Sunday, May 31, 2009

Broken Top, Behind Bend, Oregon

Broken Top, Behind Bend, Oregon

At least I think this is the volcano remnant that they call Broken Top.

Click to enlarge

Abortion And The Convention Against Torture

Abortion And The Convention Against Torture

Dave Kopel over at Volokh Conspiracy has a fascinating item about the U.N. Convention Against Torture and abortion--but not the connection that you might be thinking. It turns out that Nicaragua (under the Sandinistas, no less), prohibited abortion "even in cases of rape, incest or when the life of the mother was at stake." (And you thought that only right-wing Americans would even consider something that extreme.) And now the crowd at the U.N. charged with the Convention Against Torture is asserting that such a law violates the convention--because forcing a woman to give birth qualifies as torture.

My, how broadly that term "torture" seems to be construed these days! Listening to Christina Aguilera music; women interrogators touching Muslim prisoners. Okay, I'll buy that waterboarding is torture. But prohibiting abortion is torture--but aborting a fetus isn't torture (to the fetus)?

Forgive me if I don't get enthused about trusting the U.N. about much of anything.

Count On Liberals To Suppress Political Speech

Count On Liberals To Suppress Political Speech

From the May 29, 2009 Inside Higher Education:
Late last month, Brashier, a student at the Community College of Allegheny County, in Pennsylvania, created a three-page flier highlighting information about Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, a national gun-rights group with more than 38,000 members in chapters at college campuses across the country. The literature indicated that Brashier intended to form a chapter of the organization at Allegheny, and it included space for interested students to provide their contact information.
According to Brashier, she was called into the dean’s office on April 24 to discuss the brochures. Brashier said she was told that pamphlet distribution constituted solicitation, which is prohibited on the Allegheny campus.
“I retorted that it was not solicitation due to the fact that I am not attempting to ‘sell’ anything, and you answered that it was solicitation because I was trying to sell people on the idea of this organization,” Brashier wrote in her letter to the two deans of student development. “I answered that getting people to register to vote, or sign a petition would not be solicitation and you told me that this would also not be allowed on campus but only out on the street in front of the campus.”
Brashier said the deans also asked whether she owned a gun – to which Brashier replied that she does, but would not bring it on campus until the law barring weapons on campus is changed, as she believes it should be. The deans, Brashier said, stressed how it could be a “disaster” for the college to allow students to have guns on campus, and asked if she had considered alternative means of self defense. Brashier also reported that Dean Yvonne Burns told her the issue of guns on campus might be something Brashier wants to discuss, but it is not something the college wants to discuss. Finally, Brashier reported that Burns instructed her to cease all activities related to bringing Students for Concealed Carry on Campus to Allegheny.
I never cease to be amazed at how liberals are so willing to ignore the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of speech when it doesn't fit with their narrow worldview. Higher education today is among the most intolerant and fascist of all parts of American society, doubtless because liberals so utterly control it.

I'm Not Quite Sure That I Believe This

I'm Not Quite Sure That I Believe This

But it is California, where religious freedom at times only seems to extend to non-Judeo-Christian beliefs:
A San Diego pastor says county officials have told him he needs a permit to host a weekly Bible study in his home.

Pastor David Jones and his wife, Mary, were hosting the weekly study near their church, when they say they were visited by a county code enforcement officer. According to Dean Broyles, an attorney for the Joneses, the county official asked the pastor if they hosted a regular weekly meeting in their home, and if they prayed and said "Amen" and "Praise the Lord" at those meetings.

After replying in the affirmative to those inquiries, a subsequent citation notified the couple they were in violation of county regulations, should stop "religious assembly," and needed to apply for a "major use" permit to continue the gatherings -- a process that could cost several thousands of dollars.

Jones, his wife, and their attorney, Dean Broyles, were interviewed on the Fox News Channel. Broyles says the couple's rights have been violated.

"The government may not prohibit the free exercise of religion," says the attorney. "And I believe that our Founding Fathers would roll over in their graves if they saw that here in the year 2009 that a pastor and his wife are being told that they can't have a simple Bible study in their own home."
The article says that about 15 people attend this Bible study weekly--which would hardly seem to be enough traffic to justify permission from county government. (I could see if hundreds of people were showing every week in a residential neighborhood that there might be a legitimate question about a use permit.)

Maybe there is something else going on here that might explain the demand for a use permit. But if this is really just 15 people showing up every week, it doesn't make sense to require a use permit. Perhaps they should tell the county that they are getting together for an orgy--then there would be no question about it, since promiscuous sex is the one behavior that California government regards as fully protected.

Racial Politics

Racial Politics

I had high hopes that the election of a black man to the highest office in the land would mean that Americans could put racial politics behind them. Apparently not--the problem is getting worse. Members of the the New Black Panthers Party dressed in pseudo-military uniforms, carrying weapons, and using racial epithets, intimidated voters in Philadelphia at the last election as part of their effort to make sure that Obama got elected--and they will not be punished for it. From the May 29, 2009 Washington Times:
Justice Department political appointees overruled career lawyers and ended a civil complaint accusing three members of the New Black Panther Party for Self-Defense of wielding a nightstick and intimidating voters at a Philadelphia polling place last Election Day, according to documents and interviews.
The incident - which gained national attention when it was captured on videotape and distributed on YouTube - had prompted the government to sue the men, saying they violated the 1965 Voting Rights Act by scaring would-be voters with the weapon, racial slurs and military-style uniforms.
Career lawyers pursued the case for months, including obtaining an affidavit from a prominent 1960s civil rights activist who witnessed the confrontation and described it as "the most blatant form of voter intimidation" that he had seen, even during the voting rights crisis in Mississippi a half-century ago.
The career Justice lawyers were on the verge of securing sanctions against the men earlier this month when their superiors ordered them to reverse course, according to interviews and documents. The court had already entered a default judgment against the men on April 20.
A Justice Department spokesman on Thursday confirmed that the agency had dropped the case, dismissing two of the men from the lawsuit with no penalty and winning an order against the third man that simply prohibits him from bringing a weapon to a polling place in future elections.

What concerns me is that the Obama Administration seems to be playing both sides of the fence--simultaneously talking about a post-racial America, while taking actions that demonstrate a willingness to not just engage in subtle promotion of racial hatred, but ignoring the law when racism is directed at white people. Imagine if Klansmen had stood outside a polling place in the South wearing robes and hoods, and holding nooses, and making racially offensive remarks. Does anyone seriously doubt that there would have been prosecution?

If the Democrats insist on playing racial politics this blatantly, it is going to produce a backlash, of that I am sure. And then Democrats will insist that America is still a profoundly racist country--because of their best efforts to make that happen.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

It's All In The Choice of Endmill

It's All In The Choice of End Mill

I mentioned a few days ago the inability to take big cuts when milling, even with this new, rather powerful drill press vise that I was using. I had an inspiration, while driving back from Bend.

Until now, I was using a 3/4" diameter, 1 1/2" long two flute roughing mill to do the coarse excavation. Partly this was because a two flute mill is considered the better choice for aluminum and plastic, and partly because the diameter let me do a 1.5" wide section in just over two passes. The more I tried to visualize the method by which a two flute mill cuts, the more I began to wonder if a mill with more cutting surfaces might do to job better--like fine teeth on a saw blade work better on a hard surface than coarse teeth.

Sure enough, I pulled out a 3/8" diameter, four flute end mill called a "rougher"--and discovered that I could mill a .192" deep section in Delrin without any fighting at all. I can't take out as wide of a section at once, but being able to cut this deeply means one vertical movement, and then several passes to cut the 1.5" x .210" section. I suspect also that a larger diameter four flute end mill might also work just as well, and with less passes.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Back From Bend

Back From Bend

I like the people I work with, a lot. I enjoy what I am doing reasonably well. What I am learning (C#, .NET, SQL) will, in another 1 1/2 years, make me again employable in the Boise area. (Assuming that by then there are any jobs more advanced than hunting for food and "self-employed urban guerrilla.") But do I hate the commute.

At least with the top off the Corvette, when the temperature is in the 60s or 70s, it's pretty decent. I do have a peeling sunburn on my left arm and on my nose from the drive over there--long sleeves next time. (I was wearing a hat, but my nose sticks out far enough to be a problem.)

On the ride back, it took me 5 1/2 hours of driving from Bend to Horseshoe Bend--and I averaged 28.8 miles per gallon. One advantage of the Corvette over the Jaguar is that I can set the cruise control for 65 mph, and just leave it there the whole way. There were only a couple of places on the high mountain passes where I took it off cruise control--and even there, the Corvette corners well enough that it would certainly have gotten through, but with a bit more drama than I would prefer.

I stay on the side of an extinct volcano in Bend--Pilot Butte. (I suspect that the name is derived from its use by early airplane pilots as a landmark.) From the top, you have a spectacular view of snowcapped stratovolcanoes to the west of town.

Click to enlarge

Way off in the distance, I think, is Mount Jefferson.

