February 2006 Archives

I know of several ancient multiplayer games, like Chess and Go, but what's the oldest single-player game? Solitaire? It seems like there must have been some single-player games before the invention of playing cards.

Although government-imposed solutions to social problems almost always turn out worse than the problems themselves, frequent readers know that I believe that it would be in the best interest of the public at large for the government to be more involved in the plight of the mentally ill. I don't know the best solution to the problem of homelessness, but I'm pretty sure that it isn't ideal to allow drug-addicted, mentally ill people to live on the streets and wander aimlessly through public spaces. Such people are a danger not only to the rest of the citizens around them, but to themselves. Santa Monica, California, struggles with one of my region's worst homeless problems, and recently-elected city councilman Bobby Shriver is proposing a plan to deal with the city's homeless. I don't know if every detail is perfect, but it looks like a reasonable start.

Frustrated residents are asking a fair question: Why do we still have the same number of people—some of them the same individuals—living on our streets and in our parks as we did in 1990? ...

We need a new strategy to handle chronic homelessness. Programs the City now funds do help many homeless people move into housing—but only those who are physically and mentally able to follow the programs' rules. We have no program for the chronic homeless—most of whom are addicted, mentally ill, or both—even though they are the ones who need the most help, use the most resources, and cause residents to avoid certain areas of the city. Our police are reluctant to arrest chronic homeless people who are inebriated in public because of the significant time and expense required to complete the paperwork, only to release them back onto the streets. ...

I recommend two immediate steps:

1. A "sober-up" facility in the new Public Safety Building. Rather than repeatedly jailing and hospitalizing chronic homeless inebriants, police can take them to this facility not only to sober up, but also to receive access to substance abuse, mental health, and housing placement services.

2. A "housing first" approach. From San Francisco to New York, cities are realizing that their costly shelter programs only provide a temporary respite for some—not a solution. Many people will never be able to overcome addictions or mental illness as long as they are living on the streets, or in and out of shelters. Pilot programs have shown that a small, but stable and secure, living space connected to medical, nutritional, occupational, and social services can be much more successful in helping people turn their lives around. ...

Services that do not contribute to our goal of returning people to permanent housing should be eliminated. The City should do all it can to convince well-meaning groups to stop their outdoor feeding programs and instead donate their time and resources to provide housing. We should discourage any program that plays the role of enabler to addicted people living on the streets. Every dollar allocated to homelessness must be spent to support our goal of permanently moving people into housing.

Many of these people will never be able to care for themselves, and we're only fooling ourselves if we think that they're homeless from choice or laziness.

Stanley Kurtz echos many of the same points that I've made before about the Democratic party: they'll never regain a majority unless they're willing to purge themselves of their far-left fringe element. Mr. Kurtz puts the issue in context by discussing the ousting of Harvard President Larry Summers.

Summers is from the sane side of the Democratic Party (yes, there is one). These moderate Democrats want to bring the academy closer to the center of the country. But when push came to shove, the leftist faculty wouldn't play along.

That left Summers and his moderate Democrat backers on the board to choose between appeasement and a serious public battle. Ultimately, Summers and his allies backed down because they are part of the same national political coalition as the leftist faculty (which contributes heavily to the Democratic Party). Moderate Dems would be happy to reform the academy, but they don't have the stomach to treat leftist professors as open opponents. Only Republicans can do that. So in a way, we are seeing another iteration of the paralyzing split between DLC types and the fire-breathing base. The Democratic left is just too big, too powerful, and too essential to victory to be purged, as Peter Beinart wanted to do.

Which is why Hillary may be a dangerous presidential candidate: she can afford to take centrist positions during the campaign because the far left will never abandon her. So she thinks; she also thinks that non-crazy voters will forget her far-left history. I'm not sure either of those is true, but she's banking on them and it's likely the rest of her party will go along for the ride. My own prediction is another decade of Republican dominance... though I'd much prefer that result if there were a minority party strong enough to reign in some of the Republicans' own shortcomings.

Meanwhile, regarding the far-left academy: former Taliban spokesman Sayed Rahmatullah Hashemi is now a student at Yale University.

Now Yale is giving a first-class education to an erstwhile high official in one of the most evil regimes of the latter half of the 20th century--the government that harbored the terrorists who attacked America on Sept. 11, 2001.

"In some ways," Mr. Rahmatullah told the New York Times. "I'm the luckiest person in the world. I could have ended up in Guantanamo Bay. Instead I ended up at Yale." One of the courses he has taken is called Terrorism-Past, Present and Future.

Many foreign readers of the Times will no doubt snicker at the revelation that naive Yale administrators scrambled to admit Mr. Rahmatullah. The Times reported that Yale "had another foreigner of Rahmatullah's caliber apply for special-student status." Richard Shaw, Yale's dean of undergraduate admissions, told the Times that "we lost him to Harvard," and "I didn't want that to happen again."

The Democrats aren't smart to build their party in the mold of these "elite" "educators".

I've finally found a screensaver I like more than plain blackness: the Angband Borg Screensaver. Now your computer can have some fun while you're gone and simultaneously perform the valuable service of hunting down and killing Morgoth.

This is vague, but I heard on the radio yesterday that a researcher from some university is preparing to market an over-the-counter genetic test for the A1 "addictive personality" allele which is strongly linked to alcoholism. There is little doubt left that alcoholism and other addictive traits have a genetic component, and once there's a cheap and easy test to determine which people have the genes, how will that affect society?

Employers and insurers will obviously have strong incentives to avoid people with a high likelyhood of becoming alcoholics, but what if these addictive personality types can also become "workaholics"? Maybe not so bad for employers.

Even the dating game could be changed. Requests for STD tests are pretty common, but what if a potential mate asked you to have a DNA test before committing? Would your desire for a relationship with a person be affected if you found out that he had the addictive personality gene? If I found out that my child was dating someone with an addictive personality I would certainly warn her away from that person.

But then, genes aren't destiny. I believe in free will, and I'm sure there are more people with the gene who aren't alcoholics than who are. It's probably irrational for individuals to make any decisions about their friends or family based on genetics, and I doubt I'd hold anyone's genes against them in the face of contrary personal experience with the person. But when dealing with huge, statistically valid samples (like the government and corporations do) it could be completely rational to discriminate.

Finally, how might society change if people with "addictive personalities" couldn't find mates? The gene must be useful to the system or it would have died off a long time ago. Alcoholism and the like are terrible, but I don't know if a society without the A1 allele would be nearly as dynamic and interesting.

I can't wrap my head about the news that women are having plastic surgery to restore their hymens so they can "lose their virginity" again.

When Jeanette Yarborough decided to give her husband a gift for their seventeenth wedding anniversary she wanted it to be special. Really special. She decided that conventional treats such as Mediterranean cruises, gold watches, cars, a murder-mystery weekend, or even a boob job just weren’t going to cut it. She gave him something much more personal — and painful. Her virginity.

Well, sort of. Mrs Yarborough paid $5,000 (£2,860) to a cosmetic surgeon to stitch her hymen back together so she could “lose her virginity” all over again and her husband would have that thrilling conquest at the grand age of 40.

