Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Sarah Palin: Why Is She Hated So?

Over Thanksgiving, I had a conversation with some relatives and once again, I was startled by the extent to which Sarah Palin is so desperately despised. 

I can understand why you might disagree with Palin on issues.  I can agree that she was insufficiently experienced for the job of President in the event that John McCain did not survive his first term--but she was still more experienced as a governmental executive than anyone else that was running in the 2008 general election.  The extent to which she is wrongly considered ignorant just amazes me. 

I have considered writing an article about this curious level of vitriol that the news media spew towards Palin, but John Lott's November 30, 2010 Fox News piece does a pretty good job of discussing the absurdity of it all.
For just how far off base her coverage by the media has been, consider the reaction when Sarah Palin, a Fox News contributor and former Alaska governor, last Wednesday accidentally referred to North Korea as an ally. It was an obvious slip of the tongue and she corrected the trivial gaffe immediately in her very next sentence. The local, national, and even international news coverage was massive, making the trivial error front-page news. A Google news search finds 834 separate news stories run just that day alone.


Since becoming president, Obama has called Europe a country. He misspelled the city of "Syracuse" twice, even though the word was spelled correctly next to where he was writing it. And he said that the Constitution was written "20 centuries" ago, the FBI was founded "100 days" ago when he meant 100 years, "Austrian" is a language, breathalyzers are used to treat asthma, and that he is working hard to "halt the rise of privacy," not piracy. None of these cases got more than a few minor mentions in news stories in the months after the gaffe.
The real issue for why Sarah Palin is so hated, I suspect, is the same reason why black conservatives are so hated in some circles, and why Southern abolitionists were so hated.  Sarah Palin is considered a traitor to her sex because of her principled and consistent opposition to abortion--even under circumstances that have caused more than a few pro-life people to make "unprincipled" exceptions: a Downs' Syndrome fetus; a pregnant daughter.

I don't think Sarah Palin has quite enough experience to be our next President.  But the absurdity of the ferocity of the attacks on her suggests that a lot of the elite see her as what her boosters see her as: the next Ronald Reagan.

Winter Came Early This Year

I'm not thrilled.  Living somewhere tropical sounds better and better.

Click to enlarge

Clearing the driveway last night took 90 minutes--and even then, many ice patches remained that even my brawny Troy-Bilt Storm 2410 snowthrower that looks like some sort of torture device from Star Wars was unable to completely break up.

If I could figure out a job that did not require me to leave the house every day, that would be perfect--a job that involved historical research, for example.  But that does not seem to be one of the available options.

Monday, November 29, 2010

An Interesting JavaScript Field Validation Problem

I've spent a bit of time trying to figure out how to combine keystroke level and field level validation with autocompletion in JavaScript.  The idea is that for each field in a form, you want to identify invalid inputs as early as possible.  You don't want to wait for the user to hit the Submit button before checking the values that he has entered.  So you really want keystroke checking, field level checking, and checking at submit time.

You check the keystrokes with the onkeyup event: onkeyup="numericOnly(this)".  It calls a JavaScript function that sees if the field contains only digits.  If you just added a non-numeric key, you remove the last character from this, then window.status="numeric only keys allowed in this field" to set the status bar of the browser, letting the user know that this wasn't okay.

You check the overall field for syntactic or semantic errors by using onblur="validateAreaCode(this, nextField)".  This function gets called when you leave the field by hitting tab, or using the mouse, or hitting enter.  Do whatever checking you need to, then use alert() to warn the user that there is something wrong with the input, and set focus back to this.  If everything worked, you set focus to nextField so that field gets control next.

Oh: but there is one other case where the onblur event happens: if you have autocompletion enabled in Internet Explorer.  As soon as you enter the field, autocompletion's menu pops up--and you probably do not want to validate your inputs yet, because you really haven't left the field--you are waiting to make a decision from the autocompletion choices.

The solution?  Add onfocus="saveRecent(this)" for this field.  The saveRecent function saves the name of the field and its value in global vars.  Then, your onblur function (validateAreaCode in the example above) calls a function mostRecentChanged(this), which compares the name of the field and the value saved by saveRecent.  If the name of the field matches, and the value matches, then you have reached onblur because of the autocompletion menu.  Only if the value has changed do you perform your validation check, because that means that you completed the field, or left the field, and that is why you are now calling onblur.

UPDATE: Dreadfully ugly.  Even if autocomplete does not bring up a menu of choices, onblur event is firing.  It turns out that the best solution was to turn off the onblur event, and do everything through onkeyup instead.  The onkeyup event calls the validation function.  Depending whether the passed in field is full length or not, we either display a complaint in the status bar, or use alert to warn the user, and set focus back to this field.  If there is no error, we set focus on the nextField instead (unless the key event causing this was Shift Tab).  However: since a user might mouse over to another field, I am now having the onclick event invoke the onkeyup validation function by saving the current field from the validation function.  The onclick event then picks up the last field, and does obj.fireEvent("onkeyup") to force the validation function to be executed for the last field before we take action in the new field.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Quantative Easing 2 & Inflation

Dr. John Lott has a column up at Fox News explaining why the enormous inflation of the money supply hasn't caused substantial price inflation yet.  Others have pointed out that the reason that hasn't been a problem is the low velocity of money at the moment.  Lott has another explanation, and one that fits well with China's outrage about QE2:

China is trying to keep the U.S. dollar more valuable than the Chinese currency, the Yuan. That sounds counter-intuitive, but a more valuable dollar means that it is relatively cheap for Americans to buy Chinese products – and that helps Chinese manufacturers’ sales.
While the M1 money supply has soared by $364 billion since August 2008 and the new currency we have printed up grew by over a trillion dollars, China alone has accumulated almost $500 billion in U.S. currency reserves, about $200 billion after netting out changes in China’s U.S. Treasury bond holdings. The exact increase in China's dollar reserves isn't precisely known by anyone outside of the Bank of China, but it is probably pretty close to the exact total. Other countries have also increased their reserve holdings of dollars.

The problem is that holding on to all this cash is really very costly for the Chinese. They can't turn around and spend the dollars, or all the additional dollars in circulation will again lower the value of the dollar -- defeating the very reason that the Chinese accumulated the dollars to begin with.

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2010/11/26/playing-chicken-china/#ixzz16aWn0KTy
Lott says that at some point, the cost of this program to keep the yuan artificially cheap is going to be too much for China to afford--and when that happens, the price inflation that should be associated with this enormous expansion of the money supply will happen.
While I agree that many countries (and not just China) are upset about the absurdity of what the Fed is doing, because the alternative is fiscal responsibility about our budget, it is hard for me to be very sympathetic to China, whose objectives are to continue to cheap yuan policy that has caused enormous economic distortions in much of the industrialized world, wiping out many manufacturing jobs.  
It does seem as though there is no hurry to buy bonds.  Once the inflation monster comes back, bond yields will have to rise dramatically as compensation.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Black Friday in Boise; the Redfield Revolution

I had not intended to do any shopping yesterday, but a friend visiting from California wanted to go into Cabela's for some chamois shirts.  I decided to go over and look at the Redfield Revolution 4-12x40mm AccuRange scope.  The guns and optics counter was busy!  I had to wait almost fifteen minutes to get someone to show me the scope.

