Monday, December 22, 2008

Google Maps: Kayak across the Pacific Ocean

Type in driving directions at Google Maps from Tokyo, Japan to Seattle, Washington, and you get this:


Notice on the left hand side:

25. Kayak across the Pacific Ocean 6,243 km
...
40. Kayak across the Pacific Ocean 4,436 km

Why don't they just suggest kayaking straight across? Maybe so you can get new supplies...? Gotta love the humor out there at Google.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Bush bail-out

Bush just said that he will provide $17.4bn from the $700bn for use for the financial sector. Although this kicks the can down the road, it is an order-of-magnitude smaller than bailouts to the banks and significantly more demanding than them, too.

I'm not a major fan of the stupidity of American car manufacturing of the past years (bigger is not better in my book), but it seems to me that there was a lot of dirty pool taking place behind the scenes about whether there should be support for the US auto industry. The Republican senators whos' votes killed the congressional "bail-out" were primarily from the South, in states that have laws against unionization and have spent lots of money luring foreign car manufacturers to their state. And they used the "free market" argument to justify their votes. Questionable Authority indicates why this position is a false one.

I'm waiting for someone to put together a map of states of senators voting against the plan and the location of national an non-national car manufacturing plants.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Snow in Ann Arbor

Thanks to La Nina weather this year, look out for lots of cold(er) weather and (possibly) more snow than much of last winter. Yesterday, I took some snaps of the nice fluffy white stuff as it fell in moderate amounts (~2 inches) on Ann Arbor. (Since I'm one of those annoying people who likes to take flash-less photos in dim light without a tripod, some of them are slightly blurry. I apologise for the lack of ultimate clarity that is the limitation of the steadiness of my arm and the resolution capability of my Canon A590.) This morning, too, I took some more photos around campus of the white stuff (with very few of the student-type people walking about due to exams).

Here we can see the Michigan Theatre marquee being changed by hand. During the summer it always looks like the suction-cup used to do this doesn't work because of the heat and humidity. Last night it didn't look like it was working because of the cold, ice, and snow. Michigan, eh? Can't really work one way or another.

Still, though, the lit-up marquees of the Michigan and the State theaters do make that end of Liberty Street look quite nice in the falling snow. (Didn't hurt that there weren't any cars on the roads blinding my camera.) All of this happened while I was ensconced in my cubicle at the English Language Institute from 9AM until 7PM. (It was an interesting day there, since the thermostats thought the building was at 90F and so kept turning on the AC, even though the actual temperature was closer to 50F. It eventually got fixed - at about 3PM.) Still, walking in to work: no snow. Walking out of work: SNOW!

I've always liked the old buildings in downtown Ann Arbor, and with the snow falling, I thought that it would be interesting to try and capture two of them that flank an alleyway. The building on the left houses the Acme Supply Company (just like in the cartoons), and the one on the right houses a used collector's book store (the name of which escapes me at the present time).

The Felch Street bridge looking westward (ish). I took one of the photos from a previous post from on top of this bridge. Good views up to it, and good views down from it.
 Walking along the railroad, I saw these tall skeletons of weeds standing in the snow. Looking like botanical stalagmites, I took photos of them. Unfortunately, all of them turned out to be blurry (this is the best of the batch).

I Pharyngulated myself

I'll admit it, I sent PZ an e-mail with a link to my Christmas in Japan blog entry. I thought he would get a kick out of the juxtaposition of the US's "War on Christmas" meme (thanks to FoxNews) against the non-religious pseudo-Western Christmas in Japan. Although he didn't write more than just a few words, he did post the video and a hat-tip link to my blog... and my Sitemeter ticker shot through the roof.
Just so everyone understands this - I got more traffit in one day than I normally do in one month!

However, this entry isn't about that, but about me looking at the commentary that came through on PZ's blog about this video as well as the metacommentary (the comments on the comments). These fell into three broad categories:
  1. "Wow that's a wierd/cool/neat/interesting video!"
  2. "I'm in Japan! This is exactly what it is like here!"
  3. Comments about whether this (or Japan in general) is weird/bigoted/sexist/etc.
    • from a stereotype reference-point
    • against a stereotype reference-point
In the first category, we have comment #33:
The Japanese have a gleeful fascination with American traditions. It was thus even before World War II, and got even more so after. Given the opportunity, they will celebrate life unlike most any other people in the world. We would do well to emulate them.
or #70 (which - like some others - is also a commentary about Japan)
Cute video, but we all might want to think twice before dismissing certain ethnic groups as "weird," even jokingly. It's also probably not very wise to form our opinion of entire cultures based around the creepy porn we downlo... err, that one of our friends saw once.
or #87, which carries some traditional (although slightly back-handed, imho) leaf-turning New Year's sentiments:
Yah know, 63 years ago, we hated these peoples guts, and with good reason. Now we're all singing together. My new year wish is that it doesn't take 63 years until we're singing something equally silly and fun with the people of the middle east - and beyond.
I can only send out this message of hope to the world and try to live it every day.
or #98, which is a straight-up commentary on the video:
More holiday stormtrooper, please.
In the second category, we have commentary #5:
yep, this is what my christmas is like this year. i've already seen a gigantic christmas tree with a full-scale light-up crucifix on top. from the description my japanese friends gave me, japanese christmas is almost exactly like a more extravagant version of valentines day.
on the other hand, new year is generally more significant, and more like the family-orientated western christmas.
or commentary #65 which describes the fleeting quality of Japanese Christmases:
There's two great things about christmas here in Japan: it's pure essence of schlocky commercialism, undiluted by any religious meaning to ruin the fun; and the morning of the 26th there is no trace of the holiday whatsoever.
Really - you walk down Shinsaibashi shopping street on the night of the 25th and there's big, gaudy christmas decorations everywhere, christmas-themed shop windows, christmas music, christmas billboards and commercials. The next morning it's all gone, replaced by the symbols and music (and commercials) of traditional New Year celebration. From bossanova versions of "RUdolf the red-nosed reindeer" to Koto music - it's enough to get cultural whiplash unless you're careful.
Commentary in this category led to some "Pharyngulites" trying to figure out whether they should have a meet-up in Japan, like comment #24. (Oooh, I like it when I act as a social catalyst! Who knew that I might be able to be one for a group of people I never met?)
So, how many Pharungulites are in Japan? I take it [#14] is, so that makes at least two of us. We should organise a meetup.
...
and in response:
I'd be interested. We would need a neutral site to share contact information / organize. Something like meetup.com. I can't imagine there are too many of us but maybe if we reach critical mass we can have semi-regular events. I'm in Tokyo, btw. Nerima to further narrow that down geographically.
Debito is a pretty interesting character and his site is a good general resource for foreigners living in Japan. A somewhat depressing (at times infuriating) site, but highly recommended.
and another:
One more here, but in Sendai.
I will, however, be in Tokyo in Early April and late May, also in Nagoya and Osaka in March.
Of course, it is possible to shoot down to Tokyo almost any weekend - it's not so far.
ljirving[at]gmail.com
If someone is organizing...
There were several other responses, ranging from, "That would be awesome!" to "I would love to, but I can't, because the cost of travel/my income/etc. would not allow me to do so..." However, if some of these people do get together, then a Pharynguloid Christmas-in-Japan party was done, thanks to little ole me!

