Friday, February 29, 2008

Afraid of snakes?

By Donald Sensing

It's genetic, science shows.

Julia Dixon, spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, thinks snakes have a bad rap, and said her agency spends time defending snakes. ...

Dixon said the easiest way to identify dangerous snakes in Virginia is to look into their eyes.
Ya know, by the time a snake gets close enough for me to look into its eyes, I'll be far, far away.

Even the book of Genesis (v. 3.15) recognizes that human beings can't stand snakes.

Georgia's water grab

By Donald Sensing

Tennessee has water. Lots of it. Georgia wants it. A lot of it. From the Tennessee River, only a mile north of the border between the states. Georgia is setting legal steps into motion to claim that the border's survey in the early 1800s was in error and that the river at one stretch properly belongs inside Georgia.

Why? What's at stake? Bill Hobbs succinctly explains why Tennessee had better start taking this issue very seriously.

Army recruiting exceeds goals again

By Donald Sensing

From Army Echoes, an offical newsletter by the Dept. of the Army for retirees. I got mine today. Click on image for larger version.

That last datum is pretty interesting.

The most amazing thing about this ad . . .

By Donald Sensing

... is learning that Hillary Clinton sleeps in pearls and a business outfit.

Another thing the ad, being run on TV only in Texas, first brought to my mind was LBJ's 1964 ad showing a little girl picking petals off a flower while an announcer counted down to Armageddon and the spot ended with a thermonuclear explosion. But then Don Surber beat me to that angle. The WaPo's political blog has more.

Here is LBJ's ad, though:

Note: the Clinton ad is apparently getting a gajillion hits on YouTube so be prepared for it to be timed out when you click on the run button. For those who have been asleep all day, or not watching any news broadcasts at all, the ad says that it's 3 a.m. and your children are asleep in bed (hence the opening image). A crisis phone rings in the White House. So do you want the person answering the phone to already have "experience" or not? Then cut to Hillary, in suit and pearls, putting the phone to her ear.

Update: My bad, the necklace is not pearls, but gold chain.

The Sederot Gambit

By Donald Sensing

Sederot (sometimes spelled Sderot) is an Israeli town in the country's south, only one kilometer from Gaza. On Feb. 27, a college student in Sederot was killed by a Kassam rocket. Hours later, a father of four was killed by a Grad rocket in neighboring Ashkelon, reported the Jerusalem Post.

Shortly after a student at Sapir College in Sderot was killed and one other person was wounded by shrapnel in a Kassam rocket attack, a barrage of four Grad missiles struck the Ashkelon area. According to Channel 1, one person was wounded by shrapnel.

The Sapir College casualty has been identified as Roni Yihieh, 47, of Moshav Bit'ha near Ofakim. Yehieh, a father of four, was critically wounded when a rocket hit a parking lot on the western Negev campus, and died shortly after being evacuated to Barzilai Hospital in Ashkelon.
Hamas has been firing the anti-personnel rockets into Israeli towns and countryside with regularity for years.

On Oct. 23 of last year I visited the towns of Sederot and Ashkelon. Six rockets fell near Sederot not long before my group arrived. Here are the remains of three of them (all photos and video taken by me).

There is a large rack of exploded rockets outside Sederot's police station. They have a diagram explaining how the rockets are made.

These are purely anti-personnel rockets. The warhead section contains only a couple of pounds of high explosive to propel pellets or ball bearings intended to do nothing but shred flesh. The rockets lack the explosive power to destroy buildings, although they can penetrate unreinforced walls or roofs and cause substantial damage:

Israel has tethered three blimps around the northern perimeter of Gaza with automated warning sensors and systems.

The town official who showed us around said it is optically based. When a launch is detected, warning speakers in the town - there are a lot of speakers - announces "red dawn" over and over. Townspeople have only 20 seconds to seek shelter before the rockets hit. The town continues to build shelters such as this one.

Here is a video of the extent of the rack of recovered detonated rockets. This rack shows only six months worth of rockets launched. Some people of Sederot have been killed before the latest round of attacks, including children, as well as some Israelis in the surrounding areas.


Bret Stephens writes about the dilemma facing Israel because of the rockets Hamas rains down on the south Israel town of Sederot.
The more vexing question, both morally and strategically, is what Israel ought to do about Gaza. The standard answer is that Israel's response to the Kassams ought to be "proportionate." What does that mean? Does the "proportion" apply to the intention of those firing the Kassams -- to wit, indiscriminate terror against civilian populations? In that case, a "proportionate" Israeli response would involve, perhaps, firing 2,500 artillery shells at random against civilian targets in Gaza. Or should proportion apply to the effects of the Kassams -- an exquisitely calibrated, eye-for-eye operation involving the killing of a dozen Palestinians and the deliberate maiming or traumatizing of several hundred more?
He goes on to discuss the lack of Israeli options in more detail - read the whole thing - but the elephant in the living room is this: as long as Europe and the United States hold Israel and Hamas to two different standards, then Israel can only suffer these attacks with little hope of ending them. Hamas is a terrorist outfit founded for one reason only: the destroy Israel. As Stephens points out,
Hamas has also made no effort to rewrite its 1988 charter, which calls for Israel's destruction. The charter is explicitly anti-Semitic: "The time will not come until Muslims will fight the Jews (and kill them); until the Jews hide behind rocks and trees, which will cry: O Muslim! there is a Jew hiding behind me, come on and kill him!" (Article Seven) "In order to face the usurpation of Palestine by the Jews, we have no escape from raising the banner of Jihad." (Article 15) And so on.
What Israel has been doing is conducting "targeted assassinations" of senior Hamas leaders and of those involved in the manufacture and deployment of the rockets. The strikes have mainly been done by guided missiles fired from attack helicopters. But of course, the West condemns those strikes, apparently for no other reason that sometimes, despite Israel's pains to be precise, other Gazans are killed or wounded. That and the now-reflexive response that "it's Israel's fault" no matter what happens.

From Israel's own perspective, invading Gaza is not an option. It would bog the country down for years of occupation at prohibitive cost in both money and lives of Israeli troops. And of course it would also be condemned by the West and the UNSC. Finally, Israelis are acutely aware that a a Jewish country, founded because of the Holocaust, is morally restrained in unique ways from "going Roman" on Gaza, no matter how many rockets fly from there.

So Hamas gets to play its Sederot Gambit with impunity and insignificant cost to itself or to Gazans. Hamas can make life unendurable for thousands of Israelis who simply want to live in their own country. And the gambit is working not because of Israel's own lack of options, but because the West, which could make life very hard for Hamas and could interdict its supplies of lethal materials from Iran, averts its eyes, pretends it isn't happening, and washes its hands of the whole situation.

Update: Herb Keinon, reporting from Israel, says that Israel may be about to launch a "large-scale incursion into Gaza."
According to defense sources, the goals of such an operation - reportedly in the planning stages for weeks if not months - would not "merely" be to reduce the threat of rocket fire and rocket manufacturing in the Gaza Strip, but would also likely entail paralyzing the Hamas government's ability to operate, and even include "regime change."
We'll see. The Olmert government pretty much proved in 2006's Lebanon invasion that it does not have the stomach or the will to bring military campaigns to actual decision. There's no real reason to think it will be more determined this time.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

British trivia of the day

By Donald Sensing

Brit blogger Don Surber writes of Queen Elizabeth II sending her grandson, Prince Harry, off to war in Afghanistan (he was eager to go),

God save the Queen … and the Prince as well. ...

