April 29, 2004
The Importance of Electoral Votes
Given the comments on my post on political demographics, I thought I'd spend a bit of time reviewing the electoral college and our current population.

All fifty states plus Washington, DC have a total of 538 electoral votes. 270 electoral votes are needed to win the presidency (~50.2%). Every ten years the US government has a very detailed census that is used, amongst other things, to apportion these electoral votes. Thus politicians argue about what statistical methods are used. Despite this, the Census department does a remarkable job performing a difficult task. The last major census was performed in 2000 and these current population figures will be used in determining the electoral votes for each state in November's elections.

I've created a table showing how many electoral votes each state has as well as how this has changed since the last election. The green highlights are for states that now have more influence than they did in the 2000 election. Likewise, the red highlights are for states that now have less influence than they did in the 2000 election.

April 28, 2004
The Usual Suspects: An Unusual Outcome
Imagine you are a young Hamas terrorist who believes if you die attacking enemies of your religion you will go directly to paradise. You strap explosives to yourself and a companion travels with you to help you get into Israel.

But what's this? Two Palestinian gunmen have spotted you. Perhaps they will help you against those Jewish children in Israel that deserve to die. What! They want your bombs?

You were prepared to die anyway, so you push the button and eliminate these two thugs and injure your guide as the bombs on your chest explode. As you die, you belatedly wonder if there is any reward for killing presumably Islamic thugs instead of your enemy...

Believe it or not, this story is essentially true. I expect we'll see more stories like this once Israel finishes its wall.

Tip of the helm to King of Fools

Rough Week for Kerry
I could almost feel sorry for Senator Kerry. In a matter of days, he has been blasted from the right (Cheney), the left (ABC), the Catholic church, and his own supporters.

Political Demographics
The election is just over six months away. Political managers are pouring over the figures from the 2000 election. I thought my readers might enjoy the same exercise.

Voters Supporting:
Unmarried Women
All Married
All Not Married
Union Member
Gun Owner
White Protestants
Black Protestants
60 +
High School Grad
College Grad
Post-Graduate Degree

These demographics may help you understand some of the political games candidates play as they try to influence those voters where they think they have a realistic chance of swaying opinion.

Source: Someone emailed me a list of voter patterns from the 2000 election, but did not give their source. I have looked at previous information from the US government before, and these look fairly accurate (different polling methods will give you slightly different results, but if you see any that are more than 2% different from other polls, let me know). I suspect these figures originally came from the US government, but it is possible someone did their own survey.

Religion,Economics,International Affairs

Since this site seems to have entries on all of the above (religion, economics and international affairs) I thought this article would be of interest:

Basically the UK clergyman's union is in a dither about people choosing to "offshore prayer" (I am not making this up).

The key sentence is:

"Religious services and prayers for the dead are being offshored from the United Kingdom to India because of a lack of priests," Amicus, whose one-million-plus membership includes several thousand clergymen, said in a statement Wednesday."

Will the priests and ministers of the UK all go on strike? Isn't a clergy industrial action like putting the country under the Interdict?. That is sort of nostalgic. I don't think England has been under the Interdict for 500 years.

I wonder if the acquis communautaire (The EU's regulation of private life) will now make it a human rights violation to pray while there is a strike (industrial action) in place? In general the right to strike trumps all other rights in the EU :-)

April 27, 2004
Silver Linings – Humor in Tragedy
Divorce is a painful tragedy. One man has found a unique way to help cope with his circumstances. The rest of this post is from Ebay. Yes, Ebay, the internet's classified section. I'm archiving the entire post since Ebay does not store old auctions for more than 90 days. Although long, this is worth the read.

April 26, 2004
Three Days to Go!
Dean Esmay is spearheading a fund-raising effort to help American marines build an Iraqi television alternative to Al Jazeera. Yes, believe it or not, our government did not think to include this in their plans for rebuilding Iraq. Fortunately, our military is on the ball and are asking for our help.

