October 2007 Archives

David Brooks says that Americans are generally happy with their private lives but dissatisfied with the country at-large.

Researchers from Pew found that 65 percent of Americans are satisfied over all with their own lives — one of the highest rates of personal satisfaction in the world today.

On the other hand, Americans are overwhelmingly pessimistic about their public institutions. That same Pew survey found that only 25 percent of Americans are satisfied with the state of their nation. That 40-point gap between private and public happiness is the fourth-largest gap in the world — behind only Israel, Mexico and Brazil. ...

This happiness gap between the private and the public creates a treacherous political vortex. On the one hand, it means voters are desperate for change. On the other hand, they don’t want a change that will upset the lives they have built for themselves.

On the one hand, they want the country’s political leaders to take bold action. On the other hand, they are extremely cynical about those leaders and are unwilling to trust them with anything that seems risky. ...

These voters don’t believe government can lift their standard of living or lead a moral revival. They want a federal government that will focus on a few macro threats — terrorism, health care costs, energy, entitlement debt and immigration — and stay out of the intimate realms of life. They want a night watchman government that patrols the neighborhood without entering their homes.

Sounds about right to me. Amazing that this is also the federal government envisioned by our founding fathers.

Clinical trials will begin soon to test the hypothesis that tiny vibrations can stimulate stronger bones and reduced fat.

Dr. Rubin, director of the Center for Biotechnology at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, is reporting that in mice, a simple treatment that does not involve drugs appears to be directing cells to turn into bone instead of fat.

All he does is put mice on a platform that buzzes at such a low frequency that some people cannot even feel it. The mice stand there for 15 minutes a day, five days a week. Afterward, they have 27 percent less fat than mice that did not stand on the platform — and correspondingly more bone.

It can't be hard to build a vibrating platform and test this myself....

(HT: Nick.)

I don't think oil prices affect the stock market nearly as much as many people seem to think. Even still, oil is rather expensive right now and some energy experts expect prices to drop soon.

Here's how Littell sees it. Last year Saudi petrocrats thought demand would slacken at the same time that oil production rose from sources outside the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Nations. They cut back Saudi production from 9.5 million barrels a day in March 2006 to 8.5 million a year later in order to keep supply and demand balanced and crude prices hovering around $60 per barrel. ...

The Saudis hold the key to long-term oil prices since they are one of the few exporters--Kuwait and Abu Dhabi are the others--with the ability to increase production significantly. Littell says the Saudis realized their mistake and began pumping more oil in May. At the most recent opec meeting on Sept. 11 members agreed to boost production by another 500,000 barrels a day starting Nov. 1. That increase included a bump in the Saudi quota to 8.9 million barrels a day. ...

How long before we get some relief? It takes at least a week for the Saudis to complete the paperwork necessary to ship oil to new customers, including arranging letters of credit and other financial details. Then the oil rides in a ship across the Atlantic for 30 days. Add them together and Littell expects the impact of all that additional oil to hit U.S. markets in a couple of months or so. The Saudis "didn't plan on $80 oil," he says. "They wanted to keep it around $60 and did the wrong thing."

Other "experts" disagree, so your mileage may vary. The great thing about a free market is that it's a self-correcting system and doesn't require meddling by "experts" to reach a good solution.

Happy Halloween!

Am I the only one who thinks burnt Wheat Thins are the best crackers ever? I wish I could buy a whole box of them browned around the edges. Reduced Fat Cheez-Its are also good (better than the regular ones), but nothing can compare with burnt Wheat Thins. I like to dip them in cottage cheese.

This story about Congressional gridlock warms my heart.

This us-against-them mentality has been an ongoing storyline of the new Democratic­-controlled Congress. On the big items — Iraq, health care and spending — party leaders have shunned compromise.

Democrats are under tremendous pressure from liberal activists to take a hard-line approach against everything Bush. Republicans face similar pressure from their own base to stick with the president and prove they are serious about curtailing spending, even if it means less cash for a popular state-run health care program for children not covered by Medicaid. ...

The partisan deadlock is also creating more problems for the new majority. Rank-and-file Democrats have turned on their leaders this fall in a series of minor upheavals, forcing them to suspend consideration of bills to update warrantless wiretapping laws, reclassify the killing of ethnic Armenians almost a century ago, expand workplace protections for gays and lesbians and require all electronic voting machines to produce paper records.

Republicans, meanwhile, have done everything in their power to slow the legislative apparatus with the few procedural tools available to them.

It is possible, though unlikely, that the survival instinct will eventually force a behavioral change in the new Congress. Neither side wants a government shutdown, so it is likely they’ll cut a budget deal — even though conservatives are bracing for a showdown.

And to think that most people use "do-nothing Congress" as a pejorative!

Imagine a stadium, and the floor is covered in $100 bills. Your job is to pick up the money, and you can grab one bill per second. You work full-time, eight hours a day, five days a week, 52 weeks per year. Bill Gates still makes more than twice as much money than you.

What's the present value of your job? For a person who earns $50,000 per year after taxes, it would take approximately $1,000,000 invested in tax-free municipal bonds to replace their salary. However, (a) a job that earns $50,000 after-tax income is certainly worth less than (b) $1,000,000 for various obvious reasons:

- Compared to (a), (b) leaves you with at least 40 more hours of free time per week.

- (a) is somewhat fungible; if you leave one job , you can get hired to another similar job with varying degrees of ease. If you lose (b), it can take a lot of (a) to replace it.