Click to enlarge

Count On San Francisco To Make It...Diffferent

Count On San Francisco To Make It...Different

Even when they are doing something traditional. This May 29, 2009 San Francisco Chronicle story is about how even something as traditionally individual as hunting has to be turned into something collective:
It's 4:30 in the morning, and Nick Zigelbaum, bedecked in camouflage from head to toe, is surveying the pitch-black valley below through a pair of binoculars. Beside him is a .270-caliber Winchester rifle.

He is looking for wild boar, which feast at almond and alfalfa farms in the hills, then saunter down to the valley for a drink. "Basically, we're trying to catch them between their lunch and their dinner," he whispers.

Zigelbaum, 26, is a co-founder of the Bull Moose Hunting Society, a hunting club and wild game cooperative based in San Francisco. He and Nick Chaset, 27, launched a Web site a year ago to connect with other city folk eager to gain intimacy with the capture and slaughter of the animals they eat.

The society provides guidance through the hunting license process; help with equipment purchases (including a rifle); lessons in tracking and shooting game, cleaning and gutting a carcass in the field, and butchering meat in the kitchen.

This quest to recapture long-dormant predatory instincts has baited plenty of aspiring trappers and foodies in the Bay Area. At present, the group has 25 members - the limit until a new crop of hunters can be trained. Zigelbaum says about 50 others have contacted him about joining.

As an energy analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council and a program manager for a solar energy company, respectively, Zigelbaum and Chaset's primary goals, as outlined in The Society's mission statement, are to "leave no trace, take a clean shot, respect the animal, and be a part of nature."

I can't criticize this--at least it doesn't involve the government.

The more I think about this, the more it strikes me that this is a return to when our ancestors had to work together to hunt mastodons.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Proof That A Nobel Prize Isn't Enough

Proof That A Nobel Prize Isn't Enough

Obama's Secretary of Energy, Steven Chu, won the Nobel Prize in Physics some years ago. Alas, it doesn't seem like he has the knowledge required to do his job. From the May 27, 2009 Telegraph:

Obama's green guru calls for white roofs

President Obama's energy adviser has suggested all the world's roofs should be painted white as part of efforts to slow global warming.
You know, if w all lived in coastal California, or similar climates, this would make some sense. But guess what? We don't. Many Americans (and nearly all Canadians) live in places where it actually gets cold in winter. And a dark roof is what we call passive solar--because it absorbs the heat in fall and winter, and helps to warm up the house without using quite so much fossil fuel. Now, in California, it might well make sense that whatever was lost in winter would be more gained in reduced air conditioning bills in summer--but we don't all live in California.

I suppose that we could have huge work crews running around repainting all the roofs every spring and fall: white for summer, black for winter. But think of the carbon costs of that!

One of these days, an intelligent environmentalist is going to get put in charge, and we're going to work on an environmentally sound nuclear power system. When pigs fly.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Holocaust II: Coming Soon

Holocaust II: Coming Soon

This is a very disturbing piece by Dick Morris and Eileen McGann:

From Caroline Glick, deputy editor and op-ed writer for the Jerusalem Post, comes alarming news. An expert on Arab-Israeli relations with excellent sources deep inside Netanyahu's government, she reports that CIA chief Leon Panetta, who recently took time out from his day job (feuding with Nancy Pelosi) to travel to Israel "read the riot act" to the government warning against an attack on Iran.

More ominously, Glick reports (likely from sources high up in the Israeli government) that the Obama administration has all but accepted as irreversible and unavoidable fact that Iran will soon develop nuclear weapons. She writes, "...we have learned that the [Obama] administration has made its peace with Iran's nuclear aspirations. Senior administration officials acknowledge as much in off-record briefings. It is true, they say, that Iran may exploit its future talks with the US to run down the clock before they test a nuclear weapon. But, they add, if that happens, the US will simply have to live with a nuclear-armed mullocracy."

She goes on to write that the Obama administration is desperate to stop Israel from attacking Iran writing that "as far as the [Obama] administration is concerned, if Israel could just leave Iran's nuclear installations alone, Iran would behave itself." She notes that American officials would regard any harm to American interests that flowed from an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities as Israel's doing, not Iran's.

In classic Stockholm Syndrome fashion, the Obama administration is empathizing more with the Iranian leaders who are holding Israel hostage than with the nation that may be wiped off the map if Iran acquires the bomb.

Obama does, after all, represent the wing of the Democratic Party that regards Israel as the bad guy in the Middle East, the Palestinians as victims, and our pro-Israel policy as the cause of Muslim hatred of America. So it all makes sense that Obama would tell Israel that they need to learn to get along with Iran.

Now, there are several possible outcomes:

1. Iran launches a nuclear strike on Israel--a country that is so tiny that a relatively small number of nuclear weapons would make Israel cease to exist as a nation. The initial explosions would probably kill much of the population immediately, and much of the rest would die of aftereffects, or the inevitable slaughter by Hamas and Hezbollah.

2. Israel successfully intercepts at least part of the Iranian strike, and retaliates. This probably just means a few hundred thousand to a million Israelis dead, and probably millions to tens of millions of Iranians dead. The aftermath would likely be World War III, as Islamic cells and individual fanatics across the United States would respond with suicide attacks. Europe would probably be largely left out of this, because they will studiously refuse to take sides in such a matter.

3. Israel launches a pre-emptive strike against Iran to prevent Iran from developing nuclear capabilities. This May 24, 2009 AFP report indicates that 51% of Israelis already support such a pre-emptive strike, while the rest are still hoping that our government will somehow prevent this from becoming necessary.

4. Obama looks out for the interests of Middle East peace and America's strongest ally in the region, by making it clear to Iran that they drop their nuclear weapons program, or we'll let our snarling Doberman off its leash. This is obviously not very likely, since Obama's first loyalty seems to be to the anti-Semites that are such a large part of the Democratic Party.

This is a very disturbing situation developing, because Israel's very existence is being endangered by a man that received the votes of 80% of American Jews. Unfortunately, we have a very weird situation where American Jews seem to vote reflexively for Democrats--even when they are Democrats who are clearly hostile to Israel. David Bernstein over at Volokh Conspiracy pointed out a while back that much of this is driven by abortion rights--and that he suspects that it is actually a proxy for something else:
The polls show that some absurdly high percentage of Jews believe in strong abortion rights. And my anecdotal experience suggests that many Jews do consider opposition to abortion rights a dealbreaker for political candidates, elevating it about other considerations.

This is certainly not a question of Jewish tradition. Jewish law is not nearly as hostile to abortion as, say, Catholicism, but it is not exactly encouraged, either.

So why are Jews--even elderly Jews who live in states where abortion is protected by the political process--so concerned with the issue?

My guess is that they see abortion rights as a heuristic for "a (politically) secular society." They know that most political opposition to abortion rights comes from (Christian) religious sources, and so they associate such opposition with a mixing of religion and state, something that most American Jews are very much against.

I suspect that Professor Bernstein is correct about this--and what makes this especially weird is that American evangelicals are pro-Israel to a fault--prepared to make excuses for actions by the Israeli government that deserve a friend's corrective criticism. Yet it is becoming apparent that the preferred choice of American Jews in the last election is getting ready to let Israel be pushed into a corner from which the outcome is likely to be millions of dead, not just Israelis, but Iranians (many of whom do not support the mullah), Palestinians (who will be downwind of the fallout), Jordanians, and Syrians. The larger conflagration that results could easily cause tens of millions of dead.

When I reviewed Robert Ferrigno's Prayers for the Assassin in January of 2006, I expressed my belief that there were parts of the future that it envisioned that just didn't seem plausible. It's amazing how much has changed in just three years: a man named Barack Hussein Obama is in the White House--and he has apparently told Israel that we're not going to use military force to prevent a genocidal maniac from getting a nuclear weapon--and they aren't allowed to do so, either.

Time to get my radiation survey meter recertified.

More Reminders Of Where Messing With Free Markets Takes You

More Reminders Of Where Messing With Free Markets Takes You

I've expressed my concern about ethanol as fuel (at least, corn-derived ethanol as fuel) before. The May 14, 2009 Business Week has an article about an increase in problems associated with gasoline with too much ethanol in it:
Scott Morrison is the owner of the City Garage chain in North Texas and he related the story of his technical director's run-in with ethanol; in December he filled up his E85 Flex Fuel Chevy Suburban at the Exxon station in Ovilla, just south of Dallas. His Suburban died on the spot, because even an E85-equipped vehicle will not run on the 100% pure ethanol that Exxon station was pumping that day. In that case it was not Exxon's fault but a mistake at the distribution center, and Exxon (XOM) quickly made good for the cost of repairs.

On Jan. 16 of this year, Lexus ordered a massive recall of certain 2006 to 2008 models, including the GS Series, IS and LS sedans. According to the recall notice, the problem is that "Ethanol fuels with low moisture content will corrode the internal surface of the fuel rails." In layman's terms, ethanol causes pinpoint leaks in the fuel system; when leaking fuel catches your engine on fire, that's an exciting way to have your insurance company buy your Lexus. Using ethanol will cost Toyota (TM) untold millions.
The article claims that the mass media are ignoring the problem--and I can't find a lot of other coverage of the problem.

