Friday, February 29, 2008

Happy Leap Day

I'm back, and I'm damn cranky.

Don't Say 'Won't'

I'm curious how the WDNR can make this assurance with a straight face:

The Department of Natural Resources is reassuring Rock County residents the cougar spotted in various areas won't prey on pets.

Really? Cougars are predatory animals. Upon what evidence can they make that assurance with any credibility? They can say it is unlikely that the cougar will prey on pets, but even that would only be based on assumptions. If you live in northern Rock County, I recommend that you keep a close eye on your pets despite this assurance.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

My biggest fear about Obama

Here is what scares me right now. Barack Obama is running an idealist's campaign in a world in which a premium should be placed on realism. Idealism is a sirens' song at times when people want to cower from realism, though, and pursuing the sirens' song is rarely what is best. I fear the American people are headed down an even more painful road than the one they chose to travel down in 1976.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Reaching a Petroleum Ceiling

Steady yourself. The media and experts are predicting a crisis in gas prices.

Gasoline prices, which for months lagged behind the big run-up in the price of oil, are suddenly rising quickly, with some experts saying they could approach $4 a gallon by spring. Diesel is hitting new records daily, and oil settled at a record high of $100.88 a barrel on Tuesday.

The increases could not come at a worse time for the economy. With growth slowing, energy increases that were once easily absorbed by consumers are now more likely to act as a drag on household budgets, leaving people with less money to spend elsewhere. These costs could worsen the nation’s economic woes, piling a fresh energy shock on top of the turmoil in credit and housing.


Mr. Kloza said he expected gasoline to peak around $3.50 to $3.75 a gallon nationwide. Geoff Sundstrom, AAA’s spokesman, echoed that view and added that gas at $4 a gallon is possible this summer. “We’ve gone from a worrying situation for gasoline to one that is quite alarming,” Mr. Sundstrom said.

$3.50 I can see, even $3.75 at the upper end. I doubt we'll see $4, though. Why? Well, because I think both the American and the global economy has absorbed about as much of the run up in energy costs as it can. Energy costs cannot continue in an upward direction indefinitely because there just isn't the ability for people to absorb it beyond a certain point. Sooner rather than later, we are going to begin to see a significant reduction in energy consumption as a result of the high prices. That is going to result in a slow down in consumer demand as people begin to reign in their spending to afford the energy that they do use, and that is going to further reduce demand for petroleum. We could see a protracted economic slow down because of this, and if we do, it isn't going to be pleasant. A protracted economic slow down here is going to have a ripple effect through the rest of the global economy, though, and that is in turn going to result in further reductions in petroleum consumption and demand.

On top of that, continued high petroleum costs at the upper limit of what the economy can afford will encourage further investment in new sources of energy. If we are lucky, the most successful of those sources will not exacerbate inflationary pressures by taking food staples off of people's tables (cough, ethanol, cough). Markets, like nature, like balance. At some point, the global economy will slow or contract to balance energy shortfalls.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Scenes From a Deck

The deck in my backyard is mourning dove central for this neighborhood. It is not unusual to see a dozen or more of the birds congregated below the feeder on my deck, in the a tree near the feeder, or on the arbor. I suspect that the elements of my deck-food, cover, and abundant sunlight-are what attract them, and I really don't mind as long as cardinals and other song birds continue to visit. In fact, my deck has become something of a wildlife utopia. Even when my cat is out there, she minds her business as long as other animals mind theirs (chipmunks excepted-she hates those little bastards).

Well, as is nature's way, utopia was disturbed recently. Despite our relatively close proximity to the country, we've seen next to no birds of prey during our time here. So as I watched a dozen or so mourning doves out my deck doors, it came as a great surprise to see a hawk of some sort flash into my field of view. It took every bird back there by surprise. It plucked a mourning dove off the top of the arbor and as quickly as it came, it was gone, scattering the rest of the birds with it. Since that little bird nook has been so tranquil over the years, I was stunned watching it. What was particularly fascinating to me was how much that hawk took the rest of the birds by surprise. The bird sanctuary is hemmed in by a fence on two sides, the arbor on a the third, with a tree in the middle, so the hawk had to dodge some obstacles to pick up its lunch, and still it had its pick of sedentary birds.

