Monday, February 27, 2006

Days when I am glad

Living in the United States has its advantages. To use a hyperbolic point (and misquote) from the upcoming movie V is for Vendetta, "The people should not have to be afraid of their government, the government should be afraid of its people."

So, in an irrelevant point, I am commenting on the fact that there was yet another coup attempt in the Phillipines. Of course, coup attempts there don't seem to be as successful or frequent as those in some African countries. In fact, there are more coups historically than elections in some of those very same countries in the last 2 centuries.

Let's look at an oft quoted statement:

The natural state of man is to yearn to be free.

That may be true but when Americans or American presidents quote that they often skip over other questions like:

1. Can all cultures exist/survive within a democratic/free governing system without self-destructing?
2. Are all cultures suitable for experiencing freedom/democracy and at what levels?
3. Can those cultures be modified to be able to experience Western style freedom/democracy and what would it take to change them?
4. If the answer is no to any of the above three questions, what are the implications for America or American leaders?

I am naturally skeptical that any one type of government would work for all countries, all cultures, all races and all situations. That is a hard assumption to accept. The true question is, what is anyone going to do about it if it is true?

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Harvard President Resigns

It seems that Lawrence Summers, the president of Harvard has resigned partially if not wholly due to remarks he made back in January 2005. He was accused of making remarks that sounded like he believed that women had a lack of "intrinsic aptitude" for certain fields.

This reminds me of the time that Alan Greenspan made the statement that the markets had "irrational exuberance". In fact, he never said that about the markets but about asset values and it was a fairly lengthly speech:
Clearly, sustained low inflation implies less uncertainty about the future, and lower risk premiums imply higher prices of stocks and other earning assets. We can see that in the inverse relationship exhibited by price/earnings ratios and the rate of inflation in the past. But how do we know when irrational exuberance has unduly escalated asset values, which then become subject to unexpected and prolonged contractions as they have in Japan over the past decade? And how do we factor that assessment into monetary policy? We as central bankers need not be concerned if a collapsing financial asset bubble does not threaten to impair the real economy, its production, jobs, and price stability. Indeed, the sharp stock market break of 1987 had few negative consequences for the economy. But we should not underestimate or become complacent about the complexity of the interactions of asset markets and the economy. Thus, evaluating shifts in balance sheets generally, and in asset prices particularly, must be an integral part of the development of monetary policy.

Fairly dry reading but you get my point. Yet based on those two words, the media and the markets reacted like a snowball rolling downhill.

So, here's the extract of the lengthy full speech that Summers is still being castigated on:

So my best guess, to provoke you, of what's behind all of this is that the largest phenomenon, by far, is the general clash between people's legitimate family desires and employers' current desire for high power and high intensity, that in the special case of science and engineering, there are issues of intrinsic aptitude, and particularly of the variability of aptitude, and that those considerations are reinforced by what are in fact lesser factors involving socialization and continuing discrimination. I would like nothing better than to be proved wrong, because I would like nothing better than for these problems to be addressable simply by everybody understanding what they are, and working very hard to address them.

Sure sounds like he would like us to consider the possibility of a possibly inherent situation and to prove it right or wrong and then use that knowledge to fix the social situation as a result.

One of Summer's defenders is Steven Pinker. Although I don't necessarily agree with all of his ideas, he has my respect. In an interview with the college newspaper Crimson was this exchange:

CRIMSON: Finally, did you personally find President Summers’ remarks (or what you’ve heard/read of them) to be offensive?

PINKER: Look, the truth cannot be offensive. Perhaps the hypothesis is wrong, but how would we ever find out whether it is wrong if it is “offensive” even to consider it? People who storm out of a meeting at the mention of a hypothesis, or declare it taboo or offensive without providing arguments or evidence, don’t get the concept of a university or free inquiry.

