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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.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Jokes that need to die

From the Actuarial Outpost, here's a thread of jokes that people are sick of. I have to agree with lots of the ones suggested:

"There are 10 kinds of people in this world, those who know binary and those who don't"
"Why do you park in a driveway and drive on a parkway?"
"If a bus station is where the bus stops, what is a work station?"
And all the various permutations of the hot-air balloon joke.

An interesting idea

An interesting idea, one with no chance of being implemented, comes from Charles Murray:

Instead of sending taxes to Washington, straining them through bureaucracies and converting what remains into a muddle of services, subsidies, in-kind support and cash hedged with restrictions and exceptions, just collect the taxes, divide them up, and send the money back in cash grants to all American adults. Make the grant large enough so that the poor won't be poor, everyone will have enough for a comfortable retirement, and everyone will be able to afford health care. We're rich enough to do it.

I admire the efficiency of this proposal. But eliminating winners and losers in the current system would strip power from politicians, and you know how much they like that.

There are many ways of turning these economic potentials into a working system. The one I have devised--I call it simply "the Plan" for want of a catchier label--makes a $10,000 annual grant to all American citizens who are not incarcerated, beginning at age 21, of which $3,000 a year must be used for health care. Everyone gets a monthly check, deposited electronically to a bank account. If we implemented the Plan tomorrow, it would cost about $355 billion more than the current system. The projected costs of the Plan cross the projected costs of the current system in 2011. By 2020, the Plan would cost about half a trillion dollars less per year than conservative projections of the cost of the current system. By 2028, that difference would be a trillion dollars per year.

Murray outlines a key advantage:

The Plan returns the stuff of life to all of us in many ways, but chiefly through its effects on the core institutions of family and community. One key to thinking about how the Plan does so is the universality of the grant. What matters is not just that a lone individual has $10,000 a year, but that everyone has $10,000 a year and everyone knows that everyone else has that resource. Strategies that are not open to an individual are open to a couple; strategies that are not open to a couple are open to an extended family or, for that matter, to half a dozen friends who pool resources; strategies not open to a small group are open to a neighborhood. The aggregate shift in resources from government to people under the Plan is massive, and possibilities for dealing with human needs through family and community are multiplied exponentially.

Of course, some people will screw up, and then call upon the government to bail them out. And others just won't do enough. It's a moral risk that we'll never be able to completely eliminate.

And here's an interesting segue into another hot topic: illegal immigration. I would hope that if Murray's plan were implemented, that only legal residents and citizens would receive benefits. Would being in America as an illegal be as attractive when everyone is assumed to have $10,000 for basic needs, and you don't?

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The Larry Bird Trophy

As usual, The Onion is spot-on:

Redick, Morrison To Share 'Larry Bird Trophy For Certain Intangibles'

INDIANAPOLIS—Duke's J.J. Redick and Gonzaga's Adam Morrison joined previous honorees Christian Laettner, Keith Van Horn, and Shawn Bradley Tuesday as co-recipients of the Larry Bird Trophy, which recognizes "certain athletes" each year for possessing "that particular quality" which "really sets them apart" from almost 80 percent of all other basketball players. "In this sport, it's very unusual to find two great players of their…uh, let's see, how should I put it…'stripe,'" said college-basketball analyst Digger Phelps, who immediately asked that his previous statement be stricken from the record. "They really…hmm… You see, not a lot of players are even qualified for this award, you know, in the sense that… Well, let's just hope that, if and when these guys are starting in the NBA, they are able to compete with the league's other more athletic, instinctual…folks." This marks the first time that there have been two winners of the Bird Trophy since 1993, when Bobby Hurley and half of Jason Kidd shared the award.

If Josh McRoberts and Tyler Hansbrough don't go pro, they'll be serious contenders for this prestigious award next year. :)

Does seeing a joke article like this make you wonder why we honor members of certain races, but not others?

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The gecko, in trouble?

Your garden-variety gecko might be afraid of snakes hunting it, but another gecko is being hunted by the Consumer Federation of America.

Wait. Not gecko, GEICO. It's so easy to get them confused. :)

It seems the CFA doesn't like the way GEICO uses the insured's profession and education to help judge risk and set rates. (Aside: one of GEICO and the CFA is owned by genius businessman Warren Buffett; can you guess which one?)

