Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Blow-Dry vs. Paper Towels

I've long wondered whether electric hand dryers in public restrooms were really more environmentally friendly than paper towels. The dryers often have some text on them about how they're better for the environment because they save trees, which seems like a throwback to 1970s thinking, disregarding the facts that trees are a renewable resource and that the wattage to run a dryer is pretty high. Slate took a look at the issue and it turns out that if you look at the broader life cycle of both methods of drying your hands, the electric hand-dryers actually do come out on top. The problem with the paper towels turns out to be less of a matter of killing trees and more of a matter of all the energy it takes to cut the trees down, process, and transport them. Electricity may emit a lot of pollution when it's created, but it's pretty easy to transport. Furthermore, the paper towels aren't as clean and require more maintenance. And in California, where less of our energy comes from burning coal, the advantage to the dryers is even greater.

The downside, of course, is that the electric hand dryers never work as well as they should, almost always resulting in a slovenly wipe of the hands on one's pants. I can tell you from personal experience (at LAX) that the new-fangled Dyson Airblade hand-dryers work a lot better, and can be 80% more efficient than a regular one, too. Go Dyson!

Monday, June 16, 2008

John McCain on Cap and Trade

He doesn't know what he's talking about:
MCCAIN: Sure. I believe in the cap-and-trade system, as you know. I would not at this time make those -- impose a mandatory cap at this time. But I do believe that we have to establish targets for reductions of greenhouse gas emissions over time, and I think those can be met.
Matthew Yglesias elaborates:
Maybe he should explain to people the real difference between his plan and Barack Obama's, namely that under Obama's plan you need to pay the government for carbon permits whereas under McCain's plan polluters get free permits that they can then sell. Either way, energy's going to get more expensive and some hardship will exist, but under Obama's plan revenue will be generated that can be used to ease the pain. But of course to explain his plan to people McCain would need to get someone to explain it to him first.
McCain's confused explanation of his position is like that of a high school student who hasn't done the reading being called upon in class. God help us if we get stuck with yet another President who can't be bothered to understand what his own plans for the country are.

It's kinda weird. In the popular culture the knock against McCain is that he's old. I guess I'd prefer somebody more robust, but his age isn't really a big problem for me per se. The bigger problem is that, like George W. Bush, he takes stances and pursues policies that sound good to him without really considering anything logically. (Also like Bush, he wants war, war, and more war.) The problem with trying to win the election is that a lot of voters don't really think things through logically, either. A candidate tells them something that feels good, and they then they vote for him. This applies to both sides, of course; Obama's success has largely been because he's been able to communicate with people so well. But it means that explaining to voters that the problem with McCain is that he thinks like most of the electorate isn't really a winning strategy. So, maybe the effective attacks really are the ad hominem attacks on the candidate's age. It worked against Bob Dole.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

More Links

If you look at the column on the right, you can see that I've added a couple of links to reference sites and a new section on election polling sites.

Sometimes, sophomoric humor is good

For example, this pie chart:

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Now It Can Be Told

The L.A. Downtown News has an article all about the booming sign- twirling industry. There's a sign-spinning agency based out of San Diego that puts twirlers through a "boot camp" and actually has patented sign-spinning tricks. 19-year-old Stan Aopert (that's him in the photo) makes $17 an hour and says:
I've really learned to connect with my audience... When you're on the corner you're performing, you're supposed to be giving it your all. It's a performance, a competitive sport and a job.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

More VP Speculation

I really don't know much about these guys, but if you're interested, this is a roundup of various retired military leaders Obama is said to be considering for the Veep position. The article says he's looking at current elected officials, retired elected officials, and retired military commanders. While there would certainly be some downsides to a politically untested military VP, having somebody with military authority criticize McCain's "Four More Wars" foreign policy could carry a lot more weight with the American public than the same criticism coming from a politician portrayed as an "elitist" by the popular media.

Sunday, June 08, 2008


If you've been wondering "How would it look if somebody meticulously programmed the Rock-afire Explosion audio-animatronic band from Showbiz Pizza Co. to perform in synch with the T-Pain remix of 'Pop, Lock, and Drop It,'" well, look no further, because programmer Chris Thrash has done just that:

Follow the link and look at the column on the right for more titles available.

UPDATE: He seems to have removed his videos from YouTube and I can't seem to find any other examples of them. If anybody else can track them down, please let me know.

