Sunday, February 27, 2005

 

The September Tapes

I just finished watching this movie, and despite the poor reviews at IMBD, I thought it was pretty dang good. Yea, it'd be easy to write it off a nothing more than Blair Witch combined with Black Hawk Down - but, frankly, I thought it was an engaging a piece of filmmaking.

Due to the Handicam-style filming, however, Mrs. AE and her motion-sensitive tummy did not make it past the 20-minute mark. Consider yourself warned.

 

Yea, Sure, We Care About Airline Security

I found this post, concerning apparent mismanagement of the Federal Air Marshal Program, to be very disturbing.

Friday, February 25, 2005

 

Tip Of The Day

Don't sell unregistered machine guns to undercover cops:

A Meadville-area militia leader and gunsmith who advocated armed revolt against the federal government pleaded guilty yesterday in Erie to possession of illegal machine guns.

Darrell W. Sivik, 57, of West Mead, Crawford County, who operated a low-power FM station called "Braveheart Radio" in a shack behind his gun shop, was the last in a group of men convicted in an investigation of homemade machine guns in northwestern Pennsylvania.

Sivik admitted selling a gun to an undercover agent for $300 and another to Charles Bilunka, 60, of Atlantic, Crawford County. Bilunka is head of Christian American Patriot Survivalists, a militia outfit that agents said was training members to kill police officers in preparation for the end of the world.

Bilunka pleaded guilty in August to possession of unregistered firearms, land mines, a machine gun and a modified SKS rifle.

Agents said he was stockpiling weapons for the second coming of Jesus Christ, which he predicts will happen in 2009, and Armageddon, slated for 2012.

Um, yea. I've got no problem with guys planning for the future, and frankly if they want machine guns, fine - just don't hurt anybody with them. But for cryin' out loud, don't go selling them to strangers, especially guys that might be cops.

 

Armed Civilian Dies In Shootout

This is quite sad - a legally-armed civilian who attemped to intervene was killed by a gunman today:

A man angry about being sued for unpaid child support opened fire with an AK-47 assault rifle outside a courthouse, killing his ex-wife and a man trying to help the couple's adult son.

The gunman, 43-year-old David Hernandez Arroyo Sr., was killed Thursday afternoon in a gun battle with officers a few miles away after wounding his son and three law enforcement officers, one critically.

The other victim, Mark Alan Wilson, 52, was credited by authorities with saving the life of David Hernandez Arroyo Jr., who was listed in fair condition at a hospital with leg wounds. A sheriff's deputy, Sherman Dollison, 28, was in critical condition after being shot in the liver, lungs and legs; a sheriff's lieutenant and a Tyler police detective were treated and released.

"One of the deputies at the scene said if it hadn't been for Mr. Wilson," said Sheriff J.B. Smith, "the son would be dead."

Wilson, a gun enthusiast who once owned a shooting range, intervened after Arroyo killed his ex-wife, witnesses said. Swindle, the police chief, said Wilson shot at Arroyo several times but his rounds weren't penetrating the armor.

Going pistol-vs.-rifle is usually suicidal; it's even worse when your opponent is wearing armor. But Wilson stepped-up and his actions likely saved the life of a young man.

 

Big Pimpin'

Brabus now offers a "tuned" version of the Maybach sedan:

Powered by a 6.3-litre V12 (right) that offers 757lb ft of torque from just 1750rpm, the Maybach has been clocked at 195mph at the Nardo test track in Italy, and will complete the 0-62mph dash in under five seconds. The car also gets bespoke 21-inch light alloy wheels.

Nice. I'd probably find other ways to spend $750K, however. I wonder how much land that'd buy in the UP...

 

Creeping Socialism

About a month ago, Oberon at Manifest Destiny Brewing hit us with a post that asks, "Does Bush's Social Security Plan amount to public governance of the top 100 publicly held companies?" It's actually a very good question, and one that I've not seen raised elsewhere.

So with my eyes now opened to the threat, I noticed in the past week that we're already seeing of bit of this:

The California Public Employees Retirement System, or CALPERS, is planning to put new "green" pressure on automakers, particularly General Motors Corp. and the Ford Motor Co. CALPERS now says it will confront the automakers publicly through shareholder resolutions that challenge whether the auto giants are serious about helping reduce the threat of global warming.

Does that sound scary? It should. What you're seeing is the exertion of government policy on corporate behavior via means outside of traditional legislation. Effectively, you've got a group of 13 people trying to dictate the policy of multinational corporations. That's a far cry from, say, the typical Washington regulatory agency, which is in theory somewhat connected to the intentions of the American public.

How are the members of CalPERS board selected? Beats me. I hit their website and couldn't really get a clear answer:

CalPERS is administered by a 13-member Board of Administration. Members are either elected by members of the System, appointed, or are designated by law to be on the Board.

All I get from that statement is that I didn't have any say in the matter.

Interestingly enough, previous criticism of CalPERS focused on their bias towards unions:

Eleven of CalPERS' 13 board members are union members, union officials or government officials who received or solicited contributions from unions. Ironically, CalPERS, through its vote-withholding strategy, has been a leading proponent for more independent directors on corporate boards.

Their support of independent BoDs isn't the only piece of irony in this story. Who's been one of the strongest forces keeping the Democrats from pushing forward with stricter CAFE requirements? That's right - the UAW. Current conventional wisdom has the American OEMs building less-efficient vehicles than the import competition* Since CalPERS is interesting in addressing global warming via a decrease in carbon dioxide emissions, and since a reduction in CO2 is a de facto increase in fuel economy, in essense CalPERS is coming in direct conflict with the stated wishes of the UAW - a rather influential union, even in its current state.

It's my opinion that this effort by CalPERS to sway the actions of the companies that they invest in is not far removed from fascist socialism, and that scares the hell out of me no matter how good their intentions may be. And it's only going to get worse if we see a widespread movement towards "personal savings accounts". If the government is picking which stocks you'll be allowed to invest in, do you really think they'll be able to keep their hands out of the affairs of those companies "lucky" enough to make the cut? The answer should be obvious - and scary.

*There's two complicating factors here. In terms of passenger-car fuel efficiency, it's unlikely that the American OEMs are actually at a significant disadvantage. It is definitely a factor when looking at truck economy, however. Also keep in mind that the issue doesn't really come down to domestic vs. import, but rather union vs. non-union shops. Even if a car is built in the US with heavy domestic content, the UAW primarly cares whether it was built with union labor or not.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

 

Is Anyone Listening Yet?

Thomas Friedman weighs in with an article on the threat of a declining dollar.

I don't really think anyone's paying much attention to this. For most people, I bet it's just barely getting to that point where there's enough murmuring on the topic for it to be disregarded as background noise. Ya know - it's just those stuffy types trying to warn us about the next disaster that's never going to come. Combine that with the fact that half the country worships the administration that happens to be ignoring the damage it's doing by selling-out its principles, and the other half of the country falls in behind the opposition party that has little room to be complaining about government spending. Plenty of people from both groups would scream if their precious Nike shoes and DVD players went up in price, or if their credit-card rates skyrocketed (ever notice how many people that "pay off their bill every month and never carry a balance" are also very concerned with their APR?).

Given all that, folks will just choose to ignore the issue, and we're back to a classic boiling-a-frog scenario.

 

Hunter S. Thompson, Sporting Genius

Let the man be remembered for his great work:

NEW YORK In what was likely his last published article, Hunter S. Thompson, the so-called "gonzo journalist" who shot and killed himself on Sunday, wrote for ESPN.com on Feb. 15 about inventing a new game called “Shotgun Golf.” He predicted it “will soon take America by storm. I see it as the first truly violent leisure sport. Millions will crave it.”

He described it this way: “Shotgun Golf was invented in the ominous summer of 2004 AD, right here at the Owl Farm in Woody Creek, Colo. The first game was played between me and Sheriff Bob Braudis, on the ancient Bomb & Shooting Range of the Woody Creek Rod & Gun Club. It was witnessed by many members and other invited guests, and filmed for historical purposes by Dr. Thompson on Super-Beta videotape.

“The game consists of one golfer, one shooter and a field judge. The purpose of the game is to shoot your opponent's high-flying golf ball out of the air with a finely-tuned 12-gauge shotgun, thus preventing him (your opponent) from lofting a 9-iron approach shot onto a distant ‘green’ and making a ‘hole in one.’ Points are scored by blasting your opponent's shiny new Titleist out of the air and causing his shot to fail miserably. That earns you two points.
“But if you miss and your enemy holes out, he (or she) wins two points when his ball hits and stays on the green.

“And after that, you trade places and equipment, and move on to round 2."

Brilliant!

 

Ford GT Recalls

Ford's GT supercar now has a total of seven recalls or service campaigns to its name; not good for a car that has a total sales volume of, um, about 110 to date. The latest seems to be an issue with the rear main seal. While this is, shall we say, not an uncommon issue, it's also a bit disappointing on a brand-new car that costs $150,000. Usually, if you want a vehicle that expensive to leak oil all over the place, you need to buy something Italian. I'm wondering if this isn't somehow related to the dry-sump oiling system, which I believe is unique to this vehicle in the Ford world.

