Month: November 2009

We All Went to Manhattan Today

We drove down from my mother-in-law’s to Washington Heights, where we parked, and took the subway (the A train) down.

Natalie wanted to go to the American Girl® Place on 49th & 5th Avenue. She wanted her doll repaired, an arm need to be reattached, and she hoped to have it addressed at the doll “hospital”.

Unfortunately, between a computer glitch, and the fact that it was one of the original style dolls, we had to leave it there, and they will mail it to us.

To say that Charlie was less than amused to be in the store would be a gross understatement.

He was in a state of blind panic and revulsion at having to cross the threshold into that problematic palace of pervasive pinkness.

By way of apology, I took him to the Sony Wonder Technology Lab at Madison Avenue and 56th St.

It was a sort of digital playground, with robots, and motion capture dirven dancing avatars and suchlike….Best of all, it was free.

We had some quintessentially New York moments:

  • We bought hot pretzels from a street vendor.
  • On our way back on the subway, some guy shouted that he was Jesus Christ, then apologized, and got off at his stop.

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Stating the Obvious

That Joe Lieberman is a small and petty man, and has allowed imagined personal slights to be a springboard to vindictive behavior:

So why is he doing this? Because he’s bitter. According to former staffers and associates, he was upset by his dismal showing in the 2004 Democratic presidential primary. And he was enraged by the tepid support he got from many party leaders in 2006, when he lost the Democratic primary to an anti-war activist and won reelection as an independent. Gradually, this personal alienation has eaten away at his liberal domestic views. His staff has grown markedly more conservative in recent years, and his closest friends in Congress are now Republicans John McCain and Lindsey Graham. For Lieberman, the personal has become political, and it has pushed him further to the right.

Simply put, Joe Lieberman is a vile, vain, vindictive, and petty person. and because he feels that he was not sufficiently worshipped by the Democratuc Party, he is determined to extract his revenge.

What a petty and pathetic excuse for a human being.

Rom Houben Is In a Persistent Vegitative State

You’ve doubtless heard about the miracle in Belgium, where a man has been determined to have functioning intellect.

I’m with Michael Shermer on this, this is Ouija board style “facilitated communication type hoax:

It’s a hoax, folks. Sorry to be the spoiler of a feel good story—that of Rom Houben, the Belgian man who allegedly “woke up” from a 23-year long coma—but the hard truth must win out over hopeful emotions. Houben’s “communications,” his “statements” about how he’s been aware all along of his condition, his “talking” to reporters (all descriptive terms used by hardened journalists softened into bleeding heart jelly) is nothing more than the “ideomotor” effect, where the brain subtly and subconsciously guides the hands and fingers over a keyboard, or a Ouija board, or directs the movements of dowsing rods in search of underground water……

…. Houben is just sitting there in a chair looking like he’s in a coma, with the facilitator standing next to him, his hand firmly gripped by hers, guiding his hand over the keyboard. ….

A simple test to prove my claim: show a picture of an object (say, a cat) to the facilitator and show a different picture of an object (say, a dog) to Huben. Don’t let either one see the other photographs. Then see what gets typed: cat or dog? As a control, show them both the same picture and see what gets typed. Prediction: Whatever the facilitator sees is what will get typed. Would someone there please run this simple test?

Such a test was already done in the 1990s when something called “Facilitated Communication” (FC) was all the rage with autistic children who, just like the Coma Man, “suddenly awoke” from their long sleep and began talking up a storm and sounding all the world like perfectly normal bright children, some even returning to school to take classes. Only they weren’t. Normal. Or talking. A facilitator stood next to a child, held his or her hand firmly in a grip with the index finger pointing down over a keyboard, then typed. In controlled tests by experimental psychologists, a photograph of an object was shown to the facilitator and a photograph of an object was shown to the child. Neither one saw what the other one saw. Sometimes the pictures were of the same objects, sometimes they were different. Result: whatever the facilitator saw is what got typed, 100% of the time, and never (0%) did what the child see get typed unless it was also what the facilitator saw. ….

