Friday, August 31, 2007

The two word's that can never, ever be said again

At least not with a straight face: Wide stance. And may God help all those switch hitter's out there with a wide stance-right, Mr. Jones?

(If ya need an explanation, Chipper Jones is a switch hitter. And he kind of has a wide stance. And his teammate is apparently a future Senator from Idaho.)

Metal bats still a no-no in NYC

And this is still one of the dumbest things I've ever heard of.

A federal judge this week upheld a New York City Council-sponsored ban on metal baseball bats in high school games – even after admitting that zero empirical evidence exists to show that such bats are dangerous. The coalition of manufacturers that has gotten rich off the high-end aluminum bat market fought the ban, set to start Saturday, with a full public relations assault, hiring President Bush's former spokesman, Ari Fleischer, as its lead flack.

And less than 200 miles up Interstate 95, in Providence, R.I., a man wondered why politicians have wasted hundreds of hours and businessmen hundreds of thousands of dollars on an issue he says he could settle definitively for only $50,000.

Metal bats in and of themselves are not hazards. The New York baseball leagues could very easily have regulated metal bats in the same way that ASA regulates softball bats to ensure that potentially dangerous bats are not used. But this does beg a question: If a wood batter shatters and ends up severely injuring or killing a kid, will it be the New York City council's fault?

Thursday, August 30, 2007

More Ghosts of Anbar

Here's Part II and Part III. Go read them.

The good news is that nobody ate it

The bad news is a German man lost part of his head to a bad fridge.

A German court has awarded 3,000 euros ($4,100) in damages to a man who had to have the top of his skull replaced with plastic because of a faulty hospital fridge.

Doctors removed the top of the man's head and put it in cold storage while they operated on his brain, the court in the western city of Koblenz said Tuesday.

Because the refrigerator was defective, the section of skull was not kept cool enough and could not be reattached. Doctors replaced the bone with a plastic prosthesis.

I've worked in offices where people would graze on just about anything in the fridge that wasn't there's. At least the surgeons didn't walk in to find the OBGYN gnawing on the piece of head.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Something doesn't add up here...

The Washington Post has a story up on a guy who just sold a huge porn collection to a museum. Of all the things in the article to stick out to me, it was these two sentences:

In 1976, his wife left him, taking their 2-year-old, Amanda.


"I suppose I could be offended as a woman, but I don't have a problem with pornography," says Amanda Whittington, 28, who works as a portfolio accountant for T. Rowe Price while studying for an MBA at Johns Hopkins.

Either the reporter can't add or he just exposed Miss Whittington's fib about her age to an international audience.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Bye bye Alberto

I have not yet opined on today's Alberto Gonzalez resignation, and I doubt that I will opine much about it after this post. Why? Well, because it doesn't mean a whole heck of a lot. The Bush Administration is into the lame duck portion of the presidential term. Resignations are normal for the this time frame, and replacements are not likely to stay in their positions long enough to make very much difference. On top of that, Gonzalez was not a choice that a lot of us were ever terribly excited about. Time to turn the page on Gonzalez, finish this chapter of American history, and see what the next chapter holds for us all.

Scenes from a soggy August

It has been a very wet week and a half here in our corner of South Central Wisconsin. We certainly haven't had flooding to the extent that some other parts of the state have but I thought I'd share a few pics of the flooding that we do have in low lying areas near rivers. These photos are not unheard of scenes around here, but they are unusual for this time of the year.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

A question for my aviator readers

Last night the lovely Mrs. Jib and I were out on our deck enjoying a fire. At one point, I was watching a propellered plane of some sort flying over head at, if I had to guess, about 2,500 feet or so. As it got directly over us, the engine went silent, and that was immediately followed by a loud pop. We were both somewhat alarmed as we never heard the engine start back up as the plane left our sight line because of our trees. Does anyone out there know what might have happened in the air above us last night? I see no news reports of any crashes, so I'm guessing the pilot handled the situation, if there was a situation.