If you agree this is a worthy cause and can spare some dollars, click here. If you think this is a good cause, but don't have any spare cash, you can still help. Just forward this message to some of your friends.

April 23, 2004
Blunt & Honest vs. Sophisticated & Dishonest
President Bush is one the most honest presidents we have had in quite a while. With two notable exceptions, he has followed through on his campaign promises and acted as he advertised. I strongly disagree with some of his acts, but I admire his character. However, President Bush also manages to hack off many people, especially Europeans, with his bluntness.

Compare this with his predecessor. President Clinton was a stereotypical politician, albeit more popular than most, and he frequently lied to people. Yet, he was charismatic, especially in person. I once had the opportunity to hear him speak as part of a relatively small audience (about 200 or so). It was amazing. I had to fight to keep myself from nodding affirmation when he spoke about things with which I strongly disagreed. Despite (or because of) the fact he misled them, Europeans loved Clinton. President Clinton had a much higher approval rating amongst Europeans than he did amongst Americans.

The contrast between a blunt, honest man who has trouble with long speeches and a sophisticated, charismatic politician who could captivate an audience for hours has intrigued me since President Bush was elected. Peggy Noonan recently gave her opinion about President Bush's popularity.

April 22, 2004
President Bush, Warfare, & a Historical Perspective
A Republican friend of mine emailed me this letter that is apparently floating around conservative email circles. Although clearly biased, it offers an interesting and sometimes humorous perspective.
Liberals claim President Bush shouldn't have started this war. They complain about his prosecution of it. One liberal recently claimed Bush was the worst president in U.S. history. Let's clear up one point: We didn't start the war on terror. Try to remember, it was started by terrorists BEFORE 9/11. Let's look at the "worst" president and mismanagement claims.

FDR (Democrat) led us into World War II. Germany never attacked us: Japan did. From 1941-1945, 450,000 lives were lost, an average of 112,500 per year.

Truman (Democrat) finished that war and started one in Korea, North Korea never attacked us. From 1950-1953, 55,000 lives were lost, an average of 18,333 per year.

John F. Kennedy (Democrat) started the Vietnam conflict in 1962. Vietnam never attacked us.

Johnson (Democrat) turned Vietnam into a quagmire. From 1965-1975, 58,000 lives were lost, an average of 5,800 per year.

Clinton (Democrat) went to war in Bosnia without UN or French consent, Bosnia never attacked us. He was offered Osama bin Laden's head on a platter three times by Sudan and did nothing. Osama has attacked us on multiple occasions.

In the two years since terrorists attacked us, President Bush (Republican) has liberated two countries, crushed the Taliban, crippled al-Qaida, put nuclear inspectors in Lybia, Iran and North Korea without firing a shot, and captured a terrorist who slaughtered 300,000 of his own people. We lost 600 soldiers, an average of 30 a year and our allies lost a similar number. Bush did all this abroad while preventing another terrorist attack on US soil.

The Democrats are complaining about how long the war is taking, but...

It took less time to take Iraq than it took Janet Reno to take the Branch Davidian compound. That was a 51 day operation.

We've been looking for evidence of chemical weapons in Iraq for less time than it took Hillary Clinton to find the Rose Law Firm billing records.

It took less time for the 3rd Infantry Division and the Marines to destroy the Medina Republican Guard than it took Teddy Kennedy to call the police after his Oldsmobile sank at Chappaquiddick.

This is obviously a biased article, but I thought it did clearly made the point that many who point fingers at Bush are doing so because he is Republican, not because of his actions. What is even more indicting is that President Bush is one of the few Presidents who used our troops as set forth in the Constitution. He made his case before the people and our elected Representatives (including Senator Kerry) gave Bush authorization to act.

