jim

Jim is a college professor with a fondness for running shoes and drumsticks.

Correlation, Causation, Violent Crime and Guns

Perhaps you’ve come across this argument recently: The UK has a higher violent crime rate than the USA. And you know what else they have? Gun control! The argument hinges on a simple pair of coincident facts and a not-too-keen “connection” between them. Basically, the idea is that the violent crime rate is higher in the UK than in the USA because, in the UK, people don’t have guns to protect themselves. Further, a criminal in the USA doesn’t know whether or not a potential victim is carrying a firearm, and subsequently, is more cautious about attacking. In other words, the argument is you’re safer if there are no laws prohibiting or limiting gun ownership or where said guns may be carried.

Yes, it is true that the UK has gun prohibitions that the USA doesn’t. Does that explain the violent crime rate difference? What other correlations exist between the two countries? Well, the UK does have national health care and the USA doesn’t. Also, they love soccer and rugby instead of American football and baseball. Maybe that’s it. No wait, maybe the correlation is the number of non-white heads of state. (Sound of exploding conservative brains.)

The thing is, far from being an argument against gun control, this factoid is a very strong argument in favor of it. Consider two societies that are similar in many respects: a common language, a shared history, the same economic system, similar political systems, similar distribution and consumption of books, films, video games, etc., yet one country appears to have higher violent crime rates. The interesting rub is that this is not an across-the-board rate. While a rough estimate puts the overall violent crime rate in the UK at twice that of the USA, gun related homicides are roughly 50 times greater in the USA than in the UK. All other factors being equal, one would expect the gun-related homicide rate to echo the overall rate but this is not what we see. Clearly, though, all other factors are not equal. And what’s the most unequal factor? Why, the fact that it is very difficult for individuals in the UK to get their hands on firearms as compared to individuals in the USA. In other words, even if you have a desire to commit a violent crime with a gun, if you can’t get your hands on one, it becomes extremely difficult to pull that off. In other words, it’s an effective deterrent to said crime.

While it is true that some places in the USA have strict gun laws, the USA has never had sweeping country-wide laws regulating gun sales and gun ownership at anything beyond a token level and/or for relatively short spans of time. It is hardly “gun control” if, for example, a city bans handguns outright but with a short 10 minute drive to a neighboring state you can purchase firearms of a vast quantity and variety. This sort of patchwork is not the situation in the UK.

So it seems to me that an (admittedly imperfect) experiment has been performed. We have two similar societies. One has strict gun laws while the other does not. The one with the gun laws has a gun-related homicide rate that is 2% of the country without. This is not rocket science.

 

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The Dumbest Man in Congress?

Congressman Louie Gohmert on the Sandy Hook shootings:

Is he actually suggesting that the wild west is a great model for a modern, civilized society? This man is about as smart as a box of rocks.

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A Short Story Revisited

Once there was an old man in the twilight of his life. One night he had a dream. In his dream he saw a beautiful sand beach stretching along the shore of a great ocean. And on that beach was a set of footprints heading off into the distance. In a moment of insight the old man realized that the footprints represented his own journey through life. And so he followed the path they made, re-examining his experiences across the years.

At times the footprints were steady and true. At other times they appeared erratic and deeply embedded in the sand as if a heavy load had been carried. These in particular were the times of great duress during the old man’s life. But light or heavy, always the footprints were alone. And the old man wondered how this could be. After all, he always thought that he had “walked with the lord”. Why weren’t the lord’s footprints alongside his own? So the old man cried out “Lord! Did we not walk together? And why were you not with me when the times were most difficult?”

And the old man listened for an answer but heard nothing. He cried out again but still nothing. No matter how intently he strained to hear, nothing came. And it was then that the old man realized that there was no lord. Rather, it was the old man who had been carrying the burden of an ancient, now useless concept which had made the journey so difficult. It was a concept which had been placed on his shoulders as a child and reinforced by well meaning family and friends as the years went by.

And so the old man straightened himself, cast off his burden, and looking out across the vast ocean, felt at long last a true sense of freedom and relief. He smiled to himself knowing that, truly, tomorrow would be a new day.

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Plyo Boxes

In an attempt to regain a certain “spring to my step” which seems to have dissipated with my battling of injuries over the last few years, I decided to get back to some bounding and jumping drills. As part of this little experiment I thought it might be nice to get some plyometric boxes. These can be rather expensive though, and being somewhat of a cheap bastard when it comes to things like this, I decided to build some. I am by no means an expert with tools but I have managed to build a few things over the years and I figured with the assistance of a friend who is an expert with tools involving wood, this shouldn’t take too long nor cost too much.

I decided to build three boxes of 4″, 8″, and 16″ height and 2′x2′ square. By stacking them I could get 4″ increments from 4″ to 28″. To keep them from separating I figured I could latch them together. 3/4″ plywood is plenty strong, especially when glued and screwed together, so that would be the body material. It turns out this takes a little more than one 4′x8′ sheet of plywood but I had an old treadmill deck sitting in the basement which would make up the shortfall (3/4″ MDF). So it was off to the lumber yard.  The sheet was about $40 plus another $8 for a box of wood screws. From there we went to my buddy’s shop and spent a few hours cutting, drilling, and assembling the units.

