January 2007 Archives

I've always thought President James K. Polk was really cool. In addition to all his accomplishments while in office, he also kept his campaign promise not to run for re-election.

When he took office on March 4, 1845, Polk, at 49, became the youngest man to assume the presidency up to his time. According to a story told decades later by George Bancroft, Polk set four clearly defined goals for his administration: the re-establishment of the Independent Treasury System, the reduction of tariffs, acquisition of some or all the Oregon boundary dispute, and the purchase of California from Mexico. Resolved to serve only one term, he accomplished all these objectives in just four years.

In an impressive display of effectiveness, British intelligence and law enforcement agencies have thwarted yet another terror attack on UK soil.

A ninth suspect has been arrested by police investigating an alleged Iraq-style kidnapping and beheading plot in the UK. ...

The target was a British Muslim soldier in his twenties who is now under police protection.

The soldier, who has not been named, has served with UK forces in Afghanistan.

His abduction would have mirrored the kidnappings of the British hostages Ken Bigley and Margaret Hassan by Iraqi insurgents.

The suspects - believed to be of Pakistani origin - were detained under the Terrorism Act after a six-month surveillance operation.

It's not surprising that the UK seems particularly targeted for terror, since there are so many Islamofascists in their midst.

The poll [of British Muslims] conducted on December 4-13 by Populus for the Policy Exchange, an independent think tank, found that 37 percent of the 16-24 age groups would prefer Sharia law, compared to 17 percent of those over 55. There was a nearly identical split between age groups on those who would prefer to send their children to Islamic schools supported by the state.

Thirteen percent of the younger group expressed admiration for organisations such as Al Qaeda that “are prepared to fight the West,” compared to three percent of those over 55.

Munira Mirza, the lead author of the report, attributed the difference to government policies. “The emergence of a strong Muslim identity in Britain is, in part, a result of multicultural policies implemented since the 1980s which have emphasised difference at the expense of shared national identity and divided people along ethnic, religious and cultural lines,” she wrote.

It appears that most British Muslims are still non-Wahhabi-ized, but the total percentage will only increase as the elders die off and the young, radical Muslims come into their own.

Despite media bashing of the American economy since Bush took office, the numbers continue to show that the American economy is growing strongly.

The economy opened 2006 on a strong note, growing at a 5.6 percent pace, the fastest spurt in 2 1/2 years. But it lost steam during the spring and late summer. It grew at a 2.6 percent pace in the second quarter and then a weaker 2 percent pace in the third quarter. The fourth-quarter's rebound ended the year on a positive note.

For all of 2006, the gross domestic product (GDP) increased by 3.4 percent, an improvement from a 3.2 percent showing in 2005.

That's even more impressive considering the economy was hit by the housing slump. Investment in home building for all of last year was slashed by 4.2 percent, the most in 15 years.

GDP measures the value of all goods and services produced within the United States and is the best barometer of the country's economic standing.

What's more, inflation is low, if not ideal.

Even with the slight improvement, underlying inflation is running higher than the Federal Reserve would like. For all of 2006, core inflation rose by 2.2 percent, up from 2.1 percent in 2005.

And unemployment is at all-time lows (even though official numbers for 2006 haven't been released yet). By every measure, the economy is booming.

I'm generally a realist who dislikes vast government projects motivated by idealism. Why? Because most such projects end up hurting people far more than helping, and often bring about results exactly the opposite of what's intended. Welfare? Encourages dependence on government and discourages work. Spanish-language education for kids who don't speak English? Prevents assimilation. Opening borders for immigrants who just want to work and have a better life? Degrades American culture, hurts poor Americans, and imports crime. Idealistic projects don't have a very good track record, so I'm immediately skeptical of any such motivations.

However, my feelings are different when it comes to space exploration. Sure, it's expensive, but there's no hope of cutting the money out of the government budget entirely; eliminating the space program would just result in moving money into harmful idealistic programs. Unlike most idealistic programs, space exploration doesn't actively harm anyone and it does create valuable spin-offs. What's more, it's widely popular because the idealism of the space program is shared by the vast majority of Americans. NASA Administrator Michael Griffin is right in saying that we should do more to push the "real reasons" behind the space program rather than focus merely on the reasons that are acceptable to us realists.

If you ask Burt Rutan why he designed and built Voyager, and why Dick Rutan and Jeanna Yeager flew it around the world, it wasn't for any money involved, it was because it was one of the last unconquered feats in aviation. If you ask Burt and his backer Paul Allen why they developed a vehicle to win the X-Prize, it wasn't for the money. They spent twice as much as they made.

I think we all know why people do some of these things. They are well-captured in many famous phrases. When Sir George Mallory was asked why he wanted to climb Mount Everest, he said "Because it is there." He didn't say that it was for economic gain.

We know these reasons, and tonight I will call them "Real Reasons". Real Reasons are intuitive and compelling to all of us, but they're not immediately logical. They're exactly the opposite of Acceptable Reasons, which are eminently logical but neither intuitive nor emotionally compelling. The Real Reasons we do things like exploring space involve competitiveness, curiosity and monument building. So let's talk about them. ...

Real Reasons are old fashioned. How many of us grew up reading Tom Swift, or Jack Armstrong, All American Boy? Or other similar books stories? Not great literature, for sure, but they exemplified many of the values I think we like to see in people: inventiveness, competitiveness, boldness, and a sense of good feeling about what it was to be an American, in very simplistic ways but ones which hit close to home.

I don't agree with every nuance of what the Administrator says, but he's right in arguing that exploration for it's own sake is a worthy endeavor that almost everyone understands intuitively.

Stereotypes and prejudice are essential for daily living. For better or worse it's impossible to take the time and energy to get to know everyone personally and to fairly determine their true merit; stereotypes are shortcuts that allow us to function. Even though stereotypes are somewhat inaccurate when applied to individuals, they're often more right than many of us would want to admit.

This critical realization undermines (what I presume to be) the purpose of behind an article denouncing stereotypes of atheists as "uncaring" by Austin Cline.

Anti-atheist bigotry isn't just widespread, it's also very fundamental to how bigots view the world around them. By this I mean that when someone is bigoted against atheists, they are unable to grant any real sympathy or consideration to atheists: they refuse to accept that atheists can be kind, moral, decent, civil human beings. Atheists are barely even human from such perspectives and it really drives home just how destructive religious theism can be.

Of course, the article is immediately silly because the author denounces stereotypes of atheists by leaning on stereotypes of Christians in the very first paragraph. So it goes! I'll be the first to admit that stereotypes of Christians have some basis in reality, and it's transparently clear to most people that stereotypes of atheists aren't completely vacuous either. The author, however, completely obfuscates the matter by drawing nonsensical parallels, imagining the reaction if the "anti-atheist bigotry" he perceived were instead aimed elsewhere:

Imagine if they had said:
You can't be Jewish because the ability to care for others' feelings isn't Jew trait.

You can't be Catholic because the ability to care for others' feelings isn't a Catholic trait.

You can't be liberal because the ability to care for others' feelings isn't a liberal trait.

You can't be black because the ability to care for others' feelings isn't a black trait.

However, being (racially) Jewish or black is completely different from being atheist, Catholic, or liberal. Skin color has little or no inherent effect on behavior, but religion and philosophy are determinitive. If someone were to say, for instance, "Wow, you're sure nice for a Nazi!" no one would complain that Nazi-ism was irrelevant to niceness. Is this "bigotry"? Not in the pejorative sense.

Atheists have a reputation for being condescending, arrogant, smug, closed-minded, intolerant, irritable, and pretentious. This reputation is based on the words and actions of many of the most prominent atheists (cf. the South Park episodes where Cartman travels through time to get a Wii). It's not surprising that a person who doesn't know many atheists (perhaps the "bigoted" teacher in the article) would think that most atheists fit that stereotype.

By refusing to concede (or even consider!) that the widely-held stereotypes of atheists have a basis in reality, the author actually reinforces those stereotypes. I, personally, find life's little ironies such as this to be eminently amusing.

Glenn Reynolds linked to year-old ode to suburbia and to a recent article in the Washington Post reporting five myths about suburbia. Both good reads that touch on points I made better long ago: mass transit projects are really just job programs for union workers that require massive subsidies to operate, mass transit is more vulnerable to terrorist attacks, and living in the suburbs is better for you.

A quote in Reynolds' piece gives a good perspective on what our elite are really thinking.

Sprawl isn't recent, says Bruegmann. Rich people have always wanted to sprawl:
"Ancient, medieval, and early modern literature is filled with stories of the elegant life of a privileged aristocracy living for large parts of the year in villas and hunting lodges at the periphery of large cities. . . . High density, from the time of Babylon until recently, was the great urban evil, and many of the wealthiest or most powerful citizens found ways to escape it at least temporarily."

Sprawl didn't become a problem until the wealthy and powerful were joined by the hoi polloi. Thanks to greater wealth and improvements in transportation, they were able to move from teeming tenements to less-urban settings. Once this started to happen -- before the automobile hit the scene, and beginning outside the United States -- social critics began to complain that sprawl was ruining pristine landscapes, and destroying the charm of urban life. (Ironically, as Bruegmann also points out, some of the very aspects of sprawl criticized by earlier generations -- like the miles of brick terrace row houses built in South London during the 19th century -- are now regarded as quaintly charming: "Most urban change, no matter how wrenching for one generation, tends to be the accepted norm of the next and the cherished heritage of the one after that.")

I've noticed that satisfying most complaints by environmentalists and leftists would require preventing the poor from rising above their station and enjoying the lifestyle of the wealthy. Whether those poor are the unfortunate fellows who live near rain forests and must therefore preserve them for our aesthetic pleasure, or the poor trapped in inner city slums who long for a yard of their own, self-styled "progressives" demand that everyone else persist as they are to protect the delicate, mythical, "balance".

