Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Before you send your child to college

Read this. As this site noted a while back, sending a subpar student to college doesn't guarantee them a good job. The opposite--high debt, wasted years of life, and the failure to learn a trade--is statistically speaking closer to the truth.

Yes, there are those who will find their calling later in life--let's just not throw good money after bad winnowing them out in the "Animal House" right after high school, OK?

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Our blind spots

I'm not quite sure if it's edifying, or infuriating, but one of the most popular things for Christians to do today, apparently, is to discuss the apparent failure of past generations to "get" what is "painfully obvious" to those today.

What's missing, in my opinion, is a similar appraisal of things today--although we do a great job of picking on other people's faults, we have a little more trouble dealing with....our own sins. As if reading my mind, my wife got me a book by Jerry Bridges called "Respectable Sins," which attempts to deal with the "little sins" we so often tolerate while decrying the more wild sins of others.

He does so in a very interesting way; he starts not with the sins that Christians are known to commit involving both mind and body, but rather with the mental sins that we so often commit, and then proceeds to the things that we'd ordinarily call as sin.

Interesting approach--as I read and re-read this, maybe we'll see what his approach does for me and others.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Good news!

Maureen Dowd notes that Barack Hussein Obama may be getting bitter out on the campaign trail. Maybe that means he'll come around on God, gun rights and the horrors of prenatal infanticide.

OK, I doubt it, but it was a fun thought. Let me dream, would ya?

Oh, and I promise; if I ever run for President, I WILL enjoy a cheese steak with all the fixin's, and they can take as many pictures of the mess as they want. And a root beer, too.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Why does college cost so much?

Thomas Sowell explains why in three delightful columns. More or less, the combination of government subsidies to students, government research grants, and the demands of accrediting agencies have put univerities and colleges into a paradigm where teachers do not teach, resources are diverted to "research" of dubious quality, and the size of the library matters more than the quality of the education in determining accreditation.

(if you wonder why small schools are having trouble, read that last line again)

Looking around, I notice that schools which refuse federal aid--like Hillsdale, Patrick Henry, and new Saint Andrew's--seem to be on the low end of the tuition scale, not to mention the high end of the quality scale. Hmmm.....tell me again why we have a federal department of education? Is it to prevent the same?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Some great environmental news

Wisconsin dairy farmers are increasingly pasturing their cattle. Why is this great for the environment?

Well, you don't get monstrous ponds of manure, as it stays on the land where it falls. You don't need huge amounts of fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides to maintain a meadow, either. You don't need tons of diesel fuel to let the cattle out into the pasture, as you do to grow maize and soybeans.

You don't get quite as much milk, either, but the milk you get has more vitamins and minerals, and a healthier mix of fats, proteins, and cholesterol than grain-feed cows produce. And given chronic overproduction of milk, maybe it's a good thing that pastured cattle don't produce as much.

Seems that rural life starts anew when you ignore the USDA.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The cost of that all aluminium Focus terms of fuel usage; it requires 15kW-h of electricity, or about 55MJ, to refine a kilogram of aluminium. In contrast, gasoline produces about 45mJ/kg, and coal produces about 24MJ/kg. Keep in mind that your power plant is probably fueled with coal due to the expense of other fuels.

What does this mean? Well, given about 30% efficiency in a coal fired power plant, or about 20-25% efficiency in a gasoline engine, you've got to burn about 7kG of coal or gasoline to produce one kG of aluminium.

Convert your steel car to an aluminium Focus now, and you find that the 700kG of aluminium was obtained at the cost of burning about 4900kG--about 1500 gallons of gasoline, or about the amount a Focus would use in driving about 50,000 miles. To actually break even with the standard vehicle in terms of energy use, you've got to go about 150,000 miles.

Then you can consider the opportunity cost of the $50k estimated sticker price--even a 5% return and a long 10 year life for depreciation costs you a cool $7500 annually.

About enough to buy a decent new car every two or three years. Sounds like a very expensive way to save some energy to me.

Oh, and back to that recycling thing; yup, most of the energy saved is due to got it, aluminium. Think twice before putting your pop bottles in there. It may not work out after all.

Interesting statistics

A commercial being run in favor of recycling claims that here in Minnesota, one million tons of products are being recycled, and that this is equivalent energy savings to taking 1.3 million cars off the road.

