Archive for November 2007

Reports of American Decline Are Greatly Exaggerated

From a DailyTech thread on Voyager’s pending crossing of the termination shock.

So brightly did shine American genius and the desire to build the best. Today, we are left with only the pursuit of profit; there is no quest for greatness, no heart that guides the craftsmanship.

To paraphrase Sir Edward Grey:

“The lamps are going out all over America. We shall not see them lit again in our time.”

If you are an American, savor this moment. With today’s America nothing more than a nation of illiterate, immoral and obese idiots, it is folly to think we will reach again as far.

Nice Romantic comment. Too bad it’s wrong.

First a little context. Grey was speaking about Europe before WWI - a war he was trying to stop. After the war was over in 1918, the “lights” came back on in most of Europe for two decades before going back out again between 1939-1945. Although I am a Eurosceptic, I can’t argue that the lights have been burning since the mid 1940’s (although the rioters in France are doing their best to put them out again by burning libraries and books.)

So Grey’s comment is dripping with romance – but it was wrong. No Dark Age (beyond a 10 year period of total warfare) descended on Europe, and all things considered Europe remains a dynamic center of progress and intellectual achievement.

What’s wrong with the pursuit of profit – if that’s what you’re into? Profits lead to higher taxes which can then be used for the greater good. If you don’t want to pursue profit… I just spoke to my son’s grade school teacher this morning. I don’t think she’s in it for the money.

Not everyone in the US pursues MBAs and yearns to become a CEO of a Fortune 500 company – but they have the tools – and the freedom – to do so if that’s what they want. Pursuit of happiness and all that.

But that also means that some would rather sit on their butts and do just enough to get by. Do you or I have the right to force them to do otherwise? As long as my taxes aren’t supporting them, then I have no problem with it. If you don’t like it, what gives you the right to tell them what to do with their lives?

Predicting America’s decline is big business and has roots in the 19th century when America was threatened by my Irish ancestors. We were supposed to outbreed the protestants and wreck America – which we did as the laws banning abortion, all non-Catholic religions, and the constitutional amendment mandating free whiskey attest to. Almost since its inception people have predicted America’s decline, and it’s usually coincides when another ethnic group arrives. Coincidence?

Meanwhile American universities have to reject qualified foreign students who want to come here. Most foreign graduates of US universities stay – leading to brain drains in countries throughout the Middle East and Africa. The American economy continues generating wealth, jobs and raised living standards not just for Americans but for Indians, Chinese and yes, even Grey’s Europeans.

Romantic sentiment is much more alluring than cold-hard facts. But reality abhors romance almost as much as nature does a vacuum.

Why do the French put up with This?

This isn’t the first time this has happened:

Rampaging youths rioted overnight in Paris’ suburbs, hurling Molotov cocktails and setting fire to dozens of cars. At least 77 officers were injured and officers were fired at, a senior police union official said Tuesday…

This isn’t Paris 1848. The Parisian rebels of the time didn’t do this:

Among the buildings targeted by the youths was a library, which was set afire.

This isn’t the first time libraries have been targeted either. Note these burning ancient books from the Sorbonne (via GatewayPundit)
French book burning
French rioters burning books stolen from the Sorbonne, Spring 2006.

These people aren’t the noble oppressed rising up against their bourgeois masters: they’re doing it for no other purpose than it’s fun. No doubt some self-styled “leaders” of the rioters will emerge to press a list of grievances against the French government, which in true Gaullic fashion the government will capitulate to. Then these “leaders” who have absolutely no control of the rioters will make some sort of gain before the rioters tire of destroying their own neighborhoods.

And burning libraries. This is barbarism.

French Mimes Riot
French Mime Rioters, Spring 2006

Machiavelli’s Smile

I am an intellectual, although I was raised by a pragmatic mother and an emotional father who never finished the 10th grade. I became an intellectual in my teens when I avoided academic or athletic success for bad poetry, clove cigarettes and other accouterments of the Bohemian lifestyle. Much of this has to do with the Jesuits who taught me how to think, but some of it was there from the start. How many 5th graders do you know who read encyclopedias and dictionaries for fun?

