Archive for October, 2013
31 Oct 2013

“Like Firing Ten .30-06s”

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Put aside your girly-man .458 Win Mag or your wimpy .50 cal and watch guys shoot a real gun, the largest center fire rifle ever made, the .950 JDJ by SSK Industries (Ohio).

Only three were ever made. This was the lightest, the carbine version, weighing in at 50 lbs. It shoots a .95 caliber 2,400 grain bullet at 2,100 fps using 240 grains of powder, which generates 25,400 f/lbs of muzzle energy and 277 f/lbs of recoil energy. This would make a great bear killer, ought to blow it off its feet by several yards. Better have a gun bearer.

Each round costs $40.

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Wikipedia:


As its name implies, rifles chambered for the cartridge have a bore diameter of 0.950 in (24.1 mm), which would normally classify them as Destructive Devices in the United States under the 1968 (1934) National Firearms Act. However, SSK sought and received a “Sporting Use Exception” to de-regulate the rifles, meaning they can be purchased like any other Title I rifle by a person over age 18 with no felonies on their criminal record. The rifles themselves, of which only a handful have been made, use McMillan stocks and extraordinarily thick Krieger barrels bearing an 18 lb (8.2 kg) muzzle brake. Overall, depending on options, the rifles weigh from 85 to 110 pounds (39 to 50 kg) and are therefore only useful for shooting from a bench rest or heavy bipod. Despite the weight, recoil is significant, and shooters must be sure to choose components (i.e., scopes and bipods) that can handle the abuse. The sheer size and weight of these weapons makes them impractical for hunting use, as they cannot be carried afield. Thus, they are largely “range queens”—rifles that are brought to the range for a fun time, but not usually used for hunting or other “more practical” uses. Additionally, the cost of owning and operating such a firearm is beyond most shooters; the rifles cost ~US$8,000, loaded cartridges are $40 each, and the individual lathe-turned bronze bullets are $10 apiece.

31 Oct 2013

9-Year-Old Sings Puccini

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Amira Willighagen, age 9, sings “O mio babbino caro” (“Oh My Beloved Father”) an aria from the opera Gianni Schicchi (1918) on television program Holland’s Got Talent.

31 Oct 2013

Why Men Should Always Carry Chocolate

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2:58 video NSFW

31 Oct 2013

The Power of Photoshop

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Girls are complaining about the ability of Photoshop, and the propensity of the media, to improve upon Nature. For some reason, they seem to think that they are dealing with unfair competition.

30 Oct 2013

Neil Cavuto On Why Americans Don’t Trust Obama Anymore

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3:42 video (No embed available)

30 Oct 2013

Aztec Statism

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Hat tip to James Harberson.

30 Oct 2013

Obamacare: Mac vs. PC Parodies

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29 Oct 2013

The Making of the Professoriate

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Zachary Ernst recently attracted a lot of attention by quitting a tenured faculty position (Associate Professor of Philosophy at University of Missouri). A bit earlier this year, he explained why he believes that the few who make it through the process and arrive at tenure have been hand-selected for mediocrity and obsequiousness.

Quite understandably, faculty try to instill in their students the same attitudes that enabled them to succeed. Unfortunately, those qualities are often counterproductive for any life outside of academia. But in order to fully grasp why this fact is so important, you have to understand a little bit about how careers are made and lost in academia.

Success as a faculty member requires one thing above all else: a good reputation in your field. During the tenure and promotion process, perhaps the most crucial step will be when your department solicits letters of reference from well-known senior faculty in your chosen specialty. They will review your research output and write a candid assessment of your work. Bad letters from these faculty will destroy your chances of being awarded tenure. And because tenure is an “up-or-out” system, failing to receive tenure means that you’re fired. Furthermore, in this economy, it usually means that your career is over, too.

The very worst thing that can happen is for your letter-writers to be unfamiliar with your work. Accordingly, savvy junior faculty members will direct their research to a very specific sub-specialty so that they increase their chances of becoming known within a particular group of senior researchers. That way, even though the junior faculty member won’t know who’s being solicited for letters during their tenure review, they can be reasonably certain that their work will be known to the right people. Because it’s so time-consuming to conduct research and submit papers and books for publication (it often takes well over a year for a paper to be published in a good journal, for example), a junior faculty member can’t afford to waste any time or effort. It’s almost suicidal to write a series of papers on different topics, even if those papers are very high-quality. Instead, it’s a far better strategy to try to achieve a “critical mass” of research output in a small, narrowly-focused area. Research areas, types of output (papers, presentations, books, grant proposals, etc), venues, and everything else are selected to maximize the probability that the right people will learn about one’s work. The math is terrible — rejection rates for top journals in my field, for example, are way above 90%, and this is quite typical. With a six-year window between being hired and beginning the tenure process, it can easily take a year to get one’s research off the ground. Between the end of any particular research work and publication (assuming it’s accepted for publication), there can easily be a year or more. This is why it’s so important to relentlessly focus on a narrow specialty; there is no time to waste.

Of course, it’s possible that after being awarded tenure, a faculty member might broaden her horizons and pursue a variety of different intellectual pursuits. This would be in keeping with one major purpose of tenure — to enable an established researcher to set her own research agenda without fear of losing her job. To be sure, this does happen. But in my experience at least, it’s very rare. The reason why it’s so rare is pretty simple: the tenure process filters out the people who would be most likely to pursue diverse intellectual interests. Having survived college, graduate school, and the tenure track, it’s very likely that whoever is left standing is the sort of person who fits comfortably into the existing structure. Someone who is prone to pursuing a diverse set of interests or (worse yet) interdisciplinary research will run a much larger risk of losing her job during the tenure review process. And of course, even if you started out with a lot of intellectual interests, the sheer habit of limiting yourself to the narrow range of acceptable work can change you over the course of a decade.

In this way, faculty are like columnists for major newspapers. Columnists for, say, the New York Times are perfectly free to write whatever they like (within appropriate professional guidelines, of course). But the range of opinion expressed in those columns is terribly narrow. The problem is not that the Times is exerting pressure on its columnists. The problem is that in order to be a columnist for the New York Times to begin with, you have to be the kind of person whose opinions already fall within a specific range. The same goes for faculty. Universities are generally pretty good about not exerting overt pressure on faculty and their research. Intellectual freedom is generally respected. But the university doesn’t need to exert any pressure, because it’s already filtered out the people who would need to be pressured. Those who survive are, for the most part, narrow specialists who care little about what’s happening outside their own area of specialization.

The same is true of faculty opinions about the university itself. With a six year pre-tenure filtering process, those who are granted the freedom to change the way their courses are run, try something new, or (gasp!) criticize the university have largely been eliminated. Those who remain are perfectly free to teach, conduct research, or express themselves however they like. But the people who would actually take advantage of that privilege are gone.

Hat tip to Karen L. Myers.

29 Oct 2013

Technology Obama-Style

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[T]he age of chivalry is gone. That of sophisters, economists, and calculators has succeeded; and the glory of Europe is extinguished forever. —- Edmund Burke

Dan Greenfield observes that no one should be very surprised that the Obamacare web-site failed to work. In this case, it was simply a matter of the Nomenklatura’s characteristic magical thinking attempting to take the place of software engineering in very much the same way the idea of Obamacare itself tries to replace the market with a theoretical determination of what is best by similar great minds.

Our technocracy is detached from competence. It’s not the technocracy of engineers, but of “thinkers” who read Malcolm Gladwell and Thomas Friedman and watch TED talks and savor the flavor of competence, without ever imbibing its substance.

These are the people who love Freakonomics, who enjoy all sorts of mental puzzles, who like to see an idea turned on its head, but who couldn’t fix a toaster.

The ObamaCare website is the natural spawn of that technocracy who love the idea of using modernity to make things faster and easier, but have no idea what anything costs or how it works.

It’s hard to have a functioning technocracy without engineers. A technocracy made in Silicon Valley with its complete disregard for anything outside its own ego zone would be bad enough. But this is a Bloombergian technocracy of billionaires and activists, of people who think that “progress” makes things work, rather than things working leading to progress.

Healthcare.gov showed us that behind all the smoother and shinier designs was the same old clunky government where everything gets done because the right companies hire the right lobbyists and everything costs ten times what it should.

If the government can’t build a health care website, how is it going to actually run health care for an entire country is the obvious question that so many are asking. And the obvious answer is that it will run it the way it ran the website. It will throw wads of money and people at the problem and then look for programs it doesn’t like to squeeze for extra cash.

Read the whole thing.

28 Oct 2013

The Company That Built the Obamacare Web-site Built Canada’s Gun Registry

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Cheryl Campbell, senior vice president of CGI Federal, left, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington on Thursday. CGI will earn at least $290 million from its Obamacare contract to design the site.

Mark Steyn identifies the Canadian Company which got the no-bid contract to build the botched Obamacare web-site. Who knew? They were already famous for their achievements on behalf of the Canadian Government.

CGI is… a Canadian corporate behemoth. Indeed, CGI is so Canadian their name is French: Conseillers en Gestion et Informatique. Their most famous government project was for the Canadian Firearms Registry. The registry was estimated to cost in total $119 million, which would be offset by $117 million in fees. That’s a net cost of $2 million. Instead, by 2004 the CBC (Canada’s PBS) was reporting costs of some $2 billion — or a thousand times more expensive.

Yeah, yeah, I know, we’ve all had bathroom remodelers like that. But in this case the database had to register some 7 million long guns belonging to some two-and-a-half to three million Canadians. That works out to almost $300 per gun — or somewhat higher than the original estimate for processing a firearm registration of $4.60. Of those $300 gun registrations, Canada’s auditor general reported to parliament that much of the information was either duplicated or wrong in respect to basic information such as names and addresses.

Sound familiar?

Read the whole thing.

28 Oct 2013

The Photographer Was Delicious

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28 Oct 2013

Ninja Raccoons Always Hunt in Packs

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28 Oct 2013

Shutdown Over

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28 Oct 2013

Big Brother on Your Dashboard

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The LA Times reports on an unlikely alliance between statist tax grabbers and some libertarians(!) to arrange for Big Brother to accompany you every mile you drive.

As America’s road planners struggle to find the cash to mend a crumbling highway system, many are beginning to see a solution in a little black box that fits neatly by the dashboard of your car.

The devices, which track every mile a motorist drives and transmit that information to bureaucrats, are at the center of a controversial attempt in Washington and state planning offices to overhaul the outdated system for funding America’s major roads.

The usually dull arena of highway planning has suddenly spawned intense debate and colorful alliances. Libertarians have joined environmental groups in lobbying to allow government to use the little boxes to keep track of the miles you drive, and possibly where you drive them — then use the information to draw up a tax bill.

The tea party is aghast. The American Civil Liberties Union is deeply concerned, too, raising a variety of privacy issues.

And while Congress can’t agree on whether to proceed, several states are not waiting. They are exploring how, over the next decade, they can move to a system in which drivers pay per mile of road they roll over. Thousands of motorists have already taken the black boxes, some of which have GPS monitoring, for a test drive.

“This really is a must for our nation. It is not a matter of something we might choose to do,” said Hasan Ikhrata, executive director of the Southern California Assn. of Governments, which is planning for the state to start tracking miles driven by every California motorist by 2025. “There is going to be a change in how we pay these taxes. The technology is there to do it.”

The push comes as the country’s Highway Trust Fund, financed with taxes Americans pay at the gas pump, is broke. Americans don’t buy as much gas as they used to. Cars get many more miles to the gallon. The federal tax itself, 18.4 cents per gallon, hasn’t gone up in 20 years. Politicians are loath to raise the tax even one penny when gas prices are high.

“The gas tax is just not sustainable,” said Lee Munnich, a transportation policy expert at the University of Minnesota. His state recently put tracking devices on 500 cars to test out a pay-by-mile system. “This works out as the most logical alternative over the long term,” he said.

Wonks call it a mileage-based user fee. It is no surprise that the idea appeals to urban liberals, as the taxes could be rigged to change driving patterns in ways that could help reduce congestion and greenhouse gases, for example. California planners are looking to the system as they devise strategies to meet the goals laid out in the state’s ambitious global warming laws. But Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), chairman of the House Transportation Committee, has said he, too, sees it as the most viable long-term alternative. The free marketeers at the Reason Foundation are also fond of having drivers pay per mile.

“This is not just a tax going into a black hole,” said Adrian Moore, vice president of policy at Reason. “People are paying more directly into what they are getting.”

The movement is also bolstered by two former U.S. Transportation secretaries, who in a 2011 report urged Congress to move in the pay-per-mile direction.

The U.S. Senate approved a $90-million pilot project last year that would have involved about 10,000 cars. But the House leadership killed the proposal, acting on concerns of rural lawmakers representing constituents whose daily lives often involve logging lots of miles to get to work or into town.

Several states and cities are nonetheless moving ahead on their own. The most eager is Oregon, which is enlisting 5,000 drivers in the country’s biggest experiment. Those drivers will soon pay the mileage fees instead of gas taxes to the state. Nevada has already completed a pilot. New York City is looking into one. Illinois is trying it on a limited basis with trucks. And the I-95 Coalition, which includes 17 state transportation departments along the Eastern Seaboard (including Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Florida), is studying how they could go about implementing the change.

The concept is not a universal hit.

In Nevada, where about 50 volunteers’ cars were equipped with the devices not long ago, drivers were uneasy about the government being able to monitor their every move.

“Concerns about Big Brother and those sorts of things were a major problem,” said Alauddin Khan, who directs strategic and performance management at the Nevada Department of Transportation. “It was not something people wanted.”

As the trial got underway, the ACLU of Nevada warned on its website: “It would be fairly easy to turn these devices into full-fledged tracking devices…. There is no need to build an enormous, unwieldy technological infrastructure that will inevitably be expanded to keep records of individuals’ everyday comings and goings.”

Read the whole thing.

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