Friday, June 29, 2007

Faithful in the little things

Two interesting thoughts:

Todd Mitchell on reverence. And here, too.

Proverbs 14:26. "In the fear of the Lord is strong confidence; and his children shall have a place of refuge."

No comment from me, besides the fact that you already know I've been thinking about it and think it's worth mentioning to y'all.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Sad news for alternative fuels

It appears that the prospects for cellulosistic ethanol--made from straw, sawdust, and other materials ordinarily left to rot--are more or less dismal. Yes, it appears that the government has started to fund research into this not-yet-ready-for-prime-time technology, and thus for the forseeable future, it's a pretty good bet that it'll join oil shale, solar, wind, hybrid vehicles, and corn ethanol as technologies that can only be sustained by massive subsidies.

Thankfully, there are cost-effective ways to reduce fossil fuel consumption. However, you generally won't find them getting funding from the government because they don't need it. If only Congress and bureaucrats would take a hint.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Yes, environmentalism can kill

Joe asked a good question; how would reducing carbon emissions injure or kill people? The answer is simple; cost/benefit analysis. If I spend my money reducing carbon emissions, that is money I don't have for other, possibly more vital, needs.

In the case of "remedying" global climate change, the cost of implementing the Kyoto accords is currently closing in on $400 billion, while the benefit is an estimated temperature reduction (IPCC estimate) of 0.004C by 2050. More or less, $100 trillion might reduce global temperatures by 1C.

Put simply, alternatives to fossil fuels are currently more expensive than fossil fuels, and any bureaucratic attempts to "change" the economics and physics of the situation will necessarily increase the costs endured by customers--just ask anyone looking for an apartment in New York City, for example.

Now consider what else that $100 trillion might be used for. Maybe it could be DDT to keep mosquitoes out of tropical homes--and save half a million lives annually. Maybe it could be for bigger cars and the gasoline to run them--and save 3000 lives annually, according to the NHTSA. Or maybe it could be for air conditioning for senior citizens in France--which could have saved 15000 lives a few summers back.

The reality is that energy use enables our prosperity and our health. Sometimes we can do better with less energy--and we'll be rewarded with lower utility bills. However, when government gets into the act (CAFE standards, DDT bans, and so on), the result is generally not so benign. All too often, it kills.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Hijacking faith?

Evidently, Illinois Senator and Presidential candidate Barack Hussein Obama is now claiming that some evangelicals have "hijacked" the faith, claiming that that which was intended to "bring us together" was being wrongly used to "drive us apart."

I'm sad to say that it doesn't surprise me that a speaker at the convention for the "Unitarians Considering Christ" (officially "United Church of Christ") would ignore numerous Biblical examples of faith splitting the faithful from the faithless in making such a pronouncement. Of course, if they can't figure out the Trinity from the Scriptures, it's probably a safe bet that they'll have a bit of trouble with other Biblical doctrines, too.

Exactly how accusing evangelicals of "hijacking faith" is going to bring people together, or how it's going to "court evangelicals," as Obama suggests he'd like to do, is beyond me. Maybe he's counting on the "Stockholm Syndrome" to get votes?

Friday, June 22, 2007

How to trash your faith

Apparently, step one may be to fail to have children. If you are not faithful in the little things (see Malachi 2:14-15, Genesis 9:7), you're probably not going to be faithful in the big things, either.

Who is your leader?

Consider a few points of reference:

The Bayly Brothers (Presbyterian pastors) link a piece showing what happens when the bulls decide to stand and fight the lions. They suggest that it has some implications for what happens when men decide to lead and serve as Christ did.

The HSLDA makes the comment from time to time that "homeschoolers don't make good middle management." In other words, those who take care of themselves aren't comfortable passing the buck for a living. If true, this says far more nice things about homeschooling than "merely" winning the Spelling and Geography Bees.

My church just selected new deacons, and I'm once again struck by the fact that God names character traits, not skills or innate intelligence. Not many middle managers on the deacon board, either.

Do not be conformed, but be transformed. Be a bull--and one who doesn't wait to confront the lions that would rip you and your family to shreds.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Reasons I doubt global warming theory

Take a look here at a series by Canada's National Post. A series of scientists involved in global warming research are more or less demonstrating that there is more than one way to approach the evidence, and more significantly IMO, that those who advocate the "standard" interpretation of the evidence respond to their opponents not with evidence, but rather with ad hominem attacks, withholding of research grants, and deliberate falsification of the evidence.

I don't object to the idea that it would be smart to reduce fossil fuel use. I did, after all, live in LA for two summers, and I could tell when the smog days were simply by how well I could breathe. I do, however, object to the idea that government somehow has the right to tell us exactly how we can, and cannot, use energy.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

How not to help the environment

First, you apparently subsidize biodiesel by about a buck a gallon here in the U.S. OK, it's a start to reduce petroleum usage--no problem, right?