Just as I wrote earlier about how government regulation strangles medicine, government regulation also strangles the legal profession by constructing high and arbitrary barriers to entry, mandating foolish education methods, and artificially restricting supply for the benefit of the existing suppliers.

The recent arrest of Anderson Kill & Olick paralegal Brian Valery for practicing law without a license raises a number of questions about how the ersatz Fordham graduate could have gotten away with representing corporate clients in complex litigation--without ever having gone to law school. The more salient question, however, is: Would it have mattered if he had?

Legal education has been taking a beating recently. This month the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching issued a report criticizing the Socratic case method that dominates law-school teaching. According to the report, it does little to prepare lawyers to work with real clients or to resolve morally complex issues. Several months ago Harvard Law School announced a reform of its first-year curriculum to require classes in "problem solving," among other things. There appears to be an emerging consensus that although law schools may teach students how to "think like a lawyer," they don't really teach them how to be a lawyer.

The article focuses mostly on the shortcomings of law schools, but remember that law schools have to teach students to pass the Bar Exams, which are given authority by the various state governments. This accreditation system prevents alternative legal education methods from competing in the marketplace and dooms us to legal mediocrity.

In the good old days, of course, lawyers didn't think they could learn the law through a series of hypotheticals. Instead, like most of the Founding Fathers, they apprenticed themselves to practitioners and learned the skills they needed by doing. The case method was invented in the late 1800s by Christopher Columbus Langdell, the dean of Harvard Law School. (Harvard Law wasn't even founded until 1817.) Formal licensing requirements followed, and soon the state bars imposed exams upon the newly graduated that reinforced the notion that being a lawyer meant memorizing definitions and rules. Along the way, few bothered to ask if clients were actually well-served by a lawyer who knew the difference between assault and battery but couldn't negotiate a plea bargain for someone who had committed either. ...

Law is not brain surgery. It is a skill that can be acquired through practice and repetition. This is perhaps the most interesting lesson from Brian Valery, the over-ambitious paralegal: He fooled those around him who ought to have known best. In the late 1990s, I litigated against another paralegal who later pleaded no contest to five criminal misdemeanor charges of unlicensed law practice. What struck me about him at the time was how good he was at his job. He blustered, bluffed, threatened and cajoled with the best of them. He knew the law and argued it capably. But then again, he learned his trade the old-fashioned way: He practiced it.

Government accreditation and licensing schemes try to guarantee that consumers aren't tricked by unqualified lawyers (and doctors, etc.), but because the schemes aren't subject to competitive forces it quickly becomes apparent that they aren't the best possible solutions.

Consider software engineers: there are plenty of great engineers who learned their trade by doing, many of whom do not have a college degree. Applicants without diplomas face a higher hurdle with most employers than do college graduates, and it doesn't require government licensing to ensure that unqualified engineers are kept out. There are plenty of engineers with college degrees who aren't good for anything. Market forces and private licensing and accreditation can handle the situation more efficiently and nimbly than can the blunt hammer of government.

I've considered this idea before, but I can understand why making it work would be pretty difficult: robots that build houses out of concrete.

The first prototype — a watertight shell of a two-storey house built in 24 hours without a single builder on site — will be erected in California before April.

A rival design, being pioneered in the East Midlands, with £1.2m of government funding, will include sunken baths, fireplaces and cornices. There are even plans for robots to supplant painters and decorators by spraying colourful frescoes at an affordable price.

By building almost an entire house from just two materials — concrete and gypsum — the robots will eliminate the need for dozens of traditional components, including floorboards, wooden window frames and possibly even wallpaper. It may eventually be possible to use specially treated gypsum instead of glass window panes.

Engineers on both projects say the robots will not only cut costs and avoid human delays but liberate the normal family homes from the conventional designs of pitched roofs, right-angled walls and rectangular windows.

“The architectural options will explode,” predicted Dr Behrokh Khoshnevis at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, who will soon unleash his $1.5m (£940,000) robot. “We will be able to build curves and domes as easily as straight walls. ...

The researchers in Los Angeles claim their robot will be able to build the shell of a house in 24 hours. “Compared to a conventional house, the speed of construction will be increased 200-fold and the building costs will be reduced to a fifth of what they are today,” said Khoshnevis.

In addition to being faster and cheaper, the houses will probably also be far more durable than wood-frame structures, except against earthquakes.

Four Massachusettsians die in a submerged car boat -- no word yet on Senator Ted Kennedy's whereabouts at the time of the incident.

Not being hugely confident in President Bush's plan to "surge" troops into Iraq for a short period of time, I'm surprised to read that terrorist leaders are already fleeing to Iran ahead of the news... despite talking tough just days ago.

DEATH SQUAD leaders have fled Baghdad to evade capture or killing by American and Iraqi forces before the start of the troop “surge” and security crackdown in the capital.

A former senior Iraqi minister said most of the leaders loyal to Moqtada al-Sadr, the radical anti-American cleric, had gone into hiding in Iran.

Of course every turn of events must be portrayed as a setback for America and President Bush.

The flight from Baghdad could impede American plans to target the leaders of death squads. An extra 17,000 US troops are being sent to Baghdad as part of the surge in forces promised by President George W Bush.

No problem, we don't mind going to Iran to get them.

Charles Murray finished his three-part series about intelligence and education last Thursday while I was on vacation, but here is his final article: a discussion on how the smart kids should be educated.

In professions screened for IQ by educational requirements--medicine, engineering, law, the sciences and academia--the great majority of people must, by the nature of the selection process, have IQs over 120. Evidence about who enters occupations where the screening is not directly linked to IQ indicates that people with IQs of 120 or higher also occupy large proportions of positions in the upper reaches of corporate America and the senior ranks of government. People in the top 10% of intelligence produce most of the books and newspaper articles we read and the television programs and movies we watch. They are the people in the laboratories and at workstations who invent our new pharmaceuticals, computer chips, software and every other form of advanced technology.

Combine these groups, and the top 10% of the intelligence distribution has a huge influence on whether our economy is vital or stagnant, our culture healthy or sick, our institutions secure or endangered. Of the simple truths about intelligence and its relationship to education, this is the most important and least acknowledged: Our future depends crucially on how we educate the next generation of people gifted with unusually high intelligence. ...

We live in an age when it is unfashionable to talk about the special responsibility of being gifted, because to do so acknowledges inequality of ability, which is elitist, and inequality of responsibilities, which is also elitist. And so children who know they are smarter than the other kids tend, in a most human reaction, to think of themselves as superior to them. Because giftedness is not to be talked about, no one tells high-IQ children explicitly, forcefully and repeatedly that their intellectual talent is a gift. That they are not superior human beings, but lucky ones. That the gift brings with it obligations to be worthy of it. That among those obligations, the most important and most difficult is to aim not just at academic accomplishment, but at wisdom.

If you're intrigued by why the education of these smart kids matters, I'll point you once again to La Griffe du Lion's Smart Fraction Theory in which La Griffe applies some statistical analysis to the question: how many smart people do we need for society to function?

An article about media job cuts completely misses the upside.

CHICAGO, Jan. 25 (UPI) -- U.S. media job cuts surged 88 percent in 2006 from the previous year, a downsizing trend expected to continue this year, a survey said Thursday.

The media industry slashed 17,809 jobs last year, a nearly two-fold increase from the 9,453 cuts in 2005, outplacement consultancy Challenger Gray & Christmas said. ...

"These organizations will continue to make adjustments as their focus shifts from print to electronic," Chief Executive John Challenger said. "Until they can figure out a way to make as much money from their online services as they are losing from the print side, it is going to be an uphill battle."

Thanks to the internet and globalization, media companies are now able to do a lot more work with a lot fewer people. This pushes revenue down, and eventually the unneeded jobs are eliminated. These cuts are actually good for our economy. It's doubtful that online media services will ever generate as much revenue as old media services did -- but they won't need as much gross revenue because their expenses will be much less. These job reductions are the manifestation of increased efficiency within the media industry.

If someone asks around the office to see if anyone wants their old bicycle, is it ok for you to take it and sell it? Doing so would certainly go against the giver's expectations, but would they be justified in their feeling of betrayal? Even if several people wanted the bicycle and he chose to give it to you?

Everyone knows how cool titanium is, so why is plain old steel still so popular? Because titanium can cost more than $40 per pound while steel is closer to $1 per pound. Fortunately Donald Sadoway from MIT has founded a company called Avanti Metal that is planning to use a new process that will drastically reduce the cost of refining titanium.

Now a startup, Avanti Metal, using technology developed at MIT, hopes to commercialize a process that drastically reduces the cost of producing titanium, making more of it available for large, lighter-weight airplanes. The process, developed by MIT chemist Donald Sadoway, applies an environmentally benign, direct electrolysis method to make the metal.

Titanium is naturally abundant. But processing titanium oxide found in the ground to make a usable metal is slow and produces toxic waste. "The price of titanium has gone through the roof," says Corby Anderson, director of the Center for Advanced Mineral and Metallurgical Processing at the University of Montana. "It's double what it was this time last year -- and last year it was pretty high."

Jeffrey Sabados, president of the four-person Avanti, estimates that, based on production plans published by Boeing and Airbus, there'll be a 30,000-ton shortage of titanium by 2010. He claims that Avanti's process for refining titanium could slash costs to about $3 per pound. Then, if the metal then sells for even $25 per pound, an estimate he calls conservative, it's a huge potential profit.

Ah, capitalism, is there anything it can't do? Plus, y'know, science and stuff.

Colonel Brian Fields who recently believed he had seen alien spacecraft is now convinced that the lights he saw in the sky were simply flares on parachutes. The most annoying part of the story is the connection made between UFOs and Jesus Christ's second coming.

"I did not know that such 'parachute flares' existed and never considered the possibility," Col. Fields told WND upon learning the reason behind the mysterious lights. "I am grateful, however, that the truth has been determined and those that may have been disturbed by this event will be able to rest."

