Surly Curmudgeon

   The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire. The former are idealists acting from highest motives for the greatest good of the greatest number. The latter are surly curmudgeons, suspicious and lacking in altruism. But they are more comfortable neighbors than the other sort.
-- Robert A. Heinlein
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    Tuesday, July 31, 2007

    Great Post

    Today's Pioneer Woman perfectly illustrates the dual blessing of charity. The standard argument goes that beggars will just use money you give them to buy drugs, but completely misses the compassionate character that the act is supposed to reinforce in the giver.

    PW seems to recognize this, and is faced with a choice: what quality in her daughter's character does she want to reinforce? Should she be encouraged to feel compassionate toward others in need, or should she be taught cynicism and suspicion? In teaching her daughter, what quality does she want to reinforce in her own character?

    Since I went to school in Los Angeles and street bums were such a regular sight for me for so long, I doubt I ever would have thought twice about them had my little pixie-haired daughter not stopped dead in her tracks every time we passed one on our walks around the city.

    "Mommy, can I pleeeeeeeease borrow a dollar?"


    The first time, on our way to Starbucks the first morning of our stay, the emaciated, bearded homeless man accepted her dollar with a weak smile. And my daughter simply stood there in a trance. I had to take her hand and say, "Come on," to get her to leave, and as we walked away I noticed a single tear rolling down her sweet little cheek.

    She didn't just give a bum a dollar. She taught her daughter to care for those around her, and to maintain a compassionate spirit. As a bonus, she softened her own heart as well. How can anyone disparage that?

    Posted by Tom, 7/31/2007 6:15:27 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Monday, July 30, 2007

    The Aviator as a libertarian film

    There's an extensive review of Martin Scorsese's The Aviator up at It's well worth the read.

    In most movie portrayals, the businessman has nothing to contribute to the common good and, in fact, makes his money only by cheating, defrauding, or otherwise exploiting the public. By contrast, The Aviator presents Hughes as a progressive force in two industries, someone who gives the public what it wants (e.g., talkies rather than silent movies) and, more remarkably, correctly anticipates what the public would want if it were made available (e.g., transcontinental and transatlantic flights in reliable, fast, and comfortable aircraft).


    Normally in Hollywood movies, the private businessman is the villain, and a noble representative of the government often a congressman or a senator is necessary to bring him to justice.
    The Aviator reverses this Hollywood stereotype, casting the crusading senator as the corrupt villain and the businessman as the victim of government injustice. Usually in American popular culture, the government is presented as the solution to all our problems ("there ought to be a law"), and we almost never see the idea that free market forces might be the real answer. By contrast, The Aviator seems to suggest that the government itself is the problem, and the entrepreneurial spirit is presented as the key to improving the world. I do not wish to associate Martin Scorsese with Ayn Rand, but I will say that not since the courtroom scene in The Fountainhead (King Vidor, 1949) has a Hollywood movie vindicated the philosophy of rugged individualism as forcefully as The Aviator does in the Senate hearing scene.

    I knew there was a reason I loved this movie. It was so good I cried at the end. Now I'm reminded that I haven't yet added it to my DVD collection... I'll have to fix that.

    Posted by Tom, 7/30/2007 6:08:17 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Sunday, July 29, 2007

    Seriously... long are we going to put up with this crap?

    A report Friday on astronaut health and behavior appeared to undermine NASA's assertions for the past two decades that its work culture has been changed to put more value on workers' concerns about the safety of spaceflights.

    NASA supervisors approved launches despite advice from agency physicians, called flight surgeons, that shuttle astronauts were unfit to fly, according to the report commissioned by NASA director Michael Griffin.

    NASA has to go. They need to turn space over to private enterprise, raffle off their equipment, and get out of the business entirely. At this point, we're just waiting for another billion-dollar spacecraft and 7 lives to go up in smoke. It's only a matter of time.

    Posted by Tom, 7/29/2007 9:26:40 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Gettin' the hookup

    MCB ranted recently about lacking free wi-fi access on a business trip:

    First airport post to my jounal. It's 1:14AM at home but here in Las Vagas its only a little after 10:00PM. This is the first damn place the whole trip that has offered free internet access. Cleveland airport wanted money, Denver wanted money, Orange County airport wanted money and of course the hotel I stayed in (The Queen Mary) wanted money. I actually payed a few dollar for some access to check my work email. Even the confrence center were the DARPA MEMS meeting was wanted money for access. It seems just a few years ago all the hotels were offering free internet access what happened?

    Here's my experience: First, the airports are out to screw you. They offer nothing but paid services, and all apparently by different providers, which makes it really suck when you start by waiting 2 hours at one airport, then have a 5-hour layover in another. If you buy at the one, sure, it's good for 24 hours, but when you get to the second airport they have a different provider and you have to pay all over again. It royally sucks.

    Second, the cheaper the motel, the more likely it is you'll get free wi-fi. Best Western, Holiday Inn, et al always seem to offer it up for free. There's a Holiday Inn in the podunk town in Illinois where my sister-in-law lives, gives away the wi-fi. Went to the freakin' Marriott in downtown San Francisco, paid $13 a day. Same with the Sheraton the previous time we went there. Go to the cheap hotels. You'll spend less on your room, and you'll get the hookup.

    Third, as trip preparation, go on the internet and find the location of every Panera Bread and IHOP near the destination. They all offer free wi-fi, near as I can tell. I've heard that some Starbucks do too, but haven't confirmed that.

    Fourth, create a bookmark group in your browser of sites that map free wi-fi, like Be sure to check several different sites, as they all have different lists of who's offering. It makes all the difference in the world. Hmm... maybe I ought to add that as a sidebar group...

