Dec 10, 2008

No Fundraising for Exclusive Diseases [LINK]

The Canadian National Post, November 25, 2008:

The Carleton University Students' Association has voted to drop a cystic fibrosis charity as the beneficiary of its annual Shinearama fundraiser, supporting a motion that argued the disease is not "inclusive" enough.

Cystic fibrosis "has been recently revealed to only affect white people, and primarily men" said the motion read Monday night to student councillors, who voted almost unanimously in favour of it.

(via Critical Mass)

Dec 4, 2008

Call it what it is [LINK]

A letter to my local paper, The Concord Journal:

An article concerning a CD release by local musician Robert Grappel describes the autoharp inaccurately as "an American folk instrument that looks like a trapezoidal box with strings across it." Correction: in fact, an autoharp is a trapezoidal box with strings across it.

Nov 10, 2008

Obama's "Deliberate Haste" [LINK]

A short note to NPR:

In a story reporting how the Homeland Security department will weather the presidential transition, you quote President-Elect Obama as saying that he will act with "deliberate haste" in filling key positions. "Deliberate haste" is a contradiction in terms, akin to saying he will act with "tall shortness." Rather than simply repeat meaningless statements, please clarify them.

A "Know-Nothing" Historian [LINK]

My latest letter to the Globe, in response to an op-ed comparing Sarah Palin to 19th-century nativists:

Perhaps I would take Timothy Gay's criticism of Palin's "wink-wink" innuendos about un-Americanism more seriously if the entire article didn't itself consist of innuendo about what Palin believes. Palin would supposedly "deny scientific evolution," "eviscerate the separation of church and state," "impose ideological litmus tests," and "conduct witch hunts to weed out non-believers." As far as I can tell, Gay's complaint is about Palin's reference to Obama's former colleague Bill Ayers. If leading a violent effort to replace our system of government with a Maoist regime isn't un-American, then it's hard to imagine what is.

Gay's historical analysis is also inept. He says Fillmore presided over "two rudderless years that brought the country closer to chaos." Perhaps true, but then so did Franklin Pierce and the appalling James Buchanan, who succeeded Fillmore. (Of course, one can then argue that Abraham Lincoln's presidency brought the nation squarely "to chaos.") There's no mention of Fillmore's strong advocacy, in conjunction with legislative geniuses such as Henry Clay and Daniel Webster, of the Compromise of 1850. With all its flaws and ultimate fragility, the Compromise did in fact lessen tensions between North and South, and would have been impossible had his predecessor Zachary Taylor, a southern opponent, survived his term.

If this is to be the level of discourse in the next few years of Democratic triumphalism, I have no doubt the GOP will stage a strong comeback in short order.

Of course strictly speaking, anything that happened prior to 1861 brought the nation "closer to chaos." With equal validity you might say the Clinton administration was a failure because it "brought the country closer" to Sept. 11 or anything you might ordinarily blame on President Bush.

Nov 6, 2008

The Bradley Effect that Never Was [LINK]

My latest letter to the Globe:

The Globe is right to identify the "Bradley effect" as a hypothesis, not as a settled reality that has now been overturned. Named after former Democratic Mayor Tom Bradley of Los Angeles, who twice failed in California gubernatorial campaigns, the idea was that white voters would falsely tell pollsters they intended to vote for an African American candidate in order to conceal their latent racism.

Readers may be interested in the analysis of Lance Tarrance, the pollster relied upon by Bradley's Republican opponent. Tarrance insists there never was such an effect, and that the theory was floated by a rival polling firm that predicted a Bradley win after badly misinterpreting its data.

The 2008 election is unquestionably an historic landmark and a source of great pride. But relying on mythology, it's easy to overestimate the underlying change in attitudes it actually represents. I have no reason to believe Americans had been predisposed to vote against African-American candidates in the recent years prior to Obama's extraordinary campaign, any more than they were unwilling to vote for a woman. This is a good thing all around.

Oct 28, 2008

"Ayers's actions were very much of their era" [LINK]

My latest letter to the Globe:

Fernando Salazar writes that while William Ayers' actions as a leader of the Weather Underground were unacceptable, it is wrong to "forget the times in which those actions occurred": in the midst of struggle over Civil Rights and the Vietnam War. If Salazar actually believes the former is true, then the latter point is irrelevant.