I almost wonder if the pilot made an emergency landing at the local airport a couple of miles from us because about 5 or 10 minutes later, another plane flew very low over our house towards the airport. It was unusual for two reasons. First, we don't typically see planes that low over our house despite the airport. Second, the engine sounded more like a diesel engine for a class 8 truck than a plane. If anyone can toss in their two cents on the unusual sights in out sky last night, I'd appreciate it.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Your 2008 People Magazine Co-Sexiest Men Alive

Well, they will be according to this study, right? And single guys out there, next time you see the woman of your desires with some pretty boy, know that there is still hope if you're gettin' cavey wit' it.

Shaw: Today, We're All Michael Vick

Russell Shaw is probably the number one reason I stopped reading the Huffington Post. The man's logic is either painfully contorted or painfully simplistic. It was only appropriate that when I dropped by the HuffPo tonight, his was the first post I read. As usual, Shaw's logic fails. He fails to get his nut in one lede paragraph, so I'll be forced to fisk him a bit even though I'd prefer not to waste that much time.

I spent one of my boyhood summers on a farm where chickens were raised for their eggs.

But I will never forget how, one day, the farmer decided that one of his chickens would make a perfect dinner.

He chased a chicken down, grabbed it by the scruff of the neck and after about 30 seconds of loud death cries from the poor bird...there was no more life.

30 seconds? What did the farmer do, read Russell's early writings until the chicken died? The poor bird can be killed in the time it takes an ax to pass through its neck. And as far as sustenance goes, I'll no more apologize for the killing of animals for food than the fox that would have enjoyed that chicken just as much.

Apparently now-former NFL star Michael Vick is going to serve time on that dogfighting rap. You know, forceably kill pit bulls that he and his friends decided weren't mean enough to excel at that disgusting non-sport.

Vick's accomplices said the dogs were dispatched by means that could only be described as highly barbaric. Shooting, electrocution, even repeatedly hurling one dog to the ground until it breathed no more.

But as a society, we should not be so quick to condemn Vick and his friends without looking in the mirror.

Not being a vegetarian, I'd like to shine the mirror not on our eating habits, but the way so many of us hunt and select live beings for slaughter. To me, there is a profound difference.

This very weekend, numerous "game ranches" will host high net-worth, highly ammo'ed "hunters" who will track jungle cats and other exotic creatures down, and kill them for sport.

I can't say that I'm a fan of killing animals purely for sport. I can assure you that a high powered round is going to bring death far more quickly than will come to the loser of a dog fight, however. And just to humanize it, I'll take a high powered round for my own death than being thrown on the ground until I stop breathing, thank you very much.

Probably as I type this, greyhounds whose "entertainment" racing days are behind them and have not been adopted will be given a "mercy" killing. No, they won't be flailed to the ground until their skulls are crushed, but the "mercy" killings will leave them just as dead as the canines in Vick's "kennels."

Come to think of it, what about the animal shelter who cannot place the stray dogs in their custody? Is the gas chamber or fatal injection any more "humane" than what Michael Vick and his posse are accused of doing?

As opposed to starvation? Yes, it is. Or shall we just contribute all of the unwanted dogs and cats that society cannot care for to fights to the death? I guess that would be just as humane as putting the animals to sleep by Shaw's logic, right?

This weekend, much of our recreational countryside will be killing fields for deer and airborne game dispatched by hunters with telescopic sights. As these creatures experience a nanosecond of pain while their life ebbs away, they may just feel a type of fear and dread similar to the dogs that Vick and his companions are believed to have killed.

I have two issues here. First, we return to the sustenance discussion. The creatures he describes here are almost exclusively killed for food. There is a purpose to their death and it is a natural part of the existence of all creatures on this earth. Second, the comparison is nearly idiotic. What Shaw discusses in this paragraph is a predator-prey scenario that those creatures would face even if man did not exist. What we have in the Vick scenario is domesticated animals-in other words, animals man has a certain amount of responsibility for-being set against one another for no other purpose than to savage each other until one is injured and the other dead. In this guy's moral book, there is a big damn difference.

