Monday, July 31, 2006

Recent commentary: Political ads

How much weight do you give political TV ads?

(not published in the Appleton Post-Crescent)

Since I do not watch broadcast or cable TV, I am spared the agony or the ecstasy of having to decide how much weight they have. But I'll give my opinion anyway!

I have said before that Yoda had the right angle on politics: it surrounds us like the Force. Most of it you see, as in building regulations and streets and sidewalks and signs. But lots of it you don't see: air quality regulations and communications regulation – invisible broadcast frequencies are regulated by the FCC. Pretty soon they'll regulate how much sun exposure is safe for you and fine you if you don't wear your federally-approved sun block and radiation hat.

Even lying in bed, your mattress has one of those do - not - remove - under - pain - of - death tags put there by the mattress company to avoid government fines.

So we're supposed to vote for these clowns that control our lives for us. Is it any wonder that the entertainment media provide the vehicles for advertisements for America's only native criminal class?

I have to admit that I enjoyed Ross Perot's infomercials more than any political advertising I've ever seen. I mean, how much of a particular candidate does the normal person ever see? 6-second bites on the TV news shows is about the size of it. Perot's infomercials let us see how he spoke, how he connected with us, what kind and how complete a flim-flam man he was.

Political TV ads aren't even as nutritious as cotton candy. They're blipverts actually, to borrow the term from Max Headroom, for concentrated bursts of commercial content that would make us explode if absorbed too quickly.

Some people wonder why most eligible voters just tune out politics. I think that it's the most natural thing in the world. The only way a normal citizen can have any substantive impact on the political process is to complain loudly and longly about how not enough money is being spent on some silly extra-Constitutional "program" that benefits just a few at the expense of the rest of us. One will always get a hearing if one wants the government to spend more money. Oh, yes!

On the flip side, if one wants less money to be spent, if one wants the budget actually to be cut – and not just the rate of increase to be cut – one will be drowned out, ignored, disregarded, disrespected, and bowled over by the throngs clamoring for government money for their pet projects. Does it not seem to you that, say, our federal budget could be cut by 5%? I mean, really! It's getting close to $3 trillion. One would think that just a little fat could be trimmed. How hard could it be for the budget to be trimmed by 5%?

Silly question. As long as there are politicians yearning, clamoring, clawing and scraping to get into public office, the budget will never be cut. Each new program or each expansion of an existing program will be given all sorts of saccharine and glurge-filled justifications for its vital existence. What we all seem to forget is that those programs exist because we are smothered by so many of them that we are pinned to the floor as their sheer weight and volume increase.

My wish? That a real Department of Louise becomes the most influential part of the apparatus of government. In the near term? I've taken The Small Government Pledge:
I vote small government. Every issue. Every time. No exceptions. No excuses.
  • I will vote for and support only those candidates who consistently vote for small government; who work to make government smaller than it is today. For candidates who have never served in office, I will vote only for those who campaign to make government smaller than it is today.
  • I will vote against and refuse to support every candidate who votes to sustain or enlarge today's Big Government - or campaigns for it.
  • I will vote in every federal, state, and local election. If necessary, I'll get an absentee ballot. I'll find out about the choices on my ballot - and make sure I always vote small government.
  • If there is no small government candidate on the ballot, I will either write in and vote for a small government candidate, leave the ballot blank for that office, or write in and vote for "small government".
  • I will vote for every ballot initiative and referendum that shrinks the size, spending, taxes, scope, or power of today's Big Government.
  • I will vote against every ballot initiative, referendum, and bond that increases the size, spending, taxes, scope, or power of today's Big Government.

That's all I can do...besides continuing to write scathing letters to my Congresscritters.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Gasoline prices

I've mentioned before and its nifty U.S. gasoline "temperature" map. Another feature of the site is a dynamic graph of gas prices. The sample I show here is for a three year period. It shows the average price of a gallon of gasoline in the U.S. (in red) as well as the average price in Wisconsin (in blue) and the crude oil price per barrel (in green).

As you can see, the average price in Wisconsin has followed the average national price very closely, sometimes above, sometimes below. It isn't anything like the average price in, say, Los Angeles. Matter of fact, lets have another graph so that we can laugh at the Angelinos and their predicament!

Why aren't they buying shares?

Here come the demagogues again. Exxon-Mobil's quarterly profits are high in dollar terms so that means plenty of politicians have an opportunity to decry profit-gouging oil companies and their anti-little-guy business practices:
In Congress, Democratic lawmakers said the sky-high profits reflected misplaced policies by the adminstration of George W. Bush.

"Americans are paying near-record gas prices, oil companies are reaping billions in profits, but the response from the Oil Men in the White House and the Republicans in Congress has been billions for Big Oil and a backhand to the American people," Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid said Thursday.

