Archive for March 2008

Dith Pran – Hero

The world lost one of the “good guys” today.

A Haunted Place

Along the bluffs of the Mississippi River south of the city of St. Louis lays acres of land overgrown with weeds, the former site of a city-owned quarantine hospital and sanitarium, and the final resting place for tens of thousands of the area’s nineteenth century immigrant poor struck down by epidemics that swept through the area. Currently for sale by the City of St. Louis, the site has entered local legend as being haunted; given its history if any place could be, this site most certainly is.

The city government of St. Louis bought the land in 1854, and used it for a quarantine station and hospital. Its remote location at the time, fifteen miles from the city’s center, was thought to be an ideal one for the isolation and treatment of people with communicable diseases such as leprosy, yellow fever, typhoid, cholera, smallpox, diphtheria and other diseases that struck seemingly from nowhere and raged unchecked through the community. The City also used a corner of the property as a paupers’ cemetery. It is estimated that 18,000 men, women and children were buried there between 1849 and 1877 according to a 1983 newspaper article.

For the next 30 years patients with yellow fever, smallpox, diptheria, typhoid fever were sent to the Quarantine Hospital. the bodies of victims of these epidemics were buried on the grounds until by the end of the nineteenth century an estimated 18,000 people were buried at what was then called the Quarantine-Smallpox Hospital. Since during epidemics, bodies were buried en masse in some of the sinkholes on the property, while at other times only wooden headboards marked the graves, little remains to mark burial sites; burial records were destroyed by a fire in the late 1880’s. (source)

After vaccinations and improved sanitation brought many of those diseases under control, focus shifted to using the site as a hospital for tuberculosis patients. In the early 20th Century tuberculosis was the leading public health crisis facing American cities, accounting for ten percent of all deaths in St. Louis.In 1910 the city’s hospital commissioner Dr. John C. Morfit transferred 70 patients from other city institutions to the quarantine station and hospital against the wishes of the rest of City Hall, and was fired. Before he left Dr. Morfit named the facility the “Robert M. Koch Hospital” in honor of the German scientist who isolated the organisms that caused TB and cholera.

For the first half of the 20th century Koch Hospital thrived. Hospital administrators established a farm on the grounds in 1922 and by 1937 it supplied fresh produce including apples, tomatoes and grapes to other City institutions. The hospital published its own newsletter from 1925-1947 providing health care news and tips to the patients and their families. Patients received job training while recuperating, and could take classes in business, sewing and other trades. Bond issues in 1920, 1933 and 1934 allowed the hospital to expand to almost five hundred beds. It wasn’t enough; the facility had a waiting list of 200 in 1939. At that time TB claimed 600 St. Louisans a year, and it was thought that at a ratio of two beds for each death, the city needed 1,200 beds to keep up with the disease’s toll. Plans were drawn up for expansion in 1939, but went unfunded when Congress killed the appropriations bill that paid for them.

During World War II a health care professional shortage lead to the closure of some wings of the hospital. After the war, improved public health prevention measures and better medication reduced tuberculosis infection rates and the need of a specialized facility. Funding for the hospital was cut during the 1950s as the City tried to sell the property. In 1961 the City dedicated Koch Hospital to the care of the indigent elderly, but after trouble with federal and state payments and high running costs, the facility was shut down in November 1983, and its buildings razed in 1989 after a successful nomination to the National Register of Historic Places.

On a personal note, my father worked at Koch Hospital in the maintenance department during the 1970s. Every weekday morning my mother would wake me up and I would crawl into the backseat of our station wagon where I would snooze on the drive taking my father to work. I remember seeing him framed in the window as we dropped him off, a face that’s now a smudge after 30 years of fading memory. One day he collapsed and died on the hospital grounds, ending the morning drives and beginning a long, winding personal journey that didn’t end until I became a father myself decades later.

Is my father one of the souls rumored to haunt the hospital grounds? My intuition, thanks to my Irish blood, emphatically tells me “no”. But what about the souls of those swept off prematurely by cholera, smallpox and TB? Even though I count myself as an unbeliever, I wouldn’t want to test my lack of belief with a nightly trip there.

Maybe the last request of the Dying is to be remembered. Those interred on the Koch Hospital grounds deserve at least that much. In 1866 175 members of a regiment of African-American soldiers who fought for the Union in the Civil War, the 56th United States Colored Infantry, died of cholera and were laid to rest on the grounds. During the mid 20th century their remains and a monument commemorating their service was moved to nearby Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery, a well tended memorial for the city’s veterans. While the nameless that remain buried there may not have lived as heroically as those men, they came to our nation from all over the world seeking better lives only to be stricken by diseases that were transmitted easily due to their abysmal living conditions. Their contribution to our nation lives on and deserves not to be forgotten.

While the buildings, designed at the turn of the 20th Century in the Italian Romanesque and Italian Renaissance styles, weren’t deemed worthy of being saved, the site itself must be preserved. One way would be to clean the site up and make it a state or national park, complete with a visitor’s center and hiking trails dotted with displays showing the grounds over the years, and the way disease and those who fought and suffered them shaped our nation’s history.