PS The Queen Mum can still look the East End in the eye.
That last meant allegorically, of course, since the Queen Mother died in 2002. But here's the trivia question: what is Don referring to by the Queen Mum looking East End in the eye?

No fair Googling. But the answer is here.

NYT: Eisenhower DQ'd for president

By Donald Sensing

The NYT has questioned whether Sen. John McCain is Constitutionally qualified to be president.

Mr. McCain's likely nomination as the Republican candidate for president and the happenstance of his birth in the Panama Canal Zone in 1936 are reviving a musty debate that has surfaced periodically since the founders first set quill to parchment and declared that only a "natural-born citizen" can hold the nation's highest office.

This is a completely silly notion, of course (it is from the Noo Yawk Tahms, after all, nuff said) because, as OpinionJournal points out,
[I]n 1790 Congress passed a law "that did define children of citizens 'born beyond the sea, or out of the limits of the United States to be natural born,' " and, further, that "laws specific to the Canal Zone," then a U.S. territory, leave no doubt that McCain was born a citizen.
Furthermore, Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution specifies that, "... neither shall any Person be eligible to that Office who shall not have ... been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States." This provision, if interpreted as strictly as the Times would have the birth provision, would have disqualified Dwight D. Eisenhower from taking the oath of office of president, which he did on Jan. 20, 1953. Why? because in the previous 14 years, Eisenhower had lived about half that time in, respectively, North Africa, England, France, Germany and Belgium. In fact, he left Europe to run for president less than one year before he was inaugurated, having been Supreme Allied Commander, Europe since Dec. 1950.

So for consistency's sake, if the NYT says that McCain is disqualified because of birthplace, then should it not also say that Eisenhower should have been DQ'd, too?

Update: Via Glenn Reynolds,Jim Lindgren at The Volokh Conspiracy clarifies matters quite well, explaining the legal distinction between natural and local allegiance to a sovereign, and why McCain was born into the former and not the latter. As was my eldest child, too, having been born in Germany while I was stationed there in the Army.

Royal Navy trains Russia's yachtsmen

By Donald Sensing

The Royal Navy needs money, and what better way to get it than to train the private navy of one of Russia's richest men?

In recent months, a Royal Navy contractor has started training butlers, skippers and stewards who ferry billionaires in their pearly white pleasure boats to exclusive vacation spots. One of its first clients is the captain of Ecstasea, the 285-foot vessel of Russian oil magnate Roman Abramovich.
The crews concerned so far seem to be all Brits, not Russians. The idea was the brainchild of Stephen Mackay, a retired RN officer who discovered that Europe's yacht crewmen are mostly street hires who are as likely to have no maritime training as have any at all. And almost none, experienced or not, have any training in emergency procedures.

So Mackay started a training company and pays the Royal Navy 60 percent of his take to integrate yacht crewmen into RN classes on mainly emergency skills. Since the navy frankly admits it needs the dough, it's a win-win situation all around.

Wonder what Admiral Lord Nelson would say?

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

TEOLAWKI revisited

By Donald Sensing

Once again, we learn we are doomed: "Hope dims that Earth will survive Sun's death."

The slim chance our planet will survive when the Sun begins its death throes has been ruled out. ...

In a few billion years, the Sun will fuse the last of its hydrogen into helium, turn into a red giant and expand to 250 times its current size. At first, the Sun’s loss of mass will loosen its gravitational pull on Earth, which will allow the planet to migrate to a wider orbit about 7.6 billion years from now.
Scientists have ruled out that the earth will move far enough away to escape destruction, though.

It's yet another example of The End Of Life As We Know It. Except now it's even worse because it's just plain the end of life, period.

I am just so bummed out. First there was the supernova and galaxy-attack scenarios. Then the predicted return of the comet Genondahwayanung, which pretty much annihilated most life in North America when it came here the first time. And then the massive gas cloud speeding toward a collision with the Milky Way! Then we learn that the earth's atmosphere may detonate. And then the asteroids. Then the black hole death stars! I tell ya, I'm starting to think that sooner or later, every one of us is going to wind up dead.

Abortion language

By Donald Sensing

Russell Neglia writes on, "Language and Abortion." Although Russell doesn't go there, I have long maintained that the same arguments pro-abortion advocates use can also be used to support capital punishment.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Shortest top ranking ever?

By Donald Sensing

The roundball players of the University of Tennessee were named the number one team in the nation only about 30 hours ago as I write. They just lost to my M.Div. alma mater, 14th-ranked Vanderbilt, 72-69 at VU's Memorial Gym, where top-ranked teams go to die. Vandy has now beat, in a row, the last four NCAA pole sitters to play there.

Was Yoo-Tee's reign at numero uno the shortest ever in NCAA basketball? Anyone know?

World getting colder quickly

By Donald Sensing

Daily Tech reports,

Twelve-month long drop in world temperatures wipes out a century of warming

Over the past year, anecdotal evidence for a cooling planet has exploded. China has its coldest winter in 100 years. Baghdad sees its first snow in all recorded history. North America has the most snowcover in 50 years, with places like Wisconsin the highest since record-keeping began. Record levels of Antarctic sea ice, record cold in Minnesota, Texas, Florida, Mexico, Australia, Iran, Greece, South Africa, Greenland, Argentina, Chile -- the list goes on and on.

No more than anecdotal evidence, to be sure. But now, that evidence has been supplanted by hard scientific fact. All four major global temperature tracking outlets (Hadley, NASA's GISS, UAH, RSS) have released updated data. All show that over the past year, global temperatures have dropped precipitously.

A compiled list of all the sources can be seen here. The total amount of cooling ranges from 0.65C up to 0.75C -- a value large enough to wipe out nearly all the warming recorded over the past 100 years. All in one year's time. For all four sources, it's the single fastest temperature change ever recorded, either up or down.

Here's the graph, click for larger version:

Be assured that this news will not dissuade the "global warming" from seeking to impose more controls and micromanagement of our lives than ever. Remember, they've already chucked talking about global warming to decry "climate change." Since there has never been a time since the forming of the earth that the climate has not changed, the alarmists' three-card-monte rhetoric gives the game away.

Just imagine that for 50o years the crime rate had been rising steadily, then fell precipitously. And then imagine that law-enforcement advocates began claiming that the real problem was not that the crime rate was increasing, but that it was changing, so no matter whether crime rose or fell, "crime change" was a terrible thing that must be confronted.

But, as Daily Tech points out, it's cold that kills, not heat. And in fact, NASA satellite measurements show that the earth's temperatures have been falling since 1998. And global cooling ain't so hot.

If we are so sloppy . . .

By Donald Sensing

keeping track of our nukes, think how much worse it could be in, say, eastern Russia.

What every man wants . . .

By Donald Sensing

... in bed. Well, size is everything.

Shroud of Turin to be retested

By Donald Sensing

So reports the Telegraph. Even the "head of the world-renowned laboratory has admitted that carbon dating tests it carried out on Christendom's most famous relic may be inaccurate."

