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Rhinocrisy

29 April, 2005

Don't listen to the filter...

Listen to the words. The strong, determined words of U.S. President George Walker Bush, speaking on energy.
We must address the root causes that are driving up gas prices.

In the past decade, America's energy consumption has been growing about 40 times faster than our energy production. That means we're relying more on energy produced abroad.

To reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy, we must take four key steps.

First, we must better use technology to become better conservers of energy.
What he called the House's "good energy bill" eliminates most of Bush's proposed energy efficiency funding.
And secondly, we must find innovative and environmentally sensitive ways to make the most of our existing energy resources, including oil, natural gas, coal and safe, clean nuclear power.
The only environmentally sensitive way to make the most of existing enregy sources is to not use them. And if "safe, clean nuclear power" is an existing energy source, I hope Mr. Bush will submit this news to a peer-reviewed journal, because it's big news.
Third, we must develop promising new sources of energy, such as hydrogen, ethanol or bio-diesel.
Dude - I realize you're a guy who ends a press conference by saying to the assembled reporters, "thank you for your answers." But still, I need to say: hydrogen is not an energy source, it's a storage medium which will most likely be used to store fossil fuel energy. Ethanol is not a new energy source, and while the debate rages (and this link goes to someone with serious oil industry connections), ethanol may well be an energy sink. And bio-diesel is better than the others, but if it's going to be used for any significant fraction of our energy needs, that's going to require even more land going into soybean cultivation -- and the concominant use of fossil water, which is not a renewable resource. (Or, we could do what we did in early 2004, and start importing soybeans. Wouldn't that be cool.)
Fourth, we must help growing energy consumers overseas, like China and India, apply new technologies to use energy more efficiently and reduce global demand of fossil fuels.
I love this one. Criminy -- we have these brilliant scientists at our Dept of Energy labs who have spent their lives devising ways to save energy. But because the government's prime directive is to provide the base with its viscous bodily fluids, these scientists mostly get to talk to one another and enjoy the view. Now, good news! Bush is going to send them to help China. Where, one can expect, they will have all the influence of, say, the dozen or so urbanist delegations to China, the human-rights promoters, or best of all, the Taiwanese "pissing in the wind" against the Chinese "anti-secession law."

Oh I'm sorry, am I being a "filter?" Well that's ok, because Bush was on in prime time. So don't listen to the filter. Just listen to the words.

PS: Oh I'm sorry, did I neglect to mention that that same TV program recently wrapped up all the oil news you could possibly need.

28 April, 2005

Autodafé!

Wow! Crooked Timber points the way to this story, on Alabama State Senator Gerald Allen's bill to prevent schools from using public funds to buy books about homosexuality, or even by homosexual authors!

This must be a really embarassing time to be a Republican. But me, I'm hoping that these paltry sorts of culture wars (Mr. Allen is surely condemned to the rubbish-heap of endless ridicule) will escalate into la vraie chose. If I play things right, I could end up being burned at the stake like Giordano Bruno! If I'm really bad, they may even nail my tongue to my jaw so I can't speak poisonous lies!

Is this a dagger which I see before me?

For a while now, I've been remarking to anyone who will pretend to listen on how postmodernism is fast becoming an instrument of evil. Observe the following claim in this thread I stumbled across regarding American violations of the Geneva Conventions:
Under the customs of war, not civil law, these are matters for the military command to decide. Thats my opinion, with historical precedent. You could disagree, but there really isn't anyone with authority who can say which of us is correct.
Or, as a galloping idiot told me during a discussion on Wikipedia:
There is no absolute certainty in the factuality of evolution. It is subject to replacement just as the original theories of atomic structures were. There are many problems with the theory itself which tend to make it slide a little off its high horse.
Or, the parody version, courtesy of the Daily Show
Jon: ...that's just innuendo and that can't be the only thing in a news story.
Colbert: Can't it? I ask you: DOES Jon Stewart orally pleasure teamsters for pocket change?
Jon: Uhhh, no.
Colbert: Well, you are certainly entitled to that opinion, but I'm sure I can assemble an impressive panel who thinks you do. The truth lies somewhere in between. Let's talk about it for eight weeks, and let the public decide.
In other words, the inchoate nature of knowledge has become a shield for the ignorant. Though I haven't got many specific examples on hand, I'm sure that you can dredge up anecdotal memories of application of such arguments to modern political topics. I've long felt that postmodernism was something of a nihilistic tradition, and even if it can serve as a basis for attacking regressive dogmatic moral positions (e.g. Christian patriarchy), it doesn't leave anything of worth in its place, and can be applied equally blindly in attacking progressive stances. And as it becomes an ever more deeply embedded mode of thought, its use in that manner will only become more frequent. 'Ware being hoisted by your own petard.

Hooray for men

Everyone can relax, it turns out that that whole "feminism" thing was wrong, and there is in fact, NO discrimination against women. Yes, that's right! Women have got it worse than men only because of their own choices.

I learned this after I saw a "Mallard Fillmore" comic today, that claimed "if you compare apples to apples, women earn MORE than men". My first thought was, "Hah! Mallard Fillmore. What a stupid name!"

But then I noodled around, and eventually came across what I think is the source of this claim: a book that came out recently (Jan. 2005) by one Warren Farrell. He seems to be a pretty despicable human being. Here's a quote!
If a man ignoring a woman's verbal 'no' is committing date rape, then a woman who says 'no' with her verbal language but 'yes' with her body language is committing date fraud. And a woman who continues to be sexual even after she says 'no' is committing date lying...

We have forgotten that before we began calling this date rape and date fraud, we called it exciting. -- Warren Farrell, in Myth of Male Power
Farrell also has expressed some disturbing views on rehabilitating incest that he's not so proud of any more. Nevertheless, he has in the intervening years become a hero of the "Men's Rights" movement, has published several books, and now has, according to dozens of sites (including the anti-feminist Independent Women's Forum) definitively put the nail in the coffin of the gender wage gap claim with his book, "Why Men Earn More".

Dr.* Farrell provides us with 25 (count 'em!) reasons why women earn less than men. Cribbing from the IWF article:
The real reason than men tend to out-earn women is the choices they make. Men are far more likely to take unpleasant and dangerous jobs, what Farrell calls the "death and exposure professions." For example, firefighting, truck driving, mining and logging -- to name just a few high-risk jobs -- are all more than 95 percent male. Conversely, low risk jobs like secretarial work and childcare are more than 95 percent female.

