Friday, May 09, 2008

Time to move

This will be the last of my blog posts on blogspot.com. I've had the domain name, TheTownCrank.com, registered for some time now and I'm ready to throw the switch.

Over the next few weeks I'll be transferring the over 600 posts here on BlogSpot over to TheTownCrank.com, dribs and drabs at a time...comments, too, I hope. There doesn't seem to be any straightforward way of moving blog posts from here to there; so it means the old-fashioned bucket brigade -- one post at a time. Lets see, 600 posts at about two minutes per post...that means about 20 hours spread out over two or three weeks.

Once all the posts are transferred I'll leave a marker here for anyone that still stumbles upon this site. I hope to use TheTownCrank.com as part of a springboard to a new campaign for the Neenah City Council, as well as NeenahPolitics.com.

So, meet me over at TheTownCrank.com!

Monday, April 14, 2008

New More Nukes!

That's how one wag put it in a comment to this story from Scientific American. I heartily agree with him (emphasis in article mine):

U.S. Will Approve New Nuclear Reactors

British official says she's been informed the U.S. will approve at least three new nuclear power plants

By David Biello

One of the U.K.'s top nuclear officials said today that she was told the U.S. will okay plans to build the first nuclear power plants since the accident at Three Mile Island nearly three decades ago. Lady Barbara Thomas Judge, chair of the U.K. Atomic Energy Authority, said that the chair of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission informed her that the NRC will approve three applications for new nuclear reactors that it's currently considering.

"Dale Klein told me that those three nuclear applications will be approved," she told the State of the Planet conference at Columbia University today, the 29th anniversary of the accident at Three Mile Island in Middletown, Pa. (Subsequently, a reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the then Ukrainian Soviet Republic melted down in April 1986 in what would become the worst nuclear power accident in history, spreading radiation as far away as North America and leading to the evacuation and resettlement of more than 336,000 people).

"The politics is changing," she added, noting growing enthusiasm for nuclear power as the clean alternative to coal-burning plants. Even some environmentalists have begun to embrace nuclear power, because of its potential to reduce the greenhouse emissions that are blamed for global warming.

But critics question the safety of nuclear power, citing such concerns as the potential for catastrophic meltdowns, their potential vulnerability to terrorists, the lack of workable evacuation plans in the event of accidents as well as the problem of dealing with radioactive waste.

Among the pending applications: a plan to build two additional boiling-water reactors at the South Texas Project power plant near Houston. As many as 29 other reactors could be built, according to Bill Borchardt, director of the NRC's Office of New Reactors.

But neither the South Texas facility nor the applications for new reactors at Calvert Cliffs in Maryland and the Shearon Harris nuclear plant outside Raleigh, N.C., have completed the NRC's long design safety and feasibility evaluation, which could take years to complete. The commission does not expect to complete its review of the new reactors at the South Texas plant before 2011, according to NRC spokesman Scott Burnell.

"Once you build the power plants, it just keeps producing energy," Judge said, noting the potential benefits of electricity generation from nuclear fission. "It is part of what we have to do to deal with energy security and climate change."

Recent commentary: gas and ethanol

Reader Reaction Forum: Will gas prices cause you to curb summer travels?

(published 14-Apr-2008, Appleton Post-Crescent)

I hitchhike more, drive through yellow lights very fast, and I put the patron saint of increased gas mileage on the dash. Then I hear the E85 ads on the radio: "We're helping make a cleaner world for everyone." Oh, spare me! Without the subsidies, how many farmers do you think would grow corn for ethanol? How brilliant to subsidize corn for burning! Less food for everyone! You've noticed your grocery bills going up? The politicians natter on about helping the poor, while at the same time dishing out ethanol subsidies to get farmers to divert more of their crops to make ethanol because it's "better for the environment." Once it all goes to ethanol, the environment should be saved, right? Of course, we'll all die of starvation. But before that happens we'll re-subsidize corn for food ... but then ethanol prices will skyrocket ... then we can re-re-subsidize ethanol ...

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Saturday, April 12, 2008

Truth or Satire?


From Downsize DC, this message from one of their frequent newsletters:

Did Congress ban wireless internet networks last week?

According to John C. Dvorak of PC Magazine, it did. He goes into detail in his article, Onerous New Law to Phase Out Wi-Fi:

  • The bill, with the pretentious title Telecommunications Restructuring Act, passed with little or no debate.
  • The bill was bipartisan. Co-sponsors were from both parties.
  • The beneficiaries of the bill are large telecoms, who can afford to purchase the currently free, unlicensed spectrum, which will be auctioned off.
  • There is a "phase-out" transition period, which is why the bill slipped under the radar of major media and activist groups.
  • Harsh penalties are imposed, and the bill would apply not just to network users, but ham radio operators and microwave oven users. It is unclear whether this was intentional.
  • The bill was debated on CNBC, where one of the bill's sponsors clearly didn't know what he was talking about.
  • Only two members of Congress, Ron Paul and Ted Kennedy, opposed the bill.
  • Presidential candidates Obama, Clinton, and McCain didn't have the guts to show up to vote.

The good news is, it was an April Fool's joke. There were hints throughout the article. The bill numbers weren't in the proper format, and the procedures for passing the bill were unusual. But the article had all the hallmarks of a good April Fool's joke. A headline like "Scientists Declare Moon is Made of Green Cheese" is too stupid to be believed, but any story about how Congress will wreck or complicate our lives is all-too believable.

That's because members of Congress don't read or debate most of the bills they pass. For instance, last week the House passed 15 bills, but only two were actually debated. Congress also doesn't give the people a chance to provide their opinions before bills come to their final vote. Thousands of bills are introduced in Congress each year, and referred to a committee. Even activist organizations such as DownsizeDC.org can't keep track of every bill that moves out of committee for a vote.

But if bills, including amendments, were placed on a calendar and posted on the Internet for seven days before passage, the public would be able to object and pressure Congress when a bill spends too much, infringes on our liberties, or sacrifices our interests for those of Big Business. This is why DownsizeDC.org wrote the Read the Bills Act (RTBA).

The RTBA requires each member of Congress who plans to vote yes on a bill to have read it, or heard it read, before voting for it. It also requires that:

  • All bills must be published on the Internet at least 7 days before a vote
  • Congress must give public notice of the date when a vote will be held on that bill
  • Congress will not be able to waive these provisions

The Read the Bills Act requires sponsors in both the House and Senate. Please tell your own Rep. and Senators to introduce the RTBA. You can even refer to the April Fool's article above and tell them Congress wouldn't be the target of that kind of satire if the RTBA was passed. You can do so here.

Last week, the Senate passed on 40-page bill and the House passed 15 bills totaling 227 pages. You can learn about the bills below my signature at the blog version of this Dispatch, where we invite you to post comments or questions.

Thank you for being a DC Downsizer.

Sincerely,
James Wilson
Assistant to the President
DownsizeDC.org

D o w n s i z e r - D i s p a t c his the official email list of DownsizeDC.org, Inc. & Downsize DC Foundation


CONTRIBUTE to the Electronic Lobbyist project

http://www.downsizedc.org/ is sponsored by DownsizeDC.org, Inc. -- a non-profit educational organization promoting the ideas of individual liberty, personal responsibility, free markets, and small government.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Keystone Kops

The vast majority of people on either side of the manmade global warming argument haven't examined the arguments in any detail whatsoever; their conviction is based, really, on belief. They trust, they have faith that the people making the case for their side have done due diligence and present just the facts, ma'am.

People that provide counter-arguments to the theory of manmade global warming need to be far more careful than those that promote it. Otherwise it's far too easy to have one's argument shot to pieces just based on sloppiness.

Being one of those on the "con" side, it pains me when someone else points out that I've made a shaky assertion about global warming. It also hurts when I see an article for my side written by somebody with some scientific credentials turn out to have plenty of holes in it. And it's worse when I find the holes. It's still worse when the article is changed to reflect my suggestions but the changes make the whole thing laughable -- a Keystone Kops movie.

I brought to your attention the egregious math errors in an American Thinker article published on January 22nd. The article set out to demonstrate how Al Gore's claim that the sea level could rise by 20 feet by the end of the century due to manmade global warming was complete tosh. I certainly believe it is complete tosh, but it's better that the numbers be correct. I also brought it to the attention of the publisher and the author in a series of e-mails I detailed in my blog post.

Well, I went back to the American Thinker today just to see if anything's changed. It has! It's been corrected! But, alas!, it's worse than before

What I mean is, when I first saw the article, an editor's note said that the final conclusion of the article had dropped a decimal point from the original posting. Therefore, I concluded, the author must have said that Al Gore was off by a factor of 3000 times. The article, as I saw it, said 300 times with that little asterisk attached. (That number referred to the amount of heat predicted to be trapped in the earth's atmosphere by the end of the century... and amount woefully inadequate to melt enough ice at the poles to raise the sea levels by 20 feet.)

