Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Husker Basketball

via Husker Extra.

Haven't mentioned much about Doc Sadler's Husker hoop squad lately. Huskers stand 16-11 overall, with a record of 5-8 in conference play. They face ISU's squad (14-14, 5-9) tonight at Devaney, having won the first matchup against the Huskers in Ames 71-62 two months ago. Huskers are hoping to sweep their last three to finish .500 in conference, with games against Colorado and Okie State remaining after tonight. If they are successful, they could finish as high as fifth in the league, although they would need Texas Tech to drop a game. So far, I would say that the NU hoopsters have exceeded my expectations, despite getting embarassed in two huge losses to KU.

LATE EDIT: Huskers fall, 69-63, despite 36 points from NU center Aleks Maric. Crud.

Clovis Peoples Not First in N. America

via National Geographic.

New and more accurate radiocarbon dating of previously dated Clovis culture artifacts leads scientists to believe that the Clovis peoples were not the first humans in Norht America, as had been previously believed. The new results show that the Clovis period was both later in time and of far shorter duration (200 years) than thought, which would not give that culture time to travel all the way to South America.

Finds in South America dating to the same time have been found without the distinctive Clovis features, leading to the conclusion that the Americas were already peopled when the Clovis culture arrived. The existing population did probably adapt Clovis technology when it appeared, however. The theories about the human migration of the Americas are probably far more complicated than we ever believed. With new findings regarding the peopling of Australia by sea as early as 40,000 years ago, the technology certainly existed for people to arrive in the Western hemisphere much earlier than Clovis.

Today's Warfare

RCP sent me over to USA Today's column by Col. Ralph Peters, who makes a great point about the battle of ideas.

"We have ideas, ranging from the universal validity of individual freedom and the power of democracy, to equal rights for women. Our enemies have passions — the ecstatic intoxication of faith and the Darwinian bitterness of the tribe — that give them a ferocious strength of will."

We aren't fighting nation states in a battle of realpolitic, we're fighting disparate groups of differing ethnic makeups and religious views completely at odds with Western values. Peters also points out that historically, insurgencies or revolutionary movements have traditionally failed, at least up to the point of the American Revolution. When they've been successful, it is usually due to the imperial power just giving up and going home. Hard to tell at this point what the future holds in store.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007


Frank J at IMAO again proves his comedic genius.

" "I heard the Democrats passed a non-binding resolution," Gomez the Marine said as he patrolled a street in Iraq. "Any idea what that is?"

"No," Buck the Marine answered, "but I'm guessing from context it's some sort of homosexual sex act." "

I just about bit my tongue off on a conference call this noon.

Are You A Dumb American?

You Are a Smart American
You know a lot about US history, and you're opinions are probably well informed.Congratulations on bucking stereotypes. Now go show some foreigners how smart Americans can be
Take the quiz at the link above. (HT: IMAO)

Friday, February 23, 2007

Astronomer Mike Brown

Nice lecture transcript of Dr. Mike Brown of "tenth planet" fame from Astrobiology.

He explains why, in his view, Pluto isn't a planet, and it is a somewhat compelling case, having to do with science teaching concepts, rather than definitions. He also does a nice job describing the debate over planets using an anology with the concept of continents in geology,and how in some respects the argument is a pretty silly one. No one argues about whether or not Europe is a continent (maybe it shouldn't be, but it is still listed as one).

"In astronomy and in most sciences, we don’t tend to focus on a precise definition for things. We focus on the concepts. The word “planet” now incorporates scientific concepts that are relatively new, but it was never meant to be a scientific definition. Given that there are many alternative ways to classify, not one of which means the word “planet,” it’s clear that the word “planet” is not a scientific word and need not be given a scientific definition.

