Saturday, January 31, 2009

Big Bertha Is Still Too Heavy

Big Bertha Is Still Too Heavy

I mentioned back in June
that I should clearly have used a Serrurier truss, instead of my own clever (?) design. While adding turnbuckles and wires gave Big Bertha sufficient stiffness to hold collimation, it is still too heavy for the Celestron CI-700 mount. The CI-700 had a nominal weight capacity of 60 pounds, and Big Bertha is right at 60 pounds--but that's part of why this is a nominal weight capacity.

When this became apparent a few months ago, I thought of selling the CI-700 mount, and buying a Losmandy Titan, which has a nominal capacity of 100 pounds, and should be more than sufficient. But a Losmandy Titan new costs about $6000. That was a sufficiently breathtaking amount of money that I didn't just run right out and buy one--and then my job at HP evaporated. So I went back to asking, "How can I knock some more weight off of Big Bertha?" Something closer to 50 pounds.

In the meantime, carbon fiber composite materials have become easier to find, and cheaper (at least for off the shelf components). Dragonplate, for example, sells square carbon fiber composite tubes from which I could construct a Serrurier truss. But the more that I looked at this, the more that I liked the idea of buying off the shelf parts for this. Moonlite Telescope Accessories sells connectors and poles for exactly this purpose. I did the math, and concluded that I could replace my current Frankenstein collection of parts with a total of six poles--keeping at least that part of the aluminum channel that bolts the telescope to the mounting plate (which also adds stiffness to that part of the telescope with the most deflection problem).

I'm not quite sure how to calculate the stiffness of a Serrurier truss, but I am quite sure that because of the diagonals, it is stiffer (probably substantially stiffer) than the same tubes parallel to the optical axis, as I have now. Even parallel to the optical axis, the six 1" aluminum tubes would give maximum deflection of 0.00251" for the heavy (mirror) end of the telescope--and the total weight would be about 52 pounds (which was about my original goal for Big Bertha).

Most attractive of using these off the shelf parts is that they are designed for quick assembly and disassembly. I could turn six bolts at the top of the scope, and six bolts at the bottom, and end up with two fairly short assemblies that could be put in the trunk of almost any passenger car. The six poles are five feet long, but can be put into almost any front seat without problem. It also simplifies putting Big Bertha onto a mount. The lower end will weigh about 35 pounds, and is small enough to pick up and handle by myself. Once located on the mount, I would bolt the poles in place, install the upper assembly (which should weigh less than ten pounds), and tighten down the bolts.

I'll scratch my head about this for a while, then look to see if I can find carbon fiber composite tubes that would be lighter than the aluminum tubes--even knocking 2-3 pounds off the total weight would be a win.

Powerful Ad

Powerful Ad

It was originally accepted to be run during the Superbowl, but then NBC changed their mind about running it.

Is this remarkable person typical of those being aborted? Probably not. Would his mother have aborted him if she had that option? We don't know. But it's a reminder that bad circumstances don't have to produce a criminal.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Chicago Gun Case

Chicago Gun Case

The various challenges to handgun bans and obstructive gun registration laws in Illinois have been consolidated into a single case before the U.S. Court of Appeals. See the brief filed by Alan Gura here. A little background is visible here.

There is a very strong possibility that the Court of Appeals will rule against us, not on the merits of the case (which is very strong), but because finding that the Second Amendment is incorporated through the Fourteenth Amendment against the states is a decision above their pay grade.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Maybe Antigravity Isn't As Far Out As I Assumed

Maybe Antigravity Isn't As Far Out As I Assumed

I was watching a History Channel Modern Marvels segment about magnets. They mentioned that water is diamagnetic (meaning that it is slightly repelled by a magnetic field), and showed a frog suspended in mid-air by an extraordinarily strong magnetic field. There's a picture here. What this means is that it is at least possible to produce something that will create the effect of antigravity for those of us, like frogs, are mostly water.

I Wish I Could Blame This On Deinstitutionalization

I Wish I Could Blame This On Deinstitutionalization

But at least at this point, the evidence just isn't there. There was some history of mental problems, but at least this January 27, 2009 Portland Oregonian account doesn't suggest that it rises to the level that would have locked him up in a mental hospital, or prohibited possession of a gun:
Investigators say the 24-year-old gunman who shot nine people and then took his own life downtown Saturday night displayed troublesome behavior in high school, had attempted suicide in the past and was treated for depression at least once.

"This was somebody who had a history of emotional issues, and unfortunately decided to take others along with him," Portland Detective Division Cmdr. John Eckhart said Tuesday.

A broader picture of Erik S. Ayala's life is emerging as Portland detectives turn from potential prosecution to profiling the suspect after he was pronounced dead at Legacy Emanuel Hospital and Health Center on Tuesday from a self-inflicted gunshot to the head.

While a student at McNary High School in Keizer, Ayala was a "student of concern," Eckhart said. Sgt. Rich Austria said Ayala had "behavioral problems that involved local police intervention."

Detectives' brief interview with Ayala's mother at the hospital this week revealed that he had been hospitalized and on medication when he was younger for depression or other mental health problems, but he wasn't taking medication recently, Detective Mark Slater said.
The rest of the account suggests a troubled young man who decided to take his own life, went out and bought a gun for that purpose, completed all the legal requirements (slightly complex because he was not a U.S. citizen), and decided to make a splash in the news with what would otherwise have been not even a news story.

Melt The Phones!

Melt The Phones!

I just got off the phone with the office of Rep. Walt Minnick (D-ID) who represents me in the House--and he's planning to vote against the pork bailout bill. Michelle Malkin has a list of phones that need melting on this here.

Monday, January 26, 2009

I Hope Obama Is Reading The Washington Post

I Hope Obama Is Reading The Washington Post

This poll taken earlier this month, published in the January 17, 2009 Washington Post shows that 53% of Americans would prefer less government with less services, while 43% wanted more government, and more services. (See question 19.)

So you are probably asking yourself: if a majority of Americans want less government and less services, how did Obama get elected? Pretty clearly, millions of Americans wanted less government and less services, then voted for someone who is intent on more government. Some of this is because lots of people aren't paying attention--and some of it is that the Obama vs. McCain choice was really two different liberals, arguing about what parts of the government they were going to expand. If Republicans would take a consistent position in favor of a smaller government, they would have a powerful tool for winning. But that would require Republicans interested in winning.

I mentioned that a lot of Americans aren't paying attention to politics--and that's part of the problem. Conservatives are too focused on politics first. For the perhaps 50-60% of Americans who don't pay much attention to public policy issues, who seldom read a newspaper (and then, usually the sports section), conservatives are just noise in the background. Part of why the left has gained so much ground is not only their dominance over the educational system, but also their utter control over popular culture. If we want to have any influence on people that want less government but still voted for Obama, we need to be making an effort in the popular culture. Properly done, this can be a money making activity. (How do you think leftists get to fly around in private jets?) But it requires some capital to make it happen. Look at how much money Mel Gibson's film about Jesus made.

Someone Has Cause And Effect Backward

Someone Has Cause And Effect Backward

Nancy Pelosi thinks that more family planning needs to be part of the stimulus package. How, exactly, is birth control going to make the economy grow?

Don't Be Fooled By The Ad

Don't Be Fooled By The Ad

Realm Dekor--you might the impression from the ad above (or that will be above shortly) that they are selling "adult" novelties. No, just rather unusual home furnishings.

Raising Fuel Economy Standards Again

Raising Fuel Economy Standards Again

If you want proof that Obama represents not new thinking, but the same old, tired, command and control economy thinking of the past, you need look no further than this morning's speech about raising fuel economy standards for automobiles. This is a bad idea, for a number of different reasons.

1. The fact is that Americans are a diverse population, and have diverse needs. Here in Idaho (and many other snow belt states), most vehicles are 4WD, because the weather gets really bad here in winter, and we need 4WD. While there are relatively fuel efficient 4WDs (such as the Subaru and Suzuki), 4WD is intrinsically inefficient compared to a 2WD vehicle of similar size, because there's a lot more turning machinery consuming energy. I suppose that the solution of the urban elites that push these proposals is to prohibit anyone from living somewhere that doesn't have unionized government employees running snowplows.