I provided the correct math to both the editor and the author: the number should actually be 30 times...two full orders of magnitude down from what I presumed was the original figure. Well, here's what I saw today in that American Thinker article:

There is a difference of 300* between these two figures. Even if I am wrong by an order of magnitude, there is still an enormous difference. This does NOT mean that ice caps have not melted in the distant past nor that ice-age glaciers have not grown to cover much of the northern hemisphere; it simply means that the time scales involved to move sufficient quantities of heat to effect such melting or freezing occur over what we scientists commonly call "geological" time scales, i.e. hundreds of thousands and millions of years.

"There is a difference of 30* between these two figures, by implication extending the time-horizon for sea-level rise from 100 to 3000 years at the earliest. This does NOT mean that ice caps have not melted in the distant past nor that ice-age glaciers have not grown to cover much of the northern hemisphere; it simply means that the time scales involved to move sufficient quantities of heat to effect such melting or freezing occur over what we scientists commonly call "geological" time scales, i.e. tens or hundreds of thousands of years.

You see correctly: two separate paragraphs at the end of the article saying just about the same thing except for the "difference": 300 vs. 30. The editor of the article must have given the revised paragraph to an underling and said, "Here, stick this in at the end of the article. We don't wanna look bad by publishing stupid math."

Gad! This does no good for my side.

[Update: I found a copy of the original text of the American Thinker article (ain't the Internet grand?). I only speculated that it said that Gore's figures were off by a factor of 3000. Nope: the original said "over ten orders of magnitude...10 billion" times. That was the stupendously wrong number that generated the asterisk, not 3000. - Ed.]

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Friday, April 04, 2008

The 2nd American Revolution



That's Carla Howell, chairman of the Small Government Committee.

It's beginning again in Massachusetts, the site of the beginning of the American Revolution. Remember the Boston Tea Party, the Boston Massacre, and Paul Revere's ride? The kind of people that threw off the shackles of the British in the 18th century are rising up again in the 21st.

In November, the people of Massachusetts will have a second opportunity to end the state income tax. In 2002 they nearly managed it: the vote then to end the state income tax was defeated by a startlingly small margin, 45% to 55%.

It was so startling that the usual gang of suspects have rallied to oppose this year's measure with a vengeance:

  • Massachusetts governor, Deval Patrick, called it "a dumb idea" and "foolish"
  • Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation President, Michael Widmer, said it would lead to "political chaos" and "rampant lawsuits", and that the state would be "the joke of the nation" [Maybe it's just me, but wouldn't you think that a "Taxpayers Foundation" would be in favor of reducing taxes? - Ed.]
  • The Committee for Our Communities – a collaboration of teachers and labor leaders – says it would decimate education
  • Greater Boston Labor Council President, Rich Rogers, said that it's an "insane idea"
  • Massachusetts Teachers Association President, Anne Wass, called it "a wacky, wrong-headed idea"
I don't know about you, but I'm not convinced by these protests.

Nine states currently have no personal income tax: Alaska, Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Washington and Wyoming. New Hampshire and Tennessee have an income tax, but only on interest and dividends. I'd say that Massachusetts governor Patrick has plenty of states he could contact to see how they do it.

The Committee for Small Government's web site contains more information and an appeal: they're looking to leverage the influence of the Internet by setting off a "money bomb" on April 15th to raise $100,000 to continue their effort to place the initiative on the ballot. There's a special web site called Tax Day MoneyBomb to assist in that effort.

For whatever reason, Massachusetts requires two rounds of signature gathering to enable any ballot initiative to make it onto the ballot. The first one, requiring 66,593 signatures, was accomplished after the group collected 100,000 "raw" signatures of which 76,084 were approved. Now they need to collect another 20,000 signatures. $100,000 donated by April 15th will go a long way towards helping them achieve that essential goal.

The question they ask on the Small Government web site is, "Why should you get involved? Why should you donate money so that Massachusetts workers can end their Income Tax?"

Do you remember California's Proposition 13 that put a lid on property tax increases? When it passed in the late 70s it spawned a host of similar referendums across the country. Ballot initiatives have since been passed and copied around the country to:
  • Impose term limits on legislators
  • Permit the medical use of marijuana
  • Restrict the use of eminent domain to take private property
  • Repeal affirmative action laws
  • Create a constitutional definition of marriage
You may not like all of the above examples. The point is that ballot initiatives have become a legitimate and powerful way for voters to express their dissatisfaction with the status quo. If Massachusetts voters approve the end of the state income tax, copycat initiatives will have a far better chance of getting on the ballot in your state.

Here's an interesting video produced by the Committee for Small Government explaining what the End the Income Tax ballot initiative is all about. The presenter is a man named Kamal Jain:



Make a donation by April 15th to help start the 2nd American Revolution!

Monday, March 31, 2008

The Earth Hour bust

I replied to a post on an Amazon "climate change forum" subtitled "What should we do to mitigate climate change?". Here's the original post:

Initial post: Mar 11, 2008 12:44 AM PDT
John Croft says:

Climate change is the biggest problem facing the world. March 29th is the time of "Earth Hour" where cities around the world are encouraged to draw attention to turning off lights for one hour. It began in Sydeny last year and 24 cities worldwide have officially signed on.

Does such changes reeally make a difference?

James Lovelock in Gaia's Revenge suggests that it is already too late to prevent a major disaster, and that by this time next century most of the tropics will be uninhabitable. He believes there is a real risk of the collapse of civilisaion.

What do you think? People talk about the need for mitigation and adaptation, but no one really talks about how are we going to help those wo through no fau;lt of their own are going to suffer most?

Please share your ideas here?

Regards

John

To which I replied:
Your post, in reply to an earlier post on Mar 14, 2008 6:13 PM PDT

Steven W. Erbach says:

Mr. Croft,

All right. I'm afraid my "ideas" are pretty conventional:

1) "Earth Hour" will be as effective at halting global warming as "World Jump Day" was in perturbing the orbit of the earth; as the "Gas Out" protests were in affecting gas prices; and as the Green Hanukkia campaign was in lowering world CO2 emissions.

2) Lets stop pussy-footing around about alternative energy and build another hundred nuclear power plants in the U. S. We've only got 102 plants now and we get 20% of our electricity from them. Windmills? To generate as much electricity as is currently generated by nuclear power we'd have to erect well over 30,000 3.25 megawatt, 40-story-tall windmills, with none of them down in river valleys or canyons or low spots. Nope, all the prime high-ground real estate in the U.S. would have to be purchased for this task...and we'd still get only 20% of the energy we produce now.

3) If you want to get serious about proving man's role in climate change, then lets pony up $100 billion to do it. We MUST find out the relative degree to which the climate is affected by anthropogenic causes before we go laying our hands on the bible of the Precautionary Principle and signing away our childrens' future to pay for attempts to change the climate back to what it's "supposed to be".

4) There's so much talk of the effects of higher temperatures with higher death rates. What puzzles the heck out of me -- since I'm from a state that has a pretty good winter -- is that the death rate of people exposed to cold is far greater than it is for those exposed to heat. I'd LIKE it to be warmer if it means fewer cold-related deaths!

5) "The biggest problem facing the world"? Hardly. One good war does more damage in human terms than a century of global warming. One degree Celsius in a *century*?! And that's going to lead to a "catastrophe"? Completely and utterly incredible.

That's a good starting list. Those were off the top of my head.

Steve Erbach
Neenah, WI
http://TheTownCrank.blogspot.com

So now come the results from around the world about how much energy was saved during "Earth Hour". This blog entry is from the HeraldSun.com.au web site:
Earth Hour crashes to Earth
Andrew Bolt
Sunday, March 30, 2008 at 11:01am

Credit the public with sense. Earth Hour, hysterically promoted by The Age, the Sydney Morning Herald, the ABC, SBS, Sky News and the federal and state governments, resulted in no significant fall in power usage.

Check the graphs from our National Electricity Market Management Company, tracking power use between 8pm and 9pm (a period in which demand always plummets):

Here is the graph for Victoria:

image

Nothing much there that I can see. By way of comparison, here’s the graph from the day before:

image

NSW may have had a tiny cut in demand just after 8pm, but in fact ended up the night using more power than the day before:

image

As with the graphs, so with the crowds:

More than 1000 people braved the chill and the rain to see Premier John Brumby and Lord Mayor John So lead the countdown to 8pm… At the top of the Rialto, a small crowd had a sense of anticlimax when there was no widespread blackout at 8pm. In fact, across the CBD rows of illuminated office windows, with little sign of beavering workers behind them, showed not everyone had read the memo.

The organisers will say never mind, this was about raising awareness (although not of raising awareness of the facts). But here’s the awareness it should raise: how difficult it is to get even a tiny cut in just electricity use for one lousy hour, in a country responsible for just 1.5 per cent of the world’s emissions.

