Saturday, March 23, 2002

Take a chance...

The solution to the Israeli/Palestinian problems is simple. Let the Palestinians open casinos...

Hero worship

For years one of my favorite authors has been Thomas Sowell. What he writes, I'll read, whether it's a magazine article, a book or a column. Some of his best are "A Conflict of Visions", "Migrations and Cultures", "Ethnic America", "Knowledge and Decisions"....

Another favorite is Peter Huber. He is a lawyer and an engineer who has written on many topics of interest to me. Two of his best known books are "Liability - the legal revolution and its consequences" and "Hard Green".

For management, there's Peter Drucker. I don't know if he's still writing or not - he's in his 90's by now. He started writing about management before it was known by that name. About anything he writes is excellent.

Then there's W. Edwards Deming, Daniel Boorstin, C. S. Lewis, George Gilder, William F. Buckley, Robert Heinlein, Ayn Rand and Paul Johnson. Lesser lights are Michael Fumento, Mark Kurlansky, James Burke, Ronald Radosh, David Horowitz, P. J. O'Rourke and Christopher Buckley. Well, alright, I like Kurt Vonnegut, but I'm still waiting for him to grow up politically.

About the one common thread among the above is that I discovered them all after college. None of them were required reading. Many of the above had not produced much by the time I got out of engineering school, but that still leaves Drucker, Boorstin, Lewis, Heinlein, Vonnegut and Rand.

That's ok. At least I had a job when I graduated.

Friday, March 22, 2002


Today Instapundit mentioned a colonoscopy. Then he linked to this site. What could this mean?

Could he be preparing for a Senate run?

Greens showing true colors?

From the WaPo:
For months, environmental groups have complained that the White House gave them little opportunity to influence President Bush's energy policy, which was heavily weighted to the preferences of oil and coal companies.
No bias here, eh? The reporter apparently is certain that the policy was dictated not by weighing input fairly, but by selling out to oil and coal companies. It continues:
On Monday, the Energy Department plans to claim in a huge court filing that administration officials tried doggedly to get the views of green groups, but the environmentalists were uncooperative.

"Several did not return our phone calls and messages," an Energy Department official wrote in an Aug. 10 memo that will be part of that filing. The official added that some of the groups rebuffed invitations by saying, "Check our Web site."
Hint - don't boycott the meetings and then bitch that your positions weren't considered.

Isn't it interesting that the green groups wouldn't show? As usual, it's all about the politics, not the environment - they don't want solutions, they want issues.

That's what happens when the left-wingers move in. And that's what accounts for some near-reflexive opposition and suspicion to many environmental initiatives. Anybody who really cares about the environment (as opposed to left-wing politics) should recognize that the first order of business is to kick the lefties out of the leadership of green groups. Because until they do, the environmental issues will always take a back seat to the politics.

Of course greens aren't the only ones where left-wingers pervert the issues for a political agenda. NOW has long been a laughingstock, and deserves it even more now that we're hearing about this.

Who was Beardsley Ruml?

If you have followed Doonesbury for long, you'll have seen a character called Duke. Among this character's adventures was a stint as the 53rd hostage in Iran, and actually the first one taken. After his release he was being debriefed and he told about how he tried to talk his captors into letting him go. He told them that if they really wanted an international incident, why didn't they just go and take over the US Embassy?

Yep, somebody has to come up with these ideas, and often we don't know who they are so we can cuss them at great length as they so richly deserve. One such person was Beardsley Ruml.

You see, it wasn't so easy raising the money to fight World War II. Among other things, income tax rates were raised and applied to more people than ever before. But since the numbers were higher, many Americans found that they didn't have the money to pay the taxes at tax time. So what to do?

Tax withholding was one option, and in fact had arrived with the initial income tax in 1913. But it was very unpopular and was withdrawn in 1917.

It was recognized that withholding would be a great help in financing the war. And despite denials, Congress recognized that earlier collection of taxes amounted to increased taxation due to the time value of money. But how could the govt get withholding back in the door?

And there was another problem - making a transition from the previous system to the withholding. In a given year the taxpayer would ordinarily make quarterly payments toward the previous year's liability. Add in withholding, and for the first year the taxpayer would be paying last year's taxes along with the current year's. Congress recognized that this would be a very tough sell.

Enter Beardsley Ruml. He came up with a scheme in which taxes for 1942 would be forgiven, at the price of reintroducing income tax withholding. He recognized that what was needed was cash flow, and if bookkeeping entries for 1942 tax liability got in the way then they would have to go. Although the final bill varied from this, this idea proved critical in getting income tax withholding implemented - polls showed that much of the public thought they were getting a huge break.

