March 2010 Archives

I can confirm David Brooks' conclusions about happiness.

If the relationship between money and well-being is complicated, the correspondence between personal relationships and happiness is not. The daily activities most associated with happiness are sex, socializing after work and having dinner with others. The daily activity most injurious to happiness is commuting. According to one study, joining a group that meets even just once a month produces the same happiness gain as doubling your income. According to another, being married produces a psychic gain equivalent to more than $100,000 a year.

(HT: NW.)

This sounds like a fun job: aircraft repo-man.

“What year did we snatch the president of the Congo’s airplane?” Nick Popovich asks. Outside, chilly rain soaks the pastures of his rolling Indiana country estate. From a pond with a gushing fountain, waterfowl honk faintly.

An assistant rifles through records as Popovich assures me cheerfully, “We're not going back to central Africa soon. There’s still a death warrant out for me.”

Probably less James-Bondy than it sounds though.

Apparently women "still" feel the stigma of singleness.

About 40 percent of adults were single in 2009, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Researchers interviewed 32 of these middle-class, never-married women over age 30. They found that these women perceive themselves as caught in a double bind: Their single status made them both highly visible and invisible.

"We found that never-married women's social environments are characterized by pressure to conform to the conventional life pathway," said Larry Ganong, co-chair of Human Development and Family at the University of Missouri. "Heightened visibility came from feelings of exposure, and invisibility came from assumptions made by others."

Well, that's biology. From a biological perspective, these women are failures. They may not want to measure themselves with that yardstick, but the biological imperative "still" tugs mightily on the human species.

While one might think these annoyances become worse with age, the researchers actually found that dealing with single stigma is the worst for women in their mid-20's through mid-30's, while women older than age 35 tend to be more content with being single and don't express as much dissatisfaction as do younger women.

Before age 25, being single is considered more acceptable for women, the study indicates, but after reaching that age, women felt scrutinized by friends, family members and others for their singlehood.

Wow... and neither the scientists nor the reporter can think of any reason why singleness might be stigmatized most heavily, by the women themselves and by society, up through the age of 35? I'll go out on a limb here and speculate that it might be because female fertility drops like a rock in the late 30s. Basically, the stigma evaporates when the cause has been lost.

Williams G. Shipman proposes an interesting idea for changing the political balance of power between states and the federal government. (The Washington Times headline writer leaves much to be desired.)

If America wishes to change this trajectory, it needs new and bold thinking. Here is one candidate: Repeal the 16th Amendment to the Constitution (ratified Feb. 3, 1913) which gives Congress the power to lay and collect taxes, and replace it with an amendment that requires each state to remit to the federal government a certain percent of its tax revenue. This would change the game. Here's why:

Let's assume that each state would have to transfer one-third (it could be a different ratio) of its tax-and-fee revenue to the federal government. The federal government would have to constrain its spending, for it would not control its source of revenue. New programs would be severely limited because there would be no authority to finance them. This dynamic would force the creation of new programs by the states because they would still have the authority to tax. The federal government could still issue debt, but given the discipline of markets, this would be self-limiting because the government would not be able to tax in order to pay principal and interest when due. New entitlements would be limited for the same reason. Federal spending ultimately would be limited to the necessities of government. Other spending and programs would now be the states' purview. But here, too, the dynamic would change.

Under the assumption that one-third of state revenue goes to Washington, each state would have to raise taxes equal to 150 percent of any program's cost. This premium would compete in the open market, which could provide the same service for one-third less. States would find it difficult to persuade their residents to pay such a premium. This would be true even if our country had only one state. But with 50 states, each would be constrained not only by the price premium but by the competition from the other 49 states. More goods and services would be provided by the market because the costs would be less. State governments would be priced out because of the one-third transfer, and the federal government would be constrained because it would have no taxing authority, even though it would have tax revenue. Goods and services would be provided by markets through the free decisions of producers and consumers, and at a fraction of government costs.

