Monday, June 30, 2008

Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Engineering Titan

I've published a brief biographical article outlining some of Brunel's spectacular achievements in 19th century Britain.

Here's an excerpt:
In 1843 another Brunel first took to the sea: the SS Great Britain. It was so mammoth it had to be fastened together with over three million rivets, used to connect 30,000 wrought iron plates. The ship was so large the engineer had to invent new methods of launching a ship from drydock. It took 21 hydraulics over three weeks to get it into the water.

But the real innovation lay in its method of propulsion. It was the first ocean-going iron ship with a screw propeller. Brunel’s propeller design was a feat of genius. It was so efficient that even contemporary designs, aided by supercomputers working on advanced hydrodynamic equations, have improved upon it by only five percent.

Still, the great engineer was just getting warmed up...

See the full article at Atlasphere

[Note: If required, registration is free and you don't have to supply any personal information.]

If you go there, please rate the article. Comments are also very welcome.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Suicide Bomber Greens

Steve Milloy of reports:
The Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) successfully pressured the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to block ConocoPhillips expansion of its Roxana, IL gasoline refinery, which processes heavy crude oil from Canada, reported the Wall Street Journal (June 9). The project would have expanded the volume of Canadian crude processed from 60,000 barrels per day to more than 500,000 barrels a day by 2015.
There are those who argue that the environmentalists are reasonable people who only want to improve, not destroy. No doubt, many are. But the leadership is pure evil. Why evil? Because it seeks to destroy the innocent.

At a time when economic hardships are mounting, in large part due to the high price of oil, that blocking the expansion of gasoline supplies is destructive should be obvious.

If starting 60 years ago oil companies had been free to develop U.S. supplies of oil and gas there would have been no need to seek it in the Middle East. Minimal U.S. presence there, radically lower odds of conflict with jihadis, since it would remove their bogus justification for initiating hostilities. During an era when the U.S. has had to fight two wars in or against Iraq, that the Greens actions are destructive should be obvious.

At a time when freedom to trade generally is under attack from nearly all points of the political compass, the unelected environmentalist leaders have elected to do what they can to shut the oil business down entirely. Unfortunately, the link between that freedom and the Greens' actions is not sufficiently obvious to most.

"But, ah," some say, "they are just trying to ensure a cleaner environment."

Really? Quoting Milloy again:
After the Illinois EPA had approved the expansion, the Green groups petitioned the federal EPA to block it, alleging that ConocoPhillips wasn’t using the best available technology for reducing emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides. Apparently the plant’s planned 95 percent reduction in sulfur dioxide emissions and 25 percent reduction in nitrogen oxides wasn’t green enough.
Well, how clean is clean enough? Even eating a banana produces trash.

"But, surely," the moderate environmentalists protest, "we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and this will help."

[I]n California, Green groups are working through the state attorney general’s office to block the upgrade of the Chevron refinery in the city of Richmond. The $800 million upgrade would essentially expand the useable oil supply by permitting the refinery to process lower quality, less expensive crude oil.

California attorney general, ex-governor, and climate crusader Jerry Brown claims that the upgrade will produce an additional 900,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year. But Chevron says that the upgrade will actually reduce GHG emissions by 220,000 tons.

Not all environmentalists are evil, no. But, neither are all Muslims. It's nevertheless true that, in both cases, their philosophy is evil, and when they act consistently with it, destruction follows. The Greens are simply the jihadis of their particular religion.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Pig Dust Regenerates Digits

While some of the things discussed in this article are speculative, it does report that regrowth of small body parts has already been achieved. If true (Pop Sci has a tendency to over-promise), the items mentioned would be valuable additions to medical practice.

The day may not be far off, to use the style of the magazine, when professionals can replace limbs as easily as creating auto parts via CAD/CAM machinery.

That would be wondrous, indeed.

Friday, June 27, 2008

A Global Warming Story Analyzed

Yet another biased story on global warming appeared, this time in the Independent, a UK newspaper. There is, of course, nothing whatsoever unusual about that fact. Nevertheless, it can be instructive to look a little closer and analyze just how that bias is injected.

The story starts off with a dramatic statement (don't they usually?):
It seems unthinkable, but for the first time in human history, ice is on course to disappear entirely from the North Pole this year.

It's unclear why this should be unthinkable. I haven't looked it up, but whether it's the first time in human history or not, so what? All that would mean is that we've finally gotten lucky vis-a-vis the Arctic, an otherwise largely useless part of the globe.

Lucky, how?

The story itself tells us (though they take a decidedly different point of view on the subject):
If it happens, it raises the prospect of the Arctic nations being able to exploit the valuable oil and mineral deposits below these a bed which have until now been impossible to extract because of the thick sea ice above.

Excellent news! That fact, if it is a fact (one can never tell with these stories), should be the occasion for cheering, especially in a world in which the price per barrel of oil has recently climbed above $140 for the first time in history.

And what is that different point of view the story takes? It quotes:

"From the viewpoint of science, the North Pole is just another point on the globe, but symbolically it is hugely important. There is supposed to be ice at the North Pole, not open water," said Mark Serreze of the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre in Colorado.

I see. Objectivity says that the North Pole is just another point. (In fact, owing to the angle of the Earth's axis through the poles to the sun, it isn't, but never mind that now.) But, symbolically — i.e. according to this alleged scientist's emotionally-drivcn values — the North Pole has some special ethical significance. It's "supposed" to be in a particular state. Ironic, isn't it that those to the left are so 'conservative' when it comes to climate?

