2/28/2008

Exchange Student In Hell

Hosting a foreign exchange student can be an enlightening experience, for both the host family and the exchange student. However, that's not always the case, as one young man from Maine found out when he went to Egypt as an exchange student.

When he left his home in Maine in September he weighed 155 pounds. On his return from Egypt four months later he weighed only 97 pounds as was in danger of dying.

[Jonathan} McCullum says he was denied sufficient food while staying with a family of Coptic Christians, who fast for more than 200 days a year, a regimen unmatched by other Christians.

Friends and teachers at his English-speaking school in Egypt urged him to change his host family, but he stayed put after being told the other home was in a dangerous neighborhood of Alexandria.

McCullum said his host family gave him only meager amounts of food, and his condition worsened during the last seven weeks, when the family observed a fast limiting the amount of animal protein he was given.

He said he never got breakfast and his first food of the day usually was a small piece of bread with cucumbers and cheese that he would take to school for lunch. There was a late-afternoon dinner consisting of beans, vegetables and sometimes fish, and a snack of bread later in the evening.

So his host family puts him on a starvation diet, forcing him at one point to steal food in order to survive.

I don't know about you but think that's one bit of cultural exchange our kids could do without.

2/27/2008

Interesting Energy News

It seems I'm on a technology kick this week, particularly when it comes to energy. Why I'm at it, I'll make this one a twofer.

First, a company called Nanoptek says they have developed a method that uses sunlight and water to generate hydrogen.

The Maynard, Mass.-based company...has come up with a low-cost, durable titania electrode that can split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen.

Sunlight hits the electrode, and the electrode splits the light into a positive charge (called a hole) and an electron. Before the two charges can rejoin, the electron gets captured by the electrode and then is exploited to split water. Silicon solar cells operate on the same principle.

Other companies have tried to use titania electrodes for this job in the past, but they broke down relatively rapidly, according to Nanoptek. The company's electrodes work better because, ironically, they are more brittle. The crystal lattice in the electrode is stressed, i.e. additional materials are added. (Semiconductor makers similarly stress their chips with germanium to create strained silicon, which improves performance.)

This could change the equation when it comes to creating a hydrogen economy, creating a cheap and easy way to generate hydrogen that could be used to run fuel cells to generate electricity for homes and autos or to heat buildings.

Next, there's a development that could greatly increase the energy capacity of lithium-ion batteries by a factor of 10.

Stanford researchers have found a way to use silicon nanowires to reinvent the rechargeable lithium-ion batteries that power laptops, iPods, video cameras, cell phones, and countless other devices.

The new version, developed through research led by Yi Cui, assistant professor of materials science and engineering, produces 10 times the amount of electricity of existing lithium-ion, known as Li-ion, batteries. A laptop that now runs on battery power for two hours could operate for 20 hours, a boon to ocean-hopping business travelers.

The greatly expanded storage capacity could make Li-ion batteries attractive to electric car manufacturers. Cui suggests that they could also be used in homes or offices to store electricity generated by rooftop solar panels.

I don't know about you, but I think it would be very cool being able to run our laptop for almost a full day on a single charge or to see an electric car run for 1000 or more miles between charges.

2/26/2008

When Wind Turbine Brakes Break

As much as I like the idea of alternative energy sources such as wind power, they do have vulnerabilities. One such example is the video below, which shows what happens when a wind turbine brake doesn't work properly in high winds.




(H/T EDN magazine)

2/25/2008

Is The Hydrogen Economy One Step Closer?

If a company called QuantumSphere, Inc. has their way, we may be driving fuel cell cars a lot sooner than anyone had anticipated.

QuantumSphere claims they have found a means of greatly increasing the efficiency of electrolysis through the use of highly reactive catalytic nanoparticle coatings.

Boasting 1,000 times the surface area of traditional materials, the coatings can be used to retrofit existing electrolysers to increase their efficiency to 85 percent--exceeding the Department of Energy's goal for 2010 by 10 percent. The scheme holds the promise of 96 percent efficiency by the time cars powered by hydrogen fuel cells hit automobile showrooms, according to the Santa Ana, Calif., company.

The increased efficiency of electrolysizers, which split apart the hydrogen and oxygen atoms in water molecules, means far less energy would be required to generate a given amount of hydrogen. High efficiency conversion can help make the hydrogen economy become a reality. There would be no need to pipe or truck hydrogen supplies to filling stations or transfer stations. Each filling station would have its own electrolysizer, eliminating the need for a massive distribution system. All that would be needed is a good electricity supply, something that is already in place. (Of course we would probably have to build more power plants because demand for electricity would skyrocket as the changeover from petroleum to hydrogen took place. But that's what nuclear power plants are for.)

If the efficiency can be raised to the level QuantumSphere claims, it could be as simple as having electrolysizers in ever home, making the fuel we use to power our cars and trucks.

It doesn't get much simpler than that.

2/24/2008

Thoughts On A Sunday

Friday's snowfall did little to deter any Weekend Pundit activities, seeing how only 3 inches of the light fluffy stuff fell at The Manse. However, that hasn't meant we've been able to sit on our bottoms doing nothing. With another snowstorm forecast for Tuesday, BeezleBub and I have been trying to clear away the leavings of the storm from two weeks ago (mainly a lot of ice to chop through) to make it easier for us to clear way the upcoming snow.

