Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Bangs Are Now Illegal

On Sunday, we went to a Welcome-to-School Mass at one of our son's colleges. It was held in the sports center and there must have been 5,000 or more people there, many of them very attractive young ladies.

None of them had bangs.

They all had hairstyles that swept their hair off their faces to one side or the other. Some had it parted in the middle, some parted on the side. No bangs. The bangless look was great for some, not so much for others. It didn't matter, it was as if there were fashion police waiting to arrest anyone with bangs.

This is a sad development as young ladies with bangs can be quite alluring.

I guess this is just one more way I'm out of step with the times. I miss bangs.

Image borrowed without permission from hairstyledesign.com.

Emptying the Nest

Last week we shipped off two of our sons to college. They've both got bright futures and were excited about going. One received a terrific scholarship and the other has a great employment record despite jobs being so difficult to find. Despite plenty of setbacks in their lives, they had navigated the hazards of youth and were moving on to the next step towards living their lives as men.

It was heartbreaking to see them move out.

You tell yourself that they're doing what they're supposed to, you tell yourself that it's a healthy thing, but that doesn't keep it from hurting. Every time I saw a little boy of any age this last weekend I remembered when mine was that age. Ow! We're in a period of mourning where you regret the loss of a phase of life. They'll be back for summers and vacations (maybe), but they've moved out for good for all intents and purposes.

We're all on very good terms, we text them both every day. One is close enough to come home for dinner from time to time and the other is close enough for us to drive up and see once in a while, but the bridge has been crossed and if they're successful, which we hope, they won't be coming back.

This is what we wanted. We worked and sacrificed for this. Now that it has come, parts of us wish it hadn't.

Summer's Almost Gone

So it's time for a little Beach Boys music. Enjoy!

Monday, August 30, 2010


Watch it all the way to the end.

Blog While You Shop For Groceries!

I saw this at a nearby Vons grocery store. Unreal.

Glenn Beck is a Racist

... or so I've been told. We know this, apparently, because the crowd at his "Restoring Honor" rally was predominantly white.

How does this work, exactly?

Glenn put out an invitation for people to come to this rally on his radio and TV show as well as his website. Everyone was invited. If one particular group chose not to show up, we're to conclude that Glenn is a racist? If that's the case, then you have no control at all over whether or not you're a racist since you can't choose who responds to your invitations.

With this logic, if the whites of Selma, Alabama in 1952 chose not to attend an open BBQ hosted by a black family that would make the black family the racists.

If no Eskimos have ever been to your house for a dinner party, that means you are a racist.

Other Theocraticians blogging about Beck:

Sunday, August 29, 2010

GIF of the Day

funny gifs - Just Say No to Nip
see more Señor Gif

A Question for Dean

Since our Monk of Miscellaneous Musing is a huge college football fan, we're wondering what his take might be on The Big Game coming up on September 2. You know, the Rams vs. the Bulls. Rhode Island vs. Buffalo.

Over to you, Dean!

Honestly, this looks more like a snail shell than a ram to me.

Staying Power

There's a decent article in the WaPo today discussing how a financially destitute and secular Europe is rethinking the whole EU concept. Whether that's true or not, one thing in the article jumped out at me.
The renationalization of European politics is a product, first and foremost, of generational change. For Europeans who came of age during World War II or the Cold War, the E.U. is an escape route from a bloody past. Not so for younger Europeans: A recent poll revealed that French citizens over 55 are almost twice as likely to see the E.U. as a guarantee of peace as those under 36.
The article itself doesn't mention how Europe is no longer Christian, but this little tidbit shows one way that matters. Without a common faith, historical events aren't enough to bind people together. In time, the generation that was affected by, say, the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 dies off and the following ones are no longer driven by its memory.

By contrast, faith lives on almost unchanged from generation to generation. Without that as a binding force, you're left with ... what? What lasts across the decades to carry on a culture with any kind of force? It seems to me that in its absence, you're left with entropic decay where the binding elements in society are the means by which appetites can be satisfied with minimal effort. I'm not sure I agree with the article, but it's possible that the effort of maintaining the EU may well become too much trouble in exchange for preventing disasters that no one can remember.

History doesn't seem to have much staying power.

Let us never forget, err, whichever battle this was!

Update: I can hear the argument being made that a common faith didn't seem to stop the wars, but that's not my point. Powerful, ambitious, amoral men still ordered their citizens to kill other people whether they were Catholics (French), Protestants (English) or Atheists (Nazis and Communists). What's interesting to me is that the EU was constructed to bring a permanent peace to Europe, but the desire for permanent peace burns brightly only so long as people remember the horrors of war. As that dims with fading memory as all of history does, it falls away as a driving force, leaving you with ... what?

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Link of the Day

This is a must-read piece on what hyperinflation would look like in the US. It's absolutely fantastic. Here's a tiny tidbit.
One of the effects of Chile’s hyperinflation was the collapse in asset prices.

This would seem counterintuitive. After all, if the prices of consumer goods and basic staples are rising in a hyperinflationary environment, then asset prices should rise as well—right? Equities should rise in price—since more money is chasing after the same number of stock. Real estate prices should rise also—and for the same reason. Right?

Actually, wrong—and for a simple reason: Once basic necessities are unmet, and remain unmet for a sustained period of time, any asset will be willingly and instantly sacrificed, in order to meet that basic need.

To put it in simple terms: If you were dying of thirst in the middle of the desert, would you give up your family heirloom diamonds, in exchange for a gallon of water? The answer is obvious—yes. You would sacrifice anything and everyting—instantly—in order to meet your basic needs, or those of your family.
Definitely read the whole thing.

Inequality Caused the Crash

It must have, because our response to inequality was what led to people being given loans they couldn't afford.

But what is the root cause behind the growing inequality in America?

That would make the obvious solution something that is too horrible to see.

What we need is someone to lead us along a new path, where we solve our inequality problems without having to revert to the oppression of the old ways.