Regardless, there's a useful way to test the quality of Mr. Salazar's point. Ask yourself what would happen if Sen. McCain were found to have had a working relationship with someone who had participated in bombings of abortion clinics, and who voiced continued enthusiasm for such violence. Consider that in the not too distant past, such forms of domestic terrorism were relatively common, reflecting a widespread radical conviction that it was necessary to prevent the murder of countless would-be children. Does the admonition that we must not "forget the times in which those actions occurred" still sound reasonable?

For extra credit, of course, ask yourself how the media would cover the matter.
UPDATE: A comment I made at the Globe's site (here) in response to the idea that the Weathermen ceased terrorist activities at the conclusion of the Vietnam War:
Regardless of what Ayers might now say, at the time of the Weathermen's heyday the group's primary stated goal was not to stop the Vietnam War; it was to institute a communist regime in America along Maoist lines. The group sought to take advantage of the domestic instability wrought by the Vietnam War and racial tensions to jump-start a communist revolution. That the group slowly disintegrated after the war ended was due to the lessening of this instability, not to any satisfaction of its long-term goals. (Note the group's involvement in the Brinks robbery in 1981 a full six years after Saigon's fall, involving the murder of three.) Retrospectively associating the Weathermen with the Vietnam War is rather facile and convenient, since opposition to the war always enjoyed more popularity among Americans than Maoism. It's much like saying the Bolsheviks were primarily motivated by opposition to Russia's involvement in World War I.

Oct 20, 2008

Hybrid Bumper Sticker [LINK]

I recently saw a car covered with so many strident bumper stickers vying for attention, some overlapping, that I was inspired to generate an absurd mashup: Go here and here if you want to make one yourself.

Shocked and Saddened [LINK]

My spurious response to an NPR story I heard on the way home:

I was shocked upon hearing your story about the Florida church congregation that decided to burn a bunch of X-rated film reels they discovered on a newly-acquired property. They characterized it as a ritual consecration, turning what was unholy into holy. Well, go and sin no more, I say! Did they ever stop to think of all the nasty chemicals they were releasing into the atmosphere, by burning plastic film reels? I was especially saddened to hear that the local fire department was on hand for the event, since they should be especially well trained on issues relating to the disposal of hazardous materials. There should be a special agency that is totally focused on preserving the environment, and whose permission would be required for any event that might have any adverse environmental impacts.
Note the new "hoax" tag.

Oct 7, 2008

Sucker's Bet [LINK]

It was only a matter of time. Among the causes of the 2008 economic crisis, critics point to the Community Reinvestment Act, legislation that boosts affordable housing by mandating that mortgage lenders extend credit to low-income applicants who might otherwise be rejected as uncreditworthy. Lambasted for his prominent role in fostering this policy and for propping up undercapitalized mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) has declared that, since these policies were designed to help the poor, such criticism is motivated by racism.

"Significant emotional trauma" [LINK]

A 48-year Brandeis University professor, teaching a course on Latin American politics, was investigated after having told his students that Mexican migrants were once referred to using the derogatory term "wetback," causing "significant emotional trauma" among his students.

(via Power Line)

Oct 5, 2008

Where's Denzel? [LINK]

In case you thought the quality of political debates was particularly abysmal, this Boston Globe piece (print edition, "Ideas" section, 10/5) offers a sobering glimpse into how actual debates are now conducted on campus. For one thing, debaters are encouraged to speak in rapid-fire fashion to cover as many arguments as possible within the limited time and to make it difficult for opponents to respond. That practice, coupled with universities' long marination in identity politics, leads to curious exchanges such as this:

A recent debate between the Towson [University] team and NYU ... was supposed to be about the merits of agricultural tariffs, and the NYU team kicked it off with some machine-gun arguments in favor of lifting taxes on imported ethanol. But during the rebuttal, the Towson debater responded that NYU's fast-talking approach was inherently racist. She gave an impassioned account of the slave trade in Colonial America, placed a chair on a table and sat on it to remind judges how her ancestors had been displayed during auctions, and read a profanity-laced passage from her diary in which she lamented the racism of her rival debaters. ("We had our first full round today and I want to go the [expletive] home. You should have seen the looks I got from these people.") Towson won that debate, unanimously.
Yes, Towson won. (In fact, none of the contestants in the room were white.)

