Instead of a Sportscar...

Saturday, January 28, 2006

NBC Drops The Ball

Just a while ago, NBC news had a story on drug smuggling along the Mexican border. It seems that the border patrol chased a Mexican army humvee a couple of miles inside the border, and as it was crossing back into Mexico it got stuck in the river. The uniformed passengers in the hummer jumped out and set fire to the vehicle before fleeing. The border patrol took photos of the hummer and the bundles of drugs inside.

The only problem is, the vehicle in the photos were clearly not a humvee (it looked more like a Blazer or some sort of SUV-type vehicle). They really ought to consider getting some ex-military on the staff for this sort of thing.

[Sorry, no screen captures.]

Thursday, January 26, 2006

The Problem With Oil

People who subscribe to the oil imperialism political theory often state that we should neither deal with odious regimes who have oil, nor work to destabilize those odious regimes. Yet advocates of this more isolationist stance don’t seem to take on the hard facts about oil: how much we use, and where it comes from. In the spirit of a more open and productive debate, I present the US oil balance sheet (all figures are in barrels of oil per day):

US oil consumption (inc. US territories)......20,374,000
Petroleum Imports to US.......................12,264,386
Petroleum Exports from US......................1,026,597
Net imports to US.............................11,237,789
US production of crude oil.....................7,823,200
US crude oil refining capacity................17,339,000
US refining shortfall..........................3,035,000

Note: Figures are as of 2003, the last year with complete data for all variables.

The first thing that probably jumps out at you is that the US imports a huge amount of oil—well over half of the oil we use on a daily basis is from some other country. Any advocate of disentangling ourselves from the internal affairs of oil rich nations would need to offer a viable alternative to oil. The majority of the oil we use is for automotive fuel, home heating, and jet fuel—not for power generation, which comes by and large from other sources. We are absolutely dependent on

The second thing you might notice is that despite importing so much oil, we are also an exporter of oil. While this may strike some as odd, you have to keep in mind the fact that our oil industry isn’t nationalized and as a result oil companies have a great deal of freedom to strike what deals they wish. To keep oil companies from selling oil abroad would require a high level of governmental interference, and would serve to increase US isolation abroad as formerly friendly nations turned to other sources for their oil needs.

The third thing you should notice is that the US has a significant refining shortfall. Crude oil is useless to everyday consumers: you can’t heat your home with it, you can’t drive your car with it, and you can’t fly to a vacation destination with it—so it must be refined into the products that are useful to us. Despite this shortfall in refining, there have been no new refineries built on US soil in many years. Environmental regulations and the “not in my backyard” mentality have made it nearly impossible to even contemplate new refinery construction.

Those that would insist we isolate ourselves from odious, yet oil-rich, regimes ought to be prepared to tell us how we would make up the shortfall that would result. Any plan that would insist we quit all or even some foreign oil cold turkey is a sure recipe for economic collapse and social disorder.

Links to sources:

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Despicable Self-Loathing

From an editorial about the movie "Syrianna":

The list of Arab leaders murdered since 1900 is a long one. It includes six prime ministers, three kings, a ruling Imam, seven presidents of the republic, and dozens of ministers, parliamentarians and senior military officials.

Every single one of them was killed either by Islamist militants (often from the Muslim Brotherhood) or by pan-Arab nationalists or by radical Arab security services.

That many Arabs should welcome the suggestion that their tragedies are due to evil doings by foreigners maybe understandable.

It is less so when so many Americans come together to make a film to portray their nation as evil incarnate.

Go and read the whole thing right now!

Sunday, January 22, 2006

This Week in History: Jan 23-Jan29

1793 2nd partition of Poland, between Prussia & Russia, Poles begin to notice a pattern.
1849 Mrs. Elizabeth Blackwell becomes 1st woman physician in US, discovers concept of glass ceiling.
1899 Say it again, Sam…”Happy birthday Humphrey Bogart!”
1943 Bdeep! Bdeep! Bdeep! TV’s Buck Rodgers—Gil Gerard—born this day, only 5 centuries early.
1962 Libya, Morocco, Algeria & Tunisia plan to form United Arab Maghreb, don’t quite get around to it.