It doesn't help that Beezlebub headed off to the WP In-Laws for the week, it being the February school vacation week. It will be up to yours truly clean up the aftermath of any snowstorm while he's gone.

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Yesterday was a busy day, including a run to the transfer stat....uh...the dump. I saw a lot of my neighbors there, something which is a bit unusual. But an unusual event meant a lot of us had to make the trip to the regional...er...dump to dispose of our household trash.

On our usual trash pickup day the barrels remained full and the trash bags undisturbed. Instead we were greeted with a letter stating the contractor would no longer be servicing our neighborhood due to ill health.

A little advanced notice would have been nice.

We'll be looking at another contractor to haul our trash, but if the cost exceeds that of making the trip ourselves (it's a $5 fee per trip to dispose of our trash at the dump) we'll continue to make the weekly or bi-weekly dump run rather than pay someone else to do it for us.

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It seems the rhetoric between Hillary and Barack has picked up considerably. I find it interesting Hillary is slamming Barack about Obama campaign flyers that seem to come out of the old Clinton Dirty Tricks Handbook. Maybe she's pissed off because he beat her to the punch.

We must remember that Hillary is not as pure as the driven snow. Both she and Bill have campaigned dirty in the past. All one needs to do is ask Bob Dole about that, having been on the receiving side of Clinton dirty tricks during the 1996 Presidential campaign.

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Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor has an eye-opening article about how our court system is in danger of becoming less about enforcing our laws and more about politics.

The judiciary currently is experiencing unprecedented pressure from interest groups to make decisions that are based on politics. In Washington, D.C., we hear a lot about federal judges, and they have a critical role in upholding the Constitution. But having been a state judge and a state legislator, I know that the vast majority of law is state law. Ninety-five percent of litigation takes place in state courts. Many legal issues are primarily decided there, including divorce, property rights, employment law, product liability and medical malpractice.

Political pressure is a big problem in a number of our state courts. More than 89% of state judges go through some form of election process. Many of these elections recently have become full-fledged political battles, fueled by growing sums of money spent by candidates and special-interest groups to attack, defend and counterattack.

The last thing we need is a judiciary for sale to the highest bidder.

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Does the so-called “campus rape crisis” really exist? According to the piece in the LA Times, it is so far overblown as to be ludicrous.

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Our friend Jon Henke tears apart Paul Krugman's claim that poverty in America is on the rise, that it is impossible for people today to work themselves out of poverty, implying another LBJ-esque “War On Poverty” is needed.

Jon points out a few inconvenient truths, such as LBJ's War On Poverty stalled the decline of the poverty rate in America for over 30 years. Only once major welfare reforms were enacted in the late 1990's did the poverty rate continue its interrupted decline.

(H/T Maggie's Farm)

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As the oil business has been waning in Texas, wind energy has been stepping in big time.

Texas now has the largest wind energy generation capacity in the US, blowing past California in that regard. The amount of wind energy capacity in Texas is expected to more than triple over the next few years. A lot of dying oil towns in the state have been revitalized as wind turbines have been built, bring jobs and money back into the local economy.

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Alternative energy is making a resurgence in New Hampshire, with biomass energy becoming a growing business, particularly with the pulp/paper mills in New Hampshire's North Country and Great North Woods shutting down. It's getting so good a mothballed wood-chip generating plant is being renovated and will soon restart. It is expected more plants will be planned and built to replace the closed paper mills...as long as NIMBY and BANANA responses can be kept to a minimum.

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Now this is the kind of affirmative action I can support.

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A big problem from this winter's heavy snowfall has been making itself felt throughout New Hampshire.

The heavy snows collapsed roofs in a number of towns and cities around the state. The amount of snow itself isn't the problem. It's when the snow is followed by rain, causing the snow to become waterlogged and very heavy, the load on the roof exceeds its capability to carry it and down it comes.

We have more snow forecast for Tuesday evening.

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And that's the news from Lake Winnipesaukee, where the woodpile is getting too small, more snow is on the way, and my supply of ice melt is darn near exhausted.

2/22/2008

Suburban Slums?

When we hear the word “slum” we think of run down urban areas with unmaintained buildings bearing broken or boarded up windows, trash filled vacant lots, and an active and rampant criminal element. But how often has the word been applied to the suburbs? In the past, never. Bit these days, slums are more likely to be found away from the cities and in the suburbs. Perhaps it can be blamed on the sub-prime mortgage crisis.

Strange days are upon the residents of many a suburban cul-de-sac. Once-tidy yards have become overgrown, as the houses they front have gone vacant. Signs of physical and social disorder are spreading.

In the first half of last year, residential burglaries rose by 35 percent and robberies by 58 percent in suburban Lee County, Florida, where one in four houses stands empty. Charlotte’s crime rates have stayed flat overall in recent years—but from 2003 to 2006, in the 10 suburbs of the city that have experienced the highest foreclosure rates, crime rose 33 percent. Civic organizations in some suburbs have begun to mow the lawns around empty houses to keep up the appearance of stability. Police departments are mapping foreclosures in an effort to identify emerging criminal hot spots.

