Saturday, September 27, 2008

Lieberman on the Bail-out

Dennis Prager managed to interview Senator Lieberman yesterday, on the subject of the proposed bail-out.

Prager: Let’s begin with this: Were you surprised? The public is being told a deal was made and then torpedoed by House Republicans. Is that the fact?

Lieberman: This is not the fact. There was not a deal. There was an agreement, let’s say, among some members of the Senate Banking Committee and the Democrats in the House side of the House Financial Services Committee. They went out and announced it. Frankly, I think they announced it prematurely, because the normal course is to take those agreements back to the four caucuses. So, there never was an agreement. It was clear the House Republicans are very much against the Paulson plan. I was in the Senate Democratic caucus with Paulson the other night—one of my rare appearances these days, Dennis, at Senate Democratic…

Prager: I was thinking that.

Lieberman: And there was a lot of really emotional challenging of Paulson. [It was the same among] Senate Republicans. So no deal, and then Senator McCain came back to try to put one together. I think he’s in a position now as the titular leader of the Republican Party to have a special ability to bring people together. And his goal is to get an agreement that saves the country from an economic disaster—but to make sure the taxpayers’ money is protected in it, and I think that’s the direction in which we’re heading.


Prager: So Senator McCain’s coming back to Washington was helpful?

Lieberman: Yes, I mean the Democrats are trying to put out the message that there was a total agreement and McCain came back and blew it up. That’s just not right, not true. There was no total agreement. The House Republicans particularly were always not part of the proposed agreement and a lot of Republicans and Democrats in both Houses were not part of it. I think McCain went back and forth yesterday afternoon, this morning between Senate and House. He talked to a lot of people, was on the phone with the administration, the White House, Paulson and I think he’s a big part of the reason why it’s down to four strong negotiators that are roomed together. That’s always the best way to get something done. And then they come out to the caucuses. So he felt that there was enough progress made that he could take off for Oxford, Mississippi. He’ll be at the debate tonight, and then he will fly back right afterward to be here tomorrow to see if we can close the deal.

Prager: Did Senator Obama play any analogous role on the Democratic side?

Lieberman: Not that I can see. And that’s an interesting point. I wasn’t in the White House meeting yesterday. Some of the Democrats criticized John McCain for not making a long speech saying that Senator Obama had, but John’s here not to make speeches. It was a very contentious meeting and he basically said for the sake of the country and the people we serve we got to get together and reach a bipartisan agreement. And then he went to work to try to make that happen.

Friday, September 26, 2008


Bill Whittle has a piece at NRO on pain.

He describes his experience with a kidney stone, and while he's at it, how the evil heartless corporations can't be all bad – they invented and tested stuff like Demerol and Dilaudid.

He ponders the experience of John McCain, tortured for years in Vietnam, with no thought given to sterile procedure or hygeine, and knowing the footsteps outside the door did not signal an attempt to relieve his pain.

The financial crisis is going to cause pain, too. Spending a trillion dollars on a bailout is going to hurt. But it will hurt a lot less than many of the alternatives, and it won't confine the hurt to people who deserve to be hurt.

So how do we inflict some badly-needed pain on people who need to feel it, without hurting the rest of the good and honest folks who pay their bills responsibility? Well, there are three simple rules that we must follow. Unfortunately, no one knows what those three rules are. So here we are. I’m as flummoxed as the rest of you.

I will say this, though: half way through the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln had a plan to buy the slaves. He would give the south a chance to end the war early by compensating them — with Northern cash — for the market value of the slaves that they held. It was a monstrous sum, but he thought it was necessary. So he wrote: “Certainly it is not so easy to pay something as to pay nothing; but it is easier to pay a large sum than it is to pay a larger one. And it is easier to pay any sum when we are able, than it is to pay before we are able.”

My own irresponsibility got me looking at 50 years of age without health insurance. I’m going to owe that hospital about two grand for this adventure. If you think I won’t miss that two grand, then you have over-estimated the financial value of internet punditry. But it’s my obligation; it’s my debt. I owe it and I’ll pay it, and I’ll try to remain focused on the fact that it could have been much, much worse. It was only that pain that got me to change my ways.

Is that too much to ask of this mess? That from whatever pain we have to endure, we can perhaps learn enough from it so that we don’t go through this again?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Oil Production

From The American Thinker.
I'm never quite sure what to make of pieces like this.
The point is, we've got lots of petroleum, and plenty of alternatives that can be converted into the equivalent of petroleum. In any event, enough to last until we have fusion reactors, or high-efficiency solar power, or unobtanium batteries, or whatever.

Howard Kurtz on the Palin campaign

From the Washington Post:
Is it fair, at this stage of the game, to raise questions about Sarah Palin's baby?

"These e-mails show two things," McCain spokesman Michael Goldfarb told me. "One, Andrew Sullivan has the biggest one-man ego on the planet. And two, the insanity that this campaign has had to put up with for the last month."

Why not release the hospital records and put this matter to rest?


Weekly Standard's Jonathan Last, on his Galley Slaves blog, says: "Andrew Sullivan is once again openly using The Atlantic as a platform to demand that Sarah Palin 'prove' that she is mother of her youngest child. It is a disgrace for the magazine and everyone associated with it. One hundred and fifty years of storied history set ablaze in fortnight by a single writer."

There's a difference, obviously, between the fact-checked copy that goes into the magazine and the free-wheeling platform that Atlantic gives its bloggers. But Sullivan's Trig postings have troubled some of his colleagues, and he has been in a veiled debate with fellow Atlantic writer Ross Douthat, who wrote:

"If you think that many of the same people who bleat the loudest about the evils of 'Rove-style' politics aren't happy to similarly dirty their hands for the sake of their own causes and candidates -- well, you need only look at some of the coverage of Sarah Palin's family to see how quickly principle gives way to expedience when power is at stake."

One of those days.

by Rudyard Kipling
There is sorrow enough in the natural way
From men and women to fill our day;
And when we are certain of sorrow in store,
Why do we always arrange for more?
Brothers and Sisters, I bid you beware
Of giving your heart to a dog to tear.
Buy a pup and your money will buy
Love unflinching that cannot lie--
Perfect passion and worship fed
By a kick in the ribs or a pat on the head.
Nevertheless it is hardly fair
To risk your heart for a dog to tear.
When the fourteen years which Nature permits
Are closing in asthma, or tumour, or fits,
And the vet's unspoken prescription runs
To lethal chambers or loaded guns,
Then you will find--it's your own affair--'ve given your heart for a dog to tear.
When the body that lived at your single will,
With its whimper of welcome, is stilled (how still!);
When the spirit that answered your every mood
Is gone--wherever it goes--for good,
You will discover how much you care,
And will give your heart for the dog to tear.
We've sorrow enough in the natural way,
When it comes to burying Christian clay.
Our loves are not given, but only lent,
At compound interest of cent per cent.
Though it is not always the case, I believe,
That the longer we've kept 'em, the more do we grieve:
For, when debts are payable, right or wrong,
A short-time loan is as bad as a long--
So why in Heaven (before we are there)
Should we give our hearts to a dog to tear?

The Taranto Principle


What is the Taranto Principle? It is a principle laid down by The Wall Street Journal's perceptive editorialist James Taranto. Taranto -- in his column, "Best of the Web Today" -- surveys the media and reports daily on their output with special emphasis on their contradictions, hypocrisies and -- most deliciously -- imbecilities. Like all other thoughtful observers of American media, Taranto recognizes that they are biased heavily toward the Democratic Party and the left in general. Yet while many who hold that this advances the Democratic Party and the left, Taranto believes that it has a harmful effect on left-wing politics, often causing left-wing candidates to lose at the polls.

According to the Taranto Principle, the media's failure to hold left-wingers accountable for bad behavior merely encourages the left's bad behavior to the point that its candidates are repellent to ordinary Americans.


The vets' assault on Kerry is called "Swiftboating" now by left-wingers and journalists alike, who insist the vets' charges were "lies," though four years later, it is apparent that the so-called lies comprised an accurate rendering of blowhard Kerry's war record. Had the media treated his initial boasts with some skepticism, he might have been better prepared for the vets' response. The left-leaning media spoiled Kerry and brought out the worst in him to the revulsion of enough voters to lose him the election.

Now the Taranto Principle can be seen in the reporting on Gov. Sarah Palin. As a former mayor and sitting governor, she has about as much experience as former President Jimmy Carter had in 1976. Moreover, she obviously has more executive experience than the Democratic presidential candidate. Yet the media have let her experience become a vexed issue. Worse, at the highest level of media, she has been subjected to unwarranted scurrilities that are without precedent in a presidential election. Just the other night, an idiot comedy show portrayed her daughter and husband in an incestuous affair. The consequence of this is that Gov. Palin is running away with the women's vote and doubtless picking up sympathetic men, also.