If Shaw wants to get in bed with dog fighting and defend Michael Vick, he should come right out and do so because his moral equivalence is lazy and disgusting.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Could LED police car lights be a hazard?

I don't have the answer to that question, but I wonder about it every time I pass those lights at night. Patrick is correct in this post when he says that drivers must slow down and move over when they see officers on the side of the road. Deputy Tim Johnson would not have been severely injured and his brother Deputy Kevin Johnson would not have been endangered if people followed Patrick's advice and obeyed the law. Just the same, I know from experience that those LED lights wreak havoc on your night vision. They are also somewhat mesmerizing. If you combine those two things with a driver that is either extremely fatigued or, worse yet, drunk, and I can see those LEDs drawing erratic drivers like moths to a yard light. I know that the lights are designed to improve the visibility of squad cars, but I have developed a concern that in certain situations, they may actually increase the danger officers are in during roadside traffic stops.

Most obvious statement of the year

The winning portion of the sentence is italicized.

A dwarf performer at the Edinburgh fringe festival had to be rushed to hospital after his penis got stuck to a vacuum cleaner during an act that went horribly awry.

I don't even know where to start. Well, I guess I do. I'd say that anytime someone thinks it is a good idea to stick a vacuum hose on their kibble or bits, it is safe to say the act has already gone awry. Add wet super glue to situation, and horrible just might be an apt describer.

There's a lesson in this, kids: Don't do stupid things.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Power outage musings

We have thunderstorms tracking over us this afternoon and a little while ago they caused a power outage. Here were my immediate thoughts as the TV went off:

*Where do I have the flashlights and emergency radio/TV?
*Sh*t, I haven't purchased batteries in a long time.
*I won't be able to open the fridge until the power comes back. Should I grab a couple of beers while it is still cold?
*Yes, I should.
*Okay, the flashlights and stuff are in the basement...where it is completely dark. Good planning, smart guy.
*(Standing in the basement) If the power stays off, should I break into the disaster wine supply (aka wine cellar) down here?
*Dammit, I need to fix these stairs. They're more dangerous than a storm.
*(Back upstairs) Ya know, if you still had dial up you could be online blogging this on the laptop.

You'll all be happy to hear the power outage only lasted 5 minutes. The disaster wine supply is safe and the beer is still cold.

Do the moose not love the planet?

Gaia must be very disappointed with all of her creatures:

Norway is concerned that its national animal, the moose, is harming the climate by emitting an estimated 2,100 kilos of carbon dioxide a year through its belching and farting.

Norwegian newspapers, citing research from Norway's technical university, said a motorist would have to drive 13,000 kilometers in a car to emit as much CO2 as a moose does in a year.

Maybe we can fit them with cowtalytic converters?

Pointless study of the week: Cats have short memories

Ten minutes, they say:

A new study has measured just low long cats can remember certain kinds of information—10 minutes.

The research was designed primarily to compare cats' working memory of their recent movements with their visual memories, and found that cats remember better with their bodies than their eyes when they have encountered an object placed in their path by say, an annoying owner or experimenter.

I'm not so sure about their study. I think I can definitively prove that they have microscopically short attention spans. My laser pointer has proven to be the most useful tool to get our cat to stop doing something (I believe every new kitten should come with a free laser pointer). If you have ever disciplined a cat, however, then you know that they have a long, long memory and a vindictive spirit. "Certain kinds of information" would have to be the key phrase, here.

The must read of 2008: Michael Yon's "The Ghosts of Anbar"

I'm not even going to bother summarizing. Just go read Part I right now.

Weather warnings to change

When things get stormy next summer, it'll be hopefully a lot less confusing when the National Weather Service issues a warning as they are moving from county based warnings to storm based warnings on October 1.

Storm-Based Warnings (threat-based polygon warnings), are essential to effectively warn for severe weather. Storm-Based Warnings show the specific meteorological or hydrological threat area and are not restricted to geopolitical boundaries. By focusing on the true threat area, warning polygons will improve NWS warning accuracy and quality. Storm-Based Warnings will promote improved graphical warning displays, and in partnership with the private sector, support a wider warning distribution through cell phone alerts, pagers, web-enabled Personal Data Assistants (PDA), etc.

