Saturday, December 05, 2009

Bono and the Scottsman

I don't know if this is a true story, but it's funny enough to repeat anyway:
Bono, lead singer of the rock band U2, is famous throughout the entertainment industry for being more than just a little self-righteous.

At a recent U2 concert in Glasgow, Scotland, he asked the audience for total quiet. Then, in the silence, he started to slowly clap his hands,once every few seconds.

Holding the audience in total silence, he said into the microphone, "Every time I clap my hands, a child in Africa dies."

A voice with a broad Scottish accent from the front of the crowd pierced the quiet...

"Well, foockin stop doin it then, ya evil bastard!"

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

high-tech, high-speed hypocrisy

The picture is a picture of Earthrace, the current record holder for traveling around the world in a power boat. They have one of those horrible, buggy, slow-loading, active-content websites designed by someone with more enthusiasm than taste or talent, so getting the following information was painful (in fact I ended up getting most of the information elsewhere).

Before I talk about the part where he killed somebody with his hobby, let's talk about the environmentalist hypocrisy. This guy is trying to sound like Earthrace is some sort of Green Machine. He brags about three things in this regard: biodiesel fuel, a solar panel, and non-toxic bottom paint. To take them in order:

1. Biodiesel is just diesel made from plants. There is no technological innovation needed to use it. You put it your standard diesel engine and go (for some kinds of biodiesel you may have to prewarm it). Using biodiesel in an enormous high-polluting engine is just tokenism. And to add insult injury Earthrace doesn't use pure biodiesel, it adds a product of animal fat. That sort of fuel isn't even sustainable because you could not possibly build a fuel infrastructure based on animal fat.

And don't forget: this guy created a 1,000-horsepower boat with no purpose other than to go really, really fast --an enormously wasteful, expensive, hi-tech toy designed to gratify his desire to break a world record. Just to be clear, I don't have any problem with that, but this biodiesel gimmick is clearly just a bone that he is throwing to the environmentalists in an effort to keep them from vilifying him like they normally would anyone who did something like this.

And here is the final irony. With those huge biodiesel engines, they still couldn't beat the overall around-the-world record which is still held by sail boat.

2. The solar panel is just laughable. Those two 500 horsepower engines are running at cruising speed almost the entire time someone is aboard the boat, and an alternator capable of serving all of their power needs would probably make no measurable difference in fuel usage. The only purpose of a solar panel in a power boat is for when the boat is sitting idle for long periods with people living on it. This boat was never meant to be used like that so the panels provide nothing useful, but manufacturing them was expensive in terms of energy and other environmental damage.

3. Bottom paint is intended to keep barnacles and other things from attaching to the bottom of the boat and slowing it down. Some of these paints have substances like copper that are toxic to many marine species. It's really great that an organization that can afford a multi-million-dollar boat as fancy toy is willing to hire people to go and scrape the crud off the boat rather than add toxic substances to the water. I'm serious about that, not sarcastic. All rich yacht owners should do that. But it's not the sort of financial sacrifice in the name of the environment that justifies bragging how green you are with your 1,000-horsepower boat. Nor is it any sort of demonstration that non-toxic bottom paint is a viable solution for average boaters.

On their first record attempts, Earthrace collided with another boat and killed a Guatemalan fisherman. It was just an accident, right? Who ever could have thought that racing along a coast at 20 knots at night in an area where fishermen still fish in low-tech boats with a helmsman who is probably exhausted by many days at sea in a high-speed motorboat might be dangerous?

Well, if they didn't know it was dangerous the first time, they surely knew it was dangerous the second time. Fortunately, on the second attempt they didn't kill anyone, but they were willing to risk other people lives again. But I guess that's not hypocrisy if you only care about the environment and not about other human beings. It's just living your beliefs. Except, of course for all of the environmental damage you are doing in that 1000-horsepower boat.

And now this goofball is lending the boat to those Sea Shepherd goofballs who harass Japanese whalers. They are going to use a 1000-horsepower powerboat to interfere with boats pursuing whales. I see another killing in this boat's future. Accidental, of course. Who could have thought that racing around at high speed, deliberately interfering with other people who are running at high speed while trying to concentrate on a job might lead to an accident?

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in the 21st Century

I loved the car in the movie Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. There were two things about Chitty that appealed to me. First, I've always had an obsession for multi-purpose technology such as amphibious vehicles and flying cars (Chitty was both). Second, I liked the idea that it was built by a back-yard hobbyist from an old wreck. I've always wanted to do those kinds of projects but never had a back yard :-).

