Obama’s education plan suggests we need more federalism

September 28, 2009

I was reading DRJ’s post over at Patterico about Obama’s new education plan, and was met with yet another reason with why our top-down government is, well, a poor substitute for the represenational democracy the Founders intended. But first, from the AP:

The president… wants schools to add time to classes, to stay open late and to let kids in on weekends so they have a safe place to go.

That’s pretty much it in a nutshell (the rest of the article is full of fluff interviews with kids and an apology (using the traditional definition) for Obama’s statements). The reasonings are based almost entirely on low-income students. Basically, year-round school sessions and staying open until 7 would benefit them far more than high income students, who tend to have higher parental involvement and are more likely to be involved in extra-curricular activities.

Now, I’m not going to argue whether or not this is a good idea for lower income students or if this addresses the root causes, or if we should be doing something else on education, or anything else (read DRJ’s post, or Alex’s post at Race 4 2012, if you’d like some discussion on those topics). Let’s assume, for the moment, that the idea is at least debatable. Let’s also assume, for the moment, that funding for these projects is not an issue (big assumption, I know, but bear with me). Read the rest of this entry »


Arctic sea ice minimum has come and gone. What does it mean?

September 21, 2009

Summer is gone, and with it the annual sea ice melt. This year was, depending on your point of view, either the second straight year of increasing sea ice or the third lowest extent of sea ice known. Both are true. So which one’s more important? NSIDC obsesses over the second part of that. But I disagree.

The rebound is far more important than NSIDC’s lead of it being the third lowest extent. This is because the rebound demonstrates just how little we know of climate and how it works. Allow me to explain. Read the rest of this entry »

Why ACORN’s usual excuse won’t fly this time

September 15, 2009

By now I’m sure you’ve heard of the Acorn prostitution stings made by O’Keefe and Giles and discussed all over the web. I haven’t seen the NY one, but I have the other two. And while many on the left are giving Acorn’s traditional excuse of saying these employees were aberrations working on their own, it’s becoming more and more clear that this explanation is wearing thin. It’s not just the sheer number of times they’ve been caught, it’s the way it all went down. While the details varied, the big issue IMO (well, ok, not blinking an eye at child sex trafficking is the big issue, but that only explicitly happened once; they never mentioned the age in the DC one) is that they all went immediately to tax fraud. If we condense the conversations down to the logical train of thought, they both went like this (and tell me if the NY one was the same):

O’Keefe: I need to get a loan for a house.
Acorn: You need tax returns to get one.
O’Keefe: We don’t have tax returns for her.
Acorn: Why not?
O’Keefe: Because her profession is illegal.
Acorn: OK, here’s how to fake a tax return that won’t arouse suspicions.

(The Baltimore one was actually the most explicit in this case, actually going so far as to ponder how many of the El Salvador kids could be written off as dependents before it would arouse suspicion from the IRS).

In both cases, there seemed no hesitation, no discussion of what to do, no concerns on the part of the Acorn employees. It was very simple: if they can’t obtain a loan through legal means, we’ll have to do it illegally. All the child sex trafficking and suggestions to bury the money in a tin box and warning O’Keefe to stay away if he ever wants to get elected and all is just icing on the cake. Read the rest of this entry »

My tribute to Norman Borlaug

September 13, 2009

Norman Borlaug, quite possibly the most important person you’ll never hear about in school, died today at the age of 95. Why was he important? I guess he didn’t do that much, if you consider saving the lives of a billion people nothing…

He did that by being the father of the Green Revolution. While some were saying that overpopulation was at hand, and mass starvation would result due to our silly idea of reproducing. Instead of declaring doom and gloom, Borlaug introduced new strains of wheat to Mexico, India, and Pakistan, and introduced modern farming practices. The results were immediate and astounding. Grain yields exploded, and these nations’ food security grew substantially. The fact that we’re able to fit over 6 billion people on this planet today is a direct result of his work. For his work, he has recieved a well deserved Nobel Peace Prize, as well as the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal. To say he’s the greatest person of the 20th century may not be an understatement. Read the rest of this entry »

40 in 2010: NC-08

September 12, 2009

(In order for the Republicans to take back the House in 2010, they need to net 40 seats. It’s a long shot, but it is possible. By my count, there are 83 Dem-held seats that the Republicans have at least an outside chance of winning. That number will change as we get closer to election time, of course. But for now, I’ll be highlighting some of these seats from time to time.)