Towson also accused a Fort Hays State University team of racism, a debate that descended into a crude shouting match, culminating with the Fort Hays coach mooning the Towson team. A video produced by the Chronicle of Higher Education captures the scene:

Oct 2, 2008

Blame my car stereo [LINK]

The tape deck in my car no longer works, and I can't listen to my iPod though the cassette adapter, so lately I've been listening to a bit of NPR on the way home from work. And in the middle of their fall fund drive, no less! Granted, I know enough to switch stations whenever Daniel Schorr comes on, but still it sometimes gets so bad I really ought to pull over. Here's my response:

I have often admired David Folkenflik's work on the media beat, but I was greatly irritated by yesterday's piece on the McCain campaign's souring relations with the media, particularly the New York Times.

Folkenflik expresses astonishment at the McCain campaign's scathing dismissal of the Times -- that it's no longer "a journalistic organization," in the words of one of his campaign managers -- but does nothing to evaluate the substance of the campaign's complaints.

Instead, we are treated to the opinion of one journalist who says the dispute is "not really intended to debate the merits of the stories," but rather to excite the conservative base. The same journalist says the "people in the McCain campaign making those charges" probably don't even "believe their own rhetoric." The same journalist, apparently a reliable font of truth, is also quoted in the web version of the report as saying that McCain's attack will likely be counterproductive to his campaign. That's a fine opinion, to be sure, but again having nothing to do with the substance of McCain's complaint.

Folkenflik doesn't solicit a statement from the McCain campaign on the dispute -- not even a "we tried to call them." However, we do hear from the Times's political editor, Richard Stevenson, who said: "No one has disputed the facts that we have reported about [McCain campaign manager] Rick Davis' involvement with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac." Folkenflik should not have let this statement stand unchallenged. It took me about a minute to find McCain campaign spokesman Michael Goldfarb's categorical denial (in 'A Partisan Paper of Record') that Davis recently received payments from Freddie Mac, allegations based on anonymous sources that the Times trumpeted in their lede. So yes, someone has disputed their reporting of the facts.

My favorite part of Folkenflik's report is where a former McCain aide expresses puzzlement at her former boss's sudden hostility to the press, given their formerly cozy relations. What a mystery! Of course, the reason should be obvious: McCain used to run along the margins of the GOP, and could often be counted on for a few subversive quips, but now he is the standard-bearer. How long was it after McCain's emergence as front-runner before the Times published that disgraceful piece insinuating, again based on anonymous sources, that McCain had an affair with a lobbyist?

Folkenflik should take the McCain campaign's allegations of bias seriously. I'm afraid what I heard instead was a circling of the wagons from someone who identifies far too much with the media to be able to cover it effectively. What else explains such an overwrought conclusion that McCain's "campaign appears to be challenging the media's right to be seen as a referee at all?"

The media's "right"? Anyone who has dealt with an unreliable service provider should bristle at the notion that the media has a "right" to its legitimacy.

Sep 30, 2008

Obama's three challenges [LINK]

My latest letter to the Globe:

James Carroll asserts that "Obama's three challenges" consist of extraneous forces: Americans' perceptions of Race, Gender, and Class, the familiar liberal trifecta. Carroll's formulation is all too convenient, since it ignores "challenges" that pertain more specifically to Obama: negative attitudes concerning his level of experience, judgement, and tendency towards expansiveness. Obama would presumably remain blameless if he were to lose the election, given Americans' rejection of him as black, unmasculine, and nouveau-riche. Carroll's evasive rhetoric serves to avoid the sort of "reckoning" he says is necessary, but apparently only on the matter of race.

