April 2009 Archives

Obama "optimistic" about Chrysler yesterday:

April 30 (Bloomberg) -- President Barack Obama struck an upbeat tone about the struggling U.S. automobile industry in a news conference that focused little on the economic and banking crises and instead touched on topics ranging from hand washing to state secrets.

“I’m actually very hopeful, more hopeful than I was 30 days ago,” Obama said last night about the likelihood that Chrysler LLC will reach a deal with debt holders, merge with Italy’s Fiat SpA and remain a competitive automaker. General Motors Corp. can also emerge from its financial woes as a “strong, competitive” company, he said.

Today: Chrysler files Chapter 11 Bankruptcy.

Talks between the Treasury Department and lenders aimed at keeping Chrysler LLC out of bankruptcy broke down late Wednesday, making it all but certain that the car maker will file for Chapter 11 protection Thursday, according to people familiar with the discussions.

Administration officials, who have been braced for a Chrysler bankruptcy filing for weeks, say all the pieces are in place to get the country's third-largest employer through the court quickly, perhaps in a matter of weeks.

The talks with Chrysler's lenders broke down after the Obama administration's automotive task force worked into the evening to persuade several hedge funds and other lenders to accept a deal to reduce Chrysler's debt, said people involved in the talks.

Let's hope that not all of the President's optimism is so misplaced.

Quick follow-up to Monday's story: the feds knew that the low-altitude flights around NYC would cause panic and they demanded secrecy anyway.

In a memo obtained by CBS 2 HD, the Federal Aviation Administration's James Johnston said the agency was aware of "the possibility of public concern regarding DOD (Department of Defense) aircraft flying at low altitudes" in an around New York City. But they demanded total secrecy from the NYPD, the Secret Service, the FBI and even the mayor's office and threatened federal sanctions if the secret got out.

Kinda makes you want to put the government in charge of banking and health care, doesn't it?

"That's why I voted for Sarah Palin and her running mate."

Sarah Palin wouldn't be my first choice for President, but it was strangely revealing that John McCain chose a running mate whose popularity completely eclipsed his own among the base of his party.

(Cross-posted at 24th State.)

I've written about the subject before, but I particularly like Vernor Vinge's characterization of information technology as the outsourcing of cognition.

The fundamental change that may be taking place -- humans may not be best characterized as the tool-creating animal but as the only animal that has figured out how to outsource its cognition — how to spread its cognitive abilities into the outside world. We’ve been doing that for a little while ten thousand years. Reading and writing is outsourcing of memory. So we have a process going on here, and you can watch to see whether it’s ongoing. So, for instance, in the next ten years, if you notice more and more substitution for using fragments of human cognition in the outside world — if human occupational responsibility becomes more and more automated in areas involving judgment that haven’t yet been automated — then what you’re seeing is rather like a rising tide of this cognitive outsourcing. That would actually be a very powerful symptom.

Google is perhaps the most powerful cognition outsourcing tool to date. I can vaguely remember going to the library twenty years ago, before I had internet access, and spending hours to find the kind of information that is now at my fingertips within seconds thanks to search technology.

Other pieces of software I use to augment my cognitive abilities: Excel, Visual Studio, Gmail, Google RSS Reader, calc.exe, Yahoo Groups, Google Calendar, Firefox, Windows.

In a scene out of Bizzaro Top Gun here we can see terrified New Yorkers running for their lives as President Obama buzzes the city with a jumbo jet and fighters for a photo op.

It's hard to believe this actually happened.

(HT: 24th State.)

Viagara that can be applied topically by rubbing it on the desired area. I wouldn't want to be researcher running the animal experiments.

Scientists in the United States have successfully tested the new technique – which involves tiny objects called nanoparticles – on rats and believe it could also be used to help humans.

Under the therapy, nanoparticles that release the anti-erectile chemical nitric oxide are rubbed on the problem area, and absorbed directly into the skin.

Of the seven rats treated by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, five showed signs of arousal, according to results presented to the American Urological Association (AUA).

And just imagine all the rubbing required to establish a control group.

New research shows that runners may experience fewer injuries if they run barefoot or with thin-soled shoes and that expensive running shoes are a waste of money.

Dr Daniel Lieberman, professor of biological anthropology at Harvard University, has been studying the growing injury crisis in the developed world for some time and has come to a startling conclusion: 'A lot of foot and knee injuries currently plaguing us are caused by people running with shoes that actually make our feet weak, cause us to over-pronate (ankle rotation) and give us knee problems.

'Until 1972, when the modern athletic shoe was invented, people ran in very thin-soled shoes, had strong feet and had a much lower incidence of knee injuries.'

Lieberman also believes that if modern trainers never existed more people would be running. And if more people ran, fewer would be suffering from heart disease, hypertension, blocked arteries, diabetes, and most other deadly ailments of the Western world.

'Humans need aerobic exercise in order to stay healthy,' says Lieberman. 'If there's any magic bullet to make human beings healthy, it's to run.'

I'm trying to find some thin, leather-soled moccasins for a reasonable price and give this a shot.

A self-replicating RepRap machine can replicate 56% of the parts required to make a copy of itself. Hey, it's a step in the right direction! (If you want superintelligent all-powerful robots to enslave mankind, which I do.)

I need the help of an artist who can do fun cartoony drawings and lettering. There may eventually be a bit of money involved if any of my ideas are successful. If you're interested, email me with some samples of your work or a URL where I can see what you can do.

Speaking of modern-day pagans...

Let's be honest. These people are completely insane. Groups like Earth First, ELF (Earth Liberation Front), ALF (Animal Liberation Front) are full of nuts who seem silly and mostly-harmless but who actually pose a significant danger to civilization. And that's their whole purpose.

(HT: RB and The Cloakroom Blog.)

I can't find an embeddable version of this, but trust me, you'll like watching this rocket sled smash into a car at 650 mph.

And how about an F-4 Phantom vs. a concrete wall?

(HT: LM and RB.)