North Carolina – 08
Location: Eastern part of Charlotte, plus a good deal of rural area. Also includes Concord, Monroe, Laurinburg Read the rest of this entry »

Solar power from hair?

September 10, 2009

Now this is an intriguing concept, but don’t start saving your shavings just yet…

A new type of solar panel using human hair could provide the world with cheap, green electricity, believes its teenage inventor.
Milan Karki, 18, who comes from a village in rural Nepal, believes he has found the solution to the developing world’s energy needs.
The young inventor says hair is easy to use as a conductor in solar panels and could revolutionise renewable energy.

The solar panel, which produces 9 V (18 W) of energy, costs around £23 to make from raw materials.

This is early. As far as I can tell, the Daily Mail is the only source for this breakthrough, so our information is limited. From what we have though, here are some thoughts (coming from someone who is, alas, not an expert in hair…):

– More details are definitely needed. It says it generates 18W of electricity, but W/m^2 is the number I’m interested in. It’s hard to tell from the pictures, but I assumed it was 2ft X 2ft. That’s equivalent to about 50 W/m^2, which is pretty decent.

– But even that number’s worthless, because we need to know what conditions it was used. What’s the solar radiance? I think solar panel efficiency (W/m^2 electricity over W/m^2 solar radiance) is more important over the range of expected solar radiances, but I’m not sure. And we have no idea what that was. Did he just shine a light on it to get that value, or did it come from the Sun? Nepal’s at about 30 degrees latitude, which should give it a pretty high solar radiance (don’t know about cloud cover though). So this might be a bit on the low end. Not bad for a first try though.

– 23 pounds per panel works out to ~2.20/W. I just read recently that solar panel prices are down to $1.80/W. So this isn’t necessarily a deal breaker. Then again, prices are probably so low because of the recession and overproduction, not because costs are that low. In any case, this means the payback period (not counting installation and everything) is ~3-5 years. That’s pretty decent. But if the hair needs replacing every few months, then the payback period may never happen.

– Yes, he said costs could be cut in half if mass produced, but I don’t see any way of that happening. Mass collection of hair? Where are you going to get it all? I doubt even New York City could produce enough hair to get a mass production plant.

– Apparantly it works due to the melanin in the hair. So does that mean that gray or blonde hair isn’t as good? Will barbers start charging different amounts for each hair color? We can be racist AND ageist! Sorry, I had to put that one in there…

– Most importantly of all; this is described as a school project. There appears to be little thought at this point into the details of commercialization. So practically everything at this point is speculation. By everything, I mean costs AND benefits. Maybe they can boost the efficiency with more research. But the costs are probably more than this kid predicts. And there may be other issues as well.

– What about rain, weather, animals, etc? The article does say the hair must be replaced every couple months, so that’s an issue right there. Needless to say, nobody here will do it.

Pretty innovative approach though. My guess is that if it works, it has more of an application for undeveloped countries than for us. There’s no chance we can produce enough hair to satiate even a tiny fraction of our electricity demands, but it would certainly help out in Nepal. Also, even though this is early, I highly doubt hair is as efficient as cells specifically designed to be photovoltaic, and so I doubt they’ll be able to compete in the W/m^2 range. And for countries that use a lot of energy, that’s a deal killer.

Hopefully this kid finds a path to commercialization. I wouldn’t mind hearing more about it.

