February 2008 Archives

Based on this piece about Barack Obama and Tony Rezko by Rick Moran I was about to post about how well the two knew each other, but it looks like Moran got some otherwise juicy information wrong. He writes:

If you listened to Obama, you would think that he barely knows Rezko. He has told the press he had lunch with him “a couple of times a year” and that he and his wife socialized with the Rezkos “2 to 4 times a year.”

That sounds like a lot of socializing! Obama has been active in Chicago politics for some 17 years, which would mean he, his wife, and the Rezkos went to dinner together up to 68 times! That's no casual acquaintance... how many couples have you and your wife gone to dinner with 68 times? However, the NYT story actually says this:

When Mr. Obama first fielded questions about Mr. Rezko last fall, he said they had had lunch once or twice a year and had socialized with their wives “two to four times.”

That's "two to four times" in total, not per year. Big difference. Did the NYT change its story after Moran wrote his? Or did Moran not read his source material closely enough? Heck, I've done that before myself, which is why it's great that Moran posted a link to his source. If the MSM did the same I bet we'd catch a lot more of their mistakes too.

Here's a retirement calculator that's a lot slicker and simpler than many I've seen. I also like it because it shows that Jessica and I are in pretty good shape.... Gotta remember that our ultimate security comes from God though, not our jobs or assets.

Anyone have any leap day rituals?

Crazy episode. My thoughts:

Ben is the captain of the ship. Future-Ben. That's why Ben isn't afraid of dying on the Island, because he knows he survives into the future. Ben is his own spy on the ship. Awesome. That's how Ben knows everything about everyone.

Time on the Island moves at the same rate as the outside world, but there's some sort of discontinuity. Crossing from the Island to the outside or vice versa causes weird time effects, but time on both sides of the discontinuity passes at the same rate. Otherwise voices on the radio phones would be change pitch or have other distortions.

Faraday can see flashes into the future as a result of not protecting his head during his experiments. That's why he could identify some of the cards Charlotte had upside-down on the table.

Miles' backwards-talking is communication with ghosts, and he'll be able to talk to the Whispers that everyone hears in the jungle.

The site On The Issues has great summaries of the positions of John McCain, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama on various issues, supported by their own words and links to the quotes. What a great resource.

A Missouri man was threatened with jail for not paying a red-light camera ticket, but when he got a lawyer the city of Arnold dropped the ticket.

The lawsuit by Fenton residents James and Kara Hoekstra alleges that the ticketing process is illegal and unconstitutional, collecting fines through fraud and extortion to benefit the city and its red-light camera contractor. It seeks unspecified damages from the city, several city officials, and the contractor, American Traffic Solutions Inc.

The couple received a ticket in the mail from Arnold on Aug. 15, accusing them of running a red light in a 2005 Jeep on July 29. It demanded a payment of $94.50. City records show it was one of 13,921 citations issued between October 2005 and Jan. 24, 2008.

The lawsuit said James Hoekstra was threatened with arrest when he refused to pay, but that the city dropped the ticket after he got a lawyer.

There's a possibility that the red-light cameras violate state law, and the allegation is that the city dropped the ticket so it wouldn't have to defend its cameras in court and risk losing the system entirely.

Chris Anderson writes about the economics of "free". Everyone who's reading this blog has to know that everything the internet touches gets cheaper, and anything that exists entirely as bytes will eventually be free. This article describes how it happened and where it may be taking us.

(HT: GeekPress.)

A fun mental experiment called Newcomb's paradox:

The player of the game is presented with two opaque boxes, labeled A and B. The player is permitted to take the contents of both boxes, or just of box B. (The option of taking only box A is ignored, for reasons soon to be obvious.) Box A contains $1,000. The contents of box B, however, are determined as follows: At some point before the start of the game, the [infallible] Predictor makes a prediction as to whether the player of the game will take just box B, or both boxes. If the Predictor predicts that both boxes will be taken, then box B will contain nothing. If the Predictor predicts that only box B will be taken, then box B will contain $1,000,000.

By the time the game begins, and the player is called upon to choose which boxes to take, the prediction has already been made, and the contents of box B have already been determined. That is, box B contains either $0 or $1,000,000 before the game begins, and once the game begins even the Predictor is powerless to change the contents of the boxes. Before the game begins, the player is aware of all the rules of the game, including the two possible contents of box B, the fact that its contents are based on the Predictor's prediction, and knowledge of the Predictor's infallibility. The only information withheld from the player is what prediction the Predictor made, and thus what the contents of box B are.

The problem is called a paradox because two strategies that both sound intuitively logical give conflicting answers to the question of what choice maximizes the player's payout. The first strategy argues that, regardless of what prediction the Predictor has made, taking both boxes yields more money. That is, if the prediction is for both A and B to be taken, then the player's decision becomes a matter of choosing between $1,000 (by taking A and B) and $0 (by taking just B), in which case taking both boxes is obviously preferable. But, even if the prediction is for the player to take only B, then taking both boxes yields $1,001,000, and taking only B yields only $1,000,000—the difference is comparatively slight in the latter case, but taking both boxes is still better, regardless of which prediction has been made.

The second strategy suggests taking only B. By this strategy, we can ignore the possibilities that return $0 and $1,001,000, as they both require that the Predictor has made an incorrect prediction, and the problem states that the Predictor cannot be wrong. Thus, the choice becomes whether to receive $1,000 (both boxes) or to receive $1,000,000 (only box B)—so taking only box B is better.

In his 1969 article, Nozick noted that "To almost everyone, it is perfectly clear and obvious what should be done. The difficulty is that these people seem to divide almost evenly on the problem, with large numbers thinking that the opposing half is just being silly."

So which half are you in?

Tangential to the evolution debate:

Pick an encoding... the message is in there somewhere.

