Friday, November 07, 2014

6th Circuit Echoes Porkopolis' Arguments on Rationale for State of Ohio Defining Marriage

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday upheld same-sex marriage bans in Ohio and three other states.

In doing so, the court used an argument that echoes the one made by Porkopolis in 2009:
...Before considering the question of gay marriage, a more fundamental question should be considered: Why marriage at all? In the United States, marriage is a tri-party legal agreement. The first two parties, husband and wife, are obvious. The third party is the state/community that acknowledges a marriage. Male and female couples petition the state –and more generally, their community– to recognize their marriage. If it was just a simple relationship amongst consenting adults, the community would have no need –and more importantly no business– acknowledging the relationship.

However, marriage is a relationship that imposes responsibilities on the community and that’s why the state is involved in its recognition and definition; as in detailing that only two (not more) individuals of the opposite sex will be recognized in a marriage. Married couples get legal tax and inheritance status. Male-female couples asking the state to recognize their marriage are also asking the state to address the care of their biological children if the couples are incapable of doing so.

What does the community get in return for consideration of this ‘special’ status? It is rejuvenated –by the only relationship that can procreate: a male-female relationship– and benefits from responsibly raised children in a marriage. Because of the corrosive effects to the community of infidelity, the community acknowledges only monogamous marriages. This shared responsibility amongst all the parties (husband, wife, community) is the limited government rationale for marriage as a legal construct...
From the court's opinion:
...One starts from the premise that governments got into the business of defining marriage, and remain in the business of defining marriage, not to regulate love but to regulate sex, most especially the intended and unintended effects of male-female intercourse. Imagine a society without marriage. It does not take long to envision problems that might result from an absence of rules about how to handle the natural effects of male-female intercourse: children. May men and women follow their procreative urges wherever they take them? Who is responsible for the children that result? How many mates may an individual have? How does one decide which set of mates is responsible for which set of children? That we rarely think about these questions nowadays shows only how far we have come and how relatively stable our society is, not that States have no explanation for creating such rules in the first place.

Once one accepts a need to establish such ground rules, and most especially a need to create stable family units for the planned and unplanned creation of children, one can well appreciate why the citizenry would think that a reasonable first concern of any society is the need to regulate male-female relationships and the unique procreative possibilities of them. One way to pursue this objective is to encourage couples to enter lasting relationships through subsidies and other benefits and to discourage them from ending such relationships through these and other means. People may not need the government’s encouragement to have sex. And they may not need the government’s encouragement to propagate the species. But they may well need the government’s encouragement to create and maintain stable relationships within which children may flourish. It is not society’s laws or for that matter any one religion’s laws, but nature’s laws (that men and women complement each other biologically), that created the policy imperative. And governments typically are not second-guessed under the Constitution for prioritizing how they tackle such issues. Dandridge v. Williams, 397 U.S. 471, 486–87 (1970)...

...What we are left with is this: By creating a status (marriage) and by subsidizing it (e.g., with tax-filing privileges and deductions), the States created an incentive for two people who procreate together to stay together for purposes of rearing offspring. That does not convict the States of irrationality, only of awareness of the biological reality that couples of the same sex do not have children in the same way as couples of opposite sexes and that couples of the same sex do not run the risk of unintended offspring. That explanation, still relevant today, suffices to allow the States to retain authority over an issue they have regulated from the beginning...
The 6th Circuit opinion is extremely well reasoned and worthy of a complete reading as evidenced by this argument against the claim that "failure to recognize gay marriages celebrated in other States violates the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses":
...What of the reality that Ohio recognizes some heterosexual marriages solemnized in other States even if those marriages could not be performed in Ohio? See, e.g., Mazzolini v. Mazzolini, 155 N.E.2d 206, 208 (Ohio 1958). The only reason Ohio could have for banning recognition of same-sex marriages performed elsewhere and not prohibiting heterosexual marriages performed elsewhere, the Ohio plaintiffs claim, is animus or “discrimination of an unusual character.” Obergefell Appellees’ Br. at 18 (quoting Windsor, 133 S. Ct. at 2692).

But, in making this argument, the plaintiffs misapprehend Ohio law, wrongly assuming that Ohio would recognize as valid any heterosexual marriage that was valid in the State that sanctioned it. That is not the case. Ohio law recognizes some out-of-state marriages that could not be performed in Ohio, but not all such marriages. See, e.g., Mazzolini, 155 N.E.2d at 208 (marriage of first cousins); Hardin v. Davis, 16 Ohio Supp. 19, 20 (Ohio Ct. Com. Pl. 1945) (marriage by proxy). In Mazzolini, the most relevant precedent, the Ohio Supreme Court stated that a number of heterosexual marriages—ones that were “incestuous, polygamous, shocking to good morals, unalterably opposed to a well defined public policy, or prohibited”—would not be recognized in the State, even if they were valid in the jurisdiction that performed them. 155 N.E.2d at 208–09 (noting that first-cousin marriages fell outside this rule because they were “not made void by explicit provision” and “not incestuous”). Ohio law declares same-sex marriage contrary to the State’s public policy, placing those marriages within the longstanding exception to Ohio’s recognition rule. See Ohio Rev. Code § 3101.01(C)...
Related: Collection of Essays and Posts on Same-Sex Marriage


Friday, October 17, 2014

Obama can't "Philosophical"-ly Have It Both Ways on Ebola Travel Restrictions

After meeting with several public health officials yesterday, Obama reiterated his policy of not implementing travel restrictions from areas of Africa where the Ebola epidemic is growing out of control.

Mr. Obama made the following statements  that don't stand up to critical analysis:

I don't have a philosophical objection necessarily to a travel ban, if that is the thing that is going to keep the American people safe. But the problem is is that in all of the discussions I've had thus far with experts in the field, experts in infectious disease, is that say travel ban is less effective than the measures that we are currently instituting--that involve screening passengers coming from West Africa...