Then, not much further down in the story, it provides clear evidence that the earlier text is, if not an outright lie, very misleading. It continues:
Seasoned polar scientists believe the chances of a totally ice-free North Pole this summer are greater than 50:50 because the normally thick ice formed over many years at the Pole has been blown away and replaced by huge swathes of thinner ice formed over a single year.

So, now there is only a greater than 50-50 chance the ice will melt. How much greater, it doesn't say. We do get a clue, here:
Scientists predict that at least 70 per cent of this single-year ice [ice formed the previous winter] – and perhaps all of it – will melt completely this summer, Dr Serreze said.

I'm betting that with odds like that the oil companies won't be rushing to the North Pole anytime soon, unfortunately. Then again, maybe they will. The odds of finding oil where there are known reserves that are relatively easy to extract are pretty low, as evidenced by the years of exploration required and the number of dry holes they drill. And, at least the Arctic has the advantage of not being controlled by the most powerful obstruction to finding oil in the history of the world -- the U.S. Congress of the past 50 years.

Every oil company takes huge risks, investing billions that often yield nothing, in order to make a slim percentage of profit for their heroic successful efforts. But the odds of getting the government out of the way are about equal to the North Pole melting. Maybe a little better than 50-50.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Regulate This!

I continue to be baffled by the mental processes of many of my fellow Americans. I can't accurately describe it as 'thinking' since it bears so little resemblance to what I recognize by that word.

According to a recent Rasmussen poll "49% believe that the federal government should regulate the Internet the same way it does radio and television, according to a new Rasmussen Reports national survey."

Ok, that's wrong, but it's a little vague and we can cut them some slack. But this:

"Americans also believe overwhelmingly — 73% yes to 13% no — that it should be a crime to harass someone on the Internet."

is far beyond the pale.

Harassment [i.e. here, written speech] should be a crime?

Whew, let's pause and take a deep breath, everybody. Some looney mom in Missouri sets up a fake account and says cruel things to some teen girl, who later commits suicide. And this is not just stupid and vicious on the woman's part, but a crime?

If that isn't the grossest, most absurd advocacy of the violation of free speech yet, I can't think of a better example.

The slow ones of the world may be hopeless, but let's point out a few obvious things for their benefit anyway.

a) When someone confronts you on the street and makes unpleasant remarks, you may or may not be able to avoid them. But surely it is possible to avoid reading things that bother you.

b) Actually, once you've grasped (a), no other letters are needed, but we'll offer two more anyway.

c) If someone forcibly held your eyelids open in front of the monitor, or read the words to you whether you liked it or not, you would not have a valid case against the author. The thuggish mugger, yes. The author of the comments, no.

d) You don't have to believe or care about anything that the looney writes. That person's pen does not have magic power over your free will or critical judgment.

As I said, all this is obvious. So, what in hell are those 73%, er, thinking? Clearly, they are 'thinking' that the politically correct, and therefore appropriate, action in the face of cruel comments is to put a stop to them — by any means necessary. After all, how important is a trivial thing like the right of free speech in the face of a few wounding words?

In the style of what is very likely a large percentage of that 73% — get over yourself. And soon. Because if you don't, by the time your children are your age, far harsher results will follow than some idiotic insults by a deranged mother. When the government decides what is or is not acceptable speech they will also dictate what is or is not acceptable behavior in every other area of your life.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Seeds For Oil, A Fable

There are those who don't want to recognize the oil companies freedom to drill for oil. That's a denial of basic property rights, but let's let that pass for a moment and tackle the deniers on their own ground, which they claim is a purely practical point. They claim it will take ten years to see results. Yes, so?

Let's make the point by way of a little tale...

"Put seeds in the ground now? What's the point? They won't get harvested until Fall. In the meantime, you'll starve. Better to invest in some magic beans that will deliver plenty in... well, I'm a little uncertain about the time frame. But they're magic!"

This is the basic attitude of those who assert that "we can't drill our way out" of the problem of high oil prices.

"But if you plant the magic beans, and horde your food now, you'll be safe until the beans sprout. Oh, you don't want to eat less? Well, we must have a tax to punish the farmers who are taking advantage of your misery. Also, it will be good for you, since it will encourage you to eat less, you glutton."

Forget that the law of supply and demand is nearly as inflexible as the law of gravitation. Instead, tax supply! The evil oil companies deserve it. Forget that the ones who would pay the tax control less than 5% of the supply. Forget how unfair it is to punish those supplying a demand and, god forbid!, getting paid well for their efforts.

And, by all means, forget that those willing and able to pay have the right to trade with those supplying them. A right that should go unhindered by those who have never planted a seed or tended a plant. (Not to mention, who spend so much time throwing weed seeds all around at every opportunity, breaking the tools, and mandating horticulture with one foot strapped to the back of a thigh.)

Do the deniers who want to prevent the increase in oil supply really want to solve 'the energy problem'? Observe that those who argue that "we can't drill our way out" are often the most vocal opponents of nuclear power, a tried and true technology, instead preferring some future promise of wind and solar.

Well, it's true, fantasy is so much more pleasant than reality.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Science In the News

There are often tidbits of scientific advances in the news. Sometimes they get more press when it's something spectacular. But often, truly major events go largely unreported.

An example of the first is the recent results from the Mars project that may have discovered ice. While no fan of the space program overall, since it is government funded and often aims at goals that are of little practical value to anyone, I have to admire the superb technical ability that goes into achieving its aims.