Um, no. Even beyond the pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers used to grow the soybeans and other oilseeds, you're planting, cultivating, and harvesting using quite a bit of petroleum and its derivatives. So like ethanol (which burns 2/3 of a gallon of gasoline to get the equivalent of one gallon), there is something of a difficulty getting more energy out than you put in.

It gets worse, though. Evidently, some enterprising folks have figured that the subsidy applies even when the oils used for the biodiesel don't come from our own country. They are apparently importing Malaysian palm oil, mixing it with a bit of diesel fuel, and selling it to Germany while pocketing the subsidy. So you're paying for Malaysian farmers to ship these oils about 20,000 miles or so to Germany--using real diesel fuel to power the ships, of course.

Nope, we're not done yet. To add insult to injury, it actually turns out that a lot of those new palm oil plantations are clearing rainforest and burning peat bogs to get the land ready for palm oil cultivation; in the process covering large areas of Malaysia and Indonesia with smoky haze and releasing (by some accounts) as much carbon dioxide as Europe does.

Forget your Suburban. It seems that one of the biggest threats to the environment is subsidies for "environmentally safe" fuels.

Two must-reads from John Lott

In this one, he provides evidence that, contrary to pro-abortion rhetoric, abortion is linked, most likely causally, to increases in illegitimacy. Go figure; tell Dad he doesn't have to marry the girl he impregnates, and he's not going to stick around.

In this one, he takes on the liberal idea that the death penalty doesn't deter crime, and exposes a very nasty bait & switch on the part of death penalty opponents. Instead of using a real metric (executions per # of murders or murderers), they've used executions per # of prisoners. Given that most prisoners haven't committed capital crimes, it's no surprise that this wrong metric doesn't show anything.

An interesting point about taxes.

Walter Williams notes that when we tinker with the tax system to benefit some and impede others, what we're really doing is undermining the rule of law. Sobering thought indeed.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

I hope and pray....

...that the recent disbarment of Mike Nifong, who persecuted (oops, "prosecuted") the Duke "rape" case will serve as a warning to prosecutors and peace officers nationwide--OK, worldwide. I'm ordinarily a law & order kind of guy, but this case, along with the 13 men released from Illinois' death row a few years back, reminds me that we do need to keep an eye on those who have the Romans 13 task of punishing the wicked and commending the just.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Great moments in government

Minnesota now has a committee to come up with strategies to "combat" global warming. (H/T Fraters Inebritas) Sigh. Given that our fair state has only 0.1% of the world's people, and that the total human (worldwide) contribution is only about 5% of the world's greenhouse gases, someone might figure out that maybe, just maybe, the proper approach is to figure out ways not of stopping a problem we cannot stop, but rather to deal with whatever climate change might be coming down the pike.

Nah. Let's try to reduce our 0.05% or so contribution to 0.01%, and that will solve the other 99.95% or more--it's not like geologists tell us that we've had tropical periods or ice ages or anything like that, after all, and we have to worry about climate change for any reason other than your Suburban.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Another Discipline's Imploding Logic

The "New Scientist" magazine has published a University of Oregon study that purports to demonstrate that people like to pay taxes. The methodology was curious, however; 19 female university students were given $100 and told either that $45 would go to taxes, or would not. MRI results then "revealed" that pleasure centers lit up when those who "paid taxes" were told about it.

Interesting methodology; one wonders if the "researchers" ever considered whether it might make a difference if the subject was spending their own money, or whether it might make a difference whether the subjects had ever filled out a 1040 form or written a check for property taxes.

Once again, we have cutting edge technology in the service of absurd logic. Evidently, that's a story we're going to be hearing more and more, and having a Ph.D. doesn't seem to indicate that the researchers or reviewers have ever darkened the door of a logic class or opened a book on the subject.

Note to self; scratch the "University of Oregon" from allowable universities for my children.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

You're entitled to your own opinion,

but you're not entitled to your own facts. This comment of Thomas Sowell, I believe, ought to be provided to Senatrix Dianne Feinstein, who recently commented to the Senate:

" The fact of the matter is that Detroit has done nothing about mileage efficiency for the past 20 years and the time has come."

Let's test this hypothesis. In 1987, a Suburban was lucky to get about 15mpg on the highway. Today, that same vehicle gets 21mpg, and tows 40% more than its 1987 counterpart. Is a 40% improvement in fuel economy "nothing"? Apparently in the world of Dianne Feinstein, improving your results 40% in multiple areas counts for nothing. I'm guessing that the sun is green on her planet.