Let me point out that profession and education are not as important as age, sex, and marital status in judging risk for auto insurance. (All of which are horribly unfair to me, a single young man.) And rating based on education and profession isn't required; other companies are free to price without considering this factor. Blue-collar workers with good driving records can get their insurance cheaper through other companies.

Unfortunately, an actuary (a Fellow of the Casualty Actuarial Society), who should know better, is arguing in favor of his employer, and against this more refined GEICO model:

But these factors can also penalize otherwise good drivers who don't make the cut, said J. Robert Hunter, the Consumer Federation's director of insurance.

"To say blue collar is worse than white collar, I don't think that is right," said Hunter. Hunter is also a former Texas insurance commissioner, and served as a federal insurance administrator.

I hate to point out the obvious, but I will. And you don't need to be an actuary to know this.

ANY rating factor can penalize otherwise good drivers.

My driving record is pretty good, with one weather-related accident over twelve years of driving, and this is with driving around 16,000 miles a year. Yet I've had to endure paying insurance rates partially driven by stereotypical young male drivers who are reckless, who drink and drive, who are aggressive, and who are otherwise stupid. Where can I sign up for the class-action suit to give me some relief?

The funny thing is, every time I renew my car insurance, I say my rates should be lower because I'm an actuary, and thus understand risks better. Little did I know a company actually has this rating structure!

History's Gayest Villian?

It's a joke thread over at the Actuarial Outpost. I think we have a winner:

Monday, March 20, 2006

The slippery slope

Ann Althouse is discussing Charles Krauthammer's column linking the approval of homosexual marriage to the inevitable approval for polygamous marriage. She disagrees with Krauthammer, saying that "[l]egal marriage isn't just about love, it's an economic arrangement."

Having the state authorize your union is not the same thing as having your friends and neighbors approve of you and your religious leaders bless you. It affects taxes and employee benefits -- huge amounts of money. A gay person with a pension and a health insurance plan is incapable of extending those benefits to his (or her) partner. He (or she) can't file a joint tax return. That's not fair. A polygamous marriage, however, puts a group of persons in a position to claim more economic benefits than the traditional heterosexual couple. That doesn't appeal to our sense of fairness.

Even if she's correct, the arguments in favor of gay marriage can be used to argue for marriage between adult relatives, another slippery slope argument often discussed. And Eugene Volokh has the logical polygamist response.

I don't have a horse in the race, so I don't have strong opinions about various forms of marriage-like arrangements for nontraditional groups. I can see keeping the traditional definition of marriage, for the not-so-strong reason that "it's tradition," or stated more strongly, "thousands of years of human civilization have created the institution of marriage, because it works, and surely there's evidence it continues to work." Alternately, I can see granting the benefits of marriage to any combination of consenting adults. I can't see a logical position anywhere in between, though.

I am willing to be convinced. Does anyone have an argument in favor of government recognition of gay marriage that 1) reflects the basic facts of government recognition of marriage (for example, children and love have nothing to do with it), and 2) cannot also be used to support government recognition of plural marriages or marriage between adult relatives?

Let's not be racist here.

A few days ago, you may have read about a man in Virginia caught using receipts to return items taken from store shelves, a common scam. The story was worthy of national attention only because he was a former advisor to President Bush.

There are a lot of facts that don't matter when looking at this case. His favorite restaurant. His high school. His taste in music. And, of course, his race and sex. No matter what the color of his skin, the content of his character was clearly lacking.

Predictably, though, someone on the left is making this a racial issue. Here's L.A. Times op-ed columnist Erin Kaplan:

I don't support conservatism in its current iteration, and I support black conservatives even less, but we cannot ignore the racial implications of this latest Republican fall from grace. Here is a decidedly white-collar black man getting clipped for a blue-collar crime associated with economic necessity, one that practically guarantees prison time for most black men in this country. (Even if he's ultimately convicted, it's doubtful that Allen will end up behind bars.)

Here is a man who, like most black conservatives, has had to do an awful lot of personal and political rationalizing to pay dues, which included apprenticing with then-North Carolina senator and habitual racist Jesse Helms and opposing the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.
(I don't know how often small-time fraud actually earns prison time for a first time offender. People get probation for a lot worse.) And look at this sterling logic:

It's hard to imagine that such compromises and cognitive dissonance don't exact a psychological toll at some point, and Allen's alleged dabbling in crime might have been that point for him. Was he testing the limits of a power he wasn't sure he had, but needed? Was he fatally overconfident — fatal indeed for a black man — that his position shielded him from the consequences of crime, or at least the consequences of petty theft? After a career of always conducting himself appropriately, as his mentor Clarence Thomas reportedly advised, did he finally crack under the pressure? (All black folk, even conservatives, know they have to be three times as upstanding just to get along.) Was he acting out a latent bitterness at being denied a spot on the federal appeals court by a Senate that found his resume too thin and his past reference to gays as "queer" too cavalier for comfort? Or was he a closeted compulsive grifter who would have done this anyway? Hard to know.

