Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Seinfeld + Clemson = snacking insight.

Remember the Seinfeld episode where George double-dips his chip, drawing the ire of another party-goer? (see film below) I remember when the episode first aired, and how it made everyone more sensitive, though I wondered if there was any research behind it.

Well, it turns out that that paragon of higher education, Emclons* University, has conducted research in this area. Their conclusion: yes, double-dipping does transfer extra bacteria, but not much - probably the equivalent of a kiss' worth. This means that you probably shouldn't be concerned if you're snacking with family, but you might want to be careful at a larger party of strangers.

* Emclons is a spelling of Clemson used at least once. One year, Clemson's football team came to Charlottesville as a big underdog. As any other school, Clemson brought cheerleaders with C, L, E, M, S, O, N flags that would run on to the field to spell Clemson following a touchdown. Well, Clemson played so well (and UVa so poorly) that Clemson's 3rd TD in the first quarter made the cheerleaders so giddy that they ran onto the field with the flags grossly out of order, spelling EMCLONS.

Hat tip: WSJ Health Blog.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Interesting quote.....

I just finished listening to a podcast featuring noted economist Thomas Sowell, promoting his new book Economic Facts and Fallacies.

Sowell made some great points, so I did a little research on him and returned this quote that while damning, is true:

"Much of the social history of the Western world over the past three decades has involved replacing what worked with what sounded good. In area after area - crime, education, housing, race relations - the situation has gotten worse after the bright new theories were put into operation. The amazing thing is that this history of failure and disaster has neither discouraged the social engineers nor discredited them."

We need to find a way to 1) score the impact of social engineering, and following that 2) put to sleep s the social engineering programs that are distructive, 3) erase political incentives for promoting ill-conceived or ill-executed social engineering. (Right now, the political system rewards politicians and candidates that introduce new programs, such as Hillary Clinton's "Baby Bonds" program.)

Thursday, January 24, 2008


Some interesting writings generated by the Clinton/Obama experience debate that riff on the difference between managers and leaders. A commenter on the article linked above ("Katie") offered this very accurate juxtaposition of managers and leaders.

Manager vs. Leader:
A manager takes care of where you are; a leader takes you to a new place.
A manager deals with complexity; a leader deals with uncertainty.
A manager is concerned with finding the facts; a leader makes decisions.
A manager is concerned with doing things right; a leader is concerned with doing the right things. A manager’s critical concern is efficiency; a leader focuses on effectiveness.
A manager creates policies; a leader establishes principles.
A manager sees and hears what is going on; a leader hears when there is no sound and sees when there is no light.
A manager finds answers and solutions; a leader formulates the questions and identifies the problems.

Likewise, Nicholas Kristof in the NYT talks at length about the experience debate. Two points from his article stand-out:

1) generally, Presidents with loads of political experience tend to disappoint (think Nixon), while Presidents with little political experience tend to be great (think Teddy Roosevelt (2 and a half years combined experience as Governor and US VP) or Abraham Lincoln (1 term in the House of Representatives)).

2) there is tremendous irony that as Bill Clinton campaigned for President in '92 he made a point of highlighting his lack of experience in DC, in contrast to GHW Bush, saying '“The same old experience is not relevant.” He suggested that the most useful training comes not from hanging around the White House and Congress but rather from experience “rooted in the real lives of real people” so that “it will bring real results if we have the courage to change.”'

Friday, January 18, 2008

Why Congress shouldn't set economic policy, episode #4,395

Marcy Kaptur is a 13-term Congresswoman from Ohio, and a senior member of the House Budget and Appropriations committees.

From her positions on free trade (she's against it), you don't really need to know any economics to serve on either of those financial committees. But don't worry, America, Representative Kaptur isn't going to let her ignorance get in the way of scoring political points.

Apparently, you don't even need to know who you're lecturing to score political points. But, you do need to know who you're lecturing in order to avoid being a complete idiot.

As US representatives often do, Kaptur used a Budget committee meeting in order to score points by railing on CEO greed contributing to the subprime mortgage crisis and CEO salaries as a contributor to the current economic malaise (among other very bad things, at least in her mind.) She was lining up to ask Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, the former CEO of Goldman Sachs other pointed questions based on her knowledge of economics, but there was one problem: she was reading her narrative targeting the Treasury Secretary to the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke.

