Monday, July 30, 2007

NYT Error: Good News From Iraq Printed

clipped from
Op-Ed Contributor

A War We Just Might Win
Published: July 30, 2007

Here is the most important thing Americans need to understand: We are finally getting somewhere in Iraq, at least in military terms. As two analysts who have harshly criticized the Bush administration’s miserable handling of Iraq, we were surprised by the gains we saw and the potential to produce not necessarily “victory” but a sustainable stability that both we and the Iraqis could live with.

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Wow, Brookings and NYT, somebody was asleep at the switch. I guess it is the time of the year when most folks are ignoring the news, so it is a great chance for some lefties to give us that old "unbiased" feint and claim "they report it all". This will of course be ignored and buried by the Defeat-O-crats, as the worst kind of "bad news". Just like Global Warming, defeat in Iraq is one of those stories with no other side.

Sunday, July 29, 2007


My wife and her brother, sister-in-law and I headed over to the annual EAA Convention at Oshkosh WI this past Wednesday. I've been there a couple times in the past, but the last time was over 10 years ago, so it seemed new. I shot a number of pictures of the event, a few of them are here.

The human gyro almost made me sick just watching it, but he enjoyed it and was none the worse for wear!

The highlights of EAA for me were:
  1. The F22 Raptor arrival was very cool--lots of sound and vapor trails off the wings as they loaded them up on turns. There are a number of cool videos out off that link including some from the airshow where they go from slow flight to vertical climb.
  2. The Harriers were impressive and loud. I saw them 10+ years ago and the sense was that "hover trick" was just that, a trick. I got some good video of them, but there are a lot of good videos out on YouTube off the link so worth taking a look at.
  3. X-Plane the flight simulator. Looks like this is the product of pretty much a single dedicated computer / airplane geek that has produced some great scenery and what looks like a whiz-bang simulator. They had a demo set up with 3 big screens that made you believe that the era of the home flight simulator is REALLY here!
  4. The Cirrus Planes and new small jet. These are the guys that put the parachute on the airplane and their planes are BEAUTIFUL, large enough that a guy like me could feel comfortable in them, and fast. They are also expensive and flying is still one of those things that takes a lot of time that I don't have.
It is just GREAT to see innovation like Cirrus alive and kicking in the aircraft industry again after the Republicans managed to get enough tort reform so apparently John Edwards can't sue everyone back to the Wrights just because some pilot screws up and crashes anymore . Sadly though, the post Enron Age of Sarbannes Oxley has driven these kinds of companies to be private rather than public, so those of us willing to invest can't take part in the aviation dream as investors and have a chance to move both it and our wealth along at a greater rate (or lose our shirts, but that is what investment has always been about! Risk and POTENTIAL reward)

Well, it was 3 days of aircraft heaven anyway, it won't be 10+ years before I return again!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

iPod Battery Replacement

My son is headed off to the National LCMS Youth Gathering in Orlando in the AM and he convinced that his iPod battery life was simply not up to the rigor of such a long trip. The modern teen carries more computer power than it took in total to put a man on the moon in the '60s, more storage loaded with music than room sized computer from my college days, more music that the all the record collections of my whole college dorm room floor, and the communications capability of Star Trek in their cell phones. Of course the cell phone doubles as a camera and the Nintendo DS will hook up to the Internet with wireless as well. It is a new area.

Well, back to the subject at hand. We ordered the battery from
, and the procedure was "stressful", but not over the top. It is a tightly put together compact little unit and prying open the case takes some perseverance and finesse. The little tool they sent worked OK, and the little torx screwdriver for the special screw inside was a requirement. It always seems to be the little odd things that cause the most trouble, and in our case the little 3-wire battery plug just didn't want to come out. I had to resort to a very small needle-nose I happened to have and that did the trick. Prying the glued in battery was a little disconcerting, but went OK and then we moved rapidly to get it all back together.

The all important "smoke test" when 100% with everything working, and there were sighs of relief all around as the charging process began ... now in true Lutheran style we pray for the big 1200 mAh lithium battery to provide those 10+ hours of important iPod listen time.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Income / Hackers and Painters

August 2004 I read an excellent book by Paul Graham called "Hackers and Painters" that I would highly recommend to anyone with an interest in technology and programming from a fairly philosophical level. Graham has a web site, on which he expounds on many topics. Graham was one of the creators of "Viaweb", one of the first web applications, which ended up being sold to Yahoo for something like $50 million, of which he likely picked up something in the 10's of millions. He got his money by CREATING something, not "taking it away from somebody".

Every so often I end up going back to Chapter 7 of "Hackers" titled "Mind the Gap". A few of the quotes are just worth bringing over.
Like chess or painting or writing novels, making money is a very specialized skill. But for some reason we treat this skill differently. No one complains when a few people surpass all the rest at playing chess or writing novels, but when a few people make more money that the rest, we get editorials saying this is wrong.
I'd argue that the chief reason for this is that a majority of people don't understand what it means to have a growing economy, they believe that the wealth that Bill Gates gets is "taken from others", they simply don't understand the idea of "wealth creation".

Graham points out a potential reason for this being wired into people so strongly, and he calls it "The Daddy Model of Wealth". Because when we are young we don't create any wealth, everything we get is given to us by the powerful (parents), and the ONLY problem is "fair distribution", many people just carry that model over into adulthood.

In a free market, prices are determined by what buyers want ... It's lamentable that people prefer Reality TV and corndogs to Shakespeare and steamed vegetables, but unjust? That seems like saying that blue is heavy and up is circular.
Graham argues that the appearance of the word "unjust" here is proof of the "Daddy Model".

Will technology increase the gap between the rich and the poor? It will certainly increase the gap between the productive and the unproductive. That's the whole point of technology.
Technology should increase the gap in income, but it seems to decrease other gaps. A hundred years ago, the rich led a different kind of life from ordinary people. ... Now, thnaks to technology, the rich live more like the average person.
His point is that the rich and poor in the US do largely the same things, just at a different level of "branding". You can shop at Wal-Mart, Target, Nordstroms, or even higher up the cost/brand chain, but what you are getting is generally marginal differences in quality, and in many cases simple branding than in content. Extreme mass production has made DVD players available for $25 to $2,500 dollars. The $2,500 model doesn't really do anything different than the $25 model, it just does what it does with extreme quality. If you can afford that, then you might pay for it, but the guy with the $25 model will likely enjoy "Shrek" just as much, and what is more, the proof in the sameness is it is actually almost certain that the 100x difference in player cost consumers WILL watch the same thing.

Again, the fact that "Shrek" is preferred to "A Midsummer Nights Dream" may well be lamentable, but it has nothing to do with income disparity or technology. The cautionary thing is that if one refuses to allow wealth creators to keep a very significant amount of what they create, one can drastically slow the creation of new wealth, and then everyone suffers. Naturally, the people at the bottom suffer far worse than those at the top, so if actual outcome was the interest of people vs "justice meaning less disparity" the people that are ostensibly "for the poor" would largely be "for the rich" as well, they could be "pro-human", but by and large they are still in the "Johnny took too big a piece" mode of analysis, and logic isn't likely to have a lot of weight with them.

Most likely we will be in the mode of re-learning this painful lesson post-'08 through increased taxes and a sluggish economy. Already we seem to be seeing the signs of the market predicting that outcome.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

I'm an Idiot, Cabela's is Great !

In April I replaced my 15 year old trolling motor with a Minn Kota Terrova with 80lbs thrust, powerdrive and I thought a neat feature called Autopilot that would allow me to put it on a course and the motor would automatically adjust for wind and current. I say "I thought", because the autopilot "didn't work". I was out fishing with the boat twice, and figured that since the motor was under warranty anyway it didn't make much difference when I took it in.

Oops ... somehow I got the wrong model that had all the buttons at lights for autopilot on it, but didn't have it enabled. BUT, even though it has been close to 90 days since I bought it, Cabela's had NO PROBLEM just allowing the return and letting me upgrade to the model with Autopilot.

I always knew I loved that store, now they have an even more loyal customer!

Monday, July 09, 2007

Human Nature

Why most suicide bombers are Muslim, beautiful people have more daughters, humans are naturally polygamous, sexual harassment isn't sexist, and blonds are more attractive.

Human nature is one of those things that everybody talks about but no one can define precisely. Every time we fall in love, fight with our spouse, get upset about the influx of immigrants into our country, or go to church, we are, in part, behaving as a human animal with our own unique evolved nature—human nature.

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Friday, July 06, 2007

Benjamin Franklin: An American Life

I'm behind in my book reports, and this book has to be passed on for my son to read, so no more procrastination! My rediscovery of reading history continues to be enjoyable thanks to this book by Walter Issacson. An American icon comes to life in a solidly researched and written book that shows the human side of Franklin, but doesn't try to bring down the guy that edited Jefferson on the Declaration of Independence from "We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable" to "we hold these truths to be self-evident". Through the magic of the internet you can see it here. That is an example of a historic edit!

Franklin was the best known American of his day and one of the best known scientists in the world as well. His work with electricity was groundbreaking, but possibly more important he was a practical tinkerer and experimenter much as Edison subsequently was that sought to apply his brilliance to matters of utility rather than theory. lightning rods to save buildings, bifocals, better stoves, printing improvements and many other little inventions.

Franklin was the solid champion of "the middling people", really the very founder of the idea of the American Middle Class and the concept of upward mobility. Sometimes referred to in jest as "America's first Yuppie"--kind of funny that it took until the Ronald Reagan '80s for that term to be created. The elites have always hated the idea that the common man could better themselves and be upwardly mobile. Ben believed that self improvement was possible through education, self discipline, and hard work.. In those times of rigid class and nobility, the idea that "anyone could improve their selff" was cutting edge thinking. Although still very much aware of the dangers of "rabble rule", Franklin was much more of a believer in democracy than the rest of the founding fathers. He is the only founding father to have been involved in and a signer to all four of the founding documents: The Declaration of Independence, the treaty with France, treaty with England, and The Constitution. He worked closely with Jefferson and Adams in France, and when the new nation was meeting in Philadelphia, under the mulberry tree at his home was a common informal meeting place.

Many great businessmen including Thomas Mellon and Andrew Carnegie found inspiration in the maxims of frugality and hard work that both Ben and his literary creation "Poor Richard" described.. Franklin is often thought of as the father of the self-help movement. Four of his written rules of conduct included:

). Frugality
2. Truthfulness
3. Industriousness
4. Speak ill of no man

He did very well with 1 and 3, is pretty solid on 2, and like anyone, struggled with 4--and the issue

Franklin's favorite theme--"slow and steady diligence is the way to wealth". Is anathema to the left, because such thought makes both success and poverty significantly in the domain of "individual responsibility", a concept they find completely odius. Worse, it would indicate that there is the potential of virtue as opposed to only corruption in an earned dollar. The only kind of wealth that the left tends to like is that which is inherited--or in the case of John Kerry, married into.

His view on social engineering is summarized by: "Whenever we attempt to mend the scheme of providence we need to be very circumspect lest we do more harm than good."

