Saturday, September 27, 2008

Bonus rant of the week: The Debate

Quick thoughts on the debate

I thought both gentlemen were relatively articulate. McCain is not a great speaker, but I thought he did well speaking-wise. I thought both gentlemen were relatively articulate. McCain is not a great speaker, but I thought he did well speaking-wise. Obama cut out a lot of the "ums" that some times plague his speeches.

The candidates did appease their base, but I think Obama might have resonated a little stronger with independents and undecideds. If these folks hadn’t seen Obama speak before, I think he showed a real grasp of issues, especially foreign policy. If there were people who thought he was “naive,” or “doesn’t understand” (as McCain put it), they clearly saw that was not the case. Additionally, Obama laid out more plans than McCain. For every topic, he said, “This is what I would do.” McCain repeated the same sound bites over and over.

Obama killed the Pakistan discussion and he pretty much knocked the foreign policy discussion out of the park. While Obama continued to explain in nuance and talk about what he would do, McCain just kept repeating “you would negotiate with terrorists!” McCain couldn’t expand on any thoughts or flesh out his statements. He merely repeated the same talking points over and over. I can’t believe McCain kept insisting Obama was stubborn and wouldn’t admit the surge was working. Um, John, where were you 20 minutes ago when he said the surge was working? I hope these obvious miscues hurt him.

The one mistake of Obama’s I noticed right away was when Leher asked him what programs he would cut because of the financial crisis. Instead of answering the question, he talked about his priorities. Finally, after McCain talked, Obama did mention reducing subsides and ending the war in Iraq. But it was too late. His dodge allowed critics to spew the BS about being a waffler and never answering the question.

Another difference that was very apparent is McCain’s black and white, right and wrong ideology versus Obama’s deeper nuanced thinking. I know some people like that trait in McCain and dislike Obama’s long complicated explanations, but I certainly don’t. McCain is very similar to Bush in this regard. Issues are complicated, not simple. All issues are tinged in shade of gray. Anyway, I thought this difference really stood out in the foreign policy debate.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Rant of the Week: The impending bailout and/or economic fallout

Never thought I would regret not taking more economy classes. This is a difficult situation for everyone to get their heads around. I’m still unsure whether the bailout is a good idea. I’m pretty sure that it really stunk as Paulson first offered it, but was less offensive after some conditions that were added by Congress before the whole thing fell apart Thursday night.

Yes, the bailout stinks. It goes against important principles of accountability and a risk-reward capitalistic economy. It’s cool to say, “We’re not going to bail out these guys, it was their fault!” Yeah! That sounds great. Who’s going to disagree with that? From the forum/blog chatter I’m seeing, most Americans agree. “Let the billionaires suffer,” they say. Many of us have done our homework. We’ve entered into good mortgages, we’ve saved money, kept our debt down, and done everything the right way. So we’ll be okay through this mess, right? Not necessarily. It’s dangerous to assume that this won’t touch you. Hope you don’t need a loan. Hope you have a government job. Hope you’re not depending on your 401(k) anytime soon. Hope investments don’t make up a large portion of your nest egg. Money and well-being might not “trickle down,” but financial ruin might.

We can all see the negative side of the bailout now. However, we cannot see the negative side of doing nothing. I think when people are confronted with the evil they don’t know as opposed to the evil they know, they will inevitably favor the unknown. Those of you/us who oppose the bailout might think differently in 6 months when the results of a massive depression are worse for Americans than a bailout would have been. Even the brightest economists aren’t sure what is going to happen if we do or do not implement the bailout, so how can we pundits be so sure? It’s pretty scary for sure.

I believe McCain’s obstruction on Thursday to Congress’ adjusted plan is responding to the large public outcry against a bail out. Although, as I stated above, the bailout might be the lesser of two evils, I give him props for at least staying consistent to conservative principles. If economic conservatives want to preach no regulations and free markets, then markets should be free to crash without government intervention. It will interesting to see how this plays out in the debate tonight.

Although with my limited knowledge I can’t offer a solution, I can poach one. Read this interesting bit about how Sweden overcame their financial crisis:

A piece:

Sweden did not just bail out its financial institutions by having the government take over the bad debts. It extracted pounds of flesh from bank shareholders before writing checks. Banks had to write down losses and issue warrants to the government.

That strategy held banks responsible and turned the government into an owner. When distressed assets were sold, the profits flowed to taxpayers, and the government was able to recoup more money later by selling its shares in the companies as well.

