Vote against legalized racketeering this Tuesday

It’s bad enough that NC taxes its citizens more than “Taxachusetts” does. It’s bad enough that Lincoln County just issued a laughable revaluation which is a very thinly veiled tax increase, revaluing some homes 300% or more of their previous value at a time when home prices are suffering. It’s bad enough that the dollar is the worst it’s ever been, that inflation is eating into our savings, and the Misery Index is the highest it’s been since 1980.

Now, they want to increase the sales tax as well–and they’re trying to slip it in through the primary where the turnout is lower than the general election (and which are supposed to be just for candidate selection, paid for by the filing fees of the candidates).

Do not let them get away with this! Go Tuesday and vote “No” to the sales tax increase. If you don’t live in Lincoln County, but you live in North Carolina, you can go to this website and see if your county is trying to increase taxes.

Oh, and while you’re at it, it would be great if you could vote for the only candidate on the ballot dedicated to getting taxes down–Ron Paul. Yes, he’s still in the running, and unlike votes for the rest of the candidates, every vote for Ron Paul absolutely will make a difference!

For our own good, of course

Okay, so, government can’t protect us from terrorists, murderers, rapists, drug dealers, mortgage companies, illegal aliens, inside traders, greedy health care profit-seekers, drunk drivers, pollution, high gas prices, high food prices, illiteracy, teenage sex, online gambling, election fraud, OPEC, creationism, cheap foreign labor, prostitutes, Canadian television, music downloaders, or Wal-Mart, but at least we can know that in some part of the country, the government is doing its best to crack down on vendors selling…


If we’d had televised debates in 1789

After watching the laughable mockery that has been the last few Presidential “debates,” I have come to the conclusion that this country may not even have gotten started had they been around back then. Here is a hypothetical excerpt from the ABC Presidential Debates of 1789:

(Much of the text for Washington here comes from his first annual message to Congress, 8 January 1790)

ABC News: Decision 1789

Moderators: Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos

CG: Mr. Washington, we’ll begin with your opening remarks.

GW: Thank you. A free people ought not only to be armed, but disciplined; to which end a uniform and well-digested plan is requisite; and their safety and interest require that they should promote such manufactories as tend to render them independent of others for essential, particularly military, supplies. The proper establishment of the troops which may be deemed indispensable will be entitled–

CG: I’m sorry to cut you off there, Mr. Washington, but I feel you should answer a burning issue of great importance to the people: Are your teeth wooden or not?

GW: What?

CG: Your teeth, sir. We need a response to the rumors that your teeth are wooden.

GW: Well, I don’t see how that’s a “burning issue of great importance,” but if you must know, they’re not wooden at all. They’re ivory. Anyway, returning to my remarks, the interests of the United States require that our intercourse with other nations should be facilitated by such provisions as–

CG: Sir, will you please stop evading?

GW: How am I being evasive?

CG: We want you to respond to the core of the issue: is your refusal to wear wooden teeth a slap in the face of the logging workers?

GW: What? Why would it be? They’re just teeth.

CG: Sir, we need to know–

GW: I don’t know what good wooden teeth would be, anyway. Wouldn’t they rot?

(Continued beneath the fold.)

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Just to keep you informed of a couple of updates to the site:

  1. Comment avatars! Now, if you have an avatar on file with a global avatar site such as Gravatar, it’ll show up next to your comment! Just make sure you use the same email address as one you have on file with the avatar site. If you don’t have one, the system will choose a default, but what fun is that?

  2. The old Captchas only worked right about half the time. That’s the word you have to type in to prove you’re not a piece of crap spammer. Now, the Captcha used when commenting on articles more than seven days old–as well as to get my email address above–use the ReCaptcha system. Developed by the originators of the Captcha at CMU–the same place that gave us the word “bogosity”–this is a good robust solution, with extra coolness thrown in.

    Notice that it gives you two words to type in, unlike most Captchas. That’s because it isn’t just a spam checker. Various projects on the internet are working to digitize old books and make them online, but computers are only so good at turning scanned words into actual computer text. One of the words is a known word; the other is a word the computer can’t recognize. So if one word isn’t quite readable, make your best guess at it. It will be compared with the results of other users all over the internet and used to make these old books available online! How cool is that?

