Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Space Station Toilet Breaks

The main toilet aboard the International Space Station has broken down, forcing the three crew members to use the loo on the Soyuz escape craft that's permanently attached to the ISS, according to various media reports.

However, the Soyuz head will offer only temporary relief, as its holding tank will quickly fill up.

With all the thought put into redundancies on the space station, nobody thought about the possibility of toilet failure?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Bush Error

The Wall Street Journal has a piece up today by Douglass Feith entitled "How Bush Sold the War." It is a good piece, but this is the most important part:

But the most damaging effect of this communications strategy was that it changed the definition of success. Before the war, administration officials said that success would mean an Iraq that no longer threatened important U.S. interests – that did not support terrorism, aspire to WMD, threaten its neighbors, or conduct mass murder. But from the fall of 2003 on, the president defined success as stable democracy in Iraq.

This was a public affairs decision that has had enormous strategic consequences for American support for the war. The new formula fails to connect the Iraq war directly to U.S. interests. It causes many Americans to question why we should be investing so much blood and treasure for Iraqis. And many Americans doubt that the new aim is realistic – that stable democracy can be achieved in Iraq in the foreseeable future.

In fairness to the administration, they were taking a beating on WMD, and at that time the shift made sense, but only because they seemingly could not assertively defend themselves as well as their supporters did. They gave up that battle, and in doing so, they did sever the connection to American interests. However history views this war, it will look back on the rhetorical change as the point where the Bush administration began to hamstring itself on the home front.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Happy Memorial Day

By all means, take some time today to enjoy the fun and the trappings that come with Memorial Day. Just be sure to remember who and what the true focus of today is, and block out a little time in memorial of them.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

On Indy 4: It Was a Major Disappointment.

The lovely Mrs. Jib has been looking forward to seeing Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull for months. This last week, the prospect of seeing it tonight has had a very buoyant effect on her mood as the excitement built. Tonight finally arrived, and we headed down to the local drive in early so we would be sure to get "our spot." Getting our spot was about the only fulfilling part of our evening because, unfortunately, the movie was not good.

We both came into this movie from very different perspectives. For her, this was the culmination of a lot of waiting. For me, I was heading into the movie with muted expectations because of what I had read about the storyline. Despite the different perspectives, as Indiana Jones fans we were both prepared to cut this movie quite a bit of slack. It still was a disappointment.

I don't want to say too much about the plot of the movie and spoil it for those of you still waiting to see it. I do want to touch on a couple of things, though. When I read that this movie had a component about the red scare and a component about aliens, I became concerned, and not for the reasons you'd expect. Those two components indicated to me that this fourth installment of the Indiana Jones series was not about the Indiana Jones legacy, and it certainly wasn't about the fans. It was about George Lucas and Steven Spielberg making a movie for themselves. As I watched it tonight, I feel validated in that preconception because these movie felt like it was a Lucas-Spielberg ego stroke.

The action was good, but it engendered absolutely no excitement, and at times the action actually drags on. The story...well, the story was not very good. It could have been, but it wasn't. The fact that the plot ultimately revolves around aliens is a distraction that completely destroys the 'feel' of an Indiana Jones movie. Overall, the movie was very flat, and if it weren't drawing off of the good will of the previous Indiana Jones movies, it would deserve to be a box office bomb.

If you are a fan of the Indiana Jones movies and you are excitedly awaiting your chance to see it, by all means buy a ticket. Just temper your expectations ahead of time. If you aren't in that boat, I'd suggest waiting until you can rent it.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Emergency Condoms to Burma

Apparently the swingers' scene is really hopping in Burma right now:
The United Nations will send nearly a quarter of a million condoms into cyclone-hit Myanmar to help needy survivors with no access to contraceptives, a UN official says.

So far, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) said it had sent 72 800 condoms to survivors struggling to maintain their family planning after the storm hit in early May.

Well, consider that a lesson learned here.  It is common for mini-baby booms to occur after disasters.  I always thought the boomlets were the result of a deep seated instinct in humans to procreate in the face of tragedy.  Turns out they are just the result of rubber shortages.  My bad.  (HT: Sykes)
Oh, and nevermind that whole hierarchy of needs...every good Euro-minded liberal knows that no need comes above sex.  Thank goodness the UN is addressing the greatest needs of the Burmese---sheaths for their swords.