Jan 24
0041 Roman emperor and super-freak Caligula assassinated at the age of 28.
1920 Happy birthday Mayor McCheese! Actor Jerry Maren’s birthday.
1922 Christian K Nelson of Iowa shows his ignorance of Inuit cuisine by patenting the Eskimo pie.
1968 Mary Lou Retton bounds into her mother’s heart. Happy birthday Mary Lou!
1975 Stooge Larry Fine goes to the comedy reel in the sky. RIP.

Jan 25
0844 Gregory IV begins his reign as Catholic Pope…only to end it.
1741 Benedict Arnold born, takes sides with the doctor.
1877 Congress determines presidential election between Hayes-Tilden, ensuring that Hayes will always be known as the “selected-not-elected” president.
1947 Al Capone dies of syphilis at 48.
1963 Wilson Kettle of Newfoundland, dies at 102. His 582 living descendents mourn him.

Jan 26
1871 US income tax repealed…for a time.
1880 Douglas MacArthur born, vows to have many more birthdays.
1925 Cool hand Luke, enter stage right. Happy birthday Paul Newman!
1934 Nazi Germany & Poland sign non-attack treaty for 10 years. This doesn’t work out so well for Poland.
1950 India becomes a republic ceasing to be a British dominion.
1957 India celebrates it’s independence by annexing Kashmir.
1979 YEEEHAAA! "The Dukes of Hazzard" premieres on CBS.
1998 President Clinton says "I want to say one thing to the American people, I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky", complicating the sex talk for generations of future parents.

Jan 27
1756 Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart born, assuring Falco of at least one hit.
1870 1st sorority—Kappa Alpha Theta—founded. Also date of the 1st panty raid.
1915 US Marines occupy Haiti, and not for the last time.
1967 Roger B Chaffee, Gus Grissom, and Edward Higgins White die in the Apollo I fire. RIP.
1973 US & Vietnam sign cease-fire, end the war.
1984 Michael Jackson is burned during filming for Pepsi commercial, giving him an excuse for another trip to the plastic surgeon.
1996 Germany commemorates the Holocaust for the first time.

Jan 28
1910 Happy birthday Sgt. Schultz. Actor John Banner’s birthday.
1986 Christa McAuliffe, Ellison Onizuka, Francis Scobee, Gregory B. Jarvis, Judith Arlene Resnik, Michael Smith, and Ronald McNair die in the Challenger disaster. RIP.

Jan 29
1737 Thomas Paine pains his mother before he pains the British. Happy Birthday, Tom!
1945 Magnum PI born in Detroit MI. Happy birthday Tom Selleck!
1951 There’s something special about the 1st time: Liz Taylor gets divorced.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

This Week in History: Jan 16-22

Some (mostly factual) things that happened this week in history.

Jan 16

1493 Columbus returns to Spain on his 1st trip.
1776 Continental Congress decides that blacks can die for the revolution, approves enlistment of non-slaves.
1777 Vermont declares independence from NY—hasn’t been missed yet.
1919 Nebraska becomes the 36th state to ratify prohibition, having little effect on alcohol consumption.
1920 One year after ratification, the 18th amendment becomes law, giving a big boost to organized crime.
1948 Happy birthday director John Carpenter.
1969 Jan Palach immolates himself to protest Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, Soviets are unimpressed.
1989 USSR announces plan for 2-year manned mission to Mars, somehow doesn’t get around to it.
1997 RIP Innis Cosby, son of Bill Cosby.

Jan 17

1806 Happy birthday James Madison Randolph, 1st to be born in White House.
1861 Thomas Crapper invents the first flushable crapper.
1899 Al Capone born in Italy.
1917 US buys Virgin Islands from Denmark.
1977 Organ donor Gary Gilmore becomes the 1st to be executed in the US since 1967, inspires song.

