Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Abortion Rights

There's an article in the New York Times about a situation in India where, because of a cultural preference for male children there is a significant incidence of females being aborted after the parents learn the sex of the child. This happens often enough that it is illegal for doctors to reveal the sex of the child to parents who get an ultrasound.

I would imagine that to hear of such a practice would shock and disgust many abortion-rights supporters. Aborting a pregnancy just because it's a girl? Unconscionable!

But... whatever happened to a woman's right to choose? What sort of world do we live in where ripping an unborn child from the womb is acceptable, unless it's done because you don't want a daughter? If abortion is as sacred a right as we are told, and if the child in the womb doesn't matter, then what's wrong with choosing whether or not you want a son or daughter before deciding to abort?

I am honestly curious how these two thoughts are recconciled by those who would support abortion. I honestly can't make sense of it.

Monday, April 28, 2008


I'm still trying to keep somewhat on top of the latest earthquakes map-wise. Since last I mentioned it, I've added some color-coding and caveats to the map description. Check out the links at the left.

Thursday, April 24, 2008


I like arbitrary targets. So while $267.37 was an unusual amount to transfer from my last paycheck, it also means I'm under $2,000 remaining on my credit card - $1,999.99 to be exact. With a government rebate and three pay periods in May, I should be under $800 by the end of that month, and on pace to meet my goal of being credit card debt-free before I turn 30.

Ronald McDonald House

Honestly, I didn't know there was a Ronald McDonald House in Reno. It goes to show that you often don't know about many things that might be happening under your very nose. The Ronald McDonald House is a 14,000 square foot mini-hotel that's adjacent to Washoe Medical Center. It provides a place to stay for families who live more than 30 miles away who have a child at, or recieving treatment at Washoe Medical Center. From families coming in from Winnemucca to parents of foreign exchange students from India, it's a much cheaper alternative to staying at a hotel.

But the fact that it is cheap doesn't mean the place is run down. It's well-maintained, from the custom built gumball-machine playhouse in the back, to the laundry facilities downstairs, to the donated sleep-number beds in many of the rooms. They don't pay a dime for food, but recieve lots of donations from the community, and have a "chefs" program that lets people cook meals for them, which is what we did last night.

For a large pot of chicken soup, a couple bowls of salad, a couple trays of cornbread, and a couple pans of brownies, we were able to deliver and dash - leaving the food available as families were able to eat. Hopefully, it was a blessing to them. Had we not gotten a tour of the building, we'd have been in and out in minutes. It took me maybe an hour total, and most of that was on the couch watching "It Takes A Thief" while the brownies (my contribution) baked.

If you'd like a way to serve with your family, small group, Bible study, etc - consider something like this. It's almost no burden for the givers - but you're providing support for a great organization and people who are dealing with having their child - in some cases, their prematurely born infant - in the hospital.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Death Penalty

I just don't trust it.

This is the story of a man on death row in Texas. The US Supreme Court declined to allow an appeal to go forward, and this man is again moving forward toward death.

There were no witnesses.
He maintains his innocence.
He had no previous criminal record.

Those are the things that scare me the most in a death penalty case. If someone confesses, or if there's an eyewitness, or even if the convict had a previous record that would support the it's-been-a-pattern argument then I'd be more inclined to give it a chance. But it seems to my utterly untrained eye that there's a much larger margin for error when these things are true. And the death penalty isn't something that gives you much room for "Oops!"

Friday, April 18, 2008

More on Zimbabwe

This is more than a political dispute. This is brutal, inhuman rule by thugs and criminals. Even in this article, where the man's picture shows him lying in what appears to be a hospital bed, has his face obscured for fear of reprisal.

From the BBC World News: "Zimbabwe Victim: I Wailed In Pain"

"...I could hardly identify them, everything was happening under the cover of darkness. They shouted that I was a good-for-nothing MDC activist, out to effect a regime change. They even doubted that I could run a shop, given my age. They said I got the money from the MDC, through its British sponsors. Of course, that's not true.

After being subjected to thorough beatings that lasted until the early hours of the morning, something that I never imagined took place. That was a sad ghastly side of human nature. I want to believe for now, it never happened. They took dry grass from nearby, burnt it, and placed my hands above the flame for about three minutes.

I wailed, howled in pain, and many in the surrounding homesteads could hear my voice. But they could do nothing to help. The war veterans are gods, feared in the villages..."

Zimbabwe: It's Official

When you deploy the police and military to ensure that you win an election, any pretense of democracy is gone. The international community should be embarassed if it pretends that Zimbabwe is in any way a democratic state, starting with Mugabe's ally President Mbeki of South Africa. The emphasis below is mine:

"April 18 (Bloomberg) -- Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe deployed the army, police and intelligence officers to intimidate voters in rural areas to ensure he wins a presidential run-off vote, two top members of his party said.

The officials, who belong to the ruling Zanu-PF party's politburo, said the security forces are working with youth militia loyal to the party and groups who describe themselves as veterans of Zimbabwe's 1966-1979 liberation war against a minority white-led government..."

