Saturday, February 16, 2002

Terrific websites

My jaw dropped when I stumbled upon Nuclear Tourist. I've never seen a site with so much good information in one place.

And then there's Adams Atomic Engines. Check it out for yourself.

Indian Point reactor incident

On February 14 a steam generator tube leaked at Indian Point, a nuclear power plant about 35 miles up the Hudson River from New York City. Here's a cut from the article:
The leak comes two years after the worst accident in the plant's history, when a tube in the steam generator burst, spilling radioactive coolant and sending a tiny amount of radioactive steam into the atmosphere.
I'm not sure why it's necessary to mention this, but it gets even better when you read accounts of the previous event. Anyway, here's another cut:
Plant owner Entergy Corp. reported that sensors detected radioactivity – about a tenth of an ounce a day – in what is supposed to be the clean water that is converted to steam.
One problem with this is that you don't measure radioactivity in ounces - it's meaningless because the amount of natural radiation varies so much between substances. But did you notice that they're talking about .1 ounces per day, about the size of a large medicine capsule? And they detected it in a huge plant? And they reported it? It's entirely possible that the reporter got the numbers wrong, but that's all we have to work with.

Here is a report of the "worst accident in the plant's history". It includes a graphic which might be interesting. An excellent, more technical account is here.

Here's a cut from the "worst accident" article:
“Where were the sirens?” asked David Coviello, 55, who lives two doors from the plant gate. “I have a 7-year-old son, an 18-year-old daughter.”
The fact is that evacuations are no treat either. Given how hysterical some people are about radiation, you can bet that there will be some reckless behavior during an evacuation. And who do you think will be blamed for it? You can bet it won't be the likes of Greenpeace and Public Citizen, who spread terror about radioactivity.

How do you suppose the reporter knows how many people live within 50 miles from the plant? I'll bet this number came from the plant's emergency plans. They are required to maintain these plans, train personnel for specific roles, and to hold drills in conjunction with local authorities under the supervision of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). What's more, the documentation is probably public unless that has changed since 9/11.

No story is complete without something like this:
Radiation measurements taken around the plant found nothing above normal background radiation, Quinn said, adding: “There is no danger to the health and welfare of the general public.”
Some villagers in Buchanan took that with a grain of salt.
“I’m definitely afraid,” said Regina Erben, just four doors from the plant entrance. “I’m afraid to brush my teeth. I’m afraid to make the coffee.”
They don't mention whether she was afraid to do these things at other times. Seriously, far too much is made of radiation releases like this, and if prompted I'll go more into this in another post.

Murphy Brown's lockbox

Liberals had a blast making fun of Dan Quayle when he made reference to Murphy Brown in a speech some years back. It is true that Murphy Brown is a fictional character. But she's not quite as fictional as this silly "lockbox" thing that was mentioned by the subject of my last rant.

In the beginning FDR said "We put those payroll contributions there so as to give the contributors a legal, moral, and political right to collect their pensions and their unemployment benefits. With those taxes in there, no damn politician can ever scrap my social security program".

An interesting phrase. FDR intended that the payroll taxes (not "contributions") were to create a legal, moral and political right to collect the bennies.

The rest of the context isn't available at the link. But it sure sounds like FDR wasn't concerned about sufficiency of the funding via the taxes even then.

Notice that it was "my social security program". FDR of course was a politician, and it's clear who he intended as a beneficiary. As long as the funding would last long enough for him to get out of town, it served his purposes. (For now we'll ignore the merits of letting a "damn politician" create something "no damn politician" can scrap).

Now let's just suppose that the govt actually had a lockbox. Suppose there were big silos full of cash somewhere marked "For Social Security Only". Never mind the too-literal implementation - would that make any sense?

No. If you have money, you should be investing at least some of it to get a return. Besides the occasional public work that has a net positive value to our economy and perhaps some loan programs, the govt does not do this (and should not).

For this reason it makes absolutely no sense for the govt to run a surplus. In other hands the money could have invested it in ways that make the economy grow faster. And it's this economic growth that provides the wealth that can be tapped to provide govt revenue in increasing amounts even when marginal tax rates are lowered.

