Tuesday, March 30, 2010

GAO Report of the Week

GAO is a wonderful agency. It produces important, but dry reports on who knows what (e.g., Crop Insurance). It also throws out quirky little reports on random stuff, like this one: ENERGY STAR PROGRAM: Covert Testing Shows the Energy Star Program Certification Process Is Vulnerable to Fraud and Abuse.

In short, GAO investigators were able to get energy certified some great products, such as:

  • Gas-Powered Alarm Clock
  • The highest efficiency Geothermal Heat Pump on market (no questions asked)
  • Refrigerator (approved and on the website within 24 hours, who said government isn't efficient?)

Video of the Day

HT: Scot McKight

Your Link of Day

Here is a fascinating article on Netflix and how it is just so darn fast in processing your DVD.

One interesting note:
After 5 p.m., trucks are loaded with cartons of mailers and return to the post office -- indeed, Netflix has become the fastest-growing source of first-class mail for the Postal Service, a department official says.
That is until we get all our videos over the internet.

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Problem with Republicans: A Lack of Ideas on Anything

I don't have much to add to Mr. Douthat's post at the nytimes.com except to say AMEN! Individual Republicans are actually grappling with the issue, but the party is just doing whatever it thinks will allow it to regain power. To quote the post:
Ryan’s correct that these ideas were dismissed by Democrats early on. But it’s important to note (and I know I’m a broken record on this point) that they were also dismissed by the Republican leadership, which decided to offer nothing — nothing! — in its formal alternatives to Obamacare that would have increased health insurance coverage for the working class. 
Still, when you’re trying to rebuild a party after two devastating electoral defeats, you need to think strategically as well as tactically, and work to rebuild your intellectual credibility and lay the groundwork for future legislative efforts. On health care, Daniels and Ryan have that credibility. Their party, unfortunately, does not.
GOPers sound like Dems from the late nineties. This ain't good for country. Enjoy the wilderness.

Why we have tax benefits for children

Along with the fact that we want our country to exist in 100 years, it makes great economic sense.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

My Bracket: Busted

Like many people across the county my brackets are busted. This unfortunate turn of events is, unfortunately, a rather regular occurrence. Every year I'm faced with the same problem: I don't follow NCAA basketball much until a week before the tournament, I then do just enough research to think I know more than I do, and then try to get cute with my picks. Alas, my little education is my downfall. I will wait until this weekend is over to show my true incompetency.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Quote of the Day

“I think that liberals view the market as a somewhat barbaric and unfair mechanism for allocating resources. They view government as a mechanism for restoring fairness and justice. To a libertarian, the market mechanism is civilized. When people buy and sell in the market, they are making voluntary, mutually beneficial exchanges. In contrast, government is an arena where one side wins and the other side loses. When I shop for a coat, if I do not like the way a coat fits or how it looks, or how much the seller wants me to pay, I do not buy that coat. I buy a different coat, perhaps in a different store. The shopping process leads to peaceful, mutually satisfying trade. On the other hand, look at how the issue of health care reform is going to be resolved. It is like gang warfare, where the Democrats and Republicans are going to rumble, and at least one side is going to be very unhappy with the outcome. For me, it is the democratic process that is barbaric, and it is the market process that is comparatively peaceful and civilized.” 
— Arnold Kling, “Liberals and Markets
HT: Ross Douthat

Monday, March 15, 2010

My Summary of Why the Brits Lost the Revolutionary War OR Why Education Can Make You Think You Know More Than You Do

Back in my former life I took a class on Strategy and War. Like many papers I've written in college and grad school I was way over my head. Fortunately my confidence would not be shaken. Here is the opening salvo:
Thirty years after the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745 the King and his government faced another rebellion. This time, three thousand miles away, a select group of American colonists were agitating for independence. The implicit question before Parliament was what kind of war was it fighting. Was it a rebellion that needed to be put down or a war where success would mean less than the status quo? Unfortunately, for Parliament and the crown, the British leaders chose poorly. In the colonists they saw illegitimate agitators seeking to break apart the empire. In choosing a rebellion that needed to be repressed the British leaders lost the war. Despite numerous victories in battle, America was lost. Events in America did little to change strategy in London. No British general was able to translate the subtleties of events in the theater of war for the ears of the cabinet. 
Throughout the war British leaders were unable (or for some, unwilling) to reassess their strategy because they didn’t understand the nature of the conflict. And they didn’t understand the conflict because (1) British leaders in power were unable to comprehend the American people and their cause, (2) which when filtered through the British political structure inhibited clear policies and obtainable political objectives, and led to (3) a lack of coordination between military actions and political ends. Ultimately what inhibited British leaders from reassessing their strategy was the interaction between the government and military, exacerbated by incomprehension. They couldn’t see the forest for the trees because they thought they were sailing in the open ocean.

Nerd Alert!

A computerized animation of flying over the moon:

Quote of the Day

Edmund Burke:
In order to prove that the Americans have no right to their liberties, we are every day endeavouring to subvert the maxims which preserve the whole spirit of our.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Health Care: The Ending?

