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Generic Confusion

When you leave, my blog just fades to grey
Nu ma nu ma iei, nu ma nu ma nu ma iei

News? Check. Politics? Check. Music? Check. Random thoughts about life? Check. Readership? Ummm.... let me get back to you on that. Updated when I feel like I have something to say, and remember to post it.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

The Bar

At work? Stuck at home? Would you rather be at the bar?

Visit The Bar, and try to figure out the puzzle.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Gifted and Talented

Dr. Helen has a discussion about gifted programs in school. An article discussed what educators in Montgomery County, Maryland are doing.

But this fall, educators decided to try a different approach. Instead of selecting a few hundred students for traditional school magnets, officials opened magnet programs at three middle schools to everyone.

"We've changed from labeling children to labeling services," Horn said. "It's not whether you're gifted, it's what's appropriate for you."

To that, Dr. Helen responds:

Oh sure, this method will really fool the kids--think they don't understand the hypocrisy of leveling the playing field? Of course they do. In my daughter's school, when the mentally handicapped kids are called over the intercom for special classes, they announce, "Will all of the 'Smart' kids come to Room 101." The whole school, from kindergarteners to 5th graders look at each other in amusement that the school is calling the handicapped kids smart. How silly is that? And how silly is it to let teachers observe kids to determine if they are "gifted" instead of allowing for some set of standards to do the sorting for them?

I was a participant in various gifted and talented programs [based on standardized exams], honors classes, and AP classes. The ones in elementary school I didn't like: they were basically extra work. We got to learn about astronomy or architecture, and debate topics like how to help a hypothetical future overcrowded prison in Earth orbit (ha!), but at the end of the day, we were forced to study the same mathematics we learned on our own years earlier, and were subjected to reading materials far below our level.

Honors classes were better, as for once we were doing better work. And I personally wasn't stressed by these "harder" classes; in fact, being in a class with other smart kids who wanted to learn significantly lessened social pressures.

My four AP classes gave me college credit. I suspect I may have been able to take other exams and pass them, just based on my capacity to remember useless information. But again, credit came from objective measurements.

Dr. Helen is absolutely right that kids understand what's going on. We knew that the (Grade Level)-2 class generally had the brighter students than the (Grade Level)-1 class. We knew the smaller reading classes were grouped by ability. And we absolutely knew what "special" meant. (Not "especially smart," that's for sure.) Make those distinctions clear.

Mainstreaming: it causes problems. If it were to be looked at honestly, educators would recognize that being known as "different" by EVERY OTHER KID is far more damaging to one's self-esteem than being in a "special" class. [WARNING: Reminiscing about an "innocent" time, before kids learned it's not polite to say certain things or be petty, is ahead.] One elementary school I attended was built next to the school for... well, we kids used the scientific term "retards." First off, we hated that only that school had air conditioning and an oven (not just a microwave) for heating lunches (soggy pizza = yuck!), and they got cakes, etc. But the worst venom was reserved for the few kids who split time between the two places. The perception was, "That lame-o spends lunch, recess, and study hall here, and class time with the retards."

Lego my free speech!

This is by far the best way to show support for Danish free speech.

(Via Vodkapundit)

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Islamic Insurance

After reading a Michelle Malkin post on the financing of the Dubai Ports World takeover of P&O, using a unique financial instrument called the sukuk (designed to get around the Islamic prohibition on interest), I was reminded that Contingencies ran an interesting article on Islamic insurance products, designed with the same goals in mind.

Follow the link to read about takaful.

The port fiasco

I admit to feeling a little leery that a United Arab Emirates company is, through acquisition of a U.K. port operation company, going to operate several American ports. But I recognize what that feeling is: a stereotype, bias, unfairly targeting a company because it's located in a Muslim country, and many Muslims want to kill Americans.

After thinking about it for a while, I've come to this conclusion:

I'm more afraid of the New York Times compromising American port security than I'm afraid of a UAE company operating our ports.

The U.S. is not outsourcing our port security, just the port operations. The Coast Guard remains in charge of port security, regardless of whether the port is operated by a U.S., U.K., or UAE company. I have to assume the Coast Guard does not reveal the secret details of its security procedures to companies operating the ports. Thus, why should we think the company operating the port has any impact on the security of the port?

However, just imagine some editor of the New York Times discovering that the Coast Guard is doing special searches of ships with ports of call in certain Arab nations. Racism! Abuse of Muslims! To the presses! Who cares what top secret homeland security measures get revealed in the fallout?

I really think it's a bad idea for the U.S. government to deny operation of U.S. ports to foreign companies from only some countries. It sets a bad precedent. Should the German government deny an otherwise qualified U.S. company the right to operate the port of Warnemunde because they don't like our stance on capital punishment or the war in Iraq?