But I never forgot my working class roots – which is why I was always the one in my group that held a job, saved money and never chased rainbows.
The result? A middle class suburbanite with house, a fixed 30 year mortgage at a low interest rate, two sensible Japanese cars, a Wife and Kid – but one who can quote romantic and beat poetry, is comfortable in distant, exotic locales, and can sing Clash tunes to embarrass his kid in front of his friends.

In my time I was exposed to all sorts of ideologies. One of my friends left high school and supposedly ran off to join the IRA. A girl I knew in college donned peasant skirts and set off to live with the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. Others took drugs searching for artistic creativity, resulting in scribbles that looked like epileptic crickets had been dipped in paint and left to seize on canvas, or poetry that was impossible to read by anyone who wasn’t tripping on several hits of acid. I’ve read the Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital until it put me to sleep. I’ve read de Sade until I had to puke. I’ve read Plato’s Republic, and Smith’s The Wealth of Nations. I’ve read anarchists, existentialists, Randists, modernists, post-modernists, and post-post-modernists.

But I still watch football on Sundays.

I suppose my intellectual fore bearers are the Beats because they too had hard scrabble and working class backgrounds (except Ginsburg, who was bourgeoisie – and the lamest of them all.) Though most intellectuals claim to speak for the common man, they believe they know more than he does. The Beats knew different. The Beats felt that the common man had much to teach them, rather than the other way around.

Which brings me to the story of Tanja Nijmeijer, a Dane who ran off to join Columbia’s FARC guerrillas. The Columbian government has gotten hold of her diary and released it to the media.

“I’m tired, tired of the FARC, tired of the people, tired of communal living. Tired of never having anything for myself,” wrote the author, a 29-year-old Dutch woman.

In the diary, Nijmeijer abhors the strict discipline imposed by FARC’s male commanders — no smoking, no phone calls, no romantic relationships without their consent. She says the rank and file are hungry and bored, and describes FARC leaders as both materialistic and corrupt.

“How will it be when we take power? The wives of the commanders in Ferrari Testa Rossas with breast implants eating caviar?” she writes.

Intellectuals have always been attracted to idealist causes. I wouldn’t be surprised if the early Crusades weren’t filled with the ranks of Europe’s intellectuals in the Middle Ages – at least, the few that existed and weren’t banned from attending by their abbots. What better for the practical-minded to have at your disposal intelligent men and women who were open to manipulation: Lenin’s “useful idiots.”

So I’m not surprised to read that Toni Vernelli, an Englishwoman, has an abortion to reduce her carbon footprint. I only wish her mother shared her fanaticism 36 years ago. At least Sara Irving had her tubes tied because she felt “a baby would pollute the planet.” No word as of yet on her suicide date, since by her logic her existence continues to spoil the Earth – and bringing to mind a bumper sticker that I recently saw that said: Save the Planet. Kill yourself.

And did I mention that I’ve also read Sun Tzu, Musashi Miyamoto, von Clausewitz and Niccolo Machiavelli? All these men were intellectuals, but they were also practical men interested in results more than theory, and the real rather than the ideal. Of these, Machiavelli has shown himself to be the most useful in day-to-day life. His advice to the Medici princes can be just as easily applied to bosses and office coworkers, and on a grander level his view of international politics of the 15th century can be just as easily applied to those of the 21st century.

Are these men no less intellectuals than Plato, Sartre of Marx? Absolutely not. But they were not only intellectual, they were practical. In essence they blended together intelligence and creativity with the practical – sort of like scientists or engineers. While the idealist knight went off to fight the Crusade, they were his trusted adviser who stayed behind to impregnate his wife. When the Paris intelligentsia rioted – and died – in the streets, they negotiated compromise with the regime that strengthened their own power.

They are the Dick Cheneys in a world of Barack Obamas.

What would Machiavelli make of Nijmeijer, Vernelli and Irving? It’s hard to imagine him doing anything but smiling.

