December 2009 Archives

President Obama has been widely criticized for golfing more in his first nine months than President Bush did in his first two years, but the real crisis isn't the President's frequent vacations, it is his persistent vacation from history, as VP Cheney explains:

As I’ve watched the events of the last few days it is clear once again that President Obama is trying to pretend we are not at war. He seems to think if he has a low-key response to an attempt to blow up an airliner and kill hundreds of people, we won’t be at war. He seems to think if he gives terrorists the rights of Americans, lets them lawyer up and reads them their Miranda rights, we won’t be at war. He seems to think if we bring the mastermind of Sept. 11 to New York, give him a lawyer and trial in civilian court, we won’t be at war.

He seems to think if he closes Guantanamo and releases the hard-core Al Qaeda-trained terrorists still there, we won’t be at war. He seems to think if he gets rid of the words, ‘war on terror,’ we won’t be at war. But we are at war and when President Obama pretends we aren’t, it makes us less safe. Why doesn’t he want to admit we’re at war? It doesn’t fit with the view of the world he brought with him to the Oval Office. It doesn’t fit with what seems to be the goal of his presidency — social transformation — the restructuring of American society. President Obama’s first object and his highest responsibility must be to defend us against an enemy that knows we are at war.

We didn't defeat the Nazis by appeasing them or by winning their friendship, we defeated the Nazis by killing them. After we won, there was plenty of time for (military) trials and executions, as well as the release of regular POWs. If we don't fight to win, we won't win, it's as simple as that.


Maureen Dowd asks who can we catch?

If we can’t catch a Nigerian with a powerful explosive powder in his oddly feminine-looking underpants and a syringe full of acid, a man whose own father had alerted the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria, a traveler whose ticket was paid for in cash and who didn’t check bags, whose visa renewal had been denied by the British, who had studied Arabic in Al Qaeda sanctuary Yemen, whose name was on a counterterrorism watch list, who can we catch?

We are headed toward the moment when screeners will watch watch-listers sashay through while we have to come to the airport in hospital gowns, flapping open in the back.

If Obama has lost Maureen Dowd, it's not clear who is left in his base....

President Obama has taken the War on Terror to a whole new level by ordering a review of our "detection methods" in the wake of the thwarted Christmas bombing.

President Barack Obama has ordered the government to review detection methods to determine how a suspected terrorist ignited an explosive aboard a Northwest Airlines plane en route to Detroit on Christmas Day.

“We are investigating, as always, going backwards to see what happened, and when, who knew what and when,” Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said today on ABC’s “This Week.” “There was simply throughout the law enforcement community never information that would put this individual on a ‘no-fly’ list,” she said.

Then again, does our bureaucracy really require a Presidential order to perform such a review?

Furthermore, I'd prefer if the Obama Administration referred to this as an attack that was thwarted rather than "botched".

"President Barack Obama's Christmas Day began with a briefing about a botched attack on an airliner in Detroit," began an Associated Press account published Christmas evening. "Obama's military aide told the president about an incident aboard a plane as it was landing in Detroit just after 9 a.m. here [in Hawaii]. The president phoned his homeland security adviser and the chief of staff to the National Security Council for a briefing…'We believe this was an attempted act of terrorism,' one White House official said on the condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive situation."

All the details haven't been released yet, but from what I've read it seems to me that the bombing failed due to the heroic actions of the other passengers and was not merely "botched". Is it hard for the government to admit that the billions of dollars spend on the Transportation Safety Administration have been largely wasted on security theater and that we citizens are still and always will be our own best defenders?

Yeah, it's been a little slow around here recently. Among the many things going on are:

  • It's my daughter's first Christmas.
  • We have a foreign student from Ghana staying with us over the holidays.
  • I recently bought the family an Xbox, and there are approximately one zillion shows and movies that we have been meaning to watch together.
  • Work has been crazily lurching towards the end of one project year and into the beginning of another.
  • Also, Eve Online.

So I've been a busy boy!

I'll be posting over the holidays though, since I'll be at home and relaxing. I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas with your families and friends and that you're able to set aside the worries and stress of everyday life for a little while.

Luke 2:7-14

And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

Here Gerald Warner with the funniest take yet on the Copenhagen climate summit.

This “single most important piece of paper in the world” comes, presumably, from an authoritative and totally neutral source? Yes, of course. It’s from the – er – UN Framework Committee on Climate Change that is – er – running the Danegeld Summit. Some people might be small-minded enough to suggest this paper has as much authority as a “leaked” document from Number 10 revealing that life would be hell under the Tories.

