Sunday, August 31, 2008

A comment on the disappearance of no comments

I know I am a minor figure in the blogging scheme of things. I don’t break stories and my opinions are little noted. Which is fine with me. If I do come up with something or several things that are clever, maybe someone will notice. If I blog a lot more, perhaps everyday, I get more traffic, I know this. But I am content with my position in the order of things.

I do allow comments, albeit not (strictly speaking) anonymous ones. But Blogger and blogging in general have an interesting definition of anonymous. When you don’t allow anonymous comments, it means your commenters can not hit the “anonymous” button. I don’t know if that masks your IP address (probably not), but if you still want to remain anonymous on my blog or the other few blogs that don’t allow “anonymous” comments, you just choose a nickname for yourself when you sign up with Google. You could choose a new nickname every time you comment, except you have to give an email address, and having an unlimited supply of email addresses is beyond the abilities most people.

I decided not to allow anonymous comments because of Pat Dowd. He had expressed an irritation with anonymous commenters, feeling like their presence suppressed genuine debate (I hope I got that right). I tried to explain that anonymity is a tradition of the internet (I believe), but I also partly agreed with Dr. Dowd. Being forced to adopt a consistent persona, even if we don’t know who are, makes debate flow more smoothly, and more sophisticated arguments can be developed.

That’s why I think sites that don’t allow commenters are not really blogs. There are only a few; the Carbolic Smoke Ball and Teacher, Wordsmith, Madman are two come to mind. Actually, the Carbolic Smoke Ball is more like entertainment. Teacher, Wordsmith, Madman is Chad Hermann’s vehicle, which I have written about before.

Dr. Hermann has decided to hang up his blogging … er keyboard, apparently. In his second to last post he complained about an email he got where a reader told him it was not enough to not complain about Barack Obama, Dr. Hermann needed to actively praise him. Then Dr. Hermann posted this on Thursday:

(with this.)

The rest is silence.”

Now, my understanding is that Dr. Hermann is currently a speechwriter for Tim Murphy. I don’t have the faintest idea whether that is related, or if a commenter threatened him, or he wanted to vacate the stage to make way for Sarah Palin. I will say that I think the opportunities for comments are an important part of a blog. I know, I get very few comments, but I am ok with that. I could get more if I chose to stir the pot. And that would be a good thing. If you think that someone who writes things that other people may read is spreading falsehoods, it is actually a good thing to be able to argue with them, force them to back up their opinions. Dr. Hermann obviously did not do that, and if he ended up feeling mischaracterized on other blogs (hopefully not mine, but in fact probably on mine), he bears some of the responsibility. I liked some of the funny stuff he wrote. But I like pretty much all the funny stuff Dave Barry writes.

Just a quick, unfair note on Sarah Palin. John McCain’s first wife was a former model. McCain’s second wife participated in beauty pageants. And now he has picked as his veep candidate a former beauty pageant contestant. His first choice was said to be Joe Lieberman, but Lieberman tested poorly with Republicans (possibly because Lieberman is a Democrat). So McCain went with the adolescent boy choice. Meanwhile, since Palin is younger than Obama, with an equally brief resume, should we compare schooling? University of Idaho in journalism with a minor in Political Science, with no mention of class rank. Versus Columbia, BA in Political Science, Harvard Law – president of the Law Review and magna cum laude. Forget her being pro-life, she believes in teaching creationism. Our kids aren’t being educated now, and she wants to weaken the curriculum.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Ford is Job One (was that the catch phrase?) ...

So by now Pittsburgh should know that Pat Ford resigned. His letter was carried online on the Post-Gazette and Bob Mayo’s websites. It was apparently aimed at Yarone Zober, but to my way of thinking it is practically gibberish and simultaneously career suicide. He starts by complaining that he has received no support from the administration. He complains that although it has been two weeks since the state ethics board cleared him, the administration has not talked about reinstating him. But what ford fails to distinguish is that it was Ford’s lawyer who declared Ford cleared, and no one has heard from the ethics board directly.

From there it takes a right turn into looneyville. Ford complains that he does not “support the actions of what I believe to be a failed administration and no longer desire to return to a position where I will again be forced to serve as a scapegoat for the inappropriate affairs and activities of others.”. He further says that he “believed that by working together we could have a positive impact on this City, embracing all that it has to offer. But that vision never materialized, and as I have always said, "Where there is no vision, people perish." I have no desire to perish along with Luke Ravenstahl's Pittsburgh.” Then there is the whole culture of deception and corruption thing and people who support him being retaliated against. Those things could be true, but the thing is that Pat Ford was a very high ranking official in the Ravenstahl administration. He could have resigned, could have worked to influence the Mayor to remove the corruption, could have worked within the URA to make it a better place. In fact, when this deception and corruption was taking place, Pat Ford was in charge of the authority that he apparently charges was deceitful and corrupt. How does that square with this high minded tone he is taking. He actually dictates the terms of his resignation, telling the chair of the board of the URA that he is cleaning out his desk, but the URA will still continue to pay him through December 31st.