April 19, 2004
Oil Reserves
In the comments of one of Drew's posts, several people have discussed the finite nature of oil reserves. The fascination people have with Earth running out of oil has always interested me. Yes, oil is a finite and consumable resource. However, the known reserves of oil are larger than ever and continue to grow as we explore more of our planet. Frankly, I expect the known oil reserves to continue to grow throughout my lifetime even if almost every family in China manages to buy a car (which may indeed come to pass in the next few decades).

Chainsaw Advice, Part II
Last week, I wrote my first post on chainsaws. Greg gave me some solid advice on buying and using a chainsaw. Over the weekend, another friend, Brian, provided some tips from his own experience.

EU Constitution
I see in The Times that Blair now plans to call a referendum on the EU Constitution. I would be interested in the thoughts of the Brits posting here on the EU Constitution. I know, I know. The devil is in the details and you don't have the final draft. Well, on what the current draft is. Assume the "small countries" cave to Britain/France/Germany. And on a related note, on Britain joining the Euro (the currency, not the political organization). I gather that is not yet being scheduled for a referendum, though.

April 16, 2004
US,UN,Intervention: Political Spectrum

To answer the Consensus question fully I need to explain (as briefly as I can manage) what I mean by a lot of words for which other people may have slightly different definitions. And that last thread was becoming long and untidy so I am starting a slightly new side-thread.

First, I tend to say "Right" and "Left" instead of "Conservative" and "Liberal". There are reasons for this I don't want to get into now ("keep it short") but which you can see if I say "Mrs. Thatcher, being well to the Right of Ted Heath, immediately Liberalized tariffs and the steel industry. M. Mitterand, being a socialist and therefore far to her Left, was concerned that Mrs. Thatcher's views on Liberal Democracy would be detrimental to his own views on the need for more economic planning."

Nor do I want to go at length into "Economic Liberal" and "Social Liberal". We can talk about that later. And Yes, I do understand that one's philisophical beliefs about economics, politics and personal/religious freedom are not a scalar (a one dimensional measurement in which everyone can be sorted in alphabetical order by height). But these do tend to cluster together.

The Left believe in two things that form most of their view of the world:

1) "There is only so much," There are only so many jobs, only so much wealth and housing and oil and food. The corollary of "there is only so much" is "if he has 'more than his fair share' someone else is being shorted." The Left worry about "inequality of wealth" in the world and the Left see wealth redistribution as the solution.

The Right think goods and services are created. The amount of jobs, wealth etc (goods and services) that exist are there because someone made them. If people have a great need for more, someone will make more (at increasing unit cost but I don't want to get bogged down in details just yet). The Right do not worry about Inequality of wealth but about Poverty. Ii.e they don't care much about the ratio of wealth between Bill Gates and the poorest person in Biafra. They care about how many goods and servics the poorest person in Biafra has as an absolute number. They see the solution to poverty as "create more wealth (more goods and services)" not "redistribute the goods and services that are already there." (we can go into this at MUCH greater length if you wish)

2) The Left think "Somone should be in charge." If, as the Left think, we are all in this life boat with only so much fresh water and only so many rations, and if, in that life boat, some person might try to take more water than their share leaving everyone else short, then there should be someone supervising water consumption. The Left believe in Planned Economies. Socialism being pretty far towards the Left being an example of this. For people less far to the Left this explains why they tend to prefer lots of government regulation of work place conditions, recycling etc. They think someone has to be in control.

The Right do NOT believe that anyone should be in control. In fact the Right think it actually is harmful to have someone run things. The Right believe in a more chaotic, Darwinian, Brownian Motion unplanned world. The Right believe (in place of a Planned Economy) in Adam Smith's Invisible Hand.

(Everyone who has never heard of Adam Smith's Invisible Hand raise your hand. Hmm, I don't see any hands so you must be raising your "Invisible One." Let me explain. That is the idea that Adam Smith's desire, as he sits in London, that he wants to drink tea has a "magical action at a distance." People in Java whom he has never met plant and harvest tea; ship owners load tea in Java and bring it to London" and dock workers in London unload the tea, all without any overarching authority telling of them to do that.

