Sunday, January 31, 2010

Macy Gettin' Her Kix

Macy and her Just For Kix dance troupe performed yesterday at halftime of the Concordia College men's basketball game. She really enjoyed herself and wore a big smile the whole time, as you can see:

(Click on images to view in 800 x 600)

Saturday, January 30, 2010

It's What's Inside That Counts (Unless You're Short)

Good news, guys: you have been given license to discriminate on appearance! No longer will you have to nervously cough into your hand as you explain to a female acquaintance that you're not that into the friend she's trying to set you up with by alluding to some made up character flaw. "Politically, we're from two different worlds" and "I'm just not in a place where I'm ready for a relationship" are things of the past. From now on, you can just be honest: her friend isn't that hot.

What seismic event has brought about this revolution, this unshackling of the male ego, this bright shiny day of the soul?

Women are shallow too.

For too long, we've had to listen to the refrain, "men are so hung up on looks. It's what's on the inside that counts". We've endured the looks, a mixed bag of superiority, condescension an derision. We've never had an answer to those looks. Until now.

It turns out that women prize the inner qualities in a man, placing less value in his physical qualities unless that man makes them look bad in high-heels. Yes, the vast majority of women don't want to date men who are shorter than they are.

You might be tempted to dismiss this as the opinions of a single woman. To that I would answer, read the comments. Almost every single one reaffirms the bias in the article. The number of women who complain that dating shorter men cause them to stop wearing heels lest they look "Amazoninan" is enlightening.

I’m only 5’7” and I even have a hard time finding guys tall enough! I want to be able to wear heels without feeling like a giantess. I also had a rude awakening once I hit the real world that most guys aren’t super tall, even though my brothers/dad are 6’2” - 6’5”.

I think my minimum is a guy who is the same height as me, but I won’t go shorter. I think it’s psychological, but if a guy is shorter than me, I automatically feel like he’s “younger” and not as mature as me.
I feel the same way about a girl who can't find a date in a well lit room.

I had a conversation in this exact vein perhaps ten or eleven years ago with a woman. She had obviously brushed up on her Orwell, as she had the technique of doublethink down cold. She repeatedly insisted on holding the following two beliefs simultaneously: that she could never be attracted to a man who was shorter than her, even if that man was perfect in every other way, and that she didn't judge people by their appearance.

This line of thinking is reflected in a comment from the linked article:

I am totally guilty. But I see it as a preference thing too. Some people aren’t attracted to skinny people or fat people. I, personally, am not attracted to a short man. It is unfortunate though because it seems like that is the majority of men left out there.
So, it's cool for me to say I'm not attracted to "fours" then, right?

The only rebuff came from someone called "happypants" (and no, it was not me), who had this rejoinder to complaints that kissing a shorter guy required some sort of magic training or the ability to manipulate the laws of physics.

"How do you kiss a guy who’s six inches shorter than you?"

The same way a guy kisses a girl who’s six inches shorter than him.
Preach it, brother!

Really? It's okay to exclude man from the dating pool because they're shorter than you, but if a guy excludes a woman because her appearance, it just goes to show how shallow men are and how enlightened and superior women are? I call shennanigans. Women have been pulling this on us forever, guys. Today is our INDEPENDENCE DAY!

Friday, January 29, 2010

I Learned An Important Lesson About Government By Waiting Tables

There is a story about a college professor who challenged his students to put their faith in Socialism to the test by agreeing that everyone in the class would receive the same grade, to be determined by averaging the individual grades earned in the class. You can read the whole story here. Of course, this story is apocryphal. I doubt any school would allow a professor to make such an arrangement with his students.

I have however seen this dynamic play out in the workplace before. While in college I worked in several restaurants and bars as a waiter and sometimes-bartender. Places like these handle the tips their employees make differently. Most place I worked allowed you to keep the tips you earned. Naturally, you had to claim tips as income at tax time. One place though, used what is called “tip pooling”. Tips went into a pool each day and were doled out to each server who worked during that day as a percentage based on the number of hours worked. I say that only one place I worked did this, and I say this because once was enough.

The goal of tip pooling is to encourage everyone to work hard and make the pool as large as possible. Paying out from the pool based on the hours worked is supposed to be “fair”. In reality, tip pooling is quite the opposite. Rather than encouraging workers to build the pool up, it encourages laziness. Like in the story of the “socialist college class” above, there were always people that did the bare minimum they could get away with, knowing there were people on the floor working hard and building up the tip pool. At the end of the day there was always grumbling when the tips got divided up.

Over time, there was a marked decrease in the service as the harder workers realized they were working not only for themselves, but also for their lazier peers. Some left for other jobs. Some stayed behind and grumbled. I wised up and joined the first group.

The lesson is one I’ve kept with me to this day. If you put people in a situation where they are forced to support others with their labor, their effort will slacken in more or less direct proportion to how much they perceive they are being exploited. Let them keep what they earn, or most of it at least, and most people will work hard to build a bigger pool.

(Crossposted from Say Anything)

Soccer Soccer Soccer!

So, Macy is playing her usual slate of recreational soccer this year, with the season divided into spring and fall. Since I didn't type "summer" in the last sentence, she is also playing travelling soccer this summer. We get to drive around the countryside for tournaments. I'm still on the fence about this; I don't know how much of a time and money commitment this is yet. My fellow MYSA Rec Board members tell me it's not bad; the trips are all short and you can do it without getting hotel rooms for the night, etc. I'm willing to give it a shot.

Oh, and winter indoor soccer starts tonight. Did I mention that? No? Were you not able to infer it from the title of this post, or Macy's obvious committment to playing soccer every waking moment?

Here, Macy wants to say something:

I LIKE SOCCER!!!11!11!!one1!!one!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Critiquing The State Of The Union Address

I just finished watching the State of the Union Address and I jotted down a few thoughts. First of all, President Obama was eloquent, no surprise there. There was a lot less rancor than I expected. The President certainly took his shots at Republicans, but it wasn’t anywhere near as contententious as I had thought it might be. The speech moved well, even at over an hour in length. Overall, I thought the president did a fine job from a technical standpoint (for lack of a better term).

As for the substance of the speech, I was mildly surprised to find that my notes reflected more positives than negatives. I’m still not convinced this president is the one that will successfully lead this country out of recession. But on balance, he said a lot of the right things. He also said some not so right things. But let’s stay on this positive vibe a bit longer.

The President cited “tough decisions” that will have to be made about offshore drilling in the near future. I read that to mean, “we’ll have to drill for more oil”. That was an unexpected admission, and a welcome one. Granted, I don’t expect that idea to make it to his desk alive, but still, it was good to hear.

He also announced his intention to double exports within the next five years. While not specific enough for my taste, he alluded to loosening export restrictions and strengthening trade agreements to better allow free trade. Again, very good to hear.

His call to require all contact between lobbyists and members of Congress is a great way of shining a light on how laws really get made in this country. I’m all for it. I did notice however that this was the one proposal that was met with stone silence; not one person could be heard to applaud it. Well, you tried Mr. President.

Another call to Congress, this time to publish all earmarks online at a single, publicly accessible website is also a great idea long overdue. This one got a warmer response from the room. Let’s get started on this one right away.

The President also spoke of America’s support for freedom, citing North Korea and Iran specifically. His talk of “growing consequences” for Iran’s continued muzzling of opposition voices was nice, but far too vague.

Finally, the item that was hinted at earlier today, his call for Congress to draft a law to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell”. It’s long overdue. It was a bad idea to begin with and it’s time the mistake was corrected. This is also an easy way for the President to throw a bone to an increasingly restless gay community, one that has begun to question their loyalty to a party that keeps ignoring them.

As for the other side of the ledger, the early part of the speech rehashed some of the same rhetoric the American people have largely rejected; the recession is all the fault of George Bush and evil bankers. It seems almost like reflex at this point, without a lot of conviction behind the words. But it grates just the same. No mention of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae’s rather large role in the housing bubble. No mention of out of control spending on entitlements. Just Bush and banks, forever and ever, amen.