Darwinism and the Mosque

This article by James Taranto in the WSJ is loaded with tiny tidbits to analyze and dissect. It's all about how the media and the left hold most Americans in contempt. Here's one bit in particular that caught my eye.
Here's Robert Reich, Bill Clinton's labor secretary, explaining "The Anatomy of Intolerance" to readers of TalkingPointsMemo.com:
Many Americans (and politicians who [sic] the polls) don't want a mosque at Manhattan's Ground Zero. . . .

Where is all this coming from?

It's called fear. When people are deeply anxious about holding on to their homes, their jobs, and their savings, they look for someone to blame. And all too often they find it in "the other"--in people who look or act differently, who come from foreign lands, who have what seem to be strange religions, who cross our borders illegally...
So if some Americans are afraid of people "who have what seem to be strange religions," it must be a totally irrational reaction to "economic insecurity." It couldn't possibly have anything to do with an act of mass murder committed in the name of the religion in question.

And Reich doesn't just fail to see the obvious. He dehumanizes his fellow Americans by treating their values, feelings and opinions as no more than reflexive reactions to material conditions.
Darwinism (and scientific atheism in general) tries to explain the world as a series of logical consequences of previous actions. There is no deeper meaning to anything, everything you see is the product of evolution and scientifically explainable actions. That mental model for explaining the unknown is the same that's being applied here.

The implicit explanation goes thusly: "There is no deeper meaning behind the actions of people who disagree with me, their positions can all be explained away through simple sociological laws and precepts. Economic uncertainty breeds fear. It's a well-known fact. The people that don't want the mosque are simply too ignorant to understand how their views are the products of evolution in a socio-economic sense."

Herein lies the arrogance of all such thinking - the author, in this case Robert Reich, believes himself immune from such effects. He thinks he lives outside the laboratory of life, an observer of the poor creatures trapped within. He's not just a better person than you, he is actually different from you. Where you cannot perceive the evolutionary processes at work upon your worldview and are therefore incapable of preventing your bigotries from flourishing, he lives in a different reality entirely where such forces do not work.

In that way, Robert Reich sees himself as God.

And that's the position all such people hold. Their views are all the product of rational thought, unencumbered by the mundane forces that drive you - greed, lust, fear, vanity. This thought process leads in one direction - the more these people manage your lives, the better off you'll be.

Unless they happen to be wrong and they really are driven by the same forces as you.

See how calmly he listens to your ravings? Truly, he is a Great Man. Bow ye down and worship him and pray that he deigns to guide you.

Friday, August 27, 2010

I Had Always Thought That Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang Was The Worst Car-Related Video Of All Time

... but I was wrong. Dig the Justicialism Dancers gyrating to the hit folk song, "The Chevy Volt*."

* - I don't actually know what the name of the song is. I'm too nauseated to look it up.

Lots of Americans Are Stupid

... that's the only message I can think was intended by the polls that wondered how many of us thought Obama is a Muslim. That thought jumped out at me as I read Peggy Noonan's column today.
For a week all you heard from cable anchors was "PEOPLE think OBAMA is a MUSLIM. It's in the POLLS. How do you EXPLAIN it?" Every time I heard it, I'd think: Maybe it's because you keep screaming it.
Why in the world was this question even asked in a poll? What was the purpose? Given that some of us think the moon landings were faked or the government was behind 9/11, there was never any doubt that this question would get a healthy batch of positive answers.

Why ask it?

The whole purpose of asking questions where you know you'll get an incorrect answer is to show what a pack of morons those people are. I'm trying to imagine the staff meetings in the news media where they discussed how to divide up the 22 minutes of air time they have for their nightly news broadcasts. What was the point of making this poll a big portion of it? "Hey, I know, let's make fun of the dummies in our audience! Let's make them feel small and ignorant!"

And that was a good idea because ... why?

Update: Our Monks of Miscellaneous Musings address the issue, but not the question of "Why?"

Thursday, August 26, 2010


Our buddy, Secular Apostate, posted this video. It should give you pause.

If what it says is true - that later sections of the Koran override earlier ones and that the calls for violence come in the later sections, then our perception of Islam is backwards. It's not that the violent Moslems are misreading the book, it's that the peaceful ones are.

Coming soon to my Audible.com - the Koran.

Stubbornly Resisting Reality

The California legislature has not yet made the intellectual leap required of it.
Unfunded public pension liabilities, which a Pew Center on the States report calculates is now as high as $1 trillion nationwide, threaten to bankrupt states that fail to address this ticking fiscal time bomb. But in California, which has an unimaginable $500 billion public pension problem and became the object of national ridicule for outrageous pension abuses in Bell, state lawmakers still couldn’t bring themselves to pass legislation preventing highly paid government employees from using unused vacation and sick days accumulated during their last year on the job to pad their life-long pensions.
The use of leave days is pretty mild stuff compared to the monstrous unfunded liability that's out there, but they can't yet manage to remove even that. They've not yet woken up to the fact that their temporary fantasy world of rights, benefits and entitlements is coming to an end. Their fictional world lasted only as long as the borrowing continued and now that it's winding down, they will have to change the way they see reality. That's going to be a very slow and painful process for many of them (and us).

"Come on, you stupid mule, err, legislator! We've got to cut spending!"
"No! We must increase spending! I won't cut, I won't, I won't, I won't!"

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Multiplying by Zero

After the appalling home sales numbers released recently, Bloomberg is piling on with more bad news.
Stocks dropped for fifth day and U.S. index futures declined amid concern Europe’s debt burden is worsening while the American recovery falters. The yen weakened after Japan said it will curb appreciation, and Treasuries rose...The decline in U.S. futures indicated the S&P 500 will extend yesterday’s 1.5 percent tumble to a seven-week low. Orders for U.S. durable goods increased less than forecast in July, a sign that one of the few remaining bright spots in the economy is cooling.
The stimuli are all wearing off and they have accomplished nothing. All they did was devour future demand. The cash-for-clunkers did not generate any new demand for cars at all, it simply caused people who were going to buy cars anyway to buy them earlier. A brief bump in sales was followed by a slowdown. Dittos for the temporary tax credit to buy new homes.

