November 2010 Archives

Google counts the links to your site, but doesn't know or care whether those links are acclamation or derision. For an online retailer, Google makes all publicity good publicity.

“Look,” he says, grabbing an iPad off a small table. He types “Christian Audigier,” the name of a French designer, and “glasses” into Google. DecorMyEyes pops up high on the first page.

“Why am I there?” he asks, sounding both peeved and amazed. “I don’t belong there. I actually outrank the designer’s own Web site.”

The only explanation, he figures, is online chatter about his appalling ways. He swears that a vast majority of his transactions are amicable, and he is adamant that all of the customers he verbally attacks deserve it.

“Psychos” is his favorite term for these unhappy shoppers, and when they grumble about reporting him to the Better Business Bureau — nearly 300 have done so in the last three years — he urges them to grumble to Get Satisfaction as well.

When online fury about DecorMyEyes drops off, he dreams up new ways to stoke it. He briefly considered fabricating a story that Tony Russo had committed a murder — where he would have posted this story he doesn’t say — which he then planned to link anonymously to Get Satisfaction.

I love the idea as a Google hack, though this retailer's methods of threats and harassment are contemptible.

(HT: DS.)

It's the day after Thanksgiving which means the Christmas music season has officially begun. I love Christmas music. What I hate are artists who feel compelled to re-invent and re-interpret Christmas classics and play them in a completely different way. Please, stop. You wouldn't take a Christmas tune and change the words all around, would you? So why do you think it's okay to keep the words the same but change around the tune?

Please, just play the songs straight. They're classic for a reason.

It's hard to imagine a more corrupt transaction than the Obama Administration's blatant pay-off of its union allies by passing taxpayer money through General Motors.

Thanks to a generous share of GM stock obtained in the company's 2009 bankruptcy settlement, the United Auto Workers is well on its way to recouping the billions of dollars GM owed it — putting it far ahead of taxpayers who have recouped only about 30 percent of their investment and further still ahead of investors in the old GM who have received nothing.

The boon for the union fits the pattern established when the White House pushed GM into bankruptcy and steered it through the courts in a way that consistently put the interests of the union ahead of many suppliers, dealers and investors — stakeholders that ordinarily would have fared as well or better under the bankruptcy laws. ...

The union's health care and pension trust fund earned $3.4 billion through the sale of one-third of its shares in GM last week. Analysts estimate that it would break even if it sells the remaining two-thirds of its shares at an average price of $36 — close to where the stock traded shortly after the offering hit the market. GM shares closed at $33.45 on Wednesday.

For taxpayers to break even, by contrast, the stock would have to rise to at least $52 and by some estimates as high as $103 — levels that would take years to achieve.

And what the UAW will do with that "windfall"? You only get one guess! That's right, they'll turn the money around and donate it back to Obama's and the Democrat's political campaigns. It's called money laundering. Everyone involved with this operation should be in prison.

The older you get, the more bittersweet Thanksgiving becomes. It's definitely worth the effort to push the good things in life to the front of your mind and heart. I hope that you and yours have a joyful day, despite whatever circumstances you are facing.

Here's an account of what played out in the jury room of an armed robbery trial. The end is the key, and I'm not sure yet what to think about it.

Here's a cool artificial intelligence project idea: life on auto-pilot:

How far will this go? It's hard to say. As computers become more sophisticated, we will see more and more, and increasingly complex, tasks handed off to them either temporarily or permanently. Will we one day reach a point where it seems only natural to hand control over to a trusted digital friend when our careers or personal relationships start to get sticky? Just like a really difficult level in a computer game, right? Give the computer temporary control and then you can step back in later when things have calmed down a bit. ...

What if a computer program came along that was as good at living your life -- as measured by achieving the outcomes that you most desire -- as a calculator is at figuring out square roots, or as the examples above are at playing Donkey Kong Country or parallel parking? Maybe you wouldn't just relinquish control to it, but I bet you would at least want to know what is has to say.

Actually, I think this would be a pretty simple piece of software to write. The hardest part would be writing the input and output mechanisms.

Ok, so I'm a sucker for these animated movies. If you hate them, just move along.

(HT: ???.)

I've long been interested in neuroeconomics and quantitative psychology because it edges so close to my own artificial intelligence work which is heavily dependent on data. It is frustrating to me that so much research into the human brain is driven by observing symptoms and I'm glad to see that progress is being made towards understanding the underlying mechanisms.