Fields, a Christian who originally speculated his sighting might have had something to do with End Time prophecies from the Bible, still wants people to remain vigilant.

"Because this event was explained does not change the fact that we live in perilous times – and we must still be awake, alert, and know that a great deception is still coming."

There is, of course, deception all around us, but people should be comforted to know that there will be no ambiguity when Christ actually returns.

Luke 17:22-27

Then he [Jesus] said to his disciples, "The time is coming when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, but you will not see it. Men will tell you, 'There he is!' or 'Here he is!' Do not go running off after them. For the Son of Man in his day will be like the lightning, which flashes and lights up the sky from one end to the other. But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.

"Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man. People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all."

When Christ returns his coming will be like lightning that flashes across the sky from one end to the other -- that is, everyone in the world will know it immediately. As in Noah's day most of us may not be expecting it, but once it happens none will fail to notice.

Anyone who owns a pet will find this online version of the Merck Veterinary Manual incredibly useful for diagnosing and treating their pet before resorting to a veterinarian.

Here's a fun article about stupid money moves with lots of contributions from readers along with tips for how to avoid common pitfalls.

Several posters cited bad decisions about vehicles: getting the wrong one, paying too much or incurring perfectly avoidable damage.

"CTBob1" bemoaned the day he leased a car, saying he "will never, ever, ever do that again."

"Maybe it makes sense for rich people who are very responsible and hardly ever drive, but for me it ended up costing me some serious $$$$. I went waaaaay over the allotted mileage and I didn't take the best care of the car. . . . I ended up throwing good money after bad and took out a loan to buy my car outright when the lease ended in order to avoid any fees." ...

- Buy for the long haul. People who buy cars and drive them for 10 years or more can save, over a lifetime, hundreds of thousands of dollars on vehicles compared with people who swap out their cars every five years. The savings compared with those who lease are even greater.

My stupidest money move (that I can remember) was selling my 1991 Ford Escort in 2000 for $500 because I had already bought a new car and just wanted the old one out of my driveway. The Escort had some engine trouble (a thrown piston or something) but was drivable and easily repaired, and it was probably worth a few thousand dollars. Dumb!

What's the biggest money mistake you've made?

Here's a cool map of the various American states labeled with the names of countries with approximately the same sized economies. Missouri is about the same as Poland, opening the door for all sorts of great jokes.

Jessica had to go to the emergency room last night because every doctor we saw over the past few days, starting with an ER doc in Los Angeles, said she probably had appendicitis. So we spent seven hours waiting to see a doctor after hours, waited a couple more hours for a CT scan, and then found out it's not appendicitis but "just" an infection. So, that's good I suppose.

What's really frustrating is that Jessica saw our primary care physician yesterday morning and was told to just wait to see if it gets better but to go to "urgent care" that night if it kept hurting. That's completely insane, but it sounded ok to us at the time. Our doctor should have ordered the CT scan herself during normal business hours. Then we could have found out there was no appendicitis without wasting 10 hours in hospitals last night. Our PCP also should have kept Jessica on the antibiotics that the first ER doctor prescribed on Sunday night, since it turned out to be an infection rather than appendicitis after all. Finally, our PCP shouldn't have told us to go to urgent care! All they did was make us wait two hours, push on Jessica's stomach, and then send us to the ER where we had to wait five more hours. We should have gone straight to the ER if appendicitis was suspected, since there's nothing an urgent care facility can do in that circumstance.

Overall I'm very disappointed with the decisions of our primary care physician. If Jessica had gotten the CT scan yesterday afternoon we could have discovered the infection and spent a normal evening at home.

A black Democrat Congressman has been denied entry into a whites-only caucus by members of his own party and no one seems to care.

As a black liberal running in a majority white district, Tennessee Democrat Stephen I. Jackson made a novel pledge on the campaign trail last year: If elected, he would seek to become the first black member of the Congressional White Caucus.

Now that he's a freshman in Congress, Jackson has changed his plans. He said he has dropped his bid after several current and former caucus members made it clear to him that blacks need not apply.

"I think they're real happy I'm not going to join," said Jackson, who succeeded Rep. Harold Ford, D-Tenn., in the Memphis district. "It's their caucus and they do things their way. You don't force your way in. You need to be invited."

Jackson said he became convinced that joining the caucus would be "a social faux pas" after seeing news reports that former Rep. William Lacy Clay Sr., D-Mo., a co-founder of the caucus, had circulated a memo telling members it was "critical" that the group remain "exclusively white."

Outrageous! Oh no, wait, I accidentally swapped every instance of "white" and "black" in the story... it's actually white Representative Stephen I. Cohen who is being denied entry to the Congressional Black Caucus. I wasn't mistaken, however, in noticing a complete lack of interest in the story by the mainstream media.

And, of course, the idea that a "Congressional White Caucus" would be allowed to exist would be as absurd as the "Young White Scholars" club I proposed for my high school (where whites were an actual minority).

Patton Dodd explains why praying for a parking spot completely misses the point, of both God and prayer.

There are single moms or dads with three kids and bags of groceries, elderly men with oxygen tanks to push across icy lots, people recovering from surgery who aren’t advised to be out of doors in the first place—and maybe, just maybe, God hears their cries for parking spaces close to the front door of Target, or the P.O., or their urban dwelling. Maybe he even provides those spaces from time to time, caring for sparrows as he does.

But as supplication goes, praying for parking is, for those who pray, a mark of shame. It’s on par with praying that The Gap has the right size jeans or that your TiVo’s hard drive doesn’t crash during "Grey's Anatomy." It’s a prayer of tedium—for those too bored to pray for things that matter. It’s a prayer of luxury—for that blessed 1% whose wealth can put them in a car and give them cause to drive to the tony shopping district where parking is the only scarcity.

And, of course, a God who will provide a parking spot for the devout but not a cure for cancer is a twisted God indeed.

Now that New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson has announced his candidacy for the presidency in 2008, the Democrat primaries are shaping up to be one of the most brutal and least substantive in history. It's hard to imagine Hillary Clinton accepting any position other than presidential candidate, which means that Barack Obama and Bill Richardson will have to duke it out for the vice presidential nomination. Richardson's resume is far more impressive, but I imagine that race will play the largest factor in picking the winner. Which racial group will the Democrats cleave to?

Hispanics are growing faster than blacks and are less wholly aligned to the Democrats than are blacks, so a Richardson nomination could swing a lot of votes to the left. However, many blacks are growing disillusioned with the Democrats and snubbing Obama could finally fracture the 90%+ blacks who vote for the Dems, swinging votes to the right. It's hard to say which would do more damage.

Finally, if the Republicans hope to defeat the race/gender perfect storm the Democrats are brewing they're going to need to come up with some serious ideas with broad attraction across the electorate. Trying to match the Dems' race/gender-baiting would be playing into their hands, and if the Reps put up a woman or minority who isn't a natural fit they'll get annihilated by the Left. The good news is that there are substantive policy issues that Americans want dealth with and that Democrats can't handle, like Social Security reform, tort reform, and so forth. Unfortunately the Republicans haven't been too keen on these issues either, but at least that reluctance has left some impressive fish for the candidates to fry.

Anyone who has watched the Star Wars prequels in horror will appreciate Keith Martin's reinvisioned Star Wars backstory that attempts to explain how R2D2 and Chewbacca are the Rebellion's real top agents throughout the second trilogy.

If we accept all the Star Wars films as the same canon, then a lot that happens in the original films has to be reinterpreted in the light of the prequels. As we now know, the rebel Alliance was founded by Yoda, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Bail Organa. What can readily be deduced is that their first recruit, who soon became their top field agent, was R2-D2.

Consider: at the end of RotS, Bail Organan orders 3PO's memory wiped but not R2's. He wouldn't make the distinction casually. Both droids know that Yoda and Obi-Wan are alive and are plotting sedition with the Senator from Alderaan. They know that Amidala survived long enough to have twins and could easily deduce where they went. However, R2 must make an impassioned speech to the effect that he is far more use to them with his mind intact: he has observed Palpatine and Anakin at close quarters for many years, knows much that is useful and is one of the galaxy's top experts at hacking into other people's systems. Also he can lie through his teeth with a straight face. Organa, in immediate need of espionage resources, agrees.

It's interesting, especially given what a tough job it is to reconcile the trilogies.

(HT: MN.)

Caption this screen capture from Star Trek: The Next Generation.


The wife and I just returned from a weekend trip to Los Angeles. It was quite a bit of fun; we got to visit family and friends (that's all I could find at the moment, weak), our old church, our old neighborhood, and even do a little celebrity-sighting at LAX. The only bad part of the trip was when Jessica came down with food poisoning / stomach flu right before Jay Leno came on stage at the Comedy and Magic Club. We rushed her to the emergency room because it was pretty serious, but she's feeling much better now, thankfully. Our flights on Southwest were late going in both directions, but were otherwise uneventful.

All in all it was a very relaxing, rejuvenating trip. You never appreciate your family as much as when you live too far away to see them every day. Going back was very nostalgic and somewhat melancholy, because we had a lot of good times in Los Angeles and there are so many people we care about there. I'm sure we'll be visiting again really soon.

Get ready for a flurry of short posts as I put up a few things that have been on my mind over the past few days.

Just a note for for young women and parents with girls: the new HPV vaccine can prevent almost all cervical cancers and is recommended for all young females.

Females should be vaccinated against human papillomavirus (HPV) when they're 11 to 12 years old in order to prevent cervical cancer, new American Cancer Society guidelines recommend.

Other major health groups have also called for widespread vaccination in this age group.

In 2007, an estimated 11,150 cervical cancer cases will be diagnosed in the United States, and about 3,670 women will die from the disease, the society noted. Almost all cervical cancers are causally related to HPV.

This is a major advance in the battle against cancer that every woman should hear about and take advantage of.

