Problem Solved

"White House Security Replaced By Ugandan Contractors."

The Goal of Virtue is Perfecting Human Nature

...but there's only so much you can ask, as 'perfecting' does not imply 'perfectible.'

Actually, you probably couldn't get away with looking at her 'countenance' without offense either.
When Rowena perceived the Knight Templar's eyes bent on her with an ardour, that, compared with the dark caverns under which they moved, gave them the effect of lighted charcoal, she drew with dignity the veil around her face, as an intimation that the determined freedom of his glance was disagreeable. Cedric saw the motion and its cause. "Sir Templar," said he, "the cheeks of our Saxon maidens have seen too little of the sun to enable them to bear the fixed glance of a crusader."

"If I have offended," replied Sir Brian, "I crave your pardon,—that is, I crave the Lady Rowena's pardon,—for my humility will carry me no lower."

I'll bet they are

I don't care who you are, that's funny, right there.  Diners at a rubber-chicken Food Safety Summit Baltimore came down with raw-rubber-chicken disease, a/k/a perfringens:
The outbreak was the first in the 16-year history of the Food Safety Summit. “When we learned that attendees to the Food Safety Summit were ill after attending the 2014 event we fully cooperated with the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene regarding this matter and assisted them with their investigation as requested,” the organization said in a statement distributed by spokesperson Amy Riemer. “We have continued to do so in the past six months while the investigation was conducted and the final report was being prepared.”
The statement adds that the Food Safety Summit is working with the convention center and its catering company prior to its 2015 event “to insure that an outbreak of this nature does not happen again.”
That had to be an uncomfortable conversation.  Maybe not as uncomfortable as the internal discussions that preceded the CDC's decision to break down and issue Ebola guidelines for U.S. funeral homes, though.

Social Progress

Walmart is now selling swords of a decent quality.

That's Montgomery Clift, Honey

Is he all right?  Can he still feel?

Another Problem About Whistleblowers

A long-serving police sergeant -- who claims that he is speaking for the majority of police officers nationwide -- explains how to destroy the entire traffic-fine system via perfectly lawful mechanisms.
This is very simple and very basic. The idea is to clog up the system in the traffic camera office and the courts by drivers exercising their rights to remain innocent until proven guilty.


1. Do not accept the alleged offence. There are numerous valid reasons to dispute every single alleged offence. Often the charges are incorrect or the evidence is illegally or incorrectly gathered.

2. Challenge it, tell them that you are going to defend the matter. Make them earn their miserable $150 or $200 or whatever. They have to prepare evidence and witnesses. Just the wages for the camera operator or the Policeman on the day of the court, will be more than the actual fine. You are also taking a camera operator or a member of the Police Force off the street for the day. But it won’t get to that point… on….

3. If a court date is ever set, and it does not suit you, do not accept it, ask for a delay to a time and place that suits you.

4. When they re set the date, delay it as often as possible. keep pleading not guilty all through the process. You have every right to be sick, or go for an adjournment if the day does not suit for any legitimate reason. For example you may have pressing family or work commitments which prevent you from attending a particular court on a particular day.

5. If it ever actually gets to court, (which is unlikely if everyone does this) and if you are unwell that day, ring the court in the morning and tell them that you cannot make it as you are sick. The camera operator, and a police prosecutor will already be at court, and will be greatly inconvenienced, by having to come back another day. The whole time this is going on, the amount of paperwork involved at the traffic camera office is huge. Several staff are involved, and it rapidly becomes very costly, probably running into thousands. …..with me so far…..keep reading…….

6. The court system is then placed under such a massive load by people who wanted “their day in court” that it simply will not be able to cope unless they open up about another 50 magistrates courts, and this is obviously going to cost the government a lot more than any revenue raised. If all the above fails, which is highly unlikely….and you actually go to court and get convicted……you have a right of appeal. Make sure you appeal the conviction. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to see what happens. They are not going to spend millions chasing hundreds.

7 Tell everyone you know to challenge their alleged offences, and the entire system will crash within a few weeks.

I find this interesting, given the problem we were thinking about recently regarding Goldman-Sachs and the Fed, compared with the similar case of Snowden and the NSA. Here the officer is revealing what aren't really secrets, for a similar purpose of forcing reform by expanding public knowledge of how the system works. There's no violation of any oath of secrecy. There's no violation of the law suggested: he's just trying to help you understand what rights you have under the law that can help you resist charges of traffic offenses.

