Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Schizophrenia Research

Interesting article about Reuters, July 30, 2007, about successful genetic engineering of schizophrenic mice:
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Scientists have genetically engineered mice that develop the physical and psychological characteristics of schizophrenia, U.S. researchers said on Monday.

They said the finding will help improve understanding of the disease and help develop drugs to treat it.

Current animal research on schizophrenia has relied on drugs to create the delusions, mood changes and paranoia that characterize this brain disorder.

Breeding animals that develop schizophrenia will help researchers better understand the disease, which affects about 1 percent of the world's population.

"We can use them to explore how external factors like stress or viruses may worsen symptoms," said Dr. Akira Sawa of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland, whose work appears in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The research builds on the discovery in recent years of the DISC1 gene that sharply increases the risk of schizophrenia.
Now, it is important to note that these mice have the same characteristics as human schizophrenia. It may not be the same problem. When LSD first appeared on the scene, scientists found the similarity to schizophrenia interesting, because there was some hope that understanding LSD might help to understand schizophrenia. But now we know that the similarities in results do not necessarily indicate similar mechanisms. LSD was a dead end towards finding a cure.
This Was Utterly Unbelievable

Since the source was a Polish newspaper talking about a document from a German government agency which encourages parents to sexually stimulate their 1-3 year olds, I wasn't much inclined to believe it. This was just too wacky.

But the document does actually exist on the website of the German government agency--but marked "withdrawn." And Germans are discussing it--and quoting from it, with page numbers, which didn't appear in the Polish newspaper's account. And no, I won't reproduce those quotes in either English or German, because they are just too disgusting. There's nothing subtle about what the booklet tells fathers to do to their daughters.

And here's an article from Der Spiegel about the withdrawal of the booklet. The question that comes to my mind is: what sort of sick monsters work for the German government agency that they would even think of distributing it?

Child molestation: your government tells you to do it. Post-Christian Europe--what a wonderful place to be a kid!

Psychosis and Marijuana

Unsurprisingly, only a few news organizations are covering this story. To my surprise, CBS News covered it on July 26, 2007, and without a bunch of excuses:
(WebMD) Smoking cannabis, or marijuana, as a youth could boost the risk of developing a psychotic illness later in life by about 40 percent, according to a new analysis of published studies conducted by British researchers.

The more than 40 percent increase in risk applies to those who have ever used the drug, and the risk rises even more with frequent use, according to Stanley Zammit, M.D., Ph.D., clinical lecturer in psychiatric epidemiology at Cardiff University and the University of Bristol in the U.K., a study co-author.

"People who have ever used cannabis, on average, have about a 40% increased risk of developing psychotic illness later in life compared with people who have never used cannabis," he tells WebMD.

"People who used it on a weekly or daily basis had about a 100% increased risk, or twofold." Even so, he adds, "the risk is still relatively low."


Zammit and his colleagues pooled the results of 35 published studies on marijuana use and mental health effects, including psychotic effects such as schizophrenia (in which people may hear voices or hallucinate) or affective problems such as depression and anxiety. They analyzed the results of all the studies, a method known as a meta-analysis.

The increased risk of psychosis with marijuana use persists, Zammit's team found, independently of the transient intoxication effects of the drug and independently of what they call "confounding factors," such as existing mental health problems or other drug use. "We can't be sure it is causal," he says of the association. "[But] studies find an association rather consistently."

Still, he tells WebMD, "It's always possible people who use cannabis may be different [in some way] than those who don't."

The researchers also looked at the association between marijuana use and depression and anxiety but found that the evidence is "less strong than for psychosis but is still of concern."


In an editorial in the same issue, Lancet editors note that the publication ran an oft-quoted editorial in a 1995 issue stating that "the smoking of cannabis, even long term, is not harmful to health." Now, the editors note, research published in the interim, including the meta-analysis, has triggered a change in their thinking, with them now stating that cannabis use "could increase the risk of psychotic illness" and that more research is needed on any link with depression and anxiety.
Now, it is certainly possible that this correlation isn't that marijuana causes psychosis; perhaps people who are prone to psychosis are attracted to marijuana. As I mentioned some months back, a longitudinal study done some years ago established that the drug abuse/mental illness connection was causal, and that the drug abuse increase preceded the mental illness increase. I am not sure which drugs they were counting; probably not marijuana, since they were looking at hospital admissions for drug problems, and that wouldn't include marijuana.

I've had several relatives whose bipolar disorder problems seem to have been greatly aggravated by marijuana use--pushing one of them into complete, decades-long disability, and another one very close to it. I know my brother was certainly smoking marijuana in the several years before his schizophrenic breakdown; I was astounded to visit his apartment at one point with my parents, and they didn't even notice the joint sitting on the coffee table--and this was at a time when marijuana possession was still a relatively serious crime in California.

Yes, the increase in psychosis rate isn't huge. Most people that smoke marijuana aren't going to become psychotic. What if you are one of the small minority that does. Do you feel lucky?

UPDATE: If you want to see a form of religious frenzy, read the comments on that CBS News story. Even the few people who managed to make a valid point--that it isn't clear whether this association is coincidence, or what the direction of causality is which the scientists quoted also pointed out--managed to make their points in a way that really shows you the desperation:
This report is not science. It's major BS! It's propaganda written to serve a predetermined right wing political agenda. Since before the time of Christ mankind has smoked marijuana and hashish. Over those thousands of years there has been ample time for all the ill effects of marijuana and hashish to be amply discovered and displayed. But now, suddenly, somehow some new effect has been surfaced that has escaped notice for all those many centuries?
Except that before modern epidemiology got its start in the 19th century examination of water-borne diseases (The Ghost Map is a very readable account), figuring out subtle connections like these were very hard to do. Unless a particular substance caused a very high fatality or morbidity rate, or the effects were visible almost immediately, it was very easy to miss.

50 years old. Smoked daily for over 30 years. Pay my bills on time. Take 1 or 2 sick days a year, if that. Keep a clean house. Eat right. Exercise daily. Recycle. Made a conscious choice not to have children.

What about me is psychotic?
Except that the study didn't make the claim that every marijuana smoker would become psychotic--only increase the incidence of psychosis.

Oh, This is part of the reason the feds were raiding that medical ganja clinic in LA, instead of helping to secure our borders. OOOOOHHHHH!
Speaks for itself.

Reefer Madness. It's all about social control. 100 years ago people had more freedom than we do today. There is a concerted, obvious effort on the part of the ruling class to use scare tactics, whether terror or drugs (both are the reason for "wars" waged by the U.S.), to convince people that their lives must be monitored and regulated by Big Brother, lest we harm ourselves or are hit by the odd suicide bomber. The mainstream media is, of course, the propaganda arm of the ruling class. In Albert Speer's book, 'Inside The Third Reich', he noted that Hitler was merely the first tyrant to make full use of modern mass communication. Such mass communication is now, of course, much more highly sophisticated. Read Noam Chomsky's books on propaganda and the mass media.

Where are all these poeple that have developed psychoisis from marijuana?

It's been used by humans since before we kept records with not one documented case of psychosis.
Maybe it just makes some people spell badly.

There is yet to be one record of anyone ever overdosing solely on Cannibis.

Children under the age of 16 shouldn't smoke or drink anything anyways (developing brain cells)

Devils weed?

You mean God made the planet in seven days and realized later he created a plant that grows everywhere... was a mistake???
And where did the article make any reference to overdosing?

Does marijuana turn people into fanatics? Or do fanatics start smoking marijuana? Or is the addiction so severe that they go crazy at the prospect of not getting it? If someone discovered tomorrows that limes cause some horrible illness, I would give up my Minute Maid Limeade. I wouldn't turn this into a bizarre theory about how Sunkist Growers had bought off scientists to destroy their competition.
This Is A Remarkably Stupid Idea

A purse in the shape of a machine gun.
Another than a fashion slave, what woman is going to find a machine gun shaped-purse attractive? Some cop, somewhere, responding to a bank robbery, is going to see this purse, and think, "Patty Hearst."

And another fashion slave bites the dust.
The Transgender Madness

I've written before about the madness of the "transgendered"--people who insist that they are trapped in the body of the wrong sex, and who seek sex change surgery. Homosexuality seems downright normal by comparison. We have yet another example of how "transgendered" is really just a description of someone with very serious mental illness. From the July 30, 2007 Idaho Statesman:
The state must provide female hormone therapy to an Idaho inmate who castrated herself after prison officials refused to treat her for gender identity disorder, a federal judge has ruled.

Jenniffer Spencer, who changed her name from Randall Gammett after she was imprisoned in 2000 for possession of a stolen car and escape, believes she is a woman trapped in a man's body. Born biologically male, she castrated herself using a disposable razor blade in her prison cell after doctors working for the state prison system refused to prescribe her the female hormone estrogen.