I think the city is well rid of Mr. Ford, but I don’t think his departure is going to do much for us. We have so many problems, and a lot of them start and end with our Mayor. Surely this will hurt Our Mayor’s chance for re-election, but there is only a slim chance that he will be replaced by anyone better.

By the way, I wrote this morning's post fairly hurriedly. Some of the numbers I rattled off are in fact inaccurate. For example, Obama’s tax increase (rollback of the Bush tax cuts plus a bit more) would hit tax returns (individual or family) of more than $250,000. If you look by quintile, the top quintile loses money, but in fact the tax increase doesn’t start until you get to the top five percent. But really, to understand the idea, you should read the article.

short(ish) takes on Bikes and Obamanomics

It seems like the bicycling issue has died down. I noticed Ruth Ann Dailey, everyone’s favorite conservative columnist (apart from Jack Kelly), had a relatively pro bicycling piece on Monday, because her current husband is a bicyclist. To say my last words on the subject, if you asked a random selection of drivers what they think about other drivers and cars on the road, what do you think you would hear? Complaints about traffic, the condition of the roads, maybe about how rude other drivers are. One in a hundred might complain about how fast people drive on the Parkway or 28, but no more. But clearly if you ask drivers about bicycles, practically everyone will say first that bicyclists break the law every day, and then that bicyclists get in the way of traffic and cause problems where ever they go. The exceptions to that rule are if you ask a driver who is also a bicyclist.

Our Mayor wants the city to gain a “bicycle-friendly” designation by some date (two years, four years?). The new bike czar is going to have his work cut out for him, maybe having the “furries” (the people who dress in animal costumes who keep holding their conventions here) ride on bikes to make it seem cuter. Or give drivers a more fun target (how many points for hitting a guy dressed up like a giant rat on a bike).

The New York Times had an interesting article on Obama’s view of economics in the Sunday magazine this week. Well, interesting to me as I had never seen his views laid out like that. As a bonus, it also included a pdf of a report from the Tax Policy Center (buried on page five) that compares the tax and income implications of Obama’s and McCain’s proposed tax cuts. That 53 page pdf made really fascinating reading (well, skimming). Apparently McCain’s proposals, while benefiting the middle class slightly and the poor even more slightly, will be a huge windfall for the rich, further dropping their tax rates and netting them tens of thousands of dollars (or in some cases perhaps hundreds of thousands). Obama’s proposals, by contrast, help the poor and middle class significantly, but roll the gains of the top twenty percent back to 2000, and a bit more. Both proposals take the economy into deficit, but with Obama the deficits are lower.

The article itself details how Obama has been influenced by hanging around the University of Chicago. It is a conservative place, but in innovative ways; the economics department has been fairly influenced the newer theories of behavioral economics. For Obama, it has influenced his thinking. Now, he recognizes clearly that the free market has built in problems, things it ignores when left to itself. Pollution is the classic example, but health care in the US now is also a candidate. Traditionally, with pollution for example, the free market does not control for it because no one owns the air (or rivers, etc), so polluters are free to pollute as much as they want. Where Obama differs from old school democrats is that instead of criminalizing pollution, or regulating it with one technology (say scrubbers on smokestacks), Obama wants to use market techniques to most efficiently control pollution. So you have the carbon auction, you set up a market where companies buy, sell or trade pollution credits. You reduce pollution to the level you want, and if you sell credits you give them back to the consumer in tax reductions to offset the higher prices caused by pollution controls. This is a way of thinking very close to my heart. Definitely another reason it is so important to elect Obama over McCain.

Friday, August 22, 2008

McCain vs Obama

So who are these guys running for President? Despite a vigorous primary season, voters apparently still don’t know.

From the Wikipedia, John McCain had a mixed college career at the Naval Academy. He apparently was well regarded, sometimes stood up for students being bullied, but also had conflicts with authority and while he worked hard at literature and history, didn’t work as hard at other subjects. He graduated with a low class ranking.

McCain then became a naval aviator. I guess he was somewhat typical as a navy pilot, doing some hard partying apparently. He apparently was not real talented at flying planes off and landing planes on carriers, although he did well enough to have flight status, and that is saying a lot. He was shot down in Vietnam while flying a jet on a ground attack mission (those are the types of missions most likely to be shot down by surface to air missiles). He was injured, taken prisoner and tortured for six months. The Vietnamese then offered to release him, because his father had been made commander of all US forces in Vietnam. It was an offer probably made for propaganda purposes, and McCain refused it, and as a result he remained a POW for a total of five and a half years. As a result of his torure, he is not able to lift his arms above shoulder level today. The quality of resisting authority that he should as a cadet was also one he showed as a POW. It is brave, but kind of questionable in terms of showing judgment.

