Saturday, October 6, 2007
I smell your scent on my fingertips. Thanks.
Added: I should explain that I just spent the evening with a wonderful woman, a beautiful, intellectual, and charming lady. But I really hate her perfume. I massaged her, we talked, and cuddled, and the scent doesn't wash off. I could drop my single lifestyle for this woman, but only if she gets rid of that perfume.
Iraq has ordered $100 million worth of light military equipment from China for its police force, contending that the United States was unable to provide the materiel and is too slow to deliver arms shipments, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said yesterday.
The China deal, not previously made public, has alarmed military analysts who note that Iraq's security forces already are unable to account for more than 190,000 weapons supplied by the United States, many of which are believed to be in the hands of Shiite and Sunni militias, insurgents and other forces seeking to destabilize Iraq and target U.S. troops.
Nothing like throwing more guns into the mix.
Friday, October 5, 2007
Ah, my favorite annual awards are out. This year's winners:
Don't ya just love science?
2007 Ig Nobel Winners
Medicine - Brian Witcombe, of Gloucestershire Royal NHS Foundation Trust, UK, and Dan Meyer for their probing work on the health consequences of swallowing a sword.
Physics - A US-Chile team who ironed out the problem of how sheets become wrinkled.
Biology - Dr Johanna van Bronswijk of the Netherlands for carrying out a creepy crawly census of all of the mites, insects, spiders, ferns and fungi that share our beds.
Chemistry - Mayu Yamamoto, from Japan, for developing a method to extract vanilla fragrance and flavouring from cow dung.
Linguistics - A University of Barcelona team for showing that rats are unable to tell the difference between a person speaking Japanese backwards and somebody speaking Dutch backwards.
Literature - Glenda Browne of Blue Mountains, Australia, for her study of the word "the", and how it can flummox those trying to put things into alphabetical order.
Peace - The US Air Force Wright Laboratory for instigating research and development on a chemical weapon that would provoke widespread homosexual behaviour among enemy troops.
Nutrition - Brian Wansink of Cornell University for investigating the limits of human appetite by feeding volunteers a self-refilling, "bottomless" bowl of soup.
Economics - Kuo Cheng Hsieh of Taiwan for patenting a device that can catch bank robbers by dropping a net over them.
Aviation - A National University of Quilmes, Argentina, team for discovering that impotency drugs can help hamsters to recover from jet lag.
NPR's "Talk of the Nation" had a good piece today on the potential of cellulosic fuels, and the challenges in making them. Evan Ratliff:
It's a very good article, well worth reading. Unfortunately, Mr. Ratliff didn't go as in depth on the idea of butanol. I've posted before, but here is a simple summary of the advantages that butanol offers:
On a blackboard, it looks so simple: Take a plant and extract the cellulose. Add some enzymes and convert the cellulose molecules into sugars. Ferment the sugar into alcohol. Then distill the alcohol into fuel. One, two, three, four — and we're powering our cars with lawn cuttings, wood chips, and prairie grasses instead of Middle East oil.
Unfortunately, passing chemistry class doesn't mean acing economics. Scientists have long known how to turn trees into ethanol, but doing it profitably is another matter. We can run our cars on lawn cuttings today; we just can't do it at a price people are willing to pay.
- Butanol is six times less “evaporative” than ethanol and 13.5 times less evaporative than gasoline, making it safer to use as an oxygenate in Arizona, California and other states, thereby eliminating the need for very special blends during the summer and winter months.
- Butanol can be shipped through existing fuel pipelines where ethanol must be transported via rail, barge or truck
- Butanol can be used as a replacement for gasoline gallon for gallon e.g. 100%, or any other percentage. Ethanol can only be used as an additive to gasoline up to about 85% and then only after significant modifications to the engine. Worldwide 10% ethanol blends predominate.