  3. Just in case anyone wants even more information about me, I’ve uploaded a page of 101 Facts About Me. And I swear, they’re all true! Really!

Battered Voter Syndrome

First of all, I want you to know that I love you. You are a good and dear friend, and I am saying this to you because I care about you greatly, and I don’t like seeing you get hurt. I certainly don’t like to see you be used and abused the way you have been.

Year after year he has made the same promises, and swears to you that he has changed, and year after year you believe him. Thinking that this time it really is going to be different, you go back to the same Party and vote for the same kind of politician. You want to believe that he has changed; you need to believe that he has changed, and you want to give him just one more chance. I understand. I really do.

But there comes a time when one has to admit that no change is coming. How many broken promises, how many excuses, how many lies does he have to tell you before you realize that you need to get out of this relationship?

Do you remember when he said, “Government is not the solution, it is the problem”? Do you remember when he said, “The era of big government is over”? What happened since then?

This year, your Party has had at least one candidate (or another, or another) who actually lives up to the promises your Party has made. They have promised an immediate end to the war, real tax cuts, constitutional principles, and government out of our lives. But your Party abused them every bit as much as he abused you. He marginalized them, made fun of them, even lied about them–all to make sure that they never had any real chance of being elected, all the while telling you that he can change, he wants to change, just give him a chance. Well, face it, my friend–he just had his chance. It’s time to leave him.

I warn you: he’s going to tell you the same thing he always has. He’s going to say he needs your help, that you should work with him to affect change, that if you leave you’re wasting your vote, that if you don’t support him then someone even worse will come along. When he says these things to you, remember that he has said all of this to you before. Every single word. There is no difference at all.

It’s time to leave him. It’s time to come to a party where you are truly loved. Many of us were once in your situation, and we are here with open arms. I can’t promise that we’ll agree with everything you want, nor can I promise that you’ll come to agree with everything we stand for. But if you’ve been staying with him, hoping that his promises of lower taxes, lower deficits, smaller government, and greater liberty will pan out, then I can promise you that here you’ll find people who truly want this.

We are the Libertarian Party.

I’m sure we’ll have our disagreements. I’m sure we’ll have our arguments. But at least with us, you know we can be relied upon. And if you think we want to go too far, well, help us along for as much as you think is right, and then depart from us. We’ll shake your hand and thank you for all you’ve done. We’ll never abuse you the way he has done. And who knows? When the time comes, you may just decide you want to stay with us awhile longer.

I can promise one thing: your vote will never be wasted. By joining us, you will have shed off the horse-race mentality that his abuse has forced you to have. You will no longer feel you have to vote for the winner, no matter how horrible he has been to you. You will no longer feel dirty afterward, wanting to wash off the stink, but feeling you had no other alternative. I cannot describe the wonderful feeling of voting your conscience; that is something you can only experience for yourself. But I can promise you that it will feel very good, and you will realize that what he told you about wasting your vote is a complete lie. In reality, you have been wasting your vote all along, by continually voting for pretty lies and platitudes that only result in more of the problems you want to get rid of. Make no mistake: even if the Libertarian candidate doesn’t win, your vote will have made a difference.

Look at how desperate he will be to keep your vote. He will keep telling you that this year, it’s different. This year, there’s a lot more on the line. This year, there’s just too much at stake, and if you abandon him now at this most critical time, the consequences will be dire. Remember that he has told you this exact same thing every other election year as well. Why do you think he has been so desperate to keep your vote? Do you really think he was telling you this for your own good, given how much he has abused you?

The truth is, he’s afraid. Because he knows that if you and your fellow battered voters leave him, then he’ll be powerless. He’ll no longer be able to manipulate you and control your life. He’ll no longer be able to force you to give up part of your paycheck, to force his way into your home to make sure you’re living your life the way he thinks you should, to force you into foreign entanglements that only endanger you and those around you.

Just look at how he complains about you behind your back. To others,
you are the one to blame; it’s your fault for how badly his Party is
going. No one should need any more proof of duplicity than this.

The time has come. Come to those who welcome you and your ideas. Come to the Libertarian Party.