So, a senior member of 2 important financial committees can't tell the difference between the 2 most important economic officials in America. As Cato asks: "if she can’t tell the difference between the secretary of the Treasury and the chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, should she be overseeing the budget of the United States government?"

Of course, this only derailed Kaptur for a few seconds, and she continued to read her Paulson-specific questions to Bernanke.

Better coverage of Kaptur's duh moment is available here, or you can watch a clip from her verbal car crash.

Hat tip to the Cato @ Liberty folks who pointed this out.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

One more appeal for Colin Powell

Jim Lehrer (PBS) interviews Colin Powell sometime in the last year or so. Powell speaks eloquently about the US presence in Iraq (and very politely separates himself from GW Bush), reminding me of just what a solid candidate for President Colin Powell would be.

Give this a listen to hear what an erudite leader sounds like, and also what informed, but apolitical opinion sounds like.

One last try, before the primary season slips away: Powell for President!

as a side note, when did generals stop running for higher office? Sure, Wesley Clark tried in '00, but he's a flake. We've had guys like Ike, Grant, Jackson, and Washington. In general (pun intended), I'd much rather have a President who's background was leading troops than someone who's background follows an arc from lawyer to politician (Biden, the Clintons, Dodd, Edwards, Guiliani, Hunter, Obama, Thompson) (Or worse: theologian to politician (Huckabee.))

Sunday, January 13, 2008

good for a chuckle.....

Did you hear about the new themed restaurant, "IFH Mondays?" It's just like TGI Fridays, except it's different.

Watch this video to learn more.....

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Manned space exploration: good investment, or not?

Great debate via the excellent Freakonomics blog.

While I'm very firmly an advocate of human space flight (I'd say the lame pursuit of human space exploration is one of the biggest failings in my lifetime), I was stunned by how thin the arguments are for human space flight.

The arguments for human space flight basically summed to:

1) it's a good investment, as development of the space program has generated inventions from velcro to GPS, etc.
2) we should do it because we're explorers, or because we need another planet to balance the fact that the Earth as we know it could vanish thru human activity (war, environmental crises) or external threats (asteroids, etc.)
3) it doesn't cost TOO much (with variations on the theme of "it's a tiny amount when compared to.....")

These aren't exactly overwhelming arguments.

Personally, I think the quest for Helium-3 energy is a compelling argument for human space exploration (or microwave-transmitted solar power). Beyond that, I can't contribute any other compelling argument either, though I KNOW we should be doing more of it.

The counter-arguments are classic: there's a better use for the $$$ curing social ills here on Earth. I can't argue with that, as there's clearly a need, though the libertarian arguments of "how about we just not have the government spend the money at all," and "if space exploration is so worthwhile, why not let the private sector do it?" have resonance with me.

These, and other arguments are coherently put forth in reader comments, which is something that I also found interesting - I got as much out of my reading of the reader comments as I did out of the editorial. In fact, the reader comments collectively were a stronger counter argument.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Whoah! Smashing global warming idea from Richard Branson

Richard Branson - mega entrepreneur and environmental advocate - has a global warming idea that really deserves additional consideration. He suggests (in the article linked above) that rising seas due to global warming be channeled into African or Asian hinterlands to create new inland lakes. The lakes would bring life to deserts, reducing carbon in the atmosphere (as new trees grow), and conceivably boost the very poor local economies. Additionally, the lakes would help to cool the earth, acting as heat sinks.

One counter argument might be that the lakes would change weather patterns, but on the whole, I think this is a brilliant idea. What if we could actually create arable land from desert?

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

A few worthwhile links....

Reader's Digest 23 tips to reduce the likelihood of catching a cold or the flu this winter. (Love the idea of using your drying towel in a restroom to open the restroom door to exit.)

Website to access your annual free credit report.

Video of the Iranian Navy "harassing" the US Navy in the Persian Gulf (hat tip to the Cato blog for pointing out this video.)

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Sen. Clinton: "I'm running on 35 years of change."

Senator Clinton is trying to fuse her main tagline (experience) with what voters are asking for (change). Let's scrutinize her "35 years of change" from age 25 to today (60).

