December 2010 Archives

Ha! Some "Super"-Yacht!

At $600,000 per week the 60 metre Lürssen superyacht Solemates designed by the great Espen Oeino is one of the world’s most exclusive charter craft. It’s also one of the most cutting edge thanks to a new system that lets guests control various functions via an iPad. Don’t happen to own one? Not a problem – the captain hands each guest their own iPad when they step aboard.

On my superduperyacht each guest gets her own personal admiral who hands her a computer company and blows on a whistle every time she enters a room! I wouldn't use that tin can for a lifeboat.

Why don't malls have more loss leaders or freebies? I frequently go to a more distant mall because is has a Chick-Fil-A, which shows that I, at least, am easy to lure. (Though I rarely buy anything at the mall other than chicken.) So why don't malls have have publicized freebies to draw in traffic?

To say that 2010 hasn't been the best year of my life would be an understatement. It's hard not to get introretrospective during the holiday season, but I'm glad that Christmas comes before New Year. Every life has setbacks and the occasional soul-crushing disappointment, but these difficulties do not define me or hold me prisoner. God's grace and provision are sufficient for me.

Oh, come, oh, come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

Julian Assange is complaining that his police files have been leaked. Seriously.

In a move that surprised many of Mr Assange's closest supporters on Saturday, The Guardian newspaper published previously unseen police documents that accused Mr Assange in graphic detail of sexually assaulting two Swedish women. One witness is said to have stated: "Not only had it been the world's worst screw, it had also been violent."

Bjorn Hurtig, Mr Assange's Swedish lawyer, said he would lodge a formal complaint to the authorities and ask them to investigate how such sensitive police material leaked into the public domain. "It is with great concern that I hear about this because it puts Julian and his defence in a bad position," he told a colleague.

"I do not like the idea that Julian may be forced into a trial in the media. And I feel especially concerned that he will be presented with the evidence in his own language for the first time when reading the newspaper. I do not know who has given these documents to the media, but the purpose can only be one thing - trying to make Julian look bad."

Seriously. I... just... ?

I'll side with Pat Robertson and against Barack Obama when it comes to the "War on Drugs".

“We’re locking up people that have taken a couple puffs of marijuana and next thing you know they’ve got 10 years with mandatory sentences,” Robertson continued. “These judges just say, they throw up their hands and say nothing we can do with these mandatory sentences. We’ve got to take a look at what we’re considering crimes and that’s one of ‘em.

“I’m … I’m not exactly for the use of drugs, don’t get me wrong, but I just believe that criminalizing marijuana, criminalizing the possession of a few ounces of pot, that kinda thing it’s just, it’s costing us a fortune and it’s ruining young people. Young people go into prisons, they go in as youths and come out as hardened criminals. That’s not a good thing.”

I'm not generally in favor of broad legalization of all drugs, but I think our current approach is extremely harmful to society as well as being very expensive.


Potential jurors in Missoula, Montana, agree.

The tiny amount of marijuana police found while searching Touray Cornell’s home on April 23 became a huge issue for some members of the jury panel.

No, they said, one after the other. No way would they convict somebody for having a 16th of an ounce.

In fact, one juror wondered why the county was wasting time and money prosecuting the case at all, said a flummoxed Deputy Missoula County Attorney Andrew Paul.

District Judge Dusty Deschamps took a quick poll as to who might agree. Of the 27 potential jurors before him, maybe five raised their hands. A couple of others had already been excused because of their philosophical objections.

“I thought, ‘Geez, I don’t know if we can seat a jury,’ ” said Deschamps, who called a recess.

Juries are the second-to-last line of defense against governmental tyranny.

I've been using a hacked-together standing desk for several months at work now, and I love it.

Sitting kills.

(HT: LM.)

FedEx's SuperHub is a technological marvel and a triumph of the information age that is invisible to most of us but touches all of our lives.

Nothing illustrates the point better than the Small Package Sortation System, a vast, FedEx-designed machine that sits in its own warehouse. It cost $175 million to build and sorts an average of 1.2 million packages a night. It scans the bar code on every package at least 30 times. Any delays in the process can get detected in minutes. That's why the U.S. Postal Service has become one of FedEx's major accounts. FedEx's SmartPost operation delivers much of the United States' daily mail to the "last mile."

