Saturday, March 16, 2002

Protection racket?

In a classic protection racket or shakedown, the mobster contacts a business and offers to sell them "protection". If the offer is declined, bad things start happening (broken windows, fires, personal injuries...) until the business starts paying for the protection.

Politicians can operate the same way. Shakedown, Kenneth R. Timmerman's new book about Jesse Jackson discusses his approach. Shakedowns can explain many donations that would make no sense from a purely ideological or economic standpoint.

Campaign finance reform legislation implies that donations to politicians corrupt the politicians. No doubt it can have influence, but the fact is that it is the politician's job to look after the interests of his constituents, not those of his family or his party - it is up to them to resist the corrupting influences. Call that naive if you want, but all the donations in the world would not make a difference if politicians were honest.

So why aren't we focusing on penalizing the politicians instead of the donors?

No, we can't do that. Politicians approve the language in the bills, and they're notorious for exempting themselves from regulation and protecting incumbents. Traditional media love campaign finance reform legislation because it increases their influence (not that it would corrupt them, of course). And supporters of big govt programs will have a harder time seducing the rest of us when it is acknowledged that govt bodies actively solicit corruption. In short, most of the supporters of the bill have huge conflicts of interest, which is corrupt in itself.

Comments are always welcome here. However, I have started a thread on this topic over on Kathy Kinsley's forum in recognition of the greater traffic and better interface. See ya there.

Friday, March 15, 2002

Thursday, March 14, 2002

More ethnic silliness

Check this out. Some lady wants her license plate to say "Irish", but that runs afoul of a policy to forbid ethnic references. I leave it to the reader to decide if there's anything wrong with calling someone Irish.

Now, see if you can figure out why a license plate number "3M TA3" was barred.

Best mascot contest?

By now everybody has heard of the "Fighting Whities".

But their mascot is really lame. How about it, designers? - this calls for a contest.

My entry would probably look something like Wake Forest's mascot, or maybe Vanderbilt's. I've heard us honkies described as people who get out of the shower to pee, but I'm not sure how to work that in.

I suppose some will suggest that the only fitting mascot for the "Fighting Whities" would be Klansmen. Yeah, now we're talking. The team could wear white robes and hoods, and burn crosses at pep rallies.

Or how about Nazis? - think of the cool uniforms and logo designs they could use.

And best of all, using one of these might clarify to them just how stupid their contention is - that using Indians as mascots somehow demean Indians.

This burns me

Shamed has some thoughts on "hate crimes", and cross-burning as opposed to flag burning.

IMO the very idea of "hate crimes" is an abomination, but suppose we accept it. Why isn't burning a flag considered a "hate crime" against veterans? Is it possible that it's because they aren't liberal enough?

Electric power distribution reserve margin!

Now there's an exciting title. But at least now you know what to skip if you have a low tolerance for technical stuff.

An electric power distributor's reserve margin is the difference between how much power it can deliver at full capacity, and the amount of power you consumers use. Lower values impair reliability, higher values tie up capital needlessly. When margins are smaller than the capacities of individual power plants, watch out - one plant trip means there's not enough juice to go around, and suddenly you can't blog.

Various activist groups such as Ralph Nader's Citizens Utility Boards would argue that reserve margins are too high. That was a favorite approach against nuclear power plants in Illinois in the 80's and early 90's - CUB always claimed that the plants' power was not needed, and thus the utilities were not entitled to receive returns on their huge investments via rate increases. CUB's position was extreme, but the question is fair enough - how much "headroom" do utilities need to provide reliable electric power on demand?

Well, let's consider a power generator you're probably very familiar with - an automobile.

When you drive a car your power output is limited by what's available from your engine. For that reason engines are oversized significantly relative to typical driving conditions, so you can handle such things as a headwind, a hill, or extra passengers.

The wind resistance dominates at higher velocities, and the power needed to overcome it increases roughly with the square of the car's velocity. What follows is a rough estimate of the impact of this - as the EPA says, your mileage may vary.

Let's consider a simple example - no headwind, no towing, driver only, no luggage, no hill, constant efficiency, straight road, and negligible power demand for other vehicle components (fan, airconditioning, alternator, water pump, automatic transmission...). Suppose you drive 70 MPH instead of 55. You have increased your velocity 27%, but you've increased the power required to overcome wind resistance by 62%.

Is that sufficient? Well, consider a headwind of 5 MPH. Now your power demand due to wind resistance will be at the 70 MPH rate when you're actually going 65 MPH. Will you tolerate slowing down, or will you insist on going 70? Now it feels like 75 MPH, and you need about 86% more power to overcome air resistance than you did at 55 MPH. Never mind trailers, hills, extra passengers, dirty air filters, poorly tuned engines, high altitude, underinflated tires.....

