Saturday, June 28, 2008

Remaining Balance


(though I'll still have to pay off the interest for the current period when it gets applied)

Friday, June 27, 2008

I think I'm in love

You know that giddy, breathless feeling? Silmultaneously hopeful and frightened, with the tantalizing unknown devouring your mind? I'm awash in it. Wall-E looks just that good. Gotcha?

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Speedy Gas

How much time do you save by going faster? How much money do you save by driving slower?

Figure it all out here. Roughly, of course.

But let's say you're driving to Vegas and back. Let's say you're planning on going 75 - a trite 5 mph over the speed limit. If you get 25mpg normally, but are willing to cut your speed to just 70mph, it will take 45 minutes longer, and you'll save about $10. This is roughly equivalent to making $13.80 an hour with your extra travel time. Cut your speed to 65 and you'll lose 90 minutes, and save about $21, for an hourly savings wage of about $13.00 an hour.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


CFLs contain mercury. Specifically, they send electricity through a mercury vapor to generate UV light, which then reacts with the flourescent coating on the inside of the bulb to produce visible light.

The fact that CFLs contain mercury has been a recurring theme on the afternoon talk show on KOH recently, parroting a member of Congress who paraded this fact around as though light bulb makers want to poison the country.

Yes, there is mercury in CFLs. But guess what - if you use a regular incandescent light bulb, powered by the most common source of electricity in the country - coal (a fuel source, ironically, the host praised in the same breath as the denouncing of MERCURY!!!!!!!) - you release more merurcy into the environment then if you were to toss your CFL in a landfill.

And you not only release more, you release about 3.5 times as much overall, and 14 tiems as much as is likely to be released by the bulb itself (0.4 mg, or about 11% of the mercury inside). Using incandescent light bulbs instead of a CFL over the life of the bulb will release 5.6mg of mercury into the air at coal-fired power plants. The power for the CFL would release 1.2 mg. Even if ever miligram of mercury in the bulb (4mg) were released while somehow still running a full 8,000 hours of power, in a contrary-to-physics worst-case scenario, the CFL still beats the incandescent bulb in mercury emissions, 5.2 to 5.6. But all of this neglects to mention that airborne mercury (mostly from coal plants, which then rains into the seas and accumulates in fish where it is ingested by humans) is the leading cause of human mercury poisoning.

Even this host can answer the following question: what's more mercury? 5.6 mg or 0.4 mg?

And, in related news, Home Depot is launching a CFL recycling program, to minimize the already lower-than-incandescent release of mercury into the environment (rather, to attract people into its stores. That other stuff is, of course, a nice side-effect).

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


Nevada's budget picture is ugly. On top of an accepted $900 million shortfall in the budget, there's some question how much more will need to be cut out. And it appears that a high ranking Democrat in the legislature is dealing with this question by planning on just sticking to the sunnier projection (presumably, so votes on even more drastic cuts can be avoided).

This might be illustrated in the legislative handbook with an ostritch in its classical pose of defense. You don't deal with frightening projections by hoping they just go away.

"CARSON CITY, Nev.—No Nevada law requires lawmakers to accept a panel's finding that the state faces a nearly $1.2 billion revenue shortfall—and a key Democratic legislator said Monday that's a good thing because the finding appears questionable. "

The proper plan is surprisingly obvious - plan for both contingencies. Approve a conditional budget that says "if $X needs to be cut, do A, B, C. If $Y needs to be cut, also do D, E, F." If dealing with uncertain forecasts, acknowledge your uncertainty and make conditional plans so you aren't caught with your pants down in a few months.

If you don't need to cut the extra money, great! If you do, at least you prepared for it in advance.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Template 2

Looking at the two noted photos:



In each photo I have an idea for a tagline, something the photo is evocative of for me. In either case, the blog itself will probably be a more simple text layout.

Thoughts, again?


