March 2011 Archives

(HT: GeekPress.)

Ace sums up the sequence of proposed budget cuts:

The GOP proposed $61 billion in cuts, after promising $100 billion. The Democrats made a secret offer of $30 billion in total cuts. We've now agreed to $33 billion, I guess, which, unless I'm failing at math here, is a whole lot closer to $30 billion than $61 billion and nowhere at all near $1.6 trillion.

I haven't written much about this because it's hard for me to care. With a deficit of $1,600 billion, what does it matter if they cut $100 billion or $30 billion? Either one is a drop in the bucket. No matter which passes, everyone will pat themselves on the back and consider the deficit issue to be "handled" for now. It's ludicrous. Even $100 billion in cuts isn't remotely serious, and the fact that such a modest goal appears out of reach is deeply frustrating and disturbing.

From the makers of the pirate keyboard comes the SuperCoder 2000 programming keyboard!

(HT: RB.)

Shouldn't the robots set up an awesome virtual reality existence for humanity before they start sucking our energy for fuel?

iPod owners need never run out of battery again after researchers developed a way to power them using the movement of the human body.

A team has created a tiny chip which uses natural motion to generate power for hand-held gadgets.

They hope that it could one day even use the human heart to power a range of devices including iPods and mobile phones - and do away with batteries entirely.

Haha, just kidding! I love you robots!

This excellent New York Times article about General Electric's tax-dodging acrobatics is one of the best arguments for eliminating corporate taxes that I've ever read (unintended, I'm sure). The article describes one contortion after another by G.E., its lobbyists, and its bought politicians to shield the company from paying any taxes whatsoever.

The company reported worldwide profits of $14.2 billion, and said $5.1 billion of the total came from its operations in the United States.

Its American tax bill? None. In fact, G.E. claimed a tax benefit of $3.2 billion.

Hm, could there be any corruption and insider-dealing going on?

President Obama has said he is considering an overhaul of the corporate tax system, with an eye to lowering the top rate, ending some tax subsidies and loopholes and generating the same amount of revenue. He has designated G.E.’s chief executive, Jeffrey R. Immelt, as his liaison to the business community and as the chairman of the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, and it is expected to discuss corporate taxes.

“He understands what it takes for America to compete in the global economy,” Mr. Obama said of Mr. Immelt, on his appointment in January, after touring a G.E. factory in upstate New York that makes turbines and generators for sale around the world.

So Immelt is BFF with President Obama. Ok.

The head of its tax team, Mr. Samuels, met with Representative Charles B. Rangel, then chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, which would decide the fate of the tax break. As he sat with the committee’s staff members outside Mr. Rangel’s office, Mr. Samuels dropped to his knee and pretended to beg for the provision to be extended — a flourish made in jest, he said through a spokeswoman.

That day, Mr. Rangel reversed his opposition to the tax break, according to other Democrats on the committee.

The following month, Mr. Rangel and Mr. Immelt stood together at St. Nicholas Park in Harlem as G.E. announced that its foundation had awarded $30 million to New York City schools, including $11 million to benefit various schools in Mr. Rangel’s district. Joel I. Klein, then the schools chancellor, and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who presided, said it was the largest gift ever to the city’s schools.

G.E. officials say the donation was granted solely on the merit of the project. “The foundation goes to great lengths to ensure grant decisions are not influenced by company government relations or lobbying priorities,” Ms. Eisele said.

Mr. Rangel, who was censured by Congress last year for soliciting donations from corporations and executives with business before his committee, said this month that the donation was unrelated to his official actions.

How dumb do they think we are?

I'm sure G.E. isn't the only huge corporation that legally avoids paying any taxes. The harder we squeeze them, the more they bribe lobby our crooked politicians for exemptions. Since we're not collecting any money anyway, why not just eliminate corporate taxes entirely? G.E. would still pay zero, but:

  • G.E. wouldn't need to keep all their profits outside the U.S.
  • G.E. wouldn't have an incentive to buy politicians.
  • Individual shareholders would still pay taxes on G.E.'s profits when they sell stock or the company issues dividends.
  • Smaller companies who can't afford a zillion tax attorneys and lobbyists could compete with G.E. on a more level playing field.

Of course to G.E. and our politicians the rampant corruption isn't a bug, it's a feature. Eliminating corporate taxes would be one of the simplest ways to reduce political corruption generally and the influence of major corporations more specifically.


Immelt: looter or producer? (HT: Instapundit.)

G.E. profits from Immelt-Obama relationship.

And the audience of The View applauds. Look, let's just see it so we can move past this. Everyone has to show their birth certificate from time to time... so let's see Obama's long-form birth certificate. Easy peasy.

(HT: Da Techguy.)

xkcd has an awesome set of character interaction diagrams for Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and Jurassic Park. I love diagrams.

