Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Quote of the Day...

Via reader Simon M...


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Bill Crawford's Story...

Col. James Moschgat writes:

William “Bill” Crawford certainly was an unimpressive figure, one you could easily overlook during a hectic day at the U.S. Air Force Academy. Mr. Crawford, as most of us referred to him back in the late 1970s, was our squadron janitor.

While we cadets busied ourselves preparing for academic exams, athletic events, Saturday morning parades and room inspections, or never-ending leadership classes, Bill quietly moved about the squadron mopping and buffing floors, emptying trash cans, cleaning toilets, or just tidying up the mess 100 college-age kids can leave in a dormitory.

Sadly, and for many years, few of us gave him much notice, rendering little more than a passing nod or throwing a curt, “G’morning!” in his direction as we hurried off to our daily duties.

Why? Perhaps it was because of the way he did his job-he always kept the squadron area spotlessly clean, even the toilets and showers gleamed. Frankly, he did his job so well, none of us had to notice or get involved. After all, cleaning toilets was his job, not ours.

Maybe it was his physical appearance that made him disappear into the background. Bill didn’t move very quickly and, in fact, you could say he even shuffled a bit, as if he suffered from some sort of injury. His gray hair and wrinkled face made him appear ancient to a group of young cadets. And his crooked smile, well, it looked a little funny. Face it, Bill was an old man working in a young person’s world. What did he have to offer us on a personal level?

Finally, maybe it was Mr. Crawford’s personality that rendered him almost invisible to the young people around him. Bill was shy, almost painfully so. He seldom spoke to a cadet unless they addressed him first, and that didn’t happen very often. Our janitor always buried himself in his work, moving about with stooped shoulders, a quiet gait, and an averted gaze. If he noticed the hustle and bustle of cadet life around him, it was hard to tell.

So, for whatever reason, Bill blended into the woodwork and became just another fixture around the squadron. The Academy, one of our nation’s premier leadership laboratories, kept us busy from dawn till dusk. And Mr. Crawford...well, he was just a janitor.
But you really should read the rest of the story...

Sunday, July 19, 2009

RIP, Sgt. John C. Beale...

Sgt. Beale was killed in Afghanistan. More here...

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Dogs Found!

A reader writes about two dogs he found (click to enlarge the flyer):
Monday July 13, 2009
Found a young female Dalmatian and a male Lasa-whatever in the middle of the intersection of Lyons Valley Road and Honey Springs.

No collars or tags.
They are a pair that live together because they stick close and sleep against each other.
Very dirty from their adventure and lots of stickers.
I've called and asked everyone around Jamul…but nobody recognizes these dogs.
I took pictures and showed them to Steele Canyon Vets but no luck.
Did the same with Jamul Vet Clinic again no luck.

Tuesday July 14, 2009
I'm taking both dogs to Steele Canyon Vets to see if they have chips and to get cleaned up.
They will keep them until Friday evening…when I come back from North County.
Also, posted FOUND DOGS flyer at the Jamul Trading Post, Jamul Vet Clinic, Steel Canyon Vet and along Skyline Truck Trail..

Awesome loving dogs. Please help me find the owners!
If you know these dogs, please give him a call!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Amazing Video...

Of one of our warriors who took an RPG to his thigh, and lived to tell the tale – because of his fellow warriors who took great risks to save him. Bring Kleenex.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Titanium Tea Strainer...

If you're a tea drinker, as I am, I highly recommend these strainers (under $15).

Here's to You, Mr. Jefferson...

Awesome, with Tea Party snaps:

Building a Radio, from Scratch...

Ran across this fascinating story from World War II, about British prisoners in a Japanese POW camp who built a working radio receiver from scratch. A taste:
I should come back to the capacitors on that, because we had to insulate the layers of those which we did by putting a layer of newspaper (a few people had newspaper and various things, for other reasons than newspaper of course, but then we had no other toilet requisites in the party) and by soaking this in some coconut oil we could insulate each layer after we wound it, and with a piece of this bee wire - we had something like fifty feet of it - wound round this part of the fish plate, we made a fairly good choke coil. And then a bigger capacitor, which was no trouble, having had success with the small one, to just wrap as much tin foil as we could round another sheet of newspaper which finished up about 18 inches long by about three quarters of an inch in diameter. We didn't even try to measure the capacitance of it, because we couldn't do anything about it anyway, except put more wire on. And that in effect was a fairly good rectifier, a very dangerous one because we had the 110 all right but we had a bit over that by the time we had rectified it, and we don't know because we had no means of measuring it.