Perhaps it was inspired by Abby's fantabulous template tweaking on her own blog, or perhaps because my current template was never meant to be more than a stopgap after white font suddenly became a no-no in Blogger. Whatever the cause, I'm looking to change up my color scheme. I have a couple photos I really like:





Thoughts? What makes for a good banner?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Kung Fu Panda

You should really see this movie. It's light-hearted, family-friendly, and has a number of great gems quote-wise. My personal favorite happens in the opening sequence of the movie: a dream sequence wherein Po imagines himself as a warrior whose "enemies were struck blind by overexposure to pure awesome!" (or something like that. It might reference the "blinding light of pure awesomeness." Whatever the case, it's classic).

Friday, June 13, 2008


I considered not linking to the column that the following excerpt appears in. It is one of the most vile columns I have ever read, and I'm still feeling a mixture of anger and sadness as I consider it. I honestly have no desire to drive any traffic to the article, but linked it simply for reference.

Judith Warner of the New York Times writes:

"And there is even greater danger to the fact that this particular aspect of the nationwide “abstinence movement” has not been broadly denounced as the form of emotional violence against girls that it indisputably is."

What is Ms. Warner writing about? It's something that she says after writing about her internal connection between a daddy-daughter dance and the barbaric acts of an Austrian man who imprisoned and repeatedly raped his daughter (and then saying "I don't mean to imply that there's any equivalency..." though she most certainly wants to imply a connection).

She's talking about fathers taking a vow “before God to cover my daughter as her authority and protection in the area of purity.”

INDISPUTABLE emotional violence against girls? This?

I'm honestly speechless.

Linked: Here

Thursday, June 12, 2008

He said it again

Senator Reid had a press release ready to go when the Republicans blocked a Senate bill that would have put ever-higher costs on fossil fuels. A number of thoughts on this painfully partisan release, and the underlying legislation:

"Senate Republicans blocked the Consumer-First Energy Act and the Renewable Energy and Job Creation Act of 2008."
  • Calling it Consumer-First doesn't make it so. I really, really hate such pandering legislation names. It's meaningless fluff.
  • You don't magically create jobs anywhere, ever. The money has to come from somewhere. If the money isn't coming from voluntary transactions among willing parties in the market, then it ahs to be forcibly taken from somewhere - the future if it's fueled by deficits, or from taxpayers it it's through taxes. The "Job Creation" that ever renewable energy advocate likes to tout is a cost that comes out of soemone's pockets. And if those pockets are currently employing other people... my guess is that Creating Jobs in Column A by taking them away from Column B is no creation at all. Personally, my feeling is that such an attmpt at "Job Creation" would have the real economy-wide effect of Job Destruction, because such energy has a higher cost - and that cost has to be borne soemwhere.
"Bush-McCain Republicans have spent the last two weeks feigning interest in addressing the rising the costs of energy. This morning, we gave them two more opportunities to actually address it, and again they ran away from the debate and real solutions."
  • Not increasing the supply of oil will lead to higher energy prices. Taxing oil companies will lead to higher energy prices. Forcing energy companies to pay for more inefficient means of producing energy willl... lead to higher energy prices. Cap-and-trade carbon restrictions? Do I really need to keep repeating myself?
  • "Bush-McCain Republicans" Bush ain't McCain. Gore wasn't Clinton, either... but at least those two had a measurable relationship. I really dislike the politican season. Such a news release is more about name-calling than finding solutions, and the smug finger-pointing throughout really bothers me.

"We gave them another opportunity to invest in renewable energy rather than line the pockets of Big Oil billionaires. And we gave them the chance to create millions of good-paying green-collar jobs right here at home to combat a Bush-McCain economy that has lost jobs every month of 2008. But once again, Bush-McCain Republicans have refused to govern, squandering these opportunities the same way they have blocked so many other chances to help struggling Americans.

