Sunday, September 30, 2007

Planning my October trip back east

I had been attending a meeting back in Washington, D.C. each year and I was expecting to build a trip around it to visit NJ and NY as well, but I just heard this past week that there are no plans for this meeting this year, so my plans for a trip in October are now all up in the air. I had even budgeted for this trip and the cash is actually sitting in my account.

I had budgeted what I thought would be generous for a one-week (six days plus two travel days) trip, but I checked hotel rates in NY and DC and was blown away. Although I am sure I can find some bargains, the "going rate" for a semi-decent hotel in NYC is in the $275 to $425 range and the $200 to $300 range in DC. Airfare is still fairly decent, on the order of $358 from Seattle to Newark. Even if I trim the trip down to four days with one night in Atlantic City, I would still be 30% over my original budget. Unbelievable. Sure, I can do some work and find some better deals, but travel should not be this much work.

Since I don't have that meeting in DC, I will probably only go to New York City, with a side trip to New Jersey. OTOH, this month will be very busy at work, so I have good excuses to skip the trip altogether.

Greyhound is offering $99 one-way anwhere in the U.S. with 14-day advance purchase. Plus $4 to get the ticket by mail. It is only a 3-day trip, each way, from Seattle to New York City, but it does eliminate the hassles at the airport.

I may punt on this east coast trip and simply do a San Francisco trip in November. That trip is only 20 hours each way and $112 round-trip on Greyhound. Of course, hotels in San Francisco are quite expensive.

I may bite the bullet and try Priceline for air travel, but I hesitate since you simply cannot control or predict what kind of odd travel times or conections you might get stuck with. I used to swear by Priceline for hotels, but they seem to have tightened up so that the benefit is not as great. But given prices these days, I may just have to live with it.

-- Jack Krupansky

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Is anything clear about sea ice and global warming?

In an article in The New York Times by Andrew Revkin entitled "Scientists Report Severe Retreat of Arctic Ice" a scientist claimed that is was "clear" that global warming was affecting polar sea ice:

Mark Serreze, a senior researcher at the snow and ice center, said it was increasingly clear that climate change from the buildup of greenhouse gases was playing a role in the Arctic warming, which is seen not only in the floating ice but also in melting terrestrial ice sheets, thawing tundra and warming seawater.

"We understand the physics behind what's going on," Dr. Serreze said. "You can always find some aspect of natural variability that can explain some things. But now it seems patterns that used to help you don't help as much anymore, and the ones that hurt you hurt you more."

"You can't dismiss this as natural variability," he said. "We're starting to see the system respond to global warming."

Hmmm... if it is supposedly so "clear", why would The Times feel the need to add a caveat:

Still, he and other scientists acknowledged that both poles were extraordinarily complicated systems of ice, water and land, and that the mix of human and natural influences was not easy to clarify.

I do not doubt for one moment that quite a number of scientists are convinced that global warming from carbon dioxide generated by human activities is a cause of such melting phenomenon, but I do not believe that they as yet have an airtight case.

The Times than deepens their caveat by telling us that:

Sea ice around Antarctica has seen unusual winter expansions recently, and this week is near a record high.

Go ahead and try to blame that "expansion" of polar ice on global warming.

Who knows, maybe someday scientists really will have a solid case against carbon dioxide generated by human activities as the primary and predominate cause of global warming and climate change, but they certainly aren't there yet.

-- Jack Krupansky

Free Maureen Dowd!

Free NY Times columnist Maureen Dowd!

As in you can now read your column for free even if you don't buy or subscribe to The New York Times.

I get a daily message in my email inbox from The Times with short summaries of major articles and columns and links to view the full articles. The same was true for their columnists, but a while back The Times introduced the TimesSelect program which put selected columnists behind a paywall. Sure, the charge was modest so I could have paid it, but I refused as a matter of principle.

Now, just last week The Times finally saw my reason and abandoned that paywall, saying:

Now, everyone is entitled to our opinions.

Effective September 19, 2007, TimesSelect has ended. Content previously published for TimesSelect is available free to all visitors.

So, now I can once again read what Maureen Dowd has to say about Dubya, Rudy, or whomever or whatever, but the question is whether I would want to. I kind of got used to not reading her, Friedman, Krugman, Brooks, et al. It made my life a little simpler. Well, I guess I'll give it a try, if for no other reason than to celebrate the return of reason to The Times.

Now, if only the Wall Street Journal would take a similar tack. I say "Mr. Murdock, tear down this paywall!" We'll see if he is reading this blog and does what I tell him to, one of these days.

-- Jack Krupansky

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Green Power!

I was just paying my electric bill online and when I signed out I saw a description on the Puget Sound Energy web site of a program called "Green Power" where for a modest surcharge you can purchase some or all of your electricity from renewable energy sources. I had opted-in to a "wind power" program when I was living in Colorado and was disappointed that there wasn't a similar program here in the state of Washington when I moved here 16 months ago. Or maybe there was and I missed it. In any case, I just submitted an "inquiry" to join the program.