The real problem comes down to economics. The potential energy from cellulosic butanol is actually huge, but the cost per gallon remains a challenge. My own research on an algae based butanol production system has shown a lot of promise, but I haven't found a way to bring costs below $3.00/gal., which seems to be the magic number. The government and the big energy corporations have poured a lot of resources into ethanol, but they are going in a wrong (IMHO), albeit easy direction, making ethanol from foodstocks. There is a huge debate about the value of corn based ethanol that distracts attention from the other alternatives, such as butanol.
To be clear, I'm not saying that butanol is "the answer", but rather a potential part of solving the energy problem. We need cleaner sources for electricity, such as wind, solar, and tidal production. We need greater efficiency in all types of end usage. I'm merely working on one piece of a very large puzzle.
Thursday, October 4, 2007
Well you see I just got back from one, and still somewhat buoyant from all the laughter and peril and awe and interdependence we rowed through.
I have what us boatmen refer to as "riverhead" For many days I have been lulled awake by the steady roar of an ancient river. For many days all I've had to think about is how best to run it, where to camp, is everybody ok... For many days I have been around the same 11 persons, in one of the wildest locations anywhere. Reflection on all my nautical mentors, of whom Pyg is quite irrevocably amongst. Much welcome internal silence, perspicacity, courage, have I gleaned, methinks. For many days. So returning to Civilisation and all its perils is like a backwards steamroller; too much schnaedle; immense profundity deflates into the talk-show version. These are a few symptoms of riverhead.
Consequently, when I dream tonight, the oarlocks shall creak and groan, waves splashing across my knees, sunlight on me shoulders, the surging bow... ROW ROW ROW
I may be getting too pessimistic, but I'll throw this little blog into this even though I doubt that it will change anything.
But I will quote Daw Aung San Suu Kyi:
Those fortunate enough to live in societies where they are entitled to full political rights can reach out to help their less fortunate brethren in other areas of our troubled planet. ...
There are multinational business concerns which have no inhibitions about dealing with repressive regimes. Their justification for economic involvement in Burma is that their presence will actually assist the process of democratization.
But investment that only goes to enrich an already wealthy elite bent on monopolizing both economic and political power cannot contribute toward égalité and justice — the foundation stones for a sound democracy.
I would therefore like to call upon those who have an interest in expanding their capacity for promoting intellectual freedom and humanitarian ideals to take a principled stand against companies that are doing business with the Burmese military regime. Please use your liberty to promote ours.
I hate the fact that America is no longer the beacon of hope and freedom that we once were, and that our condemnation now rings hollow. Freedom for the people of Burma is something we should all support, but in the age of shrub we have no legitimacy.
Added: Good buddy monkeyfister has a great interview post:
WASHINGTON - The House passed a bill Thursday that would make all private contractors working in Iraq and other combat zones subject to prosecution by U.S. courts. It was the first major legislation of its kind to pass since a deadly shootout last month involving Blackwater employees.
Democrats called the 389-30 vote an indictment in connection with a shooting incident there that left 11 Iraqis dead. Senate Democratic leaders said they planned to follow suit with similar legislation and send a bill to President Bush as soon as possible.
Of course my congress-critter, Mr. corruption Rick Renzi was one of the 30 "no's". I can understand his opposition to legal accountability; in a just world, he would be sharing a cell with a blackwater gunman.
Tuesday, October 2, 2007
Tonight, I had a beer with one of the rethug members of the bar room debate group. And he gave me a slogan: "THIS IS WRONG". He's facing a health care situation, with insurance, and it will still cost him a ton of money. He'll figure out a way to pay for it, but the majority of us don't have that option.
We debated, and agreed on a basic fact: health care should not be based on profitability. When your treatment is about dollars, just say "THIS IS WRONG". There is a reason why we should help each other. We might need some help ourselves.
So much is wrong in America right now, and I am sure that I don't have the answers, but I do understand the need to say:
"THIS IS WRONG"
Added: My friends condition is not life threatening, only debilitating.
I believe we acted appropriately at all times," Prince, a 38-year-old former Navy seal, told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
His testimony came as the FBI is investigating Blackwater personnel for their role in a Sept. 16 shootout that left 11 Iraqis dead. The incident and others, including a shooting by a drunk Blackwater employee after a 2006 Christmas party, has raised pointed questions by lawmakers about whether the government is relying too heavily on private contractors who fall outside the scope of the military courts martial system.