Look at the word “continent” that geologists have – if you haven’t figured it out by now, the word continent actually has no scientific definition. There is no reason that Europe is a continent. Australia – just a big island. But why are they called that? Because culturally, Europe has always been a continent. I think they came up with the word so they grandfathered themselves in. India is a subcontinent -- does anybody know what a subcontinent really is? India -- that’s the answer. Indonesia is sometimes defined as a microcontinent. But geologists don’t sit around and argue, “Yes, Europe should be a continent.” “No it shouldn’t!” “Australia must go!” "

He illustrates his point further by utilizing a hypothetical alien visitor to our solar system. As you travelled closer and closer to our system, you would first notice the sun, our star, and then the four gas planets would become visible. The next objects you would notice would be the four terrestrial rocky planets, and you would probably make them a different category from the first four. As you got closer, you would then notice the swarm of objects (asteroids) between the two groups, and probably categorize them as something else, and as you got even closer, you would notice yet another group of objects, outside the four biggest ones, and make them another category. We call them Kuiper belt objects.

It's a compelling argument, which, of course, is still controversial, despite being "settled" to some degree. Personally, while I understand the argument and logic behind it, I still think that the alternate view (which Brown describes as round objects on which geologic processes take place), which gives us quite a number of planets, is also pretty compelling, particularly when you have smaller objects orbiting larger ones (like Pluto and Charon) in the "nonplanet" groups.

Peak Oil

Vaclav Smil @ TCS takes on the peak oil myth.

Peak oil theory is the theory that the production of recoverable oil deposits will hit a high point at some point, then production will rapidly diminish with consequent diasaster to civilization. Obviously, the environmental lobby loves the idea. Personally, I've been researching global oil produciton for a while now to see if there is any evidence of declining production for a couple of years now, and haven't seen anything yet. But of course, evidence to the contrary just makes the true believers postpone the date of the supposed apocalypse.

"Well, the numbers for 2006 are in. And they show that even after OPEC once again cut its production (by 1.2 million barrels a day effective November 1, 2006) in order to arrest yet another rapid fall in prices, the global oil supply for the entire year rose once again, by about 0.85 million barrels a day. That is about 42 million metric tons a year, or more than the annual output of Oman or nearly twice the annual extraction in Azerbaijan, a major oil power on the Caspian Sea. But once we take into account the need to replace worldwide reserve depletion (currently amounting to more than one million barrels a day) this means that some 2 million barrels of new oil found their way on the global market, an equivalent of adding a bit more than UK's entire North Sea production or Iraq's annual extraction."

Proponents of the theory point to the work of their patron saint, geophysicist Dr. M. King Hubbert, who we are told predicted the high point of US oil production from the lower 48 states at around 1970, but Smil examines his work pretty closely and finds a few issues with it. for example, actual US peak production was over a half a billion barrels over the prediction peak, in 1970. He also expected the decline in production to a symmetrical curve of the increases, and his expected US production of 1.2 billion barrels in 2000 was actually 2.8 billion barrels.

To make a long story short, that amazing marketplace indicator, the price level, has raised and lowered oil prices, adjusting both global supply and global demand far from Hubbert's projected levels. Of course, as the price level for oil rises, demand goes down, and both technological innovation and further exploration take place, allowing for the profitable exploitation of alternate supplies (like oil shale), more difficult to reach areas (like deep water wells in the Gulf of Mexico), as well as the possibility of opening formerly unprofitable old wells.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Republican Candidate Ron Paul

Radley Balko describes little known Ron Paul on Foxnews.

Interesting article about Texas Republican Congressman Ron Paul, who is running for President. He ran for the office once before as the Libertarian candidate, which is probably where I recall the name. He's been in Congress since 1996, returning with larger margins of victory every election. However, he's not your run of the mill politician.

"When most members of Congress see a bill for the first time, they immediately judge the bill on its merits, or if you're more cynical, they determine what the political interests that support them will think of it, or how it might benefit their constituents.

For Paul, the vast majority of bills don't get that far. He first asks, "Does the Constitution authorize Congress to pass this law?" Most of the time, the answer to that question is "no." And so Paul votes accordingly.

This hasn't won him many friends in Congress, or, for that matter, his own party. It hasn't won him influential committee assignments or powerful chairmanships, either. Those are generally handed out to the party animals who vote as they're told. An incorruptible man of principle in a corrupt body almost utterly devoid of principle, Paul is often a caucus of one."

