Sunday, April 30, 2006

House Project: Persuading Woodpeckers & Power Lessons Learned

Friday night my wife and I hung up wind chimes and "wind spinners" (which are shiny plastic twirly things that, as the name suggests, spin in the wind) on the south side of the house. I took some pictures, but it was too dark for them to look good. Our hope is that the combination of noise and moving objects will encourage the woodpeckers to go elsewhere.

Afterwards, we went for a walk as the sun set--and it is a beautiful place.

When we returned, the sky had darkened enough to see Saturn, although I must confess that Big Bertha did not seem to have cooled sufficiently to give a sharp image. Perhaps the problem is that the mask that I am using to get stop down the turned edge has shifted on the mirror. I'll try this again another night. Attempts to find M51 (The Whirlpool Galaxy) were stymed by the sky not being complete dark yet by the time we had come back down the hill. (My wife has band practice Saturday mornings, so we couldn't stay late.)

Power mistakes made: I probably specified too large of a backup generator. The electrician said that we needed at least a 5 kiowatt generator to provide backup power--at least enough to get the well pump running from a dead start. I'm not sure that this is actually correct, but even aside from that, our typical power consumption at our current house is about 38-40 KWh per day.

We ended up getting a 7 kilowatt LP gas backup generator. This is both not enough power to operate every circuit in the house at maximum demand--so the electrician only hooked up a bit more than half the circuits, including well pump, pressurization pump, kitchen, laundry room, and garage doors. It occurs to me now that it would have made more sense to get about a 2 kilowatt backup generator, and use that to charge batteries, in the style of photovoltatic systems. A 2 kilowatt generator, operating 24 hours a day, would charge batteries at 48 KWh per day--well in excess of requirements (remembering that there is some loss from storage and from conversion from AC to DC and then back again)--and the output from the batteries would have been distributable across all circuits in the house. The batteries would also have been useful for later expansion with photovoltaics or wind generators.

Last house project entry.

Friday, April 28, 2006

House Project: Zeno's Paradox At Work

You may be familiar with Zeno's Paradox. Zeno was a Greek philosopher who argued that to run distance X, a runner must cross first the distance 1/2 X. To do that, he must first cross the distance 1/4 X. Keep dividing these segments down, and you end up with an infinite number of infinitesimally small segments. Even if each small distance takes only a short time to cross, an infinite number of them would mean that it would take an infinite time for the runner to complete the distance X.

Now, that's why I've never taken philosophy very seriously. The real world suggests that Zeno didn't know what he was talking about. But construction projects have certain elements in common with Zeno's Paradox--one of which is that the first 90% of the project takes 90% of the time--and the last 10% of the project takes another 90% of the time. This is why so few large construction projects seem to get done on time.

Our builder tells us that we are now 99.9999% done. He went up and did almost all the exterior painting yesterday--just a few last details to fix.

He still has to dig a drainage ditch next to the garage, to keep water from accumulating (which may have contributed to the cracking of the rear driveway apron, because of expansion of the soil). There being a number of large blocks of concrete cut out of the driveway, he was planning to hall them away. Instead, I suggested that he might want to use them as the base upon which to put the drainage tubes--which he thought was a very good idea. It makes them less likely to move, and he doesn't have to haul the broken concrete blocks to the dump.

The water test results came back: no measurable lead (or rather, <0.002 mg/L) and iron is 0.17 mg/L--about half of the EPA action level. I'll check again in a few months, but it looks like much of the complex filtration stuff just wasn't needed. One more item to add to the "lessons learned" chapter of the book I'll write about this. (You will buy a copy, right?)

The sky is so blue today. Tonight will be spent at the new house, using Big Bertha on Saturn and M51, the Whirlpool Galaxy.

Last house project entry.
How Can I Offend You? Let Me Count The Ways

I knew that the musical Rent had homosexual characters, but I assumed that they were cleaned up Will and Grace homosexuals--the kind that really do exist--but that seem to be more common in television and movies than in real life. (This assumes, of course, that living in the San Francisco Bay Area qualifies as "real life.") Rent was a real surprise. Not a pleasant one, either.

I've never been a big fan of musicals. Perhaps it is because the conceit of an art form that pretends that ordinary people will break into perfect song as part of emotionally powerful dramat (or comedy) just overstretches my credulity. I enjoyed The Sound of Music, but I confess, there aren't many musicals that don't leave me sitting there wondering, "Why bother?" We rented Rent because my wife is going to be teaching a class about the history of drama, and she wanted to see what modern stage productions there might be to have students watch and discuss. I don't think so.

Rent is one of those reminders that you can invest a lot of talent in writing music and lyrics, find some very talented actors to sing those songs--and still end up with a depressing and unpleasant product. Rent is about a bunch of people dying of AIDS, many of them homosexual, and all of them unpleasantly full of themselves, feeling sorry for themselves, and in general, behaving like the sort of irresponsible and immature bunch that I have long associated with being an artiste.