The important thing isn’t only mitigating this issue, it’s preventing future catastrophes. Now even McCain and the “no regulation” crowd are seeing that deregulation was the problem. Hopefully this will lead to some sensible controls and accountability on Wall Street.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Guest Rant of the Week: Climate Change

My coworker, an anthropogenic climate change denier, forwarded me this article about a climate change scientist:

No smoking hot spot

This guy contends, “by 2007 the evidence was pretty conclusive that carbon played only a minor role and was not the main cause of the recent global warming.” Since I’m not exactly knowledgeable in climatology, I asked for by best friend Micah’s reaction. (Micah’s one month away from a PhD in physics from UW). Here’s his response:

My position is that WE DON'T KNOW about the feedback mechanisms that control global temperature.

Cartoon picture: keep track of all the energy coming in and going out. In the (quasi-)steady state, these must be equal. Obviously solar radiation and geothermal energy heat the earth surface; energy is lost by reflection or re-radiation. The loss mechanisms become more effective at higher temps (the heating mechanisms do not depend on temp), and the avg. temperature is the one at which the incoming power is balanced by outgoing power.

The problem is the loss mechanisms are very complicated (the incoming solar flux is pretty easy to deal with). The global climate system is too complex to simulate (ever wonder why your cat is about as good at predicting the weather as the TV weatherman?). So we don't know what is going to happen, but CO_2 levels are higher now than they have been for a very long time, and headed up. Our choice now is to choose whether or not to run the experiment that will show us what happens when you increase CO_2. If we want to see, we can just keep flying, burning coal for electricity, and running our F350s and reading 'Auto Trader' in the store parking lot while our wives are inside chatting up the cashier.

I would not believe any predictions regarding temperature from anybody regardless of their political tendencies, b/c the science is not there. In science you have to be skeptical. To my mind, the pressing problem is not temperature but atmospheric composition, which is not controversial. Neither is the source. It has been widely believed for a long time that increased CO_2 means greater temps via the greenhouse mechanism (the surface cools more slowly b/c long- wavelength radiation is less likely to escape the atmosphere). I assume the 'hot spot' he is talking about is due to the deposition of this radiation in the CO_2-rich atmosphere (at 'normal' CO_2 levels the energy escapes. But it is a complicated system with many factors (e.g. cloud formation, ocean currents, polar ice, etc.). I'm not sure how well the greenhouse effect is understood in real systems (e.g. I don't think we could accurately predict the surface temp. of Venus from knowledge of its orbit and atmospheric content -- but we could say with confidence that it is higher than it would be w/o such a dense atmosphere).

In the same vein I do not believe that failure to observe the 'hot spot’ is definitive evidence that the greenhouse effect is not raising temps. It could be there and unobserved (experiments are really hard -- it took forever to observe the neutrino, with many failed attempts, but, holy shit, it turned out to be real!!). Or the greenhouse mechanism could be working but not exactly as expected. OTOH, if an anomaly was predicted and then observed, I would take that as strong evidence that the theory making the prediction had some validity. I think the public has difficulty dealing with uncertainty in science. Which is too bad, b/c that's mostly what you get.

Oh yeah, and by the public, I mean Al Gore. I thought it was immoral (almost evil) and almost certainly unproductive to insinuate a link between large storms and CO_2 emissions in his movie. It's not that I don’t think such a link is likely (seems very plausible to me), but there is no data yet. When Gore promises that we can avoid trouble by cutting emissions, he is making an assertion that he can not support with anything but a gut feeling. Now every year that doesn't produce a cat 5 storm we will have to listen to a bunch of morons tell us how it’s stupid to conserve energy.

Who knows what will happen as CO_2 levels increase? Personally, I would prefer not to find out.

Some specific responses to the article:

The other three global temperature records use a mix of satellite and land measurements, or satellite only, and they all show no warming since 2001 and a recent cooling.

I'm not sure what the scientific consensus is, but I thought warming was still observed and not controversial. I could be wrong. The IPCC report will have a reliable answer (with error bars) to this one.

The new ice cores show that in the past six global warmings over the past half a million years, the temperature rises occurred on average 800 years before the accompanying rise in atmospheric carbon. Which says something important about which was cause and which was effect.

I'm not sure I agree with this. Is he implying that new ice core data contradicts the old data? The dates were very accurate on the old data b/c they were counted BY HAND, and there were many stratiagraphic markers. How did they measure the CO_2 concentrations way back? I bet it is some complicated deductive process with lots of assumptions originating from some isotopic analysis of the ice, and I am quite skeptical that they could say anything definitive about which precedes which. Also, how does one explain the temp. rise associated with large eruptions w/o invoking the greenhouse mechanism?