- (a) generally ties you to a certain place. You can change jobs, but that will often necessitate many other changes in your life as well.

So how large of a lump sum would you require to quit your job tomorrow? I'd guess it would be less than twenty times your annual after-tax income, but how much less? If there are a lot of opportunities in your field and/or you don't like your job, you might quit for free... lots of people do, every day. So what about you? How much would it take to make you walk out the door?

John Baden explains why periodic downturns are important for a healthy economy. It would be nice if market participants always made smart decisions, but they don't, and downturns are part of how resources are reallocated to those who can manage them well.

Every successful society has devised ways of separating incompetent or systematically unlucky people from the control of valuable resources. (That's why civilized nations provide children and legally incompetent individuals with guardians and trustees.) This is an essential process for all but the most wealthy of nations, e.g., those cursed by great oil wealth. (This windfall wealth situation is the national analogue of individuals winning the lottery; a harbinger of bad things that follow the lack of a need to husband resources.)

A society's economic success is increased if it has sure and quick ways to accomplish this separation, however painful to those who suffer losses. While there will be political pressures to buffer folks from the consequences of economic folly or bad luck, it is socially dangerous to do so. Reality checks should have force, so that those who fail to prudently manage resources will not keep control over them.

We all benefit -- directly or indirectly -- when our civilization's resources are managed by the most competent among us.

As I've written before, the baby boomer generation often disgusts me with its lack of personal responsibility, and the generation's selfishness is nowhere more audacious than when it comes to Social Security. I can't explain it nearly as well as the Heritage Foundation, so go read about "How The Social Security Trust Fund Really Works". The key idea is this:

First, the Treasury estimates how much of the aggregate tax receipts are Social Security taxes and "credits" the Social Security trust fund with that amount. Then the Treasury "subtracts" the total amount paid in monthly Social Security benefits from the trust fund balance. No money actually changes hands; these are strictly accounting entries.

Any "money" remaining in the trust fund is converted into special-issue Treasury bonds, which are really nothing more than IOUs. In addition, the Treasury pays interest on the trust fund's balance by crediting the trust fund with additional IOUs. These are also strictly accounting entries, and again no money changes hands. After crediting the trust fund with the proper amount in IOUs, the government spends the extra Social Security tax collections just like any other tax revenue--to finance anything from aircraft carriers to education research.

There is no money in the "trust fund". Zero. Zilch. Nada. The only thing in the "trust fund" is a stack of IOUs, promising to repay the money that the baby boomer-controlled Congress has already spent on other crap.

What's the implication? Look at it this way: the baby boomers, via Congress, have already spent the money they contributed to Social Security. They've spent it on "anything from aircraft carriers to education research"... whatever they want. Guess who's going to have to repay those IOUs? They're going to start coming due around 2018 when Social Security is projected to start running a deficit; the people who will be forced to repay those IOUs are the taxpayers of 2018 and beyond... my generation!

So not only have the baby boomers saddled their children and grandchildren with the burden of supporting them during retirement, they've also spent all the surplus and replaced it with IOUs that their children and grandchildren will have to pay back. Starting in 2018, my generation will begin paying for all the crap our parents have been buying for decades.

Frankly, if I think about it too hard I just get angry. The dysfunction of the baby boomers knows no bounds, and as a generation they disgust, frighten, and enrage me. The baby boomers have consciously, purposefully, and systematically schemed to live far beyond their means and to leave their children and grandchildren mired in debt.

It's not exactly a high hurdle, but it's nice to see at least one major Democrat condemn the 9/11 conspiracy lunatics.

Now the Dems just need to get the stones to return the truthers' money....

It's pretty common for restaurant servers to make mistakes -- sometimes intentional -- when ringing up a bill. Since you typically write int the tip when you sign and you never see the bill again, it's easy for dishonest servers to bump up their tip, and most customers will never notice! Unless you go through your credit card statement and keep your receipts you'll have a hard time catching these thieves... but now there's a simpler way! Checksum your tips..

Adjust the amount of the tip so that the numbers in the final total to the left of the decimal point add up to the right-most digit. In this case, the total has a “51″ to the left of the decimal point (A). 5 + 1 = 6, so the final digit should be six. Adjust the total to $51.86 or $51.96 (B) by adding nine or subtracting one from the tip (C).

This way you don't need your receipts at-hand to glance through your credit card statement and catch most tip fraud. If you see a checksum that doesn't match, dig out the receipt (you keep all your receipts, right?) and call your credit card company to report the fraud. Then call the police.

(HT: GeekPress.)

I know woefully little about how cloth is made, so I enjoyed this history of textiles. Looms and spinning wheels are also interesting reads.

George R. R. Martin is releasing a new book at the end of the month, but it's not a continuation of his awesome A Song of Ice and Fire series... it's a short story anthology! I've actually read some of his short stories, and they were fun, but I'm not going to buy the books for one simple reason: I never finish short story anthologies. In fact, I'm convinced that no one ever does. You read one or two stories, then lose interest and move on to something else. Am I wrong?

Have you ever finished reading a short story anthology?
I've never started one
Free polls from Pollhost.com

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the Global War on Terror (at least the parts in Iraq and Afghanistan) will only cost each American $8,000 through 2017. I'm amazed that it's going to be so cheap, and the number demonstrates that complaints about the war's cost are completely baseless.

The money includes $604 billion already spent on the conflicts, CBO Director Peter Orszag told the House Budget Committee. It also includes over $400 for interest payments, as the operations have relied heavily on borrowed funds.

