August 2010 Archives

(HT: MW.)

Anyone who has watched Cops could predict Paris Hilton's defense of her cocaine possession:

The officer waited for the arrival of a female officer to assist in the search and they removed the “suspected bindle of cocaine,” and then Paris was read her Miranda rights. Paris told the officer that the purse was not hers, and that “she had borrowed it from a friend.”

That Ain't Mine!

Too bad we weren't watching a Tazed-And-Confused special edition instead.

This paragraph about President Obama's Afghanistan policy is pretty disturbing if you take it at face value:

One adviser at the time said Mr. Obama calculated that an open-ended commitment would undermine the rest of his agenda. “Our Afghan policy was focused as much as anything on domestic politics,” the adviser said. “He would not risk losing the moderate to centrist Democrats in the middle of health insurance reform and he viewed that legislation as the make-or-break legislation for his administration.”

White House officials reject the linkage, but said Mr. Obama believed that the wars should be judged against other priorities.

The anonymous Obama adviser is saying that the President made a decision to commit troops in Afghanistan in order to further an unrelated domestic political goal. That is a damning accusation. It's good that the White House denies the accusation, and I hope it isn't true. I'd like to find out more, if any journalists are willing to investigate.

(HT: Best of the Web Today.)

There are a host of technical problems that this project faces, but it's at least interesting to read about applying swarm intelligence to power generation.

The "marine energy" industry has come up with a number of ideas to make use of the movement of water around the globe, be it from ocean waves, tides slipping into and out of inlets, or regular ocean currents like the Gulf Stream.

The more common solution to the problem has been to build large turbines, to be anchored to the seabed.

But the nature of the Gulf Stream presents different challenges, said Professor White.

"Even though the Gulf Stream is constrained between two bodies of land, the flow rate and location of peak velocity will change, based on seasonal and weather conditions."

The solution, Professor White and his team suggest, are autonomous turbines with so-called "swarm intelligence" that can navigate through the ocean currents, similar to a school of fish searching for food.

"Swarm intelligence can achieve two goals. One is to find the 'sweet spot' of the Gulf Stream, which is the location where the array will achieve maximum power output," he said.

"The other goal is to find the array orientation and alignment that provides optimal efficiency."


1. How do swarm members communicate underwater?

2. How do mobile turbines hundreds of meters under the middle of the ocean transmit the power they generate to consumers?

(HT: MG.)

(HT: RC.)

Yes, the term "death panel" is pretty loaded, but it's also hard to deny the accuracy of the words when you read about government bureaucrats making medical decisions for the rest of us.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is on the verge of taking the highly unusual step of “decertifying” the cancer drug Avastin that it had previously approved. In addition to sparking concerns that this is another step towards medical rationing, the FDA’s proposal will worsen another important but less-frequently recognized danger of government-run health care — namely, the politicization of health benefits. Both problems will accelerate under ObamaCare unless our politicians repudiate the principle of government-run health care.

Avastin is used to help lengthen and improve the quality of life of patients with late-stage cancers of the colon, lung, kidney, and brain. (It cannot cure these terminal cancers.) As the Washington Post recently reported, the FDA had also approved it for late-stage breast cancer, but based on recommendations from its scientific advisory panel it is considering rescinding that approval on the grounds that the risks outweigh the benefits.

Paul Hsieh hits the nail on the head and points out that there is no reasonable way for the government to make medical decisions for everyone.

The basic problem is that government should not be making these sorts of medical coverage decisions at all. Neither the FDA, the USPSTF, the IPAB, nor any other alphabet-soup government agency should decide what treatments and procedures you may (or may not) receive when your life is at stake. Instead, patients should be allowed to purchase the treatments they wish (in consultation with their physicians) in a free market based on their own individual priorities and preferences.

People should be free to make these decisions themselves. Some people will make bad decisions, yes, but putting the government in charge of everyone just to protect bad-decision-makers from themselves is unjust and tyrannical.

Warner Todd Huston talks about Roger Ebert's (who?) latest left-wing nonsense but the only thing I find to care about is here (emphasis mine):

Worse he seems to be saying that it was Sarah Palin that invented the name “Ground Zero Mosque.” This is an untruth. Then he calls Palin Hitler by saying she is using tactics from Mein Kampf.

That’s alright Rog, we know that you are using tactics invented by Marx, so you have that going for you, which is nice.

The blogosphere is on notice: I demand more Caddyshack references from everyone.


Ask and ye shall receive! Two Caddyshack references in one day! Presidential golf:

Obama again teed off with Chicago pal Eric Whitaker and aide Marvin Nicholson . Rounding out the foursome was Bill Lewis, a regular Vineyard vacationer who played with Obama and Whitaker last year. Once again, the press corps was kept far, far away from the presidential golf party.

Perhaps the Leader of the Free World is a little sensitive about his game. Because our spies report that Barry was hacking away at a ball in the bunker on the 12th hole - a la Judge Elihu Smails - before giving up and throwing it onto the green. Shades of Bill Clinton!

