Archive for May, 2005

Television isn’t that entertaining compared to…

May 31, 2005 Comments off

OK, that does it.  Respectful Insolence is hereby copied into my “daily favorites” category.

I don’t have cable, and I only watch a couple TV shows because there are better entertainments.  For example,  read this post “An odd place for a telephone booth” and ask yourself if it doesn’t just beat the crap out of any episode of E.R.? (Pun intended)  He manages to provoke thought and laughter at the same time.

In other news, I got MrsDoF back safe and sound from Ohio this evening.  :-)   I expect her blog will sprout stories and pictures by and by.

Categories: Blogging, Geeky

A non-veteran thinks about Memorial Day

May 30, 2005 1 comment

Someone said that warfare is the failure of diplomacy.  I think about that a lot, because our history of warfare* is depressingly long.  Even more depressing is that – I know many people could not name five conflicts from that list.  Or ask one hundred people on the street which war was our most costly; you will receive at least fifty wrong answers or blank stares. 

The other day in a bookstore I saw a rap magazine with the cover story; Hip-Hop Murders: Why Haven’t We Learned Anything?””  On the cover were three young men in black funeral-attending suits, looking somberly into the camera from the foreground of what was obviously a military cemetery. 

It was a striking image, the three men framed by neat rows of identical white marble gravestones, one in front contrasting with their dark suits.  Since the unengraved side of the stone is showing,  it appears they were standing on the grave of an American soldier who died in combat.  The article breathlessly recalls the murders of three rap stars and accuses law enforcement of doing little to solve the crimes.

“” opines: “This is a must-have issue for any rap fan.”

I have not served in the military, much less been in combat.  I have only imagination to help me understand, for example, the courage of the soldiers who climbed down the “spider hole” to apprehend Saddam Hussein.  That small event raised up into the light an alloy of humanity that is both common and precious.  And, which often is squandered by citizens and their leaders.

Our leaders are responsible to make sure the diplomatic work is truly done before young Americans have to place themselves on the line.  It is a responsibility too-often lost in lying, self-serving, partisan politics.  Only the complete absence of shame explains how some of them can sleep at night or show their faces in public.

In many cases this work should be proactive.  For example, if Germany were not forced after WWI into ruinous reparations, Hitler would never have been able to gain traction there.  In fact, many starry-eyed liberals opposed reparations for that reason, long before Hitler arrived on the scene.  But politicians pandering to voters’ heady sense of victory saw advantage in that pound of flesh.  The diplomatic work was not done and millions paid the price, including American soldiers who had to clean up the mess.

(Today we call the reconstructive approach a “Marshall plan.”  But after so many had died to confirm what the “liberals” predicted, Marshall was not branded a liberal for proposing it after WWII.)

Examples abound. US Support of Osama Bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, and Manual Noriega come to mind – someone was not thinking ahead.  Or at least, someone was making compromises with American principles in the name of pragmatism, and the end result each time was war down the line.  The diplomatic work was not done and American soldiers, again, had to clean up the mess. 

But politicians do not operate in a vacuum.  They have to please a voting public whose imaginations are not empowered by knowledge and whose passions are wholly owned by consumer culture.

Today’s paper has an obligatory cartoon equating the Memorial day cookout with ingratitude to the soldier.  Having a cookout is not exclusive of gratitude but living ignorantly is. The citizen who does not try to understand our constitution, or to vote, or to know as much as he can about the world our superpower country engages, equally squanders the courage and honor of our soldiers. 

It is too bad that schools are closed on Memorial day.  Regular classes could be canceled in favor of special events: films, displays, and visiting veterans’ stories.

Barring special school days, (which I would always prefer over closing school for a day) at least we could take advantage of the wealth of literature by veterans.  The stories are important.  Readers, if you know some good ones online, link them in the comments below.

I’m typing slower now, so it must be time to stop.  To those of you who served or are serving in our military, THANK YOU.


* The list of conflicts on contains some armed conflicts that don’t involve our military.  If anyone knows a better list, I’d be happy to link it.

It might be a good thing if we held elections on Memorial day.

Categories: Politics

“Two sparks forward…”

May 29, 2005 10 comments

… and one spark back.  MrsDoF is out of town, so my son and I are batching it this weekend.  He (possessing an actual social life) is busy, so I’m pretty footloose and fancy-free.

Hah!  Time to work on my Bug.  This 1967 sculpture of a car is a long-running joke, whose punch line may become less useful if I ever get it running satisfactorily.  Which is to say, as I remember how the ‘67 I had in college ran.

Yesterday and today I installed a Pertronix magnetic pickup in the distributor, eliminating the “points and condensor” that used to keep mechanics in boat payments.

Getting a classic bug running well today is a bit more challenging than it used to be due to the limited availability of vacuum-advance distributors among other variables. (Most VW parts places sell a Bosch 009 centrifugal-advance, which is fine for industrial applications like compressors or generators that use the VW engine, but not so good for, well, cars.)

Add to this the problem that gasoline now contains up to 15% alcohol, which isn’t a great match for the 34PICT-3 carburetor that VW used with the “late-model” 1600cc engine.  So there’s lots of urban legend and lore about getting smooth response.

I am using‘s SVDA distributor and a beautiful NEW German 34PICT-3 carburetor, both set to specifications, and result is great… sort of.

At the moment the car is running smoothly and strongly – actually better than it has since I dove headlong into this crazy project.  But it’s hot.  The engine is really toasty after only short periods of running.  Last night it died on me, possibly from heat-induced vapor-lock.

The timing is 30 degrees max with the vacuum hose plugged (which is to say, centrifugal only).  It maxes out at about 40 degrees (!) at 3000 rpm with the vacuum connected, which seems like a lot but according to Aircooled, that’s about right. 

There’s no “flat spot” of power-loss on throttle application, which is the problem the SVDA distributor is supposed to address.  It’s really very nice!  So why is it running so hot?

Could be the gas.  The tank is full of gas that (I now realize) is 8 months old and may not be fully burning before it leaves the ignition chamber.  I’m going to add some StaBil to it (which I should have done last Fall) to see if that helps. (Update: I drained out the gas and replaced it with fresh premium, and the engine stopped dying but is still really hot.  Anyone know what to do with 10 gallons of old gas?)

On another note, if you’re running a classic VW, get one of these laser-engraved pully wheels.  It makes setting the timing SO much easier.  No more guessing which type of pully wheel you have, and how far around the (unmarked) pully is 30 degrees.  There are enough variables to driving a 37-year-old car; don’t add guesswork to them.

By the way, the pully wheel in this picture was spinning at 850 rpm when this picture was taken.  That’s about 14 revolutions per second!  The pully wheel is about 6.75 inches across, which is about 21 inches around for an edge surface speed of 25 feet per second, or roughly 17 miles per hour.  Yet it rendered sharply because this is a flash picture.  My little digital camera has a tiny flash which equals a very short duration.

(I rounded those figures starting with the estimate of the pully wheel diameter, so you calculator people just put those extra decimal places back where you got ‘em.)

Categories: Personal, VW

How and who

May 29, 2005 Comments off

I went to a private Christian college, where academic standards were quite high and my professors were not afraid to wrestle with intellectual questions.  So “DumbChristianity,” the mindset where science is the enemy and no effort is spared to hold it at bay, is a mystery to me.  There are plenty of intelligent people, including scientists, who are Christians.

Lately it seems like The Stupids are winning.  But there are signs of hope.  I was delighted by the following comment to a post at Respectful Insolence:

“I’m a Bible thumpin, conservative minister in the Methodist Church. I have no problem with evolution. Those who use the Bible to disprove evolution obviously do not understand how to read and interpret scripture. The Bible is not a book about the “how” of creation, but of the “who” of creation. Leave the “how” to the scientists and the “who” to the Bible.”

A rather elegant distinction, don’t you think?  That guy won’t be driving educated people out of his church. He’ll be able to concentrate on things that are central to his faith, and not be sidetracked into politically-driven issues manipulated by right-wing kingmakers. 

As long as you stay safely ensconced in a little whirlpool of creationist literature and websites, you could go on thinking that evolution is an evil atheistic plot instead of the logical conclusion to the massive and ever-growing body of evidence that it is.  The anti-science mentality has been carried to its logical conclusion: Afghanistan.  As one Imam said when asked if children should be vaccinated; “We are as modern as Allah ever intended us to be.”

Categories: Religion

Answering censorship from Left and Right

May 27, 2005 Comments off

The fundy family group Promise Keepers wants to rent the Razorback stadium in Fayetteville, Arkensas, and the enlightened humans on campus want them to JUST SHUT THE HELL UP AND GO AWAY.  As always, the urge to silence those who disagree with you is universal, and as usual, Ed at Dispatches from the Culture Wars has a wonderful answer:

“I say the same thing to these whiners that I say to the moral majority types who complain of immoral movies or books – don’t read them. Don’t see them. Turn the channel. Argue with them, show them up, prove them wrong. But don’t try and shut them up. Because if you give to the government the power to shut up those you oppose, you’re also giving them the power to shut you up too. Let all ideas remain free so long as reason is free to combat them, said Jefferson, and he was right.”
-Ed, Dispatches from the culture wars

Ed’s entire post is definitely worth a look-see.
UPDATE: Also see his following post:
Why the First Amendment is uniquely important.

Categories: Politics

My solution to medical malpractice crisis

May 25, 2005 11 comments

If you live in Illinois, you’ve heard about the debate in the State Senate on medical malpractice rates.  It seems that doctors are leaving the state due to high malpractice insurance rates.  Predictably, the insurance industry and the AMA say that awards should be capped, while patient advocacy groups say that hospitals and the law need to do more to weed out incompetent doctors.

They’re both only a little bit right.

There are certainly absurd damage awards, but also incompetent doctors, and even greedy insurance companies who blame equally greedy patients.  And the law, in its clumsy way, could make some kind of rough correction to it all.  Might I suggest a different model?  How about eBay’s feedback system?

If you have not used eBay, here’s how it works:  buyers comment on their experience with sellers, and sellers get a rebuttal comment (if they want one).  The total percentage of good and bad comments is openly displayed, and prospective buyers can peruse the seller’s total library of comments.

Doctors, hospitals, and clinics are sellers; patients are buyers.

The system is rather brutal, but it would weed out the bad doctors faster than you could yell “Falling malpractice insurance rates.”  No legislator would have to lift a finger; in just a few months, a pattern would begin to emerge.  Layers of official denial and obfuscation would be stripped away to open up the truth about which doctors had satisfied patients and which did not. 

Every doctor has some dissatisfied patients, along with some irrational devotees, and readers could judge the credibility of those patients’ claims.  A legal framework of protection would have to be built for the comment system to ensure patients (buyers) have the opportunity to speak freely. If a patient is really off-base, the doctor has the option of responding with a rebuttal comment if he wants. In any case, the computer-generated percentage reflects the totality of all patients.

Most attractive feature for me: doctors, clinics, hospitals, lawyers, and the insurance industry would all hate it.

Categories: Safety & Health

I’ll never learn - change the station, quick!

May 24, 2005 4 comments

(Imagined scene:  child in car asks; “Mommy, why is that bald man in the car next to us yelling at his radio?”)

You’d think I’d learn by now.  When a story comes on the radio about how American companies can’t compete with foreign companies for some reason, change the station now!!!  Continuing to listen will only raise my blood pressure, and that I cannot afford.  That’s what happened this morning as NPR’s Jim Zarroli reported in GM Struggles to achieve financial turnaround.

It seems that in the wake of higher gas prices, SUV sales are down and foreign manufacturers are eating GM’s lunch.  GM is responding by a sales gimmick where you go into a dealership, press the OnStar button, and have a one-in-a-thousand chance of winning a car.  The idea is that it will pack the showrooms with buyers who are so feckless they don’t have any idea what kind of car they want.

GM (and Ford) are engaging in other incentive strategies, too, along with union negotiations, brand consolidation, brand image reinforcement, and so forth.  Everything except trying to build better cars.

I heard a GM company exec say (and this is as near a quote as I can make); “To compete with higher-quality imports, GM will have to lower prices.”

US makers deny vociferously that foreign companies make better cars, but they caught that executive off-guard.  Just to pick one example, my Chevvy and my son’s Toyota both have a little over 100,000 miles on them.  The Chevvy has been falling apart for the last 60,000 miles and lots of things on it don’t work.  The Toyota is in fine shape and everything works – just like our old Nissan which we sold at 165,000 miles (to a friend of ours who fixed the oil leak and is quite happy with it.)  I pay attention to old cars and this is hardly a unique comparison.

Earth to General Motors: If I buy something so expensive I’d have to borrow money for it, I don’t want it to start turning to crap before I finish paying for it.  American car companies should buy fleets of ten-year-old cars, all different brands foreign and domestic, and make their executives drive a different one to work every day. 

Categories: business

Celebrities and Buddhism

May 22, 2005 Comments off

A quote that made me smile today:

“It’s OK with me, and it keeps them out of Scientology.”

- Rafi Zabor, interviewed in the Summer ‘05 Tricycle magazine, asked,
“what do you think of so many celebrities being Buddhists?”

Categories: Humor

Why we need line-item veto

May 22, 2005 2 comments

Would you spend $315m to build a bridge to an island with a population of fifty people?  You wouldn’t?  Huh – shows what you know.  Bronwyn Lance-Chester reports that Congress just allocated $223m toward the total cost of the Gravina Island Bridge in Alaska.  It seems the ferry leading to that island only leaves every 10 minutes and that isn’t convenient enough.

The Gravina Island project website (be sure to see the visual analysis photos) describes the curving structure in earthquake-prone Alaska as a “Gateway to the future.”  How original.

As Alaskan Highway project managers Jim Evensen and and Mark Dalton say about the Gravina Island project, “Like most of Alaska‚Äôs capital transportation expenditures, the federal government will be asked to fund the bulk of it.” 

But lest you think it’s some grasping pork expenditure, you must realize: their hands are tied.  “Federal legislation designated these funds specifically for the Gravina Access Project. The money cannot be spent on other transportation projects or in other ways without Congressional authorization.”  Darn those Congressmen forcing us to spend federal money on ludicrous projects.

How about another bridge ($200m Federal dough) to connect Anchorage to… well, nowhere, really.  That’s only the first installment – the final cost is expected to be around $2.3bn.  I don’t have all the specifics on that one yet.

Remember when Clinton worked to get a line-item veto, because pork spending gets packed into “must-pass” legislation so individual congressmen can’t vote against it?  The reasoning was that if a vetoed line was really that important, congress could come back and override the veto, which would be perfectly fair.  I keep seeing examples of why that was a good idea. 

Categories: Politics

Red State Rabble

May 20, 2005 1 comment