Wednesday, February 27, 2008

 

Cessation of Posting. For a while, at least, I'm not going to keep up regular posting. I think I need to turn my attention to other things.
 

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Friday, February 22, 2008

 

Soft Conservatives. George Neumayr makes good observations on how liberal the conservative movement is nowadays on social issues. It has amazed me how mild was the conservative reaction to Romney and Giuliani. Huckabee is not entirely conservative, but his weakness is mostly in economic policy, and I don't think low taxes are the essence of conservatism.
It tells you a lot about the state of the establishment conservative movement that in the end, given a choice between a (basically) red-meat conservative from the South and a recently pro-abortion moderate from the North, it chose the latter. The savaging of Mike Huckabee has been highly revealing, betraying more than just personal distaste.

Amongst not all but many of his critics, there is at work a basic contempt for natural law conservatism, which came out most vividly in the sputtering over Huckabee's references to amending the Constitution in accordance with "God's standards."

As the good Enlightenment liberals they have become, some modern American conservatives are naturally horrified by such a statement: How dare that hick suggest touching a venerable man-made document (never mind that the founders, being deeper and more thoughtful about these matters, put an amendment power in their Constitution for the people to govern themselves according to God's standards).

Huckabee, for all of his glibness, is striking much closer to the bedrock of philosophical conservatism than his critics. If conservatism is not about conserving principles that originate in reality -- a reality that comes from God and is made known to man through his reason -- then what good is it?

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

 

IQ Tests. Slate, via Sailer has this interesting report on how the military has found that an aptitude test predicts performance of soldiers:
A study by the RAND Corporation, commissioned by the Pentagon and published in 2005, evaluated several factors that affect military performance—experience, training, aptitude, and so forth—and found that aptitude is key. This was true even of basic combat skills, such as shooting straight. Replacing a tank gunner who had scored Category IV with one who'd scored Category IIIA (in the 50th to 64th percentile) improved the chances of hitting a target by 34 percent.

Today's Army, of course, is much more high-tech, from top to bottom. The problem is that when tasks get more technical, aptitude makes an even bigger difference. In one Army study cited by the RAND report, three-man teams from the Army's active-duty signal battalions were told to make a communications system operational. Teams consisting of Category IIIA personnel had a 67 percent chance of succeeding. Teams with Category IIIB soldiers (who had ranked in the 31st to 49th percentile) had a 47 percent chance. Those with Category IVs had only a 29 percent chance. The study also showed that adding a high-scoring soldier to a three-man team increased its chance of success by 8 percent. (This also means that adding a low-scoring soldier to a team reduces its chance by a similar margin.)

 

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Sunday, February 17, 2008

 

God's Law and What Is Good. The other night someone was saying that the book of Hebrews explained how God's command to Abraham to kill his son did not violate the natural law against murder. It doesn't. Hebrews 11:17-19 says:
By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten [son], Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called: Accounting that God [was] able to raise [him] up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure.
According to this interpretation, Abraham did think Isaac would die, but also thought that God could raise him up from the dead again and somehow keep the covenant. This does not eliminate the problem that Abraham was commanded to cause the death of his son.

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Saturday, February 16, 2008

 

Presidential Candidate Quiz. USA Today has a good quiz for "choose your presidential candidate". They allow you to change the weights on the various issues, and it shows you, in real time, how well the candidates are doing in your ranking as you proceed with the questions.

My favorites according to the Quiz?

Romney, Brownback, and Thompson. Biden and Edwards were my lowest.

Romney being the top shows a problem with quizzes, though. I don't believe he really holds those positions. He was a liberal governor of Massachusetts, and it was amazing that he got the endorsement of so many conservatives.

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Friday, February 15, 2008

 

Mortgage-Backed Securities. See page 4 of Super Future Equities v. Wells Fargo (2006) (3rd amended complaint, N.D. Texas) was posted on Wikipedia and has a good explanation of how mortgage securitization works, and an example of a breach-of-duty dispute. I don't know how accurate the complaint itself is; the defendants reply here.

I'm actually surprised these securities work at all, they require so much trust. A bank sells some mortgages to a trust it creates for the occasion. The trust creates certificates of various risks that get rated from AAA to BBB- that it sells publicly and from BB+ to unrated that it sells privately to various persons. Class A (not *rated* A) certificates get paid in full before any Class B certificates get paid. There is a Servicer, who processes most of the mortgages' payments to the Trust, and a Special Servicer, who processes problem mortgages, ones that are in default or some other specially defined troubled circumstances. Usually about 2% of loans are in the Special Service category. Service fees are naturally much higher for this category.

Northern Rock's trust, Granite, has a prospectus up on the web.