The case for ethanol as fuel was to reduce dependence on foreign oil; the actual reason that the federal government went so overboard on the tax credits was to satisfy the agricultural lobby. Like many of these other crazy interferences in the free market, there is always:

1. The good, socially responsible reason to do this.

2. The greedy, special interest reason to do this.

3. The expected positive benefit. Sometimes this actually comes true, although seldom as large a benefit as was promised.

4. The completely unexpected result. If we are lucky, it's something as minor as engine fires. Sometimes, it's the destruction of a whole industry, with the jobs that go with it.

The cap-and-trade idiocy that Democrats are shoving through Congress right now is going to be the same set of problems, and for the same set of reasons.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Mostly Goofing Around

Mostly Goofing Around

I'm playing with the video capture of this webcam--and thinking about offering the Constitutional History class that I taught at Boise State University here on video. Okay, no college credits--but also no exams, and it will cost whatever people are prepared to contribute.

I promise: this won't be PajamasLectures. I'll wear something more presentable than a bathrobe, and edit in pictures and documents into the video!

Click here to download the video as MPG

Click here to download the video as WMV

Startling. Amazing. What Weirdness Will Happen Next At Target?

Startling. Amazing. What Weirdness Will Happen Next At Target?

I went into Target today to buy some clothes, and I found socks manufactured somewhere that still has me in shock. "Made in USA." And they weren't a lot more expensive than the ones made in China! Who knows what will happen next?

UPDATE: A reader reports going into a Wal-Mart to buy inexpensive sleeping bags for a camping trip for kids. The Coleman brand sleeping bags, of course, were made in China. But the house brand, Ozark Trail, was made in USA, $4 cheaper--and upon careful inspection, was better made than the Chinese-made Coleman brand.

On Skype?

On Skype?

I've got a webcam, and I want to verify functionality. If you are one of my readers, and you have a Skype account, let me know, and I'll give it a try.

UPDATE: Thanks, someone is helping me resolve the mystery. It's almost like the webcam stopped working shortly after I blogged this.

UPDATE 2: The problem with having too many USB connected devices close together is that it is very easy to plug the wrong one in. And of course, then the webcame is invisible, but this seems to be working now. I feel so 21st century being able to do video conferencing like this.

Need Webcam Recommendations

Need Webcam Recommendations

I need a webcam useful for reasonably high quality video transmission (so that someone can record my end of the conversation for an interview). Any recommendations or disrecommendations? I would prefer below $100, which seems to give plenty of 3 MP and even 5 MP cameras--although my internet connection is sufficiently slow (800 kilobits/second) that they won't be able to use full frame rate at anything but a very tiny size (unless the compression algorithms have improved a lot since I was actively involved in this stuff some years back).

And get those to me pronto, since I need to buy the camera by tomorrow at noon.

UPDATE: Got one.

Techniques For Coarse Vertical Milling?

Techniques For Coarse Vertical Milling?

I've got a question that some of my clever readers might be able to answer: is there a coarse and powerful equivalent of a vertical mill? Here's the problem: the Sherline vertical mill, even with a stronger vise, still doesn't like taking more than about .050" of Delrin at a cut. I'm making cuts of about .210" deep. If I could find some way to take off .150"-.175" with a powerful but perhaps not terribly accurate tool, then I could use the vertical mill to do the rest.

I've tried to use a bandsaw for this and I'm not impressed with results, partly because a bandsaw intended for wood tends to flex when you ask it to cut something as strong as Delrin. I need a way to rapidly remove rectangles of Delrin.

The temptation is strong to use a drill press, and move the material through an end mill held in the drill press. This doesn't really work because drill presses aren't designed to handle the sideways load, and the spindle detaches after a couple of minutes. (And it's probably not good for it, anyway.)

Is there some other common tool that can be used for this operation? I've experimented with a router, but if you use it for anything but a pretty big piece of wood, it throws the workpiece to the far side of the garage with great enthusiasm! (Be glad that you weren't at the far side of the garage.)

I suspect that a dado blade on a table saw might be way to do this, although I've never used a dado blade before. I suspect that if I used a 1/4" wide dado blade, and lowered it far enough that only about .1875" of it was exposed, I could use a fence on the table saw to make repeated passes through it. For the 1.5" x 2.62" x .1875" section that I need to remove, this would be six passes, each of them only a few seconds long. Then I could complete the process quickly and precisely on the vertical mill.

Inflation Strategies

Inflation Strategies

It has been so long since I worried about galloping inflation--and I had so little in the way of assets the last time this was an issue--I find myself wondering how to cope with the near future. Obama and the Democrats have started a deficit spending frenzy that makes the last Republican controlled Congresses look responsible.

I mentioned almost three months ago that there are signs that the Fed is inflating the money supply to try and revive the economy--and the only reason that it isn't causing price inflation yet is that the velocity of money is quite low, as everyone has been socking money away into savings, instead of spending it.

At some point, the chickens are going to come home to roost on this, and when they do, we're going to see some serious inflation. Inflation benefits people who have fixed rate loans, especially long fixed rate loans, and no significant dollar denominated assets. For those who have lived in the same house for a number of years, doing a refinance at current fixed rates would be a good thing; I rather doubt that it would be worthwhile for us, since I suspect that 80% of current appraised value would be quite disappointing compared to our current loan.

On the investing side, variable rate or other forms of inflation protected bonds are probably a pretty decent deal, and I do own some of those. But what else makes sense? The great German hyperinflation of the 1920s was extreme, but in that case, people demanded to be paid twice a day, and then ran out and bought whatever tangible goods they could immediately buy with the noon paycheck, so that they could trade those goods for what they really needed at the end of the day.

That was an absurd hyperinflation, one that I don't think that even Obama's wrecking crew is stupid enough to engineer. The same principles apply, however, to other inflationary spirals.

Keep in mind that there are two different concerns here: inflation hedges, and true investments. An inflation hedge is something that you buy with the hope that you it won't dwindle in value because of the inflation. If you have $1,000 in the bank, and we get a galloping inflation of 25% a year, at the end of two years, even if you earned 10% interest per annum on your deposit, will still be worth 80% of what it was at the start of the inflation. (And that's assuming that your interest isn't taxed, because your job disappears during the inflationary chaos.)

The problem for inflation hedges is that:

1. The transaction costs of the tangible goods need to be small. If it you spend $100 to buy $1,000 worth of goods, you are 10% down right there.

2. The goods should not depreciate over time. So automobiles (unless you actually are going to use them, and need them in the interim) are not a particularly good choice.

3. It's important that whatever you buy as an inflation hedge doesn't have some sort of irrational valuation because of emotions. Yes, Ferraris and Corvettes are examples. So is gold. The market value of these items can be inflated beyond their rational value, and emotion can make the market value deflate suddenly, too. Buying lumps of osmium might be an example of a non-emotionally valued item. (Most people don't even know what osmium is--an essential component of ball point pens.) This website is quoting a spread of $360-$400 per ounce, which seems oddly cheap compared to gold, but this may be a sign of the irrational nature of gold buying.

4. It would be good for the commodity to be relatively easy to transport, if you had to hide it or carry it with you. (Advantage of osmium over ammunition.)

Investments, however, are a harder problem. What investments, historically, have kept ahead of inflation? I don't know.

UPDATE: A reader tells me that buying U.S. Senators is the best investment of all. Agreed, but they are a bit out of my price range. Perhaps if a few hundred of us kicked in $1000 each, and agreed to share control over his voting digit.

This Is The Sort of Story That Makes My Blood Boil

This Is The Sort of Story That Makes My Blood Boil

The Civilian Gun Self-Defense Blog frequently runs news stories like this one, involving armed robbers who get shot to death by their victims. And not too surprisingly, the robbers are sometimes black, the victims white. What makes my blood boil is when a person who is defending himself and his fellow employees from a highly organized, planned violent armed robbery gets called a racist for doing so. First, the robbery itself, from the May 22, 2009 Oklahoma City Oklahoman:
Jerome Ersland was back at work Thursday filling prescriptions and hoping that by taking the life of a 16-year-old boy two days earlier, he had saved others.
Rubbing an oversized bandage on his left forearm, where he said he was grazed by a robber’s bullet, Ersland related details of what he said was a highly organized hit on the Reliable Discount Pharmacy.
"I just regret anybody would get killed,” Ersland said. "But if I wouldn’t have been here, there would have been three people killed — the other pharmacist and the two techs.”