Koch Hospital’s main administration building as of April 1984
Koch Hospital main admin building - 1984

The grounds of Koch Hospital as seen by satellite in 2007 ( (click here for full image)
Koch Hospital by satellite

Combined satellite image with map:

For more recent photos taken of the site, please visit The Robert Koch Hospital website.

Thanks to The Robert Koch Hospital website for background information. Most of the information presented here is sourced from the National Registry of Historic Places nomination form available online by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.

UPDATE: August 2008
I visited the site with my elderly mother but it’s completely fenced off and it’s difficult to tell the layout of the property from the ground when it’s overgrown. Better to explore the site in the dead of winter. I did note that there are some marked graves on the Elks Club property.

Hagel Withholds Endorsement: McCain Relieved

(March 23, 2008) – Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-France, won’t endorse Sen John McCain, R-Ariz., for president. In an interview on This Week with George Stephanopoulis, Hagel cited his differences on Iraq with the presumptive Republican nominee for president as the reason. “I’ve obviously got some differences with John on the Iraq war. That’s no secret,” Hagel said.

Later that day during a campaign stop in Irvine, California McCain expressed his relief over Hagel’s decision. “If Chuck had endorsed me, I would have had to pay him back by making him French Ambassador, and honestly I prefer to appoint someone who won’t suck up to the cheese eating surrender monkeys the way Chuck does.”

A History of the Past Five Years: 2008-2013

The following is a brief history of world events as I see them today, March 18, 2013. I will update this as time permits. I apologize in advance for boring those of you to whom this is “yesterday’s news,” but it’s my way of trying to place the last five years in perspective. A lot has changed, but a lot has not. After all, there are still those who believe that those horrible events our nation experienced in 2010 were just “inside jobs” to either force the president’s hand to declare war, or to make him look ineffectual depending on which side of the “Truther Spectrum” you find yourself on. Long-time readers will note my position on those terrifying days hasn’t wavered: the terrorists are ultimately to blame. But I still hold the prior administration and the former Democratic Congress responsible for creating the conditions that allowed the terrorists to strike, so I didn’t shed a tear when President Obama gave his concession speech. (Like all of his speeches, it sounded good when I heard it but as soon as it was over I forgot what he said. Freakin’ typical…)

I also want to remind readers that the way things are today aren’t the way they were in the past. We tend to believe that Change happens slowly, and when it doesn’t, such as in 2010 and before that Sept. 11, 2001, we rationalize it until we can safely ignore it as “freak event.” Instead we should view History the way seismologists view faults. A fault may be quiet for years, but a seismologists knows that unseen forces are stressing the fault line until it eventually snaps. When it does, the earth moves for a few moments and transforms the landscape by destroying buildings, raising mountains or altering the courses of streams. After the stress is released, the fault becomes quiet again. But that doesn’t mean that the stress is gone; almost immediately after a quake the fault begins accumulating stress that it will release during the next quake.

And that’s why I’ve fought the policies that led to 2010. I knew that I wasn’t being paranoid – although I was portrayed as such by the commenters here and elsewhere – because earthquakes don’t happen for no reason: they are the result of stress. 9-11 and 2010 don’t happen spontaneously; they were the result of a series of conscious decisions and mistakes made by our political, military, law enforcement and intelligence officials any of which might have stopped the plots. If Houston Patrolman Rodriguez had detained the “speeder” instead of releasing him on his own recognizance for fear of bucking the “don’t ask – don’t tell” illegal immigrant policy supported by his department under pressure from the ACLU, his “speeder” wouldn’t have made it to Kansas and achieved martyrdom, taking hundreds of thousands with him. If the NSA had been allowed to monitor the satellite phone traffic that passed through microwave towers in Virginia without a warrant from a judge that happened to be hunting in Saskatchewan at the time of the call, we might have been able to arrest the “moneyman” and unraveled the plot before it made the History books as the greatest series of terrorist attacks of all time.

The refusal by politicians of both parties to take illegal immigration seriously that eventually allowed the terrorists to enter our homeland. The Chinese Walls put in place between foreign intelligence services and domestic law enforcement under the Clinton administration that prevented the warning signs of the impending 9-11 Attacks from being acted on. These walls were breached briefly after those first attacks, but then the Democratic-controlled Congress rebuilt them after Obama took office. The politicization of the CIA and NSA that started under Bush II kept bad news from being reported up the chains of command for fear of appearing disloyal. We all know their roles in 2010 even if you didn’t download the PDF version of the McCain-Webb Report and read the 876 pg investigation results word-for-word.

This is a draft: I will amend it as I see fit but the history itself will not change. We can’t bring back the dead of 2010, nor can we cure those who are permanently scarred. But I believe we can honor their memory best by writing the truth to counter the propaganda that clouds those events, dehumanizing those innocents who died those days for what? For simply being who they are, who we are, Americans.