Farrell points out that in California, prison guards can earn $70,000 per year plus full medical benefits and retire after thirty years with a hefty retirement package. But it takes little imagination to figure out why California still has a difficult time staffing its prisons, and it goes without saying that most prison guards are male. Says Farrell, "As with most jobs, there's an inverse relationship between fulfillment and pay."
He summarizes with this Seussian jingle:
Jobs that expose you to the sleet and the heat pay more than those that are indoors and neat.
Farrell is right, of course. Oh - except for the part where he claims equal pay for equal work. Try this, or the article "So How Far Have We Come? Pestilent and Persistent Gender Gap in Pay", by Margaret Gibelman in the journal Social Work (2003, Vol. 48, Issue 1). This is one of a handful of, well, actual sociological studies of this question I found through a few careless minutes of searching that approach the questions Dr. Farrell claims to answer with more nuance and depth. I quote from the above:
A history of occupational segregation by gender and the associated salary inequities has been well documented. Research by economists and sociologists has revealed that the wage differential between men and women is only partially explained by the characteristics of the worker (such as education level) or the job (see, for example, Acker, 1989; England, 1992; Gibelman & Schervish, 1995; National Committee on Pay Equity, 1995)... A recent study by the American Bar Association revealed that, "despite surging numbers of female lawyers, bias against women remains entrenched in the legal profession and results in steep inequities of pay, promotion, and opportunity' (Bernstein, 1996, p. A9). Among college and university admissions officers in doctoral and comprehensive institutions, men's median salaries were higher than women's median salaries at every position, even when the years of experience were the same. These differences could not be explained (National Association for College Admission Counseling, 1997). The American Association of University Professors reported that for the 1996 to 1997 academic year, female faculty members, depending on their rank, earned 85 cents to 96 cents for each dollar earned by their male colleagues (Moses, 1997). A University of Michigan study that tracked the careers of 1,226 physicians trained at that university's medical school over a 10-year period found that women occupied lower status positions and experienced unequal pay (Colburn, 1993).
Et cetera. But, as I said, Farrell IS correct: a significant portion of the difference in wages for men and women can be explained by occupational segregation. What Dr. Farrell forgets to discuss is that women continue to bear the majority of the burden for raising children. That men are able to abdicate their responsibility in order to pursue their careers, while women are not (and are slighted because of this expectation), is a matter of unquestionable salience. The implication that women's choice is at fault in this regard implies that women can achieve equality simply by copying the behavior of men: that is, give up on raising their children. I hope I don't need to point out what a terrible model of egalitarianism this is.



* His Ph.D. is in political science, so there's no doubt that he's eminently qualified to answer this sociological question. And since he IS so highly qualified, let it not be said that I am attempting to slight his accomplishment and erudition. I will give him his due without the least trace of irony.

27 April, 2005

3 yrs, 6 mos, 2wks, and 1 day later: Counterterrorism wises up

I am often amazed at how the Fatherland Security apparatus in the USA treats everyone like a suspect -- this in a country where practically everyone, even people who consider themselves anarchists, have a pretty good sense of collective defense and preservation.

I'm not a huge fan of the NRA, but they are on the generally right track when they say that if everyone were armed, we'd be safer -- there are far more good people than bad, and if you give everyone the ability to handle dangerous or violent situations, good will win. (I part from them in that they dwell far too much on firearms while ignoring the far more important types of self-defense weaponry: good communications skills in multiple languages, physical fitness, empathy, even machine tools: when I have a 15-mm crescent wrench I can help someone I see on a dark street late at night with, say, a tacoed bike wheel.)

But instead of relying on this type of collective, non-hierarchical defense, Fatherland Security treats everyone like a suspect and wastes everyone's time and money, inuring us to the totalitarian police state, and arguably making us more vulnerable to terrorism and crime. For example, I had to give up my 15-mm crescent wrench because it was in my backpack as I tried to board an Alaska Airlines plane last summer. Can't have that -- someone carrying a tool on a plane!

At this point the only airport security we need is bomb-sniffing dogs and maybe machines. All this worry about knives and guns is ridiculous. There are plenty of people on a plane to disarm anyone carrying such a thing, and since 0.8181, people have been mentally prepared to respond with whatever it takes to any physical threat on a plane.

So I am happy to see that clam-diggers in Boston are now being called on to watch the port. This initiative makes sense -- trust the people who know the area. Even if a few "bad guys" start digging clams, they won't be able to stop their spade-wielding colleagues from calling Fatherland Security on their government-issued mobile phones should an explosives-laden speedboat start pulling up to the latest LNG shipment.

What I hope is that this relatively smart initiative can spread beyond the largely Irish-American Boston clamdigger culture into the far more diverse, but equally important "eyes and ears" cultures of, say, cab drivers, or the largely minority communities living near our 297 chemical plants that could "affect" over 50,000 people apiece.

(Yes, I know. This post ignores the legitimate questions about the likelihood of terrorism as compared to, say, a gale that wrecks the LNG tanker or poor OSHA inspections that contribute to a chemical leak. And it ignores whether terrorism should really be stopped at the last possible second, after the terrorists have already been indoctrinated, assembled, trained, funded, armed, transported, and launched -- or whether, maybe, better global policies could "dry the swamps" well ahead of that. My point is to argue that even on the terms of the current blindered system, this is one of the first time I've seen the Fatherland Protectors act with anything resembling brains.)

WTF

WTF?:
On one wall is a "Star Trek" poster with investigators' faces substituted for the Starship Enterprise crew. But even that alludes to a dark fact of their work: All but one of the [Internet pedophiles] they have arrested in the last four years was a hard-core Trekkie...37 arrests last year.
Now remind me why, at age 11, I felt uncomfortable at the few comic book conventions I went to?

Happy birthday


Photo released
April 28, 2004

26 April, 2005

Knowledge, get lost!

Saurabh was just pondering how knowledge gets lost. We recently saw a government agency try to lose some knowledge. But today, it snuck out.

Now we can see why Homeland Security doesn't want to know how many terrorist attacks took place last year, just as the Global War on Terror matured. Short answer: a more than 200 percent rise. It's a lot like how the religious right claims to be fighting against abortion, but their tactics (including abstinence-only education and opposing contraception) seem to correlate with increased abortion rates.

With success like that, I hope Washington will declare war on orgasms. And chocolate ice-cream. And piles of kittens asleep on the sidewalk. I promise, if you censor your success rate, I promise not to tell.

Update: As usual, the clip-art people get it righter than me, faster, and funnier.

Update2: It looks like the numbers are coming out, not just through leaks, but through a new agency. So - um - never mind this posting. Except for the part about a war on orgasm, which is a very good idea.

Down with shrimp! Up with odors!

Everyone's favorite megacorp is worried about taking positions that its workers disagree with. This gentleman joins the debate, tossing out a surprising tidbit: Do programmers in Redmond really march through the hallways chanting against seafood and deodorant? I thought I was the only one. My favorite:

Hey hey, ho ho
Shrimp scampi
In my panty
Make me stinky
Is what democracy sounds like

(repeat until hoarse)

Blood clots could cost me my job!

I'm down to six fingers, after I stabbed myself in my right middle finger last night with a kitchen knife. Since I've thus got a large blood clot "at hand", I'll take this opportunity to make an awkward segue.

Michael Behe argues in his book, "Darwin's Black Box", that certain protein pathways are what he terms "irreducibly complex", that is, could not have formed through an evolutionary process. Behe's contention is that some complex, multi-component systems would obviously fail if any one component were missing, and since evolution by natural selection demands they form via a stepwise process, such systems could not have been the product of evolution. The cascade of reactions that results in the formation of blood clots in humans is one of his more spectacular examples.