So, the question Pinker is asking us is whether we are going to be intellectually honest enough in an academic environment and elsewhere, to consider the idea that something politically incorrect may be true for the alternative is to stick our heads in the sand and to deny it because we don't like the sound of it. Let's prove it wrong if we hate it. Let's acknowledge it if it is proven true.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Indonesian Behavior

Not too long ago, when the huge earthquake created the tsunami of 2004 that killed more than 100,000 Indonesians, the United States started relief efforts using resources such as the USS Abraham Lincoln to bring much needed food and water to those in places such as Bandah Aceh. It was said that that effort had won much credibility and appreciation from some muslim countries and Indonesia especially as a result.

That was 14 months ago.

Today, Indonesians decided that the US Embassy in Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia needed to be stormed over the Danish newspaper publication of cartoons.

What do you call someone who is never satisfied with what you have done for them and continues to blame you for things you didn't do?

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Beating the System in the Dairy Industry

I originally saw this in the Wall Street Journal a few day ago but also found it elsewhere. It is basically about an immigrant farmer from Holland that started working in the farm business and now has found an innovative way to actually be an owner-farmer that makes a decent living.

Here's the story. Back in the depression era the supply of milk was unpredictable due to machinations by those that could control it. Laws were passed to minimize that abuse of milk supply power. Over time, that regulation grew into a system whereby only large corporations have that exclusive membership to distribute milk through large regions of the United States. This is not unlike the concentration power that beef processing plants had in this country. The net effect of this concentration is that the small farmer/owner/rancher is squeezed pricewise by the middleman since the middleman controls the gate to the market.

Well, it appears that Mr. Hettinga actually found a way around that gate and is selling directly to retailers and so the retailers get it cheaper. Remember, these middlemen are relying on the laws that passed during the 1930s. There is no longer a need for such laws as the markets are far more efficient now and the economy is definitely not like the 1930s. So now the middlemen and those that are forced to supply to the middlemen are asking that states pass laws against Mr Hettinga who was innovative enough and more efficient than they are.

I say it is time to scrap outdated laws and to outlaw cartels of this sort.

Monday, February 13, 2006

In Support of Denmark's Freedom of Press

To the Danish Freedom of the Press. Not that some can understand it.

Brigade de l'Argent des Fran�ais: La BAF crash la manif des Islamistes contre les caricatures

Do you want to see courage that separates the men from the boys? Apparently, a couple of cartoonists in France decided to show some guts and willingness to die for what they believe in in the post: Brigade de l'Argent des Fran�ais: La BAF crash la manif des Islamistes contre les caricatures

Atheist Goes To Court Against Priest

It seems that atheists in the United States are not the only ones that try to use the legal system against references about religion.

In Italy an atheist sued a priest for saying that Jesus Christ existed. Yes, you can read that sentence again. His claim is that Jesus Christ didn't exist.

Anyway, the short version is that the Italian court threw the case out and now he wants to take it to the EU Court.

Now that he has his moment of fame, if only he would have the guts to say that Mohammed did not exist. Would the result (if he ever dared to say that) reflect more on him or on certain people that claim to be Muslims?

On a related note, the movie Da Vinci Code looks like it is going to be a success at the box office in less than 100 days time when it will be released. There are quite a few protestors already. Folks, this book is sold under the fiction category in the book stores, not history or religion. The author is not James Frey.

Energy Policy Or Rather - the Lack of One

The State of The Union Speech covered for the first time, the topic that hints of an Energy Policy for the United States. The phrase "addicted to oil" is an euphemism in my opinion. Perhaps the words lifeblood or air supply would be better descriptions.

The first oil crisis was in 1973 and we never developed a National Energy Policy. That was more than three decades ago and every president has chosen to avoid crafting a policy. Even this one avoids one and supplies some $150 million for R&D. This is only a tiny first step - not a national energy policy.

Look at China, a competitor at the international level to the United States. They are building 30 nuclear reactors over the next 20 years or so. They have the world's largest dam. What do we have in the United States? No new nuclear reactors. We also have a shortage of refinery plants outside the gulf area. They shut down during hurricanes Katrina and Rita and pushed up prices as a result. We also have upstate New Yorkers protesting against a wind farm being put up that mars their view of nature. We also cannot drill in the Artic National Wildlife Refuge in a responsible fashion. We're giving no thought to the future as a nation and we're selfish in the extreme.

