January 16, 2010

Way back before 'A'

This is a lengthy (and somewhat technical) article at American Scientist that I found very interesting. Think what it means for the Fl factor in the Drake equation.

The Origin of Life

As the frontiers of knowledge have advanced, scientists have resolved one creation question after another. We now have a pretty good understanding of the origin of the Sun and the Earth, and cosmologists can take us to within a fraction of a second of the beginning of the universe itself. [...] Yet one of the most obvious big questions—how did life arise from inorganic matter?—remains a great unknown.


In this article we present a view gaining attention in the origin-of-life community that takes the question out of the hatchery and places it squarely in the realm of accessible, plausible chemistry. As we see it, the early steps on the way to life are an inevitable, incremental result of the operation of the laws of chemistry and physics operating under the conditions that existed on the early Earth, a result that can be understood in terms of known (or at least knowable) laws of nature. As such, the early stages in the emergence of life are no more surprising, no more accidental, than water flowing downhill.

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October 03, 2009

Weekend Reading 34

The Weekend Interview with John Mackey: The Conscience of a Capitalist - WSJ.com
The Whole Foods founder talks about his Journal health-care op-ed that spawned a boycott, how he deals with unions, and why he thinks CEOs are overpaid.

"I honestly don't know why the article became such a lightning rod," says John Mackey, CEO and founder of Whole Foods Market Inc., as he tries to explain the firestorm caused by his August op-ed on these pages opposing government-run health care. "I think a lot of people who got angry haven't read what I actually wrote. There was a lot of emotional reaction—fear and anger. I just wanted to get people to think about whether there was a better way to reform the system."

Mr. Mackey has flown into Washington, D.C., for a board meeting of the Global Animal Partnership, a group that advocates for the humane treatment of animals. There was no private jet: He arrived on Southwest Airlines from Austin, Texas, and he bought the "Wanna Getaway" bottom basement fare. "I barely got the last aisle seat," he says. While in town he stays in the bedroom of his regional president, who lives in Maryland.

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September 12, 2009

Weekend Reading 33

Carol sends this story about a dog. It's not intended to be entertaining. It's fairly long but I thought it was worth the time.

Snopes says it can't confirm the details but adds that it has a 'figurative truth' to it.

They told me the big black Lab's name was Reggie as I looked at him lying in his pen. The shelter was clean, no-kill, and the people really friendly.

I'd only been in the area for six months, but everywhere I went in the small college town, people were welcoming and open. Everyone waves when you pass them on the street.

But something was still missing as I attempted to settle in to my new life here, and I thought a dog couldn't hurt. Give me someone to talk to.

And I had just seen Reggie's advertisement on the local news. The shelter said they had received numerous calls right after, but they said the people who had come down to see him just didn't look like "Lab people," whatever that meant. They must've thought I did.

But at first, I thought the shelter had misjudged me in giving me Reggie and his things, which consisted of a dog pad, bag of toys almost all of which were brand new tennis balls, his dishes, and a sealed letter from his previous owner. See, Reggie and I didn't really hit it off when we got home. We struggled for two weeks (which is how long the shelter told me to give him to adjust to his new home). Maybe it was the fact that I was trying to adjust, too. Maybe we were too much alike.

For some reason, his stuff (except for the tennis balls - he wouldn't go anywhere without two stuffed in his mouth) got tossed in with all of my other unpacked boxes. I guess I didn't really think he'd need all his old stuff, that I'd get him new things once he settled in. but it became pretty clear pretty soon that he wasn't going to.

I tried the normal commands the shelter told me he knew, ones like "sit" and "stay" and "come" and "heel," and he'd follow them - when he felt like it. He never really seemed to listen when I called his name - sure, he'd look in my direction after the fourth of fifth time I said it, but then he'd just go back to doing whatever. When I'd ask again, you could almost see him sigh and then grudgingly obey.

This just wasn't going to work. He chewed a couple shoes and some unpacked boxes. I was a little too stern with him and he resented it, I could tell.

The friction got so bad that I couldn't wait for the two weeks to be up, and when it was, I was in full-on search mode for my cellphone amid all of my unpacked stuff. I remembered leaving it on the stack of boxes for the guest room, but I also mumbled, rather cynically, that the "damn dog probably hid it on me."

Finally I found it, but before I could punch up the shelter's number, I also found his pad and other toys from the shelter.. I tossed the pad in Reggie's direction and he snuffed it and wagged, some of the most enthusiasm I'd seen since bringing him home.. But then I called, "Hey, Reggie, you like that? Come here and I'll give you a treat." Instead, he sort of glanced in my direction - maybe "glared" is more accurate - and then gave a discontented sigh and flopped down. With his back to me.

Well, that's not going to do it either, I thought. And I punched the shelter phone number.

But I hung up when I saw the sealed envelope. I had completely forgotten about that, too. "Okay, Reggie," I said out loud, "let's see if your previous owner has any advice."

To Whoever Gets My Dog:

Well, I can't say that I'm happy you're reading this, a letter I told the shelter could only be opened by Reggie's new owner.

I'm not even happy writing it. If you're reading this, it means I just got back from my last car ride with my Lab after dropping him off at the shelter. He knew something was different. I have packed up his pad and toys before and set them by the back door before a trip, but this time... it's like he knew something was wrong. And something is wrong... which is why I have to go to try to make it right.

So let me tell you about my Lab in the hopes that it will help you bond with him and he with you.

First, he loves tennis balls...the more the merrier. Sometimes I think he's part squirrel, the way he hordes them. He usually always has two in his mouth, and he tries to get a third in there. Hasn't done it yet. Doesn't matter where you throw them, he'll bound after it, so be careful - really don't do it by any roads. I made that mistake once, and it almost cost him dearly.

