Chas' Compilation

A compilation of information and links regarding assorted subjects: politics, religion, science, computers, health, movies, music... essentially whatever I'm reading about, working on or experiencing in life.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Get the Czars out of our Government

Despite the fact that the Democrats managed to kill an amendment that would have imposed congressional oversight on some of Obama's Czars, there are still bipartisan efforts to hold hearings about the growing number of Czars in our government:

Feingold Plans Hearing on Czars
Senator Russell D. Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin, plans to hold a hearing next week on the subject of the so-called “czars,” appointees who don’t go through the usual vetting process like presidential nominees needing confirmation by the Senate.

Mr. Feingold, the chairman of a Judiciary subcommittee on the Constitution, has been one of the Democrats lending a bipartisan edge to what had been largely Republican complaints about the number of Obama “czars.” (The White House and leading Democrats have forcefully rebutted the notion that the president has too many; former President Bush had placed many officials in the same/or similar positions.) [...]

I've complained before about this Czar crap:

"Czars" have no place in American politics

And yes, it was George Bush who opened the door for this. It was wrong then and it's wrong now, and worse too if you consider the growing number of "Czars". One of several bad precedents set by our former President.
     

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Social Security Insecurity: an Orchestrated Crisis

Social Security's Unexpected Deficits Show Urgent Need for Reform
Starting this year, Social Security will spend more in benefits than it will receive from its payroll taxes. This is somewhat unexpected as just last year, the 2009 cash surplus was predicted to be about $80 billion. Even in May of this year, the program's actuaries predicted a roughly $19 billion surplus. However, they failed to allow for the full effects of the recession, and the soaring unemployment both reduced tax collections and increased the number of workers who were forced to take early retirement.

This is very bad news for taxpayers, but worse is yet to follow. The 2009 deficit of about $10 billion will be followed by a 2010 deficit of about $9 billion. If there is a strong recovery--which is questionable at best--the program could briefly return to surpluses. But by 2016, deficits will return and continue permanently. A far more likely scenario is that Social Security will run deficits from this point on.

The Reality of the Trust Fund

These deficits do not mean that benefits will be cut, but they do increase the burden on taxpayers to pay them. On top of the $1 trillion-plus deficit predicted for this year to pay for the Obama Administration's programs, taxpayers will have to find still more money to pay Social Security's deficits. [...]

This article and the following one make the claim that high unemployment is forcing people to take early retirement:

Social Security strained by early retirements
WASHINGTON (AP) - Big job losses and a spike in early retirement claims from laid-off seniors will force Social Security to pay out more in benefits than it collects in taxes the next two years, the first time that's happened since the 1980s.

The deficits - $10 billion in 2010 and $9 billion in 2011 - won't affect payments to retirees because Social Security has accumulated surpluses from previous years totaling $2.5 trillion. But they will add to the overall federal deficit.

Applications for retirement benefits are 23 percent higher than last year, while disability claims have risen by about 20 percent. Social Security officials had expected applications to increase from the growing number of baby boomers reaching retirement, but they didn't expect the increase to be so large.

What happened? The recession hit and many older workers suddenly found themselves laid off with no place to turn but Social Security.

"A lot of people who in better times would have continued working are opting to retire," said Alan J. Auerbach, an economics and law professor at the University of California, Berkeley. "If they were younger, we would call them unemployed."

Job losses are forcing more retirements even though an increasing number of older people want to keep working. Many can't afford to retire, especially after the financial collapse demolished their nest eggs.

Some have no choice. [...]

Where we live, there are plenty of jobs that nobody wants to do. At our local supermarkets, the "bag boy" is often a senior citizen old enough to be my mother or father. I've noticed a lot of jobs that used to be done by teenagers when I was a teenager, are now being done by seniors.

I did a post recently about working seniors. I think that those that have to keep working, take whatever they can get. Still others take what they can get, because they want to keep working.

As for these growing numbers of people taking early retirement, I have to wonder how many of them are doing so now, because they are afraid that if they wait, they won't get anything by the time they do retire?

It's obscene that our government is trying to create a massive new health care bureaucracy, when we don't even have the money to fund Social Security. If they can't manage existing government programs, what business do they have creating new ones? Yes we need health care reforms, but if they aren't sustainable, what is the point? To destroy what we already have, in order to orchestrate a crisis? To sabotage our government and economic systems, causing them to fail by deliberately overloading them, so they can then be replaced with something else?
     

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A New Linux Netbook: the HP Mini 110 Mi


HP Mini 110 Mi - 1.60 GHz, 512KB L2, 533Mhz FSB; 160GB HD; 2GB Memory;
Product Description
HP Mini 110 Mi with HP Swirl Imprint Finish with Intel(R) Atom(TM) Processor N270 (1.60GHz, 512KB L2, 533Mhz FSB); 160GB 5400RPM SATA Hard Drive; 2GB DDR2 System Memory (1 Dimm); HP Mobile internet (Mi) software built on Linux. Our Mini 110 Mi Edition is a cool netbook tailored for the Web and entertainment1. It runs on the HP-developed Mobile Internet (Mi) software, which is built on Linux.