The best thing the govt can do with funds in excess of current needs (besides a rebate to the people who paid it) is to retire debt, so at least they won't be paying interest. Of course funds for essential services that are permitted by the Constitution and can only be provided at the federal level, such as missile defense, aren't "excess".

Friday, February 15, 2002

They never give up...

Alright, I'm a little late, but I just saw this today. Someone dares to defend Bill Clinton's diplomacy:

But critics of the previous administration's foreign policy must understand that we can only now declare Arafat irrelevant precisely because Clinton and Albright already gave him every possible opportunity to rise to the challenge of playing Statesman and Peacemaker.

Had Albright not dragged Arafat back to the table, kicking and screaming -- so that he could later respond to Barak's "97% compromise" offer with Intifada II -- Powell would not now be in a position to give Israel carte blanche to defend its borders by any means necessary.

Methinks the writer has failed to take into account some other events that have transpired since Clinton left town. I could be going out on a limb, but do you suppose the atrocity at the Twin Towers and the subsequent thrashing of al-Qaeda might have had some influence on Powell's options with Arafat?

Bill Clinton has some responsibility for the current situation, but not in the way the writer says. His administration established the conditions under which Al-Qaeda figured they could attack us with impunity. That tempted them to overplay their hand, which made it possible for us to clean house.

It's hard to believe the writer missed this, because he goes on to say that the WTC atrocity has had some impact on his business. He makes it sound as if George Bush is responsible. He cites a Timothy Noah article that frames any refusal to shovel billions of federal tax dollars to rebuild NYC as cynical politics.

Look, there are plenty of rich liberals on Manhattan Island. And we hear endlessly about how much they "care". Why doesn't he tap them?

He goes on to presume that a President Lieberman would proceed differently. Well, let's use the kind of logic some of his liberal brethren have been using with Enron - Lieberman would have had to stiff NYC because it would have looked like a payback if he didn't.

One more whopper:
So my question to Bush is this: What -- you can break the lockbox for that phony-baloney missile defense boondoggle, but you pinch pennies when it comes to rebuilding the devastated infrastructure upon which the future of, maybe, 100,000 jobs depend?
The missile defense system is to assure that we don't have any more devastated infrastructure. Does he still doubt that a creep like Saddam Hussein would strike us with a missile if he could?

Farm welfare

Alex Knapp has this to say about farm legislation.

Did you hear that John Deere was going to build a new tractor with no seat and no steering wheel? It's for the farmers who have lost their asses and don't know which way to turn.

Patently abusive

Lately we've heard about how someone claims rights to a patent on the hyperlink. Megan McArdle touches on that here.

Apparently that one is not likely to fly. TechTV discussed that one last night, and I heard that they can trace some "prior art" back to 1949.

Stunts like this have been tried before. One notorious success was by George Selden, who patented the automobile. What, you didn't know that the auto was invented by a lawyer?

Some interesting history on this is found on this link. I think Daniel Boorstin wrote about it in one of his books also - that's where I first heard of it.

Checks and balances

The Founders put some ingenious checks and balances into the Constitution. But they didn't put in enough of them. What could these be?

Well, imagine if only the people who voted against a given bill could vote on the appropriations for it. There would be problems, but presumably there would be a bias against spending, and we could use some of that.

Or how about limiting the eligibility for voting to the people who would be affected. If you, say, wanted to reintroduce wolves to Yellowstone, then only Congressmen from Montana, Wyoming and Idaho would be able to vote. He no playa da game, he no maka da rules...

Alternatively, we could demand that the bill affect the home districts of all who voted for it, so we could reintroduce wolves to Marin County, Manhattan, and other treehugging liberal bastions. We'll see how convenient it is to live by their own rules - surely some of these places were wolf habitat once upon a time. But for lobbying organizations, there is no penalty for a Congressman in my district to vote to screw you over in your district, and campaign finance reform legislation is aiming at this feeble restraint.