2. Past attempts to force Americans to drive the cars that our masters consider appropriate to us have often had counterproductive results. Why did Americans start buying minivans and SUVs in the 1980s, where the market before had simply not required these in large numbers? Because the preferred big family mover--the mid-sized and full-sized station wagon--largely went away. Why? Because the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards passed in the 1970s required American car makers (but not foreign car makers) to improve the fuel economy of the passenger cars that they sold, and dumping station wagons was one way to do it--especially because anything that was classed as a truck was, at least back then, exempt from CAFE. Which would have been more efficient? If Americans had bought 15 mile per gallon station wagons? Or 10 mile per gallon SUVs?

3. I am very skeptical of interference in the free market, but there are bad ways to do it, and even worse ways to do it. If there is a legitimate governmental purpose to forcing people to drive more efficient vehicles, than the right solution is to raise fuel taxes, not order car makers to build cars that Americans do not want. At least raising fuel taxes would help to correct the deficits that the upcoming pork stimulus bill will run up. This makes more sense than telling car companies to create vast fleets of unsellable cars--especially at a time when some of these car companies are getting bailouts from the government.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Sin Has No End

Sin Has No End

It's sobering the way that one person's sin leads to a series of continuing complications. I've seen it in dozens of different forms: how a parent's alcoholism leads to a child's substance abuse; how a sexually abused child turns into a pole dancer; how a man's mistreatment of his wife becomes a pattern of abuse for their children. In Exodus 20:5, God speaks of how the children end up punished for the sins of the father "to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me...." The harsh reality is that many sins produces confusion and chaos that seldom stops with the sinner.

Remember when the president of the National Association of Evangelicals was disgraced because he was hiring a homosexual prostitute? It wasn't just Haggard who was injured by his sin. This account will probably be misrepresented by homosexual activists, so it's important to know exactly what actually happened. From One News Now:

DENVER - Disgraced evangelical leader Ted Haggard's former church disclosed Friday that the homosexual scandal that caused his downfall extends to a young male church volunteer who reported having a sexual relationship with Haggard - a revelation that comes as Haggard tries to repair his public image.

Brady Boyd, who succeeded Haggard as senior pastor of the 10,000-member New Life Church in Colorado Springs, told The Associated Press that the man came forward to church officials in late 2006 shortly after a Denver male prostitute claimed to have had a three-year cash-for-sex relationship with Haggard.

Boyd said an "overwhelming pool of evidence" pointed to an "inappropriate, consensual sexual relationship" that "went on for a long period of time ... it wasn't a one-time act." Boyd said the man was in his early 20s at the time. He said he was certain the man was of legal age when it began.

It appears that because this young man was pretty broken up by what Rev. Haggard did, and the church provided money to cover counseling services and college tuition--and an agreement by all parties to keep it quiet. This sounds at first glance (and will be portrayed as) a silence agreement. But the article goes on to explain what really happened:
Boyd said a Colorado Springs TV station reached him Thursday to say the young man was planning to provide a detailed report of his relationship with Haggard to the station. Boyd said the church preferred to keep the matter private, but it was the man's decision to go public.


"It wasn't at all a settlement to make him be quiet or not tell his story," Boyd said. "Our desire was to help him. Here was a young man who wanted to get on with his life. We considered it more compassionate assistance - certainly not hush money. I know what's what everyone will want to say because that's the most salacious thing to say, but that's not at all what it was."

He said that "secondarily, it's not great for our church either" that the story be told. Boyd said Haggard knew about the settlement two years ago.

In a letter e-mailed Friday to New Life Church members, Boyd said of the settlement and agreement not to talk: "This decision was made not as an attempt to conceal wrongdoings, but to protect him from those who would seek to exploit him. His actions now suggest that he has changed his mind."


Boyd said he had spoken to the man once and came away with the impression that he was speaking out because of the documentary. "I think what caused this young man to be a bit aggravated was Ted being seen as a victim, when he himself had experienced a great deal of hurt," Boyd said. "I seriously doubt this man would have come forward if the documentary had not been made."

There's an HBO documentary coming out about Haggard--and it appears that the young man perceived that it was going to portray Haggard as a victim in all this. And Haggard?
In an AP interview this month before an appearance in front of TV critics in California, Haggard described his sexuality as complex and something that can't be put into "stereotypical boxes."
I hear someone still trying to justify his sin.

Travel, Bad Weather, I Hate It

Travel, Bad Weather, I Hate It

Oregon DOT's road conditions web page described part of my journey as "Severe Weather Hazard" with patches of ice on the road, but also "snow flurries." Huh? Snow flurries don't sound so hazardous, but what do I know? I grew up in Southern California, three blocks from the Pacific.

Snow flurries add up, and there was definitely some ice in patches on parts of U.S. 20. I never felt like there was any danger of losing control, but I could definitely feel an interesting wiggle from the steering--rather like the system was trying to compensate for intermittent problems of insufficient traction.

A couple of miles driving under these conditions would not be a problem, but doing so for a couple of hours is exhausting, and scary, because a moment of inattention can mean a serious accident. Most of this section of U.S. 20 is flat, and a slide-off accident would not be terribly dangerous--but a head-on accident--even with both vehicles going 30 mph--would be a different matter.

I am so anxious to find a job closer to home.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Why Conservatives (And Even Traditional Liberals) Are Losing

Why Conservatives (And Even Traditional Liberals) Are Losing

This January 24, 2009 Des Moines Register article reports on a suit alleging political discrimination in hiring at the University of Iowa:
Professors at the University of Iowa law school denied allegations Friday that their decision not to hire a former student as a full-time writing coach was based on her conservative political views.

Teresa Wagner, a part-time writing instructor at the school, sued law school dean Carolyn Jones this week for lost income and emotional distress. The lawsuit alleges that Wagner, a registered Republican, was denied the writing coach position in 2006 due to her public views on abortion and euthanasia.

A faculty committee chose a less-qualified candidate with no prior experience in law or legal writing, the lawsuit claims.

"She just wants to make it known that conservatives need not apply," Wagner's lawyer, Stephen Fieweger of Moline, Ill., said. "Liberals talk about diversity, except when it comes to bringing in a different, conservative point of view."

A Des Moines Register review of voter registration records found that of the 50 full-time law school faculty members, 38 are registered Democrats and two are Republicans. Eight are registered with neither party and two are not registered in Iowa. A Register review in 2004 found that most undergraduate faculty members at Iowa's three public universities identify themselves as Democrats. The lean was greatest at the U of I, where there were eight Democratic professors for every Republican undergraduate faculty member.
The January 22, 2009 Chronicle of Higher Education has more detail, including:
To bolster her case, the lawsuit dissects the political affiliations of the approximately 50 faculty members who vote on law-school faculty hires; 46 of them are registered as Democrats and only one, hired 20 years ago, is a Republican, the lawsuit states.
Now, I don't know if she is correct about why she was not offered the job. Maybe this was just a coincidence. But some of the comments on the Chronicle of Higher Education article by those who have attended University of Iowa suggest that University of Iowa faculty is like faculty at many other universities in the U.S., including some at which I have been a student or adjunct faculty:
We shouldn’t be too dismissive of her claims, though they may ultimately be impossible to prove. Like most public universities, Iowa is indeed liberally dominated. When I was completing my Ph.D. in one of their graduate programs, I came across several telling experiences about the political leanings of the faculty. In one case, I was part of a hiring committee and every meeting to review applications began with about 15 minutes of very snide and outrageous commentary about Bush and the “religious conservatives” that make up so much of the “close-minded” student body. At another point, my wife’s brother (an undergraduate), went to a Political Science class the day after Bush was re-elected. The professor said, while showing a voting map of the U.S., that “Bush only won because he managed to capture the ‘ignorant vote,’ but you can plainly see that intelligent voters—most of whom live in urban areas—voted for Kerry.” He said this to undergraduates, a great number of whom come to the university from rural Iowa and other rural communities.
The harsh reality is that the hard left have become so dominant in the academic community that even what would have been considered "liberal" twenty years ago is now outside the pale of acceptable thought.

One of the academic historians mailing lists that I am got into a rather vigorous discussion of the significance President Obama's victory, a couple of days after the election--and there were professors arguing that the election just proved how racist America still is--because Obama didn't win a majority of older white males. Yet Obama receiving more than 95% of the black vote was not a sign of racism at all--that blacks voted overwhelmingly for Obama because they share Obama's views--even though on at least significant issues, gay marriage and abortion--blacks are strongly in opposition to Obama's position.

One of the reasons that the left is increasingly dominant among young people is that the left is so overwhelmingly in charge of education, especially at the college level--and they aren't going to allow that to change, if they have any choice in the matter. I'm not quite sure if there is a way to solve this political discrimination problem by law, but it certainly can't hurt for state legislatures to start asking questions of the university presidents. Questions like:

1. What percentage of your faculty (by department) are registered to vote in which parties? How does that compare to the general population of our state?

