Thanksgiving Book Feast II -- philosophy

The first philosophical book I read over break was this one about Stoicism. It was fine as an introduction to the subject but the writing and arrangement could have been better especially in the second half which is about applying it to and living it in modern times. That half felt like it was just slowly drifting around.

One of the points the book brings up is that Stoicism is from the now-dead side of philosophy about applying philosophy to living--the practical side. That'd be an interesting question to ask someone: how do you live well? That is to say, live a good life.

The traditions of European and modern philosophy have little to say about that.* I wonder how one would live post-modernly or rationally or existentially, at least in how it relates to everyday life or even just getting out of bed. Stoicism's answer is tranquility. (Also being stoic, as in avoiding feelings, is something different from actual Stoicism.) Turns out by nature I'm already halfway there so I'll give it a go. Of course good Stoics don't make a big deal about it.

*Perhaps that's one of the effects of having such a monopolistic religious history in Europe in contrast to India and the Orient. In our civilization a single religion took over via Rome and dominated. Because it dominated its super-natural claims could also be expanded into a system of unchallenged natural ones, that is telling everyone how to live and what should make them content. That dominance extinguished the other systems that overlapped in non-supernatural aspects like stoicism. Philosophy, once it got going again centuries later, then reemerged in other, untouched areas like the meanings of things and what is real and how we interact with it. 

Contrast that to India or China where there has always been a few major religions which have considerably large and developed philosophical aspects. Either the systems have developed to use philosophy to gain a practical advantage over the competing systems or having several religions keeps each from becoming too extreme so they remain friendly and 'tame' enough with the would-be philosophers to capture them for their own advancement.

I also read the Myth of Sisyphus, another philosophical work which is an eighteen century jump ahead to WWII-era France. If you're familiar with mythology, the story is that Sisyphus was punished by having to roll a boulder up a hill, which upon finally reaching the top would roll back down to the bottom to be pushed up again for all eternity. That is, of course, an analogy for things we have to do, or going to work, or just living every day.

The author, Camus, was an abusrdist, which sounds like lots of fun--basically the eternal mismatch between humans trying to find reason and meaning in a cold, empty universe is absurd. After going working through to the ends of this, the conclusion, he says, is that 'we must take Sisyphus to be happy'.

At heart, I suppose I feel most nihilist. I like the absurd approach and it fits as far as I can tell, but it still seems in the end like trying to make lemonade from lemons. All of existentialism for that matter seems like that. What I get from it is the author is saying that as long as you choose to continue living, you're accepting the contradiction, assuming you're aware of it (which you will be after having read a book on it), so you should just be content with it.

Existentialism says that we make our own meanings and stuff like that. Absurdism is a sub-group that goes one step further to recognize that meanings are human and fundamentally conflict with the universe and that humans in their attempt to find meaning are ultimately futile, yet we persist, which is absurd if you think about it.

The trouble with philosophy is that there appears to be nothing objective and everything else that does claim something is an interpretation guided by someone's subjective personal preferences. I think this statement is valid. Nietzsche, for example, tried thinking harder and harder a century ago to come up with a way this statement isn't true and ended up going crazy instead of finding a solution.

Currently I'm a few essays into the Stoic Philosophy of Seneca which is a collection of his writings. I've had a few 'a ha!' moments but I can't seem to recall them now and that's probably why reading right before going to sleep is probably not the ideal time to read if I want to be able to recall specific points later.

"a kind of malign negligence"

I have many thoughts on the many facets of the WikiLeaks affair...but this particular article focusing on the revelations related to China's relationship with the U.S., as well as North Korea and Iran, is quite telling.

It's a continuing reminder that even as China's influence and power grows, its willingness to be a responsible global stakeholder has yet to emerge.


St. Roch Market - Awning Fail

The front awning on the historic 1876 market building collapsed today - underscoring the need to restore key city landmarks in New Orleans to avoid further damage.

Thanksgiving Book Feast

Lately I've been on a reading streak and I put a few away over Thanksgiving break.

The first was Dr. Zhivago. I hadn't set out in particular to read it but I got it cheap at the local library's book sale a couple of months ago. After I learned that the author won the Nobel Prize shortly after writing it, it jumped to the front of the line. I saw the movie a very long time ago so I could only remember a few bits of it. What stands out about the movie is snow/snowing, forest, and how long the movie was (just under 3 hours).

The novel was enjoyable. In one phrase: a quirky guy during the Russian revolution. It ended up being the kind of story where you hate to turn the page because you're one closer to the end. It was also well written. A neat point in the story is that the same characters keep meeting in huge coincidences. Maybe when I get time, I'll make a map of the characters interactions--it'd look like a subway map.

This was the second Russian novel I've read and I like the group--last year I read Crime and Punishment. (I liked that one overall. I was surprised that reading the crime part could get my heart pounding. Unfortunately the ending was a fizzle.) The style of writing used by those two authors seems to be especially good at making it seem like you're peering into the characters' world. As with the previous one, initially the book was hard until I learned all of the characters' names enough to recognize them and their variations.

I wonder how much stuff like word play is lost from the stories as they're taken out of their native Russian. For one thing, all the names of the characters seem to be built off of actual words.

In the future, reading some non-fiction about Russia in the lead up to their revolution is an area I'd like to explore. The two novels seem to paint a less bleak and miserable picture of Czarist Russia than the little background info I have led me to believe, although I would estimate that only the well-to-do people of that society would have had the luxury of dabbling in writing literature which would help to skew the perspective.

The next book I read was O Pioneers! by Willa Cather. Back in high school, we read a different novel of hers so I was interested in this one especially since it seemed to be an American colleague of the Icelandic Independent People, previously.

It was a short and enjoyable read about immigrant farmers in Nebraska. Given the region I'm in in Illinois, I felt like I could directly relate to the novel. Moreover, the introduction said that Cather wrote that she intended the novel to be about the land. In my opinion, she succeeded. So it goes. People grow up, live, farm, and die. The land is ever there, timeless.

Speaking of which, it was really great up until the last 20-30 pages where the deaths happen. Like with Dr. Zhivago, the deaths cut. I need to find some less unhappy stuff to read. I think it's a sign that I need to put all my effort into reading research papers. Characters seldom die in refrigeration literature.

I like the spirit in O Pioneers! Simply put, it feels very American. The edition of the book also included the namesake poem, the first two stanzas of which are especially stirring. I wonder what the people, like say Thomas Jefferson, who put into motion the things from which our country and tradition developed imagined as the results of what they were doing. I wonder what he'd think.

I've got three books on the docket. Two are literature from the same purchase as O Pioneers which were the result of browsing the discount classics rack at the bookstore. One is a book of Checkov's short stories.

I have heard of him before. If the back cover paragraph is to be trusted, his are great. I can only hope he doesn't turn out to be the Russian Edgar Allen Poe. (Not that I don't like Poe; it's just that I'm not in the mood for that right now.)

The other is Les Miserables. I figured since I've been reading about Rome and Russia and North Korea and refrigerators and the past, I might as well spend some time with a book about a place I've actually been to and have some actual background with. Also I only saw a few bits of the movie so I can't remember much about it. It's a big book and glancing at a page, the type is very dense. Between Hugo, Dumas, and Proust it seems the French have a thing for being verbose.