In the third category, we have commentary from #1:
http://www.ratemyeverything.net/image/1748/2/JAPAN.ashx
^Picture is very relevant to the topic under discussion.
Japan is ... weird.
Not always in a bad way, they have some good food, music, movies, etc... But they're very frequently very weird.
or commentary #2 - an immediate response to the accusation of "wierdness"
Who do you mean by "they", [#1]? People like me?!
which requried a response post in the commentary #4 position:
[#2], if you had a hand in the making of some of the music film television and such that I've watched(and frequently enjoyed) from Japan, then yes, you :P
I'll hasten to add that I don't think that weird is a bad thing, it just means something unusual. People with genius level IQ are weird. People who are over 200 cm tall are weird. And the people who make certain manga? REALLY weird.
See? "Hey, it's weird!" "If that's weird, you are calling me weird! Are you calling me weird?" "Not unless you are weird, but I consider lots of things as weird!"

Some of the responses questioning Japanese weirdness vis-a-vis American weirdness were in Japanese (written by Americans):
私も神戸市に住んでいる。もう15年間が中級の日本語を話せます。
ところで、日本人はおかしいと思っているか。アメリカにウッピ・ゴルドバーグの「ダ・ビュウ」は大ヒットだ!それはおかしいじゃないか?
loose translation -- I also live in Kobe. I have spoken intermediate Japanese [sic] for 15 years. By the way, do you think Japanese are weird? In America, Whoopie Goldberg's "The View" is a big hit! Don't you think that [show's] weird?
There were also comments about whether Japan was a racist country:
More "naive" than "racist" in many cases - foreigners are exotic (and by extension, dangerous (and this is a prejudice not without some justification, their murder rate is two orders of magnitude lower than the US)).
I can't speak for accuracy of the source (it seems fairly recent) but according to this site Japan's murder rate per capita is an order of a magnitude lower than the U.S.
http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/cri_mur_percap-crime-murders-per-capita
I would wager that the low murder rate has nothing to do with Japan's largely homogeneous society but more to do with the lack of firearms.
Th average Japanese person, much like the average American, is not an over racist or card carrying member of the KKK / Japanese ultra-right equivalent. I wouldn't characterize Japanese people as extremely racist, but there is a fair amount of institutionalized racism and xenophobia in Japan.
Don't take my word for it:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/4671687.stm
Japan has a nation has a less than stellar record in this arena.
or:
Japan would be a great place if it weren't for the racism and sexism.
What takes the cake in terms of comment length and depth (and personal agreement) is #108:
Re the comment: "And that the Japanese, who seem to be effortlessly combining bits and pieces of shintoism and buddhism, would add a little western x-mas kitsch to the mix - that too would seem [weird]."
That's exactly the sort of thing I'm talking about. We have people in Japan taking native traditions from Shinto - a pretty mundane and harmless religion, as those things go - and later adopting some traditions of Buddhism, a religion that famously fits very comfortably with other faiths. Then in modern days, residents of Japan see all that nifty stuff about Santa and Xmas trees and presents, and decide to join in on the fun - just the easy secular bits, not the difficult religious stuff. The kind of Xmas that I, an atheist, gleefully enjoy myself.
Sounds simple enough to me. Yet I'm constantly told that this this is "strange" and "weird" and even, according to some, "boggling to the Western mind".
Meanwhile, what about religious traditions in "the West"? Well, let's look at Christmas itself:
The holiest day of Christianity celebrates the birth of a Jew who added new teachings to traditional Jewish ones. The holiday actually originated in pre-Christian pagan winter solstice celebrations, borrowed its date from an ancient Roman sun-worship festival, picked up Germanic and Scandinavian pagan elements like trees, wreaths, and "Yuletide", and is jam-packed with things like Santa and reindeer and presents and blowout sales that have no connection to Christ/God whatsoever. (Trivia: This year, Christmas falls on a day named in English after the Norse god of thunder.)
This "Western" mish-mash is arbitrarily labeled as _not_ weird. Why? The best reason I can come up with: Because it's much more fun to say that the foreigners are doing weird, inscrutable things.
Or take another comment, "Japan is rather conformist and collectivist". Well, nothing wrong with that as a casual opinion, but is it factual? What are the definitions, and how do we measure? Is the rest of the world _not_ conformist and collectivist? How about the amazing groupthink regarding religion in the US, which makes Christian identity a practical requirement for public office? Is that not conformist? If not, why?
And so on. I've been inspired by "rationalist" sites like Pharyngula to blog about "cultural comparison" ( http://www.homejapan.com ). Like faith and superstition, it's a field just packed with irrational thinking: confirmation bias, correlation/causation confusion, received knowledge, and so on.
Granted, these "cultural difference" claims are mostly quite harmless, and pretty trivial compared to the havoc wreaked on the world by religion's sloppy thinking. But as an exercise in critical thinking, if nothing else, I find it interesting to look at "cultural comparison" through a skeptical lens.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Two questions to those evolutionary biologists out there:
  1. Could allergies act as a negative selection pressure?
  2. Could the internet act as a sexual selection pressure?
The first one is a little in-depth, so I will return to it later. The latter came to mind when I read this article from PhysOrg:
Web or sex? Nearly half of women would rather go online
Nearly one out of two women would rather give up sex for two weeks than go without the Internet, according to a survey released Monday.
Far fewer men would choose to go without sex, according to the survey of 2,119 adults carried out by the online research firm Harris Interactive and sponsored by Intel Corp., the world's biggest computer chip maker.
Forty-six percent of the women polled said they would rather go without sex for two weeks than give up access to the Internet for the same period of time, according to the survey, "Internet Reliance in Today's Economy."
Only 30 percent of men said they would rather forgo intimate relations than cyber ones.
Ninety-five percent of those surveyed said it is "very important, important or somewhat important" to be able to access the Internet.
Sixty-five percent of those surveyed rated Internet access above other discretionary spending items such as cable television subscriptions (39 percent), dining out (20 percent), shopping for clothes (18 percent) or a health club membership (10 percent).
Sixty-one percent of the women surveyed said they would rather give up watching television for two weeks than give up access to the Internet for one week.
Harris Interactive and Intel said the survey was conducted November 18-20. They did not provide a margin of error for the results.
Now if this is something that is inherent in human behavior, then it might have a significant impact on human selection pressure - by diminishing it. What do you think? I mean, if 46% of women and 30% of men said they would forgo intimate relations than cyber ones, then that could mean that there could be a maximum of 30% of the population not procreating. And this is of people surveyed in the United States. What if this was rolled out to the rest of the world? I mean, governments could give greater internet access to people as a means of population control! And if the internet and computing continue to advance toward a neural-integrative state, then virtual lives could become even more important and facinating than real lives. That number of 30% and 46% could increase even further!