While it is unlikely that he would get the nomination, what is interesting about him is how he might influence the Republican primaries. He voted against the war in Iraq, and opposes the war on drugs as both immoral and unconstitutional, but he also is against illegal immigration, abortion (he's a OB/GYN), over-regulation, and the expanding role of government.

He favors limited government and spending, as well as a return to the gold standard, which I find curiously amusing. If he can last long enough, he could interject some substantial debate on these issues where the Republicans have, to a large extent, lost there principles, like limited government.

Corporate Taxes

Andrew Chamberlain @ TCS Daily makes a fantastic point about corporate taxes and tax rates, and the inherent fairness (or lack therof) of taxing corporations.

"Ask an economist and she'll tell you there are two basic approaches to tax fairness. One is "benefits received" which says taxes are fair if those who use the most government pay the most taxes. The other is "ability to pay" which says to forget how much government we use—people who make more money should pay more tax."

Ability to pay is the way the tax system is set up in the US, on both personal incomes and corporations. Since corporations simply pass along their expenses to consumers, is it really fair to tax corporate profits?

Chamberlain gives a great and compelling example of two companies, one a new venture start-up making space satellites, with highly paid workers and rich customers and investors, but not making any profits. The other company is a "box" retailer, with low wage workers and customers with a publicly traded stock that many middle income people are invested in through their 401k's, but making a high profit. Which is taxed more, and why?

Well, today the profitable company is taxed on its profits at a maximum rate of 35%, while the start-up is taxed on its profits (if any) at 10%. As Chamberlain puts it:

"Those buildings downtown don't pay taxes, we do. So progressive corporate tax rates that treat companies like people aren't just silly, they're unfair. And unfair in an especially capricious way that should infuriate people who really care about tax fairness."

Outstanding point, and one well worth mulling over at length.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Atlantis moved to launch site

Shuttle Atlantis has reached the launch pad for its upcoming mission (STS-117) to the ISS for further construction on the station.

"Commanded by veteran spaceflyer Rick Sturckow, Atlantis’ STS-117 crew [image] is slated to launch towards the ISS at 6:43 a.m. EDT (1043 GMT) on March 15, kicking off a series of five NASA shuttle missions to continue space station assembly over the next 12 months.
The astronauts plan to deliver two starboard ISS truss segments, a pair of new solar arrays and help retract an older solar wing on the mast-like Port 6 truss -- a counterpart to one folded away in a December shuttle flight -- during three spacewalks planned for their 11-day mission [image].

This mission will allow for the installation of both the European Columbus module (slated for STS-122 in the fall) and the Japanese Kibo module (slated for STS-123 in December). In addition to the shuttle construction missions, the ISS expects 5 unmanned supply missions this year, one to be the maiden voyage of the new European Automated Transfer Vehicle, and 2 Russian Soyuz missions to change ISS crews. A busy year to be sure.

Conservatives and Libertarians

Finally found something interesting to post about - yesterday was pretty frustrating. :)

Edward Feser at TCS writes on "Fusionism" or the attempt to combine conservativism and libertarianism into a unified overarching political philosophy. The problem is, the two are pretty hard to combine, particularly on social issues, and he goes on at length with the problems you have in reconciling the two, poking holes in several proposed solutions.

Enter F.A. Hayek, one of the pre-eminent thinkers of the 20th century. His main precept is that human knowledge is limited, and no single individual can understand the vast interplay of forces of human social and economic actions. Thus the centralized economic plannning inherent to socialism and communism is impossible to do and thus has diasasterous unforseen consequences, and in the social sphere, radical social experimentation (say, legalizing drugs) as opposed to following more traditional social values also has the same results. Prices in the economic sphere, and tradition in the social sphere, reflect the collective wisdom of humanity.