After the pharmacy near SW 59 and Pennsylvania was robbed two years ago, the owner installed new security measures to try to make sure his employees would never again be forced to a back room and pistol-whipped.
"We have a very good security system,” Ersland said, motioning to the magnetic door locks that won’t let anyone in or out of the store without permission. "The door locks, and they (robbers) knew that. They had cased it because they knew exactly what time to hit us when we’d have all of our narcotics out and our money out.”
About 10 minutes before 6 p.m., Ersland said, two robbers wearing ski masks waited for someone to leave the pharmacy and then grabbed the open door and threw down a board to stop the door from closing.
The robbers went in cursing and yelling, ordering employees to give them money and drugs, Ersland said.
Two women who were working behind the counter ran for a back room where they would be safe, but Ersland said he couldn’t run. Ersland said he’s a veteran with disabilities from wounds he received in Operation Desert Storm, wears a cumbersome back brace and just had his latest back surgery six weeks ago.
"All of a sudden, they started shooting,” he said. "They were attempting to kill me, but they didn’t know I had a gun. They said, ‘You’re gonna die.’ That’s when one of them shot at me, and that’s when he got my hand.”
Ersland said he was thrown against a wall, but managed to go for the semiautomatic in his pocket.
"And that’s when I started defending myself,” he said. "The first shot got him in the head, and that slowed him down so I could get my other gun.”
But as one robber hit the floor, Ersland said, a bullet from the other robber whizzed past his ear.
The pharmacist said he then got his second gun from a nearby drawer, a Taurus "Judge.”
After he had the big gun, Ersland said, the second robber ran.
But as he started to chase after the second robber, Ersland said, he looked back to see the 16-year-old he had shot in the head getting up again. Ersland said he then emptied the Kel-Tec .380 into the boy’s chest as he kept going after the second robber.
"I went after the other guy, but he was real fast and I’m crippled,” Ersland said.
Outside the pharmacy, he said he saw what he thought was a third black male in a car with the engine running and reaching for what appeared to be a shotgun.
"I pulled out my ‘Judge’ and pointed it right between his eyes and he floored it,” Ersland said.
This was not a misunderstanding. Gee, what were they planning to do? The ski masks alone would give you a clue.

This was not an unlawful overreaction, like the Korean shopkeeper in Los Angeles some years ago who shot to death a black teenager who shoplifted something from the store. This was a carefully planned robbery by a group of heavily armed teenaged criminals.

And the response of the community?

"I just regret anybody would get killed,” Ersland said. "But if I wouldn’t have been here, there would have been three people killed — the other pharmacist and the two techs.”

He also recalls the angry voices of people who gathered outside the pharmacy Tuesday night, shouting that he was a racist who unnecessarily took a life of the Seeworth Academy charter school student, Antwun Parker.

"There were a lot of black people gathered out there yelling and everything at my boss,” Ersland said.
That makes my blood boil. Does anyone seriously think that a group of similarly determined white robbers would not have received the same response? I keep hoping that American electing a black man to the highest office in the land would stop this lame attempt at turning every criminal into a victim of racism. But apparently not.

The race card has been played so many times where it simply does not apply that I no longer pay any attention to it. And there are probably times when race really is an issue. But this is the type of behavior by some members of the black community that makes me just yawn now when I hear the accusation.

UPDATE: From the May 27, 2009 Oklahoma City Oklahoman:
The charge alleges Ersland shot Antwun Parker, 16, while he was incapacitated and lying on his back. Ersland’s account of the incident doesn’t match the video or the evidence collected at the scene, according to the affidavit written by Oklahoma City Police Detective David Jacobson.

Parker was shot once in the head and five times in the stomach area. The autopsy found Parker was still alive after the head shot and died from the stomach wounds.
The surveillance video does seem to confirm that while the first shot was in self-defense, subsequent shots were not even close to being in self-defense.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Make That 39 States

Make That 39 States

Nevada, has had a shall issue concealed carry permit law since 2001. While they issued permits to non-residents, the requirement that the mandatory class be conducted in Nevada made it something of a nuisance for non-residents. Even though there are small Nevada cities just across the border from Idaho (and which exist for one reason alone: gambling), the mandatory class wasn't ever offered in those small cities.

However: Nevada now recognizes the concealed carry permits of several other states, including one that I have: Florida. Very nice--no more need to unload when I reach the border.

This takes me to the point where my six there are now 39 states where I can carry concealed. And strictly speaking, I can carry openly in Wisconsin.

Obama As Mafioso

The Obama Administration As Mafioso

That was a sweetheart deal that the the UAW, an unsecured creditor, got on the Chrysler restructuring; they ended up with 55% of the company, while secured creditors (in law, higher up on the food chain) received 29% of the value of their bonds. And look at some of who suffered from the Thug-in-Chief being on the side of the UAW, sidestepping existing bankruptcy law. From the May 21, 2009 Wall Street Journal:

Indiana Treasurer Richard Mourdock revealed this week that his state's police and teacher pension funds have lost millions of dollars in the Chrysler "restructuring." Indiana's State Police Fund and Major Moves Construction Fund, which finances roads and bridges, together lost more than $1 million. And the Teacher's Retirement Fund "suffered, at a minimum, a loss of $4.6 million due to the action of the Federal government," reports Mr. Mourdock.

Far from being speculators, these funds represent retired public employees, including cops and teachers. The funds paid a premium to buy "secured" status, only to discover that they were politically outranked by the United Auto Workers in the White House hierarchy.

"In the past, to be 'secured' meant an investor was 'first in line' in the event of a bankruptcy and 'non-secured' creditors would receive value after secured-creditors were paid," Mr. Mourdock says. "In the Chrysler bankruptcy, however, secured creditors received $.29 on the dollar even as non-secured creditors received higher values and ended up with a 55% ownership of the new company, which is fundamentally wrong and a dangerous precedent to the capital markets."

Not surprisingly, Mourdock is no longer investing public funds in similar bonds where the prospect of political interference with the process may injure the bondholders. Obama and his thugs seem to be a curious mixture of progressive rhetoric and better spoken organized criminals. I sure hope that all those wealthy people who voted for him just to provie how unracist they were have learned their lesson.

This Is Beginning To Look Like Enemy Action

This Is Beginning To Look Like Enemy Action

In one of Ian Fleming's novels, we learn that, "Once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, three times is enemy action." I am beginning to wonder who Barack Hussein Obama really works for--because he is doing things that our enemies would do. For example, the actions of Democrats in Congress and Obama are endangering the sovereign rating of U.S. Treasury bonds.

If you don't know what that means, let me explain. When a corporation or government sells bonds, they are borrowing money from those who buy the bonds. Is there some risk that a corporation or government will default on those bonds? Well, sure. Joe's Five And Dime Corporation may well go under during the 30 year duration of the bonds that they issue. Certain governments (especially in the Third World) aren't particularly trustworthy.

The U.S. government, however, under the wise leadership of Alexander Hamilton, and the responsible leadership, both Democrat and Republican ever since, became such a trustworthy entity that it has what is called a sovereign rating--meaning, that any circumstances under which the U.S. Treasury defaults, you won't much care about bonds. You'll be more concerned about having a stockpile of canned food and ammo. But that couldn't happen. It just couldn't. Even the most deranged liberals that have run our government knew full well that a sovereign rating means that our government gets to borrow at the lowest rates possible--and that you can't just blithely throw away something that valuable.

Until now. This isn't a short-term crisis; the prospect that our government is no longer run by responsible adults is going to have a destructive effect on Treasury yields for a long time--even if our credit rating isn't actually downgraded. The realization that the adults are no longer in charge is that destructive.

Lots of people rely on Treasury bonds. They are considered the lowest risk investment imaginable. This is what lots of retirees rely upon. This is what pension funds invest their money in. This is where charitable organizations and educatonal institutions park money. Destroying the bond rating of the U.S. ends up destroying the resources of lots of people who aren't even particularly wealthy.

Now, if there was a functioning Republican Party, they would be running television ads right now saying, "Look where your hero has taken us--to a point where he is destroying the wealth that you are relying upon for retirement." But the national Republican Party doesn't have the intelligence of a squash.

UPDATE: The more I think about that news story--it may be time to start stockpiling canned food and ammunition. Especially ammunition that can be used to put food on the table. I'm not a hunter, but with these raving idiots (or worse) running the show, there might well be reason to become one in a year or two.

It's still barely possible that the masses will stop playing with their iPods and Blackberries when they lose their jobs, and suddenly go, "What the heck happened?" But I'm impressed how little attention much of the population seems to be paying, until the crisis is fully at hand--and impossible to avoid.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Marching Morons Argument Against Big Government

The Marching Morons Argument Against Big Government

There's a great science fiction story from the 1950s about a future where really stupid people have outreproduced the smarter half of the bell curve--and the average IQ, measured on today's scale, has plummeted to about 60. (It is titled, appropriately enough, "The Marching Morons.") As I look back on that story now, its depiction of degraded, almost pornographic advertising and moronic television shows starts to look surprisingly...familiar. "Put it in the tomorrow file," to quote from one of my favorite dystopian science fiction novel.