Furthermore, for those out there who would argue that these people are "merely saying this" and that they would likely continue to create the next generation, think about how that might change if virtual sex were to be incorporated into a neural-integrative computer. It could be made "better" or "more intense" than "real" sex, possibly diminishing people's desire to pursue biological mating, thus population control.

The other point - allergies as a selection pressure - was something that I thought of today. It smacks of eugenics, but bear with me for a bit. If allergies have a genetic component, then it stands to reason that there would be a chance of inheriting them. If someone has an allergy to a food or medication, then they could pass it on to their children, thus maintaining that allergy in the population. In today's world, there are many medications and treatments that can be taken to alleviate the effects of allergies. These allow people to not die if they accidentally ingest or come into contact with the allergen, thus increasing the possibility of passing along their genes. However, these medications will also allow for the prolonging of the genes in the population.

Now comes the eugenics part: if having one allergy makes a person susceptible to developing another one, and if this susceptibility is based on genetics, then we are - because of the presence of allergy medications - we are breeding a population that is increasingly susceptible to allergens. This brings me to the selection pressure thing.

If this is prevalent in society, then there will be more people in the future with severe allergies to foods. This will mean that they are likely to just not eat the foods to which they are allergic - since it is an easier thing than to take medication for eating those foods. In this group of people, the ability to eat that particular food is effectively selected against, but by continuing to live and procreate, that genetic selection will remain in the population. Combined with medications for that allergy and effectively random mating (since there is no heavy social stigma about having allergies), it might be possible for these genetics-based allergies to be established in a population, thus creating a population-based selection pressure.

However, with increased movement of people within a country such as the United States, then it is also possible that these genetic selections might be spread across the country. On the other hand, it is unlikely that they will progress faster in the gene pool than any future advances in gene therapy, so this is likely to be all hypothetical.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Steve 75 tapped as the new Energy Secretary

This is good news for people - like me - who hoped that the Obama presidency would incorporate more science and more environmental awareness into decision-making. One way that the former hope could be accomplished is to appoint really respected scientists into positions that govern things that they know a lot about. One way the latter hope could be accomplished is to appoint someone to positions of power in the administration that are - in some way - pro-environmental*, and one way of doing that is to change the course of the United States energy policy.

Well, we hear today that Steve 75 (formally known as Dr. Steven Chu) has been tapped as the next energy secretary. Fantastico! Needless to say, that ScienceBlogs is all going nuts about this appointment.

(Via Thoughts from Kansas):
Steven Chu of Lawrence Berkeley Labs is reported to be President-elect Obama's nominee for Secretary of Energy.

While much will be made of his Nobel Prize and his aggressive advocacy for science-based solutions to the climate crisis, his nomination is important for another reason.

Chu is Steve 75 on NCSE's Project Steve. Project Steve is a humorous mockery of creationist lists of scientific supporters. The 987 signers of the Project Steve statement are all PhD scientists who support evolution, and all are named Steve (or Stephen, Stephanie, Istvan, etc.) Since Steves represent roughly 1% of the US population, we can extrapolate those 987 signers to roughly 100,000 scientists who support the teaching of evolution, and oppose the teaching of creationism.

As Wikipedia points out: "Both Nobel Prize-winning Steves in science, Steven Chu and Steven Weinberg were among the first 100 Steves." Weinberg was Steve #6.

It is encouraging to see an advocate of strong science education in charge of one of the largest science funding agencies.
Also via Loom (formerly on Scienceblogs):
Barack Obama has picked Steven Chu, director of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory at Berkeley as his Secretary of Energy. This will be interesting–what happens when you put a Nobel-prize winning scientist in charge of a government department? Here’s one prediction: expect a lot of synthetic biology. Practically nobody has heard of synthetic biology today, but that will probably change.
And Questionable Authority:
If the latest set of transition leaks are as accurate as the previous few have been, President-Elect Obama will announce the nomination of Steven Chu for Energy Secretary.
Chu's background is a bit light on the politics side - no DC job, no elected political office - but even if you consider that to be a down side, the rest of his resume more than makes up for the lack. He's a career scientist. He's a world-class physicist, one of the 1997 recipients of the Nobel Prize in Physics, and has been the director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory since 2004.
He understands the scientific process. He knows what it takes to do good science, and how to get in the way of that as little as possible. He's been an effective head of a national laboratory. He's served on international panels on a variety of issues, including climate change. He's an advocate for the use of good science in public policy, and for better science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education. All of those things are good indications that this is a guy who might just be able to rebuild the Department of Energy.
Possibly the best thing about Dr. Chu is this: not only does he understand just how much we know about the relationship between climate, energy efficiency, and the environment, he also understands just how much we don't know. He understands how important it is to close that gap, how little time we have to do it, and just why these issues are so important[.]
And finally from Cris Mooney at The Intersection:
Apparently it's going to be Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory director Steve Chu. I heartily applaud the pick. It's especially noteworthy that Chu has been a big proponent of action on global warming and clean energy.
Chris Mooney also reminds us that Chu was one of many scientists who endorsed the ScienceDebates 2008:



Fantastically wonderful right now. Hopefully his politic-lite background won't be a hindrance to him once he starts his job in Washington...