He's right in asserting that 2009 will be seen by future historians as the year that the hysterical climate change con game began crashing down. There's still a lot of inertia to overcome, but the game is up.

It's almost as if our government exists not to protect our lives and liberty, but to transfer wealth from unfavored groups to the friends of those in power.

A new analysis of the $157 billion distributed by the American Reinvestment and Recovery act, popularly known as the stimulus bill, shows that the funds were distributed without regard for what states were most in need of jobs.

“You would think that if the stimulus money was actually spent to create jobs, there would be more stimulus money spent in high unemployment states,” said Veronique de Rugy, a scholar at the Mercatus Center who produced the analysis. "But we don't find any correlation." ...

Additionally, Mercatus found that stimulus funds were not disbursed geographically with any special regard for low-income Americans. “We find no correlation between economic indicators and stimulus funding. Preliminary results find no statistically significant effect of unemployment, median income or mean income on stimulus funds allocation,” said the report.

The Mercatus Center analysis also found that Democratic congressional districts received on average almost double the funding of Republican congressional districts. Republican congressional districts received on average $232 million in stimulus funds while Democratic districts received $439 million on average.

Over the centuries our government has become a gigantic Ponzi scheme, and the average citizen is always on the bottom of the heap.

I'll bring the tar if you bring the feathers.

(HT: RB.)

(HT: RB and The Cloakroom.)

In our (justified) haste to deploy drone systems to combat zones, it appears that some important features were left out: terrorists intercept video streams from military drones:

Militants in Iraq have used $26 off-the-shelf software to intercept live video feeds from U.S. Predator drones, potentially providing them with information they need to evade or monitor U.S. military operations.

Senior defense and intelligence officials said Iranian-backed insurgents intercepted the video feeds by taking advantage of an unprotected communications link in some of the remotely flown planes' systems. Shiite fighters in Iraq used software programs such as SkyGrabber -- available for as little as $25.95 on the Internet -- to regularly capture drone video feeds, according to a person familiar with reports on the matter. ...

In the summer 2009 incident, the military found "days and days and hours and hours of proof" that the feeds were being intercepted and shared with multiple extremist groups, the person said. "It is part of their kit now."

These video streams should obviously be encrypted, but doing so would have slowed deployment, probably not because it's hard to encrypt the data as it is generated but because the soldiers on the ground would have needed specialized decryption units to take advantage of the video.

A senior defense official said that James Clapper, the Pentagon's intelligence chief, assessed the Iraq intercepts at the direction of Defense Secretary Robert Gates and concluded they represented a shortcoming to the security of the drone network.

"There did appear to be a vulnerability," the defense official said. "There's been no harm done to troops or missions compromised as a result of it, but there's an issue that we can take care of and we're doing so."

It's absurd to assert that no harm was caused by this security lapse -- the terrorists wouldn't have been routinely monitoring these video feeds if there were no benefit. Despite the need to deploy these systems quickly, this security hole should have been patched years ago.

(HT: DS.)

Here's an awesome zombie outbreak simulator that lets you unleash a hoard of zombies on Washington DC and watch them spread. You can tweak the number of armed civilians, the speed of the zombies, and various other parameters. Maybe if you pick the right values the zombies and humans will live together in harmony!

Last August I told you that Barack Obama's health care reform is dead, and it still is. Senators and Nelson Lieberman have stated that they will not vote for a "public option" of any kind. I suspect that many Democrats are secretly pleased, despite outrage among the base.

The progressives are, of course . . . well, livid is probably too weak a word. At this point it's hard to see them getting to sixty votes on anything. Frankly, I'm not sure that a majority of legislators want them to get to sixty votes on anything. Every time health care makes the news, its poll numbers drop further, and at 54-38 against, it's already dangerously close to "Republican landslide if you pass it" territory. Outside of coastal enclaves, Democrats cannot win the next round of elections with no one but their base. And independents, already against the plan, especially hate partisanship. This makes it especially unhealthy to pass a bill they don't like on a straight party line vote.

Health care reform is still dead, as it has been for many months. It will not happen. It has been, however, an exciting way to waste Congress' time and has prevented the Democrats from passing many potentially harmful bills that they could have mustered the votes for.

So I've finally jumped on the console bandwagon and ordered an Xbox 360 from Amazon, mostly for the downloadable content and streaming video. I recently bought an HDTV, so I need some way to take advantage of it. Here's the plan.