    Posted by Tom, 7/29/2007 7:29:32 AM (Permalink). 5 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Saturday, July 28, 2007

    Reality Check

    Well, I met with the "other" trainer today. This guy is hardcore, and very much involved in Olympic lifting. Bob is about 75 years old, and has apparently worked with Shane Hamman at some point in the past. Overall, I was very impressed by his training setup, which is in his garage. The class he was teaching at the time consisted of high school boys, and they were looking very good at what they were doing.

    However, the main thing that attracted me to Bob's program was not all the lifting, the equipment, or the coaching. It was the fact that most of his students in class today were kids from broken homes, without mothers, or with parents in prison. He showed me a letter from one of the boys' mothers, who thanked him for taking her son under his wing and giving him some self-respect and self-confidence. Bob doesn't just have a training program, he has a ministry. I found that incredibly inspiring.

    Bob extended an invitation for me to come work with him 3 days a week, and I'll probably do it for a couple of weeks, if anything just to try out the Olympic lifts (snatch, clean & jerk). However, I don't know that I'll try to become one of his pros. First, I'm not really interested in the Olympic lifts in and of themselves. The other powerlifts (squat, dead lift, bench press) seem more practical to me, not to mention easier to do on my own and without tearing up my garage floor.

    Second, Bob lives about 40 miles away from my house, 5 miles away from my job. The second part doesn't sound so bad, but I really prefer to lift in the morning, and going before work creates the whole "shower problem". Beyond that, I'm just not sure I want to go back to the evening. I'm usually tired and disgruntled by 5 pm, and would rather go home, have a protein shake, and crash.

    Finally, my wife pointed out something to me, that really hits home. I've been doing all this in part because I want performance, but there's also a part that wants to look better. Olympic lifting and powerlifting tend to produce a particular type of body. With no disparagement intended toward Shane Hamman or his awesome accomplishments, I really don't want to look like him:

    At the extreme other end of the spectrum is of course the bodybuilder, who lifts less weight, but "looks" stronger than the typical powerlifter. Markus Ruhl is of course my favorite example these days. Again, not to disparage Markus and his endeavors, but I really don't want to look like him either:

    What I want is something in between. I want performance, and I want to look good without my shirt on. I'm really tired of going to the beach and keeping a t-shirt on because I hate the way I look bare-chested. I've been overweight/obese for 15 years, and I'm done with trying to convince myself I'm OK with it. I'm not.

    I've heard that Henry Rollins bench presses 370 pounds. He also has nothing to be ashamed of in the shirtless department, as this pic clearly shows:

    He's not as big as Markus, not as powerful as Shane, but I have to say... if I looked like that and could lift that much, I wouldn't complain. I don't think most guys (or their girls) would. Henry's also over 40, which gives me great hope for my potential as I age.

    I'm glad I got the chance to talk to Bob, because it really helped me zero in on what it is that I want and what I need to be doing to get it. I'm also inspired to find a way to take what I'm doing and loving and try to see if I can turn it into something positive for the young men in my small town. I don't exactly know how that'll work, but I'd really like to give it a try.

    Posted by Tom, 7/28/2007 3:20:48 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Friday, July 27, 2007

    It doesn't get easier from here

    Mrs. Curmudgeon and I were discussing the weightlifting over lunch, and one of the epiphanies we shared was that it's not going to get easier. We've both hit those blocking points where it's really hard. We've used up our casual strength, which has been maintained with endless couch potatoing, and are now into the phase of building new strength. It'll never be as easy as it has been to increase weight. From now on, we are hard against it, and we'll have to struggle for every advance. This is where perseverance becomes the most important virtue. This is where we tell our bodies what to do, rather than listening for what they can do.

    It's a helpful change of perspective for me. When I was hitting the wall before, I thought of it as a sort of barrier that I couldn't get through or over. But now I realize that this is just the point at which the real work begins. It's not a wall that you smack into. It's more like when you're riding a bike along a flat road, and you can keep going faster and faster, then you start climbing a hill, and slowly your momentum is drained away. You shift down through all your gears, until it's just a slow process of pushing one pedal after the other, making inches of progress with each rotation. You're still going forward, but you have to accept the limitations of gravity and slope, gutting it out for the long slow climb ahead.

    Posted by Tom, 7/27/2007 6:21:35 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...


    Senate rejects extra 300 million for Real ID

    Thursday's vote indicated "Real ID is dead in the water, and it is clear that no amount of money can save it," ACLU Legislative Counsel Tim Sparapani said in a statement. "The only solution to Real ID is to scrap and replace it, and Congress has caught on."


    Politicians in both chambers have also proposed bills this year that would repeal the original Real ID Act and replace it with what civil liberties groups view as more flexible, privacy-protecting requirements.

    Here's hoping that last bit isn't just code for "we'll sneak it through later on, when you're not paying attention."

    Posted by Tom, 7/27/2007 6:15:48 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Dying for Lifesaving Drugs

    That's the title of Reason magazine's current missive in their ongoing campaign for better care of the terminally and critically ill. The article is so infuriating, with the uncaring, disengaged attitude some in government seem to have towards the suffering of others, that I don't think I'm going to comment much. Just know that it drives me bananas. Especially stuff like this:

    In February the Food and Drug Law Institute, a D.C. nonprofit that promotes education on law and public policy, held a colloquium on the Abigail Alliance's lawsuit that illustrated just how far outside the medical consensus the alliance and its supporters really are. The colloquium included high-profile lawyers, a specialist in pharmacoeconomics, and Arthur Caplan, one of the world's most prominent bioethicists. The only panelist clearly in favor of the alliance's position was Scott Ballenger, the alliance's lawyer.

