Sunday, March 29, 2009

Was there a gun sitting on the table?

The Obama administration pushes GM's CEO out the door. Why couldn't this have been done with a formal bankruptcy procedure, again?

Friday, March 27, 2009

Human Achievement Hour and Wikipedia politics

Liberal Wikipedia editors are at it again. This time, they're repeatedly deleting an article about Human Achievement Hour, the pro-Man counterpoint to the so-called "Earth Hour." This is the kind of thing that keeps me from letting my students cite Wikipedia as a source. Since I looked it up, it's been deleted, while I had the page open.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

NewScientist goes for tabloid science. Again.

Then again, maybe the National Academy of Sciences is going tabloid, too. This whole disaster scenario for a coronal mass ejection hitting the earth is just 'way over the top. I'll summarize: the electrical lines could go down and take a while to repair. Apparently, that will cause millions of people to die, and the survivors will turn to cannibalism and living in caves. OK, kidding about the cannibalism part, but they actually do claim "millions" of deaths in the US, only because the power's off.

Have these people never heard of back-up generators? Yes, there'd be a hot market for them, and you'd get a lot of selling out, but this solution already exists. Do no key businesses have backup generators for power? Oh, sure, they admit this, but they think that the fuel will run out in hours and can't be replaced, because the gas stations won't have power to pump it out of the tanks. Uh-huh. And there's no way for them to get it out of the ground? None of them could buy backup generators, for instance?

Sheesh! The tunnel vision of the NAS seems designed to create hype. Yes, we need to be conscious of design flaws in our power lines and work those out, but the "Millions dead!" scenario just isn't going to happen.

The Europeanization of America

Cliff May has an article on Charles Murray's AEI speech on the Europeanization of America, up at NRO. I haven't read it yet, but I read several Corner posts about Murray's speech, and it's gotten me thinking again about something I've had in the back of my head for several years. I've got a copy of I'll Take My Stand, the literary and cultural manifesto of the early 20th century Southern movements known as the Agrarians and Fugitives. It's a great book in general, but there's one essay in particular that's puzzled me for years. Now, without going and looking it up (lazy), I don't remember who wrote it. But the author notes a cultural kinship between Southerners and Europeans, simultaneously contrasting us culturally with the Yankees.

The latter part is obvious and uncontroversial to me. But the former? I've never quite gotten it. Partly, I think, it's that I'm thinking of the mid-late 20th century Western Europe, which had by my time fallen into decay, destroyed any history of individualism, religiosity, or self-reliance, and developed an infantile dependence on the State. All of which are antithetical to Southern culture. So I've had trouble getting into the mind of the author and seeing European life as it might have been in the late 19th century, the immediate background to his experience.

I'll write more on this later, if I think about it. In the meantime, I'm finishing up a research paper and an observing proposal this week.

New gold rush in California

It's estimated that 80% of the gold from the 1849 rush was never found, so with the price 'way up, people are panning for it again. Neat!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Transnational Progressives are heading to the State Dept

"...Yale Law School Dean Harold Koh to be the Legal Advisor to the U.S. State Department."

Koh chastises the US for failing to “obey global norms.”America, Koh tells us, “promotes double standards” by refusing to ratify the International Criminal Court treaty; “claiming a Second Amendment exclusion from a proposed global ban on the illicit transfer of small arms and light weapons”; and “declining to implement the orders of the International Court of Justice with regard to the death penalty.”

Oh, joy.


U.S. Seeks Expanded Power to Seize Firms

This is sounding very early-20th-century to me. I know these guys think they're doing what's necessary, but...

Monday, March 23, 2009

Obama's push for regulation of executive pay

From the IHT.

One thing I haven't had explained clearly to me about these limits on executive pay written into the "stimulus" bill: are they permanent? I mean, it's generally described in the news reports that banks that took stimulus money are limited to such-and-such on executive pay. Well, for how long? Until (if?) they pay the money back? (Do they have to pay this back at all?) Or is it forever and ever? In which case, that's a brilliantly evil scheme to regulate anything and everything a politician wants to do: offer somebody money, and if they take it, they have to submit to all of your plans on how to remake society, forever. You could make them stand on their heads and whistle the Star Spangled Banner every Tuesday at 3:00, if you wanted to. If paying it back doesn't get them out from under your thumb, you've just vastly increased the power of the Federal Government forever, for practically nothing.

Forgive me for asking such a dumb question, but where does it say in the Constitution that you can regulate executive pay? Is that an interstate transaction? Does the executive work in a different state from his company? (Even then, I'm not sure that would be "commerce," in the way the authors of the Constitution used the word.) Sigh.

