A Most Excellent Morning

Ended up going downtown (or, as we say here in the Pittsburgh region, "dahntahn") on an errand this morning, and I had an absolutely delightful time.

First off, I was there to visit the county courthouse.  No real worries - I just needed to get my license to kill.  Well, six of them, really - three for me, and three for the lovely and deadly Mrs. Robb.  Hopefully in the coming weeks. we'll be able to be a blessing to our fellow man by shooting, gutting, stringing up, and butchering a half-dozen garden-destroying walking road hazards.

So, licenses in hand, I end up walking past the lovely "Occupy Pittsburgh" shanty town.  Already heady with the thought of dead ungulates, I was amused at how absolutely pathetic it looked.  As I was walking past, a young man approached me with a flyer and said, "Excuse me, I've written a song about the banks..."

What I wanted to tell him was, "You know what?  You and me - let's write a song together.  Let's write another song about the banks.  Only... this one is going to be about the bank that lent me the money to buy the house I'm living in now, OK?"

"Oh, and let's find some way to mention that other bank - you know, the one that invested in the company I work at, which is why I have a job.  And it would be downright rude to forget the bank that extended my wife and I personal loans - three times! - so that we could afford the expenses we needed to pay when we adopted our daughters."

"It would be keen if we could manage to mention the banks that loaned me the money to buy my first car, too.  I can see how trying to work in the ones that gave me the loans for the second, and the third, and the fourth might be a little over the top.  Maybe we could finish with a bit about the bank that lent my wife a large chunk of money at a hideously low interest rate as part of a student loan."

"Whaddya think?  Do we have a song there, or what?"


What I did tell him was, "No thanks," as I kept on walking.  Politely rebuffed, he went on to offer his flyer to the next fellow coming down the sidewalk.

Truth be told, I actually felt a bit sorry for him.  Hey, he was a clean cut fellow, and I can sympathize with a struggling artist... just not this particular struggling artist.  The fact that he's hanging out with the OWS crowd doesn't say a whole lot about his judgement, so I suspect he'll be a "struggling artist" for years to come.  C'est une vie de mauvais jugement pour vous.

Finished my hour downtown visiting some friends who work there, and having a short conversation about God and church with Phil, who runs the lot I used to park at when I worked downtown.  Phil's a great guy, and he and his buddy Ron are two of the reasons why I think I have any fond memories of working downtown at all.  Well, the two of them, and the gyro place that was next door to the office.  But mostly those two, really!

All in all, a really good start to the day.

Then I got to work, and now I'm up to my elbows in CIFS and cursing Microsoft in three languages (English, Python and C, for the record).

C'est la vie.

"I say, my good fellow - do you happen to have a length of hemp about your person?"

Tim Worstall - a wonderful fellow from across the pond - has A short message to Members of Parliament:
Stop whining you ghastly, miserable, s***s. Or you’ll find out that those lamp posts on Westminster Bridge can be used for more than just illumination.
Which is, unless I'm mistaken, is the King's English equivalent for one of our quaint American colloquialisms:


Le Sigh

Yesterday morning, a unique set of circumstances arose just before Sunday school that would have allowed me to make a clever joke regarding cold war politics.  Coupled with the opportunity for an insightful allusion as well!  Really, one of those memorable, teachable moments that comes along only once in a blue moon.

I thought about it for half a second... looked at my group of junior high students... sighed, and went with a "Shreck" reference instead.

Say what you will about my teaching - at least I know my audience.

The Gingrich Uncertainty Principle

William Jacobson on how Newt manages to be an insider and an outsider at the same time:

There is a disbelief how a Tea Party-motivated electorate could support an “insider” like Newt, particularly an insider who did not make many friends in the Republican party and media.
I think the question answers itself.  Newt is not seen as beholden to anyone, and that is what makes his insider status non-toxic, and a plus.  He’s the insider who is on the outs with the insiders.

When you’re taking flak from both the lefty media and your own party’s moderate elites, you know you’re on the right track.
Incoming flak is how you know you’re nearing your target.

Danger! Danger, Mitt Romney!

Romney was always inevitable until he was not. And three times now someone has gotten ahead of Romney. The first could be an anomaly. The second had to be considered. The third time must be taken quite seriously.
Could it be that Herr Mittenmeister has some serious structural problems?  Perhaps... as William Jacobson points out, most pro-Romney rhetoric seems to come down to a single un-finishable sentence:
"You can’t vote for Newt, he’s as big a flip-flopping RINO as, um, er ….”
Mitt Romney:  The Oatmeal (TM) Candidate.  I'm seriously starting to think that Romney winning the Republican primary will be the last nail in the coffin of the GOP.

Self-deprecating... check

Saw this over at Pundit & Pundette:

Perry's ad suggests he has a sense of humor and maybe even [gasp] some humility. What a refreshing contrast to the egotism we're used to.
Hmmm.  Newt/Perry or Perry/Newt?

Great minds n'at.

Neo-neocon thinks there's three reasons why Newt may end up the Republican nominee.  I'm not sure of her #1 reason - I'm afraid that Romney may end up being the last man... er, politician... standing.*  As for #2 and #3, though, I think she's spot on, and (as usual) more eloquent than I could ever aspire to be:
(#2) He’s not afraid to confront Obama...
One of the many reasons so many Republicans are still angry at John McCain for the campaign he ran in 2008 was his almost palpable fear of criticizing Obama. Gingrich will have no such problem, and it’s because Gingrich is unlikable rather than despite that fact.
(#3) His skeletons have been out of the closet and rattling around for so long that they’ve almost turned to dust. 
* In which case I'm going to go out and sniff some eau de skunk to kill the smell of RINO and vote for Herr Mittenmeister.  Not that I think he's much better than Obama, really - just more survivable.  I see an eventual vote for Mitt as a vote for "both legs broken" instead of "knife through the heart".  I'd rather not have either one, thank you very much...

My Daily Crack

Linux boot time optimizations.

Mmmmmmmmmmmm good.

"Your name is in the mouth of others: be sure it has teeth."

I like free and open source software (yeah, there's a difference).  I like it as a developer.  I appreciate it as a user.  I love the price.  There are a number of reasons to appreciate the flexibility and power of the F/OSS model.