As of this date, it's selling on Amazon for $404.00. No reviews on Amazon yet. But Distrowatch.com has a detailed review of an almost identical model (slightly different specs) by Ladislav Bodnar:

First look at HP Mini 110 Mi edition
[...] This particular model of HP Mini comes with Intel Atom N280 processor (1.66 GHz, 512 KB L2, 667 MHz FSB), a 250 GB (5400 RPM) SATA hard disk drive, 2 GB of DDR2 SDRAM, 10.1-inch monitor (maximum resolution 1024x576 pixels), Intel Mobile 945GME Express integrated graphics controller, Intel 82801G audio controller, Broadcom BCM4312 802.11b/g wireless network card, and Atheros AR8132 Ethernet adapter (kernel driver atl1c). It has three USB ports, a port for plugging in an external monitor, an audio port for headphones, a built-in HP webcam, and a 3-cell Lithium Ion battery. It weighs 1.2 kg and cost an equivalent of US$400 (NT$13,000).



The most interesting part of the netbook is, of course, its software. The HP Mi (Mobile Internet) interface is a customised and simplified built of Ubuntu 8.04 LTS ("Hardy Heron"), which was released in April 2008. As such, the software packages aren't particularly up-to-date, with Linux kernel 2.6.24, GNOME 2.24.3, Firefox 3.0.13 and OpenOffice.org 2.4.1 all somewhat older than the current latest versions of these applications. But unlike Windows netbooks, which all come with the same standard (i.e. uncustomisable) desktop interface, HP Mi's default desktop is a different story. It is divided into three columns - the left one shows your emails (once email settings are configured in Thunderbird), the middle column has thumbnails of web pages (similar to Opera's "Speed Dial") and the right column is separated into two parts, with the top one listing any recently played music files, while the bottom one showing recently viewed photos. [...]

The full review is quite thorough, and includes several screen shots. Ladislav has a few minor complaints, but ultimately gives it a rating of 8 out of 10 stars.

This unit looks very attractive to me, but I've seen cheaper netbooks with XP, that could be converted to Linux. Mind you, not a whole lot cheaper, so the price difference might not matter much in the end.

As tempting as it is, I have to admit I have no pressing NEED for a netbook. So I think I will just wait a bit for some more reviews, to see what happens with other people who buy if first. And perhaps an even better edition will come out in the meantime. But I would love to hear from anyone who bought this, if you would care to leave some comments here.
     

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Health Care: Fact Checking Obama

From NRO: You Mislead! Fact-checking Obama.
It is a good thing that other congressmen did not follow Rep. Joe Wilson’s lead. If they yelled out every time President Obama said something untrue about health care, they would quickly find themselves growing hoarse.

By our count, the president made more than 20 inaccurate claims in his speech to Congress. We have excluded several comments that are deeply misleading but not outright false. (For example: Obama pledged not to tap the Medicare trust fund to pay for reform. But there is no money in that “trust fund,” anyway, so the pledge is meaningless.) Even so, we may have missed one or more false statements by the president. Our failure to include one of his comments in the following list should not be taken to constitute an endorsement of its accuracy, let alone wisdom. [...]

Follow the link for the details of the 20 inaccurate claims. Isn't accuracy supposed to matter? Shouldn't these things be talked about?

But instead of really debating health care, the Democrats are already starting their predictable response to their critics:

DEMONIZING OPPONENTS OF NATIONALIZED HEALTH CARE

When you can't criticize the message, kill the messenger(s).
     

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Are the Democrats in Wall Street's pocket?

You be the judge:

Wall Street money rains on Chuck Schumer
Wall Street has showered nearly $11 million on the Senate since the beginning of the year, and more than 15 percent of it has gone to a single senator: Democrat Chuck Schumer of New York.

Schumer’s $1.65 million take from the financial services industry is nearly twice that of any other senator's — and more than five times what the industry gave to any single Republican senator.

While the industry has scaled back its political spending in the wake of last year’s economic collapse, data from the Center for Responsive Politics show that it’s still investing heavily in the Senate, where it’s likely to have its best shot at stopping — or at least shaping — the crackdown on Wall Street that President Barack Obama has proposed.

And it’s clearly looking to Democrats to it. {...]

Read on for the details... if you can stomach it.

Why isn't this front page news? Because it's Democrats?
     

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GeoCities Free Web Sites will soon be no more

I got the following notice in my email:
Important notice: GeoCities is closing.

Dear Yahoo! GeoCities customer,

We're writing to let you know that Yahoo! GeoCities, our free web site building service and community, is closing on October 26, 2009.

On October 26, 2009, your GeoCities site will no longer appear on the Web, and you will no longer be able to access your GeoCities account and files. [...]
The email goes on to say that the free websites can be moved to a yahoo paid website, for a monthly fee:

Sign up for Yahoo! Web Hosting for only $4.99 a month

I have one of the free websites. In 2000, I made a trip back east, and made a visit to my old hometown where I grew up. I took a lot of photos, then displayed them on my free GeoCities website:


Simsbury Photo Gallery

The site did well for a couple of years, I got some interesting comments in my guestbook. Then traffic started to fall off sharply, as other websites with photos of the town began to be listed first in search results. Now a search with the towns name and the word photo won't even come up with my site on the first 15 pages of a Google search (I didn't look any further than that. Neither would most people, I expect.)

Now I'm not surprised they are dumping the free sites. They cost money to maintain, and take up space on their servers. And certainly my site hasn't been getting traffic in recent years. I meant to do more with the site, but then we moved to Oregon and I didn't get back to working on it. Even if I had, getting traffic via web searches would have been problematic. Now my "new" photos are nine years old; the site itself is dated. I was going to work on it more, but there's no point now. It's not worth it for me to maintain it as a paid site, so it will disappear soon.