He did, and after that very expensive moment the ecstatic couple spent a passionate Valentine’s weekend last year having the kind of sex that they had almost forgotten about. Now they are busy telling family, friends and strangers that it is the best money they ever spent and everyone should do it.

Far more than breast augmentations or face lifts, a decision to have this kind of surgery involves some serious psychological components that are hard to even categorize. Lost innocence? Recaptured youth, of the most intimate kind? Regret over past actions? "Closure" for past abuse? It's hard for me to figure it out. Are there female readers out there who can comment on whether or not they'd ever do this, or why it might be desirable to someone?

The man CNS News says is likely to succeed Australian Prime Minister John Howard has told Muslims that if they want to live under Islamic law they should leave the country.

Anyone wanting to live under Islamic law (shari'a) might feel more comfortable living in countries where it is applied, such as Saudi Arabia or Iran, federal Treasurer Peter Costello said in an address to the Sydney Institute, a think tank.

In a pledge of allegiance, immigrants taking on Australian citizenship declare: "I pledge my loyalty to Australia and its people, whose democratic beliefs I share, whose rights and liberties I respect and whose laws I will uphold and obey."

Costello said that anyone "who does not acknowledge the supremacy of civil law laid down by democratic processes cannot truthfully take the pledge of allegiance. As such they do not meet the pre-condition for citizenship."

Any Muslim planning to immigrate to Australia should first consider its values.

"Before entering a mosque visitors are asked to take off their shoes," Costello said. "This is a sign of respect. If you have a strong objection to walking in your socks don't enter the mosque.

"Before becoming an Australian you will be asked to subscribe to certain values. If you have strong objection to those values, don't come to Australia."

So to you multiculturalists out there, yes, there certainly are things Americans can learn from other countries.

Don't doubt that Muslims want to enact shari'a everywhere, and being allowed to set up Islamic courts in their "own" communities would be a foot in the door.

South Dakota Governor Mike Rounds says he's inclined to sign an abortion ban into law if it looks like it can save lives.

“I’ve indicated I’m pro-life and I do believe abortion is wrong, and that we should do everything we can to save lives,” Rounds said. “If this bill accomplishes that, then I am inclined to sign the bill into law.”

But Rounds said he didn’t necessarily agree with the “frontal assault” tactic the bill takes to overturning the decision that legalized abortion.

“Personally, I think we will save more lives by continuing to chip away at Roe v. Wade,” he said.

The bill would ban nearly all abortions in South Dakota. That’s unconstitutional under current U.S. Supreme Court rulings, and the goal of the legislation is to force the high court to take a fresh look at its 1973 ruling that legalized abortion.

But the state director of Planned Parenthood is concerned that some voices aren't being heard.

“I have to say I’m disappointed in the news that the governor has indicated he would sign the bill,” Kate Looby, state director of Planned Parenthood, said Thursday.

“We’re still hopeful he’ll hear the voices of women and families in South Dakota that say, ‘Please don’t sign this bill; please protect the health and safety of the women in this state.’ ”

Maybe Miss Looby should listen to the voices of unborn children saying, "Please don't murder me."

Formatting a dissertation is nearly as hard as writing it in the first place! Submitted for your consideration, UCLA's 35-page "Policies and Procedures for Thesis and Dissertation Preparation and Filing". And it makes the text so ugly!

The American military is still working hard to find and free three employees of Northrop Grummman who were taken hostage by Columbia's FARC and are the longest-held American captives in the world.

U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) is working to bring home three Northrop Grumman [NOC] employees held hostage by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in Colombia, according to the commanding general.

"We are working every day to find those three people," Gen. Bantz Craddock, SOCOM commanding general, said at a Defense Writers Group breakfast yesterday.

The Northrop Grumman employees represent "the longest held U.S. political captives anywhere in the world" and have been held for three years as of Feb. 13, Craddock said.

Pray for the safety of Marc Gonsalves, Thomas Howes and Keith Stansell and for comfort for their families.

The essayist who writes under the pseudonym "Spengler" is quickly becoming one of my very favorite writers. I recommend to you his excellent "The devil's sourdough and the decline of nations".

For this reason Goethe is the most relevant, and paradoxically the least understood, of modern writers. Life's triumph is to digest the daily sourdough, and its anxiety and sorrow are the greatest temptations. Contrary to my namesake Oswald Spengler, Western society is not "Faustian" because Western man seeks power, but rather because Western man still plays dice with the Devil for his soul according to the rules of the game established by Faust and Mephisto. Technology and freedom offer modern man the temptations of Faust more than those of Job.

Faust thwarts Mephisto because he never ceases to strive, but Faust is an exceptional fellow, a proxy for the inimitable Goethe. What we learn instead from the lives of ordinary people - and from the life and death of peoples - is that a sense of divine presence is what makes the Devil's sourdough digestible. US evangelical Christianity is not "about" conservative values, school prayer, or heterosexual marriage. It is about Christ crucified, and the rest follows as a matter of housekeeping.

By the same token, Muslim unhappiness is not "about" the Israeli presence on the West Bank, or even the intrusion of Western secular values. It is about the Muslim perception that Islam's promise of success against its enemies has eluded them. It is a crisis of faith.

He's going on my list of people I want to meet.

My brother passes this along:

Bill Nye The Science Guy told me (the only thing he ever said to me): "If you want to get really rich, invent a better battery." At the time, we were looking under the hood of a display model of a hybrid car in the Los Angeles Federal Building downtown.

Presumably the world will beat a path to MIT sometime soon...

Researchers at MIT have developed a new type of lithium battery that could become a cheaper alternative to the batteries that now power hybrid electric cars.

Until now, lithium batteries have not had the rapid charging capability or safety level needed for use in cars. Hybrid cars now run on nickel metal hydride batteries, which power an electric motor and can rapidly recharge while the car is decelerating or standing still.

But lithium nickel manganese oxide, described in a paper to be published in Science on Feb. 17, could revolutionize the hybrid car industry -- a sector that has "enormous growth potential," says Gerbrand Ceder, MIT professor of materials science and engineering, who led the project.

It's safer, cheaper, and recharges faster than the lithium cobalt oxide batteries that power cell phones and the like. Still, I hate batteries on principle... let's just skip them and go straight to Mr. Fusion.

It seems that I've got two different standards for deleting comments and approving comments on old posts. Movable Type has a feature that allows me to pick time span after which comments to a post have to be approved before they'll show up, and I seem to have a higher threshold for actively accepting such comments than I do for deleting comments on open posts. That is, there are many comments that I wouldn't delete if I found them on an open post, but that I also won't approve when someone tries to add them to an old post. Assuming that the costs of approving and deleting are negligible, why should I have different standards?

This page claims that water doesn't drain backwards in the Southern Hemisphere, but there was a whole Simpsons episode to the contrary. I don't know who to believe! Do I have any readers from Brazil who can settle the matter?

I love statistics, and being newly-married it's logical that I'd be interested in marriage statistics.

The average amount spent on weddings has increased to $27,852, up nearly 100 percent since 1990, and the number of weddings per year has increased by 200,000 during that time, according to a new study.