...If we institute a travel ban instead of the protocols that we put in place now, history shows that there is a likelihood of increased avoidance. People do not readily disclose their information. They may engage in something called broken travel, essentially breaking up their trip so that they can hide the fact that they have been to one of these countries where there is a disease in place. And as a result, we may end up getting less information about who has the disease, they are less likely to get treated properly, screened properly, quarantined properly, and as a consequence we could end up having more cases rather than less...
The President, an individual with two Ivy-league degrees and skilled in the art of rhetoric, should know well that those statements open him up to being accused of having it both ways.  With his statement he concedes that infected (and possibly infectious) individuals "may engage in something called broken travel, essentially breaking up their trip so that they can hide the fact that they have been to one of these countries where there is a disease in place."

Mr. Obama would have us believe that once a travel ban is instituted, an infected individual will use 'human cunning' to evade the travel ban and get to a treatment facility in the United States.  As if the act of a travel ban brings out the creative-evasive thinking in infected individuals.  His critical-deficient thinking makes no provisions for realizing that the 'human cunning' exists even without the travel ban.  Infected individuals have every incentive now to creatively circumvent the screening process in a country like Liberia.  Using cunning like:

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Neil deGrasse Tyson Should Stick to the Rhetoric of Logos; Not Pathos and Ethos

Rich Lowry does an excellent summary of Neil deGrasse Tyson's "just-so" account of a President Bush myth in The Cult of Neil deGrasse Tyson:
...When Tyson puts up a slide with George W. Bush’s name on it, the audience laughs, prepared to have its prejudices confirmed, and Tyson obliges with his bogus quote.

Tyson says that right after Sept. 11, Bush asserted the superiority of “we” to “they” (i.e., Muslim fundamentalists) by saying, “Our God is the God who named the stars.”...

...As Sean Davis pointed out in his initial piece on the dubious quote, it really came from a poetic tribute to the astronauts who died in the Columbia disaster in 2003. After quoting from Isaiah, Bush said, “The same Creator who names the stars also knows the names of the seven souls we mourn today.”...
Porkopolis has highlighted Tyson's excellent essay The Perimeter of Ignorance and urges him to take the very advice he advocates in it:
The Perimeter of Ignorance: A boundary where scientists face a choice: invoke a deity or continue the quest for knowledge...

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Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Critical Thinking on Dallas, Texas Ebola Situation



  • Why is the public health policy isolating one group of individuals that came in contact with the infected Ebola patient but not others?

    It would stand to reason that family members had longer, sustained contact with the patient than the EMS transport drivers.
  • Is their a robust protocol in place to determine individuals presenting with symptoms have been traveling in areas infected with Ebola?  

    Besides wanting to help individuals that show up sick, hospitals generally want to get paid for their services.  That's why they ask not only what symptoms an individual has and how they will be paying for the services.  If the individual was not a U.S. citizen, he would have had to present an non-US form of insurance or payment form.  It stands to reason that this should have triggered (and should trigger) a protocol to determine if the individual is traveling in infected areas; especially after the President has gone out of his way to tell the world and the nation that this is a major problem.

Friday, August 22, 2014

International Conferences on Climate Change

“Confessions of a Greenpeace Dropout”:

 Full list of presentations via The Heartland Institute

A Tragic Comedy

Andrew Klavan: Democrats at War:

Friday, July 18, 2014

IRS Investigation: Congressman Jim Jordan Reveals Deputy Attorney General James Cole's Ineptitude...

... and possible malfeasance.

(Related: Report: IRS Sent Database Containing Confidential Taxpayer Information to FBI)



Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Incurious Mr. Koskinen

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Uncle Sam Improperly Doles Out $100 Billion

Fox News: 'Staggering': Government making $100B in improper payments every year:
The U.S. government is making roughly $100 billion in improper payments every year thanks to a combination of fraud, clerical errors and insufficient IRS enforcement, according to testimony at a congressional hearing on Wednesday.

“The amounts here are absolutely staggering,” Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., said.

The problem of erroneous payments – largely from Medicare and other health care programs – is not a new one. But Mica said at the hearing of a House oversight subcommittee that federal agencies reported over $100 billion in improper payments during each of the last five years.

That’s roughly what the Obama administration spent on the Afghanistan war and other security operations last year.

“That’s an incredible amount of money that has been misappropriated, mis-paid,” Mica said.

The money is coming from an array of agencies, and includes tax credits to families that didn't qualify, unemployment benefits to people who had jobs and medical payments for treatments that might not have been necessary...
Related:  Citizens for Tax Justice (They're totally serious): Addressing the Need for More Federal Revenue :
America is undertaxed, and the result is underfunding of public investments that would improve our economy and the overall welfare of Americans. Fortunately, Congress has several straightforward policy options to raise revenue, mostly by closing or limiting loopholes and special subsidies imbedded in the tax code that benefit wealthy individuals and profitable businesses...

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Wednesday, July 02, 2014


Saturday, June 28, 2014

WSJ: Maryland's Incredible Purple People Mover

How the state's proposed $2.4 billion light rail could take taxpayers for a ride:
With a $2.4 billion price tag, the Maryland Department of Transportation's 16-mile light-rail "Purple Line" won't be built without federal taxpayers as major underwriters. The state is asking them to kick in $900 million for construction costs—and that's before contractors, who are notorious for cost overruns, have even broken ground. That kind of money is a rounding error in Washington but it also seems to be a colossal waste of money...

...Even using the Parsons Brinckerhoff predictions, the project seems misguided. According to the EIS, roughly two-thirds of the riders forecast to use the system by 2040 will come, not out of their cars, but from existing bus lines. In other words, reducing the number of cars on the road, which was once supposedly a key objective, is now a minor side effect of a system that will cost $150 million per mile—if it comes in at budget...

...But Gov. O'Malley and his developer friends want it, and President Obama wants them to have it. The president put a cool $100 million in his 2015 budget for the Purple Line although the FTA has yet to complete the project development phase of its assessment and it hasn't even begun the engineering phase.

