shariah decrees should not be considered "moderates."

It's hard to excerpt because the whole essay is worth reading.

Nancy Pelosi is obviously inept at international diplomacy and has inadvertently (?) handed the Syrian terrorist regime a moderate political victory by attempting to "open a dialog" with the thug Bashar Assad over the objects of President Bush.

"We came in friendship, hope, and determined that the road to Damascus is a road to peace," Pelosi said. She said she and her delegation "expressed [their] concern about Syria's connections to Hizbullah and Hamas," and discussed the issue of terrorists slipping across the Syrian border into Iraq.

"These are important issues not only in the fight against terrorism, but priorities for us for peace in the Middle East," she said.

Why approach murderers with friendship? They don't share Pelosi's "hope", and they aren't determined to make peace. It's nice that Pelosi is "concerned" about the decades of terror perpetrated by the Syrian regimes, but the Syrians clearly see her visit as an indication that there's some possible compromise to be reached between us and them.

"These people in the United States who are opposing dialogue, I tell them one thing: Dialogue is... the only method to close the gap existing between two countries," Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem told reporters after Wednesday's Assad-Pelosi meeting.

"Everyone knows there are different points of view between Syria and the United States," he said. "We are happy that Mrs. Pelosi and her delegation had the courage and determination to bridge these differences."

"Different points of view" means that they want to blow up innocent people and establish a Muslim Caliphate across the known world, and we don't. Maybe we can meet in the middle! Pelosi is a dangerous fool.


Paul Geary has a short post about Nancy Pelosi's visit to Syria; the title of the post and the accompanying picture stand alone. "Feminist in the US; subservient in Syria."

An Austrian court is poised to give a chimpanzee "human status". Uh, yes.

A group of world leading primatologists argue that this is proof enough that Hiasl, a 26-year-old chimpanzee, deserves to be treated like a human. In a test case in Austria, campaigners are seeking to ditch the 'species barrier' and have taken Hiasl's case to court. If Hiasl is granted human status - and the rights that go with it - it will signal a victory for other primate species and unleash a wave of similar cases.

Apparently some people have donated money towards the care of this animal, but for some reason they didn't set up a foundation to spend the money and instead gave it to the animal directly. Or something... the article isn't clear.

However, unless Hiasl has a legal guardian who can manage the money it will go to the receivers. As only humans have a right to legal guardians, his campaigners say it is necessary for Hiasl's survival to prove that he is one of us. Primatologists and experts - from the world's most famous primate campaigner, Jane Goodall, to Professor Volker Sommer, a renowned wild chimp expert at University College London - will give evidence in the case, which is due to come to court in Vienna within the next few months.

Yes, real "scientists" are actually going to contribute to this bizarre fiasco.

One of their central arguments will be that a chimpanzee's DNA is 96-98.4 per cent similar to that of humans - closer than the relationship between donkeys and horses.

If they argue that, then their argument will be false. The most current research indicates that human and chimp DNA is only around 95% similar.

Let's take the next paragraph a bit at a time.

Sommer, an evolutionary anthropologist, said: 'It's untenable to talk of dividing humans and humanoid apes because there are no clear-cut criteria - neither biological, nor mental, nor social.'

Volker Sommer must be a rather agenda-driven evolutionary anthropologist, because a 5-year-old can tell the difference between a chimpanzee and a human. If you're going to argue against something that's incredibly obvious to the vast majority of the population, then you're going to need compelling evidence... and DNA "similarity" isn't it (and increase his difference numbers from 1.5% to 5%).

Paula Stibbe, a British woman, has applied to be named Hiasl's legal guardian. She said: 'He is a colourful character with lots of energy. The least we can do for him is give him ... a future in society.'

Really? What role should he have in society? He's incapable of contributing, so the only role available to him is that of welfare recipient, which is basically the same as being a public pet.

Barbara Bartl, the judge and an animal rights campaigner, has stalled proceedings until documents are provided proving Hiasl has, as his friends say, the status of an asylum-seeker, having been abducted illegally from Sierra Leone.

The judge is an "animal rights" campaigner and didn't recuse herself from the case? But don't worry, there's no conflict of interest because chimpanzees aren't animals, they're humans!

Finally, just imagine how the plaintiffs would be laughed out of court if they demanded human rights for unborn babies.

(HT: Nick.)

Who hasn't dreamed of collecting America's $25 million reward for catching Osama bin Laden? (And don't forget you'd get $1 million from Bruce Willis, too.) Well don't be too quick to hop a flight to Afghanistan, because the US government isn't always eager to pay, even when the wantee is caught and convicted.

John says an FBI agent promised a big reward if he helped the FBI capture Kopp.

"He promised me that he will come down by airplane and he will carry [an] attaché with a million dollars," recalls John. ...

After Kopp's arrest in March 2001, the FBI immediately paid John $50,000. After Kopp pleaded guilty in 2003, John tried to collect the rest of his money, hounding federal officials, taping hundreds of hours of calls to them, even writing then-Attorney General John Ashcroft to complain the government was "dragging its heels." He says he got no response. ...

In December 2003, nine months after Kopp's conviction, the FBI paid John $100,000 more. Last summer, on June 30, 2004, days after John began talking to NBC News and 15 months after the conviction, the Justice Department finally paid $500,000 more.

Why did it take so long?

Senior U.S. law enforcement officials say the FBI misplaced key documents and the Justice Department money got bogged down in red tape. But they argue John eventually was paid handsomely — $650,000.

However, John claims he's still owed hundreds of thousands of dollars by Canada and cautions prospective tipsters to get everything in writing.

So don't start spending just because you've got Osama tied to the back of your camel, and remember that in most cases you can't sue the government for reward money.

(HT: GeekPress.)

I don't agree with Rudy Giuliani's leftist social politics, and his support for publicly-funded abortion is not only horrific, it's also poorly thought-out.

TALLAHASSEE, Florida (CNN) -- Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani told CNN Wednesday he supports public funding for some abortions, a position he advocated as mayor and one that will likely put the GOP presidential candidate at odds with social conservatives in his party.

"Ultimately, it's a constitutional right, and therefore if it's a constitutional right, ultimately, even if you do it on a state by state basis, you have to make sure people are protected," Giuliani said in an interview with CNN's Dana Bash in Florida's capital city.

Since when do taxpayers have a responsibility to pay for other people to exercise their constitutional rights? Free speech is a constitutional right, should the public be subsidizing my blog? Gun ownership is a constitutional right, should the public buy me the Remington 870 Express 12g 18" I've had my eye on?

Giuliani's reasoning on this issue is facile, shallow, and transparently illogical under even cursory inspection. I hope that he develops some deeper thinking if he continues as a candidate.

Sure, Haley Scarnato isn't the best singer on American Idol. She has probably only gotten this far because of her looks. Everyone knows this. But still, is it necessary for Simon Cowell to mock her, week after week, with flippantly sexist comments about her appearance? Last night when it was Cowell's turn to comment on her performance he just shrugged, feigned exasperation, and said "well, you've got great legs".

It's true, and his larger point that she isn't delivering awesome performances is also true, but he says this every week and seems unwilling to give her honest, helpful criticism anymore. It's funny to be sarcastic and caustic sometimes, but when you're that way all the time, at the same person, it gets old and mean. The look on Haley's face when Cowell made the comment showed that she was really wounded, not so much because she thinks she's the best singer ever, but because she wants to be taken seriously and seen as more than a piece of meat. I know what it's like to be made fun of for my appearance, and it's especially hard to shrug off when you're already vulnerable to judgment. Haley gets on the stage every week knowing that Cowell is going to dismiss her, deride her, and mock her appearance rather than help her with her singing, and it must be getting tiresome and painful. I hope she stands up for herself next time and reminds Cowell that she's in a singing competition and that he should restrict his comments to her vocal ability.

Public health officials in Phoenix have locked up a man with an extensively drug-resistant strain of tuberculosis, or XDR-TB, because he refused to take proper measures to prevent infecting other people.

Behind the county hospital's tall cinderblock walls, a 27-year-old tuberculosis patient sits in a jail cell equipped with a ventilation system that keeps germs from escaping. Robert Daniels has been locked up indefinitely, perhaps for the rest of his life, since last July. But he has not been charged with a crime. Instead, he suffers from an extensively drug-resistant strain of tuberculosis, or XDR-TB. It is considered virtually untreatable.

County health authorities obtained a court order to lock him up as a danger to the public because he failed to take precautions to avoid infecting others. Specifically, he said he did not heed doctors' instructions to wear a mask in public. ...

County health officials and Daniels' lawyer, Robert Blecher, would not discuss details of the case. But in general, [Dr. Robert England, Maricopa County's tuberculosis control officer] said the county would not force someone into quarantine unless the patient could not or would not follow doctor's orders.

"It's very uncommon that someone would both not want to take treatment and will willingly put others at risk," England said. "It's only those very uncommon incidents where we have to use legal authority through the courts to isolate somebody."

By this same logic, could a person with HIV/AIDS be locked up if he/she refused to avoid engaging in risky sexual behavior that put others at risk of infection? Such measures might actually make it possible to curb the spread of the terrible disease.

(Previous entries about wiping out AIDS.)

My lovely wife passed along this article about how motherhood is a "feminine mistake", and it's really sad to see just how deeply bitterness has taken root in the author, Leslie Bennetts. The situation her grandmother faced when her grandfather left her for another woman was certainly awful, but the lesson she took from it saddens me. Rather than blaming her adulterous, deceitful grandfather, acknowledging his flaws, and surpassing the natural bitterness that results, Bennetts embraces her bitterness and decides that the problem lay not with her grandfather (and her grandmother's rigid reaction), but instead with the concept of traditional marriage.

My grandmother spent the next forty years mourning the loss of her marriage and waiting for her ex-husband to come back to her, even though he had long since wed his mistress. Until the day she died, my grandmother clung to the illusion that her husband would eventually return to her. In all those years, she never looked at another man, politely but firmly turning away all suitors. Nor did she ever question the strictly segregated gender roles that prevented her from exploring her own potential. As far as she was concerned, marriage was “for time and all eternity,” just as her wedding ceremony had promised, and her role in life was as a wife, even when there was no husband around.

Faced with betrayal by her husband, grandmother gave in to an unfortunately rigid conception of marriage that few "traditionalists" (such as myself) endorse. This decision, along with the grandfather's betrayal, set the author up for what I perceive to be a deep bitterness towards wifehood and motherhood and a tragic but experienced-based fear of being betrayed herself. It is certainly impossible for a husband or wife to thrive in their traditional role in a marriage if neither is able to fully trust the other.

Along this line, it is not only women who face uncertainty when they enter into marriage. I've known many men who have sworn never to get married because of the high likelihood and awful consequences of divorce that men face in our society. In contrast to historical norms, men now bear the brunt of divorce, often losing their children, their home, and substantial portions of their income, regardless of who is at fault for the divorce. In circumstances such as these, it's understandable for both men and women to hedge their bets and preserve their independence in marriage, because there's little confidence that the partner is going to really stick around.

However, within the context of a God-centered marriage, I believe it is possible for both the husband and the wife to grow in trust of each other, because of their mutual trust in God. I know that my wife, Jessica, isn't perfect, and she knows that I'm not either. Left to our own devices, it would be difficult or impossible to trust each other completely. However, complete trust is worth developing, and we're working on it. We each have faith that God has brought us into this marriage for a purpose, and that our spouse is our provision from God. Therefore, our acceptance of each other isn't based on how well we perform our marital duties or how we feel emotionally, but rather on God's will for our lives. This faith enables us to look past the problems or emotions of any particular moment and remember that our trust lies not in the other person, but in God. In this way, we are each able to give up our humanistic "rights" and instead direct our lives towards each others' betterment.

The alternative, I suppose, is pessimism, isolation, and a shallow, unfulfilling marriage like the one described by Bennetts. Nothing ventured, nothing gained....

Normal people are often confused by the vocabulary of computer scientists because we tend to use common words in very specific and precise ways. Some of the most frequent misunderstandings between computer scientists and others occur when discussing the concept of "difficulty" and how "hard" some task will be to accomplish. Below are some common terms, along with what they mean to computer scientists. You'll note that non-computer-scientists will often understand these terms entirely differently (and with less precision).

Cheap solution: A solution to a problem that will not take very long or cost very much to implement. Cheap solutions to non-trivial problems are often very difficult to think of. Some problems do not have any cheap solutions.

Expensive solution: A solution to a problem that will cost a lot of time or money to implement. Expensive solutions are often very easy to think of, but there are many degrees of expensiveness. Some solutions are so expensive that they are infeasible to implement, even if they're trivial to conceptualize.

Trivial Problems: Problems that are trivial have known solutions and are therefore inherently uninteresting. They've been solved before, and there's no doubt that a previous solution will be able to satisfy the current need. Ironically -- and contrary to common usage -- trivial solutions to a problem are often the most expensive and time-consuming; it's simple to solve a problem with brute-force. Some problems are themselves trivial, and every reasonable solution is uninteresting even if expensive. Examples of trivial problems: performing arithmetic, algebra, or calculus calculations; building a house; sweeping a sidewalk; writing a side-scrolling adventure game.

Easy Problems: Easy problems are those that are quite similar to trivial problems, but that will require known solutions to be tweaked and modified. There's a very high probability that a known solution can be successfully adapted to this new problem, but there are uncertainties that cannot be completely accounted for at the start. As with solutions to trivial problems, solutions to easy problems might still be very expensive to implemented. Examples of easy problems: applying existing artificial intelligence techniques to a new purpose; building a unique skyscraper in an unusual location; figuring out which mathematical formulas to apply to a particular problem.

Hard Problems: Hard problems have no known solutions, but are considered to be within the realm of possibility. There may be similar problems with known solutions that lead the scientist to believe that the hard problem under consideration can also be solved, but this is intuition, not certainty. Upon investigation, hard problems generally turn out to be either easy or impossible, but until some research is done you can't be sure. If a solution is found, it may be either cheap or expensive to implement, and this cost is often independent of how hard the solution was to find. Most people never encounter hard problems during the normal course of their lives. Examples of hard problems: deciding whether or not P=NP; analyzing the emergent effects of a complex adaptive system; building a skyscraper on Mars.

Impossible Problems: These problems have no solutions. It's important to note that impossible problems are not merely expensive to solve, they cannot be solved without a fundamental change to the laws of the universe or a complete revolution in our understanding of science. Sometimes problems are mistakenly categorized as impossible when they're actually not, and when a solution to a formerly-thought-to-be-impossible problem is discovered it is a very significant event. Impossible problems are generally considered to be a waste of time to pursue... but then breakthroughs are made occasionally. Many impossible problems are actually easy problems with impossible restrictions. Examples of impossible problems: finding the optimal route for a traveling salesman in less than exponential time; building a faster-than-light spaceship; finding the largest prime number.

Here's another amazing medical advance based on adult stem cell research: scientists have grown a heart valve from stem cells taken from bone marrow. It's important to note that to-date zero significant medical breakthroughs have resulted from embryonic stem cell research, in which a human being is killed and harvested for stem cells.

A British research team led by the world's leading heart surgeon has grown part of a human heart from stem cells for the first time. If animal trials scheduled for later this year prove successful, replacement tissue could be used in transplants for the hundreds of thousands of people suffering from heart disease within three years. ...

By using chemical and physical nudges, the scientists first coaxed stem cells extracted from bone marrow to grow into heart valve cells. By placing these cells into scaffolds made of collagen, Dr Chester and his colleague Patricia Taylor then grew small 3cm-wide discs of heart valve tissue. Later this year, that tissue will be implanted into animals - probably sheep or pigs - and monitored to see how well it works as part of a circulatory system.

If that trial works well, Prof Yacoub is optimistic that the replacement heart tissue, which can be grown into the shape of a human heart valve using specially-designed collagen scaffolds, could be used in patients within three to five years.

Growing a suitably-sized piece of tissue from a patient's own stem cells would take around a month but he said that most people would not need such individualised treatment. A store of ready-grown tissue made from a wide variety of stem cells could provide good matches for the majority of the population.

I've written about mechanical artificial hearts before, but growing a new biological heart from stem cells would be superior by leaps and bounds. It's also significant that growing and implanting a new heart would probably be easier, cheaper, and safer than complicated bypass operations that are often performed before a heart transplant is considered.

(Also see: growing a liver from stem cells.)

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