Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Crash Test Ratings

According to Autoblog, two Virginia Commonwealth University professors compared crash test ratings from NHTSA and IIHS to determine whether a highly rated car actually changes the likelihood of an accident related death. Long story short, if you drive a car then paying attention to the crash statistics is a good thing. If you drive a truck or SUV, you can just ignore them because the curve is flat. Interesting. So if you want to go cheap, get a truck.

Atheist Politicians

Hube is reporting that politically inclined atheists have a tough road ahead of them. I've been mulling this over in my head for a while. I'm obviously biased towards theists, but why?

Honestly, I think it has to do with understanding how people think. There are plenty of atheists that I could get behind. Kim and Connie du Toit are atheists, but they're good folks who "get it." Their values are closer to my own than those of a typical theological or political liberal. And they strongly believe in keeping the government out of my business. That goes a long way towards easing any concerns I have about the effect of atheism on public policy. But I read Kim and Connie's stuff every day so I know how they think and is a lot like how I think. While it works for them, it wouldn't work for me.

I realize that if I were to put God on my own mental chopping block, it would have wide ranging effects on everything else I believe. For instance, how do you believe in transcendent absolute truths (like freedom, morality, good, evil, etc.) without a diety. Why should random universe have fundamental moral truths? I know it can be done, but it is still a serious philosophical question for me. If there is no God, what meaningful metric determines right or wrong. Anything you choose will pale in comparison. Why should there even be fundamental transcendent truths without a transcendent diety to bring them about? Are they just philosophical abstractions then? If so why the hell should I live my life according to a philosophical abstraction? How far do you let the skepticism run?

These are big questions and I don't have good answers to them without God in the picture. In my experience many atheists either ignore or are ignorant of these sorts of things. Or they simply solve them by establishing important fundamental principles axiomatically. Neither works for me, so that explains why I'm a theist.

Like Hube, I wouldn't vote against someone just because they were an atheist. I'm not a one issue voter. But given a choice between an atheist and a theist with similar qualifications and policy stances, I'll probably vote for the theist. In most major primaries, I bet I'll have that choice.

UPDATE: Paul Smith chimes in over at his blog. He brings concepts like Natural Law to the table as a good Catholic should.

Ralph S. Mouse

When I imagine comic strips making Beverly Cleary references, I don't usually picture them being quite so profane.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Workplace Hijinks

Can you tell that a coworker really isn't paying attention to you?

When you ask him to do something and he responds with "Yes, Dear."

Fun with Paper

Via Makeblog, the colored paper artistry of Jen Stark.

D&D Wiki

I was previously aware of, which has the System Reference Documentation (SRD) archived for D&D. After a search on Wikipedia, I also ran across the D&D Wiki which houses SRD information on both D&D D20 and D20 Modern.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Financial Planning

Amy and I are preparing to buy a house. We have enough of a down payment that we can make a purchase (although not as much as we want) but right now we're looking towards finding the right house and the right mortgage deal.

As part of the planning process I used an Excel spreadsheet to examine my options. I like the hard numbers that the spreadsheet gives me. If you're more of a pictures person, then a graphical tool can also a be found on the web.

Since we aren't going to have a 20% downpayment, I'm spending most of my time weighing different downpayment sizes and the impact of mortgage insurance vs. a second loan. Now that mortgage insurance is tax deductible, it is giving the second loan a good run for its money.

UPDATE: Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI) is treated as a form of interest as of Jan 1, 2007. This means PMI is now tax deductable on 2007 returns, but it is not deductable on 2006 returns. Unfortunately this change in tax rules also expires at the end of 2007, so there is no knowing whether it will be deductable in 2008 or not.

Stupid Stupid John Edwards

McQ is shaking his head at remarks like these:
"The money is either there or it's not there from the tax cuts," said Edwards. "And right now those tax cuts exist. So I think it can be used as a revenue stream for now. If we have to make alterations or find other revenue streams, we'll do it."
Or in other words, "I want to propose sweeping new entitlements and I have no idea how I will pay for them."