I say hopefully less confusing because people will no longer have to wonder if a warning applies to their part of the county, plus the warnings will be more specific, but there is one thing I'm curious about. How will this work with radio where graphical displays are not possible? A lot of people get their warnings from the radio, and this seems like it just may be more confusing, especially for people unfamiliar with the area they are in.

The musty great outdoors

Storms are in the process of blowing through southern Wisconsin tonight, and it looks like we'll have another couple of days of rain on top of the last several days of rain we've had. I look forward to things drying out if only because my backyard smells like a basement. This has really been a tale of two summers. As of three weeks ago, the grass was so dry that a person could hear it crunch while walking on it. Since then it has been a rain forest around here. Global warming is clearly to blame.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

History Channel highlights 9/11 kook theories

I am very disappointed by the History Channel. In reality, nothing that a channel that runs a lot of shows on UFO's should surprise or disappoint me, but just the same, their show 9/11 Conspiracies-Fact or Fiction does disappoint me. They are only furthering the nutty theories that a small number of kooks have perpetrated on any number of naive Americans. As a result, we're going to spend even more wasted time and dollars addressing these conspiracy theories for years to come.

I'll shoot down all of the U.S. Government conspiracies right now in one fell swoop for any of you believers out there. The U.S. Government is significantly incompetent, and thus incapable of keeping any major, publicly significant secrets. If Pearl Harbor or JFK or 9/11 were conspiracies, some insider would have sold their story for millions. Not only would it make them fabulously rich to tell the whole story, it would also be the best way to ensure their safety. It hasn't happened, not because of any threats to their safety, but rather because there were no conspiracies.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Time to cut it with the Hurricane Dean jokes

Yeah, it was mildly amusing when Dean was a harmless little storm in the Atlantic to make Howard Dean jokes. The storm is about to take a huge toll on life and property in Jamaica, though, and those comparisons just aren't all that funny in that light. So if I may offer an unsolicited word of advice to my fellow bloggers out there, end the Dean jokes so you don't come to regret them later. The storm has ceased being a laughing matter.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Little things make you feel old

Like this little factoid: The baby on the cover of Nirvana's Nevermind album is now 17...and using his fame in pick up lines.

50 refutations of 50 whines raised because of 50 Rules

Umm, I guess maybe you should just read Tom McMahon's post. And buy the book like I'm going to.

Oh, and I love the use of Jim Croce lyrics in one of the refutations.

Bridge collapses in China

Here are the details:

A road bridge under construction across a river in southern China collapsed, killing 22 people and injuring 22, state media reported on Tuesday, but witnesses expected the death toll to rise substantially.

At least 39 people were missing after the 320-metre (1,000-foot) concrete arc bridge spanning the Tuo river in Fenghuang county, Hunan province, collapsed on Monday during the evening rush hour, Xinhua news agency said.

All I can say is that if it happened here, plenty of people would be wringing their hands and declaring it another example of us following the example of the fall of the Roman Empire. In China, they'll dust themselves off, make adjustments, and move on. Here in America, we have an, at times, unhealthy case of worry wort-ism.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

A final note from a hiatus

My hiatus is done, and I must admit: I miss being part of RDW's MRQ. This week I'll have to whore myself to Phel and MRQ. If I buy you a cool, classic pattern, can I get back in, Phel?

Good point from McBride


Here's a thought on the "it's the public's airwaves" argument touted by those who want to bring back the so-called Fairness Doctrine.

The public's spoken. They want largely conservative talk.

Since it's "their airwaves", their wishes should be paramount, right? If the public wanted other views on the air, they'd get their news/opinion elsewhere.

Sounds pretty "fair" to me.

Note to News Wires: This is Not News

The world's oldest person dies:

Yone Minagawa, who became the world's oldest person earlier this year, has died at a nursing home in southwestern Japan, an official said Tuesday. She was 114.

Would a respectable news service run the headline "World's youngest person soils diaper at 38 minutes"? Probably not. Why run this then? We see this headline four to eight times a year. Enough already. The only new thing the world's oldest person can do is die, and it happens multiple times every single year.

Creepy is...

...running outside at 2:30 in the morning to take the lawn furniture cushions in and hearing the non-stop rumble of thunderstorms still a half a county away.

The U.S. Comptroller General is an Idiot

He's either an idiot or a political hack. I'll give you your choice on what you consider him after reading this:

Drawing parallels with the end of the Roman empire, Mr Walker warned there were “striking similarities” between America’s current situation and the factors that brought down Rome, including “declining moral values and political civility at home, an over-confident and over-extended military in foreign lands and fiscal irresponsibility by the central government”.

Maybe he's got something on declining moral values, but I doubt it. Many "enlightened" parts of the world like Western Europe still consider us prudish in many ways. And as for political civility, this ain't anywhere near the worst it has been in this country. I'd wager most reasonable readers of history would consider many parts of the 19th century to be less civil than today. And as for an overconfident military, I beg to differ. This military is still the envy of the world. And while we are a bit overextended now, in a jam, we could make the logistics of WWII look like child's play. If anything, our problem is we cannot be troubled to sacrifice enough these days. Fiscal irresponsibility is a bit of an issue, but this government is no where near having a crisis of solvency. There are very few similarities between us and the decline of Rome...hell, we're still in our Republic stage. A good part of what did in Rome were the post Republic Emperors.

“Sound familiar?” Mr Walker said. “In my view, it’s time to learn from history and take steps to ensure the American Republic is the first to stand the test of time.”

In my view, Mr. Walker is a touch slow.

Mr Walker’s views carry weight because he is a non-partisan figure in charge of the Government Accountability Office, often described as the investigative arm of the US Congress.

I'm always amused by the term "non-partisan" because there is almost no such thing. Let us not forget, Walker was appointed by Bill Clinton. Any political appointee is almost certain to be partisan to some degree.

The fiscal imbalance meant the US was “on a path toward an explosion of debt”.

“With the looming retirement of baby boomers, spiralling healthcare costs, plummeting savings rates and increasing reliance on foreign lenders, we face unprecedented fiscal risks,” said Mr Walker, a former senior executive at PwC auditing firm.

I'll give him this much-Social Security and Medicare are problems that need to be fixed. If he thinks that government spending on health care is somehow an option or solution, then he is even more backwards than I thought. The key to holding down health care costs is to put the spending responsibilities back on the consumer. I would also agree that we want to limit our risk to foreign lenders, but lending is not a one way street. A major foreign lender like, say, China, does not benefit by torpedoing the American economy. Quite the contrary. By lending to America, they become an investor who is intrinsically interested in the success of our economy, an investor whose own economy becomes tied into ours. If anything, that plays into creating global stability.

“Our very prosperity is placing greater demands on our physical infrastructure. Billions of dollars will be needed to modernise everything from highways and airports to water and sewage systems. The recent bridge collapse in Minneapolis was a sobering wake-up call.”

It is a wake up call-a wake up call that our spending priorities are horribly out of whack thanks in part to pork. To insinuate that we cannot afford to maintain our infrastructure is a joke. Slash the pork and I'll give you more than enough funds.

This story by the Financial Times certainly is a cute one, but make no mistake, Walker has his own angle to this. Bet on it.

Monday, August 13, 2007

And so the Left's co-Satan Trots Off into the Sunset

Karl Rove, the man with perhaps the best presidential nickname of all time, and the one perhaps most loathed by the kook fringe, is resigning.

Karl Rove, President Bush's longtime political adviser, is resigning as White House deputy chief of staff effective Aug. 31, and returning to Texas, marking a turning point for the Bush presidency.

Mr. Rove's departure removes one of the White House's most polarizing figures, and perhaps signals the effective end of the lame duck administration's role in shaping major domestic policy decisions, where the former Texas political consultant was a driving force. Mr. Rove revealed his plans in an interview with Paul Gigot, editor of The Wall Street Journal's editorial page.