Way back when the stimuli were being debated, I never heard a coherent conclusion to this statement: "After we invest in America with the stimulus, our investment will be paid back with higher profits because American companies will finally be able to ..." With Eisenhower's freeway system, the statement could be completed with "ship goods across country with greater speed and less cost." With the Democrats' Stimuloid Porkgasm™ all you heard was mumbled references to economic models and financial multipliers. This was a smoke screen hiding ignorance.

Financial multipliers are modeling shorthand for an aggregate completion of the sentence above. That is, the multiplier for the Interstate Highway system built by Eisenhower was a summation of the increase in economic activity for everything from chicken farmers who could now ship hens farther and faster to truckers who would get paid to do so. There was a real world event occurring behind every component of the multiplier.

We've finally discovered the Keynesian multiplier for the Democrats' orgy of spending.

What were the real world events supposedly behind the Stimuloid's multiplier? People spending more money on electricity because they were now getting it from less efficient solar power plants? There were no believable real world pay backs ever listed for the Stimuloid. If you can't clearly describe the payback to an investment then it's not an investment at all, it's just spending.

Every binge comes to an end eventually. Let's hope this one drags the profligate charlatans who created the Stimuloid Porkgasm™ down with it.

Cheezburger of the Day

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Begging for Alms Every Month

... is where we're at. This WSJ video describes just how much the we're borrowing with short-term bonds. If you want to fast-forward, the discussion gets really good at 2:00 and beyond. Remember the size of the debt load - more than $13T. 60% of $13T is about $8T. That's a lot of leverage.

The mechanics of this are interesting, but the larger-scale strategy is the really depressing part. What did we buy with all this debt? We bought entitlements and social programs that have tried and failed to take the place of the family.

Boogie Boarding

... this morning, but not in such huge waves and certainly not to this horrible music. It sounds like a possessed man vomiting while Iron Maiden plays in the background.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Chart of the Day

Creating a stable, democratic state in the Middle East is what broke us.

There's no doubt about it.

Quiz question: Which FY was the first one for the current Democrat-controlled congress?

Tony Robbins: I'm so Cool! (and Get out of the Market!)

Sometimes the vigorous gestures, broad smiles and name-dropping are appropriate, sometimes they're just weird. Reason highlights Tony Robbins warning his followers about (what he feels is) an upcoming market crash. Even though the subject is grim and needs serious conversation, Tony gives it like it was something to help you lose weight.

Bonus experiment: watch it with the sound off and see if you can tell if the topic is a grim one.

Update: This is by no means a polemic against Mr. Robbins. While I don't listen to him or read his books, I'm glad he does what he does. One guy telling large audiences to believe in themselves and strive to accomplish great things is worth any number of bloggers like me who spend their time grousing about how this or that is all screwed up.

Sunday, August 22, 2010


Der Spiegel has an article and slideshow of Bausünden, or "architectural sins." Most of them are buildings constructed in haste out of the ruins of World War II. If you like horrid architecture, you'll love this. Picture #11 in the slideshow is my favorite. I tried to find another photo of it on the web, one without usage rights so I could embed it here, but none turned up so you'll just have to check it out on Der Spiegel.

The Victory of the Cross over the Swastika

I was noodling through the Interweb Tubes, looking for an image of a particularly ugly church in Hamburg, for reasons I shall explain in a subsequent post, when I came across this webpage written by a Nazi woman who was returning to Germany from India in 1948. She traveled by rail on the Nord Express and the page describes her journey in a style reminscent of St. Augustine's Confessions, only in hers she worships Adolf Hitler instead of God. The following excerpt makes the analogy even more apt.
The sun had already gone down, and we were running through the suburbs of Hamburg. For the first time, I beheld what I was soon to see every day: the ruins of Germany. Black against the pale green and golden sky -- the afterglow of the late summer sunset -- saw no end of shattered walls; of heaps of wreckage; of blocks of iron and stone out of the midst of which emerged, now and then, the skeleton of what had once been a boiler, or a wagon, or an oil tank; no end of long dark streets in which no life was left. The whole place looked like an immense excavation field.

Tears came to my eyes, not because these were the ruins of a once prosperous town, the lamentable remnants of happy homes and useful human industries, but because they were the ruins of our New Order; all that was materially left of that supercivilization-in-the-making which I so admired. Far in the distance, I noticed the steeple of a church standing, untouched, above the general desolation -- like a symbol of the victory of the Cross over the Swastika. And I hated the sight of it.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Post-treatment Scale Photo #1

We picked a leaf on Momma Daisy to monitor over time to see if the scale are still alive. Here's our first photo. We'll be doing these whenever we remember, but we marked the leaf so at least we'll be taking shots of the same location as time goes by.

Listening to the Customer Isn't Always the Best Thing To Do

There's a great article in the WSJ today, one whose concepts I pray becomes conventional wisdom in the near future. It's called The End of Management and it contains nuggets like this.
When I asked members of The Wall Street Journal's CEO Council...to name the most influential business book they had read, many cited Clayton Christensen's "The Innovator's Dilemma." That book documents how market-leading companies have missed game-changing transformations in industry after industry—computers (mainframes to PCs), telephony (landline to mobile), photography (film to digital), stock markets (floor to online)—not because of "bad" management, but because they followed the dictates of "good" management. They listened closely to their customers. They carefully studied market trends...And in the process, they missed disruptive innovations that opened up new customers and markets for lower-margin, blockbuster products.
I deal with this problem all the time at work. We've embraced business process management and lean six sigma and just about every other structured management fad out there. We're organized like a straight jacket. Part of our corporate culture is "listening to the customer."

Our management style is copied from Bedlam, Inc.

Listening to the customer works well when you want to know if they're happy. It does very poorly when you're trying to be innovative and create new products. If your customers knew what the next innovation ought to be, they'd be working for you, not hiring you. While there are exceptions to this, they can't be found through surveys and polls. Surveys and polls are dominated by your basic customer - the voice of the visionary gets drowned out.

