October 2009 Archives

I haven't been particularly worried about hyperinflation; despite not know as much as Megan McArdle I was thinking along similar lines as she is when she says "Seriously, Stop Worrying About Hyperinflation".

If you're talking about a past stock of debt, it makes some sense to talk about it solely in terms of dollars--really, accounting entries. But of course, the reason the government borrowed the money is that it needed to secure real goods in the economy, and its citizens didn't want to reduce their consumption enough to pay for it all with their taxes. Sometimes that's a one time event, like a war, in which case inflating away your debt looks quite attractive (immoral, possibly--but then, lots of attractive things are immoral, n'est ce pas?)

But more often it's an ongoing problem. In which case, it's hard to aggressively inflate, because within a very short period of time, your ability to borrow in your own currency at attractive rates will fall off. So if you're going to hyperinflate, you need to be prepared to quickly close the gaps between the real goods and services you want to consume, and the real goods and services you want your citizens to give up in order to pay their taxes. In other words, you need to be prepared to stop running a budget deficit--or to resort to increasingly desperate tactics like Argentina's nationalization of its private pension regime in order to loot the accounts.

In the US, the problem is even more complicated because so many of its mandatory payouts are inflation-indexed; it doesn't do you any good to inflate your debt away if half the debt is owed to inflation-linked Social Security accounts.

She concludes by arguing that there are plenty of politicians who expect to be in office for decades more distributing pork to their benefactors, and hyperinflation would derail the gravy train. Sounds reasonable!

Corollary: is this a good argument in favor of entrenched political interests and pork spending?

Happy Halloween everyone! This is my daughter's first, and I can tell she's really looking forward to it.

How about some Halloween-themed wallpaper for your desktop?

Halloween wallpaper 1
Halloween wallpaper 2
Halloween wallpaper 3
Halloween wallpaper 4

My machine is sporting this haunted house and pumpkin dealie.

The Obama administration as been on the wrong side of this issue from the very beginning, but now it's worse: Honduran government caves into US pressure, agrees to Zelaya’s restitution.

The interim leader of Honduras says he is ready to sign a pact to end its crisis which could include the return of ousted President Manuel Zelaya.

Roberto Micheletti said the agreement would create a power-sharing government and require both sides to recognise the result of November’s presidential poll.

Mr Zelaya said the deal, which requires the approval of the Supreme Court and Congress, would be signed on Friday.

The opponents had earlier been told by US Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Shannon that they had to reach an accord in order to ensure international support for the election on 29 November.

Zelaya was removed from power by the Honduran supreme court and congress because of his attempts to circumvent the country's constitution and make himself dictator-for-life. So why is Obama forcing his return?

Why is this administration siding with Zelaya and his main supporter, Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez? Chavez is known to be hostile towards the U.S while working closely with Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is on the brink of obtaining a nuclear weapon and has established a bank in Venezuela with Chavez to avoid the sanctions already imposed against Iranian financial institutions responsible for transferring funds to Tehran's nuclear program. Actually, the Obama Administration and the Chavez regime sponsored a UN resolution that condemned the government of Honduras for legally removing Chavez's puppet "Mel" Zelaya.

You may not be surprised to learn that international evil-doer Goerge Soros is involved.

(HT: Fausta's Blog, with lots more links.)

Cost-per-word isn't exactly a useful statistic, but hey: health care "reform" measures in at $2.24 million per word.

It runs more pages than War and Peace, has nearly five times as many words as the Torah, and its tables of contents alone run far longer than this story.

The House health care bill unveiled Thursday clocks in at 1,990 pages and about 400,000 words. With an estimated 10-year cost of $894 billion, that comes out to about $2.24 million per word. .

And for some members, that may not be enough.

I'd rather have an extremely simple bill that spends far less money... but who knows what that would do to the cost/word metric.

An awesome new cancer treatment kills dividing cells with electricity.

The particularly lethal brain cancer known as glioblastoma multiforme is fast-growing, difficult to treat, and nearly always fatal; even with aggressive therapy, patients have a median survival time of less than two years. But scientists are pursuing new ways to attack this type of brain tumor, and one company may just be succeeding. NovoCure, a small startup founded in Israel in 2000, has developed a device that uses an electric field to disrupt the growth of cancer cells, and early results are promising. Out of ten patients who started using the device in combination with chemotherapy shortly after their initial diagnosis, seven are still alive more than four years later, and five of them show no signs of cancer progression.

NovoCure's device consists of insulated electrode pairs placed on a patient's body near the tumors, attached by leads to a three-kilogram battery that the patient carries everywhere. The electrodes emit low-intensity electric fields that rapidly alternate to create a current that has no effect on any tissue in the body except dividing cells. Just before a dividing cell splits in two, it briefly forms an hourglass shape before the two daughter cells pinch off, and this shape is particularly vulnerable to electricity. The current gets concentrated at the cell's narrow waist, and at the very moment of division, the cell membrane is destroyed, and the cells disintegrate.