Since 2002 nearly every wedding expense has increased by over 20 percent. This includes the bride's and groom's attire (up 30 percent), engagement rings (up 25 percent) and a 60 percent increase in the cost of the wedding band, according to the Condé Nast Bridal Group.

Not to mention that most people don't just get married once anymore, so the wedding industry is booming!

The winter holidays are still the most popular time to get engaged, with 15 percent of all proposals happening in the month of December.

Ninety-nine percent of brides said they were proposed to, 81 percent plan to take their husband's name after marriage and only 3 percent expect to sign a prenuptial agreement.

This year, only 30 percent of brides' parents will pay for the entire wedding as was once customary. Instead, 32 percent of brides and grooms will pay for their wedding themselves, and 15 percent of couples will foot the bill with the help of both sets of parents, the study said.

I know I'm way behind the blogosphere curve on this issue because I've been pretty occupied recently, but I have a couple further thoughts on the Dubai Ports World takeover of some American port services.

1. It was strange to me to hear the President come out so strongly in favor of the deal so quickly. Even stranger, he now says that he didn't know about the deal until after it was approved by his subordinates. So why start out so gung-ho over a decision that will obviously be controversial? One possible explanation is that there's some huge quid pro quo behind the deal that we in the public aren't aware of. For instance, if Dubai has Osama Bin Laden in custody and will turn him over once the deal goes through. That specific trade would be foolish, but I suppose it's hypothetically possible that there's some sort of behind-the-scenes exchange going on that makes the political firestorm worthwhile.

2. Maybe one of the best ways to get Arab governments on board with the War on Terror is to draw them into further economic entanglement with the West. It seems that the United Arab Emirates will be all the more eager to help us stop terrorism if an attack is likely to hurt their own financial interests. Maybe. Then again, Arab/Muslim governments already stoke hatred towards the United States and encourage violence, despite the long-term effects such scape-goating has had on their economies.

Sometimes my job is fun, like when I get to spend the day investigating whether I'll need to use propositional calculus, first-order logic, or second-order logic to define the language I'm creating. Looks like first-order logic will suffice! Now I just need to find an inference engine that will do most of the work for me....

An allegory from Larry Kudlow about politics and ballooning.

A woman in a hot air balloon realized she was lost.

She lowered her altitude and spotted a man in a boat below. She shouted to him, "Excuse me, can you help me? I promised a friend I would meet him an hour ago, but I don't know where I am."

The sailor consulted his portable GPS and replied, "You're in a hot air balloon, approximately 30 feet above a ground elevation of 2346 feet above sea level. You are at 31 degrees, 14.97 minutes north latitude and 100 degrees, 49.09 minutes west longitude."

She rolled her eyes and yelled down, "You must be a Republican."

"I am," replied the man. "How did you know?"

"Well," answered the balloonist, "everything you told me is technically correct, but I have no idea what to do with your information, and I'm still lost. Frankly, you've been no help to me."

The man smiled and responded, "Then you must be a Democrat."

"I am," replied the balloonist. "How did you know?"

"Well," said the man, "you don't know where you are or where you're going. You've risen to where you are, due to a large quantity of hot air. You made a promise that you have no idea how to keep, and you expect me to solve your problem. You're in exactly the same position you were in before we met, but, somehow, now it's my fault."

Being newly-married, my wife and I have frequently discussed our career goals and how we want to manage our family both now and in the future when we have kids. I grew up in a family in which both of my parents worked outside the home, but when you run the numbers it often turns out that two incomes aren't better than one.

The main culprits for the financial failure of second incomes are a tax system that savagely penalizes second incomes and the high cost of quality child care. The result, among financially savvy couples with a single high wage-earner, is that spouses with much less earning power often stop working until the kids are in school. Those who stay on the job do so not for the money, but for the challenge and fulfillment they derive from work outside the home. ...

Peggy Ruhlin, a financial planner and certified public accountant in Columbus, Ohio, found it necessary to relate some hard truths about second incomes to her clients. She cites the case of a highly paid executive whose wife worked for a government social work agency. Her position was consuming and paid less than $25,000 a year, but it was deeply satisfying because she was helping people in need. Ruhlin ran through the numbers and showed that the wife was taking home a grand total of $1,500 a year when all was said and done. ...

Ruhlin says the Social Security cut was especially unkind because, on retirement, the wife will be entitled to the equivalent of half her husband's entitlement (he'll still get the full amount) even if she never worked at all. Her contributions from a relatively low-wage job would never entitle her to more on her own, and so her payments will never do her any good.

On top of all this were child care, commuting and other expenses. When the planner broke the news, the woman became teary-eyed. She started considering volunteer work with more flexible hours.

Even aside from tax considerations and other costs mentioned in the article, there are plenty of intangible benefits to having an adult focus on managing the home.

(HT: Sound Mind Investing Blog.)


Further, on the myth of the working mother:

George Gilder points out that "women in the home are not performing some optional role that can be more efficiently fulfilled by the welfare state. Women in the home are not 'wasting' their human resources. The role of the mother is the paramount support of civilized human society. It is essential to the socialization of men and of children. The maternal love and nurture of small children is an asset that can be replaced, if at all, only at vastly greater cost. Such attention is crucial to raising children into healthy productive citizens. In other words, 'the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.'"

I'm glad that the recent controversy about turning American port operations over to the United Arab Emirates has spurred greater concern for the security of our seaports. Regardless of who operates them, we need to be inspecting far more than the current 6% of containers. As for the controversy itself, I'm surprised that President Bush and his political advisors didn't see this bulldozer coming. Why give the Democrats an easily-won national security issue? The President should have recognized that putting a terrorist-harboring nation in charge of our ports is a Bad Idea -- that's a no brainer. It seems inevitable that Congress will block the move and the President will have to change positions, so he'll end up looking weak and foolish. Oh well, everyone makes mistakes, but this seems to be a particularly dumb one.

In physics, "escape velocity" is the speed (and direction) at which a body can escape a gravity well without further acceleration. That is, if you're moving fast enough you can escape from a gravity well without propulsion. For example, to escape from the Earth/Moon gravity well you need to be moving at 11.2 km/s. Of course, you can escape at any speed if you've got an engine, but if you want to, say, fire a bullet away from earth it would need to be moving 11.2 km/s to really get away (excluding air resistance); otherwise it will eventually fall back.

If that's clear, then consider the idea of "life extension escape velocity": the rate of life extension after which people will stop dying from old age. For example, since 1850 life expectancy in the United States has risen from 38.3 years to 74.8 years: an increase in life expenctancy of approximately 3 months per year. However, imagine a world in which life expectancy increases at a rate greater than 1 year per year... some people would still die, statistically, but the average age of death would increase faster than people actually get older. Death from old age would become very rare.

One year per year is the "life extension escape velocity". If and when medical advances ever reach that point, death from old age will be effectively eliminated. A lot of biologists (and others) have considered the issue and debated how society would change if people stopped dying, and Stanford professor Shripad Tuljapurkar has gotten some attention for making at least one obvious point: we'll have to raise the retirement age, something existing oldsters will fight against tooth and nail.