  • Class warfare. My cynicism senses are on overload.
  • See above for where money for "millions of good paying jobs" comes from. Robbing Peter to pay Paul is the perfect cliché here.
  • Reid doesn't seem to like the filibuster very much any more, does he? Rather a different tune from 2005-2006. Then it was a way of "cooling the passions" in the Senate to engage in substantive debate. With a bill like this one, that's exactly what was needed.

"They just don't get it: We can't drill our way out of this crisis and we can't ignore it. Each day Republicans wait to act costs American taxpayers billions of dollars and the opportunity to create millions of good-paying jobs."

  • Saying we can't drill our way out of the problem may be true long term, but it ignores the fact that if we had been drilling for the past 10 years, the current high cost of oil and gas probably would not have materialized.
  • It's a lie. A bold-faced, obvious, insulting lie. Trying to hold out both "saving money" and "creating jobs" as the ends to be realized in a bill like this is something that belongs on the candied lips of a snake-oil salesman.
  • Democrat's policies (broadly) have two possible ends - higher energy prices, or rationing of energy supplies. Be honest about it, please.
  • You don't save money by increasing costs.
  • You don't "create millions of jobs" by getting other people fired. You just shift around who has to bear the burden.

The nation needs a serious debate and long-term plan for our energy future. This is so far removed from such a debate that it doesn't belong in the same galaxy cluster. This is petty bittering and pure political machination. It is vomitous refuse that should not be allowed within sight of real political discourse. It gets me rather angry, quite sad, and makes it hard to imagine voting for Senator Reid, despite my preference for a Republican President and not-Republican Congress.


I've heard some conservative talk-show-call-in folks throw around that word concerning Democrats who "undermined" the Iraq war.

That's a serious charge, if you really mean it. And for a revealling outside look at what it means to invoke that term in a political context, take a look at Zimbabwe.

Breaking with the Party

I'm glad to hear that both of Nevada's Republican Congressmen voted against the President on the issue of extending unemployment benefits. That's the sort of stimulus we should have had starting back in February, and the situation has not improved for Nevada workers since then.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

La la, la-la-la-la, la la-la la la

It sounds like somebody is going to smurf a movie about little blue creatures.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A Thought, Haikuized

Approaching thirty
Lesson number one: Single
Need not mean Alone

Taxing Exxon

"He also singled out Exxon Mobil Corp., the world's biggest oil refiner. Obama said he would seek to tax oil companies such as Irving, Texas-based Exxon on their record profits." --Bloomberg

A couple points:

1) We're already taxing Exxon on their record profits. It's called the corporate income tax. Perhaps this is just semantics, but you ought to say tax them more on their record profits.

2) Inelastic demand means said tax will pass right on through to the consumer.

3) Imagine a simple thought experiment. To simplify things, let's say Exxon earns 10% profit (it's a skooch higher, but this gives us a round number we can imagine easily). Let's say that we want to completely eliminate the profit they are making, ignoring the fact that this would means simply shutting down and providing no gas at all is a better decision. Let's further say that this will realize a complete pass-through to the price of gasoline, lopping 10% off of our gas bill.

In this ridiculous scenario, $4.00 per gallon gas would fall to... (drum roll please) $3.60 a gallon. This is a price well above the level of the "horribly high" gas prices of 2006 and it's a level that, in our thought experiment, gives ABSOLUTELY NO PROFIT to the oil companies.

The oil companies are not the (insert gratuitous swear for emphasis here) problem. Supply being outpaced by demand growth is the problem. Eliminating the oil companies' profit won't do a single (insert gratuitous swear for emphasis here) thing to ease the pain we are feeling, but it will hurt domestic oil producers compared to foreign producers... shifting the balance of production even more in favor of foreign producers, just like when windfall profit taxing was all the rage in the 70's. To the degree that you consider sending money to petro-dictators a bad thing, you should oppose punitive taxation of domestic oil companies.