In the lawsuit filed last year, Spencer says that before she was incarcerated, she lived full time as a woman and took birth control pills in an attempt to develop the secondary sex characteristics of a woman. But she apparently didn't tell Correction Department officials that she believed she had gender identity disorder until September 2003, when she learned the state had a policy detailing treatment options for transgender inmates.

She contends the department ignored some 75 requests she submitted for gender identity disorder treatment. Instead, prison doctors diagnosed her with a nonspecific sexual disorder, then bipolar disorder.

In August 2004, Spencer tried to hang herself in her cell but survived. Two months later she tried to castrate herself, failing in the first attempt but succeeding 10 days later.
This is someone who is really, really messed up.
I'm Not Surprised

When the first details of this grisly crime came out, and that the victim's daughter was being held, it wasn't too difficult to figure out the significance of what she did to him:
Police were investigating whether a mentally disturbed woman lured her Liberian stepfather to her home and then gagged, handcuffed and castrated him to avenge a history of sexual abuse.

Investigators believe the suspect, Brigitte Harris, "did it," a law enforcement official said on Monday. "We are trying to determine why."

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because Harris had not been arrested or charged, said police were checking reports that Eric Goodridge, 55, may have abused Harris as a child. Detectives were hoping to question the 26-year-old suspect at a hospital mental ward where she was admitted after the slaying, the law enforcement official said.
Fox News interviewed Brigitte's sister this morning, who confirmed that both of them were sexually abused by the stepfather from the age of 3 onward--and that repeated attempts to get help were ignored.

Brigitte is under psychiatric evaluation at the moment. If what happened to her didn't make someone unbalanced, it would be surprising.

There's an effort underway right now to get Idaho law changed to provide a mandatory minimum sentence for first offense child molestation. I find myself wondering if it might also be worthwhile for the state government to run ads aimed at raising awareness of the problem. My impression, from all my reading, is that for every fixated pedophile who devotes much of his life to the pursuit of children to victimize, that there are several pedophiles who are conflicted about their desires, feel some guilt about it, and might be sidetracked by an advertising campaign.

Some pedophiles rationalize their actions with, "Well, I would have enjoyed this when I was their age." Pedophiles are generally former victims themselves. Only some victims grow up to become pedophiles; from what I have read, no one entirely understands why. From the outside, we can look at their rationalizations and see someone who is re-creating their own victimization--but this time, with the former victim now in charge. Because some--perhaps many--pedophiles have some doubts about their actions, an advertising campaign that seeks to get them to seek treatment before they victimize a child would seem like a darn good idea.

There are enormous human costs of pedophilia. This case appears to be one such example. Aileen Wuornos is another. She says her grandfather sexually abused her. (Her father was a child molester as well--one guess why--and hung himself in prison.) Aileen, unsurprisingly, grew up homosexual (as victims of child sexual abuse disproportionately do), and worked as a prostitute. Then she murdered seven men, and was eventually executed for those murders.

I'm sure that I will be accused of incipient liberalism, but I believe that a campaign aimed at both trying to get men (and a very few women) who are tempted to sexually abuse a child to seek treatment, and to get children who are being victimized to report that abuse, would probably save a few children from destruction. If Idaho spent a million dollars a year on a campaign like this, and it saved even five children from being abused, I would consider that money well spent.

A child molested becomes a burden on the taxpayers because of the need for social services immediately, and later in life, when many victims turn their anger outward (more common with boys) or inward (more common with girls). A child molester who gets convicted is a big cost to the taxpayers, first for trial, then to hold him in prison for many years. If there are ways to save money--and save children from this abuse--spend the money.

The 1997 Lott Survey That Various Critics Claim Didn't Happen

More about the Lott v. Levitt suit.

Lott says that the data was lost in a hard disk crash. Here's a very long list of emails from people who remember Lott telling him about the hard disk crash, or who lost data from research projects that they were doing with Lott at the time. If Lott fabricated the 1997 survey, and the hard disk crash was a later excuse to cover that up, it would require that he destroy a hard disk in 1997 so that others would remember it later.

The evidence that he did the 1997 survey is pretty persuasive. If Lott didn't do the 1997 survey--and the hard disk crash was the equivalent of Michael Bellesiles's flood that destroyed all his notes but that doesn't match the memories of others about when it happened and how severe it was--then not only is Lott lying, but so are quite a number of professors, many of whom do not share Lott's views about gun control.

The evidence that he didn't do it? None--just suspicions and doubts by Lott's political opponents who have constructed everything from the Mary Rosh sock puppetry.

Which is more likely? That Lott did a survey which he was able to replicate five years later with similar results, and he had a hard disk crash that caused the loss of the data? Or that Dr. Lott and a whole bunch of other professors, as well as at least one (and maybe two) survey respondents are all lying?

What Causes Anti-War Activists?

This article suggests that alcohol plays a big part:
SILVERDALE — A college student was arrested Sunday in the slashing of 42 tires on 13 government vehicles in an Army recruiting office parking lot, saying he was angry about the war in Iraq, authorities said.

Following a number of calls about a man wearing black and slashing tires, two deputies stopped a 19-year-old college student from Colorado as he tried to run from the lot shortly after midnight Sunday, a Kitsap County sheriff's office report said.

The man put up his hands, dropped a knife and, after being made to lie on the ground and being read his rights, asked, "Is this the time where I can confess?" deputies wrote.

On a portable breath test, his blood alcohol level registered .168, more than twice the legal threshold for intoxication, according to the report.

He told deputies he decided to slash the tires of Army recruiting vehicles because he "hated the military and the government and the war we were in."
UPDATE; There's a lot of this anti-war insanity going around. This news report from the July 5, 2007 Times of Trenton, New Jersey, I found linked at Michelle Malkin's blog made it sound like a random act of violence:
WILLINGBORO -- An airman from McGuire Air Force Base remained hospitalized in critical but stable condition at a Camden hospital Thursday, a day after he was shot in the chest by another man who then took his own life.

The exact circumstances of Wednesday evening's bizarre attempted murder-suicide on Windsor Lane remained under investigation by township detectives and the Burlington County Prosecutor's Office.

Authorities said they are still trying to determine if the gunman, identified as Matthew J. Marren, 22, of Pennsauken, knew and specifically targeted the victim, Jonathan Schrieken, 22, or if his shooting of the airman was a random act.

But, based on their preliminary investigation, authorities said in a news release Thursday that it "appears to be a random act of violence and there is no indication to believe, at this time, that other individuals (were) involved in this incident."
A few days later, MSNBC reported:
WILLINGBORO — The Pennsauken man who shot and wounded a member of the U.S. Air Force before killing himself left suicide notes that indicated he was “angry at the government and wanted to make a statement” on Independence Day, one of the man’s relatives said yesterday.

Matthew J. Marren, 22, of Walnut Avenue, drove to a home on Windsor Lane rented by Senior Airman Jonathan Schrieken, 22, at about 5:30 p.m. Wednesday. Marren got of this vehicle, found Schrieken outside the house, shot him once in the chest with a small-caliber firearm, then turned the gun on himself, said Burlington County First Assistant Prosecutor Ray Milavsky.

Marren was pronounced dead at Lourdes Medical Center of Burlington County in Willingboro later Wednesday night.

Schrieken was taken to Cooper University Hospital in Camden where was listed in critical but stable condition yesterday afternoon, Milavsky said.

Schrieken is stationed at McGuire Force Base. He works as a loadmaster for the 6th Airlift Squadron.

Marren’s aunt, Terina Henderson of Trion, Ga., said she spoke to Marren’s mother yesterday who told her Marren left two notes, one in his home and one in his car, indicating he was upset with the government.

She said she did not know the exact wording in the notes, but said Marren was “mad at the government and wanted to make a statement … that’s why he did what he did on the Fourth of July.”

She did not know if Marren knew Schrieken or whether Marren shot him because he was affiliated with the military.

The Party of Treason

The Washington Post has this article in which a top House Democrat admits that things aren't looking good in Iraq--for the Democrats, but they may looking good for America:
House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) said Monday that a strongly positive report on progress on Iraq by Army Gen. David Petraeus likely would split Democrats in the House and impede his party's efforts to press for a timetable to end the war.

Clyburn, in an interview with the washingtonpost.com video program PostTalk, said Democrats might be wise to wait for the Petraeus report, scheduled to be delivered in September, before charting next steps in their year-long struggle with President Bush over the direction of U.S. strategy.