The lyrics to "La Vie de Boheme," one of the high energy numbers, are here. It is rather as though the lyrcists was trying to see how many different ways to offend the majority of Americans.
The Number of Gay Marriages

Dale Carpenter, who blogs over at Volokh Conspiracy primarily about gay marriage and related issues (he's in favor of gay marriage), points to a recent study done by one of the anti-gay marriage groups that shows that only a tiny fraction of homosexuals are taking advantage of new laws allowing gay marriage--something like 2% to 6% of homosexuals--who in turn, are only about 2% of the population:
The report derives these numbers by comparing the total number of same-sex marriages in a jurisdiction (based on government reports) to an estimate of the total number of adult homosexuals in the jurisdiction (based on survey data for the jurisdiction, if available, or a general estimate if not). The first number is precise; the second number is necessarily a rough estimate. I won't address here the accuracy of the data; I'll assume that the numbers for same-sex marriages are correct. While we could quibble over the estimates of gays in a given jurisdiction, the assumptions used seem fair. The report itself has a welcome "just the facts, ma'am" tone.
One of the criticisms of recognizing gay marriage was the claim (which seems to have been borne out) that relatively few gay people are interested in the sort of long-term committment that marriage entails. Now, even if true, this wouldn't be an argument against gay marriage. But it does suggest that the claim that gay people are just like everyone else, except for their sexual orientation, isn't really accurate.

There are a number of data points that show that homosexuals are, on average, different from straight people. Let me emphasize on average. They are more likely to vote Democrat and subscribe to liberal or leftist ideas--but there are conservative and libertarian homosexuals--rather more than most people would expect.*

For example, this recent article in what appears to be a Chicago gay newspaper reports something that is not a surprise to anyone that has looked at the rather extensive literature on homosexuality and substance abuse:
Paul Fressola, one of HBHC’s psychotherapists, presented a grid illustrating the use of hard drugs ( e.g., meth, heroin and cocaine ) by LGBT seniors. It is estimated that 10 percent of those aged 50-75 abuse a hard drug, compared to 1.8 percent in the general population. There is no data for individuals aged 75 and over, and none at all on the senior transgender community.

* You think life is hard for a homosexual in an overwhelmingly straight culture? I used to correspond with a guy who was a gay conservative who shot in the Camp Perry high power rifle matches. He had to mind what he said that might expose his sexuality when he was hanging out with fellow gunnies, and he had to mind what he said about politics when he was hanging out with his fellow homosexuals.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

House Project: Death To All Woodpeckers!

We went up Friday evening, partly to see if Richard the Water Boy (yes, that's how he answers the phone) had gotten to the pressurization pump, which was still making water into a bucket under the overflow valve. It appears not--his plan is to reduce the pump pressure to 55 psi from 65 psi, in the hopes that spikes in pressure won't go over the overflow relief level.

However, we were pleased to see that the badly cracked rear driveway apron had been cut and...well, at least removed from the driveway, if not from the property.

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We went back today, and we were very pleased to see that the new concrete had been poured and stamped.

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It is still drying. They also fixed a number of less severe cracks as well. Our builder is going to put a drainage channel to remove water from the area between the hillside and the foundation--which I think now should have been done in the first place. In a few more days, the concrete guys will come back, power wash all the concrete, and apply a sealant coat to make it shiny and pretty.

However, the big surprise when we arrived this evening was some rather odd marks that at first my wife thought were bees swarming on the south face of the house.

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My wife saw the hole in the screen and thought that someone might have tried to break into the house. Okay, okay, make fun of us city folk, but I did point out to her that if someone was going to break into the house, they wouldn't attack the upper left corner of the screen--nor would they chew up the wood that far above the ground. My guess was that some bird attacked the house--and then my wife noticed that only the windows with blinds inside were being attacked. I noticed that only the south facing windows were attacked. Apparently, a window with darkness inside didn't upset the birds.

So I started making some calls. One of my neighbors said, "Woodpeckers. They chewed up the outside of our house a couple of days ago. My daughter went after them with a shotgun. She didn't hit 'em, but it scared 'em off." He recommended that I stake them out, and blast them out of the air. I have some skeet loads that should be heavy enough for woodpeckers, and light enough that a richocheting pellet shouldn't be a hazard to the house. (Obviously, you scare the birds away from the house, then blast them--the house is not an appropriate backstop.)

We'll have to replace at least one of the screens, maybe two, but these are all standard windows. The builder still has to finish the exterior trim paint, so a little patching and repainting after we have disposed of the pests won't be a big problem.

It is beautiful up there--and the natural grasses are coming out in a big way.

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Last house project entry.

UPDATE: It appears that I am going to have to persuade the woodpeckers to leave my house alone:
Woodpeckers are federally protected migratory species, and as such are subject to both state and federal laws. The legal requirements under each set of laws apply. A federally issued depredation permit is required before any person may take, possess or transport migratory birds for depredation control purposes. No permit is required to scare or herd depredating migratory birds other than federally listed threatened or endangered species, bald or golden eagles (50 CFR 21.41).
UC Davis has a rather discouraging list of approaches for making the woodpeckers leave your home alone; it sounds like noise or moving objects is the only legal way to do so that actually works. We were going to hang up wind chimes at some point; maybe we will do this a bit sooner.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

House Project: DSL; Water

Frontier Telephone made an appointment to install DSL between 1:00 and 5:00 PM today, assuming that it was possible. They said that if something came up that made it impossible, they would give me a call. Just to make sure that the message didn't get lost by my somewhat absent-minded son, I gave them my work number. At least voicemail would get it.