"It would be shocking in normal times, but it is standard procedure for Republicans in Washington."

I've almost given up reading stories like this. Out come the social justice and the social contract and the social responsibility johnnies. Truly, it's as if these clowns -- who know better, believe me -- want people to believe that Exxon-Mobil's $10.7 billion quarterly profit has all been piled in a huge vault somewhere with an open top, like Scrooge McDuck's money hoard. Then the executives of the company strip down to their BVDs and swim in it and rub the $100 bills over their paunchy, middle-aged, white northern European bodies.

I swear that's what comes to mind when some people see the headline "Obscene Oil Company Profits". There are those fat cats diving into a tub of money, and then spending it on mink coats for their trophy wives, fast cars that they don't deserve, and filet mignons at fancy-schmancy New York restaurants.

Enough, already! The 10th Commandment says "Thou shalt not covet". Old Moses knew what he was about. It is human nature to covet and to wish ill on those more prosperous than we are. But isn't the entire history of the human race enough to show us that we should get over our jealousies and grow up? I just wish the 10th Commandment could be amended to say: "Thou shalt not covet. Thou shalt buy as much oil stock as thou can lay thy hands on." Now that's a Commandment with some relevance!

And something else: that enormous Exxon-Mobil profit represents just a few cents out of every gallon of gasoline sold. Do you happen to know how much of that gallon of gasoline is excise taxes? In Wisconsin it's about 43 cents. I'd say that if the politicians have really got their g-strings in a gordian about gouging the consumer then they oughta consider cutting the gasoline tax!

And the Europeans! Holy cow! According to MSNBC, in the Netherlands the actual cost of a gallon of gasoline before taxes are tacked on is $2.61 (as of April). But after a 158% tax, the pump price is $6.73! Who's gouging whom?

Yeah, but it's them greedy oil executives, that's what it is!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Towards a real Department of Louise!

Do you remember Dave Barry's Department of Louise? Barry wrote in one of his old columns (unfortunately not available on the GoreNet) about a federal Department consisting of one crotchety old lady named Louise. Every federal spending bill would have to be approved first by Louise. I remember that Barry used the example of a half million dollar taxpayer-funded grant for the redecorating of the late Liberace's house. The lawmakers would come to Louise, hat in hand, and ask for the money...and Louise would say, "No!" I loved the whole idea.

Today the excellent Cato Institute has proposed something similar: the Office of Taxpayer Advocacy. The OTA would be
charged with the specific mission of representing the taxpayer interest in opposing unwise or unnecessary spending. This agency could employ thousands of researchers to investigate ineffective and unnecessary programs and highlight the damage done by the spending of tax dollars. It could establish a hotline for taxpayers to call about instances of waste and abuse. It could employ writers and public relations specialists to publicize the costs of spending proposals, to ensure that Congress, the media, and the public heard anti-spending arguments.

If administrators and lobbyists believe their programs are as valuable as they say, they should welcome scrutiny and feel confident that they will be able to refute their critics. The media should be happy to have voices on both sides of spending questions. Congress itself should embrace the idea. Most lawmakers know they are being bombarded by the self-interested sales pitches of spending advocates. They know they need to hear anti-spending arguments in order to make responsible decisions.

And the OTA could even pay for itself!
How much might such an office cost? With a staff of about 5,000, it would cost about $500,000,000—0.017% of the federal budget. Congress could pay for it by abolishing any one of dozens of questionable programs of equal size.

The creation of an Office of Taxpayer Advocacy would represent a revolutionary change. Congress would create, for the first time, a general interest lobby to counterbalance all the special interest lobbies it has created with its spending largesse. By representing the interests of American taxpayers in reality rather than rhetoric, Congress could commit itself to making wiser decisions, and put a brake on the reckless spending that threatens the economy.

I think it's a grand idea! Goes right along with the Read the Bills Act. Even more, it goes right along with Davy Crockett's Not Yours to Give speech. He gave it upon the occasion of a bill being introduced into the House of Representatives to appropriate funds for the benefit of the widow of a distinguished naval officer. A number of fine speeches were given by House members in support of the appropriation. Just before the Speaker was about to call the question, Crockett, Representative from Tennessee, rose and asked for the floor:
Mr. Speaker--I have as much respect for the memory of the deceased, and as much sympathy for the suffering of the living, if there be, as any man in this House, but we must not permit our respect for the dead or our sympathy for part of the living to lead us into an act of injustice to the balance of the living. I will not go into an argument to prove that Congress has not the power to appropriate this money as an act of charity. Every member on this floor knows it.

We have the right as individuals, to give away as much of our own money as we please in charity; but as members of Congress we have no right to appropriate a dollar of the public money. Some eloquent appeals have been made to us upon the ground that it is a debt due the deceased. Mr. Speaker, the deceased lived long after the close of the war; he was in office to the day of his death, and I ever heard that the government was in arrears to him.