Because FedEx is as disciplined and reliable as it is, standard items it ships include chemotherapy drugs, human hearts and other live human organs, artificial joints, contact lenses, surgical scalpels, fresh blood, heart monitors, circuit boards, auto bumpers, tractor parts, Swiss watch elements, rare manuscripts, aviation components, Maine lobsters, crickets, whales, snakes, Japanese cherries, Hawaiian flowers, tennis shoes, and European fragrances. Oh, and FedEx also transports the occasional Arabian race horse and antique automobile. Any large cargo, from 150 pounds to 2,000 pounds, is fair game.

(HT: I forget! Sorry.)

To President Obama, everything is about Obama.

It is the president's favorite rhetorical pose: the hectorer in chief. He is alternately defiant, defensive, exasperated, resentful, harsh, scolding, prickly. He is both the smartest kid in class and the schoolyard bully.

There are many problems with this mode of presidential communication, but mainly its supreme self-regard. The tax deal, in Obama's presentation, was not about the economy or the country. It was about him. It was about the absurd concessions he was forced to make, the absurd opposition he was forced to endure, the universally insufficient deference to his wisdom.

He really does project arrogance and irritation every time I see him.

I want an app that I can scan across a crowd of people, capture their faces, and then look them up on Facebook.

(HT: RC.)

Nick Bostrum has posted a fun paper about existential risks which contains a description of "good-story bias" and how it may affect our predictions for the future.

Suppose our intuitions about which future scenarios are “plausible and realistic” are shaped by what we see on TV and in movies and what we read in novels. (After all, a large part of the discourse about the future that people encounter is in the form of fiction and other recreational contexts.) We should then, when thinking critically, suspect our intuitions of being biased in the direction of overestimating the probability of those scenarios that make for a good story, since such scenarios will seem much more familiar and more “real”. This Good-story bias could be quite powerful. When was the last time you saw a movie about humankind suddenly going extinct (without warning and without being replaced by some other civilization)? While this scenario may be much more probable than a scenario in which human heroes successfully repel an invasion of monsters or robot warriors, it wouldn’t be much fun to watch. So we don’t see many stories of that kind. If we are not careful, we can be mislead into believing that the boring scenario is too farfetched to be worth taking seriously. In general, if we think there is a Good-story bias, we may upon reflection want to increase our credence in boring hypotheses and decrease our credence in interesting, dramatic hypotheses. The net effect would be to redistribute probability among existential risks in favor of those that seem to harder to fit into a selling narrative, and possibly to increase the probability of the existential risks as a group.

The rest of the paper is also worth reading.

I couldn't stand Bill Clinton when he was president, but man, now I'm actually kinda nostalgic.

Seriously though: WTF? Jump to 9:30 to watch Bill Clinton wave the President out of his own press conference.

It's pretty humiliating to watch Obama fidget for almost ten minutes while Clinton does his job for him and then leave to go to a party while the former president continues to field questions.

Left Coast Rebel has the best roundup.

From "It's a wonderful life: Mentally subtracting positive events improves people's affective states, contrary to their affective forecasts." in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology we learn that one of the best ways to make yourself happier is to visualize what your life would be like if certain positive things hadn't happened.

The authors hypothesized that thinking about the absence of a positive event from one's life would improve affective states more than thinking about the presence of a positive event but that people would not predict this when making affective forecasts. In Studies 1 and 2, college students wrote about the ways in which a positive event might never have happened and was surprising or how it became part of their life and was unsurprising. As predicted, people in the former condition reported more positive affective states. In Study 3, college student forecasters failed to anticipate this effect. In Study 4, Internet respondents and university staff members who wrote about how they might never have met their romantic partner were more satisfied with their relationship than were those who wrote about how they did meet their partner. The authors discuss the implications of these findings for the literatures on gratitude induction and counterfactual reasoning.

Also known as: count your blessings. Compare:

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 -- "Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus."

Philippians 4:6-7 -- "Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."

See also: Psalm 77.

(HT: GeekPress.)

(HT: NC.)

President Obama calls tax-rate-maintaining Republicans "hostage takers" and then explains how he'll only compromise when the "hostages" are threatened.

"It's tempting not to negotiate with hostage takers unless the hostage gets harmed," President Obama said at his Tuesday press conference. "In this case, the hostage was the American people," Obama said.

Isn't the standard doctrine to not negotiate with hostage-takers even if that refusal results in the deaths of the hostages? If you negotiate, you only encourage terrorists to take more hostages. The idea is that in the long run refusing to negotiate will save more lives because it will discourage future hostage-taking.