So I took the afternoon off work. I figured that there were other tasks that I could be working on up at the new house while I was waiting for them.

Well, I removed the lead filters from their fancy stainless steel and very expensive housing. Sure enough, they were clogged with silt, and the water pressure improved quite noticeably afterwards. After filling the tub a couple of times with hot water, the hot water is now coming as clear as the cold water--pretty much indistinguishable from city water.

Just to make sure, I took a water sample to be tested for lead and iron. Assuming that everything is within safe levels, this will probably be the last test that I do for several months.

About 2:30 PM, I suddenly asked myself, "Maybe I should call, and make sure that they are still supposed to be here today." So I called--and customer service informed that they had discovered that they could not give me DSL, after all, but, "They called the phone number you gave them, but no one answered, and there was no answering machine or voicemail." This is nonsense. My office phone has voicemail. The chance that my employer's voicemail was inoperative when they called is essentially zero. It is time to call BitSmart; SpeedyQuick Networks, the other wireless internet provider that believed that they could provide service, decided that they couldn't.

I will say, it is very quiet and beautiful up there. The clouds were drifting back and forth across the Sun. Big cumulus clouds like a Western movie; subtle shadows across the mountains. Very nice.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

A New California Textbook Requirement?

Michael Williams
pointed me to this piece of nonsense:
SACRAMENTO - The state Senate will consider a bill that would require California schools to teach students about the contributions gay people have made to society -- an effort that supporters say is an attempt to battle discrimination and opponents say is designed to use the classroom to get children to embrace homosexuality.

The bill, which was passed by a Senate committee Tuesday, would require schools to buy textbooks ``accurately'' portraying ``the sexual diversity of our society.'' More controversially, it could require that students hear history lessons on ``the contributions of people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender to the economic, political, and social development of California and the United States of America.''

Though it's a California bill, it could have far-reaching implications, not only by setting a precedent but also because California is the nation's largest textbook buyer and as such often sets the standards for publishers who sell nationwide.
Oh yeah, this is really important! What's even more outrageous is that homosexuals have been claiming various important figures from history as gay with evidence that to call it "thin" would be generous.

Was Shakespeare gay? A lot of people claim it because of his sonnets--but fail to understand the nature of how Elizabethan writers wrote poems in language that today would seem like an experssion romantic love, but was at the time considered a way of expressing strong fraternal love.

It is certainly possible that Shakespeare was bisexual. Christopher Marlowe, one of Shakespeare's contemporaries, was certainly interested in sex with other men, and made no secret of it. There were no actresses in those times; boys dressed up to play women's parts, and as much as many proper Englishmen of the time disapproved of women acting, after the Restoration, it appears that concern about the moral hazards of dressing boys up in dresses and having them kissed by grown men took precedence over women playing women.

Still, the most that we can say about Shakespeare is that he could have been bisexual. There's no evidence for it.

Abraham Lincoln is another historical figure who is now claimed to be bisexual--and again, based on a mixture of plagiarism and intellectual dishonesty. The historian Philip Nobile first started working on this gay Lincoln book, and then withdrew as the evidence turned out to be non-existent, has a scathing criticism:
The argument is "irrefutable," Gore Vidal blurbs on the book's cover. And, in fact, Tripp's work is as good as the case gets for Lincoln's walk on the Wilde side.

Unfortunately, that is merely a way of saying the Gay Lincoln Theory fails any historical test. "Useful history" is always a dubious kind of scholarship. But in its attempt to be useful for gays today, The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln reaches far beyond the merely dubious. The book is a hoax and a fraud: a historical hoax, because the inaccurate parts are all shaded toward a predetermined conclusion, and a literary fraud, because significant portions of the accurate parts are plagiarized--from me, as it happens.

Tripp and I intended to be coauthors of the book, laboring together on the project from 1995 to 2000--when our partnership, already fissured by dueling manuscripts, came to a bitter end. We quarreled constantly over evidence: I said the Gay Lincoln Theory was intriguing but impossible to prove; he said it was stone-cold fact.

More advocate than historian, Tripp massaged favorable indicators (Lincoln's early puberty), buried negative ones (Lincoln's flirtations with women), and papered over holes in his story with inventions (Lincoln's law partner and biographer William Herndon never noticed the homosexuality because he was an extreme heterosexual and thus afflicted with "heterosexual bias").