According to this variation of the Taranto Principle, the media circulate infamies that encourage leftists to confect greater infamies, thus causing the defamed candidate to cop the sympathy vote. That vote will have consequences in this increasingly bizarre election.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Palin, Privacy, and Politics

Patterico reminds us that the left operates on a pronounced double standard as far as "rights" go. Any rights they defend have to be earned. You earn your rights by toeing the party line.

Attention conservatives: in case you didn’t understand it before, it should be clear now. There is strain of leftists out there who think that any violation of your privacy — any violation — is justified because of your political beliefs.

More on the financial blow-up

Craig Newmark has a piece, with lots of links, on this crisis for his MBA students.

His wife also links to a number of pieces.

Patterico reminds all that in 2003, the Republicans wanted oversight, and the Democrats opposed it. He cites a September 11 piece in the New York Times, in which Democrats, including Barney Frank, basically accuse the administration of fear-mongering.

Who's to blame?

A piece up at the Bloomberg News Service looks at the current financial crisis.

Enough cards on this table have been turned over that the story is now clear. The economic history books will describe this episode in simple and understandable terms: Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac exploded, and many bystanders were injured in the blast, some fatally.
It is easy to identify the historical turning point that marked the beginning of the end.
Back in 2005, Fannie and Freddie were, after years of dominating Washington, on the ropes. They were enmeshed in accounting scandals that led to turnover at the top. At one telling moment in late 2004, captured in an article by my American Enterprise Institute colleague Peter Wallison, the Securities and Exchange Comiission's chief accountant told disgraced Fannie Mae chief Franklin Raines that Fannie's position on the relevant accounting issue was not even ``on the page'' of allowable interpretations.
Then legislative momentum emerged for an attempt to create a ``world-class regulator'' that would oversee the pair more like banks, imposing strict requirements on their ability to take excessive risks. Politicians who previously had associated themselves proudly with the two accounting miscreants were less eager to be associated with them. The time was ripe.

Greenspan's Warning
The clear gravity of the situation pushed the legislation forward. Some might say the current mess couldn't be foreseen, yet in 2005 Alan Greenspan told Congress how urgent it was for it to act in the clearest possible terms: If Fannie and Freddie "continue to grow, continue to have the low capital that they have, continue to engage in the dynamic hedging of their portfolios, which they need to do for interest rate risk aversion, they potentially create ever-growing potential systemic risk down the road," he said. "We are placing the total financial system of the future at a substantial risk."
What happened next was extraordinary. For the first time in history, a serious Fannie and Freddie reform bill was passed by the Senate Banking Committee. The bill gave a regulator power to crack down, and would have required the companies to eliminate their investments in risky assets.

Different World
If that bill had become law, then the world today would be different. In 2005, 2006 and 2007, a blizzard of terrible mortgage paper fluttered out of the Fannie and Freddie clouds, burying many of our oldest and most venerable institutions. Without their checkbooks keeping the market liquid and buying up excess supply, the market would likely have not existed.
But the bill didn't become law, for a simple reason: Democrats opposed it on a party-line vote in the committee, signaling that this would be a partisan issue. Republicans, tied in knots by the tight Democratic opposition, couldn't even get the Senate to vote on the matter.
That such a reckless political stand could have been taken by the Democrats was obscene even then. Wallison wrote at the time: "It is a classic case of socializing the risk while privatizing the profit. The Democrats and the few Republicans who oppose portfolio limitations could not possibly do so if their constituents understood what they were doing."
Oh, and there is one little footnote to the story that's worth keeping in mind while Democrats point fingers between now and Nov. 4: Senator John McCain was one of the three cosponsors of S.190, the bill that would have averted this mess.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Palin and rape kits

Jim Geraghty at NRO has a "Wasilla Debunking Kit"
Liberal bloggers have cited the story of Wasilla charging victims for rape kits as evidence that as mayor, Sarah Palin backed cruel and insensitive policies. But just about everything we know from initial accounts of this controversy is wrong.
1.Wasilla was not mentioned in any of the hearings. In a conference call with reporters earlier this month, Tony Knowles (the man Palin beat in her governor's race) claimed Wasilla was the lone town with the practice. This isn't true, but he was far from alone in saying or implying this.
2. The deputy commissioner of Alaska's Department of Public Safety told the State Affairs Committee that he has never found a police agency that has billed a victim. In light of Wasilla's low number of rapes according to available FBI statistics (one to two per year, compared to Juneau's 30-39), and the fact that the Wasilla Finance Department cannot find any record of charging a victim for a rape kit, it is entirely possible that no victim was ever charged.
3. Three times, witnesses told the committees that hospitals were responsible for passing the bill on to victims, not police agencies. If the bill went straight from the hospital to the victim, without ever being sent to the police department, this would explain why no confirming paperwork could be found in the Wasilla Finance Department. This information also fortifies Palin's claim that she was never aware of the policy, as it is more plausible that a mayor would not be aware of a private hospitals' billing policy than of the police department's billing policy.


Apparently, Obama was instrumental in pushing through a law, and one that I actually think is a good one.  (That's one...)
From Wizbang:
Barack Obama has exactly one achievement in his years and years of public service that I can give him full credit for -- the passage of a law in Illinois that required all police interrogations of suspects in capital crimes be videotaped.
That being said, what's the context?
...there's one area where I have to stand against the general expressed desires of the cops. And that's on the matter of people videotaping police officers performing their duties.

The latest incident to bring up this subject is in Oregon, where a man had his video camera taken away after videotaping police stop and question two men on the street.

As far as I am concerned, a police officer on duty and performing his or her duties has absolutely no right or expectation of privacy, and should behave as if they might be on film at any moment.

I can see certain exceptions, such as when the officers are changing clothes, in the bathroom, or acting undercover, but those are about it.

As I mentioned in a comment, though, I'd like to know what sort of teeth there are in that law Obama got passed.  If the police fail to videotape, then what?  "Oops, we screwed up.  Good thing we still have our written notes!"

Monday, September 22, 2008

Chasing cars?

There's a line about dogs that chase cars -- what will they do with one of they catch it?
Christopher Hitchens is suggesting Barack Obama may well be in the same position.  He's caught the Democratic nomination, and isn't quite sure what to do with it.

By the end of that grueling campaign season, a lot of us had got the idea that Dukakis actually wanted to lose—or was at the very least scared of winning. Why do I sometimes get the same idea about Obama? To put it a touch more precisely, what I suspect in his case is that he had no idea of winning this time around. He was running in Iowa and New Hampshire to seed the ground for 2012, not 2008, and then the enthusiasm of his supporters (and the weird coincidence of a strong John Edwards showing in Iowa) put him at the front of the pack. Yet, having suddenly got the leadership position, he hadn't the faintest idea what to do with it or what to do about it.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Another person abandoned by the Democrats

Ronald Reagan famously said "I didn't leave the Democratic Party, it left me."

I'm seeing this sentiment a lot, most recently in a friend of mine. He's gay, he's Wiccan, he's Democratic – until he changes his registration.

I suspect the Democratic Party has left most of its members; it just takes a major shock to get any given person to notice.

Wizbang has posted a letter from someone who finally had to pay attention to having been deserted by his party.

To the readers of Wizbang:
I write this to you as a lifelong Democrat, as someone who has always stood with the Democratic party and all it has stood for. Ever since I could legally vote, I have cast my ballot for the Democratic nominee -- Michael Dukakis, Bill Clinton (twice!), Al Gore, and John Kerry. I even managed to persuade my parents to vote for Walter Mondale when I was too young to vote myself.
This year, I found myself filled with hope and promise for the future. Barack Obama was, to me, represented the greatest chance for our nation to finally fulfill its promise and lead the world to a better, brighter, fairer, more just age. I argued endlessly with those who would not or could not see this, trying to show them what I had learned.
Now I find I deeply regret my actions, and hope that those I had argued with so vehemently will forgive me.
I find that Barack Obama is not the man I thought he was.
When I first started believing in Barack Obama, I thought he stood for so many of the things I believed in. But since then, he has betrayed nearly every single progressive belief I hold.
The final straw, for me, was his response to the current financial meltdown we're experiencing. At a time when we need bold leadership and decisive action, Senator Obama said he favored a "wait and see" approach before saying what he would do.
Pardon me, Senator, but it was the "wait and see" approach by many of the Republicans who held Congress for so long that let the current disaster keep growing and building until it all started to unravel in the last few weeks. Sure, a few Republicans like John McCain did make some doom and gloom pronouncements over things, but they were just wildly guessing about the ultimate impact of such decent, humane, common-sense programs as Bill Clinton's expansion of the Community Reinvestment Act, and Barney Frank and Chris Dodd were right to fight off those greedy, mean-spirited attempts to rein it in and keep Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac from going too far.
As a lifelong Democrat, sickens me to say this, but I find I can't vote for Barack Obama this November. I'm going to hold my nose and vote for McCain-Palin, and hope that this sends the message to the leaders of my party: we want REAL change, from a candidate we believe in.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Palin Poll

I just voted. It's now 52% "yes" and 45% "no". The rest are undecided.

