June 2010 Archives

Rory Cooper lists 10 things President Obama can do immediately to speed up the clean up of the gulf oil spill. Numbers five and six strike me as an opportunity for some enterprising state or local official:

5. Remove State and Local Roadblocks: Local governments are not getting the assistance they need to help in the cleanup. For example, nearly two months ago, officials from Escambia County, Fla., requested permission from the Mobile Unified Command Center to use a sand skimmer, a device pulled behind a tractor that removes oil and tar from the top three feet of sand, to help clean up Pensacola’s beaches. County officials still haven’t heard anything back. ...

6. Allow Sand Berm Dredging: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has recently prevented the state of Louisiana from dredging to build protective sand berms. Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser immediately sent a letter to President Obama requesting that the work continue.

For a huge burst of positive publicity with almost guaranteed immunity to prosecution, one of these state or local officials should just ignore the stop signs thrown up by the federal government do what they know needs to be done. The feds will be dumb enough to come down hard on them, and 99% of the public will condemn the feds and praise the daring official. This kind of opportunity is rare, and looks like a sure springboard into Congress for anyone bold enough to take it.

(HT: Instapundit.)

Who doesn't love statistics? Ever hear of Benford's Law?

Benford's law, also called the first-digit law, states that in lists of numbers from many (but not all) real-life sources of data, the leading digit is distributed in a specific, non-uniform way. According to this law, the first digit is 1 almost one third of the time, and larger digits occur as the leading digit with lower and lower frequency, to the point where 9 as a first digit occurs less than one time in twenty. This distribution of first digits arises whenever a set of values has logarithms that are distributed uniformly, as is approximately the case with many measurements of real-world values.

One of many techniques for catching statistical cheats. Note to self: don't attempt to fabricate statistical data.

Republicans need to stop assuming that American blacks are a lost demographic, because there are several conservative issues that seem to appeal to them. Al Sharpton himself admits that the vast majority of blacks are in favor of gun rights.

SHARPTON (4:52): I would say 90% of the calls I received yesterday were in support of the Supreme Court and people say they want to bear guns. They’re tired of the violence and it’s very very interesting. I have had a few on both sides today, but yesterday was overwhelming, it was stunning to me.

I just told Attorney Lou Meyers, lady stopped me last night; I did the commencement address at Boys and Girls High. She said I listen to your show Reverend and I want you to know I’m saved sanctified by feel of the Holy Ghost, but if they come in my house I’m going to drop them right where they stand. So, and she looked like she was in her eighties.

Blacks also support school voucher programs and start a lot of small businesses. There's no reason for Republicans to give into the race-baiting of the Democrats and concede the demographic to leftism.

I think everyone (except a current nominee) agrees that the American people deserve to know the inclinations of a person nominated to the Supreme Court. Unfortunately, as Elena Kagan's hearings demonstrate, no Senator who shares a party with the President is willing to vote down a nominee for being evasive. This abdication of Constitutional responsibility is especially bad when the Senate majority is held by the party of the President, whether Republican or Democrat. It's especially ironic that the present nominee herself described this Constitutional failure by the modern Senate eloquently in 1995:

Early in the day, Kagan disavowed her article on the vacuous confirmation process. "I did have the balance a little bit off," she said. "I skewed it too much toward saying that answering is appropriate."

Kohl wasn't buying that. "Back in that 1995 article, you wrote that one of the most important inquiries for any nominee . . . is to, quote, 'inquire as to the direction in which he or she would move the institution.' In what direction would you move the court?"

"All I can say," Kagan replied, "is that I will try to decide each case that comes before me as fairly and objectively as I can."

"But you, in 1995, 'It is a fair question to ask a nominee in what direction' -- this is your quote -- 'would you move the court?' " "Well, it might be a fair question," Kagan pointed out.

"All right, let's move on," the defeated interrogator said. "Can you tell us the names of a few current justices . . . with whom you most identify?"

"I think it would be just a bad idea for me to talk about current justices," she answered.

"My oh my oh my," Kohl marveled.

Democrats were amused by her newfound reticence; Republicans seethed. ...