The New Imperialism: Diversity and Cultural Sensitivity

I appreciate irony, that sense of bitterness one gets when a fantasy is shredded by truth.

Caprice Hollins, the Seattle School District’s director of Equity, Race & Learning Support – an Orwellian title if there ever was one – sent out a directive warning district officials that Thanksgiving was a time of mourning for native Americans – without actually consulting native Americans.

Native Americans in the Northwest celebrate the holiday with turkey and salmon, said Daryl Williams of the Tulalip Tribes. Before the period of bitter and violent relationships between natives and their culturally European counterparts, they worked together to survive, he said.

“The spirit of Thanksgiving, of people working together to help each other, is the spirit I think that needs to grow in this country, because this country has gotten very divisive,” he said.

Of course Hollins and those like her know better. After all, they’ve studied dedicated their careers to learning what should minorities should think and be offended by.

One wonders how much time Hollins has spent among the people she wants to protect. At least the British and French lived in the places they ruled during their empires.

Carbon Footprint of UN Conference

Much of the blame for carbon dioxide emissions gets put on cars. However if you really want to warm the planet fast and you believe the current scientific consensus that CO2 emissions are to blame, then hop on board an international flight. This is the reason why I can’t get past the irony of holding a UN sponsored conference on climate change in one of the most remote places on the planet, about as far from UN headquarters as you can go and still get a tan without drowning.

The distance between New York City and Bali, Indonesia is 10163 miles (16356 km) (8832 nautical miles). The US is sending 60 delegates - so we’ll assume that they are all based at UN headquarters in NYC. We’ll also assume that they aren’t packed in coach and that they are flying Business Class on a non-stop flight that is 80% full.

Here’s a nifty calculator that does all the calculations based on latitude and longitude.

For this single trip, each participant from New York City will use 1,731 kg of fuel, producing 5,282 kg of CO2 with the warming effect of 16,146 kg.

That’s each participant leaving New York City. Multiplying that result by 60, the American delegation alone is responsible for 103,860 kg of fuel, producing 316,920 kg of CO2 with the warming effect of 968,720 kg.

But 10,000 people are expected to attend the conference and so far I’ve been unable to find any type of geographic breakdown. So I’m going to make some assumptions:

4,000 participants from New York – that’s where UN headquarters is.
1,000 from Los Angeles – for press, Hollywood UN groupies, and UN personnel stationed at west coast consulates.
3,000 from Rome – for European NGO, UN and official contingents
1,000 from Hong Kong – that will cover participants and press from Japan, China and SE Asia
1,000 from Delhi – which will cover South Asia, the Middle East and Africa

Origination # of travelers
kg of fuel per traveler total fuel
kg of CO2 per traveler total CO2
kg of CO2 warming effect per traveler total warming effect
New York 4,000 people
1,731 6,924,000 kg
5,282 21,128,000 kg
16,146 64,584,000 kg
Los Angeles 1,000 people
1,450 1,450,000 kg
4,508 4,508,000 kg
13,525 13,525,000 kg
Rome 3,000 people
1,240.00 3,720,000 kg
3,850.00 11,550,000 kg
11,560.00 34,680,000 kg
Hong Kong 1,000 people
404 404,000 kg
1,256 1,256,000 kg
3,769 3,769,000 kg
Delhi 1,000 people
608 608,000 kg
1,889 1,889,000 kg
5,666 5,666,000 kg
Fuel used: 13,106,000 kg
CO2 produced: 40,331,000 kg
Warming effect: 122,224,000 kg

I will update this post with better numbers as I find them. However my estimate is that the UN conference in Bali will spew over 40,000 metric tons of CO2 into the atmosphere in air travel alone. This CO2 has the warming effect of just over 122,000 metric tons of CO2.

According to this Wikipedia article, trees planted in the tropics remove 22kg of CO2 from the atmosphere per year. That’s roughly 45 trees needed to remove one metric ton of CO2.