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

 

The Danger of Smoking. It's hard to find good information on how much smoking increases a person's risk of death. Actuarial tables, it seems, say that male smokers die about 7 years before non-smokers, and I think that controlled for weight, but it didn't control for most of the reasons people who choose to smoke die earlier than people who do not. An hour's Web search leaves me highly dissatisfied with the research done. I don't think medical researchers think of controlling for ethnicity, education, and income, for example. It would also be a good idea to take any study and see if its methodology would also predict, for example, that smoking causes an increase in car accidents or in criminality. I bet all methodologies would, and the only question is the extent of it.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

 

What to Do when Theory and Data Are in Conflict. Realclimate makes a good point:
It is salutary to keep in mind that in many past cases where data conflicted with robust modeling results, it turned out to be the models that were right and the data that was wrong. This was the case for the early satellite reconstructions of twentieth century lower tropospheric temperature, which showed a spurious cooling. It was also the case for early reconstructions of tropical climate during the Last Glacial Maximum, which failed to show the cooling we now know to prevail in that region during glacial times.

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Monday, February 11, 2008

 

Marxists Obituarized Admiringly

From National Review: Andrew Glyn is not a household name, and until I read his obituary yesterday in The Times of London I had never heard of him. But what an illuminating document that obituary proves to be, a perfect little insight into the age. The opening sentence informs that Glyn “was one of Britain's most prominent Marxist economists who produced searching critiques of capitalism,” going on to salute him as “one of the finest of Oxford dons.”... Think of the abuse of privilege. Think of the false pretences. Think of the damage he did spouting rubbish year after year to students who would be expected to parrot it back to him. To one student, he is supposed to have said, “the three greatest men who ever lived were Lenin, Trotsky and Charlie Parker,” - a sentence that the obituary writer hilariously links to “his depth of knowledge.” Some of the unfortunate students will have recovered freedom to think for themselves, but some will be permanently damaged. The obituary writer does in the end concede that Glyn “will to some extent be deemed to have backed the wrong ideological horse” — that “to some extent” is a qualification that goes so far beyond hilarious that it is almost majestic.

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Climate Data. Last year I blogged on the good NASA site for weather station data from around the world. The data is arranged so you can pick out stations from a map of the world. I'd really like data where I could pick out a variety of stations at once and put the data into a spreadsheet, which the NASA site is not good for. I'd like to see which stations show warming and which do not. In particular, here are some things I'd like to check:

1. Do rural stations show warming, or just urban stations? (useful for thinking about urbanization bias) 2. Do ocean locations show warming, or just land locations? (useful for thinking about urbanization bias) 3. Do stations with warming show big jumps in warming in particular years and then higher levels? (useful for thinking about urbanization bias) 4. What kinds of stations show zero warming, or cooling? (useful for spotting unforeseen sort of bias)

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Friday, February 8, 2008

 

A Short Speech and a Bye-Ku. Stromata Blog has two good entries. One is an all-purpose stump speech from one of Mark Steyn's readers:
My friends, we live in the greatest nation in the history of the world. I hope you’ll join with me as we try to change it.
The other is an original bye-ku for Dennis Kucinich as he drops out of the presidential race:
He could have gone far
if that saucer had landed
little green voters.

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Thursday, February 7, 2008

 

Puerto Rico and the Primaries. Michael Barone notes that Puerto Rico, a late-deciding caucus state with a strong governor, may well have very strong bargaining power in the Democratic presidential nomination, because it will be effectively winner-take-all and has 63 delegates, more than Georgia or New Jersey.
I can imagine the following scenario. Hillary Clinton’s delegate margin over Barack Obama rises and falls a bit from week to week, depending on primary results. Her margin among superdelegates, around 100, fails to increase much because party and public officeholders are wary of offending Obama’s youth and black constituencies. Then, presto! In early June, Puerto Rico’s 63 delegates put her over the top. She has her majority and goes about the business of choosing a vice presidential candidate.

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Monday, February 4, 2008

 

Liberals and the Evolution of Man. Steve Sailer notes a contradiction in the liberal view of Man: it vociferously supports evolution of mankind, but vociferously opposes the implication that genetic differences evolve. Sailer uses Race as the undesired implication, but the inheritance of intelligence and behavior is an equally good example.
Perhaps the two doctrines currently most de rigueur for entry into intellectual polite society:

1. That humanity evolved from lower animals according to the process of natural selection outlined by Charles Darwin.

2. That humanity has not evolved any patterns of genetic variation corresponding to geographic ancestry … well, none other than the obvious ones that we can all see.

