June 2006 Archives

Here's an interesting article about the keys to happiness and why it has little to do with wealth. I particularly like Abraham Lincoln's take: "Most people are as happy as they make up their minds to be." The article dances around the issue of faith and service to God, but as a Christian I'm of course convinced that those are integral components as well.

Sonja Lyubomirsky of the University of California at Riverside has discovered that the road toward a more satisfying and meaningful life involves a recipe repeated in schools, churches and synagogues. Make lists of things for which you're grateful in your life, practice random acts of kindness, forgive your enemies, notice life's small pleasures, take care of your health, practice positive thinking, and invest time and energy into friendships and family.

The happiest people have strong friendships, says Ed Diener, a psychologist University of Illinois. Interestingly his research finds that most people are slightly to moderately happy, not unhappy.

And that's one of the reasons I'm nervous about moving to St. Louis... I don't always make friends easily, but I know that my happiness depends on it.

Lethargy holds many people back from doing the things that lead to happiness.

Easterbrook, also a Visiting Fellow at the Brookings Institute, goes back to Freud, who theorized that unhappiness is a default condition because it takes less effort to be unhappy than to be happy.

"If you are looking for something to complain about, you are absolutely certain to find it," Easterbrook told LiveScience. "It requires some effort to achieve a happy outlook on life, and most people don't make it. Most people take the path of least resistance. Far too many people today don't make the steps to make their life more fulfilling one."

As for Abe Lincoln, I agree, which is why I have little patience for people who are always complaining about unhappiness. Sure, bad stuff happens to everyone, but you can't let your happiness depend on your circumstances. Even though I'm a cynic, I'm a resigned cynic, which means I don't expect much from the world and I'm rarely disappointed. I think some of the most unhappy people I know are idealists who are constantly frustrated that reality will never be what they think it should.

Everyone on the net is already discussing the situation in more depth than I've got time to do, but I may as well toss in my $0.02 and point out that winning the Palestinian elections may have been one of Hamas' worst moves ever. Now Israel is holding the Palestinian government directly responsible for everything the terror groups do; it doesn't look like the old good-cop/bad-cop routine is going to work anymore, in which the Palestinian government would act like they couldn't really control the terrorists.

Reading Barack Obama's speech about the connection between faith and politics has left me both impressed with the man and a little frightened. I am diametrically opposed to just about all his political positions, and yet his speech was was very well-argued and probably quite persuasive to those less convinced than I. Insofar as he calls for the use of "fair-minded words" in the political dialogue I am wholeheartedly in agreement, and it's too bad that his experiences haven't led him to embrace more of my political positions. Still, the guy is smart and very appealing, and will probably become a very formidable presidential candidate. After reading this transcript I think it's likely that he could someday win that office, and I'm afraid his policy preferences will cause no end of trouble. Despite his obvious intelligence and compassion, tax-and-spend never works and abortion really should be outlawed.

I may have to take back everything denigrating I've ever said about Canada, because it looks like some Canadian scientists have created a device to regrow new teeth -- an amazing invention that, if it works, may improve quality of life for millions of people.

The researchers at the University of Alberta in Edmonton filed patents earlier this month in the United States for the tool based on low-intensity pulsed ultrasound technology after testing it on a dozen dental patients in Canada.

"Right now, we plan to use it to fix fractured or diseased teeth, as well as asymmetric jawbones, but it may also help hockey players or children who had their tooth knocked out," Jie Chen, an engineering professor and nano-circuit design expert, told AFP.

Chen helped create the tiny ultrasound machine that gently massages gums and stimulates tooth growth from the root once inserted into a person's mouth, mounted on braces or a removable plastic crown.

The wireless device, smaller than a pea, must be activated for 20 minutes each day for four months to stimulate growth, he said.

It can also stimulate jawbone growth to fix a person's crooked smile and may eventually allow people to grow taller by stimulating bone growth, Chen said.

I've got a slightly chipped tooth that occasionally frets me when I've got nothing better to worry about, and the prospect of eventually being able to regrow a whole new tooth encourages me greatly.

I've never understood the distress of the American and international Left over the detention of terrorists at Guantanamo Bay, but I expect the recent Supreme Court ruling denying the legitimacy of the military tribunals President Bush established to try the prisoners will lead to further angst from those with bleeding hearts (only figuratively bleeding, thanks in part to Guantanamo Bay).

The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that President Bush overstepped his authority in ordering military war crimes trials for Guantanamo Bay detainees.

The ruling, a rebuke to the administration and its aggressive anti- terror policies, was written by Justice John Paul Stevens, who said the proposed trials were illegal under U.S. law and international Geneva conventions.

Even though there doesn't appear to be agreement over whether or not the Geneva Conventions apply to terrorists who don't abide by the convetions themselves. (And this issue isn't really up to the Supreme Court to decide.) Anyway, the key point of this ruling is naturally buried in the last two paragraphs.

In his own opinion, Justice Stephen Breyer said, "Congress has not issued the executive a 'blank check.'"

"Indeed, Congress has denied the president the legislative authority to create military commissions of the kind at issue here. Nothing prevents the president from returning to Congress to seek the authority he believes necessary," Breyer wrote.

So there's a pretty simple solution available. There's no way we're going to reduce the number of prisoners at Guantanamo if we can't definitively win the War on Terror (how?) or have trials. Hopefully Congress will step into this gap and resolve the issue. If not, hopefully some Senator or Representative will offer up his district as an alternative prison site that's more agreeable to the Left.

Yep, yet another Life Story post. Take it or leave it!

Anyway, I'm really scared about moving here! The state is beautiful and everyone is really nice, but... wow, it's a huge change for me. I wasn't at all scared of getting married, but this move is really intimidating. I'm not good with big changes. I'm very adaptable when it comes to small things, as long as I've got a secure foundation. However, even moving across Los Angeles used to scare me, and now I'm moving across the country! Still, I know that my real foundation isn't where I live, it's God, so I'm trusting him and trying to use what wisdom he's given me.

Has anyone else moved across the country? Were you scared? Did it work out? Any regrets? I'd especially like to hear from anyone who left Los Angeles for a fly-over state.

Well, it looks like we've decided to go with a Type 2 house, as I indicated in the comments to the previous post. The grounds are absolutely amazing, and the commute is about 20 minutes door-to-door. That's a little longer than I'm used to in the mornings, but about how long it took me to get home in the evenings from my job in Los Angeles.

Concerns: The house is in a very nice neighborhood, but most of the neighbors appear to be older folks. I like old people just fine, but it doesn't seem likely that we're going to meet many people our own age that will live close by. Of course, I don't know many people our age who live near our house in Los Angeles either, so maybe that won't be a problem. I'm used to braving the streets of LA to see my friends, so it shouldn't be any more difficult to drive a little here in Missouri. I'm hoping that the drive (maybe about 5 miles farther out than other, less nice areas) won't deter whatever new friends we make from visiting. DeoDuce knows people here, but they're down in Chesterfield, which looks to be about 20 miles away. Still, there have to be cool people closer by....

Also, there are a million churches here, but we have no idea yet where we'll join. We aren't centrally located in the metro area, so it could be that we end up going to church somewhat far away. I suppose we'll just have to wait and see. Pray for that, though, because we really need to find the place God wants us. We haven't had the mental energy to spend on this problem yet, but once we're here we're going to start looking around. If anyone knows any good Baptist churches in STL, let me know! We're not necessarily restricted to Baptist churches, but those are probably the most likely ones that will match our beliefs ( / the truth).