Graham, who teased from Kagan the all-important Chinese-restaurant-on-Christmas answer, asked her to "go back in time" to the days when she criticized the confirmation process. Asked Graham: "Are we improving or going backward?"

"You've been exercising your constitutional responsibilities extremely well," she replied.

"So it's all those other guys that suck, not us," Graham said.

The solution is simple given Senators' expertise at protecting their hallowed conventions, like faux filibusters and "secret holds": how about a convention to vote down evasive nominees even if they're nominated by your own party?

I won't hold my breath.

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer to President Obama:

I hate to give any attention to such a despicable crowd, but as a Christian and a Baptist I feel an obligation to condemn them. I hope it's obvious to everyone, but just to be clear: Westboro Baptist Church is a hateful, evil organization that doesn't represent the teachings of Christ and doesn't have anything to do with Baptists other than despoiling our name.

Yet again they're in the news for protesting at a soldier's funeral. Disgraceful.

The American Civil Liberties Union has won a temporary restraining order that would allow members of the Westboro Baptist Church to protest at the funeral of Marine Lance Corporal Michael Bailey.

Corporal Bailey died June 16th in combat operations in Afghanistan, and will be buried from his old high school, West County High in this St. Francois County community.

The church protests at some military funerals, to promote its anti-gay agenda.

It's hard to think of a way that these "Christians" could be less Christlike and more damaging to Christ's mission for the church.

Oh, and thanks ACLU! I hope this lawsuit lets you put a check mark on your annual report about how you vigorously defend the rights of "Baptists" even though you disagree with them!

I'm not sure if I completely buy the argument, but it's interesting to consider Bruce Charlton's thesis that human capability is declining.

I suspect that human capability reached its peak or plateau around 1965-75 – at the time of the Apollo moon landings – and has been declining ever since.

This may sound bizarre or just plain false, but the argument is simple. That landing of men on the moon and bringing them back alive was the supreme achievement of human capability, the most difficult problem ever solved by humans. 40 years ago we could do it – repeatedly – but since then we have *not* been to the moon, and I suggest the real reason we have not been to the moon since 1972 is that we cannot any longer do it. Humans have lost the capability. ...

The fact is that human no longer do - *can* no longer do many things we used to be able to do: land on the moon, swiftly win wars against weak opposition and then control the defeated nation, secure national borders, discover ‘breakthrough’ medical treatments, prevent crime, design and build to a tight deadline, educate people so they are ready to work before the age of 22, block an undersea oil leak...

But... I'm not sure we could drill for oil 5000 feet below the surface 40 years ago. Still, Charlton's point isn't directly about technology as much as it's about will and bureaucracy.

But since the 1970s there has been a decline in the quality of people in the key jobs in NASA, and elsewhere – because organizations no longer seek to find and use the best people as their ideal but instead try to be ‘diverse’ in various ways (age, sex, race, nationality etc). And also the people in the key jobs are no longer able to decide and command, due to the expansion of committees and the erosion of individual responsibility and autonomy.

By 1986, and the Challenger space shuttle disaster, it was clear that humans had declined in capability – since the disaster was fundamentally caused by managers and committees being in control of NASA rather than individual experts.

It was around the 1970s that the human spirit began to be overwhelmed by bureaucracy (although the trend had been growing for many decades).

I agree that we've lost the capability to go to the moon, largely because of bureaucracy. However, even if our maximum capability as a civilization has dropped, I'd still argue that the advance of technology has led to an increase in our median individual capability.

Will this increase in individual capability eventually defeat the forces of bureaucratization? I sure hope so. I'd love to live in a civilization that is constantly reaching new heights.

(HT: The Corner.)

I agree with Victor Davis Hanson's perspective on General McChrystal.

There are plenty of other causes to worry: McChrystal’s derision of a dinner with a French diplomat, the entire notion of letting off steam to a leftwing reporter in Paris during a war, even the revelation of whom McChrystal voted for (i.e., Obama). Once one digests all the ramifications of this, I think one will see this is not a partisan issue, but one of judgment and deference for the chain of command.