    Most of the panelists expressed profound discomfort with the Abigail Alliance's rights-based argument and its challenge to the regulatory structure. Caplan argued that terminally ill patients are desperate and therefore may be more in need of the FDA's paternalism than other classes of patients. The panelists spoke of caution, of "giving pause," of balancing risk between patient and society.

    After hours of staid presentations and speeches before an audience of 100, Steve Walker approached the mike as an audience member. "You're all approaching this topic from 40,000 feet," he charged, launching into an impassioned retelling of his wife's decline. The panelists looked nervously at their colloquium booklets. The moderator, shifting in her seat, looked torn over whether to cut him off.

    Such are the P.R. challenges of the Abigail Alliance. As lawyers, medical professionals, and bureaucrats debate the optimal regulatory structure, Walker and Burroughs want to supplement abstractions with anecdote, to replace talk of test subjects with stories of dead wives and daughters. But when they trade the language of clinical science for that of loss and bereavement, they can come off as too invested to be reasonable and too emotional to merit response. In the heavily risk-averse culture of the FDA bureaucracy, talk of rapid, radical change isn't even countered. It's just ignored.

    It makes no sense at all to me to even discuss "balancing risk between patient and society". Society is not an entity. Society has no rights. Society feels no pain. Patients do. Society can go hang, for all I care. People are what matter. Individuals who suffer matter. Abstract notions of what helps "the greater good" are absolutely pointless if the individual's rights and suffering are ignored. Know what'll help the greater good? Allowing people in pain, people who are dying, access to whatever they, in cooperation with whatever professional caregivers they trust, deem necessary and appropriate to their comfort or survival. The only obstacles are the ones people like this create.

    Posted by Tom, 7/27/2007 6:02:26 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Thursday, July 26, 2007

    Nasty flash

    Apparently there's been an explosion at the airport where Burt Rutan tests his designs. I really really really try to keep my inner conspiracy theorist on short leash, but this immediately made me think about Victor Koman's theories in Kings of the High Frontier.

    Anyway, it looks like there's 2 dead, but one of them is not Burt Rutan. Here's some linkies:

    2 Killed After Explosion at Mojave Desert Airport
    Large explosion at small California airport kills 2, injures 4
    Rocket Explosion Kills Two At Mojave In California

    Posted by Tom, 7/26/2007 6:44:39 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Another good report

    Today I went to see a personal trainer. The idea was to get some professional eyes on my form and technique, and hopefully get some tips. As I go up in weight, I need to have excellent form for some of the more dangerous lifts (squat and dead lift in particular), to make sure I don't injure myself. This time last year, when I was putting in the new dog fence, I managed to screw up my back a bit while wrestling with the jackhammer. It has since healed, but I worry about messing it up again with all this lifting.

    All that is a really long way to say that the trainer was happy with my form all around. He was especially pleased with my squat and dead lift, which I've been working hard to keep correct, so it appears that watching exercise videos on the internet and trying to mimic them does work. He did suggest some extra abdominal exercises to help the back muscles do their job, but overall I'm good to go. Score!

    Posted by Tom, 7/26/2007 6:06:35 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Wednesday, July 25, 2007

    World of the Future!

    My parents are visiting my brother, and took the opportunity to use his iMac for a videoconference with me.

    I love technology.

    Posted by Tom, 7/25/2007 4:59:36 AM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Tuesday, July 24, 2007

    Ron Paul in the NY Times

    Here's a rather lengthy article on the Curmudgeon's favorite candidate. I think it requires a free but annoying login:

    The Antiwar, Anti-Abortion, Anti-Drug-Enforcement-Administration, Anti-Medicare Candidacy of Dr. Ron Paul

    Posted by Tom, 7/24/2007 5:47:07 PM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Monday, July 23, 2007

    Results are in...

    I went for my follow-up meeting with my nurse practitioner today. This one was a lot better -- I felt like she actually listened to me, and that we were engaged in collaborating about my health rather than me listening to her read from a script.

    The really uplifting part was when she stated repeatedly how proud of me she was for taking such an interest in my health, and how she wished she had more patients like me. That went a long way toward erasing the rather depressing first meeting a couple of weeks ago. I felt more like a person and less like a lab specimen. Anyway, here's the dirt:

    My blood pressure was brought completely under control with the Benicar, which she seemed pleased about.

    It appears a hypothyroid diagnosis is confirmed... my TSH levels are all out of whack, and I'm not producing enough of whatever it's supposed to stimulate, so they're starting me on Synthroid. My thyroid is also enlarged, but she said she didn't feel any gremlins on it, so I guess that means it's looking good for tumors and stuff. I told her about my problems losing additional weight, and how an extra couple hundred calories in a day can make me bounce up 2 or 3 pounds almost overnight. She seems to think that getting the Synthroid flowing will put me back on track for weight loss, which would be a great thing after sitting on this plateau for 2 or 3 months.

    Surprisingly, cholesterol turned out pretty good.

    Triglycerides115less than 150
    Cholesterol, Total144125 - 200
    HDL Cholesterol37greater than 40
    LDL Cholesterol84less than 130

    The only thing that looks bad is the HDL, and she seemed to think that might fix itself with additional weight loss, so she's holding off on prescribing anything to fix it. She also thinks the blood pressure might similarly self-correct, so here's hoping. I'd rather not get started on any more "in perpetuity" drugs than I absolutely have to. I always feel sorry for those folks that have to ask for additional pieces of paper to list their medications.

    Follow-up in September... here's hoping the Synthroid does the trick and lets me hit my first major milestone in this journey.