(HT: MG.)

(HT: StrategyPage.)

Remember the six apoplectic years the Left spent deriding President Bush and denigrating America because of our invasion of Iraq? Well it was a scam. It is now clear that the Left and Barack Obama were throwing tantrums solely because they were out of power and not because they have any real objection to the arbitrary deployment of the American military at the complete discretion of the President.

Protesters began large, repeated, and loud protests against President Bush long before any actual military action took place. By contrast, protesters only started to complain about President Obama after the attacks had started, and they are not only few in number but scattered. International A.N.S.W.E.R. has not staged huge rent-a-mob protests in any country.

When this conflict began, there were 100 protesters out front of the White House... holding a rally over the 8th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. ...

One cannot help wondering why it is that helping the people of Libya free themselves from a brutal dictator is so right that we must take military action, while freeing the people of Iraq from an even more brutal dictator who was supporting, training, and harboring terrorists was such a moral atrocity, according to President Obama.

Our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan certainly didn't go / aren't going perfectly, but I predict that Obama's adventure in Libya will make these earlier efforts look like epic wins.

The most unfortunate aspect of the Left's immaturity is that it has contributed to countless wasted lives and dollars.

I guess what I’m wondering is, how much further along would the Iraq government’s stabilization be — how much further along would the quest for democratic governance be, in the Middle East (and how much less reluctant would tyrants be to try to stop it by killing their own people), if only the Democrats hadn’t wasted 6 years politicizing our efforts and another two years bowing and scraping and restarting and gasbagging and doing everything they could to say, “we’re not Bush,” only to become all they said they hated?

In the end, all the politics, all the fury and drama and rhetoric delayed an inevitable desire and movement toward liberty, and perhaps costs lives.

In an era of record-breaking government spending and clear wastefulness, perhaps the past 8 years of politically-expedient dissent has been costliest waste of all.

Remember: the anti-war protests of the Left were completely insincere.

These quotes from Secretary Clinton make it sound like we're playing games in Libya.

The White House strongly denied that regime change is part of its mission after a statement earlier in the day characterized the goal there as “installing a democratic system.”

Separately, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton struggled to respond to questions from ABC’s Diane Sawyer over whether the U.S. operation would be a success if Col. Moammar Gadhafi remains in power.

Clinton said the United Nations resolution authorizing force against Gadhafi was broad, but included nothing “about getting rid of anybody.”

At the same time, Clinton said it is “highly unlikely” a stable and peaceful Libya can be established with Gadhafi in power. She also said the U.S. mission was intended to give insurgents fighting Gadhafi a “level playing field” and a “much better chance” at toppling the dictator.

So we want Gadhafi out, we want the rebels to oust him, but we're only willing to offer just enough help to make it an even fight. Who the hell wants to fight fair? What are our leaders thinking?

(HT: RB.)

If these accusations against a US army "kill team" are true then the people involved should be executed.

Some of the activities of the self-styled "kill team" are already public, with 12 men currently on trial in Seattle for their role in the killing of three civilians.

Five of the soldiers are on trial for pre-meditated murder, after they staged killings to make it look like they were defending themselves from Taliban attacks.

I don't believe these alleged actions are representative of our military people as a whole. I'm sure that the vast majority of Americans would be disgusted by these cold-blooded murders.

Strategy Page has an insightful and detailed description of Saudi military culture.

While the thousands of aircraft, helicopters, armored vehicles and other high-tech systems Saudi Arabia has bought in the last decade look impressive, the actual impact of all this lethal hardware depends a lot on the skill of those using it. In this department, the Saudis have some serious problems. And it is generally very difficult to get Saudis to even discuss the situation.

Examples are widely available, and seen daily by the thousands of Western technicians, specialists and trainers hired by Saudi Arabia to keep their high-tech gear operational. For example, Saudis, and Arabs in general, don't care for the Western custom of establishing minimum standards for, say, fighter pilots. It's long been known that it is very difficult to wash out a Saudi pilot who is well connected (especially a member of the huge royal family). There are some very good Saudi pilots, but they are a minority. The rest get by. As long as they can take off and land, they can stay in a squadron. During combat exercises, especially with American squadrons, it's understood that the low overall performance of Saudi pilots is not to be discussed with the Saudis, or anyone else. Junior American officers get irked by this, but it's career suicide to disobey orders on this point. The Saudis do spend a lot of money on training and letting the pilots fly. For this reason, they are considered marginally better than other Arab air forces. But against the Iranians, who more enthusiastically accepted Western training methods, they would have problems. Iranian aircraft are older and less well equipped, but pilot quality would make up for a lot of that.

SP is always a great read.

President Obama has ordered combat operations to remove Gaddafi from power in Libya. Does this mean the vindication of President Bush is complete?

