May 2009 Archives

Wikipedia has banned Scientologists from contributing to the site due to self-serving edits and malicious behavior, pictured below.


Tom Cruise (above) uses advanced Scientologist technology to edit Wikipedia.

It's hard for me to interpret what President Obama is saying in defense of Sonia Sotomayor:

President Barack Obama on Friday personally sought to deflect criticism of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, who finds herself under intensifying scrutiny for saying in 2001 that a female Hispanic judge would often reach a better decision than a white male judge. "I'm sure she would have restated it," Obama flatly told NBC News, without indicating how he knew that.

There are several ways this could be interpreted, and I think the President was intentionally ambiguous so that we can each believe in the way that makes Sotomayor look the best in our own minds.

1. Sotomayor didn't mean what she said. She meant to convey an entirely different meaning, and she would have restated herself to convey that meaning if she had the opportunity. (Which she didn't?)

2. Sotomayor meant what she said, but if she had known that she would be nominated to the Supreme Court eight years later she would have phrased it more ambiguously so that her beliefs couldn't be so easily held against her.

3. Sotomayor meant what she said but now wishes she could take it back because she has changed her mind.

4. Sotomayor meant what she said but now wishes she could take it back because she thinks it will hurt her chances of being confirmed.

Is there another option? Which of these really speaks well of a person who could very well get a life-long appointment to the Supreme Court?

Please post links to more great prank phone calls!

A couple is claiming that a San Diego County official has threatened to shut down their home Bible study unless they apply for a permit. Please.

Attorney Dean Broyles of The Western Center For Law & Policy was shocked with what happened to the pastor and his wife.

Broyles said, "The county asked, 'Do you have a regular meeting in your home?' She said, 'Yes.' 'Do you say amen?' 'Yes.' 'Do you pray?' 'Yes.' 'Do you say praise the Lord?' 'Yes.'"

The county employee notified the couple that the small Bible study, with an average of 15 people attending, was in violation of County regulations, according to Broyles.

Broyles said a few days later the couple received a written warning that listed "unlawful use of land" and told them to "stop religious assembly or apply for a major use permit" -- a process that could cost tens of thousands of dollars.

If this happened (I smell a hoax) there's no way their Bible study will ultimately be stopped. It's ludicrous.

Why do I smell a hoax? Saying "amen" and "praise the Lord" cannot possibly be on any list of questions that the county uses to determine whether or not a religious use permit is required for anything. I just find it hard to believe that any government employee would ask those kinds of questions, even if a permit were legitimately required.

I'm not sure if I believe this story, but a woman in the UK claims that city workers lifted her car, painted "no parking" lines under it, lowered her car, and then towed the car away.

Ruth Ducker always legally parks her Volkswagen Golf around the corner from her house, so it came as a shock when she discovered it had disappeared from its spot - and in its place was double yellow lines.

Her confusion deepened when Lambeth council claimed to have no knowledge of where her car was.

It took three weeks for the council to admit its contractors were behind the disappearance, and then add insult to injury by telling the 44-year-old graphic designer she owed more than £800 in fines.

In fact the car had been carefully lifted out of the way for the double yellows to be painted in Gordon Grove in Camberwell, then replaced on the new restrictions by the contractors responsible.

The same day a different set of parking enforcers spotted the 'illegally parked' car, and had it towed away - after photographing it on the newly painted double yellows.

(HT: RB.)

The internet is one of the greatest tools for protecting the inalienable right to free speech that every man possesses, even those who live in oppressive regimes that refuse to acknowledge it. Here's a new method for hiding secret messages in "plain sight" on the internet by taking advantage of one of the error-correction technologies in TCP, one of the protocols that forms that backbone of the internet.

Web, file transfer, email and peer-to-peer networks all use TCP, which ensures that data packets are received securely by making the sender wait until the receiver returns a "got it" message. If no such acknowledgement arrives (on average 1 in 1000 packets gets lost or corrupted), the sender's computer sends the packet again. This scheme is known as TCP's retransmission mechanism - and it can be bent to the steganographer's whim, says Mazurczyk.

Their system, dubbed retransmission steganography (RSTEG), relies on sender and receiver using software that deliberately asks for retransmission even when email data packets are received successfully. "The receiver intentionally signals that a loss has occurred. The sender then retransmits the packet but with some secret data inserted in it," he says in a preliminary research paper (www.arxiv.org/abs/0905.0363). So the message is hidden among the teeming network traffic.

Could a careful eavesdropper spot that RSTEG is being used because the first sent packet is different from the one containing the secret message? As long as the system is not over-used, apparently not, because if a packet is corrupted the original packet and the retransmitted one will differ from each other anyway, masking the use of RSTEG.

(HT: NW.)

Our government is Constitutionally required to protect our nation, but the Navy is at least $10 billion short for its shipbuilding needs.

The fiscal year 2010 program recently presented to Congress calls for $14.9 billion in shipbuilding funds for eight ships:

1 SSN attack submarine1 DDG Arleigh Burke-class destroyer (a restart of that program)3 LCS littoral combat ships2 T-AKE replenishment ships1 HSV high-speed vessel

With a planned average ship service life of 30 years, this building rate would sustain a fleet of 240 ships. This is less than the Navy's current 283 ships and far short of the long-standing Navy "requirement" for 313 ships.

The distinguished speakers at the Hudson conference on 22 May made it clear that without a massive increase in shipbuilding funds a larger fleet was not achievable. Dr. Eric Labs, senior naval analyst at the Congressional Budget Office said that about $25 billion per year for new ships is needed to reach the Navy's goal.

Meanwhile, the government has no Constitutional mandate or power to get involved in private enterprise but is poised to spend more than $70 billion to bail out another car company.

Including the more than $20 billion that has already been spent to prop up G.M., the government will provide G.M. at least $50 billion to get the company through Chapter 11, people with direct knowledge of the situation said Tuesday. By some estimates in Detroit, tens of billions beyond that amount may be required.