I guess it's a sign that I should add the movie to my Netflix queue....

I don't like it when people split their verb phrases. I don't mean to pick on Tom Blumer, but I just read a sentence he wrote that exemplifies the awkwardness of the split verb phrase.

Though there are far too many glaring exceptions, e.g., Bell, California, it’s still generally the case that the taxpaying public will tend to resist unreasonable attempts at expansion and unreasonable pay scales, and will often vote politicians who have supported or implemented such efforts out of office.

The italicized words split the bolded verb phrase and mentally break the flow of the phrase. It would have scanned more cleanly if it had been written as "and will often vote out of office politicians who have supported or implemented such efforts".

Grammar Girl says that there's no rule against splitting verb phrases. There are some instances in which I would support splitting a verb phrase for stylistic reasons. However, I believe that language can be used much more precisely and accurately when verb phrases are not split, and Chief Justice John Roberts probably agrees with me.

The famous psychologist and linguist Stephen Pinker had an interesting op-ed piece in the New York Times in which he noted that even though it's not against the rules to split a verb phrase, Chief Justice Roberts has shown a tendency in past writings to avoid it (3). I want to stress that it's not a rule (4); it's fine to split verb phrases, but it seems as if Roberts thinks it's a rule, and Pinker speculates that when Roberts was thrown off by the interruption, he rephrased the oath in his head to fit his view of how sentences should be written.

I expect that most of Roberts' writing and speaking is tailored for the legal domain and that he believes that the precise use of language is extremely important. As an engineer, I concur.

This is brilliant. Investors are using satellite imagery to augment their financial analysis.

As an example of how Wall Street getting in on this techhology, the UBS Investment Research issued its earnings preview for Wal-Mart's [WMT 50.68 -0.18 (-0.35%) ] second quarter, which publicly revealed that UBS [UBS 17.04 0.22 (+1.31%) ] had been using used satellite services of private-sector satellite companies to gather the comings and goings of the parking lots at Wal-Mart stores. “UBS proprietary satellite parking lot fill rate analysis points to an interesting cadence intra-quarter and potential upside to our view,” the report read.

UBS analyst Neil Currie had been looking at satellite data on Wal-Mart during each month of 2010, and he’d concluded that there was enough correlation between what he was seeing in the satellite pictures of Wal-Mart’s parking lots to the big-box chain’s quarterly earnings, that he was ready to incorporate that data into UBS’ report on Wal-Mart, which releases its earnings on Tuesday.

Currie purchased his analysis from a small two-year old Chicago-based firm called Remote Sensing Metrics LLC, which had scoured satellite images of more than 100 Wal-Mart stores chosen as a representative sample.

By counting the cars in Wal-Mart’s parking lots month in and month out, Remote Sensing Metrics analysts were able to get a fix on the company’s customer flow. From there, they worked up a mathematical regression to come up with a prediction of the company’s quarterly revenue each month.

What industries other than retail can be scrutinized by satellite? Some possibilities:

  • construction
  • forestry
  • trains, trucking, ports
  • amusement parts
  • beaches and other tourism
  • car sales

Hey, why not another Harry Reid post?

(HT: Legal Insurrection.)

English is not typically considered a tonal language, but the following seven-word sentence can give you an idea for how difficult it can be to program a computer to understand the nuances that humans take for granted. As you read the following sentence, consider how the meaning shifts depending on which of the seven words you emphasize -- seven words, seven different interpretations for the sentence.

"I never said she stole my money."

I encountered this sentence several times while studying linguistics and artificial intelligence because it is a simple demonstration of why language is so difficult for computers to understand or generate. Wikipedia offers these seven interpretations.

  • "I never said she stole my money" - Someone else said it, but I didn't.
  • "I never said she stole my money" - I simply didn't ever say it.
  • "I never said she stole my money" - I might have implied it in some way, but I never explicitly said it.
  • "I never said she stole my money" - I said someone took it; I didn't say it was she.
  • "I never said she stole my money" - I just said she probably borrowed it.
  • "I never said she stole my money" - I said she stole someone else's money.
  • "I never said she stole my money" - I said she stole something of mine, but not my money.

Perhaps you can think of even more? Consider the ways that authors attempt to evoke these interpretations without resorting to italics or bolding. It's not trivial! Consider how quickly children learn to differentiate and utilize these forms. In this case, intonation is being used to indicate the target of the sentence's overall negation, but that's just one way that English uses tone. No wonder it's hard to make machines that can understand natural language!

In 1993 Harry Reid wrote a bill to abolish birthright citizenship. Now in 2010 he claims that anyone opposed to birthright citizenship is either insensible or unprincipled.

For all the brouhaha over Republicans wanting to review the interpretation of the 14th Amendment, the citizenship/birthright clause, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, once supported revising the current interpretation of the birthright citizenship clause in 1993.

Mr. Reid introduced a bill to the Senate Judiciary Committee as the Immigration Stabilization Act of 1993. The bill, which died in committee after it was referred to the Subcommittee on Immigration and Refugee Affairs, includes tough immigration provisions that would make many wonder where Mr. Reid truly stands on the immigration and border debate.

