Sunday, September 30, 2007

"The Surge Won't Work"

Remember when Democrats were insisting that it couldn't work, and wouldn't work? From September 30, 2007 AFP:
US military losses in Iraq for September stood at 70 on Sunday, the lowest monthly figure since July last year, according to an AFP tally based on Pentagon figures.

The figure also marks the fourth consecutive drop in the monthly death toll following a high of 121 in May. June saw 93 deaths, July 82 and August 79. The monthly toll in July 2006 was 53.

Two US soldiers were killed on Saturday in separate incidents, pushing the overall toll of American losses since the March 2003 invasion to 3,801.

A surge in US troop numbers saw an extra 28,500 personnel deployed from mid-February, mainly in Baghdad and the neighbouring province of Anbar, although commanders said most were not in combat positions until May.

US commanders say the strategy is starting to work and that levels of violence are dropping, allowing for a possible drawdown of the 160,000 or so troops now deployed.

"The trend is certainly in the right direction," US military spokesman Rear Admiral Mark Fox told a press conference in Baghdad.

"The surge unquestionably is what has been the catalyst that has created the opportunity to have more forces operating in more places at the same time and to deny Al-Qaeda and the extremists safe-haven and to take away sanctuaries."
As much as I admire Bush's often stubborn refusal to bend to popular sentiment, there's sometimes a heavy price to pay for that refusal--and the unwillingness to treat Iraq like an occupied country turns out to be one of those prices.

It's easy to show our good our 20/20 hindsight is--and as I have acknowledged, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld's decision to keep the number of troops low in Iraq was logical. It just didn't work. I wonder how differently this might have worked out if in September of 2001 President Bush had asked:

1. For an immediate enlargement of the armed forces to a war footing--perhaps adding several hundred thousand men.

2. When we invaded Iraq, put 300,000 or 400,000 soldiers in place. We could have sealed the borders, and prevented much of the al-Qaeda and Iranian infiltration.

3. With this many troops, it is possible that the bloody fighting that took place would simply not have gone very far--and with the enhanced stability, perhaps the Iraqi government would have been able to take charge--and we could have been either out, or with just a few garrisons there by now.

There are two very important points about all this:

1. Democracies aren't very good at fighting prolonged wars. Public sentiment against the costs in lives and money add up--and completely despicable sorts start looking for a way to gain political advantage by attacking the war. I don't mean legitimate criticism of how it is being fought, but the dishonest trash that a number of Democrats who supported the war started spreading about when they saw a chance to get control of Congress back. This means that a democracy needs to win quickly.

2. The U.S. has one enormous advantage when it comes to fighting a war: a large military, lots of material resources, and the ability to get them into position very quickly. One of the mistakes of Vietnam (and there were many, including the decision to fight that war) was that we escalated our troops slowly enough that the Soviet Union was able to match its level of support to North Vietnam. I find myself wondering if we had moved 540,000 men into Vietnam in two or three months--instead of taking several years--might have broken the ability of the Soviet Union to keep up in providing ammunition and supplies.

UPDATE: Gateway Pundit has some graphs showing that it isn't just U.S. military deaths that are falling, and links to this October 1, 2007 BBC report:

Iraq violent death rates 'plunge'

The number of Iraqi civilians killed per month in bombings and shootings has fallen to the lowest level this year, the Iraqi government says.

In September, 884 civilians were killed by violence, less than half the figure for August, the government said.

The BBC's Jon Brain in Baghdad says the figures suggest the so-called surge involving 30,000 extra US troops is having some success.

Strange Notion of Poverty

Fairfax County, Virginia, has public housing for those who are too poor to afford to live in unsubsidized housing. But it seems to be a rather strange notion of poverty at work, according to this September 30, 2007 Washington Post article:
Hundreds of families living in housing subsidized by Fairfax County taxpayers exceed income caps designed to ensure that only the neediest receive assistance, a review of county records shows.

In the most extreme cases, Fairfax is underwriting rents for families making well into six figures: One household getting help makes more than $216,000 a year; another, $184,000. Dozens of others -- making $60,000, $70,000, $90,000 -- exceed eligibility caps. And they do so with the tacit approval of county housing administrators, who do little to encourage occupants to move on when their fortunes improve.

These tenants live in housing intended for families at the bottom of the county's economic spectrum. They are in the federally subsidized public housing program, the Fairfax rental program and the county's senior housing program. The county's Department of Housing and Community Development will spend about $4.5 million this year running these programs.
I am sympathetic to governmental attempts to help the poor. But what happens when "the poor" include households making more than four times the national average ($46,326 per year in 2005)?

The rest of the article goes on to say that you know, housing is really expensive in Fairfax County, and that's part of why people with six figure incomes aren't moving out of government subsidized housing. But I think there are some people who have good reasons to be upset about this:

1. People who are struggling--without government subsidies--to make house payments on $40,000 a year household incomes in much of the United States.

2. People who are struggling to put food on the table or provide health care for their children on $15,000 a year in much of the United States.

When government generosity for "the poor" is being funneled into six figure income households, it discredits the notion of governmental help to the poor.

BidPay vs. PayPal?

A friend mentioned that PayPal was antigun--and sure enough, they are:

Q What types of firearms related items does PayPal prohibit?

A PayPal prohibits all account holders from buying or selling any type of firearm and certain firearm parts and ammunition. PayPal may allow certain U.S. merchants to sell items addressed by this policy if they have been approved by PayPal and can ensure transactions and shipments comply with all applicable laws and regulations.

Firearms – Include all rifles, shotguns, and handguns, whether they are intended for use in sporting, as collectibles, or as curio and relic firearms. These items are prohibited regardless of their present working order.

Firearm parts - Include, but are not limited to, receivers and frames, silencers, kits designed to convert a firearm to automatic firing capability, high capacity magazines, multi-burst trigger activators, and camouflaging firearm containers.
Now, if PayPal was in the shipping business, I could understand their concern about liability. But they are only in the business of processing funds transfers. This would be the equivalent of the U.S. Post Office refusing to deliver a check to pay for gun parts that are being shipped in accordance with all applicable laws. There are a lot of completely lawful transactions that PayPal is saying it will not allow to be done through them.

I've been using PayPal for processing ScopeRoller transactions for some time--but I am thinking seriously of switching to BidPay instead, which doesn't have this antigun rule. Does anyone have experience using BidPay as either seller or buyer?

Mental Illness & Creativity

It has long been noticed that creativity, intelligence, and mental illness often go together. Think of Isaac Newton, who appears to have struggled with with bipolar disorder--and whose creative days largely ended after a nervous breakdown. Or the mathematician John Nash. Or Vincent Van Gogh.

A study published several years ago suggests that this is not coincidence, described in the October 1, 2003 Science Daily:
The study in the September issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology says the brains of creative people appear to be more open to incoming stimuli from the surrounding environment. Other people's brains might shut out this same information through a process called "latent inhibition" - defined as an animal's unconscious capacity to ignore stimuli that experience has shown are irrelevant to its needs. Through psychological testing, the researchers showed that creative individuals are much more likely to have low levels of latent inhibition.

"This means that creative individuals remain in contact with the extra information constantly streaming in from the environment," says co-author and U of T psychology professor Jordan Peterson. "The normal person classifies an object, and then forgets about it, even though that object is much more complex and interesting than he or she thinks. The creative person, by contrast, is always open to new possibilities."

Previously, scientists have associated failure to screen out stimuli with psychosis. However, Peterson and his co-researchers - lead author and psychology lecturer Shelley Carson of Harvard University's Faculty of Arts and Sciences and Harvard PhD candidate Daniel Higgins - hypothesized that it might also contribute to original thinking, especially when combined with high IQ. They administered tests of latent inhibition to Harvard undergraduates. Those classified as eminent creative achievers - participants under age 21 who reported unusually high scores in a single area of creative achievement - were seven times more likely to have low latent inhibition scores.

The authors hypothesize that latent inhibition may be positive when combined with high intelligence and good working memory - the capacity to think about many things at once - but negative otherwise. Peterson states: "If you are open to new information, new ideas, you better be able to intelligently and carefully edit and choose. If you have 50 ideas, only two or three are likely to be good. You have to be able to discriminate or you'll get swamped."

"Scientists have wondered for a long time why madness and creativity seem linked," says Carson. "It appears likely that low levels of latent inhibition and exceptional flexibility in thought might predispose to mental illness under some conditions and to creative accomplishment under others."