Maybe we could divert some of that payola money to one of the legitimate purposes of government and buy a few more ships?

Gateway Pundit is all over this story: are Republican-owned car dealerships being targeted for closure? The data will come out, and this could be a huge story considering: a) car dealerships are often extremely active in local politics, b) there is already widespread anger and frustration on every side of the auto industry bailouts.

Twelve tips for finding, caring for, and wearing a suit. Especially handy for those of us who don't wear suits as often as our fathers did.

What's with Drudge's photos of North Korean soldiers? Here's the one he has up now:

And here are North Korean soldiers from 2005:

a) The only action shot available is "let's share binoculars".

b) Val Kilmer's bloodline is thinning, but not yet extinguished.

My opinion of President Obama's nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court is very easy to discern from this despicably racist and sexist quote:

In 2001, Sonia Sotomayor, an appeals court judge, gave a speech declaring that the ethnicity and sex of a judge “may and will make a difference in our judging.”

In her speech, Judge Sotomayor questioned the famous notion — often invoked by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her retired Supreme Court colleague, Sandra Day O’Connor — that a wise old man and a wise old woman would reach the same conclusion when deciding cases.

“I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life,” said Judge Sotomayor[.]

Stuart Taylor bottom-lines it:

Imagine the reaction if someone had unearthed in 2005 a speech in which then-Judge Samuel Alito had asserted, for example: "I would hope that a white male with the richness of his traditional American values would reach a better conclusion than a Latina woman who hasn't lived that life" -- and had proceeded to speak of "inherent physiological or cultural differences."

I fully expected President Obama to nominate a liberal "living constitutionalist" to the Supreme Court, but I find it reprehensible that he selected a racist bigot.

Wendy Long says that Sotomayor isn't just a liberal, she's an activist:

Judge Sotomayor is a liberal judicial activist of the first order who thinks her own personal political agenda is more important that the law as written. She thinks that judges should dictate policy, and that one's sex, race, and ethnicity ought to affect the decisions one renders from the bench. ...

She has an extremely high rate of her decisions being reversed, indicating that she is far more of a liberal activist than even the current liberal activist Supreme Court.

Tome Goldstein looks at the political dynamics:

For Republican Senators to come after Judge Sotomayor is not only hopeless when it comes to confirmation (something that did not deter Democrats in their attacks on Roberts and Alito) but a strategy that risks exacting a very significant political cost among Hispanics and independent voters generally, assuming that the attacks aren’t backed up with considerable substance.

Yep, elections count. Republicans lost. The President gets to seat anyone he wants on the Court, and he chose someone that both baits Republicans to oppose her and simultaneously hurts us if we do. I think it's a lesser loss to highlight the shortcomings of her philosophy but let her sail through mostly unopposed.

(HT: Ilya Somin, Ann Althouse.)

So what does the future look like according to the most far-out geeks?

The concept of ultrasmart computers — machines with “greater than human intelligence” — was dubbed “The Singularity” in a 1993 paper by the computer scientist and science fiction writer Vernor Vinge. He argued that the acceleration of technological progress had led to “the edge of change comparable to the rise of human life on Earth.” This thesis has long struck a chord here in Silicon Valley.

Artificial intelligence is already used to automate and replace some human functions with computer-driven machines. These machines can see and hear, respond to questions, learn, draw inferences and solve problems. But for the Singulatarians, A.I. refers to machines that will be both self-aware and superhuman in their intelligence, and capable of designing better computers and robots faster than humans can today. Such a shift, they say, would lead to a vast acceleration in technological improvements of all kinds. ...

Several years ago the artificial-intelligence pioneer Raymond Kurzweil took the idea one step further in his 2005 book, “The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology.” He sought to expand Moore’s Law to encompass more than just processing power and to simultaneously predict with great precision the arrival of post-human evolution, which he said would occur in 2045. ...

The science fiction author Ken MacLeod described the idea of the singularity as “the Rapture of the nerds.” Kevin Kelly, an editor at Wired magazine, notes, “People who predict a very utopian future always predict that it is going to happen before they die.”

I'm skeptical about the possibility of "strong" artificial intelligence so by extension I'm skeptical about the possibility of the Singularity. But hey, it would be cool to be wrong!

(HT: DD.)

Goliath beats David almost every time, unless David breaks the rules and defies convention.

David’s victory over Goliath, in the Biblical account, is held to be an anomaly. It was not. Davids win all the time. The political scientist Ivan Arreguín-Toft recently looked at every war fought in the past two hundred years between strong and weak combatants. The Goliaths, he found, won in 71.5 per cent of the cases. That is a remarkable fact. Arreguín-Toft was analyzing conflicts in which one side was at least ten times as powerful—in terms of armed might and population—as its opponent, and even in those lopsided contests the underdog won almost a third of the time.

In the Biblical story of David and Goliath, David initially put on a coat of mail and a brass helmet and girded himself with a sword: he prepared to wage a conventional battle of swords against Goliath. But then he stopped. “I cannot walk in these, for I am unused to it,” he said (in Robert Alter’s translation), and picked up those five smooth stones. What happened, Arreguín-Toft wondered, when the underdogs likewise acknowledged their weakness and chose an unconventional strategy? He went back and re-analyzed his data. In those cases, David’s winning percentage went from 28.5 to 63.6. When underdogs choose not to play by Goliath’s rules, they win, Arreguín-Toft concluded, “even when everything we think we know about power says they shouldn’t.”

Lots of anecdotes at the link, including an AI angle!

(HT: RB.)

Finally, an easier way to trick a child into sedation: PediSedate!

PediSedate is a medical device consisting of a colorful, toy-like headset that connects to a game component such as the Nintendo Game Boy system or a portable CD player. Once the child places it on his or her head and swings the snorkel down from its resting place atop the head, PediSedate transparently monitors respiratory function and distributes nitrous oxide, an anesthetic gas. The child comfortably becomes sedated while playing with a Nintendo Game Boy system or listening to music. This dramatically improves the hospital or dental experience for the child, parents and healthcare providers.