About a year ago I wrote about a compressed air car prototype, and it looks like plans are moving towards production in 2009 or 2010.

Zero Pollution Motors (ZPM) confirmed to PopularMechanics.com on Thursday that it expects to produce the world’s first air-powered car for the United States by late 2009 or early 2010. As the U.S. licensee for Luxembourg-based MDI, which developed the Air Car as a compression-based alternative to the internal combustion engine, ZPM has attained rights to build the first of several modular plants, which are likely to begin manufacturing in the Northeast and grow for regional production around the country, at a clip of up to 10,000 Air Cars per year.

And while ZPM is also licensed to build MDI’s two-seater OneCAT economy model (the one headed for India) and three-seat MiniCAT (like a SmartForTwo without the gas), the New Paltz, N.Y., startup is aiming bigger: Company officials want to make the first air-powered car to hit U.S. roads a $17,800, 75-hp equivalent, six-seat modified version of MDI’s CityCAT (pictured above) that, thanks to an even more radical engine, is said to travel as far as 1000 miles at up to 96 mph with each tiny fill-up.

Still not sure how they're going to deal with the danger of carrying highly-compressed air around with you. As I mentioned last year: gasoline-powered cars rarely explode, but compressed gas containers can easily explode if punctured in an accident.

Here's a slideshow that explains the subprime mortgage debacle using stick figures. I guess it's a little last-year, but still amusing.

(HT: My Money Blog.)

In addition to driving Hummers instead of Priuses, real environmentalists drive short distances instead of walking.

I ask because I came across an interesting challenge to the notion that taking short trips in a car is bad for the planet. This challenge comes from Chris Goodall, the author of “How to Live A Low-Carbon Life.” Mr. Goodall is a member of the Green Party in Britain and a devout environmentalist — he says he has ceased air travel because of its emissions. But he also questions how much good is being done by eliminating short trips by car. In fact, he says that in some circumstances it’s better to drive than to walk. ...

If you walk 1.5 miles, Mr. Goodall calculates, and replace those calories by drinking about a cup of milk, the greenhouse emissions connected with that milk (like methane from the dairy farm and carbon dioxide from the delivery truck) are just about equal to the emissions from a typical car making the same trip. And if there were two of you making the trip, then the car would definitely be the more planet-friendly way to go.

And yes, that includes the amortized carbon "footprint" of the car manufacturing and food production processes.

Presumably this implies that walking across the country produces far more carbon dioxide than flying across the country.

(HT: Megan McArdle.)

Billed as a "citizenship" test, here's a decently hard-but-short American history test. I got 26/30, and a couple of the ones I missed were easy in hindsight.

Looks like Congress recently changed some pension laws in a way that makes it extremely important for anyone who has the option to take a lump-sum from their pension to do it ASAP:

Are you now or have you ever been covered by a defined benefit pension, the kind that pays so many dollars per month? Would you prefer to take your benefits in a lump sum?

Then pay attention: The lump sum benefit you've already earned is likely to shrink over the next five years. In 2006, in response to complaints from corporations that the old method for calculating minimum lump sums was too generous, Congress created a new, less generous one. It's being phased in over five years, beginning in 2008. Younger workers take the biggest hit; by 2012 lump sums for today's 35-year-olds are projected to be 44% lower than they would have been under the old law. And since this was Congress' doing, the Internal Revenue Service has ruled that employers don't even need to warn employees about the change.

Not me, more than 11 million Americans will be affected by this change in law.

In the epic tradition of pirate vs. ninja, the US Government presents missile vs. satellite:

The explosion is pretty cool. I hope they release the high definition video that General Cartwright mentions.

I rarely use Internet Explorer, but I'm forced to at this hotel and I see that two of the columns on the front page of the site appear to be overlapping. Does anyone else see this, or is it just a visual artifact caused by the hotel browser/connection/whatever?

Based on the timeline, I don't think there's going to be much substance to the charge of plagiarism that Hillary Clinton is leveling at Barack Obama.

Clinton communications director Howard Wolfson, during a conference call with reporters, pointed to a speech Obama delivered at a Democratic Party dinner in Wisconsin Saturday that lifted lines from an address given last year by his friend, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick.

The Associated Press reported in January that Obama had borrowed ideas and speech points from Patrick, often without attribution. But with Obama now leading in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, Clinton's campaign is using this example in an attempt to chip away at the premise of his candidacy.

If this information has been out there since January, then there's only one reason why the Clinton camp has held it for so long: they've done the research and couldn't find any more examples of plagiarism by Obama. If they had more than one arrow in their quiver they would have been shooting them for weeks, not saving it up for the news cycle before the March 4 primaries in Texas and Ohio.

That said, Obama's mis-step highlights once again his inexperience and naivity. Will this plagiarism swing enough votes to let Hillary win in Texas and Ohio, as she needs to do to save her candidacy? Who knows. It won't swing any black voters, but it might dampen enthusiam among his supporters. I'll be very surprised though if further research at this point turns up more instances of stolen words.

Former CIA case officer Marc Gerecht explains that Sunni extremism is in retreat all around the world thanks to our ongoing success in Iraq. This is the best news I've heard since 2001; it must make the Democrats nervous about their electoral chances in November, despite their obvious pleasure at America's victory.

Throughout the Arab world, fundamentalism today is much stronger on the ground than it was in the 1980s. Yet the fundamentalist commitment to the Iraqi Sunni Arab insurgency pales in comparison with that made to Sunni Afghans.

A second striking fact about Islamism and the Iraq war is that the arrival of foreign holy warriors is deradicalizing the local population -- the exact opposite of what happened in Afghanistan. In the Soviet war, the "Arab Afghans" arrived white-hot -- their radicalization had occurred at home in the 1960s and 1970s, when Islamic fundamentalism replaced secular Arab nationalism as the driving intellectual force. On the subcontinent, Arab holy warriors accelerated extreme Islamism among both Afghans and Pakistanis. We are still living with the results.