Finally, the valve; we joined the valve by winding the clean little bee wire around it and then plugging it with any insulating material we could get to make it stick, - no valve holder, of course. So eventually we produced a receiver of sorts, except it wouldn't oscillate. We tried building more, another choke coil, and this went on for ages; there was no possibility we could get this valve to oscillate. I think it's recommended according to a friend of mine who had an amateur license, he thought that about 120 volts was the best we could get and there was no way we could get that by trying to smooth this any more. So the only avenue open was to bribe one Chinese working at the power station who was very much our way, and of course in those days was a nationalist Chinese.

For my readers unfamiliar with antique British English, a “valve” is what Americans would have called a “vacuum tube”, or just “tube”. For my younger readers, a vacuum tube is a device used for electronic amplification and rectification before the advent of semiconductor transistors and diodes.

Now I have built some electronic devices (including a radio receiver) from bits and pieces. My dad helped me build an old-fashioned crystal radio this way. But we had some purchased components (the headphone, the rectifying crystal, wire, etc.), easy access to things like waxed paper and aluminum foil, and some basic test equipment. These POWs not only had extremely limited materials at hand (though they were uninhibited about bribes, blackmail, and theft), they had no test equipment and no reference material. For instance, when they designed a capacitor, they had to either remember or re-invent the basic formulae describing capacitance!

One side-effect of our rapidly advancing technology base is that there are now relatively few people who understand the basics and fundamentals. In electrical engineering, for example, most time is necessarily spent on advanced integrated systems, and very little on the fundamentals of components. After all, in modern design work that newly minted engineers are likely to do, there's little use for the primitive components such as those the POWs made. On the other hand, back then electrical engineers generally were directly involved in the design of such components – so that knowledge would have been much more widespread in the engineering community...

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Remember This Photo?

One of our warriors, caught by a firefight with the Taliban at an, err, inopportune moment. The photo made him famous. Now this:
FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) - The soldier who was photographed fighting the Taliban in his boxer shorts says he's glad to be back home in Texas after his yearlong deployment to Afghanistan—especially on the Fourth of July.

Specialist Zachary Boyd says he initially thought he'd get in trouble after an Associated Press photo showed him with other soldiers behind sandbags—while wearing his pink boxers and flip-flops, plus his helmet and bulletproof vest.

The Fort Worth soldier said he had jumped up from a nap when his unit came under fire and didn't want to waste time putting on his uniform.

But Boyd has been praised for his courage.

And now that he's home in Fort Worth he says his boxers will be displayed in the 1st Infantry Division museum at Fort Riley, Kansas.

Gotta love 'em...


Thanking the Troops...

Two hundred and thirty three years ago today, our ancestors declared this country's independence from Britain. Our soldiers fought the Revolutionary War to make that declaration reality, and in all the intervening years, through many skirmishes, battles, and wars, our armed forces have kept this country a free and independent nation.

If you happen to see one of our warriors today, take a moment to thank them, won't you? You'll be glad you did, too. A couple of weeks ago I bought a cup of coffee and doughnuts for a couple of Army soldiers as we all waited for our flights at the Houston Airport. I sat down with them for a short conversation. Turns out they were both headed to Afghanistan on their second tour, and they were looking forward to it – they feel like they're doing something that matters, that makes a difference. And their smiles and warm words told me how much it meant to them to be acknowledged and appreciated...

If you'd like to make a more tangible contribution, I can't think of a better way than donating items, money, or your time to Homefront San Diego. These fine folks – all volunteers – find ways to help out the families of our deployed warriors.

