March 17, 2012

P.J. O’Rourke on the Cato-Koch shootout

Filed under: Economics, Liberty, Politics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 11:59

His latest column is on the infighting over control of the libertarian Cato Institute:

The Koch brothers’ motive seems clear, to the extent there’s clarity in human motivation. They want to rid the Oval Office of a pest and Congress of the pestilence’s plague-carriers. In their battle against statist disease, the Kochs seem to regard Cato’s individualism as too individualistic. They want a more collective effort to cure collectivism.

Current Cato board chairman Bob Levy met with David Koch and some of Koch’s political advisers last November. According to Levy, “They said that a principal goal was to defeat Barack Obama. The way David put it was, ‘We would like you to provide intellectual ammunition that we can then use at Americans for Prosperity and our allied organizations.’ AFP and others would apply Cato’s work to advance their electoral goals.”

Of course, if David Koch had bothered to read the Cato trove of books, articles, policy analysis, and research on the Obama administration’s bunk and boners, he would have found six-shooter ammunition enough to burst through the swinging doors of the Electoral Goals Saloon and make every sarsaparilla-drinking tenderfoot in the Democratic party dance.

[. . .]

And Cato couldn’t be involved in partisan politics. Everyone there is a libertarian. You might as well command your cat to bring you your pajamas as tell a bunch of libertarians to get on the same political platform. I know these people. Ron Paul is a bien-pensant by comparison. Cato scholars prize contentious thought. Get in a debate with one and you’ll find out he doesn’t even agree with himself.

[. . .]

It can be said, with some justice, that libertarians apply only one measure to every issue. But what a sublime yardstick it is. Libertarians ask, about each thing they encounter in public life, “Does this promote the liberty, responsibility, and dignity of the individual?” Libertarianism can have political implications, but politics is, by definition, mass action. And libertarians don’t believe in the masses. They believe in the individuals huddled in those masses. A pure libertarian is opposed to politics down to the soles of his shoes (or, libertarians being libertarians, down to the bottom of his sandals worn with socks). Libertarianism is contra-political, an emetic dose to be given to politics. As we’ve seen lately, all politics needs one sometimes.

H/T to Walter Olson for the link.

The Globe & Mail criticizes Ed Broadbent for still having opinions at his age

Filed under: Cancon, Media, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 11:22

A fascinating editorial at the Globe and Mail stops just short of telling Mr. Broadbent that his role as “elder statesman” of the NDP requires him to take on the political opinions of the royal family — that is, none expressed in public.

Ed Broadbent, by his withering attacks on NDP leadership front-runner Thomas Mulcair, has forfeited his role as elder statesman of the party in favour of that of a cranky partisan.

A widely respected figure well beyond the NDP membership, Mr. Broadbent took sides early in the campaign when he endorsed former party president Brian Topp, and this week he spoke of Mr. Topp’s abilities in rapturous language: “His depth, his intelligence, his commitment to the party, his strategic sense, his commitment to social democracy.”

[. . .]

No doubt Mr. Broadbent felt he had a responsibility to speak out. But whatever harm he has done to Mr. Mulcair — and it is unclear how much influence the former leader retains — there is as great a risk of aggravating divisions and harming the party’s ability to unite behind the new leader. That would be a sorry addendum to his legacy.

Or, in brief, “Can someone get grampaw Ed his medicine? He’s bothering the guests.”

Schiaparelli’s ambiguous word choice and the lasting obsession with Mars

Filed under: Books, History, Media, Science, Space — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 11:09

Scott Van Wynsberghe reviews the hold that fictitious Mars has held on the imagination since “canals” were observed:

Mars, the most obsessed-about extraterrestrial body in the universe, has come our way again. On March 9, Hollywood unveiled John Carter, the first film adaptation of a famous series of Martian adventures written by Edgar Rice Burroughs, better known as the creator of the jungle hero Tarzan. Burroughs’s Martian yarns act as a portal to 135 years of cultural history that really is out of this world.

The bizarre story of humanity’s modern entanglement with the Red Planet began in 1877, when Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli reported the existence of “canali” on the Martian surface. In Italian, that word can mean both “channels,” which are natural formations, and “canals,” which are not. According to science writer John Noble Wilford, that ambiguity was never cleared up.

[. . .]