Finding, and verifying, that ice (and therefore possibly some simple life forms) exists on Mars is one good case in point.

But for my money, the next item is the one that is truly worthy of unabashed praise.

Researchers reporting in the June 19 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine say this is the first time a patient's cloned T cells used alone have put an advanced solid-tumor cancer into complete remission.

The man was followed for two years, at which time he was still in remission.

As an ex-student of physics I have a greater emotional push toward the first story. But, objectively, I'm aware of how fantastically complex cancer is and how difficult it is to treat, especially in the way that Dr. Cassian Yee and team have done. Breakthroughs like this do much more than stop a very nasty condition; they lead to larger advances that apply to many areas.

Sincere and massive kudos to the modern day explorers of large and small who show the creativity, rationality, and courage to keep driving the frontiers ever onward. They are the true heroes of our age.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Cyd Charisse, Gone and Not Gone

Cyd Charisse, dead at 86.

Cyd Charisse wasn't the best female dancer. Nor was she the best actress or singer. But her combination of these talents was far above her peers in total. And, she had one thing that far exceeded all the rest: she was sexy as hell. Genuinely sexy.

In a film with Esther Williams she was the girl who lost out, at least at first. Tough choice for any red-blooded guy. (In those days, you couldn't have both.) With Fred Astaire, she showed how it was possible to combine elegant ballet-like dancing with supreme sensuality. Her Ninotchka in Silk Stockings made Greta Garbo look like a guy.

She was also something that is sadly missing from films and film stars today. She was a class act, professionally and personally. Yes, it's been lamented many times by many a commentator (usually over the age of 40). See 1000 films from the 1940s and 50s like I have and you'll be convinced, if that's possible or necessary.

Cyd Charisse may have died at 86 on Monday, June 16th. But her films will still be worth seeing a hundred years from now. Let's hope there are people still around then worthy of seeing them.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A Paean For Packaging

Sometimes what seem like small things in life are actually of larger significance. Think for a moment about what has happened to packaging over the past 50 years.

The variety alone is stunning. Simple stereo boxes filled with specially shaped foam and bubble wrap keep delicate equipment secure across continents. Soup cans pop open with a light pull on a small metal ring. Frozen orange juice containers open with an easy tug on a plastic strip.

Think of the advances in food safety, weight reduction, and more. A simple plastic mayonnaise jar closes with the twist of a perfectly fitting lid. At the same time, eliminating glass has made them lighter to ship and much less likely to break.

The examples and benefits could be multiplied a hundredfold. All this thanks, in large part, due to the ingenuity of a type of engineer who rarely receives any public notice or praise. Not regarded as glamorous, or even notorious, like structural engineers, they nonetheless make our lives immensely better in a thousand ways.

I've found myself in restaurants wanting to shake the hand of and to pay the bill for a returning soldier. If I could so easily identify a package designer, I'd want to do the same.

There are some devils among them, to be sure. Whoever designed those seals on the tops of some CDs deserves jail time. But that was as much a marketing decision by someone with a lack of imagination about theft reduction as anything. One shouldn't blame bullet manufacturers for the scum who use a weapon on the wrong person.

On the whole, though, they deserve all the paeans they almost never receive, except perhaps from their colleagues. (And, knowing corporations as intimately as I regrettably do, not often from them, I'd bet.) It's altogether fitting that the word "paean" was coined to describe a hymn of praise to Apollo, the god of reason.

Package designers, I lift my goblet to your divinity.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Free Speech, By The Numbers

Rasmussen recently released some polling statistics on the issue of free speech. The numbers are troubling. No, make that horrific.

Twenty-eight percent (28%) think it is a good idea to ban hate speech, which is loosely defined as comments intended to put down or incite violence against people on the basis of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation and other legally protected categories. Nearly one in five voters (19%) are undecided on whether such a ban is necessary.

First, let's let a shiver go down the spine. These are Americans we're talking about, not Canadians.

Now, let's recover and think for a moment.

The article starts by saying that fully 88% of Americans "strongly guard their right to free speech." That's a little vague to say the least, but at least it suggests that those polled believe they have one, even if very few are likely to have ever read the Constitution. It's in the air, so to speak.

So what have the 28% been breathing? A "good idea to ban hate speech..."

Er, to be defined by whom? The Supreme Court? The Congress? Some politically correct chancellor of the University of Madison, Wisconsin, like Donna Shalala ?

[Note: the numbers add up when you read that "(53%) say the United States should refrain from banning so-called 'hate speech.'"]

I can only hope for the sake of their souls that these people have never actually heard of the First Amendment. No, I take it back. It would make no difference to that sort of person. Their desired form of social behavior would trump a mere triviality like a Constitutionally-enshrined right to the most basic freedom possible. That answers the question "good, how?"

"It is not clear to me that the Europeans are mistaken,” Jeremy Waldron, a legal philosopher, wrote in The New York Review of Books last month, “when they say that a liberal democracy must take affirmative responsibility for protecting the atmosphere of mutual respect against certain forms of vicious attack.”

Certainly. An air of mutual respect. And that will be achieved by coercive government muzzling of opinion, how exactly? Yes, certainly, stopping some harsh words from being spoken out loud, for heaven's sake, is much more important than the free speech clause of the First Amendment, and every advance in American culture it has made possible.