Project names, unfortunately, are not one of them.

There's a new peer-to-peer search engine project, called... YaCy.

Ya see what they did there? 


(The title of this post, of course, is maxim 16).

"Please Hold, Your Call Is Important To Us. Not."

Penn State has apparently set up a new hotline for reporting abuse, the "Sexual Assault and Relationship Violence Hotline".  Good for them!  I mean, they only have over 90,000 students at 24 sites across the state - I'm sure that they have never had to deal with allegations of sexual assault and violence before, right?  Especially not any connected with their sports program!


If PSU was honest, the number would be 1-800-TELL-JOE, and result in a "This number is no longer in service" message.  Or maybe just infinite hold music.

Oh, no, wait - it's ESPN that has the infinite hold music.  My mistake.

So... Drop Me A Line

Apparently, President Obama made the coveted GQ "Least Influential People Alive" list this year.  So nice to see him finally get the recognition that he deserves after having to accept those "Man of the Year" and "Leader of the Year" consolation prizes from GQ in 2008 and 2009.

While Mr. Obama comes in at #25, I was unable to determine if that meant that GQ considered him to be the most influential, or the least influential, on the list.  In any case, it's a pretty stunning accomplishment.  Nobel to Nobody in three short years.

Well, stunning for those of us who didn't already see his complete lack of potential back in 2007.  Very hipster of me, I know, but... I knew that Obama was an incompetent political hack before knowing he was an incompetent political hack was cool.

Heck, according to GQ, even I have more influence than the President, the Speaker of the House, and major CNBC media personalities.  Combined.  If y'all have anything you'd like, you know, influenced, apparently I'm your man.  I'll look at publishing a rate sheet later this week.

Nothing To See Here...

Net oil imports in the US are at the lowest they've been in the last 16 years.

Shale oil production in North Dakota is booming - a six-fold increase in the last six years.

Completely unrelated, I'm sure.

For the Record...

Daniel Hannan across the pond at the Telegraph writes sets the record straight, and tells the Occupy protesters ten things we evil capitalists really think:
Chatting to some Occupy protesters this morning, I was struck by how wide of the mark were the beliefs they attributed to me as a Right-winger. In the interests of deeper understanding, here are ten things which – trust me – most of the Tory scum I hang around with think. Obviously, I don’t expect to turn my Leftie readers in a single post; still, they might get a clearer idea of what we actually believe.


A most excellent example of Quinn's First Law: Liberalism always generates the exact opposite of its stated intent.

Like White Shoes Before Memorial Day

The turkey has been carved, the potatoes mashed, the stuffing presented and all the various other accoutrements of a traditional Thanksgiving meal have been sliced, diced, and otherwise consumed.

When you awake from your tryptophan and carb induced stupor, feel free to stumble grogilly towards your CD player, iPod, or whatever, and crank up the Christmas tunes.

Everyone who's been listening to Christmas music already?  Tacky.

As for you, 3WS?  Yeah.  We'll be having words about your programming. Just as soon as I check with the Mandarin to see if he's still tinkering with that new orbital high-energy particle beam installation of his.

Illegal WHAT Now?

The Big Bear gets a rant on regarding things suspended.

Illegal things suspended.

Maybe it's just me, but the obvious solution would seem to be something like this.  Slap one up on the window behind your rear view mirror, and presto! - no more illegal danglies.

Er, suspendies.



Moe Lane notes:
You know, I’ve noticed that I’ve had to hope that “blindingly stupid incompetence” was the true reason for a lot of what the Obama White House has done recently…
I'm with ya, Moe...

But you've got to include the intangible benefits!

As I've mentioned earlier, for the past couple of years, I've been an election poll worker in my district.  For those who may not be aware of the details, this isn't a volunteer position. There is a time commitment  - training and, obviously, sitting around all day at the polls - so, in addition to the dubious pleasure of acting as a civil servant for a day, there is also an element of purely financial remuneration involved.

I'm both unsurprised and amused to note that, given the amount of time I spent at the polls this year, said compensation in my county ends up being just slightly less than the Federal minimum wage.

"One does not simply walk into Tampa."

The Lieutenant of the Tower of Barad-dur she was, and her name is remembered in no tale; for she herself had forgotten it, and she said: “I am the Mouth of Romney. . ."
Yet another reason to dislike the oatmeal candidate.  Bland and slimy.

Bland, insipid, uninspiring...

... all synonyms for Mitt Romney.  In a comment seen over on Althouse:
The underwhelmingness of Mitt Romney is a wonder to behold.
Indeed.  Oatmeal, anyone?



I happen to be one of the folks who helped build the FXT 3500 from Avere Systems.

Which is - as of today - sitting pretty at the top of the SPEC NFS benchmarks, clocking in at 1.56 million ops/sec with a 0.99 ms overall response time.  Oh, and with half the hardware - and at half the cost - of the previous two record holders.

Faster, better, cheaper... choose any three.

/me does his happy dance :-)


We now return you to your regularly scheduled political ranting...

Printer Drivers

Hey, HP?  I'm willing to leave my current job and take over your printer software division.  I may be the first VP of yours that has to list tar & feathers as a monthly budgetary requirement, though.  At least until I can get y'all straightened out.

See, you supply printers.  Which are devices for taking ink, and applying it to paper.  For the vast majority of your customers, you are not - I repeat, not - in the business of supplying printing experiences.  I'd suspect that at least 90% of your customers would describe a "printing experience" as something in the vicinity of "When I tell it to print, it prints.  At which point I can get on with my life."

I'm just sayin'.

Go ahead, give me a holler.  I have quite reasonable rates.  Aside from the tar & feathers, that is.

Quaker Oats, Cream of Wheat, Or...

Herman or Newt?

