April 2008 Archives

This is pretty amazing if it's true... "extra-cellular matrix" powder that can regrow a fingertip. With pictures, some gruesome.

Scientists are claiming an amazing breakthrough - regrowing a man's severed finger with the aid of an experimental powder.

Four weeks after Lee Spievack sliced almost half an inch off the top of one of his fingers, he said it had grown back to its original length.

Four months later it looked like any other finger, complete with "great feeling", a fingernail and fingerprint.

I'm skeptical, but hey, if it's real then it's an amazing breakthrough. I'm sure we'll hear more about this "pixie dust".


Looks like my skepticism was justified.

But Professor Stephen Kaye, a consultant plastic and hand surgeon at Leeds University, poured cold water on Dr Badylak's claims.

Asked if he was surprised that Mr Spievack's finger "grew back" he said: "Not in the slightest."

Prof Kaye added: "The pictures I've seen on the web show a wound I would have expected to heal and regenerate in any case.

"The end of the finger is extremely good at regeneration. The pictures we've seen on the web show no evidence of loss of bone, nerve or tendon material, but regeneration and repair of skin - which is exactly what the fingertip does."

He added that the photographs appeared to portray a "very commonplace transverse amputation of the very end of the fingertip" and not someone who had lost the last phalanx of his finger, as Dr Badylak claimed.

Well yeah, if there was no loss of bone, nerve, or tendon, then the regrowth is much less interesting.

This stuff is child's play for an expert blogger such as myself, but I feel obligated to fan the flames as Barack Obama is hoisted by his own petard. Here's Obama in his "Lincolnesque" speech on race from March 18th, 2008.

And this helps explain, perhaps, my relationship with Reverend Wright. As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me. He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptized my children. Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms, or treat whites with whom he interacted with anything but courtesy and respect. He contains within him the contradictions - the good and the bad - of the community that he has served diligently for so many years.

I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community.

And here's Obama disowning Jeremiah Wright yesterday, April 29th.

"At a certain point, if what somebody says contradicts what you believe so fundamentally, and then he questions whether or not you believe it in front of the National Press Club, then that's enough," Obama said.

"That's a show of disrespect to me. It is also, I think, an insult to what we've been trying to do in this campaign.''

"I am outraged by the comments that were made and saddened over the spectacle that we saw.''

Perhaps it's fitting to let Jeremiah Wright have the last word:

We both know that, if Senator Obama did not say what he said, he would never get elected.”

Politicians say what they say and do what they do based on electability, based on sound bites, based on polls, Huffington, whoever’s doing the polls. Preachers say what they say because they’re pastors. They have a different person to whom they’re accountable.

John Derbyshire shows us how to build a treehouse, with pictures! I've always wanted to build one... my wife doesn't understand why, but maybe these pictures will explain it.

In the wake of last year's catastrophic failure in AIDS vaccine research (in which vaccine recipients actually had a slightly increased incidence of contracting the disease) it's eminently reasonable to consider other approaches to the problem. Considering the gazillions of dollars we've invested into AIDS vaccine research with no benefit, why not try redirecting our money away from the failing scientists and simply pay people not to get AIDS?

Thousands of people in Africa will be paid to avoid unsafe sex, under a groundbreaking World Bank-backed experiment aimed at halting the spread of Aids.

The $1.8m trial – to be launched this year – will counsel 3,000 men and women aged 15-30 in southern rural Tanzania over three years, paying them on condition that periodic laboratory test results prove they have not contracted sexually transmitted infections.

The proposed payments of $45 equate to a quarter of annual income for some participants.

The programme, jointly funded by the World Bank, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Population Reference Bureau and the Spanish Impact Evaluation Fund, marks an important step in the fight to tackle Aids, which claims 2m lives a year.

In spite of billions of dollars spent annually on treatment and prevention worldwide, there were about 2.5m new HIV infections in 2007, predominantly in Africa.

Carol Medlin from the University of California, San Francisco, one of the researchers, said: “We hope this ‘reverse prostitution’ will make people think hard about the long-term consequences of their short-term behaviour.”

Sounds worth a shot. It would be surprising to me if a few dollars would provide much additional incentive to avoid a fatal disease, but then it's surprising to me that anyone contracts AIDS from sex or drug use anymore. If these payments reduce the infection rate by even 1% then they'll be more effective than all the research into AIDS vaccines thus far.

I predict that over the next 5-10 years our society will need to address what will grow into a major controversy: should we dig up Albert Einstein (and other famous scientists, historical figures, etc.) and clone them? It's likely that we'll be able to extract sufficient DNA from Einstein's corpse to create a clone of him who could grow from infancy into a normal adult. Presumably Einstein's heirs could veto such an effort (if they wanted to), but what about cloning George Washington. Who has a legitimate claim on his DNA now, hundreds of years after his death?

It may sound silly to us in 2008, but we'll be addressing this issue within our lifetimes.

Yesterday I wrote that software engineering is one of the most mentally challenging tasks that humans perform, and this article about optimistic programming might help non-programmers understand why.

I remain astonished that so many developers continue to write code that assumes relations like1+1=2 are true. In fact, 1+1=0fe23b9, sometimes. Or -65535. Or any of innumerable other values.

1+1=2 only when everything works perfectly. Do your programs work perfectly all of the time? The evidence suggests that most of us create imperfect code. Lots and lots of bugs.

Yet when writing the code, we labor under the assumption that there will be no bugs. Bugs are largely treated reactively: Chase 'em down when they appear rather than anticipate how they may arise and appropriately taking defensive action.

1+1!=2 if any of the parameters are globals and a reentrancy problem stomps on part of a value. Badly encapsulated data has the same problem. A null pointer passed to a summing function can return utterly unpredictable results.

Apparently, gauged by the code I see, none of us has ever dereferenced a null pointer.

Computer programs are literally chaotic systems: they are deterministic (i.e., they do exactly what you tell them to, every time) and tiny changes can have wide-ranging effects (change of a single bit will completely alter the behavior of the program). Not only are there an infinite number of errors that could occur, there are an infinite number of right ways to reach a goal as well. Navigating between these two infinities is hard. A program may have bugs that only appear once every thousand years, or bugs that result in very subtle output errors that are difficult to notice. Oftentimes a programmer will see an erroneous result but be unable to find the place in the code that's causing it.

One of the simpler problems to explain to a non-engineer is the halting problem. Everyone has experienced it: you're using a program and it suddenly becomes non-responsive: it crashes, goes into an infinite loop, or otherwise just stops responding to you. These are all examples of a halt, and the halting problem is the question of whether or not it's possible to determine if a particular program will ever halt. More formally:

Given a description of a program and a finite input, decide whether the program finishes running or will run forever, given that input.

Alan Turing proved mathematically that the halting problem is undecidable. That means that even if you have the source code for a program and know exactly what input will be put into it, there are some programs for which it is still impossible to determine whether or not they will halt. Typically, it's easier to determine if a program will halt than if it won't. If you run it, and it halts, then there you go! However, if you run it and it doesn't halt, you can't know that it won't halt if you just wait a little longer. How long do you have to wait? There's no way to know. The second after you stop waiting and decide that the program won't halt, it might halt. (Because actual computers have finite memory it is theoretically possible to determine whether a program will halt or not simply by enumerating every possible memory state, but practically this cannot be accomplished because there are far more memory states than there are atoms in the universe.)

So there's a very high-level description of one kind of bug that is known to be unsolvable. By being very careful, very smart, and very thorough it's possible to limit the number of bugs in a program to a level that doesn't render the program unusable, but improvements are asymptotic. The first 90% of the bugs take 10% of the time, the next 9% of the bugs take 10% of the time, the next 0.9% of the bugs take the next 10% of the time, and so on, until you've spent far more than 100% of the time alloted!

And remember: because the system is chaotic a single bug can result in catastrophic failure. Jaron Lanier has written extensively about Gordian software and why we need to move towards a non-chaotic software paradigm that is inherently fault-tolerant, but there's essentially zero progress on that front at the moment. Software bugs are here to stay.

