Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Fair Flat Tax

A US Senator from Oregon (Ron Wyden) announced a new tax reform plan in April that looks pretty attractive. (HT:The Skeptical Optimist) Steve discusses it at his place, along with his idea of a two bracket income tax, but believes the Senator's plan deserves a hearing. The Senator has already gotten one co-sponsor form his own party and is apparently looking for one from the other.

The good Senator is proposing a 3 bracket tax on income, a standard deduction of triple the current figure, and with a corporate rate of 35% (matching the top rate on income) and closes most loopholes. Popular things like the mortgage deduction, health savings deductions, the retirement savings deduction and the charitibal donation deduction would be maintained while the tax form you send to the IRS would shrink to about 30 lines (down from the current 77) and fit on a single page. It would also eliminate the dreaded AMT (Alternative Minimum Tax).

The absolutely unbelievable, knock me over with a feather part is....

this guy has a D next to his name! Hard to believe a Republican Senator hasn't stepped forward to sponsor the bill.

Firefly Quote of the Day

Sir Warrick Harrow: I know Badger and I think he's a psychotic lowlife.
Mal: And I think calling him that is an insult to the psychotic lowlife community.

Former Husker May Get Called to the Show

via OWH.

Former Husker pitcher Joba Chamberlain, drafted last year by the New York Yankees, may get called up as a bullpen setup man for the Yanks as soon as this week. Chamberlain has been starting in the minors, but came into a game in relief this weekend at AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

"The 21-year-old Chamberlain, drafted No. 41 overall last year, remains a starting pitcher in the long term for New York. But for a club in need of bullpen help during the final two months of the baseball season, Chamberlain looks like the best option.

"All of these plans are very tentative," Yankees Vice President of Baseball Operations Mark Newman told reporters during the weekend on the possibility of using Chamberlain as a late-inning setup man for All-Star closer Mariano Rivera. "They're written in a No. 1 pencil."

With the non-waiver trade deadline set to pass today, the Yankees are rumored to covet Texas reliever Eric Gagne. But even if a last-minute deal is reached, Chamberlain may still get the call to New York."

Chamberlain earned the Husker's only CWS victory in 2005 and is 9-2 with a 2.56 ERA over three levels of minor league play this year.

Best of luck to him.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Firefly Quote of the Day

"See, this is another sign of your tragic space dementia,
all paranoid and crotchety. Breaks the heart." -- Mal

Friday, July 27, 2007

ESPN College Program Ratings

ESPN has had a panel of "experts" rating all the 119 Division 1A college football programs over the period of the last ten years, from the bottom to the top. The overall rating appears to have come from averaging the results from the panel of fifteen analysts.

"What are the top programs of the last decade? That's the question ESPN.com has attempted to answer this week. Fifteen college football experts and analysts ranked all 119 Division I-A programs, taking into account record, traditions, recruiting, facilities, coaches, attendance and support, among other criteria."

NU came in at #13 (tied with Wisconsin), a shade low in my opinion, given that Florida was #4 with an almost identical record (94-32, 1 NC, 2 conf titles, 5-5 in bowl games to NU's 94-34, 1 NC, 2 conf titles and 5-4 bowl record). Particulary eggregious: Virgina Tech finished #12 with a 59-59 record, no titles and a 4-6 bowl record. Now obviously, the recent record at NU isn't as strong as it has been historically, but looking at the "ratings" by some of the panel, it looks like NU got shafted by at least a couple, with Bill Curry putting NU at #24(!?), behind such storied programs as Kansas State(11!?), Boston College(15), TCU(9!?) and Colorado State(21). Does this guy even watch any games? Chris Fallica also had a pretty questionable ranking, putting NU at #22. Most of the panel had NU in the top 15, with six rating them either 10 or 11, which I would characterize as about right.

GDP Up in Q2

via FoxNews again.

The government released its 2nd quarter GDP numbers today, and there was a big rebound from the 1st quarter's lackluster showing, with the economy growing at a relatively robust 3.4%, the stongest number in a year. The 1st quarter number was also adjusted up from .6% to .7%. Business investment and government spending helped the economy overcome the slump in the housing markets, with business spending increasing a whopping 22%, the best in 13 years.

The news on the inflation front also improved, with Q2 coming in at 1.4%, down a full percentage point from Q1 and the best quarterly number in four years. The Fed is expected to keep its overnight funds rate at 5.25%, perhaps for as long as the rest of the year. Unemployment remains at or near full employment levels, at 4.5%

Firefly Quote of the Day

"It's good to have cargo. Makes us a target for every other scavenger out here of course, but sometimes that's fun too." - Captain Malcolm Reynolds

Problems at NASA

via Fox News, a number of troubling issues at the space agency.