The way things are starting to shake out in the Republican primaries, it's starting to look like that's the choice we're going to be presented with, unless Perry suddenly learns how to talk on national TV. Both Cain and Gingrich have their personal flaws, but as Scott M. points out over at American Digest:
You can't pick a candidate that will preempt liberal smears, so pick a candidate that will fight and win. Romney isn't electable. Romney is the man that lost to the man that lost to Obama. Conservatives are so afraid of a fight they hope to find a candidate that hits all the check marks so nobody will attack him. The desire for a candidate the libs can't attack should be proof your worldview is dysfunctional.
Emphasis mine.  I'd agree with this evaluation of Romney.  Erik Erickson recently opined that if Mitt wins the Republican nomination, conservatism dies and Barack Obama wins:
Mitt Romney is going to be the Republican nominee. And his general election campaign will be an utter disaster for conservatives as he takes the GOP down with him and burns up what it means to be a conservative in the process.
By any measure, nominating Romney is the "safe" option.  He's got steady numbers, after all - one in four Republicans support him!  And the rest, we're promised, will hold their noses and support him, too, because compared to our current train wreck of an administration and incompetent-in-chief, he'd be a marginally better choice!  Yay, Mitt!

In other words, he's political oatmeal.  Bland, tasteless, and what all the Grown Ups (TM) insist you should choose because it's good for you.

I... hate... oatmeal.

Insanity is often defined as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.  Mitt's just the same old soggy bowl of oats.  He's being peddled in a marginally attractive package in the hopes you'll think he's somehow different from all the bowls of mush you've choked down in the past.

No thank you.

There's still some time to go.  Miracles do happen, after all.  We could end up with a dark horse, come-from-behind front runner that is the perfect, personable, unsmearable conservative candidate we can all support.  I'd argue that expecting that to happen is just a slightly different form of insanity, though.

So... realistically.  Who's it going to be, folks?  Herman, or Newt?

Or are you going to be good boys and girls and eat your yummy, yummy Romney brand oatmeal?

Wiki Games

Via dustbury:
Go to your browser’s address bar and start typing en.wikipedia and report the five top results.
Hmmm.  Easy enough.  My five:

I leave the presumed connections between these topics to your fevered imagination.

Election Observations, 2011

Just got back from working the polls for our local election.  Out of 15 hours (from prep to cleanup), it feels like 13 of those were on my feet.  Urgh.  Some anecdotal observations from southwestern PA:

  • Turnout was about 26%.  Not great, but not particularly un-spetacular, either.  It was more or less what is expected for a local election.
  • Democrats were generally winning, with most (minor) races falling into a 55%-45% margin.
  • Which is a bit surprising, in that the precinct registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by about 4:1, as far as I can tell.
  • Given that we had the same number of straight-ticket voters for the Democrats and Republicans, and that the races weren't obviously horrible blowouts in favor of the Democrats, I'm going to guess that Republicans were more motivated than Democrats, and so more likely to vote.
  • An alternative explanation is that, for some unfathomable reason, a lot of Democrats decided that they were going to vote Republican.
  • There were a number of folks who asked for help with a comment along the lines of "I don't care about (some random race), they told me who to vote for."  This was always the older voters.
  • Speaking of which, the average age of voters was... uhm.  In the 60+ area, I'd guess.  The ratio of retired to otherwise was very high, and the number of obviously under 30 voters was very, very low.   We had a sum total of two (2) children accompanying parents today.
The last lead me to some interesting thinking.  What was the age of radical liberalism in the US?  Right - the 1960's.  So say you're 20 years old in the mid-1960s, and those years have left their mark on you.  You're a liberal, by George, and - while you may have some qualms about who you've been asked to vote for, here and there - you know, deep down, that "liberal" means "Democrat".

Fast forward to 2011.  You were 20 in 1966, so now you're... wait, what?

Seventy five.

Those old people who were willing to vote for whoever "they" told them to vote for?  They're the children of the 60s.  Flower power, all we are saying is give peace a chance, hey hey ho ho, western civ has got to go.

Yeah... they're old now.

And by old, I mean dying.

Which brings me to OWS.

I'm starting to look at OWS and wonder if it's real purpose is to help raise up another generation of voters who were convinced that "compassionate == liberal == Democrat".  If they can mobilize some voters, or get some safe issues into the headlines, fine... but the real motivation is to re-create enough of the basic elements of 1960s counter-culture to grow a new generation of hardcore Democratic voters, since the old crop is starting to get a bit manky, if you know what I mean.

All right, enough random thoughts.  Time to relax.

What was the title of that Al Franken book again?

I've seen this photo of Susan B. Anthony showing up on Facebook recently, along with various messages of support for a woman's right to choose (to kill her unborn child, just in case you were wondering which choice we were talking about here).  Said "right" is one which a particular major political party endorses whole-heartedly, while another major political party generally does not.

The obvious implication is that, like Ms. Anothony, all Right Thinking (TM) people will choose the proper political party.  You know, the one Susan B. would have chosen - the Democrat party.


At the time the photo was taken, Susan B. Anthony - abolitionist, temperance movement activist, and women's suffrage activist - had found her home in the Republican party.  When she was arrested in 1872 for voting in the Presidential election, she reported that she had "positively voted the Republican ticket—straight..."  She apparently campaigned for Republican candidates who supported her ideals, at least until she became disillusioned with political parties in general later in life.

Even more signifiant is that fact that her position on abortion was... well, let's be charitable - inconsistent with the message that people are trying to use her name to endorse:
In her writings, Susan B. Anthony occasionally mentioned abortion. Susan B. Anthony opposed abortion which at the time was an unsafe medical procedure for women, endangering their health and life. She blamed men, laws and the "double standard" for driving women to abortion because they had no other options. ("When a woman destroys the life of her unborn child, it is a sign that, by education or circumstances, she has been greatly wronged." 1869) She believed, as did many of the feminists of her era, that only the achievement of women's equality and freedom would end the need for abortion. Anthony used her anti-abortion writings as yet another argument for women's rights.
Lies, half-truths, and deception.  Well, at least you've got to give the "progressive" left credit for being consistent.  Even if it is only consistently wrong, consistently misleading, and consistently on the side of death over life.

Aretae: "Where there is competition, there is no power. Where there is no competition, there is power."

Hmmm.  And if you can convince someone to cede power to you, for some reason... doesn't that logically result in a death of competition?  It seems like it would be so much easier to go that route, after all, especially in politics.  Skip the whole "getting everyone to agree" step, just jump straight to the grant of power with a "trust me, I know what I'm doing" and voilà! - goodbye competition.