Ilya Somin has often argued over at Volokh Conspiracy that the general public is rationally ignorant of public policy issues. By this, he means that even if they understood the issues--what influence can they have on our government making decisions? And here he points to a disturbing new survey that finds THE JEWS are responsible! And this isn't in some ignorant place where they wear their turbans wound too tight, but in America:
Political scientists Neil Malhotra and Yotam Margalit have an article describing survey data showing that some 25% of [non-Jewish] Americans believe that "the Jews" deserve at least "a moderate amount" or "a great deal" of blame for the current economic crisis. Some 32% of self-identified Democrats and 18% of Republicans take that view. Similar results were obtained in a recent survey of opinion in several European nations.
And yes, you read that correctly--Democrats are almost twice as likely to blame "the Jews" for this as Republicans. And the Democrats call us bigots?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Throwing Gun Control Advocates Under The Bus

Throwing Gun Control Advocates Under The Bus

It appears that Democrats in Congress have finally decided to throw gun control advocates under the bus--having finally figured out that upsetting gun owners risks losing them control of Congress in 2010. (I wish that concern about upsetting taxpayers figured so strongly in their calculations.) Not only did Nancy Pelosi (D-Derangedland) tell Obama to back off on assault weapon bans, but according to this May 19, 2009 New York Times article, Congress is going to implement--and even a bit more strongly--a last minute effort by the Bush Administration to allow concealed carry in national parks:
To the frustration and discouragement of many Democrats, House and Senate lawmakers and aides say it now appears likely that President Obama will this week sign into law a provision allowing visitors to national parks and refuges to carry loaded and concealed weapons.

The White House is lukewarm at best on the gun provision, which was added to a popular measure imposing new rules on credit card companies. But the Democrats who now control both Congress and the White House appear ready to allow it to survive rather than derail a consumer-friendly credit card measure that Mr. Obama is eager to sign as Congress heads off for a Memorial Day recess.

“Timing is everything in politics,” said Senator Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma and the champion of the gun proposal.

I doubt that this will be in effect soon enough for my upcoming visit to the Grand Canyon, but there's no dangerous wildlife there that would cause me to carry a gun (unlike Yellowstone).

Wasting Resources on the Border

Wasting Resources on the Border

The May 18, 2009 Dallas Morning News reports on the efforts to stop the flow of guns southward--and what a waste of energy it is:

This is what the Obama administration's new commitment to help Mexico fight its drug cartels looks like.
President Barack Obama this spring promised his Mexican counterpart, Felipe Calderón, that the U.S. would fight two of the biggest contributions U.S. residents make to drug cartels: cash and weapons. The latter is hard to come by in Mexico.
For the past five weeks, hundreds of agents participating in a newly intensified $95 million outbound inspection program have been stepping into southbound traffic lanes and stopping suspicious-looking cars and trucks.
Associated Press reporters fanned out to the busiest crossings along the Mexican border – Laredo and El Paso; Nogales, Ariz.; and San Diego – to see how effective the inspections are.
The findings? Wads of U.S. currency headed for Mexico, wedged into car doors, stuffed under mattresses, taped onto torsos, were sniffed out by dogs, seized by agents and locked away for possible investigations. No guns were found as the reporters watched; they rarely are.
"I do not believe we can even make a dent in [southbound smuggling] because that assumes the cartels are complete idiots, which they're not. Why in the world would they try to smuggle weapons and currency through a checkpoint when there are so many other options?" said Border Patrol Agent T.J. Bonner, president of the agents' union.

The wads of cash being seized are, very likely, going to the drug cartels, as payment for drugs smuggled north. To the extent that this effort reduces money received by the drug cartels, it may make a dent in their ability to buy weapons--but we already know that most of the weapons aren't coming from the U.S.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Angels & Demons & Cowardice

Angels & Demons & Cowardice

There's a commentary by Kyle Smith over at PajamasMedia pointing out that Ron Howard's adaptation of Dan Brown's Angels & Demons de-Muslimed the lead bad guy--and in the process, made hm far less interesting of a character. Smith ascribes this to the Political Correctness that now runs Hollyweird. We saw something of the same thing when Tom Clancy's The Sum Of All Fears was turned into a movie--and the Islamic terrorists of the novel are turned into Russian nationalists.

Look, if Hollyweird is concerned about demonizing Muslims, that's legitimate. But take a look at the second season of 24. It had Muslim terrorists; it had Muslims who were not terrorists--and it wasn't done in a preachy or clumsy way. But anyone making a film about current events who simply insists that the bad guys will never be Muslims (as Hollyweird now apparently believes it is required to do) might as well pretend that the greatest danger to Americans today is rabid leprechauns.

A number of people have suggested that Hollyweird is operating on a very obvious model: if you insult Islam, you get stabbed to death (like Theo Van Gogh), or have to go into hiding (like Salman Rushdie, the author of The Satanic Verses), or just accept the possibility that you may get to make the real life version of The Thing That Couldn't Die (1958). (Except that once detached, your head won't stay alive for hundreds of years.) But I think there are two much more direct explanations:

1. Hollyweird wasn't listening to Bush, and imagined that Bush declared war on Islam--even though Bush was very careful to emphasize that our war was with terrorists, not Islam. Therefore, since Bush is the enemy of Hollyweird, and Islam is the enemy of Bush, Islam must be the friend of Hollyweird.

2. I understand that Hollyweird is having trouble finding traditional sources of movie financing--and that even some very well known directors are having to go overseas to raise money. I wonder where some of that money is coming from--and if there are strings attached, or perhaps directors are self-censoring because they don't want to offend the puppet masters.

UPDATE: A reader points out that because of the release date of The Sum of All Fears, the script was almost certainly completed well before 9/11, and so it could not have been the theory I espouse above.

Hands Off My Soda!

Hands Off My Soda!

Here's an article that I couldn't sell to PajamasMedia. Alas, there aren't really any paying conservative magazines anymore.

Hands Off My Soda!

Many years ago, I recall a relatively sympathetic article about Ralph Nader and his then current campaign to get Americans to stop buying soft drinks. They were, Nader insisted, an expensive way to drink water. He even had a policy prohibiting his employees from drinking soft drinks at the office. At the time, H. L. Mencken’s funny, and not terribly accurate definition of a Puritan came to mind: “A person who lives in dread fear that someone, somewhere, is having a good time.”

No one would ever have accused Bill Clinton of that—but I am beginning to worry about the Democratic Party of Comrade Obama. The May 12, 2009 Wall Street Journal reports that “Senate leaders are considering new federal taxes on soda and other sugary drinks to help pay for an overhaul of the nation's health-care system.” The motivation isn’t just money; the article quotes “Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest” a Ralph Nader affiliate, that, “Soda is clearly one of the most harmful products in the food supply, and it's something government should discourage the consumption of.” Gadzooks! I thought it was beautifully marbled steaks, or Big Macs, or hot fudge sundaes!

Now, if you believe that the job of the government is to help us poor benighted peasants make better choices, then I suppose that this makes a bit of sense. And you don’t have to be a flaming liberal to believe that if there are social costs associated with a product or activity, taxing it to defray some of those costs makes sense. That’s what “sin taxes” have traditionally done. Tobacco taxes recover some of the costs that the government puts out on cancer treatment and oxygen tanks for those with emphysema. Similarly, we use alcohol taxes to cover criminal justice and welfare system costs imposed by drunks and alcoholics. Handguns, for many years, have been subject to a federal excise tax for the same reason—to defray some of the costs of handgun crime.

I can’t complain too strongly about the idea behind this—but I would like to see a bit more consistency in how the government decides which sins are going to get taxed. There are lots of habits out there that contribute to our collective poor health, and thus, that deserve to be taxed or discouraged.

In some cases, the government is already working very hard to discourage those behaviors. Crack, cocaine, heroin, meth: all bad things, all unlawful, and all theoretically taxed. The taxation was part of how Congress found authority to regulate intrastate commerce during the Progressive Era—and they used the same trick for machine guns, starting with the National Firearms Act of 1934.

Part of my concern, however, is that there are some bad habits with enormous health care costs that I have this odd sensation the Democrats aren’t going to do much to tax or otherwise discourage. Unprotected promiscuous sex, especially with prostitutes, increases the risk of transmitting AIDS. Promiscuous unprotected anal sex is even more risky. While it doesn’t get a great deal of attention anymore, the problem is still huge, and costly—perhaps even more so today, now that large numbers of the HIV+ are living longer lives, consuming very expensive multidrug treatments.

Now, I recognize that from a practical standpoint, it’s easier to tax soda than to tax unprotected anonymous anal sex. Can you imagine being the poor GS-9 responsible for pounding on a bathroom stall? “Excuse me, gentlemen, I’m from the Department of Health & Human Services, Health Care Costs Mitigation Division, AIDS Agency, Unprotected Anal Sex Desk. Before you get started, could you let me make sure that you have a condom on?” Long pause. “Don’t mind me, 48 CFR 1289 requires me to verify that it remains on throughout the process, or I have to assess you $4.50 in health care tax.”

