Wednesday, January 31, 2007


Blogging Will Be Slow For a Few Days

While I deal with an overflow of school and work. In the meantime, much like John Edwards' "two Americas", there seem to be two John Travoltas. (emphasis added)

In the movie "Be Cool" John Travolta's Caddy is blown up and he is given a Honda Hybrid as a courtesy car. How he deals with this:
Martin (Danny Devito) Hey Chili, that your car?
Chili: Yes, Its the Caddilac of Hybrids.
Martin: A bit tight for a guy like you?
Chili: a small price to pay for the environment.
Martin: But what about speed? (its parked between Ferarris)
Chili: Martin, when you're important, People will wait.

and, b)
John Travolta is qualified in several types of single and multi-engine aircraft, and has the highest pilot medical certification possible. His house is located immediately off the main airstrip, and is designed so his jets can taxi right up to two outbuildings connected to the main structure, which is shaped like a squat air-control tower. "He uses the 707 as the family van," says Jumbolair developer Terri Jones. "The Gulfstream is his sports car."

John Travolta in his personal Boeing 707

Hey, it's a small price to pay for the environment! I mean, we might never get the message about global warming if celebrities didn't have their jets to fly around to press conferences!

Monday, January 29, 2007


Car Sharing Running Strong in San Francisco

Awhile back, I posted on the surprising news that car sharing was gaining traction in the market. It seems that it's continuing to prove the concept that for some urban denizens it makes sense to occasionally rent a car instead of owning one--providing it's convenient enough.
Several Zipcar sites are within easy walking distance of her home and work, Hunt said, and getting a car hasn't been a problem.

"I can't always get exactly the car I want -- I like Priuses, and they're popular,'' she said. "But I can always get a car when I want.''


Johnson and her husband, who live in a small Mission District apartment, drive to the grocery store, to pick up friends at the airport and to go hiking. They spend between $30 and $75 a month -- less than insurance used to cost when she owned a car.

Owning a car becomes vastly more economical the more it gets used, so it's not surprising that time-share ownership makes sense for people who don't drive everyday. Traditional car rentals aren't expensive either, but they're geared toward travelers and generally located well out of the way of local residents (think of the Avis "we'll pick you up!" commercials) That will probably change, and quickly, if car sharing companies keep doing well.


I Want My MTV!

Especially when they show "My Super Sweet 16". Yes, my guilty pleasure is pointing and laughing at assholes.


Pigs Fly, Film at 11!

Mickey Kaus makes a good point about the trouble with reading someone's interpretation of a video--the actual video often doesn't support the argument. This is selection bias, where you cherry-pick the evidence that supports your viewpoint. It's part of human nature and we're all guilty of it from time to time. I suspect it gets worse when you're trying to run a blog and feel the pressure to post on current topics several times a day, as Andrew Sullivan does. In real life people just don't usually pull the kind of blatant crap that makes a great gotcha. There are exceptions, of course, but the more common situation is something like George Allen's "macaca" flap. Allen said the word "macaca", but the actual video wipes out most of the other conventional wisdom on that incident (I don't have access to youtube right now, but you can easily find it)

Of course that doesn't stop people from linking such videos and adding their sensational and accuracy-challenged commentary. I try to avoid just linking and saying "uh huh, what'd I tell ya!" here. "Nuance" jokes aside, most issues are a little more complicated than first meets the eye, and to me it's more interesting to get into that complexity as opposed to stuffing every newsbite into an ill-fitting pigeonhole.

Sunday, January 28, 2007


A Myth Inside The Myth

Glenn Reynolds links an article in today's WaPo entitled "5 Myths About Suburbia and Our Car-Happy Culture". It cites statistics and does some basic math to show that cars aren't destroying the ozone layer as some alarmists would have it, that Europeans drive almost as much as Americans, and that (as I've mentioned previously) we are in no danger of paving over the last green acre in North America . All of which is true, but it leads the authors to the following stretch:
Many officials say we should reconfigure the landscape -- pack people in more tightly -- to make it fit better with a transit-oriented lifestyle. But that would mean increasing density in existing developments by bulldozing the low-density neighborhoods that countless families call home. Single-family houses, malls and shops would have to make way for a stacked-up style of living that most don't want. And even then the best-case scenario would be replicating New York, where only one in four commuters uses mass transit.

