A Contrast in Character

Found in The Corner:

"Now the world will watch and remember what we do here" Barack Obama, Berlin

"The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here" Abe Lincoln, Gettysburg

Inside, according to a witness, he told the House members, "This is the moment . . . that the world is waiting for," adding: "I have become a symbol of the possibility of America returning to our best traditions."

Obama is getting a little scary.

Conservation of Energy - Part II

Erratum. There was a mistake in my code. I have re-done the figure and the text in this post to reflect the correction. We are doing a little bit worse than I thought, compared to Western Europe and Japan.

In an earlier post, I wrote

... energy conservation of say 20% would only buy us about 7 1/2 years before we are right back in the same boat. This is assuming a modest growth rate of 3% for the economy. My guess is that 20% is a lot, in that it would take a lot of effort and belt-tightening to gain that sort of efficiency.
I would like to go back and try to get a handle on that 20% conservation, which I said was a lot. I recently found this very nice graph at the Wikipedia page on "Energy Consumption."

to which I have added the colored rays shooting out of the origin and the legend at top right (click image to zoom).

The underlying graph plots per capita energy consumption vs. per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The first thing that stands out with this graph is how much GDP per person the US produces vs. nearly every other country. Yes, the US uses a lot of energy, but that is mostly because we produce a lot of stuff per person. More than twice what Spain produces per person. Roughly 50% more per person than Germany. Only Japan has higher per capita output. The second thing to notice is that the US is not that inefficient. There are many countries that do worse than we do, and we are better than the world average. We are roughly as efficient as Spain. If we could get by with 90% of the energy we use, without decreasing GDP, we would be like France. That would buy us 3.6 years before we were consuming as much energy as we are today. Conserving 20% would make us as efficient as Germany, and buy us 7.5 years. The UK is doing well. We would have to cut about 32% of our energy use to get their level of efficiency, and we would gain 13 years in doing so. All of these calculation assume 3% annual growth in our GDP. Japan is doing very well in this regard. Cutting 50% of our energy would get us to where they are, and gain us 23 years. That's not nothing.

Japan and those western European countries have an advantage in that they are not as spread out as we are. They have less transportation costs, for people and freight. They may also have milder weather, I'm not sure. I doubt that many Americans would be willing to adopt a Japanese style of living. Very high population density, with a high percentage of people living in small (by American standards) apartments.

So the bottom line, I think, is that we can do better with our energy use. I still think that 20% would be an ambitious goal, gaining us about 7.5 years. Not earth changing, but not bad.

Wikipedia and Conflict of Interest

An interesting article at Forbes.com "The Wiki-Hacker Strikes Again"

By matching users' IP addresses with the public database of addresses registered to different corporations, Griffith's "Wikiscanner" revealed widespread corporate meddling on Wikipedia, as companies attempted to add marketing pitches to their own entries, or hide controversies.

[...] The new Wikipedia-mining tool set allows users to not only filter Wikipedia edits, automatically pinpointing corporations who edit articles about their company or products, but also reveals the corporate affiliation of users whose business and personal IP addresses had been previously masked.
I agree that the anonymity of Wikipedia causes problems with conflict of interest. But this problem is certainly not limited to Evil Corporations. Should a person be allowed to edit his own biography? Should Sierra Club or the NRA or Planned Parenthood be able to edit their entries? Should Democrats edit the article on the Democratic Party? Or the Republican party for that matter? Should members of the McCain campaign be allowed to edit their candidate's page?

Suppose you have some beef with Dow Chemical. Perhaps you are a disgruntled former employee, suing Dow for mistreatment. So you go into the Wiki page, put in a few paragraphs describing poor employee treatment by Dow. Why shouldn't Dow be able to go in and provide some balance?

When this guy's software becomes widely available (in about a week), you will hear a lot from anti-corporate types about corporate abuse of Wikipedia. But corporate abuse is only the very tip of the iceberg.

The Viscount Puts Up His Dukes

I wasn't paying much attention to the recent controversy surrounding a paper on global warming that appeared in an American Physical Society (APS) publication. It seems that The Viscount Monckton of Brenchley wrote an article that was critical of the IPCC's conclusions. This made it seem like the APS had pulled back its "the science is settled" stance on anthropogenic global warming.

