Thursday, January 27, 2005

One conservative, one liberal addition

More added to the blogroll:

Belgravia Dispatch, a conservative weblog recommended by many liberals, with scathing criticism of the Bush Administration attitudes towards torture, and reasonably independent.

Eschaton, the most prolific liberal blog I look at frequently, and probably the most scathing one I look at in general.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Green-neocon alliance?

From Slate magazine: a number of hard-right neocons are taking up the energy conservation mission, for security and geopolitical reasons, not environmental ones.

I'll usually take allies wherever I can find them. These ones are a little scary though, especially the ones looking to promote Israeli dominance in the Middle East.

We'll see how effective their support will be. Greens have been talking for many years about how the religious environmentalists will open a new wave of support, and I've yet to see that happen.

And on to other news: global warming could be twice as bad as originally feared, with an average 11 degree Celsius rise, depending on some yet-unknowns. Link here. Okay, neocons, I guess we should talk.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Firsts! I call firsts!

From today's Washington Monthly, asking why Bush is pushing a Social Security proposal that will go nowhere:

"What's the point of loudly pushing a proposal you're going to lose? What's behind it all?

UPDATE: Turns out Ed Kilgore is wondering the same thing. His hunch is that it's a bait-and-switch: Democrats will end up loudly saying that private accounts are great, but only in addition to Social Security, not instead of it. So in the end, Bush will "compromise" and sign a bill that leaves Social Security alone but creates big tax-sheltered savings accounts ideally suited for tax avoidance by high earners.

Could be, I suppose. It sounds a little too clever even for the Karl Roves of the world, but I guess you never know. Something to keep an eye out for, anyway."

From yours truly, on September 17 last year, regarding what Bush will ultimately propose for Social Security:

"My guess is Bush will eventually just offer tax deductions for larger IRAs. By his standards that's not bad, it's only skewed towards the moderately wealthy that currently fully fund their IRAs. By responsible standards, however, it stinks."

Boy, I'm smart. That's why I'm allowed to have a blog.

P.S. Pretty good chance someone got there before me, even. I'll be sure not to try and find out if that's the case.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Short bits

Best pictures from the Titan probe that I've found on the net are here - a collection from volunteers who've taken the raw images and done a lot of work to improve them and fit the pictures together like jigsaw puzzles. Hopefully the European and American space agencies will do something similar sometime. Best running commentary on Titan and space in general is at the

Something that's received little coverage in the awful news about the tsunami is the role that mangroves and coral reefs played in protecting coastlines. Mangroves have been removed in many places, increasing the tsunami's destructiveness. Coral reefs have also been threatened - in the short run I believe the threat is more to their biological value than their structural integrity, but in the long run, the bleached, dead coral will break down, and allow destructive tsunamis to enter coastlines at full force. More info here.

Fascinating story in the New York Times about how some Ukrainian secret police officials prevented a bloody crackdown on demonstrators and facilitated the current blossoming democracy. Those officials saw the parallel between their situation and Tianenmen Square in China, where some government officials sympathized with demonstrators, and were determined to avoid repeating China's events. I'm very happy that the tragic heroism in China that seemed to be in vain has in fact led to some good results.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Tangled Bank #19,

a list of recent science blog postings, is out. My favorite is number 4, discussing how behavior modification in species with the capability to learn could influence natural selection for physical traits. Bunch of good stuff in there.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Coolest space mission in 28 years is in 3 days

When the Huygens probe parachutes through the atmosphere of Saturn's moon Titan, letting us see what things are like from the surface (or near surface, anyway). I was nine years old in 1976 when the Viking landers made it to Mars. I remember writing NASA for information and feeling my eyes bug out of my head when they sent me a bunch of 8"x11" glossy photographs of the view from the landing sites. I've been a space nut ever since - hard facts eventually overcame my bias so that I grew to oppose the money-wasting, minimal science, manned space program, but I can't get enough of robotic exploration.

Huygens is the coolest since Viking because it will give a human's, groundview, perspective of being on another world. I'm not talking about scientific value, although it will have plenty of that, but the the feeling of being there. Pictures from orbit are great, but they don't have quite that same sense of personal exploration.

The other cool thing is that Huygens will have a microphone, so we'll hear sounds from another world. The only time we sent a microphone to Mars was on the failed, badly-built Mars Polar Lander in 1999, that crashed on the surface. No sounds came back from that one. Probably the only thing that could be heard is the probe's computer as it crashed down: "AAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!! DAMN YOU NASA!!!!!!!!!! AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHH-"

Let's hope for better luck this time.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Volokhs in need of correction

The Volokh Conspiracy, one of the better conservative blogs, beats up on hybrid cars, so I feel a need to respond. First, author Todd Zywicki cites to a stupid Washington Post article that is mystified why the hybrid Prius is selling so much better than the hybrid Honda Civic, ignoring the fact that the Prius gets 33% better mileage, a significant factor for hybrid buyers (like moi).

Next he cites a more recent, stupid Washington Post article saying people buy hybrids because they can use the carpool lanes in the DC area. Funny how the hybrids are selling just as well in California, where they can't use carpool lanes (state law changed last summer to allow their use, long after the hybrid craze started, but federal approval still hasn't happened), and sales are also brisk everywhere else.

Moving on, he says single occupancy hybrids allowed in carpool lanes requiring 3 people must be three times more environmentally friendly for the deal to be worthwhile. While he later realizes this argument may be flawed, he still says he is aware of no support for the idea that they are 3 times as friendly.

Awareness beckons - the hybrid Prius is a Super Ultra Low Emission Vehicle that is ten times as environmentally friendly regarding pollutants measured by the Clean Air Act, which are a big reason (maybe THE biggest reason) for carpool lanes. Here in George Bush's America, carbon dioxide is not a pollutant under the Clean Air Act, so the 50-100% improvement in mileage/CO2 efficiency doesn't keep the hybrids from being 1000% better on pollutants. George promised to regulate CO2 as a pollutant in 2000, but with Al Gore "defeated" he quickly gave up that principle.

One more thing - the author cites a stupid website that waves its figurative arms at the environmental costs of producing batteries to suggest hybrids are a bum deal. An actual life cycle analysis shows that the arm-waving is wrong, that the long-term environmental savings outweighs initial environmental costs of producing hybrids. More annoyingly, the stupid website discusses the expense of hybrids, without disclosing figures. The hybrids are generally moderately-priced cars that cost about $4,000 more than comparable non-hybrids, and hybrid owners save about $2,000 over the car's lifetime due to better mileage. We're not talking Hollywood-celebrity wealth, here. Tellingly, the main page of the stupid website currently goes into a lather over how great some ridiculously expensive sports car is. The website probably just hates any suggestion that their gas-guzzling favorite cars are somehow bad.

I look forward to the Volokh Conspiracy authors recognizing the value of buying hybrids, and joining the club.

keywords: Volokh Correction, hybrid cars

Monday, January 03, 2005

Yes! Rudimentary democracy!

Here in the United States, no less - Congressional Republicans retreat from two of three proposals to repeal several ethical rules and remove the Republican Congressman chairing the House Ethics Committee who was standing up to Tom DeLay.

The proposals were:

1. Allow a Congressman indicted and facing trial for a felony to remain in the Republican Party leadership (DeLay faces a slight risk of being indicted soon for fundraising scandals).

2. Remove the "catch-all" ethics rule calling on Congresspeople to act "at all times in a manner that shall reflect creditably on the House." (DeLays fundraising trouble and bribe-like behavior got him in trouble on this one).

3. End the current practice where a tie vote in the Ethics Committee over whether to investigate a Congressperson means the investigation goes forward.

First two are gone, third one stays. Not clear yet if Republican Congressman Hefley will be thrown out for his impertinence towards DeLay.

These decisions were made in a closed Republican caucus - I'd give a lot to be a fly on the wall with mind-reading powers. The Post says DeLay was facing a revolt, but the question is why. Potential guesses:

1. Polls showed Republicans this stuff was big trouble.
2. Constituent letters and calls showed the same.
3. Republican gut instincts said the same, along with memories of the scandals faced by Dems in the 90s.
4. It's like the evil Star Trek Enterprise crew members in the alternate universe from Star Trek: The Original Series - lowranking Republican congressmen smelled blood, a chance to weaken a powerful superior officer, and go in for the kill sometime later.
5. They did it because it was the right thing to do, except for the one ethical relapse they accepted so DeLay wouldn't feel so bad.

Who can tell which is the real reason?

(For more background, see Talkingpointsmemo here and scroll up.)