Democratic Campaign

Consider two recent controversies in the Democratic presidential campaign. First, there is Sen. Clinton's mentioning of RFK's assassination. Have a look at this clip, long enough to get context:

So she's listing many Presidential races where the losing candidate is still running in June. Her list includes RFK, who was assissinated in June. This is what the Obama camp is outraged about? Give me a break. Again, Obama and his supporters seem to be going out of their way to be offended.

"Mr. Obama, I knew RFK. RFK was a friend of mine... Mr. Obama, you are no RFK." (Sorry, couldn't resist.)

The other controversy came after Obama said his uncle was involved in the liberation of Aushwitz:

Turns out it was Buchenwald, not Aushwitz, and it was his great-uncle. A non-trivial blunder, in my opinion. I would expect someone with Obama's education to know that Aushwitz was in Poland and was liberated by the Soviets. Still, I think the coverage by pundits on the blog-o-sphere and TV was beyond what was appropriate.

Life on Mars

I just saw Bill Nye (The Science Guy!) on TV. He was speaking about the Phoenix probe, which will be looking for life near the north pole of Mars. He said that if life is found, it will "change the Earth!" i.e. bring on a dramatic a change in how we think about our place in the universe. He compared it to Copernicus revealing that the Earth orbits the Sun. I've heard similar statements from scientific commentators. Frankly, I don't think so. I think it will appear as little more than an interesting curiosity to all but a few scientists.

Joe: Did you hear that Mable? Life on Mars! Who'da thunk it!
Mable: That's nice dear.

It would be different if the life discovered were something we could communicate with, but if it's more like bacteria, the event is not going to be Earth shaking.

I suspect that Mr. Nye and his kin feel that discovery of life on other planets will send a shudder through the foundations of Christianity and other religions. If so, it's a rather naive view of religion. I don't know of any Bible verse that precludes the existence of life on Mars. But even if there were something about it in the Bible, it wouldn't matter. Religions would adapt, re-interpret, or ignore, just as they have in the past.

Who Said It?

I wish he were a candidate...
[he] ..has more confidence in government than I do. I have more
confidence in freedom — your freedom; your freedom to choose your child’s school, your freedom to choose the car or truck that’s right for you and your family, your freedom to spend or save your hard-earned money instead of having the government spend it for you. I’m not anti-government. I just don’t want any more government than we can afford. We don’t want government doing things it doesn’t know how to do or doing things the private sector does better or throwing more money at failed programs because that’s exactly what makes people
lose faith in government.

The conventional wisdom is that Small Government Republicans are a thing of the past. But if this character's philosophy is so popular, why don't we have such a candidate?

Congressional Economics

Mark Steyn writes a nice article on our current oil situation. Particularly interesting is a piece of text taken from the so-called NOPEC bill passed by Congress 324 to 82:
“It shall be illegal and a violation of this Act,” declared the House of Representatives, “to limit the production or distribution of oil, natural gas, or any other petroleum product… or to otherwise take any action in restraint of trade for oil, natural gas, or any petroleum product when such action, combination, or collective action has a direct, substantial, and reasonably foreseeable effect on the market, supply, price, or distribution of oil, natural gas, or other petroleum product in the United States.”

Apparently, our representatives are economic nincompoops. Have any of them ever taken an economics class? Were they paying attention?

Nearly all industries have limited production and distribution. This is by the law of supply and demand, not some monopolist conspiracy. The text of the bill makes it seem like Congress is demanding maximum oil production at all times, whether or not that would be the equilibrium level of output in a free and competitive market. In the jargon of economics, Congress is demanding an inelastic supply curve at the maximum level of output that technology can provide.

Sure this grilling of oil executives is put on as political theater. But I get the impression that most of congress (like our presidential candidates) have very little understanding of the way our economy functions.

The Scripts Writes Themselves

Over at Libertas, "Top-Five: Future Steven Soderbergh Projects:"

2. Pol Pot, the Student Years - focusing on his exciting college years in
politically tumultuous Paris. Special guest appearance by Sean Penn as

Go join the fun!