Monday, February 25, 2008

Global warming alert!

By Donald Sensing

Snow cover over North America greatest since 1966:

Snow cover over North America and much of Siberia, Mongolia and China is greater than at any time since 1966.

The U.S. National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) reported that many American cities and towns suffered record cold temperatures in January and early February. According to the NCDC, the average temperature in January "was -0.3 F cooler than the 1901-2000 (20th century) average."

China is surviving its most brutal winter in a century. Temperatures in the normally balmy south were so low for so long that some middle-sized cities went days and even weeks without electricity because once power lines had toppled it was too cold or too icy to repair them. ...

Last month, Oleg Sorokhtin, a fellow of the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences, shrugged off manmade climate change as "a drop in the bucket." Showing that solar activity has entered an inactive phase, Prof. Sorokhtin advised people to "stock up on fur coats."

He is not alone. Kenneth Tapping of our own [Canada's] National Research Council, who oversees a giant radio telescope focused on the sun, is convinced we are in for a long period of severely cold weather if sunspot activity does not pick up soon.

The last time the sun was this inactive, Earth suffered the Little Ice Age that lasted about five centuries and ended in 1850. Crops failed through killer frosts and drought. Famine, plague and war were widespread. Harbours froze, so did rivers, and trade ceased.

It's way too early to claim the same is about to happen again, but then it's way too early for the hysteria of the global warmers, too.
Read this, too.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Snark does not equal wisdom

By Donald Sensing

iGoogle quoted Scott Adams thus:

Ask a deeply religious Christian if he’d rather live next to a bearded Muslim that may or may not be plotting a terror attack, or an atheist that may or may not show him how to set up a wireless network in his house. On the scale of prejudice, atheists don’t seem so bad lately.
So just what exactly is the point here? Let's consider some other examples:

1. Ask a deeply religious Muslim whether he’d rather live next to another Muslim who may or may not be plotting a terror attack, or an atheist that may or may not show him how to set up a wireless network in his house. On the scale of prejudice, atheists don’t seem so bad lately.

2. Ask a deeply committed atheist whether he’d rather live next to another atheist who may or may not be plotting a terror attack, or a fundamentalist Christian who may or may not show him how to set up a wireless network in his house. On the scale of prejudice, Christians don’t seem so bad lately.

Well, you can take it from there. One of my criticisms of modern America is that we don't understand that sarcasm, wittiness or plain snarkiness don't equal wisdom or profundity. We mistake cleverness for thoughtfulness. This is nowhere more evident than in our political life, where politicians live and die, politically speaking, by the sound bite. Sound bites used to be up to 30 seconds, but nowadays they've shrunk to one or two sentences. Consultants get paid riches to come up with the right one-liner.

Hence, writes Peggy Noonan on a particular candidate's speeches, "But is it eloquence? No. Eloquence is deep thought expressed in clear words. With [this candidate] the deep thought part is missing. What is present are sentiments."

But that's true of so much discourse in America today, including religious discourse. Deep speaking has not vanished; I think that one reason political talk radio is so popular is that with its multi-hour format, there is time for more than superficial analysis. But even the talkerati tire us easily during the political year, with mantra-like repetition of ideological assertions.

The declien began, I think, when the great classics of Western philosophy and literature began to be pushed out of public-school curriculum, following the lead of many universities whose professors disparaged the great books as exclusivist and power-centric works by white males, and dead ones at that. Multi-culti works gained favor. Problem is, except for works from Asia (whose literary tradition is as old as the West's), the only works available are quite recent. But works are considered timeless only if they survive many generations.

So we have lost our common cultural heritage and education of what deep thought is and what it means. So we get sound bites instead of wisdom, and then believe that wisdom is mere wittiness.

We cannot solve out problems as a country when we have forgotten how to think deeply and clearly, and when we elect politicians who don't know how to do so, either.

Gangster fish found in England

By Donald Sensing

How would you like to cast your line into a nice, burbly, northern England brook and reel in one of these? The Daily Mail reports on the fish known as the 'gangster' of the fish world:

With its razor- sharp teeth, the fish known as the giant snakehead terrorises the warm waters of south-east Asia.

Which is why an angler was particularly startled to hook a 2ft specimen from a river in Lincolnshire. ...

So devastating is the damage a giant snakehead can wreak on other fish, frogs and their natural habitat that it is on a list of species which cannot be imported into the UK.

Mr Alder, from Lincoln, said his catch had a mouth full of razor-sharp teeth and looked absolutely terrifying.

It is thought that the fish was smuggled in for a private aquarium and then illegally released into the wild when it became too much of a nuisance.

The presence of even one of the species in British waters is a nightmare for environmentalists and conservationists.

Giant snakeheads caused chaos to indigenous fish and the environment when they were found living in rivers and lakes in the U.S. in 2002.

Snipers with high-powered rifles even set up watch to shoot the fish as they crawled ashore and entire lakes were poisoned to get rid of them.
Sniping at fish? Well, it's a monster, so whatever works.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Blood moon

By Donald Sensing

This was the view from my kitchen porch last night, just before totality of the lunar eclipse. Click on the photo for larger image. We had clear skies until about 10 p.m. CST, then overcast started to set in. But from the beginning to totality, we got a great view.

The redness of the eclipsed moon, btw, is caused by sunlight that refracts through the earth's atmosphere and then reflects off the moon to our view. It is reddish for the same reason that the setting or rising sun is reddish - the red end of the spectrum refracts more than the shorter wavelengths and so we see more of it.

It was a great show.

Camera: Canon A710IS, resolution 3072X2304, trimmed down to 838X720, handheld on auto setting.

Quote of the Day

By Donald Sensing

"Bring your desires down to your present means. Increase them only when your increased means permit." Aristotle

This is also known as "not going into debt."


By Donald Sensing

The US Navy's missile shot to bust up the falling spy satellite last night was dead on target.

First indicators are that the fuel tank, still carrying 1,000 pounds of toxic hydrazine rocket fuel, was smashed to smithereens - note in the video what appears to be a gaseous cloud spread from the detonation. The Navy says that by tonight it should have enough data to say postively whether the fuel tank was hit.

Now here's a surprise: "China calls on US to provide data on satellite shootdown." Yeah, like all the technical data, targeting and acquisition parameters and, while we're at it, a complete, working ASAT missile, too.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

"Merely a theory"

By Donald Sensing

Florida education officials show they are uninformed about what "theory" means in science.

"Florida will teach evolution but only as theory":

TALLAHASSEE, Florida (Reuters) - Florida education officials voted on Tuesday to add evolution to required course work in public schools but only after a last-minute change depicting Charles Darwin's seminal work as merely a theory.

Bending to pressure from religious conservatives, the State Board of Education on a 4-3 vote included the "theory" language as part of a retooling of the state's science standards for public school education.

The compromise would require teaching that Darwin's proposal -- that natural selection has driven the evolution of many species from a few common ancestors over billions of years -- has yet to be conclusively proven.
That some scientific claim is "just a theory," and therefore may be dismissed, is an accusation that actually makes no sense. It's really "just a theory" that gravity holds us on the earth with a force equal to the inverse of the square of our distance from the planet, but does anyone care to jump off the Empire State Building tomorrow because, hey, gravity is "just a theory?" Our understanding of how wings keep airplanes up is just a theoretical understanding, but millions of people per month literally bet their lives that the theory is correct.

