Monday, January 28, 2008

An Epistle To The Muslims - by Bruce S. Thornton

Via Instapundit; a warning against the self-abasement of Western society in the face of the Islamists.
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Sunday, January 20, 2008

Mark Steyn (and others) Call the MSM On Another Fiction

Mark Steyn's OC Register column today is about the NY Times recent (and apparently ongoing) series about the number of war vets returning from Iraq and Afghanistan who have subsequently killed people. Is this bad? Yes, but as he points out, with the help of Powerline (here, here and here) and Iowahawk (here) he provides something the NY Times sorely lacks; Perspective.

The whole times series is just another example of the MSM cherry-picking statistics, omitting key information and using mis-direction to create lies from whole cloth. Bill Whittle showed us how it's done in Magic. "This is how you lie by telling the truth. You tell the big lie by carefully selecting only the small, isolated truths, linking them in such a way that they advance the bigger lie by painting a picture inside the viewer's head." Here is his example of how it's done:

"Now to show you how this works in the real world, I need to tell you a story about a real man named Robert Wayne Jernigan. I guarantee you this story will make you very angry, but this is the kind of world we live in today.

Robert Wayne Jernigan is now 28 years old. People who knew him said he was quiet, somewhat stand-offish. He was not widely liked in high school. Four years ago, a witness reported seeing Jernigan enter a building in a remote suburb of Dallas with an axe. Four people were found dead at the scene, including a nine year old girl. No charges were filed. Less than two days later,Jernigan turned up again, this time at the scene of a suspicious fire in a day care center. Miraculously, no one was injured. But it was just a matter of time.

During the next several weeks, it is possible to place Jernigan at the scene of no less than thirteen suspicious fires. Eleven people died. Eyewitnesses were unshakable in their determination that Jernigan had been on the scene. And yet the police did nothing.
Jernigan had long been fascinated with fire. A search of his apartment revealed fireman-related magazines, posters and memorabilia. Despite the deaths of fifteen people, despite repeated eyewitness accounts and photographic evidence placing Jernigan at these fires, no criminal charges were ever filed against Robert Wayne Jernigan. He remains a free man to this day.

And rightfully so. Because Robert Wayne Jernigan is an ordinary fireman for the Dallas Fire Department.* He is not a serial arsonist at all. Now re-read the previous paragraphs and tell me where I lied. Everything I told you was factually true. But the spin, the context, the misdirection. The press always reports serial killers with all three names. Robert Wayne Jernigan sounds a hell of a lot more ominous than Bobby Jernigan. Quiet, stand-offish, not widely liked, instant psychopath, if you read the papers. Entered the building with an axe, oooh! That ought to get the blood boiling. That the people had died from smoke inhalation I decided was irrelevant to the story.

And so on. And so on."

(*I made up Robert Wayne Jernigan only because I do not have, at hand, a real fireman with real stories to tell. If I had, I could have sold the story even better by adding the real-world details such an interview would have provided. The more data points I have to choose from, the better I can build the lie.)

It all illustrates just one more reason not to put too much more stock in the New York Times than the National Enquirer.
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Saturday, January 19, 2008

Christopher Hitchens Gets It Right on Identity Politics

Christopher Hitchens wrote an op-ed column for The Wall Street Journal that appeared yesterday. Commenting on the dangers of engaging in identy politics he had the following to say:
"People who think with their epidermis or their genitalia or their clan are the problem to begin with. One does not banish this specter by invoking it. If I would not vote against someone on the grounds of "race" or "gender" alone, then by the exact same token I would not cast a vote in his or her favor for the identical reason. Yet see how this obvious question makes fairly intelligent people say the most alarmingly stupid things."

I think this gets it exactly right. Read the whole thing.
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Sunday, January 13, 2008

Lowe's Supressing Product Reviews?

Back in September I had to replace my dishwasher, apparently the one that was installed when the house was built, with a new one after the door gasket failed and it started leaking. I chose this GE model which I purchased from my local Lowe's. Like a lot of on-line merchants, particularly Amazon, Lowe's has a feature on its site that allows consumers to rate the products they have purchased.

