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Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas Day

Being the Winter Solstice under the Julian Calendar.

Dear Dr. Pournelle,

You might find this article from Touchstone Magazine about the pagan origins of Christmas interesting.


Merry Christmas.


Thank you. I had been aware of this, and had let it slip my mind: the pagans invented their holiday in hopes of undermining the popularity of Christmas. (Before you write to me on this, see below.)

If you did not see yesterday's View, it may still be relevant.

Merry Christmas to all.



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  Glad tidings to all, noting that Google finds tidings on 4,390,000
web pages, glad tidings on 1,150,000 pages, good tidings on 1,330,000
pages, and grim tidings on only 248,000 pages.

Perhaps there is some hope.

Jeff Hecht, writer of science fact and (a little) fiction

  AN ESP Experiment. Be sure to read the explanations.



On Christmas and Solstice Festivals

Regarding yesterday's note: perhaps my tongue was a bit too far in my cheek? Having for all my life heard the canard that Christmas was invented to take the place of the Roman Saturnalia (which it could hardly do, given the nature of Saturnalia) it was a bit fun to turn the tables around.

The fact is that, as noted in the article, December 25 was selected because it was nine months after the Annunciation. I make no doubt that some early believer saw a Sign in having Jesus born on the Solstice (December 25 in that calendar), but it would have been no more than that. Saturnalia was not a Solstice festival. It was on December 17, and got popular enough to run through most of December. Why anyone in his right mind would propose a Christian religious festival designed to take the place of a drunken revel and then place it at the end of the revelry is a bit beyond me, but those who set out to ridicule the church never have any trouble making imbeciles out of the early church fathers.

The fact is, of course, that until Constantine there was no earthly glory in being a church father or a bishop or indeed in being a Christian (I forget which Emperor's Christian mistress negotiated the release of some Christians enslaved to the mines, but one did, so I suppose sometimes there was influence). There were periodic persecutions, some at the whim of an emperor, others by provincial officials who didn't like Christians; and of course then as now the security forces could always win a bit of favor by finding a plot and dealing harshly with it. (Think of Elizabethan England, where there was a bureaucracy whose livings depended on finding popish plots, or Titus Oates after the Restoration who did well swearing people's lives away until he went too far; and then there's modern times.) Until Constantine, being a Christian wasn't something done to get rich and famous.

I doubt that Aurelian instituted his Rebirth of the Sun holiday on 25 December as any reaction to  Christian celebration of Christmas because the Christians of the time paid little attention to holidays to begin with. Easter would have been the big exception, for the obvious reason stated by Paul: "If Christ be not risen, then is all our faith in vain." After Constantine things were different, of course. See Macaulay on the subject of what happened to the Puritans after Cromwell was victorious. A persecuted sect holds the faithful; when it becomes successful and then victorious and official it attracts those who belong in the Sixth Bolgia. (For those unfamiliar with Dante, that's the place for the priests who do well by doing good.) But that's another matter.

Anyway for those who wrote to inform me that I have lost my mind, apologies: my sense of humor takes odd turns.

Incidentally, I am quite aware that Winterset festivals are common among pagans, the more so the more north you go. My Viking ancestors made a big thing out of the days getting longer again, as why wouldn't they?


I'll have mail after my morning walk. The above took up the time I had allotted for that.




Biggest story of our time: our self-extinction

December 24, 2006

BY MARK STEYN Sun-Times Columnist

Suppose for a moment that the birth in Bethlehem that Christians celebrate this week never happened --that it is, as the secularists would have it, mere mumbo jumbo, superstition, a myth. In other words, consider it not as an event but as a narrative. You want to launch a big new global movement from scratch. So what do you use?

The birth of a child.

If Christianity is just a myth, then it is, so to speak, an immaculately conceived one. On the one hand, what could be more powerless than a newborn babe? On the other, without a newborn babe, man is ultimately powerless. For, without new life, there can be no civilization, no society, no nothing.

