Major Hasan’s Treasonous Powerpoints

November 18th, 2009 No comments

The Washington Post has posted Major Hasan’s powerpoint presentation on why Moslems should not fight Moslems, why the US army cannot reasonably expect loyalty from Moslem soldiers and so should let them resign, and how Islam requres Moslem states with non-Moslems as second-class citizens. It’s amazing.

Categories: army, Islam, liberals, Major Hasan Tags:

Leibniz versus Newton on God’s Intervention in Nature (and Leibniz on Locke too)

November 17th, 2009 No comments

Professor O’Connor pointed me to two interesting passages from the famous correspondence of Leibniz with Samuel Clarke, a philosopher and follower of Newton. See
http://www.archive.org/stream/philosophicalwri029664mbp/philosophicalwri029664mbp_djvu.txt,
number 192-193.

IT appears that even natural religion is growing very much
weaker. Many hold that souls are corporeal ; others hold that
God Himself is corporeal. Mr. Locke and his followers are
at any rate doubtful whether souls are not material and
naturally perishable….

Mr. Newton and his followers have also
an extremely odd opinion of the work of God. According
to them God has to wind up His watch from time to time.
Otherwise it would cease to go. He lacked sufficient fore-
sight to make it a perpetual motion. This machine of God’s
is even, on their view, so imperfect that He is obliged from
time to time to come to its assistance especially out of the ordinary course, and clean it, and even to mend it, as a clock-
maker might his handiwork; and the less skilful the workman
is, the more often is he obliged to rehandle and correct his
work. According to my view, the same force and vigour
goes on existing in the world always, and simply passes from
one matter to another, according to the laws of nature and to
the beautiful pre-established order. And I hold that, when
God performs miracles, it is not to uphold the needs of nature,
but for those of grace. To think otherwise would be to
have a very low opinion of the wisdom and power of God.

The web source says:

Clarke thinks that the passage to which Leibniz is referring
is the following, from Newton’s Optics: ‘ Whilst the comets move
in orbs very eccentrical, with all variety of directions towards
every part of the heavens; ’tis not possible it should have been
caused by blind fate, that the planets all move with one similar
direction in concentrick orbs; excepting only some very small
irregularities, which may have arisen from the mutual actions of
the planets and comets upon one another; and which ’tis
probably will in length of time increase more and more, till the
present system of nature shall want to be anew put in order by
its Author.’ (The translation from Newton’s Latin is Clarke’s.)

Categories: intelligent design, religion, science Tags:

Major Hasan and the Media Parody

November 11th, 2009 No comments
Categories: humor, media Tags:

Government Harming People

November 10th, 2009 No comments

Via Jay Nordlinger, from Frederick Douglass’s “What Shall Be Done with the Slaves If Emancipated?”

Our answer is, do nothing with them; mind your business, and let them mind theirs. Your doing with them is their greatest misfortune. They have been undone by your doings, and all they now ask, and really have need of at your hands, is just to let them alone.

Categories: conservatism, race Tags:

Major Hasan and Nuttiness

November 9th, 2009 No comments

First-rate Mark Steyn from The Corner:

For the purposes of argument, let’s accept the media’s insistence that Major Hasan is a lone crazy.

So who’s nuttier?

The guy who gives a lecture to other military doctors in which he says non-Muslims should be beheaded and have boiling oil poured down their throats?

Or the guys who say “Hey, let’s have this fellow counsel our traumatized veterans and then promote him to major and put him on a Homeland Security panel?

Or the Army Chief of Staff who thinks the priority should be to celebrate diversity, even unto death?

Or the Secretary of Homeland Security who warns that the principal threat we face now is an outbreak of Islamophobia?

Or the president who says we cannot “fully know” why Major Hasan did what he did, so why trouble ourselves any further?

Or the columnist who, when a man hands out copies of the Koran before gunning down his victims while yelling “Allahu akbar,” says you’re racist if you bring up his religion?

Or his media colleagues who put Americans in the same position as East Germans twenty years ago of having to get hold of a foreign newspaper to find out what’s going on?

General Casey has a point: An army that lets you check either the “home team” or “enemy” box according to taste is certainly diverse. But the logic in the remarks of Secretary Napolitano and others is that the real problem is that most Americans are knuckledragging bigots just waiting to go bananas. As Melanie Phillips wrote in her book Londonistan:

Minority-rights doctrine has produced a moral inversion, in which those doing wrong are excused if they belong to a ‘victim’ group, while those at the receiving end of their behaviour are blamed simply because they belong to the ‘oppressive’ majority.