You hear this a lot from folks who don't like the sound of the term "urban planning", but the critical point they always miss is that the supersized suburbia they're defending is absolutely not an outcome of the free market. The choice of land to build on, how much of a lot can be covered by a house, what kind of house it can be, whether houses and businesses can be in the same neighborhood, even (I've seen this) the length of shadow a house can cast on the neighbor's yard, all make land development one of the most regulated and constrained industries in the United States. And every urban area in the country has that kind of zoning ordinance and building code. You can't say "most don't want" a different kind of landscape, because the building industry can't legally offer them the choice!


Snap, Crackle, Pop

That's the scary sound my $15 coffeemaker makes, causing me to keep walking into the kitchen and see if the carafe is cracking from heat (especially when I hear the crackling followed by hissing steam) Yes, I bought it at the fell-off-a-truck discount store, but it's a major brand name so I thought it was a safe bet.

And, I just noticed what's making the hissing noise. Water sometimes drips over the top of the splash screen and down the side of the carafe. That still doesn't explain the crackling noise, but at least the steaming water isn't coming from cracked glass.

Saturday, January 27, 2007


More Globalization

Here's a good alternative and non-technical take on globalization from Micheal Totten, wanderer extraordinaire and definitely not rich, republican, or conservative. Money quote:
Globalization isn't all about America. It's not about making every restaurant, coffee shop, and retail outlet the same. It's about exchanging goods and ideas. That exchange goes both ways. Countries that trade may grow more alike over time, but they also become more internally varied.

I do wish Starbucks made it to Chile before I did. It's not like every café would have been a part of the franchise. Plenty of locals are now discovering what they've been missing. Some of them will never tolerate instant coffee again. Starbucks is almost sure to inspire local competitors. They'll take a North American idea (which actually first came from Europe) and then they will make it Chilean. Local cafés won't be displaced. They will be born.


What the Hell Are You Talking About ..?

Just flipped past 9 News and they were talking about the British royal family visiting Philadelphia. Apparantly Prince Charles was in town to accept an award for his environmental work. The news anchor reader went through that part, then started babbling about how the royals could have skipped the flight on that big nasty polluting airplane and attended the ceremony by video link instead.

Umm, ok then. If you need me I guess I'll be outside Pledge-ing my horse cart.

Friday, January 26, 2007


I'm Sorry, We Don't Have Time For That

I'm not going to bother linking it, but some idiot politician in the Carolinas is proposing that the government review the script of any film that's planning to shoot in the state to make sure it doesn't have something like the rape scene in Hounddog. How does the government come to be involved with filmmaking in the first place? Of course, it's because they offer subsidies in order to draw filmmakers.

The awesome stupidity of not only subsidizing an industry that makes plenty of profit on its own, but then using that subsidy to take a (small but symbolic) bite out of free expression, inspired me to think of the following way in which a politician committed to small government might sell the notion--in individual cases--even to people who favor a large public sector: "I'm sorry, your federal/state government has far more important priorities than to worry about [pointless-but-sensational headline of the day]. There are still wars, famine and diseases ravaging the world. Thanks, next question!"

Reagan could have pulled it off...

Thursday, January 25, 2007


UGBs Coming to Virginia?

Vicky sent me this article on the new Transportation Reform Plan being proposed in Richmond. The bill is sponsored by Clay Athey, former mayor of working-class Front Royal and now Republican Delegate representing the town. Having seen it from both sides, Athey should know the ins and outs of transportation and land use better than most elected officials. Athey explained the plan in the Fauquier Times-Democrat yesterday; it primarily addresses transportation infrastructure (basically, roads) by moving some funding and decisionmaking from VDOT to the counties, but it also includes new land use regulating powers intended to encourage more compact development patterns. Chief among them is what Athey calls "urban development areas" or UDAs.

If that sounds familiar to urban planners, it's because Oregon used a similar scheme--they called it Urban Growth Boundaries or UGBs-to contain sprawl beginning in the 1970s. The concept is simple. The county identifies the optimal place for most human settlement to go, and writes its comprehensive plan accordingly. Thereafter, development proposals can be approved inside the boundary, rejected outside it. UDAs have several major theoretical benefits for both government and citizens, with the main one being a much better ability to predict future transportation needs since you know where the houses and people will be.

The approach isn't entirely new in Virginia--both Stafford and Fauquier Counties have long had "urban service boundaries", outside of which no public water or sewer service is available. Driving from Warrenton to Manassas or western Loudoun County is an ample demonstration that the USB can be successful in containing sprawl, but there are at least two things that should be on everyone's mind as they consider this legislation. First, as Stafford County's planning staff made clear to Virginia Tech when we worked with them in 2005, "density" is a red flag to local residents when any new development proposal comes up. Most of these people moved from the crowded city and don't want it to follow them into the countryside. It works like this:
What’s more, [development consultant Daniel K. Slone] says, getting projects approved with the densities needed to make New Urbanist projects work is difficult without public support. Oftentimes local residents raise concerns about the impact such projects have on roads and schools. “Whether legitimate or not, [those concerns] often drive down the densities so that the projects do not achieve the desired effect.”