[*] By pro-environmental, I mean that they understand that fossil fuels are a limited resource, the impacts of which cannot be externalized by the real world - no matter what traditional economic analyses say. That things are linked, and not always linearly in space or time - no matter what single-discipline engineering might indicate. That individual choices on a large scale will have major cumulative results; that small choices matter.

Photos along a [short] part of the Ann Arbor railroad

Walking home the other night, it was very icy on the sidewalks, so I decided to take a walk along the railtracks running north through Ann Arbor. Since no one plows up there (and why would they need to?), the would not be any ice, and the snow would pack through the intersticies of the gravel lining the tracks making for surer footing than when there was no snow. I walked that path, and found that there was interesting things to photograph between the snow and the lighting.

"OdaT" and Sponge-Bob eyes on the Washington Street rail bridge.


 
An icy Huron Street looking east toward Ashley St and Main St.



Sodium lighting on Pabst Blue Heart on the Felch Street rail bridge. Fluorescent lighting for a warehouse parking lot in the background off-sets the headlights of a single car traveling down from Main Street.


Me playing silly-buggers with the camera. (Not photoshopped, btw)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Noah's Ark model via Pharyngula

I saw this in my newsfeed today from Pharyngula:
Oh, boy — get out the model airplane glue and little bottles of paint: you can build a model of Noah's Ark! And it's only $74! (The price of plastic models has sure gone up since I used to buy them with my lawn mowing money).
This injection molded plastic model kit measures over 18 1/2" long and includes 3 separate interior decks with embossed wood texture and many details including ramps and animal cages and corrals. The kit offers several building options. Modelers may display the Ark in cross section to reveal the internal decks or in the full-hull version. Additional building options include: constructing the Ark with or without the deck cabin and a choice to include the "moon pool" (an open center well allowing access to water and waste disposal). This deluxe kit also includes a figure of Noah and 8 pairs of animals!
Cute. Check out these details:
  • Museum-quality replica
  • Highly detailed tooling
  • Accurately scaled to the cubit
 Hmmm... Now, I know that many of the commenters on PZ's blog like to make snarky remarks (and I like to do that too), but his post provided me a good opportunity to actually productively procrastinate on a subject that I was wanting to poke with a stick to see what happened. So I did calculations and posted a response:

If you go to onlineconversion.com (not somewhere to become an Xtian, but a place to do units-conversion), they have "standardized" the cubit into different types. However, using the range of those different cubits, the dimension above become a ship that is roughly:

430-515 ft x 72-86 ft x 43-51 ft 
(Just as a comparison, the [Remember the] Lusitania was 787ft long and 87ft wide, and carried about 3000 people, and we would consider this a small ship by today's cruise ship standards.)

Assuming that the height was 43-51 ft, with three lower levels, with each level requiring 1 foot of wood for stress support, then the height of each deck would be 13-16 ft.

  • The height of a male bull elephant is 9.8-11.5 ft at the shoulder. A snug fit.
  • The height of a male giraffe is 16 to 18 ft, so they would have to duck.
  • A camel is roughly 7 ft tall at the top of the hump, so no problem in terms of height, there.
However, the proportions of the animals on the ark are WAAAY off from what they should be, let alone how the animals are in relation to the height of the compartments in the ark.

(btw, looking up "gopher wood" on the wikipedia takes you to a page saying - basically - that there is no known tree of that type, but that it is likely a cypress.)

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Bush's Favorability Post-9/11/2001 to 10/20/2008

I was wondering for a while what people felt of President Bush now that we are one year into a depression, and seven years into the Afghanistan War and five years into the Iraq War. I found this site, which has data through 10/20/2008.


The two lines show respondants who answered "Very positive" and "Very negative". (The categories of "somewhat positive", "neutral", and "somewhat negative" had much weaker trends, and are therefore omitted here.)

For those of you who might feel that I should have included data prior to 9/11, since there is data, and this seems to be cherry-picking data from only a part of his presidency. However, there are only four data points between January 2001 (his inauguration) and the first data point after 9/11. These don't show much in either group of people. If you were to include all the data from the campaigning, there is a slight positive (R2 = 0.521) correlation among people who were very positive, but a slightly stronger negative correlation (R2 = 0.7371) among people who were very negative. Thinking back, though, one will recall the biggest contentious issue during the first months of his presidency was whether or not it was a good idea to have faith-based non-profit fedral fundings - and Bush's apparent many trips to Crawford. In other words, it wasn't anything like the Presidency that it transformed into on 9/11.

Similarly, the country on 9/11 was not the same as it was on 9/10, and the polls showed that there was a massive support for the president once we started to move into Afghanistan against the Taliban. From there, though, his largest support continued to decline, as did his continued largest "anti-support." True, there was a slight uptick leading up to and just after the invasion of Iraq. However, it is really telling that the latest (10/20/2008) polls show that his "very negative" rating (46%) is almost as high as his "very positive" rating was in 2001 (54%). What a turnaround. I wonder how his numbers look now that the recession is official, and all the last minute attacks against the environment and civil liberties are being brought into the spotlight....

Proposition 8 - The Musical

See more Jack Black videos at Funny or Die

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Ann Street now oneway in front of City Hall

Ann Street - between Division and 5th Ave - has changed into a one-way street. This was a recent change to extend the one-way nature of the street from 5th Ave to Zina Pitcher (in the medical campus). These pictures are from last month, but in deciding to take a (short) break from writing, I decided to post these shots of a non-snowy Ann Arbor with a new oneway section of street.

Portions of Ann Street that are oneway. (Only a few more blocks to add to the scheme!)
  
The first warning sign for motorists. (Gotta like the flags.) I wonder how long this will be up, though.
 I can understand the "No left" sign on the left side of Division, but what's up with that one on the right? Do they really think people are going to make a left-turn from the right lane, across two lanes of traffic?
  
As a cyclist, I like that they extended the bike lane from Main Street, but it ends here. (And it is apparently one-way also.)
I wonder how good people will be in following these instructions while also remaining between the parking lines.


I wonder about the sense of having the bike lane on the right side of the street. I can see someone pealing out of their parknig space (since they are faced the correct direction to begin with), not see a cyclist coming down the street, and plow into that person at full acceleration. Of course, the police station is right there, too, so this type of action might be subliminaly moderated. However, a cyclist might well be hit when an incompetent driver is trying perform a maneuver that he or she has only seen done on a green sign in their rear-view mirror to back into the space.