Empty homes become tempting targets for the homeless and drug users and dealers. No one is around to stop them from forcing their way in and setting up residence. It's a cycle we've seen in cities, where abandoned buildings attract the criminal element, which in turn drives law abiding residents to leave, which means even more empty buildings and homes for the squatters to take over. A once vibrant neighborhood becomes a dangerous place, crime rates soar, and entire blocks decay into something looking like films we've seen of bombed out cities during World War II.

As urban neighborhoods have been gentrified - rehabilitated and renovated – the criminal element has been driven out. As homes in suburban areas have become vacant due to the mortgage crisis, in many cases in newer developments, denizens once seen only in urban slums have moved out to the suburbs where the pickings are easy.

Also, many of the larger suburban homes, so-called McMansions, may end up being renovated and turned into apartments. They will become the new tenements, bringing the problems that go along with them out to the 'burbs.

While this isn't likely to occur everywhere, it will happen in enough places to make the suburbs in a lot of areas less than desirable places to live.

I don't expect something like that to happen here in central New Hampshire as we're probably too rural and many of the McMansions around here are second homes, not the type that would be affected by the sub-prime loan crisis.

Not all the blame can be laid at the feet of the sub-prime mortgage debacle. Living patterns have been changing which are also contributing the problem.

But the story of vacant suburban homes and declining suburban neighborhoods did not begin with the crisis, and will not end with it. A structural change is under way in the housing market—a major shift in the way many Americans want to live and work. It has shaped the current downturn, steering some of the worst problems away from the cities and toward the suburban fringes. And its effects will be felt more strongly, and more broadly, as the years pass. Its ultimate impact on the suburbs, and the cities, will be profound.

For 60 years, Americans have pushed steadily into the suburbs, transforming the landscape and (until recently) leaving cities behind. But today the pendulum is swinging back toward urban living, and there are many reasons to believe this swing will continue. As it does, many low-density suburbs and McMansion subdivisions, including some that are lovely and affluent today, may become what inner cities became in the 1960s and ’70s—slums characterized by poverty, crime, and decay.

People like the convenience of urban living. Everything is within walking distance, unlike the suburbs where you have to get in your car to do anything. Only suburban areas with a similar set up to urban areas – everything within walking distance – will continue to see an in-migration. Of course we've had something like that here in New England for a long time. They're called villages.

The stereotypical New England village had just about everything one needed close by. There are shops, restaurants, and many businesses in a central area, with residences mixed in or along the periphery of the 'downtown' part of the village. Just about everything was within walking distance, even the schools.

But that changed in the late 1940's when the first suburban housing development was built in Levittown, New York. The model created by that housing development hasn't changed much in 60 years, and that's one of the causes of what we're seeing in the 'slummification' of the suburbs. Maybe it's time shed ourselves of that broken model and take a step back to something that worked for a couple of hundred years, namely that stereotypical New England village.

Of course I've gone off on a tangent, but it is germane to the post. Maybe the best thing that could happen to these developing suburban slums is for them to be bulldozed, much as vacant buildings in urban slums were demolished to prevent them from being used by the more unsavory members of our society. Squatters should be evicted and, if necessary, jailed, much as what happened in urban areas. Suburban slums are not inevitable, but all it takes to create them is neglect. That's a lesson that was learned some time ago in the cities. Now it's time for the suburbs to learn the same thing.

(H/T Maggie's Farm)

2/21/2008

Navy Successful In Satellite Interception

It comes down to a case of “Do as I say, not as I do!” in regards to the US Navy's success at shooting down a disabled spy satellite early Thursday.

While the US was shooting down the malfunctioning satellite that posed a danger to those on the ground should it have reentered Earth's atmosphere intact, the Chinese were saying that we were escalating the militarization of space by doing so. Never mind the Chinese military has destroyed one of their defunct weather satellites in anti-satellite tests, leaving debris in orbits that endangers existing and future spacecraft. The defunct US spy satellite's debris will reenter the atmosphere over the next 40 days, posing little, if any danger to anyone. But that's not the point.

The Chinese have pressed forward with the militarization of space. Now that we've responded to their efforts we've somehow become the bad guys. So what else is new?

Contrast this operation with what happened a year ago January, when Beijing surprised the world by shooting down one of its weather satellites in a test of its antisatellite capabilities. Not only was the test unannounced, but it took China days to concede that it had happened. Because the satellite was destroyed at an altitude of approximately 850 kilometers, it left countless hazardous particles drifting in orbit that could harm future space flights.

Meanwhile, Washington has gone out of its way both to alert other countries of this operation and to avoid the kind of dangers posed by Beijing's last launch. The satellite was hit at a low altitude to ensure that most of the debris re-enters either to burn up during descent or to land in the ocean. The Pentagon hosted a press conference last week to discuss the diplomatic and technological aspects of the operation. A military spokesman said this week that a press statement will be issued "within an hour" of the missile launch.

The Chinese did their tests in secret. The US was open about it, not hiding anything.

But then again, maybe we have hidden something.

Some of the proverbial “talk around the water cooler” at work brought forth the proposal the malfunctioning spy satellite was nothing of the sort. Instead, it was a purpose-built target for testing the new Navy Standard Missile-3 against a spaceborne target to prove it could be used to intercept incoming ballistic missiles or warheads. It may have also served another purpose.