Back in the day, when mainframes were king, polls and surveys revealed that the vast majority of IBM's customers wanted better mainframes. A minority wanted PCs. People usually want a better version of what they already have, they rarely think of something wildly different. I think that fear plays a huge role here. The safe bet is to survey your customers and give them what they ask for. If management isn't made up of innovative, visionary people, they're not likely to become enthusiastic about anything that deviates from what customer surveys have said. They won't know how innovation actually works, no matter how many books they read on the subject.

Developing new and different products requires a manager to trust their workers to possess a vision for the future. If your workforce isn't the type that sees into the future, way past what your customers see, then you probably ought to fire your workers and hire your customers.

The World's First lolscale

The world's first lolscale

Our Animals Are Trying To Bankrupt Us

Our dogs are eating random things out in the yard and then coming in to throw up on the carpet, necessitating renting a rug cleaner. Our Maximum Leader, in a fit of pique over what she feels is insufficient food (read: anything short of an endless cataract of noms) has knocked all of the bills off of our desk into a pile on the floor.

Between added expenses and expenses we can't find, they're trying to bankrupt us. What their end goal might be is still a mystery to us.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Greece is Paying the Piper

Der Spiegel has a long story discussing the effects of the Greek government's austerity program. It's not pretty.
This dire prognosis comes even despite Athens' massive efforts to sort out the country's finances. The government's draconian austerity measures have managed to reduce the country's budget deficit by an almost unbelievable 39.7 percent, after previous governments had squandered tax money and falsified statistics for years. The measures have reduced government spending by a total of 10 percent, 4.5 percent more than the EU and International Monetary Fund (IMF) had required.

The problem is that the austerity measures have in the meantime affected every aspect of the country's economy. Purchasing power is dropping, consumption is taking a nosedive and the number of bankruptcies and unemployed are on the rise. The country's gross domestic product shrank by 1.5 percent in the second quarter of this year. Tax revenue, desperately needed in order to consolidate the national finances, has dropped off. A mixture of fear, hopelessness and anger is brewing in Greek society.
Emphasis mine. The problems are not coming despite the austerity program, but because of it. The time frame on that is quite myopic as well. The contraction is the consequence of living beyond their means, not austerity. Blaming austerity is like blaming your hangover on the fact that you stopped drinking. This isn't a bug, it's a primary feature of debt-addicted entities whether it is a person, a family, a company, a state or a nation.
Nikos Meletis is neatly dressed, and his mid-range car is clean and tidy. Meletis used to earn a good living at a shipbuilding company in Perama, a port opposite the island of Salamis. "At the moment, I'm living off my savings," the 54-year-old welder says, standing in front of a silent harbor full of moored ships.

Meletis is a day laborer who used to work up to 300 days a year; this year he has only managed to scrape together 25 days' work so far. That gives him 25 health insurance stamps, when he needs 100 in order to insure himself and his family -- including his wife, who has cancer. "How am I supposed to pay for the hospital?"
I'll bet they now wish the government had acted with compassion instead of vanity all those years. The compassionate thing to have done was to spend only what they brought in. It was pure vanity to swagger about, handing out wads of borrowed money.


It's Easier to Sell Something that People Want to Buy

It's easier to prove that consciousness is an illusion than it is to prove that there is no God. So why do Dawkins, Hitchens and the other book-publishing atheists attack God and not consciousness?

How many speaking engagements and book deals do you think they'd get if they spent their time trying to convince you that you didn't exist?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Where the Idea for Batman Came From

Cheezburger of the Day

A Farewell to Reality

Dig this.
New Zealand’s sheep farmers are flocking to a government carbon trading program that pays more to plant trees than sell wool and mutton.

The system, begun in 2008 and the only one of its kind outside Europe, awards farmers credits that are sold to offset greenhouse gas emissions. The project may earn them about NZ$600 a hectare ($172 per acre) a year on land unprofitable for grazing animals, said David Evison, a senior lecturer at the University of Canterbury’s New Zealand School of Forestry.
We're building a world on empty sanctimony.

Bonus question: Where did the government get that money to pay those carbon offset credits?

The Rise and Fall of Bear Stearns

At the suggestion of my father*, I recently read Alan Greenberg's Rise and Fall of Bear Stearns. Mr. Greenberg rose through the ranks at Bear Stearns to go from peon to CEO over several decades. His book chronicles the changes in Bear Stearns, but indirectly and unintentionally chronicles the evolution of the financial industry from a means of investing in good companies to a gambling den that beats anything Atlantic City has to offer.

Midway through the book, I found that I despised Alan Greenberg. He is the quintessential greedy banker. Nothing has value to him and all that matters is making more and more money. Even the money loses meaning as money after a while and it becomes just a pile of poker chips. In reality, money represents value created through human labor. $20 is equivalent to two grown men working for an hour on your landscaping, a point seeminly lost on Mr. Greenberg. When he found a new financial instrument that allowed Bear Stearns to reap more profits, those profits were just numbers in an adding machine. Contact with the real world was lost as time went on.

Yay! Now we have more!

During Mr. Greenberg's tenure, investment vehicles became weirder and weirder as the financial industry went through a revolutionary period akin to the Industrial Revolution. Discoveries were made every year - new ways to make money doing essentially the same thing - investing in companies that actually did something. The investment banks and investors did nothing new, they simply found new ways to squeeze a few more dollars out of the same thing. It's only in passing that Mr. Greenberg mentions mortgage-backed securities. He spends a little time mumbling about the lack of transparency in the things, but by then he's dedicated his book to blaming his successor for the fall of Bear Stearns, a fellow who had previously written a book blaming him.

Throughout the book, Greenberg proudly talks about his trading strategies. It's all about avoiding losses so he can maximize profits. He rarely talks about his investments in real terms. That is, the investments are just financial transactions where he scrapes off his fee, they aren't vehicles for helping companies build homes, factories, or consumer goods. It's all just a pile of poker chips and he'll dump you as fast as he picked you up.