As I see it, as long as the U.K. and the UAE are treated the same by our trade agreements and other treaties, we shouldn't treat these companies differently.

Let's do a quick reality check. We know what we're ultimately afraid of: a weapon of mass destruction (biological or nerve agent, dirty bomb, or even a suitcase nuke) being brought to America's shores via our ports. Ask yourself: how will a group of terrorists be aided in such a plan by using a port operated by a UAE company, rather than a U.S. or U.K. company? And to the extent there would be an advantage, how does it compare to other elements of the plan (say, a friendly ship captain, a friendly home port to introduce the payload, or the aforementioned details of U.S. port security)? Would using a U.S. operated port necessarily prevent the plan from working?

The better approach is for the cities involved to quietly tell the UAE company that they will not be using the company's services after their contract is up. In other words, just another business decision.

Laws that make no sense

Can anyone explain the logic behind laws that says a supermarket cashier under age 18 can't touch packaged alcohol, while it's perfectly alright for someone age 18-20 to do so?

Thursday, February 16, 2006

What's the message, Barry?

Barry Saunders, columnist at the Raleigh (N.C.) News and Observer, is perhaps the first journalist to dive off the deep end.

Accident my eye. Or rather, Harry Whittington's eye.

If you believe it was just an accident that Vice President Dick Cheney shot his hunting companion last weekend, you obviously have never seen "The Godfather" movies.

Just as surely as a fish wrapped in a bulletproof vest means "Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes," that shotgun blast to Whittington's face was meant to convey that I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby had better bite his tongue and forget about testifying against Cheney, his former boss, in the Valerie Plame spy case.

I've asked Mr. Saunders to please send me his column from July 1993, discussing the message sent by the suspicious death of Vince Foster. Any bets on whether or not I get a response?

One additional note: Kudos to the News and Observer for quickly correcting an erroneous factual assertion in Mr. Saunder's column.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006


The Indianapolis Star included a review of Kenji Yoshino's semi-memoir Covering: The Hidden Assault on Our Civil Rights. Yoshino defines covering as "ton(ing) down a disfavored identity to fit into the mainstream." Despite the title, this reviewer doesn't see it as one-sided.

The Booklist review doesn't sound like it agrees with that assessment:

Yoshino, an Asian American law professor at Yale, whose gay status informs this work, explores the struggle for equality of gays in America from the broader perspective of the civil-rights movement. He argues that society resists allowing full equality for gays by instead advocating conversion, passing as straight, and covering homosexuality, tactics similarly imposed on racial and other minorities. Passing is reflected in the military's current "don't ask, don't tell" policy. Covering occurs when a gay is "out" but avoids offending the larger society by "covering." By favoring passing and covering, self--perceived liberal nongays, Yoshino argues, are in fact denying gays full rights. Yoshino considers "covering," the demand that gays not flaunt their orientation, to be the civil-rights issue of today. Yoshino views the "accommodation" model applied in law to religious and disabled minorities as a bright spot but recognizes its restricted application to gays. While accommodation could be more readily applied to traditionally protected groups, he is not optimistic about this course with America's increasing pluralism. An insightful read.

I have a confession to make: I'm covering, too.

I play games like Dungeons & Dragons, Magic: the Gathering, and German board games. I enjoy playing these games a lot. I attend conventions to play these games with people who share this interest, in particular as part of a worldwide D&D organized play group. When with friends who share these interests, we may talk about the best ways to design characters, reminisce about past games, or bemoan the current state of the game. (That's in addition to going out to dinner, sharing drinks, and talking about sports and current events, in case you're wondering.)

Yet in the course of a typical day, I cover up this avocation. I don't talk about it at the office or with the teller at the bank. I might wear a T-shirt with the name of a game convention, but I don't go telling people about it.

Wikipedia cites an estimate that 20 million people worldwide play Dungeons & Dragons, but the membership of the smaller group I'm in is probably in the low five figures. But consider that 20 million figure. It is one-third of one percent of the world's population. Now, estimates of gay population vary considerably, depending on the definition one uses, but the low estimate says 1.5% percent of people are homosexual. Clearly, I'm in a much smaller minority.

What's that you say? You're not born a player of D&D?

I ask you this: what foods do you like? Now, why do you like those foods?

Now, think of an activity you enjoy. Why do you enjoy it?

It's hard to describe, isn't it?

I think the fact that I enjoy playing these games more than playing a pickup game of basketball or tending to a garden is as much inborn as my preference for the flavor of peach over the flavor of banana. I really can't say why I enjoy these activities, but I do. (I admit that as of the present day, no one has found the "gay gene," nor the "D&D gene." Give science time!)

Everyone covers every day. I don't say, "Hi, I'm Greg. Roll for initiative!" I may have a fantasy about a tall, strong man (who wields a wicked axe and fights a demon army). You may have a fantasy about a tall, strong man (for rather different reasons). If that's the only thing you talk about, it gets in the way of finding common ground as human beings.

