January 2004 Archives

Dry Ice Slide Rule

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The temperature here is -9°F and still dropping, so I thought it might be an appropriate time to post a picture of this odd little circular slide rule.

Dry Ice Slide Rule

This slide rule belonged to my grandfather, who was a meat inspector for the US Department of Agriculture. The slide rule was used to calculate how much dry ice was needed to fill a railroad car to keep a load of beef frozen until it reached its destination. The back side bears the date 1954.

Kucinich's Backroom Political Deal

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In a previous report, I described how I observed Kucinich delegates trying (and failing) to screw Dean out of delegates in the Iowa Caucus. Now that report has made it to the national Democratic Debate that is taking place this very moment on Fox. I have transcribed the question, and Kucinich's non-response:
Q: Congressman Kucinich, I have a question from Cheryl Zettner, she's in New Hampshire, this is what she says. She says, "why did you cut a deal to send voters to the Edwards camp if you didn't meet the 15% threshold in Iowa?" She's angry, she says Edwards supported the war and the Patriot act.

Kucinich: [unintelligible]

Q: Before you continue, is your party divided over the war?

Kucinich: Of course it is, course it is. I mean, I took the position of organizing a hundred and twenty six Democrats who voted against the Iraq War resolution, and I happen to think it was the right position. Today, we're faced with over five hundred casualties, a cost of over two hundred billion dollars and it could rise, the casualties could go into the thousands and the cost could go over a half trillion if we stay there for years as a number of people on this stage intend to see happen. Well let me tell you something. Uh, we, there is a difference of opinion in our party, and I stand uh strong and proud in saying it's time that we get the uh, UN, uh peacekeepers in and bring our troops home. And I've offered a plan to do that and I mentioned earlier.
Now with respect to what uh happened in Iowa, uh let me state this. That if I was looking for someone to pair up with under the Iowa Caucus system based on who I agreed with, I wouldn't have had anyone to agree with because, er, because the fact of the matter is I had a really diff- a great difference of opinion, having been the only one on this stage who voted against the war and the patriot act, but I, I, John Edwards and I are friends, and one, one thing we agreed on in Iowa is that we both wanted more delegates. That's what we agreed on.

Q: I, I have no followup, for your honesty, thank you.
I talked to Edwards caucusgoers after he was declared unviable, and asked them to come to my table. They all flatly refused, some even flatly refused to acknowledge my request. So now everyone knows it was a backroom deal arranged before the Caucus, and Kucinich doesn't have the guts to admit it. Even worse, Kucinich's weaseling out of a direct answer is considered honesty by the press.

Disinfotainment presents its latest video project, a rebroadcast of George W. Bush's 2004 State of the Union Speech. I have painstakingly edited this video frame by frame to remove all the lies and partisan political pandering. QuickTime 6 is required to view this video.

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I have said nothing on my blog about the Iowa Democratic Caucus until now, since talk is cheap and cheap talk doesn't affect the results. But now I have returned from casting my vote and there is nothing left to do tell the story. And oh boy is it a good one.
I attended my local precinct which had 9 delegates to apportion. The caucus was held at a local church, which I objected to, I don't think it's appropriate to hold elections in a religious institution. The room was filled to double the expected capacity, there was an astonishing number of new caucusgoers, more than the registrars could handle, the caucus began quite late in order to process the surprisingly large crowd. The local Republican Caucus was held at the local high school, which makes no sense. I don't see how the Democrats have to work out of a cramped church when the Republicans get a huge high school so they can all vote unanimously for Bush.
But anyway, the really interesting part was the vote. After an initial vote, any candidate polling less than 15% is declared unviable, and those persons must realign to a candidate or declare they are undecided. The only viable candidates were Dean, Kerry, and Edwards. Then everyone is given an opportunity to talk to other caucusgoers, to try to get them to come to their group. And here's where it got really interesting.
The Kerry group had enough votes to get 4 delegates, but the Dean/Edwards vote was tied, the remaining delegates would have to be decided by coin toss. So the Kerry people decided to screw Dean by shifting 3 surplus voters to Edwards, to make the apportion 4-3-2. When the final vote was called, the Kerry faction discovered that they had miscalculated, they should have only shifted 2 voters, and they lost their 4th delegate. The final split of delegates was 3-3-3. Suddenly the Kerry faction wanted a third vote. They were overruled by the caucus supervisor, but only after much shouting and bickering, and a call to the Democratic Party HQ for a decision on rules. The Kerry people outsmarted themselves, and screwed themselves out of a delegate instead of screwing Dean out of a delegate.
At this moment, I'm watching Kerry make a "victory speech," but he's wrong. Kerry did not win Iowa. Kerry won delegates, just like Dean and Edwards. No single person wins the Iowa Caucus, it is not a winner-takes-all election. You cannot win the Iowa Caucus, you can only lose it. Gephardt, Kucinich, Lieberman, Clark and Sharpton lost, everyone else was a winner.
I won't declare which candidate I voted for, but it should be obvious that one single vote changed the results of this caucus. Don't ever think that your one vote doesn't make a difference.