I'll fuse several biased and unbiased view of HRC's life into one timeline for you to decide if she's an agent of change (feel free to skip the detail to see the summary at the bottom). My sources for this analysis are:

NYT: "Milestones: Hillary Clinton"
Online study guide: "Life History of Hillary Clinton"
"Arkansas connections" - anti-Clinton website

1973: graduates Yale law school; does post-graduate study on children & medicine; turns down Bill Clinton's request to marry him.
1974: serves on Nixon impeachment inquiry staff, House Judiciary Committee
1974: fails Washington, DC bar exam.
1974: moves to Arkansas to take a position on the faculty of the University of Arkansas School of Law
1975: marries Bill Clinton
1977: joins the Rose law firm. Her primary focus is patent and intellectual property law, but her primary clients become banking and business ventures of political cornies (Jim McDougal, etc.) Also performs pro bono child advocacy work.
1977: starts 'Arkansas Advocates for for Children and Families.
1977: appointed to the Board of the Legal Services Corporation, a Congress-funded vehicle to provide legal services to the poor. Eventually served as Chairperson of the Board
1978: buys "Whitewater" land in the Ozark mountains
1978: turns $1,000 cattle futures investment into $100,000 in 10 months.
1978: becomes first lady of Arkansas
1979: named a partner at Rose law firm.
1979: makes $44,000 on a $2,000 investment in a cell phone franchise
1979: lobbies on behalf of the Nicaragaun Contras
1980: daughter Chelsea born.
1981: no longer first lady of Arkansas with Bill Clinton's electoral defeat.
1981: writes "If Reaganomics works at all, Whitewater could become the Western Hemisphere's Mecca."
1983: first lady of Arkansas again.
1983: named Arkansas woman of the year.
1984: named Arkansas mother of the year.
1988: named as one of the most influential lawyers in America
1993: First lady of the USA. She becomes the first First lady to ever be subject of a criminal investigation, and first to be subpoenaed
1993: Initiates what becomes the White House travel offices scandal. Fires 7 longtime WH employees with charges of mismanagement and embezzlement with the intent to outsource business to an Arkansas campaign supporter.
1994: authors Clinton Health Care plan developed in secret with Ira Magaziner. Thankfully, this single-payer approach is quickly shelved. As the plan was exposed, HRC's approval rating as First Lady fell to 35% - the lowest ever recorded for a First Lady. Opposition to the plan became a centerpiece of the Republican's 1994 Congressional election, and the Republicans picked up 53 seats in the midterm election.
1996: Publishes "It Takes a Village."
1996: appears before the Whitewater grand jury
1996: in a TV interview, says that she was named after Sir Edmund Hillary, conqueror of Mt Everest. However, Clinton was born 6 years before Hillary summitted Everest, when Edmund Hillary was working as a beekeepper.
1997: helped establish SCHIP (State Children's Health Insurance Program) and the Adoption and Safe Families Act.
1998: on the Today Show, attributes the Lewinsky controversy to a "vast right-wing conspiracy."
2000: runs for US Senate
2001: Senator from NY
Senate record: characterized by her votes on important issues, but virtually no iniatives of her own; voted for war in Iraq and the Patriot Act; supported military action in Afghanistan; voted against Bush tax cuts; called for the FTC to investigate sex scenes in a video game; voted against prohibition of same-sex marriages
2006: wins re-election to the US Senate
2007: Democratic candidate for President
2007: disclosed that the Clinton's net worth is in excess of $50,000,000

dates uncertain or ranges::
1985-1992: served on TCBY's board of directors. (Yes, the yogurt store.)
1986-1992: served on Wal-Mart's board of directors.
'80's: chair of Arkansas 'Rural Health Advisory Committee'
'80's: chaired the Arkansas Educational Standards Committee, by which a statewide system of teacher testing was installed
1987-1991: chaired American Bar Association's Commission on Women in the Profession.
1986-1992: chaired Children's Defense Fund.
'90's (as First Lady): advocated many health initiatives (more mammogran and prostate cancer testing, etc.)