I'm sure that's never happened, though.


Tam's point here strikes me as the fundamental difference between a libertarian and... well, just about every other flavor of political enthusiast:
"Keep it from falling into the wrong hands"? It's a government database! It's starting out in the wrong hands!

Why, yes, I live here...

Okay, so let me catch you up.  The city firefighters it seems are sent to the City County building to get flu shots and when the members of one fire station showed up in their fire trucks to get their flu shots while council members were at lunch, they parked their fire trucks in spaces reserved for councilpersons, spaces marked “Special Permit Parking.” 
... [B]ut anyway, the firetrucks got parking tickets and now the fire department is fighting the ticket and hoping for leniency because they were city vehicles parked in city spots and now the city is taking the city to parking court and THIS IS THE BEST SNL SKIT EVAH!
As Myron put it, "Yoi and double yoi!"


I have an online friend - a die-hard liberal - who has, in the past, posted rants about how eeeeevil conservatives are for wanting the government to cut spending, and how we need more government oversight of the banking industry, for example (yes, they are solidly behind the OWS protesters).

The latest "I can't believe people are this stupid" post?  About personal responsibility and the danger of credit cards.  "Don't spend money you don't have, people!"

Pervious rants have castigated the Pennsylvania LCB, because apparently, government intervention works perfectly for everything except liquor stores.

On one hand, the hypocrisy is mind-numbingly staggering.

On the other hand... well, I still hold out hope that the antics of the current administration will become so blatantly and blindingly obvious that they'll open their eyes, connect the dots and have their world view wrenched around 180 degrees.

Hope & Change!

Government Inefficiency, Redux

Even in a rough economy, apparently, someone out there is doing something:
Silicon Valley-based startup incubator Y Combinator is getting just over one application per minute, according to a Tweet from co-founder and partner Paul Graham.
In an earlier interview, Y Combinator founder Paul Graham stated that the total value of the 316 companies funded by YC is about 3 billion dollars - possibly as much as 4.7 billion.  Total investment on the part of YC?

About 5 million dollars.  That's an investment of about $15,000 per company.

Graham goes on to point out that YC generally has a 2%-10% stake in the companies they invest in - so the total initial investment in these companies range from $30,000 to $750,000.  Let's be pessimistic, and say that on average, these companies raised $500,000 in initial private investments from YC and other sources.  That's 1.6 billion dollars in investments, going to companies that are now valued at 2-3x their initial investment.

Say each of those companies employs... oh, 8 people.  Two founders, someone to handle the finances, three folks doing the day-to-day work, and a couple additional people to handle sales and marketing.

That's 316 companies, at 8 jobs each, for a total of 2,528 jobs created at the cost of 1.6 billion dollars... or about $62,500 per job.

As I've noted before, under President Obama's "jobs plan", we're looking at a cost of $1,600,000 per job.

In other words... private investment, in the form of Y Combinator and other investment firms, is 25 times more efficient at turning investment dollars into jobs than the proposed "jobs" bill.

If the government were to flush Obama's jobs bill and instead loan that proposed $447 billion to investment firms like Y Combinator, we could potentially see 7,152,000 new jobs created in over three quarters of a million new businesses.  That's enough jobs to employ every available worker in Wyoming, Vermont and North Dakota combined.

Of course, with investment spread out like that, we wouldn't have the laser-like focus on protecting the taxpayer's money that has given us such rock-solid, non-political investments like Solyndra and Granite Reliable.  (Edit: Oh, and now SunPower, as well.  Joy.)

Y'know, I think I could live with that.


It's Monday morning, and that's the cue for #OccupyPittsburgh.

Oh, no - not the losers who are going to take a day off on a Saturday to come down and whine about how  unfair everything is because someone actually expects them to pay back the $100,000 in student loans they took out so they could get a masters degree in American Beat Poetry Studies.  Nah, those looters will be congregating sometime this weekend.

I'm talking about the real "occupy Pittsburgh" crowd.

It's been an ongoing effort now for... whoa, that's a long time.  Oh, yes.  It's become quite a habit around here, you see, though you really won't see much mention of it in the media at all.  Even though we've gone on long enough that we don't measure our occupation in days, or weeks, or even months.

Two hundred and fifty years and counting, now.  My, how those days just fly!

There are around one and a quarter million people that are employed here in Pittsburgh.  We're on a pretty tight organizational schedule, too.  Some of us contribute a couple of days a week.  Most manage to give it a full five days a week.  Others are more hardcore - they're in it for the long haul, and are working their butts off six or even seven days a week helping keep everything running.

And by everything, I do mean everything.  Grocery stores, shops, hospitals, universities, manufacturing, construction, transportation, finances, publishing, robotics, food service, advertising, news outlets.  We even have one or two of them there newfangled internet thingies going on 'round here.

We do our jobs.  We earn our pay and pay our bills.

We take care of our families and our communities.

We live in houses we can afford, and drive 10 year old cars because, hey - it still works, y'know?

Besides, we've got the kid's college to save for.  Don't want them racking up a huge student loan bill, after all.  Because, you know.  That would be stupid.  When the time comes, we'll let them know that any major that ends with the word "Studies" is pretty much right out, too.  For the same reason.

One million, two hundred fifth thousand people working here in Pittsburgh, occupying the city every day.  Earning a living, making their way in the world.

So... let's do the math.  You "* Studies" majors, see if you can find an engineer or an accountant on their lunch break to give you a hand with those icky, bourgeoisie  numbers.  Oh, and even though it's a word problem, trust me on this one - you don't need to deconstruct anything here.  It pretty much just means what it says.

If there are 12,500 #OccupyPittsburgh protesters this weekend (extremely doubtful as that may be), and there are 1,250,000 people earning a living by working in the city of Pittsburgh...

Tell me, who are the real 99%?

