Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
--C.S. Lewis--

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


For those who haven't heard yet, one of the 800 pound gorillas in the global warming debate, the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia was recently hacked. Over 1,000 e-mails and even more related documents were absconded with and publicly released. The university and CRU are trying to play off the e-mails and documents as harmless exchanges of ideas, while climate skeptics are convinced that they pretty much discredit the whole concept of global warming. They have been referred to as, "not a smoking gun; this is a mushroom cloud" and "quite breathtaking". Defenders and attackers break down pretty much along pre-determined lines, though there are a few exceptions. Most notably, George Monbiot, a well-known environmentalist, has admitted that the e-mails could "scarcely be more damaging".

Of course, what would this whole story be without my scientifically unsound punditry? So, here goes. There is little doubt that CRU scientists engaged in thuggish behavior. E-mails show attempts to circumvent a FOIA request, cherry-picking data, and most importantly, pressure on peer-reviewed journals that dare to publish papers sceptical of global warming from the very same people who base their rejection of skeptics on their lack of published papers. At the very least, the scientists involved in the most egregious acts should find themselves discredited, embarrassed, and jobless. However, just as I would reject someone arguing that private hypocrisy from a politician invalidates their political arguments, private thuggery from a scientist does little to invalidate otherwise trustworthy scientific data. One can be a thug and a lout, and yet still be right.

The much more interesting aspect of all of this will be the code that was leaked. Global warming alarm is based on models of future climate shifts derived largely from historical data. The only alternative way of assessing its validity would be to sit around and see if we all fry, which has certain inherent drawbacks. However, this means that the level of concern we should display hinges in large part on the reliability of these models. Climate scientists have resisted making their models and data available for public assessment at every opportunity, which does not inspire much confidence. Now that CRU's data has been made available despite their best attempts to protect it, scores of interested geeks are pouring over the models and the data. Their conclusions will take time, but will be far more revealing than anecdotes about the bad behavior of a few scientific bullies.

P.S. In case it needs to be made clear, the hackers obviously did something wrong, and if caught should be prosecuted under the applicable statues. But just as the thuggish behavior of these scientists isn't conclusive evidence of bad scientific results, the illegal behavior of the hackers shouldn't invalidate what they have uncovered.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Conversation Between American Journalist and Iranian Protester

IP: "I saw a Twittered headline from MSNBC's website, which is blocked by our government, that 41 students were arrested at the University of California Berkeley for taking over a building as an act of protest. Why is your government trying to keep students from their solidarity with the oppressed people of Iran as our government continues to crack down?"

AJ: "Actually, the protest had nothing to do with the suppression of dissidents here in Iran since your stolen election..."

IP: "Well, I can understand that. As bad as we have it here, there are more dire situations which have been going on far longer. Were they protesting the treatment of women around the world? I understand that Berkeley prides itself on caring about human rights and the trafficking, forced marriage, genital mutilation, and repression of education among the world's women is a travesty that has been going on for centuries."

AJ: "No, actually..."

IP: "Ahh, then it must have been Cuba. The jailing of dissidents, the starving of the Cuban people, and the bigotry towards the Afro-Cuban population are all terrible things. I understand why those would take precedence over us."

AJ: "Well...to be perfectly honest, it wasn't Cuba. In fact, many of the students who were protesting argue that Cuba has a better health care system than America while wearing Che Guevara t-shirts."

IP: "Hmm...that is odd. I thought American students condemned murder and needless war making like that of Che Guevara. Oh well, with their concern over the Sudan, perhaps they have not had time to educate themselves on the real human rights situation in Cuba."

AJ: "Well, you DO occasionally see a bumper sticker protesting the slaughter in the Sudan on the back of a student's car, but actually the protest was about a problem much closer to home."

IP: "Ahh, I understand. After all, no country is perfect, and they must feel that America cannot be an effective force for human rights until it has cleaned its own house. What egregious violation of American rights were they upset over?"

AJ: "Well, you see, their college tuition was increased by 33%."

IP: "..."

AJ: "No it's serious. Previously, the University of California system allowed the best and brightest from around the state to have a subsidized public education that was far cheaper than most private schools, while maintaining a level of academic prestige on par with that of all but the best private universities. Now, well, it's still the premier public education system, but with the reduction in the amount of subsidization that comes from the state, some of the students might be forced to transfer into the second-tier system, the California State University System, or even worse, they might have to get jobs!"

IP: "I'm sorry, my English is not the best. It almost sounded to me like you are saying that, in a time of severe recession and high unemployment, the students of your university system feel it is more important to protest over fee increases to their STILL HIGHLY SUBSIDIZED EDUCATION, than it is to shoulder their share of the country's hardship in a time of widespread crisis. All of this while ignoring the plights of oppressed and poverty-stricken people worldwide."

AJ: "Actually, your English is excellent. You simply don't understand that these students DESERVE subsidized educations. After all, they..."

IP: "Unfortunately, the sound of shooting seems to be getting closer. Perhaps you can educate me further on the plight of these poor students from a safer location. Goodbye."

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Nailed It!

Hoffman has unconceeded. I told you this might get interesting. Last I heard, the vote tallies now show less than 3,000 votes separating the candidates. If that count drops into the hundreds, someone is getting sued. Frankly, since I really doubt that he'll find enough absentee votes to pull this off, I am a bit worried by this move. Unconceeding before there is any reason to makes him look pretty silly if nothing comes of this, and also makes it mentally easier to justify whipping out the lawyers down the road. This may end up hurting Hoffman if he tries for a 2010 rematch. Plus, Dems steal elections on the recount, not Reeps.

Cheney 2012

I think I'm on fairly safe ground in asserting that the only reason Dick Cheney decided not to run for president was the fact that he is far too awesome for America. So was Reagan, but he was also a kind man who felt sorry for us after 4 years of Jimmy Carter. Dick Cheney on the other hand, had the last remaining bit of vestigial compassion surgically removed when they installed his pacemaker.

However, we may have a chance in 2012. While Dick Cheney can't be expected to feel compassion for a country that voted for Obama, he still has to live here. If the president messes things up enough between now and 2012, Cheney may get annoyed enough to end the misery. In anticipation of that event, Frank J. has come up with some campaign slogans. Go read, they're pretty awesome. Here's my personal favorite. "You don’t inaugurate me; you unleash me.”

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Interesting News In NY-23

Apparently Doug Hoffman's vote total was under counted. He is still down by over 3,000 votes, but this tightening of the gap means that there is a chance that absentee ballots could decide the race in his favor. Were that to occur, Bill Owens would have to be removed from the House, and Hoffman would be sworn in in his place.

This is all very unlikely to occur however, and I'd like to point out a couple of things that make it even more so. Absentee ballots from the district will be primarily military voters, since the district has a heavy military presence. While military voters lean heavily Republican, Owens is a retired officer, which may give him some extra support from these voters. More importantly, many of these votes were likely cast before Hoffman's surge (and Sozzafava's matching decline). Also, any reversal of fortunes would almost invariably lead to recounts, litigation, etc. because the margin of victory would be impossibly thin.