Theory is to science as money is to finance. Theory is to science as scales are to music. Theory is to science as yard lines are to football games.

A theory is how scientists express the interpreted results of many observations carried out over a long time. A theory is how scientists make sense of their collective experience. The formulation and reformulation of theory is, I think, grounded in the deep human need to establish meaning. Because we exist in nature, we are compelled at a most fundamental level to explore what nature means. Science is a very powerful and reliable way we do that. Science, and scientifically-based meaning, can no more exist apart from theory than Barry Bonds' home run record could exist apart from baseball.

The source of contention, of course, is that conservative Christians object that evolution is not "proven" and therefore mustn't be taught as such.
During more than two hours of testimony, scientists and religious representatives argued over whether teaching that humans evolved from a single-celled species over hundreds of millions of years should be taken as gospel.
Ironic that, eh: should evolution be "taken as gospel." Heh!

"So what would it take to alarm you?"

By Donald Sensing

Today's must-read essay by Mark Steyn.

Monday, February 18, 2008

"I'm from the government . . .

By Donald Sensing

... and I'm here to help hurt you."

Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) has decided that the federal government should undermine the home-sales market, especially to put the screws to people trying to sell their home (like I am).

Some background: According to the National Association of Realtors,

Existing-home sales are projected at an annual pace of around 4.9 million in the first half of this year, rising notably to 5.8 million in the second half, and totaling 5.60 million for all of 2009.
Get that? Millions of existing homes will be sold this year, and add to them the large number on the market that will not be sold. Furthermore, the NAR estimates that the median price of existing home will fall this year 1.2 percent.

What about new homes?
New-home sales are likely to decline 17.7 percent to 637,000 in 2008 before rising 7.6 percent to 685,000 in 2009. ... The median new-home price is expected to fall 4.3 percent to $236,300 in 2008, and then increase 5.0 percent in 2009.
My point is that the new home market is many times smaller than the existing home market.

So why does Alexander want to financially damage existing home sellers?
January 31st, 2008 - WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., today joined Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., in offering legislation to provide a tax credit for anyone purchasing a newly constructed home, a foreclosed home or a home where foreclosure is pending.

“Providing Americans with this $15,000 tax credit over three years would provide a much-needed boost to the housing market and the economy,” Alexander said. “This incentive will restore confidence in the housing market while preventing a housing disaster by reducing the number of unsold and foreclosed homes on the market that threaten to lessen home values and reduce homeowner equity.”

The legislation, S. 2566, provides a direct tax credit for the purchase of a single-family home in the amount of $5,000 a year for three years on homes purchased between March 1, 2008, and February 28, 2009. Buyers must occupy the homes as their primary residences to be eligible, and purchases of homes from investors or by investors are ineligible. Homes eligible for the tax credit include:

New homes where the building permit was issued and construction began on or before September 1, 2007;
Owner-occupied homes whose first mortgage loan is in default; and
A single-family home that has been foreclosed on and is owned by the mortgagor or its agent.
So the senator and his co-sponsor want to use the power of the US Treasury to punish private home sellers by making the federal government fund their competitors. Under this legislation, the government will be actively harming the financial interests of millions of private sellers in order to boost the fortunes of a few thousand other sellers.

In other words, Lamar wants to give a home shopper 15 large not to buy my house.

He also seems to have forgotten the economists' adage, "That which you subsidize, increases." Lamar's bill has the effect of subsidizing defaults and foreclosures. A mortgage loan can be considered in default, and thus putatively near foreclosure, with as few as two skipped payments. By massively rewarding buyers of such homes the bill incentivizes sellers to let their loans slide to default, especially sellers who have already bought another home and are struggling to make two mortage payments.

Ronald Reagan said, "Government is not the solution, it is the problem." Thanks to Lamar Alexander, Reagan remains correct.

Well, I suppose if existing-home sellers had as big a lobby - and campaign contributions - as the home builders, Lamar might have a different opinion.

Hat tip: Bill Hobbs.

Sucking up to radical Islam

By Donald Sensing

That's what Vanderbilt University did: "Yvonne Ridley, Peddling Islam in Tennessee."

According to Yvonne Ridley, who spoke at Vanderbilt University on Jan. 17th, of the approximately 60,000 immigrants and refugees living in Davidson County, Tennessee, about one third (or 20,000) are Muslims who have settled in Nashville. The Ridley speech was sponsored by the Islamic Center of Nashville and the Muslim Student Association at Vanderbilt. Both organizations have roots in Islamic fundamentalism (see here and here) and both seem anxious to portray Islam to the rest of the community as a religion of peace, tolerance and pluralism.Ms. Ridley is a British journalist who converted to Islam after she was captured and held briefly by the Taliban shortly before the American invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001. By any objective standard, Ms. Ridley is an Islamic radical. Referring to President Bush and Prime Minister Blair she said, “Their brand of extremism brought us 9/11, the London bombings, Madrid and other carnage around the world,” and “I know 9/11 had a huge impact on the world, but it wasn’t really the start of something … it was the continuation of a legacy of US imperialism and its fear of Islam.”
Yes, I am a grad.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Friday, February 15, 2008

Distressing news

By Donald Sensing

Global warming has killed off the Loch Ness monster.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

How Nietzsche refuted atheism

By Donald Sensing

A long essay by Edward T. Oakes, "Atheism and Violence," discusses and refutes the recent books of Richard Dawkins, Chris Hitchen, et. al., that if all humanity would only renounce religious belief, then violence would cease and permanent peace would result. Curiously enough, the rant-filled Friedrich Nietzsche, who claimed that "God is dead" and originated the germanic idea of the Superman, offers the best argument against these arguments, claims Oakes.

The point, rather, is that Nietzsche saw. However much he (usually) advocated what ought to be most abhorred, he at least recognized that true morality and Christian belief are siblings. Moreover, in tones redolent of Jeremiah he saw the consequences to civilization as a whole when its citizens lose their faith in God. For what will take the place of God will be only a passionate—and largely empty—politics:
For when truth enters the lists against the lies of millennia, we shall have convulsions, a spasm of earthquakes . . . the likes of which have never been dreamed. Then the concept of politics will be completely dissolved in a war between spirits, all authority structures of the old order will be blown into the air—one and all, they rest upon a lie; there will be wars the likes of which have never existed on earth. From my time forward earth will see Great Politics.
Such are the contradictions of atheism. With hope in progress gone, with the lessons of the twentieth century still unlearned in the twenty-first, with technology progressing, in Adorno’s words, from the slingshot to the atom bomb (a remark cited in Spe Salvi), with a resurgence of religiously motivated violence filling the headlines, all that the new atheists can manage is to hearken back to an Enlightenment-based critique of religion. But they find their way blocked, not so much by Nietzsche (whom, as we saw, they largely ignore) but by the ineluctable realities he so ruthlessly exposed. Not Nietzsche, but the history of the twentieth century has shown that godless culture is incapable of making men happier. All Nietzsche did was to point out that no civilization, however “progressive,” can dispel the terrifying character of nature; and once progress is called into question, the human condition appears in all its forsaken nakedness.