Absolutely brilliant. Please keep up the good work.

John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods, has written a terrific health care reform proposal that includes not only eight important steps we can take to make health care better and cheaper, but also an excellent explanation of why viewing health care as a "right" is nonsensical.

Many promoters of health care reform believe that people have an intrinsic ethical right to health care-to universal and equal access to doctors, medicines, and hospitals. While all of us can empathize with those who are sick, how can we say that all people have any more of an intrinsic right to health care than they have an intrinsic right to food, clothing, owning their own homes, a car or a personal computer? Health care is a service which we all need at some point in our lives, but just like food, clothing, and shelter it is best provided through voluntary and mutually-beneficial market exchanges rather than through government mandates. A careful reading of both The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution will not reveal any intrinsic right to health care, food or shelter, because there isn’t any. This “right” has never existed in America.

Even in countries such as Canada and the U.K., there is no intrinsic right to health care. Rather, citizens in these countries are told by governmental bureaucrats what health care treatments and medicines they are eligible to receive and when they can receive them. All countries with socialized medicine ration health care by forcing their citizens to wait in lines to receive scarce and expensive treatments. Although Canada has a population smaller than California, 830,000 Canadians are waiting to be admitted to a hospital or to get treatment. In England, the waiting list is 1.8 million citizens. At Whole Foods we allow our team members to vote on what benefits they most want the company to fund on their behalf. Our Canadian and British team members express their benefit preferences very clearly-they want supplemental health care more than additional paid time off, larger donations to their retirement plans, or greater food discounts; they want health care dollars that they can control and spend themselves without permission from their governments. Why would they want such additional health care benefit dollars to spend if they already have an “intrinsic right to health care”? The answer is clear-no such right truly exists in either Canada or the U.K.-or in any other country.

So how can America entice Mr. Mackey and others like him into public service? I expect that if you asked him to run for office he's laugh in your face.

Sound Mind Investing nearly summarizes how health care "reform" will screw the middle class from both ends.

Indeed, there are compelling reasons to be concerned that your taxes and/or personal insurance costs will rise significantly if health care legislation passes in something similar to its currently proposed form. Why? Consider the big picture: insurers will have to accept all applicants, even those with serious or terminal illnesses. Their costs' will skyrocket as a result of having to cover claims by a surge of already-sick new customers.

In theory, a significant portion of these new costs would be offset by the insurers gaining new income from the insurance premiums paid by millions of healthy, currently-uninsured new customers. This is the so-called "mandate" which would require everyone to have health insurance. Anyone failing to do this would pay a fine to the U.S. Treasury.

Originally, the fines were set at relatively high levels, but fine levels were subsequently watered down.

Now, with the potential fines dropped so low, few of the healthy uninsured are likely to buy insurance. They'll just pay the much less-expensive fine. If the majority of new customers the insurance companies get are the ones who are already sick, insurers' costs are going to explode with very little offsetting additional income. That's where you — the currently insured, reasonably healthy person or family — come in. You're the key to all these pieces fitting together.

The insurers need more money to pay the claims of new sick customers? Check — they can get it by raising your premiums. Lower-income families can't afford the premiums of their new coverage? Check — they will be subsidized by raising your taxes to pay for them.

Middle class citizens will pay both higher premiums and higher taxes to fund the "reform". For an added poke in the eye, health care quality will also plummet.

The Democrats are eager to sell you on the idea that health care "reform" will help "other people" and won't cost anyone anything. Don't believe it.

This is the kind of stupidity that illustrates exactly why the "free" services promised by socialism never end up working: idiot hikers use distress beacons to abuse search and rescue teams.

The Grand Canyon's Royal Arch loop, the National Park Service warns, "has a million ways to get into serious trouble" for those lacking skill and good judgment. One evening the fathers-and-sons team activated their beacon when they ran out of water.

Rescuers, who did not know the nature of the call, could not launch the helicopter until morning. When the rescuers arrived, the group had found a stream and declined help.

That night, they activated the emergency beacon again. This time the Arizona Department of Public Safety helicopter, which has night vision capabilities, launched into emergency mode.

When rescuers found them, the hikers were worried they might become dehydrated because the water they found tasted salty. They declined an evacuation, and the crew left water.

The following morning the group called for help again. This time, according to a park service report, rescuers took them out and cited the leader for "creating a hazardous condition" for the rescue teams.

If you call for a rescue, at the very least you should be forced to evacuate. The rescuers should also be less hesitant to issue citations, and abusers should be sent to jail.

I previously explained how, contrary to popular belief, men benefit more than women from monogamy. Similarly unknown to most people is that women benefit more than men from polygamy.