And yet, of course, the intent is destructive of a basic element of our system of law and order. It's not my favorite part of the system, to be sure! Still, the intent is destructive. He explains why he doesn't feel guilty:
I am so annoyed at what is happening these days, in what I call “Indiscriminate revenue gathering” It is absolutely disgusting. The government and the Police Force need to hang their heads in shame. If you did a survey of current serving members of the police forces in this country, you would be hard pushed to find many who disagree with me.... I do not feel guilty about coming out with this information, as I think it’s about time someone stood up for hard working, civil minded, law abiding taxpayers in this country, who are being screwed.
Taking him at his word that he believes all that completely, what do you think of his method? Is it wrong to use the rules of the legal system to destroy an aspect of it? It's the kind of thing Alinsky suggests. But it would be an ad hominem fallacy to suggest that Alinsky's offering of similar advice means that the advice should be rejected.

Is he violating a required loyalty? As a former police officer? More basically, as a citizen, to use the system to destroy itself? Or is this a legitimate form of resistance that we should encourage if we share his opinions?

Update on the nightmare

We got a year's reprieve, but we're back where we were a year ago:  at the mercy of Obamacare.  This week it occurred to me that a catastrophic plan might be the way out.  It turns out to be devilishly difficult to find any information about catastrophic coverage, because they're so bad for you, so you shouldn't find out about them, even though they had to stick them in the law to quiet some nervous senators down or something, but they weren't serious about them, I mean, come on.

Here's scoop as far as I can make out:  Originally, the ACA provided that you couldn't get catastrophic coverage unless you were under 30.  By "you can't get it," I don't just mean you'll be fined (or taxed, or whatever) for not having eligible coverage, I mean an insurance company can't or won't (hard to tell) offer it to you.  Late last year, however, when the Obama administration was feeling heat from the millions of Americans who had their coverage terminated because it was too affordable, they announced a special exception:  you can be under 30, or you can prove you had your insurance terminated and you "believe" the available replacement insurance is too expensive.  They couldn't bring themselves to say it actually was more expensive, just that you had some kind of irrational right-wing belief that it was.  Whatever:  my irrational right-wing belief apparently qualifies, so that's all good.

But now comes the tricky part.  Who offers such insurance, what are its terms (especially its network), and what does it cost?  Ah, that's not information anyone is prepared to share with us just yet.  Wouldn't you like a nice metallic plan instead?  No?  Well, we don't offer catastrophic plans, anyway.  Who does?  No one does.  Nope, not anywhere in the country.  OK, that's not quite true, because occasionally a broker does find one; Humana offers a rather cheap one right here in my county.  Unfortunately, it's an HMO, a spectacularly useless form of catastrophic insurance, because if we hit that sky-high deductible we're going to want a real doctor, thank you.  But it's a start:  if there's one, there may be others.  They're not entirely mythical.

Now comes the really hard part.  Most agents and insurers insist that the only way to find out about catastrophic coverage options is to go to and fill out an official application.  Not only is that a monumental pain, but we've heard horror stories all year about people who started the application process, hated the options, and tried to withdraw, only to find the spider web wasn't prepared to let them fly away.  Some even found they'd been signed up for a plan, or for Medicaid, despite never having clicked on any "options."  Too bad:  if you even want to find out who offers a catastrophic plan, or what it might cost, this is your only route.  Eventually, it's unavoidable, because you won't be able to finalize any purchase of catastrophic coverage without a note from giving you a special hardship exemption code, anyway.  As best I can tell, the website won't even generate the options until you have the approval code.  The website's information page does explain helpfully that, if you qualify, you'll still have to go to the insurers to get the real scoop on the plans.  The insurers, on the other hand, refer you back to the website.

While I was making up my mind whether to break down and file a formal application with the government, I discovered a little squib on a Cigna site.  Cigna doesn't offer any catastrophic coverage (big surprise), but they were kind enough to provide a better explanation than "you really wouldn't like this; go log onto and leave us alone."  They explained the special December 2014 expansion of the hardship exemption that I mentioned above, and they added one more piece of information that kills the whole deal for us:  pre-existing conditions are excluded from catastrophic coverage by a special exemption from both HIPPA and ACA requirements.  We have semi-affordable catastrophic coverage now with no pre-existing condition exclusion, because we bought it a long time ago when we were healthy, the way you're supposed to.  But now that it's being taken away because it's not good for us, the only way to replace it with catastrophic coverage is to lose coverage for the pre-existing conditions we've thoughtlessly developed in the meantime.  Because, you know, the whole point of the ACA was that pre-existing condition exclusions are a crime against humanity.