Prediction: if the Coma Man story is not thoroughly debunked now, within a short time the families of people in comas will be snapping up these plastic keyboards and facilitating the communication of their loved ones locked up in a broken brain. Only they will be doing no such thing. They will be wasting their time, money, energy, and worst of all their emotions, setting themselves up for being crushed when awareness dawns on them that FC doesn’t work. Please, would someone in the Houben family put an end to this charade before it spreads through the coma community and wreaks emotional havoc.

(emphasis mine)

No happy endings here. We are merely seeing the ability of human beings to delude themselves, nothing more, nothing less.

An Austin Powers Moment

Sharks with Frikken Laser Beams!*

So, the latest selling point for the F-35 JSF is the fact that you might, at some ill defined point in the distant future, be able to put a laser on it:

The Lightning II may eventually be fitted with lasers able to shoot down attacking missiles. The head of Lockheed Martin’s Lightning program and former test pilot, Tom Burbage, said in Canberra the company was looking at special applications including an anti-missile laser system.

”They are lethal countermeasures in that with a laser you could actually destroy something that’s coming at the aircraft,” Mr Burbage said.

The classic rejoinder is the Yiddish, “Az der bubbe vot gehat baytzim vot zie geven mein zayde.” (If my grandmother had balls she’d be my grandfather.)

Certainly, with the transmission for the STOVL lift fan being able to handle something on the order of 25,000 KW, but it’s clear than any aircraft purchased today will never have that capability.

The JSF remains obscenely over priced as it has been sold, over budget compared to that price, and well behind schedule, and no amount of Ronco style, “But wait there’s more,” revelations will change this.

I am not one of the people who thinks that building a gazillion F-22s at a cost per Troy ounce approaching that of gold before its recent run-up is a good idea, but the F-35 JSF is an exorbitantly expensive pig, even before you have “Frikken laser beams attached to their heads.”

H/t ELP Defens(c)e Blog

*Actually Mike Meyers missed a joke here. Dr. Evil, having been frozen in the 1960s, would never have heard of the “Sea Bass”, it’s a marketing term. If he had known about them at all, he would have know them as a “Patagonian toothfish”, which lends itself to confusion, and all sorts of puns, and a number of humorous asides….I’m just saying.
Empty weight, 43,430 lb, 12 Troy ounces to a pound, and $200 million price tag, gives a cost per Troy ounce of $383.76, which is very close to where gold was 5 years ago. (click graph for full size)
Yeah, I know the whine, “But if we buy more, the unit cost would go down!” Listen, 187 were bought, for a cost of $62 billion, which gives a cost of $331½ million each, and even the USAF’s (bogus numbers put the marginal costs well over a hundred million, and that’s not including the modifications that any new production would need because the parts are not made any more….And let’s not go into thee fact that it’s as expensive expensive as hell to just plain fly too.

Signs of the Apocalypse

Lou Dobbs is looking to run for office, and he’s selling himself as a friend of illegal aliens:

Lou Dobbs is looking at any number of possibilities for a political career, such as running for Senator from New Jersey, or even the presidency. And he would of course be running on a signature issue of…his great friendship with the Latino community, and support for amnesty for illegal immigrants, and a path to citizenship???

Economics Update (Catching Up)

Click for full size

H/t Calculated Risk

The lede here is that the corrected numbers for US GDP are out, and it’s way down, to +2.8%, down from the initial estimate of 3.5%.

Even more worrying is that the primary reason for the drop is that that consumer demand is way down, which does not bode well for the holiday season.

Some things to note on this:
GDP is still down year over year, and at this won’t be back to the pre-recession level until sometime in 2011.

Also, the credit card data has more evidence of consumer deleveraging, with late payments on credit cards falling in the 3rd quarter, though delinquencies were up in October.

The Conference Boards Consumer Confidence index roses in November, but still at levels indicating contraction, 49.5, where 90 is more or less neutral.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago also released its National Activity Index, and it fell slightly (PDF), to -1.08, which indicates that things are still moving in a recessionary direction.

In real estate, the 3rd quarter numbers are in, and the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index showed home prices increasing 3.1%, though it’s still down 9% year over year, and existing home sales rose an astounding 10% in October.

The timing here shows why this housing “recovery” is a mirage. Existing home sales rose in October because these were people scrambling to get in under the wire for the new home tax credit.