In the end, the evolution of the financial industry contributed greatly to this mess. They relentlessly explored new ways of investing in companies and their only metric for success were their fees. The investment industry became farther and farther removed from its real world purpose - raising money for people to do things. Mr. Greenberg wants us to believe that his reckless and rude successor was the one who destroyed Bear Stearns, but the truth of the matter is that the financial industry had been juggling chainsaws all along. It was just a matter of time before they tried one too many and the whole thing came crashing down.

If I was going to reform the financial industry, I would require them to work as laborers one year out of every five so that they never lost touch with reality. I'd do the same thing with politicians. Our $1.5T deficit came from a political mentality equivalent to the one at Bear Stearns.

* - Time for a little family pride. My dad is one of two truly great men that I have had the good fortune to know in my life. He's done things and learned things that very few others have and his way of looking at the world the reveals his genius.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

This Is Just Wrong

Sweat: Scale's Critical Weakness!

Tim pointed something out from our experiment with the Scale Chamber of Doom.
I do believe you may be on to something here! As long as the daisy is well watered and the chamber is not too humid, she can cool herself off for a while by evaporative transpiration (call it plant sweat, if you like), but I don't think the scale are so lucky (they are built to conserve moisture, not evaporate it).

And a big advantage of heating over suffocating, is that reasonably accurate thermometers are *way* cheaper than oxygen sensors.
Indeed they can't, Tim. In fact, with very rare exceptions, only warm-blooded creatures can sweat.

"Do you expect me to talk?"
"No, Mr. Arthropod. I expect you to die!"

Quote of the Day

... comes from the comments on this post.
"Boredom is your mind telling you to GET BUSY and find something interesting to do."
I love it.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Cheezburger of the Day

Richard Dawkins Does Not Exist

... and he writes books to prove it!

The argument against the existence of God can be adapted quite easily into an argument against consciousness. Both are mysterious, autonomous controlling forces managing hopelessly complex systems. In both cases, the behavior of the systems being controlled can be explained at any level of scale in terms of known, scientific principles. For example, the molecules in your eyelid react according to molecular distances and the energy states of their electron shells.

That's a crucial example because it illustrates the fact that you as a human being are a subset of the Universe. If I can use science to explain the behavior of the Universe to the point where I don't need God to interact with it, then I can most certainly explain the behavior of your body to the point where I don't need consciousness to manage it. That means that denying God instantly denies consciousness.

The argument in favor of God has some strengths that are not shared by the argument in favor of consciousness. For one, in the case of a human being, there is no instant of creation that holds any kind of mystery at all. An egg and sperm unite and we're done. Science currently holds that the Universe began in a moment of grand creation whose explanation baffles us. God, anyone?

The Second Law of Thermodynamics helps make St. Thomas Aquinas' case for the existence of God, but does nothing to help the case for consciousness. The Second Law tells us that we're heading towards an entropy death and there won't be any coming back from that. Time ends. St. Thomas Aquinas only needed time to be finite to prove God existed. Meanwhile, humans die when their molecular reactions no longer support the larger-scale biological functions, but time goes on regardless.

Another difference is that there are plenty of reliable people who claim they've had religious experiences, in some cases, miracles. I don't know of any who claim such instances were due to their consciousness, but not to God.

Finally, there is this. My position as a Catholic does not require me to claim that God is the controlling force in the Universe. That is the Muslim position. I do not believe that everything happens according to the Will of Allah. I believe that God created the Universe and interacts with us on occasion according to His own plan. That makes my proof of God much easier, but does nothing to improve the proof of consciousness. All I need is the Big Bang, the Second Law of Thermodynamics and claims of non-repeatable, non-measurable events to reach the agnostics' position. After that, I freely claim faith to get me the rest of the way. The atheists have no such support for their belief in consciousness.

So which side believes in the Easter Bunny now?

I included this as another treat for the scientific atheism crowd who love to talk about the Easter Bunny.

Exit question: Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and the rest are all smart people and in their conversations must have worked this out. They can't possibly believe everything they're saying because they clearly believe in consciousness. What's their game?

Monday, August 16, 2010

Things Look Bleak for the Scale

We just uncorked the Chamber of Doom, took a leaf sample and examined the scale thereon. Nothing was moving. However, it may not have been the asphyxiation that did it, if dead they all be.

With the glass lid on, it got hot enough in the Chamber of Doom to melt the Candles of Asphyxiation.

I spent about 10 minutes looking for anything moving from my plant scrapings. I found lots of crawlers, but none of them were crawling. With the same sample size in previous examinations, I was always able to find a couple moving about after a while.

Paraffin wax melts at 125, but hybrid waxes seem to melt at higher temperatures. If that was what worked, then we've got a terrific solution for future infestations.

I'm cautiously optimistic.

Cheezburger of the Day

funny pictures

I Just Installed Android 2.2

... on my Droid. It plays Flash files.

I'll be teasing my iPhone-equipped friends all day. :-)

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Asphyxiating the Scale

On Friday night we lit the candles around the bodies of the soon-to-be dead. Muuuhahaha!

Here's what it looked like.

Momma Daisy is in a big pot, so it took a 33-gallon trashcan to hold her and the candles.

She's tall, so the candles were placed on small, overturned plastic pots so that their wicks cleared her leaves. Since Oxygen is lighter than CO2, placing the flame higher would also help the candles consume more oxygen.

I bought a sheet of glass to put over the top as a lid. It was heavy enough to make a decent seal. It doesn't have to be perfect as there will be almost no air movement within the can or around the cracks in the seal to allow significant mass transport between the air in the can and the air outside. The candles inside would create convection-based air currents as they burned that would ensure that the maximum possible Oxygen was consumed.

I would have loved to instrument the can, but O2 sensors are expensive. I'm letting it go for 3 days and keeping it covered with towels to limit the amount of photosynthesis going on. Finally, I'm shopping around for a decent USB camera eyepiece for my microscope so I can share what I see with you. I took a video of the candles burning out, but it turned out very badly and no amount of editing helped. It's all a learning process.


... they make you fat. They're inescapable and are no doubt part of the plutocratic, white patriarchy's attempt to enslave the world.