I quit the project first in 1999, when Tripp refused to include citations to Charles Shively, a former University of Massachusetts historian and Tripp's main guide to the gay Lincoln. "Darwin didn't do it," he said to me, referring to Darwin's initial failure to cite precursors in The Origin of Species. Although Tripp profusely copied ideas and references from Shively's flamboyantly rendered Lincoln chapter in Walt Whitman's Civil War Boy Lovers, he brushed off proper mention because he thought Shively's reputation for being "too gay-lib" would dissuade readers.
More importantly, a rather prominent gay activist tried to blackmail Nobile into not criticizing this dishonest crock:
"IF YOU DON'T STOP MAKING A STINK about Tripp's book, I'm going to expose you as an enormous homophobe," Larry Kramer telephoned me to say last October. "For the sake of humanity, please, gays need a role model." I replied that the book was so bad, it would backfire on the homosexual movement when reviewers and readers caught on to the fabrications, contradictions, and general nuttiness of The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln.
And this is the problem. Homosexual activists are desperate for positive role models to make themselves feel good about themselves. There's a bit of a shortage of prominent homosexuals in history, partly because homosexuality throughout much of history has been reviled so severely--and those that were unquestionably homosexual or bisexual are hardly stunningly positive: Edward II; King James I (yes, the guy who commissioned the King James Version of the Bible); Ernest Roehm, Hitler's leader of the Sturmabteilung.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Iraq's Suicide Bombers

Over at Captain's Quarters, there's a discussion of an internal Iraqi document recently released that shows that Iraq was recruiting suicide bombers in March of 2001:
A few days ago, I posted a translation of a document culled from the captured Iraqi documents that the US found during Operation Iraqi Freedom. This particular memo, dated March 17, 2001, comes from a brigadier general in the Iraqi Air Force and requests a list of volunteers from all units under his command for suicide attackers. The memo explicitly explains the targets for these terrorist attacks, as the original translation from Joseph Shahda shows:

The top secret letter 2205 of the Military Branch of Al Qadisya on 4/3/2001 announced by the top secret letter 246 from the Command of the military sector of Zi Kar on 8/3/2001 announced to us by the top secret letter 154 from the Command of Ali Military Division on 10/3/2001 we ask to provide that Division with the names of those who desire to volunteer for Suicide Mission to liberate Palestine and to strike American Interests and according what is shown below to please review and inform us.

When I posted this document, readers of this blog questioned the accuracy of the translation. People know that Joseph translated this for Free Republic, a strongly pro-war website, and that it was distributed by Laurie Mylroie, another pro-war commentator. Skeptics felt that this pedigree lent itself to a possibly warped interpretation of the memo. While the accuracy of the translation remained in question, the actual text -- which showed an active Iraqi terror program aimed at Americans -- would not get the attention it deserved.

In order to solve this problem, I decided to hire two Arabic translators on my own.
Those Arabic translators came up with essentially the same results.

Now, if only the Bush Administration would try and defend itself.

Investor's Business Daily also covers this document, and reminds everyone:
Though little noticed by the press, during a July 2004 visit to Kazakhstan the Russian president said that between 9-11 and the U.S. invasion of Iraq, "Russian special services and Russian intelligence several times received . . . information that official organs of Saddam's regime were preparing terrorist acts on the territory of the U.S. and beyond its borders, at U.S. military and civilian locations."

This new document, said Darling, "would seem to refute a long-standing contention among members of the U.S. intelligence community that Iraq ceased its involvement in international terrorism after its failed 1993 plot to assassinate former President George H.W. Bush." Darling cites former National Security Council official Richard Clarke's book "Against all Enemies," which contends that the NSC, the CIA and the FBI all agreed Iraq posed no terrorist threat to the U.S.

Equally embarrassing to our spies is another newly released document from 1999 detailing plans for a "Blessed July" operation.

According to the English translation on the Foreign Military Studies Office's Joint Reserve Intelligence Center Web site, Saddam's older son Uday ordered 50 members of the fanatical "Fedayeen Saddam" group to stage bombings and assassinations in Iraq and Europe — including London, where 10 people were assigned.

Excerpts from a long, recently declassified report by the U.S. Joint Forces Command's Iraqi Perspectives Project will be published in the upcoming issue of Foreign Affairs magazine. Looking at the "Blessed July" document, Foreign Affairs notes this "regime-directed wave of 'martyrdom' operations against targets in the West (was) well under way at the time of the coalition invasion."

Sunday, April 9, 2006

House Project: The Water Tank

Okay, we spent Saturday afternoon fixing the various items that our builder can't seem to get around to fixing, like putting sealant where the exterior door frame casing has opened up a bit, then repainting. He did seem to make some progress on the interior doors that were still closing themselves, but it wasn't perfect. I spent some time bending hinge pins, and while they still aren't perfect, they are certainly good enough--any motion is very limited.

We had some interesting and not very useful conversations with various people about our brown water. My theory was that since the iron level was okay, the water is soft, and it tastes fine, that the problem was dirt in the water tank. Our well driller suggested that we talk to an acquaintance, who cleans out water tanks. This unfortunate person also has the first name of Clayton, so it was a more surreal conversation than usual, trying to leave a message from Clayton for Clayton with Clayton's wife (but not my wife). He was of the opinion that it would take a lot of mud in the water tank to cause this, and suggested that while he could clean the tank, that probably wasn't it.

So the next step was to talk to the company that sold me the lead filters, and the 5 micron and 1 micron filters that are upstream of the lead filters. They thought it might be iron (or perhaps manganese) in the water--although my iron levels were too low to explain this much brown. But they have a solution, the same one used by a lot of city water departments around here--polyphosphate injection (under pressure) to prevent the iron from coming out of solution.