So naturally, I think the Maverick is super cool. This is a flying car put together by Christian missionaries to reach remote areas in South America. Here is a video of a test flight.

In the Popular Mechanics article they imply that it is amphibious as well because you can replace the tires with floats, but I get the impression that they haven't actually done any work on that aspect and it would be cheating anyway. The floats have to be built-in for the car to really be amphibious.


Monday, November 30, 2009


This is the first good, comprehensive summary I've seen of the recent global-warming scandal. Thanks to John C. Wright for the pointer.

I've seen little pieces of it all over the internet, but this is the first article that really draws it all together, identifies the players, and explains the implications.

Huckabee parolee murders four cops

Maurice Clemmons, a man who is out of prison thanks to a Mike Huckabee clemency has murdered four police officers. Apparently he just walked into a coffee shop and started shooting.

Huckabee comments on the shooting:
He [Maurice Clemmons] was recommended for and received a commutation of his original sentence from 1990, making him parole eligible and was paroled by the parole board once they determined he met the conditions at that time.
Real leaders don't try to brush off their responsibilities onto others like this. The parole board members also deserve blame for their bad judgment, but that doesn't lesson the blame of Huckabee who was the one that second-guessed the judgment of the court in the first place and made Clemmons eligible for parole. The court thought that Clemmons should spend the rest of his life in prison and that is what would have happened without Huckabee's intervention. Huckabee second-guessed the court. He put the welfare of the criminal ahead of the welfare of potential future victims, and the future victims have suffered horribly as a result. Huckabee was the chief law enforcement officer of the state, the chief man responsible for protecting his citizens from criminals, and he failed miserably at his responsibility.

Huckabee doesn't just try to pass the blame off onto the parole board, he tries to pass it off onto the diffuse "criminal justice system" as a whole
He [Maurice Clemmons] was arrested later for parole violation and taken back to prison to serve his full term, but prosecutors dropped the charges that would have held him. It appears that he has continued to have a string of criminal and psychotic behavior but was not kept incarcerated by either state.
Those sorts of failures of the criminal justice system are so commonplace that they were predictable. The justice system had already dealt with this violent man and there are already so many obstacles to getting dangerous people out of society, and the process is so unreliable, that it was reckless for Huckabee to throw that work away and require it to be done all over again.

And this isn't an isolated issue, rather it is an illustration of Huckabee's general bad judgment on law-enforcement issues. As governor of Arkansas, Huckabee gave far more pardons and commutations than other governors in similar states.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Islam and civilization

Anyone as ignorant of history as Arthur C. Clark should be more reticent to make statements about it in public. I got this quote from a link at Roger L. Simon:
A Chat With Arthur C. Clarke

FI: What appeals to you in Islam?

Clarke: Historically, Islam had a great deal of tolerance for other views and offered the world its priceless wisdom in the form of astronomy and algebra. And, as you know, Islam helped rescue Western civilization from the Dark Ages by preserving classical texts and transmitting them to the West. We, on the other hand, burned the library at Alexandria. If Islam hadn’t fallen into internecine warfare and had gone on to conquer the rest of Europe, we’d have avoided a thousand years of Christian barbarism.
I thought I would add a few notes from someone (me) who is also ignorant of history, but apparently not so ignorant as Mr. Clark.

1. Muslims never invented anything of note. During their empires, there was some knowledge distributed between Europe, India, and China, but it's not clear who distributed the knowledge (except that we know in one important case it was a Christian, Macro Polo) or how it might have gone if there had been a different empire.

2. Muslims had little to do with preserving Greek writings during the Middle Ages. The influx of Greek writings happened after the fall of Constantinople and the ensuing flood of Christian refugees into Western Europe. It was Constantinople that preserved the Greek writings.

3. No one knows for sure who burned the library at Alexandria, but most likely it was during a Muslim sack of the city.

4. The thousand years of "Christian" barbarism was, more than anything else, just a period of extreme poverty caused by endless invasions from (mostly) non-Christian barbarians and Muslims. And the barbaric activities that Christians are so often accused of were all commonplace in the non-Christian world at the time.

5. Over the centuries of Muslim dominance, some of the most civilized places in the world (Persia and Egypt, for example) were reduced to barbarism --not from wars but just from social failure. The beginning of the downfall was when Europeans found sea routes to Eastern Asia. The Muslims had squandered the accumulated wealth of centuries of pre-Muslim civilization, and without the constant infusion of new wealth from trade between other, more productive areas, the Muslim regions collapsed. Meanwhile, modern civilization grew from the battered survivors of Christianity. With this historical evidence, the idea that Islam could have saved Christian Europe from barbarism is laughable.