Thursday, June 26

Sugar baby

If Obama wants energy independence through alternative fuels, why doesn't he back imported sugar-based ethanol? This old-style politician knows it isn't grown in the Midwest and Brazil has no electoral votes.
Corn-based ethanol gets a 51-cents-a-gallon tax subsidy that will cost taxpayers $4.5 billion this year. McCain opposes ethanol subsidies while Obama supports them. McCain opposed them even though Iowa is the first caucus state. Obama, touted by Caroline Kennedy as another JFK, was no profile in courage in Iowa.

That subsidy was cut to 45 cents a gallon in the new farm bill, but more money was pushed toward other biofuels such as switch grass. The Democrats can't wait for offshore oil or ANWR, but they can wait for switch grass. The tariff on imported ethanol was extended. Neither candidate voted on the bill, but Obama said he supported it. McCain said as president he would have vetoed it.

If Obama is sincere about alternative fuels, why does he oppose imported sugar-based ethanol from countries like Brazil? He supports not only the domestic subsidy, but a 54-cents-a-gallon tariff on imported ethanol. McCain opposes both.

Corn ethanol is less energy-efficient and costs more. It generates less than two units of energy for every unit of energy used to produce it. Ethanol made from sugar cane has an energy ratio of more than 8-to-1. Production costs and land prices are cheaper in the countries that produce it.

Wednesday, June 25

Certain people should try living in China for a month

On his travels across China in the mid-eighties, which he later described in “Red Dust,” the book that made him known in the West, Ma Jian repeatedly chafed at official brutality and philistinism. Speaking to a small-town book club, he proclaimed, “I will not let a political party tell me how to live, when to die or what to believe in.” Reciting Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” to a fellow-writer, he mocked Ginsberg’s angry rejection of America. “He implies his country is not fit for humans to live in. Well, he should live in China for a month, then see what he thinks. Everyone here dreams of the day we can sing out of our windows in despair.”
And not just Allen Ginsberg.

Friday, June 20

Two anti-capitalists

I know it's KARL ROVE, but it makes sense:
Sen. Obama promised, "I'll make oil companies like Exxon pay a tax on their windfall profits, and we'll use the money to help families pay for their skyrocketing energy costs and other bills."


Why should we stop with oil companies? They make about 8.3 cents in gross profit per dollar of sales. Why doesn't Mr. Obama slap a windfall profits tax on sectors of the economy that have fatter margins? Electronics make 14.5 cents per dollar and computer equipment makers take in 13.7 cents per dollar, according to the Census Bureau. Microsoft's margin is 27.5 cents per dollar of sales. Call out Mr. Obama's Windfall Profits Police!

It's not the profit margin, but the total number of dollars earned that is the problem, Mr. Obama might say. But if that were the case, why isn't he targeting other industries? Oil and gas companies made $86.5 billion in profits last year. At the same time, the financial services industry took in $498.5 billion in profits, the retail industry walked away with $137.5 billion, and information technology companies made off with $103.4 billion. What kind of special outrage does Mr. Obama have for these companies?


Sen. McCain...can be as hostile to profits as Mr. Obama. "[W]e should look at any incentives that we are giving," Mr. McCain said in May, even as he talked up a gas tax "holiday" that would give drivers incentives to burn more gasoline.

This past Thursday, Mr. McCain came close to advocating a form of industrial policy, saying, "I'm very angry, frankly, at the oil companies not only because of the obscene profits they've made, but their failure to invest in alternate energy."

But oil and gas companies report that they have invested heavily in alternative energy. Out of the $46 billion spent researching alternative energy in North America from 2000 to 2005, $12 billion came from oil and gas companies, making the industry one of the nation's largest backers of wind and solar power, biofuels, lithium-ion batteries and fuel-cell technology.

Such investments, however, are not as important as money spent on technologies that help find and extract more oil. Because oil companies invested in innovation and technology, they are now tapping reserves that were formerly thought to be unrecoverable. Maybe we are all better off when oil companies invest in what they know, not what they don't.

And do we really want the government deciding how profits should be invested? If so, should Microsoft be forced to invest in Linux-based software or McDonald's in weight-loss research?
Take your pick.


"Whenever you have development, you are going to increase the runoff, increase how much the rivers and streams have to carry," says civil engineer W. Gene Corley, a senior vice president at CTLGroup, an engineering firm that constructs levees. "The other side of that is that if you don't have development, you don't have housing for people or business or manufacturing."