Assuming those cars would be driven about 12000 miles per year at 24mpg (national averages), this would imply that recycling one ton of material nets an energy savings equivalent to about 800 gallons of gasoline, which weighs in at close to 2.5-3 tons.

Either a large portion of that recycled material is aluminium, or call me skeptical.

What is that recycled material equivalent to taking cars off the road? Well, it's equivalent to....taking cars off the road, actually. Our state's share of car purchases would be about 300,000 cars, with a total weight of somewhere around 600,000 tons. Most of that is recycled these days. Add in trucks, buses, and building materials that are recycled in our fair state, and you come to the unsettling conclusion that the portion of recycled materials actually processed in recycling bins is probably fairly low.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Six Sigma Quality in 1912

Researchers are claiming that one reason that the Titanic sank was the use of wrought iron rivets with excessive slag due to issues with procurement of steel rivets with low slag content. Apparently the shipbuilder's archives don't give sufficient information to completely verify or deny the theory, but the engineer in me does wonder if part of the problem was the production manager who would try to sell his own mother if it only gave him a shilling's reduction in the bill of materials cost.

Lots of other problems happened with the Titanic, of course. If you doubt that little things can add up to big problems, the Titanic tragedy is a great example.

Good stuff from Vin Suprynowicz

Right here. Let's start, though, with a fun exercise; try to spell Vin's last name without looking at it....even if you learned to read with phonics, I bet you'll have some trouble. :^)

Seriously, Suprynowicz makes an elegant case for, well, establishing your need for one of these. It's not a pleasant reality, but it is reality that sheep tend to get eaten by wolves.

And a follow up on the trouble with art; whether or not the Yale art student was actually producing "art" with the products of prenatal infanticide, it's amazing to think that anyone would actually think that blood of any sort on plastic sheeting could qualify as art. I can't exactly imagine the Medicis or other art patrons commissioning Miss Shvarts' work, but I can imagine that a lot of people, including my family, would keep away from galleries unless we were darned sure we wouldn't see something like that.

I would dare suggest that legitimate artists have a strong interest in evicting the dreck from galleries, and maybe families will come back.

Thursday, April 17, 2008


Lt. Col. David Grossman on wolves, sheep, and sheepdogs. If you want a good excuse to get out to the range, buy a carry gun, get your permit to carry, read this article. Those who think they might be sheep might do well to act a little more like a sheepdog, too.

Yeah, my birthday present wasn't really a Nutty Buddy. Sorry, KD.

Update on the San Francisco assault; witnesses said the assailants were yelling anti-homosexual epithets before attacking the Yalies. Trying to reconcile the evidence; homosexual-haters in the nation's homosexual "Mecca" started shouting the epithets after a group of men sang the national anthem, and one of them kissed a girl.

???? It makes no sense, but one thing we know for sure; alcohol was involved.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Evidence that...

....lunacy is NOT limited to the Bay Area; Jimmy Carter goes to Hamas and plants a kiss on the cheek of a guy whose chief contribution to society is the revival of the blood libel and other slurs against Jews in Palestinian schools.

Even more surreal; I'm pretty sure it's a crime to repeat the blood libel in Germany, for obvious historical reasons. Somehow, it doesn't stop them from providing foreign aid to those who make it an integral part of their school curriculum.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Fightin' words?

Evidently, in some parts of San Francisco, singing the national anthem, or kissing a girl, can be an excuse for breaking a guy's jaw. If we doubt that we are becoming two nations, this would be exhibit A to prove the point.

On young pastors

My church is contemplating calling a young man for the pastorate here. He's so young, he's the age that Jesus was while He was ministering in Judea.

While certainly I cannot argue that we're going to hire our incarnate Lord as pastor, I do think that a quick look at the Gospels ought to dispel reluctance to consider a man in his thirties for the pastoral office.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Here's a self-serving op-ed

The Aluminum Association tells us, courtesy of the Detroit News, that if we maintain size while decreasing weight (presumably by using their product), we can make a car that gets better mileage without sacrificing safety.

Oh, and what did they forget to tell you? Oh, yeah, your Ford Focus would cost a cool fifty grand if they took the Aluminum Association's advice to heart and made an all-aluminium vehicle. But wait--it gets better! Aluminium is one of the most difficult metals to refine, requiring a LOT of energy to coax it from bauxite. Given that there are no more free-flowing Columbia Rivers to dam and generate hydroelectric power, the power necessary to make the aluminium for the car would require a lot of coal fired power plants.