So in order to cover the 40,000 metric tons we would have to plant roughly 2,000,000 trees in the tropics. I am currently working on learning more about these plantings, including species (e.g. Leucaena leucocephala, a Mexican native), size of tree, and the number of trees per hectare – so that I can estimate the area of afforestation it would take to offset this conference. However, I’m very leery of planting non-native species based on my experience with Senna spectabilis, a tree that is so invasive that you can cut one down, take the log and stick it into the ground and before you know it it will sprout and grow. Senna might offset carbon, but Senna forest is a desert in terms of its ability to support wildlife.

Finding stem density for tropical forests has been tough. The best I’ve found so far is this study on Ugandan forest. They used a 10cm DBH threshold, and found an average density of 479 trees per hectare. Using this figure I calculate that 4,175 hectares (10,317 acres) of trees would need to be planted to offset the carbon produced by the conference. Or just over 1 acre of trees per participant.

Glenn Reynolds has stated, “I’ll believe it’s a crisis when the people who say it’s a crisis start acting like it’s a crisis.” It’s difficult to argue with that sentiment. Imagine a conference to fight illegal drugs being attended by participants who were stoned, or holding a meeting to combat obesity at an all-you-can-eat buffet. Are global warming skeptics the only ones who appreciate the irony here?

Hat tip: The Rosett Report

UPDATE: 12/5/2007
The Seattle Post Intelligencer gives the carbon footprint at 47,000 tons, which is a bit higher than my estimate. However the article quotes Chris Goodall, author of the book “How to Live a Low-Carbon Life,” as saying that the figure is probably closer to 100,000 tons.

Imogen Heap – Musical – and Technological – Genius

This has to be one of the most remarkable performances I’ve ever witnessed by a musician.

For the lazy, Imogen Heap is performing live in a radio studio. She begins her performance with some a cappella which she instantly records and plays back. She then layers her voice over the track again, records it, and plays it back instantly again. As she’s playing back herself singing, she then claps in accompaniment, which she then records and layers with her singing.

Throughout the entire performance she uses the recording and playing back of various elements from the same performance to create a deeply textured sound impeccably woven “on the fly” – all from elements that did not exist in any form before she took the stage.

My musical tastes are rather eclectic and range from Abba, through Skinny Puppy to Buckwheat Zydeco. However I can appreciate talent and artistry in anything – and Ms. Heap has both in spades.

Her performance reminds me most of Thomas Dolby and Tom Ellard. However she does with her voice what Dolby and Ellard do with samples and instruments.

So if you are still lazy, click and watch the video above. I guarantee you that you’ll have never seen anything quite like it.

New Zealand Is For Bigots Part II

The fact that 1/2 of the country is overweight hasn’t stopped New Zealand from barring overweight immigrants.

British citizens Rowan Trezise, 33, and Richie Trezise, 35, are living apart as she tries desperately to shed the pounds needed to comply with New Zealand guidelines that immigrants maintain a healthy BMI, or body mass index.

BMI is a weight-height ratio that estimates percentage of body fat. The New Zealand Immigration Service requires all applicants to undergo a complete medical examination, which includes body size measures like “waist circumference.”

The regulations were supposedly put into place for budget reasons. The country’s health care system cannot afford to open its doors to overweight immigrants, a spokesman for New Zealand’s Fight the Obesity Epidemic explained to the Daily Mail.

A BMI requirement for immigrants? I could possibly understand it if we were talking an island nation filled with 4 million Kate Mosses, but for a nation of 2 million porkies?

I’ve written about New Zealand here and here. Apparently I’m one of the few people who actually pay attention to what those bigots are up to in their tiny corner of the planet.

New Zealand is for bigots

Free Zimbabwe

One of my posters on my thread about gerbil care pointed this out to me tonight.
Unfortunately I’ve been following the destruction of Zimbabwe for years through the increasingly erratic and kleptocratic rule of Robert Mugabe.

One one of my all-time favorite bloggers is Zach Barbera. Zach blogged frequently about Zimbabwe five years ago. His commentary remains as relevant today as back then, and serves to remind us why Zimbabwe is the way it is – and how the world did nothing.

Just the facts…

Dean Esmay lays out current facts about Iraq.