    Posted by Tom, 7/23/2007 6:39:52 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Libertarian Christian

    The Blessed Economist has written up a couple of short pieces about the model of authority in Christian society. Amazingly, he does not parrot the same model that I've heard repeated and seen tacitly accepted throughout the present-day churches I've visited: that the pastor is sort of like a tribal chieftan who wields the executive power, while the deacons/trustees/elders are like congress, handing down edicts from their lordly posts. Even if a particular church does not explicitly follow this model, or its leadership would not agree that this is the model it follows, from where I sit in the cheap seats, that's awfully close to what it looks like. I have had the rare occasion to see a pastor attempt to just be a dictator, but didn't enjoy the experience enough to stick around and watch it play out.

    At any rate, anyone who is even remotely interested in how libertarian principles and Christian ones intermingle should read these two posts. They succinctly summarize what I've been trying to say (in my usual, exhausting, wordy style) for the last 4 years:

    Control and the Kingdom of God
    Authority and the Kingdom

    It has always seemed to me that those attempting to gather power and authority to themselves are acting contrary to what I've seen in the Bible, particularly the New Testament. I have a bit of a problem with Paul, who despite his conversion really seems to maintain a love of authoritarian language, perhaps as a carryover from his days as an inquisitor. Reading between the lines, however, it seems that he struggles against that part of himself that wants to order others around and force them to do his bidding. I think he knew that such is not the path of grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness.

    Anyway, I'm grateful to the Blessed Economist for these two summaries. I'm still working on how they can be fleshed out into a full-blown dissertation on why Christians should be libertarian.

    Posted by Tom, 7/23/2007 6:25:38 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Hoppe on Health

    The inimitable Hans-Hermann Hoppe wrote up a 4-point recommendation on health care... back in 1993. Thanks to the Anti-Positivist for digging it up. Among the very good points:

    Deregulate the health insurance industry. Private enterprise can offer insurance against events over whose outcome the insured possesses no control. One cannot insure oneself against suicide or bankruptcy, for example, because it is in one's own hands to bring these events about.


    Because of legal restrictions on the health insurers' right of refusal--to exclude any individual risk as uninsurable--the present health-insurance system is only partly concerned with insurance. The industry cannot discriminate freely among different groups' risks.

    As a result, health insurers cover a multitude of uninnsurable risks, alongside, and pooled with, genuine insurance risks. They do not discriminate among various groups of people which pose significantly different insurance risks. The industry thus runs a system of income redistribution--benefiting irresponsible actors and high-risk groups at the expense of responsible individuals and low risk groups. Accordingly the industry's prices are high and ballooning.

    Critics of the present US system, especially those who believe it represents a "free market" model, seriously need to grok this point.

    Posted by Tom, 7/23/2007 6:21:49 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Sunday, July 22, 2007

    On Weakness

    But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.
    -- 2 Corinthians 12:9

    Posted by Tom, 7/22/2007 12:35:00 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    The Hunger and the Habit

    It begins innocently enough, trying something new and discovering that it's fun or relaxing or enjoyable. It's the pleasant buzz from a drink, or the relaxing calm of a cigarette, or even something as simple as eating something I really shouldn't.

    Then comes the part where something else in life goes wrong and, in search of a quick and easy way to feel better about it, I turn to that thing that gives me pleasure. This works so amazingly well that the next time something goes wrong, I go right back to it. The calm and pleasure is still there, waiting for me, helping me to get over the rough patch.

    Then the downward cycle begins... I don't think, as so many have said, that it just takes more and more to achieve the "high" or bring me out of the "low". No, it's sneakier than that. The actual progression is that it takes less and less intense "bad spots" in the rest of my life to trigger a need or desire to "use". Before it was a wrecked car, now it's just a flat tire. Before it was screaming argument with my wife, now it's just a mild disagreement. Before it was getting laid off from a job, now it's just a disapproving word from my boss.

    Eventually it gets to the point where there don't even have to be rough patches. Using is a way of life -- a way to get up in the morning and make it to work. It's become a form of maintenance. Then comes that horrifying day when I'm not even interested in using -- frankly, it's boring -- but I find myself doing it anyway, just because it's become part of my daily routine. I call this part the Habit.

    So then comes recovery. Tearfully begging for forgiveness, making amends to those I've hurt, rearranging my life to avoid temptation, trying to discover the root causes of my addiction and address them. Figuring out how to deal with the things that bring me down in some way other than employing addict-style behaviors. The first few times are hard, because it seems everything can turn addictive. I see it in those around me: the alcoholic who becomes a smoker who becomes an overeater who becomes a chronic internet user who... and so on.

    Finally, after much effort, prayer, meditation, and other forms of "working on it", a state of calm is reached. Rough patches come, I deal with them. High points come, I celebrate them without needing to use. Life is good.

    Then, out of the corner of my eye, something catches my attention. It reminds me of the previous comfort and safety of being in the Habit. It makes me yearn for it, planting a tiny little pinprick of a seed, a miniscule cold spot somewhere behind my belly button, that just sits there and waits. I try to forget about it, but a part of my mind is always worrying over it: "why is that here? Why can't I get rid of it? Why is it so hard to ignore?" And it just sits and waits.

    Then something comes along... one of those incidents that I've learned to deal with healthily and purposefully... and the tiny pinprick leaps into action, growing into a cold, hard knot in my stomach. It claws at me, a ravenous Hunger raging for the fix. "Drink this! Smoke that! Eat the other! For Pete's sake, USE!!! You'll feel better when you do." I may avoid it. I may be able to pray it into submission. I may be able to deal with it for now. But the Hunger is never really destroyed. It just sits. And waits. It's patient, like a spider or a cat. Sooner or later, I'll stumble again, and need something to fall on. Something that will make everything feel better for just a little while.

    And all the while, it whispers... it knows that I hate the Habit. It knows that I don't want to fall back into the cycle of mindless repetition. The Hunger tries to convince me that it'll be satisfied with just a taste. I know different, but it's just so persuasive...