Feinstein also might want to remember why so many people--like herself--drive SUVs. A great part of the reason is that the station wagon was made impractical by federal regulation. So instead of a Roadmaster (26mpg in 1996), we're forced to buy a Suburban (21mpg in 2007) to haul our family and tow our boats.

And she blames Detroit for this?

Food stamps

This year has seen, evidently, a new rash of politicians and liberal journalists demonstrating how "hard" it is to get along on food stamps. Now, I'm as sympathetic to the poor as the next guy, but I really think this misses the point.

First of all, what will result if people are satisfied on what they can buy on food stamps and other welfare? I'd guess that about 26 million people will rely on them because hunger doesn't drive them to improve their situation.

Oops, that's our current situation.

That said, when I saw some of the lists of food bought for the $21 in food stamps (plus $10 in other funds recommended), I quickly realized that they were mostly buying packaging. Here's my contribution for a week's diet on food stamps, along with approximate costs, calories, and fit to the "nutrition pyramid." In a week, the average person needs about 15000 calories, 14 servings of dairy, 14 servings of protein, 28 servings of fruit and vegetables, and 35 or more servings of grains.

My grocery list: 1 gallon milk (2500 calories/16 servings dairy, $3), 1 box cereal (2000 calories/15 servings grains/$3), 2 cans frozen fruit juice (1200 calories/12 servings fruit/$3), 4 lbs bananas (10 servings fruit/1000 calories/$2), 2 loaves of bread (40 servings grains/3200 calories/$5), 1 jar peanut butter (8 servings protein/3200 calories/$2), 1 box macaroni (8 servings grains/1600 cal/$1, 1 jar spaghetti sauce (500 calories/8 servings vegetables/$2). Overall, over 15000 calories, 16 servings of dairy, 60 of grains, 30 of fruits & vegetables, and eight of protein.

Not a princely diet, but enough calories, and a reasonable mix of nutrients. Keep in mind now that you've still got $10 to spend. Let's use it to make your diet a bit more interesting. Add a pound of sausage for your noodles ($3), a head of lettuce ($2), salad dressing ($2), and a pound of cheese ($3) to the mix. Now we're cooking, right?

Yup, and we've added about 4000 calories, ten servings of protein (and a few of dairy--cheese qualifies in part as both), and about ten servings of vegetables. You've also got enough food for nine days, not just a week, and you hardly need to cook.

In short, for anyone who knows how to shop, and especially for anyone who knows how to cook, food stamps can be used for a pretty decent diet. I should know, as I've been feeding my family on this kind of budget for years, along with pets and non-food grocery items.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Illogical Engineers

I reckon that I'd better "pick on" my own profession a bit, and unfortunately, there's a lot to pick on. More or less, I've far too often seen a tendency to believe whatever comes out of a statistical test--to "trust the data" rather than to "quibble over theory." Even worse, there is often something of an animosity between "theorists" and "experimentalists", as if the scientific method did not clearly note that hypotheses need to be tested in the lab or elsewhere.

My theory is that too many have forgotten that is really simply "natural philosophy," and thus have discarded many of the tools that Newton, Maxwell, Bernoulli, and others used; most notably logic and geometry. To object to results because of methodology ("is that sample representative?" "Is that the right fit, physically speaking?" ) is too often to open yourself up to ridicule.

In other words, too many engineers (and scientists) are more or less making decisions based on statistical noise. Not a good sign for our society, I think.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

A huge problem with econometrics

They apparently confuse various forms of correlation with causation. Witness this definition of causality given in a report about tort law.

"Wiener-Granger or Granger definition of causality.…It can be formulated in a simplified way as follows: Definition: x is a Granger cause of y (denoted as x-y), if present y can be predicted with better accuracy by using past values of x rather than by not doing so, other information being identical”

Unfortunately, that's correlation, not causality. Causality is when a firm statistical correlation is obtained, a reason to believe x causes y is established, and reason to exclude alternative hypotheses is established. Wiener-Granger only establishes the first.

So be careful when someone tells you that something is "statistically proven"--remember Disraeli's "Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics."

Also take a look at the premise of the paper I linked; they admit that tort law imposes a 2.2% "tax" on all of us here, and then they deny that having 2.2% less to spend has any effect on hiring, or elsewhere in the economy. I suggest that those of us who have a "budget" know better.

It seems that our world has a lot of people who are tremendously skilled with various technical tools, but have failed to learn the basic discipline of logic.


The Scotsman reports that children who spend a lot of time in daycare exhibit more antisocial behavior. It turns out as well that a German study found that those in daycare have about double the observed symptoms of stress as those cared for at home. Whoa--do you mean that when you take a child out of the loving care of his mother, and place him with someone who's there because it pays 50 cents per hour more than "Chez Mac," the child might not do well?