These two concepts are directly contradictory, as former UCLA professor of science education Cornelius J. Troost points out in his new book Apes or Angels? Darwin, Dover, Human Nature, and Race....

As Troost notes, the second of these two status shibboleths asserts that Darwinian evolution suddenly—magically!—stopped at the exact the moment when Darwinian logic says it should have sped up: when the ancestors of modern humans first left Africa for new climates.

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Sunday, February 3, 2008

 

Islam vs. Christianity. What is the difference, and what is similar? The Baylyblog has a good discussion:
(by Lucas Weeks, a ClearNote Pastors College student) Last October, 138 Muslim scholars issued this open letter to Pope Benedict XVI and other Christian leaders entitled “A Common Word Between Us and You”. One month later, dozens of Christian leaders responded in a full-page advertisement in the New York Times, the text of which can be found here...

I am certainly in favor of using our common ground to build bridges to Muslims. Absolutely! But there are two important points to note in this particular discussion: First, this is not a personal exchange of ideas between friends. This is a discussion between scholars and religious leaders who have given their lives to studying and teaching from the Qu’ran and the New Testament. Consequently, the Christian response has a duty to acknowledge the Muslims for their effort to build bridges (which they did do) and to respectfully explain why a Muslim must be united to Jesus Christ before his love for God and for neighbor will be the love that God desires.

And it was precisely this that these Christian leaders certainly did not do.

Second, Christians who read these two documents must understand that the Muslim document was basically honest, while the “Christian” document was basically dishonest. This is a simple question of integrity.

If the men and women who wrote and signed the Christian response truly believe the foundational principle of the Christian faith is simply obedience of the two greatest commands, then the matter is simple: they simply aren’t Christians and they need someone to explain the gospel of Jesus Christ to them.

If, however, these men and women do understand that the foundational principle of the gospel is God’s love to us through Jesus Christ, then they very carefully obscured it in their response to the Muslims.

Pastor Roberts spoke on Romans 5 this morning and told this story about C.S. Lewis:
It is told that during a meeting on comparative religions in Britain that many scholars gathered together to discuss what, if anything, was unique to Christianity. Many different elements were discussed and debated. Was Christianity unique because of its concept of truth? No, other religions have this. Was it unique because of the doctrine of reconciliation? No, other religions have this. Was it unique in terms of inspiration of a particular book? No, again, other religions have this. It is told that C.S. Lewis entered the room during the debate and asked what the discussion was all about. “We are discussing what makes Christianity unique, if anything.” “That’s easy” Lewis responded, “its grace.”
At the heart of Islam is man's love for God. At the heart of Christianity is God's love for Man. Islam is a legalistic religion: follow God's rules, which in Islam are few and well-specified, and you will go to heaven. Christianity is a rejection of legality. God will decide whether you will go to heaven or not, and you can't buy your way in. Only He and the Cross can make you worthy.

Is the weblog post's charge against the Christian letter's signatories valid? The letter does not say that the fundamental pillars of Christianity are love of God and Man; it is not that bad. It even alludes to God's love for Man being central to Christianity, here:

For Christians, humanity’s love of God and God’s love of humanity are intimately linked. As we read in the New Testament: “We love because he [God] first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Our love of God springs from and is nourished by God’s love for us. It cannot be otherwise, since the Creator who has power over all things is infinitely good.
The main problem is that the Christian letter is a wasted opportunity. It says that love is important in Christianity and Islam, which is true but vacuous. It could have made the big point about the Islamic letter missing what is central to Christianity, and thus taught the Islamic clerics something they did not know already. Or, it could have made small points, such as that Islam, contrary to the Islamic letter, does not preach freedom of religion. Instead, the Christian letter says:
We applaud when you state that “justice and freedom of religion are a crucial part” of the love of neighbor. When justice is lacking, neither love of God nor love of the neighbor can be present. When freedom to worship God according to one’s conscience is curtailed, God is dishonored, the neighbor oppressed, and neither God nor neighbor is loved.
If they're going to say that, oughtn't they to mention that Islamic law says that the penalty for a Moslem who converts to Christianity is death, and that missionaries are treated as criminals in many (most?) Moslem countries? Or maybe they are trying to allude to that, very obliquely. The Moslem letter only mentioned "freedom of religion" twice, (p. 3, p. 14 of the full, pdf, version), and then only obliquely.