UPDATE (11/15/08): It looks like they're back online here.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

More politics

1. My Fellow Americans is a blog with the adventures of two British journalists following the American primary campaign trail (both Democratic and Republican), with a lot of talking to voters along the way, and illustrated with some very evocative sketches. They've also already rushed their impressions into publication as a book.January 18:
As we’d discovered in the historic cities of Philadelphia and Boston, there are some very high ideals, lofty speeches, and great men who have set the tone for leadership in the United States. (Whereas in the UK we sort of drift airily along without ever sitting down at a big table to formally codify our liberty.)
February 1:
The last two nights have seen us dashing headfirst into our motels to watch CNN’s respective Democratic and Republican debates; out of obligation, rather than enthusiasm, it must be said. These TV debates are like a political version of dressage, the equestrian sport where the horse just rides cautiously around an empty paddock: they are reductive, stultifyingly banal versions of the real thing, but they are also painfully nerve-wracking at the same time, because you know one tiny slip-up could ruin a competitor’s whole campaign.
January 26:
2. Justin M. Sizemore on Crystal Ball '08 has as good of a summarized analysis of how Barack Obama secured the Democratic nomination as I've yet seen. The upside of this is that Obama's team understands strategy and they've been able to harness a lot of organizational grassroots power. The downside is that there are no caucuses in November for Obama to take advantage of.

3. The same website also has an essay from each side (from a month ago) recommending a Vice Presidential choice for the two remaining candidates. Democrat Gerald M. Pomper recommends Virginia Senator Jim Webb for Obama, and Republican Kathryn Jean Lopez recommends former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney for McCain.

In the early days of the Republican primaries, I had been hoping they would nominate Mitt Romney for President, both because I thought he was a stiff, pompous Republican analogue to John Kerry, but also because I thought that in the event that he did manage to win I thought he'd be less odious than the other Republicans. There's a lot with which I disagree with Romney, but if nothing else his record shows him to actually be a good businessman (unlike Bush) and an excellent manager (witness his turnaround of the Salt Lake City Olympics). A technocrat like Romney would be a lot less scary than a seat-of-his-pants warmonger like McCain.

So what would it mean for the Republicans if Romney were selected as VP? A bigger question is whether the VP choice matters at all. Looking back at recent elections, by and large, the running mate either didn't carry his home state (Edwards-NC, Kemp-NY), or he came from a state where his party winning was a foregone conclusion (Cheney-WY, Lieberman-CT). And a doofus like Dan Quayle didn't sink George Bush the Elder, at least not in 1988. The last time that you could really point to a running mate making a big difference in securing a win was 1960, when LBJ helped Harvard man JFK win most of the Deep South. I think you could also make the case that Dick Cheney helped George Bush the Less win, not in any specific states, but just generally, as Cheney was seen (not by me, but by some voters) as the "smart" guy behind the "charismatic" Bush.

So, yeah, maybe the Veep choice doesn't really matter... except when it does. It's the first real decision the country gets to see its potential next president take. The basic idea is generally to pick somebody that shores up support in an area where the candidate is weak, but there's also the thought that by doing so, you're admitting weakness, or that if you pick somebody too different from you, it sends conflicting messages. That'd be the problem with McCain selecting Huckabee, for example: he's just too different.

So, back to Romney. Like Lopez says, selecting him would be a signal that somebody with a better grasp of economics would be on the ticket, and while he's only ten years younger than McCain, he looks a lot more robust. I don't know how much of a difference his economics really would make with the electorate; for every Republican wary of McCain for his so-called "maverick" stances, there's probably another who doesn't trust Romney's perceived opportunism and flip-flopping. Despite that, Republicans have a way falling in line behind the candidate once he's been selected, anyway. Plus there's the unknown factor of how wary some people might be of the LDS church (especially with the FLDS polygamy problem making news), though you've got to think they're more than outweighed by the people wary of Obama's church or who think he's a secret Muslim.

I actually think Romney could strategically be a big plus for the Republicans. He's not going to win them Massachusetts, but, as Lopez says, he has something of a favorite-son status in big swing-state Michigan. But beyond that, I think the Mormon factor could cut into Obama's Western strategy. Utah is going Republican no matter what, but part of Obama's strategy is his appeal in potential "purple states" like Nevada and Colorado. These states have significant LDS minorities who might seem small in numbers, but have strong organizational power and who helped Romney win Republican primaries around the West. You'd have Obama's grassroots vs. Romney's grassroots. If Obama were to pick Montana governor Brian Schweitzer, the West could become one of the more interesting battlegrounds of the general election.


Esquire magazine has an annoying tendency to tell you that a real man has to spend $5000 on an outfit, but they also have plenty of good advice. This quick list of 75 Skills Every Man Should Master seems like a pretty good rundown of useful things to know. Tip o' the hat to Paul Clark for the reference.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Political quickies

1. Here's an interesting look at the "greatness" of our past Presidents vs. their level of experience. In short, there is no signficant correlation between experience and greatness, the canonical example being Abraham Lincoln vs. James Buchanan.

MORE: One commenter summarizes thusly:
I would argue that Presidents succeed or fail based on external circumstances and strength of character. Experience as a predictor of success is helpful primarily as a guide to character.
2. I've been on the "Brian Schweitzer for VP" bandwagon for quite some time now. Blogger makes a pretty strong case for Schweitzer.

ALSO: More VP analysis here and here.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

TV Alert

German director Werner Herzog will be on Late Night with Conan O'Brien tonight. That is all.

The evening's first guest was Adam Sandler. If only the two of them had been collaborating on an American remake of The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser.

Sunday, June 01, 2008


There are always arguments to be made about who deserves to get into the Baseball Hall of Fame, but in honor of Manny Ramirez's 500th home run, has a poll in which you get to vote on who will get into the Hall of Fame. Or, more accurately, you get to gauge the chances of 25 major-leaguers over the age of 35 of getting into the Hall on a 4-point Likert scale, from "First-ballot lock" to "Nice career but no chance."

I voted and compared my choices to the other voters' choices, and was happy to see that my choice was either the first- or second-most popular choice for each player listed, and when my choice was not the most popular, I was never more than one degree away from the leading choice. The meaning of this, is not that I think I'm some kind of baseball guru, but that the amount of consensus that develops around the abilities of baseball players is fairly strong.

Compare with, for example, movies. Sure, every damn poll since the beginning of time lists Citizen Kane as the best movie ever, but beyond that there are plenty of movies deeply loved by some people and loathed by others. Gone with the Wind has been a perennial popular favorite, but among hard-core cineastes, it's something of an afterthought. But that's art, which is totally subjective, while baseball can be quantified.

That's not to say there are no arguments in baseball, of course! Far from it; beyond the comparisons between individual players, there's the old small ball vs. long ball argument, the current debate between traditionalists and Moneyball devotees, etc. But while people might argue the relative merits of, say, a slugger like Man-Ram vs. a slap hitter like Ichiro, nobody's going to look at one of them and say, "Ehh, he's a lousy player; I wouldn't want him on my team... the real best outfielder of this decade is Scott Hairston."

Even at the high end, as seen in this poll, baseball fans can see a clear distinction between the value of, say, Billy Wagner's career and Mariano Rivera's. Or even between Rivera, seen as a lock*, and Trevor Hoffman, who's expected to eventually get a plaque in Cooperstown but not necessarily on the first ballot, despite being the career saves leader.

Moreover, take a look at the distribution of the results. No player has votes that would chart with more than one peak. In other words, you either have a peak at one end of the scale that tails off monotonically from there, or a peak in either of the two middle positions that tails off monotonically in either direction. Nobody has a binomial distribution, with a lot of people thinking he'll definitely get in and a lot of people thinking otherwise, but few in the middle. I suppose you might see that if you included currently-out-of-work guys like Roger Clemens who are under a cloud of suspicion. But that's related to off-the-field activities, like Pete Rose.

*Considered a lock by the poll respondents, that is. I considered him likely to eventually get in, but not a first-ballot lock. Not because he doesn't deserve it, but because the HOF voters have, to date, had a big blind spot for relievers. Goose fricking Gossage had to wait for his ninth year of eligibility to be voted in. I wouldn't really be surprised if by the time Rivera is eligible the voters would have come around on relievers, but I also wouldn't be surprised if it took him a few years.


Apropos to those new photos of an unconcacted tribe of hunter- gatherers in the Amazon (who, judging from the photos, would prefer to remain unconcacted), here's an interesting article in The Economist from last December discussing some of the implications of the switch from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to an agricultural one.