We have to list ingredients on food packages. How about requiring a listing of all the taxes applicable and their amounts? That's lousy because it raises the cost of doing business, but I think a lot of eyes would open if people realized how much of their money was going to taxes how often, and how much it cost to stay in compliance with tax laws and other regulations.

What if, in return for the franking privilege, Congressmen had to include on their mailings the total amount of spending they had voted for, and their rank in Congress?

What if Congressmen had to take a test on any legislation they were to vote on, and they would not be permitted to vote for the legislation until they passed it?

Enough. I'm just trying to get some ideas flowing.

(sob!) that's so beautiful!...

Rob (CmdrTaco) Malda proposed marriage via Slashdot today to Kathleen Fent.

And there's a poll on TechTV's ScreenSavers. Find out whether your peers think proposals via blog are acceptable.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot. She accepted. Here's a picture of the bride-to-be.

Thursday, February 14, 2002

Fun with body parts

Earlier today my site was located by a Google query "no dick allowed". I couldn't make stuff like that up.

Matt Drudge told us a severed penis was found at a car wash in Nebraska. More specifically, it was over by the vacuum. I hope that's not relevant.

Several years ago a guy caught his penis in the inlet to a swimming pool's skimmer pump at a motel in Florida. Reportedly it was an accident.

Don't get too cocky, ladies. You may be exempt from the above, but you too must at all costs avoid sitting on a gerbil.

Happy Valentine's Day.

If you're beating a woman right now, stop

Aren't you through yet? - the Super Bowl was 2 weeks ago. Now it's V-Day.

This was an outgrowth of "The Vagina Monologues". The activists involved will be promoting Valentine's Day as V-Day. But it's only temporary - "until violence against women stops".

And now for your Vagina Monologues pop quiz: in which context did the phrase "between fish and lilacs" occur?

The time has come today...

Hey, let's start an idiotarian blacklist! David Tepper starts us off.

"Campaign finance reform" vs. Bloggers?

A couple of weeks ago I sent an email to the World's Busiest Man, Glenn Reynolds, seeking an opinion on whether campaign finance legislation would impact blogging. I haven't seen anything back. That's cool, I have no claim on his time - I just took that as a 'no'.

Maybe he's more interested now that the campaign finance silliness has passed the House. Rand Simberg is on the case. Any legal eagles care to weigh in?

I'm not an attorney, but I'm sure the law will be abused. Surely nobody who signed off on the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) ever dreamed that it would be used against abortion protesters as it was. Whoops, somebody said something a litigious group doesn't like - next thing you know there's a lawsuit against the blogger, anybody he links to, and anybody who links to him. Is that what they call a "chilling effect"?

Some Congressmen might think that they're being clever, passing a law that they can use against their opposition. Just like the Democrats were when they passed independent counsel legislation, or Bill Clinton was when he signed the bill that gave rise to the Paula Jones affair. The other side will eventually learn to use the new rules to their advantage, and then the rules will be changed again.

We've been through a cycle of that before with campaign finance reform. Republicans couldn't have done a thing about the post-Watergate reforms, and you can bet the Democrats stacked the deck in their favor. But nowadays Republicans are raising more money than the Dems, so behold! - it's time for another rule change.

Wednesday, February 13, 2002

How to embarrass a Congressman

If you're reading this you must be an optimist, because there's not much evidence that these guys are capable of embarrassment. But it's still worth a try.

Back when Hillary Clinton was trying to pass her health care bill, there was a frenzy to push it through. I heard somewhere that the Democrats were trying to get signatures on a bill which still in part consisted of yellow Post-it notes. If Congress doesn't even have time to print and distribute a bill, it couldn't have had enough time to study and debate it.

Remember when some jerk journalist jumped George W. Bush with questions asking the name of various obscure world leaders? Of course he was trying to sell the official Democrat line that Bush wasn't too bright, like they try with about every other Republican.

As already noted by Megan McArdle and others, our federal legislators can't possibly be up to speed on every little thing somebody might ask them. Sure, they have large staffs, but that's still not enough.