To the injury of November 5, we add the insults of American officialdom and their poodle media. In a nutshell:

The real enemy — in the sense of the most important enemy — isn’t a bunch of flea-bitten jihadis sitting in a cave somewhere. It’s Western civilization’s craziness. We are setting our hair on fire and putting it out with a hammer.

Categories: liberals Tags:

Loyalty Oaths

November 9th, 2009 No comments

There’s an easy fix to detecting traitors of the Major Hasan type: a better loyalty oath. Something specific, like this:

“I swear to defend the United States by fighting against its enemies even when they are Moslem, and in particular I swear to oppose Al Qaeda and the Taliban until my superiors release me from that obligation. If my duty ever conflicts with my religious principles, I will inform my superiors immediately.”

Of course, Major Hasan wanted to quit the military, so he perhaps wouldn’t mind a dishonorable discharge for disloyalty,but at least it would have removed him from an opportunity to hurt us.

Oaths are not much use for protection against liars, but principled people such as religious and political extremists are often unwilling to betray their gods.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

Barney Frank: Drugs, Prostitution, Money

November 8th, 2009 No comments

Isn’t it bizarre that one of the most powerful Congressmen, from a rich Boston district, is Barney Frank, who has been staying in the same houses as intimate homosexual friends used for growing drugs and for prostitution? When we add that he is perhaps more to blame than any other single person for the 2008 banking crisis (via his pressure to have Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac encourage subprime loans), his political survival is just weird. Do liberal intellectuals really not care about any of this?

Categories: liberals Tags:

Citing Web References

November 7th, 2009 No comments

Here’s a webpage in a common citation style:

Thumma, Scott, and Warren Bird. Changes in American Megachurches: Tracing Eight Years of Growth and Innovation in the Nation’s Largest-Attendance Congregations. Hartford Institute for Religion Research. 2008. Web. 1 Oct. 2009.

The word “Web” and the pointed brackets are unnecessary, whereas it would be useful to give the meaning of the date, thus:

Thumma, Scott, and Warren Bird. Changes in American Megachurches: Tracing Eight Years of Growth and Innovation in the Nation’s Largest-Attendance Congregations. Hartford Institute for Religion Research. 2008. Http://hirr.hartsem.edu/megachurch/megastoday2008_summaryreport.html. Viewed 1 Oct. 2009.

Wikipedia has a neat link for every article in the “toolbox” in the left column that tells you how to cite the article in a large number of citation styles. See, for example, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Special:Cite&page=Keynesian_economics&id=324592637. All of the citation styles are defective, failing to follow the principle of omitting useless keystrokes and of including all relevant information (a shocking number omit the date that the article is written!).

I would also drop the “Viewed” information entirely. It is true that webpages change or disappear, but I don’t think knowing that the author viewed it on a particular day is very useful, particularly since the reader will usually know the year he viewed it from the year he wrote the text. And the location information should logically, be in one place, with the year information separate. Thus, what’s better is:

Thumma, Scott, and Warren Bird. Changes in American Megachurches: Tracing Eight Years of Growth and Innovation in the Nation’s Largest-Attendance Congregations. Hartford Institute for Religion Research. Http://hirr.hartsem.edu/megachurch/megastoday2008_summaryreport.html (2008).

I thought about making Wikipedia an exception since it changes so often, but I looked and saw that Wikipedia always has a date of last change, which should be cited as the publication date. That date is at the bottom of an article, like this:

This page was last modified on 8 November 2009 at 05:09.

Categories: internet, writing Tags:

Blair and Cameron’s Fear of Hitchens

November 7th, 2009 No comments

A funny story from Peter Hitchens on November 5, 2009 (my boldface):

Mr Cameron is in many ways the ‘heir to Blair’ that he said he would be, and I was amused to find that he is also copying his exemplar in his treatment of me at press conferences. Even though he acknowledged me with a three-star Etonian manly glance and nod, and even though there was no huge hurry nor contest to ask questions, he paid me the immense compliment of not taking a question from me. Mr Blair used to do the same, even if mine was the only hand up in the whole vast room. My fellow journalists, amused by the performance, often used to let this happen deliberately. As a result, reporters from immensely obscure foreign media outlets learned that they could question the Labour leader if they put their hands up at the same time as me. The Beekeeper’s Gazette could have got a question if they had turned up. When, after many weeks, Mr Blair eventually relented (which led to a scene, in which I was told to sit down and stop being ‘bad’) I had almost forgotten what I had wanted to ask. I had begun to tell people that I didn’t want to ask a question at all, that holding my hand up for long periods was a Tantric Yoga technique for suppressing nausea.