You want to cut gasoline consumption? There is one clear way to do it. That is to encourage and perhaps even mandate telecommuting at some level. When you don't have to drive 30 miles, you save between 1 to 3 gallons. Let's do some hypothetical numbers. Let's say you mandate that 2% of all workers must be telecommuting every business day. Let's say we have 100 million workers. That's 2 million people folks. Let's say they drive an average of 30 miles a day - a rather conservative number. 60 million miles not driven every business day. Lets use 20 miles per gallon and we are looking at 3 million gallons a day savings. Which works out to approximately 14 million barrels of gasoline a year. You decide.

TX Deputy Sheriff's Wife Threatened By Mexicans

It appears that deputy sherrifs and the wife of another deputy sherrif was threatened with death by drug smugglers and/or Mexican military that were supporting them.

State and federal officials are investigating death threats against Hudspeth County sheriff's deputies and their families that local officials believed are tied to a recent standoff on the Texas-Mexico border.

Chief Deputy Mike Doyal said Wednesday that two deputies and the wife of third officer were warned that they should "stay off the river" or they and their families would be killed.

Unfortunately, the Border Patrol is not equipped nor trained to deal with a potential enemy that has Humvees with mounted 50 caliber machine guns. It really doesn't matter if they were drug smugglers, ex Mexican military or smugglers dressed up as military or corrupt actual military. When a foreign force crosses the borders and threatens your citizens, you cannot pretend that it didn't happen. Now the terrorists know where to go to get help if they want to come into the United States without too many problems. May I suggest that we occasionally make available some well experienced military from Iraq to assist our fine men of the Border Patrol and law enforcement near the border? My I suggest that they be a crew that knows how to use a AH-64 since the opposition is now armed with 50 caliber machine guns.

Battery Technology - Why It Is More of A Problem Than A Solution

Along with all the talk about hybrid cars and their fuel saving capabilities there seems to be an absense of the full truth. Yes, they save gas and get better mileage. Yes they do cost more. However, from an engineering viewpoint, they leave much to be desired.

The batteries are not fully charged and are kept at about 60% at maximum to prolong the life of the battery. You would get far better mileage if it was fully charged. Secondly, batteries are still big, heavy and bulky and do not hold much charge and that has not changed very much in the last few decades. For all the R&D (or insufficient R&D at that), there hasn't been a quantum leap in battery technology like there has been in other fields. Go to this article if you want to learn more.

That's why some view the hydrogen cell as the solution. I am not holding my breath but at least it is in use in restricted circumstances.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

And the Train Keeps Chugging Along

From msnbc:
A prominent Iranian newspaper said Tuesday it would hold a competition for cartoons on the Holocaust to test whether the West extends the principle of freedom of expression to the Nazi genocide as it did to the caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad.

Hamshahri, one of Iran’s largest papers, made clear the contest is a reaction to European newspapers’ publication of Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, which have led to demonstrations, boycotts and attacks on European embassies across the Islamic world. Several people have been killed.

OK, so you want to test the West's tolerance of offensive material? Or Israel's? I bet that they won't be burning your embassy in any EU capital. You don't have any in Israel so you can't quite test there. I bet they won't go on the streets to protest your publication of Holocaust cartoons. You do however contradict your own (Iranian) president's claim that the Holocaust never happened. Are you calling him a liar? Of course not.

If anything, these Islamic protesters need to learn how to behave in a mature fashion. For goodness sake, it is the 21st Century.

More on a Similar Theme

What does it tell you when civilians go on to destroy the company that owned that ferry involved in that tragic sinking in Egypt?