After using the new dishwasher for about three months I had some issues with it that I thought worthy of comment and that might help another consumer make an informed decision about whether the prouduct would be suitable. To be quite honest, I gave it less than a rave review, but I was completely factual about what I saw as the machines shortcomings. To date, Lowe's has not posted the review and a follow-up inquiry generated a polite blow-off, but a blow-off none the less.

I don't have the verbatim text of the comment I submitted but here are the main points near enough:
  1. After 3 months, I had to replace the silverware basket (under warranty and GE gave me no problems) because the plastic grid on the bottom had two of the squares broken. The plastic is very thin and apparently, putting in a sharp object such as a steak knife point down is enough to cut through the plastic. The resulting gap is big enough that handles slip through and can therefore block the rotating spray arm.
  2. Placing the silverware basket in the front of the lower rack has the potential to block the detergent door from opening if you put any larger utensils on that end of the basket (easy solution, don't do it).
  3. I frequently have to re-wash items because the dishwasher just doesn't do a very good job and silverware, plates, etc come out still dirty. It is necessary to give everything put in it a thorough pre-rinse. It's more work and it uses more water than it should. I commented that the under $200 builder-grade machine the GE dishwasher replaced, though somewhat noisier, did a better job overall and that I was a little disappointed in the GE in that regard.
  4. As more of an observation than complaint I noted that it is not possible to tell where in the cycle the load is once started. If you find a stray dish that you want to slip in during the wash cycle you can't be sure if it has already moved on to the rinse cycle.
After composing the text comment the site pops up a box with 5 or 6 items to rate on a 1-5 scale. I mostly gave it 3's, neutral but for overall satisfaction and value for money I gave it 2's. This caused another pop-up seeking my contact information, which I supplied, so that Lowe's could reach me to find out why I gave it the lower ratings. I still have not heard from Lowe's.

After checking back a few times to see if my review had been posted, and not seeing it, or any others for that matter, I thought a follow-up email would be in order, seeking to understand the company's policy on posting of reviews. I specifically asked whether it was their policy to not post negative ones. I stated that I hoped that is not the case as I will tend to distrust reviews at that site if I suspect I'm not getting the full story. I got an email back from "Lisa in customer service" who had "forwarded my suggestion" to the website administrator.

I have bought a lot of things from Amazon. Product reviews from Amazon run the gamut from very good to very bad. I look at the balance of comments from reviewers before I make a decision on whether to buy or not buy a particular product. I have bought products that got less than unanimous raves because some of the negatives other people have posted have not been issues for me and I've been perfectly happy with most of those purchases. The point is, I made as fully informed a decision as I could because Amazon provided all the information, good, bad or ugly. I trust Amazon because I am confident that I'm getting a full and honest appraisal of the products there. I'm willing to bet Amazon sees a lot fewer returns for reasons of dissatisfaction because of that sort of up-front transparency. Lowe's (and any other retailer that posts product reviews from consumers) should take a page from Amazon's playbook here. Trust is a valuable commodity in today's competetive environment. I'll still shop at Lowe's, but I'll trust them a little bit less now.

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Sunday, January 06, 2008

Is Ethanol Leading To Higher Gasoline Prices?

The inimitable Vodkapundit, Stephen Green linked to a post by Frank Williams at The Truth About Cars which once again makes the point that corn-based ethanol may be not be the ideal substitute for fossil fuel. He cites a letter to the editor of The Greely Tribune (Colorado) by professor emeritus Don Elliott of UNC:

"As your excellent article "Clouds hover in ethanol skies" in Sunday's Tribune points out, ethanol is less expensive per gallon and emits fewer pollutants than gasoline per gallon. This sounds good; however, per mile driven, ethanol actually costs more and is responsible for more greenhouse gases than gasoline.

The SUV referenced in your article gets 14 mpg on gasoline, but only 10 mpg on E85. Thus, it requires 40 percent more E85 than gasoline to drive the same distance.

For example, each 70 miles driven would require 5 gallons of gasoline versus 7 gallons of E85. Using the $2.67 per gallon for gasoline and $2.09 for E85 referenced in your article, the five gallons of gasoline would cost $13.35, whereas the seven gallons of E85 would cost $14.63 (i.e. 9.6 percent more per mile driven).

Since fossil fuels are currently being used in the production of U.S. corn ethanol, the production and use of one gallon of ethanol emits 16.2 pounds of greenhouse gases compared to 20.4 pounds for gasoline, according to the article "Green Dreams" in the October 2007 National Geographic (p.44).

This also sounds good, but for the SUV example above, the five gallons of gasoline would result in 102 pounds of greenhouse gases, whereas the seven gallons of E85 would result in 117.81 pounds of greenhouse gases (i.e. 15.5 percent more per mile driven).

This, along with the other concerns pointed out in your article, makes one wonder if it is a good idea to ramp up the U.S. production of ethanol unless production methods for corn ethanol can be found that significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions or alternate fuel crops such as switchgrass are used to produce most of the ethanol."

This seems to answer a question I raised in an earlier post about whether the lower energy content of ethanol compared to gasoline would mean you'd just end up burning more of it.

As I've also learned, it may require as much as 1.3 gallons of fossil fuel to produce 1 gallon of ethanol. We have been seeing persistently high gas prices lately and oil is hovering around $100 per barrel. We are also seeing higher prices at the grocery store for food as the cost of transporting it has risen and the diversion of corn from the food supply to ethanol production has driven its cost up.

Could the ramp up in ethanol production be what is driving our high fuel prices? For every gallon of gas we are diverting to ethanol production that's a gallon of gas that is not available to satisfy the demand for fuel to put in our tanks, i.e., ethanol production is creating a scarcity of fuel and driving up the price, both at the pump and the wellhead. Ironically, we may be making OPEC even richer, even as we are supposedly trying to become less dependent on foreign oil. Ethanol is a piss-poor substitute for oil if we have to use more of it to produce the ethanol. If we want a good substitute for foreign oil, the best candidate is domestic oil. That means we need to develop ANWR, drill off the coast of Florida and the East and West coasts. The potential for environmental damage is hardly any greater than the actual damage being caused now by corn-based ethanol production.

Update: Added link to Stephen Green's specific post. He just changed his blogging software and I couldn't figure out how to permalink before. It's the actual post title. D'oh!
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How A Fighter Pilot Changed The Way We Fight Wars

A couple of years ago I stumbled across this book while browsing around Borders: Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War. I'd never heard of the man before but he almost single-handedly changed how we design fighters, how we use them and how we train their pilots. His Energy-Maneuverability Theory showed how the fighters we developed in the 50's and 60's were really just about sitting ducks and it is he that was responsible for the development of the hugely successful F-15 and F-16 fighters. He also conceived the theory of the "OODA Loop," short for Observe, Orient, Decide, Act. It is essentially about how you get inside an opponent's decision cycle, assessing a situation and taking action before your opponent can. The OODA Loop theory also has application in business and has led to other innovations such as Crew Resource Management (CRM) in aviation and in fields such as medicine. If you like biographies, and learning about new theories, it's a fascinating read.

Bill Whittle recently picked up on the same book and has done a masterful job (as he always does) of summarizing Boyd's work and then going a few steps further and showing how Boyd's OODA loops have been applied to the war in Iraq and how, after a delayed start, we are slowly but surely wearing down Al Qaeda through superior ability to get inside the enemy decision cycle and use it against them, almost in spite of ourselves due to the political ambitions of a certain political party and its MSM enablers. That is turning out to be the biggest obstacle we face in this war. Part 1 of Bill's essay is here and Part 2 here. I wouldn't try to print them out because the comments are appended to them and that will generate a lot of pages well beyond the actual essay, but do read the essay.
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Friday, January 04, 2008

Time To Stock Up On Winter Woolies?

This Russian scientist thinks so. And yes, I am going to give his opinion a lot more weight than I'm going to give to Al Gore's.
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Still Think Environmentalists Mean Well?

Read this then.
"Environmentalism has become the political lifeboat into which the survivors of the socialist shipwreck have crammed themselves. The need to “manage the climate” became the new foundation on which to base regulatory structures, impositions, and taxes which were formerly justified by the imperative to manage the “commanding heights of the economy.” "

It's all about the desire for power and control.
(via Instapundit)
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