Clyburn noted that Petraeus carries significant weight among the 47 members of the Blue Dog caucus in the House, a group of moderate to conservative Democrats. Without their support, he said, Democratic leaders would find it virtually impossible to pass legislation setting a timetable for withdrawal.

"I think there would be enough support in that group to want to stay the course and if the Republicans were to stay united as they have been, then it would be a problem for us," Clyburn said. "We, by and large, would be wise to wait on the report."

Many Democrats have anticipated that, at best, Petraeus and U.S. ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker would present a mixed analysis of the success of the current troop surge strategy, given continued violence in Baghdad. But of late there have been signs that the commander of U.S. forces might be preparing something more generally positive. Clyburn said that would be "a real big problem for us."
It would be a big problem for them because Democratic strategy for taking the White House next year involves losing Iraq. If the troop surge works--as it increasingly seems to be doing--the Democrats believe that they will lose the White House.

This is such a profoundly self-centered approach--hopping to lose the Iraq War so that they can get control of the White House--and Clyburn is stupid enough to admit it. How any decent person can support people who regard success as "a real big problem for us" just shocks me.

Thanks to Don Surber for the link.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Experiments I Did Some Years Ago

These are chances to take a very high speed road trip through Sonoma County, where I used to live. This is about 100 miles per house; this is about 150 miles per hour. It is astonishing how much video capture technology has advanced in the last ten years. This was shot on Hi-8 analog video, and then captured with an astonishingly slow process.

A friend of mine and I have a devious business plan that wasn't any sillier than a lot of other companies that got funded, leased the fancy offices, and the BMWs, but because we didn't know anyone with gobs of money to burn, it didn't go anywhere.

Dead Sea Scrolls In Idaho

Yeah, really! They are part of an exhibit at the Museum of Idaho in Idaho Falls. Dead Sea Scrolls, a replica of the Gutenberg printing press. (You know what the first book printed on it was, right?) It is through Labor Day. The wife and I have a trip planned to Rexburg, so we'll hit the Museum of Idaho on the way back.
I Just Love These Hate Crime Laws

They show such creativity in how they are enforced. Professor Volokh has a detailed account of a guy who stole two Korans from a Pace University "meditation room," put them in a toilet and, I'll be polite, soiled one of them. He was charged not only with criminal mischief, but also aggravated harassment--a violation of New York State's hate crime statute, because this crime offended Muslims.

This is most unfortunate. The accused should have applied for a National Endowment for the Arts grant instead, and called the results "art."

There's a slippery slope here, no question. If we limit "hate crimes" to just violence against persons, then acts of vandalism (cross burnings, spray painting slurs on someone's door) don't qualify. There is a legitimate argument that knowing that someone did this to a Koran might might make Muslims feel hated, I suppose. But this incident is really not like burning a cross on someone's lawn. It is perilously similar to burning an American flag, or producing stupid art for rich people.

Let's Reserve Felonies For Serious Crimes

Adam Graham applauds the effort of one of Idaho's legislators to get dog fighting turned into a felony:
At this point, I’d lean towards toughening our laws. We shouldn’t need a repeat of the dog holacaust that occurred at Michael Vick’s place to stir our legislature to action. Sadly, I think that’s what it may take.
As much as dog fighting repels me, I am a bit reluctant to make it into a felony. For most of American history, the distinction between a misdemeanor and a felony was quite dramatic.

Until the American Revolution, most felonies were punishable by death. For example, from the July 27, 1749 Pennsylvania Gazette, Mary Rogers was sentenced to death for burglary in Boston, and granted a reprieve by the governor only after the hood was over her head. From the June 22, 1749 Pennsylvania Gazette:
At a Court of Oyer and Terminer, held at Newcastle last Week, John Gillespie, and John Roach, were convicted of Burglary, and John Slain of Rape, and Sentence of death was passed upon them.
There are many similar examples available.

A felony conviction today takes away many of your rights. You lose the right to vote (in most states), to own a gun, to obtain certain professional licenses. And that loss is usually lifelong. Misdemeanors are generally not so severe. I think felonies should be reserved for only the most serious of crimes.

Dog fighting is primarily done because someone makes money holding these events, or gambling on the outcomes. Here's the current statute that prohibits it; here's the statute that specifies the penalty:
any person convicted for a first violation of any of the provisions of this chapter shall be punished, for each offense, by a jail sentence of not more than six (6) months or by a fine of not less than one hundred dollars ($100) or more than five thousand dollars ($5,000), or by both such fine and imprisonment.
Since this is a crime done primarily for economic reasons, perhaps the better solution is to increase the penalties. Someone who makes a few thousand dollars at one of these events might think a little more deeply if the fine was in the $5000 to $50,000 range.

Proof That The Idaho Statesman Publishes Every Letter It Receives

Because if they were at all selective, they would leave out these proofs that Democratic prejudice is widespread:
Hunters and rednecks have no respect for wildlife

There are two species of man that I do not have much respect for: rednecks and hunters. At least rednecks, being closely related to the chimpanzee, have some excuse.
Adam Graham observes:
First of all, I have to wonder would the Statesman have published an article beginning with, “There are two species of man that I do not have much for: hippies and Blacks. At least Blacks being closely related to the chimpanzee have some excuse.” Or how about we replace it with Jews, Indians, etc.? The Statesman would have refused to run it, but instead, it’s okay to attack “rednecks.”
Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe the Idaho Statesman doesn't publish every letter it receives. Maybe they think that this is one of the smarter letters they have received.
Lunatic Left

I was searching for all references to my website, and I found the ultimate expression of left-wing insanity: a blog called Revelations, which is simultaneously a "9/11 Truther," Holocaust Denier, Bush hater, and practically every other left-wing craziness combined. Oh, and the Jews put Hitler in power. (If there wasn't a Holocaust, then I guess it isn't as crazy as it sounds.)

There's a link to what seems to be another blog the same group runs called "The World Can't Wait," with the slogan "Seeking U.S. Independence from the Zionist Yoke."

I can't identify who the author is; I would expect a professor somewhere at a public university.

Laugh Or Cry?

I don't know which. A reader sent me this link to a series of reports from Seattle bus drivers reporting "difficult" passengers--many of whom sound like they may be mentally ill. Some of these are so startlingly weird you want to laugh--and then you think about the suffering and confusion these people are going through, and you want to cry:
10/7/06 4:47 p.m. #140:

Began growling as he entered bus at [Burien Transit Center] and deposited large handful of leaves. Continued growling and tearing up schedules (one by one) in rear of bus.


2/18/07 11:28 a.m. #120:

One male got on and put a quarter in the fare box. I told him it was $1.25....At that point he took his quart bottle of punch and poured it into coin portion of fare box.


1/14/07 7:55 a.m. #15:

This passenger started to leave the coach at NW Market and Ballard Ave. NW; she put a 50-cent ticket in the fare box and asked for a transfer. I told her the fare was $1.25. She stated this was a compassionate ticket....The woman started striking me with her umbrella saying she wanted a transfer. I attempted to snatch the umbrella from her. I was unsuccessful, but she had placed her tickets on the storage over the wheel well. I took the tickets and a transfer and placed them outside the coach. I told her the tickets and transfer were outside the coach. She struck me several more times with her umbrella; I continued setting up my return trip. She then threw her coffee/drink at me; it glanced off my right arm and splashed on the dash. As I was cleaning up the mess, she began to strike me with her umbrella much harder this time. (It hurt.) I defended myself by blocking her blows with my arms and hands and was able to maneuver out the front door. I then closed the front door; she then began to strike the glass on the door and cracked it.


2/7/07 1:40 p.m. #48:

Pulled into zone at 15 & 85 NW. A man put the bike rack down, climbed on, held on to windshield wiper, screaming, "Let's go bitch." Then he tried to crawl through driver window, grabbing my arm. He then got back on bike rack insisting on riding there. I called for help.

10/18/06 7:08 p.m. #174:

Hispanic male drinking and harassing passengers on coach, using bad language toward female passengers. When asked to please stop, offender became more abusive with language....Finally offender exited the coach...then stood in front of coach and began to urinate on the front of coach.


7/17/06 8:30 a.m. #106:

Charged diagonally across street jumped onto the bike rack banged on window and shouted let me on this bus—I could tell by the anger and the demeanor and the look in his eyes that wouldn't be safe for anyone on the bus—so I shook my head. He then climbed across the bike rack so he was directly in front of me and banged on the window like he was trying to break it then he grabbed the windshield wiper arm and bent it down and back....I pushed the EA and PRTT...he hit the window again jumped down and charged west on Cloverdale....I suddenly realized he wasn't after a ride he was after me!
And these were the ones that I could feel comfortable quoting.

