Friday, June 28, 2013

A court gets it.....

....that Hobby Lobby is, indeed, entitled to defend its practice of not funding insurance coverage of contraceptives without being subject to ruinous fines, and the judge even noted that it's akin to telling a kosher butcher to use non-kosher methods.  Americans United for Separation of Church and State argued, via Barry Lynn, that it was akin to imposing the employer's religious beliefs on the employees.

Well, yes, in the same way that my employers have always imposed on my religious sensibilities in what they provide in benefits, or in the same way that kosher butcher might deny me Saturday overtime or the right to that ham and cheese sandwich at lunch, I guess.  Lynn is showing the exquisite logical and moral sensibilities I've come to expect from those involved in the United Church of Christ.

Is the NSA actually accomplishing anything?

I am somewhat embarrassed to relate that I am only just now wondering whether the NSA collection of phone information--and this would include the Bush era collection of calls made to foreign phone numbers that (unlike the Obama program) has semi-plausible protection in the 4th Amendment--actually is of use in fighting terrorism.  Now the NSA is claiming "dozens" of plots have been detected using this method, but that's not the right question.  The question is whether plots are detected in a way that other methods would have missed.  So let's do a little thought experiment.

Here's the Obama (and Bush) method; find a suspected terrorist, get a warrant for his phone records, pull them from the NSA database.  If the numbers are interesting, go to Ma Bell with another warrant to identify the numbers called.

Now here's the method Ma Bell has offered since the beginning of phone service a century ago: find a suspected terrorist, get a warrant for his phone records, pull them from Ma Bell's (or Verizon's) database.  It will also have--unlike the NSA database--clear indication of who was called in most cases, and if my online payments are indicative, it's on the screen within a minute.

In short, it appears that the NSA and its handlers never once did a basic process flow map to realize that the system Ma Bell has offered for a century actually offers better tracking of terrorists than the system they're spending billions of dollars to create.   Fourth Amendment issue, yes, but an even bigger issue is that the NSA is apparently being run by people who don't know how to think.

Update: in related silliness, apparently Dodd-Frank authorized the collection of five million sets of spending records from credit agencies and others--information that has been readily available from lenders for "only" about fifty years.  Of course, we are promised that nobody would ever connect the information to the borrower through the use of birthdate and census block number. 

It's time to send a note to your Congressman and Senators and ask them to stop this stupidity.  It's an affront to the 4th Amendment, as well as a colossal waste of money.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Thoughts on Supreme Court rulings

....and yes, this would be the two rulings on the "Defense of Marriage Act" and the overturning of California's Proposition 8.  Both are going to be very quiet in the short run, but could have disastrous effects in the long run, as (a) we forget that family law is really about weaker vessels and (b) we confer a degree of respectability on behavior that many would have previously avoided. 

However, the biggest problem with the rejection of the appeal of the overturning of Proposition 8 is the means by which the court arrived at that decision; they decided that the people who had worked to pass Proposition 8 had no standing to defend it when public officials abdicated their duty to defend the law.

In other words, if an executive doesn't like a law, but can't get the legislature to work honestly to repeal it, he simply finds a group to sue for its repeal and refuses to defend it.   It's a concentration of power that King George III would have loved, and one that all freedom-loving people ought to abhor, no matter what their political views.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

A finalist for the Ig Noble prize?

Scientists at the University of Florida have apparently figured out how to extract phosphates from urine in minutes, apparently because the supply of phosphates will be depleted in a mere 345 years or so.  So if this gets traction, we're apparently going to be required to act like leftist protesters at a political convention and store gallons and gallons of the stuff, taking a chunk out of the hide of phosphorus miners in Florida and elsewhere, and all so we can continue our nation's insane policy of polluting the waterways of our nation and world so we can burn Snuffy Smith's corn likker in our cars and fatten ourselves like hogs, all the while reducing the availability of wonderful foods like Gulf shrimp.

Down in the bayou, our friend Pogo is telling us, once again,

We have met the enemy, and he is us.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

President Jeremy Bentham?

According to reports, the data collection apparatus to support the Health Insurance Deform Act is going to make the NSA snooping apparatus look like small potatoes in comparison. 