Humphrey specialises in the anthropology of communities on the edges of the former Soviet Union, and has spent much of her career studying the Buyrat people who live north of the Mongolian border in Siberia. Humphrey says that anthropologists slowly build a deep knowledge and understanding of a place and culture, but nevertheless, her discovery that there is a polygamy lobby was a surprise.

"Friends of mine in Siberia told me that their friends were lobbying parliament to legalise polygamy," she says. "I always knew that there were men who like the idea of polygamy, but what I found fascinating was that women were also in support."

Apparently even professional anthropologists think that men would favor polygamy because they want to have sex with multiple women... even though it should be obvious that for every man with two wives there is one man with zero wives.

When poverty is widespread -- or men are scarce -- polygamy becomes very attractive for women.

"A lot of women live on what were collective farms, which are often deep in the forest and miles away from the nearest town," Humphrey says. "You live very close to nature, and life can be very hard – your heating is entirely through log stoves, there's no running water and inside sanitation is rare. If you are lucky enough to keep animals, you must care for and butcher them yourself. So if you are looking after children as well, life can be near impossible for a woman on her own."

Perhaps unsurprisingly then, Humphrey's investigations have uncovered women who believe that "half a good man is better than none at all". "There are still some men around – they might be running things, with a job as an official, for example, or they might be doing an ordinary labouring job, but either way, there aren't very many of them," she says. "Women say that the legalisation of polygamy would be a godsend: it would give them rights to a man's financial and physical support, legitimacy for their children, and rights to state benefits."

A simple understanding of economics leads to this conclusion, but most people are still surprised to learn that women can benefit greatly from polygamy. A woman is generally concerned for her physical security and provision and for that of her children. If her husband is wealthy enough, those needs are not threatened by the existence of other wives. On the other hand, a man is generally interested in mating with as many women as possible and fathering as many children as possible, which is why polyandry (one woman with multiple husbands) is essentially unheard of (even in countries like China with a huge shortage of women).

Here's a decent explanation of "net neutrality", along with who wins and loses under the various scenarios.

What is net neutrality anyway?

It is the common name for creating and preserving what the FCC calls the "open Internet".

The FCC is trying to write rules that enforce six principles it says ISPs must uphold to preserve what the commission calls the "open Internet." These rules would tell ISPs to:

* allow sending and receiving all lawful content.
* allow all lawful applications and services.
* allow all lawful devices that don't harm the network.
* allow access to all network, application, service and content providers.
* ensure there is no discrimination against particular lawful content, applications, services and devices.
* reveal practices necessary network management that might limit the other five principles.

My favorite Obama bumper sticker yet:

(HT: BT.)

An interesting graphical depiction of "left" vs. "right". Fun trivia: America and Switzerland are the only countries where the left is depicted as blue and the right is depicted as red; in most places the colors are reversed. This seems logical, given the predilection by communists for red.

(HT: RC.)

Apparently some people are faking swine flu to get out of work.

“All you have to do is call in and say, ‘I’m sick,’ and take a couple of days off, and you and I will not be shocked,” says Dr. William Schaffner, head of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, Tenn.

The ploy worked for one twentysomething New Yorker, looking to get a day off work. “My brother goes to a school that had been hit really hard, and since I visited him, it was completely plausible I could get it," says Jessica, who works in ad sales. (She didn't want her last name used to protect her secret identity as a swine flu faker.)

I have a feeling that these lazy people weren't otherwise hesitating to lie to get out of work. Sometimes I don't see how businesses get anything done at all.

(HT: RD.)

George Friedman writes about why (some) Europeans love Obama, framed with a discussion of the President's recent Nobel Peace Prize.

Let's begin by being careful with the term European. Eastern Europeans and Russians -- all Europeans -- do not think very highly of him. The British are reserved on the subject. But on the whole, other Europeans west of the former Soviet satellites and south and east of the English Channel think extremely well of him, and the Norwegians are reflecting this admiration. It is important to understand why they do.

The Europeans experienced catastrophes during the 20th century. Two world wars slaughtered generations of Europeans and shattered Europe's economy. Just after the war, much of Europe maintained standards of living not far above that of the Third World. In a sense, Europe lost everything -- millions of lives, empires, even sovereignty as the United States and the Soviet Union occupied and competed in Europe. The catastrophe of the 20th century defines Europe, and what the Europeans want to get away from.

The Cold War gave Europe the opportunity to recover economically, but only in the context of occupation and the threat of war between the Soviets and Americans. A half century of Soviet occupation seared Eastern European souls. During that time, the rest of Europe lived in a paradox of growing prosperity and the apparent imminence of another war. The Europeans were not in control of whether the war would come, or where or how it would be fought. There are therefore two Europes. One, the Europe that was first occupied by Nazi Germany and then by the Soviet Union still lives in the shadow of the dual catastrophes. The other, larger Europe, lives in the shadow of the United States.