One More Time

Rhymes With Cars & Girls has some questions about the efficiency of government spending to create "jobs".  "Jobs" in quotes, of course, because whatever it is that the government claims to be creating, it would be an improvement if they actually... well, created nothing, instead:
Andrew Stiles notes in the Corner that, if you buy economists’ projections (which I don’t), President Obama’s (DOA) “jobs plan” would cost $1.6 million per job... 
For each $1.6 million per job we could just make up 2 completely-fake jobs paying $80k/year and pre-fund them for 10 years. Literally fake jobs: person comes in, sits down, does nothing. For ten years. $80k/year. This would cost the same amount of money but ‘create’ twice as many Jobs! For longer time!
Seriously.  Give this some thought.

If the government would stop what it is doing now, and instead start spending your money foolishly... it would result in a measurable net improvement in the efficiency and effectiveness of the their "jobs" program.

They would actually have to be smarter to do something stupid.


Came across this yesterday... and you know what popped into my head?

Housing vouchers and food stamps.

Product being sold, subject being ruled.  Six of one, half dozen of another.

I'm just sayin'.

Quick Sanity Check

Related to my previous post.

Consider public education and public health insurance.

What's your reaction to the idea of school choice programs and educational vouchers?  Suppose we were to keep the current levels of public school funding exactly where they are, but allow parents to decide where education funds would be spent based on where they enrolled their children.  No change in funding at all - just a shift in control from the government to the citizen.

Consider a very similar plan for providing public health insurance.  Instead of a government-run and managed health insurance plan, what if we were to provide individuals who are eligible for public health insurance with a voucher?   Something that they can use to purchase their preferred health insurance plan from an existing provider.  Again, no change in funding at all - just a shift in control from the government to the citizen.

With regard to government benefits, these types of voucher plans apparently work quite well for food and housing needs.  We may argue about whether these programs should even exist, whether they should be scaled back or scaled up... but at least, in their current incarnations, they are implemented efficiently, and in a way that maximizes a citizen's control over his or her life.

If you find the idea of the government giving citizens the same sort of control over their life with regard to education and health insurance unpalatable... tell me: what does that say about where your values and priorities lie?


This is for my liberal friends.

Last night, I was thinking about the tree house I've been working on with the girls, trying to figure out how I want to build the ladder for it.  I was thinking a bit about work, mulling over a problem that I've got to tackle today.  I was also playing a game online, killing internet dragons, and being a proud Dada contemplating my oldest's upcoming volleyball game today.

And I was thinking about our government.

I don't think I'm that much different from the average American.  I've got a family I worry about, friends I love and cherish, co-workers I respect, and when I get home at the end of the day, I have a dozen little things running through my head.  There's grass to cut, dogs to wash, cars that need to be inspected, laundry to be put away, kids to bathe and put to bed.  My wife and I both think about, and do, all these things...

And we think about our government.

My main thought these days is that our current government is a horribly inefficient beast.  Its investment strategy stinks.  Its labor efficiency is abysmal.  In the best case, the political need to do outweighs the practical need to do the right thing.  In the worst case, the everything else - efficiency, practicality, and even legality - take a back seat to accomplishing the goal of growing, strengthening, and increasing the importance of the government.

It's the engineer in me, really.  I have to continually remind myself of Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy in order to keep my head from spinning.  There's a tipping point where the majority of effort from an organization goes from providing benefit for others to providing benefits for itself.  Once you cross this point, it's a long, fast downhill slide to destruction.  In the free market, companies who pass this point quickly become ex-companies.

In the larger world, governments that pass this point quickly become ex-governments.

I may be optimistic, but I don't think we've hit this tipping point yet here in the US.  We still have an opportunity to pull back from the brink, and to start valuing the efficiency of government over the politics of government.   An opportunity to re-learn how to fund our government, and spend those funds, in a way that strengthens - rather than weakens - the United States as a whole.

As I said, I'm not that much different from the average American.  I'm not rattling a saber trying to incite revolution.  I'm not advocating the dismantling of the government and the establishment of an anarcho-capitalist utopia.  Practically speaking, I'm not even against a large majority of government programs.

What I do have a problem with is how they're implemented.




I think that there are better, cheaper, and more effective ways for the government to serve it's citizens... and I think that there are a lot of Americans who feel the same way.  They don't want the government to go away.

They just want it to do things differently and more sensibly.

They want to see an end to waste, fraud, and abuse.

They want to see government regulations that increase freedom of choice instead of taking it away. 

They want to see the government revamp and then enforce existing regulations instead of generating new bureaucracies.

They want to see programs that help people succeed in life instead of trapping them in a cycle of dependency.

They want to see their government stop making their lives more difficult.

More than anything else, they want to see the government pared down and simplified, because there's a visceral understanding that simple things are harder to break.  

I really can't put it any more plainly.  We're not that different from you, in our everyday lives.  We have a tremendous amount in common.  We agree on far, far more points than you might realize.

We just think that there is a better way to do things.

There Are Two, Yea, Even Three Things That I Fear

The Rational Optimist thinks that there's Room For All:

... I predict that by the second half of this century nine billion human beings will be living mostly prosperous lives, eating chickens and pigs and cattle while coexisting with about as much nature as was there before we even came on the scene. We will be steadily decreasing the footprint of each human life by moving to cities, getting our food from intensive fields fertilized with nitrogen fixed from the air, our energy from natural gas or nuclear reactors, rather than horse hay or dammed rivers, and our buildings from steel and glass from beneath the ground, rather than forest timber...
If there are three things I fear, as a passionate environmentalist who wants to see wild habitats restored all over the world, they are biofuels, renewable electricity and organic farming. Each would demand much, much more land from nature.

Just a Reminder

Courtesy of Brett Belmore, commenting on an 2nd amendment issues over at the Volokh Conspiracy:
To properly understand a bill of rights, one must realize that having one is an expression of distrust in the government. The Second amendment exists not to facilitate whatever the government feels like doing on the subject of militias. It exists to preserve the feasibility of a militia system even if the government doesn’t WANT a militia system to be feasible.


First day back to work after a week's vacation down in Corolla, NC, on the Outer Banks.  The Outer Banks are a wonderful vacation spot, and a favorite of my family, on both sides.  While we normally try to bolster the economy of Avon, NC (about 2.5 hours south of Corolla), Irene left several new inlets along the islands on the way to Avon.