Paving the way for solar

In light of the discussion around here (and here) last month about how much solar energy reaches the earth, and the acreage needed to power everything we do:

Hat tip: Carpe Diem


I feel like I have just seen the coining of a new word. "Ecochondria Retards Progress in Reducing Hunger"
European governments, meanwhile, have clung to an import ban on high-yielding, genetically modified crops — thus dissuading African nations from using a technology that could increase production. “The two biggest follies are biofuels in America and the ban on genetically modified crops in Europe,” said Paul Collier, a professor of economics at Oxford University.
Hat tip to the always great CCNET.

Ann adds: This is especially strange in light of the blasé attitude toward human engineering.

I love ecochondria, too.

Welcome Sis!

A warm welcome to my sister, who has kindly agreed to help out with this blog! She's on the west coast, I'm on the east. We have them surrounded!

Here's Little Sis--no longer relegated to the comments!

My big brother invited me to join in.


I have a political, news commentary blog on hiatus/technichal meltdown called Ann's Fuse Box, and I have a Blogger blog on educating young kids called Square Dots, so I'm an old pro at blogging.

For a start, here's my biggest puzzle of the year: Why does anyone vote for Obama? I can see voting against McCain (boy, can I see voting against McCain), and I can see why even a Democrat would vote against Hillary, but what gets people actually voting for Obama?

To me he is an overly-young man who has accomplished nothing in his life beyond graduating from a top law school and writing a couple premature autobiographies.

(Not that I have anything against premature autobiographies in general. I remember buying Kenneth Brannaugh's, which he wrote a very very long time ago, just after "Henry V". But in the preface he said he wrote it to raise money for a theater production and tour, and I wanted to show support--I later saw two of the productions, Midsummer and King Lear, and they were wonderful. During Midsummer, if I hadn't been sitting one-seat-in from the aisle, I would have been rolling in it.)

He's never been the primary writer of any major or minor piece of legislation. He walked into the Senate after what must have been one of the easiest elections in American history: his first opponent crashed and burned in a sex scandal and his second was the carpetbagging blowhard, Alan Keyes. He has never had a private law practice. He's never been a professor, associate professor, assistant professor, or assistant professor to the associate professor's younger cousin. He's never run a business, never run a non-profit, never run a state, never run a city, never run school board meeting, never run the marathon (though my brother has!), and never even run a pair of nylons.

His one impressive credential is running the Harvard Law Review, but even that falls apart under scrutiny: he never actually wrote anything for it. Not a single article.

His whole career can be summed up by listing all the things he hasn't done, and there's nothing on the other side of the ledger.

So why?

I don't get it.

But the upside is...I actually think, and have actually always thought, that McCain will win in November.

And so, as they say in Townsville: The day is saved.

Oil Prices

From James MulvaCEO, ConocoPhillips:

Now, if you look at gasoline prices at the pump -- let us say around $3 a gallon -- 60 percent of that $3 is tied to oil prices. So take $3 gasoline, the price at the pump, that is $1.80. Then, on top of that $1.80, there's about 60 cents which is the cost of bringing the crude oil to the refineries, running the refineries, the pipelines, the transportation, and the marketing. On top of that, then there's 50 cents of taxes. So you add and you get to $2.90. Our profit on a $3 gasoline price at the pump is about 10 cents a gallon, and that's in good times. In times when the price is lower or there's more supply, then the price is less than 10 cents -- profits less than 10 cents.

People who see the Oil Companies as evil are quick to point out profits in terms of dollars. But these large profits are due to the size of the industry. On a per-dollar of sales basis, these profits do not seem great to me. Government profit is five times as much. Perhaps it is the government that is gouging?

P.S. Michelle Malkin is reading my mind.

One of My Senators is Ill

Senator Kennedy has a malignant glioma. I've heard it's high-grade, but didn't see that in any official announcement.