Carroll also asserts, nonsensically, that Obama's "genetic tie to slavery goes through his white mother." What exactly does this mean, anyway? Was one of Ann Dunham's ancestors a slave or a slaveowner? That is, after all, what "genetic" means. Or does simply being white represent the same sort of indelible stain as the "one-drop" racial standard Carroll identifies? Is it possible Obama's "tie to slavery" might also go through his African father? Kenya has a long legacy of slavery, one that continues to be a problem today. Since Carroll appears to rule out a "genetic tie" to slavery on that side of the family, is it because the Kenyan slave trade was dominated by Arabs rather than by Europeans, and that it often consisted of Africans enslaving other Africans?

Sep 27, 2008

Deval Patrick: A Man in Need of Blame [LINK]

As long as there is a generous surplus of outrage over implications of our current financial crisis, it may be worth spreading the blame around to deserving recipients. My governor, Deval Patrick, certainly qualifies. While in the Clinton Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, he pioneered the sort of aggressive anti-redlining measures that pressured mortgage lenders to make questionable loans to low-income borrowers. Such widespread loosening of lending standards was a major factor in the mortgage crisis, which in turn is the main reason why today we have an even wider financial crisis threatening to bring the American economy to a screeching halt.

This short post demonstrates the importance of the mortgage market's politicization to Patrick's career. Indeed, after becoming governor of Massachusetts he instituted a public mortgage-lender rating system at the state level, modeled after the Clinton-era Community Reinvestment Act whose enforcment he pioneered. As recently as May of this year, he modified the system to rate lenders' ability to assist borrowers who could no longer afford their mortgage payments. Previously, it concentrated solely on lending standards, judging, as the Boston Globe put it, "whether companies are serving lower-income communities by making loans available at fair prices."

Savor the irony. Without such a political process, these loans presumably would never have been made. The government considered this a problem in need of fixing, and went about pressuring lenders to make those loans. When it became apparent the borrowers couldn't pay them, the government again pressured lenders to relax the terms of the loans.

Was this well-intentioned policy loosening credit standards a good thing for all those people now facing foreclosure?

Sep 25, 2008

Holy Potatoes! [LINK]

An item from the Fall 2008 catalog of Edmund's Scientifics, a mail-order firm specializing in science-oriented toys and hobby items, such as telescopes, hydrogen fuel cells, remote control flying saucers, and desk ornaments demonstrating physical principles. I don't know what to say about this one other than that there are limits with what you can express in marketing copy.

NEW! Calabi-Yau Manifold Crystal

A Cross-Section of the Calabi-Yau Quintic

Hidden deep inside the dimensions of string theory are the microscopic Calabi-Yau spaces. According to string theory, space-time is not four-dimensional as you might expect, but actually 10-dimensional. The extra six dimensions are believed to be "compactified" or rolled up into such a small space that they are unobservable at human scales of sight. Their size and six dimensions make Calabi-Yau spaces difficult to draw. But, this model shows a three-dimensional cross-section of this likely space to reveal its structure and shape. This 3" cube and the surface within is a wildly self-intersecting ride through space. Cement your place in string theory history by adding this highly intriguing crystal to your collection. It includes clear rubber feet for scratch-free display. And, if you want to learn more about the mathematics of this wondrous cube, read on... This particular space is one of the most appealing candidates, because there's a series of Calabi-Yau spaces embedded in CPN (N-dimensional complex projective space) described by homogeneous polynomials of degree (N+1). These spaces have real dimension 2(N-1), so the hypothesis that there are six hidden dimensions in string theory means that there is a unique choice within this series of Calabi-Yau spaces, namely N=4, and the polynomial must be this quintic (degree N+1=5): z15 + z25 + z35 + z45 + z55 = 0. The 2-D surface is computed by dividing by z5 and setting z3/z5 and z4/z5 to be constant. This defines a 2-manifold slice of the 6-manifold; we then normalize the resulting inhomogeneous equations to simplify them, yielding the complex equation that is actually solved for the surface, z15 + z25 = 1. The resulting surface is embedded in 4D and projected to ordinary 3D space for display.

#L31515-44
$89.95


Welcome, Sanity readers.

Sep 18, 2008

Two Stories on Two Vice Presidential Candidates [LINK]

A letter I just sent to WBUR, my local NPR station:

I was greatly irritiated after hearing two separate reports on Morning Edition purporting to evaluate both vice presidential candidates.