Every man in this House knows it is not a debt. We cannot without the grossest corruption, appropriate this money as the payment of a debt. We have not the semblance of authority to appropriate it as charity. Mr. Speaker, I have said we have the right to give as much money of our own as we please. I am the poorest man on this floor. I cannot vote for this bill, but I will give one week's pay to the object, and if every member of Congress will do the same, it will amount to more than the bill asks.

Afterwards, Crockett explained how he had come to change his mind about spending bills. He also observed something about his fellow Congressmen:
There are in that House many very wealthy men - men who think nothing of spending a week's pay, or a dozen of them, for a dinner or a wine party when they have something to accomplish by it. Some of those same men made beautiful speeches upon the great debt of gratitude which the country owed the deceased--a debt which could not be paid by money--and the insignificance and worthlessness of money, particularly so insignificant a sum as $20,000 when weighed against the honor of the nation. Yet not one of them responded to my proposition. Money with them is nothing but trash when it is to come out of the people. But it is the one great thing for which most of them are striving, and many of them sacrifice honor, integrity, and justice to obtain it.

So that woman can just forget about getting my money!

Anthro-centric global scare mongering, XI

Well, finally! At least somebody acknowledges that the sun has some little effect on humans:
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - As many as 60,000 people a year die from too much sun, mostly from malignant skin cancer, the World Health Organization reported on Wednesday.

Radiation from the sun also causes often serious sunburn, skin aging, eye cataracts, pterygium -- a fleshy growth on the surface of the eye, cold sores and other ills, according to the report, the first to detail the global effects of sun exposure.

I like that last phrase: "the first to detail the global effects of sun exposure." As if the sun hasn't been causing sunburn for millennia without benefit of a report.

Here's what I had to say on the subject in the Appleton Post-Crescent, 31-Jul-2006:
I was reminded of erstwhile Vice President Gore's movie when I read the Reuters news story about the World Health Organization report detailing the annual world-wide deaths from various sun exposure-related causes. In other words, as many as 60,000 people a year die from too much sun: skin cancer, heat stroke, etc.

This made me think of Mr. Gore because I'll bet that global warming apologists grind their teeth every time they see a news article that emphasizes the deleterious effects of too much sun.

While tens of thousands die from cumulative exposure to the sun, the global warming johnnies are trying to convince us that the entire earth is heading for wrack and ruin in jig time all because of a 0.6- to 1.0-degree increase in average temperature over the last century.

If the furor over global warming finally fizzles out, the global warmists — not ones to miss a trick — can start new careers with the government writing regulations requiring federally-approved sun block, hats, and child-safety screens to prevent skin cancer from solar radiation. It'll be for our own good — and it's for the children.

I love stories like this, LXVI

Grad school is expensive and it's hard to get loans and scholarships to cover costs beyond tuition. No surprises there. But in this Washington Post op-ed piece, Sui Lang Panoke complains that "access to graduate education" is pretty much reserved for the upper class in America:
The majority of students in my situation seeking graduate degrees don't have the means to just pick up and move to another city without some kind of government assistance. Yet federal Pell Grants and Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants are available only to undergraduate students. There are very few alternative options for funding my graduate degree. What's even more frustrating is that if I were seeking an undergraduate degree, being a single mother would qualify me to have most of my college expenses paid for.

She also makes some other valid points about the job market:
Today's job market is becoming more and more competitive. Bachelor's degrees don't carry the weight they used to. It's almost necessary to have a graduate, doctorate or law degree to compete with the current highly qualified pool of candidates.

But then it turns into a real whine:
Higher degrees mean higher salaries. But the disparity between those who have access to a higher degree due to their economic resources and those who have the desire to attend graduate school but not the money is increasing. Graduate students are forced to take on a significantly higher economic burden than undergraduates. It seems that graduate-level education is open only to the select few who can afford it -- people who usually come from wealthy, upper-class families.

We are failing to redistribute the wealth in America, and the divide between the upper and lower classes is widening. It's clear that a federal need-based grant program for graduate students must be created. This would help level the playing field by creating access to graduate programs for students -- access based on merit and ambition rather than economic resources.

Oh, brother! It's the failure of the free market again, I suppose, isn't it? At this point I decided to move on and read something else and let this person stew in her own juices...but then I noticed what kind of graduate degree she wants to get:
The writer is a first-year graduate student at American University working toward a master's degree in public administration.

She wants the federal government to give her money to finish grad school so that she can get a job feeding from the public trough!

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Anthro-centric global scare mongering, X

Our erstwhile Vice President is feeling the sting of conscience these days:
Former Vice President Al Gore said his conscience is regularly challenged by a consumerism that contributes to the global warming he has made it his mission to reverse.