"An archeological team, digging in the Washington DC area, has uncovered 10,000 year old bones and fossil remains of what is believed to be the first Democrat."

(HT: BT.)

When I read this essay two weeks ago that begins with a discussion of Obama's mis-steps I intended to write a post myself about how much I enjoy reading Camille Paglia. But I didn't, because I didn't have much more to say than that. But now I see that hers is the first name mentioned by Rush Limbaugh when he is asked who he admires.

VAN SUSTEREN: Who do you admire and why?

[... a bunch of stuff where he doesn't name any names ]

LIMBAUGH: Well, now, you're getting into politics. If you want to talk about things that -- I admire a lot of people that nobody even knows, and they're, you know, hard-working people who are trying to struggle against all of this, just trying to be the best they can be, fighting against the odds, working harder than they ever have to overcome the obstacles in their way. And those are people that, you know, you really to take inspiration from. And I admire people who are not afraid to speak out -- you know (INAUDIBLE) and people in the arts.

I mean, I'm sure there are some -- I admire Camille Paglia. I admire her brilliance. I admire Krauthammer and Victor Davis Hanson and Justice Scalia. I mean, if I wished -- if I didn't have my own brain, I wish I had theirs. Satisfied with mine. But there's a tremendous -- Clarence Thomas.

I don't think Paglia would be the first name on my list, but still.

I like the earth: it's pretty much my favorite planet. I've got no problem with designating one day a year to celebrate how awesome the earth is... but the current incarnation of Earth Day misses the point completely.

Romans 1:25 They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

Instead of modern-day paganism, the magnificence of creation should turn our eyes to our Creator. The earth is awesome because the God who made it is awesome.

Psalm 19:1-4

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge.

There is no speech or language
where their voice is not heard.

Their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.

The Heritage Foundation has an informative graphic:

Greg Mankiw compares the cut to a cup of coffee:

Just to be clear: $100 million represents .003 percent of $3.5 trillion.

To put those numbers in perspective, imagine that the head of a household with annual spending of $100,000 called everyone in the family together to deal with a $34,000 budget shortfall. How much would he or she announce that spending had to be cut? By $3 over the course of the year--approximately the cost of one latte at Starbucks. The other $33,997? We can put that on the family credit card and worry about it next year.

The Christian Science Monitor has more coffee analogies.

So why not mash them together?

How serious is Obama about fiscal discipline?

I don't know about believing in it, but that $100 million sure looks like change.

A poll mentioned here by the Associated Baptist Press reflects a profound misunderstanding by the pollsters and the ABP journalist about both "torture" and Biblical doctrine.

A new survey suggests the very Americans who claim to follow the Bible most assiduously don’t consult it when forming their views about torture and government policy.

The poll of 600 Southern white evangelicals was released Sept. 11 in Atlanta in connection with a national religious summit on torture. It shows not only are white evangelical Southerners more likely than the general populace to believe torture is sometimes or often justified, but also that they are far more likely—to tweak a phrase from Proverbs—to “lean on their own understanding” regarding the subject.

However, their views seemed to change when asked to consider torture policy in light of the Golden Rule. When respondents were asked if the United States should “never use methods against our enemies that we would not want used on American soldiers,” more than half agreed.

It's bizarre to imply that Jesus' Sermon on the Mount was intended as public policy prescriptions when Jesus himself had very little to say about politics or government at all. Jesus' instructions were for us as individuals and clearly had no bearing on how war should be carried out. We don't want al Qaeda to hunt us down and kill us, so does that mean we shouldn't do it to them? No, absurd.

I guess the source of the poll and the quoted discussion is informative.

The study was commissioned by Mercer University and Faith in Public Life. Its results were announced during the “Religious Faith, Torture and our National Soul” conference held on Mercer’s Atlanta campus. The meeting was sponsored by the two organizations that commissioned the poll and a host of other religious groups, including the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Evangelicals for Human Rights, the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference and the Islamic Society of North America.

Completely neglected is any discussion of the now-loaded word "torture": most poll respondents were probably aware that the term is often used to describe practices that most people would not actually consider to be "torture" but merely unpleasant. By warping the meaning of the word to broaden its definition and hinder the War on Terror, the Left has simultaneously enabled the creation of absurd polls whose results are essentially meaningless.

I encourage Robert Marus and the Associated Baptist Press to be a bit more skeptical and deep-thinking before writing these sorts of nonsensical stories.

I don't think the CIA interrogation memos should have been released by the Administration, but former Vice President Dick Cheney is right when he says that they only tell part of the story.

"One of the things that I find a little bit disturbing about this recent disclosure is they put out the legal memos, the memos that the CIA got from the Office of Legal Counsel, but they didn't put out the memos that showed the success of the effort," Cheney said.

Cheney said he's asked that the documents be declassified because he has remained silent on the confidential information, but he knows how successful the interrogation process was and wants the rest of the country to understand.

"I haven't talked about it, but I know specifically of reports that I read, that I saw, that lay out what we learned through the interrogation process and what the consequences were for the country," Cheney said. "I've now formally asked the CIA to take steps to declassify those memos so we can lay them out there and the American people have a chance to see what we obtained and what we learned and how good the intelligence was."

Obama is in perpetual campaign mode and doesn't seem to know what it means to actually be President. When you're a candidate you can play up information that supports you and leave it to your detractors mention anything contrary. You're not (realistically) expected to be a responsible, neutral dispenser of information because you're speaking for yourself and you're trying to win political office. However, once you've won, when you're actually President, you don't just speak for yourself anymore. You can't wield the levers of government power to manipulate information in your favor.

Most Americans understand that there's a trade-off between liberty and safety. It's a clever turn of phrase that "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." but as with most absolutes it cannot be quite right. There are trade-offs in everything, and though it is noble for one man to die for a cause it is absurd for an entire civilization to do the same. People desire both liberty and safety, but when they are obtained they are both temporary and must be constantly defended. Despite Franklin's implication, however, you can never escape the slippery slope between them.

