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Belmont Club

Monthly Archives: April 2012

13 Rue Madeleine

April 30th, 2012 - 2:04 pm

Former CIA counterterrorism chief Jose Rodriguez says Nancy Pelosi lied when she declared she had not been briefed about the use of waterboarding, according to an article in the Washington Post.

In his new book, “Hard Measures,” Rodriguez reveals that he led a CIA briefing of Pelosi, where the techniques being used in the interrogation of senior al-Qaeda facilitator Abu Zubaida were described in detail. Her claim that she was not told about waterboarding at that briefing, he writes, “is untrue.”

“We explained that as a result of the techniques, Abu Zubaydah was compliant and providing good intelligence. We made crystal clear that authorized techniques, including waterboarding, had by then been used on Zubaydah.” Rodriguez writes that he told Pelosi everything, adding, “We held back nothing.”

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The Birth of the Cool

April 30th, 2012 - 10:26 am

Signal processing is part and parcel of what we see.  The retina is in fact actually composed of brain cells and interpretation plays a part from the first instant of perception. Because the image it receives is optically inverted and the data arrives faster than it can be processed, the brain adjusts the information before we “see” it in our minds.  “The retina, unlike a camera, does not simply send a picture to the brain. The retina spatially encodes (compresses) the image to fit the limited capacity of the optic nerve.” It does this in part, by sending the changes in a visual image rather than the entire dataset containing the static parts of the image.

But if Mother Nature tricks us, then why not Google? Dean George Orsak of Southern Methodist’s Lyle School of Engineering says that “augmented reality” has had a long played a large and perhaps dangerous role in our vision.

Something fascinating happened during a football game between the Bengals and Ravens in 1998. It seemed a little gimmicky at the time, but now it is indispensable: The yellow first-down line that automatically “paints” on your TV screen premiered during this game, providing most of us with our first glimpse of live augmented reality.

Football changed forever.

Today we take it for granted that our reality can be enhanced by technology. From new emerging 5D rides at amusement parks to “heads up” displays in modern airplane cockpits and video games, augmented reality is here to stay.

“Augmented reality is here to stay” especially if Google has a say in the proceedings. Consider Google Goggles which may soon be at a computer store near you.

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The Essential and the Invisible to the Eye

April 27th, 2012 - 10:59 pm

When George Gershwin wrote, “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off”, it was still a social plus to have a received British accent even in America. “At the time, typical American pronunciations were considered less “refined” by the upper-class, and there was a specific emphasis on the “broader” a sound.” But not everyone could carry it off to advantage and woe unto him who tried to sound like Ronald Coleman only to wind up as James Cagney. Then not class but hilarity were added to the proceedings.

But if the right accent is no longer sought after as an aid to success, the right ethnicity is. Future historians may look back on the present as a time when you wore ethnicity in the same way you wore hats. But as with accents, some wear them better than others.

One person having difficulty getting a fit is Elizabeth Warren, a 2012 Democratic Senatorial candidate, who reacted to the reports that she billed herself as an ethnic minority in the 1990 by saying she had no idea she was presented as Native American until she read in the Herald that she had been touted by Harvard Law School as proof of their faculty’s diversity in the 1990s.

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Dark Sacrament

April 26th, 2012 - 10:59 am

The Arab spring in Egypt has provided a glimpse into the workings of an Islamist mind. “Egyptian husbands will soon be legally allowed to have sex with their dead wives – for up to six hours after their death.” No gender discrimination is involved, however, since women will also be allowed to have sex with their dead husbands.

The controversial new law is part of a raft of measures being introduced by the Islamist-dominated parliament. It will also see the minimum age of marriage lowered to 14 and the ridding of women’s rights of getting education and employment. …

Egyptian journalist Amro Abdul Samea reported in the al-Ahram newspaper that Talawi complained about the legislations which are being introduced under ‘alleged religious interpretations’. The subject of a husband having sex with his dead wife arose in May 2011 when Moroccan cleric Zamzami Abdul Bari said marriage remains valid even after death. He also said that women have the right to have sex with her dead husband.

The romance of the dead — even the undead — has experienced a similar vogue in Western popular culture. The Twilight novels, for example, have taken the teenage world by storm. “Twilight is a series of four vampire-themed fantasy romance novels by American author Stephenie Meyer. It charts a period in the life of Isabella ‘Bella’ Swan, a teenage girl who moves to Forks, Washington, and falls in love with a 104-year-old vampire named Edward Cullen.”