Next, commands. Maybe the shelter staff already told you, but I'll go over them again: Reggie knows the obvious ones - "sit," "stay," "come," "heel." He knows hand signals: "back" to turn around and go back when you put your hand straight up; and "over" if you put your hand out right or left. "Shake" for shaking water off, and "paw" for a high-five. He does "down" when he feels like lying down - I bet you could work on that with him some more. He knows "ball" and "food" and "bone" and "treat" like nobody's business.

I trained Reggie with small food treats.. Nothing opens his ears like little pieces of hot dog. Feeding schedule: twice a day, once about seven in the morning, and again at six in the evening. Regular store-bought stuff; the shelter has the brand.

He's up on his shots. Call the clinic on 9th Street and update his info with yours; they'll make sure to send you reminders for when he's due. Be forewarned: Reggie hates the vet. Good luck getting him in the car - I don't know how he knows when it's time to go to the vet, but he knows.

Finally, give him some time. I've never been married, so it's only been Reggie and me for his whole life. He's gone everywhere with me, so please include him on your daily car rides if you can. He sits well in the backseat, and he doesn't bark or complain. He just loves to be around people, and me most especially. Which means that this transition is going to be hard, with him going to live with someone new. And that's why I need to share one more bit of info with you.... His name's not Reggie.

I don't know what made me do it, but when I dropped him off at the shelter, I told them his name was Reggie. He's a smart dog, he'll get used to it and will respond to it, of that I have no doubt. but I just couldn't bear to give them his real name. For me to do that, it seemed so final, that handing him over to the shelter was as good as me admitting that I'd never see him again. And if I end up coming back, getting him, and tearing up this letter, it means everything's fine. But if someone else is reading it, well... well it means that his new owner should know his real name. It'll help you bond with him. Who knows, maybe you'll even notice a change in his demeanor if he's been giving you problems.

His real name is Tank. Because that is what I drive.

Again, if you're reading this and you're from the area, maybe my name has been on the news. I told the shelter that they couldn't make "Reggie" available for adoption until they received word from my company commander. See, my parents are gone, I have no siblings, no one I could've left Tank with... and it was my only real request of the Army upon my deployment to Iraq, that they make one phone call the the shelter... in the "event"... to tell them that Tank could be put up for adoption. Luckily, my colonel is a dog guy, too, and he knew where my platoon was headed. He said he'd do it personally. And if you're reading this, then he made good on his word.

Well, this letter is getting to downright depressing, even though, frankly, I'm just writing it for my dog.. I couldn't imagine if I was writing it for a wife and kids and family. but still, Tank has been my family for the last six years, almost as long as the Army has been my family.

And now I hope and pray that you make him part of your family and that he will adjust and come to love you the same way he loved me. That unconditional love from a dog is what I took with me to Iraq as an inspiration to do something selfless, to protect innocent people from those who would do terrible things... and to keep those terrible people from coming over here. If I had to give up Tank in order to do it, I am glad to have done so. He was my example of service and of love. I hope I honored him by my service to my country and comrades.

All right, that's enough. I deploy this evening and have to drop this letter off at the shelter. I don't think I'll say another good-bye to Tank, though. I cried too much the first time. Maybe I'll peek in on him and see if he finally got that third tennis ball in his mouth. Good luck with Tank. Give him a good home, and give him an extra kiss goodnight - every night - from me.

Thank you,

Paul Mallory

I folded the letter and slipped it back in the envelope.. Sure I had heard of Paul Mallory, everyone in town knew him, even new people like me. Local kid, killed in Iraq a few months ago and posthumously earning the Silver Star when he gave his life to save three buddies. Flags had been at half-mast all summer.

I leaned forward in my chair and rested my elbows on my knees, staring at the dog. "Hey, Tank," I said quietly. The dog's head whipped up, his ears cocked and his eyes bright. "C'mere boy."

He was instantly on his feet, his nails clicking on the hardwood floor. He sat in front of me, his head tilted, searching for the name he hadn't heard in months. "Tank," I whispered. His tail swished. I kept whispering his name, over and over, and each time, his ears lowered, his eyes softened, and his posture relaxed as a wave of contentment just seemed to flood him. I stroked his ears, rubbed his shoulders, buried my face into his scruff and hugged him.

"It's me now, Tank, just you and me. Your old pal gave you to me." Tank reached up and licked my cheek. "So whatdaya say we play some ball? His ears perked again. "Yeah? Ball? You like that? Ball?"

Tank tore from my hands and disappeared in the next room. And when he came back, he had three tennis balls in his mouth.

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June 13, 2009

A fine rant

A snippet from a post about creation and evolution - it's amazingly brief for all it manages to say.

I have heard enough from creationists about how if we're merely risen slime we're still slime and that in some unspecified way we are therefore still tainted by the slime. But what slime! This piece of slime can be moved to tears by the music of Palestrina, this piece of slime can be amused by the plays of William Shakespeare, this piece of slime can parse HTML and FORTRAN*. This piece of slime can factorize quadratics, do integration by parts and hold an opinion on the Copenhagen Interpretation. This is one hell of a piece of slime and so, dear reader, are you.


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May 29, 2009

All cost and no benfit

What if global-warming fears are overblown?
In a Fortune interview, noted climatologist John Christy contends the green crusade to fight climate change is "all cost and no benefit."

NEW YORK (Fortune) -- With Congress about to take up sweeping climate-change legislation, expect to hear more in coming weeks from John Christy, director of the Earth System Science Center at University of Alabama-Huntsville.

A veteran climatologist who refuses to accept any research funding from the oil or auto industries, Christy was a lead author of the 2001 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report as well as one of the three authors of the American Geophysical Union's landmark 2003 statement on climate change.

Yet despite those green-sounding credentials, Christy is not calling for draconian cuts in carbon emissions. Quite the contrary. Christy is actually the environmental lobby's worst nightmare - an accomplished climate scientist with no ties to Big Oil who has produced reams and reams of data that undermine arguments that the earth's atmosphere is warming at an unusual rate and question whether the remedies being talked about in Congress will actually do any good.