Fortunately, the courts in America do largely recognize that right. Among other cases,

[A] state court judge in New York dismissed a libel case brought by several Puerto Rican groups against a business executive who had called food stamps “basically a Puerto Rican program.” The First Amendment, Justice Eve M. Preminger wrote, does not allow even false statements about racial or ethnic groups to be suppressed or punished just because they may increase “the general level of prejudice.”

Still, you have to wonder what those 19% who can't make up their mind on the subject are divided about. Perhaps, they should move to Canada, where they can be given a little moral assistance.

"Equally revealing was a comment from Dean Steacy, an investigator for the Canadian Human Rights Commission. When asked what value he gives to free speech in his investigations, Steacy breezily dismissed the question. 'Freedom of speech is an American concept, so I don't give it any value,' he said."(Jacob Laskin discussing the MacLean's/Steyn trial.)

Scary. I live in Northern Idaho. What a difference sixty miles makes. Then again, maybe not.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

How NOT To Advocate Freedom

Article authors and commenters on conservative blogs and news sites often make a lot of true and useful points. "Cap-and-Trade legislation would cost the economy trillions," "The way to lower gas prices is to drill here, drill now," and so forth. But most of them suffer from two basic errors.

One is a fundamental lack in the overwhelming majority of the articles and comments. They tend to focus chiefly on near-term 'practical' consequences, to the exclusion of broader ideas. Many talk about how expensive something will be. Some even go so far as to decry the bureaucracy that always accompanies legislation. (Agencies fill in the details, not legislators.) Few talk about how wrong it is to restrict freedom of action in the first place.

It's demonstrable, for example, that forcing businesses to cap CO2 emissions will result in higher costs for them and higher prices for their customers. Even those in favor of such schemes acknowledge that. Some point out the crazy patchwork quilt of regulations that will result, producing a chilling of business productivity.

But conservatives and those sympathetic to them too often minimize the key word in the first sentence of that paragraph: force. They rarely point out that, whatever the consequences, the result has been achieved by government coercion. They don't cry out that the government has no right to be meddling here when no one's rights have been violated.

The problem with the approach of most conservatives goes still deeper.

In arguing over the likely causes and consequences of climate change, or any of a number of contemporary controversies, they overlook entirely whether anyone should be arguing over what laws to pass at all.

To focus on which side of the debate Congress should favor is to already hand that fetid cesspool the job of trying to clean up an alleged mess. This is simply another form of special interest lobbying that even the conservatives decry when it comes to actual Congressional lobbying.

Congress has no right to interfere in the free trade of rights-respecting businessmen.

Conservatives play into the hands of their opponents when they only try to sway politicians to produce the outcome they desire, against the so-called liberals who desire a different outcome. No one should be asking Congress to determine the outcome — because it doesn't have the right to even talk about the issues until someone's rights are threatened.

The error comes from (in many cases, implicitly) accepting the faux liberals' collectivist view of society — that we're all 'in this together', like some big family that has to vote on where to go on vacation. I'm riding in my own car, thank you very much, and I insist on my right to drive wherever I damn well please, provided I don't roll over your lawn.

Do individuals have the right to free speech? Absolutely. (Until Canadian values take over here, anyway.) Is it appropriate that people should make their views publicly known on issues that affect them? Yes, of course. The 'town hall' providing free and open debate is one of America's finest traditions.

But the attitude that "we should do this," and "they should do that" is all too rarely accompanied by, for example, "Exxon-Mobil has the right to extract oil from shale in Colorado, provided only that they've purchased the mineral rights." That purchase should be from someone who owns the land, which should not be "the people of Colorado," and most definitely not from the U.S. Government. The latter has no legitimate say in the issue, whatsoever.

It's the collective view, made worse by narrowing it to immediate practical consequences, that is at the bottom of much of these problems to begin with. It invariably leads to coercion and the violation of individual rights. Beware accepting your opponents' premises.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Canada's Mortifying Trial

Americans generally pay little attention to what goes on in Canada. That's unfortunate, since in so many ways it is more like the U.S. than any other country. And, like any two very similar things, studying the differences can be instructive.

Canada is a land of immigrants, mostly of British ancestry with, of course, a good deal of French and some German, and many others. As a result, along with other factors, the country's citizens share many of America's values and ideals.

Not least of those, until recently, was placing a high value on the right of freedom of speech. Tragically, serious attacks on that fundamental right are occurring right now, and with little attention paid, at least in major U.S. newspapers. The most recent, and probably the most dangerous, case in point is the trial of columnist Mark Steyn on charges of "hate speech."

["As previously reported in Pajamas Media, Steyn was accused of “flagrant Islamaphobia” after his bestselling book America Alone was excerpted in Canada’s oldest newsweekly magazine, Maclean’s, in 2006." Steyn on trial]

The very concept of "hate speech" is hateful to anyone who values freedom. Negating the right to say something that some other person might find 'hateful' is to undercut the right at its root. There's never a need to protect speech that everyone finds pleasant.

I couldn't count the times when I've read something hateful printed in the New York Times, or any of a dozen other major publications. To advocate, for example, that every citizen be partly enslaved by limiting their productive output — in order to combat the alleged problem of global warming — is hateful to my ears.

To others, such as certain Muslims in Canada — egged on and backed by one of the jihadists most successful public relations firms, CAIR (among others) — what Mark Steyn said in his book is considered hateful. If it is, so be it. That is irrelevant. He has the right, no matter what the politically correct Chinese-style tribunals in Canada might say.