But even though some people think it is cool to have an undead boyfriend, most people still understand that Twilight is just fiction. Discrimination against the dead — mortism — has not yet attained the earnest status of ageism or racism. There have been no serious proposals — so far — to extend equal rights protection to deceased Americans beyond those they already enjoy at the ballot box.

That does not mean that the War Against the Dead will forever be ignored. For modern Western Culture is beset by dozens of “isms” and”wars.” Here is a just a partial glossary.

  • Anti-Mormonism. Discriminating against Mormons.
  • Tobaccoism. The right to discriminate against smokers, as described by the New York Times.
  • Able bodism. Discriminating against the disabled because of their disability, as described by the British government.
  • Employism. Discriminating against the unemployed because of their previous inability to hold a job, as described by the New York Times.
  • Size Acceptance. A movement devoted to fighting bigotry against fat, obese, and overweight individuals.
  • Mentalism. Discrimination against crazy people as described by the Guardian.
  • Languagism. Discrimination against languages that people do not understand, as explained by Miami University.

This is merely a partial list. There are many, many more Wars, proto-Wars, and incipient Wars. The catalog will continue to grow, both in Islamic and politically correct societies, simply because societies falling under the domination of a single ideology have the tendency to regulate personal behavior ever more minutely.

One of the key moments in the march toward regulating every action occurred in 1969, when radical feminist Carol Hanisch coined the phrase “the personal is political.”  All of a sudden activists understood that nothing anyone did stood outside the purview of public policy or political debate.

What you ate, thought, wore, listened to, said, viewed, did — or did not do — was political and hence the fair object of regulation.

Consider that the word “niggardly” has an entire Wikipedia entry devoted to its appropriate use. Once a simple word which meant stinginess, its true sinister nature was revealed when David Howard, a white aide to Anthony A. Williams, the black mayor of Washington, D.C., used it in reference to a budget. Then all hell broke loose.  Soon there were calls for a “national debate” on the subject of whether the word niggardly could be licitly spoken at all. Words — especially words — are dangerous.

Shortly after the Washington incident, another controversy erupted over the use of the word at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. At a February 1999 meeting of the Faculty Senate, a junior English major and vice chairwoman of the Black Student Union told the group how a professor teaching Chaucer had used the word niggardly. She later said she was unaware of the related Washington, D.C. controversy that came to light just the week before. She said the professor continued to use the word even after she told him that she was offended. “I was in tears, shaking,” she told the faculty. “It’s not up to the rest of the class to decide whether my feelings are valid.”

The personal is political. In strict Islamic societies the personal is religious. There is a code to govern every situation.  There is a sunnah which governs the pious use of the toilet.  In ideologically dominated societies, the use of words — or the commode — becomes the subject of authoritative pronouncement.

“I don’t give a s**t” is a fundamentally lawless attitude.

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Flying Saucers Vs the Internet

April 25th, 2012 - 6:24 pm

It was different then. Back in 1956, in an America full of confidence and an even greater sense of wonder, even the New York Times was willing to publish a review of a serious documentary on Flying Saucers. AH Weiler wrote in the review “the fact that truth can be more engrossing than fiction is quietly and effectively demonstrated in ‘Unidentified Flying Objects,’ which landed at the Mayfair yesterday.”

If “Unidentified Flying Objects” is not as startling as an imaginary invasion by tiny, green men with pointed heads, it does, however, leave an impression of restrained documentation that is instructive and sobering …

“Unidentified Plying Objects” is not a specially imaginative example of movie-making. But in avoiding sensationalism the producers have given dignity to the “credible observations of relatively incredible things.”

The movie is now available on YouTube either in its entirety or split in 12 parts, the first starting here.

Even viewers who think UFOs and flying saucers are bunk will find the movie still functions, albeit unintentionally, as a very effective Time Machine. Through the magic of the Internet the viewer can go back to a time when you could walk up to an airplane on a runway, park a convertible all day in a street on Washington DC, work as a public information officer for the Air Force and still be journalist in good standing, and describe the defense of the United States from all enemies, foreign and domestic, terrestrial or extra-terrestrial with an entirely straight face.