(HT: LM.)

My family goes to the Saint Louis Zoo about once a month and really enjoy it, so we were excited to go to Boo at the Zoo last night with some friends. The park was well-decorated, but we were all very disappointed with the distinct lack of animals. Most of the zoo was closed off with barriers, and the few animals in the open areas were all put away for the night. We spent almost two hours at the zoo and saw exactly two animals: a peacock wandering around, and a bear who was climbing a tree and then put away shortly after. The rest of the exhibits were either closed or vacant.

"You and I are told we must choose between a left or right, but I suggest there is no such thing as a left or right. There is only an up or down. Up to man's age-old dream -- the maximum of individual freedom consistent with order -- or down to the ant heap of totalitarianism. Regardless of their sincerity, their humanitarian motives, those who would sacrifice freedom for security have embarked on this downward path. Plutarch warned, 'The real destroyer of the liberties of the people is he who spreads among them bounties, donations and benefits.' The Founding Fathers knew a government can't control the economy without controlling people. And they knew when a government sets out to do that, it must use force and coercion to achieve its purpose. So we have come to a time for choosing." --Ronald Reagan

(HT: SW.)

Doctors have grown facial bones for a boy born without them, and the entire process required only a single surgery.

Stem cells so far have been used to mend tissues ranging from damaged hearts to collapsed tracheas. Now the multifaceted cells have proved successful at regrowing bone in humans. In the first procedure of its kind, doctors at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center replaced a 14-year-old boy's missing cheekbones—in part by repurposing stem cells from his own body. ...

"This is sort of the holy grail for a number of different surgeons," says Jesse Taylor, a surgeon and researcher in the hospital's Division of Plastic Surgery and one of the procedure's lead physicians. The procedure could be used in plastic, orthopedic and neural surgeries, he notes. Some bone tissue had previously been generated from stem cells in the lab, but this marks hope for a surgical solution for those who need additional bone.

"We often find ourselves in the operating room saying, 'Man, I wish we had a little more bone,'" Taylor says. In adult patients plastic and metal have often subbed in, in the absence of bone, but as Taylor notes: "What happens if someone gets a fracture? It's another surgery." In contrast, a natural bone regrown from stem cells should heal on its own. Another alternative, bone transplants—either repurposed from the patient's body or from cadavers—have high rejection and absorption rates, leading to many unsuccessful attempts.

To create the new bones, which have become part of the patient's own skull structure and have remained securely in place for four and a half months, the medical team used a combination of fat-derived stem cells, donated bone scaffolds, growth protein, and bone-coating tissue.

Amazing. And as usual with these breakthroughs, no embryonic stem cells were used which means that no one had to die to create these bones.

These are the first pictures I've seen of the balloon-boy hoax balloon, but given these it's hard to imagine how the authorities thought there could actually be a boy on board.

There's no place for the boy to fit!

Orange County has long been one of the few conservative counties in California where ordinary citizens -- not only celebrities, politicians, and their cronies -- could obtain permits to carry concealed weapons. Recent Orange County sheriff appointee Sandra Hutchens has decided to change that long-standing policy and the citizens she hopes to win election from are not happy.

During the 15 minute video, citizen gun owners who attended a hearing before the Orange County Board of Supervisors testified their dissatisfaction with the Sheriff, a political appointee and her new policy. Many speakers suggested that she has her own agenda, is intending to impose the undesireable policies of Los Angeles County on the citizens of Orange County. The Board of Supervisors came under fire for having appointed someone who does not represent the concerns of the citizens.

Sheriff Hutchens stood her ground refuting the interpretation of her new policy saying “I do not see this as a Second Amendment Issue. The policy does not impact the right to have a gun at home or in a place of business.”

Bill Hunt, who is expected to challenge Sheriff Hutchens in the 2010 election was critical of Sheriff and other Police Chief’s who do not share the fundamental beliefs in values held in the communities which they serve.

The following points were made during the citizen testimony:

  • Why should permits be given only to those who transport large sums of money?
  • Personal protection and family protection should be considered as primary issue
  • Restricting use of Concealed Carry Weapon permits does not make the county safer.

I personally doubt that the last bastion of conservatism in California can be saved, but I hope I'm wrong!

Amazing topiaries from the Montreal Gardens.

Many more at the link.

(HT: TK.)

Joseph Antos explains that health care "reform" will ad hundreds of billions of dollars to our national debt because none of the promised cost savings will be realized.

A careful reading of the evidence suggests that the Baucus bill will add as much as $376 billion to the federal deficit through 2019. And that figure understates the full impact of the bill on the budget. If the big-spending parts of the proposal started next year rather than in 2014, the fiscal damage would be much greater.