Building the site was a fun learning experience. But free websites are becoming a thing of the past. Websites like mine. I never would have built it as a paid site; it was a fun indulgence. Now it and a whole slew of websites like it are about to face the delete button. Websites that never would have existed if the hosting had not been offered for free. The free sites were a creative outlet for people who might otherwise have never built a website.

GeoCities was one of the largest free website communities online. I will miss it. Goodbye GeoCities. The ever changing face of The Web will never be quite the same again without you.
     

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Monday, September 28, 2009

No retirement, just keep working?

That's what a lot of folks are doing, some out of necessity, some because they want to keep working, and some for both reasons:

Workers thriving at 70, 80, and even 100
(CNN) -- Jack Borden would like you to consider working well past retirement age. As a 101-year-old attorney, he has the credibility to encourage it.

Borden, who has been practicing law for the better part of 70 years, still spends about 40 hours a week at his office in Weatherford, Texas, handling estate planning, probate and real estate matters.

Retire? Not while he's able to help folks.

"As long as you are capable, you ought to use what God gave you. He left me here for a reason, and with enough of a mind to do what it is I'm supposed to be doing," said Borden, who also has been a district attorney and Weatherford's mayor.

He arrives at the practice he shares with his nephew at 6:30 a.m. He goes home for lunch at 10:45 a.m., rests in bed for 45 minutes -- doctor's orders after pneumonia a few years back -- returns to work by 12:45 p.m. and stays until at least 4.

Not everyone who works past 65 does so because they want to. In a survey completed last month, 38 percent of respondents working past the age of 62 said they may have to delay retirement even further because of the recession, according to the Pew Research Center's Social and Demographic Trends project.

But in answer to another question in the same survey, 54 percent of workers 65 or older said they're working now mainly because they want to. Seventeen percent said their main reason was money, and 27 percent said both factors motivated them.

"Some of them enjoy it, and some of them need the money. But even if they need the money, they also enjoy the work," said Cynthia Metzler, president of Experience Works, a nonprofit that helps low-income workers ages 55 and older acquire new job skills. [...]

Read the whole thing, for several examples of people working well past retirement age. Their stories are remarkable, and the photos of the these folks... they look so happy and content. Still very much enjoying their lives and their work.

Not all of them work full-time, but they still put in 20 or 30 hours a week. No small thing for someone in their 70's, 80's or older. I hope I can be as active, productive and enthusiastic when I'm their age.
     

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Do Californians too easily suffer too many fools?

Garrido claimed black box could speak his mind
OAKLEY, California (CNN) -- The black box sat inside a cabinet. Philip Garrido had given it to a friend for safekeeping, and that's where the friend kept it.

The black box has jacks for plugging in headphones. Philip Garrido claimed it could speak his thoughts.

"He feels he can speak to you and me and everyone else using this box," said Garrido's friend and former business client, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"He was a whack job, but he was a whack job who sounded like he had a really good heart," the friend added.

Garrido and his wife, Nancy, were arrested last month and charged on more than two dozen counts, including kidnapping and rape.

Authorities say the Garridos held Jaycee Dugard, 29, captive for nearly two decades in their backyard. Both have pleaded not guilty. Authorities have said Garrido, a registered sex offender, fathered Dugard's two children.

[...]

Three years ago, Garrido demonstrated the box for clients of his printing business. The clients, some of them at least, went along with his claims for the device.

"I didn't want to tell him you're a kook and you don't know what you're talking about," said Tim Allen, who owns a glass shop in Antioch.

Even so, Allen and several other former Garrido clients signed declarations saying the device worked.

"People believe in things. I didn't think it was my place to shoot him down," Allen said. [...]

Those statements I've emphasized in bold print, really reflect the culture in California, which places a lot of emphasis on "not being judgmental". I can understand that up to a point, but look where it can lead to when it's taken too far. Garrido's craziness was tolerated to the point where he was able to commit crimes and... do the things he did.

Could it be that sometimes a kook needs to be called a kook, and locked up if he's dangerous? There is too often a tendency too be overly concerned about damaging the self esteem of seriously disturbed people. What happened to Jaycee is sometimes the result.

One could argue that since Garrido was not criticized about the black box, he was thus encouraged to try to patent it and publicize it, thus attracting the attention of the police, leading to the rescue of Jaycee and her daughters. But you have to wonder, if his mental illness had not been so tolerated from the beginning, if it had been treated more as an illness than a self esteem issue, if he might have been prevented from kidnapping Jaycee in the first place?

I'm all for tolerance, but it needs to be tempered with good judgment too. Like so many things, it's a question of balance.
     

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

My Trip East, and my Long Break from Blogging

My father, working in his yard.

On September 11th, I flew back east to visit family. I didn't post anything about 9-ll memorials or such, because I had a lot to do to prepare for my trip, and I didn't want to be extremely focused on the awfulness of what happened eight years earlier, on the same day I was taking several connecting flights to get to my destination. I was already thinking about it plenty, without blogging about it too. I don't like flying even under the best of circumstances. But I needed to make this trip, and I had to stay focused on that.