Of course, there was the well-publicized issue with the control arms. It turns out that the problem was related to the selection of an unusual production process:

One source at Ford blamed the recall on quality problems at Citation. The supplier is restructuring under Chapter 11 of federal bankruptcy law.

But Ford selected an unseasoned manufacturing process from the start.

Suppliers are still working out kinks in the semisolid casting technology used for the original part, automotive metal industry sources say.

Ford touted the original process as a technological advancement when it unveiled the production GT in June 2003. It was the first time that Ford used semisolid casting for a control arm, the company says.

In the process, aluminum is heated to just below its melting point. At the consistency of butter, it is injected into a mold at high pressure. The resulting part has "the complexity of form associated with casting while retaining the strength of forging," Ford said at the time.

Interesting stuff. Not surprisingly, this issue has degrading into "blame the supplier", where as we can only assume that in reality the burden should be shared somewhat.

I think Ford deserves some credit for trying out this new manufacturing process on a low-volume high-performance application; better here than on a mainstream product where the financial impact of a failure would be much greater.

But on the other hand, it's a bit disappointing that this vehicle is experiencing so many problems. Surely, some or all of this can be attributed to the extremely short development cycle. Considering the lack of urgency placed on this project by market demands (supercar buyers tend to be patient types; just look at the folks who twiddled their thumbs for over a decade waiting for the Vector W8), it would have been nice to see Ford take, perhaps, another 6 or 12 months to really flesh this thing out. If, in the end, Ford develops a world-class development path based on their experience here, then I think the payoff will be many times greater than the cost of their mistakes on the GT. But if this whole saga scares them off, damage will be done that's much worse than it appears right now.

And while we're talking about recalls, I don't think I've made mention yet of the Focus recall involving door-latch corrosion. This, hot on the heels of Ford's full-size truck campaign to replace defective cruise-control switches on nearly 800,000 trucks. Honda just got hit with a big recall on ignitions switches; that's their second one in as many years on that item. The Reuters article referenced above also mentions fuel-filler neck leaks (perhaps a slight safety problem) on some Dodge Durangos; a couple of months ago, DCX was forced to recall over a half-million Durangos and Dakotas for defective ball joints. Toyota's recalling Tacomas for parking-brake problems.

What do all of these have in common? Pretty much the exact opposite of the issues plaguing the GT - it's all really simple stuff; established technology that should be a home-run. I don't know if it's related to ever-increasing cost pressures, a lack of established competency at the OEMs, or if attention is simply being paid to product features that have a higher visability to the customer, but this shit's gotta end or else customers will go elsewhere. Keeping the wheels on, the fires extinguished, and the doors closed has to be kept high on the priority list, even if some marketing dude is insisting that a nav system is really what customers want.

 

Engineering Annoyances

One of the drinking fountains here at work has a plastic "pushbutton" (more like a bar, actually) at the front. No big deal, normally - push it, water comes out, drinking commences. Unfortunately, that plastic pushbutton doesn't conduct electricity - well, duh, right?

The subtle issue here is that the first path to ground occurs when one's lips touch the water, since that water is provided through a grounded water pipe. In the winter time, under high-static conditions, this makes for a briefly uncomfortable situation.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

 

McDonald's - Faked Nutrition Numbers?

Un-possible!

Certainly, it would seem like someone at Mickey-Ds has some explaining to do. And perhaps some math courses to take.

 

More On The ChoicePoint Scandal...

... can be found here. That's right, kids - a blatantly partisan company holds the secrets of millions of Americans. Let's forget the seperation of church and state for a few minutes - I think I might want the seperation of corporations and state first.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

 

Secret Court Perfidy

Not only can you be held with secret evidence against you; no, now you're also at risk of secret legal arguments :

Attorneys for the Justice Department appeared before a federal judge in
Washington this month and asked him to dismiss a lawsuit over the detention of a
U.S. citizen, basing their request not merely on secret evidence but also on
secret legal arguments. The government contends that the legal theory by which
it would defend its behavior should be immune from debate in court. This
position is alien to the history and premise of Anglo-American jurisprudence,
which assumes that opposing lawyers will challenge one another's arguments.


My goodness, how much further can we twist and distort the legal system in this country?

 

More On Those Stupid Kids

Bill Maher takes on the same issue that I did in The Kids Aren't Alright:

But the younger generation is supposed to rage against the machine, not for
it; they're supposed to question authority, not question those who question
authority.

And what's so frightening is that we're seeing the beginnings of the first
post-9/11 generation — the kids who first became aware of the news under an
"Americans need to watch what they say" administration, the kids who've been
told that dissent is un-American and therefore justifiably punished by a fine,
imprisonment — or the loss of your show on ABC.


Yea, I still think that the youngsters' apparent disregard for our rights is about the most discouraging thing I've read in my adult life.

 

Modern Blacklisting

One-time Stalinist David Horowitz has taken it upon himself to reveal all that nasty evil people involved in the modern political left via his new website. From the its "guide":

By browsing this database, and familiarizing oneself with the agendas of the
individuals and organizations it contains, with the scope of their activities
and with the tens of millions of dollars available to support them, a user of
this base will find ample evidence for the existence of this left and for the
fact that it is a major player in the political destinies of the nation.

From a technical standpoint, it's quite a fascinating effort. What really gets me, though, is the lists of individual "activists". I mean, come on now - isn't it just a bit fucked-up to put Roger Ebert in the same company as Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Barack Obama right next to the Ayatollah Khomeini, Howard Dean in the same row as Fidel Castro? This shows, at the very least, a severe lack of perspective on the behalf of the modern right, and at worst I believe it demonstrates a desire to blacklist anyone to the left of the political center. While I am not a fan of most leftist politics (um, or right-ist politics for that matter), I also believe that the two-party system that's be foisted upon us is very dependent on a strong opposition, and I for one do not wish to see either party crushed if we're to be able to limp along as with a semifunctional democracy.

Of particular interest to me was the Entertainment Arts list, where somehow Jay Leno gets a nod while Zach de la Rocha goes unmentioned. I mean, even Fox News was unable to unearth any significant evidence of bias in Leno's late-night jokes prior to the election, and he even went so far as to serve as a springboard for Arnold Schwarzenegger's run.

Frankly, I'd be a lot happier if Horowitz would look at the leftist elements within his own party who continue to grow the size and power of the government, which are doubly dangerous because not only are the Republicans currently in complete control of the elected government, but they also seem to have the ability to expand government with overwhelming consent of those who call themselves conservatives.

 

Diverse Product

Gore is mostly known for their super-great Gore-Tex fabric that's uses in so many different outerwear products. However, they've got a very broad range of products* that range from their development philosophy, making them sort of a mini-GE. The latest is a security enclosure for sensitive electronics that helps prevent physical hacking:

Gore's electronic security enclosures surround the information storage module
physically and electronically. They use a matrix of conductive ink traces to
shield encryption codes and other sensitive data. If the enclosure is tampered
with, critical data are automatically "zeroed out," rendering the data unusable.
Enclosures are available with multi-level protection against physical invasion
such as puncture, chemical attacks, and laser penetration.


Cool stuff, if you ask me. The constant struggle between those on each side of the security/theft equation amuses me to no end; I think it represents some of the best in human creativity.

*Not all is great in Gore world; I gave their bicycle cables a shot about 8 years ago with what I'd regard as minimal success, with the effort and cost certainly not worth the benefit. Interestingly enough, the only cables they now list on their website are of the electrical type.

 

Ignore The Elephant

A rather biased but still fancinating take on the loaming concern of peak oil is that of Jan Lundberg. He's not optimistic:

The scenario I foresee is that market-based panic will, within a few days,
drive prices up skyward. And as supplies can no longer slake daily world demand
of over 80 million barrels a day, the market will become paralyzed at prices too
high for the wheels of commerce and even daily living in "advanced" societies.
There may be an event that appears to trigger this final energy crash, but the
overall cause will be the huge consumption on a finite planet.

The trucks will no longer pull into Wal-Mart. Or Safeway or other food
stores. The freighters bringing packaged techno-toys and whatnot from China will
have no fuel. There will be fuel in many places, but hoarding and uncertainty
will trigger outages, violence and chaos. For only a short time will the police
and military be able to maintain order, if at all. The damage that several days'
oil shortage and outage will do will soon wreak permanent damage that starts
with companies and consumers not paying their bills and not going to work.

After an almost instant depression seizes the modern industrialized world,
and nation-states break down, the frantic attempts of people to feed themselves,
stay warm and obtain fresh water (pumped presently via petroleum to a great
extent), there will be no rescue. Die-off begins. The least petroleum-dependent
communities will survive best. These "backward" nations will be emulated by the
scrounging survivors of the U.S. and the rest of the "developed" world, as far
as local food production will be tried - in a paved-over, toxic landscape by
people who have lost touch with the land.