The nut roots isn't quite going to be the same without ya, Karl. Oh, they still have co-Satan Cheney to roll themselves into a lather about, but you had a special place in their strange, hate filled hearts. Happy trails, Turd Blossom. I suspect we'll see you again in some capacity.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Nature's fireworks tonight

In case you haven't heard, tonight is the peak of the annual Perseid meteor showers. Get out, get some fresh, cooler, night air, and enjoy the show.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

The latest shuttle damage

Ever wonder how often damage like this occurred in the past to no serious effect?
A routine shuttle mission, highlighted by a teacher's first spaceflight and space station construction, is now overshadowed by a troubling gash in Endeavour's thermal shield.

A detailed laser inspection on Sunday of the difficult-to-reach area on Endeavour's belly could send astronauts out to repair the 3-inch wound later in the week, although NASA said that prospect appeared less likely than it did a day earlier. A penetration, if severe enough, could let in searing gases when the shuttle returns to Earth in a possible replay of the Columbia accident.

My guess? Nearly every launch. And it will probably continue to happen on nearly every launch. I'm all for making the repairs in space. After all, there is no sense in squandering lives and equipment when you can do something about it. Just the same, we don't need to act like every case of minor damage to the shuttle is the end of the world.

He could've been a senator...

...but instead he's just another also-ran presidential candidate done in by Iowa. Valiant effort, Tommy. Too bad those around you recommended the wrong political office to run for.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

A sign of true love

If your spouse can listen to you sign without covering her/his ears and screaming, it just may be true love. Additionally, if you are looking to get married, you just might want to put your future spouse to a 30 minute "sing test". If they'll put with that, they'll put up with your other obnoxious quirks. And if they'll listen to you karaoke while sober, it just may be an eternal love.

This post was written while the author listened to a recording of himself singing.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

What were you doing when sports' greatest record fell?

I was ignoring Barry Bonds and watching a Tivo'd episode of The Bronx is Burning. I've watched with rapt attention as many other of sports' biggest records have fallen. Tonight, I couldn't have cared less. And to think, when Barry Bonds was a skinny lead off hitter, I was actually a fan. In the ensuing years, he has found so many ways to disrespect the game that tonight I skipped his accomplishment. There has not been so dislikeable of a great player since Ty Cobb hung up his cleats. Congrats, Barry. May A-Rod wipe your record off the books, and soon.

By the way, Henry Aaron showed huge class tonight with his message on the scoreboard after the 756th home run.


The baseball world awkwardly yawns. And the odd, easily disliked Alex Rodriguez instantly garners a huge fan base, cheering him on to 800. Meanwhile, thousands sigh, "If only Griffey could have stayed healthy."

Coffee or Energy Drinks? Pick 'Em

Heh. I know someone in the retail petroleum business who might find this interesting. I think the never ending energy drink resets are a bur in his saddle.

Despite such speedy-sounding names as "Full Throttle," "Amp" and "Rush," energy drinks pack a punch that is generally no stronger than coffee, according to a report released on Monday.

A comparison of 12 popular energy drinks, published in the September issue of Consumer Reports, found that the caffeine in 8 ounces of various brands ranged from 50-145 milligrams (mg), though most were in the 75- to 80-mg range.

Results were rounded to the nearest 5 mg.

By comparison, the caffeine in an 8-oz cup of brewed coffee can range from 65-120 mg, with an average of 85 mg, according to the National Coffee Association.

I'll give energy drinks this much-they frequently include other "boost" ingredients like niacin. Coffee doesn't. Just the same, energy drinks are over rated, and I don't know of anyone who regularly drinks Red Bull without a depressant, vodka, mixed in with it.

U.N.: Sky was falling in early 2007

So says Chicken Little:
The world experienced a series of record-breaking weather events in early 2007, from flooding in Asia to heatwaves in Europe and snowfall in South Africa, the United Nations weather agency said on Tuesday.

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said global land surface temperatures in January and April were likely the warmest since records began in 1880, at more than 1 degree Celsius higher than average for those months.

I'd just like to point out that this planet is a big place and there is extreme weather somewhere every single year. It isn't a harbinger of the end of the world, and trying to make one year's extreme weather worse than another's is at best subjective and, at worst, dishonest.

A perfect storm of money waste forming in Washington

Last week at the Badger Blog Alliance, I discussed the need to repair our infrastructure and also how we taxpayers need to keep a close eye on Madison. The money quote from that post was this:
If public pressure and lobbying dove tail on this issue, we risk watching Madison throw a lot more money at the problems than will be necessary because they'll be able to please both constituents and donors by doing so.

It hasn't begun at the state level yet, but according this article, it is already ramping up in Washington.

The Minneapolis bridge disaster that suddenly is the symbol of the nation's crumbling infrastructure could tip the scales in favor of billions of dollars in higher gasoline taxes for repairs coast to coast.

There are 500 bridges around the country similar to the Minneapolis span, and "these are potential deathtraps," says Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, former chairman of the House Transportation Committee.

"We have to, as a Congress, grasp this problem. And yes, I would even suggest, fund this problem with a tax," he says. "May the sky not fall on me."

If the words came out of Don Young's mouth, then watch your pocket. Don Young loves to take your money and spend a hell of a lot of it currying favor with those who can benefit him.

One-quarter of the nation's bridges, including the one in Minneapolis, have been classified as structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. One-third of major roads are judged by federal transportation officials to be in poor or mediocre condition.

The media and politicians have been slapping structurally deficient bridges together with functionally obsolete bridges since the 35W bridge came down. They shouldn't be. Functionally obsolete bridges are not necessarily a priority right now because their classification means they do not meet current design standards, not that they are a risk of collapsing. The political class is going to keep them lumped together so they can double the amount of new money they take from you. Don't let them. The focus must be on the structurally deficient bridges.

Beyond the human tragedy of the Minnesota bridge collapse lie some daunting numbers: The cost of the backlog of needed repairs to roads and bridges is now $461 billion. Road conditions are a factor in one-third of the 40,000 traffic fatalities every year. Traffic congestion costs drivers $63 billion a year in wasted time and fuel costs.

There's no evidence to suggest that the Mississippi River disaster was a direct result of federal underspending. But there is wide agreement that the bridge is symptomatic of a national problem that Congress and the White House are going to have to address.

Don't let the big numbers fool you. We aren't going to solve our road infrastructure problems overnight, and we don't need to. But we do need to start raising there priority vis a vis new roads. Politicians and road builders will want you to believe that we need to pour hundreds of billions of new money into this problem right now. Don't believe it. This is a problem with priorities, not a problem with funding.

"It's a tragic wakeup call," said Matt Jeanneret, spokesman for the American Road and Transportation Builders Association. "This is gut check time for members of Congress for what they are going to do at the federal level."

The experts in this field are also the ones who stand to make the most out of gads of new Federal dollars flowing to roads and bridges. They are going to be lobbying your congressmen hard to do this, and they are going to get their way if the public lets them. Keep that in mind.

The last six-year highway and transit bill finally passed in 2005, two years late and, at $286 billion, almost $90 billion short of the $375 billion that transportation advocates said was needed to keep U.S. infrastructure from further deterioration.

Young and other Transportation Committee leaders wanted to pay for the larger sum by indexing for inflation the fuel tax that keeps the National Highway Trust Fund in money. That would have raised the tax, at 18.3 cents a gallon since 1993, by about a nickel.

President Bush rejected what he said was a tax hike and insisted that Congress accept a far smaller highway budget.

President Bush has proven that he is not a strict fiscal conservative. He's been more than willing to sign bloated budgets during his presidency. The way the 2005 budget is presented in the story, you'd think he is a heartless miser. The fact is the highway bills are typically packed with pork, and Young is one of the kings of pork. All that extra money that wasn't in the bill would not have solved infrastructure problems. It would have bought an awful lot of support for Young and other elected officials in Washington, though.