I have looked at a number of 4-12 variable scopes over the last few months, and they have fallen into three categories:

1. Not very crisp at the high end of the power range.

2. Very expensive.

3. Probably not tough enough to handle prolonged centerfire rifle recoil.  In fact, a Tasco that I looked a few months back, the Cabela's clerk told me that at least one customer had returned because it couldn't handle .308 Winchester.

The Redfield I looked through was very sharp, all the way up to 12x.  Very nice.  The Accu Range reticle also provides a nice alternative to Bullet Drop Compensators for adjusting elevation for distance.  The BDC approach, where you turn a dial on the top of the scope to adjust elevation, is probably more precise than using the Accu Range reticle, but there are some merits to a design where you simply change your aim point--instead of fiddling with the controls.

The Redfield scopes are made by Leupold in Beaverton, and are supposedly just a cheaper Leupold, with Leupold quality and warranty.  I have an older Bushnell 4-12x40mm for one of my .308 Winchester rifles, and while it used to be quite sharp, it now seems a bit soft above 10x.  The cost of having it repaired, as near as I can tell, is only slightly less than buying the Redfield (which Cabela's lists for $219.95, and May Sporting Goods offers a bit cheaper).

As one commenter observed about the Leupold products, "You only have to pay for quality once."

Happiness As A Mental Illness

I checked the date to make sure that this wasn't an April Fools' edition of a journal.  The abstract:
It is proposed that happiness be classified as a psychiatric disorder and be included in future editions of the major diagnostic manuals under the new name: major affective disorder, pleasant type. In a review of the relevant literature it is shown that happiness is statistically abnormal, consists of a discrete cluster of symptoms, is associated with a range of cognitive abnormalities, and probably reflects the abnormal functioning of the central nervous system. One possible objection to this proposal remains--that happiness is not negatively valued. However, this objection is dismissed as scientifically irrelevant. [J Med Ethics 1992 Jun;18(2):94-8] [emphasis added]
The author of the article was with "Department of Clinical Psychology, Liverpool University."  I'm hoping that this was just a sign of the situation at Liverpool University.  I must confess that in my vacation to Britain in 1999, my wife and I both concluded, from the expressions on the faces of Londoners, that it was time to start adding Prozac to the water supply.

UPDATE: A reader with the right subscriptions shared the text of the full article--it does appear to be a parody of psychiatric self-importance.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Not The Way To Lose Weight

I was thinking on Sunday, "I should reduce my eating before Thanksgiving, as partial compensation for the Thanksgiving feast."  This isn't the way to do it.  I woke up about 2:00 AM, and the gastrointestinal tract is expelling stuff from both ends.  At first I thought it was food poisoning, but it is now going on too long for food poisoning.  Worst Thanksgiving ever.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Marijuana And Mental Illness

I decided to gather together links and summaries of various scholarly articles on marijuana and mental illness, mostly because they are too scattered for me to easily find, and I had someone that needed them.

This study performed a reanalysis of the 1969 Swedish conscript study:
An association between use of cannabis in adolescence and subsequent risk of schizophrenia was previously reported in a follow up of Swedish conscripts. Arguments were raised that this association may be due to use of drugs other than cannabis and that personality traits may have confounded results. We performed a further analysis of this cohort to address these uncertainties while extending the follow up period to identify additional cases.
The followup study found that reanalysis of the data with more modern statistical techniques, as well as additional followup data from those conscripts, found that the association was still present:

Results: Cannabis was associated with an increased risk of developing schizophrenia in a dose dependent fashion both for subjects who had ever used cannabis (adjusted odds ratio for linear trend of increasing frequency 1.2, 95% confidence interval 1.1 to 1.4, P<0.001), and for subjects who had used only cannabis and no other drugs (adjusted odds ratio for linear trend 1.3, 1.1 to 1.5, P<0.015). The adjusted odds ratio for using cannabis >50 times was 6.7 (2.1 to 21.7) in the cannabis only group. Similar results were obtained when analysis was restricted to subjects developing schizophrenia after five years after conscription, to exclude prodromal cases. 

Conclusions: Cannabis use is associated with an increased risk of developing schizophrenia, consistent with a causal relation. This association is not explained by use of other psychoactive drugs or personality traits relating to social integration.["Self reported cannabis use as a risk factor for schizophrenia in Swedish conscripts of 1969: historical cohort study," British Medical Journal (2002) 325:1199]
Prodromal: a person who has early symptoms of the disease.  This is an issue because people with mental illness are more likely to self-medicate using alcohol, marijuana, and other drugs.  The conclusion that marijuana users were more likely to develop schizophrenia turned out to be true even for those persons who exhibited no prodromal symptoms before beginning marijuana use.

This study performed a longitudinal study in New Zealand and found that:
Firstly, cannabis use is associated with an increased risk of experiencing schizophrenia symptoms, even after psychotic symptoms preceding the onset of cannabis use are controlled for. … Secondly, early cannabis use (by age 15) confers greater risk for schizophrenia outcomes than later cannabis use (by age 18). The youngest cannabis users may be most at risk because their cannabis use becomes longstanding. ["Cannabis use in adolescence and risk for adult psychosis: longitudinal prospective study," British Medical Journal (2002) 325:1212]
This paper, from the British Journal of Psychiatry in 2004, also concluded that marijuana roughly doubles the risk of schizophrenia. From the abstract:
On an individual level, cannabis use confers an overall twofold increase in the relative risk for later schizophrenia. At the population level, elimination of cannabis use would reduce the incidence of schizophrenia by approximately 8%, assuming a causal relationship. Cannabis use appears to be neither a sufficient nor a necessary cause for psychosis. It is a component cause, part of a complex constellation of factors leading to psychosis. ["Causal association between cannabis and psychosis: examination of the evidence," British Journal of Psychiatry (2004) 184:110-117]

This metastudy examined existing published studies of mental illness and marijuana:
Results On an individual level, cannabis use confers an overall twofold increase in the relative risk for later schizophrenia. At the population level, elimination of cannabis use would reduce the incidence of schizophrenia by approximately 8%, assuming a causal relationship. Cannabis use appears to be neither a sufficient nor a necessary cause for psychosis. It is a component cause, part of a complex constellation of factors leading to psychosis.

Conclusions Cases of psychotic disorder could be prevented by discouraging cannabis use among vulnerable youths. Research is needed to understand the mechanisms by which cannabis causes psychosis. ["Causal association between cannabis and psychosis: examination of the evidence," British Journal of Psychiatry (2004) 184: 110-117]

There’s unquestionably a genetic component. This Schizophrenia Bulletin (2008) paper tells us:
Cannabis use is considered a contributory cause of schizophrenia and psychotic illness. However, only a small proportion of cannabis users develop psychosis. This can partly be explained by the amount and duration of the consumption of cannabis and by its strength, but also by the age at which individuals are first exposed to cannabis. Genetic factors, in particular, are likely to play a role in the short- and the long-term effects cannabis may have on psychosis outcome. … Evidence suggests that mechanisms of gene-environment interaction are likely to underlie the association between cannabis and psychosis. ["Gene-Environment Interplay Between Cannabis and Psychosis," Schizophrenia Bulletin (2008), 34:6 1111-1121]
Recent studies continue to recognize a causal connection:

Cross-sectional studies document an association between cannabis use and psychotic symptoms, and longitudinal studies suggest that early exposure to cannabis confers a close to two-fold increase in the risk of developing schizophrenia. Pharmacological studies show that cannabinoids can induce a full range of transient positive, negative, and cognitive symptoms in healthy individuals that are similar to those seen in schizophrenia. There is considerable evidence that in individuals with an established psychotic disorder such as schizophrenia, exposure to cannabis can exacerbate symptoms, trigger relapse, and worsen the course of the illness. Only a very small proportion of the general population exposed to cannabis develop a psychotic illness. It is likely that cannabis exposure is a ‘component cause’ that interacts with other factors to ‘cause’ schizophrenia or other psychotic disorder, but is neither necessary nor sufficient to do so alone. ["Cannabinoids and psychosis," International Review of Psychiatry (2009), 21:2  152-162]

This study published in 2009 sought to identify age relationships to psychotic symptoms and substance abuse.  While it found no correlation of frequency of use of marijuana or tobacco and psychotic symptoms, it did find that increase in frequency of marijuana and tobacco use was correlated to onset of psychotic symptoms--suggesting that increases in dosage might be the factor.  From the abstract:
RESULTS: Whereas classifying participants according to maximum frequency of use prior to onset (none, ever, weekly, or daily) revealed no significant effects of cannabis or tobacco use on risk of onset, analysis of change in frequency of use prior to onset indicated that progression to daily cannabis and tobacco use was associated with an increased risk of onset of psychotic symptoms. Similar or even stronger effects were observed when onset of illness or prodromal symptoms was the outcome. A gender-by-daily-cannabis-use interaction was observed; progression to daily use resulted in a much larger increased relative risk of onset of psychosis in females than in males.
CONCLUSIONS: Pre-onset cannabis use may hasten the onset of psychotic as well as prodromal symptoms. Age at onset is a key prognostic factor in schizophrenia, and discovering modifiable predictors of age at onset is crucial.  ["Association of Pre-Onset Cannabis, Alcohol, and Tobacco Use With Age at Onset of Prodrome and Age at Onset of Psychosis in First-Episode Patients," American Journal of Psychiatry (2009), 166:1251-1257]
Here's a study published 2010 that used siblings to attempt to reduce unmeasured confounding variables:
Results  Duration since first cannabis use was associated with all 3 psychosis-related outcomes. For those with duration since first cannabis use of 6 or more years, there was a significantly increased risk of (1) nonaffective psychosis (adjusted odds ratio, 2.2; 95% confidence interval, 1.1-4.5), (2) being in the highest quartile of Peters et al Delusions Inventory score (adjusted odds ratio, 4.2; 95% confidence interval, 4.2-5.8), and (3) hallucinations (adjusted odds ratio, 2.8; 95% confidence interval, 1.9-4.1). Within sibling pairs, duration since first cannabis use and higher scores on the Peters et al Delusions Inventory remained significantly associated.

Conclusions  Early cannabis use is associated with psychosis-related outcomes in young adults. The use of sibling pairs reduces the likelihood that unmeasured confounding explains these findings. This study provides further support for the hypothesis that early cannabis use is a risk-modifying factor for psychosis-related outcomes in young adults. ["Association Between Cannabis Use and Psychosis-Related Outcomes Using Sibling Pair Analysis in a Cohort of Young Adults," Archives of General Psychiatry (May 2010), 67:5]
A chapter from The Handbook of Neuropsychiatric Biomarkers, Endophenotypes and Genes (2009) concludes that there is evidence for brain structure changes in heavy marijuana users that are similar in nature to those measureable in schizophrenics.  From the abstract:

While previous research failed to identify structural brain abnormalities in human cannabis users, more recent studies using high resolution imaging techniques combined with more robust delineations of specifi c brain regions in very heavy cannabis users have revealed evidence of dose-related alterations in regions implicated in schizophrenia. Moreover, these regional brain volumetric reductions are of similar magnitude to those seen in schizophrenia. We discuss the association between cannabis use and the development of cognitive defi cits and psychiatric symptoms in relation to structural brain alterations. We propose that long term heavy cannabis use leads to structural brain changes and associated deleterious functional (cognitive and mental health) sequelae that resemble schizophrenia. These changes may occur not only in individuals who are vulnerable to the development of such disorders, but also in nonvulnerable individuals if cannabis is used heavily for prolonged periods.  ["Structural Brain Alterations in Cannabis Users: Association with Cognitive Deficits and Psychiatric Symptoms," ch. 27, The Handbook of Neuropsychiatric Biomarkers, Endophenotypes and Genes (2009)]

The American Psychiatric Association's May 21, 2010 Psychiatric News reports on upcoming research about to be published, showing that marijuana use both increases psychotic symptoms, and psychotic symptoms increase use of marijuana:

The relationship between marijuana use and positive psychotic symptoms appears to be bidirectional—an increase in use predicts greater symptoms, and increased symptoms predict more use. 

Marijuana use among individuals with schizophrenia is associated with more severe positive psychotic symptoms over time, according to a 10-year longitudinal study posted online May 15 on AJP in Advance.

Researchers found that changes in cannabis use at four follow-up points over the 10-year period were associated with similar direction changes in positive psychotic symptoms of delusions and hallucinations over time; if subjects stopped using cannabis, their symptoms decreased, and if they started or increased use, their symptoms increased. This remained true even after controlling for gender, age, socioeconomic status, other drug use, antipsychotic medication use, and other symptoms.

PajamasMedia Published Another Article By Me

"When in Danger, Profiling Is Rational"

Monday, November 22, 2010

Not Sure Where I Saw This...

But if, as the Obama Administration claims, it is a violation of the Fourth Amendment for Arizona police officers to ask a person that they have already stopped for evidence that they are legally in the United States, why isn't it a violation of the Fourth Amendment to do an invasive search of a person's intimate parts to get on an airliner?  I can see a principled argument (in an extreme sort of way) for both arguments.  I can see a pragmatic argument against both arguments.  But why is Arizona's law so terrible--while the far more invasive searches being done by TSA are okay?

Tell Al Gore To Stop Talking About Global Warming,,,

It means the earliest winter storm that I can remember.  I had trouble climbing the driveway this evening in the Jaguar, largely because of how deep the snow was.  I ran the snowblower before dinner--and I am going to have to do it again, probably, in the morning, to get to work. 

Strange Windows Vista Behavior on Restore

A friend has an HP Pavilion Elite e9107c on which she had to restore Vista.  After doing the restore--it boots up, and briefly brings up an Administrator login display.  At least it appears that this is what is coming up--because in a fraction of a second, it starts shutting Vista down again.  I've tried to boot in safe mode--same behavior.  HP Technical Support unfortunately doesn't speak (or understand) enough English to help her, nor can I find any discussion of this peculiar failure through Googling.  Any suggestions?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Has Al Gore Been Visiting Boise?

We seem to be having a very early start to winter.  The weather forecast for Horseshoe Bend for Tuesday is 19 for the high, and -1 for the low, with 50% chance of snow.  (We are actually quite a bit above Horseshoe Bend, so figure another 7-9 degrees colder at our house.)

It has been snowing lightly, all day long.  I tried to move the Corvette around from the garage to the rear garage exit apron, but the snow was already deep enough on the unpaved back driveway that it was not interested, so we had to move everything inside the garage to drive in through the north side garage door.  I'm hoping that this isn't the start of the long hard snows.  I was hoping to give it a wax job before covering it for the winter.

I Guess We Can't Call Them Handguns Anymore

A guy without arms can still shoot a handgun.