Friday, March 20, 2009

I'm not one hitting the panic button...

...but this column on the Fed's monetizing the debt has me worried. Maybe Glenn Beck has been right, and I'm going to hide out in a fallout shelter with bags of gold coins, waiting for the apocalypse.

Blow-back against a 90% from both sides of the Atlantic

The Financial Times has a bunch of choice quotations to support the story. I hope Congress starts to get the message and kills this bill entirely.

Mona Charen on the AIG bonuses

Amen, Mona. I have a recurring fantasy that one of these guys who's called to testify before Congress and getting berated by a Congressman will stop the gentlemanly self-abasement and tell those Congressmen exactly what he thinks of their self-important grandstanding. I've got a particular script I'd like AIG's Liddy to read out to Barney Frank. It includes phrases like "corrupt little satrap" and "I'll be d***ed if I give you these names." For Frank to demand a list of names that he can publicize is outrageous, especially in light of the death threats against these officials and their children. And for Frank to say that he wouldn't be bound by any confidentiality agreement if Liddy did turn them over, death threats or not!

Schumer is my least-favorite senator, and I reckon Frank is fast becoming my least favorite congressman.

Evidence that Congress is run by would-be Soviet commissars

This is socialist, and I don't see how that can be explained away. Shame on the half of Republicans who voted for it. I actually wish they'd made it a 100% tax, just to have the lines even more clearly drawn.

A question: would a 100% tax violate any part of the Constitution? What about a 101% tax? I'm not saying it does; I'm just curious if there'd be anything legal to stop them. The more I think about it, the more I'm intrigued by the concept of a >100% tax on income...well, "intrigued" in the same sense that a biologist can be intrigued by ebola. Fascinatingly horrible.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Great line from Lileks

In the Bleat today:

...sometimes I suspect many people in the news business are temperamentally predisposed to miserabilism, because the idea of an unjust world run by monied smileys explains why the cheerleader turned them down for a date in high school.

I was just going to quote his word "miserabilism," which I think is fantastic, but the rest of the sentence turned out to be too good to pass up.

Is getting the state out of marriage a good idea?

Nope, says Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse in The Public Discourse. (Link via Maggie Gallagher at The Corner) I've been reading about this idea on some libertarian blogs; they're naturally more amenable to the idea. But Dr. Morse points out how, even on libertarian standards, it would likely make things worse.

From a conservative standpoint, there's the obvious objection that it would overturn what is certainly hundreds (longer?) of years' worth of custom in a very short time. That's a radical change for causes that may themselves change in a few decades.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Jeff Goldstein on language and politics

Jeff Goldstein posts a good essay at Hot Air about the use of language and authorial intent in the context of politics. It's about the Rush Limbaugh "controversy" (I cringe even writing the word--there shouldn't be any controversy at all), but it's widely applicable. Although he doesn't use the phrase, he is arguing against a component of post-modernism. The idea that the author's intent is irrelevant in interpreting a "text" is a hallmark of this movement against logic and reason. It's also self-refuting, of course: where did those post-modernists learn the idea that a text can mean whatever you want it to? Wasn't it written down somewhere, or otherwise communicated to them? He correctly identifies it as a plague of literary criticism today, but it's metastasized and spread into other areas of life, like political discussions.

Read the article--it's very useful.

Monday, March 09, 2009

A little progress on quantum reality

I haven't read this yet but just saw John Derbyshire's discussion in The Corner today. I'm intrigued, especially since I've been getting into the philosophical issues of quantum mechanics (QM) and of general relativity lately.

I did particle physics for a couple of years in grad school, so I've had to work out the mathematics of this subject. The math--and the physical results--are straightforward enough. The debate comes in how we put them into a larger sense of reality. What is our metaphysical context for these? The Copenhagen interpretation--the pretty-much standard philosophy of QM--says that all possible outcomes of a QM experiment exist until the system is measured. That "collapses the wavefunction," forcing a single outcome to become physically real. But the Copenhagen interpretation leaves open the problem of what, exactly, constitutes a "measurement," what is the role, if any, of the observer, and so on. So some serious physicists I know personally have expressed dissatisfaction with it, and they hope that a new philosophical interpretation will come out.

Read the article for yourself. Nature gets weird down at that level. But as my wife just said, "Isn't that why physics is so fun?"

New book by a friend

A friend of mine has had a new book published. She's edited a collection of non-fiction essays on mother-daughter relationships, and it has a good review in the new Publisher's Weekly. Scroll down to Because I Love Her.