San Diego is an expensive area to live in, yet we have more military here than in any other County in the U.S. Many of our lower-ranking military really don't make enough money to make ends meet – and when they're deployed, things can get very difficult for the family they left behind. Simple things that most of us would consider just irritating can become almost insurmountable challenges for them. For instance, the wife of an E-4 Marine with a couple of kids may simply have no way to handle a transmission problem on her car – she can't afford to get it fixed, she can't fix it herself, and yet she absolutely has to have the car to get around. Homefront San Diego will step into such a situation and find a way to resolve it. They're very creative about the solutions – maybe they'll find a local shop to fix it for free (or for parts cost); maybe they'll find a replacement car; or maybe they'll simply pay for getting it fixed. But one way or the other, they'll get that family back in its car. One can easily imagine what a relief it would be to the deployed warrior to know that his or her family has a safety net like Homefront San Diego to fall back on...

California Budget Crisis...

The entire planet knows that the state of California is in the midst of an awful budget crisis. The legislature has been unable to agree on a budget, primarily because the politicians are unable to bring themselves to significantly reduce expenses, nor can they find any politically acceptable way to raise taxes to pay for what they want to spend. Meanwhile, the state is completely out of money and has taken to paying many with IOUs, and forcing state workers to take several days per month in unpaid furloughs.

So one could be forgiven for thinking that the state legislators would be busy in meetings focused on resolving the impasse. If that's you, then your innocence and naivete are showing. Our legislators are meeting, all right – but they're discussing just about anything other than the budget impasse. For example, here's some video of a committee debating the propriety of lopping cow tails (with Schwarzennegger's admonishments):

Some assembly required.

Hopeyness and Changitude of the Day...

The Obama administration's total commitment to respecting the science.

WTF of the Day...

No animal was hurt in making that meat at your grocery store.

Oh, my.

I really don't know what to say.

But consider this: the person who wrote this is (presumably) an adult – and an eligible voter. What does that tell you about the viability of a representative democracy? Hmm?

Preserving the Declaration...

How the original Declaration of Independence, handwritten in ink on parchment, is preserved.

Friday, July 3, 2009

John to Abigail...

On July 3, 1776, John Adams wrote this letter to Abigail Adams (his wife):

Had a Declaration of Independency been made seven Months ago, it would have been attended with many great and glorious Effects . . . . We might before this Hour, have formed Alliances with foreign States. -- We should have mastered Quebec and been in Possession of Canada .... You will perhaps wonder, how such a Declaration would have influenced our Affairs, in Canada, but if I could write with Freedom I could easily convince you, that it would, and explain to you the manner how. -- Many Gentlemen in high Stations and of great Influence have been duped, by the ministerial Bubble of Commissioners to treat .... And in real, sincere Expectation of this effort Event, which they so fondly wished, they have been slow and languid, in promoting Measures for the Reduction of that Province. Others there are in the Colonies who really wished that our Enterprise in Canada would be defeated, that the Colonies might be brought into Danger and Distress between two Fires, and be thus induced to submit. Others really wished to defeat the Expedition to Canada, lest the Conquest of it, should elevate the Minds of the People too much to hearken to those Terms of Reconciliation which they believed would be offered Us. These jarring Views, Wishes and Designs, occasioned an opposition to many salutary Measures, which were proposed for the Support of that Expedition, and caused Obstructions, Embarrassments and studied Delays, which have finally, lost Us the Province.

All these Causes however in Conjunction would not have disappointed Us, if it had not been for a Misfortune, which could not be foreseen, and perhaps could not have been prevented, I mean the Prevalence of the small Pox among our Troops .... This fatal Pestilence compleated our Destruction. -- It is a Frown of Providence upon Us, which We ought to lay to heart.

But on the other Hand, the Delay of this Declaration to this Time, has many great Advantages attending it. -- The Hopes of Reconciliation, which were fondly entertained by Multitudes of honest and well meaning tho weak and mistaken People, have been gradually and at last totally extinguished. -- Time has been given for the whole People, maturely to consider the great Question of Independence and to ripen their judgments, dissipate their Fears, and allure their Hopes, by discussing it in News Papers and Pamphletts, by debating it, in Assemblies, Conventions, Committees of Safety and Inspection, in Town and County Meetings, as well as in private Conversations, so that the whole People in every Colony of the 13, have now adopted it, as their own Act. -- This will cement the Union, and avoid those Heats and perhaps Convulsions which might have been occasioned, by such a Declaration Six Months ago.