The U.S. Health Care is soon to meet it's tortured point of decision. I have no idea if Dems (from a political point of view) should vote for or against the bill. I don't know the political effects, nor even know the health care effects of the proposed legislation. It will expand government and the bureaucracy. Perhaps that will be for the good of the nation, perhaps not.

As we enter this difficult stretch I came across this NPR article that details a different sort of health care:
As policymakers in Washington, D.C., debate overhauling health care, several evangelical Christian groups have found a way of getting around the high cost of health insurance. Instead of paying premiums, they simply agree to pay each other's medical bills...
James Lansberry, the vice president ofSamaritan Ministries, says the concept is simple. First there's a $170 annual fee to cover Samaritan's administrative costs. His nonprofit group then compiles members' health care bills and tells its 14,000 households where to send their monthly checks.
"The money doesn't get received at our central office — it goes directly from one family to another," Lansberry says. "So each month I send my monthly share of $285 directly to another family."
This is a fantastic model and the though the total reimbursement is capped at $100,000 is something that could potentially work in other settings.

The article points to one of the main problems with our health insurance, which is that people see it not so much as insurance, but as prepaying health-care. Thus, they have no incentive to limit their consumption (give me all the tests doc!) nor do the docs. What I think we need is for folks to pay normal expenses (doctor visits, etc…) out of pocket, maybe using this model to share those costs. And then the government should have catastrophic insurance (accident, random cancer) that no individual could pay.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Advertising Works!

Since moving to Rapid City I've been driving quite a bit. Coupled with the local public radio's love of music means that for the first time in my life I've spent some time listening to...sports radio. Most of it is inane and crazy and full of complete BS, but BS can be fun to listen too in small doses. Anyway, a couple of days ago I was at the store and purchasing some shaving cream. I was sick of supporting Gillette and scanned the shaving cream row until my eyes settled on Barbasol. I had never heard of Barbasol until I listened to sports radio. So what did I do...well, I succumbed to the capitalistic system, and me some Barbasol.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Your Tax Link of the Day

We are in tax season, and all the drudgery that comes with it. To lighten the load, here is a link to a description of state tax oddities. And to have more fun, here is your Tax Freedom day, the day of the year when (on average) you've earned enough income to pay all your taxes that year.

Your Wild-Eyed Prophet of the Day

It's no secret that some of the Old Testament prophets have a bit of that crazy in them. The mere fact that you'd stand up to kings and nobles and proclaim their coming doom requires a certain amount of unnerving certainty. Nevertheless, certain prophet give off the crazy vibe much more than other prophets. For example, Elijah performs miracles and signs of wonder and dukes it out the Ahab (one of the best scenes in the Bible) yet seems sane. He is man fulfilling God's strange call. Isaiah, to some degree, fits that same category. Sure, he has visions, but his calling to repentance and justice rings true to this day.

On the hand, we have Ezekiel. Like any decent prophet Ezekiel had visions, but he was also called by God to act out God's words, like some ancient performance art (from Ezekiel 12):
"Therefore, son of man, pack your belongings for exile and in the daytime, as they watch, set out and go from where you are to another place. Perhaps they will understand, though they are a rebellious house. During the daytime, while they watch, bring out your belongings packed for exile. Then in the evening, while they are watching, go out like those who go into exile. While they watch, dig through the wall and take your belongings out through it. Put them on your shoulder as they are watching and carry them out at dusk. Cover your face so that you cannot see the land, for I have made you a sign to the house of Israel."
So I did as I was commanded. During the day I brought out my things packed for exile. Then in the evening I dug through the wall with my hands. I took my belongings out at dusk, carrying them on my shoulders while they watched.
It's a reminder that God's call is not necessarily a sane call, or a proper call, or a call to tell your grandma about over a cup of tea.

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Creek: March 8

The ice has broken on the creek. For three months the ice strangled my little bit of the creek, turning flowing water into a coughing stream. Six-inch ice shelves still hug the shore, but spring is here. And with spring comes thoughts of death. For my part of the world was death, but now life is on the breeze. The trees are beginning to breath again. The bush branches contain a bit more strength as I plow through the forest. The death of the winter has passed, and though much has perished, life all around me has survived.

With these thoughts I continue my Lenten journey. With mud replacing snow I remember my initial state. For dust we are, and dust we shall return. But before that return, life has come and will come to those muddy puddles, as life has come to me. Around me I see tentative shoots of green amidst the stubborn banks of snow. Warmth and cold, life and death, wrapped together within and without.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Your LaRouche Crazy of the Day

When I went to George Washington University in DC I'd often run across these random folks singing political songs, holding signs calling out various political leaders as Nazis. This strange brew were followers of Lyndon LaRouche, a left-wingish nutter political group that has at times accused both President Bush and Obama of following in the steps of Hitler.