A Rather Interesting Use of Morphing

Women in Art, by Philip Scott Johnson (2007) takes you on a tour of women's faces in art from the Renaissance forward, morphing each image into the next (with a string quartet soundtrack).

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Heal Our Land

Michael W. Card wrote this song for the National Day of Prayer some years ago.  My wife was practicing it in preparation for church this morning, and it brought back to me how powerful a song this is.

A nation devoted to nothing deeper than the unbridled pursuit of wealth is doomed to disaster.

I'm Starting To Bring Some Of The Articles From My Old Blog To The Present

In some cases, they are historical, and they will be back dated.  Some are not historical--but I was glad to have blogged them then, and they are worth blogging again.

Another Unsold Article

Why You Are Subsidizing Brazilian Cotton Farmers

The left-wing media have published a couple of astonishing stories recently that should make Americans rise up in fury and rage. If Republicans in Congress had any sense, they would grab onto these two examples of madness in government, and use them to lead a revolution against politics as usual. I just don’t have any confidence that the Republican Party has any adult supervision.

The November 6, 2010 New York Times reported on how different parts of the U.S. Department of Agriculture are spending money to defeat each other. One branch is concerned about obesity problems caused by eating high fat diets; while another branch is encouraging fast food chains to come up with more uses for cheese. They helped develop Domino’s cheese crust pizza, and an advertising campaign to promote it.

I like cheese. I like food with cheese in it. I may like food with cheese in it more than I should. I do not need the U.S. government to be spending money to encourage fast food chains to make more high fat foods. Do not lead me into temptation; I can find it perfectly fine on my own.

Now, it is true that it is only $140 million that the Department of Agriculture’s Dairy Management operation spends each year—a drop in the bucket of our nation’s deficit. And it is also true that most of this money comes from a special tax on cheese makers. But guess what? Our government also provides food assistance to the poor in this country because ... food (including cheese) is artificially expensive. There are social costs to having Americans eating high fat diets, driving up medical costs, making health insurance more expensive…so the government now needs to provide a national health insurance plan.

Spending money on one program—and then spending money on a program to counteract the first program—is crazy. Imagine if your city government had two departments: one responsible for putting out house fires—and another responsible for setting houses on fire. That’s about what the Department of Agriculture is doing: one branch is making work for the other—and both of them are wasting your money.

The November 9, 2010 NPR show All Things Considered had a story that tops even that. Some years back, Brazil sued the United States before the World Trade Organization, claiming that the U.S. government was subsidizing cotton production, to the detriment of Brazilian cotton farmers. The WTO ruled against the U.S., holding that our cotton price support system was an illegal subsidy amounting to more than a billion dollars a year.

Brazil’s response? They threatened to raise tariffs on U.S. exports to Brazil, unless we stopped this illegal subsidy of our cotton farmers. U.S. firms that sell shoes, grain, and music to Brazil, understandably, asked our government to fix this problem, so that they wouldn’t get stuck with a higher tariff. So what did the U.S. government do? Stop subsidizing U.S. cotton farmers? No, that would be logical. Now we give $147 million a year in subsidies to cotton farmers in Brazil.

Farm price supports might have made a little sense in 1935, in the midst of the Great Depression. I’m skeptical, but I am at least prepared to give the New Dealers a little benefit of the doubt. Farm price supports might be tolerable if they were going to dirt-poor farmers trying to reach a middle class level of existence. This is not the case now; the vast majority of this money is going to agribusinesses that are by no stretch of the imagination poor. But at least farm price supports are going to Americans. Here the Obama Administration has taken the absurd step of subsidizing Brazilian cotton farmers—rather than take American cotton farmers off welfare.

Do you ever get the impression that our government is run by lunatics?

Scanned In Some Pictures of My Great-Great-Great-Grandfather

I needed these for my class, since we are covering the Civil War after the Thanksgiving break.

This is Samuel McIlvaine taken in about 1861, likely before he joined the Indiana 10th Volunteer Infantry.  He was a wealthy farmer--quite wealthy, according to the 1860 census--but he also taught school.  If you read his diary, you will not be at all surprised.

Here he is in uniform, in a daguerrotype taken in 1862, near the time of the Battle of Shiloh, which he missed because he was desperately sick with what sounds like dysentery, compounded with 19th century medical "care."  (Wouldn't you give someone mercury compounds if they were suffering from dysentery?)

There is something very disturbing about all these pictures of the period, especially the sternness and the looks of the eyes--perhaps because of the length of exposure required.

Here's a picture that my niece took a few years ago of his headstone in Chattanooga National Military Cemetery.

I See The Anti-Semites Are Beginning to Photoshop Pictures For the TSA Scandal

Like the one here.  The person looking at the whole body scans can't see the person--and the grope is only for those who refuse the whole body scans.

UPDATE: This YouTube video, however, appears to show a public partial strip search of a child.

The Majestic (2001)

I saw this recently--and I was really powerfully impressed.  In some ways, this film is the movie industry trying just a little too hard to pat itself on the back.  The opening sequence of the film where the screenwriter is in a conference with the producers reminds you that a lot of movie making in the Golden Age was formulaic--and the plot of this film is also slyly formulaic as well. 

Jim Carrey plays a screenwriter who has been summoned to appear before the House Unamerican Activities Committee.  Like nearly every film about HUAC and the blacklisting period, it never gets around to letting you know that the Hollywood Ten--the first group asked to testify before HUAC who refused--were actually members of the Communist Party, and their refusal to testify was organized by the CPUSA as an act of employment martyrdom.  While there were people, like the screenwriter in this movie, who were naive and did not realize who they were associating with, the actual circumstances are not anywhere near as simple as films like this portray.

Nonetheless: the screenwriter drives north along the coast to clear his head, gets into a serious car accident, ends up with trauma-induced amnesia--and that's where the film really takes off.  I won't tell you what happens, but it is a powerful and very positive portrayal of post-war small town America--and a town suffering a horrendous loss.  Until World War II, it was very common for regiments to be largely made up on people from a particular town or county.  It only took one horrifying battle to destroy the future of a community, by killing so many of the young men.  With so many young men dead, a generation of young women in that community would have no chance of marriage--unless they moved away.  The small town is one of those communities whose heart has been ripped from it.

There are so many things about this film (other than the rather PC nature of the blacklisting) that are so perfect that I can't even begin to list them all.  Period detail is splendid.  I am not old enough to remember 1951, but enough of the material culture of 1951 was still around me as I was a child to recognize it.  The unabashed patriotism--even in the face of overwhelming loss--is powerful, and the film does not denigrate it.  Yet the portrayal of loss is overwhelming, without turning into antiwar diatribe. 

While the 1950s was hardly the era of sexual innocence that some social conservatives like to imagine, there were standards of propriety that kept a lot of behavior under wraps.  As someone once observed, "Hypocrisy is the compliment that vice pays to virtue."  With the exception of the screenwriter's explanation of why he attended a Communist Party front organization, there is nothing in this film that would have been out of place in 1950s America.  Yet the relationship between the returned veteran and Adele Stanton (played by Laurie Holden) is a reminder of how a passionate kiss can tell the audience that the longing between two people is more than Platonic.