What's more, even if we didn't have pre-existing conditions, there's an admirable Catch-22:  despite the President's December 2014 announcement, the bureaucrats insist that you have to establish a "hardship."  If your income is too low, you may have a hardship, but it doesn't count because you can get a subsidy.  If your income is too high, you can't get a subsidy, but they'll insist you don't have a hardship, and you can't get permission to buy a catastrophic plan.

I have to tip my hat to these people.  When they write a Kafkaesque law, they put serious effort into making it nightmarish.

California's New Affirmative Consent Standard

So, Gov. Brown signed a new Affirmative Consent Standard into law on Sunday, which makes actual positive consent required in any interaction of sexual relations.  In all cases.  And unconscious, sleeping, drunk or drugged people cannot give this consent.  That's good right?  Think it through.  Have you ever had sex with someone who had a blood alcohol level over .08?  Are you sure?  And I'm not just talking drunk, hook-up sex... I mean this for people in committed, long term relationships.  Like married people.  Ever have a bottle of wine or two with the spouse to celebrate an anniversary?  How about on your wedding night?  Then it's likely you are a rapist.  Or a rape victim.  Indeed, according to this law, you are likely both.  Are you comfortable with that?  Are you comfortable with your spouse being a rapist in the eyes of this law?  I'm certainly not.

Contrary to what supporters of this law have been saying in internet comments, it's possible to disagree with the language of this law, and still be against rape.  I know I am.  In many ways, I'm far harsher on the crime than most people who support this law tend to be (I fully support the death penalty for rapists).  But listening to the other side, you're either 100% on board with this, or you want people to be raped.

"But, it's just common sense that it will only be an issue if the victim complains to the police!"  One, the law has nothing to do (and never has) with common sense.  It has everything to do with the letter of the law.  And what prosecute will ever want to be painted as "pro-rape".  Two, and this is the important part, unable to give consent means that even someone with no regrets was still a rape victim.  And if cops happened to stumble upon a couple in the act, and decide to breathalyzer both parties, it's entirely possible to have one or both to them arrested on a charge of rape.

Now, contrary to what supporters of this law say, the alternative is NOT "do nothing".  It's "craft a law that doesn't criminalize otherwise consensual sex between two people who may be over the legal limit."  This really should be a no brainer, and if it's really difficult to write the law in such a way, then perhaps it's a law that shouldn't be written?

Edit: citation here

Tax ☠

Now that you mention it, there does seem to be a hole in this plan:
These plans allow borrowers to reduce monthly payments to just 10% of discretionary income. The loans can then be forgiven after ten years if borrowers work in government or for a non-profit—basically any job as long as it doesn't involve a profit-seeking business.

...So the government is spending taxpayer dollars to encourage young people to avoid repaying loans to taxpayers, while at the same time encouraging these young people to work for outfits that don't pay taxes.
Well, and places that don't generate profits! It's a huge incentive, too, since it cuts the time you have to pay by ten full years.

However, there is one big drawback to opting into these plans. When you reach the point at which the rest of the loan is forgiven, you have to pay taxes on that as income that year. So, let's say you owed $100,000 in student loans at 3.4% as a grad student entering the workforce. You go to work at a non-profit, earning $40,000 a year -- that will seem like a huge increase in your standard of living after the hardships of grad school. You're married, and your spouse and child stay at home. According to the calculator the Federal Student Loan people provide, IBR will result in your monthly payments dropping from nearly a thousand dollars a month to perhaps as low as $124 a month. The estimate is that you'll be forgiven more than $63,000 of your loans.

(This isn't the best plan for you! The "Pay as You Earn" plan saves you $117,980 over the ten years -- almost the full amount of your loans.)

Sounds great, until you reach the end of the plan and suddenly have a tax bill not on the $27,000 or so that is your gross income minus your standard deduction, but on a $90,000 "income" of which you actually received only $27,000. The IRS withholding calculator suggests that you'll owe $11,000+ in taxes that year.