You are going to be sending a lot more of your hard earned money if you don't insist that congress find ways to more efficiently and prudently spend your gas taxes. Your congressmen are already paving the road for it. This is how they are spending it now:

The administration in turn has demanded that Congress show more discipline, citing thousands of special projects, or earmarks, in highway bills that don't reflect the real priorities. The best known among them was one that Young supported: $223 million for the "Bridge to Nowhere" in Alaska. That provision eventually faltered, but about $24 billion — a little less than 8 percent of the total — in the last highway bill was still devoted to projects singled out by lawmakers for funding.

Special projects, know them better by the name pork. And come 2009, you'll be buying a lot of pork, and you'll be faced with the same old infrastructure problems.

The bridge collapse "is going to create a fundamental shift," Moretti said. The public would rather pay more taxes "than have to face the consequences of a crumbling infrastructure."

That's fair, as long as it is necessary spending and the public isn't fooled into spending more than is necessary. Unfortunately, the typical public response to something like this is to take the hit to the pocketbook and throw money at the problem. The reason that is bad is because when we do that, we increase our pork exponentially while never successfully solving the problems. Remember, congress is abundantly aware that voters get pissed when they are stuck in traffic because of a bridge being rebuilt, but they are very happy when a new road opens or a cool new bike trail is built. But that doesn't solve the problems, it just lightens your wallet and creates a wealth of new problems that will be even more expensive to fix down the road.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Faces of a tragedy

This is some photo of the aftermath of yesterday's bridge collapse: Five young women on backboards being prepared for a trip to the hospital.

Video of the 35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis

You can find this video just about everywhere right now, but if you haven't seen it, check it out. The way the bridge collapsed may have saved lives. It looks like the main span comes down in one piece, reducing the chance of cars being caught under debris. It comes down fast, but the structure may have supported just enough as it came down to reduce the injuries that should have resulted from a 60 foot fall. Finally, the bridge was not as packed with cars as it could have been, and that surely saved lives.

As an aside, I agree with what some Twin Cities residents are saying about that really did provide an incredible view as you entered a city with a wonderful skyline. It is too bad that a bridge that served the city so well was not taken care of better.

Noah Kunin's Flickr album of the collapse with a few pictures not at his blog (linked in previous post)

He never met a (crazy) man he didn't like

Eventually, Sean Penn is going to run out of tyrants to cuddle up to. For now, he still has Hugo Chavez.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has praised Sean Penn for his critical stance against the war in Iraq, saying the two chatted by phone and soon plan to meet in person.

Chavez said Penn traveled to Venezuela this week wanting to learn more about the situation in the country and walked around some of Caracas' poor barrios on his own.

"Welcome to Venezuela, Mr. Penn. What drives him is consciousness, the search for new paths," Chavez said Wednesday in a televised speech. "He's one of the greatest opponents of the Iraq invasion."

Chavez read aloud from a recent open letter by Penn to President Bush in which the actor condemned the Iraq war and called for Bush to be impeached, saying the president along with Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice are "villainously and criminally obscene people."

If there is any plus to having a Democrat win the Whitehouse, it is that they'll have to deal with their own nutbag sympaticos like Penn.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

35W Bridge collapse in the Twin Cities

Having grown up near the Twin Cities and having worked there on multiple occasions, it is kind of stunning to know that a bridge you've driven over before has collapsed. If the current number of fatalities, six, holds, you can consider it a bit of a miracle. A collapse of that bridge at that time of day could have been a lot worse. My thoughts and prayers are with those on the bridge during the collapse and their friends and families.

The more I see of the collapse, the more I think that anything less than 50 fatalities is a miracle. Early indications that this was a structural failure means that there is going to be hell to pay once the rescure/recovery operation is over. Minnesotans are going to be reminded of this every day for several years.

Update 2
These are the best photos you are going to see.

The hiatus is over...

...but I haven't completed the business to which I was attending. I'm back to blogging officially, but if necessary, I'll be having my new co-blogger fill in, and I'll tell you right now, she has very strong feelings on the overfishing of tuna. Other than that, you won't notice a difference when she's running the show...except maybe fewer typos.