    Hold me now
    I'm six feet from the edge and I'm thinking
    Maybe six feet ain't so far down
    -- Creed

    Posted by Tom, 7/22/2007 12:30:52 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Get out the Drano...

    ...something seems to be clogging up the intertubes.

    I've had a heck of a time getting to all my favorite sites for the past 3 days or so. It happened at work, it happened at home, resetting the DSL modem and rebooting multiple times hasn't helped. What the heck is going on?

    Posted by Tom, 7/22/2007 7:52:26 AM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Friday, July 20, 2007

    Power Overwhelming!

    Sweet jumpin' Jehoshaphat! Blizzard has finally announced ARCHONS for StarCraft 2!!!

    Archons were one of my favorite units in the original game. Of course, they were weak to Terran Science Vessels, which made THAT unit a favorite of one of my friends, but there was nothing like getting a full squad of Archons rampaging across the countryside, obliterating everything in their path. Everything about them just reeks of cool... from the graphic to the sound effects to the voice.

    Now I am completely geeked, as if I wasn't already. I might have to go back and play some games of StarCraft just to re-acquaint myself with these bad boys.

    Just for the extra geek factor, check out this sound clip from the original Archons...

    Posted by Tom, 7/20/2007 6:01:13 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Tuesday, July 17, 2007

    Ron Paul on the Daily Show

    Just discovered this interview with Ron Paul.

    Posted by Tom, 7/17/2007 7:47:46 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Suiting up

    Victor Koman ranted about it in Kings of the High Frontier, and finally NASA is doing something about it. Say hello to the more wearable, practical space suit.

    Posted by Tom, 7/17/2007 7:09:34 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Spotless lifting

    A dealer near me carries the ultra-fancied-up version of these machines, but the P-100 looks more my speed (and somewhat closer to my pocketbook). Having tried out the demo model at the store, I have to say it has got to be the coolest thing ever for weightlifting. For a garage lifter like me, where finding a spotter can be a hassle, having something like this could go a long way toward building my confidence to try heavier weights. However, given the cost of the unit, it'll probably be a while before I can get one. I'll be getting a more primitive cage first (another local dealer has these for about $500, sans lat tower), then save up for one of the techno-geek machines.

    Posted by Tom, 7/17/2007 6:47:32 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Breathe in, breathe out

    No, this isn't a post about Bush's song "Machinehead".

    I recently heard a presentation that contained a metaphor for Christian life: breathe in Bible study and relationship with God, breathe out Christian action and love for our neighbors. It must be a constant ebb and flow, a continuous process of pulling in God's love and wisdom and pushing it out through our activities. It's a metaphor I'd heard before, but it never really stuck with me as something that is repeated over and over and over again, just like breathing.

    For me, "breathe in" meant go on a men's retreat or something, and try to inhale as much as possible. Upon leaving, I was to "breathe out" continuously until the next one came along, which might be a year or more. Like physically exhaling for far longer than one was made to do, it left me dizzy, exhausted, and useless.

    This morning, it struck me that the predominant pattern in my life has been to spend more than I make. It's obvious in financial terms, and perhaps easiest to deal with as a result, because there's a built-in numerical accounting function. It's a little less obvious when I think about how I do it with my time, but because we measure time in discrete units, it can also be managed.

    Now I realize that I do it with spirituality -- I spend and spend and spend, then only take in a little bit compared to my spending, then spend some more. It's no wonder that I am constantly exhausted and drained from my volunteer efforts. I've been trying to exhale for way too long. It's time to take a breath.

    The few times I've been SCUBA diving, it's been interesting to work under the conditions of needing to actually think about breathing. The water pressure and the regulator combine to make breathing an almost unnatural act. I'm sure that more experienced divers don't even think about it anymore, but as a rank novice, I thought about breathing more than I did about moving around.

    Maybe that's what I need to do, spiritually speaking -- think about breathing. Instead of trusting the rhythm to some unconscious process, I need to stop worrying about moving around, and just breathe. Slowly. Consciously. Deliberately. In a little. Out a little. Feel the rhythm. Let volume come with practice. And when someone wants me to breathe out just a little more, have the courage to say "I need to stop and breathe in". Eventually, like a master diver, I'll probably be able to do it without thinking. For now, I think I need to be more intentional.

    Breathe in...

    Posted by Tom, 7/17/2007 6:40:50 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Charitable Giving has an excellent article about the economic realities of private charity vs government "charity". It highlights the market forces that are at work even when the money involved is being given away:

    While my wife and I agonized, never feeling satisfied that our level of financial commitment was sufficient, Bush proudly committed multiples of our contribution level (when you consider the $30 billion on a per-capita basis) without taking into account our ability to pay. It was easy for him.

    Politicians can proudly proclaim their gifts to the world, and never worry about the source of funds, nor weigh the gifts against alternate choices. They simply get to give, smile, and sit back to receive the accolades that fall at the feet of the political don. What a life though a life devoid of reason and reality.

    You see, by acknowledging the reality of scarcity, we actually create more value. Scarcity causes us to provide funds to the producers of only the most worthy goods produced most efficiently. This is true whether the good is a producer good, consumer good, or charitable good.

    I have heard many go on about how government ought to do this good work or perform that charitable service, because it has all this money it can spend. But when government undertakes to do so, it does not live in the reality of scarcity -- the reality that the money it spends has a limit. It therefore does not really examine the institutions to which it gives, examinations that would be paramount if the money it spent were actually produced by government enterprise.