Categories: humor, media Tags:

Intelligence by State

October 31st, 2009 No comments
Categories: IQ Tags:

Shaggy Manes and Puffballs from Latimer Woods

October 26th, 2009 No comments

The whole family went on an ideal walk in Latimer Woods this afternoon. We found lots of pear-shaped puffballs at the edible, white, stage, and several black shaggy manes that we took home and cooked in butter. The flavor was not ideal—it was actually sweet. Perhaps it would have been better to cook them in milk and butter as a soup or for on toast. The puffballs were okay, but I have not found a good way to cook them.

I did find a good 2008 blog article, “Wild Mushrooms of Mid-fall – Wine Caps, Shaggy Manes and More.”

Categories: good days, mushrooms Tags:

Medicare Administrative Costs and Fraud

October 25th, 2009 No comments

An Philip Klein American Spectator article is relevant to thinking about health care policy.

Coburn based his figures on an estimate from health care fraud expert Malcolm Sparrow of Harvard University, who has said — at the low end — 10 percent of the roughly $1 trillion in spending on government health care programs may be lost to fraud.

“By taking the fraud and abuse problem seriously this administration might be able to save 10 percent or even 20 percent from Medicare and Medicaid budgets,” Sparrow said in May testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. But to accomplish this, Sparrow explained, the government would have to boost anti-fraud spending to as high as 2 percent of the cost of the programs from the roughly 0.1 percent now dedicated to the task.

See also
“Medicare’s Hidden Administrative Costs:
A Comparison of Medicare and the Private Sector”

(Based in Part on a Technical Paper by Mark Litow of Milliman, Inc.)
Merrill Matthews,
January 10, 2006. I read the intro, which makes a lot of sense. It notes that Medicare costs exclude management, research, the cost of collecting government funds (much less the distortionary costs of taxation), and the administrative costs to employers of collecting premiums from employees. Also, costs of buildings and much fraud pursuit is not included in the usual administrative costs of Medicare. And Medicare does not have to pay the 1-2% state taxes on premiums that private insurance companies must pay. Medicare’s costs are also lower because Medicare does not scrutinize claims as private companies do— the report claims that Medicare does not try to pursue fraud unless it is massive, which is plausible.

Categories: health care Tags:

Valedictions: Yours Truly

October 25th, 2009 No comments

Wikipedia’s article Valedictions is good. It talks about differences between England and America, and about French, German, and Hebrew valedictions. I don’t like “Yours sincerely”, because though I suppose I am always sincere, it seems inappropriate for describing the contents of a typical letter. “Yours truly” is always apt, nicely conventional, and sufficiently uncool. Cheers, Best Wishes, and Best Regards have their places too.

Categories: email, words, writing Tags:

What Does "Cool" Mean?

October 25th, 2009 No comments

“John Scalzi Answers the Burning Question – Can SciFI Movies Be Cool?”, via Instapundit, is a good short literary essay.

For example, there’s “cool,” as in “the studied indifference to cultural judgment regarding what you like,” which means that you like what you like and you don’t care if other people like it. Science fiction fails this definition utterly, because science fiction fans are monumentally uncool — not because they are geeks and nerds, or at least, not directly because of that, but because generally speaking they really really really want you to love what they love, too, and that sort of insensible urge to share is the opposite of cool. Mind you, scifi fans understand other people don’t love what they love, but rather than not caring, they feel a little sorry for those people. Which is a different dynamic altogether.

He then notes that 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Matrix were cool movies.

Categories: movies, words Tags:

Mushroom Photography

October 22nd, 2009 No comments

“Top Ten Mistakes in Mushroom Photography” is an interesting long webpage. It has lots of photos, with the species identified, illustrating various mistakes. The photo tips are useful even if it is not mushrooms you are photographing.