The figure would keep 75,000 troops deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2013 to 2017, just over a third of current deployment. The CBO estimates that reducing troop levels to 30,000 by 2010 would save $485 billion.

The figures include military operations, diplomatic operations, veterans' medical care and survivor benefits, among other costs. They do not include the Pentagon's normal spending, estimated at $450 billion for 2007.

Considering the yearly major terrorist attacks on American interests throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the Global War on Terror is an incredible bargain! Correct me if I'm wrong, but we haven't had a major terror attack against America since 9/11, which is the longest streak since Jimmy Carter gave Iran to the Islamofascists.

Of course, the heaviest price we're paying is measured in lives. The troops on the ground are risking and sacrificing a lot more than $533 per year, and we should all be grateful to them for it.

Commenters who poo-pooed my suggestion that the Southern California fires might be terror-related should remember than al Qaeda has expressed interest in using fires as weapons of terror.

PHOENIX (AP) — The FBI alerted law enforcement agencies last month that an al-Qaeda terrorist now in detention had talked of masterminding a plot to set a series of devastating forest fires around the western United States.

Rose Davis, a spokeswoman for the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, told The Associated Press that officials there took note of the warning but didn't see a need to act further on it. ...

The Republic reported that the detainee, who was not identified, said the plan involved three or four people setting wildfires using timed devices in Colorado, Montana, Utah and Wyoming that would detonate in forests and grasslands after the operatives had left the country.

If the SoCal fires turn out to have a terror connection (for which there is no evidence now that I'm aware of) perhaps the leftists in that region of the country will be more motivated to support the Global War on Terror.


At least one fire was caused by arson. Who are the most likely suspects?

ExtremePumpkins.com is a hit every Halloween. Enjoy!

It's ridiculous to prescribe birth control products to middle-schoolers against their parents' wishes, but what's particularly absurd is the proposed standard that's being used to justify the policy:

Committee members Rebecca Minnick and Susan Hopkins said they probably wouldn't vote to reduce the scope of reproductive health services provided at King. Other committee members couldn't be reached for comment Monday.

"If it saves one girl from getting pregnant too soon, it's worth it," Minnick said.

If that's the standard, then why not just put all the girls in chastity belts? Why not teach the kids about morality and what the Bible has to say about sex outside of marriage? If it saves just one girl.... you can justify almost anything!

Via Rachelle Kliger of The Media Line (no link available to the article itself) is this story of Christians being persecuted in Egypt.

Two Egyptian converts to Christianity engaged in a legal battle against the Egyptian authorities have gone missing, sparking fears for their lives.

Muhammad Hegazi and his pregnant wife Zeinab have both been missing since Monday, and they are not answering repeated calls to their cell phone, their attorney told The Media Line.

The lawyer, Ramsis Raouf A-Naggar, said it was unclear who was responsible for their disappearance. It could be a number of groups, including radical Muslims, terrorists or even the Egyptian police, A-Naggar said.

“He hadn’t left his home in a month,” the lawyer said, citing death threats.

After changing his faith from Islam to Christianity, Hegazi filed suit against the Egyptian government for refusing to recognize his new religion in his national identification card. ...

According to Open Doors, an organization representing persecuted Christians, conversion from one faith to another is permitted in Egypt, but the Interior Ministry refuses to issue new ID cards for Muslims who have converted to Christianity and these converts face persecution. As a result, the organization says many of these converts are forced into hiding.

I hope the Hegazis are safe, and that their bravery will highlight the dangers facing Christians worldwide.

In response to my recent post about the "silver tsunami" of Social Security, a reader sent in this story (slightly edited):

I like reading your site, but one thing you have to know is that investments can disappear faster than you can say Ala Kazam, in family court. I don't have a PhD. Just a Journeyman's Card as a Toolmaker that I parlayed into a $180,000 salary in 1998. Married 34 years, having put my daughter and wife through college, with $350,000 in the bank I thought I was in good shape when I got laid off at the ripe old age of 56. That was when my bride left and I could not find a job at half the salary. Taking a position at $62,000 during my divorce was a big mistake because it established my alimony at $1,300 per month. The court gave my CPA ex-wife all my IRA, all my 401k and another $40,000 for good measure. Two weeks after 9/11, I was laid off again and have not worked a steady job since. Sure I fought it, to the tune of $50,000 in lawyer fees before I filed bankruptcy. Now I'm living on $1,568 per month from Social Security. So much for saving for the future. I don't like the SS system either, but until the family court starts seeing women with advanced degrees as able to support themselves, I'm glad to see that check each month.

I then asked him whether or not Social Security payments can be taken as alimony.

Yes, SS can be taken. As soon as my bankruptcy was final last spring the "Friend of the Court" notified me that they were investigating my ability to pay. After two court hearings in which they advocated for my paying this CPA ex of mine, I was able to show my income as being low and the Ex signed a stipulation that nobody has to pay in July. The FOC has still not closed the file. You can check out Nathanson and Young for an explanation of how men are being treated and why you are amazed. Most men don't know, but they have a feeling that something is wrong. Young men are not very excited about getting married.

BTW, I'm now married to a Russia woman with 2 PhD's. She is not corrupted with the misandry of the west, but she believes in equality. She said that Stalin told the women they were equal "So, get off your butt and get to work!"

I don't have much to add to that.

Yesterday was Jessica's and my second anniversary, and I love her with everything I've got in me. I pray for God's grace that we never end up like that.