And then think what the Rudd Government is promising: a 60 per cent cut in all emissions, all year. And it’s to be matched by every country around the world.

Meanwhile, the world has not warmed since 1998. Indeed, the oceans and atmosphere have cooled over the past couple.


There were 236 comments when I read the article. One Aussie commentator is a man after my own heart:

Well I did my bit.

Every light in the house was turned on, the stereo was on, the TV was on, two computers were turned on - I even turned on all lights in the garage and outside the house.

After my beacon of sanity was shining for all to see, the family and I left my humble, well lit home and hopped into the 4WD to drive around Melbourne for the entire hour.

While driving around, we counted the houses on my block that had their lights turned on (admittedly an informal, unscientific count) and we plan on doing the same next Saturday night at 8pm to compare. We also took special note of any business illuminated with their lights shining, and agreed to make efforts to use their products whenever we can.

Before heading home, we drove down Chapel Street and had a bit of a chuckle at the candlelight vigils taking place at some (note: not the majority) of the trendy bars and coffee shops in their efforts to pose and pat themselves on the back. I only wish I had taken a picture of the gigantic stretch Hummer limousine parked right there outside of one of these bars, fully equipped with plasma screens, neon lights and the works.

One can only imagine the invitations sent out for this bucks night: “Show the world that you care - arrive at the Earth Hour festivities in style - in a Hummer!”

Myth Hour did not disappoint.


Attaboy!

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Thursday, March 06, 2008

An excellent spoof of TV political reporting


Diebold Accidentally Leaks Results Of 2008 Election Early

Friday, February 22, 2008

No more poison fuel!

As you may have heard, the Aegis-class USS Lake Erie fired one missile at the "dying spy satellite" and scored a direct hit. That is pretty sharp gun-slinging. The squawking from the Chinese and the Russians only underscores how much of an achievement it was. I suppose that the Chinese have more cause to be chagrined as they already destroyed a satellite much higher up last year.

I was a bit bemused by the public statement of the spokesman for an outfit called the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance:

The factual reality of using deployed missile defenses to destroy a falling satellite or a ballistic missile or even a meteor from space that would risk human life is an achievement for mankind. Missile Defense will continue to become more and more universal throughout the world and it will become more reliable and effective, so as to one day in the near future, we as a world can eliminate and mitigate risk from any and all harmful objects coming from space that would threaten mankind.

Our missile defense capability would, indeed, have to improve dramatically for us to "eliminate and mitigate risk from any and all harmful objects". For example, meteors are generally a bit on the small side; certainly not bus-sized. Even if they are bus-sized, they're awfully hard to spot a long way off.

Those near-earth asteroids that have caused a stir by coming "close" to earth have rarely passed within the orbital distance of the moon. There's currently only one, 99942 Apophis, that is of significant size with even a marginal chance of striking the earth. This baby is about 250 meters across and weighs about 2.1 x 1010 kilograms. [Ed. - Since The Town Crank is determined to be metrically and avoirdupois-ally correct, that's about 820 feet and 46 billion pounds, or about 23 million tons.]

What does that mean in terms of destructive power if it ever hit the earth? Calculating the straight kinetic energy using a velocity of 30.7 kilometers per second (69,000 mph), we get:

½ x 2.1x1010 kilograms x (30,700 meters per second)2
= 9.9 x 1018 Joules

The killer is that squared velocity term.

That number of Joules translates to 2,360 million tons of TNT...or in nuclear weapons parlance, 2,360 megatons. That's if the full orbital speed of the asteroid was brought to bear. According to the Wikepedia site, NASA has estimated a lower figure based on the fact that Apophis is orbiting in more or less the same direction as the earth is. Thus, any impact would be a glancing blow or a strike from behind. Still, the speed at impact would be 12.6 kilometers per second (28,000 mph). That's still almost 400 megatons of TNT if the full weight of the asteroid makes it to earth at that speed.

For comparison, the meteor that dug out the 1200 meter wide (3900 feet) Baringer crater in Arizona has been estimated at 3-10 megatons.

Don't you just love huge numbers? By the way, the calculations for this post were assisted by the excellent unit converter available at MegaConverter.com.

Anyway, Apophis looks like it's going to pass within about 36,000 miles of earth in 2029. That's spittin' distance!

The question remains, no matter how accurate an SM-3 missile fired from an Aegis-class vessel can be, what's going to push aside a 23 million ton mass far enough to miss the earth? 23 million tons is about 2400 times the displacement of the USS Lake Erie itself...and the Lake Erie's top speed, while classified, is on the order of 32.5 knots or 37 mph. If the USS Lake Erie were thrown at the ground at 37 mph (equivalent to a drop of around 60 feet [correction: 47 feet – Ed.]), the energy released would be about 0.29 tons of TNT and it would have several large dents in it.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Poison fuel

You've heard about the U.S. spy satellite that's headed towards the ground. As Edison Carter used to say in "Max Headroom", what I wanna know is this: why is it that news stories these days have all got to have a scary health threat angle? Here's what I'm talking about:

One shot. That's all the military hopes it will take to bring down a dying, out-of-control, school bus-sized U.S. spy satellite loaded with toxic fuel and on a collision course with Earth.

As if a school bus-sized satellite travelling at 17,000 miles an hour landing on your house isn't enough of a worry!
Military and administration officials said the satellite is carrying 1,000 pounds of hydrazine, a fuel that could injure or even kill people who are near it when it hits the ground.

Not to mention the school bus-sized body of the satellite that could injure or even seriously kill people who are near it when it hits the ground! Sheesh! They make it sound like the satellite is just going to drop off the back of a truck and that the real threat is the projected reduction in average life expectancy of the neighbors in the 10 square mile vicinity of the crash.
Officials compared the effects of hydrazine fuel to chlorine or ammonia. "It affects your tissues and your lungs - it has the burning sensation," Cartwright said. "If you stay very close to it and inhale a lot of it, it could in fact be deadly."

Holy cow! Are you kidding??!! Especially if it lands right on top of your head!!! Then it might really hurt you!!!!
Experts on military satellites agreed that hydrazine could pose a serious health hazard, although even Cartwright said it probably would be spread over an area the size of only two football fields if it hit the Earth.

My god! It doesn't quit! No mention of the crater that will form when the satellite hits the ground, or the spectacular fireball, or efforts to alert the people in the satellite's projected crash zone. It's the bleeping toxic fuel and the "serious health hazard"!

Do the public relations people at the newspapers or TV stations really believe that we have become so longevity-conscious and so public health-care cost-conscious that the little matter of a 5,015 pound (2,275 kilograms; have to be metrically and avoirdupois-ally correct here at The Town Crank!) satellite traveling at 17,000 mph arriving at ground zero with a kinetic energy of approximately 66 GigaJoules of energy is insignificant? Like, that's as much energy as 31,400 pounds of TNT (source: MegaConverter2)! Isn't that, like, bad for your health?

Friday, February 15, 2008

Time to vote

(Letter to the editor, published 17-Feb-2008, Appleton Post-Crescent)

Presidential primaries are the only elections where you've really got a choice. Last fall, with 16 candidates, I knew that the candidate I preferred was someone I could vote for without holding my nose.

When my guy was asked a question during the TV debates, he answered it immediately and then went on to explain his answer. But highly trained TV interviewers pounce on a "Yes" or "No" answer. They had to have been pleased to be able to interrupt the explanation -- he gave his answer, didn't he? -- so that one of the "star" candidates could throw in his two cents. When thrown into the piranha tank of a televised debate, it's best to dissemble, hedge, demur, equivocate, back-and-fill, joke, divert, and dance rather than answer a question forthrightly.

TV producers aren't interested in substance. Their principal driving motivation is to look like king-makers, to be the ones that were most accurate in forecasting the winner. That translates into ratings. Nothing else matters to them.

That's the political reality: a stupefying concentration of attention on winning. What were campaigns like before thousands of pundits tried to make their prognostications heard above the din? If all the primaries were held on a single day, there'd be no drama, no fake pathos, no nail-biting, no tension. What self-respecting TV executive wants that?

It's a bit disheartening, though, to see the field melt away to five or six candidates before primary day. It looks like they held an election and nobody came.

Even though my guy hasn't won many delegates, he stayed in. I can still vote for someone whose record doesn't disguise his positions, who speaks plainly, doesn't pander, and has the least number of skeletons in his closet. I hope you vote for him, too: Ron Paul.

Steve Erbach
Neenah

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Fuzzy math skewered!

"Dedicated to Peacefully Disarming Fuzzy Math", the web site called Weapons of Math Destruction Comics was founded in 2006. The site posts a new anti-Fuzzy-Math comic every week. Just the thing for reminding us that professional educators (ahem!) are only in business because of huge public subsidies for compulsory matriculation.