Read Montague, a neuroscientist at Baylor College of Medicine, uses a combination of brain imaging and interactive games to explore this skill, with the long-term goal of developing new diagnostic tests for psychiatric disorders.

"This is an extremely promising approach to identifying the mechanisms that underpin these disorders," says Peter Fonagy, a psychiatrist at University College London who has collaborated with Montague in the past. "Psychiatry is the last medical specialty where the symptoms are equivalent to a diagnosis."

In a study published today, Montague and collaborators found that people take one of three strategies when playing a simple economics game, and that specific parts of the brain seem to be more active in people who choose to bluff. A second paper published last month shows how the strategies chosen by healthy people playing a similar game change depending on the mental status of their opponent. Researchers ultimately hope to create an automated version of this approach and use it to diagnose disease.

(Emphasis mine.) As automated system as described would be a fun AI project to develop.

This two part series provides a fascinating glimpse into the cyberwarfare behind Israel's 2007 attack on a Syrian nuclear facility.

On 6 September, Israeli aircraft bombed a large building at Dayr az-Zawr, a town on the Euphrates about 60 miles west of the Syria-Iraq border and 250 miles north-east of Damascus. The raid effectively destroyed the complex, which was under construction at the time.

Prior to the main attack, the strike force attacked a Syrian air defence facility at Tall al-Abyad, near the Turkish border. The site, which comprised two radar systems and probably a mix of SAMs, was damaged and disabled with a mix of electronic attack and conventional PGMs, thus allowing the strike force to penetrate Syrian airspace without being engaged or even detected.

Then came the real surprise: immediately after the suppressive attack at Tall Abyad, Syria's entire air defence radar network crashed for a period of time long enough for the IAF to complete its mission and exit the way it entered – again without being detected electronically. This is no mean feat considering that Syria is widely regarded as having the densest and most comprehensive air defence system (ADS) in the region.

After Syria finally got around to acknowledging the raid, two burning questions arose:

1. How did the non-stealthy F-15s and F-16s penetrate the Syrian ADS perimeter without being detected?
2. How could the strike force have effectively neutralized most or all of Syria's nationwide ADS radar coverage if it attacked only one ADS node?

Now someone needs to hook a few Kinects together to generate a complete model.

(HT: NC and Engadget.)

The best way to explain President Obama's vanity is to examine his own words.

My favorite is this line from page 160 of The Audacity of Hope:
I find comfort in the fact that the longer I’m in politics the less nourishing popularity becomes, that a striving for power and rank and fame seems to betray a poverty of ambition, and that I am answerable mainly to the steady gaze of my own conscience.

So popularity and fame once nourished him, but now his ambition is richer and he’s answerable not, like some presidents, to the Almighty, but to the gaze of his personal conscience. Which is steady. The fact that this sentence appears in the second memoir of a man not yet 50 years old—and who had been in national politics for all of two years—is merely icing.

Even if you think that, it's hard to imagine being so obtuse that you'd write it down for the world to see.

What the heck is wrong with crocodiles and rhinos? Do elephants really look like pushovers?

(HT: Tyler Cowen and Get Cynical.)

Awesome pictures of a crocodile attacking an elephant!

And don't forget this lions vs. crocodiles vs. buffaloes fight from 2007!

(HT: Again LM, who must have a Google alert set for amazing animal fights.)

I've been reading a lot about the proposal issued by the chairmen of the Debt Commission. Here's a roundup by Jake Tapper.

I was somewhat pleasantly surprised that the proposal isn't 100% tax increases. Unfortunately there are some pretty substantial tax increases in there. I like the idea of broadening the tax base, because I think it's dangerous that a near-majority of citizens pay zero or less in federal taxes. I like the proposed reduction in the federal workforce, the sale of federal land, the freezing of federal pay, the lowering of the tax brackets, and several other reforms.

However, I'm extremely wary of accepting tax increases now in exchange for "peanut butter" spending cuts that are spread thinly across so many areas. I'd much prefer to see 100% cuts to isolated government functions than a few percent shaved off everywhere. Why? Because it's much easier to restore those few percent later than it would be to reincarnate a whole department once it is eliminated. It just seems to me that tax increases stick around forever, but spending cuts never actually get implemented.

If the UK can cut their spending by 19% in a single year, why can't we?

The British government this past week announced the steepest set of spending cuts in decades, vowing to slash department budgets by close to 20 percent and eliminate a half-million public sector jobs -- all in the name of closing the country's stubborn deficit.

The sweeping proposal has given way to bickering in London, but it already has observers on this side of the pond wondering, what if?


Thanks for the link from 24th State! However, I'm not keen on my views being categorized as "extremism" even when the term is used in a positive sense.

Thank you for serving America and protecting our freedom.

Somewhat surprising considering the media coverage, but a plurality of American Muslims oppose the Ground Zero Mosque at its proposed location. 43% say build on the current location, 30% say change the mosque to an interfaith institution, and 14% say find another location.

As Michael Totten points out:

This tells us two things. Opposition to the project isn’t based on mere bigotry. And American Muslims are not a monolith.

The media should be more subtle and nuanced!

This is a brilliant program. I have personally witnessed the profound effect that babies can have on even the hardest hearts.

Here’s how it works: Roots arranges monthly class visits by a mother and her baby (who must be between two and four months old at the beginning of the school year). Each month, for nine months, a trained instructor guides a classroom using a standard curriculum that involves three 40-minute visits – a pre-visit, a baby visit, and a post-visit. The program runs from kindergarten to seventh grade. During the baby visits, the children sit around the baby and mother (sometimes it’s a father) on a green blanket (which represents new life and nature) and they try to understand the baby’s feelings. The instructor helps by labeling them. “It’s a launch pad for them to understand their own feelings and the feelings of others,” explains Gordon. “It carries over to the rest of class.”

I have visited several public schools in low-income neighborhoods in Toronto to observe Roots of Empathy’s work. What I find most fascinating is how the baby actually changes the children’s behavior. Teachers have confirmed my impressions: tough kids smile, disruptive kids focus, shy kids open up. In a seventh grade class, I found 12-year-olds unabashedly singing nursery rhymes.

The baby seems to act like a heart-softening magnet. No one fully understands why. Kimberly Schonert-Reichl, an applied developmental psychologist who is a professor at the University of British Columbia, has evaluated Roots of Empathy in four studies. “Do kids become more empathic and understanding? Do they become less aggressive and kinder to each other? The answer is yes and yes,” she explained. “The question is why.”

I've long been an advocate for disrupting the single-age cohorts that dominate our primary and secondary education systems, public and private. It's unnatural to put our kids into "Lord of the Flies" groupings where everyone is the same age. The social dynamics in such a group are aberrant and completely unlike the dynamics the children will experience in almost any setting as adults. Children should learn to have natural interactions with unrelated people of all ages, from babies to seniors. (Churches often provide such an environment, which I believe is extremely valuable.)

I briefly considered becoming a patent attorney, and was interested to the degree that I sought out patent attorneys to ask them about their jobs. The most memorable quote was: "Do you like going to the DMV and filling out forms? That's very similar to what I do for 100 hours a week."

(HT: RB and Above the Law.)

Republicans won a huge majority in the Missouri Legislature last week and are promising some major changes.

Gleeful Republicans in the Missouri House of Representatives said Wednesday that they will use their historic majority to make state government smaller and Missouri more business-friendly.

Speaker-elect Steve Tilley said their agenda will include a measure eliminating the state income tax and replacing it with a higher sales tax. The so-called "fair tax" is a priority of retired St. Louis financier Rex Sinquefield, who has contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to lawmakers, Tilley among them.

Republicans picked up a record-breaking 17 House seats in Tuesday's election. They knocked off 10 Democratic incumbents representing every corner of the state and seized seven open seats held by retiring Democrats.

The results gave the GOP a 106-57 lock on the chamber. Never before has the party held that many House seats.

Tilley said legislators have a mandate to pursue the GOP's top priority: creating jobs. He said the House will focus on revamping state taxes, business regulations and the legal system.

Should be an interesting time. The Republicans don't have a veto-proof majority in the State Senate, so whatever they want to do will have to get past the Democrat governor or get some Democrat votes in the Senate.

(HT: RB.)

David Lowell claims to have discovered a titanium deposit so large that it will allow him to dictate the world market.

The American explorer who discovered the world’s biggest copper deposit in Chile has staked a claim in Paraguay to what he says may be the largest titanium find.

David Lowell, 82, the president of closely held CIC Resources Inc., controls mineral rights to at least 185,000 hectares (457,000 acres), according to Paraguay’s sub-ministry of mining and energy. That is an area the size of London.