The President also took credit for making the stimulus program transparent after taking over office. I don’t know where that came from, but with money going to nonexistent Congressional districts and zip codes and an oversight committee that complains to this day that they don’t know where the money is going, it was just a bizarre claim.

You can keep calling it a “fee on banks”, but everybody knows it’s really a tax.

As much as I liked hearing about opening up offshore drilling, I disliked the talk of subsidies for “clean” energy. Subsidies are a way of rigging a market. Rigging markets is how economies collapse. And no, I’m not saying “clean” energy subsidies will singlehandedly destroy the economy; I’m saying it’s bad policy.

I’ll just say this about healthcare reform: you’re not listening to the people on this one, Mr. President.

(Crossposted from Say Anything)

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Law And Order: Future Crimes Division

Drunk driving is bad. Really, really bad. Okay, now that that's out of the way...

Minnesota's drunk driving laws are not exactly "freedom friendly" if they allow this sort of thing:

The Supreme Court of Minnesota on Thursday upheld the drunk driving conviction of a man caught asleep behind the wheel of a vehicle that would not start. At 11:30pm on June 11, 2007, police found Daryl Fleck sleeping in his own legally parked car in his apartment complex parking lot. The vehicle's engine was cold to the touch, indicating it had not been driven recently.
According to the Minnesota Supreme Court, drunk driving convictions don't rest on a person taking any action. They don't depend on a person intending to take an action. The mere possibility that a person could, at some indeterminate point in the future, operate a vehicle while intoxicated is all the police need.

In the 1992 case Minnesota v. Starfield, the court found a drunk passenger sitting in a vehicle stuck in a ditch guilty of DUI, but not because it could prove she really was the one who drove and caused the accident. Instead, the court ruled that "towing assistance [was] likely available" creating the theoretical possibility that the immobile vehicle could "easily" be made mobile. These defendants have been charged under an expanded definition that suggests having "dominion and control" with the mere potential to drive is a crime. Intending to sleep off a night of drinking treated as the same crime as attempting to drive home under this legal theory which does not take motive into account.
That's a slippery slope argument if I've ever heard one. The possibility that a drunk person can call a tow truck to pull a car out of a ditch is sufficient grounds to charge someone with a DWI? What if my I leave my car at the bar? Couldn't I still take a taxi back to the bar later? Is there ever a situation where a prosecutor couldn't make the argument that a person could potentially drive drunk and win under this law? Short of not owning a car, I mean?

In this country a person can't be charged with a crime they might commit. They can't be punished because they have the ability to commit a crime. Someday this law is going to get challenged and it's going to fall. Hard.

Dungeons & Dragons Taught Me Everything I Know About Being A Bad Boy

I cast a steely glare at the mall security guard as I drew my vorpal sword from its dragonscale sheath. He quivered, but tried to remain resolute in the face of immminent death. I smiled, swiping my blade through the air. The mall cop's newly emancipated head landed with a thud, rolling to a stop beneath a rack of iTunes store gift cards. I casually wiped the blade on the hem of a horrified peasant's dress, barely noticing the bottle of Diet Cherry Dr. Pepper slip through her fingers. I returned my sword to its scabbard and walked out of the Best Buy. At last Season 4 of Dexter was in my hands!

"This is the last time," I thought to myself. I made arcane gestures in the air in front of the child's face, his tiny eyes stretched wide with wonder. He was immobile, afraid motion would break the spell or perhaps kill him instantly. I concentrated on the spell, for these things require an iron nerve lest they go awry and cause unforseen consequences. At last the spell was complete, and with a final gesture I brushed the child's face with my hand. A spark and a flash. "Got your nose," I said, to squealing delight.

I studied the lock intently, looking for hidden needles, gas jets, or other unpleasant surprises. I couldn't see anything amiss, but you can never be too careful about this sort of thing. I tentatively explored the familiar keyhole shape with my probe. When nothing untoward pierced or enveloped me, I worked the lock harder. No luck. This lock was plainly protected by arcane magicks I had not before encountered, perhaps the product of the fiendish mind of Otiluke or even Elminster himself! I gave up, pulling my lone magic item from my worn backpack and summoned Stan, a being of the ethereal plane and avatar of A-1 Locksmiths. My coat hanger lay forgotten in the shadow of the resolute dungeon portal that had defeated me.

"Rise!" I commanded, hands clapsed in front of me. Nothing. The figure lay motionless, bereft of life, no spark within. I gathered myself once more, prayed silently to Talos for the strength to raise this mortal husk, and began again. "Rise!" I said again, louder this time. "Damn, dad, I don't want to go to school. Five more minutes, okay?" The body stirred. Success.

(The inspiration for this rambling claptrap can be found here.)

What I'd Like To Hear In The State Of The Union Address

President Obama will be giving the State of the Union Adress tonight in an atmosphere of confusion and fear for Democrats and one of anger and anxiety for the citizenry. This is a touchstone moment for the President. A chance for him to right the ship for his party, to restore the faith of the electorate and to determine the course of the remainder of his presidency. With so much riding on one speech, what should he say? Speaking for myself, I’d like to hear the following:
  • Recognition that the American people have rejected healthcare reform and further efforts will be shelved until such a time as the people are confident in the economic recovery. I would also like to hear a pledge that future efforts, whenever they come, will be conducted with the air of transparency promised during the campaign. Which leads me to…

  • An acknowledgement that campaign promises to the contrary, transparency has been a failing of the administration to this point. A pledge to uphold that promise for the remainder of the term (if followed with concrete action, of course) would go a long way towards regaining the faith of the people.

  • A pledge to focus on the economy. I expect this will actually be the main point the President makes tonight. But I’d also like to hear an acknowledgement that the stimulus is not having the promised or desired effect on the economy. That public sector job growth is not the means by which the economy will rebound.

  • An annoucement that there will be no further stimulus packages. That the time for bailouts has passed.

  • That in light of recent revlations involving the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, U.S. policy on climate change, including Cap and Trade and EPA mandates to regulate CO2 will be re-evaluated.

  • A pledge to extricate government from ownership of private industries by divesting itself of all shares to private investors.

  • The “Blame Bush” quotient kept to a minimum.

If the president hits most of these points, his poll numbers would skyrocket. If he followed it with concrete action, he might just earn himself a second term. What I expect is a heavy dose of “it’s the economy stupid”, a fair amount of touting his discretionary spending freeze as a cure to the deficit, followed by a brief acknowledgement of voter anger about heatlhcare concluded with a tone deaf pledge to soldier on in the fight for healthcare reform. In other words, I think his speech will be judged mainly on his remarks about the economy and what he plans to do to fix it. The more he talks about Bush and spending ourselves out of debt with stimulus packages, the worse it will be received.

What are you hoping to hear tonight?

(Crossposted from Say Anything)

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Vikings' Loss Falls On The Coaches

Sorry for the long hiatus; with the school closure yesterday I was home all day with Macy. Donna was working from home, and so was making use of our ethernet cable. Yes, there's only one. My computer setup at home is decidedly 20th century. That will change once we get into our new digs, hopefully this summer. For now though, work use trumps personal use.

Anyway, about that Vikings game. First off, ha ha. Brett Favre screwed up. I noted before the playoffs began that he hadn't had one of those games yet. You know the ones. The ones where he throws seventeen consecutive interceptions or does something else silly to lose the game. Well, that interception at the end of regulation was that kind of play.

But there was a bigger reason for the loss. Let's hearken back to the not-so-distant past, a time Randy Moss was a rookie and Michael Vick was kind to animals as far as anyone knew.