O! Woe! It's that darned consumerism again. At least he has a humble approach to solving the problem of anthro-centric global warming: controlling the weather:
He pointed to the melting of glaciers and mountain ice caps, bleaching of coral reefs, strengthening of hurricanes and record numbers of tornadoes.

"We're playing with fire here and we have to act quickly," he said. "The good news is we can."

Whew! I'm glad there's good news!

I don't mean merely to stick pins into the world's most visible weather change advocate. My conscience is, indeed, regularly challenged by a sardonicism that does nothing to contribute to world peace ... I mean to global warming ... no! Wait! I mean it doesn't contribute to a carbon-neutral lifestyle! ... but it's so much fun!

You know, I just wish there were someone traveling around the world giving talks about free enterprise and liberty that got even an eighth the amount of press that Mr. Gore gets.

Monday, July 24, 2006

I love stories like this, LXV

Yes, I know this didn't happen in an American government-funded compulsory matriculation center, but...
NOBEL peace laureate Betty Williams displayed a flash of her feisty Irish spirit yesterday, lashing out at US President George W.Bush during a speech to hundreds of schoolchildren.

Campaigning on the rights of young people at the Earth Dialogues forum, being held in Brisbane, Ms Williams spoke passionately about the deaths of innocent children during wartime, particularly in the Middle East, and lambasted Mr Bush.

"I have a very hard time with this word 'non-violence', because I don't believe that I am non-violent," said Ms Williams, 64.

"Right now, I would love to kill George Bush." Her young audience at the Brisbane City Hall clapped and cheered.

I have determined to my own satisfaction that most anti-war talk is based on hypostatization or reification: "the treatment of something abstract as a material or concrete thing". ("reification." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2006. Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service. 24 July 2006.)

The abstract something that Ms. Williams treats as concrete is the concept that Rodney King expressed so succinctly: "Can't we all just get along?" She treats it as concrete and uses it as the foundation for her anti-war stance; that is, if we could all just get along, then no one would be killed in war. This is embodied in the amazing 26-point "action plan" adopted by the "Earth Dialogs" forum:
"There can be no sustainable peace while the majority of the world's population lives in poverty," they said.

"There can be no sustainable peace if we fail to rise to the global challenge presented by climate change.

"There can be no sustainable peace while military spending takes precedence over human development."

Which sound just like one of Ben & Jerry's mission statements, the archetypal "visualize world peace" drivel:
We seek and support nonviolent ways to achieve peace and justice. We believe government resources are more productively used in meeting human needs than in building and maintaining weapons systems.

I'm sorry, but as for world peace, I believe in peace through strength. Anyone with an ounce of sense believes that as well. As far as "visualizing world peace", here's what I think:

Thursday, July 20, 2006

I feel exhalted!

I am in an exalted state after jumping up and down for 20 seconds straight to do my part for World Jump Day. I logged onto the US Naval Observatory site to make sure I was synchronized with the official time, then I started jumping 10 seconds before 6:39:13 CDT, and continued for 10 seconds after. I figure that during that window I helped contribute along with 600 million others to the magnificent effort to move the earth to a higher orbit to decrease the effects of global warming. My heart is racing from the effort as well as from the exhaltation of performing such a public-spirited act.

Did YOU jump?

Can't beat Taranto for extending puns

From's Tuesday Best of the Web Today feature comes this gem:

Of Course You Realize This Means War

"A 46-year-old man is accused of assaulting his wife with a carrot, causing her to lose sight in one eye," reports the Associated Press from Monroe, Conn.:
Pamela Vecsey, 46, underwent six outs [sic] of surgery after being hit in the left eye with the vegetable Saturday night, but doctors were not able to restore her vision, prosecutor Stephanie Damiani said.

The couple was arguing when Roderick Vecsey tossed the carrot, Damiani said.

It is a scandal that thanks to the carrot lobby, Americans--even the mentally ill, convicted criminals and stalkers--are able to buy these dangerous weapons without so much as a license or background check. We need carrot control! It's the only way to deal with crime at its roots.

Monday, July 17, 2006

A little thing we all can do to stop global warming

You've heard of the old infantry advice that troops shouldn't march in step while crossing a bridge? Keeps the bridge from falling down.

Well, the same principle is being applied for World Jump Day, Thursday, July 20 at 11:39:13 Greenwich Mean Time, or 6:39:13 am, Central Daylight Time. And it's all for a terrific cause: to halt global warming.

Yes, friends, with a simple lusty jump together with all of your neighbors and your town and all the people around the world...together we can cause the earth's orbit to shift just a skosh further from the sun. Oh, it's too marvelous to contemplate!

All it will take is for 600 million of us to jump up and down at the same instant – and, I presume, all on the trailing side of the earth – to boost us out to where it's cooler.