Ok... there have been intermittant problems with comments due to DNS resolution, but those should all be solved by now. If you can't log in to Typekey or can't comment, please send me an email! plasticATgmailDOTcom

John Dorfman says that Wall Street analysts know not of what they speak, and that we'd do best to do the opposite of what they advise or to ignore their stock picks entirely.

The four stocks that Wall Street analysts most despised at the beginning of 2006 posted an average 21 percent return for the year.

The four stocks they most loved returned only 2.4 percent, which was far worse than the return of almost 16 percent on the Standard & Poor's 500 Index.

In short, the despised stocks walloped the favored ones. Is that a freak result?

No, it is not.

For nine years, I have been studying the annual performance of the four stocks that analysts most unanimously recommend, and the performance of four stocks on which they issue an unusually large number of ``sell'' recommendations.

The analysts' darlings lost 3.7 percent a year, on average. The stocks they hated declined 0.2 percent.

Both groups of stocks did worse than the S&P 500, which returned 7.4 percent a year, on average, during the period of the study: 1998 through 2006.

Analysts seem to follow stocks like fads or fashion trends, with little actual reason behind their preferences. I tend to ignore them entirely, and so far so good.

(HT: Sound Mind Investing.)

The second part of Charles Murray's series on higher-level education came out today, claiming that too many Americans are going to college (as I've argued before).

Combine those who are unqualified with those who are qualified but not interested, and some large proportion of students on today's college campuses--probably a majority of them--are looking for something that the four-year college was not designed to provide. Once there, they create a demand for practical courses, taught at an intellectual level that can be handled by someone with a mildly above-average IQ and/or mild motivation. The nation's colleges try to accommodate these new demands. But most of the practical specialties do not really require four years of training, and the best way to teach those specialties is not through a residential institution with the staff and infrastructure of a college. It amounts to a system that tries to turn out televisions on an assembly line that also makes pottery. It can be done, but it's ridiculously inefficient. ...

A reality about the job market must eventually begin to affect the valuation of a college education: The spread of wealth at the top of American society has created an explosive increase in the demand for craftsmen. Finding a good lawyer or physician is easy. Finding a good carpenter, painter, electrician, plumber, glazier, mason--the list goes on and on--is difficult, and it is a seller's market. Journeymen craftsmen routinely make incomes in the top half of the income distribution while master craftsmen can make six figures. They have work even in a soft economy. Their jobs cannot be outsourced to India. And the craftsman's job provides wonderful intrinsic rewards that come from mastery of a challenging skill that produces tangible results. How many white-collar jobs provide nearly as much satisfaction? ...

Most students find college life to be lots of fun (apart from the boring classroom stuff), and that alone will keep the four-year institution overstocked for a long time. But, rightly understood, college is appropriate for a small minority of young adults--perhaps even a minority of the people who have IQs high enough that they could do college-level work if they wished. People who go to college are not better or worse people than anyone else; they are merely different in certain interests and abilities. That is the way college should be seen. There is reason to hope that eventually it will be.

I think he's quite right. Our society wastes a lot of time and money on college "educations" that do no one any good.

The farcical persecution of Ignacio Ramos and Jose Alonso Compean continued today as the two former Border Patrol agents were ordered to report to prison rather than allowed to remain free while their appeals are pending.

Compean and Ramos were sentenced in October to 12 and 11 years, respectively, in federal prison for the non-fatal shooting of a Mexican drug smuggler. Both men said they believed the smuggler was carrying a weapon during a foot chase along the Texas-Mexico border on Feb. 17, 2005.

Osbaldo Aldrete-Davila, the smuggler, was given immunity by the U.S. government in exchange for testifying against the agents. He also received medical treatment at a U.S. Army hospital after the shooting. He is suing the Border Patrol for $5 million.

The injustice of this persecution is mind-boggling, and I join with Grassfire.org in calling on President Bush to pardon these men immediately and completely.

(HT: My wife Jessica.)

I've written on this topic before, and here's the first part of a three-part series by Charles Murray about how the facts of intelligence thwart the best intentions of educators and politicians.

Education is becoming the preferred method for diagnosing and attacking a wide range problems in American life. The No Child Left Behind Act is one prominent example. Another is the recent volley of articles that blame rising income inequality on the increasing economic premium for advanced education. Crime, drugs, extramarital births, unemployment--you name the problem, and I will show you a stack of claims that education is to blame, or at least implicated.

One word is missing from these discussions: intelligence. Hardly anyone will admit it, but education's role in causing or solving any problem cannot be evaluated without considering the underlying intellectual ability of the people being educated. Today and over the next two days, I will put the case for three simple truths about the mediating role of intelligence that should bear on the way we think about education and the nation's future.

Today's simple truth: Half of all children are below average in intelligence.

Mr. Murray goes on to explain that no matter what standards you set for students, if the standards are meaningful then there will be some significant proportion of students who will not be able to meet them no matter how much money we spend.

Our ability to improve the academic accomplishment of students in the lower half of the distribution of intelligence is severely limited. It is a matter of ceilings. Suppose a girl in the 99th percentile of intelligence, corresponding to an IQ of 135, is getting a C in English. She is underachieving, and someone who sets out to raise her performance might be able to get a spectacular result. Now suppose the boy sitting behind her is getting a D, but his IQ is a bit below 100, at the 49th percentile.

We can hope to raise his grade. But teaching him more vocabulary words or drilling him on the parts of speech will not open up new vistas for him. It is not within his power to learn to follow an exposition written beyond a limited level of complexity, any more than it is within my power to follow a proof in the American Journal of Mathematics. In both cases, the problem is not that we have not been taught enough, but that we are not smart enough.

It's time for educators and the politicians who are so keen on spending our money to address these scientific facts... but alas, there doesn't seem to be much interest in critical analysis.

For example, in the 2005 round of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 36% of all fourth-graders were below the NAEP's "basic achievement" score in reading. It sounds like a terrible record. But we know from the mathematics of the normal distribution that 36% of fourth-graders also have IQs lower than 95.

What IQ is necessary to give a child a reasonable chance to meet the NAEP's basic achievement score? Remarkably, it appears that no one has tried to answer that question. We only know for sure that if the bar for basic achievement is meaningfully defined, some substantial proportion of students will be unable to meet it no matter how well they are taught. As it happens, the NAEP's definition of basic achievement is said to be on the tough side. That substantial proportion of fourth-graders who cannot reasonably be expected to meet it could well be close to 36%.

Before we throw money away trying to solve a problem that has no solution, someone should analyze the politically incorrect facts and determine exactly what our limits are. Putting a low-intelligence child through years of useless education is pointless and will probably do more harm than good. As Mr. Murray notes near the end of this essay, intelligence doesn't correlate very closely with happiness; there's nothing preventing low-intelligence people from having perfectly happy and fulfilling lives if we let them "be themselves" rather than forcing them into a politically correct box.

James Taranto has caught a great example of inevitable subjectivity in reporting by asking "are there two different Fort Bennings?".

"Bush Cheered at Fort Benning: FORT BENNING, Ga.--President Bush, surrounded on Thursday by cheering soldiers in camouflage, defended his decision to send 21,500 more U.S. troops to Iraq and cautioned that the buildup will not produce quick results. 'It's going to take awhile,' he said."--headline and lead paragraph, Associated Press, Jan. 11

"Bush Speaks and Base Is Subdued: FORT BENNING, Ga., Jan. 11--President Bush came to this Georgia military base looking for a friendly audience to sell his new Iraq strategy. But his lunchtime talk received a restrained response from soldiers who clapped politely but showed little of the wild enthusiasm that they ordinarily shower on the commander in chief."--New York Times, Jan. 12

Neither the AP nor the NYT are known for a conservative bias, so it's hard to argue that this difference in reporting is due to a difference in bias. The fact of the matter is that determining whether cheers are "restrained" or not is a matter of subjectivity that perhaps shouldn't be considered in a news article at all.

My wife and I are eager to ditch her Verizon phone plan so we can save money by getting onto a Cingular family plan together. I mentioned this a week or so ago, and reader JV just sent me a link to an Engadget post claiming that Verizon is about to invalidate their contracts by jacking up SMS messaging rates.

It looks like Verizon Wireless is following in Sprint's SMS footsteps, announcing a planned hike in text messaging rates for those not currently subscribed to a messaging package. ...

If this all sounds a little familiar, it's because when Sprint did the same thing late last year, it didn't take long for people to figure out that the rate hikes amounted to a so-called "material change" to their contracts, meaning they could bail on it without paying an Early Termination Fee (EFT). So if you've been sticking to Verizon but secretly fancying another carrier, this looks like it may be your only chance to take the plunge without also taking a hit.

Sweet. The only thing that's not clear to me is whether or not we have to wait for the change to take effect before we can bail.

Aviation Week has a pair of articles about the F-22 Raptor. The first describes how the F-22 and its partners benefit from its netcentric operations capabilities, explaining how the plane achieved 144 kills and no losses against older air-to-air fighters.

Perhaps the most important revelation by the 27th Fighter Sqdn. was demonstrating the F-22's ability to use its sensors to identify and target enemy aircraft for conventional fighters by providing information so they could engage the enemy sooner than they could on their own. Because of the advanced situational awareness they afford, F-22s would stick around after using up their weapons to continue providing targets and IDs to the conventional fighters. ...

"When I look down at my scope and put my cursor over a [friendly] F-15 or F/A-18, it tells me who they are locked on to," he says. For example, "I could help them out by saying, 'You're double-targeted and there's a group over here untargeted' . . . to make sure we got everybody." F-15 targets will be latent because of the radar sweep.

However, these messages are less and less verbal. "When you watch [tapes of the Alaska] exercise, it's fairly spooky," says Gen. Ronald Keys, chief of Air Combat Command. "There's hardly a word spoken among Raptor pilots." That silence also previews some of the fighter's possible future capabilities.