Supply is the problem that we can address - oil company profits are a tiny drop in a much bigger bucket, and every argument that focuses on the oil companies is a red herring. To address supply problems, we need (1) substitutes or (2) more supply. Substitutes are alternative energy sources, but they are several years off at least. More proven supplies are available in ANWR and on the outer continental shelf, but these are opposed by Democrats. Whether the reasons for opposition are good or bad, they have the direct, predictable result of limiting supply.

And it's a lack of global supply that has driven the no-profit price of gas above $3.50 a gallon (and rising). Harry Reid has said for years "we can't drill our way out of this problem." But if we were drilling then, we'd be much more effectively mitigating the problem now - to a degree that far outstrips the "unconscionable profits" of the Evil Oil Companies.

4) I thought you'd think a wholesale shift in the American consumer from gas-hogging SUVs to light, efficient cars (reducing greenhouse gas emissions nationwide) was a good thing. Cheap gas, if you could snap your fingers and provide it, would immediately reverse these changes.

Entrenched Deficits

The Bush Administration has paid for the war in Iraq with pure, unadulterated and unmitigated deficit spending. This is bad. One reason this is bad is evident in a series of programs that Obama is laying out. This is a broad series of economic giveaways. But he intends to fund this in two ways. Taxing the rich, and winding down the war in Iraq.

But wait! Ending the Iraq War today will not free up a single dime in revenue. As stated in the first line above, that war is funded with pure deficit spending. To say that ending that war will allow him to "fund" these other programs then, is farce at best and a bold-faced lie at worst.

And that's why Bush deserves just condemnation for things like funding the war with supplemental appopriaations bills (to try and fudge the headline deficit numbers in his "budgets" that he submits to Congress). Once that deficit is in place it requires cutting programs without replacing the spending elsewhere, or raising taxes without providing any additional services with that money. Neither of these is popular, which leads to deficits being built into the system.

Obama and McCain are proving to be just as irresponsible, though. Based on their campaign rhetoric thus far, neither one deserves a vote on their economic platforms. Bush got us here, but they will keep us here.

Monday, June 09, 2008


We should be glad that, contentious as it may become, America has a long history of peaceful transitions of power.

Not in Zimbabwe:

From a 70-page report put together by Human Rights Watch:

The ZANU-PF youths and supporters would bring forward three or four people at a time. They tied the legs of the victims and handcuffed their hands, before forcing them to lie prone on their stomachs. Three ZANU-PF youths with thick sticks would stand on either side of the victim and take turns beating the victims on the back, back of the legs and buttocks. The ZANU-PF youths and supporters either stripped the women naked or down to their underwear before beating them. In some incidents the perpetrators tied barbed wire around the genitals of the men and tied the other end of the wire around logs. The perpetrators then forced the men to use their genitals to pull the logs as they continued to beat them. Several men sustained serious injuries to their genitals as a result.

The beatings continued all that afternoon and evening. More than 70 people were beaten, of which 30 were hospitalized at Howard and Concession hospitals in Mashonaland Central, while others were transferred to Avenues clinic in Harare. The beatings only ended that evening when five police officers arrived. The 300 assailants dispersed but police caught and beat one of the assailants before releasing him. To date no arrests have been made.

Extraordinary Rendition

This is why I can't support the U.S. intelligence process of extraordinary rendition.

Economics 101

"A procedural showdown is set for Tuesday, and Democrats are likely to run into opposition from Republicans who have resisted any effort to increase taxes on oil companies despite record profits. But with gas now averaging $4 per gallon, Democrats say they can make it tougher on Republicans who stand by the oil industry." -- New York Times

I admit outright that I have no problem with ending special tax breaks for oil companies in light of healthy profits. This is not the same as saying I want to "increase taxes on oil companies," because of a semantic difference in the two phrases. I want oil companies to be on par with other comparably sized companies if their profits are stable and sustainable (which in the current market they are). I don't want special benefits or special punishments.

But for the Democrats to find $4 a gallon gas as a rallying point for eliminating these tax subsidies is baffling to me. The demand for gasoline has been shown to be rather inelastic - an increase in the price by about 100% has only cut demand by less than 5%. This means as price goes up, most people will continue to buy. This means that price increases can more easily be passed on to consumers, because it won't cause a huge drop in demand.