Here's the latest (6-Feb-2008) comic:

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Monday, February 04, 2008

Not quite like the Battle of Stirling Bridge

Several Israeli soldiers were suspended for being politically incorrect in the presence of Palestinian shepherds. The form their incorrectness took was mooning. The incorrectness was decried by an Arab-Israeli member of the Israeli parliament, Ahmed Tibi:"The soldiers frustrated with the failure of the Lebanon war could finally make a victory sign by showing their posteriors to unarmed Palestinians."

Somehow this doesn't move me. Perhaps I'm anti-Arab. My first thought, however, was that soldiers are trained to kill their enemies. Palestinians haven't exactly been friendly to the Israelis over the decades. Mooning seems like a quite non-violent way of showing disapprobation.

But now, I suppose, the Israeli army is reduced to performing cop-on-the-beat type functions and it just isn't nice to show any sign of disrespect.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

It's coming, I'm telling you

This may seem like a joke – and the Smoking Gun article claims that it'll be "dead on arrival" – but you're going to see more and more of these attempts to control how we eat:

Mississippi Pols Seek To Ban Fats

New bill would make it illegal for restaurants to serve the obese

FEBRUARY 1--Mississippi legislators this week introduced a bill that would make it illegal for state-licensed restaurants to serve obese patrons. Bill No. 282, a copy of which you'll find below, is the brainchild of three members of the state's House of Representatives, Republicans W. T. Mayhall, Jr. and John Read, and Democrat Bobby Shows. The bill, which is likely dead on arrival, proposes that the state's Department of Health establish weight criteria after consultation with Mississippi's Council on Obesity. It does not detail what penalties an eatery would face if its grub was served to someone with an excessive body mass index.

The bill (a copy is available at The Smoking Gun) directs the state health department to draw up "criteria for determining whether a person is obese", and the affected restaurants will be required to use these yet-to-be-established criteria in refusing to serve those it is forbidden to serve.

I fantasized about those criteria. Might there be face-saving loopholes for a fat guy like me that unwittingly walks into one of those Mississippi restaurants to purchase a meal? I mean, might I be permitted to have some celery sticks so that, to the other diners, it looks like I actually ate before packing up and leaving? Not that I'd leave a tip...

Will there be some sort of sliding caloric scale for what may be served to the marginally or somewhat obese? Might a slice of cheesecake be allowed to someone with a body mass index that's only 10% over the state norm?

Do you think that the proprietor or the waitress will brandish one of those pinchy things that are used to determine BMI and use it on everyone they suspect might be obese?

If you're one of those who think that these sorts of regulations are really for my own good, then I must part ways with you, dear reader. If you understand what I mean, no explanation is needed. If you don't understand, no explanation is possible.

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Another twist to Universal Health Care

This story today got me to thinking about an aspect of the imminent Universal Health Care I hadn't considered before:

Clinton health plan may mean tapping pay

By CHARLES BABINGTON, Associated Press Writer Sun Feb 3, 11:40 AM ET

WASHINGTON - Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton said Sunday she might be willing to garnish the wages of workers who refuse to buy health insurance to achieve coverage for all Americans.

The New York senator has criticized presidential rival Barack Obama for pushing a health plan that would not require universal coverage. Clinton has not always specified the enforcement measures she would embrace, but when pressed on ABC's "This Week," she said: "I think there are a number of mechanisms" that are possible, including "going after people's wages, automatic enrollment."

Clinton said such measures would apply only to workers who can afford health coverage but refuse to buy it, which puts undue pressure on hospitals and emergency rooms. With her proposals for subsidies, she said, "it will be affordable for everyone."

The true, compulsory nature of UHC is revealed in this quote from Mrs. Clinton. That is, it could very well be that UHC insurance will be yet another payroll deduction like Medicare and Social Security. That is, if you don't pay the UHC premiums you'll be subject to the full weight and force of the federal government's compliance mechanisms.

But there's a saving grace, thank goodness! Lucky for us that the federal government considers our individual feelings and sensibilities so thoroughly. We won't have to sweat paying the UHC premiums because they'll be automatically deducted from our paychecks! Whew! I was worried there for a minute!

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Thursday, January 31, 2008

Will we be drowned?

In "An Inconvenient Truth", Al Gore – Nobel laureate, Oscar winner, and erstwhile Vice President – made a very scary prediction: the world-wide sea level would rise a full 20 feet by the end of this century due to the effects of anthropogenic global warming in melting the polar ice caps. I don't believe this for a minute. There have been several published debunkings of this notion, and a ruling by a judge in England that required "government guidance notes" to accompany the showing of the film in British secondary schools (the Town Crank blog post here has the details).

But I'm always on the lookout for more ammunition to fire at this preposterous sort of scare talk. A fellow by the name of Jerome Schmitt made the effort to determine just how much heat would be required to melt enough ice at the poles to cause such a sea level rise. His calculations can be found at The American Thinker.

He determined:

  • How much ice would have to be melted (I won't give the figure here because of what follows)
  • How much air there is in the atmosphere: approx. 5 x 1018 kilograms
  • How much heat from the sun would have to be trapped by global warming to heat that mass of air 5° Celsius – the amount predicted by many global warming scenarios: approx. 2.5 x 1019 kiloJoules
  • How much heat would be needed to melt enough ice to raise the sea level by 20 feet: approx. 7.4 x 1021 kiloJoules
All of the numbers and calculations can be found in the American Thinker article. Mr. Schmitt concludes, using simple physics and nothing more complicated than multiplication and division, that the amount of heat that will raise the temperature of the atmosphere an average of another 5° Celsius in the coming century would only be 1/300th the amount necessary to melt enough ice to cause the catastrophic sea level rise that Mr. Gore has promised us.

That is, 7.4 x 1021 kiloJoules is almost 300 times greater than 2.5 x 1019 kiloJoules. Which means that the amount of heat needed to raise the temperature of the entire earth's atmosphere an average of another 5° Celsius is woefully inadequate to melt enough ice to cause the biggest flood since Noah.

If you read the article, however, you may be struck – as I was – by two statements at the end. First, the author hedges his bets:
Even if I am wrong by an order of magnitude, there is still an enormous difference.
Also there's an asterisked note to that 300 times figure:
*Editor's note: a transposed decimal point led to an incorrect multiple used here when this article was first published. The energy required is nevertheless hundreds of times greater than evidently assumed by Al Gore.
When I read the article the day it was published (January 22nd) it had already been hastily edited because of some faulty math. Apparently, judging by the language in the note ("nevertheless hundreds of times greater"), the figure was very likely 3,000 in the original article. Therefore, as is my wont, I cast a jaundiced eye over all the figures. I've found far too many math errors in publications of every type over the years to trust a long set of calculations, even if they lead to a conclusion with which I'm entirely in agreement.

I ran into trouble right in the middle of the article. Mr. Schmitt calculates that the surface area of the earth covered by water is about 360 trillion (3.6 x 1014) square meters and that a 20-foot rise in sea level is about the same as 6 meters. So far, so good. Therefore the "Volume of water necessary to raise sea level 20 feet" would simply be 6 meters times that 360 trillion figure, or about 2.2 quadrillion cubic meters. However, this is what was in the article I read on the morning of the 22nd of January:
Volume of water necessary to raise sea-level 20-feet: approx. 6 x 1024 cubic meters
or 6 trillion trillion (that is, 6 septillion) cubic meters – 2.7 billion times too much. 6 septillion cubic meters is about 5500 times the volume of our entire planet! About 7½ times the volume of the planet Saturn.

He followed this with the "Volume of ice that needs to melt to raise the sea level 20 feet", and that number is the nearly correct figure of 22 quadrillion cubic meters. I say "nearly correct" since an extra digit got added to the correct figure of 2.2 quadrillion. In other words, that figure is off by a factor of 10 times. Not nearly as bad as being off by 2.7 billion times, but it ain't chump change.

I wrote to the editor of The American Thinker detailing my findings. About an hour-and-a-half later, the editor e-mailed me back asking whether I was referring to the correction that had already been made in the article. I wrote back saying, no, I read the version of the article that already contained the asterisked comment and correction. Therefore two additional errors remained after the first hum-dinger was taken care of.

I visited The American Thinker site a little later and saw that the 6 septillion error had, indeed, been altered ... but it still wasn't correct. The number had been changed to 22 quadrillion, the same number as the existing incorrect figure that was off by a factor of 10. Thus there were two numbers cheek-by-jowl that were both off by that same factor.

So I wrote another friendly missive (my third) to the AT editor telling him that everything was almost copacetic. Those two 22 quadrillion cubic meter figures just needed to be divided by 10 and they'd be set. The editor wrote to say that he'd run it by the author, Mr. Schmitt first.

