Monday, January 29, 2007

TWU - High Ranked College in Canada

Yes, I like the college our younger daughter went to - Trinity Western University in Langley, British Columbia - 20 miles east of Vancouver, BC, which makes it closer to Seattle than Vancouver is. The Globe Mail newspaper does an annual University Report Card. TWU did very well. They are especially proud of receiving the highest grad for "Overall Quality of Education" in Canada. Here is TWU's bragging page; they have a right to brag. For the original source I have only been able to get the data for student life, not the academics.

Thailand - Beach and Elephants

The Beach - we spent 3 days at a beach resort in the province of Rayong (there is a city of the same name) of Thailand. It is a few kms east of a Ban Phe, a fishing port. We stayed at Novotel Rim Pae Resort. Fine, salmon colored sand. All Europeans except us. But everyone speaks English to the staff; it's the universal language for sure. We sure had trouble breaking the ice with them. They can't even say "good morning." I was getting to the point of asking "what language should I use for my morning greeting?" In our short time we were unable to get to any of the off-shore islands. There wasn't good snorkeling at the resort's beach, nice as it was. So you have to get to an island and you can do a day tour to several; the largest is Ko Samet. One couple who did said the fish were not very good - not up to Hawaii standards. They are from Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean off Madagascar and they have much better at home. The Elephant Trek at Pattaya Elephant Village - more later.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Senator Feinstein steers $$$ to husband's firms - conflict?

Senator Feinstein is now in charge of enforcing ethics rules on all senators, as chair of Senate Rules Committee. But don't expect her to follow the rules. In the recent past she voted for appropriations to her husband's firms. MetroActive reports:
As chairperson and ranking member of the Military Construction Appropriations subcommittee (MILCON) from 2001 through the end of 2005, Feinstein supervised the appropriation of billions of dollars a year for specific military construction projects. Two defense contractors whose interests were largely controlled by her husband, financier Richard C. Blum, benefited from decisions made by Feinstein as leader of this powerful subcommittee. Each year, MILCON's members decide which military construction projects will be funded from a roster proposed by the Department of Defense. Contracts to build these specific projects are subsequently awarded to such major defense contractors as Halliburton, Fluor, Parsons, Louis Berger, URS Corporation and Perini Corporation. From 1997 through the end of 2005, with Feinstein's knowledge, Blum was a majority owner of both URS Corp. and Perini Corp.
She is a Democrat. Do the ethics rules apply to her? The MetroActive article is very detailed. Feinstein received was supposed to not vote on issues relating to her husband's firms and she was informed what to avoid. But she voted anyway - when she should not have.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Marijuana - shame of Seattle

The Seattle Post Intelligence newspaper is proud that use of illegal drugs by Seattleites is very high. But they don't ask the health question: Is using marijuana safe? There is increasing evidence that long-term use causes damage. My friend Matt Rosenberg has an extensive post on it with several sources. Here is a sample from D.P. Tashkin at the National Institutes of Health:
...regular marijuana smoking produces a number of long-term pulmonary consequences, including chronic cough and sputum, histopathologic evidence of widespread airway inflammation and injury and immunohistochemical evidence of dysregulated growth of respiratory epithelial cells, that may be precursors to lung cancer. The THC in marijuana could contribute to some of these injurious changes through its ability to augment oxidative stress, cause mitochondrial dysfunction, and inhibit apoptosis ....Habitual use of marijuana is also associated with abnormalities in the structure and function of alveolar macrophages, including impairment in microbial phagocytosis and killing that is associated with defective production of immunostimulatory cytokines and nitric oxide, thereby potentially predisposing to pulmonary infection. In view of the growing interest in medicinal marijuana, further epidemiologic studies are needed to clarify the true risks of regular marijuana smoking on respiratory health.
That's pretty technical, but it's all bad. Read Matt's Rosenblog for more.

Net Neutrality NOT

Don't fall for the political maneuvering called "net neutrality." It is the big content providers trying to get a free ride on routes paid for by other companies. This is Google, Amazon, Yahoo and MSN. They want others to build the road and pay for it, then the owners have no priority on using the resource they paid for; Google would get full use without paying. Timothy Lee writes at

Do you trust government to regulate the Internet, which has flourished precisely because government has left it alone?

