TSA hassling us on our highways too?

This is not a good sign.

Hat tip: Randazza.

October 21, 2011 Posted by | civil liberties, social/political, Transportation | Leave a comment

25 May 2011 (PM)

Evening comments

Which communities have the most pedestrian accommodations? This blog post talks about various communities and gives the 10 worst communities; you can also see a map which plots out the fatalities.

This is a long article by Tim Dickinson in the Rolling Stone; it talks about Roger Ailes and how he developed Fox News into the political force it is today. It is worth reading. I didn’t know that Roger Ailes got his start by working with Richard Nixon.

Speaking of right wing groups: evidently Freedom Works (the “astroturf right wing tea-party group) doen’t like Mitt Romney; they are actively working against him:

A top goal of the nation’s most influential national Tea Party group is to stop Mitt Romney from winning the Republican nomination for president.

Interviews with top officials at FreedomWorks, a Washington-based organizing hub for Tea Party activists around the country, revealed that much of their thinking about the 2012 election revolves around derailing the former Massachusetts governor.

“Romney has a record and we don’t really like it that much,” said Adam Brandon, the group’s communications director.

FreedomWorks is led by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) and Matt Kibbe, an economist and former Capitol Hill aide. More than 30 employees, as well as a fresh class of several interns, work out of spacious seventh floor offices near the U.S. Capitol. The group knows they cannot impose their will on the fiercely independent conservative organizers fueling the Tea Party. But they say the activist base is just as anti-Romney as they are.

Kibbe said in an interview that FreedomWorks has no plans at the moment to endorse an opponent of Romney’s in the primary. But others in the organization made clear they will devote considerable resources toward helping whoever emerges as the most viable Republican in the primary other than the putative front runner.

I wonder if they really want to defeat him or merely push him to the right? If they want him to lose, then they really don’t want to win the 2012 election.

So, what will happen in 2012? There is lots of time; Dick Morris is now saying it will come down between Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann. He sees that Romney will fight it out with Tim Pawlenty and Jon Huntsman for the establishment vote whereas Bachmann will fight Newt Gingrich (and others) for the tea party vote:

The most likely result is that Bachmann and Romney head into South Carolina with major momentum. There, next door to Georgia, Newt will make his last stand. Failing an upset, the Mitt and Michele show will take to the road.

A battle of Romney vs. Bachmann would be less a struggle between the center and the right of the Republican Party than of its top against its bottom. The party establishment, its donors, its business allies and its elected officials would rally to Romney while the Tea Party and evangelical voters will back Bachmann. (In the Democratic Party, it’s always wise to bet on the bottom, but in the Republican Party, the top usually prevails.)

(If Chris Christie enters the race, all bets are off. He could win Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and everyplace else. But this particular dragon seems too reluctant to run.)

Working for Romney is a sense of legitimacy. The Republican Party is essentially monarchic, always looking for a duly anointed heir. With Bush leaving office intestate, Romney’s good run in 2008 and his loyalty to the GOP since create a sense that it is his turn. On the other hand, his RomneyCare legislation in Massachusetts will offer the Tea Party ranks of Michele Bachmann a huge target in primary after primary. Has the Republican Party become enough like the Democratic — dominated by an energized grass roots — that an upset is possible? We’ll see.

May 26, 2011 Posted by | 2012 election, Mitt Romney, political/social, politics, politics/social, republican party, republicans, republicans political/social, republicans politics, Tim Pawlenty, Transportation, walking | Leave a comment

I grow pessimistic about Obama’s reelection chances

Paul Krugman talks about why people are down on the economy: basically, jobs are growing at a rate which is sufficient to keep up with population growth but not at a rate to accommodate those who had been laid off:

But I don’t think we need to look for deep reasons for our current malaise; it’s still a lousy economy, which has not created enough jobs to do more than keep up with population growth:

And of course, there is gas prices:

Notice that both Obama disapproval and gas prices have the same series of peaks and valleys, and keep in mind that Obama’s approval ratings, like Bush’s, appear to lag a couple of months behind gas prices – suggesting that the last surge in gasoline prices hasn’t yet found its way into Obama’s approval ratings.

There’s no rocket science here. Presidential approval ratings tend to track the economy, and gas prices, especially as they reach the thresholds we discussed yesterday, take a few months to feed through into the economy as a whole.