Okay, before I spend another $600 to what is already beginning to look like a Rube Goldberg water system, we'll try and clean the water tank ourselves. So yesterday, we bought a 3.5 horsepower, 9 gallon Ridgid brand wet-dry shopvac. I picked the largest one that wasn't absurdly expensive--and that turned out to be, for reasons you will shortly read (unless you get bored), the largest size we could use.

We started a hose draining the water tank on Saturday afternoon. Yes, we could have just let the gravity-fed frost-free spigot empty the tank, but outlet for the tank is several inches above the bottom of the tank--meaning that even with the gravity-fed spigot, there would still be perhaps 50 to 75 gallons in the tank. We put the hose into the end of the shopvac's opening, and in a few seconds, the siphon was running.

One of the sources of dirt in the water tank was probably broken up material from when the well was drilled. The builder tells me, "Ordinarily, we run the well for a few thousand gallons before we hook it up to the house. We didn't in this case." Why, I asked? He couldn't figure out why.

Another potential source of dirt was rocks and dirt that could fall in through the top access port--which was opened and closed repeatedly during construction and testing of the water system, and which may still require some access occasionally. We needed some way to keep dirt out when this access port was open--but we couldn't clear all the dirt from the top, because the sunlight would promote algae growth (more about that later), and perhaps increase the risk of freezing the water in winter. So we hunted around at Home Depot, and found a 6" high by 24" diameter red brick tree ring--just 2" larger than the access port.

We get to the house after church today, and there is just a small amount of water left at the bottom of the tank. The shopvac sucks that up, and a lot of mud, in a big hurry. There is still a lot of stuff sticking to the walls and floors, and the shopvac just isn't pulling it out.

To my surprise, even though the port is less than 22" in diameter (and coincidentally, the exact diameter of the shopvac we bought), I can climb down inside. (My wife is claustrophobic, perhaps because of an incident when a neighbor boy locked her inside a chest when she was quite young, and left her there.)

Down I go--and pretty quickly I get the rest of the water and bulk mud--which is, curiously enough, the same disgusting brown as the water in the tub. The mud is actually a very fine clay, and sticks to the walls of the water tank far too well. By applying the end of the hose directly to the surface, I can remove most of the mud--as well as two dead insects (fortunately, above the water line), and lots of gravel and small rocks. At the far end of the tank, there is a small amount of algae on the walls--because the far end of the tank was partly exposed to sunlight. (We covered that up to prevent continued growth.)

The next step is to use a dropcloth to wipe down the interior. The tank is about four feet high, so I am sitting in the mud as I do this. (Yes, when it was all done, it looked like I had been very, very sick, and had not made it to the men's room in time.) This removes a bunch more silt and algae, but it still isn't quite as antiseptic as I would like.

The final step is to wipe down the walls with paper towels. I ran out before I reached the end, but 3/4 of the tank is now gleaming white plastic, with no mud, algae, or stains. The remainder is reasonably clean, although not perfect.

After I climbed out, we started up the well pump again. (It is started and stopped by a float sensor in the tank.) To my surprise, within about two hours, the tank has at least 600 gallons of water in it--and my, what a difference in color! Where it was too dark to see the bottom before, now I can see the bottom. The water is still a little yellow, but I'm hoping that the remaining silt will wash out over time.

I spent a bit of time figuring out how to get the pressurization pump running again. An air bubble in the line prevents the pump from pulling water, so you have to open a relief valve--and then close it again, real quick, before the air leaves, and water starts spurting out.

The water is still not absolutely clear, but it is close enough that I could take a bath in it--and it may take a few days for the old water in the water heater and the lines to completely flush. In addition, I have my suspicion that silt that was trapped in the 5 micron and 1 micron filters may be breaking off small fragments of silt that are still passing through. I will replace both filters shortly.

I suspect also that the silt has again clogged the lead filters, which might be why water pressure is again low. But since the last test results show that the water is now lead-free (even before going through the lead filter), perhaps I can just remove the lead filters, and improve flow.

The interior of the house is now done--a couple of spots where we are going use clear sealant in the bathrooms, but the house is now done and livable. The outside still needs to some trim painting and grading, but both of those are dependent on warm and dry weather--something that has been in short supply of late.

Friday, April 7, 2006

House Project: Learning to Debug System Problems

I am beginning to get a little frustrated with my builder. He put in our mailbox a couple of weeks back--great! Then the mail carrier asked us to move it back so it was lined up with all the other mailboxes on our rural road. This way, he can just drive along, one box right after the other.

Okay, the builder moved our mailbox--but didn't fix the self-closing doors in the house while he was up there. (He forgot his hammer--any mechanic's most important tool. "If it doesn't work it, hit it. If it breaks, it needed replacing, anyway.")

There's been some settling of the house, and a few minor cosmetic matters need repair--a few places where some sealant and some paint are required. Not big, but he's a little too busy on new subdivisions, so we are waiting.