Jesus died for your mortgage

By Donald Sensing

The most successful satire strikes so close to believability that the reader/listener/viewer can't actually know it is satire unless told so.

According to Billings, the average unchurched person in suburban Chicago isn’t interested in religiosity. They want, he suggests, a “deep spirituality that fits into their busy schedule.” Instead of making Jesus challenging or complex, Billings offered a Jesus that “gives people exactly what they want.” ...

Pastor Billings credits last Easter’s mailer for the increase in weekly attendance–which is up to 4000. One new member, George Eliason praises the approach: “Look, I really love what Jesus offers. But most churches make it inconvenient to be a Christian. Journey does a great job conforming Christianity to me, rather than asking me to conform to some abstract “rules” spouted off 2000 years ago in the Middle East.”
It's satire, and so noted at the very end. But sadly, it is believable.

Egypt: "We will shoot Palestinians"

By Donald Sensing

Israel News:

A top Hamas delegation crossed into Egypt Thursday to meet up with Egyptian officials wanting to make clear that no further breaches of its border with the Gaza Strip will be tolerated, a security official said.

The Hamas delegation, led by Mahmoud al-Zahar came at the Egyptians' request, after they received reports that Hamas was planning to forcibly reopen the borders again at the end of the month, the official said speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.

"Egyptians will tell Hamas bluntly that the old self-restraint manner is over and that Egyptian security guards have been given orders to open fire on any Palestinians trying to cross the border," the official said.

Monday, February 11, 2008


By Donald Sensing

The End Of Life As We Know It continues to threaten.

In a burst of galactic violence recorded by astronomers in the US space agency's ground and space-based observatories, the black hole of a "death star" is seen shooting the jet of radiation into the adjacent galaxy, NASA said.

The jet is so powerful that it wipes out any life in its path.
First there was the supernova and galaxy-attack scenarios. Then the predicted return of the comet Genondahwayanung, which pretty much annihilated most life in North America when it came here the first time. And then the massive gas cloud speeding toward a collision with the Milky Way! Then we learn that the earth's atmosphere may detonate. And then the asteroids.

And now black hole death stars! I tell ya, every day I'm thinking I don't have a chance to get out this life alive.

The truth about Haditha

By Donald Sensing

A guest post by Thad Coakley, former Marine Corps judge advocate and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, including a tour with an infantry battalion in the Hit-Haditha Corridor of al-Anbar Province during which he was awarded the Combat Action Ribbon. He wrote a detailed account of another firefight here. His comments are made in his personal capacity and are not intended to represent any official statement by either the Marine Corps or the Department of Defense.

Publication of Time magazine's "One Morning in Haditha" (March 2006) thrust an otherwise nondescript Euphrates River town into the American, then international, consciousness. Those who have served in combat, more specifically with Marine battalions in Haditha or elsewhere in the al-Anbar Province, knew immediately that the article was based on many assumptions clearly questionable absent further corroboration. Buried deep within the article was the significant caveat: "The available evidence does not provide conclusive proof the Marines deliberately killed innocents."

But editorialized reporting of beliefs over facts gave the greater emphasis to seemingly unquestioned acceptance of murder allegations and a culpable U.S. military. Descriptors such as "execution," "massacre," and "cover-up" were guaranteed to seize and shape public interest. They did.

At the nadir of support for continuing American presence in Iraq, Time's report galvanized anyone then seeking justifications to end U.S. military efforts in that country. The pronouncements of some of these persons were unsurprising; others should have known better but simply put political gamesmanship over integrity and fairness.

Scant attention was paid to distilling real truth from allegation and innuendo or the principle of innocent until proven guilty. Circumspection was notably lacking from the likes of Representative Jack Murtha, D-Pa., himself a former Marine and sitting member of Congress who had briefly toured a Marine base in Haditha in 2005. Ignoring yet-to-be concluded inquiries and taking a colossal leap in logic that their acts somehow resulted from presidential mismanagement of the war, he repeatedly cited Time magazine to publicly damn the Marines as coldblooded murderers.

From such speciousness, Haditha has been used to presumptively establish U.S. military personnel and policy as inherently criminal. Based on Time's Haditha article and a few other substantiated and unsubstantiated incidents, false dispersions have been ignorantly cast before the world.

Seymour Hersh lectured college students that "there has never been an American army as violent and murderous as the one in Iraq." Films such as "Redacted" and "Battle for Haditha" sacrifice objectivity and accuracy for apparent agendas that, despite loosely claiming to be quasi-documentary or "based on real events," disregard context and consequence alike.

Purveyors of the myth that "baby-killing Marines are the result of Bush's war" immediately gave rise to the equally vociferous "kill 'em all and let Allah sort 'em out" crowd. Both practiced dismissive, biased advocacy lacking any appreciation of military procedure, counterinsurgency operations, and the ethical and moral training of Marines ---- not to mention actual knowledge of what really happened in Haditha.

More appropriately, the Marine Corps took the measured approach. Allegations were simply claims that needed further inquiry. If inquiry indicated evidence of misconduct in Haditha, those implicated should be given a fair hearing and, if found guilty, held accountable. If evidence of misconduct was insufficient or nonexistent, the Haditha Marines and officers should be fully exonerated.

More than two years since an IED (improvised explosive device) triggered this now-global event, investigations and hearings have exhaustively delved into what happened in Haditha. These processes have not been uncomplicated but in the main have greatly deflated the original hyperbole. Final determinations of the much-reduced misconduct allegations will be forthcoming in the four courts-martial to be convened.

Of all the allegations reported by Time and accepted by others, Haditha represents two distinct and separate issues arising from squad actions and command oversight. Two squad members are charged with causing the civilian deaths without attempting to distinguish between insurgents and innocent noncombatants. Two officers are charged with judgment failures in after-action reporting and inquiries. These independent events are a decidedly far cry from the furor raised by the initial avowals of deliberate execution and command cover-up.

Without knowing all that is to be presented by both the prosecution and the defense at the trials, a few conclusions and lessons are apparent from Haditha's aftermath:

Haditha is not a case of Marines carrying out purposeful murder by summary execution. The oft-made comparison between Haditha and My Lai is categorically unsupportable except by those who ignore the differences in mission, context, numbers, and manner of deaths in their zeal to define an atrocity in support of their views. The courts-martial will conclude whether the two Marine shooters made unreasonable judgments in responding to an initial attack, identifying hostile actors, and using appropriate force in self-defense.

Haditha is not an unveiling of widespread troop behavior or of any overall military policy or training purposefully dismissive of civilians. Considering the multitude of instantaneous life-and-death decisions made in Iraq, the U.S. military has exercised remarkable restraint and concern for the civilian populace ---- a key component of mission accomplishment in a counterinsurgency campaign.

The Washington Post's recent statistic ---- of all the allegations of service members related to Iraqi civilian deaths, only 69 have been charged with, and only 22 convicted, of murder, negligent homicide or voluntary manslaughter ---- reflects the American forces' commitment and level of professionalism in behavior, training and operation. Adjudicated misconduct is outside the norm and has been punished accordingly.

Haditha is not a debate platform for rashly criticizing the rules of engagement and what those rules "could" or "should" have been. The self-defense ROE in effect at the time are the authorities under which the two squad members' use of force will be evaluated. Because these ROE require judgment calls, they are subjectively applied. Only facts known to a Marine when he makes the decision to engage can be considered; those reviewing his actions must see the scene through his eyes at the time.

Even if a Marine was later shown to be mistaken, but reasonably perceived and engaged a hostile threat, his use of force is authorized under the ROE. This subjectivity inures to the benefit of the Marine and has already resulted in the dismissal of charges against Lance Cpl. Justin Sharratt, another Haditha squad member.

Haditha need not have a chilling effect on Marines' decisions to use force in self-defense. Where frustration or incidents such as Haditha are blamed for hesitation under fire, closer discussion reveals misunderstandings are caused by improper instruction and the vagaries inherent in counterinsurgency distinct operations. Clear guidance as to the authorizations ROE provide, training, experience and positive after-action reinforcement ensure confidence in ROE application. Commanders, small-unit leaders and individual operators use these methods on a constant basis, even before Haditha.

How might the incident have played out if only a few more questions had been asked at the time? What circumstances could have been identified, verified or refuted if determined at the time when evidence, memories and facts were fresh and available? Could all of the squad members have been fully exonerated as having acted with the ROE? Could charges of dereliction have been precluded? Would the chain of command have had information sufficient to belie the subsequent insinuations of cover-up?

We may never know the answers to those questions. While resolution has been prolonged by some initial oversight failures for which several senior officers, who gave this nation long and meritorious service, have been censored, the vast majority of Haditha's participants have been found to have acted reasonably under trying combat conditions. Exoneration or accountability for the remaining four Marines will be resolved by peer review. What will be said of those who pre-emptively rushed to judgment?

Written by Thad Coakley

Sunday, February 10, 2008

What's with the eyebrows?

By Donald Sensing

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams

The furor over Rowan WIlliams' statements that English common law will have to find a way to make accommodation with Islamic law, or sharia, has not much lessened. In fact,
The Archbishop of Canterbury is expected today to improvise a speech to the Church of England's 550-strong national assembly so he can directly address the furore sparked by his comments on sharia law.

Rowan Williams has torn up his original speech, choosing instead to respond to the criticism he has faced since raising the questions of the possible adoption of some aspects of Islamic law in Britain. Originally he was expected to speak about the political turmoil in Zimbabwe and the ordeal of Christians living under Robert Mugabe's regime. But officials advised last night that the intense media interest prompted by his speech last week should now be challenged head-on.
Well, okay, then. But what's with the eyebrows? The Rt. Rev. Williams has in the past commented that that he is well aware he is pretty hairy. In fact, he seems to have made his hirsute appearance his trademark. But man, those brows, they're downright creepy. He's grown them and groomed on purpose - you don't roll out of bed in the morning looking like that. That's a daily comb job. So what is he trying to communicate with such bizarre grooming? I don't know, but this is not the face of man who lives in the light.

Friday, February 8, 2008

100 Best Movie Soundtracks

By Donald Sensing

The UK Telegraph's list. And some of them can be downloaded.

UFOs over Britain - more sinister than you think

By Donald Sensing

The Telegraph reports that reports of UFO sightings over Britain have risen greatly. The Ministry of Defence...

... has opened up its own "X-Files" for 2007, revealing 135 UFO sightings from across the UK.

If aliens are choosing the UK as a holiday destination, it appears it is becoming more popular, as the number if sightings has shot up since 97 were reported in 2006.
Is something out there? Most of the story's commenters seem to think so.

But things could be much more ominous than you think. Reader Geoffrey commented,
Hopefully, they have the "Do not interfere with the locals" edict, but clearly they are not that bothered about being observed. Letting us know of their existence gently? Perhaps. They have been around our planet for at least 50 years & maybe far longer and have not yet destroyed us, so why worry? One last thought: Could they take on human form? Rowan Williams for instance?
Ah, yes, Rowan Williams, who is for some incomprehensible reason the Archbishop of Canterbury and thus head of the worldwide Anglican Communion. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this guy. From outer space. That explains a lot.

Boat racing improves cancer survivability

By Donald Sensing

Okay, this should probably be filed in "news of the weird" or something, but research shows that,

The best long-term therapy for breast cancer survivors might have nothing to do with doctors or self-help books, a health researcher at McGill University says. Her prescription? Dragon boat racing.

Breast cancer survivors who participated in dragon boat racing reported significantly improved physical and mental health and coped better with post-recovery trauma, according to a study conducted by Dr. Catherine Sabiston of McGill's Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education.
The article explains why there was such a salutary effect for the women, but omits what I imagine would be another: competition gives purpose. Many of the cancer patients I have ministered to devote their entire energies and life to battling the cancer - a completely understandable thing, I should add. But focusing on the illness does not, in itself, improve health.

Boat racing, especially as part of a team, gives another focus that is social in nature. "The physical activity itself and the women the participants met acted as a sort of buffer to the enduring stresses of cancer recovery," said a researcher. "They started to live their lives like athletes. It was extremely empowering."

The article also makes me think of concentration-camp survivor Viktor Frankl's psychiatric theory of logotherapy, which is based on the axiom that the fundamental drive of a human being is to find purpose and meaning in life. No matter the outer circumstances, Frankl wrote, the people who remain mentally healthy (and thus more healthy physically) are the ones who maintain control of their inner life. He explained how this related to surviving Nazi concentration camps in his 1946 book, Man's Search for Meaning, which has never gone out of print.

An example: Frankl pointed out that cigarettes in the camps were very hard to get and were almost never actually smoked. They were used as money. Guards and capos could be bribed with cigarettes. Bartering with other inmates was done with cigarettes. Frankl said that whenever he saw a prisoner actually smoking a cigarette, he knew that man would soon die. It was, Frankl wrote, the sign of a man who had given up all desire to live any more, who had shut the future out so completely that he saw no point in keeping cigarettes for barter any longer.

One of the deleterious effects cancer patient psychologically suffer is mentally to close off the future. A kind of fatalist determinism can set in easily. ISTM that what boat racing did for the breast-cancer patients was to give them a definite future: there is always another race coming up. The future is still real.

I shrink from claiming that any cancer patient can be helped by this or other, similar competitions. Some forms of cancer, as you well know, are so debilitating that this kind of athleticism is almost impossible. And if the cancer doesn't do it, the treatments often do. But the point, I think, is for those who care for them to help find ways that leave the future open and give the patient something definite to look forward to, even if it is only a short time away.

Quote of the day

By Donald Sensing

If all misfortunes were laid in one common heap whence everyone must take an equal portion, most people would be contented to take their own and depart. - Socrates

Thursday, February 7, 2008

The biofuels hoax, continued

By Donald Sensing

The siren song of biofuels continues to be exposed for the fool's panacea that it is. The WSJ reports,

While the U.S. and others race to expand the use and production of biofuels, a growing body of evidence suggests these gasoline alternatives actually will increase carbon-dioxide levels.

A study published in the latest issue of Science finds that corn-based ethanol, a type of biofuel pushed heavily in the U.S., will nearly double the output of greenhouse-gas emissions instead of reducing them by about one-fifth by some estimates. A separate paper in Science concludes that clearing native habitats to grow crops for biofuel generally will lead to more carbon emissions.
One previously-uncomputed factor is that the gold rush toward getting biofuel production up is causing massive clearing of formerly-unused land to grow biofuel stocks. Brazil, for example, has cleared so much land to grow sugarcane that it will be carbon negative for almost 20 more years.
Draining and clearing peatlands in Malaysia and Indonesia to grow palm oil throws so much CO2 into the air that palm biodiesel from those fields would have to be burned for more than 420 years to counteract it.
But we already knew a lot about the negative effects of biofuel production. Crop biofuels should be abandoned immediately.

Doubts and certainties

By Donald Sensing

If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts he shall end in certainties. - Sir Francis Bacon

"Climate is what you want . . .

By Donald Sensing

"... but weather is what you get." So observed Mark Twain. So what is the difference between weather and climate?

If a meteorological phenomenon can be used to support your political bias, it's climate, as in "climate change," which is always bad, no matter what the change is.

Otherwise, it's just weather.

Bob Krumm explains.

And here's another global warming update.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Two quotes to ponder for Lent

By Donald Sensing

Not long ago I made iGoogle my home page and customized its content. Two of the widgets I use are quotes of Aristotle and of C.S. Lewis. Here are today's:

Lewis: "Of all bad men religious bad men are the worst." Who can argue with that, reviewing events of the last seven years? Or reading the history of the European wars through the Thirty Years War?

Aristotle: "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit." This might be seen as an ancient way of putting the 12-Step aphorism that stupidity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Aristotle wrote at length on what made a person virtuous and what virtue was to begin with. He concluded that virtue is excellence made habitual.

Food for thought on this first day of the Lenten season.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Why do humans barter?

By Donald Sensing

A better question might be, why do only human beings barter? No other species except chimpanzees barter and even they barter differently than humans.

Despite the importance of this behavior, little is known about how barter evolved and developed.

This [linked] study is the first to examine the circumstances under which chimpanzees, our closest relatives, will exchange one inherently valuable commodity (an apple slice) for another (a grape), which is what early humans must have somehow learned to do. Economists believe that commodity barter is one of the most basic precursors to economic specialization, which we observe in humans but not in other primate species. First of all, the researchers found that chimpanzees often did not spontaneously barter food items, but needed to be trained to engage in commodity barter. Moreover, even after the chimpanzees had been trained to do barters with reliable human trading partners, they were reluctant to engage in extreme deals in which a very good commodity (apple slices) had to be sacrificed in order to get an even more preferred commodity (grapes).

The study's authors pointed out that chimps in the wild do barter services, such as grooming. Bartering means making agreements to exchange services that leave both parties better off than before. But chimps in the wild never barter commodities, or physical objects. Even in the labs, it was difficult to get chimps to barter commdities.

One reason ascribed to the lack of commodity bartering among chimps was that chimp societies never evolved concepts of private property or social rules governing property. While chimps in the wild do possess property, there is no social sanction for what humans call theft. A thieving chimp who succeeds in the theft takes possession of the item and that's that. If the original owner wants it back, he has to steal it back. There is no other chimp to appeal to for redress. Furthermore, a chimp possesses property only when actually in physical possession thereof. Once he drops it from his grasp, it's back "in the wild" and is anyone's to take.

So for human beings to have evolved commodity bartering means that a social sense of property had to precede it, at least enough for there to be social sanctions against theft and social punishment of a thief. That in turn meant that a sense of enduring possession had to develop in human societies, the social understanding that someone's property remained his property even if was stored or cached somewhere. (Chimps do not store property.)

That social understanding in turn required a moral sense that could ponder hypothetical possibilities - "what if" scenarios, that is: If someones steals another's property, what shall be done about it? So human beings had to be able to think abstractly, together, about the future. Commodity bartering actually requires this ability anyway because by its nature, exchanging commodities requires forecasting future value. Even the chimps swapping apples for grapes have to do this, although their "event horizon" is mere seconds into the future rather than hours, days or longer. One might argue that the chimps didn't actually forecast future value at all but were driven solely by appetite for a sweet tooth.

Along with a moral code that could abstract into the future, a prototype of what we call case law had to be developed, too, another form of abstraction, this looking backward rather than forward. For a moral code, if not wholly capricious (and thus not a code at all), has to be consistent and rely on precedent. It must be based on common, social assent to an understood standard. We have no problem with this idea, but this system is found in no other species on earth. So why did it develop in humanity?

We are faced with a chicken and egg problem, of course. Did the development of property rights and concepts precede the development of socially-enforced moral codes with abstract reasoning, or vice versa? Or did they grow and reinforce each other together? How dependent were they on the evolution of higher intelligence in the genus homo? And in what way did they precede - or result from - the rudiments of civilization?

One thing seems sure: without systems of commodity bartering, civilization could never moved beyond the most elementary level, if even that could have been developed. For, as the study's authors point out, without bartering there is no specialization of labor. Service bartering does not require enough specialization to make civilization possible - in fact, among chimps it requires no specialization at all.

Measured by one method, chimps and humans are alike in ~99 percent of our genetic code; measured by another we are 95 percent alike. Either way, the development by humans of commodity bartering, and all the social systems required to support it, make for a difference of results much larger than one or a few percentage points would indicate.

The decline of the West

By Donald Sensing

One-fourth of Britons think that Winston Churchill is a mythical character and well more than half think that Sherlock Holmes was real. Read it and weep.

Israel's spasm, not strategy

By Donald Sensing

I wrote in July 2006, when the Israel-Lebanon war still raged, that it was becoming apparent that Israel's war against Hezbollah was a spasm, not a strategy. Now former Israeli army officer and blogger Yoni Tidi analyzes Israel's Winograd Report thus:

This is it in a nut shell, the real problem.

No consideration by either the political or the top leadership of the IDF as to if a 60 hour ground war could contribute anything meaningful to the goals of the military operations. In short Olmert, Peretz and Halutz just put our kids at risk with no plan or thought as to what they were doing.
Yoni also points out that Israeli intelligence says that,
... high quality weaponry, including anti-aircraft missiles, rockets, and anti-tank missiles, was smuggled into Gaza through breached border with Egypt.

Considerable amounts of high quality weaponry were smuggled into Gaza through the breached border with Egypt along the Philadelphi rout, Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin stated during a cabinet security briefing Sunday.
Not coincidentally, Israelis have been told to prepare 'rocket rooms' for war.
Retired senior officers told Israelis on Saturday to prepare "rocket rooms" as protection against a rain of missiles expected to be fired at the Jewish state in any future conflict.

Speaking on radio as part of a military propaganda offensive, retired general Udi Shani said: "The next war will see a massive use of ballistic weapons against the whole of Israeli territory."

Sunday, February 3, 2008

A Youtube for documents

By Donald Sensing

Reader David Schwartz of Framingham, Mass., emails,

In your post about the Marines ad, which I loved despite coming from an antiwar lefty family, you complained about not be able to put pdf files on Blogger. I found a site that will host pdf files and you can hot link them to your blogger site. It's

It works great and I use to store document for my classroom. I teach science. You can also store documents privately. Here is an example of how I use it:

Scribd has unlimited free storage and no ads and converts documents to different formats. It has a view-full-screen setting and you can print from their interface. It is kind of a Youtube for documents. In fact with the privacy settings, it has the ability to take files in these formats:

Microsoft Office
doc, ppt, pps, xls
pdf, ps
Open Office
odt, odp, sxw, sxi, etc.
jpg, jpeg, png, gif
txt, rtf

Why would you restrict your docs to your computer when you can also store them in the cloud computer of the future? Have them available anywhere and shareable if you want.
This is a very useful site. Thank you, David, for the pointer.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Blue-eyed people have more kids

By Donald Sensing

That's the concluding statement in a Live Science story of how genetic researchers have determined that all bliue-eyed people in the world share a single ancestor who lived between 6,000-10,000 years ago.

"Originally, we all had brown eyes," said Hans Eiberg from the Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine at the University of Copenhagen.

The mutation affected the so-called OCA2 gene, which is involved in the production of melanin, the pigment that gives color to our hair, eyes and skin.

"A genetic mutation affecting the OCA2 gene in our chromosomes resulted in the creation of a 'switch,' which literally 'turned off' the ability to produce brown eyes," Eiberg said. ...

"From this we can conclude that all blue-eyed individuals are linked to the same ancestor," Eiberg said. "They have all inherited the same switch at exactly the same spot in their DNA." Eiberg and his colleagues detailed their study in the Jan. 3 online edition of the journal Human Genetics.

That genetic switch somehow spread throughout Europe and now other parts of the world.

"The question really is, 'Why did we go from having nobody on Earth with blue eyes 10,000 years ago to having 20 or 40 percent of Europeans having blue eyes now?" Hawks said. "This gene does something good for people. It makes them have more kids."
I have blue eyes. My wife has blue eyes. All (NB: not "both") of our kids have blue eyes. We're taking over.

Friday, February 1, 2008

"They don't value life like we do"

By Donald Sensing

I think it started during World War II, once the brutality of the Japanese army became known. It was the claim that, "they don't value life like we do." Not only the mass murders committed by the Imperial Japanese Army induced this observation, so did the mystifying willingness of Japanese commanders to send their troops to certain death in banzai charges. So did the willingness of ordinary Japanese soldiers to die as did their habit of committing suicide in often-gruesome ways rather than submit to capture.

At the time, the statement seemed nothing more than an empirically-verifiable fact. It was true that Bushido-driven Japan, with its cult of a divine emperor, valued human life differently than the Enlightenment-nourished West.

Before long, it was also claimed about North Korean communists that they don't value life like we do, again as witness to the North Korean invasion of the south and the brutalities inflicted upon the south's people. Considering the tragic state of life in North Korea today, and the tens of millions killed or perished from starvation there, I'd have to say it's still true, for the communist power holders, anyway.

The claim was repeated by some during the Vietnam War, but before war's end, "they don't value life like we do" had become a club of America's intellectual Left with which to beat the military-industrial complex. It was later used to derisive effect in Stanley Kubrick's 1987 Vietnam movie, Full Metal Jacket, uttered by a one-dimensional Marine colonel who sees the war as an extension of America's Manifest Destiny.

In September 2002, President Bush said in a speech in Arizona, referring to al Qaeda:

These people don't have tanks, they don't have ships. They've got hate. These leaders are the ones that hide in caves, or the dark recesses of some cities, and the send youngsters to their suicidal death. These are the folks who hijacked a great religion, and take innocent life without any hesitation. See, they don't value life like we do. In America, everybody counts. Every life has worth, every life is precious. That's not the way the enemy thinks. The enemy doesn't care. They've got these designs on America, because we love freedom.
Needless to say, he came under attack from other quarters for that. I'll not enter into that debate. I'll only point out what just happened Baghdad, as reported by CNN:
BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Two mentally disabled women were strapped with explosives Friday and sent into busy Baghdad markets, where they were blown up by remote control, a top Iraqi government official said.

The bombs killed at least 98 people and wounded more than 200 at two popular pet markets on the holiest day of the week for Muslims, authorities said.

In both bombings, the attackers were mentally disabled women whose explosive belts were remotely detonated, Gen. Qasim Atta, spokesman for Baghdad's security plan, told state television. ...

"By targeting innocent Iraqis, they show their true demonic character," said Lt. Col. Steve Stover, spokesman for the Multi-National Division-Baghdad.

"They care nothing for the Iraqi people; they want to subjugate them and forcefully create a greater Islamic sharia state," he said, referring to Islamic law.
Did you get that? The terrorists sent mentally-disabled women, wearing explosive belts or vests, into pet markets where the terrorists blew the bombs by remote control, indiscriminately killing as many innocent victims as they could - young or old, men, women, children, doesn't matter. Kill them all.

Anyone care to argue with the proposition that al Qaeda does not value life like we do? Anyone wish to deny that al Qaeda would do the same thing here in American if they could?

And what has al Qaeda wrought with this kind of unspeakable brutality? A police chief in a small city in Iraq's Anbar province put it this way after Anbar had suffered through similar brutalities at al Qaeda's hands:
"In 2002 and 2003, we thought Al Qaeda was just another Muslim group. Now, you can go far out into the desert and talk to even a shepherd, and he will tell you that he hates Al Qaeda. One hundred years from now, you will be able to go into the desert and talk to a shepherd and he will still tell you that he hates Al Qaeda."
I told Norman Geras back in 2004 (when he ran a Normblog profile on me):
Q: What do you consider to be the main threat to the future peace and security of the world?
A: At present, Islamist absolutism potentially armed with atomic weapons.
So say I still. For these enemies, brutality and mass murder are not means to an objective. They are the objective.


By Donald Sensing

The End of Life as We Know It looms yet again.

First there was the supernova and galactic-attack scenarios. Then the predicted return of the comet Genondahwayanung, which pretty much annihilated most life in North America when it came here the first time. And then the massive gas cloud speeding toward a collision with the Milky Way! Then we learn that the earth's atmosphere may detonate.

And as if a comet strike wasn't enough, now we have to worry about asteroids:

ScienceDaily (Jan. 30, 2008) — Earth dodged a bullet today, when asteroid TU24 passed within 540,000 kilometers of our planet, which is just down the street on a galactic scale. Tomorrow, another asteroid – 2007 WD5 – will zip past Mars at a distance of only 26,000 kilometers away. Will we dodge the bullet the next time a near-Earth object (NEO) hurtles dangerously close to our home planet?

To mark the 100th anniversary of the Tunguska event, when an exploding asteroid leveled 2000 square kilometers of Siberian forest, The Planetary Society today kicked off a year-long focus on Target Earth. The asteroid believed responsible for the cataclysm on June 30, 1908 became a fireball from the sky and knocked pine trees over like matchsticks near the Podkamennaya Tunguska River in Russia. Such an explosion today over more populated areas could lay waste an entire city.

“The solar system is a busy place,” said Louis Friedman, Executive Director of The Planetary Society. “In fact, we live in a dangerous neighborhood, and keeping track of NEOs is like organizing a Neighborhood Watch in our corner of space.”
As Gerard Van Der Leun has said, "I tell you if this keeps up, sooner or later every single person alive on the Earth today is going to be dead, dead, dead!"