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Dear Leader

April 25th, 2012 - 2:33 pm

New sets of “rights” are being manufactured; slowly at first, but now with increasing speed.  Though they cover diverse areas, all of them in common create claims between one set of people and another. All of a sudden people find themselves charter members of sets many and manifold: young or old, man or woman, religious or secular besides others too numerous to mention.  But they all share one relation: they are between someone who has something and someone who needs something.

Take “generational fairness”.  This is a doctrine now coming into vogue in Britain in which, according to Theodore Dalrymple, employers may dismiss older workers for public policy reasons. Cause or inefficiency is an invalid ground, but reasons of state are not.  The reasoning is that the old “owe” the young and hence, employers may dismiss the old in order to make way for the young to advance the common interest. Dalrymple explains the recent jurisprudence.

The partners had agreed by private contract to retire at the age of 65, but when the partner who subsequently brought the case reached the age of 65, he found that he could not afford to do so. In the meantime, age discrimination had been outlawed, so when the other partners refused to allow him to continue in the practice, he brought a case against them. The Supreme Court has ruled against him, not on the grounds that he wanted to break the contract, but on other, potentially sinister grounds.

The judgment is complicated, but the overall impression it gives is that a person may be lawfully dismissed on grounds of age if such dismissal meets social objectives as laid down by the government; for example, to meet the need for “intergenerational fairness” in the distribution of jobs, or to reduce unemployment among the young. But people cannot be dismissed if it is for “purely individual reasons particular to the employer’s situation, such as cost reduction or improving competitiveness”.

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Children of the Monolith

April 24th, 2012 - 12:40 pm

Michael Totten describes nearly getting mugged — or perhaps kidnapped — in Tunisia, which he was visiting in order to see how the Arab Spring had played out there.  But the life of a nation in aggregate is one thing. At the individual level it is always another. Even in the best of countries, individuals live, die or face danger mostly alone.

As is typical outside the United States, shady individuals approached me in the airport and asked if I wanted a taxi. They’re supposed to wait in line at the taxi stand, but the impatient and unlicensed will venture into the terminal and prowl for tired arrivals like me.

I almost always wave these people off. Some of these guys aren’t even taxi drivers. They use their own private cars and charge exorbitant rates. You are well advised to avoid them.

But I was more tired than usual after crossing the Atlantic this time, so when a decent-looking sort asked if I needed a taxi, I figured, what the hell, I’ll hire him as long as he actually has a taxi and will use the meter.

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The Hidden Hand

April 21st, 2012 - 2:56 pm

Why the consumer pays what he does at the pump or the store is not always obvious. Some costs have nothing to do with actually manufacturing a product. For example, merchandise shipped over the ocean must contain a tiny provision for costs associated with fending off pirates. A teeny bit of your gas bill goes to that. Did you know that a whole lot more goes to fighting off other kinds of pirates?

Stephen M. Carmel, the Senior Vice President of Maersk Line explained in a speech to the Second Fleet Intelligence Symposium in 2011, that the pirates who clamber aboard ships are a minor nuisance compared to the real pirates, the ones ashore. By that Carmel means the ever increasing tide of mandates and regulations, especially environmental ones.

First let me say right out of the gate I am no fan of pirates. Do not like them at all in fact, contrary to what many may perceive from my remarks on the topic. Pirates do impose a cost on our business that we would rather not bear if possible so it is something I worry about. But, while worrying about pirates I also worry about the effect of MARPOL Annex VI and the cost of complying with increasingly harsh emissions control requirements, something that will cost our industry roughly $6 Billion a year to comply with now and that figure will go up as tighter standards kick in in the 2014 time frame. I worry about the requirement to cold iron in LA, something that is very expensive and disruptive. And since while common for Navy ships to go on shore power, commercial ships never do it and are not fitted with a system to do so, a modification is required that will cost the equivalent of one ransom for each ship it is done on.
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Barack Obama’s Calculator

April 19th, 2012 - 12:26 pm

A commenter at the Daily Telegraph asks why Barack Obama was asked to buy a calculator for his 5th grade class in 1971:

As long as people are starting to read the book “Dreams From My Father,” take a gander where he describes his fifth grade school supplies list:

“… there was a list of things to buy — a uniform for physical education, scissors, a ruler, number two pencils, a calculator (optional).”

Barack Obama and I were born in the same year. The year he graduated from high school was the year I graduated from high school. A calculator for a fifth grader, or any K-12 student, in 1971? Highly unlikely. Yes they did exist, barely, from Wikipedia.

The first truly pocket-sized electronic calculator was the Busicom LE-120A “HANDY”, which was marketed early in 1971. Made in Japan… The first American-made pocket-sized calculator, the Bowmar 901B (popularly referred to as The Bowmar Brain), measuring 5.2×3.0×1.5 in (131×77×37 mm), came out in the fall of 1971, with four functions and an eight-digit red LED display, for $240…”

It’s is a version of a question that has been posted around the Internet for some time. The exact context of the phrase can be read here, where an admirer of the president quotes the relevant passage in Dreams, in which the school asks 5th grader Barry to bring along a calculator to class:

I had gone for several interviews with Punahou’s admissions officer the previous summer. She was a brisk, efficient-looking woman who didn’t seem fazed that my feet barely reached the floor as she grilled me on my career goals. After the interview, the woman had sent Gramps and me on a tour of the campus, a complex that spread over several acres of lush green fields and shady trees, old masonry schoolhouses and modern structures of glass and steel. There were tennis courts, swimming pools, and photography studios. At one point, we fell behind the guide, and Gramps grabbed me by the arm.

“Hell, Bar,” he whispered, “this isn’t a school. This is heaven. You might just get me to go back to school with you.”

With my admission notice had come a thick packet of information that Toot set aside to pour over one Saturday afternoon. “Welcome to the Punahou family,” the letter announced. A locker had been assigned to me; I was enrolled in a meal plan unless a box was checked; there was a list of things to buy–a uniform for physical education, scissors, a ruler, number two pencils, a calculator (optional). Gramps spent the evening reading the entire school catalog, a thick book that listed my expected progression through the next seven years — the college prep courses, the extracurricular activities, the traditions of well-rounded excellence. With each new item, Gramps grew more and more animated; several times he got up, with his thumb saving his place, and headed toward the room where Toot was reading, his voice full of amazement: “Madelyn, get a load of this!”

The president did in fact attend Punahou in 1971.  Since the literary goal of the the passage was to highlight the “wonderfulness” of his new school, the detail could simply be a mistake all too commonly found in writing: an anachronism. An anachronism is “a chronological inconsistency in some arrangement, especially a juxtaposition of person(s), events, objects, or customs from different periods of time. Often the item misplaced in time is an object, but it may be a verbal expression, a technology, a philosophical idea, a musical style, a material, a custom, or anything else associated with a particular period in time so that it is incorrect to place it outside its proper temporal domain.”

In other words, it’s like those arguments on the Internet where people discuss the “original video footage” of the sinking of the Titanic. It ignores the fact that nobody had an iPhone back then.

Now it is theoretically possible that the future president was, in fact, asked to bring a calculator to his 5th grade class in 1971. The Vintage Calculators site shows the four-function Sharp EL-8 available in 1970 and notes that it was “very expensive.” So while it is possible, it seems unlikely that even Punahou 5th graders were asked to bring that kind of stuff to class back then. The probable reason for the anachronism is that the author of Dreams misremembered something. It inserted itself into the memories associated with that time.

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Fatland

April 18th, 2012 - 4:28 pm

It’s a definite. Fat is the new thin.  Remember when you parents told you to finish the food on your plate because of all the starving people in China?  Times have changed. One sign of its extent is the new World Health Organization warning of a new scourge stalking the world — the scourge of obesity. “Once considered a problem only in high income countries, overweight and obesity are now dramatically on the rise in low- and middle-income countries, particularly in urban settings.”

Once the narrative consisted of blaming Americans for gorging themselves on the world’s resources. Unfortunately, as the New York Times sources are forced to admit, the fattest people on the North American continent are now the Mexicans.  This posed serious problems for the writer, who gamely tries to emphasize the exceptionalism of American greed by casting it as the sinister number two. “As you can see, in rates of overweight and obese residents, the United States is second to only one industrialized country: Mexico.”

But fats are facts. Pancho Villa has now become Paunchy Villa. There’s been an outbreak of rising standards of living the world over. Even the WHO’s poster boys have changed. It now tells the heartbreaking story of childhood obesity in Africa. So it’s eat your argula kids, just remember the fat children in Africa.

None of this is to say that the world’s problems have ended. But it does make undeniable the fact that the character of the world’s problems have changed. Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker tries to explain another puzzling aspect of the last 70 years: the Long Peace.

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