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Archive for February, 2009

This is sad.

Four members of the Final Exit Network, including its president and its medical director, were arrested Wednesday and charged with assisted suicide in the death of 58-year-old John Celmer last June at his home near Atlanta. Investigators said the organization may have been involved in as many as 200 other deaths around the country.

[…] The arrests came after an eight-month investigation in which an undercover agent posing as someone bent on suicide infiltrated the Final Exit Network, which bases its work on “The Final Exit,” a best-selling suicide manual by British author Derek Humphry.

Members of the Final Exit Network are instructed to buy two new helium tanks and a hood, known as an “exit bag,” according to the GBI. In court papers, investigators said the organization recommends helium because it is undetectable during an autopsy.

Final Exit is a book I possess and have read. I think it is a tremendously important work and, along with the eponymous network,  performs an invaluable service. As I have often stated on this blog, I view right to suicide on par with the right to life — the most fundamental right of man.

Of course, most don’t view it that way and my advice to others like me who wish to have complete control over their moment of exit is: buy those helium tanks and bags now and keep them in multiple locations. Have sensible backup plans. Don’t wait till you are so weak that you need assistance to get that stuff — for there will always be people who will fight to deny you liberty. And needless to say, before you take any irreversible decision, think long and hard.

And to those noble members who were arrested today: you were punished for doing good, for helping a man exercise his most precious freedom. You are not the first to face such injustice nor will you be the last; but the work you were doing will be carried on by others in your absence and your contributions and deeds respected and fondly remembered.

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I like driving fast. And no urban freeway rewards the skilled, fast driver more than the historic Pasadena freeway, the  section of the 110 north of downtown LA .

In many ways, the Pasadena Freeway is an anomaly. The oldest freeway in the US, it connects the business district of Los Angeles to the city of Pasadena. It is a narrow, winding 8 miles long stretch of concrete road with several features to strike fear into the heart of the novice driver. The lanes are narrower than usual, the curves unrelentingly sharp and the traffic always heavy. The exits have a 5 mile speed limit, the entrances have stop signs and neither have any acceleration or deceleration lanes. The maximum speed limit is 55 miles per hour, yet traffic on the faster lane often goes at 80. Every aspect of the design of this freeway is outdated: the curves are underbanked and designed for traffic no faster than 40, the shoulder nonexistent. And fierce lane changes are the norm.

All of which makes it the most fun urban freeway to drive in probably all of US. Going fast on empty interstates is a joke; you just have to press the accelerator. To drive fast on the 110 safely requires real skill. I need to take the 110 two to three times on most weeks and I know it like the back of my hand. And oh, what a joy it is to pass those fancy convertibles and sports cars everytime: me in my ancient Corolla, veering smoothly from lane to lane, passing all those drivers many of whom are clearly out of their league and just want to get out of there, feeling the g-forces on my body as I conquer those curves at speeds that are about thirty miles faster than the recommended one yet not so fast as to make me lose control in any manner. My driving skills are one of those things I take pride in and the 110 is an arena where it is amply rewarded.

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The Washington Times says so in an editorial full of huffy misdirection and false alternatives. Radley Balko, rightly, takes the piece apart.

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I am the guy with the blue helmet.

rappel

Rope skills at 9900 feet on a cold Sunday morning

(Photo courtesy of Stephan)

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This is terrific news.

Around three months before the elections, I had listed the possible re-imposition of the fairness doctrine as one of the downsides of an Obama victory. Now that Obama has categorically ruled out that option, I think it is safe to strike it off from my list of fallouts.

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The Crapola network has the scoop.

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They say rightly that truth is stranger than fiction.

So Muthalik and his gang of goons beat up women at pubs because they deem the activity is against Indian culture. This sets off similar acts of violence and vandalism by other Hindu right-wing groups. One of their victims, a fifteen year old girl, is so traumatized by the incident that she commits suicide.

What next? At the very least, you’d expect legal action against the perpetrators, right? But this is India, where miracles happen everyday, only in a bad way. Instead of directing its ire at the bad guys, a Mangalore local court directs the police to file a FIR against the Union minister Renuka Chowdhury for her statement comparing these incidents to the acts of the Taliban.

The whole thing beggars belief. The first news report I read on the matter didn’t mention the law that Ms. Chowdhury had allegedly violated (and for the life of me I couldn’t figure it out); so I scoured around some more. Finally I found it:

…directed the police to register the FIR under section 153 A (Promoting enmity between different groups) and B (Imputations, assertions prejudicial to national integration) and 505 (Statements conducive to public mischief) IPC and also to submit the investigation report before March 20,

The only thing more WTF than the act of the local court is this terrible set of sections under which the FIR was filed. There are ridiculous laws and  then there are ridiculous laws. In the theater of the absurd, anything is possible — and if the results are mostly tragic, hey that’s life!