Still a win, since it saves you over fifty grand for the life of the loan. But there's a big hit you take all at once at the end in return for that. Of course, you have ten years to plan and save for that hit -- but if you were good at long-term life planning, you'd never have gone to grad school.

Speaking of Great American Authors

A piece on Jack London, pirate:
He was a child labourer in Oakland at 14, a Bay Area pirate at 15, a transcontinental hobo at 16, an able-bodied seaman at 17, a New York State prisoner at 18, a California ‘work beast’ at 20 and a Yukon prospector at 21. He escaped penury at 23, when after a frantic apprenticeship he began selling short stories. The bulk of them were set in the Yukon or in the South Pacific and drew on the life he’d left behind. The Call of the Wild, published in 1903, made him a celebrity at 27, and subsequent additions to his CV – candidate for mayor of Oakland, no-good husband, doomed sea captain and arthritic debauchee – were a matter of public record. London’s life had a mythic quality in the eyes of his contemporaries....

At the age of 14, London went to work at a cannery because his parents couldn’t afford to send him to high school. He was paid two dollars a day and hated it. Not having a normal job became his life’s work. He got a loan from the Prentisses, bought a skiff, and became an oyster pirate on the North California coast. ‘Every dark night’s raid,’ Labor writes, ‘was an invitation to get shot or arrested.’
I don't think I've ever heard of "oyster piracy" before.

Which is the Freest Country on Earth?

An interesting index, which allows you to assign how much a given freedom matters to you. If you don't care about freedoms at all, the rankings are purely alphabetical. If you set all indicators to maximum -- you demand the greatest of all freedoms! -- the United States comes in 10th place.

If I set the indicators as seems right to me we rise to 5th place, which isn't so bad given the company (Switzerland, the Bahamas, Chile). The one I'd object to is Hong Kong, because they clearly don't appreciate how much Hong Kong is under the thumb of a much more oppressive state (China, #158 by my scale). But we still come in well above a number of places I'd be happy to consider living (like Iceland, New Zealand, Australia, Ireland, the UK...).

So if you accept the tradeoffs I am prepared to accept, we're in good shape judging by the company we keep. Of course, this assumes the accuracy of their ratings: the United States gets a corruption rating of 73% (higher is better), which may be doubtful given other recent conversations. The limited government rating for the USA is 48, which is shameful even if it is true -- and it might be over-generous after the ACA.

Your mileage may vary -- try it out.

The Advocate

Having just finished a very large undertaking, months or perhaps more than a year in the making, I am rewarding myself with a week or so to read things I just wish to read. The first thing that came to mind was Moby Dick, which I first read in China. I might not have ever read it, except for the wonderful censorship policy they had there at the time. Western literature was thought to probably contain some sort of suspect messaging, so the only English-language books you could find for sale were classics of approximately 100 years age. (The youngest I found, which I certainly read, was The Thirty-Nine Steps and Greenmantle by John Buchan, the latter of which is a surprisingly relevant treatment of an Islamic radical dated 1916, and also dated by its openly racist language).

A moment of praise for Chinese censors! They did me a world of good; in my time there, I read a host of classics of literature that I don't know I would have found time to read otherwise. Their motives were impure, but the effect on me can hardly be disputed: it was wholly positive.

In any case, in rereading Moby Dick I encountered this chapter with pleasure because it reminds me so much of several of you. It is praise for the capital, honest, workmanlike business of whaling -- horrifying to many, I suppose, in the way that fracking (and indeed whaling) are horrifying today.

CHAPTER 24. The Advocate.

As Queequeg and I are now fairly embarked in this business of whaling; and as this business of whaling has somehow come to be regarded among landsmen as a rather unpoetical and disreputable pursuit; therefore, I am all anxiety to convince ye, ye landsmen, of the injustice hereby done to us hunters of whales.
In the first place...

Whistleblowing at the Fed

Should we think differently about this Goldman-Sachs case than the Snowden case? Both involve a kind of basic disloyalty, a thieving of secrets not one's own, a revealing of them to the world in violation of trust and given word. Both were done (at least allegedly) out of a basic patriotism: the one because the government's spying apparatus had been turned on Americans in overwhelming ways and the violator thought the public ought to know; the other because the government had proven to be captured by the banks it was allegedly supposed to regulate, with the effect that both key institutions had become corrupt to the core. In both cases, the idea was that revealing it all to the public was the way to begin to right the ship.