Jan 18

1535 Francisco Pizarro founds Lima Peru, much to the chagrin of the inhabitants of pre-Pizarro Peru.
1644 America's 1st UFO sighting reported in Boston.
1671 Pirate Henry Morgan defeats Spanish defenders, captures Panamá, makes rum.
1730 Czar Peter II of Russia, dies at 14 of smallpox.
1813 Happy birthday Joseph Farwell Glidden inventor of commercial usable barbed wire, much to the joy of dictators everywhere.
1854 Happy birthday Watson, you’re needed in the delivery room.
1973 John Cleese does a funny walk into the sunset—his final episode of Flying Circus on BBC.

Jan 19

1808 Louis Napoleon signs 1st Dutch aviation law, anxiously awaits the invention of the airplane.
1809 Quoth the raven, “Poe is born.”
1919 Giant wave of molasses kills dozens in Boston.
1955 "Scrabble" debuts on board game market, dictionary makers rejoice.
1958 Canadian Football Council renamed Canadian Football League, Americans still refuse to watch.
1987 Guy Hunt becomes Alabama's 1st Republican governor since 1874, proving absolutely nothing about race in America.

Jan 20

1918 In Russia, Bolsheviks do away with the church.
1945 FDR sworn-in for 4th term, breaking with long held traditions which had limited presidents to two terms on their honor.
1965 JPL proposes modified Apollo flight to fly around Mars & return—NASA decides the moon is closer.

Jan 21

1522 Head inquisitor Adrian Florisz Boeyens elected pope—nobody expected it.
1932 USSR & Finland stop non-attack treaty. This turns out badly for Finland.
1961 Portuguese rebels seize cruise ship Santa Maria—fail to capture the Niña or Pinta.
1991 Football's galloping ghost gallops off into eternity. RIP Howard Grange.
1994 Lorena Bobbitt found temporarily insane for chopping off spouse's penis, finds it difficult to get a date now that she’s single.

Jan 22

1934 Happy birthday Bill Bixby.
1969 Billy Preston becomes the 5th Beatle.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

O'Reilly and Murtha

Just a bit ago Bill O'Reilly (yes that Bill O'Reilly) was commenting on recent posting on some websites questioning Rep. Murtha's purple hearts. He rather strongly condemned suggestions that Murtha didn't earn his awards, stating that without strong evidence to support such statements were beyond the pale and dishonerable, and that it should stop immediately.

I strongly disagree that Murtha's experience gives him special moral authority or expertise to speak about the war. That said, I have to just as strongly agree with O'Reilly on this one, that attacking his service without strong evidence is dishonorable.

Murtha's ideas on withdrawal are attackable on their on merits (or lack thereof), and there is no need to attack the man. Supporters of Republicanism and the war should be better than that.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Republican Party Abandoning Conservatisim?

Conservatives are advocates of limited government, and the Republican Party is the contemporary home of American conservatives. The classically conservative view is that the federal government's proper role is to maintain individual rights, protect the nation, and ensure the stability of commerce between states. The federal government has little or no business engineering community standards.

Yet under Republican leadership the growth of the federal government continues apace. Playing to a perceived base on the religious right, Republicans have wasted time and effort on all the wrong social engineering projects. If government has any place in legislating morality and social issues, surely it is at a more local level where local problems and standards need local knowledge and solutions.

Neither party is good on this issue; both parties are willing to stretch the tentacles of government into every corner of our day to day lives—if to different ends at times. What's so onerous about the Republican Party doing it is that it is a wholesale betrayal of one of the core conservative principles.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Doug's Final Down

There are many ways you could tell the story of Doug Flutie. One could go on about his stats—passing yardage, completion percent, rushing, and so on. You could tell about his years in the Canadian League with his many awards and championships and his eventual return to America and the NFL. You could even tell about his winning record standing in for the injured Rob Johnson with the Buffalo Bills. Those are not the stories I want to tell.

Flutie certainly isn't the best quarterback to have ever stepped on the field, nor is he the worst. In a game that favors massive players, his 5'10", 180 lb. frame is considered to be too small. A lot of his NFL career has been as a backup to larger, and younger, quarterbacks. That is not the story I want to tell, either.