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May 08, 2009

A history of Mother's Day


BURNED-OVER DISTRICT, NY–Hey, it's time once again to send Mom that special e-card. From the vaults, the story of the men who voted against the first Mother's Day:

In the annals of easy votes, one might expect to find a prominent place for the congressional resolution that established Mother's Day. Yet the first Mother's Day was hooted down in the U.S. Senate. They made senators of sterner stuff in those days, I tell you. [...]

But a funny thing happened on the way to the florist. Anna Jarvis, the mother of Mother's Day, became its harshest critic.

Jarvis denounced the greeting card and gift and candy manufacturers who battened on her day. In vain, she urged sons and daughters to buy buttons instead of flowers for mom; she called greeting cards "a poor excuse for the letter you are too lazy to write." The embittered Jarvis concluded that "charlatans, bandits, pirates, racketeers, kidnappers and other termites" had corrupted "with their greed one of the finest, noblest, truest Movements and celebrations known."

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April 24, 2009

Weekend Reading 31

A good article in City Journal about the futility of trying to limit carbon emissions. The author argues for improving sequestration (removing CO2 from the atmosphere).

Bound to Burn

We rich people can't stop the world's 5 billion poor people from burning the couple of trillion tons of cheap carbon that they have within easy reach. We can't even make any durable dent in global emissions—because emissions from the developing world are growing too fast, because the other 80 percent of humanity desperately needs cheap energy, and because we and they are now part of the same global economy. What we can do, if we're foolish enough, is let carbon worries send our jobs and industries to their shores, making them grow even faster, and their carbon emissions faster still.

We don't control the global supply of carbon.

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March 14, 2009

Weekend Reading 30

The Untold Story of the World's Biggest Diamond Heist

In February 2003, Notarbartolo was arrested for heading a ring of Italian thieves. They were accused of breaking into a vault two floors beneath the Antwerp Diamond Center and making off with at least $100 million worth of loose diamonds, gold, jewelry, and other spoils. The vault was thought to be impenetrable. It was protected by 10 layers of security, including infrared heat detectors, Doppler radar, a magnetic field, a seismic sensor, and a lock with 100 million possible combinations. The robbery was called the heist of the century, and even now the police can't explain exactly how it was done.

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February 13, 2009

Weekend Reading 29

Here's an interesting blog post by law professor David Mayer, marking the 200th anniversary of Lincoln's birthday.

A Bicentennial Defense of Abraham Lincoln

So, to observe Lincoln's bicentennial this year, I'd like to write a short defense of Lincoln, and particularly of his record as U.S. president. What follows is a slightly revised version of the essay I posted on February 15, 2006, as part of my "Rating the U.S. Presidents III," discussing "Abraham Lincoln: Why He's Great." To that I've appended the first essay I wrote about Abraham Lincoln, "The Lesson of Lincoln," which I wrote when I was a high school student.

While reading this essay, I was reminded of Mary Chapin Carpenter's John Wilkes Booth. Here's Tony Rice's version.

Young Abe Lincoln wasn't young no more / 
Tired old man when he won the war

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January 17, 2009

Weekend Reading 28

A lesson in human nature from Virginia Postrel.

Are Bubbles Inevitable?

Judging from the results in the far-more-predictable circumstances of lab experiments, it seems so. My new Atlantic column looks at the research: [...]

At least that's what economists would have thought before Vernon Smith, who won a 2002 Nobel Prize for developing experimental economics, first ran the test in the mid-1980s. But that's not what happens. Again and again, in experiment after experiment, the trading price runs up way above fundamental value. Then, as the 15th round nears, it crashes. The problem doesn't seem to be that participants are bored and fooling around. The difference between a good trading performance and a bad one is about $80 for a three-hour session, enough to motivate cash-strapped students to do their best. Besides, Noussair emphasizes, "you don't just get random noise. You get bubbles and crashes." Ninety percent of the time.

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October 31, 2008

Weekend Watching V

A recent episode of PBS' Nova focused on Benoît Mandelbrot and fractals. It's titled Hunting the Hidden Dimension and you can view the whole show at the link. (It's presented in 5 segments.)


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October 03, 2008

Weekend Reading 25

Steven Horwitz, an economics professor at St. Lawrence university, writes An Open Letter to my Friends on the Left about the credit crisis that's been all the news lately. It's an interesting read

Many of you have rightly criticized the ethanol mandate, which made it profitable for corn growers to switch from growing corn for food to corn for fuel, leading to higher food prices worldwide. What's interesting is that you rightly blamed the policy and did not blame greed and the profit motive! The current financial mess is precisely analogous.

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August 01, 2008

Solar-driven catalytic electrolysis

'Major discovery' from MIT primed to unleash solar revolution
Scientists mimic essence of plants' energy storage system

Anne Trafton, News Office
July 31, 2008

In a revolutionary leap that could transform solar power from a marginal, boutique alternative into a mainstream energy source, MIT researchers have overcome a major barrier to large-scale solar power: storing energy for use when the sun doesn't shine.

Check out the video of Professor Nocera's description.

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July 21, 2008

A pretty good rant

Too long to excerpt; it gets better and better.

The Blame Game
July 18, 2008; Page W9

Dear CEOs of U.S. airlines:

I want to say thanks for the July 10 email you sent to all your customers seeking to explain why today's air travel experience is so painful. The letter, signed by 12 of you, explained that "oil speculators" -- presumably by betting on future oil prices -- are killing your industry and thus requested that I, as a consumer, pressure Congress to rein in this "unchecked" market "manipulation."

I admit that just lately I'd begun to feel that flying was something akin to having my intestines fished out with a long hook. Actually, I'd been wondering whom to blame for the fact that it would probably be cheaper, easier and maybe even faster to drive to wherever I want to go than to board one of your planes. Suddenly, all is clear.

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July 19, 2008

Now isn't this interesting?

I ran across an article about climate change/AGW titled Climate Sensitivity Reconsidered at the APS site on Friday. It's an interesting read about the models used for the IPCC's reports on climate change.