First, there is an unsubstantiated report from Aviation Week magazine that astronauts have twice flown spacecraft after drinking to the point of intoxication. Secondly, there is a confirmed report of a subcontractor sabotaging a computer being sent to the ISS. All of this comes on the heels of the shootings in Houston by a worker that committed suicide, and the strange romatic triangle case of astronaut Lisa Nowak and the freak storm the delayed the shiuttle launch earlier this summer. Bad times for the agency, to be sure.

"America's space agency was shaken Thursday by two startling and unrelated reports: One involved claims that astronauts were drunk before flying. The other was news from NASA itself that a worker had sabotaged a computer set for delivery to the international space station. It was just another jolt for an operation that has had a rocky year from the start, beginning with the arrest of an astronaut accused of attacking a rival in a love triangle."

Just as with any other organization, a few irresponsible or troubled individuals can cause almost irrepairable damage to the reputations and public image of that organization and the many fine people that simply show up to work and do the jobs correctly. The recent issue with "Scott Thomas" and the US Army is just another example like we find in the NASA case. Unfortunate, but true. Hopefully both NASA and the Army investigate and take the necessary corrective actions quickly.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

New Feature

Thought maybe I could try a new feature with a little humor.

Being a big fan of the short lived and cancelled Fox TV series Firefly, I thought about relating some of the wickedly amusing dialogue from the series. So, here goes, the first Firefly Quote of the Day....

"You know, they tell ya to never hit a man with a closed fist but it is,
on occasion, hilarious. - Captain Malcolm Reynolds

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Uncle Jimbo on "Scott Thomas"

I've been avoiding the likely "fake but accurate" reporting done in Iraq for liberal rag "The New Republic" by one "Scott Thomas". In short, "Thomas" is purportedly a US serviceman reporting that his fellow soldiers have been up to some, ahem, mischief. The Weekly Standard's Michael Goldfarb has called out TNR's idiot in chief, editor Frnklin Foer, here asking for any independent corroboration - and failed to generate much of a response. Goldfarb has asked milbloggers to examine the stories, and they've poked more holes in them than you could find in a Swiss cheese factory.

Milblogger Uncle Jimbo over at Blackfive's place gives us his unadulterated opinion of both "Thomas" and Foer. And boy howdy is it good. Uncle Jimbo gets the "Verbal Assault of the Week" award.

"Scott Thomas is a lying sack of shit. Every unit has a Scott Thomas, the whiny pissant whose brilliance is never recognized and who is always being abused by the chain of command for stuff that's not his fault. It would be normal to hear folks telling him to STFU and do his damn job.

The stories he peddled were easy to believe if your mindset starts with soldiers as knuckle dragging, jack-booted barbarians barely held in check by the enlightened scrutiny of a vigilant press. Sadly that is the status quo among most of the media and gives us "reporting" colored darkly by the biases of these people. They have their narrative down and it involves US military barbarity so when they got a big plate of scrumptious horror they scarfed it right up."

and the lovely liberal rag TNR?

"So how does absolute horse shit like this make it into what should be a respectable magazine? Well first you will notice that this was the New Republic, not National Review, and while this mag has plenty of fabulist issues they are emblematic of the chattering classes as a whole. While the left makes noises that they think mean they support the troops, they don't really, and they do believe the dregs of society theory of military recruiting. Jon Carry didn't misspeak when he said those non-hackers who do not pack the gear to serve in his beloved cultural elite, will end up stuk in Irak. He was simply stating the common wisdom on the left, our troops are killers, sometimes under orders, sometimes just to satisfy their blood lust.

Well there is also a bit of assumed wisdom on our side as well. That is that most journalists are gutless weasels possuming a ride on the backs of better men and women than themselves. They are parasites whose sole function seems to be advancing a narrative of evil America, cause of all that is ill with this world. There is no problem they are unwilling to lay at the feet of greedy rapacious America, busy killing brown people all over the planet, and now even slaughtering Gaia herself. Damn us!"


Monday, July 23, 2007

South Tower to Marine

Also from this last weekend at NRO, the story of a man named Mark Finelli who survived the 9/11 attacks and decided almost immediately afterward to give us his lucartive career in finance as an investment banker to become a US Marine.