For example, during the early stages of diseases such as schizophrenia, which are often accompanied by feelings of deep insight, mystical knowledge and religious experience, chemical changes take place in which latent inhibition disappears.
This is not surprising to me at all. Schizophrenia involves false information reaching the brain--apparently because the nervous system misrepresents various stimuli. It would not be surprising if creativity and intelligence benefit from having lots of data--but what causes schizophrenia might be that whatever biochemistry causes "lots of data" is not radically removed from "lots of data, much of it false."

What I am not too happy with is how the article ends:
"We are very excited by the results of these studies," says Peterson. "It appears that we have not only identified one of the biological bases of creativity but have moved towards cracking an age-old mystery: the relationship between genius, madness and the doors of perception."
The Doors of Perception was a book by Aldous Huxley published in 1954 that argued that we are all victims of limited senses, and that psychedlic drugs opened us up to the universal consciousness that was out there, by opening the doors of perception. Unfortunately, psychdelic drugs would appear to be more like a kaleidoscope--something that gives pretty colors, but distorts reality, instead of showing us a more true reality.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Hitler's Paganism

There is a tendency in some circles to portray Hitler and the Nazis as some perversion of Christianity. It is certainly the case that the Nazis took advantage of an existing, religious anti-Semitism that was present in Europe--and added a new Social Darwinist layer of racial anti-Semitism. Suddenly, it was not enough to be a convert to Christianity--the Nazis were obsessed about the corrupting effects of "Jewish blood."

It is also true that a fair number of Christians in Germany (both Protestant and Catholic) were seduced by the Nazi emphasis on family values, in opposition to the decadence of the Weimar Republic, which the Nazis characterized as the result of "Jewish cosmopolitanism." In private, the Nazis were hardly a family values bunch--and not just because of their propensity for violent attacks on their political enemies and on Jews. Ernst Roehm, head of the SA (Sturmabteilung) and most of his immediate subordinates in the SA were homosexuals.

Hitler resolved an internal power struggle between the SA and the German Army by arresting and killing Roehm and most of his top leadership. This became known as the Night of the Long Knives. Part of what made it so easy to get the SA leadership with little resistance is that many of them were caught in flagrante delicto with each other. Naked men having sex are generally not in the best position to defend themselves. Hitler pretended to be shocked and horrified by this--but I very much doubt that this was really a surprise.

There has been a long standing effort made to portray Hitler and the Nazis as devout Christians, for whom the Holocaust was simply a logical outgrowth of their Christian hatred of Jews. Yet most serious histories of the Third Reich acknowledge that Hitler held Christianity in considerable contempt, and that many of the SS leaders developed their own neopagan religion as an alternative to Christianity. I suspect that much of the misportrayal of Nazi religion comes from an effort to inoculate Jews in the United States from the longstanding and somewhat successful efforts to convert Jews to Christianity. As near as I can tell, my first ancestors in America named Cramer were converts from Judaism, as happened in large numbers in Germany in the nineteenth century.

Anyway, I am reading Saul Friedlaender's Nazi Germany and the Jews: 1939-1945, The Years of Extermination. There is a very interesting quote on page 17, discussing the first few months of World War II:
"We touch again upon religions issues," Goebbels noted on December 29. "The Fuehrer is profoundly religion but totally antichristian. He considere Christianity as a symptom of decline. Rightly so. It is a deposit [Ablagerung] of the Jewish race. One also notices it in the similarity of religious rituals. Both have no relation to animals and this will destroy them in the end."
It appears that Ablagerung is a bit stronger than just "deposit":
The process by which polluting material is precipitated from the atmosphere and accumulates in ecosystems.
The reference to animals had me a bit confused at first, but then I recalled Romans chapter 1, and wondered if this is what Goebbels meant:
For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

21For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.

24Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.


My remarks earlier today about the first snow on the mountain tops brings back the recurring problem that the Corvette can't reliably get up our driveway--can't even reliably get up the private road that leads to our driveway--when we get six inches or more of snow. My wife's Equinox does just fine--and I don't think it even switches from front wheel drive to all wheel drive as it does so. (Although it is nice to know that it could if it needed to do so.)

I've looked for several alternative strategies to giving up the Corvette. Yes, it's noisy, and the wife doesn't like to travel in for that reason. There are several all-wheel drive high performance sedans that, were I as rich as the billionaire Democrats who are trying to destroy America and capitalism, I would replace the Corvette with in a heartbeat.

The new 2008 Cadillac CTS all-wheel drive sedan is attractive--but with an MSRP above $38,000 for the all-wheel drive version--that's a lot of money for those of us who aren't Marxists. (But it says a lot about how far Cadillac has come that they build a car that I wouldn't disdainfully throw out of my garage.)

There is the MazdaSpeed 6, which has permanent four wheel drive to keep all that power sticking to dry pavement. The price is reasonable--a bit above $30,000, but there's no automatic available with it.

The Subaru Impreza WRX five door
at least has an automatic available, and it looks like it would be slightly cheaper than the Mazda.

Still, I really don't want to give up the Corvette. When the top is off, and I'm driving down a two lane highway with the wind in my hair and sunlight filtering through the leaves, it is about as relaxing an experience as I can imagine. (And I am a hopeless cheapskate. You have no idea the internal struggle I went through to justify buying the Corvette.)

I have considered buying a used 4x4--but my wife is terrified of me buying an unreliable car that leaves me stranded at the side of state highway 55 in a winter snowstorm. At least here in Idaho, there is a pretty hefty premium that any 4x4 carries because of the demand for them--and anything that meets my wife's standards is going to be $12,000 and up.

So I have suddenly started toying with another idea. The state and county do a really good job of clearing Idaho 55 and the old highway that leads to the private road into our subdivision. I've never had a problem getting up either road in the Corvette. If we had conditions so severe that I couldn't get in or out on either road, most all-wheel drive sedans probably couldn't do it either. The problem is Sunburst Road and my driveway.

So maybe, once winter snows start to fall with any regularity, I could just park the Corvette at the junction of Sunburst Road and the old highway--and drive an ATV up to the house. It is only about half a mile. It's a nice walk when it isn't 15 degrees outside, with blowing snow. The entire distance is private roads, so I could legally drive an ATV the entire distance, and just leave it under a tarp at the junction.

New ATVs cost a bit of money--but used ones are surprisingly cheap. I don't need a very powerful one--I'm not going to exceed 15 mph on this road, and it just has to have enough power to climb the 15 degree driveway slope. Unlike a used 4x4 road vehicle, if a used ATV betrays me, the worst that happens is that I need to walk half a mile back to the house under unpleasant conditions.

My impression is that ATVs are basically motorcycles with all four wheels driven by the engine. I am also guessing that at least some ATVs are two wheel drive only. Anything else that I need to know?

First Snow

We had a bit of rain last night--but since we are now a week into fall, on top of Bogus Basin ski resort, it is snow! (Forgive the image quality--I am still getting used to the tools available under Linux.)

Click to enlarge

UPDATE: A few hours later--better sunlight, less clouds--but the snow is fading fast!

Click to enlarge

Mental Illness Commitment & Firearms Disability

What seems to be a very careful scholarly examination of mental illness commitment law with respect to firearms disability is Joseph R. Simpson,"Bad Risk? An Overview of Laws Prohibiting Possession of Firearms by Individuals With a History of Treatment for Mental Illness," Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry Law 35:3:330-338 (2007).

The abstract:

For nearly 40 years, federal law has barred certain individuals with a history of mental health treatment from purchasing, receiving, or possessing firearms. State laws are a patchwork of different regulations, some much more inclusive than the federal statute, others that parallel it closely. In some states, such laws are nonexistent. For the past 20 years, it has been possible to petition for relief from the federal prohibition; however, this is not the case with all state laws. The mechanisms for relief under state laws, when present, vary significantly, and not all require the input of a mental health professional or even of any physician. This article provides an overview of federal and state laws, a discussion of implications of these laws for mental health clinicians and forensic practitioners, and suggestions of directions for future research.
He makes the claim:
A front-page New York Times article in 2000 reported that of 75 so-called rampage killers (not all of whom had diagnosed or treated mental illnesses), 56 percent had made a fully legal purchase and another 16 percent had purchased the firearm by lying on their applications. Only 13 percent obtained the murder weapon by fully illegal means.2 However, beyond these anecdotal reports, there has been very little research in which the relationship between mental illness and risk of firearm-related violence, including suicide, was specifically examined.
Because he says "firearm-related violence" he is probably correct. There has been a bit of research, as I have previous mentioned, concerning the relationship between mental illness and violent crimes. But this research has not directly looked at firearm-related violence.