And don't worry, there will be strict rules preventing the abuse of this data, just like at the IRS and NSA.  Strict, strict rules.  I cannot imagine it ever being abused.  Never, ever, but within minutes of the database's creation, will this new Panoptikon be used.

H/T Say Anything

Thoughts......deep, or perhaps not so much....

Nearly fifty years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act, and 220 years since the Constitution went into effect, isn't it about time that we figured out how to make voting equitable, and not grist for Supreme Court action?  Seriously, how hard can it be to make polling places and registration rules, and equitably perform redistricting?

Oh, yes, Governor Gerry, I understand; that was never the point, was it?

In other news, apparently telling a bad knock-knock joke is grounds for a mistrial.  I can see Dershowitz's point, and I've got to wonder whether other defenders, notably that of Jodi Arias, were aiming for an "incompetent defense" mistrial as well.  (you let her on the stand exactly....why?)

In other George Zimmerman news, prosecutors who successfully squelched evidence related to Trayvon Martin's character are seeking to introduce more evidence related to George Zimmerman's.  Yes, adversarial system, I understand, but one would think basic fairness would realize "sauce for the goose".  For that matter, the opening statement by the prosecutor would seem to indicate he's going more for emotions than fact.  Looks like both prosecutor and defender are going for a mistrial, IMO.

Want to be a supermodel?  Apparently, you'd better develop a taste for cotton balls.  Mmmmmm........

Finally, President Obama has upheld a 2008 campaign threat promise by implementing regulations on coal-burning power plants--when there is no commercially available technology available to comply.  I am hoping that one of these days, the courts will remind politicians that while they get to legislate the laws of the land, they do not get to legislate the laws of physics, technology, or economics.

Our financial problems, summarized in two links

First, take a look at my friend Jim's first house

Second, ask yourself why we, today, find that 76% of American families are living paycheck to paycheck?   I'm guessing it might have something to do with the fact that getting a mortgage no longer requires any significant down payment, let alone the 20% or so Jim's folks were required to have.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Let's think some more on this obesity thing

Another look at the obesity levels known throughout the world raises a bunch of interesting questions. Now there are questions--like whether the higher BMIs of Polynesians might arise from naturally larger frames and such--but overall, we have a situation where Europeans in the U.S. are about twice as likely as Europeans in Europe to be obese--far greater variability than is seen state-to-state.  So what gives?

Is it culture?  Perhaps, but keep in mind that our foods and music styles are, by and large, developed from Europe's--and Europeans in Europe generally borrow a lot from U.S. culture to boot.  Genetics?  Well, each racial and ethnic group here is far more likely to be fat than in the "old country."  Wealth?  Tell that to European nations now enjoying a higher standard of living than we do here.  Plus, poor people are more likely to be obese.

The other factor that would influence all of us would be the way we have governed ourselves.  Could it be that as we subsidize foods best utilized for fattening livestock at the feedlot, provide nutritional guidance that completely ignores how most Americans eat, and require citizens to hide the costs of poor health choices with comprehensive medical insurance, we have created a perfect storm destroying our health?

Friday, June 21, 2013

About those infant mortality numbers

One of the consistent refrains from those who advocate nationalized/socialist healthcare is that the infant mortality rates in western Europe, and even Cuba, are lower than those in the United States.  It's real data--see this CDC report.

Now this doesn't mean Cuban healthcare is better--page 4 of the CDC report indicates that U.S. survival rates at given gestational ages are among the best in the world, after all. Let's also ignore the possibility that Cuban authorities are fudging the data.

Rather, let's ask how overwhelmingly poor Cuba, with a large black and mixed-race population (a risk factor for infant death) and a hospital system that manages to let patients freeze to death in the tropics, achives its decent 6.2/1000 infant mortality rate.

Look at that CDC report again; premature birth drives infant mortality, and here are the risk factors for premature birth: race, factors related to injuries, relationships, and....the consequences of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.
Now if this is indicative, one can't prove that Cuban marriages are healthier than ours, or that women are suffering fewer injuries due to domestic violence and the like.  The data just aren't there.  However, if we look at the proportion of residents who are obese, we find that 33.9% of U.S. citizens are obese, versus only 11.8% of Cubans.