I am going to leave McCain’s political career and personal life for a different time and glance a bit at Obama. Obama was born in Hawaii (although conservatives like to question that), and spent his first six years there. He then moved with his mom and step dad to Indonesia. He came back to Hawaii for high school, living with his grandparents. I get all this again from the Wikipedia; from there I see no sign that Obama ever lived in Kansas (FWIW). He started college at Occidental college, apparently a small but good liberal arts school. After two years he transferred to Columbia. Anybody he has ever looked at transferring schools knows that the admissions people generally hold you to a higher standard (although Luke Ravenstahl maybe the exception to the rule). So that Obama was able to get into Columbia two years in speaks well of his scholarship. He studied political science with a concentration in international relations there, which may have equipped him better equipped to handle foreign relations than the Republicans have claimed. After graduation, he spent five years out in the working world, a year at a corporation, a year at a public interest group, and then three years at Chicago non-profit. Then he applied to Harvard Law.

I remember reading that Harvard Law gets so many talented applicants that it is not enough to have perfect grades and LSAT’s, you have to be interesting. Well, here was Barack Obama, a mixed race child raised for a while by a single mom, who had lived in Indonesia for a while, and who had worked for non-profits. The thing is, Obama justified the “you have to be interesting” policy. He got elected president of the law review and graduated magna cum laude.

One conservative commenter over at the Burgh Report suggested that Obama had a privileged education. As far as I know, he was not a legacy (unlike the current President) and he paid his own way (thousands of dollars of loans, probably couldn’t even do it today). Now, some say Obama is too good at playing politics. Maybe, but isn’t a pragmatic and smart individual better than someone who fights authority when it would be better in the long run to go along. Do we want someone who might be able to persuade people like Putin that the economic consequences of alienating the west out weigh the domestic (in Russia) benefits of occupying Georgia, or do we want someone who calls him a bully?

I hope Hillary Clinton goes to Texas and Ohio and Pennsylvania, and tells the people who voted for her that Obama is for health care and social security and jobs. Obama is polling behind McCain because some people will seize on any reason not to vote for a black man. But McCain is scary, he has drifted to the right (instead of to the center) and it also appears his mental faculties may be showing signs of impairment.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

And on ...

There are still new and old voices piping up about bicycling around the internet. This was a comment on Pittsblog (reprinted in its entirety):

“Here's why drivers are never going to be happy...

Drivers see no real benefit from cyclists, but clearly are inconvenienced by them.

That's about all there is to it.

Bicyclists need to somehow compensate drivers for the "externalities" related to their decision to cycle.”

Another commenter on the Burgh Report essentially blamed all car-bicycle accidents on bicycles, for engaging in the risky behavior of riding on the street.

I think the objections to bicycles have fallen into two different groups. First are the people who say that all bicyclists break the law. I guess they simply want to get rid of bicyclists, and that is their club. I will say once again that I believe nearly if not all car drivers also break the law, by speeding and/or rolling through stop signs. Obviously they stop at stop signs if there is a car (hopefully they also stop for bicycles) in the way, but at a clear stop sign …

The second set of objections, possibly combined with the first, are that bicycles are in the way. This is more honest, and perhaps sometimes more legitimate. After all, an out of shape cyclists riding a poorly maintained bicycle on a bridge like the Liberty or Smithfield Street Bridge in traffic is likely to hold up a lot of people. That’s where a bicyclist should consider using the sidewalk, even if (s)he has to walk the bike.

But regular commuting on city streets like Negley or Northumberland shouldn’t be a problem for drivers. It should be easy to pass a bicycle after a short time on these streets. Still clearly this is what drivers who complain about bicycles in the way have in mind.

Some people are suggesting bicyclists pass a test. But reasonable questions arise, how do (some low income) bicyclists get to a testing center, and is the a practical minimum age for the test? I myself think some safety requirements should be enforced. All bicyclists should be compelled to wear a helmet. All bicycles should have reflective devices and a bell. But I think the cops should carry, in their cars, reflective tape, a supply of bells and coupons for free helmets (available perhaps at police stations and mini-stations),. Other people suggest licensing, registration and perhaps taxing bicycles as well or instead (like the commenter above). Fine, let’s tax all vehicles by weight, which should determine how much they tear up the road. I’ll match my 35 pound bike with your 8,000 pound Hummer. A penny a pound or a dollar a pound (a dollar a pound might hit my Hyundai Accent pretty hard).

Some people who are riding a bicycle do so because they don’t have the money to shell out for bus fare, much less buy a car. These are people for whom a fee to ride a bike might be enough to make them give up working and go homeless. But they probably weren’t working a particularly important job, it can be filled with another poor person, and that’s one less bike on the road. Result!