Middle East


As promised President Obama ordered an immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq starting in 2009, leaving a token presence in Baghdad. Iran and Syria accelerated their undermining of the Iraqi regime while the Kurds in northern Iraq continued to react coolly for demands of assistance by the central government. By 2010 the Iraqi government had fallen, and a new regime backed by a coalition of Iranian/Syrian forces demanded a complete withdrawal of US forces from Baghdad. The US complied and by the Summer of 2010 Iraq was in complete chaos with the exception of the Kurdish controlled north, which finally gives up the pretense of being a part of Iraq and refers to itself in all official communiqués as Kurdistan. Turkey reacted to the growing autonomy with threats and several military incursion to chase PKK rebels, but the Kurdish authorities promised to keep the PKK under control and renounced claims to a greater Kurdistan – for now. A steady exodus of Iraqi refugees set up camps in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, demanding visas to the United States due to the threat of persecution for supporting the US occupation.


Emboldened by their success in Iraq, the anti-war Left in the United States demands a similar US withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the Taliban, with help from former Iraqi insurgents and Iranian Special Forces, escalate attacks against former-NATO forces and the Afghani populace. This leads to a large increase in casualties among the local populace as well as the remaining contingent of former NATO forces. Weary from the relentless terrorism of the Taliban and al-Qaeda, support evaporates for the regime and by the middle of 2010 the government of Hamed Karzai has fallen. US forces evacuate the remaining former-NATO forces from Baghram air base as Taliban leader Mullah Omar parades triumphantly into Kabul. After reports in the western press that the Taliban are going door-to-door and executing the families of suspected collaborators with former NATO and Karzai’s forces, the Taliban Communication’s chief imposes a news blackout and demands that all reports must receive the approval of Taliban authorities. Cell phones are confiscated, and cellphone towers dynamited. News trickles out from Afghan refugees at camps in Iran and Pakistan of a bloody “cleansing” of the Afghan community by the Taliban, with hundreds of thousands slaughtered.

Saudi Arabia

The abrupt withdrawal of US forces from the region has made traditional Saudi enemy Iran the major player in the region. King Abdullah takes a public stance of solidarity with the Iranian regime, all the while resisting and covertly attacking Iranian interests in Iraq as the kingdom and Iran vie for supremacy over the remnants (the oil fields) of the former state. However Iran soon gains an upper hand in Iraq through its Shi’a allies there, and uses its ties to al-Qaeda developed during the US occupation of Iraq to attack the Saudi kingdom directly. This is made all the more easy when one of the Sudairi Seven, the seven close-knit sons of King Abdul Aziz “ibn Saud” by Hassa bint Ahmad Sudairi, dies under suspicious circumstances. The Arab Street immediately blamed the Jews, but the Saudis knew better.

The collapse of oil prices to below $50 a barrel hasn’t helped Saudi finances much either. With stagflation haunting the USA and international trade under attack in most of the developed world, world demand for oil has slumped significantly since the US economy entered recession in early 2008. Add in several million Iraqi refugees, many of whom are suspected of being al-Qaeda, and the Kingdom find itself in the toughest place it has been in the modern era.

The United States

The first successful terrorist attack on US soil since 2001 occurred in 2010. You would think that the savagery we witnessed in 2001 would have prepared us somewhat for what happened that year, but unfortunately our capacity for horror is unlimited. Like most I was simply speechless for days afterward. The President’s “Solidarity” speech seemed calming, but that was before the second strike. Then came the third, and the fourth and I remember thinking to myself that they would never end. As with the attacks on 9-11, there were no claims of responsibility but al-Qaeda was suspected until a tape was uploaded to Youtube two months later by al-Zawahiri stating that the US was being punished for its “past transgressions against Islam.” It threatened further attacks unless the USA “redeems itself by repudiating it’s Crusader past” and embracing Islam. Unlike the other threats, al-Zawahiri made good on this one and 2010… Well, it sure wasn’t the vision Arthur C. Clarke had when he wrote the novel. The book it most resembled was Dante’s Inferno.

Leftists claimed that America deserved the attack for its past support of Israel, and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. After several months of investigation it was determined that the terrorist cell infiltrated the United States through Mexico. Proof of ties between the terrorist and drug gangs operating in northern Mexico were produced by US authorities, but denied by the Mexican government. In an unusual statement, the head of the Mexican drug gang posted a video statement on Youtube where he admits that his gang helped the terrorists infiltrate the United States, but denies knowing anything about their mission.

A small group of influential Leftist scholars called for the indictment of former president George W. Bush, vice president Dick Cheney, and former secretary of state Condoleeza Rice as war criminals. They hoped that a successful prosecution would encourage “peace with our Islamic brothers,” and demanded that a diplomatic delegation be sent to Pakistan to negotiate with al-Qaeda.

The electorate punished President Obama in the 2010 mid-term elections by re-electing a single Democrat to her seat; the Republicans ran the table using the infamous “2010” campaign. Even the Leftist MSM had a hard-time attacking the Republicans due to effectiveness of the campaign message highlighting the government failures that allowed the terrorism to happen.