Can anyone guess why the most expensive parts of the plan won't kick in until 2014? Maybe so that Obama and Congress won't have to face reality until after as many re-elections as possible.

At face value, the Baucus bill seems to be close to what the president ordered. According to the CBO, the bill gives coverage to 29 million uninsured Americans for less than $900 billion while simultaneously reducing the deficit. The problem is that the bill counts as savings large cuts to Medicare providers that will almost certainly never happen.

The Congressional Budget Office has to pretend that they believe that future Congresses will decide to keep these cost savings in place, even though they certainly won't.

The most blatant example is the annual cut in fees paid by Medicare to physicians. The cuts started out small, about 5% a year, but even that was unsustainable. To "solve" the political problem without having to admit to a big increase in the deficit, Congress has given doctors a series of one-year fixes. The foregone payment reductions add up, and next year Medicare is supposed to slash doctor's fees 21%.

Clearly, that will not happen. At the urging of the American Medical Association, Democrats in the House decided to end the charade by permanently granting fee increases to physicians at a 10-year cost of nearly $230 billion. Sen. Baucus accepted responsibility only for the usual one-year fix, at a cost of almost $11 billion. That means he is being credited with $218 billion in savings at which future Congresses will chip away, a year at a time.

There is another $240 billion in cuts to hospitals, home care providers, nursing facilities and hospices that are destined to go the way of those physician fee savings. If none of those reductions are implemented, Medicare spending will increase $458 billion over the next decade, and the deficit will grow by $376 billion.

The "savings" are due to counting promises to save money as actual saved money. The promises will be broken by a future Congress, but the current Congress still wants to get credit now.

These budget games are so obvious that the CBO blew the whistle--but scored the savings anyway. The CBO scores bills as they are written, without trying to second-guess Congress even when there is plenty of reason to do so. The agency explained that their estimates assume that the proposals are enacted and remain unchanged over the next two decades. In a masterpiece of understatement, the CBO pointed out that such provisions are often over-ridden by future Congresses.

That's the trick: when it comes time to actually stop spending the money, Congress will attempt to tug at our heartstrings and show us all the poor people who will be hurt if we don't spend more money. People will buy these "arguments" and the cost savings will never be actualized.

We citizens don't need to be bound by the same foolish assumptions that constrain the Congressional Budget Office. They have to believe Congress because they work for Congress. We don't need to be that gullible.

Great. I'm a baptist, but these people are completely insane.

A Baptist Church near Asheville, N.C., is hosting a "Halloween book burning" to purge the area of "Satan's" works, which include all non-King James versions of the Bible, popular books by many religious authors and even country music. ...

Church leaders deem Good News for Modern Man, the Evidence Bible, the New International Version Bible, the Green Bible and the Message Bible, as well as at least seven other versions of the Bible as "Satan's Bibles," according to the website. Attendees will also set fire to "Satan's popular books" such as the work of "heretics" including the Pope, Mother Teresa, Billy Graham and Rick Warren.

"I believe the King James version is God's preserved, inspired, inerrant and infallible word of God," Pastor Marc Grizzard told a local news station of his 14-member parish.

Aside from my disagreement with Grizzard's selection of books, the idea of holding a book burning in modern times carries so many negative connotations that it's hard to imagine it doing more good than harm to the Gospel message. Christians need to live within the modern culture, even though we attempt to set ourselves apart from the evil in the world. Jesus said:

Matthew 10:16 I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.

We are among wolves, but we have to be wise if we expect to share in God's work of winning the wolves to himself. Grizzard comes across as a fool, and if his actions are repulsive to me then I can only imagine how they look to an unbeliever.

(HT: RD.)

The Associated Press is fabricating reality by labeling a health care takeover bill as "middle-of-the-road" while acknowledging that it only garnered one Republican vote in committee.

With support from a lone Republican, a key Senate committee Tuesday approved a middle-of-the-road health care plan that moves President Barack Obama's goal of wider and affordable coverage a giant step closer to becoming law.

Maine Republican Olympia Snowe said she was laying aside misgivings for now and voting to advance the bill, a sweeping $829-billon, 10-year health care remake that would help most Americans get coverage without creating a new government insurance plan. "When history calls, history calls," said Snowe.

Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., called his bill "a commonsense, balanced solution." A distance runner, Baucus has endured months of marathon meetings to get this far. It's not the finish line.

Well if the bill's author, Max Baucus, calls his bill "a commonsense, balanced solution" then how dare the Associated Press be skeptical? I suppose "reporter" Erica Werner couldn't be bothered to notice that Republican Olymbia Snowe is the most leftist Republican in the Senate and tends to vote with the Democrats on controversial issues. Her support is hardly enough to qualify any left-wing proposal as "middle-of-the-road".