Here's an uplifting human events story for you: high school student Gregg Fox survives brain cancer, re-learns how to read and talk, and then scores a perfect 36 on the ACT.

Four years ago, after Gregg Fox was treated for a brain tumor, he had to learn to speak and walk again.

He's made remarkable progress, and now the Ladue Horton Watkins High School junior has the test score to prove it: He earned a perfect 36 on the ACT college entrance exam.

Fox, 17, is one of four Missouri students to earn a perfect score out of the almost 20,500 statewide who took the test in December.

"Mentally, I've made a full recovery, I guess," says the humble Fox.

His success is a testament to his tenacity and strength. Congratulations!

101 computer programming quotes and 101 more. Those are "one-hundred and one", not "five".

It's funny that non-programmers tend to perceive programmers as cocky and arrogant, when in my experience a programmer's humility always increases with their skill. The best programmers I know are quick to admit their mistakes and trumpet their horrific learning experiences; they also tend to be some of the most cynical people I know, readily admitting to the inevitability of future catastrophic failures of their work product. Maybe it's my own vanity, but I think computer programming is probably among the hardest professions, along with being a general or a fascist dictator.

(HT: GeekPress and MetaFilter.)

It's frustrating to me when people wrongly attribute substantial disagreements to a "failure to communicate". Here's Barack Obama speaking:

"I am confident that when you come to a general election, and we are having a debate about the future of this country -- how are we going to lower gas prices, how are we going to deal with job losses, how are we going to focus on energy independence -- that those are voters who I will be able to appeal to," he said.

"If I lose, it won't be because of race," Obama said. "It will be because ... I made mistakes on the campaign trail, I wasn't communicating effectively my plans in terms of helping them in their everyday lives."

No matter who wins the race for the presidency, the losing party should concede that they lost on substance, not merely on process. In the quote above, Obama basically asserts that voters cannot possibly reject him for the presidency once they understand his plans for America. In Obama's mind, if he loses it's because he just didn't articulate his ideas clearly enough, not because America both understood and disliked his ideas. An Obama loss would be due to process -- "mistakes on the campaign trail" -- not substance. He admits no possibility that his ideas are unappealing to voters. Anyone who doesn't vote for me doesn't really understand my positions.

I don't mean to pick on Obama, because this sort of phrasing is common among politicians and "commoners" alike. Sometimes it's legitimate. Most of my disagreements with my wife are due to miscommunication... but some are the result of real differences. Whether the dispute is domestic or international, it's important to recognize when it can be resolved by clearer communication and when there are substantial issues that need to be addressed through compromise, disengagement, violence, or whatever means are appropriate.

When conflict is wrongly attributed to a "failure to communicate" but there are actually substantial differences to be resolved, the conflict becomes harder to deal with from both sides. Unless you're willing to recognize that there's a substantial disagreement, how can there be resolution? Additional "clarification" is pointless when there's already both understanding and disagreement. Furthermore, the other party will be insulted by your continuing insistence that the disagreement is merely a product of their ignorance.

Part of the reason presidential campaigns drag go on for so long is to ensure that voters get all the information they need to cast their votes based on substance, not process. As Obama has pointed out, he and Hillary have debated each other 21 times -- by now voters have the measure of the man. If Obama loses to either Hillary or McCain, he would be wise to consider that his ideas, and not merely their delivery, may be to blame.

BBC North American editor Justin Webb reports from Missouri on the tranquility and safety of gun-toting America:

Wait till you get to London Texas, or Glasgow Montana, or Oxford Mississippi or Virgin Utah, for that matter, where every household is required by local ordinance to possess a gun.

Folks will have guns in all of these places and if you break into their homes they will probably kill you.

They will occasionally kill each other in anger or by mistake, but you never feel as unsafe as you can feel in south London.

It is a paradox. Along with the guns there is a tranquility and civility about American life of which most British people can only dream.

What surprises the British tourists is that, in areas of the US that look and feel like suburban Britain, there is simply less crime and much less violent crime.

Doors are left unlocked, public telephones unbroken.

One reason - perhaps the overriding reason - is that there is no public drunkenness in polite America, simply none.

I have never seen a group of drunk young people in the entire six years I have lived here. I travel a lot and not always to the better parts of town.

It is an odd fact that a nation we associate - quite properly - with violence is also so serene, so unscarred by petty crime, so innocent of brawling.

That's the difference between American citizens and British subjects. A free and armed population can police itself.

(HT: Instapundit.)

Just started playing Travian, a little village-simulator kind of game. Looks fun, and doesn't take a much daily attention.

I'm normally skeptical about claims of corporate interference/conspiracies having much effect on the behavior of government, normally because government, industry, and the general population all have similarly-aligned interests: maximize productivity and wellbeing. Some individuals and cabals are focused on maintaining and extending their own power (see: Congress), but generally even this goal is pursued by attempting to improve the lives of the population as a whole (generally, in the net, on average). However, this article about lobbying and environmentalism shows just how dangerous the government can be when We The People allow it to exercise so much power that it can create whole industries for its corporate buddies.

NBC Universal is owned by General Electric, which plays a regular role in this column because of how aggressively the company has hitched its profits to its lobbying successes. GE spends more than any other corporation in America on lobbying the federal government — more than $20 million annually over the past three years — and Green Week and Earth Week probably should be disclosed as lobbying efforts.

In many of GE’s businesses, the profit model appears to be: (1) invest in something for which there isn’t much demand; (2) then lobby to mandate or subsidize it.

Wind turbines are a great example. GE describes itself as “one of the world’s leading wind turbine suppliers.” Absent subsidies, however, there might be no windmill industry, because windmills cannot reliably produce energy, and certainly not as affordably as traditional fuels such as coal. ...

GE’s coal gasification, solar power generation, electric cars and biodiesel businesses are the same: Consumers and investors acting with their own money would not patronize these technologies, but Congress, acting with your money, will. GE’s $20 million annual lobbying budget sees to it. ...

But sometimes it pours it on a bit thicker. Tuesday morning, Tom Brokaw went on NBC to give a talk about the first Earth Day. “It was a massive success,” Brokaw explained, because “the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act quickly followed. President Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency.”

There’s the rub. Everyone who rolls her eyes at “Earth Week” or lectures from Schwimmer on “going green” was bracing for that. Environmentalism today almost always means government intervention. Government intervention means higher costs and higher taxes. And as this column has documented for more than a year, government intervention usually means profits for a well-connected special interest.

In the long run, market forces will smooth out these minor artificial inefficiencies, but that doesn't make the graft less offensive in the short run. What's more, blithely accepting this corruption opens the door to stifling the liberty that allows market forces to work at all... and in the long run we'll all be dead.

I just finished reading "A Deepness in the Sky" by Vernor Vinge, and it was brilliant. If you enjoy space opera, intrigue, a complex cast, twists, and a satisfying ending then I highly recommend it.

Next up: "The Book of the New Sun" by Gene Wolfe.

In what appears on the surface to be a clumsy attempt at espionage, a Mexican official stole several BlackBerries from Presidential aides during a high-level meeting.

Whether he was up to no good or simply desperate to play BrickBreaker, a Mexican press attache was caught on camera by Secret Service pocketing several White House BlackBerries during a recent meeting in New Orleans, FOX News has learned.

Sources with knowledge of the incident said the official, whose first name is Rafael, took six or seven of the handheld devices from a table outside a special room in the hotel where the Mexican delegation was meeting with President Bush.

Everyone entering the room was required to leave their cell phones, BlackBerries and other such devices on the table, a commonplace practice when high-level meetings are held. American officials discovered their missing belongings when they were leaving the session.

The Secret Service caught the fellow at the airport as he was preparing to leave the country with his "accidental" loot. Looks like an obvious attempt to steal American secrets, either for the Mexican government or personal gain. Our officials should be more careful with their equipment, and one can only hope that they're using encryption and properly locking their devices when not in use.