That area was silent for much of the rest of the afternoon. I was curious to see how long the 'regulars' would stay away. Most did not come back for the rest of the day, but five mourning doves did return late in the afternoon and it was kind of an amazing sight. One dove returned before the rest, and it took up the place on the arbor where the other had been snatched up early in the day. A little while later, four additional doves returned, and they did something I've never seen them do before. Typically, their attention is focused inward on the bird feeder and the seed on the ground. These four birds, however, took up positions on my fence, looking outward. Two sat on each fence, and they were equally spaced. They looked like four little sentries. All five remained in those positions until dusk, at which time they grabbed a little bite to eat and took off for the night. Outside of the one hour last year where my tree saw a cardinal convention (there were so many I thought they were choosing a pope), it was the most interesting hour of animal watching I've had on my deck.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Where was the questioning of China?


A different kind of doubt still lingers, though, expressed by policy analysts, some politicians and scientists, and not a few foreign powers, especially China and Russia:

Should the people of the world be breathing a sigh of relief that the risk of a half-ton of frozen, toxic rocket fuel landing who knows where has passed? Or should they be worried about the latest display of the United States’ technical prowess, and see it as a thinly veiled test for a shadow antisatellite program?

Really? Is it really necessary to question the intentions of the United States? Does everything really have to be that anti-American? After all, let us remember, it was the Chinese who first blew a satellite out of the sky, and there was very little doubt as to what their goal was. Had the fuel tank of this satellite landed in the center of New York, London, Paris, Toronto, Moscow, or Beijing, there would have been holy hell to pay. Shooting it down was precisely the right thing to do. Since China already opened the door to using offensive weapons against satellites, I have absolutely no problem if the United States chooses to use data from this for military intel. China and any other countries looking at first strike capabilities against satellites need to know that doing so will ensure a similar action will be taken against their communications and intelligence properties in space. In the spirit of MAD, people should be cheering the fact that no one nation (ahem, China) has this capability.

But really, why?

Okay, I don't have a lot of time, but I do want to comment on one thing, the New York Times' piece on the supposed John McCain affair with a lobbyist. While I do think that it is a hack job, and I love bashing the Times as much as anyone, I'm not seeing the conspiracy. It would be pointless for an ideologically driven New York Times to launch that particular salvo now, very far in advance of the general election. From an ideologically strategic point of view, it would be stupid to sit on that story and then launch it now, after it can hurt McCain in the primaries but before it can really damage him in the general. Face it, the story is a hack job and little more. There is no C-O-N-spiracy.

Total Eclipse of the Moon

2008 Lunar Eclipse 001
Originally uploaded by Jibby7
Just in case you missed it. The next one won't occur until shortly before Christmas of 2010.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Use 'Em & Lose 'Em, Hillary Clinton Style

When you are Democratic presidential candidate and United States Senator Hillary Clinton, you can request a polka band to play at your campaign stop and then skip town without paying them.

Whitewater’s Steve Meisner, a nationally known polka bandleader, doesn’t want political campaign rhetoric landing on the keys of his accordion.

The Steve Meisner Band played at Hillary Clinton’s rally Monday evening at the Monona Terrace.

It was on short notice, and the band requested $200 for the time and effort and a photo op with the New York Democrat. Not much considering the campaign communications director had announced online fund raising garnered $15 million in 15 days this month, according to several Web sites.

The band left without a penny or a Polaroid.

$200 is pretty cheap, so it isn't as though Meisner was gouging them, and I'm sure that the check is in the mail, as long as they didn't bring her on stage to the tune of "Too Fat Polka."

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Wisconsin Primary & Other Ruminations

*One word sums up how I feel about this primary: Blech.

*At the risk of being labeled a heretic in this GOTV society, I did not vote today. I was tied to a telephone all day, but if I had been inspired, I could have made it to the polls before they closed. I was not so inspired. I could not bear making a strategic vote for either Clinton or Obama in the Democrats' primary, and I'm just not yet ready to pull the lever for John McCain. I also didn't feel like making a pointless 'principle' vote for anyone else.

*Yes, I know, I should have gone anyway for the down ballot votes. My funk is deep, though.

*So Fidel Castro has resigned. That's newsworthy, but things aren't going to change much. Fidel's been ill long enough for Raul Castro to have an orderly succession plan in place.

*If my count is correct, I received 5 robo/campaign calls from the two Dem candidates. Obama won that count, too.

*I'm not a big fan of open primaries, but in this instance, cross-over voting did not make a bit of difference.

*For the record, corn ethanol still sucks. It leaves us one drought away from disaster.

*I think I'm suffering from some sort of political depression. Politically speaking, I feel like sleeping through this entire presidential election. The cause is this Dole-Clinton deja vu I have setting in over a possible McCain-Obama contest.