"Finelli was eventually deployed to Iraq, where he served from July 2005 through February 2006 in Camp Fallujah. Before he went in, he says, he heard from antiwar politicians and activists “that our men and women are sitting ducks in an intelligence failure. I was a sitting duck in an intelligence failure,” he argues, referencing the attacks on 9/11.

Still, despite the numerous setbacks and the erosion of political support for the war domestically, Finelli believes going into Iraq was the right thing to do. He acknowledges mismanagement and is particularly scornful toward former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s prewar strategy of trying to win the war with fewer troops. Yet he maintains that Iraq is too strategic to ignore. “Iraq borders six other nations,” Finelli says. “It’s a geopolitical lynchpin. It borders six other nations, and we have friends in India and Israel, and men in Afghanistan.”

Going to Iraq meant a lot of sacrifices for Corporal Finelli. When you find out you are going to war, he says, “You put your head in your hands and you cry. But then you get out there and do you do a good job. Everything changes at home, and when you go away, the world continues without you.” Even as political support for the war deteriorates, Finelli speaks of his courageous brothers and sisters in arms. “I could see in others’ faces: ‘Even though the politicians may not care about us, I’m going to sit here and do my job anyway.’”

Pretty amazing story, read the whole thing.

Aussie Documentary Against Warming

Meanwhile, an Australian documentary poking holes in the religion of Global Warming has generated a counter-productively ferocious repsonse from the True Believers. The documentarian, Martin Durkin, asks why so defensive?

"First, the ferocity of the attack, I think, revealed the intolerance and defensiveness of the global warming camp. Why were Jones and co expending such energy and resources attacking one documentary? We are told the global warming theory is robust. They say you'd have to be off your chump to disagree. We have been assured for years, in countless news broadcasts and column inches, that it's definitely true. So why bother to stamp so aggressively on the one foolish documentary-maker - who clearly must be as mad as a snake - who steps out of line?

I think viewers may also have wondered (reasonably) why the theory of global warming has not been subjected to this barrage of critical scrutiny by the media. After all, it's the theory of global warming, not my foolish little film, that is turning public and corporate policy on its head.

The apparent unwillingness of Jones and others at the ABC to give airtime to a counterargument, the tactics used to minimise the ostensible damage done by the film, the evident animosity towards those who questioned global warming: all of this served to give viewers a glimpse of what it was like for scientists who dared to disagree with the hallowed doctrine.

Why are the global warmers so zealous? After a year of arguing with people about this, I am convinced that it's because global warming is first and foremost a political theory. It is an expression of a whole middle-class political world view. This view is summed up in the oft-repeated phrase "we consume too much". I have also come to the conclusion that this is code for "they consume too much". People who believe it tend also to think that exotic foreign places are being ruined because vulgar oiks can afford to go there in significant numbers, they hate plastic toys from factories and prefer wooden ones from craftsmen, and so on.

All this backward-looking bigotry has found perfect expression in the idea of man-made climate disaster. It has cohered a bunch of disparate reactionary prejudices (anti-car, anti-supermarkets, anti-globalisation) into a single unquestionable truth and cause. So when you have a dig at global warming, you commit a grievous breach of social etiquette. Among the chattering classes you're a leper."

Ouch, I think he struck another nerve there, and with good reason. The theory is starting to crumble away at every turn.

First there is the disturbing lack of warming since 1998 - global temps have been either static or slightly declining since that time. Then there is that pesky ice core data showing that increased carbon dioxide levels FOLLOW warmer temperatures, rather than precede them. Then the IPCC was forced to drop the infamously hoaxed "hocky stick" graph - the one that "adjusted" away the Medieval Warming period, and then there is that that unambiguous satellite data showing that the Earth's troposphere isn't warming, as it should if the theory is correct, but is actually cooling! Then there is that bizarre cooling period from the 1940s-1970s that can't be explained either (unless you take into account the activity of that big ball of fire we orbit - but I digress).

The whole enchillada is crumbling, just as everyone and their Grandma's dog is jumping onto the bandwagon. No wonder they see red.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Dems Take Advantage in War Bills

Meanwhile, The Boston Globe's Derrick Jackson eviscerates his fellow liberals serving in Congress with a much justified verbal spanking the likes of which I've not seen in quite some time. He correctly points out that many, if not most of the Democratic war critics (such as Senators Kennedy & Levin) not only voted for the war, but are stuffing their home districts and states full of Pentagon spending goodies.

"But the Globe recently reported that Kennedy slid $100 million into the 2008 defense authorization bill for a General Electric fighter engine that the Air Force said it did not need.