Hitting a satellite the size of a bus in a predictable orbit has to be easier than destroying a ballistic missile launched by an enemy. Even so, the successful shootdown is a useful warning to countries such as Iran, Syria and North Korea that are building ballistic missile programs. In the U.S., it might even silence diehard critics, who still say missile defense is impossible despite a string of successful tests. By the way, the systems used in the satellite shootdown wouldn't be up to the job had the U.S. not withdrawn in 2002 from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which imposed serious technological constraints.

It will certainly give our enemies and potential enemies something to think about in the near future.

2/20/2008

Castro's Legacy - An Economic Basket Case

It's worth looking back at Fidel Castro's legacy now that he's retired. I think I can safely say that he had very few high points and more than a few thousand low points during the 49 years of his reign.

Fidel's legacy includes ruthless oppression, but less widely appreciated is that he was also an economic incompetent. In January 1959, Cuba had the third highest per-capita GDP in Latin America. Today the island is a malnourished backwater where staples like milk, sugar and eggs are rationed, severe shortages exist in the medical system and electricity is a luxury. Formerly a dependent of the Soviet Union, Cuba now begs at the feet of Venezuela, which gives it as much as $2 billion in aid annually. The nation nonetheless struggles to get by, and young Cubans routinely take their chances with the security police and shark-infested waters rather than face life under the Castro brothers.

Forty nine years of misery visited upon the Cuban people by a government incapable of understanding the basics of economics, the same government which cared little for basic human rights. The same government that built a cult of personality around Fidel Castro. (At least they never carried it too far as has been done in places like North Korea, just to name one.)

Cuba had the potential to be an economic power house until Castro took Cuba down the road of failed socialist ideologies and economic policies. Even as other Latin American countries see their economies grow and flourish, Cuba remains an economic basket case and would be in even worse shape if Hugo Chavez wasn't pissing away billions of dollars of Venezuela's oil wealth propping up his mentor's nation. So that begs the question: What happens to Cuba's economy if/when Chavez loses power and the Venezuelan petrodollars are no longer available?

Will the Cuban people become even more victimized should this scenario come to pass? Will economic collapse become Fidel's legacy to the Cuban people?

2/19/2008

Castro Retires - Cuba Remains The Same

Unless you've been cut off from the rest of the world, you know that Fidel Castro has stepped down as the leader of Cuba. His younger brother Raoul has been designated to replace him.

While some people seem to think this change in leadership will bring changes to Cuba, I doubt it. There will be some small cosmetic changes, primarily in economic policies, but for the most part it will be a case of “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”

The Cuban exile community certainly understands this, greeting the news of Fidel's retirement with muted excitement. They know that Raoul was the hatchet man for his older brother and was the most feared man in Cuba. I doubt he's changed all that much and would be more than willing to silence the opposition by any means necessary. But Raoul isn't a young man at 76 and won't be in power all that long as compared to Fidel. There are other, much younger men waiting in the wings, some which might be able to bring much needed reforms to Cuba. Their time has not yet come.

Can Cuba continue on the path they've followed for almost 50 years and remain an economic backwater? Or will Cuba start on the kinds of reforms the People's Republic of China have pursued, which hopefully will also lead to democratic progress in both nations?

Only time will tell. Hopefully we won't have long to wait.

2/17/2008

Thoughts On A Sunday

Just when we thought we might catch a break in regards to the weather, my hopes are dashed.

BeezleBub and I have spent time every day since Wednesday cleaning up after the snowstorm and we're still not done. If all of the precipitation had been snow we wouldn't have been having so much trouble. But with the sleet that came in towards the end of the storm, which then changed over to freezing rain and rain, we ended up with heavy sodden and frozen snow. It's required a lot of backbreaking work to clear it all away, making sure to make room for future snowfalls as well as ensure that melt water or rain won't work its way under roof shingle or siding.

The weather forecast says we have another bout with snow to sleet to rain coming tonight.

Sometimes you just can't catch a break.

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We're not the only ones dealing with this endless cycle of one snowfall after another.

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It appears the Battle of Berkeley goes to the pro-military protesters merely due to the calm and reasoned protests and support they gave the USMC. The Left, on the other hand, showed how out of touch and deluded so many of them have become.

While many on both sides of the issue of the USMC Recruiting Office have complained the Berkeley Police Department showed favoritism to the other side, it is apparent they handled things properly, not giving either side any excuse to escalate things and clamping down on any misbehavior.

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The housing market is still in the dumps, with sales off as much as 26% as compared to a year ago. The sub-prime/ARM debacle is still nowhere near over, with a large number of them heading for foreclosure as interest rates reset. Too many unethical lenders abetted by buyers with too little understanding of what they were getting themselves into led to this problem. Many buyers probably figured they could always sell their homes if they ever got into trouble, not foreseeing the hot real estate market would cool off, leaving them with no way to unload their homes and avoid foreclosure.

Another problem adding pain to many homeowners is some mortgage service companies lack of service, in many cases putting homeowners into default even though they've never missed a payment. The number of consumer complaints about mortgage service companies has been climbing rapidly as too many homeowners have had their homes and credit ratings put into jeopardy by the incompetence of these companies.

About the only part of the real estate market still performing well is for second homes (vacation homes). The sales pace of second homes never reached that of primary homes, with many of them on the market for six months to a year before they sold. That hasn't changed. For the most part second home sales aren't time sensitive, with sellers willing to wait to get their asking price. But the second home market is a small fraction of total homes sales, having little effect on the overall sales figures.