One of the leading lights of a revitalized Republican party was a governor with strong ties to the religious right but who repudiated the “internationalism that infected our party for the last half a century.” Calling Sen. Ron Paul “an inspiration, and one of the smartest men I’ve ever met,” the Governor demanded that President Obama send the returning armed forces to man the border with Mexico and Canada. “These brave men and women enlist to protect America from its enemies – not the Koreans who stole our jobs, not the Europeans who stole our dignity, and not the Saudis who stole our souls.” On Sunday January 20, 2013, he was elected the 45th President of the United States.

As anyone who has read this journal before, I am not a big fan of the President. While I have written in the distant past that Isolationism is the default state of America, I cannot help but think how things would have been different had we not elected a closet isolationist president in 2008 at what should have been the end of the recession. It turns out later that the economy wasn’t as bad as Obama and the Democrats made it out to be late in the year, but by that time the recession had bitten deeply into our economy with millions thrown out of work, falling tax revenues and worse, inflation as the Fed printed flooded the markets with cash to try to get the economy moving.

For those of you who weren’t around back then, it was like 1978 all over again. The Democrats reminded us of that over and over, reviving the term “misery index” that had been coined under one of their own presidents. Every potential bright spot of the economy was talked down, while every negative statistic made the headlines. Sure this was a cynical ploy just like the Clinton team had done to the first George Bush’s candidacy in 1992 – but like Clinton it worked – just too well. Perception is reality for Wall Street, and all the trash-talk by Democrats (and those Republicans who thought that McCain’s rhetoric was too polly-annish to dent Obama’s lead) altered its perception. All the negativity about the economy and trading partners was enough to sweep Obama into office but also boxed him into a corner. He had lost the ability to backaway from his more radical policies early in his campaign, but in order to survive he had to repudiate that strategy. When it came time to deliver, he had to come through for his constituents. Taking office just after the economy was starting to dig itself out of negative territory turned out to be a disaster. The markets were tanking. Our trading partners were matching our anti-trade rhetoric tit for tat. We faced the perfect storm: bad monetary situation, low confidence in free markets and trade, and an election without an incumbent. Somehow Obama managed to piss off the Canadians more than Bush ever had. Honestly I didn’t think it was possible given the shared history of our two nations, but the comments he made in 2011 supporting Quebec separatism pretty much killed what little relationship our two nations had after the trade rhetoric cooled.

I was never a fan of Obama. I always thought him to be in the mold of Jimmy Carter. However his term by comparison made Jimmy’s term look like a Golden Age. It’s hard to relate what life was like to those of you who don’t remember living in a country that was open to the rest of the world. The prosperity this openness brought us was always taken for granted so that we only appreciated it when we lost it. I always had my doubts about Free Trade, but I wanted to see it tweaked not discarded completely as it has been by both the Obama and current administrations.

Free Trade never got the credit it deserved in Academia due to the latter being the last bastion of Communism on the planet. Therefore much of the elite that grew up in the 80’s and 90’s never appreciated how trade had lifted more people out of poverty than any single idea or ideology. The only time that this was recognized was by the Malthusians in the Eco-movement who wanted the people in China, India and Africa to return to poverty because it lowered their carbon footprint. When the elites started leading, as Obama’s generation took power in the USA, Europe and elsewhere, they were indifferent to Free Trade or worse, antagonistic to it.

But the bonds of trade are not made of steel; they are based on trust, and when that trust began to be broken by Obama’s attempt to renegotiate NAFTA, the bonds were broken. Then 2010 happened and Isolationism became the new paradigm. I suddenly found myself feeling catapulted backward in time with the constant chatter about “the gold standard” and tariffs – not from a Hearst broadsheet, but the blogosphere and MSM.


Forces in Europe have been drawn down starting with deployments in Bosnia and Kosovo, followed by the quick redeployments (home) of forces in Spain, Italy and eventually Germany. Finally, all remaining forces returned home by the end of 2012, only the contingents protecting US embassy personnel remained. Total force drawdown as of Dec 2012: 98,000. Remaining: 250


NATO unofficially expired going the way of the Warsaw Pact. European governments have been forced to rebuild their dilapidated armed forces; some opted for an EU force, while others (UK, Italy, France) continued to field their own militaries under their own command. Russia’s interest in Europe revived as it saw an opportunity to extend its influence westward, but all this has apparently done is push Europe to the Americans. Much of the virulent anti-Americanism is gone, although some remains among the “usual suspects” (the universities and trade unions). There are articles in the continental press that put forward the idea that should Europe find itself in trouble with Russia, the US will intervene as it has done for the past century. But the Brits seem to get it, with the Daily Telegraph noting in recent piece the depth of America’s antipathy towards Europe:

This expectation ignores the very fundamental question from the American perspective: Why? Why would the United States return to the past, placing US troops on European soil? What would the US derive from such a bargain? Protesters chaining themselves to the gates of their bases? Governments pursuing their own interests and prospering often at the expense of those of the United States, as France emphatically proved in the 1990’s in the Middle East? The transports planes have long gone and the bases at Aviano and Wiesbaden are already becoming overgrown with weeds. Why would the US reverse this process which it believes to be in its own best interest?

Remaining to do;




China’s blockade of Taiwan.