My Appearance on CNN's Crossfire

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I just appeared on CNN's Crossfire. If you don't believe me, you can see my sign clearly in this video, even if you can't see me clearly.

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The moment I heard Crossfire was coming to Iowa City, I knew I had to attend, and make an attempt to jam the show with my own cryptic sort of message. I have been incensed at Tucker Carlson for a week or so, ever since the "Argyle Incident." Tucker devoted an opening segment on Crossfire to General Wesley Clark wearing an argyle sweater at a campaign appearance in New Hampshire. Tucker tried to make political points from Clark's wardrobe change from a suit to a sweater, he claimed it was an attempt to soften Clark's image and appeal to women voters. Just a week before Tucker's analysis of Clark's wardrobe, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman published rules for serious journalistic coverage of the upcoming election:
Don't talk about clothes. Al Gore's endorsement of Howard Dean was a momentous event: the man who won the popular vote in 2000 threw his support to a candidate who accuses the president of wrongfully taking the nation to war. So what did some prominent commentators write about? Why, the fact that both men wore blue suits.
This was not, alas, unusual. I don't know why some journalists seem so concerned about politicians' clothes as opposed to, say, their policy proposals. But unless you're a fashion reporter, obsessing about clothes is an insult to your readers' intelligence.
And of course, Tucker ignored this sage advice and decided to insult our intelligence by writing about Clark's clothes. Suddenly Clark's argyle sweater was the subject of intense scrutiny from other so-called journalists. Clark finally had to respond to these ridiculous criticisms by declaring it was cold so he borrowed a sweater from his brother-in-law. So much for analyzing his wardrobe for political significance.
But once Tucker gushed forth, the dam broke and political reporters are back to their usual stupid reporting of irrelevancies. So I produced a huge sign just for Tucker:

Report Issues Not Argyle Sweaters

Of course, none of the college students had any idea what the sign meant, so I had to repeatedly explain about the Argyle Incident. I managed to catch Paul Begala's eye as he was standing around getting ready for the show. He saw the sign, pointed to me and laughed, then I turned it around to the other side and he really laughed and gave me a thumbs-up. Tucker was hiding in the bus, but when he came out, I caught his eye too. He was squinting and trying to read the sign, he had a puzzled look like he was trying to figure out what it meant. So I turned it around to show him the other side:

Tucker Wears Army Boots

Tucker's eyes opened wide, and he stuck out his tongue at me. And it's true, yesterday Tucker appeared on camera wearing tan Army-issue combat boots that he got during his brief tour of Iraq. But today he was wearing black dress shoes so I guess he didn't get it. Nothing could demonstrate more clearly that Republicans have no sense of humor.
About 10 minutes before the show was scheduled to go live, I noticed the second camera was taping "sweep shots" of the crowd. As the show started, I could see on the monitor that they replayed a crowd shot from tape. So in case you thought the crowd shots in these "live" shows were actually live, you thought wrong. I guess they wanted to insure that nothing live actually happened on camera, they picked the shot they wanted and replayed it from tape. So if you want to appear in a crowd on Crossfire outdoor taping, you better get there early.
As the show was wrapping up, I noticed a CNN producer lining up a group of people with signs in an area that was roped off. The producer picked only young blonde women, I guess she only wanted "camera-friendly" crowd shots. So I decided to get into that shot. The CNN producer snarled at me in a thick British accent, "get OUT of this shot! You were already in our sweep shot!" I was astonished that CNN's US election news was being stage-managed by a foreigner. I yelled back at her, "this sign isn't for the camera, it's for YOU, Miss CNN Producer, why can't you report the ISSUES instead of the candidate's CLOTHING?" She snarled back "we'll talk about it after the show," and walked away. Yeah right.
After the show, Tucker immediately retreated to the CNN bus, but Paul stayed behind and talked to a few people from the crowd. He was beseiged by campaign workers trying to shove sheafs of papers into his hand. Miss CNN Producer tried to pull him away, it was my last shot so I said, "Paul, why didn't you call Tucker out when he did that stupid report on Clark's argyle sweater?" Paul said, "I did call him on it!" I replied, "Surely you read Krugman's recent essay on political reporting, he said to cover the issues not the wardrobe. Since Tucker's report, the news has been full of stories on argyle and earth tones. It's your job to keep Tucker honest!" Paul laughed, and said, "I'll do my best. By the way, that's a great sign." And then he ran off back to the bus. If nothing else, he showed he's a masterful politician, he totally took the wind out of my sails by fully agreeing with me, and complimented me in the process. What a performance.
The crowd disbanded, I went back to my car, totally frozen from standing around in the cold for an hour, and drove home. Mission Accomplished.