The article also discusses the case law related to firearms disability and mental illness commitment, pointing out what I have been saying regarding HR 2640--it takes a lote more (in New York State, just a bit more) than just a psychiatrist's say-so, or being given Ritalin as a child, to lose your right to own a gun under federal law:
A similar result was reached in the case of U.S. v. Giardina.17 The defendant was seen by a psychiatrist at a mental health clinic who signed a physician's emergency certificate allowing the police to take the defendant to a mental hospital, where he was hospitalized for two weeks. The defendant was later charged with making false statements on firearms applications. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals held that admission by emergency certificate did not constitute a commitment for the purposes of the Gun Control Act, stating that "[t]emporary, emergency detentions for treatment of mental disorders or difficulties, which do not lead to formal commitments under state law, do not constitute the commitment envisioned" (Ref. 17, p 1337).
It should be noted that the Hansel and Giardina decisions do not stand for the proposition that judicial authorization for an involuntary hospitalization is necessary for an individual to run afoul of the Gun Control Act. In U.S. v. Waters,18 a federal district court ruled that under New York law a two-physician certification procedure constitutes a formal commitment. Judicial review of the commitment was not a requirement.
More recent challenges to the classification of a hospitalization as a "commitment" have tracked the earlier cases discussed. In U.S. v. Chamberlain,19 the First Circuit Court of Appeals held that a five-day emergency detention, approved by a judge, sufficed. The court rejected the defendant's contention that a person should be deemed to have been committed only if subjected to a full commitment proceeding, including provision of counsel, an adversary hearing, and so on. In U.S. v. Dorsch,20 Dorsch claimed that being ordered to a mental facility for not more than 90 days should not constitute a commitment, on the grounds that the 90-day period was an "observation" period rather than a "treatment" period. The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected this argument.
I was a little surprised at how few persons have been prohibited from buying guns under the mental disability provision:
In the first 12 months during which background checks mandated by the Brady Act were performed (November 1998 to November 1999), more than 4,400,000 background checks were performed. Of these, 81,006 (1.8% of the total) resulted in denial of applications to purchase firearms. The majority of these denials (56,554, or 69.8 percent) were due to felony indictments or convictions, and a further 9.9 percent were due to misdemeanor domestic violence convictions. Only 70 individuals (0.1% of the denials) were denied because of a history of mental illness. In comparison, there were 3,072 (3.8%) denials for drug addiction.10
And the reason seems to be what HR 2640 is trying to fix--lots of states won't supply the information.

Friday, September 28, 2007

HP is getting shipping the wrong unit. Today, I received another hard disk drive. A reader pointed out that the wrong hard disk I received yesterday is an IDE 48 pin ribbon interface--not the SATA interface that was in my notebook. And today, I received another IDE 48 pin ribbon interface disk drive, again with part number 430328-001 on it. And guess what! The bad disk drive has the same part number on it: 430328-001. This means that HP has two parts that are completely different and incompatible with the same part number.

He Was For It Before He Was Against It

I'm afraid that all this sleazy activity by Senator Happy Feet has caused him to contract Kerryism. You remember John Kerry's famous "I voted for the war before I voted against it" statement?

Let's see, Senator Happy Feet pleaded guilty to the disorderly conduct charge. Now he says that he did't do it, and wants to withdraw his plea.

First he said he was going to resign from the Senate effective September 30, 2007. Now, according to September 27, 2007 FoxNews:

Craig's lawyers asked a Minnesota judge Wednesday to let the three-term senator withdraw his guilty plea in a sex sting at a Minneapolis airport restroom. Afterward, Craig issued a statement saying he will stay in office "for now."
Why do I keep thinking of the very funny 2004 campaign ad from Jerry Zucker (one of the writers of Airplane!) with the guy who keeps changing his mind--about which wire to cut on the bomb, which woman to marry--and especially the end, where Mr. Indecision starts to look at the clergyman who was about to perform the wedding with a lustful look in his eye?

The Machine Shop As Membership Club

Guy Kawasaki blogs about something that I would have found very useful a couple of years ago--and a co-worker and I actually discussed setting up a business like this:
One of the challenges that geeks, inventors, hobbyists, hackers, burners, and artists who are trying to change the world face is finding a place to do their work. Ideally, it would have lots of equipment, supplies, and other geeks. Until the last year, they would have to set up their own workshop or beg for space at a machine shop. Now they can go and hang out at TechShop in Menlo Park, California.
Jim Newton founded TechShop in the summer of 2006 because he needed a world-class workshop so he could work on his projects and inventions. After having access to full machine shops at both the College of San Mateo when he taught a BattleBots class and at the studio set of the Discovery Channel’s MythBusters show when he was the science advisor, he found himself without a place to work on his projects after these positions. He was surprised to find that there were not any places like TechShop already, so he decided that he would open one himself.
TechShop provides its members with a huge variety of tools, machines, and equipment in a 15,000 square-foot workshop environment. The equipment at TechShop is not likely to appear in the hobbyist’s home workshop. The range of tools and equipment covers machining, sheet metal, welding, casting, laser cutters, rapid prototyping, CAD, CNC equipment, electronics, sewing, automotive, plastics, composites, and lots more.
Membership is modeled after a fitness center, and several levels of membership are available. There are currently approximately 350 monthly, yearly, corporate, and lifetime members. The facility can handle around fifty members at a time, so TechShop have set the membership cap at 500 members so the shop and workspace does not get over-crowded. There are only about 150 membership slots available until membership is full. The hours of operation for TechShop are currently 9 AM to midnight, 7 days a week. Jim tells me that they plan to open 24x7 when they reach the membership cap of 500 in the next month or two.
One of the guiding principles of TechShop is to make it affordable and accessible to everyone. Memberships are priced at $30 for a day pass, $100 for a month pass, or $1100 for an annual pass. Family and corporate memberships are also available. Lifetime memberships are not for sale, but are given only to TechShop’s angel lenders.
I'm not sure if there is a big enough market here in the Boise area to make something like this practical, but I am sure that in any urban area with a million people, this would make a lot of sense. If you have ever gone to a machine shop and and tried to get something made, you know that:

1. They charge you an arm and leg.

2. Machine shops are so busy that you may have a hard time getting them to even give you a quote.

I think this is a cool idea, and if there was a critical mass of others here in the Boise area who agreed with me, it might be an interesting business opportunity. I suspect that to make this work, you would need to offer classes as well as equipment availability. I am convinced that the level of instruction required to keep club members safe and prevent them from stupidly breaking the equipment would not be terribly much.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

More About Those Hard Disk Problems

I mentioned several days ago that I had a hard disk failure on my HP Pavillion dv5220 notebook--and while waiting for the extended warranty process to solve my problem, I am using my Linux box.

Today, the replacement hard disk arrived--a day earlier than I expected. But there was a problem.

Here's the hard disk that was in the notebook:

Click to enlarge

And the replacement hard disk:

Click to enlarge

Hmmm. Do you see anything wrong? Well, I suppose if I used a hammer, I could smash the round pins on the replacement drive into the flat fingers of the connector, but I rather doubt that it would work very well.

So I called technical support, figuring that perhaps some dv5220 notebooks used one connector type, and others used another type. Nope! They looked it up in their database, and this is the only type of drive they used!

Perhaps there was some way to remove something from either drive that would be an adapter? Nope? Both drives had interfaces that were a part of the printed circuit board.

The technical support guy found a picture online of the model that they sent me--part 430328-001. It sure looks like the drive that was in my notebook--but nothing like the drive they sent me--which was not only in a box that said, "430328-001" but had a sticker on the drive that claimed it was a 430328-001. Pretty obviously, someone put the wrong sticker on the drive, and in the wrong box. So, I'm sending this drive back, and hope that they get lucky the next time.

Three things that have me very upset with HP customer support:

1. Their IT systems are obviously in a shambles. No two parts of the organization seem to have access to information that should be shared. I had to repeat my story, give them warranty information, product numbers, and serial numbers perhaps fifteen to twenty times over the last three days.