Barack Obama should be thanking his lucky stars that it is 2011 and not 2012. And he’d better hope that Oil’s choke hold on the economy loosens by then.

To see how this worked for President Bush:

So why have I NOT given up? Well, he is running against Republicans and the Republican primary voters might give us Michelle Bachmann, Donald Trump or Mike Huckabee. I think that Tim Pawlenty, Mitt Romney and Mitch Daniels would be their best candidates, but can they get through the Republican primary?

On another note
Paul Krugman points out that longevity is causing a problem with Social Security and Medicare. Though people on the whole are living longer, this longevity is NOT evenly spread among the economic classes:

In general, the fervor with which Washington types call for raising eligibility ages is a “tell”: it shows how disconnected they are from the way the other half lives (and dies). For in our increasingly polarized society, life expectancy is more and more a class-related issue. As the Social Security Administration has shown, the gap between life expectancy in the top and bottom halves of the wage distribution has risen sharply:

In short, it makes sense to raise MY retirement age but it doesn’t make sense to raise the retirement age of a poorer blue-collar person whose job is more physically demanding than mine.

The spread is getting worse.

Other stuff
High Speed Rail Dr. Andy pointed me to this article about high speed rail in China:

Yesterday, we rode the high speed rail from Hangzhou to Shanghai. It took 45 minutes to go about 110 miles, and the ride was smoother than any US form of transportation. At dinner last night, the Chinese, justifiably proud, asked what we had thought.

“I want it!” said one of my companions.

Unfortunately, I don’t think we’re going to get it.

Megan McArdle (the author of the article) went on to point out the reasons why she thinks it wont work in the US. One of the reasons is the spacing between the major cities of the United States (more spread out). She also pointed out that the differences in government between the US and China. In China, they can say “we are doing this” and that is that. In the US, we need: environmental impact studies, economic impact studies, cooperation between many layers of government (Federal, State, county and city), etc. There would also be eminent domain issues.

And yes, even liberals get outraged with a higher branch of government imposes its will on a lower, more local one (witness the outcry over the Republican governor’s power grab in Michigan).

So, even if we were to try, we’d face a host of challenges that the Chinese and the more socialist governments don’t have.
Still, this isn’t an issue I’ve studied deeply; mostly I see it as “gee, this is neat” and if we had it, I could tell the hated airlines to “kiss off” (I HATE them!). But alas, “Ollie thinks it is a neat idea” isn’t a good enough reason to undertake a multi-billion dollar project. 🙂

Richard Dawkins

This is a fun video:

April 26, 2011 Posted by | 2012 election, economics, economy, evolution, High Speed Rail, Mitt Romney, political/social, politics, politics/social, republican party, republicans, republicans political/social, republicans politics, science, technology, Tim Pawlenty, trains, Transportation, travel | Leave a comment

23 April 2011 posts

Social: why the hostility toward trains?

“Stop the Train” was, literally, a rallying cry for post-Tea Party Republicans this past November.

Newly elected GOP governors in Wisconsin, Ohio and Florida have canceled already-funded high speed rail projects.

Much of the opposition to rail projects appears to stem not from economic arguments, but from fundamental cultural values on what “American” transportation should be.

A perusal of online commentaries about passenger rail stories reveals a curious linkage by writers between passenger rail and “European socialism.”

The author of this article, Dr. Steven Harrod, goes on to make some conjectures as to why conservatives are so hostile. One might be a fear that a rail system is inherently centrally controlled, another is that rail systems is seen as an urban thing. This article goes on to make the “train versus automobile” comparison.

I think that is the wrong comparison! i see trains as competing with airlines; if we had reliable high speed rail I’d much rather take long trips that way than by flying.

This sounds simple: bicycles are much more stable when they are moving than when they aren’t. But the question is: why? This article explores this question:

Be kind to your bicycle, for you may need it more than it needs you.