Among other 'offenses', Mr. Steyn is accused of daring to use:

"subtle, seemingly intellectual arguments” rather than “overtly racist” speech. But his accusers still regard it as “venom clothed in the language of reason.”

One could argue — successfully, I've no doubt — that Steyn's comments, while laced with "sarcasm" are eminently reasonable. But, that's beside the point. He has the right to be as unreasonable in his speech as he damn well pleases. Anyone who is offended doesn't have to read or listen. There are ample avenues for those who disagree to make their views known. Today, too many.

One argument in favor of restricting speech that underlies such nonsensical laws is the belief that humans are inevitably determined, or at least strongly influenced by what they read or hear. Apart from the obvious facts that humans possess free will and that there are wide disagreements throughout society, if that were true I would have an adoring audience of millions by now. Sadly, I have to honestly report, I do not.

On this subject, we'll give the penultimate word today to Thomas Jefferson who said, when defending a bookseller in 1814 who obtained a requested volume and suffered legal action in consequence,
"I am really mortified to be told that, in the United States of America, a fact like this can become a subject of inquiry, and of criminal inquiry too, as an offence against religion; that a question about the sale of a book can be carried before the civil magistrate."

(Page 102, The Jeffersonian Cyclopedia)

Canada should be mortified, too.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Hamilton Ventura, Timeless Timepiece

In 1957, the Hamilton Watch company gave me a present and didn't even know it. They developed and sold the Hamilton Ventura watch. Stylish and full of technological innovations, it remains 50 years later at the pinnacle of timepiece design.

It was the first electric watch, years ahead of its time. Its look is timeless. Though copied many times since (it's still in production in some forms), the originals can readily be found on the vintage watch market, selling for around $1,500-$,2500. (New ones are roughly $650.)

For all you'd want to know about its history, look to Rene Rondeau, one of the world's experts on the subject.

As if that weren't enough, there's even a chronograph version.

Please avoid drooling on the watch, admittedly difficult.

Iconoclasts everywhere are grateful to designer Richard Arbib and the Hamilton Watch company.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Climate For Freedom In Peril, Update

The New York Times recently reported on the rapid demise of the Warner-Lieberman bill, or as it's better known in some circles: the Industrial Enslavement Act.

Unfortunately, that circle has an extremely small diameter, with only a few solid points surrounded by mostly thin fluid. As bad or worse, the demise is almost certainly temporary.

How Not To Argue For Freedom

There has been much commentary to the effect that the legislation would cost trillions, raise the price of gas to even higher levels, and so forth.

As the NYT very mildly put it:

The bill would cap the production of heat-trapping gases and force polluters to buy permits to emit carbon dioxide. Critics, including many Republican senators, said it would raise energy prices, including the cost of oil, at a time when Americans are struggling with record gasoline prices.

All true, but the Greens and their partners-in-crime in Congress will soon overcome these objections. When the dominant sentiment is (as Sen. Obama put it): “The future of our planet is at stake,” it won't be long before considerations of cost take a back seat and a similar sword of Damocles again hangs above our heads.

Some of the more pragmatic politicians (i.e. almost all of them) will make compromises to provide wiggle room to businesses. The provision to allow 'polluters' to buy indulgences from the Church of the Viros to expiate their CO2 sins is just one example already present in the bill. But even a watered-down version will still be tremendously damaging, and not only in monetary terms.

The basic vice in all such legislation is the implicit premise that is, sadly, shared by nearly everyone in the debate. To wit, that Congress is justified in attempting to reduce greenhouse gases.

It is not.

The state of current research on climate doesn't justify any of the proposals that advocates of the bill claim make it necessary.

"Global warming" is a very broad average. To the extent it can even be meaningfully defined, it has been modest over the past century. In any case, data from the past 10 years suggests it's over, at least for a while. (Even AGW advocates have recently backpedaled and assert that cooling, or at least stasis, for the next 10 years is more likely.)

But the most important point is this: businesses have a right to produce, and generating CO2 is inherent in that (at least for the foreseeable future). CO2 is not as is sometimes now claimed, a pollutant. A cap on CO2 output isn't just wildly impractical — though that would be bad enough. It violates the freedom of producers whose activities violate no one's rights.

Only when this right is recognized and accepted will the forces attempting to hold back the Green flood make any kind of permanent progress.

Friday, June 6, 2008

IBM Water-cooled 3-D Chips

IBM develops water-cooled 3-D chips.

"Scientists at the firm have shown off a prototype device layered with thousands of 'hair-width' cooling arteries. They believe it could be a solution to the increasing amount of heat pumped out by chips as they become smaller and more densely packed with components."

Cool, in every sense of the word. But hot, too.

The heroes at the IBM labs continue to bring electronics engineering into the 21st century. Ever restless, ever inventive, these men and women deserve high kudos for their endless technical creativity. But even more, they've earned the highest moral praise for being among the best representatives of human reason in one of its finest forms.

Too often today, in a world fortunate enough to see these sorts of advances frequently, some greet news of this type with a shrug. But remember what that good fortune fundamentally depends on: the freedom to exercise rational creativity.

That casual attitude may come not from distaste for technology — those people are probably irredeemable — but simply from taking it for granted. Taking that creativity and freedom for granted, though, is roughly the same as taking your loved one for granted. They soon are gone.