Covering is the civil thing to do. If we didn't, we'd be at each others' throats. If you're strongly anti-tobacco, you don't get in the face of the smokers. If you love cats, you don't try to convert everyone into a cat lover. And if you think homosexuality is a sin, you don't send protesters to a gay man's funeral.

(A few people don't follow these standards of decency. We call them "assholes.")


Tuesday, February 14, 2006

A great new bumper sticker

From Expose the Left, here's something for your car:

Monday, February 13, 2006


At one time in American history, unions were necessary to improve the working conditions of Americans. However, in learning history, I was struck by how little time it took for unions to start doing things that were wrong. One tactic, since banned, was featherbedding: forcing companies to keep paying workers who were no longer needed to do the job.

Little did I know featherbedding was alive and well in dying union industries.

All day, Judy Rowe sits in a room at a large, old Delphi Corp. auto parts plant here, reading, sewing or staring into space.

For this she earns $31.80 an hour.

There are 70 people in this room, all employed by Michigan-based Delphi and protected by the United Auto Workers union. They clock in at 6 a.m. and clock out at 2:30 p.m.

But there is nothing for them to do.

"I think I'm slipping into a depression," said Rowe, who has been languishing for six years in this strange and very unique form of unionized employment limbo known as the jobs bank.

If there was work to do, they would be on the manufacturing lines. But there isn't. And they can't be laid off because their union contracts includes this unique provision.

The jobs bank is a bullpen of sorts for surplus workers. It was designed two decades ago as a temporary haven that has become a permanent and expensive catch basin for declining auto industry companies.

In a way, the concept makes sense: demand will rise and fall, so more workers may be needed one month, less the next. And people need money. If they can't work, they may move away to take another job, and these workers won't be around when later needed.

But that only works when demand for workers stays around the same level. It's clear the demand for auto workers is permanently lower.

In an ideal world, the UAW would recognize that economic reality is such that many of these workers will never work the assembly line again, and voluntarily reduce the size of the job pool. That would free these workers to do something more productive. However, the UAW will not allow its power to be reduced, no matter how many companies it drives into bankruptcy.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Storm of the Century

Check out the blizzard that hit the Northeast. 26 inches in New York City, and 21 inches from Baltimore to Maine?

It's times like these that make me glad I no longer live in Connecticut. (That, and how early it gets dark in winter; that's why I never want to see Indiana move to the Central Time Zone.)

The four winters I was there were nothing spectacular. There was the occasional heavy snow, but nothing like this nor'easter.

20,000 hits!

On Friday, Dave Justus was the 20,000th visitor to this blog!

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

American Savings

Have you ever wondered what to make of the reported low, even negative, rate of savings attributed to the American people? Have you thought about what you put into your 401(k), Roth IRA, and college savings; then thought about what your friends, neighbors, and co-workers do; then wonder if that negative savings rate makes sense?

The Skeptical Optimist goes to a different source to show that America's savings rate is a lot better than has been reported. The Federal Funds balance sheet shows a considerable increase in financial assets held by households and nonprofit organizations.

(Via Dave Justus)

Chocolate Factory

A frequent ad on cable is for the "Chocolate Factory", which sells the materials necessary to make chocolate candies.

The centerpiece of this package? A unique cooking system that allows chocolate to be heated without burning... nah, it's only a double boiler.

I know we Americans don't cook as often as our parents and grandparents did, and I'm no chef, but even I recognize a double boiler. I'm sure one could be picked up at any Wal-Mart (probably for less than $26 or whatever the ridiculous cost is).

(Besides, using low heat and constant stirring, you can melt chocolate without burning it.)

Diet update

I'm down eighteen pounds so far, aided recently by the best and fastest short-term weight loss program known to man: a bout of influenza.

I haven't cheated on the diet, either.

The exercise portion hasn't been as smooth. While the first three weeks had an 80% participation rate, I've slacked off since then.

By far the worst part of dieting (and something I haven't experienced before) has been frequent dreams about eating forbidden foods. Why should I be experiencing these dreams?

An observation

Many on the left are opposed to the federal government listening in on conversations between American residents and suspected al-Qaeda operatives. They claim that is a violation of fundamental privacy rights.

I will venture that over 90% of these people are not opposed to restrictions on the fundamental right to keep and bear arms (and thus defend one's life). And some of these restrictions (banning all handguns and "assault weapons") are far broader and affect more people than the group of people who have conversations with al-Qaeda terrorists.

So, tell me, why is only one of these restrictions on our rights a dangerous violation of the Constitution?

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Lessons from the ER

Courtesy of the folks at the Actuarial Outpost, here's a thread from another discussion forum, one focused on student doctors. "Things doctors learn from working the ER."