Categories: mushrooms Tags:

The Word "Autochthonal"

October 20th, 2009 No comments

autochthonal: originating where it is found; “the autochthonal fauna of Australia includes the kangaroo”; “autochthonous rocks and people and folktales”; “endemic folkways”; “the Ainu are indigenous to the northernmost islands of Japan” (wordnetweb.princeton.edu)

Categories: words Tags:

Flower Dutch Auction Clocks

October 14th, 2009 No comments
A Clock
The Room

I found these pictures of a Dutch auction at http://www.flower-wholesale.com/hannsvba/klok.html, which tells how you can go and visit such an auction in Aalsmeer. The best YouTube video of it I found is here.

Categories: auctions, game theory Tags:

A Bolete Turning Blue

October 12th, 2009 No comments

I found a good, short, You-Tube video of a broken bolete turning blue.

Browsing the web, it looks to me as if boletes are pretty safe. None are deadly poisonous. Some cause severe stomach-ache, but it looks as if you’re safe if you avoid bad-tasting, blue-staining, or orange or red boletes.

Categories: mushrooms Tags:

The Meadow Mushroom, Agaricus Campestris

October 8th, 2009 No comments

Lillie and Faith and Benjamin and I went jogging (Ben on his bicycle) and brought home a white lawn mushroom with red-black gills. It seems to be an Agaricus Campestris, prettily named, a Meadow Mushroom. It had a brown spore print, free gills, and soaked up water readily. We looked at the spores under the microscope, and they did look like the spores above, though I don’t remember seeing the green interiors under our smaller 900x magnification. That photo is from an amateur’s good webpage at http://www.mushroom-collecting.com/mushroomhorse.html.

We had a coprinus for breakfast this morning— two actually, probably shaggy manes, though I didn’t check. Amelia and Mom collected them from near the church. They didn’t liquefy overnight.

Categories: mushrooms, science Tags:

IV as a Solution to Omitted Variables

October 3rd, 2009 No comments

We think of instrumental variables as a solution to Y causing X, but it also can help when there is an omitted variable. In that case, X ends up being correlated with the error term, because the omitted variable X2 is correlated with both Y and X. So what we can do is find a Z which is correlated with X but not with X2 or Y. We can do a first-stage regression of X on Z, and then use the fitted value Xhat in our main regression, Y on Xhat.

Categories: st Tags:

Verbs in Writing

October 1st, 2009 No comments

Via Marginal Revolution, here are some rules for good writing from Michael Nielsen.

Use the strongest appropriate verb: Identify the verb in every sentence, and ask if you can improve it, perhaps eliminating adjectives and adverbs in the process. This is simple and mechanical, but often yields great improvements with little effort.

Beware of nominalization: A common way we weaken verbs is by turning them into nouns, and then combining them with weaker verbs. This bad habit is called nominalization. Contrast the wishy-washy “I conducted an investigation of rules for rewriting” with the more direct “I investigated rules for rewriting”. In the first sentence I have nominalized the strong verb “investigated” so that it becomes the noun “investigation”, and then combined it with the weaker verb “conducted”.

Categories: writing Tags:

Game Theory Notes on Subgame Perfectness and the Centipede Game

September 30th, 2009 No comments

I’ve just written up notes for my game theory class on a paradox of
sequential rationality
and on

the Centipede Game
.

Categories: game theory Tags:

Most-Used Bible Verses

September 27th, 2009 No comments

TopVerses.com has a list of Bible verses that they somehow calculate are most-used. It’s interesting to see what’s on it, and a good list of important verses. They don’t give actual counts, though, so it’s just ordinal.

Categories: religion Tags:

Ranges and Codomains

September 26th, 2009 No comments

I just learned a useful math term: CODOMAIN. Consider the function f(x) = 3 +5x as defined over the intervals of x in [0, 10] and f(x) in [0, \infinity). The DOMAIN is [0,10]. The RANGE is [3, 50]. The CODOMAIN is [0, \infinity). This mapping is one-to-one, but not onto, so the range and codomain are not identical.

Categories: math Tags:

Phelps on Capitalism and Innovation

September 25th, 2009 No comments

Nobel laureate Edmund Phelps has an interesting essay, “Economic Justice and the Spirit of Innovation,” in the October 2009 First Things.

The issue of morality in economics is neither the fairness of income distribution nor the stability of financial systems. It is how human institutions can be shaped to correspond to human nature—to man’s nature as an innovator….

Prosperity and the development of the human spirit are linked in the dynamism of the economy. The dynamism of the American economy over the past two hundred years was strong, and that helps to explain why prosperity was high both in the sense of high employment and the sense of a high degree of personal satisfaction compared to that in other countries….