... For those unfamiliar with the deceptively-named “Net Neutrality,” it is simply the federal government dictating price controls upon companies offering Internet access. Moreover, it constitutes corporate welfare on behalf of powerful behemoths such as Google and

Don’t be fooled by “Net Neutrality” proponents. The fact that they selected such a deceptive name is the first red flag. Proponents contend that introducing government regulation to the Internet will somehow protect consumers. Can you think of the last time that increased bureaucratic regulation accomplished such a feat?

The reality is that “Net Neutrality” will only weaken incentives to launch next-generation broadband services and build new networks.

One of the fathers of the internet, some say The Father, Robert Kahn firmly rejects "net neutrality" at The Register:
Kahn rejected the term "Net Neutrality", calling it "a slogan". He cautioned against dogmatic views of network architecture, saying the need for experimentation at the edges shouldn't come at the expense of improvements elsewhere in the network.
We certainly don't want future development slowed for any reason. Least of all to put money in the pockets of the successful entrepreneurs at Google and Microsoft. Lee explains it well.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Thailand - Bangkok and River Kwai

What an experience; we just got home. We enjoyed it greatly. We spent 9 days in the Imperial Tara Hotel in Sukhumvit, so the street vendors recognized us and we made friends with one. Bangkok is a great city. Someone there told me it's not "third world" like (he named a country). But, I thought, Thailand *is* third world. Then he clarified that he meant only rich and poor; no one between. Yes, Bangkok does not meet that criterion; it has a thriving middle class. We visited few of the big sites in Bangkok - just the Grand Palace and the big malls in the area of Siam Station. But we got around and got to know more people in the Rivers of Life Church. The River Kwai is the site in Kanchanaburi (west of Bangkok) of the World War II bridge construction by the Japanese with forced labor of prisoners of war, immortalized in the 1957 movie "Bridge over the River Kwai" with the memorable Colonel Bogey March. We spent a day visiting the area's WW II cemetery, the Jeath Museum (rhymes with death to me) and the bridge, bombed out of service in 1943, but restored.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Spain will soon be richer than Germany!

Spaniards expect to be richer than Germans and Italians within 3 years, due to a burst of exonomic growth that has hoisted Spain from near the bottom of the European Union 10 years ago to now be closing on the top. "We are sure we are going to pass Germany and Italy in per capita income in two or three years," Jose Lui Rodriquez Zapatero said yesterday. Why? Labor-market overhauls (more flexibility, I assume; I will watch for more information) high immigration tax cuts and easy access to credit. Growth is expected to be 3.4% this year after 3.8% in 2006. Last year Germany's 2.5% growth was its highest in six years; that's lame. Source: WSJ Asia 1/16/07 I am still in Thailand. Now at a Novotel resort at Rayong on the Gulf of Thailand. A rainy day at the tropical beach!!

Military Rule in Thailand

The military overthrew the elected Prime Minister Thaksin last September. Everyone seemed to agree it was a good thing; Thaksin was very wealthy from business in telecommunications before he was elected, but he could not understand that he was not elected to enrich his family and himself at the expense of Thailand's poor. Just one example: On Thursday 1/11/07 the Bangkok Post showed Thaksin's son Panthongtae Shinawatra appearing to testify about when he bought shares of Ample Rich Investments for one baht (Thai currency) when it was selling for 47.25 and sold it a few days later for 49.25 baht. His public statement "I just signed papers, ask mum's secretary." (The Thai baht is 35.3 per US dollar today.) But what do you get when the military rule? Heavy fisted rule as we can see in Thailand this week. Limit on foreign investment - protection that hurts the "protected" The ruling council was convinced that foreign investment was overwhelming Thai businesses, so all foreign investment must be matched by 30% in government bonds [correction]. As soon as they announced this policy they were talking about exceptions. I haven't kept track of the list over the 6 days we have been here. Today's Bangkok Post (1/16/07) says that the 30% rule will cost the Electricity Company 50 basis points on borrowing over the next 10 years. 50 basisi points is 5%. That's huge. Censorship This is real censorship - prior restraint of the press by the government - not the false kind often claimed in the US when the press chooses not to publish something. (It's OK when every day they decide to publish or broadcast one story but not another; that's editing.) Sunday, January 14 the government of Thailand asked for the cooperation of the the cable TV providers to block broadcast of a CNN interview of former Prime Minister Thaksin. The Bangkok Post reported on 1/16/07:
General Saprang Kalayanamitr, deputy Council for National Security (CNS) secretary-general said the generals had to give priority to national security.
After all, he might say something that would be negative about the ruling generals. The general calls that protecting national security. We know what Thaksin said because the Wall Street Journal Aisa reported it on the front page, also on 1/16/07. Thaksin said what I just reported above - the military government's restrictions on foreign investment is hurting Thailand's economic growth. Quoting WSJA: "Such moves, he said, are steering Thailand away from the free-market course on which he had been guiding the country. 'Whether we like it or not, we have to live under a capitalist system." ... "And to live in it successfully, we have to open up our economy and our society. Competition is unavoidable, so we have to preapre for it." My opinion: the people of Thailand can compete. They are bright and hard working. Again I apologize for omitting links to the stories: internet access in our hotel is very expensive.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Friends in Bangkok