We're at the start of what may be the largest mass retirement in US history. As the Boomers retire they're all going to start drawing money from the federal entitlement programs that are already present. We're talking about a massive increase in entitlement spending. I have no idea where that money is going to come from. Now if we don't have the money to pay for those entitlements why do you want to add more? Get some priorities dammit!

The issues shaping my vote for President seem to be coming together though. I won't vote for anyone who supports gun control. I won't support anyone who wants to enact new entitlements with new taxes. I don't care if I'm not paying them. If you can restructure our current program to get what you want (as they did in Massachusetts) then alright. But I'm not paying you another dime.

Unfortunately it looks like the number of candidates meeting these criteria will be pretty slim.

Bridge to Terabithia

I occurs to me that I have actually read this book. Unfortunately I was in elementary school so I've forgotten most of it. What I do remember is that the book isn't so much about a fantasy world as dealing with loss. According to this review, the movie didn't get it.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

In the Spirit of Mystery Men

People with ordinary but unusual abilities. Like the girl who can put her whole fist in her mouth. Mutant freaks.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The British Space Program

The guys at Top Gear attempt to top Moonraker with an orbiter made from an old Reliant. I personally liked the use of Bond music from Thunderball. How very British.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Broken Courts Breaking Contracts

Via QandO and Coyoteblog:
First, Mississippi regulated flood insurance rates down to a level that it was impossible to make money, so State Farm's property coverage on the coast did not cover flood/storm damage. Then, after Katrina, Dickie Scruggs and company sued State Farm, and others, forcing them to cover storm damage from Katrina that their policies explicitly did not cover and were not priced to cover. So, facing a state government that, by fiat, forces their fees lower and their coverage higher, State Farm is trying to exit the property insurance business in Mississippi, and the state legislature is considering legislation to prevent them from leaving.
So we have a bad court decision (people need money, insurance companies have money, who cares about justice?) potentially followed by bad legislation. The proposed legislation would require all auto insurers in the state to also write homeowners policies. If this passes then State Farm (and most other insurers) will weight their options and probably leave the state entirely. What then? My guess is that the state will come to its senses or, if not, will socialize a large part of the insurance system. So they'll create an even bigger mess.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Satellite Radio Merger

Amy has wanted satellite radio for a while. Every time we got to Best Buy or Circuit City, she spends some time gazing longingly at the various setups. XM has cheaper units, but Sirius has the content she wants. Now Sirius and XM are merging and she's happy. We'll wait a bit and see what happens, but hopefully the end result will be XMs cheap technology and Sirius's quality content.

Stuck His Keyboard in His Mouth and Pulled the Trigger

That is how Tamara described Outdoor Life editor Jim Zumbo when he ended his career rather suddenly over the weekend.

Zumbo wrote a blog post Friday night savaging the AR and AK variant rifles as "terrorist weapons" whose owners should be excluded from the brotherhood of gentleman hunters. Despite his status in the august pantheon of hunting journalists, he was apparently unaware that the AR-15 is a very popular varmint hunting gun and the SKS is the .30-30 lever-gun of the current hunting generation. Hunters and 2nd Amendment advocates were up in arms almost instantaneously. Opinion pieces on his original post (which has since been taken down) are available from Tamara, LawDog, Kim du Toit, and Geek with a .45. By the end of the weekend, Zumbo had lost his Remington sponsorship and had issued a poor apology.

I'm really proud of Remington on this one. While Remington makes the model 700, probably the world's premiere bolt-action sniper rifle, they don't actually make any assault weapons. Now they are bringing their tactical line of products up for sale to the general populace just to shore up their reputation. You have to wonder if Congress will notice all this, what with the new Assault Weapons Ban renewal appearing in the House Judiciary Committee last week.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Joining Zworykin

Robert Adler, inventor of the remote control, died Thursday at the age of 93. I intend to pay tribute to his memory by sitting on my butt all day and utilizing his invention to its fullest extent.