That is the positive moral content of economics—to realize an anthropology that starts with innovative human nature: homo innovaticus, not homo economicus. Existing economics has a negative moral content in that it treats economic factors as though they were pieces on a game board rather than human beings who learn, discover, and innovate. Politicians play the same game, channeling resources from one activity or social group to another without considering the effect on the creativity and judgment exercised within the economy and thus the deep rewards the economy imparts or fails to impart….

Even now, in the midst of an economic downturn, there are signs of vitality that weren’t present in the 1950s. There is exuberance, however irrational, in the banking system, and some originality here and there in hedge funds and private equity, and still some inventiveness in Silicon Valley. Although they may have caused more problems than they were worth, the exotic, new financial instruments showed that America is still the world’s leader in invention. They reflect America’s capacity to create. Unfortunately, the markets were unsophisticated and set mistaken asset prices.

Categories: Economics, research Tags:

Constructing a Risky Density Function

September 25th, 2009 No comments

My colleague Haizhen Lin found a neat trick from someone in the math department. Suppose you have a density f(x) and you want to construct a pointwise less risky function, as in my paper cited below. You can use this:

f(a, x) = (1/a) f( .5 – .5/a +x/a)

If a=1, f(a,x) = f(x).

If a is small, f(a,x) tends to get big because of the 1/a portion, and it gets very big for x=0, but for x far from 0, the f becomes small because the argument becomes very big, distant from 0.

“When Does Extra Risk Strictly Increase the Value of Options?” The Review of Financial Studies, 20(5): 1647-1667 (September 2007). It is well known that risk increases the value of options. This paper makes that precise in a new way. The conventional theorem says that the value of an option does not fall if the underlying option becomes riskier in the conventional sense of the mean-preserving spread. This paper uses two new definitions of “riskier” to show that the value of an option strictly increases (a) if the underlying asset becomes “pointwise riskier,” and (b) only if the underlying asset becomes “extremum riskier.” Paper in tex or pdf ( http://www.rasmusen.org/published/Rasmusen07-RFS-options.pdf).

Categories: math, research Tags:

Leo Strauss Audio File of Him Teaching Meno

September 24th, 2009 No comments

The University of Chicago has posted an audio file of Leo Strauss lecturing on Meno as the first session of his political philosophy class. I should listen through it sometime. Will I? There are so many wonderful opportunities that we let slide by. We professors ought to be sitting in on each others’ classes, for example, but that is rare.

Categories: to-do Tags:

Occupations over the Decades

September 23rd, 2009 No comments

DD refers me to a good site like the baby name site I once blogged but showing over decades the most common occupations: http://flare.prefuse.org/apps/job_voyager . This site also tells you how to set up your own graphics of this kind.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

A New Word: Jobligation

September 20th, 2009 No comments

Jobligation: an obligation arising from your job— something you must attend because of work. From Mr. Lileks.

Categories: words Tags:

Dynamic Pricing for Hockey Tickets

September 16th, 2009 No comments

Via Marginal Revolution, a news story tells of daily-changing prices for hockey games:

Similar to airline pricing, the best prices are often found early. Dynamic pricing will provide fans with great prices starting from the initial on-sale on Sept. 12. The upper level single-game ticket prices can go up or down based on a variety of factors, including league standings, opposing team, star players, day of the week, and real time supply and demand. Dynamic pricing for upper level tickets will continue all season. Fans will be able to check out the current prices at any time at DallasStars.com.

Categories: Economics Tags:

Cromwell’s Rule

September 15th, 2009 No comments

AJ refers me to Wikipedia’s article on Cromwell’s Rule:

Cromwell’s rule, named by statistician Dennis Lindley, states that one should avoid using prior probabilities of 0 or 1, except when applied to statements that are logically true or false. (For instance, Lindley would allow us to say that \Pr(2+2 = 4) = 1.)

The reference is to Oliver Cromwell, who famously wrote to the synod of the Church of Scotland on August 5, 1650 saying

I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible that you may be mistaken.

As Lindley puts it, if a coherent Bayesian attaches a prior probability of zero to the hypothesis that the Moon is made of green cheese, then even whole armies of astronauts coming back bearing green cheese cannot convince him.