In Iraq, as we have seen with the anti-al-Qaeda, Sunni Arab "Awakenings," Sunni extremism is now in retreat. More important, the gruesome anti-Shiite tactics of extremist groups, combined with the much-quoted statements made by former Sunni insurgents about the positive actions of the United States in Iraq, have caused a great deal of intellectual turbulence in the Arab world.

That final emphasized phrase is the key. "Intellectual turbulence" is what President Bush and other invasion-supporters intended back in 2003, and that sort of radical rethinking in the Muslim world is what will ultimately win the War on Terror. (A radical rethinking on our part is what will lose the war.) It's either that, or a fight to the death between Islam and the West -- for the sake of Muslims around the world I hope it doesn't come to that.

(HT: Iraq Pundit, who is an Iraqi in Iraq and endorses Gerecht's perspective; and Instapundit.)


Oooo, instalanche, keen! [insert obligatory "look around, you might find something you like" promo here]

Former LAPD detective Mark Fuhrman is at it again, this time trying to frame The Juice for beating up on his girlfriend.

O.J. Simpson's girlfriend, Christie Prody, was hospitalized with head injuries this week and those injuries are consistent with assault, not a fall, the National Enquirer is reporting. They were the ones that first broke the news of the hospitalization.

Simpson contends that Prody was drunk and fell, causing her injuries, but cops aren't convinced and insiders are saying otherwise.

Christie may be facing brain surgery.

The cops "aren't convinced" because they're trying to set OJ up again! They'll never be happy as long as The Juice is loose.

(HT: The Wife.)

Ever wonder what happened after Mario fell into one of the pits?

(HT: RD.)

I find it difficult to carry on conversations about current events with people who don't read Drudge. C'mon people. Get informed.

I've linked to Robert Zubrin's flex-fuel vehicle plan before, but I think it needs frequent promotion. If we can undercut OPEC we can defund our enemies in the War on Terror and spur our economy at the same time.

However, there is now a way to break OPEC, a surprisingly simple one. What is needed is for Congress to pass a law requiring that all new cars sold (not just made, but sold) in the U.S. be flex-fueled — that is, be able to run on any combination of gasoline or alcohol fuels. Such cars already exist — two dozen different models of flex-fuel vehicles (FFVs) are being produced by Detroit’s Big Three this year — and they only cost about $100 more than identical models that can run on gasoline only. (The switch to FFV requires only two minor upgrades: in the materials used in the fuel line and in the software controlling the electronic fuel injector.)

FFVs currently command only about 3 percent of the new-car market. After all, there is little upside for consumers to own one, with alcohol-fuel pumps being nearly as rare as unicorns. Little wonder: Why should gas-station owners dedicate one of their pumps to alcohol fuels (like E85 — a mix of 85-percent ethanol and 15-percent gasoline — or M50 — a mix of half methanol and half gasoline) when only a tiny percentage of cars can use them? But, within three years of the enactment of an FFV mandate, there would be 50 million cars on American roads capable of running on high-alcohol fuels. Under those conditions, fuel pumps dispensing E85 and M50 would be everywhere — creating, for the first time, an effectively open market in vehicle fuels, and competition for OPEC oil.

By mandating that all new cars sold in the U.S. have flex-fuel capacity, we would induce all foreign automakers who want access to the American car market to switch their lines to flex fuel as well, effectively making flex fuel the international standard. In addition to the 50 million FFVs we’d see in the U.S. in three years, there would be hundreds of millions more worldwide that could be powered by any number of alternative fuels derived from numerous sources around the globe, forcing gasoline to compete everywhere. This would effectively break the vertical monopoly that the oil cartel currently holds on the world’s fuel supply, constraining prices to the $50-per-barrel range (where alcohol fuels become competitive).

Such a development would also create a market that would mobilize tens of billions of dollars of private investment into techniques for the production of cellulosic ethanol and other advanced alcohol fuels. Those investments will further reduce the price of alcohol fuels and will radically expand America’s and our allies’ potential resource base (although methanol already can be produced from any kind of biomass, without exception, as well as coal, natural gas, and urban trash).

Yes, it's a government economic mandate that I'm in favor of -- primarily for national security reasons. The economic argument is also compelling, because infrastructure natural monopolies are hard to dislodge otherwise.

Everyone knows the Congressional "investigation" into steroid use in baseball is a ridiculous joke. However, I'm in favor of it! In fact, I think every Congressional committee should spend the rest of the year holding hearings, getting autographs, and investigating whether or not grown men are cheating at a ball game.

Why? Because Congress is largely incompetent. They're like an anti-King Midas: everything they touch turns to crap. Sure, there are hundreds of problems in our country with vastly more import than whether or not ball players cheat, but that's all the more reason to keep Congress distracted by celebrities and inanity. Every day they spend investigating baseball is a day they aren't raising taxes, writing earmarks, wasting money on social engineering, restricting our liberties, humiliating us in the eyes of our enemies, and undermining the War on Terror.

So I say, on with the hearings! This way, our prosecutors and judges can spend their valuable time pursuing important crimes.

Despite recent cries by at least one Missouri state legislator for a repeal of our state's liberal concealed-carry law, it's pretty obvious that concealed weapons would have saved lives at Kirkwood City Hall last week.

Thornton fired all six rounds from the revolver and an unspecified number of shots from the .40-caliber semiautomatic pistol he took after killing police Sgt. William Biggs near City Hall, Panus said. There were some shots still left in the police weapon.