A number of older actors play important roles: Martin Landau and James Whittemore among them.  Along with the rest of the cast, they remind you great acting is not a matter of histronics or beauty.  This is a film of aching beauty.  I highly recommend it.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Group Health Insurance for the Self-Employed

There are several writers' organizations out there that offer group health insurance plans, such as the Authors Guild--but I notice that they little scheme whereby health insurance pools can't cross state lines is definitely part of the problem:
We now offer discounted health insurance plans to members in New York State, Massachusetts, and Florida,* and we have a nationwide dental plan.

*Although we offer plans for California, Connecticut, Florida, New Jersey and metropolitan Chicago, rate increases have rendered those plans unaffordable to most members. Understanding the importance of these benefits, our staff is continuously working to provide affordable group health plans for our members.
There is something called the National Writers Union--but it is truly, a union: UAW.  And it has the same problem:

Health Insurance

We currently offer health insurance for those members residing in the state of New York.  We are working on a national program that will cover members in all states.  We should have more information on that program by early 2010.
I don't know that I can wait until "early 2010" to find out about this.

If the only way to retire is to buy individual health insurance in a HDHP way with an HSA, I suppose that I can do that.  It does seem absurd that a state with more than 1.25 million people isn't large enough to support a group health insurance pool for self-employed persons.  Or perhaps I just haven't found it yet! 

There is a high risk pool that the state runs--but we aren't high risk.  The requirements for entry into the high risk pool are described here, and pretty clearly, the goal is to make sure that only those who can't get coverage any other way are eligible.  There's some merit to their desire, of course--but this means that only high risk sorts get to join the pool, guaranteeing the premiums will be absurd.

Why Bankruptcy For GM Would Have Been The Better Solution

John Lott's November 18, 2010 column at Fox News points out the absurdity of the U.S. government's bailout of General Motors--a maneuver more about protecting preferred stock and unions than about the best interests of the economy. 
First, the alternative to the government bailout wasn't to "give up" as Obama claimed on Thursday at his press conference. Bankruptcy didn't mean that all jobs were going to be lost. It didn't mean that all the factories producing cars would be closed. 

Yet, the president made that claim in his announcement again today and he continually misstates what would have happened in a normal bankruptcy. Courts don't just close down bankrupt companies. In fact, that rarely occurs. Any part of a company that can continue operating profitably continues to do so. 

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2010/11/18/gms-bailout-financial-disaster/#ixzz15hZSp0AA

What is probably the most outrageous part of the whole deal, from a social justice standpoint, is that the UAW got GM stock in exchange for concessions--while GM bondholders lost about 2/3 of the values of their bonds, in exchange for stock that they do not yet have.  Generally, the rule is that the order of priority in settling up at bankruptcy is taxes, outstanding wages, secured debts, bondholders, preferred stockholders, common stockholders, unsecured debts.  Why did UAW get a better deal than bondholders?  Who elected Obama?  (And don't let Bush off the hook on this--this stupidity started as Bush's project.)

Things You Don't Think About

I was testing the software that I maintain today, and among the tests, I was supposed to enter "burg" and see how many Idaho Code offenses with that text in them would appear.  One of the choices that briefly appeared just hilarious to me was: Idaho Code 18-1405: "burglary with explosives."  My first thought when I saw that expression was a teenager who can't figure how to smash a window, so he blows the wall down with dynamite. 

Then, after I thought about it, I realized that it was not the world's most over-the-top incompetent, but what the code describes:
BURGLARY WITH EXPLOSIVES. Any person who with intent to commit
crime breaks and enters any building whether inhabited or not, and opens or
attempts to open any vault, safe, or other secure place within said building
by use of nitroglycerin, dynamite, gunpowder or any other explosive, shall be
deemed guilty of burglary with explosives.
A very Old West sort of statute, I suspect!

More On The Righthaven Suits

One of the least defensible actions of Righthaven was suing people for excerpting--in some cases, as little as four paragraphs of an article.  Now, there was case law that would have accepted copying of an entire article for a non-commercial purpose (which is what happened to The Armed Citizen--my coblogger copied an entire article), but the cost of defending such a suit was too much.  The suits against bloggers who copied four paragraphs should have caused some form of sanctions.  Fortunately, the November 18, 2010 Wired reports that they have stopped suing for excerpts:

Righthaven is the lawyer-heavy company based in Las Vegas that sprang to life last spring for the sole purpose of suing blogs and websites that repost, or even excerpt, Las Vegas-Review Journal articles without permission. It has filed about 150 lawsuits, and settled dozens of them in its favor.

But the company reached a snag when the Realty One Group fought back, winning a summary dismissal weeks ago. A Nevada judge agreed with the real estate firm’s argument that eight of 30 sentences from a Review Journal story about the real estate market qualified as fair use of the material.

With that precedent set, Righthaven no longer plans to sue websites for posting brief excerpts of newspaper articles, the company told a different federal judge in a separate case this week. “Righthaven does not anticipate filing any future lawsuits founded upon infringements of less than 75 percent of a copyrighted work, (.pdf) regardless of the outcome of the instant litigation,” Righthaven wrote the court.
What operations like Righthaven do should be subject to serious sanctions by the courts.  This was an abuse of the process.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

High Deductible Health Plans

I'm looking at these again--there are days that I am not sure that I can justify the stress of my day job enough to keep doing it.  I much prefer teaching, but between preparing for classes and working full-time at a job that I hate (mostly because I hate JSPs so much), this is just too much.

If you can handle a $10,000 annual deductible, you can get coverage for a family for less than $500 a month.  A Health Savings Account provides a way to accumulate tax-free money to cover the deductible and copayments--and it carries over from year to year, so that if you have one really bad year where you actually hit the $10,000 deductible, it is only an "ouch" instead of a disaster.

I'm waiting for the 30 year Treasury bonds to get 8% yield.  Or maybe even 6%.  If I have to spend much more time trying to figure out these undocumented JSPs, maybe 5%.

Wow! There May Be Justice In This World

This article from Associated Content suggests that the Righthaven nonsense may have finally had some consequences:
Sherman Frederick, the once powerful publisher of the Las Vegas Review Journal daily newspaper and his sidekick editor Thomas Mitchell have found themselves out of a job. The two powerful positions thought to be invincible found out last week they were anything but invincible. The statement from the newspaper was just as non-committal as possible.

 One of the major controversies surrounding the newspaper was its participation in suing independent bloggers around the country for copyright infringement of stories printed in the paper. Bloggers, from moms at home writing about kids to political bloggers found themselves sued by the papers attack dog law firm, Righthaven.
Regular readers know the rest of the story.  I wonder if someone at corporate started noticing what the boycott was doing to the Google page ranking of all the Stephen Media news organizations.

I Had No Idea This Was A Civil Liberty

From the November 10, 2010 Minneapolis Star-Tribune:
A transgender inmate wants to reject an agreement that would make her the first in Wisconsin given state-issued women's underwear in a male prison and instead continue her lawsuit seeking a taxpayer-funded sex change.

The settlement, obtained by The Associated Press under the open records law, would end years of litigation involving the inmate formerly known as Scott Konitzer, who filed a lawsuit in 2003 challenging Wisconsin's practice of not paying for inmates' sex changes. But Konitzer, an armed robber who now calls uses the name Donna Dawn, is trying to back out alleging coercion was behind the agreement.
I must have a defective copy of the Constitution.  Where, exactly, does the Constitution require states to pay for what is clearly an elective surgery for someone who is a guest of the state for committing a felony?  It can't be the equal protection clause: no one else is getting elective surgery in the Big House.

