Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Biden Shoots Self In Foot... Again

Dick Cheney is not needed for this blunderbuss job: Joe Biden (D-Del) knows how to take a shotgun to his presidential chances all on his own. It's not Biden's first verbal gaffe, but it's probably the most egregious and least forgivable. According to Drudge, Biden talked about Barack Obama in an interview today:
'I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy...'
If Mr. Biden thought that any black leaders would be helping him reach their constituencies, he can pretty much forget it.

The full story is here. Biden rips into all the Democratic frontrunners in the kind of rant one might expect from a drunken town meeting member.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

My Great-Grandfather's Inheritance

I received a most thoughtful letter last week, addressed to me and my nineteen paternal cousins. It speaks for itself.
Dear S---,

Your great-grandfather Hugo F----- died in the Nazi Holocaust. Like millions of other Jews, he was rounded up and put in a concentration camp. Unlike death camps like Auschwitz, concentration camps didn’t have gas chambers. At concentration camps, the strategy of killing Jews was carried out more gradually, as prisoners were kept on starvation diets, forced to work long hours under intolerable conditions, and denied access to medical care. In the case of Hugo F-----, the strategy worked – he perished after about two years in the concentration camp in Maria-Theresienstadt, known also by its Czech name Terezin.

Like many Europeans in the 1930’s, Hugo F----- bought life insurance as a way of protecting his savings so he’d have something to pass on to his children. During that decade, banks failed, stocks lost value, and if you kept your money at home, it could be stolen or lost its value due to inflation. As persecution of the Jews skyrocketed in Austria in 1938 with the Nazi takeover, Jews had especially strong reason to put their savings into life insurance, since gangs and thugs could steal or destroy Jewish people’s property without being punished.

Because of how the Nazis seized and destroyed all the Jews’ property, Hugo F-----’s life insurance policies – the papers that gave him or his heirs a right to cash in – were lost. So after the war, nobody could make a claim on his life insurance. The same thing happened to thousands of other Jewish people and their descendents. The life insurance companies simply kept the money.

Late in the 1990’s pressure from activists fighting for justice for Holocaust victims forced many life insurance companies to agree to make good on life insurance policies that had been lost during the Holocaust. Aunt Sonia learned about that in a newspaper, and, with help from our uncle Heinz (Hans’s older brother) told the lawyers handling the case that we were Hugo F-----’s heirs, in case they could find any record of Hugo’s life insurance.

Sure enough, they did, and they determined that, with interest, his life insurance policy was worth a bit over $80,000, and that as one of Hans F-----’s grandchildren, your share is $1,043.14. (For those of you who like math, here’s how it works: the total is split 50-50 between Hugo’s sons Heinz and Hans. Hans said in his will that he wanted what he had to be distributed with 50% going to his children and 50% to his grandchildren, of which there are 20. Make sense?)

So, thanks to the love and forethought of your great-grandfather Hugo, and thanks to the generosity of your grandfather Hans, and thanks to the lawyers and activists who fought for justice for Jewish victims of the Holocaust, and thanks to your Aunt Sonia for doing the paperwork, here is your share of your great-grandfather’s life insurance proceeds.

Affectionately, your Dad,

Peter G. F-----
Personal Representative, Estate of Hans G. F-----
I don't know yet what I'll do with the money.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Hurts So Good

What is it about the winter weather in Rochester that feels so mild? Gone are the dull December days of highs in the 40's: it hasn't cracked 32 here for two weeks. But despite weather in the teens and twenties, the air is easy to breathe and walking outside is nippy, but pleasant.

Coming into school today it was sunny with a breeze, and three inches of fresh powder lay on top of the 10 or 12 inches we already had on the ground. But after a nice walk into school, I turn on the computer to learn that it's 17 degrees, with a wind chill feel of 5 degrees. Maybe it's the humidity (58%) that makes the air feel mild; or the effect of living on a large, still unfrozen river. I don't know, but I'm certainly appreciative of how easy it still is to get around walking and - even better - on skis.

(On a related note, I skied a good 10 or 12 miles to and from RIT last night. Awesome trails, packed down by snowmobiles, almost the entire way).

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Kerry Finally Gets It

John Kerry has had an epiphany. According to sources cited by the Globe, the senator will not seek re-defeat for the presidency in 2008. The very idea of him running again was laughable to anyone outside his immediate family, and it must have taken strong hints from many of his Democrat colleagues to convince the French-looking politician not to run.

Amusingly, the Globe's sources think that the "botched joke" was pivotal:
According to Kerry associates, the senator's plans changed dramatically in the fallout of his election-eve ``botched joke" about the education levels of US troops. The harsh reaction to that incident -- from many Democrats as well as Republicans -- displayed to Kerry the extreme skepticism within his own party about whether he should mount another run.
To most of us, the very idea of another Kerry candidacy was a botched joke in and of itself.

Hat tip to Drudge.

State of the Union

Still together, but not for long. If you believe everything these presidents say.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Roe v. Wade Turns 34

Happy Birthday to Roe versus Wade, the sine qua non of moralistic judicial activism. The annual pro-life rally sloshed through D.C., receiving elegant lip service from politicians, and wild-eyed weirdo coverage from a half-hearted media contingent, no doubt.

Those who don't like abortion politics often criticize abortion supporters and opponents for being one-dimensional. Aren't there issues that affect the country and the world more? Um, not a lot more. From Wikipedia:
[Yearly], approximately 46 million abortions are performed. Of these, 26 million are said to occur in places where abortion is legal; the other 20 million happen where it is illegal . Some countries, such as Belgium (11.2 per 100 known pregnancies) and the Netherlands (10.6 per 100), have a low rate of induced abortion, while others like Russia (62.6 per 100) and Vietnam (43.7 per 100) have a comparatively high rate. The world ratio is 26 induced abortions per 100 known pregnancies.
In case you didn't catch that, every year 47,000,000 abortions are performed; that's one out of every four pregnancies. In the U.S., 1,365,700 abortions are performed annually according to somewhat outdated Guttmacher data, with a ratio about the same as the world average.

Abortion is a huge issue, and criminalization alone won't solve the problem. Fundamentally, something is wrong when more than 1 in 4 pregnancies are so unwanted that they are terminated. Global Review does not have any easy answers.

Pitchers and Catchers

Twenty-five days until pitchers and catchers report to the Red Sox's Ft. Myers spring training facility.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Graphs Up!

Chatter Rankings' graphs have been updated and uploaded. Check them out as a companion to the post below at Election 2020.

Free-for-All 2008: Announcements, Announcements, Announcements

Announcements, announcements, announcements,
A terrible death to die, terrible death to die,
A terrible death to be talked to death,
A terrible death to die
Announcements, announcements, announcements,
Is there any part of the American political process more inane than campaign announcements. The entire purpose of the exercise is to generate news ex nihilo and promote name recognition. In other words, they're all messing with my statistics!

Of course, the media isn't entirely credulous, and such "announced" candidates as Ron Paul and Duncan Hunter barely make a blip in the news. Of course, Paul, Hunter, and a bunch of other "who's?" are from the Republican side, which leads to the most interesting result of the chatter rankings this month. Ignore the status changes this month - those are deceiving - look instead at the absolute numbers. Last month, there were 13 GOP and 14 Dems over 600 chatter; this month there are 8 and 12, respectively. Likewise, 10 GOP and 11 Dems scored over 1,000 last month, this month there are 6 and 10. So Democrat numbers are down slightly, and GOP numbers are down sharply.

Why aren't the parties following the same trajectory? Is this an example of media bias? Plenty of Republicans have declared candidacy, or mulled it openly; there's no particular reason Democrat Tom Vilsack should have almost five times as many hits as Republicans Mike Huckabee or Duncan Hunter.

There is media bias at work here, but it's not - directly - bias against conservatives. Rather, it's the bias of covering and mentioning candidates with high name recognition. The Democrats do better in a period of "discretionary coverage" because they have better-established candidates. There's also feedback in this system: the media favors attractive left-of-center candidates, so they get better name recognition, so they're favored by the media, etc. This works as much (actually more) within the Republican camp as between the parties. After all, the papers have to think about both primaries, and they can't get Al Gore or Chris Dodd to run in the GOP. But they can lavish attention on McCain, Giuliani, Pataki and others who make for softer sound bites.

Obviously, there's a lot more going on in the rankings in general, and in any particular month, than a marginal phenomenon like media bias can account for, but clearly the choices of editors are writers are an influential part of what we observe as media chatter.

The monthly prediction...
Jan '07: Clinton & Obama over McCain & Giuliani
Dec '06: Clinton & Obama over McCain & Giuliani
Nov '06: McCain & Giuliani over Clinton & Warner
Oct '06: McCain & Giuliani over Clinton & Warner
Sep '06: McCain & Giuliani over Clinton & Warner
Aug '06: McCain & Giuliani over Clinton & Warner
Jul '06: Clinton & Warner over Allen & Romney
Jun '06: Clinton & Warner over Allen & Romney
May '06: Clinton & Warner over Allen & Romney
Apr '06: Clinton & Warner over Allen & Romney
Mar '06: Clinton & Warner over Allen & Rice
Feb '06: Clinton & Warner over Allen & Rice

Rank Candidate ChatterRank Change
R.1 Sen. John McCain 6,7180
R.2 Gov. Mitt Romney 3,6450
R.3 Secy. Condoleezza Rice 3,141+3
R.4 Rudy Giuliani 2,975-1
R.5 Sen. Chuck Hagel 1,394+6
R.6 Sen. Sam Brownback 1,321-1
R.7 Sen. George Allen 792+5
R.8 Gov. George Pataki 756+2
R.9 Newt Gingrich 5230
R.10 (tie) Gov. Mike Huckabee 406-3
R.10 (tie) Rep. Duncan Hunter 406-2
R.12 Rep. Tom Tancredo 390+3* (new)
R.13 Tommy Thompson 3020
R.14 Sen. Bill Frist 290-10
R.15 Gov. Jeb Bush 173-1
D.1 Sen. Hillary Clinton 6,0470
D.2 Sen. Barack Obama 5,8180
D.3 Sen. John Kerry 4,4400
D.4 Sen. John Edwards 3,9150
D.5 Sen. Joseph Biden 3,311+2
D.6 Sen. Harry Reid 2,7370
D.7 Sen. Christopher Dodd 2,171+3
D.8 Gov. Tom Vilsack 1,970-3
D.9 Gov. Bill Richardson 1,7590
D.10 Al Gore 1,053+1
D.11 Howard Dean 992+1
D.12 Sen. Evan Bayh 731-4
D.13 Wesley Clark 316+2
D.14 Sen. Russ Feingold 312-1
D.15 Gov. Mark Warner 310-1

Notes: The Chatter Rankings are created by searching each candidate's name plus "2008" in the Google News database. This month tested but not qualifying are Ron Paul and Al Sharpton.

See new graphs of the Chatter Rankings plus Chatter Rankings from December 2006, November, October, September, August, July, June, May, April, March, February, December 2005, August, July, June, and May.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Today's Ice Storm

Rochester's weather this weekend was indeed a "wintry mix". This morning, freezing rain became a small ice storm, coating trees, cars, and buildings in a quarter-inch of ice. The pedestrian bridge to campus had a solid inch frozen onto it. Fortunately, I didn't have much more to do this weekend than read and root for the PATRIOTS! My reading over the last week includes 1776, City of God, Ender's Game, and Ender's Shadow. I have one more day of relative freedom before classes start!

Ice storms are beautiful; these photos don't really capture the amazing whiteness of it, but here you go.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Stalkerbook Item of the Day

Weston Ruter posted a video. Spiders on Drugs. An experiment from the '60s to see how spiders react to different drugs.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Thousands of Kelos

An Opinion Journal guest article highlights a new crop of stomach-turning abuses of power by revenue-hungry local governments. Using coercion,
Rather than condemn the property for a private developer and risk a lawsuit, Burien came up with a plan--it would put a road through the property, and the city manager told his staff to "make damn sure" it did. When a subsequent survey revealed that the road would not affect the building itself, but only sideswipe a small corner of the property, the staff developed yet another site plan that put the road directly through the building.
Auburn recently declared much of its beautiful downtown "blighted," and adopted a Community Renewal Plan. One city manager explained that blight "means anything that impairs or arrests sound growth"
and outright corruption,
A developer in the Port Chester, N.Y., demanded that Bart Didden give him either $800,000 or a 50% share in Mr. Didden's property, which was slated to be a CVS pharmacy--or the developer would have the village condemn it. Mr. Didden refused; the next day, the village condemned his property to hand it over to the developer to construct a Walgreens. Tomorrow, the U.S. Supreme Court will consider whether to take the case.
in the onward march from the outdated notion of "government by consent of the governed" to the new old-fashioned way: for-profit government.

As America becomes more populous, more sophisticated, and more governed, we need to bolster the Constitution with a more robust definition of "consent of the governed." Government by voting majorities - which in small communities may represent 10 or 15% of all citizens - is not the same as government by consent of the governed. The U.S. Constitution was not written to give power to the government, but rather to limit the powers of government. It's high time to enforce the spirit of the document by clarifying and bolstering the fences that America's kind guardians have been quietly dismantling for the past two centuries.

What Did We Do To Deserve This?

David Beckham is coming to play in America. Dear Lord. Talk about world-wide branding!

This move is the mirror image of the Dice-K signing by the Red Sox, but is born of the same motivation. The Red Sox signed Japan's "National Treasure" - aged 26 - to rope a nation of eager and well-off fans into a rivalry ten timezones away. Beckham's move is even more grandiose: it is intended to jump-start an entire league, both domestically and internationally. With success, Beckham's stint in Los Angeles will make the Galaxy the team Americans either love or hate (in which case, they'll go online and find out just which MLS team they live nearest) and will notify the rest of the world that Americans do in fact have football teams.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

U.S. Enters Somali Civil War

According to CBS News, the U.S. has joined Ethiopia, the Somali TNG, and Kenya in the annihilation of the remaining Somali Islamists, who are concentrated in forests near the Kenyan border. U.S. involvement is limited to coastal patrols and - now - airstrikes. Since the U.S. government refuses to confirm the attacks yet, we don't have a good idea of the scope or targets, but this may represent an important turning point in the East African conflict.

Update: Shabelle Media Network reports from Mogadishu, posted in AllAfrica, that the TNG confirms and supports the U.S. air strikes, mentioning the 'Q-word':
Somalia's President Abdulahi Yusuf Ahmed, who has held a press conference at the presidential palace, Villa Somalia, in the capital Mogadishu, said he firmly supports the American air bombardment on suspected al-Qaeda hideouts in southern Somalia last night.
I am incredulous of the target really being al-Qaeda, but it's certainly a helpful excuse for both the U.S. and the TNG.

Monday, January 1, 2007

Non a 2007

I have to doff my beret to the gaggle of Nantesians who parodied their nation's propensity to protest. The Beeb reports:
Demonstrators in the western city of Nantes waved banners reading: "No to 2007" and "Now is better!" The marchers called on governments and the UN to stop time's "mad race" and declare a moratorium on the future.
However, I disagree. I'm glad to see 2006 over, and I hope to fare 2007 well on better terms fifty-two weeks hence.