The bill will never get to the floor of the Senate, but the AP and the rest of the leftist media is desperate to portray it as "middle-of-the-road" and the Republicans as obstructionists who oppose "commonsense, balanced solution[s]". Unfortunately for the AP, we're not all idiots.

CNN Money has compiled a list of the 50 best careers in America. Looks like "software developer" has dropped down to number 12! I guess I'd better start taking night classes in anesthesiology.

(HT: JK.)

Does anyone really think that President Obama deserves the Nobel Peace Prize?

A beaming President Barack Obama said Friday he was both honored and humbled to win the Nobel Peace Prize and would accept it as a "call to action" to work with other nations to solve the world's most pressing problems.

Obama told reporters in the White House Rose Garden that he wasn't sure he had done enough to earn the award, or deserved to be in the company of the "transformative figures" who had won it before him.

Even the meglomaniacal Savior himself is unsure of his worthiness. If he were at all in touch with reality he would have scored major kudos by refusing to accept the award. As it is, I expect the prize will hurt him more than it helps him by drawing attention to the hyped-up aura he exudes.

Oh, and maybe it's unconstitutional?

Article 1, Section 9:

No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.

Well Obama is the constitutional scholar, so I'm sure there's no problem.

Trebuchet hurls pumpkin 1,866 feet.

Now Skagit County’s own team TreBarbaric — with a trebuchet that stands 78 feet tall, travels by semi-truck, and requires man, boom truck and crane eight hours for set-up — is headed not for the valley’s own Pumpkin Pitch but for Snohomish County, where a vast dairy farm will host the new Pumpkin Hurl.

It was TreBarbaric that inspired the new Hurl and a revamp of Burlington’s Pumpkin Pitch, which will be judged on accuracy rather than distance. Last year, the team sent a white pumpkin — chosen for its firmness and roundness — 1,866 feet, just 10 feet shy of the Skagit River Park boundary.

The toss won the competition and set a world record.

If you're an engineer like me, you'll want to see more pictures and video of the TreBarbaric trebuchet.

(HT: RB.)

Here's a fascinating statistic: 10 out of the past 10 presidents have had daughters. I'm not sure I like how they frame the data: "Americans prefer presidents with daughters". There could be a whole host of causes for this statistic other than that Americans preferentially vote for men with daughters. Still, very interesting.

In a blog post, Auren Hoffman wondered if politicians with daughters are more successful than those without. It's an intriguing thought, and there may be some truth to the suggestion. We focused on American presidents and discovered that each of the last 10 presidents had at least one daughter, but only five had sons.

Why would daughters have an impact? Perhaps voters think that presidents with daughters will be more empathetic to women's issues, or perhaps the following anonymous comment on the Marginal Revolution blog offers some insight:

ALL of my male friends who had children were changed for the better by having at least one daughter. It is not a wife who socializes a husband, it is a daughter.

My wife will be happy to hear that our daughter will help her socialize me!

(HT: Jerry.)

The fewer days per week the House of Representatives works, the better for America.

Like most Americans, members of the House are expected to report promptly — no excuses — when summoned by their bosses for the start of another workweek. One difference: For lawmakers, starting time doesn’t come until about 6:30 Tuesday evening.

After taking control of the House in 2006 — and again when President Barack Obama was elected president in 2008 — Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) boasted that lawmakers would work four or five days a week to bring change to America.

But midway through Obama’s first year in office, Hoyer’s House has settled into a more leisurely routine. Members usually arrive for the first vote of the week as the sun sets on Tuesdays, and they’re usually headed back home before it goes down again on Thursdays.

Since the House returned for its fall session on Sept. 8, it has stuck around to vote on a Friday just once: to approve a 5.8 percent increase in Congress’s own budget.

Why not just cancel House sessions for the rest of the year?

Scientists have long known that people on calorie-restricted diets can live longer than people who eat a normal number of calories, but the actual mechanism behind such increased longevity may have just been discovered.

Our cells build two kinds of recycling factories. One kind, known as the proteasome, is a tiny cluster of proteins. It slurps up individual proteins like a child sucking a piece of spaghetti. Once inside the proteasome, the protein is chopped up into its building blocks.

For bigger demolition jobs, our cells rely on a bigger factory: a giant bubble packed with toxic enzymes, known as a lysosome. Lysosomes can destroy big structures, like mitochondria, the sausage-shaped sacs in cells that generate fuel. To devour a mitochondrion, a cell first swaddles it in a shroudlike membrane, which is then transported to a lysosome. The shroud merges seamlessly into the lysosome, which then rips the mitochondrion apart. Its remains are spit back out through channels on the lysosome’s surface. ...