Lastly, I've got a few still waiting on deck: there's Nostromo which I started to read a year or two ago, but it just didn't catch so I put it down. The appeal was having read and enjoyed the Heart of Darkness in high school. I've also got Ulysses, the seminal modern novel. And finally, I've got a gigantic book of Herman Melville's seven novels. The goal is to read Moby Dick which is #6. In two years so far I've finished the first two. I wish I had this book a long time ago. The first two are exactly the kind of stuff you'd imagine as boy literature--tropical maritime adventures in the second quarter of the 19th century.

I suppose my target is become well read. Also this last year I've been able to start to change my habits to directing spare time into reading instead of internet browsing which is a step forward. A distant goal I have is if I ever get some good ideas, to be able to contribute something worthwhile to the body of literature.

I also read some philosophy which'll come in the next post.


Happy National Opt-Out Day

I opted out.

Heading through security at Louis Armstrong International this afternoon, I was selected for a full-body scan after putting my items in five trays (laptop bin, shoes and plastic bag with liquids bin, coat bin, carry-on bin, and messenger bag bin).  Over a dozen people in front of me were not sent through the full-body scanner.

Overall, the crowds and lines were remarkably thin, so I didn't feel I would be an extreme hold-up to the boarding process.

I was sent through the regular metal scanner after stating that I would prefer not to be scanned and then being warned of the implications of not proceeding through the much larger full-body scanner.  Then, after my bins were collected and put off on the side, I was given a full pat-down (I was offered a private frisk, but I decided that would be even creepier).

It was awkward.  And, in turn, I tried to make it as awkward for the person screening me as I could - I just looked at him sort of stone-faced and gave perfunctory answers, as if to say "What the hell are you doing?" and express my regret that it has come to this.

It did seem like I was being violated without any cause for suspicion.  It certainly felt that way - especially the second time he worked his hands down my thigh.

If I thought that the full body scanner or pat-downs would actually improve security, I might change my stance.  But as things stand, I don't.

Taken together, I thought the frisk was unreasonable.

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated"


Forget the train, toll Wisconsin's Interstates!

Scott Walker is right! Person A should not be forced to pay for something person B uses. Like it is in fact a bad idea to make people who won't ever ride a train pay for train infrastructure somewhere in the state, it is silly for me and the people of Southeastern Wisconsin to be paying for superfluous interstates that we will never drive on, like anything north or west of Milwaukee-Madison.

I mean, already our taxes contribute to a billion+ dollar interchange in Milwaukee that none of my family has even driven on in at least the better part of a decade. (They should have cut off a few zeros by simply building an elevated roundabout!) Or what about that big goofy bridge to nowhere in downtown Milwaukee by the lakefront? How much is that costing us per year in maintenance for just a quicker route to the city's sewage treatment plant? Why would anyone want to drive from Madison south to Janesville or Beloit, both now washed up former factory towns? How much more maintenance will that 50% increase in roadway cost us? Has anyone really even ever been up north on I-39 or anywhere past the Dells? This is ludicrous that I must pay for other people's transportation! The founding fathers would be livid!

Looking at what numbers I can find, the state of Wisconsin gets about $950m, taking the state population as 5.5 million, from the federal government for roads. Combine that with the state's road budget of about $4.1b, and the number of miles the average person drives, 12k per year, that's a cost for roads of $0.0765 per mile driven per person in Wisconsin. However this includes all roads and interstates probably cost a lot more to maintain than farm roads or two-lane normal roads.

For comparison, Illinois has toll highways. The 30 mile stretch across Chicago from south to north (from Urbana to Wisconsin) has 4 toll stops, 3 x $0.80 and 1 x $1.00. That's $3.40 for about 40 miles, or $0.085 per mile. I'd figure that Illinois' tolls more accurately reflect how much it costs to maintain an interstate highway.

Tolls wouldn't be that hard to implement in Wisconsin. Put minimally invasive cameras on the ramps that record license plate numbers, then charge each license plate for the number of miles it has driven between ramps. You could register a credit card to your plate if you want to pay as you go, or you could just let it all accumulate until you need your plates renewed each year and pay lump-sum. If we copy Illinois' rates, a 90 mile trip between Madison and Milwaukee should cost at least $7.65. It'd probably be more because there's less traffic there than around Chicago. (If you commute 40 miles each day on an interstate 48 weeks per year, then that's $816 in revenue the state forgoes every year!)

What?!?! That's ridiculous that I am compelled to pay that much in costs for someone to make that trip for free each time they drive it! Building a national transit system, what was that socialist Eisenhower thinking? How is this fair to all the people up in Green Bay or Eau Claire or Ashland (far from any highways at all) that have to chip in to that? I hope it grinds their gears as much as it does mine!

There are additional bonuses of tolling the interstates:
  1. If someone 'appears' at their destination exit faster than driving the speed limit would have gotten them there, we can charge a speeding penalty for extra revenue!
  2. We can charge double for out of state people!
  3. We'll have a much better way to track criminals' movement and catch them! Criminals are everywhere, after all.

Once we get this improved and much more fair transportation system scheme implemented, then we can start to work to increase the fairness in other spheres of life in the state.

I've always wondered why I pay taxes for other people's children to go to school. Why do I pay taxes for parks, trails, and beaches I'll never visit? Why do I pay taxes for courts I'll never use? Police I'll never call? Jails I don't use? Fire departments I'll never need? Sewage systems I'll never flush poo down? Airports I'll never fly to? Colleges I'll never attend? Libraries and museums I'll never visit? Tax incentives for businesses I'll never work at or patronize? Sports facilities I'll never attend? Farmers that the market wouldn't have farming? Not to mention a myriad other state services I'll never use. Anything that doesn't effect me simply has no value whatsoever. Surely the smallest any of these costs, cost the state way more than $750 thousand to $7 million per year.

Once put into motion, this Great Disestablishment shall draw people and businesses from far and wide, not to mention save us a lot of money and definitely help to pay down the national debt! Scott Walker and the Tea Party will surely show the nation the path into a new century of glorious prosperity! On Wisconsin! Forward!


Man, people kick and scream about everything

I came across an article on roundabouts and their rise in the US.

People's thinking gets stuck in roundabouts: something is strange, frightening, and uncomfortable because I've never seen or used one before so let's not build any, which keeps them strange, frightening, and uncomfortable.

Roundabouts are great! They're safer because all the traffic is moving in the same direction, so head-ons and T-bones are impossible. Also it's hard to drive faster than 20 mph or so in them so any accidents that do occur are low-speed.

They're more efficient because vehicles only stop when there's heavy traffic so energy isn't wasted stopping, idling, and then getting moving again from a standstill. Also they're passive; no electricity or computers or lightbulbs are needed like with a traffic light.

By the way, we've written about them before.

I feel like it's the same thing about trains.

As an engineer, my dream would be if the country finally switched to metric. Metric is superior in any way you can measure, except in cases when you only ever do one level of calculation like in cooking or shopping. Then it doesn't matter; in fact English units are easy to do fractions with. Otherwise, if you do manipulations beyond that, English quickly turns into a huge sloppy mess. But I'm going off on a tangent.


Raising the Debt Ceiling

It's interesting to see Representatives Boehner and Sessions trying to lay the groundwork for a GOP vote to raise the debt ceiling.

I'm sorry - I'm just not buying it at this time.  There's time before the vote in the spring, as the article points out, and I think the party's entire effort must be put into pushing a plan to make cuts and changes that avoid the need to raise the ceiling.  Start laying the groundwork by telling people that it's going to be a bit painful, instead of telling us months in advance that it's nearly impossible to avoid raising the ceiling. 