This is the discussion that Candidate Obama doesn't want to have, but President Obama is responsible for leading. Candidate Obama doesn't want to tell people "this much 'torture' bought you this much safety" because he's afraid that the verdict of the American people at large will be different from the verdict of the groups that put him in power. To avoid the discussion, he "leaked" memos that help his cause as if he were a whistleblower rather than The Man. As President he has a responsibility to all Americans and not only his supporters. When he begins to realize that he will perhaps begin to grow into the Office he already occupies.

(Cross-posted at 24th State.)

I'm personally skeptical about the sourcing of this "real story" behind the rescue of Captain Philips from the Somali pirates. The details are too-good-to-be-true for anyone of a conservative bent, and yet not so unbelievable that you can dismiss them out of hand. I imagine the story is close to the truth, even if the writer has no real direct knowledge of the incident.

The one fact that's hard to explain if the President didn't initially insist on a peaceful resolution is that Captain Philips jumped into the water during his first escape attempt and was fired upon, and yet the nearby naval vessels did not engage the pirates remaining on the boat. Once Captain Philips was clear, why weren't the pirates who were shooting at him from the boat immediately killed?

Anyway, I've gotten this story from many different directions all purporting to be true, which means it almost certainly isn't. But it may still be truthy!

What more needs be said?

From The Voice of the Martyrs:

TURKEY- Pray for Turkey on April 18

The Turkish church has set aside April 18 as the International Day of Prayer for Turkey. VOM encourages you to pray for believers in Turkey who are risking their lives for Christ. Especially remember the families of Necati Aydin, Tilman Geske and Ugur Yuksel who were martyred on April 18, 2007 in Malatya, Turkey. Ask God to continue encouraging their families and for believers in Turkey to remain faithful and courageous despite persecution.

This paper in the British Medical Journal proves that abortion is used as a sex-selection tool in China thanks to the totalitarian one-child policy and general discrimination against girls and women.

Results 4 764 512 people under the age of 20 were included. Overall sex ratios were high across all age groups and residency types, but they were highest in the 1-4 years age group, peaking at 126 (95% confidence interval 125 to 126) in rural areas. Six provinces had sex ratios of over 130 in the 1-4 age group. The sex ratio at birth was close to normal for first order births but rose steeply for second order births, especially in rural areas, where it reached 146 (143 to 149). Nine provinces had ratios of over 160 for second order births. The highest sex ratios were seen in provinces that allow rural inhabitants a second child if the first is a girl. Sex selective abortion accounts for almost all the excess males. One particular variant of the one child policy, which allows a second child if the first is a girl, leads to the highest sex ratios.

Conclusions In 2005 males under the age of 20 exceeded females by more than 32 million in China, and more than 1.1 million excess births of boys occurred. China will see very high and steadily worsening sex ratios in the reproductive age group over the next two decades. Enforcing the existing ban on sex selective abortion could lead to normalisation of the ratios.

Emphasis mine.

Shouldn't various groups concerned about "women's rights" be making a bit of noise about this ruthless gender-cide?

(HT: William Saletan.)

I agree with the general sentiment behind Texas Governor Rick Perry's consideration of the secession "option": I'm as mad about the overreach of the federal government as anyone! But at the same time, I don't think it's appropriate to talk as if secession is on the table. Millions of Americans have shed their blood and died to preserve our country, and talk of secession insults their sacrifices.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry fired up an anti-tax "tea party" Wednesday with his stance against the federal government and for states' rights as some in his U.S. flag-waving audience shouted, "Secede!" ...

Perry called his supporters patriots. Later, answering news reporters' questions, Perry suggested Texans might at some point get so fed up they would want to secede from the union, though he said he sees no reason why Texas should do that.

"There's a lot of different scenarios," Perry said. "We've got a great union. There's absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that. But Texas is a very unique place, and we're a pretty independent lot to boot."

He said when Texas entered the union in 1845 it was with the understanding it could pull out. However, according to the Texas State Library and Archives Commission, Texas negotiated the power to divide into four additional states at some point if it wanted to but not the right to secede.

The secession question was settled 150 years ago, and remains settled. We're all Americans, and we're all in this together. Suggestion to the contrary does much more harm than good.

Instead of secession, Governor Perry and other similarly-minded state officials should push for the return of the Senate to its original purpose: representatives of the various states to the federal government. The 17th Amendment changed how Senators were selected: instead of being chosen by state legislatures, they are now directly elected by the whole population of each state. This populist change is more democratic than the original intent of our Founders, but has severely diluted the states' power to check and control the actions of the federal government.

I just got home from the Saint Louis Tax Day Tea Party... what a blast! It was the first protest I've been to where I wasn't counter-protesting!

I heard that the park rangers estimated attendance at 8,000 to 10,000 people, and based on my own naive counting I believe it. The atmosphere was incredible, the people were nice and enthusiastic, and everything went off without a hitch. Bill Hennessy, Dana Loesch, the other organizers, and Gateway Pundit (did he help organize?) all deserve a lot of credit.

My impression of the rally:

  • It's a learning process. Many of the people there didn't seem to know exactly what to do, probably because this was the first rally they'd been to. The organizers didn't seem to lack for anything: they had free signs and took names and email addresses.
  • Getting people out the first time is always the hardest. Now that these 10,000 people have been to one protest, it'll be much easier to get them to come to the next one, and to bring their friends.
  • Elected Republicans should be worried. This crowd was their natural constituency, but no one hesitated to boo the officials who didn't show up because they weren't allowed to speak. The speakers went out of their way to highlight the failures of the Republican party over the past nine years, and the crowd was pleased to hear it.
  • Representative Todd Aiken was a class act. He stood on stage and watched everything, even though he wasn't allowed/asked to speak. He stood there and took it, even while the crowd chanted "vote them out!".
  • People were fired up and wanted to know "now what?". The main advice I'd give to the organizers is that they should have told us what to do next. Every attendee should have been given a flier with contact information for local officials, a URL to a website, and some hint of the next rally or activity that's going to happen. Hopefully the email addresses that were collected will be used for this kind of follow-up, but it would have been nice to have something in-hand when I left.