Consider some oft-cited statistics:

  • Just 50 years ago TVs were uncommon in the home
  • A mere 30 years ago PCs were barely more than a hobbyist's kit
  • Only 20 years ago mobile phones were absent from all but a few luxury autos
  • Little more than 10 years ago the Internet was sparsely populated

So, while the technology is definitely cool, in an era when many are trying to drive us back to the 12th century, let's rouse ourselves to generate some passionate heat for those heroes who create it and the philosophy that sustains them. Otherwise, they too might soon be gone.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Asleep At Harvard

A recent column in the Christian Science Monitor on the Iraq War by Dr. Toft, professor of public policy at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government is instructive. But not quite in the way she intended.

The article begins with the very true statement: "It matters what we call things." Unfortunately, Prof. Toft then proceeds to get almost everything else wrong. She writes: "The evidence overwhelmingly suggests that the war in Iraq is a religious civil war..."

Er, has she been asleep in class this entire semester? The war in Iraq is nearly over and it hasn't been a civil war for the better part of a year, if it ever was. For the most part, since at least 2005, mostly foreign fighters have been trying to kill U.S. soldiers. Civil wars occur between combatants who are citizens of the same country.

True, plenty of Iraqi civilians get blown up by the psychopathic suicide bombers and guerrilla fighters among the enemy forces in Iraq. But they are incidental targets. It's the U.S. military personnel (and "collaborators" whom they hope to terrorize into submission) that are and have been the main targets. It is, after all, America that is the Great Satan, not the Iraqis. The latter are merely useful rocket grenade fodder to the mind of a jihadist.

As for the enemy being mostly foreign, there I'm on weaker ground. Weaker, like six-inch concrete is weaker than six feet of granite.

Even the so-called Left insist that al Qaeda members are not native to Iraq. (Remember, that was one of their talking points, insisting that Hussein had little to no contact with al Qaeda and hence was not a supporter of terrorism.) And, the Mahdi Army may be composed of chiefly Iraqis, but it's no secret — in fact, their leader practically boasts of it — that the army is ultimately controlled by rulers in Tehran. That makes them mercenaries of a foreign government.

Prof. Toft moves smoothly from error to fantasy.

Despite signs that security has improved, the religious civil wars in Iraq may have only just begun.

Er, is she not aware that the strife is winding down? When even the Washington Post acknowledges that the popularly-termed Surge has worked, is it harsh to suggest that Harvard professors should be able to admit it, too? That political changes are afoot to ensure the gains are long-term is equally evident to anyone who will look. Or, don't Harvard professors do research anymore before they render an opinion?

One thing that is still obviously true of at least this Harvard professor, though, is a love for embracing contradictions. Or, as academics prefer to name them, "nuances."

She writes: "The idea of victory versus failure is really a false dichotomy, however." Er, no. If one loses, one does not win. If one wins, as the U.S. has all but virtually done by now, one has not lost. I know the philosophy department at Harvard has some quirky interests, but I'm moderately confident it still offers an elementary logic course. Maybe Dr. Toft could sit in, discreetly.

She goes on to clarify this seeming paradox in a statement that clearly reveals her biggest delusion and fondest wish:

The real choice for US and British policymakers is between the more costly failure that will obtain from current policy and the less costly failure that might obtain from a well-thought-out and well-executed withdrawal.

Oh, to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory! How sweet that would be. But even the persuasive Mr. Obama may find that hard to pull off (should Prof. Toft's students succeed in getting him elected come November).

Still, the good professor is definitely right about one thing, which is the main point of her article. Islam (as she puts it) is at the heart of the war.

Unfortunately, she draws the wrong conclusion, such as believing that this implies that the Sunni are at war with the Shiite and vice versa. The jihadists have provided ample evidence of being equal opportunity butchers when it suits their purpose, regardless of the sect of killer or victim.

Also, her prescription is illogical.

The withdrawal of US forces would allow Iraq's predominantly Arab Shiites and Sunnis to find common interest in opposing their two more classical historical adversaries: Kurds and Persians.

That contradicts a statement three paragraphs earlier where she says:

[R]eligious civil wars are less likely to end in negotiated settlement. Instead, combatants tend to duke it out until one side achieves victory.

Also, she appears to be satisfied with, if not actually advocating, civil war by the Sunnis and Shiites against the Kurds and Persians. If so, she should be ashamed. Kurdistan is peaceful and relatively prosperous; in short, a model for the rest of Iraq. And — Dr. Toft has to know this — the Persians live in Iran. Does she think another Iran-Iraq war would be a good thing?

But, then, perhaps I misinterpret her here. Possibly she thinks it's okay if they butcher each other, so long as they're not killing Americans.

I could agree with her on that, but unfortunately the Islamists have shown no willingness to leave anyone alone outside Iraq, either. Just ask the Danes. Or the Spanish. Or the Dutch. Or the French. Tragically, there are 3,000 Americans in New York we can no longer ask.

And, the more successful they are in Iraq, the more likely they are to be emboldened to press efforts elsewhere. Conversely, as they lose in one major arena, the heat tends to taper off in other hot spots. There are exceptions, but that just shows that the jihadist cancer needs radiation treatment as much as surgery.

The professor is right, though, on her key statement. Islam is central to the conflict. (We'll let go without elaboration that those on the 'pro-war' side have been shouting this open secret for several years now.)

It is this dreadful, life-destroying religion that is driving al Qaeda, the Mahdi Army, and their ultimate material and spiritual masters, whether in Pakistan, Iran, or elsewhere. Oddly, Prof. Toft gives no indication that she condemns it as the fundamental cause of the violent conflicts in Iraq. This is even more odd given that she herself says:

Islam has been involved in more than 80 percent of all religious civil wars.