If we think differently about it, it is because we think a primal loyalty is owed to the political system -- the nation state -- that is not owed to one's employer. That's a plausible distinction. We ordinarily hope that people who discover that their company is violating the state's laws will come forward and report them. Perhaps we should also hope that people who discover that their company is violating the country's basic system of beliefs, and is not violating the laws only because it has corrupted the laws, will also come forward and report it. The reporting agency is then the citizenry, because the government can't be trusted. It is implicated in the corruption.

Does that distinction hold up? Is there another valid difference? Or should we condemn or spare them as equivalent cases?

Changing life

This is a fascinating account of a stroke that affected a young woman's thalamus.  Don't worry; she seems to have come out pretty well in the end.


Earlier today when I was looking for background materials on gravity waves, I stumbled on a Wiki page listing some prominent unsolved problems in various fields of science, and very interesting they were, too:  most of them not purely armchair curiosities but specific examples of theoretical predictions that annoyingly fail to match the best experimental data we have so far.  Anyway, one of them was "homochirality," or the puzzling tendency of life on Earth to settle on either the right-handed or the left-handed version of various prominent biological molecules.  DNA helices, for instance, always twist in the same direction.  Was it a primordial accident that simply got copied and spread in the case of each molecule?

By coincidence, Not Exactly Rocket Science linked today to an article about a new idea on the subject: electrons are unusual elementary particles in that they have a consistent spin.  Electrons that are spit out in various reactions, such as beta decay (in which a neutron leaves a nucleus and decays into a proton, a neutrino, and an electron, previously bound together by the nuclear "weak force"), appear to exert a consistent, predictable twisting action on some biological molecules.
The researchers found that left-handed bromocamphor was just slightly more likely to react with right-handed electrons than with left-handed ones. The converse was true when they used right-handed bromocamphor molecules. At the lowest energies, the direction of the preference flipped, causing an opposite asymmetry.
In all cases the asymmetry was tiny, but consistent, like flipping a not-quite-fair coin. “The scale of the asymmetry is as though we flip 20,000 coins again and again, and on average, 10,003 of them land on heads while 9,997 land on tails,” says Dreiling.
Over evolutionary periods of time, even tiny assymmetries can add up.

Such a bad idea

I completely understand the desperate temptation to buy the blood of Ebola survivors, to get the advantage of their antibodies.  Hospitals have been using survivor serum, with some success, since the first Ebola cases in the 1970s.  But talk about procedures that won't "scale up"!  It's one thing for a first-world hospital to do transfusions with blood that's been subjected to tests for other diseases, especially when at most one patient, already in grave danger, will be exposed.  I hardly like to think what will happen if a large third-world population starts trading blood products willy-nilly.  Despite my preference for free markets, there are a few areas where I've always felt strong central controls make sense, and epidemiology is right up there.

Ebola very probably got a foothold in Africa in the first place, way back in the 20th century, because people didn't know any better than to initiate vaccination campaigns with not-particularly-sterilized reusable needles.  The first documented Ebola outbreak, in the 70s, was hugely amplified by the same problem:  Belgian nuns doing the best they could with reusable needles, only indifferently sterilized.  Direct blood-to-blood contact on a large scale could create an amazing Ebola nightmare, to say nothing of the other diseases it might inadvertently amplify.

Family Civil War, 2014 Edition

That was an amazing game. In the end, it was the Mighty Bulldogs.

Certain cousins, aunts, and uncles are just going to have to deal with it this year.

Fuel alternatives

It'll never work!  The infrastructure challenges are insurmountable! . . . OK, maybe they're not so bad, but fracking is evil.

We can confidently predict a concerted effort to prevent the development of a clean, reliable natural gas fuel for cars.

No Big Bang?

It hasn't been a good month for the Big Bang Theory.  First, a much-ballyhooed interpretation of data that was supposed, in March of this year, to demonstrate left-over gravity waves from the primordial explosion now turns out to have been premature.  Now, a respectable mathematician claims to have demonstrated that the usual explanation for the formation of a black hole is internally inconsistent, thus potentially calling into question another assumption critical to standard Big Bang mechanisms.