Whether Mr. Porcari has been able to help with all this is a matter of speculation. In 2009 he left the Maryland DOT to become President Obama's deputy DOT secretary. In December he left the Obama administration to become senior vice president and national director of strategic consulting at Parsons Brinckerhoff. He did not return requests for comment. But taxpayers could be forgiven for suspecting that he and all the other Purple Line planners are taking them for a ride.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014 Petition Calling on POTUS to Issue Executive Order to Search for Missing IRS Emails

Obama has a pen and he's not afraid to use it with regard to Executive Orders.

Here is one Executive Order consistent with his "I have got no patience with it, I will not tolerate it" position on the IRS investigation.  Federal agencies should be instructed to search their email archives for the lost email correspondences with Lois Lerner, former head of the IRS tax-exempt status department.  Emails to be searched should included those initiated by her and those initiated by individuals corresponding with her.

Update: IRS Has Lost More E-mails... petition:

We petition the Obama administration to:

Issue an Executive Order to federal agencies to search their archived systems for emails from IRS agent Lois Lerner.

On Friday June 13, 2014 the IRS informed the House Ways and Means Committee that the that it could not recover two years of emails from Lois Lerner, the former head of the agency's tax-exempt status department.

To support the ongoing investigation, the President is urged to assist the recovery of the requested emails by directing the federal agencies in the executive branch to search their archived email systems for any emails that may have been part of a correspondence with Lois Lerner.

The retrieved emails will then be turned over to both the Congressional Committees investigating the IRS and the Justice Department.

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Monday, May 26, 2014

Theory of Wisdom

Having looked at wonder, thought, meaning and the dynamic of inquiry through the lens of neural science, it's worth considering the elusive psychological dynamic of wisdom.

Stephen Hall's Wisdom: From Philosophy to Neuroscience is replete with anecdotes, but just scratches the surface in offering a reductionist explanation for the phenomena of wisdom.

Scientists are studying the process of decision making in the brain and in particular wisdom itself.  At its essence, wisdom (like all other brain functions) is the time-measurable response to neural stimuli quantifiable in neural correlates of the brain's neural network.

In 2000, Dr. Eric Kandel shared the Nobel Prize in Medicine for his discovery of the molecular dynamics involved in learning and memory; providing fundamental insight into the brain's neuroplasticity (video).  More recently, Dr. Giulio Tononi and Dr. Chiara Cirelli have argued that sleep is critical part of memory making; suggesting that it implements a pruning mechanism of the neural network in memory formation.  Tononi and Cirelli are making major contributions to research started in the early 1960's.

These fundamental discoveries on how memories are made in the brain are important to understanding the physical and neurological dynamics of wisdom.  The sleep research in particular points to the important factor dedicated time 'invested' in sleep has on memory formation:

...Scientists first proposed the idea that sleep is important to memory nearly a century ago, and plenty of experiments since then have shown that after a night of sleep, and sometimes just a nap, newly formed memories “stick” better than they would if one had spent the same amount of time awake...

Sleep forges wisdom.

The proper perspective for developing a Theory of Wisdom is achieved when the following question is asked:
What makes one neural correlate response wiser than another neural response?
Here game theory, cited by Stephen Hall in his book, comes into play (pun intended). (Also see: Game Theory Intro.)

Fundamental to game theory is the quantifiable concept of utility:
In any game, utility represents the motivations of players.  A utility function for a given player assigns a number for every possible outcome of the game with the property that a higher number implies that the outcome is more preferred...
John Nash won a Nobel Prize in 1994 for offering a systematic way of identifying the utilities in non-cooperative games and quantifying the Nash equilibrium.  Since then, Steven Brams has made a major contribution to game theory providing insight into the complex strategies used for maximizing utility with Theory of Moves (TOM):
Another approach to inducing cooperation in PD [prisoner's dilemma] and other variable-sum games is the theory of moves (TOM). Proposed by the American political scientist Steven J. Brams, TOM allows players, starting at any outcome in a payoff matrix, to move and countermove within the matrix, thereby capturing the changing strategic nature of games as they evolve over time. In particular, TOM assumes that players think ahead about the consequences of all of the participants’ moves and countermoves when formulating plans...
The implementation of the 'think ahead' strategies quantified in TOM  are manifested on a neural network that has been molded by the memory making dynamics detailed by Eric Kandel and the memory pruning mechanism argued by doctors Tononi and Cirelli.

Building on:

  • the well established concepts offered by game theory to quantify maximum utilities,
  • the fundamentals of the time-dependent neural responses and
  • the time-dependent formation of the neural network (where wisdom is ultimately manifested) through sleep 

the following is offered as a Theory of Wisdom (TOW):

Assuming, U is a quantifiable maximum game theoretic utility, t is the amount of time required to affect a neural correlate that results in U, and W is the neurological dynamic of wisdom to be quantified:

W = U/t 

With this simple ratio, an individual's wisdom can be assessed.

The following dynamics can also be put into perspective:
  • When it's qualitatively observed that someone is wise there is an implied comparative to the observation. The implication is that the wise individual is wiser than an unwise (or naive) individual.  Both individuals will process the same neurological stimuli, but the wise individual's response/decision will have greater quantifiable utility (U) than that of the unwise individual within a comparable unit of time (t).  Having a larger utility to the same stimuli (question/problem/challenge/etc.) in the same unit of time is one way to result in a larger amount of wisdom.

  • As humans we have acquired a foundation of wisdom (built-in skills, genetically hard-wired into the brain's neural network); which is the study of evolutionary psychology.  As discussed above, the other way that wisdom is acquired by our brain's neural network  is through neural stimuli (experience) that 'rewires' the brain through the memory making mechanism fundamental to neuroplasticity.  A wise(r) individual has more experience and thus a potentially more optimally developed brain.  The potential qualifier is stressed because, like the evolutionary utility being mathematically quantified with evolutionary game theory, any given utility (U) is not known until it is put to a test in an 'error then trial' (not trial and error) dynamic.

