Weekend Adventures

Well, I had grand aspirations about posting something relevant for Memorial Day. Alas, the day has come and gone and others covered the issue more ably than I can. My attitudes are too deeply and corrosively cynical to do solemn and important things justice. If remembering the people who died to preserve your way of life isn’t solemn and important, I’m not sure what would be. I tend to the idea that one should, in part, celebrate the day by engaging in the freedoms granted you by their sacrifice.

So I watched J’s uncle set things on fire with a gas grill and played Halo with the young ‘uns. The key to playing any FPS with 13-year-olds when you are a decrepit old fossil (i.e. past the age of 30) is to get them pointed at each other. This cuts down on the embarrassment of losing by a staggeringly high number of frags. It also helps if you don’t play to their strengths. If one of them really, really wants to play a particular map, it’s probably in your best interest to choose another one.

J and I also made our annual pilgrimage to Waxahachie for Scarborough Fair on Saturday. No crowds, mainly because it kept pouring down rain intermittently throughout the day. We picked up some jewelry for J. We also picked up some more art from this nice lady that adds to the framing backlog. We now have an absurd amount of stuff lying around that I need to frame. So to aid in my framing efforts, I got a lovely mat cutter from these people. This falls under the category of things to make the stuff I already have to do easier.

Finally, I’m going to once again make a plea to all my fellow Americans: PLEASE COVER YOUR FAT. At the very least, do so when out in public. If you want to strip down naked, cover your fat ass in Crisco, and play naked twister, by all means have at it when you’re behind closed (preferably opaque) doors. When you’re out in public, keep the fat rolls concealed. I really don’t think it’s too much to ask.


Chop It Up

Thanks to David Kopel, I now have a link to all sorts of info on knife laws. This will go well with all the info the ATF puts out on state gun laws. Now you can decide if you want to accept the possible consequences of your personal armament decisions.

I'd go into a rant on why it's not necessary to have these kinds of laws at all, but you know the drill and you've heard it before. Criminals don't follow, blah, blah, blah, disarm law-abiding, blah, blah, blah, just plain stupid, blah, blah, blah. Fill in the blanks, and be glad you're not British.

Athletics & Cash

J forwarded me a link to an OpinionJournal piece about college athletics. The overall tone of the piece seems to be questioning whether college sports makes or loses money for institutions. I found the piece pretty interesting, as well as the underlying report.

As some of you know, I graduated from one of the big football schools. Football was king for the simple reason that football revenues funded the entire athletic department. Looking at the NCAA’s numbers, I see that 68% of I-A schools make money from football, with an average profit of $9.2 million. The top football schools make between 25 and 38 million in profit off football alone. That’s a whole bunch o’ money. If I assume that the school with the largest reported revenues is also the school with the largest reported expenses, some institution made over 20 million off athletics. Other things that come out include the unsurprising fact that football and men’s basketball make all of the money, while women’s sports and everything else lose money.

Overall, the numbers are a bit bleak. Only 40% of I-A schools turn a profit with the athletic department. The other schools are losing an average of 4.4 million a year. OpinionJournal claims that with capital spending involved, only 12 schools are making money. I would think at some point, you have to look at the loss and wonder whether it’s worth continuing. I know that Rice is having a discussion about whether or not to keep the football team. Sports are nice, but the institution exists to educate people. If sports are taking resources from the primary mission, maybe it’s time to let it go or at least scale it back considerably.

Of course, I can say things like this. I’m guessing that my college is making a profit, so I’m in no danger of losing my football team. I might feel a little differently were the situation otherwise.

If you...you'll go blind

Yeah, I know, I'm a little sick and wrong, but I still can't help but see the twisted humor in the FDA stating that Viagra, Cialis, and Levitra may be causing cases of blindness. I thought that just playing with it made you blind. Well I guess, this is kind of the same thing.


3 Lines, 4 Years

Occasionally you hear or read something that, for whatever reason, hits you hard. I was flipping around radio stations, since all the talk stations were boring the crap out of me. The song Breathe (2 AM) by Anna Nalick came on. I'm a sucker for pretty little girls with good voices, so I listen to it. About halfway through the song, she sings:
In May he turn 21 on the base at Fort Bliss
"Just a day", he sat down to the flask in his fist,
"Ain't been sober, since maybe October of last year."
Wham. Three lines that sum up about four years of my life. The only major difference I can think of is my 21st birthday was spent in KSA during Desert Shield.

When I left Fort Bliss all those years ago, it was the last post in the continental US where the drinking age was 18. The Army would rather we got drunk on post than drunk in Juarez. It didn't help.


Lucas Is Done

And honestly, aren’t we all glad in some sense? J and I broke down and saw the final Star Wars movie Sunday morning. I am now free to ignore George Lucas for as long we both shall live. Unless he decides to make Episode VII or something, in which case I’ll curse and swear and go see the bloody thing.

I was proven wrong in my predictions of doom and gloom. This was actually worth seeing, unlike the previous two crapfests. I can honestly recommend it without reservation. Yes, all of the criticisms of Natalie Portman’s acting are true. Some scenes are wooden beyond belief. George Lucas has a tin ear for dialogue. All of these things we already knew, didn’t we? Quit bitching. It was better than expected, and more than I had hoped. Go see it.

Or don’t. You can remain assured that some portion of your spending this month will end up in the coffers of the Lucas empire. He has licensed the brand to be applied to every single consumer item imaginable. I think this marketing blitz outperforms any previous one, or as J put it: "Lucas is such a whore." I have no real need to see Star Wars characters emblazoned all over the grocery store. However, nobody gave me a choice. If I wanted Pop-Tarts this month, they were coming with Darth Vader on the box.

I was amused by one of my geek moments. In a scene before Yoda bails on the Wookies, I looked at one of the many Wookies on screen and thought “That was Chewbacca.” Sure enough, he is later revealed as Chewie. Nice to know I can recognize fake fictional characters after not seeing them for 15 years.

Speaking of geeks, here’s a nice fan collection. By “nice’ I really mean “somewhat disturbing”. Take special note of the stormtroopers with boobies. I was troubled, and I’m a fan of both stormtroopers and boobies. Some things just shouldn’t be mixed.


DIY Sextant

James over at Hell In A Handbasket posted a great link to a page on how to build your own sextant with parts you may have around the house. I'll add it to the list of things I'd like to do when I get more time.

I have no earthly idea how one actally uses a sextant. I know that the Brits were using them in World War II for land navigation in the desert. David Brin used them as a plot device once in a novel whose name escapes me. (Hell, I'm not entirely sure it was David Brin.) I'm vaguely aware that one uses tables, a clock, and celestial objects to figure out where you are. Frankly, a good compass strikes me as a much simpler procedure if you can get away with it.

Having been out in the middle of the desert in Saudi Arabia, I know navigation can be a bit tricky without landmarks. We had maps that were, for the most part, useless. DMA used pink to indicate when they felt the terrain would shift. When you pull out a map and the whole damn thing is pink, you know you're just screwed. This was back in the days before GPS receivers were available everywhere. We had two for the entire troop. I spent most of my time over there with no actual knowledge as to where we actually were. We outran our maps pretty fast once we got going. A sextant would have come in pretty handy, as would the knowledge of how to convert longitude and latitude to grid coordinates.

Oh, well. I don't expect to be anywhere like that ever again. If I am, I'll just have to hope I have a GPS and lots of batteries. Or my home-made sextant and an ephemerides table...

When Hamsters Attack

Maybe I just don’t get the game, but what is up with the GOP and the freakin’ hamsters they keep putting in leadership positions in the Senate? First they had Trent Lott, a rodent of epic proportions, and now Bill Frist. I realize one must occasionally be nice about things, but the judicial filibuster issue was the time to pointedly make good and goddamned sure of party discipline. Mitch McConnell has to share some of the blame, too. Majority Whip, my ass. Majority Wet Noodle is more like it. When does the party and the RNC look at people who sabotage their efforts to accomplish things and get serious? When do they cut off the funds and start funding primary opponents? Never is apparently the answer.

Really, though, a large portion of the blame has to go to perennial psychotic asshat John McCain. I hope he’s done with presidential aspirations. At this point, the Republican base will vote for anybody in preference to Sen. McCain. He has thrown away any hope of ever getting the party nomination with this stunt.

It’s times like this that I don’t mind being a non-party voter. If I strongly identified with the efenants, I’d be purple with rage. As it is, I didn’t expect much. I had hopes somebody might get a clue and pull the trigger, but I guess not. The efenants are working hard to lose their majority.


Mexico Whines Again

Well they're at it again. This article explains that Mexico has filed a "formal protest" over our newest lame assed immigration restrictions. I would be impressed if we would just return with an invoice, billing the corrupt "President" Fox and the Mexican government for the costs of US taxpayer services doled out to illegal immigrants on a daily basis. Or, perhaps we can pledge to treat Mexican illegals equally as fair as Mexico treats its own South of the Border immigrants.

Check out the Heroes and the Zeroes ...


Economic Fallacy the First

A number of economic fallacies run rampant in the world. Dale Franks was posting on the failures of European economic policy yesterday. I think he's conflating two (or more) fallacies into one, but he did bring up the first and most enduring economic fallacy:
You cannot build a successful economic model that is predicated on people paying for a thing other than what it is worth.
In part, this has always been one of the basic failures of Marxism. You can prattle about “surplus value” all you want, and even pass taxes (VAT) based on the concept. In the final analysis, a thing is worth only what someone will pay for it. It doesn’t matter what the widget in question actually might be. It doesn’t even have to be a tangible asset. Still, it’s only worth what someone will give you for it.

The idea that there is some intrinsic economic value to stuff is deeply embedded in our material culture. I think remembering that value and worth are always personal judgements is important here. There are many things out and about in the universe that have little or no value to me. Britney Spears albums are a good example. I won’t give you a dime for one. However, a number of other people obviously will pay for them. I have some friends that sell stuff on eBay a lot. Their perceptions of value are widely divergent from the marketplace's at times. In such cases, nobody buys the items. While my friends may think that some gadget is worth $150, if nobody is willing to pay then it obviously isn't.

This value disparity makes certain societal functions a little bit tricky sometimes. How much are you willing to pay for parks? It may be a lot. It may be next to nothing. Your friends and neighbors, through the mechanism of government, are going to collaborate with you to make that decision. Like many collaborative works, the answer usually satisfies no one perfectly, providing yet another reason why the government should be doing as little as possible.

More on Closures

I have done some checking on the closure of the Army Ammunition Plants I referenced here. It appears that none of the closed facilities produce small arms ammunition. The shortages I seem to recall were about small arms ammunition, so that was my primary concern. I am verifying this from a DA pamphlet dated 1982, so I could be wrong. It appears that all of the facilities involved make mortar and artillery rounds along with some other odds and ends.

The Army thinks the closures will lead to increased efficiency and reduced cost. The plan is also to create “Joint Munitions Centers of Excellence”. I think that’s DOD speak for a manufacturing facility where they pat each other on the back and tell themselves how wonderful they are. I’m basing this opinion off of my experience with the “Communities of Excellence” program, which never seemed to make any appreciable difference to my life in said excellent communities.

I'll also note in passing that some people out there think it's a giant plot to remove military spending from blue states. I honestly don't know if that's the case, but it seems to me many of the people making that argument don't know enough about the details of the proposed changes to discern if there are valid reasons for the proposals. The logic seems no deeper than Net Blue State Loss and Net Red State Gain means Political Plot. If you're going to make that argument, you need to provide some evidence for it other than raw numbers. I haven't seen that evidence yet.


Next On The Hit Parade…

Lots of stuff going on in the world. I could post about Newsweek, but I’m late to the party and have nothing to add. I could post about how much I hate my job and my boss. However, nobody wants to hear that kind of thing more than once. Consider it said and be grateful you don’t have to hear it on a daily basis, like J does. I could post about a multitude of things, but instead I’ll just give you a link.

Remember, the sneaky flip-tops are not to be trusted. Peace-loving, my ass. They’d invade us in a heartbeat if they thought they could win. Instead, they try to subvert our republic to make it more like their failing social experiment. They can’t win if we protect our essence and continue to do the things that make America great. Buy guns! Pay for your own health insurance! Don’t speak French! Never learn the capital of that nation to the north! Only then can we hope to foil their nefarious schemes.

German Propagandists are Busy Today

T sometimes comments on the interesting spam he receives. Today, it appears to be my turn. Just today, in my office e-mail box, I received 3 separate e-mails. All in German, these e-mails bemoan the fact that hundreds of thousands of Germans were bombed by the English in Dresden on 13 February 1945. Mind you, my German stinks, but the suggestion appears to be that the Allied forces should be tried for war crimes for these bombings. One even provided this link to the German Communist on-line. If you have no German, here's Babelfish to translate. It pretty much stinks too (see Ashtray Wednesday), but you'll get the idea.

Update: I have since discovered that virus infected computers are being used to spread this stuff, but dude...why?


Odd Closings

I’'m in a hurry and don'’t have much time, but wanted to throw this out there. I was looking at the base closure list that came out today. I notice that the recommendations include closing several Army Ammunition Plants. Am I misremembering, or don'’t we have a problem keeping up with ammo production already? I seem to recall we were buying small arms ammo from IMI because the demand was overwhelming our production capacity. We are, in case someone hadn'’t noticed, in the middle of a shooting war.


Governments vs. Corporations

Will Wilkinson, along with a bunch of other people, is jumping on Matt Yglesias’ head over Social Security. Well, actually over the implications of the UAL pension bailout for SS. However it goes, I think somewhere along the line we’ll all end up paying for United’s pensions. I realize PBGC is supposedly funded by premiums from covered plans, &c, &c. I doubt that model can hold up if it gets a few more hits like United. (Think Ford and GM.) Kind of like how SS is funded by current workers… Well, only similar if you assume that drastic changes in the balance of payments will screw everything up. That’s a given for both models.

Anyhow, Mr. Wilkinson has pointed out some of the differences between governments and corporations that matter in this case.
Now, it is true that the government is not like a big corporation. It is less efficient, suffers from far more severe principal/agent problems, is more inclined to corruption, and is rather more like an extortion racket.
He forgot to mention that corporations don’t usually have the power to enforce their income assumptions at gunpoint.

Bad Mojo for PETArds

PETA is not an organization I feel needs to exist. Besides being a front for terrorist groups and individuals, it has the ethics of a disgruntled five-year old who just watched Bambi. Oh, the cute fuzzy animals die. This is bad! If there’s anything more advanced to PETA philosophy, I remain unaware of it. Any organization that feels that an animal death is morally equivalent to a human death is simply wrong. I may overstating PETA’s official position here, but it is a view that many of the more doctrinaire members hold.

However, if that’s really the case, then PETA is a group of hypocritical murderers. More proof, as if any were needed, about what a useless organization PETA really is.

H/t Michelle Malkin.


He Would Know

My least favorite former SecDef is out and about. I guess he’s well rested from his mea culpa tour, so it’s time for Robert McNamara to flap his gums again. Now he’s pertrouserating about US nuclear weapons policy:
At the risk of appearing simplistic and provocative, I would characterize current U.S. nuclear weapons policy as immoral, illegal, militarily unnecessary, and dreadfully dangerous. The risk of an accidental or inadvertent nuclear launch is unacceptably high.
I’m not going to fisk the whole piece. I don’t have time and frankly, he’s irrelevant. I just think it’s amusing in a horribly macabre way that Robert McNamara is calling any military policy “immoral, illegal, militarily unnecessary and dreadfully dangerous.” Well, Bobby, I guess you would fucking know, wouldn’t you? You gave the world a crash course in bloodletting while keeping your mouth shut about it the 60s. Boy, I bet the peaceniks love to trot out your tired old ass. “Look! He used to be SecDef and he thinks nukes are wrong!” Yeah, so what? This is still a guy that lacked any appreciable moral sense in the 60s. What, he suddenly discovered one now? Please.

I also like the whole BS about how the risk of an accidental or inadvertent nuke launch is unacceptably high. I guess that’s why in the 50 years since WWII ended with a bang, there hasn’t been an accidental launch.

Somebody tell this pathetic old jackass that he’s not improving his chances of getting a better afterlife by all this crap. He’s still got way too much blood on his hands to wash off.

H/t Reason Express.


Boring Old Man

I don’t usually pay attention to Garrison Keillor. He’s occasionally on doing some odd snippet about books or something at 8 in the morning if I’m still listening to NPR as I pull into the parking lot at work. The only coherent thought I ever have about him is that he has the classic NPR voice. I am dimly aware that he writes in addition to doing that godawful boring radio show of his.

InstaPunk was kind enough to savagely demolish some of his blather today. InstaPunk nails him to the wall, and I'm going to continue to pile on. Garrison Keillor is emblematic of the worst kind of psuedo-intellectual crap in America. Only his vision of America is authentic. Everybody else’s vision is somehow wrong, because only the wise and all-knowing Mr. Keillor can discern the true American spirit. Apparently, it has a lot to do with small towns in the middle of nowhere. This is one of the reasons I’ve always found him to be so incredibly tedious. I’ve been to small towns. I generally leave as soon as possible. Small towns have little in common with my way of life, which is as thoroughly American as it gets.

Funny, but I’ve never heard him express any knowledge or liking for the way of life I grew up living. I am one of the unabashed millions of white boys from the ‘burbs. There are two different ignorant mindsets about the “authentic” American experience. You either have to live in BFE nowhere, or be inside the dense urban gritty core. Somehow, the vast numbers that don’t live in either place aren’t really living the American experience. Funny, but there seems to be a lot of us out here. Maybe Mr. Keillor could come visit sometime and learn something.

Following the Big Corrupt Cash

I stumbled again upon David Horowitz's DiscoverTheNetwork website today. I had visited once before, but there have been enough improvements to merit a mention. If you're not familiar with the site, he bills it as a "Guide to the Political Left." It identifies the individuals, organizations, and institutions that comprise and fund the left, as well as effectively mapping its influences and agendas. The visual maps are particularly illuminating.

Free Speech? What!?!

The always excellent Jonathan Rauch has a piece up over at Reason about further absurdities relating to the national embarrassment known as McCain-Feingold. Apparently, Congress is now considering regulation of 527 groups. Yay! People found a loophole in the absurd campaign finance laws and exploited it. But we can’t have that, because unfettered political expression is a bad thing, mmmkay? So let’s close up that loophole, quick, before it affects the 2006 cycle. Well, Mr. Rauch is perceptive enough to point out the issues raised by some wanks’ descriptions of the 527 “problem”:
"Large donations to 527 groups spending money to influence federal elections can buy influence with federal candidates, even if the 527 groups are operating independently. Since such 527 groups are spending money to elect federal candidates, and since the source and amounts of these unlimited contributions are readily available to the candidates, the contributions can buy influence with the federal candidates benefiting from the expenditures by the 527 groups."

In other words, the problem is not corruption, at least not as traditionally understood; the problem is influence. In yet other words, influence is corruption. And in yet other words, because politics is all about influence, politics is corruption—at least until all contributions to political causes are so small that politicians won't feel particularly grateful to anybody.
He also has a good idea about how to fix the “problem”, but I’m not betting that anyone will listen to him.


Accurate Prediction

The young marine who shot an Iraqi “insurgent” last year has, unsurprisingly, been cleared of any wrongdoing. Some of you may remember what I said then:
If that marine seriously felt he was in danger and his fellow marines were in danger when he capped the guy, he will walk away from any charges brought.
The Marine Corps decided upon investigation not to prosecute. Why?
[he] could have reasonably believed that the AIF (anti-Iraq forces) shown in the videotape posed a hostile threat justifying his use of deadly force.
Ding! We have a winner! I think it’s time for a lot of people out there to eat a heaping helping of crow. In particular, Phil Carter needs to have a nice big plate. He was all over the story when it broke. Any bets on a follow up post now that there’s nothing to condemn?


The Fashion Police Are Real

It's news items like this that make me believe the police have entirely too much power and not nearly enough to do. Some guy in Michigan got hassled because the pants he was wearing were similar to police uniform pants. Keep in mind, these are pants that he bought for $3.25 at Goodwill. He is tooling around town on his moped wearing his pants, and gets pulled over for his pants. So the cops run a background check on him for wearing ugly cheap pants. The cops show up later to confiscate the pants.

I'm going to back up for a moment and paraphrase a comment someone made on Plastic recently. The comment was in a thread about some idiot suing over something retarded. Some Plastician made the comment that everyone needed to get the sand out of their vaginas and not lawyer up the instant they got offended. I was vastly amused by this comment.

Anyhow, when the cops tell me I've been pulled over on an ugly pants violation, I am getting all kind of sand up my drawers. When they show up later to confiscate my pants, it just became time to lawyer up. I'd say this was a joke, but this is such a classic cop attitude. This is the problem with the runaway regulatory state. When the state is telling me what kinds of pants I can or can't wear, something is seriously fucked up.

Spark + Gunpowder = Rapid Combustion

Damn. What's with all the gun posts lately? I'm starting to wonder if I'm obsessing or if this is just the residual effects of the NRA convention. I only picked up about four hundred and eleven pounds of literature from just about every manufacturer there. The catalogs, et al., are still sitting around cluttering up YPS Manor. It's starting to annoy J, too, so I'd better do something with all of it. Anyhow, if this keeps up, I'm going to have to submit some posts to the Carnival of Cordite or something.

Today's fun link comes to us courtesy of Reason. We have a “debate” between four people, only one of whom I have ever heard of. I think I can summarize the debate in a lot less bandwidth than it took Reason.

Abigail Kohn: Can't we all just get along? Nobody is trying to take your guns, so chill out a little. You anti-gun people could be nicer, you know. You gun folks should support crime control and play nice with the ATF.

Don Kates: They're not trying to take our guns!?! Are you even listening to these people? How do we compromise with statist gun-grabbers?

Wendy Kaminer: Why should gun-control advocates compromise? The NRA is a pawn of the Republican party and doesn't worry about things other than gun ownership! Besides, David Koresh got killed resisting the government and you will too, if it comes to that.

Michael Krauss: Thanks for noticing gun owners aren't psycho, Abigail. By the way, there's still a lot of places in the US where gun control exists and doesn't work. Not everybody can exercise their Second Amendment rights, so the right isn't secure.

Abigail Kohn: Wow, you people really don't like each other much. Please, can't we all just get along? For the children?

Or maybe there was some nuance in there I missed? I'm not thinking there was, but I could be wrong.


Sci-Fi Philosophy

Talking about George Lucas in the previous post led me to think about Leigh Brackett again. I know I mentioned earlier that she wrote The Empire Strikes Back. She also wrote an old and apparently out of print trilogy set on the planet of Skaith.

An interesting part of the Skaith novels is one of the primary drivers of the plot. The overlords of the planet Skaith are tasked to provide for all citizens some modicum of basic care. What has developed over time is a class of citizens that do nothing and live of the efforts of the productive class. As the wastrel class grows, the productive class shrinks and the overseers are driven to harsher and harsher control of the remaining productive citizens. It all comes to a head with the arrival of spacefaring voyagers, who arrive offering the productive citizens a way off the planet. Mayhem ensues and Eric John Stark kicks all manner of ass while defeating the evil socialist overlords.

I bring this up because yesterday’s Thomas Sowell column brings up this exact concept:
When you say that Americans have a "right" to have their "basic needs" met, you are saying that when some people refuse to supply themselves with food and shelter, other Americans should be forced to supply it for them.
Hmm. Funny how these eternal truths keep popping up, isn’t it? The ugly corollary to a positive right is that someone must provide it. If no one desires to provide it, someone must be forced by the coercive mechanisms of the state. That doesn't strike me as a morally sound approach.

Movie Fun

James Lileks referred to George Lucas as “an overrated wad of bearded fatuity”. Probably accurate, but a longer and meaner critique can be found here. It’s good thing he’s stopping the series. It’s starting to suck and he’s burned out all the goodwill.

In other news, J and I went to see HHGTTG. Not absolutely true to the books, but fun nonetheless. I give it a thumbs up, meaning its worth the 5 bucks to see it in the theatre. I won’t get into the geek wars over deviation from canonical text except to note that Douglas Adams wrote the original draft of the script. I don’t think you’re entitled to claim the man himself isn’t entitled to make changes in his own work when changing mediums. That just won’t fly very far.



Well, where the hell was I last week? I missed the news that the former SGT Hasan Akbar has been sentenced to death. I await the final decision from the convening authority.

One account said the sentence could be reduced “in whole or in part” by the convening authority. I realize that is a phrase of the art when it comes to military justice, but in this case it sounds a bit odd. One can’t reduce a death sentence in part, can one? Do they just sentence your head and neck to die? Or perhaps an arm and a leg? The idea of reducing a death sentence in part strikes me as bizarre.