Of course population decline isn't necessarily a bad thing, but in fact there is always one group willing to fill any niche. That's as true of races and populations as it is of species. White European population is declining but the population of Europe isn't really declining. Some see this as a Good Thing. It's certainly an important story.


David Em and Richard Doherty both call attention to

Article on property rights in Second Life in today's WaPo:

washingtonpost. Where Real Money Meets Virtual Reality, The Jury Is Still Out

By Alan Sipress Washington Post Staff Writer Tuesday, December 26, 2006; Veronica Brown is a hot fashion designer, making a living off the virtual lingerie and formalwear she sells inside the online fantasy world Second Life. She expects to have earned about $60,000 this year from people who buy her digital garments to outfit their animated self-images in this fast-growing virtual community.

But Brown got an unnerving reminder last month of how tenuous her livelihood is when a rogue software program that copies animated objects appeared in Second Life. Scared that their handiwork could be cloned and sold by others, Brown and her fellow shopkeepers launched a general strike and briefly closed the electronic storefronts where they peddle digital furniture, automobiles, hairdos and other virtual wares.

"It was fear, fear of your effort being stolen,'' said Brown, 44, whose online alter ego, Simone Stern, trades under the name Simone! Design.

Brown has reopened her boutique but remains uncomfortably aware that the issue of whether she owns what she makes -- a fundamental right underpinning nearly all businesses -- is unresolved.

As virtual worlds proliferate across the Web, software designers and lawyers are straining to define property rights in this emerging digital realm. The debate over these rights extends far beyond the early computer games that pioneered virtual reality into the new frontiers of commerce.<snip>

It is very much worth reading all of it.


Be afraid.

washingtonpost Size and Scope of the Interagency Investigative Tool Worry Civil Libertarians

By Dan Eggen Washington Post Staff Writer Tuesday, December 26, 2006;

The Justice Department is building a massive database that allows state and local police officers around the country to search millions of case files from the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration and other federal law enforcement agencies, according to Justice officials.

The system, known as "OneDOJ," already holds approximately 1 million case records and is projected to triple in size over the next three years, Justice officials said. The files include investigative reports, criminal-history information, details of offenses, and the names, addresses and other information of criminal suspects or targets, officials said.

The database is billed by its supporters as a much-needed step toward better information-sharing with local law enforcement agencies, which have long complained about a lack of cooperation from the federal government.

But civil-liberties and privacy advocates say the scale and contents of such a database raise immediate privacy and civil rights concerns, in part because tens of thousands of local police officers could gain access to personal details about people who have not been arrested or charged with crimes.

The little-noticed program has been coming together over the past year and a half. It already is in use in pilot projects with local police in Seattle, San Diego and a handful of other areas, officials said. About 150 separate police agencies have access, officials said.<snip>

Be very afraid.


No one seems to think about unintended consequences:

Growth or recession in 2007? Economists disagree on whether slowing housing market will be albatross

By Barbara Hagenbaugh USA TODAY

WASHINGTON Housing has been a key engine of the U.S. economy in recent years. Now that the housing market has slowed, will the economy sputter to a stop?

That issue is sharply dividing economists, because no one is sure what impact the slowdown in housing will have on consumers, and thus the broad economy. The difference of opinion is leading to an enormous amount of uncertainty heading into the new year, with some economists predicting a recession and others forecasting continued growth.

Pessimists, such as Dean Baker, co-director of the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research, argue that spillover from the housing slowdown will be great in 2007 as consumers pull back spending.

Optimists, such as Carl Tannenbaum, chief economist at LaSalle Bank in Chicago, say the contagion from the declining housing market will be minimal as consumers see their paychecks rise, helping to fuel spending.

The good news is that far more economists are in the optimist camp than the pessimist camp. Although a handful, such as Baker, are predicting the economy will slide into a housing-led recession next year, the majority anticipate the economy will continue to grow, albeit at the slowest pace in at least four years.