President Obama's doctrine announces to the world that he's willing to appease hostage-takers, which makes hostage-taking a very attractive strategy for his enemies. I hope the President doesn't treat his own analogy of Republicans::hostage-takers too seriously, because it would be disastrous for America if he were so quick to appease real terrorists.

And to think: my two-year-old daughter and I managed to put up our tree all by ourselves! Granted, it's not as extravagant or gaudy as the White House tree, but times are tight!

I think the dangers of a zombie-apocalypse are greatly exaggerated. But just in case, here's a plan for living in luxury on a riverboat powered by zombie-diesel.

(HT: RB.)

What a fantastic birthday present!

So you know how everyone has spent the couple of years wondering where the Tim Geithner-signed bills are? Apparently the printing presses have rebelled against Geithner!

CNBC sources claimed that printers have produced 1.1billion of the new bills - but those bills are unusable because of a creasing problem.

The paper folds over during production - revealing a blank, unlinked [uninked? -- MW] portion of the bill face.

After printing, officials discovered that some of the new bills have a vertical crease that, when the sides of the bill are pulled, unfolds and reveals a blank space on the face of the bill.

At first glance, the bills appear completely printed - but they are not.

Those tricksy pressesses! You can join the rebellion by buying your very own Tim Geithner TAX CHEAT! stamps now now now! Order soon to guarantee delivery by Christmas.

It's the 69th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association says they're going to stick around a while longer.

(HT: Instapundit.)

President Obama has pushed Congressional Democrats under the (already crowded) bus and reached a deal with Republicans to maintain the existing income tax rates and even throw in a few substantial cuts.

Here are details of the emerging deal:
  • Extends unemployment insurance for 13 months. Two million workers in December, and 7 million over the next year, would have lost benefits otherwise.
  • Provides a one-year, 2 percentage point reduction in employees' Social Security payroll taxes, lowering the rate from 6.2% to 4.2%, at a cost of $120 billion.
  • Keeps the Earned Income Tax Credit and American Opportunity Tax Credit increases from last year's economic stimulus law, for another $40 billion in tax cuts for families and students.
  • Allows businesses to write off 100% of their capital purchases next year.
  • Sets the estate tax at 35% for two years, with a $5 million exemption on assets that's higher than last year's $3.5 million. The rate came down under Bush's policy from 55% before 2001 to 45% in 2009 before expiring this year. It was set to return at 55% next year.
  • Protects millions of taxpayers from seeing their taxes raised in 2010 and 2011 under the Alternative Minimum Tax.

I think the President is making a huge strategic miscalculation though:

Obama stressed that he didn't like two elements of the deal -- the temporary extension of tax cuts for upper-income Americans, which he said would have cost $700 billion if stretched for the entire next decade, and making the estate tax exemption more generous for the same time period.

In two years, he said, "It will become apparent that we can't afford these tax cuts any longer." The White House said it expects a vigorous debate about that during the 2012 presidential election.

So... during the 2011 campaign either a) the economy will be recovering strongly, or b) the economy will still be struggling with anemic growth. In which of these scenarios does Obama envision an American public eager for tax hikes that "we can't afford"?

Speaking of things "we can't afford", you'll notice that this deal does nothing to reduce spending, the deficit, or the debt. Tax cuts are good, but repeat after me: the real problem is that we spend too much.

Despite Barack Obama's claim in 2004 that "There is no Black America or White America or Latino America or Asian America, there is just the United States of America.", those fractured Americas have existed for decades in the form of majority-minority Congressional districts. These contorted districts are gerrymandered to surround a population that -- as the term implies -- consists mostly of racial minorities. The purpose of these districts is to take advantage of racial cohesion within these minority communities to guarantee the election of minority Congressmen. To this end the majority-minority districts are very successful.

One side-effect of majority-minority communities is that minority politicians do not need to appeal to a broad range of voters, only to people who are generally like themselves. This means that when a Congressman from a majority-minority district wants to run for higher office in a statewide election -- such as Governor or Senator -- that politician has no experience with the statewide electorate. Worse, because that Congressman has spent his career adhering to the preferences of his minority constituency he has very likely taken positions and cast votes that are unappealing to the statewide electorate. Thus, while majority-minority districts cause there to be more minority Congressmen than there would otherwise be, they actually hinder the development of minority politicians at the higher levels. The districts are honeypots that attract talented minority candidates and then trap them, preventing them from reaching higher office.