Are you going to jump on World Jump Day? I signed up. Have you? I can feel the earth move already!

Sunday, July 16, 2006


Terrific movie! Don't let anyone tell you that the ending sucked. It most certainly did not! A very clever little incident in mid-film led right to it...we just didn't expect it.

Davy Jones and his crew were definitely over-the-top, though not in the same way that Van Helsing was over-the-top. But they were on-screen so often I kinda got used to them.

Great sea monster, lots of amazing sword fights, a fantastic treasure, fierce cannibalistic savages, the return of some favorite characters from "The Curse of the Black Pearl", spectacular sea battles, some very funny bits all through the movie, and that nifty ending.

Anyone that didn't like the ending is an old poop!

Thursday, July 13, 2006

[Sigh!] Everyone get out your calculators...

...and follow along as, yet again, I explain how poorly numbers are treated in the popular press.

The article in question is from today's Daily Mail, the lively British paper. The headline reads: "Drivers face £5 gallon as prices hit record high". I took a quick look at The Universal Currency Converter to get the current exchange rate for pounds and US dollars. £5 works out to $9.21. What???!!! $9.21 for a gallon of gas in England???!!!

Taking a calming sip of tea, I examined the article more closely. The first paragraph reads:
The average price of petrol at the pumps has reached a record high, with drivers paying an average 96.85p a litre, it was announced today.

I've done this calculation for you before, but I'm afraid I'm going to have to do it for the benefit of the editors of the Daily Mail. Here's how to convert pence per liter to dollars per gallon:

1 U.S. gallon = 3.78541 liters

1 US$ = 0.543253 UK£
(source:, as of 02:20 UT, 14-Jul-2006)

1 UK£ = 100 pence

Lets put that all together:

(96.85p/litre) x (1 UK£/100 p) x (1 US$/0.543253 UK£) x (3.78541 liters/gal.) =


So $9.21/gal. vs. $6.75/gal. What does that work out to in £/gal.? We just eliminate the conversion from pounds to dollars in the above formula to arrive at £3.67/gal. Not £5. I think that the editors of the Daily Mail were trying a little too hard to juice up their headline. Just a bit.

I love stories like this, 26

...because I'm a digital kinda guy.

This isn't a story about government-funded compulsory matriculation center policies of "Zero Tolerance", nor is it a story about bizarre goings-on inside those same institutions. It's an essay on the likely effects of the enormous gift of $30 billion that Warren Buffett made to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The author, Andrew J. Coulson, the director of the Cato Institute's Center for Educational Freedom and former Microsoft Systems Engineer, makes one big point regarding huge gifts of this kind made to bolster public institutions: when you assume you make an ass out of you and me.

Coulson (who's written extensively on "market education") brings up the huge gift that "ambassador and TV Guide mogul, Walter Annenberg", made in the 90's: $1.3 billion for the "Annenberg Challenge". As Coulson tells it:
Mr. Annenberg's goal was to create exemplary schools and districts that would act as models for the nation. He sought not incremental change, but systemwide transformation. He didn't get it. Though some Annenberg Challenge projects showed promise, at least for a time, their impact on the system as a whole was negligible.

Why? The Wreck of the Annenberg can be attributed to a single fundamental flaw in the ambassador's approach: he assumed that excellence, once demonstrated, would automatically be imitated.

There's that assumption in all its glory.
It is easy to see why people who have amassed riches in the private sector might assume that successful models are always mimicked on a broad scale. That is what happens in competitive markets – including competitive education markets.

In The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith praised the vigorous education industry of classical Athens, noting that: "The demand for ... instruction produced, what it always produces, the talent for giving it; and the emulation which an unrestrained competition never fails to excite appears to have brought that talent to a very high degree of perfection."

But the "emulation" that Mr. Annenberg was counting on never happened because there was no competition to "excite" it. Absent market forces, America's public school monopoly has no mechanism by which excellence can be routinely identified, perpetuated and disseminated. As a result, there are myriad examples of public school excellence achieved and then lost.

Have you heard of Jaime Escalante? His story was made into the movie, Stand and Deliver. There's an excellent summary of the non-Hollywoodized story in Reason magazine. What was his story?
Many readers will remember the 1988 film Stand and Deliver, celebrating real-life Los Angeles public school teacher Jaime Escalante. Mr. Escalante painstakingly built a rigorous math program at Garfield High School, enabling an unprecedented number of its low-income, mostly Hispanic students to take and pass the Advanced Placement calculus test.

His results were so good that many observers literally couldn't believe them, and his students were forced to retake the test – on which they succeeded admirably once again.

In a competitive industry, a star like Mr. Escalante would have been rapidly promoted. He would soon have been designing curricula and training teachers for the benefit of thousands or even millions of children. He got threats and hate mail instead.