The report on Biden was uncritical, much of it filled with extended clips from his stump speeches, heaping ridicule on McCain, especially his recent misstep in characterising the economy as "sound." The main conclusion: Biden's Catholicism and strong union support means Obama may do well in Ohio, vital to the election.

In the subsequent report on Palin, however, the candidate herself was completely absent, despite her vigorous campaigning. Instead, we were treated to interviews of several stay-at-home mothers to judge her potential appeal among women. Of those interviewed, one woman said Palin's selection was making her lean Republican. The rest said that Palin "scares me," or that they "question her judgement" in running for high office because "she has responsibilities" to her children. Another group of university women said they "worry" about her qualifications. Even among those Clinton supporters who complained about signs of sexism directed at Palin, "none were so sympathetic" as to consider voting Republican.

Is the problem with such differing coverage obvious only to me?

Aug 5, 2008

Who smelled it dealt it [LINK]

My latest letter to the Globe:

The Globe's recent editorial on the controversy over the McCain campaign's attack ads confirms that the issue of race has devolved into a game, one that only Obama supporters are allowed to play. While decrying use of the "race card" as a "distracting sideshow," the Globe says that by focusing on the Obama campaign's presumptuous air and questioning "who does this guy think he is?" the McCain campaign is subtly hinting that Obama is an "uppity" negro, adding: "That's worth talking about." So, any suggestion that Obama is not up to the job of the presidency can be considered racist. Like it or not, the Boston Globe has just played the "race card" in no uncertain terms. Editors should decide whether this is a game worth playing.

Jul 9, 2008

You Are What You Eat [LINK]

The Telegraph reports on guidelines, issued by Britain's National Children's Bureau, warning nursury school teachers and play leaders to be on the lookout for racist incidents among toddlers. These include three-year-olds who, when presented with spicy or unfamiliar foreign food, respond by saying "yuk."

(via Taranto)

Foodstuffs of Color [LINK]

The New York Times reports that organizers of the Democratic National Convention, to be held in Denver in 2008, issued a 28-page contract to potential caterers requiring that they "provide food in 'at least three of the following five colors: red, green, yellow, blue/purple and white.' Garnishes could not be counted toward the colors. No fried foods would be allowed. Organic and locally grown foods were mandated, and each plate had to be 50 percent fruits and vegetables. As a result, caterers are shying away."

(via Taranto)

Jun 23, 2008

Paraprax? [LINK]

I sent an earlier letter to the same effect, but noting the poor word choice in an accompanying photo caption. On reading the article I was amazed to find it in the second paragraph as well:

Yesterday's profile recounts that Senator McCain "celebrated the 10th anniversary" of the fall of Saigon "by returning to Hanoi in 1985 with Walter Cronkite for a CBS documentary." I hope you meant to say McCain "observed" or "commemorated" the anniversary.

Jun 18, 2008

Selling Yourself Short [LINK]

I decided this letter to the Globe was just a bit too rude, and so didn't send it. I suspect that some form of mental illness is behind the impulse to join such racial-sensitivity groups, but am in no position to say in this case.

Sandy Thompson's letter praising a recent article about whites who form antiracism groups as a way to acknowledge "the advantages that have accrued to some of us simply because of our skin color" leads me to question such efforts. Does she seriously believe that any success she has in life is simply due to her skin color, and that she brings nothing else to the table for which she must feel no guilt? What a terrible thing to say about yourself. I get the strong sense that people who share that belief deserve each other's company.
Consider an accompanying letter by someone named Malka Jampol. Why should whites feel entitled to flagellate themselves without having people of color around to harange them? It also refers clumsily to "organizations of people of color," followed by the absurd truncation "organizations of color." That offense should itself prompt a sensitivity meeting for all those who care about the English language.

May 30, 2008

Dumbest Web Statistic Ever Produced? [LINK]

A company named C02Stats offers a free embeddable widget allowing you to display your site's monthly carbon footprint, and the inroads into your virtue that represents. As shown in the sidebar, mine hovers around 1/50th of an ounce, and I don't know how favorably that compares with exhaling. Maybe if I say something provocative about some jive-ass nonsense I can up that number a bit.