It's so funny, you'll have trouble stopping reading. It's a remarkable combination of patients too stupid to know they shouldn't be in the ER and patients too stupid to know they should have gone to the ER years ago, with a liberal sprinkling of drugs and items that never should have been introduced into a human body.

One witty observation, and so true:
Why is it that the worst, most ungrateful patients always seem to have an attorney on retainer ("You'll hear from MY lawyer in the morning"), but can't find a dentist?

Sunday, February 05, 2006

USS Cole bomber escapes

23 Yemeni prisoners, including at least 13 Al Qaeda members, have escaped from prison, including the mastermind of the USS Cole bombing.

I hope they will be captured soon.

Now here's a "what if" situation:

What if U.S. government surveillance aids in the capture of these criminals?

Saturday, February 04, 2006

An alcohol future

Robert Zubrin makes a convincing argument that, to reduce our usage of oil, we must move to use engines that can burn greater amounts of alcohol.

To liberate ourselves from the threat of foreign economic domination, undercut the financiers of terror, and give ourselves the free hand necessary to deal with Middle Eastern extremists, we must devalue their resources and increase the value of our own. We can do this by taking the world off the petroleum standard and putting it on an alcohol standard.

This may sound like a huge and impossible task, but with gasoline prices well over $2 per gallon, the means to accomplish it are now at hand. Congress could make an enormous step toward American energy independence within a decade or so if it would simply pass a law stating that all new cars sold in the U.S.A. must be flexible-fuel vehicles capable of burning any combination of gasoline and alcohol. The alcohols so employed could be either methanol or ethanol.

The largest producers of both ethanol and methanol are all in the western hemisphere, with the United States having by far the greatest production potential for both. Ethanol is made from agricultural products. Methanol can also be made from biomass, as well as from natural gas or coal. American coal reserves alone are sufficient to power every car in the country on methanol for more than 500

Ethanol can currently be produced for about $1.50 per gallon, and methanol is selling for $0.90 per gallon. With gasoline having roughly doubled in price recently, and with little likelihood of a substantial price retreat in the future, high alcohol-to-gasoline fuel mixtures are suddenly practical. Cars capable of burning such fuel are no futuristic dream. This year, Detroit will offer some two dozen models of standard cars with a flex-fuel option available for purchase. The engineering difference is in one sensor and a computer chip that controls the fuel-air mixture, and the employment of a corrosion-resistant fuel system. The difference in price from standard units ranges from $100 to $800.

Flexible-fuel vehicles (FFVs) offer consumers little advantage right now, because the high-alcohol fuels which they could employ are not generally available for purchase. This is because there are so few such vehicles that it doesn’t pay gas station owners to dedicate a pump to cater to them. Were FFVs made the standard, however, the fuel they need would quickly be made available everywhere.

If all cars sold in the U.S. had to be flexible-fueled, foreign manufacturers would also mass-produce such units, creating a large market in Europe and Asia as well as the U.S. for methanol and ethanol—much of which would be produced in America. Instead of being the world’s largest fuel importer, the United States could become the world’s largest fuel exporter. A large portion of the money now going to Arabs and Iranians would instead go to the U.S.A. and Canada, with much of the rest going to Brazil and other tropical agricultural nations. This would reverse our trade deficit, improve conditions in the Third World, and cause a global shift in world economic power in favor of the West.

Read it all!

Missing the point

USA Weekend has an article on third world video-game-playing sweatshops! People who want to have powerful characters in MMORPGs (massively multiplayer online role-playing games) can pay to have other people build up their characters, enabling them to play the missions for top players.

That seems to me to be horribly missing the point. A lot of the fun in games like that is in the exploration and the building of your character.

In addition, a person not intimately familiar with a powerful character may not be as able to handle the missions as well as an experienced player. And when these games involve getting together with other players, that's a liability for everyone else.

In pen-and-paper RPGs, two common types of tournament games involve bringing your own character, and being provided a character. Being given a 12th level character, you won't run that character as well as an identical 12th level character that you have played from the beginning.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Don't dwell on this image

--WARNING-- Disturbing thought ahead --WARNING--

Messages from a thread on one of the role-playing-related mailing lists I'm on:

1. And the rally cry goes out to near and far.... "Save the Bath House!"

2. Hmm, Sounds like the title of "a very special Interactive...."

3. Hmmm. I suddenly have this image... 20+ geeks in a sauna, and only one towel. Roll for initiative.


1. Argggh! I was eating! *throws remainder of lunch away* Make the bad images go away!

2. Dude... Unless I get to pick the other 19 'geeks' (I'm pretty sure I could find that many I wouldn't mind sharing a sauna with), forget the towel--I'm diving for the spork. You know, for my eyes. *Shudder*