February 2012 Archives

Why do we have so many laws that no one likes? One reason is that we have legislative blocs that "trade" with each other to pass laws that individually don't have majority support. For example, assume that groups A, B, and C each represent about one-third of the voters, and the numbers represent how each group thinks about each proposed law:


Neither law X nor law Y could be enacted alone, but if legislators that represent A and B cooperate with each other they can get both laws passed. Sure, the legislator that represents group A knows that his voters will be mildly displeased that he voted for Y, but X passed too so they're happy in the moment. Similarly for B and Y.

On the other hand, law Z might never be enacted despite broad support. How? Legislators for group B might condition their votes for Y on agreement from A to forgo Z.

Extrapolate thousands of laws and thousands of overlapping interest groups. A very small group that supports a very unpopular proposed law might be able to get that law enacted if they wield a pivotal vote on a larger issue.

The end result is that we end up with lots of laws that don't enjoy majority support but were enacted due to "horse-trading" exchanges among legislators who are primarily concerned with re-election and looking good in the moment.

Most Protestant Christians don't feel the need to use a special ritual to dispose of worn-out Bibles. The books themselves should be treated respectfully (e.g., not used as doorstops or the like) but when they're unusable they can be thrown in the trash, burned, or whatever. However, disposing of worn-out scripture is a very different matter for Muslims and there is some specific guidance on how to dispose of used Qur'ans.

Disposing of Unusable Copies of the Qur'an

As far as old and unusable copies of the Qur'an are concerned, it is not permitted to burn them unless there is no other way to dispose of them. The great Hanafi Imam, Imam Ibn Abidin (may Allah have mercy on him) states:

"If a copy of the Mushaf (qur'an) becomes old and it is difficult to read from it, it should not be burnt in fire. This is what Imam Muhammad (m: student of Imam Abu Hanifa) pointed out and this is what we take. It will not be disliked to bury it. It should be wrapped in a pure cloth, and a Lahd grave (m: grave that has a incision in the side wall, customary in hot climate countries where the earth is solid) should be dug, because if a Shiq grave (m: grave with a straight opening, common in cold climate countries due to the earth being soft) is dug and the copy ofthe Qur'an is buried, it will entail the soil falling on top of the Qur'an which is a form of disrespect, unless a slab is placed as a roof. .. " (Radd al-Muhtar, 5/271)

In light of the above, there are two methods of disposing of an unusable copy of the Qur'an:

(1) Wrapping it in a pure piece of cloth and burying it respectfully in a place where people (normally) do not walk about In cold climate countries (such as the UK), one may dig a Shiq grave, but a slab should be placed first and over it the soil.

(2) Fastening the Qur'an with a heavy object like a stone and then placing it respectfully in flowing water.

However, burning seems to be acceptable as a last resort. Here's some more info:

The burning of the Quran has angered Afghans in the past, sparking deadly protests in 2010 and 2011. But if discarding a Quran is necessary, there are respectful and acceptable ways to do so, scholars say.

It is important to give a Quran a proper burial, says Omid Safi, professor of Islamic studies at the University of North Carolina and author of "Memories of Muhammad." Any text containing the name of God is sacred in Islam. God is revealed through scripture, and anything associated with writing it has a religious significance, Mr. Safi says.

One could literally bury the Quran, ideally in a place with little foot traffic. Another option is to put the book in a flowing body of water, either letting it sink or be carried away. Regardless of the method, treating the book's destruction with respect is paramount. Safi likens it to a poor man's funeral, where the book might be wrapped in a shroud before being placed in the ground and mourned.

Burning the Quran, however, is also an accepted practice.

"People often ask, 'if it's OK for Muslims to burn the Quran, then why isn't it OK for the US military to do it?'" Safi says. "That's where the question of symbolism is important."

Some say erasing the names of God and his messengers prior to burning the Quran makes it acceptable, but Safi says it's even simpler than that. It comes down to context: Burning the text in a dumpster with trash on a US military base feels less respectful than treating the disposal with reverence in a burial or sacred burning.

Gas price jumps 10 cents during two-minute news story. Also, gas is crazy expensive in Los Angeles.