I've got Netflix already, so I'll be able to watch lots of streaming content on the Xbox via Netflix.

I'm getting PlayOn so I can watch internet video through my computer and the Xbox with that.

I've got an HD tuner USB dongle for my computer and some DVR software, so if I hook that up to my antenna I should be able to record over-the-air HD content to my computer and then view that through the Xbox.

If all this goes as planned, I'll be able to cancel my satellite service and all this will pay for itself in a year or so. Only possible hitch: I may need to upgrade my DSL service for more bandwidth.

Any suggestions?

44% of voters wish we had President Bush back instead of Obama.

Perhaps the greatest measure of Obama's declining support is that just 50% of voters now say they prefer having him as President to George W. Bush, with 44% saying they'd rather have his predecessor. Given the horrendous approval ratings Bush showed during his final term that's somewhat of a surprise and an indication that voters are increasingly placing the blame on Obama for the country's difficulties instead of giving him space because of the tough situation he inherited. The closeness in the Obama/Bush numbers also has implications for the 2010 elections. Using the Bush card may not be particularly effective for Democrats anymore, which is good news generally for Republicans and especially ones like Rob Portman who are running for office and have close ties to the former President.

The wife and I are especially looking forward to the results of Harry Reid's re-election campaign. The night we met another Democrat Majority Leader, Tom Daschle, lost his re-election bid.

The Senate race poll found Harry Reid trailing Republican Sue Lowden by 51%-41%, and trailing Republican Danny Tarkanian by 48%-42%.

That's a huge spread for Reid to make up in less than a year. How fun!

(HT: Politico.)

A USA Today investigation discovered that government-provided school lunches are lower quality than fast food.

In the past three years, the government has provided the nation's schools with millions of pounds of beef and chicken that wouldn't meet the quality or safety standards of many fast-food restaurants, from Jack in the Box and other burger places to chicken chains such as KFC, a USA TODAY investigation found.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture says the meat it buys for the National School Lunch Program "meets or exceeds standards in commercial products."

That isn't always the case. McDonald's, Burger King and Costco, for instance, are far more rigorous in checking for bacteria and dangerous pathogens. They test the ground beef they buy five to 10 times more often than the USDA tests beef made for schools during a typical production day.

And the limits Jack in the Box and other big retailers set for certain bacteria in their burgers are up to 10 times more stringent than what the USDA sets for school beef.

For chicken, the USDA has supplied schools with thousands of tons of meat from old birds that might otherwise go to compost or pet food. Called "spent hens" because they're past their egg-laying prime, the chickens don't pass muster with Colonel Sanders— KFC won't buy them — and they don't pass the soup test, either. The Campbell Soup Company says it stopped using them a decade ago based on "quality considerations."

If the federal government can't provide children with higher quality food than McDonald's, then a) the feds should subcontract school lunches to fast food companies, and b) we'd be crazy to let the feds take over health care.

Scientists are working on a gene therapy that will stimulate super-human muscle growth with no apparent side effects.

As published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, researchers at the National Children’s Hospital (NCH) and Ohio State University have proven that blocking myostatin in monkeys will lead to skeletal muscle growth with few or no discernible negative side effects. Myostatin is the protein that helps mammals regulate muscle building, acting as a signal for muscles to stop consuming resources and stop growing. Blocking myostatin leads to enhanced muscle strength and continuous muscle growth. ...

My concerns about myostatin have largely focused on potential organ damage, possible unknown dangerous effects on smooth muscle tissue, and ligament/tendon stresses. The NCH work addresses these concerns rather well. Macaques were observed for 15 months after receiving a gene therapy that promoted follistatin (and blocked myostatin) in their quadriceps. There was no observed damage to internal organs, the treatment only seemed to affect skeletal muscle, the reproductive cycles and cells functioned normally, and there was no reported damaged to tendons or ligaments (though this last issue wasn’t expressly pursued by the research).

Check out that awesome cow!

Aside from helping people with muscular dystrophy -- which is awesome -- adding muscle would also let the rest of us eat whatever we want and still stay in shape. Sounds too good to be true....

(HT: NW.)

Paul Hsieh has written a Letter-to-the-Editor of the WSJ about the disputed settleness of climate change.

If a respected MIT scientist like Mr. Lindzen argues that "the science isn't settled," and other scientists disagree, then doesn't the very dispute itself prove that the science isn't settled?

