Tuesday, June 26

Is my state run by morons?

Apparently yes, at least the state senate is. Right now, I'm praying for an opt-out option.

Some analysis by people I know: pro / con

It makes me rather sad to see the start of this place going down the tubes. How I did fancy Wisconsin; if these shenanigans are still transpiring when I graduate and look for an engineering job, I don't see myself staying here.

Benjamin Franklin was a pretty smart guy. I used to cringe whenever I saw or heard liberals use his quote about liberty and security against stuff the president has done, but I had a bit of a realization today. His quote is quite flexible: "They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary [economic] security, deserve neither liberty nor security."

Since now maintaining your health will be in the state's interest, the door to the nanny-state will be left wide open and the a/c is on. They'll actually have a reason to ban smoking, drinking, fried foods, you name it.

Besides, once this is implemented, no one will ever be able to make it go away.

While the state is buying us all insurance, will they also buy us auto insurance? How about homeowner's insurance?

There is a bright side: a person can always move to a different state. I'd rather have a state experimenting than the federal government.

Thursday, June 21

They always told us to not look at the sun

I saw a headline about preparing for Global Cooling and I winced. Not this again!

I mean, of course, after involuntarily taking an environmental studies class that beat any doubt out of me and defeated my will to argue with them, it seems that the climate is changing, but whether people are causing it is still up for debate. Of course not! All the carbon dioxide and temperatures rising so quickly... All but a handful of scientists said in a (voluntary) poll that there wasn't a doubt...

The Earth is nothing but change. Why would we expect the climate to be stationary? The weather channel can't accurately predict the weather in a region more than a few days in advance, but they can predict the weather decades in advance for the whole planet with enough accuracy to warrant spending lots of money?

Call me a loony, but the contemporary environmental movement seems to me like the reboot of communism. I'm being super cereal, people! Instead of sacrificing oneself for the community and state as with classic communism, the environmentalists want us to sacrifice ourselves for the well being of the planet (read: all humanity). Think about it: global communism. After telling me that we all live on the same planet, my environmental professor asked me if we're not all equally people and why I don't care about people in China who make $2 per day as much as I care about Americans.

After reading the article Read the Sunspots about a coming global cooling, I feel a little refreshed. His whole spiel is that after studying fjord sedimentary records, he's determined that variation in the sun's brightness is the biggest driving force of change in the climate of the planet. That seems very reasonable; the sun is the only energy input into the Earth's system after all.

The climate is constantly in flux. We've only just emerged from the Little Ice Age which started at the end of the Middle Ages and ran until the mid-1800's. Turns out the Middle Ages were a warm period and they used to be able to grow grapes for wine in England, which is at present far too much to the north. Then in the 1600's people begged God to stop the Alpine glaciers from running amok. Like the economy, it's all cyclical, baby.

...We also see longer period cycles, all correlating closely with other well-known regular solar variations. In particular, we see marine productivity cycles that match well with the sun's 75-90-year "Gleissberg Cycle," the 200-500-year "Suess Cycle" and the 1,100-1,500-year "Bond Cycle." The strength of these cycles is seen to vary over time, fading in and out over the millennia...

Our finding of a direct correlation between variations in the brightness of the sun and earthly climate indicators (called "proxies") is not unique. Hundreds of other studies, using proxies from tree rings in Russia's Kola Peninsula to water levels of the Nile, show exactly the same thing: The sun appears to drive climate change.

However, there was a problem. Despite this clear and repeated correlation, the measured variations in incoming solar energy were, on their own, not sufficient to cause the climate changes we have observed in our proxies. In addition, even though the sun is brighter now than at any time in the past 8,000 years, the increase in direct solar input is not calculated to be sufficient to cause the past century's modest warming on its own. There had to be an amplifier of some sort for the sun to be a primary driver of climate change.