    Posted by Tom, 7/17/2007 6:34:58 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    DIY Gun-Free Zone

    Posted by Tom, 7/17/2007 6:00:13 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Monday, July 16, 2007

    Weight Training Resources

    I've added a new category of links at left, covering some places to see how certain exercises are done. For example, I had no idea what a "power clean" was, but these sites have provided all sorts of useful information. And as a result of browsing the exercises, I now have a new fitness goal: I want to be able to do a full set of 15 power straights. Just watching that video makes me tired.

    Posted by Tom, 7/16/2007 6:02:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Sunday, July 15, 2007

    Favorite Hymn

    OK, so I lied about the Monday thing.

    Over the weekend, I think I rediscovered my favorite hymn, or at least one of them. This is a song that nowadays is usually sung in churches with the help of a fancy video presentation of beautiful planetscapes and such, and I had actually grown tired of it for that reason. If you're in a church with any kind of modern audio-visual equipment, you probably know what video I'm talking about. The video really detracts from it, in my opinion.

    Anyway, this weekend I had the opportunity to sing this song without all the fancy technology, and instead just enthusiastically belt it out with a bunch of like-minded fellow singers.

    Side note: it's amazing to me, how a group of people can sing together and sound absolutely marvelous, though any one of them singing alone would be migraine-inducing.

    Back to the song... being able to sing it without the fancy-schmancy gave me an opportunity to just revel in the words and the experience. It felt, for a change, like actually praising God instead of participating in some computer-guided show of fakery. It helps that the song itself has such a great movement to it, starting off slow and contemplative in each verse, then building into a refrain that has real power without being martial, as so many others are (eg, "Power in the Blood", "Onward Christian Soldiers"). Anyway, here it is:

    O Lord my God, When I in awesome wonder,
    Consider all the worlds Thy Hands have made;
    I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
    Thy power throughout the universe displayed.

    Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
    How great Thou art, How great Thou art.
    Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
    How great Thou art, How great Thou art!

    When through the woods, and forest glades I wander,
    And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees.
    When I look down, from lofty mountain grandeur
    And see the brook, and feel the gentle breeze.

    Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
    How great Thou art, How great Thou art.
    Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
    How great Thou art, How great Thou art!

    And when I think, that God, His Son not sparing;
    Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in;
    That on the Cross, my burden gladly bearing,
    He bled and died to take away my sin.

    Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
    How great Thou art, How great Thou art.
    Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
    How great Thou art, How great Thou art!

    When Christ shall come, with shout of acclamation,
    And take me home, what joy shall fill my heart.
    Then I shall bow, in humble adoration,
    And then proclaim: "My God, how great Thou art!"

    Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
    How great Thou art, How great Thou art.
    Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
    How great Thou art, How great Thou art!

    -- Carl G. Boberg and R.J. Hughes

    Posted by Tom, 7/15/2007 6:32:49 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Thursday, July 12, 2007

    Away for the weekend

    Won't be posting until Monday at the earliest.

    Posted by Tom, 7/12/2007 6:17:52 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Wednesday, July 11, 2007

    Body Mass Index

    After my run-in with the doctor nurse practitioner over my size and weight, I decided to do a little research into the BMI. According to Wikipedia, it was invented between 1830 and 1850, which immediately suggests a problem to me. Anyone who's ever been to a Civil War (1861 - 1865) museum and looked at the uniforms knows the problem I'm talking about. People in that era were tiny.

    I've read elsewhere that this is most likely due to differences in available nutrition, especially for the developmental years. The richest man in America at that time couldn't buy the quality of food that we have today, simply because it wasn't available. So what we're talking about is a system developed using populations that were several inches shorter on average than people today. As I look at the young adults entering the college near me, it is amazing how much larger (not fatter) they are on average compared to the people with whom I remember going to college, and that's a mere 18-year spread.

    Why is all this important? Well for one thing, BMI is based on the square of the height as compared to the weight. The problem is that body volume increases as a cube, not a square, as the organism gets larger. The human body is 70% water, and more volume equals more weight. More weight means denser bones and larger, denser muscles in a healthy individual, just to move the mass around.

    As an example, let's compute the BMI for the world's tallest man, Bao Xishun, who is 2.36 meters and 165 kg. Using the metric calculator, the man's BMI comes out to 29.6, which means severely overweight and borderline obese.

    Now let's see what this fat bastard looks like. He must be a real tub:

    Dang! Look at the huge globs of fat hanging off of... nowhere.

    And let's not forget that height is only one dimension in which skeletal variance can be expressed. Broader shoulders, longer arms, a "barrel chest", and so forth can also increase the volume without necessarily increasing the fat content.

    The second problem with BMI is the fact that muscle is denser than fat. A given volume of muscle weighs more than an equal volume of fat, which means that two people could be exactly the same dimensions, but if one is a weightlifter and the other a couch potato, the weightlifter is penalized for being in better shape.

    Just for giggles, I decided to do a BMI on the Incredible Hulk:

    According to Marvel, the green Hulk weighs in between 1040 and 1400 pounds, and is between 7 and 8 feet tall. This yields a BMI between 103 and 106. Statistically, he's dead.

    Of course, the first counter-argument here is that the Hulk is a cartoon character. Well, so is this guy, whose pic I thiefed from Muscle & Fitness, but I wouldn't complain if I looked like him. Note his height is 5'11" and his competition weight of 280 yields a BMI of 39 (one foot in the grave):

    I'm not so delusional as to think that I look anything like Markus or the Hulk, but this whole deal is a continuum, and given that I'm doing the kind of exercises that Markus does (though obviously not at the same intensity), they must be producing the same kind of physiological changes. When I was 30 pounds heavier and could barely do a pair of pushups, I deserved every bit of the "obese" label. Today, I don't think I do. And if I put that 30 pounds back on in the form of muscle as I work towards being more Markus-like, I think it would be fair for me to get a little peeved at any medical type who called me obese.