A simple thought experiment illustrates both the sense and nonsense of this proposition. Take three chopsticks and try to form a tripod with them through a series of stable intermediates. It seems impossible, since any two by themselves will collapse without the support of a third. But in fact, we can very easily form such a structure: we stabilize the one- and two-stick intermediates with one hand, add the third, and take our hand away. A system that is apparently irreducibly complex is not so if we consider the possibility of scaffolding structures, which stabilized intermediates in a way which is not obvious from the current state of the system.

In fact, this is not a far-fetched idea. Life is far more adept at borrowing, stealing, subverting and recycling bits of machinery than we can imagine. Irreducible complexity isn't a disproof of evolution, unless you can definitively establish that no such scaffolding process of intermediates could have occurred - a much more difficult, and perhaps even impossible proposition. In fact, Behe's original blood clot example has been taken apart by simple example - a supposedly vital component of the "irreducibly complex" system does not exist in some other species.

Nevertheless, despite the weakness of the critique, and despite the fact that it remains a fundamentally negative statement and has not been augmented by any coherent theory of origins, the idea of "irreducible complexity" is the linchpin of the modern Intelligent Design movement, which in turn represents the basis for the modern Christian creationist attack on the theory of evolution. Since that paritcular movement has been gaining in leaps and bounds, and since attacking the theory of evolution has always been a favorite hobby-horse of the Christian conservative movement, it's fairly inevitable that the attempts to discredit the theory would be escalating. And not without some success, in the lay public. The "modern synthesis" is a very well-established theory, corroborated by evidence from many fields: genetics, ecology, geology, paleontology, et alia. But most people only have a cursory understanding of these fields, and (coupled with ideological credence) are susceptible to flawed but technical and informed arguments in a broad range of these fields. So, I'm not surprised to see proponents of intelligent design "theory" gaining ground and becoming more militant and self-assured.

But, to be honest, I can't picture a realistic scenario in which these forces achieve a victory. It's frankly impossible, given the fact that the science is crap, and evolution is a well-established liberal sacred cow. If it were seriously threatened, battle lines would be drawn and some sustained battles would occur, and intelligent design would come out bloodied and probably dead.

So the only issue is whether it's worthwhile to have a sensibly educated public. Note that the American majority has been hostile to the theory of evolution pretty much since its inception (along with other scientific theories), and the result has not been a notable decay in the strength of these theories or of scientific institutions. They've remained quite robust, in fact. The only reason, therefore, to advance a correct understanding of the theory of evolution (and other theories that contradict Christian dogma) is because they imply a rejection of Christian dogma. Their acceptance necessarily entails giving up the belief in Biblical inerrancy. This is why they're so vigorously opposed.

Now, I'm quite clearly an empiricist, and I think Biblical inerrancy is the height of foolishness. On the other hand, there's another liberal sacred cow at stake here, viz. the Establishment Clause. Since evolution is a direct contravention of a religious viewpoint, doesn't teaching it in schools imply an endorsement of a particular religious perspective?

We can always hope that Christians will grow the fuck up and wake up to reality, but it's a historical truth that people cling fiercely to their religious ideals, no matter how irrational. I think this is a battle we're stuck with. Forever, even.

25 April, 2005

This satisfies all my Thomas Friedman stomach juices

This was linked off Busy, Busy, Busy, but somehow I missed it the first three times I read it.

The Malaise

For a long time, I've been struggling to understand something, which is this:

Since sometime in late 1999, the "left" in this country has been in high gear. When I say "left", I mean people who are unambiguously left of center - that is, not Democrats, but Marxists, anarchists, Maoists, "progressive" liberals of the Green Party brand, Christian pacifists, and so on. Traditional rabble-rousers. After Seattle, these people (myself included) were suddenly brimming with power and energy, ready to go charging pell-mell at whatever demons they saw. And when they invariably bounced off, as if they had run into a stone wall, they were non-plussed. They picked themselves up and charged off again in another direction. And they had their small victories, as well, no doubt.

This didn't really change after September 11. There was a brief hiccup, a pause while everyone sighed in shock and confusion. But then all the freaks gathered themselves again, and they were off. Economic globalization took a backseat, but a vigorous anti-war movement took its place. The bombing of Afghanistan was vigorously opposed, along with the Patriot Act, arbitrary detentions and the general air of jingoism. This energy continued - even escalated - through the period when the Bush administration was pushing to invade Iraq. Here it had the added energy of traditional liberals, who for the first time seemed to be willing to come out and do things that only the leftist freaks had been willing to do before (i.e. dress up funny and dance in the street with puppets).

Then the U.S. actually invaded Iraq, and everything stopped.

And it's still pretty much stopped.

And I still haven't figured out why. No one seems to have lost their conviction. No one seems to have lost their goals. But nothing happens. Is it futility? Do we (I) feel that whatever efforts we put in are doomed to fail, just like the gargantuan forces mobilized to pre-empt the invasion of Iraq failed? I think I'm suffering from ideological fatigue. Not that I have changed in any great measure. But my disclarity, my lack of vision for the long and difficult journey required to fulfill my goals, has come into focus. It's been clarified by the events of the past few years. I don't know what the fuck I'm doing. None of us do. We've been running on steam, hoping our relentless energy would be enough to propel us where we wanted to go.

I know I'm a relentless cynic, but I think I'm actually a false kind of cynic. I'm a fake, because really, way down deep inside, I have hope. I have tremendous hope and optimism for what we're capable of doing with ourselves. And I think a lot of leftist freaks have that same hope. That's the bit of fire that provides the engine for all of that steam. I don't think that's going to go away.

But that's all I'm left with: we're collectively sitting here, smoking a cigarette, saying to ourselves, "Well, shit. What should we do now?" I've got nothing else.

Praise

Perhaps I'm feeling susceptible, but I think this is one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me:
three cats were in a pile asleep at the end of my stree[t] this morning. i thought of you.

24 April, 2005

Trade Group Protests Metaphor

Leaders of the Washington Apple Council today circulated a press release protesting persistent references to brutal military and intelligence officers as "bad apples."

"Washington apple growers take pride in their quality control," reads the 2-page press release. "We recognize that a few apples are in imperfect condition when they arrive at the local market, due to factors beyond our control. But the public must understand that even the worst Washington apple will never strike consumers with phone books, closed fists, nor open palms. These vitamin-rich, high-fiber fruits have never forced a human being to remain in a closed environment such as a sleeping bag while wound with an electrical cord. Nor do they force our valued customers to lie across folding chairs while an interrogator beats the soles of their feet with a police baton. These crisp, delicious snacks will not hit consumers on the back and buttocks with batons while they are in painful stress positions."

The release states that carefully selected USDA-approved Washington apples, along with a healthy and balanced diet, provide valuable antioxidants, which can help some consumers maintain healthy sleep patterns. This contradicts public accusations that the fruit had caused sleep deprivation and randomly switched prisoners' lights on and off throughout the day.

The trade association goes on to describe many other actions previously blamed on "bad apples" that the trade organization insists are actually the work of other creatures, which are more often available in supermarket parking lots than in the produce aisle.

For example, the Washington post has recently compared apples to mortgages, brutal police officers, and Enron energy traders. The paper has repeatedly been forced to eat humble pie baked with too little cinnamon as further fact-finding reveals that high-ranking officials, not bad apples, are responsible.