We came to visit friends; they are all associated with Rivers of Life Church, which the pastor of our church oversees. The church has permanent facilities - the 19th floor of the Liberty Plaza building on Soi 55 in north Sukumvit, which is east-central Bangkok. We know Pastors Noom and Anne from their visits to Seattle. Noom worked full-time in shipping until last month, but is now full-time pastor. His church is growing and he needs to be full-time. Anne is a professor at Bangkok University. Our friends Neal and Mary Jo from Seattle are here for 6 months helping the church with its English-speaking group and out reach. We see several familiar faces, people who either lived in Seattle and attended our church or have come to Seattle in the summer for our church's camp. Our friend Rung was in Seattle until about 5 years ago. Our trip is vacation. But it is a vacation to connect with Rivers of Life Church so we better know the situation they are in. And we get to see where Neal and Mary Jo are living and working.

Bangkok Tropical City - Grand Palace

Bangkok is a city all right. People here tell us it is over 10 million. It is not like a US city with a central downtown, then neighborhoods. It is mixed with a few high rises and mostly about 3 stories for mile after mile after mile. Our hotel is near the Sky Train so we can get around. But the walk there is a bit challenging, even though it's only about 5 blocks. The first three blocks the side walk is narrow and rough; you have to watch your step. The side streets and alleys are at least a foot lower, so more caution is required. We have a big sigh of relief when we reach Imperial Tara Hotel. Sorry no links, since access is expensive. Sky Train elevated trains are 3 or 4 cars and run frequently. But this is a large city, and they have little seating, so most runs are standing room only. Bangkok is big on fancy malls. There is one called Emporium connected to our Sky Train station - Phrom Phong - and to most. And at Siam Station there are several large ones. All very fancy. Today we visited the Grand Palace. What a place. I have to get a good link for it. It is a Buddhist temple that is huge and very ornate. But the trip was half the fun. We rode the Sky Train for about 5 miles to the river. We were waiting for the very cheap public boat. But Gini dickered while we were waiting and got a private "long-tail boat" to take 4 of us for 500 baht = $15. What an experience. The boat is at least 40 feet long and 5 feet wide and can easily carry 30 passengers. The engine is an automobile engine - I kept thinking V8, but probably a big 4 or 6 - and its drive shaft connected to the propeller. It is a sight to behold; the pilot pivots the whole thing - from engine to prop - to steer. Then when there are no wakes to cross he guns it to 15 or 20. We went about 5 miles up the river to the Grand Palace landing. And the whole route has various pagodas and temples every mile or less.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Good morning, Bangkok

We just arrived in Bangkok. This is our first trip to the Orient. We flew on China Airline via Taipei, Taiwan. Seattle to Taipei was about 14 hours, due to strong head winds. We flew over Japan at night. Too bad; it is beautiful. Then 3.5 hours to Bangkok. I was asleep and missed the coast of Viet Nam and its mountains. I did see some foothills in Laos. Excellent service, except for a couple of mediocre areas. Connecting at Taipei everyone was smiles "this way for Bangkok" until we got through another security check point, then no one knew a thing. There were a dozen Americans wandering for an hour seeking the gate info. Almost funny. We had enough time. Overall B plus. More later.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Shortage of corn due to green policy