Some quick math shows that the median existing home prices in the US is $173,100, and $8000 is 4.62% of that, so the the degree to which the tax credit is driving price deltas is probably pretty significant.

Meanwhile, we are having some significant movement in the bond/central bank world, both nationally and internationally, with Fitch cutting its rating Mexico’s sovereign debt, the Bank of Israel yesterday raising its overnight lending rate by a 25 basis points (¼%), and Colombia’s central bank cutting its rate by 50 basis points (½%), because inflation is below expectations, and they want to give their economy a boost.

My guess is also that Columbia wants to push its currency down to help with its trade balance.

US Treasuries rose in their most recent auction, probably because investors are looking for safe havens following the downward GDP revision.

Certainly the GDP revision pushed oil down, though interestingly enough the dollar fell against both the Yen and Euro.

Gee, You Think?

So, the Federal Reserve’s Open Market Committee’s minutes have been released, and there were concerns that abnormally low interest rates might fuel speculative excesses?

Really? How could could anyone conclude that after all the prosperity that Alan “Bubbles” Greenspan droping rates to unprecedented lows, and then keeping them there in order to keep George W. Bush in office deal with the hangover from the dotcom crash?

Yes, of course it’s a worry:

Federal Reserve officials said record-low interest rates might fuel “excessive” speculation in financial markets and possibly dislodge expectations for low inflation, according to minutes of their meeting released today.

“Members noted the possibility that some negative side effects might result from the maintenance of very low short-term interest rates for an extended period,” minutes of the Nov. 3-4 meeting said, “including the possibility that such a policy stance could lead to excessive risk-taking in financial markets or an unanchoring of inflation expectations.”

While policy makers agreed that the chances of such effects were “relatively low, they would remain alert to these risks,” the minutes showed. Fed officials at their meeting indicated the benchmark lending rate would remain near zero “for an extended period” as long as inflation expectations are stable and unemployment fails to decline.

But it appears that “fed officials” are going to use some more of their “Federal Reserve Fairy Dust”, to prevent this, or at least make sure that the chances of such effects are, “relatively low.”

Audit the Fed, then reform it.

More on the Exit of Greg Graig, White House Counsel

Massimo Calabresi and Michael Weisskopf of Time magazine have the full rundown, but the basic thesis is that Dick Cheney started saying bad things about Barack Obama when it started to become obvious that Cheney might be in legal jeopardy if Obama did not go all out to stop all investigations and public disclosures on law breaking by Bush and His Evil Minions.

At Firedog Lake, Marcy Wheeler hits the nail on the head when she says, “I guess Dick Cheney is right–Obama can’t stand up to terrorists. Terrorists like Dick Cheney.”

(emphasis mine)

Signs of the Apocalypse, Media Conspiracy Edition

The apocalypse part is that Matt Taibbi is agreeing with Sarah Palin on whether or not the media is out to get her.

He goes meta, of course, because, he is both a good writer and a smart one, and notes that the media always has its chosen targets, and that this wankitude (Gore, Dean, etc.) is thoroughly bipartisan.:

I would, however, like to point out a few things, none of which really involve taking sides in this particular cat-fight. In no particular order:

1) The political media has always taken it upon itself to make decisions about who is and who is not qualified to be taken seriously as candidates for higher office. Without even talking about whether they do this more or less to Republicans or Democrats, I can testify that I witnessed this phenomenon over and over again in the primary battles within the Democratic Party. It has always been true that the press corps has drawn upon internalized professional biases, high-school-style groupthink and the urging of insider wonks to separate candidates into “serious” and “unserious” groups before the shots even start to be fired.


2) When that does happen, when the press corps decides to abandon all restraint and go for the head shot, it usually tells us a lot more about the reporters’ bosses and what they’re thinking than it does about the reporters themselves. Your average political reporter is a spineless dweeb who went to all the best schools and made it to that privileged seat inside the campaign-trail ropeline by being keenly sensitive to the editorial wishes of his social and professional superiors.

3) So Sarah Palin is now in that category of politician whom reporters feel safe in attacking.

It’s a good read, and highly accurate.