2. I know that India has cheap labor, and I also know that there is not a bright line that divides "speaks and understand English perfectly" and "utterly useless with English." But there needs to be some serious effort at identifying those people who can speak and understand English, and those for whom this is going to be a struggle. I speak with a California accent---not Southern, or Texan, or twangy Midwestern, or Bostonian, or even Wisconsin Cheesehead. This should be the least difficult version of American English for them to understand. And yet "four" and "seven" seem to be identical to many of the people I spoke to over the last few days. Some of them had so little accent that I was not at first sure if they were Indian or Canadian (who sound Canadian, but we still understood each other just fine), but most of the people on the phone required me to repeat myself, and vice versa. This is not pleasant, nor is it efficient.

3. I have not lost my temper or even reached the point of being short on the phone with anyone--in spite of strong temptations. Why? Because most of the people that I talked to seemed to be doing their best with completely inadequate IT systems. But at least two of the many people that I have spoken to in the last few days have been rude--and they started out the conversation that way. I know from talking to relatives who have spent far too much time on the phone to HP customer support that there area lot of rude people working for them. Why?

Some company could gain a big competitive advantage in the computer market by advertising, "All customer support is provided from Canada, the U.S., and Britain." I know that I would be willing to pay 10% more for a computer, knowing that I wasn't going to be exasperated after trying to get customer support.

UPDATE: A reader points out that someone has taken up the challenge. Gateway advertises:
Now offering 100% North America-based telephone technical support.
I think that alone is enough reason to consider a Gateway next time I have to buy a computer. The reader who informed of this recently made the decision to buy Gateways for a business that he works for instead of Dell or HP for that reason.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Utah's Concealed Weapon Permit Process

According to this September 26, 2007 Associated Press article, Utah is no longer "shall-issue" for non-citizens:
SALT LAKE CITY - Utah has stopped issuing concealed-gun permits to foreigners because of the rising number of applicants and the difficulty of conducting background checks.
"Utah had become the state of choice for people who did not live in the United States but wanted to carry a gun in the country," said Richard Wyss, attorney at the Utah Bureau of Criminal Investigation. State authorities "became alarmed," he told lawmakers Tuesday.
About 1,000 citizens of other countries have permits that allow them to carry a concealed gun in Utah and 30 states that have an agreement with Utah. Most are Canadians; others are from countries including Japan, Switzerland, Aruba, Mongolia, Mexico and the Republic of Congo.
Since 1995, Utah has issued 92,000 permits, 30 percent to non-Utah residents. Applicants typically must show they attended a safety class. Even a blind North Dakota man has one.
Background checks on foreigners were weak because Utah was denied access to records in other countries, but permits were issued if applicants met other requirements, authorities said. Utah now won't renew or issue the permits unless it can do a thorough background check.
I really can't say that I blame them. I rather suspect that the criminal background check system for Afghanistan is a little less thorough than for Wyoming. I would also worry a bit about terrorists entering the United States and using the deficiencies (or active assistance) of their home country's criminal justice system to allow them to carry concealed.

If the home country will provide adequate information, it appears that non-citizens can still get a Utah carry permit.

Machining the Regular Hexagon

Thanks to all my readers who found the problem with my previous geometry problem. Here's today's opportunity to exercise your brain.

I need to be able to machine a regular hexagon. I've already decided that even using a template doesn't produce a sufficiently perfect hexagon. I have a tilting table for my mill that lets me put a rectangle (length = 1.156 width) at a 60 degree angle. But when the table tilts the rectangle, where do I position the cutting edge?

The first diagram shows the rectangle as it is positioned in a mill vise on the tilt table in the 0 degree position. (The thickness of the tilt table turns out not to be relevant--only the distance from the pivot point to the edge of the rectangle.) It also shows the equations that I have persuaded myself identify the position of the first cut (C) relative to the pivot point.

The second diagram shows it in the 60 degree position.

Think Before Doing Something Irrevocable

A San Antonio apartment complex has a policy against renting to people with lots of body piercings and tattoos. Not surprisingly, a couple that has been refused an apartment is screaming discrimination. From September 25, 2007 WOAI:
It's against the law for landlords to discriminate based on the color of a person's skin. But can they reject you because of what's on your skin?
Some San Antonio apartment complexes are refusing to rent to people with tattoos and body piercings. News 4 WOAI Trouble Shooter Jaie Avila investigates the case of one couple who says that policy is unfair.
Gilbert Carrillo thinks tattoos are an artform. He's been to tattoo conventions and one of his tattoos was featured in a magazine. "Ever since I was 18, to now, 25, bit by bit, covering up here, covering up there."
But last month, Carrillo's tattoos kept him and his wife, Melissa, from moving into an apartment complex called the Villas at Medical Center. "We liked the apartment, we brought them a check for the deposit and a check for the application fee," says Melissa.
Later, Gilbert went by to look at the apartment wearing a short sleeve shirt. The next day, the Carrillos were told they didn't qualify to live there, because the tattoos on Gilbert's arms violated the policy on personal appearance.
"For them to be so judgmental on a person's appearance, and for them to judge someone based on them having a tattoo is just ridiculous, you know," says Melissa.
The Carrillos were also upset that the manager refused to refund their full $70 application fee. But mostly, they feel the policy is discriminatory.
Yup, it's discriminatory. And that's a problem because? "Discriminating" used to mean that you were somewhat demanding--that you didn't like everything, no matter how vulgar or repulsive. The evils of racial discrimination, and the campaign to end it, made the concept of "discriminating" suspect--even though almost everyone engages in discriminating behavior. I don't eat anything and everything that appears on supermarket shelves. I discriminate against animals because I don't treat the same way as people. I discriminate against rude and vulgar people because I find them irritating to be around. Democrats discriminate against Republicans at election time, and vice versa.

I will tell you that my first reaction to people who have tattoos, especially those who have them everywhere, is, "Short-term thinker, are we? Have you thought about how ugly those tattoos are going to be in 30 years? Have you thought about how that tattoo on your breasts is going to look in 20 years, when gravity changes the aspect ratio of that design? Have you considered that instead of looking 'cool' in 20 years, those tattoos are going to make it difficult to get a job?"

I am even more repulsed by a lot of the body modification stuff. I think the piercings everywhere are ridiculous, and mostly show that someone loves pain more than money, but what really repulses me are the "gauges"--when someone isn't content with an earring, but has to keep enlarging the hole until you can put a pencil through it. And then there are the extreme body modifications, with foreign objects under the skin, and the crowd that thinks that making themselves look at least somewhat like non-humans is so cool.

A lot of the tattoos and piercing crowd claim that they are just "expressing themselves." Fine. We're just expressing ourselves when we refuse to hire people or rent to people who want to look like a freak show, or a New Guinea native from a the 1950s National Geographic.

I have never known someone who went down the multiple piercings, tattoos all over path who felt good about themselves. It reminds me way too much of Michael Jackson's continual plastic surgery--an odyssey of pain for no purpose except to avoid confronting what is clearly a very damaged person.

Reality Check For George Soros

George Soros funded the California initiative (among others) that legalized marijuana for medicinal use. I voted for that initiative, because I thought that it wasn't such a big change--relatively few people would be so sick that marijuana would be the best choice. What has been surprising is how many people are now so sick that they need marijuana (snicker, snicker).

One of the traditional libertarian arguments for repealing drug laws is that making something legal reduces the violence associated with trafficking. On the downside, there is a significant violence problem associated with reduced inhibitions caused by many drugs (including alcohol).

California has, for practical purposes, made marijuana legal--but this September 26, 2007 Associated Press story shows that the trafficking-related violence is still going on:

PITTSBURG, Calif. (AP) - Three men have been charged with murdering a senior editor for PC World magazine in what police said was an attempt to steal marijuana that the victim's son grew in their home for medical use.
Rex Farrance, 59, the San Francisco-based magazine's senior technical editor, was shot in the chest on Jan. 9 after masked men broke into his suburban home.
Farrance's relatives believe the killers targeted the home after learning about the marijuana from a friend of the 19-year-old son.
"Without regard to the legality of the extensive marijuana-growing operation that was taking place in the residence, we regard Mr. Farrance as an innocent victim in this case," said Contra Costa County prosecutor Harold Jewett.
Farrance's wife, Lenore Vantosh-Farrance, was pistol-whipped during the robbery but managed to call 911.
"Extensive"? Mr. Farrance's son must have been extremely sick.

Transparency in Politics

One of the big issues for good government reformer sorts has always been transparency: that you should be able to see who is funding what political groups. This isn't enough to make a system honest and fair, but at least if someone is using obscene wealth to manipulate the system, you should at least be able to see it, even if you can't prevent it.