The 1998 NFC Championship game pitted the Vikings against my Atlanta Falcons. The dirty birds were looked upon as something of a fluke; despite being 14-2 (to Minnesota's 15-1), the Vikings were favored by (don't quote me on this) something like 30 points. The Twinkie Dome was death to visiting teams that year (it was later revealed that the stadium crew was using the sound system to amplify the crowd noise. Oh those classy Vikings). It was predicted that the Falcons' offense would scarcely be able to function in that environment.

A funny thing happened though. The Falcons executed their offense almost flawlessly. Using hand signals and silent counts, Atlanta had zero false start penalties. Their was little or no confusion as to the play, no frenzied motioning to players to get to the correct spot. No delay of game penalties. The Falcons seemed unfazed by the cacophony of Minnesota's artificially enhanced noise factory. Dan Reeves and his staff had practiced all week by using artificial crowd noise set to painful decibels to force the team to prepare. It worked. The Falcons upset the Vikings in overtime on a field goal (whoa - foreshadowing!) and went on to embarass themselves in the Superbowl behind Eugene "I've just got to have a hooker the night before the Superbowl" Robinson.

Flashforward to Sunday. The Vikings had all sorts of problems on offense. Players shifting from side to side, trying to get to the correct position for the play call. Forced timeouts as the playclock expired. False starts. The Vikings seemed unprepared for the noise, which was both ironic and shortsighted. How could Brad Childress and his coaches not have the team prepared for the noise?
Even more so than Brett Favre doing what Brett Favre does, this loss falls on the coaching staff of the Vikings.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

One Bad Mother

Remember that scene in Star Trek where Kirk, the guy from Flash Forward and Red Shirt Prime had to space jump onto the drilling platform?

This guy's doing to for real. My favorite part:

Within 35 seconds or so, Baumgartner will hit supersonic speeds and break the sound barrier. No one really knows what will happen at that point, but the scientists seem confident that he’ll maintain consciousness.
Well, that's all right then.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Fat Snow

The snow is really coming down here. It's expected to storm all weekend, so I've got a lot of shovelling ahead of me. Here are some pictures I took from my back window and the front porch:

(Click on images to view in 800x600)

Friday, January 22, 2010

Where Have We Heard This Argument Before

A Justice Department-led task force has concluded that nearly 50 of the 196 detainees at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, should be held indefinitely without trial under the laws of war, according to Obama administration officials.
Oh yeah: from the Bush adminstration. The big difference though, is that the current administration is saying detainees still have the right to habeus corpus to challenge their incarceration in Federal court.

The problem I have with this is that it's an attempt to split hairs; if these fifty detainees can be held under the "laws of war" then they shouldn't have the rights of an accused criminal. President Obama's rhetoric about setting the example for the rest of the world by closing Guantanamo has given way to the harsh reality that these people are dangerous, they can't be deported (their countries don't want them), they can't be moved to American prisons (at present it's a political non-starter), and they can't be set free. It's a tough situation.

The Bush administration ran aground on the issue in a different way: arguing that the men were prisoners of war and thus had no right to habeus corpus but also weren't "soldiers" in the ordinary sense, and so had no protections under the Geneva Conventions. Bush recognized, rightly, that giving these guys trials would only give them a stage to try and put America on trial while exposing intelligence information that would ultimately jeopardize American lives.

Like I said, it's a tough situation, and I think both presidents tackled/are tackling it the best way they know how. President Obama knows these men are dangerous; the difference in approach stems from a philosophical difference in fighting terror (the old criminal-vs-war argument). Personally, I think these fifty men should be held as prisoners of war, tried by military tribunal and punished (or not) by the rules that govern such tribunals. That means they would fall under the Geneva Conventions, but that's the rules we play by. It's not a perfect solution, but there is no perfect solution. It's time to stop trying to split the difference. It didn't work for Bush and it's not working for Obama.

(Crossposted from Say Anything)

With McCain-Feingold Gone, What Now?

With the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (aka McCain-Feingold) now found unconstitutional we are back to a world where soft money reigns supreme. The BCRA had all sort of problems, but most of them can be summed up by the following: people always find a way. The problem with trying to control the flow of money is that there’s always a way around the restictions. What about the perceived wrongs the legislation was originally designed to fix? As the clock is effectively set back to 2001 as far as electioneering is concerned, what steps, if any, can and should be taken to address them?

First off, let’s take a look at them (note, I culled these from here):

1.) Too much soft money flowing from corporation and unions.
2.) The skirting of campaign finance laws through the use of ads that don’t advocate for or against a specific candidate.
3.) The laundering of money by corporations and unions through non-profits.
4.) Insufficent transparency about how (and how much) money is being spent by corporations and unions.
5.) Corporation and union funds being spent on elections, sometimes against the wishes of the individuals who make up the those enterprises.
6.) Too much foreign money being spent on elections.

There are no doubt others but these, I believe, are the major ones.

Numbers 1 and 3 fall under the “people always find a way” axiom I mentioned above. You can try to restrict it and you end up with the BCRA. I think the best that can be done is to enforce strict disclosure rules at both ends of the line. Corporations and unions disclose exactly how much money they donate to the national parties. The national parties account for every penny of that money; who’s campaigns it’s spent on and much. I’m sure this information is buried somewhere in each entity’s tax returns. But it should be easily accessible to anyone who wants to see it, collated and indexed on a website where anyone can find out how much any corporation or union spent on electioneering. It would force these entities to be upfront about how they spend their money and how much of it they’re spending. This, incidentally, would also address number 4.

If a law has to be continuously tweaked to cover an ever-growing number of loopholes, it’s probably a bad law. The restrictions on ads that led to number 2 were put in place to keep big-moneyed entities from tilting an election at the last minute. But the restrictions allowed for the ads to be crafted a certain way and still be acceptable. Rewrite the law to try and close the loophole? A new class of ads will emerge that fall inside the regulations but have the same effect. Either ban all ads that deal with any campaign issue/candidate/anything else in the 30 day (for state/local) or 60 day (for federal) window, or let ‘em all in. I prefer the latter to the former. I don’t think it’s perfect, but I don’t see how anything in between is going to be leakproof.

Number 5 will always be a problem as long as corporations and unions are allowed to contribute to politics. A strict prohibition on political donations would, I think run afoul of the First Amendment and would fall prey to the “people always find a way” axiom. What then? What if shareholders/union members were given more control over how money set aside for electioneering was spent? Would that address the problem? Or is it unworkable?

As for number 6, why not restrict foreign campaign contributions to some percentage of the taxes the entity pays to the U.S. Treasury? That idea certainly raises the specter of foreign companies “bribing” the Treasury for the privilege of donating more money. I can certainly see a scenario of quid pro quo. (I didn’t say it was a great idea.) Another alternative is banning campaign contributions from foreign entities.

Thanks for wading though this. I realize a fair amount of this falls in the vein of underdeveloped ideas. That’s sort of the point; I’m trying to flesh out my own thoughts on how these should be addressed. I’m sure some of you don’t feel some of these are even problems. Educate me. I’m open to your ideas.

(Crossposted from Say Anything)

Definition of Lutefisk

My sister posted a question about lutefisk on Facebook. Being a longtime resident of the area (a good chunk of that time in Minnesota), I thought I'd help her out. This is what I said:

Lutefisk is whitefish that has been soaked in lye. It is disgusting in the same manner that war is disgusting, but different. It is widely believed to be a delicacy in Minnesota, brought over by Vikings that got lost looking for a Superbowl trophy. It is actually only fed to mental patients in the secret sixth floor of the Mayo clinic, which cannot be reached by the public elevator in the lobby.
I think I got it right. Any of you Minnesota area residents want to fact check for me?

Thursday, January 21, 2010


A food blog gets political.

The question is, can that little dude make Beef and Broccoli?

And When You're Done Saving Lives, You Can Turn It Into A Ball Pit

Check out this photo gallery about the inflatable hospitals being deployed in Haiti. Very cool stuff. Creating a (relatively) stable, sterile environment in a disaster area is normally a tough thing to do.