This seems reasonable. But is there a psychological problem if we are sure of nothing in the world? We might be haunted by having to always to do a substantive Bayes’s Rule calculation. Maybe not, though. The substance of Lindley’s idea is the story of the astronauts bringing green cheese– we will throw away our heuristic solid belief if that happens.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

The Blue-Eyed Islander Puzzle

September 5th, 2009 No comments

Here is a well-known puzzle that I will probably be teaching next week. An island starts with 2 blue-eyed people and 48 green-eyed, but the people do not know these numbers. If a person ever decides his eyes are blue, he must leave the island at dawn the next day. There are no mirrors and people may not talk about eye color, but they see each others’ faces.

What will happen? — nobody leaves.

Now an outsider comes to the island and says, “At least one of you has blue eyes”.

The next dawn, nobody leaves, but on the second dawn, both blue-eyed people leave.

The reason: Both blue-eyed people realize there are either 1 or 2 blue-eyed people. When nobody leaves on the first dawn, each realizes that there must be 2– and he is one of them.

Categories: game theory Tags:

Sharing the Gospel

August 21st, 2009 1 comment

My wife made a good point to me tonight. Some people think that the way to show people that Christianity is good is to behave well, so they are impressed with Christians. There is something to that, but it goes off on a tangent. Christianity is good because it is true. Even as something we wish to be true, it is not so much that it will make me a better person as that it gives me hope even though I remain a bad person. Even if I don’t succeed in becoming pure— and nobody does, really— God forgives me, as a father forgives a naughty child.

One reason this is important is that Christians really cannot succeed in preaching the Gospel by showing off what good people they are. The World is not impressed by Christian virtue; only by worldly virtue. Often those things coincide— bravery is both a pagan and a Christian virtue— but not always. In fact, the World usually thinks that the more Christian you are, the more you are a duped fanatic. Just think of the extreme Moslems— we are not so much impressed by their bravery as appalled by their willingness to kill people. They do not convert by their example. At best, they make people take a look to see what makes them so brave.

Moreover, thinking that to convert people to Christianity means you must be exemplary in all ways makes us ashamed to admit our Christianity. I do not want people to see how deficient I am and decide that Christians are weak and thoughtless people. It is better if I forget about impressing them with my strength, and concentrate on letting God use me as he wills to convey information or whatever else I may do for Him.

Categories: religion, thinking Tags:

Proof from Intuition and Failed Attempts to Prove Formally

August 17th, 2009 1 comment

An insight from Prosblogion:

In fact, I think that sometimes repeated failure is evidence for the insight when it is repeated failure by multiple people. Think of the history of failure to prove Fermat’s last theorem. Personally, I never doubted the theorem for a second and I doubt I am alone in believing that the repeated failure to provide a proof did not provide much if any evidence that it was false. Or consider what a history to prove Goldbach’s conjecture would look like (I haven’t looked to see if there is an actual history of attempts to do so). The very fact that so many people have the insight that it is true is what is guiding all these (sadly failed) attempts, and the (partial) independence of the testimony can be surprisingly strong evidence when modeled probabilistically. And it helps when there is considerable conceptual similarity among the attempts, for the insights are often of the form “considerations pertaining to X support Y” (and we just can’t get the bridge in formal logic yet).

Categories: philosophy, religion, thinking Tags:

Good Stewardship of Natural Resources

August 15th, 2009 No comments

Steve Sailer is right about parks. The Sabbath was made for Man, not Man for the Sabbath.

To get people back to the National Parks, they don’t need cheaper admissions (which max out at $23 per vehicle, which is cheap). They need more luxury.

For example, in the roadless high country of Yosemite National Park, above Tuolumne Meadows at around 10,000 feet in altitude, there has long been a circuit of about five High Sierra Camps, with tent cabins and dining halls, each a day’s walk (6 to 8 miles) apart. So, you can take a five night hiking trip without carrying your own food and fuel, you can sleep in a bed, and have a hot shower (at three camps): it’s $136 per person per night for food and lodging. This circuit is very popular with aging nature lovers who don’t want to put up anymore with the rigors of sheer wilderness backpacking at high altitude. So you have to apply in a lottery each year in the autumn for the next summer. My aunt and uncle applied every year for about a decade, but never got chosen, and finally gave up when they got too old for high altitude hiking.

That’s just sad.

Considering how popular this amenity is, you might think the National Park Service would have expanded it, adding more High Sierra Camps in Yosemite, and setting up similar circuits in Kings Canyon and Sequoia to the south. In truth, the more remarkable thing is that the NPS hasn’t dismantled the High Sierra Camps.