  • An  individual may respond to stimuli that results in maximum utility (U).  But if it takes that individual a very long time (t) to do so, then the quantifiable wisdom (W) would be very small; relative to stimuli that 'started the clock' to quantify/evaluate the wisdom.  This is because the divisor in the wisdom ratio above would result in a large time value (t); possibly as long as a lifetime for an individual to 'wise up'.

    The longer the time (t) to maximum utility (U), the smaller the resulting wisdom (W).  Small comparable wisdom is the definition of unwise/naive; whether that value was derived by a small utility (U) or large (t) in the wisdom (W = U/t) ratio.

  • Given comparable neural stimuli (experience) that results in a neuroplasticly transformed brain that responds with the same utility (U) in time (t) as that of a wise individual, an unwise/naive individual's neural network could be transformed into one that will respond wisely (large W); with age (time) comes wisdom.
As an aside, insight (and wisdom) would have been appropriate in Hall's discussion of Socrates' "wisdom tour".   He rightfully observes on page 255: a world of ongoing social interactions, as in the serial repetitions of games in game theory, people who insist on winning at all costs, whose self-interest trumps sociality, and whose greed (financial or emotional) exceeds the bounds of fairness end up playing solitaire. A famous Sicilian proverb holds that "the man who plays alone never loses," but in social reality most of us experience, it also means he never wins...
It's ironic that Hall misses this very lesson while advocating that Socrates was a paragon of wisdom.  On page 21 he notes:
...Socrates managed to alienate, humiliate, illuminate, and educate his countrymen about the paradoxes of Socratic wisdom...  
It escapes Hall that Socrates was less than wise with respect to his social skills; a major contribution to his trial and death.  Socrates would have benefited from the wisdom of a fictional Sicilian and game theory practitioner extraordinaire, The Godfather's Don Vito Corleone, famous for counseling: "Keep your friends close and your enemies closer".  Sage advice that even the Dali Lama should have used.

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Thursday, May 22, 2014

NYT: A Victory Lap for a Heretical Neurologist

‘Madness and Memory,’ a Memoir About Discovering Prions:
Sweet revenge comes in many delectable forms, among them the receipt of accolades for work long scorned. And then to get to tell the whole story at length and without a single interruption — small wonder that the Nobel laureate Dr. Stanley B. Prusiner, a renowned neurologist at the University of California, San Francisco, writes with a cheerful bounce. Once disparaged, his scientific work is now hailed as visionary, and his memoir takes the reader on a leisurely and immensely readable victory lap from then to now.

Neural Network Assisted Evolution

Expanded DNA alphabet provides more options for nanotechnology:
Long-time readers of Nanodot may remember the section of Chapter 15 of Nanosystems in which Drexler explores options for producing easier to design proteins for the protein engineering path toward atomically precise manufacturing by incorporating specially chosen amino acids in addition to the 20 genetically encoded amino acids. Back in 1992 the only option for incorporating unnatural amino acids into proteins was Merrifield solid phase peptide synthesis, using the methods of organic chemistry rather than biological systems. However, this becomes problematic and expensive for longer chains. Consequently, finding ways to expand the repertoire of biologically encoded amino acids would be quite useful. One way to accomplish this goal would be to expand the DNA ‘alphabet’ from two to three base pairs (that is, from four to six ‘letters’). We noted progress in this direction back in February of 2008 when Floyd Romesberg, at the Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, California created two artificial DNA letters that were accurately and efficiently replicated by a natural enzyme. In September of 2011 we noted a different approach taken by a team at the Salk Institute that keeps the current DNA alphabet but alters one three-letter word to mean an unnatural amino acid, increasing the amino acid repertoire by one. We noted in June of 2012 that continued work by Romesberg had revealed how the new base pair was efficiently replicated in the test tube by a natural enzyme. In a major advance, Romesberg and his collaborators have engineered a living organism to stably propagate the expanded genetic alphabet...


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Japan's New National Stadium

Monday, May 19, 2014

Bumpin on Sunshine

A baby cloud was rolling round
 Humble tumble out of bed

Hit the ground without a sound
 Stumble crumble split its head

Thunderstruck it looked around
  Rumble fumble bleed to bled

And the find that's to be found
 Mumble bumble read to read


Friday, May 16, 2014

Martin Feldstein: Piketty's Number Don't Add Up

Ignoring dramatic changes in tax rules since 1980 creates the false impression that income inequality is rising:
Thomas Piketty has recently attracted widespread attention for his claim that capitalism will now lead inexorably to an increasing inequality of income and wealth unless there are radical changes in taxation. Although his book, "Capital in the Twenty-First Century," has been praised by those who advocate income redistribution, his thesis rests on a false theory of wealth evolves in a market economy, a flawed interpretation of U.S. income-tax data, and a misunderstanding of the current nature of household wealth.
Update: Piketty's Book -- Just Another Excuse For Legal Plunder And Expanding The State:
...Those responses to Piketty, accurate though they are, do little to blunt his message that the rich are already too rich and will keep getting richer unless government steps in to impose substantially higher taxes on them. Arguing against Piketty on the grounds that inequality isn’t as great as he says is futile. It’s like trying to file down the tip on your dueling opponent’s sword – the darned thing will still be lethal.

Rather than going after Piketty’s numbers, we need to go after his philosophy...
UpdateData problems with Capital in the 21st Century

Update: Why Piketty's Wealth Data Are Worthless:
...Private retirement plans rose to $12.4 trillion in 2012 from $875 billion in 1984. None of it is reported on tax returns....

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Friday, May 09, 2014

Questioning the Authority for Advocacy on Public Policy

The posts
all address the central theme of individuals using the rhetoric of pathos and ethos when advocating public policy.

History tells us its perilous to listen to the likes of Congressman Fernando Wood ("Congress must never declare equal those whom God has created unequal") with the authority they argue has been divinely bestowed upon them.

Equally so, it is perilous to give credence to the most recent economic policy recommendations made by Pope Francis (Pope demands 'legitimate redistribution' of wealth).