Yeah, sure, the color of one's skin makes one a criminal. Such enlightened thought. The standard "house Negro," "traitor," and other degrading terms are also tossed around by this writer.

Such writing has no place in a colorblind society.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Welcome, coyotes!

Smithsonian Magazine has an article on the coyote moving into cities. Really moving into cities.

By the end of the 20th century, the animal had colonized the tundra of Alaska, the tropical forests of Panama and the urban jungle of New York City.

New York City? Yes, they even live in the big cities. I'm pretty sure I once saw a coyote dashing across the highway outside of Noblesville, Indiana. But at least that area was near vast swaths of farmland.

But it's not a bad thing.

Way emphasizes coyotes can be an asset to urban ecosystems, keeping a check on deer, rodents, Canada geese and other animals that thrive on the suburbs' all-you-can-eat buffet.

I welcome anyone who will put a stop to that plague of Canadian terrorists!

(Via BoingBoing.net)

Tuned up Taste?

I vaguely remember spotting those words decorating my latest purchased 2 liter of Diet Mountain Dew. Then I tried it. Something was clearly different. Yes, they actually changed the taste of the soda. To me, it tastes more like Mello Yello.

May I point out that when both Mountain Dew and Mello Yello are available, I don't choose to buy Mello Yello?

Just remember: New Coke succeeded at making Coke taste more like Pepsi, but despite the Pepsi Challenge, people weren't interested in drinking a different-tasting beverage. (Or, if you're a conspiracy theorist, New Coke succeeded in allowing Coke to swap from sugar to corn syrup, with no one noticing.)

I can always buy other sodas. Hopefully, Code Red Diet Mountain Dew isn't being altered.


Thanks to Afterglide, here are some suggestions on what you can do to restore Diet Mountain Dew:

1. Phone Pepsico customer service at (800) 433-2652 to register your preference for the original formula.
2. Sign the petition.
3. Boycott all Pepsico products other than the classic Diet Dew.

**UPDATE 2**

The reason for the different taste? The sweetener has gone from aspartame to a combination of aspartame, acesulfame potassium, and sucralose. That's a similar approach to the various Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi variants that have been released (and not to a lot of success, right?).

I love Wal-Mart!

I'm feeling left out of this controversial Wal-Mart/blogger/PR debate (see Iowa Voice, for example). Some bloggers have been getting press releases from Wal-Mart after writing favorably about them. Me? I get nothing.

Hmmm... maybe because I haven't written anything about Wal-Mart here? Dang!

I must be remembering comments left over at Wal-Mart foe Honest Partisan.

I do like Wal-Mart, like how their lower prices help out lower income folks, like how they have jobs for lesser experienced workers that offer room for career advancement.

However, I actually do most of my shopping at the grocery store within walking distance of the office, and on the way home. I probably only shop at Wal-Mart a couple of times a month, only to pick up a few types of items (medicine, cleaning supplies, some prepackaged food; never clothes). I don't have a Super Wal-Mart nearby, so I can't compare grocery prices.

It's good I don't go there often. One of the best items at the store is a "trail mix" which has three types of candy chips, several types of dried fruit, and a few nuts; one bag is equal to a pound and a half of weight gain, but it's very delicious weight gain.

Attention comic fans!

If you're like most people, you've lived in many different places, subscribed to several different newspapers, and been exposed to a lot of different comic strips. If you're regretting your current newspaper doesn't run an old favorite, you can build your own comics page!

The Houston Chronicle has a feature to create a page with up to 8 comics, out of a list of 102 different comics. Call up the page later, and read your favorites. Best of all, you can catch up on the the previous days' strips, so there's no need to visit the site daily.

Check it out!

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

More crushing of dissent

Visit Orac to learn about a crime that shouldn't be ignored.