In short, the "environmental" 50mpg car could end up being a net environmental loss. Ouch.

Friday, April 11, 2008


IBM has announced a new storage technology that might allow your IPOD to carry "500,000" songs--Apple's odd little units to characterize its little gadget. In real units, it would be about 12-13 "terabytes"--12-13000 giga-bytes. Assuming an average song is about three minutes long, that's close to 70 years of music, night and day, without ever repeating a song. If you're into watching movies, that's about a year's worth of movies.

One wonders if those pushing for ever more memory in devices ever really think through the implications of how anyone could ever enjoy that much entertainment. Technology for the sake of technology seems to be rapidly approaching, or even surpassing, the capabilities of our senses to process the data.

Don't worry about it becoming reality too soon, though. If IBM had believed in hiring the people it needed to manufacture things in a cost-effective manner, they just might still be in the business of making PCs and disk drives. They certainly had the technology to eat the lunch of their competitors at any given time.

Starving artists

I've become an occasional reader of the site of a young artist, and one thing that comes out very clearly is that it's not for no reason that we talk about "starving artists." Even apart from the end of the Medici fortune and patronage, something very interesting is going on.

On one hand, you've got guys like this Mets player wannabe who have earned and squandered bazillions of dollars, as well as a painter of burning homes who is alleged to have served as a living example of a habit described in 1 Samuel 25:22. On the other hand, you've got thousands (millions?) of artists with no remarkably nasty habits who are struggling to make enough to buy canvas and Sculpey. Life certainly isn't fair, and the art world is proof of that.

What's the problem? I don't know, but there are two things that may be part of it. First of all, art, like many professions, has been absorbed by the universities from the traditional system of apprenticeship. As artists' training appears to increase, the distance between their art and the public that would buy it seems to increase as well. That's not good for artists who, say, want people to buy their work, as good as it is for artists who manage to get public funds for their work.

Which leads to the second observation; the arts were far better patronized BEFORE the government got into funding them. Part of this might be "we gave at the office," but another part might be that artists were increasingly trained to view the government, and not the public, as their source of approval--ensuring their failure in the marketplace. At least the Medicis had to live with bad art if they helped create it; not so the NEA bureaucrat.

I don't think the problem can ever be completely fixed--Van Gogh never received an NEA grant, nor was he university trained in art, and he still managed to be a starving artist, after all. That said, I would think that someone starting out today would do well to avoid the "College of Art," and even more the NEA, if he wants to make his mark.

Mr. Gorbachev, let the Leningrad Cowboys Play!

OK, so it's nothing like Reagan's immortal speech at the Brandenburger Tor, but check out the Leningrad Cowboys (complete with Cindy Summers hairdos--thanks Funky) singing "Sweet Home Alabama" with the Red Army Choir. Tubas, squeezeboxes, Commies, and young punks all joining together in homage to the South.

We'll call it "bizaare video Friday," I think. H/T SayAnything.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Lottery for accountants!

Evidently, the IRS promises to reward those who report tax fraud with a hefty portion of the tax obligation recovered. I dare suggest that it's a good time to be an honest accountant, and that if the IRS had started this program a little bit earlier, we might have been spared Enron and Sarbanes-Oxley.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Only law?

One of my chief objections to many in conservative and libertarian circles is the assumption that if someone can get someone to sign a contract with a certain provision in it, then that provision is not only legally, but also morally, binding.

I've got trouble with that idea, to put it mildly. For starters, the Scriptures DO limit the kinds of contracts one can impose on a poor man--no usury, and you cannot take a man's cloak (also his blanket) as security for a debt overnight. So clearly, there is no automatic equivalence between "what you can get in a contract" and "what is moral," especially when you're dealing with those who are poor or otherwise defenseless.

It may be only the tip of the iceberg, though. In his 1978 commencement address at Harvard, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn noted (among other things) that our country was rapidly becoming one in which the legal standard appeared to him to be the only one that we would heed--and for that reason, our model was no longer one he could recommend for his native land.

Scary thought.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Clinton tax forms

Having picked on Barack Hussein Obama's tax returns, specifically his failure to admit having a bank account (failure to save money), negligible charitable gifts, and evident subprime ARM mortgage, I figure I owe the same to Senators Clinton and McCain.