Here's a few seconds of video from the west side of Keiner Plaza. Keep in mind that there are at least as many people on the east side of the plaza on the opposite side of the speakers' platform.

Click the extended entry for pictures.

As an engineer I never hesitate to create a new word when an old one just won't do. In that vein, I'm eager to support Shannon Love's effort to launch the word "preed" as a single word to describe the concept we currently label as "greed for power".

While linking to a Megan McArdle comment on a childish Matthew Yglesias post on bankers, Instapundit asks a question that reveals a void in our language and world-models:
“DOES GREED MAKE YOU A BAD PERSON? What about greed for power, a trait exhibited by many of those who denounce greed for money? Which is worse?”

Why does Instapundit have to use the cumbersome phrase “greed for power” to describe a very common human behavior? Why do we have to describe the lust for power in terms of the lust for money?

Love goes to great length to suggest a reason why English doesn't already have a word for preed. I'm not sure how accurate her explanation is, but she spins a compelling narrative.

What does it tell us that English and every other Western language have a single word to describe the destructive lust for money but that they lack a single word to describe the destructive lust for political power?

After all, it is not as if we lack any experience with the destructive effects of the single-minded pursuit of power. From the very worst such as Hitler, Stalin, Mao or Pol Pot down to some jackass on the city council, most of us have seen individuals cause real harm to others just to increase their own political power. Why then do we not have a word for such destructive behavior?

I think the answer simple. Historically, people who lust for power will kill you quicker and more surely than will those who lust for money.

It has been noted correctly that the local dog catcher has more arbitrary authority over any citizen than does Bill Gates, currently the richest man in America. Bill Gates cannot set one foot on my property if I don’t wish him to but the dog catcher can do so against my will under the color of his authority. If I beat up Bill Gates for trespassing, he will go to jail not I. If I resist the dog catcher, it will trigger a chain of events which can lead to my death at the hands of a SWAT team. That can happen even if the dog catcher is not corrupt. If he is corrupt, things can go very badly, very quickly even for a law-abiding person.

All the power of the state for good or bad arises from the power of the state to kill. The lowest public official wields the power to initiate a string of events that will lead to the death of citizens who resist that power. This has always been the case throughout history. The “nobles” of pre-democratic western cultures were nothing but a caste of intermarried families of military specialists who maintained their position over the rest of society by killing. During this time, the clergy was often composed of the same family members and benefited materially from the killers’ extortion from the productive elements of society. Nobles and clergy survived and lived richly by stealing from the peasants, artisans and merchants. They needed propaganda to justify why people who could do nothing but kill had an inherent right to take from those who cultivated, created and distributed. For thousands of years, those who killed have held both their purse strings and their swords to the throats of the clergy, philosophers and artists who over the generations created our cultural narratives of good and bad behavior. Those narrative-creators who created stories that glorified the killers grew rich, stayed alive and had their works preserved throughout the ages. Those who did not ended up dead and their works erased from history. The killers wanted to take from peasants, so the word for peasant, villager, from the Latin villi meaning “farmhand”, became by the medieval age the word “villain”. To take from the artisan or merchant, they needed to cast the merchant’s accumulation of material wealth without violence as a sin, so we have the invention of the sin and word, “greed”. By contrast, the very name of the caste of killers, “noble” became a synonym for virtue and self-sacrifice.

Also a powerful reminder that royalty, nobles, and knights are romantic, they're the physical manifestations of an oppressive, violent, and exploitative social system that we've done well to leave behind. We need to make sure that our present political caste doesn't fall into this mold and forget that they work for us.

I guess it's sad for the people involved, but... it's kinda funny to me. Two killed in swordfight.

A man died Monday, days after he was stabbed in a swordfight with the grandson of a woman who was also fatally stabbed when she tried to intervene in the fight, police said. ...

Rondeau and Adolf Stegbauer got into an argument at a home in the 5200 block of Raceway Road that escalated when one of the men grabbed a sword, prompting the other man to also brandish a sword.

Not the... uh... sharpest knives in the drawer.

Glenn Reynolds gives a good overview of the Tax Day Tea Party movement.

The protests began with bloggers in Seattle, Wash., who organized a demonstration on Feb. 16. As word of this spread, rallies in Denver and Mesa, Ariz., were quickly organized for the next day. Then came CNBC talker Rick Santelli's Feb. 19 "rant heard round the world" in which he called for a "Chicago tea party" on July Fourth. The tea-party moniker stuck, but angry taxpayers weren't willing to wait until July. Soon, tea-party protests were appearing in one city after another, drawing at first hundreds, and then thousands, to marches in cities from Orlando to Kansas City to Cincinnati.

As word spread, people got interested in picking a common date for nationwide protests, and decided on today, Tax Day, as the date. As I write this, various Web sites tracking tea parties are predicting anywhere between 300 and 500 protests at cities around the world. A Google Map tracking planned events, maintained at the FreedomWorks.org Web site, shows the United States covered by red circles, with new events being added every day. ...

There's good news and bad news in this phenomenon for establishment politicians. The good news for Republicans is that, while the Republican Party flounders in its response to the Obama presidency and its programs, millions of Americans are getting organized on their own. The bad news is that those Americans, despite their opposition to President Obama's policies, aren't especially friendly to the GOP. When Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele asked to speak at the Chicago tea party, his request was politely refused by the organizers: "With regards to stage time, we respectfully must inform Chairman Steele that RNC officials are welcome to participate in the rally itself, but we prefer to limit stage time to those who are not elected officials, both in Government as well as political parties. This is an opportunity for Americans to speak, and elected officials to listen, not the other way around."

So, do you think they will listen? If not, what next?

The uproar over this DHS rightwing extremist report seems a but overwrought to me. A lot of the outrage seems to have started with Michelle Malkin, but the paranoia began with Roger Hedgecock. (Whereas other reaction, like Stephen Gordon, seems a bit more measured.)

Anyway, yes, I think the DHS bulletin is offensive and misguided. I'm not sure it's worth getting so worked up about, though.

Here's a plan for a clock that can run accurately for 10,000 years -- and the coolest part is that it's entirely mechanical, not electronic.

(HT: NW.)

I'm sure glad we dumped all those billions into General Motors so we could delay their bankruptcy for a few months.

The interim chairman of General Motors Corp. acknowledged Tuesday that the auto maker is running out of time to reach a deal with stakeholders and the federal government to restructure outside of bankruptcy.

Kent Kresa said the GM board remains convinced that an out-of-court restructuring is the preferred option, but several looming deadlines could impact that goal.

"The times are very, very short," he said in an interview. Mr. Kresa was installed at the end of March after Chairman and Chief Executive Rick Wagoner was ousted by the White House, which also handed GM a June 1 deadline to revise its restructuring plan or face bankruptcy.

"This is a very difficult thing to do," Mr. Kresa said. "We have some deadlines rapidly approaching and the probabilities are decreasing we can do [this] outside of bankruptcy."

GM is surviving on $13.4 billion in U.S. government funds, and Mr. Kresa said GM will need another loan infusion "very shortly."

I know we've given them more than $13.4 billion. I can't keep track of all the rounds of bailouts in my head, but isn't the total closer to $30 billion for GM and another $20 billion for Chrysler?

That money is completely gone, wasted. Those companies should have failed last year.

Tweenbots say more about human psychology than about robots or artificial intelligence, and make for a bizarrely heart-warming tale.

Tweenbots are human-dependent robots that navigate the city with the help of pedestrians they encounter. Rolling at a constant speed, in a straight line, Tweenbots have a destination displayed on a flag, and rely on people they meet to read this flag and to aim them in the right direction to reach their goal.

Given their extreme vulnerability, the vastness of city space, the dangers posed by traffic, suspicion of terrorism, and the possibility that no one would be interested in helping a lost little robot, I initially conceived the Tweenbots as disposable creatures which were more likely to struggle and die in the city than to reach their destination. Because I built them with minimal technology, I had no way of tracking the Tweenbot’s progress, and so I set out on the first test with a video camera hidden in my purse. I placed the Tweenbot down on the sidewalk, and walked far enough away that I would not be observed as the Tweenbot––a smiling 10-inch tall cardboard missionary––bumped along towards his inevitable fate.

But apparently the Tweenbot's initial journey was successful, thanks to the kindness and empathy of the native humans. Yet another reason why we have to stop the robots before it's too late!

(HT: Marginal Revolution.)

ACORN comes across as rather petty as they dismiss interest in the Tea Party movement as beneath them.

"This is the first we've heard of these so-called 'tea parties.' And, frankly, a bunch of small get-togethers by fringe conservative activists dedicated to simply saying 'no' is of little interest to us," said ACORN spokesman Brian Kettenring.

He did not say where the pro-Obama rallies would take place, leaving open the possibility that they may clash with some tea parties. ...

"The idea that ACORN is out to disrupt these meet-ups of fringe activists is yet another conservative fantasy," Kettenring said.

I'll be at the St. Louis Tax Day Tea Party, maybe we'll see some ACORNers there.

Finally I can kick my nicotine patch addition! Electronic cigarettes:

Allow me to introduce you to the e-cigarette. These battery-powered gizmos sound like a ridiculous party gag, and as a matter of fact they are. But they also deliver users a serious portion of vaporized nicotine that is supposed to sate even the most demanding of smokers. As Der Spiegel reports—with a healthy puff of irony and caution—e-cigarettes could be “Smoking 2.0.”

In particular, these gadgets sidestep the 4,000-plus chemicals present in standard cigarette smoke that plume into one’s lungs from the burning of tobacco and tar. This allows e-cigarette smokers to avoid the 50 or so cancer-causing components of normal cigarettes. Not surprisingly, e-cigarette companies make grandiose statements about the health benefits of their wares.

E-cigarettes work like this: Nicotine is dissolved in propylene glycol, and the combination is stored in a cartridge that is designed to look like a traditional orange cigarette filter. The nicotine cartridge screws onto the main body of the e-cigarette, which contains a rechargeable battery that powers an electrical circuit. When the smoker inhales, a sensor in the circuit is activated. This causes a red-light-emitting diode at the tip to turn on. More importantly, the nicotine and propylene glycol are heated up so that they vaporize and get sucked into the smoker’s lungs.

ECigarettesUSA even makes electronic cigarette cartridges without nicotine!

I'm actually pretty interested in trying one. All the cool kids are doing it.

For decades the American carrier battle group has reigned supreme over the world's oceans, but now China may have an effective counter: the anti-surface ballistic missile (ASBM).

With tensions already rising due to the Chinese navy becoming more aggressive in asserting its territorial claims in the South China Sea, the U.S. Navy seems to have yet another reason to be deeply concerned.

After years of conjecture, details have begun to emerge of a "kill weapon" developed by the Chinese to target and destroy U.S. aircraft carriers.

First posted on a Chinese blog viewed as credible by military analysts and then translated by the naval affairs blog Information Dissemination, a recent report provides a description of an anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) that can strike carriers and other U.S. vessels at a range of 2000km.

The Information Dissemination link has lots more technical information. One particularly interested tidbit is:

Reconnaissance Satellites - I think you can look at the Ziyuan and Yaogan series of satellites that have EO, CCD and SAR sensors as possibilities here. They could also be talking about the FY series, which is actually expected to be a constellation of Earth Observation satellites. I think it's important that in the 18th Committee on Earth Observation Satellites plenary and workshop in 2004, they announced they would launch over 100 Earth Observation satellites. I don't know enough about this to comment on which specific satellites I think will be used for scanning ships, but the blog did mention that China has used FY-2 series of satellites to track movement of targets. Another possibility is launching many short duration, micro-Earth Observation satellites in times of conflict. It mentioned that China can launch a 100 kg satellite on 12 hours notice. In peace mission 05. They launched an experimental satellite on August 2nd for detection/science experiment work. This operated for 27 days and returned to earth on August 29th after the conclusion of the exercise.

Emphasis mine.

Yeah yeah, I'm late. Too busy celebrating I guess. But still, happy Easter!

Looks like President Obama handled the pirate hostage situation pretty well, even if it took him a while to get down to business.

MOMBASA, Kenya (AP) - An American ship captain was freed unharmed Sunday and three of the pirates who held him for days in a lifeboat off the Somali coast were killed in a operation by U.S. Navy Seals that was approved by President Barack Obama, officials said. ...

U.S. officials said Obama ordered the Defense Department to use military resources to rescue Phillips. Obama said the captain had courage that was "a model for all Americans."

The fourth pirate should have been hanged on the spot.

Shannon Love nails the implications of the current piracy problem:

The return of international lawlessness on both land and sea arises from a paralysis brought on by the breakdown of internal trust and cooperation in the developed nations. We cannot enforce international law because half of our polity believes we have no right to. Half of our polity is more concerned with using piracy and other forms of lawlessness as sticks with which to attack their internal political enemies than they are with defending international law. The Geneva and Hague conventions have died in the last few years as it became evident that the principles of those conventions will only be applied to actions of the militaries of liberal democracies, and to no one else. Systematic violation of the Conventions has become the accepted road to political power, personal wealth and, occasionally, a Nobel Peace Prize.

Half of the polity now argues that unlawful and inhumane tactics merely represent the desperation of the justified underdog instead of the callousness of the cruel and greedy. In such a moral environment, those who must fight and apprehend pirates understand that they will face far harsher judgment, with far less presumption of innocence, than will the pirates. Why should they risk their reputations, careers, freedoms and lives just to uphold the law when they know their most likely reward will be a knife in the back?

Despite all the hand-wringing, solving the pirate problem should be pretty easy.

The rich nations are already taking steps to protect their shipping – the US 5th Fleet has five to 10 ships in the area; there is also an EU force, and a Nato fleet. A host of countries, including Britain, China, Russia, India, Saudi Arabia, Denmark and Malaysia, have either sent warships or are reportedly considering doing so.

Such ships must act promptly and ruthlessly, as piracy will spread unless it is stamped out. The Gulf of Aden is an exit from the Mediterranean, one of the world's most important seas, crossed annually by thousands of ships. So our campaign must be ruthless and pitiless: pirate ships must be sunk on sight and the crews left to swim to safety, if it can be reached.

Many would complain about such tactics but, in my opinion, pirates have no rights – indeed, it will be vital to exclude human rights lawyers from the anti-piracy campaign. To bring any captives to Europe or America for trial would probably be to grant them their dearest wish, which is to secure entry to a new life in the First World.

Hang 'em high.

Despite the video below, the White House is denying that President Obama bowed to the King of Saudi Arabia.

Just jump to 0:50 in the video and decide for yourself!

The White House is denying that the president bowed to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia at a G-20 meeting in London, a scene that drew criticism on the right and praise from some Arab outlets.

"It wasn't a bow. He grasped his hand with two hands, and he's taller than King Abdullah," said an Obama aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Welcome aboard, new American citizens!

This desk navigating robot would be pretty cool, if there were any open space on my desk for it to navigate.

The translated-from-Japanese description is priceless.

The all-around control, you may never experience it! The 6 directions control plus 3 speed levels. Also the Robot can be controlled via Artificial Intelligence (AI) after you press the AUTO button, then the Robot can detect-and-escape from the barriers. What's more, after you press the AUTO button and Direction button, the Robot can detect-and-trace the objects. In the Trace mode, the Robot can be charged and run to the controller automatically! The controller as a Robot Station can be stored a Robot inside.

Anastasia Kousakis interviews Jessica Valenti who says that America is obsessed with virginity, specifically female virginity, and who thinks it's ridiculous. Unfortunately she displays not even a basic understanding of the importance of traditional sexuality to Western culture and makes no substantive argument against traditional values: she merely scoffs as if that is argument enough. Maybe for HuffPo readers it is!

So, what is the purity myth?

The purity myth is the lie that virginity or sexual abstinence has some bearing on who we are as people, as good people, women in particular. More specifically, what the book talks about is how that lie and how that myth is really a driving force in a lot of the conservative moves to regress women's rights and to reinforce traditional gender roles. So, how they're using this myth of sexual purity, this fear of young women's sexuality, to promote their agenda for women.

You argue in the book that America is obsessed with virginity, female virginity specifically, and that there is, in fact, an entire movement fuelling this obsession. How exactly do you define the "virginity movement?"

The virginity movement, specifically, is a group of--and they certainly don't call themselves the virginity movement--conservatives, anti-feminist organizations, legislators, all with this really specific agenda in mind for women that's definitely regressive, definitely old school, definitely traditional. But instead of using the normal ways of pushing their agenda they're really focusing on young women's sexuality as not only a scare tactic but as a salacious way to get their point across.

Miss Valenti's strategy appears to consist of using words like "conservative", "regressive", "old school", and "traditional" and assuming that because her readers aren't those things they will accept the mere labeling as an actual argument.

Maybe if Miss Valenti studied history or anthropology outside of the Women's Studies department she'd have a firmer foundation for her position.

(HT: RD.)

In 2004 I attended Cato University and had a blast (plus I picked up a bunch of free books). It was so much fun, in fact, that I didn't have time to blog much about it during the week I was there!

I was a little wary of attending at the time because I'm more of a conservative than a libertarian, but my between-ish positions were well-accepted and I had a lot of fun debating and arguing with all the other attendees and lecturers. If that sort of thing sounds fun to you, check out this year's offerings:

Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence has written an incredibly myopic piece that tries to tie gun rights proponents to mass murders (also ).

After each horrific shooting, some leaders in Washington have said the solution is to do nothing, simply continue to enforce the existing laws, just as we have been doing. The gun lobby, meanwhile, calls for weakening our already paltry laws to get more guns to more people in more places. It is time for the gun lobby to stop stoking fear among gun owners with false claims about the government. It is time for the gun industry to stop capitalizing on those ginned-up fears to spread weapons of war among the public.