A day later the two numbers hadn't yet been corrected. So I decided to go over the numbers once again and check the sources for the numbers. I then wrote a fourth e-mail to the AT editor:
Dear Sir,

I decided to look up all the values used in Mr. Schmitt's article, and then follow the calculations all the way to the end. The only remaining error is the repeated error of the volume of water/ice necessary to raise the seal level by 20 feet. The number should be 2.2 quadrillion cubic meters, not 22 quadrillion as in the article.

What this means is that Mr. Schmitt is prophetic at the end of his article where he says:
There is a difference of 300 between these two figures. Even if I am wrong by an order of magnitude, there is still an enormous difference.

I say "prophetic" due to his final comparison of the "difference" between the heat needed to raise the temperature of the atmosphere 5 degrees Celsius (~25 quintillion kiloJoules) and the heat necessary to melt ice to achieve 20-foot seal level rise (~7.4 sextillion kiloJoules). Rather than "difference", he should have said "ratio". The ratio between the two is, indeed, about 300-to-1. However, because of the mistake in the volume of ice needed to raise the sea level by 20 feet, the ratio should be 30-to-1.

Usually an error of a full order of magnitude would be, shall we say, disquieting. The error remains.

Sincerely
As I said, that was my fourth message to the American Thinker editor. I then found the e-mail address of the author who happens to be the principal of NanoEngineering Corporation. I recapped the errors I'd found, a total of four errors. I gently admonished that if one is trying to debunk the absurd claims of others using numbers to back up one's debunking, it's best to make sure they debunk accurately. I couldn't imagine what the American Thinker would say if they had to change the final big important number a second time, taking it down from 3,000 to 300 to 30.

Mr Schmitt courteously replied that he was going to check the numbers one more time and would get back to me. I also heard one final time from the editor saying that they were double-checking, too. That was four days ago.

Today I heard from Mr. Schmitt in a very engaging e-mail:
Dear Mr. Erbach:

You are right. Here's what happened.

In a fit of pique over listening to a Global Warming alarmist announcing on PBS that Miami-Dade county will be under water in 20 years unless the right Democrat is elected president, I dashed off the calculation and article. I asked that it be proofread. The Editor was very happy with the essay and assumed I had completed the calculation correctly. He persuaded me to publish it immediately. To my horror and embarrassment, we were then alerted to a major mistake I had made in transposing data from a website. I probably would have caught this myself if I had waited a day and proofread it myself. This required a very hurried edit the day of publication, complicated by the Editor's lack of internet access that day. Hurried phone calls and recalculations resulted in the text as it is, still containing the error you identified.

For this reason, I am reluctant to ask for another re-edit. Will you indulge me in this, particularly since the furor of the first mistake has died down? As it is, I think I have already torpedoed my credibility with the Editor, although he acknowledges some responsibility for pushing for immediate posting.

Thanks for your consideration.

Sincerely,

-Jerry Schmitt

I can't say as either Mr. Schmitt or American Thinker came off looking too well out of all this. Having to make a second correction to the final figure would, apparently, wake up the sleeping dogs rather than letting them lie.

I haven't asked for Mr. Schmitt's permission to publish his e-mail, so I guess I'm letting myself in for recriminations of some sort. But I thought that laying out the situation to the American Thinker people as he did to me would demonstrate a decent respect for the truth. What's the worst that could happen? AT would pull the article completely. That's it. Perhaps publish a small notice saying that there were too many problems in the article. Mr. Schmitt would have to be embarrassed for a while, but it might cause him to not dash off in a fit of pique the next time.

As far as my own exposure in this affair, I rather doubt that Mr. Schmitt or the editor of The American Thinker will ever see this blog posting. You're reading the world's most active least-read blog. I think I'm safe. But, hey! I like the numbers to jibe, OK?

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Saturday, December 29, 2007

Paul blackballed?

I heard both from the local Fox Valley Ron Paul Meetup group and from Downsize DC that Ron Paul was to be excluded from the January 6th Republican debates:

According to the New Hampshire State Republican Party and an Associated Press report, Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul will be excluded from an upcoming forum of Republican candidates to be broadcast by Fox News on January 6, 2008.

So, using the handy link provided to me by Downsize DC, I wrote to Mr. Chris Wallace, the moderator of the debate:

Dear Mr. Wallace,

I tried to locate details of the upcoming Republican roundtable discussion on Fox News to be broadcast on January 6th, but I was unsuccessful. All I've heard is what I've been told by the Downsize DC organization. And what I've heard is disturbing.

You may certainly invite anyone you wish to participate in the discussion. You may, indeed, have logic on your side; that is, the logic of the polls, though a couple of your invitees have poll numbers no stronger than Dr. Paul whom you've elected not to invite.

I would ask you to consider two things. One is the victory of Jesse Ventura in the Minnesota gubernatorial race several years ago. Insurgent, non-centralized campaigns are certainly not dead. Ventura won against a field of very uninspiring major party candidates. Keep that in mind as you try to figure out who is the least objectionalble candidate for the Republican nomination.

The second is the very real possibility that Dr. Paul may finish third in Iowa, ahead of three of your invitees. It might seem a bit odd to your viewers to exclude someone who succeeded so improbably, against conventional wisdom, against the odds, and by ignoring the experts.

Please reconsider your decision to exclude Dr. Paul from the January 6th discussion. It might be better for Fox if you did.

Sincerely,

Steve Erbach
Neenah, WI


I'm not a fan of Fox News, and certainly not a fan of the provocative and pusillanimous things they've said about Dr. Paul. The link to Downsize DC is above. Write your own letter. It's fun, and it might just be effective.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Update - haven't we had enough of this?

More dialog on the 10-year-old girl arrested for using a steak knife on her lunch. I've corresponded with a group of friends on this topic and here's what's been said recently:

December 19

Steve,

100 incidents is a lot to research and a lot to read. But is the number significant? 100 by itself means little. You'd have to know if this represents 1%, 10%, or 90% of the times a student was caught on campus with a 'weapon' before you could say 100 is meaningful.

YMCA, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, I would think , being private organizations, would not be under the same proscriptions as a public entity, and could more easily disregard an absolute policy. So that comparison may not be fair.

That it 'seems' to happen more in the schools can be explained by the lack of discretion that those in authority may perceive that they have. IOW, their hands may be tied. For some that is a frustration. For others a relief.

Rocky
December 19

Rocky,

» IOW, their hands may be tied. For some that is a frustration. For others a relief. «

Ooooo! Good one! You have a future in the punditocracy, methinks.

As to the research, the 100 incidents chronicled on my site represent a fraction (not sure of the size of the fraction) of the total stories during that time. I focused on stories involving zero tolerance in the schools, but I didn't see every one. I only saw those that made national news, so there is an additional filter in place to the one you mention; i.e., the actual number of incidents vs. the number that were reported in the news.

One could just as well apply the same filter to reports of DEA agents breaking down the wrong door or incidents of racially motivated police harassment. What does it mean when those incidents are reported in the news? Sometimes it's enough to set off firings, police dept. investigations, protests, etc. Are those sorts of reactions justified or appropriate based on the total number of incidents? It's immaterial, really; the outcry and the reaction is still there, appropriate or not.

As far as zero tolerance policies go, the more reports there are of such things the better, as far as I'm concerned. Those reports may lead to a greater acceptance of school choice, vouchers, alternative schools, etc.

Steve Erbach
December 19

Dear Steve,

While I share certain sympathies with your position on this matter, lemme ask you this: Had this girl stabbed another girl with that "weapon", would you still maintain your position? Or, would you have asked "where were the responsible adults in this situation?" That's a rhetorical question.

Re: "I keep finding and reacting to these things"...yep! "Reacting" is the key reason that these laws, regulations and law enforcement is involved. Given the climate of the times (Columbine and it's clones), most responsible people wouldn't have it any other way.

You must have led a sheltered life...I entered a public high school almost fifty years ago (in rural Sauk County, Wisconsin): Here are merely some of the reasons you could be (and were) arrested for:

- Possession of any firearm, any knife with a blade greater than four inches (including steak knives), razor blades, slingshots, zip guns, clubs, ice picks, brass knuckles, steel-toed boots, fireworks, ammunition, etc.

- Possession of drugs, whether legally-prescribed or illegal, condoms, any tobacco product, liquor, pornography (including Playboy magazine), stolen property (including overdue library books), suggestive lingerie, etc.

-Truancy, assault (including verbal), battery, inappropriate sexual contact, etc.

You could be suspended or even expelled for:

- Fighting, wearing jeans or leather jackets, wearing suggestive clothing (girls were not allowed to wear pants of any kind...except in winter), wearing shorts, drunkenness or inappropriate / disruptive behavior (including cursing), smoking, pregnancy and a whole host of other offenses.

Most of these same rules are applied today here in Moron...er, Monroe County, Florida where I live. What part of "zero tolerance" don't you understand?

Dickford Cohn
December 26

Dickford,

Sorry about not replying earlier on this one. Came down with a cold on the 20th, was out of town from the 21st to the 23rd, then Christmas and all. Not much time spent at the confuser.