I checked again this morning, since I was thinking of posting about it, and I noticed a disclaimer had been added at the top of the article.

The following article has not undergone any scientific peer review. Its conclusions are in disagreement with the overwhelming opinion of the world scientific community. The Council of the American Physical Society disagrees with this article's conclusions.

It's a little curious that there's a disclaimer today but wasn't one when the article was originally posted a couple of days ago.

Then I came across this interesting post at Transterrestrial Musings, which referred to a letter the article's author had sent to the APS, demanding that the disclaimer be removed since his paper had been reviewed.

Curiouser and curiouser.

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July 15, 2008

Le roi est mort, vive le roi!

Living in the St. Louis metro area, I've heard a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth lately about InBev's acquiring Anheuser-Busch. Politicians have been especially noisome on the topic.

So this column in the Baltimore Sun is a breath of fresh air: Don't shed a tear over bid for beer

The American public's reaction to InBev's proposal was predictable, but some Belgians find it puzzling. They ask me: "Is this the America that prides itself as a bastion of free enterprise and competitive markets?" "Is this the America that chides Europe for its resistance to embracing free markets?" Yes, yes, I tell the Belgians - but you must understand that whenever our economy hits a bump in the road, we like to blame the foreigners.

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June 27, 2008

Meet Bob Levy

Like many people, I was more pleased than not with the Supreme Court's decision in DC v. Heller this week. Here's an article about Robert Levy, the case's "prime mover," according to Tim Lynch at Cato-at-liberty.

Mr. Levy reminds me of Thomas Paine's advice: "The duty of a patriot is to protect his country from its government."

Lawyer Who Wiped Out D.C. Ban Says It's About Liberties, Not Guns

By Paul Duggan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 18, 2007; Page A01

Meet the lawyer who conceived the lawsuit that gutted the District's tough gun-control statute this month. Meet the lawyer who recruited a group of strangers to sue the city and bankrolled their successful litigation out of his own pocket.

Meet Robert A. Levy, staunch defender of the Second Amendment, a wealthy former entrepreneur who said he has never owned a firearm and probably never will.

Note: This article was written after D.C.'s gun ban was struck down by the US Court of Appeals, not after this week's Supreme Court decision. Hence the March, 2007 dateline.

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June 20, 2008

The economic singularity is coming

An interesting article in the New York Times.

Malthus vs. the Singularity

By John Tierney

Before any other readers post another comment about "overpopulation" and doomsday scenarios, I suggest they take a look at my colleague Donald McNeil's excellent article on Malthusian mistakes. As he notes, the current forecasts of energy and food disasters sound just like the ones made during the 1970s. Similar apocalyptic forecasts were made in the 1940s (in books like "Our Plundered Planet") and in other eras by prophets following in Malthus' tradition.

These prophets have always claimed to be seeing the big picture, but they ignore thousands of years of history during which the prices of natural resources fell and the wellbeing of humans improved. [...]

You can see this trend nicely in an an article by Robin Hanson in the IEEE Spectrum's special issue on the Singularity. Dr. Hanson, an economist at George Mason University, takes a long look at economic history and sees fairly steady growth punctuated by two "economic singularities"–the invention of agriculture and the Industrial Revolution–that caused dramatic accelerations in growth.

Dr. Hanson extrapolates from these trends to suggest that we're due for another economic singularity sometime between now and 2075.

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June 05, 2008

The Cleveland of Asia

Here's an interesting article by P.J. O'Rourke in World Affairs. It's a little long, but he's in fine form in this one.

The Cleveland of Asia: A Journey Through China's Rust Belt

P. J. O'Rourke

[...] I went to China for a month in 2006 and ended up taking a tour of the world of things and stuff. I didn't mean to. I was just sightseeing. I'd only been to the mainland once and then only to Shanghai. I wanted to visit the Three Gorges before the new dam turned the Yangtze into a cesspool. I wanted a look at the Terracotta Warriors. And that sort of thing.

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November 16, 2007

Weekend Reading 25

Here's some straight news from The Daily Telegraph. I believe they're serious.

Surfer dude stuns physicists with theory of everything

By Roger Highfield, Science Editor
Last Updated: 6:01pm GMT 14/11/2007

An impoverished surfer has drawn up a new theory of the universe, seen by some as the Holy Grail of physics, which has received rave reviews from scientists.

Update: The 'impoverished surfer' is A. Garrett Lisi and his paper's called An Exceptionally Simple Theory of Everything.

Reason mag interviews Judge Andrew Napolitano. They discuss his new book, A Nation of Sheep, among other things. Here's a good quote from the judge, talking about "national security letters":

Remember that the British government permitted its soldiers to execute self-written search warrants. They called them “writs of assistance,” and they were one of the last straws that caused American colonist to rebel. It’s bitterly ironic that 230 years later a popularly elected government would authorize its own agents to do the same thing that when a monarchy did it, we fought a war of rebellion in reaction—which we won!

Warren Meyer (of Coyote blog fame) has another blog called Climate Skeptic. He's released his video What is Normal? A Critique of Catastrophic Man-Made Global Warming Theory there.

It's worth a look, but note the word catastrophic. Mr Meyer thinks the world climate is warmer, but he's not sure of the cause and he doesn't think it will turn out to be a catastrophe.

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September 23, 2007

Follow up on the local cops

Saturday's Post-Dispatch had two articles about the cops mentioned in last weekend's post about A bad week for local police.

Brent Darrow's antagonist, Sgt. James Kuehnlein, has been fired from the St. George force and the St. George police chief has been talking to his officers.

St. George officers get polite reminder
By Kim Bell

ST. GEORGE - Police Chief Scott Uhrig has given his eight officers a reminder about courtesy - and some words of warning - after one of his sergeants got fired for berating a motorist on tape.

"They know to be polite and courteous," the chief said, "and they've been advised, 'Stay on your toes. We don't know how many other Brett Darrows there are out there.'"

Here's a suggestion, Chief: take the safe course and assume we're all 'Brent Darrows' out here.

The six Jefferson County deputies involved in the barroom brawl were also fired and five of them are appealing those decisions.

Appeal process for fired Jeffco deputies could take weeks
By Christine Byers

HILLSBORO — The appeal process for five of the six deputies who lost their jobs Thursday for their role in a bar fight could take weeks, according to the Jefferson County sheriff's office.

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September 21, 2007

The SPCA killed his dog

This post at Rogier van Bakel's blog, Nobody's Business, isn't very funny. It's just sadly ironic.

Apparently, "the best interest of the animal" meant not allowing us to give him a loving home. And it means that, not long after the SPCA rejected our candidacy and actually threw us out of the shelter (you can read the whole sordid story here), they killed him.

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September 15, 2007

A bad week for local police

The worst experience I ever had with a cop was in '72 when an Illinois State trooper tried to shake me down for $100 - and ended up letting me go. Aside from that, the officers I've dealt with have always acted very professionally.

But a few of the cops in the St. Louis metro area haven't been putting their best feet forward recently.

Early in the week, I saw Brett Darrow's video of his encounter with a patrolman in St. George. While this cop shouldn't have been threatening Mr. Darrow with bogus charges, I think the "cop gone wild" title is a little over the top. "Gone wild" is what the cops did to Rodney King.

Thursday brought this interesting article about St. Louis area police making threatening comments in an online forum about Mr. Darrow because of an earlier event he was involved in.

Thursday's St. Louis Post-Dispatch also ran two stories on related events. The first was about five Jefferson County deputies who got into a brawl in a bar in House Springs. This is an interesting quote:

Although Gaulden doesn't know what triggered the fight, the melee was captured on the bar's video surveillance system.

He said all of the officers were escorted out of the bar and a bartender observed them removing their rear license plates in the parking lot.

Moments later they came back into the bar, Gaulden said.

Anna Rankin, a bartender, said, "I told them 'I'm going to call the cops,' and they said, 'We are the cops.'"

The second was about an off-duty officer who threatened someone with a gun in the drive-thru at a White Castle. It's not clear from the article how this all went down, but the officer ended up resigning from his job the same day.

It makes you wonder what the heck happened to "Serve and Protect".

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August 18, 2007

Weekend Reading 24

This is an interesting article, primarily about climate change, by Freeman Dyson (of Dyson Sphere fame).


1. The Need for Heretics

In the modern world, science and society often interact in a perverse way. We live in a technological society, and technology causes political problems. [...] The public does not have much use for a scientist who says, “Sorry, but we don’t know”. The public prefers to listen to scientists who give confident answers to questions and make confident predictions of what will happen as a result of human activities. So it happens that the experts who talk publicly about politically contentious questions tend to speak more clearly than they think. They make confident predictions about the future, and end up believing their own predictions. Their predictions become dogmas which they do not question. The public is led to believe that the fashionable scientific dogmas are true, and it may sometimes happen that they are wrong. That is why heretics who question the dogmas are needed.

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August 10, 2007

Weekend Reading 23

I'm still reading about AGW. Here's some late-breaking news via Coyote blog:

Breaking News: Recent US Temperature Numbers Revised Downwards Today

This is really big news, and a fabulous example of why two-way scientific discourse is still valuable, in the same week that both Newsweek and Al Gore tried to make the case that climate skeptics were counter-productive and evil.

Climate scientist Michael Mann (famous for the hockey stick chart) once made the statement that the 1990's were the warmest decade in a millennia and that "there is a 95 to 99% certainty that 1998 was the hottest year in the last one thousand years." (By the way, Mann now denies he ever made this claim, though you can watch him say these exact words in the CBC documentary Global Warming: Doomsday Called Off).

Well, it turns out, according to the NASA GISS database, that 1998 was not even the hottest year of the last century. This is because many temperatures from recent decades that appeared to show substantial warming have been revised downwards. Here is how that happened (if you want to skip the story, make sure to look at the numbers at the bottom).

And here's a very interesting article about the consensus on global warming by a Canadian who set out to prove it: They call this a consensus?

Somewhere along the way, I stopped believing that a scientific consensus exists on climate change. Certainly there is no consensus at the very top echelons of scientists -- the ranks from which I have been drawing my subjects -- and certainly there is no consensus among astrophysicists and other solar scientists, several of whom I have profiled. If anything, the majority view among these subsets of the scientific community may run in the opposite direction. Not only do most of my interviewees either discount or disparage the conventional wisdom as represented by the IPCC, many say their peers generally consider it to have little or no credibility. In one case, a top scientist told me that, to his knowledge, no respected scientist in his field accepts the IPCC position.

This article links to a series of 22 other articles by the same author, Lawrence Solomon.

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August 03, 2007

Weekend Reading 22

This week's topic is subsidies for ethanol producers. Rolling Stone has an interesting article: Ethanol Scam: Ethanol Hurts the Environment And Is One of America's Biggest Political Boondoggles.

This is not just hype -- it's dangerous, delusional bullshit. Ethanol doesn't burn cleaner than gasoline, nor is it cheaper. Our current ethanol production represents only 3.5 percent of our gasoline consumption -- yet it consumes twenty percent of the entire U.S. corn crop, causing the price of corn to double in the last two years and raising the threat of hunger in the Third World. [...]

So why bother? Because the whole point of corn ethanol is not to solve America's energy crisis, but to generate one of the great political boondoggles of our time. Corn is already the most subsidized crop in America, raking in a total of $51 billion in federal handouts between 1995 and 2005 -- twice as much as wheat subsidies and four times as much as soybeans.

Even if you like the idea of burning alcohol, you have to wonder why ethanol needs public funding. If it's such a great idea, can't a producers market develop without the subsidies?

And that's not to mention some other nasty side effects of ethanol subsidies.