The Heller Case

The LA Times believes that SCOTUS will rule in favor of individual gun ownership rights. As you might expect given my experience with guns, I completely support the right of individuals to bear arms – with reasonable restrictions. These restrictions are:
1. State licensing for conceal/carry permits (CCPs)
2. An outright ban on new machine guns
3. Background checks

Nothing beyond that.

Several months ago Glenn Reynolds wrote that if the Supreme Court ruled in favor of DC, it would overturn an explicit right in the Constitution while supporting an implied right to privacy, the basis for the Roe vs. Wade decision. That bothers me most about this particular case so I believe that it’s imperative that the judges rule in favor of individual gun rights. Here’s a link to Reynolds’ brief on the matter. More here by Mike O’Shea on enumerated vs. unenumerated rights.

Buying Components and Building Your Own PC

I’m typing this on my five year old Dell Dimension 4550, while the Wife is plotting a trip with the Mother-in-law on the laptop and the Kid is blazing away at Crysis on my homebuilt. Meanwhile an ancient HP with Athlon XP2000 purrs away in the basement as a backup, and an IBM Thinkpad lays next to the sofa for the times when two laptops need to be going. Everything is networked together wirelessly and except for the occasional hiccup with printers (usually the Epson all-in-one with dried out ink) everything functions smoothly. As the amount of technology in our home shows, computers are an integral part of our household.

I’ve learned quite a bit since I bought my first “real” pc in 1989 – a PC clone with 80386-20 processor, 640kb of ram and a 40 meg harddrive. However things didn’t take off for me until 1998 when I got A+ certified. Since then my career has progressed so that I no longer have to touch the insides of a computer, but I still keep up with the technology. While I didn’t build my first PC from the ground up until 4 years ago, I am convinced now more than ever that it is easy and fun to build your own PC.

Some caveats. First you can’t build your own laptop. You can buy 3rd Party memory upgrades, harddrives and batteries but for the most part laptops are built using technology particular to a model and vendor. Second you have to research everything – motherboards, memory, video cards, harddrives, and power supplies. If you need a PC in a hurry, don’t build your own. Finally, if asking for help isn’t your style, then neither is building your own PC. You will run into trouble, and you will be forced to rely upon the kindness of friends and strangers to help you out. But for every problem you run into someone else has too – and you’ll find the answers on numerous support forums at Toms Hardware,, and other sites supporting the enthusiast community.

Why build your own? Unless you are trying to build the cheapest rig possible you are not going to save much money building your own. It takes time, and if you are one of those people who value your time in dollars then building your own will turn out to be more expensive. Dell and HP cater to such people, and there’s nothing wrong with purchasing one of their machines.

What you do get by building your own is a deeper understanding and appreciation for technology. You also get better components, and by buying carefully you can put together a PC having better performance. When you buy a Dell or an HP, every component that’s in your PC came from the lowest bidding subcontractor or vendor. In order to make the component as cheaply as possible, corners are inevitably cut.

The “Silicon Triangle”

The three most important components of your PC are: processor, motherboard and memory in that order. These three components limit each other. Processors must be installed into a particular type of motherboard. Motherboards only work with certain types of memory. Because these elements are the core of your PC don’t skimp on any of them. You might spend big bucks on the hottest new processor, but if you drop it into a cheap motherboard running slow RAM, you are wasting cash. Similarly you waste cash by buying a high-end motherboard then dropping the cheapest chip that will fit into it. This is akin to buying a sports car with a speedy transmission only to power it with a tiny four cylinder engine.
The Processor

The first component to consider is the type of processor that’s right for you. In general this will be the fastest one you can afford. The two main players are Intel and AMD, and both companies have strong fan bases that write disparagingly of the other. I have built systems with processors from both companies, preferring one over the other depending on their offerings at various times.

The firms will always have a cutting edge design that is their most expensive, and they will also have processors that are surprisingly cheap. What you must find is the “sweet spot” – the place where price and performance match. Tom’s Hardware often runs benchmarks on the processors on the market, so based on their reviews decide the processor that fits your budget. The processor you choose will limit your choices when it comes to motherboards.

The Motherboard

The motherboard is akin to the central nervous system of the PC. Buying the wrong motherboard will cripple your system and therefore the time spent researching the best motherboard that is right for your system is time well spent. The choice of motherboard can be confusing. It is perhaps the most frustrating of choices due to the differences between chipsets, models and versions. Here again Tom’s and will prove indispensable. But don’t discount what you read at Newegg, one of the best places to buy PC components on the web. Buyers from Newegg often leave detailed and honest reviews of what they buy, so read carefully one can glean a lot of information from the reviews.

After you’ve chosen processor and motherboard, you will have to think about memory. Motherboards are quite picky when it comes to memory, so be sure to get the right type called for in the motherboard specifications. While memory modules may look on the surface to be exactly the same as every other memory module on the market, look closer and you’ll find significant differences. Some memory operates at faster timings and frequency, and that can make a big difference when using memory intensive operations like video compression/encoding or handling large files in Photoshop.
Other Components

Harddrives of the same capacity may look exactly the same, but here again some are faster than others. More importantly, some are better at holding their data than others with better track records of not crashing. When it comes to harddrives, advice hasn’t changed in 20 years: buy the biggest you can afford.