There's absolutely no way this could be used for evil.

(HT: LM.)

Details of Randy Barnett's idea to restore America to its federalistic roots via Constitutional convention. Without having yet heard contrary arguments I'm generally in favor of Barnett's formulation.

This look at the computer graphics of "Terminator Salvation" does a good job of illustrating the "uncanny valley" between humans and robots:

Hollywood and robotics researchers have long struggled with the "uncanny valley," where a movie character or robot falls into the unsettling gap between human and not-quite-human.

One psychologist likes to demonstrate this by holding up a plastic baby doll and asking audiences if they think it's alive. They say no.

Then she takes out a saw and starts cutting the doll's head off, but quickly stops upon seeing the uncomfortable audience reactions.

The uncanny valley isn't just about physical appearance, it's also related to all the other nuances of behavior we can perceive in each other.

"There are some people who say it's simply not true," MacDorman said. "I don't fully agree with that, because I think there's definitely something to the uncanny valley — but there's a problem with a simplistic view of the uncanny valley."

No one knows what it means to have 70 percent or 90 percent human likeness, MacDorman pointed out. Perhaps all the attributes of a robot, ranging from the eyes to body movement to voice tone, might have 90 percent resemblance to human characteristics.

Or a robot could be 99 percent perfect, except for a delayed reaction time during conversations with humans.

That could still trigger the uncanny valley sensation in observers who would quickly conclude that the robot was retarded, if not — gasp — non-human.

The "uncanny valley" concept is primarily just a way to label the "I know it when I see it" heuristic we use to recognize other humans. Even more interesting questions lie waiting on the other side of the valley: if a robot appears human and acts human and is indistinguishable from a human during typical interactions, do we have to treat it like a human?

(I say no.)

Instapundit has the best line so far on the anger California politicians are feeling for the voters who turned down the massive tax hikes the politicians needed to continue funneling taxpayer money to the public employee unions.

IN CALIFORNIA, BLAMING THE VOTERS. Stupid voters. Can’t we import better ones from Mexico or something?

It's funny because it's sad. I haven't written much about the ongoing crisis in my home state for just that reason: it's depressing to see a place you love go down the tubes.

So what about California? A reader asks. Ummm, that's a tough one. No, wait, it's not: California is completely, totally, irreparably hosed. And not a little garden hose. More like this. Their outflow is bigger than their inflow. You can blame Republicans who won't pass a budget, or Democrats who spend every single cent of tax money that comes in during the booms, borrow some more, and then act all surprised when revenues, in a totally unprecedented, inexplicable, and unforeseaable chain of events, fall during a recession. You can blame the initiative process, and the uneducated voters who try to vote themselves rich by picking their own pockets. Whoever is to blame, the state was bound to go broke one day, and hey, today's that day!

Unfortunately, I think she's right. That's part of why I left the state in 2006.

The artificial intelligence involved isn't that hard, but the visual effect of sneaky robots is undeniably cool.

Unfortunately it doesn't seem possible to embed the video on this page, so you'll have to follow the link.

Apparently American women are becoming less happy despite the "objective measures" of their quality of life have been climbing for decades.

By many objective measures the lives of women in the United States have improved over the past 35 years, yet we show that measures of subjective well-being indicate that women's happiness has declined both absolutely and relative to men. The paradox of women's declining relative well-being is found across various datasets, measures of subjective well-being, and is pervasive across demographic groups and industrialized countries. Relative declines in female happiness have eroded a gender gap in happiness in which women in the 1970s typically reported higher subjective well-being than did men. These declines have continued and a new gender gap is emerging -- one with higher subjective well-being for men.

Greg Mankiw suggests two possible explanations:

I am not at all sure how to interpret this finding. It sounds like either the women's movement was a mistake or subjective happiness is not the right objective.

"The women's movement" is a vague umbrella term, but based on the women I know in my demographic I'd say that yes, the movement has done more harm than good. I know many women who are frantic and frustrated because society tells them they can "have it all", but generally that's not really true. I know many 30-year-old women with graduate degrees who are just entering the work force and battling with their desire to have kids before it is biologically too late. They feel that if they take time away from their career to have children then they'll be "set back" or worse, that their expensive education will be wasted. But if they don't have kids soon, they won't be able to have them later.

I fault "the women's movement" for creating this crisis by telling young women that they're failures if they don't have the career "like a man" while simultaneously raising a family "like their mother did". The fact is that no one can do both those things well: women either do both poorly or focus on one, but end up feeling guilty and inadequate either way.

Life is full of trade-offs, and we do our young women no favors by pretending that isn't the case.

Guantanamo Bay detention center to remain open. Hope and change!

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said closing the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, was a “hasty decision,” in his daily press briefing with reporters.

Here's the video:

George Friedman at Stratfor has an in-depth analysis of what Israel, America, and the Arab regimes want from the Middle East "peace process". It's a great overview of the players, what they want, and how they're constrained by reality.

In the end, this is a classic study in the limits of power. Israel can have its freedom of action anytime it is willing to pay the price for it. But Israel can’t pay the price. Netanyahu is coming to Washington to see if he can get what he wants without paying the price, and we suspect strongly he knows he won’t get it. His problem is the same as that of the Arab states. There are many in Israel, particularly among Netanyahu’s supporters, who believe Israel is a great power. It isn’t. It is a nation that is strong partly because it lives in a pretty weak neighborhood, and partly because it has very strong friends. Many Israelis don’t want to be told that, and Netanyahu came to office playing on the sense of Israeli national power.

So the peace process will continue, no one will expect anything from it, the Palestinians will remain isolated and wars regularly will break out. The only advantage of this situation from the U.S. point of view it is that it is preferable to all other available realities.

Here's a sad story about aspiring teachers failing elementary math tests.