The same source notes that the obesity rates of all western European countries, as well as those of east Asia, are about half the U.S. rate--as is their rate of premature birth.  It suggests that the major reason for relatively low infant mortality rates in Cuba is not federalized health care, but rather poverty.

I'll pass.

Stuck (up) on stupid?

I just can't find the words--at least not printable ones--to describe President Obama's proposal of cutting the U.S. nuclear deterrent by a third just as North Korea and Iran are on the brink of becoming nuclear powers.  It is as if he didn't learn about Kellogg-Briand in school, and how millions died needlessly in a little conflict that started a decade later because the major powers of the world weren't able to deal with an Austrian corporal and a draft-dodging blacksmith' son until it was too late.

For that matter, it's as if our President doesn't remember that the collapse of the Warsaw Pact followed not Jimmy Carter's strategy of appeasement, but Reagan's policy of engagement.  He's truly stuck (up) on stupid.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Watch out if your kids aren't in the government's schools

Apparently, in statements made in Ireland, President Obama has spoken against Catholic and Protestant affiliated schools, like the one that his daughters go to, saying that they encourage division.  In short, he's parroting the "separate societies" mantra that the German government is using to ban homeschooling.

Now apart from the blatant hypocrisy of the President of sending his daughters to a school that obviously "causes division" in his own words, it's scary that a "former professor of Constitutional Law" would so clearly speak against the clear spirit of the First Amendment.

It is as if Mr. Soetoro's long-term friendships with people like Bill Ayers were indeed significant.  Don't say we didn't warn you.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Either perjury or a firing offense

Michelle Malkin's sources indicate that IRS staffers are arguing that the "Tea Party" designation they used for "enhanced interrogation techniques" can actually refer to liberal groups.  So either these staffers are too stupid to work for the government and should be fired, or they are lying to Congress and have committed perjury, and should be fired.

I'll be waiting for reports of their termination, then.

Monday, June 17, 2013

James Bond would be so proud!

......of the NSA, which apparently hired a high school dropout at a six figure salary without ever doing enough of a background check to figure out that the young man was a conspiracy theorist par excellence, and apparently doesn't put a hold on employee passports to prevent their unauthorized travel.  Also, he's apparently under the impression that he can be the world's most famous fugitive in Hong Kong without experiencing the surveillance of the Chinese government--so whatever his IQ, he's definitely not as smart as he thinks he is.

H/T Brian.  In other words, with their multi-billion dollar data center, they're trying to put the Four Horsemen in the backfield while apparently banning the Seven Mules from the fieldhouse and the training table--they're not attending well to basic "blocking and tackling" like background checks (did anyone check this guy's Facebook account?  Come on!) and control of travel for those with security clearances.

Blocking and tackling.  It's how the Bugeaters beat the Irish in 1922 and 1923, and it's the only way to get a handle on the problems in our goverment.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Thoughts on the NSA debacle

I've been reading a number of thoughts about the scandal involving the NSA downloading huge amounts of domestic email and phone records, and have a few thoughts.

First, by going to China with apparently a fair amount of data about the system, Mr. Snowden may have effectively shut it down.  Since China has got to be one of the key targets, and also interacts with other key targets, them being on to "us" may be game-ending.

Second, it appears that "technically" the practice may be legal, as earlier court decisions affirm the legality of recording addresses on envelopes and such, but in that day it wasn't practical to accumulate this kind of database.  Perhaps the relevant court decisions need to be reviewed in light of the fact that this "Panoptikon" may be, for the first time, practical.

Third, one big reason that we want to keep any government databases limited is exactly what Mitch refers to here.   It's a potent form of blackmail.

Finally, can it work?  I can see a lot of terrorism that could have been prevented or mitigated if we'd taken a better look at young, Muslim, male immigrants and visitors.  Young, Muslim, male Verizon customers?

Not so much.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Good news about government surveillance,

....but possibly bad news for a young woman out on a "vision quest."  Apparently a young woman walked out on a type of "vision quest" from a Washington state campground with, shall we say, little in terms of supplies, and her friends--unfamiliar with the duration of a typical "vision quest"?--have called in the authorities.