This editorial from the September 24, 2007 Investor's Business Daily points out that one of the biggest offenders on transparency is the hard left billionaire wing of the Democratic Party:
How many people, for instance, know that James Hansen, a man billed as a lonely "NASA whistleblower" standing up to the mighty U.S. government, was really funded by Soros' Open Society Institute , which gave him "legal and media advice"?
That's right, Hansen was packaged for the media by Soros' flagship "philanthropy," by as much as $720,000, most likely under the OSI's "politicization of science" program.
That may have meant that Hansen had media flacks help him get on the evening news to push his agenda and lawyers pressuring officials to let him spout his supposedly "censored" spiel for weeks in the name of advancing the global warming agenda.
Hansen even succeeded, with public pressure from his nightly news performances, in forcing NASA to change its media policies to his advantage. Had Hansen's OSI-funding been known, the public might have viewed the whole production differently. The outcome could have been different.
That's not the only case. Didn't the mainstream media report that 2006's vast immigration rallies across the country began as a spontaneous uprising of 2 million angry Mexican-flag waving illegal immigrants demanding U.S. citizenship in Los Angeles, egged on only by a local Spanish-language radio announcer?
Turns out that wasn't what happened, either. Soros' OSI had money-muscle there, too, through its $17 million Justice Fund. The fund lists 19 projects in 2006. One was vaguely described involvement in the immigration rallies. Another project funded illegal immigrant activist groups for subsequent court cases.
So what looked like a wildfire grassroots movement really was a manipulation from OSI's glassy Manhattan offices. The public had no way of knowing until the release of OSI's 2006 annual report.

OSI also gave cash to other radicals who pressured the Transportation Security Administration to scrap a program called "Secure Flight," which matched flight passenger lists with terrorist names. It gave more cash to other left-wing lawyers who persuaded a Texas judge to block cell phone tracking of terrorists.
They trumpeted this as a victory for civil liberties. Feel safer?
It's all part of the $74 million OSI spent on "U.S. Programs" in 2006 to "shape policy." Who knows what revelations 2007's report will bring around events now in the news?
OSI isn't the only secretive organization that Soros funds. OSI partners with the Tides Foundation, which funnels cash from wealthy donors who may not want it known that their cash goes to fringe groups engaged in "direct action" — also known as eco-terrorism.

Soros' "shaping public policies," as OSI calls it, is not illegal. But it's a problem for democracy because it drives issues with cash and then only lets the public know about it after it's old news.
That means the public makes decisions about issues without understanding the special agendas of groups behind them.
Without more transparency, it amounts to political manipulation. This leads to cynicism. As word of these short-term covert ops gets out, the public grows to distrust what it hears and tunes out.
The irony here is that Soros claims to be an advocate of an "open society." His OSI does just the legal minimum to disclose its activities. The public shouldn't have to wait until an annual report is out before the light is flipped on about the Open Society's political action.
For a long time, left-wing Democrats have insisted that corporate interests have hijacked politics in America with vast quantities of money. This is beginning to look like projection on their part. I don't have much confidence that it is possible to remove the money from politics--but I do think that it is only fair that when the billionaire leftists fund projects, that we find out about it immediately.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Space Aliens Are Sending Us A Message

At least, if this was any other pattern carved into a cornfield, only visible from the air, and especially if it was in Britain, every kook for 300 miles would be showing up to explain its cosmic significance. From September 24, 2007 NBC channel 10:
Back behind the towering corn is a message that can only be seen from the air.

It is one of the most infamous symbols of hate -- a swastika -- cut into acres of cornfields in Washington Township, Mercer County.

A New Jersey State Police helicopter on a routine maintenance mission made the discovery Friday.

The swastika was located off of Hankins Road, near where similar swastikas were found in July 1998 and June 1999.
So, does it qualify as a hate message when almost no one knows that it was there? To recast this in medieval philosophy terms: "If a swastika falls in a cornfield, but there's no one there to be offended by it, does it mean anything?"

Monday, September 24, 2007

Hard Disk Problems

I'm glad that I bought the extended service plan on this refurbished HP notebook--the hard disk seems to be giving up the ghost. At least, when I boot it, I get a message that says, "SMART disk failure is imminent. Backup your files and replace the hard disk."

Fortunately, I have my Linux box run an incremental backup every night of My Documents on the notebook, and my wife's desktop.

Customer support is having me run the comprehensive disk diagnostic first. If it fails, they'll replace the hard disk. If it passes, they want me to do a restore operation (which really means that they think there's some virus in there that got past Norton).

As you might expect, I may be a little slower responding to emails because of this!

UPDATE: I am very disappointed with HP's customer support process. The guy I talked to last night indicated that they had no evidence that I had purchased the extended warranty. I was prepared to believe that perhaps I received the warranty paperwork, and failed to register it--but subsequent events suggest that HP's internal accounting processes are in bad shape. After a long conversation, last night's service tech passed me over to his boss (with spoke passable English and seemed to understand me), who managed to look up my extended warranty from the order number when I purchased it, and said that he was both registering the extended warranty for me. He told me that it would take four to 24 hours for this registration information to propagate throughout the system, but that he was explaining this in the case notes.

He had me do a destructive restore (reformats the hard disk)--just to make sure it wasn't a virus. The hard disk diagnostic passes--but it still won't boot. He also said that he would call back between 9:00 AM and 10:00 AM this morning to see if there was still a problem. This guy at least spoke clear English, and understood me.

Anyway, no call back. So I called HP service--and they had no record that the extended warranty had been purchased, and nothing in the case notes to indicate that last night's technician had found proof of extended warranty. Worse, the guy this morning indicated that they could not find the order number at all! It wasn't a valid order number--even though it is on an email invoice from HP. This makes me wonder if I actually forgot to register the extended warranty, or if HP just lost the information.

So I had to make some more calls--and fortunately, I found the extended warranty paperwork, so I had a certificate number. The department of HP that handles this seems to be stocked with Canadians, so they spoke English. Finally, they are sending out a replacement hard drive--although the guy in that department was almost incomprehensible, and it was apparent that he wasn't having any easier time understanding me. I don't think that seven and four sound anything alike.

Machining Lessons: Forstner Bits vs. Drill Bits

I've been using Forstner bits to hog out cylindrical holes in Delrin for some time. Usually I need a flat bottom hole that is 1.715" diameter and 2.05" deep. My 1 5/8" Forstner bit in the drill press makes a 1.620" diameter hole--and with a little care, the drill press is accurate enough on depth that if I making three pieces, I end up with one that is 2.049" deep, another that is 2.056", and the third might be 2.051".

Then I put the workpiece onto the lathe, and use a boring tool to expand the hole diameter from 1.620" to 1.715". A boring tool is a very slow but very precise method of accomplishing this end--you certainly wouldn't want to use a boring tool to make the entire hole!

One of the difficulties with using the drill press is that getting the Forstner bit exactly centered in the workpiece isn't easy. Consequently, I start out by putting the Forstner bit in the lathe to make a perfectly centered hole 3/10" deep. (A lathe is good for making perfectly centered holes; you have to work at it to make one that isn't perfectly centered.) Now, when I put the workpiece in the drill press, I just have to lower the Forstner bit into that hole, and adjust the mill vise to match.

Now, here's the learning part. It turns out that Forstner bits, while they make a very precise circular hole, do most of their cutting at the edges of the bit, and very little at the front of the bit. (There is some cutting going on, but the close you to get to the center, apparently, the less force the blade exerts.) When you are using Forstner bits on wood, it doesn't much matter, because nearly all woods are so soft that the bit just goes right through.

When you are using Forstner bits on Delrin, however, which is far, far harder than wood, you discover that a large diameter Forstner bit takes a long time to cut through a solid workpiece. On the drill press, I can make a 1 5/8" diameter by 2" deep hole in Delrin, but it takes several minutes. If I tried to do this on the lathe, where there is much less power, I am not even sure that I could do it.

The trick to using a large diameter Forstner bit on Delrin is to start with a much smaller diameter bit. If I start with a 1/2" Forstner bit, it cuts down through Delrin very quickly. Then you move up to a 7/8" Forstner bit. This is mostly cutting at the edge of the hole--but there's a 1/2" void under the part of the bit that isn't doing much cutting anyway. This gradual enlargement of the diameter with progressively larger Forstner bits works well--but it is definitely a bit slow!