15 years as a corporate lawyer
heavily involved with corporate interests and definitely some very shady people and deals.
19 years as First Lady of Arkansas or the USA
6 years as a US Senator without much impact.
consistent and prominent voice for children and families

In conclusion: not only can I not see anything close to 35 years of change, I really don't see much of an impact in 35 years. Can anyone argue otherwise?

Saturday, January 05, 2008

%$&*%^ you, Iowa!

Apparently, the thoughtfulness and wisdom that you Iowans applied to the Democratic Caucuses was all used up by the time of the Republican Caucuses. I can't believe that after all of the scrutiny during the last few months, you decided upon an ineffective shyster who's primary selling point is his relationship with God.

All exit polls suggest that the Iowa Caucuses was simply an endorsement of Huckabee by evangelicals. What a horrible way to select a President!

I understand that it was a vote for commonly held values, and I appreciate the sentiment, but what about the candidates' capabilities, and intent (policies)? What about the policies that resulted from the current President's reliance on his relationship with God?

In selecting Huckabee, you've voted that you believe that the typical social debates (abortion, gay marriage, etc.) are more important that more tangible debates (Iraq, fiscal sanity, etc.)

While I may share some social policy positions with the Iowa evangelicals, I'm less interested in trying to break un-breakable deadlocks like the abortion debate, and more interested in addressing the issues that affect me and most Americans on a daily basis, and which definitely have a more tangible impact on the future of America. (Perhaps I'm underselling moral imperatives, but I believe that imposing some gay marriage solution (of any type) means less to America's future than, say, a free trade agreement with South America, solving the pending social security insolvency, or reforming the tax code.)

Any casual analysis of Huckabee's record indicates its' as thin as his veneer. But even if Republican voters see through Huckabee, they are still setting the party up to lose in '08 unless the primary election is less focused on God, and more focused on the tangible issues of today. (Though I can understand why the party is reluctant to spend any time talking about the issues of today. After all, is there ANYTHING good to be said about the involvement in Iraq?)

Thank you Iowa!

Thank you, Iowa, for your loud vote for change, and for validating a promising Presidential candidate in the Caucuses earlier this week. Your vote for Senator Obama anointed a dynamic candidate as a welcome agent of change, and in doing so, made a bold statement that makes me feel good about America (and the dynamic candidate isn't even someone I expect to vote for!)

With your selection of Senator Obama, you voted against the politics of the last ~15 years - confrontational, partisan, bitter, spin-filled, and largely vacant. You voted for someone who understands that the President should be a leader first, and a policy wonk second. You voted that good personal traits, charisma, and a positive vision trump "experience*," connections, and a slick political machine.

You didn't vote for someone who thinks they have the perfect resume for the job, because you know that President isn't a job to be applied for. You know that great Presidents aren't elected based on their resume (think Lincoln).

You weren't afraid to ignore the party machine - perhaps you were motivated to vote AGAINST the machine.
You weren't afraid to ignore the candidate managed by consultants and pollsters in favor of the genuine agent of change.
You weren't seduced by a disingenuine Washington-insider railing against lobbyists and corporate interests.

Because of your vote in the Caucuses, the primary is now less of a coronation, more of a contest to pick the better person, and happily less of a contest of dueling policies.

* Sen. Clinton loudly trumpets her experience, even saying she has 35 years of public service. (Anyone think working at a corporate law firm is public service?) But seriously, can anyone point to one significant success associated with Sen. Clinton? Feel free to list 'em in the comments section for my benefit.

With my new friends on the Great Wall of China

With my new friends on the Great Wall of China
Click to go to my online photography

World sun clock

Uncommon Man's Creed

"I do not choose to be a common man. It is my right to be uncommon -- if I can. I seek opportunity -- not security. I do not wish to be a kept citizen, humbled and dulled by having the state look after me. I wish to take the calculated risk; to dream and to build, to fail and to succeed. I refuse to barter incentive for a dole, I prefer the challenges of life to the guaranteed existence; the thrill of fulfillment to the stale calm of utopia. I will not trade freedom for beneficence, nor my dignity for a handout. I will never cower before any master, nor bend to any threat. It is my heritage to stand erect, proud, and unafraid, to think and act for myself, to enjoy the benefit of my creations, and to face the world boldly and say, "this I have done." All this is what it means to be an American." -- Anonymous