    Also according to Wikipedia:

    BMI values are valid only as statistical categories when applied to adults, and do not predict health.


    The medical establishment has generally acknowledged some shortcomings of BMI.[11] Because the BMI is dependent only upon net weight and height, it makes simplistic assumptions about distribution of muscle and bone mass, and thus may overestimate adiposity on those with more lean body mass (e.g. athletes) while underestimating adiposity on those with less lean body mass (e.g. the elderly). However, some argue that the error in the BMI is significant and so pervasive that it is not generally useful in evaluation of health.[12] Due to these limitations, body composition for athletes is often better calculated using measures of body fat, as determined by such techniques as skinfold measurements or underwater weighing.

    OK, so maybe I can calm down a bit about it. Honestly, I do have some belly fat left to lose, and I will, but perhaps the "everybody panic" response was uncalled for.

    Posted by Tom, 7/11/2007 6:03:15 PM (Permalink). 4 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Heinlein Centennial

    Reason has finally posted their article on Robert Heinlein that came out in the latest print issue. I had hoped they would be, you know, on the ball or something and post it on his birthday, but no such luck. Better late than never, I guess.

    I particularly liked this quote from Heinlein, which reminds me why I do the things I do:

    Heinlein was not deeply embedded in the economic strain of libertarianism, which stresses the importance of spontaneous order, the failures of central planning, and the efficiency of free markets... In a 1973 interview with the libertarian writer J. Neil Schulman, Heinlein was doubtful when Schulman referred to the greater efficiency of free markets. "I don't think the increase in efficiency on the part of free enterprise is that great," Heinlein said. "The justification for free enterprise is not that it's more efficient, but that it's free."

    While I disagree with his assessment of the free market's efficacy, I appreciate his placing the focus on freedom as an important fundamental principle that should not be ignored, which it too often is these days.

    Posted by Tom, 7/11/2007 5:51:08 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Tuesday, July 10, 2007

    Harry Potter

    I might have to read those books... who knows, they may catch on some day...

    Posted by Tom, 7/10/2007 6:34:10 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Nurses & Needles

    Having worked on losing weight and getting in shape for about 6 months, I figured it was time to go get a progress report from my doctor nurse practitioner. I scheduled a physical, went in, got poked and prodded and so forth, then we chatted for a while.

    Thing 1: I used to be 5' 11" tall. Now I'm 5' 9", for some reason. Whoever stole my 2 inches, I want them back.

    Thing 2: Despite having lost 30 pounds and developing the beginnings of a great upper body musculature thanks to my lifting program, I'm still "obese" by the BMI chart. I think this is at least partly due to Thing 1. Logically, I know I'm headed in the right direction. Emotionally, that "obese" label is soul-crushing.

    Thing 3: I have high blood pressure, in the form of stage 1 hypertension. So now I'm on blood pressure medication... which in my mind has always been a signal of "you're going to die soon". I asked if there was hope I'd be off the medicine some day, and she was not reassuring. I noted that my family history supposedly has heart problems and such in it, and she said that it may just be a genetic thing. Still, she wants me on the meds.

    Thing 4: She sent me in for cholesterol testing.

    Side note: the nurse who drew the blood for the cholesterol test used the typical harpoon-sized blood needle, yet managed to keep me from feeling any more than a pinch. But the nurse who regularly gives me my allergy shot, with a needle so small as to be nearly invisible, manages to make it feel like a quarter-inch drill bit. What's up with that?

    On the good side of things, she complimented my dedication to my weightlifting program, and thought my diet was a good one. She gave me a bit of a lecture on corn that seemed rather overdone, and wanted to see me get some more green vegetables, but overall she was on my side for the diet and exercise part. I'm supposed to add some cardio into my workout routine, and she wants to see me at a weight that frankly I don't believe is possible, given that it's 10 pounds lighter than I was in my prime at 18 years old.

    So there we go... I'm not even fat -- "fat" would be an upgrade for me -- I have the heart of someone twice my age, I'm shrinking, my cholesterol level is probably going to come back saying my blood is the consistency of cottage cheese, and despite pumping iron 6 days a week, I'm not exercising enough.

    The only thing keeping me from winding up face-down in a plate of lasagna is the fact that I physically feel better than I did 6 months ago. And when I got home tonight, I tried on my suit... the one I had to squeeze into for my brother's wedding. I plan to wear it this coming weekend, and it looks like I might need some suspenders for the pants, or they won't be staying on. So I guess that's a different measure I can work with.

    Posted by Tom, 7/10/2007 6:15:45 PM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Monday, July 9, 2007

    Leatherman multi-tool: use #7248

    Problem: You're at work, having your 1:00 protein shake, which you've unintentionally made too thick. You have plastic spoons at your desk, but they're not long enough to reach the bottom of your protein shake container.


    Posted by Tom, 7/9/2007 6:02:50 PM (Permalink). 3 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Saturday, July 7, 2007

    Pontiac Vibe: first mileage report

    Well, we finally got a good odometer read and gas measurement from the Vibe. 31.7 mpg. Can't say I'm displeased -- we're within 2 mpg of the official EPA "highway" estimates. Given the price of gas these days, I'm calling this a win.

    Posted by Tom, 7/7/2007 3:32:28 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Happy 100th birthday, Robert Heinlein

    We proceed down the path marked by his ideas.
    -- Tom Clancy

    Posted by Tom, 7/7/2007 4:00:23 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Friday, July 6, 2007

    Size matters

    Check out this excellent article over at Reason, contemplating the reasons why big and powerful do not always equate with "fit to survive".