Still, it will be fun to watch.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

10.2% Unemployment

The new unemployment figures are bad for the Obama administration on several levels. For one thing, the phrase "double-digit unemployment" sounds terrible, feels terrible, and is terrible. More importantly though, we weren't supposed to get here. Remember the nifty charts showing unemployment with and without the stimulus package? Well, job losses have been higher than what the president projected we'd see without the stimulus package. He and his folks have two alternatives. Either the stimulus bill was only marginally effective because Congress used it as a pork dispensing bill rather than a real economic stimulus (remember, the president punted and let Congress write their own bill), or his administration completely underestimated the scope of the crisis. So far, they've chosen the second option. How reassuring...

Of course, the president and his defenders are quick to point out that unemployment is a lagging indicator, and really isn't a sound index of economic health. They're right of course. Employers make sure things are looking up BEFORE hiring new employees. But guess what? That was true in every previous administration, and no one cared then either. George W. Bush lost his re-election over much lower unemployment rates. It's a lousy economic indicator, but its a great indicator of how people are affected by the economy. Is it fair? No, and it wasn't fair when George Bush got beaten up for 5% unemployment either. Life sucks. Buy a helmet Mr. President. And next time, don't tell everyone that job creation is your "number one" priority.

As cap-and-trade and the healthcare bill keep getting pushed back, it looks more and more the like the mid-terms may end up being a "jobs" election. Right now, that's bad news for the Dems.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Uh Oh, Now They've Done It!

They are substantially more willing to use violence, treat gays and women terribly, and suppress other religions. But these are all things for which western elites can forgive the Muslim world. Now however, those westerners are beginning to realize that Muslims are creationists. If they aren't careful, they'll soon be almost as hated as Sarah Palin.

Fort Hood

So a devout Muslim officer went around shooting other soldiers while dressed in traditional Islamic attire and shouting "Allahu akbar". That means something. But before people engage in a shouting match in an attempt to figure out what, I have two humble suggestions. 1. Give people time to bury their dead. 2. Temper whatever your first impulse may be with these.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

This Really Demonstrates NASA's Problem

We're a society that expects space travel to be all Klingons and Borg, while cruising around in artificial gravity. In reality, it is lots and lots and lots of planning, followed by long periods of boredom and tedious work interspersed with short periods of high stress, all while wearing a "pumpkin suit".

In real life, boldy going where no man has gone before involves grown men wearing diapers.

Whitman Still On Top

Meg Whitman has increased her lead over the other GOP gubernatorial candidates in the latest round of poll. Her early dominance is largely due to the her aggressive spending early on. She has already run through almost $20 million, despite being seven months out from the primary.

Two thoughts occur to me. We know front-runners don't always end up winning. Ask presidents Dean and Giuliani about that one. But I think that often, being a front-runner can actually hurt in a prolonged campaign. Obviously, it makes you everyone else's target. Poizner isn't going to waste money throwing attack ads at Campbell, he's going to go after Whitman (and has already started). But more importantly, I think voters just get sick of people. Hearing the same name over and over has an effect over time. A person's personal charisma has a lot to do with the length of time it takes for the boredom to kick in, but it will eventually happen. Meg might be kicking herself in a few months, asking why it mattered so much what voters thought in November of 2009.

The other thing is that, just as people get bored with candidates, they get bored with issues. Meg's embarrassing voting record, and more importantly, her campaign's inept and flat-footed response, will be ancient history by next November. If she's going to be beaten, it won't be because she never voted for George H. W. Bush. (Full disclosure. I REALLY want to like Meg Whitman. While none of the candidates are social conservatives, she's the closest. She's also the one with the most potential in terms of her charisma and talents. So far though, she'd tried VERY VERY hard to discourage me. Avoiding all but softball interviews, acting as an ATM for consultants, and not voting for most of her adult life aren't exactly selling points.)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Election Post-Mortem

A few thoughts.

-All elections are local. I think this cycle reinforced that belief. It was a good, but not great, result for Republicans, but there were enough unique factors in each race to stymie anyone from drawing any real sweeping conclusions.
-Roughly 60% of voters said the president played no part in their voting decision. Democrats think this is a good thing that argues against Republican assaults on Obama. I'm not so sure. After all, last year his coattails were long enough to sweep fellow Democrats into a lot of Republican-leaning seats. This year, all of Corzine's money and all of Obama's hope and change weren't enough to drag an incumbent Governor and former Senator across the finish line in a state that went for Obama by an almost 16% margin a year ago. What message does that send to Blue Dogs who are already leery about following the president's lead on health care reform?
-The most important result that no one seems to care about was the Pennsylvania judicial election. The Republican win in that race means that any lawsuits over redistricting will go before a Republican-leaning court. Republicans have a majority of 60% in the Senate, while Democrats have a tiny majority (5 seats out of a 203-seat body) in the House. If Republicans retake the Governorship (not unlikely given the current governor's approval rating), they might just be able to do some damage in redistricting a relatively populous swing state.
-Harmer lost to Garamendi in the California congressional race. It wasn't a surprising loss, but the margin of victory was less than it should have been. Garamendi spent 14 years in the state legislature, has held 2 statewide offices, and is currently the Lt. Governor. Harmer has never held office before this race. A result like that may spell trouble for Joan Buchanan in her re-election against Abram Wilson next year. What is more interesting though, is what will happen to the Lt. Governorship. The Democrats obviously want a nonentity in the seat, and Governor Schwarzenegger needs their approval for whoever he nominates. The only way he might get a live body into the seat would be to nominate State Senator Maldonado. He comes from a district that the Democrats would have a decent change of picking up in an open-seat race, and they might consider that to be worth whatever advantage giving Maldonado a statewide office might convey.
-Social issues played a very small role this year, but its hard to argue from these results that they are a drag on an otherwise qualified candidate. A pro-life, pro-marriage candidate won in NEW FREAKIN' JERSEY despite Corzine's attack ads. A pro-life, pro-marriage candidate won in NORTHERN VIRGINIA despite the Post's relentless flogging of his old master's thesis. In Maine, the most socially liberal section of America rejected gay marriage despite high turnout (which was originally thought to be advantageous to the gay marriage folks) and high spending in favor of redefining marriage.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

So Who Exactly Is Full Of It?

The folks concerned by global warming, or the folks concerned with global warming?

So let me get this straight. A year or two ago, skeptics of global warming started to point out that the earth has seemingly been cooling since 1998 or so. In short order, multiple global warming alarmists said, "well yes, our models predicted that there might be a short-term cooling trend, but pay no attention to it, because long-term we're all doomed." Now, statisticians are saying that the purported "global cooling" doesn't really exist. It's just a blip in the data. (No one points out that, in geological terms, THIS CENTURY is a blip in the data) So, am I to believe the climate modelers who claimed to have predicted the short-term cooling now that they assure me the long-term trend is more warming?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Deep Thoughts Delivered Deftly

-Rush was called racist for saying Donovan McNabb was overrated, but no one bats an eye when Mike Malloy jokes about a former VP eating Jewish and Muslim babies. Either America just holds conservatives to a higher standard, or there really are some advantages to having a show no one listens to.
-Do novas ever look back at their lives and wish they'd done that little bit extra in order to be super?
-If I ever run for Congress, this will definitely be my campaign song.
-We always talk about bipartisanship in America without ever getting anywhere, but maybe there is one thing Democrats and Republicans can agree on. None of us like Arlen Specter.
-Would anyone be as scared of H1N1 if it were called "puppy flu"?
-If a camel is a horse designed by a committee, was the platypus designed by the US Senate?
-If you catch someone cooking meth while driving on the freeway, I say let them keep it. Frying their brain is obviously no longer a danger.
-Yes, please tell men that chemical attacks will now cause women to remove their bras. That will end well.
-Skeptics of evolution sometimes ask, "If we descended from monkeys, why are monkeys still around?" This shows an obvious ignorance about evolution, which posits that both humans and monkeys are descended from a common ancestor named James Carville.
-Cute critters!
-At the rate Barack Obama is changing public sentiment about the GOP, he may go down as the most successful Republican president ever.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Is It Just Me

Or should former governors who have notably abandoned state business to cheat on their wives avoid writing complimentary articles about the most narcissistic philosophical system ever devised?