How they did it

Thomas Lifson, at American Thinker, has a link.

TGDaily, a tech site, explains how the suspected Palin email hacker, 20-year-old David Kernell, a student at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville and son of Democratic Tennessee state representative Mike Kernell, was caught.
It is obvious from posts the hacker made that he was fully conscious of breaking the law.

There may be a loophole.

Though federal law prohibits the unauthorized access of someone's e-mail account, the DOJ's interpretation of one particular case might only hold the Palin hackers accountable for accessing unopened messages, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).

It seems a court has decided that "electronic storage" also refers to e-mails that have been read, the DOJ doesn't like that decision. I'd love to know why.

Friday, September 19, 2008

I've been surveyed!

For those who have never heard of anyone who actually gets surveyed, I've just been surveyed.

This was a pretty straightfoward survey on issues and who I intend to vote for. There was none of the "are you sure you haven't changed your mind" that I detected with the marriage amendment survey.

Unfortunately, one of the features of Los Angeles is that if you don't know how to pronounce Spanish names, you're going to have trouble with our Mayor's name.

I think I got him fairly close to being able to pronounce the Mayor's name. And that of the Secretary of State.

When all was said and done, he thanked me for being the first to respond to his survey.

I almost wasn't. I almost didn't pick up the phone.

"I Am Woman -- Protesting a Strong Woman"

This came over the transom last night.  After I degaussed my irony meter, I decided to share this with my loyal readers -- all six of them. 
---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Karl Lembke
Date: Thu, Sep 18, 2008 at 10:02 PM
Subject: For blog
-------- Original Message --------
Subject: [SoCalPagans] "I am Woman" -- Demonstration at Sarah Palin Reception in Newport Beach, Sep 25 Evening
"I am woman ... hear me roar, in numbers too big to ignore,
And I come back even stronger, not a novice any longer,
'cause you've deepened the conviction in my soul!"
--words/music by Helen Reddy/Ray Burton
_Thursday, September 25_
TIME: 5 pm meet (see below for more information about carpooling from TEMPLE)
COST: no cost
DESCRIPTION: The Director of The TEMPLE passionately invites you to join her in full sisterly support of the women organizers of an Orange County public demonstration: *"I am Woman!"* ... at a fundraising reception for Sarah Palin at the Island Hotel (formerly the Four Seasons) at Fashion Island. The event for Palin is hosted by the Lincoln Club of Orange County. Organizers of the protest share: /"Sarah Palin is coming to Orange County on Thursday, September 25^th . She doesn't speak for us! Let us show her what Helen Reddy really had in mind when she wrote, 'I am Woman.' Join us in protest of her run for Vice President. Rally for women's rights to choice, for separation of church and state, to end the war, protection of the environment and more. Come with your signs, banners, flags, flyers, kazoos and drums, and join us as we peacefully protest with a ROAR!"/
/ /
NOTE from The TEMPLE: Also recommended: very comfortable walking shoes, layered clothing, and a no-drip jar candle to hold. TEMPLE will provide signs for some women to hold, and/or bring your own.
I'm not giving the carpool or contact information.  I figure those who are interested can join the mailing list and find the info in the archives.
What strikes me is, a group of women is gathering to sing about strong, invincible women in order to protest a .... strong .... invincible .... woman.
Go figure.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

How they did it

I had thought whoever hacked into Sarah Palin's e-mail account had simply guessed her password.  Most people, after all, don't have very secure passwords, or, indeed, the foggiest idea of how to create one.  In fact, it was a little more involved (hat tip: Weekly Standard)

The AP reports the hacker impersonated Palin, using the "forgot your password?" feature to gain access. He simply gave Palin's birthdate and zipcode, and then answered the secret question, "Where did you meet your spouse?" The answer, of course, was "Wasilla High." He showed up on a forum yesterday to brag about his feat under the name, "Rubico."

I have a few accouts with similar features.  Most of them e-mail the password (or reset the password and e-mail a temporary password) to your registered e-mail address.  But your e-mail service may not have that option.  Instead, a challenge-and-response system is used.  The user is asked to supply information other people won't have access to.

Unfortunately, that sort of information is very hard to find in the average life. Birthdates get recorded by social networking sites, unless users take care not to provide them.  They're probably also on any number of public documents -- if not in one place, then certainly scattered around several.  And if you know a famous person's address, you can get the zip code from Mapquest or smilar services.

Other "secret questions" are not that hard to guess.  If you're known to have grown up in a particular city, the name of the high school is usually a fairly small set of possibilities.  The make of your first car, also a fairly restricted set. (The name of your first car is a bit harder.  My ex suggested the car we were using at the time be named "Imelda" because it kept needing new brake shoes.)

A secure password is a good way of restricting access to authorized users.  You have a large target space, and a very small target to hit by random guessing.  (Even a four-digit PIN is secure, because someone standing at an ATM punching in numbers for half an hour is bound to draw attention.)  (But I'd still like the option to have a longer PIN.)

Every pathway that allows access to someone who's forgotten his password is another target to aim at, and one where, as I've mentioned, the number of false targets may not be as large as it is for a password.  And if a site is anything like some I've gotten accounts for, there may be as many as half a dozen "secret questions" that might come up.  Each one of those is an access way of unknown size.

Hopefully, you're already picking your passwords with care.  Pick your secret questions and answers with equal care.  (Maybe, any question about cars, you could decide you'll always give the correct answer about pets? But you need to be consistent enough that you'll remember it when you need it.)

More on genes and personality

I think the first rule of genetics has got to be, if you think you understand it, you're overlooking something.
When I learned my way around Microsoft Access, I eventually had to delve into writing modules and other code in a database I was repairing. My first programming language was Fortran, which introduced me to the wonders of spaghetti code.  (Program flow runs line by line, until it reaches code which can send it anywhere else in the program.   Tracing this flow is like following a single strand in a bowl of spaghetti.)  Pascal and similar languages introduced me to structure, and writing modules -- paragraphs, if you will -- with no branching in or out except at the designated entry and exit pointsl.  This, I call "ravioli code".  Programming in Access (actually, in Visual Basic for Access) was a process I describe as like programming a bucket of marbles.  You have a bunch of little pieces, any one of which can trigger something in any other piece, or more than one.
As people study genetics, it's beginning to seem that genetic programming works the same way as some of our most sophisticated computer programs.
Him Manzi at The Corner discusses the genetics of personality:
Media outlets will often speak loosely of things such as a "happiness gene," a "gay gene," or a "smart gene." The state-of-the-art method for finding such a link is something called a "genome-wide association study" (GWAS). In a GWAS, scientists use blood or saliva samples to sequence the DNA for a group of several thousand people who exhibit a trait or behavior of interest (the "case group"), and for a second group of several thousand who do not exhibit the trait or behavior (the "control group"). Scientists then look for genetic differences between the two groups.
Sometimes, however, the behavior or trait is caused by several interacting genes — so that, for example, Gene 1 has some effect only if Gene 2 has a special structure. This is called "epistatic interaction," and can involve a large number of genes.
...the GWAS technique hits structural limits when applied to conditions that involve epistatic interactions among lots of genes. Mental activity is now widely believed by scientists to depend on many genes (though mental illnesses such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder may turn out to be partial exceptions). A person has about 20,000 genes, of which more than 5,000 are believed to play some role in regulating brain function. Consider a simplified case in which some personality characteristic — aggressiveness, for example — is regulated by 100 genes, each of which can have two possible states ("on" or "off"). The combinatorial math is daunting: There are more than a trillion trillion possible combinations of these gene states. Thus we could sequence the DNA of all 6.7 billion human beings and still not know which genes are responsible for aggressiveness.
His conclusion:
The claims of causality that arise from such studies should accordingly be treated with the appropriately intense skepticism that we apply to sociological or econometric studies. In the middle of the 20th century, Friedrich Hayek and the libertarians he inspired faced those who asserted that that an economy could be successfully planned. The libertarian position was not that such planning could be proved impossible in theory, but that we lacked sufficient information and processing power to accomplish it. The world of economic interaction is so complex that it overwhelms our ability to render it predictable; hence the need for markets to set prices. This is the same analytical problem we face when trying to predict a mental state that depends upon a large number of genes. It is unclear whether we will ever understand how this complicated machinery and its interactions with the environment come together to create characteristics of mind. It is certain, however, that we do not have such an understanding now, and that we won't know such a project is achievable until we achieve it.