"The foundation of Hayek's thought is an emphasis on the severe limitations on human knowledge, especially where human social institutions and other complex phenomena are concerned. For Hayek, even the knowledge we do have is dispersed and fragmented, directly available only to scattered individuals rather than to society at large, its governmental representatives, or would-be social-scientific experts; and much of it is embodied in practice, habit, and "know how" which it is impossible to convey in explicit propositional form. The economic implication of this is that central planning of the socialist kind is impossible, for no would-be planner could have the knowledge requisite to doing the job. Only prices generated in a capitalist economy can encapsulate the scattered and otherwise ungatherable information needed for rational economic activity, and individuals responding to price signals in the marketplace ensure the most efficient allocation of resources as is practically possible. But there are moral and social implications as well. For tradition, in Hayek's view, plays a role similar to that of the price system, embodying the inchoate moral insights of millions of individuals scattered across countless generations, and sensitive to far more information than is available to any individual reformer or revolutionary. The radical moral innovator, who falsely assumes he can design from scratch new institutions superior to existing ones, suffers from a hubris analogous to that inherent in socialism."

While Hayek can thus be said to have elements that both ideologies can accept, he would also have a number of elements that trouble them as well. But a philosophically consistent "Fusionist" would at the minimum probably have to accept the Hayekian base premise of limited knowledge. How far one can go in accepting the premise may be as far as one can go reconciling the two ideas. I will definitely have to delve further into this Hayek stuff; I am pretty familiar with libertarian icons like Milt Friedman and Murray Rothbard, but not so much Hayek or Ayn Rand, probably far overdue in this regard for someone who thinks of himself as a libertarian. One thing of note personally is that I've always had an issue with the Libertarian incompatibility with most traditional social values; this Hayekian element has helped me refine my own thinking on the subject.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Mayor Rudy's NY Economic Record

Deroy Murdock at NRO looks at Giuliani's record on taxes and the city budget, and the record is pretty impressive. While holding spending increases to a low level, he cut many taxes and fees in the city. Unemployment shrank from over 10% to 5.7% on his watch. He shrank the city bureacracy (while adding police & teachers), privatized municpal assets, and turned the city around from losing population to adding almost 700,000 residents.

"“America’s Mayor” cut or killed 23 levies, saving taxpayers $9.8 billion. Giuliani pared Gotham’s top income-tax rate by 20.6 percent... Giuliani defends his supply-side instincts with bracing candor. Asked after September 11 if he would hike taxes, Giuliani called that “a dumb, stupid, idiotic, and moronic thing to do.”In 1995, Giuliani was equally clear on spending: “We must choose between pulling ourselves into the late 20th Century or remaining mired in the tired and abandoned policies of the Great Society.”Giuliani’s expenditure growth averaged 2.9 percent annually, while local inflation between January 1994 and December 2001 averaged 3.6 percent. His FY 1995 budget decreased outlays by 1.6 percent, while his post-9/11 FY 2002 plan lowered appropriations by 2.6 percent."

In comparison, while Romney inherited a tax cut from the previous administration, he raised many of the fees, to the tune of some $500 million. Meanwhile, McCain is pretty strong on holding the line on spending, but not much in faovr of tax cuts, opposing the 2001 and 2003 federal cuts, one of only two Republican Senators to do so (RINO Lincoln Chaffee was the other).

I have to say the case for Rudy is becoming more and more compelling.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Metro Republicans

Maomie Emery has an interesting article on the three top Republican candidates, McCain, Romney, and Guiliani.

"None hails from the South, none looks or sounds country, none is conspicuous for traditional piety, and none is linked closely to social conservatives. At the same time, none is exactly at odds with social conservatives either. None is a moderate, in the sense of being a centrist on anything or wary of conservatives; rather, each is a strong conservative on many key issues, while having a dissident streak on a few. Each has a way of presenting conservative views that centrists don't find threatening, and projecting fairly traditional values in a language that secular voters don't fear. In a country that has been ferociously split into two near-equal camps of voters for at least the past decade, this is no small accomplishment, as it suggests the potential to cross cultural barriers, and therefore extend one's own reach."

Guiliani appears, at this point, to be the most popular of the three. I'm certainly not opposed, and would hope for him to tap a more conservative VP if he becomes the nominee to broaden his appeal to the base.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Economy - Debt Clock

The Skeptical Optimist has upgraded the Debt Clock.