Um, yea. Some folks view this as excessively dark; I think it's possible if not necessarily probable. What's odd is that a risk-vs-probability study would seem to strongly favor weening ourselves off oil, as the cost of doing so should be less than the cost of, well, the end of modern society (even if there's only, say, a 5% chance that we'll ever encounter Peak Oil), but yet the supposedly all-knowing free markets certainly don't support that. And even many of those who see the possibility of a big oil crash don't seem to be concerned, such as this comment on a related Kos post:

If this comes to pass I predict biodiesel & ethanol production will explode,
and local producers are already setting themselves up to be there when demand
for such fuels starts to climb. Until engines are converted to fuel cell
technology, standard combustible engines will be fed these readily made biofuels
to keep operating.


Ya know, biofuels may have some limited applications, but more as an energy storage medium than as an actual renewable resource. More on this whole issue on Peak Oil: Life After The Oil Crash.

Of a bit more immediate importance was a jump in oil prices today, also accompanied by a slide in the dollar:

Late afternoon in New York, the euro (EUR=) was trading around $1.3252, up about 1.5 percent from late on Monday.

How long the news will weigh on the dollar depends in part on whether the euro pushes above a key resistance area around $1.3270, said Tim Mazanec, senior currency strategist with Investors Bank & Trust in Boston.

Meanwhile, GM slashed prices on their "mid-size" SUVs (in quotes because there's nothing mid-sized about a V8-powered long wheelbase GMT360):

GM has steadfastly denied that rising gasoline prices have muted sales of SUVs,
but Ford officials have said that higher prices at the pump are affecting sales.


Interesting timing, for sure.

Monday, February 21, 2005

 

Remembering Hunter S. Thompson

NBC just had a clip of Hunter S. Thompson firing some nasty single-shot pistol. From his compact utility tractor. In a snowstorm. While wearing a bathrobe. And barefoot. That was probably the single funniest thing I've seen on the TV in, I dunno, maybe a year or more.

It's probably not worth putting too much thought into why Thompson killed himself. He was certainly not a young man and perhaps was staring down a nasty terminal illness, but even neglecting that possibility, it's amazing that he lived as long as he did.

 

ChoicePoint - Selling Your Privacy

Mrs. Angry Engineer told me about this story last week; I've finally found an article explaining it:


Criminals posing as legitimate businesses have accessed critical personal
data stored by ChoicePoint Inc., a firm that maintains databases of background
information on virtually every U.S. citizen, MSNBC.com has learned.

The incident involves a wide swath of consumer data, including names,
addresses, Social Security numbers, credit reports and other information.
ChoicePoint aggregates and sells such personal information to government
agencies and private companies.


How this shit is legal in the first place, I have no idea. Oh, but wait, it gets better:

[ChoicePoint spokesman] Lee said law enforcement officials have so far
advised the firm that only Californians need to be notified.

Why California? Because only California requires by law that
data-gathering companies notify its citizens when a breach of security takes
place. So, unless you live in California, you will not be notified.


Nice. Forget gay marriage - I want to see a Constitutional amendment guaranteeing my right to privacy. Well, yea, there's the 9th Amendment, but that one doesn't seem to count anymore. On second thought, hold off on that amendment - I'm sure things would get even more fucked up than they already are.


Wednesday, February 16, 2005

 

Go Ahead - Make My Day

Lately, I must admit to lusting over this:



That's a Smith & Wesson Model 500, with a 4" barrel, chambered in .500 S&W (a handgun cartridge that, when fired from a longer barrel, approaches the energy of a 12-gauge slug). Why would I need something like this? I have no idea, but I'd be prepared in case grizzy bears ever invaded this state. Frankly, I've got a hard time hanging onto a Ruger Redhawk with a 5.5" barrel when loaded with really warm .44 Mag rounds.

But that's all sissy talk when put into the perspective of whale guns. Yes, you read that right:

The gun was cast iron and weighed 23 lbs. The weight was necessary to absorb some of the recoil experienced when discharging a large projectile. The powder charge was limited to approximately three drams, and the projectile was limited to approximately three lbs., otherwise recoil would be excessive.

Holy balls! 12-gauge slugs are normally 1 ounce, or perhaps 1.25 ounces for a "magnum" load. In-freakin'-sane. I don't know what they considered to be "excessive recoil" back in those days, but I'm assuming that launching a 3 lb projectile must have been akin to a bomb going off. I never ever heard about such a thing before reading a thread on the topic at The High Road this evening.

Surely, Dirty Harry would approve.

 

How Can Someone Be So Full Of... ?

Talon News (yes, that Talon News) reports:

Citizens Against Government Waste, a group that monitors government spending,
has designated Sens. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) as the
co-porkers of the month for February because of their opposition to President
George W. Bush's budget reforms of the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program.


Holy fuck, Batman! Two senators fights for a $3.7 billion program in a $2.57 trillion budget and they're suddenly the biggest thing in pork-barrel politics in any particular month? That is quite possibly the most useless and unnecessary partisan attack concerning the budget that I've ever seen. Let's put things in perspective. On one hand, Clinton and Schumer have asked to protect a pet program that represents approximately 0.15% of the federal budget. On the other hand, discretionary non-defense spending increased by 30% during Bush's first term, and Bush's "tough" 2006 budget decreases that spending by a whopping 0.5%. And let's not even talk about the bullshit tactic of conveniently neglecting to add in the costs of the War On Terror:

But [budget director Josh Bolton] said including further additional
spending for Iraq and Afghanistan "wouldn't be responsible" because it would
represent guesses on what will be needed.


Ah, but those guesses will surface into a pretty concrete request right after the regular budget passes Congress, I'm sure. And then there's the issue of reconstruction funds. While Citizens Against Government Waste "contends that the taxpayer is the one 'left out in the cold,' while paying the billions associated with a program that has no accountability", there's the little issue of the $8 billion in funds missing from Iraqi oil revenues during US rule.

Now, please don't get me wrong - Sen. Clinton and Sen. Schumer collectively bring me about as much joy as rectal bleeding. But to single them out for the reason described above is, when viewed in the grand scheme of things, totally laughable. Unless you're me, in which case it's just infuriating. Nowadays, those two emotions are often indistinguishable when discussing politics.

 

A Correction/Retraction

I had previous stated that there had not been any good rock singles in the past 5 years from anyone but U2. I stumbled across the Stone Temple Pilots' "Sour Girl" in my Winamp playlist today, and I think that it proves me wrong. That song is just lovely.

I need to be listening to more STP, especially the Tiny Music... stuff. For some reason we grew apart after I entered college, and I feel bad about that.

 

A Chem Teacher Is Accused Of...

...teaching his class how to make bombs, and his name isn't Mr. Greinke or Mr. VanDam (that's a reference that perhaps one or two people will get).

David Pieski, 42, used an overhead projector in class to give instructions
in making explosives to students at Freedom High School, including advising them
to use an electric detonator to stay clear from the blast, an Orange County
sheriff's arrest report said.

In Pieski's classroom in Orlando, authorities found a book labeled
"Demo," which includes the chemical breakdown for a powerful explosive, the
arrest report said.
...
Pieski guided investigators to an unlocked metal cabinet in the back of a
classroom, where there was "a can of black powder stored next to other
chemicals," the sheriff's office said.

School officials told investigators that Pieski previously had been
told he was not allowed to have any form of explosive on campus.


I am so glad that I don't have to suffer through high school nowadays, because I suspect that teachers are not allowed to be even slightly cool nowadays. I clearly remember walking into Mr. VanDam's classroom during 3rd period of my first day of high school, seeing the half-dozen or so burnt and charred ceiling tiles above his desk, and thinking that the next three years of school might not be that bad after all. Over the next 9 months, Mr. VanDam showed that his last year before retirement would not stop him from acting like a 10-year-old pyromaniac. He'd probably be arrested for teaching terrorist techniques nowadays, especially with his fondness for debunking the contents of the "Anarchist's Cookbook".

 

Toyota Quality

U.S. federal regulators have launched an early-stage safety investigation into
2004 models of Toyota Motor Corp.'s Lexus RX330 SUV, The New York Times reported Wednesday. A Toyota spokesman in Tokyo confirmed the investigation, which is a preliminary evaluation of a possible glitch in the vehicle's power brake assist system.
Automotive News, Feb. 16 2005


Toyota Motor Corp. is recalling 22,228 of its 2005-model Tacoma pickup trucks
sold in the United States to fix a potential problem with their parking brakes,
federal safety regulators said Tuesday.


Automotive News, Feb. 15 2005


Match "China prices" - or else. That's what Toyota Motor Corp. has ordered
its suppliers to do as part of the four-year-old program called "Construction of
Cost Competitiveness" for the 21st Century (CCC21). The campaign has one year to
go, but according to Toyota's president-designate, Katsuaki Watanabe, it is on
track to save Japan's number-one automaker all of the $10 billion goal sought
from the start in 2000.


The Car Connection, Feb 15 2005

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

 

The Cato Institute Takes On The Auto Parts Industry

The Cato Institute weighs-in with their opinion on "transplants" (foreign auto companies, or OEMS, who build their product in the US) and whether or not they should be forced to use components from domestic auto suppliers instead of from foreign component manufactures who have US operations. Being the supporters of free trade that they are, of course they state that no government intervention is necessary.