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Despite claims by certain Presidential candidates to the contrary, Americans have never had it so good.

Are there still problems with poverty in America? Certainly. But with few exceptions, the level of poverty in America would be considered middle class or wealthy in a lot of other developed or developing countries.

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Is modern liberalism a form of mental illness? There may be a case to made for it.

“The roots of liberalism – and its associated madness – can be clearly identified by understanding how children develop from infancy to adulthood and how distorted development produces the irrational beliefs of the liberal mind,” he says. “When the modern liberal mind whines about imaginary victims, rages against imaginary villains and seeks above all else to run the lives of persons competent to run their own lives, the neurosis of the liberal mind becomes painfully obvious.”

'Nuff said.

(H/T Maggie's Farm)

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It figures.

It seems that every winter we suffer the breakdown of one appliance or another. Last winter it was our refrigerator. The winter before that it was our clothes drier. This winter it's the washing machine. Apparently the water pump that drains the tub has failed, meaning we had to pull out a load of sodden clothes and take them over to the WP Parent's to run them through a spin, rinse, and spin cycle. Then it was back to The Manse to pop the now wrung out clothes into the drier.

The WP Mom offered to wash and dry the rest of our clothes, so we won't have to worry about running out of clean clothes before the washing machine is repaired.

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And that's the news from Lake Winnipesaukee, where winter seems endless, the snow banks do nothing but get higher, and the woodpile is getting smaller all too quickly.

2/14/2008

The Left Sees Success In Iraq As A Failure

It seems that Nancy Pelosi can't get past the fact that the surge in Iraq is working. No matter what she clings to the belief it's been a dismal failure.

On Sunday, Nancy Pelosi was asked on CNN whether she feared squandering the success of President Bush's "surge" in Iraq with a hasty withdrawal. "There haven't been gains, Wolf," the House Speaker told anchor Wolf Blitzer. "The gains have not produced the desired effect which is the reconciliation of Iraq. This is a failure. This is a failure."

We'll assume Ms. Pelosi isn't actually disappointed by the latest good Iraq news. Yet the political calendar in Washington, with its noisome demands for benchmarks and timetables, is increasingly out of step with the strategic calendar in Baghdad.

At this point in the Democratic primary season, even a declaration of surrender by al Qaeda in Iraq would probably be treated as further evidence of Bush Administration incompetence. Speaking of which, this week the Times of London published remarkable excerpts from letters by two al Qaeda chieftains in Iraq that were seized late last year in a U.S. military raid.

Yup. Nothing shows incompetence more than victory against an intractable enemy. See, it says so right here in my Left Wing America-Is-Always-Wrong indoctrination pamphlet!

The Left doesn't want to be shown as wrong. Therefore they try to spin the news coming out of Iraq to make it look like every step gained in achieving a peaceful Iraq is a failure.

I don't know about you, but I'm getting pretty tired of it.

2/13/2008

Biofuels Not So Environmentally Friendly After All

Is it any surprise legislation passed in response to concerns about global warming turns out to cause more problems than it solves? Not to me, it isn't. But I think a number of Congresscritters and members of the It's-All-The-Fault-Of-The-Evil-Humans™ cabal just got a rude awakening when two different studies, one by Princeton and Woods Hole Research Center, and the other by the University of Minnesota and the Nature Conservancy, show that biofuels do more harm to the environment than fossil fuels.

A number of factors were overlooked when debate on the aforementioned legislation was taking place. The environmental consequences of biofuel were never studied, something that has no come back to bite Congress in the ass.

So what else is new?

2/12/2008

Taxes Drive Relocations

For many years New Hampshire has had what has been come to be called “The Advantage.” This so-called advantage? No state income or sales tax. For just as many years there have been those in New Hampshire that see the lack of such broadbased taxes as a travesty, preventing all of the liberal social programs they love so much from coming to fruition. But the lack of those broadbased taxes has provided New Hampshire residents and businesses an advantage over other states in the Northeast, attracting new businesses and the jobs that go with them to the state.

As much as the “New Hampshire Advantage” has been slammed by the tax-and-spend socialists, now there's proof that states without an income tax are attracting jobs and residents, while states with an income tax are losing them.

An old adage says high taxes don't redistribute income, they redistribute people. For new evidence look no further than migration patterns within the United States, as documented in a new survey by the moving company United Van Lines.

The United Van Lines study finds that the biggest population loser last year was Michigan, where two families moved out of the state for every new family that moved in. Americans are also fleeing New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Illinois. Without interviewing the departed, it's impossible to know the reasons for this outward migration. No doubt overall economic prospects, climate, quality of life and housing prices play a role.

But one reason to conclude that taxes are also a motivator is because the eight states without an income tax are stealing talent from other states. They are Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Washington and Wyoming, and each one gained in net domestic migrants. Each one except Florida -- which has sky-high property taxes on new homesteaders -- also ranked in the top 12 of destination states.

High taxes are driving out residents, who pick up and move to states with low taxes.