Land-based temperature readings are corrupted by the "urban heat island" effect: urban areas encroaching on thermometer stations warm the micro-climate around the thermometer, due to vegetation changes, concrete, cars, houses.

Ummm... what we want to measure is the actual temp. The 'micro-
climates' near urban areas contribute to the global average, too.



Friday, September 5, 2008

Professional Rant of the Week: Sarah Palin gender card

John Stewart on the double-talk of the Right. Brilliant stuff. I love how he tries, but just cannot contain his anger and disgust.

Rant of the Week: RNC

So you guys might not have watched much of it, but I did check out a few speeches during the Republican National Convention. One must know an adversary’s positions to counter them, right? Well, it was tough to stomach and I almost blew chunks a few times, but I did manage to learn a few things. Here are a few thoughts.

I know the Democrats came out attacking, but the attacks paled in comparison to the sewer-dwelling lies and fear peddling of the right. It was downright astonishing, even when I fully expected these Rove tactics. Fred Thompson, Rudi Giuliani, Mitt Romney and Sarah Palin offered lie after vicious attack. The Republicans have shown that they want to conduct their campaign just like they conduct their foreign policy: Attack, mock, and bully.

Sarah Palin’s speech had to be the biggest disgrace to American politics I’ve ever seen (okay, maybe I’m forgetting a Bush speech or two). I wanted to come away from Palin's speech with an idea what she stood for. What policies does she advocate? How would these policies bring about the change even the Republicans admit we need? Instead, I saw that Sarah Palin stands for insults, smears, and attacks. Fear Obama! Your taxes will go up (despite his tax plan). Terrorists will win! Gas prices will skyrocket and Saudis will win! FEAR OBAMA! This was the same drivel levelled at the Democrats speech after speech. Please, America. Not this time. Let's make sure the fear peddling and lies doesn't work this time. Not this time.

(One more side rant about Palin. It absolutely cracked me up that the right is pointing both barrels at the media and Democrats for “degrading attacks” on Sarah. First off all, the Obama campaign tactfully had no comment on Palin’s 17 year old pregnant daughter. Not one word from his campaign or any prominent Dem. As far as the press goes, this is a vice presidential candidate you dumb cocksuckers! Is this not news worth covering? If not, what is? The press digs into every single detail of Obama’s life, including his former pastor, his wife, his former acquaintances, people he talked to once, and his house pets. During this pitiful digging, much of which was negative, the right still railed on about “liberal media.” Now when the press does 2 minutes of basic reporting on a vice presidential candidate, the right again plays the “liberal media” card. What were they expecting, the media to ignore a woman that could be our next president? The media is not spreading lies here, this is basic news. What a joke. Drives me completely nuts.)

McCain’s speech was better than Palin's. I was hoping McCain would utilize the same sleazy gutter tactics as his running mate did Wednesday night. While her speech "energized the base," the below the belt attacks did nothing to gain their ticket more votes, only to sicken everyone but hard core Repubs. McCain's delivery wasn't dazzling, of course (zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz), and the content was light, but there was more than Palin's (um, that’s not hard). I think the McCain speech was the only thing that saved the RNC from a complete disaster.

The Republicans NEEDED to acknowledge the failure of their party the last 7 years. To continually attack the Democrats for spending and fiscal responsibility run very hollow and hypocritical. McCain's honesty about the failed Bush administration was just what those undecided voters needed to hear. McCain showed some of the McCain of old, the Maverick, who had been in hidding since the campaign started.

Now that the Republicans have co-opted the Dem's theme of change (which is wise), will the public really turn to the same party for change? The same party that has pretty much been right in line with Bush policies, or the party that at least has shown some effort to change things the last few years?

McCain wants to return to the Maverick of old. If he does, that’s great, but he’ll have to flip-flop BACK to his original positions, which he left aside a while ago. If McCain is serious about change, why are his policies all the same as the Bush administration? Why is he still insisting on 100 years in Iraq? Why did he move away from opposing Bush’s tax cuts for the richest Americans? Why does he discount diplomacy is a viable foreign policy tool? Why is he in lock step with Bush on energy issues? Sorry, John, but one speech isn’t enough, and it’s not consistent with the policies you now support. Unless you actually show some real change and change your views to be different from George W. Bush’s why should we really trust you to change Washington?

In addition, if he is indeed tired of the political rancor, then he needs to put a muzzle on his attack dogs. Really, how hypocritical is it to talk about stopping the division and fear, why did his running mate do little but peddle fear and lies Wednesday night? So John, are you going to release the Karl Rove campaign team now that you’re tired of partisan bickering? I doubt it. And I’m not upset about it, as this will once again expose him as a hypocrite.