Whether legitimate or not. That's an important phrase in transportation and land use, because emotions and innacurate conventional wisdom are almost always the order of the day in this realm. Which brings me (sort of) to the other shadow hanging over the UDA idea--the fact that a A ballot initiative (Measure 37) stopped Oregon's UGB program dead in its tracks last year. Landowners whose property lay outside the UGB argued that the state had deprived them of a part of their property by making it impossible to subdivide their land. They could only sell into the lower-priced agriculture market. Measure 37 specifies that land use regulations must come with financial compensation for landowners whose options are limited by the regulation. I'm not aware of any such movement in Virginia, but there are Measure 37-like initiatives coming down the pike in several western states. UDAs could draw similar fire if they are seen as too constricting for landowners outside the line.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007



All sorts of surprising people are throwing their hats into the presidential ring, for example Hillary Clinton, last seen artlessly trying to sell a straightforwardly socialist healthcare bill to middle America. So who else can we dredge up from the political graveyard? Dan Drezner has this to say (link blatantly ripped off from Instapundit):
Gingrich intrigues me -- he's far more complex and interesting a thinker than the nineties stereotype of him suggested. And if Hillary Clinton can remake herself as someone who's learned from past mistakes, I see no reason why Gingrich can't as well.

I can see why he might actually write that. Afterall Richard Nixon made something of a comeback as an elder statesman. Gingrich just isn't that far in the past though, and while the media will try hard to give Hillary a pass, Gingrich's skeletons (probably starting with the legendary hospital bed divorce of his first wife) would make encore appearances in the very first stories about his Presidential exploratory committee. Like Lebanon and Abu Ghraibh, that's just the world we live in.



This started off as a comment, but I'm making it a post instead. Commenting on this post, Clint tossed out a couple of the standard arguments against globalization. I've got an argument against unilateral dropping of trade barriers, but I'll get to that. First, Clint's comments:
Unemployment stats are pretty b.s. the way they are computed. I think they should include EVERYONE who doensn't work.

Then they would include babies and retired people and be at least as misleading. My understanding is that they're based on new unemployment filings, which seems relatively reasonable in that people who are long-term unemployed will seek unemployment compensation, while presumably the rest got new jobs. As Clint says though, that still doesn't account for the ones whose new job is greeter at WalMart.

the goal of globalization seems to be to have every job X to eventually reside at place Y where job X gets paid the least on the planet.

Technically, that's true, but it leaves something out. In the simple perfect-market model, an industry will tend to move where its overall cost of production is lowest (both labor and materials) because then it gains the maximum price competitiveness for its products.

Where it goes off the rails is in the implication that companies somehow have an interest in making people poor. Companies make money by selling stuff. If everyone is poor, who's buying their stuff? That even works if you assume the customers are other companies or governments instead of individuals, because a poor population makes a poor government (no tax revenue) and poor companies (no disposable income). There is no "conservation of wealth"--it can be created or destroyed, so the only way for anyone to get richer in the long term is for everyone to be made better off. Which is the ultimate goal of globalization. In the longer term it means that the prices of both labor and goods and services will become fairly even around the world, but in the short term, leveling between, say, China and the US will be painful for the richer country just as it is good for the poorer one.

Which brings me to my argument against unilateral open markets. It does nobody any good for country A to open its markets while country B maintains protectionist trade barriers. There is some case to be made for rich countries to help poor ones by maintaining a minor trade imbalance (minor for the rich country but a big deal for the poor one) but an imbalance large enough to actually damage A's economy is killing the goose that laid the golden egg. So on that basis I am (in principle) a supporter of "fair trade" or a series of bilateral trade agreements, versus one-size-fits-all open markets on our part while China, India etc. maintain protectionist policies at our expense.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007


The Congressional Cullah'd Waterfountain

Presented without comment:
Freshman Rep. Stephen I. Cohen, D-Tenn., is not joining the Congressional Black Caucus after several current and former members made it clear that a white lawmaker was not welcome.


"Mr. Cohen asked for admission, and he got his answer. ... It's time to move on," [Rep. William Lacy Clay Jr., D-MO] said. "It's an unwritten rule. It's understood. It's clear."


Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif., who is white, tried in 1975 when he was a sophomore representative and the group was only 6 years old.

"Half my Democratic constituents were African-American. I felt we had interests in common as far as helping people in poverty," Stark said. "They had a vote, and I lost. They said the issue was that I was white, and they felt it was important that the group be limited to African-Americans."

Well, one comment--what's with the old-style abbreviations for the states? They switched to two-letter abbreviations when I was in elementary school, so you know, a loooong time ago!



So I get to the office this morning to find that the network admins have pushed out another hotfix, which rebooted my machine after installation. No big deal, I'm glad I don't have to think about that stuff along with my actual job responsibilities. But it occurs to me to wonder if getting used to this at work is detrimental to taking good care of my home computers. Of course it's not for me, but what about non-technical people? Will they eventually be so used to stuff being installed and even rebooting their machine that they won't notice when spyware or viruses do the same thing at home?

Monday, January 22, 2007


How Much House for $300k?

This NYT puff piece isn't as interesting as it could have been. There are lots of towns where you can get some very interesting houses for well under 300, most of which have history and amenities that most of us would love to have--if only we could get a decent job in the area. But hey, I guess it's nice to know that even in Alabama I can spend $300,000 on a tiny condo if I feel like burning money.


Retraining For "Victims of Globalization"

Here's an interesting description of what happened when free trade came to Galax, Virginia:
Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) [...] includes up to two years of unemployment benefits while retraining, temporary subsidies to help pay medical insurance and, for those over 50, a short-term top-up to any lower-paying new job. The centre also co-ordinates more basic help, from child care to food banks run by private charities.

That's an apparantly federal program intended to transition blue-collar workers to new careers when their jobs go overseas. How's it working? According to the article, three big textile factories in Galax closed down all at once, laying off 1,000 people. The result:
At 6%, Galax’s unemployment rate is twice Virginia’s average, but no higher than it was a year ago.

[...] other, mainly younger, workers are already better off. After 19 years in a textile factory, Bobby Edwards has retrained as a radiologist. Brian Deaton has set up a thriving picture-framing business and has started selling gourmet coffee. Few of these people are enthusiastic about globalisation. “No one trusts China around here,” is a common refrain. But government help has cushioned the shock. “I’d be lost if they weren’t here,” says Mr Rotan, nodding towards the centre’s staff.

When I was younger, the national unemployment rate was 6% and things were said to be in good shape. In fact, most economists consider 6% or less to be effectively zero unemployment. Which means we seem to have a rare case here: a government program that actually works!

Sunday, January 21, 2007


And As Long As We're Talking Snow...

I like to pull out the old saw about "legislating the wind" to make fun of people who pass various laws to fight basic human nature (for example, the drug war) but as they say, truth is stranger than fiction and real life has now obsoleted that joke:
Romanian snowboarders have staged a protest at the lack of snow in front of the country's weather institute.

Blocking traffic, the snowboarders sat in the road and only moved on when weather officials said that their complaint at the lack of snow "would be passed on to a higher authority", Ananova reports on January 16th.

(link via The Bitch Girls)


Total Destruction

No, not by the "snowstorm" (yet .. it's accumulated to around an inch as I write this) but at Clint's 33rd birthday party last Saturday. I don't have much to add, aside from taking 'executive producer' credit for Glen's videography of the early-evening 'RAPpening'. It is pretty funny how in our college years and 20s most parties were fight-free, but now that most of the OGs are over 30, fisticuffs have become a semi-regular feature.


Posting To Document That...'s snowing. Yes, snowing in northern Virginia in the winter of 2006-7.

UPDATE: here's a picture.

Saturday, January 20, 2007


Diary Land

I've had a couple of blog or journal sites over the years, and am slowly consolidating them now. The focus has varied, from my urban planning blog to my personal page on diaryland, but reading over the old entries has been fascinating. I never kept a paper diary, mostly out of laziness but also because I thought interesting stuff didn't happen every week or month, let alone everyday. But years later I find even the "nothing happened today, I'm still waiting for this and the other to break" entries interesting, if only because they fix the timeline of major events. Also occurs to me that our grandkids will probably read our blogs the way people used to read their ancestors' old letters.

Anyway, for my three regular readers, you can look for more old posts to appear. I'll also get back to posting excerpts of my Europe journal in the near future.


Cue the Pr0n Music!

The comment thread on this post (video link is very NSFW, but oh so worth it) over at The Bitch Girls got me thinking. Countertop says:
If you think “they do have a point about how animals are treated” and conditions are even anywhere near what they claim, then I have a bridge to sell you in brooklyn.

Cool, I always wanted to own a bridge! Though I would need a troll to go under it, and those are harder to find... My own thought is that, whatever its other faults, PETA doesn't exaggerate terribly about the conditions under which food animals are raised. They don't need to, because even the most clinical description would horrify any person.

But people aren't the ones being kept in those conditions, animals are. For a group that claims to be so in touch with nature, PETA sure doesn't get the whole food chain thing. The only thing we owe our food supply is to cultivate it in such a way that it doesn't run out. And I'm not even claiming that people float above the animal kingdom. We're definitely animals, and you could make a case that we're kinder and gentler to our prey than any other predator. Owls, those cute cuddly creatures from the Harry Potter movies, swoop down out of the night sky and spear defenseless small rodents with their talons, yanking them off the ground and out of the lives of their fellow meeses in a split second and carrying them off to a cold treetop, where they begin to eat them before they're dead. Is that humane? Is PETA going to train owls to go vegan? Actually I'd be fascinated if someone would try that, but then PETA doesn't concern me in the least. I am all for them continuing down their current path of bitching pointlessly about mankind's genetically programmed diet, while training attractive women to take their clothes off for the camera

Friday, January 19, 2007


Do as I say, not as I do?

Jonathan Adler has some stats on Federal employees who owe back taxes. Money quote (emphasis added):
Also worth noting, apparently 4.85 percent of Tax Court employees are tax scofflaws as well.

Thursday, January 18, 2007


Why I Couldn't Be A "Communicator"
And Additions To My Reading List

Well I finished Dog Days. The pace got better towards the end, and it was almost fun to read. The problem just continued to be that I hate everyone in it, because they glorify spin and manipulation. I'll save the details for a review post, but the Amazon customer reviews of another book (link via Instapundit) touch on a similar subject. One user quotes a very interesting insight by George Orwell that gets to the heart of my dislike of marketing spin:
Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness."

Actually I think that gets to the heart of the most serious political problem in the US today: the excessive, obsessive pursuit of niceness, to the point where mainstream public dialogue worries about the dietary concerns of terrorist prisoners and justifies violent intimidation of political views that are seen as mean-spirited. I think this bassackwardness has a lot to do with the "euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness" that filters almost every contribution to public discussion. The atomic bombings of Japan, for example, were undertaken on the cold rational basis that killing 100,000 people today would force the Japanese oligarchs to end the war, preventing millions more deaths on both sides tomorrow. But can you imagine a political candidate making an argument like that on TV? Me either, but the refusal to face reality is how we get disasters like Somalia, Darfur, even global warming.

Anyway, I've read 1984 and Animal Farm, but I think it's time I added more of Orwell's essays and articles to my repertoire.


Boning Man

Apparantly the founders of Burning Man are fighting over who owns the name. That's both funny and depressing, like tracing how the flower children of the 60s became the minivan-driving preschool-snobs of the 90s. Oh well, after 15+ years it was probably over. Anyone want to take bets on when Disney World comes out with a Burning Man ride?

Wednesday, January 17, 2007



Someone added this picture of my cousin Bridget's feet as a favorite on FlickR. I first thought "huh, that's weird" but then got a bad feeling and decided to look at the person's other favorites. Sure enough, all (women's) feet...


The Fisking Bitter is Too Busy For!

Here it is, folks! Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Karen Heller has a funny screed on gun control in the Philadelphia Inquirer today. Unintentionally funny that is, because it appears to have been written by a turing machine set to "moonbat":

Any fool can kill a deer. I know, because I've almost done it several times. All that's required is a car driven at a relatively good speed, 30 miles an hour should do it, near a wooded area around dusk or later.

Voila, venison a la Camry.

Congratulations, you can drive a car. I wouldn't quit your job and head for the comedy circuit just yet though.

The less "a well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State" rings true in contemporary America, the more the gun culture revs up its high-caliber lobbying and propaganda machine.

I guess this makes a certain sense if you consider militias in the Tim McVeigh sense, but I wonder--what does guarantee security in today's world? Karma? PC politics? Group hugs? We'll have to guess, because she leaves that sentence hanging and charges on to the next disjointed thought:

We've made smokers pariah, forcing them out to the street. Alcoholism and drug abuse, once private demons, have become public crusades. Abolishing trans fats is a civic battle legislated by urban councils.

She says that like it's a good thing. No really, she does. No further comment needed--what kind of person thinks that way?

Any politician running for higher office has to kiss the long barrel of the NRA and gun fetishists, preferably by praising gun ownership and going hunting - a dwindling passion - to show how authentically American he is.

Nevermind the lame oral sex innuendo (this anti-gay comment deeply offends me!) What blows me away here is the complete lack of self-awareness. She's doesn't like guns, so anyone who does must have a "fetish". There's no such thing as having different interests than you, those other people are just savages who need a good 'Christian' education! Ms. Heller would feel right at home in Victorian times--well, long as you kept her from hearing the word "Victorian".

"This is trying to perpetuate the myth of Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders, the legacy of Buffalo Bill," says Joan Burbick, author of "Gun Show Nation: Gun Culture and American Democracy." "Tying gun rights to civil rights, transforming Americans into an armed citizenry, coincided with the civil rights riots."

Race, she argues, has plenty to do with it.

Again, Heller doesn't follow up on these assertions, maybe assuming that her readers already "know" that everything she doesn't like is "racist". But this bit about gun ownership suddenly appearing with the civil rights movement? In a sense, it did--among blacks who exercised their right to defend themselves from marauding white racists. Of course that's not the point being made here, but I thought Micheal Bellesiles was debunked a long time ago. You can't teach an old dog new tricks though, and the hard left will probably never give up its clumsy efforts to throw inconvenient history down the memory hole. The game of mental whack-a-mole goes on...

[406] people were murdered in Philadelphia last year. And here's where generalizations hold up. Most of the victims were young. Most of them were poor. Most of them were black. Most of them were killed with guns.

Our problems are bigger than guns. But guns are our problem.

Oh the irony--"here's where generalizations hold up" followed immediately by a pure example of irrelevant generalizations leading to a wrong conclusion. I'm sure a psychologist could write an entire book on the conviction that murderers somehow wouldn't kill anyone if they couldn't use a gun, but I'll just substitute Archie Bunker, speaking to his daughter when she said something like the above: "Would it make you feel better, little girl, if they was pushed outta windows?"

And now for the truly weird:

The myth of the fighter permeates throughout consumerism, Gap Kids fatigues in blue and pink.

Well as long as we're dealing in strawmen, I wonder how Ms. Heller feels about, say, Palestinian children who regularly turn up in news photos dressed up as terrorists? Somehow I doubt perpetuating "the myth of the fighter" would be first out of her mouth. But flyover-country Americans and their hunting gear? Now that's scary!

Where is the PETA for people being senselessly killed?

Where indeed, since PETA itself is well known to think the world would be just dandy with fewer (or no) humans in it. Do they really care if that's accomplished by gunfire or defenestration? Furthermore, isn't PETA on Ms. Heller's side of the aisle? I used to think it was a trait of the left that anyone not directly supporting their causes was automatically "the establishment", even a definitely un-mainstream hard left group like PETA. Now I wonder if it's just a trait of the kind of personality that decides an entire area of human endeavor represents their vision of evil and needs to be driven out of existence:

We need to attack guns and the all-too-powerful lobbyists and manufacturers the way cigarettes came under siege.

I started off writing that what we actually need is to undo the "siege" of the tobacco industry, but let's think outside the box for a moment--what if instead, we encourage these huge lawsuits against this and that industry. It will be a lean few decades, but eventually the only rich and powerful interests left will be ...trial lawyers. And the lefties always go after the rich, right?

Tuesday, January 16, 2007



I've been intermittently reading Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences by John Allen Paulos. As the title suggests, it's about all the little (and not so little) ways that people get into trouble by not understanding or applying even simple math in everyday life. He introduces his theme with the example of a weatherman who asserts that the 50% chance of rain on each day of the weekend means that there is a 100% of rain during the entire weekend. That's awful, but here's something even worse:
Goldman Sachs said homeowners had treated windfall gains from rising house prices as if they were "recurring income", using home equity withdrawls to subsidize over-stretched lifestyles. This artificial boost to spending has already dropped from 7pc to 4pc of GDP over the last year, and is likely to halve again in 2007.

Spending a one-time bonus on everyday consumption isn't something any sane, rational person would do. It makes no sense and is the very definition of living beyond your means. Yet, lots of people have done and are doing it. Why? It can only be that they just don't know the difference. Money is money, right? Well, of course that's not right, but we all know people who just don't get it. The scary part is that those blissfully ignorant folks could tank the economy for all of us.


As Manhattan Goes...

So goes the nation, according to the New York Times, which tells us that census data shows for the first time in US history, more than half of American women are unmarried. They also helpfully illustrate that the writers of Sex and the City aren't any more talented than the rest of Hollywood--they just get their material from real life (emphasis added):
Emily Zuzik, a 32-year-old musician and model who lives in the East Village of Manhattan, said she was not surprised by the trend.