Interestingly enough, though, protectionism wouldn't even serve much of a role in this case. Since the domestic OEMs aren't increasing their production in the US and are going overseas for many of their supplied component needs, there simply is no room for parts suppliers in the US (foreign or domestic in ownership) to get additional business with them. So naturally, they'll be fighting for the ever-increasing amount of business, and that the domestic parts suppliers will win some portion of this, and that foreign-owned suppliers will win some portion. But ask any component supplier in the US where their real opportunities lie, and they'll almost certainly tell you that increased amounts of business from the transplants will be key to their success.

If the protectionist really want to do something, go address the issue with domestic OEMs outsourcing their components. I've got a hard time calling something like the Chevrolet Equinox "American" when it's got a Chinese engine, Japanese transaxle, and who knows what elsewhere in the vehicle.

One minor complaint about the Cato article. They claim:

The Japanese and U.S. automotive industries operate differently. Japanese
manufacturers typically ask suppliers-- regardless of location or national
origin--to assume more responsibility for engineering design. In many cases, the
Japanese automakers do not own patent rights to the designs for the parts they
use, so that the parts suppliers must be quite specific. By contrast, American
automakers usually provide detailed designs and ask suppliers to bid on a part.
This is a fact of life in the auto parts industry, and complaining about it will
get American suppliers nowhere. Those American suppliers--and there are
many--who take it upon themselves to provide the designs and compete for the
business will succeed; those who don't will fail.


From my extremely limited experience, this is not the way things are done. If anything, the Japanese OEMs possess more knowledge about their supplied components than the American OEMs. Oh, sure, when it comes to which is more likely to crawl through your shorts in a disruptive manner, it's likely that it'll be someone from the Big Three, but I would not go so far as to suggest that they are more involved in the design process. When your company is rotating through release engineers (the guys at the customer in charge of making sure that purchased parts will do the required job) every year or so (it's not unheard-of to go through 3 or 4 release engineers during a 24-month program), then those folks are not likely to learn the nitty-gritty of the parts that they're in charge of overseeing. I would go so far as to suggest that the recent spate of recalls at the domestic manufacturers is the direct result of their lack of product knowledge.

 

More On The Churchill Controversy

Compare and contrast:

I am not a "defender"of the September 11 attacks, but simply pointing out that
if U.S. foreign policy results in massive death and destruction abroad, we
cannot feign innocence when some of that destruction is returned.

- Ward Churchill


The United States was not attacked because we are free. Bin Laden was not attacking the Bill of Rights. We were attacked because the United--over here because the United States' military and political presence is massive over there. Bin Laden in his fatwah, his statement of declaration of war on the United States, said the infidels were standing on the sacred soil of Saudi Arabia. They want us out of the Middle East.

- Pat Buchanan



Who deserves to be villified, based on the above statements? Buchanan had the tact and common sense not to invoke the dreaded Nazism metaphor; beyond that, both seem to be attempting to make the same point.

Where Churchill does seem to go further is in his suggestion that the WTC was a military target, not only because of the "technocratic corps" that was working within (i.e. capitalists), but also because of the CIA office located there:

It is not disputed that the Pentagon was a military target, or that a CIA office was situated in the World Trade Center. Following the logic by which U.S. Defense Department spokespersons have consistently sought to justify target selection in places like Baghdad, this placement of an element of the American "command and control infrastructure" in an ostensibly civilian facility converted the Trade Center itself into a "legitimate" target. Again following U.S. military doctrine, as announced in briefing after briefing, those who did not work for the CIA but were nonetheless killed in the attack amounted to no more than "collateral damage." If the U.S. public is prepared to accept these "standards" when the are routinely applied to other people, they should be not be surprised when the same standards are applied to them.

A valid point, it would seem. But let's go back to the first idea - that working inside of the capitalist system makes one complicit of the military's actions - take it one step further, and ask: Does the act of simply paying taxes make one complicit in the offending actions, real or perceived, of one's government? Well, that certainly makes for an interesting definition of who's "guilty" and "innocent" in a democracy or democratic republic.

http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,146833,00.html

Just so it's clear, I don't necessarly buy-in to Churchill's whole "technocratic corps" argument, and I certainly don't believe as he does that we'd be better off if the United Stated should cease to exist. What I'd rather see is people educating themselves about the actions the US decides to take overseas, owning-up to their role in those actions (after all, they voted in the people who are in charge of formulating and executing that policy), the effects of those actions, and hopefully closing the feedback loop in the voting booth.

Perhaps Churchill goes too far in implicating himself:

A longtime American Indian Movement activist, he said he is also culpable
because his efforts to change the system haven't succeeded. "I could do more.
I'm complicit. I'm not innocent," he said.


But if that comes off as a meladramatic exaggeration, it's still true that Americans are far too uninformed as to the actions of our government, and thus definitely guilty of something. Perhaps we don't deserve a death penalty for this crime of ignorance, but neither should anyone else in the world.



 

Fuel Economy And The Gas Tax

We're now being told that with the average fuel economy of the US auto fleet is increasing so fast, taxes that are levied on fuel consumption (the per-gallon tax assessed by the feds and your state) are becoming ineffective:

The benefits of more gas-efficient cars are obvious, but less gas use means less
gas tax revenue. Less gas tax revenue means less money for road upkeep. Less
money for road upkeep means that you get to drive your nice, shiny new hybrid
over increasingly bumpy and potholed roads.


But wait - isn't is true that the corporate average fuel economy is actually slipping? Um...

With the nation's overall fuel economy slipping for more than a decade, Congress
asked the National Academies to study the effects that CAFE standards have had
over the past 25 years, as well as effects that potential changes to the program
might have.


And since CAFE doesn't include heavy trucks (those with a GVWR over 8500 lbs, such as 3/4- and 1-ton pickups and SUVs), it may very well be that these are dragging the effective fleet fuel economy down even more than the CAFE numbers would suggest, if indeed the sales of heavy-duty light trucks has increased in the past decade (which is certainly the case, as one can see by looking on the streets or new-car lots).

Now, if we go from a straight XX-cent-per-gallon tax to something that also takes into account the number of miles driven, then we've effectively shifted some burden from the lower end of the economy scale up towards the upper end. That would seem unfair for those that bought something like a Prius, since their tax burden decrease isn't quite so significant.

It might be argued that the purpose of this tax is to discourage driving, and not simply the amount of fuel consumed. That becomes interesting if the end goal is to decrease congestion. But two factors play into the amount of traffic that a road can handle - average vehicle speed, and vehicle size. Assuming that average vehicle speed is something we're not going to attempt to increase, then decreasing the vehicle size provides the most straightforward route to decreasing congestion. And if that's the case, then the per-mile tax should thus also include a factor that takes into account the length of the vehicle (width is probably inconsequential since we're not going to fit more than one car width-wise in a single lane of traffic; height perhaps affects traffic flow but that's pretty tough to quantify).

Personally, I think the whole thing is an attempt to decrease the effective tax

 

Killed The Czar And His Ministers...

Matthew Yglesias has an excellent post involving the Russian revolution, "Sympathy For The Devil", broken eggs, omlettes, Iraq, and the Law Of Unintended Consequences (although I don't know if he knows that the last item is what his post is really all about):

The real lesson Hitchens ought to be taking away from this isn't about the death
penalty, it's about the danger of utopian dreaming and overestimation of
threats. If you make your hypothetical omelette tasty enough (democracy
everywhere! freedom and equality for all!) or the dangers of failure
sufficiently grave (terrorists blowing up cities!) then you wind up eliminating
all constraints on the quantity of eggs you're willing to break. This is, I
think, something's that's fairly widely understood. Most people involved in
politics are not wild-eyed utopians sure that if you just take these three
drastic steps all problems will be solved. But one common thread between
Hitchens' former Trotskyism and his current neoconservatism (and, of course,
he's not the only one to have made that particular journey) is a failure to
appreciate the point.


As I stated, I don't know if there's sufficient appreciation of the Law of Unintended Consequences on the behalf of the author, although his appreciation for the best rock song of all time is noteworthy enough for me to craft an entry around his post. So, what is this that I speak of? Well, it's the title of a politically-uncorrect novel on the topic of creeping fascism, but it's also a basic characteristic of human behavior that we all observe and follow, but rarely appreciate:

The law of unintended consequences, often cited but rarely defined, is that
actions of people—and especially of government—always have effects that are
unanticipated or "unintended." Economists and other social scientists have
heeded its power for centuries; for just as long, politicians and popular
opinion have largely ignored it.