The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is releasing the results Tuesday. They say that only 27 percent of the more than 600 candidates who took the test passed. The test was administered in March of this year.

The teacher’s licensing exam tested potential teachers on their knowledge of elementary school mathematics. This included geometry, statistics, and probability.

Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester was not surprised by the results. He told the Boston Globe that these results indicate that many students are not receiving an adequate math education.

That's obvious. What's especially frustrating, however, is the conclusion that the administrators drew from these test results.

Tom Scott, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents , says "The high failure rate puts a shining light on a deficiency in teacher-prep programs."

Why should special "teacher-prep" programs be needed to teach elementary-level math to aspiring teachers? This is the basic level of math these adults should have learned when they were in elementary school themselves. If they don't remember how to do 5th grade math, maybe they're just too dumb to be teachers. Anyone who squeaks through the test after taking remedial classes to bring them up to the level of an elementary school child probably still shouldn't be a teacher.

If your kid won't settle down and do their homework, you need a Study Ball!

A red digital display counts down the "Study Time Left" and the device beeps and unlocks when the time expires.

The prison-style device weighs 9.5 kg (21 pounds), making it difficult to move while wearing it.

It cannot be locked for more than four hours and comes with a safety key that allows the manacle to be opened at anytime.

The ball and chain costs £75 and is sold online at curiosite.com.

They should make it nerfy so that the detained student can't cause too much damage.

(HT: LM.)

David Leonhardt has written an insightful piece about how America and China are intertwined, mostly interesting as a statement of the rather significant problem.

Over the past decade, China and the United States have developed a deeply symbiotic, and dangerous, relationship. China discovered that an economy built on cheap exports would allow it to grow faster than it ever had and to create enough jobs to mollify its impoverished population. American consumers snapped up these cheap exports — shoes, toys, electronics and the like — and China soon found itself owning a huge pile of American dollars. Governments don’t like to hold too much cash, because it pays no return, so the Chinese bought many, many Treasury bonds with their dollars. This additional demand for Treasuries was one big reason (though not the only reason) that interest rates fell so low in recent years. Thanks to those low interest rates, Americans were able to go on a shopping spree and buy some things, like houses, they couldn’t really afford. China kept lending and exporting, and we kept borrowing and consuming. It all worked very nicely, until it didn’t.

The most obviously worrisome part of the situation today is that the Chinese could decide that they no longer want to buy Treasury bonds. The U.S. government’s recent spending for bank bailouts and stimulus may be necessary to get the economy moving again, but it also raises the specter of eventual inflation, which would damage the value of Treasuries. If the Chinese are unnerved by this, they could instead use their cash to buy the bonds of other countries, which would cause interest rates here to jump, prolonging the recession. Wen Jiabao, China’s premier, seemed to raise this possibility in March, in remarks to reporters at the end of the annual session of China’s Parliament. “We have lent a huge amount of money to the U.S.,” Wen said. “Of course we are concerned about the safety of our assets. To be honest, I am definitely a little worried.” In all likelihood, this was mostly posturing. Were China to cut back sharply on its purchase of Treasury bonds, it would send the value of the bonds plummeting, hurting the Chinese, who already own hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth. Yet Wen’s comments, which made headlines around the world, did highlight an underlying truth. The relationship between the United States and China can’t continue on its current path.

That China would be hurt by American hyperinflation is one of the greatest reassurances I can think of that we'll find some way to avoid it.

Chiense human rights attorney Gao Zhisheng has been missing for more than 100 days, probably having been kidnapped again by Chinese authorities.

On September 12, 2007, Christian human rights attorney Gao Zhisheng wrote an open letter to the U.S. Congress exposing the brutality of the Communist Party, including the persecution of house church Christians.

Soon after, Gao was kidnapped by Chinese government authorities and tortured for 58 days. Officials threatened to kill him if he ever exposed the details of his torture. Gao Zhisheng refused to be intimidated into silence -- he continued to speak out about human rights abuses by China's ruling Party. Determined to silence him, government officials kidnapped him again on February 4, 2009.

Gao Zhisheng has now been missing for more than 100 days. He was last seen being hauled away by Chinese officials.

Gao and other Chinese Christians who are facing brutal persecution every day. Pray for their safety and perseverance, and that their suffering would magnify Christ as the gospel.

Chaos has erupted in Guatemala over the YouTube video below, created by assassinated lawyer Rodrigo Rosenberg Marzano in which he claims that he was murdered by the President of the country, Alvaro Colom, to cover up corruption and money laundering.

Some background:

When Rodrigo Rosenberg turned up dead on Mother's Day in an upscale neighborhood in Guatemala City, his murder was seen as little more than another execution-style shooting in one of Latin America's most dangerous countries. Now, after a video emerged in which Rosenberg accused Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom of orchestrating the murder, the killing has sparked civic unrest that threatens to topple the President of this fledgling democracy.

Thousands of protesters have demonstrated daily in front of the presidential palace, calling for Colom's resignation. And politicians have said Colom should step aside during the investigation into Rosenberg's death. "This is the most serious political crisis the country has faced since the signing of the peace accords" in 1996, said Anita Isaacs, a Haverford College political science professor who studies democratization in Guatemala. "The country is hanging on by a thread."

Naturally President Colom denies the accusations.

Alvaro Colom, the president of Guatemala, has asked US authorities to aid the investigation into the death of a prominent lawyer, saying he is "incapable" of ordering a murder.

Colom told Al Jazeera on Friday he has "nothing to hide" over the investigation into the death of Rodrigo Rosenberg, who filmed himself saying if he was killed, it was on Colom's orders.

"Those who know me they know I am incapable of ordering a murder," he said.

"I don't know the motives Rodigro Rosenberg had to film that tape but if you see those who were involved in filming the tape you understand who they are ... they are destabilisers."

(HT: RD, Slashdot.)