“Our deposit could control the world titanium market, a big enough piece of production that whoever operates it would dictate what the price is going to be,” Lowell said in an interview. “And the price, presumably, would be reduced by having higher-grade ore and large tonnage.”

The geologist is in Hong Kong this week presenting his discovery to investors at a conference on the global titanium market sponsored by TZ Minerals International, a Western Australia consulting firm that specializes in the mineral. The project could produce between 5 and 10 million tons of titanium ore per year with a potential operating life of 100 years, he said today outside the conference.

I want to corner the world market in something. Hmmm....

(HT: Business Insider and SR.)

@AO: Your tears of lamentation are a sweet, delicious nectar that lightens my heart and rejuvenates my soul. Perhaps you can distill your wounded smug self-righteousness into powdered form so that I can enjoy it at my leisure and not only after a crushing election victory! Please continue explaining about how you and your comrades have a monopoly on intelligence, empathy, sanity, and reason. How does it feel when the cruel Neanderthals reject your enlightened wisdom in favor of self-determination and individual liberty? Why don't they recognize the inherent rightness of your cause and submit to your gentle, beneficent authoritarianism?

President Obama's billion dollar Indian expedition is completely insane.

Communications set-up, nuclear button, a fleet of limousines and majority of the White House staff will be in India accompanying the President on this three-day visit that will cover Mumbai and Delhi.

He will also be protected by a fleet of 34 warships, including an aircraft carrier, which will patrol the sea lanes off the Mumbai coast during his two-day stay there beginning Saturday. The measure has been taken as Mumbai attack in 2008 took place from the sea.

Arrangements have been put in place for emergency evacuation, if needed.

Obama is expected to fly by a helicopter -- Marine One -- from the city airport to the Indian Navy's helibase INS Shikra at Colaba in south Mumbai.

From there, he will drive down in Lincoln Continental -- the Presidential limousine -- to the nearby the Taj Hotel.

Two jets, armed with advanced communication and security systems, and a fleet of over 40 cars will be part of Obamas convoy.

Around 800 rooms have been booked for the President and his entourage in Taj Hotel and Hyatt. ...

Sources said 13 heavy-lift aircraft with high-tech equipment, three helicopters and 500 US security personnel have arrived in India ahead of Obama's visit.

The US security has also brought interception and obstruction device, sniffer dogs, rescue gadgets.

Apart from Obama's Air Force One, a few private luxury jets carrying top American corporate leaders, who are part of Obama entourage, are also expected to arrive in India in next 2-3 days.

All high-rise buildings in the vicinity of Mumbai's Taj Mahal hotel and Delhi's Maurya Sheraton hotel, where the US President will stay, are being sanitised and security personnel will be positioned on rooftops to prevent any air-borne attack.

Reports are that the trip is costing taxpayers $200 million per day. That's nuts. Look, we have a Vice President. If visiting India is that important and yet dangerous, stick Joe Biden in an "undisclosed location" and let Obama travel on the cheap.

Update: The White House says estimates of $200 million per day "have no basis in reality".

Aram Bartholl has embedded USB drives in mortar around New York City to facilitate anonymous file sharing. Pictures at the link.

(HT: RB.)

The most important low-profile story from yesterday is the large number of state legislatures that switched to Republican control.

  • Going into the 2010 elections, Democrats held 60 partisan legislative chambers and Republicans held 36, with a couple of ties.
  • It looks like the GOP has picked up an astounding 20 chambers, including both houses in Alabama, Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Carolina, and Wisconsin and additional chambers in Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Montana, New Hampshire, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.
  • In total legislative seats, it is possible that after all the results are posted, Republicans will have won a nationwide majority.
  • Republicans haven’t enjoyed this much power in state capitals since the 1920s.

These legislatures will be redrawing House district lines in accordance with the 2010 census, and could create up to a dozen new "safe" Republican House seats before the 2012 elections.

Update: More redistricting details.

Looks like my predictions this morning of Republicans gaining 60+ in the House and 7-8 in the Senate were a bit high. I'm especially disappointed that Harry Reid, Barbara Boxer, and Jerry Brown won their elections. Reid because he has been instrumental in advancing the President's agenda in the Senate, and the other two because I actually had some hope for the rejuvenation of California. The mess of propositions that are passing also look inauspicious for the state.