I myself can easily toss my commuting bike on a bike rack and drive to a testing center, I can pay a fee to register my bike, the whole thing. But there are people for whom it would be a burden. Maybe in this new bike regime people could bring a copy of a tax return to prove income level and receive free registration a certain level. That is if they’re not working two jobs and can't get to the testing center.

Monday, August 18, 2008

And on ...

Chad Hermann kept at least as busy as me continuing to comment on bicyclists. He was doing it because the thread refused to die on the Burgh Report, he got emails and since stuff has starting appearing in the PG. The emails he reprints have (in the parts he reprints) a tone reminiscent of the arguments against driving 55 mph. People drving that slow represent a hazard, because we have to slow down.

Now, I know I’m lucky because almost all of my commute takes over roads with parked cars or wide enough that I pose no problem for drivers. Cyclists who have to cross bridges probably ought to ride on the sidewalk, if there is one. But you know, if your best suggestion (as one of the emails starts) is “Bicyclists should just stay the fuck off the road ” and then make some half-assed tax argument, then you are not adding to the conversation.

Again to be fair, that particular email mentioned dedicated bike lanes. Now, we might get some more bike lanes around here, but drivers are not going to be happy about having some of their commuting space cut. The letters and emails and blog discussion we are getting now will be as nothing compared to the push back from drivers if they are forced to share the road.

Dr. Hermann also referenced a Rich Lord bicycle piece in this morning’s PG. Dr. Hermann notes one quote “It takes a lot of energy to get a bicycle from zero to cruising speed, he noted, so if the coast is clear, some cyclists roll on” from Scott Bricker of Bike Pittsburgh. I suspect this is exactly the argument most cyclists would make, but as more cyclists do come onto the roads, I suspect the red light and even stop sign jumping will have to stop. It may be something experienced riders can get away with (although it is illegal), but with more cyclists on the road, all will need to behave the same, to keep unthinking drivers and/or unthinking cyclists from coming together in an unfortunate way.

Mr Bricker also apparently said that onus to avoid collisions rests most heavily on motorists (possibly not a direct quote). Well … yeah, but bikes can move to the side even faster than cars, and cars can’t stop as fast as bikes. So if a bike is changing lanes or even swinging out to avoid a parked car or a road hazard that only (s)he can see, the cyclist needs to make sure it is safe. We don’t have blinkers and the times we might need to make hand signals might also be the times we need to keep both hands on the handlebars to be able to brake. Use a mirror, make sure it is safe to swerve (otherwise stop and wait).

Lastly, I will note that Dr. Hermann, in his own defense, notes he has always skewered bad drivers over the last four years. I dunno, I read his blog periodically and I only remember maybe some drivers with cell phones complaints. It certainly seems in keeping with his personality that he might complain about bad driving he had witnessed or read about. I just wish he had made *mention* of the equally illegal behavior of cars (speeding, not stopping atstop signs) at the time he was applying “scorn, these last few days, to equally discourteous cyclists and the often silly justifications for them”. On the other hand, as I have said, we take much of the illegal behavior of car drivers for granted, in fact, we seem to count on it as we drive.

Undying issue ...

This bicycling issue has surprised me with its longevity. I sort of understand the supporters of cycling, but the hostility shown by opponents of cycling is a bit baffling. There was a letter in the Issue One section of Sunday’s paper from a Kristin Debbis that is a good example of that hostility. She evidently travels in the hilly area of the city around Station Square, where they used to run that race. Now, possibly some cyclists are zipping down the hills in the area, whipping around blind corners. She would have a point in complaining about them. But the style of her complaints reveals a startling lack of understanding of how bicycles operate, how they have to operate. She complains about cycles running red lights (illegal), turning left or right across oncoming cars (isn’t that what you have to do in traffic), going 15 or 20 MPH under the speed limit (hello, they are bikes) and (my favorite) riding next to but not on the sidewalks (that’s what the law says bikes should do). Basically this woman wants bikes out of her way.

Biking on roads where there are two traffic lanes is tough, and if I am in that situation I will often ride on the sidewalk, although that is not my preference. But Ms Debbis wants the City to make sure she is not inconvenienced by bicycles at all. Unless she is driving a Prius or Civic Hybrid, she is not doing all she can to make sure her driving does not inconvenience the rest of us. If you ask (or demand) something of the rest of us, we have a right to ask what you are doing for us.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

In the interest of fairness ...

In the interest of fairness I should note that Chad Hermann posted a follow up to yesterday’s commentary about bicyclists. In this post he mentioned his personal experiences with bicyclists (as Bram did, but not in such detail). Chad Hermann thinks only 75% of bicyclists break the law. And he did mention someone passed him twice, in a car, so he also noticed the behavior of one motorized lawbreaker. I still say we close our eyes to the illegal behavior of cars/SUVs/pickups and mostly to motorcycles, because we all go at least a bit over 25 and 55, and we slow down but don’t actually stop at stop signs.