I am opting to purchase 100% of my electricity from "green" renewable and non-polluting sources such as wind, solar, biomass, geothermal, hydrogen/fuel cells, wave or tidal action, etc.

Now, it turns out that a lot of the electricity here in Washington comes from hydroelectric anyway, but actually not even a majority of it. I'm not sure whether hydro is technically considered "renewable", but I would think it should be.

In any case, next to reducing my energy usage, I am literally doing the best and most I can to reduce the environmental impact of my electricity consumption.

I'm not sure exactly how much this will cost me each month, but I think it will be a maximum (for me) of $4 additional per month. $4 is the surcharge for 320 kWh of renewable electricity. That is supposedly the minimum, with an option for $2 for additional blocks of 160 kWh. I opted for "100 percent" which has a surcharge of $0.0125 per kWh. My typical monthly usage is well under 200 kWh for my studio apartment, so my nominal surcharge would be less than $2.50 per month, but I suspect I will get hit with that $4 minimum. No big deal, but I hate getting dinged for minimums, even if it is for a good cause.

Now, I suppose you could say that I am doing something to help fight Global Warming and Climate Change. I personally am not a member of that political and social movement, but I don't believe you need to be to simply support a cleaner environment and more efficient use of resources. My personal view is that if people simply focus on reducing pollution (the traditional  kind, before "they" began pretending that carbon dioxide was a "pollutant") and improving efficiency, we will do both something very useful to society and as a side effect reduce carbon dioxide anyway. It's a classic win-win without all the "11th Hour" crap.

Check with your local utility to see if they also have a "green" power option.

-- Jack Krupansky

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Resuscitating the middle class

I do not agree with everything in an editorial in The New York Times entitled "The Employment Tea Leaves", but I do agree with their assertion of the need to "help the increasingly squeezed middle class."

I agree when The Times says that:

Democrats, or some Republicans with a change of heart, must articulate — and Americans must demand — a program for ensuring that the middle class gets a bigger share of the economy's spoils than it has received during the Bush era, when gains have largely been funneled to the richest Americans.

To have a fairer and more inclusive economy, workers need true mobility, which requires health care reform. And they need to see a reversal in the country's ever-deepening inequality, which could come about through more progressive income taxes, better public education and more help for workers whose jobs are displaced by globalization.

In fact, now that I think about it, a middle class income tax reduction would make a lot of sense.

And the hedge fund managers and private equity fund managers who have done so much structural harm to the economy in recent years (e.g., excessive speculation in commodities and subprime mortgage securities and causing a mispricing of risk) need some "incentive" to focus on delivering long-term benefits to the economy (true investment) rather than focusing so much of their attention on sleazy short-term profit "skimming" schemes. Don't raise the taxes on every dollar of their "profit", but definitely hit them very hard on short-term profits that have been doing more harm than good to the long-term health of the economy.

The economy does not need a Fed interest rate cut or cheaper credit, but rather it is in dire need of a variety of reforms to resuscitate what used to be known as "The Middle Class."

-- Jack Krupansky

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Are binding targets needed to fight global warming?

An article in The New York Times from Reuters entitled "Pacific Rim Nations Agree on Global Warming, Without Targets" highlights that although the proponents of the global warming/climate change political and social movement have "won" in their bid to have mainstream politicians focus on the "topic" of global warming and climate change, they have really lost since the mainstream is not interested in shrill agendas and is much happier and content with watered down compromises such as "aspirational goals" rather than messy approaches such as "binding targets."

The article informs us that:

Leaders of 21 Pacific Rim nations agreed on Saturday to a "long-term aspirational goal" of reducing greenhouse gas emissions — but without binding targets.

Australia's prime minister, John Howard, called the agreement the "Sydney Declaration" on climate change and said it showed "a new international consensus."

The Times also informs us that "Environmental groups called it a failure without binding targets."

I can't blame the global warming/climate change extremists for being upset since this "new international consensus" means mostly "business as usual" with a "green" whitewash. Sure, we are definitely going to see a ton of "green" improvements in energy technology in the coming decades, but without any of the "11th Hour" panic mentality that the extremists revel in.

No sane politician would agree to committing themselves to a "binding target" unless the binding target was likely to be met even without the politician lifting a finger.

In truth, "binding targets" are not tools for politicians and politicians, but tools for extremists who oppose the normal efforts of politicians and the normal trends of technology evolution.