"Because of the way the aircraft was designed, we have the capability to do more," Keys says. "We can put unmanned combat aircraft systems in there with Raptor. You've got three fairly low-observable UCAS in the battlespace. An air defense system pops up, and I click on a UCAS icon and drag it over [the emitter's location] and click. The UCAS throttles over and jams it, blows it up or whatever."

As many others have written about at length, battles of the future will be won by superior networks, not merely superior weapons platforms. Even still, the second article indicates that the Raptor is also a better fighter than previous generations of fighters, such as the F-15.

However, the question periodically resurfaces about whether the F-22 could hold its own during a within-visual-range fight with a very maneuverable fourth-generation fighter such as the Sukhoi Su-27 and Su-30, Eurofighter or Dassault Rafale. The answer will never be obvious to an outsider. The Raptor's high-angle-of-attack capabilities are part of the formula of classified tactics that are closely held. But, roughly, its unique maneuvering and nose-pointing options--plus the high off-boresight capabilities of the AIM-9X missile, which is to be added about 2010--give the aircraft previously unheard-of means of quickly shooting down a foe.

Nonetheless, chasing an F-22 in a two-seat F-15D--which carried reporter Michael J. Fabey--provided perspective about their comparative capabilities. A recent flight started with F-15 pilot Capt. Andy (Bishop) Jacob flying alongside an F-22 piloted by Maj. Shawn (Rage) Anger in the air-to-air ranges above Tyndall AFB, Fla.

Opponents of further Raptor procurements argue that going by such basic flight physics as thrust-to-weight ratios, rearward cockpit visibility and simple aircraft size, the F-22 ranks below the F-15 and other earlier fighters.

Aerial engagements like the encounter between Anger and Jacob are supposed to help prove the Raptor's case. Still, one argument offered by F-22 opponents is that the jet's reported victories over F-15s are often scripted and unreliable gauges of Raptor superiority. ...

Anger and Jacob had planned to engage in mock combat. However, a flashing indicator light warned that something could be wrong with the F-22. But the flight was enough to make a believer of Jacob. "Maybe, with some tricks or tactics, I can beat it," he said. "But that would be a one-time set of circumstances. As for a Raptor-beating tactic--there's no such thing."

With a price tag between $100 million and $200 million per aircraft, they'd better be good. Hopefully the Raptor is intimidating enough that none of our enemies will try to find out.

My wife sent me this article that perfectly illustrates how WalMart benefits consumers who don't even shop there by increasing competition and driving down prices.

St. Louis shoppers can expect to see more grocery prices fall as competitors react to Schnuck Markets Inc.'s move to cut what it charges for some 10,000 items.

"We've always been competitive, and we always will be. That's the bottom line," said Greg Dierberg, president and chief executive of Chesterfield-based Dierbergs Markets Inc. "We'll react to any items that we need to."

For example, he said, Dierbergs today will lower the price of bananas to 50 cents a pound from 59 cents, matching a cut by Maryland Heights-based Schnucks. Bananas are one of the most popular items sold in grocery stores.

Translation: Dierbergs' profits will be reduced and consumers will keep more of their own money. When it comes to groceries, poor people benefit the most from reduced prices. So why are Leftists so dead-set against WalMart? They push down eeeevil corporate profit and put money back into the pockets of the poorest among us.

According to Ameren's website our power is still off for an unknown reason and no service team has been assigned to check into it. There are still more than 100,000 people without power, so I hope we don't have to "wait our turn" to get another attempt by Ameren. Nornally I rail against the Ameren executives for these outages, but it would have been really nice if the linemen had actually checked to see whether or not their attempted repair worked before declaring our power restored.

This hideous outage is all the more humiliating for Ameren because the three-phase ice storm that was predicted only turned out to have a single phase. Instead of a one-two-three wallop of ice, sleet, and more ice, we only got about half an inch of ice on Friday night and then the temps climbed above freezing. By yesterday afternoon all the ice was gone and there was a nothing more than a light drizzle covering the city. And yet hudreds of thousands of people are without power for the third time in six months. Ridiculous.

I stayed home from work today to take care of the house. Temps are dropping again now and we'll have to let the faucets drip if our power is going to be out for an extended period of time. Very frustrating. Someone needs to do a better job. I hope now that heads will roll at the Ameren UE monopoly.

Continuing the incompetence, the recent ice storm has left more than 150,000 Ameren UE customers in the dark for days on end for the third time in six months.  Look, I know the weather here isn't like in Southern California, but there are people at our church who have lived in Minnesota where the winters are far worse and they have never had to endure such long outages.  The system needs to be changed so that we don't lose electricity for days at a time.

Compounding my frustration, Ameren's customer service is sorely lacking.  The first time we called and managed to get through to a live person, she was very rude.  After telling us that there was "a crew working in your area" she asked for our phone number and then hung up.  Why did she want our number?  So that when we called back their phone system could identify us and dump our call onto a "there's nothing we can do for you" line with no options to do anything whatsoever.

Ameren's motto is "365.  And then some."  I'm not sure what the "365" stands for.  Some possibilities:

  • 365,000 people with no power, and then some.
  • 365 dollars a month, and then some.
  • 365 hours with no electricity, and then some.
  • 365 minutes on hold, and then we hang up on you and blacklist you.

In any event, their website now says that it hopes that the power outage hasn't "inconvenienced" us and that we should be back on by 3:45am tomorrow morning.  Barring a light drizzle, anyway.


And then Ameren's website will tell you that your power is back on, but when you go home everything is still dark.  Thanks Ameren!

Following up my earlier post about the sale of Sealand, it looks like the "island" "nation" is being bought by The Pirate Bay bittorrent site.

The Pirate Bay says it is the world's largest 'bit torrent tracker', and is a popular way of sharing music, films, software and other copyrighted material online. It has been under the scrutiny of authorities in Sweden and around the world for some time.

The site was briefly closed down after raids by the Swedish police last May. After initially moving to the Netherlands, the site returned to Sweden in June. Swedish authorities have been put under pressure to do more to stop the site. The Motion Picture Association of America, the Swedish Anti-Piracy Bureau and the US government have all lobbied for The Pirate Bay's closure.

According to a website set up to secure the purchase of Sealand, The Pirate Bay plans to give citizenship of the micronation to anyone willing to put money towards the purchase.

If the "nation" gets involved in these likely-illegal activities, the British Navy might take more serious notice of it. 

I've been thinking about how to take advantage of the benefits of incorporation for my family, but I can't really come up with anything.  I'm not self-employed and my wife is in school, so it's not clear to me how incorporation could help us.  Is there a way we could pay for her education as a business expense?  How about our cars or home?  And it probably goes without saying that it has to be legal.


I've moved the site to a new server since the owner of my old server has decided to shut down.  I've imported my entries, comments, and templates, but I'm sure there will be issues to iron out.

The biggest change is that commenters will have to register (once) with Typekey in order to post... hopefully this should reduce the 30 minutes a day I generally spend deleting spam.  Please email me if there are any issues!

And thanks for reading. 

The Democrat's push for "universal health care" is misguided for a host of economic reasons, and will probably be disastrous for cost and quality of care, but I'm sure many other bloggers will make those points with more details than I feel inclined to look up. What's significant to me is the modern view by all leftists and many non-interested people that the government is the proper vehicle for charity.

The first fact to accept is that health care will be best and cheapest when it is left to the free market. Competition and choice yield products with the most benefits at the lowest prices to consumers. However, a corollary is that the free market will also price some people out of health insurance; that is, in a free market system there will always be some people who cannot afford something.

(Let's ignore for a moment that health care prices are high because of government interference via over-regulation and licensing monopolies like the American Medical Association. Plus, our health care is amazingly good, and the high prices buy us longer, high quality lives than any humans have ever enjoyed throughout all history. Why should that be cheap?)

So what's the best way to take care of those people who are priced out of the market? The Left's inclination is to simply put the whole system under government control, but by eliminating competition prices will skyrocket and quality will plummet, thus hurting everyone. There's got to be a better solution, and there is, and it's not new.

It's called charity. Instead of the government putting a gun to our head and taking money from our wallet to buy services for other people, those with a desire to help the less fortunate can choose to give their money away of their own free will. Aside from the immorality of robbing one man to benefit another, the charity system has the advantage of maintaining competition within the market. Because of that competition, charity dollars will buy much more and much better health care than government dollars. In addition, most charities operate with volunteers and have low overhead, exactly the opposite of government bureaucracies.

The only remaining question, then, is whether or not Americans are willing to give. I think the evidence shows that we are. America is the most generous nation on earth... so why don't the Democrats see that? Because leftists are part of Non-Giving America.

Nowhere is the divide in values more on display than in religion, the frontline in our so-called "culture war." And the relationship between religion and charity is nothing short of extraordinary. The Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey indicates that Americans who weekly attend a house of worship are 25 percentage points more likely to give than people who go to church rarely or never. These religious folks also give nearly four times more dollars per year than secularists, on average, and volunteer more than twice as frequently.

It is not the case that these enormous differences are due simply to religious people giving to their churches. Religious people are more charitable with all sorts of nonreligious causes as well. They are 10 percentage points likelier than secularists to give money to explicitly nonreligious charities like the United Way, and 25 points more likely to volunteer for secular groups such as the PTA. Churchgoers were far likelier in 2001 to give to 9/11-related causes. On average, people of faith give more than 50 percent more money each year to non-church social welfare organizations than secularists do.

Score one more for Christianity. Secularism isn't the only factor that prevents leftists from seeing charity as the solution.

A second core value affecting charity shows up in the belief citizens have about the government's role in their lives. Some Americans (about a third) believe the government should do more to reduce income differences between the rich and poor – largely through higher taxation and social spending. Others (about 40 percent) do not favor greater forced income redistribution. This is a major difference in worldview – not just about taxation, but also about the perceived duty of individuals to take personal responsibility for themselves and others. This difference affects people's likelihood of voluntarily giving to charity. The General Social Survey shows that people who oppose government income redistribution donate four times as much money each year as do redistribution supporters.