E-Clips of the Eclipse

Wednesday’s total lunar eclipse was a treat, as we were treated to mostly clear skies and the moon was never more than a minute or two out of view as the clouds moved overhead. I set my digital camera on a tripod and proceeded to get several pictures of the event. It’s useless to try to get a video of the event, as it happens so slowly, but with good timing I managed to get one good pic every 5 minutes or so. I put them into a video, and to simulate a proper video I had each picture fade into the next over 5 seconds. This made a video of the eclipse that was about 60 times as fast as the real eclipse occurred:

As the eclipse progressed to totality, I edged up the exposure so that the area darkened by Earth’s shadow (called the “umbra”) became visible. It turns a haunting red color, for the same reason the sunset turns red. The Earth’s atmosphere refracts the red light from the sun and it lights up the darkened portions very dimly, although quite visible with the naked eye; I always imagined this would mean that, if you were on the moon at the time (it would be a solar eclipse there), you’d see the blackened Earth surrounded by a sunset-red halo. It must be beautiful. I had to go to bed, so I didn’t get anything after totality, but at that point it’s mostly the same thing in reverse.

The lunar eclipse has always been the stuff of history. According to legend, Christopher Columbus saved his life in the New World with a well-timed lunar eclipse, his foreknowledge of which convinced the locals that he had a special relationship with God. Also according to folklore, Columbus was a genuis who knew the Earth was round, where most everyone else, including his fearful crew, believed it was flat and they would fall off if they sailed too far. I don’t know about the eclipse legend, but the second claim is complete bogosity. It was widely known that the Earth was spherical at least since the 2nd Century BC, and the lunar eclipse is one big reason why.

The reason why we don’t have a lunar eclipse every month is because the moon’s orbit is tilted about 5 degrees with regards to Earth’s orbit around the Sun. So a total lunar eclipse only happens when the three bodies align at the time of the full moon. It doesn’t happen often, but wherever you are you should see one every few years or so. That’s enough to do several good observations in a single lifteime and share those observations with others.

One observation is that the curve of the Earth’s shadow is the same no matter where the moon is in the sky when the eclipse occurs. That can only occur if the Earth is a spheroid. Not only that, but you can also deduce the ratio of the size of the Earth to the size of the moon (which, by the way, is about 3.67:1). I’ve illustrated that with this picture:

Here, I’ve made the Earth (photo from NASA) its proper size relative to the moon using one of the eclipse shots I took (if you like this picture, click it for a 1024×768 version suitable as a wallpaper). Notice that it fits the curve of the shadow perfectly. Our ancient ancestors noticed that, too, and so they knew not only that the Earth was spherical, but also how big it was relative to the moon. Eratosthenes, after his brilliant calculation of the size of the Earth, could then deduce the size of the moon–both of which he got to within 1% of the correct answer (using the most generous length for the “stadium”).

Never underestimate how clever human beings are, or how much can be learned by just looking up and using your mind.

My Presidential Prediction

Presidential predictions are pretty much bogus. Telling ahead of time who’s going to win has proven to be very unreliable. For the last three elections (probably more), I’ve seen all sorts of people use all sorts of indicators–economic-based, poll-based, even sports-based–about how such-and-such has “predicted” 14 of the last 15 elections (always after the fact, of course). Clinton just wasn’t going to be re-elected in 1996. No way could Bush win in 2000. And no way could he be re-elected in 2004. I think it’s clear that using these “predictors” is just another form of selection bias, and that we should pay no more attention to these than to people who tell us how to predict how many babies will be born based on the phase of the moon or how to make a killing in the stock market.

So I may be going out on a limb here with my prediction, but I think that history will bear me out. I will not attempt to predict who will win the Democrat or Republican nominations, or who will run under what third parties, or who will be our next President.

But I will make the following prediction: no matter who gets nominated, people on the other side will say that this person is so horrible that you must vote for their candidate to keep this very dangerous person out of office. Of course, those on the other side will say the same about their candidate. They’ll both be telling us that this election is so important, that this time there’s so much on the line, that this time you have to tolerate the lesser evil in order to save the country from certain doom. That it is so important that you just cannot waste your vote voting your conscience, since that conscience may take you to a third-party candidate and thus take a vote away from the only person who has a chance of beating this severe threat to our very way of life.

In fact, this will be the worst, most severe, most dire, most crucial, most vital election, where we all have to make the biggest, most important decision we have had to make…

…since the last election, when they were telling us the exact same thing, which was the worst since the one before that, which was the worst since the one before that…

That’s my prediction, and I’m standing by it.

Putting oil prices in perspective

Many pundits (when they can tear themselves away from the primaries for long enough) express complete horror and dismay at the fact that last month oil prices reached $100 per barrel.

However, that still means that it’s cheaper to get half a pound of oil from halfway around the world than it is to mail a 1-ounce letter across the street.

More Zoning Harassment

Someday, when the mountain of evidence is big enough, people are going to realize that I’m not crazy when I say that zoning is fascist and tyrannical. Here’s one more piece of evidence on the pile: Reason.TV’s Drew Carey talks about a town that’s a modern-day Footloose (how many of you realize that was based on a true story?), prohibiting dancing and using other zoning ordinances to try and force a good, family-friendly restaurant out of business. No one knows why, and no one can get any answer from the local government goons.

It starts early…

My daughter came home today and, as usual, I checked her schoolwork. She had made a self-portrait, and above it, she had written, at the teacher’s direction, “Aleena has five senses.”

If you’re wondering what’s wrong with that, you’re probably not alone. You could probably even get this answer from any given skeptic: five senses, no more. What? A sixth sense? What kind of paranormal newage woo-woo is that?

But the truth is, our bodies are much more magnificent than that. Instead of being limited to seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching, we have a much greater experience in sensing both ourselves and the world around us.

What about when you go outside and feel how cold it is? And come back inside to the warmth? That’s not touch; you can’t touch heat. It’s thermoception.

What about when you get hurt, or in near danger of being damaged? That pain you feel isn’t touch; it’s pain, and it’s extremely useful. This is nociception.

There’s also equilibrioception, which helps us balance and gives us a sense of acceleration. If this sense is damaged (by, say, an ear infection) it can be as debilitating as losing a limb.

Proprioception, the kinesthetic sense, lets you know where the parts of your body are and what position they’re in. When you wake up, you haven’t been keeping track of how your body has moved in your sleep, but you still know exactly what position you’re in–where your arms and legs are, what side you’re lying on, what direction your fingers are going, etc. Again, people who lose this sense (generally through nerve damage of some kind) realize how much we rely on it.

Those make up our nine basic senses, but there are more besides:

Do you like spicy food? That’s due to special cell receptors which are completely different to taste. Although it activates the same nerves as for temperature, it is a different sense, and one can easily tell the difference between spicy food and food that has been heated.

You have sensors in your lungs telling you how much air is in them and how much you need to breathe.

You have sensors in your gut alerting you of gastrointestinal distress.

Your stomach has sensors that give you a feeling of hunger or fullness.

Ever felt tired or achey? That’s a response to the body dealing with some extra task such as fighting a disease.

For that matter, getting sleepy is the result of a sense, too.

We have a mild (in comparison to other animals) electroception. We can feel electric charges of a certain voltage (like static-electric shocks), and strong electrical fields (just ask anyone who’s played an electric guitar outside in the rain). We can’t use it to navigate like birds can, but it is there.

Humans have been found to have a form of echolocation, although we can’t produce any sounds other than verbally. But verbal noises, as well as attached devices that send out an audible ping, have been used in tests of blindfolded subjects to help them navigate around a dark room. It isn’t yet known how much we use this in real life.

We have pressure-detection senses, which helps us when we move from a low to a high altitude (or vice-versa).

The list goes on. There is universal agreement among scientists for the nine basic senses; whether the rest should be included, and as how many senses, is a matter of debate. By some counts, there are as many as twenty-three senses.

Why make such a big deal about this? Because the five basic senses come from Aristotle, who also said there are four elements: earth, air, fire, and water. What if we taught our children there were only four elements? Would you feel good about that? So why teach them only five senses?

What, is it because it’s easier to teach? Well, why not teach that the Sun goes around the Earth, since that’s easier for kids to understand? You shouldn’t be giving kids misinformation just because it’s easier.

I think the answer is, because the teachers just don’t know any better–and that’s a shame.

But now you do.