Thursday, April 17, 2008

22 to 25 weeks

That's the end of the second trimester. Babies born at this stage of development are very weak, and notjust a few die, despite the hospital's best efforts. But the child pictured in this article (about the survival rates of very young preemies) is a person nevertheless.

Unless the mom didn't want him. Then, "it" might just be an abortion (warning: this links to the WebMD description of one such procedure). That thought makes me ill.


Northwest Reno has had over 70 earthquakes in the past 5.5 days. Here's a map of where they were, when they were, and what intensity they were.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Ethanol: The Real Story

Another well-phrased insight from my favorite economic policy blog:

As a result of ethanol subsidies and mandates, the dollar value of what we ourselves throw away in order to produce fuel in this fashion could be 50% greater than the value of the fuel itself. In other words, we could have more food for the Haitians, more fuel for us, and still have something left over for your other favorite cause, if we were simply to use our existing resources more wisely.

We have adopted this policy not because we want to drive our cars, but because our elected officials perceive a greater reward from generating a windfall for American farmers.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Microsoft Windows

This ubiquitous program is behind what most everyone uses on their computer. There are exceptions, but it's the absurdly dominant player.

Microsoft rather wants to get everyone switched over to Windows Vista, because Microsoft relies on a constant stream of OS upgrades as a revenue stream.

I'm not going to play. I'm tired of spending literally hundreds of dollars when putting together a computer (okay, I've had to do that once, but I've thought about it more since then... and been daunted by the cost). When I get a laptop (most likely, so I have access when I travel for work) or other computer next, I'm not going with Vista. I'm going with Linux. I've never used it, but I like free. And I don't really do a lot of things that require Windows with my computer, so I don't feel compelled to spend hundreds of dollars for a software program I don't really know (Vista).

"Good try, but I think not."

There comes a time to realize that something you want to happen just isn't going to, and you can choose to cling to a hope that won't be realized or move on. False hope is like a credit card for your heart - you get gratification today but sooner or later the bill comes due. And to pay off the balance owed you first need to stop using the card. Even that's not easy, because you grow accustomed to having it available. But as with many things, the hard choice is also the right choice. Sometimes, you just have to let go. The master of cliches would say "don't cry over spilt milk." The economist would say "don't chase sunk costs." I settled with an old favorite: "Oh well."

It took a painful election embarassment...

But Zimbabwe is finally getting national attention in the news.

How is Mugabe in power still, with an unemployment rate of over 80%, and an inflation rate of around, though nobody knows for sure, 160,000% (US investors are jittery about our inflation rate, and about 4%)?

I think this article says all you need to know.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Perverse Incentives

Question: What's the biggest reason for a bank to want to avoid foreclosure?
Answer: The cost and hassle of having to sell the home. Banks don't want to be realtors.

Question: Will a $7,000 tax credit to buyers of a foreclosed home encourage people to buy foreclosed homes instead of other homes?
Answer: Yes.

Question: Will having more buyers willing to look specifically at a foreclosed home reduce the cost to a bank of foreclosing on a person's home?
Answer: Yes.

Question: Then why is a $7,000 tax credit to buyers of foreclosed homes - a feature of the just-passed housing assistance bill - being sold as a "homeowner's assistance" bill? Won't it actually encourage banks to foreclose, and reduce their incentive to negotiate with homeowners who are in trouble?
Answer: ?

Let's Make a Deal

There are three doors. Behind two of the doors, there is a goat. Behind one of the doors is a new car. You pick a door, then the host will open one of the remaining two doors to reveal a goat. He then asks you - do you want to switch to the other door?

What should you do? Does it matter? What do you think the odds are of success (winning the car) if you stay, and if you switch?

You can run a number of simulations HERE to test your ideas. If you're unfamiliar with the scenario, I'd like you to leave your guess as to the results in the comments here. To get a good sample, run 20 or 30 rounds both switching and not switching before you ask it for an explanation.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

American Airlines

I'm not sure if I'd be confident flying on American Airlines again or not. They've cancelled 850 flights to conduct safety inspections on various airplanes. Such a concern for safety is good.

The problem is the timing of the inspections. It's painfully apparent that the record fine given to Southwest for failing to do required safety inspections is the cause, and other airlines are scrambling to catch up with inspections that may have been lax or wanting in the past, so they don't get such a large fine, too.

American has had the most cancelled flights. I see two possibilities. (1) American was one of the worst no-inspection offenders, and is only now doing the inspections so they don't get a huge fine. This would make me never willingly fly with them again. (2) All, many, or some of the other airlines are just as bad, but are still postponing inspections, because they don't want to look bad. This would make me only want to fly with American.

Personally, my guess is #2, because it seems less likely that American is the only offender than that everyone in the industry has done the same sort of thing. If so, then kudos to American for taking the publicity hit now, but getting everything up to snuff.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

More Stories from Minnesota

I promise, I'm trying to keep with this until I tell the various stories I had intended to tell while I was in Minnesota. But I admit, I can get easily distracted.