Even if President Obama does end up closing Camp Gitmo he's still going to hold detainees indefinitely without trials -- but on US soil! Hope and change!

The administration's internal deliberations on how to deal with Guantanamo detainees are continuing, as the White House wrestles with how to fulfill the president's promise to shutter the controversial prison. But some elements of the plans are emerging as the administration consults with key members of Congress, as well as with military officials, about what to do with Guantanamo detainees.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.), who met this week with White House Counsel Greg Craig to discuss the administration's plans, said among the proposals being studied is seeking authority for indefinite detentions, with the imprimatur of some type of national-security court. ...

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, at a hearing last month, hinted at the administration's deliberations, saying that there were "50 to 100 [detainees] probably in that ballpark who we cannot release and cannot trust, either in Article 3 [civilian] courts or military commissions."

Wow, it's almost like all of Obama's criticisms from the campaign were a load of crap and he's now recognizing that President Bush was right about a lot of things all along.

Rodney Brooks is a giant in the field of artificial intelligence. I think he's an atheist and he may not like the direction I'll take his thoughts about human culture and chimpanzees, but oh well.

The child is never as good as the human mother thinks it is. The mother keeps doing things with the kid, that the kid isn't quite capable of. She's using whatever little pieces of dynamics are there, getting them into this more complex behavior, and then the kid learns from that experience, and learns those behaviors. We found that humans can't help themselves; that's what they do with these systems such as kids and robots. The adults unconsciously put pieces of the kid's or robot's dynamics together without thinking. That was a surprise to us - that we didn't have to have a trained teacher for the robot. Humans just do that. So it seems to me that what makes us human, besides our genetic makeup, is this cultural transferral that keeps making us human, again and again, generation to generation.

Of course it's involved with genetics somehow, but it's missing from the great apes. Naturally raised chimpanzees are very different from chimpanzees that have been raised in human households. My hypothesis here is that the humans engage in this activity, and drag the chimpanzee up beyond the fixed point solution in chimpanzee space of chimpanzee to chimpanzee transfer of culture. They transfer a bit of human culture into that chimpanzee and pull him/her along to a slightly different level. The chimpanzees almost have the stuff there, but they don't quite have enough. But they have enough that humans can pull them along a bit further. And humans have enough of this stuff that now a self-satisfying set of equations gets transferred from generation to generation. Perhaps with better nurturing humans could be dragged a little further too.

The idea here is aesthetically pleasing: humans can pull chimps a little further into intelligence by teaching them some human culture that the chimps couldn't develop or transfer on their own. The final sentence (emphasis mine) is striking to me because it's an elegant elucidation of the essence of revelatory religion.

Christianity believes that humans can only get "so far" left to our own devices, but that by transferring some of God's "culture" to ourselves we can get a lot farther. We can't come up with it on our own, but we're capable of learning a bit of what God reveals to us and improving ourselves thereby.

It looks like the Space Shuttle was damaged during liftoff, as usual.

The Atlantis astronauts uncovered a 21-inch stretch of nicks on their space shuttle Tuesday, but NASA said the damage did not appear to be serious.

The damage was likely the result of debris that came off the fuel tank shortly after liftoff Monday. The astronauts were inspecting their ship while racing to the Hubble Space Telescope when they came across the nicks spread over four to five thermal tiles, on the bottom of the shuttle where the right wing joins the fuselage.

"It doesn't look very serious," Mission Control said. "Those tiles are pretty thick. The nicks look to be pretty small."

It seems that every Shuttle launch since the Columbia disaster in 2003 has come with another announcement that the ship was damaged during liftoff. I imagine that almost every launch in the Shuttle's history has caused similar damage, but until Columbia they weren't paying attention or treating it seriously.

The Space Shuttle is a technological marvel --- from the 1960s. It's way past time for the system to be retired and for modern technology to be applied to the problem of space access.

This sounds like a fantastic idea: Congress plans to tax unhealthy consumption habits:

If you make big bucks — or enjoy alcohol, cigarettes and Coke — the government might hit you up to pay for fixing the nation’s health care system.

On Tuesday, the Senate Finance Committee peeked into vending machines and liquor stores, company payrolls and health savings accounts, looking for a mix of tax increases and spending cuts as a way to pay for a health overhaul — which could cost more than $1.5 trillion over 10 years.

My advice to Republicans: object loudly enough to get noticed, but don't obstruct these taxes too much... they'll put you back in the majority in 2010!

Director Blue explains that the government, corporations, and the media have got us surrounded and that the fix is in for socialized medicine.

Immelt, a member of Mr. Obama's economic recovery advisory board, went on to say that, "The intersection of government and business will be changed, maybe for a generation." Put simply, Marxism is on the way and GE is positioning itself to profit.

The business case behind Healthymagination hinges on nationalization of the health care industry. Computerization of health care records is not only a vaunted component of the Obama stimulus package, it is also a $75 to $100 billion business over the next ten years.

Fortunately, Healthymagination just happens to be building a health care record management system.

And with Obama's buddy Tom Daschle in tow, Healthymagination is certain to get some nice fat contracts out of the deal.

Oh, and did I mention NBC? It's involved, too. Health Imaging reports that the GE-owned media conglomerate -- something out of the movie Rollerball -- will do its part.

• NBC Universal and NBC News will air more than 5,000 televised reports annually on health and wellness.

• MSNBC will launch a new, daily program dedicated solely to health information... in addition to medical issues it will also examine health policy.

Put simply, the media will broadcast the propaganda; government will enact policy "by popular demand"; and the chosen corporation will profit at taxpayer expense.

I'm starting to feel like a sucker for choosing the losing team. If only the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy were as well-coordinated.

(HT: Instapundit.)

I knew this intuitively before Ralph Peters laid out the details: terrorists kill civilians and then blame US troops. Too bad our own government isn't savvy enough to recognize the con.

Lying about civilian casualties is the one sure way to impede or even halt US (or Israeli) operations, to force such tight restrictions on our troops that they can't win.