Really, this figure utterly ignores the environmental benefits these sites offer. I assume Wikipedia's footprint is large relative to other sites, but that site allows us to manufacture, store and ship fewer gigantic paper encyclopedias. Or compare Amazon with Apple's iTunes Music Store. Each sells music, but only one relies on large inventories of CDs and plenty of paper cartons driven around in delivery trucks. Okay, so maybe they use cellulose packing peanuts, but still...

Really, how much carbon is produced in generating these nonsense statistics? I'd come up with more reasons it's a pointless exercise, but I'd be wasting electricity.


Thanks for the link, Dr. Sanity, and for increasing my carbon assprint.

May 24, 2008

Police Log Items From Concord's Past [LINK]

The bizarre police log items noted in my prior post prompted me to write a letter to the Concord Journal:

The latest police log featured some truly amazing items: A man peering inside a house from a pizza delivery car, a woman rolling down her car window as if to menace a pedestrian "two Thursdays ago" but doing nothing else, a woman whose 22-year-old college graduate son no longer listens to or obeys her. It made me feel sorry for the town's police officers, and for those residents who are so easily rattled. It also got me to wonder what other past events might have been logged:

April 19, 1775: Multiple reports after midnight of a man riding his horse aggressively along the Lexington Turnpike, disturbing residents, and loudly shouting about "redcoats." Police responded to the scene but were unable to locate the man or any coats.

April 19, 1775: Reports of early morning commotion, a large crowd, and possible gunfire near the North Bridge, where teenagers are often seen consuming hard cider along the riverbank. Police responded to the scene, but the group had moved on.

September 19, 1845: Homeless man reported in forest adjacent to Walden Pond. Police located and questioned the man, who offered a lengthy explanation of his situation. Police eventually determined he had obtained permission from the property's owner, Mr. Emerson of Concord, to inhabit small structure. Officer advised the man of town ordinance prohibiting open fires.

June 20, 1852: Woman reported neighbor and party of guests engaging in transcendental activities. Officer responding to scene advised woman that idealist spiritual philosophy based on individual intuition is not against the law, but nevertheless asked neighbor to tone it down somewhat.

May 22, 2008

Then Throw Him Out [LINK]

A few items from the police log of the Concord Journal that make me feel sorry for my local police:

Monday, May 12

At 12:14 a.m., a Nancy Road resident requested police keep an extra eye in the area, because she believed a Dominos delivery person who drove a red sedan peered inside her home while delivering a pizza earlier in the evening.

Friday, May 16

At 9:34 a.m., an Annursnac Hill Road resident report [sic] that two Thursdays ago, on May 1, a female drove by him and rolled down her window while he was walking down Annursnac Hill Road. The caller said she did not say or do anything, however he thought this was aggressive behavior and wanted the incident logged.

Saturday, May 17

At 3:42 p.m., officers responded to a report from a Main Street resident, who said her 22-year-old son would not listen to her or abide by her rules since he came home from college.

May 19, 2008

Changing your mind [LINK]

I was struck by the lede of a recent AP item:

Global warming isn't to blame for the recent jump in hurricanes in the Atlantic, concludes a study by a prominent federal scientist whose position has shifted on the subject.

Two news hooks compete for your attention in this paragraph.

The first is that a widely posited link between global warming and increased hurricane activity may turn out to be unfounded, or that there may even be an inverse correlation. Either of these possibilities run contrary to the narrative that accompanied hurricane Katrina. (This itself should not be particularly controversial, as the IPCC's hurricane specialists posited at best a weak link between the two in the group's most recent report.)

The second is a bit more interesting. Why is it important to note whether the author of the study, Tom Knutson, has changed his opinion over time? Given the unsettled nature of emerging climate science, you would think researchers would change their minds all the time, and that such shifts would be unremarkable.

This paragraph echoes the idea advanced in the lede:

What makes this study different is Knutson, a meteorologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's fluid dynamics lab in Princeton, N.J.

He has warned about the harmful effects of climate change and has even complained in the past about being censored by the Bush administration on past studies on the dangers of global warming.