Dr. Hermann also, after taking an “aw shucks you don’t want me to do this” attitude, made a couple of suggestions. First he mentioned there should be a complete re-examination of the traffic laws for bicycles, which is actually a very enlightened suggestion. I suspect he would not want the rules loosened any, but that is entirely speculation on my part. He then suggested bicyclists be licensed. This is a more complicated suggestion. It’s a lot like the Republican suggestion that voters have photo ID’s. I myself, and most everyone I know who rides bicycles, would have no problem with this suggestion. As I stated before, though, some poor people rely on bicycles as cheap transportation. If you can only afford a bike, then trekking to a bicycle testing center (the old driver testing center – now a Pittsburgh police station – on Washington road?) could be fairly arduous. The license requirement might be yet another excuse for racial profiling and harassment (not necessarily here. Again, if you can only afford a bicycle to get around with, you probably can’t afford a $25, $50 or $100 ticket.

But I have to give Dr. Hermann credit for making the suggestion, and if it were ever made by a policy maker, I’m sure the issues I just cited would be raised. And I would like to see something done so that bicyclists and car drivers know what bicyclists should and shouldn’t do in traffic.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Death to Bicyclists

Are bicycles the same as cars? What do you think? I think they’re not. Not as fast and entirely human powered. Bicycles are in fact regulated more than cars; the rules say, essentially, get out of the way of cars. Stay to the right. I’m not sure what we are supposed to do when we want to go left. It appears that some people would prefer that we just stay off the road, or maybe disappear altogether.

In the wake of the announcement of the bike czar, two blogs made statements about bicyclists. John McIntire called bicyclists annoying, and reckless bastards (in his post “Annoying Bikers Edition”). And Bram Reichbaum (on the Burgh report) said that “As of today, 100% of cyclists have egregiously broken at least one traffic law -- disregarding stop signs, blowing through red lights, blowing through red lights to make left turns, weaving in and out of traffic.” (emphasis his). I sent McIntire an email, which he ignored, but I used the comments area at the Burgh Report to complain to/about Bram’s post. I mean, do people even notice when cars glide through stop signs? But that’s ok, they’re cars, and they belong on roads. Bikes don’t.

Into this fray comes the great commenter Chad Hermann, with another long, wordy post (I know, pot calling kettle). Dr. Hermann is another blogger who doesn’t actually believe in democracy in that his blog is not set up to receive comments. Anyone who has read his blog knows how he handles comments, I will leave it at that (res ipsa and all that). I believe Dr. Hermann wants to be seen as the voice of common sense, just someone intelligently commenting on life in a sea of idiots. But Dr. Hermann is, in real life, a speech writer for a Republican Congressman running for re-election. His agenda is advancing the agenda of the Republican party, the people who brought you the “conservation is a personal virtue, but has no place in policy” energy policy.

Dr. Hermann suggests that cyclists see criticizing them as the same as criticizing the pope or Barack Obama (making sure to link Obama to a religious figure, to get that little shot in). He says he is entertained and infuriated by “the clockwork accumulation of silliness, of moral relativism and ethical obfuscation, from the (for lack of a better term) pro-biking commenters”. Mind you, McIntire called bicyclists annoying and Bram said all bicyclists break laws every time we ride, both prior to any bicyclist comment. But we are the self-righteous moral relativists.

I’m sure that there have been cases where a bicyclist caused someone else’s death in a traffic accident. But I think we are talking fingers on a hand numbers, not the tens of thousands in auto accidents. I really think this is a case of people complaining about the mote in my eye, not considering the beam in theirs (oh great, a biblical reference, who does he thing he is, Obama?). I should point out that many of the bicyclists in the thread on the Burgh Report essentially confessed their sins, admitting about blowing through traffic lights and stop signs. Not one driver admitted rolling through stop signs or driving 70 mph on the Parkway or Route 28. The drivers did say that bicyclists would get respect when they started obeying the laws. I suspect African Americans would find that statement familiar. Of course, as long as one bicyclist breaks one law, we will all be tarred with the same brush, branded as annoying law breakers, while drivers continue rolling through stop signs, blasting along at 70 mph in a 55 mph zone and killing bicyclists.

Bicycles are both transportation for the poor and toys for the rich. You can buy a bike at a yard sale for $25 or at a bike shop for a thousand. But bikes as commuting vehicles do not use (scarce) gas, do not pollute and don’t take up much space on the road. As I say, bikes don’t cause traffic deaths (except perhaps from heads exploding because of bicyclists sheer moral relativism and ethical obfuscation). But my wife heard a discussion on a bus as it passed me cycling to work one day. The bus driver was being encouraged to run me over. You just don’t hear about how car drivers should be killed just for being on the road.