2. Do you have any members of your faculty in the social science departments that would by an objective measure, be considered conservative or libertarian?

3. Do you think it might be good if students enjoyed a diverse educational experience? Why is racial, gender, and sexual orientation diversity important enough to enshrine in your hiring practices, while political monoculture is not just acceptable, but apparently encouraged?

Until we get at least a significant minority of non-leftist perspectives teaching, we're going to continue down the road to a permanent hard left majority.

Friday, January 23, 2009

This Explains Why Obama is Continuing The Bush Foreign Policy

This Explains Why Obama is Continuing The Bush Foreign Policy

I don't know how I missed this news item. From October 17, 2007 MSNBC:
WASHINGTON - Though they may spar across the political aisle, Vice President Dick Cheney is close enough to Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama to call him “cousin.”

Eighth cousin, that is.

Lynne Cheney, the vice president’s wife, revealed this tantalizing bit of political trivia during a television interview Tuesday.

She said she uncovered the long-ago ties between the two while researching her ancestry for her latest book, “Blue Skies, No Fences,” a memoir about growing up in Wyoming.

“This is such an amazing American story that one ancestor ... could be responsible down the family lines for lives that have taken such different and varied paths as Dick’s and Barack Obama,” Lynne Cheney told MSNBC.

According to her spokeswoman, Sen. Obama, D-Ill., is a descendent of Mareen Duvall. This French Huguenot’s son married the granddaughter of a Richard Cheney, who arrived in Maryland in the late 1650s from England, said Ginny Justice, a spokeswoman for Lynne Cheney.

The vice president’s full name is Richard B. Cheney.

Why The Economy Will Be Worse in 2010

Why The Economy Will Be Worse in 2010

We've already spent an insane amount of money trying to bail out the financial services industry under George "I had to destroy the free market to save it" Bush. Now President Obama is proposing to spend even more money on a stimulus package that is breathtaking large--over $800 billion. Lots of people--including more than a few Democrats in Congress--are beginning to get very, very nervous about it. Why?

1. For all the talk about "shovel ready" infrastructure projects that this money will fund, nothing happens quickly. There is a lot of talk that by the time the agencies receive the money, RFQs are sent out, bids arrive, the inevitable lawsuits from the firms that didn't win the contracts, only a few tens of billions of dollars will be spent on these projects by the end of 2010--you know, when the mid-term elections will give voters a chance to punish the incumbents. If you really want to stimulate the economy in a hurry, the way to do it is a tax cut--either by reducing withholding for the remainder of this year, with big rebates, or perhaps long-term tax cuts.

There are some good reasons against each of these approaches. For example, a one time rebate is likely to be spent buying more consumer electronics from China--not a long-term economy restorative (well, at least for our economy). But there are some bad reasons as well, and these are more likely the real issue: you can't reward your friends. As this January 23, 2009 Washington Times article points out, there's a big overlap between those getting bailout money, and those spending money lobbying politicians:

Many of the large American companies that received billions of taxpayer bailout dollars by pleading that they didn't have enough money to lend to customers were, at the same time, spending millions of dollars dispatching lobbyists to influence the federal government.

A Washington Times review of lobbying disclosure reports found that 18 of the top 20 recipients of federal bailout money spent a combined $12.2 million lobbying the White House, the Treasury Department, Congress and federal agencies during the last quarter of 2008.

For instance, the government bought $3.4 billion in American Express Co. stock on Jan. 9 as part of an aid package. In the last quarter of 2008, the company spent more than $1 million on federal lobbying.

American Express spokeswoman Joanna Lambert said the company did not lobby for the bailout funds. At the same time, disclosure forms say, the company was lobbying the Federal Reserve, the Treasury and Congress, all active players in dispensing the multibillion-dollar rescue financing.

Several taxpayer groups assert that companies receiving federal assistance shouldn't be able to lobby the federal government at all, particularly on the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP), which is the formal name of the federal bailout plan.

"It's a definite conflict," said Pete Sepp, a spokesman for the National Taxpayers Union. "It's a disturbing sign that TARP recipients think there is still more loot left to get. If they're not slowing down their lobbying, taxpayers need to be worried."

2. I can't remember who wrote it, but many years I read a brilliantly argued essay about "The Bridge Not Built." The author was explaining that when the government taxes the population to build a bridge across a river, everyone can see the bridge: a tangible example of where the taxes went. But what if the government had not built that bridge, and (important point) left the money in the pockets of the taxpayers? Where would that money have been spent? It might have been spent by consumers buying goods that caused merchants to want a ferry service--or conceivably, even create enough demand for an entrepreneur to build a bridge across the river--perhaps even in the same spot. (And in the nineteenth century, there were a lot of such entrepreneurs, building bridges, because the government generally did not.)

The money for this stimulus package is coming from somewhere. It will mostly not come from us, now. It will be borrowed, and paid back in ten, twenty, or perhaps thirty years. But it will cause a reallocation of resources from what we as individuals consider important, to what members of Congress, and the lobbyists that actually do most of the stringpulling, consider important. While consumerism has a host of evils, and I have written about my concerns about how stupidly a lot of consumers spend their money, it is not clear to me that Congress and the lobbyists are any smarter. And as an editorial in the Orange County (Cal.) Register pointed out many years ago, "We could compare how Congress spends money to a drunken sailor. But that would be unfair. To the sailor. He is at least spending his own money."

What Is New York's Governor Smoking?

What Is New York's Governor Smoking?

Snowflakes in Hell mentions that New York Governor Paterson has appointed an NRA-endorsed, strongly pro-gun conservative Democrat member of the House to fill Senator Clinton's remaining two year term. And this January 22, 2009 Newsday article tells us how upset Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY), the queen on gun control in the House, is about it:
Rep. Carolyn McCarthy said Thursday Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand's gun control views make her unacceptable for the U.S. Senate and threatened a primary challenge in 2010 if Gov. David A. Paterson selects the Hudson Democrat to replace Hillary Rodham Clinton.

McCarthy, who became a prominent gun-control advocate after her husband died and her son was injured in the 1993 massacre at the Long Island Rail Road's Merillon Avenue station that killed six people and injured 19 others, said she is "furious" about reports that Paterson today may select Gillibrand, who last year earned an "A" grade from the National Rifle Association.

"I've spent 15 years trying to prevent gun violence in this country, and if he does pick her and if no one goes and primaries her, I will primary her," McCarthy said. "I will do that. I'm not going to give up on this. I'm not going to let New York State get represented by someone who gets a 100 percent rating from the NRA."
Even better: Rep. Pelosi (D-CA) already dislikes her, according to this January 6, 2009 CBS News report. Now, at this point, you are asking yourself, "Huh? Why would a very, very liberal Democratic governor pick one of those Democrats who could probably be a Republican just as easily--maybe more easily--than fitting in with the Democrats?" Remember that in 2006, a lot of how the Democrats gained control of the House was by running often very conservative Democrats against Republicans that were either not very conservative, or had serious personal problems. (Like sending sexually suggestive messages to teenage boy pages, as a certain gay Republican Florida Congressman did.) Gillibrand was one of those conservative Democrats--and this account tells how she did it:
Gillibrand scored one of the big upsets of the 2006 elections when she defeated incumbent GOP Rep. John Sweeney for New York's 20th District seat. The critical moment in the campaign came shortly before Election Day, when a leaked police report showed Sweeney's wife had called 911 in what appeared to be a domestic violence incident.
Now, for a Democrat, this wouldn't be a big deal--unless you barbecued your spouse afterwards, and lost the vegetarian vote--but for a Republican, this is not okay.

I have a theory that Governor Paterson picked Gillibrand because he knows (as almost everyone with a half a brain knows) that in 2010, the economy will not be better than it is now. Indeed, the economy is likely to be worse--maybe much worse, for reasons I will be explicating in a later entry. There is a chance that Republicans will be in a position to unseat Democrats in a number of Congressional districts. (Of course, if the Republican Party decides that it really wants to win, something that I do not assume, after watching their behavior the last two election cycles.)

The only weaker position than an appointed U.S. Senator running for re-election is someone who has not held the seat at all. If the tide is cresting Republican, in a state like New York, where there are actually quite a few Republicans, who is more likely to defeat a Republican challenger? A very liberal Democrat? Or a very conservative Democrat? Of course, we could hope that if the tide turns in 2010, Gillibrand might change parties--and that could be very entertaining indeed!