Paul Hsieh
Sedalia, Colo.

The point is: dispute about how "settled" the science is implies that it isn't very "settled" at all... unless you're able to convince people that the dispute is being promoted by sources who have no place in the debate. That's what prominent climatologists were attempted to do, until their dishonest methods and manipulations were recently revealed thanks to the Climategate hacker.

(It's the fourth letter here, though the page's format is quite confusing. If you look at the underlying HTML you'll notice that Dr. Hsieh's letter is the only one that wasn't given an invisible anchor tag, making it impossible to link to the letter directly. Strange.)

I wish I'd thought of this: ditto Christmas lights.

(HT: LM.)

October 6th, 2009, President Obama stages an event at the White House to promote his health care plan.

A California physician, Dr. Alice Chen, was one of dozens of doctors invited to the White House on Monday to hear President Obama urge them to "fan out across the country" and work for health care reform.

"Nobody has more credibility with the American people on this issue than you do," Obama said. "And so if you're willing to speak out strongly on behalf of the things you care about and what you see each and every day as you're serving your patients all across the country, I'm confident we are going to get health reform passed this year."

Fast-forward to December 3rd and we see yet another state association of doctors rejecting Obama's health care plan.

The state's largest doctors group is opposing healthcare legislation being debated in the U.S. Senate this week, saying it would increase local healthcare costs and restrict access to care for elderly and low-income patients.

The California Medical Assn. represents more than 35,000 physicians, making it the second-largest state medical group in the country after Texas.

Its executive committee met last week to discuss the Senate legislation proposed last month by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), also known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Association leaders plan to announce their opposition later this week before a vote is taken in the Senate, spokesman Andrew LaMar told The Times.

They join a handful of other state medical associations that have opposed the bill in recent weeks, including those in Florida, Georgia and Texas.

Hey, no one has more credibility than these guys right? Maybe the President and Congress ought to listen to them.

(HT: NG.)

Intel has unveiled a prototype 48-core processor.

Intel announced that company researchers demonstrated an experimental, 48-core processor--dubbed the "single-chip cloud computer"--that will supposedly pave the way for future generations of processors. According to the company, the "concept chip" is aimed at scaling on-chip performance, communication, and power consumption. The new prototype also offers 10 to 20 times the processing engines found in today's Intel Core processors.

Despite its many cores, Intel says that the futuristic prototype chip will consume the same amount of energy as two standard household light bulbs thanks to newly invented power management techniques.

Very cool, but unfortunately it's extremely difficult to write software that can effectively use so many processors. Some tasks can be parallelized very effectively, but many cannot, and those that can't won't see any advantage from processors with so many cores.

Moore's Law is still holding, but only at the aggregate level. Single processors aren't doubling in speed every 18 months anymore, but instead we are figuring out how to cram more cores onto the same chip. This results in an increase in processing power per chip, but multi-core processors are much more limited in what they can do than would be a single-core processor with the same total power.

(HT: LM.)

Stephen Spruiell explains that stimulus spending has become an unfalsifiable religion.

Brian, you left out my favorite part of that CBO report: "Economic output and employment in the spring and summer of 2009 were lower than CBO had projected at the beginning of the year. But in CBO’s judgment, that outcome reflects greater-than-projected weakness in the underlying economy rather than lower-than-expected effects of [the stimulus]."

The case that the stimulus is working is thus rendered non-falsifiable. Its supporters will always claim that it is working fine, but we can't see it, because the "underlying" economy (whatever that is) is so much worse than anticipated. Belief in its efficacy is a faith, at odds with sound economics.

Well, it's religion or politics: after spending so much money, it simply can't be allowed to be perceived to have failed.

So you think International Community isn't doing enough to police the seas and prevent piracy? Then put your booty where your mouth is and buy shares in a pirate gang!

In Somalia's main pirate lair of Haradheere, the sea gangs have set up a cooperative to fund their hijackings offshore, a sort of stock exchange meets criminal syndicate. ...

"Four months ago, during the monsoon rains, we decided to set up this stock exchange. We started with 15 'maritime companies' and now we are hosting 72. Ten of them have so far been successful at hijacking," Mohammed said.

"The shares are open to all and everybody can take part, whether personally at sea or on land by providing cash, weapons or useful materials ... we've made piracy a community activity."

There isn't a prospectus, but here's some testimony from an current investor!