In addition, by paving over previously open space—or farming previously reserved lands—communities in these watersheds contribute to record high waters through increased runoff.

This extra runoff is why waters in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, for example, rose to a record 30-plus feet (over nine meters). "The amount of development that has happened in communities up and down the river way creates less opportunity for water to be absorbed back into the earth as opposed to just running off," notes structural engineer Jeffrey Garrett, president and CEO of CTLGroup. "Suddenly, you've got a lot more water that has to flow between the levees."
So, restrict development, then?

The Buick Guys

I followed them to a house in the San Fernando Valley that had a couple of '50s-era Buicks in the front yard. We went in through the back door to the kitchen, and there was a double sink. One of the sinks was filled with carburetor ­cleaner, and car parts were soaking in it.

Then, I noticed none of the cabinets had doors, and they were filled with carburetor parts from old Buicks, all carefully labeled with tags saying what they were. As we moved throughout the house, Buick fenders, wheels, tires and other stuff were all stacked up.

So I said to the guy who seemed to be the homeowner, "Single man, are you?" He responded, "Yeah, how'd you know? The wife left eight years ago. Now I can do what I want and collect my Buick stuff."
My wife is sick, and I was just thinking that some guys would be happy to have their wives gone, but I don't see how I can be happy--unless I could find an obsession that outweighs my feelings for her.

Friday, June 13

Good times

Democratic attacks on Mr. McCain and Republican attacks on Mr. Obama both seek to punish impermissibly positive thoughts. At a time when there exists a sense of crisis over the economy, fuel prices and many other issues, this reinforces the odd, two realities of life in the United States today: The way we are, and the way we think we are. The way we are could use some work, but overall, is pretty good. The way we think we are is terrible, horrible, awful. Possibly worse.

The case that things are basically pretty good? Unemployment is 5.5%, low by historical standards; income is rising slightly ahead of inflation; housing prices are down, but the typical house is still worth a third more than in 2000; 94% of Americans do not have threatened mortgages, and of those who do, most will keep their homes.

Inflation was up in 2007, but this stands out because the 16 previous years were close to inflation-free; living standards are the highest they have ever been, including living standards for the middle class and for the poor.

All forms of pollution other than greenhouse gases are in decline; cancer, heart disease and stroke incidence are declining; crime is in a long-term cycle of significant decline; education levels are at all-time highs.

Sure, gas prices are up, the dollar is weak and credit is tight – but these are complaints at the margin of a mainly healthy society.

Thursday, June 12

Democrats are unsympathetic to the Copenhagen Consensus

Democrats are unsympathetic to the Copenhagen Consensus:
Q: What will be the most urgent priority facing the next president and Congress in January?

Democrats (39 votes)

Global warming.....................................................31 percent
Health care..............................................................0 percent
Iraq...........................................................................5 percent
U.S. economy ......................................................44 percent
All of the above (volunteered).............................13 percent
Economy and Iraq (volunteered)..........................3 percent
Global warming and health care (volunteered)...3 percent
Economy and health care (volunteered) .............3 percent

Republicans (39 votes)

Global warming .......................................................0 percent
Health care ............................................................13 percent
Iraq ..........................................................................10 percent
U.S. economy.........................................................59 percent
Energy (volunteered)..............................................15 percent
Immigration and gasoline prices (volunteered)...3 percent

But there's something wrong with this: 0% Democrats for Health care?

Will Chinese tone marks eventually appear?

An item from lifehacker credits Photo by Kiên Phạm. It's interesting to see the diacritics on a non-linguistics site. Not unlike the spelling of our former chancellor Fernando Treviño. Will Chinese tone marks eventually appear?

Wednesday, June 11

Some choice!


On the one hand, he projects himself as the great conciliator. He uses the metaphor of his race to argue that he is uniquely suited to bridge differences between liberals and conservatives, young and old, rich and poor -- to craft a new centrist politics. On the other hand, his actual agenda is highly partisan and undermines many of his stated goals. He wants to stimulate economic growth, but his hostility toward trade agreements threatens export-led growth (which is now beginning). He advocates greater energy independence but pretends this can occur without more domestic drilling for oil and natural gas.