But surely it's reasonable to ask them to know the details of legislation being discussed actively. Or anything they've voted on. Right?

Now picture this - suppose Congressmen were subjected to pop quizzes on the legislation that was scheduled for a vote. Live, on television.

I'd pay to see that, but then I'm blogging on Valentine's Day. Which leads to another item... See what happens when I take a night off to get some sleep?

But it's natural!

The Great Porn Debate has broken out elsewhere. Actually it has here too, but nobody has noticed that I can tell. That might be because of content like the following, which is probably entirely appropriate given the subject matter.

Several people have been driven to note that sex is natural. Being a fellow belaborer of the obvious, I'll note that that would have been a hell of a thing to leave out.

But I can think of another bodily function that's perfectly natural. Somehow it doesn't get the same press. Unlike sex, it kills if done to excess, but there is danger is in not doing it. If anybody hasn't figured it out yet, I'm talking about defecation.

Gosh, why don't we talk more about it? We could show it in movies, glossy magazines, anywhere. And who cares if the kids see - all cultures agree that kids should start doing this from birth. Surely we're not hung up on it?

So what's the point of noting that sex is natural? Apparently it's intended to imply that disagreement with this is what characterizes the people on the other side of the argument. In other words, they're hung up. And we can't have that now, can we?

It's the coward's way out - disqualifying the opposing point of view rather than engaging it. It suggests that those of us who would argue for discretion base this on personal problems rather than convictions or experience, and it is used to marginalize if not to demonize those who oppose social changes involving sex.

If you find the idea of talking about defecation unappealing, then you just might understand where a lot of people are coming from when the topic is sex, and why they'd rather not have the topic forced upon them from every angle. Being natural has nothing to do with it.

But it might have something to do with "class".

More Earl Butz

Google fails me on this one, but allegedly Butz once characterized blacks as wanting only three things - "a tight pussy, loose shoes and a warm place to shit". He wound up resigning before the end of his administration (Nixon/Ford).

Do they still print mass market ethnic joke books? I don't recall seeing any for quite a while. There was a big series by Larry Wilde, but Amazon says they're all out of print but for his Dumb, Dumber, Dumbest joke book.

These books used to be on sale at places like K-mart. And they sure were funny.

Nobody has mentioned it, but upon rereading the above it occurred to me that it could be construed as an endorsement of Mr. Butz' characterization. No, and there will be more on this later. I mentioned the jokes later because I believed Mr. Butz was joking when he said the above, and I wish people would mellow out on some of this stuff. If in fact this truly reflected Mr. Butz' beliefs, that was his problem.

That's entertainment!

I was channelsurfing innocently last night when I stumbled upon the retreaded Greta Van Susteren and the interview recorded here on FrontPage. I can't do it justice.

One burning issue they addressed was transgender bathrooms. Good grief. V-chip?-we need a BS chip.

Then came a discussion of a gender-neutral Bible. Of course Ellen Ratner was for it. She was made for the mute button.

Some years back the late Earl Butz was Secretary of Agriculture, and he got in trouble for some quotes. This was about the time when the political reporters' rules started changing, and jokes just between us boys started getting reported if they harmed the right people. Anyway, with reference to the then-Italian Pope's position on birth control, Butz allegedly said "he no playa da game, he no maka da rules".

Somehow I suspect that the people behind BS like this are motivated by something besides religion. Ratner went on about the many translations, and I refuse to believe she's so dense as to miss the difference between translating words and making the Bible gender-neutral. I wish she would have said something about her faith, particularly about the last time she had read the Bible. Does she really playa da game?

Tuesday, February 12, 2002

And another thing...

Porn is only one way to put the kids on the wrong path. Another is sex education.

To adults sex education seems plausible enough. But we aren't teaching adults, we're teaching kids. And the results speak for themselves - increase sex education, and you increase sex-related problems amongst kids. I'm too lazy to run around after links this instant, but they're out there.

After all, science is so damned persuasive when it's talking about evolution - why not now?