Is personality heritable?

The left, which contains some of the people most angrily pro-evolution, don't think so.  Somehow, evolution which applies to every aspect of living things, has stopped cold before laying a finger on the mental attributes of humans.  Personality, intelligence, ability, mental traits, all are to be attributed to the influence of anything except genes.
The Derb comments at The Corner on NRO:
Jim:  Your main point (and Dana Goldstein's) about genome-wide association studies is well taken.
Goldstein's closing observation, though, makes no sense.
Just as selection turns out to have pruned away most disease-causing variants, it has also maximized human cognitive capacities because these are so critical to survival. "My best guess is that human intelligence was always a helpful thing in most places and times and we have all been under strong selection to be as bright as we can be," [Goldstein] said.
There are so many things wrong with that, it's hard to know where to start. Perhaps with Razib's observation that intelligence does not contribute to fitness in all times and places, and may work against it, as in modern welfare states. (Razib has a neat graph illustrating this. Someone made a movie about it, too.) 
[And a note to readers who think that "fitness" is something to do with Conan-esque Blond Beasts lopping the heads off weaker specimens with their broad-axes. Nope: it's just a genetics term of art for the probability of a genome passing its material into the next generation. As I have pointed out before here, if you were to list organisms in terms of their genomes' proven fitness, the humble sea cucumber (400 million years and counting) would be way up near the top, saber-tooth tigers (extinct after a million years or so) far down towards the bottom.]
And then, natural selection operates with different degrees of force in different places. Environment A might have put its human inhabitants under intense selection for intelligence, environment B, less so for its.
This is Biology 101, and it's inconceivable Goldstein doesn't know it. So why did he say such a daft thing? Perhaps someone should ask him.
And while you are right about the difficulty of tracing pathways from genotype to phenotype for quantitative traits like intelligence and personality, we have the word of James Watson, who surely knows a thing or two about genetics, that the difficulties will soon yield to investigation. From the very end of Watson's book:
So I was not surprised when Derek [Bok, then-President of Harvard], who had spent most of our meeting listening, asked apprehensively how many years would pass before the key genes affecting differences in human intelligence would be found. My back-of-the-envelope answer of "15 years" meant that [Larry] Summers' then undetermined successor would not necessarily need to handle this very hot potato.
Upon returning to the Yard, however, I wondered if even 10 years would pass.
That the pathways exist, we can be certain. Evidence from the "other end" — sociology, psychometry, twin studies — is overwhelming. The things we learn, mainly in our childhood, are laid down on a genetically-determined substratum. Doesn't every parent know this? (Not just parents, either. When I posted on this once before, a couple of years ago, I got an email from a dog breeder to the effect that: "Duh. If personality were not heritable, I'd be out of business.")

Smoke-free laws in Germany

Someone at Der Spiegel has a neat work-around for the smoke-free rules in restaurants.
Maybe some enterprising soul could try it here.
Humor für Leute mit Humor
("No desire to stand outside in the wind and weather?  No problem! I'll smoke your cigarette for you!")

The Hypocrisy Gambit

(Copied from my Townhall blog, PentaGrams)
With his announcement that he's selected Sarah Palin as his running mate, John McCain has seized sente.  In the game of go, sente is a move which the opponent must respond to.  Obama, the Democratic Party, and their willing accomplices in the media have to come up with a response.

Their response has been to double down on the hypocrisy gambit -- finding anything in the Republican position, real or imagined, that can be construed as in any way hypocritical.

Take, for example, one of the very first talking points to surface after Palin was announced:  her lack of experience.  She's the governor of Alaska, and before that, she was the mayor of a small town.  (Is a small town really any easier to handle than a big city?)  On the surface, the Democrats appear to be lining up for a battle of experience vs. experience.  One level down, however, the argument is one of hypocrisy.  Republicans make all kinds of fuss over the Democrats' lack of experience, but lack of experience on their side is somehow OK.

One argument mentioned by Dennis Prager (made by Sally Quinn at the link he provides) is:
She is the mother of five children, one of them a four-month-old with Down Syndrome. Her first priority has to be her children. When the phone rings at three in the morning and one of her children is really sick what choice will she make?
Dennis is puzzled because one would think a feminist would be thrilled to see a woman going after the job of Vice President. No one on the left complains when a leftist woman leaves her kids with a nanny to go after high-level positions, so why complain when Sarah Palin does it?  The answer is, the Left is holding the Right to the standards they claim to espouse. (Or at least they are claiming to -- I suspect if that argument fails to gain any traction, they'll look for another.)

A third argument has to do with the pregnancy of Palin's daughter.  If this had happened in a leftist family, there'd be much less fuss made over it, or expected in the media.  The daughter could abort, and it would be a woman exercising her freedom of reproductive choice.  Or she could move in with her boyfriend (or girlfriend) (or both) and it would be celebrated as an "alternative lifestyle".  But conservatives advocate standards, and any deviation from those standards is always called "hypocrisy", never "being human and failing to live up to high standards".   Here, we have the Left assuming the Palin family, and indeed, the entire pro-life movement, acts like the caricatures dreamed up by the Left.  Upon hearing of Bristol's pregnancy out of wedlock, they imagine the instant response is to drag her out to the city gates and stone her to death.  Well, maybe just kick her out into the street and erase every mention of her from their lives.  For a pro-life, conservative Christian to love and support anyone who has strayed from the straight and narrow must be hypocrisy.

Expect to see more of this sort of argument.  Expect accusations of double standards to be leveled.  Expect critical distinctions to be blurred, in an effort to make this argument more credible.

We'll need to be very clear and very precise in order to counter these accusations.

Economics text online

Professor R. Preston McAfee teaches economics at Cal Tech. His basic economics textbook is available online as a PDF download.
Apparently some companies are bribing professors to use their texts.

It's a Wonderful Crisis

In a very long post, Dafydd at Green lizards traces the roots of the current financial crisis to the history of sub-prime lending.  (The Karl he cites is not me.)
His "take-away" bullet points are:
  • Starting three decades ago, Democrats have used every parliamentary trick in the book to construct exactly the system we have today, where banks are bullied into making bad loans to borrowers who cannot afford them; then they sell those bad loans to Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae; and when a borrower defaults, taxpayers pick up the bill for the defaulter's nice, new house. This amounts to housing welfare for Democrats;
  • Republicans have tried repeatedly to kill that program, warning that such an anti-capitalist practice can only result in a complete, diastrous collapse;
  • Democrats "denounced" those warnings as "exaggerated." Because of the arcane rules in the House of Representatives and especially in the Senate, Democrats have repeatedly managed to squash those attempts at real reform -- whether they were in the majority or the minority;
  • Now that the warnings are proved prescient, and the collapse is underway and impossible to conceal any longer, Democrats point their fingers at President Bush, John McCain, and Republicans in general -- "Look what you made us do!"
  • Democrats pretend that the collapse was caused by a lack of regulation and government control -- when it was actually caused by overregulation, amounting to quasi-nationalization of mortgage lenders, vigorously pushed by Democrats in 1977, 1999, 2003, and 2005 -- the It's a Wonderful Life provision;
  • Democrats pretend that John McCain was pushing for complete deregulation of Fannie and Freddie, when in fact he was pushing for greater oversight -- but favored the rescinding of the particular Democratic provision that has now led to the collapse. Barack Obama and Joe Biden have consistently supported this provision -- and now blame McCain when its inevitable, predictable, and predicted consequences come crashing down upon us.
  • He also has some advice for what McCain should do right now.

    Wednesday, September 17, 2008

    What makes people vote Democrat?

    What Makes People Vote Republican?

    Jonathan Haidt asks this question at The Edge. He could as easily have asked "What Makes People Vote Democrat?"

    He opens with the standard diagnostic answer:

    What makes people vote Republican? Why in particular do working class and rural Americans usually vote for pro-business Republicans when their economic interests would seem better served by Democratic policies? We psychologists have been examining the origins of ideology ever since Hitler sent us Germany's best psychologists, and we long ago reported that strict parenting and a variety of personal insecurities work together to turn people against liberalism, diversity, and progress. But now that we can map the brains, genes, and unconscious attitudes of conservatives, we have refined our diagnosis: conservatism is a partially heritable personality trait that predisposes some people to be cognitively inflexible, fond of hierarchy, and inordinately afraid of uncertainty, change, and death. People vote Republican because Republicans offer "moral clarity"—a simple vision of good and evil that activates deep seated fears in much of the electorate. Democrats, in contrast, appeal to reason with their long-winded explorations of policy options for a complex world.