Such a softening in the economy means the unemployment rate will likely edge higher, and inflation will ease. The Federal Reserve may be forced to cut interest rates to buoy the economy, meaning borrowing costs could fall for items such as mortgages and credit card debt.

A significant slowdown means that for many Americans, the economy won't feel that great, even if it's not in recession, says David Rosenberg, North American economist at Merrill Lynch.<snip>

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were intended to make it easier for people to own houses. By putting so much money into the system they created an artificial boom, a bubble. The whole darned thing is fueled with money borrowed from China. The result is a bubble that has been a big boon to property tax collectors, but saddles the middle class with enormous debts. More debts come from college loans. We are a nation of debtors.

Of course one "solution" is to confiscate the foreign investments and debts and money loaned. That has been done before. Kings and Emperors used to do it with aplomb.

The housing "boom" has been pure inflation: my house is worth 25 times what I paid for it 40 years ago. That makes no sense whatever. To think that a housing boom is fueling an expanding economy, particularly when many of the construction jobs go to illegal immigrants and unskilled labor, is a form of insanity only an economist could exhibit. Most of us know better.

The US doesn't MAKE very much. We have a booming economy based on exporting jobs and importing the stuff the people whose jobs were exported used to make. And paying for it by borrowing from China. Water always runs downhill. Eventually it hits bottom.

Or, perhaps:



Act One is a Wall Street Journal Online column about the financial ups and downs of twentysomethings, written by Emily Meehan, 26. Ms. Meehan is an editor and columnist at The Wall Street Journal Online.

When Disillusionment Hits December 26, 2006

The abstract ideals of undergraduate education often lead young grads into noble-sounding endeavors. What's a twentysomething supposed to learn when her advanced sculpture professor, asked for guidance on getting a job after graduation, tells the whole class only to buy a sturdy pair of sneakers? Armed with esoteric advice from economics, literature, and geography professors alike, we join the Peace Corps, try to become actors or write novels. Some twentysomethings might not last in these pursuits, as they realize that the nitty-gritty daily operations are less-than-glamorous, and don't pay off as we expect.

The pay-off need not be fiscal to retain us. Social justice and creative headway will suffice. But if goal-oriented people accustomed to success don't see many positive results from their work, they are likely to come up with a "plan B" for their career.

Matt Cahill, 23, of Hoboken NJ, graduated from Columbia University with a degree in math and economics. But he didn't want to join a bevy of his friends at huge finance firms. "I didn't want to sell my soul to work 16-hour days, seven days a week and never have time on the weekends, except to do my dry cleaning and grocery shopping," he says.

An assertive guy with a booming voice, Mr. Cahill applied to Teach for America, which places college graduates as teachers at public schools in low-income communities. He was accepted to teach high-school math in Newark, N.J., where he says he was paid more than he had expected as a teacher.

Mr. Cahill had a mission. "People are ingrained with this belief that you can get by without mathematical literacy," he says, "and you can show students that, A: It's not as bad as you think it is; and B: You can be successful in mathematics if you spend a little bit more time on it and get a little bit more help; and C: Being good at math is extremely useful. It's going to help you in college and through the rest of your life."

This well-meaning list proved less-than-useful in his rowdy classroom: His carefully crafted lesson plan fell apart in the first fifteen minutes. The extreme difference in standards and atmosphere between the urban school he was teaching in and the small high school he had attended in suburban New Jersey was something he could not get used to.

"Fifty percent of students will fail. There are attendance problems. There isn't the same innate respect for teachers," he says. Mr. Cahill took the failures of so many of his students as a personal defeat.<snip>

Think of that. In debt to your ears... But he can always go into finance. Moving money around is very productive work.