All taste abandon, ye who enter here

I won't claim that this post was in response to me, and in fact I hope that it wasn't. Because it doesn't address the impact of porn on kids. Or, more broadly, that familiarity with sex is bad for them. Now please escort the children from the room.

It's time for a thought experiment. I suppose this is boring to the more sophisticated among us, but then I hear I'm a conservative. Anyway, picture two libertarians having sex.

Let's say it's a heterosexual couple, and she is fellating him (if you're a Bill Clinton defender you'll claim that she is having sex and he is not, but let's pretend you're honest). Are you ready? Action!

Now let's have a FULLY DRESSED child walk into the room. What do you do? Note to the feds - surely this doesn't qualify as you-know-what (I get enough strange Google hits already).

OK, you're busted. Do you stop? Cover up? Chase them out? Solicit criticism? Offer tips? Invite them to join? Turn off the Webcam? Turn on the Webcam? Turn on? Anything else? Why?

What do you say to the kids after this scene? Most of us would rather avoid this scenario than have to answer under pressure, diminished capacity, and if nothing else, having to talk with your mouth full. But for our more open brethren, they might present this as little more than a wetter kind of handshake. Heavens, what could be worse than raising a kid with HANGUPS!

I suppose that's playing dirty. Regardless of their own beliefs, there aren't many people who are prepared to challenge the idea that inappropriate exposure to sex is bad for kids. OK, I'll make it easy on you. I'll say why I believe it's a bad idea and you can pick on me.

The problem is familiarity, which we know breeds contempt. It will be that much harder to convince them that it has consequences, just as it is with booze, drugs, driving and others. Especially if you trivialize abortion - they may find that for them it's a big deal after all. Never mind condom failure rates, AIDS and other hazards.

And kids don't have a good idea about what social norms are. Go ahead, let one cussword slip in front of the little varmints and that's all you'll hear until you, uh, discipline it out of them. Why these can be learned with one trial while 'please' and 'thank you' take sustained effort is a mystery. And speaking for myself at least, although I'm getting older, I still prefer sex to profanity, dammit.

Now suppose the kid takes the newfound knowledge over to the kid next door. With no literal or figurative fear of God to discourage them, well, you explain it to the judge. Or more likely, the mob. Some of us may be troglodytes, but we still outnumber you.

Now consider porn. Nobody would confuse that with reality, whether it's the lack of protection, the bodies, the positions, or some practices even the "Sex and the City" girls revile. Never mind off-set fluffing, stretching, lubing, douching, enemas, AIDS tests, disease and abortions. Surely the kids will need a major expectation calibration after that. Gosh, even the libertines will want them to learn to do it right, won't you?

So ends a feeble attempt to make a point that once upon a time would have been considered self-evident, without recourse to religion. Just remember, you got what you paid for.

It's amazing that such a long post can leave out something important. The scene with the kid was partly gratuitous raunchiness, I'll confess. But there was a part with redeeming social value. The idea was that in a case like that when you would be reacting without time to rationalize, you would be more likely to behave according to what you really believe rather than what you read last in some psychobabble. And I believe that most of us despite years of programming would in fact take immediate measures to minimize the kid's exposure, out of near-instinctive knowledge that it's just the right thing to do.

Monday, February 11, 2002

Adding comments to a Blogger blog

I had to snoop around a little, but I found a fairly simple way to add comments to a blog.

Just click <<--- that, or the similar one under my links next to the Blogger Pro button. It should take you away to YACCS, which is recommended in the Blogger How-to section for providing comments. It might save you slogging through a long section of posts there like I did, anyway. Obviously it works with Blogger, or else I couldn't use it - the rest of you are out of luck.

You'll have to modify your template in 3 places (two if you're so irredeemably ungrateful as to leave off the ad), but it's not brain surgery. Find the right places, cut and paste, and you're in business.

Then I can come to your blog and post nasty things there. And if I do, you can block me out or delete the post.

Just another selfless service to mankind from

Sunday, February 10, 2002

A look into the future...

Yep, this blog does evolve. It won't turn into a time capsule like this one. See if you can guess when I created it (and last edited it).