Quiet today because I'm preparing for my final dissertation defense tomorrow morning. Going over my slides again, tweaking, talking myself through them... mostly just reviewing. I haven't been actively working on my material for the past month or so because I've been basically done and just trying to schedule tomorrow. Now that's it's here, let's hope I can pull it off. I assume my advisor wouldn't let me do it if he didn't think I'd pass.

No offense to Winter Olympic athletes, but your events are boring. I'm not a big Olympics fan in general, considering that the host country generally wastes a lot more tax dollars than the event is worth, but at least the Summer Olympics has interesting sports like swimming, shooting, lifting, fighting, and so forth. Sure, it's got about 897 different kinds of running, but most of the sports are at least a little different from each other.

On the other hand, the Winter Olympics has two sports: moving around on snow, and moving around on ice. Newsflash: snow and ice are the same thing. Let's take a look at the events involved in the 2006 Winter Olympics: Alpine skiing, Biathlon, Bobsled, Cross country skiing, Curling, Figure skating, Freestyle skiing, Ice hockey, Luge, Nordic combined, Short track speed skating, Skeleton, Ski jumping, Snowboarding, Speed skating. Here's a handy equation to help you keep track:

Winter Olympics = (skiing * 7) + (skating * 5) + (sliding * 3)

The only Winter Olympic sport worth beans is the Biathlon because of this other well-known mathematical law:

∀x, guns + x = awesome

I've got some ideas for new Winter Olympic sports that would bring the event back to its roots in Ancient Greece and also help improve the ratings:

  • Polar bear fighting
  • Whale riding
  • Penguin relay
  • Ice floe sailing
  • Snow man army
  • Write your name in the snow
  • Frostbite challenge
  • Synchronized Swimming

If you ever hope to beat the pathetic losers on American Idol then you'll have to change things up, get rid of all the skis and skates, and have some real winter fun! I suppose the Snowboard Cross is a good start, but don't forget to add guns!

To celebrate Valentine's Day, Mark Steyn has an amusing essay lamenting the few words that rhyme with "love" in English.

Happy Valentine's Day, a day on which we anglophones struggle under one of the worst burdens in a world which has otherwise blessed us: the word "love." The French for "love" is amour, which rhymes with dozens of other useful words - toujours (always), jour (day), carrefour (crossroads), tambour (drum)...

English has just four and a half rhymes for "love," approximately three-quarters of which offer highly limited possibilities: "above," "dove," "glove," "shove," and (the half-rhyme) "of," pronounced "uv." The last is the reason why, in English songs, "love" is a thing you spend a lot of time "dreaming uv." "Shove" is of limited application, except in ballads for spousal abusers. "Glove" is annoyingly singular. ...

In Portuguese, it's different. Coracao (heart) rhymes with violao (guitar) and cancao (song), which is why there are a zillion Brazilian bossa novas about giving you my heart while I play you a song on my guitar. The constraints of language help define our notion of romance, and in English we're more constrained than most.

I can't wait to read his opinion about Silver Elbow Month!

Democrats announce: you're fat!.

THE DRUDGE REPORT has obtained an email sent Monday evening by Democratic National Committee (DNC) research director Devorah Adler that contains ten opposition research packets on potential 2008 GOP presidential contenders.

In one packet titled “Newt Gingrich: 08 Watch February 2006” a picture of the former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (R-GA) appears with --- him holding two full plates of food!

The quote underneath the Gingrich photo reads “In His Own Words: Gingrich’s Solution To Childhood Obesity: ‘Turn off the TV, cut the fatty diet and get exercise.’ [AP, 2/8/06]”

Senator Ted Kennedy, pictured here sailing off Chappaquiddick Island, could not be reached for comment.

Not that you want to see more of him, but Indian Chris has a sexy Ted Kennedy profile.

(HT: Brandon Bird the creative genius and GeekPress (which needs to rebuild its archives so I can link to the post itself).)

The National Association of Colleges & Employers has published another issue of survey data ranking majors by how much graduates can expect to earn.

Then again, some people have to work hard for their money.

It looks to me like the researchers and reporters involved with this story were trying pretty hard to reach a conclusion that's contrary to the evidence. A recent study in New Zealand claims to have proven that money doesn't buy happiness, but...

"Only at very, very high levels does money actually have any impact to act as a buffer," said Deakin University researcher Liz Eckerman.

So, like money can't buy a Ferrari, money can't buy happiness... unless you've got a lot of money.

The findings, collated since 2001, show that while there are no extremes of well-being in Australia, the happiest areas had a lower population, more people aged 55 or over, more women, more married people and less income inequality. ...

"People in these rural electorates often have the advantage of additional disposable income since the cost of living, particularly housing, tends to be reduced outside the cities," he told The Australian newspaper.

So disposable income buys happiness? Anyone can have disposable income if they have enough money.

Anyway, it's conventional wisdom that money problems are a contributing factor to most divorces (though new research claims money problems aren't a good predictor for divorce). It's stressful to not have money available to do something you want to do or feel you need to do. Most people learn to adjust their wants and needs to their available resources, but giving up a desire is hard. Not to even mention the pride and comparison factor that causes most people to want to keep up with whoever their particular Jones is.

Having more money can relieve some of these stresses, at least up to a point. Having money available for the necessities of life -- food, shelter, clothing, medicine -- would certainly seem to contribute to happiness. But buying a second or third BMW would seem to produce happiness with quickly diminishing returns.

One of the most striking results of research into happiness is the realization that if money really can't buy happiness then many of the left's talking-points become compklete moot.

These findings underlie an astonishing conclusion from the new scientific pursuit of happiness. As the late New Zealand researcher Richard Kammann put it, "Objective life circumstances have a negligible role to play in the theory of happiness."(6) A society in where everyone lived in 4,000 square foot houses, people would likely be no happier than in a society in which everyone lived in 2,000 square foot houses.(7) Good events--a pay hike, winning a big game, an A on an important exam--make us happy, until we adapt. And bad events--an argument with one's mate, a work failure, a social rejection--deject us, but seldom for more than a few days.

What's more, it may not matter what happens to you or what you accomplish. It seems that most people have a baseline level of happiness that they return to regardless of the events in their lives. If you're always miserable then (assuming your basic needs are satisfied) the problem isn't your circumstances.

Clayton Cramer says that $5 million is enough.

It's amazing to read about Christians forgiving the arsonists who burned down their churches... maybe they're just grateful that no one printed a nasty cartoon about Jesus!

One of my favorite long-time commenters, Ben Bateman, has finally started his own blog titled We Should Live. Check it out. Meanwhile, I'll add it to my sidebar.

I've liked Senator Tom Coburn from Oklahoma for a while and I'm enthused to see that he and John McCain have decided to take a strong stance against earmarks. Senator Coburn even appreciates that the real problem in Washington isn't with lobbyists.

I am convinced that forcing hundreds or, if necessary, thousands of votes to strike individual earmarks is the only way to produce meaningful results for American taxpayers. Bringing the Senate to a standstill for as long as it takes would be a small price to pay for shutting down what Jack Abramoff described as Congress's "earmark favor factory." The battle against pork is crucial. Pork is the root cause of the unholy relationship between some members of Congress, lobbyists and donors. Inside Congress, the pork process is effectively a black market economy: Thousands of instances exist where appropriations are leveraged for fundraising dollars or political capital. It is delusional to claim Congress can redeem its relationship with K Street without eliminating earmarks. The problem is not lobbyists. The problem is us. ...