Coalition and Iraqi security force operations against Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) continue. (Rear Adm. Greg Smith, Press Briefing, 11/7/07)

· Over 40 Al Qaeda leaders were killed or captured in October, including:

o Six AQI emirs

o Six cell leaders, including two responsible for the personal security detail for Ayyub al-Masri, the foreign leader of AQI

o 14 foreign terrorist facilitators

o Six logistics and weapons facilitators

o Three truck and car bomb leaders

o Four AQI leaders who worked in the Mosul media or propaganda cell

o Two administrators who worked on false documents and AQI finances

o Two AQI leaders who were involved in senior communications and courier activities

· Recent analysis of documents captured from Abu Muthanna, a foreign terrorist facilitator killed in September, confirms that approximately 90% of the suicide bombers and bombings are perpetuated by foreign terrorists, not by Iraqis.

· View MNF-I Slides

As security improves, the U.S. is working with Iraqis to improve basic services and economic opportunities. (Rear Adm. Greg Smith, Press Briefing, 11/7/07)

· On October 30, coalition forces, working with the Qadr neighborhood advisory council, distributed micro-grants to 29 small business owners in Jamaya, located in western Baghdad.

o The recipients received between $2,000 and $2,500 in grants to help renovate businesses, buy inventory and office supplies, hire workers, and pay for other business-related expenses.

· Coalition forces have invested over $2.6 million in micro-grants to Iraqi businesses so far this year.

Economic progress continues on the ground throughout Iraq. (Information compiled by U.S. Department of the Treasury)

· The number of registered businesses in Iraq has increased 500% post-Saddam, from 8,000 to 40,997.

o In 2007, registered businesses have increased 9.1%.

· Cellular phone subscribers have increased from almost none to 8 million post-Saddam, representing almost one-third of the Iraqi population.

· In August, three mobile telecom licenses were auctioned for $3.75 billion.

· There are now approximately 260,000 internet subscribers in Iraq, compared to an estimated 4,500 pre-war.

· The Iraqi Stock Exchange Index is up 41% year to date, with 94 companies listed and 30 actively traded.

Provincial Reconstruction Team reports on reconciliation. Reconciliation movement evident in northern and western outskirts of Baghdad. (Mr. Thomas Burke and COL Paul Funk, State Dept. Briefing, 11/13/07)

· Over a period of several months, reconciliation has gathered momentum through U.S. military and civilian efforts engaging key sheiks in a dialogue towards establishing a secure future.

· Initial reconciliation meetings in the area consisted of only a dozen sheiks. Subsequent meetings have grown to involve hundreds of tribal elders and village businessmen.

· Because of the dramatic change in the area’s security, the PRT team is able to work with businessmen and community leaders to begin the real work towards reconstruction and development.

It must drive some people nuts. In fact I know it does because I receive all kinds of ramblings and rantings from them everyday… Which I delete without reading. Poor crazy bastards. I suppose it’s tough getting your meds adjusted when you live under socialized medicine and have to wait 6 months just to see your GP.

More On PC Rot at U of D

Via Stuart Taylor of the National Journal.

One such report, for example, classified a young woman as one of the “worst” students in the residence life education program for saying that she was tired of having “diversity shoved down her throat” and responding “none of your damn business” when asked “when did you discover your sexual identity?”

“It seemed like they were trying to convince us we were racist and sexist and were horrible people,” Kelsey Lanan, a 19-year-old sophomore, told The Philadelphia Inquirer.

2 More Cops Shot Tonight In Philly

But not seriously injured thank god.

“Go after illegal gun dealers,” Mayor Street said. I’m no fan of the mayor, but he’s speaking live right now and he’s the only one I’ve heard tonight differentiating between “the flow of guns” (media) and “the flow of illegal guns” (Street).

That’s a crucial difference, but one that’s being lost in the media frenzy after the sixth Philly cop shot in 3 weeks (1 died).

I would bet anything that all these shootings did not involve legally purchased and possessed guns – yet it’s much easier to go after law abiding citizens and gun dealers than it is the thugs in the Hood dealing illegal guns to felons.