Here are some satellite pictures of the various ongoing fires in Southern California, including the Malibu fire. These were taken on October 21, 2007, and you can see how quickly the fires are spreading.


I wouldn't be surprised if there were a terrorist connection to these fires... if they weren't set by terrorists on purpose, the fires could still be a deadly distraction from a terrorist operation.


The first baby boomer has applied for Social Security, signalling the beginning of the end of the system as a whole.

Social Security Commissioner Michael Astrue called it "America's silver tsunami."

Kathleen Casey-Kirschling applied for benefits over the Internet at an event hosted by Astrue. Casey-Kirschling was born one second after midnight on Jan. 1, 1946, making her the first baby boomer — a generation of nearly 80 million born from 1946 to 1964, Astrue said.

"She's leading the way for her generation," Astrue told reporters.

Despite being a teacher for 14 years, Casey-Kirschling doesn't seem to really understand the difficulties facing Social Security.

Casey-Kirschling said her generation won't let Social Security fail.

"I think the baby boomers will want to get this fixed," she said. "They're going to want to take care of their children and their grandchildren."

The only thing the boomers can do to save Social Security is to refuse to accept benefits from it. Most likely by "fix" Casey-Kirschling means that her generation is willing to vote to raise taxes on the rest of us to patch up the program.

Despite the common misperception, current beneficiaries are not supported by their own contributions to Social Security, but rather by current workers. The taxes my generation pays to Social Security go towards supporting the baby boomers, not ourselves, and the baby boomers will make absolutely no contribution towards my Social Security benefits (if any). Their generous willingness to raise taxes on other people is absurd and highlights the selfishness of the boomer generation. I wish the Associated Press and other news organizations would do the basic reporting required to explain how the system actually works to their readers, rather than just quoting ignorant retirees.

If Casey-Kirschling and her generation really want to help their children and grandchildren, they should refuse to accept benefits from Social Security and instead provide for their own retirement. Yes, via Social Security the boomers' parents took advantage of them, but someone needs to break the cycle of current workers supporting current retirees. It would be noble of the baby boomers to take the first step.

But I'll be back tonight and regular posting will resume. For security reasons I don't broadcast my vacations in advance. Your loyal patronage is appreciated!

The pseudonymous Spengler writes of the Jews' unique love for life and puts words to the attitude that I myself try to maintain. My outward cynicism is really just a facade, and I wonder sometimes if I've got some unrevealed Jewish heritage....

As for the ordinary sort of life, the Jews tell nastier jokes about it than anyone else. But even in the banal sort of jokes that they tell to one another, the Jews take the perpetuity of their existence to be self-evident. One joke that circulates in many versions involves two elderly Jews deep in conversation. One says, "Life is so painful, joy is so short, pain is so long, that we would be better off dead than alive!" The second Jew says, "You are right." The first adds, "Even better than to be dead would never to be born!" To which the second responds, "But who has such luck? Not one in ten thousand!" Here is an existential version of Parmenides' paradox, which states that everything must be part of a giant unity (because non-being cannot exist: the moment you say the word "non-being", you refer to a something, and something must have being, etc). So self-evident is existence to the Jews that even the wish for oblivion implies existence.

Even Jewish humor expresses a faith in Jewish eternity so vivid that the opposite is unimaginable. That is the sort of faith that moves not only mountains, but continents. The enormous influence of this tiny people, which now comprises barely 15 million individuals, stems entirely from this unshakable belief in its own eternity. Paradoxically, Jewish existence exercises a great gravitational pull on Christian faith. As the great German-Jewish theologian Franz Rosenzweig wrote:

That Christ is more than idea - no Christian can know this. But that Israel is more than an idea, the Christian knows, because he sees it. For we live. We are eternal, not in the way that an idea might be eternal, but we are eternal in full reality, if eternal we be at all. And thus we are the one thing that Christians cannot doubt. The parson argued conclusively in response to Frederick the Great's question about the proofs for Christianity: "Your Majesty, the Jews." The Christians can have no doubt about us. Our presence stands surety for their truth ... The continuing life of Judaism through all time, the Judaism witnessed in the Old Testament, to which it also bears living witness, is the unique kernel, whose glow invisibly nourishes the rays [of Christianity], which through Christianity breaks visibly and multiply-refracted into the night of the pagan world.

Perhaps my world-view is Jewish-like because of the time I've devoted to studying the Bible, including what we Christians call the Old Testament? In any event, Spengler has a way of putting my thoughts into words.

Wired has a compelling story about Alex Roy and his quest for the cross-country time record, trying to race from New York to Santa Monica in less than 32 hours and 7 minutes.

And so the clock starts and the taillights flare, and they're off again, strapped down, fueled up, and bound on an outlaw enterprise with 2,795 miles of interstate and some 31,000 highway cops between them and the all-time speed record for crossing the American continent on four wheels.

The gear is all bought and loaded. Twenty packs of Nat Sherman Classic Light cigarettes, check. Breath mints, check. Glucose and guarana, Visine and riboflavin, Gatorade and Red Bull, mail-order porta-pissoir bags of quick-hardening gel, check.

Randolph highway patrol sunglasses, 20-gallon reserve fuel tank, Tasco 8 x 40 binoculars fitted with a Kenyon KS-2 gyro stabilizer, military spec Steiner 7 x 50 binoculars, Hummer H1-style bumper-mounted L-3 Raytheon NightDriver thermal camera and LCD dashboard screens, front-and-rear-mounted sensors for a Valentine One radar/laser detector, flush bumper-mount Blinder M40 laser jammers, redundant Garmin StreetPilot 2650 GPS units, preprogrammed Uniden police radio scanners, ceiling-mount Uniden CB radio with high-gain whip antenna. Check. Check. Check.