Categories: living, nature, parks Tags:

International Law Explicitly Permits Jewish Settlements on the West Bank

August 14th, 2009 No comments

From Peter Hitchens, August 13, 2009:

…international law, though I am happy to discuss this with any reasonable person, all the way back to the Sanremo Accords and the original League of Nations Mandate, which designated the area now known as the West Bank for “close Jewish settlement”, and has not been superseded, so far as I know, by any multilateral treaty or plan put fairly to all sides. The West Bank remained so designated after the entire area east of the Jordan to the Iraqi borders (originally part of the proposed “National Home for the Jews”) was arbitrarily sliced off the Palestine Mandate to provide a consolation prize for Emir Abdullah.

I’d never heard this, so I checked. And in fact, international law does authorize Jewish settlements on the West Bank. From: League of Nations: The Mandate for Palestine, July 24, 1922:

Article 6.

The Administration of Palestine, while ensuring that the rights and position of other sections of the population are not prejudiced, shall facilitate Jewish immigration under suitable conditions and shall encourage, in co-operation with the Jewish agency. referred to in Article 4, close settlement by Jews, on the land, including State lands and waste lands not required for public purposes.

Hitchens also has a good summary of the extreme views that the Arab countries hold and have always held of Israel, and how the Arabs do not consider the 1967 borders to have any legal validity whatsoever.

I would add that I am always amused by the enthusiasm which Israel’s enemies now show for the pre-1967 border of Israel. Their alleged enthusiasm for it now is a fake. Their real objective, as enshrined for decades in the policy documents and propaganda of the Arab world, (though in some cases tardily, reluctantly and insincerely shelved for Western consumption) is the end of the Jewish state altogether. Every Arab political figure in the area has on his wall a map of the region, a map from which Israel has entirely vanished. Hizbollah works for the extirpation of Israel, from just beyond its northern border. Hamas (a movement whose treatment of fellow Arabs who oppose it is extremely repressive and violent) continues to make no secret of this aim. Racialist filth and Judophobic slurry are taught to children in the Arab states and broadcast on Arab TV stations. And until they abandon this aim, and this muck, there can be no compromise. How can you compromise with people who teach tiny children to hate you, and whose aim is your utter destruction? Every concession would merely be a further step towards death, not a step towards peace.

I am old enough to recall that these enthusiasts were not so enthusiastic about the pre-1967 border before 1967, when it was the border of Israel. No Arab state accepted it as legitimate, let alone lawful. So why are they so keen on it now? I guarantee that if the 1967 border were to be restored tomorrow, the Arab campaign against Israel (backed elsewhere by our strange Israel-haters, who can only find one country on the map of the world to disapprove of) would continue unabated. At that stage, before 1967, the official policy of the Arab world was to ‘drive the Jews into the sea’. The 1967 border itself, a militarily indefensible and impractical frontier, was the cease-fire line at the end of the 1948 War, not an internationally agreed frontier between peaceful sovereign states. For most of its existence it was repeatedly violated.

PM2317561View of a concrete The 1948 war was itself caused by the Arab world’s rejection of the 1947 partition plan, which allocated Israel a much smaller territory even than the land enclosed in the supposedly sacred 1967 border. That rejection itself followed the similar rejection of the partition proposed by the 1937 Peel Commission, which was even less generous to the Jews than the UN would be ten years later.

Cowardice at Yale University Press

August 14th, 2009 No comments

From VC:

Yale University Press has decided not to include controversial Danish cartoons depicting Muhammad in a book about the cartoons and the resulting controversy. Other depictions of Muhammad slated for inclusion in the book, The Cartoons that Shook the World, have also been pulled. The NYT reports:

The book’s author, Jytte Klausen, a Danish-born professor of politics at Brandeis University, in Waltham, Mass., reluctantly accepted Yale University Press’s decision not to publish the cartoons.

John Donatich, the director of Yale University Press, said by telephone that the decision was difficult, but the recommendation to withdraw the images, including the historical ones of Muhammad, was “overwhelming and unanimous.” The cartoons are freely available on the Internet and can be accurately described in words, Mr. Donatich said, so reprinting them could be interpreted easily as gratuitous.

He noted that he had been involved in publishing other controversial books . . . and “I’ve never blinked.” But, he said, “when it came between that and blood on my hands, there was no question.”