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Alex Tabarrok makes a good point:

Notice how the term nationalization confuses the issue.  First, it suggests government ownership of the banks which would indeed be a disaster.  People in favor of free markets will rightly want to avoid any such outcome but ironically it’s the current situation of “wait and see,” and “protect the banker,” which is likely to lead to an anemic recovery and eventual government ownership.  Second, it confuses people on the left who think that nationalization is a way to insure that taxpayers get something on the upside.  That idea is a joke – there is no upside.  Taxpayers are going to have to pay through the nose but the critical point is that the taxpayers must pay the depositors whom they have guaranteed not the banks.

The debate so far has been framed between a “bailout” and “nationalization.” But the public rightly sees the bailout as a way to protect bankers and thus we get pressure for government ownership, which has already happened in part through government control over banker wages.  Bankruptcy in contrast is a normal free market procedure, it emphasizes that the firm has failed and current management should be removed.  Framing the issue in this way, for example, makes it clear that only the depositors should be protected and under reorganization there should be no control over wages on future management (wages are going to have to be high to get anyone to take on the task).  Finally the idea of bankruptcy makes it clear that the goal is to get banks solvent, under new management, and back under private control as quickly as possible.

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Monday morning at 9000 feet

Monday morning at 9000 feet

Sorry for the poor photo quality. Conditions were not exactly amenable for good picture-taking.

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Packed schedule ahead

My calender for the next five weeks includes over twenty days when I am out of town. I am doing three mountaineering trips, each three days long (and occuring in altitudes above 10000 feet and temperatures twenty degrees below freezing); then there’s a talk I give in San Diego, a week-long conference in Arizona and a three day trip to the Bay area. It will be a lot of fun but blogging, needless to say, will be infrequent.

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This is so freakin’ hilarious!

For those lazy to follow through the above link, here’s the story. The Republican Liberty Caucus published a piece of news that attempted to portray Radley Balko as a liar. Except that they forgot that Forbes.com is not the same as Foxnews.com. Here’s what the Caucus post stated:

Liberal (and ersatz libertarian) blogger and wanna-be pundit Radley Balko claims on his bio on his blog that he is a bi-weekly columnist for Forbes.com. But an investigation by the RLCIL demonstrates that Mr. Balko has taken extreme liberties — perhaps even license — with the term “bi-weekly.”He makes his claim at, http://www.theagitator.com/about/, indicating, that, in addition to laboring over his poorly written blog, “I’m also a biweekly columnist with FoxNews.com.”

However, the claim is not bourne out by the evidence. We searched through the Forbes.com site, and could find only two URLs, from the summer of 2005, authored by Mr. Balko.

I mean, how could this post possibly get published? This takes shooting yourself in the foot at a completely different plane.

That, and the utter irony of the Caucus lecturing Radley Balko about the meaning of libertarianism. For those unaware, the Republican Liberty Caucus (as Radley himself pointed out in this earlier post) opposes “strange sex”, claims that “pornography is not a free speech issue”, spends its funds denouncing Ayn Rand for not believing in God, thinks that anyone who can support Playboy is a “cultural radical” and opposes one Obama appointee because he, among other things, supports the right of gays to serve in the military and the right of women to have abortions without spousal notification.

The whole thing is so funny. Liberty has some strange friends, but none so demented as this sad organization.

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I present below, without comment, a recent interview of Schiff (investor, Austrian economist, accurate predictor of the current crisis) where he talks about the economic crisis and the stimulus. He predicts hyper-inflation worse than anything we have ever seen if we keep going down this path.

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The moment it clicks

One of the most beautiful aspects of doing math is the flash of insight that lets you out of a mental block.

This may appear surprising to those not in the field but the fact is that research mathematicians fumble around looking for the light switch in a dark room for much of their waking hours. Things usually don’t work out. Being stuck on a problem is the default state.

That’s what makes those moments precious. Suddenly, you see it. A germ of an idea appears in your head, something clicks and you realize — this will work.

My roommate has a wonderful book on photography whose title is the subject of this post. The book has amazing photographs but I also find the title excellent. It is all about the moment, in art and in math.

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The diplomat, 47-year-old Rowan Laxton, allegedly shouted “f***ing Israelis, f***ing Jews” while watching television reports of the Israeli attack on Gaza last month.

He is also alleged to have said that Israeli soldiers should be “wiped off the face of the Earth” during the rant at the London Business School gym near Regents Park on January 27. […]

After a complaint from a member of the public, Mr Laxton was arrested for inciting religious hatred – which can carry a seven-year prison term – and bailed to reappear at a central London police station at the end of March.

Here’s the full report.

The wisdom of having a law directed against incitement of racial hatred is questionable; the particular application here borders on the absurd. Or perhaps I am merely arguing from a strictly American viewpoint — courts here have repeatedly ruled that “incitement” must always carry an element of imminence — which might not apply in the land of the Queen.

Anyway, the point is, a person would never be prosecuted for a racial tirade in the US. Reminds me that in many ways, the US still offers free-speech protection far superior to anywhere else. I should do some research on Switzerland law before I move there.

Also read: My short post comparing free-speech protections in some selected countries.

Update: I should add that the free speech protections in this country exist primarily because they are constitutionally granted. If the present public had its way, it would certainly get diluted, as it has in so many other places.

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Moving base

I have accepted a three year postdoc position at ETH Zurich. I will move there in mid-August; my employment begins on September 1.

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