If the Pope is going to advocate a global re-working of the capitalist system, he opens himself up to having the facts that directly lead to the authority by which he makes the advocacy challenged.  Specifically:
All of the Pope's authority hinges on these extraordinary biological claims.  And, as Carl Sagan rightfully argues, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence".

Evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson asserts, the Pope's belief and faith may have "evolutionary utility":
...The empirical evidence points to substantial group-level benefits for most enduring religions.

Benefits include defining the group, coordinating action to achieve shared goals and developing elaborate mechanisms to prevent cheating. The same evolutionary processes that cause individual organisms and social insect colonies to function as adaptive units also cause religious groups to function as adaptive units. Religious believers frequently compare their communities to a single body or a beehive. This is not just a poetic metaphor but turns out to be correct from an evolutionary perspective....
 However, as one can see with Congressman Fernando Wood,  it is a two-edged sword.

Related: The Clergy Project:
The Clergy Project is a confidential online community for active and former professional clergy/religious leaders who do not hold supernatural beliefs. The Clergy Project launched on March 21st, 2011.

Currently, the community's 582 Forum Participants use it to support, network and discuss what it's like being an unbelieving professional in a religious community or being an unbeliever as ex-clergy in their world.

The Clergy Project’s goal is to support Forum Participants as they move beyond faith. Forum Participants freely discuss issues related to their transition from believer to unbeliever including:
The Clergy Project is referred to by Daniel Dennett in his presentation: How to Tell if You're an Atheist

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Sunday, May 04, 2014

TED Video: Sam Harris: Science Can Answer Moral Questions

Senator Tom Coburn: Pork Barrel Politics Redux

Porky's II: The Earmarkers Strike Back: Restoring earmarks in today's Congress would be like opening a bar tab for a bunch of recovering alcoholics:
Remember the $223 million in federal funds earmarked in 2005 for the "bridge to nowhere" in Alaska? The project stalled but the public outrage it sparked led to a 2011 decision by Congress to end earmarking. Well, it looks like the bridge-to-nowhere crowd is ready to get the scaffolding out again, with lobbyists and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle calling for a return to earmarks and pork-barrel politics.

The powerful House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R., Ky.) has called the ban a "bad idea." Two Republican candidates in Mississippi—Sen. Thad Cochran and House candidate Gene Taylor —are making a return to pork part of their platform. Meanwhile, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D., Ill.) recently tried to dismiss the bipartisan ban as a fringe, right-wing idea that has led to gridlock. "It was a tea party reform," Sen. Durbin told reporters in Springfield, Ill., on April 14 after a speech to Teamsters. "They came in and eliminated it and what they did is take the glue out of a federal transportation bill. That was the glue that held everybody together."

Mr. Durbin said he longs for the day "when we get back to the point where members of Congress are sitting down with a common goal—let's pass this bill, let's make sure there is enough money in this bill, let's find the sources of revenue necessary for this bill—you know, it creates a much better and more positive feeling."

The "glue" is pork and the "positive feeling" that Mr. Durbin is referring to is the joy of spending other people's money. For politicians, this sensation is highly addictive. It's why I called earmarks the gateway drug to Washington's spending addiction after fighting my own party's earmarks in the 1990s...

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Why Does 1% of History Have 99% of the Wealth?

Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Scarcity Fallacy

Via the Wall Street Journal: The World's Resources Aren't Running Out Ecologists worry that the world's resources come in fixed amounts that will run out, but we have broken through such limits again and again:
How many times have you heard that we humans are "using up" the world's resources, "running out" of oil, "reaching the limits" of the atmosphere's capacity to cope with pollution or "approaching the carrying capacity" of the land's ability to support a greater population? The assumption behind all such statements is that there is a fixed amount of stuff—metals, oil, clean air, land—and that we risk exhausting it through our consumption.

"We are using 50% more resources than the Earth can sustainably produce, and unless we change course, that number will grow fast—by 2030, even two planets will not be enough," says Jim Leape, director general of the World Wide Fund for Nature International (formerly the World Wildlife Fund).

But here's a peculiar feature of human history: We burst through such limits again and again. After all, as a Saudi oil minister once said, the Stone Age didn't end for lack of stone. Ecologists call this "niche construction"—that people (and indeed some other animals) can create new opportunities for themselves by making their habitats more productive in some way. Agriculture is the classic example of niche construction: We stopped relying on nature's bounty and substituted an artificial and much larger bounty.

Economists call the same phenomenon innovation. What frustrates them about ecologists is the latter's tendency to think in terms of static limits. Ecologists can't seem to see that when whale oil starts to run out, petroleum is discovered, or that when farm yields flatten, fertilizer comes along, or that when glass fiber is invented, demand for copper falls...

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

10th Anniversary of Pfc. Keith Matthew Maupin's Disappearance

Maupin's remains were recovered in 2008.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Repost: The 'You Break It, You Own It' Theory on Benghazi

In light of the recent Benghazi testimony from Michael Morell, this post originally made on February 9, 2013 is reposted:

The following is a theory on the apparent disinterested nature and dissonance President Obama had over the Benghazi attack discussed at the Senate Armed Services Committee on February 7, 2013.  It's inspired by Secretary of State Colin Powell's Pottery Barn rule on Iraq: 'You Break It, You Own It', as posited by New York Times columnist Tom Friedman.

It's also prompted by the question, 'If the President was against a policy of arming the Syrians, why do we have a report that arms were being shipped from Benghazi to Syria by way of Turkey?'. (The question might evoke memories of the 'You Can't Handle the Truth!' scene in a 'Few Good Men'.)

It's only a theory and attempt to connect some very curious 'dots' that have been reported.  Like any theory, it can be proven wrong, but history shows that informed speculation has a utility in uncovering the truth.

Theory:  President Obama was not intimately involved/engaged with the operational defense of the Benghazi Consulate because he was upset that key members of his National Security Council had circumvented his policy against arming the Syrian rebels.  His disengagement was his way of disassociating himself from a policy gone wrong; a policy he originally opposed.

