Starting today, this blog is moving to http://dilbert.com/blog/.
There you will be able to vote on comments, and the best ones will float to the top.
My jaw dropped when I heard that presidential candidate Clinton dismissed the unified opinion of every economist on the planet and supported the gas tax rebate. The rebate is John McCain’s proposal. I think that proves both of them are unqualified to be president. Obama isn’t much better when it comes to sorting out economic policy from pandering, although he did avoid that particular landmine.
So I decided to start my own political party. I call it the Economics Party. There’s no paperwork involved, and you don’t even have to stop being a Democrat or Republican or whatever to join. The Economics Party won’t have its own candidates. All we’ll do is agree to vote for the candidate with the best long term economic policy, according to the consensus of leading economists.
The Economics Party would ignore superstition in its decisions. Here are a few things I think would end up on the platform, assuming most leading economists agree:
- Withdraw from Iraq
- More aggressive energy policy (back off on ethanol)
- More sane tax policies
- Limited government
- Legalize doctor assisted suicide
- Keep abortion legal
- Decriminalize marijuana
- Strong education policy
We’d make some exceptions for humanitarian reasons. For example, if a natural disaster hits a poor part of the country, it might be cheaper to let everyone die, but you have to put life ahead of money at some point.
The platform might look Libertarian, but it has differences. For example, a Libertarian might be opposed to the government making people wear motorcycle helmets. The Economics Party would just look at the likely higher cost of insurance in a helmet-free world and decide on that basis. I don’t know which way it would come out.
The Economics Party would be committed to changing its policy recommendation whenever the facts warranted. We’re pro flip-flop when it makes sense. In other words, our brains function properly.
If thirty or forty million people join the Economics Party, all major candidates would have to start paying attention to the consensus of economists. At the very least, voters would become more aware of what the leading economists think makes sense. That seems like a good thing.
Are you in?
I ran into a friend the other day who is a home builder. He had been planning to build several homes that would be extra-green, both because he wants to help the environment, and because he figured buyers would want that. After much research he abandoned the extra-green approach because he was assured by people in the know that no one would pay extra for an extra-green home. Buyers look at the location, square footage, kitchens, and all the usual stuff. No one even asks about the energy efficiency or indoor air quality.
The next time you go to buy an existing home, ask the real estate agent about the energy costs over the prior year. The agent will look at you like you have a giant turd on your head. I know because I asked that question the last time I was looking at houses. The agent can rattle off the homeowner association fees, tell you the school district, and an impressive array of other details, but never the energy costs.
Suppose you want to build your own energy efficient home. I’m trying to do that right now. So I look on the Internet to get the best information I can get on green building techniques. My federal government has a website filled with what seems to be useful tips. But on closer inspection it is just a laundry list of options with no quantitative comparison of the costs or benefits.
All I learn about insulation from the site is that higher R-values are better, except when they are unnecessary. Other sites appear to be funded by manufacturers, so I don’t trust them.
I met with an engineer whose job is to calculate whether your new California house will meet the minimum energy efficiency standards required by the state. I asked about our choice of insulation. I wondered how much I should spend on cranking up the R-values. He told me the walls weren’t nearly as important as the windows, because windows are the weakest link. Okay, fine, so how do I get the best windows?
That’s not so easy. It looks as if the big name window manufacturers carry only windows of average to good energy efficiency while the super efficient windows are made by someone named Karl in his woodshed. And my builder doesn’t know Karl.
Your home isn’t green because you can’t get there from here. I blame the government. It shouldn’t be so hard to make energy efficiency information available in a useful form so buyers and builders can make informed choices.
[A reader provided this link, that looks pretty cool if it works: http://www.enertia.com/]
Yesterday I was updating my retirement plan through age 110 and wondered if it was long enough. It seems to me that medical science is progressing so quickly I have a good shot at reaching 140.
This got me thinking. What will happen when medical science can keep almost anyone alive indefinitely, albeit looking like a peach that has been left in the sun for a month? Isn’t it inevitable that assisted suicide will be legal?