For those using large graphics, video or music files I would offer a slight variant on that advice: decide what you planned to spend on one drive, then divide it by three and buy three of the exact same drives at that price. The purpose? RAID-5. RAID-5 presents a nice balance between safety and expense.

A good video card is an absolute necessity these days. While gamers have driven demand for these cards, which are now as – if not more – expensive as PC processors, don’t think that you can get away with a cheap card or the graphics built into some motherboards. Using your PC to store and manipulate your digital photographs can be done much faster with a decent graphics card. My advice is to find the “sweet spot” of price and performance; Tom’s Hardware has a monthly scorecard that rates cards, and remains the best way to get up to speed with the Market’s current offerings and prices.

All these components take a lot of juice, and one place where PC enthusiasts often look to cut corners is on the purchase of a power supply; that is, until they build an unstable system and eventually discover that it’s due to power spikes or low voltages being fed to the components.  To avoid this scenario, buy a decent power supply with more wattage than your components will need. Newegg’s customer reviews are a good place to research these.

Finally, disaster recovery isn’t just for large corporations anymore. Today the average PC user has thousands of family photos, MP3’s, videos and personal documents that will disappear if the harddrive dies. And harddrives die.  The cost of data recovery is about as expensive as in-hospital medical care for the uninsured. The only way to avoid the pain and suffering is to develop a disaster recovery strategy and most importantly, follow it.

For those who are building a PC to store and manipulate large files, the RAID-5 is an absolute necessity. For everyone else I recommend the following:
1. Buy an external drive.
2. Buy the backup software that is the market leader.
3. Use the software to backup all media files (documents, spreadsheets, photos, videos, music files, etc) to the external drive at least once a week.
4. Burn backup DVDs every month.
5. Store your backup DVDs that are older than 6 months in a safe deposit box.

That’s all the advice I have for now. I hope that someone who stumbles across this on Al Gore’s Internet finds some use for it in the future. At the very least I’d like to think that I helped someone become a little bit more comfortable with the technology that surrounds us.

The “Victimless” Crime

Ann Woolrich makes a case against the legalization of prostitution. As someone with serious libertarian leanings I have to admit that her argument is a compelling one.

Long ago, I mean really long ago I knew a few people who worked as escorts and at adult clubs. In every case each had been the victim of sexual abuse as a child. Each member also had drug and alcohol problems that accelerated after taking the jobs. While each had various other mental problems before they started, depression and low self-worth being the most common, things dramatically worsened after their first few weeks.

 The changes were startling. I can only describe it from an outsider’s perspective as a complete loss of humanity. Everything and everyone became viewed as commodities. I stopped being a “friend” and became a taxi for when they needed a ride or someone to arrange bail on the outside. Parents became moneylenders, as did friends and family. Drug dealers became best friends.

I witnessed these changes over a very short time – less than a year – but the decisions made during that time by those I knew were irrevocable. I saw enough and realized that I was being sucked into a vortex made worse by my own demons. So I made a phone call in the middle of the night to my mother. After she took my call she leapt into the car and drove 350 miles to pull me to safety. It wasn’t the first time she saved my butt, and it wouldn’t be the last, but it left me forever grateful – and deeply suspicious of arguments for legalizing the sex trade.

I saw firsthand the damage that the “victimless crime” does, and I can assure you that based on what I saw, the crime is far from victimless. Yes the “johns”, the pimps, the adult club owners are not victims – unless you believe that living without a soul makes one a victim because honestly those people do not have one. But the sex workers are victims even though they in most cases choose their path.

I don’t subscribe to the politics of victimization, and I’m a keen believer in personal responsibility. But that does not mean I can live my life without compassion, which is what these people need at the very least.

And former governor Spitzer, father of three daughters, I hope does the honorable thing – and I mean that in the Japanese sense of the term.

Home And the Range

The Kid & I hit the range tonight, but he couldn’t take it after shooting one clip of the .22. He sulked off and ended up watching me finish the box of ammo. I pushed the target back 20 yards to the end of the range, but the bad lighting and the fact that my mind was in “daddy mode” meant that I didn’t shoot very well.

Afterward one of the range officers spoke to the Kid in front of me asking him if it was the noise, and saying how it would take some time getting used to it. The truth of the matter is that the Kid has developed this fear/weirdness after hitting the range at least once a week for the past two months. I’m wondering if it’s hormonal – he is half-way to 12 now – but I can’t remember when puberty started for me and even if I’m the best model to compare him to.

All he seems interested in now are multiplayer video games and MMPORGs – both of which I can’t relate to. The idea of paying real money to buy fake furniture to decorate your imaginary apartment simply doesn’t make sense to me; nor do I get a thrill by playing 1st person shooters against real people, some of whom have WAAAAY too much time on their hands. I’ll go head to a head with a computer, just like I did 34 years ago with Pong and the way God (and Sid Meier) intended it.