Reached for comment, Jim Allen, president of the New York Apple Association said, "I'm glad the Washington association took the lead on this. Our 150-year tradition growing apples for table, juice, and vinegar is threatened by the U.S. military's insistence that our fruit are responsible for anything worse than a bit of gas and the occasional e. coli poisoning."

While the compact and convenient snacks can apparently inhibit cancer cell proliferation, decrease lipid oxidation, and lower cholesterol, medical professionals call on diners to wash the attractively shaped fruit with soap and water if they wish to remove residues of soil, pesticide, and feces from apple-pickers forced to work long hours in fields without proper hand-washing facilities.

22 April, 2005

ConyersBlog?!

Perhaps all of y'all knew about this already, but apparently Congressman John Conyers has a blog. And he WRITES IT HIMSELF! No frickin' Kerry-style "blog" written by pimple-faced interns here. We get it straight from the Congressman's mouth. Now that's a cool politician. (And here you thought I would never use the phrase "cool politician".)

Anyway, I found this via A Tiny Revolution, who commented on the Baker-Carter commission on electoral reform. Conyers is rightly appalled that Baker (who played a prominent part in the 2000 Florida debacle and is extremely close to the President's family) is considered a credible party to lead this commission. He talks about his discussions with the director of the commission (Dr. Robert Pastor) on his blog, and encourages us to e-mail the gent with our thoughts on electoral reform. If you've got a spare moment, you could tell him a thing or two.

The World is Flat

(Via CT) Matt Taibi trashes Thomas Friedman's new book (titled as above). Man, that guy writes so badly, it's like he's pieing himself. Kind of makes a boy feel unnecessary.

Viral meme time!

Bob Harris had this linked off his blog, and I think it's the greatest thing ever. "Sha wa wa wa wa..." Hee hee hee.

21 April, 2005

Dinosaurs alive

The origin of the Nazi/evolutionist connection theory seems to be one Dr. Kent Hovind, a "creation scientist", who has even earned the ire of other Christians over his idiocy. But Dr. Hovind isn't all bad! He's also the creator of an awesome theme park, Dinosaur Adventure Land, where you can learn about how dinosaurs and humans lived together in the Garden of Eden, how Noah's flood formed the Grand Canyon, and other such goodness. Dinosaur Adventure Land is, of course, in Florida, where there is apparently some sort of rift in the fabric of normality these days.

Reminder: we DO live in the twenty-first century. But, like I said below... we're perfectly capable of backsliding. Me, I'm looking forward to a nice Dark Age. Should be more entertaining than this blegging crap.

Is this for real?

While I was looking around for pictures of the Scopes Monkey Trial, I came across this site, apparently put together by conservative Christians. I'm amazed that someone could be so startlingly wrong and still so utterly convinced. So amazed that I have to doubt. For example, check out this passage:
You may be interested, since the popular understanding of the Scopes trial is an illusion, what the reality is?

WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED?

1. William Jennings Bryan was opposed to evolutionism for several reasons, mostly because of what it had done in Germany under Hitler. He was opposed to the idea that natural selection based on violent competitive struggle, which had so recently influenced German intellectualism and led to atrocities against the Jews and against the world. He wanted to stop evolution, an unproved hypothesis, from being taught as true. He saw democracy as a workable form of government under a Christian belief system, but saw the teaching of evolution as a method of indoctrination into the doctrine of materialism, which is anti-Christian.
In case you don't know, the Scopes trial was in 1925. Ayep.

I am mystified. Is there a specific faculty devoted to knowing that you're ignorant that these site editors lack? That's all I can come up with. Either that, or this site was created by Tom Lehrer.

Multi-billion-dollar backscratch

A month ago, it looked like the Chinese National Overseas Oil Company, CNOOC, was going to buy Unocal. But people who have been around the block knew that the U.S. would never let a foreign company buy such a strategic asset. I asked around, "how do they do it?" That is, what invisible fist would they come up with to out-roshambo the invisible hand of an open auction? It didn't make any sense.

But sure enough, a couple weeks ago, the news came down from the great green flatlands of the Hacienda Industrial Park in San Ramon, California, home of ChevronTexaco: All your Unocal are belong to us.

Whaaa? Why did ChevTex agree to spend a couple billion extra bucks outbidding the Chinese? Shareholders reacted badly, costing the company about $8 billion in market capitalization. (Market cap is the market price of the company, should you feel the urge to max out your gold card.)

(Here's the math: Up to the April 4 announcement, the stock had been tracking the industry but with that money-wasting decision, the stock started its 11.9% drop in just over 2 weeks. In that period the industry as a whole lost only 7% of its value. With 2.1 billion shares outstanding, that 3.9% fall means about an $8 billion extra loss of equity. The company would have lost money either way over this period, as dropping oil prices mean that speculators are getting temporarily out of the market. But if the company had fallen in sync with the rest of the industry, it would have lost only $14 billion in equity, instead of the $22 billion it lost.)

But if you are among the legions of rhinocrites who hold ChevronTexaco stock, you have nothing to fear but Phil himself. For fume-huffers in Congress have found a way to pay back not just the patriots at ChevronTexaco, but the whole network of America-loving oil giants: an $8 billion tax cut. Now I have no idea whether this is intended as some sort of payback or not, but if so, it's pretty heavyhanded.

I mean, usually, if a policy is opposed to the Bush Administration, it's a good bet to support it first and ask questions later. But incredibly, this proposal attacks the Bush Administration for being too friendly to renewable energy.
The House legislation, approved last week by the Ways and Means Committee, is at odds with the Bush administration's approach. The president's proposed budget calls for $6.7 billion in tax breaks for energy, with 72 percent going toward renewable sources of energy and energy efficiency, compared with about 6 percent in the House plan...

House Republicans stood by the measure, which provides the $8 billion in tax savings over a 10-year period. It was approved by the committee in a 26 to 11 vote that was generally along party lines but with five Democrats supporting the legislation and one Republican voting against it.
The legislation was pushed by Bill Thomas, whose district includes the Kern County oilfields that produce more oil than the entire state of Oklahoma. The biggest oil producer in Kern County is also the company that first struck oil in the region, the same company that has run the county for a century. ChevronTexaco.

(And in case the feds don't help enough, the company is also asking impoverished Bay Area counties for a $44 million property tax rollback. Of that reduction, the S.F. Chronicle reports, Chevron is seeking the biggest reduction, $21 million.)

Progress

One of my favorite subversive notions is the idea that knowledge gets lost.

An important myth in our society is that scientific progress, like entropy, defines the arrow of time. Without a doubt, we are learning more every day; our understanding of the world is greater, and better, than at any moment in the past. Thus, we have nothing to learn from history, no call to preserve ancient knowledge. On the contrary, we have an imperative to eradicate that inferior corpus and replace it with the more modern understanding of the world.

As a literate society we find it hard to imagine that knowledge could actually disappear. After all, everything we learn is recorded in such incredible detail that posterity will surely retain it. But recorded knowledge and functional knowledge are two separate things, as anyone who has struggled with a textbook can attest to. I've heard it said that if we wanted to go to the moon today, it would be impossible. Not because we lack the capacity; but we do lack the skills and the people with the necessary accumulated knowledge. Maintaining a body of people equipped with a specific expertise requires an active effort. In the absence of expediency, we let those skills atrophy; we let it decay. What would have been basic knowledge in the past - how to lead a horse, how to sow squash seeds - is forgotten now, because it became unimportant.

This need not always be the case. For example, in India knowledge of how to construct aquifers has largely vanished, thanks to the introduction of centralized irrigation systems. The enormous efficiency of a mechanized irrigation system means that the old (ancient) system of constructing dew collectors, wells, and so on, became outmoded. Obsolete. So naturally, with time, the knowledge of their value and their construction eroded away.

Now, in the era of water scarcity, the modern irrigation system is suddenly failing. Water tables are dropping, and ancient aquifers are almost completely drained of their accumulated treasure.* Here, those older techniques might be usefully resurrected. But that knowledge has vanished. It must now be rebuilt through active effort, relearned by the new generation.

This is a rather sad idea, but I find it compelling, and exciting, because it demands that we do NOT forget the past, that we reject the notion that newer is necessarily better, and that the way things will be done is an improvement on the way they were.



* The same is an issue in the U.S., where agriculture draws heavily on underground aquifers without replacement. Eventually these supplies will be depleted, prompting a crisis. But, honestly, I don't really care as much about the cattle industry as I do about Indian villagers.

20 April, 2005

Disability issues

Note: This is the first in what may be a series of posts regarding disability issues.

A cooperative house I know uses a complicated system of rent payments and chores to ensure all housemates work an equal number of hours inside and outside the house, regardless of how much you get paid at work. When I heard about this, my first reaction was: cool! My second reaction was: uh oh.

You see, I'm disabled and unable to work an ordinary schedule, in the house or out. These people are probably respectful and if I wanted to join their house, we could probably work something out. But when I told a disabled friend of mine about the house and their system, he had the exact same reaction I did, so I think it's at the least worth talking about.

So if you were the coop, how would you handle this? I think one fair solution might be that if the disabled person receives financial aid (say, from their family), then they simply account for it as if it were income earned for outside hours working.

But most disabled people I know would find it really difficult to ask for a special dispensation like this--even a fair one like the solution above. One reason is that asking for special dispensations can force you into the "sick" role. When I applied for government aid, I literally worried that I didn't "look sick enough" as I went to the doctor for my medical evaluation. What would this be like in a house? Should I feel like a guilty freeloader every time I have a good day? Clearly not, but I probably would. It would be even harder to ask for a dispensation if you weren't receiving any aid, or the aid level you received didn't cover normal expenses. Most smaller cooperatives can't afford to effectively provide charity to people who need it.

Are there solutions that will make disabled people more comfortable within the coop. movement (whether it be housing or economic)?

Obesity rant #6: the Return of Obesity Rant

Uh. So, the government released a new "Food Pyramid". This one seems to be a slight departure from the "Food" portion of the concept, since it also includes recommendations on exercise. You can find it at MyPyramid.gov (proving that our government is staffed entirely by dorks).

I don't hate it. It does things that are generally good, emphasizing the positive, telling you what to eat and why it's good for you. If people follow it they would generally do better, health-wise. And the inclusion of exercise recommendations is a great bonus.

The obvious failings are the same as with previous editions of these guidelines:

First, it is passive. It's unlikely to have much influence outside of junior high school health curriculums. And we all know how much respect health teachers get. None. They get no respect.

Second, the pyramid still refuses to say what you should avoid, and why. There are several additions to the American diet that are horrible for public health: refined grains and high fructose corn syrup, for example. Simple, direct messages about why these things are bad for you would be extraordinarily effective at curbing consumption of horrible foods. But since these guidelines are published by the USDA, which is probably the branch of government most comfortably in the pocket of industry (maybe the Department of the Interior rivals it), there's little chance of seeing recommendations that would surely depress sales of crap-quality foodstuffs. Just imagine the shitstorm if the USDA came out and said "Soda pop makes you fat. Stop drinking it."

Anyway, I'll say it for them.

Too fast

So this one time I was in Death Valley for a week and I come out to Vegas and it's just about New Years and the radio is nothing but news about someone named "Peterson" or "Petersen" or something and I have no idea what they're talking about. Suddenly, everyone knew something that I simply didn't know. It happens.

It's the same feeling I just got by looking at Americablog. Am I the only one who didn't know that RatzingerBenedict XVI was Hitler Youth. He is pro-gay-basher, but he wouldn't let his anti-gay bias get in the way of defending gay men when they happen to be pedophile priests.

So -- am I late to the game? Or is this one of those collections of knowledge that will never make it above the choppy sea of data, into the clear air of, you know, Michael Jackson and the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry?

(There was a time when being outed as a Nazi got you ejected from polite company. No more. Forget seems finally to have won its race with forgive.)

19 April, 2005

Put my robot wife on a diet -- or don't

Good news: our life of satisfied primal appetites and minimal toil are having a less bad effect on mortality than previously reported.

Which is good, because I plan to store up all the lipids I can over the next few years. According to the Oil Depletion Analysis Center (yes, there is an Oil Depletion Analysis Center, which I suspects employs about .2 full-time equivalent workers, but which has a phone number in Britain and is therefore a reliable source), the world is running shorter and shorter of fatty acids. Or beer. Having read this analysis carefully, I suspect the author might have been using the latter in order to build up his body's supply of the former -- just before writing.
You can always brew more beer but, as far as I know, no one is brewing oil. The other problem is that, according to industry consultants IHS Energy, 90 percent of all known reserves are now in production. This is another indication that there’s little more to come.

So, at some not too distant point the ability to offset Type 1 and Type 2 depletion will be greatly restricted and Type 3 will spiral upwards. At this point supply will really be falling quite quickly, with Type 3 depletion possibly running at over 3mn b/d each year.
Note to self: Don't drink and draw up press releases.

Please, take my robot wife!

This morning I caught ten seconds of BBC Newshour between smashing my alarm clock and ten minutes of high-powered catnap. They had on two dudes talking about computers - one was a fatuous blowhard named Ian Pearson and the other was Barry Fox from New Scientist. NS is hit or miss, so I was expecting the worst, but ole Barry surprised me. Ian opened with the usual starry-eyed clap-trap: in 40 years, computers will think, feel, do our taxes, be our best friends. Barry responded with: "No. No they won't."

But never mind that I think Barry is correct, that the future is never going to arrive in a way that ever fulfills the promise of our imaginations. Ian is really the more interesting man of the pair, because he is not the cynic realist that Barry is; his viewpoint is fairly representative of what we're striving to achieve. That is, a world where humans don't work, don't think, don't even share emotions with each other. The best way I can describe that state is: death.

I've never understood this drive to think harder, and faster, and better, so we can get it all out of the way, so we can be DONE. When we have our slave army, we can all relax on the beach, drinking mai-tais* and groaning, "Oh, YEAH, this is the LIFE!"