The most vocal opponents to a zero-tolerance approach toward pork are, sadly, the bipartisan leaders of the House and Senate. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, to his credit, has issued only a mild defense of earmarking by stating we should "mend, not end" the practice. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Denny Hastert, on the other hand, have been enthusiastic in their defense of pork. Sen. Reid offered a fictional account of American history when he said the pork process "has been going on since we were a country." He and other pork apologists ignore the reality that pork as we know it today didn't exist 20 years ago. In 1987, President Reagan vetoed a spending bill because it contained 121 earmarks. The number of earmarks has skyrocketed over the past decade, from 4,126 in 1994 to 15,268 in 2005, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Good on you for trying, Senator. I'll be even more impressed if you can pull it off.

Another giant leap towards modernizing the real estate industry courtesy of Zillow, a site that blends a Google-Maps-like interface with a database of county real estate records and provides a bunch of tools for estimating house values. I could waste all day browsing the site.

It seems obvious that drinking tap water is better for the environment, but considering how many self-proclaimed environmenetalists I know who drink bottled water maybe this is a good reminder.

Bottled water consumption, which has more than doubled globally in the last six years, is a natural resource that is heavily taxing the world's ecosystem, according to a new US study.

"Even in areas where tap water is safe to drink, demand for bottled water is increasing, producing unnecessary garbage and consuming vast quantities of energy," according to Emily Arnold, author of the study published by the Earth Policy Institute, a Washington-based environmental group.

Arnold said although in the industrial world bottled water is often no healthier than tap water, it can end up costing 10,000 times more. ...

"Making bottles to meet Americans' demand for bottled water requires more than 1.5 million barrels of oil annually, enough to fuel some 100,000 US cars for a year," according to the study. "Worldwide, some 2.7 million tons of plastic are used to bottle water each year." ...

It said that while consumers tend to link bottled water with healthy living, tap water can be just as healthy and is subject to more stringent regulations than bottled water in many regions, including Europe and the United States.

"In fact, roughly 40 percent of bottled water begins as tap water," the study says. "Often the only difference is added minerals that have no marked health benefits.

People in "green homes" shouldn't drink bottles.

South Dakota's House has taken the next step towards banning abortion and the bill will now go to the state Senate.

Supporters are pushing the measure in hopes of drawing a legal challenge that will cause the US Supreme Court to reverse its 1973 decision legalizing abortion.

The bill banning all abortions in South Dakota was passed 47-to-22 in the House.

Amendments aimed at carving out exemptions for rape, incest and the health of women were rejected.

The bill does contain a loophole that allows abortions if women are in danger of dying. Doctors who do those abortions could not be prosecuted.

A self-defense exception is a no-brainer, but I'm also sympathetic to people who want exceptions for rape and incest. My feeling on those two points isn't very strong, and I suspect that very few abortions are performed for those reasons.

Ben Bateman has the quote of the day from a comment to my recent post about Overt Discrimination:

It's illegal for individuals to discriminate on sex and race in their business dealings, because they're probably bad people who would discriminate in the wrong ways. But it's good for government to discriminate on sex and race in its business dealings, because government will favor the correct sex and the correct races. So the idea that anti-discrimination law expresses some general theory of justice is simply preposterous. It's just a spoils system.

Chris Cilliza has a good analysis of early posturing by would-be Republican presidential candidates, particularly in the wake of Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour's announcement that he will not be running.

While Barbour was never considered a likely presidential candidate, his performance in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated his state's gulf coast, had a number of national strategists chattering about him as a dark horse 2008 candidate. That left the other politicians considering the race spending considerable time trying to figure out how the Mississippi governor fit into the presidential picture. ...

The long-term effects of Barbour's departure from the field are harder to predict. The Fix checked in with a handful of GOP operatives. The consensus was that the longer-term impact is two-fold in nature -- geographic and institutional.

In terms of geography, the strategists listed George Allen and Mike Huckabee as the biggest beneficiaries. Allen's good-old-boy appeal tracked closely with that of Barbour's. As for Huckabee, several operatives said he remained a longshot for the nomination -- but his chances were nil with Barbour in the mix. One GOP operative said Barbour's departure opens a slot for a southern governor to make some news -- and Huckabee fits that bill.

The other impact of Barbour's departure is within the innermost sanctum of the party -- the Republican National Committee. A former RNC Chairman, Barbour enjoys tremendous loyalty among the RNC's committee members -- an influential group who may have lined up early for Barbour had he decided to run for president.

I hope our party nominates a governor rather than a senator, but we'll see how it goes.

Internet service providers in Japan are apparently monitoring users and alerting police when suicidal messages are transmitted over their networks.

A total of 91 people committed suicide in 34 Internet-related incidents across Japan last year, but police managed to prevent several potential victims from killing themselves by cooperating with Internet service providers, it has been learned.

Police began cooperating with Internet service providers in October last year, based on guidelines created by an organization on Oct. 5.

Under the cooperation system, Internet providers hand the names and addresses of people who post suicide-related messages on the Internet in emergencies.

Is this good, bad, or indifferent? By my understanding there's nothing that prevents American IPSs from doing the same thing. For that matters, ISPs could pro-actively alert police to all sorts of potential crimes, were they so inclined.

In a startling revelation, it seems that adultery affects more than just the people involved.

Pinellas County sheriff's Chief Deputy Dennis Fowler said he has seen so many cases of deputy-involved cases of adultery leading to 911 calls that he has decided to suspend deputies over the action.

Fowler said the suspension can be given to any deputy, regardless of whether they are married or single.

"It goes beyond just your individual relationship with someone else. It affects other people in the workplace, people's ability to do their job, and I think that is relevant," Fowler said.

I'm sure former President Clinton will be astonished.

Seeing as how it's impossible for the government to outlaw secret, unspoken discrimination, does it make sense for us to have laws like the federal Fair Housing Act that prohibit overt discrimination? Some lawyers are suing Craigslist over discriminatory housing ads, but despite the law I think their suit misses the point: a landlord won't rent to someone he doesn't want to rent to, and there's no way for the government to determine his true motives.

The Chicago Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law sued San Francisco-based Craigslist, claiming that during a six-month period beginning in July, the site ran more than 100 ads in Chicago that violated the federal Fair Housing Act.

The committee, a public interest consortium of the city's leading law firms, said in a federal suit that those ads discriminated on race, religion, sex, family status or national origin.

Among the ads cited in the suit: "Non-women of Color NEED NOT APPLY"; "African Americans and Arabians tend to clash with me so that won't work out"; and "Requirements: Clean Godly Christian Male." ...

Laurie Wardell, a spokeswoman for the Chicago Lawyers' Committee, said landlords realize that the Internet has a lower bar for housing ads. "You just shift to the Internet if you want to discriminate," she said.

Landlords who can't discriminate in ads can still discriminate in person. At worst, these ads help prevent renters and landlords from wasting time pursuing arrangements that one party has no desire to approve.