Unfortunately, as we get older, our cells lose their cannibalistic prowess. The decline of autophagy may be an important factor in the rise of cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and other disorders that become common in old age. Unable to clear away the cellular garbage, our bodies start to fail.

If this hypothesis turns out to be right, then it may be possible to slow the aging process by raising autophagy. It has long been known, for example, that animals that are put on a strict low-calorie diet can live much longer than animals that eat all they can. Recent research has shown that caloric restriction raises autophagy in animals and keeps it high. The animals seem to be responding to their low-calorie diet by feeding on their own cells, as they do during famines. In the process, their cells may also be clearing away more defective molecules, so that the animals age more slowly.

A collection of "beware of zombie" signs.

Legal Insurrection dismantles Consumer Reports' partisan advocacy of "health care reform" and concludes thusly:

CR has stepped out of being a provider of unbiased information (both good and bad) to empower consumers to make their own informed decisions, and has become a political advocacy group which seeks to minimize the legitimate arguments against the current Democratic proposals. If that is what one was expecting from CR, that's fine, but that is not how CR presents itself to the public.

There is nothing wrong with CR taking a position on consumer issues, and I agree that the insurance industry deserves much criticism and reform. But CR has gone far beyond such consumer protection issues and has jumped headlong into disputes as to the role of government in our lives. When it comes to this fundamental issue of individual liberties versus government control, CR has no special expertise or legitimacy.

It may be hard for CR to understand, but the health care debate is not just about coverage or costs. As President Obama himself has commented, the heart of the dispute is over the role of government in our lives, which is why people are so passionate. It now is clear where CR stands on this fundamental issue, and it is not on the side of those of us who value self-reliance as the first choice, with a safety net being only for those who, through no choice of their own, cannot provide for themselves. CR has taken the side of those for whom the safety net is an excuse to expand government control and social engineering.

I'll admit that I'm surprised by the thinly veiled politicization of Consumer Reports. Very disappointing.

(HT: theblogprof.)

Is it the end of the California dream? I think so, which is part of why we left in 2006.

But the state that was once held up as the epitome of the boundless opportunities of America has collapsed. From its politics to its economy to its environment and way of life, California is like a patient on life support. At the start of summer the state government was so deeply in debt that it began to issue IOUs instead of wages. Its unemployment rate has soared to more than 12%, the highest figure in 70 years. Desperate to pay off a crippling budget deficit, California is slashing spending in education and healthcare, laying off vast numbers of workers and forcing others to take unpaid leave. In a state made up of sprawling suburbs the collapse of the housing bubble has impoverished millions and kicked tens of thousands of families out of their homes. Its political system is locked in paralysis and the two-term rule of former movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger is seen as a disaster – his approval ratings having sunk to levels that would make George W Bush blush. The crisis is so deep that Professor Kevin Starr, who has written an acclaimed history of the state, recently declared: "California is on the verge of becoming the first failed state in America."

Lots of statistics and depressing stories at the link.

California's problems are entirely due to California's Democrat politicians and the people who continually re-elect them. They've spent decades making their bed, and now they have to lie in it. I love the state, but it's like an addict who thinks that just one more pill and everything will be ok.

(HT: JW.)

Apparently there are "zombie experts". I knew I went into the wrong line of work.

So why, exactly, do we love zombies so much?

According to experts -- and, yes, there are zombie experts -- it's because for all their limitations, the brain-rotted, animated corpses are so darned versatile -- helping reflect whatever our greatest fears happen to be at the time. ...

Since ancient times, monster stories have been used to channel other concerns about life and death, said Andrea Wood, a graduate fellow at Georgia Tech who teaches the course "Apocalyptic Nightmares of the Living Dead" and is working on a book about zombies in popular culture.

But the zombie, she said, offers a uniquely blank canvas.

"Since the zombie doesn't have the long literary tradition of the vampire or a number of other monsters, it allows artists a degree of autonomy to conceptualize the zombie any way they see fit," said Wood.

I only hope that artificial intelligences take over before the zombies do... at least then I'll have a way to contribute to society besides my obvious physical prowess.

(HT: RB.)

Private astronaut Brian Binnie discusses his first trip to space aboard SpaceShipOne.