So I started experimenting yesterday with using twist drills. (If you didn't know that there are different kinds of drill bits, a twist drill is probably the only kind of drill bit that you know about. To my surprise, the twist drill is very recent--patented in 1861.) Twist drills do effectively all their cutting on the front of the bit. Compared to a Forstner bit of the same diameter, a twist drill is much faster.

There are some downsides to twist drills. They tend to be a bit less precise in where the hole ends up in your workpiece. This is why you always start with a pilot hole produced with a center drill.

Because most twist drills are pointed, they don't produce a completely flat bottom--so you may want to follow them up with a Forstner bit.

On the plus side, I discovered that where the lathe, because of its lack of power, required me to start with a 1/2" Forstner bit to have any hope of cutting a hole in a reasonable time in Delrin, I could put an 11/16" twist drill in the lathe, and cut through in about the same time.

What this means is that in the future, instead of using Forstner bits sized 1/2", then 7/8", then 1 5/8" on the lathe, then use the 1 5/8" Forstner bit on the drill press, I will be able to use some of my twist drills so large that they look like props from the old TV series Land of the Giants on the drill press to hog out the hole, then switch to the 1 5/8" Forstner bit to finish the excavation.

Another Black Columnist About the Jena 6

Erik Rush's World Net Daily column about the Jena 6 points out the manipulation going on by what he calls the "poverty pimps":
The facts

On Aug. 31, 2006, a black student at Jena High School sat in the shade of a tree frequented by white students at the school. Later, three nooses were found hanging from the tree.

Scott Windham, the school's principal, recommended expulsion of three white teens identified as the responsible parties, but was overruled by the school superintendent and board members, who (yes, idiotically) put the matter down as a "prank." The three students were given three-day suspensions.

Unsurprisingly, racial tensions flared at the school and in Jena that fall. On Nov. 30, 2006, part of the school was destroyed by a suspected arson fire. Other minor altercations and fistfights were reported; one black student was attacked at a party by white students.

On Dec. 4, 2006, a fight that broke out in the high school lunchroom between a white student, Justin Barker, and a black student. Barker was rendered unconscious, then kicked and stomped by a group of black students as he lay motionless. Five of the teens were later charged as adults with attempted second-degree murder. A sixth teen was charged as a juvenile.

Mychal Bell, one of the five, was convicted in June 2007 on a reduced charge: aggravated second-degree battery. He was to be sentenced this month, but on Sept. 14 an appeals court vacated the on the grounds that the charges should have been brought in juvenile court.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

John Edwards' Two Americas

Last presidential election, Senator John Edwards spent a lot of time talking about the "two Americas":
Today, under George W. Bush, there are two Americas, not one: One America that does the work, another America that reaps the reward. One America that pays the taxes, another America that gets the tax breaks. One America that will do anything to leave its children a better life, another America that never has to do a thing because its children are already set for life.
Yes, John Edwards would know a lot about the America "that reaps the reward... that never has to do a thing because its children are already set for life." From the January 26, 2007 Carolina Journal:
RALEIGH — Presidential candidate John Edwards and his family recently moved into what county tax officials say is the most valuable home in Orange County. The house, which includes a recreational building attached to the main living quarters, also is probably the largest in the county.

“The Edwardses’ residential property will likely have the highest tax value in the county,” Orange County Tax Assessor John Smith told Carolina Journal. He estimated that the tax value will exceed $6 million when the facility is completed.

The rambling structure sits in the middle of a 102-acre estate on Old Greensboro Road west of Chapel Hill. The heavily wooded site and winding driveway ensure that the home is not visible from the road. “No Trespassing” signs discourage passersby from venturing past the gate.


Knight approved the building plans that showed the Edwards home totaling 28,200 square feet of connected space. The main house is 10,400 square feet and has two garages. The recreation building, a red, barn-like building containing 15,600 square feet, is connected to the house by a closed-in and roofed structure of varying widths and elevations that totals 2,200 square feet.

The main house is all on one level except for a 600-square-foot bedroom and bath area above the guest garage.

The recreation building contains a basketball court, a squash court, two stages, a bedroom, kitchen, bathrooms, swimming pool, a four-story tower, and a room designated “John’s Lounge.”
Everyone needs a place to live. Unless you live in New York City, you need a car. I don't begrudge a person a nice place to live, if they can afford it. I also don't begrudge a person a nice car, if they can afford it. There is no clear dividing line between a necessary car and outrageous extravagance, or between an adequate house and a palace. But there are examples that are clearly the other side of that nebulous line--and when you spend much of your time delivering speeches about "Two Americas," while living like a Gilded Age robber baron, it is hard not to call John Edwards for what he is: a hypocrite.

If, instead of a six million dollar house, Edwards had settled for a modest million dollar home, he could put that five million dollars into a scholarship fund. With even modest skill, it would generate $350,000 a year in income forever. That would pay for 70 college students to receive $5000 a year in financial aid--enough to allow at least 70 kids who might otherwise not be able to go to college, to do so. Or provide catastrophic health insurance for at least 72 people a year. As I pointed out a few weeks back, if 1000 of America's billionaire and multimillionaire progressives each put in $100 million (and many of them could do so without any serious injury to their lifestyle), we could get a good start on creating basic health insurance for those uninsured Americans who can't afford it.

I've said it before, and I'm saying it again: the reason that America's wealthiest people support Democrats (Warren Buffett, for example, maxing his contributions to both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama) is not because they are concerned about the poor, but are too cheap to spend the money from their own bulging pockets--but are quite prepared to raise taxes on those of us who have to still work for a living. All this faux populism by billionaires seems to fool some people, but it sure isn't fooling me.

Marxian Reductionism

Marxian Reductionism

Reductionism is what happens when a complex, multifactorial problem gets reduced to a single explanation. I mentioned a few weeks back Addicted to War, a ridiculous example of Marxian reductionism that, because it is so dishonest and inaccurate, is now a textbook in San Francisco public schools. Addicted to War is addicted to the reductionistic claim that every U.S. war was caused by capitalist greed.

You can find reductionism in many different forms, of course. Marxists aren't the only ones that suffer this defect. Intellectuals (or at least people that assume that because they professors, that makes them intellectuals) seem to be especially prone to reductionism, perhaps because they are in love with ideas. A single explanation for everything is a very attractive idea.

I went through a phase in my 20s and early 30s where libertarian reductionism was intellectually very satisfying. As I studied history more, I discovered that even when a particular libertarian explanation was generally right in explaining historical events, it was very, very seldom 100% right. (Maybe these claims were never 100% right, but I'm not sure of that, and I'm trying to avoid reductionistic thinking about reductionism.)

Hence, the socialist idea that wars are always fought about capitalist greed was very popular in some circles at the start of the twentieth century. There were doubtless wars fought for that reason. But once this idea had grabbed hold of the brains of the intellectuals, everything had to fit that model: hence, Addicted to War.

I'm reading Saul Friedlaender's Nazi Germany and the Jews: Volume I, The Years of Persecution, 1933-1939, and he makes an interesting claim about the rather famous January 30, 1939 Reichstag speech by Adolf Hitler. Most people know of it for Hitler's insistence that the suffering of the Jews in Germany wasn't Germany's fault--he was ready to let the Western democracies that were complaining have all of Germany's Jews--but the Western democracies didn't want any more refugees. You can find that section of the speech quoted all over the Internet.

Friedlaender's remark that caught my eye, however, was this:
After referring to the American intervention against Germany during World War I, which, according to him, had been determined by purely capitalistic motives.... [p. 309]
This was a pretty widely held belief in some circles in America by the mid-1930s, especially after the Nye Committee's report blamed (with little evidence) U.S. intervention into World War I on American munition makers trying to protect their investments in loans to the British government. Too bad for Senator Nye (R-ND)--he moved from trying to blame U.S. involvement on munitions makers to trying to blame President Wilson (a Democrat) for misleading Congress about the reasons for the war--and as this February 10, 1936 Time magazine article points out, the Democratic majority eliminated the Nye Committee's funding. (This seems to be an executive summary of the Nye Committee report--not very persuasive.)

I've tried to find the exact language that Hitler used in that speech--but I can't seem to find the full text of it anywhere. It would be amusing (although perhaps not terribly useful or significant) to see the exact language that Hitler used, and see how similar it is to Addicted to War's claims.

