14 Mar 2015

Happy Pi Day!

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Pi

14 Mar 2015

HPMOR Concludes Today

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HPMOR2

Today, March 14 is Pi Day, the date selected by uber-nerd Eliezer Yudkowsky aka Less Wrong for the release of the 122nd and final chapter of his widely-acclaimed Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality.

Wrap parties celebrating the conclusion of what is, in the eyes of many readers, the greatest all-time performance by a piece of fan fiction will be taking place in Singapore, Bombay, Melbourne and Sydney, Cambridge, Berkeley, Mountain View, Brussels, London, and Berlin.

If we wanted to capture the ultimate Boone and Crockett Club record-book specimen of Nerdus Americanus to be mounted and displayed in a diorama in the Museum of Natural History, we’d be hunting for Eliezer Yudkowsky.

Yudkowsky is an autodidact who quit attending other people’s schools after 8th grade. He nonetheless is pretty successful. He co-founded his own university, the Singularity Institute, and he hobnobs with and advises billionaire capitalist Peter Thiel on change-the-world tech projects.

HPMOR differs from J.K. Rowling’s original in its ruthless consistency. All the background sob story is removed. Harry grows up happily and without being neglected and abused. Neither is Harry is humanized. Harry is not unhappy or insecure. Harry is one of us, a gifted intellectual and thoroughgoing rationalist of keen scientific bent, skeptical of authority and completely self-confident. He knows he’s smarter than everybody else. This Harry is not willing to accept Magic as traditionally taught at Hogwarts. This Harry intends to understand Magic in the light of Muggle science.

As HPMOR develops, Yudkowsky follows the pattern of the early portions of the J.K. Rowling original, but he continually revises. The reader looks on in admiration, noting with astonishment that Yudkowsky is certainly right. Again and again, he successfully improves upon the original.

It’s a great achievement, but it did not go entirely smoothly. Writing HPMOR took years and years, and Yudkowsky found himself distracted from continuing by his own reviews. He bogged down about halfway through, and production slowed to a trickle. He made promises of completion, which he broke. His readers have been sitting around, tapping their feet impatiently, for all of last year.

Today, at last, it’s all finished. Yudkowsky will be releasing his final chapter.

It’s going to be interesting to see what he writes next.

————————–

Facts About Eliezer Yudkowsky:

Eliezer Yudkowsky was once attacked by a Moebius strip. He beat it to death with the other side, non-violently.
Inside Eliezer Yudkowsky’s pineal gland is not an immortal soul, but another brain.
Eliezer Yudkowsky’s favorite food is printouts of Rice’s theorem.
Eliezer Yudkowsky’s favorite fighting technique is a roundhouse dustspeck to the face.
Eliezer Yudkowsky once brought peace to the Middle East from inside a freight container, through a straw.
Eliezer Yudkowsky once held up a sheet of paper and said, “A blank map does not correspond to a blank territory”. It was thus that the universe was created. …

HPMOR1

14 Mar 2015

It’s an Ill Wind That Blows Nobody Any Good

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IrishPoem

‘Bitter is the wind tonight

It tosses the ocean’s white hair

Tonight I fear not the fierce warriors of Norway

Coursing on the Irish sea‘

This anonymous poem is written in the margins of an Early Irish manuscript that now resides in the monastery of St. Gall in Switzerland. Most likely dating from around 850 AD, the text may have been complied in a northern Irish monastery such as Nendrum or Bangor (both in Co. Down). In a just a few, short words it conveys the sense of dread that was permeating through Irish monastic communities in the 9th century AD. During this period Viking raids were an every present danger and the Irish Annals’ record numerous attacks on monasteries.

From Irish Archaeology via Ratak Monodosico.

13 Mar 2015

So God Made a Clinton

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Billary2

Sean Davis explains what happened after God created cancer, bureaucracy, and black flies.

And on the 8th day, God looked down on his creation and said, “It’s way too honest and forthright.” So God made a Clinton.

God said, “I need somebody willing to do anything, believe anything, say anything, no matter how false, in order to attain power.” So God made a Clinton.

“I need somebody with a finger strong enough to wag at the cameras, but gentle enough to hit the power button on an industrial strength paper shredder. Somebody to bark at Congress, threaten cantankerous committee chairs, ignore subpoenas, and hide long sought after document troves deep in the bowels of the White House residence.” So God made a Clinton.

