Memorial Day 2010

Thanks to the men and women of the US armed forces who gave their lives for their country.

Drilling off the coast

Good point:
Here's my question: Why are we drilling in 5,000 feet of water in the first place? Many reasons, but this one goes unmentioned: Environmental chic has driven us out there.

As production from the shallower Gulf of Mexico wells declines, we go deep (1,000 feet and more) and ultra deep (5,000 feet and more), in part because environmentalists have succeeded in rendering the Pacific and nearly all the Atlantic coast off-limits to oil production. (President Obama's tentative, selective opening of some Atlantic and offshore Alaska sites is now dead.)

And of course, in the safest of all places, on land, we've had a 30-year ban on drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

So we go deep, ultradeep — to such a technological frontier that no precedent exists for the April 20 blowout in the Gulf of Mexico.
Charles Krauthammer, Investors Business Daily

In honor of...

..."Take your child to the park...and leave them there day"

Last Saturday was "Take your child to the park...and leave them there day." This was proposed by Leonore Skenazy, the author of "Free Range Kids". She proposed that parents look and see if they have well-populated and generally safe park nearby, and if their kids are 7 or 8 or older (she pointed out that 7 is the age when kids around the world generally start walking to school alone), that parents simply drop them off for a period of time. She said it could be for just 15 minutes while you walk around the park, or for longer. The problem being that kids are isolated from each other and from society, live sedentary lives, all at a time when the world is safer than it's been for the last 30 years or more.

Some statistics:

Are you afraid of being struck by lightning? No? Why not? Because the odds of getting struck by lightning are-- 1 : 280,000

  • Number of missing minors each year (includes teen runaways, parental abductions, and kids who wandered away for a couple of hours): 750,000 (1)
  • Number of missing minors who are kidnapped by strangers each year: 115 (1)
  • Number of missing minors who are kidnapped by strangers each year and never return home alive: 50 (1)
  • Rate of sterotypical kidnapped kids who remain unrecovered/killed vs all missing: 1 : 15,000
  • Number of kids in 2000: 72,000,000 (2)
  • Rate of stereotypical kidnapping per capita: 1: 626,086
  • Rate of stereotypical kidnapping and murder or never-recovered per capita: 1: 1,440,000

  • Number of children injured annually in car accidents: 184,000 (3)
  • Number of children killed annually in car accidents: 1,335 (3)
  • Number of children: 72,000,000
  • Chance of child dying in car accident: 1 : 53,932

  • Number of minors who die of cancer every year: 2,300(4)

In other words:
  • A child is 11.6 times more likely to die in a car accident than be kidnapped by a stranger.

  • A child is almost twice as likely to die of cancer than in a car accident.

  • A child is 26.7 times more likely to die in a car accident than be kidnapped and killed by a stranger.

  • A child is 46 times more likely to die of cancer than be kidnapped and killed by a stranger.

  • A person is 5.1 times more likely to be struck by lightning than a child is to be kidnapped and killed by a stranger.
It's a pretty-safe world out there. Maybe it's time we act like it.

(1) link: DOJ report on Stranger Kidnappings (data is from 2002)
(2) link: US Cencus data 2000.
(3) link: CDC data from 2008.
(4) link: Cancer facts.


Over at Reason, this on South Korea:

When you still have 28,500 U.S. troops in a country more than a half-century after their original reason for being there, the local population will tend to take less responsibility for its own safety, and tend to take external threats less seriously, while exaggerating the nefariousness of its foreign protector. South Korea is more than rich enough to provide for its own defense, at which time you might see an altogether different set of attitudes.

Matt Welch is right. This people act like spoiled, rebellious teenagers living under their parents' roofs. Why the h*ll are we still in Korea? The war ended 57 years ago. I don't think having all those troops there reduces North Korea's threat to us. We should just pack up and leave.

If it's true at a state level...

So, Harvard researchers have discovered that when a state or region gets one of their federal representatives on a powerful committee two things happen concurrently:
1) Federal money flows generously to the area.
2) Private businesses in the same area see reduced sales, cut back their spending, and shrink payrolls--"the average firm in his state cut back capital expenditures by roughly 15 percent".
My question is: if this happens locally when federal money flows, can we extrapolate that to a national level? When the federal taps open, how big a hit do private businesses take? Especially when it has one big compounding factor: states that see increases in money flow, do not usually see proportionate increases in taxes--that money comes from loser states. But, if you look on the federal level, then the tax increases do matter, since the money is coming out of the same pot everyone's taxes go into.