He’s not interested in music, even though I’m playing it in the car all time. He’s not interested in sports even though I’m already jonesing for football and the offseason has just started. He doesn’t care about technology, while I have almost as many computers as I have pets (and he’s not interested in caring for them either.)

Being a father isn’t as easy as you would think – especially for me. My dad had dropped dead by the time I was his age, and the trauma that caused me left scars that weren’t finally healed until the Kid appeared in his first sonogram. So I don’t have the template that others have to either follow or intentionally stray from. Like my marksmanship I’m learning as I go, and I don’t know if I’m doing it right. Am I holding the gun right? Am I siting correctly? Am I giving him too much freedom? Am I rolling the trigger? Do I get frustrated with him too quickly? Should I move the target closer and get good at that distance or roll it all the way back and keep firing away?

At the range if I shoot a bad group I make adjustments and shoot again; with the Kid I’ve got just one shot! In seven years or so he’s going to be on his own independent and I’ll be shooting alone at the range. I had hoped this would be some serious father/son time that he would remember, but I guess I shouldn’t forget that life isn’t a Hallmark card or a commercial for a retirement fund. He’ll remember things that I’ve already forgotten. It’s the natural order of things I suppose.

Bad Science & The Underdog Meme

For future reference…

A major new idea, one which overturns an existing, well-supported theory, does not get established in one paper. There has to be follow up and debate, and if the idea holds up to scrutiny it will be accepted.

Beware the underdog narrative in science journalism. This narrative severely misrepresents how science really works. It’s designed to elicit our sympathy for a not-yet-established theory, maybe one that is socially attractive, and to arouse our indignation against the staid community of eggheaded scientists. This underdog narrative plays on our emotions, it makes for a good read, and helps us feel good about ourselves when we stand up for our convictions.

What gets lost is the scientific method, the idea that novel proposals need to be thoroughly vetted and tested, no matter how intuitively attractive they are. That vetting process is done by a dynamic community of smart, educated, competitive people, who care passionately about science. It’s a community where everyone wants to come up with the next big theory that overturns long-held beliefs. But that’s hard to do, especially in fields where all the low-hanging fruit has been picked over by really talented people for decades or centuries. If a new theory is being presented in the media as the centerpiece of an underdog narrative, you can bet the farm that this theory is not yet sufficiently substantiated by the evidence. That doesn’t mean it’s wrong necessarily, but it does mean that the hypothesis has not yet met the rigorous standards of evidence that have served science well for centuries.

Spray & Pray

The Kid & I hit the range today. While we were there two lanes over someone was firing an AR-15 using 220 ammo on full auto. The noise scared the Kid and he lost all interest in shooting; 15 minutes later we were out of there and he was shaking and in tears.

I didn’t give the Kid a hard time. I wasn’t too pleased to be firing alongside that weapon. The sound of that weapon on full auto was pretty scary, primal, and really hit you in the gut.

I’m not a big fan of automatic weapons. I realize they are tools and there is a purpose for them. But I am interested in marksmanship, and spray and pray isn’t marksmanship if you ask me.

First off you lose control when firing on full auto. The guy shooting today was firing at a target about 7 yards away and he was all over the thing. The range officer had to advise him, probably to keep him from shooting into the ceiling (which is a big no-no at the range). We were firing an MP-5 on semi-auto at 20 yards, and I shot a 5” group. Even the kid was shooting a tight 6” at 10 yards.

Second it’s a waste of ammo and money. I don’t know how much the range sells 220 ammo for, but I’d bet it was at least $15 for a box of 50. On full auto the guy went through that in less than a two or three minutes. I’m sure if you have unlimited amounts of both ammo and money it makes sense, but to a tightwad like me you may as well set fire to your cash.

Third, from my limited tactical knowledge you announce your location with that thing. My image of marksmanship is of a sniper hitting his target from a mile away. Even in close combat I would expect that soldiers conserve their ammo to prevent having to reload – a time when they would be most vulnerable. If an enemy was firing away on full auto, I would bet that a decent marksman could take him out firing on semi-auto.

Again, I’m sure there is a purpose for fully automatic weapons, but it’s not why I like target shooting. So although it may seem more macho to some, my idea of shooting isn’t Rambo chopping down a forest with a machine gun. My goal is accuracy and control, and learning how to achieve both on a budget while having fun.

The State Shouldn’t Be in the Marriage Biz

I agree completely with liberal Bloomberg columnist Ann Woolner on the issue:

Let religions carry the burden of deciding who can marry whom. Some rabbis won’t marry Jew to Christian. Catholic and Episcopalian priests, in the main, say no to the previously married, or at least make it very difficult to try again.

This is a proper role for religion, which you can take or leave. But the state has no business setting those boundaries…

Let religion marry people in whatever manner honors the faith. Let atheists and anyone else write their own vows, design their own ceremonies and deny marriage to whomever they wish.

The state’s only role is granting legal status to couples, making sure that both parties are of age and otherwise unmarried. Call it a civil union or a domestic partnership. But grant it to interfaith couples, the previously married, to same- sex couples, just as it is granted to first-timers of the opposite sex and same religion. Or no religion.