How she could fail to draw the right conclusions from this will have to remain a mystery. Maybe Harvard's psychology department could give us a clue; maybe its history department could give Dr. Toft one.

It does indeed matter what we call things. We should call this thing the War Against Islamic Jihadism, and a surge to wipe out these evil ideas is badly needed just now. Somehow, I don't think the Professor Tofts of this world will be enlisting anytime soon.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Climate For Freedom in Peril

The Senate is taking an entire 30 hours to debate the Lieberman-Warner climate bill (the so-called Climate Security Act).

That sentence contains at least three ridiculous points by my reckoning.

No. 1

That something as serious as a severe hampering of every business in America should be decided after only 30 hours of Congressional debate is clearly absurd. That said, Congressmen typically don't read much of what they vote on, so at least they'll be giving it more attention than what they usually do. That they will is a sign they are taking the subject seriously.

Also, the essential contents of the bill have been known for some time. So, little in it will be a surprise to anyone not living in a tree like some Greens who might advocate the bill's contents.

No. 2

Still, that it should take 30 hours, rather than 30 seconds, to dispose of one of the biggest efforts to date to chain industrial civilization since its birth is beyond ridiculous. It's evil, plain and simple.

Individuals, which is what the people who work for and invest in businesses are, have a right to use the Earth for their own benefit. Nothing in what they're doing is having nor will have the severe impact on the climate that the bill's advocates claim make it necessary.

No one's health or well-being is going to be significantly harmed by producing CO2 at projected levels over the next 100 years. Even if it did, contra science, this bill will not do anything to change that. It will only further the takeover of the economy by the new Communists — the Greens and their partners-in-crime in Congress.

At the same time, it will be a huge cost in hard dollars as well as new wealth that will not come into existence if the bill is passed. Businesses will have to needlessly spend billions to curtail their output. Those who buy their goods and services will spend billions more to get less, which is after all the ultimate purpose of the Greens.

But some money will definitely change hands as the ever-eager gamers of the system strive to bribe the politicians every which way from Sunday to accomplish their ends.

In a system of that kind, it's impossible to separate the otherwise honest who are paying extortion from those who are happy to take advantage of the Byzantine arrangements that will exist for grasping a buck. This is only one of the many things that make that bill evil.

No. 3

That it is called the Climate Security Act is just more insulting icing on a moldy cake. Trying to speciously associate this power grab/business enslavement piece of legislation with 'security' is nothing more than fear-mongering. If there's anything we don't need from Green-pandering politicians it's adding gasoline to the fire that their partners in the major media are already fanning so excellently well.

You have to be some special kind of stupid to advocate that businesses produce less, and that less efficiently. You have to be a (today) typical kind of immoral to propose chaining them when they're doing so much good. Even apart from the utterly obvious fact that people need more goods and services cheaper, not fewer that are more costly, businesses have a right to freedom of action.

It's that freedom, not the climate, that is in peril.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Brain-Activated Mechanical Arm Invented

As evidence that good things, sometimes great things, still do happen in the world, I offer the following:

Scientists Create Neuro-activated Mechanical Arm

"Scientists implanted a grid with 100 tiny electrodes (about the size of a large freckle) on the motor cortex in two monkeys.

The grid in each monkey was connected to a neuron with wires from the brain to a computer that analyzed the collective firing of the neurons, translated that into an electronic command and sent it instantaneously to the arm."

What's especially great is that the article's author really understands what has happened here, beyond the advent of a great new technology:

"When science is uncluttered by political agendas, dubious methodology and other junk, every miracle is within the reach of the mind of man."

Bravo to Dr. Andrew Schwarz and his team at the University of Pittsburgh for their achievement. Kudos, too, to the editorial writer at the Tribune-Review for advertising and celebrating it. This is the sort of thing that should (and used to) be front page news. We should never become blasé about things like this, no matter how commonplace they become.

The Red Decade, Redux

The history of ideas repeats itself. So do the effects.

Historians and social commentators have long referred to the 1930s as the Red Decade. It was then that Communists found a great many sympathetic ears (and, subsequently, voices) for their message that the individual should be subordinated to the State.

The new Reds, now calling themselves Greens, have much larger ambitions. They want to subordinate the individual to the whole planet.

That sort of ambition is very old. Power-hungry intellectuals, and their partners-in-crime in government, have been playing the game effectively for centuries. Whether using religion, the good of the nation, or the welfare of the masses, they have always preached that certain individuals have to be constrained in order to protect others. The latest excuse is simply that we have to "protect the planet."

It was a lie for all those centuries and it's a lie now. There's nothing in the facts about our current activities nor its likely impact on the climate now or in the future that justifies the actions being advocated.

To what degree human actions are influencing the climate is a matter for scientists. Despite the claims of some who would like to take immediate action, there are disagreements among respectable scientists that cover the spectrum on the issue.

None of the research to date provides solid enough reasons to believe that humans are causing large effects soon. Anything we might be doing will only cause small changes over a long period of time, so far as we know at present.

But even in the highly unlikely case that humans are having an appreciable influence, none of the proposals put forth so far are valid. Restraining trade, hampering it with carbon taxes, Byzantine rationing rules, and so forth will not solve anything. It will only make the situation worse by making it harder to accumulate capital to invest in improving technology, the only long term solution to all such problems.