These numbers are somewhat exaggerated for various reasons that take me even more afield from the point, which is this - published margin numbers might sound a lot better than they actually are. The bottom line is that according to people who actually run power grids, as opposed to Nader groups that bitch for a living, is that capacity margins should be on the order of 20%.

In much of the country the peak power consumption season is coming. Things might get particularly interesting in California as Gray Davis fights to escape his own legacy in the gubernatorial election. The vulnerability of New York has been mentioned earlier. And we can't rule out the possibility of more rolling blackouts in Florida.

Inevitably there will be talk of building more plants or more transmission capacity. Hopefully the above will help put it in context.

Wednesday, March 13, 2002

Screw abstinence

Dave Tepper highlighted this item, questioning just what part of the Constitution permitted such mandates. I'll note that the govt certainly sticks its nose into many places it doesn't belong, but I found the article interesting for other reasons.

First there's this:
"There is no evidence whatsoever that an abstinence-until-marriage program affects a young person’s behavior," said Barbara Huberman, director of education and outreach at Advocates for Youth, an organization that promotes comprehensive sex education. "The science in this country tells us the comprehensive, open approach helps kids delay initiation of the first sexual experience."
Then there's this:
Huberman said a University of Minnesota study found abstinence exercises like the Baptist-inspired "Virginity Pledges" — where kids write out promises not to have pre-marital sex — delay the age at which kids have sex for the first time.

"But the sad thing was that those kids who took the pledge and broke it were much less likely to use contraception," she said.
Well, does it affect their behavior or not?

Then, just to show that some people can foul up anything, there's this:
Only California didn't accept the federal funds because it had tried abstinence education before and found it failed.
Have they had a sudden burst of immaculate conceptions in California?

"Premium content"

I'm talking about SpinSanity, which now provides its content exclusively to the premium content side of Salon for a brief period before displaying it on their own site.

Of course we don't all agree on what we're willing to pay for. For instance, I'm not interested in the views of someone who can't distinguish between Kosovo and Afghanistan. From a letter on their site:
I think it might be interesting to note that the Republican leadership was not nearly as concerned about the effects of criticism on an active military campaign during the Kosovo crisis in early 1999. At that time, the lack of a clear "exit strategy" was questioned publicly by many GOP congressmen, and their right to dissent with the President and his policies was vigorously defended.
Do they feel duty-bound to publish every email they get, or do they think that such silliness adds value to their site?

Here is part of the WaPo article they cited, claiming Trent Lott and others were trying to delegitimize dissent:
Leading congressional Democrats took aim yesterday at the Pentagon's $379 billion budget request and its open-ended war on terrorism, voicing their strongest criticism of military operations and a proposed $48 billion increase in defense spending since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.), chairman of the Appropriations Committee, grilled top defense officials at a budget hearing about the lack of an "exit strategy" in Afghanistan, their failure to capture al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, and a widening global campaign against terrorists that seems to have "no end in sight."

Such sharp criticism, voiced in both the Senate and in the House during a hearing on missile defense, showed Democrats probing for ways to question the war and defense buildup without seeming unpatriotic in an election year.
Now tell me, does anybody believe that the Democrats are doing this solely out of their concern for their fellow citizens and a sense of Constitutional duty? Tell Byrd that the money will be spent in West Virginia and the grasping old Klansman will switch sides in a heartbeat. Trent Lott is 100% correct when he notes that the Democrats are trying to divide us when we are united - they want something to run on in the fall elections, and they'll try anything that polls well.

Somehow our intrepid spin sleuths missed the following, from the same WaPo article:
Rep. Gene Taylor (D-Miss.), ranking minority member of the Armed Services subcommittee on procurement, said the money spent on missile defense would come at the expense of other defense needs, notably ships and aircraft to replace aging fleets, a sacrifice that, he suggested, the United States could ill afford. "That's the real debate," Taylor said.
That's a false choice - there is absolutely no reason why other defense needs must be cut to fund missile defense. Nope, no spin here boys. Either Rep. Taylor is stupid or he thinks we are, and the best case for the latter is that he's in Congress.

Imagine a program which procured most of its supplies in the US and trained and employed hundreds of thousands of Americans while providing them with food, clothing, housing, health care and a salary, in locations scattered in Congressional districts all across the country. Democrats would be all over it in a heartbeat, outbidding the Republicans endlessly to spend more year after year. Until they find out it's the military. What is it, the uniforms?

Tuesday, March 12, 2002

Sticks and stones...