Does anyone have any experience flying dogs across the country? We've pretty much decided we're going to drive because we're scared that our dog will get killed or hurt himself, but does anyone know much about it?

Ok, so I'm soliciting opinions on buying real estate in locations other than Los Angeles.

As DeoDuce and I have been exploring St. Charles, MO, we've noticed something strange, there are two kinds of houses available:

1. New construction (5 years or newer), expensive, large houses, small lots, tightly packed subdivisions, far from the city (where I'll work).

2. Older homes (around 20 years), slightly smaller (and less modern floor plans), larger lots (acre-ish), less subdivisiony, much closer to the city).

The Type 1 houses appear to be what everyone here is buying, and they're going for ~$100k more than the Type 2 homes. However, my instinct tells me that in the long run it will be more valuable to own larger plots of land closer to the city. People hate commuting -- as I do -- and like open spaces. The Type 1 houses won't be brand new in a few years; then they'll just be older houses, far from the city, on tiny lots.

So, right now we're thinking that we want to buy a Type 2 house that's close to my work and has a lot of land. Even if it needs renovation (not that 20 years old is that bad for a house) we'll have $100k to play with before we get close to the price of the Type 1 houses. Also, I've read that you pay a premium to buy a new house and that they can depreciate over the first few years, just like a new car.

So, what are your thoughts? Am I foolish to think that land and location will pay off in the long run in a place like Missouri? I find it hard to believe that Type 1 houses will continue to be more valuable than Type 2 houses once they aren't new anymore... and for $100k difference in price we could fix up a Type 2 house pretty nice.

I've always been interested in legal professions, but maybe law school isn't all it's cracked up to be.

It's time those of us inside the profession did a better job of telling others outside the profession that most of us don't earn $160,000 a year, that we can't afford expensive suits, flashy cars, sexy apartments. We don't lunch with rock stars or produce movies. Every year I'm surprised by the number of my students who think a J.D. degree is a ticket to fame, fortune and the envy of one's peers--a sure ticket to the upper middle class. Even for the select few for whom it is, not many last long enough at their law firms to really enjoy it.

There's something wrong with a system that makes a whole lot of people pay a whole lot of money for jobs that are not worth it, or that have no future. If we wanted to be honest, we would inform students that law school doesn't keep their options open. Instead, we should say that if they work hard and do well, they can become lawyers.

I think business school will be my next stop.

Ok, here's a pop quiz. In the following story, who can spot a problem with the concept of "generosity"?

Are Republicans stingy but principled while Democrats are generous but racist?

"I wouldn't put it quite so starkly," said Stanford University professor Shanto Iyengar. He would prefer to call Democrats "less principled" rather than bigoted, based on his analysis of data collected in a recent online experiment that he conducted with The Washington Post and washingtonpost.com.

As reported in this column a few weeks ago, the study found that people were less likely to give extended aid to black Hurricane Katrina victims than to white ones. The race penalty, on average, totaled about $1,000 per black victim.

As Iyengar and his colleagues subsequently dug deeper into these data, another finding emerged: Republicans consistently gave less aid, and gave over a shorter period of time, to victims regardless of race.

Democrats and independents were far more generous; on average, they gave Katrina victims on average more than $1,500 a month, compared with $1,200 for Republicans, and for 13 months instead of nine.

But for Democrats, race mattered -- and in a disturbing way. Overall, Democrats were willing to give whites about $1,500 more than they chose to give to a black or other minority. (Even with this race penalty, Democrats still were willing to give more to blacks than those principled Republicans.) "Republicans are likely to be more stringent, both in terms of money and time, Iyengar said. "However, their position is 'principled' in the sense that it stems from a strong belief in individualism (as opposed to handouts).

Someone explain to me how it's "generous" to give tax money away? Last time I checked, "generosity" is when you give your own money away, not someone elses'.

(HT: James Taranto

I'm encouraged to see that President Bush has issued an Executive Order to prevent the federal government from using the eminent domain power to take private property from one party and give it to another.

By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, and to strengthen the rights of the American people against the taking of their private property, it is hereby ordered as follows:

Section 1. Policy. It is the policy of the United States to protect the rights of Americans to their private property, including by limiting the taking of private property by the Federal Government to situations in which the taking is for public use, with just compensation, and for the purpose of benefiting the general public and not merely for the purpose of advancing the economic interest of private parties to be given ownership or use of the property taken.

It goes on into details, and they look pretty good to my naive understanding.

(HT: The Pirate.)

It's my last day of work at my current job, and the middle day of the continuing prep to sell our house and move to St. Louis. Yay!

I rather enjoy looking at things that please me aesthetically (tautologically), but I've got little interest in the pretensions of "modern art" and the society that prescribes it. The story of David Hensel and "Exhibit 1201" is illustrative.

In this year's summer show at London's Royal Academy of Arts, "Exhibit 1201" is a large rectangular tablet of slate with a tiny barbell-shaped bit of boxwood on top. Its creator, David Hensel, must be pleased to have been selected from among some 9,000 applicants for the world's largest open-submission exhibit of contemporary art. Nevertheless, he was bemused to discover that in transit his sculpture had gotten separated from its base. Judging the two components as different submissions, the Royal Academy had rejected his artwork proper--a finely wrought laughing head in jesmonite--and selected the plinth. "It says something about the state of visual arts today," said Mr. Hensel. He didn't say what. He didn't need to.

Moreover, the Royal Academy denies having made an error, for the plinth and hastily carved wooden support were, according to an official statement, "thought to have merit."


It doesn't say much for the art world that its experts can't distinguish between art and utilitarian infrastructure. The cases of Banksy does New York and Banksy does Europe are also instructive.

The brutal slayings of Pfc. Kristian Menchaca and Pfc. Thomas L. Tucker make me sick. This is why we have to win. I guess some people read about these deaths and think the best idea is to pull all our soldiers out so no more get killed, but our troops have volunteered to risk their lives for our sake and I commend and thank them for it. By fighting and dying over there, they're saving countless of our lives over here. It's heroic and noble, and yes, tragic, but their the cause is good.

"We give the good news ... to the Islamic nation that we have carried God's verdict by slaughtering the two captured crusaders," said the claim, which appeared on an Islamic militant Web site where insurgent groups regularly post statements and videos.

"With God Almighty's blessing, Abu Hamza al-Muhajer carried out the verdict of the Islamic court" calling for the soldiers' slaying, the statement said.

The statement said the soldiers were "slaughtered," suggesting that al-Muhajer beheaded them. The Arabic word used in the statement, "nahr," is used for the slaughtering of sheep by cutting the throat and has been used in past statements to refer to beheadings.

Right back at'cha, just be patient.

We had some technical troubles there for the past few days, but my awesome server admin, Rodney, figured out the problem and now we're back in business. Apparently the site was under some serious hack attack by the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security and the Let's Cede California to Mexico Committee (a.k.a., the California Legislature), but we've managed to prevail and are back online.

Interesting bits I'd been wanting to post about but couldn't:

Looks like the site is still intermittent, so bear with us.

It frustrates me when people conflate business and personal matters. Myself, I tend to view almost everything as business and rarely take anything personally. One of us didn't get what we wanted this time -- maybe it was me, maybe it was you -- but that's ok. It's very likely that we'll do business together again in the future, so let's not make a big deal out of this interaction. I tend to find it unproductive to get angry about many things. I try to make it worthwhile to interact with me, but if people don't want to then that's fine, someone else will. Likewise, if I don't want to interact with someone in a given circumstance, no hard feelings, maybe next time. Maybe I take this too far sometimes by treating what should be personal matters with a "just business" attitude.