Title X of the Reid introduced bill shows the Nevada Democrat took Senator Lindsey Graham's, South Carolina Republican, idea on the interpretation of the 14th Amendment and documented it into legislation:

"TITLE X—CITIZENSHIP 4 SEC. 1001. BASIS OF CITIZENSHIP CLARIFIED. In the exercise of its powers under section of the Fourteenth Article of Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, the Congress has determined and hereby declares that any person born after the date of enactment of this title to a mother who is neither a citizen of the United States nor admitted to the United States as a lawful permanent resident, and which person is a national or citizen of another country of which either of his or her natural parents is a national or citizen, or is entitled upon application to become a national or citizen of such country, shall be considered as born subject to the jurisdiction of that foreign country and not subject to the jurisdiction of the United States within the meaning of section 1 of such Article and shall therefore not be a citizen of the United States or of any State solely by reason of physical presence within the United States at the moment of birth."

I hope Dingy Harry takes a stab at explaining this flip-flop. My guess at the truth: Reid has no principles and simply advocates whatever he thinks will keep him personally in power.

(HT: Moe Lane, Gateway Pundit, Ed Morrisey, Brian O'Connor, Weasel Zippers.)

It's stunning that Democrats simply can't resist pulling the race card at every opportunity. I know I'm not the only one who laughs at it these days.

While campaigning in Nevada Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told an audience of mostly Hispanic voters: "I don't know how anyone of Hispanic heritage could be a Republican, okay. Do I need to say more?"

If Reid really wants an answer to his rhetorical question he should ask Brian Sandoval, the Hispanic Republican running for governor of Nevada who is cruising to victory over the head of Reid's son, Rory.

What if many of today's unemployed have been rendered unemployable by changes in the economy and the advance of technology?

In one of the most thought-provoking economics books of our times, A Farewell to Alms, Gregory Clark, discusses the concern that improved machines would reduce demand for labor. The answer during the Industrial Revolution was remarkably “no”. Most unskilled workers in fact benefited hugely from the Industrial Revolution, but not all:
“there was a type of employee at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution whose job and livelihood largely vanished in the early twentieth century. This was the horse. The population of working horses actually peaked in England long after the Industrial Revolution, in 1901, when 3.25 million were at work. Though they had been replaced by rail for long-distance haulage and by steam engines for driving machinery, they still plowed fields, hauled wagons and carriages short distances, pulled boats on the canals, toiled in the pits, and carried armies into battle. But the arrival of the internal combustion engine in the late nineteenth century rapidly displaced these workers, so that by 1924 there were fewer than two million. There was always a wage at which all these horses could have remained employed. But that wage was so low that it did not pay for their feed.” (page 286)

The U.S. has 15 million officially unemployed workers and additional tens of millions who aren’t working and aren’t looking for a job. Could these folks be the draft horses of the 21st century?

Machines will continue to displace humans. The tipping point will come before machines can do the work of an average-IQ human because there are plenty of humans with average or above-average IQ who are lazy and will be happy to let machines take over their jobs.

This shouldn't be news, nor should for-profit colleges be singled out for derision: lots of people waste borrowed money on useless degrees.

After graduating from the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale, Carrianne Howard hoped to find a job in the video game industry.

She did -- kind of. For $12 an hour, she worked as a recruiter for video game companies. And then her position was eliminated. So now, she's working as a stripper.

According to Bloomberg, Howard spent $70,000 on her degree from the for-profit Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale, the parent company of which is owned in part by Goldman Sachs. She told Bloomberg that upon a pre-enrollment visit to the school, a campus tour guide "made it sound like [she] was going to make hundreds of thousands of dollars."

Heck, at UCLA they had a whole department dedicated to studying women, but it sounds like Howard it going to eat their lunch.

(HT: RD.)

Democrats should be scared by Missouri's overwhelming rejection of ObamaCare.

Missouri voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly rejected a federal mandate to purchase health insurance, rebuking President Barack Obama's administration and giving Republicans their first political victory in a national campaign to overturn the controversial health care law passed by Congress in March.

"The citizens of the Show-Me State don't want Washington involved in their health care decisions," said Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-Chesterfield, one of the sponsors of the legislation that put Proposition C on the August ballot. She credited a grass-roots campaign involving Tea Party and patriot groups with building support for the anti-Washington proposition.

With most of the vote counted, Proposition C was winning by a ratio of nearly 3 to 1.

We're the first to opt out of ObamaCare, but certainly won't be the last.

Missouri was the first of four states to seek to opt out of the insurance purchase mandate portion of the health care law that had been pushed by Obama. And while many legal scholars question whether the vote will be binding, the overwhelming approval gives the national GOP momentum as Arizona, Florida and Oklahoma hold similar votes during midterm elections in November.

The federal government will almost certainly win if it sues Missouri to block Proposition C... and then the situation will escalate. The courts are not the final arbiters of Constitutionality -- the People are.

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