You're implicitly being asked to make an ad hominem judgement about Knutson.

Perhaps that judgement is that he is more credible in this matter after having held a seemingly contrary position, then abandoning it. The idea is that it usually takes a good deal of contrary data to get people to reassess their positions, especially those they've publicly espoused. Maybe he's done a better job thinking through both angles. Alternately, someone who complains of having been "censored" by the Bush administration cannot be characterized as its puppet or toady.

On the other hand, the judgement could simply be that Knutson is fickle: willing to change his public pronouncements based on the most insignificant shifts in how he interprets the data. Any particular position he stakes out is thus not to be trusted. That may even extend to what Knutson previously believed.

Regardless, I have to wonder if this piece would have made the national news if the report's author consistently posited the same conclusion. "Scientist who's been saying the same thing for many years says it yet one more time." As a matter of science, that shouldn't have any bearing on the report's findings. But this is journalism.

May 13, 2008

Encouraging Safe Driving [LINK]

Here's my latest idea that I posted to Governor Deval Patrick's website:

I have been thinking deeply about those "How Am I Driving?" bumper stickers that you see on many commercial vehicles. They must be effective in encouraging safe driving, or else the trucks' owners wouldn't put them there, would they? I call those numbers all the time, especially when I see courteous driving that deserves a compliment. Anyway, why not extend that idea and require all Massachusetts drivers to have a "How Am I Driving?" bumper sticker? People would call a single number and supply either the vehicle's license plate number or else a unique code that displays on the bumper sticker, then leave a message. The service would send a transcription to the mailing address associated with the vehicle. To tone down heated comments and weed out abusive ones, the system could rely on human transcribers the way SpinVox does for LiveJournal voice posts. Anything that encourages safety is a good idea, the way I look at it.

May 1, 2008

Is Obama The Real Thing? [LINK]

Today's letter to the Globe, this time about an editorial:

The Globe contrasts the Rev. Jeremiah Wright's racist and conspiratorial pronouncements with Sen. Obama, who offers himself "as the embodiment of a racially transcendent society." Fair enough, but the editorial insultingly asks, given the furor over Obama's association with Wright, whether America even wants such transcendence.

It is possible for Americans to crave such racial transcendence while being skeptical that Obama is its embodiment. It is right to ask what it means to be post-racial if it does not involve recognizing and repudiating bona-fide racists. It is right to be dissatisfied at Obama's "mesmerizing" (i.e., "hypnotizing") speech framing Wright's opinions as a matter of historical or cultural context.

I would prefer a president who is good at recognizing unhinged lunatics from the earliest possible encounter, and who responds unambiguously. After all, whoever assumes office will have to deal with North Korea.

Apr 30, 2008

Earth Day Class Letter Elicits Response [LINK]

Dear Ms. Wood,

I read your class's letter to the Sunday Globe, and sent the appended letter in response to express my disappointment.

My own casual search on solar power success stories in the Seattle area quoted average energy savings at about 20 percent. Even accounting for generous subsidies, the more advanced photovoltaic systems cost thousands of dollars, and tend to pay for themselves only after many years. Imagine breaking even only after paying off a thirty-year mortgage, and you begin to see the problem.

Interestingly, I also ran across cases in which Seattle-area schools built with solar panels and a host of other eco-friendly features wound up consuming significantly more energy than conventional schools, because they require more vigorous air circulation.

I also recall reading the results of a risk analysis study many years ago, which may serve as a useful thought experiment for your students. It identified solar as the most lethal of all available energy options. The reasoning behind this counter-intuitive result is that large-scale deployment of solar panels would require many homeowners to perform routine maintenance, and these people have a nasty habit of falling off roofs. Any assessment of the benefits of photovoltaic solar power in particular would also have to account for the toxic chemical pollution that would result, since panels are made with arsenic, gallium, and cadmium.

Sincerely,

Michael Sierra

Perhaps it's good that a tenth grade Boston Latin class is encouraged to participate in civic affairs by writing a joint letter to the Globe. Still, if I were grading their letter about global warming, I'd send it back for more work.