The flip side is when people treat business situations as if they're personal, and it's why there are all sorts of maxims advising against doing business with your friends and family. "Don't mix business with pleasure." "Don't sh** where you eat." Many people take business far too personally, and if an arrangement doesn't work out for business reasons they take it as a personal insult. You don't want me, your own cousin, to paint your house?! But I'm a painter! You must hate me!

Some people have claimed that everything is business, and others have claimed that everything is personal. That leads me to think that everything is both, mixing in an amorphous manner that's impossible to quantify. Since I don't like unquantifiable messes, I like to treat everything like business, which is probably why I come across as insensitive. Maybe there's some middle ground.

Wow, those stingy Americans are at it again, giving hundreds of billions of dollars to charitable organizations all around the world.

The urgent needs created by three major natural disasters - the tsunami in Asia, earthquake in Pakistan and hurricanes Rita, Katrina and Wilma - drove American philanthropy to its highest level since the end of the technology boom, a new study showed.

The report released Monday by the Giving USA foundation estimates that in 2005 Americans gave $260.28 billion, a rise of 6.1 percent, which approaches the inflation-adjusted high of $260.53 billion that was reached in 2000.

About half of the overall increase of $15 billion went directly to aid victims of the disasters. The rest of the increase, meanwhile, may still be traced to the disasters since they may have raised public awareness of other charities.

"When there is a very significant need, when people are clearly aware of that need, they will respond," the chairman of Giving USA, Richard Jolly, said. "Were it not for the disasters, what we would have expected is more of a flat number. With the staggering need generated by the disasters, it's very in keeping with what has happened in the past - the American public stepped forward and provided additional support."

And that's just private charity, it doesn't count the billions we've spent freeing millions of Afghanis and Iraqis, protecting millions of South Koreans and Europeans, and so forth.

I figured that leaving Los Angeles for St. Louis would trade earthquakes for tornados, but now reader JV informs me that St. Louis is on the New Madrid fault line.

Most people think that destructive earthquakes only occur in the western United States. To the contrary, St. Louis is located in the most active seismic zone east of the Rocky Mountains. In the winter of 1811-1812 the Central Mississippi Valley was struck by three of the most powerful earthquakes in U.S. history. The Great New Madrid Earthquake was actually a series of over 2000 shocks in five months, five of which were 8.0 or more in magnitude. Eighteen of these rang church bells on the Eastern seaboard. The very land itself was destroyed in the Missouri Bootheel, making it unfit for farming for many years. It was the largest burst of seismic energy east of the Rocky Mountains in the history of the U.S. and was several times larger than the San Francisco quake of 1905.

Emergency planners, engineers and seismologists believe that an upheaval equal to the Great New Madrid Earthquake of 1811-1812 only occurs every 500-600 years. Their greatest concerns are the 6.0-7.6 events, which do have significant probabilities in the near future. A 6.0 shock has a 90% chance by the year 2040. Damaging earthquakes of this magnitude are a virtual certainty within the lifetimes of our children.

Well that's nice! Gotta avoid brick houses.

Posting news items about Natalie Maines' idiocy is literally beating a horse, but since she isn't quite dead news yet, what the heck? It's a slow day.

"The entire country may disagree with me, but I don't understand the necessity for patriotism," Maines resumes, through gritted teeth. "Why do you have to be a patriot? About what? This land is our land? Why? You can like where you live and like your life, but as for loving the whole country... I don't see why people care about patriotism."

And hm, why do you suppose Maines can "like [her] life" so much? Why can she live like a queen and prance around on a stage and have money thrown at her for singing songs other people wrote? Because she lives in America, that's why, and apparently she's a social free rider.

Free-riding is an economic term that's used when one takes more than their fair share of a resource and/or doesn't contribute fairly to its production. For instance, tax evaders enjoy the benefits of a stable government without paying for them. Similarly, Natalie Maines and her ilk enjoy the benefits of living in a free and prosperous country without even noticing the sacrifices made by others that were and are necessary to maintain our country. People like Paul Varner gave their lives to protect Natalie Maines' ignorance, so that she doesn't have to lay awake at night wondering when the front line is going to reach her and the people she cares about.

Natalie Maines doesn't have to struggle to put food on the table despite the fact that her only ability is singing, which is essentially worthless. Shakespeare himself was a pauper, and I doubt she's got anywhere near his talent. Historically, singers, bards, and other performers were barely better than homeless drifters... and why does she live in a mansion? Because better people than her have loved our country and our people enough to die for them.

Natalie Maines is worthless scum, and just about everyone knows it but her. She isn't "brave" for standing up to... what? Criticism? She isn't profound or insightful or even a particularly interesting performer. She's nothing, and the world won't long remember her. Her net impact on society will be zero. If someone Googles "Natalie Maines" a hundred years from now all they'll find is this post and others like it decrying her cowardice, ignorance, and self-absorption. So, I hope she does enjoy her life, because that fleeting pleasure is all the substance she'll ever have.

(HT: DeoDuce.)

I'm amazed to read that police in the UK have been instructed to let serious criminals off with a "caution".

Burglars will be allowed to escape without punishment under new instructions sent to all police forces. Police have been told they can let them off the threat of a court appearance and instead allow them to go with a caution. ...

Some serious offences - including burglary of a shop or office, threatening to kill, actual bodily harm, and possession of Class A drugs such as heroin or cocaine - may now be dealt with by caution if police decide that would be the best approach.

And a string of crimes including common assault, threatening behaviour, sex with an underage girl or boy, and taking a car without its owner's consent, should normally be dealt with by a caution, the circular said.

Eh, it's too much trouble to prosecute someone for "taking a car with its owner's consent" -- stealing a car -- so let's just caution them not to do it again. It sounds like the UK has a problem with overflowing prisons, but since when is the solution not to build more prisons?

The crisis of overcrowding in UK prisons has also prompted moves to let many more convicts out earlier.

It emerged last month that some violent or sex offenders, given mandatory life sentences under a "two-strike" rule, have been freed after as little as 15 months.

It's sad that the Labour government doesn't have what it takes to protect the British citizens from thugs and criminals.

(HT: David Hardy and Clayton Cramer.)

If we're doomed to a Senate filled with senior citizens, let's at least get some new old folks in there, like Willie Brown from my new home of St. Louis?

Willie Brown said he thought he was back in a foxhole in Korea on Thursday morning when a burglar stood at the door to Brown's bedroom.

"He said, 'I got a knife, don't move,'" Brown recalled.

"I reached behind my back and whipped my gun from under my pillow and said, 'Take this .38,' and I blasted him."

The man, wounded, uttered "Whoops," Brown said, and fled down the stairs. Brown pursued, and fired a second shot, striking the intruder as he jumped through a broken window.

That's the kind of old guy we need in the Senate.

(HT: My wife, DeoDuce, told me about the old guy in St. Louis! I didn't mention it before because I feel that we're so at one with each other that it wasn't necessary.)

I added links to the bottom of each post that allow you to recommend a post to digg. So, try it out.

"philipsu" offers an insider's perspective on Microsoft's corporate culture and why WinVista keeps getting delayed. That link is to a mirror since the original post was removed. My desire is not to knock Microsoft, whose software I generally like, but to point out that process is important, and that writing software is hard and the difficulty increases exponentially with the lines of code.