This was quickly picked up by the Right side of the blogosphere. I saw several sites pointing to this publication as being big news. However the APS quickly added a disclaimer to the top of the article:

The following article has not undergone any scientific peer review. Its conclusions are in disagreement with the overwhelming opinion of the world scientific community. The Council of the American Physical Society disagrees with this article's conclusions.

So it seemed like the Right blogosphere had been suckered.

But now, in a really fascinating development, the Viscount has fired back! He's demanding an apology from the APS in an open letter. It turns out the paper was in fact peer reviewed (by one reviewer, typical I think of review papers), accepted pending revision, revised and then published. It starts out polite, then quickly takes of the gloves!

19 July 2008
The Viscount Monckton of Brenchley Carie, Rannoch, PH17 2QJ, UK

Arthur Bienenstock, Esq., Ph.D.,President, American Physical Society,Wallenberg Hall, 450 Serra Mall, Bldg 160,Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA 94305.

Dear Dr. Bienenstock, Physics and Society

The editors of Physics and Society, a newsletter of the American Physical Society, invited me to submit a paper for their July 2008edition explaining why I considered that the warming that might be expected from anthropogenic enrichment of the atmosphere with carbon dioxide might be significantly less than the IPCC imagines.

I very much appreciated this courteous offer, and submitted a paper. The commissioning editor referred it to his colleague, who subjected it to a thorough and competent scientific review. I was delighted to accede to all of the reviewer's requests for revision (see the attached reconciliation sheet). Most revisions were intended to clarify for physicists who were not climatologists the method by which the IPCC evaluates climate sensitivity - a method which the IPCC does not itself clearly or fully explain. The paper was duly published, immediately after a paper by other authors setting out the IPCC's viewpoint. Some days later, however, without my knowledge or consent, the following appeared, in red, above the text of my paper as published on the website of Physics and Society:

"The following article has not undergone any scientific peer review. Its conclusions are in disagreement with the overwhelming opinion of the world scientific community. The Council of the American Physical Society disagrees with this article's conclusions."

This seems discourteous. I had been invited to submit the paper; I had submitted it;
an eminent Professor of Physics had then scientifically reviewed it in meticulous detail; I had revised it at all points requested, and in the manner requested; the editors had accepted and published the reviewed and revised draft (some 3000
words longer than the original) and I had expended considerable labor, without having been offered or having requested any honorarium.

Please either remove the offending red-flag text at once or let me have the name and qualifications of the member of the Council or advisor to it who considered my paper before the Council ordered the offending text to be posted above my paper; a copy of this rapporteur's findings and ratio decidendi; the date of the Council meeting at which the findings were presented; a copy of the minutes of the discussion; and a
copy of the text of the Council's decision, together with the names of those present at the meeting. If the Council has not scientifically evaluated or formally considered my paper, may I ask with what credible scientific justification, and on whose authority, the offending text asserts primo,that the paper had not been scientifically reviewed when it had; secundo, that its conclusions disagree with what is said (on no evidence) to be the "overwhelming opinion of the world scientific community"; and, tertio, that "The Council of the American Physical Society disagrees with this article's
conclusions"? Which of my conclusions does the Council disagree with, and on what
scientific grounds (if any)?

Having regard to the circumstances, surely the Council owes me an apology?
Yours truly,


Give 'em hell Viscount! You are 100% correct. The APS has no business putting that statement at the top of the article. They certainly shouldn't lie about it lacking of peer review. If the article wasn't sound, then they shouldn't have accepted it. Rebuttals to the article may appear in issues of the publication that follow, naturally; that is the proper channel for scientific debate.

Or has the APS declared War on Science?

Gender balance

Pew research has an online poll to test your news knowledge. Some of the questions are very easy, some slightly less so. None are terribly hard, though I did think I might have gotten one of them wrong (I didn't.)

After taking the quiz, you can see how it broke down along gender lines. The average man had a percentile rank of 56%, meaning the average man scored above average (men pulled the average up by 6%.)

Women on the other hand scored far below, at 39%.

Pew also showed the breakdown by question. The only question on which women outscored men was the one with the answer "Oprah Winfrey".

Pew did not ask people for general party affiliation. I would love to know if Republicans outscore democrats in very basic knowledge.