There's the story of the Doug the husband and father of two—a daughter and an autistic son. It's the story of the man who loved his son so much that he set up the Flutie Foundation to help fund research into autism. While that story is a wonderful one, it's still not the one I want to tell.

No, the story that I want to tell is about The Pass and a kick.

I was lucky enough to be watching the Boston College/University of Miami game in 1984 when in the last seconds of the game, with BC down, Flutie threw perhaps the most famous Hail Mary pass in football to date. I wasn't even interested in football then, but knew that I had witnessed a special moment in sport. By underestimating the strength of Flutie's arm, Miami's defense lined up too short and allowed him to connect with Gerard Phelan a yard into the end zone on a post route. Whenever people talk about The Immaculate Reception, they're talking about that day and that play. BC would finish the season by winning their first bowl game since 1941.

The kick happened some 21 years after that in the twilight of his career. With a playoff berth already assured, the Patriots' coach was playing the second and third string when he sent Flutie in for what at first blush seemed like a 2 point conversion. Upon receiving the ball, Flutie dropped it to the turf and made a beautiful kick off of the bounce for the extra point—the first drop kick in professional football since 1941. Although the Patriots went on to lose the game, it was an exciting—if perhaps somewhat pointless—moment in football history.

I don't expect that he'll be back on the field again; at the age of 43, he's frankly getting too old to play professional football. So it seems all good things must end—and in the end, this is not just the story of a player, but rather it's more about a feeling of excitement inherent in a sport. Watching Doug Flutie over the years has been exciting for the style and energy he displayed every time he stepped out on the field. Every time I watched him play it reminded me that football was a game before it was a sport—and games were meant to be fun.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Republican Failures--A Rant

Whether it is an attempt at comity, or political ineptness, the Republican Party is failing to act as a majority party. They have majorities in both chambers of Congress, and the presidency—yet they fail to act on promised reforms and have beaten many a retreat at even the suggestion of opposition.

They have abandoned the most appealing and important aspects of the Contract with America—term limits for Congress and fiscal responsibility. Since the Republicans have come into control we have seen more and more earmarks from politicians of both parties, as the Washington elite buy their way into office and reward family and friends.

The promise of social security and tax reform now seems like a cheap come on. President Bush ran on a platform of radical tax reform, yet all we've gotten are tax breaks and a proposal for tweaks to the tax code. To be sure, they are welcome tax breaks and good tweaks, but radical they are not—and hardly assured to be lasting. With a Republican majority government, the failure to even get Social Security tabled for serious discussion is a major failure.

When President Bush signed the Prescription Drug Benefit into law, he grew the size of the deficit well beyond what any foreign military adventure could. The growth of entitlements add more and more to our debt, a debt that no amount of taxation will do away with until we learn that there is no free lunch—the bill always comes due.

Campaign finance reform has done little, if anything, to get the money out of politics and attempts have even been made to apply the rules to internet activities of private citizens—a move that, were it ever to come to pass, would seriously shackle free speech. I blame this on the Republicans, for it was passed while under their leadership.

As illegal immigrants continue to flout our laws, there has still been no serious move to tighten our border security, to crack down on companies breaking the law by hiring illegal immigrants, or to reform the incredibly Byzantine immigration laws that makes immigration so difficult to do legally. For a party that has given so much lip service to national security, this lapse is inexcusable.

The Republican Party is truly fortunate to have an opponent in the Democratic Party—for were the democrats to ever advance a platform that was more assertive in foreign affairs, more serious about immigration enforcement, and more restrained about fiscal policy, there would be a great swath of votes that could swing from center right to center left.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

School Daze

I'm in a daze--after almost fourteen years, I'm finally doing something that I'd put off for all too long. Something that will make a positive change in my life. I'm finally going back to university to get a Bachelor's degree.

After high school, I started at university--but in a case of something looking better on paper than it was in reality, I found my major of Electrical Engineering to be not to my liking. Very much not to my liking in fact, so much so that I found that I was not applying myself and, predictably, failing. After my first semester, I joined the Army.