His various attempts are illegal and extremely dangerous, but it's hard not to root for his sense of adventure.

(HT: Nick.)

Via JV is a plan to cover Chernobyl in steel to provide long-term containment.

The authorities in Ukraine have approved a giant steel cover for the radioactive site of the world's worst nuclear disaster - Chernobyl.

Ukraine has hired a French firm to build the structure to replace the crumbling concrete casing put over the reactor after the 1986 accident.

The casing project is expected to cost $1.4bn (£700m).

It will take five years to complete and the authorities say they will then be able to start dismantling the reactor.


Maybe dealing with Chernobyl will help exorcise the demons that have hindered nuclear power in the US for so long.

Another exciting chapter in British socialized medicine: people pulling their own teeth because the National Health Service is such a miserable failure.

Some English people have resorted to pulling out their own teeth because they cannot find -- or cannot afford -- a dentist, a major study has revealed.

Six percent of those questioned in a survey of 5,000 patients admitted they had resorted to self-treatment using pliers and glue, the UK's Press Association reported. ...

One respondent in Lancashire, northern England, claimed to have extracted 14 of their own teeth with a pair of pliers. In Liverpool, one of those collecting data for the survey interviewed three people who had pulled out their own teeth in one morning.

"I took most of my teeth out in the shed with pliers. I have one to go," another respondent wrote.

Others said they had fixed broken crowns using glue to avoid costly dental work.

Valerie Halsworth, 64, told British television's GMTV she had removed seven of her own teeth using her husband's pliers when her toothache became unbearable and she was unable to find an NHS dentist willing to treat her.

Halsworth admitted that the first extraction had been "excruciatingly painful." But she added: "It got that painful that I just had to do something... When you have taken a tooth out... the pain has gone."

I trust the American people aren't naive enough to follow suit....

Having observed the incontestable success of Boston's Big Dig California is now considering it's own underground Irvine-Corona Expressway. What could go wrong?

This winter, test borings are expected to begin for one of the most audacious tunnel projects ever proposed. One concept calls for a set of three tunnels—two for cars and one for both trucks and high-speed light rail—that would stretch for 12 miles, burrowing beneath the Santa Ana mountain range, and carrying up to 70,000 cars a day between California’s Riverside and Orange counties. The route would run in the same general direction as the 91 freeway, which is one of the most congested thoroughfares in the country. Once completed, it would be the longest traffic tunnel in North America, ahead of Boston’s comparatively puny 3.5-mile Big Dig.

The tunnel proposal, currently called the Irvine-Corona Expressway, has been making the rounds for seven years. It was first studied officially by the Riverside County Transportation Commission in June 2004, and its future now depends on those test borings. If the ground soil and bedrock contain too much water, tunneling could be deemed overly difficult. For opponents of the project, water content is the least of the expressway’s problems. For example, the massive tunnels would cross multiple fault lines, but none of them are active. ...

If the borings hold up, and the project survives an extensive chain of reviews, construction could last until 2023, with a price tag of at least $5.8 billion.

The Big Dig ended up costing five times its original estimate, so don't be surprised if this new Expressway ends up clocking in around $30 billion.

Am I against the project? I'm neutral. Serious steps need to be taken to mitigate Los Angeles' traffic problems, but I'm not sure this sort of project is the most cost-effective. I'm very much in favor of building new freeways, but why not also put some effort into encouraging the region's illegal aliens to return to their homelands? That alone would reduce the number of vehicles on the roads by 25% (not to mention reducing congestion in the schools, emergency rooms, etc.). Vegetables might get more expensive, but $5.8 billion is a lot of lettuce.

Here are some instructions, pictures, and videos of a nifty mineral oil-cooled computer in an aquarium. It would be a lot of fun to build such a thing, though it would be hard to transport.


The blur near the left side of the image is a stream of bubbles they used to help cool the mineral oil. And for decoration!

(HT: Jimmy.)

Have any of you had LASIK laser eye surgery? I haven't, and I doubt I ever will considering the risks of LASIK surgery. According to Wikipedia (for whatever it's worth) there's a 3% - 6% incidence of "unresolved complications" six months after surgery. That sounds too high of a risk to take with my eyes. Am I wrong?

Comments may have been broken for a little while, but they should be fixed now. Somehow MT's CGIPath got set to a wrong value. If you still have problems, clear your cache and reload the page.

I've driven through the tunnel of the I-5 with the truck inferno dozens of times, and it's really sad to see such a major accident there. The highways around Los Angeles are stretched to the breaking point, and unfortunately the transport truck drivers aren't always very careful in their hurry to make deliveries.

I hope there aren't any more fatalities, and that California quits wasting money on nonsense and gets busy upgrading its infrastructure.

Deroy Murdock explains why social conservatives shouldn't write-off Rudy. I basically agree with him, though Giuliani isn't my ideal candidate.

(HT: Instapundit.)

Here's a really cool experiment that demonstrates how neuroticism can pay off.

They say the meek shall inherit the earth, but these experiments with emotional computer programs (pdf) suggest it may actually be the neurotic. And that they'll probably take it rapidly by military force.

The Austrian researchers want games to be more engaging by having emotional, not just coolly calculating, computer players. Instead of just challenging your rational planning and decision skills, you'll have use your emotional intelligence too.