Steve Says: I got 'em all right too, but like you wasn't really sure about one or two. It's interesting too to look at the percentages of people getting each question right. (Spoilers ahead!) More people know Ben Bernanke than Harry Reid. Only 28% know we've lost 4000 service people in Iraq, but 46% percent know it was Kosovo that split from Serbia recently. Of course, 84% know O is campaigning for Obama.

Ann says: The two examples you state--the number of troops killed and Kosovo independence--were also interesting for other reasons. Those with college degrees scored worse on those questions, than people with less education. The Kosovo imbalance surprised me, but not the troop numbers. I think, again, that would be a good question to be able to see political demographics. My guess is that Democrats believe the death toll is considerably higher than it is--and since the college educated are disproportionately Democrats, it would skew their data.

Irish Harmonica

A month or two ago, I poked around on the web to see if anyone played Irish traditional music on harmonica. I really didn't find much. It seemed to me that "harp" would be good for that, having a reedy sound not unlike an accordion. The absence of much stuff out there made me think that perhaps it was too hard to play that style on that instrument.

But I was wrong! I ran across this guy on my blog rounds (at LGF I think):

Awesome! Those tunes are "The Drunken Landlady", "The Wind that Shakes the Barley" and "John Stenson's Reel," standards all. I play them on Irish flute, at a fraction of the "goodness" of this guy.

His web site is here.

News from Perdue

Perdue has investigated a researcher for misconduct, finding two instances. One if its misconduct findings:
"The committee also found that Taleyarkhan added another person as an author even though the person did not substantially contribute."

I am shocked, shocked! to hear that such a thing continues to happen. It's a sad day for Perdue. It's a sad day for science.

Obama's big problem

I live in West Los Angeles, which means I am surrounded by die-hard liberals. I also work at a Jewish hospital, most people I work with are Jewish, and live in an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood.

The buzz I'm picking up is that Obama has major problems in the Jewish community.

A friend of mine said she attended an Obama event, where he appeared before a group of liberal Jews--which should be a natural constituency. In her words:

"He basically told them F.U....You could practically hear the gasps."

When talking of the Middle East, she said he mostly talked about the suffering of the Palestinians. Not a word about the suffering of Israelis.

I think there's a video of the event online; I'll have a look for it.

The Jewish vote will come down to a simple question: do they want liberal economic and social policies more than they want a sane Middle East policy?

China invents time machine!

And travels back in time 40 years!

China could beat US to Moon, says Nasa chief.

Genetic Algorithms

Jim Manzi continues to write interesting articles over at NRO and its Corner blog. His take on science is pretty interesting, and is a breath of fresh air when the Corner (too often) seems to be dominated by all things Catholic.

However, I would argue with him regarding Genetic Algorithms. My opinion of them is much lower than his.

So-called Genetic Algorithms (GAs) are computer-software implementations of the same kind of mathematics that takes place in the biological process of evolution. [...] Today, GAs are widely deployed in artificial-intelligence computer programming to solve such prosaic engineering problems as optimally scheduling trucks on a delivery route or identifying the best combination of process-control settings to get maximum output from a factory.

In a surprisingly technical detail, he describes a method for toggling 100 switches at an industrial plant to maximize output:

Our goal, then, is to find the “genome” that will lead the plant to run at maximum output. The algorithm creates an initial bunch of guesses — genomes — by randomly generating, say, 1,000 strings of 100 zeros and ones. We then do 1,000 sequential production runs at the factory, by setting the switches in the plant to the combination of settings indicated by each genome and measuring the output of the plant for each; this measured output is termed the “fitness value.” (Typically, in fact, we construct a software-based simulation of the factory that allows us to run such tests more rapidly.) Next, the program selects the 500 of the 1,000 organisms that have the lowest fitness values and eliminates them. This is the feedback measurement in our algorithm — and it is directly analogous to the competition for survival of biological entities.
Next comes the algorithmic process for generating new guesses, which has two major components: crossover and mutation. These components are directly modeled on the biological process of reproduction. First, the 500 surviving organisms are randomly paired off into 250 pairs of mates. The GA then proceeds through these pairs of organisms one at a time. For each pair it flips a coin. If the coin comes up heads, then organism A “reproduces” with organism B by simply creating one additional copy of each; this is called direct replication. If it comes up tails, then organism A reproduces with organism B via “crossover”: The program selects a random “crossover point,” say at the 34th of the 100 positions, and then creates one offspring that has the string of zeroes and ones from organism A up to the crossover point and those from organism B after the crossover point, and an additional offspring that has the string of zeroes and ones from organism B up to the crossover point and those from organism A after the crossover point. The 500 resulting offspring are added to the population of 500 surviving parents to create a new population of 1,000 organisms. Finally, a soupçon of mutation is added by randomly flipping roughly every 10,000th digit from zero to one or vice versa.
The new generation is now complete. Fitness is evaluated for each, the bottom 500 are eliminated, and the surviving 500 reproduce through the same process of direct replication, crossover, and mutation to create the subsequent generation. This cycle is repeated over and over again through many generations. The average fitness value of the population moves upward through these iterations, and the algorithm, in fits and starts, closes in on the best solution..