The Facts in Support of the Theory:
  • The National Security Council (NSC) includes the Secretary of Defense (Leon Panetta), the Secretary of State (until recently Hillary Rodham Clinton; now John Kerry), the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (General Martin Dempsey),  the Director of National Intelligence (James Clapper) whom was reported to by the Director of Central Intelligence (David Petraeus) and the National Security Advisor (Tom Donilon).
  • The February 7, 2013 New York Times story 'Senate Hearing Draws Out a Rift in U.S. Policy on Syria' notes the following (emphasis added):
    In his first term, President Obama presided over an administration known for its lack of open dissension on critical foreign policy issues.

    But on Thursday, deep divisions over what to do about one of those issues — the rising violence in Syria — spilled into public view for the first time in a blunt exchange between Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, and the leaders of the Pentagon.

    Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta acknowledged that he and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, had supported a plan last year to arm carefully vetted Syrian rebels. But it was ultimately vetoed by the White House, Mr. Panetta said, although it was developed by David H. Petraeus, the C.I.A. director at the time, and backed by Hillary Rodham Clinton, then the secretary of state...

    ...Neither Mr. Panetta nor General Dempsey explained why President Obama did not heed their recommendation. But senior American officials have said that the White House was worried about the risks of becoming more deeply involved in the Syria crisis, including the possibility that weapons could fall into the wrong hands. And with Mr. Obama in the middle of a re-election campaign, the White House rebuffed the plan, a decision that Mr. Panetta says he now accepts.

    With the exception of General Dempsey, the officials who favored arming the rebels have either left the administration or, as in Mr. Panetta’s case, are about to depart. Given that turnover, it is perhaps not surprising that the details of the debate — an illustration of the degree that foreign policy decisions have been centralized in the White House — are surfacing only now. A White House spokesman declined to comment on Thursday.

    The plan that Mr. Petraeus developed, and that Mrs. Clinton supported, called for vetting rebels and training a cadre of fighters who would be supplied with weapons. The plan would have enlisted the help of a neighboring state.
    This line of questioning was pursued by both Senators McCain and Graham during the hearing.
  • A mysterious Libyan ship -- reportedly carrying weapons and bound for Syrian rebels -- may have some link to the Sept. 11 terror attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Fox News has learned.

    Through shipping records, Fox News has confirmed that the Libyan-flagged vessel Al Entisar, which means "The Victory," was received in the Turkish port of Iskenderun -- 35 miles from the Syrian border -- on Sept. 6, just five days before Ambassador Chris Stevens, information management officer Sean Smith and former Navy Seals Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty were killed during an extended assault by more than 100 Islamist militants.

    On the night of Sept. 11, in what would become his last known public meeting, Stevens met with the Turkish Consul General Ali Sait Akin, and escorted him out of the consulate front gate one hour before the assault began at approximately 9:35 p.m. local time.

    Although what was discussed at the meeting is not public, a source told Fox News that Stevens was in Benghazi to negotiate a weapons transfer, an effort to get SA-7 missiles out of the hands of Libya-based extremists. And although the negotiation said to have taken place may have had nothing to do with the attack on the consulate later that night or the Libyan mystery ship, it could explain why Stevens was travelling in such a volatile region on the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

    When asked to comment, a State Department spokeswoman dismissed the idea, saying Stevens was there for diplomatic meetings, and to attend the opening of a cultural center...

    ...The cargo reportedly included surface-to-air anti-aircraft missiles, RPG's and Russian-designed shoulder-launched missiles known as MANPADS.
  • The following two video excerpts from the committee hearings document Senator Graham's inquiry into why President Obama only had one conversation with Secretary Panetta and General Dempsey.  Note that Panetta never talked to Hillary Clinton and Hillary Clinton spoke directly with the President and the National Security Advisor, Tom Donilon.

    (Update: It appears from Secretary Clinton's testimony (link to C-SPAN video: Sec. Clinton on Her Activities on 9/11/2012) that she also spoke to the President just once during the attack, though she wasn't asked that question directly in the link provided.)

    (Update 2: Confirmed that Secretary Clinton only spoke once with the President as well. See the questioning by Representative Dana Rohrabacher from the House Hearings between 1:04:35 and 1:09:45:

    Dana Rohrabacher: “When did you see the President?”

    Secretary Clinton: “I talked to the president at the end of the day, but I had been in constant communication with the National Security Advisor. I’d been in secure video conferences with high level officials in the White House, in the Defense Department."


    Pay close attention to how Senator Graham gets Panetta and Dempsey to state on the record that they only had one conversation with Obama and how he starts his second round of questioning re-confirming the arms shipment policy difference detailed in the New York Times article above:

    Video 1:


    Video 2:

  • An obvious question should come from these facts and reports.  With the on-the-record testimony that President Obama was against shipping arms to Syria, why were arms being sent to Syria (transiting through Turkey) least according to the Fox News report?  
  • The arms were being shipped to Turkey, instead of directly to Syria, to provide plausible deniability.
  • Somehow, key members of the National Security Council were able to put together a plan to get arms to Syria in spite of the President's objection.

    The President may have finally relented but said something to the effect of, 'OK...but if things blow up you're on your get to clean up the mess' to his NSC members that were in favor of the policy.  Or in Tom Friedman's words, "You Break It, You Own It".

    This may explain the lack of engagement Senator Graham was pursuing above on the operational details of Benghazi, even to the point of continuing with a planned visit to Las Vegas on September 12, 2012.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Amazing Parasitic Mind Control


Texting for long periods 'could lower life expectancy': The United Chiropractic Association warns that bad posture due to mobile phone use could shorten your life :
Texting and using mobile devices for long periods of time could lead to lower life expectancy, chiropractors have warned.

The forward-leaning posture that many people adopt when texting, going online, sending emails or playing games on phones and other mobile devices increases the risk of an early death in elderly people, and there are fears that younger people could also be knocking time off their lives...