The big stuff, however, is all water related. The pressurization pump in the garage is what takes water from the water tank (gravity fed) and pushes it up to normal house water pressure. The pump has been dripping some water the last few weeks, however--enough to be a concern. Finally, today, after I was able to describe the symptoms (pressure spiking from 65 psi to over 100 psi after running water in the house), the pump guy was able to identify and fix the problem for the second time. (The first time was a recall from the manufacturer.)

So we go up to the house this evening to put in some more curtains, and I notice that there is no water. The pump is trying--but even the faucet that is gravity-fed has no water.

I call the builder. He has me call the pump guy. The pump guy at least is able to tell me what to check. Now I know where the switch and breaker that feed the well pump that feeds the water tank are.

I also looked into the water tank--the float that controls whether the well pump should be running either droops down, and starts the well pump, or is horizontal (as the water fills the tank), and that shuts off the well pump. The float was horizontal because it was stuck in a corner of the water tank. I reached in, pulled it loose--and about five seconds later, there was a whooshing sound from the pipe that leads to the water tank, followed about 30 seconds later by water. This is frustrating, but at least I am learning how to debug these problems myself.

I have been a little concerned about the water color. It is perfectly safe to drink, and actually tastes pretty good--but it is yellowish to brownish--far too much to want to use for a bath. When I looked in the tank, I noticed that there is a good bit of dirt and mud that has fallen when the lid was off at various times. The builder was supposed to get someone up there to pump the tank out, let it dry, and then vacuum out all the loose dirt. But that was weeks ago, and he just hasn't gotten to it. I suppose that I could do this myself, and perhaps I will. Fortunately, I could use a siphon to get all but a small amount of water out, and then use a shopvac to finish the cleaning process. It might help to have a small child that I could lower down into the tank to finish the cleaning process, but I'm fresh out of small children at this point in life.

Thursday, April 6, 2006

The Iraq/Bin Laden Connection

What just amazes me is how many Iraqi government documents are coming out--in spite of the best efforts of the U.S. government--that give strong reasons to believe that Saddam Hussein's government had a working relationship with al-Qaeda. Stephen Hayes over at Weekly Standard has been pulling teeth for months trying to get copies of unclassified documents captured in Iraq. His first article about this pointed to what can only be called curious and suggestive links:
One of the documents, "Iraqi Efforts to Cooperate with Saudi Opposition Groups and Individuals," had been provided to the New York Times last summer. Thom Shanker, one of the Times's best reporters, wrote a story based on the document, which was an internal Iraqi Intelligence memo. The Iraqi document revealed that a Sudanese government official met with Uday Hussein and the director of the Iraqi Intelligence Service in 1994 and reported that bin Laden was willing to meet in Sudan. Bin Laden, according to the Iraqi document, was then "approached by our side" after "presidential approval" for the liaison was given. The former head of Iraqi Intelligence Directorate 4 met with bin Laden on February 19, 1995. The document further states that bin Laden "had some reservations about being labeled an Iraqi operative"--a comment that suggests the possibility had been discussed. (According to another Iraqi Intelligence document, authenticated by the DIA and first reported on 60 Minutes, the regime considered bin Laden an "Iraqi Intelligence asset" as early as 1992, though it's unclear that bin Laden shared this view.)

According to a report in the Times, bin Laden requested that Iraq's state-run television network broadcast anti-Saudi propaganda; the document indicates that the Iraqis agreed to do this. The al Qaeda leader also proposed "joint operations against foreign forces" in Saudi Arabia. There is no Iraqi response provided in the documents. When bin Laden left Sudan for Afghanistan in May 1996, the Iraqis sought "other channels through which to handle the relationship, in light of his current location." The IIS memo directs that "cooperation between the two organizations should be allowed to develop freely through discussion and agreement."

What kind of cooperation resulted from this discussion and agreement?

You'd think the U.S. government, journalists, and policy types--not to mention attentive citizens--would want to know more. You'd think they'd be eager.
A second article demonstrated that according to Iraqi government documents, they were funding al-Qaeda affiliates in the Philipines, and only backed off funding because one of these attacks was getting too much attention from the FBI:
ON JUNE 6, 2001, the Iraqi ambassador to the Philippines sent an eight-page fax to Baghdad. Ambassador Salah Samarmad's dispatch to the Secondary Policy Directorate of the Iraqi Foreign Ministry concerned an Abu Sayyaf kidnapping a week earlier that had garnered international attention. Twenty civilians--including three Americans--had been taken from Dos Palmas Resort on Palawan Island in the southern Philippines. There had been fighting between the kidnappers and the Filipino military, Samarmad reported. Several hostages had escaped, and others were released.

"After the release of nine of the hostages, an announcement from the FBI appeared in newspapers announcing their desire to interview the escaped Filipinos in order to make a decision on the status of the three American hostages," the Iraqi ambassador wrote to his superiors in Baghdad. "The embassy stated what was mentioned above. The three American hostages were a missionary husband and wife who had lived in the Philippines for a while, Martin and Gracia Burnham, from Kansas City, and Guillermo Sobrero, from California. They are still in the hands of the Abu Sayyaf kidnappers from a total of 20 people who were kidnapped from (Dos Palmas) resort on Palawan Island." (Except where noted, parentheses, brackets, and ellipses appear in the documents quoted.)