Unfortunately, I think the GOP needs to take the issue to the brink to extract fiscally responsible changes or they will never materialize.  At the same time, it needs to be cognizant of the ramifications of failing to raise the debt limit - and begin to defuse them in advance.  If nothing else, it needs to start giving various economic actors notice that the limit might not go up, that we might go over the brink.

Although, as Josh Barro points out, there may be no brink.  The Obama administration may simply find ways to wiggle on regardless of a failure to raise the limit.  And that may have ironic implications: "The downside of a debt limit impasse being a non-catastrophe is that Washington lawmakers are more likely to allow it to happen."

If this GOP majority cannot put a halt to the increases, though, I don't know what political force will ever be able to stop the trend of ballooning debt allowances.


FDA Moving to Ban Alcoholic Energy Drinks?

This is absurd:

The Food and Drug Administration is expected to find that caffeine is an unsafe food additive to alcoholic drinks, essentially banning them, and manufacturers will then be warned that marketing caffeinated alcoholic beverages could be illegal.

The FDA ruling, which could come as soon as this week, "should be the nail in the coffin of these dangerous and toxic drinks," Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who has pushed the Obama administration to ban the beverages, said Tuesday. Federal regulators would not confirm Schumer's announcement that a ban was imminent.

For one, it's a state regulatory issue, not a federal regulatory issue, in my opinion, under the 21st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Second, it's just another attempt at a knee-jerk ban on something because of a few isolated incidents that get blown out of proportion - even when it's not clear that the substance being banned is any more dangerous than similar legal products on the market.


A call for European missile defense in the International Herald Tribune:
Deterrence and diplomacy are powerful counters to this growing threat. And by all means, they represent our first line of defense. But they cannot stand alone. They must be complemented by a credible and cost-effective capability to defend against ballistic missiles.

Because of this, the United States has proposed that in Lisbon, leaders of the alliance adopt territorial missile defense as a NATO capability.

NATO territorial missile defense would not be starting from scratch. The alliance already has a program to protect deployed forces. We seek to extend this protection to NATO’s European populations and territory as well.

Moreover, the United States is on track to provide the lion’s share of this capability. Our contribution, called the Phased Adaptive Approach, will exploit advances in sensor and interceptor technologies to swiftly deploy a strong, smart missile defense system. At the core of the system is the SM-3 missile, a proven ship-borne system that will also be deployed on land at sites in Romania (by 2015) and subsequently in Poland (by 2018), thereby providing full protection against the evolving missile threat.


Baby steps

Slowly he's coming around. The governor-elect seems to have abandoned his unrealistic position on turning the train money into highway money. It says he's looking to use it on other rail projects instead of the Milwaukee-Madison high speed train.

At this point it he seems to be operating on pure spite. He can't get what he wants so the federal government can't get what it wants.

Although then again, he may have been okay with the train in the first place but used being against it to get elected and now he's got to politically maneuver himself in such away to accept the train and still come out looking like a winner.

By the way, since the last train post last week, I came across a wikipedia article summarizing the whole thing which has this neat map.


What part of "Jobs" and "Budget Deficit" doesn't he understand?

Seriously? If this is his biggest legislative priority, I'm wondering if Rep. Pridemore has a winter home in Scottsdale.

If we aren't careful the GOP will suffer the same fate as the Democrats just did in 2012.


An open letter to Representative Paul Ryan

Dear Representative Ryan:

In the coming weeks, it is likely that the New START treaty will be brought before Congress. I urge you to use your influence as a serious-minded rising policy star to promote the swift ratification of this treaty.

Doing so will not only be good for the nation, it will be good for Republicans.

Primarily, ratifying the New START will show that Republicans are serious about exploring all options for cutting the budget. Although the new freshman class has not yet been sworn in to office, sending a strong signal of Republicans' intentions now is the right thing to do.

John Bolton and John Yoo argued yesterday that the Senate should be wary of this treaty. They are wrong. The treaty is, in fact necessary -- as Fred Kaplan notes in Slate:
Bush's arms-reduction treaty expired at the end of last year; we currently have no inspectors on the ground in Russia; unless New START is ratified, we will continue to have no verification at all.
This is a situation that no serious thinker on defense policy should allow to stand.

Nor, Kaplan notes, does the preamble to the treaty preclude the Obama administration from pursuing missile defense programs as it sees fit. In the face of our nation's current fiscal position, we indeed should suggest shelving missile defense as a program that provides no likely basis for greater security while coming with a hefty price tag -- but we are currently not bound to preclude it.

Moreover, no less an authority on the matter than Robert Kagan has suggested that ratification of the treaty would carry advantages for the Republicans:
Setting up Republicans to take the fall for worsening relations may be cynical, but that doesn't mean it won't work. Moreover, there will be a kernel of truth to it. Few men are more cynical players than Vladimir Putin. One can well imagine Putin exploiting the failure of New START internally and externally. He will use it to stir more anti-Western nationalism, further weakening an already weak Medvedev and anyone else who stands for a more pro-Western approach. He will use it as an excuse to end further cooperation on Iran. He will certainly use it to win concessions from Europeans who already pander to him, charging that the Americans have destroyed the transatlantic rapprochement with Russia and that more concessions to Moscow will be necessary to repair the damage. There's no getting around it: Failure to pass START will help empower Putin.
There are other gains to be had from cooperating now with Senate Democrats to pass the New START. Despite its vaunted rhetoric of bipartisanship, the Obama administration has offered little of substance on the issue. To be baldly cynical: cooperating on this measure will put greater pressure on Democrats to reciprocate when real spending cuts are brought up in the next session of Congress. Generously extending a hand now -- taking the high road -- carries no compromise on the focal issues of the recent election, while putting the GOP in a substantively stronger bargaining position for the real work that needs to be done to correct our country's economic path.

Sir, you have been a trailblazer on fiscal issues, and are rightly respected as an important and uncompromising voice on spending. Please use your influence on this matter in order to put Republicans in the place we need to be to do the important work for which we were elected.

Best regards,

-Steve S

More Proof

...that Nancy Pelosi is completely out of touch.

Her reaction to the Bowles-Simpson proposal for reducing the deficit:

Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the targeting of Social Security and Medicare “simply unacceptable,” 

If entitlements are still, even at this point, somehow held as sacred and untouchable, there's clearly a disconnect from reality.

Opposing the tax increases proposed by the plan makes a bit more sense - it's about opposing an attempt by government to compel other people to fix its problems using their dollars.  It's more in line with a notion of solving the deficit and debt problems by shifting responsibility back to individuals.  And it's certainly easier to defend; the entitlement mentality is far more corrosive to our national character.

Still, I'm very glad to see an "adult conversation" started on the difficult choices and measures that need to be on the table if we are going to move in a fiscally sustainable direction.  Paul Ryan and friends rightly labeled the proposal "provocative" yesterday (Talking Points Memo, in listing provisions, observed that "Their recommendations are more or less a list of the third-rail issues of American politics").

But it really shouldn't be provocative.  Government should be talking about these things in frank terms every day.

The Heritage Foundation's blog provides a nice breakdown of a number of the key provisions.

Here's a link to the text of the Bowles-Simpson proposal.

The imperial State

I worry about this expansion of the role of the State Department in Iraq:
The challenge for American diplomats who take over security support in Iraq from the U.S. military next year starts with this: They are to provide protection without carrying guns.


Saddling the State Department with traditionally military tasks at a fraction of the manpower poses a risky test in a country that still averages 15 insurgent attacks a day and has failed to form a ruling coalition eight months after elections. [emphasis added]

King of the mountain

I wound up in the market at the Edsa bus station in Makati pretty much by accident, while looking for something completely different.