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July 06, 2007

Weekend Reading 20

Warren Meyer, who writes the Coyote blog, released his paper called A Skeptical Layman's Guide to Anthropogenic Global Warming this week. Since I read Coyote blog regularly, I've read many of his blog posts about AGW. And I've been looking forward to this paper, which he announced several weeks ago.


You can download it in electronic form (or order a hardcopy) from Lulu. He's also publishing it in HTML form on his blog. Start with this post if you want to take that route.

I haven't read this paper yet (it's on deck for this weekend). But if it's anything like his blog posts on the topic it's sure to be thought-provoking at a minimum.

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May 18, 2007

Carbon indulgences

Here's a very interesting article from a somewhat surprising source: Alexander Cockburn (co-editor of CounterPunch) wrote it for his "Beat the Devil" column in The Nation.

Is Global Warming a Sin?

[from the May 14, 2007 issue]

In a couple of hundred years historians will be comparing the frenzies over our supposed human contribution to global warming to the tumults at the latter end of the tenth century as the Christian millennium approached. Then as now, the doomsters identified human sinfulness as the propulsive factor in the planet's rapid downward slide. Then as now, a buoyant market throve on fear. The Roman Catholic Church sold indulgences like checks. The sinners established a line of credit against bad behavior and could go on sinning. Today a world market in "carbon credits" is in formation. Those whose "carbon footprint" is small can sell their surplus carbon credits to others less virtuous than themselves.

As it happens, I noticed my first TerraPass bumper sticker just this week.

But to stay with the topic, Coyote links to this interesting post that appeared on the US Senate Committee for Environment and Public Works blog (what a mouthful) this week.

Climate Momentum Shifting: Prominent Scientists Reverse Belief in Man-made Global Warming - Now Skeptics

Growing Number of Scientists Convert to Skeptics After Reviewing New Research

Following the U.S. Senate's vote today on a global warming measure (see today's AP article: Senate Defeats Climate Change Measure,) it is an opportune time to examine the recent and quite remarkable momentum shift taking place in climate science. Many former believers in catastrophic man-made global warming have recently reversed themselves and are now climate skeptics. The names included below are just a sampling of the prominent scientists who have spoken out recently to oppose former Vice President Al Gore, the United Nations, and the media driven “consensus” on man-made global warming.

They've got a dozen folks listed, so it's way too long to excerpt. RTWT.

Via this post at the reference frame, I learned that there was an "Intelligence Squared US" debate on the topic "Global Warming Is Not a Crisis" in mid-March. The author links to a set of 10 video clips of the debate that are availabe at YouTube.

Since NPR is the distributor for these debates, there's a page about the debate at the NPR site as well, which includes this summary.

In this debate, the proposition was: "Global Warming Is Not a Crisis." In a vote before the debate, about 30 percent of the audience agreed with the motion, while 57 percent were against and 13 percent undecided. The debate seemed to affect a number of people: Afterward, about 46 percent agreed with the motion, roughly 42 percent were opposed and about 12 percent were undecided.

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March 22, 2007

I don't think he likes Macs

Since we just ran one of Apple's "I'm a Mac / I'm a PC" ads, here's a nice rant about both the ad series and Macintoshes in general.

I hate Macs appeared last month in The Guardian:

Ultimately the campaign's biggest flaw is that it perpetuates the notion that consumers somehow "define themselves" with the technology they choose. If you truly believe you need to pick a mobile phone that "says something" about your personality, don't bother. You don't have a personality. A mental illness, maybe - but not a personality.

Via the always interesting Coyote blog

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January 11, 2007

The new age of oil

An interesting article in Newsweek about the likely future of the oil industry, called What Lies Below.

Now doomsday forecasts are back, predicting the end of oil in this decade or the next. The verdict of the new catastrophists may appear more convincing because they use statistical and probability models that appear to penetrate the mysteries of our planet's subsoil. In fact, they do no such thing. In sum, what little is known about the world's underground resources justifies a positive view of the future.

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August 04, 2006

Weekend reading 18

A real (estate) moron. This person doesn't sound competent to manage his/her affairs - but read the whole post.

Ashburn, Va.: I’m so mad at my neighbor. I bought my new home here in Ashburn last summer and plan to sell it next year (after holding two years to avoid taxes) to make a nice return on my investment. The problem is my neighbor is trying to sell his house (very similar to mine) right now and he keeps lowering his asking price.

Hanging is too good for this person -- there doesn't appear to be much doubt about his guilt. (My emphasis.)
Ohio Man Claims Right To Have Sex With Boys

POSTED: 6:52 am EDT August 3, 2006
CLEVELAND -- It was probably not a defense the court had heard before.

A suburban Cleveland man accused of sexually assaulting nine disabled boys told a judge Wednesday that his apartment was a religious sanctuary where smoking marijuana and having sex with children are sacred rituals protected by civil rights laws.

They'll know where you live:
Census Bureau Adopts GPS to Find American Homes

All Things Considered, July 31, 2006 · Two-and-a-half years from now, in early 2009, the Census Bureau plans to send an army of 100,000 temporary workers down every street and dusty, dirt road in America. They will be armed with handheld GPS devices.

Robert LaMacchia, head of the Census Bureau's geography division, says they'll capture the latitude and longitude of the front door of every house, apartment and improvised shelter they find.

In local news, this surprise from Valley Park:
Valley Park joins small club with immigration law
By Stephen Deere

It began, the mayor said, when he was at work.

The mayor, who drives a truck for a local excavation company, was listening to the radio about a month ago and heard a story about a town in Pennsylvania passing a new law. It made English the city's official language. It mandated fines for landlords who rent to illegal immigrants. It punished businesses that hire them.

Good idea, Jeffery Whitteaker remembers thinking.

So the mayor asked the Valley Park city attorney to draft a similar ordinance. The Board of Aldermen passed it unanimously. There was little debate, Whitteaker said. No one showed up to protest.