Fire Destroys Fort Atkinson Apartments

If this is the complex that I think it is, the lovely Mrs. Jib almost rented a place here 9 years ago after graduating from college.

A passerby saw flames shooting out of a second story apartment of a 32-unit complex in Fort Atkinson before entering the burning structure, banging on doors and alerting residents who all safely escaped the blaze before it destroyed their homes.

All have been displaced and lost their homes and belongings at 1521 Commonwealth Drive where Fort Atkinson Fire Capt. Mark Schoenleber said the building is considered a total loss today. The American Red Cross is assisting residents with temporary shelter.

By the sounds of it, a passerby and police did an excellent job of ensuring that there was no loss of life.  I wish I could provide further coverage of this story, seeing that I live less than a mile away, but I'm getting codgerly and was asleep by 11 last night.  I never even heard the fire trucks or the helicopter that I'm told hovered and monitored the site early this morning.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Thought of the Day

Schadenfreude will be the word of the moment for the right if Hillary Clinton goes into the Democratic Convention claiming the popular vote with Obama holding the delegate lead.  The EPA might have to regulate all of the resultant smug that will descend upon Denver.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Roadside economics

One could also call this anecdotal economics, but I've noticed that the number of automobiles, boats, snowmobiles, four wheelers, trailers, etc., that are being sold on the sides of highways has grown significantly this year. That tells me a couple of things. One, people are trying to clear themselves of these assets in order to pay debts or because they are looking to buy new toys. If it is the former, and I suspect that it is, the used market for these items is going to tumble, which is going to draw more potential consumers away from manufacturers. Because of this, the anecdotal economist says that there are plenty more ripples to be felt from this economic slow down yet.

Of course, if it is the latter, I'm just plain wrong.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Oil's Speculation Problem

This is a a pretty good article.  I recommend reading the whole thing, but here's the gist of it.
A boom in speculation and trading by investment banks and hedge funds has put our energy markets on steroids. Contract volume in the futures markets has risen by a third in just the last year. Oil closed at a record high of $125.96 a barrel  on the New York Mercantile Exchange on Friday. That's double the price two years ago, a difference clearly caused by market manipulation.
This isn't complicated finance. The way traders push up prices is surprisingly simple. They buy in European futures markets, which don't have the limits that U.S. markets do. That drives up U.S. prices where they may already have positions. It's a move to think about next time one of these exchange chiefs talks about all of the benefits of "market globalization."
None of it would matter except that these markets are supposed to be driven by supply and demand. China and other rapidly growing countries may be using more, or will use more resources, but the reality is that demand and supply haven't changed enough to warrant the price of oil doubling in less than three years.
Here's what has changed: the proliferation of energy trading desks on Wall Street and at hedge funds. There are more than 9,000 hedge funds with $1.5 trillion under management, according to the Federal Reserve. Hedge funds, which almost exclusively use short-term strategies, do nearly 55% of derivatives trading, the kind used in energy futures, according to a study last year by Greenwich Associates.
That's a recipe for a bubble.  The problem is, the bubble won't burst until/unless the money finds a better place to go.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Do they really need to be this exact?

Yes, this will be a nitpick.  The story:

Heavy rains and another potentially powerful storm headed toward Myanmar's cyclone-devastated delta on Wednesday. The U.N. warned that inadequate relief efforts could lead to a second wave of deaths among the estimated 2 million survivors.

The International Red Cross said in a new estimate that the death toll already may be between 68,833 and 127,990.

If you are going to be quoting a range of death numbers like that, do you really have to be exact at the upper and lower limits?  Considering the real number could be any one of 59,157 possibilities, would even numbers have just sufficed?  Or are these exact numbers in a guesstimate designed to personalize this for people in some way?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Watch for the Tale of Two Interpretations

First, the story:
President George W. Bush said on Tuesday he quit playing golf in 2003 out of respect for the families of Americans killed in the war in Iraq.

"I don't want some mom whose son may have recently died to see the Commander-in-Chief playing golf," Bush said in an interview with Yahoo and

"I feel I owe it to the families to be as -- to be in solidarity as best as I can with them. And I think playing golf during a war just sends the wrong signal," he said.

I'm in line with interpretation number one, which is that the guy was empathetic and understood how it could be perceived by the families.

Interpretation two will be the one that grabs hold until his post presidency numbers rebound a bit. It is also the one that will rage around the left. That interpretation will be that this president was so shallow as to think that giving up golf was enough. Of course, that isn't what he said, but putting words into the mouth of this communicationally challenged President has become a cottage industry, so why should that change now?