The National Part Service is planning to deepen Castle Rock cut on Lake Powell in order to shorten transit times when the water level is low. Not that relevant to most people perhaps, but if you look at the lake on Google Maps at two different zoom levels you can see the effect of the water level on the lake surface topography. Neat!

At this zoom level you can see Castle Rock cut submerged. The small, scorpion-tail island to the northeast of Wahweap is Castle Rock. When the water is high, boaters can go directly east from Wahweap to the northern parts of the lake.

This zoom level shows Castle Rock cut exposed. As you can see, boaters are forced to loop through that snake-like path to the south in order to access the eastern parts of the lake, which I'm told adds 12 miles and over an hour to the commute of many lake employees.

Here's an NPS brochure that explains the plans for deepening Castle Rock cut.

Something about this story sounds fishy... John McCain is collecting disability payments based on injuries he sustained when shot down, imprisoned, and tortured during the Vietnam War.

Sen. John McCain has long said he is in robust health and is strong enough to hike the Grand Canyon, but he also is receiving what his staff Monday termed a "disability pension" from the Navy.

When McCain released his tax return for 2007 on Friday, he separately disclosed that he received a pension of $58,358 that was not listed as income on his return.

On Monday, McCain's staff identified the retirement benefit as a "disability pension" and said that McCain "was retired as disabled because of his limited body movements due to injuries as a POW."

McCain campaign strategist Mark Salter said Monday night that McCain was technically disabled. "Tortured for his country -- that is how he acquired his disability," Salter said.

There's no question that McCain served America heroically, but from what I've seen he doesn't appear to be disabled. In fact, he appears to be far more robust than many younger men. Maybe military disability payments don't work according to my intuition, but shouldn't they be used to compensate people who are unable to work because of their injuries? McCain has been drawing a Senatorial salary for decades, which would appear to undermine a claim that his injuries have hindered him professionally.

On the other hand, maybe military disability payments are intended as compensation for injuries, regardless of their effect on a person's productivity. Are they just ongoing payouts for transitory pain, suffering, and disability? Should McCain be getting paid because he is still unable to raise his arms above his shoulders? I don't know the answers to all these questions, but it seems odd to me that a man capable of serving as a US Senator is considered to be so disabled that he requires disability payments to sustain him.

(Note: If someone were to propose it, I could potentially support a system that gives monetary rewards to American troops who act with great heroism, but I don't think disability payments are an appropriate way to accomplish that goal in an unofficial manner.)

Despite being outspent 3-to-1 by her opponent Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton has won the Democrat's Pennsylvania primary by a convincing margin.

But for the second time in seven weeks, first in the Texas and Ohio primaries and now in Pennsylvania, Obama did not deliver a decisive blow against Clinton when he had an opportunity to bring the race to an end, despite heavily outspending her and waging an aggressive and negative campaign in the final days. His advisers had hoped to hold Clinton's victory margin to mid-single digits and appeared to have fallen short of that goal.

"He broke every spending record in this state trying to knock us out of this race," Clinton told her supporters in Philadelphia last night. "Well, the people of Pennsylvania had other ideas."

Obama's loss in Pennsylvania raised anew questions about his ability to win the big industrial states that will be critical to the Democrats' hopes of winning back the White House in November. In the coming days, Clinton's camp will try to play on those doubts with uncommitted superdelegates -- who have been moving toward Obama over the past two months -- urging them to remain neutral until the primaries are over.

As I wrote after Hillary's big wins on Super Tuesday, if the Democrats ran their primary as a winner-takes-all system like the Electoral College Obama would have lost a long time ago. Based on CNN's Democrat scorecard and 270toWin, my calculations give Hillary a hypothetical electoral vote lead of 284 to 202 for Obama, with 52 votes still undecided. Of course, it only takes 270 votes to win.

What's more, Obama hasn't won any of the critical battleground states: Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Tennessee, New Mexico, and others all went to Clinton. Obama tends to win in states that are already guaranteed to one party or the other in the general election. If The Democrats' primary system reflected the electoral college, Obama would be seen for what he is: a popular regional candidate with narrow appeal and little chance of winning the presidency.

Rather than focusing on net worth, My Money Blog suggests the Financial Freedom Ratio as a more meaningful barometer of your financial health and positioning for retirement.

If someone tells you that they have a net worth of $1,000,000, you might be impressed. But what if they spent $150,000 per year? If they stopped working, the money wouldn’t last very long. However, if they only spent $15,000 per year, they might already be set for life. In other words, your income doesn’t matter. Your expenses do. It may be assumed that the two are related, but that is not necessarily true. We all have the power to disconnect the two.

I’m sure somebody somewhere has already coined this term, but until told otherwise I will call it the Financial Freedom Ratio (FFR):

FFR = Liquid Net Worth divided by Annual Expenses

By liquid, I simply mean you can sell it for cash while not affecting your expenses. (Don’t count your car if you need it for work.) For example, if you had $200,000 but only spent $20,000 per year you would have the FFR value of 10 as someone with $1,000,000 but spent $100,000 per year. This also calls into focus how important spending patterns are when talking about financial freedom. Let’s say you had the 200,000 net worth and you wanted to increase your FFR from 10 to 11. You could either

  • increase your liquid net worth by $20,000 and spend the same,
  • decrease your annual spending by $1,820 and not earn any more money,
  • or some combination of spending less and accumulating more.

Sure, it can be very difficult to keep slashing expenses, but this ratio keeps you honest as to how close you are to financial independence.

He also does some estimates of what a "good" FFR would be based on annuity pricing, and comes up with a suggested FFR of 25. (This value is pretty obvious, considering the conventional wisdom that you can safely withdraw 4% of your savings per year without eating into your portfolio.)

A while ago I read an article about economic growth in Europe during the Middle Ages, but I can't find the article nor any other source for what I remember reading. According to my memory, this article said that economic growth averaged 0%-1% for centuries in the feudal agrarian system, and that everyone was so excited about exploiting the New World because the average return on investment for a transatlantic expedition was far higher than what could be reaped by farming.

The latter part seems completely logical, but I'm especially interested in the "0%-1%" figure, if there's any way to substantiate it. Such low growth rates would obviously make the wealthy extremely conservative with their investments. Does anyone know anything more about this?

I've seen first-hand the effects of chemotherapy on patients' bodies, so this new approach for applying nanotechnology to chemotherapy is extremely exciting:

The researchers focused a powerful drug directly on tumors in rabbits using drug-coated nanoparticles. They found that a drug dose 1,000 times lower than used previously for this purpose markedly slowed tumor growth.

"Many chemotherapeutic drugs have unwanted side effects, and we've shown that our nanoparticle technology has the potential to increase drug effectiveness and decrease drug dose to alleviate harmful side effects," said lead author Patrick M. Winter, Ph.D., research assistant professor of medicine and of biomedical engineering.

The nanoparticles are extremely tiny beads of an inert, oily compound that can be coated with a wide variety of active substances. In an article published online in The FASEB Journal, the researchers describe a significant reduction of tumor growth in rabbits treated with nanoparticles coated with a fungal toxin called fumagillin. Human clinical trials have shown that fumagillin can be an effective cancer treatment in combination with other anticancer drugs.

In addition to fumagillin, the nanoparticles' surfaces held molecules designed to stick to proteins found primarily on the cells of growing blood vessels. So the nanoparticles latched onto sites of blood vessel proliferation and released their fumagillin load into blood vessel cells. Fumagillin blocks multiplication of blood vessel cells, so it inhibited tumors from expanding their blood supply and slowed their growth.

Human trials also have shown that fumagillin can have neurotoxic side effects at the high doses required when given by standard methods. But the fumagillin nanoparticles were effective in very low doses because they concentrate where tumors create new blood vessels. The rabbits that received fumagillin nanoparticles showed no adverse side effects.

This kind of research can't happen too fast.