I like the idea, but I'm not sure it would be more effective than simply repealing the 17th Amendment which enabled the direct election of Senators. If state legislatures were once again empowered to select Senators, the federal government would immediately become more local and more responsive to the needs of the states.

Maybe we could do both?

It's not at all clear to me that he has the authority, but Missouri Republican Lt. Governor Peter Kinder is seeking to join a multi-state lawsuit against Obamacare... despite lack of support from our Democrat governor and attorney general.

Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, the state's lone Republican statewide official, announced today he will seek to join a lawsuit led by 13 attorneys general across the country to stop President Obama's health care reform from being enacted.

As a constitutional officer and the state's official senior advocate, Kinder claims he has the right to become a party to the lawsuit on the state's behalf.

"I intend to join with officials from 13 other states to challenge the legality of this federal health care bill and any unconstitutional provision" it may contain, Kinder told reporters.

I definitely support the states' efforts to oppose Obamacare, but I think this announcement by Kinder is mostly a publicity stunt intended to draw attention and put pressure on our other statewide elected officials.

(HT: RB.)

The Finnish sniper who killed more than 700 Russians in 100 days: The White Death.

Ensconced in the snow, his white camouflage suit rendering him invisible to the invading Soviet soldiers he stalked, Simo Häyhä steadied himself to fire. During the 1939–1940 Winter War, in temperatures as low as –40 °C, the Finnish sniper undertook a killing spree that saw him single-handedly take the lives of at least 700 men in less than 100 days. Over 500 of these he shot using a standard, bolt-action rifle with non-telescopic sights. Is it any wonder he earned the nickname The White Death among his enemies? Meet the man who would take Rambo to the cleaners.

Beta males being not quite passive enough, now we have the Omega Male.

In the social hierarchy of a wolf pack in captivity, the omega ranks below the alpha and beta wolves. In human terms, if an executive or a warrior is an alpha male and a nice-guy middle manager like The Office's Jim Halpert is a beta male, then Greenberg and his brethren are omega males. While the alpha male wants to dominate and the beta male just wants to get by, the omega male has either opted out or, if he used to try, given up. Greenberg says of his somewhat stunted best friend, "We call each other 'man,' but it's a joke. It's like imitating other people." The omega male is not experiencing the tired trope of the midlife crisis. A midlife crisis implies agency, a man who has the job and the family and chooses to reject it. The omega male doesn't have the power to reject anything—he's the one who has been brushed off. He's generally unemployed, and his romantic relationships are in shambles—he's either single or, if he's married, not happy about it. "I'm doing nothing and I'm tied to no one," Greenberg boasts.

This is our future! The more Omega Males the government can create, the easier it will be to control the country. There are a host of culprits who bear responsibility for the decimation of the traditional male archetype, but primary blame rests with men themselves. Just because we're told we should be like women doesn't mean we have to believe it and do it.

I was so upset by the health care vote last night that I stayed up late and built a new website:! There you can purchase high-quality stamps with witty conservative slogans you can use to brand every piece of currency that passes through your fingers. Take a look and tell me what you think!

(And buy something, so my daughter might one day be able to pay off her share of the national debt!)

Representative democracy is dead in America. The Democrat's forcing of their health care takeover in direct opposition to the will of the people is just the latest demonstration that our government is no longer operating with the consent of the governed. Fortunately we still live under a Constitution that empowers us to overturn this horrendous abuse of power in November, and I'm confident that we will. The Democrats should be thankful for the Constitution, because if there weren't an election looming I expect they'd be facing crowds with torches and pitchforks.

To motivate you for November, ruminate on how the Democrats got 60 Senators.

Mary Landreiu - wins by 5788 votes, after fraudulent vote counting - goes on to win with incumbent advantages Al Franken - loses on election night, but with help of ACORN Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, gets votes counted that are left in cars, are double counted, and are viewed differently in Democratic districts than Republican ones.