Lott v. Levitt Suit

Some of you may be aware that John Lott filed suit against Steven D. Levitt for defamation of character in the book Freakonomics. Professor James Lindgren at Volokh Conspiracy has a detailed explanation of the suit (and Lindgren isn't exactly on Lott's side). While Lindgren clearly believed that Lott has a pretty strong truth claim against Levitt, he didn't think it was necessarily going to be something that would win in court.

Now I see that there has been a settlement of at least part of the suit--and Lott seems to be the winner:
In documents filed on Friday in federal court, the two parties outlined a settlement that requires Mr. Levitt, who is a professor of economics at the University of Chicago and a co-author of the best-selling book Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explains the Hidden Side of Everything, to send a letter of clarification to John B. McCall, a retired economist in Texas.

Mr. Lott's lawsuit alleges that Mr. Levitt defamed him in a 2005 e-mail message to Mr. McCall. In that message, Mr. Levitt criticized Mr. Lott's work on a special 2001 issue of The Journal of Law & Economics that stemmed from a conference on gun issues held in 1999.

By some measures, Mr. Lott appears to have won little from his 15 months of litigation. No money will change hands, and the settlement does not require a formal apology from Mr. Levitt.

But on certain points of reputation and pride, Mr. Lott might take some satisfaction. Mr. Levitt's letter of clarification, which was included in Friday's filing, offers a doozy of a concession. In his 2005 message, Mr. Levitt told Mr. McCall that "it was not a peer-refereed edition of the Journal." But in his letter of clarification, Mr. Levitt writes: "I acknowledge that the articles that were published in the conference issue were reviewed by referees engaged by the editors of the JLE. In fact, I was one of the peer referees."

Mr. Levitt's letter also concedes that he had been invited to present a paper at the 1999 conference. (He did not do so.) That admission undermines his e-mail message's statement that Mr. Lott had "put in only work that supported him."

In his letter of clarification to Mr. McCall, Mr. Levitt said, "At the time of my May 2005 e-mails to you, I knew that scholars with varying opinions had been invited to participate in the 1999 conference and had been informed that their papers would be considered for publication in what became the conference issue."
These would seem to be pretty severe admissions for Levitt. Each of these admits that Levitt made statements that were not only false, but that Levitt knew were false.

Lott's research (replicated by a number of other economists) was profoundly troublesome to the gun control movement. Consequently, they were looking for any possible way to destroy him and his work. The "Mary Rosh" sock puppetry opened up the door to raise questions about Lott's academic integrity.

Remember: the left is allowed to engage in all sorts of lies in their published work (see Ward Churchill and Michael Bellesiles) and the academy will bend over backward to give them the benefit of the doubt. Things work differently if you are on the right end of the spectrum.

UPDATE: More here.

Sharp Tools Make All The Difference

My chop saw wasn't doing a very neat or fast job cutting Delrin, as I mentioned recently, so I bought a replacement blade. I cut a small amount of aluminum and a lot of Delrin (which isn't much softer), and the original high speed steel blade got dull very quickly. This time, instead of spending $10 on a 10" steel blade, I spend $50 on a 10" carbide tipped blade. And my, what a difference! It cuts through Delrin like a hot knife through warm butter.

The surface is so perfect that I don't feel any urge to sand it--and there's no need to run it through the vertical mill and flycutter to make sure that I have an even surface. I am supposed to be producing a 30 degree cut. When I measure it, it is within a degree of that angle.

Consider the Source

Here's an article saying that we might just win the war against terrorism in Iraq. Big deal, who is saying it? National Review? The Weekly Standard? No, this comes from two critics of the Bush Administration, and it appears in the July 30, 2007 New York Times:
VIEWED from Iraq, where we just spent eight days meeting with American and Iraqi military and civilian personnel, the political debate in Washington is surreal. The Bush administration has over four years lost essentially all credibility. Yet now the administration’s critics, in part as a result, seem unaware of the significant changes taking place.

Here is the most important thing Americans need to understand: We are finally getting somewhere in Iraq, at least in military terms. As two analysts who have harshly criticized the Bush administration’s miserable handling of Iraq, we were surprised by the gains we saw and the potential to produce not necessarily “victory” but a sustainable stability that both we and the Iraqis could live with.

After the furnace-like heat, the first thing you notice when you land in Baghdad is the morale of our troops. In previous trips to Iraq we often found American troops angry and frustrated — many sensed they had the wrong strategy, were using the wrong tactics and were risking their lives in pursuit of an approach that could not work.

Today, morale is high. The soldiers and marines told us they feel that they now have a superb commander in Gen. David Petraeus; they are confident in his strategy, they see real results, and they feel now they have the numbers needed to make a real difference.

Everywhere, Army and Marine units were focused on securing the Iraqi population, working with Iraqi security units, creating new political and economic arrangements at the local level and providing basic services — electricity, fuel, clean water and sanitation — to the people. Yet in each place, operations had been appropriately tailored to the specific needs of the community. As a result, civilian fatality rates are down roughly a third since the surge began — though they remain very high, underscoring how much more still needs to be done.

In Ramadi, for example, we talked with an outstanding Marine captain whose company was living in harmony in a complex with a (largely Sunni) Iraqi police company and a (largely Shiite) Iraqi Army unit. He and his men had built an Arab-style living room, where he met with the local Sunni sheiks — all formerly allies of Al Qaeda and other jihadist groups — who were now competing to secure his friendship.
An interesting thought: if by September of 2008 we have secured Iraq sufficiently that we can start withdrawing troops--will the Democrats take credit for the success, even though they claimed that the surge wouldn't work? If they do, the mainstream media will give them the credit, of course--and forget all the doom and gloom prognostication.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Why I Worry For America

Some creep with a capital C had a web page devoted to the pursuit of little girls; it got a bit of media attention in the New York Times. The web site itself is gone, but the really creepy archive of it (minus the pictures of dressed little children that this creep photographed) is here. Professor Volokh mentioned it here, as well as the understandable but likely useless (perhaps even counterproductive) effort by a number of outraged parents to get the California legislature to make what this creep was saying illegal. (It might be more productive to find out why the government supports this creep--he's on some form of public assistance, apparently.)

What's fascinating are the comments defending this creep made by the often quite disturbed and disturbing people that hang around Volokh Conspiracy. Here's one that really upset me:
Until this guy hurts a child, who cares what he says. For the first time in human history all you children-loving "give away our freedoms to protect the children" folk have the identity of a potential child predator BEFORE he does anything, and you have a problem with that? Yeah we better ban this guy from being allowed to get his sexual release (no matter how gross) by not harming anyone, so he will go out and do the real thing and molest a child.

Frankly, if his website is taken down by whiners, I hope he does molest a child. People need to learn to think about cause and effect before they legislate something away that bothers them.
This guy is a pretty stereotypical libertarian. You can read his blog (replete with foul language--how else can someone express himself?--here.

This one really raised my blood pressure:
We libertarians need to start hoisting the fascists by their own petards. A pedophile is, like Lewis Carol, a person who likes kids. If parents don't like the idea that others like their kids, they can stop having the damn kids! I think it great what the guy is doing and am considering taking photos of all kinds of kids. If the parents don't want photos, they can keep the kids indoors with their declawed cats.

In the meantime, we who are subsidizing their breeding have rights, whether the like it or not. It will be a cold day in hell that I give up the right to photograph, converse with and relate to ANY kid I meet in public.
Sad to say, while most people I know who call themselves libertarians have enough grasp on reality to recognize that pedophiles are a danger, Libertarian Party Conventions were always great places to meet people so in love with an idea that they had convinced themselves that red equals green, 1 equals 0, and yes equals no.

An ounce of experience is worth a pound of theory.

An Extraordinary Rendition That Doesn't Seem To Be Getting Much Negative Press

Intelligence agents grabbed this guy in another country, fly him to the Middle East--and then executed him! I mean, if "extraordinary rendition" is so bad when the CIA grabs suspected terrorists off the street and flies them off to be interrogated, why was it okay for the Mossad to kidnap Eichmann from Argentina in 1960?

Although perhaps I shouldn't mention it--I'm sure that the same crowd will just add this to Israel's list of crimes.

UPDATE: I realized that this sounded a little flippant. I really am not keen on the regular circumvention of legal processes. But we are at war (although the Democrats sometimes don't seem to be aware of that), and we are fighting an enemy that makes the Brezhnev-era Soviet Union seem like they were playing by Marquis of Queensbury rules. You have to go back to Stalin, Hitler, and Imperial Japan to find thugs with the level of barbarism of al-Qaeda.

Playing by a very narrow set of rules puts us at serious risk of losing heart. Lowering ourselves to their level risks the civilized values that are the reason that we are fighting these monsters. There is a saying that you must be careful who you pick as enemies--you are in danger of becoming like them.