It gets worse in a defense budget that is zooming to $648.8 billion. The nonpartisan budget watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense last month analyzed 309 Senate defense earmarks. Four of the top five "earmarkers" were not Republican hawks but centrist and liberal Democrats.

Levin led the way with 44 earmarks. Clinton was second with 26. Reed was fourth with 23, one behind Republican John Warner of Virginia. In fifth place was Charles Schumer of New York with 21. When asked if she saw any change in defense earmark behavior since the Democrats took back the House and the Senate, senior analyst Laura Peterson of the Taxpayers for Common Sense said over the telephone, "No."

More proof the swamp is still full is the fact that only four of the top 10 senators in defense campaign contributions in the 2006 election cycle were Republicans. According to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, Democrats Kennedy, Clinton, Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, Dianne Feinstein of California, Bill Nelson of Florida, and Democrat-turned-independent Joe Lieberman of Connecticut collected 60 percent of the $1.4 million the industry lavished among the top 10."

He also points out that US defense spending is nearly half the total for the world, and that the US and Russia together account for nearly 60% of the world's arms shipments, that the US shipped arms to 18 of the 25 current nations in conflicts around the globe, and that 20 of the 25 nations receiving arms from the US were classified as either undemocratic or having poor human rights records by our own US State Department.

OUCH, that's got to smart.

Personally, I'd like to see us tie our aid (economic as well as military) more closely to the behavior and actions of the governments involved, and I certainly don't like to see the scale of weapons proliferation that is currently being conducted. Of course, each individual case of these nations should be judged on its own merits, within the confines of US foreign policy, but when it's presented in the way Jackson does, it's pretty damning.

Middle East Strategy

Lots of good stuff discovered this weekend, I may have to take a gander at some of my regular sites on the weekends from now on. Michael Gerson points out one of the many problems facing us in Iraq - its neighbors.

"In a kind of malicious chemistry experiment, hostile powers are adding accelerants to Iraq's frothing chaos. Iran smuggles the advanced explosive devices that kill and maim American soldiers. Syria allows the transit of suicide bombers who kill Iraqis in markets and mosques, feeding sectarian rage. This is not a complete explanation for the difficulties in Iraq. Poor governance and political paralysis would exist if Iran and Syria meddled or not."

He is also quite vexed (understandably so, in my view) that Americans don't seem to care that Iran and Syria's meddling in Iraq is killing US service personnel. He also points out our options for response are limited, but applauds recent efforts to target Iranians in Iraq and the ratcheting of economic pressure on Iran to increase the costs of its involvement. Obviously, military escalation against Iran is problematic to such an extent it's pretty much off the table for now.

Syria, however, might be a different situation, and one that I've always thought should be addressed sooner than the Iranian issue, in that it is likelier to be solved more quickly. The Syrians claim they cannot control the flow of suicde bombers into Iraq, so it might behoove us to "assist" them in doing so, in tandem with some economic "incentives", although this would not be without risks as well, particularly to Lebanon.

Gerson summs up his thoughts quite nicely:

"Increasing pressure of all types on Syria would demonstrate that being part of an anti-American alliance with Iran brings unpleasant consequences. And when that pressure builds sufficiently, it becomes possible to offer Syria a way out that separates it from Iran. These are realistic responses to the serious provocations of Iran and Syria: Ramping up economic pressure on both regimes; intensifying operations within Iraq against foreign influence; and taking limited but forceful actions against Syria's Ho Chi Minh Trail of terrorists. In combination with the Petraeus strategy, these measures hold out the promise of something unthinkable a few months ago: America, once again, on the strategic offensive."

Imagine that.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Hugh Interviews General Petraeus

Transcript of Hugh's interview at the link above, read the whole thing. Two items I think worth noting, the first being the number of special ops going on :

HH: Some of the arguments about Iraq in the United States argue that it’s possible for American troops to withdraw to their bases and just strike at al Qaeda, sort of an Anbar only option, I guess. Does that make any sense to you at all, General Petraeus?

DP: Well, first of all, al Qaeda-Iraq is throughout pretty substantial parts of Iraq, and it is a significant enough network in capability that it is not going to be dealt with just by certainly, if you will, classical counterterrorist operations. Indeed, we are doing those. Our best operators in America and in the world are here in the largest number of anywhere in the world by several multiples, and conducting a very, very high operational tempo, and doing extraordinary operations. When I think back to the operations that we did, for example, going after war criminals in Bosnia, or something like that, you know, and one of those would be a big deal, and you’d dine off that for the next several months. On a nightly basis here, you know, ten or twelve serious operations are going down by those forces.