Paul Kirk - Massachusetts state legislature changes law after Teddy Kennedy dies to allow governor to name replacement, despite changing the law in 2004 to prevent governor from naming replacement.
Frank Lautenberg - Robert Torricelli withdraws from the campaign against his Republican challenger after taking illegal contributions. New Jersey Supreme Court changes the law to allow Lautenberg, a former Senator to take his place, despite a clear law stating this can not happen (bonus points - this same issue came up in Texas with Tom Delay. His name was left on the ballot, and Democrat Nick Sampson won a narrow contest).

Arlen Specter - switches allegiance to Democrats when his vote on stimulus funding ruins his primary chances. Given committee assignments to make switch. Now a lapdog.
Jim Webb - Washington Post decides to make macaca most important aspect of 2006 campaign. Running dozens of stories has an effect - Webb wins by a few thousand votes.

Mark Begich - wins election by less than 4000 votes after Ted Stevens is indicted. Stevens indictment is thrown out for prosecutorial misconduct after the election.

Channel your anger into action.

An insightful chart that illustrates how President Obama is remaking the process of governing.

(HT: Paul in Houston and Americans for Prosperity.)

Related videos here.

(HT: More video game fun from RC.)

Can you identify these video game characters? Even if you can, your video game IQ is only about 5.

(HT: RC.)

The hardest logic puzzle ever:

Three gods A, B, and C are called, in some order, True, False, and Random. True always speaks truly, False always speaks falsely, but whether Random speaks truly or falsely is a completely random matter. Your task is to determine the identities of A, B, and C by asking three yes-no questions; each question must be put to exactly one god. The gods understand English, but will answer all questions in their own language, in which the words for yes and no are 'da' and 'ja', in some order. You do not know which word means which.

There are clarifications and solutions at the link.

(HT: NRO.)

Conversation at the airport this morning:

TSA Guy: Stop! You need a boarding pass to go through.

Me: I don't think we do. We fly all the time.

TSA Guy: Ok, go ahead.

Megan McArdle aptly sums up the perpetual nausea of students protesting for more free stuff: "Students Protest University Cutbacks, Reality".

But while I'm sympathetic to students finding it harder to attend college, I'm not sure what they think is supposed to happen. There's no money. This is not some question of reallocating resources from bad uses to good--everything is being cut because their institutions are under serious financial duress. When administrators point this out, the students reiterate how hard it all is, as if doing so will spur the administration to shake the money tree harder until extra cash falls from the skies.

I mean, they might protest the core business model, in which so many employees are effectively unfireable, meaning that everyone else has to take a disproportionate share of the cuts. But other than that, what is all this protesting going to accomplish?

Brings back memories of my old student protest days....

Whether or not you like my sign, at least I could spell.

(HT: Instapundit.)

Yes, these are apparently a real product. I can't believe that the creators are unaware of the appearance.

Here's a bizarre post by Paul Greenberg extolling the virtues of the superior sex: women.

When it comes to great truths, each generation shouldn't have to work them out by itself. They don't have to be written down, any more than the English constitution is. Every boy soon learns that women seem to know intuitively what the weaker male sex may grasp only by effort and education. Which is why it requires marriage and family to civilize the male animal. He needs a woman's tutelage.

Brighter boys learn the lesson of female superiority early; dimmer ones may never catch on.

I can only assume that Greenberg wrote this drivel because he's in the doghouse with his wife or because he's seeking just the sort of head-slapping attention that I'm giving him by linking. In any event: women are great! But so are men. Civilization needs both to thrive, and it does no one any good to degrade either sex.

From what I've seen, many families would be better off if the husband accepted more of a leadership role and quit submitting himself to the whims and demands of his wife.

(HT: Dr. Helen.)

President Obama gets "virtual colonoscopy" which isn't covered by Medicare and wouldn't be covered by Obamacare. Does anyone really think that the government can deliver cheaper health care that is as good or better than what insured people have today? Can there not be rationing?