    Yet this diagnostic answer may lead to a trap:

    ...Our diagnosis explains away Republican successes while convincing us and our fellow liberals that we hold the moral high ground. Our diagnosis tells us that we have nothing to learn from other ideologies, and it blinds us to what I think is one of the main reasons that so many Americans voted Republican over the last 30 years: they honestly prefer the Republican vision of a moral order to the one offered by Democrats.

    In order to address the question of why people vote Republican, he examines what we mean by "morality". He comes up with two rules governing morality. First, "feelings come first and tilt the mental playing field on which reasons and arguments compete." Most moral decisions are not thought through, but are felt. The guidelines we use were internalized and sub-conscious-ized so long ago that they've become conditioned reflexes. Our subconscious programming tells us what's right or wrong in a situation, and then, if pressed, we concoct reasons to justify our stand. These reasons may or may not be valid, but by the time we're coming up with them, it doesn't matter.

    The second rule is, "morality is not just about how we treat each other (as most liberals think); it is also about binding groups together, supporting essential institutions, and living in a sanctified and noble way."

    ...imagine society not as an agreement among individuals but as something that emerged organically over time as people found ways of living together, binding themselves to each other, suppressing each other's selfishness, and punishing the deviants and free-riders who eternally threaten to undermine cooperative groups. The basic social unit is not the individual, it is the hierarchically structured family, which serves as a model for other institutions. Individuals in such societies are born into strong and constraining relationships that profoundly limit their autonomy.

    This is in contrast to a society "as a social contract invented for our mutual benefit" where everyone is free to do as he or she wills, so long as it doesn't harm others. Laws that are implemented exist to prevent this harm as much as possible. (Haidt cites John Stuart Mill, and calls a society organized in this fashion "Millian".

    Now it turns out that a "Millian" society rests on two moral dimensions --

    First, people in all cultures are emotionally responsive to suffering and harm, particularly violent harm, and so nearly all cultures have norms or laws to protect individuals and to encourage care for the most vulnerable. Second, people in all cultures are emotionally responsive to issues of fairness and reciprocity, which often expand into notions of rights and justice. Philosophical efforts to justify liberal democracies and egalitarian social contracts invariably rely heavily on intuitions about fairness and reciprocity.

    This seems to be the essence of society, according to social liberals. What about social conservatives? How are they different? Don't they support fairness and the prevention of harm and suffering?

    Well, it turns out they do, but there are other factors as well:

    My recent research shows that social conservatives do indeed rely upon those two foundations, but they also value virtues related to three additional psychological systems: ingroup/loyalty (involving mechanisms that evolved during the long human history of tribalism), authority/respect (involving ancient primate mechanisms for managing social rank, tempered by the obligation of superiors to protect and provide for subordinates), and purity/sanctity (a relatively new part of the moral mind, related to the evolution of disgust, that makes us see carnality as degrading and renunciation as noble). These three systems support moralities that bind people into intensely interdependent groups that work together to reach common goals. Such moralities make it easier for individuals to forget themselves and coalesce temporarily into hives, a process that is thrilling, as anyone who has ever "lost" him or herself in a choir, protest march, or religious ritual can attest.

    In several large internet surveys, my collaborators Jesse Graham, Brian Nosek and I have found that people who call themselves strongly liberal endorse statements related to the harm/care and fairness/reciprocity foundations, and they largely reject statements related to ingroup/loyalty, authority/respect, and purity/sanctity. People who call themselves strongly conservative, in contrast, endorse statements related to all five foundations more or less equally. (You can test yourself at We think of the moral mind as being like an audio equalizer, with five slider switches for different parts of the moral spectrum. Democrats generally use a much smaller part of the spectrum than do Republicans. The resulting music may sound beautiful to other Democrats, but it sounds thin and incomplete to many of the swing voters that left the party in the 1980s, and whom the Democrats must recapture if they want to produce a lasting political realignment.

    Or, another way of looking at is that Democrats are morally color-blind when compared with Republicans.

    Indeed, this might be a better analogy.

    Take a person with red-green color blindness. Most of the time, the condition is a nuisance. He can see just fine for most purposes. He can walk through an art museum and enjoy most, if not all, of the paintings there. But in a situation where he needs to distinguish between a red light and a green light, he could get himself killed, and possibly take others with him.

    A morally color-blind person is the same way. He's sensitive to the harm/suffering and fairness/reciprocity "colors" of the moral spectrum, but if he needs to come to the right answer with respect to group loyalty, respect for authority, or purity, he may be in trouble.

    In the case of individuals, color blindness is usually only a nuisance, because people with normal color vision have mostly screened out dangerous situations where color vision is essential. You don't need color vision to distinguish poisonous berries from edible ones in a grocery store, for example. Likewise, in the moral realm, long-established institutions exist that protect individuals, whether they recognize the mechanisms involved or not.

    Who's in firstsky?

    Commentary Magazine's Contentions blog has a post by Max Boot addressing evidence that Russia may have started the war with Georgia.

    Georgia has rolled out a powerful new weapon in the info-war it has been waging with Russia ever since Russian troops invaded its soil. In the words of the New York Times: "Georgia has released intercepted telephone calls purporting to show that part of a Russian armored regiment crossed into the separatist enclave of South Ossetia nearly a full day before Georgia's attack on the capital, Tskhinvali, late on Aug. 7." Those calls occurred among Ossetian border guards, and they would seem to buttress Georgia's assertion that it was not the aggressor in this conflict.

    Many questions remain, and the tidbits quoted in the Times are hardly conclusive evidence of who fired the first shots, but they do serve to establish an important point: that, because of these intercepts, Georgian officials genuinely were convinced on August 7th that Russian troops were already invading their country, and they had to respond. Perhaps that impression was mistaken, but it certainly seems that the Georgians acted in good faith. Were that we could say the same for the Russians who are piling one lie on top of another, accusing Georgia of every sin under the sun, to include unsubstantiated charges of genocide.

    Geoengineering against global warming

    Der Spiegel has an article about a plan to use robot ships to put the brakes on global warming.

    Sprühroboter auf großer Fahrt: Ein britischer Forscher will Hunderte Geisterschiffe auf die Ozeane schicken, die rund um die Uhr Meerwassertropfen in die Luft blasen - das soll die Aufheizung der Atmosphäre bremsen. Die Technik beruht auf der Idee eines deutschen Erfinders, hat aber ihre Risiken.

    Robot sprayers on a great journey: A British researcher wants to put hundreds of ghost ships on the ocean, which will spray droplets of sea water into the air around the clock -- which should put the brakes on the warming of the atmosphere. The technology is based on the idea of a German inventor, but it has its risks.

    Die Tröpfchen dienen als Kondensationskeime und sollen die Wolken über den Ozeanen so hell wie möglich machen. Dadurch erhöht sich ihr Reflektionsvermögen für Sonnenstrahlen, weniger Wärme unseres Zentralgestirns kommt an der Meeresoberfläche an. Insgesamt heizt sich die Erde etwas weniger auf - der Klimawandel wird gestoppt. Soweit die Theorie.

    The droplets serve as condensation nuclei and should make the clouds over the oceans as bright as possible. This increases their ability to reflect the sun's rays, less heat from our central star makes it to the sea surface. All together, the Earth is heated less -- climate change is halted. In theory.

    More on the financial crisis

    Jay Tea at Wizbang asks if the narrative in this crisis is too good to be true.

    Media doing it right

    Wizbang reports on this letter to the editor of the Lebanon Daily News:

    A letter to the editor of the Lebanon Daily News-

    As a Republican and strong McCain supporter in 2000, I was disappointed and saddened in 2004 when McCain permanently traded in his maverick credentials and sold out his principles to support George W. Bush. I now find it equally disturbing to see him gamble our security and future with a reckless choice for a running mate.

    Gov. Sarah Palin clearly has a bright future in politics. She may even have the depth and diversity of experience to be a vice-presidential candidate four years from now.

    The McCain ticket, with all of its newfound "freshness" and despite all of the claims, has quickly devolved into the politics-as-usual that we have come to expect in the last eight years. McCain and Palin quickly emerged from the rhetoric of their convention as the uniters of dividers.

    I talk politics with a lot of people from all walks of life. I find it compelling that many of the ordinary Republicans I talk to understand that their families cannot afford another four years like the last eight. We all deserve better.

    Christopher Tarsa


    A republican who don't like McCain. Where have I heard that before?

    The Lebanon Daily News gave its readers, by adding a tag to the bottom of the letter, the writer's true identity

    Tarsa is chairman of the Lebanon County Democratic Committee.
    Fancy that.