Because he successfully taught difficult material to classrooms of 50 or more students, Mr. Escalante drew the ire of his own colleagues. The local union contract stipulated that teachers could not serve more than 35 children per class, and Mr. Escalante's achievements made that stipulation seem gratuitous and self-serving. The union balked, the threats started, and Mr. Escalante's chairmanship of the math department was revoked in 1990. He left a year later.

Coulson goes on:
The dysfunctional incentive structure of our public school monopoly is not only incapable of sustaining excellence, it actually works to crush it by setting the interests of school employees against those of students and parents.

Countless other exemplary teachers and model schools have failed to transform the system for this reason. So the $30 billion question is: Will Mr. Buffett and the Gateses pursue the same ill-fated course?

Well worth your time. It may shake up your notions about public schools.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Followup to the death of Steven B.

On June 4th I posted the announcement of Steven B. Williams' death. Williams was familiar to WHAMCO fans as the man with the beautiful deep voice of the announcer. I recently found a couple other stories with more details of his death. At least there's a suspect in his murder:

The owner of the boat aboard which Williams was planning to sail around the world took it on the lam when he observed police searching his vessel. Williams' $1.6 million inheritance from his father is missing. A trail begins to appear.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Recent commentary: What to do about North Korea?

How should the U.S. respond to N. Korean missile tests?

(published 10-Jul-2006, Appleton Post-Crescent)

The big question is this: Will nations like North Korea and Iran – both developing nuclear programs – become more belligerent, demanding, and aggressive as their nuclear capabilities come online? Looking back at Josef Stalin’s Soviet Union and Mao Zedong’s Red China, we see the same bellicosity, the same threats, the same aggressive stance as we see in Iran’s Ahmadinejad and North Korea’s Kim. We should definitely go ahead and spiff up missile defenses on Okinawa and in South Korea. We should definitely persuade Red China and South Korea to have a word with Kim about his nuclear program. But economic sanctions? Not sure that would mean much to such a trapdoor-spider nation. Just don’t go making sweet technology deals to appease Kim as Clinton did in 1994 (promised nuclear power plants) and 1998 (promised to launch North Korean satellites). Gawd! NO APPEASEMENT, OK?!?! And send Jimmy Carter anywhere but North Korea!

A pattern of behavior at the New York Times

From the New York Times of April 17, 1775:

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

A few good articles

A friend on an e-mail list sent this link. It's written by Dinesh D'Souza, the Indian-born columnist (the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, Vanity Fair, New Republic, and National Review) and author. It's an excerpt from his book, "What's So Great About America?" Now, if you're one of those sorry individuals who think that American stinks, you may not want to read this. It'll make you sick. Fair warning!
Ordinary Americans not only enjoy security and dignity, but also comforts that other societies reserve for the elite. We now live in a country where construction workers regularly pay $4 for a cappuccino, where maids drive nice cars, where plumbers take their families on vacation to Europe. As Irving Kristol once observed, there is virtually no restaurant in America to which a CEO can go to lunch with the absolute assurance that he will not find his secretary also dining there. Given the standard of living of the ordinary American, it is no wonder that socialist or revolutionary schemes have never found a wide constituency in the United States. As Werner Sombart observed, all socialist utopias in America have come to grief on roast beef and apple pie.

Another D'Souza column, titled "10 things to celebrate: Why I'm an anti-anti-American", contains more of the same, I'm afraid:
Indeed, newcomers to the United States are struck by the amenities enjoyed by "poor" people. This fact was dramatized in the 1980s when CBS television broadcast a documentary, "People Like Us," intended to show the miseries of the poor during an ongoing recession. The Soviet Union also broadcast the documentary, with a view to embarrassing the Reagan administration. But by the testimony of former Soviet leaders, it had the opposite effect. Ordinary people across the Soviet Union saw that the poorest Americans have TV sets, microwave ovens and cars. They arrived at the same perception that I witnessed in an acquaintance of mine from Bombay who has been unsuccessfully trying to move to the United States. I asked him, "Why are you so eager to come to America?" He replied, "I really want to live in a country where the poor people are fat."

Ain't it great?

Now, something a tad more political. From, this article by Douglas Kern called "When Superman Shrugs":
A small but growing number of ideologues on both sides of the political aisle believe that America is simply too powerful. Some of these ideologues will say so directly; they distrust America, or even detest its culture for being fascistic and/or decadent, and they believe that the world will be a better place if America's prominence diminishes. Others strenuously deny that they want to reduce America's power, but their preferred policies achieve just that goal. If the Democratic response to the war on terror has seemed strangely disjointed, it is because many Democrats do not feel free to say what they truly believe: that America would be a kinder, richer, and safer nation if it relinquished a significant portion of its economic, military, and cultural might. Such a position isn't contemptible, but it is wrong and contrary to the beliefs of most Americans.