Whew! Indeed, this is the sort of thing that GA practitioners do.

I think it's nonsense. There is no guarantee you will find the optimum setting this way. Further, there is absolutely no reason to believe a priori that this procedure will work any better than a much simpler non-GA greedy approach would work:

1) Start with an initial random positioning of all 100 switches.
2) Put your finger on the first switch.
3) Toggle the switch.
4) If production decreases, toggle the switch back.
5) Put your finger on the next switch (loop back to the first if you are at the 100th switch), and go back to step 3.
6) Exit when you can't increase production by toggling a switch.

It's clear that this algorithm increases production and must terminate. But like the GA algorithm described, it doesn't necessarily find the best setting. You could run it several times with different random initial states, but even then you are just hoping that you are not getting stuck short of the best setting. You could try flipping 2 switches at a time, or 3, or N. But without more information on the function you are minimizing, it's pretty much hopeless. Only checking all 2^100 possibilities guarantees you will find the optimum setting.

GA has always seemed to me to be hocus pocus. When more is known about the function, you are likely better off with standard descent methods. When nothing is known, GA is likely no better than any other way of repeatedly guessing.

U.S. Crude Oil Production

Wow. Just when I thought I couldn't have a lower opinion of government, I find data for this:
U.S. crude oil production has been plummeting since 1970. Why? What has been done about it? Tell me our oil troubles are "Bush's Fault." How many Presidents and Congresses have we had since 1970?

Ann says: It's also remarkable that this takes place after the 1970's oil embargo by OPEC. Just when we were given a vivid demonstration of the power of OPEC to slam our country, we decided, year-after-year, to strengthen their power.

It really makes no sense whatsoever.

Conservation of Energy

No, not the physics-kind of conservation of energy. The kind where we save energy by using efficient light-bulbs, driving at 55mph, and wearing a sweater like Jimmy Carter wanted us to. I think it is over-rated.

I don't want to sound like too much of a crank here; I am not in any way opposed to conservation. There really isn't much of a downside. I just don't think that conservation programs are likely to yield any lasting improvement in our energy situation.

One reason for this is that part of the savings in energy that might come from more efficiency will be offset by increased consumption. Take compact fluorescent bulbs for example. In our home we are gradually replacing our incandescent bulbs with these more efficient models. They save money and energy in the long run, but not as much as you might think. Rather than replace a 60Watt incandescent with at "60Watt equivalent" CFL, I often use a "100Watt equivalent" CFL. This allows me to get more light out of fixtures in dingy areas of the house. There is still an energy savings, since a 100Watt equivalent CFL uses fewer than 60Watts, but there is not as much savings as proponents claim. Similarly, someone who buys a car that gets better mileage may well drive more, thereby lessening the fuel savings.

Finally, and most important, energy conservation of say 20% would only buy us about 7 1/2 years before we are right back in the same boat. This is assuming a modest growth rate of 3% for the economy. My guess is that 20% is a lot, in that it would take a lot of effort and belt-tightening to gain that sort of efficiency. See the graph below which shows how many years we "buy" for percentage gains in efficiency. What's more, I don't think this sort of conservation can be thought of as a resource we can keep tapping into. With decreasing marginal returns, each additional belt-tightening measure will gain us less and less.

So the bottom line, I think, is that conservation is not a panacea. It doesn't hurt, but it would be disingenuous to suggest that we "just need to get by on less." That's not going to cut it.

Tony Snow

Tony Snow, jazz flutist, has died.

Rest in peace Tony. Sorry to see you go.