The State has been involved in marriage longer than the concept of “separation between church and state” has been in existence. In this case tradition does not make it right, and marriage needs to be recognized as a religious event – not a civil one. In its place should be an agreement based on corporate law – a legal partnership that determines asset ownership, division and responsibility. These legal entities already exist for businesses, so why not apply them to personal relationships?

Cognitive Dissonance at UC-Berkeley

First Harvard bans men from buildings to comply to Sharia law. Now Berkeley. The university that harasses US military recruiters on campus for their “don’t ask don’t tell policy” towards homosexuals is cutting a deal with a university in Saudi Arabia where the punishment for sodomy is the death penalty.

The University of California at Berkeley is set to receive $28 million and Stanford University $25 million under the five-year agreements with King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), a graduate research university on the Red Sea expected to open in fall 2009 with a multi-billion dollar endowment.
A report from Berkeley’s Academic Senate addresses a number of questions along those lines posed by the Senate Task Force on University-Industry Partnerships. Pisano provided written answers, for instance, to questions on the commitment to coeducation at KAUST and the applicability of Saudi laws restricting sexual orientation. In Saudi Arabia, sodomy is punishable by death. In October, two men convicted of it were sentenced to 7,000 lashes each, according to Australia’s Herald Sun. Berkeley’s Academic Senate report, however, states that “Saudi laws related to sexual orientation and practice will not be applied at KAUST.”

Well that’s a relief. At least on campus gays won’t have to worry about being beaten to death by the Saudi religious police, the Mutaween.

Of course, once off campus all bets are off.

While women within the KAUST compound will have the opportunity to work and live their lives as they would in the West, once they leave the KAUST compound and residential area, they will be governed by current Saudi laws, which, for example, prohibit women from driving.

Those behind the deal have engaged in some serious cognitive dissonance to justify the abandonment of their ideals. Jean-Claude Latombe, the Kumagai Professor in the School of Engineering who helped negotiate the agreement stated, “When I was in Saudi Arabia a month ago, I read in a Saudi newspaper in English that it will probably be hard to forbid women to drive for much longer.” No word on when the death penalty for being gay will be overturned though.

It’s nice seeing that even the most devout Lefties are willing to sell out their beliefs for cold hard cash. I’d say that they had sold their souls, but since Lefties don’t believe in religion (at least the non-Islamic variety), they don’t have any.

Countering the Worshippers of Death

Alan Dershowitz writing at WSJ:

The two basic premises of conventional warfare have long been that soldiers and civilians prefer living to dying and can thus be deterred from killing by the fear of being killed; and that combatants (soldiers) can easily be distinguished from noncombatants (women, children, the elderly, the infirm and other ordinary citizens). These premises are being challenged by women like Zahra Maladan. Neither she nor her son—if he listens to his mother—can be deterred from killing by the fear of being killed. They must be prevented from succeeding in their ghoulish quest for martyrdom. Prevention, however, carries a high risk of error. The woman walking toward the group of soldiers or civilians might well be an innocent civilian. A moment’s hesitation may cost innocent lives. But a failure to hesitate may also have a price.

This is why I teach my son the value of life and the existence of the Islamic Death Cult. I wrote a long time ago that we are all Israelis now, and as such I will endow in him the same skills that any Israeli parent gives his or her son:
The ability to shoot well.
The ability to defend himself.
The ability to do both the above without doubt or remorse.

This is war, and if my enemy wants to sacrifice her son for the Islamic Death Cult it is my duty to train my son so that he doesn’t take my son with him. In fact as the jihadis have learned in Afghanistan and Iraq, it’s harder than ever to kill an American. Her little boy can pack all the nails and ballbearings he wants on his body, and when he blows up odds are is that he won’t touch an American soldier. My son will live, hers will be dead and for what? The clerics? We don’t see Nasrallah’s children strapping on the suicide vest. Khamenei’s children aren’t blowing themselves up and heeding their father’s call for martyrs. Even Osama Bin Laden’s children enjoy the fruits of life without the temptations the afterlife.

How many children will she sacrifice while Nasrallah’s live like princes in Syria? How many will she sacrifice to heed the calls of the clerics while their own children live well? Maladan is an idiot – albeit a very useful one. She also as much a mother as Medea.

More on the cult’s use of voluntary human shields.

Marking the passing of time on a wall

This morning while the coffee was brewing in the kitchen, I looked over at a wall covered in photographs, nearly all taken by the Wife over the course of our 17 years together. I paid special attention to the photos of the boy who at the time was busy grooming his hair in the bathroom. One photo showed the boy asleep on his arm in bed, exhausted after being born earlier that day. Scattered all over the wall were photos taken of him as a toddler crawling across a beach, leaving turtle-like tracks in the sand. There was another of him playing in the snow, and another taken one summer sitting on his Big Wheel in the backyard and looking at butterflies, and yet another holding a vase of fresh cut flowers. He had grown a bit more in each photograph, and in those taken last summer I noticed that he had crossed an invisible line where he looked less like a child and more like a man.

I left the kitchen, walked into the bathroom and hugged him tightly, silently for a moment, then let him go.