NBC used the opportunity to do its usual Bush-bashing. Emotional situations such as this involve a strange political dichotomy. Bashing Kennedy's opponents is ok, but criticizing his allies is not. For instance, it would be bad form to describe the type of care the Senator could expect under a health care system advocated by Hillary Clinton. Nor would it be appropriate to point out the number of new cancer therapies that have been developed by the "evil drug companies," as described by Clinton, Obama and (unfortunately) McCain.

I doubt there is place in the world better than Boston's Hospitals for Senator Kennedy to get the care he needs. I wish him and his family well.

More on the Amputee Athlete

I have to disagree with this opinion:

It’s about time. After an excruciating and absurd debate, double-amputee sprinter Oscar Pistorius will be allowed to compete in the Olympics. Pistorius won his appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport today which immediately overturned an asinine ruling by the International Association of Athletics Federations which stated Pistorius gained an unfair advantage from his prosthetics.

Nice unbiased reporting there! But on the issue, I don't think he should be able to compete. Frankly, the arguments "for" are pretty weak, appealing to emotion rather than the science and engineering involved. Typical is the argument that whatever benefit he gets from the artificial legs merely balances out the disadvantages he has. How this magical balancing calculus is made is not stated.

One commenter pointed out these things:

While your friends are still playing at ground level, you will be able to jump in 6 ft leaps over them - imagine that! How would you like to run at a lightning speed of around 20 mph without any extra effort than normal running? In fact it's even easier than normal running because you are power assisted by the POWERIZER.

Maybe we should have an olympic event where everyone wears springs.

George Will

Has questions for Senator Obama. Good ones.
In the interest of fairness... he has questions for McCain too.
A bit about the guy who is trying to compete in the Olympics with artificial legs:
... Robert Gailey, an associate professor of physical therapy at the University of Miami Medical School, who has studied amputee runners.
According to Gailey, a prosthetic leg returns only about 80 percent of the energy absorbed in each stride, while a natural leg returns up to 240 percent, providing much more spring.

The lesson here? Never ask a "professor of physical therapy" a question on physics.

Deep Doudou

The UN is going to investigate the USA for racism.
GENEVA (Reuters) - A special U.N. human rights investigator will visit the United States this month to probe racism, an issue that has forced its way into the race to secure the Democratic Party's presidential nomination.
His campaign has increased turnout among black voters but has also turned off some white voters in a country with a history of slavery and racial segregation.

It seems that fact that Obama is very close to winning the presidential election is evidence of how very racist America is. If that seems logical to you, perhaps you should consider a job with the UN. Someone show me a heterogeneous society where there is less racism than the USA.

We should tell Doudou, with his history of idiocy, to take his investigation and shove it.

This sort of thing is not going to be good for the Obama campaign. He was supposed to be the candidate that trancends race, no?

Battle at Kruger

This video has been around for a year, but it's getting attention again. It's pretty amazing footage. Be sure to stay until the end. National Geographic has a whole TV show built around it. "Caught on Safari: Battle at Kruger" tomorrow, May 18, at 5pm on the National Geographic Channel.

If the leader (grand poobah?) of those water buffaloes were running for president, I'd vote for him.

Human Extinction

An alarmist, keeping it real:
"Not one dinosaur is alive today. Maybe someday it will be our fossils that another race will dig up in the future, " said Roger Bracke of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, underscoring his point that no less than extinction is faced by the human race, unless we are able to address global warming and climate change in this generation.

Yes, that will convince people. Convince them you've lost your mind.

It's Not the Color of One's Skin...

it's the thinness thereof. President Bush's speech in Israel contained this bit:
Some seem to believe we should negotiate with terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: “Lord, if only I could have talked to Hitler, all of this might have been avoided.” We have an obligation to call this what it is – the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.