The casualty con's so effective as both propaganda and tactic that terrorists everywhere have adopted the technique. It's been so successful that our enemies long ago transitioned to the next phase: creating civilian casualties and blaming us.

It works. The media love the charge. Our troops and pilots are always guilty -- even if proven innocent. Because so many on the left want us to be guilty.

Few journalists bother to investigate. If the Taliban, al Qaeda, Hezbollah or Hamas says it, it must be so. In Media Wonderland, terrorists never lie. Now every successful strike on a Taliban target generates the instant claim that the dead were all civilians.

And it isn't just the media who back the Taliban. The Obama administration -- a case study in instant foreign-policy ineptitude -- signs up, too.

Read the whole thing. Afghanistan can quickly turn into another Vietnam if the Democrats want it badly enough.

I've been toying around with the idea of discrete and objective categorizations of intelligence levels, and here's what I've come up with. The criteria for each level is essentially defined by a capability to comprehend various concepts. Let's jump in and you'll see what I mean.

Level 0: Unintelligent -- Just about everything falls into this category. Rocks, trees, fungi, stars, virii, and most animals. Unintelligent objects may be living or non-living, but are essentially bundles of blind natural processes that progress without any intentionality or agency.

Level 1: Self-aware -- A few animals seem to be self-aware, and many humans fit into this category. Self-aware objects are implicitly "alive" almost by definition: if a non-living object (e.g., a computer) were to exhibit self-awareness it would be considered to be "alive" by a significant proportion of undisputedly living beings. Self-aware beings understand the general nature of their own existence, consider themselves (and other intelligent beings) as distinct individuals set apart from the unintelligent objects that make up most of the universe, and are capable of intentional behavior and agency.

Level 2: Ignorance-aware -- Ignorance-aware beings are capable of comprehending the enormity of the gulf between their own intelligence and the level 3 intelligence of universe-aware beings. Although some humans are exclusively level 1 beings, most have rare "flashes of brilliance" and exhibit transient level 2 intelligence. Ignorance-aware beings understand how much about the universe remains unknown and unknowable to them regardless of the time and study they devote to the pursuit of knowledge.

Level 3: Universe-aware -- Universe-aware beings are capable of comprehending every aspect of the universe, given enough time and study. Implicitly then, a universe-aware intelligence is the most complex object in the universe, able to know and understand everything that exists (including itself). For the sake of the theory, let's set aside the question of whether it is possible for the universe to contain more than one level 3 intelligence (i.e., if there were two, could they understand each other?).

I've interjected my own opinion of how humans fit into these categories: generally level 1, with transience into level 2. Others would probably argue that humans are level 3 intelligences and capable of understanding everything, given enough time. A weaker form of this belief is that human civilization as a whole is a level 3 intelligence: even if no single human can understand everything, groups of humans working together can eventually comprehend the universe and ourselves. (Let's say, then, this weaker belief puts humans in a new category we shall call level 2.5.)

It's possible that the weaker belief is true and that humans are level 2.5; this is a classic halting problem that can never be satisfied. Who's to say that when we think we "know it all" that something new won't pop up in 1000 years? Or worse, what if we think we "know it all" but aren't even smart enough to recognize that there's still something about which we remain in ignorance? That would bump us all the way back down to level 1 without us even realizing it!

I see no reason to believe that the level of intelligence of the human brain is high enough to comprehend every aspect of the universe. Call the level of intelligence of a dog A, the level of intelligence of a human B, and the level 2.5 intelligence X. Few people would argue that A > X. Therefore, those who believe that B > X need to provide some explanation for why X just happens to fall between A and B:

B > X > A

Since we won't ever be able to prove or demonstrate that B > X, it would at least be nice to hear an argument for why anyone would believe such a thing. I personally believe that B < X, but I'm not sure why yet.

Here's an piece about spooky effects in quantum physics that has prompted me to write the post following this one on the nature of intelligence.

(HT: SW.)

Jessica and I were extremely excited to visit the recently re-opened National Museum of American History -- it had always been one of my favorites, but it had been closed the last two times we visited Washington, DC. Unfortunately, I have to say that I'm not a fan of the way the museum has been reorganized. It's clear that a lot of the construction was needed to accommodate the vast crowds we saw on the Friday we went, but the shrunken exhibits themselves were sadly lacking. From the floorplans, however, it appears that there will someday be additional exhibit space opened to the public. I can't wait!

The most obvious example of shrinkage was the World War I exhibit which measured about 50 square feet. Frankly, the online version of the exhibit is more engaging and impressive than the room itself! I couldn't even get a picture of the room because it was too small to maneuver my camera with all the people crammed in.

In contrast, here are some pictures I too of the recently christened Obama Wing.

I can't say I was displeased that the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd didn't seem too interested in the 5,000 square feet dedicated to our current President. I visited the museum in 2001 and 2005 and don't remember President Bush being so prominently featured.

From the "If a Republican Said This" department: Michelle Obama says we all need a personal staff.

First lady Michelle Obama called her "current life" in the White House "a very blessed situation, because I have what most families don't have -- tons of support all around, not just my mother, but staff and administration. I have a chief of staff and a personal assistant, and everyone needs that."

"Everyone should have a chief of staff and a set of personal assistants," Obama said with a laugh as she spoke before a crowd of business executives meeting today during a "Corporate Voices for Working Families" conference at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington.

If a white male Republican said "Everyone should have a chief of staff and a set of personal assistants" in front of a bunch of rich executives and the room burst out with laughter he'd be pilloried.

Brad Spangler explains the Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA), a key concept for negotiators of all sorts.

Having a good BATNA increases your negotiating power. Therefore, it is important to improve your BATNA whenever possible. Good negotiators know when their opponent is desperate for an agreement. When that occurs, they will demand much more, knowing their opponent will have to give in. If the opponent apparently has many options outside of negotiation, however, they are likely to get many more concessions, in an effort to keep them at the negotiating table. Thus making your BATNA as strong as possible before negotiating, and then making that BATNA known to your opponent will strengthen your negotiating position.