Arsonists targeted the offices used as a mailing address for the Holocaust History Project (THHP). The fire caused considerable damage to a warehouse complex and caused smoke damage to nearby businesses. Although the perpetrators have not been identified, there is good reason to suspect that it was not the business that was targeted, but rather THHP. The business sold and exported educational materials for schools. It is not too much of a stretch to conclude that the most likely suspects are people or organizations opposed to the educational mission of the THHP fighting Holocaust denial.

If it's not too much, all the liberals who think the government is "crushing their dissent" should take some time to show their support of an organization committed to preserving the memory of a tragic time in world history.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Terror attack at UNC

A recent graduate of the University of North Carolina, Mohammed Reza Taheri-azar, an Iranian native, is charged with nine counts 0f attempted murder in an admitted terror attack on the UNC campus. He drove a car through the Pit and attempted to run down anyone present. Fortunately, no one was seriously injured. (It's hard to get a car to the Pit, so accelerating to lethal speeds is very difficult.)

Based on comments made after his arrest, Poarch said Taheri-azar acted to "avenge the deaths of Muslims around the world."

(Assumption here: he doesn't mean deaths of Muslims caused by other Muslims.)

The American Heritage Dictionary defines terrorism as "The unlawful use or threatened use of force or violence by a person or an organized group against people or property with the intention of intimidating or coercing societies or governments, often for ideological or political reasons." The statements by the criminal indicate this is a terrorist attack, and should be classified as such. Furthermore, if North Carolina has a hate crime law, these attacks should also be treated as hate crimes.

I can guarantee sentiments against the war in Iraq are stronger on the UNC campus than in the state in general, so it's strange why he'd choose the Pit over, say, a flea market somewhere else in the state.

It's cliched, but he was called calm, well-spoken, not the type to do this.

If you're in the vicinity, there will be an anti-terrorism rally today in the Pit from 11 AM to 1 PM. Show your opposition to terrorism!

Friday, March 03, 2006

Paging Hollywood liberals

Ever notice how even movies based on real stories use actors and actresses a lot more attractive than their real-life examples?

That wouldn't be a problem if Hollywood would publicize this story!

An honest-to-goodness supermodel uses a digital camera to take pictures of oppressed people living in squalor, and smuggles out the memory chip in her bra. The pictures are now on display in Prague.

Once you click the link, you'll see why this won't even receive a TV movie treatment.

(Via Dave Justus and Crosblog)

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Isn't this what you asked for?

After the booming 1990s when incomes and stock prices were soaring, this decade has been less of a thrill ride for most American families.

Average incomes after adjusting for inflation actually fell from 2001 to 2004, and the growth in net worth was the weakest in a decade, the Federal Reserve reported
Thursday. . . .

The median family income, the point where half the families made more and half made less, rose a tiny 1.6 percent to $43,200 in 2004 compared with 2001.

James Taranto of OpinionJournal.com points out the following:

But if the average income fell while the median income rose, that almost certainly means that incomes were falling at the top while rising at the bottom. If the opposite had happened, of course, the AP would doubtless have told an alarming story of increasing income inequality.

What's important to me is that individual families can continue to improve their family income. The average or median salary from time to time doesn't interest me as much as knowing the economy will still allow those in the bottom income quintile to regularly climb into the highest quintile, given the passage of a decade or two.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Veganism kills!

“Vegan diets are not bloodless diets,” Davis said. “Millions of animals die
every year to provide products used in vegan diets.” […]

Few studies document the losses of rabbits, mice, pheasants, snakes and other field animals in planting and harvesting crops. Said one researcher: “Because most of these animals have been seen as expendable, or not seen at all, few scientific studies have been done measuring agriculture’s effects on their populations.”

Davis has found evidence that suggests that the unseen losses of field animals are very high. One study documented that a single operation, mowing alfalfa, caused a 50 percent reduction in the gray-tailed vole population. Mortality rates increase with every pass of the tractor to plow, plant, and harvest. Additions of herbicides and pesticides cause additional harm to animals of the field.

Very interesting; I had never thought about it that way, but animals will die, even producing foods for a vegan diet.

On the other hand, human presence probably scares away predators, so prey species may be more likely to survive. Our presence has both positive and negative effects. I'm not going to worry about it. As long as people aren't being deliberately cruel to animals, killing them for no reason, I don't care.

I personally believe that humans, who biologically are omnivores, should be able to eat any combination of plant and animal material. It's just part of the natural order, as illustrated below.

(Via Gay Orbit)