When I left the Army at the end of my contract, I was the proud father of a six month old daughter and went straight into the workforce, joining a small software company. In that job and my subsequent jobs, I found that my earning potential was less than my coworkers--simply because I didn't have a degree.

Despite the fact that I worked my way up to a supervisory level, even new hires with absolutely no experience would get paid better than I--just because they had a degree. My opportunites to move to a new job were limited as well, as most companies wouldn't even consider an applicant without a degree--regardless of what sort of experience was listed on my resume.

So finally, I've said "Enough! No excuses!"--upon returning to the United States after four years abroad, I've applied and been accepted to the state university. Classes start next week.

If any young readers out there question the value of a university degree, let me assure you it is the best investment you can make in your future. Sure, there are stories of people who have made it big without anything more than a high school diploma, but that's the exception and not the rule. Most of us will never be a Bill Gates.

For the older readers who think it's too late for them, let me just say that it's never too late!

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Fun With ESL

In my years teaching English as a second language, it was always amusing some the creative ways that students found to butcher the language. Don't get me wrong, none of the teachers I worked with would ever have dared to laugh at a student's mistake to their face—to do so would be belittling of them—but in the office grading a large stack of tests, it was often difficult not to laugh at some of the absurd sounding statements. Here's a small sampling of the sort of things we would often see:

"The penis on the table."
(Note to student: word spacing is very important!)

"Five years ago, I operated my uterus."
(Did it come with an instruction manual?)

"We had an erection last week in Lao."
(Hopefully for you, you'll be able to have another one.)

"I often sleep with my father."
(Eeeehhhh…OK….moving on…)

"After school, I go to my house friend."
(I was once on speaking terms with some lumber, but never friends with a house.)

"On the corner there is a bank where you can get a good haircut."
(Talk about full service!)

"A waitress services the customers."
(What kind of restaurant is this?)

"After school, I'm going somewhere with my friend to do anything."
(Thanks for nailing that down for me.)

Of course, my attempts to speak Lao often led to gales of laughter, but that's a whole different story…

Comment, but don't annoy me...

On his blog, Eugene Volokh discusses the "annoy someone and go to jail" law recently passed by Congress--which states that anonymous comments on the internet that annoy someone can be punnishable by jail time. He says there might be some cause for concern, and you really ought to read the post for yourself. As I've stated elsewhere, I fear that the trouble with this law is in it's vague wording--if something can be read many ways, the chances of unexpected results are greatly increased.

My prediction: sooner or later, this law will probably be used. It might be used by Republicans, it might be used by Democrats--heck, it might be used by peace-loving Buddists--the point is it'll end up being used as a cudgel to silence someone's opposition. It won't matter if the person charged gets acquitted or not, the very act of being charged will have a chilling effect on free speech. Vague law is bad law.

A Space Where There Was A Friend

Out of respect, I won’t use his name—I know of whom I write, and that is good enough.

The first time I met him was in elementary school, and it is not when we became friends. I remember walking down the hall, to the bathroom probably, when I saw him waddling towards me down the hall with that awkward gait he had. Before then, I don’t think I had ever seen a seriously handicapped person before, and in my youthful curiosity I couldn’t help but stare. His chest was distended, his wrists were too big, his limbs too short, and his walk made a duck seem graceful in comparison. Even at that age, he was unnaturally short. As I, slack-jawed no doubt, closed the distance between us he said the first words that were to pass between us, “Get the hell out of the way!”—this was not an auspicious beginning.

In the years that were to follow, I remember feeling a sort of terror whenever I passed him—based in no small part on our first encounter. My terror was not an emotion that was saved for just him, and had little to do with his handicap. The sad truth was that at that tender young age I was painfully shy, and so unsure of myself that I was terrified of anyone who could raise their voice above that of the average field mouse. As the years went by my confidence grew, but his bones did not—he remained unnaturally short, growing organs straining against a skeleton that just didn’t seem to understand which way was up.

Our friendship began in earnest in high school at a party on the beach. I was doing something foolish with a paper cup, charcoal lighter fluid, and a cigarette lighter—a cocktail I called “the Chernobyl”. This particular trick seemed to impress him, and I remember seeing him for the first time as a person and not some terrifying, loud enigma.