And so, the Democrats' diversity problem.

Of the 75 black, Hispanic, and Asian-American Democrats in Congress and governorships, only nine represent majority-white constituencies--and that declines to six in 2011. Two of the party's rising black stars who sought statewide office this year were rejected by their party's own base. And when you only look at members of Congress or governors elected by majority-white constituencies (in other words, most of the governorships and Senate seats, and 337 out of 435 House seats), Democrats trail Republicans in minority representation.

In fact, Republicans experienced a diversity boomlet this year. Cognizant of their stuffy national image, party leaders made a concerted effort to recruit a more diverse crop of candidates. That resulted in more than doubling the number of minority elected officials from six to 13--and a ten-fold increase (from one to 10) in the number of minorities representing majority-white constituencies.

The numbers reflect an inconvenient reality--even with their more diverse caucus, Democrats face the same challenges as Republicans in recruiting, nominating, and electing minority candidates to statewide office and in majority-white suburban and rural districts. The vast majority of black and Hispanic members hail from urban districts that don't require crossover votes to win, or represent seats designed to elect minorities. They are more liberal than the average Democrat, no less the average voter, making it more difficult to run statewide campaigns.

These are far from trivial facts. This means Democrats lack a bench of minority candidates who can run for statewide office, no less national office. Most Democratic minorities make a career in the House, accruing seniority and influence but lacking broad-based political support.

It should be no surprise to readers of this blog that the unintended consequences of majority-minority districts outweigh the benefits the districts were supposed to create. Diversity of all kinds is extremely valuable, but often the medicine can be worse than the disease.

Government is a toddler with a hammer, and the hammer is the power to regulate. When the toddler discovers an obstacle to his will he hammers it. Sometimes the hammer is the right tool for the job, but everything gets hammered because that's the only tool the toddler has. The hammer is a powerful tool that can be applied delicately to solve a certain kind of problem, but when it is swung with too much force (and enthusiasm!) in the wrong circumstance the wielder is likely to make things worse rather than better.

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon's proposal to further regulate pseudoephedrine is a perfect illustration of why we citizens should take away our government's hammer if it isn't used modestly.

If Gov. Jay Nixon has his way, Missourians suffering from allergies or a cold who prefer Sudafed, Claritin-D or any other medicines containing pseudoephedrine will need a prescription from their doctor before picking up their preferred drug from the corner pharmacy.

The attempt is part of a law enforcement-pushed effort to crack down on the sale of the illegal drug methamphetamine, which is made using pseudoephedrine. Already in Missouri, several cities — including Eureka, Washington and Farmington — and Jefferson County have passed similar laws. Missouri would be just the third state to pass such a law.

"This deadly drug cannot be allowed to fester in Missouri," Nixon said. "We have already enacted several measures to fight meth, but it's time to take this significant next step."

As Brian Noggle points out, existing regulations haven't worked.

It would seem a truism that someone doing something illegal will do illegal things, so making more illegal things won't stop people who do illegal things. Limiting the purchases hasn't stopped drug producers from making meth. Wait a minute, this just in: Making it illegal for people to get Vicodin or OxyContin without a prescription has not prevented people who do illegal things from doing illegal things. Drug abusers still get drugs illegally.

Watch the efficacy of the continual ratcheting to fight meth. Making you, the citizen, register your purchase hasn't stopped illegal production. Making you produce a prescription won't stop illegal production. Because Sudafed doesn't have the second amendment protection that guns have, politicians and legislators can do to helpful drugs what they would do to guns if they could. No matter what punitive measures they enact to protect you, those measures will only hinder and hurt you. Those who do illegal things will do illegal things except now with things they get illegally, but you can't get at all.

The hammer has already failed to solve the meth problem, so why should we let our politicians keep swinging away? Meth-makers seem able to dodge the blows, but us law-abiding citizens keep getting hit.

Note: this doesn't mean I think I have a better solution. Maybe there isn't a solution! Some problems just can't be solved. Tough! (Although I suspect there are several politically incorrect social solutions to the meth problem that our government is simply unwilling to use. For whatever reason, the regulatory hammer was the only tool in the government's box that survived the politically correct purge.)

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This page is an archive of entries from December 2010 listed from newest to oldest.

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