The real danger in utopian thinking might not be the lengths one will go to see it through - it might just be in the unintended consequences that tend to pop up any time a large project is pushed through with an aggressive timeline and little or no back-up planning. In the case of the Bolshevik revolution, they certainly didn't intend to create one of the most evil fascist government in history - but that's exactly what happened as a direct result of their actions. So much for the Communist ideal of a stateless economy and total freedom. In the case of the US in the Middle East, well - we reap what we sow, even if it's something other than what we thought we planned. Propping up the Shah backfired. Supporting Saddam in his struggle against Iran backfired. Even our support for the Afghan rebels, as well-intended and as effective as it was in the short-term, ended up coming right back in our face. And now? Now that we've managed to get Iran's allies elected to the Iraqi parliment, the real fun can begin.

Monday, February 14, 2005

 

A Plea To GM

Dear GM,

As I understand things, you will be offering a Cadillac-badged version of your Epsilon platform in Europe, and one of your powertrain offerings will be a 1.9 L turbodiesel. Can we please get this engine in something over here, perhaps in a Malibu or Cobalt, or even as an option for Saturn?

If this engine is good enough for a premium car that's sold in Europe, then I'm sure that us Americans would find it acceptable. It'd be a great way to distinguish your offerings from the competition, which we know is something you sorely need help with. It'd provide an alternative to purchasing the horribly unreliable VW products, which are currently the only affordable passenger cars sold in the US with diesels.

My wife would like one for the fuel economy savings, I'd enjoy one for the novelty, and frankly this is probably the only reason I'd consider buying one of your small cars. It's not that I don't like your current product - it's just that there's nothing drawing me to it. Offering a diesel would fix that problem.

So, please, just give this one a thought. Keep in mind that you're currently charging over $5,000 for the Duramax option in your trucks, and you can't keep those on the lot.

Thanks for listening.

 

End Of The GM/Fiat Saga

Anyone keep a running tally on how much this little debacle ended up costing GM? I think it's around $5B, which would equal at least a couple years' worth of net profit at their current pace.

And in the "I can probably do this guy's job better than he can" category:

Gerald Meyers, a professor at the University of Michigan Business School, has
said GM executives came to regret ever having signed the original deal.


Thanks for the insight, Gerald.

 

Priorities

Two years ago, the White House and the Republicans in Congress pushed through legislation that created the biggest expansion of government in 40 years. I'm sure that wasn't in the fine print of the Contract With American, but no one's bothering to look. Now that a serious stink is being raised about the costs of the program, Bush is threatening to take unprecidented action to save it. How severe? No, silly, not a pre-emptive strike on the Capital - he's talking about using a veto:

President Bush warned Congress yesterday not to reopen the landmark
Medicare legislation that he pushed through in his first term and threatened to
veto any measures scaling back its benefits even as new financial forecasts show
the cost soaring over the next decade.

"I signed Medicare reform proudly, and any attempt to limit the choices
of our seniors and to take away their prescription drug coverage under Medicare
will meet my veto," Bush said at a ceremony marking the installation of Mike
Leavitt as his new secretary of health and human services.


Just as a refresher, this is why the topic has come up:

The Medicare legislation reemerged as a point of debate in Washington this week
when new projections indicated a far bigger 10-year price tag for the
prescription drug benefit than the $400 billion originally predicted by
supporters during the 2003 enactment of the bill or the $534 billion later
estimated by the government. The White House disclosed this week that the cost
over the first decade would reach as high as $1.2 trillion, although it
emphasized that various savings would bring that down to $724 billion.


An open comment to whomever participated in getting this bill passed - fuck you. You've mortgaged away the future of this country so that drug companies and HMOs could get their little handout. How the hell can any sane person take comfort in the fact that a program will only cost $724 billion in the next decade?

Thursday, February 10, 2005

 

New Format

The blog got a new template today in an attempt to make it look a bit better. I tried to fix the old one to widen the body a bit and reduce the left margin, but it looked crappy (there's a bunch of .gif images involved in making corners rounded and crap like that, and I wasn't going to edit all of those). So I'm trying this new one out - hopefully there's a bit more frame width available for pictures, and I'm also hopeful that quotes look better.

Yea, I'm aware that there's two dead links off to the left - that's the template default, and I'll try to fix that over the weekend. I just couldn't decide what to put over there right now.

 

Automotive Embedded Systems Attacked By Viruses?

Kinda sounds that way:

Antivirus companies are researching reports that computer viruses have
attacked the onboard computers of cars.

Moscow-based Kaspersky Labs was asked last weekend how to disinfect the
onboard computers of several Lexus models: LX470, LS430 and Landcruiser 100. The security company was told that the infection likely occurred via a mobile phone.

Some mobile-phone viruses already exist, such as Cabir and Skulls, which
spread by Bluetooth and infect handsets based on the Symbian operating system.
Many Lexus cars include a navigation system that can connect to a mobile phone
over Bluetooth to allow hands-free calls, and Kaspersky believes that Bluetooth
could be used to transmit a virus to a car's GPS navigation system.

Interesting stuff, indeed, and probably something that automotive software guys are not used to dealing with. Well, guess what - the problem's here, and probably isn't going to go away on its own.

 

Terror Attorney Found Guilty

Lynne Stewart, the civil-rights attorney who defended terrorists associated with the bombers behind the '93 WTC attack, has been found guilty:

A New York jury on Thursday convicted U.S. attorney Lynne Stewart and two
other defendants of helping terrorists and lying to the U.S. government.

Stewart was found guilty of all five counts naming her, including
conspiracy to defraud the United States, providing and concealing material
support, and making false statements.


What'd she do?

Stewart had signed an agreement with the Bureau of Prisons to abide by
restrictions that prohibited disclosure of their conversations and distribution
of messages from Rahman to third parties. But on at least one occasion, she
appeared to flout those rules.

During the trial, prosecutors played surveillance tape of a two-day May
2000 visit by Stewart to show she provided cover for Yousry as he relayed
Islamic Group messages to Rahman, including a Sattar letter seeking guidance on
whether the group should continue a "cease-fire" of terrorist activities against
Egypt's government.


Does this cross the boundries of free speech? I'd have to say that it does, but this isn't an easy one. I think it hinges on whether or not that this could be construed as activity harmful to national security, and that's going to require more information that we're likely to get.

 

GM Slides...

... and as a result of their march towards junk-bond status, Business Week says that GMAC has been cut loose:

But today, despite billions invested in new cars, GM is once again losing ground. And suddenly its slide seems to be picking up speed. That point was driven home on Jan. 13, when Chairman and Chief Executive G. Richard Wagoner Jr. announced that he was moving to wall off his most reliable profit machine -- the mortgage-lending portion of General Motors Acceptance Co. -- bowing to the real possibility that his flailing auto business will be downgraded to junk status. Carving out the mortgage lending unit, which contributed a cool $1.1 billion to GM's bottom line last year, as a separate entity should preserve its credit rating. But finance profits are already shrinking, and could fall further in years ahead. And GM's scramble shows just how dramatically its options are shrinking. With fewer dollars to squeeze out of finance, the pressure is on to begin delivering significant profits from new cars and trucks.

GMAC represents a majority of GM's corporate profits in recent times. No, that's not quite accurate - GMAC is virturely the only source of profit for GM. How about the most recent quarter?

Including special items GM posted net income of $630 million.
...
Once again it was GM's credit unit, GMAC, that was the key profit producer,
earning $611 million.


Strip out GMAC and you have less than $20 million on profit on sales of over $51 billion, folks. To be fair, that's not typical, but GMAC still provided 80% of GM's profit in '04.

The rest of the article covers the stuff we've heard everywhere - health-care costs, the reduced effectiveness of incentives, an aging truck line-up. But this deal with GMAC? Holy crap.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

 

What Detroit Should Be Showing At NAIAS

Note - this post has been sitting in my draft folder for, uh, about 7 days now, so that's why it's not exactly timely.

The brilliant Jerry Flint checks in with yet another excellent piece of writing, this time taking on Chrysler and Ford show cars at NAIAS. First, for the folks at DCX, who put a Viper derivative at center stage this year:



Anyway, you Chrysler people have your Viper (1782 sales last year). Put
your best people to work building a Dream Minivan. That’s where you make money.
That’s where you’ve got trouble. That’s where you need some ideas that come from
dream cars. Look at the 2004 minivan sales numbers:

Chrysler/Dodge 384,832
Toyota Sienna
159,119
Honda Odyssey 154,238

Five years ago (1999), Chrysler sold 503,824 minivans and the two
Japanese brands sold 176,610 added together. So in those five years the two
Japanese brands took more than 100,000 sales of your — Chrysler and Dodge —
minivan sales and they are still coming. Forget about General Motors and Ford.
They just don’t understand minivans and don’t even seem to care about them.
Perhaps they all hate children.

Agreed completely. Additionally, Chrysler seems well-posed to own the large-car near-luxury market in the coming years, so why not do something to demonstrate that dominance? Maybe a Pacifica-like tall wagon based on the LX platform? Maybe an actual ponycar, considering that a Hemi-powered couple would kill the Mustang GT and Nissan 350Z? Just sayin'.

Flint on Ford:

Now, Ford people: There’s no use in building Dream Minivans. You’ve given up on
minivans. Like General Motors, it seems you want to disguise them as sport-utes.
That’s what I got out of your Ford Fairlane concept show at the Detroit auto
show.