Surely if a colonel or a major gave the same sort of interview about the general, and such an officer’s subordinates told the press the same sorts of things about McChrystal (much less Obama), he would be gone yesterday. I recall in Iraq overhearing a conversation among some reporters. One asked out loud, “Do you think Petraeus will ever run for office?” Another piped up, “Maybe, but who knows on which side?” — the point being that even though Petraeus worked with the Bush administration, and even though the Left took after him, he deliberately set a tone of professional nonpartisanship. He would never have disclosed to a reporter his past voting record, or had subordinates relay that information to the press. And he would never have disclosed any of his private concerns about Washington competency to a reporter, much less in a long-running conversation with a pesky Rolling Stone tag-along.

And now President Obama has hitched his horse to General Petraeus, the same man Obama's followers once labeled "General Betray Us". (The Senate voted to condemn the ad, and Senator Obama voted "present". and Senator Obama called the vote a "stunt" and didn't show up.) I guess we should take some solace in the fact that not even Obama can justify sticking one of his incompetent Chicago cronies in charge of an actual war.

BP logo redesign contest.

Top Three Things to Communicate Through Our Logo Design:

#1 Oil spill disaster - Toxic

#2 Death of wildlife

#3 Incompetence

(HT: RB.)

In a disgraceful abdication of their duties, the Democrat majority in Congress has decided not to pass a national budget resolution in 2010.

House Democrats will not pass a budget blueprint in 2010, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) will confirm in a speech on Tuesday.

But Hoyer will vow to crack down on government spending, saying Democrats will enforce spending limits that are lower than what President Barack Obama has called for.

Such vows -- by Democrats or Republicans -- are never kept. This is theater.

In the scheduled address to the progressive think tank The Third Way, Hoyer will acknowledge that the lower chamber will do things differently this election year.

“It isn’t possible to debate and pass a realistic, long-term budget until we’ve considered the bipartisan commission’s deficit-reduction plan, which is expected in December,” according to Hoyer’s prepared remarks that were provided to The Hill.

The real point here is that Democrats don't want to pass a budget with zero Republican votes that shows trillions of dollars in red ink for decades. Reality sucks.

Reader DP sends along this ancient (2003) article from The Onion about Americans' demands for more governmental "protection".

Alarmed by the unhealthy choices they make every day, more and more Americans are calling on the government to enact legislation that will protect them from their own behavior.

"The government is finally starting to take some responsibility for the effect my behavior has on others," said New York City resident Alec Haverchuk, 44, who is prohibited by law from smoking in restaurants and bars. "But we have a long way to go. I can still light up on city streets and in the privacy of my own home. I mean, legislators acknowledge that my cigarette smoke could give others cancer, but don't they care about me, too?"

"It's not just about Americans eating too many fries or cracking their skulls open when they fall off their bicycles," said Los Angeles resident Rebecca Burnie, 26. "It's a financial issue, too. I spend all my money on trendy clothes and a nightlife that I can't afford. I'm $23,000 in debt, but the credit-card companies keep letting me spend. It's obscene that the government allows those companies to allow me to do this to myself. Why do I pay my taxes?"

Parody becomes reality....

"SHR" outlines that we're now facing the worst case scenario in the Gulf. It's a slow-motion disaster that is only going to get worse over time.

All of these things lead to only one place, a fully wide open well bore directly to the oil deposit...after that, it goes into the realm of "the worst things you can think of" The well may come completely apart as the inner liners fail. There is still a very long drill string in the well, that could literally come flying out...as I said...all the worst things you can think of are a possibility, but the very least damaging outcome as bad as it is, is that we are stuck with a wide open gusher blowing out 150,000 barrels a day of raw oil or more. There isn't any "cap dome" or any other suck fixer device on earth that exists or could be built that will stop it from gushing out and doing more and more damage to the gulf. While at the same time also doing more damage to the well, making the chance of halting it with a kill from the bottom up less and less likely to work, which as it stands now?....is the only real chance we have left to stop it all.

It's a race now...a race to drill the relief wells and take our last chance at killing this monster before the whole weakened, wore out, blown out, leaking and failing system gives up it's last gasp in a horrific crescendo.