Note that the charity gap is not due to anything the government is actually doing; rather, to what people think the government should be doing – in other words, nothing more than a political opinion. This fact throws a wrench into the traditional stereotype that conservatives in America are hardhearted while liberals are the compassionate ones. In the words of one common 2004 campaign yard sign in my town, "Bush Must Go! Human need, not corporate greed." However, the General Social Survey indicates that people who opine that government is "spending too little money on welfare" – not a viewpoint typically associated with George W. Bush's supposedly venal supporters – are less likely to give food or money to a homeless person than people who oppose greater welfare spending. Regardless of which view on welfare is superior, ask yourself this: who will personally do more for a poor person today?

Darn those pesky statistics! It's almost as if Democrats want to spend other people's money helping people that the Democrats themselves can't be bothered to help on their own!

Fortunately the secular, greedy, tyrannical leftists are breeding themselves out of existence.

A third key value affecting charity is reflected in family life. Couples, even when they earn the same amount as single people, are more likely to give to charity, and the simple act of raising children appears to stimulate giving as well – children help us fill the collection plate even as they drain our wallets. Further, family life is the ideal transmission mechanism for charitable values: data show that people who see their parents behave charitably are far likelier to be charitable themselves as adults.

So here's an idea: since the Democrats claim to be the party of civil liberties, how about not sticking a gun to my head and taking more of my money. How about instead encouraging private giving by lowering taxes and withdrawing the government tentacles from every area of life? The poor in America could be cared for better and more cheaply, and no one would have to be robbed to pay for it.

If you've ever wondered why astronomy uses strange units like the AU (astronomical unit) and the solar mass, here's the answer.

Until recently, neither the AU nor the gravitational constant were precisely known. However, a determination of the relative mass of another planet in the Solar System or of a binary star in units of solar masses does not depend on these poorly known constants. So it was useful to express these masses in units of solar masses (see Gaussian gravitational constant). Today, the AU is extremely well measured using interplanetary radar and G is well measured, but the solar mass persists as one of astronomy's arcane historical conventions.

Basically, it was easy to calculate the relative mass of one object compared to another even though no one had a precise value for the gravitational constant or the distance between the earth and the Sun. However, even though we now know that we these values to high precision we're still stuck with the old units of measurement.

If you've got a few minutes to rub together you could hardly find a better use for them than reading "The Speech" that launched Ronald Reagan's political career, given in 1964 in support of Berry Goldwater's presidential campaign. It is altogether brilliant, and America would do well to hearken back and heed his words.

On "the war on poverty", which our government considers to be ongoing, last I checked:

We have so many people who can't see a fat man standing beside a thin one without coming to the conclusion that the fat man got that way by taking advantage of the thin one. So they are going to solve all the problems of human misery through government and government planning. Well, now, if government planning and welfare had the answer and they've had almost 30 years of it, shouldn't we expect government to almost read the score to us once in a while? Shouldn't they be telling us about the decline each year in the number of people needing help? The reduction in the need for public housing?

But the reverse is true. Each year the need grows greater, the program grows greater. We were told four years ago that 17 million people went to bed hungry each night. Well, that was probably true. They were all on a diet. But now we are told that 9.3 million families in this country are poverty-stricken on the basis of earning less than $3,000 a year. Welfare spending is 10 times greater than in the dark depths of the Depression. We are spending $45 billion on welfare. Now do a little arithmetic, and you will find that if we divided the $45 billion up equally among those 9 million poor families, we would be able to give each family $4,600 a year, and this added to their present income should eliminate poverty! Direct aid to the poor, however, is running only about $600 per family. It would seem that someplace there must be some overhead.

And that was in 1964! We've had a "war on poverty" for more than seven decades now, with so sign of victory. What's our exit strategy?

Speaking of war, here are some of Reagan's thoughts that seem very applicable to the ongoing Global War on Jihadism:

Those who would trade our freedom for the soup kitchen of the welfare state have told us that they have a utopian solution of peace without victory. They call their policy "accommodation." And they say if we only avoid any direct confrontation with the enemy, he will forget his evil ways and learn to love us. All who oppose them are indicted as warmongers. They say we offer simple answers to complex problems. Well, perhaps there is a simple answer--not an easy answer--but simple.

If you and I have the courage to tell our elected officials that we want our national policy based upon what we know in our hearts is morally right. We cannot buy our security, our freedom from the threat of the bomb by committing an immorality so great as saying to a billion now in slavery behind the Iron Curtain, "Give up your dreams of freedom because to save our own skin, we are willing to make a deal with your slave masters." Alexander Hamilton said, "A nation which can prefer disgrace to danger is prepared for a master, and deserves one." Let's set the record straight. There is no argument over the choice between peace and war, but there is only one guaranteed way you can have peace--and you can have it in the next second--surrender.

Admittedly there is a risk in any course we follow other than this, but every lesson in history tells us that the greater risk lies in appeasement, and this is the specter our well-meaning liberal friends refuse to face--that their policy of accommodation is appeasement, and it gives no choice between peace and war, only between fight and surrender. If we continue to accommodate, continue to back and retreat, eventually we have to face the final demand--the ultimatum. And what then? When Nikita Khrushchev has told his people he knows what our answer will be? He has told them that we are retreating under the pressure of the Cold War, and someday when the time comes to deliver the ultimatum, our surrender will be voluntary because by that time we will have weakened from within spiritually, morally, and economically. He believes this because from our side he has heard voices pleading for "peace at any price" or "better Red than dead," or as one commentator put it, he would rather "live on his knees than die on his feet." And therein lies the road to war, because those voices don't speak for the rest of us. You and I know and do not believe that life is so dear and peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery. If nothing in life is worth dying for, when did this begin--just in the face of this enemy? Or should Moses have told the children of Israel to live in slavery under the pharaohs? Should Christ have refused the cross? Should the patriots at Concord Bridge have thrown down their guns and refused to fire the shot heard 'round the world? The martyrs of history were not fools, and our honored dead who gave their lives to stop the advance of the Nazis didn't die in vain. Where, then, is the road to peace? Well, it's a simple answer after all.

I sincerely hope that the Reagan Republicans are not yet extinct.

An article about British moon exploration begs the question:

Britain could send its first un-manned mission to the moon by 2010 to study the lunar surface and find the best site for humans to inhabit, the BBC has reported.

A report by Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd., a top British space company, found the cost of space travel had fallen enough to let the government consider such a probe, it said.

Why has the cost of space travel fallen enough for Britain and even China to consider moon missions? Because of one of the many invisible subsidies that America provides to the world free of charge: technological advancement. The world owes America an enormous debt for the knowledge we generate and the free dissemination we encourage, in addition to other invisible subsidies like military protection under the (fading) pax Americana.

Give me the short version! Recently I've been curious about books I should have read but never got around to, like "The Catcher in the Rye" and "Atlas Shrugged". There are lots of great books, "classics", that I'd really like to pick up some day but that aren't at the top of my list of things to do at the moment.

Are you in the same position? Then do what I do and go read book summaries on Wikipedia! The fastest way to find them is simply to go to Google and search for, e.g., "wikipedia the mythical man month". Most popular books have substantial summaries and analysis, so you can get the gist of a book without taking the time to read it. You'll be able to discuss the books at least as well as someone who read them back in high school, so you'll sound smart despite your laziness!

Also from reader JV, a nifty little tutorial on extracting AAA batteries from a 9V.

With a needlenose pliers, gently peel away the metal cover of the 9 volt battery. It should separate along the seam without much effort. Be careful though, because the metal edges can be sharp!

I remember thinking at one point that a 9 volt battery was just a small box full of acid or something, but as you can clearly see, this one is is just constructed of six smaller 1.5 volt cells wired in series.

I'm sure this will come in handy at some point in my life.

Lifehacker points to a near service called Celltrade that lets you transfer your cell service contract to someone else for a nominal fee.

So you want an iPhone when it ships in June (who doesn't?), but you're locked into a contract with your current provider. Try Celltrade, a service that helps you transfer your contract responsibility to someone else and effectively walk away without paying a hefty penalty.

All you do is set up a profile listing details about your provider, contract, phone, accessories and any incentives you care to add. Then you wait to be contacted by a Celltrade user who wants to take over your contract.

In other words, it's a matchmaking service. The actual transfer of contract responsibility, with all its required credit approvals and completion of forms, is handled by you and the other party. Plus, Celltrade charges $19.99 to actually connect you with interested parties (though you can gauge interest in your plan before paying anything).

Sounds like an interesting system, especially since my wife is trying to drop her plan so we can get onto the same provider.

(HT: Reader JV.)

Ok, so the title of the post is a bit of a rhetorical stretch, but I should get some points for trying.

Karl at Protein Wisdom had a great summary of the Jamil Hussein scandal with the Associated Press, near the end he goes into some of the other botched/faked coverage by the world's "premier" news wire.

The AP’s initial response to questions raised about Capt. Hussein stated that he “had a record of reliability and truthfulness,” neglecting to mention that the AP itself could not verify at least one of his prior claims and had contrary information. Moreover, The New York Times was unable to substantiate the story and reported that some neighborhood residents denied it. Similarly, the Washington Post reported that two local imams denied such an attack took place. Months later, disgraced former CNN exec. Eason Jordan found “conflicting and unconfirmed information regarding whether there’s a Captain Hussein and whether the reported immolation happened.” (I expect the left-leaning blogs that suddenly discover the Jamil Hussein story now will focus on the eeeevil right-wing blogs and largely ignore that The New York Times, WaPo and IraqSlogger were all a part of this particular VRWC.)

We now know there is a Capt. Hussein, but we pretty much knew that already; he appears to have been a source for al Jazeera before he was a source for the AP. But we are not much closer to knowing who he is—his background, possible biases arising from that background, the origin of his ability to be intimately aware of incidents outside his jurisdiction, why he claimed four mosques were burned, and so on. Nor are these moot questions, as it seems that most of the AP stories sourced to Hussein are not corroborated by other press accounts. Indeed, in this case, there remains no evidence of his claim that four mosques were attacked, and only the word of three anonymous Sunnis that six people were burned alive (one of whom contradicted the first AP story in one respect).

