Archive for July, 2010
31 Jul 2010

How Dumb Am I?

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NYM readers may at least be amused.

It’s like this. I bought a Sony Vaio laptop a good while back. It was a bargain, but it came with Vista installed.

At that particular moment in history, I was feeling experimental. I felt like playing with Linux, and I had a hankering to see if I could possibly adapt to the MAC OS environment, one button mouse, all that. So I got a free copy of Ubuntu and bought a copy of Leopard on Ebay. I had been reading that it was possible to install Leopard on a Vaio with some fiddling.

None of this worked out for me.

Leopard could not relate to the notebook’s videocard, and I simply gave up and installed XP on the second hard drive partition. I wasted hours trying to use Linux, but it was just too much trouble to overcome the absence of a readily available driver for the wireless modem. Linux worked fine. It just could not contact the Internet.

So there I was with 80 gb of my hard drive devoted to a Linux installation I was not actually using. But, hey, I still had about 60 gb with Win XP on it, which was working fine.

But, over time, that 60 gb was beginning to fill up. I trashed the games I wasn’t actively playing and purged several large programs. Then, I started moving all the image files off the PC onto various backup drives. But, finally, I had just installed Lightroom and Visio, and C: was getting close to full again. There were getting to be fewer movable items. I got to thinking last night that I ought to do something about all this.

So I Googled on the phrase “eliminate partition” and, lo and behold, there was a link to a discussion explaining that you could do that by hitting START>Control Panel>Administration Tools>Computer Management>Storage>Disk Management, then all you had to do was right click on the offending 80 gb Linux Partition, and select Delete.

What could possibly go wrong? I thought to myself. Ubuntu goes bye bye. The 80 gb Linux Partition returns to being part of the ordinary C: drive. I have lots of disk, and everyone is happy. So I hit “delete.”

Then I looked at the properties of the C: drive, so I could admire all the great new space I had created.

Hmmm. No change. The only difference was that second partition was now unlabeled.

I guess I need to reboot before the change goes into effect, I concluded. This would be the moment of truth. If I had screwed the pooch, I would soon find out. But, how likely was that?

My keen mind, doubtless impacted by age and senility, had overlooked the obvious consideration that I had installed Ubuntu first, and Ubuntu had put itself in charge of the boot-up process.

So the PC turns off, starts to come up, and GRUB (Ubuntu’s Grand Unified Boot-Loader) starts looking for that now-unlabeled Linux Partition, can’t find it, and sits there… permanently, announcing Error 17.

Error 17 means that GRUB can’t find the partition it’s looking for. It then freezes and sulks.

So, this is how to disable your PC and create a fine opportunity to research sub-operating system levels of PC operation in both Windows and Linux lands.

Blogging will be less frequent for a few days. I’m using an older, slower machine.

31 Jul 2010

39,697 African-American Farmers, 86,000 Discrimination Claims

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!n 1997, attorneys signed up 400 black farmers to sue the Department of Agriculture for discrimination, claiming that they were denied loans or made to wait longer for loans because of bias. So the Clinton Administration simply chose to settle the case.

Wikipedia explains:

Under the consent decree, all African American farmers would be paid a “virtually automatic” US$50,000 plus granted certain loan forgiveness and tax offsets. This process was called “Track A”.

Alternatively, affected farmers could follow the “Track B” process, seeking a larger payment by presenting a greater amount of evidence — the legal standard in this case was to have a preponderance of evidence along with evidence of greater damages.

Originally, claimants were to have filed within 180 days of the consent decree. Late claims were accepted for an additional year afterwards, if they could show extraordinary circumstances that prevented them from filing on time.

Far beyond the anticipated 2,000 affected farmers, 22,505 “Track A” applications were heard and decided upon, of which 13,348 (59%) were approved. US$995 million had been disbursed or credited to the “Track A” applicants as of January 2009[update], including US$760 million disbursed as US$50,000 cash awards.[3] Fewer than 200 farmers opted for the “Track B” process.

Beyond those applications that were heard and decided upon, about 70,000 petitions were filed late and were not allowed to proceed. Some have argued that the notice program was defective, and others blamed the farmers’ attorneys for “the inadequate notice and overall mismanagement of the settlement agreement

So now the Obama Administration is piling a further dubious capitulation on top of the first (which awarded $1 billion), and is agreeing to pass out an additional $1.25 billion to people who applied too late, and an additional 70,000 “victims” are going to cash in, on top of the first 16,000.

It’s a game. Trial attorneys cook up an alleged class of victims, and sue the government. A democrat administration obligingly settles, and everyone gets rich, especially the trial lawyers. It’s easy to win when the other team is on your side, and is eager to throw the game.