Obviously, I don’t want a government that intrusive. A government big enough to give you everything you want, is big enough to take everything you have. But let’s not pretend, if the government wants to tax our soft drinks in the name of public health, that there’s any principled reason why some unhealthy practices are going to be regulated—and others will not. The worst aspect of sin taxes is that some sinners have more political juice than others—and I rather doubt that us soda drinkers have the power to protect ourselves as well as some of the other sinners do.

And The Purpose of Gun Buybacks Is...What?

And The Purpose of Gun Buybacks Is...What?

The May 11, 2009 Los Angeles Daily News has one of those news stories that reminds of the story of the guy sent to drain the swamp--and has gotten so lost in other issues that he has forgotten his original purpose:

A Los Angeles citywide gun buyback program was called an unexpected success after nearly 1,700 firearms were collected Saturday from owners who'd been promised anonymity, "no questions asked" and - very important - $100 gift cards.

In a way, the effort proved too successful: So many people showed up at collection sites with handguns and rifles in their trunks that organizers ran out of the Ralphs and Visa gift cards in the first two hours.

Some people went ahead and turned in weapons without the financial incentive. But an untold number of drivers left in a huff.

City Councilwoman Wendy Greuel emphasized the good news, noting the removal from L.A. homes of hundreds of guns that "will be melted down and no longer can be used in a crime."

The haul was reported to include more than 100 assault weapons, which are illegal for general possession in California.

No, that's not true. As long as the weapon was registered by the appropriate date, they are completely legal to possess. But the bigger problem is the "no longer can be used in a crime." And that would be because criminals are turning in guns for the lure of the $100 gift card? An armed robber prepared to take some risks can probably make that much in one liquor store robbery, and certainly in two. More importantly, police were very clear about what sort of people were turning in guns:

"It's like Jack in the Box, the drive-through," said LAPD Lt. Stephen Carmona, who ran the Canoga Park collection site.

Carmona reported no trouble.

"It's a pretty good-looking group of citizens," he said. "We didn't expect any gangsters."

Detective Bill Flannery, busy identifying the guns collected in Canoga Park, said he was surprised by "the number of guns that little old ladies are bringing in."

So, how are guns being turned in by little old ladies going to reduce crime?

Gun buybacks have been criticized as feel-good publicity stunts that barely dent the U.S. gun supply and take weapons only from the law-abiding.

But L.A. police and city officials say every gun turned in Saturday and destroyed is one that no longer can be stolen and used in a crime or contribute to an accident.

I see. The police in Los Angeles have reached the point where they have decided that it's more effecive to prevent gun crimes by making sure that there are fewer of them to steal, than by identifying and arresting burglars? That makes loads of sense.

And the "no questions asked" idiocy means that if someone does have a stolen gun--they no longer have to risk fencing it. The police will pay you $100 for it, no questions asked! I don't know what a fence would typically pay for a stolen handgun, but I'm guessing that $100 is on the high side. And some of the guns turned in, if you are to believe the news story, are major federal felonies to even possess:
Having waited 45 minutes, Steve and Donna Stone of Winnetka stayed to hand over a sawed-off shotgun he said he had received in exchange for some cabinet work.
Maybe the reporter saw an 18" barreled shotgun, and assumed that it was "a sawed-off shotgun." But if it was indeed less than an 18" barrel, the Stones violated both state and federal laws by receiving it, and by possessing it, without a state permit and a federal National Firearms Act tax stamp.

The madness continues:
The LAPD said it will destroy all of the guns collected Saturday, even ones as potentially valuable as a World War I-era chrome-plated Luger that showed up in Northridge.
Let's see, what else could they do with such a collector's piece? They could sell it to a collector, who would lock it in a safe where its risk of being stolen and used in a crime was almost zero--and probably raise many thousands of dollars to spend on gun buybacks--or even, you know, police work: trying to arrest and convict the criminals that commit felonies. Or they could find a museum that would want this rare and perhaps desirable historical artifact. But that would require something other than the kneejerk insanity that has become a city where I used to live.

One More Weakness Of The New Star Trek

One More Weakness Of The New Star Trek

Like the original series, there is an implausibly large number of humanoid sentient species around the galaxy. "The Paradise Syndrome" episode explains this--well, not really, but at least Spock suggests that there's a reason so many humanoid species exist. And we know that, against all plausibility, humans can interbreed with them. (You will recall that Kirk, suffering from electrical shock induced amnesia, falls in love with the beautiful somewhat American Indian gal, and gets her pregnant.)

Yeah, yeah, I know, budgets for the TV show were tight, and besides, by the third season, there needed to be a lust interest for Captain Kirk in every second or third show, but still, it was a serious weakness of the show. I suppose that an alien (humanoid, of course) watching Star Trek without the full cultural context would just assume that the writers were Creationists. (God was making aliens throughout the galaxy in His image!)

More seriously: I've seen a European describe the original Star Trek as Kennedy New Frontierism throughout the galaxy. In many respects, Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek reflects John Kennedy liberalism. A belief that there is good and evil and that good will eventually triumph. That fundamentally, sentient beings everywhere are pretty much alike. And that the chief executive gets lots and lots of girls, by virtue of holding that job.

Sometimes, the Kennedyesque liberal shows up, and often in not very subtle ways. In "A Private Little War," Kirk and Spock must decide whether to arm a peaceful little bunch of almost Stone Age people on one underdeveloped planet to protect themselves from another indigenous, Klingon-armed tribe--and Kirk directly compares what they are doing to the brush wars of Korea and Vietnam--an ugly business, but one that Kirk feels obligated to do, because the alternative is worse.

And there's "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield," one of the preachiest Star Trek episodes, with two aliens who are black on one side of their body, and white on the other--and both insistent that the other is an inferior race. ("He is black on the left; I am black on the right." I may be getting the sides reversed; I haven't seen that episode in many years.) Even when I saw it the first time (yes, I'm that old, that I used to watch it with my sister during the initial television run), at the heights of the civil rights movement, as much as I agreed with (and still agree with) its sentiment, it struck me as preachy and about as subtle as nuclear weapons.

Wind Power Generators

Wind Power Generators

Environmentalists are really big on wind power (as long as it isn't affecting their view from Cape Cod), but there are some significant issues that need to be worked out. One of those issues is that wind power is highly variable. This means that it really only makes sense if you have some practical way to store that energy. Another problem is that many of the places that have plenty of wind don't have enough customers to take advantage of that electricity--because the transmission lines don't exist to transfer power from places like West Texas to places like Los Angeles.

Now, I ran into a fascinating claim:

A power producer typically gets paid for the power it generates. In Texas, some wind energy generators are paying to have someone take power off their hands.

Because of intense competition, the way wind tax credits work, the location of the wind farms and the fact that the wind often blows at night, wind farms in Texas are generating power they can’t sell. To get rid of it, they are paying the state’s main grid operator to accept it. $40 a megawatt hour is roughly the going rate.

I first saw this at Classical Values, and followed the links. But the last link to the original story is now dead. The story apparently first appeared on Greentech Media, which appears to be a blog for promoting alternative energy. While other articles on the Greentech Media site still reference this broken link, and indicate that it did indeed show this absurd situation, the original story has disappeared.

There's nothing terribly surprising about this irrational situation where alternative energy producers are having to pay someone to take their product. As Simon at Classical Values points out:
What they really need to do is to find customers who are willing to be paid to use electricity. In other words we have set up a system where conservation is a bad idea.

Once you start screwing with the market ever more laws are required to make up for the distortions created by the previous set of laws. It never ends and only gets worse.

As much as I like the idea of alternative power, and finding a way to impoverish societies where they have their turbans wound too tight, the fact is that much of the alternative energy industry isn't really a business; it's a religion, a belief that anything that doesn't involve fossil fuels is fundamentally wise. It is a religion because it involves not evidence, but faith.

The government can encourage alternative power, but they need to be encouraging basic research. If you throw a few billion dollars at solving hard problems, such as how to create inexpensive photovolatics, or more efficient wind turbines, that doesn't distort the market badly, like subsidies and tax credits to producers and consumers do.

I don't know if the disappearance of the original article off the Greentech Media article was a mistake, or an attempt to hide an embarassing reminder that some of this Green obsession is actually a bad idea. But the core problem remains: societies that refuse to face reality when it comes to economics end up going broke.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

More On The Modified Drill Press Vise

More On The Modified Drill Press Vise

I used to make a ScopeRoller set for the Vixen HAL-110 tripod. Or more accurately, I made one, because it was a challenge--and since then, I have turned away a second order for it, and for the very similar HAL-130. Why? Because I couldn't hold the workpiece solidly enough in the Sherline mill vise to machine the part.

The modified drill press vise seems to be doing the job adequately. I can take much deeper cuts, because it holds the workpiece much more solidly, and because it is big enough for me to lay the workpiece (which is 2.62" wide) down flat for milling. In addition, the drill press vise is big enough that I will be able (I think) be able to put three workpieces in at once, and use a fly cutter to do some of the operations all at once. (I might have to bolt all three of them together, however, to make sure that they don't slip on the Delrin to Delrin surfaces. Not a problem. I drill a hole anyway to speed up milling a slot, so I can use that hole for the bolt.)