So Democrats don't speak it aloud. Instead, they give us policies that undermine American power in the name of American power: an Iraqi policy that favors disengagement over success; a reactive anti-terrorist policy that gives our enemies the permanent advantage of the offensive; and an excessive reliance on international institutions whose members crave nothing more than seizing power and influence in those areas from which America withdraws. The Democrats will never improve their position in national politics until they resolve the obvious conflict between their rhetoric and their actual preferences.

Well worth reading. Finally, Richard Lindzen on Al Gore's movie:
A general characteristic of Mr. Gore's approach is to assiduously ignore the fact that the earth and its climate are dynamic; they are always changing even without any external forcing. To treat all change as something to fear is bad enough; to do so in order to exploit that fear is much worse. ... there is a clear attempt to establish truth not by scientific methods but by perpetual repetition. An earlier attempt at this was accompanied by tragedy. Perhaps Marx was right. This time around we may have farce--if we're lucky.

Dr. Lindzen is the author of a great metaphorical global warming quote, too:
The notion that if you’re ignorant of something and somebody comes up with a wrong answer, and you have to accept that because you don’t have another wrong answer to offer is like faith healing, it’s like quackery in medicine – if somebody says you should take jelly beans for cancer and you say that’s stupid, and he says, well can you suggest something else and you say, no, does that mean you have to go with jelly beans?

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Letting my geek flag fly

I recently completed an exercise in web page assembly that involves a beautiful poster, a nifty utility for creating 3-D "aqua" buttons, and a JavaScript/DHTML library that allows images to be dragged around on-screen.

The poster was created by Bob Stein of VisiBone, the web site that contains all kinds of web design tools, from HTML, CSS, and JavaScript cheat sheets, to mouse pads, posters, and one of the prettiest world maps to come down the pike in a long time. I've used VisiBone products for years, and this exercise was inspired by Stein's 216-Color Webmaster's Palette, my first purchase from VisiBone.

This exercise really got off the ground when I found The Aqualizer, that utility I mentioned that allows the creation of spiffy 3-D "aqua" buttons in three different sizes. The term "aqua" refers to the liquid look of buttons in Windows Vista and Mac OS X. I created 216 buttons to match the 216 colors of the VisiBone Webmaster's Palette using this neat little utility.

I then spent bits of time over a period of two weeks to re-create the layout of the Webmaster's Palette using those snazzy aqua buttons. It took two weeks because I wanted to get the layout of the buttons just right. Lots of calculations of the Pythagorean Theorem and applications of the Sine Law went into this thing. Bob Stein asked me if I'd written a program to place all of those buttons in the Palette arrangement. I had to admit that I hadn't; it was all manual calculator work and scribbling on graph paper.

But finally it was finished and it looked great. Only one thing would make it better, I thought: allowing the user to drag each of the buttons around to see how its color looked next to another button. This is where Bob Stein turned me onto Walter Zorn's web site and his JavaScript/DHTML library. After spending that two weeks to get the new page looking right, it only took another 90 minutes or so to plug in Zorn's library and enable dragging for every one of those 216 buttons.

I call the page AquaBone for, I hope, obvious reasons. I can't quite figure out how to modify the name to recognize Zorn's contribution, too, in anything like a euphonious way, but I certainly acknowledge him along with Stein and the anonymous creator of The Aqualizer.

Three caveats before you look at the result:

1) The web page contains 217 graphic images, about 570 kilobytes worth. So, if you have a slow Internet connection, it'll take a bit of time for it to load.

2) If you have Internet Explorer 6 or 7, don't press the Refresh key or click the Refresh icon and expect it to refresh quickly. For whatever reason IE takes a loooooong time to refresh this particular page once you've moved a few of the buttons. Netscape 8.1 and Firefox 1.5 act like you'd's only IE that's the problem.

3) Opera 9.0 doesn't seem to interpret the JavaScript at all. The page is simply static. Beautiful, but static.

All right, you now know more than you really wanted to, so here's the link:

I hope you like it.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Recent commentary: delicious irony

Should fireworks be sold in Wisconsin if they're illegal to use?

(published 7-Jul-2006, Appleton Post-Crescent)

This is one of those delicious ironies in the law with which we are bountifully blessed: it's illegal to use something that's legal to sell. I think the arrangement we have is perfectly fine. It's even sensible.

That annoying Unitarian, Ralph Waldo Emerson, said one very wise thing: "Foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds." There is this yearning in the human soul for logic even though most people couldn't construct a logically sound argument to save their lives. Most of all there's a yearning for logic and consistency in our stupendous body of laws.

However, that isn't quite as strong as the yearning most people have to make laws that prohibit things that other people seem to be having too much fun doing. That's the biggie. "There oughta be a law!" is nearly our national motto. "If only those terrible people across the street were forced to stop [FILL IN THE BLANK WITH YOUR FAVORITE PET PEEVE THAT EVERYBODY ELSE INSISTS ON DOING TO YOUR COMPLETE DISGUST AND EXASPERATION], everything would be SO much better!"

Go ahead! Try it right now. There's got to be some socially unacceptable neighbor of yours that you'd wish would dry up and blow away. Why not wish for a law that would magically transform them into intelligent, neat, friendly, law-abiding, and quiet people? Hmmm, but that would mean you'd actually have to interact with them, wouldn't it? Maybe it's better to just kvetch about them. I'm too tired to force somebody to be agreeable today...

Recent commentary: upsetting photos

Should photos of people killed by unnatural means be shown in the newspaper?

(not published in the Appleton Post-Crescent)

C'mon! Do they publish photos of people killed by natural means in the newspaper? Do they show the corpse of a man that falls 30 stories to his death? Or the corpse that's been under water for a month? I didn't think so.

This is all about those videotapes of Europeans and Americans being beheaded by islamo-fascists, isn't it? Maybe the newspapers feel left out that theirs isn't such an immediate medium. Anybody can go to the Al Jazeera web site and find beheading videos to their heart's content.

I'd say go ahead if they want to. If they can stand the heat from all of those parents who think that public broadcasters and the press should protect their children from images like those, go ahead. I'm a firm believer in the channel knob on the TV or the tuning dial on a radio or the fact that there are turnable pages in a newspaper. Those that get the vapors from the very idea that those images might be published somewhere that their precious children might see them make me gag.

But I'm pretty sure most people don't agree with me. Those sorts of images shouldn't be published. It's the responsibility of the press to see to it that we're protected from being upset too much. Bah!

Recent commentary: Habla Inglis?

Should state election ballots only be printed in English?

(not published in the Appleton Post-Crescent)

Yay! An easy one! Yes, yes, a thousand times, YES!

English should be declared the official language. Our Constitution is written in English and that's good enough for me. And, while you're at it, rescind Executive Order 13166 mandating multi-lingual federal documents. Sheesh!

My immigrant great grand-parents learned English. Why is there even a controversy over this? Only U.S. citizens can vote, or did I miss out on some toadying, illegal immigrant-friendly legislation that removed that requirement? Or did I miss the alteration of the policy requiring that each prospective citizen pass an English proficiency test to become a citizen? When did all this change? If someone has enough English proficiency to become a citizen then what's all the hubbub, bub? Where's the fire? Whose ox has been gored?

Oh, I get it! This is all about Senator John McCain's assertion that the Social Security taxes paid by illegal immigrants who use fraudulent Social Security numbers to get a job should still be paid to them as benefits when they retire! Right! Maybe we should change the citizenship requirements so that anyone that pays Social Security taxes can vote, eh? As McCain says, those undocumented workers are entitled to the Social Security money they paid into our system. That weighs a lot more heavily than the fact that they got those jobs with stolen Social Security numbers, my word, yes!


Recent commentary: should we be allowed to...?

Should people be allowed to choose whether or not to wear seat belts without penalty?

(not published in the Appleton Post-Crescent)

The larger question is: Should government be allowed to make legal activities illegal willy-nilly? Should government be allowed to pass laws "for our own good"?

We pamper drivers, you know; in Wisconsin what do we pay for a driver's license renewal? $35? Do you know how long that's good for? Eight years. Why do we do this to ourselves? If driving is, as so many claim, a privilege, then why do we almost give away that "privilege"? And auto registration is only $55 a year! It's hundreds of dollars a year in some other states.

How about that Islamic penalty for stealing: cutting off a hand? Ah! That's cruel and unusual! But people steal nonetheless. That should be proof enough that laws in and of themselves don't change behavior: they merely provide guidelines for cleaning up messes or for punishing perps.

What about a mandatory jail term for people caught driving without seat belts? That would remove the complaints of those who think the state shouldn't be collecting revenue from seat belt fines ... and wouldn't such a penalty increase seat belt usage?

Matter of fact, why not put real teeth into other behavioral-change laws? Mandatory jail terms for not having auto insurance, for smoking pot, for double-parking, etc., etc. After a while it wouldn't be considered "cruel" nor "unusual".

Horsewhipping for not paying child support?

I would say that the public health care cost argument is getting stretched thin. Does it not seem to you that this wonderful cause – the cost of public health – covers too much?

But the public-cost argument will spread, now that its proponents have seen how politically effective it is. Fatty foods, salty foods, seat belts, speeding...any behavior that could potentially hasten one's death or dismemberment, thereby placing a burden on public health services will be punished severely. I'm leery of the "slippery slope" argument, but it sure looks that way to me. Pretty soon if you so much as twitch the wrong way, you'll be hauled off to public re-education sessions at the mental health institute.