The report notes that the Iraqis were now trying to be seen as helpful and keep a safe distance from Abu Sayyaf. "We have all cooperated in the field of intelligence information with some of our friends to encourage the tourists and the investors in the Philippines." But Samarmad's
report seems to confirm that this is a change. "The kidnappers were formerly (from the previous year) receiving money and purchasing combat weapons. From now on we (IIS) are not giving them this opportunity and are not on speaking terms with them."


A thorough understanding of the relationship between Iraq and Abu Sayyaf (the name, honoring Afghan jihadi Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, means "Father of the Sword") will not come from an analysis of three months' correspondence between Manila and Baghdad in 2001. While it is certainly significant to read in internal Iraqi documents that the regime was at one time funding Abu Sayyaf, we do not now have a complete picture of that relationship. Why did the Iraqis begin funding Abu Sayyaf, which had long been considered a regional terrorist group concerned mainly with making money? Why did they suspend their support in 2001? And why did the Iraqis resume this relationship and, according to the congressional testimony of one State Department regional specialist, intensify it?

ON MARCH 26, 2003, as war raged in Iraq, the State Department's Matthew Daley testified before Congress. Daley, the deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, told a subcommittee of the House International Relations Committee that he was worried about Abu Sayyaf.

"We're concerned that they have what I would call operational links to Iraqi intelligence services. And they're a danger, they're an enemy of the Philippines, they're an enemy of the United States, and we want very much to help the government in Manila deal with this challenge," Daley told the panel. Responding to a question, Daley elaborated. "There is good reason to believe that a member of the Abu Sayyaf Group who has been involved in terrorist activities was in direct contact with an IIS officer in the Iraqi Embassy in Manila. This individual was subsequently expelled from the Philippines for engaging in activities that were incompatible with his diplomatic status."

This individual was Hisham Hussein, the second secretary of the Iraqi Embassy in Manila. And Daley was right to be concerned.

Eighteen months before his testimony, a young Filipino man rode his Honda motorcycle up a dusty road to a shanty strip mall just outside Camp Enrile Malagutay in Zamboanga City, Philippines. The camp was host to American troops stationed in the south of the country to train with Filipino soldiers fighting terrorists. The man parked his bike and began to examine its gas tank. Seconds later, the tank exploded, sending nails in all directions and killing the rider almost instantly.

The blast damaged six nearby stores and ripped the front off of a café that doubled as a karaoke bar. The café was popular with American soldiers. And on this day, October 2, 2002, SFC Mark Wayne Jackson was killed there and a fellow soldier was severely wounded. Eyewitnesses almost immediately identified the bomber as an Abu Sayyaf terrorist.

One week before the attack, Abu Sayyaf leaders had promised a campaign of terror directed at the "enemies of Islam"--Westerners and the non-Muslim Filipino majority. And one week after the attack, Abu Sayyaf attempted to strike again, this time with a bomb placed on the playground of the San Roque Elementary School. It did not detonate. Authorities recovered the cell phone that was to have set it off and analyzed incoming and outgoing calls.

As they might have expected, they discovered several calls to and from Abu Sayyaf leaders. But another call got their attention. Seventeen hours after the attack that took the life of SFC Jackson, the cell phone was used to place a call to the second secretary of the Iraqi embassy in Manila, Hisham Hussein. It was not Hussein's only contact with Abu Sayyaf.

"He was surveilled, and we found out he was in contact with Abu Sayyaf and also pro-Iraqi demonstrators," says a Philippine government source, who continued, "[Philippine intelligence] was able to monitor their cell phone calls. [Abu Sayyaf leaders] called him right after the bombing. They were always talking."

An analysis of Iraqi embassy phone records by Philippine authorities showed that Hussein had been in regular contact with Abu Sayyaf leaders both before and after the attack that killed SFC Jackson. Andrea Domingo, immigration commissioner for the Philippines, said Hussein ran an "established network" of terrorists in the country. Hussein had also met with members of the New People's Army, a Communist opposition group on the State Department's list of foreign terrorist groups, in his office at the embassy. According to a Philippine government official, the Philippine National Police uncovered documents in a New People's Army compound that indicate the Iraqi embassy had provided funding for the group. Hisham Hussein and two other Iraqi embassy employees were ordered out of the Philippines on February 14, 2003.

Interestingly, an Abu Sayyaf leader named Hamsiraji Sali at least twice publicly boasted that his group received funding from Iraq. For instance, on March 2, 2003, he told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that the Iraqi regime had provided the terrorist group with 1million pesos--about $20,000--each year since 2000.
There's a lot more there--enough to show that Iraq was funding al-Qaeda farmclub operations that were killing Americans.

You aren't going to see this in local newspaper, obviously, especially if you live in California, where political homogenity takes precedence over everything else.