Indeed, that is precisely what has been discovered. [Scientists] have collectively demonstrated that as the output of the sun varies, and with it, our star's protective solar wind, varying amounts of galactic cosmic rays from deep space are able to enter our solar system and penetrate the Earth's atmosphere. These cosmic rays enhance cloud formation which, overall, has a cooling effect on the planet. When the sun's energy output is greater, not only does the Earth warm slightly due to direct solar heating, but the stronger solar wind generated during these "high sun" periods blocks many of the cosmic rays from entering our atmosphere. Cloud cover decreases and the Earth warms still more.

These new findings suggest that changes in the output of the sun caused the most recent climate change. By comparison, CO2 variations show little correlation with our planet's climate on long, medium and even short time scales.

I find those two sentences I bolded to be particularly interesting.

He goes on to predict that by 2020, the sun will be starting a new Seuss Cycle (200-500 years) that'll be "the weakest in two centuries," which should trigger a new cool period. That'll be interesting to see what the environmentalists are up to in 13 years and whether they all get to stick their carbon neutral feet in their mouths.

On a completely unrelated note, my anthropology professor, who's really a very nice person, today made reference to the "prison-industrial complex."

Saturday, June 16

Like gag me with a spoon*

On the front of Madison.com today there's an article on the city's streetcar debate that just won't die. Other than the fact that it's from the Capital Times, it starts off innocently enough but quickly turns into a suck-up-to-the-Mayor-fest.

In Kenosha's tracks? How a streetcar system works in southeastern Wisconsin

First of all, I lived about half an hour west of Kenosha, in the other end of the county with the same name from the time I was two until I left for college, so I'm familiar with the place. Heck, I've even ridden on said trolley, and believe you me, it is most definitely not a 'system'. It's a dinky, yes dinky little loop, around a new housing complex and Kenosha's tiny pointless museum. Did I mention it doesn't go anywhere and it's only cool the first time around?

Look at it! You can see the tracks, I drew the lines outside where it runs.

So what does this article say about the trolley?

Streetcars are the kind of thing you need to ride on and see to truly appreciate, according to Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz.

And Kenosha, just a two-hour drive from Madison, is the closest place to look at an operating streetcar system.

The mayor said he went there as a tourist last year and rode the city's restored vintage trains that make a 1.9-mile loop around two dozen downtown blocks that include the city's newest museum, built in 2000 along with the streetcar route. When the project was conceived nearly 10 years before that, Kenosha's downtown was suffering from manufacturing losses and other economic pressures that were leaving empty storefronts.

Lou Rugani, a Kenosha radio personality and streetcar skeptic who has been won over, told Cieslewicz that one out of every three people who go to Kenosha go to ride the streetcar.

"It a boon to tourism," Cieslewicz said. "And tourism is one of the reasons for a streetcar here."

However, on a recent Monday, there wasn't a tourist in sight on Kenosha's downtown lakefront.

It goes on to talk about costs.

Bingo! Like I touched on earlier, one loop and 4 cars is not a system. Also, since the beginning a few years ago, they've always tried to make the trolley a tourist destination. Kenosha, however is not where anyone really chooses to go, voluntarily--there's nothing there. The only things to do are shopping, along Interstate 94 at the edge of the city, the grayhound track, the site of the proposed Indian casino that got Doyle tied up, boating on Lake Michigan, and a Jelly Belly distribution center that gives tours.

As the article states, no one goes there for tourism, trolley or not. One-third of 100 people is still no one. To have Kenosha using trolleys as tourism as a model for Madison is quite frankly more unrealistic than what the mayor usually is.

Kenosha is in a bad spot since the downtowns of Milwaukee and Chicago are both within an hour's drive, so there's really no competition. Madison is different, we've got museums and culture performances, parks and lakes, the Capitol, and the University all attracting people to come. I don't think anyone's decision on whether to visit the city would hinge on whether they can ride in an over-sized model train set doing loops around the Capitol.

It's easy to glance over the reality presented in the article with Madison's pink tinted glasses, but it says that for Kenosha's $5 million trolley, they get 50 riders weekdays and 200 on weekends (that's per day, not at one time folks)--and that cost was after they went as cheap as possible on everything. So if the mayor spends $50 million, perhaps he could get 500 riders? As one of the comments on the article even says, giving limo rides would be cheaper.