They created aggressive, defensive, normal and neurotic versions of the AI software in the war strategy game Age of Mythology, drawing on "the big five" emotional dimensions to personality recognised by psychologists.

The bots are able to switch between states of pleasure, pain, clarity, and confusion in response to events. The strength of particular emotional changes is related to the overall personality.

The neurotic bot was more likely than the others to distort hard facts about resources - like the amount of timber around - and flip between extremes of behaviour. And it was better than the rest.

I think it's more likely that unpredictable and varying strategies trump consistent strategies, rather than that neuroticism is inherently advantageous. Neurotic behavior can reduce the chance of getting caught on the losing end of a pattern, but it won't take advantage when the player has the upper hand.

As commenter Shannon Love writes:

I suspect the neurotic AI my prosper by virtue of its unpredictability.

Other AI's make decision largely based on evidence which in turn means that another player can come to a similar conclusion based on the same conditions and predict what the AI will consider the optimum strategy.

The neurotic AI,however, attaches arbitrary fictional weights to various inputs making it difficult for others to predict it actions based on the same inputs.

You see the same thing in chess in which a novice player defeats more skilled one by virtue of making sub-optimal moves the skilled player does not even consider.

An expert chess player, however, will beat a novice every time. What this experiment really shows is that the non-neurotic AIs just aren't very good.

A few junior Republican representatives in the House are proffering a flatter, simpler tax plan that would give citizens a choice as to whether or not to continue filing under the existing system or to use the new system.

Those taxpayers presumably would accept this offer: give up all your current deductions, and your annual earnings up to $100,000 would be taxed at 10 percent, with a 25 percent rate on everything above that. But that is not all. The bill would repeal the hated Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT), giving up $840 billion in revenue over the next 10 years. Government would have to get leaner.

There's also a standard exemption of around $39,000 for a family of four, so a family might really only be taxed 10% on income between that and $100,000. No other deductions though, apparently.

Allowing taxpayers to make individual choices as to whether to join the new plan or stay with the old is a nice feature, and should reduce the carping from people who don't want to lose their mortgage interest deductions and so forth.

No information in the article about how capital gains would be treated in the new system.

All sorts of cool graphics datasets from NASA's Earth Observatory. You can even build custom animations!


Different but also spacey images: pictures from moonwalks.

Peter W. Huber has written an insightful and compelling explanation of how science is killing socialized medicine, no matter what our politicians may be saying now.

But we’re now past the days when infectious diseases were the dominant killers, and heart attacks and lung cancer seemed to strike as randomly as germs. And insurance looks altogether different when your neighbor’s problem is a persistent failure to take care of himself. Many people willing to share the burden of bad luck eventually tire of sharing the cost of bad behavior.

The new medicine certainly hasn’t banished luck completely—molecules don’t predict car accidents and can’t yet cure Huntington’s disease, cystic fibrosis, or many rare cancers. A widely shared sense of common decency also impels protection of children and the elderly. In between, however, the unifying interest in health insurance is surely the sense that anyone can be struck out of the blue by a ruinously expensive health catastrophe. And step by relentless step, molecular medicine is taking luck out of the picture.

Now consider what that does to insurance economics. Most critics of the status quo focus on the more manageable of the two core problems that health insurers now face: runaway cost. But the real problem is that for many people, health care is getting cheaper. This is what makes actuaries wake up screaming in the night: disease is coming out of the closet, and the new medicine splits health-care economics in two. For the health conscious, skipping the Cherry Garcia may be difficult, but it’s cheap, and Lipitor at almost any price is much cheaper than a heart attack. The health careless skip only the pill, not the ice cream, and end up in desperate need of what helps the least and costs the most. Doctors, hospitals, and scalpels summoned late in the day cost far more, and accomplish far less, than chemistry tuned to the point where there’s never plaque to cut.

No one-size, one-price insurance scheme can keep people happy forever on both sides of this ever-widening divide. Aetna can’t offer uniform coverage to individuals who face radically different risks, and who know it, too. Governments can’t, either.

Medical advances have eliminated many of the health threats that all humanity had in common, and eventually the health-conscious will start refusing to be lumped in with the un-health-conscious and will refuse to continue sharing the financial burden for their last-minute health care.

Read to the end of the article for a good explanation of why government-regulated drug price ceilings stifle innovation and push health care costs up and quality down.

Even though we may now have a name for it, I don't think that the "Odyssey" stage of life is fundamentally new. Young people have always not know what they want from life -- what's new is that they can get away without picking something for long periods of time. This may lead to more optimal choices when they're eventually made, or it may just waste time. Your mileage may vary.

There used to be four common life phases: childhood, adolescence, adulthood and old age. Now, there are at least six: childhood, adolescence, odyssey, adulthood, active retirement and old age. Of the new ones, the least understood is odyssey, the decade of wandering that frequently occurs between adolescence and adulthood.

During this decade, 20-somethings go to school and take breaks from school. They live with friends and they live at home. They fall in and out of love. They try one career and then try another.

Their parents grow increasingly anxious. These parents understand that there’s bound to be a transition phase between student life and adult life. But when they look at their own grown children, they see the transition stretching five years, seven and beyond. The parents don’t even detect a clear sense of direction in their children’s lives. They look at them and see the things that are being delayed.

They see that people in this age bracket are delaying marriage. They’re delaying having children. They’re delaying permanent employment. People who were born before 1964 tend to define adulthood by certain accomplishments — moving away from home, becoming financially independent, getting married and starting a family.