There’s no way the global economic system can keep several billion people alive over the age of 100. And if we assume most of those people can vote, and most of them will want at least the option of checking out early, then legalized assisted suicide is a near certainty.
The people over a hundred will want it, and the young people who wish the old people were dead so it would free up resources will want it too. There’s your majority right there.
In the short term, assisted suicide only needs to be legal in one country that has a good airport. Just fly in, let the doctor kill you, and go home in an urn.
Is it inevitable?
Regarding my previous post, how much water would a typical home have to pump into its own virtual dam in order to provide energy during a typical night while the water flows back out and through a generator?
Are we talking swimming pool size?
How big a container would you need to store the compressed air for the same purpose? Refrigerator size? Garage size?
I have the smartest readers in the world. Someone can probably answer that question on the back of an envelope.
In yesterday’s post I mentioned two Israeli companies that allegedly made big breakthroughs with solar power. Many of you noted that solar power is limited if you can’t store the energy in a cost-effective way for night use.
I did some Googling to see what’s new in battery storage, and this potential breakthrough popped up. Obviously it must be viewed skeptically until proven viable.
But I got to thinking that there must be a more natural way to store energy, using gravity. It might not surprise you to learn that I found exactly this sort of idea, appropriately, in the halfbakery.com web site:
I know, I know, you will point out that even if such systems of energy storage existed, they would be inefficient. It takes more energy to move a rock up a hill than you can capture from the return.
But how inefficient can your storage device be and still be viable? There is some theoretical amount of cheap energy production that compensates for almost any degree of inefficient storage. So if, for example, solar panels became 1,000 times more efficient and cost you next to nothing, it might not matter if your storage device could only capture half of what you generated. You’d still have plenty to get you through the night and charge your electric car too. I think it’s entirely plausible that we’ll have home battery systems, whether gravity based or not, that make oil obsolete except for specialty situations such as jets and maybe big trucks.
Some of you noted that oil has so much energy for its weight that solar power can never be expected to replace it for cars. But that too is more of a function of battery storage. Perhaps the nanowire battery or something like it will solve that. I think it will happen. And I think Israeli companies will be in the forefront, for national defense reasons, while the United States argues about flag lapel pins.
Yesterday I had one of those oh-my-God moments, the kind where I thought I could see the future. It started by reading some articles about the lack of a serious energy policy in the United States. The problem is that our politicians believe, probably correctly, that they can’t get elected if they propose an energy policy that could work.
Then I stumbled across an article about two Israeli companies that have allegedly made huge breakthroughs in solar power. As with all of these breakthrough stories, you have to assume they are more hype than substance, but take a look:
The oh-my-God moment came when I realized that Israel can destroy all of its local enemies by inventing solar technology that makes oil uneconomical. Such an invention would do more harm than any military attack. And it’s all legal and moral. The politicians and business people in Israel have all the right incentives times a thousand. Their very survival is at risk. Israel is one patent away from crushing every oil producing country in the world.
So that’s my prediction. Whether these latest announcements are real or hype, I think Israel will eventually create the technology to make oil irrelevant to energy production.
Let’s stipulate for this conversation that everything the experts say about evolution is true. Creatures that are the most successful at reproducing pass their traits to the next generation, and so on.
But I have another hypothesis that I think is testable. What if there is another influence that also contributes?
I wonder if a creature’s aspirations can somehow have an impact on what her genes pass to the next generation. We know that thoughts are associated with feelings, and feelings are associated with body chemistry. It’s not impossible that wanting something in your lifetime can make it more likely the child achieves it.
Recently I read that certain environmental conditions can increase the odds that women will give birth to boys. So we know that external conditions can influence body chemistry which in turn can influence the genetic makeup of the kid.
So I wonder about the giraffe with its long neck, to pick an easy example. The classic explanation is that giraffes with longer necks could reach leaves higher in trees, and had a survival advantage when food was scarce. That seems reasonable enough. But I wonder if the giraffes that strained and wished they had longer necks experienced some sort of stress, and giraffe-style wishfulness, that released any chemicals that could influence the odds of producing a long-necked child. In other words, do creatures guide their own evolutionary path through their desires?