Are gas prices high enough for President Obama yet? His energy secretary said "we have to figure out how to boost the price of gasoline to the levels in Europe" but the conversions from dollars to Euros and gallons to "litres" make my head hurt.



(HT: Sarah Amos.)

People who can't find jobs are applying for disability insurance when their unemployment insurance runs out.


Since 1995 the number of disabled workers has doubled and expenditures have increased even faster than disabled workers, tripling since 1995. The increase in workers receiving disability insurance has come at the same time as the US working age population has become healthier. A large fraction of the increase in disability has come from increases in hard-to-verify back pain and mental problems (see Autor and Duggan and more recently Autor).

After the 2001 recession, disability applications also shot up and they never fell back to their old levels. We may be reaching a new, permanently higher, plateau.

Disabled workers do not count as unemployed, they have been bought out of the labor force.

So can we call Obama the "disability president"?

Charles Murray nails the solution to some of our cultural problems by excoriating condescending "nonjudgmentalism".

There remains a core of civic virtue and involvement in working-class America that could make headway against its problems if the people who are trying to do the right things get the reinforcement they need--not in the form of government assistance, but in validation of the values and standards they continue to uphold. The best thing that the new upper class can do to provide that reinforcement is to drop its condescending "nonjudgmentalism." Married, educated people who work hard and conscientiously raise their kids shouldn't hesitate to voice their disapproval of those who defy these norms. When it comes to marriage and the work ethic, the new upper class must start preaching what it practices.

Read the whole thing for some sobering statistics.

(HT: Andrew Klavan.)

I watched "Real Steel" over the weekend and it was surprisingly good. The father/son story more than made up for the surreal sport of robot boxing.

There were so many weird flaws in the fictional robot boxing system that it would be pointless to review them here. However, the premise was interesting enough to lead me to think that robot vs. human boxing would be a useful and fascinating milestone for robotics, just as computer vs. human chess and "Jeopardy!" have been for computing.

For a robot and a human to have a meaningful boxing match together, the robot would have to be meet several difficult criteria:

  • Match the human's weight class, including the power supply
  • Understand and obey the basic rules of boxing
  • Be human-like in exterior composition (i.e., no metallic surfaces that would interfere with the human's strikes)
  • Operate autonomously without human controllers
  • Operate without an umbilical connection long enough for a boxing match

Building a robot that meets these criteria while at the same time being fast and strong enough to challenge a human would be quite a feat of engineering and is certainly beyond our current capabilities. If I had the money, I'd create an X-Prize in this domain.

It appears that the Internal Revenue Service -- headed up by notorious tax cheat Tim Geithner -- is attempting to stifle right-wing groups who apply for non-profit status by requesting insane document dumps. What is the IRS demanding?

A hard copy printout of the website - A PDF file emailed to the IRS will not suffice (and this is the high-tech Administration)

List all Social Media outlets being used (Facebook, Twitter, etc) and include hard copy printouts of every posting

A narrative description of every activity of your organization since June 30, 2010 (filing date) - And they do not want a mere description of the event, but full details - including; who conducted it, their qualifications, who was allowed to take part in the activities and how they were selected, was there a fee? (how much)

The IRS also wants to know about the members of the group and their roles and more, asking specifically for the "name, address, and corporate federal ID of all organizations that are members of our organization"

Public events are also under scrutiny with the IRS demanding to know the time, location and content schedule of each event.

Copies of any and all handouts must be included.

Names and credentials of all instructors and copies of any workshop materials used.

All speakers must be identified and copies of every speech must be included.

The government has no legitimate need for this information, and it seems clear that the the nearly simultaneous identical requests that went out to a bunch of right-wing groups is an attempt to squash these groups under the guise of tax enforcement. Shameful.

(HT: RC.)

Making tiny URLs is all the rage right now, but everyone knows that bigger is better. Make bigger URLs!

(HT: RB.)

Happy Valentine's Day! Here's the oldest known love poem from ancient Sumeria recorded on what is called the Istanbul #2461 tablet:

Poem recited by the annual brides of King Shu-Sin (c. 4000 BC)

Bridegroom, dear to my heart,
Goodly is your beauty, honeysweet,
Lion, dear to my heart,
Goodly is your beauty, honeysweet.