They forced more use of corn for ethanol by government policy. But now a shortage of corn is foreseen. We have competing needs here - food versus fuel. Will there be enough corn for food? Or will the green policy of rebates and other encouragement for development of use of ethanol cause a food shortage. The Columbus, Ohio Dispatch predicts food riots:
Lester Brown, founder of the Earth Policy Institute, warned that much more corn will be needed from the 2008 harvest to feed the ethanol plants that will be online by then. He blamed the lag on the failure of industry trade groups to keep up with development of ethanol plants. .... Brown said increasing corn use for ethanol also reduces exports to low-income grain importing countries, which could cause political instability and result in urban food riots in many low- and middle-income countries. "If the current scenario continues to unfold as we’ve projected here, it could create chaos in world grain markets and we should think through whether we want to do that or not," he said.
Everyone has been screaming for replacing oil by alternative fuels. Now the blunt hand of government policy went too far. Maybe. But take another look. How about a market solution?
Dineen [head of Renewable Fuels Association] said Brown’s estimates fail to consider that as much as 10 million more acres of farmland could be put into production next year. "It ignores the reality of the marketplace," he said. "We can’t drive grain prices to the point that we can’t produce ethanol economically. There are limitations to what we’re going to be able to do. There are limitations to how much ethanol you can produce from grain." He said that’s why nearly all ethanol producers are looking at making ethanol from other feedstocks, including switchgrass, wood chips and corn stalks.
Let's let the market decide. If people are hungry they will be willing to pay for the corn - a higher price then for fuel. It works.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Private Options for Parks

The State of Washington is exploring private sponsorship for state parks. They are exploring for now, so we don't know what the results will be. Jason Mercie of Evergreen Freedom Foundation writes at Heartland Institute:
The Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission is considering a draft proposal that would permit limited private "sponsorship" of state parks. The commission is currently gathering comments from stakeholders and hopes to have a finalized proposal available for consideration early next year. According to the draft, "A sponsorship is a commercial relationship in which the Commission and the external entity exchange goods, services, or funds for public recognition or other consideration. 'Sponsorship' includes the right of an external entity to associate its name, products, or services with the Commission's name, programs, services, or facilities." Agency Seeks Sponsors The Seattle Times noted in a September 15 article, "The agency already has begun advertising for potential sponsors. 'Join the fun when Seattle's active urbanites go play in the great outdoors!' reads an ad the parks agency recently ran in a trade magazine for the sponsorship industry."
But no Marlboro park." They strictly limit undesirable sponsors, including any for-profit company. No, not yet.
"It is encouraging to see the commission exploring ways to partner with the private sector," said Amber Gunn, policy analyst for the Evergreen Freedom Foundation's Economic Policy Center. "Hopefully other areas of government will learn from this example and consider additional competitive contracting and private sponsorship opportunities."
I agree.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Show Jimmy Carter the Door

Jimmy Carter (I could never respect a president who called himself "Jimmy" when receiving the oath of office) wrote a book blaming Israel for everything wrong in his world. Everything. Would you be surprised that he made a lot of errors, given his obvious bias. Don't trust me, because I haven't read it. But people who have are saying:
-1- Jimmy Carter admitted yesterday that he did not consult Dennis Ross' book, The Missing Peace , before writing his own volume on the Arab-Israel conflict. "I've never seen Dennis Ross' book. I'm not knocking it, I'm sure it's a very good book," Carter said on CNN. Which begs the question: Why not? As chief Middle East peace negotiator under Presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton, Ambassador Ross knows perhaps more than anyone else the details of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks at the end of 2000—a topic discussed by Carter in recent interviews and his new book. The Missing Peace is described by Bill Clinton as "the definitive" account of those complicated negotiations, and has garnered praise from four past US secretaries of state. -2- Former President Jimmy Carter has written an egregiously biased book called Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid and is currently doing numerous interviews to sell the book and its ideas. Carter is attempting to rewrite history, and in his alternate universe, Arabs parties are blameless and Israel is at fault for almost all the conflicts in the world. One gets the feeling after reading just a few pages that if he could have blamed Hurricane Katrina on Israel, he would have -3- Middle East historian Kenneth Stein has resigned from the Carter Center over the former president’s new book which, he charges, is "replete with factual errors, copied materials not cited, superficialities, glaring omissions, and simply invented segments."
Those are 3 separate reviews/articles. Find these and more at CAMERA, the Committee for Accuracy in ZMiddle East Reporting in America, an excellent source.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Energy independence - coming?