It seems hugely unlikely that such a complicated and specific system could exist in a creature. But everything about creatures with brains is ridiculously complicated and specific and unlikely. It seems to me entirely plausible that creatures with brains evolved a heretofore undiscovered ability to translate their aspirations in this life to physical traits in their children.
You could test this in female rats. One group is the control, and the other is kept frustratingly a half inch from some delicious cheese. Both rats are fed enough to guarantee equal survival, so the normal mechanism for evolution is turned off. Would the rat who aspired to have a longer snout to reach the cheese produce, on average, longer snouted offspring?
Someone probably tested that already in fruit flies or something.
[Update: Lamark didn't deal with a person's aspirations. He was all about the traits you acquire during life, whether you wanted them or not. -- Scott]
Last night I saw some pundits on the news discussing the results of a poll. When Americans were asked if they would vote for an African-American for president, more than 9 out of 10 people said yes. But when asked if they knew anyone who would not vote for an African-American, about half said they know such a person.
One inference you might make from these results, and the one drawn by the pundits on the show, is that people are secretly racists. They tell pollsters they are not bigots, but once inside the voting booth they are.
The other inference is something I call math. If there are ten friends, and only one is a racist, then it is true that 90 percent are not racists while everyone knows someone who is. It’s that one guy.
Here’s the way I think the election is going to go down. Obama will get nominated, and polls will start to show he will get 95% of the African-American vote. This will frighten all the racists who hadn’t planned to vote, and get them to the polling places, thus handing the election to John McCain, even if he is only being kept alive by machines at that point.
Here’s a little unscientific survey question of my own:
1. Do you personally know anyone who thinks Obama is a Muslim?
2. Do you personally know anyone who suspects Obama might secretly hate America and is running for President to destroy it from within?
I know registered voters in both of those categories. That's why your next president will be named McCain. That's just a prediction, not a preference.
Yesterday I went to a Giants baseball game. It was Little League Day, so there were about ten thousand young boys running wild in the stands. It was also free bat day, courtesy Bank of America.
I will pause while you digest this concept.
Do you know what happens when you hand an 8-year old boy a new bat, sit him behind the exposed heads of several adults, and ask him to sit patiently for four hours while nothing much happens on the big field in front of him? Do you think he fiddles with that bat?
Apparently Bank of America figured there was some theoretical amount of head injuries that would make the public forget that they lent a trillion of your dollars to hobos.
My memory of the afternoon goes something like this: “TREVOR, PUT DOWN THAT BAT! YOU ALREADY HIT THAT LADY ONCE! I SAID, PUT IT DOWN! I MEAN IT! I WILL NOT TELL YOU FOUR HUNDRED MORE TIMES!” This was followed by the sound of wood making solid contact with skull, cursing, repeat.
My wife took a solid blow to the shoulder. Later, one of the tykes kicked some guy’s beer out of the back seat holder, so we sat in a puddle of beer, while the sun cooked us. I was one pinch of salt from being a recipe.
I tried to use the restroom at the stadium. This is no place for the shy. Unlike most public men’s rooms, where there might be a small privacy shield between urinals, this place was designed to handle high volume, shoulder-to-shoulder peeing. I saw an opening where I could poke my penis between a bearded guy and a guy with a fanny pack, just over the left ear of a Little Leaguer, but before I could make my move, someone filled the slot. I decided I could wait another three or four hours.
Conditions were difficult, but at least the game was exciting well into the first half of the first inning when the Reds scored six runs and put it out of reach. Technically, there was still hope, since many of the Giants have batting averages that round to one hundred, and some are able to catch a fly ball nearly half the time. But yesterday was not their day. There were many boos from the stands. I felt bad for the players until I realized they couldn’t hear the boos over the screams of the bat victims.
I wish someone would invent a device that allowed you to watch sporting events from your home. I think that would be popular.