Thorton killed the two police officers on the scene first, because he knew they had guns. They were carrying their guns in plain view, so he knew they were threats. If any of the other people present had been carrying a concealed weapon, Thorton likely could have been stopped long before he killed half-a-dozen more people.

St. Louis County police Officer Tracy Panus said Wednesday that it remained unclear whether Thornton owned the large-caliber revolver he took to the scene. "If it had been stolen, I bet we would have heard by now," she said.

There was no indication whether Thornton had a concealed-carry permit, which is not a public record in Missouri.

I'll bet you $100 that Thorton didn't have a CCW. CCW holders are 300 times less likely to commit crimes than people without permits. Not 300% less likely, 300 times less likely. That's 30,000%. Repealing the CCW law wouldn't have stopped Thorton, but it would guarantee that the would-be victims of such massacres will be unable to defend themselves.

Citizens, except for the council-members themselves, are prohibited from carrying concealed weapons in city government buildings by state law, and that regulation set the stage for this tragedy. The recent Tinley Park shootings could also have been stopped if one or more of the five murdered women had been carrying a concealed weapon. The only people stopped by gun restrictions are law-abiding citizens. The psychos manage to get weapons despite the laws. "Gun-free zones" seem to be some of the most dangerous places.

(HT: St. Louis CofCC Blog.)

Happy Valentine's Day!

Here's the best write-up that I've found about the assassination of terrorist Imad Mugniyah.

I've written before that the LHC is not likely to destroy the universe, and it's also unlikely to own a wormhole to the past or future.

The European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) hopes its "atom-smashing" tests - which aim to recreate the conditions in the first billionth of a second after the "Big Bang'" created everything - will shed invaluable light on the origins of the universe.

But Irina Aref'eva and Igor Volovich, of Moscow's Steklov Mathematical Institute, say the energy produced by forcing tiny particles to collide at close to the speed of light could open the door to visitors from the future.

According to Einstein's general theory of relativity, any large amounts of matter or energy will distort the space and time that surrounds it.

If the energy or mass is large enough, it is claimed that time can be distorted so much that it folds back on itself - creating a wormhole, or time tunnel, between the present and the future.

I'll be going, and for $5 I'll bring you back a copy of Grays Sports Almanac. Just hit the PayPal button to the right.

(HT: GeekPress and Gravity Lens.)

It's short, but watch to the end for the camera and alarm sounds.

(HT: Luke.)

These videos are absolutely priceless. Sean Hannity asks two different groups of Barack Obama supporters, a week apart, to name just one significant accomplishment by their favored candidate.

A sampling of answers:

  • "Pass"
  • "He's a great orator, like Jesse Jackson"
  • "He's inspirational"
  • "He served in the Senate"
  • "He votes in the Senate"
  • "He gave a speech to not go to war in Iraq"
  • "Pass"
  • "He's the only African American senator in the Senate"

Basically, he hasn't accomplished anything and is in no way qualified to run a gas station, much less a country.

(HT: Allman and Crane.)

The comments to the first post with this title were quite interesting. Rather that respond at length there, I've decided to put my thoughts in a new post so that the conversation stays near the top of the queue.

I think Ben Bateman has done an admirable job, and his eloquent explanation of Intelligent Design is well worth reading. In response to commenters Bernardo and Mauyr, I think there are a couple of points that Mr. Bateman made that got lost in the shuffle.

1) Mutations are in exponential space, information is in linear space. I don't see how this can be overcome, and in fact long periods of time and large populations work against information accumulation. Despite Mauyr's characterization of natural selection as "aggressively favoring" beneficial mutations, that's only true for mutations that accumulate to the point of being useful. So even if Behe isn't convincing to you, you must concede that his arguments drastically weaken the power of natural selection.

2) Mutations don't seem to be randomly distributed. From my limited research there appears to be a rather small set of very common mutations, all harmful, largely cancerous. (Mostly studied in humans, for obvious reasons.) So the information generation through mutation is probably significantly less than linear in an exponential space. Perhaps logarithmic, but that's purely speculation.

Finally, I think Darwin's motivations and beliefs matter more than, e.g., Newton's or Shakespeare's. Plenty of people have used Darwin's theories to support all sorts of evil, from fascism to eugenics to genocide. I'm not aware of any fans of Newton with an aggressive alchemy agenda. Nor, to my knowledge, does Shakespeare's antisemitism provoke many non-fictional villains.

In fact, I believe that the rise of Darwin's dogma and the vehemence of some of its defenders can be traced back to the same philosophy that motivated Darwin. There are a great many people who desperately want to believe that men are no better than apes, that the human race is a cancer on the planet, that a man is worth no more than what he produces, and that the role of government is to protect and coddle a population that is incapable of self-determination. These are all pernicious deceptions, and evolution is the cornerstone of this philosophy.

People who push evolution would have you believe that they approached the question with complete neutrality, performed some intellectually rigorous research, and subsequently concluded that evolution is the most likely explanation for life as we know it. In fact, their journey was more like this: starting with rejection of God as an axiom, man spent thousands of years searching for an explanation for life that could explain existence without him. Darwin proposed an untestable process that cannot be refuted because it cannot be observed, and because of this non-falsifiability the people who were already eager to discard any notion of the divine latched onto it and built their secular humanist religion upon it. They present evolution as the cause and their disbelief in God as the effect, but in reality those roles are reversed.

Questioning the validity of evolution is unacceptable and provokes rage because it threatens the very foundation of secular humanism. Without a godless creation myth secularists would be forced to confront spiritual matters on a personal level rather than with skepticism and detachment, which is a scary prospect for any man.

The recently-ended writers' strike cost Los Angeles more than $2 billion, not including "trickle-down" effects.

"That's a pretty bomb-proof number. Employees are not getting paid," Lindgren said. "But it does not take into account the trickle down effect."