What you need is a Dream Explorer. This Explorer is the best-selling
SUV in the world but it’s fading. Five years ago Explorer sales were 428,772
(plus another 49,281 Mercury Mountaineers). Last year Explorer sales were down
to 339,333 and you will give up another 80,000 when you shut down one Explorer
production shift this spring. The Chevy TrailBlazer might even outsell Explorer
this year. It’s a long shot, but possible.


So pull your best people from a two-seater dream to replace the Ford GT (144 sales last year). Put them to work on your fading moneymaker: the Explorer. And when they’re done with that, they might try the Expedition. Again, a good vehicle that Ford doesn’t give enough attention to. You need ideas to revitalize it, ideas that come from dreams.



Yea, enough frickin' supercars already. The GT is awesome, and will still be awesome in a decade. Take a hint from Honda and their NSX and stick with it for a while, since no one is likely to tire of it any time soon.

There's gotta be something cool to do with an SUV that hasn't been done yet. How about a hybrid Explorer and Expedition duo, using all that fancy hardware that was developed in-house for the Escape?

I don't understand why GM escapes Flint's ire, considering that the highlights of the GM area this year was

- A pair of roadsters that are likely to butt up against each other and the Mazda Miata for what's gotta be an annual market of about 50,000 cars,

- A slightly bigger roadster by the deathbed-bound Buick that seem to have absolutely no place in the market (except perhaps for the 7 people who find the styling of the drop-top 350Z to be "too controversial"),

- A really cool hybrid that is obviously far above the heads of the public (and tucked back in a dark corner anyways),

- And, uh...

Overall, a very down year for GM. Perhaps that's somewhat suitable for a company that's warning on profits for '05 and is probably suffering from a new-product hangover (especially considering that the product is having little impact on the bottom line), but GM supposedly has a lot of big stuff coming up in the next few years. For starters, there's supposedly a new line of full-size SUVs in '06, with the pickups following perhaps a year later - the-much needed GMT900 platform. Where's the concept versions of these new vehicles, like we saw in Detroit a year prior to the GMT800 launch in '98? I think some excitement might be generated if we could see what kick-ass features these vehicles have, if indeed they're going to be something beyond a minor re-fresh of the current models.

And where's the Malibu Maxx SS that was promised to us? A high-horsepower all-wheel-drive version of, well, anything affordable would be welcome in the Chevy showrooms right now. Perhaps such a vehicle could even grab a few sales from the imports. Unlikely, but possible.


 

Social Insecurity

OK, I'll be the first to admit that I don't know much about social security, but I still find each party's position on the issue to be somewhat unattractive:

Dems - It's not broken, so let's not mess with it.

Um, great, except most of the projections I've seen show the Social Security trust fund being completely depleted around the time I reach retirement. I find this to be an issue, although I can understand why someone who was voted into office by a bunch of AARP blue-hairs may not.

Repubs - It's broken and eventually will contribute heavily to the general budget deficit, so, uh, let's get ahead of the curve and contribute heavily to the deficit right now. Say, by a few trillion dollars or so.

Great idea. Has anyone figured out how many trillion we're talking about, how long of a period of time that will be spread over, and how much interest we'll rack up on that by the time the SS trust fund is projected to go tits-up?

Fortunately, we've got the president thinking hard about this issue:

Because the -- all which is on the table begins to address the big cost
drivers. For example, how benefits are calculate, for example, is on the table;
whether or not benefits rise based upon wage increases or price increases.
There's a series of parts of the formula that are being considered. And when you
couple that, those different cost drivers, affecting those -- changing those
with personal accounts, the idea is to get what has been promised more likely to
be -- or closer delivered to what has been promised.

Does that make any sense to you? It's kind of muddled. Look, there's a
series of things that cause the -- like, for example, benefits are calculated
based upon the increase of wages, as opposed to the increase of prices. Some
have suggested that we calculate -- the benefits will rise based upon inflation,
as opposed to wage increases. There is a reform that would help solve the red if
that were put into effect. In other words, how fast benefits grow, how fast the
promised benefits grow, if those -- if that growth is affected, it will help on
the red. Okay, better? I'll keep working on it.

Yes, please keep working on it. He also states:

First of all, when I was 27 years old, I don't remember having a discussion
with anybody about whether or not Social Security would be there.

Yea, I'm guessing when he was 27, he was <must... resist... cocaine... comment> more concerned with retiring on many millions of Daddy's money, and I suspect that a large number of the men and women in Congress who will be passing SS reform legislation likely will regard their SS check as little more than bingo money.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

 

Ford Screws The Pooch

Note - this was intended to be posted on the 6th, so it's now 3-day-old news. So be it.

According to Blue Oval News, Ford has decided to kill the Hurricane V8. Apparently, the decision came down to this or a new passenger-car V6, and the new V8 was deemed to be less important in the long term due to the spector of rising fuel cost and decreased truck popularity.

Fair enough, but if I'm a Ford investor, I'm going to look at the development of the new high-output V10 and the Shelby coupe that's supposed to be wrapped around it, and I'm going to ask why the hell this is still getting funding. What's Ford's future - limited-edition supercars, or trucks? That should be obvious.

 

Using Those 1st Amendment Liberties

The news in the past week has been filled with two freedom-of-speech controversies of note. First, from the world of radical academics, comes Ward Churchill, and his essay "Some People Push Back". He seems to think that the blame for the Sept. 11th terrorist attacks lies squarely on the shoulders of the capitalists working in the WTC that morning:

There is simply no argument to be made that the Pentagon personnel killed on
September 11 fill that bill. The building and those inside comprised military
targets, pure and simple. As to those in the World Trade Center . . .
Well, really. Let's get a grip here, shall we? True enough, they
were civilians of a sort. But innocent? Gimme a break. They formed a
technocratic corps at the very heart of America's global financial empire – the
"mighty engine of profit" to which the military dimension of U.S. policy has
always been enslaved – and they did so both willingly and knowingly. Recourse to
"ignorance" – a derivative, after all, of the word "ignore" – counts as less
than an excuse among this relatively well-educated elite. To the extent that any
of them were unaware of the costs and consequences to others of what they were
involved in – and in many cases excelling at – it was because of their absolute
refusal to see. More likely, it was because they were too busy braying,
incessantly and self-importantly, into their cell phones, arranging power
lunches and stock transactions, each of which translated, conveniently out of
sight, mind and smelling distance, into the starved and rotting flesh of
infants. If there was a better, more effective, or in fact any other way of
visiting some penalty befitting their participation upon the little Eichmanns
inhabiting the sterile sanctuary of the twin towers, I'd really be interested in
hearing about it.


Ya know, Ward makes some interesting points in his essay - that the American public are woefully unaware of the "inconvenience" they place on the rest of the world with their demand for cheap energy and products, that there exists an impersonal killing apparatus that we've built up and unleashed on occassion (actually, it's more like we've been using it at a continuous and more-or-less low level ever since the first Gulf War), that the Sept. 11th attackers may have been justified in their actions when viewed from a perspective incomprehensible to the average American. He's justified in all of those theories.

But he looses me completely on two points, and I hope that anyone with any sense of logic and reality feels the same way. First, in the section preceding the above-quoted passage ("The Politics of a Perpetrator Population"), he dismissing the vast majority of the US as unconcerned, and even takes a swipe at those who protesting the bombing of Iraq through the mid- and late-90s. But then he proceeds to accuse those working in the WTC as being part of a "technocratic corps", and doing so "willingly and knowingly". I don't think that these two accusations can co-exist, even though he attempts to give himself an out with the statement "To the extent that any of them were unaware of the costs and consequences to others of what they were involved in – and in many cases excelling at – it was because of their absolute refusal to see." Because of this, I think his statement that these people were - as he puts it - "little Eichmanns" is ludicrous, and as such I think he deserves much of the scorn heaped upon him in the past week. It's really quite sad from a purely acedemic standpoint, as he might be attempting to make a valid statement, but his inability to express himself in anything but the most outragious - and some might say, truly infantile - terms preludes him from ever obtaining any sort of real consideration for his theories.

The second point where he goes off the deep end is while attempt to characterize what "evil" really is:

Which takes us to official characterizations of the combat teams as an
embodiment of "evil." Evil – for those inclined to embrace the
banality of such a concept – was perfectly incarnated in that malignant toad
known as Madeline Albright, squatting in her studio chair like Jaba the Hutt,
blandly spewing the news that she'd imposed a collective death sentence upon the
unoffending youth of Iraq. Evil was to be heard in that great American hero
"Stormin' Norman" Schwartzkopf's utterly dehumanizing dismissal of their
systematic torture and annihilation as mere "collateral damage." Evil, moreover,
is a term appropriate to describing the mentality of a public that finds such
perspectives and the policies attending them acceptable, or even momentarily
tolerable.


What he says is fair enough - I can understand why he might have that viewpoint. But then to be fair, it must also be concluded that the perpetrators of the Sept. 11th attacks and the public that supported them (witness the celebrations in the streets that have been noted, particularly by the anti-Muslim crowd) are similarly evil.