The real problem isn't Microsoft's culture! The modern programming paradigm inevitably leads to Gordian software. Solving this single problem, hidden in plain view from most computer scientists, could eventually be one of the greatest contributions from artificial intelligence to humanity.

Liz Pulliam Weston provides a list of "9 money rules to live by" that use simple terms to explain the basics of how to handle your money. A very good read for someone who wants to handle their money better, and a great reminder for someone who thinks they've got their bases covered.

(HT: SMI Weblog.)

I don't like the title of this post, but I can't think of a better name for the phenomenon I want to rail against. I hate it when people are so oblivious to their surroundings that they gratuitously change things in their environment without noticing, or even considering that someone else might have left things in a certain state on purpose. At lunch today I encountered the example that constantly annoys me: people who walk into the restaurant and leave the door open even though it was closed when they got there. Who walks through a closed door and doesn't even notice whether or not it closes again behind them? Maybe there was a reason it was closed! Even if not, why pointlessly change the state of something? Unless you've got a reason to leave something different than you found it, don't!

Everyone knows that when they go camping they should pick up their trash and leave the place looking clean, and most people don't litter gratuitously. So why do they "pollute" their environment by making other careless, pointless changes? Maybe someone else is counting on something being a certain way! Maybe they arranged it that way for a reason, and your obliviousness is causing real inconvenience to someone who isn't an idiot! Maybe the door you so carelessly and thoughtlessly left ajar causes cold wind to blow on a fine, upstanding citizen who is innocently trying to enjoy a wet chicken burrito with no cheese!

By watching which people noticed the door stuck open and which didn't, I was easily able to differentiate the smart, observant ones from the morons. If I were a hiring manager, that's exactly the kind of subtle signal I'd be looking for while interviewing a job candidate.

Although my faith doesn't/shouldn't depend on what anyone else thinks, it's always inspiring to read about incredibly smart people who come to believe in God while studying his creation. Here's an article about Francis Collins developing faith while "cracking" the human genome.

THE scientist who led the team that cracked the human genome is to publish a book explaining why he now believes in the existence of God and is convinced that miracles are real.

Francis Collins, the director of the US National Human Genome Research Institute, claims there is a rational basis for a creator and that scientific discoveries bring man “closer to God”.

His book, The Language of God, to be published in September, will reopen the age-old debate about the relationship between science and faith. “One of the great tragedies of our time is this impression that has been created that science and religion have to be at war,” said Collins, 56. ...

For Collins, unravelling the human genome did not create a conflict in his mind. Instead, it allowed him to “glimpse at the workings of God”.

“When you make a breakthrough it is a moment of scientific exhilaration because you have been on this search and seem to have found it,” he said. “But it is also a moment where I at least feel closeness to the creator in the sense of having now perceived something that no human knew before but God knew all along.

“When you have for the first time in front of you this 3.1 billion-letter instruction book that conveys all kinds of information and all kinds of mystery about humankind, you can’t survey that going through page after page without a sense of awe. I can’t help but look at those pages and have a vague sense that this is giving me a glimpse of God’s mind.”

His sense of awe exactly mirrors my own as I study intelligence and work to recreate it (poorly) in a machine.

(HT: Clayton Cramer.)

Aside from never being able to spell "deodorant" correctly, I'm further bewildered by all the flavors of deodorant available. There are so many scents, and most of the names are totally nonsensical. At least "pine fresh" cleaning solution, for example, smells like a real thing: pine. I'm not sure what to make of deodorant names like:

  • Arctic Force: Yoda in the Ice Age?
  • Pure Sport: Isn't the smell of "sport" what we're trying to eliminate?
  • Metallic Ice: Finally, the smells of metal and ice, together at last!
  • Fresh Fusion: Better than the old stinky fusion you're used to.
  • Avalanche: What, not "Savannah Avalanche"? You need an adjective!
  • Sparkling Dinoanus: Ok, I made this one up, but you almost believed it.

British Insurance Ltd. is offering insurance policies to protect soccer fans' mental health in the event their team suffers a devestating defeat.

``We have sold more than 1,000 policies, a total of 1 billion pounds ($1.84 billion) of exposure against England leaving Germany precipitately,'' says Burgess, who operates BritishInsurance.com. ``We can insure anything England fans are worried about losing.''

Burgess says ``business is bizarre'' and the actuarial science of sorting genuine English soccer calamities from disingenuous ones is thorny, with more complications than a Florida hurricane insurance policy.

The former Lloyd's of London underwriter says each contract would have an independent panel of sports commentators and psychiatric experts whose job would be to examine a policy- holder's claim that England's World Cup exit was premature and that it had scrambled his ability to function.

Earlier this spring, for instance, Burgess agreed to indemnify England fan Paul Hucker for more than 1 million pounds in case he suffers ``mental trauma'' resulting from the team's first-round games against Paraguay, Trinidad and Tobago, and Sweden. The premium costs about $195 and is one of hundreds of similar shelter-from-the-Sven policies his Essex-based firm has established for England fans.

For about the same price, Burgess says he's insured the virginity of three women in Inverness, Scotland, who believe they will immaculately conceive the second coming of Christ.

``I have Scottish fans taking out mental-health policies that pay for treatment if England wins the World Cup,'' says Burgess, who has also sold 30,000 policies to California residents fearful of being abducted by aliens.

Burgess says the policies are legitimate and that his clients are as daft as brushes.

Fascinating, but I think the insurance premium money might be better spent gambling directly against a fan's favorite team.

(HT: Tyler Cowen.)

My big announcement is... the Williams are moving to Missouri! I gave my two-week notice to my boss today, and we're listing our house ASAP and getting set to move to the outskirts of St. Louis. Crazy, I know, but true.

The reason Senator George Voinovich gives for voting against repealing the inheritance tax is pretty ironic.

Sen. George Voinovich cast a key vote last week against repealing the estate tax, calling the proposal "incredibly irresponsible and intellectually dishonest" at a time when the nation is dealing with a massive federal budget deficit.

"I am thinking not only about the present but about our children and grandchildren and the legacy - or burden - we will leave them," said Voinovich, a Cleveland Republican who was one of just two Republicans in the Senate to against a procedural motion that would have allowed the bill to come up for a final vote.

Yeah, I'm sure children and grandchildren would prefer for the government to get a huge chunk of their inheritance.

Apparently one girl has discovered at least one reason why society tends to discourage girls from pursuing boys.

That said, I think there is one really good reason why the girl shouldn’t ask the boy and it goes double for calling after there has been a date. The reason, and I have learned this repeatedly, is that men won’t turn down someone they aren’t very interested in. Especially if the girl is just persistent and interested enough and comes up with fun things to do. If I have a crush on a boy, I would love to plan fantastic dates. I would totally take the boy out to demolition derby at the State Fair, or an all-city championship high school basketball game followed by burgers at the secret good burger place. I can come up with stuff like that all day long. I would love to arrange a summer’s worth of dates and I have no fear of calling to invite him. It would be far, far easier than waiting to see if the phone will ring.

But here’s the thing. Boys want to go on fantastic dates and they’ll even put out afterward. They can do that indefinitely. But they can do that even when they don’t really mean it. So much later, when you really like him, he’s all “but I’m not in love with you”, or “I guess I just don’t feel as strongly about you.” And you’re all, “Holy fuck, this is how you’ve always felt? Why didn’t you say anything?” And he’s all, “I dunno.” So spending time with the boy and doing things with the boy (even personal things) will never actually tell you how important you are to the boy.

Yeah, pretty much. Amazing that "traditional" mating strategies actually had some value besides oppressing women and reinforcing the patriarchy.

Commenter Thuddmonkey also has great insight into the male mind:

All of this revolves around the same truth: Men are, by women's standards, incredibly socially clueless. This comes from the fact that men, amongst themselves, tend to just say what they mean, and come to expect that everyone else will too. Never assume that any man understands that you mean anything other than what you say.

(HT: Marginal Revolution.)

It's astonishing that a criminal justice professor would blame an increase in violent crime on the National Rifle Association.

Criminal justice experts said the statistics reflect the nation's complacency in fighting crime, a product of dramatic declines in the and the abandonment of effective programs that emphasized prevention, putting more police officers on the street and controlling the spread of guns.

"We see that budgets for policing are being slashed and the federal government has gotten out of that business," said James Alan Fox, a criminal justice professor at Northeastern University in Boston. "Funding for prevention at the federal level and many localities are down and the (National Rifle Association) has renewed strength."

I know many NRA members, and every single one of them is the kind of guy who would shoot a robber dead, not be a robber himself. Blaming the NRA for violent crime in ludicrous and dishonest.

My brother sent along this neat link that tells you what your life might be like if you'd lived in 1905. You input your gender and your dad's job and the page spits out how your life might have gone. Fun stuff!

It looks like Sam Waterston might have been prescient in supplying Old Glory Robot Insurance in 1995 considering the rapid encroachment of robots into the human ecosystem. Still, I think that Economist article is way overblown and the first two paragraphs alone do much to undermine their thesis.

IN 1981 Kenji Urada, a 37-year-old Japanese factory worker, climbed over a safety fence at a Kawasaki plant to carry out some maintenance work on a robot. In his haste, he failed to switch the robot off properly. Unable to sense him, the robot's powerful hydraulic arm kept on working and accidentally pushed the engineer into a grinding machine. His death made Urada the first recorded victim to die at the hands of a robot.

This gruesome industrial accident would not have happened in a world in which robot behaviour was governed by the Three Laws of Robotics drawn up by Isaac Asimov, a science-fiction writer. The laws appeared in “I, Robot”, a book of short stories published in 1950 that inspired a recent Hollywood film. But decades later the laws, designed to prevent robots from harming people either through action or inaction (see table), remain in the realm of fiction.

As the bolded text above emphasizes, the problem in this case was that the robot couldn't sense Kenji Urada; his death couldn't have been prevented by Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics any more than could an accidental plane crash.

The rest of the article is equally silly, since most people aren't going to want industrial grinders or welders in their homes. A robot designed to do housework, run errands, or even -- as the article suggests -- serve as a sex slave won't need to be strong enough or heavy enough to hurt a human, and certainly won't need any weaponry.

Anyway, as roboticists later in the piece point out, people manage to kill themselves with all sorts of appliances, and robots likely won't be any different.

In any case, says Dr Inoue, the laws really just encapsulate commonsense principles that are already applied to the design of most modern appliances, both domestic and industrial. Every toaster, lawn mower and mobile phone is designed to minimise the risk of causing injury—yet people still manage to electrocute themselves, lose fingers or fall out of windows in an effort to get a better signal. At the very least, robots must meet the rigorous safety standards that cover existing products.

Robots are just machines. Until and unless they ever have human-like intelligence, thinking about "laws" to embed into their "brains" is science fiction. It's very possible that a completely non-sentient robot might appear to be intelligent to a layperson, but in my opinion it's unlikely that a real intelligent robot will ever exist. (I hope I'm wrong!)

Tomorrow's a big day... expect a major announcement.

MEMRI has a fascinating piece about the ongoing Iraqi cultural revival.

The fall of the Saddam regime in April 2003 has brought with it unprecedented cultural vitality, despite an environment affected by constant acts of violence and terrorism, often directed against those who want to lead Iraq out of the dark tunnel of the past. Indeed, and ironically, it is partially the chaotic climate associated with weak or absent state institutions that has permitted the unprecedented freedom of cultural and artistic creativity. Although many writers, thinkers, novelists, artists and intellectuals fled or were forced into exile during the Saddam regime, many remained. Now, after years of being kept silent, the varied political, nationalist, and ethnic groups, are able, finally, to express themselves without restrictions or censorship but, regrettably, not entirely without fear.

Today, Christian writer Yohanna Daniel says: "We are at a new stage loaded, at least in theory, with good intentions and liberalizing and humane ideas." For despite the violence and the lack of security, "the cultural class" has flung open its doors to those who were, in the past, forbidden or afraid to enter. Without exaggeration, Daniel says, Iraq occupies a position second only to venerable Egypt in terms of the number of newspapers, journals, magazines, radio and TV stations, both public and private - and, in fact, Iraq is freer than Egypt in many respects.

The pieces continues in great detail about modern Iraqi poetry, periodicals, journals, news, and everything else you can imagine. Just another invaluable fringe benefit of freedom, bought dearly by individual soldiers and civilians who gave their lives but incredibly cheaply by historical standards.

I agree with outgoing House Majority Leader Tom DeLay: partisanship can be good, if it's based on principles.

Former Majority Leader Tom DeLay, bowing to legal and ethical troubles, said goodbye to the House on Thursday and took a shot at his liberal opponents. Some Democrats walked out during the farewell.

The 11-term Republican from Texas, said it is customary for departing lawmakers to "reminisce about the 'good old days' of political harmony and across-the-aisle camaraderie."

"I can't do that," he said.

"For all its faults, it is partisanship _ based on core principles _ that clarifies our debates, that prevents one party from straying too far from the mainstream and that constantly refreshes our politics with new ideas and new leaders," DeLay said.

Is it more important to "get along", or to pass bills that line up with the desires of the majority of the electorate? I'd say the latter. The voters, through elections, set the strategy for the legislature, and the subsequently elected majority should pay little attention to the minority members -- though keeping in mind that those currently in the majority will eventually be in the minority themselves. Unanimity within the majority party may be something to strive for, but "bipartisanship" shouldn't be the principle thrust of every bill. The majority should focus on passing bills that fit the strategy they were elected to implement.

This is not to say that I advocate partisanship that manifests as rule-breaking, mud-slinging, or "gotcha" politics. Those aren't necessary and can be quite destructive.

I can think of all kinds of jobs that would benefit from being able to sense magnetic fields and electric currents.

What if, seconds before your laptop began stalling, you could feel the hard drive spin up under the load? Or you could tell if an electrical cord was live before you touched it? For the few people who have rare earth magnets implanted in their fingers, these are among the reported effects -- a finger that feels electromagnetic fields along with the normal sense of touch.

It's been described as a buzzing sensation, a tingling, an oscillation, movement, pure stimulation and, in the case of body-modification expert Shannon Larrett's encounter with a too-powerful antitheft gateway at a retail store, "Like sticking your hand in an ultrasonic cleaner." ...

Todd Huffman, a graduate student at Arizona State University with a background in neuroscience, joined the project and brainstormed with Jarrell and Haworth about how, and where, to best implant a powerful magnet. He helped come up with the most effective design for an implant, and eventually became the first recipient. "The fingertip was chosen because of the high nerve density, and because the hands are constantly interacting with the environment, increasing the chances of sensing electromagnetism in the world," Huffman says.

Read the rest and drool. Unfortunately thh procedure sounds painful and the experimental implants have so far only lasted a couple months before degrading. Implanting devices into nerve-rich body parts, like fingers, is a great idea for interfacing man and machine. Can anyone think of any other sensory devices that could be usefully put into a finger?

A geiger counter is an obvious example, but probably not that useful to most people.

How about a microgyro with an RF tranceiver that interfaces with your home computer and allows you to control it by gesture? If you hook your home appliances up to your computer, you could control your whole house by waving your hands around in the air like a wizard!

I need a Virtuoso Violin! Or wait, maybe a whole quartet....

The dream of a violin that can play itself has tantalized inventors for over a century. Now, modern technology has made the dream a reality - and without the use of digitally sampled sounds! Piano accompaniment can be derived from any midi source, but using Pianomation to play genuine accoustic accompaniment provides today's ultimate listening experience in automatic music.

(HT: Reader JV.)

One of the biggest obstacles facing China as it modernizes is dealing with the country's vast number of rural poor. The governor of the Mizhi province, Wang Lihua, has come up with an idea to help her area's young women expand their horizons and better themselves by training them as housekeepers. The work may sound demeaning to Westerners, but if you read the article you'll see that the opportunities are far better for these women than they've ever been in the past. The story is also an excellent example of "trickle down" economics.

MIZHI, China--The women of Mizhi are reputed to be among China's most beautiful, but they are more than just pretty faces.

Although Mizhi is poor, the reputation the women enjoy is almost priceless, one that they are spinning into pure gold. ...

While farming is the main industry, the barren soil of the inland plateau makes for a hardscrabble existence. Few crops are viable. Debt is way of life.

The area is said to be the birthplace of Diao Chan, one of China's ancient Four Beauties popularized in "Romance of the Three Kingdoms," a wildly popular 14th-century novel that follows the history of the turbulent Three Kingdoms period (220-280).

Through the Diao Chan connection alone, Mizhi is known far and wide as the "home of beauties." ...

In 2002, soon after taking office, Wang set about selling her colleagues on the idea of setting up a school to train the area's young women to become housekeepers.

With little opportunity for higher education and a frail job market, women, says Wang, were sorely in need of a boost.

"As a woman, I thought that teaching young women the skills necessary for getting a job was more important than building roads," she says. ...

Since it opened in June 2003, the school has turned out more than 500 young housekeepers. Ninety-eight percent have gone on to clinch jobs in Shanghai, Beijing and other major cities.

The school has also developed contracts with major urban staffing agencies.

The term Mizhipoyi (women from Mizhi) is becoming so popular in domestic employment circles that officials even had it registered as a brand name.

The article includes the stories of two young women who graduated from the school and found work as housekeepers, and their attitude and resolve are impressive. Their children will certainly go to college, and their grandchildren will be absolutely anything they want to be.

(HT: My brother Nick.)

It's great that Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi is dead, having been killed by two 500 pound bombs 30 miles outside Baghdad. Here's the video of Al-Zarqawi being killed, courtesy of Michelle Malkin.

In all, a great victory for America, Iraq, and our allies. Sure, it's a small step, and not decisive on its own, but it's a highly visible step that illustrates how the War on Terror will ultimately be won: by killing one terrorist at a time. House by house, group by group. The flip side of that is converting the terror-supporting population from feudal tribalism to modern freedom. Some say it can't be done, but I think the Al-Zarqawi story shows that it can:

"Al-Zarqawi was eliminated," Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said. ...

The Jordanian-born terrorist was Iraq's most-wanted militant and was nearly as notorious as Osama bin Laden, to whom he swore allegiance in 2004. The United States put a $25 million bounty on his head, the same as bin Laden. Al-Maliki told al-Arabiya television the bounty would be honored, saying "we will meet our promise," without elaborating. ...

Al-Maliki said the Wednesday night airstrike by U.S. forces was based on intelligence reports provided to Iraqi security forces by area residents.

There aren't as many safehouses as there used to be. Why? Because we're slowly but surely winning over the terrorists' neighbors to our side. It's only been a few years and there's already a lot of progress -- just wait till next generation!

Austin Bay points out that "This is one strategic reason we had to have a battlefield in the 'middle of the Middle East.'".

(Don't get mad at me, women, because the emphasis here is on "play".) It seems to be commonly accepted that women "play dumb" when they're around men, and many women even get frustrated with themselves for not demonstrating how intelligent they really are. My thought had always been that a woman would pretend to be dumb in order to make a man she found attractive feel appreciated and smart. That's fine as far as it goes, but Nikolas Lloyd suggests that acting dumb and inviting men to talk is the human female form of the "lek".

Jackie, by asking this stupid question, is inviting the men to a lek. A lek is a term used by biologists to refer to a display by many males in one place, from which females might choose a male to mate with. It is a behaviour used by many species of bird, generally those where the male is gaudy, and the females drab. The men around the table now each get invited or lured to participate. The party’s host (or, more likely, hostess) might make sure that everyone gets to speak. The more able male speakers might taunt the less able into speaking, so as to offer a contrast with their abilities. Each man then offers his answer to her stupid question, and will seek to impress her, and show her that he know more than she does. She will not break the spell by admitting to any knowledge. She wants to hear what all the men have to say under equal conditions, before judging them. She and the other women around the table will all get to hear all the men, and so the best thing that they can do is shut up and listen.

And thus, the women get to discover which men are smart, which are arrogant, which are outgoing, which are polite, and so forth. These traits help the women determine whom they want to mate with.

It is interesting to consider whether this "lek instigation" by women -- likely subconsious -- has implications for how women interact with men in other settings, such as business meetings. Since most women "play dumb" regardless of their intentions at the time, it may be that they then later reclassify this mating instinct as "shyness" or "intimidation" without understanding what's really going on. An instinct that helps women identify good mates might hinder them in other contexts.

Has anyone else noticed the front page of my site sucking up their CPU? I can't imagine why it's happening, but when I load the front page of my site the CPU utilization of Firefox goes to 100%. Even if I then close the window displaying my site, the CPU usage doesn't go down; I need to completely exit the browser and restart it. It's very frustrating, but I can't figure out what's causing it. Please let me know if you see anything similar!

I doubt that I'm the only one frustrated by web interfaces that require the user to check box after box without providing a "check all" button, but even when there is such a button sometimes you don't want to check all the boxes. Even worse are text boxes when you have to input the same data in 50 places, and if the tab ordering is poor then you may as well shoot yourself.

So why not create a plug-in for a web browser that lets the user select multiple widgets and then manipulate them all at once? For instance, a drag window could be used to select check boxes in a manner similar to how icons on the Windows desktop can be selected en masse. The Control key could be used to add and remove items from the group selection. Once a group is selected, hitting the Space bar could check or uncheck every box in the group. If you're dealing with text boxes, everything you type could be instantly entered into every box in the group. Since drag windows aren't within the current browser paradigm, perhaps the standard text selection-by-highlighting system could be extended to allow for the selection of non-contiguous groups of widgets, and the manipulation could then work similarly as described above.

When I've got a free moment I'm going to look into creating a Firefox plug-in with this functionality.

If this isn't all over the blogosphere yet, it will be soon. John Bolton has shown that there's at least one American official who will stand up for the international interests of America and has put the United Nation's number two in its place.

The United States demanded Wednesday that U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan repudiate a speech in which his No. 2 official broke with tradition and accused the United States of undermining the United Nations.

U.S. Ambassador John Bolton called the speech by Deputy Secretary-General Mark Malloch Brown a "very, very grave mistake" that could undermine Annan's own efforts to push through an ambitious agenda of reform at the world body. ...

In the speech, delivered Tuesday, Malloch Brown said that the United States relies on the United Nations as a diplomatic tool but does not defend it before critics at home, a policy he called unsustainable.

He lamented that that the good works of the U.N. are largely lost because "much of the public discourse that reaches the U.S heartland has been largely abandoned to its loudest detractors such as Rush Limbaugh and Fox News." The speech was delivered at a daylong conference sponsored by two think tanks, the Center for American Progress and The Century Foundation. ...

Bolton said Malloch Brown's "condescending, patronizing tone about the American people" was the worst part about the speech.

"Fundamentally and very sadly, this was a criticism of the American people, not the American government, by an international civil servant," Bolton said. "It's just illegitimate."

"Middle America" pays the bills over there at the UN, and Mark Malloch Brown, Kofi Annan, and the rest of their ilk had better remember it.

Apparently emotional intelligence and social factors can be more important for professional success than intelligence. Well gee, who knew? "It's not what you know, it's who you know." I've always been brilliant and humble, but it wasn't until after graduating high school that I realized how important it was for me to be sociable. I'm still working on it! A while ago I bought a copy of Daniel Goleman's Emotional Intelligence but I haven't yet found time to read it... I suppose I should move it up the queue.

Radio Blogger has a heart-wrenching photoblog of his wife's recent volunteer Katrina recovery trip to New Orleans, and it's stunning that most of the area looks like the hurricane could have just hit last week rather than nine months ago. Here's a picture of a house-car sandwich.


It's very touching to read about all the recovery work being done by churches from around the country, but I can't help but feel that much of the work will be for naught. Mrs. Radioblogger and her team spent a day (or days?) stripping a ruined house in the Ninth Ward (not the one in the picture above) down to the frame so it can possibly be rebuilt, but despite the valiance of their efforts, it doesn't seem like this house or a neighborhood should ever be reoccupied. The whole city of New Orleans is sinking into the Gulf of Mexico, and the Ninth Ward in particular is already an average of five feet below sea level. Even if this house were rebuilt, if the mold were eliminated, if the owner moved back in, if the neighborhood utilities were turned back on, there's no way to prevent or mitigate another devestating hurricane like Katrina. The land is lost and should be abandoned.

So, despite my admiration for the volunteers and the pride I feel knowing that other humans, and other Christians, can be so generous, I will not be contributing money or effort to projects that I feel are doomed to failure. I have donated money to Katrina victims' funds, and would be willing to help victims relocate, but rebuilding the drowned city is fruitless and hopeless. Alas.

(HT: Glenn Reynolds.)

I basically never drink, but it looks like the evidence is continuing to mount that very light alcohol consumption can greatly reduce the risk of heart disease. Seeing as how one of my grandfathers died from a heart attack, this is something that concerns me.

The Danish study included 27,178 men and 29,875 women volunteers who were free of coronary heart disease at the start of the study. They filled out questionnaires and underwent interviews about their eating and drinking habits, recording how many drinks they had per week. A drink was defined as containing 12 grams of ethanol, a little less than one-half ounce. ...

For men, the more they drank, the lower the risk. One drink a week lowered the risk by about 7 percent, two to four drinks by 22 percent and five or six drinks a week by 29 percent. Those who drank every day had a 41 percent lower risk of heart disease than those who did not drink at all. Even among men who had up to 35 drinks per week, the protection persisted.

With women, the trend was different. One drink a week lowered the risk by 36 percent, but daily drinking lowered it by 35 percent. In other words, for women, alcohol consumption had a significant protective effect, but the frequency of drinking had none.

I don't drink for three reasons: I'm concerned about my Christian witness to the people around me, I don't like the taste of alcohol, and I'm incredibly afraid of becoming an alcoholic. I've known alcoholics, and it's tragic. I feel like it would be easy for me to get addicted, and so I stay as far away as possible. Me or my wife becoming addicted to alcohol or drugs would be one of my nightmare scenarios.

There's some really good health advice near the end:

The researchers also stressed that their data said nothing about binge drinking or about the number of drinks per occasion, and Dr. Gronbaek said that drinking was not a substitute for exercise or good diet. "You shouldn't avoid exercise," he said, "and then try to compensate by drinking."


The murder of Augustine Contreras at Venice High School yesterday was, as best as I can tell, the first shooting near the school since Francisco Herrera was shot outside in 2001. I'm particularly interested in this story because my brother attended VHS and the school is one block from my church.

A 17-year-old Venice High School student was fatally shot Monday after a fistfight between black and Latino students spilled onto the campus parking lot, police and witnesses said.

Police were unsure Monday evening if the student, identified as Augustine Contreras, had been shot in the chest or the face. LAPD officers were searching a section of Venice's Oakwood neighborhood for the assailant in the 3:10 p.m. attack, which authorities believe was tied to a gang dispute.

Two people were briefly detained and then were released, officials said.

There must have been dozens of witnesses considering the time of the shooting, so it shouldn't take long for the police to get people in custody.

A student, who did not want her name used for fear of retaliation, said she witnessed the fight, which began on campus just before 3 p.m. when the final period ended.

Three black students and one Latino student started fighting, drawing a larger crowd, the 17-year-old sophomore said.

The Latino was bleeding from his mouth. Then four more Latino students entered the fray, taunting the blacks to fight. But the blacks tried to walk away, the girl said. She said she heard one of the Latinos shout the name of a gang.

The dispute drifted into the faculty parking lot, where someone screamed, "One of them has a gun!" she said.

The girl said she did not hear the gun go off but saw Contreras, who wore a white T-shirt, lying on the ground.

Gang violence has been dropping in the Venice area for the past decade or so, and it's worrying if the problem is getting worse again despite the "gentrification" of the surrounding neighborhoods.

In a transcript from the Hugh Hewitt radio show, my favorite columnist Mark Steyn explains how working through September 10th institutions has hindered the West. Regarding Iran, the host begins:

Hugh Hewitt: So it will be a coalition of the willing again, but watching the Bush-Blair press conference of last week, the recognition is...the Bush administration has thirty months to go, Blair is almost visibly worn down, John Howard's still strong and in the saddle...

Mark Steyn: Yes.

HH: But how strong is a coalition of the willing?

MS: Well, I think it is weaker, because I think they were politically damaged. But I think it's important to understand just why Tony Blair was damaged. He was damaged because Bush listened to him. Tony Blair said we can't just invade Iraq ten minutes notice. You've got to go through the motions of getting a U.N. Security Council resolution. So they spent six, eight months tap dancing through the United Nations, and the only difference it made was that they went to war in March, 2003, with exactly the same people that would have gone to war six or eight months earlier. And the only person to be damaged by that whole long delay was Tony Blair. And I think you have to learn the lessons of that, that we waste far too much time, and devote far too much energy, into basically trying to work through institutions that are not September 11th institutions. I include in that the United Nations, the IAEA, NATO, and the European Union. We either have to accept that these institutions are never going to look at the September 11th world the same way the U.S. and a few other countries do, and not waste all this energy, this terrible, sapping energy, in going through them.

Exactly right. And this is a transcript? I know Mr. Steyn is a great writer, but if he can speak thusly extemporaneously then I am doubly impressed.

I'm not a historian, but it strikes me that America could not have won any of her past wars if our forefathers had been politically constrained to fight diplomatically and militarily by the rules of Democrats such as Teddy Kennedy, Howard Dean, John Murtha, John Kerry, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Dick Durbin, and all the rest that are really too numerous to name. Would America even be America today if the Democrats' modern philosophy had ruled our past?

1775-1783: Revolutionary War
1812-1815: War of 1812
1846–1848: Mexican-American War
1861-1865: Civil War
1898: Spanish-American War
1899-1913: Phillipine-American War
1914-1918: World War I
1939-1945: World War II
1950-1953: Korean War
1957-1975: Vietnam War
1947-1991: Cold War
1990-1991: Persian Gulf War

With the exception of the Vietnam War, which was lost by the same philosophy (and many of the same people) espoused by leftists today, from what I know America acquitted herself well in all these conflicts, and America is now all the stronger for it.

Now that the television season is over and there's no more Lost or American Idol to drool over, Jessica and I have been TiVo-ing (I hope there's a consensus on how to spell that soon) older shows and I'm reminded that there is probably an enormous number of fantastic series and movies that I've never seen. I rarely go see movies in the theater anymore because they're pretty boring, and I wonder if we're reaching the limit of what new stories can be told in 30 - 120 minute chunks. Just about everything -- except news and reality shows -- are simple repeats of what's been done before. (And some say that even history repeats itself.) Why bother spending millions to recreate what already exists? Just to do it in HD?

Eventually human civilization will have a large enough library of visual fiction and efficient enough indexing and retrieval that there will be no need to create new content for mass consumption. I'm sure some artists will continue to create for the sake of their own vanity, but just as creation and distribution costs get cheaper, the market for new material will continue to shrink because there will be so much great, old material that's still new to huge swaths of the population and available cheap or for free.

The title says it all. Does anyone know why there aren't ketchup packets as large as, say, salad dressing packets? No one ever uses just one ketchup packet, and most of the time people grab way more than they need because each packet is so small. It's not like there's a ketchup packet distribution infrastructure that would be completely disrupted if they started making larger packets. Does anyone know what the deal is?

Hara Estroff Marano has a great piece about dealing with procrastination. Although she says that "procrastination is the one personal flaw that every student and adult in our time-pressured culture openly admits to" I have to disagree, because I am no longer a procrastinator. I used to be, but I discovered for myself many of the points she outlines in her article, and I have been able to overcome my old ways. Take a look at what she says, and if you're a procrastinator you may just learn something about yourself.

There's considerable misunderstanding about procrastination. For one thing, it's not laziness. Settling into the fertile psychological ground between our intentions and our actions, procrastination is an active mental process of diverting yourself from doing high-priority things in the delusion that tomorrow will be better—because you'll know more, you'll have more time or the sun will shine differently. ...

Procrastination begins with a decision to delay a pressing activity and is accompanied by a promissory note to do it in the future. At bottom is always the same problem—a low tolerance for frustration. You perceive negativity or unpleasantness in some aspect of the task and you dodge the discomfort through diversion.

But frustration is a fact of life. At some point, a procrastinator needs to learn frustration-tolerance skills and acknowledge the unpleasantness. It's also helpful to put the brakes on self-talk that exaggerates the negativity of a task. If you put off doing something because, you tell yourself, it's "too tough," stop the conversation. Then identify even a small part of the activity that's manageable and start there. ...

Some people are just not built for action, says Timothy A. Pychyl, professor of psychology at Ottawa's Carleton University, where he runs the Procrastination Research Group. His studies of purposive behavior suggest that there are two basic ways of functioning in the world. There are the action-oriented people, who move easily from task to task, and there are the state-oriented souls, who have a lot of inertia—and are most likely to procrastinate. State-oriented people rate tasks more negatively; they experience greater uncertainty, boredom, frustration and guilt than do their action-oriented peers.

What helps them, Pychyl finds, is to prime the pump of shifting from one action to the next. "Make a deal with yourself," he urges. And follow the 10-minute rule. Acknowledge, "I don't feel like doing that," but do it for 10 minutes anyway. That gets you over the hard work of initiation. After being involved in the activity for 10 minutes, then decide whether to continue. Once you're involved, it's easier to stay with a task. Succeeding at a task does not require that you like doing it.

If that sounds helpful to you, then go read the whole article. Now!

(HT: Digg.)

People have a fixation with real estate. I can't even count the number of times people have told me to never ever sell a piece of property because "prices only go up!". Really? Here's an article from Forbes from 2005 that compares real estate prices across the country with the S&P 500 index.

U.S. real estate sale prices increased more than 56% from the beginning of 1999 to the end of 2004, as tracked by the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight, part of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The S&P 500 index dipped nearly 6% during that same period.

But if you take a longer view--say 25 years--you'll find that the S&P 500 has actually stomped the real estate market, from Boston to Detroit to Dallas. From the start of 1980 to the end of 2004, home sale prices increased 247%. A pretty sweet deal, it would seem. Over the same period, however, the S&P 500 shot up more than 1,000%.

Of course, as the article points out, you can't live in a stock portfolio like you can in a house, but then again, your stock portfolio also won't need to be painted and re-roofed every few years. Maybe most important, rental property can go vacant for a month or more when a tenant leaves, which can seriously cut into your revenue stream. Plus, real estate is illiquid and hard to get rid of if there is a downturn, but your mortgage bills will just keep coming.

One other attribute of real estate that the article doesn't mention is that you can borrow money to buy property, which lets you put more money at risk than you actually have. This can work out well when prices go up, but when they down you can end up getting screwed. People who survived the housing bust in Los Angeles in the early 1990s should be familiar with this principle.

Finally, when real estate goes up, all real estate in the country tends to go up; when it goes down, it all tends to go down. One of the most important principles of investing is diversification, and putting all your money into real estate should be an obvious no-no. Since most investors already put a lot of money into purchasing the house they live in, does it seem wise to then put additional investment money into more real estate? Anyway, if you really want to make money from real estate, why bother with the hassle of owning the property yourself? Invest in real estate mutual funds (REMFs).

Here's a random bit of data from my brother, who recently bought a new truck. Apparently, driving with the tailgate up creates less drag than when it's down.

I'm an aerodynamics engineer. When I was in the U.S. Air Force a few years back, I worked with folks from the Lockheed low-speed wind tunnel. In the 1970s, aircraft production went into a slump, and Lockheed started looking for other customers for its wind-tunnel services. Prime candidates were the auto makers, and Lockheed was successful in convincing Ford, among others, that the wind tunnel would help them reduce drag and wind noise on their vehicles. Needless to say, in the past 15-20 years, Lockheed has learned a lot about car and truck aerodynamics. Anyway, they actually performed drag tests on pickups with the tailgate both up and down, and found that drag was actually LOWER with the tailgate CLOSED! This ran counter to their intuition (and yours). The reason is that a closed tailgate sets up a large "bubble" of stagnant air that slowly circulates around the bed of the truck (we aero types call this a "separated bubble"). When air approaches the truck, it "sees" the bubble as part of the truck. So to the air, the truck looks like it has a nice, flat covering over the bed, and the air doesn't "slam" into the vertical tailgate. If the tailgate is open, or replaced by one of those "air gate" nets, however, that nice, separate bubble in the truck bed does not form (it "bursts"). Then the air approaching the truck "sees" a truck with a flat bed on the back of a tall cab. This is a very nonaerodynamic shape with a very LARGE drag. So, believe it or not, it's best for gas mileage to keep the tailgate CLOSED. Hope this information is helpful. Ed Fitzgerald, Research Assistant, Dept. of Aero/Mechanical Engineering, U. of Notre Dame

Very counter-intuitive.

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