World Trade Center

The other one, the one in New Orleans - at the foot of Canal Street.

Governing is about priorities: For the next year there are only two.

We've hinted at this for a while on the blog, but I'm going to come right out and say it: Republicans have only two priorities for the next session: Jobs and the budget.

That's it. Anything else and they will fail.

Constitutionally, we must have a balanced budget. There is no avoiding this issue and if the incoming administration and huge legislative majorities do not take this seriously, this will be their only chance. The Republicans have a majority only because they promised to tackle the $2.7 billion deficit honestly and without gimmicks. They have only a few months to solve the problem. I suggest they be serious about making hard choices and make real cuts to wasteful programs.

As for jobs, there is a lot that needs to be done. Repealing the abomination that is combined reporting would be a start. Streamlining our regulatory system and repealing some of the government overreaches of the last 8 years would help as well. I'll have much more to say about improving our state's economy as the January special session approaches, but - again - if Republicans fail to act in a meaningful way, they will have squandered the opportunity of a lifetime.

These are the only priorities that matter for the next year. I'd love to see voter ID, concealed carry, statewide school vouchers and a wholesale reform of the state's school funding formulas, but until we have a truly balanced budget and an improving economy, they don't mean a damn thing.

It's really that simple. We promised to fix the budget and the economy. We either do it, or in two years, the Democrats will sweep us out. As they should.

I know a lot of other people have said this, but the GOP has a truly unique opportunity to change the state of Wisconsin. I just hope they realize that and do the right thing.

No, please

Not even if they ask us to stay.


The state of Derp

So, after declaring he's going to cancel the Milwaukee-Madison train, Walker asks the train manufacturing company to stay in the state.

Talk about having cake and eating it too.

First of all, cancelling the train is completely stupid. This is literally cutting off the nose to spite the face. If the Federal government doesn't spend the $800 million here, they're going to turn around and offer it somewhere else, New York to be precise. The governor of New York said they'd just love to build another train route.

Secondly, the article says if the entire yearly operational cost falls on Wisconsin, then it's $7 million per year. That's peanuts! It's a very weak argument for a state of nearly 6 million people. What's the big deal about everyone in the state having to pay a little more than $1 per year for a high speed train?

Thirdly, look at this! They build $100 million dollar bypasses around small cities in Wisconsin anyway. They recently built a $120 million bypass in my home area around Burlington. The mismatch between the size of the place and the size of the road is silly but then spending hundreds of millions to do it makes it simply absurd.

For that matter, a state commission has ok'd a proposal to expand I-90 to three lanes in each direction from Madison to the Illinois border for $715 million. Within two or three decades, China and Europe are going to have windmills, solar panels, and fast trains everywhere and the US is going to have a bunch of huge empty highways because gas will cost too much to drive anywhere and the slow-moving angry mob will be left wondering what went wrong.

Lastly, when I was at UW-Madison, they spoke of a 'brain drain', that is young people get degrees and leave the state instead of staying in Wisconsin and building an economy. Being as backward about the train as the state has been a big clue to larger trends and is a real big turn off. You have to do something to lure us in. For me personally, I want to live in a place that's forward thinking and embraces the future. Stuff as simple as trains or facilitating green energy options would definitely get me back to the state despite other things, like taxes or the climate.


Do you find this...inspiring, representing the ingenuity of man...or deeply disturbing, fraught with dark unintended consequences?


First test

Is the GOP serious about cutting spending? Here's an early test:
Boehner and Cantor have a Bachus problem. Politicians don't like to rock the seniority boat when giving out assignments. But last week's landslide vote indicates an electorate that doesn't just want to rock the boat but to sink it. Bachus is manifestly unfit to head the Financial Services Committtee, and the country's fiscal crisis is too dire for nice-guy gestures toward a complacent, mediocre congressman. If Boehner lets Bachus take over the Financial Services Committee, the Tea Partiers, and anybody else hoping for fiscal sanity, will know that he does in fact intend to let them down, as quickly as possible.

"Indian firms place a higher value on innovation than the American companies."

That's something to remember, even as President Obama seeks to tout the advantages of greater partnership with India.  It's also something we need to work to change.

On the whole, I'm not at all averse to a greater bond between India and America in things economic, cultural, and military.  India and America share far more cultural underpinnings, in my estimation, than America and China.  Strengthening India truly does serve to counterbalance the rise of China.

But at the same time, the U.S. needs to be less naive in its dealings with rising Asian powers.  The endless domestic hassle of the past several years has left us with far less focus on foreign affairs than is healthy.  Add to that the preceding years of focus on conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq - which didn't address long-term nation state competitors - and you see how America failed to engage its rivals/partners effectively.

Still, as I noted at the outset - this is not just about doing better diplomacy.  It's about strengthening ourselves domestically at the grassroots individual level so we don't have to rely on diplomacy to retain our prestige globally.


I read about this giant incense burner that swings across the transept of the cathedral in Santiago, Spain in a news story today.  Ostensibly, it began as a way to offset the stench of throngs of medieval religious pilgrims.


Here's another view...which gives it a bit of a "Pit and the Pendulum" feel.

"But simple question: How can you preside over the biggest ass-whupping since 1938 and keep your job? You can't. Simple."

Channeling his inner "man on the street," Michael Tomasky at The Guardian notes that Nancy Pelosi doesn't get it.  Imagine that.


On Friday, five more historic homes rolled out of the VA Hospital Footprint in Lower Mid-City.  The convoy made its way across the Broad Street Bridge over I-10, providing a stunning backdrop.

Check it out.

What he said...

The one and only Charles Krauthammer:
For all the turmoil, the spectacle, the churning -- for all the old bulls slain and fuzzy-cheeked freshmen born -- the great Republican wave of 2010 is simply a return to the norm. The tide had gone out; the tide came back. A center-right country restores the normal congressional map: a sea of interior red, bordered by blue coasts and dotted by blue islands of ethnic/urban density.
Or to put it numerically, the Republican wave of 2010 did little more than undo the two-stage Democratic wave of 2006-2008 in which the Democrats gained 54 House seats combined (precisely the size of the anti-Democratic wave of 1994). In 2010 the Democrats gave it all back, plus about an extra 10 seats or so for good -- chastening -- measure....
This is not, however, a rejection of Democrats as a party. The center-left party as represented by Bill Clinton remains competitive in every cycle. The lesson of Tuesday is that the American game is played between the 40-yard lines. So long as Democrats don't repeat Obama's drive for the red zone, Democrats will cyclically prevail, just as Republicans do.
Nor should Republicans overinterpret their Tuesday mandate. They received none. They were merely rewarded for acting as the people's proxy in saying no to Obama's overreaching liberalism. As one wag put it, this wasn't an election so much as a restraining order.
The Republicans won by default. And their prize is nothing more than a two-year lease on the House. The building was available because the previous occupant had been evicted for arrogant misbehavior and, by rule, alas, the House cannot be left vacant.
The president, however, remains clueless. In his next-day news conference, he had the right demeanor -- subdued, his closest approximation to humility -- but was uncomprehending about what just happened. The "folks" are apparently just "frustrated" that "progress" is just too slow. Asked three times whether popular rejection of his policy agenda might have had something to do with the shellacking he took, he looked as if he'd been asked whether the sun had risen in the West. Why, no, he said.

Sunday music videos

I first mentioned Geronimo! in a review here. They've got a video out now, so I thought I'd pass it along:

Geronimo! - "Design Yourself a Heart" from Northern Outpost on Vimeo.