It's all quite silly. Trolleys in small cities don't work well enough to justify their cost. Kenosha's has come off as more of a moving monument to government waste. Tourism is not a good argument for Madison. What kind of people would a trolley attract? Could Madison really handle more than one Mayor Dave?

If they want to boost business, they should zone blocks as 'enterprise zones' and give tax incentives to businesses and perhaps eliminate some of the inefficient micromanaging laws. That plan would cost a few sheets of paper and some ink.

* I really don't mean to be ripping on Kenosha. I guess it's a nice little city. They try hard.

Thursday, June 14

More or Less

Less is more.

Thursday, June 7

Atlas Shrugged, the movie?

Apparently, they're working on a movie version of Ayn Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged to possibly be released in 2008.

Angelina Jolie & Brad Pitt in Atlas Shrugged?

The current "Atlas Shrugged" film adaptation has been looking very promising, with Jolie attached to play Dagny Taggart, the railroad executive determined to keep her business going while the society she lives in is falling apart. The story, which has sharp cultural and political resonances for today, has been scripted by Randall Wallace ("Braveheart," "We Were Soldiers"). It is to be produced by the Baldwin Entertainment Group -- which brought us "Ray" and "Sahara," among other films. Brad Pitt has been rumored as a possible casting for the character of John Galt, and there've even been reports of a projected 2008 release.

I didn't really see that coming. It's even got a pre-production page up on Imdb. I'm surprised that they apparently have Angelina Jolie playing Dagny. With her charity work, she seems to be a little too altruistic to play the lead in a Rand story.

Some other site was suggesting that it might be released as a trilogy, which seems logical because at 645,000 words spread over 1160 pages, it's quite a hefty tome. If squeezed down to a normal movie's length, it probably wouldn't be recognizable, though Rand was a bit redundant; the climax of the book is a 50 page speech. Also, it doesn't seem to be normal Hollywood fare. I'm sure with a little creative editing, Atlas Shrugged could easily be twisted into the story of a bunch of whiny rich people complaining.

Regardless, having read the book during last winter break it might be the first movie in a while that I'll actually feel motivated to see. The book wasn't a literary masterpiece, but it is quite different from the social ideas on which regular books are based. Having an environmental studies class last spring, I found it to have been a very good inoculation against their commune-Earth-worship. I hope the book getting out encourages more anti-collectivism in the country. coughnationalhealthcarecough

I gave my sister Atlas Shrugged a few weeks ago after talking to and finding out she's got libertarian leanings, too. It's a good stepping stone. I hope it doesn't mess her up. Even the libertarians at Reason make fun of Rand's Objectivists by making references to throwing people they don't like into a pit of hungry objectivsts.

Talking about Ayn Rand, between reading books for my summer anthropology class, I'm most the way through The Fountainhead. Brad mentioned what I had suspected, that the protagonist architect, or his architecture at least, is based on our very own Frank Lloyd Wright (click on the link, I dare you).

Sunday, June 3

Democrat Debate

I watched the Democratic Debate this evening. All I can say is 'Wow!' because one of these people may end up running the country.

I didn't really have any expectations. Barack seemed to under perform, although that might be because I'm around young people and they seem to be his main support. It was funny when one of the other candidates recognized him for being against the war from the beginning because he was elected to Congress at the end of 2004.

None of them give me strong feelings in either direction other than Kucinich. Before I just thought he was a funny looking outsider, but now I know he's crazy as well, though he wants to end NAFTA and the WTO, which is good.

In addition to Kucinich, Biden, Dodd and Gravel seem to be the other second tier candidates. Dodd did well I think, but he doesn't especially stand out. Biden seemed pretty good, but angry. Gravel, who pronounces it Gravél (ever seen that DuMass commercial?), I like. He's pretty spunky and isn't afraid to call people out and tell it like it is.

As it stands right now, as far as who could actually be elected, I think I could tolerate Bill Richardson the most. He's very well qualified, especially as he's actually in the Executive branch as a governor and not a congressman. John Edwards comes off as a smarmy southern lawyer. It was funny to see him define his boundary for 'rich'. I was wondering what accent Hillary would bring. For me, the main good thing about Hillary is that the Clintons are good at budgeting.