UPDATE: Additional reports suggest that Gillibrand is a pro-gun liberal--not a conservative Democrat. It might still assist the Democrats to hold the seat against a Republican challenger.

Is Waterboarding Torture?

Is Waterboarding Torture?

I was not comfortable with waterboarding--about the only technique actually used at Gitmo that I would be inclined to call torture--but interestingly enough, not everyone shares my view. And not just the people that you were thinking. From January 23, 2009 Reuters:
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama's choice for top U.S. spy declined on Thursday to call waterboarding "torture," only days after his attorney general nominee condemned the interrogation practice as precisely that.

Retired Adm. Dennis Blair replied cautiously when pressed on the waterboarding question at a hearing on his nomination to be director of national intelligence, of which the CIA is a part.

The caution reflected a public debate over whether to prosecute CIA employees who used the simulated drowning technique. Torture is banned by U.S. and international laws.

"There will be no waterboarding on my watch. There will be no torture on my watch," Blair said, refusing to go further.
There are several things that bother me greatly about this whole discussion:

1. A number of Democratic members of Congress knew about waterboarding when it was being done in the months immediately following 9/11--and didn't seem to have a problem with it. Their sudden concern about it smells of politics more than principle.

2. From what I can find, a total of three persons--all known terrorists believed to have operational information about immediate post-9/11 attacks--were subjected to waterboarding. One of them was Khalid Sheik Mohammed, planner of the 9/11 attacks. This was the result of excessive zeal to save American lives at a time when we didn't know what was coming next--and if the anthrax letters were part of that effort. Call it a terrible mistake if you want, and vow that we won't do it again, if it makes you feel better, but Democrats getting self-righteous about this is just partisan politics.

3. There's a lot to be said for leaving uncertainty in the minds of terrorists what they might be subject to if taken into custody. A solemn vow that we will never do anything, no matter how severe the threat, is essentially telling the terrorists that they have nothing to fear but a severe talking to from the CIA.

UPDATE: A reader pointed me to this account in the November 5, 2007 National Review Online of how waterboarding caused Khalid Sheik Mohammed to give up information that broke up several bombing plots within the United States:
KSM, as intelligence agencies call him, directed the September 11 attacks, which killed 2,978 people and injured at least 7,356. “I am the head of the al-Qaeda military committee,” he told Al Jazeera in April 2002. “And yes, we did it.” KSM wired money to his nephew, Ramzi Yousef, who masterminded the February 1993 World Trade Center blast that killed six and wounded 1,040. KSM and Yousef planned Operation Bojinka, a foiled 1995 scheme to explode 12 American jetliners above the Pacific. While some doubt his claim, KSM reportedly said, “I decapitated with my blessed right hand the head of the American Jew Daniel Pearl in the City of Karachi, Pakistan.”

U.S. and Pakistani authorities captured KSM on March 1, 2003 in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. KSM stayed mum for months, often answering questions with Koranic chants. Interrogators eventually waterboarded him — for just 90 seconds.

KSM “didn’t resist,” one CIA veteran said in the August 13 issue of The New Yorker. “He sang right away. He cracked real quick.” Another CIA official told ABC News: “KSM lasted the longest under water-boarding, about a minute and a half, but once he broke, it never had to be used again.”

KSM’s revelations helped authorities identify and incarcerate at least six major terrorists:


Ohio-based trucker Iyman Faris pleaded guilty May 1, 2003 to providing material support to terrorists. He secured 2,000 sleeping bags for al-Qaeda and delivered cash, cell phones, and airline tickets to its men. He also conspired to derail a train near Washington, D.C. and use acetylene torches to sever the Brooklyn Bridge’s cables, plunging it into the East River.


Jemaah Islamiya (JI) agent Rusman “Gun Gun” Gunawan was convicted of transferring money to bomb Jakarta’s Marriott Hotel, killing 12 and injuring 150.


Hambali, Gunawan’s brother and ringleader of JI’s October 2002 Bali nightclub blasts, killed 202 and wounded 209.


Suspected al-Qaeda agent Majid Khan, officials say, provided money to JI terrorists and plotted to assassinate Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf, detonate U.S. gas stations, and poison American water reservoirs.


Jose Padilla, who trained with al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, was convicted last August of providing material support to terrorists and conspiring to kidnap, maim, and murder people overseas. Padilla, suspected of but not charged with planning a radioactive “dirty bomb” attack, reportedly learned to incinerate residential high-rises by igniting apartments filled with natural gas.
And there are a number of other plotters that KSM gave up after 90 seconds of waterboarding.

UPDATE 2: It appears that KSM was waterboarded in Afghanistan--not at Gitmo. From the December 12, 2007 Daily Mail:
Mr Kiriakou told how waterboarding was used on Zayn Abu Zubaida, the first high-ranking Al Qaeda member captured after the September 11 attacks in 2001.
Abu Zubaida was seized in a gun battle in Pakistan in the spring of 2002. For weeks he refused to talk and remained ideologically zealous, defiant and unco-operative. Then he was flown to a secret CIA prison - believed to be in Afghanistan - and strapped to a board with his feet in the air.
Cellophane was wrapped around the Al Qaeda man's face and water was forced up his nose and into his throat to make him think he was drowning.
The suspect lasted only 35 seconds before he broke.
"It was like flipping a switch," said Mr Kiriakou.
"From that day on, he answered every question. The threat information he provided disrupted a number of attacks, maybe dozens of attacks.
"Like a lot of Americans, I'm involved in this internal, intellectual battle with myself weighing the idea that waterboarding may be torture versus the quality of information that we often get.
"I struggle with it.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

I'm Told The Idaho Press-Tribune Published a Piece By Me

I'm Told The Idaho Press-Tribune Published a Piece By Me

about Obama's misleading us about his position on gun control. It doesn't seem to be in the online edition. A member of the Caldwell City Council called up to thank me for writing it.

Cruel And Unusual Punishment

Cruel And Unusual Punishment

These are the news stories that make you wonder if you are getting an accurate depiction of the lawsuit involved, because the alternative is that judges are failing to use their authority to hold lawyers responsible for frivolous lawsuits. It's a sad day when I find myself on the same side as California Attorney-General Jerry Brown. From the January 22, 2009 Santa Rosa Press-Democrat:

SACRAMENTO -- California's attorney general asked a federal appeals court Wednesday to block what he described as an extravagant spending proposal for prison medical facilities.

The Legislature has refused to act on the request for $8 billion made by the court-appointed receiver overseeing overhaul of California's prison health care system. Receiver J. Clark Kelso is seeking an immediate $250 million as a down payment.

In his court filing, Attorney General Jerry Brown argued that a federal judge cannot order the money from the state treasury without violating federal law and state sovereignty.

Brown also criticized the receiver's spending proposal, saying it has not been subject to proper review. He said the plan includes regulation-size basketball courts, electronic bingo boards, music and art therapy rooms, and landscaping to hide fences.

Brown cited additional amenities in a news release accompanying his court filing, including yoga rooms and horticulture therapy, that were included in an earlier draft from the receiver's office.

I don't think that prisons have to be unnecessarily cruel places; it is sufficient if we remove people from the general population because they have demonstrated that they can't be trusted around decent people. But neither is there any need for them to resemble a senior citizens center. I am beginning to get just a hint from where California's financial crisis might be in part coming.

Racism Again

Racism Again

You can count on some people to turn everything into a racial issue. Do you remember when Obama made the claim that some Americans cling to their guns and Bibles and turn their hostility towards others that don't look like them when jobs get scarce? Well, there really are people like that--but in this case, it's one of Obama's economic advisors, Bill Clinton's Secretary of Labor:
The stimulus plan will create jobs repairing and upgrading the nation's roads, bridges, ports, levees, water and sewage system, public-transit systems, electricity grid, and schools. And it will kick-start alternative, non-fossil based sources of energy (wind, solar, geothermal, and so on); new health-care information systems; and universal broadband Internet access.

It's a two-fer: lots of new jobs, and investments in the nation's future productivity.

But if there aren't enough skilled professionals to do the jobs involving new technologies, the stimulus will just increase the wages of the professionals who already have the right skills rather than generate many new jobs in these fields. And if construction jobs go mainly to white males who already dominate the construction trades, many people who need jobs the most -- women, minorities, and the poor and long-term unemployed -- will be shut out.
But as a number of commenters (many of them sharing Reich's leftist sentiments) pointed out, in many parts of America, construction jobs mainly go to Hispanics, many of them illegal aliens--not "white males." If Reich had written this in say, 1970, there might be some merit to his concerns. Construction trades labor unions were notoriously racist, and many had explicit racial exclusion policies into the 1950s.