It now features both the previously displayed Total Government Debt and its ratio to GDP, and now includes the Total Public Debt (the debt held by US citizens, as well as foreign citizens and geovernments) without the intergovernmental debt, (otherwise know as the theoretical Social Security Trust Fund), and its ratio to GDP as well.

As the man himself puts it:

"Why add the extra numbers? Simply to help clarify the debate. Most politicians and journalists like to trumpet the total debt ($8.6 trillion) in their headlines and speeches. Many economists, on the other hand, argue that the important number is not total debt (including intragovernmental), but publicly-held debt—partly because that’s the number on which the government pays out “net interest.” "

He also notes, for the record, that the debt ratio for the second number, the publicly-held debt ratio, is actually running backwards as the expanding economy and increasing government tax receipts makes it easier to pay the interest burden. The first number is increasing, but quite slowly. His calculations show the budget balancing (on a 12 month rolling basis) in summer 2008, others are calculating it in Q1 2009.

Oil Profits

Mr. Kudlow is right on the money (naturally) about ExxonMobil and its large profits, pointing out that sales are huge, but the actual returns are not so much, with many other industries being far more profitable as a percentage of sales. He also rightly points out that government taxes are a far larger number than the firm's profits, even before the retail gasoline tax.

"ExxonMobil’s profits are outsized, but they come on sales of $377.5 billion, making for a profit margin of just over 10 cents on the dollar. This remains well below the profit margins of many industries, including banking and biotech where the margins nearly double those in the energy sector. The numbers are big, but the returns are middling...While ExxonMobil recorded record profits last year, it also paid $100.7 billion in taxes — two-and-half times its net profits, according to the Tax Foundation. In fact, over the past twenty-five years, federal and state governments took $397 billion from the largest oil companies and an additional $1.1 trillion in taxes at the pump. In today’s dollars, that’s $2.2 trillion."

He also points out the US corporate tax burden is much higher than many other developed nations - including, yes, even FRANCE!

Light blogging last week was due to a rather pesky virus.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Ambitious Plans for ISS in 2007

via ScienceDaily.

Busy year ahead for ISS personnel. 24 spacewalks are planned, which will double the station's electrical generation, triple the lab space, and greatly expand the the total area of the station.

"In 2007, NASA and Russia plan to conduct as many as 24 spacewalks, more than has ever been done in a single year. The first spacewalk began at 9:14 a.m. CST Wednesday, Jan. 31 on NASA TV and features Mike Lopez-Alegria, the commander of the current space station mission, known as Expedition 14...By the end of 2007, the station's solar panels will extend to almost three-quarters of an acre of surface area. The extra power and cooling will allow the station's living and working space to expand by more than one-third. The complex will grow from its current size of a two-bedroom apartment to the size of a four-bedroom house by year's end."

October and December shuttle mission will deliver the European space Agency's Columbus lab module and the Japanese Kibo module, which expand the station's interior for the first time in six years. Additionally, a new European supply vehicle, the Automated Tranfer Vehicle, is slated to begin deliveries to the station in July.

Friday, February 02, 2007

A Great Laugh - AND Very True

Milblogger Neptunus Rex gave me a hearty laugh today.

"while our nation building capacity is pretty much maxed out right now, our nation taking apart capacity is largely sitting idle."

Gotta love it.

(HT: Milblogger No Angst Zone, who has some cool info on USAF ops and a new weapon, the 30mm Bushmanster cannon, for the AC-130 gunship, a tribute to the Apollo 11 astronauts, the anniversary of which I am ashamed to admit I missed, and a LOT of other cool stuff. Excellent work.)

Plea from American Soldier

(HT: Wizbang)

A plea from an American Sergeant in Ramadi, Eddie Jeffers. Stop the politics. Unite for the cause of freedom.