40 in 2010: IN-09

September 9, 2009

(In order for the Republicans to take back the House in 2010, they need to net 40 seats. It’s a long shot, but it is possible. By my count, there are 74 Dem-held seats that the Republicans have at least an outside chance of winning. That number will change as we get closer to election time, of course. But for now, I’ll be highlighting some of these seats from time to time.)

Indiana 02
Location: All of SE Indiana, including Bloomington, Clarksville, Madison, and Columbus

Incumbent: Baron Hill
Hill’s been in office since 1998, except for the 04-06 session. He’s a Blue Dog, one of the top ones no less. By Blue Dog, though, it appears that he’s socially conservative and economically liberal. Not surprising for a Hoosier. He tends to oppose abortion and gun control. But seeing as 2010 will likely be about spending, well, he might have some problems there. He voted for both the stimulus bill and Cap and Trade. He’s made conflicting remarks regarding his support of the Health Care package, but it looks like he’ll vote for it.

He’s also been in the news a bit recently for acting like a, well, Baron. Not only was he one of the Congressmen calling health care opponents “terrorists”, but he actually defended the remark. And, of course, he’s made some news lately with his “I don’t want to end up on Youtube” rant (yeah, that’ll stop them…).

So if the fine voters of IN-09 get some Tea Party, anti-incumbent fever, those sorts of outbursts may come back to haunt him in a year.

Cook Partisan Index: R+6
Cook Race Rating: Likely Dem
CQ Politics Race Rating: Dem Favored
Rothenberg Rating: Limited Risk
(Note that, this far away, all these ratings are geared towards the incubent. Take them with a grain of salt)

Previous election results:
McCain 50, Obama 49
Bush 59, Kerry 40
Hill 58, Sodrel (R) 38 (2008)
Hill 50, Sodrel 46 (2006)
Hill 49, Sodrel 50 (2004)

Confirmed Republican Candidates:
Todd Young
Travis Hankins

Young looks like a pretty solid, conservative candidate. He’s a veteran, lawyer, and NOT a career politician. His website’s a bit light on the issues (not surprising, really), but what’s there is enlightening. Among his major issues are things like Demanding Congress slow down, refusing bailouts, and shrinking the size of bills. In other words, he’s talking about some of the underlying problems instead of just the typical Republican talking points. He’s also been holding his own town hall meetings and (in a nice Take That! moment, putting the entire thing on Youtube) and has a reasonably active website. He’s also already raised $90k so far, which isn’t that bad for a relative unknown.

Hankins also seems to be a reasonable conservative, having appeared at Tea Parties and going through all the Rightwing talking points. He’s a big fan of Mike Pence, which should tell you enough about his priorities. His issues page looks a bit more traditional than Young’s however, although I do like the bit about asking his constituents to yell at him if he ever starts acting like a politician… Like Young, he’s not a politician, and does not appear to be as politically active as him. He has not had as much success in fundraising either ($34k).

Sodrel’s also rumbled about running again, but after winning only once in the past 4 elections, um, I’m thinking it’s time he give it a rest.

Frankly, either one of these two men look like solid conservatives, and so it will come down to which one would be a more effective candidate, both in terms of campaigning and legistlating assuming one of them wins. Young seems to have the upper edge in campaigning at this point (and personally, I think he’d be the better candidate), but you can decide for yourselves.

So how winnable is this seat? Hill’s fundraising has been average so far, and this is a Republican leaning district. His arrogant remarks probably wouldn’t sit well with his constituents, but that depends on how well reported they were. Also, one has to wonder how many of his constituents will realize that Indiana is one of the few states that isn’t in a budget crisis, and the only reason for that is their (Republican) Governer. If the fiscal crisis continues to be the big story in 2010, then someone in the same vein as Mitch Daniels might cause an upset. It’s certainly not at the top of the Republicans’ list, but in a wave election this seat is vulnerable.

Open Congress