(Pant, Pant, Pant)

I am on the Right. I think the core ideas that shape the Left's world view are wrong (not "silly", not "inconsistent" but "we tried that and we found, by observation, that it doesn't work." IE it is a consistent theory but the experiments have shown it not to apply).

And, being on the Right, I do NOT think Someone Should Be In Charge. Putting someone In Charge has always proved harmful in the end.

April 14, 2004
Currency Fluctuations and Trading Deficits
Drew asked me an interesting question about trade deficits. I thought this subject might of interest to many. I also would appreciate some comments from economists who may have a much different perspective than I.
If the US has a $40 Billion trade deficit (or whatever) and the dollar slides 50% in terms of goods and services (it has slidden (pluperfect subjunctive) from 0.80 to 1.20 vs the Euro) then the trade deficit "balloons to $60 Billion" without any change in the amount of Goods/services crossing the border. Yes the current accounts deficit measured in dollars, and the "flux" (motion across a barrier per unit time) of dollars is higher, but they are now little bitty dollars.

So "lowering the trade deficit" could occur by a) dollar goes up (ie fewer dollars for the same pile of goods/services) or b) the dollar goes down so exported goods/services are more desirable to everyone else.

This obviously is getting nonsensical.

What am I missing here? There is a "CPI adjusted for inflation". Shouldn't there be a "Current Accounts Deficit adjusted to PPP (Purchasing Power Parity) at some set date in the past" or something?

Quixote's Guide to HTML
Meet the less than "<" and greater than ">" signs. They are your friends. All HTML code should appear between them.

If you want to make a word or phrase <b>bold</b>, you can turn the bold feature on by typing "<b>" followed by whatever you want in bold. You turn it off by typing "</b>".

If you want to <i>italicize</i> a word or phrase, you can turn the italics feature on by typing "<i>" followed by whatever you want in bold. You turn it off by typing "</i>".

By now you should see <u>the pattern</u>. You should be able to figure out how underlining works.

You can see the code in my examples, but when you use them, the code itself will be invisible. It is important to turn off your feature with the / command. For example, as shown above, to turn off italics, you need to end your italicized section with </i>. Otherwise the italics will overflow your comment and continue on to the posts and comments below. You don't want to be an HTML litterbug, so make sure you turn off the italics and other functions when you are finished with them.

You can create a link to another site by typing <a href="INSERT LINK HERE">insert what you want the link to say</a>. For example, to make the link to Admiral Quixote's Roundtable, type the following: <a href="http://www.solport.com/roundtable/">Admiral Quixote's Roundtable</a> and the result will be Admiral Quixote's Roundtable. Notice the </a> at the end, that completes the hyperlink reference.

I have found one more command to be quite helpful. You can start a new paragraph by inserting "<p>" wherever you desire a new paragraph. You can turn this off with the </p> command. However, the idea of turning off a paragraph strikes me as stupid. So in this one case, I don't bother doing so. I have not noticed any bad effects from doing so (other than making some programmers wince).

Feel free to use my comments section to try out these commands. Just remember to turn off the italics when you are done with them.

US,UN,Intervention: Intervention

Cassevaulaunus commented that the US intervention in Grenada was “too soon”. In the Email exchange he had said the US intervention in WW I was “too late” So what is the US threshold for deciding when we “stick our oar in it” (Gilbert and Sullivan)?

In the old days, long ago, there was the Cold War. Rules about intervening in other countries were different then because there was “the other super-power” who could veto intervention.

In the window between the collapse of the USSR and 9/11/2001 the rules, IMO, went something like this:

There was the Industrialized World. One deals with them like they are grossly equal sovereign states.

And there was the Pre-Industrialzed World (being a pedant I think “Third World” isn’t a good description since the “first and second world – Warsaw Pact/USSR and NATO/US have all sort of merged together as “The Industrialized World).