Again, the basic theme on Dr. Hermann’s post was that bicyclists were admitting breaking the laws and he took them to task for it. But if a bicyclist suggested drivers also break traffic laws, he dismissed them as being juvenile. When a car and a bike tangle as a result of either law breaking or accident, the bicyclist will end up in much worse shape almost all the time. Which is I guess what Dr. Hermann wants: the death penalty for riding bikes.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Today's stuff n@

In a few places I have seen people applaud the recent run up in gas prices, because it forced people to take measures to conserve. Specifically people drove less, possibly some drove slower and demand for SUV’s and pickups fell through the floor. From a policy standpoint, I think that on balance the run up in prices was not a good thing. It was not good but government had no hand in controlling it, and no way to ameliorate the negative effects on the poor. What we should have been doing, starting twenty five years ago, was taxing gasoline at one hundred percent. The revenue from that tax could have been split between poorer people and trucking companies, to keep the price of transporting things from going too high (just like Congress never raided the Social Security trust fund …). 1983 is about when OPEC lost its discipline and the price of oil dropped after its first big run up in the mid seventies. Right then the government should have taxed the fifty cent gas (whatever the price was at that point) at fifty cents, and kept the tax at one hundred percent. Of course it should have never allowed the states to wriggle out of the 55 mile per hour speed limit. Doing those things would have saved huge amounts of gas, and would have limited our dependence on foreign oil. Alternatives to petroleum based gas would have been much more cost effective, and thus brought to the market much sooner

By the way, the people who say that traffic deaths actually dropped the year after the Congress finally jettisoned the 55 mph national speed limit, never seem to note that by then air bags, which had been made mandatory a few years back, were finally becoming a factor in traffic accidents. An air bag in a 70 mph crash is better than no air bag in a 55 mph crash. But what’s best of all is an air bag in a 55 mph crash (actually what’s best is driving at 55 mph and avoiding the crash you wouldn’t have been able to at 70 mph).

On a different note, apparently yesterday there was an incident in City Council yesterday. Doug Shields had an exchange with Barbara Trant, City Personnel Director, which led to her walking out. As she was doing this, apparently other Council people (notably Jim Motznik) were having something of an exchange with Mr. Shields. Shields actually sent the police officer assigned to Council after Ms.Trant, to no avail. Mr. Shields then walked out of Council, and Mr. Motznik called for his resignation.

Pat Dowd had had words with Mr. Shields earlier in the Council session, and later was quoted in the PG (I paraphrase) saying that it was not the first time that had happened and it was unfortunate. Pat Dowd is very intelligent, as far as I can see. But maybe he has spent too much time first with high school students (who can be intelligent but are never experienced) and then with Council people (who, in this town, have no training in their jobs). I shouldn’t wonder if Dr. Dowd expects to be in line for Mr. Shields’ position. But there is a problem with that. In this town people can succeed if they offer extremely brilliant ideas, but all the press Dr. Dowd has received shows him to be little more than contrary. Alternatively people can succeed in politics if they are good party men or women, but we know that Dr. Dowd is not doing that. It ends up that I have to wonder how Dr. Dowd will fare in the next district election, much less in any advancement of his position.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Your own hype ...

Last week I noticed a post over at TWM. Mr/Dr Hermann noted how a Florida man had threatened to kill Barack Obama, and was taken into custody. He also noted that the man had also threatened to kill the President, but the newspaper story had put that fact down in the fourth sentence. Mr/Dr Hermann speculated that a threat against the President wasn’t important enough to lead the story, or possibly, not important enough a reason to arrest the man.

Except that Barack Obama was traveling in Florida at the time.

It’s a terrible thing when you believe your own hype.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Fuel economy

Again I have been ignoring my blog in favor of kibitzing on others people’s blogs. Also, I have not had an idea that seemed real … well, “post-worthy” (with apologies to Seinfeld). But there have been a few things rattling around the back of my brain.

First, the question of how fast people should be allowed to drive keeps nagging at me. I have settled for myself that about 45 miles per hour is an optimum speed for my car. I had purchased a little plug in on-board computer that calculates fuel economy. I believe if does that by measuring the speed of the car against the rpms, although I have read it is something to do with the speed of aid moving through the engine. So all that is a little suspect, but I will say my MPG as measured by how many miles I go versus how much gas I put in my car when I fill up has shown improvement (up to an average 36 MPG overall in my last thankful). But if I try to use my car as an example, people may say that their eight cylinder is different than my four. Plus the EPA seems to support the idea that 55 MPH is the optimum of efficiency with graphs like this.

But I have been thinking about why that graph might differ so much from my own experience. Then it occurred to me that the Feds do their mileage testing in a lab. They put the car on a dynamometer, a device that has rollers and measures how fast the wheels are turning. I believe it might also provide resistance, but clearly it wouldn’t take into account wind resistance. The Feds may try to take this into account, but given the chart above, it doesn’t look like they succeed totally.