The "responsible adult" thing was aimed directly at the school personnel that called the cops and the cops themselves who hauled this girl downtown. As you know, when laws are broken the cops have some latitude. When you're stopped for speeding there's a whole range of things that can happen: verbal warning, written warning, ticket, or haul your ass downtown.

What is unbelievable in this situation is that the ONLY response possible was that this girl had to be arrested and taken from the school. My ire isn't directed at the rules banning knives and guns, fer cry yi! It's the completely pig-headed and blundering policy to follow through with the inappropriate response.

Asking what my "reaction" would have been if that girl had stabbed someone is silly. Of course I would have been horrified. But the fact that the rule against knives did not, in fact, prevent a knife from physically being brought into the school in a paper sack illustrates the only role that law enforcement has in these situations: cleaning up the mess (if there is one). The teachers and administrators could tell immediately that this girl wasn't going to carve anybody up. So the follow-through involving the arrest of this girl served what purpose? To make everyone feel good about the rules?

I don't object to the rules. No knives, fine. No guns, fine. But laws are written with intent in mind, too. Why treat a 10-year-old who completely unwittingly and innocently brings a knife to school with her lunch the same as someone who brandishes that knife in a threatening manner? I object to the completely our-hands-are-tied reactions.

Steve Erbach
December 26

Steve,

Sorry to hear about your cold...no apologies are necessary for the rest.

RE: When laws are broken the cops have some latitude.

Normally, you'd be right...but not when a "zero tolerance" policy is in effect. Apparently, that policy is what you don't understand. Using your very own "stopped for speeding" example...let me elucidate:

Where I currently live, the cops enforce a zero tolerance policy with regard to speeds in school and construction zones. Go 16mph in a 15mph school zone...you WILL be stopped. Absent any other charges...or aggravation, your fine and costs will exceed $600...no exceptions...for exceeding the limit by one mile-per-hour.

I am not disagreeing one whit with your disgust over this whole situation. I am merely pointing out that this is where OUR society IS at this point...and that all of the "authorities" involved did precisely what WE REQUIRE them to do. Apparently, we do not trust any "latitude" that they may have employed.

This is akin to "mandatory sentencing guidelines"...which remove ANY "judgement" from judges.

Dickford Cohn

December 26

Dickford,

Well, so, like, um ... you're agreeing with me by feigning disagreement and being tiresome?

Oh, I get it! You're using the old cross-examination trick of feigning disagreement and being tiresome to wear down the witness! Ho, ho! You have to get up pretty early in the morning to pull the hairy covering of a cloneable mammal over MY aging peepers, old son!

Steve Erbach

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Recent commentary: free exercise of religion

Should nativity scenes be displayed on government property during the Christmas season?

(published 24-Dec-2007, Appleton Post-Crescent)

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof". The key phrase is "free exercise". Nothing prohibits, say, Skokie, IL, from erecting a huge menorah for Hanukkah. How lawyers figure that city governments shouldn't have "free exercise" is beyond me. The Green Bay nativity scene kerfuffle escalated when a Wiccan display was vandalized. (Personally I liked the "Flying Spaghetti Monster" idea, but that's just me.) Now the mayor wants only "legitimate" religions to erect displays. There's a Constitutional issue for you: How do you define a "legitimate" religion? Then came the standard over-reaction. Council VP, Chris Wery, has changed his mind: "I thought this would encourage our community to share good will this holiday season, and, as we've seen, it's done the opposite." No, it hasn't. All it shows is that people are sensitive about religion and that some people have bad manners.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Haven't we had enough of this?

I mean, enough of arresting 10-year-olds in public schools? This young girl brought leftover steak for lunch and a steak knife. She began to eat her lunch using the knife properly and ... I can't go on. Here's the story:

Knife At Lunch Gets 10-Year-Old Girl Arrested At School

OCALA, FL -- A 10-year old Ocala girl brought her lunch to school and a small kitchen knife to cut it. She now faces a felony charge after being arrested. The school and the sheriff's office disagree on the reason for the arrest.

School officials say the 5th grader was brown-bagging it. She brought a piece of steak for her lunch, but she also brought a steak knife. That's when deputies were called.

It happened in the cafeteria at Sunrise Elementary School. The 10-year-old used the knife to cut the meat.

"She did not use it inappropriately. She did not threaten anyone with it. She didn't pull it out and brandish it. Nothing of that nature," explained Marion County School Spokesman Kevin Christian.

But a couple of teachers took the utensil and called the sheriff. When deputies arrived, they were unable to get the child's parents on the phone, so they arrested her and took her to the county's juvenile assessment center.

"And we didn't handcuff her or treat her like a criminal. But, we took her to the assessment center to be assessed," said Capt. James Pogue, Marion County Sheriff's Office.

School officials said it doesn't matter what the knife was being used for. They said they had no choice.

"Anytime there's a weapon on campus, yes, we have to report it and we aggressively report it because we don't want to take any chances, regardless," Christian said.

But the sheriff's office said the extreme measures in what some may say was a harmless incident had to do with school policy, not theirs.

"But once we're notified, we have to take some type of action," Pogue explained.

The student now faces a felony charge for the possession of a weapon on school property and the principal suspended her for ten days. The parents of the girl could not be reached for comment.

The sheriff's office has turned the case over to the State Attorney's Office.

She didn't use it inappropriately, but when the school couldn't reach her parents, the girl was arrested. "[W]e took her to the assessment center to be assessed," said the eloquent sheriff. Will they assess the damage done to the reputation of the school for this insane response? Do the teachers who called the sheriff feel proud that they averted a possible killing spree?

In any situation involving law breaking there is an element of judgment. Does anyone really believe that the teachers would have been disciplined (they can't be fired; they're union, you know) if they hadn't called the sheriff? If they'd just given the girl a good talking to? Anyone? Would the school system have tottered if they'd simply sat the girl down in one of the 17 counseling offices in the school (there are at least that many in any modern public school) and just asked her for her side of the story?

Bah! No Child Left Behind, indeed.

Update:

A friend of mine in San Diego replied to this:
Steve:

Right issue. Wrong target. We know you've got it in for the public school system. But this is not a problem unique to the public school system. In fact, given a bit broader view, it is really a problem of employment in the public sector, and has been with us since the creation of civil service (maybe longer).

How many times does this NOT happen. IOW, if you knew that there were 42,000 incidents last year like this which were handled as you think they should be, without the intervention of the police or some other draconian reaction by the school, what would you think, then? You're angst implies that this incident represents the way it's always done, which, if true, I would agree is boneheaded. No one thinks that the blind application of a policy this way is the right thing to do. But I question whether this truly represents SOP. Any incident handled discreetly, would, by its nature, never come to your attention.

In the public sector, unlike the private, there is no reward for taking initiative, exercising judgment, or exposing yourself to unnecessary risk. There is no downside for a school (or the police) to apply the zero tolerance policy, other than the ridicule of the public, which is not enough to overcome bureaucratic intransigence. Even though I would venture to say many times the policy in contravened by a sensible teacher, principal, or cop.

This pattern is equally applicable to stiff necked civil service employees across the board. Ever run across something like this at the Post Office? Get a parking ticket for being two minutes over? Nevertheless, billions of pieces of mail get handled efficiently every year, and lots of parking tickets get written and paid for which are richly deserved.

In fact, one might say you are guilty of the very thing you criticize. Your chronic attacks on the public school system have become pro forma, automatic, and any misstep by any teacher, administrator, or educational bureaucrat becomes proof for you that the entire system is deeply if not fatally flawed. No Child Left Behind (which I have retitled No Child Gets Ahead) has nothing to do with zero tolerance for weapons on campus.

Your target should not be public schools but human nature and the government we must live with to create and maintain an orderly society. Simply change human nature and incidents like this will never happen again.

Rocky

My response:
Rocky,

You make a decent point. The "however" that I'm going to throw in is related to the very large number of similar bone-headed incidents I documented on my blog over the past three years. I had a category for school-related zero tolerance stories. I posted 100 of those stories over that time until I figured I'd made whatever point I was trying to make. I think that more of these incidents get to the bone-headed stage in the schools than they do in the YMCA or the Boy Scouts/Girl Scouts, Boys/Girls Brigade, etc.; that is, any other organization that deals with young people for extended periods of time. It's the schools where this stuff happens and it goes beyond the reasonable response way more often than in those other organizations.

Steve

And I'm going to change my weak closing line to something another friend in Kentucky suggested to me: I think it's time to pray ... pray for deliverance from these fools.

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Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Ron Paul Tea Party

On Sunday, December 16th, tens of thousands of Ron Paul supporters will donate $100 each to raise another huge chunk of money for his campaign.