McCain is going to have a hard time living up to that speech. I feel the GOP is going in two directions at once, with McCain wanting to push his Maverick image while other interests in the party want nothing to do with change. This is going to be hard sell.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Rant of the Week: GOP think tank does not error in Sarah Palin choice

At first when I heard that GOP presidential hopeful John McCain picked Alaska governor Sarah Palin for vice president, I thought it was a stupid move. “Do you really think you’re going to get former Hillary supporters to vote for a woman with very opposite values and political views?” However, after some more thought, I think it was a smart pick by Karl Rove and McCain’s campaign committee.

It’s common knowledge that picking a VP doesn’t buy a presidential candidate many votes. At the most, you might pick up a few more votes in the VP’s home state. Palin has the potential to gain McCain more votes than any other would be VP candidate. What would a pick such as Mitt Romney get McCain? A few votes in Massachusetts still aren’t going to win that liberal state for McCain. He probably would gain a few votes in Utah and the other Mormon states, but he’s got those in the bag already. Sarah Palin, however, creates an opportunity for McCain to pick up quite a few women throughout every state.

Some women are rightfully screaming “how dare you insult us like this? You think you can run ANY woman and get our votes?” No, that’s not what McCain/Rove think. They don’t care about the offended liberal women—their votes aren’t up for grabs. These liberal, thoughtful women, whether they originally supported Hillary or Obama, are now solidly behind Barack Obama. Fortunately for the Dems, polls are showing that the party is not as divided as the media was pushing. However, there still are some really pissed off bitches out there who continue to swear that they will not vote for Obama. Let me give you an example of a post of one such woman:

valwayne wrote:
Hillary last night showed why she should be the nominee of the party. She showed what an enormous mistake "The Obama' made in not offerring her the VP spot. And she showed how a true stateman/woman behaves even in the face of a continuous barrage of contempt and humilation for "The Obama. Rather than a huge party nominating Hillary who would be ahead 20 points in the polls the party is stuck with an inexperienced, incredibly arrogant, and sexist man with a messiah complex. Even in victory he can't treat Hillary and Bill with respect. There is nothing in this world more ugly then a bad winner who insists on rubbing it in your face. The rest of Hillary's supporters can bow down and worship at the altar of "The ONE they've been waiting for”, but I will never vote for him. Hillary 2012

Okay, here we clearly have a psycho Hillary supporter who obviously could give a shit about the values that Hillary stood for. Despite the fact that her candidate Hillary gave a very convincing speech for Obama and frankly asked her supporters to vote for him, they are undaunted in their hatred of Obama. Despite the fact that Hillary’s platform is nearly identical to Obama’s and very different from McCain’s, these women could give a flying ****. They never were true Democrats, never were true Hillary supporters, and they never were voting for values or issues. There's no other logical answer besides that they want a woman in the White House. Period.

Some of these women could be bluffing, and could actually end up holding their nose and voting for Obama. However, if people like the woman above are dead serious, they are debating whether to not vote at all or vote for McCain. McCain’s pick of Palin could tip the scales, resulting in some of these women voting for his ticket.

One could argue that these people he picks up would be offset by those he could lose in picking such an inexperienced (or insert your other critique) VP candidate. Maybe the new news that Palin’s 17 year old daughter is pregnant will hurt them. Frankly, I doubt it. As far as I’m concerned, regardless of how unhappy everyone is with Bush, Karl Rove and the Republican think tanks are the champions until defeated. Once again we see why.

Recipe of the Week: Thai Green Curry

Thai Green Curry Paste

6 – 10 jalapenos, seeded and chopped
2 T. chopped garlic
1/4 c. chopped shallots or green onions
1 T. chopped ginger
1/4 c. cilantro
1.5 t ground coriander
1 t. caraway seeds
3/4 t. ground black pepper
1 t. ground cumin
1/2 t. ground nutmeg
1/4 t. ground cloves
2 t. grated lemon rind
3 to 4 T. vegi oil

Puree the ingredients in a blender to a smooth paste, adding oil as needed. Makes around 1 cup of paste.

Mix the curry paste with coconut milk for a killer green curry. I’d mix 1 cup paste with about 1.5 cups coconut milk. Add 1 T fish sauce (or some salt), 1 pound chicken, beef, pork, and/or vegis, a couple teaspoons lemon juice, and a bunch of fresh basil and mint.