"Over one third of self-identified gay voters pulled the lever for Republicans on Tuesday, a 4 percentage point increase from the same demographic in 2008."


And 2008 was already a far better year for the GOP in this regard (compared to the immediately preceding cycles).

That's what tends to make me think that the growth in gay support for GOP candidates in this cycle was not solely a function of reacting to Obama or the economy.  It seems to be a trend over a longer period of time.

The comparatively limited GOP focus on social issues in this mid-term election probably didn't hurt either.


Regarding Sufjan

It's been a great year to be a Sufjan Stevens fan. In a 51 week stretch he has released just under 3 hours of music in three works.

First there was the BQE, in which he broke out of his normal form and made a sort of updated Rhapsody in Blue.

In August there was an hour long EP, All Delighted People, which is practically an abridged album. It's back to his normal fare, but having taken a step forward. The thing that stood out to me was that compared his previous stuff, he's now much more upfront vocally, perhaps more confident.

Released almost a month ago is the new album, the Age of Adz. Due to timing in the lab, I didn't get around to listening to it until about a week and a half ago. At first I managed to listen most of the way through and just put it down. I felt neutral about it. It starts off pretty normal, but then gets electronic.

A few days later I had some time and listened to it with headphones and it came through and I got it. Check this out:

Well, not literally--I'm not quite sure what it's about exactly. Instead of relaying stories in the context of and about a state, to me it sounds like he's talking to himself and people close to him to sort things out and move on which builds up to an excellent climax in the final third of the album, 25.5 minute long song.

It's pretty interesting. It's electronic, but in a way I want to describe as 'dirty electronic'. It's definitely not pulsing or glossy like dance music and it's not raw bleeps and bloops with voice like Thom Yorke. It's sort of like varying degrees of electronic scrambles on top of the organic 'band class' sound; he's doing something similar to his normal thing with an extended palette of electronic sounds.

At this point, I like the EP better than the LP. It's easier to listen to--for one thing the album is 75 minutes long. Both are good, of course.

Some reviews point out that the album is a little too unbounded and that he threw in everything and the kitchen sink. There's even a part with autotuning (which turns out, sounds fine when a musician I like does it). That point is valid, if it were tighter it would definitely have a shot at being something like a Kid A.

A final thing worth pointing out is that I definitely like how Stevens is a musican who grows. I suppose for some reason I group him and Andrew Bird together in particular and to me Bird seems to be in a perpetual quest to capture the Bird sound (which by no means is a bad thing) whereas Stevens tries new things out and advances.



"When the successful Democratic Senate candidate in West Virginia takes a rifle and literally blows a hole in one of your major legislative accomplishments in a campaign commercial, that is a sign that the voters are unhappy with your policies, not just the economy."

I believe this is called "missing the point"

No, Barry. Sen. Feingold did not lose because he got outspent.

Yes, Sen. Feingold got the newspaper endorsements and "won" the debates, but that isn't enough. No one denies that Sen. Feingold's constituent services were first rate or suggests that he didn't work hard. Going through the motions is no longer enough. You have to be on the same page as your constituents and that's where it all went horribly wrong for the Senator.

Russ Feingold is an unapologetic Progressive. Wisconsin voters don't want that right now. They want restraint and deference to the people rather than government. Feingold didn't lose because the rules changed. He lost because he stopped listening.
I refuse to go along with that.

The Emperor's Entourage - Unvarnished

I really like this news report from India.

Unlike so much American reporting, it cuts through to the raw numbers and portrays through facts, without stating it directly, the ridiculousness of President Obama's visit to India.

I'm not saying Obama is any different from Bush or Clinton in this display of excess.

I'm simply saying that we should reconsider what is "normal" or "obviously necessary" when it comes to a head of state's visit abroad.

And maybe a staffer could suggest Skype.

The Letter

[Click for bigger]

It reads in English:

Dear Brother Kei,

Brother Kei, I hope you are fine and working well.

We are having holidays now. But our holiday sounds like Showa era. That purpose is to organize personal belongings so that we are able to leave for the battle at any moment. I guess also you can take holidays soon and wish you will relieve our parents during that. Now, it is impossible to meet you. However, please give me your reply. Our unit will go for a sailing ship, in my guess. Wait in the south, please. And, please convey my greeting to Tsuji. “Decisive battle has come this autumn in the empire. I am happy to fight with you.” Because of counterespionage, I am informing it for only you. Make a bonfire of this after your reading.

Please take care,

My office-mate is a Japanese post-doc. A professor in the lab, who I think is retired now, remembered that his father had this letter from WWII. The father is 90-something now.

The letter was found on or near a dead soldier. There isn't a date on it and we don't know which battle it came from. We do know it came from the Philippines.

It looks like the Allied recapture of the Philippines began in October 1944, intensified in December, and climaxed at the end of the following January.

The office-mate said that it's written in an old style--old words and characters that aren't used much anymore--that's not easy to read nowadays. It's written down the columns from right to left. The piece of paper is about 90% the size of the "letter" size.

Since yesterday I've been imagining a guy writing this and then figuratively turning around and getting killed. On the surface it isn't that bad since at the time they were the enemy, and quite fanatical, and a grandfather of mine was in the Pacific. But deeper, that too was a person with feelings and loved ones and dreams who had simply been caught up in something big and unfortunate.

There is some sort of envelope with an address. They're going to try to get it back to the family.

Empty Nest

This was on my mind.

One more thought on compromise

Foreign Policy has been doing some thinking about possible Tea Party/ Progressive compromises as well -- see for yourself

A few more thoughts on that Bai piece, or: What would Aldous Huxley do?

The Bai piece below has a lot going on with it -- let's look at it again, through the lense of strategy this time:
A Palinesque opposition would probably seize on proposed tax increases or benefit cuts in the plans, accuse Mr. Obama of creating the commission as a gimmick and dismiss the whole exercise as just another waste of the citizens’ money. A more intellectual approach would be to embrace the most conservative option offered by the panel and take it up for debate, in hopes of pressuring the White House into some meaningful compromise.
There are a few ways to look at this, really -- and there is little good way to anticipate who might compromise here.

The neoconservative movement was in many ways a conservative movement that was willing to compromise on social issues in order to get what it wanted in foreign policy, which it considered more important. There is little reason to expect the Palin faction -- the Tea Partiers -- to take this path, but it's possible. The Tea Party wing of the new GOP may consider it worthwhile to compromise on, say, military spending, in order to push for lower taxes and perhaps more prayer in schools. That would get them the most meat for their base, while -- if phrased right -- leaving few lines of attack.

Going into the election, I expected that the more a candidate was committed to "first principles" -- say, in the way that Ron Johnson refused to take a specific stance on what items he would cut from a budget -- to be less willing to compromise. Here's Aldous Huxley in Eyeless in Gaza (which is, incidentally, a terrific novel):
There are no large-scale plans in English politics, and hardly any thinking in terms of first principles. With what results? Among others, that English politics have been on the whole very good-natured. The reason is simple. Deal with practical problems as they arise and without reference to first principles; politics are a matter of higgling. Now higglers lose tempers, but don't normally regard each other as fiends in human form. But this is precisely what men of principle and systematic planners can't help doing. A principle is, by definition, right; a plan, for the good of the people. [my emphasis in bold; italics original]
Now, Huxley was more concerned here with the political stridency of the Nazis and Communists (although some of my friends on the left might suggest that the problem of the Tea Party is essentially the same), but the quote does have some suggestion for how an opposition based on first principles might behave.

So, might there be any political incentive for Republicans to concede anything to Democrats? Again, maybe.

Certainly the GOP wants to make Obama look as powerless -- and as useless -- as possible. Why concede to a minor spending bill proposed by a Democrat when you can oppose it, either from the Tea Party perspective or from the ideological? The less you allow Obama to do, the more successful you've been as an opposition: these are basic definitions.

But that only takes you so far, and Republicans are now responsible for producing results. And those results will require some measure of Democratic support. That necessarily entails compromise. In order to have something beyond "no" to show for themselves in two years, the GOP may need to say the occasional "yes."

How will the Republican opposition behave?
The Tea Party wing will take a strident pose and refuse to compromise on any issues.
The intellectuals will stridently refuse to compromise on any issues because of 1st principles.
The intellectuals will compromise on some issues to get spending cuts.
Neither group can compromise, in order to stay true to their ideals.
Neither group will compromise, in order to make Obama look as bad as possible in 2012.

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On the way forward

I've been heartened by the apparent humility, noted by Brad and Mike earlier today, of the Republican victory. From the victory speeches I've heard (including Boehner's bizarrely tearful one), Republicans appear to be focused on a philosophical opposition -- culture war bugle calls were few and far between.

But there is still a dichotomy in the Tea Party, and in the GOP more broadly, and it's right to anticipate possible rifts as the party moves in:
In the kind of opposition Ms. Palin represents, issues aren’t always meant to be addressed through governance, but rather to be deployed as blunt instruments in pursuit of more electoral gains. For the new Republican-led House, that would mean more questions about the president’s birth certificate, more subpoenas flowing down Pennsylvania Avenue, more votes on abortion and flag burning and all of that.

And it might mean passing a bill on gun rights or school prayer that excites the base, knowing full well that the Democratic-controlled Senate will simply let it die anyway.

Mr. Ryan, of Wisconsin, on the other hand, is the author of a radically austere plan to scale back federal spending, and he is about to become chairman of the House Budget Committee. Mr. Ryan, a Washington insider, is heir to the side of the conservative movement that grew out of think tanks and policy journals in the 1960s and ’70s.

To Mr. Ryan’s way of thinking, liberals in government aren’t cultural imperialists; in fact, he gets along with them just fine. Rather, Mr. Ryan sees the president and his allies as hopelessly misguided, reliant on unsustainable government spending rather than the market. Mr. Ryan’s kind of opposition would offer up an alternative, polarizing agenda, forcing President Obama and his allies to defend their philosophy and their intransigence.
For all his rising-star quality, I fear that Ryan lacks the enthusiastic Tea Party base that would give him real leverage in this session. I'll be watching him closely.


Life in cartoon motion, or: Cheap pop references for unlikely events

OR: tobacco shop saves the day:
An 18-month-old girl in Paris, France, appeared unhurt after falling seven stories and bouncing off an awning into a man's arms, witnesses told Le Parisien newspaper.

Witnesses said the child and a sibling had been left alone briefly Monday in their seventh-floor apartment in the city's 20th arrondissement, east of the central city. The girl fell out of a window, but a boy on the street saw her falling and alerted his father, who caught the baby after she bounced off the awning of a tobacco shop and cafe on the building's ground floor, the paper reported.

The man with the quick reflexes and good hands, a doctor, looked over the girl and didn't find any injuries, but handed her off to an ambulance crew to be safe, according to Le Parisien.
There's just too much awesomeness here to even fully express. It turns out that the tobacco shop awning should have been rolled up today, because the store was closed -- but the mechanism broke the night before. Amazing!

Anger must be in the eye of the beholder...

Just a quick thought: Based on the reaction from the left to last night's results, I can only say that we aren't looking at the same thing.

In 2008, I never thought that Obama voters were angry. Yes, they were ticked about Bush and the failure of Republicans in Congress before 2006, but they weren't angry or hateful, they just wanted a change. They wanted something to believe in. I wasn't angry when I voted yesterday, I was proud and happy. As I said earlier, it sure as heck seemed like a lot of other people were, too.

Excitement and Optimism at the Johnson Victory Party

Nearly 24 hours after the first votes started coming in, my first reaction remains: wow.

The Ron Johnson victory party was amazing. There were hundreds of people there waiting to celebrate a victory in a race that just a few months ago looked completely out of reach. These people were energized and happy. Sure, they may have been initially motivated by anger at the President and the Democrats in Congress, but at some point throughout this process - and I'm certain that it was different for each individual voter - that anger gave way to something far more potent: Optimism.

The mood last night in the EAA museum in Oshkosh was filled with an optimism that we can retake our government and avert the fiscal crisis that looms on the horizon. It is an optimism that we can and will survive the effects of the recession and emerge as a stronger nation in the long run. The anger and frustration that spurred candidates like Ron Johnson to run for office, gave way to a sense that we can change things, too.

Everyone was excited, but most people seemed cautious in their optimism. Sure, there was disappointment that Harry Reid and Barbara Boxer won, but I didn't get the sense that anyone expected a "best case" scenario. Cheers erupted when Marco Rubio was declared the winner in Florida

Each time the results from Wisconsin rolled by during the Fox News coverage, the crowd would cheer and high-five one another as we inched closer to turning Wisconsin red for the first time this century.

When the call was finally made for Walker, and then for Johnson, the reaction rivaled that of a Packers or Badgers game. For me, it seemed as though the disappointment of the last three presidential elections and two gubernatorial elections were finally, and mercifully erased. The sense that I got from other party-goers was that after 10 years of less than stellar election results, conservatives in Wisconsin had begun to believe that they were lost in a blue state. Sure, there are bright spots - like Paul Ryan - but otherwise little to be excited about.

All that changed last night.  It would have been easy to get cocky.

But, as I heard over and over again - from voters of all ages, and from die-hard activists and newcomers - this is just the beginning. The people in that room last night will not accept abandonment of our principles or failure to deliver results. We will not tolerate the excesses of past Republican majorities. The Republicans asked for another chance and we gave it to them, but I got the sense that no one in that crowd will accept excuses.

And that's exactly the way it should be. The party is over and the hard work of following through on our promises begins.

Prepare to be Eased

Quantitatively, that is.

Why do I get the sense that this "watershed" move by the Federal Reserve is further detaching us from economic reality?

I think a number of the concerns raised by various dissenting Fed figures, outlined lower in the linked piece, have some merit.

Check out the mansard roof on this one!

Hubba hubba!

Be sure to click on the photo and admire the scale. Did you notice the woman sitting by the door:

Some of these buildings definitely have the bigness of a place like Versailles. Between that and how all the buildings are primarily brick, this campus is very nice. Here's the building from above.

Wow. Just, wow.

I was going to live-blog from the Johnson victory party last night, but some technical difficulties prevented it. I have to get to work this morning, so I'll have some more detailed thoughts tonight.

For right now, though, all I can say is wow. I have never been in a more electric room than last night, and never in my wildest dreams did I think the GOP could get to 60 seats in the Assembly and 19 in the Senate.

Bottom line is that last night was huge, but now the real work begins. Now we have to govern.



Taking my lunch break, I'm flipping between the BBC and CNN for election coverage.

The Beeb is sedate talking heads: Ted Koppel follows Andrew Sullivan. None are worked up or really impassioned at all -- very bloodless.

CNN is Wolf Blitzer frantically poking away at some kind of high-tech screen showing us the red/blue breakdown of Senate seats as they stand right now, energized commentators cutting in after a live feed from John Boehner.

Yes, I'll watch CNN.

