Search This Blog

Thursday, April 30, 2009

A Different Never

In a recent speech, President Obama defined what he means by the phrase "Never Again" when used in reference to the Holocaust:
...our fellow citizens of the world showing us how to make the journey from oppression to survival, from witness to resistance and ultimately to reconciliation. That is what we mean when we say “never again.”
Yeah, well, that's not what "Never Again" used to mean. I'm certain that "reconciliation" wasn't part of it. The idea was to "Never Again" allow a homicidal dictator like Hitler come to power or to let him direct a massive genocide.

Clearly, with rhetoric like this, Obama is not even vaguely interested in standing up to murderous thugs or even attempting to take any real action to prevent present and future genocides. Never Again has unfortunately now completely morphed into Over and Over Again.


Wednesday, April 29, 2009

New Voting Strategy

I could not be more disappointed by the vast majority of politicians, both Democrat and Republican.

As a result, I'm thinking of forming a new political party: The Beautiful Babe Party.

The theory is that they couldn't possibly do any worse than our current set of politicians and at least they wouldn't be so hard on the eyes. I think this new party would be very successful since women would vote for them because they're, well, women, and men would vote for them for obvious reasons.

Since this is a post about pretty girls, I obviously have to post some picture. I've chosen Carrie Prejean, who was (possibly) denied winning Miss USA because of her views on gay marriage (she's against it), showing that even good-looking gals have opinions.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Monckton of Global Warming

While I think he's a bit of a loose cannon, I rather like this letter and paper by Monckton for being able to describe (and refute) numerous aspects of the science of Global Warming in terms that I think are understandable by a layperson with relatively little familiarity with scientific terminology.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Pontifications on the Extended Order - Part 5: The Economics of Slavery

Slavery ended in the United States in 1865 with the ratification of the 13th amendment. The narrative can do nothing but make you proud of humanity. Courageous members of the underground railroad. Secret networks organizing the slaves to escape north. A war partly fought for their freedom. Just about everybody except those evil southern slave owners came to realize the evil that slavery is.

Nice story, but I'm skeptical. Why did the populace suddenly come to the conclusion that slavery was wrong when it had been practiced for tens of millennia?

As I've written in previous Pontifications, humans are nasty and brutish and some of them are short (or something like that). In addition, almost everything can be explained by power, and power alone. The history of slavery in America, in my opinion, is no exception.

I suspect that the heroes of the underground railroad were scorned much like PETA animal rights terrorists are today. They were likely considered lunatic extremists. Consider if in 50 years, animals actually do get full rights, then the PETA extremists of today will be remembered as visionary heroes!

So why then? What changed the power equation? First, consider that southern black slaves may have on average done better than their free northern counterparts:
Fogel and Engerman argue that slaves in the American South lived better than did many industrial workers in the North. Fogel based this analysis largely on plantation records and claimed that slaves worked less, were better fed [...] A survey of economic historians concludes that ... 23% "agreed" and 35% "agreed with provisos" with their argument that "the material (rather than psychological) conditions of the lives of slaves compared favorably with those of free industrial workers in the decades before the Civil War."
Ultimately, I think that people are much better exploiting themselves than being exploited by others, and the free northern black, caring for himself, ultimately provided much better value per dollar which made the north more powerful. Even more importantly, rapid industrialization required flexibility of labor, and slavery is the most inflexible form of labor possible. The South was being held back economically by slavery. That is why it happened then.

Note that Fogel points out that the economics of agricultural based on slavery was more efficient than without it. Even if true, it doesn't change the fact that western civilization was in the midst of transitioning from an agrarian to industrial society. What mattered was not the efficiency of farms, but the efficiency of industry. The North, with only free men, excelled at industry and was therefore becoming ever more powerful relative to the South.

So then our morals evolved to catch up with the reality on the ground which was caused by power.

In the next pontification, I'll look at the fall of the European empires. The power equation changed, that's why the British left, not because they suddenly felt bad for the oppressed.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Self-Fulfilling Racism

Apparently, anyone who disagrees with Obama is racist. For example, consider this diatribe by actress Janeane Garofalo:
"'Let's be very honest about what this is about. This is not about bashing Democrats. It's not about taxes. They have no idea what the Boston Tea party was about. They don't know their history at all. It's about hating a black man in the White House,' she said on MSNBC's 'The Countdown' with Keith Olbermann Thursday evening. 'This is racism straight up and is nothing but a bunch of teabagging rednecks. There is no way around that.'"
Unfortunately, this type of claim of racism is partly self-fulfilling. If people elect a black candidate and are continually insulted by being called racist if and when they disagree with him or his Administration on various issues, I suspect that at least some of them are going to be less likely to elect a black candidate next time. That decision to not vote for the black candidate, though rational and perhaps even justifiable, is racism.

Times Are Ruff

(Hat Tip: John Goodman's Health Policy Blog)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Martinis - The New Chicken Soup

I mentioned that I was sick last week and the week before. Chocolate Martinis (3:1 Vodka:Creme de Cacao) saved me. I had a terrible sore throat and couldn't swallow (or eat) at all until by chance I took a sip of a Chocolate Martini. After an initial intense burning sensation, it seemed to act like a local anesthetic and I was able to finally eat and drink a little bit again.

The sore throat still lingered for a few more days so I had to keep drinking Martinis continually, but that was a small price to pay.

Martinis - what aren't they good for?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Your Own Private Texas

Rick Perry, Governor of Texas, seemed to threaten secession:

Later, answering news reporters' questions, Perry suggested Texans might at some point get so fed up they would want to secede from the union, though he said he sees no reason why Texas should do that.

"There's a lot of different scenarios," Perry said. "We've got a great union. There's absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that. But Texas is a very unique place, and we're a pretty independent lot to boot."

I'm sure Texans would realize that would be a stunningly bad idea to try to secede and as a result, it'll never happen.

But for an amusing thought experiment, let's say that the impossible came to pass and Texas announced that it was no longer part of the United States. Also assume that they made a deal with Mexico to be a trading partner and to use Mexico's ports in case the U.S. decided to do a naval blockade against the newly sorta, kinda, independent Texas.

The question is, would the U.S. being willing to do anything serious about it? I rather doubt it, especially under Obama. Sure, there'd be Congressional resolutions, and UN Security Council meetings, and people would huff and puff and blather endlessly. But I really don't see the U.S. being willing to kill a bunch of Texans followed by imposing martial law for who knows how long. Too many people in too many other states have friends and family and business interests in Texas.

In other words, I think Texas could get away with it.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Movin' to Montana Soon...

...Gonna be a custom gun tycoon. (To paraphrase Frank Zappa):
Gov. Brian Schweitzer has signed into law a bill that aims to exempt Montana-made guns from federal regulation, adding firepower to a battery of legislative efforts to assert states’ rights across the nation. [...]

Its supporters next plan to find a “squeaky clean” Montanan who wants to send a note to the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives threatening to build and sell about 20 rifles without federal dealership licensing. If the ATF says it’s illegal, the gun bill’s backers plan to file a lawsuit in federal court with the goal of launching a legal showdown that lands in the U.S. Supreme Court.
I don’t get the point. If there’s a SCOTUS case, the Wickard v. Filburn precedent will shoot down the Montana law, no? Then what? It seems like a waste of time.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Music Back Online

I've recently put the songs I've written and recorded back online at The two albums are Let's Party and Schizophrenia and the music is freely downloadable. If you're curious and have time to listen to just one song, I recommend Circle on the Schizophrenia album.

The process of putting music online is sure a lot easier than last time I did it ten years ago. The interfaces are much better, both the interface to "rip" the CDs (I used iTunes) and the interface to The faster Internet certainly helps a lot too.

The MP3 encoding seems to be better as well (or maybe it's just the faster bit rates) and the music sounds almost as good as it does directly from the CD. Since CDs are rapidly becoming a thing of the past, it's nice to have the music in reasonable quality MP3 format available everywhere for people to download to their iPods.

Since I've never intended to sell the music and since I don't think much of Copyright laws (as regular readers know), this music is free for any and every use, as far as I'm concerned.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Some Recent Reading

I was sick this last week. The good news is that when I'm sick, I get to do a bit of reading because that's pretty much all I could do.

The first book I read was The Forgotten Man by Amity Shlaes. It's a somewhat rambling, but interesting history of The Great Depression told from a very anti-FDR point of view. The story she tells is one of how incessant and inconsistent meddling (starting with Hoover) brought about great uncertainty which made it impossible for the economy to recover. In her narrative, it wasn't until FDR signaled his willingness to work with business again in 1940 in order to win the war that the country was finally able to recover. These arguments are similar to those put forth by some modern economists and the book does serve as a useful counterweight to the prevailing theory that FDR was a saint and a hero and that things would've been even worse without his bold and visionary actions.

However, I don't recommend this book. Not because there's anything wrong with it or it's poorly written. The problem is that Conservatives and Libertarians probably won't find enough new in its pages to make it worth the effort to read while those more to the Left will likely reject its narrative out-of-hand. For those independents who haven't yet formed a strong opinion and want to learn more, then perhaps The Forgotten Man is a useful addition to their reading lists.

Much the same could be said for the second book I read this week: Liberty and Tyranny by Mark Levin. It won't change anybody's mind about anything either. Unlike Shlaes book, this one is a much easier read - very direct and concise. I'm still quite surprised that it became a New York Times and Amazon bestseller (I bought it out of curiosity because of its popularity). I'm now wondering if everybody else bought it just because it was a bestseller. In other words, I don't recommend this book either.

I'm currently working on A Conflict of Visions by Thomas Sowell. So far this is a really, really good book. Indeed, it has a shot at becoming my number 2 all time favorite (number 1 is The Fatal Conceit). I'll post again sometime after I've finished it.

Monday, April 06, 2009

What, Me Worry?

Mark Steyn notices:
"[W]e approach a state in which the planet's wealthiest jurisdictions, from Norway to New Zealand, lack any capacity to defend their borders, and the planet's basket-cases, from North Korea to Sudan, will be nuclear powers.

We'll see how that arrangement works out."
Fortunately, I see that San Diego is still outside the specified range of North Korea's missiles.

No worries then.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Not Their Cup of Tea

Those who read a reasonably diverse range of blogs probably have read that there have been "Tea Parties" (the name related to the Boston Tea Party of 1773) protesting government spending (i.e. the stimulus) and likely higher taxes in the future.

I mentioned the Tea Parties to my wife a couple of weeks back, and she looked at me blankly, wondering what the heck I was talking about. Even though she follows the news via the Main Stream Media fairly closely, she hadn't heard about them at all. She did some Google searching and was shocked to find that the Tea Parties were fairly widespread with significant attendance at some of them.

She's now wondering what else the Main Stream Media is hiding from her.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Robots in Action

Some of you may have noticed (or not) that posting was pretty sparse (non-existent) earlier this year. I was working 'round-the-clock on a robotic grape vine pruner, which we demonstrated in mid-March in vineyards in Lodi, California. The following video shows the pruner and the demo and describes the technology. It's been the most fun and technically interesting project of my career.

Update:A common question seems to be, "So just what is this thing?"

The task at hand is pruning grape vines. After the grapes are harvested and the grape vines drop their leaves, the vines need to be pruned during the winter to ensure the optimal balance between maximizing fruit yield and obtaining optimum fruit quality during the next spring and summer. This is currently done by hand and is by far the most costly part of growing grapes.

The pruning rules vary between growers and varieties, but the general approach is to leave approximately eight Canes (the vertical shoots) on each Cordon (the horizontal portion of the vine). All the other Canes are to be removed as close as possible to the Cordon and the Canes that are kept should be pruned a bit above the 2nd bud.

The operational concept of the pruner is to use multiple sets of stereo cameras to collect images of the vine and then to process those image to create a detailed model of the vine. The pruning rules are applied to that model and a plan is generated to make the cuts with the robot arms. There are also cameras on the arms which enable the arms to be guided in real time to make the necessary intricate cuts.

This one-of-a-kind prototype was deployed in the field for this demo only 4 months after it was built. The production unit will be much faster, gentler (to the vine), and more accurate. But the prototype in the video is a pretty good start and certainly demonstrated the concept to the growers.