My parents are getting on in years, and my mom has had some serious health issues, including pulmonary hypertension. It's becoming increasingly difficult for them to manage staying in their home in the winter time, so we (me and my siblings) are doing what we can to help them cope where they are, until other living arrangements can be made.

I hadn't seen my parents for several years, and as it was a short visit, it was rather intense. There was a lot to fit into a short amount of time.

I missed a connecting flight on my journey back, so I spent a lot of time in airports and planes. With all that and jet-lag too, I've been pretty exhausted. There have been things I've wanted to blog about, but I've been too preoccupied with other things, and haven't felt very motivated for blogging. I think it's going to take me some time to get back into it. Meanwhile, I'm just posting this as an explanation.

Most of the political things I find interesting you can find on Pat's blog. My own "farm reports" and such, I will get back to doing eventually, but it's going to take a while for me to get my blogging legs back again.
     

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Thursday, September 10, 2009

"Feathery Foot Club" adds nine new members


Seven of the new members can be seen here. The other two are being sat on by their mother. This will be the last bunch for the year, if all goes by plan.

Hopefully most of them are hens, we could use some more egg production. August's egg count:

Pullets had 65 eggs (8 less than previous month), Bantams had 91 (48 less), for a monthly total of 156 (47 less). The yearly total is now 1,174.

End of Farm Report.

     

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Wednesday, September 09, 2009

After the Repairs: The New Hubble Photographs


Superb vistas from reborn Hubble
Astronomers are celebrating the release of remarkable new images from the Hubble Space Telescope (HST).

They prove the mission carried out by astronauts in May to service the observatory was an outstanding success.

The latest pictures include trademark Hubble visions - from colliding galaxies to dying stars.

Nasa says the orbiting telescope, regarded as one of the most important scientific tools ever built, should keep working until at least 2014.

The Atlantis shuttle mission in May was the fifth and final Hubble makeover.

The US space agency and its international partners plan now to concentrate their efforts on preparing a bigger and more capable observatory known as the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).

Wednesday's release of pictures was the usual tour de force that astronomers have come to expect following a Hubble servicing. [...]

To see more photos, follow the above link, and then click on the link below the Butterfly Nebula to see a larger image of that. From there you will be able to view a selection of recent photos.
     

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Is a Big Shake Up going to happen at NASA?

It looks like big changes are very likely comming their way:

Panel Urges NASA to Reset Priorities
A blue-ribbon panel is recommending that NASA shelve its goal of rapidly returning to the moon and instead focus on nurturing a robust commercial space industry that can handle short-term objectives of the nation's space program, such as ferrying cargo and crew to the international space station.

The panel, called the Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee, headed by former Lockheed Martin Corp. Chairman Norman Augustine, was convened by the Obama administration earlier this year to provide an independent assessment of the priorities of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. It presented its findings to the White House Tuesday.

[...]

It calls for sweeping changes in the way NASA does business and envisions a dramatically expanded role for private enterprise in human space flight in the coming decades beyond anything proposed previously.

Some of the details of the study were reported in The Wall Street Journal last month. However, a summary and excerpt of the report became available Tuesday. The panel urged NASA to shift its goal from returning to the moon and to focus instead on the more long-term objective of reaching Mars, though it didn't set any specific time frame. [...]

I don't see how they can scrap the Moon mission, and go for Mars. The moon is much closer, more realistic, less expensive, and our astronauts would need that lunar experience, I would think, before tackling a Mars mission.

But perhaps some of the changes at NASA might really be for the better. Consider this:
[...] After the report summary was released, Elon Musk, the founder of Space Exploration Technologies Corp., one of the companies vying for commercial contracts to start ferrying cargo and astronauts to the station, said sticking with NASA's current priorities "flies in the face of reason and common sense." In a teleconference with reporters, Mr. Musk also said development of his company's Falcon 9 heavy-lift launcher – which could start ferrying astronauts to the space station before the middle of the next decade for less than half of Russia's prices -- is about a year late. But "in the space business," he added, "that's early."

In addition to the emphasis on commercial solutions, the report hits heavily on the need to reorient NASA's leadership and the mindset of many of its engineers and scientists. The committee, according to the summary, "strongly believes it is time for NASA to reassume its critical role of developing new technologies" aligned with a revamped "exploration mission that will last for decades." If properly funded and executed, the report concludes, such a technical roadmap would "re-engage the minds at American universities, in industry and within NASA" for manned space efforts.

The report's opening paragraph sets the tone. America's human space flight program "appears to be on an unsustainable trajectory, " the committee found, because it is "perpetuating the perilous practice of pursuing goals that do not match allocated resources." Even before release of the summary, NASA officials were studying possible changes to existing plans, including downsizing a proposed space capsule and revising rocket programs in order to lower costs by reusing some space shuttle-derived technologies and facilities. Other NASA officials, according to a Reuters story Tuesday, have devised a 30-year stepping-stone strategy – still in its early stages -- to develop technology and generate public support with the goal of eventually reaching Mars. [...]

Read the whole article for the details. I can't be completely negative about it, some of the proposed changes actually sound pretty good. It will be interesting to see which of the proposed changes the Obama administration goes with. If they choose wisely, it could work out well in the long run.

If NASA can be straightened out, then maybe we can use a similar plan to get the rest of our government off of it's "unsustainable trajectory", and break it's habit of "perpetuating the perilous practice of pursuing goals that do not match allocated resources." Wouldn't that be great? What's good for the Space Program, might be good for Congress and the White House too!


