Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Take Off Our Shoes - For the Economy!

During tonight's broadcast of "Countdown", Keith Olberman made the following statement during a discussion with Chris Kofinis (at about 2:21 into the 5:43 clip on the MSNBC web site concerning the second half of #5 in the countdown):

Well it's also, it's what do these two things [suspending his campaign and dealing with the economy, when it was as much a crisis last week as this week] have to do with each other. If he'd said "Well, look, to avert any further crisis we need to all take our shoes off" it would have made as much sense as "we're going to postpone a debate"
[my approximate rendering, not an official transcript]

Did you get it? I did.
"Shoes for Industry!" Firesign Theater, circa 1970.

The idea (originally from "Don't Crush that Dwarf, Hand me the Pliers" if I recall correctly, although I'd have to dig out some vinyl to know for sure) is that the only way to improve the economy in the bizarre post-war world inhabited by George Leroy Tirebiter is to take off your shoes and turn them in to the government ... thereby creating jobs to replace those shoes.

Shoes for Industry! Shoes for the Dead! Shoes for Industry!

Hi, I'm Joe Beets.

What chance does a returning deceased war veteran have for that good paying job, more sugar, and the free mule you've been dreaming of? Well, think it over. Then take off your shoes.


Now you can see how increased spending opportunities means harder work for everyone, and more of it too. So do your part, Joe. Join with millions of your neighbors and turn in your shoes. For Industry!

This is heard as a radio or TV ad in the background of the story, but is frequently referenced elsewhere -- like when the student at More Science High complains that he would really rather take off his shoes, sit in a tree, and learn to play the flute.

My favorite line from that album concerned Commie Martyrs High School where "there are no classes in our society, or in our school".

"Shoes for Industry" is available on the album "Shoes for Industry!" as track 12 on disc 1.

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Sunday, September 21, 2008

Yankee Stadium

Today is the last game at Yankee Stadium. Only time will tell if abandoning that hallowed ground will mean hard times for the NY Yankees. Many of us can but hope that it will! (Has Notre Dame struggled in football because they remodeled their stadium? Only Touchdown Jesus knows that for sure.) Where I grew up, there were two kinds of people: fans of the Detroit Tigers or one of the teams in Chicago, or jerks who were fans of the Yankees just because they won a lot of games.

But this is a time for nostalgia, so here is my contribution. I've never been in the place, but back in the early summer of 1967, on a circuitous return home from Expo 67 in Montreal, my Dad made a point to navigate past various landmarks in NYC. That included driving around Yankee Stadium.

From the outside it was more impressive than Tiger Stadium (originally knows as Briggs Stadium), which looked more like a run-down factory. Yankee Stadium at least looked like an out-of-date office building, if your office building had a giant black sign around the top. Since plenty of NYC buildings did have an ostentatious sign on them (as did the GM building in Detroit), it fit right in.

My other Yankees memory is of going to Detroit for a ball game sometime in the early 60s to see the Tigers play the hated Yankees. To a kid, that shutout loss (1-0? 2-0?) was a boring nightmare. I think I would have appreciated watching masterful pitching (I think it was Whitey Ford on the mound) a bit more if my present-self could have talked to my then-self.

The key bit of trivia during the broadcast of tonight's game (not to mention the all-day pre-game show on ESPN) has been the price of tickets back in 1923 when the stadium opened. I used the info on Robert Sahr's inflation info site to do the conversion: It is a factor of about 12.5.

So that $1.10 paid for a grandstand seat in 1923 should be about $14 today, which is just enough to get into the bleachers at today's prices. You have to more than double that to get into the nosebleed section of the upper grandstand, and fork over about ten times that to get into the "mid priced" grandstand seats.

And that 15 cent program would be $2 in today's money. What a joke! But then I'll bet it wasn't a glossy color production either.

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Friday, September 19, 2008


Pirated around the office today ...

Gotta love the cheerful facts about the square of the hypotenuse, conic sections, and his skills in calculus (both differential and integral), but if you need something more sublimely ridiculous:

Nothing quite takes the edge off of Annoying Administrative Actions like the Llama Song.

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Thursday, September 4, 2008

Parsing Politics

Yesterday's speech (you can find the text here, as well as many other places) by Gov. Palin contained lots of errors (such as the lie that Obama's 5% tax cut for working families was actually a tax increase rather than almost twice as big as the cut promised by McCain) that were so glaring they were identified in an AP story almost as soon as the speech was given.

But I want to single out something that said more by what was omitted than by what was said - and it goes to the heart of the "Rob America First" energy policy that McCain is promoting. Palin said

We need American energy resources, brought to you by American ingenuity, and produced by American workers.

Notice that she didn't say "American companies" anywhere in there? No? That is because significant amounts of off-shore and Alaskan oil is produced (and thus owned and sold) by foreign companies such as British Petroleum, Royal Dutch Shell, and Statoil (Norway). We might "need" those resources, but those foreign companies will sell our resources to the highest bidder.

The McCain campaign wanted you to think that she was putting America First, but she is really advocating giving away our grandchildren's oil at today's low prices for the short term profit of her state and oil speculators. You can learn a lot if you listen and read carefully.

Here is another example from today's news.

As reported today on CNBC, my home for investment news:
Axelrod told reporters aboard Obama's campaign plane that the Republican National Convention speakers had distorted the Democratic candidate's record and ignored his resume. He also suggested that John McCain's running mate was only parroting what she'd been told.

"There wasn't one thing that she said about Obama or what he's proposing that is true," Axelrod said.

"She tried to attack Sen. Obama by saying he had no significant legislative achievements. Maybe that's what she was told."

That statement drew strong reaction from McCain's headquarters.

"For the Obama campaign to suggest that she is simply being told what to do is offensive and takes our country backward," communications director Jill Hazelbaker said.

So Jill is implying to us that Palin knowingly made false statements about Obama's legislative achievements, one of which was an extremely significant bill to limit the spread of nuclear weapons that he pushed through in a bipartisan effort with Indiana Senator Richard Lugar? Knowingly making false statements is what is known as LYING, so did McCain's spokesman decide that it was better to have Palin be known as a liar than as a parrot? Not really. Jill didn't actually say that Palin was not being told what to do, she only said that suggesting it is offensive to her as the communications director.

Yeah, it was a strong "reaction", but don't ever confuse a "reaction" with a "denial". Since the McCain campaign did not actually DENY that Palin was told what to say (which would be odd given all of the stories yesterday about how she was being coached and prepared for the speech), we can take this non-denial as proof that Palin was told what to say and someone else (maybe the communications director?) was responsible for those lies.

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Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Thoughts on the Palin Speeches

The Highlight:
As they all gathered on stage after the speech, particularly an uncomfortable looking Levi and his preggers GF, all I could think was "biggest shotgun wedding ever". Man that guy looked like a moose caught in headlights. A million tabloid dollars for his thoughts! (And that might be his best job opportunity right now.)

The other highlight was reminding us of Harry Truman. Truman was VP for less than three months before the President died and put him the position of negotiating the partition of Europe, where many still argue that he gave away 1/4 of Germany by splitting it in half rather than quarters. But, oddly enough, she forgot to mention that the "haberdasher from Missouri" had been a US Senator from Missouri for a decade before he became VP. That national experience was crucial when he had to step onto the world stage without even knowing the US had an atomic bomb that was almost ready to be used. Even with all that, Sarah Palin is no Harry Truman. She didn't even have a passport until last year? Sheesh.

But I really liked how she spent more than 10 minutes talking about her family and only a few minutes lying about Obama's strong position in favor of going after Al Qaeda rather than fighting someone else's civil war as McCain preferred to do while bin Laden rebuilt his organization, and a few more lying about his tax plan and tap dancing around McCain's massive deficit plan. Others spent much more time lying about the Democratic ticket, so that was a plus. Otherwise, it was strong on insult and weak on specifics. It seemed like her only comment on foreign policy was that we should "Drill Baby Drill" so it would not matter if Russia captured the pipeline in Georgia.

Russia: We're going to invade the Ukraine.
Palin: We'll drill for oil off of Florida. Fixed you!

But the highlight was talking about bring back small government. Based on her huge goverment in Alaska? And not raising taxes? Gov. Palin pushed through a HUGE TAX INCREASE on oil that all of us are paying at the gas pump. That windfall is why her state has a budget surplus, not vetoes or good management.

You see, I have a good ear for numbers and order of magnitude. Last night I heard something about her executive experience that just did not make sense for a state with less than 700,000 residents. Their budget is what? They have how many state employees? The state budget of the state of Alaska totals more than $16,000 per person. The US budget is almost half that, only about $9100 per person, and that is while supporting an army fighting a war in Iraq! Even the most bloated "elite eastern government" like the one Rudy Guiliani ran is a fraction of that. Delaware? Delaware has 25% more people than Alaska, but only 30% of its budget. Delaware spends less than $4000 per person, less than a quarter of the gargantuan, bloated budget Palin brags is "limited".

How can the residents of Alaska afford the taxes to pay for all of that government? They don't have to. We pay the taxes down in the lower 48, and Alaskans each get $1500 of it, in cash, to spend as they wish.

Once the media get past the hypocrisy of family values that saw John McCain "forget" about his adopted child when posing for a family portrait on the People magazine cover and Lieberman tap dancing as fast as he can to avoid answering a question about Palin being ready to deal with Russia on Day One, maybe they will get to pocketbook issues like Palin raising the price of our gasoline to pay for the bloated budget in Alaska - and then pretending Alaskans had to sacrifice to pay for the Bridge to Nowhere themselves.

Finally, I'm sure everyone noticed that one of the speakers broke the rule about attacking family members with a snide attack on Michelle Obama's patriotism. So much for that promise of civility from the McCain campaign.

PS -
If you want to see Republicans hoisting themselves on their own petards, be sure to see a rerun of tonight's (Wednesday 9/3) Daily Show. Most. Brilliant. Use. Of. Clips. Ever.

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Monday, September 1, 2008

Storm Surge

UPDATE (9/9/2008):
There is an awesome (silent) video from the BBC showing the storm surge as Ike made landfall in Cuba. It is one thing to read about it, quite another to see the spray from a breaking wave rising above a 5-story apartment building and a half meter ? high wave running down a street and smashing into a house. Also see picture number 6 on this photo page.

The live news coverage of Hurricane Gustav has included video from an NBC affiliate showing waves breaking over a levee on the Industrial Canal, an area where there were failures during Katrina. The MSNBC web site has a Reuters photo showing the area in a viewer that makes a link rather useless, but the BBC has an AP photo showing this area:

This is a great picture because it illustrates one of the main improvements made after Katrina. (It also shows that the surge is at treetop level in the canal.)

Analysis of the failures after Katrina by the American Society of Civil Engineers and the US Corps of Engineers showed that many levees failed even though the water level from the storm surge was below the top of the levee. Why?

The surge itself is not much more than a steady rise in the water level, although it can be as rapid as a flash flood on a river. This would be a static equilibrium problem familiar to any student of physics and calculus. [The force on the wall is found by multiplying the water pressure times the area of the wall. Since the water pressure increases with depth, you need to do an integral to add up the forces on the wall that try to push it sideways, or the torque that tries to rotate it about its base.] At least one wall failed during Katrina because its foundation was not strong enough to withstand those static loads even when the water was a foot or so below the top (as it is in this picture).

However, there are also dynamics at work here. The wind produces waves that pound on the wall and break over it. Water landing on the back side of the wall can erode the dirt holding the wall in place. Weaken that foundation, which resists the loads on the wall, and it can slide sideways or tip over, or both. Notice that the wall in this picture has a concrete footing, like a sidewalk, where the water will land if/when waves (or even the storm surge itself) go over the top of the wall. This dissipates the energy of the falling water, which can then run gently off down the sodded levee below rather than erode the base of the wall.

Imagine the difference between running a hose full blast on a sidewalk and running it on your garden or lawn for a day or two. The sidewalk will still be there, the garden will not. Now imagine it was a fire hose rather than a garden hose, and you will see the problem when Katrina drove 6 foot waves over a levee while the storm surge itself was still below the top of the levee.

PS -
Another picture from that same set shows the other side of a Weather Channel standup out in the storm. The secret to getting a steady shot of the reported being buffeted by the wind is to have a small camera man being held by what looks like a retired offensive lineman. I guess if you can bench press 400 pounds, you can hold onto anything in any wind!

Historical Context

Although this NOAA picture is not as clear as the news photo, this photo of a breach of a flood wall due to Katrina shows only grass, rather than a concrete roadway, on the back side of the wall. However, this wall was an outright engineering design failure of the foundation, not a result of overtopping. In the bottom half of the picture, you can still see the levee and floodwall that was pushed, intact, about 30 feet sideways into the Lakeview neighborhood by the water pressure. Metairie (on the left) was dry because water levels never reached the top of the wall.

I thought I should also point out that this famous picture does not show water pouring into the city as was frequently stated in the news. Anyone paying attention will notice that it shows water flowing back out of the city, into the canal! Water was flowing OUT of the flooded areas during the time they were desperately trying to close the breech in the levee with helicopters dropping giant sand bags, not in.

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