HH: Wow.

DP: And any one of those is far more significant than we conducted for decades. They are very sophisticated, very complex, very lethal sometimes, and very effective. Having said that, although they may be the most important operations, because they can take down, as they did the senior Iraqi leader in al Qaeda-Iraq, or kill the three al Turkey brothers, or what have you, it is also the weight of the operations conducted by the, if you will, the regular special forces, the Green Berets and the others that make up the special operations task force, and operate throughout the country as a very high operational tempo, and of our conventional forces.....

Also, regarding the home front -

HH: It sounds optimistic, General. I want to respect your time and close with just a couple of questions, one that Senator Webb this past weekend rightly denounced politicians who try and put words into the mouths of troops. So I’m going to ask you. What do you hear your men and women saying about this mission? Do they think it can be won?

DP: Well, I think they do. I mean, I think…nobody…look, everybody wants to go home. I mean, nobody was cheering when we extended from 12 to 15 months, and I wasn’t, either, you know? This is my fourth year of longer deployment since 2001. My family would love to have me back home, and I’d love to be there. But we want to go back the right way, if you will, so that although every soldier’s first right is to, you know, grouse a bit, and we all exercise that on occasion, I think everybody’s very determined to try to do the very best that we can to accomplish this mission. I was privileged on the 4th of July to swear the oath with some 588 soldiers in one huge formation here at Camp Victory, who reenlisted for another tour in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and so forth. And it was extraordinary. And I can tell you, you know, it’s not because of the bonus or anything like that. There is no bonus that can compensate for the sacrifices and the hardship in the selfless service that our soldiers are providing here. So again, I think individuals are doing all that they can to try to achieve success in this mission here, and that’s the focus of the folks with whom I’m privileged to soldier.

HH: Last question, General. How can the American public support these troops most effectively?

DP: Well, I think the American public has been doing that. I think actually, regardless of the views on Iraq, the American public has supported our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen and the civilians that are deployed over here. And I think that that is wonderful. We all saw, some of us, you know, as we were growing up, a situation where that was not the case. And happily in this case, as I said, regardless of one’s views, regardless on where one comes down on the issue of Iraq, there is backing for those great young men and women who are putting everything on the line here on a daily basis, in right now, 125 degree heat and body armor and Kevlar, against a barbaric enemy, in an exceedingly tough and complex situation. I think I mentioned to you before that when Tom Brokaw was out here with us one time, he said that surely this has to be the new greatest generation. And I very, very much agree with that. And as I mentioned earlier, I feel very privileged to be able to soldier with these great young men and women here in Iraq again.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Work Progressing on New Spacesuits

via ScienceDaily, work is progressing nicely (to include a prototype) on a new generation of slimmer, more mobile spacesuits. MIT scientist and engeineering professor Dava Newman has been working on it for seven years and hopes to have a "suitable" replacement acceptable to NASA by the time a Mars expedition could be launched in ten years.

"Newman is working on a sleek, advanced suit designed to allow superior mobility when humans eventually reach Mars or return to the moon. Her spandex and nylon BioSuit is not your grandfather's spacesuit--think more Spiderman, less John Glenn. Traditional bulky spacesuits "do not afford the mobility and locomotion capability that astronauts need for partial gravity exploration missions. We really must design for greater mobility and enhanced human and robotic capability," Newman says."

The interesting technical issue is that Newman is taking a new approach, utilizing mechanical counter pressure (tight layers of material wrapped around the body of an astronaut) rather than using the gas pressurization method of current suits. One major advantage to this approach is that if the suit is punctured, a simple patch would probably allow an astronaut to continue wokring, while a current suit would require them to return to their spacecraft due to the danger of decompression. Another positive is that a contemporary suit weighes in at about 300 lbs on Earth, and its bulkiness causes spacefarers to expend about 70-80 % of their energy just struggling to move the suit about. The new prototype is skintight and allows a considerably enhanced range of motion over conventional suits. A suit needs to maintain about 30 kilopascals of pressure (about a third of Earth's atmosphere at sea level) to be worn in space, and the current prototype is rated at about 20, with researchers believing they can get to between 25-30 kPa soon.

I vote we get Jerry Ryan and Jolene Blalock to model them for us. I'd really like to see that.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Congressional Earmarks

The National Taxpayer's Union has listed the 42 members of Congress who have perfect records in supporting Congressman Jeff Flake's (R-AZ) efforts to eliminate earmarking by offering amendments to strip such spending from appropriation bills. Flake is keeping up the pressure, speaking on the House Floor today on the Water and Energy bills before the House. (HT: BillHobbs)

Surprisingly, not only Nebraska Congressman Adrian Smith (3rd) but our own Lee Terry (2nd) is listed. I may have to change my tune a bit about Lee, who has had some earmarking history of his own (benefitting both the UNMC and Creighton, in particular), but apparently has changed his tune with the changing of the guard in Congress and some disappointed constituents.

The other heart-warming thing about this story is that there is at least one Democrat (Jim Cooper of TN) that believes in accountability to the people. Another positive is several candidates that I personally supported (with small donations) are on the list in addition to Smith, including Michele Bachman (MN-6), Doug Lamborn (CO-5), Tim Wahlberg (MI-7) and Steve King (IA-5), all recipients of my largesse. Lee might merit a campaign contribution if he keeps it up, along with Flake for leading the charge.

Other notable Congress critters on the list I have heard good things about (economically speaking, at least): Blackburn of TN (Fred! supporter), Conaway and Hensarling (current leader of the Republican Study Committee) of TX, Jindal of LA (running for LA Governor in 2007), Pence of IN (former chair on the RSC), and Shaddeg of AZ (RSC chair from 2000-2002). The Tennessee delegation is awfully strong, with 4 members (the aforementioned Cooper and Blackburn, along with Doug Davis and John Duncan)with a perfect rating on this issue.

Astronomical Survey

Additional Geekiness provided by Astrobiology. Looks like a science post day.

A three year sky survey seeking large planets outside 5 astronomical units (1 AU is the distance from the Sun to the Earth) has been completed and the study finds that our own solar system is a pretty rare example, with its gas giants being outside this distance. All of the 54 nearby systems surveyed had no Jupiter or better sized planets outside this distance, which has important implications for the search for life outside the solar system.

"Astronomers who used powerful telescopes in Arizona and Chile in a survey for planets around nearby stars have discovered that extrasolar planets more massive than Jupiter are extremely rare in other outer solar systems. The finding is an important step in our understanding of extrasolar worlds and the potential for discovering habitable planets around distant stars."

It is thought that the presence of Jupiter and the other outer gas giant planets in such distant orbits "protected" Earth from even more violent impact events due to their gravity either capturing or repelling many potential stellar objects from travelling deeper into our solar system. More than 230 "hot super-Jupiters" have been found in tight orbits around their parent stars, but this study needed a new technique to examine stars for planets further distant, and used two giant telescopes in Arizona and Chile with methane detection equipment for the task.

Oldest Art Found in Egypt Discovered

Another little mini-break from posting due to heavy workload between grad school, dayjob and home stuff now banished.

Of interest today in the scientific world, via Nat'l Geo: the oldest art work ever discovered in Egypt, quite similiar to engravings found with the French Lascaux cave paintings dating from about the same time period - 15,000 years ago.

"The style is riveting," added Salima Ikram of the American University in Cairo, who was part of Huyge's team. The art is "unlike anything seen elsewhere in Egypt," he said.
The engravings—estimated to be about 15,000 years old—were chiseled into several sandstone cliff faces at the village of Qurta, about 400 miles (640 kilometers) south of Cairo (Egypt map).
Of the more than 160 figures found so far, most depict wild bulls. The biggest is nearly six feet (two meters) wide. The drawings "push Egyptian art, religion, and culture back to a much earlier time," Ikram said."

The interesting item from this is that the engravings were actually discovered in 1962, but pretty much ignored by the archaeological community given the widespread theory (since disproved by additional evidence discovered in Southern Africa and Australia) that Europe was the "cradle" of Paleolithic artworks. The Egyptian engravings are almost identical to those found in France, whose own engravings vastly outnumber their more famous rock paintings.

The really interesting thing about these discoveries is the artistic similarities given their geographic dispersion. One has to wonder if the evidence we have discovered about hunter-gatherer tool sets from this period in these regions are also similar or if they have significant differences. Any differences in the tool set might help us understand how widespread the diaspora from Africa was and how quickly it occurred.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Baseball Standings

On to post #500!, and what better subject than one of my favortie passions, baseball. Let's see where we stand at the All-Star break.

In the Inferior circuit, the malodorous Metropolitans lead in the East, leading a resurgent Atlanta Bravo club by a two game margin. Philly is at the .500 mark despite leading the league in scoring at 44-44, 4 1/2 back, and the Fish and the Nats are 7 and 12 1/2 out, respectively. Let's hope the smelly ones falter, I can't stand it when my co-worker (huge NYM fan) gets uppity.