On Tuesday, the weather had improved from the Monday snowstorm, and it was probably 45-50 degrees in the afternoon and early evening. This night, the local "History Center" was open late and my roommate would never forgive me if there was a nearby "History Center" and I did not take the time to visit, so I walked up the hill and found it surprisingly close to the hotel. It was in walking to the history center that I first noticed the cathedral. It just happened to be hidden by the hotel at the front door, and just too far to the left to be seen from my window, which roughly faced downtown.

It's a large, imposing building that sits on a hill overlooking downtown. I admit, it's an imposing structure, but I wondered on my walk to and from the History Center what sort of message such a building conveys to the public about God. Majesty? Awe? Perhaps. But I also found it imposing and unapproachable. There is a proper deference before God that the Evangelical culture sometimes lacks, but at the same time, this building lacked the God-drawn-near aspect of Christianity that is also important. The building is awesome, but distant. What we need is a God both awesome and intimate. I'm not sure how to convey that though, as the intimate tends to also become familiar.

The main exhibit (at least, the one I spent the most time in) was "Terror in America."

Pencil Bombs. It's so James Bond, but a hundred years old.

What do I find the most frightening about this picture? the suit in the middle. A Klan uniform, for children.

You know what I find most frightening about this picture? The Cleaverish Americana feel to it. The reminder that the potential for fear and hate isn't confined to other people out there, but infects people who look like I probably would have.

A map (forgive the blur) of active hate groups in the US in 2003.

Wreckage of the airplanes that hit the World Trade Center.

From the other main exhibit I looked at: talking about natural disasters in Minnesota. The headline is just awesome. The lives lost is a terrible thing, but I can't help but love "Awfullest."

A wind-powered ornament, featuring Paul Bunyan and ox.

A plane skeleton, hung in the History center over the stairs to th museum exhibits.

For dinner this night, I had a nice beef shishkabob with a twice-baked potato and some seasonal vegetables, with a bowl of Wild Rice Soup, a local food you find everywhere. In the bar and grille where I ate, there was a free video game set up, which 4 20-something men at a nearby table roated through playing the entire time I was there. It was a wild buck hunting game, complete with shotgun. The guys were obsessive with it. It was... perfect, somehow.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Chaos Butterfly

There's something I find incredibly amusing about this comic. It has nothing to do with the plot of the comic strip. It's entirely in the first square.

I love the idea of a destructive butterfly. It's so preposterous, I can't help but laugh every time.

There's an episode of The Simpsosns where Bart ponders reincarnation: "I know what I'll come back as. A Butterfly! Why? Because... no one ever suspects the butterfly (insert mischievous laugh here)."

Things to Pray For

The guy I overheard on a pay phone as I was using the ATM in an airport on my way home. Snippets of a conversation with (I think) his daughter:

"Honey, the guy thinks he's Jesus Christ..."
"It sounds exactly like a cult..."
"Did he touch you? (pause) I know, but did he touch you?"
"What you just told me sent chills down my spine..."

We live in an evil world, and there are plenty of people looking to take advantage of others. I wish I could do something else for this poor man, but if you think of it, pray for him and his daughter. I only heard a piece of it, but I can only imagine the utter fear in this man's heart.

My Trip To Minnesota

Originally, I was going to keep a running log of the things I saw and did. Then, I didn't. So here's a quick snapshot of my time in Minnesota, apart from the training class that took up most of each day.

On Monday, I flew into Minnesota around 4:00, as a snowstorm that lasted into the night was just ramping up. Apart from the rather fast driving by the Super Shuttle driver (in my opinion), there was not much eventful in my day. I stayed in my hotel room, except when I ventured down to The Liffey, an "authentic Irish Pub" attached to (and providing Room Service for) the hotel.

I was having a decent pulled pork sandwich in a corner of the building, a corner shared by 8 or so insurance adjusters (I think that's the term for people with the insurance company that work with mechanics and whatnot on the prices they will pay). They were loudly swapping war stories, and as much as I tried to just watch the baseball game on the TV at the front of the room, I could not help but overhear the men nearly yelling at each other only 6 feet away.

It was thus that I managed to overhear a conversation that went down the thread of a notoriously scandalous mechanic who had a very large "Praise the Lord!" decoration of some kind in his business. The conversation then went to how if you are doing business with anyone that's emphatically invoking the Lord to swear by the honesty of his low prices and the value of his deals, that these are the men most likely to absolutely take you to the cleaners and lie to your face. I found this shocking at first, but less so as I went on. I think there are many people in the world that will happily adopt the Christian styles, forms, and accessories if only to wring some hard-earned dollars from a trusting believer. This absolutely sickens me, and gives me some idea why "taking the name of the Lord in vain" has been a specific prohibition for some time. Swearing by God falsely cheapens and tarnishes his name, making it a mockery in the world. That had happened here, and I found it revolting - not that the men would say these things (as I perceived them to have no specific grievance with the church), but that the situation they described would be so common among them.

After that, I retired to my room to pray for these men, for the poor witness they had seen, and for the men who are making a mockery of God through their false oaths.

I'll have more stories later, but for now some pictures: