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CHRISTOPHER TAYLOR'S BOOKS

Friday, July 31, 2009

OF LEECHES AND ADDERS

Whimsical and slinky blogger Stoaty Weasel posted about Leeches today. She's been checking in about English country life ever since she ran off and got hitched to a limey:
We have a sort of moat-slash-drainage ditch out the back that may or may not have leeches in. Exciting leeches. Leeches that would guarantee a raftload of excitable government leechophiles descend on us like a ton of unwashed hippie.
To that I can only respond with Black Adder:
Dr: Now then, what seems to be the trouble?
Blackadder: Well, it’s my manservant.
Dr: Well don’t be embarrassed. If you’ve got the pox, just pop your, er, “manservant” on the table and we’ll take a look at it.
Blackadder: No, no, no. No, it’s my real manservant.
Dr: And what’s wrong with him?
Blackadder: There’s nothing wrong with him: That’s the problem; he’s perfect. And last night I almost kissed him.
Dr: I see; so you’ve started fancying boys then have you? [comes around the table and starts looking in Blackadder’s facial crevices.]
Blackadder: Not boys: a boy.
Dr: Yes, well let’s not split hairs; it’s all rather disgusting and naturally you’re worried.
Blackadder: Of course I’m worried.
D: Of course you are. It isn’t every day a man wakes up to find he’s a screaming bender with no more right to live on God’s clean earth than a weasel. Ashamed of yourself?
Blackadder: Not really, no
Dr: Bloody hell, I would be. But still why should I complain? Just leaves more rampant totty for us real men, eh?
Blackadder: Look am I paying for this personal abuse or is it extra?
Dr: No, all part of the service. [waves Blackadder over to an “x-ray” painting of human torso and fiddles with six arrows on it] I think you’re in luck though. An extraordinary new cure has just been developed for exactly this kind of sordid problem.
Blackadder: It wouldn’t have anything to do with leeches, would it?
Dr: I had no idea you were a medical man!
Blackadder: I’ve never had anything you doctors didn’t try to cure with leeches. A leech on my ear for earache; a leech on my bottom for constipation …
Dr: They’re marvellous aren’t they?
Blackadder: Well the bottom one wasn’t. I just sat down and squashed it.
Dr: You know the leech comes to us on the highest authority.
Blackadder: Yes I heard that. Dr Hoffman of Stuttgart, isn’t it?
Dr: Yes, that’s right. The great Hoffman.
Blackadder: Owner of the largest leech farm in Europe.
Dr: Yes. Well I can’t spend all day gossiping; I’m a busy man. [waves Blackadder back to the chair] As far as this case is concerned, I’ve had time to think it over and I can strongly recommend [starts writing prescription] …
both: … a course of leeches.
Blackadder: So just pop a couple down my codpiece before I go to bed.
Dr: No no no no don’t be ridiculous; this isn’t the Dark Ages. Just pop four in your mouth in the morning and let them dissolve slowly. In a few weeks you’ll be beating your servant with a stick just like the rest of us.
Blackadder [looks at prescription] You’re just an old quack aren’t you?
Dr: I’d rather be a quack than a ducky. Good day.
The next scene is Blackadder's house, where he's sitting with a mouth full of leeches.

If you only know Rowan Atkisson as Mr Bean, I strongly suggest you check out the hilarious Blackadder series, all 4 seasons. Just be ready to laugh so hard you cry.

THIS PLACE BITES

Waterfront Globe
Salem is having the Bite festival this weekend at the waterfront park. The waterfront park is a nice strip of land against the Willamette river which was converted from industrial buildings in the late 1990s. When Salem has big events, that's where they usually are held such as the International Festival and the July 4th fireworks.

The Bite is basically an advertising gambit, a fair of all the local restaurants who can afford the time and expense of buying and stocking a booth. There's music and some rides, but the main focus is on the booths and the food. When Portland held this I always wanted to go and wished Salem had one, but by the time Salem got one I was old enough to pay for my own food and saw how expensive it was.

The Bite is a neat idea, but its a rip off. The food is usually more expensive than in the restaurants and because most restaurants are not able to provide the bulk of their menu in the booth format you don't get to try much of their food. I think a lot of cities have this sort of thing and its too bad they can't work out a way to get the food to people cheaper, but the problem is restaurants have to charge a lot to break even.

Even if you consider the Bite advertising, they have to rent space for a booth, buy or rent a booth to set up, pay someone to man it and cook the food, people to sell the food, and often to do this the restaurants just shut down for the day. They have to make up that money somehow, so that 3 dollar burger is $3.50 or even $5.00 at the Bite. Which nibbles away at your wallet pretty significantly and reduces the joy of the event, in my opinion.

Pictures of the Day

Unhappy Kitty
Now that's one very unhappy kitty cat.

MORE NEWS BITS

"We are definitely overdue for some honesty in the debate over the progressivity of the nation's tax burden"

Rat with the blues
We already know of a handful of congressmen who got special low-cost mortgage deals from Countrywide Insurance, but are there more? Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA) on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee wants to find out, but his request to subpoena documents has been refused by the chairman who must issue such a demand, Representative Edolphus Towns (D-NY). He claims he's too busy to bother. And what other deals have congressmen gotten that we're unaware of?

Yesterday I wrote about the "cash for clunkers" government program to trade in old cars for cash to buy new ones and how the money is running out rapidly; turns out its running out even faster than I understood:
Through late Wednesday, 22,782 vehicles had been purchased through the program and nearly $96 million had been spent. But dealers raised concerns of large backlogs in the system, prompting the suspension.
The Transportation Department is suspending the program, as the money is almost gone and there are some problems with the system.
"If they can't administer a program like this, I'd be a little concerned about my health insurance," as a car salesman said in a New York Consumer News report by Lou Young. The program lasted six days.

*UPDATE: Congress is rushing through a new $2 billion extension to the program. No word on how this will be paid for, or what the bailout for the auto industry will be when people who can't afford to pay for their cars default on the loans.

Blue M&Ms are hiding a secret: the dye has a chemical that apparently helps block pain signals, and can also reduce and heal some spinal injuries. It has a curious side effect as well: it turns you blue, temporarily.

At Boing Boing we find out that RIAA and record company execs don't think you buying their product means you get to listen to it as long as you want. They reason that cars break down and computers stop working, so that means music should stop working too, and that's why DMA software that runs out on you is perfectly acceptable. I have books printed in the 19th century on my shelf, and there's art in museums from BC, but they figure music and movies have a short expiration date?

I've written about how the rich pay plenty in taxes, but new data from the Tax Foundation indicates that they're paying even more lately. They include this handy graphic:

Taxes

As you can see, the trend has continued since tax reform in the 80s, and now the top 1% richest taxpayers paid 40.4% of the total federal income taxes in 2007. By comparison the entire bottom 95% of the US taxpayers combined paid 39.4. As Scott A. Hodge puts it in the Tax Foundation article: "To put this in perspective, the top 1 percent is comprised of just 1.4 million taxpayers and they pay a larger share of the income tax burden now than the bottom 134 million taxpayers combined." No nation on earth has the rich paying as much or the poor paying as little in taxes.

Yet another missile defense "Star Wars" test worked, in a long line of successful tests. President Obama wants to shut down the program, and Democrats have always been against the idea of a system to protect the US from nuclear missiles.

Someone invented a bikini that rapidly dissolves in water, you'd think it would feel odd and be less than durable. Why have such a thing? The only reason I can think of is to trick girls or be mean to one that's dumped you. The fabric could also be made into men's swimwear, so guys watch out for a vindictive girlfriend's gifts...

And finally, in bad news, the recession we're experiencing is worse than originally believed according to Bob Willis at Bloomberg News:
The first 12 months of the U.S. recession saw the economy shrink more than twice as much as previously estimated, reflecting even bigger declines in consumer spending and housing, revised figures showed.

The world’s largest economy contracted 1.9 percent from the fourth quarter of 2007 to the last three months of 2008, compared with the 0.8 percent drop previously on the books, the Commerce Department said today in Washington.
Consumer spending dropped .3% more than believed, residential construction dropped 2% more than they thought, and the economy contracted almost 1% more than initially reported. The worst misread was that the GDP dropped 2.5% in 4th quarter 2008 instead of the .5% reported at the time. Savings went up, which is always a good thing, and spending has continued and even in some sectors increased in a combination of news that is baffling: the economy is doing worse, jobs are being lost, people are saving more money, but they're spending more?

Comparative Quotes

"Let's look at the record. I've been in office six months. So far my only tax policy has been to cut taxes for 95 percent of working people. I haven't signed a bill that's raised taxes yet."
-President Obama talking to Business Week, July 2009

"In a decent society, there are certain obligations that are not subject to tradeoffs or negotiation -- health care for our children is one of those obligations"
-President Obama signing a tax on cigarettes, February 2009

Wait, don't tell me, all politicians lie, right? So that's okay?

*hat tip Ace of Spades HQ for this bit from National Review Online.

Quote of the Day

"Furious activity is no substitute for understanding."
-H. H. Williams

Thursday, July 30, 2009

THE FLOOD RECEDES?

"Consequences for everyone. It's a plan."

After complimenting the Obama administration already on coming up with spending cuts totaling over a hundred million dollars (yes, I know its a molecule in the sea of federal spending but still.. over a hundred million dollars. That's a lot where I come from), I'm going to compliment President Obama again.

So far, Obama IHS appointee Napolitano has been better at her job than the woeful Chertoff under President Bush. A block of cheese would have done a better job than that sap, I liked a lot about President Bush the younger but he was wrong, wrong, wrong on immigration and it showed. Steven A. Camarota and Karen Jensenius at the Center for Immigration Studies have a report on something interesting that's happening with illegal immigration:
Monthly Census Bureau data show that the number of less-educated young Hispanic immigrants in the country has declined significantly. The evidence indicates that the illegal population declined after July 2007 and then rebounded somewhat in the summer of 2008 before resuming its decline in the fall of 2008 and into the first quarter of 2009. Both increased immigration enforcement and the recession seem to explain this decline. There is evidence that the decline was caused by both fewer illegal immigrants coming and an increase in the number returning home.
Legal immigrants are not dropping in population. Now, there are a few factors that likely are causing this, not the least of which is a rough economy which will tend to cause cutbacks in unskilled labor and jobs like landscaping. The IHS is working a lot harder to nail businesses which are hiring illegals and deporting the people they catch, and that's a good thing.

However, the trend is actually longer, going back two years. Two years ago is when the storm really started up about illegal immigration. When congress started talking up the Comprehensive Immigration Reform and effective amnesty, the Center reports that immigration increased significantly, but when it failed, the immigration dropped off. Whether that was because the immigrants erroneously thought they had to get in before the law passed, or because they were anticipating that being in before it passed would make them citizens I do not know. Perhaps it was a combination.

But it was about two years ago when enforcement efforts against illegal immigration were stepped up, even under Chertoff. The previous efforts were anemic, and even if caught immigrants were left alone to stay, usually catching them then releasing and requesting they show up to court later. States began to more vigorously pursue immigration laws and deal with illegals at that point as well, sensing a huge groundswell of anger and frustration with the illegal immigrant population.

So good job so far IHS, and I hope the rumors of an Obama administration intent to back off from immigration enforcement and return to the Clinton and early Bush years is untrue, or at least will not come to pass.

*Tip of the Sombrero to Ace of Spades HQ for this story

RIDE THE LIGHT

and when you come to see me,
you will ride the lights alone
and you'll turn with every change
-Morningwood Ride the Light

Its been a science fiction idea for decades now, and finally the system appears to be nearing reality; laser powered rockets. It sounds odd, particularly given that lasers are just a beam of light, but Laser Airspike Propulsion (LAP) is being worked out right now in labs around the world. What is LAP and how does it work? Kevin Bonsor at How Stuff Works explains:
The basic idea for the lightcraft is simple -- the acorn-shaped craft uses mirrors to receive and focus the incoming laser beam to heat air, which explodes to propel the craft. Here's a look at the basic components of this revolutionary propulsion system:
  • Carbon-dioxide laser - Lightcraft Technologies uses a Pulsed Laser Vulnerability Test System (PLVTS), an offspring of the Star Wars defense program. The 10 kw pulsed laser being used for the experimental lightcraft is among the most powerful in the world.
  • Parabolic mirror - The bottom of the spacecraft is a mirror that focuses the laser beam into the engine air or onboard propellant. A secondary, ground-based transmitter, telescope-like mirror is used to direct the laser beam onto the lightcraft.
  • Absorption chamber - The inlet air is directed into this chamber where it is heated by the beam, expands and propels the lightcraft.
  • Onboard hydrogen - A small amount of hydrogen propellant is needed for rocket thrust when the atmosphere is too thin to provide enough air.
Prior to liftoff, a jet of compressed air is used to spin the lightcraft to about 10,000 revolutions per minute (RPMs). The spin is needed to stabilize the craft gyroscopically. Think about football: a quarterback applies spin when passing a football to throw a more accurate pass. When spin is applied to this extremely lightweight craft, it allows the craft to cut through the air with more stability.
Basically, lasers are shot at a spinning UFO which causes the air under it to explode, propelling the vehicle. And with the use of mirrors, the craft could even redirect some of the laser ahead of it to burn the air away in an "airspike" which reduces friction and air resistance. In theory, this could result in very high speeds and smooth rides, moving people around the planet much swifter than now possible.

When there's no air, you use hydrogen carried on the craft. So far the vehicles are rather small, and when you're in orbit the lasers will "bloom" (the air eventually catches on fire around the laser if you fire one far and long enough in an atmosphere, called blooming) and become too dispersed by the air to effectively drive such a vehicle. Solar cells on top of the craft could also fuel on board lasers to move around with, at least until the hydrogen runs out. Once in orbit, it does not actually take that much fuel to move around with.

However, if an array of enough satellites were placed into orbit, they could act as "fuel" for the craft and drive them in orbit around the planet. These would turn the system around, sending light to the craft which it then uses with mirrors to focus and fuel the engine.
Before this microwave lightcraft can fly, scientists will have to put into orbit a solar power station with a diameter of 1 kilometer (0.62 miles). Leik Myrabo, who leads the lightcraft research, believes that such a power station could generate up to 20 gigawatts of power. Orbiting 310 miles (500 km) above Earth, this power station would beam down microwave energy to a 66-foot (20-meter), disk-shaped lightcraft that would be capable of carrying 12 people. Millions of tiny antennae covering the top of the craft would convert the microwaves into electricity. In just two orbits, the power station would be able to collect 1,800 gigajoules of energy and beam down 4.3 gigawatts of power to the lightcraft for the ride to orbit.
According to Leonard David at Space.com, this isn't just something on paper or in computer simulations. In Brazil Leik Myrabo is working on the technology:
"In the lab we're doing full-size engine segment tests for vehicles that will revolutionize access to space," Myrabo emphasized. "It's real hardware. It's real physics. We're getting real data...and it's not paper studies."

"Right now, we're chasing the data," Myrabo said. "When you fire into the engine, it's a real wallop. It sounds like a shotgun going off inside the lab. It's really loud."
The image next to this quote shows what it looks like when a laser is pulsed in the air. At present the system is expected to work for tiny satellites weighing up to 100 kilograms but as the technology develops small craft with passengers could be used, and once the system is built, it would be relatively cheap to run: a nuclear power plant could run a gigantic laser almost endlessly.

The pollution would be significantly reduced with such a system and while it would be plenty loud, so are jet engines. I wouldn't expect this to be very wide spread for a decade or two, but in the future we may ride light into the sky, and beyond.

GOVERNMENT EFFICIENCY

"Just think, if the gov didn't step in with this program companies would have to drop their price to a point where consumers felt it was worth it to buy a car."

Clunker
The Obama administration set aside a billion dollars recently to pay people to trade in their older, less fuel-efficient cars for newer, more economical ones that presumably pollute less. You can get up to $4500 on an old car on top of any trade-in value. The bill went into effect on July 1st, and there are ads on television already. This bill was passed under the Environmental clause of the constitution, which permits the US federal government to expend tax dollars taken from the American people in order to pay them back for cars. Oh, wait, no such clause exists, the bill is actually unconstitutional and thus illegal.

This program is being administered by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and it works like this: rules released this last Friday (July 24th) give the dealerships the guidelines to what cars they can accept and get this trade in money to cover. The dealerships have to take the cost of these cars, then they apply to the NHTSA to get the deals approved they're running into two problems.

According to Susan Zeigler at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, dealers are having trouble even logging on to the system - I called a local major dealership and the sales manager said he'd heard many dealerships were having this problem and that it apparently was a database error, but that had been cleared up.

The other problem is that many haven't had their deals approved yet:
Scott Lambert, vice president of the Minnesota Auto Dealers Association, said he was "astounded" to learn at a meeting Tuesday representing about 150 Minnesota dealers that not one has had a deal approved.

"We had dealers representing 1,500 to 2,000 transactions," he said. "We asked how many had a deal approved yet, and not one hand went up."
Again the Salem sales manager said that as far as he knew they'd had their deals approved, but clearly there's problems elsewhere. I have a friend who's been in the car sales business for decades and I called him to check on how things were going and he said that although the rules hadn't been officially sent out until 23 days after the bill was signed, dealers knew in advance what they were.

Dealers love this: they're selling more cars now than they have for months, so much so that they're running out of inventory and figure the billion dollars will be used up soon. And that's not an unreasonable concern: assuming the deals qualify for the highest amount, that's just over 200,000 cars that can be sold before the money is gone. And in a sense, that's how Keynesian economics works; the government can, in the short term, appear to benefit the economy by stimulating this kind of brief jump in a sector. The problem is in the medium and long term things get worse, because the money is a net loss: taxing someone, taking money out for bureaucracy, then giving it back means you've taken more out of the system than you've put in, so overall the economy suffers. Stack on top of that gigantic federal debt and it gets even worse.

The biggest problem here is that this isn't even a particularly large government program. One billion dollars is a lot of money, but it's a drop in the ocean compared to the multi-trillion dollar national budget for the US government and its running with predictable government bureaucratic efficiency. Anyone who has had to deal with government at any level - the Department of Motor Vehicles for example - knows how smoothly, efficiently, and swiftly they run. These dealerships don't expect to see their reimbursement from the NHTSA for months despite laying out the cash for each car immediately in reduced cost to buyers.

This is the same US government that wants more and more of your liberty, more of your money, and to control more of your life. This is the same federal government that wants to have greater control over the health care of Americans. And exchanging the difficulty of making choices for the comfort of having someone else make them for you is not a net gain, especially when that "someone" is Uncle Sam's slogging, ponderous drones in the bureaucracy.

Just something to think about when you consider voting, or contacting your senator: do you really want them to have more power over you and your decisions? Who is it that keeps pushing for more power, more control, and more money to be spent? Remember when you vote.

*Tip of the hat to Instapundit for this bit

BUDGET CUTS REVEALED

"I mean, emailing around the daily press clips instead of printing them out and distributing them? That should not have been necessitated by a presidential order."

Cost Cutting
The Obama administration has gone through the vast federal budget and found places to cut costs as they were ordered to do by the president in April. He wanted a hundred million, they found a hundred and two. The full list of cuts can be seen in a pdf file from the White House, and while its a little late in coming, I say better late than never, and cuts in the federal budget are always a good thing.

These cuts include things like copying on both sides of a piece of paper instead of just one, something Jonathan Weisman mocks in the Wall Street Journal:
There are other acts of national sacrifice. The Forest Service will no longer repaint its new, white vehicles green immediately upon purchase. The Army will start packing more soldiers onto R&R flights. The Navy will delete unused email accounts.
And really, most of this stuff is worthy of mockery, although I suspect the "more soldiers per R&R flight" bit means "less flexibility for soldiers to get a flight" so that may not be a good thing. But the decision to email press clippings around instead of printing them out? Not printing on both sides of a page? Get news online for free instead of through subscription pages? This kind of thing should have been done ages ago.

It just shows a serious problem with the federal government: so much money they never bothered to even consider budgetary cuts and cost. When you have essentially an unlimited flood of money, why concern yourself with how poorly you're spending it, unless you have a conscience and any sense of honor? Behind the times is an understatement when you look at what they discovered, and every president in my lifetime has been calling for these sorts of cuts.

Of course, there is an area where President Obama found even more cuts he wants to make as well. You'll be shocked to find it is in the military budget. I know, stunning news, a leftist Democrat wants to cut defense spending. Complaining that since 2001 the defense budget has gone up by 81%, Defense Secretary Gates has commanded $60 billion in cuts, with the idea of increasing capabilities and new tech being paid for by cuts elsewhere. Again I'm all for cutting spending. Any time a department of the US federal government can flatten its budget to not grow every single year is a good thing. I just can't help but look at the rest of the federal government's incalculable explosion of spending and wonder why it is President Obama is fighting so very hard to increase almost everything by gargantuan numbers and the defense department needs to figure out how to cut costs. And I wonder if anyone reading this can figure out what changed in 2001, what could possibly have prompted an increase in defense spending. What could it possibly have been? Oh wait, yes there is that pesky war thing.

Sixty billion is six hundred times as much as the spending cuts that the Obama administration just announced. That's like cutting your budget by not buying a movie ticket, then demanding another person in your family not buy a used car.

Its not that I think the defense budget can't stand some cuts. Some of the hundred and two million that is being cut is from the defense budget, and when you look over the rest, you can see how there's always plenty of room to make cuts. Here are a few examples from the pdf:
  • USDA plans to use conference calls rather than face to face meetings more often
  • The USDA Rural Development Mission's meeting in Hawaii is going on as planned, but they're changing who goes to cut costs
  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is changing to in-house training rather than sending employees to different places
  • Several departments are canceling non-essential office renovations and using the phone and computer more than traveling to meet
  • Several different departments are shifting to paperless leave and payroll statements
  • The Census department is actually going to check to see if worker's compensation claims are valid before just paying out
  • The Department of Homeland Security has decided that instead of always buying new equipment they can use excess or used materials from other agencies
  • The DHS also has decided to get the high-volume discounts for buying software instead of apparently just paying retail price for individual copies
  • Housing and Urban Development decided that they can turn off some lights when the office is closed
  • The Department of Justice is going to book travel online instead of at travel agencies
  • DOJ has also decided to have one cell phone provider instead of many, thus reducing the cost to one contract
  • The Department of the Interior decided they didn't really need a plane in the Northwest Reclamation division
And on it goes. Almost all of these cuts are just stupidly obvious, the kind of thing you would do in almost any business because you only have so much money to spend and thus have to keep your costs down. The federal government doesn't need to, it can just keep wasting money endlessly and when times get tight, demand more from people to keep it up.

Every department in the federal government (and states, and local, probably) can stand this sort of effort, they should have to face an audit every few years to make sure they're taking advantage of the most cost effective manner of doing business. In 1985, copiers wouldn't easily print on both sides. In 1995, you couldn't get news easily online. These kind of changes happen over time and need to be kept up with.

Some changes make me a bit nervous, such as the decision to reschedule Coast Guard maintanance and renovations. Boats need continuous work and repair, they cannot be left unmaintained for long periods. Cost cutting shouldn't result in detriment to the task that a department has been ordered to undertake. The defense budget is very touchy this way; I'm happy to see some paper pusher working for the DHS have to use an older desk to cut costs, I'm not happy to see some young man who fought for his country have to wait to get a plane to cut costs.

Some actually are not cost cutting at all. For example, shutting down computers not in use for longer periods of time by the DOJ. This might sound like it saves a lot of money, but in fact there is no modern computer made which does not have a sleep mode which reduces its energy use to a tiny trickle when not active for long periods of time. Turning a computer on and off actually causes it to "wear out" faster and is harder on the components than leaving it up. This is actually going to cost more money in the long run than leaving the systems up and sleeping, but its the kind of "cost cutting" measure that non-experts and mid level drones think is genius.

That's the problem with this sort of thing: you have to make sure its actually a good idea, not just a way to save money. Businesses around the world suffer from foolish cost cutting ideas every single day, measures which seem like a good idea to some but ultimately aren't wise.

Still, I give full credit to Obama for ordering this and actually getting results - that's what happens when you have people in the bureaucracy who aren't actively working to undermine and harm their executive officer like during the Bush administration. President Obama will tend to get greater cooperation because he's a Democrat, and that's one good thing about him although its a very sad and disturbing fact about the people working for the federal government.

Quote of the Day

"I think Bush-bashing has been alive and well since '07 and, since it keeps working, why not use it?"
-Democratic Party Strategist Liz Chadderdon

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A GLIMPSE AT THE PAST: Depression era photography

Your baby's eyes look crazy
They're a-tuggin' at your sleeve
You walk the floor and wonder why
With every breath you breathe.
-Bob Dylan, The Ballad of Hollis Brown

We've got a bit of an economic downturn right now, but there are some signs that it might be turning around, and things have been a lot worse. The Carter recession was worse in many ways, and the Great Depression was incredibly worse, lasting much longer. I pray we never face times like that again, for the sake of the poor, the elderly and families. Here's a glimpse of what life was like in the depression era, courtesy an email by Eric:












Times are tough for many people right now, some of them real tough. But the depression was an era of lack and poverty most Americans can barely conceive of. Cutting back on lattes and minutes on your cell phone is considered a sacrifice to deal with economic times today. Eating toast with shortening and salt on it and a single can of Campbell's soup between four kids was considered a meal back then.

I fear we're headed toward harder times, soon, that the hardship hasn't quite reached people like it will. If we are, it will take all our courage, the brotherhood that comes from shared trial, and love of our nation to bring us through it. I pray we have that, and the fortitude to see it through.

SMALLER IS BETTER?

"Hauling a heavy piece of metal with a given load takes a certain amount of energy - no getting around that."

Comparison
A few days ago I wrote about how modern cars compare to older ones, a Hyundai against a 60's muscle car, for instance. In that I linked to a Car and Driver article comparison test which showed how little the fuel efficiency is improved by hybrid engines, and Tim Blair has a related article up from the same magazine recently which examines the smaller but just as powerful engine advertising theme auto makers will often trot out:
after numerous tests of vehicles so equipped (see below), we have yet to uncover a compelling real-world fuel-economy payoff.
THe advertisers claim the V6 in their car has the power of a V8 and the fuel economy of a V6! Except to get that power, they sacrifice the economy, and little is really saved except space. The technology used is called "Forced Induction" and it does really give you more power, but as the graphic in the Car and Driver article shows, it doesn't work as advertised. There's a fuel savings of 1-3 mpg (easily within the margin of error for mileage testing) and in most cases a marked decrease in horsepower.

Mind you there are some engines that pull this off more reliably, such as Volkswagon or BMW, but the models that pull this off sacrifice a lot of features which US and Australian governments require on the cars, and thus cannot be sold in those countries. Features which, if added in, destroy the fuel economy.

That hasn't stopped the US and Australian governments from subsidizing the purchases of these allegedly fuel efficient smaller engine cars, though.

NEWS BITS

"We don't recognize Roberto Micheletti as the president of Honduras, we recognize Manuel Zelaya."
-Obama State Department Spokesman Ian Kelly

Courtesy Babalu Blog, we learn that the Obama administration has continued to support the attempted takeover of Honduras and its legally ousted leader Zelaya. Apparently on the behest of communist tyrant Chavez, President Obama's stated department has ordered several Honduran diplomats' visas to be revoked as they try to pressure the nation to knuckle under and accept the illegal leader's attempt to take over. At Babalu Blog, Humberto Fontova notes that the current president of Honduras loves democracy and even Ronald Reagan.

As congress examines the new defense appropriations bill, Representative Jeff Flake (R-AZ) has discovered the proposed legislation has more than 500 earmarks attached to the bill in committee. “We’re in the middle of a federal investigation of earmarks and we’re acting like nothing has changed — it’s business as usual.” Well no shock there, Representative Flake. He's filed 540 bills to counter these earmarks, one for each to make a point. If any of them even get to the floor for a vote, I'd be shocked.

A man was fined 1000 for hitting another man in New Zealand. He hit a man who was harassing his 13 year old daughter for sex:
Mr Hardy Jones said that when the father, 43, realised a relationship had developed between his daughter and the 23-year-old, he initially went to the police. "They said they were not able to assist at that stage."

Help was then sought from Child Youth and Family (CYF), and then a church pastor. The latter organised a meeting and the victim promised to end his contact with the girl.

However, a few days later, the defendant and his wife were driving to work when they saw their daughter who should have been at school walking back home, hand-in-hand with the victim.

The father yesterday admitted to approaching the victim and punching the younger man in the face. He continued to hit the man on the ground and when he had stood up again. Mr Hardy Jones said the injuries were not great.

Personally if that was his first reaction I'd have thought it was appropriate, but after trying other options, fining this man is a grotesque rape of any concept of justice or reason. Thirteen years old.

The lab students and professors at Oregon State University have figured out a way to mix plant cellulose into car tires. At present, tires include silica in their production, but these scientists have developed a tire that replaces this with microfiber cellulose from just about any kind of plant. The resulting tire is said to have better fuel efficiency in higher temperatures and cost less than the ordinary sort. Drive on wood today.

In more grim and awful news, a Texas woman chopped up her own 3½-week-old baby son and ate parts of him. She claims Satan told her to, but if he did... she's the one who actually did the horrific deed. The woman then stabbed herself, but is still alive. No word on Otty Sanchez' citizenship status is in the story.

And in some older news, England has decided to keep parents away from their kids during school events in some schools. Every July, several schools in Bedfordshire hold an Olympics of sorts for their grade school kids. East Beds School Sports Partnership Athletics Day, its called, and this year parents were banned from attendance. Why? Well, some unsavory types might sneak in with the parents. The administration feared a child might be abducted by someone or pedophiles could attend. In related news, Darleen Click noted at Protein Wisdom that a school banned parents from taking pictures of their kids competing in sport, also in England. Why, someone might upload a picture of a kid to a web site!

Senator Dodd and the others who got sweetheart deals from Countrywide Insurance as "Friends of Angelo" always claimed they didn't know this was anything special. Recently the company revealed that they knew and that it was not just intentional but often applied to congressmen who had special impact on Countrywide's business through their legislation. The congressmen are now saying that's no big deal, like frequent flier miles.

Finally, Theo Spark has taken a look at what little we actually have of the health care bill President Obama and the Democrat Leadership want passed so badly. Some lowlights:
  • Pg 30 Sec 123 of HC bill - THERE WILL BE A GOVT COMMITTEE that decides what treatments and benefits you get
  • Pg 58HC Bill - Govt will have real-time access to individuals' finances and a National ID Healthcard will be issued!
  • Pg 42 of HC Bill - The Health Choices Commissioner will choose your HC benefits for you. You have no choice!
  • Pg 65 Sec 164 is a payoff subsidized plan for retirees and their families in unions & community orgs (ACORN).
  • Pg 149 Lines 16-24 ANY employer with a payroll of $400k and above who does not provide pub opt. pays 8% tax on all payroll
  • Pg 170 Lines 1-3 HC Bill Any NONRESIDENT Alien is exempt from individual taxes. (Americans will pay)
  • Pg 241 Line 6-8 HC Bill - Doctors will all be paid the same, regardless of what specialty you have.
  • Pg 50 Section 152 in HC bill - HC will be provided to ALL non US citizens, illegal or otherwise
He's a little worked up and you'd have to read the bill to see if his interpretation is accurate or not, but it doesn't look very soothing to me. Meanwhile, congressmen like John Conyers (D-MI) say they have not and will not be reading the bill cause its so haaaaaaaaard.

Quote of the Day

"We need to foster peculiarity, idiosyncrasy, stubborn-mindedness, left-of-centre thinking."
-Ben Stephenson, BBC's Drama chief

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

HOOKY

Its been in the high nineties for several days in a row here and today looks to push into the triple digits. I just don't have much energy and heat like this makes me feel just awful so I don't have anything to say today.

So here to distract you from my lack of productivity is one of the girls who played dress up at San Diego Comic Con which I've wanted to make it to for years. She did a good job of it as Supergirl:

Supergirl

Monday, July 27, 2009

REALTOONED

The first place I saw these images was at David Thompson's blog, which I recommend. Take a look at Homer Simpson, "untooned:"

Homer Simpson Untooned
Something about Homer changes from being whimsical and funny to disturbing and creepy when given this treatment. There's quite a bit of this kind of work going on out there, mostly by Pixeloo. The effort isn't to make the images realistic, it is to make the cartoons have realistic textures and three dimensional form. Sort of like what they'd look like if they were real, but still somehow cartoons. The Charlie Brown image isn't any more soothing:

Charlie Brown Untooned
All the hell of being Charlie Brown stops being sweet and fun and turns depressing and awful in those coal black eyes. At Izismile they have a whole gallery of these hits, from Betty Boop to Shaggy from Scooby Doo, Beavis, Popeye and all points in between. Take a look, they really are strangely compelling.

LOOPHOLES AND POLES

“Everybody buzzes about ‘Nevada and Sin City, tsk, tsk,’ but we regulate it.”
-Edie Cartwright, spokeswoman for the Nevada attorney general’s office

I've never been in a strip club, frankly they don't interest me. Stale sweat, booze, and cigarette smoke with pounding music, a cover charge, and naked women I can't (and wouldn't want to) take home is not my cup of tea, shall we say. So I can't speak from experience here but it seems to me that for as long as these things have been open, the laws are a bit lax and vague. Take this story from the Dallas News by Tanya Eiserer:
The mere fact that a 12-year-old girl danced nude at a northwest Dallas strip club isn't enough to close its doors.

That's because the city ordinance that regulates sexually oriented businesses does not allow authorities to revoke the license of such a business for employing someone under the age of 18.

The sixth-grader danced at Diamonds Cabaret over a two-week period late last year, authorities say. They also say they found a 17-year-old girl working in the club in January.
Now, what kind of sick loser wants to see a skinny pre-teen stripping is beyond my understanding, but even worse is the slug who puts her out on the stage to appeal to that sort of scumbag. The problem was in 2008 when this story ran the licensing commission doesn't have the legal power to revoke their license for this event. She's a sixth grader, a grade school kid danging a pole for men to throw money at. Yet while she was legally sexually abused and the people who put the runaway girl up to it are facing charges, the club is not liable to any prosecution.

Meanwhile at the Providence Rhode Island Journal we get this story by Amanda Milkovits:
Providence police recently discovered that teen job opportunities extend into the local adult entertainment world while they were investigating a 16-year-old runaway from Boston. The girl told detectives that she worked at Cheaters strip club this spring, and the police got tips about other underage girls working at another club on Allens Avenue.

That’s when the police found that neither state law, nor city ordinance bars minors from working at strip clubs. Those under 18 can’t buy pornography, and no one may take pictures or film minors in sexually suggestive ways. But the law doesn’t stop underage teens from stripping for money. Even if the police saw underage boys or girls on stage at a strip club, they wouldn’t be able to charge them or the club owners with a crime.

“I’ve been doing this a long time,” said youth services Sgt. Carl Weston, “and I can’t find anything that says it’s illegal for a 16-year-old or a 17-year-old to take her top off and dance.”
See, as long as they have a work permit to work under the age of 18, and the work is not designated "hazardous," 16 year old girls can dance topless in a strip club. They can't drink the liquor, legally, but they can strip.

Apparently the state's "lewd and indecent" law preventing minors from some work (porn for example) does not cover lewd and indecent dancing in a club. Somehow. An Iowa county judge ruled last year that a striptease by a 17-year-old girl at a strip club was artistic expression protected by the First Amendment. Nevada won't allow girls under the age of 18 together in a strip club if there's gambling (everywhere in Nevada) or booze (all strip clubs have booze in Nevada). They've worked this through, but apparently a lot of other states have not.

Some have a different approach. Oregon originally would not allow any girls under 18 to perform in a strip club. The Oregon Liquor Control Commission recently reversed that decision. In principle it was to allow musicians and other performers to work in places liquor was served, but the strip clubs worked out a loophole. Yet while the law states that underage girls cannot work where there's liquor, strip clubs started calling themselves restaurants and stopped serving liquor, so the girls could be there. Portland Oregon has more strip clubs per capita than any city in the nation, according to the Seattle Times.

It is just odd to me that this is only coming up recently; were there no attempts to put little girls on stage before, and what prevented them? Were previous laws so strict that strip clubs weren't able to try a stunt like this, and have recently become more relaxed? And how, precisely, does a strip club benefit a society? Everyone but that Iowa judge knows that dancing nekkid with a pole has nothing to do with art and everything to do with sex: dress her up in a rabbit costume that doesn't reveal and see how much money she gets or how long she's in the job. It ain't art.

AUTOMOTIVE TECHNOLOGY

"Newer isn't necessarily better"

Smug
Recently Car and Driver tested three cars: two modern hybrids and one gas burning car from 11 years ago, the Chevy Metro. The rules were simple, drive like a normal person would. John Phillips writes:
There were no driving rules. Eco mode was not mandated. Using the air conditioner was legal. So were jack-rabbit starts and dangerous cornering speeds, neither of which we were able to accomplish. In short, we drove as we always do, trying to eke out some fun, and our observed fuel-economy figures reflect that. Indeed, that was the whole point of this test—to drive these things the way we’d drive regular cars.
The Metro didn't come standard with hubcaps. It had been driven 11,000 miles already. It was a stripped down economy model whose only fancy feature is a green light that suggests when to shift, it went from 0 to 60 in 20 seconds, with a top speed of 87 mph.

It gets 42 miles per gallon of gas. The hybrids?
Climbing out of the Insight or the Metro and into this third-gen Prius feels like climbing into a Lincoln Town Car. The Toyota’s interior volumes are up: The back seat is now all-day spacious for two pizza-fed adults, and compared with the Insight, the Prius boasts a bonus six cubic feet of cargo space.

Engine size and battery output have swollen, too, resulting in a combined 134 horsepower. That oughta demolish the wimpy 98-horse Insight, right? Nope. The Prius is 436 pounds fatter and was only 1 mph faster through the quarter-mile.
The Prius? It handled even poorer than the Metro, costs three times as much, and got 42 mpg also, just a little less than the $44 grand it costs. The Honda Insight got 31 miles per gallon, but it only costs about $25 grand.

The newer isn't really any better, its just a lot fancier. By using an electric motor to help with fuel economy, the Prius allows city driving to save you some fuel and yet have the amenities you want - and likely some you don't, such as engine-assisted braking and a readout showing how much fuel you're saving. The Metro is about as stripped down as you can get, costs as much as the Prius' battery replacement, and got the same mileage from 12 years ago after thousands of miles of travel. That's how far we've gotten in engine technology in a decade.

Still, there is some hope, Tim Blair workd up a comparison between a 2009 Hyundai Sonata V6 and a 1969 Dodge Charger with a 426 Hemi V8. Initially the test is obvious: the Sonata looks like a shoe, the Charger looks sexy and dangerous. Charger wins. When the driving started, however, it became sort of surprising.

SonataCharger

Here's the stats:
POWER
Dodge: 425 horsepower Hyundai: 249 horsepower

0-60 MPH
Dodge: 6.9 seconds Hyundai: 6.9 seconds

QUARTER MILE
Dodge: 14.1 seconds Hyundai: 15.3 seconds

TOP SPEED
Dodge: 138 mph Hyundai: 146 mph

ECONOMY
Dodge: 7 mpg Hyundai: 23 mpg
Bo and Luke Duke are heartbroken. The Sonata is actually a pretty zippy car and despite being a rice burning import compact, it is faster than the Charger and it gets more than three times the miles per gallon. It's slightly slower off the line and on the quarter mile than the Charger... but not much slower.

The Charger is a souped up muscle car, it roars like a dragon and eats up road with ferocious desire for speed. It was designed to go fast and look good, and it did its job well... in 1969. Now its just not very impressive other than its extraordinary good looks. So the technology has gotten better over 40 years, just not a lot better. And we're still using the 100+ year old internal combustion technology, refined many times. Its way past time for something newer and better.

THE WAY THE MUSIC DIED?

Emotional feedback
On a timeless wavelength
Bearing a gift beyond price ---
Almost free...
-Rush Spirit of Radio

Radio Listeners
Local radio is a rarity these days. Smaller, locally owned stations are bought out by huge corporations such as Clear Channel which run the station more on a template than based on the interests of the local community. It isn't that they are tone deaf to the market; the station would collapse if they paid no heed, it is that they have a type of station that they plug into the area and adapt the play list to what locals want to hear rather than having a station that grew from the area organically. Maybe the area will support a reggae/calypso/zydeco radio station, but there's no such category at Megacorp Radio, so that never shows up.

One local station recently had a public service announcement thanking Congressman Greg Walden (R-OR) for fighting something I'd not heard about previously: the "performance tax." The bill is called the Performance Rights Act of 2009 and it requires a "tax" on each time a song is played over the radio. The bill does not involve a true tax in the sense of it being a government levy, it is rather a fee charged by the record companies. Annually, radio stations are responsible for an estimated $1.5 to $2.4 billion dollars in sales to artists and labels, but this isn't enough for the record companies who are suffering from poor product and digital downloads eating into their sales. Artists would get half of the fee, the labels the other half.

Radio stations already pay for the music they play. First, they purchase the content they play on the air, and second, they pay for a license to play the material each year, totaling over $500 million a year combined between all stations. This money, however, goes to songwriters, not the record labels. Any material played over the internet is also paid for, a royalty is paid for each song played on the internet in the theory that a perfect digital copy of a song is easier to capture and of higher quality than one over the air.

If this passes, radio stations will be forced to advertise more, play fewer songs, play fewer works by new artists because the risk may not be worth taking, focus more on "top hits" playlists to avoid content that might not be as popular, and even change format to exclude music entirely.

The usual suspects are all signed onto this. Representative Conyers (D-MI) and the NAACP is in support of the Performance Rights Act despite the fact that this would place a greater burden on black-owned stations which are already having trouble staying on the air. Conyers claims these stations would be exempt, the Radio Broadcasting industry says otherwise. The bill specifically states that all stations must pay, but limits the fee to a maximum of only $5000 a year - on top of already financially struggling stations. The broadcast industry estimates that a full third of minority owned stations would collapse under this burden.

This is a classic example of the left creating a problem they insist government must solve: fewer people are listening to some stations, we'll propose a bill that puts them out of business, then propose a bill to raise taxes and spend government money to put them back into business.

Why do the Democrats support this bill so much? It isn't clear, but there is no doubt that the record labels are big D contributors and they have a pretty loud lobbying voice with the Democratic Party. Yet that isn't enough of a reason, not for this bill.

One significant clue is that only radio stations are affected by this legislation; not hotels, restaurants, bars, and other small businesses who play music. All of these must buy the same license radio stations do, but play music all day long without the fee. That music played at the mall when you walk around? License paid, "performance tax" exempt. So it appears to be targeting radio rather than music play. It isn't so much the songs being played that is the concern, but that they're being played on the radio. Conyers in the house and Leahy (D-VT) in the Senate are pushing this bill so this isn't some minor crackpot effort; these are Democratic Party heavy hitters.

I can't read minds, but I get the impression that they consider this a lever to pressure clear channel and other major broadcast conglomerates. Perhaps from their perspective, crushing radio stations which might carry content they do not care for can open the door to government assistance which will permit content they do like to be broadcast. Supporters of the Performance Rights Act claim there is a loophole in the system:
"It's unfair, unjustified and un-American that artists and musicians are paid absolutely nothing when their recordings are played on AM and FM radio. Music is their work, their livelihood. They deserve fair pay for air play," Bendall said. "Artists and musicians across America thank Senator Leahy, Representative Conyers and their colleagues for introducing bills that will close the corporate radio loophole."

The Performance Rights Act will close an archaic provision of America's copyright law that allows AM and FM radio stations to earn $16 billion a year in advertising revenue without compensating the artists and musicians who bring music to life and listeners' ears to the radio dial.
This "loophole" is the fact that newer music delivery systems such as satellite and internet were nailed with fees to broadcast music. In other words, the system was set, and they came up with a new way to make money with new technology, and are now calling the standard system a "loophole."

You would think that record labels would want radio stations to be encouraged to advertise more of their product, not be penalized so they play less, but they're in a bind. The ocean of money they were getting from music sales has slowed, and they want to keep it going at the rate it was before. And they're ruthless about that cash flow, and they've found allies in congress to get them more of that money.

There are two bills opposing the Performance Rights Act that have been introduced in congress, with a broader effect. They are Local Radio Freedom Acts: Senators Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) and John Barrasso (R-WY) introduced Senate Respolution 14, and Representatives. Gene Green (D- TX) and Mike Conaway (R-TX) introduced House Continuing Resolution 49. So far more than 200 congressmen have signed on to the house version. In the senate bipartisan support is echoed, with Senators Tim Johnson (D-SD), Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME) as co sponsors. These bills also make it illegal for any sort of "fairness doctrine" to be re-established by the FCC, which has only refrained from doing so by choice, not by law.

How this will play out is largely dependent on how much people hear about it and what pressure is brought on congress to counter the lobbying funds by the RIAA.

Quote of the Day

"How much easier it is to be critical than to be correct."
-Benjamin Disraeli

Friday, July 24, 2009

CONFRONTING TECHNOLOGY

"He had told me it was big, but I hadn't realised he meant THAT big. It was the size of a small book."

Wired has a list of 100 things your kids may never know, which is an interesting series of pop culture and technological bits, but one stood out for me: listening to an audio tape. The Wired article links to a BBC Magazine article by a teenage boy who tried out a Walkman for the first time in honor of the 30th anniversary of the device. Scott Campbell was a bit confused by the machine when he first saw it. It was huge and unattractive to him, just silver and not sleek and colorful. He complained that the weight was enough to pull down low-slung idiot shorts.

He was also baffled by some of the features the Walkman had:
It took me three days to figure out that there was another side to the tape. That was not the only naive mistake that I made; I mistook the metal/normal switch on the Walkman for a genre-specific equaliser, but later I discovered that it was in fact used to switch between two different types of cassette.
There was also a bit of ignorance in his understanding of tapes and sound fidelity. He complained that the sound was warbled and hissed, thinking it was the battery power, which ran down too soon; a good set of batteries can last days of normal use if you have a fresh batch. The warble and his was because he was listening to an old tape, one of his dad's from decades ago. Even the best stapes simply do not hold up over time very well and eventually the sound decays and the steady, smooth spooling action begins to stick slightly and becomes uneven. Using a brand new high end tape recording a CD he'd find the sound was extraordinary.

He complained about the capacity, annoyed that the 60 minute tapes he used only held 12 songs on a side. Well, yes, use a bigger tape and you get a lot more, but even the 100 minute tapes don't compare to the vast gigs of storage you get on a modern digital player.

Yet at the same time, that's a feature, not a bug. When you have only 100 minutes to work with on a tape, you get creative. What songs go on and what don't matter more: you can't fast forward past a junk song easily, so you stick with only good stuff that you like. The song sequence matters more when you are unable to hit the shuffle button as well. What song follows each could build a mood, tell a story, or fit a theme. If you liked a girl and wanted to tell her how, but weren't much good at it in person, you could send her a tape to break the ice and let her know. If you were angry you could work up an angry metal tape and stomp around to the music. I've made mix tapes of rain music, mix tapes of all women singers or all songs about war. The 800 million song mp3 mix gives you an amazing variety of unpredictable songs, but it doesn't give you the ability to craft a story the same way, unless you build a playlist limited to specific songs and treat it like ... a cassette tape player.

Overall Mr Campbell only liked one feature more than his i-pod: the dual headphone jacks on the top, allowing two people to listen at once. That feature was only on the first Walkman series, because it just wasn't used much. I grew up with the Walkman in my teenage years, I listened to various versions and alternates of it for decades as I bicycled and walked around. Now I don't listen to music constantly and appreciate quiet a bit more, but I still have one for trips. And on a cold day, those over the ear phones double as ear warmers.

It is interesting to see how a young person tries to work with older technology. See, its not that young people are more technologically conversant than older. Its that they're more familiar with the "language" and patterns of newer technology. Give them something before that pattern and they have to learn it just like older folks do the newer.

*Hat tip Conservative Grapevine for the Wired story

MOON GOODS

What's the point of spaceflight
Or the point of war and strife?
And what's the point of science
If it won't extend my life?
We reject the claims of history
With its tears and sweat and blood
We think mankind's finest hour
Was an orgy in the mud
-Headless Unicorn Guy and Some Guy Was Here

Some might be thinking this focus on the moon landing by blogs - especially those on the right, it seems - is unreasonable. The world has problems, look at how many go without food, consider the problems with health care costs in the US, there are wars, disease, and injustice. What's all this about going to the moon, you ask?

Well, there's a lot of reasons to head into space, not the least of which are resources which are uncontested and vast in quantity, and the primary driving force behind most of these woes is poverty. The more riches and goods in the world, the more likely democracy and liberty follows, which result in less injustice, war, disease, and hunger as the 20th century has shown.

Yet it is another aspect I want to focus on, the technology of the Apollo Space Program which we now enjoy. In order to get to the moon, the scientists at NASA had to invent scores of new products just to do the job. Zero gravity and the vacuum of space present incredible challenges, and when you combine that with the need to build entirely new engines and devices from scratch just to get to that state, and the computations required to do it safely and accurately, well that's an astounding achievement.

And all those efforts resulted in thousands of patents and new products. The Lunar program is one of the very, very, very few government programs which actually has showed a profit. Here's why:

Tang (powdered instant flavored drinks)
Go-gurt (tubes of edible goo)
Velcro
Semiconductor Cubing (a method of stacking integrated circuits for faster processing)
Structural Analysis (flaw and build analysis resulting in better design)
Windows Visual News reader (WinVn)
Air Quality Monitor (separates exhaust into component parts for scrubbing or analysis)
Virtual Reality (the goggles and gloves)
Laser Surveying
Fly-by-wire aircraft controls
Enriched Baby Food
Water Purification Systems (your pool is cleaner)
Scratch Resistant Lenses
Long flight golf balls
Micro Portable coolers and warmers
Modern Athletic Shoe soles (the same stuff that was in moon boots)
The Dustbuster
Smoke Detectors
High Density Batteries
Trash Compactors
Fogless Ski Goggles
Quartz Crystal Timing
Light reactive lenses
Freeze dried food
Flat Panel TVs
Fire resistant materials (baby clothes, firemen)
Radiation Insulation (its in all new houses)
Radioactive leak detectors
Air purification (that Ionic Breeze you bought from late night TV)
Breast Cancer detection
Gas analyzer
Artificial lubricants (in your car's motor right now?)
Self-righting air raft
High capacity, light weight air tanks for firemen
Windshear prediction for airports
Cool suits
High tech sports uniforms (particularly swimming)


Oh, and for good measure, here are things you enjoy because of or are spin offs of products developed by the space program's efforts so far:

Microspheres - produced in orbit, thanks to NASA
Satellite communications and entertainment
Weather forecasting
Studless Winter Tires (Viking Lander parachute shroud material)
Car Brake Liners
High bypass turbofan (better, cleaner jet engines)
Patient monitoring systems in almost all medical centers around the world
Insulin Pumps (also Viking Lander)
Global Positioning System Units (that trip planner in your car)
The Hubble telescope
CAT scans
MRI scans
Cordless Power Tools


In a very real sense, shows like Star Trek and Star Wars might never have happened without the interest in space that the Apollo program generated.

And finally, Pride. We reached beyond the planet, our kind has trod upon the moon. We've moved to another body in the universe entirely and learned from it. Look at all we gained, just so far.

How much more could we gain, if only we tried? So far President Obama has not shut down the space initiatives that President Bush started. Good for him, I hope he never does, and builds on it.

PLEASURE VS REASON: The human vs the animal

"Master Bruce, why do we fall?"
-Alfred, Batman Begins

Last week I noted the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing, and complained again that we'd just dropped the whole thing. I blamed bureaucracy largely, but a commenter also suggested culture's shift played a part:
Personally, I don't hold the bureaucracy alone at fault. I blame an entire generation that was less interested in actual achievement than in their own private pipe dreams. Their narcissistic self-concern distracted them forever from any "higher" aspiration which didn't involve regressive utopianism or government cheese.
-Jake Was Here
I think he's got a point, and its pretty sad. People have few dreams beyond what they can personally enjoy and enjoy immediately. The dream of reaching into space takes greater imagination and ambition than the next orgasm or the next good time.

KittyOur cat Coal was lying on a chair once, asleep I knelt down beside her and reached out a hand, she woke up, looking at me upside down and mewed once. She wanted to be petted, so I gave her a scritch under the chin for a while. Her response was immediate: eyes closed, purring a contented look. I thought about the babies I've known. When they want attention it tends to be of a different kind. Sure, they want food sometimes but when they just want attention, they're more pleased when you give them something to think about. You play peek-a-boo, or make a funny face, you talk to them. Their eyes light up, they smile and coo and even giggle.

The difference, it seems to me, is one of type and no small significance. The animal is not capable of rational analysis or interaction. It cannot work out facts and ideas, it cannot think about and consider actions and response appropriately. It works on a much more basic level: food, comfort, sleep, etc. Human beings are much more than animals, so much more I believe that despite many biological similarities that it is a mistake to call humans mere "animals." Such a simplistic classification is akin to calling an Armadillo an insect because it has a hard shell and legs.

This basic difference and how it takes shape is significant because it says something about what humans are and ought to be. If you focus your life on comfort, pleasure, ease, and safety, you've reduced yourself to mere bestiality. You're being an animal, looking for the next scritch under the chin so you can purr. This might be a temporarily rewarding life, and it is certainly easier than seeking more, but humanity is meant for more.

Humanity should seek its fulfillment and significance in what it can accomplish, what it can learn, produce, and understand. Humanity's meaning is not found in what makes me happy, but what makes me learn. And what's more, happiness for humanity is best found in reason, not in pleasure.

The child's simple efforts to mimic your funny faces and the fun it takes in peekaboo is a result of its mind being active and striving to know and understand more. The joy in peekaboo is the sudden appearance of a face, recognized and enjoyed. Your cat won't purr playing peekaboo, it might even run away from the sudden movements. Your baby recognizes it as a game, and enjoys the mental stimulation.

Human happiness is a result, not a goal. It is the result of work well done, of understanding, of accomplishment. If you seek happiness in and of its self, you may find it; but you'll always be struck by its transitive nature. Your happiness in a flirtation or a drug will be real, but brief until you try again - and the same thing will rarely bring the same degree of happiness. By contrast, if you seek something meaningful and significant, you'll find happiness and have done something important. If you sacrifice so your children can have more, your children will be a source of happiness and you'll have that goal accomplished as well.

This contrast between self improvement and self enjoyment is stark and important. One is the act of a human being, the other the act of a beast. We live in a society which encourages the beast in us: just do it. Go for it. You deserve it. The more we focus on ourselves and what we can gain in terms of comfort and delight, the more the animal we become and the more society and culture collapses around us. As a result, the very things we rely on for pleasure and happiness are threatened and eventually will be destroyed as well.

In political terms, the right often promotes this with an unbridled embrace of mere greed and ambition. Naked ambition, the drive to better one's self materially, is the stuff of pleasure in the form of goods. Greed is the desire for power (in the form of money) merely to have power and the happiness it results in. This is a failure to be human as well, reducing us into beasts. That effort to achieve and ambition should be driven by virtue and service toward one's fellow man: accomplish and grow and become wealthy, but not merely for wealth. Do it so that you leave something better to others, so that you grow and result in a better world. Being rich isn't bad, but being rich merely to be rich is. There are far greater things in the world than what you can own and control.

By contrast, the left focuses on personal feelings and group identity. The desire for equal comfort and lack of any feelings of oppression or offense is the goal: nobody's feelings get hurt and nobody feels any lack or suffers physical harm. This striving for immediate comfort and avoiding lack of difficulty is bestial as well. It is a desire to avoid discomfort and to always be wrapped in safety. Yet for humanity, the challenges in life and difficulties we find our way past through reason, determination, and effort are what make us grow and mature. Through the hard times we learn reason and strength and become closer as a community. Trying to avoid causing offense and harm to emotions isn't wrong, but it ought not be the goal, and at times offense and emotional distress are necessary and good.

Both right and left in these errors are making one of the most fundamental and common mistakes of the modern man: the fool's presumption that this life, and this world - all that we can sense and scientifically test - are the extent of reality. There is nothing more than what I can touch, thinks modern man. Absurd efforts are made by thinkers to desperately explain away the existence of love and brotherhood as cryptic biological processes. Yet the world is made up of far more than our sciences can test, as any good scientist will immediately agree to. And to reduce humanity to only that which science can measure is to reduce humanity to less than human, for we alone in the world are able to percieve and act on what lies beyond the material.

Go then, and be a human, for humanity embraces virtue, truth, and reason. Be wise, be thoughtful, be merciful and just. Be human.