During that time the Industrialized World divided the Pre-Industrialized world into two groups:

a) Those countries that have something the Industrialized World can use. Usually Oil or some other natural resource. In those countries you want stability, and you will intervene if things start to spin out of control.

b) Those countries that have nothing of use to the Industrialized World. These latter countries may sink into violence, misery and poverty, but who cares? The Tutsies or Sudanese are dying in a swamp of misery and violence but that can’t possibly effect my own safety or comfort here in Islington or Baltimore so why should I care? (OK, I Care. I am Concerned. But not to the extent of actually paying the price entailed in doing anything about the situation). Rwanda and Sudan are good examples of this latter group.

Former Yugoslavia Republics (FYR) are a sort of special case (actually they are not. I am setting you up) since they may not have vast Oil or Iron Ore reserves but they are real close to Europe so there is a worry that if we all just ignore them and let them sink into violence and tribalism that violence might spill over and start putting us, the EU citizenry, at risk of dying some day.

You will note the Europeans are (were in the Email exchange) all for intervening in Kosovo. There was no UN authorization (much the opposite). There was “a concensus” only in the sense “I agree with you, the US” on the part of some of Europe. If you count Russia as a European Country there were European Countries who were very much “unconsensing.”

Then 9/11 came along and the US (but not the EU) decided that the world is much smaller than we had thought on 9/10/2001, and Afghanistan sinking into violence and tribalism was the sort of festering culture medium where a threat could incubate and come kill us. In other words, we decided that, given the mobility of people with international air travel, everyplace was functionally as “close” to the US as Kosovo was to Paris, Berlin or London.

So our threshold now includes “places that are as bad as Kosovo” but has been extended to include “even if it is not right across the border from Italy.”

Chainsaw Advice
When I started this blog, I never, ever, thought I would write a post about chainsaws. I rarely use them and am not even remotely an expert on chainsaws. However, since moving, I now have more of a need for one. And once we finally build our dream house (still at least several years out, but at least it is in sight), I expect to need one on a regular basis. Fortunately, I know a chainsaw connoisseur in New Jersey. Greg was kind enough to spend much time analyzing my needs in order to make a recommendation. In case anyone else is in my situation, I thought I would share the results.

First of all, Greg asked me to discuss my experience with chainsaws, my expected use (especially the size of the trees I would be cutting), and how I felt on quality vs. quantity. I thought this a very reasonable and logical way to begin. I am posting my response in case any of my readers find themselves in the same situation.

April 12, 2004
US,UN,Intervention: Political Parties

Defining the Political Parties

What do the Democrats, Republicans, Old Labour Party, New Labour, Lib Dem and Conservative parties actually do? This is has been a point I have been stressing for years: Don’t tell me what that organization or party says it stands for, what does it actually do?

Finally, after I have been carping about this for years, people are starting to listen to me and follow this approach of mine in defining political movements and organizations. See for example the introduction to Anatomy of Fascism, Robert Paxton’s latest book. Even he has finally started listening to me and is on board with this concept.

If you post here, say what party you belong too and then sort of follow this template (as soon as Peter or I post a template *G*).

If anyone is from countries other than the US/UK chime in. What is the real core thing one gets when the RPR is in power in France? Nationalism and national pride but less stridently than M. Le Pen? What? We would love to hear from you.

Introducing Drew
Drew is a Californian friend of mine who I met via the internet. He is a gifted writer and has a unique way of viewing events. He's not too familiar with blogging (at least not yet), but he may start posting here occasionally. He likes discussions, so feel free to comment on all posts and contribute your two cents.

April 11, 2004
US, UN, International Law and Pre-emptive Invasion

This discussion began as an exchange of E-mails between some Americans and some Brits, first discussing what was legal and illegal in the international arena, then what exactly is the role of the UN, and specifically does the UN have the power to make actions of member states legal or illegal, then the nature of the United States current policy of pre-emptive invasion.

When we finish solving these minor problems we plan solve world poverty, end world hunger and find a cure for cancer.