A self-contained, sterile, operating room and triage center with its own water and power. Pretty darn cool.

Master Race Basketball -- It's Craaaaptastic!

It's being reported that plans for an "all-white" basketball league are in the works. This is dumb on so many levels, but let's allow the brains behind this brainless operation to point them out:

According to the Chronicle, Lewis said he wants to emphasize "fundamental basketball" instead of "street ball" played by "people of color."

"There's nothing hatred about what we're doing," Lewis told the paper. "I don't hate anyone of color."

Lewis pointed out recent incidents in the NBA, including Gilbert Arenas' suspension for bringing a gun into the Washington Wizards locker room, and said, "Would you want to go to the game and worry about a player flipping you off or attacking you in the stands or grabbing their crotch?"
First, the idea that minorities are unable to play "fundamental basketball", whatever that is, is patently false. Secondly, if I went to an NBA game, I wouldn't walk in fearing for my life or worried that some seven-footer might wave his crotch at me in a threatening manner. I'd be worried I might be at a Timberwolves game.

I suspect that this is a misguided attempt to generate publicity (and thus financial backers) to what will almost certainly be an abject failure of a league.

It's also possible that this is some sort of veiled protest at the double standard when it comes to exclusionary institutions. There are legitimate gripes to be had about a country that allows womens-only schools, blacks-only schools, etc., but frowns upon male-only institutions. I doubt that's what this is, but it's possible. If so, it's one of the dumbest ways to go about it in recent memory.

Finally, It's Safe To Vacation In Afghanistan Again

The Taliban in Afghanistan have taken a new approach in their dealings with Afghan civilians. The new code of conduct bars such Geneva-Convention-approved acts as the cutting off of tongues, ears and lips, and burning down schools. I've already booked my vacation!

I found this passage particularly interesting:

American and Afghan analysts see the Taliban’s effort as part of a broad initiative that employs every tool they can muster, including the Internet technology they once denounced as un-Islamic. Now they use word of mouth, messages to cellphones and Internet videos to get their message out.
Funny how fluid religion can be for some. That the Taliban now, when they discover they need it, can embrace something they once denounced as forbidden by their religion reveals to me how seriously I should take their brand of Islam.

Crossposted at Say Anything.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Next Thing You'll Be Telling Me They Elected A Republican In Massachusetts

Apparently, Microsoft has been in talks with a phone maker to make Bing its default search engine. The phone: the iPhone. The maker: Apple.

In the words of Shiela Broflovski: what what WHAT?!?

If true, it would be big for Bing's eternal quest to take market share from Google. I'm guessing this is fallout from the recent Droid launch, which Apple would rightly see as a threat to the iPhone.

Who woulda thunk it.

New Writing Gig

Rob Port, the mind and voice behind Say Anything, has asked me to provide content for that site. It's quite an honor, as Say Anything is the #1 political blog in North Dakota. Rob and the other contributors write about North Dakota politics and are the face of the conservative blogging movement in the state. They've been linked and quoted by some of the biggest names in the blogosphere as well as local and national media.

Their focus isn't solely on North Dakota politics, however. They also write extensively about politics on a national level.

Words don't do justice to how excited and honored I am to be asked to contribute. I'll still be posting political content here; I will simply post political content from this site on Say Anything, and any content I write there will be linked here. Any non-political content will be found here.

I hope you'll add Say Anything as a stop in your daily surfing.

Damn The Torpedoes

Updated: This has been cross-posted at Say Anything.

I watched this interview with GOP chairman Michael Steele and former campaign manager for President Obama David Plouffe on Good Morning America today. I have to say, if Plouffe is speaking truthfully about the White House's plans in the wake of the Scott Brown's election upset, the Democrats are in big trouble.

Plouffe tried to spin the Brown victory as a win for the Democrats. That of course makes no sense, but whatever. It's the guy's job. He's just in an impossible position on that one. He also threw out the party line that the loss was all on Coakley for running a lackluster campaign. Half true; Coakley did run a poor campaign, but healthcare reform at this point is a loser for the Democrats.

Which made what he said next really surprising:

George Stephanopolous: You say this is a vote to go forward on the President's agenda, yet Scott Brown was talking about going to Washington to be the 41st vote against healthcare...

David Plouffe: ...I'm very confident that if we pass healthcare reform, people are going to see, everybody who has healthcare reform, nothing's going to change. Their costs are going to get lower, it's going to give relief to seniors on prescription costs, it's going to have a huge economic impact...

GS: So full speed ahead on healthcare, no change, no moderation, no compromise?

DP: ...We have a good healthcare plan that's going to lower costs, it's gonna increase coverage, it's gonna finally deal with the insurance company abuses. We need to pass that.

GS: So full speed ahead, no backing down on healthcare. That's the message from David Plouffe.

DP: (Nodding in background.)
That clicking sound you hear is the sound of Democrats all over the country typing up drafts of their retirement press releases.

If It's The Start Of A Revolution, Let's Make It A Conservative One

On the heels of Scott Brown's huge upset in the Massachussetts Senate race there is a lot of talk about the beginning of a housecleaning of Democrats in November. That may very well be, but if this is the start of a Republican "revolution", can we pledge right now that it's going to take the form of candidates who actually espouse conservative ideals?

Conservatives are for controlling spending. The Republicans who lorded over Congress for six of the eight years of the Bush presidency were basically tax-and-spend liberals without the "tax" part. While there is truth to the Right's contention that the Obama administration is slowing economic recovery with its policies, there's also truth to the Left's argument that our current deficits have deep roots in the Bush presidency. Let's face it: until 2006, when the Democrats took over Congress, Bush never met a spending bill he wouldn't sign. It wasn't his tax cuts that hurt the economy. It was his willingness to spend like deficits didn't matter.

Conservatives are for smaller government. The federal payroll grew during the Bush years. That it's growing faster under Obama isn't the point; the goal should be smaller government, not growing government at a smaller rate that a Democrat would.

Conservatives are for the rule of law and the sanctity of the Constitution, not for the expansion of the powers of the Executive Branch, the issuance of signing statements to circumvent the laws of Congress, or the intervention in lawful orders of the court system because the outcome isn't the desired one (remember the Terry Schiavo fiasco?).

I'm excited about Scott Brown's victory because it not only throws a hell of a monkey wrench into the works of healthcare reform, but because it signals that America may be ready to give Conservatism another chance. Note that I said "Conservatism" and not "Republicans". The Party of the Elephant shouldn't misread Brown's victory as some sort of mandate to take back power. If they waste the opportunity, if they pick up large number of seats between now and 2012 and go back to their decidedly non-conservative habits, the "revolution" will be short lived.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Problem With In-Your-Face Politics

The Obama administration has announced that its response to a Coakley loss in the Massachussetts senate race, which would end the Democrats' fillibuster-proof majority, would be to forge ahead with pushing healthcare reform on the American people.

This sort of response speaks of an arrogance unbecoming the office of the President. Poll after poll has shown that a majority of Americans do not support the administration's goals in healthcare. The attitude is one that smacks of, "we know better than you what you need. Don't concern yourself; adults are talking."

The problem with this approach is that someday the Democrats are going to be the minority in Congress and a Republican will be back in the White House. The tactics being employed now are going to be used by the opposition. Of course when that happens, the Democrats will decry the secrecy and the pushing of unpopular legislation and the lack of a "mandate". The Republicans will plug their ears and get their payback.

Congresspeople are elected to do the will of their constituents, not the will of the party leaders. That goes for both sides. Unfortunately, the in-your-face end run on healthcare reform is likely to be the blueprint for future administrations, and that's not good for anybody.

I Meant To Say, "And Then Immediately Called For Help"

So, you've decided to weigh in on the Massachussetts senate race. You're a Coakley supporter. You want to point out how her opponent is a Republican and thus 100% responsible for every economic woe ever suffered by America. Oh, also, the seat in contention was held by the late Ted Kennedy. What do you say?