We are not even 2 months into it, barely half way by even optimistic estimates. The damage done by the leaked oil now is virtually immeasurable already and it will not get better, it can only get worse. No matter how much they can collect, there will still be thousands and thousands of gallons leaking out every minute, every hour of every day. We have 2 months left before the relief wells are even near in position and set up to take a kill shot and that is being optimistic as I said.

Over the next 2 months the mechanical situation also cannot improve, it can only get worse, getting better is an impossibility. While they may make some gains on collecting the leaked oil, the structural situation cannot heal itself. It will continue to erode and flow out more oil and eventually the inevitable collapse which cannot be stopped will happen. It is only a simple matter of who can "get there first"...us or the well.

We can only hope the race against that eventuality is one we can win, but my assessment I am sad to say is that we will not.

I haven't read of an optimistic scenario presented by anyone knowledgeable. Links welcome.

(HT: Wizbang and Instapundit.)

Michael Barone unleashes a devestating broadside against Obama, labeling not merely a thug, but an ineffective thug.

Finally, the $20 billion escrow fund that Obama pried out of the BP treasury at the White House when he talked for the first time, 57 days after the rig exploded, with BP Chairman Tony Hayward. It's pleasing to think that those injured by BP will be paid off speedily, but House Republican Joe Barton had a point, though an impolitic one, when he called this a "shakedown."

For there already are laws in place that insure that BP will be held responsible for damages and the company has said it will comply. So what we have is government transferring property from one party, an admittedly unattractive one, to others, not based on pre-existing laws but on decisions by one man, pay czar Kenneth Feinberg.

Feinberg gets good reviews from everyone. But the Constitution does not command "no person . . . shall . . . be deprived of life, liberty or property, without due process of law except by the decision of a person as wise and capable as Kenneth Feinberg." The Framers stopped at "due process of law."

Obama doesn't. "If he sees any impropriety in politicians ordering executives about, upstaging the courts and threatening confiscation, he has not said so," write the editors of the Economist, who then suggest that markets see Obama as "an American version of Vladimir Putin." Except that Putin is an effective thug.

It seems that when Obama put himself forward as a candidate he had no real idea of what the President is actually supposed to do. It says a lot about his character that he assumed that he would be worthy of the office despite any evidence.

Obama in the Oval Office is like a child running hurdles in the Olympics.

Yeah, Jon Stewart is on a roll.

IBM's Watson artificial intelligence can answer questions posed in natural language.

For the last three years, I.B.M. scientists have been developing what they expect will be the world’s most advanced “question answering” machine, able to understand a question posed in everyday human elocution — “natural language,” as computer scientists call it — and respond with a precise, factual answer. In other words, it must do more than what search engines like Google and Bing do, which is merely point to a document where you might find the answer. It has to pluck out the correct answer itself. Technologists have long regarded this sort of artificial intelligence as a holy grail, because it would allow machines to converse more naturally with people, letting us ask questions instead of typing keywords. Software firms and university scientists have produced question-answering systems for years, but these have mostly been limited to simply phrased questions. Nobody ever tackled “Jeopardy!” because experts assumed that even for the latest artificial intelligence, the game was simply too hard: the clues are too puzzling and allusive, and the breadth of trivia is too wide.

With Watson, I.B.M. claims it has cracked the problem — and aims to prove as much on national TV. The producers of “Jeopardy!” have agreed to pit Watson against some of the game’s best former players as early as this fall. To test Watson’s capabilities against actual humans, I.B.M.’s scientists began holding live matches last winter. They mocked up a conference room to resemble the actual “Jeopardy!” set, including buzzers and stations for the human contestants, brought in former contestants from the show and even hired a host for the occasion: Todd Alan Crain, who plays a newscaster on the satirical Onion News Network.

You can play against Watson yourself if you want. I lost badly.

Despite confusion by the media, there is a significant difference between "covert" operations and "clandestine" operations.

Covert operations: operation should be undetected while in progress, but the outcome may be easily observed. Example: special operations team secretly inserted behind enemy lines to destroy a high-value target.