Somebody should write a better response to the Islamic letter, which is carefully written and which I admire. The letter should talk about the common ground of Islam and Christianity, and about the big differences. I don't know whether it should refer to contentious side-issues such as freedom of religion. It should be written by someone who knows enough about Islam to know whether Islam really allows peaceful co-existence, or whether it demands world conquest. In either case, we have common ground, especially since there is no realistic chance of Islam conquering the world in the next fifty years, and since even when they have conquered Christians, Moslems are supposed to tolerate them as long as they do not try to convert Moslems. Such a letter, too, should not be all sweetness and smiles. The important common ground between Moslems and Christians is what distinguishes them from idolaters, New Agers, and atheists. Saying that both Moslems and Christians are supposed to be nice doesn't help bring us together, even if it were to be true.

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Saturday, February 2, 2008

 

A Summertown Brothel. Who would have thought it just a half-mile from our house? An Oxford Times article says:
A BROTHEL in a quiet Oxford street was run so professionally it was "like a restaurant", a court heard today.

Mother-of-two Elaine Konopka, 39, admitted helping run the brothel in Middle Way, Summertown....

"Konopka admitted working at the address on approximately ten occasions over an 18-month period. She said she was responsible for answering phones, making appointments and greeting customers." ...

"She was not a part-time receptionist, she was a fill-in receptionist. The brothel was open from 10am to 10pm seven days a week. ...

District judge Brian Loosley looked at the brothel's menu, which had services ranging from £50-£140, while considering the sentence.

Ordering her to carry out 60 hours' unpaid community work and pay £100 costs, he said: "It is quite clear this was run almost like a restaurant, with menus and various services being offered....

Neighbours tonight said they were pleased the brothel had been closed.

One neighbour, who asked not to be named, said she thought Konopka's sentence was too lenient.

She said: "I think it is disgusting she only got 60 hours' community service.

"It is so nice not having so many strange men going in there. It was really unpleasant. It certainly attracted all sorts of men - not very nice people at all.

"Some had children's car seats in the back. You just felt upset for the wives."

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Friday, February 1, 2008

 

The U.K. and the E.U. Peter Hitchens has a good article, "The dangerous uselessness of 'Euroscepticism'"
The EU isn't going to give up its plan to become a Superstate just because the people of Britain (or anywhere else) vote 'No' in a referendum. Why should it? Such a vote would be silly anyway. You can't be in Europe and not run by Europe any more than you can be in Wormwood Scrubs and not run by Wormwood Scrubs. When we were bamboozled into voting for Common Market entry in 1975 (I voted 'no', but only just) we accepted the Treaty of Rome, which means, and clearly states that its target is 'ever closer union.

This has become more and more unpopular since 1975, as those who are paying attention (or are personally affected) have come to realise that the supposed crackpots of 1975 -Tony Benn and Enoch Powell - were actually quite right. Just as they warned, we were being asked to give away our national independence and this was the most important issue. Those who are dismissed as 'bonkers' almost always do turn out to be right later on, and there is probably a historical study to be done about this.

The obvious conclusion from this is that we should now leave. We were sold a fraudulent prospectus nearly 33 years ago. We have since suffered quite badly as a country, economically and politically - the full cost has been detailed by Christopher Booker and Richard North in a series of books, the best of all being 'The Great Deception' - books largely ignored by many reviewers and journals. We have held back ( quite rightly) from plunging fully into the project, so that we still more or less retain our own currency and our own legal system , our own diplomatic service and our own armed forces, so there is not too much unscrambling to do. And there is a strong, reasoned case for negotiating an amicable departure. If Norway and Switzerland, both far smaller and less globally-connected than we, can negotiate individual terms with the EU, then why can't we?

...Mexico, most certainly not an EU member, has excellent trade terms with the EU. If we want to keep the much-touted rights to live and work in the EU, we no doubt can. Norwegians and Swiss nationals have them. They even have - which we should never agree to - passport-free travel to and from EU countries. To the extent that we wish to trade with the EU, we would be under pressure to agree to EU rules about what we sell. We would no doubt have to pay some sort of contribution to obtain the 'benefits' of EU membership. But we would be able to negotiate this from a position of strength much more advantageous than the one a British prime Minister now finds himself in at Euro-summits. They want our markets far more than we need theirs. We would have no need to need to accept the supremacy over our Parliament of the European Court of Justice at Luxembourg. We would not be obliged to enact EU commission directives as British Acts of Parliament. We could issue our own passports in whatever colour we preferred (I favour a stiff-backed blue booklet myself) and (as does the USA and...Thailand) we could give our own citizens (we might let them become subjects again) greater rights to enter the country than persons from Lithuania or Romania. We could halt the absorption of our independent diplomatic service into the EU's. We could make our own individual trade agreements with the USA, and wouldn't need to get caught in trade wars between Washington and Brussels, as we frequently have been in the past. We could withdraw from the European arrest warrant system, and ignore the new 'Human Rights' commission in Vienna which is shortly to be the fount of political correctness across the EU.

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