Categories: free speech, homosexuality, Islam, religion Tags:

The American Teenager

August 7th, 2009 No comments

Ben Stein in TAS says of director John Hughes (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off; Planes, Trains, and Automobiles; Home Alone):

The insight that will make him immortal… was that the modern American white middle class teen combines a Saudi Arabia-sized reservoir of self-obsession and self-pity with a startling gift for exultation and enjoyment of life. No one had ever thought to note that along with James Dean’s sulky self-obsession might also come a shriek of happiness at just being alive.

Categories: living, thinking Tags:

HARRY POTTER AND THe CHRISTIAN

August 2nd, 2009 No comments

Some Christians think that Halloween and the Harry Potter
books are bad, as encouraging witchcraft. I will not talk about
Halloween here, but I will talk about the Harry Potter books. I’ve
had occasion to praise them recently, because while my son and
daughter were in the hospital we read one of them out loud, and
it was useful for them and for me. It distracted from their
physical pain and from all of our pain from recent loss of loved
ones, allowing switches back and forth from mourning to
imagination. Harry Potter’s world worked this magic because it is
a mixture of the mundane and the wondrous, because it has
many novel contrivances, and because it is full of suspense. A
few other books can do this too— the Oz series, for example, or
Tolkien, or Narnia— but the hospital happened to have Harry
Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone at hand.

On the other hand, what of this passage from Deuteronomy 18?

Deuteronomy. 18:10-12. There shall not be found among you
any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the
fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an
enchanter, or a witch. Or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar
spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer. For all that do these things
are an abomination unto the LORD: and because of these
abominations the LORD thy God doth drive them out from
before thee.

At first sight, this passage seems to condemn not just Harry
Potter, but Tolkien and Oz. (Narnia is exempt, I think– I don’t
recall good magic in it.)

But wait. We must ask what the words in Deuteronomy mean.
Some Christians use the Ten Commandments to condemn not
just murder but the death penalty, war, and resistance to crime.
Indeed, one could use it to advocate vegetarianism— does
“Thou shalt not kill” have an exemption for animals? Actually,
what about killing plants? So we must pay attention to
translation and meaning.

In the case of Deuteronomy, what do
enchanter, witch, charmer, wizard, and necromancer mean? I
don’t have time now to go to the Hebrew, though that is clearly
relevant. Note first, though, that here we seem to have five
distinct kinds of magic, besides the other kinds in the passage
which don’t apply to Harry Potter’s kind of magic at all.
(I know there’s divination in the novels, but it’s peripheral and
Harry and his friends don’t do real divination and consider the
subject “pseudo-magic”.)

Whatever they mean, I don’t think it can apply to what Harry
Potter and friends are doing. What they are doing is not really
magic, but science. Harry, Ron, and Hermione do not reach into
a supernatural world to engage the power of spirits. There are a
few ghosts in the book, but notice how no spells make use of
them, and how little different the ghosts are from people except
in their immortality and nonphysicality. Rather, what the
Hogwarts kids do is learn how to use wands to manipulate
things, and what kind of magical creatures and plants lurk in the
world unobserved by ordinary people. Most people– Muggles–
can’t use wands, just as most people can’t do calculus (and never
could, because they’re not smart enough). Those who can have
to go to school and learn it just like biology or trombone. It’s
called “magic”, but how is it different from “chemistry”?

I’ll have to continue later. But I’ll make a second point here. Look
at the context of Deuteronomy 18:10-12. What’s in front and
behind it?

18:9 When thou art come into the land which the LORD thy
God giveth thee, thou shalt not learn to do after the
abominations of those nations….

18:13 Thou shalt be perfect with the LORD thy God.

18:14 For these nations, which thou shalt possess, hearkened
unto observers of times, and unto diviners: but as for thee, the
LORD thy God hath not suffered thee so to do.

It’s “the abominations of those nations” that is condemned.
The Canaanites are condemned in the Bible to a degree beyond
any other people. Thus, it may be just their forms of magic that
are being condemned here. Or, it may just be their evil use of it.

A couple of references (which do not make the points I make
above, I think):

“Are all witches equal?
Six types of Witchcraft”
(note: I suspect this site is not to
be trusted farther than you can test their arguments yourself–but
that is usefully far).

“Religious debates over the Harry
Potter series,”
not to be considered as unbiased as most
Wikipedia articles, but moderate in tone, fair, and with lots of
citations
so you can check up on it.

Categories: art, magic, religion Tags: