Saturday, January 30, 2010


The prediction was for snow starting last night, but there was nothing but overcast as of 2:30am. This morning, however, we had about four inches, and more fell all day, We've ended up with with about eight inches, which is more than Virginia Beach has had since 1989. Pretty much all events are cancelled, bus service isn't running, and so forth. One of my friends told me her car is stuck in her parking lot, literally unable to move; our guess is the tires are frozen into a puddle. I made a snowman about a foot tall, as the snow was too dry to make it much larger.

However, I'm not complaining about the cold. Diana and Josh are in Montreal and the temperature there is 40 below.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

State of the Union 2010

The transcription of last night's State of the Union address:
America has had tough times before, and we're having a tough time now, which is Bush's fault. Therefore I am going to continue Bush's policies. I'm reducing taxes, getting tough on terrorists, and working with other nations to contain Iran. I'm also going to increase spending on clean energy while freezing spending; I'm going to cut taxes while raising them; and I'm going to concentrate on health care reform and cap and trade while focusing all my attention on the economy. Me, me, me. I haven't accomplished anything good this past year, but it's not my fault even though I had a majority in both houses; I wasn't actually trying to accomplish anything, which is why I kept scaring people with health care. The economy is turning around even though one in six people is unemployed and mortgage defaults are still going up. We've created two million jobs, two thirds of them in Congressional districts that don't exist. Everyone should have college degrees and green jobs and debt and be healthy but not rich because being rich is bad and taxable. I'm miffed at the Supreme Court for allowing foreigners to influence our elections, although that's not actually what SCOTUS did. And I'm annoyed by all you blockheads, Democrats and Republicans but mainly Republicans, for being divisive and partisan. If you really loved me, you wouldn't keep saying "no" to me. God bless everyone, especially me. The End.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Citizens United vs FEC

Turns out the Supreme Court of the United States has a blog, where cases like Citizens United vs FEC (which just struck down part of the restrictions on corporations contributing money to politics) are discussed, mostly in non-technical terms. I'm not sure that was a bright idea.
On the one hand, I'm in favor of free speech.
On the other hand, it's shaky to say that giving money is the same as speech. You can try to persuade someone to go to bed with you, or a company representative to give you a deep discount, and those are legal; but when you offer money, it's solicitation or bribery.
Back to the first hand again, if the only organizations which can spend money on political ads are the political parties, what happens if the both parties ignore something you think is important?
The gripping hand is, I got more than enough political advertising last campaign to last me a few more years; anything that reduces the total has got to be good.
For a much more thorough discussion of the decision and things left undecided, look through SCOTUSblog.

Evading Reality

You can evade reality, but you cannot evade the consequences of evading reality
--Glenn Reynolds, Instapundit

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Nuts vs Creeps

From Allahpundit on
Speaking broadly: In the 2006 and 2008 elections, and at some point during the past decade, the ancestral war between Democrats and the Republicans began to take on a new look. If you were a normal human sitting at home having a beer and watching national politics peripherally, as normal people do until they focus on an election, chances are pretty good you came to see the two major parties not as the Dems versus the Reps, or the blue versus the red, but as the Nuts versus the Creeps. The Nuts were for high spending and taxing and the expansion of government no matter what. The Creeps were hypocrites who talked one thing and did another, who went along on the spending spree while lecturing on fiscal solvency.

Friday, January 22, 2010


A good pun is its own reword.


The future doesn't just happen--it's shaped by decisions.
--Paul Tagliabue, former NFL commissioner


On January 22nd, the battle of Isandlwana took place. About 15,000 Zulus, armed primarily with spear and shield, attacked and defeated an invading British column of about 2000 regular and native infantry plus artillery.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Browncoats win

Scott Brown is going to be Senator Scott Brown (R-MA). I imagine Ted Kennedy is at a high RPM right about now. :-)

There's been talk about the Dems maneuvering to vote on the health care bill before Senator Brown can get sworn in as the 41st GOP Senator; however, I'm pleased to hear that Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) said "it would only be fair and prudent that we suspend further votes on health care legislation until Senator-elect Brown is seated."

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Hoo Ah, Jeremy Wise!

Feb 20, 1974 - Dec 30, 2009
Killed by a suicide bomber attack on FOB Chapman, Khost, Afghanistan.

Enlisted 2001, reported to BUD/S Training 2002, graduated with Class 244. Served with SEAL Team Four from 2004 to 2009. Left the Navy in 2009 and was working for the government as a contractor when he deployed back to Afghanistan. He and his wife were also new members of our church, although I hadn't met him.

"Jeremy was a solid operator and a brother all could count on. His enthusiasm technology, his motivation to learn something new daily, and his constant dedication to team success made him a valuable asset to everyone. His lightheartedness always put a smile on your face, made the good times better, and the bad times more tolerable." The Navy has advisors who try to ensure that sailors going on deployment have their finances organized; when Jeremy deployed, the advisor called because Jeremy was sending so much to charities that the advisor thought it was a typo.

There were over 600 at the memorial service, including over 100 SEALs. At one point in the service, they all stood, and then called out "Hoo ah, Jeremy Wise!", after which there was silence. 

From the order of service for the memorial:

Lo, there do I see the line of my people, back to the beginning. Lo, they do call to me, they bid me take my place among them, in the Halls of Valhalla, where the brave may live forever.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

People of WalMart

By clicking on this link, you're taking full responsibility if you snort soda up your nose or spray it over your keyboard while looking at the People of Walmart. You have been warned.

Fate of Empire

I have been saying for 25 years now that the US empire will start to crumble around 2050, and the reason for that is the same that Sir John Glubb espoused in an essay called The Fate of Empires. He looked at ten historical empires ranging from Assyria through Britain, and tried to find a pattern in their growth, decay and collapse. The book is essentially unavailable in print (Amazon shows two at $175) but a scanned version is temporarily available online. It's an interesting line of thought, particularly if you see a parallel between UK history and the US history of a hundred years later.

Haiti relief

Tyler Cowen pointed out that Haiti is essentially not a functional country right now. So who is going to is going to rebuild the place?
The UN could take over, but hasn't Haiti already suffered enough over the past two hundred years?
I saw an op-ed by Tunku Varadarajan which says that France "must" shell out $22 billion as reparations for the 150 million francs France demanded (or extorted) from Haiti in 1825. This is obvious nonsense--France saw the 1825 amount as reparations for the loss of its property when Haiti revolted, so France will hardly feel an obligation to refund that amount.
Similarly, the Dominican Republic is right next door but is thinks less of Haiti than the US does of Mexico. Their main interest is going to be keeping refugees out.
The US has sent assault ship USS Bataan and aircraft carrier Carl Vinson plus escorts--which is to say, two towns worth of water and power utilities, medevac helicopters and hospitals, groceries, security, communications, etc--but that doesn't imply any lasting presence. I've seen a suggestion that the US take over administering Haiti, but I can't see any way that owning Haiti would be a benefit to us.
I've also seen a suggestion that Canada establish a protectorate, with a comment that there's a shared language, but that sounds equally implausible to me. Haiti's pre-quake population was about 30% of that of Canada; taking on responsibility for them would add a huge strain to Canada's economy, with no significant benefit.
One suggestion I haven't seen is that China might step in. China has been building infrastructure in Africa and there's no reason they can't do it in the Caribbean as well, particularly if they can leverage that into de jure or de facto control of the country. And if I were a Chinese military planner, I'd be interested in the strategic possibilities in having a base just off the US coast.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Battle of Panipat

In 1761, about 60 miles north of Delhi, the expanding Maratha Confederacy was checked by a Afghan coalition consisting of Pashtun and Baluchi forces under Ahmad Shah Durrani. The Afghans, about 100,000 strong, besieged and defeated a force of roughly 70,000 Marathas and French-supplied artillery, in one of the largest battles of the 18th Century. Both sides had heavy casualties, but the Afghans pursued and massacred the routing Marathas, their camp followers, and any other civilians who got in the way.
It has been argued that the British East India Company would not have been able to take control of southern India if the Marathas had not been weakened by this battle.


If you don’t read the newspaper you are uninformed. If you do read the newspaper you are misinformed.
—Mark Twain
(h/t BB)

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Across the border

I get exasperated with our country quite often, could be worse. Haiti just had a 7.0 earthquake, and Mexico is a mess.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Quiche cream

Josh, aspiring dictator of a culinary empire, made quiche for dinner. One slice survived the feeding frenzy, mainly because I announced "That's My Lunch Tomorrow, Get Your Hands Off." Josh is now formulating plans for breakfast quiche, dinner quiche, dessert quiche, veggie quiche for India, rice quiche for China, crust-less quiche, egg-less quiche, and even quiche-less quiche, which might be tough to market. One inspiration, not yet implemented is QuicheCream: quiche crust, egg custard, ice cream, and candied bacon.

Mini Ice Age?

That's the headline from the Daily Mail, which includes "Arctic summer sea ice has increased by 409,000 square miles, or 26 per cent, since 2007 – and even the most committed global warming activists do not dispute this" and "only the start of a global trend towards cooler weather that is likely to last for 20 or 30 years."