New technologies are causing alternate energy sources to leap forward - more capable and cheaper. Will they enable energy independence for the US, when combined with the fossil-fuel sources? How soon? James Lewis at American Thinker summarizes the news of progress and is is good news, very good. First, solar energy:
After years of hope and hype, there seems to be visible movement toward new energy sources that stand a decent chance in market competition with current oil, natural gas and coal. ... the Department of Energy has just announced a breakthrough in the efficiency of solar to electricity conversion. Boeing-Spectrolab achieved the 40 percent efficiency, more than twice a previous record, using a sunlight concentrator and a "multijunction converter". This is much like a normal solar voltage converter with several novel features, including the ability to convert the infrared and ultraviolet light spectrum, about half of the energy in sunlight, which has not been usable before. The Department of Energy claims that "This breakthrough may lead to systems with an installation cost of only $3 per watt, producing electricity at a cost of 8-10 cents per kilowatt/hour, making solar electricity a more cost-competitive and integral part of our nation's energy mix." ... Are these technologies marketable? A lot of good ideas never make it to the real world. At the target of 8-10 cents per kW/hr, solar would not need extraordinary subsidies, once it is mass-produced. MIT's Technology Review argues that modern solar cells are essentially plastic sheets, much easier to make on a large scale than brittle silicon junctions.
The bigger picture is covered by James Woolsey, former director of the CIA in the Wall Street Journal today (free link):
Bet on major progress toward independence, spurred by market forces and a portfolio of rapidly developing oil-replacing technologies. In recent years a number of alternatives to conventional oil have come to the fore--oil sands, oil shale, coal-to-diesel and coal-to-methanol technologies. But their acceptability to a new Congress, quite possibly the next president, and a public increasingly concerned about global warming will depend on their demonstrating affordable and effective methods of sequestering the carbon they produce or otherwise avoiding carbon emissions.
One key to progress is high oil prices. True. While oil is expensive we are motivated to seek alternatives; when it drops, the motivation is killed. The danger is that OPEC will manipulate the price to lower it below the economic point where investors will put their big bucks on the development of plug-in hybrid cars, etc. Woolsey doesn't give a number, but a friend with an oil-industry leader in his family thinks it is around $60 per barrel. Woolsey points out how we can avoid OPEC manipulation. Plug-in hybrids are (will be) recharged overnight. There is less demand for electricity at night, so it has lower value. And it costs less. Large power plants that provide the "base capacity" are very expensive to start and stop, so they are only changed at monthly or seasonal times. So the marginal cost of providing more energy from these base plants is very low, as well. This increases the economics of hybrid cars. So? As we use substantially less fossil fuels for cars OPEC loses leverage over us. As OPEC's market gets smaller the members will be driven by pure economic need to get revenue and they will not want to reduce revenue for gaming their customers. Biomass:
... Indeed two years ago the National Energy Policy Commission (NEPC), making reasonable assumptions about improved vehicle efficiency and biomass yields over the next 20 years, estimated that just 7% of U.S. farmland (the amount now in the Soil Bank) could produce enough biomass to provide half the fuel needed by U.S. passenger vehicles, and that production costs for cellulosic ethanol were headed downward toward around 70 cents per gallon. Further, conversion of only a portion of industrial, municipal and animal wastes--using thermal processes now coming into commercial operation--appears to be able to yield an additional several million barrels a day of diesel or, with some processes, methanol.
I firmly believe American ingenuity can make huge progress. But we have seen politics get in the way - ethanol won't stand on its own merits because the farm state Congressmen demand a gift for their farmers. And there will be more interference from Algore types. Woolsey covers the topic more thoroughly; read it.

Dangers of Islam - in the Emergency Room

People went to hospital emergency rooms in Turkey after accidents while sacrificing sheep and other animals. Fox News reports More Than 1,000 Wounded During Muslim Animal Sacrifice in Turkey:
Muslims sacrifice cows, sheep, goats and bulls during the four-day religious holiday [Eid al-Adha], a ritual commemorating the biblical account of God's provision of a ram for Abraham to sacrifice as he was about to slay his son. They share the meat with friends, family and neighbors and give part of it to the poor. In Turkey, at least 1,413 people — called "amateur butchers" by the Turkish media — were treated at hospitals across the country, most suffering cuts to their hands and legs, the Anatolia news agency reported. Four people were severely injured when they were crushed under the weight of large animals that fell on top of them, the agency reported. Another person was hurt when a crane, used to lift an animal, tumbled onto him, the agency said.
We were in Tunisia during this holiday in 1981. It was strange. While walking past an apartment building you could hear the bleating of many sheep coming from the windows. On the other hand, it was probably positive for city kids to spend a few days taking care of their family's sheep. Ended by killing and eating their ward!! We were not disappointed that we were not invited to one of the sacrifices.