The Martian (*)

I posted in the comments section at The Reference Frame:

I have to side with yorick over Pierre on this one. You have two faces of Obama. One is the Obama who's senate votes show him to be the most liberal of senators. The other is the new moderate Obama who is running for president in the general election. Which is the real one? I find it remarkable that people believe the latter is the better estimate.

Yorick is also right about people reading things into Obama. Again and again I hear people say "Oh, I'm sure he doesn't really believe that." Point out his membership in that nutty church. "He's just doing that for respect in the black community." Point out his anti-trade rhetoric "Oh, he's just doing that for union votes. I'm sure he is for free trade." Point out his Iraq pullout
statements. "He's just saying that to appease the hard left. I'm sure he will finish what was started there." On and on and on, issue after issue. Obama says something, people interpret it to mean whatever they want to hear.

It's bizarre, to say the least.

(*) From that old Ray Bradbury story, of the same name.

Harvard's Gas Task Force

Harvard's president Drew Faust sent an email around yesterday:

"We will need to make the concern for environmental responsibility a more conscious and systematic consideration in many aspects of how we plan, build, work, and live -- while redoubling our commitment to education and research that contribute to sustainability."

The email announced the "Statement on the Report of the Harvard Greenhouse Gas Task Force." I, for one, am thrilled that we will make concern a consideration. For far too long we have only been considering making concern a consideration, and that has always concerned me.

The report itself is a nothing more than bureaucratic nonsense, just page after page after page of meaningless jargon.

How exactly does research and education contribute to "sustainability." Sustainability of what? I know Harvard is committed to sustaining it's endowment. Maybe that's what she means.

Service with a Smile II

My sister makes an excellent point below. I also wonder how much of that $4000 would show up as higher tuition.

I think the whole idea of forced service is appalling. Who does this guy think he is, wanting to force labor out of young people? Check out this quote from his speech on the subject (hat tip LGF):

“We cannot continue to rely only on our military in order to achieve the national security objectives that we’ve set,” he said Wednesday. “We’ve got to have a civilian national security force that’s just as powerful, just as strong, just as well funded.”
That's more than a little creepy, isn't it? His vision is some sort of youth brigade serving the State. Oh Fearless Leader! Guide us on the path of hope and change to a glorious future as first among equals!

Service with a smile

There has been some talk in the blogosphere about Obama's wish to see college kids put in 100 hours of community service. (Jonah Goldberg in the LA Times and Steven Bainbridge are two.)

Most of the articles discuss the involuntary servitude aspect, but I want to talk about something else.

Go to any of the main state schools, or especially go to the minor city colleges, and you will find one thing stands out: a very large segment of the student body is returning adults who work full time, have families full time, and go to college in the evenings and on weekends, and whenever they can find time in their hectic schedules to fit in a class. These are people who may have dropped out of high school, or out of college after a couple years. After years in the workplace and leading grown-up lives they realize that to get a promotion, or to get a better job, they need to have two little letters on their resumé: B.A. These are people who take 10 years, one class a semester, to get their degree. These people don't have 100 minutes of extra time, much less 100 hours. If they did have extra time, they'd probably use it providing for their family or taking another course to get through faster.

[Back to College] (The Department of Education recently reported that 13 percent of students now enrolled in college were single parents, up from 7.6 percent in 1993.) Economic reasons are a strong factor: students want to change careers or update professional credentials. Some adult students continue to work while returning to school while others attend part-time.

[…] Millions of adult students successfully return to college to obtain a degree. However, they often have numerous responsibilities to consider when making the decision. These responsibilities can include marriage, children, work, community obligations, or care of elderly parents. The time and commitment needed to complete a degree program and balance these responsibilities can be a challenge.

[…] Recent statistics from the U.S. Department of Education show that adult students are the fastest growing educational demographic, and these numbers are steadily increasing. In 1970, 28 percent of all college students were 25 years of age or older. In 1998 the number of adult learners had increased to 41 percent. The number of students age 35 and older in degree-granting institutions has soared from about 823,000 in 1970 to an estimated 2.9 million in 2001 — doubling from 9.6% of total students to 19.2%, according to the National Center for Education Statistics
The Department of Education currently lists the percentage of college students over the age of 24 at 39% of all students.

