Friday, May 09, 2008

Time to move

This will be the last of my blog posts on I've had the domain name,, 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, 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 as part of a springboard to a new campaign for the Neenah City Council, as well as

So, meet me over at!

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 ...

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 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 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.

James Wilson
Assistant to the President

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

CONTRIBUTE to the Electronic Lobbyist project is sponsored by, 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.]

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?



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

So now come the results from around the world about how much energy was saved during "Earth Hour". This blog entry is from the 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:


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


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:


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.


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

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

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:

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.

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!

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.

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.


-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?