Thankfully, we had trip insurance, so we'll be getting a refund on the money we deposited for our original house rental down in Avon.  Probably some of the best money I've spent in the past few years; it let us have one of the most pleasant vacations in a long time.  Aside from returning home and finding out that our miniature dachshund needed a trip to the emergency vet for tangling with... something... this has been an outstanding week.

Droid Musings

On the way home from vacation this year, my wife and I were talking Star Wars (well, I was talking, and she was listening... these things happen.)

I was contemplating the absence of droids in the first three movies, and the ubiquity of droids in the last three.  Chronologically, it appears as if droids as cannon-fodder were much more prevalent in the early days of the Empire/Rebellion conflict.

Which makes me wonder - what, exactly, is the status of a droid in the Star Wars universe?  Certain droids (C3PO, R2D2) seem to have self-awareness and complex personalities.  Others seem to be... well, less people, and more like automatons.

Meanwhile, you have Sith like General Greivous and Darth Vader that seem to blur the line between droid and biological, in that they're cyborgs.  Apparently a fairly rare occurrence in the Star Wars universe.  Strange that two of the chief servants of the Sith (and the Empire) would choose to go down that path, voluntarily or otherwise...

So.  Let's start by presuming that droids are considered to be things.  They're intelligent creatures, capable of creating more of their own type, presumably; able to reason, act on their own volition, and in many other ways, what we'd generally consider to be machine intelligences.  Sophonts.

What they are, then, are slaves.  Consider the reaction of the bartender when Luke tries to bring C3PO and R2D2 into the cantina at Mos Eisley.  "We don't want their kind in here."

Suppose that many droids understood this relationship, and - desiring freedom - they allied themselves, voluntarily, with the Sith and the Empire.  Not because they held to the ideals of the Empire, or rejected the ideals of the Senate, but because the Empire was at least willing to treat them as free individuals, rather than slaves.

Puts a bit of a different spin on the Empire/Rebellion relationship, doesn't it?  It also explains the relative lack of droids as cannon fodder in the first three movies.  They're still around - and still essentially slaves in the hands of the Rebellion - but in the Empire, they're free individuals.  No longer cannon fodder, but valued for their adaptability and skills as craftsmen and planners, they fade from the front line and take up much more significant roles behind the scenes in the Empire, leaving the fighting that they've so long been forced to do in the hands of their new biological brothers.

On one hand, you have the Senate/Rebellion bolstered by the Jedi, seeking to maintain the existing order... one where intelligent beings can be owned by others.  Consider how Obi Wan and his master had no problem at all with buying Anakin out of slavery, while leaving his mother a slave.  Callous disregard?  Was she a hostage to his continued good behavior?

Either way, it speaks volumes.  Think of the Jedi as the enforcers for the Senate, ensuring that the proper people - the hereditary rulers, like Princess Amidala - the right families are allowed to continue the very profitable system of owning other, thinking beings in order to profit from their labors.

Along comes Palpatine.  Definitely evil, a dark side Sith Lord... who sees the rotten institution as something he can profit from, in terms of dismantling it.  His allies are the droids, whom he seeks to release from bondage, new allies he recruits in his battle against the Jedi with the promise of freedom.

Think about the Death Star.  How quickly was it built?  In the depths of space?  Surely, there was a significant droid involvement in building it.  Was that involvement one of a servant/master relation, or was it the contribution of new allies seeking to bolster the faction that had granted them their freedom?

And what of Anakin's veer to the dark side?  He was born a slave, and his mother was a slave.  While he was freed, it was to serve the forces of the Jedi, the enforcers of the Senate, the very people who had upheld the institution of slavery that he suffered under, and that his mother continued to suffer under.  Might he not have empathized with the status of the droids under the Jedi/Senate rule?  Perhaps seen himself as someone who had betrayed, and continued to betray, those who deserved his trust and protection as a Jedi?

It seems to me that a young Jedi, torn by his loyalties to the Jedi as an ideal and the Jedi as they really were, might find himself walking a lonely path... in fact, a dark path.  Prodded along by Palpatine, young Anakin might originally have thrown in his lot with the soon-to-be Emperor for the best of reasons: to see and end to the corrupt institution of slavery, both droid and biological, that the Senate supported, explicitly and implicitly.  Turning away from the woman he once loved, who now stood as a symbol of the hated institution that promised freedom and protection not for all, but for all the right sort of people.

Frankly, I think it makes for a much more interesting story than the one that Lucas presented us with.

Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition

TJIC has a Twitter feed?

Why, why, WHY was I not informed of this amazingly wonderful and life-changing fact?

Crud.  Does that mean I'm going to have to create a Twitter account now?  Ergh...

You Know, It Kind of Makes Sense...

Given his plummeting poll numbers and recent nag-a-thon push for his latest jobs bill, I'm starting to think that Obama may be too subtle for all of us mere peons.  It looks an awful lot like he's giving up the idea of  another four years in the White House, and has decided instead that his best bet for continued employment is to take over Jerry Lewis' position as the MDA Telethon host.

Seriously - it's got to seem like a win-win situation for everyone involved.  He's the obvious successor to Jerry, after all.  Aside from his massive experience begging for money, the French apparently love him, while everyone else in the world can't understand his sense of humor.  Plus, he's already demonstrated that he can handle a grueling three-day work week of fund raising in between vacations.  Just make sure he's got a teleprompter available for all his ad-libbed lines, and I'm sure it would work out just fine.

One of These Things is Not Like the Other

I came across this story from KQED News via Overlawyered.

State legislature attempts to pass a bill that would have made skiing or snowboarding without a helmet punishable by a $25 fine.

Bill passes, gets to the governor's desk, and is promptly vetoed with the comment, "Not every human problem deserves a law."

Go ahead. Name the state, name the governor.

Must be that Perry fellow out of Texas, right? Or maybe Romney, or one of those other politicians infected by the unholy influences of the radical Tea Party members.

There's probably Koch money involved as well. I mean, you've got to figure, with a statement like that, this guy must be a certified, frothing at the mouth right-wing nut job from the howling wastes of flyover country.

(Cue "Jeopardy" music for 3... 2... 1...)

The state? California.