Are these the kind of students Obama has in mind? Or is he thinking of Ivy League residential colleges which make up a tiny fraction of total college enrollment, but make up the entire fraction of his experience?

Is he thinking of the single moms who have real jobs and can't make up the 100 hours in the summer? Or is he thinking of Ivy League college kids who kick around their parent's house all summer bored and lazy, and can spend the whole summer in "community service" if they wanted to?

Adult learners can't afford to lose 100 hours of their time to make liberals feel better. Their community service is in the gainful and productive employment they perform and the child care they provide to their own kids. Their service is done keeping their own house picked up and getting dinner on the table.

To me, this shows how out of touch Obama is with the realities of many people's lives. He lives in an upper-class world where the ends always meet.

Then there's this little tidbit from his proposal:
[ Rocky Mountain News ] For college students, I have proposed an annual American Opportunity Tax Credit of $4,000. To receive this credit, we'll require 100 hours of public service. You invest in America, and America invests in you - that's how we're going to make sure that college is affordable for every single American, while preparing our nation to compete in the 21st century.
According to that same DoE page, there will be 18,839,000 college students in 2010--the first possible year that Obama's proposal could take effect.

At $4,000 a pop we're talking: $75,356,000,000! That's a brand new $75 billion dollar (or divided by 5 years of college = $15B) entitlement.

That's also $40/hour, which is higher than most people will ever make in their lives. That's also over $500 for every individual tax return filed with the IRS.

Good lord. Spare us.

The Pickens Plan

T. Boone Pickens, billionaire, has a plan to address America's energy problems. He put together an interesting video:

He's using his own money to promote this; his commercials on t.v. say "paid for by T. Boone. Pickens." (Is that a great name or what? )

The plan itself seems to put a lot of emphasis on wind power and natural gas. I'm a little skeptical about the wind part, but the natural gas part sounds good for the short term. I would like to look a little closer on the practicality of wind power.

I remain a nuclear man.


I see Anthony Cordesman is mentioned today over on The Corner. I can't think of him--a fairly prominent foreign-affairs talking head, and a researcher at the Center for Strategic and International Affairs--without thinking of this:


It's a 41-page fully-footnoted paper on what we can learn about national security from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer". Considering it was published September 29, 2001, Cordesman either started this paper as a response to 9/11, or was actually working on it before. Here's a taste:
Any structured intellectual approach to describing this situation – and planning for it -- is so uncertain that a valid structure can only be developed as an exercise in complexity or “chaos” theory. I, however, would like you to think about the biological threat in more mundane terms. I am going to suggest that you think about biological warfare in terms of a TV show called “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” that you think about the world of biological weapons in terms of the “Buffy Paradigm,” and that you think about many of the problems in the proposed solutions as part of the “Buffy Syndrome.”

I realize that those of you who are workaholics or who are simply mature and without
children or younger relatives may never have seen this show. It is, however, about a teenage vampire slayer who lives in a world of unpredictable threats where each series of crises only becomes predictable when it is over and is followed by a new and unfamiliar one.
Yes, he actually takes the show and the concept very seriously, and it's actually a pretty good paper.

End of a era

I just threw out my last 5 1/4" floppys.

They date back to a computer I got in the early 90's, which was probably one of the last machines to come with a big floppy drive. I think they were obsolete way back then, and I know the machine also had a 3 1/2" drive--I threw out those disks too.

Remember when software came on a stack of floppys and you had to sit there swapping them for an hour or so to get your software loaded? I still had those disks!

I also kept the hard drive from that computer. It had 52MB's of space on the entire drive--that's for software as well as documents. Today that's the size of a lean Microsoft program. (Sorry, did I say lean Microsoft program? I forgot that there is no such thing in existence.)

Steve Says: That's not a big floppy! Why, in my day, floppy disks were 8 inches and held 286k! And we liked it that way.

Ann says: That's less memory than my credit card.

China and Nuclear Power

China has decided to ramp up its nuclear power program. It wants to have 100 Westinghouse nuclear reactors in operation or under construction by 2020.

If China follows through on these and other nuclear plans they should have 200GW of nuclear power completed by 2025. This would be double what the USA has now.