When the day of my flight finally came, I was working with very little sleep. Prior to the release point, I had an excruciating hour in which I had little to do but sit, think, and come face to face with the demons that lurked into my thoughts as I waited. Would things go according to plan? Had SpaceShipOne revealed to us all its secrets? The flight test was under such a microscope that I couldn’t even sneeze – without multiple cameras in the cockpit beaming the images back to the many people watching including the whole Scaled team, the X PRIZE Foundation, Paul Allen, Sir Richard Branson, NASA, and tons of media outlets. Considering that I hadn’t flown the vehicle in some 10 months, I felt I was under a huge amount of pressure. Then, after the hour long wait, things shifted into fast forward and everything happened incredibly quickly. After release, I was under the impressive acceleration of the hybrid rocket and thundering toward space. The shuddering and shaking vibrations combined with the demonic screeching of that motor were most memorable. But, by far, the best part was the contrast provided when I shut off the rocket; Blessed peace and quiet and the instant karma of weightlessness. And then, my God, that view! Separating the black void that is space from the peaceful panorama below is a thin blue electric ribbon of light that is the atmosphere. For 4 minutes I got to soak it all in. I tell you, one cannot be unmoved by the experience! From Mojave, I could see the San Francisco Bay to the North, Baja Mexico to the south, the Sierra-Nevada Mountains and the Pacific. I captured some of the sights with a camera but it’s definitively something you need to see for yourself.

Someday I'm sure I will! These stories give me far more hope than the Space Shuttle ever did that I might get to go into space myself one day.

Dalton Chiscolm has upped the ante for frivolous lawsuits by suing Bank of America for "1,784 billion, trillion dollars". Thanks for covering this, Reuters. This is important news!

Dalton Chiscolm is unhappy about Bank of America's customer service -- really, really unhappy.

Chiscolm in August sued the largest U.S. bank and its board, demanding that "1,784 billion, trillion dollars" be deposited into his account the next day. He also demanded an additional $200,164,000, court papers show.

Attempts to reach Chiscolm were unsuccessful. A Bank of America spokesman declined to comment.

"Incomprehensible," U.S. District Judge Denny Chin said in a brief order released Thursday in Manhattan federal court.

"He seems to be complaining that he placed a series of calls to the bank in New York and received inconsistent information from a 'Spanish womn,'" the judge wrote. "He apparently alleges that checks have been rejected because of incomplete routing numbers."

Who cares. This isn't news. The meta-story (which I'm writing about) is sorta news I guess. Eh, who knows.

(HT: RD.)

An international team of paleoanthropologists claims to have discovered a 4.4-million-year-old ancestor of modern humans, which they have named Ardipithecus ramidus. I'm extremely skeptical of their conclusions.

Researchers in the U.S. and Ethiopia on Thursday made public fossils from a 4.4-million-year-old human forebear they say reveals that the earliest human ancestors were more modern than scholars assumed and deepens the evolutionary gulf separating humankind from today's apes and chimpanzees.

The highlight of the extensive fossil trove is a female skeleton a million years older than the iconic bones of Lucy, the primitive female figure that has long symbolized humankind's beginnings.

An international research team led by paleoanthropologist Tim White at the University of California, Berkeley, unveiled remains from 36 males, females and young of an ancient prehuman species called Ardipithecus ramidus, unearthed in the Awash region of Ethiopia since 1994. The creatures take their scientific name from the word for root in the local Afar language. They are not the oldest known homind fossils but they comprise the most complete set discovered so far.

Emphasis mine. Were these bones discovered in a skeleton-shaped pile buried in the dirt? Of course not.

“Then the whole crew converged on the area and we crawled on the surface like a baby on hands and knees” searching for additional bones, he said. In the coming months, they found dozens of bones scattered over an area of 10 to 15 meters (33 to 49 feet).

Lovejoy did an analysis on 145 teeth they found, including canines from as many as 21 individuals.

A mere dozens of bones scattered over an area fifty feet across. But all related to each other, right?

Ardi was found in alongside crumbling fossils of 29 species of birds and 20 species of small mammals - including owls, parrots, shrews, bats and mice.

And those dozens of bones were in whole pieces?

Researchers have pieced together 125 fragments of bone - including much of her skull, hands, feet, arms, legs and pelvis - which were dated using the volcanic layers of soil above and below the find.

So the claim is that:

1. Dozens of Ardi bones were found. How many dozens? Let's say many dozens. Even 200 bones.

2. These 200 bones were correctly assembled from many hundreds of fragments.

3. These 200 bones belong to between 21 and 36 individual Ardis. Let's take the low figure.

4. They can differentiate the Ardi bones from all the other bones from unknown species that are mixed in with them.

5. Once they identify the Ardi bones, they can tell which ones are from which individual.

6. After all that they get an average of ten bones per individual, max.

The claims made by the researchers are just plain incredible. Look below at the pictures of the bones they assembled from fragments and the artist rendering of Ardi.

The accompanying caption is "Ardi's skeleton (left) revealed she was 4ft tall and weighed 7st 12oz". Think about that verb for a second: revealed. Not "possibly", "probably", "claims", but a concrete word: revealed. No shoulders and hardly any torso bones, but Ardi's weight is "revealed"?

I don't believe it. There are computer images of bone fragments and all sorts of claims of complex analysis, but I simply don't think there's enough information in the bone fragments to make the claims they're making.

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