But fear not, the kids will be protected:

Broadcasting & Cable: FCC Defends Jackson Smackdown By John Eggerton -- Broadcasting & Cable, 12/23/2006 8:27:00 PM

The FCC Friday said it was reasonable to conclude that Janet Jackson's "brief" display of nudity during the Super Bowl halftime show in 2004 violated the FCC's indecency rules. As it did in its defense of profanity decisions before another appeals court last week, the commission took aim at the V-chip.

In its brief to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia in CBS' challenge of the indecency finding, the commission said that it was also reasonable to find that CBS' violation was willful and therefore its owned stations deserved to be fined (a total of $550,000). That's because Jackson and Justin Timberlake were effectively CBS employees, with CBS liable for their conduct, said the FCC.

The FCC says CBS "ignored" warnings that the pair might do something inappropriate,citing a statement from Jackson's choreographer that the show would have "some shocking moments."

As to the suggestion that the V-chip is a more narrowly tailored means of protecting children from indecent broadcasts, the commission said that the chip is not available on older sets, is "generally ineffective" because most people don't know they have it or how to use it if they do have it, and even if it weren't ineffective, the show had no V-chip rating because it was a sporting event, which are unrated. And even if it were rated, it said, those ratings are frequently inaccurate.

Broadcasters have been promoting use of the v-chip in hopes that it, rather than FCC regulation, will become the least restrictive means of regulating broadcast speech.

Your tax dollars at work. I feel safer already.


> Jerry, here is an article you may find interesting:  a scathing review
> of Dawkins's THE GOD DELUSION by the Catholic Marxist critic Terry
> Eagleton.
> http://www.lrb.co.uk/v28/n20/eagl01_.html
> Greg
Thanks. Well Done, actually.






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Wednesday,  December 27, 2006

Low-IQ human beings *are* assets

Extended discussion on IQ, poverty, and uncontrolled borders. Warning: this is not a politically correct discussion. We do not live in Lake Wobegon. The only way to be sure no child is left behind is to make certain that no child gets ahead.

This generates a crisis that is unresolved. Today's LA Times has an article on how the entire education system needs reforming and restructuring. I didn't bother to read it because Roberta did and reports that "They go together the usual experts and they all want more money."

As long as we insist, as Bill Gates did, that every child in the US is entitled to a world class University Prep education, we are doomed to have public schools that give that kind of education to no one, while doing nothing for the left side of the bell curve who need to be taught skills, not symbol manipulation and "education". It may be that there is nothing for the lower IQ citizens to do; but it is certain that there will be little employment for them among the symbol manipulators, although some may with personal charm be good at sales including sales of highly complex financial products that may or may not be scams.

A nation can only go so far when its major economic activity is moving money around in ever broader circles at increasing velocity. At some point someone must actually make something.

Providing for our less gifted -- i.e. "merely" average -- citizens ought to be one of the main subjects of intellectual thought; but in fact it is not because most intellectuals seem to believe that everyone is just like they are, they never having much to do with anyone who is not also an intellectual. This is one of the tragedies of the modern world, and could have been predicted -- as it was predicted in Herrnstein and Murray's The Bell Curve, a book that was denounced at a special session of the American Association for the Advancement of Science called for that purpose, and chaired by a man who proudly boasted that he had not read the book because he already knew it was nonsense. The meeting deteriorated from that but was loudly cheered by the "scientists" and science buffs present. I may have been the only one at the meeting who had actually read the book and had enough background in statistical inference to have an opinion on the conclusions. I don't say this in arrogance; a it is a simple statement of fact about that meeting. Those with any background in statistical inference (very few) were proud of not having read the book because they didn't need to.

Subject: Re: Steve Moore has also been backing away from "open borders"

In March 2006 Moore was still for a guest worker program. He believes that low IQ human beings are assets.


Moore described three principles of a sensible immigration policy. The U.S. should welcome legal but not illegal immigrants by enforcing secure borders and adopting a guest-worker program. The U.S. should "say yes to immigration, no to welfare." Finally, people in the U.S. should encourage the cultural assimilation of immigrants.