Shocker, that.

It used to be that the costs of working outside the home were transportation, daycare, wardrobe, and meals out. Evidently, we can add counseling, Prozac, Luvox, and Ritalin to the mix as well.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Why hierarchies don't work

The recent debacle of an immigration bill really illustrates why hierarchies and bureaucracies generally fail to do what they're intended to do; they strive for comprehensive solutions.

Why is this a problem? Well, reality (and the Pareto principle) tell us that when you try to solve everything at once, you end up pouring your energy into secondary causes instead of the primary ones. Worse, you end up pouring your energy into making your situation worse.

How so? The Pareto Principle more or less tells us that for every problem, there is an 800 lb gorilla or two doing most of the damage. Now try to isolate what the mouse in the corner is doing with the gorilla(s) thrashing around. You're likely to come to the exact wrong conclusion, aren't you?

So solve a single problem today if you can. Put a bureaucrat or Senator out of work. You'll be glad you did!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Inadvertent comment on our society

A sign outside the pharmacy at a local grocery store announced (Hooray! Hooray?) the arrival of generic Ambien. For the uninitiated, it's a prescription sleeping pill, evidently very expensive, and the arrival of the generic version appears to have granted significant relief to the budgets of many workaholics--at least according to the pharmacist I talked to.

Yet another case of passing a dollar around and calling yourself rich, I guess. You work your rear end off to climb the corporate ladder, but need the help of "better living through chemistry" to get a good night's sleep. My step-brother had a situation like that; the psychiatrist told him he could write a prescription for Prozac, or he could quit his job. Thankfully, he didn't help out his brother-in-law's stock options (my stepbrother-in-law works for Eli Lilly), and found a better job.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Statistics about homosexuality

In most any discussion of the effects of homosexuality, you're likely to be confronted with two sets of statistics. The first is the infamous Kinsey "10%" claim, and the second is the hotly debated statistics of Paul Cameron. If you mention the latter, you are almost certain to be shouted down by homosexual activists because of Cameron's supposed "hate" and being "discredited."

So to get anywhere in debate, it seems that we've got to see whose statistics are corroborated in other studies. In the case of Kinsey, virtually every claim he made has been refuted--and this after the "Sexual Revolution" radically changed sexual mores. We are, by and large, a far more conservative society than Kinsey would have had us believe.

In the case of Cameron, however, his claim that homosexuals simply like to be promiscuous is getting unexpected support from homosexual "marriage" rates in Massachusetts and Vermont. More or less, less than one in five homosexual couples in these states have chosen to "marry" or form a "civil union." Even apart from the legitimate question of whether they're marrying for love or for benefits, the low rate of "making it legal" indicates that, for the vast majority of this community, promiscuity is where it's at.

Can't blame Cameron for this one.

Monday, June 04, 2007

A devoted wife

Those who know me know that I'm prone to bragging about how good my wife is; how she's bought me my truck, my power tools, my guns, and generally makes even the roughest spots in life quite a bit sweeter.

That said, I've got to say that Jan Grzebski has a wife that's worth bragging about. For the past 19 years, she's tenderly cared for her comatose husband, and now she's been rewarded for her love with her husband's awakening. Well done, Gertruda, and may you and Jan enjoy many happy days together.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Not just journalists

I'm afraid, as I noted before, that journalism isn't the only profession that has jettisoned its own history, and has paid a heavy price. Due to the missteps of papers like the Red Star Tribune, LA Times, and NY Times, journalism makes a tempting and sometimes easy target, but it's by no means the only one.

Consider Hollywood--yes, another easy target, but it lost its way about the same time as journalism (probably about a decade earlier, really) and for the same reasons. More or less, they forgot that what really binds films together isn't special effects or profound beauty, but rather plot and dialogue. Even the best stories are often no match for an industry that thrives on instant visual gratification.

Doubt this? Consider The Wizard of Oz (1939 w. Judy Garland) and the 1968 version of Romeo and Juliet. Most anyone would tell you that the story for the latter is far better and compelling, but reality is that people who have seen both can remember far more of The Wizard of Oz. You know why, as well; if you saw Romeo and Juliet your freshman year in high school, you have a vivid memory of about two seconds of that movie and little else. Right?

When you engage the hormones, you disengage the mind. Hollywood has paid a heavy price for forgetting this.

Here's a good one by Joseph Sobran

about the utility of canes and altruism.

Oh No!

It looks like more and more executives are losing their "Christmas Spirit" by announcing layoffs at times other than the beginning of winter....and what did I tell you about Mike Cannon at Dell? Employees and investors, watch out for the "turnaround artist."