Over the years after that we saw more of each other, and our friendship grew to be something shy of close friends but greater than casual friends. Many nights he and I would stay up trying to solve Rubik’s Magic and going head to head on classic space shooters on my Commodore 64. He was unabashedly a nerd, and in him I found a kindred spirit to while away the some of the small hours towards the end of high school. Without a doubt he had one of the finest minds I have ever had the pleasure of encountering without losing his social skills, and he had a wicked sense of humor to boot.

The last time I saw him was after I dropped out of college, shortly before I was deployed to Germany with the Army. I came upon him in Market Square, and he didn’t look well. His condition was a progressively worse one, as his internal organs had grown to adult size inside a child’s body. He had had a tracheotomy to assist his breathing that had become difficult due to the thickening of the tissues in his throat. I don’t recall what we talked about, but recall again being scared around him—unlike when I was a child, for the first time I was scared for him, and not of him.

Shortly after I was stationed in Germany, my unit was deployed to the Middle East to beat back Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. We were there for about six months, and as soon as I was re-stationed in Germany it was my top priority to call my family. When I got through to my mother, she gave me the news that seemed to suck the oxygen out of my lungs. While I had been stationed in Iraq, it seems that my friend had decided to go for a swim in the Piscataqua River one night. The thing about the Piscataqua is that it has the second fastest current on the eastern seaboard, and is deadly even to adults in the prime of their health, let alone an ill young man trapped in a child’s body. I’m told it took almost two weeks to find his body.

The news devastated me. I went to town that night and drank what seemed to be my weight in tequila, just trying to burn the awful truth away. Staggering back to the barracks, I vaguely remember barging into my Sergeant’s room. Sergeant Smith was a very religious man, and I demanded that he tell me why God had allowed such a thing to happen. The cruel joke that tequila pulls on a person is that it leaves the memories you don’t want, and takes away the ones you probably do—all I clearly remember is that Sergeant Smith was very patient with me, and I didn’t get any of the trouble that I so richly deserved the next day.

I don’t know why my friend went into the river that night, and I don’t want to speculate. All I know is that my life was richer for having known him, and even now he is missed.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

That Hateful Term 'Fascist'

There are few things in public discourse that really get my blood up more than the flinging of labels as a means to demonize and silence one's opponent. Of all the emotive words that can be flung to shut down discourse, the terms "fascist" and "Nazi" are perhaps the most loaded and the most pernicious. I hate the use of these words--deeply, passionately hate their use. I hate their use for the astounding lack of perspective that it beytrays when they are typically employed. I hate their use for the absolute unfairness of the charge.

Fascism is an ideology: a complete social and economic system. It stresses what we would consider to be right wing social values with left wing economic policies. There is usually a component of racism, and there is also usally a beligerent aspect to it. Fascism is extremely authoritarian, and usually dictatorial. Fascist states have existed, and fascist political parties exist now--while certain positions between states and parties may vary, they share generally recognizable features that mark them out as fascist. Fascism is an identifiable thing, and can be defined.

Fascism is not, as has been advanced by some people, merely a "tactic". Others have suggested that fascist policies are secondary to the acquisition of power--this is patently wrong: fascists wish to acquire power to implement their stated policies. A few incidents of political violence by unhinged followers of one political party or another is not fascism. An unpopular law or policy is not fascism. A politician who has the opposite political beliefs from you is probably not a fascist.

America is a free country, and the first amendment guarantees that we can say what we desire--even that someone is a fascist. But when that term is used to shut one's opponent up or to shout them down, when it is used while willfully ignoring the true meaning of the word, when it is used to demonize and dehumanize one's opponenet, then cheapens free speech by shutting down discourse--which, sadly, is all to often the intent in using such a fraught term. Its use simply hardens people's positions, does nothing to convince the opposition of the rectitude of one's opinion, and is almost guaranteed to get an emotional, instead of rational, reply.

The careless flinging of this sort of an unfair and untrue label has got to stop.