Also See:

NASA's Mission to the Moon may be Scrapped

NASA goes Back to the Future

     

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Creating a crisis and exploiting it, the Soviet Way

From Russia with No Love
[...] It can be argued that the destabilization of our culture and economy, magnified by policies of the Obama Administration, conform to KGB plans for the collapse of the United States. The only question remains: Is Obama masterminding the current events for economic collapse, or is he just the hapless puppet holding the hot potato? [...]

It goes on to describe the Soviet four-step process called "Ideological Subversion." The four steps in that process are:

1. Demoralization.

2. Destabilization.

3. Crisis.

4. Normalization.

The article describes how each stage would work. Read it, and see how well it matches what we are currently looking at. Have we already gone through steps one and two? Are we entering step three? And if we are heading for step four, what can we expect?

This also fits in well with the orchestrated crisis that Leftist academics advocated in the 1960's. Did they sow the seeds back then, and now they are bearing fruit?

     

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Monday, September 07, 2009

Interracial dating: was attack a "hate" crime?


Father wants son's beating treated as a hate crime
NEW YORK (CNN) -- Brian Milligan Sr. believes his son's race triggered a brutal attack on the streets of Buffalo, New York.

Armed with a chunk of concrete, several assailants beat Brian Milligan Jr. on the back of the head on August 18, leaving a 3-inch gash. They kicked him in the face, breaking his jaw.

Bloodied and bruised, the 18-year-old managed to walk five blocks to his grandmother's house before being rushed to the hospital.

Milligan's father believes several African-Americans beat his son, who is white, because he is dating an African-American woman. He wants police to treat the beating as a hate crime. He also has criticized what he calls a deafening silence from the community, police and the national media.

"If this was a black guy who was beaten by a group of white guys for dating a white girl, people would be up in arms," he said. "There's a double standard."

Buffalo police believe a group of about 10 to 15 African-American men attacked Milligan late at night, police spokesman Mike DeGeorge said. Police have made no arrests and are still investigating the motive, he said.

Milligan Sr. says he believes the attackers are the same "neighborhood guys" who threatened his son and his African-American girlfriend because of their interracial relationship. [...]

Follow the link and look at the pictures. Mulligan is seriously injured. Read the rest of the article. Mulligan's girlfriend has also been harassed and threatened for dating a white man.
[...] The story has touched a nerve with several members of Buffalo's African-American community, including a local pastor who leads a predominantly black church in Buffalo.

"At first, it didn't affect me the way that it would have if I heard it was a black teen attacked," said the Rev. Darius Pridgen, who spent years fighting for civil rights for African-Americans.

"But after I saw his father on TV pleading with the community to find the assailants, I decided I had to go after the people who beat this kid."

Pridgen said he felt that the community has turned a collective blind eye to the beating. So he gave a fire-and-brimstone sermon at the True Baptist Church on a Sunday after the attack, appealing to his congregation to help find the culprits.

"He didn't deserve to be beaten this way," Pridgen recalled saying at the service. "If you believe this, put your hands together."

If it was a black teen, Pridgen said, "We would have been protesting with flags and everything else."

Rod Watson also addressed the issue in his column in the Buffalo News. Watson, who is black, pointed out that interracial marriages are nearly 10 times higher than they were in 1960, according to U.S. Census data, but still those couples have a tough time being accepted by society.

"If blacks in Buffalo in 2009 are acting like whites in Selma in 1959, this society has big problems, despite electing a president who is himself the product of an interracial union," Watson said.

Judy Milligan, a community activist and Brian Milligan Jr.'s great-aunt, said she has been overwhelmed with support from her friends, both black and white.

Mary Woods, a member of Buffalo's African-American community, reached out to Milligan to offer her support.

"I don't care what color you are, when something like this happens, justice must be served," Woods said. "There had to be someone who saw something, and they should come forward." [...]

Thank God for sane, kind people.

I don't like the idea of "hate" crimes, because when does an attack like this NOT involve hate? Hate is hate, no matter the color of the person it's directed at. Most people understand that at a common sense level.
     

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Brave Woman Opposes Sharia Police

Lubna al-Hussein is determined to fight for her rights in Sudan:


Woman tried for wearing pants faces fine, not flogging
(CNN) -- A woman put on trial for wearing clothing deemed indecent by Sudanese authorities was fined Monday, but will not get the 40 lashes she could potentially have faced, her lawyer said.

Lubna al-Hussein, who is fighting to have the conservative Muslim country's decency law declared unconstitutional, will go to jail rather than pay the fine, her lawyer Nabil Adib told CNN.

Al-Hussein, who was arrested in July for wearing pants deemed too tight and a blouse considered too sheer, will appeal to the constitutional court, Adib said by phone from Khartoum.

She pleaded not guilty, but was not allowed to call defense witnesses or present a defense case, he added.

She was sentenced to pay 500 Sudanese pounds ($209) or face a month in prison, starting immediately, the lawyer said.

She refuses to allow anyone to pay the fine for her, Adib said.

Al-Hussein, a journalist who worked in the media department of the United Nations mission in Sudan, resigned from her U.N. position in order to waive her immunity as an international worker and face trial.

[...]

The human rights organization Amnesty International had called earlier for the charges to be dropped.