“Why would you hand the keys to the car back to the same guys whose policies drove the economy into the ditch and then walked away from the scene of the accident?"
Smooth move, ex-lax.

Divided Attention

Ruby is laser-focused on what Donna is eating but can spare an ear for the promises of better things to come.


Some pictures I took this morning outside the office. They aren't the best as the thick clouds played havoc with the lighting:

(Click on the pictures to see them in 800 x 600.)

Monday, January 18, 2010

What Part Of Illegal Don't You Understand?

Reason is one of my favorite websites. They write sober, well-crafted articles about subjects I care about. They take up causes like shining a light on corruption in the forensics business or the violence prevalent in no-knock police raids.

However, Reason and I aren't in lockstep on one issue: illegal immigration. More specifically, the level of access illegal immigrants should have to taxpayer-funded services.

The author argues that denying illegal immigrants access to the proposed insurance pool to purchase discounted healthcare is akin to policing the federal highway system to make sure no illegals are using it. They would, the argument goes, be paying for the coverage with their own money; no taxpater assistance would be forthcoming.

The problem I have with that argument is that illegal immigrants should not be in this country. You can start calling them "undocumented immigrants" (as Reason does), but that doesn't absolve them of their crime.

Legal immigration is a great thing for the country when it's done right. We don't do it right. The process is long; it can take decades for a person to jump through all the hoops on the path to legal immigration. Speeding up the process and tightening restrictions on immigration (by easing the process for highly skilled workers, for example) would help.

The argument about healthcare and illegal immigrants shouldn't revolve around whether or not to cover them. More important is increasing the number of skilled legal immigrants and deporting the illegal ones.

More Shaky Climate Data

Is there such a thing as proof of man-made global warming? Along with Climategate, it looks like all the dire things we've been hearing about the melting ice caps was so much political hay as well.

A warning that climate change will melt most of the Himalayan glaciers by 2035 is likely to be retracted after a series of scientific blunders by the United Nations body that issued it.

Two years ago the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a benchmark report that was claimed to incorporate the latest and most detailed research into the impact of global warming. A central claim was the world's glaciers were melting so fast that those in the Himalayas could vanish by 2035
Serious stuff indeed. How, pray tell, did these distinguished scientists come to this conclusion? By reading an eight-year-old article in Scientific American, of course:

In the past few days the scientists behind the warning have admitted that it was based on a news story in the New Scientist, a popular science journal, published eight years before the IPCC's 2007 report.
Wait though, it gets better:

It has also emerged that the New Scientist report was itself based on a short telephone interview with Syed Hasnain, a little-known Indian scientist then based at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi.

Hasnain has since admitted that the claim was "speculation" and was not supported by any formal research.
It's gotten to the point that any claims of impending climate doom have the distinct ring of a boy crying wolf. Baseless speculation is being wrapped in a veneer of truth and presented as settled scientific fact. The backlash against the climate change movement has been there almost from the start, but it's starting to gain steam. It's going to be a tsunami before it's done.

(Times Online link via The American Interest)

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Using BASIC To Destroy The World

I first got interested in computers in the early 1980's when my dad brought home our first honest-to-god computer. I don't remember exactly what it was; a TRS-80? I just remember that it was squat, ugly, and unwieldy. There was no floppy drive; you loaded programs into memory with a cassette recorder. Programs that likely had about thirty lines of code took forty minutes to load. It was awesome.

As the years went by, computers came and went. IBMs, a Commodore 64, and a host of custom built machines my dad put together (he still does that today). But early on in the computer parade, we had one that came with a large set of hardbound guides. They explained everything from setting up the equipment to the technical specs of the machine itself. One covered MS-DOS (you know it today as a command prompt -- how the mighty have fallen).

But one book stood out. I read it cover to cover and it dominated my life one summer. The book was simply titled, "BASIC Programming Language".

BASIC is a dead language. It was clumsy and not very powerful. You couldn't create graphics with it, at least not anything beyond ASCII animation. But you could destroy the world with it.

I wrote lots of BASIC programs during that summer. Programs that tracked my school courses. A simple ELIZA program. The Vulcan Satellite.

Based, I think, on a plot point of one of the worst movies ever made (it would have been out at about the right time, anyway), the Vulcan Satellite was a computer controlled space probe that could be used to bombard any world city with a powerful laser. You gave the Vulcan coordinates and it would maneuver itself into position. The laser would fire and report telemetry back to calculate casualties. Please don't judge me; I was a protogeek with an inferiority complex.

The point is computers were these mysterious things that took time and effort to figure out. They came with magic books that you could use to create cool things (or useless wastes-of-time, depending on your bent). Computers have evolved. They come put together and preloaded. You turn it on, answer a couple of questions, and you're done. You don't have to know anything about DOS commands or a programming language to use a computer. That is definitely an improvement. Advances like that have made computers ubiquitous. Just about anybody is willing to buy a machine, plug it in and go.

The downside is it's also taken away the mystique and removed the curiosity factor that made people like me fall in love with computers. It was a necessary sacrifice but it still aches a bit. I could recreate the old Vulcan Satellite in C# or even Visual Basic, but it wouldn't be the same. Mainly because I'm not eleven anymore, but also because Visual Basic doesn't require you to type in line numbers. Sigh.

Another Airport Security Triumph

After the underwear bomber and the boyfriend-ran-the-wrong-way-through-the-scanner-so-let's-shut-down-the-whole-airport fiascoes, you'd think federal agents would be on their best behavior.


Kimmy Janke had gone through security. In fact, she was in a secure part of the terminal when she stopped to go to the bathroom before making her connecting flight.

That's when she found a loaded handgun.

A Cleveland police report confirms a fully-loaded .40-caliber pistol was left on top of a toilet paper dispenser.

We've since learned the gun was traced to a federal customs agent.

Customs officials have denied all requests to explain why a highly-trained agent left her gun in the bathroom, claiming there is an internal investigation.

Furthermore, we're told the agent has been allowed to retire -- no record of discipline, or many answers.
The Department of Homeland Security announced that in the interest of public safety, airport bathrooms would be off limits to non-federal employees. Also, a 20% across the board raise for Customs agents.

(WBAY link via Instapundit)

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Blinded By Science

An 11-year old is looking counseling after his science project prompted authorities to bring in an x-ray machine to determine if it was dangerous. The homemade motion detector caught the eye of a vice principal who thought the project might be a bomb.

The police determined that the device was harmless and the student won't be disciplined beyond the proposed counseling.

Here's a piece of advice kid: next time tell them it's a Global Warming Detector and you'll win first prize, no questions asked.

Bug Control

I won't be posting much if it all for the next couple days as I am working through the weekend to finish off some deadline work. I will be back, possibly full time, on Monday if I don't get these done and subsequently lose my job.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

A Head Start, Followed By A Fall Back To The Pack

It's funny how two people can look at the same data and take away two completely different lessons. When I read about the Department of Health and Human Services report on the Head Start program, I take away that over a hundred billion dollars has been spent to give a few children a lead in the learning process that disappears before the end of first grade. I take away that the benefit falls far short of the cost. I take away that the money can be better spent in other ways.

The New America Foundation, a "nonpartisan public policy institute that invests in new thinkers and new ideas to address the next generation of challenges facing the United States" takes away we need to spend more money:

"In short, the Impact Study’s results strike us as more evidence that to do right by today’s children, we have to not only ensure that 4-year-olds receive a high-quality pre-K experience, but that children experience high-quality instruction all the way up through the primary grades. We need a seamless, integrated system from pre-K through third grade."
Their position seems to be that Head Start needs to be expanded from preschool through third grade. How much would that cost?