"We are the hope of the Iraqi people. They want what everyone else wants in life: safety, security, somewhere to call home. They want a country that is safe to raise their children in. Not a place where their children will be abducted, raped and murdered if they do not comply with the terrorists demands. They want to live on, rebuild and prosper. And America has given them the opportunity, but only if we stay true to the cause and see it to its end. But the country must unite in this endeavor...we cannot place the burden on our military alone. We must all stand up and fight, whether in uniform or not. And supporting us is more than sticking yellow ribbon stickers on your cars. It's supporting our President, our troops and our cause.

Right now, the burden is all on the American soldiers. Right now, hope rides alone. But it can change, it must change. Because there is only failure and darkness ahead for us as a country, as a people, if it doesn't.

Let's stop all the political nonsense, let's stop all the bickering, let's stop all the bad news and let's stand and fight!

Isn't that what America is about anyway?"

Amen, brother, but you aren't alone, my friend. There are millions of veterans and many more proud Americans that fully support you in your cause -- the cause of freedom. Stay safe.

Astronomer Interviewed on Alien Planets

Astrobiology Magazine interviews British astronomer Barrie Jones, who has done some pretty impressive work in mathematically modeling on the position of habitable zones (where rocky earth-like worlds would form) around other stars. He is very optimistic that we will soon find rocky terrestrial planets around other stars.

Jones's calculations show that up to half of the systems we have found planets in could concievably hold an earth type planet, even those with gas giants very close to the parent star. The conventional thinking was that gas giants (which cannnot form very close to a star) that migrate inward toward their star (as we often see in our observsations today) would disrupt the formation of smaller rock planets, but his models show that these planets can form in the habitable zone after the gas giants orbits change. This leads to some very big changes in the percentage of systems with possible earth-like planets, from below 20% to nearly 50%.

Jones also has an important role in the upcoming Darwin mission, as he explains:

"My role in the Darwin mission is going to be to analyze all of the extrasolar planetary systems known at that time, and come up with a list prioritizing which ones are more likely to have Earths in their habitable zones. It's a target-selection process, a bit like what Jill Tarter and the SETI Institute have done in looking for planets that might support intelligence."

Very interesting stuff.

Hubble looks at Alien World's Atmosphere

via ScienceDaily.

The Hubble Space Telescope has trained its lenses on a "hot Jupiter" exoplanet in the constellation Pegasus and examined its atmosphere in detail. The gas giant planet, HD 209458b, is only 4.7 million miles from its parent star, orbiting every 3 1/2 days. It was the first planet found by the "transit" method measuring the dip in starlight as a world blocks the light from the parent star from reaching Earth. The Hubble data shows the planet is so hot that atmospheric hydrogen is steaming off the planet.

"The Hubble data show how intense ultraviolet radiation from the host star heats the gas in the upper atmosphere, inflating the atmosphere like a balloon. The gas is so hot that it moves very fast and escapes the planet's gravitational pull at a rate of 10,000 tons a second, more than three times the rate of water flowing over Niagara Falls. The planet, however, will not wither away any time soon. Astronomers estimate its lifetime is more than 5 billion years."

Of the 200 extrasolar planets discovered so far, almost 15% are "hot Jupiters", so there are potentially billions of such planets just in our own galaxy.

Presidential Candidate Duncan Hunter

via Townhall. John Hawkins makes the case for California Congressman Duncan Hunter.

"If you're looking for someone who can represent the conservative wing of the Republican Party in 2008, California Congressman Duncan Hunter fills that bill far better that any of the top contenders who have already gotten into the race."

He sounds pretty good to me. National Security? Former paratrooper, Bronze Star, son served in Iraq as a marine, check. Immigration? Wrote the Secure Fence Act & helped pass legislation for the very successful San Diego fence. Check. 2nd Amendment? Check. Control spending and lower taxes? Pro-Balanced Budget, Check. School vouchers? Check. SDI? Check. Pro-life? Check. Judges? Likes Scalia, check.

The only weakness I see (and I agree with John here) is that he appears to be protectionist when it comes to trade issues, which is both bad and odd, but something I'm willing to overlook to a degree given his stance on other issues. All in all, a very intriguing candidate, hopefully he can raise his name recognition and gain some traction with voters in the coming primaries.l