Even conservatives these days argue for tax cuts on the premise that revenues will increase if we cut rates. I personally think that if you cut tax rates and revenues go up, you haven't cut them far enough.

Anyway, Jerry Pournelle explains why taxes must always go up.

Clearly the government wants us to spend ourselves broke and throw ourselves on welfare. Then they will stop fining us every year. They fine us for speeding, for spitting in the streets, for doing things they don't want us to do: they also fine us for improving our property, investing money to grow the economy, saving money; the implications are pretty clear?

Actually, of course, it's just that government employees consider themselves entitled to annual raises whatever they may accomplish for us, and that means they consider themselves entitled to a share of any money that can be found anywhere in the world. It's not that they want to fine you for saving money: it's that you have saved money, and there's some out there, and government employees are entitled to have raises, Q.E.D. See the Iron Law of Bureaucracy. If money exists, government considers itself entitled to it, and if you ask why, they have no answer except blank stares: after all, it's obvious isn't it? Good grief!

Maybe we need term limits for bureaucrats.

(HT: Instapundit.)

Ann Althouse berates those of us who jumped on the "abortion art" bandwagon, calling it an obvious hoax. I'm chagrined, and promise to be more skeptical in the future... maybe I'm overly cynical? Maybe I'm too quick to believe the worst about my ideological enemies. Anyway, Ms. Althouse puts this buffoon in her proper place:

Ambiguity surrounding form and function of a woman's body... So that's what passes as insight at Yale these days? If I was going to get livid and horrified about something it would be that a great university sucks so many young women into the into the intellectual graveyard of Women's Studies. Think what these women could be studying instead of this endlessly recycled drivel. If you care about women's bodies, study science and help us with the limitations of the body. But to imagine you are helping us by restating meager platitudes is just very sad.

The FBI sure seem to have a loose definition of "terrorism":

The car was reported stolen last week. After the theft, the car’s owner was fueling his motorcycle when he spotted his stolen car.

“While he was refueling his motorcycle, low and behold, the vehicle that he had reported stolen that belongs to him happened to pull into the gas station area also,” said Los Lunas Police Captain Charles Nuanes.

The car’s owner pulled the keys out of the ignition of his stolen car and the people in the car fled.

When police arrived, they found the explosive device and less than $1,000 worth of Iraqi cash.

“We don’t know what their intentions were,” said Nuanes. “We don’t know what they were planning on doing with any of this.” ...

FBI agents say that they have ruled out terrorism.

Uh... I can't imagine how the FBI managed to rule out terrorism. Explosives... Iraqi money... stolen vehicle... there's nowhere to go from there except terrorism. Maybe the FBI and/or the reporter meant that there's no indication of terrorism, or that there's no indication of a connection to al Qaeda, but a claim to have ruled terrorism completely out begs credulity.

Furthermore, does anyone want to hazard a guess about how the Iraqi cash and explosives got to Los Lunas, New Mexico? Maybe over our porous southern border?

(HT: GatewayPundit.)


There was just an earthquake! It felt pretty mild, but it was strong enough and long enough to wake me up. Must be the New Madrid fault acting up.


Looks like a five-pointer about 200 miles east of here near the border of Illinois and Indiana.


Officially event 851141: 19 miles SSE of Olney, Illinois, Mag: 5.4. Nice.

And nothing on the local news yet... I'm pretty sure I broke the story... insofar as a natural disaster story can be "broken".


Maps and more data.


Downgraded to 5.2. Yes, everyone will be talking about it here for a month. "Where were you during the earthquake?" Sleeping. "Yeah, me too!"

Here are some factoids I didn't know:

Earthquakes in the central and eastern U.S., although less frequent than in the western U.S., are typically felt over a much broader region. East of the Rockies, an earthquake can be felt over an area as much as ten times larger than a similar magnitude earthquake on the west coast. A magnitude 4.0 eastern U.S. earthquake typically can be felt at many places as far as 100 km (60 mi) from where it occurred, and it infrequently causes damage near its source. A magnitude 5.5 eastern U.S. earthquake usually can be felt as far as 500 km (300 mi) from where it occurred, and sometimes causes damage as far away as 40 km (25 mi). ...

At well-studied plate boundaries like the San Andreas fault system in California, often scientists can determine the name of the specific fault that is responsible for an earthquake. In contrast, east of the Rocky Mountains this is rarely the case. The Illinois basin - Ozark dome region is far from the nearest plate boundaries, which are in the center of the Atlantic Ocean, in the Caribbean Sea, and in the Gulf of California. The region is laced with known faults but numerous smaller or deeply buried faults remain undetected. Even the known faults are poorly located at earthquake depths. Accordingly, few earthquakes in the region can be linked to named faults. It is difficult to determine if a known fault is still active and could slip and cause an earthquake. As in most other areas east of the Rockies, the best guide to earthquake hazards in the Illinois basin – Ozark dome region is the earthquakes themselves.

When my wife and I woke up and ran downstairs, we went straight to the internet. It never even crossed our minds to turn on the television.


There are probably 50 news crews at the collapsed porch.


An aftershock, preliminarily rated magnitude 4.5.

In the first post in this series I wrote that the Obamas tax returns show that they're more generous with taxpayer money than with their own. Well Hillary gave a higher percentage of her income away over the last few years than did the Obamas, but... the Clintons mostly gave money away to themselves.

After earning more than $109 million over eight years, the Clintons took tax write-offs for $10.2 million in charitable contributions. In most of those years, that money was donated to the Clinton Family Foundation, and a portion was distributed to charitable causes. ...

In recent years, there were gifts that generated good will in ways that were potentially helpful to Hillary Clinton's presidential bid. Hillary Clinton, for instance, held a news conference to announce that the family foundation had given $100,000 to a South Carolina library last July, the day after she appeared at a presidential debate in the state. The library was named for Marian Wright Edelman, one of her longtime friends and mentors. South Carolina was host to an early primary contest.

The family foundation also gave $25,000 to support the McGovern Library and Center for Leadership and Public Service in Mitchell, S.D., in early 2007. Later in the year the center's eponym, the former Democratic presidential nominee George S. McGovern, said he would endorse Clinton for president. ...

The Clintons also gave $5,000 to the Jon Michael Moore Trauma Center at West Virginia University, which was named for the late grandson of Hillary Clinton's Senate colleague, Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.). Byrd, a superdelegate, has not yet endorsed a candidate for president.

So the Clintons take a tax write-off for donating money to a foundation that is essentially a proxy for Hillary's presidential campaign.

It's hard for me to imagine anything more grotesque than Yale student Aliza Shvarts' abortion-based art project. (Backup URL.) It's like something out of a horror movie. The sheer barbarity and cavalier display of evil leaves me almost speechless.

Beginning next Tuesday, Shvarts will be displaying her senior art project, a documentation of a nine-month process during which she artificially inseminated herself ?as often as possible? while periodically taking abortifacient drugs to induce miscarriages. Her exhibition will feature video recordings of these forced miscarriages as well as preserved collections of the blood from the process.

The goal in creating the art exhibition, Shvarts said, was to spark conversation and debate on the relationship between art and the human body. But her project has already provoked more than just debate, inciting, for instance, outcry at a forum for fellow senior art majors held last week. And when told about Shvarts? project, students on both ends of the abortion debate have expressed shock ? saying the project does everything from violate moral code to trivialize abortion.

But Shvarts insists her concept was not designed for ?shock value.?

?I hope it inspires some sort of discourse,? Shvarts said. ?Sure, some people will be upset with the message and will not agree with it, but it?s not the intention of the piece to scandalize anyone.?

There's no "discourse" I'd want to have with this subhuman vermin. What she's done isn't illegal, but should be a capital crime. So yes, I'd be pleased to see the justice system put Aliza Shvarts to death. Since that's not likely, she should be cast out of society, shunned, ostracized, and abandoned.

The students and administrators of Yale should be ashamed of what their institution has become. This sort of evil has no place in our culture, contributes nothing to public discourse, and ultimately degrades our society when left unpunished. I hope the Yale alumni find some way to respond to the cruelty done in their name and supported by their money.

For the rest of us, take a long hard look at what our modern amorality has spawned: Aliza Shvarts is a vile creature who conceives human babies only to slaughter them for her amusement, and our society is left with no legal recourse thanks to the decades-long ascent of secular humanism. We should be ashamed of what we've become.

I'm ashamed, as an American, that such evil could be perpetrated in our midst and that I'm powerless to stop it. Pray for our country.


Maybe it's a hoax?

Color me dubious about the Yale art project story. In talking to a few knowledgeable docs this morning, the facts don’t add up very well. Self-insemination of the sort she seems to be claiming is no easy feat, and “herbal” abortifacients are extremely dangerous and not at all reliably effective. It’s highly unlikely that these two improbable elements would both be carried off successfully multiple times, and with no side effects. It’s more likely that her senior art project is to see how many people she can upset with a hoax.

If it’s a hoax, it’s an abhorrent and disgusting one. If it turns out to be true, it’s of course all the more so and far worse. Either way, where are the adults at Yale?

I like this mom's determination to punish her son for sabotaging the vacuum to get out of doing chores, but I'm not sure her method was optimal.

For your consideration: a 13-year-old boy in Virginia decided that it was a good idea to break the family vacuum cleaner in order to get out of his chores around the house and play video games. Not so fast whippersnapper. It looks like your mom won this round.

She has decided to sell her kid's Xbox 360 on eBay. But the story continues. It turns out that while his mom was going through his computer, she checked out the cookies and found that her innocent little boy was frequently checking out porn sites. So she decided to hack into his My Space page. The mom talks about the incident and states:

"My 13 year old managed to break the vacuum....thinking it would release him from that duty. He also has a list of other chores that were TYPED up for him to do Friday afternoon....one thing on the list was done...mind you these are simple things...empty the trash, clean your room, etc.

"Then I go thru the cookies on his computer and find out he has been checking out porn sites. Now there is a password so he can't even get on and his my-space page has a picture of snoopy on it now. Apparently I'm the meanest mom in the world, were his words.

"I'm a single mom. I can't let them walk over me or I might never get up ."

The mom could really maximize her own economic interests here by taking the Xbox and games and forcing the kid to buy them back from her at retail price... she'd get more than via an eBay auction, unless she really needs the cash immediately for a vacuum.

Still, that's all nitpicky (my specialty!). Good for mom! Video games are obviously corrupting our youth.

Analysis of dozens of studies indicates that antioxidants may do more harm than good:

The review involved trials on beta-carotene, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E and selenium.

It says in-depth analysis of the different trials does not support the idea that vitamins extend lifespan.

'Even more, beta-carotene, vitamin A, and vitamin E seem to increase mortality,' says the review.

Vitamin A was linked to a 16 per cent increase in mortality, beta-carotene - the pigment found in carrots, tomatoes and broccoli which the body converts into vitamin A - to a 7 per cent increase and vitamin E to a 4 per cent increase. However, there was no significant detrimental effect caused by vitamin C.

'There was no evidence to support either healthy people using antioxidants to prevent disease or for sick people to take them to get better,' said the review.

What's more, excessive use of multivitamins may cause prostate cancer.

Doctors are investigating a possible link between heavy multivitamin use and the most serious types of prostate cancer, according to an article in today's Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Researchers followed 295,344 men. Men who reported taking multivitamins more than seven times a week had a slightly greater risk of advanced or fatal prostate tumors. If doctors followed 10,000 men for 10 years, there would be about 30 extra cases of advanced prostate cancer and seven or eight extra cases of fatal prostate cancer associated with heavy supplement use, says lead author Michael Leitzmann of the NCI.

I cut my multivitamin intake to once every-other day. Vitamins aren't a cure-all, and supplements should be used judiciously.

13-year-old German boy Nico Marquardt has determined that the Apophis asteroid is 100 times as dangerous as NASA calculated.

Nico Marquardt used telescopic findings from the Institute of Astrophysics in Potsdam (AIP) to calculate that there was a 1 in 450 chance that the Apophis asteroid will collide with Earth, the Potsdamer Neuerster Nachrichten reported.

NASA had previously estimated the chances at only 1 in 45,000 but told its sister organisation, the European Space Agency (ESA), that the young whizzkid had got it right.

The schoolboy took into consideration the risk of Apophis running into one or more of the 40,000 satellites orbiting Earth during its path close to the planet on April 13 2029.

Those satellites travel at 3.07 kilometres a second (1.9 miles), at up to 35,880 kilometres above earth -- and the Apophis asteroid will pass by earth at a distance of 32,500 kilometres.

If the asteroid strikes a satellite in 2029, that will change its trajectory making it hit earth on its next orbit in 2036.

Both NASA and Marquardt agree that if the asteroid does collide with earth, it will create a ball of iron and iridium 320 metres (1049 feet) wide and weighing 200 billion tonnes, which will crash into the Atlantic Ocean.

If we don't have the technology to divert an asteroid within 20 years, we deserve what we get. I can't wait to get my hands on all that iridium!

(HT: Nick.)


NASA Denies:

The AFP story claimed NASA had told the European Space Agency that the boy's calculations were correct. But Yeomans's statement on the NASA website says this is not true.

"Contrary to recent press reports, NASA offices involved in near-Earth object research were not contacted and have had no correspondence with a young German student, who claims the Apophis impact probability is far higher than the current estimate," it says.

Chesley points out that NASA's calculations have been independently confirmed by a group of scientists at the University of Pisa, who report their results on a website called NeoDys. The NeoDys entry on Apophis puts its impact risk at 0.00207%, or about 1 in 48,000.

(HT: GeekPress.)

I read "The Black Swan" several months ago and it really opened my eyes to a new understanding of risk. Here's an interview with the author, Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

There are two types of businesses: those that are exposed to Black Swans and those that are relatively insulated from them - not because Black Swans cannot occur, but because their impact is not going to be monstrous. Your dentist's income will not disappear on a single day: No single event will carry big consequences for her. But trading profits can all be lost by a single transaction. So some businesses are insulated, some (like technology) are exposed to positive Black Swans, and others are exposed to negative ones. ...

The Black Swan is a matter of perspective. A turkey is fed for 1,000 days - every day lulling it more and more into the feeling that the human feeders are acting in its best interest. Except that on the 1,001st day, the butcher shows up and there is a surprise. The surprise is for the turkey, not the butcher. Anyone who knows anything about the history of banking (or remembers the 1982 Latin American debt crisis or the 1990s savings and loan collapse) will tell you that the subprime crisis was so bound to happen. Banks are exposed to such blowups. Bankers have been the turkey, historically.

I recommend buying the book.

Argh... inflation. Now that my net worth is positive (and all my remaining debt is at fixed rates) I'm starting to understand the perils of low interest rates. My low-risk savings are returning a pittance thanks to the Federal Reserve, and now their ludicrously low rates are further undercutting the value of my investments by provoking inflation!

Inflation is the great economic equalizer... maybe leftist regimes create it intentionally. Debt inflates away as the value of the currency degrades, and wealth evaporates.

Examiner.com has a great twist on John Edwards' "two Americas" trope: tax payers and tax consumers.

Tuesday is the deadline for filing federal income taxes. Half of American taxpayers will pay 97 percent of the individual income taxes the government will collect for 2008, according to IRS data. The other half will pay little or nothing, yet receive billions in benefits in the form of cash, subsidies, “free” services and other benefits, and loans. There are indeed “Two Americas,” but the two aren’t the rich and poor, but taxpayers and tax consumers. It’s going to get even tougher for the taxpayers in the near future, thanks to legislation being readied by Democrats who control Congress.

(HT: Glenn Reynolds, who also thinks we should hold national elections on April 16th.)

As an artificial intelligence researcher I've always been fascinated by animal intelligence. It's simpler to understand than human intelligence, but often quite sophisticated in species-specific ways. Here's a National Geographic article about animal minds and various flavors of animal intelligence, and while it's quite fascinating I find it to be rather limited by its insistence on evolution as the mechanism behind the observed commonality.

But if animals are simply machines, how can the appearance of human intelligence be explained? Without Darwin's evolutionary perspective, the greater cognitive skills of people did not make sense biologically. Slowly the pendulum has swung away from the animal-as-machine model and back toward Darwin. A whole range of animal studies now suggest that the roots of cognition are deep, widespread, and highly malleable.

It's almost as if there were some common intelligent creator behind it all!

"Dogs' understanding of human forms of communication is something new that has evolved," Kaminski said, "something that's developed in them because of their long association with humans." Although Kaminski has not yet tested wolves, she doubts they have this language skill. "Maybe these collies are especially good at it because they're working dogs and highly motivated, and in their traditional herding jobs, they must listen very closely to their owners."

Scientists think that dogs were domesticated about 15,000 years ago, a relatively short time in which to evolve language skills.

Maybe dogs were designed for a purpose?

"People were surprised to discover that chimpanzees make tools," said Alex Kacelnik, a behavioral ecologist at Oxford University, referring to the straws and sticks chimpanzees shape to pull termites from their nests. "But people also thought, 'Well, they share our ancestry—of course they're smart.' Now we're finding these kinds of exceptional behaviors in some species of birds. But we don't have a recently shared ancestry with birds. Their evolutionary history is very different; our last common ancestor with all birds was a reptile that lived over 300 million years ago.

"This is not trivial," Kacelnik continued. "It means that evolution can invent similar forms of advanced intelligence more than once—that it's not something reserved only for primates or mammals."

Some will object that my belief in a creator is somehow not scientific, but anthropomorphizing the process of evolution such that it can "invent" characteristics isn't far different.

Kacelnik and his colleagues are studying one of these smart species, the New Caledonian crow, which lives in the forests of that Pacific island. New Caledonian crows are among the most skilled of tool-making and tool-using birds, forming probes and hooks from sticks and leaf stems to poke into the crowns of the palm trees, where fat grubs hide. Since these birds, like chimpanzees, make and use tools, researchers can look for similarities in the evolutionary processes that shaped their brains. Something about the environments of both species favored the evolution of tool-making neural powers.

Or, again, perhaps these species were designed for their niche -- a possibility that is as interesting and testable as evolution.

"Elele just loved to be right," Herman said. "And she loved inventing things. We made up a sign for 'create,' which asked a dolphin to create its own behavior."

Dolphins often synchronize their movements in the wild, such as leaping and diving side by side, but scientists don't know what signal they use to stay so tightly coordinated. Herman thought he might be able to tease out the technique with his pupils. In the film, Akeakamai and Phoenix are asked to create a trick and do it together. The two dolphins swim away from the side of the pool, circle together underwater for about ten seconds, then leap out of the water, spinning clockwise on their long axis and squirting water from their mouths, every maneuver done at the same instant. "None of this was trained," Herman says, "and it looks to us absolutely mysterious. We don't know how they do it—or did it."

If that is accurate, the feat described is quite amazing.

Through these dolphins, he made some of the most extraordinary breakthroughs ever in understanding another species' mind—a species that even Herman describes as "alien," given its aquatic life and the fact that dolphins and primates diverged millions of years ago. "That kind of cognitive convergence suggests there must be some similar pressures selecting for intellect," Herman said. "We don't share their biology or ecology. That leaves social similarities—the need to establish relationships and alliances superimposed on a lengthy period of maternal care and longevity—as the likely common driving force."

Maybe! You can put your faith in that untestable hypothesis if you want to. I guess I just have a grander view of the universe, of humanity, of our fellow creatures, and of our Creator.

This Slate article about American Asians and gender selection is interesting as a counterpoint to the "technology will solve everything" meme that permeates our culture.

Now comes further evidence of this effect. Two days ago, economists Douglas Almond and Lena Edlund published an article in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences examining the ratio of male to female births in "U.S.-born children of Chinese, Korean, and Asian Indian parents." Among whites, the boy-girl ratio was essentially constant, regardless of the number of kids in a family or how many of them were girls. In the Asian-American sample, the boy-girl ratio started out at the same norm: 1.05 to 1. But among families whose first child was a girl, the boy-girl ratio among second kids went up to 1.17 to 1. And if the first two kids were girls, the boy-girl ratio among third kids went up to 1.5 to 1. This 50 percent increase in male probability is directly contrary to the trend among whites, who tend to produce a child of the same sex as the previous child.*

There's no plausible innocent explanation for this enormous and directionally abnormal shift in probability. The authors conclude that the numbers are "evidence of sex selection, most likely at the prenatal stage."

So some Asians in America -- or Americans of Asian descent -- are almost certainly using abortion to ensure that they get a boy. This process is enabled by technology: not only does technology make it possible, but advancing technology makes gender determination and selective abortions more private, which bypasses any opprobrium such an abortion might otherwise provoke.

I've written before that gender selection poses a philosophical problem for libertarians and an existential problem for the primarily Asian cultures that practice it. It's hard for me to see how technology will "solve" this quandary absent a culturally dominant moral worldview.

Peripherally, the sentence I starred above doesn't sound right to me. According to this article about an article about the National Longitudinal Study of Youth, the gender of later children is only very slightly affected by the genders of earlier children, if at all. Did the author of this Slate article, William Saletan, pull the starred statistic out of thin air, or is there other research on this topic I haven't been able to find with Google? Sounds like an old wives' tale to me.

After recently firing chief strategist Mark Penn because of his work on behalf of Columbian free-traders, Hillary Clinton is now laughing off questions about Bill's involvement with the same people.

Hillary Clinton used her trademark laugh Thursday to deflect a question about the $800,000 her husband earned in 2005 giving speeches for a Bogota-based group that supports the Colombia free trade agreement — the same trade deal she currently opposes.

Asked by CNN if those earnings represented a conflict of interest given that she has dipped into her family's pocketbook to pay campaign bills, Clinton threw up her hands and laughed loudly for several seconds.

"How many angels dance on the head of the pin?," she responded, continuing to giggle. "I have really, uh, nothing to … I mean, how do you answer that?"

The reason she can't answer the question is because the truth is both self-evident and destructive to her campaign. What else is there to say about it?

Iain Murray has the best post I've seen so far about all the grounded flights and safety inspections: he says that the FAA is probably killing more people than it's saving.

With the FAA grounding flights in the name of safety, few people seem to have appreciated that the action may well kill people.

Bear with me. Not all those whose flights have been canceled will cancel their trips. Some will find slots on other airlines, but some will choose to go by car (there being no appreciable competition from rail in most markets). Automobile travel is more dangerous than commerical plane travel for long distance trips. With the number of cancellations in the thousands, we can expect very many people to have gone long distances by road who wouldn't have otherwise. There is a chance that some of these people will be involved in a fatal accident. It is plausible, therefore, that grounding the flights will have fatal consequences.

But, you see, the FAA and the airlines aren't responsible for road deaths! Why should they care if, percentage-wise, these plane groundings kill twice as many people as they save?

See also, "Does the FDA Save Lives?".

Artificial intelligence researchers have been working on the traffic problem for decades, and there are some (expensive) traffic management packages that can help cities operate their traffic lights efficiently, etc. Helping individual consumers avoid traffic hasn't really been possible until very recently however, mostly because there weren't enough sensors collecting real-time data. That gap has been filled, and now Microsoft is unveiling route-planning software called Clearflow that ties into a GPS and helps drivers avoid congestion.

Microsoft on Thursday plans to introduce a Web-based service for driving directions that incorporates complex software models to help users avoid traffic jams.

The new service’s software technology, called Clearflow, was developed over the last five years by a group of artificial-intelligence researchers at the company’s Microsoft Research laboratories. It is an ambitious attempt to apply machine-learning techniques to the problem of traffic congestion. The system is intended to reflect the complex traffic interactions that occur as traffic backs up on freeways and spills over onto city streets.

The Clearflow system will be freely available as part of the company’s Live.com site (maps.live.com) for 72 cities in the United States. Microsoft says it will give drivers alternative route information that is more accurate and attuned to current traffic patterns on both freeways and side streets.

A system for driving directions that Microsoft introduced last fall was limited, because without Clearflow there was no information available about traffic conditions on city streets adjacent to the highways. Because the system assumed that those routes would be clear, drivers were on occasion sent into areas that were more congested than the freeways.

The new service will on occasion plan routes that might not be intuitive to a driver. For example, in some cases Clearflow will compute that a trip will be faster if a driver stays on a crowded highway, rather than taking a detour, because side streets are even more backed up by cars that have fled the original traffic jam.

No word in the article about what will happen if Clearflow directs all of its users onto the same previously-uncongested road....

This is a step in the right direction. Ultimately traffic will be "solved" by computer-driven vehicles that can operate faster and with smaller safety margins than human operators.

Congressmen arguing that Iraq should be spending its own money for reconstruction to ease the burden on America and the Coalition are correct, and I've been arguing similarly for years. It's primarily the Democrats making this point now, but I don't see why Republicans should object. (Am I missing something?)

Democrats plan to push legislation this spring that would force the Iraqi government to spend its own surplus in oil revenues to rebuild the country, sparing U.S. dollars. ...

"Rather, we need to put continuous and increasing pressure on the Iraqis to settle their political differences, to pay for their own reconstruction with their oil windfalls, and to take the lead in conducting military operations," said Levin, D-Mich.

Iraq has about $30 billion in surplus funds stored in U.S. banks, according to Levin.

Iraq is looking at a potential boon in oil revenue this year, possibly as much as $100 billion in 2007 and 2008. Meanwhile, the U.S. military is having to buy its fuel on the open market, paying on average $3.23 a gallon and spending some $153 million a month in Iraq on fuel alone.

This will be a complicated transition, and the Coalition needs to make certain that this oil money doesn't get stolen by a new breed of kleptocrats or wasted by incompetents. Corruption is rampant throughout the region, so this will be no easy task.

I also wouldn't object to direct payments into the American treasury to compensate us for our expenditures thus far. I've mentioned before that compensation for the families of Americans killed in Iraq would build a lot of good-will.

Military historian Frederick W. Kagan has a great piece on the importance of winning wars. Whatever one may think of our war in Iraq -- whether it should have been waged, whether it has been managed competently, whether we are presently winning -- Kagan explains why the costs of losing are far, far higher than the American left is willing to acknowledge.

The hyper-sophisticates of the American foreign-policy and intellectual establishment direct their invective at the whole notion of winning or losing. What’s the definition of winning? If we choose to withdraw from an ill-conceived and badly executed war, that’s not really losing, is it? We can and should find ways to use diplomacy rather than military power to handle the consequences of any so-called defeat. Less-sophisticated antiwar leaders on both sides will ask simply why the U.S. should continue to spend its blood and treasure to fight in “a far-off land of which we know little,” as Neville Chamberlain famously said in defense of his abandonment of Czechoslovakia to the Nazis. We have, after all, more pressing problems at home to which the Iraq war is only contributing. As is often the case, there is a level between over-thinking and under-thinking a problem that is actually thinking. Yes, in the world as it is, whatever line we sell ourselves, there really is victory and there really is defeat, the two are different, and their effects on the future diverge profoundly. And yes, the reason we must continue to spend money and the lives of the very best Americans in that far-off land is that the interests of every American are actually at stake.

We will consider below just how much of a diversion of resources away from more desirable domestic priorities the Iraq war actually is, but the more important point is simply this: Unless the advocates of defeat can show, as they have not yet done, that the consequences of losing are very likely to be small not simply the day after the last American leaves Iraq, but over the next five, ten, and 50 years, then what they are really selling is short-term relief in exchange for long-term pain. As drug addicts can attest, this kind of instant-gratification temptation is very seductive — it’s what keeps drug dealers in business despite the terrible damage their products do to their customers. “Just end the pain now and deal with the future when it gets here” is as bad a strategy for a great nation as it is for a teenager.

Maybe I'm cynical, but I think most of the anti-war elite know that a retreat-defeat will hurt America, and they're eager for America's diminishment in the world. It's not fair that America is so rich and powerful! We owe it to the rest of the world to sabotage ourselves for the sake of international equality. Obviously, most Americans would reject such a premise, so the left is forced to argue that they aren't really calling for defeat, and anyway, if they are, the consequences won't be that bad.

I don't agree with the permanently-protesting liberal hippies on many things, but I'm proud to see the Chinese Olympic torch relay disrupted in the name of freedom.

Good for you, San Francisco! Glad to see the BUSHITLERIBURTON signs put away for a while to protest against real tyranny.

I've written quite a bit about Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe over the past few years, and it's heartening to see that he may be on his way out. Let's hope so, for the sake of the former "Jewel of Africa".

I only recently heard about Project Pluto, and it's so crazy that it's hard to imagine anything so awesome could every be built.

The proposed use for nuclear-powered ramjets would be to power a cruise missile, called SLAM, for Supersonic Low Altitude Missile. In order to reach ramjet speed, it would be launched from the ground by a cluster of conventional rocket boosters. Once it reached cruising altitude and was far away from populated areas the nuclear reactor would be turned on. Since nuclear power gave it almost unlimited range, the missile could cruise in circles over the ocean until ordered 'down to the deck' for its supersonic dash to targets in the Soviet Union. Once powered up, the unshielded half-gigawatt nuclear reactor would emit highly lethal radiation in a large radius; such a vehicle could not possibly be human-piloted or reused. Indeed, some questioned whether a cruise missile derived from Project Pluto would need a warhead at all; the radiation from its engine, coupled with the shock wave that would be produced by flying at Mach 3 at treetop level, would have left a wide path of destruction wherever it went. The SLAM as proposed would carry a payload of many nuclear weapons to be dropped on multiple targets, making the cruise missile into an unmanned bomber. Contrary to some reports, the exhaust of the engine would not itself be highly radioactive.

On May 14, 1961, the world's first nuclear ramjet engine, "Tory-IIA," mounted on a railroad car, roared to life for just a few seconds. Three years later, "Tory-IIC" was run for five minutes at full power, producing 513 megawatts and the equivalent of over 35,000 pounds force (156 kN) thrust. But despite these and other successful tests the Pentagon, sponsor of the "Pluto project," had second thoughts; Intercontinental ballistic missile technology had proved to be more easily developed than previously thought, reducing the need for such highly capable cruise missiles. On July 1, 1964, seven years and six months after it was born, "Project Pluto" was canceled.

If you like that, you might also like the nuclear-powered long-range bomber.

I'm both an optimist and a contrarian, so all the gloomy economic forecasts rub me the wrong way. I'm not really qualified to opine on the merits of one smart-guy's view over another's, but Ken Fisher at Forbes sees things the way I do.

My critics call me a perma-bull. They forget I called the last three full-fledged bear markets right here in FORBES--reasonably well and better than most--and mostly alone (June 15, 1987; Nov. 27, 1989; Feb. 19, 2001). I know I may be wrong now. But I see what's happened since Jan. 1 as just a major correction, very comparable to 1998, with a few things flip-flopped, as described in my Feb. 25 column. ...

You can't find a time in the 20th century when, less than five months into a real global bear market, people were talking bear market and recession in any visible numbers. But they always talk disaster during corrections. Check out "Russian Financial Crisis" on Wikipedia. The second sentence says 1998 was a "global recession … which started with the Asian financial crisis in July 1997." Wrong. There wasn't a global recession then. There isn't one now.

An old saw says, "You should be fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful." Clearly folks are fearful now. So you should be greedy. Another saw: "Buy when there is blood on the streets." There's plenty of blood, or at least depression, on Wall Street. So keep buying.