"The manner in which this law has been used against women is unacceptable, and the penalty called for by the law -- up to 40 lashes -- abhorrent," Tawanda Hondora, deputy director of Amnesty International's Africa program, said in a statement.

Al-Hussein was arrested along with 18 other women on July 3 at a Khartoum restaurant when police burst in and checked women for their clothing.

"I don't think she was targeted specifically," Adib said. "They attack public and private parties and groups. They are called 'morality police' and she was just a victim of a round-up." [...]

See the video that goes with the article. The outfit she was wearing looks to be similar, if not the same, as the one seen in this photo. Some of the women who were arrested with her WERE flogged. Barbaric.

No wonder Lubna al-Hussein wants to challenge it. She wants a public trial, and she wants the world to see it. The Sudanese authorities tried to give her an easy out, to avoid publicity, but she wants her day in court or the charges dropped. Good for her.


Also See:

Today's "Modern" Muslim fashions
     

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Thursday, September 03, 2009

Count Helmuth James von Moltke: Hero? No?

History buffs and/or those who liked the movie Valkyrie (about the 1944 assassination attempt on Hitler's life) would possibly enjoy this article, which in part deals with the reaction of the British Foriegn office when they heard the news of the assassination attempt:

Martyrs and Modernity: Germany’s Heroes and the Left
Though she was never one of my instructors, I vividly recall Beate Ruhm von Oppen from my time as a graduate student at St. John’s College. Though the advance of years had slowed her gait and weakened her voice, I can attest – based on a few conversations – that age had left her mind keen. In retrospect I regret not having sought the benefit of that mind more often, when I had the chance: She died in 2004 at age 86, and her obituary proved something of an eye-opener for me and many of my classmates.

Born in Zurich, Switzerland, and raised in Germany, [Oppen] finished her secondary school education in Holland, and later moved to England, where she studied at the University of Birmingham. During World War II she worked for the British Foreign Office, analyzing German propaganda. She then joined the Royal Institute of International Affairs.

In the late 1950s Oppen came to the United States. She took a job with the American Historical Association, combing through captured German documents at a facility in Alexandria, Virginia, known as Torpedo Factory. She also worked at the Center for International Affairs at Harvard.

Subsequently she was a visiting lecturer at Smith College, spent a year in the history department of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and later joined the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton, where she researched the role of religion in the German Resistance to Nazism.

Oppen’s interest in the German Resistance led her to edit and translate the letters of Helmuth James von Moltke to his wife Freya (Letters to Freya). Moltke, a legal adviser in the High Command of the Wehrmacht, worked within the regime to undermine the Nazis, and was captured and executed. The German edition of the volume won the Scholl Prize, one of Germany’s most prestigious awards, in 1989.

Now that she’s passed on, the only way to know Oppen is via her work. As noted, her main focus vis-à-vis the German Resistance was Count Helmuth James von Moltke. But she also studied other topics, like the failed 1944 attempt on Adolf Hitler’s life and the reaction to this assassination attempt on the part of the British Foreign Office. The failed coup itself has been well-publicized recently thanks to the film Valkyrie, yet the Allied response at the time has remained out of the public eye. Based on first-hand experience, Oppen wrote of the atmosphere in the Foreign Office when news came that Hitler had survived the assassination attempt:
There was relief at the failure of the plot. Two reasons were given for it: One reasonable, the other less so and, so it seemed to me, excessively cold-blooded.

Success would have meant another ‘stab in the back’ legend and would have bedeviled a new German regime just as the legend that Germany was robbed of victory after the first world war bedeviled the Weimar Republic. That made some sense.

The other, to my mind less respectable, reason was that the plotters were not the kind of people the Allies could work with.
It seems that some English policymakers feared catching blue-blood cooties from exposure to – in Oppen’s wry wording – “too many counts and barons.” Remember that Anglo-American leaders had no qualms about turning some hundred thousand men, women, and children into radioactive briquettes in order to “end the war”. (That is, to end it unconditionally, without need of peace negotiations.) And recall that in order to defeat the Führer, Allied leaders were quite willing to make an alliance with that famed international humanitarian Joseph Stalin.

But as for working with Hitler’s enemies within the German aristocracy… well, apparently that was asking a bit much. Whoa – come now, there are limits, after all.

One such aristocratic persona non grata was Oppen’s biographical subject – grand-nephew of the famed Prussian field-marshal of the same name – Helmuth James von Moltke. Though active in a variety of spheres, Moltke’s most productive work is circumscribed by the Kreisau Circle, so-called after the count’s country estate where Protestant theologians, Catholic priests, and lay intellectuals gathered to discuss Germany’s fate. Moltke and his companions intended that post-Hitler Germany would not repeat the mistakes of Weimar, and sought some viable, humane vision with which to fill in the vacuum left by Nazism’s inevitable self-destruction.

The Kreisau papers describe a decentralized society anchored by organic institutions, in which regional autonomy and an independent local leadership class would impede the ascendancy of any totalitarian demagogue. This decentralist ideal flowed from Kreisau’s Christian orientation, which translated practically into an emphasis upon localism and small communities. Such communities based upon “naturally occurring ties between individuals” – i.e., the organic ties which bind families together and neighbors to one another – were in Moltke’s view the key to a sustainably sane society.