If $100 billion didn't provide any lasting benefit, how much would? Pretend for a minute that this came to pass tomorrow. When the 2020 version of this report comes out and shows that the benefits gained from the program disappear by the end of the fourth grade at a cost of, say, $500 billion, what will the response be then? I'm guessing it wouldn't be, "the program is a failure, let's get rid of it." No, it would be, "this dismal report is proof that we need to extend the program through junior high school."

I'm all for improving education. But when you throw $100 billion at something with no discernable gain, it's time to look for another way.

(Link to New America Foundation's response via Cato@Liberty)

It's Come To This

The Playmobil Security Checkpoint

This apparently exists. You can buy this for your child. Please don't.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Are Gays Voting In Their Own Self Interest?

GayPatriot has to be one of the hardest blogs to write in the blogosphere. I don't read it every day, but every time I do read it, more commenters than not are there to berate him for being conservative. It must be hard knowing almost everything you write is going to earn you a fair level of derision. That's as opposed to this blog, where almost everything I post earns me zero comments. HAH!

Anyway, he posits that the Bush era was a great one for gays in America. He doesn't claim that Bush personally was some sort of crusader for gay rights:

No, I don’t credit George W. Bush personally with this improvement. I don’t look to politicians to make things better for gay people. I just expect them to get out of the way so that private institutions can respond to changing social circumstances. It is their job to protect our freedom, not to make us feel good about ourselves.
George Bush didn't go out of his way to advance the gay agenda. But I've long wondered: what exactly do gays get for their loyalty to the Democratic Party? Set aside the fact that President Obama's administration has all but hip-checked gay rights into the same forgotten pile of promises as closing Gitmo, excluding lobbyists from government positions, ending our involvement and Iraq, and televising the healthcare debate:

What have the Democrats done for gays in the last 20 years? I can only think of two major policies that have been directed at gays: the Defense of Marriage Act and "Don't Ask, Don't Tell". Both of those were implemented under Bill Clinton, and the DOMA was championed by Hillary Clinton. Yet Clinton's adminstration is still looked upon fondly by much of the gay community. Hillary of course was a celebrated icon until she ran against Barack Obama and was suddenly found wanting by the Left.

I don't get it. What am I missing? I know the Republican party is associated with Christian fundamentalists. I know they don't campaign on gay rights. But there's only one party that offers the gay community endless promises that never get fulfilled. There's only one party that actually passes legislation that discriminates against gays. There's only one party that can count on gays to vote for them en masse and then pats them on the head after elections. And it ain't the Republicans.

Maybe There's A Lesson In There Somewhere

"I've used one for years. I find it convenient. I find the tax code complex so I use a preparer." -- IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman on using a professional tax preparer
I'll let this comment from the post serve as my response:

"At least he pays his taxes."

Animal Cruelty Not Taken Seriously In Minnesota

After reading about some cowardly eunuch gluing a cat to a road until it died of exposure, I wondered about the punishment that the person or persons might be facing. Okay, first I thought about how wonderful it would be to glue them to a road in the same manner. But I eventually got around to looking up the Minnesota animal cruelty statutes.

What I found was that Minnesota doesn't take torture of animals very seriously.

343343.21. Overworking or mistreating animals; penalty

Subdivision 1. Torture. No person shall overdrive, overload, torture, cruelly beat, neglect, or unjustifiably injure, maim, mutilate, or kill any animal, or cruelly work any animal when it is unfit for labor, whether it belongs to that person or to another person.

Subd. 2. Nourishment; shelter. No person shall deprive any animal over which the person has charge or control of necessary food, water, or shelter.

Subd. 3. Enclosure. No person shall keep any cow or other animal in any enclosure without providing wholesome exercise and change of air.

Subd. 4. Low feed. No person shall feed any cow on food which produces impure or unwholesome milk.

Subd. 5. Abandonment. No person shall abandon any animal.

Subd. 6. Temporary abandonment. No person shall allow any maimed, sick, infirm, or disabled animal to lie in any street, road, or other public place for more than three hours after receiving notice of the animal's condition.

Subd. 7. Cruelty. No person shall willfully instigate or in any way further any act of cruelty to any animal or animals, or any act tending to produce cruelty to animals.

Subd. 8. Caging. No person shall cage any animal for public display purposes unless the display cage is constructed of solid material on three sides to protect the caged animal from the elements and unless the horizontal dimension of each side of the cage is at least four times the length of the caged animal. The provisions of this subdivision do not apply to the Minnesota state agricultural society, the Minnesota state fair, or to the county agricultural societies, county fairs, to any agricultural display of caged animals by any political subdivision of the state of Minnesota, or to district, regional or national educational livestock or poultry exhibitions. The provisions of this subdivision do not apply to captive wildlife, the exhibition of which is regulated by section 97A.041.

Subd. 9. Penalty. A person who fails to comply with any provision of this section is guilty of a misdemeanor. A person convicted of a second or subsequent violation of subdivision 1 or 7 within five years of a previous violation of subdivision 1 or 7 is guilty of a gross misdemeanor.

So basically, if the person(s) responsible for torturing a helpless cat are ever caught, they're going to have a misdemeanor on their record. There's no escalating penalties.

North Dakota goes the short and sweet route:

36-21.1-11 Penalty.

Any person knowingly and willfully violating any rule adopted by the board or violating any provision of this chapter for which a specific penalty is not provided is guilty of a class A misdemeanor.
Looking through the statues, the only other penalties I see are things like fees for dispoing of animals, cleanup fees, etc. Everything is a class A misdemeanor (the highest level -- the next step up is a felony). There are no provisions for increasing punishments, however. You can ostensibly just keep racking up misdemeanors.

For comparison, I looked up Georgia's statues. As a Georgia native, I can remember their being a push some years back to stiffen punishments for these sorts of cases. I was right. Here is the relevant Georgia law:

16-12-4 Cruelty to animals.

(b) A person commits the offense of cruelty to animals when he or she causes death or unjustifiable physical pain or suffering to any animal by an act, an omission, or willful neglect. Any person convicted of a violation of this subsection shall be guilty of a misdemeanor; provided, however, that:

(1) Any person who is convicted of a second or subsequent violation of this subsection shall be punished by imprisonment not to exceed 12 months, a fine not to exceed $5,000.00, or both; and

(2) Any person who is convicted of a second or subsequent violation of this subsection which results in the death of an animal shall be guilty of a misdemeanor of a high and aggravated nature and shall be punished by imprisonment for not less than three months nor more than 12 months, a fine not to exceed $10,000.00, or both, which punishment shall not be suspended, probated, or withheld.

(c) A person commits the offense of aggravated cruelty to animals when he or she knowingly and maliciously causes death or physical harm to an animal by rendering a part of such animal's body useless or by seriously disfiguring such animal. A person convicted of the offense of aggravated cruelty to animals shall be punished by imprisonment for not less than one nor more than five years, a fine not to exceed $15,000.00, or both, provided that any person who is convicted of a second or subsequent violation of this subsection shall be punished by imprisonment for not less than one nor more than five years, a fine not to exceed the amount provided by Code Section 17-10-8, or both.

(d) Before sentencing a defendant for any conviction under this Code section, the sentencing judge may require psychological evaluation of the offender and shall consider the entire criminal record of the offender.
To put it simply, if you're a first time offender, you get a misdemeanor on your record as long as it was an accident. If your act was intentional, say because you glued a cat to a road, you get a minimum of one year in jail. You also can be held for psychiatric evaluation and the judge can use any past lawbreaking to ratchet up the jail time. Plus up to $15,000 in fines. And if you are a repeat offender, the penalites can get harsher. That's taking animal cruelty seriously.

It's ridiculous that counseling and a slap on the wrist is the best the state of Minnesota can do.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Is This Where Obama Cut His Political Teeth?

Apparently, Cook County Illinois is run by a gang of ruthless white Irish people with magical powerts to turn black people into mindless turncoats. Is this kind of thing par for the course in Chicago? If so, remind me to never, ever live there.