It's not at all clear I'll live long enough to see results from the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA), whose "projected" 2034 launch date can't inspire much confidence, but that's the sort of detection device that may be needed before we can clarify the business of whether gravity waves can be detected and, if so, what they show about events almost impossibly distant in space and time.  Work proceeds apace, but the project presents some staggering challenges.  For one thing, the interferometer array is intended to follow a trailing-Earth solar orbit, which means it will be seriously out there, and not amenable to casual repair like the Hubble telescope.

As for black holes and "Hawking radiation," I've never known what to think; it's another area in which I'm curious whether things will get cleared up in my lifetime.  By "cleared up," of course, I mean nailed down to the point where the explanations can penetrate even to laymen such as myself.  In the meantime, the events of this month are generating spirited discussions about the human temptation to cling to elegant theories when, as one commenter put it, sometimes Nature makes us erase the blackboard.

Credit is not a substitute for progress

This Weekly Standard article ostensibly is about Neil deGrasse Tyson's dishonesty, but on that subject it's a mere re-hash of a sordid record and a banal career.  The fresher material is this quotation from Peter Thiel:
Like technology, credit also makes claims on the future. "I will gladly pay you a dollar on Tuesday for a hamburger today" works only if a dollar gets earned byTuesday. A credit crisis happens when earnings disappoint and the present does not live up to past expectations of the future.

The current crisis of housing and financial leverage contains many hidden links to broader questions concerning long-term progress in science and technology. On one hand, the lack of easy progress makes leverage more dangerous, because when something goes wrong, macroeconomic growth cannot offer a salve; time will not cure liquidity or solvency problems in a world where little grows or improves with time. On the other hand, the lack of easy progress also makes leverage far more tempting, as unleveraged real returns fall below the expectations of pension funds and other investors.
This analysis suggests an explanation for the strange way the technology bubble of the 1990s gave rise to the real-estate bubble of the 2000s. After betting heavily on technology growth that did not materialize, investors tried to achieve the needed double-digit returns through massive leverage in seemingly safe real-estate investments. This did not work either, because a major reason for the bubble in real estate turned out to be the same as the reason for the bubble in technology: a mistaken but nearly universal background assumption about easy progress. Without fundamental gains in productivity (presumably driven by technology), real-estate values could not go up forever. Leverage is not a substitute for scientific progress.


Common Core remains a mystery, but there's no mystery about how disturbing it is to see two parents arrested and led out of school board meetings, or to see the rest of the crowd put up with it.

I may have mentioned before that I support vouchers and home schooling, not to mention casting an informed ballot in school board elections.

End Jedi Privilege

A heartfelt plea.

Beheaded in Oklahoma

No link to terror groups say the authorities, which is plausible given some definitions of what it means to be "linked to terror groups."

Good shooting by the COO, though.


Should we be outraged that Apple is making virtually unbreakable encryption a default option on iPhones?  I'm not seeing it.  Allahpundit argues that law enforcement should be able to get into your phone with a warrant.  I'm content to let people expose themselves to penalties for contempt if they refuse to unlock an encrypted phone and a warrant holds up on appeal.  Also, it's a little hard to take seriously claims that an encryption technique will stay unbreakable for long.

Sheep & Horses

Especially for Tex, but also anyone interested in her course on the history of English, some a tale from the Proto-Indo-European.

Cop shootings no one cares about

Some weeks back I posted about a fishy shooting of a black man by cops in a WalMart, which got practically zero coverage or comment.  Every time I found a brief update in the news, the story got a little uglier for the cops, but for some reason the event didn't resonate with the American public and now has dropped into a deep, dark hole.

This week videotape has surfaced of a white cop shooting a black guy in South Carolina about three weeks ago under nearly inexplicable circumstances.  Again, little apparent interest.

What in the world makes a murky case like Ferguson fertile ground for race riots and national posturing while these other two shootings fall right off the radar?  A cynical view might be that the Ferguson cop wasn't immediately disciplined, while the South Carolina cop was promptly fired and may face 20 years in prison, but that theory doesn't quite work:  as far as I could tell no one has suggested any disciplinary action in the WalMart shooting, which seems hunky-dory with both Al Sharpton and Eric Holder.

It's pretty clear no one should put me in charge of propaganda.  I lack the touch.

So That's How They Do It!