Vote for Ron Paul in the Republican primary in your state. Check Ron Paul's site for the date and requirements for voting.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Poodwaddle

Odd, no? But it's a site with all sorts of nifty items for web sites. For instance:

Poodwaddle.com

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Polar bears on the brink?


Interesting article in the London Daily Mail about a film crew doing a new documentary, "Polar Bear Week", about the bears around Churchill, Manitoba. One member of the crew, Dennis Compayre, is a life-long resident of Churchill who has been around the bears for decades:

Dennis Compayre raises bushy grey eyebrows as he listens to the environmentalists predict the polar bear's demise.

"They say the numbers are down from 1,200 to around 900, but I think I know as much about polar bears as anyone, and I tell you there are as many bears here now as there were when I was a kid," he says as the tundra buggy rattles back to town across the rutted snowscape.

"Churchill is full of these scientists going on about vanishing bears and thinner bears.

"They come here preaching doom, but I question whether some of them really have the bears' best interests at heart.

"The bear industry in Churchill is big bucks, and what better way to keep people coming than to tell them they'd better hurry to see the disappearing bears."


The man doing the filming had some insights, too:
After almost three months of working with those who know the Arctic best - among them Inuit Indians, who are appalled at the way an animal they have lived beside for centuries has become a poster species for "misinformed" Greens - Nigel Marven finds himself in broad agreement.

"I think climate change is happening, but as far as the polar bear disappearing is concerned, I have never been more convinced that this is just scaremongering.

"People are deliberately seeking out skinny bears and filming them to show they are dying out. That's not right.

"Of course, in 30 years, if there's no ice over the North Pole, then the bear will be in trouble.

"But I've seen enough to know that polar bears are not yet on the brink of extinction."

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Thursday, December 06, 2007

They did the math for me!

Tuesday's analysis of the proposal by Israeli environmentalists to reduce carbon emissions during Hannukah involved a fair amount of unit-conversion math to show that the projected emission savings wouldn't amount to a hill of beans, as they say.

Well, this Bloomberg story is more like it: all the math is done for me!

Hot Air Emitted by Climate Summit Equals 20,000 Cars

By Alex Morales and Kim Chipman

Dec. 6 (Bloomberg) -- Government officials and activists flying to Bali, Indonesia, for the United Nations meeting on climate change will cause as much pollution as 20,000 cars in a year. The total of 40,700 tons of gas created by the conference is equivalent to the annual emissions of 20,350 mid-sized cars, each traveling 12,000 kilometers, according to www.atmosfair.de.

The delegates each will produce an average 4.07 metric tons of carbon dioxide, or CO2, to reach the resort island 950 kilometers (600 miles) from Jakarta, according to estimates e- mailed to Bloomberg by the UN agency holding the conference.

Some of the 187 nations participating in the two-week forum promised to offset their so-called carbon footprint by planting trees or buying emission credits. The symbolic actions won't help stop global warming, some scientists say.

As P. J. O'Rourke once put it, these folks get all tangled up in their Birkenstock straps falling all over themselves to promise to "offset" the harm that the conference will cause to the climate:
Indonesia will plant 79 million trees to offset the entire conference's emissions, Emil Salim, head of the host country's delegation, told reporters yesterday in Bali. The Asian nation is investigating how to develop its tree-planting activity to ensure a lasting offset, said Amanda Katili, special assistant to Environment Minister Rachmat Witoelar.

"We have to know where the trees will be planted and make sure that they grow and not be cut down until they make enough carbon stock," Katili said in an interview.

The U.K.'s 40-person team will have their emissions neutralized through a central government fund, a spokeswoman for the country's environment department said.

EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas and three of his staff are buying so-called carbon credits, each representing a reduction of a ton of carbon dioxide, on the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, commission spokeswoman Barbara Helfferich said in a telephone interview.

$132 `Out of Pocket'

"I'm paying out of my own pocket, and some individuals will also offset," said Helfferich, adding she's spending about 90 euros ($132).

The environmental group WWF International, known in the U.S. as the World Wildlife Fund, is also making sure the visit to Bali by about 80 of its workers is carbon-neutral, according to Martin Hiller, a spokesman for the group's climate change program.

"Our flight emissions are equivalent to about half an hour's emissions from a normal coal-fired power station of about 600 megawatts," Hiller said in a telephone interview from Bali. "We're offsetting all our travel with emissions credits."

Sheesh! Enough, already! At least there's somebody with a lick of sense, and whaddaya know? She's from the USA!:
The U.S. won't compensate for the emissions of its delegates because "we feel the best use of taxpayer dollars is for technology advancement, not purchasing carbon offsets," said Kristen Hellmer, a spokeswoman for the delegation.

And what will these oodles and oodles of delegates be doing at the conference aside from apologizing for their carbon footprints?
The goal of the Bali meeting is a deadline for a new international treaty to limit emissions after the current accord, called the Kyoto Protocol, expires in 2012.

Bully!

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Some things cannot be parodied

I'll let this article speak for itself:

Kangaroo farts could ease global warming

December 06, 2007 11:56am

Article from: Agence France-Presse

AUSTRALIAN scientists are trying to give kangaroo-style stomachs to cattle and sheep in a bid to cut the emission of greenhouse gases blamed for global warming, researchers say.

Thanks to special bacteria in their stomachs, kangaroo flatulence contains no methane and scientists want to transfer that bacteria to cattle and sheep who emit large quantities of the harmful gas.

While the usual image of greenhouse gas pollution is a billowing smokestack pushing out carbon dioxide, livestock passing wind contribute a surprisingly high percentage of total emissions in some countries.

"Fourteen per cent of emissions from all sources in Australia is from enteric methane from cattle and sheep,'' said Athol Klieve, a senior research scientist with the Queensland Government.

"And if you look at another country such as New Zealand, which has got a much higher agricultural base, they're actually up around 50 per cent,'' he said.
Researchers say the bacteria also makes the digestive process much more efficient and could potentially save millions of dollars in feed costs for farmers.

"Not only would they not produce the methane, they would actually get something like 10 to 15 per cent more energy out of the feed they are eating,'' said Mr Klieve.
Even farmers who laugh at the idea of environmentally friendly kangaroo farts say that's nothing to joke about, particularly given the devastating drought Australia is suffering.

"In a tight year like a drought situation, 15 per cent would be a considerable sum,'' said farmer Michael Mitton.

But it will take researchers at least three years to isolate the bacteria, before they can even start to develop a way of transferring it to cattle and sheep.

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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Whatever next?

The Jerusalem Post reports that

In a campaign that has spread like wildfire across the Internet, a group of Israeli environmentalists is encouraging Jews around the world to light at least one less candle this Hanukka to help the environment.

The founders of the Green Hanukkia campaign found that every candle that burns completely produces 15 grams of carbon dioxide. If an estimated one million Israeli households light for eight days, they said, it would do significant damage to the atmosphere.

OK, lets do the math:
  15 grams of carbon dioxide per candle per day
x 1,000,000 candles
= 15 million grams of carbon dioxide per day

Lets convert that to tons per day:
  15 million grams per day
x 1 pound per 454 grams
x 1 ton per 2000 pounds
= 16.5 tons per day

According to the Earthlab Carbon Calculator, for a car to emit that much CO2 it would have to travel:
  16.5 tons per day
x 2000 lbs per ton
x 1 gallon of gas per 19.564 pounds of carbon dioxide
x 21 miles per gallon (avg. car in the U.S.)
= 35,465 miles per day

Well, that's a bit far to travel in one day. Lets round it up to 35,500 miles and have a fleet of cars travelling 500 miles each day, how about that? That means:
  35,500 miles per fleet of cars
x 1 car per 500 miles
= 71 cars in the fleet

So, we finally come up with 71 cars travelling 500 miles each day of Hanukkah; that is, 4000 miles each, or from New York to LA and back to Chappell, Nebraska.

Are we really worried about this? With about 150 million cars travelling an average of about 33 miles per day (12,000 miles per year / 365 days) in the U.S. for a total of 4,931,506,849 miles per day? That's 39,452,054,795 miles traveled in 8 days.

So burning a million candles on each of 8 days turns out to be the equivalent of 71 cars driving 4000 miles each (284,000 miles) ... which is .00071986% of the total emitted by all the cars in the U.S. over the same period.

I repeat, are we really worried about this?

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Monday, December 03, 2007

Excellent!

Chavez Loses Constitutional Vote

Dec 3, 6:54 AM (ET)

By FRANK BAJAK

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) - Humbled by his first electoral defeat ever, President Hugo Chavez said Monday he may have been too ambitious in asking voters to let him stand indefinitely for re-election and endorse a huge leap to a socialist state.

"I understand and accept that the proposal I made was quite profound and intense," he said after voters narrowly rejected the sweeping constitutional reforms by 51 percent to 49 percent.

Opposition activists were ecstatic as the results were announced shortly after midnight - with 88 percent of the vote counted, the trend was declared irreversible by elections council chief Tibisay Lucena.