While China steams ahead to a nuclear future, here in the USA the talk is all about "alternative energy." I'm afraid we are stuck on stupid. Suppose we were to try to build a 200 gigawatt photovoltaic solar power plant, by scaling up a cutting edge plant, the Serpa solar power plant. This plant, in sunny Portugal, was completed last year and is one of the largest in the world. The solar panels in this plant rotate to track the sun as it moves across the sky.

It occupies about 0.234 square miles of land, and is expected to produce about 20 gigawatt-hours per year. That works out to an average power output of about 2.28 megawatts. How much land would we have to cover with these panels to get 200 gigawatts?

200,000 / 2.28 x 0.234 = 20,526 square miles.

That's like covering all of Massachusetts 2.5 times over. Compare the footprint of the proposed drilling in ANWR

3.13 square miles

The plain truth is that solar power plants on this scale are not going to happen. It would be nice if we had some political leader out there who understood that. Instead we get fantasies about solar, biofuels and wind. I suppose this is what politicians have always done, promising the impossible to win votes. I'm reminded of Bart Simpson, running for class president:

My opponent says there are no easy answers. I say, he's not looking hard enough!

At what point does a lack of a realistic energy plan compromise national security? How long can we keep putting off taking the necessary steps to avoid a catastrophic energy shortage? The time to drill for more oil is now. The time to get our nuclear program back in gear is now.

Now He Will be a Productive Member of Society

Making the rounds in the Blogosphere:

New York Times, Dec. 21, 1924.

Chicken Fat!

Jonah Goldberg:
JFK's Youth Fitness Song.
Scary? No. Creepy? A little. Weird? You betchya.
Weird?? No way! This was a real favorite in elementary school gym class. I still find myself singing it once in a while. I didn't know who Robert Preston was back then, of course. Follow the link and have a listen.


If it's the end of the first week of the start of the month...it's time for the BLS!

Every month we get the employment data, and every month I am amazed at how it is reported.

The bottom line is this: according to the household survey (basically calling people up and asking about their jobs) absolutely no jobs have been added in the last year and a half--actually 19 months.

We actually have lost an average of 1,842 jobs a month for 19 months.

The employers' survey (a poll of big employers' hiring and firing) shows a similar trend. It has a slight increase through October 07, the begins going down. From the high in October to today's report, we've lost 722,000 jobs.

I do think there are some non-economic reasons for some of the drop, and much of the rest probably comes from the highly-cyclical building industry, but it is still a big loss.

National Healthcare

A comment I posted in response to Half Sigma's suggestion "Republicans should support socialized medicine:"

$140K [for doctor's salaries, set by the government]? You are out of your mind. Medicine will hemorrhage its best and brightest. That means no innovation. No new procedures. No progress in medical science.

That is the real, never-mentioned problem with all of these government take-over plans. Socialized medicine in the USA would be a death blow to medicine, because the USA the only major market left on earth where investing in medical research has the potential to pay off. No profit motive means no new devices, no new drugs, no new procedures, no new technology. Spare me your vision of the noble NIH-funded scientist sweating away in his lab to save humanity. His goal is to produce journal papers. Spare me your point about European drug companies doing well. Where do you think they make their money?

If we had adopted socialized medicine decades ago, where would medicine be today? Decades behind.

and another on a followup post:

Obviously, other countries have lower medical costs because their governments strictly control prices. The only major relatively free market left, the USA, ends up footing the bill for medical research by way of high prices. In effect, countries with socialized care are not paying their fair share, they are passing the costs on to us.

What if the USA adopts socialized medicine like other countries? Then all would be on equal footing. But, as I pointed out in my previous comment, it would be a disaster for the advancement of medicine.

We can debate the pluses and minuses of health care policies, but to ignore the effect of said policies on the advancement of medical science is foolish and likely dangerous.

Half Sigma is an interesting blogger, and I read him often. I sometimes wonder though if he makes incendiary statements just to get a rise out of people. He dedicates a lot of posts to the question of race and intelligence. Some will surely find it offensive. I am not much offended by it, but I don't agree with the level of importance with which he seems to rate the topic.

Kid Density II

Below, I posted a note after my brother's comment on empty playgrounds. I believe it's mostly due to hyper-paranoia that has infected parenting. Parents buy the line that there is a predator behind every tree.