Zombie at PJM discusses the implausibility of all of this.

30 Jul 2010

A House Divided Felt Round the World

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Rep. Barney F. Bourbon

Richard Fernandez identifies the international aspects of the thesis of Angelo Codevilla’s recent important essay.

Niall Ferguson is touring Australia warning that the end of American dominance may be imminent and sudden. Somehow the ideas in Codevilla’s essay are popping up everywhere, whether people have read it or not. Ferguson describes how rapidly empires can fall.

    The Bourbon monarchy in France passed from triumph to terror with astonishing rapidity. The sun set on the British Empire almost as suddenly. The Suez crisis in 1956 proved that Britain could not act in defiance of the US in the Middle East, setting the seal on the end of empire.

But those things happen only to the denizens of history. People who live in the today usually think they are different. So despite evidence of dramatic change, people who have spent their whole lives among the policy certainties of the postwar period find it difficult to accept they may have to build a world of their own from first principles. Ferguson asks his audience: “what would you do in a world without America? Has the question even crossed your mind?”

Australia’s post-war foreign policy has been, in essence, to be a committed ally of the US. But what if the sudden waning of American power that I fear brings to an abrupt end the era of US hegemony in the Asia-Pacific region? Are we ready for such a dramatic change in the global balance of power? Judging by what I have heard here since I arrived last Friday, the answer is no. Australians are simply not thinking about such things.

But if the Australians are not thinking about it, the Chinese are certainly preparing for it. The Wall Street Journal recently noted that Beijing objected to the right of US naval vessels to exercise in the Yellow Sea, despite the fact that they are international waters. At least they used to be. Waters are only international if kept so by a powerful navy committed to the freedom of the seas. People sometimes forget that treaties reflect realities rather than create them, no matter what the European Union may think. …

[Caroline Glick observes that] “[j]ust as US bureaucrats, journalists, politicians and domestic policy wonks tend to combine forces to perpetuate and expand the sclerotic and increasingly bankrupt welfare state, so their foreign policy counterparts tend to collaborate to perpetuate failed foreign policy paradigms that have become writs of faith for American and Western elites.” In other words, when it comes down to funding politics or funding defense, fund politics. Ferguson made the same point more starkly: “it is quite likely that the US could be spending more on interest payments than on defense within the next decade.”

If the love of money is the root of all evil, the lack of it is the cause of the fall of empires. Ferguson gave some examples:

    Think of Spain in the 17th century: already by 1543 nearly two-thirds of ordinary revenue was going on interest on the juros, the loans by which the Habsburg monarchy financed itself.

    Or think of France in the 18th century: between 1751 and 1788, the eve of Revolution, interest and amortisation payments rose from just over a quarter of tax revenue to 62 per cent.

    Finally, consider Britain in the 20th century. Its real problems came after 1945, when a substantial proportion of its now immense debt burden was in foreign hands. Of the pound stg. 21 billion national debt at the end of the war, about pound stg. 3.4bn was owed to foreign creditors, equivalent to about a third of gross domestic product.

    Alarm bells should therefore be ringing very loudly indeed in Washington, as the US contemplates a deficit for 2010 of more than $US1.47 trillion ($1.64 trillion), about 10 per cent of GDP, for the second year running.

But alarm bells aren’t ringing in Washington. The entire alarm system has been disabled, disconnected, perhaps scrapped. Anyone who wants to turn it back on will have to root through the dumpster to see if any usable parts can still be retrieved. No better symptom of the absence of alarms is the genuine astonishment of Charles Rangel that it is illegal to break the law. Almost as a matter of course he concealed hundreds of thousands of dollars in income, used Congressional letterhead to solicit donations for private causes, took four rent controlled apartments for himself. Innocently. He probably didn’t think he was doing anything wrong. Things had been so sweet, so long that even after he was offered the chance to negotiate his way out of 13 separate violations of House rules and federal statutes he simply refused to believe it was happening.

Like Brecht’s fictional Atlantean who “the night the seas rushed in … still bellowed for their slaves,” the members of what Codevilla called the “ruling class” can’t believe it is happening. They still want their last dollar, their last perk. Literally, no matter what. “Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank caused a scene when he demanded a $1 senior discount on his ferry fare to Fire Island’s popular gay haunt, The Pines, last Friday. Frank was turned down by ticket clerks at the dock in Sayville because he didn’t have the required Suffolk County Senior Citizens ID. A witness reports, ‘Frank made such a drama over the senior rate that I contemplated offering him the dollar to cool down the situation.’”