I have some misgivings about turning over captured terrorists to some of the Middle Eastern governments that assist us. Torture is reputed to be common in many of these systems--and I don't mean playing Christina Aguilera music, or having a female interrogator make the suspect think that she has smeared menstrual blood on him. I don't even mean waterboarding (which I consider arguably on either side of the line that qualifies as torture). I mean the sort of torture that makes you sick to even think about, no matter how evil the subject of that torture is.

On the other hand, one of the mantras of leftist thought is that there are no universal truths, and we shouldn't impose our cultural values on others. Except in this one case! Then they suddenly decide that there are universal truths, and we do need to impose our values on our Middle Eastern allies.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Sherline Vertical Mill as Exercise Equipment

The blade on my chop saw is getting a bit dull, I think, and some of the 30 degree angle cuts I made on the Delrin pieces came out rougher and less even than I wanted. So I put them in the vertical mill, and ran the flycutter over them to even them up. The result is beautiful, but cranking the table back and forth for the number of units I made gave my right arm quite a workout!

Video Cameras (Again)

I requested information a few days ago, and my readers responded! Thanks to all! It appears that the cost difference between buying a video capture card for my Hi-8 video camera, and buying a low-end digital camcorder is only about $100. I'm shocked at how inexpensive the low-end digital camcorders have gone!

One of my applications is time lapse photography--and there's two ways to do it: capture at normal video speed, and then use various programs in the computer to grab every nth frame (which is an oversimplification when you are talking about most computer video formats), or find a camera that is capable of recording at something other than 30 frames per second.

Some cameras, primarily intended for security applications, will record one second every 30 seconds. That's not what I need. Ideally, I would like a digital camcorder where you can set the frame rate, somewhere in the range from 15 to 5 frames per second, providing a speedup of 2x to 6x normal. This also has the advantage that you can fit a lot more video on the camcorder's memory device.

Any suggestions? Even if it is a pretty expensive, professional grade camera, if there is a place that I can rent one, that might be acceptable.

Republican Health Insurance Tax Credit Plan

I guess Bush is backing this health insurance tax credit plan:
Burr's bill would encourage families to find their own health coverage, and then help them pay the bills through refundable tax credits of up to $5,400 a family. The proposal could bring health coverage to the North Carolina residents now without it.

Advocates for the uninsured say Burr's proposal could jeopardize not only low-income families and chronically ill patients, but also the employment-based health-care system that now covers 65 percent of Americans. Burr's measure would begin taxing the value of health-care plans that many employers now offer workers, a controversial provision sure to face opposition. Such benefits are now tax-free, both for the employer and the worker.

The legislation would offer special tax credits to residents to help cover the cost of health insurance and other health bills: $2,160 per person, up to a maximum of $5,400 per family.

Burr, a member of the Senate health committee, said his plan would level the field among residents. He described a Robin Hood-like bureaucracy that would take money from those with rich health-care plans to help pay for those who have nothing.

"Millions of Americans who are currently uninsured would have access to coverage in the free market," Burr said. He said the plan would give patients buying power by allowing them to hunt for their own, personalized coverage.
I can see some merits to the proposal: it would give Americans who are not currently covered the opportunity to purchase whatever kind or level of health insurance that they wished. For some single young people, who are seldom sick (and tend not to buy individual health insurance--even when they can afford it), it might make sense to buy coverage for only hospitalization and other major expenses.

For people who visit the doctor fairly often, as is often the case if you have small children, a refundable tax credit of $2,160 per person per year would pay a big part of the costs of individual health insurance. (From purchasing individual health insurance for a family member recently, I know that medical coverage is about $350 a month right now in Idaho.)

There are a lot of poorly paid Americans who have group health insurance available to them through their employer--but the employer doesn't pay any of the costs. I'm not sure what those policies cost; my guess is that $2,160 per person per year might pick up a big part.

What makes the proposal more problematic is that it would tax the health insurance benefits that most employers now provide to their employees. (And yes, as much as liberals like to pretend otherwise, a strong majority of Americans have health coverage right now, either through an employer. through Medicare, Medicaid, or the Veteran's Administration. (Although the stories I hear about Medicare, Medicaid, and VA, suggest that asking for more federal involvement isn't a recipe for great health care.)

Right now, the majority of Americans with good jobs, or whose parents have good jobs, get pretty decent health insurance. I can't wildly enthusiastic about my current employer's insurance plan, especially compared to the company I worked for previously--which had 12 employees, lower deductibles, and lower premiums. But it's nothing to grouse about, either. I know what the insurance costs are for my employer and for me, and if this becomes a taxable benefit, offset by $2,160 per person per year of tax credits, I expect that health insurance to get a lot uglier than it is now.

There are so many problems with our health insurance system in America--and contrary to what some people would like to believe, countries with single payer insurance or socialized medicine have significant problems as well. I've blogged before about Canada's problems with long waiting lists, and the signs that politically important groups are going to get elective procedures (like sex changes) prioritized over real health problems.

One of the problems with health insurance is that a lot of what insurance is covering doesn't make much sense. Typically, you insure for items that are likely to be very expensive, but where the chances of that event happening in any given year aren't very high. For example, you get collision insurance for your car because you aren't likely to be in a major auto accident in any given year. If you are, it will cost you $5000-$20,000, depending on the severity of the accident. It makes sense to pay $2000 a year to insure, with the expectation that there a good chance that every 5-10 years, you will be in an accident like that.

On the other hand, you don't buy insurance for your car's wax job. You know that it is a certainty that it will need to be done every year (or more often, for you fastidious sorts). The cost is small; about $10 or so, if you use really good wax. If someone was prepared to write car wax insurance, the cost of adminstration, having an agent come out to verify that you really needed another wax job, and so on, would mean that you were paying $80 a year for car wax insurance.

There's quite a bit of stuff that health insurance covers right now that just doesn't make a lot of sense to do through an insurer, whether it is private or governmental, because the administrative costs are so substantial, and you can be pretty darn sure that you are going to use that service several times a year or more. I'm guessing that most Americans see a doctor about 1-5 times a year; a few may see a doctor more often than that. What does a doctor visit cost?

If you go to at least some doctors, tell him you have health insurance, and you want to just write a check, you will be astonished how much cheaper that doctor visit can be. I know from experience, from a time in my life when, more out of stupidity than anything else, I had no health insurance. (I was 20 years old, making more money than I knew how to spend, and I was in good health.) A few years back, when we lived in California, my family physician charged my health insurer $75 for a doctor's visit; another family we knew had no health insurance, partly from poverty, partly from a father that had never grown up (which contributed to the poverty). They paid the same doctor $25 for a doctor's visit--check written when they arrived.

If you have health insurance, the doctor's visit is going to probably cost $40 to $120. Your insurer will then negotiate that down to $30-$60, and you will end up paying $15 to $40 as a copayment. I recently visited a specialist to deal with a cyst on my lower eyelid--the copayment ($40 because this was a specialist) was more than my insurer paid the doctor!

Back when I was "self-insured," my doctor ran a lot fewer tests, because he knew that I was paying for it myself--no insurance company was involved. Are the extra tests useful? Sometimes--and sometimes they are protecting the doctor from a malpractice suit. The more that you have to make decisions about which tests are really necessary, the more it reduces costs.

Maybe what makes sense is to have coverage only for the equivalent of that car crash: hospital visits; specialists; procedures or tests that are expensive and not terribly common. Right now, we as individuals, and as a society, are spending a lot of money on insurance policies that cover things that would be a bit cheaper if:

1. Our employer didn't send money to an insurance company.

2. Who waits for us to go to the doctor about a sinus infection.

3. Who charges us 50% more to cover the team of clerks processing the insurance paperwork and waiting for payment.

4. While a veritable army of clerks at the insurance company processes the paperwork from the doctor, verifies coverage, checks the ICD codes, and sends out paperwork and checks to the doctor and to us.

And note: this would be true for a "single payer" insurance system as well. Most socialized medicine systems only knock some of of this process out, because you still have to verify coverage, and there's no shortage of paperwork in socialized medicine systems.

There's another side to this as well, if we adopt a "single payer" system or a true socialized medicine scheme. If the government pays the piper, the government also calls the tune. As the AIDS epidemic, and the government's response to it demonstrated, a well organized pressure group can demand and get disproportionate funding for their pet disease. Sorry, but that's the way representative government works. If sufferers from disease X are very well organized, or politically connected, they may be able to get disease X prioritized over other diseases that are actually bigger problems. The opposite is a disease like schizophrenia, that has no political organization at all, but is one of the largest single causes of all medical costs in advanced societies, and gets relatively little research funding.