This is the source for much of the above, and also these revealing quotes:
Wherever an income tax has been in practice for any time the small incomes as well as the large are taxed; and it is the small incomes which yield the largest revenue to the state. --Treasury official Worthington C. Ford (U.S. Senate 1894)

Taxes which are easy to collect tend to be extended and expanded with similar ease by legislative bodies. The withholding provisions make it easy for the Treasury to collect taxes from wage earners and low-income groups. We must be ever vigilant to prevent this ease of collection from being used as a lever further to lower personal income tax exemptions or otherwise to impose new burdens on low-income groups.

--National Lawyers Guild
(U.S. House Hearings 1942, vol. 2: 2302)
Thank you, Democrats, you friends of the poor.

Thursday, March 21, 2002

Hydroelectric power potpourri

Yes, this could be another snooze, but sit still and take your medicine. And beware of the word "potpourri" - it just means that I have abdicated responsibility for a coherent presentation. Thus warned...

An old Dean Martin song starts out with "I'm praying for rain in California, so the grapes can grow and they can make more wine". You may not be a little old winedrinker, but you still probably use a lot of juice.

Yes, I'm talking about electric power. A lot of it depends on the rain too, because a lot of power comes from hydroelectric (hydro) power plants.

Hydro plants use turbines built into dams to harness the energy in flowing water - here's an example. It's clear that the energy available depends on how much water is available. And this in turn depends on gross climatic factors at points upstream.

In addition to the supply of water, good sites for hydro dams usually involve large changes of elevation. One area where both of these are found together is the Pacific Northwest:
Up to 80% of the electricity in the Northwest is produced by hydropower. Historically, hydropower has been one of the most inexpensive and most efficient sources of electricity in the region. In the Northwest, for example, electricity from hydropower typically costs $10 per megawatt hour to produce. This compares to $60, $45 and $25 per megawatt hour to produce electricity, respectively, at nuclear, coal and natural gas plants. To determine these price comparisons, planners calculate what it costs to build, maintain and operate these differing generation facilities.
Scoot the decimal point over three places to the left and you have an idea about utilities' costs for power generation per kilowatt-hour (kWh). At retail you probably pay about a dime a kWh, or about $100 per mWh. (incidentally, I would challenge the figure for nuclear power generation - I think it's high).

The 80% number above is a gross average - it varies with the season, and at times extra is available to ship to power-hungry states like California. A similar situation exists in the Northeast, where the extra power comes from Canada.

But these suppliers have their local consumers too. They don't have to sell their power to the rest of you at all, and definitely not at the prices mentioned above. Sometimes there isn't enough rain, sometimes local demand soars, and the population in the Pacific Northwest is constantly increasing.

Add in some eco-fantasies about removing some existing hydro dams (don't trust anybody who uses the expression "Euro-Americans"), and you can see that this power source is not as reliable as a naive analysis would have you believe. And although it's easy to see that your power demand depends on the local weather, your supply might well depend on the weather somewhere else.

Wednesday, March 20, 2002

No cigar

NextRight led me to this, about another potential source of radioactive material for "dirty bombs".

My background is not in health physics, but having spent a fair amount of time in nuclear power plants I know a little. Cesium (Cs) and strontium (Sr) are bad news because they have a particular affinity for the human body, giving high doses to areas that are particularly susceptible to them.

However, there's only so much there. It's dangerous to approach these devices because so much of it is in one spot - spread it over a few city blocks as described in the article and the dose rates simply cannot remain that high. You might not want to hang around, but using words like "uninhabitable" seems over the top.

But suppose they're right. Unless very finely ground, the stuff will settle rapidly and won't go so far. And its radioactivity tells you exactly where it is, so you can find it easily and clean it up. If only this were true of anthrax. Cleanup would be expensive, but in many cases could be automated to limit human exposure to radiation.

The IEER was cited as a "nuclear watchdog" group. At least they weren't called impartial. Their site would have you believe that they are an objective clearinghouse of information, but the disingenuousness is in the details.

Read this about what happened when some people were contaminated with and ingested Cs 137 in Brazil

Gonzaga owes me five bucks

@#$% chokers - they've been spreading terror in the NCAA Tourney for the last several years, but when my money's on the line they lay down.

And Mizzou? Kent State? SIU? What got into them? I'm calling for drug tests...

I picked Cincinnati to choke - nothing new there. But now I see Kansas plays Illinois on Friday - both teams are world-class chokers, but KU is rated higher. So keep an eye on the Illini if Frank Williams shows up. (well, actually I picked KU, but Coach Roy, you've been letting me down).

So the all-seeing none-knowing swami picks KU, UConn, Duke and Oklahoma to survive next weekend, KU and Duke to meet in the finals and......KU to win it all. Rock chalk Jayhawk!