I've never understood it, because that's a stupid impulse. Beyond the fact that it'll never happen. It's a stupid impulse because we wouldn't want it. We want to live, after all. Most of us, anyway. We want to do things with our otherwise pointless lives that make them feel meaningful. When we don't have those things, nothing to keep our hands, our minds, our souls busy, we suffer. Why would we orient ourselves as a society towards such a bizarre goal?

Those of you who know me may find it ironic that I am advocating this viewpoint, since I've historically been a big pooh-pooh-er of the idea of a work ethic. I've been pushing this Bertrand Russell quote (from this essay) for years:
The morality of work is the morality of slaves, and the modern world has no need of slavery.
But I am not misspeaking. I think we orient ourselves the way we do because we are overworked; because our relationship with work is so tweaked. Leisure is a premium item that we ration out. It's the gold nugget we're digging for: who wouldn't want it in infinite abundance?

But imagine this: you travel to the future and find your great-grandson, fat like Crassus, drinking protein syrup from a straw while robot masseurs keep his flabby limbs from atrophying. Ah, he doesn't have to work, doesn't have to think, doesn't have to emote. Don't you just hate him?

Two things fall out of this+:
  1. Take it easy. We're never going to get there, so why work so frantically to do it?
  2. The ride has got to be enjoyable.



* Whatever those are.
+ I realize this essay should be about 20 pages longer to really tear into its intellectual meat in the way that it deserves. But I'm not that serious a writer, and you're not that serious an audience. So... exercise for the reader.

Today in the news

I'm afraid there is nothing funny about this post. The Wall St Journal today (don't bother to click this link, since they only want you for $65 a year as a paid subscriber and because they do what they can to evade anyone linking to their stories from elsewhere on the net (dinosaurs much?)) reports that the U.S. government isn't alone in covertly paying pitchmen in the major media. (Nor am I alone in adding unnecessary assonance (and parentheticals).)
Advice for Sale
How Companies Pay TV Experts For On-Air Product Mentions
Plugs Come Amid News Shows And Appear Impartial; Pacts Are Rarely Disclosed Energizer Gets on 'Today'
By JAMES BANDLER

In November, Child magazine's Technology Editor James Oppenheim appeared on a local television show in Austin, Texas, and reviewed educational gadgets and toys... the audience didn't know: Kodak paid Mr. Oppenheim to mention the photo album, according to the company and Mr. Oppenheim. Neither Mr. Oppenheim nor KVUE disclosed the relationship to viewers... praised products... Atari Inc., Microsoft Corp., Mattel Inc., Leapfrog Enterprises Inc. and RadioShack Corp. All paid for the privilege... In the "Today" segment, Mr. Oppenheim talked about products made or sold by 15 companies . Nine were former clients and eight of those had paid him for product placement on local TV during the preceding year... Mr. Oppenheim is part of a little-known network...
Am I the only one who's noticed that every bizarre little profile in the Wall St Journal is a glimpse into a "little-known network"? Anyway...
Mr. Oppenheim is part of a little-known network that connects product experts with advertisers and TV shows. The experts pitch themselves to companies willing to pay for a mention . Next, they approach local-TV stations and offer themselves up to be interviewed... segments... typically air during regular news programming... indistinguishable from the rest of the show. One reviewer may conduct dozens of interviews with local stations over the course of a day in what the industry calls a "satellite media tour."

The familiar faces on this circuit include Mr. Oppenheim, "Today" Tech Editor Corey Greenberg and trend spotter Katlean de Monchy.
Meanwhile, the LA Times has the integrity to offer a head on a tray for what seem to be considerably less egregious crimes against the truth: marginally fictionalized reporting about hazing at Chico State, in California. The reporter said the hazing victim drank from a water bladder but it was really a plastic jug. Whatever. He invented quotes. Very bad. And thus, today's editor's note:
FOR THE RECORD
... published a correction of four errors in a March 29 article... editors began a full review... the paper has concluded that the article fell far short of Times standards...methods... were substandard...anonymous sources and ... named sources... could not be verified...Additional inaccuracies found during the investigation...The writer of both articles, Eric Slater, has been dismissed from the staff.
Now if the TV networks could have those kind of ethics.

18 April, 2005

Owww!!


Schematic diagram of my wound pattern. My labmate says my fingernail is sure to fall off.

I was 99.99933% out of the door. I had woken up in a timely fashion, bumbled around, taken a shower, eaten a bowl of cereal (no hard-boiled eggs today), had a bit of a good-morning with my roommates, found my kung-fu pants. I was good to go.

Unfortunately, that other 0.00067%, the part that wasn't quite out the door, happened to be the tip of my left middle finger.

In the aftermath of this incident I sat around and chatted with the roommates (we were having one of those celestial convergences), and ended up sharing some good finger-smashing stories. Mostly involving car doors.

So let's hear your damaged-digit stories. The bloodier and pulpier, the better.

Diagnosis: not so clever

Satisfied at last. Each night, I emerge from under my hedge and root around in the news. Each night, I seek out statements deserving of being nibbled to nubbins with my strong if smelly teeth. Tonight, the scent of spring jasmine and wild irises almost kept my wild-animal nose from finding the stupidity -- but some stupids stink enough to attract even a drowsy, flower-stoned hedgehog.

Tonight's winner: The Washington Post quotes Nancy McGuckin, a geographer who calls herself a "travel behavior analyst." She said,
If you see people replacing an in-home activity like brewing your own coffee with an activity that requires a new [car] trip, that's not exactly the trend we're looking for.
I'm sure she knows that there was a time, not so long ago, when a trip of more than 5 miles was a very rare event. When all those goodies we now get outside the home, from Corn Flakes to sexual fantasies, were available, if at all, by the sweat of our brows in our very own homes. No supermarkets or adult bookstores, no traffic congestion, and no oil imports. Take-out coffee is just another part of a long-term trend toward specialization. So maybe McGuckin thinks that the cause of vehicular congestion and wasted oil is, at root, the division of labor? Hmm.

Here's what I think. Hedgehogs rarely make coffee at home but we like to go out for a cup now and then. And no, we don't drive cars. So the problem here is not that people are increasingly going out for their coffee. The problem is they have bought into the absurd line that living close to other human beings is a "low" quality of life, and have therefore stuck themselves into isolated automobiles for even the most mundane, inherently local trip, like a trip to a cafe. The problem is with suburbia and car culture, not with take-out espresso. She's seeing one tiny symptom and calling it a disease.

16 April, 2005

Freakin idiots!

Via DC Media Girl, a giggling midnight-Friday-in-Frisco-and-I'm-blogging-because-I'm-a-grad-student-ergo-winner shout out to the Idaho state legislature for even allowing on their website a bill that includes, no shit
2 WHEREAS, any members of the House of Representatives or the Senate of the
3 Legislature of the State of Idaho who choose to vote "Nay" on this concurrent
4 resolution are "FREAKIN' IDIOTS!" and run the risk of having the "Worst Day of Their Lives!"
This kind of post is why I closed down my relatively boring old blog that had nothing but, you know, information and sarcasm. I love good news. And it is good news when legislation can call its opponents "FREAKING IDIOTS," if only for the awe-inspiring self-referentiality of it all.

15 April, 2005

Rejoice!

For the greatest voice on radio is back with a new show. I may have found out four months after he started, but not a day too early! I'm through two episodes so far. Listen! Enjoy! Laugh! Gasp!

Friday "fun" blogging?


Recently it has come to my attention that other blegs are in the habit of posting light, entertaining things on Friday afternoons, to, I assume, massage the kinks of stress out of your shoulders in time for the weekend. (Actually, this didn't really come to my attention RECENTLY, per se, so much as A LONG TIME AGO, but I thought that was a nice way to start this paragraph. Sometimes writing style must take precedence over content and factual accuracy.) Bob Harris, for example, pioneered "pudublogging", wherein he posts pictures of absurdly cute ungulates. Don't look, unless you're prepared to make the "Awwww" noise. Other bloggers whom I otherwise respect are in the habit of posting the first ten songs on their iPod playlists, as if this could possibly interest anyone. Maybe I say this because I am bitter about being musically illiterate and recognize, on average, 0.03% of the songs/artists posted.

Anyway, I can't participate in this farce, because it's late, and I'm still not ready to deliver the data for my time-sensitive assignment to my Canadian taskmasters. Commensurate with my bitterness, please savor this picture of a scorpion.

Literacy and RFID for all

Good news: President Bush says he reads the paper. More good news: He "questions" rules that will make the U.S. borders with Mexico and Canada even more ridiculous human-rights-and-sanity-free-zones.
"When I first read that in the newspaper about the need to have passports, particularly the day crossings that take place, about a million for instance in the state of Texas, I said, 'What's going on here?' " Bush said when asked about the new rules at an American Society of Newspaper Editors convention. "I thought there was a better way to expedite the legal flow of traffic and people."
Bad news: Neither he nor anyone else outside the world of blogs and tech-geek websites seems to care that mandatory new passport rules are to go into effect in a couple months that will make anyone with a passport into a sitting duck for identity thieves, terrorists, and surveillance geeks. Go figure: American with passports didn't vote for the guy. At least some commie, god-hating homo-lovers have decided to defend basic human dignity along with travelers' physical safety.

14 April, 2005

Can we please quit asking about the chicken?

In case you still want to know which came first, I hope this satisfies your curiosity. Now, riddlers have two options. Either ask a more specific but totally annoying question, like, "Which came first, the chicken or the chicken-egg?" or come up with a new line of questioning altogether. Suggestions are welcome.

Double-plus good!

George Bush listens to "My Sharona" on his iPod, apparently! And I listen to "My Sharona"! (I'm listening to it right now... god, that guitar solo is SWEET! meedleep... meep meep meep...) So, that's something we have in common. I think this thing just might work out!

13 April, 2005

Even LESS genetic diversity!

Some of you, at some point in your lives, may have owned a dog. If it was a purebred dog, say, a dachshund, you're probably aware of the high prevalence of genetic disease in purebred populations. People often joke about how inbreeding produces weird, mutant offspring. This is true: every individual has (by some estimates) roughly 500 to 2000 alleles for a deleterious phenotype. Most of the time this is no problem, since you have two copies of every gene and the effect of most of these alleles will be masked by a compensatory "good" copy. However, your kids might have problems if you're unfortunate enough to mate with someone who has the same allele. If it's a relatively frequent allele, present in, say, 1 in 1000 people, each one of your offspring has about a 1 in 4000 chance of ending up with a genetic disease. Fortunately, the vast majority of those deleterious alleles are going to be VERY rare, what's called "private mutations" (meaning, essentially, only you have them), so that we don't end up being riddled with genetic disease. For best results, marry someone from the other side of the planet.

Now, consider what would happen if you mated with your parent. Don't consider it too hard, just keep it abstract and hypothetical, so we can get through this. This is regularly done by breeders, to reduce the number of variables in the breeding process. You can be sure that you're not introducing any new, unwanted alleles if you breed against a parent. In this case, since you share 50% of your genetic material with your parent, the odds of acquiring a genetic disease go way, way up. Suddenly, your offspring have a 1 in 8 chance of ending up with two copies of a deleterious allele, even if it's a very, very rare private mutation. Multiplied out over 500 to 2000 alleles, you're looking at some very sick puppies.

This can have drastic effects on a population. If genetic diversity is too low, disease can prevent a population from expanding. I read a study about a population of Norwegian (maybe Finnish) wolves crippled by low genetic diversity for years - until the population suddenly began to explode, thanks to the genetic diversity contributed by a single foreign interloper.

So: inbreeding, bad. Genetic diversity, good.

Unless you're a breeder. In that case, genetic diversity is bad. You're trying to create an archetype here, not maintain a healthy population. Variation is a nuisance.

This is especially true in industrial agriculture, where breeders wish to maximize productivity of meat, milk, fur, etc., and hence profits, and minimize variation, which interferes with the standardization of industrial processes. Agricultural populations, though enormous in census size (there are something like 1.5 billion cattle worldwide), can have the same level of genetic diversity as a vastly smaller normal breeding population - as little as a few dozen individuals. This is because a single stud bull's semen can be used to impregnate thousands of cows artificially.

And here's the punchline: apparently, this level of uniformity is not good enough. No, now we're going to start cloning our meat. 22,000 identical rump-roasts, anyone?

On the other hand, maybe a fragile industrial farm animal population is a good idea. If all the industrial cattle in the world are suddenly wiped out by a bovine plague, think of all the boons: less pesticide and animal-waste runoff, less cow-flatulant contribution to global warming. And all the genetically modified corn and soybean we can eat. Woot!

April 15 coming

With tax day coming in the USA, it's a good time to think of all the things I bought with my taxes this year. Here's my latest favorite, from everybody's favorite website for posting photos of ex-girlfriends. Here is a recent page called Gitmo-bound. Oh! Gotta run, that Schedule C takes a while to finish!

12 April, 2005

Reconstruction contracts redux

A year ago or so (when he was still living with me), Dan and I put together a list of things that the U.S. should have done if it wanted to do right by Iraq. It's actually replicated in the first post ever on this blog. I still think it was a good list, and if we had put some effort into publicizing it and spreading it around it might even have done some good. Now it's just a muttered "told ya so".

Case in point: Juan Cole talks about how the American contractors are flubbing everything.
The American contractors that did the work, did it in the American way. The Iraqi engineers and technicians had their own techniques and equipment and spare parts. After the Gulf War in 1991, they were able to get the electricity grid back up, using indigenous methods, in less than a year.

It was widely alleged that the Americans spent far too much on the work done, and that local Iraqi firms could have done it better, cheaper and more quickly. And the problem of putting in a lot of unfamiliar American equipment may well be that Iraqi technicians don't know how to work it or keep it up without special training.

11 April, 2005

Alack

A horoscope from this week's Onion:

Scorpio: (Oct. 24—Nov. 21)
Hope can sustain a person through excruciating personal trials, but unfortunately, there's no real reason to believe that the new Star Wars movie will be tolerable.

Evaluating the downward spiral

For a while I've been pining for a good economic analysis of the descending curve of peak oil. I've finally got something like it, courtesy of the IMF - an analysis of what impact high oil prices (over $80/bbl) would have on economic growth worldwide.

Now that I've got it, I realize that I don't actually know enough about economics to evaluate it. Crumb. Anyway, I can see well enough what assumptions the IMF is making: they don't seem to believe in peak oil. Their projections are based on a spike above $80 in 2005 and a subsequent decline until 2009 as production increases and demand fades. Both of these are pretty stupid assumptions. Everyone in the world agrees that demand is going to go up, and how. It's possible that we'll see wild production increases coming out of Iraq, which presumably ought to be able to match the 9-11 Mbd that the U.S. and Saudi Arabia produce. But not soon, and probably not apace with rising demand.

The result? Well, apparently not much. Average GDP hit for rich countries: 0.6%. Average GDP hit for "developing" countries: 1.5%. Considering China is supposed to see 8% GDP growth rates in coming years, this oil problem maybe doesn't seem like a show-stopper.

I don't put too much stock in this report, given the shaky assumptions. But there's some interesting stuff to glean: for example, the United States does worse than other industrialized nations (taking a 0.8% GDP hit) because of its comparatively higher oil intensity. Read: our cars are bigger and boozier than theirs are. It's been said a billion times, but I'll say it again: fuel economy, fuel economy, location. Err, I mean, fuel economy.

Postscript: Incidentally, while I'm commenting on things I don't understand very well: it's always irked me that economists point to increasing efficiency as a sign that oil shocks now won't be as bad as they were in the 1970s. Oil intensity is measured in consumption per unit of GDP - but this seems to ignore the possibility that not all oil consumption is going to be equally productive. E.g. driving my car to the beach to surf is obviously not as useful as driving my tractor across an acre of farmland. So similar reductions in oil intensity could have drastically different effects depending on which sectors see the most dramatic conservation. In an extreme case, the most critical productive sectors may be increasing their intensity while the country as a whole sees conservation. I'm not saying this is necessarily what's HAPPENED, merely that I think existing analyses are too crude to consider this possibility, and I'm not confident this hasn't taken place.

09 April, 2005

Intercity Transit

I've been looking at intercity transit lately with an eye toward energy efficiency. This government report has been quite useful. Apparently, intercity, commercial (at least, "certificated") air transport uses 3,703 BTUs/passenger-mile compared to 4,803 Amtrak, 3,581 automobile, and 932 or so Greyhound. (Figures 2.11-2.13), all numbers c. 2001.

Airplanes have made major improvements over the last 30 years in energy spent per passenger mile, cars have made modest improvements, and Amtrak has gone backward (!). But the reasons why airplanes are so competitive with Amtrak is capacity: airplanes carry 96 passengers/trip, out of an average capacity of 133 passengers. (Figure 9.2) Amtrak carries an average 14 passengers/car (2.11), out of an average capacity of 90 or so (random googling). So if Amtrak filled more seats, it would be more than competitive with airplanes and at the same level as greyhound. But as it is, it's a big waste of energy--a slower, less efficient (per passenger-mile) form of transportation. It goes from NYC to LA in 3-4 days as opposed to 6 hours.

So what should an energy-conscious passenger do? Ride greyhound, which is pretty uncomfortable for very long distances? Ride the least efficient mode (Amtrak) on the belief that doing so will help make it more efficient? Ride the airplanes because they're pretty much comparable to the non-uncomfortable forms of transportation? If you believe there's a real chance of Americans mass-converting air miles to rail miles, than maybe investing in increasing Amtrak's load makes sense. But if you think Amtrak is a lost cause and people would rather just cancel trips than take 4 days to cross the country, then riding Amtrak is your worst possible choice (besides driving alone, of course).

But, really, that is, exactly, the best solution for cutting down transportation energy use: we have to cut down on passenger miles. This guy says that Americans, on average, travel fifty times as many miles by motorized transport in the year 2000 compared to the year 1900. Do we really need to?

07 April, 2005

A grand day out

Unquestionably it is spring.

The other day it was lovely for the first time this year. I had no fear that my hands would become cold, and I was suddenly reminded how much I enjoyed being outdoors. I stopped on the bridge and stared at the river for a few minutes. (A digression confession - I do this as much for the benefit of other pedestrians as for myself. I'm always hoping someone will see me doing this, happen to glance to their right, and say to themselves, "Oh!", and then fall in love with something. When I see other people leaning against the railing and staring adoringly at the river it makes me unspeakably happy.) I like to use this time to compose bromidic descriptions of the river. That time I came up with "a carpet of gold" - "The sun laid a carpet of gold across the surface of the water." Everyone has secret, shameful pastimes like this, I'm sure.

The other blessing was that this development coincided with the advent of Daylight Savings Time. Many people have been bemoaning the changing of the clocks, but I think it had the rather nice effect of springing spring upon us, reintroducing us to the sun just when it is becoming pleasant again.

The only downside is that this also seems to coincide with a terrible desire to be in love.

05 April, 2005

I can see my house from here!

If you haven't seen Google Maps, you should check it out. Google has been steadily rolling out impressive product after product, the result, I think, of simply putting together a well-funded army of geeks. I'm eager to see them soundly whip Microsoft if an impending search-engine war flares up, which I would eulogize as the victory of graceful intelligence against the brute force of capital. But I'm digressing rapidly into a pseudo-Marxist rant. What I meant to point out is the "satellite" feature on Google Maps, which lets you zoom in on satellite pictures (ca. April 2003, as far as we can deduce) anywhere in the world. Hours of entertainment.

04 April, 2005

Technical Difficulties

Everyone should read this awesome post by Billmon. It's hilarious. And true!

01 April, 2005

Not my president?

A while back I was pretty skeptical regarding the conspiracy theory that the 2004 U.S. Presidential election was rigged. The balance of evidence in favor of this conclusion was statistical, and, I felt, this was not a sufficient basis considering how difficult engineering a cover-up of that magnitude would be.

Then someone sent me to this article, a response to the Edison-Mitofsky Jan. 19th report on what the latter did wrong. Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International were the exit pollers for the U.S. elections. Their exit polls showed Kerry winning by 3.0%, although according to the official vote count, Bush won by 2.5%. This is a huge statistical deviation, one that cannot be attributed to mere chance.

Edison and Mitofsky initially (shortly after the election) advanced the hypothesis that their data was biased because Kerry voters might have been more eager to respond to polls than Bush voters. That was a plausible enough explanation for me, at least enough that I could write the issue off in my head.

But there's plenty of raw data, of course, and it can be tested. The article above sketches the details, but a bunch of statisticians did a much more thorough demolition of that hypothesis in a report released yesterday. The short, short version: reporting rates were actually slightly higher in districts that tilted towards Bush. Meanwhile, Edison-Mitofsky have no support for their hypothesis whatsoever.

So, it seems that the balance of evidence now leans in the direction of electoral error, or worse, fraud. Jesus Christ. Now what?

Nail A Fish Under Your Enemy's Desk Day

(Laying a finger alongside his nose) Remember the date. Do your duty, tricksters and fools. Some inspiration.

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