One particularly hard-hit industry in that "trickle down" category is limousines. Experts estimate there are about 1,200 limo companies and 6,000 drivers in Los Angeles.

Alan Shanedling, president of the Greater California Livery Assn., confirms that November and December weren't a problem, but the new year "has been devastating."

Shanedling's own company, Fleetwood Limousine, lost $200,000 in revenue in January alone, and his 34 drivers missed out on $30,000 in tips, money they couldn't spend elsewhere and the cause of more trickle-down pain.

Because of the stripped-down Golden Globes ceremony, for example, several limo companies that were to supply 800 cars saw that business disappear along with 6,400 hours of work for drivers.

Maybe in the future these folks will be quicker to understand the trickle-down benefits of tax cuts?

My Money Blog analyzes how to choose a mortgage length and his conclusion is the same I reached when I bought my first house six years ago.

Here’s the thing. Just because you have a 30-year mortgage doesn’t mean you have to take 30 years to pay it off. As long as you don’t have a prepayment penalty, you can simply send in additional money towards your loan principal and pay it off in 8, 15, or 23.5 years. However, if you have a 15-year mortgage, you have to make those higher payments every month or risk losing your home. So going for the longer term essentially sets you a “minimum payment”, which you can exceed as you wish. This can make a big difference if I run into extended unemployment or other large financial setbacks. ...

I ended going with the 30-year fixed mortgage, primarily due to the reasons explained in Viewpoint #3. I am not against paying off our house early - I actually like the idea of having my home paid off as it would help simplify our income planning in retirement. (I could also treat paying it off early as owning a bond.) However, the flexibility of being able to make the lower payments as needed was a big draw, especially given the relatively small premium for doing so. Finally, if we rent the house out one day, the lower payment would also help with managing rental cashflow.

So why not a 40-year mortgage here as well? As you go longer, the mortgage payment stops dropping very much. A 40-year loan would involve an even higher rate and only lower our payment by 4%.

It doesn't surprise me that the standard term length is also the most generally advantageous. That's how markets work.

Did anyone else have no idea about the full title of Darwin's "masterpiece" that is now commonly referred to simply as On the Origin of Species?

Those who argue at school board meetings that Darwin should be taught in public schools seldom have taken the time to read him. If they knew the full title of On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life, they might have gained some inkling of the racism propagated by this controversial theorist. Had they actually read Origin, they likely would be shocked to learn that among Darwin's scientifically based proposals was the elimination of "the negro and Australian peoples," which he considered savage races whose continued survival was hindering the progress of civilization.

In his next book, The Descent of Man (1871), Darwin ranked races in terms of what he believed was their nearness and likeness to gorillas. Then he went on to propose the extermination of races he "scientifically" defined as inferior. If this were not done, he claimed, those races, with much higher birthrates than "superior" races, would exhaust the resources needed for the survival of better people, eventually dragging down all civilization.

Darwin even argued that advanced societies should not waste time and money on caring for the mentally ill, or those with birth defects. To him, these unfit members of our species ought not to survive.

Uh, yeah. As Professor Tony Campolo writes in the rest of the article, Darwin's philosophy is no less morally and spiritually influenced than the theory of intelligent design. It even has its own gods: whites. I can't figure out why they didn't mention any of this in high school... it's almost like the secular humanist education system was trying to brainwash me by teaching half-truths and concealing all contrary viewpoints.

(HT: Ed Driscoll and Brothers Judd.)

John Tabin explains how the Democrats are heading for a no-win convention that is doomed to alienate their eventual nominee from some important constituency.

The Democrats seem to be on a collision course toward an ugly fight. The proportional allocation rules they adopted in the '70s will make it very difficult for either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama to secure a majority of delegates on the strength of electoral success alone. An internal Obama campaign memo that was leaked earlier this week projected that after the last primary vote is cast, Obama will have 1806 delegates and Clinton will have 1789. Neither figure would constitute a majority, which means that the nomination would have to be decided by appeals to the superdelegates -- 796 Democratic leaders and elected officials who can vote at the convention however they like -- or even by a fight over whether to seat the Florida and Missouri delegations.

Duncan revealed that Howard Dean has called him up and asked if the RNC would be enforcing their sanctions on states that scheduled caucuses or primaries earlier than RNC rules allowed. Duncan told him that they would be ("we're the law and order party," he joked). Republican candidates may end up bringing their alternate delegates to St. Paul, and those people may get to attend as guests, but probably not as voting delegates. ...

The same isn't true of the Democratic sanctions. By adopting those draconian rules, the DNC put itself in an impossible position; if they don't enforce the sanctions, particularly if it turns out to matter, Obama's supporters will be furious -- they agreed not to campaign in Florida and Michigan, and weren't even on the ballot in the latter state. If the DNC does enforce the sanctions, they'll alienate not just the Clinton faction but also two battleground states.

More details about the problems with Michigan and Florida:

There is a growing sense of urgency about the need to deal with the Michigan-Florida issue, but no easy resolution. What happens could decide whether Hillary Rodham Clinton or Barack Obama becomes the party's presidential nominee.

The Democratic National Committee sanctioned Michigan and Florida for moving up their nominating contests in violation of party rules; it declared their primaries unofficial and denied them the right to seat their delegations in Denver. At the time of the sanctions, there was a widespread assumption that the eventual nominee would relent and allow both states full participation at the convention.

That was when it was also assumed that there would be an early outcome to the Clinton-Obama contest and that the winner could appear magnanimous toward two states with pivotal roles in the general election. That was when it was assumed the delegates wouldn't matter in the nomination battle. Today, it's clear they could.