I also had a chance to do some more accuracy checks. In the Y-direction, accuracy is excellent. I squared my workpiece, and it was square within the limits of my measuring device (<.001"). In the Z-direction, it isn't quite as good; within .015". Part of the problem may be that the movable vise jaw has some play in it (of course), and so if the workpiece is off-center between the jaws, it tends to pivot the workpiece slightly.

I put a piece of Delrin of almost the same width in the vise at the same time, to reduce the pivot; it seems to have knocked it down to perhaps .008". That's good enough for the rough cuts for which I am using it. It is probably good enough to ship to customers; but if I decide to be more careful, I can rough cut to 1.40", and then remove the last .010" with the workpiece sitting vertically.

An Awesome Photograph

An Awesome Photograph

It's a picture of the Space Shuttle transiting the sun.

Star Trek

Star Trek

I confess: I was never terribly impressed with Star Trek: The Next Generation or any of the other spinoffs from the original series. Enterprise was about as close as I can find pleasant, and even then, it isn't good enough to make me watch an episode unless I have nothing else to do.

The new movie, showing how Kirk, Spock, Uhura, "Scotty", Dr. McCoy, Sulu, and Chekov first meet, has utterly charmed me. It has all the strengths of the original series, and some of its weaknesses. So what? My wife and I both loved it.

It has witty dialog and amusing situations. (Strength of the original series.) It has clear-cut heroes and bad guys--but realistic heroes and bad guys, with complex motivations. (Strength.) It has Kirk unable to stay out of bed with beautiful alien women. (Weakness.) It has utterly unrealistic fist fights and gun battles. (Strength of the original, because it made it exciting; weakness, because it made unrealistic.) It has utterly implausible science. (Weakness.) It has interesting, almost self-referential inconsistencies related to time travel, (a weakness of the original) used to solve the problem of inconsistencies with the original series.

The special effects, of course, are far superior to what the original series could do with the technology of the time and the budget for a weekly television show. And to the director's credit, they didn't let the special effects take over the story--as more than few movies have done in the last few years.

My wife pointed out that they did a great job of finding actors and actresses who you could almost believe, in a few years more, might look something like William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Nichelle Nichols, James Doohan, DeForest Kelley, Walter Koenig, and George Takei. (Yes, there's a problem with Chekov's appearance this early--who wasn't in the first season of the original series.)

I am also gratified that the writers didn't feel a need to make the series "relevant" to today. There's no gratuitously gay character; no same-sex marriages; no speeches about saving Mother Earth from global warming; no subplots involving Romulan WMDs that turn out not to be there.

And yes, I would encourage you to see it on the big screen. It really benefits from it.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Intimidation By Members of Congress

Intimidation By Members of Congress

What would you call it if members of Congress sitting on a committee regulating your industry told you to change your position, or face regulatory changes designed to cause your business trouble?

I'm not sure of the exact legal status of a threat like this (and what might be implied to qualify as a threat), but what distinguishes this from the extortion that the Mafia does, except that the Mafia's actions are a bit more direct? You will also notice that a number of the Democrats who played significant roles in creating the housing crisis signed this letter.

UPDATE: Here's Frey's very thoughtful response. I'm not sure that I understand some of his suggestions, much less agree with them, but it really does show the intellectual and classiness gap between Congresscritters-as-Mafioso and Mr. Frey.

Truing The Mill Vise

Truing The Mill Vise

I've mentioned my efforts to turn a cheap Chinese drill press vise into a mill vise for my Sherline
. More of the saga.

One of the reasons that mill vises have a crisp edge at the bottom is so that you can align it with the mill table. The jaws of the mill vise, and the base of the mill vise, are very precisely parallel, so that when you move the mill table side to side, the workpiece only moves side to side, in the X-axis, not the Z-axis. And yes, I can (and I'm sure that you can) feel a discrepancy of .002" or .003" between two edges, so if the mill vise base and the table feel parallel, there is less (sometimes much less) than .003" difference.

So the first step was to figure out how to get this drill press vise's jaws and base parallel. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to clamp the drill press vise in a position that would allow me to mill an even line on the base. Eventually, this was my strategy:

The piece of bar aluminum in the mill vise is 1.007" thick (+- .001"--I measured it, and I was impressed at the accuracy). The drill press vise is clamped onto the bar aluminum. (It wouldn't clamp in the mill vise and still have the drill press vise base exposed to the end mill.) There's obviously a problem here of accumulating tolerances, but even assuming .002" at the mill vise base, .001" from the mill vise jaw, .001" from the aluminum bar, and perhaps .005" from the drill press vise itself, that's less than .010" total--and the next step makes even this discrepancy go away.

So now I made a series of passes with the end mill (a four flute roughing mill intended for steel) until I had a consistent edge on the drill press vise base. It looks terrible, but when I clamped it to the mill table, I had a repeatable line.

Now I used the end mill on the fixed jaw of the drill press vise to make it parallel to the base. It took a couple of passes for the original manufacturing marks to go away--and now, because I was moving the fixed jaw parallel to the base, because the base is parallel to the table, the fixed jaw is as parallel to the base as the intrinsic accuracy of the vertical mill.

I'm sure that this is still not as accurate as a proper mill vise--but for larger workpieces, it is sufficient--and it holds workpieces--even that slippery Delrin--far more solidly than the mill vise that I already had.

BATF Seems To Have Learned Nothing From Waco

BATF Seems To Have Learned Nothing From Waco

This is a disturbing May 15, 2009 news story from a Connecticut newspaper, the Record-Journal:
WALLINGFORD - A usually quiet mobile home park was shaken Friday morning when about 15 officers from the U.S. bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and local police descended on one of their neighbor's homes with force.

"They had their guns drawn and were surrounding the house," said Jennifer Monroe of Hosford Bridge Road. "These weren't small guns, they were machine guns. It wasn't normal."

Lynne Boynton, of 15 Hosford Bridge Road, went to her husband's truck for coffee money at about 6 a.m. and was pushed to the driveway and handcuffed with an officer's knee in her back and a gun to her head.

ATF officers surrounded her father-in-law's home at Western Sands Mobile Home Park and used a battering ram to enter the unlocked home in the rear, Boynton said.

"They were pouring out of there like crazy," said Monroe, who can easily see the front door. "They had Lynne in handcuffs. We were like 'What are they looking for?' "

Once inside, officers pulled Gilman Boynton and Paul Boynton out of bed, the men said. Paul Boynton said three or four officers threw him to the floor and put a gun to his head. Gilman Boynton, 76, who suffers from a heart condition, was made to sit in the living room, he said.
Now, there is a somewhat legitimate basis for BATF to show up and ask some questions (which isn't the same as bashing in a door and putting a gun to the head of someone who isn't resisting):

The family was told by ATF officers that the agency received a tip six weeks ago that a convicted felon was living at the home and had access to guns, Lynne Boynton said. Paul Boynton was arrested 34 years ago at the age of 17 with a friend who had forged a check. He hasn't been arrested since, he said.

Gilman Boynton is a gun collector, who keeps his rifles in a locked case on the wall, and a Beretta pistol in a safe. On Friday, ATF officers confiscated 14 rifles from the gun case and took his permits, he said. After breaking the safe, the ATF officers left the Beretta with a magazine cartridge still in the safe in Boynton's dresser.

"If they are so worried about guns, why did they leave a pistol in the safe and the holster?" Lynne Boynton said. "It was humiliating; I've never been handcuffed in my life."
Indeed, if Paul Boynton's felony conviction was the basis for the raid, then especially a handgun would seem like the most logical weapon to confiscate, until his living arrangements were resolved. But taking only the rifles?

Even if we accept the validity of a lifelong prohibition on gun possession for any felony conviction, there is simply no basis for this level of force. If Paul Boynton had a history of violent crimes, this might be slightly plausible. But a non-violent felony conviction more than three decades in the past justifies this level of brutality? There's either a lot more to this story, or BATF hasn't learned anything from past misbehavior--and you can be sure that Obama's boys aren't going to reprimand them.'

Thanks to A Goy And His Blog for bringing this to my attention. (Clever pun on that awful 1970s movie, A Boy And His Dog.)

For Those Who Think In Terms Of Gay Genes

For Those Who Think In Terms Of Gay Genes

Even the American Psychological Association, which is very pro-gay, is admitting that the gay gene claim isn't flying:
There is no consensus among scientists about the exact reasons that an individual develops a heterosexual, bisexual, gay, or lesbian orientation. Although much research has examined the possible genetic, hormonal, developmental, social, and cultural influences on sexual orientation, no findings have emerged that permit scientists to conclude that sexual orientation is determined by any particular factor or factors. Many think that nature and nurture both play complex roles; most people experience little or no sense of choice about their sexual orientation.
By the way, I don't argue with the "little or no sense of choice." As a gay, politically conservative, competition shooter observed to me some years ago, "Why would anyone choose to be gay?"