I wish there had been an obesity-based Kinsey so they could write a book exposing the whole sorry truth behind this photo. Oh sure, these kids look healthy, but I'm certain they were secretly fat. It probably showed up off camera while half of them were sodomizing the dog. Explanation here.

You Have No Right To Tell Me What To Do With My Bodies!

Darkly funny explanation here.

I Get a Little Queasy About the Whole Private Property Thing, Too

Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and at least 38 other super-rich people have decided to donate half their wealth to charity. In Europe, some are bothered by this because it takes power from the State and gives it to the rich*. Der Spiegel interviewed Peter Kramer, a rich Euro who is aghast at the whole idea. Here's a snippet.
SPIEGEL: But doesn't the money that is donated serve the common good?

Krämer: It is all just a bad transfer of power from the state to billionaires. So it's not the state that determines what is good for the people, but rather the rich want to decide. That's a development that I find really bad. What legitimacy do these people have to decide where massive sums of money will flow?
Err, that would be the legitimacy we found laying around about 234 years ago.

Frankly, I'd rather have this guy making my decisions for me.

* - Huh? Don't they already have the money? What transfer of power is he talking about? Is it less of a transfer of power if they hire a thousand unemployed people to wax their yachts?

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Measuring O2 Levels

Now that the asphyxiation of the scale has begun (details, photos and video to follow after a bit), I'm wondering how I can meaure how successful I was at removing all of the oxygen from the container. A quick Google search for science fair experiments turned up this. It's fairly inexpensive and simple to set up, but since my container is sealed, I can't figure out how to get a gas sample from it.


The Warmer Weather Favors Momma Daisy

We're having a mild heat wave here in San Diego. It's been an abnormally cool summer, but for the next three days, the temperature will be in the low 80s. Higher temperature means faster metabolisms for the scale and necessarily faster respiration.

Advantage: Momma Daisy.

A Meta Economy

... is what our Monks of Miscellaneous Musings note about a new proposal to allow Californians to use State IOUs to pay bills they owe to the State.
The bill by Assemblyman Joel Anderson, R-La Mesa, languished for a while but is building steam as the budget season drags on and IOUs loom. Medical providers, businesses and individuals could use the state IOUs as payment for everything from taxes to vehicle registration to fishing licenses.
Essentially, this creates a new currency, one only valid within the government. The money is trapped entirely within the State economy since you can't use it to buy things from private parties. The idea of being able to use the IOUs within the State seems like a good idea until you pair it with our growing Justicialism. Consider this.

The government owns GM. Ford is a private company. If you can use IOUs to buy government products, but nothing else, then Ford is at a significant disadvantage. This example is Federal, but it illustrates the entangling nature of fascism. Working with the government becomes the preferred means of doing business when the government grows in all directions. Anyone left outside has all kinds of problems, from regulatory ones to being able to be paid.

If I were the legislature in California, I'd pass this thing right away. After that, I'd propose all kinds of new regulations that required fees so that those IOUs would never have to be paid in real cash because they'd all be coming back in the form of mandatory payments for the new regulations and fees.

I owe my soul to the State's company store.

Perseid Meteor Shower

Last night we went out to the base of Mt. Laguna to watch the Perseid meteor shower. We stayed until a little after midnight and although the best of the shower was supposed to occur in the early morning, we still got to see several streak across the sky. I've seen "shooting stars" before, but they've always been tiny ones. Last night we saw ones that trailed flaming debris behind them like something out of Walt Disney animated movie. It was great.

I did a search of YouTube and found this outstanding movie a guy made with his night vision camera from a previous Perseid encounter. It gives you an idea of what it was like last night. He has edited his video so the streaks are one right after the other. For us, they were separated by anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Asphyxiation of the Scale Has Begun


Measuring Success Against the Scale

We're going to try out our asphyxiation experiment this weekend, but in anticipation of failure I spent some time crushing a bunch of the adult scale feeding on Momma Daisy. I don't want her dying while we're fiddling around with treatments.

I also harvested another heavily infested leaf and stem from her and looked at it under the microscope. I saw a ton of adolescent scale, but couldn't see anyone moving. I then used a razor blade to scrape scales off the leaf and stem onto a piece of white paper and looked at that under the 'scope. Scale barely move and so it took about ten minutes to find anyone that was even wiggling. That tells me that any assessment of success is going to be problematic. The only thing I can think of is to pick a stem and then photograph it identically once a day for a week or so and count the scale bodies and measure their size in something like Photoshop. If the count and sizes don't change, I think we can decide we had success.

I wish I had a baseline of an untreated plant to work with, but there's no plant I hate so much that I wish to infest with scale.

Why Prudiciousness Matters

Dig this.
One of the most sobering observations made by Wax comes in the form of a disarmingly simple calculus presented first by Isabel Sawhill and Christopher Jencks. If you finish high school and keep a job without having children before marriage, you will almost certainly not be poor. Period. I have repeatedly felt the air go out of the room upon putting this to black audiences. No one of any political stripe can deny it. It is human truth on view. In 2004, the poverty rate among blacks who followed that formula was less than 6 percent, as opposed to the overall rate of 24.7 percent*. Even after hearing the earnest musings about employers who are less interested in people with names like Tomika, no one can gainsay the simple truth of that advice. Crucially, neither bigotry nor even structural racism can explain why an individual does not live up to it.
I've lived both sides of the kids and marriage question. The mechanics of failure are simple, powerful and inescapable when you're unmarried with kids. If you care about the poor and you care about children, you've got to be a prude.

* - Since the overall rate includes married couples who have graduated from high school, that 24.7% is actually lower than what should be the real comparative statistic - the poverty rate of those who have not completed high school and/or had children out of wedlock. The score isn't 24.7 to 6, it's actually worse than that.

Ain't No Money Pie Like A Fresh Money Pie

This is awesome.

Justicialism Is as Justicialism Does

Argentina's version of fascism was called Justicialism. It was fascism in the service of income redistribution. By comparison, German Nazism was fascism in service of the Aryan race. Italian fascism served the glory of Italy*. I maintain that the Obama Administration is a form of Justiciliasm.