*This Wisconsin winter has been so bad that for the first time in my life I've found my mind wandering in regards to how nice it would be to live somewhere else.

*As for Lindsey Lohan's photo shoot in New York magazine-at first I wondered who in their right mind would disgrace Marilyn Monroe by choosing Lohan to do a tribute spread to her. The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized that it is actually a little fitting.

*If messiah Barack Obama turns water into beer, then and only then will I consider voting for him, but only if he promises to run the presidency from my sink.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

A Bad Winter About to Get Worse

This has been a miserable winter in Southern Wisconsin. In fact, I'm about ready to consider it the worst one I've lived through. Not too shabby considering I grew up in the northwestern part of Wisconsin during a time known for snowy winters. We've had multiple Snowpocalypses this year, a phenomenon we normally only get to joke about once or twice a year, and the local meteorologists have been warning us about another one for a couple of days now. This storm has just started to roll into my neck of the woods, and its first punch isn't pretty. It started raining about 15 minutes ago, and upon hitting any surface, that rain has turned to ice. I can already ice skate across my wood deck. I'm not sure how long it is going to ice, but we are scheduled to get 4 to 6 inches of snow on top of whatever ice we get. Other parts of the country can tell you that an ice storm followed by wet, heavy snow is a recipe for disaster. Right now, I'm hoping that the air temperature gets warm enough here to melt that accumulating ice before the snow sets in.

Perspective on Corn Ethanol

Ever wonder how much corn we grow for fuel, not food? A lot.

The pending global food crisis is due, in part, to a rich twist of irony: One of the factors driving up the price of T-bone steak, a dozen eggs and a carton of milk is a perfectly edible vegetable, a staple of many diets - corn.

To add to the irony, we're growing more corn than ever before. We're just not eating it.

"The U.S. is now using more corn for production of ethanol than our entire crop in Canada," says Kurt Klein, a professor of agricultural economics at the University of Lethbridge. "It's huge."

And it is going to get bigger. In 2000, world production of ethanol totalled 20 billion litres. In 2007, world production climbed to 60 billion litres. In the month of January alone, six billion new litres of ethanol were produced in the U.S., Mr. Klein says.

God help us all if we have a sustained drought here in the corn belt.

(Cross posted at the BBA)

Friday, February 15, 2008

Potentially the worst spring television ever

Hurray, the writers' strike is over. A lot of popular shows plan to have 4 to 8 new episodes in April and May (excluding my new personal favorite Chuck). That's less than 2 months from now. That means episodes need to be written and produced in weeks. This is going to be one ugly spring for television. I'm almost glad my favorite won't be back until fall.

Oh Jealousy

I admit it. I'm jealous. The Wisconsin primary is almost upon us, but it is the Democrats having all the fun. I have zero desire to go to an event to listen to Barack Obama talk about nothing, or Bill Clinton blame his low turnout on Milwaukee radio host Charlie Sykes, or watch Hillary Clinton blubber and bawl. Now if Mike Huckabee cried, while on the air with Sykes, talking about a second spitter*, that would be fun.

(*Fans of Seinfeld, the show about nothing, might understand that reference.)

Monday, February 11, 2008

Dining the Super Delegates


Jason Rae is a typical junior in college.

He spends several hours a day in class at Marquette University in Wisconsin where he is majoring in history and political science. He is closely following the Marquette basketball team and has the Golden Eagles' schedule memorized.

But not many 21-year-olds start their Monday with a personal breakfast with Chelsea Clinton, as Rae did this morning at the student union at the nearby University of Milwaukee.

Rae got the one-on-one treatment from the former-and possibly future-first daughter because he is a Democratic National Committee member from Wisconsin and thus a "super delegate," one of the 796 free agents who can back any candidate in the race for the Democratic nomination.
That's normal, alright. I'm sure Barack Obama already has plans to send his wife to take this guy out to dinner.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Q: What is John McCain's best friend right now?

A: A mini Mike Huckabee surge.

It is close to impossible for John McCain to lose the Republican nomination now that Mitt Romney is out of the race. He has enough delegates racked up that it would take a complete collapse on his campaign's part to blow the nomination. If Mike Huckabee can make a semi-serious run at McCain, though, it would force a lot of conservatives who dislike McCain into his corner against a candidate they have trouble taking seriously. It wouldn't make them avid McCain fans, but it would speed along their acceptance of him.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

The Coddled Chelsea Clinton

"Pimped out." By now, everyone knows the significance of that phrase. Because MSNBC substitute host David Shuster used that colloquialism (somewhat incorrectly, I might add), he's now a suspended substitute host at MSNBC, all because the Clintons raised a fuss in order to protect their little girl. I supported the Clintons' overprotection of Chelsea during Bill's presidency, much as I supported the Bushes' overprotection of Jenna and Barbara. The media is at its irresponsible worst when it attacks the teenage to college aged children of presidents or other politicians. Chelsea Clinton is no longer in that category, though, and the Clintons are continuing to build a very high wall around her. If Chelsea were not involved in Hillary's campaign, I could understand that, too. But she is. She is an adult woman helping in a political campaign, and as such she is fair game, just as any other member of any presidential campaign.

It is fair to question whether Hillary Clinton is using her daughter for her own political good. Granted, Shuster chose a fairly ineloquent way of doing so, but it was not a slur, period. MSNBC's cowardice is another, different example of the media at its worse, but this time it is example of the media's weak spine. This should surprise nobody, though. The media has been cowed by Clinton handlers every time a reporter has even attempted to acknowledge Chelsea on the campaign trail.

We should just all be thankful that Shuster didn't use the correct colloquialism, because the Clinton outrage would have been difficult to stomach. I have little doubt that Hillary is indeed whoring her daughter out politically for her own good. And for the record, pimping or whoring, that's ultimately a criticism of the Clinton campaign, not Chelsea.

Friday, February 08, 2008

A Quick Question

I've seen numerous people imply that if he wins in November, John McCain would not run in 2012. Has he ever explicitly said that? I ask because I don't see a man of John McCain's ego not running for re-election unless he is physically incapable of doing so. While 76 is awfully late in life to try to run a presidential campaign, I don't see McCain stepping aside.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Corn Ethanol at a Long Term Competitive Disadvantage

From my post at the BBA:

The science and the processes behind cellulosic ethanol are still being worked out, but once that brand of ethanol production gets its feet, the corn based ethanol made in places like Wisconsin and Minnesota is going to be hard pressed to compete. To wit:

A new cellulosic ethanol plant that promises to produce renewable biofuel for less than $1 a gallon has a new partner.

ICM, a Kansas-based ethanol plant design, engineering and support firm, has a new agreement with Illinois-based Coskata, which made headlines when it announced it could produce next-generation ethanol made from waste, plant materials or other biomass, rather than corn, at a fraction of the cost, and with a fraction of the pollution and political fallout.

The southeast could stand to become this country's major ethanol producer. It offers a good climate for fast growing ethanol stocks like switch grass, and it likely has the land capacity to farm those stocks without seriously hampering food production. If we in the Midwest choose to prop up the production of corn ethanol legislatively now, we will likely continue to do so in the future and assure ourselves of higher fuel prices than other areas of the nation where cellulosic ethanol production may proliferate.

Is this it for Mitt?

There are lots of reports out there that Mitt Romney is dropping out of the Republican race, and probably doing so in a speech at CPAC while I write this. If so, it removes any lingering doubts about John McCain's status as the presumptive Republican nominee for President. What a strange, strange trip it has been. Romney appeared strong all along to people that closely followed Republican politics. He always seemed to be everyone's second choice, though. Fred Thompson got drafted into the race and developed a small but hard core following. Unfortunately, Thompson was never able or willing to leverage that dedicated base to convert the numbers of followers needed to even be competitive in the race. In some ways, his appearance in the race acted as a road block to second fiddle Mitt, and when Mike Huckabee started to pick up momentum amongst evangelical, socially (but not economic or security) conservative voters, the road opened up for John McCain to win the nomination through name recognition and respect amongst a plurality of voters who like weren't the closest followers of conservative or Republican politics, as well as non-conservative Republicans. And now here we are. Some of us, maybe many of us are, are stunned as to how it all came about, and we now have six to nine months to come to terms with how we want to go forward.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

I Curse Winter

Ugh. That was a good old fashion snowstorm. I just spent two hours snow blowing, and I have a good sized machine. Depths ranged from 10 inches in wind swept areas to about two feet in the drifts. I'd say we probably got 15 inches here. I could definitely stand going another decade before seeing another storm like that.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Rove to Join Fox

Heh. This should adversely affect the traffic numbers at the Daily Kos as lefty heads explode:

Karl Rove, the strategist behind President George W. Bush's ascendancy to the White House, will join Rupert Murdoch's Fox News Channel as a contributor starting with Super Tuesday, the network said.

The only thing that could do more to shorten the lifespans of the left's more nutty members would be if Cheney joins Fox News in 2009 shortly after Halliburton buys the network.

The Healthy Are a Burden on the Health Care System

I love it when conventional wisdom gets turned on its head a little:

Preventing obesity and smoking can save lives, but it doesn't save money, researchers reported Monday. It costs more to care for healthy people who live years longer, according to a Dutch study that counters the common perception that preventing obesity would save governments millions of dollars.

"It was a small surprise," said Pieter van Baal, an economist at the Netherlands' National Institute for Public Health and the Environment, who led the study. "But it also makes sense. If you live longer, then you cost the health system more."

In a paper published online Monday in the Public Library of Science Medicine journal, Dutch researchers found that the health costs of thin and healthy people in adulthood are more expensive than those of either fat people or smokers.

So does this mean that part of the solution to expensive health care is to eat, drink, and die younger?

Prediction Time: John McCain Edition

If John McCain wins the Republican nomination, I predict that the Democrats' nominee will try to do at least three things to him in the general election. The first thing that candidate will try to do is prod McCain into losing his temper as many times as possible. When John McCain loses his temper, it isn't a pretty sight. Second, they will attempt to show him as physically tired, something that will probably be very evident on a 70 plus year old man trying to campaign 12 hours or more a day. Third, they will try to strand him in a political no man's land by moving to the center and taking away as many moderates as possible. I'm not sure if they'll be able to maneuver in such a way as to further the wedge between Senator McCain and some conservatives, but if they see an opening, I'm positive they'll try. If they do those things, I can see McCain losing in a landslide, and that's part of the reason I hate the concept of electability. The concept of electability is fine when you are comparing a lower tier candidate like Ron Paul to a higher tier candidate like John McCain, but amongst the top tier candidates it usually falls to poll numbers that are meaningless this far out from the general election. The fallacy of electability is the trap I see a lot of Republicans falling into as they migrate to John McCain right now, and I can see the Democrats taking advantage of that in the general election.

A Classic Freudian Slip

Bob Knight, the all time winningest coach in NCAA Division I basketball history, and perhaps the most notorious jackass the game has ever seen, has resigned at Texas Tech. That's news, but I'm not always satisfied with the news. Sometimes, I like the minutiae, and in this story from, I found it:

He and Dean Smith are the only mean who have played and coached for a national champion. (emphasis mine)

Heh. I wonder what the author thinks of Bob Knight. I'm sure it will be corrected, but until it is, it is a rather amusing typo.

An excellent point on the state of the Republican Party

At times during this race for the Republican presidential nomination, things just haven't made much sense. Why is it conservatives can seem to be of one or two mindsets on the candidates, but the results moved towards a third or fourth candidate? Well, Patrick Ruffini makes an excellent point on how the math can work out:

Some assume that because conservatives are the largest bloc of GOP voters, their preferred candidate (Romney) ought to win. And that if he doesn’t, this large bloc has slipped into minority status and/or irrelevance. This analysis is fundamentally flawed.

It doesn’t just matter who you win, but how much you win them by. A 15-point lead with conservatives doesn’t do you much good if McCain’s lead amongst the smaller moderate bloc is 30 points. A McCain victory wouldn’t mean that moderates dominate the GOP; it would mean that for whatever reason conservatives didn’t think Mitt Romney was the second coming of Ronald Reagan and were divided.

Of course, this means that some of you conservatives out there that are holding your noses and going McCain, not because you like him but because you think he's inevitable, are making a particularly obtuse choice.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

This just ain't right

The photo at this link is not Photoshopped. Apparently this gas station really is in the landing flight path of the airport.

This is even worse.

UW Whitewater Opens New University Center

A piece of UWW's building splurge opens:

While most of the James R. Connor University Center was being razed and rebuilt, the campus community walked the fence perimeter, trudging up ramps and grumbling about the inconvenience.

But now the complaints have faded in the shadow of a new University Center that recently opened to rave reviews from students.

The building was dedicated today.

I find myself oddly nostalgic for that dump of a UC that marked my five years at UWW. The last time I was in the old UC was when Ward Churchill made his infamous visit to the university. Soon the university will be opening a new building for the business college, and another prison like building of my college years will be converted to offices. Future UWW grads are going to be somehow softer for it.

Happy Groundhog Day!

Hopefully someone shoots that dirty little ground rat before it sees its shadow. That is all.

Friday, February 01, 2008

There is a joke in there somewhere

I like Poland and if I ever get to Europe, I want to visit the country. As such, I don't partake in telling Polish jokes, even though I've been told hundreds at the vary least. Still, a headline like this just begs for one, doesn't it?

U.S. backs modernizing Polish air defenses