The governor? Jerry Brown.


The progressive political agenda for the nanny state has finally gone so over the top that even Governor Moonbeam is starting to sound like Ron Paul.

I'm not complaining, mind you. I'm just sayin'.

Putting the Cart Before the Horse

Liberation theology is a power set of tools and approaches within any religion. It refers to internal reform of a religious tradition in order to consciously align the religious beliefs and practices toward the goal of stopping oppression, protecting the vulnerable, and advancing a progressive political agenda.
Emphasis mine.

In other words: liberation theology is just so wonderful because it makes religion subservient to the State!

Let's ignore the fact that, as far as every major monotheistic religion (and most pantheistic religions) are concerned, the idea that God exists to serve man's agenda is... pretty out there. Heretical, even. Once you get past that quibbling little objection, what could go wrong? I mean, I'm sure that nobody would ever think about streamlining things by cutting out religion entirely and just letting the State take the place of God.

Say... didn't we have a bit of a kerfluffle about this whole thing a while back?

Yeah... I'm just sayin'.

They Lie

Probably the primary reason I'm not a progressive.

They lie.

Again and again, repeatedly and intentionally, for political gain.
Keller identified Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum as “all affiliated with fervid subsets of evangelical Christianity,” when Santorum is Catholic, Bachmann is Lutheran, and Perry is a Methodist. Keller hauls out the boogeyman of “dominionism,” when none of his targets are dominionists, and so on.
And you know what the response to this is from progressives? When they can't sweep it under the rug or ignore it, like they do other confrontations?

"Politicians on both sides do it!"

Yeah. You know what? There was a time I'd agree with you on that, right there. In fact, I would even agree with it now, except that there's a small problem.

They lie.

I'm not talking about spin. About putting your own view on events. About shaping the narrative. About any number of other things that I find personally repugnant and repellent in the production of our political product, but which is going to take place in any sort of debate.

They. Lie.

As for you, useful idiot on the left?

When you take this garbage, and suck it down, and smack your lips and ask for more?

When you are too lazy, and too stupid, and too ignorant to take 30 seconds in the age of always-on, internet connectivity to hit Google and find out if the outrageous lie that you're being fed makes any sense whatsoever, before you vomit it back up?

That silence right there - that's for you. The awkward pause in the conversation, the lack of replies to your Facebook post, the change in subject? Yeah, that's not agreement with your spew. That's people wondering if they should break off eye contact and back away slowly from the frothing lunatic.

And if that catches you by surprise - well. You know those Important People who've been telling you how Smart (tm) you are, how compassionate you are, how much better you are that those... those... flyover country tea bagger racist haters?


They lie.

Edit 8/29/11:

Some more lies from today. Well, OK, not from today... from this afternoon.
Edit 8/30/11:

There's a nice piece dissecting the whole "Theocratic Republicans!" lie over at Hot Air.

Being Me

Over the past year or so, I've taught a couple of lesson series for my junior high Sunday school class on topics like what it means to be an effective follower of Christ, and what it means to be an effective Christian leader. Yesterday, I started a series that I'm really excited about... what it means to be you.

Not "you" as a son or daughter, or a student, or spouse, or an employee, or a church member, or a citizen. Just talking about what God has to say about you, as an individual. Why you are important to God. What kind of relationship he wants to have with you, and what kind of relationship you have with Him. And, most of all, why it matters (or should matter, at least).

So, while I'm sure there's not going to be a break from the typical political snark - being snarky is part of what makes me me, after all - I'm hoping to write a bit about these lessons as they develop. Even if you're here primarily for the snark, I hope you'll stick around for a bit of the theology, even if it's only to see what we right-wing nut jobs and bitter clingers like to think about when we're not busy advocating traitorous notions like limited government and financial prudence.

Yeah, see? That right there? Snark. What can I say? I just gotta be me.

You and I, We Are Not So Different...

No - really.
The good news is that we can fix our nation’s problems. How? Well, the first step is to reverse this trend toward centralization and scale. We have to stop concentrating power, and start dispersing it. Corruption and regulatory overreach are political pollution, and the solution to pollution is dilution.

And, believe it or not, voters in both parties support the idea of moving decision-making closer to the people. Republicans call this “federalism,” and Democrats call this “local control.”

The media tries to divide us, but we’re really together on the need to move money and decision-making closer to the people. The Ruling Elite don’t want this to happen, of course, so they try to convince us that we are enemies of each other. Don’t believe it.

Yes, we disagree on policy. But we agree on governance, we believe in self-governance, and it is the current governance system that is broken.

The Gunfighter's Mantra

From the old west, the gunfighter's mantra: "There's always someone faster out there."

In the modern world, the blogger's manta: "There's always someone snarkier out there."

I’m just not sure whether he knows how to prove any Sobolev embedding theorems, or even accepts their correctness. We don’t even know to which Sobolev space he thinks Wk,p does belong. Imagine such a man sitting in the Oval Office, let alone across the negotiation table from Angela Merkel!

Unbelieveable Political Nerdiness

Came across this last night in some random internet wanderings...

[He] methodically takes what he wants within the limits of his code of conduct without regard for whom it hurts. He cares about tradition, loyalty, and order but not about freedom, dignity, or life. He plays by the rules but without mercy or compassion. He is comfortable in a hierarchy and would like to rule, but is willing to serve. He condemns others not according to their actions but according to race, religion, homeland, or social rank.
Wow. Maybe it's just me, but this immediately made me think of the political scene in the United States. In my mind, the text applies extremely well to the current flavor of progressive liberalism embraced by the Democrat party. Less well to the traditional Republican politician, but there's still enough similarities to what I see in the Republican party to make me go "Hmmmm."

So...what is it? Some modern political thinker, dissecting what's wrong with our country and government? The screed of some Tea Party member or a 1960's anti-war activist? Maybe a reference to a classical work on law and politics?

None of the above.

It's the description of the Lawful Evil alignment from Dungeons and Dragons.