Quake Crackpot Busted

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How can you tell if a geologist is a crackpot? If he makes a specific prediction like this:
Keilis-Borok's team now predicts an earthquake of at least magnitude 6.4 by Sept. 5, 2004, in a region that includes the southeastern portion of the Mojave Desert, and an area south of it.
I've archived this UCLA press release as a downloadable PDF file since it is likely to be removed. But let's not get ahead of the story here.
Let me make it absolutely clear: there is no way to predict an earthquake. The science of seismology is advancing by leaps and bounds, but as of today, there is no known technology to predict earthquakes. The best that can be done with today's technology is a vague forecast, giving probabilities of quakes within a time period of years or decades. Anyone who claims to have the ability to predict a quake on a specific date is a crackpot.
This press release doesn't even pass the smell test, it reeks of pseudo-science. Let's enumerate a few of the obvious tipoffs that this is completely bogus:

1. The so-called seismologist, Vladimir Keilis-Borok, is not affiliated with the UCLA Department of Seismology, he is a visiting lecturer in Earth and Space Sciences. Keilis-Borok's expertise is mathematics, not geology.

2. Real authorities in seismology don't do their work at schools like UCLA, they work prestigious seismology laboratories at places like Caltech or UC Berkeley.

3. The easiest way to detect a crackpot is to notice how they issue a press release announcing a successful prediction, but they omit any mention of unsuccessful predictions, or their success rate. There is no way to tell if this "accurate" prediction is merely one of thousands of predictions, which would be a pretty poor success rate. I could easily make a year's worth of predictions that a quake will occur in an active zone, one for each day of the year, and if an earthquake occurs in that year, I could claim I have successfully predicted it. But obviously I merely committed an obvious fraud.

4. Theories behind the predictions are described as too mathematically complex to be understood by the general public, comprehensible only to scientists studying with the "experts." Theories are explained with colorful, illogical, unscientific metaphors like "the tail wags the dog."

5. The person making the prediction is not a licensed geologist or geophysicist.

While researching the crackpot Keilis-Borok, I discovered something very interesting. California has strict licensing requirements for anyone making earthquake predictions to the public. Licensing is enforced by the California Board for Geologists and Geophysicists. I phoned the CBGG, and Keilis-Borok is not licensed, he is not even eligible for a license. The CBGG is known for taking swift action against unlicensed geologists who make earthquake predictions for California, they are considered a threat to public safety and likely to cause more damage from panic about ridiculous imaginary threats than from a real earthquake. The penalty for practicing geology without a license in California is a misdemeanor under provisions of the California Geologist and Geophysicist Act, punishable by up to a $2500 fine and 3 months imprisonment. The CBGG loves to take on quake-predicting crackpots even more than I do, and are now actively investigating Vladimir Keilis-Borok and UCLA.
The UCLA press office will certainly take swift action to retract their press release, remove any offending web pages, and disassociate themselves from these illegal, reckless, and dangerous earthquake predictions. But I have archived it so UCLA will not escape the historical record.

Update Sept 24 2004: Of course, the prediction is long past, there was no earthquake. Keilis-Borok is a fool.

Winter for Dummies

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Now that the first winter snowstorm has arrived, and temperatures have reached -5F, I would like to offer these two simple tips for the usual idiots.

1. Put your bicycle away. Bicycles are unsuitable for winter driving. In case you have not noticed, your vehicle only has two wheels, and unlike 4 wheeled vehicles, your bike requires good traction to stay upright. Snow and ice are incompatible with bicycling.

2. In Iowa, it is illegal to leave your vehicle unattended with the engine running. You do not need to leave the engine idling while you run into the convenience store for 30 seconds.

2004: Year of the Monkey

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nengajou 2004

I wish a Happy New Year to everyone, and offer my prayers that this new year will be better than the last.