Once rolling, bicycles can cover ground just fine on their own—no rider required—thanks to a property known as self-stability. If a bicycle starts to tip over, its front wheel turns into the fall, bringing the bike back into balance, just as a rider would do if he or she were behind the handlebars. Of course, that stability is missing when the bicycle is stationary—bicycles have a limited range of self-stable velocities within which they are able to regain their balance even if knocked sideways…[…]
The question of how bicycles work—and what causes self-stability—has been around since the 19th century. Over the years, two main factors have emerged to explain a riderless bicycle’s balancing act. One is the gyroscopic motion of the spinning front wheel; the other, a design feature known as trail, is the placement of the bicycle’s steering axis so that the axis intersects the ground ahead of the point where the front wheel meets the ground. Both features act to couple the bicycle’s steering to its leaning—if the bicycle tips rightward, it will steer to the right—allowing it to turn into a fall and remain upright.

But those two factors are not needed for a self-stable bicycle, as it turns out. In the April 15 issue of Science a team of researchers from the Netherlands and the U.S. describe an experimental bicycle that exhibits self-stability despite having neither trail nor a gyroscopic wheel. “Even though those two effects are important, they’re not necessary,” says study co-author Andy Ruina, a professor of mechanical engineering at Cornell University. “Just like chocolate cake is important to a nice birthday dinner, it isn’t necessary.”

Surf to the Scientific American article to read more.

This is an important development:

Research at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California’s (USC) Zilkha Neurogenetic Institute shows for the first time that the human placenta plays an active role in synthesizing serotonin, paving the way to new treatment strategies that could mitigate health impacts such as cardiovascular disease and mental illness.

The groundbreaking findings, conducted with researchers from Vanderbilt University as part of a Silvio Conte Center of Excellence grant from the National Institute of Mental Health, offer conclusive evidence that the placenta provides serotonin to the fetal forebrain, not through the mother’s blood supply, as theorized for the past 60 years. The research, “A transient placental source of serotonin for the fetal forebrain,” will be published in the journal Nature on April 21, 2011.

“Our research indicates that the placenta actually synthesizes serotonin, and the serotonin is released from the placenta into the fetal bloodstream where it can reach the fetal brain,” said lead author Alexandre Bonnin, Ph.D. “The placenta was seen as a passive organ, but we now know that it has significant synthetic capabilities and has a much more critical role in developmental programming of the fetus than previously thought.”

Bonnin’s work with Pat Levitt, Ph.D., director of the Zilkha Neurogenetic Institute and corresponding author on the paper, included the invention of a unique technology known as a “placentometer” that monitors substances that pass through the mouse placenta from mother to fetus. This technology can incorporate genetic models of human disease, and could lead to targeted therapies that treat the mother without affecting the fetus, or vice versa.

Also, this reminds us that “it isn’t all just genes”; much of it is how genes get expressed and there are many factors that can hinder gene expression.

April 23, 2011 Posted by | Barack Obama, biology, economics, economy, physics, political/social, politics, politics/social, science, technology, trains, Transportation | 4 Comments

FAILS for the week…

epic fail photos - Texting and Driving FAIL
see more funny videos

Someone needs to lose their license.

epic fail photos - Probably Bad News: Putting Out Your House Fire FAIL
see more funny videos

This has to be the Knoxville’s version of The Onion.

Professor FAIL
A professor was grading papers and astonished to find that the stack wasn’t shrinking. It turns out he was putting the graded ones at the back of the stack.

Then he noticed that one student was doing very well….then finally noticed that he had made up a key earlier in the day and had put it in the stack.

I won’t tell you who he is. 🙂

January 29, 2011 Posted by | education, humor, moron, morons, Transportation | Leave a comment

4 September 2010 (am)

President Obama talks about what he is doing for the economy.
Robert Reich talks about our current economic situation:

Face it: The national economy isn’t escaping the gravitational pull of the Great Recession. None of the standard booster rockets are working. Near-zero short-term interest rates from the Fed, almost record-low borrowing costs in the bond market, a giant stimulus package, along with tax credits for small businesses that hire the long-term unemployed have all failed to do enough.

That’s because the real problem has to do with the structure of the economy, not the business cycle. No booster rocket can work unless consumers are able, at some point, to keep the economy moving on their own. But consumers no longer have the purchasing power to buy the goods and services they produce as workers; for some time now, their means haven’t kept up with what the growing economy could and should have been able to provide them.

1. The Origin of the Crisis

This crisis began decades ago when a new wave of technology — things like satellite communications, container ships, computers and eventually the Internet — made it cheaper for American employers to use low-wage labor abroad or labor-replacing software here at home than to continue paying the typical worker a middle-class wage. Even though the American economy kept growing, hourly wages flattened. The median male worker earns less today, adjusted for inflation, than he did 30 years ago.

But for years American families kept spending as if their incomes were keeping pace with overall economic growth. And their spending fueled continued growth. How did families manage this trick? First, women streamed into the paid work force. By the late 1990s, more than 60 percent of mothers with young children worked outside the home (in 1966, only 24 percent did).

Second, everyone put in more hours. What families didn’t receive in wage increases they made up for in work increases. By the mid-2000s, the typical male worker was putting in roughly 100 hours more each year than two decades before, and the typical female worker about 200 hours more.

When American families couldn’t squeeze any more income out of these two coping mechanisms, they embarked on a third: going ever deeper into debt. This seemed painless — as long as home prices were soaring. From 2002 to 2007, American households extracted $2.3 trillion from their homes.

Eventually, of course, the debt bubble burst — and with it, the last coping mechanism. Now we’re left to deal with the underlying problem that we’ve avoided for decades. Even if nearly everyone was employed, the vast middle class still wouldn’t have enough money to buy what the economy is capable of producing.

He argues that “shared prosperity” is the only way to come back (another tax cut for the wealthy isn’t going to help) and gives specific suggestions on how to do it. And why the hell not; this is not the time to worry about the debt. There is plenty to do:

(you get sent to youtube so you have to watch the commercial)


Evolution in action! A lizard is seen in making the transition from laying eggs to giving live birth (different groups of the same kind of lizard, of course).

Not to be juxtaposed with an article on evolution but…well, this is an example of a Darwin award candidate.

More science/health: you can delay dementia but you can’t stop it. 😦

September 4, 2010 Posted by | 2010 election, Barack Obama, Democrats, economy, evolution, job, nature, political/social, politics, politics/social, science, Spineless Democrats, Transportation | Leave a comment

26 July 2010 (am)

Here is an interesting Carl Zimmer article which talks about 10 relatively recent advances in evolution.

It is interesting reading. Note: it deals with the question of speed of evolution. Yes, I was aware of evolutionary changes in animals around Chernobyl, but those animals breed quickly and have short generational time.

Unfortunately, there are regressions as well…at least in terms of public acceptance. And the following never fails to disgust me:

On the upside, Secretary Ray LaHood (R-Peoria) posted an interesting article about distracted driving:

I volunteered to be the guinea pig for the experiment. I vowed to pull over any time I had to use the cell phone, GPS, or take my hands off the wheel for any reason… for an entire day. I clocked my time spent on the side of the road with a stopwatch.

I began my morning making as many calls in the station as possible. No sooner did I get into the news van, than I committed my first offense (accidental of course). I didn’t even realize my habit of strapping on my seat-belt while I’m pulling the car out . Remember- hands stuck to the wheel, eyes glued to the road.

As I made my way to Silt (Garfield County), I pulled over to key in the GPS and to get my cell phone out of my purse (where I usually dig for it when it rings). It’s new spot was the cup-holder, ready for me to grab anytime I was halted on the shoulder.

Minutes later, the phone rang. I stopped in a gas station (no room on the roadside). Just as I was heading back on the highway, the cell blows up again. It was a friend, so I opted to call her back later.

Over the course of the day, I found myself delayed about five more times, for calls, lunch (eating Wendy’s in the parking lot instead of on the go), Starbucks, and makeup touch-ups before doing an on camera bit.

I committed two other accidental offenses, as I took a swig of water and reached for some papers. I added extra seconds to the clock.

The total time I spent pulled over was 25 minutes and 21 seconds. That’s about 2-and-a-half hours during the work week, and about 120 hours total for the entire year. That might seem like a lot of saved time, but it’s also a lot of time being a distracted driver.

So, for me, no CD changing unless I am parked.

July 26, 2010 Posted by | evolution, lahood, nature, religion, Republican, republicans, republicans politics, science, Transportation, travel | Leave a comment

15 May 2010 (II)

So, what will happen in 2010? Paul Krugman thinks that maybe, just maybe, the Republicans are counting on a victory that might not come.

Why does Krugman think this? My guess:

Nature Yes, bats give each other oral sex, and it helps with the procreation:

Not only do female bats give male bats oral sex, but they do it while they’re having intercourse. The male enters the female from the rear, and the female bends over to lick the shaft of the penis while he’s thrusting in and out. I have never seen that in a porn film. Maybe there is such a thing out there — I can’t claim much knowledge of porn — but this means that animals not only carry out sexually activities condemned by the religious as unnatural, but they do it better than we do.

Interesting, right? Well, some feel that this is an inappropriate topic for a university?

I have just done something very wicked. I have compared human sexual behavior with that of another animal, describing work published in a serious scientific journal. I could get fired for that! If you were to show this story to co-workers and discuss the implications, you also could get condemned and sanctioned. We’re in trouble now!

You may find that hard to believe, but it’s true in at least one case: Dylan Evans, at University College Cork, in an argument about the uniqueness of human behavior, brought this article up, and his opponent shut him down by crying harassment, triggering an investigation. He was exonerated, but the university president has decided he needs to be sanctioned anyway.

This is hard to believe.

Technology and trains: maybe we’ll get high speed rail in the US?? Secretary LaHood thinks so.

FAIL This is the worst “protective vest” (from a bullet) that I’ve ever seen.

May 15, 2010 Posted by | 2010 election, Barack Obama, economy, education, High Speed Rail, nature, obama, politics, politics/social, science, Transportation | Leave a comment

13 March 2010: PM

Olivia is here! Note: Chicago Midway Airport was relatively uncrowded; little if any lines at the counters and almost no trouble getting through security.

Education You can’t make this up:

Like most colleges, my college uses an automatic plagiarism checker for all assignments. When I see an assignment, it comes with a report from, which gives me a percentage of non-original content. Per the sales-team-I-mean-administration, anything below 25% is acceptable, anything above warrants a second look. If I suspect a student of plagiarizing, I am to forward the matter to an office that deals directly with this.

What’s the problem, you ask?

Let me tell you a little bit about Frank the Fuckhead. He has turned in three assignments. Each had a originality score between 25% and 45%. Each time, I found that he had copied large chunks of information from the Internet. The first time, I gave him an F and let him resubmit. He resubmitted the exact. same. thing. I turned him over to the office meant to deal with the matter. They, in turn, admonished me for not being “student centered.”

This is not as far fetched as it sounds.

Animal Camouflage via Conservation Report
The latest.

My all time favorite.

Statistics and science Perhaps the headline is sensationalistic but the article is interesting reading. Here is a bit of it:

Statistical significance is a phrase that every science graduate student learns, but few comprehend. While its origins stretch back at least to the 19th century, the modern notion was pioneered by the mathematician Ronald A. Fisher in the 1920s. His original interest was agriculture. He sought a test of whether variation in crop yields was due to some specific intervention (say, fertilizer) or merely reflected random factors beyond experimental control.

Fisher first assumed that fertilizer caused no difference — the “no effect” or “null” hypothesis. He then calculated a number called the P value, the probability that an observed yield in a fertilized field would occur if fertilizer had no real effect. If P is less than .05 — meaning the chance of a fluke is less than 5 percent — the result should be declared “statistically significant,” Fisher arbitrarily declared, and the no effect hypothesis should be rejected, supposedly confirming that fertilizer works.

Fisher’s P value eventually became the ultimate arbiter of credibility for science results of all sorts — whether testing the health effects of pollutants, the curative powers of new drugs or the effect of genes on behavior. In various forms, testing for statistical significance pervades most of scientific and medical research to this day.

But in fact, there’s no logical basis for using a P value from a single study to draw any conclusion. If the chance of a fluke is less than 5 percent, two possible conclusions remain: There is a real effect, or the result is an improbable fluke. Fisher’s method offers no way to know which is which. On the other hand, if a study finds no statistically significant effect, that doesn’t prove anything, either. Perhaps the effect doesn’t exist, or maybe the statistical test wasn’t powerful enough to detect a small but real effect.

March 14, 2010 Posted by | economy, education, evolution, nature, science, statistics, Transportation, travel | Leave a comment

Colin Powell Rejects Dick Cheney’s Claims, Says U.S. Is Not Less Safe Under Obama (VIDEO)

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February 22, 2010 Posted by | 2008 Election, Barack Obama, politics, politics/social, republicans, Transportation | Leave a comment