What if the government decides that it needs to "contain costs?" One way to contain costs is the Canadian model: don't invest enough in resources, and let people get sicker or die while waiting to get to the head of the line.

Another way to contain costs is to start pressuring people to make better choices. Insurance companies already do a bit of this, but it is largely polite scolding. I understand that at one time, some Canadian provinces refused to pay for oxygen for emphysema patients who would not stop smoking. This makes perfect sense to me--but is it really that hard to see a single payer or socialized medicine system refusing to cover people who smoke? What about people who drink to excess (however they chose to define it). What about not getting your share of green, leafy vegetables? These are all the sort of things that a sensible government would do to reduce costs--assuming that they were interested in reducing costs.

Health insurance is a very big, very complex problem. People that reduce it down to just "greedy lawyers" or "greedy insurance companies" or "all our problems will go away with socialized medicine" really haven't thought about this very seriously.

UPDATE: One aspect of the problem that I haven't addressed above is the problem of transfers to the needy. In some circles, the idea of the government taking care of the poor by providing health insurance is sacrilege. But as Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England reminds us:

Life is the immediate gift of God, a right inherent by nature in every individual; and it begins in contemplation of law as soon as an infant is able to stir in the mother’s womb....

The law not only regards life and member, and protects every man in the enjoyment of them, but also furnishes him with every thing necessary for their support. For there is no man so indigent or wretched, but he may demand a supply sufficient for all the necessities of life, from the more opulent part of the community, by means of several statutes enacted for the relief of the poor, of which in their proper places.
A Christian Commonwealth, as American society was understood by its Founders, had an obligation to care for the poor. This didn't necessarily mean that every poor person had a right to a particular standard of living, but as Blackstone points "every thing necessary for their support." This would certainly include necessary medical care--but not necessarily elective procedures such as sex changes, which seems to be on the planned improvements list for Ontario's health plan. (I put the quote in from Blackstone just to annoy people like BinkyBoy, who seem to want the Christian Commonwealth obligations to care for the poor, without the equivalent Christian Commonwealth obligations to pass and enforce the moral laws that go with it.)

Exactly how to best provide essential medical care is certainly worth discussing. The Hill-Burton Act passed in 1946 obligated public and nonprofit hospitals built with, or receiving federal funds to provide emergency medical care and some quantity of free non-emergency medical care to those who could not afford it. Emergency rooms meet this obligation, but they are a very expensive and inefficient way to provide non-emergency medical care to the poor. Medicaid does a better job, but I know that a lot of doctors are unwilling to take Medicaid. I remember a family physician of mine in California was going on and on about the importance of doing something about providing medical care to the poor, while he was removing a cyst from my chest. "So, do you accept Medicaid patients?" "No--the paperwork is a hassle." Physician, heal thyself.

This tax credit proposal would certainly help those people who are not poor enough to be eligible for Medicaid, but still are too poor to obtain their own health insurance. But $2,160 per person per year does not seem like it is a big enough tax credit. Adding to my concerns, and showing the complexity of the problem, is that at least some people who are poor enough to deserve public assistance in obtaining medical insurance are rich enough to burn through several thousand dollars a year in cigarettes, marijuana, and alcohol. Some people are poor through no immediate fault of their own; others work hard to be unable to care for themselves.

Friday, July 27, 2007

The Power of Identity Politics

If one of the Republican debates was being sponsored by the NRA and several other "gun nut" groups, what would be the reaction of the news media? Screeching about how the Republican Party is now "owned" by the gun nuts, and how shameful this is.

But you aren't going to be hearing anything from the mainstream media now that groups representing a much smaller fraction of Americans--and who are at least as disapproved of by the majority as gun owners--is sponsoring one of the Democratic debates (depending on which ads they are running at the moment, this may not be worksafe):
Four Democratic presidential candidates are now confirmed to participate in the first-ever televised primary debate about LGBT issues, sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign and Logo. Senators Hillary Clinton, Christopher Dodd, and Barack Obama and former senator John Edwards will attend the event, to be held August 9 in Los Angeles. But one candidate, former senator Mike Gravel, was not invited to the debate because he didn't meet the fund-raising threshold for participants.

HRC spokesman Brad Luna said HRC and Logo initially set out to sponsor two different forums, one for Republican candidates and one for Democratic candidates.

“The precondition we set before those forums could be confirmed was that two out of the three leading candidates would have to confirm their attendance,” Luna said. On the Republican side, Mitt Romney declined the invitation, and Rudy Giuliani and Sen. John McCain never responded, so the GOP forum never got off the ground.
I'm impressed--just about the only news organizations covering this are gay news organizations. Perhaps the mainstream media don't want to remind the voters that the Democrats are the gay party.
Miracles of Image Processing

I mentioned a few days ago
that some pictures that were almost not recognizably pictures were salvageable in the digital darkroom. In going through some recent pictures, I found two especially entertaining examples.

The first picture is one that I took at ASA 100 with Big Bertha, 1/1000th of a second. It came out completely black. There's no data there, right? (Fortunately an apparently black image isn't terribly large.)

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So I loaded this apparently completely dead image into HP Photosmart, and hit the "Auto Adjust" button. I have no idea what this does, exactly, but about half the time, it perfectly balances contrast and image brightness--and perhaps another 1/4 of the time it gets me close enough to fiddle with the other controls.

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Hard as it may be to believe, all that information was present in the "black" picture. Just because it doesn't look like much on the camera's screen, doesn't mean that there's nothing there!

There are limits to what you can do with this, of course. Here's another example that was completely white (1/6th of a second, ASA 100, again through Big Bertha). There was enough motion during that time, and enough light still in the sky, to make it a complete washout, no matter what I did to it.

As it came out of the camera:

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Best effort digital darkroom:

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Predator and Prey

My wife noticed this raptor of some sort outside the back door a few days ago:

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And then the reason why the raptor was sitting there:

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This picture shows the larger geographic relationship of what Tennyson called "Nature, red in tooth and claw":

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If bugs bug you, cause hysterics, or otherwise make you uncomfortable, click here to skip to the next blog entry.

We have a lot of very interesting and sometimes beautiful insects up here. Along with the conventional enough praying mantis in a light green:

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We also this praying mantis in a darling shade of pink! (Perhaps he prays with the Metropolitan Church.)

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There seems to be as many patterns and colors on some of these critters as there are fingerprints. Sometimes, we aren't sure if we are seeing different species, subspecies, different diets, or just the insect equivalent of the diversity of human races.

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Thursday, July 26, 2007

Ford Makes a Profit

I'm disappointed, because I was hoping the boycott would get their attention enough that they decided to become a car company again, and not primarily a social change instrument. Partly, I'm very drawn to the Jaguar X-type, and I really can't buy one as long as Ford's idiot campaign to promote moral destruction of America is under way. I did see one encouraging sign:
DEARBORN, Mich. (AP) - Job cuts, slimmer losses in North America and good sales overseas helped Ford Motor Co. post surprise second-quarter earnings Thursday of $750 million, its first profitable quarter in two years.

The company also said the sale of its Jaguar and Land Rover subsidiaries was probable, and it said its U.S. market share rose during the quarter.
If they sell Jaguar, then the purring kitty is again available for consideration as a replace for the Corvette next year.

I wonder what effect such a sale might have on reliablity? It was rather a sad commentary on the state of Jaguar reliability that Ford's acquisition of Jaguar improved it!

Cue the Twilight Zone Theme Music...

It really fits this story:
His name is Oscar. He's not the friendliest cat. But he has an uncanny knack for predicting within hours when nursing home patients with whom he lives are about to die.

Oscar lives at the Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Providence, Rhode Island, and is the subject of a fascinating essay in this week's issue of the prestigious medical journal, the New England Journal of Medicine.

What makes Oscar special is his ability to sense when one of the hospice's residents is about to die.

Every day, Oscar makes his rounds among the patients, entering each room and giving each patient a sniff. When he senses that someone is near the end of his or life, he will hop onto their bed and curl up beside them. Within hours, without fail, the patient will die.

Oscar has demonstrated his prognostication skills at least 25 times. He's considered so accurate that nursing home staff will immediately call family members once Oscar has chosen someone, since it usually means they have less than four hours to live.

Dr. David Dosa, a geriatrician from Brown University in Providence, tells Oscar's story, noting that the feline has never been wrong yet.

"His mere presence at the bedside is viewed by physicians and nursing home staff as an almost absolute indicator of impending death," Dosa writes.