    The sex-education row

    David Friedman has some thoughts on the fight over Obama's position on a particular sex-education bill.
    There has been a considerable flap over a McCain ad accusing Obama of supporting comprehensive sex education for kindergarten students. Obama's people say the ad is a lie, and are supported by, so far as I can tell, most of the media other than McCain partisans. As I read the evidence, it reflects poorly on both candidates, but worst on the media.
    Most of the reporters who repeated Obama's version as gospel do not seem to have actually bothered to read the bill, although it is readily available online. It contains, along with much else, the following language:
    "Each class or course in comprehensive sex education offered in any of grades K 6 through 12 shall include instruction on the prevention of sexually transmitted infections, including the prevention, transmission and spread of HIV AIDS."
    If Obama thinks that AIDS is transmitted by touching, he has problems more serious than his views on sex education.
    It's true that the bill also says all instruction is to be age appropriate. Precisely how one provides age appropriate instruction in the prevention, transmission and spread of HIV to kindergartners has not, so far as I know, been explained by either the Obama campaign or anyone else.
    And there, I believe, is the rub.

    The banking crisis

    I've just found two articles in a row discussing the mortgage/banking/stock market crisis, and both are perfectly willing to assess blame.
    Powerline blog writes:

    The current crisis, in its various manifestations, can be traced to the subprime mortgage market. A casual observer might wonder why there is such a thing as a subprime mortgage market, since a subprime loan is one that a lender would normally prefer not to make.

    There are two answers to that question. The first is that various levels of national and local government pressured mortgage lenders to make risky loans so that they would be classified for regulatory purposes as good corporate citizens, and would be immune from charges of racism. So, like many market failures, this one has its roots in government policy. The second reason for the expansion of the subprime market is that mortgage lenders figured out that they didn't have to take the risks associated with bad loans. They were able to package mortgages together as components of fancy securities that, it turns out, virtually no one fully understood.

    All of this worked until borrowers started defaulting and, partly in consequence of those defaults, home prices fell.

    Walter Williams points out that:

    ...The Community Reinvestment Act of 1977 is a federal law that intimidated lenders into offering credit throughout their entire market and discouraged them from restricting their credit services to low-risk markets, a practice sometimes called redlining. The Federal Reserve Bank, keeping interest rates artificially low, gave buyers and builders incentive to buy and build, thereby producing the housing bubble. Lenders were willing to make creative interest-only loans, often high-risk "no doc" and "liar loans," in order to allow people to buy more housing than they could afford. Of course, with the expectation that housing prices will continue to rise, it was no problem for lenders and borrowers but housing prices began to fall, leaving some people with negative home equity and banks in trouble.

    The credit crunch and foreclosure problems are failures of government policy. In fact, what we see now is a market correction to foolhardy government policy. Congress' move to bailout lenders and borrowers who made poor decisions will simply create incentives for people to make unwise decisions in the future. English philosopher Herbert Spencer said, "The ultimate result of shielding men from the effects of folly is to fill the world with fools."

    Keep this in mind when politicians are railing against "special interests" and "greed".  Greed was certainly a factor, but the underlying problem was politicians greedy for votes.

    Tuesday, September 16, 2008

    If he were on McCain's ticket...

    ....The left would hate his guts.
    From the New York Times, of all places:
    Crusader Sees Wealth as Cure for Caste Bias
    Mr. Prasad was born into the Pasi community, once considered untouchable on the ancient Hindu caste order. Today, a chain-smoking, irrepressible didact, he is the rare outcaste columnist in the English language press and a professional provocateur. His latest crusade is to argue that India's economic liberalization is about to do the unthinkable: destroy the caste system. The last 17 years of new capitalism have already allowed his people, or Dalits, as they call themselves, to "escape hunger and humiliation," he says, if not residual prejudice.

    Mr. Prasad is a contrarian. He calls government welfare programs patronizing. He dismisses the countryside as a cesspool. Affirmative action is fine, in his view, but only to advance a small slice into the middle class, who can then act as role models. He calls English "the Dalit goddess," able to liberate Dalits.

    Along with India's economic policies, once grounded in socialist ideals, Mr. Prasad has moved to the right. He is openly and mischievously contemptuous of leftists. "They have a hatred for those who are happy," he said.

    ...Dalits are far less likely to be engaged in their traditional caste occupations — for instance, the skinning of animals, considered ritually unclean — than they used to be and more likely to enjoy social perks once denied them. In rural Azamgarh District, for instance, nearly all Dalit households said their bridegrooms now rode in cars to their weddings, compared with 27 percent in 1990. In the past, Dalits would not have been allowed to ride even horses to meet their brides; that was considered an upper-caste privilege.
    ...But here is the problem with Mr. Prasad's survey. Even if it chronicles progress, the survey cannot tie it to any one cause, least of all economic changes. In fact, other empirical studies in this budding area of inquiry show that in parts of India where economic liberalization has had the greatest impact, neither rural poverty nor the plight of Dalits has consistently improved.
    What is called "contrarian" in India is called "conservative" here.
    Also, I have heard Oprah Winfrey quoted as saying "excellence is the best defense against racism."  Why wouldn't it defend against caste-ism, as well?

    Put a dead tree in your tank!

    Merv at Gateway Pundit has spotted an article on converting coal into liquid fuel.
    Coal liquefaction has been around for a long time. Although relatively unfamiliar in the American energy vocabulary, it dates back to 1923, when German scientists developed the Fisher-Tropsch process for converting coal into the liquid fuels of gasoline and diesel.
    Less expensive coal is normally used in coal liquefaction. Coal costs in June of 2008 ranged in price from $14 per ton for Powder River Basin, 8,800 British thermal unit coal, to $54 per ton for Uinta Basin, 8,700-BTU coal. The $14 per ton coal would be adequate for coal liquefaction.
    The cost ratio of 1.25 barrels per ton of coal at a cost of $14 to $54 per ton would prove very advantageous with oil at $119 per barrel on Aug. 11, 2008. The profitability of liquefaction would be in line with Sasol profits in South Africa - so great that excess profit taxes were assessed.
    Hostetter estimates that fuel from coal could be produced at about $1.85 a gallon. That sounds like a bargain at today's prices. I am not sure how much can be produced by he estimates about 3.5 million barrels a day which would be about 17 percent of daily consumption. I think it would be enough to reduce demand for oil to levels to make the price of crude come in line with it. The biggest obstacle will be energy hatred lobby of the Demcorats and environmentalist.


    Under the heading of "Markets Anticipate the Future",


    Apparently, hyperinflation is a theme in the Dilbert comic strip, as the inflation rate in Elbonia hits one billion percent per day.  Today's strip shows the price for something increasing a hundred-fold over the course of a minute.
    I left this comment at the Mises Economics blog where I found the link:

    I suspect this qualifies as a nitpick, but today's Dilbert shows the price of a small fetid water inflating 100-fold in a minute. An inflation rate of one billion percent per day works out to 1.1256% per minute. At that rate, a 100-fold increase would take a little over six and three-quarters hours. (6 hours, 51 minutes, 25.7 seconds).

    An inflation rate of one hundred times (ten thousand percent) per minute would be very hard to deal with.

    Inflation and compound interest are examples of exponential curves.  Their tendency to grow to very large values from very small initial steps takes many people by surprise. 

    Why conservatives like Palin

    Found this at the Contentions blog, by Jennifer Rubin:
     Rod Dreher makes a convincing case that it is her small town and blue collar appeal that are truly shaking up the race. It may not be gender, but class and geography that are the keys to her appeal.
    After reviewing an insightful New York Times column (which of course means it is in the style section) on Palin's small town associations in her hometown beauty shop, Dreher comments:
    I understood more than anything else I've read about Sarah Palin why she's made that gut connection with so many Americans. She really is from a small town, and does not seem to have forgotten that. Think about the powerful message this sends to small-town, rural and working-class voters. Think about what it says about the place she comes from internally, and how she interprets the world. This is a woman who goes to the small-town beauty shop to trade hunting stories with her girlfriends, and to pray with them through their crises — and she didn't stop going there when she became governor of the state.
    This is actually one of the qualities of a leader.  As Kipling put it:
    If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
    Or walk with kings--nor lose the common touch,
    Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
    And--which is more--you'll be a Man, my son!

    Monday, September 15, 2008

    Palin v. Gibson transcript

    The following is a transcript of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s interview with ABC News’ Charles Gibson:

    GIBSON: Governor, let me start by asking you a question that I asked John McCain about you. And it is really the central question. Can you look the country in the eye and say, I have the experience, and I have the ability to be not just vice president, but perhaps president of the United States of America?