The decision to seat the Florida and Michigan delegates could be the decision that chooses the nominee. If that happens, supporters of the losing candidate will obviously feel angry and disenfranchised... that after all the millions of votes cast, the selection will come down to some old, rich, white men in a smoke-filled room. What's more, if the delegates from Michigan and Florida aren't seated, those important states could be driven away from the Democrats during the general election.

Finally, the superdelegates will have to vote, and if their pick doesn't line up with the rest of the Democrat voters, watch out. Just imagine a scenario in which Barack Obama wins more votes and more delegates than Hillary, but not enough to make a majority. If the superdelegates then break towards Hillary and give her the victory, as is widely expected, there could be riots.

I love it. I've been looking forward to 2008 for a long time!

(HT: Jules Crittenden and Glenn Reynolds.)

Here's a lawsuit that could create a form of school vouchers through tax deductions if the plaintiffs are successful.

A Jewish couple's bid to take a tax deduction they say the IRS reserves only for members of the Church of Scientology is getting a friendly reception from a federal appeals court, increasing the possibility of a ruling that could create a tax break for taxpayers of many religions who pay tuition to religious schools.

During arguments on the case this week, three judges who ride the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals expressed deep skepticism of the IRS's position that the way the agency treats Scientologists is irrelevant to the deductions the Orthodox Jews, Michael and Marla Sklar, took for part of their children's day school tuition and for after-school classes in Jewish law.

"The view of the IRS is it can unconstitutionally violate the Constitution by establishing religion, by treating one religion more favorably than other religions in terms of what is allowed as deductions, and there can never be any judicial review of that?" Judge Kim Wardlaw asked at the court session Monday in Pasadena, Calif.

Basically the IRS has been allowing scientolgists to deduct the cost of their "education" from their taxes since at least 1994, but refusing to treat Christians, Jews, Muslims, or any other religion the same way. Apparently there's quite a history between the IRS and Scientology, and the IRS agreed to this special treatment in exchange for the Church of Scientology dropping thousands of lawsuits against the agency in 1993.

A policy of tax-deductible private school tuition would be superior to any form of distributivist school voucher scheme I've yet seen. Let's hope this case continues to play out favorably.

(HT: TaxProf Blog.)

I'm incredibly blessed to have found true love and companionship in my wife, but I think many people would be happier if they were less picky and learned to settle. I especially like this metaphor:

What I didn’t realize when I decided, in my 30s, to break up with boyfriends I might otherwise have ended up marrying, is that while settling seems like an enormous act of resignation when you’re looking at it from the vantage point of a single person, once you take the plunge and do it, you’ll probably be relatively content. It sounds obvious now, but I didn’t fully appreciate back then that what makes for a good marriage isn’t necessarily what makes for a good romantic relationship. Once you’re married, it’s not about whom you want to go on vacation with; it’s about whom you want to run a household with. Marriage isn’t a passion-fest; it’s more like a partnership formed to run a very small, mundane, and often boring nonprofit business. And I mean this in a good way.

I don’t mean to say that settling is ideal. I’m simply saying that it might have gotten an undeservedly bad rap. As the only single woman in my son’s mommy-and-me group, I used to listen each week to a litany of unrelenting complaints about people’s husbands and feel pretty good about my decision to hold out for the right guy, only to realize that these women wouldn’t trade places with me for a second, no matter how dull their marriages might be or how desperately they might long for a different husband. They, like me, would rather feel alone in a marriage than actually be alone, because they, like me, realize that marriage ultimately isn’t about cosmic connection—it’s about how having a teammate, even if he’s not the love of your life, is better than not having one at all.

I'm deeply in love with my wife, but running our household is very much like running a small business. Having a committed partner is absolutely wonderful.

(HT: Instapundit and Eugene Volokh.)

For anyone out there, like me, unlucky enough to never have worked as a long-haul trucker, here's a virtual tour of the inside of a Peterbilt Model 389. Looks a bit bigger than my college dorm room, and a lot more comfortable.

For anyone out there, like me, unlucky enough to never have worked at a fast-food restaurant, here's an interactive McDonald's floor plan that shows how the non-lobby portions of the property are commonly laid out.

A new study shows that unhappy people are looser with their money, even if they're only unhappy temporarily.

The study found a willingness to spend freely by sad people occurs mainly when their sadness triggers greater "self-focus." That response was measured by counting how frequently study participants used references to "I," "me," "my" and "myself" in writing an essay about how a sad situation such as the one portrayed in the video would affect them personally.

The brief video was about the death of a boy's mentor. Another group watched an emotionally neutral clip about the Great Barrier Reef, the vast coral reef system off Australia's coast.

On average, the group watching the sad video offered to pay nearly four times as much for a sporty-looking, insulated water bottle than the group watching the nature video, according to the study by researchers from Harvard, Carnegie Mellon, Stanford and Pittsburgh universities.

Thirty-three study subjects -- young adults who responded to an advertisement offering $10 for participation -- were offered the chance to trade some of the $10 to buy the bottle. The sad group offered to trade an average of $2.11, compared with 56 cents for the neutral group.

Despite the big difference, participants in the sad group typically insisted that the video's emotional content didn't affect their willingness to spend more -- an incorrect assumption, said one of the study's co-authors.

So here's a new approach to financial health: don't shop when you're unhappy.

Last night a gunman killed six people at a Kirkwood, Missouri city council meeting.

A gunman with a history of acrimony against civic leaders stormed City Hall during a council meeting Thursday night, killing two police officers and three city officials before law enforcers fatally shot him, authorities said. The mayor was critically injured in the rampage.

The victims at the meeting in suburban St. Louis were killed after the gunman rushed the council chambers and began firing as he yelled "Shoot the mayor!" according to St. Louis County Police spokeswoman Tracy Panus. Two people were wounded before Kirkwood police fatally shot him, she said.