Monday, December 01, 2008

The fundamentals of our economy are NOT strong.

Makes me wonder if McCain's people even knew how much of a wonderland they were living in during the course of the campaign.

Via the NYTimes:

It’s official: for the last year, the United States economy has been in recession.
The evidence of a downturn has been widespread for months: slower production, stagnant wages and hundreds of thousands of lost jobs. But the nonpartisan National Bureau of Economic Research, charged with making the call for the history books, waited until now to weigh in.
...
The committee noted that the contraction in the labor market began in the first month of 2008 and said that the declines in most major indicators, like personal income, manufacturing activity, retail sales, and industrial production, “met the standard for a recession.”
...
The announcement came as the stock market fell sharply, its first decline in five sessions. The Dow Jones industrial average was off more than 430 points or 4. 9 percent as the last hour of trading begin. The Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index was down 5. 9 percent.
...
Investors may also be playing defense ahead of Friday’s report on the job market, one of the most important monthly indicators of the health of the economy. Analysts expect that employers shed more than 300,000 jobs in November, underscoring the problems facing American workers and businesses.
...
A separate report from the Commerce Department showed that spending on construction projects fell 1.2 percent in October, after staying unchanged in September. Private construction dropped 2 percent with a sharp drop in the residential sector, offering few signs of relief from the housing slump.
Hmmm... How do the fundamentals of the Bush economy look now, Johnny Boy?

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Some Thanksgiving-Weekend photography

The city of Ann Arbor clears out during Thanksgiving (at least it seems that way east of Main Street). While cycling in town to get ready for prelims on Thanksgiving Day, as well as on my to write my prelims yesterday and today (and on my way home), I took some photos of things I just happened to see.
Empty Huron Street looking west

Empty Huron Street looking east

You know the economy is bad when you see this...

New really low signage telling where things are... (It's really low if you are tall and riding a tall bicke. I know I won't hit my head on the sign, but it is just a little too close for comfort.)

Green house on 1st Street has lotsof knick-knacks outside.

 
This used-to-be-red house on Spring Road has even more knick-knacks than the green house above.

Ahh, the University Graduate Library's north stacks. (Very short ceilings and narrow staircases make me glad that I don't have an office down here...) Okay, so I didn't cycle down here, but I did cycle to get to the Hatcher Library...

Funny

I'm writing my prelims right now... but saw this funny via PhD comics.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Day before Thanksgiving

I feel that this image best sums up what Ann Arbor felt like today - as all the students stream out of town for the Thanksgiving extended weekend. I'll be staying in Ann Arbor to write and be alone with a quiet (for now) town.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Eating at Blue Tractor (again)

I just got paid, and to celebrate, Koskie and I went to the Blue Tractor. Having gone there before, I decided that - yes - it would be a good idea to go to try more of the food there. Koskie ordered the smoked chicken & sweet corn chowder ($4.95) and the fried catfish ($11.95). I ordered the creamed wild mushrooms ($12.95) and a side of butternut squash soup ($2.95 as a side).

Koskie felt that the corn chowder (left) was really quite good, and well-worth the free-ness of me buying dinner. (Hahaha.) However, he was not enamored with the coleslaw that came with the catfish (right). Having tasted a little of it myself, I have to agree with his assessment: not enough flavor, and very (perhaps too) crunchy cabbage. The catfish was reported to be flavorful and crunchy without being too greasy or heavy. (The phrase was, "somewhere between what you would get at Real Seafood Co on the good-and-healthy end, and at the ghetto-chicken place on the greasy-and-tasty end.") The sweet potato fries were also reported to be delicious.

The butternut squash soup (not pictured) was good, but not very different from the butternut squash soup that one might get anywhere. Still, as a seasonally delicious addition to a meal, this was a really good thing to get. The creamed wild mushrooms (below) was good, but it seemed to me that the cornmeal waffles were heated up after the fact. Still, the greens, together with the cooked mushrooms and cream sauce was delicious! (I would have eaten the whole thing with biscuits if it were an option!)
 
Again, the food was generally good, and this time I didn't have any beer (but last time, it wasn't anything to write home about...)

Monday, November 24, 2008

Snow on campus

It's beginning to look a lot like winter... But altough it's snowing, I'm still riding my bike (!?!), and it's not that bad right now. Of course, accumulations could make it "fun" to ride home...

Saturday, November 22, 2008

OhMiBod

When looking around for iPod accessories, you should be careful: you never know what you might find.

Amusing "insight" of myself.

I went over to Typealyzer (link from Dispatches from the Culture Wars), entered my blog, and got:
The responsible and hardworking type. They are especially attuned to the details of life and are careful about getting the facts right. Conservative by nature they are often reluctant to take any risks whatsoever.

The Duty Fulfillers are happy to be let alone and to be able to work int heir own pace. They know what they have to do and how to do it.
Methinks, "Not really."

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Europeana suffers from typical shortsightedness

Like the tree of life that was done ~1/2 year ago, the European-launched www.europeana.eu crashed the same day it was launched:

The EU's new Europeana digital library, an online digest of Europe's cultural heritage, was forced to close temporarily on its launch Thursday after it was swamped by Internet users, a spokesman said.
"We had 10 million hits by the hour of interested Internet users across Europe and that led to the fact that at 11:30 am, we had to take temporarily the site down to double the computer capacity," spokesman Martin Selmayr said.
The site, which allows access to more than two million digital objects like films, paintings, photographs, sound recordings, maps, manuscripts, newspapers, documents and books had only been open a short time.
Selmayr said six computer servers, instead of three, were now in action.
"It is now up and running again," he said. "We hope we will be able to survive the next storm of interest."
With 14 staff members and at an annual cost put at around 2.5 million euros (3.15 million dollars), Europeana -- which can be found at http://www.europeana.eu -- currently has around two million digital items online.
By 2010, the date when Europeana is due to be fully operational, the aim is to have 10 million works available.
I wonder how much bandwidth they allotted, and how much is actually needed.... This seems to be something common... Why don't they just over-allocate, and then cut back when they recognize that there is less space required. Hell, if they knew that they were going to have this huge unveiling, why not - say - provide much more bandwidth than expected for everyday running. (Maybe they did, but merely under-estimated the popularity of European culture?) And maybe providing more than 14 staff members to take care of tech-related issues would have been a good idea too...

Anyway, I tried to access it today at 4:40PM Eastern time, and got the following:

Differences in POV

I saw this article come across my newsfeed from PhysOrg: New material could make gases more transportable. Looking through the article, I saw nothing about using this as a preventative against increased methane production in northern latitudes as an outcome of global warming. That was the first thing that I was thinking about.

I was all like, "I wonder if this compound - "a material made out of a mixture of silica and water" - is environmentally problematic." Looking throughout the document, I see nothing about this aspect to the problem. Hmm... With all the discussions about geo-engineering our way out of the "global warming" problem, I'm surprised that these engineers missed this one.

Of course, this could be a problem of thinking within a discipline. It could well be that the engineers on this team didn't think about the potential of capturing methane from melting permafrost areas to help minimize the impacts to the greenhouse effect. It could be that the didn't know that the permafrost was melting. It could also be that they didn't check to see what the environmental impacts of their compound would be, and therefore didn't want to forward its use in this manner as a suggestion...

Remember, though, that methane is roughly 24x more potent of a GHG than CO2. Providing a mechanism for mitigating its release from the high-latitudes would be a good way of minimizing the forcing in the not-so-distant future. (I wonder if there are contact e-mail addresses for the authors.)

UPDATE: Looking over at the Prof.'s lab's website, I see the following:
But there remain many obstacles to making this a viable industrial process. For one thing, the hydrate remains stable only if kept cold. It must be refrigerated to about minus 70°C at atmospheric pressure, although this temperature threshold is higher if the hydrate sits within an environment of pressurized methane. The methane is released again if the material warms up.
So not very useful as a preventative for global warming, then. Still, though, quite interesting.

Cars making love to cars making love to them?

What women want: Cars.

Now that she's won her election...

... she doesn't have to recognize reality, history, or what she said before the election. Strange... she looks young enough to realize that these things are taped and can be reviewed in the future...

October 17, 2008


November 18, 2008

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

IPhones, voice recognition, and British accents

Ahh... the problem of the British accent in voice-recognition has been something I've been wondering about in my spare time, but never did anything to look into (even news stories). However, this one came up via PhysOrg:
A new voice-recognition search tool for the iPhone has problems understanding British accents, leading to some bizarre answers to spoken queries, a newspaper report and users said Wednesday.
The free application, which allows iPhone owners to use the Google search engine with their voice, mistook the word "iPhone" variously for "sex," "Einstein" and "kitchen sink," said the Daily Telegraph.
...
A video demonstration of the Google Mobile App on the online giant's website shows an American engineer successfully asking for pictures of the Golden Gate as well as cinema timetables and temperature conversions.
The website also includes a link to a video showing people with Irish, British and Chinese accents asking for relatively complicated searches, with apparent success.
But British iPhone owners had less luck when speaking the word "iPhone" into the application -- a Scottish user was offered a porn website after it mistook his search for "sex," the Telegraph reported.
A user from Surrey, south of London, had his request mistaken for "myspace" and "Einstein" was another option offered for "iPhone" spoken with a Kent accent, it said.
The only British accent which correctly understood the request was for a user from Yorkshire, northern England, although he was also offered "bonfire."
...
"I've got a traditional Kentish accent and the thing kept on spitting back ridiculous things," said Roger Ellinson, 26, from Maidstone in Kent, southeastern England.
"I asked it to find my nearest pizza take away and it came back with something about volcanoes," he added.
"I asked it to find my nearest pub and it gave me a link to some kind of weird dating website," said Ellinson. "I'll have to try to put on my best American accent to get it to work."
...
One British user, Edward Parsons, says on the site's comments board: "This is fantastic, except for the North American accent bias.
"It actually works pretty well, but I have to disguise my (North London) accent with a terrible folksy Texan tourist voice to get results. I can see this is going to be the source of much amusement and confusion."
This is humorous since I am now imagining British people desperately putting on horrible fake American accents in a vain attempt to use their voice recognition software. It speaks, though, to imposed language and accent norms because of the overwhelming American technology bias (one more way in which the US is a cultural imperial power and likely doesn't even know about it).

Any public health people out there thinking this is a bad idea?

Via PhysOrg:
The computer mouse may someday become an endangered species. Instead of rolling a mouse around to move a cursor around on the screen, more and more users will gesture with their fingers on touch screens and multi-touch trackpads, analysts say.

... 


"The demise will be hastened by the move toward 3D environments, which encourage a more complex range of movements to move around, and by the growth of multimedia applications and manipulation, which encourage a more natural user interface," he said.


Already, Hewlett-Packard makes a TouchSmart personal computer with a touch-screen monitor. Apple's new laptop computers have trackpads that support gestures with two, three or four fingers. And the upcoming Microsoft Windows 7 will also support multi-touch.


...

A glimpse of the future can be found at the Microsoft Technology Center in Manhattan, where visitors can get their hands on a Surface table.


The Surface computer, which debuted for commercial use in July, has a 30-inch screen on which users can tap, drag, spin and zoom in and out with their fingers or an object such as a paint brush.
I personally think that my labmate had it right when he said, "That will be a great way to spread germs." True, if you let a person who is all germ-y touch your keyboard or mouse, you will likely to pick up those germs yourself. No difference from a touch-screen, right? Well, let's think about it. How many times have you been sitting there, and someone is trying to explain something on the screen to you? It's a pain in the butt to move out of the way and let the other person sit in the chair to operate the keyboard and mouse. (And if you are all phobic about germ contamination, you are not likely to let them sit and touch your keyboard and mouse.) However, if the screen is the interface... (Don't you have hands-y labmates or co-workers who come over and actually touch your monitor? Think now how often they will do it when it's touch-screen!)

I'm waiting for the studies to come out on how sanitary people's touch-screens are, how much of disease vector they might become, etc. (These dissertations and theses don't just write themselves, you know!)

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Planet -- Documentary (all 9 parts from YouTube)

DieterVog has - on YouTube - the nine-part Swedish documentary The Planet. I've provided them all below (don't know how long they'll be up on YouTube, though).

Part I:


Part II:


Part III:


Part IV:


Part V:


Part VI:


Part VII:


Part VIII:


Part IX:

If life gives you lemons...

wait for them to rot and use them to extract gold from e-waste!

Via TechOn:

A Japanese university professor developed a technique to selectively recover precious metals from the fluid of melted electric/electronic parts by using adsorbent made from biomass waste.

The new technique can reduce the cost of recovery and environmental load because it can reclaims metals such as gold, silver, platinum and palladium by using, for example, used paper and rotten fruit. The technique was developed by Hidetaka Kawakita, an assistant professor at the Department of Chemistry and Applied Chemistry of the Faculty of Science and Engineering of Saga University.

There are several methods to recover precious metals from waste including solvent extraction process, which uses activated carbon, and other extraction processes that use polymeric resin adsorbent made of ion-exchange resin or chelating resin.

However, the adsorption capacity of these methods is as low as 1-3mol/kg. And, if a metal identification block is designed to selectively extract specific metal, the cost will increase to more than double. Furthermore, solvent extraction processes require a large scale wastewater treatment system because they use organic solvents such as toluene.

In regard to the extraction process based on polymeric resin adsorbent, the absorbed metals and the resin are separated from each other by burning the resin. This leaves tar, coke or other waste material, which requires cumbersome treatment, after the incineration.

In the new method, on the other hand, an adsorbent is made from biomass waste. Specifically, selected constituents are extracted from waste paper containing cellulose or lignin, or waste fruits, such as persimmon or lemon, containing a large amount of polyphenol. Then, those constituents are adjusted by an amination reaction. In this way, the new method can reduce the cost to 1/10-1/2 that of the existing methods.

In an experiment where a fruit-derived absorbent was used for the waste fluid made of electric/electronic parts melted by hydrochloric acid, the recovery rate of gold was 100%. Also, it was observed that a waste paper-derived absorbent selectively recovered platinum, palladium and rhodium depending on the kind of functional group used in the experiment.

The recovery rate of platinum and palladium reportedly exceeded 80%. The absorption capacity of the absorbents range from 3 to 10mol/kg, which is three times higher than that of activated carbon or polymeric resin. And the new method can reduce the environmental load because it does not use any harmful organic solvents.

This research was conducted as part of the Industrial Technology Research Grant Program promoted by Japan's New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO).

Hell's bells, if this were done... then the cost of gold would plummet further! (And the cumulative cost to human health of the current e-waste metals extraction process would be much lessened, thus hopefully costing the world economy less in the long-run than a drop in gold prices.)

Musings on a commentary

Over at Treehugger, a commenter on the CBC documentary The Disappearing Male wrote:
No wonder there are so many females at high schools and universities (especially Ohio State). Not that that's a bad thing, but in order for a population to sustain itself, the sexes need to be in balance as much as possible.
I understand that this might have been a facetious comment, but to the point of "in order for a population to sustain itself, the sexes need to be in balance as much as possible" I have to say, "Ummm.... No." In order for a population to maintain itself, it has to have enough source from the limiting gamete-type. In most cases in nature, it is usually eggs that are limiting. In humans, especially, eggs are the limiting factor (roughly only one egg per woman per month). If there was only one man in a population of multiple women (lets use a ratio of 1:10 here), there is a possibility for continued population (possibility of up to 10 children per ~nine months). However, if the future ratio of males to females doesn't change, inbreeding will likely occur, since all offspring in the first generation will be 1/8 related to each other.

If there is only one female in a condition with multiple males (say 10 males to 1 female), then that population is limited in the number of possible offspring produced to one per woman per ~9 months (assuming no complications) for the entire population. Again, if the ratio of males to females doesn't change, then inbreeding will become a problem in future generations. This rate is up to 10 times slower than in the previous condition (assuming no complications in either).

In order for a population to reach, say, 30 people, in the first scenario, one would only need two additional sets of offspring, while the second would require twenty sets of offspring. The first condition provides additional sets of stability, since birth-spacing would be possible in order to reach that target population (in this case 30 people). However, the second condition would require that the female be constantly making babies, and would unlikely be able to produce enough on her own before reaching menopause. (Therefore, assuming that she only produces girls, and the girls reach sexual maturity at 15, then to reach 30 people would take a minimum of 17 years, with the first daughter having two children, and the second daughter having one child).

Now, societal mores are all that keep us from having a condition where it is "okay" for one man to have several wives. However, imagine - if you will - a condition where there is only one male in a population otherwise comprised entirely of females. One has to ask oneself if - in such a condition - would all females decide that the "normal" social more of one-man and one-woman is adequate, or would some of the population see the male as a source for fertilization? I doubt that the first alternative would be the one followed in the long run if the group feels that their situation is unalterable.

Of course, this doesn't mean that I'm proposing that this whole problem of disappearing males is not a problem. Of course it is, and the social impacts will be much greater than what I outline in my very simplistic thought model above. However, I'm only discounting Ken's statement that a balance of the sexes is what is important to sustain a population. (Again, though, I haven't looked at the implications of a 1:10 ratio with regard to future inbreeding/bottlenecking.)

Has Obama taken away your guns yet?

Since this isn't a major piece of concern for me (I don't own a gun, and personally think that if anyone wants to own a single-shot muzzle loading musket or pistol, that's well within their Constitutional rights), I am just going to have to look in on this site, which is maintained by someone who (I assume) is more interested in the subject than I am.

Friday, November 14, 2008

On David Brooks' "Bailout to Nowhere"

Between the first two sentences of David Brooks' Op-Ed in today's NYTimes, I found a cognitive dissonance:
"Not so long ago, corporate giants with names like PanAm [sic], ITT and Montgomery Ward roamed the earth. They faded and were replaced by new companies with names like Microsoft, Southwest Airlines and Target."
Ummm... It should have read, "... Pan Am, ITT and Montgomery Ward ... Southwest, Microsoft, and Target."

Seriously, who's paying for these people? On another note, though, the point that Brooks makes is a good one, but for a few other points: the supply chain and the international condition of the problem.

First, the supply-chain problem. All the car companies used to own the supply-chain companies that provided the materials for assembly and servicing - this includes all the companies involved in making the parts, distributing the parts, and selling the parts. Since the Big Three (and all other car companies) were set up as independent companies, their supply chains are independent, because their parts requirements are independent (again, as are all other car companies). Letting the Big Three die will mean the destruction of more than just the Big Three (and the jobs of the people they hire), but also the destruction of three major independently owned (and probably quite dissected) supply chains, amounting to (estimated by some) 250,000 jobs - all down the drain because of non-interchangeability of many key components.