He was a master of the simple yet elegant maxim. Most of them were heavily borrowed from even more ancient statements, but the following are attributed to him--some much more famous than others:

"A penny saved is a penny earned"
"Haste makes waste"
"Early to bed early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise"
"Half the truth is often a great lie"
"Genius without education is like silver in the mine"
"There's more old drunkards than old doctors"
"He's a fool than cannot conceal his wisdom"
"Nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes"

At one point in his life Franklin put the following goals for a worthy life to paper and is said to have attempted to follow these rules during his life:
1 Temperance - Eat not to dullness, drink not to elevation
2 Silence: Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation
3 Order: Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have it's time
4 Resolution: Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve
5 Frugality: Make no expense but to do good to yourself or others (ie. waste nothing)
6 Industry: Lose no time; be always employed in something useful, cut off all unnecessary actions
7 Sincerity:Use no hurtful deceit, think innocently and justly and if you speak, speak accordingly
8 Justice: Wrong none by doing injury or by omitting thne benefits that are your duty
9 Moderation: Avoid extremes, forbare resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve
10 Cleanliness: Tolerate no no uncleanliness in body clothes or habituation
11 Tranquility: Be not disturbed at trifles , or at accidents common or unavoidable
12 Chastity: Rarely use venery but for health or offspring; never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of another's peace or reputation.

A friend suggested that he missed "humility", which Franklin agreed with, so added a 13th virtue. He was quite libertine sexually for the time and fathered a son out of wedlock that he did care for. He tended to befriend and was certainly flirtatious with much younger women. He tended to treat their intellectual curiosity seriously and assist in their education. No doubt having one of the worlds foremost scientists paying intellectual attention to a young lady was very unusual in the day, interesting to the young lady, and no doubt the cause of plenty of disucssions about "reasons". (at the time, the intellectual development of women wasn't considered a high priority).

There is a lot of "conjecture" of course about "how far the relationships went", but I have a lot more patience for Franklin than say Billy C for a few reasons:
a). He didn't support or sign any sexual harassment law
b). None of the women were in his employ
c). He seemed to actually care about them, and they about him for decades -- many letters. Yes, a few flirtatious in content, but far from pornographic, and the most of them interested in their lives, studies, thoughts, etc.

Is that a "double standard"? I'd claim it as having some standards as opposed to none. Those that would lump Ben in with a Kennedy or a Clinton because he seemed to "like women a little too much" are well on the way to no standards at all. There is no evidence that Clinton cared one whit for the women he was involved with beyond his sexual gratification. I do hold him in higher regard than Kennedy, although Clinton may have raped one, he didn't kill any. There is reasonable evidence that Franklin's relationships were chaste and positive for both parties and that the rumors to the contrary are based on the acknowledged fact that he did father a child out of wedlock prior to marriage, and some cases of "opportunity" with some of the young ladies whose company he obviously enjoyed. Being a family man was certainly not Franklin's strong suit, but it seems that much of his reputation may have been based on what today we would applaud as "affirmative action" for young intelligent women.

The book is well worth the time to read. I found a lot to love about old Ben, and will look forward to the opportunity to learn more about him in the future.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The Police and Fireworks

Blog posting has been slow. We are on "vacation" this week, so there was the sprint at work to get ready for some time off combined with great weather, followed by a home sprint to get the deck power washed and stained, the driveway power washed and sealed, along with a couple parties, workouts and a little time to go see Ratatouille (a really fun little movie that I'll hopefully post on later).

Tuesday night the 3rd the whole family got to go up to St Paul to see "The Police" in concert at Excel Energy Center. Great venue for a rock concert and it was full of a lot of screaming fans. Here is a detailed review of when they were in Dallas for those interested. The factual stuff in the review of dates, songs played, etc are pretty much the same. The order was mixed a bit, but they made it through all the hits, there were some different arrangements, but I had no complaints. Sting and Stuart Copeland the drummer looked especially good and high energy. Andy Summers is maybe showing his age a bit more, but then WHO AM I TO TALK!!! Being there brought back some of the early '80s, and it was pretty cool to be there with a 15 and 19 year old Son that loved the music as well. Given good enough earplugs, even my wife enjoyed it.