Caught between science fiction and the supernatural, actual scientists were in trouble. French astronomer Camille Flammarion, for example, alternately wrote about Mars and reincarnation (1889) and Mars and science (1892). In 1900, the inventor Nikola Tesla announced that he had monitored transmissions from either Mars or Venus, but he was jeered (biographer Margaret Cheney thinks he was just detecting natural electromagnetic patterns in space). In 1921, radio pioneer Guglielmo Marconi thought he had received a signal from Mars, but that, too, went nowhere. The biggest offender, however, was American astronomer Percival Lowell.

In 1895, Lowell released the first of a series of books proclaiming that Mars was inhabited. The canali, he said, really were canals, supporting a civilization struggling to survive on a dying globe. Although rightly scorned by other astronomers, Lowell was a superb writer and a frequent lecturer — Robert Goddard, the father of American rocketry, heard him speak — so his message spread. (And, in a way, it is still spreading: Think of that recent, much-debunked conspiracy theory about a giant, sculpted face on the Martian surface.)

“In a nutshell … market value and franchise value aren’t always going to match”

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 10:08

Tom Pelissero shares a few informative Twitter updates from free agent linebacker Erin Henderson — who still hasn’t had an acceptable contract offer from the Vikings:

Erin Henderson has heard enough from fans questioning why he hasn’t re-signed with the Minnesota Vikings.

On Friday, Henderson fired back on Twitter.

“In a nutshell…market value and franchise value aren’t always going to match,” Henderson wrote on his Twitter page (@50ErinHenderson). “If someone can play 3 positions … their value has to go up.

“I’ve watched every single 1 of my games from last (year) 10 (times) over. I know what I’m worth. Not to mention they (have not) even give me an offer. I don’t come to (your) job and tell (you) what you (should and shouldn’t) make. So how can (you) say what I’m worth?”

Henderson, 25, took over as the Vikings’ starting weakside linebacker last season, his fourth in the NFL. He recorded 91 tackles (56 solo), eight tackles for loss, 1½ sacks and two forced fumbles in 15 games, playing 53.8% of the defensive snaps.

I’m quite surprised that the Vikings haven’t been able to come up with an offer: linebacker is one of the positions that they’ll need to reinforce, as Erin’s older brother E.J. Henderson is also a free agent and may not be back with the team. You don’t want to be in the position of having to replace 2/3rds of your starting linebackers in the same season. With all the other pressing personnel needs the Vikings face, you’d imagine that re-signing Erin Henderson would be an obvious move.

Happy (Biologist’s) St. Patrick’s Day

Filed under: Humour, Science — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:08

I’m resurrecting this nerdy drinking song from last year… As many of you perceptive viewers noticed there were a couple alcohol-induced scientific errors in my last version of this song (gold star, perceptive viewers!) — so I thought this St. Patrick’s day would be a perfect time to correct them.

In the year of our lord eighteen hundred and eleven
On March the seventeenth day
I will raise up a beer and I’ll raise up a cheer
For Saccharomyces cerevisiae
Here’s to brewers yeast, that humblest of all beasts
Producing carbon gas reducing acetaldehyde
But my friends that isn’t all — it makes ethyl alcohol
That is what the yeast excretes and that’s what we imbibe

Anaerobic isolation
Alcoholic fermentation
NADH oxidation
Give me a beer


My intestinal wall absorbs that ethanol
And soon it passes through my blood-brain barrier
There’s a girl in the next seat who I didn’t think that sweet
But after a few drinks I want to marry her
I guess it’s not surprising, my dopamine is rising
And my glutamate receptors are all shot
I’d surely be bemoaning all the extra serotonin
But my judgment is impaired and my confidence is not

Allosteric modulation
No Long Term Potentiation
Hastens my inebriation
Give me a beer


When ethanol is in me, some shows up in my kidneys
And inhibits vasopressin by degrees
A decrease in aquaporins hinders water re-absorption
And pretty soon I really have to pee
Well my liver breaks it down so my body can rebound
By my store of glycogen is soon depleted
And tomorrow when I’m sober I will also be hungover
Cause I flushed electrolytes that my nerves and muscles needed

Diuretic activation
Urination urination
Urination dehydration
Give me a beer

H/T to Chris Myrick for the link.

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