But the Day is past. The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America.

I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.

You will think me transported with Enthusiasm but I am not. -- I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. -- Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will tryumph in that Days Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not.

John got the date wrong – we celebrate July 4th, when the Declaration of Indepdence was issued – but everything else still fits.

If John could somehow be transported to see the current Union and its history, I wonder what he'd think of it? There's much I'm sure he'd be proud of. I'm equally sure he'd be appalled at the degree to which the modern U.S. intrudes upon its citizens. The rate of taxation would astonish him – it far exceeds the tax levels that formed part of the motivation behind the original revolution.

But it would be most interesting to hear his overall “take” on the situation...

On Astrology...

Astrology is a blatantly inexplicable waste of time. Its proponents fall into two categories: informed, soulless charlatans who profit from hoodwinking gullible people, and ignorant putzes who cannot fathom the single digit arithmetic necessary to understand why astrology could not possibly work. It’s a 1970s-era fantasy clung to by the simple-minded who cannot possibly admit that the complexity of their own, boring lives has now exceeded their ability to figure it out for themselves, and as a result they need to blame their self-inflicted misfortunes on imaginary mind powers radiated from space. Astrologers and the people who believe in it are caught up in a mindless fantasy world of spells and crystals. The only difference between astrologers and the dorks who dress up in Hobbit costumes whacking each other with foam swords is that the latter group is smart enough to know, at the end of the day, they really aren’t Middle Earth characters. Grow the foxtrot up, put a brain back in your head, and face up to the fact that you and only you alone are responsible for your life, already.
What he said.

The 2012 Pelosi GTxi SS/RT Sport Edition...

Iowahawk improves an already great parody:

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Barone on the Dangers of Liberal Judges...

Well, that's not actually his theme, but it might as well be – at least in this passage:

This is the sort of thing Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg described in the text as just the workings of politics. Writing in Slate, Yale Law faculty member Emily Bazelon goes further. She laments that the promotion test rewarded memorization and that it favored "'fire buffs' -- guys who read fire suppression manuals on their down time."

She is outraged that a fire department might want to promote firefighters who know more about suppressing fires, rescuing victims and protecting their colleagues rather than simply promote a predetermined number of members of specific racial groups whose self-appointed political spokesmen back the politicians in office.

Poster of the Day...

More here.

The Mustache, on Iran...

John Bolton is one of the consistently sane and adult voices on Iran. From his piece in today's Washington Post:

Only those most theologically committed to negotiation still believe Iran will fully renounce its nuclear program. Unfortunately, the Obama administration has a "Plan B," which would allow Iran to have a "peaceful" civil nuclear power program while publicly "renouncing" the objective of nuclear weapons. Obama would define such an outcome as "success," even though in reality it would hardly be different from what Iran is doing and saying now. A "peaceful" uranium enrichment program, "peaceful" reactors such as Bushehr and "peaceful" heavy-water projects like that under construction at Arak leave Iran with an enormous breakout capability to produce nuclear weapons in very short order. And anyone who believes the Revolutionary Guard Corps will abandon its weaponization and ballistic missile programs probably believes that there was no fraud in Iran's June 12 election. See "huge credibility gap," supra.

In short, the stolen election and its tumultuous aftermath have dramatically highlighted the strategic and tactical flaws in Obama's game plan. With regime change off the table for the coming critical period in Iran's nuclear program, Israel's decision on using force is both easier and more urgent. Since there is no likelihood that diplomacy will start or finish in time, or even progress far enough to make any real difference, there is no point waiting for negotiations to play out. In fact, given the near certainty of Obama changing his definition of "success," negotiations represent an even more dangerous trap for Israel.

I just hope he's right about Israel's willingness. That boils down, I think, to whether or not Obama has any success muzzling Bibi (Netanyahu). History would suggest that Bibi is hard to muzzle, fortunately...

The Issue For American Healthcare...

A slight exaggeration, perhaps. But Warren Meyer of CoyoteBlog has been consistently making the point nicely illustrated on the graph at right: that as people have more personal responsibility for paying the costs of their medical care, the prices come down.

The blog post linked above makes the case in much more detail. The fundamental point, though, is very simple: when people have to pay for something themselves, they'll start making decisions based on the value to themselves.

Outside the healthcare arena, everybody seems to accept this notion without argument. For example, when you buy a car, you weigh the cost of a particular model against its value to you. This gives the manufacturers a huge incentive to deliver more value for the dollar – the direct result of which is we can buy the marvelous machines that are today's cars (or computers, or whatever) at historically astonishingly low prices.

But healthcare in America today doesn't work this way. Patients have zero incentive to shop for more healthcare value for the dollar. Why should they, when the insurance company is going to pay for nearly whatever they ask for? Ditto for doctors – they actually have disincentives for saving money. Their best interest (reduced litigation) is to over-order both diagnostics and theraputics.

Meyer's suggested fix is to reform healthcare to reintroduce market forces. I'm in 100% agreement with him on that general principal. There are a bazillion ways one could actually do this, and picking one would make an interesting public debate. But...I'm afraid that politically any such plan is dead on arrival. Americans have gotten used to their healthcare system, and they like the open-ended nature of it. Why wouldn't they? And, unfortunately, the vast majority of Americans do not understand that our current system is headed inexorably toward a very painful collision with the wall of economic reality...

Guess Who Gets the California IOUs?

Felix Salmon (Reuters) offers this handy chart (click to enlarge) of who California will “pay” with IOUs and who will get cash.

There seems to be a 100% correspondence between cash payments and politically connected groups, and no application whatsoever of common sense or morality. Our overlords have decided that instead of funding the genuinely needy with California's tight cash, we're going to fund government workers' pensions – that would be those same government workers that spent their way into this mess.

Where is the justice in this?

Here's my suggestion for justice:

Rope (lots of it).
Trees (Muir Woods would make a nice spot, wouldn't it?).
Politicians (all of 'em - let's start over!).
Some assembly required (easy stuff, folks – just a few basic knots).

Flying Pig Moment...

When Helen Thomas bludgeons Obama's press representative over the White House's tightly controlled “town hall” meeting, you know that somewhere pigs are flying...

What this all means, I don't know. All I know is that I certainly never expected, a mere six months into the Obama administration, to see the press doing anything other than kiss Obama's butt – especially Helen Thomas...

Wednesday, July 1, 2009


Al Franken has won the election, says the Minnesota Supreme Court. The blow-by-blow battle for this election is too complicated and convoluted for a mere blog post – I'd need 100 pages or so to do it justice. But my take on it is real simple: Franken and his lawyers were very clever, very ambitious, and completely uninhibited by concerns of propriety or legality – and they stole that election, plain and simple. This has consequences:
  • Minnesota now has a certifiable lunatic as a senator. That sounds awful, but Franken is not the first such Senator, even in the current Congress. I suspect there are at least 10 others that fit that category (and no, they're not all Democrats).

  • The Democrats will now have 60 votes in the Senate, enough to quash any Republican attempt at a filibuster (and the filibuster is the only way Republicans can currently stop a bill if the vote is purely partisan). Some commentators are making this sound like the end of the world. I don't think it's quite that bad, and it's not like this is the first time that's ever happened. In practice, politics is far from a precise science – and it's actually quite difficult to find an issue on which all 60 Democrats will vote their party's way. What traditionally happens in these scenarios is that the minority party identifies a few vulnerable votes in the majority party, and then puts enormous pressure (mainly through publicity) on those Senators to vote against their party – and this technique, more often than not, works just fine.
To me, the biggest impact of Al Franken's win is his rather open and blatant theft of the election. I've read extensively about the Minnesota contest, and it's clear to me that Franken won basically through simple and effective manipulation of the electoral process and the subsequent court battle – not by the now somewhat quaint and old-fashioned way of having the most votes. I'm not saying that this is the first time an election in the U.S. has been stolen, for clearly others have been. What's different here is that there was (so far as I know) no rigging or vote-buying done here – this election was stolen by litigation. And that's a scary precedent. Clearly we will see more of this, and I can't see any way that's good for the country...