New Hampshire does have taxes, of course. Between business taxes (relatively low compared to most other states), property taxes (high in some towns, moderate or low in others), as well as what are called “bed and belly taxes” (meals and room tax), the state and municipalities do a pretty decent job of raising the revenues needed, for the most part. The fact that tax revenues are limited forces the legislature and the towns to keep spending in check. Or at least most of the time they do. The overall tax burden in New Hampshire is among the lowest in the nation. But as I mentioned before, there are folks working to change all that here in New Hampshire.

The broadbase tax proponents have been selling the idea that a sales or income tax will somehow ease the property tax burden on state residents. But history has shown over and over again that it doesn't work out that way. The residents end up with the same or higher property taxes as well as a sales or income tax. This means the state spends more, usually on things it doesn't really need, and the taxpayers now have even less control over spending at the state and local level. It's been a losing proposition every place it's been implemented. And once such a tax is imposed it is damn near impossible to do away with. The legislature will have a new flow of revenue and they won't likely give it up. At that point a major thing that attracted new residents and businesses to the state will be gone and people will look elsewhere to live. It's a lesson our neighbor to the south is learning the hard way.

Massachusetts, also known pejoratively as Taxachusetts, has seen their population shrink over the past 10 years as residents and businesses seek greener pastures. Some come here to New Hampshire. Others head to the South or the West. As taxes in the “Pay State” continue to rise, so will the outflow of jobs and residents. The only question is whether the governor and legislature of Massachusetts will do something about it before it comes to resemble Michigan in regards to joblessness, plant closings, and business relocations. (The same thing happened there back in the 1970's, with businesses closing due to a deep recession or relocating to escape the increasingly onerous tax burden, and a general outflow of people to follow the jobs because there were none to be had in Massachusetts.)

Is the tax system in New Hampshire perfect? Not by any means. But it is a far sight better than most of the others, attempting to keep control of the state spending by keeping the legislature and state agencies lean.

2/10/2008

Thoughts On A Sunday

Morning greeted us with yet more snow, something that is beginning to seem never ending. We've received about a foot over the past week with another 8 inches forecast to fall by this evening.

It isn't that I'm tired of moving snow. That doesn't bother me. It's the problems associated with the all of the snow.

One problem: BeezleBub and I are running out of places to put the snow. We're limited to blowing it onto the side of the hill in front of The Manse, which makes it more difficult to clear the driveway and the area in front of the garage.

Another problem: one of the town plow crews are becoming more reckless. During this past storm this particular plow crew took out our mailbox. They didn't hit it, but with the speed they were coming down the hill the force of the snow they were plowing was such that it broke the post upon which the mailbox was mounted. The 4” X 4” post broke off just above ground level, giving you an idea of the force of all that flying snow. On the storm previous to the last one they damn near killed me in the same fashion, their plow throwing snow 25 feet past the snow bank and almost burying me in my own driveway.

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We did a little shopping yesterday, looking for a new woodstove for The Manse. It's not that our present one isn't any good, only that it's inadequate for our purposes. We made the decision to do a little remodeling inside The Manse once we're past the heating season, which will allow us to use a more traditional woodstove rather than the fireplace insert we're using now. The new woodstove will heat better than the present one and won't require as much wood for the amount of heat it will throw.

That works for me.

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The Winnipesaukee Ice Fishing Derby came to an end today, and at the time I'm writing this the biggest catch so far has been a 10.5 pound lake trout.

The winner of the Derby gets a new fishing boat and trailer. Not bad for a weekend's worth of fishing.

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This weekend also saw another derby taking place here in the Lakes Region.

The annual Laconia Sled Dog Derby started Friday, bring sled dog teams from all over the US and Canada.

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It's a good thing criminals are so dumb.

Thomas Dipirro's 1994 Ford F-250 pickup truck was stolen in Haverhill, Massachusetts, just over the border from his home town of Plaistow, New Hampshire.

Two days later he spots a truck that looked a lot like his driving down Rte 125 in Plaistow. A closer look at the license plate showed Dipirro it was his stolen truck. He didn't have a cell phone so he couldn't call the police. So he did the only thing he could do:

He confronted the driver of his stolen truck when they both stopped at a traffic light.

Dipirro asked the man behind the wheel, later identified as Angel Valle, 49, why he was driving his truck.

The two then got into a scuffle in the middle of the intersection, prompting several calls from passersby who thought they were having a fight after an accident, police said.

The police did arrest Valle after he fled on foot.

The lesson to be learned? Don't drive a stolen vehicle in the hometown of the owner unless you want to get caught.

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Are the Clintons planning to steal the Democratic nomination? It certainly appears that way.

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It's been a long time since I've linked to Ben Kepple's blog. It's also been a long time since I checked it out, so the fault is entirely mine.

So I click on the link to check it out and what do I find? One of my favorite Ben Kepple features:

Your Search Engine Queries Answered!

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The NFL Pro-Bowl was played today. Frankly, I had no interest at all. After the disappointing loss of the Super Bowl by the Patriots I have no desire to watch football again until next season.

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Is it any surprise that the so-called “anti-war” Democrats were anything but? Instead they hijacked the anti-war movement in order to ensure the election of Republicans. But now their duplicity is out in the open. Could it be that there will be another change in the make-up of Congress after elections in November?

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Is Hugo Chavez in trouble?

(H/T Instapundit)

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And that's the news from Lake Winnipesaukee, where winter continues, the ice fishing is great, and where thoughts of summer boating are starting to intrude.