Election Night - Checking In

Thoughts thus far:

- It's been very interesting to watch Mark Kirk's numbers rise slowly but steadily in the Illinois Senate race - he was down by over 10 points at one moment...but has now closed to within a few points.

- It looks like Joseph Cao is going down at this point, but I'm interested to see the breakdown.

- It seems like Johnson and Walker are doing well in Wisconsin.

- The GOP push for the Senate will fall short of a majority, but there will certainly be some interesting new voices.  I liked Rubio's call for humility - he recognized that tonight was not a warm-hearted brace of the Republican Party.

- Rand Paul's victory speech was fantastic...in closed captioning, at least.  I watched it with a number of friends at Mahoney's over a Peacemaker po-boy.

* * * * *

- Man, Pennsylvania and Nevada have some nail-biting Senate races at this moment...

- It looks like Cao here in the LA 2nd is getting a drubbing, which is a bit surprising to me - I knew he had a tough uphill climb, but it's not even looking close at this point.

- Tom Tancredo doesn't do it in Colorado...and the GOP may not even hit 10%

* * *

UPDATE:  10:44 p.m. Central

- Ron Johnson defeats Russ Feingold.  That's a major win.  Wisconsin truly has an independent electorate.  Congrats to Johnson and his team in Wisconsin.  Walker, too, wins with similar numbers.

- The GOP seems to be on message tonight - Boehner, Cantor, and Rubio all sound prominent notes of humility.  That's refreshing.  A step back from hubris.

- Why is John Boehner crying on tv right now?  It seems contrived.  Ok, seriously.  What is the deal?  Tonight is not at all about John Boehner, and yet, somehow he thinks it is.  Strange.  This performance...might just be enough to bump him from the Speaker slot since I think there are already trends in that direction.

- Sharron Angle is down...more than I would have expected based on the polling.

- Jay Dardenne and Vitter won a long time ago here in Louisiana.

- Who's the independent in Maine?

* * * * *

UPDATE: 11:08 P.M.

- Wispolitics has a great election night blog going...what a night for Badger State Republicans - Governor, Senate, A.G., both houses of the legislature - a time for restraint, a time for restraint.

- Numerous friends on Facebook are in mourning - in full, snide, whiny fashion - for the Feingold loss.  It's rather pathetic, frankly.

- I'm worried for New Orleans.  I believe the Cedric Richmond win in the 2nd LA...foreshadows a return to Dollar Bill days.

- What about Djou out in Hawaii?

- Oh, CNN with your "best political team on television" - nonsense.  Although, I must say, Roland Martin is making far more salient points than usual this evening.

- What is Hillary thinking out in her remote location?

* * * * *
UPDATE: 11:48 p.m.

- What if Castle had prevailed in the Delaware primary?  Tarkanian in the Nevada primary?  It's sad to see that Harry Reid won - I hope he's forced out of leadership even now that it appears the Democrats will retain a majority in the Senate (although we all know it's 60 that counts).

- Sean Duffy, of Real World fame, replaces Dave Obey in northern Wisconsin. 

- What's going on with Operation Chaos up in Alaska?  Wolf Blitzer notes that polls close up in the Last Frontier soon.  Will it be Levi Johnston in a surprise write-in win?

- Chad Lee does better than usual in the Wisconsin 2nd.

- This is helpful.  My friend Ian F pointed me to this live update site from the Washington Post.

- Want to look at the composition of state legislatures?  Check out this site from the National Conference of State Legislatures where a friend is helping out this evening.

- Lincoln Chafee rides back into Rhode Island town.

- Mark Kirk won in Illinois.  That's good - looks he won every county except for down around Cairo and Cook County proper.  I'm interested to see what his record looks like as he serves.

- It looks like all sorts of havoc played out in the voting on Louisiana constitutional amendments - not necessarily happy with many of the results.  Even the ones I agreed with in substance...should not have been posed as constitutional amendments.

Ballot with Butterfly Wings: On Voting Electronically

I voted today.  By machine.

It made me feel very, very nervous during my entire time in the voting booth.

And it took an excessively long time to leave the booth because there were at least eight constitutional amendments on the ballot, and I wanted to make sure that the text lined up with the summaries I'd seen.  I ultimately voted against one because it was just too ridiculously long.  I voted against others if I was in any doubt of the precise meaning and full implications of the text - as one should when dealing with constitutional amendments, which should be made sparingly.

I was also a bit nervous because the Parish Registrar of Voters failed to process my change-of-address request from over a month ago, which ultimately led me to confirm my proper polling place with the Secretary of State's office recently.

So, anyway, I voted.  I pushed spots on the screen and green lights came on.  At the end, I pushed a button and all the lights went away.  I hope my voted counted.  The whole process seemed needlessly technological and impermanent.  How about a pencil?  Now that I think of it, I also don't know how or if I could have written in any candidates.

The layout of the ballot - with a giant paper insert under a flimsy plastic screen - made things interesting.  The ballot didn't touch the screen evenly at all points, so some names stuck out clear and bold.  Others were dim and slightly folded away - it made reading the text of the amendments difficult as well.

Just as I felt back in college when electronic voting was introduced in student elections over my protest, I felt a deep tug of concern.  Sure, this is the wave of the future in the eyes of many.  But why?

Give me the old Luddite write-on-paper ballot any day.  Weaving technology into the voting process does not give me one ounce of additional confidence in the system, even if it does provide convenience and better turnaround when it comes to tallying votes.

A Cete of Badgers, a Scurry of Squirrels

From a quiver of cobras to a convocation of eagles, this is the most comprehensive listing of animal group names I've ever encountered.  It goes far beyond your average murder of crows.

And if your brain is overloaded with election news, like mine is, it might be a nice diversion.

Lemme just slip in these trains | There will be math

Wow, I'm surprised it came to this: a last minute arrangement in Wisconsin before the election.

I'm all in support of trains, however starting them off this shadily (the last minute act of an outgoing governor) is not very good for building goodwill. On the bright side, it is done.

As for trains in general, we should be encouraging them. Of course trains initially cost a lot of money--trains are a network good. How great and useful were the first telephones or radios or airplane rides?

If we didn't put so much money into securing oil reserves via military engagements, building and maintaining highways, subsiding car companies, subsiding airlines directly and by building them airports, then the costs of passenger trains would be on par with the other modes of transportation. Check this out: Chicago is spending at least $3.2 billion to improve just one airport!

Airplanes and cars are old technology and highly dependent on petroleum. As the cost of petroleum rises, we'll have spent serious amounts of wealth for lightly traveled 4-6 lane freeways and gigantic airports that few people will be able to afford to fly in and out of. What energy source is small and light enough to fit in an airplane? There's a reason there aren't coal-fired steam airplanes. And batteries are awful heavy.

Talking about energy, trains are fantastic! At 200 mph (which is slower than Euro trains), NY and Chicago are 4 hours apart. I estimate a train has a frontal area of 9 sq. meters and a drag coefficient of 0.25 (cars are about 0.3). Only counting the wind resistance, so this isn't the energy it takes to roll up and down hills or the wheel friction, the amount of electricity needed for one trip is 3859 kW-hr. I just looked at my electricity bill from July and the neighboring unit and mine used 477 kW-hr for $68. So the cost of electricity to move a high speed train between NY and Chicago is about $536!

The French TGV conveys about 400 passengers, so that NY-C trip would be about $1.355 in electricity per passenger. Assuming a coach bus seats 55 and gets 5 miles per gallon, the same trip takes 2.9 gallons of gas per passenger, so about $9 at $3/gal, not to mention it takes easily 3-4 times as long.