Aside from the question of whether or not we should have laws prohibiting certain kinds of overt discrimination, Eric Goldman says there is a "a clear federal exculpatory statute and directly-on-point adverse precedent" -- which means he thinks The Chicago Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law will lose. (Maybe if their name was shorter they'd have time to read more case law.)

The New York Times had an excellent article yesterday about Democrats failing to take advantage of Republican weakness, with candid quotes by many top DC Democrats.

Asked to describe the health of the Democratic Party, Senator Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut, the former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said: "A lot worse than it should be. This has not been a very good two months."

"We seem to be losing our voice when it comes to the basic things people worry about," Mr. Dodd said.

Democrats said they had not yet figured out how to counter the White House's long assault on their national security credentials. And they said their opportunities to break through to voters with a coherent message on domestic and foreign policy — should they settle on one — were restricted by the lack of an established, nationally known leader to carry their message this fall.

Democrats don't have a coherent message and if they had one they wouldn't know what to do with it.

"I think that two-thirds of the American people think the country is going in the wrong direction," " said Senator Barack Obama, the first-term Illinois Democrat who is widely viewed as one of the party's promising stars. "They're not sure yet whether Democrats can move it in the right direction."

Mr. Obama said the Democratic Party had not seized the moment, adding: "We have been in a reactive posture for too long. I think we have been very good at saying no, but not good enough at saying yes." ...

"We're selling our party short; you've got to stand for a lot more than just blasting the other side," said Gov. Phil Bredesen of Tennessee. "The country is wide open to hear some alternatives, but I don't think it's wide open to all these criticisms. I am sitting here and getting all my e-mail about the things we are supposed to say about the president's speech, but it's extremely light on ideas. It's like, 'We're for jobs and we're for America.' " ...

In a speech last week in Washington and in an interview, Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana, who is considering a run for president in 2008, sharply criticized fellow Democrats who were arguing that the party should focus only on domestic issues and turn away from national security, since that has been the strong suit for this White House since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.

"I think the Republicans are ripe for the taking on this issue," Mr. Bayh said in the interview, "but not until we rehabilitate our own image. I think there's a certain element of denial about how we are viewed, perhaps incorrectly but viewed nonetheless, by many Americans as being deficient on national security."

In his speech, to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Mr. Bayh said: "As Democrats, we have a patriotic duty and political imperative to lay out our ideas for protecting America. Frankly, our fellow citizens have doubts about us. We have work to do."

Those folks all sound very frustrated by the party leadership, and it's no wonder. Following the talking-points from on-high has put them in a no-win situation when it comes to the national security, Social Security, and a host of other pressing issues. The biggest problem seems to be that the Democrats' perception of their "base" is inaccurate. The Daily Kossacks and the lunatics on DemocraticUnderground are loud and crazy and willing to volunteer and donate, but there aren't that many of them... not enough to vote anyone into office (thank God). Unless the Democratic Party can purge these wackos from their power structure they're doomed to failure. And no one-party state can thrive for long.

Why update my earlier post about challenging the Koran when I can post a new one? In response to my questions about research by Christoph Luxenberg suggesting that the Koran's origin is far different than that asserted by modern Muslims, Clayton Cramer sent me links to posts of his own from 2003 that quote the Newsweek article that has been apparently removed from circulation: "Challenging the Koran", Newsweek, July 28th, 2003. Quotes Mr. Cramer:

In a note of encouragement to his fellow hijackers, September 11 ringleader Muhammad Atta cheered their impending "marriage in Paradise" to the 72 wide-eyed virgins the Qur'an promises to the departed faithful. Palestinian newspapers have been known to describe the death of a suicide bomber as a "wedding to the black-eyed in eternal Paradise." But if a German expert on Middle Eastern languages is correct, these hopes of sexual reward in the afterlife are based on a terrible misunderstanding.

ARGUING THAT TODAY'S version of the Qur'an has been mistranscribed from the original text, scholar Christoph Luxenberg says that what are described as "houris" with "swelling breasts" refer to nothing more than "white raisins" and "juicy fruits."

Luxenberg--a pseudonym--is one of a small but growing group of scholars, most of them working in non-Muslim countries, studying the language and history of the Qur'an. When his new book is published this fall, it's likely to be the most far-reaching scholarly commentary on the Qur'an's early genesis, taking this infant discipline far into uncharted--and highly controversial--territory. That's because Islamic orthodoxy considers the holy book to be the verbatim revelation of Allah, speaking to his prophet, Muhammad, through the Angel Gabriel, in Arabic. ...

Luxenberg's chief hypothesis is that the original language of the Qur'an was not Arabic but something closer to Aramaic. He says the copy of the Qur'an used today is a mistranscription of the original text from Muhammad's time, which according to Islamic tradition was destroyed by the third caliph, Osman, in the seventh century. But Arabic did not turn up as a written language until 150 years after Muhammad's death, and most learned Arabs at that time spoke a version of Aramaic. Rereading the Paradise passage in Aramaic, the mysterious houris turn into raisins and fruit--much more common components of the Paradise myth. ...

The forthcoming book contains plenty of other bombshells. It claims that the Qur'an's commandment for women to cover themselves is based on a similar misreading; in Sura 24, the verse that calls for women to "snap their scarves over their bags" becomes in Aramaic "snap their belts around their waists." Even more explosive are readings that strengthen scholars' views that the Qur'an had Christian origins. Sura 33 calls Muhammad the "seal of the prophets," taken to mean the final and ultimate prophet of God. But an Aramaic reading, says Luxenberg, turns Muhammad into a "witness of the prophets"--i.e., someone who bears witness to the established Judeo-Christian texts. The Qur'an, in Arabic, talks about the "revelation" of Allah, but in Aramaic that term turns into "teaching" of the ancient Scriptures. The original Qur'an, Luxenberg contends, was in fact a Christian liturgical document--before an expanding Arab empire turned Muhammad's teachings into the basis for its new religion long after the Prophet's death.

The actual "Challenging the Koran" article was there at that link, but is gone now. (Mr. Cramer also notes that mainstream Islamic scholars disagree with Luxenberg.)

Perhaps one of the strangest aspects to the ongoing Muslim cartoon farce is the reversed roles assumed by the United States and Russia.

Inserting itself into a dispute that has become a lightning rod for anti-European sentiment across the Muslim world, the United States sided with Muslims outraged that the publications put press freedom over respect for religion.

"These cartoons are indeed offensive to the belief of Muslims," State Department spokesperson Kurtis Cooper said in answer to a question.

"We all fully recognise and respect freedom of the press and expression, but it must be coupled with press responsibility. Inciting religious or ethnic hatreds in this manner is not acceptable."

"Not acceptable"? The United States government will not "accept" such publications? Interesting claim. Meanwhile Russians appear to value freedom of speech a bit more highly:

A Moscow museum has announced it will exhibit the entire series of cartoons of Mohammed that have caused riots throughout the Islamic world.

Yury Samodurov, director of the Sakharov Museum and Public Center, said on Russian television that the center was ready to organize a public exhibition of the cartoons satirizing the founder of Islam that originally were published in a Danish newspaper, Pravda.ru reported Monday.