(HT: Penelope Trunk.)

Got any more?







Jim Durbin does his best to explain Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill's Bermuda tax shelters.

At odds are several statements Claire McCaskill has made about her holdings in Bermuda.

1) In the debate with Jim Talent in 2006, McCaskill said "There is absolutely no tax sheltering that is occurring that is not part of a tax code that Senator Talent embraces.” (Kansas City Star, October 18, 2006). This is a pretty straightforward admission that tax sheltering is occurring.

2) In this KY3 video from this year, McCaskill says the reinsurance company is located in Bermuda because most reinsurance companies are located there in order to sell insurance to all 50 states on the secondary market. In that video, she also claims that her investments are not a tax shelter, and have never been a tax shelter. Now, that contradicts what she said in 2006, but this video is important, because it suggests a high degree of familiarity with how reinsurance works. It's not true that most reinsurance companies are in Bermuda, but there are quite a few, and some of the biggest incorporate there. I'll expain why later. It's not the reason McCaskill gives.

3) The company at question is the Rural Reinsurance Company International LTD. The name comes from McCaskill's 2008 financial disclosure, available here at Legistorm.com. Curious, I went back and looked at the 2007 disclosure, and saw something curious. In the 2007 filing, there is no Rural Reinsurance Company International. There is an entry for the Rural Housing Re-Insurance Co Of America, LTD. Now, I'm not a tax lawyer, but it does seem that the company is different. It now seems to brand itself as selling internationally, as oppposed to selling just in the US. It could be the same company, but official name changes and DBA's matter. The investment has also increased in value, moving from the $250-500k bracket to the $500K-$1,000,000 bracket. Dividend income remains the same $0-$201 a year (which sounds like a pretty poor investment if you're planning on living off those dividends). The lack of dividend income is a sure sign of tax advantages. Those files have a lot of dividends that pay $0-$201.

That's just the set-up. If you're interested in details of how Senator McCaskill is using "loopholes" to pay as little in taxes as possible, read the whole thing. It doesn't seem that she's doing anything illegal, but her tax manipulations appear unsavory for a Democrat in these days of evil corporations and greedy "speculators".

(But hey, maybe she's angling for a Cabinet post!)

I recall this idea being originally raised to my consciousness in a question by some student at a town hall meeting, but I can't find a reference to this incident. In any event, I find Greg Mankiw's concept of an explicitly negative interest rate to be fascinating. I've got no idea if it would be good policy for the Fed to do such a thing, but the idea is interesting to think about.

Let’s start with the basics: What is the best way for an economy to escape a recession?

Until recently, most economists relied on monetary policy. Recessions result from an insufficient demand for goods and services — and so, the thinking goes, our central bank can remedy this deficiency by cutting interest rates. Lower interest rates encourage households and businesses to borrow and spend. More spending means more demand for goods and services, which leads to greater employment for workers to meet that demand.

The problem today, it seems, is that the Federal Reserve has done just about as much interest rate cutting as it can. Its target for the federal funds rate is about zero, so it has turned to other tools, such as buying longer-term debt securities, to get the economy going again. But the efficacy of those tools is uncertain, and there are risks associated with them.

In many ways today, the Fed is in uncharted waters.

So why shouldn’t the Fed just keep cutting interest rates? Why not lower the target interest rate to, say, negative 3 percent?

How to encourage people to pay money for the privilege of lending: The Fed could promise future inflation.

As he explains in a follow-up blog post, we've already got negative interest rates, but since we can't set them explicitly we get to the same destination via circuitous routes.

If we want to prop up aggregate demand to promote full employment, what is the alternative to monetary policy aimed at producing negative real interest rates? Fiscal policy. Essentially, the private sector is saying it wants to save. Fiscal policy can say, "No you don't. If you try to save, we will dissave on your behalf via budget deficits." That fiscal dissaving would push equilibrium interest rates upward. But is that policy really welfare-improving compared to allowing interest rates to fall into the negative region? If people are feeling poorer and want to save for the future, why should we stop them? Unless we think their additional saving is irrational, it seems best to try to funnel that saving into investment with the appropriate interest rate. And given the available investment opportunities, that interest rate might well be negative.

Some people seem rather angry over the idea.

It's hard to come up with the right animal-based analogy, but what springs to mind is as-if the hyenas from "The Lion King" suddenly successfully usurped the lions and were left with the uncomfortable need to transition from parasites to providers. United Auto Workers to take majority share of Chrysler.

Under the White House plan to save Chrysler, a major UAW concession has the union accepting company stock instead of cash to fund those retirees' health care benefits. That translates into a 55 percent share of the new Chrysler — once it emerges from bankruptcy.

That's a majority share, but the union cautions that that it does not in any way, give the UAW control of the company.

"The board seat we've been given, it has no votes," says UAW President Ron Gettelfinger. "We do not have control of that board." ...

Gettelfinger said the goal will be for the union to sell off the stock as soon as possible. He added there is no plan for the union to be a long-term holder of big blocks of Chrysler stock.

"I'd take cash today," Gettelfinger said. "Let us have the money. Let somebody else take the stock and give us the money." ...

"Chrysler is going to be a very different type of company," said Chaison. "We don't know what it's going to look like. What it will produce. Whether it will be successful. This is the UAW's biggest nightmare: What if this all fails?"

Despite their early useful history, the unions have spent the past several decades latched to the neck of the American auto industry, attempting to suck as much blood as possible without actually killing the host. Fail.

The UAW can clearly see that they'd rather be the parasite than the provider, but the the host has become so sickly that the union is forced into a corner. Their only hope for wriggling out of this mess is government intervention on their behalf, but perhaps the rule of law is still strong enough to prevent such favoritism.