Unfortunately the Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson didn’t note the difference even as he stood next to Street. NBC 10 quotes him as complaining ” the availability of guns is “out of hand here in the City of Philadelphia,” adding the gun laws “the softest … in the entire nation.” Johnson likes to blame others for the city’s deterioration under his and his buddy’s watch, but he really likes to blame guns and gun owners. As best as I can tell he can’t differentiate between a felon and a law abiding citizen when it comes to guns. That goes over well with the gun control crowd, especially those who live in the burbs and don’t have to cross the city line. However it doesn’t explain why cops are getting shot now and not when Timoney and Rindell were in office. After all, guns just didn’t suddenly appear in Philly after Street was elected in 2000, and the gun laws haven’t changed either.

Incoming Mayor Michael Nutter plans to stop the violence using “stop, question and frisk” tactics by the police. Needless to say this is riling some so-called “civil liberties groups,” including the Police Commissioner who said last May that he wouldn’t enforce the policy if Nutter instituted it.

I’ve lived in the area for 10 years and have watched it deteriorate since Rendell left and Street replaced him, and Johnson replaced John Timoney who’s now cleaning up Miami (and raising hell doing it). Under Rendell and Timoney the city was thriving with a declining homicide rate. Since Street and Johnson took office, it’s been a slow slide back into the 70’s, a time of high crime, a spiking homicide rate and an era when cops were running scared, outgunned by the criminals in the street, their hands tied by the “civil liberties groups.”

Nutter calls the city a “filthy mess.” I think he’s letting the city off too easy.

I Have a Mouth – But I Keep It Shut Sometimes

I have an opinion – an educated one – on just about everything. However I have learned that there are times when the best thing one can do in life is to keep one’s mouth shut. I might know a little about a lot, but that doesn’t mean that I know everything about anything. When that subject is a person I’ve never met, I do what needs to be done:

I keep my mouth shut.

It isn’t easy, being opinionated by nature and coming across as an arrogant know-it-all sometimes. And I struggled, really struggled to stay out of a mess that involved three subjects that I’ve had a lot of experience with: sobriety, parenting, and staying married. However I realized that for all of my experience – and struggles – with these subjects, I don’t know jack about them. What has worked for me as I approach my 7th year anniversary of sobriety will not necessarily work for someone else. It can’t – because in the end everyone’s battle is inside them, where others can’t get.

It’s just you and your adversary on the battlefield – and inevitably that adversary turns out to be you yourself because who else really knows how to defeat you?

In some cultures people need to speak up, to break their silence. Ours is not one of those cultures. There’s a balance between the two when words are called for, and another time when the best course of action is silence – and staying out of someone else’s business.

Carbon Fiber Works of Art

I am not a musician, but music has always been an important part of my life. It energizes me, and other times it soothes me. It can even bring me to tears. Even though I don’t play an instrument, I can appreciate the artistry of a talented musician blended with that of an instrument maker.

Which brings me to Luis and Clark. I saw their carbon fiber instruments on a Discovery Channel show of all places.

Luis & Clark carbon fiber violin

These instruments are truly beautiful – and I wish I played a violin or cello so that I could justify buying one. Simply to have something like this laying on a bare table as an art object alone would be worth it (although I’m sure the Wife would differ). Their medieval design mixed with the ultra-modern technology is a unique techno-primitive blend that demands to be seen, felt and of course, heard to be truly appreciated.

UN Conference on Climate Change in Bali

When I read stuff like this I pretend that the substantial chunk of change I send the Federal Government every year goes to the Military instead of towards funding the United Nations. An 11 day conference in Bali. That’s longer than most vacations there.

I’m still trying to calculate the carbon footprint of the event to see how many trees Al Gore has to cut down in order to make it carbon neutral. However I don’t know how many attendees there are, nor where they are coming from. I also don’t know how much Chivas and imported liquor they’ll down, but based on my experience drinking with UN personnel in Tanzania, it will be a lot.

Best Lolcat Picture Yet

From icanhazcheezburger