Next question: who is really surprised by this? That's not a rhetorical question. It is, actually, a rather important question.

Bring back the hyphen!!

I'm a big believer in the hyphen for compound adjectives. The use of such a mark has fallen greatly, and it is a shame. It really is much easier to read, when an author uses proper punctuation. Take this quick, one-line (compound adjective! and even a comma between coordinate adjectives--Yay!!) entry from Glenn Reynolds:
Original: FASTER, PLEASE! Glaxo Open Sources Malaria Drug Search Data.
I found that confusing; because, the first time through, I read the verb as "open" and "sources" as a noun--that made the following five apparent-nouns a rather confusing jumble: sources malaria drug search data. Huh?

Wouldn't that have been easier to read and parse as:
Punctuated: FASTER, PLEASE! Glaxo Open-Sources Malaria-Drug Search Data.
Although, technically, the first of those is a verb, and depending on how you think of it, the second might be an adverb (is the noun "Search Data" or is the noun just "Data" with "Search" as another adjective? If the former, then it is a compound-adjective. If the latter, then it's an adverb.)

Take 100 Coyotes this Season

Waiting at my doctor's office today, I saw this magazine cover

I'm not anti-hunting. I don't see why killing an animal by shooting it is worse than whatever more "natural" way of death would otherwise occur. Species have been killing and consuming other species here on Earth for billions of years. In addition, I think that hunting is generally a positive force for conservation. Hunters care about the environment because they want to be able to continue hunting, and allow future generations to do the same.

However, I found this magazine cover disturbing. What sort of person finds it thrilling and adventurous to kill 100 coyotes in a season? Whatever sort, there are apparently enough of them out there to make Outdoor Life think they can sell magazines this way.

I don't think this is "sport," I think it is wrong. It reminds me of the buffalo and passenger pigeon hunts of the past.

Poking around the web, I found one other person out there who agrees with me.

Ann says: I like this line from your link:
The most common rejoinder given is, 'They're PREDATORS!" Well, we don't shoot attorneys, politicians or investment bankers, do we?

Failing cities

This was written about Cleveland, but it sounds familiar with respect to Milwaukee too:

When down-on-the-heels cities are not simply holding their hands out, they tend to work the same frayed ropes over and over again: building convention centers that will never make money, betting the farm on light-rail systems that always underperform, shoveling tax dollars at stadiums and sports franchises that don’t generate any new revenue, redeveloping the waterfront. If the basic definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over again while praying for different results, then huge swaths of urban America are certifiably nuts.

First attempt at a comic

Here's my first political cartoon:

Marathon Motors

If you drive near downtown Nashville, north on I-65, you might see an abandoned factory off on the left. That's the old Marathon Motors plant.

"Funny," I said to a visiting friend, "I've never heard of Marathon Motors." My friend hadn't either. Looking it up on Wikipedia, I see that the plant was active from 1910 through 1914. Well, that explains why I've never heard of it. Apparantly, only 8 cars have survived to this day.

It's hard to believe that plant has been sitting there a few blocks from the State Capitol, pretty much unused for nearly 100 years.

It wasn't a fluke!!!

Steven wasn't at school last Friday, so no spelling test. However, he took one today...

100% again!!!!! (95% on the flip side.)

It wasn't a fluke!!!


The code for the "Combat" Atari 2600 cartridge has been disassembled and posted on the web. The code includes bitmaps for the tank at different rotations. I made the following animated gif from these maps, just for fun.

Remember when the Atari 2600 was impressive technology?

Lena Horne

Lena Horne's signature song:

A great one. Rest in peace.

Green colleges

I'm happy to say neither my alma mater (Grinnell) nor my brother's (Carleton--though the other Northfield school, St Olaf, is) are on this list of green colleges. Sadly, our sister's (Goucher) makes the list.

My niece just made this...

You Should Be Reading...

Dan Mitchell's blog. It's very good.

Ann says: I added it to the blogroll.

Proving a Negative

Fairly regularly, I read on the web people stating emphatically that:

"You can't prove a negative!"