And so forth. In an update he mentions the horrendous AP coverage of Hurricane Katrina in which rapes and murders were reported that never happened. Throughout it all, AP executives have expressed dismay and anger at the thought that mere bloggers would question the AP's credibility by checking its sources.

(HT: Confederate Yankee.)

Marc Faber says the world market is in for a "correction" in 2007, just like 1987.

Marc Faber, who predicted the U.S. stock market crash in 1987, said global assets are poised for a ``severe correction'' and it's time to sell.

``In the next few months, we could get a severe correction in all asset markets,'' Faber said in an interview with Bloomberg Television in New York. ``In a selling panic you should buy, but in the buying mania that we have now the wisest course of action is to liquidate.''

Strategists at 14 of the biggest Wall Street firms all estimate that U.S. stocks will advance this year. The last time they were in agreement was for 2001, when the S&P 500 dropped 13 percent.

Though Rich Karlgaard thinks that signs point to a good 2007.

American stocks do well. Three reasons to predict another bullish year:

1. The ten-year U.S. Treasury is yielding 4.6%. This supports a broad market P/E of 22, which is 22% higher than today's P/E of 18.

2. A rash of buybacks, mergers and LBOs have shrunk the supply of stocks by 5% a year since 2002. Heed your supply-demand knowledge!

3. As Forbes columnist Ken Fisher has pointed out, stocks do best during a President's third year. The last negative third year was 1939. The last merely single-digit-gain third year was 1987. What about the risks--Middle East turmoil, protectionism, inflation, dollar collapse? Already priced into the market.

Global stocks do better. Since 1972 the MSCI EAFE (Morgan Stanley Capital International Europe, Australasia and Far East) Index (12.8% average annual return) has run neck and neck with the U.S. S&P Index (12.7%). But over any given two- to three-year period the performance differences between the two indexes are more dramatic. Low P/E ratios in the U.K., Germany and France--all below 15 right now--and sub-2% bond yields in Japan make the MSCI EAFE a good buy.

So who is right? I don't know... but I don't generally think it's smart to try to time the market.

(HT: My wife Jessica.)

This is sad, but apparently the first week of a new year is the busiest time for divorce attorneys.

It questioned 100 top divorce lawyers who all agreed the week beginning Monday, January 8 was one of their busiest of the year.

Leading divorce lawyer James Stewart, of Manches LLP said Christmas was often the final nail in the marital coffin - leading to a surge in the number of people instructing solicitors in the new year.

He said: "Extra time together can force problems that already exist in the relationship to come to a head.

"We're expecting this to be our busiest day and indeed our busiest week." for divorce attorneys.

Divorce is always depressing to me. I don't even like watching marital disputes in movies. Maybe I should have posted about something else.

Full Disclosure chronicles the demise of California with this latest entry about doomed public employee pension funds.

Los Angeles, CA In a bombshell expose of California’s massive unfunded public employee benefits Full Disclosure Network™ is featuring a two-part series with public employee officials and finance expert B. Scott Minerd, CEO Guggenheim Partners, Asset Management ...

Segment #1: Scott Minerd describes his role as a Managing Director of Credit Suisse he exposed the risky concentration in derivative securities which directly led to the liquidation of the Orange County investment portfolio and the county's subsequent bankruptcy." He defines the new GASB (General Accounting Standard Board) rules and estimates new disclosures will reveal $300 to $400 billion in unrecorded benefits owed to California public employees.

Segment #2: Will Municipal bankruptcies spread across California? Minerd suggests that pension benefit debt is unanticipated by the public and bond rating companies. The $300-$400 billion debt is “present value” but Minerd adds” the actual sum is more likely a trillion dollars.”

And there are four more parts after that, each explaining in greater detail how the politicians and greedy electorate have doomed California to eventual insolvency. I'm glad I'm out of there!

Sam Schulman has written an essay about the rudeness of modern atheist evangelists who act as if no one else throughout all history has wrestled with the questions they claim to have answered.

What is new about the new atheists? It's not their arguments. Spend as much time as you like with a pile of the recent anti-religion books, but you won't encounter a single point you didn't hear in your freshman dormitory. It's their tone that is novel. Belief, in their eyes, is not just misguided but contemptible, the product of provincial minds, the mark of people who need to be told how to think and how to vote--both of which, the new atheists assure us, they do in lockstep with the pope and Jerry Falwell.

For them, belief in God is beyond childish, it is unsuitable for children. Today's atheists are particularly disgusted by the religious training of young people--which Dr. Dawkins calls "a form of child abuse." He even floats the idea that the state should intervene to protect children from their parents' religious beliefs.

For the new atheists, believing in God is a form of stupidity, which sets off their own intelligence. They write as if they were the first to discover that biblical miracles are improbable, that Parson Weems was a fabulist, that religion is full of superstition. They write as if great minds had never before wrestled with the big questions of creation, moral law and the contending versions of revealed truth. They argue as if these questions are easily answered by their own blunt materialism. Most of all, they assume that no intelligent, reflective person could ever defend religion rather than dismiss it. The reviewer of Dr. Dawkins's volume in a recent New York Review of Books noted his unwillingness to take theology seriously, a starting point for any considered debate over religion.

Quite apropos... purportedly rational atheists might want to consider their delivery methods.

I never read Terry Brooks' Shannara series, but I quite enjoyed his 1987 novel "Magic Kingdom for Sale--Sold!" in which a disgruntled lawyer purchased a magic kingdom after reading a listing in the classifieds. The offered sale of the Principality of Sealand (a.k.a. Roughs Tower) won't be quite so adventurous, but it still evokes a little marvel.

A FORMER World War II fort in the North Sea, which was settled 40 years ago and declared a state with its own self-proclaimed royal family, is up for sale.

The tiny Principality of Sealand, which began life as Roughs Tower in 1941, is a 550 sq m steel platform perched on two concrete towers 11km off the coast of Harwich, eastern England.

It is accessible only by helicopter and boat but according to its owners, who want offers of eight digits or over, boasts uninterrupted sea views, guarantees complete privacy and is a tax haven.

Strange, for sure, and there probably aren't any wizards or dragons. Still, Sealand has an eventful history.

Roughs Tower, also known as HM Fort Roughs, is one of several World War II installations that were designed by Guy Maunsell and known collectively as His Majesty's Forts or the Maunsell Sea Forts. It is not an island, but a man-made structure, similar to an oil rig. The purpose of HM Fort Roughs was to guard the port of Harwich, Essex. It was constructed in the United Kingdom, towed into position and deliberately sunk at 51°53′40″N, 1°28′57″E on Rough Sands - a sandbar located approximately six miles from the coast of Suffolk and eight miles from the coast of Essex, England.

In October 1965 Roy Bates gained control of HM Fort John Knox after winning a physical fight over squatters representing the offshore station called Radio City. He wished to use it for radio broadcasting to the UK mainland.

Roy Bates decided to move his radio equipment from HM Fort John Knox to HM Fort Roughs after he was found guilty in the UK of illegal broadcasting from HM Fort John Knox. However, HM Fort Roughs was occupied by staff representing Ronan O'Rahilly who represented the two Radio Caroline ships which formed a British network. Physical fighting to gain control of HM Fort Roughs lasted until September 1967. Roy Bates and his associates finally physically expelled the existing squatters representing Radio Caroline, and on September 2 1967, he claimed it as his own.

The top story also claims that Bates defended Sealand from the British Navy in 1968!

(HT: Digg.)

The Independent is whining about potential terms for Iraqi oil development while handily ignoring inconvenient facts.

Iraq's massive oil reserves, the third-largest in the world, are about to be thrown open for large-scale exploitation by Western oil companies under a controversial law which is expected to come before the Iraqi parliament within days. ...

Oil industry executives and analysts say the law, which would permit Western companies to pocket up to three-quarters of profits in the early years, is the only way to get Iraq's oil industry back on its feet after years of sanctions, war and loss of expertise. But it will operate through "production-sharing agreements" (or PSAs) which are highly unusual in the Middle East, where the oil industry in Saudi Arabia and Iran, the world's two largest producers, is state controlled.

The fact of the matter is that there are no major non-Western oil companies that aren't state controlled. If you object to "Western" companies profiting, then who would you suggest should develop Iraq's oil? Saudi Arabia or Iran? China?

Furthermore, even state-controlled oil companies in the Middle East are only so financially... all the expertise comes from foreigners.

Supporters say the provision allowing oil companies to take up to 75 per cent of the profits will last until they have recouped initial drilling costs. After that, they would collect about 20 per cent of all profits, according to industry sources in Iraq. But that is twice the industry average for such deals.

When there's a lot of risk and not much profit to be had, even seemingly large percentages might not add up to many real dollars.

Greg Muttitt, a researcher for Platform, a human rights and environmental group which monitors the oil industry, said Iraq was being asked to pay an enormous price over the next 30 years for its present instability. "They would lose out massively," he said, "because they don't have the capacity at the moment to strike a good deal."

Well, that's the free market for you. Any different arrangement forced on oil companies at gunpoint would be a disservice to Iraq. The current instability is the fault of the people of Iraq and it has a definite cost to everyone, them included.

The full aspirations of our popular culture can be seen in the lives of those on whom it has had the opportunity to work its full effect. Most of us, despite our hedonistic inclinations, thankfully cannot partake fully of the trough slop the media serves us due to the constraints of "real life". However, celebrities are exempt from the requirements the rest of us live under and are thereby free to suffer the pathetic misery that is the inevitable culmination of our culture.

Britney's supposed to be cleaning up her act, but -- surprise, surprise -- she's not.