That approximately a thousand lives may have been lost is sad beyone measure. That the company has failed to provide sufficient information is unbelieveable and irresponsible. That they riot and attack the company and a hospital for their right to information and driven by outrage and emotion like their fellow humans protesting the cartoons tell us more about their culture and how they react when they feel that they have been wronged. Never mind explanations. Never mind logic. Never mind the rights of others. The world must revolve around them and their rights are paramount over all others.

The KKK was bad enough but this...

The KKK was famous for burning crosses and being racist and some would say close to terrorist tactics to promote and enforce their view on the rest of the community.

In a wonderful show of intolerance, some that profess the faith of Islam thought it a wonderful idea to burn a consultate and an embassy over what their free press decided to print. Yes, the cartoons.

According to Islam, they do not appreciate any pictures of Mohammed or any religious historical prophets/dieties that they share in common with Judaism and Christianity. I wonder if that means that a depiction of Christ on the cross would upset them enough to burn a church or two. Oh, wait, they don't have churches in most of those countries do they. So much for tolerance from those Islamic states.

Go to the BBC for a great explanation from an objective viewpoint.

Freedom Folks: Guard The Borders Blogburst

One post I'd like to note is that of Freedom Folks: Guard The Borders Blogburst. It puts into easy terms the aspect of one of the plethora of techniques that illegal immigrants use to game the system of immigration and essential non-governance and non-enforcement by the United States Immigration authorities.

Unfortunately I have to agree with Congressman Tancredo that the day we have another major terrorist attack in the United States that came through the porous borders to our south and north is the day we will actually take the threat seriously. Instead of Americans just volunteering for the military services you might see Americans volunteering to help seal our borders in such numbers that the Minutemen will appear to be nothing more than a drop in the bucket.

Religious Taboos and Offensive Cartoons

Just as Christians have beliefs about Jesus and find any suggestion that he may have sinned offensive, the world needs to understand that we too have our beliefs and there are some things that are not acceptable to us no matter what your motivation or reasons are.

We believers have been attacked too often for our way of life and practicing what has been preached to us by our teachers. Some of us have been treated as pariahs because we carry this belief in our hearts and we live it. Many have gone to jail because we do not just profess it but we protect and cherish it. Some of our faithful have died doing their duties as our religion has taught us to do - to share with the world what the real truth is.

It doesn't matter to us even if you attack us yet again for our beliefs. It will only make us stronger and we will work harder to teach you a lesson that we cannot be defeated and we will crush you and your pathetic crusade. It is time for the whole world to realize that some things cannot be beaten out of us and there is a higher power that will expose the infidels for what they really are. We will continue to worship and pray to our god and there is nothing you can do to stop it.

Do not abridge our religion - Freedom of The Press.
For the impaired, the above is just to make you think.

Side Effect of Immigration

Here in Virginia, a bill was rejected in the state senate. Basically it was meant to allow one business to sue another if the latter used illegal immigrants.

The bill is dead but the idea is interesting.

If I am an owner of a business and I have competition that is breaking the law and using resources they should not be using and is not legally available to the rest of us, it is obviously not a level playing field. He chooses to break the law by utilizing or obtaining illegal immigrants to work for him. If I choose to obey the law in this competition, I could very well lose in the marketplace and be forced to close down my company and laying off my legal citizen and immigrant employees. I guess there is no justice after all. I guess it teaches our children that staying fair and playing clean doesn't help you win when the other side can cheat and lie their way to success.

SOTU Speech - Middle East

One of the points made by the President during the speech had to do with our dependence on oil. If you think about the other side of the coin, the middle eastern countries are also dependent on oil. They depend on it for their revenue.
Let's say that in 10 years that the United States reduced oil consumption by 25% through technology. We then give this technology to the rest of the world if they don't already have it. What would that do to countries that depend on oil exports for survival? Is Iran or Saudi Arabia using this money to educate their children and making them productive citizens of the world? Are they generating goods and services to increase their wealth? Will they be exporting any goods and services besides oil? If not, what is going to happen when oil demand drops and prices go down if the President's program actually bears fruit? I can see why these programs would benefit Israel in the long run, can't you?