Hillary brought the closest thing to funny this evening when she said something like "sending Dick Cheney to other countries is not very diplomatic". Other than that, many of the things they spoke about were quite unsettling.

First of all: gas prices. They want to hold oil companies accountable, blah blah blah. It's funny because the joke is on you, the common folk! They think you're stupid. Unless, the Constitution says that Congress runs a post office and an oil company, they've no business doing that. They are right when they attempt to pass about price gouging. They are wrong when they target the oil companies. It isn't the companies, they want to provide gas as cheaply as possible. It's OPEC. They're the international oil cartel. They limit the amount of oil exported from their member countries to control the price. It's as simple as that.

If gas costs too much, it's funny because you did it to yourself (and that's what really hurts). Do you live as close as possible to your job? Your town's businesses? But it's not completely your fault you have to buy gas, your government helped you by zoning the land to be too low density to walk anywhere. Doesn't all that grass look nice now? They also built and expanded public roads making your commute possible and you dependant on your car without a direct cost to you. If put the cost of roads and subsidies, and even the cost of military action as one of the Dems pointed out, back into gas it'd be over $7, on par with everywhere else in the world.

You think cars and oil are dirty? Before there were cars they used horses. Cities were much more dirtier. Can you imagine how much of a shithole cities were in the 19th century? Take London, the largest city in the world in the 1800's for example. There were tens of thousands of horses eating and pooping in the streets and living in multistory stables. That would certainly stink up the place. Don't even mention having to cross the street.

Back to the debate, they spoke about Iraq. They all want to simply "redeploy" which is just avoiding the word 'retreat'. I don't get it. This war doesn't end when we say it does. There are people out there that want to see us all dead. If they're not attacking our soldiers in the desert, then they'll be attacking our office workers over our cities again. Anyone hear of London, Madrid, the NY pipeline yesterday? I know we won't be able to just sit there for the long term, but we should at least make a good attempt at giving the Iraqis something decent and then leave, instead of just dropping the pieces all of a sudden and running away.

On a side note, here's an oxymoron: force democracy.

What's with them? Bill Richardson made a reference to an "Apollo" scale initiative for the environment. I see Tammy Baldwin's dementia is spreading like West Nile and it's all the way to New Mexico already.

One of the scariest things for me is universal healthcare. This sums it up:

They even said the heathcare system needs to be more efficient and less expensive so let's have the government run it!

So what if so many people aren't insured? Does the government pay your auto insurance? I hate it when they say people are denied healthcare. No one in the United States is denied healthcare. Emergency rooms are going out of business because they treat everyone, even illegals who can't and won't pay.

Also, towards the end, they had a money orgy about what they'd want to fund. All day national kindergarten? Let's not make the daycare too obvious. I think it's Hillary that wants to go even younger. Let the indoctrination begin! (Gravel, I believe, was the only reasonable one about pointing out all the crazy spending when we don't have money.)

All of these students need teachers. Smaller classes are better. Teachers have to belong to unions. Unions have lobbyists. Connection? Besides, they never worry that many university classes are taught in classes in the hundreds, yet nothing much changes the summer between high school and college.

Furthermore, it may not be nice to say it, but people need to reevaluate college. It's not so necessary. That's why it costs more, demand is increasing! I don't mean to pick on anyone in particular, but how many people get jobs directly connected to their L&S degrees? From what I hear, after college, L&S people beg for jobs, but companies come to recruit us engineers.

Perhaps then, it's not so much exactly what you learn in college, but that you've had the experience. Maybe if high school were taken seriously, grades were earned and given carefully instead of throwing A's at everyone to make them feel good, then high school degrees would start to have some meaning again.

The Democrats made a point of agreeing too much. I wish they'd take a few Democrats and a few Republicans and put them together on stage. Now, that'd be a debate!

Anyway, I think this would some it up: "It's Bush's fault. Vote Democrat! We'll make everyone both healthier and smarter than average!"