If common ethnic references bother you, keep moving. And no flames - violators will be published. As for you Mexicans, you're all.....Mexicans!

Boy, it's a good thing I'm not a professional basketball coach or I could lose my job for that one. Alright, Issel actually quit, and he didn't stop with "Mexican". But really, how far does this silliness go? How did we get to this point where something like this is called racist? Would the heckler have liked it any better if he had been called an Anglo "piece of (excrement)", or just "piece of (excrement)"?

It's possible for anyone to slip. When you're raised around a word that's used casually, it can creep into your usage innocently. Just ask Cruz Bustamante, who said he was trying to say "negro" when what came out was "nigger". (He's lucky he's a Democrat or he never would have survived that one politically. You can even be an ex-KKK member if you're a Democrat)

Of course "nigger" isn't the only poisoned word, and I learned a few others at an early age. For instance, my home town had a very few Mexicans, and I heard 'spic' once in a while. Forget about Asians, even in movies and on TV - I had an idea of what they looked like from National Geographic and Charlie Chan, and I never heard the word "gook" until it showed up on M*A*S*H. Likewise for Indians (you know who I mean).

The rest of us were lily-white Catholics (fisheaters) and Protestants, with a few Jewish families right out of the stereotype (a banker, a lawyer, a doctor, and a merchant). Ethnically we were mostly German (krauts), Irish and Italian (dagos, with an occasional wop). I don't recall anyone being picked on for ethnic reasons, but kids don't need a reason to be mean. One family was given a hard time because they were pretty ragged looking and had filthy personal habits, but they were as white as everybody else. You'd hear a slur now and then, but I don't recall any adults ever telling me to hate any particular group, and I didn't.

The surrounding area had some diversity, as long as you're talking Europeans. The 'bohunks' (eastern Europeans such as Poles ("polacks")) lived to the northwest, with Swedes were to the west of them. Farther west yet, in Moline, IL, I understand there is the highest concentration of Belgians in the US. Go up the Mississippi from there and it's thick with Dutch - the tulip motif is everywhere.

In about any other direction it was thick with krauts with a few Mennonites, and if you went far enough into the sticks you could still hear farmers with strong German accents.

To the west and a bit south there was Pekin, IL. I don't think there ever were many Chinese there. But the town was named for the Chinese city now called Beijing, and until political correctness set in, their high school teams were called the "Chinks".

My family moved South while I was in junior high school. At this point I hadn't been around any appreciable number of blacks unless we happened to venture somewhere like the south side of Chicago, so I wasn't sure what to expect. I did know that all of the people I had ever met that had a certain accent seemed to be trashy, and I later learned that that was a Southern accent.

There my vocabulary expanded more. I learned that "nigger" was a universal prefix for anything inferior. While fishing I caught a gar - it was a "nigger bass". Anything makeshift was a "nigger rig". Having a few extra bucks made you "nigger rich". Once we trapped a mean old raccoon - a neighbor took it down to "niggertown", got it skinned and gave me the hide. On the flip side, if somebody did something for you and made a big deal of it, you could say "that's mighty white of you".

I don't know if any of these ever really influenced my perceptions. Although as a babyfaced Yankee kid I was hazed a little, I never had any trouble getting along with my black schoolmates, and the only ones who did really asked for trouble. That might have had something to do with a stereotypical Southern sheriff who ran the county with an iron fist, but I don't think so.

About the only secret to getting along was to refrain from using "nigger" or any number of others ("jigaboo" being my favorite - where did that come from?). I thought it was a bit much to make such a fuss over some words, but it didn't cramp my style too much. It just meant that I had more word to censor along with the classic Anglo-Saxon ones. I suppose things would have been easier if I'd never heard them, but that's not realistic - the world is what it is.

Sometime in this period "All in the Family" showed up on TV. Produced by archliberal Norman Lear, the conservative character's dialogue was filled with words that were new to me, especially for Jews. Some of them amused me - "kike" in particular seemed funny. At this point about all I knew about Jews was from TV coverage of Israel, so I didn't know that certain words carried a lot of freight justifiably or not. Anyway, I used "kike" once with reference to a Jewish kid who was new to the neighborhood, simply as a neutral description like "red-haired", meaning absolutely no harm. From that day forward he avoided me and his parents were usually good for dirty looks. Whoops, better scratch that one too.

Then came "Blazing Saddles". I'm not sure you could make a movie with so much ethnic humor in it today. Call me a troglodyte if you want, but it was funny.

All I'm trying to say is that these words can be used innocently, and there's no point in anyone going around with a chip on their shoulders. You'll know if I'm putting you down, @#@$%.