In conclusion, I find the essay somewhat interesting, but it reads more like something I'd expect from an confused and angry teenager than I would from a tenured professor. As for those calling for his resignation, I agree, but not for the obvious sin of relating the 9/11 victims to Nazis. No, I think he should resign for an inability to express himself on a level beyond that of the typical Internet troll. Perhaps he should be starting flame wars on bulletin boards instead of drawing a fat paycheck.

Moving on to someone on the other side of the War On Terror, we've got what can only be described as "candid" comments from Marine General James Mattis:

According to an audio recording, Mattis had said, "Actually, it's a lot of
fun to fight. You know, it's a hell of a hoot. ... It's fun to shoot some
people. I'll be right upfront with you, I like brawling."

He added, "You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around
for five years because they didn't wear a veil. You know, guys like that ain't
got no manhood left anyway. So it's a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them."


You know, as the saying goes, "We sleep soundly in our beds because rough men are ready to do violence on our behalf", and Gen. Mattis is certainly the sort of guy that I'd prefer to have on our side than on the other. Was what he said appropriate for a representative of the US government in public? Perhaps not. But was what he said wrong? I don't think so. If he wants to find that sort of joy in his work, fine, and it's virtually impossible to argue that what the Taliban was in any way deserving of something other than removal from this earth.

Hey, if nothing else, what each man said was far more interesting that the President's SOTU address or the Democrat's rebuttal, and for that, each deserves credit.




 

The Latest On Stuff That's Gonna Cause Cancer

The National Toxicology Program has released their 11th update of the big list of things that will kill you, that is if you don't get hit by a bus, eaten by wild dogs, or crushed in a naked lady avalanche. Now, even grilled meat and drinking beer has the potential to trigger unwanted cell growth. Clearly, this wasn't the leading cause of death for Vikings, so perhaps they had the right idea in choosing their particular lifestyle.

 

The FCC Establishes Some Boundries

Jeff Jarvis reports on recent rulings by the FCC, where it dismissess several (um, 36, actually) complaints from the Parents Television Council. We learn much from his compliation of these rulings, including:

A number of complaints cite isolated uses of the word “dick” or variations
thereof. In context and as used in the complained of broadcasts, these were
epithets intended to denigrate or criticize their subjects. Their use in this
context was not sufficiently explicit or graphic and/or sustained to be patently
offensive. Although use of such words may, depending on the nature of the
broadcast at issue, contribute to a finding of indecency, their use here was not
patently offensive and therefore not indecent. Similarly, we find that the
fleeting uses of the words “penis,” “testicle,” “vaginal,” “ass,” “bastard” and
“bitch,” uttered in the context of the programs cited in the complaints, do not
render the material patently offensive under contemporary community standards
for the broadcast medium.


Oh, yea, and it apparently was not obscene to show the buttocks of a male cartoon character (in this case, I believe it was Bobby Hill).

 

Green Neocons?

Sounds implausible, but apparently it's true - to some extent.

But a curious transformation is occurring in Washington, D.C., a split of
foreign policy and energy policy: Many of the leading neoconservatives who
pushed hard for the Iraq war are going green. James Woolsey, the former director
of the Central Intelligence Agency and staunch backer of the Iraq war, now
drives a 58-miles-per-gallon Toyota Prius and has two more hybrid vehicles on
order. Frank Gaffney, the president of the Center for Security Policy and
another neocon who championed the war, has been speaking regularly in Washington about fuel efficiency and plant-based bio-fuels.

The alliance of hawks and environmentalists is new but not entirely
surprising. The environmentalists are worried about global warming and air
pollution. But Woolsey and Gaffney—both members of the Project for the New
American Century, which began advocating military action against Saddam Hussein back in 1998—are going green for geopolitical reasons, not environmental ones.
They seek to reduce the flow of American dollars to oil-rich Islamic
theocracies, Saudi Arabia in particular. Petrodollars have made Saudi Arabia too
rich a source of terrorist funding and Islamic radicals. Last month, Gaffney
told a conference in Washington that America has become dependent on oil that is
imported from countries that, "by and large, are hostile to us." This fact, he
said, makes reducing oil imports "a national security imperative."

For Woolsey and Gaffney, the fact that energy efficiency and conservation
might help the environment is an unintended side benefit. They want to weaken
the Saudis, the Iranians, and the Syrians while also strengthening the Israelis.
Whether these ends are achieved with M-16s or hybrid automobiles doesn't seem to
matter to them.


Kinda hard to argue with that. Even without the issue of oil and petrochemical dominance, we'll still never extract ourselves from the Middle East while we remain allied with Israel. However, simply reducing our demand for imported oil might be the best way to reduce funding for terrorism and to reduce our meddling in the affairs of that region, which I believe can only help to reduce the likelihood of future problems (keeping in mind that many of our current problems are the indirect result of what appeared to be logical and wise actions decades ago).

It's nice to see the hawks catching on the concept that every true warrior should understand - resources need to be conserved, not spent in the process of flippin' the bird to your opponent. In other words, a Prius is more likely to contribute to the defeat of Al Queda than an Excursion. I fail to see why wastefulness should be considered patriotic and a national virture.

 

More Bad News For The Dollar

Russia has decided to take a swipe at the dollar:


Russia said yesterday it had abandoned efforts to tie the rouble's movement
closely to the dollar and switched to shadowing both the euro and the US
currency.
The move heightened expectations that
other countries operating de facto dollar pegs, such as China, could follow
suit.
With 81 per cent of Russia's oil exports currently sold to Europe, the move also provoked fresh speculation that Russia could decide to denominate its oil in euros. Russia is the world's second-largest oil exporter, behind Saudi Arabia.
"Russia has talked about the idea of pricing its oil in euros. If it is starting
to put more weight on the euro in terms of its forex regime and reserves, then
that speculation will be re-ignited," said Ian Stannard, currency strategist at
BNP Paribas.


I think we can probably catagorize this one in the file of "underreported stories". Now, granted, Russia hasn't completely abandoned the dollar:


The Bank of Russia said it has been using a basket consisting of 0.1 euro and
0.9 dollars to target exchange rate policy since February 1. With the euro
trading near $1.30, this currently gives the euro a 13 per cent weighting in the
basket.


... but certainly this is not a step in the right direction for the American currency. I'm guessing that we can expect more kissing of Moscow's collective ass in the upcoming months, even while Putin takes his country further down the road of socialist fascism.

In a piece of good news, Alan Greenspan shows that he's still a financial Superman and by the virture of a few gold-plated words, manages to bump up the dollar's value by a couple of cents in a few hours:


Speaking in London, Mr Greenspan stressed that the combination of market forces and greater budgetary discipline in the US should allow a reduction in global economic imbalances. Officials from other G7 countries repeated calls for more
urgent action to address the US's current account and budget deficits.
The dollar had fallen earlier in the day to a low of $1.3043 to the euro, compared
with $1.2954 on Thursday, following a weaker-than-expected employment report,
but Mr Greenspan's comment prompted a rally to $1.2872.


The problem I see here is that his comments only address the issue of trade deficits, and not what I feel to be the larger issue of federal, corporate, and personal debt. And even if European companies decide to protect their profit margins instead of engaging in a price war with American firms, I see nothing here that indicates that Asian firms will do the same.

I found some interesting reading on the whole dollar issue here. It leans heavily towards the "sky is falling" side of the debate, but then again, I think that's the only sane view to have on this situation. I'm sure Oberon will have funding picking through that site.





 

Freedom Isn't Free

Ha! Consider this to be a substitute for my comments on the inaugural address that I never got around to making.

Inaugural address of Crispin Sartwell, successful Nihilist candidate for
President of the United States.

To the people of the world, I promise you this: universal freedom will be
the gift given to you by us, the most efficient killing machine the world has
ever known.

I pledge to the oppressed, yearning to breathe free, that we will visit upon your cities a rain of fire, a reign of freedom.


We will bring freedom everywhere as we have brought freedom to Iraq. We deposed a vile dictator, and now we administer the country from his palaces. To bring Iraqis freedom, we stacked them up in naked piles in Saddam¹s prisons and photographed them. As our body count approaches Saddam¹s, Iraqis may ask: what¹s the difference? One word: freedom.

...

We are going to encourage the blessings of democracy all
over the world, on the models of our allies Saudi Arabia, Russia, China,
Uzbekistan, Egypt, and Department of Justice.

...

Here at home, meanwhile, freedom means one thing: the maximal possible
expansion of government. Freedom isn't free, but it can be financed painlessly
through massive deficit spending.

...


Right here, right now, I announce that we will create as many gigantic new bureaucracies as possible, to bring the blessings of freedom to every corner of our great land. We will eliminate due process and search warrants. We will censor indecency from the airwaves once and for all. Then, and only then, can we call ourselves a free people.

...

We intend to apply this beautiful ideal consistently to every issue. To us, freedom means not being able to marry someone if we don¹t want you to. Freedom means not being able to end your own life, even if you are terminally ill and in frightful pain. Freedom means standardizing education in every respect under the administration of a federal bureaucracy. Freedom is the opposite of choice: it's a question of who is to be master ­ that's all.