God said, “I need somebody willing to spend decades nursing naked ambition. And then watch it die when some upstart nobody from Chicago decides he doesn’t want to wait his turn. Then dry her eyes and say, ‘Maybe in 2016.’ I need somebody who can shiv a political enemy with nothing more than a nail file and an iPhone case she swore was way too inconvenient to carry around in addition to a Blackberry. And who, in primary and general campaign season, will doggedly complete the Sunday show sweep, and then pop up on TV again later that evening to tell you, ‘The server will remain private.’” So God made a Clinton.

Read the whole thing.

Hat tip to Vanderleun.

13 Mar 2015

Nationwide Levelling Policies Made Harvard Unbeatable at Sports

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HarvardSucks
At The Game in 2004, Yalies tricked Harvard fans into holding up signs creating this message.”

Fred Schwarz explains why SAT compression resulted in Harvard becoming an athletic powerhouse.

Harvard has won or shared the Ivy men’s basketball championship every year since 2010–11. And it isn’t just basketball: Harvard football has won or shared five of the last eight Ivy championships, up from a modest one or two per decade over the league’s first half-century (since 1956). In 1977, during oral argument before the Supreme Court on the momentous Bakke affirmative-action case, the distinguished lawyer Archibald Cox found time to joke about how bad Harvard’s football team was. But now the Crimson dominate the league in the only two sports that most people care about. What happened? The explanation lies in … policies imposed in the 1980s and 1990s, which … give Harvard a significant advantage over the rest of the league in recruiting athletes — and provide a lesson in unintended consequences. …

[The key cause was] the College Board’s decision in 1995 to “recenter” its SAT scoring. This meant that instead of the average score for all SAT takers being somewhere around 400, the board arbitrarily set it at 500 (midway between 200 and 800). Cynics suggested that this was done for political reasons, so the discrepancy between white/Asian SAT takers and others would be less dramatic; in any case, the effect was to crunch together all the good students near the very top of the scale. For example, any SAT Verbal score of 730 or higher from before the recentering would be an 800 today. This means that double 800s are “not that great a distinction any more”; over a decade ago, Harvard was already getting 500 double-800 applicants a year, and rejecting half of them. That’s part of the reason for the insane gauntlet today’s high-school students have to run, with activities, music, volunteer work, and all the rest, trying desperately to distinguish themselves from the herd. When applying to elite colleges today, it’s difficult to make yourself stand out from other very smart kids with your test scores or grades, since everyone has high SATs and straight A’s. More important, though, this compression means that the AI standard that Harvard athletes have to meet is not much higher than that of the rest of the league, whereas before the recentering, there was a significant gap, which gave the less selective schools much more latitude. So: Harvard has the best reputation among American universities and the most money to give out for scholarships, and when another member of the league goes after a talented athletic prospect, regulations prohibit it from sweetening the deal by offering extra money or relaxing its admission standards. That’s why the Crimson have been tearing up the league lately, and will probably continue as long as they want to. Letting colleges compete for students is all to the good, and there’s nothing wrong with a group of educational institutions’ agreeing to put education first. But in this case, as so often happens, when strict regulation meets vigorous competition (with a bit of statistical manipulation thrown in), the result is that the rich only get richer.

13 Mar 2015

Viral Gator

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AlligatorGolfCourse

Photos of this estimated as 12-13′ (3.6-3.9 m.) alligator strolling on the links at the Myakka Pines Golf Club in Englewood, Florida have been all over the Internet recently. HuffPo

13 Mar 2015

Eagle: “I Eat Things Your Size, But Not Like You.” Cat: “I Eat Things Like You, But Not Your Size.”

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“Carry on, Cat.” “Same to You, Eagle.”

12 Mar 2015

Russian Miniature Firearms (Which Actually Work)

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“One of the coolest parts of our trip to Russia was a chance to check out scale model miniatures of some classic firearms. Everything from a FG43, Suppressed AKM, 1911, Thompson and everything in between.”