    PALIN: I do, Charlie, and on January 20th, when John McCain and I are sworn in, if we are so privileged to be elected to serve this country, we’ll be ready. I’m ready.

    GIBSON: When McCain asked you to take the spot on the ticket, for a moment, did you think no?

    PALIN: I did not. I thought yes, right off the bat. When he offered me the position, as his running mate, the first thing I said to him was, if you really think that I can help the ticket, if you really think that I can help this country, absolutely, I want to do this with you.

    GIBSON: And you didn’t say to yourself, am I experienced enough? Am I ready?

    PALIN: I didn’t hesitate, no.

    GIBSON: Doesn’t that take some hubris?

    PALIN: I answered him yes because I have the confidence in that readiness. And knowing that you can’t blink. You have to be wired in a way of being so committed to the mission, the mission that we’re on, reform of this country, and victory in the war. You can’t blink. So, I didn’t blink then, when asked to run as his running mate.

    GIBSON: But this is not just reforming a government. This is also running a government on the huge international stage, in a very dangerous world. When I asked John McCain about your national security credentials, he cited the fact you have command of the Alaskan National Guard and Alaska is close to Russia. Are those sufficient credentials?

    PALIN: But it is about reform of government. And it’s about putting government back on the side of the people. And that has much to do with foreign policy and national security issues.

    Let me speak specifically about a credential that I do bring to this table, Charlie. And that’s with the energy independence that I’ve been working on for these years, as the governor of this state, that produces nearly 20 percent of the U.S. domestic supply of energy. That I worked on as chairman of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conversation Commission, overseeing the oil and gas developments in our state, to produce more for the United States.

    GIBSON: National security is a whole lot more than energy.

    PALIN: It is. But - but I want you to not lose sight of the fact that energy is a foundation of national security. It’s that important. It’s that significant.

    GIBSON: Did you ever travel outside the country prior to your trip to Kuwait and Germany last year?

    PALIN: Canada. Mexico. And then, that trip that was a trip of a lifetime, to visit troops in Kuwait and stop and visit injured soldiers in Germany. That was a trip of a lifetime. And it changed my life.

    GIBSON: Have you ever met a foreign head of state?

    PALIN: I have not. And I think if you go back in history and if you ask that question of many vice presidents, they may have the same answer that I just gave you. But Charlie, again, we got to remember what the desire is in this nation, at this time. It is for no more politics as usual. And somebody’s big, fat resume maybe that shows decades and decades in that Washington establishment, where, yeah, they’ve had opportunity to meet heads of state.

    GIBSON: Let me ask you about some specific national security situations.

    PALIN: Sure.

    GIBSON: Let’s start, because we are near Russia. Let’s start with Russia and Georgia. The administration has said, we’ve got to maintain the territorial integrity of Georgia. Do you believe the United States should try to restore Georgian sovereignty over South Ossetia and Abkhazia?

    PALIN: First off, we’re going to continue good relations with Saakashvili there. I was able to speak the other day and giving my commitment, as John McCain’s running mate, that we will be committed to Georgia. And we have to keep an eye on Russia. For Russia to have asserted such pressure in terms of invading a smaller democratic country, unprovoked, is unacceptable. And we have to keep …

    GIBSON: You believe unprovoked?

    PALIN: I do believe unprovoked. And we have to keep our eyes on Russia. Under the leadership there.

    GIBSON: What insight into Russian actions particularly in the last couple weeks does the proximity of the state give you?

    PALIN: They’re our next door neighbors. And you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska.

    GIBSON: You favor putting Georgia and Ukraine into NATO?

    PALIN: Ukraine definitely yes. Yes. And Georgia. Putin thinks otherwise, obviously he thinks otherwise.

    GIBSON: Under the NATO treaty, wouldn’t we then have to go to war if Russia went into Georgia?

    PALIN: Perhaps so. That is the agreement. When you are a NATO ally, is, if another country is attacked, you are going to be expected to be called upon and help.

    GIBSON: Let me turn to Iran. Do you consider a nuclear Iran to be an existential threat to Israel?

    PALIN: I believe that under the leadership of Ahmadinejad, nuclear weapons in the hands of his government are extremely dangerous to everyone on this globe, yes.

    GIBSON: So, what should we do about a nuclear Iran?

    PALIN: We have got to make sure these weapons of mass destruction, that nuclear weapons are not given to those hands of Ahmadinejad, not that he would use them, but that he would allow terrorists to be able to use them. So we have got to put the pressure on Iran.

    GIBSON: What if Israel decided it felt threatened and need to take out the Iranian nuclear facilities?

    PALIN: Well, first, we are friends of Israel, and I don’t think that we should second guess the measures that Israel has to take to defend themselves, and for their security.

    GIBSON: So if we didn’t second guess it and if they decided they needed to do it, because Iran was an existential threat, we would be cooperative or agree with that?

    PALIN: I don’t think we can second guess what Israel has to do to secure its nation.

    GIBSON: So if it felt necessary, if it felt the need to defend itself by taking out Iranian nuclear facilities, that would be all right?

    PALIN: We cannot second guess the steps that Israel has to take to defend itself.

    GIBSON: We talk on the anniversary of 9/11. Why do you think those hijackers attacked? Why did they want to hurt us?

    PALIN: You know, there is a very small percentage of Islamic believers who are extreme, and they are violent, and they do not believe in American ideals. And they attacked us. And now we are at a point, here, seven years later, on the anniversary, in this post- 9/11 world, where we are able to commit to never again. The only option for them is to become a suicide bomber, to get caught up in this evil, in this terror. They need to be provided the hope that all Americans have, instilled in us, because we’re a democratic and we are a free, we’re a free-thinking society.

    GIBSON: Do you agree with the Bush doctrine?

    PALIN: In what respect, Charlie?

    GIBSON: The Bush — well, what do you interpret it to be?

    PALIN: His world view?

    GIBSON: No, the Bush doctrine, annunciated September 2002, before the Iraq War.

    PALIN: I believe that what President Bush has attempted to do is rid this world of Islamic extremism, terrorists who are hell-bent on destroying our nation. There have been blunders along the way, though. There have been mistakes made, and with new leadership, and that’s the beauty of American elections, of course, and democracy, is with new leadership comes opportunity to do things better.

    GIBSON: The Bush doctrine as I understand it is that we have the right of anticipatory self-defense, that we have the right to a preemptive strike against any country that we think is going to attack us. Do you agree with us?

    PALIN: Charlie, if there is legitimate and enough intelligent and legitimate evidence that tells us that a strike is imminent against American people, we have every right to defend our country.

    GIBSON: Do we have the right to be making cross-border attacks into Pakistan, from Afghanistan, with or without the approval of the Pakistani government?

    PALIN: As for our right to invade, we’re going to work with these countries, building new relationships, working with existing allies, but forging new also, in order to, Charlie, get to a point in this world, where war is not going to be a first option. In fact, war has got to be and military strike a last option.

    GIBSON: But governor, I am asking you, do we have the right, in your mind, to go across the border, with or without the approval of the Pakistani government?

    PALIN: In order to stop Islamic extremists, those terrorists who would seek to destroy America, and our allies, we must do whatever it takes, and we must not blink, Charlie. In making those tough decisions of where we go, and even who we target.

    GIBSON: And let me finish with this. I got lost in a blizzard of words there. Is that a yes, that you think we have the right to go across the border, with or without the approval of the Pakistani government? To go after terrorists who are in the Waziristan area?

    PALIN: I believe that America has to exercise all options in order to stop the terrorists who are hell-bent on destroying America, and our allies. We have got to have all options out there on the table.


    GIBSON: You said recently in your old church, “Our national leaders are sending U.S. soldiers on a task that is from God.”


    PALIN: Pray for our military men and women who are striving to do what is right, also for this country, that our leaders, our national leaders are sending them out on a task that is from God.


    GIBSON: Are we fighting a Holy War?

    PALIN: That’s a repeat of Abraham Lincoln’s words, when he said, first he suggested, never presume to know what God’s will is, and I would never presume to know God’s will or to speak god’s words, but what Abraham Lincoln had said, and that’s a repeat in my comments, was, let us not pray that God is on our side, in a war, or any other time. But let us pray that we are on God’s side. That’s what that comment was all about, Charlie.

    Today is the day that I send my first born, my son, my teenage son, oversees with his Stryker brigade. Four thousand other wonderful American men and women to fight for our country, to fight for our freedoms.

    GIBSON: But you went on and said, “There is a plan, and it is God’s plan.”