Let's take it to the logical conclusion, now. What's the opposite of Lawful Evil? As every geek in the house says, "Chaotic Good!", I'll again quote a description...
[He] acts as his conscience directs him with little regard for what others expect of him. He makes his own way, but he’s kind and benevolent. He believes in goodness and right but has little use for laws and regulations. He hates it when people try to intimidate others and tell them what to do. He follows his own moral compass, which, although good, may not agree with that of society.
Sound like anybody you know?

Joining the Pack

The current meme seems to be as follows: take the list of NPR Top 100 Science Fiction and Fantasy Novels, and highlight the ones you've read. I'm at 71%, which is pretty respectable, I think. Especially given that I passed on a few books that I seem to recall reading, but which I'm not really positive that I did actually read.
Take it with a grain of salt. I could probably put together a list of 100 books, any one of which deserves to be on here more than "A Brave New World" or "The Handmaid's Tale".
Or "The Legend of Drizzt", whose presence frankly baffles me.
How about the Glen Cook? What, no Black Company series? Or his Dread Empire series, or his Instrumentalities of the Night, or "The Dragon Never Sleeps"? Or... well, really, anything by Cook?
Likewise, nothing about Vlad and Loish? Someone fell asleep at the wheel, I think.
No "Lord Valentine's Castle"? Really? How about "The Lies of Locke Lamora"?
Would it kill you to slip in "Cemetary World" or "Mastadonia" or "Project Pope" or... well, anything else by Clifford Simak? (Heck, a grocery list from Simak would probably be more entertaining than some of the titles on the list!)
No Draco Tavern, no "Protector", nothing about Gil Hamilton. At least they remembered the Ringworld.
No mention of Tamson House. Come on! Remember "Moonheart"? Leaving that out is like leaving "Neuromancer" of a list of seminal cyberpunk works!
Sheesh! The list goes on. "The Man In The High Castle". "Not This August". "Dreamsnake". "Spaceling". "Lord Demon". "With A Single Spell". "A Wrinkle In Time". "Protector of the Small". "The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe". "Alas, Babylon".
But, hey! "Brave New World". Yeesh.
1. The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy, by J.R.R. Tolkien 2. The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, by Douglas Adams
3. Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card
4. The Dune Chronicles, by Frank Herbert
5. A Song Of Ice And Fire Series, by George R. R. Martin
6. 1984, by George Orwell
7. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
8. The Foundation Trilogy, by Isaac Asimov
9. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
10. American Gods, by Neil Gaiman
11. The Princess Bride, by William Goldman
12. The Wheel Of Time Series, by Robert Jordan
13. Animal Farm, by George Orwell
14. Neuromancer, by William Gibson
15. Watchmen, by Alan Moore
16. I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov
17. Stranger In A Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein
18. The Kingkiller Chronicles, by Patrick Rothfuss
19. Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
20. Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley
21. Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, by Philip K. Dick 22. The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood
23. The Dark Tower Series, by Stephen King 24. 2001: A Space Odyssey, by Arthur C. Clarke
25. The Stand, by Stephen King
26. Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson
27. The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury
28. Cat’s Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut
29. The Sandman Series, by Neil Gaiman
30. A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess
31. Starship Troopers, by Robert Heinlein
32. Watership Down, by Richard Adams
33. Dragonflight, by Anne McCaffrey
34. The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, by Robert Heinlein
35. A Canticle For Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller
36. The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells
37. 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, by Jules Verne
38. Flowers For Algernon, by Daniel Keys
39. The War Of The Worlds, by H.G. Wells
40. The Chronicles Of Amber, by Roger Zelazny
41. The Belgariad, by David Eddings
42. The Mists Of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley 43. The Mistborn Series, by Brandon Sanderson
44. Ringworld, by Larry Niven 45. The Left Hand Of Darkness, by Ursula K. LeGuin
46. The Silmarillion, by J.R.R. Tolkien
47. The Once And Future King, by T.H. White
48. Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman
49. Childhood’s End, by Arthur C. Clarke
50. Contact, by Carl Sagan
51. The Hyperion Cantos, by Dan Simmons
52. Stardust, by Neil Gaiman
53. Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson
54. World War Z, by Max Brooks
55. The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle
56. The Forever War, by Joe Haldeman
57. Small Gods, by Terry Pratchett
58. The Chronicles Of Thomas Covenant, The Unbeliever, by Stephen R. Donaldson
59. The Vorkosigan Saga, by Lois McMaster Bujold
60. Going Postal, by Terry Pratchett
61. The Mote In God’s Eye, by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle
62. The Sword Of Truth, by Terry Goodkind
63. The Road, by Cormac McCarthy
64. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke
65. I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson
66. The Riftwar Saga, by Raymond E. Feist
67. The Shannara Trilogy, by Terry Brooks
68. The Conan The Barbarian Series, by R.E. Howard
69. The Farseer Trilogy, by Robin Hobb
70. The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger
71. The Way Of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson
72. A Journey To The Center Of The Earth, by Jules Verne 73. The Legend Of Drizzt Series, by R.A. Salvatore
74. Old Man’s War, by John Scalzi
75. The Diamond Age, by Neil Stephenson
76. Rendezvous With Rama, by Arthur C. Clarke
77. The Kushiel’s Legacy Series, by Jacqueline Carey
78. The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. LeGuin
79. Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury
80. Wicked, by Gregory Maguire
81. The Malazan Book Of The Fallen Series, by Steven Erikson
82. The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde
83. The Culture Series, by Iain M. Banks
84. The Crystal Cave, by Mary Stewart
85. Anathem, by Neal Stephenson
86. The Codex Alera Series, by Jim Butcher
87. The Book Of The New Sun, by Gene Wolfe
88. The Thrawn Trilogy, by Timothy Zahn
89. The Outlander Series, by Diana Gabaldan
90. The Elric Saga, by Michael Moorcock
91. The Illustrated Man, by Ray Bradbury
92. Sunshine, by Robin McKinley
93. A Fire Upon The Deep, by Vernor Vinge
94. The Caves Of Steel, by Isaac Asimov
95. The Mars Trilogy, by Kim Stanley Robinson
96. Lucifer’s Hammer, by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle 97. Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis
98. Perdido Street Station, by China Mieville
99. The Xanth Series, by Piers Anthony
100. The Space Trilogy, by C.S. Lewis