Worse, those advocating such things are overstepping valid boundaries. If you sluice toxic sludge onto my forest, you're required to stop and make compensation. If you produce CO2 a thousand miles away that wafts into my trees and causes minor changes decades later, you don't owe me anything. People have a right to the freedom to use the Earth to produce goods and services for their own benefit, and anything anyone does changes conditions elsewhere in some small way.

The signs of the Greens' burgeoning success are everywhere today. Online bank ads from Wells Fargo show a young woman in a meadow, her arms thrown back and her joyous expression lifted to the sky, wearing a green dress. The text talks about 'Green Banking'. Even oil companies talk about being 'green', as they continue to do the underappreciated yeoman's work of supplying the world with an indispensable product.

But just as it has so many times before, the "control everyone campaign" is succeeding by telling people that it's best for all in the long run. All the historical evidence is against it.

The Inquisition didn't purify the morals of medieval Europe; it only suppressed freedom and created victims of injustice. The 20th century Soviets didn't create a New Man nor bring about prosperity in Russia; they only suppressed freedom and created mass death. And the Greens and their sympathizers — if they get their way — won't improve living conditions on Earth for humans, either. But they could succeed in suppressing freedom because that is their overriding desire, just like their spiritual brethren from earlier epochs.

In the name of preserving yours, deny them a sympathetic ear.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Suicide Bomber Intellectuals

Why is it still so hard for free enterprise to get an even break?

Though I don't seek it, I happened to hear part of Sean Hannity's radio program the other day. On it was some young woman touting the alleged virtues of Barack Obama and, more generally, of his philosophy. (I'd guess she was in her 20s at least.)

I have long believed that no one past adolescence could honestly adhere to those views, that they must be a cover for a secret, vicious desire to destroy. This woman persuaded me there are exceptions, perhaps more than I suspected.

With all sincerity, she touted the standard socialist lines on poverty, race, gender, trade, energy, war, and all the rest that forms so prominent a part of Obama's rhetoric — when he isn't blatantly lying about what he believes (which, I admit, is more and more often now).

What is interesting isn't the views themselves — they're at least as old as the mid-19th century and, despite the alleged discrediting of socialism, are alive and well in our society (and not just among faux liberals or the so-called Left).

No, what's astounding is that she could state these views with such sincerity. She gave every evidence of honestly believing that taxing the rich, capping carbon output, talking with rather than fighting Iran, and so forth could actually provide economic enhancement, environmental improvement, and a safer world.

She couldn't be more wrong, but proving it is not the focus of this post. (Even Hannity, no logician by any stretch, managed to shred her in seconds.) No, it's just to point out that there is still a great deal of work to do to get people to the point that such views are — as they once were — widely greeted with the same kind of (deserved) horror that meets idiotic racist remarks by near-retarded radio commentators.

Defeating Suicide Bomber Intellectuals

How to make progress?

Well, while the full answer is well beyond the scope of this post (and my current state of knowledge), following is one potentially fruitful area to work on.

Even though capitalism continues to improve living conditions wherever it is allowed, there are still people like that young woman who trust elected officials more than businessmen. She said so explicitly when posed the question by Hannity of why she took the approach she did.

In light of the near-psychopathic hatred of George Bush (who, admittedly, deserves some of the criticism), not to mention the history of politicians' behavior within the memory of even this 20-something woman, that's the most astounding thing of all. There is a vanishingly small number of politicians from the past 20 years who haven't, most of the time, done far more damage than good in word and deed. Go back an extra 60 years and the record is scarcely better.

Granted there are a great many businessmen, private and known to the public, whom one would not want over to dinner. But, that elected officials could be regarded as more trustworthy simply boggles the mind.

And, it's easy to demonstrate that there are dozens, if not hundreds of businessmen (not to mention millions of others who work in companies), who have been paragons of virtue — innovative, honest, just, and highly productive. Names like Robert Noyce of Intel, Fred Smith of FedEx, Sam Walton of Wal-Mart, and many others come to mind.

The second, and more dangerous aspect of this woman's thinking is how ready such individuals are metaphorically to blow others up in order to further their philosophy.

People like her are perfectly willing to hand over authority to politicians to regulate energy markets, food production, and more. Anyone older than 20 who has been paying attention these past few years (not to mention anyone who has bothered to read a book on the subject covering the 20th century) knows with certainty that the pols haven't provided any reason to believe they can handle these things well.

(That's apart from the more basic and important fact that they haven't even the right to try in the first place. The value and right of freedom isn't negotiable, contingent on the efficacy of politicians vs. entrepreneurs. More on that later.)

Similarly, anyone who took even a casual objective look would know that businessmen, for all their faults and failures, have handled all these things infinitely better.

Just to give one example out of dozens ready at hand, Yucca Mountain (designated over 10 years ago to hold nuclear waste from power plants all over the U.S.) is still not open for business. The plants around the country themselves are doing an excellent job of storing the waste locally. Workers at such plants receive no more radiation than someone living in another state that has no nuclear power plants at all. (Provided, that is, such a person doesn't live near a coal-fired plant, which spews unregulated radiation into the atmosphere at a prodigious rate. Very small amounts of radioactive uranium are a typical waste product of burning coal.)

Unfortunately, there seems to be an endless supply of these clueless suicide bomber intellectuals who are willing to die, metaphorically speaking (and, ultimately, literally) for their cause.

We need a surge to wipe these ideas out.