"Privatizing is working exceptionally well for Blackwater," said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., committee chairman. "The question for this hearing is whether outsourcing to Blackwater is a good deal to the American taxpayer, whether it's a good deal for the military and whether it's serving our national interest in Iraq."
Waxman said he agreed not to probe for specifics of the Sept. 16 incident during Tuesday's hearing, upon request by the Justice Department that Congress wait until the FBI concludes its investigation. But Waxman said it was still appropriate to probe Blackwater's company policies, and whether the State Department helped Blackwater cover up Iraqi deaths.
State Department officials said the U.S. and Iraqi ministry established a commission to examine use of contractors in Iraq. A separate U.S.-led panel, staffed with several independent adivsers, is reviewing the security practices of diplomats.
Like with the DOJ investigation, the hearing shows clearly that crimes were committed. Then...
Nothing happens. Show over.
The criminals go back to their crimes. Erik Prince will get MORE government contracts, MORE Iraqi's will die, and we'll all move on to the next scandal.
Lather, rinse, repeat.
What would cops do without weed? For one thing, they'd sure spend a lot less time arresting and processing petty pot violators. How much time? For starters, however long it took to bust the estimated 739,000 Americans arrested for minor pot possession in 2006.
That's according to the FBI's Uniform Crime Report, which reported last week that a record 829,625 Americans were arrested for violating marijuana laws last year. Of those arrested, 89 percent of those were charged with simple pot possession -- the highest annual total ever recorded and nearly three times the number of citizens busted 15 years ago.
Yet to hear local law enforcement spin it, busting small-time potheads isn't their priority. The record number of busts, they claim, is simply a reflection that record numbers of Americans are now smoking pot.
I don't know if pot use is actually up, but it wouldn't surprise me. When our president is an idiot, and conservatives seem to have declared war on common sense, any diversion from reality becomes attractive.
The bottom line: Since 1990 over 10.4 million Americans -- predominantly young people under age 30 -- have been busted for pot. Thousands have beendisenfranchised, tens of thousands have been unnecessarily sent to "drug treatment," hundreds of thousands have lost their eligibility for student aid, and perhaps an entire generation (or two) has been alienated to believe that the police are an instrument of their oppression rather than their protection. These are the tangible results of the government's stepped up war on pot -- results that go beyond the FBI's record numbers, and it's high time that politicians and the general public began taking notice.
Legalizing marijuana isn't a political option at this time, which is a sad fact. Even getting medical marijuana legalized, which should be a "no-brainer", has been a losing battle. This is just one of the many symptoms of a country with a terminal illness.
Monday, October 1, 2007
"I think as far as the adverse impact on the nation around the
world, this administration has been the worst in history...The overt
reversal of America's basic values as expressed by previous administrations,
including those of George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon and
others, has been the most disturbing to me."
I found Carter to be possibly the most interesting president in my lifetime. He was someone who you inherently trusted to be trying to do good. His energy and environmental policies have proven prophetic, and looking at the problems in the world today, I wonder how much better off we would have been had he succeeded in getting them implemented. Carter tried to do what was right for the long term, so of course he failed. America always looks for the "quick fix" regardless of the long term consequences. Carter was also very bright, and understood subtlety and nuance, but he was lousy at the "in the trenches" political fight. He got beaten up badly in the media, and never rallied enough support in congress to achieve any long term impact.
In the years since leaving office, Carter's humanitarian work has been awe inspiring. He's been a major force for almost every good cause in the world, and he has a level of international respect among American ex-Presidents that only Bill Clinton can rival.
On a personal note, I got to meet Mr. Carter in the mid-'80's through his wife Rosalyn, who is a strong mental health advocate. Both struck me as warm, brilliant, and deeply caring people.
With the benefit of hindsight, I wish that Jimmy Carter had been a more successful President.
Happy Birthday, sir.