Senator Obama and his campaign took this to be a political attack against Obama and his foreign policy, and are outraged. It seems we aren't supposed to criticise the Messiah for his positions. I guess it's time to move beyond the destructive politics of policy analysis. Grow up Barry, you're running for President.

The Farm Bill

Greg Mankiw has an interesting post relating to this year's farm bill. How wealthy farmers wield such political clout? Sure, the donate to both parties, but is it really so much? Especially appalling is the sugar subsidy. Why has our government decided that we should pay a higher-than-market price for sugar and sugar-containing products? I've seen estimates that the cost of sugar in the US is twice what the the market would have it. I remember a 60 minutes episode, I'm guessing 20 years ago, which blamed much of it on the political operations of a single family, the Fanjuls. Sweet deal for them.

Note also that some excellent-sounding provisions suggested by President Bush have been removed. Such as this one:
Under current law, US food assistance for hungry people around the world must be spent purchasing US crops. The President proposed to allow up to 25 percent of US global food assistance to be spent purchasing food from local farmers (in the country where the people are starving). This allows US dollars to be spent purchasing food, rather than paying transportation costs. It also encourages the
development of farming infrastructure in these countries.

The Farm Bill is all politics. Blame and shame to both parties, but I credit the President at least for trying.

I'm l00king forward to the annual Medical Bill once the government takes over health care.

McCain Global Warming Plan

John McCain unveiled his plan for combating global warming yesterday. His plan includes:
He also set a goal that by 2050, the country will reduce carbon emissions to a level 60 percent below that emitted in 1990.

Let's put pencil to paper to see just how realistic this is. Assuming a modest 3% annual growth rate for our economy, spanning the 60 years from 1990 to 2050, we have, by the "miracle of compound interest," an overall growth factor of
(1.03)^60 = 5.9

So in 2050 our economy will likely be about 6 times the size it was in 1990. McCain wants us to be 60% under the the 1990 level of CO2 emmissions, so that gives a factor of
5.9/(1-0.6) = 14.73

The bottom line is that McCain wants us to produce roughly 1/15-th the amount of carbon per unit of GDP, compared to how we did in 1990. Good luck with that John. Nuclear power anyone?

Now, I don't think McCain's plan is any more absurd than that purposed by Obama or Clinton. Still, it's a disappointment that none of these candidates seems capable of creating a plan that is at all realistic. I suppose it is due to a combination of politics and scientific and economic ignorance.

Left Wing World View

Here is an insight into the mind of an Obama supporter. The subject is a housing bailout:

Even some voters who support a government rescue are uneasy about haste. "I don't think we can just stay hands-off," says Walt King, a mechanical engineer from Downers Grove, Ill. "The people who got sucked into this are not capable of making calculations about whether they could afford this." But Mr. King, 62, who says he is likely to vote for Sen. Barack Obama, is wary of a rushed political response. "I don't know what the answer is," he said. "The election year is not a year to pray for objectivity."

This guy is a mechanical engineer. I assume he doesn't consider himself stupid. He just believes other people are stupid and need to be cared for by Big Government. I feel all warm and fuzzy knowing there are good folks out there like Mr. King to look out for me and my wittle bwain.

Open Office

Open Office is a free open-source alternative to Microsoft Word, PowerPoint and Excel. I've used it, and it's not bad. I agree with this guy on Microsoft's products:
But the one biggest kudo I have for Open Office is that it doesn't try to help me or automatically format a document I'm working on when I don't want it to. That is one of Microsoft Office's biggest annoyances, that it “knows better” what I want to do than I do. I've lost count of how many times I've had to undo something MS Office insisted I wanted to do even though I had no intention of doing what MS Office did for me.

Man, is that annoying, and it happens all the time. Unfortunately, I can't recommend Open Office, based on my experience. Perhaps it's better than when I used it, but there was a problem with compatability with the Microsoft Versions. Someone sends you a document he made with Word, and when you try to edit it and send it back, something fails. Probably he has used some feature not fully supported by Open Office. In any case, it is too much of a pain to work with if you are doing work with other folks who use Microsoft products.