In 1960, roughly 70 percent of 30-year-olds had achieved these things. By 2000, fewer than 40 percent of 30-year-olds had done the same.

This may all be for the good. Perhaps some "mid-life crises" will be avoided if young people aren't forced by circumstance to make decisions they aren't comfortable with. On the other hand, some people may never make decisions without a kick in the pants, and those people will likely suffer. As with most societal changes, some win and some lose.

A brief note about why the Odyssey stage has become possible: Western Civilization's vast, nearly incomprehensible wealth. Wealth creates choices, and new choices inevitably lead to momentary indecision. As with most societal changes provoked by wealth, I expect this one will turn out to have more upside than down.

(HT: Nick.)

Why does our government insist on giving tax dollars away to fools? As I noted before, it's funny that a foreclosed mortgage creates taxable income, but why should the government take my money by force to give it to people foolish enough to get themselves into that mess?

The House passed this bill that is intended to provide tax relief to the increasing amount of people who have lost their homes due to foreclosure. Debt that is forgiven after a mortgage foreclosure or renegotiation is considered income for tax purposes under current law, creating a tax burden for people who can no longer afford to own a house. The bill excludes the amount of debt forgiven from income if the house was a primary residence and extends the deduction for private mortgage insurance into 2014. Proponents of the bill believe it will help alleviate the national problem with foreclosures.

How about giving a tax break to those of us who make smart financial decisions?

Proverbs 17:16

Of what use is money in the hand of a fool, since he has no desire to get wisdom?

Handing out money doesn't do much to actually solve problems, but our society is so crippled by political correctness that we're unwilling to call out fools when we see them and point them towards wisdom.

I'm stunned that Sandy-Pants Berger is working for Hillary Clinton... here's some advice he might give her: don't steal secret documents from the National Archives, stuff them in your pants, walk out with them, hide them in a construction site, come back later to recover the documents, take them home, and shred them.

Counterpoint: Actually, why not do that? You'll get at most a slap on the wrist and a couple-year vacation before being right back on Capitol Hill, potentially advising yet another President Clinton! It's win-win-win! The only real issue is whether or not Hillary will have to modify the technique to hide secret documents up her skirt.

Seriously though, can anyone -- even supporters of Clinton -- really justify hiring Sandy-Pants Berger back into a position where he will have access to national security information?

Bill Sammon's summary is concise and damning:

[Sandy-Pants] Berger has admitted stealing documents from the National Archives in advance of the 9/11 Commission hearings in 2003. The documents, written by White House counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke, were a “tough review” of the Clinton administration’s shortcomings in dealing with terrorism, Clarke’s lawyer told the Washington Post.

On several occasions, [Sandy-Pants] Berger stuffed highly classified documents into his pants and socks before spiriting them out of the Archives building in Washington, according to investigators. On one occasion, upon reaching the street, he hid documents under a construction trailer after checking the windows of the Archives and Justice Department buildings to make sure he was not being watched.

[Sandy-Pants] Berger came back later and retrieved the documents, taking them home and cutting them up with scissors. Two days later, he was informed by Archive employees that his removal of documents had been detected.

“[Sandy-Pants] Berger panicked because he realized he was caught,” said a report by the National Archives inspector general, which also recounted his initial reaction. “[Sandy-Pants] Berger lied.”

[Sandy-Pants] Berger also lied to the public, telling reporters he made an “honest mistake” by “inadvertently” taking the documents, which he blamed on his own “sloppiness.” Bill Clinton vouched for the explanation for [Sandy-Pants] Berger, who served as his national security adviser.

[Sandy-Pants] Berger later conceded: “I was giving a benign explanation for what was not benign.”

The Justice Department initially said [Sandy-Pants] Berger stole only copies of classified documents and not originals. But the House Government Reform Committee later revealed that an unsupervised [Sandy-Pants] Berger had been given access to classified files of original, uncopied, uninventoried documents on terrorism. Several Archives officials acknowledged that [Sandy-Pants] Berger could have stolen any number of items and they “would never know what, if any, original documents were missing.”

At his sentencing in September 2005, [Sandy-Pants] Berger was fined $50,000, placed on probation for two years and stripped of his security clearance for three years.

Sandy-Pants Berger is a national disgrace, and both the Justice Department and the media are shameful for not pressing him on the contents of the original uncopied documents that he stole. He has never been called on to testify as to the contents of those documents, and no media organization has spent a dime investigating his behavior. Sandy-Pants Berger should be cast out of public life and shunned as a traitorous pariah.


Columbus Day: Welcome to America

Victor Davis Hanson writes about Iraq's bounty and it strikes me that the nation could one day be a California of the Middle East (in the positive sense):

Iraq is not a poor country. Flying over the Tigris-Euphrates valley (I speak now a farmer) is unlike anything in Kuwait or Saudi Arabia. The soil is rich, the water plentiful and the dry climate perfect for intensive agriculture. That the country in theory within a year or two could pump well over three million barrels of petroleum a day, gives some indication of just how badly Iraq has been run the last forty years to screw up such natural bounty of a country—the Baathist-terror state, the attack on Iran, the massacres of Kurdish and Shiite innocents, the 1991 Gulf War, the no-fly zones and UN embargo, et al.

If we civilian Americans don't lose our nerve I wouldn't be surprised to see Iraq in 2050 as wealthy, vibrant, and friendly as modern Japan.