I'm not a giant rock or certainly rock concert fan, but I enjoy the experience from time to time, and it is a great spot to observe people and see technology interact with art and the masses. It is very hard to beat a modern rock stage set, jumbotrons, and industrial grade amplification for allowing 3 people to impact 10's of thousands of people (like 10K in the St Paul case) in a live situation. Is it a great use of all that power, technology, money, etc? From an intellectual POV, of course not, but "Man does not live by bread alone"--experience is part of our existence as well.

Do I agree with anything close to every idea expressed by The Police? Of course not, but I'm not out to have labels along the line of fundamentalist, ideologue, pharisee, moralist, etc applied to my life. "Being in the world, not of it" is one of those classic admonishments that shows the true degree of difficulty of the Christian life. It is pretty easy to be "one or the other". A moralist for whom all activity is cut and dried and known, or a libertine who is simply "not under any law".

There is an immense connection between Christ and the US that is not often called out, but the combination of Rock Concerts and Fireworks provide a unique opportunity to do the mapping. In Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville does a good job of pointing out the dangers of "the Nanny State", which could just as easily be applied to the Nanny Religion:

Above these [citizens] an immense tutelary power is elevated, which alone takes charge of assuring their enjoyments and watching over their fate. It is absolute, detailed, far-seeing, and mild. It would resemble paternal power if, like that, it had for its object to prepare men for manhood; but on the contrary, it seeks only to keep them fixed irrevocably in childhood; it likes citizens to enjoy themselves provided that they think only of enjoying themselves. It willingly works for their happiness; but it wants to be the unique agent and sole arbiter of that; it provides for their security, foresees and secures their needs, facilitates their pleasures, conducts their principal affairs, directs their industry, regulates their estates, divides their inheritances; can it not take away from them entirely the trouble of thinking and the pain of living?
Subjection in small affairs manifests itself every day and makes itself felt without distinction by all citizens. It does not make them desperate, but it constantly thwarts them and brings them to renounce the use of their wills. Thus little by little, it extinguishes their spirits and enervates their souls....
I grew up in a "Nanny Church" that ignored the freedom provided by Christ and attempted to make decisions on alcohol, smoking, movies, television, music and even dancing. Unfortunately, like all such churches it seemed to never realize that eating too much and exercising too little was just as harmful and maybe more so than drinking and smoking, so that area of my life is doomed to require more in the way of self-discipline for the rest of my days. Such is life, more freedom always requires more discipline. Fixed rules and regulations from a "Nanny" may make life "safer", but in the end there is a huge question as to if what was lived was a life at all.

Here we live in a country where our founding fathers gave us the immeasurable gift of freedom; yet many would seek to nibble at those freedoms in everything from fireworks bans, trans-fat bans, smoking bans, regulation of political speech through campaign finance laws, higher taxes, and even "fairness doctrines" to decide who can present what speech--because apparently "the Nanny" feels that we are incapable of the independence of America.

Likewise, an infinite God died on the cross to free us from sin AND the Law! Many would choose however to create "a new law" to enslave Christians even more deeply in some set of human created morality. The Devil is indeed in the details, and he is more than willing to help us ensnare ourselves in any number of "good rules".

So does that make me a Libertarian for whom there are no rules? Of course not. Christianity and America both recognize that the road has two ditches. "In the world NOT of it". Freedom applies HUGE responsibility on the individual. To be both considerate and tolerant--2nd hand smoke providing a great example. MUST the STATE tell us how it must be done? Have a free people really lost the ability to interact civilly at the level where the mix of "toleration and consideration" can work successfully? Apparently so.

For Americans and especially Christian Americans, the 4th is a good time to reflect on the issue of Freedom. It absolutely is never free--often that means that blood is required to maintain it, but more subtlety, it means that vigilance at every level is needed. We need to stay out of BOTH ditches--fireworks laws that don't allow sparklers, or "anything goes" with the general public firing up 16" mortars? Seems like moderation is required. The road is often slippery and narrow and the ditches on both sides are far to easy to skid into.