Raised at the nursing home since he was a kitten, Oscar is described as aloof -- even, at times, grouchy. But when he is on a death watch, he is as warm as can be. He will nuzzle a dying patient and purr, perhaps trying to offer whatever comfort he can.
I'm not one to go looking for supernatural meanings where a natural explanation is offered. Some have suggested that the nurses perhaps know which patients are close to death
Not As Stupid As I Look

I bought about $100K worth of callable Fannie Mae bonds yesterday morning, with an average annualized yield to worst of about 6.6%. And today?
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Bonds rose sharply Thursday as homebuilders reported weak earnings and a durable orders report came in lower than expected.

The 10-year jumped 25/32, or $7.81 on a $1,000 note, to yield 4.80 percent, down from 4.90 percent Wednesday. The 30-year bond climbed 1-3/32, or $10.94 on a $1,000 note, to yield 4.95 percent, down from 5.02 percent. Bond prices and yields move in opposite directions.

The 5-year gained 21/32 to yield 4.62 percent. While the 2-year rose 9/32 to yield 4.57 percent.
My reason was that I saw a lot of hints that in spite of the Fed's nervousness about inflation, the economy is running out of steam. Actually, the housing part of the economy is running out of steam, while other parts did not seem to be--but that durable orders report indicates that other parts of the economy are beginning to follow. (No surprise: a lot of the durable goods purchased ended up going into new houses, or getting purchased with home equity loans--which is stupid.)

The other hint is that I am seeing a lot of car companies offering zero percent loans. These are usually relatively short duration (two to three years), but often this shows that automobile demand is down and the car companies expect interest rates to be low enough over the next few years that they can afford to make these zero percent loans, because it isn't going to cost them much to finance cars at these low rates.

I just wish that I had been really smart, and bought another $100K worth of bonds at the same time!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Fix It In The Darkroom!

One of the marvelous things about a digital camera is how easy it is to fix problems in the darkroom! (Inside your computer.) As an example, I took the three pictures below at three different shutter speeds: 1/350th, 1/250th, and 1/125th of a second, ASA 100. (Maybe not the best choice for the Moon.) The first one was indistinguishable from random noise, the second was at least apparently the Moon, and third was a faint image. But once I had the chance to fiddle with them in HP Photosmart Premiere, they all came out roughly equivalent.

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The data was already there--the levels were way too low on the first two pictures. Now, these aren't great pictures. When I worked at Jet Propulsion Labs, I worked on the boring part of the telemetry processing systems--not the sexy part, the pictures. One of my friends worked on the Viking image processing software--and he showed me a raw image as it arrived from the Viking Orbiter--and after post-processing. And yes, it was even more dramatic of a change than I experienced cleaning up these images.

I've written image processing software for amusement, back at the beginning of time. What you are doing is conceptually taking a collection of numbers that correspond to different brightness levels. If 0 is black, and 65535 is white, then taking the very first image, you find that effectively everything is a number between 0 and about 300; raising the image brightness involves rescaling 0 to 300 to be 0 to 65535. Obviously, the results won't be quite as precise and detailed as if you had a picture that all the values from 0 to 65535 in it. But it is astonishing how well you can fix an apparently "spoiled" picture this way!

Be Glad For Honest Leftists

This article in the July 24, 2007 Wall Street Journal describes what happens when leftists are honest about their intentions:
When Louis Brandeis praised the 50 states as "laboratories of democracy," he didn't claim that every policy experiment would work. So we hope the eyes of America will turn to Wisconsin, and the effort by Madison Democrats to make that "progressive" state a Petri dish for government-run health care.

This exercise is especially instructive, because it reveals where the "single-payer," universal coverage folks end up. Democrats who run the Wisconsin Senate have dropped the Washington pretense of incremental health-care reform and moved directly to passing a plan to insure every resident under the age of 65 in the state. And, wow, is "free" health care expensive. The plan would cost an estimated $15.2 billion, or $3 billion more than the state currently collects in all income, sales and corporate income taxes. It represents an average of $510 a month in higher taxes for every Wisconsin worker.

Employees and businesses would pay for the plan by sharing the cost of a new 14.5% employment tax on wages. Wisconsin businesses would have to compete with out-of-state businesses and foreign rivals while shouldering a 29.8% combined federal-state payroll tax, nearly double the 15.3% payroll tax paid by non-Wisconsin firms for Social Security and Medicare combined.

This employment tax is on top of the $1 billion grab bag of other levies that Democratic Governor Jim Doyle proposed and the tax-happy Senate has also approved, including a $1.25 a pack increase in the cigarette tax, a 10% hike in the corporate tax, and new fees on cars, trucks, hospitals, real estate transactions, oil companies and dry cleaners. In all, the tax burden in the Badger State could rise to 20% of family income, which is slightly more than the average federal tax burden. "At least federal taxes pay for an Army and Navy," quips R.J. Pirlot of the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce business lobby.

As if that's not enough, the health plan includes a tax escalator clause allowing an additional 1.5 percentage point payroll tax to finance higher outlays in the future. This could bring the payroll tax to 16%. One reason to expect costs to soar is that the state may become a mecca for the unemployed, uninsured and sick from all over North America. The legislation doesn't require that you have a job in Wisconsin to qualify, merely that you live in the state for at least 12 months. Cheesehead nation could expect to attract health-care free-riders while losing productive workers who leave for less-taxing climes.
A proposal this expensive tells you that some Wisconsin legislators are utterly out of touch with economic realities. Or perhaps they'll just prohibit businesses and employees from leaving the state.

There's an amusing comment over here:
The way I see it, the legislature will screw up the economy so bad that everyone who can afford a bus ticket will get out of the state to avoid the inevitable soviet-style labor camps for tax debtors. The massive, rapid depopulation will depress housing prices below true market value. All I have to do is wait until the current legislators are lynched by angry mobs and replaced with reasonable people, then buy as much land as I can find, and wait for the market to return to normal levels. I’ll sell and make a bundle.

Oh, but I guess a bunch of people will probably have their lives destroyed in the process, so maybe there’s a down side that I haven’t seen yet.
Wind Power

Much of the year, we have a steady and powerful wind running up here. I had always assumed, because I had nothing to gauge it against, that it was about 40-50 mph. Now that I have an anemometer, I know the answer--and no, it isn't quite that fast.

The wind this afternoon is blowing about like it does from September through May (or at least, it feels like those winds). I went up to the back of the property, where the wind generator should go. According to the anemometer, it's averaging about 21.4 mph, with maximum speed of 30.9. I'm going to keep an idea on this for the next several days, but once this kind of a wind starts blowing here, it generally keeps blowing for days. If so, the wind generator makes more and more sense.
Big Bertha & The Moon

This was 1/350th of a second, ASA 400, using Big Bertha, my 17.5" reflector. Wow!

I've reduced this down a little because some of you don't want to download a 7 MB file.

Click to enalarge

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Bonds For Those Prepared to Take Moderate Risks

Bonds that are S&P rated at BBB and above are considered "investment grade" while below BBB they are considered "junk bonds." What this means is that the risk of default is substantially higher. In exchange for the risk, you get much better returns.

As an example of an S&P BBB rated bond, CUSIP 577778CB7, May Dept. Stores, is a bond due 7/15/2024, with a 6.65% coupon--and the current price is 88.083. This means that the yield to maturity is 7.94%. This is a "Make Whole Call" bond, so there is a possibility that it could be called (at a price of 100) before the bond matures--and that, along with the risk, is why the yield is so spectacular.

I would not encourage anyone to invest a big chunk of the portfolio in a bond like this--but if you have some very, very safe bonds that are paying 6%, putting a small portion of your bond portfolio in something like this might be a prudent way to improve the average return.

Monday, July 23, 2007

A Gun Shop Owner Who Went Beyond The Call of Duty

But it wasn't enough. From the July 23, 2007 Denver Post:
Aaron Snyder, the man killed at the state Capitol last week, was turned away from a Fort Collins gun shop in late March after he admitted he had struggled with delusions and depression.

Snyder wanted to rent a handgun and learn how to shoot it at Rocky Mountain Shooters Supply on March 30, but he was rejected after he noted a history of mental illness on the store's background check form, said the shop's owner, Tim Brough.

Snyder also told the store manager, Bill Cates, he needed to learn to shoot because he "was the divine leader of the nation and as such should know how to use a gun."

Cates suggested Snyder come back at a later date and take a handgun safety course first so Cates could determine whether he had severe problems.

Snyder later successfully purchased a handgun from Sportsman's Warehouse in Thornton.
Cates did the right thing. But involuntary commitment laws have been so emasculated that if Cates had called the police and described this conversation, it would have been a waste of everyone's time. In 1960, Snyder would probably have been questioned at some length and hospitalized for a while. Instead, Snyder was free to continue walking the streets, until he learned from his mistake in admitting why he wanted a gun.