China again

More nastyness from the Chi-coms: FBI probe nets counterfeit Chinese networking parts. I wouldn't be surprised if the Chinese government is involved. How much longer are we going to put up with this kind of thing? China is an enemy of the free world. It's time our leaders acted appropriately. If I have to pay more at Walmart for some products, so be it, that's a price I'm willing to pay.

Air Jelly

This is pretty cool:

My guess is it wouldn't fare so well outdoors, where it would have to deal with wind. Still, it would be futuristic fun to see them floating around a shopping mall or indoor stadium. I wonder if it can handle the breeze from air conditioning!

Data Massage Isn't Science

It's hard for me to take much of the statistical analysis coming out of the climate debate seriously. The game seems to be to massage your data until you get the result you are looking for. Here's an example pointed out by Climate Audit. Kudos to the folks at that site by the way, they are performing an invaluable service and taking a lot of heat for their efforts.
Here's an equation from that article:

... an estimate of a seasonal or quarterly temperature when one month is missing
from the record depends heavily on averages for all three months in that quarter. This can be expressed by the following equation, where are the months in the quarter (in no particular order) and one of the three months is missing:

In the above, T is temperature, q is the given quarter, n is the given year, and N is all years of the record.

You could come up with a dozen formulas for this in theory. Why is this one preferred? Looks like they are trying to fill in missing data by a weighted linear combination of data for neighboring months and the historical difference between the missing month the neighboring months. In the case when the neighboring months' data matches the historical average, the formula returns the historic quarterly mean. Seems reasonable!

It's not clear to me why they need to fill in the missing data in the first place.

Killer Plastic Bags

The Corner linked to this story about the environmental effect of discarded plastic bags. It seems the danger has been greatly exaggerated. I'm shocked.
Scientists and environmentalists have attacked a global campaign to ban plastic bags which they say is based on flawed science and exaggerated claims. The widely stated accusation that the bags kill 100,000 animals and a million seabirds every year are false, experts have told The Times. They pose only a minimal threat to most marine species, including seals, whales, dolphins and seabirds. Gordon Brown announced last month that he would force supermarkets to charge for the bags, saying that they were “one of the most visible symbols of environmental waste”. Retailers and some pressure groups, including the Campaign to Protect Rural England, threw their support behind him...The central claim of campaigners is that the bags kill more than 100,000 marine mammals and one million seabirds every year. However, this figure is based on a misinterpretation of a 1987 Canadian study in Newfoundland, which found that, between 1981 and 1984, more than 100,000 marine mammals, including birds, were killed by discarded nets. The Canadian study did not mention plastic bags.
Of course, it was always obvious that this claim was preposterous. I think the fact that this story was accepted as truth says something about environmental scientists. Either they are incompetent or the are driven by politics more than science. I'm not sure which is worse.

Years before it was plastic bags, the threat was supposedly from those 6-ring plastic connectors that used to be used to hold 6-packs of beer and soda cans together. You remember them? Supposedly all sorts of animals got their heads caught in them. Again, the claim was absurd, but that didn't stop it from being generally accepted. There was even an amusing parody of this claim on the Simpsons, where Mr. Burns uses a net made of these 6-pack rings to "sweep the oceans clean... so that not a single creature is wasted!" Not wasting things is the essence of environmentalism, you see.

Even more preposterous, but again accepted as truth, was the "killer yogurt container" controversy. It seems somebody decided that those semi-conical containers of Yoplait yogurt were just the right size for skunks to get their heads stuck in. No, I'm not kidding. The story was that skunks would be attracted to the remaining yogurt at the bottom of the container, stick their heads in, get stuck, and starve to death. I shudder thinking how many skunks were killed this way. Indeed, according to my calculations, approximately 640,000 skunks died in the 90's alone as a result of French corporate greed. Thank heavens they finally changed the package design before their skunk genocide program was complete.