Monday, March 17, 2014

Organic Chemicals Self Assemble

Intelligent Design need not apply, both figuratively and literally.  More evidence:

Study shows short peptides can self-assemble into catalysts:
A team of researchers with members from Syracuse University and the University of California, has found that naturally forming peptides can self-assemble into catalysts. In their paper published in the journal Nature Chemistry, the team describes how they designed seven peptides, allowed the resulting molecules to self-assemble into amyloids and then noted how many of them could catalyze the hydrolysis of esters...

...To learn more, the team created seven modest peptides, each of which were constructed from just seven amino acids—putting them together in a dish, with a dash of zinc iron to help move things along, allowed the peptides to self-form into different sheet-like fibril amyloids. During testing, four of the amyloids the team created were found to be able to catalyze the hydrolysis of esters.

The results of the team's experiments suggest that enzymes didn't necessarily have to spring forth fully formed from the primordial soup for life to begin, perhaps amyloids came first, serving as an intermediary, or a sort of blueprint—over millions of years the amyloids could have given way to the much more complicated enzymes, leading eventually to living organisms.
Related (Amino Acids occur natutallly): Life Ingredients Found in Superhot Meteorites—A First: New evidence that space rocks may have seeded life on Earth.


Tuesday, March 11, 2014

What Did The President NOT Know And When Did He NOT Know It?

Washington Post: Feinstein: CIA searched Intelligence Committee computers:

The head of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday sharply accused the CIA of violating federal law and undermining the constitutional principle of congressional oversight as she detailed publicly for the first time how the agency secretly removed documents from computers used by her panel to investigate a controversial interrogation program.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said that the situation amounted to attempted intimidation of congressional investigators, adding: “I am not taking it lightly.” ...

Saturday, February 01, 2014

The Curious and Counter Intuitive Number -1/12

Smithsonian Magazine writes about the mathematical oddity of the number -1/12 in The Great Debate Over Whether 1+2+3+4..+ ∞ = -1/12 .

It turns out the 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + .... = -1/12 is utilized in quantum field and string theory.

If one considers Euler's Identity ( e^{i╥} + 1 = 0 ) and re-formulates it as e^{i╥} = -1, the curious relationship noted above can be represented in a way that brings into play three other mathematical constants (e, i and ) in provocative and counter intuitive musings:

1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + ... =  e^{i╥} / 12

It's probably no accident that the imaginary number i has been so helpful throughout history, allowing us to mathematically delve into another 'dimension' for problem solving in fields like electrical engineering, also shows up in the infinite sum of positive integers relationship.

Just as interesting is that the number 12 shows in up in a dimensional variation of string theory.

Hopefully Coming to A Bumper Sticker Near You

#Benghazi: When Foggy Bottom Got Caught With Its Pants Suit Down

©, 2014. All rights reserved.

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News Flash: Laws of Economics Are Still in Effect

Morning Joe's Mika Brzezinski's confusion not withstanding, it should not come as any surprise that business owners will continue to innovate and lower their expenses in the face of rising labor costs.

The Wall Street Journal's opinion piece The Employee of the Month Has a Battery details the automation efforts of several restaurants utilizing tabletop ordering devices to replace waiters.

The exact same argument was made here in 2006 to counter the assertion that illegal immigration provides irreplaceable cheap labor:
...One can argue that cheap labor is keeping U.S.-based agriculture from further automating and reducing it's labor content...That cheap labor is providing a disincentive to fund further research and development that reduces the labor content in agriculture.

Along with the Homeland Security benefits of halting illegal immigration, we could see an increase in good ole' fashion American ingenuity that would lessen our dependency on cheap labor. Our future would see more innovations like trunk shaker machines, robotic fruit pickerssheep shearing robotssatellite controlled harvesters and flexible agricultural automation.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Collection of Essays and Posts on Same-Sex Marriage

Limited government libertarians should utilize logic-based (not emotion/authority-based) arguments when considering expanding a state's role with regard to recognizing and partnering (yes...partnering because legal marriage is a tri-party agreement between spouses and the state/community) with same-sex (or polygamous) marriages:

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Federal Judge Shelby's Ruling on Utah Gay Marriage in Conflict with United States v. Windsor

Federal Judge Robert Shelby on December 20, 2013 ruled that Utah's law on same sex marriage violates the U.S. Constitution (see: NYT: Federal Judge Rules That Same-Sex Marriage Is Legal in Utah):
...The court holds that Utah’s prohibition on same-sex marriage conflicts with the United States Constitution’s guarantees of equal protection and due process under the law..
This ruling is in direct conflict with the following assertion by the U.S. Supreme Court in the recently settled  United States v. Windsor (emphasis added):
..(b) By seeking to injure the very class New York seeks to protect, DOMA violates basic due process and equal protection principles applicable to the Federal Government. The Constitution’s guarantee of equality “must at the very least mean that a bare congressional desire to harm a politically unpopular group cannot” justify disparate treatment of that group. Department of Agriculture v. Moreno, 413 U.S. 528, 534–535. DOMA cannot survive under these principles. Its unusual deviation from the tradition of recognizing and accepting state definitions of marriage operates to deprive same-sex couples of the benefits and responsibilities that come with federal recognition of their marriages...
Clearly the Supreme Court will now have to settle the conflict.  Either states have their own

  • "definitions of marriage" agreed on by that state's citizens or 
  • " prohibition on same-sex marriage conflicts with the United States Constitution’s guarantees of equal protection and due process under the law"

Monday, December 23, 2013

Information Asymmetry: Parallels in the Ridicule of the KKK and Obamacare's Pajama Boy

The very popular book Freakonomics dedicates Chapter 2 to information asymmetry.  The explanation of this dynamic in economics won Joseph Stiglitz the Nobel Prize.

The authors document how  ridicule is used as a counter-measure to the KKK's information asymmetry (emphasis added):
This chapter deals with how Real Estate agents and the Ku Klux Klan are similar. It goes on to say that they are our keepers of information and the information asymmetry causes them to have the power over people. The comparison comes to the fact that both parties have important information and are withholding that information. The two can also be said to have information that is dealing with Fear. Ku Klux Klan breeds fear through violence with its secret society while real estate agents deal with the fears of selling your house (largest financial transaction for most) for too little money or not selling it all.