2/08/2008

More Homeowners Walking Away

It seems I've seen this before.

More and more often, homeowners are just walking away from their mortgages and leaving the bank or other mortgage holder to deal with the property.

If a homeowner has little or no equity in a home and their mortgage payments are ballooning, they have no incentive to stick it out, particularly if they are “upside down” on their mortgage, meaning they owe more than their home is worth. Instead, the homeowner walks away, in effect handing the keys to the mortgage holder and telling them “Good luck!”

"The apparent willingness of borrowers to 'walk away' from mortgage debt," the analysts noted, "has contributed to extraordinary high levels of early default" on loans issued during the 18 months before the mortgage bubble burst. It expects losses to reach 21% of initial loan balances for subprime mortgages issued in 2006 and 26% for those issued in early 2007.

Something very similar occurred during the housing bust back in the early 1990's, though the nation was in a recession, where people were walking away from their mortgages because some housing values had dropped up to 50% and many homeowners had lost their jobs. No one was buying homes and too many homeowners were upside down on their mortgages.

While there isn't a recession this time around (though we are teetering on the brink at the moment), people are still walking away. Most of them have sub-prime mortgages and their payments have gone up to a point where they no longer have the ability to pay them.

A decade ago, most people started off with enough equity in their homes to make foreclosure irrational from a financial standpoint. Consider: If you made a 20% down payment on a house, prices would have to fall by 20%, almost immediately, before you lost all your money and had much incentive to walk away. This scenario was unlikely, particularly since an independent appraiser had assigned a clear value to the home. Foreclosure was remote, absent a personal financial crisis, for another reason: Every month your mortgage payment would reduce your debt and increase your equity, giving you more room for prices to fall.

But over the past few years -- until last spring -- banks and the mortgage-backed securities investors who bought the loans the banks packaged weren't demanding substantial down payments; they were happy with 5% or even nothing down. They also didn't worry about whether or not borrowers were building up equity. "Interest-only" loans, quick mortgage refinancings to cash out any equity, and other inventions often led to just the opposite.

Fortunately my wife and I made a rather substantial down payment for The Manse, which kept our mortgage to a reasonable level at a good fixed rate. Even though we qualified for a much larger mortgage, we didn't want to end up being “house poor”, spending every spare penny on the house and leaving very little for anything else other than food, clothing, and other necessities. We didn't buy too much house. (Frankly, I think we could have gone for something even less expensive, but the missus wanted what she wanted and I didn't protest. Maybe it's just the Yankee frugality in me, making an effort to keep our payments small.)

How many more walk aways will there be? I have a feeling there will be more than there have been over the past two years, and then the trend will reverse as those still holding sub-prime and adjustable rate mortgages will have either given up their homes or refinanced.

Only time will tell.

More Thoughts On A McCain Stategy

It appears that more than one conservative out there in the GOP has given some thought to how John McCain can garner support from the conservative branch of the party. So far all of them have suggest the same thing: select a conservative running mate.

This will help pull the conservative voters towards supporting McCain without losing the moderates within the party. The right choice can help boost McCain's chances against the Democrats in November.

My choice, as I've mentioned before, would be Fred Thompson.

2/07/2008

America In Decline?

How many times have we heard one pundit or another proclaim America is in decline, has passed its peak, and will slowly wither away to a shadow of its former self? Far too many, as far as I'm concerned.

This has been an ongoing claim since the Republic was formed over 231 years ago. You'd think if this were true we'd never have attained greatness to begin with, wouldn't you?

Have there been disturbing changes in our country over the years? Without a doubt. Many of those changes have been for the good. Many have not. But America has endured, somehow.

American "decline" is the foreign-policy equivalent of homelessness: The media only take note of it when a Republican is in the White House. Broadly speaking, declinists divide between those who merely accept America's supposed diminishment as a fact of life, and those who celebrate it as long overdue. As for the causes of decline, however, they tend to agree: declining (relative) economic muscle, due in large part to the rise of China; an overextended military bogged down needlessly in Iraq and endlessly in Afghanistan; the declining value of America's "brand" on account of Bush administration policies on detention, pre-emption, terrorism, global warming -- you name it.

Yet each of these assumptions collapses on a moment's inspection. In his 2006 book "Ɯberpower," German writer Josef Joffe makes the following back-of-the-envelope calculation: "Assume that the Chinese economy keeps growing indefinitely at a rate of seven percent, the average of the past decade (for which history knows of no example). . . . At that rate, China's GDP would double every decade, reaching parity with today's United States ($12 trillion) in thirty years. But the U.S. economy is not frozen into immobility. By then, the United States, growing at its long-term rate of 2.5 percent, would stand at $25 trillion."

If that's but one example of American decline, then I say let's see more of it!

2/06/2008

A Good McCain Strategy For November

How can John McCain ensure a win against the Democrats in November? By making sure Fred Thompson is his running mate.

In one fell swoop McCain will gain street cred with the staunch conservatives in the Republican party, making him far more palatable to them. It also gives him something else:

Behind the scenes, Vice President Thompson offers President McCain private counsel, guided by our Founding Fathers, without drawing attention to himself. Mr. Thompson seems eminently qualified for such a role, eschewing publicity and advancing the cause which impelled him to mount his own White House bid.

It works for me.

(H/T Instapundit)

2/05/2008

A Coincidence?

Is it coincidence, or acts of deliberate sabotage?

Four undersea fiber optic cables in the Middle East and South Asia have been cut over the past few days, all of them owned by the same company. While some may say it is just a coincidence, I am not one to believe in coincidences like this.

One of these cuts have been attributed to weather. Another to a ship's anchor dropping on the cable in question. The cause of the failures of the other two cables have not been determined, but they occurred far offshore.

If these failures had occurred to cables owned by different companies I might believe it was coincidence. But after checking a map of undersea cable routes and the owner/operators of those systems, I find it hard to believe that only the cables of Flag Telecom have been taken out of service by “failures”. It smacks more of deliberate acts.

If enough cables can be taken out, Internet and phone service into and out of the Middle East and South Asia will be disrupted. If nothing else it will cut off outside news and information from reaching the denizens of those areas.

The question is, who benefits from the failures? It shouldn't be hard to figure that one out.

2/03/2008

Thoughts On A Sunday

It's Super Bowl Sunday and it has been impossible to escape coverage of the pre-game activities. TV, radio, newpapers, and web sites have been nothing but Patriots, Patriots, Patriots for two weeks.

We're headed over to one of Deb's friends to catch the game on their oh-my-GOD sized HDTV, though we'll only be staying until halftime. With a 6:20PM kickoff, we can't stay until the end of the game, it being a school night.

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Unless you've been hiding some place without Internet access, you must have heard of the madness of the Berkeley's city Council and their minions, Code Pink and World Can't Wait.

The two protest groups have been holding almost daily protests outside the Marine Recruiting office. They've been doing so with the support of the Berkeley City Council, which passed a resolution calling the Marines “uninvited and unwelcome intruders in the city.” To his credit, one council member disagreed with the decree. Councilmember Gordon Wozniak was the only dissenting voice in the city council.

And here's a libertarian view of the whole kerfuffle.

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The last bit of winter weather we experienced on Friday was what many called “a useless storm.” Lots of sleet and freezing rain created hazardous travel conditions in a very short time. The clean up afterwards was lengthy and painful for many, yours truly included.

It wasn't a matter of firing up the trusty Official Weekend Pundit Snowblower and removing the frozen precipitation. Oh no. Instead it required the use of chemical intervention to loosen up the frozen mess and a lot of muscle power to move the two to three inches of icy cover.

BeezleBub and I spent quite a bit of time breaking up and shoveling the ice to clear the driveway and the area in front of The Manse's garage. Once the sun had moved and was no longer working to melt the area we were trying to clear, the work stopped. We were hoping for more sun today to help us continue the work, but it looks like we'll be out of luck. Sunshine isn't expected until later in the day when the cloud cover will move off and by that time the sun won't hit the area we still need to clear.

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The Barrister at Maggie's Farm asks the question: “How come liberals never talk about liberty?”

Yeah, why is that?

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Do you need any more evidence that any kind of government run health care would be a very bad idea? If so, all you need to do is look at Massachusetts to see one possible future of health care.

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And that's the news from Lake Winnipesaukee, where we're still chipping ice, dreams of spring are starting to intrude, and where Monday will get here all too soon.

2/02/2008

A Preview Of Universal Health Care

Have you ever wondered what health care in the US would be like if Hillary gets her way and forces universal single payer medical coverage upon the American people? If you think it's a good idea, perhaps you'll change your mind after you see this.



If you think this case is atypical of the Canadian health care system, you're wrong. It's all too common. In fact, in the Quebec lawsuit brought before the Canadian Supreme Court mentioned in this video, the Court declared “Access to a waiting list for health care is not access to health care.

Other examples abound in the UK, where the NHS (National Health Service) has increasingly provided poor, long delayed, or non-existent medical treatment to British subjects. Waiting lists are 18 weeks long or longer. Medical conditions that are readily curable if immediate treatment is rendered become life threatening or fatal if delayed for that long. To paraphrase an American aphorism, “Medical treatment delayed is medical treatment denied.” Of course, if patients die before treatment is administered the government saves a lot of money. If you think they would never be so callous, think again.

2/01/2008

Saddam's WMD Bluff Backfired

Isn't it ironic that Saddam Hussein was brought down by a miscalculation on his part in regards to WMDs?

In a piece on the Wall Street Journal's Editorial web page Review & Outlook section, we find a brief look into Saddam's interrogation by FBI agent George Piro.

The FBI interrogator says that, while Saddam said he no longer had active WMD programs in 2003, the dictator admitted that he intended to resume those programs as soon as he possibly could.

Iraq's active WMD program had been destroyed, mostly by U.N. weapons inspectors, sometime in the 1990s, but Saddam told Mr. Piro that he maintained a pretense of having those weapons mainly to keep Iran at bay.

Never mind Saddam had every intention of restarting his WMD programs once sanctions were lifted, as he admitted during interrogation. He gambled the threat of his then non-existent WMDs would keep Iran from getting any ideas. He saw Iran as the greater threat. He was wrong.

His smoke and mirror games convinced the wrong people he still had weapons of mass destruction. The world's intelligence agencies were fooled as well, so their reports to their governments said he still had them. In the end it proved his undoing.