"We must show the whole world that Russia goes along with Europe, that the freedom of expression is much more important for us than the dogmas of religious fanatics," Samodurov said.

I don't think the museum speaks for the Russian government, but still... I'm not aware of any major American papers printing the cartoons.

Can anyone find a copy, paper or electronic, of the July 28th, 2003, issue of Newsweek that contains an article titled "Challenging the Koran"? That linked-to story mentions the article, but the magazine's search functionality returns zero hits for "challenging the Koran" in 2003. In fact, searches for "koran" turn up nothing either. Hm.

According to the BBC article above regarding "Challenging the Koran":

Although the government statement does not specifically say so, the ban is likely to have been triggered by a report titled "Challenging the Koran".

It explains how a German linguist has come to the conclusion that the Koran, believed by Muslims to contain divine messages revealed to Prophet Mohammed by the angel Gabriel, was originally written in a language closer to Aramaic than Arabic.

The linguist, who uses the pseudonym Christoph Luxenberg, says seen in this light, many verses of the Koran have been "misinterpreted" and "misunderstood".

Interesting, no? Not mentioned as frequently as the yearly articles attempting to "debunk" the Bible. It isn't easy to find MSM articles about the Koran at all, though this cartoon "controversy" has spawned some discussion as people wonder "why can't Muslims take a joke?". (Spengler also mentions the Newsweek article, which is how I came across his pointed piece.)

With freedom of choice and access to information come doubt. Western scholars doubt whether Mohammed ever existed [2] or, if he existed, whether the Koran was invented two centuries after his death, or indeed whether the Koran even was written in Arabic. Christianity and Judaism are bloodied - indeed, drained almost dry - by nearly two centuries of scriptural criticism; Islam's turn barely has begun.

More revealing than the refusal of the mainstream American media to repost the Mohammed cartoons is the disappearance of more dangerous material previously available. Newsweek's "Challenging the Koran" story of July 28, 2003, has vanished from the magazine's website. The government of Pakistan had banned that issue, which among other things reported a German philologist's contention that the Koran was written in Syriac rather than classical Arabic, translating the "virgins" of Paradise as "raisins". As I observed before, the topic of Koranic criticism has disappeared from the mainstream media. Since the suppression of the Newsweek story the Western media have steered clear of the subject.

He has many interesting observations on the plight of Islam and its struggle for survival in the face of modernity, including charts that defuse demographic worries and show how literacy and population growth correlate even more negatively in Muslim countries than in the rest of the world.

Who wants to head over to Fairfax and Wilshire with me to join all the Jews rioting over Iran's holocaust cartoon contest?

Yesterday I went to Disneyland for the first time in several years, this time with my wife, and we had a blast. Thinking (rightly) that most people would be home watching the Super Bowl (yawn) we hit the Happiest Place on Earth and went on every major ride except for Space Mountain -- the line for which never dipped below 65 minutes even as the park was closing. I tried by hardest to find a discounted ticket deal, but there doesn't seem to be any way to get in for less than $59 per person -- ouch! As Southern California residents we were able to get the "Twofer" deal that lets us now attend California Adventure for free within the next 30 days, so I suppose that's a nice deal. Still, I would have preferred a straight discount.

The whole park was cleaner and sharper than I remember, so they must have been doing some painting. As for rides, my new favorite is Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters. The ride is pretty tame, but you get to control the spin of your own car and each rider gets a laser gun with which to shoot at targets that surround the ride on every side. You get your own personal score at the end of the ride and can see how you compare with everyone else. Basically a high-tech shooting gallery, but loads of fun.

Star Tours was as good as ever, though Rex's claim that every flight is his first is getting a bit old. In the scenery before the ride were displays announcing new destinations "coming soon" to Hoth, Dagobah, and Tatooine, but those have been there for years, right? Why hasn't Disneyland put in some new shows? It would seem that the Star Tours ride could handle any number of "destinations", and it's past time to change things up.

The Indiana Jones ride was a lot better than I remember it being. Reading some of the ride history online makes me want to go back and ride it a few more times to get more of the flavor. Apparently there are three (or more) different sets of scenery that you can ride through that are selected randomly when you board, and it would be fun to see them all. The ride was a lot less jerky than I remember it being, which is good because when I first rode it ten years ago my neck was aching for a week afterwards.

I went on Mr. Toad's Wild Ride for the first time and enjoyed the colorful scenery. The Hell room was actually very neat... I wasn't expecting the furnaces. Some of the other explosion effects and so forth were well done. Thunder Mountain and the Matterhorn were great, but the latter is starting to show its age and is feeling a little loose. I wish we could have ridden the new Space Mountain, but alas, we didn't have the patience and couldn't even get a Fastpass. (The only Fastpass we did get was to the Indy ride, and we didn't even need it.) Pirates of the Caribbean was as fun as ever and looked like it had been updated; most of the scenes were the same or similar to what I remember, but the cannonball/water explosions were far larger than in the past and actually got some riders pretty wet. It's amusing to see old attractions simply renamed to suit new marketing needs, like Tarzan's Treehouse née the Swiss Family Treehouse. When will Tom Sawyer's Island be seized by Pocahontas?

One thing I only now remember missing: there were no characters walking around! I don't think we saw a single Micky, Minnie, Donald, or anyone!

Now I'm interested in learning some secrets about Disneyland. Does anyone have any information or pictures of the employee tunnels that run under the park? Any stories about the security measures or hidden control rooms? I'm sure the park holds a lot of secret goodies, so someone cough them up!

There's all sorts of reasons why a "windfall-profit" tax on the oil industry would be a terrible economic and political decision, but aside from the blatant immorality of stealing money from stockholders just because they've got it, there's a very insidious underlying assumption: why does anyone think that Congress can spend that money better than the companies' shareholders?

These large oil concerns are already subject to a 35% corporate income tax rate, and record profits mean commensurate tax payments to the federal Treasury. According to a new report from the Washington-based Tax Foundation, Exxon, ConocoPhillips and Chevron paid a combined $44.3 billion in corporate income taxes in 2005, or 49.2% more than the $29.7 billion they paid the previous year.

Furthermore, says the report, "the average effective tax rate on the major integrated oil and gas industry is estimated to equal 38.3%. This exceeds the estimated average effective tax rate of 32.3% for the market as a whole." In other words, even without Congress' would-be ex post facto confiscation of profits, energy companies are already providing the Members with a "windfall" to use to finance their 14,000 spending earmarks.

Some of the same politicians calling for these punitive measures also fantasize about "energy independence," while blocking methods to achieve it. Washington Senator Maria Cantwell, for instance, has sent letters to regulators demanding investigations into why there aren't more refineries in the U.S., but she supports restrictions on refineries in Puget Sound. Senator Byron Dorgan of North Dakota wants a 50% tax on the price of oil above $40 per barrel and would exempt companies that invest in new energy production. Yet Mr. Dorgan opposes new energy production in places where companies want to explore, such as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the Outer Continental Shelf.

I'd support a Constitutional amendment that fires every government employee, elected or appointed, who makes over $100,000 per year and bans them from ever again earning a nickel from the public treasury. We need a government that stays out of our business and shows a lot more humility by recognizing that it doesn't have the solution to every "problem".