Suspension of new supplies to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve

The House of Representatives on Tuesday followed the Senate in rejecting the Bush administration's policy of adding oil to the country's Strategic Petroleum Reserve while fuel prices are high.

The House passed legislation that would suspend crude deliveries to the U.S. emergency oil stockpile while the price of oil was above $75 a barrel, a move the White House has opposed. Oil traded at a record near $126 a barrel on Tuesday.

Much of the oil placed into the reserve come in lieu of royalty payments from the oil companies, so it isn't an out of pocket expense for the United States. Additionally, the suspension will have absolutely no affect on the price of oil. I can't say I'm outraged by the suspension, but I am sick of congress make pointless gestures because it is politically easy to do. There are much better ways they can address our energy issues, but they require standing up to irrational environmentalists, something they are loathe to even think about.

Thursday, May 08, 2008


A man's man. What more can I say?

An Omaha man struggling to breathe used a steak knife to perform an at-home tracheotomy. Steve Wilder said he thought he was going to die when he awoke one night last week and couldn't breath.

Wilder said he didn't call 911 because he didn't think help would arrive in time. So, the 55-year-old says, he got a steak knife from the kitchen and made a small hole in his throat, allowing air to gush in.


Wednesday, May 07, 2008

9/11, The TV Archive

I've written about the archiving of web sites a couple of times now. Here's an interesting twist on the concept. The Internet Archive allows you to watch the TV coverage on September 11, 2001, as it happened. Television and radio is generally well archived by the stations, but the public does not have access to it. Things like this open our history to more and more people, and I look forward to seeing this kind of archiving expanded upon.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Another reason to be thankful to live in the U.S.

22,000 dead and counting from a cyclone in Myanmar.  New Orleans was a disaster, but it really could have been much, much worse.

The difference between "resistant" and "proof"... lost on way too many people. Here is a prime example in this McClatchey story:
The deaths of two U.S. soldiers in western Baghdad last week have sparked concerns that Iraqi insurgents have developed a new weapon capable of striking what the U.S. military considers its most explosive-resistant vehicle.

The soldiers were riding in a Mine Resistant Ambush Protective vehicle, known as an MRAP, when an explosion sent a blast of super-heated metal through the MRAP's armor and into the vehicle, killing them both.

Their deaths brought to eight the number of American troops killed while riding in an MRAP, which was developed and deployed to Iraq last year after years of acrimony over light armor on the Army's workhorse vehicle, the Humvee.

The MRAP is designed to be resistant to explosives, not "bomb proof". You might be able to make a bomb proof vehicle, but it won't be going anywhere fast, and that would create all new security problems. While the military should investigate a recent spate of explosion deaths in the MRAP in order to be ahead of the game with insurgents, the eight deaths is hardly evidence that the vehicles are not doing their job. In fact, buried in the tenth and final paragraph of the story, the reporters acknowledge that of the 8 deaths, one was due to a roll over and two due to drowning.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Oil: Supply & Demand or Bubble

The Christian Science Monitor takes a look at the new economics behind oil, namely whether supply and demand are the primary driving factors behind prices or if the weak dollar and speculation are creating high prices. Personally, I've long been a believer that oil is experiencing a bubble, but every prediction I've made has been wrong. I'm now of the opinion that the reason I have been wrong has been twofold. First, the dollar's decline has been more significant than I first anticipated. Second, and perhaps most importantly, the conventional wisdom has developed that oil and other commodities are safe investment havens in very uncertain economic times. I don't think I agree with that conventional wisdom, but until the general investment community becomes comfortable with the U.S. and global economies, this bubble will continue to grow. Eventually, it will burst, and it will burst big, but we aren't close to that point yet.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

A refresher on recessions/depressions

James Ledbetter has a piece at Slate on whether the current economic downturn will be more like 1991 or the 1930's. The analysis of the current situation is less valuable than the primer on modern recessions and depression. I highly recommend keeping his piece in the back of your head while wading through all of the negative economic news that seems to overwhelm us sometimes.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Happy 5th

Today is the fifth anniversary of the lovely Mrs. Jib becoming legally obligated to put up with me. We will be doing much celebrating out in the non-bloggy world. It has been a silent week here, but that should end on Sunday when I start writing again for those of you who aren't legally obligated to put up with me.