Second is the international condition of the problem. Here, I'm talking both about the fiscal problem as well as the automotive problem. Thirty years ago (hell, even fifteen years ago, probably), if the United States' economy started to cave, then the rest of the world could bail it out, since a lot of the flow of capital was between the United States and Western Europe/Japan, with very little flowing to other countries/regions. Since the Carter/Reagan era, though, the world economy has grown to be quite complex, with growth not only being seen in SE Asia, but also China, India, Brazil, and much of the former Eastern Bloc in terms of both gross numbers and relative growth. Additionally, many countries in Africa and South America have grown (if not as much as Brazil in terms of total GDP growth, then definitely significantly in terms of relative GDP) considerably. Many of these countries were not at all affected by the dot-com bust of the early 2000s, and therefore didn't suffer massive downturns in their economies. (Many of these countries rely primarily on an extractive economy, and so long as global manufacturing continues with a need for raw materials, their economies will continue to grow in terms of GDP.) This time, though, they are affected because of how American investment (and many global investment mechanisms) is tied into farm subsidies in this country (and the expanding global market for food) and manufacturing to name just two big ones.

Due to this interconnectivity of US (and major global) investment with agriculture and manufacturing, the 'sourness' of the US (and global) investments are having bitter knock-on effects in areas related to agriculture and manufacturing. (I'm not getting into an argument about why investments went sour here, just the consequences of it.) The US farm bill is - to some extent - a give-away to the ethanol producers, and the production of ethanol for fuel means that there is out-investment in agriculture-for-food. Due to the international market for food (and price speculation in those markets), this is having major macro and micro-economic impacts in poorer countries where food prices are skyrocketing. This means less local investment in other areas as people spend ever-greater proportions of their incomes on food.

Next is manufacturing. With a downturn in the "global" economy viz manufacturing, there is less need for raw materials. Deflation is something that people are starting to talk about, and while deflation is a great thing for the consumer in the world of "right now" (because prices are falling on manufactured goods), the implication of that is - barring the ability to introduce a demanded product that will be inflationary in nature - people will not buy now if they know that the same product will cost less in real dollars later. (Note, this isn't the same thing as last year's top-of-the-line computer costing less today.) The compounding (future) problem of a deflationary market is that products don't move off shelves, meaning that manufactured goods lose their value, meaning that the investment used to purchase, build, and ship those products will fall through (i.e., they won't be able to make a payment on that), meaning that the manufacturing company (and the shippers and sellers) all lose profits.

So, in the international front, you have two major forces at work: a major increase in the price for food in poor countries, and a major decline in the cost of manufactured goods in developed countries (the cost of delivery of manufactured goods to developing countries - combined with usually high tariffs and delayed shipping times - means that prices of manufactured goods are not likely to drop for a while here). The former means that people have less money to buy other goods, decreasing that country's import market. The latter means that companies have no money to pay off loans and other debts, decreasing that country's export market (and - if left unchecked - their import market, too).

What does this have to do with bailing out the big three? Well, remember that it isn't a 'bail out' in the sense of me giving you money to pay off your debts before you scarper off to somewhere else before you ever pay me back. To quote my father in a recent e-mail,

"First, what interest rate would be charged on the $700 billion borrowed to fund the bailout.  That interest expense and not the $700 billion would be added to the national deficit.   And second, if the bailout funds were spent to purchase assets (whether bad loans or shares of stock in banks) that were at least equal to the value of the amount paid, then that purchase would not produce an expense and in that case the deficit would not go up."

The first condition is true: the US government isn't printing out money to possibly "give" to the big three. The second condition has recently seem to become true, with the US government using the money to purchase assets in banks, and - so long as on average the asset isn't worthless - then the government deficit isn't going to increase dramatically. (Remember, if the government does the second option, these are not 'bailouts' so much as 'buy-ins', and - apart from making Sec. Paulson (and by extension the President) the largest socialists in American history - it would have the potential of decreasing the amount of the national debt from the other extreme possibility of just going out and handing out money). If the second condition is extended to the big three, then the government might not have much of a deficit, either.

What does this have to do with interconnectivity? Well, the problem is that instead of the government 'bailing out' the big three, the government has the possibility to avert roughly 250,000 job losses in directly related industries (and possibly many more in industries related to serving those workers and companies), as well as investing (not throwing money at the problem) in the future of the country's manufacturing - and thus have the opportunity of making a return-on-investment, thus loweing the national debt... That's one of them. However, another major point is that not investing in the big three (but instead doing what was done during Reagan/Bush) means that there is no government oversight to a national investment.

But these are only the national immediate concerns. A major international concern is that without the big three, we lose our standing in the world. Ford and GM are major international car manufacturers. They play a major part in the markets in Europe, Australia, Japan, and China. They are competitive there, but each have an Acchiles heel grounded in Detroit. Allowing their deaths will mean that the US will lose its manufacturing capability in the world economy. Now, although socialists and communists get hard/wet when thinking about the importance of manufacturing, let me point out that - unless there is no tariff cost - it is really good to have a strong national manufacturing sector. It means that the country is able to have legal oversight over safety and minimum standards. It means that the country is able to rely on a steady production system during a period of national military crisis.

Getting back to Brooks. He does pose a good questions when he asks whether or not the $50 billion (or more) should be spent on the autos or on the workers who are going to get the shaft in the end anyway. He makes comparisons to the airlines and steel. However, I think these are false arguments. The airlines are primarily a service industry, and steel production is not manufacturing. I'm all for getting rid of the stupidity of the big three, but I don't think that the answer is to let them fail, since I think the government would have to spend more than $50 billion to take care of the workers of parts-suppliers, parts-manufacturers, shippers, sellers, etc. that would also become unemployed. (Because I don't think that they would be "incorporated" into German, Japanese, or Korean auto manufacturing lines so easily.)

Is it a good Op-Ed? I think it's one of the better ones. Without knowing how the government plans on possibly helping out the big three (investment vs. throwing money at them), I would say that it is not well-conceived on the economic front. However, the argument that they are dinosaurs trying to compete in a modern world was what I said ever since I saw the first Suburban on a trip back to the US. (If you ever travel again to Europe or go to Japan, Korea, India, etc. try and imagine how that - or any other 'mid-sized SUV' - would be a conceivable option there.) That argument is one that I keep on shouting out when I hear that the Libery Foundation is saying that there shouldn't be government investment in rail because it's a losing proposition, while roads are better (forgetting, of course, that road/bridge construction are both 100% subsidized by the government in most places). That argument is one that goes through my mind when I see people proudly (?) display bumperstickers saying, "This car was made in the USA" - like supporting the big three's non-innovation is a good thing.

Now, I think that Daniel Gross at Slate has it closer to what I think (and he's a lot more succint, too).