Anyway, a LaRouchie has recently won the Democratic nomination for Texas House District 22. From her website (now taken off her website):
The victory in the 22nd Congressional District yesterday by LaRouche Democrat Kesha Rogers sent an unmistakable message to the White House, and its British imperial controllers: Your days are numbered. Kesha's campaign hit relentlessly at a single theme, that President Obama must go, that his attacks on this nation – with his dismantling of the manned space program, his efforts to ram through a fascist, killer “health care” policy, his endless bailouts for Wall Street swindlers, while demanding budget cuts which will increase the death rates among the poor, the sick, the elderly and the unemployed – are not acceptable, and will not be tolerated.
Skeptics said that LaRouche's approach is impractical, it won't work, that Democrats will never support someone who is calling for the President's impeachment. Obviously, the voters of the 22nd district disagreed with those skeptics, as Kesha received 53% of the vote against two opponents. As Kesha told the Galveston Daily News last night, when a reporter asked if she expected support from the Democratic Party in the fall election, “I am leading a war against the British Empire. I'm not worried about what Democratic Party hacks say or do.”
HT: Ezra Klein

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Another Reason to Like Tolkien

From the Jewish Review of Books:
Although it might seem unlikely that anyone would wonder whether the author of The Lord of the Rings was Jewish, the Nazis took no chances. When the publishing firm of Ruetten & Loening was negotiating with J. R. R. Tolkien over a German translation of The Hobbit in 1938, they demanded that Tolkien provide written assurance that he was an Aryan. Tolkien chastised the publishers for “impertinent and irrelevant inquiries,” and—ever the professor of philology— lectured them on the proper meaning of the term: “As far as I am aware none of my ancestors spoke Hindustani, Persian, Gypsy, or any related dialects.” As to being Jewish, Tolkien regretted that “I appear to have no ancestors of that gifted people.” 

Monday, March 1, 2010

Happy Birthday Old Man

My old man turns 62 today. Happy Birthday. It's also Saint David's day in Wales. The nation's patron saint. He's got a fantastic flag. I guess one of the benefits of being both a saint and a national patron saint.

Constantine Christianity

In recent years much criticism* has been heaped upon Constantine Christianity as a distortion of Jesus and Christianity. Folks criticize this 1700 year old deal with the devil that allowed official, Roman recognition of Christianity at the expense of Christians (particularly the hierarchy) expounding the Gospel. In short, the critics argue that in the battle between truth and power, power won out. Eventually (over a 100 years) Christianity become the state religion, and thus lost its ability to speak, "truth to power." Since that time Christian Bishops and Popes and Patriarchs sacrificed the Gospel for the world.

Some of the criticism of this decisive moment in history is true and right. By willingly aligning itself to the official Roman order, the Christian hierarchy lost some of it's ability to fulfill the Gospel. However, too much of the frustration with Constantine Christianity is based on a poor understanding of history, culture, and Christianity.

First, what was the church suppose to do when Constantine the Great declared that Christianity was one of the state religions? Should they have said, "nah, we don't need that, please keep persecuting us"? Should they have said, "boy, we really need less people to believe and live the Gospel so that we won't be noticed by the Roman authorities and thus won't set Christianity down a path of destruction"? No, they did what any reasonable folks would do, they breathed a sigh of relief and thanked the Lord for their deliverance.

Second, was the devil in the deal or is there a little devil in all of us? Much of the justifiable criticism of Church leaders is because those leaders (popes, bishops, etc...) were venal, greedy, and corrupt, and used the church for their own ends. Plenty of church leaders throughout the middle ages and beyond acted with integrity, and used their power and money for good and justice. For example, Ambrose, a rich and powerful man, became Bishop (from deacon to bishop in a week), then sold his possessions, and more often than not advocated for the poor and the dispossessed. Meanwhile, he was an advisor to Emperors and part of the "inner circle."

The criticism of Constantine Christian System is more a criticism of human nature. I believe that State sponsored church ain't a good thing, nevertheless, we ought to be slow to criticize those decisions that saved people from persecution.

*I know I didn't link to any of the critics on the web, but that's because I'm lazy and tired. Just trust me that they are out there. 

Reason #22 That you are Happy you live in the 21st Century

I'm currently reading an abridged history of the Byzantine Empire. The writing is so-so, but the history is fantastic. For over 1100 years a Byzantium Emperor or Empress was on the throne in Constantinople. Too often we glaze over numbers as we read about this war and that plague and that invention. But to put that number into context, 1100 years would bring us back before the Normandy Invasion or is the difference in time between Kind David and Jesus.

Despite Byzantium's great achievements in art (beautiful icons), philosophy (the keepers of the greco-roman tradition), war (inventor of Greek Fire, and the only Empire to hold off the Arab Muslims for 800 years) you would not have wanted to live back then. Even if you knew you wouldn't die from disease, there was a chance some Slavic tribe would overrun your city and kill all the inhabitants or that your empire would destroy your town in taking it back or just the random extreme violence if you found yourself on the wrong side of an internal dispute. Not good. Also, thank the Lord for plumbing.

I'm Back...

...from greasing the wheels in DC. More posts to come.