In fascism, you are allowed to keep private property, but only so long as you do what the State tells you to do. State control is maintained either through total ownership (Fanie Mae and Freddie Mac), partial ownership (GM and Chrysler) or thorough regulation and bureaucratic control (ObamaCare).

With those foundations in mind, dig this bit from Bloomberg's opinion section.
Whatever is going on in the world of finance, it isn’t capitalism or a free market. Paul Brodsky and Lee Quaintance of QB Asset Management in New York reckon markets are now at the whim of “the vagaries of the subjective central bank decision- making apparatus as a capricious pursuit posing as systematic.”

The defining feature of tyranny, they argued in a research report this week that channeled the author Christopher Hitchens, is the unpredictability of its rules -- a valid description of the current market environment.

“The path of global markets will be determined by policy makers and politicians, not by natural economic incentives or even by policy makers resetting our ‘animal spirits,’” they wrote.
I point to this, not because it's wildly different from previous posts nor because it's particularly well-written and exciting. I point to it because it's Bloomberg. When one of the nation's top two financial news outlets allows veiled accusations of fascism to be published, you know there are big things afoot. It's one thing to have the right wing nuts over at Free Republic scream about Obama being a Kenyan and it's another to have the left wing nuts in the media and the entertainment industry foam at the mouth over Sarah Palin. It's another thing entirely when Bloomberg publishes pieces that say this:
When politicians steal from their constituents, your market compass is useless at guiding investment decisions.
I've spent some time on this blog playing around with atheism vs. science lately. In the past, I fiddled around with how the bond markets worked. I'm thinking of moving on to examining who flourished during the financial collapse of Justicilaism in Argentina and why.

You do know there was a financial collapse, right?

President Barack Hussein Peron.

* - I'll admit to being foggy about Mussolini's Italy.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

They Need to Market Nightsticks with this Logo

The SEIU would be buying them by the case. Explanation here.

Scale Crawlers

In a previous post, I wondered how you could tell if an immobile, waxy, hemispherical insect was alive or dead. Last night, we dragged out our microscope, grabbed a leaf sample off of Momma Daisy and took a 40x scan of the situation. There, we found a scale crawler, wriggling very slowly. It looked something like this.

The wings were gone and the thing seemed to be dying. It was probably in its last stages of life after mating. What's interesting is that it was found on a broad part of a leaf just a few days after I sprayed the plant with an insecticide designed to kill scale. Because of the location of the leaf and how heavily I sprayed, there was no way this bug's location didn't get whacked and yet the thing survived. Clearly, the nuclear option is called for. Starting tomorrow, we'll be experimenting with our various forms of asphyxiation. Since I now have a means of determining if the villains are alive or dead, we will be able to determine if our experiments are successful.

Our Maximum Leader has taken personal command of this important effort. Here, she is examining computer data after having seen the enemy through the microscope.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

We're Bankrupt

Let’s get real. The U.S. is bankrupt. Neither spending more nor taxing less will help the country pay its bills. That's not from some wacky blogger, either. Click the link and read the whole thing. It's quite accessible and wasn't written for financial geeks. The related video is worth watching, too.

A Simple Technique that Might Kill Scale

Thanks to Tim and some conversations I've had at work, I've got a simple and inexpensive plan to kill the scale that is infesting Momma Daisy (MD).

Scale is difficult to kill with poisons. It takes many treatments because you can't coat the entire surface area of the plant, particularly ones that are as densely grown as MD. That suggested to me that we needed to do something more global. My first thought was a hypobaric chamber where we would pump out the air and suffocate the bugs. Tim suggested an anoxic chamber instead where we would remove the oxygen. Friends at work suggested placing a MD in a container and performing the vinegar and baking soda routine within that container. The resulting CO2, being heavier than O2, would displace the oxygen and create a suffocating layer of CO2 for the bugs.

That's a dramatic (and fun!) way to do it, but I think I've got a better one. If we place MD in a big container, add a lit candle to it and then cover it, the candle will consume the O2, replace it with CO and CO2 and similarly suffocate the bugs. Two questions remain: what levels of O2 and CO2 will be deadly to the bugs and how long will it take?

Tim gave us a link to this site that gives us details on how to kill various insects with suffocation.
The results showed that the time required to kill 100% of the insects varied among species and even among the developmental stages of a given species. For most insects tested, exposures of less than 72 hours were required to insure complete kill. Certain stages, such as eggs of cigarette beetles, may require up to 8-day exposures to insure complete kill. Preliminary tests indicated that the addition of CO2 to the nitrogen slightly decreased the exposure time required to kill the insects. However, if increased temperatures or decreased relative humidities could be tolerated by the objects, they would probably have a much greater effect than using CO2 and N2 mixtures in reducing exposure times.
That leads us to ask, "At what O2 level will a candle go out?" Here, we found some information from a spelunking site.
When caving in the Arbuckle Mountains, the BIC (lighter) was the air quality instrument of choice though at the time, no one knew how reliable or accurate it was at the time.

During the course of the state park project, we became curious at what oxygen levels the lighter would start reacting. Using the instruments we set up a number of controlled experiments and verified them with a number of repetitions over several years with different brands.

The lighter will start reacting at 19.5% oxygen. The flame changes color and a small gap will begin to be noticeable between the flame and the jet. At 18% oxygen, the flame will burn about 1 inch above the jet. At 17% oxygen, the lighter goes out and can not be relit. As mentioned earlier, these measurements were very repeatable and could be verified by anyone with the instruments to do so.
It sounds to me like the candle will not consume sufficient oxygen to kill the bugs. Still, I think it's worth an experiment since the idea is so easy and inexpensive.

I hate these guys.

Atheism's Problems of Sequencing

Let us first agree upon this. When you combine vinegar and baking soda, a chemical reaction will occur without fail.

With that in mind, let us continue.

In our previous discussions with atheist commenters on various posts, we were rightfully accused of being faith-based. "You have no proof that God exists! You are arbitrary!" True enough. The content of the comparative argument, however, fails for everyone save the nihilist atheist, the ones that believe nothing has any meaning at all. Both the atheist and I hold illogical positions and make decisions based on faith rather than reason. The difference is where in the sequence of logic that we do these things.

Here is my sequence:
  1. I am a Catholic with all the faith and hoo-hah that goes along with that.
  2. I make decisions based on that as I live my life.

Here is the sequence of the science-based, non-nihilist atheist:
  1. I believe in only those things which can be proven.
  2. I believe I am alive.
  3. I make decisions based on that as I live my life.

We know that we are made up of matter and energy. At some scale, matter is composed of atoms and molecules. These atoms and molecules react in known ways and without variation. The baking soda and vinegar above cannot choose not to react. Similarly, the molecules that make up the outer layer of the eye of a Paracheirodon innesi behave in ways consistent with the laws of chemistry and without choice or option. That they are part of a neon tetra is an arbitrary choice of scale on our part. They are simply molecules bound to other molecules. When the proper conditions arise, they will react according to their nature.

I chose P. innesi as an example because I think they're pretty.

In the absence of God and at the proper choice of scale, our concept of "life" is nonsense. P. innesi is no more alive than a doorknob as both are simply collections of molecules bound together in a certain way. We have chosen to classify things one way or another because it suited us. Even that choice is illusory since we ourselves are made up of molecules whose behavior is known. Consciousness, free will and choice are all as much fantasy as the Easter Bunny*.

Save for the nihilist who understands that in a Universe without God, all meaning is arbitrarily assigned, the only difference in logic between the atheist and the theist is where in the sequence shown above we throw "proof" out the window. Is it at the beginning where I say "Jesus Christ was the son of God" or is it somewhere in the middle where the atheist says "I am alive?"

Who cares? Both constructs are equally invalid in a world of hard, cold reason. At least my side gets to wear the cool hats.

I've always wished that the St. Louis Cardinals wore these even for one game.

* - I threw in the Easter Bunny as a special treat for any militant atheist that stops by because many of them seem to like him. They mention him all the time in lists of things they don't believe in because there is no proof. I can understand why they like him, though. He's fuzzy and cuddly and gives you yummy things to eat.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Vaughn Walton Rocks

... because of this outstanding presentation on scale (Diaspididae). From it, I lifted this anatomical drawing.

Hopefully, Tim will weigh in on the details, but it looks to me like the thing breathes through its head and not from the juices of the plant. That means that his idea of an anoxic chamber would do the trick as would a hypobaric chamber. No oxygen = no scale, 100%, all dead, gone, gone, gone.

I Love Blood-Soaked Myths

Well, we finally drove one of our anonymous atheist commenters away with our barbarism. Here was his parting shot.
Your perfect Word of God explicitly supports slavery, subjugation of women, genocide, stoning of homosexuals, stoning of adulterers, and a whole laundry list of Bronze Age barbarisms. There is no proper context for such things. They were wrong back then, and they're wrong now.

I've had my fill of you guys. You clearly have no problem supporting blood-soaked myths on the basis of zero evidence, and apparently endorse eternal punishment for incorrect thoughts. It's obvious that no amount of rational discussion is going to change that.

I cannot despair though, because if there is one thing that history has proven, it's that disgusting, backwards ideologies such as yours are destined to be cast down and forgotten as sure as the night follows the day.

Peace out. It's been thoroughly depressing.
This was typical of the kinds of arguments that came from the atheists. It's a deliberate misreading of Christianity. A quick counterexample illustrates this. If you knew nothing else about Christianity, what would you conclude from examining someone we consider to be a wonderful example of living our faith?

What? You mean it's not Ferdinand Marcos, former dictator of the Philippines?

The problem with arguing that your position is based on logic, reason and evidence is that your arguments have to contain logic, reason and evidence.

A Wimp Killing Scale on Houseplants

The American Orchid Society takes the easy way out.

No hypobaric chambers, no freezing, no use of anoxic atmospheres, just a toothbrush and some alcohol. Pathetic. I'll bet he drinks tea out of china cup with his pinky extended.

Atheism's Problem of Scale

(Again with the scale! Can I never escape it?)

I've had some time to digest the comments of some atheists on my previous posts and here's my current conclusion. In the debate between atheism and theism, or more specifically to me, atheism and Christianity, any stopping point between "I am a collection of subatomic particles" and "I am a soul with a body" is completely arbitrary on the part of the atheist.

What are you?

Scientific atheism's central point, in fact it's only point, is that it is logical and provable. "Prove God exists!" is the repeated cry from the scientific atheists. Outside of the few that actually do posit a nihilistic worldview that they are nothing more than a collection of subatomic particles (energy packets?), atheists employ sloppy reasoning and arbitrary logic. Centering the discussion around people or even living things is completely without basis and can only be defended by claiming that you need a convenient frame of reference. This causes all kinds of problems.

Once you admit that your stopping point on that scaling chart was arbitrary, all arguments about morality, life, saving the Earth, gay rights and so forth go completely out the window. While you can stop at any point on the chart for the sake of logical argument about God's existence (we don't diagnose our car's transmission with spectrometers because the components are so large), that's as far as that arbitrary choice can take you. After that, there is nothing useful you can derive from atheism. Everything devolves into "because I said so." Here are some examples in the form of a conversation between a Catholic and an atheist.

C: Why save the whales? The whales are nothing more than a bag of proteins.
A: No, they are beautiful, sentient creatures!
C: Why?
A: Because I said so!

C: Why should I not kill you and steal everything you own? You are nothing but a collection of atoms.
A: No, I am a living being. Your actions would be wrong.
C: Why?
A: Because I said so!

And so on. Far from being rational and logical, atheism, save for the nihilists, is arbitrary and irrational.

Monday, August 09, 2010

The Problem with Insects that are Immobile, Waxy Hemispheres

... is that you can't tell if they're alive or dead. I took my sample out of the freezer after about 11 hours and it looked exactly like what I had put in.

Are they alive? Dead? Who knows?

Next up: constructing a hypobaric chamber.