For comparison, it takes 12755 gallons of fuel to fly a 747 the 2560 miles between LA and Hawaii. I'll give them the benefit of the doubt and use the high value for passengers, 524. Doing the same math, it'll take 7.6 gallons of fuel per passenger (~$23) to fly the 800 miles.

But that's not the entire picture. With high speed trains nearly the entire cost is in the track. In France it costs about $12m per mile to build high speed rail--so $9.3b for Chicago to NY (which is how much per month we spend in Iraq.) [$810m for 90 miles between MKE and MSN is $9m per mile, but this isn't true high speed.] At the same time, airplanes cost hundreds of millions and require dozens of billion+ dollar airports. I think it's worth repeating:

Every month for the amount of money we spend in Iraq we probably could build a high speed rail line between NYC and Chicago.

I hadn't taken the calculation this far before and now am saddened. With 800 miles of track every month for a few years, we could have connected all the major cities from Boston to Austin to Miami to Minneapolis probably as well as up and down the west coast and said goodbye to a significant amount of oil and our unfortunate dependency on it.

Penultimately, trains are a breeze to ride. I happily rode them in Europe. They're so casual--show up at the station 5 minutes before the time on the ticket, walk right in off the street, the train rolls up, and climb aboard. Then you've got a seat with actual space and windows, not to mention you can get up and walk around, heck, there are areas designed for standing up! By the way, I've ridden Amtrak once and Chicago's Metra a dozen times or so.

Finally, the economy's in a slump and the government can stimulate the economy either by building up the military or building infrastructure. I'd much rather have infrastructure than flirt with WWIII.

Addendum, 11:15 am: SNCF, the French railroad which operates the TGV, submitted a proposal for building high speed rail in the US a year ago and Chicago and the Midwest are particularly big. They estimate a Midwest system based around Chicago would cost $65.8 billion total.


The Opportunity of a Generation: Ron Johnson

I'll make this brief. Tomorrow, we here in Wisconsin have the opportunity of a lifetime. The choice between Sen. Russ Feingold and Ron Johnson is perhaps the most clear and important decision in the country. If you look at other races, you get a choice between a Democrat running away from their record and a conservative, or a Democrat running away from their record and a moderate.

Not so in Wisconsin.

In Wisconsin we are presented with a choice that will take us down one of two paths. On the left is Sen. Feingold. It is the path of government intervention first. This mentality is one that believes there is no problem for which government cannot provide a solution. It is a path that leads towards more debt, more spending and more government control over our lives - in everything from the type of light bulb we use to the doctor we see.

Sen. Feingold does not invite us down this path out of malice or some nefarious desire to destroy the American dream. On the contrary, the Senator firmly believes that this is the path that will be best for our nation and its future. Unfortunately, Sen. Feingold is wrong.

The other path is where Ron Johnson invites us. It is a clear path with a few simple principles as its guideposts. There is nothing that free people in a free market cannot do better than the government. A government that governs best, governs least. And finally, we cannot afford to mortgage our future for short term political gain. These are simple and powerful beliefs that have been at the core of our nation's greatness.

Ron Johnson has been criticized on the Left for saying that this race is not about details, but rather about fundamental differences between him and Sen. Feingold. As much as it bothers the Senator's supporters, Mr. Johnson is right. We have a choice tomorrow that is as basic as any in the nation: do we choose more and ever-expanding government, or do we say enough is enough and walk back from the brink?

Messy lab!

This wasn't meant to be anything in particular, but I was going back through some photos I took recently and I like the way the light spots at the top contrast the dark spots at the bottom.

Can we actually...

Let's say, hypothetically, that the GOP manages to snag both the House and the Senate on the national level tomorrow.

Here are my followup questions:

Will Congress actually, within the next two years...

Reduce the size of the federal government?

Reduce the amount of federal government spending?

Reduce the national debt?

Repeal the healthcare bill's individual mandate?

Spur job growth?

In other words, just how effective will the Republican Party be in living out the overarching themes it has espoused broadly this campaign season?  I think it's important to start looking beyond the rhetoric and the adrenaline to the critical issue of accountability.

A followup question that flows from these questions:

If the GOP wins both House and Senate, President Barack Obama will:
Make a cooperative, Clintonesque turn toward the center
Clash strongly with congressional majorities
Grow increasingly isolated, aloof, and irrelevant

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Interpreting the coming GOP tsunami

This is helpful to keep in mind - it should humble the new majority(ies?):

But none of this means that Republicans are winning. The reality is that voters in 2010 are doing the same thing they did in 2006 and 2008: They are voting against the party in power.

This is the continuation of a trend that began nearly 20 years ago. In 1992, Bill Clinton was elected president and his party had control of Congress. Before he left office, his party lost control. Then, in 2000, George W. Bush came to power, and his party controlled Congress. But like Mr. Clinton before him, Mr. Bush saw his party lose control.

That's never happened before in back-to-back administrations. The Obama administration appears poised to make it three in a row. This reflects a fundamental rejection of both political parties.

We're in a period of great volatility, which should dampen the meaning of any particular camp's victory.

I also wonder if the changes in the news cycle and news-delivery technology over the past 20 years have contributed to/exacerbated that volatility.

I'm sorry, professor, but you're wrong

Ann Althouse said something yesterday that's sticking in my craw:
The trend toward Mardi Gras-style street parties and parades for adult revelries goes back to the 1970s. That's when Freakfest began here in Madison, Wisconsin...
I'll give her the benefit of the doubt here -- I don't think the prof is toeing some secret party line established by a shadowy cabal of University and city administrators. But let's be straight: Freakfest is not fit to be called the dessicated corpse of Madison's Halloween tradition. It's a hack job to make the city a couple of bucks off the students every year.

This was the last gasp of Halloween in Madison. That festival is no more.

A Taste of Voodoo Fest

This weekend, I finally had a chance to partake of Voodoo Fest, the growing music festival held over Halloween weekend here in New Orleans.

It being Halloween and all...it was fun to see MGMT take to the stage in City Park...dressed as characters from Scooby Doo.

Daphne, it became clear, knew how to rock.

Like a number of bands in the overbooked, overlapping festival, though, MGMT suffered from a sudden loss of fans who shifted to other shows halfway through the set.  It suddenly got rather desolate...as the animal spirits and fluorescence faded.

My absolute favorite act, which did not have such a problem, was Weezer.  Rivers Cuomo and company blew me away on Friday evening with a fantastic show.  At one point, Cuomo, glasses on, was stalking cat-like atop port-a-potties over 100 yards away from the stage, climbing scaffolding, commandeering cameras atop towers, etc., still pounding out the vocals as the crowd went wild, myself included.  He's a great frontman.  The Blue Album was in heavy rotation.  They covered MGMT!  It was pure fun.

In fact, it was so fun, I didn't take a single photo.

Along with the unparalleled setting under the live oaks, the festival offered a truly diverse array of music.    Roaming around the tents, I came across everyone from Dr. John to Cage the Elephant to Jonsi (the Icelander of Sigur Ros) to Big Freedia of bounce fame.  Theresa Andersson put on an extremely innovative show and showed off her stunning vocals.  Muse, while shallow in my opinion, had a truly spectacular lights and effects accompaniment.  And the Preservation Hall tent spiced the whole affair with some excellent New Orleans heritage sounds.

Overall, I was impressed.  The Weezer show would have been worth the entire weekend pass alone, so everything else was like multiple levels of icing on the cake.