Well, that's what I've been doing. I've got friends in the financial services industry who thing I'm an idiot because all the professionals they know are crapping their pants. Hey, I've been wrong before! But I know one thing: you can't "buy low, sell high" unless you're willing to "buy low".

Andrew Walden claims that Muslims are leaving Islam in droves, mainly for Christianity or secularism.

Pope Benedict’s choice to publicly baptize the most prominent Muslim in Italy, Egyptian-born Magdi Allam, highlights a quiet worldwide exodus from Islam. In recent years, millions have moved on. With this high-profile action, Pope Benedict demonstratively blesses this massive conversion from the highest levels of the Church. ...

Although al-Qataani points to Africa, there is another phenomenon based on repulsion from Islamist dictatorship, corruption, and terrorist violence. In Iran as many as 1 million people have surreptitiously converted to Evangelical Christianity in the last five years. Pastor Hormoz Shariat claims to have converted 50,000 of them through his U.S.-based Farsi-language satellite ministry. He contrasts the upswing to the efforts of evangelical missionaries in Iran between 1830 and 1979, whose 149 years of work built a Christian community of only 3,000.

Lots more there, with a great many links. Not sure how accurate the premise is as a whole, but it sounds encouraging.

I know you've all been on pins and needles waiting for my decision... and the winner is... the BlackBerry Curve 8310! It doesn't have WiFi, but I barely use the WiFi I've got, so I decided to save my money. It comes with built-in GPS, which sounds cool. Anyway, I'll let you know how I like it when it arrives.

The Bakken Formation in North Dakota has been making news as oil prices have lingered at record-highs.

America is sitting on top of a super massive 200 billion barrel Oil Field that could potentially make America Energy Independent and until now has largely gone unnoticed. Thanks to new technology the Bakken Formation in North Dakota could boost America’s Oil reserves by an incredible 10 times, giving western economies the trump card against OPEC’s short squeeze on oil supply and making Iranian and Venezuelan threats of disrupted supply irrelevant.

In the next 30 days the USGS (U.S. Geological Survey) will release a new report giving an accurate resource assessment of the Bakken Oil Formation that covers North Dakota and portions of South Dakota and Montana. With new horizontal drilling technology it is believed that from 175 to 500 billion barrels of recoverable oil are held in this 200,000 square mile reserve that was initially discovered in 1951. The USGS did an initial study back in 1999 that estimated 400 billion recoverable barrels were present but with prices bottoming out at $10 a barrel back then the report was dismissed because of the higher cost of horizontal drilling techniques that would be needed, estimated at $20-$40 a barrel.

That's a lot of oil, but we may not have the technology to recover the majority of it... yet.

New curiosity developed in 2007 when EOG Resources out of Houston, Texas reported that a single well it had drilled into an oil-rich layer of shale below Parshall, North Dakota is anticipated to produce 700,000 barrels (111,000 m³) of oil. Estimates for ultimate oil contained in the entire Bakken play range from 271 billion to 503 billion barrels (40–80 km³), with a mean of 413 billion barrels (65 km³) of technically recoverable and irrecoverable oil.[6]

This massive estimate appears to dwarf the estimated 50–70 billion barrels (8–11 km³) of technically recoverable and irrecoverable oil in Alaska's North Slope. A conservative estimate of Bakken's technically recoverable oil would be 1% to 3%, or between 4.1 and 12.4 billion barrels (0.6–2 km³) of oil, due to the fact that Bakken's shale is so tight. However, other estimates range from 10% to as high as 50% technically recoverable reserves.[7] By comparison, recoverable oil estimates in the Alaska formation are 30% to 50%, or a mean of 26 billion barrels (4 km³).

The key phrase is "technically recoverable". As technology improves (and oil prices rise) the amount of "technically recoverable" also increases. (Another illustration of why oil depletion is a myth.)

"How Things Even Out", by Jack Handey.

Woopty-doo, a new poll shows that "the world's" opinion of America is improving.

Attitudes to the United States are improving, an opinion poll carried out for the BBC World Service suggests.

The average percentage of people saying that the US has a positive influence has risen to 35% from 31% a year ago, according to the survey.

Those saying the US has a negative influence fell five percentage points to 47%.

The poll, part of a regular survey of world opinion, interviewed more than 17,000 people in 34 countries.

Wouldn't the interpretation of these results depend heavily on which countries were polled? That list isn't given in the article. I bet if you asked 34 Muslim countries America would fare pretty poorly. By mixing friends and enemies together, the aggregate results of this poll are nonsensical. I suppose it could be useful to measure what our friends and allies think of us, but shouldn't we be trying to piss off the tyrants and thugs of the world?

I'm eligible for a new mobile phone from AT&T, but I don't know what to get. I'm not going to go for one of the top-of-the-line phones and pay hundreds of dollars, but there's a vast selection of free or almost-free phones and I don't know how to decide. Any advice or opinions?


P.S., I want Wi-Fi. I'm considering the BlackBerry 8820. I can get a refurbished one for $129.99. Thoughts?

I'm certainly no fan of Nancy Pelosi, but I appreciate her stand against Chinese oppression of Tibet. I don't know all the ramifications of her advice, but I hope President Bush considers it carefully.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi does not want the U.S. to boycott the Beijing Olympics, but she says that President George W. Bush should consider skipping the opening ceremony.

"I think boycotting the opening ceremony, which really gives respect to the Chinese government, is something that should be kept on the table," Pelosi, D-Calif., told "Good Morning America" co-anchor Robin Roberts in an interview airing Tuesday. "I think the president might want to rethink this later, depending on what other heads of state do."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has announced she will not attend the Olympic Games, set to begin on August 8, 2008. Pelosi, meanwhile, has been outspoken in support of Tibet, the site of recent crackdowns on human rights demonstrators by the Chinese government.

In a recent trip to Dharmasala, India, home of the Dalai Lama's displaced Tibetan government, Pelosi said, "If freedom-loving people don't speak out against China's oppression of people in Tibet, we have lost all moral authority to speak out against any oppressed people."

China ruthlessly persecutes Christians, but that doesn't make the news as much as Tibet does because Christians are more diffuse. Keep all the victims of communist brutality in your prayers.

A majority of American doctors now support nationalizing healthcare... but so what? 99% of teachers support public education and we can see what a miserable failure that institution is. The decision on whether or not to nationalize the healthcare industry is primarily a question of economics, not medicine, and doctors have plenty of selfish reasons to support a federal takeover.

There have been many news stories over the past few years about doctors quitting their profession for various reasons, mostly to do with malpractice insurance/litigation and over-regulation, so it's no surprise that doctors are itching for some sort of change. Unfortunately, no one is seriously considering change that would actually improve healthcare and not just health insurance, so disgruntled doctors and patients are left with little outlet for their frustrations other than the proposed nationalization.

Regardless of what a majority of doctors think, nationalized healthcare would be a disaster economically, and consequently a disaster medically. The law of unintended consequences demands no less.

Researchers in France have discovered what they believe to be the oldest surviving recording of the human voice. (The audio is here, but the clip spends more time on blabbering researchers than on the actual recording.)

An "ethereal" 10 second clip of a woman singing a French folk song has been played for the first time in 150 years.

The recording of "Au Clair de la Lune", recorded in 1860, is thought to be the oldest known recorded human voice.

A phonograph of Thomas Edison singing a children's song in 1877 was previously thought to be the oldest record.

The new "phonautograph", created by etching soot-covered paper, has now been played by US scientists using a "virtual stylus" to read the lines. ...

The short song was captured on April 9, 1860 by a phonautograph, a device created by a Parisian inventor, Edouard-Leon Scott de Martinville.

The device etched representations of sound waves into paper covered in soot from a burning oil lamp.

Lines were scratched into the soot by a needle moved by a diaphragm that responded to sound. The recordings were never intended to be played.

This is one of the coolest things I've encountered in a long time. Despite the existence of thousands of photographs from the same era, there's something hauntingly immediate about actually hearing a little French girl's voice across so many years.

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