Why not? If A is provable, and we let B=~A, then clearly the negative ~B is provable, because ~B=~(~A)=A.

It is also possible to prove “universal negatives” deductively, depending on the universe. For example, it is possible to prove that there does not exist a solution to exp(x)=0 in the universe of the real (or complex) number system.

As a non-mathematical example, the negative statement “there does not exist a two ton elephant in my dishwasher” seems pretty provable to me too, where “pretty provable” might mean there is a very high likelihood. I could simply weigh the dishwasher along with its contents. If it weighs less than two tons, then I think that pretty much proves it.

Surely some statements are more easily proved than others. "I did not sneeze yesterday" is tough to prove. But so is "I sneezed yesterday." Provability has nothing to do with whether or not the statement is "positive" or "negative." It is not even clear to me what it means for a statement to be "positve" or "negative".

Two days later...

I was in this store on Saturday with the boy...then on Monday a crazy lady went wild with a knife.

Amazon Prime

I pre-ordered a book which is due to be released tomorrow...

...but I got it in the mail today. That is to say, I got it into my hands faster by ordering it through the mail than I could have if I bought it in my local bookstore.

How? I really love Amazon Prime! We must be close to a distribution center, because for a lot of books our sort-of-free 2-day shopping ends up getting books to us in one day. So, with a new Tuesday release (books are usually released on Tuesdays, you know,) they ship it out on Saturday, assuming it will arrive on Tuesday, but for us, we get it Monday--before the official release date.

Amazon Prime is a pre-paid shipping option. You pay $79 each year, and for that, they will ship anything that they have in their warehouses to you without extra charge and with 2-day shipping. Amazon has a lot of products that third parties sell using their website which ship from non-Amazon warehouses. Those ship slowly, and you have to pay for shipment. But most things there are available through Prime, if you look for it.

Because of the ease of shopping and the price of shipping, we order lots of things through Amazon which we might have purchased locally or on other websites. It's a great service!

Flash Flood in Richland Creek

We got socked with rain this weekend. And how. My kindly neighbor told me he emptied his 5 inch rain gauge twice as of this morning, and that it was filled to the brim both times. It poured all day today as well. I've heard reports of 16 inches total around here.

We went out to lunch though, braving the elements. Our power was out for about 8 hours and we got hungry. Many roads were blocked, most freeways as well. We wended our way through some neighborhoods near us. The culverts were filled with rushing rapids. It was quite something to see.

Images from around town show the scale of the disaster. You can find many on the web. My friend flying in this morning (the airport was open!) saw it from the air and was amazed. Water everywhere.

There is a creek near us, Richland Creek. You can see it on this map, along the labels [C] (A) and [B]. It's just a small creek, you might barely notice it. But today it showed its ugly side. A flash flood rose up and raced through a nearby neighborhood. On the map, we are in the lower left corner. So it was pretty close. My friend and I drove to point [B]. We saw semi-tractor trailers strewn all over a parking lot, along with telephone poles strewn around like matchsticks. The poles had been stacked there for storage. My friend and I heard a loud hissing sound and smelled the telltale sign of leaking gas. Yipe! We got out of there fast, though many other looky-loos were busy taking photos.

The flood raced down the streets adjacent to the creek. Two people were killed at point (A). I am not certain of the details, but their bodies were found in their basement. I was sorry to hear about that. The saddest news of the day.

At point B the flood reached a shopping area on Charlotte Pike. Shops were flooded out and owners were stranded on their roofs.

All pretty scary. We will be watching the news for the next several days to see the effects. The weather ahead is good, so the worst is over.

Book Nostalgia

If you're feeling nostalgic, there's no better place than the web. You can look up old TV shows and commercials from your youth on YouTube, for example. I find it fascinating when I see something I instantly remember, yet am absolutely certain I would never have brought it to mind again, had I not been reminded. How many memories are locked up in our brains, never to be accessed again?

My sister's book discussions got me thinking of children's books. I vaguely remembered a story I read where some kids had a magic ring or some such device that granted them wishes. I remember at one point one of the kids asked to see his deceased father again... he appears to him for a moment then disappears. That's all I remember from the book. What book is it?

The cool site and Google to the rescue. I Google

"grants wishes"

And there it is! Half Magic!

This web technology is awesome.