Best of luck on the book!

The progress on Loop Quantum Gravity

An article explaining how one theory of quantum gravity is making some progress. I don't understand all the details, but we've had a lecture from Fotini Markopoulou Kalamara of Canada's Perimeter Institute on the subject (in 2003), and she did a nice job explaining it, even to a lay audience.

I had one of my undergrad students try out a research project to look for the effects of quantized spacetime--the speed of light would vary by wavelength. He sorted through gamma ray burst data from the Swift observatory and looked for delays of short wavelengths relative to long ones, as a function of redshift. Of course, he didn't find any (as we expected), but it was a fun proof-of-concept project.

Friday, March 06, 2009

NYT map of unemployment rates

This is really interesting. Especially when I find out that West Virginia, of all places, has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country. Defies the stereotypes, doesn't it? The county we live in is comparable in that way to the wealthy D.C. suburbs, except that unemployment here is not on the rise, the way it is there. Great!

Thursday, March 05, 2009

A good line on Chas Freeman

Following up from my previous post:

Politico's James Kirchick makes a good point about Chas Freeman. Freeman brags about having published Walt & Mearsheimer's "The Israel Lobby" in Saudi Arabia. Recall that the book is big into the conspiracy-theory field of Jewish influence on US policy. An attitude that Israel's supporters are probably disloyal to the US, etc.

Freeman has been in an institution funded by the Saudis and fawns over them. Now we find out about this connection to a Chinese government company, and he complains the Chinese weren't tough enough on democracy activists.

In that context:
A man who for a decade presided over a front group for a theocratic kleptocracy and who believes the title of “king” isn’t sufficient for the fat oil baron who rules that benighted land should pause before endorsing a work that questions the loyalty of others.

Good point.

Obama's NIC chairman nominee finally gets checked out...

Commentary's Jennifer Rubin reports that Chas Freeman is getting a serious look by the Inspector General. I wouldn't have known that he'd been suspected of not filing some disclosure forms, but what I did know about him was bad enough. For all the anti-Israel talk, it's sadly just what I expect out of these people, and I was prepared for it. What really shocked me were his comments about the Chinese communist government--that they didn't crack down early enough and hard enough on the democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

What is an apologist for totalitarianism--and someone explicitly against a democracy movement--doing in our government?!

Well, now it turns out he's "tied to" the China National Offshore Oil Corporation--owned by the Chinese government. We already knew he was involved in a Saudi-funded organization. So what does Obama do now?

Oh, come on! (part 2)

West Virginia Democrat wants to outlaw Barbie dolls. Sends the wrong message to young girls and such. Yes, it will get laughed out of our legislature, but why do these people even need to suggest these things? (Via Lileks)

Why did Obama get more Catholic support than Kerry?

The Wall Street Journal has an interesting analysis.

Next vacation, why not rent out a castle?

OK, now this is cool: The Landmark Trust rents out historic homes and castles in Great Britain and Italy (and a few in the US) (Homes, that is. Not castles.)

Just read an article in the WSJ about staying in one of Palladio's villas in Italy through the Landmark Trust. Since I've been reading up on Thomas Jefferson's architecture, that caught my eye. Jefferson was largely inspired by Palladio.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Charles Krauthammer on Obama and diplomacy

Wow. Krathammer doesn't spare Obama the blunt terms:

On President Obama’s secret letter to Russian president, Dmitri Medvedev proposing a deal on missile defense:

This is smart diplomacy? This is a debacle. The Russians dismissed it contemptuously.

Look, if we could get the Iranian nuclear program stopped with Russian's helping us in return for selling out the Poles and the Czechs on missile defense, I'm enough of a cynic and a realist to say we would do it the same way that Kissinger agreed to delegitimize and de-recognize Taiwan in return for a large strategic opening with China.

But Kissinger had it done. He had it wired. What happened here is it was leaked. The Russians have dismissed it. We end up being humiliated. We look weak in front of the Iranians, and we have left the Poles and Czechs out to dry in return for nothing.

The Czechs and the Poles went out on a limb, exposed themselves to Russian pressure, and we have shown that Eastern Europe is not as sovereign as it appears if the Russian influence is there, and we will acquiesce in what they consider their own sphere of influence.

This administration has prided itself, flattered itself on deploying smart diplomacy. "Smart diplomacy" is a meaningless idea, but if it has any meaning at all, it is not ever doing something as humiliating, amateurish, and stupid as this.