-- Jack Krupansky

Monday, September 03, 2007

The Deadliest Lies: The Israel Lobby and the Myth of Jewish Control

I was browsing the new non-fiction books table in the local Barnes & Noble and noticed a curious title: The Deadliest Lies: The Israel Lobby and the Myth of Jewish Control by Abraham Foxman. It purports to be a comprehensive rebuttal of the proposition that "there is an Israel lobby with disproportionate influence on U.S. foreign policy." I leafed through it and read a few passages, but it seemed like more of a knee-jerk reactionary response to valid criticism and more of an attempt to smear critics of the foreign policy of Israel and the U.S. foreign policy with regards to Israel and the greater Middle East.

From From Publishers Weekly:

In opposing the view that there is an Israel lobby with disproportionate influence on U.S. foreign policy (a view that Foxman says plays into the traditional anti-Semitic narrative about 'Jewish control' ), the national director of the Anti-Defamation League focuses on the controversial 2006 paper The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt (their book of the same title will be published in September). Foxman demolishes a number of shibboleths about the lobby's power. Much of the book's second half then takes on what Foxman sees as the biases and distortions in former president Carter's Palestine Peace or Apartheid, offering evidence, for example, that Yasser Arafat, not Ehud Barak, was the obstacle to an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement at the Taba negotiations. But Foxman never really defines what the Israel lobby is, paying more attention to the ADL than to that lobby's main instrument, the America Israel Public Affairs Committee. And many will find debatable his claim that Israel has proven to be the single greatest source of stability in the region. This book succeeds far more as a rebuttal of a pernicious theory about a mythically powerful Jewish lobby than as a look at the real institutions that lobby in support of Israel or at Israel's complex role in the Middle East.

I'm not exactly sure what the reference to "the traditional anti-Semitic narrative about 'Jewish control'Â" is meant to convey in this context, but I don't recall either Carter or Mearsheimer or Walt suggesting anything at all about "control." Rather, the latter were referring to excessive influence. And I don't recall reading anything from them even hinting at them being "anti-Semitic", other than the usual caveat that anyone critisizing Israel, its policies, or its supporters is automatically labelled as being "anti-Semitic" in some social circles.

And why any of this warrants a label of "The Deadliest Lies" is a complete mystery, other than to betray its aims of being an intentional smear campaign against legitimate criticism.

And if the author of the book is unfamiliar with the clout that AIPAC has in Washington or with congressional politics, he is in a complete state of denial.

To be clear, I myself do not believe in some mythic, monolithic "Israel Lobby" or "Jewish Control", but there is a clear, if loose, coalition of interests in Washington which I loosely refer to as "the so-called Pro-Israel Lobby." This loose coalition includes all of those labeled as Neo-Conservatives, right-wing Christian fundamentalists, right-wing conservative Jewish groups, and assorted politicians and interest groups who align themselves with the core groups as a matter of political expediency and to gain access to campaign funds. All of those assorted players, only some of who are actually Jewish, act with a distinct bias in favor of a conservative view on Israel and its policies towards its neighbors in the greater Middle East.

I have no intention of buying the book myself, but I would like to read it for background once any of my readers have finished it.

And if you are interested in reading what the targets of Foxman's criticisms have to say take a look at The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy by John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt:

And take a look at Palestine Peace Not Apartheid by Jimmy Carter:

BTW, if you do buy any of these books by clicking on my links, I will get a very modest commission.

-- Jack Krupansky

I am now on Facebook

I just added my basic profile to Facebook. I am not so sure that I will actually do very much with Facebook, but at least my name is out there and it is an option.

I am not even sure that getting "friends" on Facebook will do me much good, but at least it is now an option.

I've been on LinkedIn for a couple of years now and although it has never delivered much value to me, but in the past year I am amused that every month or two I get an invite from somebody I haven't had any contact with in quite a few years.

I don't particularly care for this idea of each of these social networking sites maintaining a profile and me having to manually reenter my "data" for each new site. I would rather see a scheme where I can maintain my personal data independent of any vendor and then selectively and dynamically disclose information based on parameters I can control, or basically asking the question "So, who wants to know?" But for now, Web 2.0 seems to be based on the concept of each web site "owning" some random collection of data about me.

For now, I have no "friends" on Facebook. We'll see how long that lasts.

-- Jack Krupansky

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Commemorating 9/11

Six years past the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, I see no reason to specifically commemorate those attacks. It is long past time to move on. Sure, the friends and families of actual victims can have their own private and even public commemorations, but the concept of a national commemoration makes little sense.

What does make sense is to commemorate the event even more evil than the attacks of the terrorists themselves on that day: the hijacking of American foreign policy by the Neo-Conservatives in pursuit of their so-called Global War On Terror which has done little to pursue the group behind the attacks of 9/11 but instead focused on using the attacks of 9/11 as justification for the invasion of Iraq, labelling all terrorists as equal to those behind the 9/11 atacks, pursuing Iran as a so-called terrorist state, and a general campaign of fear against the entire American people.

Yes, we do a commemoration to mark the day on which our enslavement to the agenda of the Neo-Conservatives began and continues to this day.

-- Jack Krupansky