In the Central, the young Brew Crew is leading the divison with the best home record in the league and own a 4 1/2 lead over the Little Bears, and the defending WS champ Redbirds are swooning with a 40-45 record, 7 1/2 out. The Bucs are back 9, Stros and Cincy are both pretty far back in the rearview mirror at 10 1/2 and 13 back.

Out in the West, the Priests lead the league in fewest runs allowed and have the NL's best record at 49-38, but they hold a scant 1 game lead on the team formerly from Brooklyn. The Snakes are 3 1/2 back and even the Rocks are at .500 and only 5 1/2 out. The Midgets are 10 1/2 out.

Staying out on the Left Coast, but moving over to the Superior League, the team with a really long name holds a 2 game league on team Starbucks, the Fighting Irish are at .500, and the Lone Star law enforcement squad is 15 games out at 38-50. Ouch.

The Tiggers lead the league in scoring and have the top spot in the Central, but are being tracked closely by team Lake Erie, who only trail by 1 and have the best home record in the league. The Yellow Pastries with the creamy filling are 9 back at 45-43, with the Windy City Whiffers 13 back and the Peasants back 15, despite former Husker Alex Gordon turning his season around.

In the only division that matters, disasterous calamity has struck the faithful, as the Anti-Christ Spawns of Satan from Oysterland have the best record in the game at 53-34. These are truly the times that try men's souls. Team Canada and the Greatest Franchise in history are both 10 back, and Uncle Joe's position might be in jeopardy as even the Rocket has failed to right the ship. The Birds are 13 back, and Ocean Dwellers from Florida are 15 and again looking for the #1 draft pick, although they might have to arm wrestle the Nats and Cincy for the title.

Not sure how things are going to turn out, but the Yanks might be home for October this year as there are already 4 teams with 50 victories, Team Starbucks is at 49 and the Boss's club are a game below .500 right now. It appears that the WC won't come out of the East anyway. Over in the NL, there look to be about 8 teams in contention, with only the Central being a two team race. I'll call the Priests, Brew Crew and the Quakers with the Snakes as the WC in the NL (I know, wishful thinking) and the Heavenly Host, Tiggers and the Heart of EVIL as the division winners, with the Natives as the WC. Tiggers versus the Priests in the Series, which the Tiggers take in 6.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Antarctic Ice Core Reveals 800,000 Years of Climate Change

Almost to post number 500! (doesn't seem possible, but it's true) - and it just so happens to be one of those "bees in my bonnet" topics - global warming/climate change.

via National Geographic again, an ice core recovered from the South Pole by a French research team shows the climate history for over 3/4 of a million years. Earth has been up to 10 degrees colder and almost 5 degrees Celsius warmer over the historical record. The interesting thing is both the warmest and coldest periods that were uncovered were relatively recent, dating back to the latest Ice Age.

"The new climate record covers an additional cycle of glacial change, amounting to 11 cycles in total, lead author Jouzel said. Plugging the data from the entire core into an atmospheric model, the scientists were able to reconstruct a reliable temperature record for the past 800,000 years. In today's online journal Science, the team showed that the coldest period occurred around 20,000 years ago, during the last glacial maximum, when the ice sheets were at their peak.
It was about 10 degrees Celsius (18 degrees Fahrenheit) colder than today. (Related: "Antarctica's Atmosphere Warming Dramatically, Study Finds" [March 30, 2006].)
Meanwhile, the warmest period was during the last interglacial period, which is an interval of warmer global average temperature that separates ice ages. At that time, around 130,000 years ago, it was a balmy 4.5 degrees Celsius (8.1 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than today."

This is another of those things the global warming crowd don't seem to understand, or willfully choose to ignore in order to try to make their political point, which seems to be that we should all go back to horses and buggies or something.

We are still recovering from the last Ice Age, and there have also been quite a number of climate oscillations (like both the Medieval Warming period and the Little Ice Age within the last millennium, for example) within that time frame. So a 1 degree warming trend over the course of the last century (which is the biggest piece of evidence used to justify the warming theory) just isn't that big of a deal, and furthermore, no one can prove just how much human industrialization has influenced the warming we've seen.

Humans have adapted to far greater climate changes over just the last 20,000 years without the benefits of our current technology, so it is difficult to imagine (for this writer at least) a scenario with changes so severe, so dire that we can't adjust to it, however painful any change might be. Call me an optimist, but I believe humanity will survive, whatever actually occurs. So completely altering our economic and industrial base to address a potential, but still unproven (and unlikely) disaster just doesn't seem like a wise policy course for us to undertake.