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June 09, 2006

Weekend reading 17

Kathy Sierra wrote an interesting post a couple of months ago at the Creating Passionate Users blog:

Angry/negative people can be bad for your brain

Everyone's favorite A-list target, Robert Scoble, announced the unthinkable a few days ago: he will be moderating his comments. But what some people found far more disturbing was Robert's wish to make a change in his life that includes steering clear of "people who were deeply unhappy" and hanging around people who are happy. The harsh reaction he's gotten could be a lesson in scientific ingorance, because the neuroscience is behind him on this one.

Whether it's a good move is up to each person to decide, but I've done my best here to offer some facts. [...]

A few things I'll try to explain in this post:

1) One of the most important recent neuroscience discoveries--"mirror neurons", and the role they play in a decision like Robert's

2) The heavily-researched social science phenomenon known as "emotional contagion"

3) Ignorance and misperceptions around the idea of "happy people"

And, sort of tangentially related to Ms Sierra's post, I found an interesting post at Cafe Hayek by Russell Roberts called Fake Science on Rage:

Here's how the AP story begins:

To you, that angry, horn-blasting tailgater is suffering from road rage. But doctors have another name for it — intermittent explosive disorder — and a new study suggests it is far more common than they realized, affecting up to 16 million Americans.

"People think it's bad behavior and that you just need an attitude adjustment, but what they don't know ... is that there's a biology and cognitive science to this," said Dr. Emil Coccaro, chairman of psychiatry at the University of Chicago's medical school.

I love that phrase: "there's a biology and cognitive science to this." It's scientific, don't you see? It's not just a matter of vague concepts like anger, or self-control. It's part of your biology. Never mind that the the phrase has no real meaning.

But how would you actually diagnose this disorder to make sure it's a disorder rather than say, merely an attitude or an immaturity?

Update: (Sundy, 6/11)
Having just finished Stafford and Webb's book Mind Hacks yesterday, I was interested to read the final chapter in which they talk about mimicry, mirror neurons and, in particular, how to Spread a Bad Mood Around -- it's one of their section titles. That chapter seemed to back up some of what Ms. Sierra had wrotten in her post.

Then a quick google led me to the Mind Hacks blog where I found a post about the very same study that was mentioned at Cafe Hayek. Here's the take at the Mind Hacks blog on that study:

Having 'uncontrollable' angry outbursts meets the criteria for "intermittent explosive disorder" - a diagnosable mental illness. According to a recent study, 7.3% of Americans could be diagnosable within their lifetime - that's 1 in 14 people.

The diagnosis just seems to describe people who have occasional and extreme angry outbursts that are out of proportion to the stresses they experience.

No wonder diagnostic manuals get a bad name when behaviour within the normal spectrum (even if it is only displayed by a minority of people) is pathologised as a 'mental illness'.

I suspect this reflects an increasing attitude than unless something is defined as a 'mental illness' people can't be offered help for their problem, or perhaps, won't be willing to seek assistance.

This post provides links to an article in the New Scientist and to an abstract of the study itself.

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May 13, 2006

Weekend reading 16

The latest Club For Growth newletter provides a link to a George Will column about Senator McCain's lukewarm attitude to defending First Amendment rights. Despite BCRA (McCain-Feingold), the senator seems to think we need still more federal regulation of funding political speech, this time for "527" groups. Will's column opens:

Presidents swear to "protect and defend the Constitution." The Constitution says: "Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech." On April 28, on Don Imus's radio program, discussing the charge that the McCain-Feingold law abridges freedom of speech by regulating the quantity, content and timing of political speech, John McCain did not really reject the charge:

"I work in Washington and I know that money corrupts. And I and a lot of other people were trying to stop that corruption. Obviously, from what we've been seeing lately, we didn't complete the job. But I would rather have a clean government than one where quote First Amendment rights are being respected that has become corrupt. If I had my choice, I'd rather have the clean government."

I first mentioned the "527 Reform Act" in this post last month when H.R. 513 was passed by the House of Representatives.

The CFG site has added a Free Speech Action Center page to its site. Check it out. Then act - before your right to fund political speech with others who share your ideas is limited even more than it is now.

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May 06, 2006

Such a deal

Over at Cafe Hayek, Don Boudreaux nails it one more time in his post The Best Deal Going. He begins by talking about the "energy crisis" and ends up with this:

I love this market process. People such as me -- people who lack even a whiff of creativity, people who are terribly risk-averse, people who lazily prefer to read novels and work at secure jobs and spend our evenings at home dining and drinking with family and friends -- just sit back and wait for profit-hungry hard-working anxiety-ridden creative entrepreneurs, each in competition with others, to find new ways to improve our lives. And we don't even have to accept what they devise. If we like it, we buy it. If not, we don't buy it.

I almost feel like a free-rider, a lazy bum, a poacher. I do nothing entrepreneurial, and yet my daily life is filled with the marvelous fruits of entrepreneurial creativity and effort.

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April 21, 2006

Weekend reading 15

Here's a very handy Firefox extension called gTranslate. (Via A Welsh View.)

CodeWritinFool sends a link to a post at the Right to Create blog:
Write Free Software, Pay $203,000 to Patent Holder

Bob Jacobsen, a model railroad hobbyist, wrote a bunch of software to let you connect your computer to your model railroad and control trains with it. He chose to not only give the software away for free, but to make the source code available as well, so that the model railroading/hacker community could improve it and customize it to their liking.

And then KAM Industries, maker of commercial software that serves a similar role, tried asserting their 'patent rights' over doing just that.

Via Best of the Web Today, I found this blog called Waiter Rant. It's well written and worth a look.

The ultimate in out-sourcing?

Wombs for Rent, Cheap
Surrogate mothers in India are a bargain for foreigners, and the women reap a bonanza. But some observers say they pay a price.
By Henry Chu, Times Staff Writer
April 19, 2006

ANAND, India — As temp jobs go, Saroj Mehli has landed what she feels is a pretty sweet deal. It's a nine-month gig, no special skills needed, and the only real labor comes at the end — when she gives birth.

