Saturday, May 31, 2008

Obama's Heel.

John Fund writes in the Opinion section of about Obama's embarassing gaffes (beyond the most recent on Buchenwald) and goofball statements that would be a pillory for him in the hands of a less servile press. Fund writes: "He has large gaps in his knowledge base, and is just as likely to dig in and embrace a policy misstatement as abandon it".

Nathan Thrall and Jesse James Wilkins opine in the New York Times that Obama's enthusiasm for unconditional summits with tyrants indicates a naivete about how such high-level meetings work and the disasterous consequences that can ensue. Case in point: the Kennedy-Khrushchev Vienna Summit of 1961. There was no real agenda, no agreement nor understanding that needed to be formalized at the highest levels. It was just a "getting to know you" meeting at which Khrushchev bullied JFK and concluded that the United States was "too liberal to fight". JFK admitted that the meeting was a disaster and that the Soviets would assess that he was weak. What followed was the Berlin Crisis and the Cuban Missile Crisis, Soviet provocations that were based on their Vienna observations.

One could also discuss Jimmy Carter's numerous blunders in this manner, both official and post-official, but that is a treatise. It is sufficient to say that Mr. Carter is an addict of feel-good foreign policy gestures. Mr. Obama appears to likewise suffer this malady.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Hybrid Arithmetic.

If we are to wean ourselves from oil, the proposed solutions must make financial sense for consumers. Let's consider a hybrid vehicle, the Toyota Prius, compared to another Toyota offering with a conventional powerplant, the Yaris. The vehicle costs are based on vehicle configurations that a commuter would want (cruise control, radio, etc)*:

  • Prius: Price = $24,950, Effective MPG = 46.4, 6-years fuel @ $5/gal = $10,360
  • Yaris: Price = $15,600, Effective MPG = 31.7, 6-years fuel @ $5/gal = $15,140

Thus, after 6 years of use, choosing a Prius still has a premium of $4500 over the Yaris. This is also assuming that vehicle maintenance costs are equal, an assumption that probably favors the Prius.

$4500 is a stiff "green premium" to change to a hybrid vehicle. Perhaps a Prius is a hedge against an even higher gasoline price, if so, the breakeven cost of a Prius for six years of operation would require $8 a gallon gas. So is such a hybrid vehicle a realistic solution to offer consumers?

*Vehicle price also assumes: $2000 trade-in, 48 months financing @6.1%. Fuel costs assume 16,000 miles traveled per year with 45% highway travel.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Politically Correct Mutation.

A&E presented a remake of The Andromeda Strain, the groundbreaking techno-thriller by Michael Crichton. This book has a very special place in our hearts here at Deaddrifts. We were given the book by our 7th-grade English/Social Studies (AKA "Block") teacher, the beloved Miss Wallace. It was the most captivating work of fiction that we had read, and remained so for many years. The book gives one a glimpse into the world of Apollo-era molecular biology, epidemiology, and space technology with a credible plot and engaging characters. It inspired science hobbies that lead to a career in science.

The original movie based on the novel (1971) was a quite satisfying and reasonably faithful adaptation, and achieved cult status in geekdom. A&E's promotional trailers promised an exciting update with forty years of advancement in the biological sciences, the birth and growth of "astrobiology", the maturation of computer technology, and the directorial mastery of Ridley Scott.

The remake of The Andromeda Strain does have all of that, but alas also carries such an immense weight of politically correct and conspiratorial baggage that it is a chore to watch, like a mandatory requirement of a platoon's political officer. The principal characters are so deliberately diverse (very, very diverse) it's as if A&E Market Demographics had dictated the makeup of the Wildfire Team (guys, you did miss putting a "little person" in the story somewhere). There is also the evil - really evil - invisible hand of the United States Government, working to the detriment of humanity, which appears to be a current requirement for the story of this film genre. Finally, there is the Hero Newsman, of course, fighting to Get The Truth Out.

These political ormanents are lethal to the enjoyability of this movie, because one is always being clubbed over the head by them, while precious little is shown of the process of scientific discovery, a central theme of the book. One never sees this highly talented team of scientists actually do some real science...the computer just gives them the answers. Otherwise they spend a lot of time hollering and hurling accusations, and spilling the beans to the outside world on their cell phones (or catching up with the family). What little "science" is portrayed with the typical Hollywood mangling into a grand game of "I've Gotta Hunch". The politics drags the film's pace so that any tension is anesthetized (and stretching the story into a four-hour, two-evening miniseries was a dose of Vallium on top of that).

The original movie has aged rather well, and is certainly more to the point without the ponderous ideology. Go rent it, or better yet, read the book. One observation is that there is no mention of the remake on Michael Crichton's website, and he is only credited in the remake as the author of book on which the film is based. I wonder if Dr. Crichton approved of the re-telling of his story in this manner.

Monday, May 26, 2008


The Phoenix Mars Lander has landed on the polar plains of Mars! The first images of the landscape show polygonal network of depressions that are similar to arctic regions on Earth, perhaps indicating freezing and thawing cycles. Truly awe-inspiring!
Memorial Day, 2008.

...that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion... - A. Lincoln

It is very easy us on the homefront to forget the mortal threat that threatens the civilized world, and grim task of our forces that defend us. Please find time today to say thank you to our vets, and pledge to help our soldiers and their families. An excellent organization that provides such assistance is Cough up a few bucks and do your part.