The gun lobby's rhetoric has consequences. We have seen how profound those consequences can be.

We have a gun crisis in America. As important as the economic crisis is, the right to be safe at home and work and play needs at least as much attention from our policymakers as the right to economic security. It is time for leaders in Washington to drop empty platitudes after each horrific shooting, and instead do what they're paid to do: show backbone, and enact reasonable laws to keep dangerous weapons out of the hands of dangerous people.

Helmke's argument is completely disingenuous: does he really think psychos who want to murder dozens of people will be stopped by yet another law? No, I don't think he does. Is the Brady Campaign only in favor of "reasonable laws" that "keep dangerous weapons out of the hands of dangerous people"? No, they favor banning all guns. (As does President Obama.)

Let's turn the tables: how many people have died because of anti-gun nuts? How many murders could have been prevented if the victim were armed instead of helpless? How many rapes? How many kidnappings? How many robberies? How many millions? Guns are used in self-defense every day.

And of course, what's the difference between a citizen and a peasant? A gun.

Having a real baby of my own, it's easy to imagine there being a market for a robot baby that never requires attention but is always eager to offer affection to reciprocate emotions.

The creators of the Child-robot with Biomimetic Body, or CB2, say it's slowly developing social skills by interacting with humans and watching their facial expressions, mimicking a mother-baby relationship. ...

"Babies and infants have very, very limited programmes. But they have room to learn more," said Osaka University professor Minoru Asada, as his team's 33 kilogram (73 pound) invention kept its eyes glued to him.

The team is trying to teach the pint-sized android to think like a baby who evaluates its mother's countless facial expressions and "clusters" them into basic categories, such as happiness and sadness.

I think Asada's projection for the future of artificially intelligent robots is quite reasonable:

In coming decades, Asada expects science will come up with a "robo species" that has learning abilities somewhere between those of a human and other primate species such as the chimpanzee.

With Japan's wealth and demographic shift towards the elderly, it's the perfect market for this kind of robot.

Electronics giant Toshiba is developing a new model of domestic helper, AppriAttenda, which moves on wheels and can fetch containers from a refrigerator with its two arms -- a potentially lucratic invention in fast-aging Japan.

"We aim to make a robot that elderly people can count on when living alone," said Takashi Yoshimi, a senior research scientist at a Toshiba laboratory in Kawasaki city south of Tokyo.

Sign me up.

This is a pretty neat story about a robot that formed a hypothesis and then tested it experimentally.

A laboratory robot called Adam has been hailed as the first machine in history to have discovered new scientific knowledge independently of its human creators.

Adam formed a hypothesis on the genetics of bakers’ yeast and carried out experiments to test its predictions, without intervention from its makers at Aberystwyth University.

The result was a series of “simple but useful” discoveries, confirmed by human scientists, about the gene coding for yeast enzymes. The research is published in the journal Science. ...

Adam is the result of a five-year collaboration between computer scientists and biologists at Aberystwyth and Cambridge universities.

The researchers endowed Adam with a huge database of yeast biology, automated hardware to carry out experiments, supplies of yeast cells and lab chemicals, and powerful artificial intelligence software.

I expect that Adam will be the next in a long line of "no longer artificial intelligence" successes: when AI works the algorithm becomes "just the way it's done" and not AI anymore.

Adam probably works by generating random potential experiments, culling out the ones that will be obvious failures using a heuristic, and then carrying out the experiments that make the cut. Many will still be failures, but Adam probably identifies some as successful enough to draw to the attention of human researchers.

The artificial intelligence may not be that complex, but connecting it to a robot that can perform biology experiments kicks it up to a new level. Very cool.

(HT: GeekPress.)

The Firearm Blog has done some extensive research and thoroughly debunked the widespread claim that American "assault rifles" are causing violence in Mexico.

For the past few months the media has been awash with articles discussing a new disease spreading across the USA-Mexican border, destroying lives and fueling the drug trade. The pathogen is the infamous “assault rifle” and the reason for the spread of arms is lax American gun laws, or so the American public is being told again and again.

Finally two reporters from Fox News, William La Jeunesse and Maxim Lott, took the time to look into the figures behind recent politicians’ speeches and discovered that only 13% of firearms confiscated in Mexico were of US origin. While it was a breath of fresh air to read an honest piece of journalism, I was still not satisfied with the number. It seemed incredible that an organization that is able to smuggle up to $48.4 billion [PDF link] worth of drugs into Mexico and from there export them to the US with apparent impunity are forced to purchase 13% of their arms from US gun stores selling civilian legal semi-automatic firearms, rather than the global arms black-market where just about anything can be purchased if you have the money.

There's more going on than meets the eye.

Firstly, the Mexican police seem to have either little understanding of the firearms they are confiscating, or little command of the english language to interpret what they have captured. For example, in this press release from last year, they list this rifle “Un rifle marca Nickel Steel Barrel, matrícula 440236, calibre 30mm” (English: “A rifle brand Nickel Steel Barrel, number 440236, size 30mm”, emphasis mine). The “brand” was obviously read off the barrel. They also regularly name the same type of firearm under varying names. For example MAK-90 Norinco semi-automatic AK-47 clones are sometimes called MAK-90, Mark-90 or MK-90 or just “Norinco”. They do not appear to be able to keep consistent records. The police regularly make many other sloppy errors but I will not list them all.

Secondly, despite the significant desertion of Mexican soldiers who likely took thier M16 rifles with them (150,000 soldiers deserted in the past 6 years out of a force of 183,700 active personal) the Mexicans have kept very quite about M16 rifles being confiscated. I only managed to find evidence of three M16 rifles captured in the past 12 months. This does not make sense considering the vast quantity of these arms almost certainty exist in the hands of Mexican criminals.

(HT: RD.)

You've got to take a few minutes to read Obama's explanation of the financial crisis, with his underlying thoughts presented in brackets thanks to John Grace.