The author starts out by giving a slight history of the Klan and how getting the information of the Klan out in the open led to its downfall. One man Stetson Kennedy and “John Brown” infiltrate KKK meetings and gather their secret information. They then take it and ridicule it on a national radio program, “The Adventures of Superman”.  Now that their secret information was disseminated it brought with it the dissolution of the KKK’s power. After this the Klan became unpopular and looses many members...
Ridicule, as an art form, is at its highest in Victor Davis Hanson's Pajama Boy Nation (HT: Instapunditand hopefully Obamacare will suffer the same fate as the KKK:
...Somehow we as a nation went from the iconic Marlboro Man to Pajama Boy — from the noble individual with a bad habit to the ignoble without a good habit — without a blink in between.

There are lots of revolting things in the Pajama Boy ad. After all, how can you top all at once a nerdy-looking child-man dressed in infantile pajamas while cradling a cup of hot chocolate with the smug assurance that he is running your life more than you his?

The Liberal Body-Snatchers

Still, there are one or two even scarier thoughts.

One, did the Obama appendage, Organizing for Action, really believe that such a sad-sack image might galvanize anyone about anything?  And two, did they really think that Pajama Boy would resonate with any young people outside of the New York-DC circus, as if to assume he would be persuasive: stay cool with retro geek glasses, pajamas, and hot chocolate like Pajama Boy, and then, presto, rush out to buy an Obamacare policy?

Out here in the rural middle of California — or most anywhere 30 miles inland from the coasts — Pajama Boy would last about two seconds pruning vines, or walking about the local Wal-Mart parking lot with his hot chocolate. Yet put him where his foot-padded pajamas bring dividends and for the last five years we all have lived out the consequences of his ilk’s ideological dreaming...
Related:  Social Commentary Through Juxtaposition


Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Emperor Has No Malo

The Wall Street Journal's editorial, Obama Repeals Obamacareconjures the title of the post; an appropriate double entendre for the 'home of the malo'-bound-vacationing president.

From the editorial:
...What an incredible political turnabout. Mr. Obama and HHS used to insist that the new plans are better and less expensive after subsidies than the old "substandard" insurance. Now they're conceding that at least some people should be free to choose less costly plans if they prefer—or no plan—and ObamaCare's all-you-can-eat benefits rules aren't necessary for quality health coverage after all...

WSJ: NSA's Business Model Is Questioned

In How Game Theory and the Immune System Can Inform Us on the NSA Public/Private Phone Record Debate the argument was made that:
...The NSA's mission to provide intelligence for our national defense/'immune' system is made more complex by burdening it with the restrictions of 'privacy'.  Contrary to the chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence's arguments, we can allocate resources to service providers to keep customer information private (relative to the government) behind a barrier; yet readily accessible (à la NexisLexis-style business-to-business access) when authorized by the FISA Court.  Like the immune system's Blood-Brain-Barrier, some costs are worth paying for the benefits when developing an optimal defense strategy that has to take into account competing interests.
The Wall Street Journal is now reporting that implementing this strategy was already tested and proven in 1999 with a program called ThinThread.  What's more, it turned out to be "too cheap" to implement (emphasis added):
...The current NSA model relies largely on amassing as much data as it can obtain and trying to sort through it all later.

In its place, the presidentially appointed review panel suggested a drastic and fundamental change..."Software that would allow...intelligence agencies more easily to conduct targeted information acquisition rather than bulk-data collection."

The panel proposed a feasibility study. but form NSA officials say such a transition is certainly doable. "That's exactly what we did," says form NSA official Ed Loomis. "It's not only feasible--the government threw away the software that did it."...

...ThinThread was also handicapped because it was too cheap. With a $3 million price tag, the program couldn't compete with a $4 billion program called Trailblazer that was backed by major contractors...

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Calling 'BullShit' on Speaker John Boehner: "...I'm as conservative as anyone around this place..."

Yeah...right. That's why Boehner voted in 2004 for the HR 4818 Omnibus bill. at that time described it as follows:

Another Pork-Laden Omnibus Spending Bill
By Brian M. Riedl and Keith Miller

As runaway spending pushes the cost of government over $20,000 per household and the federal budget deficit past $400 billion, Congress continues to pile an endless supply of special interest projects onto the backs of weary taxpayers.[1] With the recently-passed fiscal 2005 omnibus spending bill (H.R. 4818), Congress is expected the break its own record-set in last year's budget-for pork projects, with new grants for such items as therapeutic horseback riding and a school mariachi music curriculum. This performance is simply embarrassing and highlights the need for reform of Congress's obviously broken budget process.[2] 

Historically, Congress funded grant programs and then asked federal agencies, governors, and mayors to award the grants competitively to the most capable applicants. But over the past few years, Congress has increasingly bypassed these agencies, governors, and mayors and selected grant recipients on its own. Thus, the Franco-American Heritage Center and the Greater Syracuse Sports Hall of Fame have been chosen by Congress this year to receive earmarks, the legislative term for pork projects. No longer do grant seekers simply submit persuasive grant proposals to unbiased agencies. Now, they must master the Washington influence game and hire lobbyists to win federal funds.[3] 

Predictably, an entire lobbying industry has emerged to secure pork projects for those willing to pay for their services. Organizations and local governments seeking federal money can choose between dozens of powerful lobbying firms who effectively trade campaign contributions for earmarks.[4] 

Auctioning pork projects to the highest bidder reduces the number of merit-based grants distributed by federal agencies, governors, and mayors. These shortages, in turn, induce Congress to expand merit-based programs-and then earmark those new funds as well. Consequently, the number of pork projects skyrocketed from under 2,000 six years ago to 10,656 in the 2004 budget. Total spending on pork projects has correspondingly increased to over $23 billion...[5]