I've got a steep slope in my backyard and I'm concerned about erosion, so I'm going to build a short retaining wall this afternoon. I've read directions several times but I've never done it before, so it should be a challenge. Assuming it goes well, I need to build another wall on the same slope for a terrace effect, and that should considerably slow the erosion. Wish me luck!


Mission accomplished! Pictures to follow, when I find my camera.

Update 2:

Pictures after the jump!

Yes, this is science I guess... though whatever researcher conceived this study should go down in history for his chutzpa. Strippers earn more tips when most fertile.

Researchers also found that women who take the birth control pill make less in tips overall than women who do not take the pill, $37 an hour versus $53 an hour, respectively.

For their research, psychologist Geoffrey Miller and colleagues visited local gentlemen's clubs and counted tips made on lap dances.

Click here to read the Psychology Today study

Dancers made about $70 an hour during their peak period of fertility, versus about $35 while menstruating and $50 in between. Researchers attributed the fluctuation in tips to the changes in body odor, waist-to-hip ratio and facial features that occur throughout a woman's cycle.

Uh, comments?

The citizens of Durham, North Carolina, demanded pandering from their candidates for office, and that pandering led directly to the horribly corrupt rape prosecution of the three Duke lacrosse players. The pandering required by voters in this case was racial, but that's hardly the only kind of motivation for corruption that we citizens force upon our politicians.

Three former Duke lacrosse players falsely accused of rape have filed a federal civil lawsuit against several defendants, including former District Attorney Mike Nifong and the city of Durham. ...

The players maintain their rights were violated in the yearlong investigation, in which they were indicted, then later declared innocent, of allegations that they raped, sexually assaulted and beat an exotic dancer at a team party.

Last month, civil attorneys for Evans, Finnerty and Seligmann met with the city's attorney and gave the city until early October to respond to a reported $30 million settlement to avoid the suit.

Neither Durham Mayor Bill Bell nor City Manager Patrick Baker would comment on the lawsuit and referred all questions to the city's attorney.

The settlement money, well-deserved, will come from the pockets of the Durham citizens who demanded the pandering that led to the corruption. We citizens need to carefully consider the consequences of the demands we make of our politicians, because in the long run we'll reap what we sow.

If the MySky GPS Star Tracker works as advertised, I must get one... or even better, one of my friends must shell out the $400 and then let me borrow it. In a few years it will be affordable, and hopefully they'll add a Pokemon-like collect-em-all mode so you can keep track of the stars you've... tracked.

Ann Coulter has taken my 19th Amendment thought experiment from 2003 to the next level and actually suggests that we'd all be better off it women couldn't vote.

If we took away women's right to vote, we'd never have to worry about another Democrat president. It's kind of a pipe dream, it's a personal fantasy of mine, but I don't think it's going to happen. And it is a good way of making the point that women are voting so stupidly, at least single women.

It also makes the point, it is kind of embarrassing, the Democratic Party ought to be hanging its head in shame, that it has so much difficulty getting men to vote for it. I mean, you do see it’s the party of women and 'We’ll pay for health care and tuition and day care -- and here, what else can we give you, soccer moms?'

As I wrote long ago, it's an interesting thought experiment (and many women were against womens' suffrage at the time) but I'm not sure we can really use such a broad counterfactual to draw credible conclusions. After all, Communism and Fascism came from men, as do tyrannies of all sorts. Perhaps denying suffrage to women would have led to a more libertarian government but also undermined our foundation of democracy and thereby led to less stability and eventual tyranny? Who can say.

I love my Nintendo DS Lite. It is super-rad. At the moment the only DS games I have are Brain Age 2 (which came with the system and got old fast) and Etrian Odyssey (which is extremely fun). I've also been buying Game Boy Advance games off eBay for a few bucks a pop, and they're fun too. The NDS is the best system I've seen in a long time, and I'm very glad I bought it.

Yeah, the market is doing great. I've been buying into the bear for this whole downturn, and in the short-term at least things are going well again. Obviously they'll go down again at some point and others can wag their fingers at me, but I'm optimistic.

An interesting study whose results are presented as "men worry less than women" could easily be cast in the other direction.

A U.S. study found females more likely think negative events predict future events and this may explain why women perceive more risk and have more anxiety.

The study, published in Child Development, found that children and adults believe negative past events forecast negative future events, however, young girls and women more likely to believe negative past events predict future harm, compared to males.

But sometimes negative events do lead to more negative events, and "worry" is well-deserved. I think the study results would be more accurately reported if a word other than "worry" (which carries a negative connotation for the "worrier") were used.

Despite a strong aversion to "nation building", I can't help but feel that we could do a little "guiding" by dropping a few bombs on or around Burma's military tyrants.

Thousands of protesters are dead and the bodies of hundreds of executed monks have been dumped in the jungle, a former intelligence officer for Burma's ruling junta has revealed.

The most senior official to defect so far, Hla Win, said: "Many more people have been killed in recent days than you've heard about. The bodies can be counted in several thousand."

Mr Win, who spoke out as a Swedish diplomat predicted that the revolt has failed, said he fled when he was ordered to take part in a massacre of holy men. He has now reached the border with Thailand.

What would happen if we just dropped a couple of bombs in some fields near a few Burmese military or police bases and told them that the next time they massacred civilians we'd make sure we didn't miss? I doubt the military junta would have their orders obeyed for very long.

Via JV is a link to The Columnar/Tube Cape in Russia, a very strange geological formation of columnar basalt, probably made by aliens or antediluvians.

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