In migrating to this more public forum I will very briefly summarize what has been discussed previously, so others not in the original exchange of Emails will have a clue what we are gabbling about. I will intentionally not give much detail about other people’s opinions. They can refine their own views and they don’t need me to give them views they don’t actually hold.

Anyone not in the original Email exchange is encouraged to chime in, particularly if you are witty, funny, good at expressing complicated subtle nuances of economic and geopolitical theory, knowledgeable about current and past world affairs and have too much time on your hands. Oh yes, two of us like Latin epigrams so either a knowledge of classical languages or the ability to ignore pretentious Latin quotations would also be helpful.

If you do join the discussion please briefly describe your background (“I am French, a member of the extreme left wing of the Partie Communiste Francaise, hold two doctorates, one in Islamic Culture and the other in Maritime Law and I am currently on the editorial staff of Foreign Affairs. That sort of thing. Just so we know what part of the woods you come from. We don’t need your real name, a handle or nickname is fine.

Please try to keep comments polite. This is serious stuff and we don’t need nastiness. I also recommend you keep your comments short. Make three short posts and people will read and consider your brilliant analyses. Write a long piece and the reader’s eyes will glaze over, his finger will involuntarily twitch on that mouse button and he will be carried away to safety on the next (shorter) web page.

April 02, 2004
Glorious Appearing
I read the twelfth and presumably final book in the Left Behind series. If have enjoyed the series, you will enjoy Glorious Appearing. It covers the triumphant return of Jesus Christ and wraps up the loose ends from the previous novels.

I called the book the presumably final book because it was suppose to end the series. However, it has a brief mention of a prequel and sequel to the series. My guess is that the sequel would cover the millennial year reign of Jesus and Satan's final rebellion.

For those not familiar with the Left Behind series, it follows the pre-tribulation interpretation of the end times. That is, Jesus will rapture His church before the seven year tribulation period. The writing is decent, but not exceptional (certainly not on the level of a writer like Tom Clancy). However, the fictional experience of envisioning how the end times might play out is very interesting and compelling.

Penny Wise and Pound Foolish
Yesterday, I completed my taxes. Four sets (Federal, old State, new State, old city) worth of fun. I though April Fool's Day was an appropriate day for this task. I efiled the Federal form, but both my old and new States refuse to allow efiling for part-time residents (don't ask me the logic of this, I find it baffling). The forms for both States were fairly involved and the final letters required an extra stamp. The second stamp only needed to be 23 cents. Trying to save a few cents, I went to the post office last night to buy some postcard stamps. I put in 1.25 for a 5 pack (the smallest amount offered at my small post office) at the vending machine. The machine made the appropriate noise, but no stamps. I guessed (hoped) that the machine had only half-way released the stamps and the next person to select these stamps would get two packs. So I put in another 1.25 and tried again. Nothing.

So in trying to save 28 cents (37 cents for a normal stamp - 23 cents for the postcard stamp x 2), I had spent $2.50 and received no stamps. Wanting to mail the letters, I just used an extra normal stamp after all. I also wrote a note warning others not to use that machine. If time permits, I'll swing by the post office today and let them know they need to work on their machine.

What a Week
I’ve been offline much of the week, but the worst is now behind me. Last fall, our "new" house surprised us by allowing inches of water into our basement. Since then, I've been working on fixing the house. The basement has been ripped out to concrete and I've been slowly refinishing things. This past weekend, we had a lot of rain and I discovered that water was still getting into our basement. Fortunately, all the repairs I have made to stop past leakages seem to have worked. Unfortunately, there was so much water in the basement last time, I missed a few spots where water is getting into the house. This time, I found one place where the water is coming in through a wall, and at least one place where water is coming up between the foundation and the wall. Hopefully, these are the last two spots.

The timing makes me wonder if there is some sort of Carnival jinx. I'm not serious, but last time my basement flooded, I was about to host Carnival of the Vanities. Wonder what will happen the next time I host a carnival?