I went looking for some stats, and found this from 2002 (UCLA Bruin)
But, like last year’s “summer of the shark,” the current “summer of abduction” is more hype than fact. If parents waded through the media frenzy, they would see the number of child kidnappings by strangers has actually been decreasing in recent years. According to FBI reports, there were 115 cases in 1998, 134 in 1999, 106 in 2000, and 93 in 2001. This year, the drop has continued as 46 cases have been recorded in the first half of 2002.

As it turns out, the actual probability of a child being snatched up and murdered is about one in a million. To provide perspective lacking in the media, a child is twice as likely to fall victim to accidental shooting, 10 times more likely to drown in a backyard pool, and 100 times more likely to be seriously injured or killed on a bicycle. As Barry Glassner, a sociology professor at USC puts it, “It’s hard to imagine any serious danger to children that is less likely than kidnapping by a stranger.”
I found a national report on juvenile crime statistics which compared the two-year period from 1991-1993 to 2001-2003, and found that for kids 12-14, the rate of non-fatal victimization tanked:

Nonfatal violence –59%
Robbery –66%
Aggravated assault –69%
Simple assault –57%

And that's in a period of less than 10 years, and crime rates have been dropping for much longer than that. I'd also imaging that if you control for socio-economic level, you'd find that the victimization rate for middle class whites is almost non-existent.

Also this from the same report:
Contrary to public perceptions, NISMART–2 found that the majority of victims of stereotypical and other nonfamily abductions were teens—not younger children—and most were kidnapped by someone they knew somewhat—not by strangers or slight acquaintances. The NISMART–2 researchers point out the implications these findings have for prevention efforts, which have tended to focus on “stranger danger” and have targeted young children.
Here's one of the down-side risks (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
In 1972, 87 percent of children who lived within a mile of school walked or biked daily; today, just 13 percent of children get to school under their own power, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In a significant parallel, before 1980, only 5 percent of children were obese; today that figure has tripled, says the CDC.

The next generation of grandparents won't even need to harangue their progeny with tales of walking seven miles to school in the snow; it'll be impressive enough to say that they walked at all.
Here's the Justice Department:

It's a little hard to read, but it looks like the crime rate for young teens was about 80 in 1973, and is now down around 40--meaning that violent crimes against young teens have dropped in half since I was a kid.

Kid Density

There is a comments-section discussion going on at Ann Althouse's blog about the apparent lack of kids playing outside in the suburbs. I've noticed this too, for example in my parents' neighborhood, an outer suburb of Milwaukee. It's a fairly well-to-do area, with large houses on large plots of land. Many backyards and schoolyards have playground equipment in them, but it's rare to see many kids using them.

I think it's probably because these areas don't have many kids per square mile, i.e. the kid density is low. This is due to the large distance between houses and the relatively low kids-per-family that these days comes with wealth and education. I think that unless a certain critical kid density is reached, you are not likely to see groups of kids playing around the neighborhood.

Fortunately, it's a different story where we live, here in Brookline MA. The population here is fairly wealthy and educated, but the population density is very high. The two park areas nearest our house, one connected to the High School and the other a couple of blocks away, are small, but usually alive with kids and adults. It's quite nice to see kids playing on the playground equipment, or playing baseball or soccer. For little kids they have nice fountains to play in. During the summer there are kids playing in those fountains all day long. Adults play with their kids or play softball or basketball. All that activity keeps the "chronically inebriated" and other undesirables away too.

So we've got that going for us. Which is nice.

Ann adds: I think the biggest problem is hyper-paranoia on the part of parents. Our 8 year old girl isn't even allowed to walk around the block by herself. When I said something about it to our 6 year old boy, he said, "No, I might be taken!" I found that very depressing. This is what we teach our kids?

We do have a lot of homeless around here--Los Angeles has a ton, and Santa Monica once invited all the country's homeless to come. They can be creepy, and you figure that most are either mentally ill, alcoholics or addicts. So you do wonder about kids' safety around them, but the fact remains that very, very, very few kids ever have anything happen to them. And the vast majority who do are either "taken" by non-custodial parents, or are abused by family members. The danger to kids is more likely to be your friends and family--people you trust--than the bum on the street.

I think this woman has the right idea: "Why I Let My 9-year-old Ride Subway Alone". She assessed the real dangers, and realized that the threats parents usually fear are mostly paranoia-induced, and that there is the hidden threat of overly-coddled kids who are taught to be afraid of the world around them.