All this reflects Obama's legislative record. From 2005 to 2007, he voted with his party 97 percent of the time, reports the Politico. But Obama's clever campaign strategy would put him in a bind as president. Championing centrism would disappoint many ardent Democrats. Pleasing them would betray his conciliating image. The fact that he has so far straddled the contradiction may confirm his political skills and the quiet aid received from the media, which helped him by virtually ignoring the blatant contradictions.

...He strikes me as a super-successful graduate student: the brightest, quickest, most articulate guy in the seminar. In his career, he has advanced mainly by talking and writing -- not doing -- and may harbor a delusion common to the well-educated: that he can argue and explain his way around any problem.


And McCain?

He has often defied Republican-party orthodoxy, and his credentials to lead a centrist coalition are stronger than Obama's. According to the Politico, he sided with his party only 83 percent of the time from 2005 to 2007. Even in this election year, he has taken unpopular positions. Note his criticism of farm subsidies, which won't help him in the Midwest. The trouble with McCain is that he often mistakes stubbornness for principle.

He has a hard time changing his mind, even when the evidence overwhelmingly suggests he's wrong. He has stuck with "campaign finance reform" despite its dismal record. After three decades, it has entangled political campaigns in rules and paperwork without solving any notable problem (for example, people continue to believe that wealthy "special interests" have too much influence). On immigration, he still does not grasp what I think is the actual problem: not illegal immigration so much as too many poor and unskilled immigrants, whether legal or illegal. Like Obama, he seems oblivious to the possible unintended consequences of endorsing an anti-global warming "cap-and-trade" program.

Steadfastness and good judgment are qualities we value in a president, and McCain has often displayed these. He was early and correct in his criticism of the Bush administration's conduct of the Iraq War and of its treatment of prisoners. He has been consistent in his opposition to high and wasteful federal spending. But good judgment must accompany steadfastness, and there are enough instances of McCain's bad judgment to make you wonder which would prevail.

All very cogent, except for Samuelson's nonsense about "too many poor and unskilled immigrants, whether legal or illegal".

As Donald J. Boudreaux wrote:
I'll bet $100 that, regardless of which candidate wins the White House, in 2013 the federal budget will still contain agricultural subsidies and tariffs that take billions of dollars from the many to give to the few - that a majority of Members of Congress will continue to successfully sponsor earmarks - that the unfunded liabilities of Social Security and Medicare will be no smaller than they are today - and that partisan bickering will be every bit as much a part of the daily news as it is now.


"Progressivism" is really about disdain for the common man and a belief that elites should make even the smallest decisions for them.

Monday, June 9

It's not just women’s studies professors

[Prof. Daphne Patai, a pioneer in the founding of women’s studies programs at the University of Massachusetts] decided to jump ship when, in a planning session with other women’s studies specialists, she wondered out loud why the sciences were “sexist,” and asked specifically about the Periodic Table—something, surely, both men and women would agree is beyond the dimorphism that characterizes most modern discussions of sex and gender. After all, the world is the world, chemical, physical, biological. But with that contempt for intellect which characterizes both Bubba in Georgia and too many women’s studies professors, she was told that “Only men would put numbers in boxes.” She retired happily into the Romance Linguistics department, whence she had come.
Not just "too many women’s studies professors"; it's too many liberal arts professors.

Our Civilization of Fear

No previous generation ever lived in such a safe world as we do; we live longer, we murder each other less frequently, much less frequently do we experience the tragedy of losing a child. We are healthier, we do not have to fear hunger, much less often do we fall victim of natural disasters, not to mention wild animals. But we have the same or greater fears and anxieties as our forbears, and many of those fears are delusions that we allow ourselves to be talked into...

Philip Tetlock, a psychologist from the University of California, examined the accuracy of the predictions of sociologists, economists, and journalists over a period of twenty years. He checked 82,361 predictions, and their accuracy was so pathetic that guessing at random would give better results. And they were not any old predictions or any old experts. In 1975 the world was supposed to start dying of worldwide hunger, later we were suppose to become extinct because of a demographic bomb, and of course according to Rachel Carson’s prediction there are no more birds, and that is not because of a nuclear war--which was also unavoidable.
That's from Andrzej Koraszewski, in what amounts to a review of Dan Gardner's Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear.

Saturday, June 7

Copenhagen Consensus 2008

Over two years, more than 50 economists have worked to find the best solutions to ten of the world’s biggest challenges. During the last week of May, an expert panel of 8 top-economists, including 5 Nobel Laureates, sat down to assess the research.