Panus said the names of the victims would not be released until a news conference Friday morning. But the wounded included Mayor Mike Swoboda, who was in critical condition late Thursday in the intensive- care unit of St. John's Mercy Hospital in Creve Coeur, hospital spokesman Bill McShane said, declining to discuss the nature of the injuries. McShane said another victim, Suburban Journals newspaper reporter Todd Smith, was in satisfactory condition.

The gunman killed one officer outside City Hall, then walked into the chambers and shot another before continuing to fire, Panus said.

Janet McNichols, a reporter covering the meeting for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, told the newspaper that the 7 p.m. meeting with about 30 people had just started when the shooter rushed in and opened fire with at least one weapon. He started yelling about shooting the mayor while walking around and firing, hitting police Officer Tom Ballman in the head, she said.

Public Works Director Kenneth Yost was shot in the head, and council members Michael H.T. Lynch and Connie Karr also were hit, she said.

The gunman also fired at City Attorney John Hessel, who tried to fight off the attacker by throwing chairs, McNichols told the newspaper. The shooter then moved behind the desk where the council sits and fired more shots at council members, she said.

A terrible tragedy for all involved; fortunately the gunman, Charles Lee "Cookie" Thornton, was killed as well. From the article, it's pretty clear that Thornton was a nut who probably should have been in an institution instead of a city council chamber.

Our prayers go out for all the victims, their families, and their city.

Here's an offensive characterization of modern women!

We can argue endlessly about whether "femininity” is natural or constructed—whether women are innately frigid, needy, and demanding, or socialized to be that way—but there’s no denying the lesson of today’s media marketplace: give young women a choice between adult responsibility on the one hand, and makeup, chick flicks, gold digging, and the Facebook on the other, and it’s the makeup, chick flicks, gold digging, and Facebook by a mile. For whatever reason, adolescence appears to be the young woman’s default state, proving what anthropologists have discovered in cultures everywhere: it is marriage and children that turn girls into women.

Oh no wait, I got the quote wrong:

We can argue endlessly about whether “masculinity” is natural or constructed—whether men are innately promiscuous, restless, and slobby, or socialized to be that way—but there’s no denying the lesson of today’s media marketplace: give young men a choice between serious drama on the one hand, and Victoria’s Secret models, battling cyborgs, exploding toilets, and the NFL on the other, and it’s the models, cyborgs, toilets, and football by a mile. For whatever reason, adolescence appears to be the young man’s default state, proving what anthropologists have discovered in cultures everywhere: it is marriage and children that turn boys into men.

How about if people started taking men seriously again and quit being so judgmental? It's not a crime for men to be different from women... civilization seems to have benefited quite a bit from our gender.

(HT: Dr. Helen.)

Not sure if the right term here is phishing or trolling, but I've been getting a lot of unsolicited password-reset emails recently from various sites I belong to. I can only assume that someone is flooding these sites with random password reset requests, and that the sites are then sending automated confirmation emails to any account hit by the flood. Theoretically there shouldn't be any danger as long I don't click the confirmation links in the emails.

Anyone else seeing the same thing?

Largely because of the electability and supreme court issue I filled in the bubble for John McCain this morning. Ehhhh.

Interesting note: when I approached the sign-up table the lady there reached for a Democrat ballot until I told her I wanted the Republican one. Do I look like a Democrat? Or were there just so many Democrats voting this morning that she was acting by reflex?

I keep wavering between my general distaste for John McCain due to his positions on free speech and campaign finance reform and my general belief that he has a much better shot of winning than does Mitt Romney. This Wall Street Journal op-ed explains why a Republican victory is important for the Supreme Court... and it's a very persuasive argument for nominating the imperfect McCain. (And Romney is perfect? Hardly.)

We believe that the nomination of John McCain is the best option to preserve the ongoing restoration of constitutional government. He is by far the most electable Republican candidate remaining in the race, and based on his record is as likely to appoint judges committed to constitutionalism as Mitt Romney, a candidate for whom we also have great respect.

We make no apology for suggesting that electability must be a prime consideration. The expected value of any presidential candidate for the future of the American judiciary must be discounted by the probability that the candidate will not prevail in the election. For other kinds of issues, it may be argued that it is better to lose with the perfect candidate than to win with an imperfect one. The party lives to fight another day and can reverse the bad policies of an intervening presidency.

The judiciary is different. On Jan. 20, 2009, six of the nine Supreme Court justices will be over 70. Most of them could be replaced by the next president, particularly if he or she is re-elected. Given the prospect of accelerating gains in modern medical technology, some of the new justices may serve for half a century. Even if a more perfect candidate were somehow elected in 2012, he would not be able to undo the damage, especially to the Supreme Court.

Accordingly, for judicial conservatives electability must be a paramount consideration. By all accounts, Mr. McCain is more electable than Mr. Romney. He runs ahead or even with Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in the national polls, and actually leads the Democratic candidates in key swing states like Wisconsin. Mr. Romney trails well behind both Democratic candidates by double digits.

I must confess that I'm swinging towards McCain at this late date. Thanks to this editorial I might plug my nose and vote for him tomorrow.

If you're looking for a persistent-world casual game that has depth but can be played in just a few minutes a day, check out Skyrates. (I think it rhymes with "pirates".)

Yet another stem cell miracle performed with a patient's own stem cells and not requiring the murder of an unborn child: scientists in Finland have grown a jaw bone replacement and successfully implanted it.

Scientists in Finland said Friday that they had replaced a 65-year-old patient's upper jaw with a bone transplant cultivated from stem cells isolated from his own fatty tissue and grown inside his abdomen.

The researchers said the breakthrough opened up new ways to treat severe tissue damage and made the prospect of custom-made living spares parts for humans a step closer to reality.

"There have been a couple of similar-sounding procedures before, but these didn't use the patient's own stem cells that were first cultured and expanded in laboratory and differentiated into bone tissue," said Riitta Suuronen of the Regea Institute of Regenerative Medicine, part of the University of Tampere.

She said at a news conference that the patient was recovering more quickly than he would have if he had received a bone graft from his leg.

"From the outside nobody would be able to tell he has been through such a procedure," she said.

That's amazing. Completely. We're living in a future our grandparents could never have imagined.

I've always wondered how the wealthy managed their health care, and now I know: "boutique medicine".

f firms like MDVIP are the Cadillac of health care, then MD2 (pronounced "M-D-Squared") is the Bentley -- offering unlimited access to patients who can afford it.

"Imagine if your brother, your father, or your mother was a physician and you became ill, that's what we provide," said MD2 partner John Moses.

Each MD2 doctor treats no more than 50 families, Moses said.

"What that means is that our physicians have all the time necessary to provide complete access to their patients, extraordinary care and service, and home or office visits," Moses said. "We're able to offer total privacy because it's highly unlikely that we would ever have more than one patient at our office at any given time."

The offices don't have waiting rooms (or much waiting) and patients are encouraged to call their doctors directly when they need to talk to them. If a patient needs to see a specialist, the MD2 doctor will help find the best ones and even go to the appointment.

Moses said MD2's style of care costs a family of four about $24,000 a year. That fee would cover all doctor visits and any other services the office provides, such as X-rays, but outside treatment -- an MRI, for example -- would cost extra.

Sounds like it might be a bit excessive, but there are certainly plenty of people who can afford it.

West Virginia sees the project as a form of economic stimulus, but teaching kids how to handle guns seems smart for a myriad of reasons.

West Virginia is considering a bill to teach schoolchildren how to handle a gun and hunt safely its proponent hopes will increase state revenues from hunting licenses, a state lawmaker said Thursday.

"We will teach a hunting safety course during their physical education class," state senator and bill sponsor Billy Wayne Bailey told AFP. The courses would be imparted in secondary schools, from the eighth to 10th grade (13-16 years of age).

We're teaching kids this age how to use condoms and get abortions, so why not about how to handle a gun?

A few months ago the Heritage Foundation published a new analysis of "poverty" in America that once again illustrates that there is essentially no poverty among the able-bodied in our country.

To understand poverty in America, it is important to look behind these numbers—to look at the actual living conditions of the individuals the government deems to be poor. For most Americans, the word "poverty" suggests destitution: an inability to provide a family with nutritious food, clothing, and reasonable shelter. But only a small number of the 37 million per­sons classified as "poor" by the Census Bureau fit that description. While real material hardship certainly does occur, it is limited in scope and severity. Most of America's "poor" live in material conditions that would be judged as comfortable or well-off just a few generations ago. Today, the expenditures per person of the lowest-income one-fifth (or quintile) of house­holds equal those of the median American household in the early 1970s, after adjusting for inflation.[6]

The following are facts about persons defined as "poor" by the Census Bureau, taken from various gov­ernment reports:

* Forty-three percent of all poor households actu­ally own their own homes. The average home owned by persons classified as poor by the Census Bureau is a three-bedroom house with one-and-a-half baths, a garage, and a porch or patio.

* Eighty percent of poor households have air conditioning. By contrast, in 1970, only 36 percent of the entire U.S. population enjoyed air conditioning.

* Only 6 percent of poor households are over­crowded. More than two-thirds have more than two rooms per person.

* The average poor American has more living space than the average individual living in Paris, London, Vienna, Athens, and other cities throughout Europe. (These comparisons are to the average citizens in foreign countries, not to those classified as poor.)

* Nearly three-quarters of poor households own a car; 31 percent own two or more cars.

* Ninety-seven percent of poor households have a color television; over half own two or more color televisions.

* Seventy-eight percent have a VCR or DVD player; 62 percent have cable or satellite TV reception.

* Eighty-nine percent own microwave ovens, more than half have a stereo, and more than a third have an automatic dishwasher. ...

Overall, the typical American defined as poor by the government has a car, air conditioning, a refrig­erator, a stove, a clothes washer and dryer, and a microwave. He has two color televisions, cable or satellite TV reception, a VCR or DVD player, and a stereo. He is able to obtain medical care. His home is in good repair and is not overcrowded. By his own report, his family is not hungry and he had suf­ficient funds in the past year to meet his family's essential needs. While this individual's life is not opulent, it is equally far from the popular images of dire poverty conveyed by the press, liberal activists, and politicians.

And the left wants to tax me to buy the impoverished a third color TV?

These sorts of statistics greatly diminish my inclination towards traditional charitable giving. Almost all of my giving now is focused on meeting spiritual needs in America, and meeting physical and spiritual needs in places of the world that are truly destitute. World Vision is a tremendous ministry that not only feeds, clothes, and educates some of the poorest people on the planet, but also introduces them to Christ. (Needs are met without any sort of religious obligation on the part of the recipient, of course.) My wife and I are sponsoring two little girls: Seema in India and Isata in Sierra Leon, who both live in mud huts on dirt floors. Because of our tiny donations these girls are going to school, sleeping with blankets, getting vitamins, and so forth.

Even more directly spiritual, check out Voice of the Martyrs. There are millions of Christians around the world being persecuted right now for their faith and they need our prayers more than they need our money. Sending cards and letters to these imprisoned Christians will also encourage them greatly and has led to reduced sentences when their persecutors become aware of the international scrutiny.

I was watching Nova last night on PBS about the "secrets of the Parthenon", and near the end I started getting bored. The show was good, but it was just too long. Thanks to my TiVo I'm used to 40-minute chunks, and a 60-minute show without commercials feels tedious.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from February 2008 listed from newest to oldest.

January 2008 is the previous archive.

March 2008 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