Thursday, December 18, 2008

New Discovery - The Heaviest Element Known to Science

AP - Livermore, CA.

Lawrence Livermore Laboratories has discovered the heaviest element yet known to science.

The new element, Governmentium (Gv), has one neutron, 25 assistant neutrons, 88 deputy neutrons, and 198 assistant deputy neutrons, giving it an atomic mass of 312.

These 312 particles are held together by forces called morons, which are surrounded by vast quantities of lepton-like particles called peons.

Since Governmentium has no electrons, it is inert; however, it can be detected, because it impedes every reaction with which it comes into contact. A tiny amount of Governmentium can cause a reaction that would normally take less than a second, to take from 4 days to 4 years to complete.

Governmentium has a normal half-life of 2- 6 years. It does not decay, but instead undergoes a reorganization in which a portion of the assistant neutrons and deputy neutrons exchange places. In fact, Governmentium's mass will actually increase over time, since each reorganization will cause more morons to become neutrons, forming isodopes.

This characteristic of morons promotion leads some scientists to believe that Governmentium is formed whenever morons reach a critical concentration. This hypothetical quantity is referred to as critical morass.

When catalysed with money, Governmentium becomes Administratium, an element that radiates just as much energy as Governmentium since it has half as many peons but twice as many morons.
All of whom are Designists.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

So, is there a problem?

In a recent Anchorage Daily News, the above-the-fold headline read Economy's woes nipping at Alaska

Among other statistics cited, some not particularly alarming -- average single family house prices are unchanged from 2007, and up on 2006 -- there is this: Alaska has the highest average debt on each credit card in the US: $2486, compared to the US Average of $1742. This is supposedly a Bad Thing.

Oddly, the story neglected to mention where Alaska stands in US rankings for income.

I will help them, despite the considerable research sacrifice.

(Hack stop watch. 83 seconds later ...)

Alaska is 4th, with a median income of $64,333, compared to the US median of $50,740.

To give these numbers a little perspective, the per-credit card debt is about $280 higher than the proportional income difference.

Among other things the story neglected to mention, either with respect to the US or Alaska, was the number of credit cards per credit card holder.

(Hack stop watch. 97 seconds later ...)

That would be 1.78 (164 million credit card holders, 292 million active credit cards). That makes for $3000 in US average credit card debt.

While I have singled out the ADN, The Economist is no better; a story of several months ago cited around $3000 in average credit card debt, but made no effort to put that in the context of income, or how much of that "debt" was merely using a credit card instead of cash for most, if not essentially all, transactions.

Extending my previous "needs some 'splainin" posts (here and here), is this a problem?

The tenor of this, and all other similar articles, is doom spiced with gloom: the level of indebtedness will both worsen and prolong the recession. In context, the level of credit card debt seems rather less than apocalyptic; however, the absence of defined terms -- credit card as cash substitute, for just one instance -- quickly erodes any ability to make sense of the stories.

Which makes me wonder how the journalists manage to convince themselves they are saying anything worth reading.

So, as with the savings rate, where I still dunno, I dunno.

Friday, December 12, 2008

What I did today instead of blogging.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Say it like you mean it

Daniel Larison thinks that God-based arguments are the way to go to win public support for conservative political arguments:

How about social conservatives make their arguments without bringing God into it? By all means, let faith inform one’s values, but let reason inform one’s public arguments. ~Kathleen Parker

This is the standard Damon Linker line, which has always had the small problem that it doesn’t make sense. That’s not quite fair. It makes sense, provided that the goal is to keep religious people from making public arguments that have any force. Parker, like Linker, would likely deny that this is the goal. In Parker’s case, I expect that this is because she hasn’t thought through the implications. Were we to follow Parker’s model, we would on the one hand need to say that arguments informed by religious teaching are to some degree irrational by definition (use faith over here, but use reason in public, which implies that there is nothing rational about faith or that the two are not complementary). On the other hand, we would also have to say that our public arguments cannot invoke “values,” which are in any case derived from religious teaching and therefore unsuitable to public discourse. Even to the extent that “values” might be allowed, they would have to be “values” that do not conflict with pluralist, liberal “values.” This is the Social Gospel loophole, which permits the use of Christian discourse for left-liberal ends, but which clearly forbids any version or interpretation of Christian teaching that conflicts with these “values.”

The problem with Larison's argument is that it flies in the face of reality. If God-based arguments had force, they would be used much more frequently. As the wise man once said, nothing succeeds like success, and by definition arguments that carry the most force with the public win the day. That no politician has won national office in the last several decades by paying more than lip service to theology proves Parker's point that beyond providing symbolic window dressing, arguments based on explicitly religious appeals do not carry much force with the general public. To believe otherwise is to indulge in wishful thinking.

The point here is that social and religious conservatives should not have to truncate, abbreviate or deny their religious teachings when making public arguments, which is effectively what they would have to do if they are not to refer to God or religious teachings in public discourse. They could not in good conscience do so, but leaving that aside for a moment we should also acknowledge that it puts an undue burden on religious believers to insist that they leave out appeals to their core beliefs, which are or are supposed to be at the center of their understanding of man, society, creation and reason itself.

If the goal is to persuade a religiously plural public of the wisdom of a policy proposal, then as a matter of practical necessity the basis for the argument has to be much broader than the particular religious creed that underpins the subject's own political philosophy. Larison's argument presupposes that political agreement can only flow from theological agreement, which would make the process of political coalition building exceedingly more difficult than it needs to be.

Larison also, I believe, gets the motivations of the majority of religious people wrong when he states that their understanding of man, society, creation and reason itself necessarily flows from their core religious beliefs. I think for most modern people, religious as well as secular, such understanding is founded on a much broader philosophical base, of which religious revelation is at most a partial source. The scientific worldview is ubiquitous, and has been extremely successful at grabbing a majority mindshare of even religious people. Most people do not look to revealed religion as a source for understanding the workings of the natural world. Even for those who look to God as a first principle or prime mover, it is a distant principle that gives way to the detailed explanations provided by science for most of the phenomena that touch their lives.

Larison may wish that this were not true, but wishing it so won't add any power to his argument.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Reality Hates Progressives

Most people have come to accept that some sort of progressivity in taxation is morally justified. Progressives, self identified, still call for continually more punitive tax rates on a decreasing portion of wage earners.

To wit: California. It was already within crunching distance of the budgetary lee shore when the latest economic storm arrived.

As it happens, the California take is so progressive that 144,000 wage earners pay 50% of the state's income taxes.*

That base is so small that it doesn't take much of a hit to cause tax receipts to sink like a greased safe.** Which will, of course, hit women, children, people of color and the elderly the hardest.

Unlike, say, a much more broadly based tax regime, which the Progressives hate.

Even though it would pummel rather less the aforementioned groups.

* I saw it in USA Today, or the WSJ, or maybe even the NYT. Since I remember the quote far more clearly than the source, and have too little time at the moment to chase down a link, you may either take what I say on faith, or chase it down yourself.

** Enough with the water metaphors, already.

Let the Liberal Angst begin

Who woud'a thunk it? Barack Obama, that seductive Rorschach test of a candidate, that lightworker who promised to usher in a new era of progressive enlightenment, turned out to be just another politician pandering for votes:

Liberals voice concerns about Obama

Liberals are growing increasingly nervous – and some just flat-out angry – that President-elect Barack Obama seems to be stiffing them on Cabinet jobs and policy choices.

Obama has reversed pledges to immediately repeal tax cuts for the wealthy and take on Big Oil. He’s hedged his call for a quick drawdown in Iraq. And he’s stocking his White House with anything but stalwarts of the left.

Now some are shedding a reluctance to puncture the liberal euphoria at being rid of President George W. Bush to say, in effect, that the new boss looks like the old boss.

“He has confirmed what our suspicions were by surrounding himself with a centrist to right cabinet. But we do hope that before it's all over we can get at least one authentic progressive appointment,” said Tim Carpenter, national director of the Progressive Democrats of America.

OpenLeft blogger Chris Bowers went so far as to issue this plaintive plea: “Isn't there ever a point when we can get an actual Democratic administration?”

Even supporters make clear they’re on the lookout for backsliding. “There’s a concern that he keep his basic promises and people are going to watch him,” said Roger Hickey, a co-founder of Campaign for America’s Future.

Obama insists he hasn’t abandoned the goals that made him feel to some like a liberal savior. But the left’s bill of particulars against Obama is long, and growing.

Obama drew rousing applause at campaign events when he vowed to tax the windfall profits of oil companies. As president-elect, Obama says he won’t enact the tax.

Obama’s pledge to repeal the Bush tax cuts and redistribute that money to the middle class made him a hero among Democrats who said the cuts favored the wealthy. But now he’s struck a more cautious stance on rolling back tax cuts for people making over $250,000 a year, signaling he’ll merely let them expire as scheduled at the end of 2010.

Obama’s post-election rhetoric on Iraq and choices for national security team have some liberal Democrats even more perplexed. As a candidate, Obama defined and separated himself from his challengers by highlighting his opposition to the war in Iraq from the start. He promised to begin to end the war on his first day in office.

Now Obama’s says that on his first day in office he will begin to “design a plan for a responsible drawdown,” as he told NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday. Obama has also filled his national security positions with supporters of the Iraq war: Sen. Hillary Clinton, who voted to authorize force in Iraq, as his secretary of state; and President George W. Bush’s defense secretary, Robert Gates, continuing in the same role.

The central premise of the left’s criticism is direct – don’t bite the hand that feeds, Mr. President-elect. The Internet that helped him so much during the election is lighting up with irritation and critiques.

“There don't seem to be any liberals in Obama's cabinet,” writes John Aravosis, the editor of “What does all of this mean for Obama's policies, and just as important, Obama Supreme Court announcements?”

“Actually, it reminds me a bit of the campaign, at least the beginning and the middle, when the Obama campaign didn't seem particularly interested in reaching out to progressives,” Aravosis continues. “Once they realized that in order to win they needed to marshal everyone on their side, the reaching out began. I hope we're not seeing a similar ‘we can do it alone’ approach in the transition team.”

This isn’t the first liberal letdown over Obama, who promptly angered the left after winning the Democratic primary by announcing he backed a compromise that would allow warrantless wiretapping on U.S. soil to continue.


I had a secret suspicion that Obama may have been a closet moderate all along, and thankfully recent developments have begun to confirm that suspicion.

Blog in the Spotlight: The Secular Right

I stumbled across this blog yesterday. The Secular Right blog has been in existence for only two weeks, but it should prove to be a major hub for intelligent conversation about the affinity of secular philosophy and conservative politics. It includes two regular contributors to National Review Online, John Derbyshire and Andrew Stuttaford, along with Heather MacDonald, Razib Kahn and others. Check it out!

Friday, December 05, 2008

Lying, or just mud-box stupid?

I just looked at my Social Security statement.

This is from the bottom line:

Total Social Security and Medicare taxes paid over your working career through the last year reported on the chart above

You paid: $xxxxx
Your employers paid: $xxxxx

Note: You currently pay 6.2% of your salary in Social Security Taxes. Your employer also pays 6.2% in Social Security Taxes.