Of course, the standard refrain must be applied: just imagine if it was those diabolical "white Irish" who were distributing this sort of thing.

Social Networking Disease

When I first got on Facebook I fell prey to several of the applications that fling themselves at you like cheap whores at a pimp convention. Football, poker, calendars, weRead, Hammerfall, and everybody's favorite, Mafia Wars. Each of them asked for permission to access my profile and despite a twinge of unease, I clicked Yes.

After a time I started to understand what was going on; these applications weren't built by Facebook. Rather, they were being developed by companies with ties to advertising. In some of the game apps you could get points (or money or whatever currency the game used) for agreeing to this or that invasion of your privacy. Invite your Facebook friends to play! Give us your address! A now-famous one was the IQ test that required you to give up a cellphone number to get the results. Buried in the fine print (which could only be seen once you scrolled down the page) was a notice that the user agreed to a monthly subscription to a texting service that cost up to $19.99 a month.

Also, viruses!

I stopped using all of these application with the exception of poker, which I use to play with friends and family online since we can't get together in person. The bottom line is, if you're ever asked to give up any personal information like phone numbers, addresses, credit card numbers, etc., don't. If you do, keep a close eye on your phone bills and credit cards.

For an interesting inside look at how these scams get perpetrated and the future of advertising on social networking sites like Facebook, go here.

Extreme Makeover: Economic Edition

Good times in Venezuela: Hugo Chavez, President and noted Harry Belafonte idol, has taken a play from the Marxist handbook and in one fell swoop demonstrated why government interference in markets usually ends in misery.

His latest plan to bring prosperity to his people is to devalue his currency by 50%. Yay! Everything costs half as much as it used to! Of course, the cost to manufacture these things hasn't changed since most products in Venezuela rely on imports to build. If you were a business owner faced with this development, would you:

(a) Double your prices to restore your profit margin
(b) Go out of business

If you chose (a), congratulations! Your business just got taken over by the government. If you chose (b), congratulations! You're on welfare. In Venezuela.

Science By Definition Is Never Settled

Did you know that the gravity isn't settled science? There's a lot we don't know about gravity. If something we take for granted like gravity is "unsettled science", it seems absurd to declare something as random as weather to be so. But that's exactly the situation we are now in.

For years, "global warming" was the nom de jour used as cover for hamstringing the developed West while diverting monies to the less fortunate. Don't believe that? Every attempt at regulating CO2 emissions, both before and after the well-known Kyoto Protocol, called on the West to reduce carbon emissons, in some cases to zero, while allowing the largest economies outside of the West (I'm looking at you, China) to continue increasing these emissions. I've always been unable to follow the logic that it's okay for some economies to kill the planet, as long as it isn't the U.S or western Europe.

More recently, of course, the rallying cry is around the phrase "global climate change". I love this term because it's so darn ambiguous. Heck, who doesn't agree that the climate changes over time? Of course it does. That the green movement has so effortlessly changed a major dynamic of their argument ('the Earth is warming' to 'the Earth is warming in some place, cooling in others and it's all bad') is a testament to relentless pursuit of a goal, hamstringing the economies of the West, by any means necessary.

If the so-called Climategate scandal doesn't persuade you that economic and political agendas play a far larger role in the climate change movement than the scientific method, ask yourself this:

If the question of whether the Earth is warming all over (it's not) or warming in some places and cooling in others (it has always been so, at least for the last several thousand years) is irrelevant, than why is the proposed solution the same for both maladies? The West needs to curb CO2. Rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere would raise temperatures (the greenhouse effect). That would seem to be a good thing in places where the temperature is falling.

Add in the fact that many scientists are now claiming that we are headed for a mini-ice age and one thing seems clear: the only thing "settled" about global climate change is that it's happening. What the temperature will be in 10-, 20- or 100 years, no one really knows.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Treating Drugs Like Cigarettes

This post at Say Anything got me wondering about how best to curb drug use in the country. I think the stupidity the post points out in asking how New York City could think it's a good idea to facilitate heroin use while propsing to try and tax sugary drinks and salt out of people lives is obvious.

But it got me thinking: what if drugs were legalized and sold exclusively through licensed dealers? The misguided propensity for government to try and legislate behavior might be put to good use for once. If drugs were a legal commodity, open to taxation, the government could simply tax it out of existence the way it is attempting to with cigarettes.

There would be problems of course. As the taxes went up users would likely do whatever was necessary to get the money for a fix. There would inevitably be a database of known drug users which would raise all sorts of ire with the privacy crowd.

Long term, however, would this approach work? I don't think we'll know in my lifetime; the political backlash of this would likely be too much for any Congress to draft the legislation. It would be interesting though to try this approach on marijuana, a drug which is lumped in with the likes of heroin and methamphetamine, narcotics with far greater negative consequences on society.

This line of thinking puts me in an uncomfortable place, as I dislike taxation as behavioral engineering. Think of this as an intellectual exercise (and one I'm well aware did not originate with me).

What do you think? If the government announced tomorrow that marijuana was legal and for sale by licensed dealers, and subsequently taxed it at higher and higher rates to curb its use, would the tactic succeed in ending, or at least greatly diminishing, its use?

President Obama Narrowly Dodges Impeachment Movement

I had no idea that the President had initially scheduled his State of the Union Address for primetime on February 2nd. That would have meant preempting at least part of the premiere of the final season of Lost.

Thankfully the legion of crazy people on the internet mobilized, inundating the White House and ABC with frantic suicide notes, and the President announced (via his Press Secretary) that the Address would be rescheduled.

Let Reid Go, But Hammer Home The Hypocrisy

By now you've heard about Harry Reid's embarassing remarks about then-candidate Barack Obama. They were stupid and possibly belie a deep character flaw in Mr. Reid. That said, Republicans should not waste a lot of breath calling for him to resign.

In 2002, Trent Lott resigned his post as Senate Majority leader amid pressure from Democrats and minority groups like the NAACP following flattering remarks Lott made about retiring senator Strom Thurmond's 1948 presidential bid. Thurmond, you may remember if you're 148 years old, wasn't sold on the whole "desegregation" thing back then.

It was wrong to pressure Lott to step down. Lott wasn't any more a racist because of those remarks than Reid is because of his. It was wrong in Lott's case, and it would be wrong in Reid's.

The hypocrisy involved should be mentioned again and again, however. It should be brought up until everyone is sick of hearing about it. Because the next time someone with an (R) after his name makes some insensitive remark, you can bet there will be calls for his head. Racism is a term that has come to mean, "something Republicans say that upsets minorities". That has to change.

Like A Pitbull Opening A Present

Because, well, that's what it is:

Administrators Shouldn't Surf

I was asked not long ago for advice on ridding a computer of a virus that infected a friend's computer. She had begun to notice all the usual telltales: slow bootup, pop-ups continually interrupting the browser, being redirected to strange websites. I pointed her to some virus removal tools and advised her to put a good virus checker on the machine. I also gave her one other piece of advice that I bet most of you reading this aren't heeding:

Don't browse the internet as an administrator!

Normally, when you set up a computer after purchase, the account you log into has what are called "administrator privileges". These are rights necessary for installing new software, creating new users, restricting access to files, etc. People tend to use the out-of-the-box account because, hey, it's already there.

When a virus invades your computer, it attempts to copy itself to the machine and register itself with the operating system as just another program. "I come in peace," it says. It can also attempt to do other things, like open a communication port, install a keylogger, set up a web proxy, or all kinds of other things you won't like.

Normally, many of these steps require adminstrator privileges. Since the virus is piggybacking on the user information of whomever is accessing the email or web page that hosts it, a simple way to protect yourself is to browse as a user without administrator privilege.