The worst thing about the ferry incident is the possibility that if the witness had really offered Frank the dollar he might actually have taken it. Automatically; out of conditioning, like a Pavlovian dog. The culture in which the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee rose to power is one in which it is OK to blithely borrow more money than the entire defense budget can service and yet refuse to spend one whole dollar of his own money. The ethos of that world can be captured in one phrase: “don’t you know who I am?”

30 Jul 2010

“Not Going To Lose The House”

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While The Plum Line reports:

In another sign that House Dem leaders are eager to silence talk about them losing the House, top Democrats are circulating a memo on Capitol Hill that lays out a detailed case for why Republicans will come up short this fall.

Daniel Foster puts it slightly differently:

[Y]ou’re seeing the DCCC telling their members that the House majority is going to a beautiful farm upstate where it can run freely and play with other Democratic majorities.

30 Jul 2010

9th Circuit Upholds Disabled Americans’ Right To Watch Dinner Preparation

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A typical Chipotle Mexican Grill in operation

Walter Olson, now operating out of CATO, who makes something of a specialty of chronicling the most spectacular cases of legal absurdity, was (quite deservedly) particularly proud of finding this one yesterday.

The Chipotle Mexican Grill heralds its “Chipotle Experience,” in which customers can watch their food being made behind a glass partition. Now a Ninth Circuit panel (including famously liberal judges Stephen Reinhardt and Dorothy Nelson) has ruled that the “experience” violates the Americans with Disabilities Act, to quote the AP, “because the restaurants’ 45-inch counters are too high. The company now faces hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages.” The ruling arrives just in time for the ADA’s 20th anniversary, which, as the Washington Post notes, is serving as the occasion for a virtual binge of new regulation-making by the Obama Administration and Congress.

Online reaction to the Chipotle case is tending toward the negative if not incredulous, even at places like the San Francisco Chronicle (“Good Lord, people are complaining because they can’t see a taco, get a life.”) But it’s also worth noting this significant passage (via Ted Frank at Point of Law) from the court record that the Ninth Circuit panel had to overcome:

    The [district] court found that [wheelchair-using complainant] Antoninetti had failed to show irreparable injury because he had not revisited either restaurant after Chipotle adopted its written policy and because his “purported desire to return to the [r]estaurants is neither concrete nor sincere or supported by the facts.” It also stated that Antoninetti’s “history as a plaintiff in accessibility litigation supports this Court’s finding that his purported desire to return to the [r]estaurants is not sincere. Since immigrating to the United States in 1991, Plaintiff has sued over twenty business entities for alleged accessibility violations, and, in all (but one) of those cases, he never returned to the establishment he sued after settling the case and obtaining a cash payment.”

“We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are endowed by their Creator with the right to be entertained by watching their burrito being prepared.”

It’s a wonder that, in California in particular, the blind don’t get to sue Hollywood for making moving pictures they cannot see, and the deaf don’t get to collect penalties from concert venues and the opera.

30 Jul 2010

Puzzle Gun: The Intimidator

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If you take apart GarE Maxton’s 40-45 lb. (18.18-20.45 kgs.) puzzle sculpture, comprised of over 100 pieces which took a year’s worth of precision machining to produce, you can assemble from a number of concealed parts the single shot .45 caliber muzzle-loading pistol seen below.

6:46 video of disassembly.

8:22 video of assembly

Hat tip to Brian Barrett via Karen L. Myers.

29 Jul 2010

Comparing Battle Log Reports To Reality

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Noah Shachtman was present, as an embedded reporter for Wired, at one of the incidents whose update report was leaked by Wikileaks. Reading these kind of compressed battle logs is not going to convey anything like the reality of the war to the Western public, he argues.

Echo company got into a gunfight in August 2009 in Afghanistan’s Helmand province. You’ll learn that by reading the report found in WikiLeaks’ database. You’ll learn that, after a chase, the marines killed one insurgent. You’ll learn that the insurgents supposedly fled and that the troops — part of the 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines — decided to stay the night in the area, in case the militants returned.

What you won’t learn is that a marine sniper team sparked the shoot-out with a surprise assault on the insurgents; that every member of that team was nearly killed in the battle; that the incident would kick off a three-day siege in which the Taliban nearly had the Echo company squad surrounded; that this spot eventually became an Echo company base; or that, while this extended gun fight was going on, British and Afghan troops were nearby, waging a more gentle form of counterinsurgency as they sat cross-legged under shady patches of farmland and talked with village elders.

I happen to know this because I was there with Echo company, reporting for Wired magazine. And the wide difference between what actually happened at the Moba Khan compound and what the report says happened there should give caution to those who think they can discover the capital-T truth about the Afghanistan conflict solely through the WikiLeaks war logs.

A different version of this posting appeared as an editorial in the Wall Street Journal.

29 Jul 2010

Lost in Val Sinestra

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This amusing web-site inserts you and a selection of your Facebook friends in the just over 3-minute trailer for one of those teenage scary movies. It’s automated choice of photos is really awfully good.

29 Jul 2010

Case of Student Expelled From Master’s Program For Disapproval of Homosexuality Dismissed By Federal Judge

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One can see in the case of Julea Ward versus Eastern Michigan University the way in which progressive academic institutions, professional organizations, and judges can all collaborate in defining educational requirements, professional standards, and the law in a such a fashion as to outlaw non-progressive opinion in the academic world as well as denying access to practice of professions to non-progressives.

Detroit News:

A federal judge [on wednesday] dismissed a lawsuit brought against Eastern Michigan University by a master’s student who said she was removed from the school’s counseling program because of her strong religious views against homosexuality.

As part of her course work, Ward had refused to counsel homosexual clients, saying she believed homosexuality was morally wrong.

The university removed Ward from the counseling program after determining her actions violated university policy and the American Counseling Association (ACA) code of ethics.

Julea Ward sued the university in 2009, alleging violation of her First Amendment and religious rights.

On Monday, U.S. District Judge George Caram Steeh ruled in favor of the university and granted it summary judgment.

“The university had a rational basis for adopting the ACA Code of Ethics into its counseling program, not the least of which was the desire to offer an accredited program,” Steeh said in a 48-page opinion.

“Furthermore, the university had a rational basis for requiring its students to counsel clients without imposing their personal values.

“In the case of Ms. Ward, the university determined that she would never change her behavior and would consistently refuse to counsel clients on matters with which she was personally opposed due to her religious beliefs — including homosexual relationships.”

The judge said Ward’s “refusal to attempt learning to counsel all clients within their own value systems is a failure to complete an academic requirement of the program.”

2005 ACA Code of Ethics (pdf)

Personal Values

Counselors are aware of their own values, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors and avoid imposing values that are inconsistent with counseling goals. Counselors respect the diversity of clients, trainees, and research participants.

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A similar case is underway involving a student in the counseling program at Augusta State University in Georgia.

29 Jul 2010

The Art of Leaking, According to Julian Assange

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Wikileaks’ Julian Assange released the stolen Afghan documents to the Guardian, the New York Times, and Der Spiegel in a private arrangement, allowing those major news organizations to use their enormously greater staff and resources to research and develop the material in advance of an agreed upon simultaneous publication date.

The British Guardian put the leaked documents into a functional database. The German Spiegel fact-checked the logs against German Army reports. The New York Times got in touch with the Obama administration, then declined to link to the Wikileaks “a gesture to show [the Times was] not endorsing or encouraging the release of information that could cause harm.” Julian Assange described the Times as “pusillanimous.”

(Columbia Journalism Review link)

(Beltway Beast link)

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The London Times (behind subscription firewall) reported yesterday that the Wikileaks leak of those 90,000 documents revealed the names and locations of hundreds of Afghan civilian informants exposing them to Taliban reprisals.

(CBS Worldwatch link)

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Julian Assange boasted today that the Wikileaks organization doesn’t know who leaked the Afghan documents, hinting at his own firewall arrangements intended to deny information on his sources to government agencies and law enforcement.

(Google News link)

28 Jul 2010

State Governments in Action

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The Massachusetts Legislature passed a bill intended to bypass the US Constitution and eliminate the function of the Electoral College in presidential elections.

Illinois, New Jersey, Hawaii, Maryland, and Washington have already passed similar legislation as advocated by National Popular Vote Inc.

Can’t you just picture the inevitable denoument in which, a few years down the road, the liberal democrat wins the Electoral College despite the conservative Republican gaining a majority of the popular vote, whereupon there is some serious scrambling in Massachusetts, Illinois, New Jersey, Hawaii, Maryland, Washington and so on?

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With its budget in bad shape, the state of Washington casually gave away an attractively located 10-acre island it purchased for $211,000 nineteen years ago, despite the fact that the island could have been sold for for millions.

27 Jul 2010

Republicans Can Kill Obamacare

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The GOP has a reasonable chance of recapturing the Senate in November, but it looks like it is definitely going to take the House.

Even with a Republican-controlled Senate, there will probably be enough RINOs from Maine and Massachusetts and other states to stop efforts to repeal the socialization of the American health care system, and even if we did have enough votes in the Senate, the Obamination has the veto.

But, leftwing Talking Points Memo is warning, a Republican House still has other tactics available. Most particularly, the power of the purse. The House can just defund Obamacare.

House GOP Conference Chair Mike Pence [said] “We’ll also use whatever means are available to delay implementation of Obamacare.”

Pence cited the “power of the purse” — Congress’ prerogative to appropriate funds to federal agencies — as a key tool at the Republicans’ disposal if they win back the House. That’s not just bluster.

“The most serious, yet realistic, possibility is precisely the one that you’re suggesting: what the Republicans can do through appropriations bills,” says Paul van de Water, a health care expert at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

In short, implementing the health care law costs money. “Some money was provided in the health reform bill itself, but not by any means all the administrative funding that will be needed,” van de Water said. “If HHS and Treasury don’t get appropriations they need to run the law well, that could be a real problem. It’s not sexy but it’s serious.”

This can work one of few ways. House Republicans, in negotiations with the Senate, could demand appropriation levels beneath what’s necessary to effectively implement the law. If the two chambers reach an agreement — even an agreement that leaves the health care law cash strapped — Obama would be hard pressed to issue a veto. “It’s hard for the president to veto a bill because it doesn’t provide enough money.”

“In theory [they] could cut the funding 10 percent, 15 percent, 20 percent,” says Congressional expert Norm Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute. “The problem is, you could do a lot of damage in a lot of different places.”

But things could shake out differently. An agreement might not be reached, for instance. Or, similarly, Republicans could simply “refuse to fund the entire Labor-HHS appropriations bill, or…pass an appropriation for Labor-HHS that does not include any funds for implementation of the health care plan,” as Ornstein put it.

“They could really bollocks things up if they say ‘none of the funds in this bill can be used to administrate the Affordable Care Act,” echoes van de Water.

That could lead to a veto and then a showdown between the White House and the Hill, mimicking the 1995 standoff between Bill Clinton and then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich. …

There are other tricks the GOP could pull, too. “A second thing that they can do is hold a bunch of hearings and try to tie HHS and CMS into knots, by subpoenaing docs calling in of key figures to testify. In effect, deliberate sabotage to gum up the works,” Ornstein adds.

It’s all but impossible to get Democrats to discuss this threat openly — it’s election season, and they have to hew tightly to the line that a GOP takeover of the House is impossible. But it’s not.

Let’s make sure Republicans are prepared to follow through with exactly what TPM is warning about.

27 Jul 2010

Ancient Spear-Thrower Dart Found Near Yellowstone

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Craig Lee holding 10,000 year old atlatl dart

A University of Colorado research associate discovered a 3-foot-long (0.9 meter) birch atlatl dart in a melting ice patch somewhere in the mountains near Yellowstone National Park in 2007. Dating was completed recently. The dart is bowed from the impact of an avalanche and shows evidence of having been stepped on by an animal, possibly a big horn sheep.

4:36 video

Live Science story

National Parks Traveler story

Hat tip to Karen L. Myers.

27 Jul 2010

Agitprop, Not News

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Herschel Smith points out that the recent Wikileaks documents dump and associated coverage by The Guardian and others are not journalism at all.

There is no news here. So Pakistan’s ISI is complicit in assistance to the Taliban and even supportive of incidents within Afghanistan itself. Who doesn’t already know this? Again, there are unintended casualties in counterinsurgency campaigns. Is this really a surprise to anyone? War is messy. Did the British think otherwise?

The Guardian knows better, as does Julian Assange who defends his work by noting the “real nature of this war” and the need to hold those in power accountable. To anyone with a computer, some time and a little interest, none of this is news. The folks at the Guardian are either stupid (believing that war is bloodless) or they are lying (having followed the body count just like I have). Furthermore, they are either poor countrymen, holding that counterinsurgency is worth it as long as they sacrifice their own and no Afghans are killed, or ignorant, knowing nothing about the necessity to fight and kill the enemy.

The editors of the Guardian are not stupid or ignorant. They are ideologically motivated, just like Julian Assange. The embarrassing part for both of them is that, having admitted that “despite the opportunities provided by new technology, media groups with a global reach still cannot offer their public more than sporadic accounts of the most visible and controversial incidents, and glimpses of the background,” the literate among us know better. The media is preening and polishing their moral credentials. They shouldn’t be. More than anything else, this is a story about letting ideology get in the way of reporting, and about the failure of that same media to do the basic job of compiling information and analyzing it.

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