[Secretary of State Hillary] Clinton said earlier the immediate goal was stopping violence against civilians but the long-term objective was to see Gaddafi depart, although Obama himself did not mention this in his remarks.

"The first and overwhelmingly urgent action is to end the violence," she said, saying "a final result of any negotiations would have to be the decision by Colonel Gaddafi to leave."

Guantanamo: still open, with expanded military tribunals.

Predator strikes in AfPak: higher rate than ever.

Troops in Afghanistan: “Afghan forces in the lead throughout the country by 2014,” says General David Petraeus.

Patriot Act: Obama wants to keep all the provisions and extend it longer than Congressional Republicans.


France and Britain take the lead in Libya. Obama is lucky that this crisis is within range of Europe's ground-based aircraft. (Since European nations don't have the ability to project power substantially beyond their borders without American assistance.)

Maybe President Obama should have shown this video during his recent speech about bullying: the right way to deal with a bully. (Can't find an embeddable version, unfortunately.)

(HT: NC.)

Via my brother, here's a list of science fiction movies to watch for in 2011. The two most promising to me are the two Spielberg efforts: "Super 8" and "Cowboys & Aliens".

David French has written a great column that looks at expenditures of money and effort by Christians and Christian groups and concludes that Christians are more concerned with helping the weak than with fighting the culture war. As we should be.

First, you'll notice that Christians do give lots of money to what I'd call "pure" culture war organizations, but not as much as the Left. The largest (by budget) include my employer, the Alliance Defense Fund, and the Family Research Council. Of the pro-life organizations, two of the largest are National Right to Life and Americans United for Life. These organizations raise quite a bit of money—almost $60 million combined. But it's not as much as the leading legal organization on the Left. The ACLU Foundation (which does not include the various state ACLUs) took in $98 million with the national ACLU itself raking in an additional $33 million.

But what about organizations like Focus on the Family? Focus is big, no doubt, with gross receipts exceeding $135 million. But anyone with even a passing familiarity with that organization knows that the vast majority of its efforts are thoroughly divorced from the "gays and abortion" side of the culture wars. Its website and radio show are primarily dedicated to such topics as enriching your marriage, dealing with unruly teens, and reviewing TV shows and movies for their family-friendliness.

How do those numbers stack up with leading Christian anti-poverty charities? Let's look at just three: World Vision, Compassion International, and Samaritan's Purse. Their total annual gross receipts (again, according to most recently available Form 990s) exceed $2.1 billion. The smallest of the three organizations (Samaritan's Purse) has larger gross receipts than every major "pro-family" culture war organization in the United States combined. World Vision, the largest, not only takes in more than $1 billion per year, it also has more than 1,400 employees and 43,000 volunteers.

As a Christian, I was glad to read this perspective. Even I sometimes get concerned that we Christians spend more time fighting against unbelievers than fighting for them.

Glenn Reynolds has a pithy description of how our society has created a fake middle-class by subsidizing status symbols without indoctrinating the traits that lead to real middle-classness.

The government decides to try to increase the middle class by subsidizing things that middle class people have: If middle-class people go to college and own homes, then surely if more people go to college and own homes, we’ll have more middle-class people. But homeownership and college aren’t causes of middle-class status, they’re markers for possessing the kinds of traits — self-discipline, the ability to defer gratification, etc. — that let you enter, and stay, in the middle class. Subsidizing the markers doesn’t produce the traits; if anything, it undermines them.

Charlie Martin has the best explanation I've yet read about the Fukushima reactor meltdown. It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that the media is over-hyping the danger. Martin does a great job explaining the processes going on in and around the reactor, as well as highlighting the anti-nuclear agenda of many of the "nuclear power experts" that the media is running to for analysis.

Note: don't interpret my anti-sensationalism as a complete pass for the nuclear industry. It's pretty foolish to put a nuclear plant right near the ocean without sufficiently protecting the coolant supply from contamination by tsunami.

The phrase "think outside the box" is very overused... and yet we humans do tend to get stuck in mental ruts. Just like ruts for wagons, mental ruts are often a useful guide that get us where we want to go without much effort. But sometimes it's nice to go off-roading, so here are some "lateral thinking" puzzles to ponder.

Mental ruts are especially interesting from an artificial intelligence perspective. Getting a machine to "think inside the box" and come up with "obvious" answers is quite hard. Most AI systems that are in any way "creative" spend so much time so far out of the box that they aren't especially useful.

(HT: GeekPress.)

Happy Pi Day. Can't wait for 2015.

What happens when you accelerate Particle Man to nearly the speed of light and then ram him into the head of Person Man?