"Much of East Boston will be underwater when today's teens are in their 30s," it reads, quoting unnamed "scientists." Given that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change currently estimates annual sea level increases as high as 3.1 millimeters, it would take roughly a century to rise a foot, and over 160 years at the current annual rate of 1.8 mm. In other words, not "much" of East Boston would be underwater in 15 years, and far less than routine tidal variations. If students really believe global warming is a dire problem in need of an immediate response, this should not be their only supporting point.

Another claim makes little sense. Even in cloudy areas like Seattle, the amount of sunlight a building receives is said to offer more than enough energy to power it. But the next sentence reveals the problem with this statement: scientists haven't yet figured out how to harness all that dissipated energy, with little hint that they could. Why not ask instead: "If scientists can figure out how to make iPods, computers, and cellphones," why can't they provide a cheap, safe, emission-free method to generate electricity from splitting atoms?

If students are so insistent that we focus more on the issue of global warming, it would be good to stay on that subject and not meander into the national debt, job-creation schemes, food prices, tax policy, and potential cures for recessions. The students insist the government should impose a tax on oil in order to subsidize alternative energy development and presumably to make fossil fuels comparatively unattractive. Fair enough, but the very next sentence complains: "gas prices are rising so much that they are affecting the price of food." Surely they must realize that taxing oil would raise gas prices even further, and food prices along with them. Why should high prices be thought of as good in one case, but bad in another?

It's one thing for Ms. Wood to use this writing exercise as an excuse to funnel leftist propaganda. But at the very least she could have insisted it make logical sense.

Feb 17, 2008

Two Kinds of Recycling [LINK]

Various products listed from a search for the phrase "Brazilian Barns." First, the Parati Bed:

The simplicity and elegance of this platform bed is zenlike. On the one hand, you'll be so thrilled with this bed that it's hard to imagine you'll get much sleep on it. On the other, its clean lines and zenlike simplicity will encourage a restful mind. Solid mahogany construction with vertical strips of peroba rosa. Peroba is a recycled wood, reclaimed from 100-year-old Brazilian barns, used here in a nearly indestructable quarter-inch thick veneer. Because of the nature of reclaimed wood, every piece made from it is one-of-a-kind and may feature imperfections that add to its character.
The Santomer Dining Table:
This isn't a table, it is an altar to good food and good living. The butcher-block pattern of reclaimed wood on the tabletop makes it a perfect setpiece for formal and informal occasions alike. The larger rectangles feature two sturdy platform legs, while the smaller square and circular tables feater [sic] one sturdy central platform leg.

This solid plantation-grown mahogany foundation supports a tabletop of peroba rosa strips. Peroba is a recycled wood, reclaimed from 100-year-old Brazilian barns. Because of the nature of reclaimed wood, every piece made from it is one-of-a-kind and may feature imperfections that add to its character.

"Pretty Pretty Beds":
Check out this mahogany bed made with peroba rosa. Peroba is a recycled wood, reclaimed from 100-year-old Brazilian barns. Bizarre and random and awesome. We all know the green movement can tend either toward the granola, or the purely theoretical design student aesthetic. The stuff at Bluehouse is delightfully well designed and eco-friendly. Check out their beautiful armories [sic] and hard wood flooring. All eco-tastic and well designed.
The Parati Media Wall:
What living room doesn't need a Parati media wall? This beautifully minimalist, organic-looking creation will civilize the [sic] even the snarliest collection of electronic equipment. The ample storage unit conceals shelving for stereo receivers, VCRs, DVD players, gaming consoles, Apple TV, or any other technological wonder. Discreet, skillfully placed openings will collect, hide, and direct wires and cables. And best of all, you get to watch television framed by the gorgeous living mosaic of peroba rosa strips. Peroba is a recycled wood, reclaimed from 100-year-old Brazilian barns, used here in a nearly indestructable quarter-inch thick veneer. Because of the nature of reclaimed wood, every piece made from it is one-of-a-kind and may feature imperfections that add to its character. Solid mahogany construction.

Because of the nature of this blog, each post is one-of-a-kind and may feature imperfections that add to its character.

(H/T: a gentle rant from Tara)