When demand is inelastic, taxes on the suppliers get passed straight through to consumers. The all-but-inevitable result of ending the oil tax subsidies will not be to reduce the profits the oil companies make. It will be to make oil, gas, etc more expensive.

The rallying cry "gas is expensive, so let's tax the people that make it" is silly. I'm in favor of eliminating special benefits the oil companies may receive for the same reason that I'm in favor of slashing and burning agricultural subsidies - I consider it a wasteful use of limited government funds, and bad policy in a time of record deficits.

Concerning the related "we have to invest more money in renewable energy!" suggestions: no, we don't. The beauty of higher, rising prices for oil is that if there is a more economical alternative, there's a lot of profit waiting for the person or company that can develop it. The "but big energy companies will just sit on their ideas to draw higher profit from oil" argument ignores the principle that if company A sits on the idea, it leaves room for company B to jump in.

As soon as a plug-in vehicle - like the upcoming Chevy Volt - can be sold for a price that makes it more efficient than buying a gasoline-powered car, the shift will be on in full force. The novel idea in the Volt is that it has only a 40-mile range on an overnight charge... but it has a gasoline engine which is tied straight to the battery to extend that range. Unlike current dual-drive hybrids, which use a gasoline engine to move the car and an electric engine to move the car (much more complex), the Volt uses the gas engine - running at a constant speed - to charge the battery, driving the electric motor. This eliminates the two-engine design, and achieves great fuel efficiency with the gas, just like driving at a stable speed (instead of constantly accelerating and decelerating) will increase your efficiency.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Mugabe Must Go

This article says it all. Robert Mugabe must go, by any means necessary.

HARARE, Zimbabwe -- The opposition said Friday that its rallies had been banned indefinitely three weeks before the presidential runoff, while the U.S. ambassador accused President Robert Mugabe's regime of using food as a weapon to stay in power.

U.S. Ambassador James McGee said the regime is distributing food mostly to its supporters and that those backing the opposition are offered food only if they hand in identification that would allow them to vote.

If the situation continues, "massive, massive starvation" will result, McGee told reporters in Washington by video conference from Harare.

The Case for War

The report on the prewar statements found that on some important issues, most notably on what was believed to be Iraq’s nuclear, biological and chemical weapons programs, the public statements from Mr. Bush, Mr. Cheney and other senior officials were generally “substantiated” by the best estimates at the time from American intelligence agencies.

-New York Times

But that's not the lead in the story. The lead is:

But it found that the administration officials’ statements usually did not reflect the intelligence agencies’ uncertainties about the evidence or the disputes among them.

So my question is this: is it improper for officials to make public statements that rely on the best evidence and assesments available but which do not reflect the underlying uncertainty? And if that is the goal - calling out unequivocal statements, then why focus on one branch, and one party?

In a detailed minority report, four of those Republicans accused Democrats of hypocrisy and of cherry picking, namely by refusing to include misleading public statements by top Democrats like Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and Mr. Rockefeller.

As an example, they pointed to an October 2002 speech by Mr. Rockefeller, who declared to his Senate colleagues that he had arrived at the “inescapable conclusion that the threat posed to America by Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction is so serious that despite the risks, and we should not minimize the risks, we must authorize the president to take the necessary steps to deal with the threat.”


What does this say about our society?

Zimbabwe and America: A common problem

A general in Zimbabwe's army said something pretty revealing ahead of the run-off "elections" coming later this month:

“Soldiers are not apolitical,” General Chedondo was quoted as saying. “Only mercenaries are apolitical. We have signed up and agreed to fight and protect the ruling party’s principles of defending the revolution. If you have other thoughts, then you should remove that uniform.”