The result: A prioritized list highlighting the potential of 30 specific solutions to combat some of the biggest challenges facing the world.

Combating malnutrition in the 140 million children who are undernourished reached the number one spot, after economist Sue Horton of Wilfrid Laurier University in Canada made her case to the expert panel.

Providing micronutrients for 80% of the 140 million children who lack essential vitamins in the form of vitamin A capsules and a course of zinc supplements would cost just $60 million per year, according to the analysis. More importantly, this action holds yearly benefits of more than $1 billion.

In effect, this means that each dollar spent on this program creates benefits (in the form of better health, fewer deaths, increased future earnings, etc) worth more than 17 dollars.
Their whole list below (ugly formatting is my own):



  1. Malnutrition

Micronutrient supplements for children (vitamin A and zinc)

  1. Trade

The Doha development agenda

  1. Malnutrition

Micronutrient fortification (iron and salt iodization)

  1. Diseases

Expanded immunization coverage for children

  1. Malnutrition


  1. Malnutrition & Education

Deworming and other nutrition programs at school

  1. Education

Lowering the price of schooling

  1. Women

Increase and improve girls’ schooling

  1. Malnutrition

Community-based nutrition promotion

  1. Women

Provide support for Women’s reproductive role

  1. Diseases

Heart attack acute management

  1. Diseases

Malaria prevention and treatment

  1. Diseases

Tuberculosis case finding and treatment

  1. Global Warming

R&D in low-carbon energy technologies

  1. Water

Bio-sand filters for household water treatment

  1. Water

Rural Water supply

  1. Education

Conditional cash transfers

  1. Conflicts

Peace-keeping in post-conflict situations

  1. Diseases

HIV combination prevention

  1. Water

Total sanitation campaign

  1. Diseases

Improving surgical capacity at district hospital level

  1. Women


  1. Air Pollution

Improved stove intervention

  1. Water

Large, multipurpose dam in Africa

  1. Air Pollution

Inspection and maintenance of diesel vehicles

  1. Air Pollution

Low sulfur diesel for urban road vehicles

  1. Air Pollution

Diesel vehicle particulate control technology

  1. Diseases

Tobacco tax

  1. Global Warming

R&D and mitigation

  1. Global Warming

Mitigation only

So Much for Intelligent Design

Why do men have breasts and nipples?

...[B]ecause they already had them before they became male.

But then why didn't evolution opt to remove those seemingly useless female parts?

Because evolution doesn’t simply wipe out unnecessary physical bits and pieces. Those parts have to be a burden, or be in the way of survival and reproduction for evolution to take notice. Since there's no real caloric cost to men having boobs, evolution has no impetus to erase them.

In fact, men's breasts are a good lesson in the higgledy-piggledy way that evolution works. Natural selection chooses for and against body parts, but there is no master plan that aims for the perfect creature. Men have boobs, women get facial hair, and we all stand in front of the mirror asking, "Why?"

Maybe men have boobs so they can get to wear the man-bra. So much for intelligent design.

Tuesday, June 3

A tidal wave...

....of influence-peddling:
The chief political virtue of cap-and-trade -- a complex scheme to reduce greenhouse gases -- is its complexity. This allows its environmental supporters to shape public perceptions in essentially deceptive ways. Cap-and-trade would act as a tax, but it's not described as a tax. It would regulate economic activity, but it's promoted as a "free market" mechanism. Finally, it would trigger a tidal wave of influence-peddling, as lobbyists scrambled to exploit the system for different industries and localities. This would undermine whatever the system's abstract advantages.
Just Call It 'Cap-and-Tax'

There is an alternative to working in a sweatshop

Sweatshops have deplorable working conditions and extremely low pay—compared to the alternative employment available to me and probably you. That is why we choose not to work in sweatshops. All too often the fact that we have better alternatives leads first world activists to conclude that there must be better alternatives for third world workers too.

Economists across the political spectrum have pointed out that for many sweatshop workers the alternatives are much, much worse.1 In one famous 1993 case U.S. senator Tom Harkin proposed banning imports from countries that employed children in sweatshops. In response a factory in Bangladesh laid off 50,000 children. What was their next best alternative? According to the British charity Oxfam a large number of them became prostitutes.2

Humans don't taste good

To sharks, that is. That's one reason why they don't kill all that many people. But
Worldwide bees are nearly a hundred times deadlier than sharks, killing about 500 people annually, including about 50 in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.