On the bright side, yes, Republicans have taken control of the House. Plus, they've taken Obama's former Senate seat in Illinois and gained Marco Rubio in Florida. Definitely a good night for conservatives, but not the tsunami that some pundits had been predicting. From what I see, Republicans haven't won a single come-from-behind victory against the latest polls. Maybe the pollsters just did a really good job this year?

Still unknown: how many state legislators have the Republicans taken over? The legislatures will be gerrymandering House districts next year, and control of more state legislatures will mean a few more "safe" Republican House seats in 2012. Hopefully someone will have these numbers crunched when I wake up tomorrow.

Sleep well! Less than 15 months till the Iowa caucuses....

Here's a bizarre article by one Melanie McDonagh who claims that paternity tests are anti-woman.

Now, a cotton-wool swab with a bit of saliva, plus a small fee, less than £200, can settle the matter. At a stroke, the one thing that women had going for them has been taken away, the one respect in which they had the last laugh over their husbands and lovers. DNA tests are an anti-feminist appliance of science, a change in the balance of power between the sexes that we’ve hardly come to terms with. And that holds true even though many women have the economic potential to provide for their children themselves. ...

Now I can see that some men might rather welcome an end to the old-fashioned scenario whereby they find themselves held to account for the paternity of children born to girls with whom they just happen to have had sex. The actor Jude Law recently found himself in just this position, and unhesitatingly and ungallantly demanded a DNA test.

By contrast, the old situation, in which women presented men with a child, and the man either did the decent thing and offered support, or made a run for it, allowed women a certain leeway. The courtesan in Balzac who, on becoming pregnant, unhesitatingly sought, and got, maintenance from two of her men friends, can’t have been the only one. Uncertainty allows mothers to select for their children the father who would be best for them.

As one of the commenters points out: why limit the search for the "best" father to just men who the mother had sex with? Why shouldn't the mother get to demand support and fatherhood from any man in the world?

The point is that paternity was ambiguous and it was effectively up to the mother to name her child’s father, or not. (That eminently sensible Jewish custom, whereby Jewishness is passed through the mother, was based on the fact that we only really knew who our mothers are.) Many men have, of course, ended up raising children who were not genetically their own, but really, does it matter? You can feel quite as much tenderness for a child you mistakenly think to be yours as for one who is.

Another brilliant commenter suggests that maternity wards dispense with all the tracking bracelets and let new parents simply leave with whichever newborn is closest when they check out of the hospital.

Yet another of the excellent commenters points out that the author wrote a similar article for The Times in 2009.

The whole article is so absurd that I'm tempted to believe that it's some sort of satire. It's hard to believe that anyone could be so genuinely misandrist.

I love election day. I'm especially excited today not just because the Republicans appear poised for massive victories, but also because the Republican establishment has been significantly changed for the better by the Tea Party movement and this election should solidify those changes for years to come.

My only predictions are pretty banal and obvious: Republicans take the house but not the Senate. I think they'll win more than 60 seats in the House, and seven or eight in the Senate. I'm fine with that, and it could possibly be advantageous in 2012 for the not to control all of Congress.

Stay tuned! I will be.

Like many people I love the concept... it's too bad the numbers behind high-speed rail just don't work.

High-speed inter-city trains (not commuter lines) travel at up to 250 miles per hour and are most competitive with planes and cars over distances of fewer than 500 miles. In a report on high-speed rail, the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service examined the 12 corridors of 500 miles or fewer with the most daily air traffic in 2007. Los Angeles to San Francisco led the list with 13,838 passengers; altogether, daily air passengers in these 12 corridors totaled 52,934. If all of them hypothetically switched to trains, the total number of daily airline passengers, about 2 million, would drop only 2.5 percent. Any fuel savings would be less than that; even trains need energy.

Indeed, inter-city trains -- at whatever speed -- target such a small part of total travel that the changes in oil use, congestion or greenhouse gases must be microscopic. Every day, about 140 million Americans go to work, with about 85 percent driving an average of 25 minutes (three-quarters drive alone, 10 percent carpool). Even assuming 250,000 high-speed rail passengers, there would be no visible effect on routine commuting, let alone personal driving. In the Northeast Corridor, with about 45 million people, Amtrak's daily ridership is 28,500. If its trains shut down tomorrow, no one except the affected passengers would notice.

Inter-city high-speed rail is a waste of money except in a limited number of high-density travel corridors. Trains are romantic, but not economical.

Update: How about another Reason TV video about the nastiness of elections?

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