If everything goes according to plan, Mehli, 32, will deliver a healthy baby early next year. But rather than join her other three children, the newborn will be handed over to an American couple who are unable to bear a child on their own and are hiring Mehli to do it for them.

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April 08, 2006

Weekend reading 14

From the You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet department, the House passed the “527 Reform Act” (H.R. 513) this week to regulate groups not covered by the BCRA of 2002 (McCain-Feingold). Andrew Roth has been following this one closely at the Club For Growth blog during the last week.

Here's a good post about it at the Liberty Committee's blog:

Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Tongue
Campaign-finance reform, whether pushed by Republicans such as John McCain or Democrats such as Russ Feingold, is being foisted on an unsuspecting American public as the way to clean up the corrupt political process. In reality, it is the way for the powerful political insiders to further control what is said at election time and thus control election results. Yes, the governing class wants you to shut up, pay your taxes and believe what they tell you. They will decide what is best for you, your family, our country and the world itself.

The silencing of Americans has been underway for some time. The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (commonly known as McCain-Feingold) was a major step in limiting our freedom of speech and our political involvement. Emboldened by that success, the governing class is moving to squelch political speech even more by putting political groups known as "527 organizations" -- like the Swift Boat Veterans -- out of business. The U.S. House will vote on such regulation tomorrow. The bill is H.R. 513.

In the You've Got To Be Kidding Me category, here's an article from London's Daily Mail:

'Let burglars off with caution', police told

08:08am 3rd April 2006

Burglars will be allowed to escape without punishment under new instructions sent to all police forces. Police have been told they can let them off the threat of a court appearance and instead allow them to go with a caution.

The same leniency will be shown to criminals responsible for more than 60 other different offences, ranging from arson through vandalism to sex with underage girls.

New rules sent to police chiefs by the Home Office set out how seriously various crimes should be regarded, and when offenders who admit to them should be sent home with a caution.

Last but not least, Everything Not Forbidden Is Compulsory in Massachusetts (my emphasis):

In Massachusetts, Health Care for All?
A state bill would require universal health insurance. Implementing the initiative is likely to prove a lot harder than passing it

Efforts to extend health insurance to more Americans have been stalled in recent years between liberals' insistence on more government spending and conservatives' advocacy of private-sector approaches. Now Massachusetts may have broken the gridlock with an innovative bipartisan plan designed to achieve nearly universal coverage.

The bill, approved by the heavily Democratic Massachusetts legislature on Apr. 4, marries conservative and liberal ideas. For the first time ever in the U.S., all state residents would be required to have health insurance -- dubbed an individual mandate. Gov. Mitt Romney, a moderate Republican expected to run for the White House in 2008, champions this as a conservative victory that leads residents to take responsibility for their own health insurance. He says he plans to sign the bill soon, although he may first try to change some smaller provisions.

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March 31, 2006

Heroine Chic

As a follow up to the More like her post about Wafa Sultan a couple of weeks ago, Steve R forwards a link to this article at TCS Daily about Irshad Manji in Canada and Ayaan Hirsi Ali in the Netherlands.

Ms. Manji (on the left) runs the site Muslim Refusenik.

Ms. Hirsi Ali is a member of the Dutch Parliament and is known for her collaboration with Theo van Gogh to make the film Submission.

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March 18, 2006

Weekend reading 13

Interesting reading in this blog kept by a doctor who works in Britain's National Health Service.

And via Money magazine:
The Poor Get Richer

Blue-collar workers are making salary gains -- but don't cheer yet.
By Geoffrey Colvin, FORTUNE senior editor-at-large
March 15, 2006: 5:13 PM EST

(FORTUNE Magazine) - I have good news and bad news. The good news is that income inequality in the U.S. -- after 30-plus years of steadily increasing -- may be decreasing. The bad news is why that trend is reversing. It looks like another lesson in how profoundly a globalizing economy is upending what we thought we knew.

Rising income inequality has settled comfortably into America's big economic picture as a reliable--and much lamented--megatrend. Starting around the late 1960s, U.S. incomes started to become more disparate. The trend was remarkably steady. Recessions might slow it down or briefly reverse it, but mostly it just marched on.

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January 06, 2006

Weekend reading 9

Here's a great piece by Matt Ridley that opens, "In all times and in all places there has been too much government." Read the whole thing - it won't take long. (Via Cafe Hayek.)

Peggy Noonan's talking the Steamroller blues.

For a little levity, a report from Scrappleface about Pat Robertson: Ignorant Remarks Caused by God's Wrath.

An interesting interview at Kiplinger.com: The World According to "Poor Charlie".

Charlie Munger, Warren Buffet's number two speaks to Kiplinger's about investing, Berkshire and more.

Charlie Munger has been Warren Buffett's partner and alter ego for more than 45 years. The pair has produced one of the best investing records in history. Shares of Berkshire Hathaway, of which Munger is vice chairman, have gained an annualized 24% over the past 40 years. The conglomerate, which the stock market values at $130 billion, owns and operates more than 65 businesses and invests in many others. Buffett's annual reports are studied by money managers. But Munger, 81, has always been media shy. That changed when Peter Kaufman compiled Munger's writing and speeches in a new book, Poor Charlie's Almanack: The Wit and Wisdom of Charles T. Munger ($49.00, PCA Publications). Here Munger speaks with Kiplinger's Steven Goldberg.

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December 06, 2005

Ho, ho, ho

Dave Barry's Annual Gift Guide in the Miami Herald.


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December 03, 2005

Weekend reading 8

If you have an introvert in the family -- or you are one -- you may enjoy these articles.

Caring for Your Introvert by Jonathan Rauch in The Atlantic.

Introverted youth have deep roots for behavior at Yahoo! News.

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March 03, 2005

iPod people

I often think Andrew Sullivan is a little too full of, um, himself.

But this article from the Times Online is one of his better pieces.

Posted by joke du jour at 08:22 PM