Friday, May 15, 2009

A Majority Now Call Themselves Pro-Life

A Majority Now Call Themselves Pro-Life

A new Gallup poll finds, for the first time since they start asking this question in 1995, that a majority of Americans describe themselves as pro-life. It's a slim majority: 51% pro-life, and 42% pro-choice.

I've always found surveys like this a bit misleading. When you look at how Americans respond to very specific questions, you find that while a majority want restrictions on abortion, relatively few want abortion completely illegal--and I suspect that even the 22% in this survey that want abortion illegal under all circumstances probably would consider it acceptable to save the life of the mother (which is the position of the Catholic Church, and just about all evangelical Christians with whom I have ever spoken). There is a similarly tiny percentage--23%--that wants abortion legal under all circumstances. The majority--53%--want abortion legal under some circumstances. By the standards of the most militant pro-lifers, that majority are "babykillers." But wanting restrictions on abortion means that they are hardly "pro-choice."

I am quite sure, however, that large numbers of Americans who are adamantly opposed to abortion under all circumstances, or who want restrictions on abortion, voted for the most vigorously pro-abortion President we have had in many years.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

BackgroundWorker In .NET

BackgroundWorker In .NET

I'm putting this here because I spent a lot more time visiting a lot more sites than I thought that I should to find out what I needed to invoke a thread using the BackgroundWorker class in .NET. In case you have the same need, here it is.

If a user interface function in .NET wants to perform some operation that is going to take a long time, you need to do something to make sure that the user interface still gets a chance to run. While Windows is a pre-emptive scheduler (meaning that you don't have to give up control to make sure that other tasks run), it appears that the main Windows message processing loop may not get a chance to run in compute intensive operations, preventing update of the user interface.

So, there's two ways around the problem:

1. Call Application.DoEvents periodically, to make sure that the Windows UI gets a chance to process message traffic. Ugly, especially if there is no obvious way to figure out how often to call this.

2. Use the BackgroundWorker class. (This is the preferred approach.)

BackgroundWorker class is a method for starting a thread, and receiving messages when that thread completes, or makes progress. Remember that even though the code is all present in one file (even in one class, if you choose), there are actually two separate threads that execute in parallel. The UI does the following sequence to set up a thread:

// Creates a background task control object.
BackgroundWorker backgroundTask = new BackgroundWorker();

// Adds an event handler that will start the background task. The
// backgroundTaskStart is part of the background thread.
backgroundTask.DoWork += DoWorkEventHandler(backgroundTaskStart);

// Adds an event handler that will be called when the background task
// completes. The backgroundTaskCompleted is part of the UI thread.
backgroundTask.RunWorkerCompleted += RunWorkerCompletedEventHandler(backgroundTaskCompleted);

// You need to set WorkerReportsProgress true if you want the UI thread to
// be informed when the background task updates the progress information.
backgroundTask.WorkerReportsProgress = true;

// Set up the event handler that gets called when the background task wants
// to report progress to the UI. Remember that backgroundTaskProgress is in
// the UI thread.
backgroundTask.ProgressChanged += ProgressChangedEventHandler(backgroundTaskProgress);

// Tell the backgroundTask object to pass a parameter to the background thread,
// and get it running. There has to be some way to pass more than one parameter
// to the background thread, but I found that it was simpler to put all the
// other information in class level members of the UI thread; the background task
// has access to this information.

// This method executes your background task, and returns whatever return code
// (if any) you want sent back to the UI task, stored in e.result.
private void backgroundTaskStart(Object sender, DoWorkEventArgs e)
e.Result = backgroundTask();

// This method is called when the background task completes. Because it is
// within the UI thread, it can do operation such as updating a status bar.
private void tableExporterCompleted(Object sender, RunWorkerCompletedEventArgs e)
// update status bar, re-enable buttons that you may have disabled
// before starting the background thread.

// Here's where I ran into some lack of information. Ordinarily, a background
// thread informs the UI of what percent progress it has made. I didn't want to
// pass a number, but a series of messages showing, for example, how many
// records had been processed out of the total number, or various stages
// along the way. So I had the background thread update a string, progressMsg,
// and the update event handler merely informs the UI that there is a fresh
// message waiting to be displayed in the status bar.
private string progressMsg;

// This method gets called by the background thread periodically, with a
/ string that I want displayed on the status bar.
private void progress(string msg)
progressMsg = msg;
// Ordinarily, the parameter passed to ReportProgress is a percent complete.
// In this case, it's a dummy; ReportProgress sends a message to the
// progress event handler in the UI thread.

// The BackgroundWorker object, when it gets a ReportProgress invocation, sends
// the event that executes this method, which updates the UI with the string
// most recently stored in progressMsg by the background thread.
private void backgroundTaskProgress(Object sender, ProgressChangedEventArgs e)
// Update the status bar in the form.

Remember The Obnoxious EPA Bureaucrat in Ghostbusters?

Remember The Obnoxious EPA Bureaucrat in Ghostbusters?

Well, he obviously changed agencies. Read this letter from the FDA to General Mills, telling them that Cheerios is now classed as a drug!

Yes, as Snowflakes in Hell admits, technically, the FDA is correct about this. But this letter tells me that someone at FDA doesn't have enough to do. The letter doesn't claim that the cholesterol reducing benefits aren't true; but the way that this information is included on the packaging does not conform to FDA's rather demanding standards.

The Difference The Right Vise Makes

The Difference The Right Vise Makes

I mentioned a few days back
that I was machining a cheap drill press vise to make it more precise for use on the Sherline vertical mill--and what a difference it makes! I filled a ScopeRoller order last night where I could have left these three rectangles the size that they came out of the chopsaw--but there was enough variation that it would have looked bad, and besides, when you mill the edges, it looks so much nicer!

Anyway, this drill press vise has a lot more clamping force, and I was able to lock all three 1/2" thick pieces of Delrin in position at once. Because it clamped them so solidly, I found that the fly cutter was happy even doing .025" deep cuts across all three chunks, even turning the lead screw as fast as I could. What a difference! My vertical mill is now a source of joy, not frustration. Even machining big pieces of aluminum works well now.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Sensing Evil

Sensing Evil

Roger L. Simon has a piece at PajamasMedia today
that is quite interesting, about how a face to face encounter with evil caused him to reconsider his lifelong agnosticism. (There's an interesting article by me at PajamasMedia today as well.) His encounter with the President of Iran at a conference was apparently his first such experience:
I heard screaming sirens followed by shrieking motor cycles when Ahmadinejad himself entered, accompanied by a phalanx of Iranian secret service, all of whom were larger than he. He was indeed a small man, almost diminutive, and marched straight across the lobby in what seemed at the time like a goose step a few feet away from me, staring directly at me while waving and smiling in my direction.
I did not wave or smile back.
I couldn’t. Indeed, I was frozen. I felt suddenly breathless and nauseated, as if I had been kicked brutally in the stomach. I was also dizzy. I wanted to throw up. But no one had touched me and I hadn’t eaten anything for hours.
It was then, I think, that I found, or noticed, or understood, religion personally for a moment.
Here’s what I mean.
For most of my life I had rationalized the existence of bad people – or, more specifically, placed them in therapeutic categories. They were aberrant personalities, psychologically disturbed. It wasn’t that I thought better economic conditions or psychoanalysis or medication or whatever could fix everyone. I was long over that. Some people… serial killers, etc…. had to be locked away forever. They would never get better. But they were simply insane. That’s what they were.
Still… I had seen whacked murderers like Charles Manson, late OJ Simpson, up close and this wasn’t the same. This was more than the mental illness model. Far more. For one thing, I had never before had this intense physical sensation when confronted with another human being. Nor had I wanted to vomit. Not for Manson. Not for anyone. This was different.
It was almost unreal, like being in a movie, in a certain way. I know comparisons to Hitler are invidious, in fact usually absurd, but I was feeling the way I imagined I would have felt opposite Hitler.
I was in the presence of pure Evil.
Now that’s a big word and I have spent my life reluctant to use it. But there it was – popping up out of my mouth within seconds of the Iranian leaders disappearance into the hotel elevator. For once, “psychopath” or “sociopath” did not feel remotely appropriate. Only the E-word would suffice.
I've never had this experience. Like Simon, I've met some pretty screwed up people over the years, who have done an enormous amount of damage and inflicted a lot of pain on others--but I never had this sensation. My wife has a couple of times met people who she describes in this way–not mentally ill, or damaged, or confused, but exuding evil in a way that was scary–and in one case, before she could even see the person. And these weren't people that anyone had ever heard of, either.

A friend used to work at a prison in Alaska. There were inmates there for all sorts of violent and horrifying crimes (murder, rape, child molestation)–but there were a very few that he described as “bent” with rather similar sensations–people that were just evil.

I never took her feelings or my friend’s feelings completely seriously–but when someone with a very secular worldview like Roger Simon comes to that same weird feeling, it’s rather interesting, isn’t it?