Former Naval Person's Blog is Now Former Work-Safe Blog

Occasionally I look to see what other bloggers are linking to my posts. I saw the link (and don't click the link, especially if you are at work--for reasons that I am about to explain) Former Naval Person linked to my post about Harry Potter. So I clicked over there--and I was shocked. His blog is running ads that have hardcore obscene pictures in them--and quite a number of his other postings have pictures that you won't see on broadcast television.

I know that there are fleshblogs out there--but Former Naval Person's blog used to be a reasonably serious blog with an interest in naval stuff. I hope he's making some serious money pandering. It is sure not a way to be taken seriously.

UPDATE: Jim tells me that indeed, money is what drove the change in advertising--and he's not entirely comfortable with the ads that are running.

What A Concept! A Law Enforcement Agency Enforcing Laws!

From the July 20, 2007 East Valley Tribune:
A “concentrated crackdown” on illegal immigrants started Friday night in Maricopa County. Sheriff Joe Arpaio announced he’s dispatched more than 200 deputies and posse members to saturate valley cities and roadways known to be corridors for human smuggling.

East Valley hot spots include Bush Highway, U.S. Highway 60 and “any major highway,” said deputy chief Brian Sands.

Arpaio said he’s also opening a hotline for tipsters to report suspected illegal immigrants.

Arpaio said the program is comprehensive and controversial, but that it’s constitutional.

“We’re not going to go out on a street corner and round up people because they look like they’re from a foreign country,” Arpaio said Friday.

He said it’s nothing like Chandler’s infamous 1997 “roundup,” in which police officers swept the city in search of illegal immigrants.

He added that no one has complained about racial profiling since his deputies began detaining illegal immigrants.

Unlike that other law enforcement agency mentioned in the article.

Honor Killings

Before you get too upset, yes, I know that most Muslims do not engage in "honor killings," such as the one described below. But the very nature of such murders--done because of what other people in the community would think if a woman were allowed to get away what she did--tells me that these aren't a bizarre deviant part of Islam, but something only a little out of the mainstream. Read this article from the July 21, 2007 Australian Age, and afterwards I will point out why this can't reflect the values of say, less than 0.1% of the British Muslim community:
The father and uncle of a woman who was brutally murdered for falling in love with the wrong man were sentenced to life in prison in London today.

The 2006 murder of 20-year-old Banaz Mahmod, 20, who was strangled after two hours of torture and sexual abuse, was the latest in an increasing trend of so-called "honour killings" in Britain, home to about 1.8 million Muslims.

Mahmod was a member of an Iraqi Kurd family which had emigrated to Britain in 1998.

Her father, Mahmod Mahmod, and uncle Ari Mahmod, were sentenced after being found guilty of ordering the killing.

A third man, Mohamad Hama, who had pleaded guilty to taking part in the killing, was sentenced to at least 17 years in prison.

Mahmod's family accused her of shaming them by ending an abusive arranged marriage, becoming too Westernised and falling in love with a man who did not come from their village.

The elder Mahmods ordered the killing after discovering she was having a relationship with an Iranian Kurd.

"This was a barbaric and callous crime," said Judge Brian Barker. "You are hard and unswerving men to whom apparently the respect from the community is more important that your own flesh and blood."
There are actions that people do entirely in secret--out of fear that others will find out, and you will be shamed. For example, child molesters work very hard to keep what they do a secret--even when they are in prison, surrounded by other felons. There aren't a lot of other really shameful acts anymore (maybe voting Republican in San Francisco), but it wasn't that many years ago that the vast majority of Americans would put considerable effort into keeping it a secret that they had cheated on a spouse, or had a drug addiction or alcoholism problem. Now, as P.J. O'Rourke observed a few years ago, if you call a Hollywood celebrity a drug-addicted philanderer, his response is likely to be, "Thank you for reading my autobiography."

Honor killings are done to earn the respect of other members of the Muslim community--to expiate shame for what their daughter (apparently, never the son) has done. By this fact alone, it tells us that honor killings are considered acceptable or even necessary by some non-trivial fraction of the Muslim community in Britain.

It isn't terribly PC, but there are differences between cultures and religions. Not all religions or cultures are equally valuable or positive. My previous book, Concealed Weapon Laws of the Early Republic: Dueling, Southern Violence, and Moral Reform (Praeger Press, 1999), dealt with the question of how the back country South's honor culture made for a very ugly and unpleasant place--and how it was eventually replaced with a less savage culture. I don't see any room for Islam in civilized societies until the honor culture that brings these savage acts has been removed.

More Signs We Aren't Serious About Illegal Immigration

I wouldn't make up a story like this from the July 20, 2007 Tennessean, because it would not be believable:
An illegal immigrant convicted in a fatal drunk driving wreck in Nashville had been deported from the U.S. three times and allowed to leave voluntarily on eleven other occasions before the accident that claimed the life of a local guitar maker.

The revelation came during testimony by a federal agent at a sentencing hearing today for Julio Villasana. It was not immediately clear how he managed to re-enter the U.S.

Following the hearing, Villasana, 34, was sentenced to 25 years in prison for killing Charlie Derrington in the Aug. 1, 2006, wreck.

Derrington was a noted mandolin maker for Gibson Musical Instruments who reconstructed bluegrass legend Bill Monroe's prized instrument. He had been riding his motorcycle on Briley Parkway north of Nashville when he collided with Villasana’s car, which had been traveling in the wrong direction.

Villasana, who at the time lived in Louisville, Ky., fled the scene but was arrested later on suspicion of drunken driving, police said.
What to do in a situation like this? Should we keep him in a U.S. prison for a few years after oh, maybe the seventh or eighth time he is found illegally in the U.S.? Or maybe build a wall, and make a serious attempt at keeping illegals out?

Why Hate Crimes Laws Are Worrisome

This article from WorldNetDaily reports on what it costs to express an opinion in Australia:

Two Christian pastors convicted under a "hate crimes" plan for "vilifying" Islam by quoting from the Quran during a seminar on jihad again are free to debate religious beliefs following a settlement of their long-running case, according to a report from Voice of the Martyrs.
The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal of Australia, the Islamic Council of Victoria and Catch the Fire Ministries have reached an agreement that citizens have the right to "robustly debate religion" and "criticize religious beliefs" within the limits of the law, the VOM report said.
Terms were not revealed, but VOM reported that the pastors have spent more than $500,000 over the years defending their right to present their views and insights about Islam.
The Islamic Council of Victoria had filed a complaint that resulted in convictions for Danny Nalliah and Daniel Scot – the first convictions in Australia under the nation's religious vilification ban, the Victorian Religious and Racial Tolerance Act which took effect in 2002.

I'm sure that the Hate Crimes law being considered by Congress would never be misused in such a manner. Right?

Idaho Values Coalition points to this closer to home case that shows how much danger hate crimes laws can be:
A Canadian pastor is facing a hearing before the Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission over a letter he wrote to a newspaper condemning homosexuality. Some accuse the pastor's letter of influencing the assault days later of a homosexual teenager.
The letter was written five years ago in an Alberta newspaper by Minister Stephen Boissoin. Two weeks after the letter was published, a 17-year-old homosexual youth was beaten. A complaint was filed against the minister, and the commission is hearing the case this week.
Mat Staver is founder of Orlando-based Liberty Counsel. He contends Canada is treading on the minister's free speech. "What we see happening in Canada, is a person's free speech -- speech on the matter of homosexuality, which says that homosexuality is wrong and which speaks of the homosexual agenda -- is now being punished in a court of law and the person is being put on trial solely for what the individual spoke."
If a letter condemning homosexuality causes violence against homosexuals, it raises an interesting question. Wasn't there a time that liberals insisted that pornography didn't cause rape? I suspect that the answer in both cases is the same: you can probably find examples of individuals who are highly suggestible for whom what they read or see causes them to respond with violence. But if so, the same rule should apply for both--and liberals certainly aren't going to go for that.

UPDATE: Reader John Wilson writes:
Every law undergoes some function creep. The RICO laws have been directed against abortion clinic bombers, and famously the Mann Act, the law that was supposed to stop prostitution, or "white slavery", was applied against Jack Johnson, the famous black boxer who had the temerity to have a white girlfriend, and also to travel across state lines with her, causing a violation of the Mann Act, the transportation of girls across state lines for immoral purposes.

It really is an issue of susceptible minds; after all, Charles Manson got secret messages from the Beatles' "White Album", and "Son of Sam" received secret messages from dogs. Will musicians be called as co-conspirators? Are dogs to be made to stop barking?

And the anti hate speech laws will only be used in one direction. No one will be prosecuted for hate speech against Christians or Jews. "Death to the Jews" is, oddly not hate speech!

Heinlein was right, these are the crazy years.