Hat tip: Radley Balko

Friday, February 04, 2005

 

Hit-And-Miss At Honda

Some good and, in my opinion, not-so-good coming out of Honda, via The Car Connection. Let's start on a positive note:

Honda turbos coming?

According to information posted to a popular Honda enthusiast Web site,
honda-acura.net, the automaker plans to bring its first-ever turbocharged engine
to the U.S. for model year 2006 or 2007. The 2.4-liter four would be fitted into
either the Acura TSX or a new high-performance Civic model that would slot above the Si. The engine would be of a new design - not that of the 2.4 currently used in several U.S. products including the best-selling Accord - and would probably make about 240 hp. The next-generation Honda Civic Si will have either a 2.0-liter or 2.4-liter four, with standard horsepower boosted to around 200 hp
in either form.


Wow. A healthy turbocharged 4-banger, matched with a good 6-speed manual transmission, would make a great powertrain for an Accord or TSX. And while I'd like to get the full 240 HP in a Civic (wouldn't that set a new standard for FWD sport compact performance!), I have to think that 200 HP will be sufficient, given the Civic's slight weight advantage over other vehicles in its class (such as the Neon and Cobalt). Hopefully these new engines live up to the reliability and NVH standards that Honda basically established for small engines.

And now for the bad news:

Ridgeline pricing set Honda has announced U.S. pricing and equipment for
its new Ridgeline truck model, due at dealerships starting March 1. The
Ridgeline will be available in three trim levels, RT, RTS, and RTL, with base
prices ranging from $27,700 for the RT to $31,490 for the RTL, not including a
$515 destination fee.
...
When equipped with the moonroof, XM satellite radio, and the navigation
system, the sticker jumps to $35,155 including destination.


Egad. That $35K number marches right up to the base price of the Chevy Avalanche, and I thought that the 'lanche was severely overpriced. That's also several thousand dollars more than a, uh, less-than-full-size truck (really can't call 'em "mini" anymore) from the competition. With pricing like that, I'd really expect an Acura badge. And, uh, a full-size truck under the badge. It'll be interesting to see how this thing sells.


 

RIP, Dean Wormer

You will be missed. "Fat and stupid is no way to go through life!"



 

Why Voting Isn't The End-All-Be-All Solution To Iraq

Fareed Zakaria weighs in with his opinion on what needs to be done to secure the peace in Iraq:

In April 2003, around the time Baghdad fell, I published a book that described
the path to liberal democracy. In it, I pointed out that there had been
elections in several countries around the world—most prominently Russia—that put governments in place that then abused their authority and undermined basic human rights. I called such regimes illiberal democracies. In NEWSWEEK that month, I outlined the three conditions Iraq had to fulfill to avoid this fate. It is
currently doing badly at all three.


Read the whole article - it's short and to-the-point. Note that he doesn't regard the situation there as hopeless, but nor does he describe it as all rosy, either. Zakaria seems to be one of the few realists left in the mainstream media, and as such, I think he should command a lot of respect.

 

Safety Announcement

I arrived home today to find a postcard from DeWalt, suggesting that as an owner of one of their fine miter saws I should head to their website and read "an important safety announcement regarding the removal and installation of the saw blade".

So I navigated on over there (as if typing in "DeWalt.com" and looking for the button labeled "Safety Announcement" somehow qualifies me as Magellan Jr.).

So I checked out these new instructions and found that they basically tell me to remove the old blade, put on the new one, and make sure the guard doesn't contact the blade when I'm done. I'm not sure exactly what the old ones would have suggested, but, uh, I'd hope they would have said the exact same thing. Was there a suggestion to stick one's finger in the blade to make sure it's really working correctly that got removed from the new instructions? Did the old instructions leave out the step where it's recommended I let the blade stop before servicing it? Was it previously suggested that I forego the use of the spindle lock and instead use my crotch to keep the blade from spinning during removal?

Actually, I think the previous instructions forgot to remind the use to replace the guard bracket screw after replacing the blade, a step that should be completely obvious to anyone sufficiently qualified to be using power tools. But, no, instead I got a card in the mail that probably cost a buck or so to print and mail, and I'll pay for that the next time I buy a power tool. Stupid people are really hurting my buying power.

 

Quote Of The Day

I'm not anti-death penalty. I'm anti-the wrong guy getting executed. Two-thousand years ago we executed an innocent man named Jesus Christ and we don't want to make another mistake like that.

- Kinky Friedman, Texas gubernatorial candidate for 2006

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

 

More On The POW GI Joe

Seems that his diary has been discovered. Keep up the fight, dude - we all hate Evil Bert.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

 

1911 Animation

STI has produced an animation of the Colt 1911 that's just so damn super-cool. You can take every major component and show it as a solid, sectional, translucent, or hidden. It's a fitting tribute to a tremendous piece of engineering (considering that the age of this design is rapidly rolling up on the century mark).

 

The Kids Aren't Alright

Holy fuck, this is our future:


The way many high school students see it, government censorship of
newspapers may not be a bad thing, and flag burning is hardly protected free
speech.

It turns out the First Amendment is a second-rate issue to many of
those nearing their own adult independence, according to a study of high school
attitudes released Monday.

The original amendment to the Constitution is the cornerstone of the
way of life in the United States, promising citizens the freedoms of religion,
speech, press and assembly.

Yet, when told of the exact text of the First Amendment, more than one
in three high school students said it goes “too far” in the rights it
guarantees. Only half of the students said newspapers should be allowed to
publish freely without government approval of stories.

...

When asked whether people should be allowed to express unpopular views, 97 percent of teachers and 99 percent of school principals said yes. Only 83 percent of students did.

Hmm. If the beloved First is getting assailed like this by the Lil' Fascists currently roaming the halls of the nation's schools, then I'm assuming we shouldn't be holding much hope that they support the rest of the Bill Of Rights. And I'm sure that those teachers and principals sympathic to the First Amendment are probably somewhat more fractured in their willingness to openingly intepret the other amendments as well.

This country is so screwed.


 

Federal Budget Capped

Or at least some small part of it:

A senior administration official pointed to Congress' approval last year of
a 0.8 percent cap in non-defense, non-homeland security discretionary spending,
and said Bush "will articulate a similar type of goal or principle, which his
budget will adhere to."

But the proposed cap would affect only about one-sixth of all federal
spending since discretionary spending does not include automatic payments like
Social Security and Medicare.

Analysts say achieving Bush's goal of cutting the deficit in half was made
more difficult with the announcement last week the White House would seek $80
billion in new funding this year for military operations in Iraq and
Afghanistan.


Two problems with this. First, it covers such a small portion of the budget as to have very little impact on short- or long-term deficits. But even if everything was capped this year, that still leaves a yearly budget that's 28% higher than it was four years ago, with income that's 10% lower. In other words, we haven't actually fixed the problem - we've just taken a step towards not making it much worse. But hey, I'm sure this will placate "the base".

UPDATE: The GAO has released their report on the "long-term fiscal outlook". I haven't read the whole thing yet. Looking at the table of contents, I'm anxious to get a chance to sit down and examine it in detail.

 

I Hear We're Sending In Duke And Snake Eyes

The American POW that was reported earlier today appears to have actually been a 12" action figure:

A photograph posted on an Islamist Web site appears to be that of an action
figure and not a U.S. soldier being held hostage.

Liam Cusack, the marketing coordinator for Dragon Models USA, said the
figure pictured on the Web site is believed to be "Special Ops Cody," a military
action figure the company manufactured in late 2003.


I hear that Destro and the COBRA Commander are very disappointed with the hackery of this failed PR attempt.

 

Victory In Iraq?

That's the question being asked, and Instapundit puts up a few links on the topic here (in his post on MSNBC, he actually gives props to Bill Clinton). And given what we know now - an excellent turnout among the threat of violence and a huge variety of relatively unknown candidates, and the fact that indeed the insurgents were largely unsuccessful at disrupting activities at the polls, I think that the elections went off much better than expected by most.

But that's not going to be what determines victory in Iraq, although it may be an indication of where things are heading. The key here is that a lot of Iraqis got out and voted - certainly a majority of the population - and if they can somehow gather their collective power towards suppressing the insurgency and supporting the efforts of the Iraqi security apperatus, then maybe things well end up just fine. But without substational support from the population, I don't see the country weening itself off the US military any time soon. These folks need to understand that a free democracy begins not in the capital, but in their own backyards.

The other potential factor that might determine whether this is the start of a self-sustaining democracy or a repeat of Vietnam circa 1967 is the influence of other countries. While Vietnam's political situation was certainly not conducive to winning a war, the fact that it was propped-up by any number of Communist countries near and far certainly contributed to the outcome of that conflict. While that sort of superpower proxy mechanism is no longer in place, it certainly didn't take a superpower-like amount of support for the Afghan rebels to push back the Soviet Union (it was estimated that less than $1 billion/year was pumped into that conflict at its peak). How to avoid this sort of outside influence, I don't know.

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