If, like me, you've been wondering how smugglers so easily pass by the US Border Patrol, at last there is video exposing their methods!

Three Hundred Percent

One of my old Iraq comrades used to be a big fan of a play called "Avenue Q." It was a kind of parody of Sesame Street. This was his favorite song:

I was thinking about this because of a headline I saw that suggests that 'Every man's a little bit rapist.'

To say that a frat boy is 300% more likely than other men on campus to rape a woman is to say that your control group is at least a little bit likely to rape a woman. After all, if a frat boy is 300% more likely than I am to rape a woman -- or even if he were three hundred times more likely -- nevertheless there's no problem. Zero multiplied by anything yields zero, which is the appropriate number of rapes.

It's only if any given man in the control group can be assigned a 'little rapist' factor that you can get the multiple to work. So, in pushing these numbers, we really need to conceptualize every man in college as having at least some rapist in his constitution.

How much? Well, according to the study you can read if you track back a couple of links, the figure for frat boys who admitted to rape or attempted rape is nine percent. Now one way of expressing that is that 91% of frat boys are not rapists. That means that 97% of the general population of college men are not rapists. That's a pretty substantial percentage. We may not be all the way to where we want to be, but we've still established that the overwhelming majority of these men don't commit rape.

But if we express it the way the headline expresses it, we can condemn all frat boys -- including the 91% who haven't raped anyone -- for being more rapist than the general population of men. By the same logic, we can condemn the whole population of college men -- 97% non-rapist -- as being part of a group that includes a statistical number of rapists.

Alternatively, you could say that your 97% of college men who never rape women are the norm. Then, of course, you can't make a statistical claim about how much more likely frat boys are to rape than normal college men -- presumably you would have to say that they are infinitely more likely to do so!

Fun with statistics. But there's a serious consequence to the way we end up conceptualizing college. Is it a place of tremendous sexual danger, with college men who are as a class statistically likely to rape young women? Or is it a place where, actually, almost every man you meet is the kind of man who doesn't rape? A lot hangs on that answer.

1st ID HQ to Deploy to Iraq for a Year

This is a really interesting deployment decision. In a way they're pushing the command down, since currently the ARCENT Deputy Commander is doing what the 1st ID CG will now be doing. In another way, although they're falling in on some existing structures and duties, it's very odd to split the headquarters the way they're going to do.

A serious commitment, though, and one that could very easily expand outward. Once you have a division headquarters in place, you have everything you need to insert several Brigade Combat Teams. 1/1 ID is in Kuwait already.

Cory Gardner goes too far

The DSCC has strong words to say about this vicious attack ad from Cory Gardner, the republican candidate for U.S. Senator from Colorado, who is running against Democratic incumbent Mark Udall.

It’s clear Congressman Cory Gardner’s campaign is struggling to overcome the damage done by his support for laws that could block a woman’s access to common forms of birth control, take away women’s personal health care decisions even in cases of rape or incest, and roll women’s health care rights back decades. It’s disgusting that Congressman Gardner would stoop as low as attacking Senator Mark Udall’s late father and it is beneath a candidate running for the U.S. Senate. Congressman Gardner should apologize to Senator Udall and his family and pull the ad off the air.
And yet if you watch the actual ad, you'll see that Gardner says his opponent, Mark Udall, is a nice guy who will never change the Senate, that he comes from a political family, and that his father ran for President.  Did you ever hear such a scurrilous attack?

Holder is out

I won't miss him, but this NPR article is a little valentine to his career.

Sound the Pibroch

Since we were talking about the Clancy firm, and lately have spoken much of Scotland, here is their retelling of Culloden:

The Highland Clearances were the great betrayal of the late 1700s, to which we owe a kind of debt for the good we got from those who came here. They were a grave betrayal, all the same.