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12 Mar 2015

Baker Soup

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MorysMenu
An Old Mory’s Menu

Mory’s started out as a neighborhood New Haven bar on Temple Street, not far from campus, frequented by Yale students in the late 19th century. In 1912, Mory’s was scheduled to close and be demolished, but the affluent Yale men of that era refused to give it up. They simply purchased the bar and moved the whole building, kit and caboodle, to a new location on York Street, even closer to campus, and arranged to have it operated as a private club.

Before WWII, Mory’s was exclusive and expensive and membership was restricted to wealthy (and non-Jewish) Yale men. As time passed, however, Mory’s became more democratic. First every male undergraduate could join, then every Yale faculty member & employee, then females, now God only knows.

In my day, Mory’s was still the preferred drinking place for undergraduate singing groups and societies, but it was already too expensive to be a real undergraduate institution. Mory’s really made its money serving lunches and dinner to Yale bureaucrats and New Haven bigshots. The Mory’s of the late 1960s was already unionized, and one fine day its management announced that Mory’s no longer cared to stay open to 11:30 PM. They began closing earlier, after dinner service ended, so undergraduate clubs were no longer able to adjourn to Mory’s at the conclusion of evening meetings for a shared toasting cup and a few beers.

Mory’s (in my view, deservedly) went broke in 2008, and closed indefinitely. The Yale Alumni Magazine searched its soul over whether such an (imaginarily) elite and reactionary institution ought ever to be re-opened. But, the Yale Administration, in the final analysis, really did need a traditional sort of place to eat lunch and entertain, so a fund-raising effort was made and the old whited sepulchre saved and re-opened.

Mory’s continues to close early, but it does remain an exemplar of old-fashioned WASP elite culture in one respect: its menu. In my day, and even today, Mory’s retains essentially the same old fashioned simple and stodgy menu of yore, featuring such offerings as Welsh Rarebit, French Dip Sandwiches, and Rhode Island Clam Chowder, characteristic of the genuinely elite WASP club.

Elite WASPs like that kind of cuisine, and they abhor change*.

David Ross ’92, now an English professor at Chapel Hill, retains a particular affection for, of all things, Baker Soup, a menu item apparently unique to Mory’s, and he has devoted considerable energy and research into duplicating the secret recipe. Mr. Ross’s resulting article, I’m told, appeared yesterday in some newspaper in North Carolina, but he graciously agreed to allow me to share it with my readers here.

My eight years in New Haven, Connecticut—four as an undergraduate and another four as a newspaper reporter—ended in a hail of bullets and a falling body. The former redecorated my apartment lobby, the latter plummeted past my eighth-floor balcony at 3 a.m. New Haven—at least during the early 90s—was that kind of town.

I don’t miss the sirens, the dirty snow or the fake gothic. I do miss Mory’s, the legendary dining club situated in a clapboarded, warren-roomed manse incongruously tucked between two epitomes of the modern mindset: the Yale graduate school and a rock club called Toad’s Place.

Mory’s is to New Haven what Antoine’s is to New Orleans—a redoubt of bygone sensibility. You go there to eat, but even more to ponder the fork- and knife-carved words in the old wood and to pretend that it’s 1912, the year Mory’s opened at its present location.

As you order pommes de terre souffles and bread pudding at Antoine’s, so you order—unwaveringly and ritually—the Baker Soup and Welsh rarebit at Mory’s. The Mediterranean dieter who orders the seafood risotto for $27 misapprehends everything.

What is this “Baker Soup”? Nobody knows. Superficially, it’s a curry-flavored cream soup of vaguely ochre hue. The operative ingredients seem to be carrot, celery, onion and tomato, though this is a controversial speculation.

A year ago, feeling oddly homesick for the film noir dankness of New Haven and remembering the life-infusing counter-dynamic of the Baker Soup, I set myself the task of engineering a recipe based on twenty-year-old memories.

I devised a pumpkin-apple soup to which I naturally added a splash of Calvados in homage to my Francophile hero A.J. Liebling. Though luscious, my soup was not the soup. The color was right, but there was too much richness, sweetness and complexity. And my 2-hp Vitamix produced a super-silky potage plainly over-beholden to technology. Baker Soup, in my recollection, is homier and earthier: a peasant rather than a Parisian soup.

I put the question to a Yale listserv. There was an animated response: philosophies unfurled, chemistries clashed, recipes flew. There was a certain amount of nonsense, but one Baker Soup devotee claimed to have a friend who had cooked at Mory’s back in the day and had divulged the outline.

This devotee wrote: “It’s a cream of tomato and curry soup, starting with fresh tomatoes and chicken stock and thickened with bread. The secret ingredient is carrot. The current Mory’s incarnation uses a little too much carrot, a little too much garlic, not enough curry powder. And it’s too smooth. The result is a slightly more elegant, but somehow less satisfying dish.”

Building on these intelligent hints, I conjured a plausible facsimile. Here, then, are two recipes—mine and his—both warming, one classic.

Pumpkin-Apple Soup with Curry and Calvados (serves 4)

    2 Tbsp. unsalted butter

    ½ large yellow onion (200 grams), preferably Vidalia, sliced

    1 Golden Delicious apple, sliced

    1 15 oz.-can pumpkin puree

    3 cups unsalted chicken stock

    1 cup whole milk

    ¼ cup heavy cream

    1 Tbsp. curry powder (or to taste)

    2 tsp. Calvados

    1 tsp. kosher salt (or to taste)

In a stock pot, melt the butter until it begins to brown. Add the onion and sauté until softened and lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the apple and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the pumpkin, stock and milk. Simmer at medium temperature for 15 minutes. Transfer to a blender—preferably a Vitamix—and process to a silky, airy puree. Return the soup to the pot. Finish with the cream, curry powder, Calvados and salt (in quarter-teaspoon increments, tasting as you add). The soup should be thick but not inert; it should run, but just barely. Adjust the consistency by adding additional stock. A full tablespoon of curry powder produces a modest piquancy; for a milder soup reduce to 2 tsp.

Mory’s Baker Soup (serves 4)

    2 medium beefsteak tomatoes (575 grams)

    3–4 large carrots (400 grams)

    ½ large yellow onion (200 grams), preferably Vidalia

    2–3 medium stalks celery (150 grams)

    3 cloves garlic

    4 Tbsp. unsalted butter

    ½ cup dry vermouth

    1 Tbsp. curry powder

    1 tsp. ground ginger

    4 cups unsalted chicken stock

    1 bay leaf

    1 ½ cups fresh breadcrumbs (roughly food-processed French baguette)

    ¼ cup heavy cream

    1 tsp. kosher salt (or to taste)

Parboil the tomatoes (to release the skins), 1 minute. Peel, seed and dice the cooled tomatoes. Dice the carrots, onion and celery. Finely mince the garlic. Melt the butter in a stock pot. Add the carrots, onion, and celery. Sweat until softened, 15 minutes. Add the vermouth and reduce by half. Add the garlic, curry powder and ground ginger, stirring to combine. Add the tomatoes, chicken stock and bay leaf. Simmer at medium-low temperature for 20 minutes. Add the breadcrumbs and continue to simmer, 5 minutes. Remove the bay leaf and roughly puree (be sure to retain some texture). Return the soup to the pot. Finish with the cream and salt (in quarter-teaspoon increments, tasting as you add). Garnish with parsley, chives or croutons.

——————————–

Notes:

“Curry powders” differ enormously. To avoid winding up with an excessively exotic or assertive soup, I recommend a mundane supermarket brand like McCormick.

The quality of your soup will depend on the quality of your stock. Do not be tempted by salted and MSG-laden stocks. A deep-souled homemade stock is ideal.

* Old Joke

How Many WASPs does it take to change a light bulb?

Answer: 5. One to change the bulb, and four to stand around reminiscing about how great the old light bulb used to be.

Morys
Mory’s

11 Mar 2015

Le Privilège du Blanc

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QueenPaola2

QueenPaola1

QueenPaola3

QueenPaola4

QueenPaola5

Though handicapped by a recent knee injury, Belgium’s Queen Mathilde accompanied her husband King Philippe to a papal audience previously scheduled. Hello Magazine

Rafal Heydel-Mankoo, who is a connoisseur of these kinds of traditions, noted that while traditional protocol requires women granted a papal audience to dress in black, a number of Catholic queens and princesses enjoy Le Privilège du Blanc entitling them to appear in white.

The consensus was that Queen Mathilde’s white mantilla was quite becoming.

11 Mar 2015

Why Do Violins Have F-Holes?

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F-Hole

BoingBoing reports that a team from MIT has figured it out.

Why did violins slowly develop f-shaped sound-holes? Because it makes them more acoustically powerful than their ancestors, which had holes shaped liked a circle — as a team of MIT scientists recently concluded.

Back in the the 10th century, the makers of European stringed-instruments were building “fitheles” — the ancestor of the modern violin — but they used round holes. By the 12th century, they’d started using half-moon shapes, and a century later they’d refined it to a sort of C-shaped hole. Then in the 15th century they pioneered little circles at the ends of the holes, which, by the 17th century, had become the modern f-shaped hole.

A team of MIT scientists recently wondered why the shape had evolved that way. After crunching the math and doing some experiments, figured it out: The f-shape turns out to have physics that push a lot more air than a circular hole, making the violin’s output dramatically more powerful. From the Economist:

    “The answer, arrived at after several pages of advanced mathematics, and confirmed by experiment, is that holes’ sound-amplification properties depend not on their areas but on the lengths of their peripheries. They showed how the shape of the hole varied over the centuries, and how that affected its power output. The final Cremonese design had twice the sonic power of the circular holes of the fithele.”

Read the whole thing.

11 Mar 2015

Deana Carter: “Did I Shave My Legs For This?”

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My Yale classmate and Chicago Law Professor Charles Lipson forwarded this morning what he described “as the best song ever.” Maybe not the absolute best, but definitely amusing.

10 Mar 2015

Celtic Prince’s Tomb Found in Champagne Region of France

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WineCauldron
“The biggest find at the site was a huge wine cauldron. Standing on the handles of the cauldron, is the Greek god Acheloos. The river deity is shown with horns, a beard, the ears of a bull and a triple mustache.”

Daily Mail:

The tomb of an Iron Age Celtic prince has been unearthed in a small French town.

The ‘exceptional’ grave, crammed with Greek and possibly Etruscan artefacts, was discovered in a business zone on the outskirts of Lavau in France’s Champagne region.

The prince is buried with his chariot at the centre of a huge mound, 130 feet (40 metres) across, which has been dated to the 5th Century BC.

A team from the National Archaeological Research Institute, Inrap has been excavating the site since October last year. …

Its discovery could shed light on Iron Age European trade, researchers say.

Read the whole thing.

10 Mar 2015

“A Convenience Store, Not a Government Agency”

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ATF

Sensenbrenner is so right. Let’s do it!

The Hill:

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) this week reintroduced legislation that would abolish the ATF, arguing that the agency has become embroiled in too many controversies.

Many of the ATF’s responsibilities would be transferred to the FBI under the legislation.

“The ATF is a scandal-ridden, largely duplicative agency that lacks a clear mission,” Sensenbrenner said. “Its ‘Framework’ is an affront to the Second Amendment and yet another reason why Congress should pass the ATF Elimination Act.”

The GOP’s resentment for the ATF runs deep.

Republicans have been very critical of Fast and Furious, which ended up with weapons falling into the hands of Mexican drug cartels.

Disdain for the ATF led the GOP to, for years, block the White House from placing a permanent director atop the agency, until B. Todd Jones was confirmed in July 2013.

The ATF’s bullet ban is the latest issue rubbing Republicans wrong.

Second Amendment advocates in Congress are rallying against it. House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and more than 200 other lawmakers wrote to Jones this week demanding he “abandon” the proposal.

“Under no circumstances should ATF adopt a standard that will ban ammunition that is overwhelmingly used by law-abiding Americans for legitimate purposes,” the lawmakers wrote.

Meanwhile, the Protecting Second Amendment Rights Act introduced last week by Rep. Tom Rooney (R-Fla.) would roll back the ATF’s power to regulate ammunition.

“We cannot and we will not stand by while the Obama administration tramples on the Constitution, the rule of law, and the Second Amendment rights of hunters,” Rooney said.

Under the ATF’s proposed rules, gun companies would be prohibited from manufacturing and selling 5.56mm projectiles for M855 cartridges that are commonly used in AR-15 rifles.

After Congress failed to pass legislation banning semi-automatic weapons, critics say this is an attempt by the Obama administration to do so unilaterally.

Should the ATF go through with the bullet ban, critics fear it would open the floodgates to all sorts of ammunition bans, with far-reaching implications for gun owners.

Read the whole thing.

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