Perhaps better evidence will be forthcoming and we will all die in a global cataclysm of flooding, the roaches will eventually take over and discuss amongst themselves human civilization the way we do the dinosaurs - but I doubt it.

Unexpected Evidence in the Capability of Fencing

Meant to post this a while back before the holiday and never got to posting it.

via National Geographic, of all places. Arizona's Organ Pipe National Monument is seeing unprecedented foot traffic by illegal immigrants and drug smugglers - after a fence was built preventing vehicular traffic through the park. Seems more fencing might be in order, don't you think?

"Fred Patton, chief ranger at the monument, said that since the 30-mile (48-kilometer) barrier was completed in July 2006, it has been almost 100-percent effective in keeping out illegal vehicles. The remote monument had been a popular crossing point for illegal immigrants and drug smugglers since 2001, Patton said. Upwards of a thousand people a day were crossing through the park, as vehicles loaded with people and drugs barreled through the desert.
"We were getting multiple vehicles that were bringing in either narcotics or illegal entrants," Patton said."

Of course, it can also be pointed out that the traffic near San Diego has dropped considerably since the fencing there was put up at the border as well. Thank you, Congressman Duncan Hunter (my preferred VP candidate for Fred!). Now you could argue that the fence just shifts the traffic elsewhere, which is true to some extent, but if you built a fence along the entire border, it would have to substantially inhibit traffic travelling north. Some people would still be so desperate they would still try, of course, but it would certainly inhibit many of those traveling north from even trying, and perhaps pressure the government of our southern neighbor to get its own house in order economically, so that its very productive and hard working citizens it now exports to our nation could succeed economically at home, where they belong.

Former GAO Man takes on myth of Fred Being "Lazy"

It's been a while since I found something interesting about my preferrred candidate for President, Fred! (I mean truly interesting, rather than some goof ball attempt by the opposition to damage his credibility) but I think I found it today.

Jeff Nelligan, former Government Accountability Office official, speaks to his experience with then Senator Thompson, and his account contrasts pretty starkly with the description of his service often characterized in the media.

"Thompson was the guy who knew all these arcane, and while other members were dancing around getting headlines on the issue of the day, Thompson was grinding it out in Committee; I know, I had to attend those hearings and they were full of minutiae.In fact, of the many Members I’ve dealt with in my primo roll as the number-one Hill hack, Thompson was one of the two or three who always impressed me as immersed in details, the guy who took on these arcane and non-headline issues, and pursued them doggedly. Another, coincidentally enough, was Senator Joe Lieberman, ranking on the Committee and a genuine friend of Thompson’s."

Not sure if I recall correctly, but a while back one notable right wing blogger (I think it was Captain Ed over at CQ) went over the last Congressional session Fred had served in and found him involved in (sponsoring, co-sponsoring, amending, etc) over 100 pending bills in the Senate. That's lazy? Hardly seems possible to be involved in over 100 pieces of legislation in a single session and be described that way, but when you are more focused on actually accomplishing something substantial rather than playing up to the Beltway media, and you are a R to boot, then I guess the facts don't matter much.

Astronomers Find Most Distant Galaxies Ever

via Livescience, astronomers at Hawaii's Mauna Kea observatory, using a sophisicated technique known as "gravitational lensing" to peer into the distant past, have discovered the earliest known galaxies, formed as early as 500 million years after the Big Bang, 13.2 billion years ago. The technique used to discover these early stars utilizes the gravity of forground stellar objects to "focus" the light coming from the more distant objects.

"The light from the half-dozen faraway star-forming galaxies was boosted about 20 times by the magnifying effect of the foreground galaxy cluster, said team member Dan Stark, a Caltech graduate student. Gravitational lensing is tricky, the researchers admit. To bolster their case, they point to very ancient galaxies that are just slightly closer, yet which already contain old stars."

Pretty amazing stuff.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Job Numbers

The Skeptical One looks here at the recent employment figures to try to determine where the latest meme of economic disaster will be spun from, and finds the news so overwhelmingly positive that we're not sure - but there still is a Republican in the White House, so it's just GOT to bad, somehow, someway.

His analysis is that not only are more people employed, but all those good manufacturing and construciton jobs that are disappearing are being replaced by HIGHER paying jobs in IT, wholesale trade and business services.

Ouch, that must hurt the NY Times staff's brains.

BTW, no posting over the holiday due to vacation and a much needed break. Got some excellent comments while I was away, however. Thanks!