Now of course, it is my hope and prayer that on this quest, this young lady will find a true spiritual vision--that of Christ--and arrive home uninjured soon.  That said, I'm not sure that the authorities are going to be much help in finding her in case she does need help. 

Why?  Look at the article; they searched for her with 12 "4x4 teams" (and thus didn't get too far from the roads), and also are believing that she could only go about five miles in a day.  Now granted, barefoot is a disadvantage, but if someone has been going barefoot a while, 10-15 miles in a day is no biggie.   With shoes, 10-15 miles per day is typical for backpackers, hunters, or participants in the Pike's Peak Ascent.

In short, the authorities are going to be little help to her because they're probably not going far enough to get to where she is, but if one needs to get out of Dodge, it's nice to know that the government may be too lazy to find you.

A real help to the poor....

....would be if the government got out of the business of discouraging the historic nuclear family of husband, wife, and children, and Michael Reagan provides some of the stats to prove it.  70% of young criminals and high school dropouts come from the < 40% of young people who grow up without their father in the home, which means that even with today's stats--higher unwed parenting rates than when these kids were born--the children of unwed parents are about 3.5 times more likely to end up in jail or leave high school without a diploma.  Translated, this means a lot of these young people are basically unemployable.

So if we want to empty jails, slash welfare rolls, crush poverty, and the like, all we need to do is to reduce the disincentives to marriage that exist in the tax code, CAFE requirements, college loan and grant programs, welfare programs, and even the Health Insurance Deform Act (a.k.a. Obamacare). 

Now granted, a marriage license does not transform a lout into a gentleman, but it does tell him that he has some responsibilities that he'd better tend to.  There's a lot to be gained by ending our subsidies for unwed parenting.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The really scary thing about the NSA scandal described here, is not simply that the NSA may be doing domestic spying in direct contradiction of the 2001 law that authorized data retention for contacts with foreign phone numbers and emails.  It is not merely that any mere citizen could find themselves in trouble with the law based on a rough inference from these records.

It is, rather, what Mr. Snowden noted about the possibility that the NSA could be bringing up emails of the President.  If indeed this is the case, then I would presume that any high official who would want to hold any government agency accountable could find himself (herself) being discreetly shown a message they sent that could get them in trouble.

In short, it's a system that, once properly abused, enables whoever controls the leashes to the NSA to become a shadow government with no one the wiser. 

Monday, June 10, 2013

Smelling a rat.....

....about this Reuters article about Rep. Elijah Cummings' comments about an unnamed IRS staffer who has apparently contradicted the sworn statements of other IRS staffers, not to mention boss Lois Lerner, by claiming that he's not only a conservative Republican, but also that the IRS probes of Tea Party organizations were orchestrated from Cincinnatti. 

Notice that nobody has checked out whether the person actually is registered Republican, or reviewed his political donations, both of which can be done without a warrant.  If this person fits the profile of other "conservative Republicans" who amazingly toe the party line for the Democrats, he's a Democrat, has been one for decades, and just perjured himself.  If Rep. Issa is smart, he'll be getting this information soon.

Really, even if all of the activity did originate at lower levels in Cincinnatti, there is still a scandal.  Specifically, why did anyone in the IRS ever think this was appropriate, and why didn't a bunch of those people get fired last year when the scandal started to come to light?

The laboratories of our Republic

....are starting to do what's right by taxing coal burning vehicles for environmental and road damage instead of giving them free access to HOV lanes.  Now if only the federal government can stop subsidizing these environmental debacles.....

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

It boggles the mind

Apparently, the University of Leipzig in Germany has decided that they will henceforth use the feminine form "Professorin" (roughly "professoress") instead of the masculine form "Professor" for all professors.  So the nation that gave us sometimes brutal efficiency is, at least in this city of Bach, apparently adding a useless suffix to this word with an explanation that, contrary to the usual use of the German language, "professoress" actually means "professor."

In related news, the music department of the Uni-Leipzig is adding kazoo obligatos to Bach's toccatas.  H/T Vox.   Like the "Professorin" move, it'll make things so much better and clearer, I'm sure.

Just read

.....this.  It is somehow uniquely appalling that in the state which has the privilege of a resident like Mr. Greenberg, core graduation requirements at their state universities are rapidly expelling great literature.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Limits to efficiency of vehicles

Lost in the (rightful) debate over new fuel economy standards of over fifty miles per gallon--more than any mass produced vehicle currently in production save one version of the Toyota Prius--is the question of exactly how efficient a vehicle can be.

A basic rule of thumb is about 70% wind resistance and 30% rolling resistance for a typical 5 passenger vehicle with a drag coefficient of about .35, weight of about 2 tons, and mileage of about 25mpg.  This includes the mpg-e numbers for actual Carnot efficiency for electric vehicles, too. (shame on the EPA for their fraudulent "mpg-e" numbers, by the way)

Let's work the numbers.  You won't get far with streamlining without comfort or safety hazards, as anyone familiar with the rear headroom and visibility in the Prius or Tesla can attest.  Hence, your wind drag drops only from .7 to about .6.  Weight?  Aluminium has a scrap cost of over $1/lb.  Transmission and engine improvements?  Do you think that adding four speeds on every transmission comes free?

A $1000 budget (500 lbs aluminium to replace 1000 lbs steel, $500 for better transmission/turbocharger/etc) could get you to wind resistance of .6, rolling to .25, and a 10% increase in drivetrain effiency and....only 33mpg.  Our goal of 50mpg or more thus requires smaller and less capable cars, exotic materials (carbon fiber, etc..) and powertrains (hybrid, fuel cell). 

Will it help the environment?  Well, hybrids and such require about 8 tons of carbon dioxide emissions, equivalent to about 85 gallons per year.  Given 12000 miles per year on average, our hypothetical "Obama-mobile" gets a net mpg (including build costs) of only 37mpg, hardly better than our conventional vehicle of 33mpg.  Our average driver will spend $750 annually to save $140 in gas.  Typical government logic, but hardly a cost-benefit analysis that will induce me to buy a Prius.

We're at a point of diminishing returns.  Make sure you vote for people who, unlike our President and too many in Congress, understand this.

Yet another reason to homeschool

Apparently the new "Common Core" curriculum being developed by the Department of Education Propaganda involves the creation of Jeremy Bentham's Panoptikon on students.  Now do you trust a government that cannot be trusted to treat tax exempt organizations fairly to have this degree of knowledge about you and your children?

Me either.

Monday, June 03, 2013

Another great triumph of socialism

Apparently, toilet paper, diapers, and fruit juice are so scarce, they've turned into a coveted form of contraband in Venezuela, a nation benefiting from $100/barrel oil with some of the greatest pulpwood forests and opportunities for orchards in the world.  They can't afford diapers or fruit juice, but they can apparently bankroll another bankrupt state, Cuba.

Where, of course, you can either eat rice or cigars, I guess, but you'll be lucky to get much else.

Tying the noose a little tighter...... White House spokesman David Plouffe, who is responding to the sworn testimony of the IRS agents involved in the illegal screening of Tea Party groups (not to mention a bunch of others) by pointing to events in Issa's life for which he was exonerated prior to a trial being convened.

When your opponent responds to sworn evidence with unrelated personal attacks, that indicates he's either unwilling or unable to come up with substantive evidence.  It means his case is weak.  Again, it's time for an independent prosecutor to sort this out, as it's pretty obvious that the White House isn't going to.

Still at step one of the 8D

One of the privileges of doing quality assurance is the joy of providing effective corrective action on a quality problem.  When the problem gets bad enough, a full eight step "8D" form will be required, in which the QE (and his manager) must demonstrate that concrete steps have been taken to prevent the problem from recurring.  One of the key rules in this process is that it is assumed that the process, not the people, are primarily at fault.

Now apply this concept towards the various scandals plaguing the White House at this point.  Fingers have been pointed at junior staffers, but no concrete action has been taken--no retraining, no review of documents governing processes, no indictments in matters clearly criminal (IRS, BATFE, DOJ Black Panthers, etc..), and those staffers involved are not being demoted or fired, but rather promoted.

In other words, the lack of action by the White House in its scandals indicates that they really aren't interested in solving the problem, but rather in continuing to use a system that's worked out pretty well for them.  In the quality world, this is when the customer starts raising Hell.  We should, too.