Here's the scoop on Clinton; unlike Obama, she does report her interest/dividend income, and she is paying off her house instead of using it as an ATM. However, she also has investment interest on Schedule A, indicating that she is still investing on margin. This may indicate that the infamous risk-taking that led to the cattle futures near-scandal is still operative in her family. Also, despite huge income, they haven't paid off the mortgage outright. Not what I'd do when family income depends on transient appreciation of her husband's speaking and writing, to put it mildly. (again, risk-taking)

Her charitable giving appears pretty good,'s to her own foundation. So if you thought that her charitable giving was genuine interest in the well-being of others, you may need to think again.

Overall, she appears to know how to handle money better than Obama does. I look forward to seeing what we might learn about McCain. H/T SayAnythingBlog

You know....

....that people at your church are enthusiastic about a pastoral candidate when they wear their silk pocket handkerchiefs to the Sunday evening service, and for once the head usher doesn't have problems getting enough ushers at the doors.

For good reason, I think, too.

Oy vay!

MOB events sure are a lot of fun, but the down side is when one's wife talks with Mocha-Momma and decides that a "Nutty-Buddy" would be a better birthday present than a carry pistol. Sigh.

Darned good present anyways, though.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Movies and politics

Evidently Mrs. Clinton is now comparing herself to the Sylvester Stallone character "Rocky" in an effort to revive her campaign. I can't totally speak against this, as I've enjoyed the first half of most of those movies, and one of my favorite songs is "Theme to Rocky XIII".

Wal-Mart update

Apparently someone in Bentonville has figured out that saving half a million bucks has just cost them tens of millions of dollars in employee and customer goodwill, so they've reversed their attempt to help themselves to a settlement intended for the care of a paralyzed former worker. Peer pressure works, evidently.

If they want me as a customer again, though, they're going to have to pay the legal fees for the Shanks as well, not to mention they really ought to consider firing some of those involved in trying to bankrupt this poor family. Morals matter, after all, and the people involved have cost Wal-Mart tens of millions of dollars at least.

They might also want to take a very close look at how they're implementing their cost-cutting measures, as this article demonstrates. Note to Wal-Mart; theft and bankrupting your employees are not legitimate cost-cutting measures. Thank you.

This would explain some things... local upscale boutiques. Apparently, Botox injections used to reduce wrinkles can move to the brain. Word is that the Obama and Clinton camps are lobbying the manufacturers to get them to reduce the price in time for the November elections.

Speaking of upscale boutiques, a local home decoration magazine saw fit to feature a bathroom decorated with a female nude on its cover. If I doubted that our society is changing, this would convince me that I was wrong--it wasn't that long ago that such art was found only in the homes of creepy bachelors, not on the cover of magazines found in childrens' swim schools. I'm guessing that next month's edition will feature a den with black velvet artwork.

Or maybe the main clientele of the magazine has been taking too much Botox, and needs some assistance in figuring out appropriate attire for taking a bath. Whatever.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Your government at work

Back in grad school, one of the mandatory sessions for EE grad students was a presentation by a NASA scientist, who was pushing for a manned flight to Mars before the year 2000 to take advantage of close proximity between the two planets that wouldn't exist for quite a while thereafter.

Fast forward 15 years, and NASA figures out that (oops!) the radiation encountered during such a flight would likely kill any astronauts unlucky enough to start it. That's my objection to NASA in a nutshell; lots of blue sky, but when it comes down to figuring out the likely problems, they're just as incompetent as any other government agency.

(possible fix for the problem; build any spacecraft around a magnet to produce a field like the Earth's--but that would end up making it a LOT heavier. Ooops)

Legal, but wrong

It appears that Wal-Mart is setting a new standard for "stupid PR and HR decisions" by this; after a worker of theirs was rendered permanently mentally and physically disabled in a traffic accident and won a sum of money intended for her long term care, Wal-Mart sued for more than the former worker received in the settlement to recover medical care costs.

Thankfully, a court reminded them that they could, legally speaking, only recover the remainder of the trust fund, but it's really sad to see people thinking that just because "it's legal," that it's somehow moral or ethical to deprive people who cannot support themselves of the resources they have. I'm holding out hope that state bar associations and pastors censure those involved here; the Scripture does, after all, say some pointed things about prosperous people abusing the poor in court!

It's also incredibly poor business; Wal-Mart has more or less just told their workers that they will sue them into the poorhouse if they can find a suitable legal excuse. Given that Wal-Mart has 1.9 million employees, I figure that it took about ten seconds or less for this to actually cost them money.