One of my goals for 2010 is to read more non-fiction, and the first book was Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior. Economics normally assumes that people are rationally self-interested; this book is a series of anecdotes showing that they're not.
In one experiment, the experimenters put a subject in a room with other people, showed them all three lines, and asked them whether line A, B or C was the longest. If all the other people in the room pick A (having been secretly instructed to do so), the subject will probably also pick A even if the right answer is obviously C. However, as long as at least one other person picks another answer--even if that person is blind and picks B--that dramatically improves the chance that the subject will be willing to go against the group and pick the right answer. There were several real-life examples from boardrooms and cockpits showing the same thing--in order to avoid groupthink blinding people, you need to have someone who's willing to challenge the consensus. (The authors also uncritically cite France arguing against the US in the debate about whether to invade Iraq; from my point of view, that shows that when you pick a devil's advocate, you should choose who is willing to argue with you but has your best interest in mind, instead of someone who's been bribed by your enemy).
In another experiment, the experimenter auctions a $20 bill, with one dollar bids and the condition that the top two bidders both pay their bid amount but only the high bidder gets the $20. Typically people get it the bidding up to around $16 and then realize "if I'm second, I lose my $16 and I get nothing, so I need to keep bidding"; a few minutes later the bid is at $20 and they're thinking "My bid was $19, if I quit now I lose that; whereas if I bid $21, I end up only losing a dollar", so they keep bidding it up--with a record bid of $204. Again, the authors present several real life examples showing how people will keep trying to avoid a loss and end up losing a fortune--the term is "pouring good money after bad" or "chasing a loss". You need to emotionally detach yourself from the past so you can see the situation you're in right now, and therefore see whether you should cut your losses.
As a third experiment, instructors were told that some trainees (chosen randomly by the experimenters) were highly rated and had good leadership potential. At the end of the course, those trainees had significantly higher scores even though there was no difference between them and the other trainees. In another example, an drink improved people's performance more when it was high-priced than it did when it was cheap or free. People tend to live up to expectations.
I have to say that I don't think the book was well organized or particularly deep. I'd like to have seen more discussion about other types of cognitive biases, and more discussion of "this is what you can do to avoid them". However, the book was an entertaining light read and it's always good to get a reminder to be rational. I'd recommend picking this up at the library.

Flash cookies

In addition to normal cookies, it turns out your computer probably also has Flash cookies. Allegedly you can avoid them by using Adobe's Flash Settings page, but it may not work. I put my settings on "ask me every time", then went to half a dozen video sites like Metacafe and Youtube. I got half a dozen cookies and no queries.
Hat tip to Barbra for pointing out this problem.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

100 Things we didn't know last year

A list from BBC News, including "Canada used to border Zimbabwe" and other interesting tidbits.

Monday, January 4, 2010


Pastor Randy touched on the Examen of St Ignatius of Loyola, and mentioned a number of questions which we might ask ourselves during a daily examination. Two of them in particular stood out for me:
  • What, in the past 24 hours, am I most grateful for?
  • When, in the past 24 hours, were you cooperating with God?
I'll have to add "not counting your wife" to the first, as otherwise it would get monotonously predictable; but with that added, it's a good question to answer daily.

Winter games

The temperature has dropped to "unbearably cold", which means it's so cold that any sensible bear would move south. There's a skin of ice on the river, which I don't recall seeing in past years--although it must have happened in past years, so maybe my memory has just rejected such a traumatic experience. And there's a brisk wind, straight from the Canadian Rockies, roaring across that river and straight into my unsheltered house. Consequently we've been enjoying a game of "Find the Draft". That's not draft as in "beer", that's draft as in "why look, I can see daylight through the window frame, perhaps that has something to do with why my left shoulder is sheathed in ice." Thus far I've used two rolls of weather stripping and half a tube of caulk, and while it's still not toasty inside, at least it's noticeably warmer.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Virginia War Museum

We went to the Virginia War Museum in Newport News, about 45 minutes drive from home. They had some cool stuff, and it was kind of depressing. The exhibits are mostly about things-- weapons, uniforms, vehicles--rather than people or events; and they are mostly things that were mass produced, stamped out at a factory, rather than something an artisan put his time and skill and attention into. Even the propaganda posters were mostly simple, blocky, ugly. I was reminded of something from Cryptonomicon, where Cantrell is talking about guns: "Holding one of those things in your hands, cleaning the barrel and shoving the rounds into clips, really brings you face-to-face with what a desperate, last-ditch measure they really are."
But then you turn a corner and one of the posters is about the Rape of Nanking, and you're forced to conclude that no matter how ugly and stupid and wasteful war is, some times it really is necessary as the only way to cut short a greater evil.

Friday, January 1, 2010

New Year's Eve

Diana and I went with Gary and Kathryn Peterson to have New Year's Eve dinner at Bellemonte. Diana had the seafood risotta; Gary and Kathryn decided on chicken roulade; I had filet Oscar with hollandaise, asparagus, garlic mashed potatoes. I gather the sauce for beef is supposed to be bearnaise, but hollandaise was fine with me and would have been finer if there had been more of it. No room for dessert, so we waddled home. Someone started a bit early with the fireworks and that was enough to keep me awake past midnight.