Moore aptly described the main difference between his perspective and that of Wooldridge. "I believe that human beings are assets," Moore said.



Low-IQ human beings *are* assets

It is only the welfare state that transforms them into liabilities. If people are *required* to pay their own way and support their own children, they will. If are not, many will not.

Look around you. There is lots of useful work to be done that does not require a high IQ.

L ==

Which received the reply:

1) Low IQ people commit crime at much higher rates.

2) A slope of per capita GDP versus IQ shows that low IQ people not assets. Higher IQ people produce more when not surrounded by lower IQ people. Economically speaking the empirical evidence argues that low IQ humans are not assets. Again,the proof is there plain as day in the slope of a line of national per capita GDP versus national average IQ.

3) High IQ people can be recruited from low IQ nations because salaries for high IQ people are much higher in high IQ nations. If lower IQ people were not holding back incomes of higher IQ people then I wouldn't be working with any smart Indians (and I am).

4) There is lots of useful work that ought to be done by machine that is getting done by humans only because the illegal alien labor is cheap. This is a disincentive to the development of automated equipment. For example, California orchards do not use picking equipment that Australian and European orchards use. Instead California orchards use more ladder labor.

5) If lots of useful work existed for low IQ people then their incomes would have risen since the early 1970s. Well, didn't happen.

6) Lower IQ people will vote for Robin Hood taxes. Some smarter people with sympathy for their woes will join them. Few people want to see poor people turned away at hospitals due to inability to pay. Yet the cost of medical care is going up much more rapidly than the wages of lower IQ people. Rising wage inequality means that lower IQ people have a decreasing ability to buy services from higher IQ people. Hence they support the very taxes that you so vehemently oppose.


== And also the reply:

Subject: Re: Low-IQ human beings *are* assets

Even if the poor magically became libertarians tomorrow and refused all government aid they'd still cost us more. How?

1) Crime.

2) Higher accident rates,.

3) Lower rates of insurance and lower coverage levels. They have less to lose.

4) Dumber citizens. They can't vote wisely, notice things that are wrong that should get fixed (e.g. they lack Peter's skills for analysing failures in public financing), and otherwise are less likely to make contributions that cause things to go well (e.g. they are too dumb to volunteer as tutors).

5) Dumber customers. Take a market. Raise the IQ of all buyers by 20 IQ points. Will quality of products and services rise? Of course. Intelligenctly demanding customers make for better suppliers. The people who compare cars, compare stereos, compare sock brands, etc all raise the quality of what is on offer.



You missed the biggest impact of all, schools. The consequences are at least two-fold. First, middle-class families have to either flee, endure absurd commutes, or pay private school tuition. This is one of Jim's favorite themes, rightfully so. Second, precisely because they (the kids of the poor) fail, there is endless pressure to spend more money on public education attempting to overcome the inevitable dismal outcomes. The entire battle over "fiscal equity" amounts to this to this dispute.

Roughly stated, everyone knows that the kids of the poor perform at very low levels in school. Since, no one is willing to tell the truth in public (that little can really be done, at least within the confines of the status quo), we have relentless demands to "solve" the problem by spending more money.

I rank crime as the second largest impact.

Thank you



As well as:

You said:

"It is only the welfare state that transforms them into liabilities. If people are *required* to pay their own way and support their own children, they will. If are not, many will not."

This is a nice theory. However, the poor don't pay their own way and aren't likely to ever do so. Remember they vote for the welfare state that supports them.

A useful data point is that Hispanic Republicans are to the left of white Democrats in supporting the welfare state. Don't even ask about Hispanic Democrats.

I once personally asked Stephen Moore (by Email) about this. Specifically, "who will pay for the health care for the unskilled labor you are so eager to import?". His answer was "they will pay for it themselves".

This is the worldview of someone completely divorced from reality.