    PALIN: I believe that there is a plan for this world, and that plan, for this world, is for good. I believe that there is great hope and great potential for every country, to be able to live and be protected within inalienable rights, that I believe are God-given, Charlie. And I believe those are the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness./p>

    That in my worldview is the grand plan./p>

    GIBSON: Then, are you sending your son on a task from God?/p>

    PALIN: I don’t know if the task is from God, Charlie. What I know is that my son has made a decision. I am so proud of his independent and strong decision. What he decided to do, in serving for the right reasons in serving something greater than self, and not choosing a real easy path, where he could be more comfortable and certainly safer./p>

    The Truth Machine

    Ron Baily at Reason Magazine has a blog post on research into Truth Machines.

    The New York Times is reporting that an Indian criminal court accepted a brain scan as evidence of guilt in a murder trial in India earlier this year. The developer of the the Brain Electrical Oscillation Signature (BEOS) test claims that it uses electrodes to detect when regions of the brain "light up" with guilty knowledge.

    According to the Times:

    The woman, Aditi Sharma, was accused of killing her former fiancé, Udit Bharati. They were living in Pune when Ms. Sharma met another man and eloped with him to Delhi. Later Ms. Sharma returned to Pune and, according to prosecutors, asked Mr. Bharati to meet her at a McDonald's. She was accused of poisoning him with arsenic-laced food.

    Ms. Sharma, 24, agreed to take a BEOS test in Mumbai, the capital of Maharashtra. (Suspects may be tested only with their consent, but forensic investigators say many agree because they assume it will spare them an aggressive police interrogation.)

    As the Times points out, most U.S. experts doubt that the BEOS technology has been propoerly validated. However, neuroscience researchers are working toward creating such a "truth machine." As the Times notes:

    Back in 2001, I looked at the status of brain scanning technologies and pointed to some of the possibilities that fully validated brain scanning technologies would offer for abuse by government and some implications for the future of privacy:

    ...James Halperin, author of the 1996 science fiction novel The Truth Machine.., notes an interesting convergence in current fMRI and brainwave research since his fictional "Cerebral Image Processor" measured a combination of electrical activity and blood flow. In The Truth Machine, Halperin illustrates the benefits and problems that the pervasive availability of an infallible lie detector would cause society. It is easy to see some of the benefits -- detecting would-be terrorists, finding politicians who tell the truth during campaigns, detecting honesty in meeting contractual obligations. But what about those areas of life we would like to keep private, say, one's sexual orientation, or unusual religious beliefs, or drug habits, or taste in pornography? Halperin suggests that right now, many of us tolerate laws and regulations on many of these private activities because we know that we are not likely to be caught when we violate them. In a world where the truth can be known absolutely, Halperin thinks laws regulating many private activities would be repealed and there would be areas of life in which the use of a truth machine itself would be banned.

    Whole column here

    Also mentioned are Constitutional issues.
    Privacy may well suffer once such a machine is developed.  At least, as currently designed, this machine requires a close connection with the subject -- wearing electrodes or sitting inside a scanner, for instance.  If a form of this gadget can be built that reads at a distance, there will no longer be such a thing as "in the privacy of your own thoughts".

    Lie detection by EEG

    An actual lie detector has been the stuff of fantasy and science fiction.  While the magic spell that detects untruth or even compels truth may never be achieved, one scientist thinks he's identified brain waves that correspond to deception.

    A Seattle scientist who has developed an electronic brain test that he says could improve our ability to force criminals to reveal themselves, identify potential terrorists and free those wrongly convicted may have finally broken through the bureaucratic barriers that he believes have served to stifle adoption of the pioneering technique.

    As part of this research, Farwell ran across what would become the scientific basis of brain fingerprinting. It is a type of signal in the brain known as a P300 wave, so-called because it is an involuntary response to a recognized object or piece of information that happens within 300 milliseconds.

    It's been a well-known and widely accepted phenomenon within neuroscience. What Farwell did is connect it with another related electrical brain response that he dubbed a MerMer (for "memory and encoding related multifaceted electroencephalographic response") that he contends provides a foolproof method for testing an individual's knowledge -- or lack of knowledge -- of a criminal act.

    "It's 100 percent reliable and has been ruled admissible in court," Farwell said.

    That was in Iowa, during a court case in which a man, Terry Harrington, was found innocent of murder and in 2003 released after spending 24 years in prison. Brain fingerprinting played a role, Farwell emphasized, but was not the only reason for Harrington's exoneration. And in another case, that of Jimmy Ray Slaughter in Oklahoma, Farwell's brain fingerprint finding that Slaughter was likely innocent did not persuade the court or prevent his execution.

    Of course, before it's adopted, I'd like to see a lot more testing. 

    Maybe that testing's already been done, in which case, we should be able to see lots of research papers.  I'd also like to see the results of testing on known sociopaths and other people with psychiatric problems.  A technique that works on college students may not work as well on the population that turns up in police interrogation rooms.

    And then, of course, there are the constitutional issues.

    Sunday, September 14, 2008

    The problem with computer models

    Is that reality doesn't always agree with them.

    Point 1: There are… serial, serious failures of the computer models of climate

    ….the computer models upon which the UN’s climate panel unwisely founds its entire case have failed and failed and failed again to predict major events in the real climate.

    a. The models have not projected the current multidecadal stasis in “global warming”:

    b. no rise in temperatures since 1998; falling temperatures since late 2001; temperatures not expected to set a new record until 2015 (Keenlyside et al., 2008).

    c. nor (until trained ex post facto) did they predict the fall in TS from 1940-1975;

    d. nor 50 years’ cooling in Antarctica (Doran et al., 2002) and the Arctic (Soon, 2005);

    e. nor the absence of ocean warming since 2003 (Lyman et al., 2006; Gouretski & Koltermann, 2007);

    f. nor the behavior of the great ocean oscillations (Lindzen, 2007),

    g. nor the magnitude nor duration of multi-century events such as the Mediaeval Warm Period or the Little Ice Age;

    h. nor the decline since 2000 in atmospheric methane concentration (IPCC, 2007);

    i. nor the active 2004 hurricane season;

    j. nor the inactive subsequent seasons;

    k. nor the UK flooding of 2007 (the Met Office had forecast a summer of prolonged droughts only six weeks previously);

    l. nor the solar Grand Maximum of the past 70 years, during which the Sun was more active, for longer, than at almost any similar period in the past 11,400 years (Hathaway, 2004; Solanki et al., 2005);

    m. nor the consequent surface “global warming” on Mars, Jupiter, Neptune’s largest moon, and even distant Pluto;

    n. nor the eerily-continuing 2006 solar minimum;

    o. nor the consequent, precipitate decline of ~0.8 °C in surface temperature from January 2007 to May 2008 that has canceled out almost all of the observed warming of the 20th century.

    As Monckton states, the computer models are demonstrable failures.

    Editing the Palin Interview

    Over at the Mark Levin show:

    EXCERPTS: Charlie Gibson Interviews Sarah Palin (September 11, 2008)


    Friday, September 12, 2008

    TV Scenes We'd Like to See

    (Remember MAD Magazine?)

    A reader with a vivid political imagination dreams of the following exchange:

    Charlie Gibson: “Senator Obama, you have referred in the past to ‘my Muslim faith.’ How strong is your Muslim faith?”

    Barack Obama: “You know, I don’t know if that was my exact quote.”

    Charlie Gibson: “Exact words.”

    Can the Torreceli option be made to work?

    I've been seeing analyses of why Obama can't replace Biden as his running mate, especially in favor of Hillary.

    I mention one in this post.

    Clayton Cramer believes much the same way.

    Instapundit points to the futures trading on the possibility that Obama Messiah might replace Joe Biden on the Democratic ticket with Hillary Clinton. If Obama and his staff have any brains at all, they would immediately recognize this as about the only action that they could take worse than what they are doing now.

    I'm not so sure.

    And even if it is, someone might consider it worth the gamble – trading a certain loss for even a slim chance of a win.

    Consider: For all the noise being made about how McCain is old, decrepit, at death's door, and likely to keel over once and for all immediately after saying "So help me God" at his inauguration, Joe Biden isn't any Highlander type. He's old, and he's been in the Senate longer than McCain. He's had health issues of his own – strokes, I believe. A serious health issue would be entirely plausible.

    Now he won't be replaced by Hillary. She wouldn't take the job. She doesn't want to run against a Democratic incumbent in '12, and if Obama should become incapacitated for any reason, a minority of loudmouths will accuse her of complicity.

    However, there must be some young Democrat in the wings somewhere. Maybe one of the Kennedy kids? Have they really looked at all the governors? (I doubt the mayor of New Orleans is on even the very longest of lists.) How about one of the opinionated Hollywood set? How about Whoopi Goldberg? At least we know she can memorize her lines.