Lube, Oil, Filter, and a Rat, Please

Lube, Oil, Filter, and a Mouse, Please

I took the Corvette in for an oil change at Wal-Mart, dropped it off--and then picked it up a couple of hours later. The service writer informed that when they opened the hood, they had a little surprise waiting for them--a snake curled around the warmth of the engine. And yes, it was still alive, and no, they decided that checking all the vital fluids did not include removing the snake.

I can't claim that I'm surprised. There are enough field mice that our cat Tater catches in the garage that I am not surprised that a snake would scurry in there as well. Now that the weather has cooled off (from summer heat to surprisingly cool fall days right on the autumnal equinox), I suspect that my hitchhiker curled up in the nice warm engine compartment some evening after I pulled into the garage.

I told my wife, and she insisted that we go out and take a look for the snake under the hood. By then, several hours had elapsed. Perhaps he left in pursuit of a less terrifying warm place to sleep; perhaps fell off as I was driving home.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Which James Hansen Was Right?

The 1971 version? Or the 2007 version? From September 21, 2007 Investors Business Daily:
Climate Change: Did NASA scientist James Hansen, the global warming alarmist in chief, once believe we were headed for . . . an ice age? An old Washington Post story indicates he did.

On July 9, 1971, the Post published a story headlined "U.S. Scientist Sees New Ice Age Coming." It told of a prediction by NASA and Columbia University scientist S.I. Rasool. The culprit: man's use of fossil fuels.

The Post reported that Rasool, writing in Science, argued that in "the next 50 years" fine dust that humans discharge into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuel will screen out so much of the sun's rays that the Earth's average temperature could fall by six degrees.

Sustained emissions over five to 10 years, Rasool claimed, "could be sufficient to trigger an ice age."

Aiding Rasool's research, the Post reported, was a "computer program developed by Dr. James Hansen," who was, according to his resume, a Columbia University research associate at the time.

So what about those greenhouse gases that man pumps into the skies? Weren't they worried about them causing a greenhouse effect that would heat the planet, as Hansen, Al Gore and a host of others so fervently believe today?

"They found no need to worry about the carbon dioxide fuel-burning puts in the atmosphere," the Post said in the story, which was spotted last week by Washington resident John Lockwood, who was doing research at the Library of Congress and alerted the Washington Times to his finding.

Hansen has some explaining to do. The public deserves to know how he was converted from an apparent believer in a coming ice age who had no worries about greenhouse gas emissions to a global warming fear monger.

This is a man, as Lockwood noted in his message to the Times' John McCaslin, who has called those skeptical of his global warming theory "court jesters." We wonder: What choice words did he have for those who were skeptical of the ice age theory in 1971?

People can change their positions based on new information or by taking a closer or more open-minded look at what is already known. There's nothing wrong with a reversal or modification of views as long as it is arrived at honestly.
And I guess you could ask the question: why should we assume that the guy that had it wrong in 1971 has it right today?

Friday, September 21, 2007

This Might Seem a Bit Extreme At First

Convicted felons may not possess firearms or ammunition--even a single round. The theory is that if you find a convicted felon with ammunition, he's probably not in possession of it for old times sake, or as a good luck charm, but as evidence that he has been in possession of a firearm recently, and is too careless to do a proper search of himself for ammo. From the September 21, 2007 Idaho Statesman:
A former Northside street gang member was sentenced Thursday in federal court to 32 months in prison for being a convicted felon in possession of a single .45 caliber round of ammunition.


After he completes his prison term, Mendoza will be on supervised release for three years, during which he may have no contact with any gang member or gang paraphernalia.

Mendoza was arrested after officers located one round of ammunition in his front pants pocket. He had previously been convicted of grand theft and possession of a controlled substance in Canyon County. Under federal law, it is illegal for a convicted felon to possess either a firearm or ammunition. This was Mendoza’s 13th adult criminal conviction.
This being Idaho, the first comment was complaining about the light sentence!

I have a few misgivings about the failure of federal law to distinguish between violent felonies and federal felonies such as turning back a car odometer, but Mendoza doesn't sound like someone who deserves much sympathy.

Preparing for President Nut Job's Address to Columbia

Great poster that you really should click here to see. Don't worry, it's worksafe, unless you work for Nazis, or some universities in the U.S.

Jewish, Maybe? Or Atheist?

Jewish, Maybe? Or Atheist?

Best of the Web
also points out to this article that either identifies a reporter too stupid to be trusted with a pen, or too wickedly satirical to stay in that job for long. From the September 19, 2007 New York Post:
September 19, 2007 -- A Queens teen was arrested yesterday after placing fliers in his teachers' mailboxes asking them to convert to Islam - then made threats once he was caught, authorities said.

Yaseen Chowdhury, 17, of Woodside, wrote the fliers himself and put them in the mailboxes at the Renaissance Charter School in Jackson Heights, sources said.

When confronted there about the fliers, he made unspecified verbal threats, according to the sources.


The student's religion was not immediately known.
What's your guess for why he was trying to get them to convert to Islam? Was he Jewish? Catholic? Atheist? Maybe Buddhist.

Do You Remember the Rupert Holmes Song "Escape"?

You remember--the guy who is bored "with his old lady" and responds to a personal ad--and guess who it turns out to be?

"If you like Pina Coladas
And getting caught in the rain
If you're not into yoga
If you have half a brain
If you'd like making love at midnight
In the dunes on the Cape
Then I'm the love that you've looked for
Write to me and escape."
Well, it actually happened. And the results were not anywhere near as romantic or sweet as the song. The tragic details are here.

Best of the Web
pointed me to this tragic little soap opera gone bad.

Why We Should Stop Electing Congresscritters

I occasionally find myself wondering, "Is the average American as crooked and sleazy as the average member of the House and Senate?" It seems hard to imagine.

There are aspects to the political process that either favor the morally handicapped, or that cause these deficiencies. There are days that I lean towards one explanation or the other.

Many years ago, a member of the California legislature, State Senator Alan Robbins, wrote an eloquent and powerful essay from his prison cell about the corrupting effects of raising money for campaigns. I wish that I could find that essay; he talked about how very few members of the California legislature survived their first re-election campaign without being either corrupted by the need to raise huge amounts of money (bribes disguised as campaign contributions), or find themselves supporting measures of which they disapproved, because they had to make to get that money. (Here's a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that explains a little of the background on the bribes that sent Robbins to the federal slammer.)

A few years earlier, the FBI had attempted to bribe a number of members of the California legislature and had no problem getting enough evidence to prosecute a number of them. Another member of the State Senate was tried (name escapes me at the moment), and some of his remarks to the undercover agents were played. "We'll have to run this through while Rose [Vuich] is out of the Capitol. She actually reads the bills!" and "Vuich isn't for sale." This was considered a remarkable situation--that a member of the state senate was not corrupt.

The shame of being revealed as an incorruptible member of the State Senate may have been too much for he; within a few weeks of these damning comments coming out, Vuich announced that she wasn't running for re-election. (After all, who is going to contribute to your campaign once they find out that they aren't getting anything for it?)

Anyway, here's the thought: instead of electing members of Congress and the state legislatures--which creates this enormous problem of bribes that pretend to be campaign contributions--why not just pick members at random from the registered voters of the district? (If anyone was randomly picked twice in a lifetime, I would demand an audit of the random selection process--and perhaps have that person start buying lottery tickets.) It's rather like being on a jury--except the pay is better.

Yes, we would probably end up with some people that aren't too smart, or too rational. Of course, we have that already. Rep. Lynne Woolsey (D-CA), for example. But I am pretty sure we couldn't do any worse than the current crop of corrupt and stupid sorts that tend to represent us in Congress.

Random selection doesn't prevent outright bribery, of course, but neither does the current system. The only good news is that outright bribery--especially if it involves people without a lot of experience being politicians--is a lot easier to spot and prosecute than "campaign contributions" being used to buy votes. If special interests want to persuade Congress to support some cause, they either have to start with a fresh batch of House members every two years (and 1/3 of the Senators every two years), or they have to persuade the entire population, in the hopes that they will be persuading the next year's Congresscritters.

My guess is that for at least some special interests, the costs of mass persuasion will be so high that some special interests may just give up. For others, they will keep up the effort, but they will be much less successful. I'll take my chances with random selection of Congresscritters--at least the moral caliber of our representatives will be improved.

Everything is For Sale on eBay

Everything is For Sale on eBay

An amusing remark from Kevin Richert's blog:
In the eBay economy, it seems, everything is up for bid.