This is simple to set up:

Instructions for setting up a user in Windows XP
Instructions for setting up a user in Windows Vista (select My computer is in a workgroup)
Instructions for setting up a user in Windows 7 (select My computer is in a workgroup)

Note: during the setup, you'll have the option to define the type of account. For example, In Windows XP you'll see a choice between "Administrator" and "Limited". Choose "Limited".)

In the future, use the Web User account when logging onto the machine. If you need to perform some administrator task, like installing new software, you will need to change over to the adminstator account. This seems like a chore, and it can be at times. But you can save yourself a lot of headaches down the road.

Of course, you will also want to install some good virus protection if you haven't already. I recommend Avast! or AVG. Both of these are free downloads and work better than the for-pay products that get preloaded on most new machines, like McAfee or Norton.

If you think you've already got spyware or a virus, I suggest downloading and running the following (run them all; no virus scrubber gets everything):

Download SpyBot
Download SuperAntiSpyware
Download AdAware

All of these have free versions that work well.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Better Social Engineering Though Traffic Fines

I had no idea that parts of Europe meted out traffic fines based on the wealth and income of the offender.

A driver in Switzerland was fined $290,000 for driving too fast this weekend. This was a record, but not the only example of a wealthy driver being slapped with a six-figure fine. The rationale is that the paltry fines for speeding in these countries don't act as a deterrent to people with money to burn.

I can see the argument. I assume the laws in these countries (Germany, France, Austria, Norway, Finland, and Sweden) don't ratchet up the punishment for successive infractions; most states in America would increase the fines and eventually take away the license of a driver who continually drove too fast.

So, would this type of law work in this country? I don't think so. The European laws are written from the vantage point of social justice: 'from each according to his ability to pay', if you will. I would think an American law that charged fines on a sliding scale according to income would violate the Constitution.

Conflating Party With Ideology

In politics, especially within the anonymous ether of the internet where namecalling and hyperbole can be bandied about without consquence, the tendency is always there to demonize the opposition and beatify the likeminded. Conservatism is evil, we are assured, because Bush ran up deficits, never met a spending bill he didn't like, and supported the Patriot Act. Conservatism is a bankrupt ideology because Congress, for much of the Bush Administration, wrote those spending bills, ignored the Constitution in the Terry Schiavo situation (for one example) and expanded the role of government at every opportunity.

Real conservatives argued that Bush and the runaway Congress were Republicans but not conservatives. Entitlement spending, ignorance of the rule of law, trading liberty for security, and expanding federal power at every turn were not conservative ideals. We said no one who did these things could honestly call themselves a conservative.

I think liberals are starting to see what we meant. Pushing through legislation without due deliberation and out of the public eye, corruption, callous disregard for our allies, meddling in as many private industries as possible, maintaining the very limits on freedom decried when enacted under a Republican administration -- I'm willing to bet no liberal would claim these things as principles of their ideology.

Just as it was wrong to conflate the Bush administration with conservatism, we shouldn't make the mistake of conflating the Obama administration with what liberalism stands for.

Expansion of government and the entitlement state, well, they have to take ownership of those.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Is The Daily Show Falling Out Of Love?

Believe it or not, I used to be a fan of The Daily Show. When it was an equal opportunity skewer aimed at both ends of the political spectrum with a special emphasis on the absurdities of the media, I thought it was great.

I first tuned out during the 2004 Presidential election. I watched their coverage of the Republican National Convention and laughed. The show effectively pointed out Bush's foibles as a public speaker, the marionette-like relationship with Dick Cheney, and the general sense of "with us or against us" in every move the Republicans were making back then, drunk on the momentum of the War on Terror.

Then, I watched the coverage of the Democratic National Convention, expecting to see takedowns of Kerry's imperiousness, the spectacle of Michael Moore being treated like a visiting dignitary, and the cartoon-like hyperbole coming from the left about the evils of George Bush. Instead, I got unfunny, forced jokes about how the media covers conventions. The writers apparently couldn't find anything funny to write about Democrats.

It was then that I noticed a decided imbalance in the way the two parties were treated on the show. I'm not claiming the show was some utopia where liberal and conservative views were treated equally; the show always leaned a bit left. But by this time I began to realize the show's writers were pushing all their chips to one color.

Even after President Obama was elected, the show spent most of its time talking about Cheney and Bush, or making fun of Republican members of Congress using its preferred mode of re-editing interviews to make them sound dumb.

But now, it looks like the Democrat love is starting to wilt a bit. Based on the number of segments circuiting the internet these days, there is an increasing disillusionment with the party based on their secretive handling of the healthcare bill, the stimulus handouts, and the continuance of so many of the Bush-era policies that garnered such derision on the show during the previous administration.

If The Daily Show keeps it up, I might have to start watching again.

Winter Scenes

I promised my sister in Georgia some pictures of the snow. Word is that a blizzard was headed their way (accumulations up to an inch!) so I expect the town is shut down for a few days. I took a walk around the block (morning temperature: 2 degrees) and took these:

(click images to see them in 800 x 600 resolution)

Friday, January 8, 2010

Marry The State, Why Don't You

If I'm reading this correctly, Americans need to fight for things like national healthcare and expanded entitlements to make men more amenable to settling down, and by extension ease the search for true love for women.

Apparently, European men have it all over American men when it comes to commitment because they're relieved of the pressure to be a provider. In enlightened Europe, the state takes care of you, so the argument goes, so the man can use time he'd normally be working to improve himself, or something.

As proof, the author cites the experiences and viewpoints of herself and her best friend, who are Canadian and French, respectively. Well, with a sample size like that, I guess it's settled.

The calculus of long-term committment is just different when your country guarantees the basic necessities of an advanced civilization. When your government provides you, as they do in Canada and in Europe, with health care that is unlinked to a job or "productivity," subsidized prescription drugs, child care, free education through graduate school, and, finally, old-age pensions with visiting nurses if you need them to retain your health and a modicum of dignity.
Calculus is a difficult subject that when mastered yields great things. When the state is your mommy, you don't bother to learn calculus. You sit around on your butt, producing nothing. The only thing that really gets you up and active is when your mommy tells you that tax receipts are down and benefits will have to be cut. Then it's protest time. Then you wish you'd studied calculus.

Short Answer

This article starts with the question, "Should a teacher who can't speak fluent English to her students be allowed to stay in the classroom?"

Short answer, no. Long answer, no, but you can't just fire someone. You have to take into account many factors, like the teacher's self-esteem, membership in a union, race and gender. The one thing you don't have to take into consideration: whether the teacher is any good at her job.

While pursuing my degree at Minnesota State University - Moorhead, I signed up for a class in "Computer Management". It was taught by a professor (I won't name him, but some of you will know instantly of whom I speak) who is of Chinese descent. He did not speak English. I don't mean to say that his accent was hard to decipher. I work in a company with many races represented; some of my coworkers are at times difficult to understand. But we communicate well and everybody always leaves the room with an understanding of what was said. Not so with this professor.

He literally did not speak English. His class consisted of him scribbling incomprehensible scratches on the chalkboard while mumbling incoherently. Occasionally he would turn to the class and say something unintelligible, then give this clipped sort of giggle. Then he would turn back to the chalkboard.

I passed his class with a B. I did this despite not getting better than a D on any test. This is because, in order to keep the natives restful, the class was graded on a curve like a horseshoe. Also, since know one I know actually failed the course, the curve also must have been manufactured in some sort of Lovecraftian dimension where F's become C's and everything else becomes a B.

I relate this story because it kills me to know that there are teachers like this, out there right now, teaching kids. I had the misfortune of running into such a teacher as an adult; I knew I wasn't going to get anything out of the class and was thus prepared to dismiss the whole thing. Children, though, look at teachers as examples of authority. They're supposed to be smart and infallible. Teachers like my Computer professor and the woman in the linked article can single-handedly kill a child's desire to learn.

Should a teacher who can't speak fluent English to her students be allowed to stay in the classroom? Let's stick with the short answer.