I saw this next chart elsewhere on the web. It looks like a Volkswagen made an effort to measure the fuel efficiency of the cars (Volkswagen TDI’s) of several of their members. It must have been a long process, measure fuel efficiency at several MPH points, say 25, 35, 45, 55, 65 and 75 (or something like that). I myself am struck by how, even though the cars (all the same model) get different levels of mileage, how the curves are shaped exactly alike. The mileage is clearly highest at a point between 35 and 40 MPH, and drops from there.

I think that this graph would justify calling for a return to the national 55 MPH speed limit, although it would make an even stronger case for a 50 MPH speed limit. After all, my car seems to max its fuel economy around 40 MPH, except up hills, where anything below abouit 48 MPH makes the car lug or at least strain some in fifth gear. So 50 would be a good catch all for all makes of vehicles.

By the way, the top image above came from, and the bottom from, although they clearly got it from someone else.

On another related front, conservative commenters over at the Burgh Report, as well as everywhere else, have called for drilling in the OCS and the ANWR. One rather obnoxiously phrases it as drill through a polar bears head to get to oil (and then they wonder why liberal bloggers call them names). National polls show the same sentiment among regular voters, 67% want drilling now in at least the OCS. Conservatives claim their motives are patriotic, while I think voters just want to go back to the way it was three months ago, when all you has to worry about was foreclosure, getting laid off or healthcare. Even Obama has picked up on this, now supporting limited drilling.

So we want to drill now, to get this oil out so that we can reduce our dependence on foreign oil. For how long, a couple of years? Maybe ten years, if we are lucky. If it takes ten years to get to the oil, the longest we could be looking at the oil lasting is maybe twenty years from now. Does anyone thing we will be off oil by then? Plug in hybrids are coming, but Toyota can’t keep up with demand for it’s hybrids now. Unless no new cars are sold that aren’t plug in hybrids, then we will have heavier users of oil with us for some time to come.
What I am leading up to is that there may come a time when we really need that OCS oil, not like now where we want the oil to return to an easier life style. Possibly even in a couple of years, four dollar a gallon gas may seem like the good times.

Now, going partially electric in cars is going to put a strain on the electric grid, with all those cars recharging over night. Any additional contribution made from wind farms will need to go to augmenting the electric grid before it goes to replacing coal burning power plants. And plug in hybrids will still need some gas sometimes, for trips between cities. By which I mean that we are not going to get off oil dependence in four years, or even eight. We may be looking at slowly reducing our use of oil over the next fifty years. So we may need that OCS oil in forty years, when everyone else runs out, and we can turn a good buck selling (and using) it. So we should resist using it now. Our children will thank us.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Ruth Ann weighs in ...

I hadn't noticed Ruth Ann Dailey's column yesterday, but the Two Political Junkies did, and compared it to Bob Herbert’s column in the NYTimes the other day. There are interesting differences between the two, and interesting connections to other people. For example, Herbert mentioned the attempt of the Republicans to define Obama as “the other”, someone not of this country, “not sufficiently patriotic” or “one of us”. Well, David Brooks spent an entire column today about how Obama consciously stands apart from his enterprises, teaching law, organizing in the community, going to a church, being a state legislator or US Senator. Americans, Brooks says, like to be able to define their candidates and they can’t do that with Obama. That’s why Obama is not ahead in the polls. Brooks says nothing about Americans defining their candidates by race, because he doesn’t have to.

Ruth Ann Dailey pushes back in a different way. She trots out her familiar point, that the Democrats were the party of racism before the 1960’s. And she’s right, the Democrats were the party of racism, probably most explicitly in the south, but I suspect also in the north when needed. In fact, the Republicans provided the votes to get the civil rights legislation passed in the 1960’s. But since the “Southern strategy” of the 1970’s (darn that Richard Nixon, he was also responsible for the 55 mph speed limit), the positions have flipped.

But Ruth Ann does an interesting thing in her column. She accuses the Democrats of accusing the Republicans of racism ever so subtlety, but she never describes the McCain ad that set off the whole issue, at least not its racial angle. Which was my earlier point, that the attack was subtle enough that, for example, Bram Reichbaum didn’t think it had a racist component. It was just enough to set off certain voters with a predisposition to look for such things. Since the ad went out with John McCain’s approval, it needed that cover. So Ruth Ann Dailey self righteously attacks the Democrats as hypocrites, while McCain pulls even in the polls. David Brooks self righteously describes Obama’s failure to pull ahead as Obama’s own fault for being so aloof and distant, providing those independents and Democrats of a racist inclination with cover for their rejection of Obama. Meanwhile McCain jettisons everything he believed in for one last chance at the presidency, becoming the new pro-business candidate, the one who will block new regulations and allow Americans a few more years living a fantasy lifestyle. “Apres moi le deluge”

Monday, August 04, 2008

McCains ad

In my previous post, I suggested the McCain ad with Britney Spears and Paris Hilton was subtle, and probably I really should not have. When you think about how the ad was made, the people making the ad asking themselves, "if we want to describe Barack Obama as a celebrity, whose image should we use?". Are there bigger celebrities than Spears and Hilton? Yes, Pitt and Jolie, Tom Cruise, Oprah, Tom Hanks all leap instantly to mind. What Hilton and Spears share, besides some celebrity, is a reputation for loose morals.