Including toilet paper which, according to its sellers, came from the infamous Larry Craig stall at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport.

Which all goes to prove three immutable truths.

1. Never underestimate the free market's never-ending power to match demand with supply.

2. Never underestimate the power of the Craig story — which, as if weighted with concrete blocks, can always manage to sink a foot or two lower.

3. If P.T. Barnum were alive today, he'd be hawking junk on eBay.

A Couple Where Both Are Members of Congress...

in different countries! The September 21, 2007 Idaho Statesman has this article about how Rep. Jerry Weller (R-IL) is not running for re-election:
Republican U.S. Rep. Jerry Weller, recently named one of the most corrupt members of Congress by a watchdog group, will announce he will not seek an eighth term, a spokesman said Friday.

Weller was to make the announcement at a Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce luncheon, citing family reasons.

"I need to give my family the time needed to be a full-time father and husband," Weller said in a copy of his speech, provided to The Associated Press.

Weller's announcement comes amid a swell of scrutiny. A watchdog group recently declared him one of the most corrupt members of Congress. He's fighting a subpoena in a former colleague's bribery trial, and he faces criticism that he did not reveal to Congress the extent of Nicaraguan land purchases.
Well, good, he's giving some other Republican enough time to make a serious run for the seat. But here's where the story gets weird:
The Tribune then reported that Weller's wife, Guatemalan congresswoman Zury Rios de Weller, had set up a nonprofit corporation in Illinois whose board also included Jerry Weller's mother, brother and business associate.

That led to questions about whether Weller should report his wife's finances to Congress. He has claimed an exemption from the rule, saying he knows nothing about her economic situation and doesn't contribute to or benefit from it.

"My husband never would do something illegal," Zury Rios de Weller told the Guatemalan newspaper Prensa Libre this week.
Is that weird, or what? A member of our Congress is married to a member of the Guatemalan Congress. I suppose it could be worse--he could be married to a member of the Iranian Parliament.

Declining Support For Al-Qaeda

Simon over at Classical Values points to this September 18, 2007 New York Sun article about an al-Qaeda backer who has backed away:
A prominent Saudi cleric once praised by Osama bin Laden has published an open letter condemning Al Qaeda's violence.

In the long letter published on an Arabic Web site, Cleric Salman al-Awdah calls on Mr. bin Laden to end the killing of innocent Muslims and others in terrorist acts in Iraq and elsewhere around the world.

"How much blood has been spilt? How many innocent people, children, elderly, and women have been killed, dispersed, or evicted in the name of Al-Qa'ida?" the letter says. "My brother Usama Bin Ladin, the image of Islam today is not at its best."


Mr. al-Awdah is an independent cleric who was jailed for several years for criticizing the Saudi government's links to America. He toned down his criticism after his release from prison in 1999, although he reportedly promoted Iraqi resistance when American troops recaptured Fallujah from Iraqi insurgents in 2004.

In the letter, Mr. al-Awdah, who has condemned terrorism in the past, appears to distance himself from terrorist acts that investigators have said were inspired by his teachings. Investigators in the Madrid train bombings, for example, have reportedly said Mr. Al-Awdah's preaching may have emboldened the attackers.

Mr. al-Awdah asks, "Have we reduced Islam to a bullet or a rifle? Has the means become an end?"
The article goes on to quote the editor of international Arabic publication:
"Sheikh Salman al Ouda's distancing himself from Bin Laden at a time when those absolving themselves of Al Qaeda's leader have nothing to lose and no price to pay." Mr. Alhomayed wrote in an editorial published yesterday. "This comes at a time when no one is shedding any tears for the leader of Al Qaeda organization."
So perhaps al-Awdah is simply recognizing that al-Qaeda is in deep trouble, and is jumping off a sinking ship.

HR 2640 Amendments

It's in the Senate now, and as some worried, there are attempts being made to amend it--but not by the Democrats to add antigun stuff on it--but by Democrats adding stuff to make it easier for some people to carry guns. The Bitch Girls pointed me to this September 21, 2007 Wall Street Journal article that reminds us of the famous saying by Will Rogers, "I am not a member of an organized political party. I am a Democrat."
In the Virginia Tech case, the shooter was able to buy firearms in part because relevant court records weren't forwarded to the National Instant Criminal Background System, the data center that helps conduct background checks.

The NRA lent its support to the bill, and to protect its flank against rivals on the right, it also won new language that for the first time allows someone banned from possessing a gun to appeal at the state level to have those rights restored. Some gun-safety advocates criticized this concession, but the bigger problem turned out to be infighting among Democratic senators.

Mr. Leahy, who dislikes federal mandates, complained that his small state would be hard-pressed to meet the House deadlines for sharing information, and therefore risked being penalized.

But it wasn't until August that he advanced his package, which ran almost 50 pages more than the House bill and added provisions that split the law-enforcement community.

Both measures promise new federal money to update records while states face future aid cuts if they don't comply. Mr. Leahy's version has a richer "carrot" and gentler "stick," narrowing the records that must be shared and giving states twice as long before mandatory penalties can be imposed.

But the chairman then also reopened a fight with Mr. Kennedy by including amendments to an existing law that allows retired law-enforcement officers to carry concealed weapons across state lines.

Enacted in 2004, the Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act continues to meet resistance from states and cities, such as New York, as an intrusion on local control.

Mr. Leahy's proposed changes would make it easier for retired officers to get around these obstacles and also lower the years of service needed to qualify to carry concealed weapons from 15 to 10.

Pressing for the changes is the 325,000-member Fraternal Order of Police, a politically influential group that claims close ties to Mr. Leahy and his top staff. The FOP says it is only asking for "tweaks" to the current law. Mr. Leahy's office argues that as a former prosecutor he has a natural alliance with the police organization and has long been active on law-enforcement legislation.

Critics of the safety Act in the law-enforcement community point to the fact that Mr. Leahy's involvement in the issue grew after a brouhaha with the New York Post over whether the Democrat was obstructing the awarding of medals of valor to police and firemen killed on Sept. 11. Sen. Leahy angrily denied the charges, and after the FOP came to his aid, he took a higher profile role in support of the bill.

Why Isn't This Freedom of Speech?

I just saw on CNN that in a town near where the Jena 6 controversy is going on, the police pulled over a red pickup truck with nooses on it. Nooses in a tree was part of the racist provocation that liberals over here are now using to justify the racially-motivated beating of a white student that is why the Jena 6 were prosecuted.

My first reaction to someone doing something like this is: In a town currently filled with angry black people? That's crazy. I notice that the driver was charged with DUI--about the high level of intelligence that I would expect of someone who would drive a pickup truck around town with nooses on it.

Will the ACLU be defending the driver's right to freedom of expression? I mean, if nude dancing is protected, and burning the American flag is protected--why not nooses on your car? Or will liberals decide that racism trumps freedom of expression?

Of course, you know my take on it: freedom of speech (which is what the Constitution protects) is not the same as freedom of expression. There is a good pragmatic argument against laws that ban burning of the American flag. People that burn the American flag tend to reduce their political influence on others. But this does not mean that flag burning is protected speech within the meaning the Framers intended.

UPDATE: Oh yes, the ACLU is now arguing that the charges against Senator Larry "Happy Feet" Craig violate his freedom of speech. According to this September 20, 2007 Idaho Statesman article:
The ACLU filed its brief Monday, saying Minneapolis airport police violated Craig's constitutional right of free speech by charging him with disorderly conduct after arresting him in an airport men's room, where police say he solicited sex from an undercover officer.


Also, the remarks are "without substantive merit," the brief says, because the ACLU focused on free speech, and not Craig's other conduct: invading someone else's personal space in the most private of places, a bathroom stall.

The airport takes privacy in its restrooms seriously, according to the brief. Police started their undercover sting operation "on the heels of an incident in which a private citizen was seated in the stall, the individual next to him invaded the space of the adjacent stall and looked up the stall divider. The victim was so upset he waited for the defendant to come out of his stall and took him to a security checkpoint to call the police."
So, does freedom of speech cover all solicitations to perform some action, no matter how crude or vulgar, or where it takes place, as long as the action itself is lawful? It is completely lawful to have sex with a complete stranger. If you walk down the street, asking every person you meet to have sex, I suspect that you will find yourself arrested for disorderly conduct. Perhaps the ACLU would prefer to live in that kind of a world, where the last attempts at maintaining civility are gone.