Per Moltke, National Socialism was a logical consequence of the modern trend toward political and economic consolidation, a consolidation which snuffed out both human identity and the economic means by which individuals might resist tyranny. Rendered anonymous and faceless like ants in a hive, modern mass-man had no chance for either spiritual or political freedom. [...]

Moltke was not a hero for opposing Hitler, in the eyes of the Left; he was someone they "couldn't work with"! Why am I not surprised.

I've actually known quite a few Lefties who were, in private, sympathetic to Hitler and some of his ideas; they believed he was misunderstood, and just went a bit too far with some of his ideas. They liked the Socialist-big government he created, they just didn't like everything he did with it. They don't seem to realize that a big socialist government inherently has the power to abuse it's position. Absolute power, corrupting absolutely.

Moltke's disdain for National Socialism earned him the distrust of the Nazi's, and ironically, the distrust of the Left among the Western Allies. The rest of the article discusses Moltke's views, events leading up to Valkyrie, and the reactions and reasoning of the British Foreign office, who were relieved that Valkyrie failed. Moltke was never proved to have been part of that assassination plot. In Fact, on his Wiki page is says he was apposed to assasinating Hitler, because it would make him a martyr.

At his trial, they could find nothing to implicate him, so they said he was guilty of treason, for making plans for a "post-Hitler" Germany. They killed him for his ideas, which neither Nazi's nor Big Government Leftists approved of, leaving Moltke an unsung "hero" of WWII.

Also see: Wikipedia: Helmuth James Graf von Moltke




     

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Wednesday, September 02, 2009

"Czars" have no place in American politics

This is another bad idea that the Obama Administration has taken from the Bush Administration, and expanded and strengthened. It was bad when Bush did it and it's even worse now:

Obama’s Unconstitutional ‘Czars’
Here’s a question that has been nagging me for months. Are Obama’s ever-growing number of “czars” constitutional? I am not a constitutional scholar, but I have read the document.

[...]

The Republican National Committee’s conservative caucus recently passed a resolution expressing their concern noting that “The U.S. Constitution explicitly states government officers with significant authority (called ‘principal officers’) must be nominated by the President and are subject to a vote of the U.S. Senate.”

Obama’s appointments are clearly “principal officers” though it will be argued that they are only advisors to the office of the President. Clearly, Obama’s appointments are not heads of departments, but they appear to have been granted an unknown degree of influence and control as regards their responsibilities. They function “in the dark.”

[...]

...there is an enormous amount of overlap going on and it involves appointees who give the appearance of being doppelgangers to the existing Secretaries and the huge bureaucracies they oversee. They answer directly to the President, but presumably so do the Secretaries whom we occasionally see gathered around a huge table in cabinet meetings.

If these people who have not been approved by the Senate or occupy positions that have not been “established by law” and are not “heads of departments” exist solely at the pleasure of the President, are we not hip deep in some very muddy waters concerning who is answerable to the Senate or House committees?

I am of the belief that Obama has methodically gone about creating a shadow government of men and women with undefined powers, but who likely have even more influence with the Oval Office than those who hold office under the mandates of the Constitution.
[...]

It goes on to say there are 30 or more "Czars" right now, and the number is growing.

George Bush opened the door for this with his "drug Czar" nonsense. I was extremely offended at the time, by the term being used to describe anyone holding a position in our government. But at least Bush only had one. Now we have THIRTY?

Read the whole thing, for details about some of them. It's chilling. Isn't this unconstitutional? And where is it going?
     

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Obesity and the ex-smoker factor

There is all this talk about how American's are becoming increasingly obese. You have to wonder if it's related to the increasing numbers of ex-smokers, who have simply traded one vice for another:



Personal Vice, Public War
[...] There are many reasons we’ve gotten fatter, but I can’t help wonder how much of the rise in eating corresponds to the drop in smoking. This article notes that smokers are less obese than non-smokers, but ex-smokers are more obese than non-smokers. Is it possible that our aggressive efforts to stomp out the “evil” cigarettes has merely skewed our vices without making us healthier or “better”?

I don't know if it's the biggest reason why obesity is increasing, but it must be a large contributing factor at the very least.
     

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Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Sunspots and Solar Minimums: what they mean

How are the lack of sunspots related to a Solar Minimum, and how does that affect temperatures here on earth? And what about our current solar cycle?


I had read a while back, in an article that I can't find now, that the lack of sunspots doesn't cause the sun to be significantly cooler, and does not cool the earth down significantly either. The cooler temperatures happen indirectly. If I understand it correctly:

Sunspots are magnetic storms on the sun's surface. They cause solar winds, that in turn cause ions in the earth's upper atmosphere to become charged, churning the air which affects the wind currents on the earth.

The earth's oceans absorb much of the suns heat, warming the air above, and the earth's westerly winds blow that warmer air over the oceans westward onto land masses, raising the temperature there.

When sun spot activity is very low or non-existent, the ions in the upper atmosphere are less charged, there is less air movement, and the westerly winds die down, leaving more of the warmer air over the oceans. As a result, there is a significant drop of temperatures over the land masses.

Fascinating stuff. I couldn't find that article, but while searching for it I came across the following articles about our current solar cycle. As the new solar cycle continues to be weak, lacking significant sunspot activity, it seems we are in a solar minimum.

There has even been speculation by some that we are entering a "mini-ice age" like the historical "Maunder Minimum":


Wikipedia: Maunder Minimum
The Maunder Minimum is the name used for the period roughly spanning 1645 to 1715 by John A. Eddy in a landmark 1976 paper published in Science titled "The Maunder Minimum",[1] when sunspots became exceedingly rare, as noted by solar observers of the time. Astronomers before Eddy had also named the period after the solar astronomer Edward W. Maunder (1851–1928) who studied how sunspot latitudes changed with time.[2] The periods he examined included the second half of the 17th century. Edward Maunder published two papers in 1890 and 1894, and he cited earlier papers written by Gustav Spörer. The Maunder Minimum's duration was derived from Spörer's work. Like the Dalton Minimum and Spörer Minimum, the Maunder Minimum coincided with a period of lower-than-average global temperatures.

During one 30-year period within the Maunder Minimum, astronomers observed only about 50 sunspots, as opposed to a more typical 40,000–50,000 spots in modern times. [...]

As Wikipedia points out, there have also been smaller solar minimums, like the Dalton and Spörer minimums. We may be experiencing a minimum, but it's size may be unpredictable. I would say comparing it to the "Maunder Minimum" could be premature. Yet some astronomers are taking it even further than being just a minimum:

ARE SUNSPOTS DISAPPEARING?
[...] According to Bill Livingston and Matt Penn of the National Solar Observatory in Tucson, Arizona, sunspot magnetic fields are waning. The two respected solar astronomers have been measuring solar magnetism since 1992. Their technique is based on Zeeman splitting of infrared spectral lines emitted by iron atoms in the vicinity of sunspots. Extrapolating their data into the future suggests that sunspots could completely disappear within decades. That would be a bummer for Spaceweather.com.

Don't count out sunspots just yet, however. While the data of Livingston and Penn are widely thought to be correct, far-reaching extrapolations may be premature. This type of measurement is relatively new, and the data reaches back less than 17 years. [...]

Yes, 17 years is nothing in the lifespan of the sun. Not enough data to make long term predictions. In fact, for all we know about the sun now, it's amazing how much we can't predict, as this NASA article shows:

Deep Solar Minimum
April 1, 2009: The sunspot cycle is behaving a little like the stock market. Just when you think it has hit bottom, it goes even lower.

2008 was a bear. There were no sunspots observed on 266 of the year's 366 days (73%). To find a year with more blank suns, you have to go all the way back to 1913, which had 311 spotless days: plot. Prompted by these numbers, some observers suggested that the solar cycle had hit bottom in 2008.

Maybe not. Sunspot counts for 2009 have dropped even lower. As of March 31st, there were no sunspots on 78 of the year's 90 days (87%).

It adds up to one inescapable conclusion: "We're experiencing a very deep solar minimum," says solar physicist Dean Pesnell of the Goddard Space Flight Center.

"This is the quietest sun we've seen in almost a century," agrees sunspot expert David Hathaway of the Marshall Space Flight Center.

[...]

Quiet suns come along every 11 years or so. It's a natural part of the sunspot cycle, discovered by German astronomer Heinrich Schwabe in the mid-1800s. Sunspots are planet-sized islands of magnetism on the surface of the sun; they are sources of solar flares, coronal mass ejections and intense UV radiation. Plotting sunspot counts, Schwabe saw that peaks of solar activity were always followed by valleys of relative calm—a clockwork pattern that has held true for more than 200 years: plot [see article for link].

The current solar minimum is part of that pattern. In fact, it's right on time. "We're due for a bit of quiet—and here it is," says Pesnell.

But is it supposed to be this quiet?

[...]

All these lows have sparked a debate about whether the ongoing minimum is "weird", "extreme" or just an overdue "market correction" following a string of unusually intense solar maxima.

"Since the Space Age began in the 1950s, solar activity has been generally high," notes Hathaway. "Five of the ten most intense solar cycles on record have occurred in the last 50 years. We're just not used to this kind of deep calm."

Deep calm was fairly common a hundred years ago. The solar minima of 1901 and 1913, for instance, were even longer than the one we're experiencing now. To match those minima in terms of depth and longevity, the current minimum will have to last at least another year.

[...]

Modern technology cannot, however, predict what comes next. Competing models by dozens of top solar physicists disagree, sometimes sharply, on when this solar minimum will end and how big the next solar maximum will be. Pesnell has surveyed the scientific literature and prepared a "piano plot" showing the range of predictions. The great uncertainty stems from one simple fact: No one fully understands the underlying physics of the sunspot cycle.

Pesnell believes sunspot counts will pick up again soon, "possibly by the end of the year," to be followed by a solar maximum of below-average intensity in 2012 or 2013. [...]

The article has a lot of particulars, about the new "lows" the minimum is causing, in the rate of solar wind pressure, irradiance, and solar radio emissions. Read the whole thing for the details.

The article began with a comparison to the stock market, and ends with one. The sun and the stock market may well have something in common; no one can know and completely understand ALL the forces at work behind the scenes that drive them, and therefore, no one can completely predict their behavior. But plenty of people still take "educated guesses" about both.

You can read more about what Livingston and Penn say about sunspots during a solar minimum in this PDF document online:

Are Sunspots Different During This Solar Minimum?

They talk in more detail about what they are measuring, how they are measuring it, and what it might mean.


Related Links:

Where have all the sunspots gone, and why?

Our climate, the weather, our grid and the Sun

Solar Flare: The "Carrington Event" of 1859
     

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