Now for decades African American men (and now teenage girls) have also had a reputation for loose morals. This is true particularly in southern states, but thanks to the magic of television, African-Americans have played the villain in numberless cop shows. We would naturally assume that a Britney or Paris would want to experiment with a black man, an Obama's natural impulse would be to indulge himself. That is a lot to read into one ad, but I think it is justified. Obama himself is the product of a failed interracial marriage, raising that specter with his mere presence.

Obama should push back soon against these ads, although I'm not sure how. He needs to include us (all Americans, but particularly white America) and tell us we are better than these ads. Racial overtones, even if meant humorously, are never acceptable.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Of resumes and senior moments...

David Brooks, conservative NYTimes columnist, has stopped praising Barack Obama’s intellect, speaking abilities and policy proposals, and has started showing his true colors. In complaining about Obama’s lack of experience, he suggested you would have to go back maybe two hundred years before finding a presidential candidate with less experience. Like most people, I don’t know much about the experience of Presidents or candidates before 1950, with one significant exception. In fact, Obama might have himself mentioned that exception in the past, although in any event I know about it from having read a book about the exception. As I considered that exception, I also remembered reading some of the late night talk show host monologues, and the following hypothetical sequence came out of those musings:

Obama, answering charges related to his lack of experience, pointed out that Lincoln was only a one term Representative from Illinois. McCain responded that it is the height of arrogance for Obama to compare himself to Lincoln, and anyway McCain had been in the Navy during Lincoln’s term, serving our country. Aides later commented that it was a natural mistake for Senator McCain to make. After all, Lincoln and Ford are the same car company.


Well, so I shouldn’t quit my day job, but there are some points worth considering, sort of in there. For example, on the surge Obama is starting to look like the Fonz, who never seemed to be able to even utter the “wrong”, let alone admit a mistake. It would be a relief for Obama to say he was wrong … except for the follow up question. About the only thing Obama could do would be to blame faulty intelligence. Otherwise, he would have to blame his inexperience or that he was standing with the crowd of Democrats in mechanically denouncing everything about the war/occupation. The second choice would not be good for the “change” candidate. Obama had better get used to the question, because he is going to hear it in every interview until his head explodes.

On the McCain side, it is clear that someone McCain trusts read “The Political Brain” by Drew Westen (yes, I am bringing that up again). In McCain’s Paris Hilton/Britney Spears ad, a narrator calls Obama the biggest celebrity in the world as Hilton and Spears images appear before Mr. Obama, and then the voice asks if he is ready to lead. The ad didn’t need the images of Spears or Hilton, it could have shown Oprah Winfrey and Tom Cruise, or Tom Hanks and Celine Dion, or other celebrities. Obama’s response was equally subtle, and frankly restrained, talking about his “funny” name and how he doesn’t look like the Presidents on the dollar or five dollar bill. And that’s when the McCain camp made its next move, saying Obama was tarring McCain as a racist.

There is an elaborate dance being choreographed here. Each side wants to portray the other side as either racist or playing the race card, without appearing to. So the McCain ad, by using the word “celebrity”, justifies its use of the image of young white women with known bad reputations and loose morals. Obama’s response was the sort of subtly he has used before, that his story is unusual and that he knows he is not what people are used to in a Presidential candidate. Of course, part of that is that he is black, but he didn’t say that. And the McCain campaign’s response was to say that the didn’t appreciate the insinuation of racism.

These are subtle attacks, pretty much like the Willie Horton ad was a (sort of) subtle attack on Dukakis. Each side is raising the specter of race, but waits to accuse racism until there is sufficient provocation. David Brooks (again), on “Face the Nation”, said that this is not the campaign McCain wanted to run, the McCain campaign must be delighted with the results. They have successfully introduced the idea of racism in the campaign by claiming they were accused of it, that they are the victims. Obama will have trouble diffusing this. He will have to give another epic speech where he convinces people not to give into their fear. That will be a really tough needle to thread, because a mis-step anywhere and Obama will offend white voters who do not thing that they themselves are racists, they just cross the street when an African American youth approaches.

It will be an interesting fall. I just wish Obama wouldn’t vacation in Hawaii, even if he did spend part of his childhood there. Branson, Mississippi would be a much better choice (even if Michele would never forgive him). Just don’t wear a cowboy hat, Barack.