From my brother is this excellent example of unforseeable consequences to technological innovation.

A little over a decade ago, archaeologists experienced a collective nightmare--the emergence of eBay, the Internet auction site that, among other things, lets people sell looted artifacts. The black market for antiquities has existed for centuries, of course, with devastating consequences for the world's cultural heritage. But we could at least take some comfort that it was largely confined to either high-end dealers on one end of the economic spectrum or rural flea markets on the other. The sheer physical constraints of transporting and selling illegal artifacts kept the market relatively small. But the rise of online auction sites promised to drastically alter the landscape. And so it did, just not in the dire way we had anticipated. ...

Our greatest fear was that the Internet would democratize antiquities trafficking and lead to widespread looting. This seemed a logical outcome of a system in which anyone could open up an eBay site and sell artifacts dug up by locals anywhere in the world. We feared that an unorganized but massive looting campaign was about to begin, with everything from potsherds to pieces of the Great Wall on the auction block for a few dollars. But a very curious thing has happened. It appears that electronic buying and selling has actually hurt the antiquities trade.

How is it possible? The short answer is that many of the primary "producers" of the objects have shifted from looting sites to faking antiquities. I've been tracking eBay antiquities for years now, and from what I can tell, this shift began around 2000, about five years after eBay was established. It is true that fakes have been around for centuries. In 1886, the celebrated Smithsonian archaeologist W. H. Holmes described countless bogus antiquities in Mexico. A few decades later, Egyptologist T. G. Wakeling noted that many ancient Egyptian artifacts were, in fact, fakes. In the 19th century, American and European museums purchased large numbers of "Etruscan" ceramic vessels and sarcophagi that came straight from the kilns of rural Italian farmers. But these were usually the really good fakes, labor-intensive pieces that required lots of work and skill. Today, every grade and kind of antiquity is being mass-produced and sold in quantities too large to imagine.

Instead of provoking more looting, online auctions have provoked forgeries of a quantity and quality level hitherto unimaginable.

Just goes to show that even when "experts" make predictions and plans with the best of intentions, the future always holds some surprises. That's another good reason for our policymakers to stay humble and for us citizens to keep our government as limited as possible.

From the moment Timothy Geithner was confirmed as Secretary of the Treasury it was inevitable, but nonetheless it's shocking to hear "Taxcheat Tim" lecture the world about tax evasion:

Obama and his treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner, said it's long past time for Washington to straighten out a tax code that makes it more expensive for American companies to hire employees in the United States than in other countries.

At a May 4 announcement at the White House, Geithner began by saying the Obama administration believes that it's time to bring fairness to the U.S. tax code.

"Today we are taking another important step toward those goals by ending indefensible tax breaks and loopholes which allow some companies and some well-off citizens to evade the rules that the rest of America lives by," Geithner said.

The transcript doesn't indicate whether or not Taxcheat Tim blushed as he issued the statement.

Larry Kudlow reminds us of this gem from the Geithner confirmation hearings:

Let’s take a look back at Geithner’s “non-answer” answer to a simple question posed by Sen. Jim Bunning during Geithner’s confirmation hearing.


SEN. BUNNING: Would you have paid your 2001 and 2002 tax had you not been nominated to be the treasury secretary?

GEITHNER: Senator, as I said initially, I should have asked more questions when I concluded that audit at the time, and I didn’t. When I think back on that, I regret not having done that. But I should have done it at that point.

Translation: "no".

Via Gateway Pundit, the video:

Courtesy of reader Mark Polege here are some more pictures of the Tea Partiers who greeted President Obama in Arnold, Missouri last week.

Not the ~10,000 who were at the Tax Day Tea Party a couple of weeks ago, but we conservatives tend to have to work for a living.

Because of Senate procedures that require at least one minority party member to agree to move a nominee out of committee, Arlen Specter's defection to the Democrats may hinder Obama's ability to nominate an extreme leftist to the Supreme Court.

When Obama nominates a replacement for retiring pro-abortion Supreme Court Justice David Souter, that nomination will head to the Senate Judiciary Committee for hearings and a vote.

The committee requires the consent of at least one Republican to end debate and move a nominee to the full Senate for a vote.

Specter, the former ranking minority member of the Republican Party on the committee, would have been the most likely GOP lawmaker to sign off on Obama's nomination.

Without his presence and vote, the rest of the members of the GOP on the panel could band together to oppose a pro-abortion nominee and prevent the confirmation process from moving ahead. In such a case, Democrats would likely have to present a motion to change the Senate's rules to block the option of the minority to exercise its opposition -- a move that could result in significant political fallout.

As the majority party the Democrats can change the procedural rules of the Senate, but they may not be eager to open that can of worms.

(HT: RB.)

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice answers some questions about "torture" from students at Stanford and instructs them in recent history.

(HT: Jamie Allman.)

Now that Republican-In-Name-Only Senator Specter has finally jumped parties officially, why doesn't he invite Senator Olympia Snowe (RINO-Maine) along for the ride? She's a continual embarrassment to the Republican party, and not merely for her ignorance of the Constitution.

The early positioning comes as senators are moving to influence Obama’s thinking before he unveils his choice [for his nomination to the Supreme Court]. Sen. Olympia Snowe (R[INO]-Maine) also met with Obama in a one-on-one meeting Monday, and urged him to select a woman, and the president spoke with the Senate’s newest Democrat, Specter about his thoughts.

"I urged him to consider a woman to the Supreme Court to keep Justice Ginsburg company and to represent 50 percent of the population," Snowe told POLITICO Monday evening.

a) The Supreme Court is not supposed to be a representative body. It's a judicial body. Unfortunately, Senator Snowe appears to be in the Senate representing America's idiots.

b) Anyone who urged the nomination of a male would be immediately castigated for sexism. Unless the Supreme Court has duties I am unaware of, the justices' sexual organs should not come into play.

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This page is an archive of entries from May 2009 listed from newest to oldest.

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