Nick Robinson: "A question for you both, if I may. The prime minister has repeatedly blamed the United States of America for causing this crisis. France and Germany both blame Britain and America for causing this crisis. Who is right? And isn't the debate about that at the heart of the debate about what to do now?"

Barack Obama: "I, I, would say that, er ... pause [I HAVEN'T A CLUE] ... if you look at ... pause [WHO IS THIS NICK ROBINSON JERK?] ... the, the sources of this crisis ... pause [JUST KEEP GOING, BUDDY] ... the United States certainly has some accounting to do with respect to . . . pause [I'M IN WAY TOO DEEP HERE] ... a regulatory system that was inadequate to the massive changes that have taken place in the global financial system ... pause, close eyes [THIS IS GOING TO GO DOWN LIKE A CROCK OF SHIT BACK HOME. HELP]. I think what is also true is that ... pause [I WANT NICK ROBINSON TO DISAPPEAR] ... here in Great Britain ... pause [SHIT, GORDY'S THE HOST, DON'T LAND HIM IN IT] ... here in continental Europe ... pause [DAMN IT, BLAME EVERYONE.] ... around the world. We were seeing the same mismatch between the regulatory regimes that were in place and er ... pause [I'VE LOST MY TRAIN OF THOUGHT AGAIN] ... the highly integrated, er, global capital markets that have emerged ... pause [I'M REALLY WINGING IT NOW]. So at this point, I'm less interested in ... pause [YOU] ... identifying blame than fixing the problem. I think we've taken some very aggressive steps in the United States to do so, not just responding to the immediate crisis, ensuring banks are adequately capitalised, er, dealing with the enormous, er ... pause [WHY DIDN'T I QUIT WHILE I WAS AHEAD?] ...

The wife saw this live on television yesterday and I was initially incredulous that Obama could possibly give an answer that bad. But I was wrong!

o/ o/ o/ o/ o/ o/ o/ o/ o/ o/

Looks like Fannie and Freddie are tap dancing on more quicksand thanks to trouble in the mortgage insurance industry.

Imagine paying full premium for an insurance contract, and receiving only 60 percent on any claim you make — that’s the unsavory situation now being faced by both Fannie Mae (FNM: 0.72 +5.88%) and Freddie Mac (FRE: 0.76 +2.70%), as well as a bevy of private-market lenders, on their mortgage insurance contracts with troubled mortgage insurer Triad Guaranty Inc. (TGIC: 0.26 +37.71%).

The insurer, which put itself into run-off and ceased writing new mortgage insurance policies in the middle of last year, said late Wednesday that it had received a corrective order from its regulator, the Illinois Director of Insurance, limiting its payout on claims to 60 percent. The remaining 40 percent of a claim will essentially take the form of an IOU, or a deferred payment obligation (DPO), meaning the lender/investor will not immediately be able recover the full amount of its claim. ...

In a frequently asked questions document, Triad noted that policyholders will still be required to pay the full premium, since “Triad is recognizing its entire claim obligation at the time of the claim through the cash payment and DPO, with the intent of paying the DPO amount in the future.” But when that future is seems pretty uncertain, to say the least: the future payment on the DPO can only occur when the insurer’s regulator sees the insurer achieve specified minimum surplus balances and risk-to-capital ratios. It’s unclear how a company that is not bringing in new revenue via new policies can be expected to bolster its level of capital.

Also unclear: why any of Triad's customers wouldn't immediately cancel their policies and change providers.

I don't understand the intricacies of the industry, but I'm pretty sure the taxpayer will somehow end up getting screwed over this.

Some Afghani MPs are pretty naive!

Safia Sidiqi, a lawmaker from Nangarhar province who condemned the legislation, said she cannot remember parliament debating or even voting on the law and she does not know how it came to be signed by Karzai. She called for the law to be recalled to parliament for debate.

"It is impossible in a two-month session for parliament to pass a law more than 200 pages long," she said of the 263-page law.

Maybe we should send our Congress over there to train them how to pass laws without reading them. Using this keen new approach to government, our illustrious legislators passed a 1000+ page "stimulus" bill in just a couple of days!

It's not at all surprising to me that surfing the web at work makes employees more productive.

"People who do surf the Internet for fun at work — within a reasonable limit of less than 20 percent of their total time in the office — are more productive by about 9 percent than those who don't," says Dr. Brent Coker of the Department of Management and Marketing at the University of Melbourne.

In fact, taking short breaks helps the mind refresh and improves concentration, says Coker.

"Firms spend millions on software to block their employees from watching videos on YouTube, using social-networking sites like Facebook or shopping online under the pretense that it costs millions in lost productivity," he notes. "However, that's not always the case."

I bet that the increased productivity is especially pronounced among workers with creative jobs.

I just don't know what to say.

A few years after WWII ended, a young man working in a small restaurant in Sweden developed a new way to process bacon. By precooking it and blending it in a special way, he was able to make a fully cooked 100% bacon paste that could be squeezed from a tube. Knowing he had discovered something paradigm-shifting, young Vilhelm Lillefläsk quickly went into business. That, dear friends, is when Squeez Bacon® was born. And this delicious delectable from Sweden has finally been brought over to the USA - now with American Flavor!

Don't miss the John Murtha special edition!

I assume this is for April Fool's, but hey!

I don't like many of her votes in the Senate, many of her policy preferences, or many of the things she stands for, but I just heard her on the radio with Jamie Allman and I do like her. She was much less evasive than most politicians I've listened to, even to the point of acknowledging that many Missourians are angry about the orgy of bail-outs and spending. She didn't say she'd oppose more bail-outs or spending, but she at least admitted that her upcoming town hall meetings are likely to be unpleasant for her.

It's unfortunate that whatever Republican runs against her next is likely to be much less charismatic and straightforward, despite sharing more of my policy preferences.

(Senator McCaskill, if you find this by Googling your name, please show more sense on the abortion issue and quit prostrating yourself before EMILY's List and the abortion industry.)

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