    Posted by Tom, 7/6/2007 6:18:28 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    City of Idols

    I really liked this post over at Blessed Economist:

    ...Washington DC is a city of idols.
    I saw the Washington idol.
    I saw the Lincoln idol.
    I saw the Kennedy idol
    I saw the Jefferson idol.
    The worst thing was that I saw busloads of children and teenagers coming to offer worship at the idols of the city, like children being offered to Molech.

    Posted by Tom, 7/6/2007 5:55:03 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Tuesday, July 3, 2007

    Privacy vs Immigration

    Ars Technica seems to think that the Real ID provisions helped nuke the immigration bill:

    The big political news in the US this week is that the omnibus immigration bill -- the one that would have created a guest worker program, opened up a legal path to citizenship for currently-illegal immigrants, and enhanced border enforcement -- died. While cries of "Amnesty!" certainly helped to derail the legislation, some commentators believe that the controversial Real ID Act also played a role in its demise.


    Jim Harper of the libertarian Cato Institute examined the issue yesterday and concluded that "the inclusion of Real ID killed immigration reform." Though he admitted in an e-mail to Ars that this was perhaps putting the case too strongly, he did maintain that Real ID issues did help to bring the bill down. "A majority of Senators do not support REAL ID and they will not act to prop it up," he wrote, "even at the cost of bringing down immigration reform. That validates my statement -- in two congressional testimonies now -- that REAL ID is a dead letter. All that's left is for Congress to declare it so."

    At least someone in Washington is looking out for our privacy rights. Real ID and its related provisions (the Homeland Security clearance requirement for job seekers) were my major objections to the immigration bill.

    Posted by Tom, 7/3/2007 6:28:54 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Monday, July 2, 2007

    Minimum price setting

    Reader PastorFreud has asked me to pontificate on this recent case at the Supreme Court about manufacturers setting minimum prices for their goods and contractually obligating retailers to observe them. Here's the background articles:

    Can Fixed Minimum Retail Prices Be a Benefit for Consumers?
    Minimum-Price Accords May Be Allowed, Top Court Says
    Minimum retail price accords allowed, U.S. Supreme Court rules

    My first response to situations like this is to ask, "who is being harmed by a minimum price agreement?" The knee-jerk response of those who want to legislate against the practice is that the customer is harmed. I cannot agree with this position. For the customer to be harmed, some force or fraud must be employed against him or his property. He may want or even desperately need the item in question, but unless we say that he has a right to the property of others (ie, a "positive" right), we cannot say that he is harmed by the fact that the item may be priced out of his reach. At worst, his lot is not improved -- he did not have the item before, and he still does not have it. He may have to save more money to obtain it than he would otherwise prefer, but his preferences do not entitle him to dictate prices, only to make an offer at a price level that he would prefer.

    The retailer is not harmed, because whatever loss of sales he suffers is the result of his own voluntary action: that of agreeing to the price arrangement in order to carry the product. Or it may be stated slightly differently, in that he is harmed but it is self-inflicted harm, and thus no concern of ours with regards to government enforcement. The manufacturer will be harmed/not harmed in the same manner.

    Minimum pricing arrangements will also draw out competition even faster, which is bad for the manufacturer and the retailer. If brand X has a minimum price arrangement of $10 per unit, competitor brand Y has an incentive to sell below that price. They may set their price minimum to $9 per unit, or dispense with the minimum price scheme altogether, rightly realizing that by encouraging low prices they will outsell brand X, all else being held equal. Similarly, the inflated profit margins of brand X may draw in brand Z, a company that would not ordinarily make the product in question, but cannot resist the profit potential. Left alone, the market would produce enough product in different brandings to satisfy the desires of all the customers for that product willing to meet market-clearing prices: the bargain hunter, the value shopper, and the price-insensitive snob.

    Some will say that X, Y, and Z may collude to fix the price of the entire market in the given product, but in the free market this is all but impossible. Price-fixing is an invitation to new competition to come in and swipe all the money off the table. This is why, in America and elsewhere, if X, Y, and Z wish to do this, they first go to the government. They get laws passed about "minimum standards of manufacture", or other BS, and raise legal barriers to entry. Once the barriers are erected, they spend more and more of their profits defending those barriers with lobbyists and campaign contributions, and less of it competing in the open market. This is why some market sectors and technologies have stagnated so badly.

    In a nutshell, I say allow the price-fixing arrangements to happen. Tear down the barriers to entry. Let the market show what a fool's game it is to attempt to set such prices. Let the manufacturers cut their own throats, if that's what it takes to teach them. The worst part of the plan is keeping government out of it, not figuring out how to keep it in it.

    Posted by Tom, 7/2/2007 6:22:06 PM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Wonder drug?

    I've been taking melatonin supplements for a few weeks now, and so far it is doing wonders for my years-long battle with insomnia. I take a pill or two at around 9 pm, and usually by 9:30 to 10:00 I'm wiped out. I fall asleep immediately upon getting into bed, sleep pretty much through the night, and wake up feeling fresh and ready for the day. Sounds like a commercial, doesn't it?

    I've tried all kinds of drugs and pills for sleeping disorders, but they all either leave me feeling groggy and dopey in the morning, or they just plain don't work. Melatonin seems to work, and it does so consistently. Given the information at the above-linked Wikipedia article, it's easy to see why. I've recommended it to some friends, and would recommend it to just about anyone who's having trouble sleeping. It's also way cheaper than the stuff Big Pharm tries to sell me.

    I don't know about all the other fantastic benefits claimed, but I'm liking the one about sleep. It's been a long while since I've slept like this.

    Posted by Tom, 7/2/2007 6:09:19 PM (Permalink). 3 Comments. Leave a comment...

    The terrorists that aren't

    Read this, from the Register. Apparently the "7 terrorists" Britain rounded up are either grossly incompetent or poseurs, or both.

    Posted by Tom, 7/2/2007 6:03:02 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...