It can't be substantive due process: he/she/whatever isn't being deprived of life, liberty, or property by being denied elective surgery.

So, Why Aren't People Signing Up For It?

This November 12, 2010 Fox News article reports that people aren't signing up in large numbers for Obamacare's coverage:
A startling number of people have signed up for the government's program that provides insurance coverage for the previously uninsurable until the new health care law kicks in fully in 2014. The people were not covered because of pre-existing conditions.

The sign-up is startling because the number is so low.

The Health and Human Services Department reports just 8,011 people have enrolled in the entire country. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the HHS estimate in July was that 375,000 people would have signed up by now.
I can see several reasons why people may not be signing up for it.

1. Perhaps they can't afford it.  If they are pre-existing conditions, they may be so impoverished that it is out of their reach.  In that case, Obamacare didn't solve the right problem.

2. Perhaps they don't need it.  Their pre-existing conditions may not be such a financial burden that they need the help.  But that doesn't make much sense.  We were repeatedly told that this was a major problem--and those people that I know of with pre-existing conditions aren't generally so fabulously rich that they don't need health insurance.

3. The number of people with such severe pre-existing health conditions was much lower than we were led to believe--in which case, we have wasted an enormous amount of money setting up a program that is far larger than it needed to be.  Perhaps we could have come up with a less expensive solution to handle this relatively small number of people in this predicament?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Not Work Safe: Zombie's Pictures From San Francisco

I've posted links before the Zombie's pictures of San Francisco's crazies.  She has gathered a number of them together for a PajamasMedia article "Nancy Pelosi’s San Francisco."  The pictures are definitely NOT work safe.  They might not be work safe if your boss has horns, a tail, and cloven feet.  As one of the commenters pointed out:

If God doesn’t do something about SF, he owes Sodom & Gomorrah an apology.
And that is no exaggeration.

Anyone Else Having Problems Getting the RSS Feed To Work?

One readers reports that it is frozen.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Why Do People Buy Into Bizarre Conspiracy Theories?

Because the alternative is to admit that the movers and shakers that run things have not a clue what they are doing.  This video sounds pretty bizarre, and not just because of the synthesized voices:

The statements that William C. Dudley is the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, and he used to be a managing partner of Goldman, Sachs?  True.  He was their chief economist during a period when Goldman, Sachs got into a pile of trouble--dragging pretty much the entire world economy down with them.  (Definitely the guy you want in charge of important decisions with that impressive track record behind him.)  Don't trust cartoon characters?  That information is on the Federal Reserve Bank of New York's January 27, 2009 press release.

 I can't find any credible source for the claim that Dudley directs the purchase of Treasury bonds by the Fed from Goldman, Sachs at an uncompetitive price, but when you watch people that are supposed to know what they are doing clearly do not--and everything increasingly seems like a Twilight Zone episode--I don't know for sure that this is wrong.

John Maynard Keynes Didn't Just Screw Up Economics...

I heard a rather astonishing claim about John Maynard Keynes and when I did a little searching--discovered that it seems to be well attested.  From Zygmund Dobbs, Keynes at Harvard: Economic Deception as a Political Credo (1969):

Keynes’ aversion to human conception and marital fidelity, defeminization of women via state intervention and the shattering of the family as a cohesive unit sound strangely like something out of the Communist Manifesto of 1848. The above item on “sexual offenses and abnormalities” is indeed a strange note. Keynesian apologists have maintained an uncomfortable silence on J.M. Keynes championing the cause of sexual offenders.

In 1967 the world was startled by the publication of the letters between Lytton Strachey and Maynard Keynes. Undisputed evidence in their private correspondence shows that Keynes was a life-long sexual deviate.(12) What was more shocking was that these practices extended to a large group. Homosexuality, sado-masochism, lesbianism, and the deliberate policy of corrupting the young was the established practice of this large and influential group which eventually set the political and cultural tone for the British Empire.


Keynes and his fellow voluptuaries made numerous excursions to the resorts ringing the Mediterranean, where little boys were sold by their parents to bordellos catering to homosexual appetites.(14)
From Malcolm Potts and Roger Valentine Short, Ever Since Adam and Eve: The Evolution of Human Sexuality (Cambridge University Press, 1999), p. 61:
John Maynard Keynes revolutionized modern economic theory; he married when he was 42 but had more fun with the 'Cambridge Apostles', and his private diaries record his conquest of little boys and male street prostitutes.
No wonder Keynes is the hero of so many intellectuals.

A Beautiful Vision of the Future

But then the ugly realities of economics and existing infrastructure come into play.  The video here shows an GM hydrogen fuel cell car project being reviewed by James May of BBC's Top Gear.  

Elegant.  Beautiful.  Like science fiction.  But then read the notes below the video:
Introduced at the Paris Motor Show in 2002, General Motors hopes to have this "car of the future" in affordable production by the year 2010.
Whoops!  Didn't quite work out, did it?

General Motors has enormous engineering expertise.  But there are some harsh realities about hydrogen as a fuel that have made this beautiful green vision of the future not show up in the showrooms.  Hydrogen has leak problems, because it is such a tiny molecule.  The infrastructure does not yet exist to make hydrogen available as ubiquitously as electricity and gasoline.  Worst of all: hydrogen requires a lot of electricity to make in quantity.  And where will the electricity come from?  The only practical solution that doesn't make the global warming crowd foam at the mouth is nuclear power--which makes environmentalists (with a few notable exceptions) foam at the mouth.

Friday, November 12, 2010

I Thought QE2 Was Supposed To Lower Interest Rates

And yet here you can see that the since November 4, 30 year Treasury bond yields have risen from 4.04% to 4.26%.  You have to get to bonds with maturities of under one year before you get any decline in yields--and that isn't much.

The Fed's monetizing of debt by buying up Treasury bonds is supposed to drive up the price, thus lowering the yield, encouraging all the "parked" money to be moved from cash management accounts and bonds into stocks, inflate the money supply, exorcise the demon of deflation, and put people back to work.  But what actually seems to be happening is that fear that the Fed may not be able to get inflation back into Pandora's box is creating inflationary expectations--and driving up yields.

My first reaction is: "Uh-oh.  Inflation coming back!  Bad thing.  I remember the 1970s stagflation way too well. I wish that I had saved my 'Whip Inflation Now' button."  (This was Gerald Ford's stupid attempt to jawbone an end to inflation.)  But now I wonder if I should just wait for 30 year Treasury bond yields to hit 8% or so, and start buying bonds.  At 8%, I think I can quit my day job, and live on the interest.

In the long range, the inflation that would create those sort of yields is not sustainable, and even Democrats know that, so there would be serious beating of the inflation monster by the Fed.  At that point, unemployment will rise dramatically--as happened the last time we beat the inflation monster to a bloody pulp, in the early 1980s.

Great Mosquito Joke

Instapundit was discussing the serious issue of dengue fever and mosquitoes--and how the coming ice age might solve the problem for us!  He then mentions how, even in Alaska, they have big mosquitoes:
Though I’ve seen some pretty big mosquitoes in Alaska. . . . I remember waking up and seeing two of them at the foot of my bed. One said, “Should we eat him here, or take him home?” The other replied: “We’d better eat him here — if we take him home, the big guys might get him away from us.”