Some shed tears. Others began chanting: "And now he's going away!"

Without the overhaul, Chavez will be barred from running again in 2012.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

On being correct, III

Zero tolerance or zero intelligence? You decide:

Students Suspended For Fake Drug Use In PSA

WAYNESBURG. PA - Two students at Waynesburg Central High School have been suspended for 10 days because of the way they depicted an activity they were trying to discourage. John DiBuono and his classmate made a public service announcement for a TV workshop. They used crushed Smarties candies. In the video, his friend pretended to snort cocaine. It was supposed to be a message against using drugs.

In a statement, the Jerome Bartley, superintendent of the Central Greene School District, said: "Although the individuals involved were not using illicit drugs, the district's policy prohibits look-a-like drugs, substances, liquids or devices."

It's listed in the student handbook, but DiBuono's father says the punishment doesn't fit. "I believe that the discipline is a bit excessive, and you know this was clearly an anti-drug statement," he said.

In addition to the suspension, DiBuono, a 4.0 student, said he was told to attend drug counseling. "The only words said in the entire public service announcement was, 'Don't do drugs,' and now I'm being sent to rehabilitation conference," he said. "I think it's a little ridiculous."

The superintendent says the students weren't assigned to do a public service announcement that day but instead, "took it upon themselves to produce a short video depicting drug use."

DiBuono says it was an ongoing project.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

One to watch, II

My earlier post about the potential Supreme Court case, District of Columbia v. Heller, expressed hope that the Court would hear it. Now it looks like my wish has been granted:

Supreme Court Will Hear D.C. Guns Case

Nov 20 03:23 PM US/Eastern
By MARK SHERMAN
Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court said Tuesday it will decide whether the District of Columbia can ban handguns, a case that could produce the most in-depth examination of the constitutional right to "keep and bear arms" in nearly 70 years.

The justices' decision to hear the case could make the divisive debate over guns an issue in the 2008 presidential and congressional elections.

The government of Washington, D.C., is asking the court to uphold its 31-year ban on handgun ownership in the face of a federal appeals court ruling that struck down the ban as incompatible with the Second Amendment. Tuesday's announcement was widely expected, especially after both the District and the man who challenged the handgun ban asked for the high court review.

The main issue before the justices is whether the Second Amendment of the Constitution protects an individual's right to own guns or instead merely sets forth the collective right of states to maintain militias. The former interpretation would permit fewer restrictions on gun ownership.

Gun-control advocates say the Second amendment was intended to insure that states could maintain militias, a response to 18th century fears of an all-powerful national government. Gun rights proponents contend the amendment gives individuals the right to keep guns for private uses, including self-defense.

Alan Gura, a lawyer for Washington residents who challenged the ban, said he was pleased that the justices were considering the case.

"We believe the Supreme Court will acknowledge that, while the use of guns can be regulated, a complete prohibition on all functional firearms is too extreme," Gura said. "It's time to end this unconstitutional disaster. It's time to restore a basic freedom to all Washington residents."

The only tricky point, the one that the Court will clarify, is whether the 2nd Amendment applies only to federal laws.

Our friends, the Saudis, II

As expected, the Saudi Arabian justice system has defended it's ruling of a few days ago that sentenced a 19-year-old rape victim to 200 lashes for riding in a car with an unrelated male:

Saudi defends verdict against gang-rape victim
Tue Nov 20, 2007

RIYADH (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia defended on Tuesday a court's decision to sentence a woman who was gang-raped to 200 lashes of the whip, after the United States described the verdict as "astonishing".

The 19-year-old Shi'ite woman from the town of Qatif in the Eastern Province and an unrelated male companion were abducted and raped by seven men in 2006.

Ruling according to Saudi Arabia's strict reading of Islamic law, a court had originally sentenced the woman to 90 lashes and the rapists to jail terms of between 10 months and five years. It blamed the woman for being alone with an unrelated man.

Last week the Supreme Judicial Council increased the sentence to 200 lashes and six months in prison and ordered the rapists to serve between two and nine years in jail.

In my original posting about this case I used the term "double jeopardy" to describe the startling legal tangle in which this young woman finds herself. Upon further consideration I've concluded that there is no word that I know of for this situation; i. e., the victim of a violent crime is charged and convicted of the crime of violating a tenet of Sharia law. Then, upon receiving an extremely harsh sentence (90 lashes), the court decided to up the dose to an inconceivable 200 lashes.

Double jeopardy doesn't fit because that merely covers the case of a defendant being found innocent of a crime and then being tried again for the exact same crime. This is indescribable. Jesus Christ himself only endured 39 lashes.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Think it can't happen here?

A British emigré to New Zealand is having trouble getting his wife to join him. No, she isn't reluctant to move to NZ. She's been disqualified from moving there because she's too fat:

Richie Trezise, 35, a rugby-playing Welshman, lost weight to gain entry to New Zealand after initially being rejected for being overweight and a potential burden on the health care system.

His wife, Rowan, 33, a photographer, has been battling for months to shed the pounds so they can be reunited and live Down Under but has so far been unable to overcome New Zealand’s weight regulations.

A drain on the national health care system. Does that sound familiar?:
Robyn Toomath, a spokesman for Fight the Obesity Epidemic and an endocrinologist, said she was opposed to obese people being stigmatised. "However, the immigration department’s focus is different," she said. "It cannot afford to import people into the country who are going to be a significant drain on our health resources.

So how did Mr. Trezise's doctor react?
Mr Trezise, a submarine cable specialist and a former soldier, said: "My doctor laughed at me. He said he’d never seen anything more ridiculous in his whole life. He said not every overweight person is unhealthy or unfit.

Can it happen here?

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Our friends, the Saudis

Tough to find words to describe my reaction to this. I'm going to let the story speak for itself (emphasis mine):

Saudi punishes gang rape victim with 200 lashes

Nov 15 10:51 AM US/Eastern

A court in the ultra-conservative kingdom of Saudi Arabia is punishing a female victim of gang rape with 200 lashes and six months in jail, a newspaper reported on Thursday.

The 19-year-old woman -- whose six armed attackers have been sentenced to jail terms -- was initially ordered to undergo 90 lashes for "being in the car of an unrelated male at the time of the rape," the Arab News reported.

But in a new verdict issued after Saudi Arabia's Higher Judicial Council ordered a retrial, the court in the eastern town of Al-Qatif more than doubled the number of lashes to 200.

A court source told the English-language Arab News that the judges had decided to punish the woman further for "her attempt to aggravate and influence the judiciary through the media."

Saudi Arabia enforces a strict Islamic doctrine known as Wahhabism and forbids unrelated men and women from associating with each other, bans women from driving and forces them to cover head-to-toe in public.

Last year, the court sentenced six Saudi men to between one and five years in jail for the rape as well as ordering lashes for the victim, a member of the minority Shiite community.

But the woman's lawyer Abdul Rahman al-Lahem appealed, arguing that the punishments were too lenient in a country where the offence can carry the death penalty.

In the new verdict issued on Wednesday, the Al-Qatif court also toughened the sentences against the six men to between two and nine years in prison.

The case has angered members of Saudi Arabia's Shiite community. The convicted men are Sunni Muslims, the dominant community in the oil-rich Gulf state.

Lahem, also a human rights activist, told AFP on Wednesday that the court had banned him from handling the rape case and withdrew his licence to practise law because he challenged the verdict.

He said he has also been summoned by the ministry of justice to appear before a disciplinary committee in December.

Lahem said the move might be due to his criticism of some judicial institutions, and "contradicts King Abdullah's quest to introduce reform, especially in the justice system."

King Abdullah last month approved a new body of laws regulating the judicial system in Saudi Arabia, which rules on the basis of sharia, or Islamic law.

You've heard of double jeopardy? It's a TV game show, right? Well, in this case it's something we've never had to deal with in this country because of the Fifth Amendment. Somehow I don't think "I claim the Fifth" would go over very well in Saudi Arabia. That poor girl is going to feel the weight of Sharia with every lash.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Hurricanes in the U.S.? What hurricanes?


Well, here we are near the end of this year's hurricane season, and for the second year running the number of hurricanes to hit the United States was zero. This makes it annoyingly difficult for the global warming johnnies to support the notion that 2005 was only a taste of the horrible killer hurricanes we could expect from now on, now that man-made climate change is upon us.

Note that the number of hurricanes forecast for 2007 was between seven and ten. Five actually formed. This year's hurricane curve hugged the 1944-2005 average curve precisely.

What does this all mean other than the fact that it's very pleasant not to have to clean up after multiple Hurricane Katrina's? Not much. We'll continue to have hurricanes every year. Some of them will hit the United States, some won't. Some will be severe. Some won't.

But for global warming apologists to have suggested that 2005 was a watershed year for hurricanes was the silliest sort of hubris. I very fervently want them to know that.

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