Shark's In The Water

A shark that can bite a 10 foot Great White nearly in two is not something I'd want to swim with. Fortunately, I doubt it is very interested in people. Meanwhile, my wife is terrified because we have a mouse living in our wall.


Monday, October 26, 2009

Why The Wall Street Journal?

The most recent circulation figures for the top 25 newspapers in the country are out, and they are tragic. Most papers are hemorrhaging subscribers. In fact, only one paper on the list managed to gain a bit. The Wall Street Journal. Now, as a good partisan conservative Republican, I'd like nothing more than to credit the good sense and innate conservatism of the American people, while laughing hysterically and yelling "You suck!"at the New York Times. But I have a funny feeling that the Journal's conservatism has little to do with its relative success.

I also think that the Journal is a far better quality paper than most. The writing is tighter, the research more thorough, and it contains a more diverse array of editorial and opinion writers. That doesn't seem to be the answer either though, because the Washington Post, America's other great newspaper, seems to be losing circulation at a healthy clip despite equivalent quality. And of course, the New York Times, which I wouldn't use to line the bottom of a canary's cage, seems to be in about the same state as the Post.

So, my theory is this. The Wall Street Journal, moreso than the other major papers, is seen as a national paper. Despite its name, people have never thought of it as being a "New York" paper. That makes it ideal to replace your local daily when it either folds, or cuts its newsroom staff back so drastically that it no longer produces a paper capable of holding your interest. To survive, I think the Post, the Times, and other papers capable of transitioning, will have to find ways to become more cosmopolitan and scavenge the dwindling audiences of the dying locals.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Video Dump

This Guy Is Soooo Toast In 2010
More words of wisdom from Rep. Alan Grayson.

Fortunately, unlike most Democratic crazies, he's in a swing district in a swing state. When you call half of your constituents "enemies of America", shortly after accusing their party of wanting people to die swiftly, you don't tend to get re-elected.

They All Look Alike To MSNBC
In her defense, Contessa Brewer can't be expected to be smarter than her teleprompter.

This Is About How I Feel When People Try To Convince Me National Healthcare Saves Money

I Can't Imagine Why Nevadans Don't Want To Re-Elect This Gem

Cheney For President In 2012!

And Maybe We Can Make Marco Rubio Majority Leader While We're At It

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Ares Is Ready To Launch

Here are some cool photos of the Ares I-X out at the launch pad. It's getting ready for an initial test flight on October 27th.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Don't Criticize Islam

or we'll kill you! Did any of these folks ever stop to think that perhaps people wouldn't be so quick to criticize Islam if they weren't so quick to jump to the tired old "we'll kill you and destroy Israel" stuff? Just a thought...

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Value Added Testing Failure

As you read this story, just remember one thing. Individual teachers may care if their students do well, but teachers unions do not. They have one goal, and it's to protect their own. Despite all of my deep, deep differences with the president, if he did nothing I admired except for helping states to implement realistic testing in order to hold teachers accountable to their students and parents, it would be enough to make him a hero in my book.

Oh Good, Apparently We're Not Racist For Opposing The President

Merely disconnected from reality. I'm glad someone is on that for us.

This Is Actually Quite Clever

I don't care who you are, that's funny right there.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Let The Boring Old White Guys Be Boring Old White Guys

Some recent missteps by the Republican party on matters of race, coupled with the unfair demonization of Rush Limbaugh, have gotten me thinking about efforts to reach out beyond the traditional base of the Republican party. What I've realized is that, counter-intuitive though it may seem, having Michael Steele as the RNC Chair may actually hinder the party more than it helps.

Let me start with an example. I've worked with kids quite a bit, primarily through church. I've taught and volunteered with ages ranging from four through junior high. I'm only 28, a kid at heart, and I can sing the Hannah Montana theme song without missing a word. And yet, I've never tried to be cool, or act like I'm one of the kids. I know better. It isn't through any great wisdom of my own. I just remember junior high, and am keenly aware of the fact that I wasn't even cool when I WAS 13. Why would I be silly enough to assume I can con them into believing I'm cool now that I'm over a decade beyond their age?

The truth is that no adult should try to act cool around kids. We can't. The best of us is still just an old guy or gal, and kids can see right through anyone attempting to be something they aren't. So why should we assume any less of other adults?

To bring this post back around to the more pertinent topic, the Republican party needs to realize what it is, and what it isn't. Just as I am not a cool pre-tween, the Republican party is a party of boring old white guys. Now obviously not every Republican falls into that category. I know plenty of black Republicans, plenty of female Republicans, and I still count as a young Republican. But the center of gravity in the party is old, and boring, and white. And that's ok. It doesn't mean we can't reach out to minorities and change who we are over time as we draw them in. But meanwhile, we need to understand what we're starting out with. And that's when Michael Steele becomes a problem.

Steele is neither boring, nor old, nor white. He knows it, and we know it. But neither is he an average black American. While his personal story is inspiring, his elite education, high income, and decades of interaction with the rich and powerful are not typical of anyone of any race. However, because of his pigmentation, I worry that Chairman Steele thinks he has a greater "common touch" with black voters than is actually the case. Just as it is easy for me to fall into the trap of trying to be "one of the kids" with the youth group, it is easy for Michael Steele to make the same mistake. The rest of the boring old white guys running the party are painfully aware of how un-hip they really are. None of them would launch a blog called "What Up".

The truth is that, like anyone else, minority voters don't want to be talked down to. They don't expect old white guys to be hip, nor will they tolerate them pretending to be. Ironically enough, the quintessential boring old white guy, Newt Gingrich, has the right idea. He's traveling around talking to black voters about education reform. He isn't trying to be "cool" or "one of the guys". Instead, he's simply interested in finding common ground through real dialogue. Listening to people, and talking to them about real issues will always win more friends that pretending to be what you think they want. It works in junior high, and it works in real life.

Breaking News About Keith Olbermann!

For those who haven't yet heard (and you can't have heard yet, because I'm the one breaking the story), Keith Olbermann announced his love of consensual intimate relations with various barnyard animals on his show recently. The exact quote was, "Yes, I love sex with barnyard animals. Women talk too much, but with animals, you don't have that problem." Now, I know you may doubt the quote at first. After all, if someone said something so unusual and controversial, wouldn't it have garnered more attention? Shouldn't I have a recording, or at least be able to cite an exact date?

Fortunately, as the recent flap over Rush Limbaugh's desire to buy the Rams proved, the media has progressed beyond the need for silly things like evidence. If a quote is juicy enough, and you don't like the person, run with it! And I REALLY don't like Keith Olbermann. But, for those of you who might need a little bit more to go on, what about the fact that Keith went to Cornell Agricultural School, instead of the real Cornell? Since we know how brilliant Olbermann is (after all, he tells us often enough), the only reason I can imagine for settling for an inferior school was the easy access to barnyard animals. Prove me wrong.

While I think it's pretty clear from Keith's ratings that he is unlikely to ever be able to afford to buy an NFL football team, I'd like to be the first to go on record saying that his horrendous lifestyle choices should offend NFL Mascots everywhere. I can't imagine that mascots would be willing to work for any team that would allow Barnyard Keith an ownership stake.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Upcoming Elections To Keep An Eye On

In 1993, we had a charismatic new Democratic president (some even called him the first black president), a vocal healthcare debate, and Democratic majorities in the House and Senate. Sound familiar? Well, it should. Many pundits have cited parallels between 1993 and 2009. Conservatives point out that the political revolution of 1994 really began in 1993, when the country became deeply unhappy with the new administration. Further momentum built in the wake of Republican victories in Virginia and New Jersey's gubernatorial races, and the New York city mayoral race. While this year's mayoral race is capturing virtually no attention (the incumbent seems like a safe bet to be re-elected without the blessing of either major party), the New Jersey and Virginia gubernatorial elections are again being cited as a bellwether.

Some caveats do apply. The 1994 Republican sweep was helped immensely by Democratic retirements. Empty seats are harder to defend. There are few Democratic vacancies this time around, but there are plenty of Democratic seats occupied by first-term Representatives. There are also powerful anti-incumbent feelings this time which add fluidity to the mix. Most importantly, in 1993 the Clinton healthcare reforms were soundly defeated and the president himself was an unpopular figure. This time around, we have yet to see what the outcome of healthcare reform will be, and president Obama still has a healthy level of personal popularity.

With all that in mind, I'd like to make some tentative predictions about what the outcomes of three races will tell us. These races are relatively high profile, and run the gamut of winnability for both parties. They are the Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial races, and the race in California's 10th Congressional district.

The easiest win for Republicans is in Virginia. Virginia is still more red than blue, and Republicans have fielded an excellent candidate. In fact, they are leading in the polls for all three of the top statewide offices. Simply put, if Creigh Deeds were to pull off an upset in this race, the Republican party can kiss any chances to make gains in 2010 goodbye. They would be likely to lose some of their most promising potential challengers who are still on the fence about running, and would definitely see an impact in motivation and fundraising.

Somewhere in the middle lies New Jersey. This state is solid blue, but the incompetence of its current leaders coupled with high unemployment has put it into the mix. Chris Christie was leading handily over Democratic Governor John Corzine until recently. Attack ads from Corzine (he's outspending Christie 3:1), a lethargic Christie campaign, and an unusually strong independent challenger have brought Christie's numbers back down to parity with the governor. Short of a serious scandal breaking out, this is probably as close to a 50-50 race as anything is going to get. If Christie wins, it will be a serious morale boost for a badly discouraged Republican party. Look for every pundit with an "R" next to his name to cite it as proof that a 1994 repeat is in the offing for 2010. It will probably cause some fence-sitters to jump into congressional races they have been considering. Should Christie lose, it will definitely hurt, but not be a fatal blow like Virginia. Democrats will cite it as proof that Republicans are not going to repeat 1994, and Republicans will argue that New Jersey is just too blue a state. The margin of victory will matter most here. If Christie or Corzine squeak out a win, we probably haven't learned much. If either man squashes his opponent, look for good things in his party's future.

Last, but not least, is the California 10th Congressional District. With a large Democratic majority (Ellen Tauscher won re-election in 2008 by 30 points), it is an unlikely place for a Republican to win. However, special elections are tricky things, and the Republicans have recruited a very good candidate in David Harmer. John Garamendi, the state's lieutenant governor, is a fixture in California politics, which is both good and bad. He's seasoned, and knows how to raise funds, but he has a bit of a reputation as an also-ran who went after this seat only because his latest gubernatorial campaign (there have been several) never got off the ground. This election is still almost certain to be a Democratic victory, but if Harmer manages to pull off an upset, incumbent Democrats in red states had better batten down the hatches.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Definitive Word On Obama's Nobel

I think it goes without saying the giving Barack Obama a Nobel Prize for the first 11 days of his presidency borders on farce. But just in case it doesn't go without saying, here are some folks who have said it. Please note that all of them supported him for president, as far as I know.

I can't get too upset about this decision. First of all, the award is given out by the same continent that produces this stuff. Suddenly I feel pretty good about Britney Spears. Besides, it may be a farce, but it's not an atypical one. Past Nobel Prize recipients have included: Al "I made a movie that was so inaccurate, British courts decided a disclaimer had to be provided before showing it in classrooms" Gore, Mohamed "Iranian nuclear program? What Iranian nuclear program" ElBaradei, Kofi "you only care about the widespread corruption and sexual crimes committed by UN employees because I'm BLACK" Annan, and Yasser "kill Jews" Arafat.

There is a long tradition of awarding Nobels either to thugs or useless but well-intentioned people and groups (I'm looking at you, International Campaign to Ban Landmines and International Physicians For The Prevention of Nuclear War). Meanwhile, the number of Nobel Peace Prizes won by the US Marines remains at zero. In fact, after looking at recent recipients I think the chances of the Nobel Committee picking any of the more deserving folks out there were probably pretty slim. Frankly speaking, at least giving it to President Obama means the committee will have to wait until next year to award the prize to Mahmoud Amadinejad. As Dennis Prager has often pointed out, if you know nothing about a person except that they've received a Nobel Peace Prize, be wary.

What's really interesting about this award though, is that it may actually make President Obama's life harder. After all, the main conservative criticism of the man is that he's all sizzle, and no steak. Even SNL has picked up on it.

Getting an award like this, for no better reason than, "He's so hopey-changey and speaks so pretty!" really doesn't help the president's agenda. Remember early on when comedians were lamenting a lack of obvious jokes to make about Barack Obama? Think they still have that problem?

The bottom line is that Obama has always had a gap between his rhetoric and reality. Obviously, this is true of most politicians. Few live up to all of their campaign promises. In Obama's case though, the distance is unusually pronounced. What he doesn't need is more build-up to further enhance the gap. This does nothing but deceive him in regards to what he can actually accomplish (see the Olympic fiasco), and build up expectations among his supporters to extreme and unrealistic levels. Just remember Obama fans, the higher he gets built up, the further he has to fall to get back to reality.

LCROSS Has Crash-Landed

The Lunar Crater Reconnaissance Observation and Sensing Satellite has crash-landed on the moon. LCROSS's impact is being used as a way to test for water in craters that never see the sun. They hit in exactly the spot they hoped for, but it will be a while before we have sufficient data to know whether they found anything or not.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The President Is So Vain, I'll Bet He Thinks This Post Is About Him

George Will has a particularly good column today about President Obama and his trip to Copenhagen. I'm not terribly bothered by the trip itself, unlike some folks. If the president wants to spend his time trying to help Chicago (a city that certainly needs help), at least it keeps him away from his typical mischief. However, Will's point about the narcissism displayed on the trip is a good one. He writes that, "In the 41 sentences of her remarks, Michelle Obama used some form of the personal pronouns 'I' or 'me' 44 times. Her husband was, comparatively, a shrinking violet, using those pronouns only 26 times in 48 sentences. Still, 70 times in 89 sentences conveyed the message that somehow their fascinating selves were what made, or should have made, Chicago's case compelling."

One might argue that Will's point isn't a fair one. After all, counting pronouns is hardly the best way to characterize a speech. Let's examine the content instead, shall we? The president starts off well enough. The first two paragraphs talk mainly about the importance of the games, with only one reference to the president's personal history thrown in. Things go off track a little in the following paragraphs as Obama tells the committee that they should choose Chicago for the same reasons he did. This seems innocent enough at first, but as he continues, you realize it's just an excuse to tell his thrilling personal story for the 10,482,598,938 time. He focuses back in for several paragraphs extolling the virtues of Chicago and America. Then things go irretrievably off the rails as he finishes by using the games as an excuse to talk about the budding greatness that is the Obama presidency.

Michelle's speech is actually worse. At least Barack Obama has the excuse of being the leader of America when he too closely identifies selling the location with selling himself. Michelle on the other hand, tells of sitting on her daddy's lap at the tender young age of 20 (Carl Lewis first competed in the 1984 games) to watch the games and be inspired to achieve something great. I assume that means "graduate from an Ivy and marry well". You know, the feminist dream. She goes on to talk about how her father taught her to play sports despite a debilitating physical condition, and finishes with a challenge to give Chicago the games because it would have made her dad happy.

Ok, so perhaps it was just a failed attempt to personalize Chicago's already substantive efforts to land the games. What other evidence do we have that the president is self-centered? Remember the president's recent speech to the UN? That was the speech in which he said, "For those who question the character and cause of my nation, I ask you to look at the concrete actions we have taken in just nine months." In the president's mind, defending America on the world stage doesn't involve pointing out that the previous administration spent more on foreign aid to impoverished African nations than all previous administrations combined. It doesn't involve reminding Muslim countries about the number of the times in recent decades that American blood has been spilled to protect Muslims, or reminding Europe of the sacrifices made to protect them in two world wars and rebuild them in the aftermath. Our Cold War defense of free nations doesn't even cross his mind. All that matters, all that can redeem America in the world's eyes is the fact that Barack Obama supports cap-and-trade legislation. No, no hubris there at all.

Will ends his column by pointing out that presidents often come to have a defining word associated with them. "Tricky Dick", "Silent Cal", "Honest Abe". The concluding sentence summarizes things nicely, "Unhappy will be a president whose defining adjective is 'vain.'" I apologize to George Will for this criticism, but he seems to have come up with only half a nickname. After all, it wasn't simply "Tricky" or "Honest", but rather "Tricky Dick" and "Honest Abe". To complete his point, I'd like to humbly suggest calling the president "Vain Hussein". That is, if using the president's middle name isn't racist this week. I have trouble keeping track.

Don't Read The Bill

I'm sorry, but I just can't get too worked up by all of the liberal congressmen who admit that they have no intention of reading any of the healthcare bills before they vote on them.

First, let me stipulate that I agree that any Congressmen who ranted and raved about no one reading the Patriot Act before they voted on it, but are now willing to do the same on healthcare are hypocrites. Second, let me also say that, as a conservative, I'm more than willing to sign on to the idea that it probably says something not-so-good about our government that we've extended its size and scope to such a degree that people readily admit that they couldn't understand a bill if they did read it. After all, the founders were able to declare independence from England and create our political system in about 6,000 clear words (We seem to be heading downhill. After all, God created the entire world in about 1,400 words). And last, let me also acknowledge that, as a simple matter of political tactics, "read the bill" is effective. When people are confused and suspicious about legislation, forcing their representative to admit they have no intention of actually reading it certainly does sound devastating.

Having said all of that, the bottom line is that we are where we are. Government is huge. It overreaches, and federal legislation is scary, complicated stuff. I analyze state legislation for a living. I also made my way through college reading Shakespeare, Dante, and Dostoevsky (and enjoying it). And yet, on the few occasions that I've had to pick up a federal bill and do something useful with it, I find myself fighting the urge to curl up into the fetal position and suck my thumb. Talking about what a horrible state of affairs we've come to may be cathartic, but it doesn't do anything meaningful.

But let's pretend for a moment that this reality wasn't the case. Let's say each member of Congress was limited to a single, ten page bill per session. That would still require each member of Congress to read 5,350 pages of legislation per year. I seriously doubt even such a limited goal is within their reach. And since it seems to be an open question whether some members of Congress are even operating at a high school level, asking them to read this bill really seems to be a futile gesture.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Funny, But Not Ha-Ha Funny

Anti-semite and all-around nutter Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may be Jewish. Then again maybe not. The author of the first article is asserting that President Squinty's original last name, Sabourjian, is the Iranian equivalent of a name like Goldberg. The second article argues that it bears little relation to his ethnicity, and actually derives from his father's profession. On top of that, his mother is a direct descendant of the prophet, and therefore an unlikely candidate to be marrying a Jewish man.

It looks like the theory probably isn't true, but there's one point I'd like to see addressed further. The first author says that, "The name is even on the list of reserved names for Iranian Jews compiled by Iran's Ministry of the Interior." I have no idea exactly what that means, but the author asserts it as if it is an uncontested fact. Oh well, even if it is true, it really only matters to armchair psychologists. I'm not sure the Jews of Israel really care if the guy who wants to "wipe them off the map" is himself Jewish or not.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Wither Conservatism?

There has been plenty of self-laudatory hand-wringing among both conservatives and liberals (yeah, I'm looking at YOU Rod Dreher!) about what a reprehensible group of mouth-breathers we have leading the modern conservative movement. These types generally spend much of their time decrying folks like Rush or Glenn Beck, without spending much time actually listening to them, and even less time listening to or talking about the Dennis Prager/Hugh Hewitt/Bill Bennett types that occupy the airwaves alongside them. Much of what they say is overwrought and under-thought, but it isn't without merit. A party needs intellectual guidance, and it needs a Bill Buckley to chase out the Birchers every so often. One of the things that has distinguished modern conservatism from the left is our rejection of the "no enemies to the left" philosophy of the other side. Every time Obama is called a "facist", reasonable conservatives should die a little bit inside.

On the other hand, there are conservatives who want to imagine that there is no problem at all within the modern conservative movement. No matter how often Glenn Beck says something transparently silly or Michael Savage does a Howard Dean impression, they can't be criticized because they're on the team. They say conservatives don't need to attract the center at all. We need to kick out the RINO's (i.e. anyone who doesn't agree precisely on every point with your particular brand of conservatism) and double down on Sarah Palin. This attitude is no more healthy than the first.

Obviously, a reasonable middle ground is needed between these two poles. I think Steven Hayward strikes a good balance in this piece. He discusses how the movement has always been balanced between its thinkers and doers, the philosophers and politicos. Right now, the balance appears to be heavy on the politicos, many of whom are...less thoughtful than one might hope. Some more good thoughts appear in the piece by John Derbyshire that Hayward links to in his article. Derb goes in for a little more hand-wringing than I'd like, but that's John Derbyshire. If he didn't believe we are all doomed, what would be the point in getting out of bed each day?

There is plenty of thoughtful, middlebrow conservatism out there. The symphony-conducting, happiness-extolling, honey-blogging Dennis Prager is my favorite example. But, for whatever reason, they're a much harder sell than the mud-throwers. This is true on both sides of the political spectrum. After all, Al Franken has his own Senate seat while Alan Colmes still needs ID when he uses his library card. I think a lot of it probably has to do with a 24/7 campaign cycle that leaves little time for reflection between "vital" battles. So support your local thinkers, not just the local doers. Maybe restoring the balance is possible. Or maybe Derb is right. Maybe We Are Doomed.

Where's The Story Here?

When I read a story about a scientists who has "discovered" that we cannot model human evolution on modern apes because we didn't evolve from them, I feel the need to wonder why the story was written at all. Wasn't that Physical Anthropology, day 1, lesson 1? No one has ever thought that humans evolved from chimps. I'd say the reporter is showing scientific illiteracy, but the quotes from the smart guy involved seem to indicate that the reporter was reporting the story as the professor told it to him. Odd.

The 2016 Olympics

Most conservatives are focusing on the "epic fail" aspect of Obama's mission to capture the 2016 Olympics for Chicago. Since massive events like the Olympics are difficult to organize, disruptive, and (at least in this case) not terribly popular with the locals, they are free to enjoy their schadenfreude without having to feel guilty over America losing out on something of great value. However, that isn't what I find interesting about the fiasco. What I find interesting is the gratuitous nature of the rebuff of President Obama. After all, this isn't the jingoistic American cowboy George Bush being slapped in the face. Just as Bill Clinton was America's first black president, Obama was supposed to be America's first foreign president (not in the crazy "where's his birth certificate" kind of way, but in the "going around apologizing for America's behavior and kissing up to tinpot dictators until even the president of France tells you to grow a pair" kind of way). And yet America didn't even make the second round of voting. That's the IOC equivalent of giving the president an atomic wedgie. Couldn't they at least have kept America around for a few more votes to allow him to save face? Am I allowed to feel insulted on his behalf and have a little bipartisan moment here?

Historically Black Colleges Diversify

Does this matter? On one level, I think it's a great thing. After all, most of these colleges are here because black students couldn't get a fair shake at other educational institutions. Now that talented black students have the same access to other colleges as everyone else, these schools no longer stand as symbols of unequal opportunities. On the other hand, every time a society loses something unique, no matter its practical value, it loses a part of itself. Hmm...

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Moral Questions

There are vast arrays of moral issues out there to struggle through. Some are easy (the Holocaust, racism), and some are hard (Just War theory, embryonic stem cell research). On most topics, people don't graduate to difficult areas of the subject until they get the easy questions right. Can we all agree that people who cannot say that drugging and raping a 13 year-old should be punished with jail time have failed a pretty basic test of moral common sense and are probably not qualified to opine on tougher issues until they master the basics? Just think of the issue of child-rape as the training wheels of moral dilemmas.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Wow, Umm Seriously?

So Anne Applebaum, usually a fair-to-good columnist has decided that, his mom was killed in the Holocaust, so he's scared of "irrational" punishment is a compelling case as to why child-rapist Roman Polanski should be let off the hook after fleeing the country and spending decades avoiding his jail time. She also points to his advanced age, as if this were a case of justice delayed by the judicial system, rather than by the man's own work at avoiding the law. Worst of all, she wrote this column without seeing any need to notify readers that she has a serious conflict of interests.

Umm...Not Really

I'm sorry that this young girl died, but her friends...and the writer on this story...are not so good with the science. H1N1 is a virus. Viruses can be vaccinated against, but not cured the way bacterial infections can. All we can do is treat symptoms. They are using antiviral drugs with some severe cases, but these have to be given early (Even if she had walked in on her first day of illness, they wouldn't have given them to a healthy 22 year-old. It sounds from the story as if by the time her case became severe, she had already had her symptoms for a while, probably too long for antivirals to work.) and are not a cure. At most, they reduce symptom severity and length. So the ghouls trying to parlay her death into a lesson on healthcare should stop, and take a long look in the mirror.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

An Extra Helping Of Creepy

I know the president can't be blamed for what his fans do, but can those of us who aren't weirdly obsessed with him agree that this is all kinds of inapproriate?

According to the school, this was an officially sanctioned event as part of black history month.

Hat Tip: Booker Rising

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

This Probably Isn't An Original Observation...

...but has anyone else noticed that Michael Moore's new film bashing capitalism requires you to PAY ADMISSION?

Good On Him

I think this was a funny, lighthearted way of making it clear how silly the "opposition to Obama's healthcare plan is due to racism" meme is. He does know how to separate himself from the crazies...unless they happen to pastor his church.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Random Stuff That Pops Into My Head

-Probably the most famous line in the song "Ironic" by Alanis Morissette is, "It's like rain on your wedding day". The word irony describes something that is humorous in a coincidental, and yet unlikely and unexpected way. For example, the biblical story of Haman, who ends by being hung on gallows he erected himself for his enemy Mordecai, is an example of irony. Rain on your wedding day is many things, but it is not ironic. The song itself might be considered ironic though, given the unexpectedly inappropriate nature of its lyrics.
-You know a fight was one-sided when the post-fight dustup between the winner and a prospective future opponent provides more action than the previous 12 rounds.
-The long-awaited commission report on reforming California's tax system is out...and being soundly rejected. How much proof do we need before realizing that an idea's quality is inversely proportional to the likelihood of its implementation?
-When I read stories like this one, I'm not sure what to think. On the one hand, it's nice for these poor people. On the other hand, wouldn't it have been even nicer and you know...actually meaningful, to have done this when: 1. it might have helped them advance their careers (usually the point of attending college), 2. it might have taken some political courage, 3. most of the people involved were still alive? Apologies 60 years after the fact show more concern with our own self-image than they do concern for the folks who were actually wronged.
-Speaking of ironic, how about the lead-in to this story? The author praises the Internet as something the government did well. Actually, the initial development of what we now call the Internet was done by DARPA, which is more private sector than government. Some excerpts from the Wikipedia article describing their unique model.
-"DARPA avoids hierarchy, essentially operating at only two management levels"
-"DARPA has an exemption from Title V civilian personnel specifications, which provides
for a direct hiring authority to hire talent with the expediency not allowed by the standard
civil service process."
-"DARPA neither owns nor operates any laboratories or facilities, and the overwhelming
majority of the research it sponsors is done in industry and universities. Very little of
DARPA’s research is performed at government labs."
-The Universe may be the greatest non violence-related show currently on the air.
-Does it bother anyone else that no sci-fi show dealing with invisibility ever tries to explain how a person can be invisible without going completely blind? No? Ok, never mind.
-English is funny. Take the word overlook. It can either mean, "to look on from a higher position" (which makes something more easily visible), or it can mean "look beyond without seeing", almost the exact opposite of the previous definition.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Hey, Did Anyone Catch That?

Maybe I'm just slow, and this was noticed at the time. It's not all that vital, but I do find it funny nonetheless. I was reading this article over at the New Atlantis, and the following sentence jumped out at me. "Their efforts worked, and candidate Obama, especially on his Florida trips, took to speaking favorably about space and describing his memories of Apollo from his childhood in Hawaii, where the astronauts returning from space first came after they were plucked from the Pacific." I checked, and he really did say that. Anyone notice the problem? The Apollo program started with a series of unmanned test flights. The first manned flight was Apollo 7. (The earlier flights tested the various modules of the rocket) Apollo 7 occurred in 1968, the year following the president's move to Indonesia. As far as I know, we didn't splash any astronauts down off the coast of Indonesia. Fibbing about witnessing the Apollo landings just seems a little bit silly, doesn't it?

Here's Something You Don't See Every Day

Rasmussen (a poll that traditionally slightly overestimates Republican strength) has Bob McDonnell's lead over Creigh Deeds almost disappearing, while the Daily Kos' poll has McDonnell ahead by seven. Either Rasmussen had a screwy day, or Deeds needs to send the Washington Post a really nice fruit basket.

This Is Reprehensible

Nancy Pelosi might want to consider the part she has played in the coarsening of public discourse before getting quite so worked up over others. She also might want to...you know...stick to the truth. In a recent interview, she said, "I have concerns about some of the language that is being used, because I saw this myself in the late '70s in San Francisco. This kind of rhetoric was very frightening, and it created a climate in which violence took place."

This is despicable on two counts. First, it likens the vocal disagreement of people like Joe Wilson and the Tea Party protesters (and for the record I'm not 100% sold on either) to bigotry and willingness to commit violence. But secondly, and far more important, she's lying about the murder of Harvey Milk. His murder had nothing to do with his sexual orientation, or his politics. He and the mayor were murdered by a disgruntled ex-councilman, because he had vacated his seat and then changed his mind. When he tried to get his seat back, they wouldn't allow him to do so, and he killed them for it. In fact, one of the main reasons he was so angry at Milk is because the two of them had been friends prior to his resignation. But Nancy Pelosi would never let the truth stand in the way of a good blood libel.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Harvard's IATs

Interesting tests. Does anyone know much about the principles behind them? I took the test on race, and it asked me to group pictures/words as quickly as possible. Pictures of faces had to be classified as African-American or European-American, while words had to be either good or bad. At times you had to group pictures and words simultaneously. (For example, in one round, good and European-American are represented by the same button, while in the next round it might be good and African-American.)

I assume that they are looking for some sort of hesitance, since the test instructs you to react as quickly as possible. For the record, I apparently have no racial preferences. But couldn't this just as easily be an indicator of my ability to sort rapidly and accurately? As a control of sorts, I took the test on religious preference. Unsurprisingly, Christianity was the religion I viewed most positively, followed by Judaism. However, Islam scored higher than Hinduism. Any conscious preferences I have between the two faiths definitely fall out in favor of Hinduism. This leads me to another thought. Perhaps our brains are quicker at sorting the familiar than the unfamiliar? While I may prefer Hinduism, I have far less experience with it, and am far less likely to be using Hindu terms in daily conversation. If my suspicion is correct, it seems like it might have a material impact on how we assess the results of the racial test as well. Thoughts?

For some discussion of these tests, look here and here.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The First Rule Of Fighting Taylor Swift

is, you DO NOT fight with Taylor Swift. The second rule of fighting Taylor Swift is that you DO NOT fight with Taylor Swift.

Since I despise Kanye West, know little to nothing about rap, and think MTV is largely a thing of the devil, I'll keep the commentary to a minimum. Suffice it to say that it was funny and mildly enjoyable watching Kanye West discover that picking on wildly popular 19 year-old girls receiving their first MTV award will NOT go well for you. Especially if they are able to remain kind and classy in the aftermath, while you turn your "apology" into a whine-fest devoted to the problems of being Kanye West.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Elephant In The Room

From First Read: "At what point do what a bunch of folks in D.C. believe privately become more public -- that there is a dramatic divide between how people in the South view Obama versus the rest of the country? Sure, the South has always been more conservative and has been increasingly more Republican, so it shouldn't be a surprise this region is less open to a Democratic president's ideas; it's no different than folks in New York City and San Francisco not being open to a Republican president's proposals. But is it really the “D” next to Obama’s name that has folks upset in the South? Yes, there was a "coastal" divide when it came to George W. Bush, and the election results of 2004, 2006, and 2008 proved that. But is it ALL just ideological? It's truly subjective... As defiant as some on the right are about the fact that this has nothing to do with race, there’s an equal group of folks who believe it's ONLY grounded in race. Bottom line: Whether it's fair or not, there is a perception growing that race is driving some elements of the opposition to Obama. It probably means this tumult will only grow for the time being."
Get it? If only those racist southerners could get over their thinly-veiled bigotry and get on board with Obama.
Here's the 2000 election map. No southern states voted Democrat, even though they ran a white guy from Tennessee.
Here's the 2004 election map. No southern states voted Democrat, even though they ran a white guy from North Carolina.
Here's the 2008 election map. This time, the black guy from Illinois wins three southern states. Curse those bigots!

This Is Kind Of Funny

Apparently technology can still lose the occasional battle with nature.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

I'm Good Enough, I'm Smart Enough...Well, You Know The Rest

I don't think Harvey is entirely fair about Al Franken's comedy career, though I do agree the rest of his existence seems largely to have been a waste of much-needed oxygen. However, we should all be able to agree that this may be the coolest thing Franken has ever done. And frankly, knowing where all 50 states go on a map probably puts him light-years ahead of about half his Senate colleagues.

It has been brought to my attention that the above post included some unnecessary hyperbole in describing Al Franken. I'd like to correct that. The amount of oxygen consumed by Al Franken during the course of his lifetime is infinitesimal relative to total atmospheric oxygen and cannot therefore be described as "much-needed". I regret the overstatement.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Maybe Reporters Should Take Economics Classes

Can anyone tell me what is wrong with this story? Here's a hint. Compensation is a package. If you still don't understand, let me explain.

When an employer chooses to hire someone at a salary of $45,000 per year, they don't just treat it as an additional $45,000 to payroll. They look at the total cost of the hire, and subtract costs until they arrive at a salary. $3442.50 will need to be allocated for paying Social Security. Let's say there is a 401k matching program that could require the company to pay another $5,000 a year if fully utilized, and that there is also $10,000 a year allocated to medical and dental costs. So, what happens in reality is that the company decides they can pay an employee $63,442.50 per year, subtracts all of the other costs and arrives at a salary. If they increase what they'll pay towards health care, the salary is adjusted downward accordingly. Therefore, employers are not actually shifting additional health care costs to workers. Instead, they are deciding to allocate less of the total pot of compensation to health care and more to salaries. But no reporter would ever actually report a story that way.

Pro-Life Activist Shot

Police suggest he may have been targeted due to his protest. Obviously, no one should jump to any conclusions. Perhaps his murder is completely unrelated to his political activities. But, if it turns out that this was the reason for his murder, I'm sure we'll hear all of the same hand-wringing from the pundit class about the hatred inculcated by pro-choicers that we heard about pro-lifers after the Tiller murder...right?

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Praying The Rosary For World Peace?

I saw a car on the road this morning with a bumper sticker that went something like this: "Pray the rosary for world peace". Obviously, the driver was Catholic. Assuming that they are a real Catholic, and not just one of those nominal types who likes the pretty candles, but ignores all of the icky stuff about sin and sacrifice, their Catholicism says certain things about their worldview. Specifically, it means they believe in original sin, the idea that humankind is in a fallen and rebellious state and is irredeemable without Christ. They also, one would assume, believe that wars, genocides, etc. are a result of this sinful state. Lastly, while this one is a little more complicated than it sounds when simply stating it, Catholics believe in free will.

So, if one believes in a world where fallen and sinful men are free to exercise their will, isn't praying for world peace a little like praying for a winning lottery ticket when you don't ever play the lottery? It's a beautiful idea, but one that seems unlikely to occur anytime soon. With God all things are possible, but might not a better use of our finite prayer time be intercession on behalf of more likely causes? Should we pray for things that seem to go against God's permissive will? Is it enough to pray for a beautiful idea simply because it is a beautiful idea?

Friday, September 4, 2009

New White Supremacist Party In California

Normally, I'd ignore a story like this, but I found one line by a professor unintentionally hilarious. Speaking of the party's "chairman", who has a criminal record, the article says, "Stephen J. Stambough, a professor of political science at Cal State Fullerton, said Cole's criminal record could make it difficult to establish a mainstream party." Yeah, THAT'S the big hangup. I've often heard that white supremacists are known for their scrupulously law-and-order mentality. If it weren't for that, I'm sure they'd just be registering up a storm of new voters.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

I Must Be Missing Something

This experiment amounts to a way to measure gravity much more precisely than ever before. This article on the experiment claims that it is a step towards unifying quantum theory and Einstein's descriptions of gravity in his relativity theory. How? I guess in the very general sense, more precise data will always be helpful, but what specifically does it do to aid unification?

For those who don't know, I'll give my history major's thumbnail sketch of gravity. Einstein's theory said that gravity was not some mysterious force that acted within the framework of space. Rather, gravity is a RESULT of the framework of space. Space itself is curved by large objects like stars or planets (and by smaller objects too, but we don't notice them) and what we see as gravity is actually this curved geometry of space sliding objects around. A good way to picture it is to imagine your mattress as space. When you place a "star" (heavy object) on the mattress, its mass causes the mattress to sink underneath it, creating "gravity" (a depression). Any small object placed nearby will roll towards the heavy object because of this depression. Now, add an extra dimension and a bunch of fancy math and you have Einstein's theory.

This worked beautifully until quantum physics came along and insisted that the big deal at the bottom of everything cool were particles. Photons, muons, bozons, electrons, etc. The cool kids were all particles, and gravity wanted to fit in. So, the competing quantum theory is that massless particles called "gravitons" are the ones doing all of the work of Einstein's depressed mattress. Both theories mostly work mathematically (gravitons don't in some cases), and seem to have equal explanatory force. I personally like Einstein's theory better, but that's because I'm completely unqualified to make any judgements about quantum gravitational theory, while the handy mattress analogy makes me an expert on Einstein.

So, to reiterate, I don't quite see how we come any closer to squaring the "invisible mattress versus tiny particles" argument by simply doing more precise measurements. If anyone has any thoughts that are expressible in terms that won't shatter my tiny, math-averse brain, feel free to pass them along.

There And Back Again

There's an interesting op-ed in the New York Times suggesting that the Mars mission should be a one-way trip in order to cut costs. The author rightly points out that this solution is infinitely more cost-effective than trying to return the astronauts home. Radiation shielding, fuel consumption, and other related factors mean that getting people there and back raises the difficulty exponentially. I think he's also correct in pointing out that the difficulties in implementing such a plan would primarily be political and social, rather than logistical.

I think the piece misfires in a couple of places, though. He draws an analogy between such a Mars mission and early explorers of the American continent. The fact that this is probably the most often-used comparison in conversations about the space program doesn't make it any less tenuous. The early colonists may not all have intended to get home someday (many did, assuming they would return in triumph after getting rich), but those that didn't intended to build a new home and a new civilization. No one believes any such possibility exists with Mars in the near-term.

More importantly, his semi-dismissal of the public opinion difficulties with such a plan misses a key point. NOTHING about manned space exploration is practical. There is virtually no scientific task that cannot be performed better and more cheaply by robotic surrogates than by humans. For evidence of this, look no further than Mars. We currently have two brave explorers already doing some incredible science on the red planet. Their names are Spirit and Opportunity. How many manned programs has NASA put together over the years that have exceeded expectations like these little guys? To dismiss the issue of the return trip as a mere public opinion challenge is to ignore the fact that public opinion is really the main point of manned space flight, and will remain so until it becomes cheaper and more practical (i.e. probably never).

The bottom line is that while a mission to, and return from, Mars would be a public triumph, a one-way trip would be a public embarrassment. Sending scientists to do work that could have been done by unmanned devices while tacitly acknowledging that we lack either the will or resources to bring them home safely again would not be a new Apollo program. It would be a stain on an agency struggling to find meaning.

It's Only Because They Don't Understand The Lyrics

Apparently it's Metallica that soothes the savage beast. No word yet on their reaction to Yanni.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Please Don't Sneeze On The Kilogram

You might break science.

We already use fundamental constants to define other important measures. The article gives the example of a meter, but a second has also been standardized this way. A second is defined using the natural decay of a cesium atom. These measures mean that anyone, anywhere, at any time can verify a measurement with the proper equipment. The problem with gravity (and hence measures of weight) is that gravity is incredibly weak. Think about it. If I throw a rock, I can temporarily defeat the total gravity of the entire mass of the planet earth. There are so many things that can counter gravitational force to one extent or another that the precise work needed to obtain a universal constant is not easy.

I also can't help but thinking that there must be a weight loss joke in this story somewhere...

Independent Commissions For Everyone!

So, let me get this straight. We have a commission to deal with redistricting because we can't trust the legislature to do it. The governor created another commission to update the tax code because they've messed that up as well. There's a coastal commission to deal with environmental and sustainability issues. Now they're voting on the creation of a prison commission and a water commission. For goodness sakes, we've even got a STRAWBERRY COMMISSION. At what point has the legislature devolved so much of its power into various commissions that we can take it as a tacit admission that even they know they're useless so we can send them home?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Best of the Web

James Taranto's Best of the Web column is, as it claims, one of the best daily roundups on the web. He made a telling point today that I thought was worth passing along, about presidential press coverage.

Here's a blast from the past. The New York Times, July 9, 2001, reports on George W. Bush's first summer vacation as president:
On Friday, as new unemployment figures painted a newly troubling portrait of the American economy, Mr. Bush placed himself in the same scenes--golfing and fishing in a New England paradise--that once caused his father electoral grief.
Simply amazing.
Here's the Bureau of Labor Statistics report, dated July 6, that "painted a newly troubling portrait of the American economy":
The unemployment rate was little changed at 4.5 percent, five-tenths of a percentage point higher than the average for 2000.
As Barack Obama embarked on his first summer vacation as president last week--also in a "New England paradise," Martha's Vineyard--the most recent unemployment rate was 9.4%, more than double the summer 2001 figure. Covering the Obama jaunt, the Times offers no hint that there's anything wrong with a president taking a vacation during a time of genuine crisis. Indeed, it offers this justification:
Mr. Obama, whom aides described as being amused by all of the gloom-and-doom prognosticating over his health care agenda, did not even consider skipping his vacation. Last year, he talked about the importance of taking a break to avoid "making mistakes."
That makes sense--and in any case, it's not as if the president actually escapes his responsibilities when he goes on "vacation." But the Times's coverage of Obama is a useful contrast to the paper's petty partisan sniping against Bush.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Quality Work MSNBC

What do you do if you're dying to run a story about how angry white protesters are toting guns to presidential events because they're scared of having a black man in charge, and the gun-toting protester in question ruins it by being a black man himself? If you're a professional reporter, you reconsider your presuppositions about the motivations behind the protest. If you're MSNBC, you just crop the video so that no one can see he's a black guy. Let's tale a look!

Objective Reporting