Here is a handy-dandy way to determine whether the failure to order some exam or treatment constitutes rationing: If the patient were the president, would he get it? If he'd get it and you wouldn't, it's rationing.

Peter Singer writes about the tremendous success the US Army has had with its recruiting/training/entertainment game America's Army:

After two years of development, the game, called America's Army, was released at the Electronic Entertainment Expo, a sort of annual pilgrimage for video-gamers that draws some 60,000 people to the Los Angeles Convention Center. What happened next surprised all: The Army didn't just have a new recruiting tool, but an actual market hit. It quickly became one of the top 10 most popular games on the Internet, and within its first five years, some 9 million individuals had signed up to join America's video-game army, spending some 160 million hours on the site and making it one of the top 10 of all video games, online or otherwise.

From the Army's perspective, commercial triumph was secondary. Its goal was to recruit. And at this, too, the game proved to be a wild success. To log on to the game, you have to connect via the Army's recruitment website and fork over your information. Gamers can also check out profiles of current Army soldiers and video testimonials of why they joined. Just one year after America's Army was released, one-fifth of West Point's freshman class said they had played the game. By 2008, a study by two researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that "30 percent of all Americans age 16 to 24 had a more positive impression of the Army because of the game and, even more amazingly, the game had more impact on recruits than all other forms of Army advertising combined." Notably, this is from a game that the Pentagon has spent an average of $3.28 million a year developing and promoting over the last 10 years -- compared with the military's roughly $8 billion annual recruiting budget.

Playing a game is different than actual combat, but the level of competence that can be achieved virtually is amazing.

America's Army quickly expanded from a potent recruiting tool into a valuable training system for soldiers already in the military. Military contractor Foster-Miller's Talon robot, for example, is used widely in Iraq and Afghanistan to dismantle roadside bombs, the most deadly weapon used against U.S. troops there. The game's Talon training module cost just $60,000 to develop, but took training in how to operate robots in war to a whole new level. "Prior to this, the only way to train was to take the robot and the controller to the trainees, give them some verbal instruction, and get them started," Bill Davis, head of the America's Army future applications program, told National Defense. "This allows them to train without breaking anything."

But with these advances, it's getting harder to figure out where the games end and the war begins. In Talon the game and the real-life version, soldiers are watching the action through a screen and even holding the very same physical controllers in their hands. And these controllers are modeled after the video-game controllers that the kids grew up with. This makes the transition from training to actual use nearly seamless. As one Foster-Miller executive explained to me, describing the game's training package for the Talon's pissed-off big brother, the machine gun-armed Swords robot, "With a flip of the switch, he has a real robot and a real weapon." Because of "the realism," he said, the company is finding that "the soldiers train on them endlessly in their free time."

I've read in other places that these sorts of games can also teach players important tactical lessons, such as how to properly clear a building, advance under cover, provide covering fire, perform flanking maneuvers, and so forth.

Sound Mind Investing has a concise explanation of why contrarian investing works.

Simply put, the 200-year track record of the chart says that stocks are likely to produce better returns than their historical long-term average until they "catch up" to the trend line. Maybe not this year, or next, or for the next 5-10 years even. But time after time those two lines have separated and then converged, and it's likely to happen again before too long. It could take a decade, but long-term investors have time on their side.

I recognize that this is difficult to accept for many people who look at the long-term challenges facing our economy and our country. But keep in mind that all of the problems we see are already known and factored into the stock market's current valuation. The stock market is a forward-looking discounting mechanism that has all that known bad news already baked in.

That forward-looking discounting, coupled with the tendency shown in the chart for the market to revert to the mean, causes the market to continually deliver the exact opposite of what most investors expect. That's why in hindsight, a time like 1999 and early 2000 can be a poor time to invest, despite the fact that the external conditions seem to look great. And it's also why hindsight may well show the current period to be a good time for long-term investors to invest, despite external conditions seeming to look poor.

Emphasis mine.

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