You have captivated me, let me stand tremblingly before you.
Bridegroom, I would be taken by you to the bedchamber,
You have captivated me, let me stand tremblingly before you.
Lion, I would be taken by you to the bedchamber.

Bridegroom, let me caress you,
My precious caress is more savoury than honey,
In the bedchamber, honey-filled,
Let me enjoy your goodly beauty,
Lion, let me caress you,
My precious caress is more savoury than honey.

Bridegroom, you have taken your pleasure of me,
Tell my mother, she will give you delicacies,
My father, he will give you gifts.

Your spirit, I know where to cheer your spirit,
Bridegroom, sleep in our house until dawn,
Your heart, I know where to gladden your heart,
Lion, sleep in our house until dawn.

You, because you love me,
Give me pray of your caresses,
My lord god, my lord protector,
My Shu-Sin, who gladdens Enlil's heart,
Give my pray of your caresses.

Your place goodly as honey, pray lay (your) hand on it,
Bring (your) hand over like a gishban-garment,
Cup (your) hand over it like a gishban-sikin-garment.

(HT: New York Times.)

(HT: LM.)

Yes, it's dead.

(HT: ripten.)

$1000 fine for playing on Los Angeles beaches.

The Board of Supervisors this week agreed to raise fines to up to $1,000 for anyone who throws a football or a Frisbee on any beach in Los Angeles County.

In passing the 37-page ordinance on Tuesday, officials sought to outline responsibilities for law enforcement and other public agencies while also providing clarification on beach-goer activities that could potentially disrupt or even injure the public.

The updated rules now prohibit "any person to cast, toss, throw, kick or roll" any object other than a beach ball or volleyball "upon or over any beach" between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

The true purpose of this kind of law is more pernicious than it might initially seem. It should be obvious that the law will not be enforced uniformly or universally... police will apply the law at their discretion. The true effect of this kind of law is to transform us from a society ruled by laws to one ruled by the whims of men. The police won't stop a couple of kids from playing ball, but if they see some "undesirable types" "disrupting" the beach they'll use this new law as a pretense for hauling them away.

A good rule of thumb: laws that can't be enforced uniformly and universally should not be passed because they create too much potential for abuse.

(HT: RB.)

Not enough blogging here for you recently? I blame SWTOR and a severe case of tonsillitis. Unfortunately the latter encouraged the former. But alas, I'm recovering now.

"The Forgotten Man" is an interesting painting that portrays all 43 of our presidents and their relations to the eponymous "forgotten man". What's most interesting to me, though, is the way that the painting is presented on the website and the use of a magnifier that can be moved over the painting to get a closer look and to read commentary about each of the elements in the picture.

(HT: RC.)

Google makes 95% of its revenue from advertising, the the largest share of that comes from financial and insurance companies. What are the most profitable search terms?

In 2011 the industry which used Google's advertising the most was the finance and insurance industry with $4 billion handed over to Google. State Farm topped the charts at a whopping $43.7 million spent. The most common search term in this industry with the highest cost per click was "self-employed health insurance," which charged advertisers around $43 for every time someone clicked their advertisement.

The retail and general merchandise industry holds second place for most spent on Google ads, with Amazon leading at $55.2 million spent. You would think that number would be so high to accommodate Amazon's recent debut of the Kindle Fire, but the most commonly search for keyword in the retail industry was actually "Zumba dance DVD." If we learn anything from common keywords it's that the economy is down, so people are self-employed and want to dance at home for exercise.

Travel and tourism came in third with $2.4 billion spent on Google advertising. Jobs and education came in fourth, and home and garden in fifth.

$43 for a single click sounds crazy to me... I wonder if the insurance companies think that's a bargain?

Some other cost-per-click highlights:

$36 - "online video conferencing software"
$35 - "accredited online college degrees"
$27 - "high speed internet deals"
$21 - "funeral flowers
$18 - "online nursing degree"
$16 - "cheap hybrid cars"
$14 - "custom business cards"
$9 - "home air conditioners"
$8 - "new york hotels"
$5 - "zumba dance dvd"

(HT: MG.)

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This page is an archive of entries from February 2012 listed from newest to oldest.

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