Next? Probably something to make it easier to add comments to an item. I already got the hit counter (ha!) and the poll thing from Bravenet, so maybe I can find one of those there too. I could load up on JavaScript, but that will slow down the page. All I have access to on the server side is Miva - maybe I'll break down and learn that.

And of course I'll have to put in PayPal and Amazon tip jars. They sold pet rocks, didn't they? Gosh, I hope they can handle all the hits.

I considered adding some ads for a bigger bust, barely legal teenage girls and a bunch of others, but I goofed - I accidentally cut-and-pasted Megan McArdle's email address instead. Damn, I had a big list too. I sure hope she doesn't find out...

She's wrong

Then again, not everything you get from an oyster is a pearl. Take this, on macroevolution.

Let's look at the article. Well, actually you can't, unless you have a subscription. They wanted about as much as it would cost to retire my banner ad to look at the article, and want to debrief you before they'll even say how much a subscription is, so I blew them off. You can get a free ID, but that will only let you look at the abstract according to what I read.

So let's look at the popular article she linked to. Here's the title: "Change of plan puts the Hox on creationists". Gosh, can you guess what side the writer is on? Might a reasonable person question the objectivity of what is to follow?

It starts with this:
Biologists have uncovered the first genetic evidence that explains how large-scale alterations to body plans were accomplished during the early evolution of animals.

Say what? All these years of ragging creationists, and this is the first genetic evidence? What other kind of evidence would be relevant? There may be terrific scientific grounds for macroevolutionary theories, but you ought to have found them before you start teaching macroevolutions as, well, gospel.

The achievement is a landmark in evolutionary biology, not only because it shows how new animal body plans could arise from a simple genetic mutation, but because it effectively answers one of the oldest criticisms of evolution from the creationist fringe; namely, what could be the genetic mechanism behind the introduction of really radical new body designs.

For one, why is it that the scientists have to mention "the creationist fringe"? Why don't they mention the criticism of other scientists? These exist.

Now if all DNA is made of the same 4 amino acids, presumably, given enough tries, some friendly cosmic rays might foul up enough of them simultaneously in just the right combination to cause a viable critter. No, two of them, fertile, of opposite sex, (or else something that's parthenogenetic, but then you'll probably need another mutation to get them laid again). And they have to occur within a short enough period of time to where they find each other, mate, and reproduce prolifically enough in a tolerable environment so they can spawn a radically new species. How do you like those odds?

And that was just in getting from a crustacean to an insect - no word on getting from primordial slime to crustaceans, or insects through vertebrates to bloggers.

Now not all critters have the same number of chromosomes. More is not necessarily better - Down's syndrome is associated with an extra one in humans, and some critters have more than we do. I want to hear about how critters get new chromosomes. The article isn't any help, but maybe some bloggers are. No speculations - show me the proofs.

I'm not a geneticist, but I do know that the field is still incredibly immature, and there are far too many interactions that they haven't a clue about yet. It's a little too soon for macroevolutionists with all their resources and education to declare victory over some simple literal minded believers. In the meantime you might be interested in Darwin's Radio by Greg Bear, or Genome by Matt Ridley.

And just wait until the likes of Jeremy Rifkin get hold of this one. Frankenfoods indeed.

I ought to add that I respect the blogger's critical thinking and have been watching the blog for some time. My theory is that the message of the quoted article was approved, and thus sneaked under the radar. I could be wrong, but at least I'm not trying to force anyone to teach my theories in school.

UPDATE: She's right again

The highly evolved Moira Breen noted in a sidebar that I erred above in stating that DNA was constructed of amino acids. She is correct in case there was any doubt.

On the plus side, she provides further confirmation of my contention that I am not a geneticist. Could Bill Clinton have spun it any better?

No doubt errors like the above, left unchecked, could lead to a career at the New York Times. But this peripheral error does not invalidate the larger point that the demonstration of the theory of macroevolution (which we would insist on for any other scientific theory before asserting it with such certitude) is not yet complete.

She's right

Moira Breen no doubt shares some genetic material with an oyster. Look what you get when you irritate her.