Ms. Zuzik has lived with a boyfriend twice, once in California where the couple registered as domestic partners to qualify for his health insurance plan. “I don’t plan to live with anyone else again until I am married,” she said, “and I may opt to keep a place of my own even then.”

Monday, January 15, 2007


A Good Old Feeling

I think it must be the cool moist air coming in through my open windows, but I am just feeling great this afternoon, like I'm at the beach or something. It sure doesn't feel like a dreary day in January when I have to go to work in the morning.


Fun Videos and Funky Weather

I found these gems while staying indoors with the blinds closed yesterday (this was the morning after a party, so you can guess why)

Doing an outside loop in a small plane (zero-g simulation) but someone forgot to warn one of the passengers!

Flying Stuart Little-style. This has to be in the top ten coolest things in the world:

And speaking of R/C aircraft ...well, just click:

I felt quite a bit better today, but my plans were scotched due to teh gf being sick, so I decided to open the windows, go outside* and enjoy the weather instead. Yes, in mid-January I am walking around outdoors in shorts and a t-shirt. Also, the neighborhood across Four Mile Run (once you get past the ugly apartments along the highway) is absolutely gorgeous and I am going to start keeping track of real estate over there. It's all 40s-era bungalows, most of which have nice-looking additions or in some cases teardown replacements. Unlike some of the painfully-chic older neighborhoods in the DC area, this one simply looks lived-in and loved. Now I love it too!

* No, I did not go outside through the windows.

Friday, January 12, 2007


Jimmy Carter, "Disaster"

A series of interviews Gerald Ford gave to his hometown newspaper has just been released. In one of them he has this to say about former president Carter:
"I think Jimmy Carter would be very close to Warren G. Harding. I feel very strongly that Jimmy Carter was a disaster, particularly domestically and economically. I have said more than once that he was certainly the poorest president in my lifetime."

But he qualified that in another interview a couple years later:
"He was a very decent, fine individual," Ford told the paper. "There were no major mistakes. There just weren't a lot of exciting results."

You have to wonder if he'd still think that today, with Carter's new Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, over which 14 advisors at his Carter Center resigned in protest over its sympathy for terrorism and shabby treatment of Israel. Maybe Carter wanted to finally deliver those exciting results.


"Are You Some Kind of Moron?"

Eugene Volokh links to this Cincinnati Enquirer story about former Democratic Congressional candidate and Iraq veteran Paul Hackett. Early in the morning of Nov. 19, three teenagers in a car "missed a curve" in the road and plowed through Hackett's fence, then returned to the road and continued on their way. Awakened by the racket, Hackett grabbed his AR-15 and investigated, then followed a trail of (presumably) leaking coolant and found both car and boys at a nearby house. Apparantly without actually brandishing his weapon, he ordered them out of the car and into a prone position, then called the police to report a citizen's arrest.

The comment thread spends a lot of time on whether the article is correct in referring to the AR-15 as an "assault rifle" (it's a semi-automatic carbine version of the M-16) and secondarily on whether Hackett exercised good judgement in pursuing the fence-breakers. I'm surprised, though, that none of the discussion addressed this paragraph in the Enquirer piece (emphasis added):
"He told the boys to 'Get the ---- out of the car and get on the ground.' ... He said he did not touch the vehicle with the rifle and maintained his distance. 'I knew they saw I was armed,' he said. He said he had done this about 200 times in Iraq, but this time there was not a translation problem," the Indian Hill police report said.

I wondered if there might be a PTSD angle, and this makes it sound as if there is. In my opinion, Hackett exercised poor judgement--if your family is threatened, the right course of action is to guard them, not abandon them and run off into the night--but it makes much more sense if you imagine him reacting the way he would have in Iraq.

There, his base would be well guarded and he would have both legal status and tactical freedom to run the bad guys down. Here his actions were reckless at best. As one commenter pointed out, he had no idea whether the occupants of the car were armed, high, etc. Faced with an angry armed man ordering them out of their car, the young men had more than enough justification to resist by force. Luckily for them and Mr. Hackett, they chose not to.

Which brings me to the title of the post. It reminds me of the episode of The Simpsons where Homer joins a gun club and proceeds to do all sorts of reckless things, including shooting his beer can open. Dumb hick Cletus then asks him "are you some kind of moron?" and Moe tears up Homer's membership card. I won't punch Paul Hackett's ticket, since he may well have woken up and reacted automatically as if he were back in Anbar. But if that is what happened, hopefully he'll get whatever help he needs.