Tuesday, March 19, 2002

Non government regulation - how it has been done

There was a time when the US federal and state govts was not as pervasive as today. How did people cope without a nanny state to protect them? Here's an example, if you can avoid nodding off at the subject matter.

The Industrial Revolution was all about the rise of mechanical engineering, particularly steam power. People soon learned that steam at higher pressures could do more work for a given boiler, and thus they started running their boilers hotter. Then they learned that they didn't know so much about making safe boilers - it was common that they would explode, killing and maiming many people. Back then they really knew how to gamble on riverboats - in 1865 the Sultana blew up, killing 1,238 passengers. That's right, 1,238 passengers.

So what to do - declare a moral equivalent of war and demand the govt "do something!"? No, the following year saw the creation of the Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company. The company started publishing specs for boiler designs they would insure and they inspected boilers for manufacturers.

Later on came the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME). In 1914 they published the first "Boiler and Pressure Vessel Code". This has evolved into a thick series of books which govern design, construction, installation, maintenance and operation for products ranging from hot water heaters to nuclear reactors.

Govts are still involved to a limited extent in that the Code is usually adopted as part of building codes or other law. But the Code itself is maintained by committees of experts in the field - although the experts typically are employees of companies involved in relevant businesses, there are no lobbyists here. And inspectors work for a company that has its own cash on the line in the event of failure, not some unmotivated bureaucrat ticking off days until retirement.

Does it work? When was the last time you heard of a boiler explosion hurting anyone?

Alright, so that might not have been the most exciting topic in the world. If you want something smuttier I'll have to pass you to Kevin Holtsberry. Let's give him a hand...

Monday, March 18, 2002

Campus Nonsense online

Note my newest link to Campus Nonsense, a very new blog devoted to conservative student organizations as noted in NRO's Corner. I was going to buy the ad but somebody beat me to it.

Sunday, March 17, 2002

Failed products

Some time last year I first saw some green ketchup from Heinz. It looked disgusting, so I figured it was just the thing for a 7 year old relative. He loved it of course.

The stuff was still on sale when I last looked. Yecch.

Mercifully most products like that fail. And there is a museum dedicated to failed products in Ithaca, NY. It's probably good for a few laughs.

Sometimes the name is the problem. I suspect that this is what happened to a nodular food supplement named "Gorilla Balls". If you want to Google for that one, be my guest. ("No Watermelons" could use some work too, but hey, I tried about a dozen others first. It's a reference to environmentalists, who are often green on the outside and red on the inside.)

My favorite from the link above was "Maalox Whip, the dessert topping that controls diarrhoea. ". Honorable mention for the "PMS Crunch" and garlic fruitcake.

I think I first heard of this museum in Audacity magazine. This was a spinoff of American Heritage, dedicated to business history. One of the features was about corporations that had gone out of business. Unfortunately Audacity has ceased publication.

Practical dyslexia

Tony Woodlief might be taking this a little hard, but I thought it was funny. Not because it was so clever, but because it reminded me of some goofy things.

An older relative always used to have a bottle of eye drops handy. She always bought "Murine", which came in a little yellow bottle. Then one day I realized the label was painted on, and I could scratch out the "M". She finally switched brands.

It's not limited to adolescents. On construction sites it's common to string tape that says "Men Working Overhead" in appropriate areas so passersby will be aware. But much of the time I saw pieces of it modified to say "Men Overworking".

Too literal

See if you can figure out what made me think of this.

I suppose if I were motivated enough I might be able to find a link for this, but feel free to "fact check my ass". Anyway, back when Rosanne Barr and Tom Arnold were a couple, allegedly she had "Property of Tom Arnold" tattooed on her backside. (I'm definitely not going to fact check her ass.) Subsequently some late night comedian said that that supposedly made Tom Arnold one of the biggest property owners in California.

I will note that the last time I saw her Roseanne had lost quite a bit of weight, and apparently she was very attractive in her teens. I say that lest she should get me back like she did with Arsenio Hall. I can't remember what Hall said about her, but she responded that his head (or was it his face?)looked like her crotch.

Does anyone care to fact check this one?

More suicide bombers

Michael Ledeen has a very interesting article on current events in Iran:
But something far more ominous occurred on Tuesday night: for the first time, anti-regime suicide bombers made their appearance in Iran. Two young men in different parts of Tehran walked into a group of security forces and blew themselves up.

Don't tease us...

Mac Thomason, the War Liberal, claims that Clinton nominees had it worse than Charles Pickering.

OK, give us an example. And make it something comparable - Pickering was nominated for the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, not Attorney General or other higher offices.

And while you're at it, tell us just what was wrong with Pickering, besides being a Republican appointee.

Update: Mr. Thomason responds - see the comments.