Thank you







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Thursday,  December 28, 2006

Holy Innocents

For those who have been following my comments on schools, it should be obvious that I don't in fact believe that half the population are useless and cannot contribute to a thriving economy. Quite the opposite. What I don't believe is that the entire population can be profitably engaged in symbol manipulation including moving money around in circles, or writing books, or being intellectuals. Indeed, if everyone were an intellectual we'd all starve. It may require only 10% of the population to grow and distribute food now (as opposed to about 80% when the country was founded) but it certainly does require those who are needed; we'd all be dead without them.

Nor do I think it an elitist notion that we ought to tailor our schools to accommodate those who aren't going to profit from "a world class university prep education." Mr. Gates may insist that this is everyone's right, but it isn't, and it's not a good idea anyway. Certainly no more than half the population will benefit from a world class university prep education.  Whether half the population ought to go to college is a subject worth discussing, but surely it is obvious that all shouldn't?

Half the children are below average. Everyone seems shocked at that statement, and some begin using scatological language when it's said. Alas it remains true.

Our schools must have some kind of education for those who will not be symbol manipulators and stock salesmen. For the most part the school system does not serve those people well, in large part because it insists on the goal of a world class university prep education for everyone. It can't achieve that, and in trying it gives nothing to those at average and below, but by trying gives far less than it could to those above average. No one is well served. Thus those who can send their children to private schools. That includes, last I heard, more than half of the public school teachers.

Free Trade, Open Borders, and a Welfare State is a formula for disaster. The results are easily predicted. Add thoroughly unrealistic public schools that cost $11,000 per student (in California at least) and you have a formula for rapid achievement of disaster.


Joanne Dow's Daily Diatribes are up through 27 December 2006. There is considerable information in these, as well as her comments. I find myself reading them when I'm posting them. I do no editing; that content is hers, and I see no point in inserting passages indicating agreement or disagreement. My Muslim friends -- and I have some, particularly in Turkey -- are often appalled at these, but I haven't seen much in refutation. I again extend the offer to post responses (as opposed to denunciations).







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FridayDecember 29, 2006

Friday night.

Apparently they did it. We will see what happens in Iraq now.







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EE Times: Latest News Microsoft, AMD send free laptops to select bloggers

Antone Gonsalves InformationWeek (12/28/2006 3:53 PM EST)

Microsoft and Advanced Micro Devices have sent free top-of-the-line Acer Ferrari laptops to select tech bloggers, raising questions in the blogosphere over whether the companies are trying to unduly influence the writers.

The giveaway was first reported by Microsoft blogger LongZheng. The report was later posted on popular technology Website Slashdot under the headline "Microsoft Bribing Bloggers With Laptops," causing a stir in the blogosphere.

Microsoft and AMD were not immediately available for comment, but a spokeswoman for the software maker confirmed Thursday that the laptops were sent by Microsoft's public relations firm, Edelman.

The laptops, which come pre-loaded with Windows Vista and AMD Turion, 64-bit processors and cost more than $2,200, were received over the last week or so by a number of select bloggers. Six of them were identified by LongZheng: Brandon LeBlanc, Scott Beale, Barb Bowman, Mauricio Freitas, Mitch Denny, and Zen.Heavengames. The bloggers acknowledged receiving the machines, but Bowman said she received hers from AMD. Through the Microsoft-AMD program, she received a Velocity Micro MCE Vista desktop.

With the Ferrari laptops, the bloggers were given the option to return or keep the computers, and it was left up to them whether to disclose the gift. Freitas, who lives in New Zealand, says the machines were to promote the new Vista operating system with extreme hardware and mobility features. "A lot of people around the world are getting these. I don't have a list but I know that it includes well-known bloggers, and blogs that reach a smaller niche."

Freitas says he chose to disclose and keep the laptop. "I maintain my independence by making it clear which companies are sponsoring this review unit," he says.<snip>

Golly. I didn't get one to keep. IBM wants their unit back. Sigh.

It is now time to do the column and mail bags.







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Sunday,  December 31, 2006

Happy New Year




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