Piracy investor Sahra Ibrahim, a 22-year-old divorcee, was lined up with others waiting for her cut of a ransom pay-out after one of the gangs freed a Spanish tuna fishing vessel.

"I am waiting for my share after I contributed a rocket-propelled grenade for the operation," she said, adding that she got the weapon from her ex-husband in alimony.

"I am really happy and lucky. I have made $75,000 in only 38 days since I joined the 'company'."

Past performance is no guarantee of future results, etc.

(HT: Tyler Cowen and Eric Crampton.)

I'm hard-pressed to find an antonym to "surge", but perhaps our brilliantly eloquent President can help me. What do you call it when you promise to send 30,000 more troops but tell the enemy in advance how long they'll be staying? It's a surge of soldiers, to be sure, but it's a psychological retreat.

The problem is not troop numbers. When he declared on Tuesday, "These additional American and international troops will allow us to accelerate handing over responsibility to Afghan forces, and allow us to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011," the president has undercut the McChrystal plan and made success difficult to achieve.

There should be nothing wrong with an open-ended commitment to victory. In late 2006 and early 2007, when the Bush administration put the finishing touches on the strategy that would become the Iraq surge, Obama and many of his top aides questioned its wisdom. On July 19, 2007, for example, Obama declared, "Here's what we know. The surge has not worked." That a year later Obama scrubbed his criticism from his campaign website suggests that today he recognizes the positive impact of George W. Bush's decision. What Obama fails to understand, however, is that the surge is not only a military strategy, but a psychological one as well.

Victory over radical islamists won't be achieved by killing them all, it will be achieved by sapping their continuing will to fight. Surging troops but announcing our defeat in advance will result in more dead islamists while renewing the resolve of the movement as a whole. It's hard to see how that benefits America.

This "Awesomeness Manifesto" by Umair Haque hinges on a rather narrow definition for "innovation" so as to draw a contrast, but lets undermine the whole thing by highlighting the most glaring weakness.

Innovation relies on obsolescence. Innovation was a concept pioneered by the great Joseph Schumpeter. And to subscribe to it requires us to accept his theory of creative destruction. Gales of innovation make yesterday's goods and services obsolete. Yet, that, in turn, means that the price of innovation is recession and depression. The business cycle might never be vanquished — but it is getting more vicious with every decade. In an interdependent world, obsolescence is what's obsolete.

Innovation dries up our seedcorn. Innovation in its purest Schumpeterian sense is undertaken by entrepreneurs. And so today, we've got an economy where everything's for sale. Yet, little fundamentally new is being created. Businesses focus obsessively on the entrepreneurial aspects of commerce: we are focused still on selling the same old toxic, industrial era junk in slightly better ways. Yet, the challenge of the 21st century isn't entrepreneurial as much as it is creative: learning to create fundamentally better stuff in the first place.

"Obsolescence is what's obsolete" means what? For nothing to ever be made obsolete, nothing new and better may be created. Haque appears to dislike the concept of creative destruction becomes some peoples' wealth is destroyed in the process of making new people wealthy... but what's the alternative? Those who are presently rich and powerful must be allowed to stay that way? Societal calcification. Stagnation. Creative destruction isn't perfect, but generally, over time, what is destroyed is less valuable than what is created. That's not a waste of our seed-corn, that's how it's supposed to be used. Seeds are consumed when you plant them, but the resulting crops are worth more than the seed. Then you collect more seed and start the next round.

Should I kick Haque while he's down by pointing out that his definition for "innovation" is so narrow as to be useless?

What is innovative often fails to delight, inspire, and enlighten — because, as we've discussed, innovation is less concerned with raw creativity. Awesomeness puts creativity front and center. Awesome stuff evokes an emotive reaction because it's fundamentally new, unexpected, and 1000x better. Just ask Steve Jobs. The iPhone and iPod were pooh-poohed by analysts, who questioned how innovative they really were — but the Steve has turned multiple industries upside down through the power of awesomeness. ...

It's the most hackneyed phrase in the corporate lexicon: adding value. Let's face it: most value is an illusion. Nokia, Motorola, and Sony tried for a decade to "add value" to their phones — yet not a single feature did.

Except that, you know, the iPhone basically copied many of these features and then repackaged them in an innovative "awesome" style.

Innovation is creativity plus business purpose. The gripes Haque has with the term seem to be based on examples where those two ingredients are missing, so it's no wonder he's disenchanted. Instead of coining a new term, however, I suggest that we simple adopt a broader and more useful understanding of "innovation".

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