'America & The Cycle of Neverending War'

I was kind of disappointed by the article, which I had hoped would refer to something a little more like this:

Finding out what's in it

Obamacare's been around for more than four years now, and I should have thought the many, many people who hate it like death would by now have discovered everything incredibly stupid that's written right into it.  But it turns out that massive new insanities are surfacing as the tens of thousands of pages of implementary regulations gradually come to light.  Here's a fabulous one:  all new plans must be Bronze, Silver, Gold, or Platinum, defined by their actuarial valuation.  Bronze means the average plan pays 60% of bills, Silver pays 70%, Gold 80%, and Platinum 90%.  I'll bet you would have assumed that Bronze was really 60-69% and so on.  Nope!  The "safe zone" is only 2% in either direction.  If your plan turns out to pay 65% on average, it's neither Bronze nor Silver and must be cancelled at the end of the year.  No problem, you'll just sign up for a new one, right?  Sure, but it will have all new terms to learn, and there's no guarantee that you'll keep your doctor or your hospital.  Not that there was any guarantee of that anyway, since we can all expect our networks to degrade steadily.

I really have to ask myself:  what kind of moron thought it was a good idea to make all plans fit within four bands and outlaw big chunks of actuarial rating that fall between them?

Speaking of things that aren't science

Never liked Tyson.  Liking him less and less, and shame on Wikipedia.

Cracks in ivy walls

There's getting to be so much education available on the Internet that I don't feel there are enough hours in the day to stuff into my head even the things I'm most interested in.  It's a shame how much time I wasted in school.

I'm interested to see what kind of market can be developed in selling education now, with so much of it free.  Of course the credentials are irrelevant to me, but not to a big potential market, so it should be feasible to charge for those.

Cupcake outlaws

Good to know I could start selling bread without breaking the law here in Texas.

Nine lives

Just as the main facade of this hotel is starting to tip over into the street, at 0:17, you can see a cat appear in an opening about halfway up, to the left of the "S" in "Towers."

The Strangest Civil War Argument I've Ever Heard

At the end of this piece on that pro-secession poll, the author posits a cause of the war that I've never heard anyone float.
Much of the fervor for war in 1860 was driven by a moral crusade against slavery. Some of it was fueled by patriotism, and some by state, local, and even just family affinities.

At the highest level, however, Lincoln recognized that the cosmopolitan North—teeming with immigrants, churning with class conflict, surging into the prairie and mountain west—would have lacked a logic of unity if the South were permitted to break off in peace. The Southerners had history, ethnicity, culture, slavery, religion, and a quasi-aristocratic honor society to hold them together.

What did the North have?

Not much more than we have today. Although the spell of American superpower and an almighty government is in some ways more dominant than ever, the moment that spell is broken, many will find themselves in a kind of freefall of political principle.
So Lincoln fought the war because the North lacked any other organizing principle?

I understand the argument for slavery as cause. I understand the argument for economics as cause. I understand the argument for culture as cause. My own sense is that all of those things were factors in the tension that led to the conflict, but that the proximate cause -- the thing that made a war necessary, and a peaceful secession impossible -- was the union of technology and geography. No President of the United States in 1860 could accept control of the port city at the mouth of the Mississippi river passing to the hands of a foreign power. Before the proliferation of railroads, before trucks and interstates, before airplanes, there was no alternative to the Mississippi to move the wealth of the middle of the country to market. It was as critical a national interest of the United States then as access to warm-water ports has always been to Russia.

Quite possibly it still is.

It would never have occurred to me, though, that the North couldn't have held itself together except on the principle that the Constitution was a suicide pact. Nobody gets out alive, because then the whole thing would fall apart!

Carry a Sharp Stick but Then Speak Softly

This Ain't Hell links to a heartwarming tale of a Texas homeowner who defended his (small) home with a spear. Probably took the Havamal literally: "Unsure is the knowing when need shall arise / Of a spear on the way without." Or within, either. But he should've paid attention to another part: "The hasty tongue sings its own mishap / If it be not bridled in."

In the TV interview he handled himself well but admitted that the intruder appeared to be unarmed. Now I'm convinced he was still in the right -- just looking at the invader's size, I'd say the homeowner was properly in fear of life and limb; and he stopped stabbing when the intruder retreated, which looks good on him (it shows he was after "defense" and not "revenge"). But intimate facts like that don't need to be spoken out in the open air which is full of police and prosecutors too. If someone wants to make an issue out of it (and in some places, the difference in races alone would make that likely), better to make the prosecution prove what did or didn't appear, rather than to offer it as a gift to the public.

I wouldn't wish a home invasion on anyone, but if I were faced with that situation and the press came 'round for an interview, I'd take my advice from the firm of Clancy and Makem.

Is Oklahoma next?

The shale boom that has transformed the economies of Texas and North Dakota may be about to hit Oklahoma.