Wednesday, April 5, 2006

Eric Muller's Obssession With Michelle Malkin's Work Habits

My respect for University of North Carolina law professor Eric Muller started to collapse when I saw the implausible criticisms that he made of Michelle Malkin's book In Defense of Internment. Now, not all of his arguments were absurd--but it became increasingly clear, when he compared Malkin's book to Holocaust denial, that Muller and friends are more interested in defending the position that they have staked out than in pursuing the historical truth about the Japanese-American internment.

Muller, a self-described liberal, has also argued for why certain books should not be allowed in public school libraries or in government operated bookstores. Muller even toyed with the idea of suing a publisher for selling a book to a public library that he found offensive, because it promoted Christianity. This is, of course, the essence of modern liberalism--it believes that the government is obligated to fund art projects such as "Piss Christ," but that it is completely improper for a publisher to sell a book to a public library because the liberal in question finds its religious content offensive. I am not surprised that Eric Muller is a law professor--a profession that seems to attract people with the morals of a lawyer ("99% of lawyers ruin it for the rest") and the common sense of academics.

Muller's attacks on Malkin included a nasty little posting in which he implied that Malkin planted forgeries in the National Archives to make her book In Defense of Internment look plausible--a scurrilous claim that requires some evidence to make.

Muller's latest attack on Malkin
claims that Malkin doesn't really write all the stuff that she blogs--apparently on the theory that because Muller is unproductive and not very bright (he is a law professor, after all), that Malkin couldn't possibly be that much more productive.

It is worth reading the comments on Muller's attack. Even people who identify themselves as fans of Muller tell him that he is all wet, and to make these accusations of dishonesty based on the fact that Malkin gets a lot done during the day is absurd:
With all due respect .... this is indeed an embarrassing and somewhat petty posting.

Unlike your detractors, I thoroughly enjoy reading your blog; it is on my daily list to pass through each morning.

But this? This is beneath you.

First, it is utterly banal and uninteresting. Why is it remotely newsworthy? Does Malkin have assistants? Probably. Or maybe not. But why would I care? More importantly - why would I care about assertions to that effect not established by clear evidence? If you had actual proof it would be one thing (though still not exactly riveting news).

Second, what you've done here is attack the messenger rather than the message. The beauty of Internet free speech is that it permits the free exchange of IDEAS ... and in my opinion, many of Malkin's ideas could be challenged on thier merits.

It is unfortunate in the extreme that you completely discredited yourself by gossiping about the individual rather than engaging in a mature, respectful debate about that person's IDEAS ...

How could you miss that point so badly? In your classes, as you debate important precedents, do you discuss the concepts involved? The positions?

Or do you discuss what the attorney's were wearing? Who wrote their briefs?

This really is embarrassing, Eric. Your responses in your comments are even more troubling.

As for Malkin's comments: I rarely read there since she has no comments - but I did previously when she DID have comments. In fact, I debated her several times on issues, and found her responsive and articulate. She is seriously misguided on several points ... but responded to my queries thoughtfully.

Unfortunately, every thread was quickly overtaken with trolls that make the commenters here seem polite and tame by comparison. My liberal brethren filled her blog with racist demagoguery of the worst sort. Truly hateful, vile speech.

Thus she closed her comments. Which is a shame because, again, discussing her IDEAS was a worthy use of time. Discussing HER is an utter waste of time, and I don't see how you miss that.
Some of the critical comments by Malkin's fans were riotously funny:
Brilliant! You've unravelled Michelle Malkin's clever deception! There wasn't just one blogger, as any fool can see, there were two, three, maybe four or five or six! It was Karl Rove blogging from the Book Depository, Dubya blogging from the manhole cover, and Michelle Malkin was blogging from the Grassy Knoll! Who knows how many bloggers were involved in this vast right wing conspiracy!? But none of them all together could fool you, huh? You have unravelled their clever conspiracy with, with, with GEOMETRIC logic.
Methinks thou dost protest too much...

Sure, Michelle is cute, but sending flowers might be a better way to show your crush than pulling her pigtails in the playground.

Grow up. If you are intimidated by someone who is productive and literate and makes good arguments then your complaint says a lot more about *you* than about her.
And this one:
I'm just curious, did Michelle turn you down when you came on to her or something? Remember, you were both at the same convention, you invited her for a drink, she turned you down?

Dude. she's married.

You should have hit on an easy chick, like you usually do.

You know one of those that always needs help finding their room 'cause they drank too much, again. They never remember in the morning and you don't even have to pay them.

Seriously though, this stalking thing it ain't healthy, before you know it somebody's going to get hurt. So, chill
And the best of all:

This obsession has gotten unhealthy. Put away the harpoon before you hurt someone.



Sunday, April 2, 2006

House Project: Customizing The Roof Rafters

We had the builder install one of those foldaway ladders that open into the ceiling of the garage, with the expectation of using it for long-term storage. We bought some 24" x 72" x 1" pine laminate at Home Depot Saturday morning, and put three of them across the rafters, thus creating a 6' x 6' platform in which to store stuff.

It isn't a real DIY ("Do It Yourself," or as they say in Britain, "Disaster Is Yours") project unless you spill some blood, and this wasn't difficult. The rafters are constructed from various long pieces that are held together by these indescribable spike plates which are much sharper than they look! Ouch!