Chavez Has Trouble

Daniel Drezner notes that the Venezuelan economy is hitting a rough patch.
Entering a supermarket here is a bizarre experience. Shelves are fully stocked with Scotch whiskey, Argentine wines and imported cheeses like brie and Camembert, but basic staples like black beans and desirable cuts of beef like sirloin are often absent. Customers, even those in the government’s own Mercal chain of subsidized grocery stores, are left with choices like pork neck bones, rabbit and unusual cuts of lamb.
Indigenously produced dietary staples are undergoing shortages? If only someone had seen this coming.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Bad Movies

Peter Suderman is calling Ghost Rider "worse than Daredevil" over at National Review Online. I actually liked Daredevil. It was no Spiderman, but it was a fun hollywood style comic book movie. I think a better choice might have been "Ghost Rider, the next Spawn." Lord knows that's what I thought every time I saw one of the trailers.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Christianity and Killing

John the Methodist has an excellent linguistic look at the proper translation of the 6th commandment. Is it "You shall not kill" or "You shall not murder?" John chose the latter (as do I) and backs it up well.

John is also hosting a discussion on whether it is appropriate for Christians to support capital punishment. I really don't have time to write a full dissertation on the subject, but suffice it to say that I don't have a spiritual problem with capital punishment.

Look, God himself directly proscribed capital punishment for any number of crimes in the Old Testament. God's nature is eternal. It can't be absolutely morally wrong now, if God built a whole legal system on it then. That doesn't work theologically. "The coming of Jesus changed everything" doesn't work for me either. I've read the letter to the churches in Revelations too many times to see Jesus as the eternal doormat of love.

That said, I think there are very good and practical reasons to oppose capital punishment. I understand why people would prefer life imprisonment based on the cost to benefit ratio to society. I'm also concerned with the amount of circumstantial evidence that is used in modern murder cases. All those concerns aside, I still want to fry Mumia.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Deep in the Heart of Dixie

You may have noticed that blogging is light. That's because I've been out of town since Monday and won't get back to Delaware until sometime tomorrow night.

The local cuisine 'round here is interesting y'all. The locals tastes run along the same lines as Londoners, i.e. the best meals are from ethnic joints. I've had some great Mexican food, some decent sushi (made by Koreans of course), and of course there was the local Chinese buffet. But they all remembered they were in the South and the default "tea" was actually sweet tea.

I was expecting there to be a good southern establishment that served nothing but barely cooked hunks of dripping red meat. Mmm... No such luck though, evidently the best of those sold out a while back. Strange.

It's also plenty cold down here. It's gotten above freezing, unlike at home, but not enough that standing outside for hours at a time (like I've been doing) is fun. And I left most of my heavy winter stuff at home. Oops.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Christian and Conservative

Does one imply the other or are the two contradictory? That is what Alan at the Thinklings is examining.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Getting Rid of the Middle Man

Joan and Sandmonkey (an Egyptian Muslim) had a bit of a conversation on comparative religion. It gave rise to this comment by a reader:
Most of the severe ills of organized religion would fade away if only we could convince people to seek out God's counsel directly instead of going through some sleazy middle-man who's trying to appropriate God's power for himself...
It seems to me that there a lot of truth to that statement. At the risk of a false dichotomy, there are basically two kinds of people who ask spiritual questions. The first has studied their question and thought about it a lot, but can't come to a conclusion. The second just wants someone to tell them what to think. Unfortunately while the latter is intellectually lazy, it is also quite common.

If you can't tell, I like guns. One of the frequent topics on gun boards is whether to carry firearms in church. The usual answer found on these boards is along the lines of "Sure why not?" Duh, right? You ask a bunch of gun nuts (many of whom are agnostics or atheists) whether it is moral/right/proper to carry somewhere and they say yes. But I don't think "yes" or "no" is a good answer to that question and it is not the answer I give.

I don't think there is anything wrong with carrying firearms for most people. Even in church. Why? Well the Temple has always had guards and guardrooms. Spears and shields were also included in the articles first created for it by Solomon. I don't think that is a coincidence. I am also completely comfortable with the concept that shepherding your congregation require you to kill wolves that would try to injure it. But. There is always a "but" isn't there? Guns can become an idol to gun owners, especially for gun nuts. They can be used to empower self over God. They are effectively an extension of "the arm of flesh." There is a danger there for some people. Be aware of it.

Is it necessarily wrong to carry in church? No. Is it necessarily right for you to carry in church? I can't tell you that because I don't know you well enough. Therefore pray and ask the Lord yourself which of these is the case.