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Reading About Slavery As Traumatic Event

The November 10, 2010 Washington Post reports on a lawsuit filed by a father who claims a reading about slavery "racially harassed" his daughter:
MOUNT CLEMENS, Mich. -- The father of a black student has sued a Detroit-area school district claiming that his daughter was racially harassed by a fifth-grade teacher's reading aloud from a book about slavery.
The suit claims Jala Petree's teacher at Margaret Black Elementary School in Sterling Heights read excerpts from Julius Lester's "From Slave Ship to Freedom Road" that contain racial epithets and racist characterizations, The Macomb Daily reported.
Now, my first reaction when I saw this was, "Oh come on.  Either we teach about slavery--which is ugly--or we don't.  Grow up."  The cynic in me saw the following paragraph and wondered if money might be the real story here:
The suit against Warren Consolidated Schools was filed Nov. 3 in Macomb County Circuit Court in Mount Clemens, according to court records. It was filed by Jala's father, Jamey Petree, and seeks more than $50,000 in damages.
I think I would like to see what was read to the students, however.  There is a lot about slavery that is disturbing, and perhaps fifth grade is a bit young to be fully immersed in that ugliness.  I am fortunate to be teaching college kids--some of whom are clearly shocked by what they are learning from me and from the textbook about slavery.   I would not consider the full awfulness of slavery, or the Holocaust, or the Inquisition, appropriate to fifth graders.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Amazon's Pedophilia Focus

Back in 2003, I ceased being an Amazon affiliate--losing a small but steady stream of money in the process.  Why?  Because they were busily defending the importance of selling a book advocating going after little boys for sex.  My attempts at getting a sensible answer out of them convinced me that they were either hopelessly PC--or there was a darker motive for this.

This was apparently not a one-time quirk.  This article at Business Insider reports that Amazon is refusing to allow porn to be sold through their Kindle electronic book reader store--but The Pedophiles Guide to Love and Pleasure is being offered--and they are not going to take it down. According to one commenter, the book "goes into detail in how to molest a boy under the age of 13, and also advises fellow pedophiles how not to get caught with child pornography."  (And there is more in that comment that I will not quote.  Too gross.)

What's with Amazon?  If they sold everything--including porn--I would be disappointed.  But they keep getting self-righteous about selling stuff that even most Democrats aren't prepared to defend.

Lots of Money, Lots of Nuisance--Are They Getting Anything Done?

Michelle Malkin points to this November 6, 2010 New York Times article, and asks if anyone knows what they are doing at the Department of Homeland Security:

BOSTON — Federal officials could not explain Friday how more than 30 immigrants charged with being here illegally got clearance to take flying lessons at an airstrip outside Boston.
Federal law prohibits illegal immigrants from taking flight lessons under rules revamped after the Sept. 11 terrorism attacks. But the 33 Brazilians, arrested over the last few months and awaiting deportation hearings, somehow managed to get instruction at TJ Aviation Flight Academy at Minute Man Air Field in Stow, a rural town about 30 miles northwest of Boston.
Their instructor, also Brazilian, has also been charged with being here illegally, according to a spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Not only the students but the instructor was here illegally?  What next?  Are we going to find out that the person that busted the instructor is here illegally, too?

Michelle Malkin is appropriately upset--and points out the absurdity of the fact that these illegal aliens passed the TSA background check required for all student pilots.  I confess that the latest TSA screening rules--with genital groping for those who don't want the Superman screening done--have me more than a little annoyed.  I am not so much annoyed by the intrusive screening as the realization, from this case aforementioned, that they can't seem to figure out how to do the sort of screening that doesn't freak out anyone.

Google Chrome

As much as I hate giving Google yet more piece of the action--Chrome is definitely a much snappier browser than Firefox.  I also have had some odd timing issues of late that I suspect might be Firefox related.  Using Chrome will let me know for sure.

Thursday is a holiday for Idaho state workers, so I can work on changes for my agent for the new book.

Just so you private sector sorts don't get too envious--Idaho state workers don't get the day after Thanksgiving off.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Cutting Federal Spending Really Isn't That Hard

And I mean cutting out the fat, not the lean--literally.  Professor Adler over at Volokh Conspiracy points to the insanity of one part of the government discouraging obesity--while another part actively encourages it:
I love cheese.  I really do.  But I recognize that it, like many things, is best enjoyed in moderation.  This is also a message pushed by the federal government — or at least one part of it — as part of efforts to encourage healthy eating and fight obesity.  Yet another part of the federal government is pushing cheese, lots of it.
Adler links to this November 6, 2010 New York Times article about how the U.S. Department of Agriculture (under both Bush and Obama Administrations) has been actively encouraging companies to increase the dairy fat content of their products.  Domino's was having trouble selling their pizzas--so:

Then help arrived from an organization called Dairy Management. It teamed up with Domino’s to develop a new line of pizzas with 40 percent more cheese, and proceeded to devise and pay for a $12 million marketing campaign.

Consumers devoured the cheesier pizza, and sales soared by double digits. “This partnership is clearly working,” Brandon Solano, the Domino’s vice president for brand innovation, said in a statement to The New York Times.

But as healthy as this pizza has been for Domino’s, one slice contains as much as two-thirds of a day’s maximum recommended amount of saturated fat, which has been linked to heart disease and is high in calories.
The total budget of Dairy Management (a USDA program) is only $140 million--in the larger scheme of things, not so much.  But it reminds of the insanity of subsidies to tobacco farmers while discouraging smoking because it causes cancer.  Would it not make more sense to wipe out one program so that the other program either becomes less necessary--or is at least not actively subverting the health enhancement efforts?  No, that would be logical.

Looking for the Iconic Image of Harriet Tubman With A Rifle

Anyone have a location?

UPDATE:  Here it is.  

The Value of Slaves

I was looking for a way to explain to students why the institution of slavery turned into such a major fight, and the easiest way to do so is to put the price of slaves into a modern context.  The value of a prime field hand (a man in his early 20s) in 1850 was about $800.  Gold was $20 per ounce at the time, so today, that would be equivalent to about 50x that, or $40,000 in current money.  A prime field hand was therefore about as valuable an economic asset as a new BMW 335i sedan. There's a nice graph showing how the value of a male slave rose and then fell with age in 1850.  An average slave might be worth $400 in 1850, or the equivalent of a new Chevrolet Impala today.

The large slave owners might have hundreds of slaves--and the work that they did is what made a large slave owner wealthy.  Without those slaves, even a planter's land was worth far less, because free labor would not have been anywhere near as cheap. 

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Some Relatives

I'm a bit unclear on the exact relationship--whether these are direct ancestors on another line.  I think they are not my direct ancestors, based on what I can find in the records that my great-aunt Wilma van Urk put together, and this really impressive collection of Fonda genealogy here.  (See pp. 86, 494.)

And in case you are curious, yes, those Fondas.  Jane Fonda is my third cousin.  Obviously, politics isn't genetic.  I'm putting these primarily because there are certainly people doing genealogy research on this branch, and I had the pictures lying around, so I thought that I would share them.

How To Make People Waste Their Time Chasing Stupid Stuff

I received an email that (quite breathlessly) informed me that if you reverse the word Illuminati, and tack .com to the end (http://www.itanimulli.com )--it takes you the National Security Agency's website!  (Cue the unsettling music.)  Wow!  There's a vast conspiracy to control the government! 

Of course, if you do a whois on itanimulli.com (which sounds like an Italian pasta), you see that someone named John Fenley registered it through GoDaddy.com--and it seems to immediately direct you to the NSA website.

Elaborate age-old conspiracy theories are such an effective way to get people who are concerned about the condition of this country to waste their time on nonsense.  I don't know which John Fenley registered itanimulli.com--but one of them is a psychiatrist.  How appropriate.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Quantative Easing

The November 4, 2010 Financial Times reports on an emerging backlash against the Federal Reserve's plan for "quantative easing" which is essentially a plan to inflate the money supply to restore the economy.  Okay, I understand their desire, and their fear of deflation.  But once you get started down that path, it is not easy to get the horses back in the barn.  Of course, economists at the Fed have such a great recent history on handling economic decisions, don't they?

I've been doing some data analysis on Treasury yield curves in recent decades, in the hopes of making sensible investment decisions--and the data absolutely shocks and terrifies me.  I'll be writing an article based on it shortly.  In the meantime, remember the only great line from The Fly remake with Jeff Goldblum.  "Be afraid.  Be very afraid."

Jeanne Assam Has A Blog

Remember Jeanne Assam, who shot the mentally ill person in Colorado Springs several years ago, as he entered the church with a rifle and 1000 rounds of ammunition?  He had killed two people in the parking lot, and two more the previous night.  He was not entering the church to pray.

She has a blog.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Last Chance For The Republican Party

At this hour, Raul Labrador appears to be leading Walt Minnick for ID House seat 1.  But there are only a few precincts reporting so far, and I have no idea whether those are heavily Republican districts or not.  Republicans may still pull a draw with the Democrats in the Senate, but I am not terribly hopeful.  I guess House Republicans will have to rely on their control of power to tax (which the Constitution grants only to the House in Art. I, sec. 7):
All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with Amendments as on other Bills.
I wrote the article below before the election, and could not sell it.  My predictions for the results turned out to be right, but not particularly startling.  The important part isn't the prediction, but what Republicans need to do.

The Last Chance for the Republican Party

I write this before the November mid-term elections.  I expect that Republicans will make a spectacular showing in the House, picking up at least 50 seats.  There is a real possibility that they will end up with a razor-thin majority in the Senate, too—but there is also a strong possibility that Democrats will retain the Senate by a razor-thin majority.  I expect to be pleased—but just barely.  Let me explain why.

Every week, I assign a question to my first semester U.S. History students, asking them to write one to two pages.  (This is a freshman history class, and I am trying to help them become writers, along with learning history.)  It is a relatively simple question, often based on some assigned reading.  

A couple of weeks back, the assigned reading was James Madison’s Federalist 10, in which Madison explains why the new Constitution that he wants the states to ratify will not have the traditional problem of a republic: factions, what today we would call partisan politics.  James Madison was a very smart guy—but many of my students managed to wade through the rather dense eighteenth century writing, and see that he blew it.

As Madison explained it, traditional republics, of small geographic and population size, had failed because factions inevitably formed.  Small republics, as Madison saw it, were at high risk of such factions becoming tyrannical because a majority might form around a religious belief, public policy, or even attachment to particular leaders.  A national republic, however, would be unlikely to suffer that fate because a majority of a single state would simply not be a majority at the national level.  What Madison missed was that factions could easily cross state boundaries.  Massachusetts Federalists rapidly coalesced with Federalists in New Hampshire, New York, South Carolina, and elsewhere—creating a national majority faction that passed the abusive Sedition Act of 1798.

Madison also missed that factions might come together to form what we now call political parties: the odd coalition of groups that shared only a small amount of common beliefs, other than the common interest in control of the government.  Environmentalists, labor unions, civil rights activists, and Wall Street came together to elect Barack Obama and a Democratic Congress because each was willing to turn a blind eye to what each of the other factions was going to get for itself.

Democrats are not unique in this matter of being a coalition of factions.  The Republican Party is also a coalition of factions, with a few common elements, and surprising diversity.  Throughout most of my lifetime, the Republican Party enjoyed only two major advantages when it came to the corrupting business of government: there were fewer factions in the Republican coalition trying to resolve internal inconsistencies, and some of those factions at least felt guilty when they were dipping their fingers into the cookie jar, or the Congressional page pool.  Guilt sometimes restrains behavior—or at least, with Rep. Dan Crane (R-IL) in 1983, they feel some guilt about their misbehavior.  The same was pretty clearly not the case with Rep. Gerry Studds (D-MA).

I have no illusions that we are electing choir boys (or girls) to Congress.  I know that there are many opportunities to take advantage of your office: to get rich; to get sex; to abuse the perqs of office.  I know that even decent people are seduced by these temptations.  If Congress were doing a great job of running the country, a lot of Americans would be annoyed, but tolerant.  We are way past that point—and it is not just the Democrats at fault.  

Republicans in Congress had the opportunity when they had majorities in both houses to deal with the subprime mortgage disaster before the bubble grew to a size that destroyed our economy, forced massive unemployment, and sent a huge fraction of Americans into foreclosure.  But businesses with an economic interest in the bubble seem to have owned enough Republicans (and nearly all Democrats) to stop this. 
Republicans had the chance to make at least steps towards correcting the health insurance situation in 2004, when the Bush Administration was looking for free market solutions that would have at least given many uninsured Americans a way to buy coverage at a reasonable price.  But the combination of health insurers and labor unions with their control of both Republicans and Democrats blocked these reasonable efforts from going forward.

My students are profoundly cynical.  Even the ones who make Republican noises are angry, and with good reason.  A Republican majority has the opportunity to take concrete steps that are wildly popular with not only Republicans, but rank and file Democrats as well.  They just won’t be steps that will make the interest groups that own Congressmen (of both parties) very happy.  

1.             Close the border—with troops if need be.  Obama wants to bring them all home from Afghanistan?  I know somewhere to put them.
2.             Punish employers who knowingly hire illegal aliens—and watch unemployment for those legally here drop, and wages rise.  Almost every person who is working—instead of collecting unemployment or some form of government assistance—is going to be grateful.
3.             Remove existing state regulatory boundaries on health insurance pools.  There is no reason that, as an example, hundreds of thousands of small businesses cannot form a 20 million employee group health insurance plan, providing affordable, even if limited coverage for small businessmen and their employees.  Bush proposed this in 2004.  It was a good idea, even it did not solve the whole problem.
4.             Decouple health insurance from employment, by allowing individuals to take a $5000 per person tax deduction for health insurance—and taxing all health insurance offered by employers that exceeds that level.  Bush proposed this in 2004, as did McCain in 2008.  It was a good idea, even if it wasn’t perfect.  But make a serious effort to resolve this problem.

I hear the anger and cynicism all around me.  A lot of voters who got snookered by Obama and the Democrats in 2008 are voting Republican this time around.  Another round that leaves voters, especially young voters singing, “Don’t get fooled again” might be the last chance that the Republican Party has to retain power.  I worry that it might be the last chance to reform American government before the pitchforks and torches come out.

I Have An Agent

I have a literary agent interested in my next book (excerpt there).  He has some suggestions (with which I agree) for how to make it of interest to big trade publishers, not just medium trade publishers.  This, plus the likely election results today, makes my day.

Oh Yes, Idahoans, Remember Your ID When You Vote

Idaho now requires you to have your ID with you when you go to vote.  Why this is not required in every state says a lot about the importance of "Vote early, vote often" as the Democratic Party slogan.