Bugorski was a researcher at the Institute for High Energy Physics in Protvino. Specifically he worked with the Soviet particle accelerator the synchrotron U-70. On July 13, 1978, Bugorski was checking a malfunctioning piece of equipment. As he was leaning over the piece of equipment he stuck his head through the part of the accelerator that the proton beam was running through. Supposedly, he saw a flash that was “brighter than a thousand suns” at this point. Interestingly, he did not feel any pain when this happened.

The beam itself measured 2000 gray as it entered Bugorski’s skull and about 3000 gray when it exited on the other side. A “gray” is an SI unit of energy absorbed from ionizing radiation. One gray is equal to the absorption of one joule of radiation energy by one kilogram of matter. An example where this is commonly used is in X-rays. For reference, absorption of over 5 grays at any time usually leads to death within 14 days. However, no one before had ever experienced radiation in the form of a proton beam moving at about the speed of light.

Despite pro-Triangle Man propaganda, it appears that Particle Man is more powerful than previously thought.

A high-level argument for a one-way mission to Mars. I love the idea.

We envision that Mars exploration would begin and proceed for a long time on the basis of outbound journeys only. A mission to Mars could use some of the hardware that has been developed for the Moon program. One approach could be to send four astronauts initially, two on each of two space craft, each with a lander and sufficient supplies, to stake a single outpost on Mars. A one-way human mission to Mars would not be a fixed duration project as in the Apollo program, but the first step in establishing a permanent human presence on the planet. The astronauts would be re-supplied on a periodic basis from Earth with basic necessities, but otherwise would be expected to become increasingly proficient at harvesting and utilizing resources available on Mars. Eventually the outpost would reach self-sufficiency, and then it could serve as a hub for a greatly expanded colonization program. There are many reasons why a human colony on Mars is a desirable goal, scientifically and politically. The strategy of one-way missions brings this goal within technological and financial feasibility. Nevertheless, to attain it would require not only major international cooperation, but a return to the exploration spirit and risk-taking ethos of the great period of Earth exploration, from Columbus to Amundsen, but which has nowadays been replaced with a culture of safety and political correctness.

Space exploration has been timid for decades. Let's be bold. I expect there would be no shortage of qualified people willing to take a one-way trip to Mars.

WSJ has an article today about using a Nook Color as an Android tablet but I'm already way ahead of them! I bought a Nook Color last week and rooted it last night! I installed Honeycomb (Android 3.0) by following instructions at Android Central. It took less than 30 minutes.

There are still some bugs with Honeycomb on the Nook Color, but I'm sure they'll be improving over time. Very fun little toy, for not a lot of money.

Why can Barnes & Noble sell the Nook Color for under $200 while a Samsung Galaxy (same size tablet) costs $500? Well, the NC doesn't have a camera, GPS, or 3G modem, so that saves some money, but I bet the main reason is that B&N is following a different business model. B&N wants to make money by selling books, so it sells the hardware cheap. Apple, Samsung, Motorola, and other tablet manufacturers mark up their hardware 50%-100% above cost. No thanks!

Here's a fun rock-paper-scissors AI game that pits you against an adaptive computer opponent. You may be surprised to discover that it can beat you more than 50% of the time... that's because you aren't very good at being random, and the algorithm is very good at recognizing simple patterns. If you flip a coin you'll do better!

(HT: NW.)

Don't be fooled into thinking that environmentalists are altruists who care for nothing more than saving the earth: environmentalism is big business.

Environmental policy is not driven by tree-hugging activists, earnest liberal bloggers, or ecologically minded citizens. Instead, it flows from the lobbyists and executives of well-connected multinational corporations and built-for-subsidy startups that see profit in the loan guarantees, handouts, mandates, and tax credits Congress creates in the name of saving the planet.

K Street is the epicenter of this green-industrial complex, and ground zero might be the firm founded by Democratic revolving-door earmark lobbyist Steve McBee.

McBee, a former top staffer for Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and powerful House Appropriations Committee member Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., reportedly wrote key provisions in the stimulus bill to open the spigot of green corporate welfare. Also, he has hired up the Capitol Hill staff at the center of big environmental legislative pushes like cap and trade.

Exploring corporate lobbyists' central role in Obama's "green energy" push provides us two important lessons. First, it reveals as hypocritical the Democratic attack that opponents of cap and trade and other green policies are simply shills for big business.

Second, it ought to heighten our skepticism that these "green" policies are really crafted with an eye to helping the environment -- they are more likely skewed toward the bottom line of lobbied-up Big Business.

The bold emphasis is mine, because I think it's valuable to highlight the feedback loop that feeds taxpayer money to environmentalists who then lobby the government for more taxpayer dollars. It's corrupt.

(HT: MM.)

"It's like he wrote a song to keep girls away."

(HT: RB.)

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This page is an archive of entries from March 2011 listed from newest to oldest.

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