Thursday, January 11, 2007


Ugly Betty and Small Aircraft

This afternoon I was pondering the idea of designing a single-seat airplane around a BMW 'R' motor. This is the classic 2-cylinder "boxer" motor that is to BMW motorcycles as the v-twin is to Harley-Davidsons. I figured the way to go would be to base it loosely on the BD-5, but with a modern carbon-fiber monocoque instead of the aluminum stressed-skin fuselage. I wondered how light it could be, keeping mind that an F1 race car's CF "tub" weighs under 200 lbs and is designed to stand up to a 200-mph meeting with the wall. Turns out the 1960s-vintage BD-5 weighed just under 400 lbs empty, so a CF version could probably come in around 300. Of course this is all academic, but it's fun to dream.

And, who knew America Ferrera had a new show? She's traded her trademark curves for braces and hipster-frame glasses in Ugly Betty. Sort of a SoCal version of Just Shoot Me, and not bad!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Evolution of Media Man
Ok, laughing at this is inside-the-beltway geeky, but still. HehTM


The AK or the Avada Kedavra?

I just made up the title of this post, but now I wonder if JK Rowling deliberately gave her killing curse the same initials as the most important automatic rifle in history. Bitter ponders the role of firearms in fantasy stories and concludes that the literary downside might outweigh the practical benefit for the gun-toting character.

It seems to be a common plot device in film fantasy to pretend things like guns don't exist, usually combined with treating them like something morally akin to WMD if they do turn up. Think of the episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer where after failing to defeat Buffy with androids or dark arts, Warren finally just shows up at the back gate and shoots her. This is the final rung in his slide down the ladder, IIRC coming after he murders his girlfriend (i.e. we're to see using a gun--even if it fails to kill the victim--as worse than some sort of 'garden-variety' murder)

Alternatively, firearms exist but are magically useless against magical people or creatures. In the Harry Potter books, this is carried out further to have the good guys suffer drastic casualties while still limiting themselves to nonlethal magical weapons. I think this all mostly comes under the heading of suspending disbelief in support of the plot, but of course there's a well known current of anti-militarism in western art and literature dating at least to the First World War.

The explanation could be simpler though: It just wouldn't be the same if, say, Lucy and Edmund stood around discussing kill zones and the relative range and effectiveness of catapults, trebuchets or the weight of stone projectiles an eagle could carry, as opposed to finding the key to bring Aslan back at the critical moment to defeat the White Queen. Not that you can't write a techno-thriller about ancient weapons (Micheal Crichton does this spectacularly in his novels Timeline and Eaters of The Dead/The 13th Warrior) but as the commenter on The BitchGirls says, good old-fashioned firepower would have a boring tendency to dominate fantastical confrontations.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007


My Cooking Sucks

Yeah I know, I didn't post all Christmas season. I got some nice stuff, but nothing really worth posting pics of. And I had an excellent and relaxing vacation up north, including a night out in Boston with Rachel and Steve. Against that, a couple of my local friends seem to have forgotten how to call back. And with that as a segue that will make vague sense only to me and one of those two, I'm also reading Dog Days, by former Wonkette Ana Marie Cox. Only a couple chapters in, but let's just say that the appearance of Washingtonienne had me laughing out loud and not in the way the author wanted. I'll reserve judgement until the end, but sofar it's threatening to make me put it down for all the same reasons I never wanted to get involved in that scene to begin with.

Anyway, the cooking. I took a steak out of the freezer yesterday with a vague plan to cook it on the Foreman grill with some broccoli on the side. Then today I got to thinking cheese sauce would be good on the broccoli. Google brought me a simple-looking recipe that called for butter, milk, flour, and mustard powder in addition to grated cheese.

Now, my whole point was to use up the cheddar that I haven't been eating, so I wasn't going to go out and buy grated cheese. This was just part of my downfall, with the others being that I only have unsifted whole wheat flour, no sifter, and--it turned out--no cheese grater. I still think I have one somewhere but by the time I realized I didn't know where it was, I needed something fast. Fortunately, there was something to hand: some shredded parmesan left over from last week. It worked--sort of. You start off by melting the butter and adding flour, then stirring in the milk. This is more or less how you make cream of wheat, and that's exactly what it looked and smelled like. After adding the cheese, it looked and smelled like parmesan cream of wheat. The taste ultimately wasn't terrible, but a far cry from the queso-like sauce I had been picturing. I think the problem was too much flour, but I put in exactly what the recipe called for. Finally, to add insult to injury the steak--something I'm normally pretty good at--was dry and mostly taste-free. That's disappointing after marinading it in BBQ sauce and frying with extra virgin olive oil. I guess it's back to the drawing board, or at least to marinading all day in the off-the-shelf lemon pepper stuff.

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