Honestly I don't think we do that enough. We turn to leaders for spiritual short cuts, but we must always realize that even their advice is just advice. It must still be tested. Ultimately, you are responsible for your actions so you must prayerfully consider these things for yourself.

Goodbye Air America

The radio network is now officially bankrupt and QandO is asking what their readers think. My thoughts? Air America failed because they lack a viable market.

If I want to watch a media that spouts the Democrat party line, I can turn on Good Morning America or any of the big three networks and get it. If I want liberal talk radio, I can generally get that from any number of radio shock rock jocks. Conservative media outlets like talk radio developed because there was a perceived liberal bias in the news media. There is still a perceived liberal bias in the news media, with the obvious exception of the perceived conservative Fox News. There was no good reason for Air America to exist.

Since most of the media leans party Democrat, the only people Air America could really tap into were the people to the left of the party mainstream. The nutroots. And there just aren't enough of them out there to make a financially viable audience.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Nursery Rhymes

If you wuss out on Rock-a-bye Baby, how will you fair with Ring around the Rosie? Rock-a-bye Baby is mostly a nonsense rhyme. Ring Around the Rosie is probably about the Bubonic Plague.

Carrying Arms: A Civil Right

I was going to keep updating yesterday's post on proposed carry laws, but I realized what I have to say really deserved a post of its own.

Why Carry?

Because ownership and use of arms is one of the most important civil rights in this country. The Second Amendment itself mentions both keeping and bearing arms. Keeping indicates ownership of weapons, what we often call "possession" in legal speak. Bearing indicates carrying them. The fourteenth amendment allows the Federal government to guarantee that the States do not abridge the civil rights of their citizens:
No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
That's section 1, section 5 indicates that congress can enforce this by enacting legislation. This means that Congress could enact legislation about carry that is binding on the states without overstepping themselves constitutionally.

In a timely piece, Ken Blackwell writes about why the use of arms is important by hearkening back to the Deacons of Defense and Justice, members of the civil rights movement.
As the nation reflects on the struggles and achievements of our African-American citizens, we must celebrate the actions of heroic civil rights activists known as the Deacons for Defense. In the fight for equality, these brave men utilized their right to bear arms to protect their families, possessions and liberties.
He also notes that gun control was a crucial element of segregation policy:
Access to firearms was understood by our founders and many early American jurists as an essential aspect of full US citizenship, and it was for this reason that the Black Codes established after the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment -- which constitutionally abolished slavery -- prevented black freemen from owning guns.
By denying black men and women arms they created conditions under which those same people could be easily oppressed. An armed black populace was a threat. An unarmed black populace was simply a target rich environment.

Why Open Carry?

If a form of carry must be allowed, then which form: open carry or concealed carry? Or both. Since I'd like to keep federal meddling to a minimum, let's exclude both and pick just one. I choose open. Why? Because the original purpose of the 2nd Amendment was the use of weapons to defend liberty against other groups or even the government itself. Concealed carry is insufficient to fight major civil unrest.

With concealed carry you are limited only to concealable weapons. These are generally less effective than service arms whose size dictate open carry. Current Federal law (like it or not) is specifically written so that you cannot conceal most rifles or shotguns. Depending on your wardrobe, you may not be able to conceal a large handgun. With open carry, you can carry just about anything. If you must oppose organized criminals or the government, either of these groups could have access to any type of arms. Law abiding citizens must have parity to maintain deterrence.

You also cannot make an effective show of force with concealed weapons. They are concealed until the threat is so great that they must be drawn and used. Largely a show of force is all that is necessary to deter most aggressors. We can again turn to Ken Blackwells piece (which I came across through Instapundit):
Following a KKK night ride in Jonesboro, the Deacons approached the police chief who had led the parade and informed him that they were armed and unafraid of self-defense. The Klan never rode through Jonesboro again. ... The initial desegregation of Jonesboro High School was threatened by firemen who aimed hoses at black students attempting to enter the building. When four Deacons arrived and loaded their shotguns, the firemen left and the students entered unscathed.
The Deacons did not fight for civil rights by shooting Klansmen. Generally they didn't have to "fight" at all. The clan wanted easy lynchings, property destruction, and intimidation. The Deacons demonstrated that the black populace had the capacity to fight back and would not be intimidated. The Klan did not want a fight, especially not an even one.

This is why I believe the Federal government should uphold open carry in all 50 states of the union. It is necessary for the defense of fundamental freedoms.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Cat Scratch Fever

Anonymous Opinion tuned Amybear in to a contest the New Journal is running for the cutest cat. Of course we want to enter Milo. But we can't figure out which picture to use. Amy has links to the top five over at her blog.

National CCW

Dale Franks is putting his job as Republican senate blogger to good use. He's reporting that two senators have put a proposal for federally mandated concealed carry reciprocity on the table.

While you may not agree with it, this isn't a badly written bill. It treats a concealed carry license a lot like a drivers license. States are required to honor the home state concealed carry license, but the permit holder must abide by the laws of the state he is in. So a Texan with a concealed carry permit could carry in New York like a New Yorker. If the state does not have rules for concealed carry, then the CCWer may not carry in the standard off-limits places like government buildings, schools, sporting events not involving firearms, or places that dispense liquor on the premises.

Honestly, while this is a ballsy move, I'm not sure I like it. I'm a small government guy at heart and I don't think CCW is such a crucial issue that the feds should start meddling in every state's affairs. I would prefer that they enact a law mandating legal open carry (carry in a holster where everyone can see it) in every state in the union instead. In practice I think open carry will allow you to "bear" an arm wherever you so desire and it is more in keeping with the military and militia flavor of the 2nd amendment. Oh sure you might not blend into a crowd as well, but I guess you'll have to bear your cross too.

UPDATE: Let me clarify. By mandating legal open carry, I mean that the Federal Government would force all the states to recognize open carry as legal and a constitutional right under the 2nd Amendment. In some states like Texas open carry is actually the illegal form of carry. That makes no sense to me. I would not make open carry mandatory for all citizens. The latter is a silly idea and would really have the federal government sticking their noses in everyones business.

Reagan Day

Today is President Reagan's birthday. He would have been 96. Political Mavens has a set of good Reagan quotes that explain why he was the Great Communicator.

Rest in Peace, Gipper.

Monday, February 05, 2007

What's It About

Actually it is more of a story of Darwinian social evolution.

Amy and I spent some time yesterday at Between Books, my favorite Delaware bookstore, and pre-ordered the new Harry Potter. Amy picked up Red String. We thought it was a translated manga from Japan, but it turned out to be a webcomic drawn in manga style. It is written by Gina Biggs, a Florida woman, and is published by Dark Horse. I picked up World War Z. It should be an interesting read although I did have some issues with the earlier Zombie Survival Guide.

Between Books is located on near the Arby's and Wawa on Philadelphia Pike in Claymont. It is part book store, part games store, and part comics shop. It does all three well. If you are in Delaware and into any of these things stop by and give Greg your business. He doesn't need it, but the store is so good he practically deserves it.

Mac vs. PC

My brother showed the Guardian's take on the British MacIntosh advertising campaign. It has some good bits of British language.
When you see the ads, you think, "PCs are a bit rubbish yet ultimately lovable, whereas Macs are just smug, preening tossers." In other words, it is a devastatingly accurate campaign.
I was told that Macs had the superior interface, but whenever I had to use one I could barely make the damn thing work. And I taught myself to use a PC. If the Mac user interface was so easy and intuitive, why couldn't I get it to work?

I have some friends that love Macs, largely because they like to do video production and Mac is still better for that out of the box. Unlike them, I use my PC to surf the web and play the occasional game. I'm sure the Mac makes a capable web surfer, but games? Not hardly.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Climate Change

Good Morning America woke me up with story about the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's Fourth Assessment Report. Great was the scaremongering and gnashing of well-crowned teeth. Hell of a thing to wake up to by the way. Now after doing a little research, I find out that things are nowhere near as bad as they seem.

First, what came out today was not the full report. Today's release was the Summary Report for Policymakers. The full report isn't due for months. Which means by the time people can actually find out what the real report says and the rationale behind why it is saying it, the story will have been off the front pages for months. Wonderful. Why didn't they issue them together? Well if they did that then people would actually be able to analyze and respond to their conclusions. Right now they can back their conclusions with the panels authority (but no data) and there is no way to effectively rebut them.

The funny thing about the scaremongering is that the conclusions of the current summary report are actually milder than the last report in 2001. Predictions of the temperature increases and increase in sea level are both smaller. Do you know what is worse? Statements like this:
The panel is to release a report on Friday in Paris forecasting global temperatures rising by 2 to 4.5 Celsius (3.6 to 8.1 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels by 2100, with a “best estimate” of a 3C (5.4 F) rise.
What is the problem with statements like "pre-industrial levels"? From the about the 14th century until approximately 1850, the earth was in a climatic period called the Little Ice Age. Global temperatures were actually way below normal. 1815 was called the year without a summer. It actually snowed during the summer months in New England. A good part of that temperature change from "pre-industrial" levels is actually bringing us back closer to historical temperature averages. But you never hear that, do you?

UPDATE:I'd like to echo Hube's opinion of George Will's comments:
We do not know how much we must change our economic activity to produce a particular reduction of warming. And we do not know whether warming is necessarily dangerous. Over the millennia, the planet has warmed and cooled for reasons that are unclear but clearly were unrelated to SUVs. Was life better when ice a mile thick covered Chicago? Was it worse when Greenland was so warm that Vikings farmed there? Are we sure the climate at this particular moment is exactly right, and that it must be preserved, no matter the cost?
I really don't understand the environmentalist's mind. We have a group of people who embrace evolution and current scientific theory, yet they don't seem to understand that by this definition the world has always been changing and will always be changing. Species fail to adapt and die, new species rise to fill the gaps, the earth keeps turning. If they were creationists I could understand it, they at least have somewhat static conception of the universe. But I just don't get the environmentalists. Maybe they just don't put that much thought into things, which is entirely possible.

The important part is, as conservatives often note, that the world changes properly. That we don't lose the important things as the world moves on. Large scale climatic shifts really aren't anything new. The important part is to assess the consequences of these shifts and adapt to them. Steer society in a good direction. But we're talking about steering, you can't just grab modern society by the reins and yell "Whoa!"

Jeff the Baptist Exposed!

Yes, during the late '90s lived a double life. I was both Jeff Lastnamewithheld, Engineering graduate student and research assistant at University of Delaware, and Drew Phelan, graduate student, teaching assistant, and occasional bar fly at Penn State University. This explains, among other things, my poor performance in MechE 690 my first semester of grad school.

I don't know how my brother could have found out about this after such a long time, unless his current job is so boring that he's reading through The Onion's archives just to stay awake.

I also don't know how many people will think this joke is funny. It's a sight gag that really depends that you know what I look like.

The Companions

My brother brought this Dr. Who companion themed comic strip to my attention. Funny yet informative.


I don't consider myself to be utterly socially inept. Mostly socially inept? PERHAPS. Uh did I type that too loud? Anyway, thanks to Anna for sending out this video to the DCBA.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Will It Blend?

My brother suggested this site, which is probably the most innovative online advertising campaign I've seen. Want to promote your blender on the internet? Stream video of you using it to chop up a rake handle. Or neodymium magnets into one giant magnetic hunk.

The annoying thing is that they never seem to show the "will not blend" items. Like the crowbar. And the rake handle and marbles videos seem to be reversed. But still fun.

I Win!

In a personal side note, Amy bought creamy peanut butter at the supermarket today. Even though she likes chunky. So it appears she can only hold out against my considerable charms for 10 months.

Oh and if you haven't tried generic peanut butter, don't start. Seriously. A lot of generic products are just as good as the name brands. Peanut butter is not one of them. We bought some generic chunky 10 months ago and we had to stir it before we used it because it would separate into peanut oil, chunks, and God only knows what else. Totally disgusting. I wish I could describe it more fully so I could better gross you out.

Less than Six Months

The seventh and last book in J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series comes out July 21st. The title is "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows." Should I pre-order or should I wait?