As a disheveled Brit left L.A.'s hip Italian eatery Dolce, she was overheard mumbling, "I love myself, I love myself," reports the New York Post. When a gawker told her she looked "beautiful," the party girl screeched, "I love you for saying that!"

She then celebrated the pat on the back by partying the night away at hotspot Le Deux.

It's hard to muster up sympathy for a millionaire who once had the world at her fingertips and is gradually throwing it away, but when I remember that money and fame are really rather unimportant I'm washed over by a wave of pity. Her marriage destroyed, her children raised by nannies, her body desecrated, her career in shambles... Britney Spears really has nothing left to live for but her nightly overdose of monetary morphine.

Yet another stark reminder that the world has a million trinkets to sell, but little of lasting value. It's a shame our culture can't glorify hard work, integrity, modesty, peacefulness, and responsibility.

As of last night we're effectively at war with Mexico, and it looks like we lost the first battle.

A U.S. Border Patrol entry Identification Team site was overrun Wednesday night along Arizona's border with Mexico.

According to the Border Patrol, an unknown number of gunmen attacked the site in the state's West Desert Region around 11 p.m. The site is manned by National Guardsmen. Those guardsmen were forced to retreat.

The Border Patrol will not say whether shots were fired.

Which means shots were fired. I don't mean to sound hysterical, but what is it besides war when armed soldiers, regular or irregular, cross our border and attack our military positions?

The Border patrol says the attackers quickly retreated back into Mexico.

The National Guard troops should be authorized to follow armed invaders back into Mexico and kill them. This sort of attack and retreat incursion is nothing less than a military probe of our capability and will. If such probes are met with weakness, expect further escalation.

In a development almost certain to create more worry than good, a clinic called Genetic Health is offering personalized genetic exams that will pinpoint an individual's areas of risk.

Dr Jenkins, a consultant physician at St Bartholomew's Hospital, London, is one of the expert medical team behind Genetic Health, a clinic that's just opened to identify those variations in your genes that have implications for your health.

It's well known that having some rare gene variations can put you at very high risk of certain diseases. For instance, if a woman has the faulty version of the BRCA1 gene she is 85 per cent more likely to develop breast cancer, and up to 40 per cent more likely to develop ovarian cancer.

Patients can be tested for these specific single genes. This new test is different - it pinpoints the group of genes linked with chronic diseases such as Alzheimer's and some cancers. The genes are not a death sentence, they just make a particular disease more or less likely depending on how you behave.

They can affect how flexible your arteries are, your chances of having raised blood pressure, how likely you are to age gracefully and whether you are doomed to feel hunger more keenly and lay down fat more easily. You can even discover how well you metabolise medication, and your chances of suffering from side effects.

And so forth. There are many things I'd personally like to know about myself, but I think I'm more stoic than the general population. I'm not sure that an average patient would be better off knowing their genetic fate. I don't think I'd be better off, it would just be kinda fun.

Here's an article on the psychology of seduction that is mainly interesting because it reveals the shallowness of our society's view of love and packages obvious truths as profound revelation.

According to Raj Persaud, there is one psychological trick that is guaranteed to make almost anyone fall in love with you: "Identify your target's favourite emotion, then simply go out of your way to supply that emotion in quantities that person has never experienced before," he says.

For example: how would you seduce a psychiatrist? Well, psychiatrists like to feel insightful, so if you met a psychiatrist and kept subtly responding to them in a way that led them to believe they were incredibly insightful, it's highly likely they would develop a deep bond with you.

"Particularly if you make sure they always feel much more insightful in your company than in anyone else's," he adds.

I suppose that could be counted as "seduction", but it's certainly not love. Love is more than just disingenuously feeding your partner whatever emotions she wants to feel. Being emotionally supportive is one important aspect of love (as I'm learning), but there's certainly much more to it than that.

Don't think based on the title of this post that a non-governing Congress is necessarily a bad thing, but the recent rout of Rahm Emanuel (D-IL) by Cindy Sheehan demonstrates exactly why the Democrats won't be able to get much done during their tenure in power.

House Democratic leaders were giving their first news conference of the year when the session in the Cannon building was hijacked by Cindy Sheehan and other antiwar demonstrators, some wearing tie-dyed apparel and pins comparing President Bush to Adolf Hitler. Just after Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) vowed, "We're gonna cut the interest rate in half for student loans," hecklers began to chant "De-escalate! Investigate! Troops home now!"

"That is exactly what we're talking about," Emanuel said, trying to appease the protesters. But the hecklers kept chanting, and he fled.

The Democratic leaders in retreat, Sheehan seized the microphone. "We put them back in power," she said of the Democrats. Passing out fliers calling for defunding the Iraq war, Sheehan shouted: "These are our demands. And they're not requests -- they're demands."

The biggest problem with the Democrat party is that their tent became so broad that they had to sacrifice depth. The party is little more than a conglomeration of tiny interest groups who share little in common except their hatred for religion, wealth, liberty, and President Bush.

Sheehan is right: she and her ilk did put the Democrats in power. Now that the Democrats used her to attain power, will they be able to keep their power and use it without kowtowing to the people they represent? If you want to get reelected, you've got to "dance with the one what brung ya", no matter how repulsive she is.

So what can the Democrats do? If they want to win the presidency in 2008, their best bet is to do as little as possible. Emanuel didn't confront Sheehan on her lunacy because she is his base, but he couldn't stay and be associated with her because he's really proud of the job he did orchestrating the Democrat's victory in 2004 and he'd like to keep building his political career. So he did the only thing he could: he ran away.

Here's a column about how to prevent confrontation with an aggressive dog, but the advice goes against what I've heard in other places. Opinions?

"Standing still and put your hands in pockets because they like to get hold of something," says Madeleine Forsyth, a veterinary surgeon and non-practising barrister based in York. "A waving arm is an obvious target."

Avoid eye contact because it is confrontational and it is always unwise to turn your back, says Miss Forsyth, so standing sideways and looking slightly away is advisable.

I've seen aggressive dogs back down when confronted with yelling and waving arms, and I've also seen them calm down when you ignore them. So what's the right answer?

If a dog does bite, do not pull away because that will tear the flesh, she says, but shout for help.

"Hope there is someone with a breaking stick to introduce between the jaws.

"Anything will do that can be slid between the teeth at the side, but given the strength of the jaw and the leverage, it would have to be a very powerful bit of stick or it will just break."

Rather than just hoping for a stick, wouldn't it be good to gouge the dog in the eye or punch it in the nose? I've also heard that scraping the top of the inside of the dog's mouth with your fingernails will bring good results. A knife to the neck or gut would probably also be helpful.

I've long wondered why the shortest day of the year is not also the coldest, and USA Today offers an explanation that sounds wrong to me.

We could think of the air in such a place as being like a bank account. If you add money to a bank account, it grows. If you add heat to air it warms up. The Earth is always losing heat, like a bank account that you're always taking some money from. If the amount of heat arriving from the sun is exactly equal to the amount leaving, the temperature stays the same.

As days grow longer in spring and early meteorological summer, the balance tips to more heat arriving than leaving. This is like adding money to the account faster than you are withdrawing it. The air grows warmer and warmer. On the longest day, the amount of heat arriving is greatest. But, even after the days begin growing shorter, the amount of heat arriving is more than the amount leaving. It's like continuing to add more money to the bank account than you're taking out, even though you are adding less than you were before.

Sometime in the late summer or during the fall, depending on how far north of the equator you are, the heat "account" is in balance. From then on, more heat is leaving than arriving and the days grow colder. Now, you're taking out more than you're adding to the account.

In December, when days are shortest, the "withdrawals" from the heat account are greatest. But even after the days start growing longer, more heat is leaving than arriving. The heat account is growing smaller, even though less heat is leaving. Eventually, however, you arrive at a day when the amounts of heat leaving and arriving are in balance. Then, the amount of heat being put into the account becomes greater than the amount being withdrawn. The air begins warming up.

Why does this explanation strike me as wrong? Because everyone knows that air doesn't take months to warm or cool. Every day the air gets warmer, and every night it gets cooler, often swinging by tens of degrees in a few hours. It doesn't make any sense to claim that air can warm from 32 degrees at 6am to 65 degrees at 1pm, but that the daily high takes months to migrate from 40 degrees to 60 degrees.

The temperature at any given moment appears to be directly tied to how long the sun has been up... but still, the coldest day of the year isn't the shortest, nor is the hottest the longest. There must be more going on than I'm aware of, and I don't think the "bank account" explanation covers it.

Aside from Europe's escalating problem with Islamists, it's growing harder and to even consider the various EUocratic states to be democracies in any real sense of the word.

By contrast, Tim Hames, of the London Times, supported toppling the butcher but not killing him. "Mainstream middle-class sentiment in Europe," he wrote, "now regards the death penalty as being as ethically tainted as the crimes that produced the sentence."

"Mainstream middle-class sentiment" translates into English as: "People I meet at dinner parties."

According to a poll published in Le Monde, the majority of Spaniards, Germans, French and British were all in favor of executing Saddam.

Indeed, Mr. Hames' fellow Britons aren't that far behind the Neanderthal Yanks in their enthusiasm for a good ol' ethically-tainted hanging: 69% of respondents in the United Kingdom supported the death penalty for the dictator versus 82% in America. Mr. Hames apparently defines "mainstream" opinion as the position held by under a third of his countrymen, not the 70% extremist fringe.

Despite those numbers expressing the rather strong wills of the peoples, none of those countries have capital punishment.

I'm back to work and going hard at it. Lots to do.

The spam problem is getting unmanageable again, even with MT-Blacklist. I'm trying to nag my admin into upgrading our Movable Type installation because the new version supposedly has a new system that resolves a lot of the spam issues. Until then, my motivation is low because it takes hours to delete the spam.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from January 2007 listed from newest to oldest.

December 2006 is the previous archive.

February 2007 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.


Email blogmasterofnoneATgmailDOTcom for text link and key word rates.

Site Info