Clandestine operations: operation should be undetected while in progress and after completion. Example: steal copies of enemy intelligence reports.

In both cases the identity/ties of the operators may be kept hidden or disguised after the operation is complete.

Read all about the Bathyscaphe Trieste, the only ship to ever dive to the bottom of the Mariana Trench.

U.S. Rep. Bob Etheridge (D-Lillington) assaults student interviewer and demands, "Who are you?"

Maybe this apology will make everything better.

For the past few decades artificial intelligence researchers have generally believed that connectionism was the key to building a generalized AI system. Short version of connectionism: symbolic thought is the emergent result of connections between billions of neurons, each of which individually plays only a small, distributed role.

It's pretty surprising that researchers seem to have found evidence that individual neurons can identify objects as dissimilar as sports cars and dogs because the predominant theories expect that such high-level symbolic recognition would be distributed across a large number of neurons, not concentrated in any recognizable location.

In previous studies, Earl K. Miller, Picower Professor of Neuroscience, found that individual neurons in monkeys' brains can become tuned to the concept of "cat" and others to the concept of "dog."

This time, Miller and colleagues Jason Cromer and Jefferson Roy recorded activity in the monkeys' brains as the animals switched back and forth between distinguishing cats vs. dogs and sports cars vs. sedans. Although they found individual neurons that were more attuned to car images and others to animal images, to their surprise, there were many neurons active in both categories. In fact, these "multitasking" neurons were best at making correct identifications in both categories.

Of course, there are still multiple neurons involved in any of these recognition problems, but it's still striking that such distinct localized behavior can be observed on single neurons.

The New York Times has an interesting article about how sequencing the human genome has led to very few cures.

Ten years after President Bill Clinton announced that the first draft of the human genome was complete, medicine has yet to see any large part of the promised benefits.

For biologists, the genome has yielded one insightful surprise after another. But the primary goal of the $3 billion Human Genome Project — to ferret out the genetic roots of common diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s and then generate treatments — remains largely elusive. Indeed, after 10 years of effort, geneticists are almost back to square one in knowing where to look for the roots of common disease.

But what the Times and maybe many scientists fail to grasp -- and what Ray Kurzweil would be quick to point out -- is that genetic medicine is still on the flat part of the exponential growth curve. If you examine the green line on the chart below (which represents exponential growth) you will see that it begins very flat. This flatness is an illusion of scale, and as progress is made down the curve the slope steepens eventually and surpasses the linear and quadratic curves.

The benefits of technology follow an exponential curve. It is a mistake to judge the results of the Human Genome Project before we reach the elbow in the curve.

Additionally, I will add that what appears to have been quite a surprise to many medical researchers is no surprise to me at all.

It was far too expensive at that time to think of sequencing patients’ whole genomes. So the National Institutes of Health embraced the idea for a clever shortcut, that of looking just at sites on the genome where many people have a variant DNA unit. But that shortcut appears to have been less than successful.

The theory behind the shortcut was that since the major diseases are common, so too would be the genetic variants that caused them. Natural selection keeps the human genome free of variants that damage health before children are grown, the theory held, but fails against variants that strike later in life, allowing them to become quite common. In 2002 the National Institutes of Health started a $138 million project called the HapMap to catalog the common variants in European, East Asian and African genomes.

With the catalog in hand, the second stage was to see if any of the variants were more common in the patients with a given disease than in healthy people. These studies required large numbers of patients and cost several million dollars apiece. Nearly 400 of them had been completed by 2009. The upshot is that hundreds of common genetic variants have now been statistically linked with various diseases.

But with most diseases, the common variants have turned out to explain just a fraction of the genetic risk. It now seems more likely that each common disease is mostly caused by large numbers of rare variants, ones too rare to have been cataloged by the HapMap.

Old (Wrong) Theory: Most common diseases are caused by a few localized, common, genetic variants. Implication: the human genome is generally in a stable equilibrium that is occasionally disturbed by small numbers of large genetic failures.