Seeing the constant headlines about rioting Muslims gets a little wearying, but it's good to see there's at least one sensible Muslim who has a tiny bit of perspective.

Two Jordanian newspaper editors who published cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad have been arrested. ...

Mr Momani's arrest came earlier on Saturday, a day after Jordanian King Abdullah condemned the cartoons as an unnecessary abuse of freedom of speech.

Mr Momani's paper, Shihan, had printed three of the cartoons, alongside an editorial questioning whether the angry reaction to them in the Muslim world was justified.

"Muslims of the world be reasonable," wrote Mr Momani.

"What brings more prejudice against Islam, these caricatures or pictures of a hostage-taker slashing the throat of his victim in front of the cameras or a suicide bomber who blows himself up during a wedding ceremony in Amman?"

Or, perhaps even more prejudicial, widespread rioting and arson prompted by the caricatures?

In a public letter of apology after his sacking, Mr Momani said he did not mean to cause offence, Reuters news agency reported.

When I think of all the "art" created whose sole purpose is to offend Christians, I wonder why no one bothers directing the same attention towards Islam, a far less liberal religion. Maybe it's because when you offend Muslims you have to go into hiding.

I don't pay much attention to fashion, and I'm certainly not the target market, but this trend is new to me: right-hand diamond rings, for the girl who has everything but can't be bothered with finding a man.

The Diamond Trading Company, a subsidiary of the international diamond company DeBeers, launched a campaign this summer designed to get women to buy a diamond ring to be worn on their right hands -- signifying independence and power.

Its aggressive media and marketing campaign has been a success, with celebrities like Sarah Jessica Parker and Halle Berry wearing the rings, consumer recognition of the "right-hand ring" jumping from 25 percent to 59 percent, and some predicting higher holiday jewelry sales partially due to increased interest in the rings.

Fine by me; right-hand diamond rings are a lot better for society than a single woman who accessorizes by having a fatherless baby. Besides: DeBeers invented the whole idea of diamond engagement rings in the first place, so it's not like this trend violates some sacred tradition. It is kinda sad though.

It's a little-talked-about secret in the investment world that Morningstar ratings are nearly meaningless, and it looks like their Manager of the Year awards are pretty pointless too. (Those links are probably subscriber-only and points to an article in this month's newsletter from Sound Mind Investing.)

Morningstar is much in the news these days with the naming of their "Manager of the Year" awards. How to do they pick these folks, you might ask? If my recent look at their "international" manager finalists is typical of their overall approach, then I think it's safe to say that Morningstar marches to a different drummer than the rest of us. ...

For 2005, their three finalists averaged gains of 20.5%. Our four current foreign funds averaged 32.5%. The two we added in recent months, as you might expect, have great records this year. That's how they climbed to the top of our rankings. But even the other two, both of which we held all year, averaged 26.8%. So, what makes the Morningstar finalists so special?

A Morningstar spokesperson says: "While we certainly seek to recognize managers who've had an outstanding year, we're also looking for those who've built solid long-term results. Simply put, one year of shooting out the lights won't cut it. We also consider the stewardship of the fund and favor managers who have tried to do right by their shareholders."

Aaah... so one good year isn't enough. Ok, how about three? The three Morningstar finalists averaged 24.9% for the three-years ending December 31; our funds averaged 35.9%. Hmmm. Maybe they're looking at five-year records. Given that the past five years included some difficult times, it makes for more of a test. Let's see... theirs averaged 7.0%, ours averaged 9.8%.

As Austin Pryor points out, I'm not sure what could be better "stewardship" than great performance over time. As the first link notes about Morningstar's star rating system:

A table in their report shows that over the three-year period tested, the average U.S. stock fund that sported a 5-star rating on June 30, 2002 went on to return 10.1% annually from July 2002-June 2005. There are a couple of interesting things about this. First, Morningstar says that this return of 10.1% was equivalent to a fund being ranked in the 43rd percentile. Isn't that a little surprising? These are their best funds under a new, improved system, and they're only good enough to rank, on average, in the 43rd percentile? Given that the M* rating system is fairly complicated and that the analysts are some of the sharpest number crunchers around, you would expect better.

Second, the fund groups that received 4-, 3-, 2-, and 1-star ranked in the 49th, 50th, 53rd, and 54th percentiles respectively. Aside from the fact that 5-star funds didn't deliver great performance, we also see that there's not much of a performance difference between the other star groups. 4-star funds are in the 49th percentile while the 1-star group is in the 54th percentile? That just doesn't seem like much of a drop given the "image gap" between a 4-star fund and a lowly 1-star fund.

Don't rely on Morningstar ratings for making investment decisions.

Just a quick "thanks" to SoCalPundit for inviting the Spork and I to the Santa Clarita Valley GOP state-of-the-union speech party. We had a great time and met some nice people. In the picture there you can see the backs of our heads, and my brother is off to our left. Nothing is more likely to get a link from me than posting my picture....

Reader JV points me to this nifty network generator that lets us all play CIA by connecting the dots between terrorists. Of course the connections may be tenuous at best, but it's still fun. I know similar technology has been used to visualize the blog universe, but I can't find the link at the moment. Anyone?

Lost in my doldrums I almost forgot that today, February 2, 2006, is the first evan day in over a year! 2/2/2006 is "even" because all the digits in the date are even, and the previous even day was therefore 8/28/2004. The last odd date was 11/29/1999 11/19/1999, and there won't be another odd day till I start collecting Social Security on 1/1/3111!

Definitions of odd and even days differ. Some people count whole numbers rather than digits, in which case the most recent even day other than today was 12/30/2004. Some people use digits but prefer to discard the millenium and century numerals because using them drastically reduces the number of interesting dates, in which case the next odd day will be 1/1/07, or possibly 1/1/11.

Sorry there hasn't been much activity here recently, sometimes I feel like I'm barely staying afloat. I've got very little mental energy and I feel tired all the time. I'd write if I had anything to say, but I guess I don't.

The President's speech was boring and nearly pointless, except that he appears to have abandoned tax reform and wants us to use less oil. Whatever. It seems unlikely that anyone will prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons, so we'll have to deter them with MAD I suppose. So it goes. It's scary, but what's to be said about it?

Eh, anyway, I can barely fill up a single post.

While reading about intrusive gaming I came across Planetarium, which looks quite intriguing.

A girl with complete foresight but no recollection of the past receives a love-letter from beyond the end of her future. Guided by her friend the mathemagician, she begins a journey through the events which his calculations have predicted and her intuition has foreseen, towards the source of the curious letter.

Each instalment contains three puzzles -- usually one riddle, one number problem and one tricky puzzle -- whose answers themselves form an overall puzzle, which can only be solved when the whole of Planetarium has been completed.

I plan to check it out. This is the exact sort of game/story I'd love to write.

Everyone knows I'm a huge fan of Google Earth, but now Windows Live Local has a cool feature that lets you get a "bird's-eye view" from an isometric angle that can be much more interesting than looking straight down. The images are pretty high resolution, and you can practically look into peoples' windows.

(HT: Future Feeder and reader JV.)

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