Of course, the government helped them to do this. The Davis-Bacon Act, by mandating that government construction be done at "prevailing wages" (generally interpreted by the courts to mean union scale) had played a major part in keeping blacks out of the construction trades. If a contractor bid on a project, he could either pay union scale (and get skilled and trained union white workers) or he could hire non-union (and often non-white) laborers at the same wages. What incentive did the contractor have to give a bunch of black guys a chance at acquiring job skills?

But it has been a couple of generations since this was the case. There are plenty of non-white construction workers out there, and the notion that the government should explicitly discriminate against people because of their sex or race--that's so Democrat.

Thanks to Michelle Malkin for bringing this to my attention.

UPDATE: I notice the comments are filled with the kind of racist thinking that I thought we were supposed to be past, now that Obama is President:
You're just diverting attention away from the true source of the problem--white Republicans (mostly) and white Democrats (to a lesser extent).

White-owned businesses lured illegals here to fill jobs that Americans did not want (agricultural) or where there were shortages (housing construction).

White housing contractors have no problem finding jobs, though I admit there are many illegals working to build our glut of homes. The problem here is that white-owned home developers have funnelled big bucks to white Republican politician campaign chests so that they are permitted to build a large glut of cheap homes.
There is a lot of racism in America still--but directed at white people.

Doing My Part For The Balance of Payments

Doing My Part For The Balance of Payments

ScopeRoller is shipping orders to Britain and Belgium tomorrow! That's my first customer in Belgium!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

House Mortgage Vs. Cash

House Mortgage Vs. Cash

A few days ago, I pointed out that because the interest you pay on a car loan is interest on the declining balance, and the interest that you earn on savings is on an accruing balance, it is actually possible to come out ahead getting a car loan, instead of paying cash for a car. (This assumes that you have very good credit, and are willing to lock up your cash in a CD for the duration of the car loan.)

I've been considering another scenario, one that may seem a bit weird to many of my readers, but for those who are over 50, not an absurd one: paying off the mortgage. Does it make sense? Right now I have an ARM which just adjusted down to below 4% APR. I expect that it will probably adjust down again next year--or at least not adjust up much. (I'm expecting bad news from the economy for a couple of years at least.) So I created a spreadsheet that works much like that car loan spreadsheet.

One significant difference is that car loan interest (unless you have it tied one of those funny mortgage loans) is not deductible from your income taxes. House mortgage interest in deductible. So using a five year horizon, with a 5% yield (which is less than I am getting from my Treasury and Fannie Mae bonds), the interest on $240,000 is a bit more than $65,000 in gross interest. Assuming a 33% marginal tax bracket, that nets $43,696.66 over five years.

What about the mortgage? I've plugged in 5.35% APR, which is what my credit union is currently quoting for 30 year fixed mortgages. (I'm paying a bit less than that, so all the better.) Over five years, that means you pay $61,871.78 in interest. Assuming a 33% marginal tax rate, paying this interest reduces your income taxes by about $20,417.69 over those five years.

So what if you liquidate your portfolio (and can do so without getting eaten alive by income taxes on capital gains), and pay off your mortgage? Now, put your $1340.19 a month house payment into savings every month. Assuming that you earn about 3% on it (for the reasons that I discussed with respect to the car loan--little chunks going in every month, so you don't get to open big CDs for five years), at the end of five years, you have earned $6,127.07 gross interest--and paid $2,021.93 in taxes at the 33% marginal tax rate. Your net interest is $4,105.14.

So, you have two choices:

1. Keep your money invested, and make mortgage payments: net interest income of $43,696.66, a $20,417.69 reduction in income taxes paid because of the mortgage interest deduction, and $61,871.78 in total mortgage payments. At the end of five years, you are ahead $2,242.47 (interest income plus tax reduction - mortgage payments).

2. Sell your bonds or what have you, and pay off the mortgage. You forgo $43,696.66 in net interest income, in exchange for $4,105.14 in interest income on the money that otherwise would have gone towards the mortgage. At the end of five years, you are behind $39,591.52.

That mortgage interest deduction makes a world of difference. Now, if you have an adjustable mortgage--and whatever you have your cash invested in is not--this changes the equation a bit. But unless your adjustable rate mortgage goes up to a really ridiculous level relative to your savings, you will almost certainly come out ahead over the next five years by keeping your money invested, and making mortgage payments.

Of course, this assumes that your investments are safe. I have some Ford bonds due in 2011 that have fallen quite substantially in value. (When I have spoken at some length about letting the car companies go into bankruptcy, I'm not speaking as a disinterested party. Quite the opposite. I would benefit quite substantially from the government bailing out Ford. It is still wrong.) Those Ford bonds are still paying more than 6% per year in interest, and unless Ford goes under--and goes under harder than is likely--I can ignore the reduction in their capital value. I'll just hold them until redemption.

The spreadsheet is available here for those who want to use it--and since some of you look these over very carefully, if you find any errors, let me know.

UPDATE: A reader noticed an error in the spreadsheet concerning the decline balance on the mortgage. It changes the results somewhat, but you are still ahead making the payments.

Obama, Liar (Again)

Obama, Liar (Again)

During the campaign, Obama claimed that he opposed gay marriage--but then opposed an effort to put "one man, one woman" into the California state constitution. But what do you know, yesterday the new White House website announced:
Support Full Civil Unions and Federal Rights for LGBT Couples: President Obama supports full civil unions that give same-sex couples legal rights and privileges equal to those of married couples. Obama also believes we need to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and enact legislation that would ensure that the 1,100+ federal legal rights and benefits currently provided on the basis of marital status are extended to same-sex couples in civil unions and other legally-recognized unions. These rights and benefits include the right to assist a loved one in times of emergency, the right to equal health insurance and other employment benefits, and property rights.
I'll give him the benefit of the doubt for his opposition to amending the U.S. Constitution on this--maybe he's taking an argument for federalism (for once)--but to claim that he opposed same-sex marriage, and now proposes repealing the Defense of Marriage Act shows that he is a liar.

He lied to the hard left about foreign policy. He lied to gun owners about not trying to ban guns. He lied to straight Americans about opposing gay marriage. Is there anyone he didn't lie to? Anyone at all?

I know, I know: "How can you tell that a politician is lying? His lips are moving." But Obama isn't even meeting industry standards--you have to make at least a few honest statements along the way, just to make it easier to figure out which are lies.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

An Amazing Satellite Picture

An Amazing Satellite Picture

It's of the National Mall during the Inauguration today.

Where Do These Nasty Stereotypes Come From?

Where Do These Nasty Stereotypes Come From?

You know, the one about how gay men are desperate to have sex with minors. Hmmmm. Maybe from Portland's openly gay mayor, first having lied about his relationship with a teenager, now admitting that he started seeing this boy at 17--but he waited until he was 18 to have sex with him. From January 20, 2009 Fox News:
PORTLAND, Ore. -- More than a year after denying it, the newly elected mayor of Portland has admitted having a sexual relationship with a male teenager in 2005.

Sam Adams, who is openly gay, acknowledged the relationship in a statement Monday, after the Willamette Week newspaper broke the story on its Web site.

In Washington, D.C., for the inauguration, Adams will cut his trip short to issue a public apology Tuesday afternoon in Portland, said Wade Nkrumah, his spokesman.

Adams, 45, said he and the teen were together in the summer of 2005, shortly after the teenager turned 18 in June, and when Adams was a city commissioner. The revelations come nearly a year and a half after Adams and the teen said rumors of a sexual relationship between them were false.

"I lied at the time because I was afraid that people would believe untrue rumors being circulated by an undeclared mayoral opponent that I had broken a law involving sexual relations with a minor. But this is not a good excuse," Adams said in his statement.
Adams was 42, according to this account at Oregon Live.

Regular readers know that I have been gathering data for some time that suggests that homosexuality (at least for some) is the result of childhood sexual abuse. I've also noticed over the years that some people who were victims of childhood sexual abuse tend to be "frozen" at a pretty immature emotional level. Then think of the gay men you have known who behave like vicious parodies of teenage girls (and obviously, many gay men do not do so)--almost like someone is still frozen at the age that something bad happened. And then you can see why a 42 year old man would be going out with a teenager: someone hasn't emotionally matured.

Zeb Bell's Radio Program Wednesday

Zeb Bell's Radio Program Wednesday

No, no, not Art Bell. Zeb Bell has a radio program on KBAR 1230 AM in southern Idaho. I'll be on at 10:30 AM Mountain time Wednesday.

Obama, Liar

Obama, Liar

I mentioned back in February that Obama had come to Boise and gave a speech in which he said, "I'm not going to try and take away your guns."

And so the first day of his Presidency, he shows that he is a liar. From the White House's Urban Policy page:
Address Gun Violence in Cities: Obama and Biden would repeal the Tiahrt Amendment, which restricts the ability of local law enforcement to access important gun trace information, and give police officers across the nation the tools they need to solve gun crimes and fight the illegal arms trade. Obama and Biden also favor commonsense measures that respect the Second Amendment rights of gun owners, while keeping guns away from children and from criminals. They support closing the gun show loophole and making guns in this country childproof. They also support making the expired federal Assault Weapons Ban permanent.
I suppose that you could argue about whether closing the "gun show loophole" (which is really the private sale loophole) violates the Second Amendment; there are ways to do this that aren't necessarily a violation. You can argue about whether it is possible to make guns "childproof" without making them adultproof; so far, I have seen no technology that works well enough to do one without doing the other. That's why most "childproof" gun technology laws exempt guns sold to police departments. But the assault weapons ban is clearly an attempt to take away guns.

Obama lied to the hard left about national security and foreign policy. He lied to gun owners. And I suspect that he lied to a lot of other groups that are going to start wondering what happened over the next few months.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Let's Be Careful Out There

Let's Be Careful Out There

I'm not sure what pistol this guy was carrying that a fall like this would cause an accidental discharge, but consider this a word to the wise:
A Utah man bagged a public toilet at Centerville’s Carl’s Jr. restaurant Tuesday when his gun fell out of its holster and misfired as he was pulling up his pants.

Police said a Salt Lake City man received minor injuries to his arm from flying shards of porcelain when the .40-caliber bullet from his gun shattered the toilet as it hit the tile floor, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.

The 26-year-old had a concealed-weapons permit but police confiscated the firearm for “safe-keeping” while they reviewed the incident and to give the man time to calm down.

No one else was injured in the incident, however a woman in the adjacent restroom complained of chest pain after being frightened by the shot.

UPDATE: A number of readers point out that the pistol in question, the Kahr P40, has (as nearly all modern pistols do) a firing pin block. Dropping one to cause a discharge is almost impossible, and would require the firing pin block mechanism to be removed or broken. Several commenters at the January 15, 2009 Deseret News suggest that he may have been grabbing at the pistol to prevent it from falling. One of my readers suggests that he may not have had it in a holster, and when it slipped out of his waistband, he might have grabbed at it to catch it--and his finger went inside the triggerguard, firing the pistol.

Holsters are good things. Yes, you can safely carry a pocket pistol in a pocket, but it should be a pocket with a flap on it, so that there's no danger of the pistol slipping out when you sit down. If you are carrying a pocket pistol like that, there should be nothing else in that pocket that could conceivably snag on a hammer, a trigger, or a safety.

To quote from noted philosopher Spiderman: "With great power comes great responsibility." For those who carry guns, that means thinking carefully through the consequences of how you carry a gun.

Martin Luther King's Vision

Martin Luther King's Vision

Has Dr. King's vision of a day when his children would be judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin, been fulfilled? Not surprisingly, one group of Americans overwhelmingly believes that it has. But another group of whiners isn't so sure. And you will be surprised to find out which group is which. From January 19, 2009 CNN:
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- More than two-thirds of African-Americans believe Martin Luther King Jr.'s vision for race relations has been fulfilled, a CNN poll found -- a figure up sharply from a survey in early 2008.

he CNN-Opinion Research Corp. survey was released Monday, a federal holiday honoring the slain civil rights leader and a day before Barack Obama is to be sworn in as the first black U.S. president.

The poll found 69 percent of blacks said King's vision has been fulfilled in the more than 45 years since his 1963 "I have a dream" speech -- roughly double the 34 percent who agreed with that assessment in a similar poll taken last March.

But whites remain less optimistic, the survey found.

"Whites don't feel the same way -- a majority of them say that the country has not yet fulfilled King's vision," CNN polling director Keating Holland said. However, the number of whites saying the dream has been fulfilled has also gone up since March, from 35 percent to 46 percent.

I'm pleased to see this, because as near as I can tell, we have pretty well reached Dr. King's vision. Yes, there is still racism out there--but much of it isn't whites against blacks, but blacks against whites. Yes, there is racial discrimination out there, but far less than there used to be, and it is no longer acceptable (except when it it called Affirmative Action).

I can't claim to be surprised that that a majority of whites still doesn't recognize success--after all, universities work very hard at promoting white racial guilt.

Holder On Gun Control Options

Holder On Gun Control Options

From January 15, 2009 CNN Political Ticker:

WASHINGTON (CNN) — Attorney General-designate Eric Holder conceded during his confirmation hearing Thursday that the government's options for regulating the possession of firearms have been narrowed in the wake of the Supreme Court's 2008 ruling that the Second Amendment ensures an individual right to bear arms.

"Reasonable restrictions are still possible," Holder said, including measures such as a ban on the sale of what are called "cop-killer" bullets.

But, he granted, "we're living in a different world" since the high court's 5-4 ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

John Buchan's The Thirty-Nine Steps and Prester John

John Buchan's The Thirty-Nine Steps and Prester John

The Thirty-Nine Steps was published in 1915, and is the first novel in the Richard Hannay series--and I would say is even a bit more exciting of an adventure than Greenmantle. Our hero is on the lam from both the police and international intriguers, using his wits to escape from the villains, and eventually, setting everything right. I can see why it was made into one of Hitchcock's early films--as well as several other adaptations. I can't remember the Hitchcock version terribly clearly, but my impression is that it didn't follow the novel that closely--because the novel is exciting and spell-binding in a way that the movie really wasn't.

Before The Thirty-Nine Steps, however, Buchan wrote Prester John, published in 1910. While there are some rather un-PC things said in The Thirty-Nine Steps about Jews, it is pretty clear that this is one character's opinion, and one that was pretty typical in that period. There's nothing to lead you to believe that Buchan felt that way. Prester John is another matter.

It is set in South Africa, and there are parts of it that definitely reflect a white man's burden view of Africa. While Buchan makes it clear that there are injustices that have been done to the Africans by the whites, there is still a pronounced Colonial view of them as children--with the implication that this is not a cultural problem, but something racial. And yet, Buchan does for the Africans what he does for the Germans and Muslims in Greenmantle: he recognizes that they are human beings, and that there is a range of character in all races. The enemy leader in Prester John is a great danger to white South Africa--but his aspirations are, in their own way, noble.

Nonetheless, if you read Prester John as a period piece, it tells you quite a bit about the views of race that were common in that time--and it is nonetheless a rousing adventure story, rather along the line of the 1930s serials that the Indiana Jones movies so lovingly re-created. And unlike The Thirty-Nine Steps and Greenmantle, which are carefully and thoroughly realistic, Prester John at times crosses the line into not quite believable--but still loads of fun to read! You may find yourself struggling in places with his use of Afrikaans, but I was able to figure out many of the words from context or by looking for German cognates.

I can't tell if Buchan built this story around a somewhat real historical incident or not. He refers to it repeatedly as the "Kaffir Revolt" but there's plenty of such named events in South African history. The 1873 one mentioned in this December 31, 1873 New York Times article is too early, so perhaps he is referring to the 1894 "Kaffir Revolt" that I found referenced in the August 15, 1894 West Australian, p 5. (While the word "Kaffir" to refer to black South Africans was originally not offensive, and continued to be widely used into the 20th century, I'm told by a white South African friend that the term is now equivalent to "nigger.")

By the way, because these novels are now out of copyright, many are available for free from Here's Prester John. And The Thirty-Nine Steps. And here are all three novels in the Hannay series in one volume: The Thirty-Nine Steps, Greenmantle, and Mr. Standfast (which I have not yet read).

Friday, January 16, 2009

Dutch Ice Skating on Their Canals

Dutch Ice Skating on Their Canals

Yup, this global warming thing is causing a revival of national identity. From the January 16, 2009 International Herald Tribune:
For the first time in 12 years, the Netherlands' canals froze this month, bringing the Dutch, who like their tulips in neat rows, a heady mix of pandemonium and euphoria.

Hundreds of thousands of skaters, their cheeks as red as apples in the freezing temperatures, took to the ice, and hospital wards were filled with dozens of people with fractured arms, sprained ankles and broken legs.

Train engineers were ordered to go slowly to avoid hitting skaters who clambered across railway tracks to get from one frozen canal to another. Even the minister of defense, an avid skater, fell and broke his wrist. His ministry announced that the national defense remained in safe hands, even if one of them was in a cast.

In the 19th century, when Hans Brinker, the hero of the novel in which he tries to win a pair of silver skates, coasted along Holland's ice, the canals froze almost every year. But water pollution and climate change have made this so rare that today a boy of 15, Brinker's age, may never have seen a frozen canal, or at least remember one. Until, that is, this year.

"For us, it's in our genes," said Gus Gustafsson, 68, a retired insurance executive, explaining why he and his wife had rushed out to buy new skates and take to the ice under a cloudless blue sky. "It was like a frenzy that came over people, including lots of kids, like my granddaughter, who is 5." With thousands of others, they skated northeast toward the cheese capital, Gouda, then toward Utrecht.

With an influx of immigrants, the country has been struggling to maintain what it considers its Dutch soul, and Gustafsson was one of many here who thought the skating experience enabled the Dutch to reconnect with their identity. "There were only Dutch people on the ice," he said. "I saw no people of Arab descent."

Record cold in the Deep South, too. This January 16, 2009 Associated Press report tells us:
Forecasters said temperatures in the upper Midwest could turn into the coldest in years as Arctic air keeps spilling southward from Canada. The cold snap has claimed at least six lives and contributed to dozens of traffic accidents. One death involved a man in a wheelchair who was found in subzero temperatures stuck in the snow, a shovel in his hand, outside his home in Des Moines, Iowa. He died at a hospital.

The cold weather has gripped the Midwest and Northeast for days, but as it crept farther South, some were growing worried. "We're afraid people will die in this kind of weather," said Anita Beaty, who works with the homeless in Atlanta, where temperatures dropped below the teens, some 20 degrees below normal lows in January. About 900 men packed a shelter that normally houses 700. Freezing temperatures threatened to kill picturesque Spanish moss hanging from Gulf Coast trees. Wind and choppy seas frustrated efforts to free an endangered right whale tangled in fishing gear off the Southeastern coast. And it was too cold to bet on dogs in West Virginia: A greyhound track shut down because of a predicted high of 7 degrees. Then again, the cold was testing even the heartiest winter-weather states. On Friday morning, it was minus 10 in Cleveland, minus 6 in Detroit and minus 11 in Chicago. In upstate New York, areas near Lake Erie received up to 2 inches of snow per hour. Quentin Masters wore two coats and long underwear to mail a gift at the post office in downtown Syracuse


It was so cold in Milwaukee that ice thawed at skating rinks. The subzero temperatures froze the ammonia tank needed to make ice at the indoor Pettit National Ice Center. Workers fixed the problem and two hockey rinks and the Olympic oval were expected to be ready for skaters later in the day.
And there is talk that it may snow on Inauguration Day in DC. I'm hoping that at some point Obama starts to talk about the dangers of global warming...but a shivering fit prevents him from finishing the sentence.

The Continuing Effort to Force Perverts Out of Work

The Continuing Effort to Force Perverts Out of Work

You know, the perverts who won't smile stupidly and say that they approve of homosexuality. From the January 9, 2009 Telegraph:

An employment tribunal ruled that the national counselling service Relate was entitled to dismiss Gary McFarlane after he said that encouraging gay sex went against his devout religious beliefs.

The decision prompted Christian groups to demand a rethink of religious discrimination laws, following a string of other high-profile cases in which courts have found against Christians who claim they have suffered as a result of standing up for their beliefs.

Andrea Williams, director of the Christian Legal Centre, which supported Mr McFarlane in his claim, said the religious discrimination law was "in danger of becoming a dead letter", while the Christian Institute said there was a growing feeling among churchgoers that religious discrimination laws only applied to Muslims and other minority faiths.

Legal experts suggested the ruling had left discrimination laws in "a confused state" by giving the impression that "gay rights trump Christian rights" when they directly oppose each other.

Mr McFarlane, 47, brought his claim for unfair dismissal after he was sacked in March 2008.

The father of two had joined Relate in 2003 and had given relationship advice to homosexual couples in the past. But in 2006, after he qualified as a psychosexual therapist, he made it clear to his employers that his strong Christian beliefs meant he did not feel able to give sex therapy advice to homosexuals.

Fellow counsellors objected to his stance and claimed his views were homophobic, and in March 2008 he was sacked.

And just to really cause divided loyalties for the knee-jerk liberals--Mr. McFarlane is black.

Mr. McFarlane's feelings about homosexuality would doubtless make him less effective as a sex therapist for a gay couple--and I would think it would be pretty darn obvious, no matter how hard he tried. It is the same reason that I would not expect an ethical vegetarian (someone who is motivated by ethical, not health concerns) to be terribly effective working as a meat salesman for a food wholesaler.

Now, if there were few straight clients for Mr. McFarlane to counsel, there might be a strong case for his employer to let him go, because they wouldn't have enough work to keep him busy. But even in Britain homosexuals can't be such an overwhelming majority of the clients that this would be the case.

Hard Times In Boise

Hard Times In Boise

I whine sometimes about having to drive to Bend every third week to work, but then I remember, "I cried because I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet." I went to an event scheduled by the outplacement firm that HP retained to basically say hello to some of the job shop operations that were interviewing--and the place was pretty crowded not just with the former HP people I know that still don't have any job, and a bunch of new people laid off by Micron and EDS. (There are rumors that HP just laid off some more people.)

I have tried not to whine about the drive to Bend, and I guess that I should consider myself fortunate that I am too busy to catch up on watching re-runs of Law and Order.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Time To Buy Used Luxury Cars

The Time To Buy Used Luxury Cars

It is definitely now. I am absolutely shocked not just by how cheap used Jaguar X-types are, but even the bigger and very fast Jaguars. Under $30,000 for a 2005 Jaguar XJR with less than 30,000 miles on it. I actually went over to the dealer to get a seat belt adjusted, and uou would have a hard time figuring out that it wasn't new.

San Francisco Housing Authority Backs Down

San Francisco Housing Authority Backs Down

At least partly because they knew that the Heller decision opened the door to the courts finding that the Second Amendment was a limitation on state and local laws, San Francisco Housing Authority has abandoned their ban on the ownership of firearms and water pistols in public housing. From the January 14, 2009 San Francisco Chronicle:
The San Francisco Housing Authority has agreed to allow its residents to own guns in a settlement of a National Rifle Association lawsuit that followed last year's U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the right to bear arms.

In papers filed Monday with a federal judge, the Housing Authority agreed not to enforce a provision it added to tenant leases in 2005 prohibiting the possession of guns and ammunition. The ban will now apply only to illegal gun ownership, like possession of a machine gun or possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
And worse, these lying scum now claim that they never intended to enforce it:

Tim Larsen, a lawyer for the Housing Authority, said Tuesday the agency never intended to enforce its 2005 ban against law-abiding gun owners and has never done so, even though the lease provision covered legal as well as illegal weapons.

"Our intention was to go after people who were engaged in criminal activity," Larsen said.

If that was really the case, then why not write a provision that expelled criminals from public housing? Why write something that applied to the law-abiding? Because the goal of liberals has never been to punish criminals, but to punish their victims.

Yes, Just Like The Rest Of Us

Yes, Just Like The Rest Of Us

Americans For Truth About Homosexuality has a nauseating post
about an event scheduled to take place in the conference rooms of the Doubletree Hotel in Washington, DC, put on by a homosexual sadomasochistic group. It is far too rough for me to quote. But those who think that I am being a boring old fuddy-duddy about homosexuality really need to go over there, read it, and then ask themselves why these sort of events are common, not just in San Francisco on public streets, but almost everywhere that homosexuals have achieved critical mass. Then ask yourself, "Why is this depravity so common in the gay community, if they are 'just like the rest of us'?"

Monday, January 12, 2009

Idaho Progressive Direct Customers

Idaho Progressive Direct Customers

If you are a Progressive Insurance direct customer (and not through an agent, as I am), you might want to know that they have apparently started to offer auto insurance discounts to those with advanced degrees. My daughter found this out while talking to a Progressive rep yesterday, and since her husband and her both have MSWs, this is a real advantage.

John Buchan's Greenmantle

John Buchan's Greenmantle

It's a novel about spies who are out to dismantle a plot involving Islamic fundamentalists who are a threat to Western civilization...before it's too late. And it was published in 1916. The hero, Richard Hannay, appears in several of Buchan's novels, and this one is quite startling not just in the timelessness of the problem of Islam as threat, but in how tremendously unpropagandistic it is, considering when it appeared, in the middle of World War I. Buchan (who later became Governor-General of Canada) repeatedly reminds us that Germans aren't monsters; indeed, he even manages to create a sympathetic portrait of the Kaiser as someone caught up in events beyond his control. And this came out smack dab in the middle of World War I, when British propaganda was at a fever pitch in its denunciations of "The Hun."

It is an espionage adventure, with an American struggling with a stomach ulcer, a British Army colonel (from South Africa) pretending to be a Dutchman, and a complex plot involving figuring out who is doing what, where, and can they get there in time to stop it from happening?

I've read some other novels by Buchan before, but never one such a page turner. Another of Buchan's Richard Hannay novels, The Thirty-Nine Steps, was turned into an early Alfred Hitchcock film. Oddly enough, Greenmantle seems not to have enjoyed a similar film version--I can't imagine why. It would make for a rollicking adventure.

Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World

Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World

I'm enjoying Victorian/Edwardian literature at the moment. I've moved on from Doyle's Sherlock Holmes novels and stories to The Lost World, which is one of three Doyle novels built around the adventures of Professor Challenger--one of the least likable "heroes" that I think that a novel that I have read has ever featured. He's smart, but impulsive, short-tempered, arrogant, rude, and violent. And yet it is a rousing adventure tale. I doubt that I am spoiling anything when I tell you that the novel involves a isolated plateau in South America filled with Mesozoic species. But in the same way that Crichton's Jurassic Park can't be reduced down to something as oversimplified as "dinosaurs out of control" and "greedy software engineer" (something which exists only in fiction, I assure you), The Lost World is a deeper story of professional jealousy, and how love will drive people to do stupid things. And it's a lot of fun!

One interesting mention in the introduction is that there is a line in the book that really does make you wonder if Doyle might have had something to do with the Piltdown Man fraud. And yes, even if I had not been warned in advance, the line sticks out and demands your attention!

Like many of the Sherlock Holmes' stories, there are American connections--enough so that you find yourself wondering if Doyle did this because Americans were such an important part of his world, or if he was playing to what he knew would probably be the biggest part of his market.

This Smells Of A Social Science Experiment

This Smells Of A Social Science Experiment

This January 12, 2009 Telegraph news story at first just sounds like another reminder of the decline and fall of Western civilization:

A student who is auctioning her virginity to pay for a masters degree in Family and Marriage therapy has seen bidding hit £2.5million ($3.7m).

Natalie Dylan, 22, claims her offer of a one-night stand has persuaded 10,000 men to bid for sex with her.

Last September, when her auction came to light, she had received bids up to £162,000 ($243,000) but since then interest in her has rocketed.

The student who has a degree in Women's Studies insisted she was not demeaning herself.

Miss Dylan, from San Diego, California, USA, said she was persuaded to offer herself to the highest bidder after her sister Avia, 23, paid for her own degree after working as a prostitute for three weeks.

She said she had had a lot of attention from a wide range of men, including "weirdos", "those who get really graphically sexual about what they want to do to me" and "lots of polite requests from rich businessmen".

I am almost afraid what she considers "weirdos" when you look at what she is proposing to do. But there's part of this story that smells like an elaborate social science experiment. No, I don't mean her remark:
She added: "It's shocking that men will pay so much for someone's virginity, which isn't even prized so highly anymore."
I mean her undergrad degree, and what she is going to use the money for:
The student who has a degree in Women's Studies insisted she was not demeaning herself.


to pay for a masters degree in Family and Marriage therapy

I'm skeptical that she's telling the truth about this.

Encouraging Harassment?

Encouraging Harassment?

Professor Volokh points to this site that provides a way to plot the location and names of people that contributed money to California Proposition 8, which defined marriage as "one man, one woman." Professor Volokh well understands the danger of taking publicly available election contribution information, and combining it with available mapping software:
I suspect this sort of technology may well make people much more reluctant to donate money to (or against) controversial propositions -- and may lead people to rethink whether the government should indeed mandate disclosure of such contributions, especially small contributions. In any case, I thought I'd note this.
I agree with Professor Volokh that there shouldn't be any laws against it--but it is pretty clear that the purpose of such efforts is to encourage at least economic retaliation against campaign contributors. There is a very real risk that some homosexual activists are going to use this information to engage in acts of vandalism, harassment, and violent crimes against Proposition 8 supporters. Anyone who puts together such a website and claims that this did not occur to them is obviously a liar.

I am really, really troubled by sites like this. We could lower ourselves to the level of homosexual activists, I suppose, by putting together a similar mash-up of those who contributed to the No on 8 campaign--and risk that some unhinged sorts might decide to use such a site to identify and attack homosexuals. That would not be right--but then again, it might be the only way to get the message across of how dangerous it is to do this sort of data extraction and mapping.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Grasping the Third Rail

Grasping the Third Rail

I had heard that Obama was talking about fixing Social Security, and my first reaction was, "That will take some serious courage, and be the end of his hopes for getting anything done." Bush decided to "spend some political capital" on this after the 2004 election--and went down in flames. The harsh reality is that Social Security is the third rail of American politics; like the third, electrified rail of a New York City subway, touch it, and you die.

I understand why. There are a lot of Americans who are utterly dependent on Social Security, or at least heavily dependent on it. They are too old to go back to work full-time, and many are too old to go back to work part-time. (Heck, I'm only 52 and I'm already at an age where most employers won't seriously consider me.) Those who are now retired spent their working careers assuming that Social Security checks would be there, and planned their careers around that--and I can see why they regard this as a sacred trust, especially because many of the alternatives that are now available, such as 401(k) and IRA accounts, simply did not exist for many of these retirees when they were working.

But the ugly truth is that Social Security was always a Ponzi scheme--and FDR created it because an even more irresponsible proposal, the Townshend Plan, was enjoying widespread popularity at the time. Something is going to have to give. At least one of the following has to happen: Social Security taxes go up; benefits get scaled back; retirement age increases; at least part of the system is privatized so that the money is invested in the stock market; or we have enough children to keep the Ponzi scheme going. (Even if you don't have a moral problem with abortion, economics alone is a strong argument against it.)

Anyway, this column in the January 11, 2009 San Francisco Chronicle points out that Obama lacks Bush's courage:

Of all the points Obama addressed during a meeting last January with our editorial board, the one that gave him pause was his answer to a question about what he might do to address the coming crises in Social Security and Medicare.

Obama had suggested that a Social Security tax increase might be needed to offset the imbalance between revenue and benefits. He came back to make it clear that he was talking about possibly raising the ceiling on income that is subject to the Social Security tax (now $106,800) and not the tax rate (now 6.2 percent per worker, with an employer match).

Obama was blunt. He did not want any misunderstanding leading to a news story that would have him advocating an increase in the tax rate - which would lead to a TV commercial. "And it wouldn't be from us," he said.

Such is the sensitivity associated with talking about reforming the giant entitlement programs. Obama deserves credit for volunteering one of the tough-but-necessary reforms in the heat of his primary battle with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. At a news conference last week, Obama pledged to make Social Security and Medicare reform "a central part" of his administration's strategy to constrain federal spending. He did not offer details.

Raising the ceiling on Social Security taxes probably makes sense, especially because Social Security benefits are not means-tested. If you make $250,000 a year, and retire within a few years of making a high income, you will get a very, very healthy Social Security check when you retire. Yes, if you make more than $34,000 a year (joint income), 85% of your Social Security check is taxable. But still, that means that a retired couple bringing in $50,000 a year in pensions, interest, and Social Security checks, is taxed at a lower rate than a working couple making $50,000 a year.

Raising the ceiling makes sense. People making millions of dollars a year (Hollywood Democrats, for example) can afford it--and people who are making $20,000 a year can't afford any increase in the Social Security tax rate. Social Security is among the most regressive of taxes. People at the very bottom (the ones that Democrats claim to care about) often pay only Social Security taxes--and they get hit very hard by this.

But raising the ceiling isn't going to solve the core actuarial problem of Social Security. It's not terribly courageous or effective. Obama better have something a bit more serious in terms of reform in mind. And he better have some rubber insulated and asbestos gloves when approaching the third rail.