New (Right?) Theory: Most common diseases are caused by a large number of small problematic genetic variants. Implication: the human genome is generally unstable and all these genes that we think aren't doing anything are actually quite important. Small variations in these "supporting" genes cause the unstable equilibrium to break down. Human life is like a water tower that collapses if you remove enough cross-beams, even if you don't touch the uprights.

It's no surprise to me at life is an unstable equilibrium, and the only reason I can think of for biologists to assume differently because the theory of evolution completely breaks down if genetic viability isn't inherently stable. (Or so it would seem to me.)

Here's a graph that illustrates how Obama's health care reform bill killed job growth before it even passed.

In case it isn't obvious at first glance, the chart shows that as soon as Obamacare was proposed at the end of October, 2009, companies immediately stopped hiring as many people and unemployment filings decreased at a much reduced rate.

It's hard to imagine a more striking example of how liberal arts education is destroying itself than the explicitly political "Crying Wolf" project.

Academic freedom carries with it rights as well as responsibilities. The concept derives from the belief that academics, because of specialized training in their subject matter, have earned the right to teach their areas of expertise and to follow their research questions as the evidence dictates---free from political pressure from the government. Indeed, only through a guarantee of such freedom can academics engage in a search for truth.

A corresponding responsibility, of course, is that academics will actually seek to pursue the truth. If professors' research methods imitate the likes of James Carville or Karl Rove, then what purpose exists to safeguard the academy from the government? Indeed, at public universities, if the professoriate functions as partisan hacks, selectively plucking items to advance a political agenda, what's to stop legislative demands that the faculty mirror the partisan breakdown of the state, to ensure proportionate representation to all political viewpoints?

A newly announced project called "Crying Wolf," organized out of the Center on Policy Initiatives, seems blithely unconcerned with any requirements associated with academic freedom. As John has noted, project coordinators Peter Dreier (a distinguished professor of politics at Occidental College), Nelson Lichtenstein (a historian of 20th century U.S. history at UC Santa Barbara who directs the university's Center for the Study of Work, Labor and Democracy), and Donald Cohen, CPI executive director, are recruiting professors and graduate students (in "history, sociology, economics, political science, planning, public health, and public policy") to perform "paid academic research" that can "serve in the battle with conservative ideas."

I bolded the key sentence: it's not just that liberal arts education is making itself useless by failing to teach anything of value, but it's also baiting the powers-that-be by undermining the foundation of the societal protection it enjoys. If "academic freedom" is used as a shield to protect political adversaries rather than merely unpopular truth, then why should society preserve it? Academic freedom will become just another political football at the mercy of whatever ideology holds power.

(HT: RB and SciFiWire.)

If you need any further proof of just how scared the left-wing media is of the blogosphere then consider the May 3rd, 2010, edition of Newsweek.

Let's glance through the table of contents for something interesting to read about.... Hm, a story about "coffee parties"? I think I remember hearing something about 12 hippies meeting in a Starbucks six months ago but I wasn't aware that it merited serious coverage. The article (below) casts the "Tea Party people" as a bunch of paranoid racists but manages to avoid any overtly offensive language.

But wait a second, let's go back to the table of contents! This bit of the magazine is fairly unusual in that it is only available to Newsweek's print readers. Here, in the safety of the table of contents, Newsweek's editors are among fellow travelers and can really tell us what they think without fear of recrimination. So what about those "Tea Party people" from the article?

The point: Newsweek is too cowardly to let its columnists write what they really think in the main body of their magazine because they might face criticism; hence, "teabaggers" became "Tea Party people". But in the safety and security of the internet-inaccessible table of contents the editors let their hair down treat their left-wing print readers to a little fan service.

Parenting Fail photos. Here's the one that made me cry.

Media, politicians, bloggers, world: please stop creating any more "witty" meanings for the initials of British Petroleum. It wasn't clever the first time someone did it, and it's still not clever the ten thousandth time.

  • "Big Problems"
  • "Barely Paying attention"
  • "Blasted Profusely"
  • "Bored Poorly"

Just stop.

I've been looking around but I can't seem to find an iPed for sale online. Apparently the iPad clone is selling for $105 in China and runs Google's Android OS. If anyone finds a source for these, please let me know.

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