In this man's mind, soldiers are an arm of the President, so it is their duty to vote for him. Granted, the Zimbabwe army is a corrupt tool of ZANU-PF, the ruling party that has destroyed the country. But the problem is one of identifying witthe the party or the individual at the clear expense of the state.

I remember hearing similar remarks about Bill Clinton and George Bush - He might be the commander-in-chief, but he's not my commander-in-chief. One of the just criticisms of the Bush administration is the ever-closer ties between politics and administration - like the dust-up over whether US Attourneys were fired to make room for favored appointees. In Congress, there is a common desire to hold on to power, to promote the party's business, and to grease the wheels for your side against the other side.

These are similar, if lesser, examples of the same phenomenon. It's starkly apparent when a general tells people int he military to resign if they are going to support the opposition. But they are differences with the political machinations described above of degree, not of kind.

Reasonable people may hold differing opinions. We shouldn't, therefore, expect our elected officials to always agree - two minds may have a very different idea of what's "Best for America." But the moment that loyalty is first run through the filter of loyalty to party, or to a cult of personality - that's the moment when we are in the same boat as Zimbabwe. The moment that voting for the other guy because you feel it to be the best choice is a sign of disloyalty, that's the moment you know you need to reexamine what really matters - country or party.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Debt Update

Pennies over $780, and falling.

I'm under $1,000 (started noticeably above $4,000), and I have the cash in my checking account to pay it off now (though I have some upcoming expenses, like vehicle registration, that those funds are set aside for). I should, however, easily meet my goal of having the balance sitting at $0 when I turn 30.

Monday, June 02, 2008

In Defense of Sweatshops

I've been having an interesting conversation with Kenny and Ben on Kenn'y blog recently. The subject was (1) whether there is such a thing as Objective Reality (we all agree that there is), and (2) the degree to which we can know it.

The practical application of such philisophical musings is seen in things like how, precisely, we can act on known biblical mandates (such as "love your neighbor as yourself") in specific instances. One such instance would be a beggar asking for money - if we have money and nothing else practical to give, is it better to give the beggar money (which may be used to unsavory and harmful ends, like drugs), or to withhold money so as not to enable the feared behavior (which might cause the man to not eat today).

Another application is in such things as politics, social consciousness, and our attitude towards the world. Take "sweatshops" as an example - labor in foreign countries where the pay can be pennies per hour. Are they a bad thing? On the one hand, we have people who are receiving pay far below the American standards we have set. On the other hand, assuming people are working voluntarily, it's reasonable to believe they want to work there.

Following that last thread, there is an interesting article I ran across today defending sweatshops. It may yet be proper for America as a society to refuse to buy sweatshop labor. But such decisions should be fully informed, as much as possible, about the consequences:


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

1 Walter Williams, "Sweatshop Exploitation." January 27, 2004. Paul Krugman, "In Praise of Cheap Labor, Bad Jobs at Bad Wages are Better Than No Jobs at All." Slate, March 20, 1997.

2 Paul Krugman, New York Times. April 22, 2001.


When arguing policy - be it over oil prices, price gouging, public schools, or sweatshop labor - it's important to make sure you are comparing real policies to real alternatives, not real policies to utopian alternatives. If America forces a minimum wage on "sweatshops" in other countries, then to the extent that the wage is higher than the value of their labor, people will be forced out of work.

Is it better to allow a fortunate few to claim high wages, and force others to even deeper levels of abject squalor? Or is it better to embrace sweatshops, despite the large gap between those working conditions and those we enjoy in America?

This is a hard question. But we should not be allowed to avoid it, and engage instead in fantasy:


"Once passed, this legislation will reward decent U.S. companies which are striving to adhere to the law. Worker rights standards in China, Bangladesh and other countries across the world will be raised, improving conditions for tens of millions of working people. Your legislation will for the first time also create a level playing field for American workers to compete fairly in the global economy.9"

9 Testimonies at the Senate Subcommittee on Interstate Commerce, Trade and Tourism Hearing. Statement of Charles Kernaghan. February 14, 2007