Fortunately, I had some left over exterior grade poly, so the boxes got two coats. Now I needed something to prevent slippage. I ordered something called “gymnastic rubber” from an online place but it turned out to be very flimsy. Even at 1/4″ thickness it could easily be torn with just your fingers. I returned it and wound up with a couple of 2′x6′ yoga mats ($9 each, on sale due to discontinued colors-oh the horror). The “gymnastic rubber” weighed a mere 1.3 ounces per square foot. The yoga mats are over 1/4 pound per square foot and should hold up nicely. These were cut into 2′x2′ squares and glued onto the top and bottom surfaces of each box. I had some acoustical sealant laying around which is like caulk that never fully dries, it stays rubbery, so I used that.

Then the latches. It seems you can’t buy decent latches at the local home improvement store. The ones I finally grabbed are made by GateHouse and came with perhaps the cheapest screws I have ever seen. The phillips head slot will strip out with only modest torque.  I replaced them with some beefier units I had (3/4″ #8 as I recall).

OK, so the whole thing was less than $100 (not counting supplies on hand) and in total took the better part of a day. The set weighs over 80 pounds. Here’s a pic:

We’ll see if they work.

 

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Today’s Thought on Kinda Big Numbers

If you look up at the sky on a clear night away from obstructions and light sources, you will see a beautiful wash of stars. An awful lot of them, right? It has been estimated that a typical human can see a few thousand stars under such conditions with the unaided eye. This is out of the 100 billion or more stars in the Milky Way Galaxy. So, what’s the comparison?

Imagine that for every star you see, there is an entire night sky worth of stars. Now imagine that for every star in your new super-crowded night sky, there’s an entire night sky worth of stars again.

Chances are, you’d still be a little short.

And don’t forget that the Milky Way is just one of over 100 billion galaxies.

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A Lot of Money

Like many scientists and engineers I deal with very large and very small numbers daily. Sometimes, though, it is easy to lose perspective. Whenever I want to get a more visceral grasp on the relative size of something I make a similar ratio using stuff from the everyday world.

Consider money.  You can map quantities of currency onto scalar distance to get a feel for just what constitutes a lot of money. Suppose one US dollar is equivalent to half of an inch. That’s a little less than the diameter of a dime or about the diameter of a AA battery. So $1000 would be 500 inches or a little over 40 feet (nearly 13 meters).

What’s a lot of money for most folks? How about one million dollars? It’s about 20 times the median annual household income in the US and noticeably larger than the “nest egg” most people hope to retire on. Well, a million dollars equates to roughly eight miles in this scheme. A dime versus eight miles. Pretty big, right?

Contrast this to a billion dollars. A billion dollars is roughly the diameter of the Earth. So, think of how wide a dime is and then think of how wide the Earth is. That’s a billion to one ratio. Now there are people on this planet Earth who are billionaires. For example, the Koch brothers and several members of the Walton (Walmart) family are each worth in the neighborhood of 20 billion dollars. That’s 20 or more Earths lined up side-by-side. In comparison, if you have $100,000 in the bank, that’s equivalent to about 1400 yards.

At this point it is worth noting that the Supreme Court has pretty much said that money equates to free speech. So how loud do you think your voice is now?

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One Commandment Better Than Ten

I often hear people proclaim the importance of the Ten Commandments. Now I’m not going to get into which ten nor am I interested in delving into whether or not they should be displayed in public schools, at the local courthouse, etc. (clearly not because government sanction of the first four are obvious violations of the Constitution).

No, what I’m interested in is whether or not we can come up with something that is both broader and simpler. In other words, better. Read the rest of this entry »

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In Search of the Elusive Volume Control

Did you ever find yourself asking the question “How did I get here?”

The first pro-quality drum kit that I had was a Gretsch five piece with birch shells, Ludwig hardware, and Avedis Zildjian cymbals. It was purchased second hand in the mid 1970s. After being overly influenced by Bill Bruford, a set of six Remo Roto-toms was added a few years later. As much as I enjoyed the set there were two problems associated with it. First, in spite of some nice Shure and AKG mics, it was difficult to get a decent sound out of them in my home recording studio. Of course, being that the “studio” was a basement with scant acoustical treatment and a seven foot ceiling, the kit could hardly be blamed. The second and perhaps more confounding problem was the loudness level. In fair consideration to the rest of the family and neighbors, there were limits on when I could play. I simply could not afford any manner of “sound proof” room and unlike the ubiquitous guitars, basses, and keyboards that my friends played, there was no volume control on a drum kit. As I was finishing my degree in electrical engineering at the time, I was hopeful that there might be a technological solution down the road, something more advanced than the “beep-boop” Syndrums of the day.

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A Healthy, Fundamental Right

If one were to make a list of healthy hobbies, that list would probably include distance running, bicycling, rowing, skiing, hiking, swimming, and a variety of other self-locomotive activities. If a second list were to be created that detailed fundamental rights which need to be protected, it’s a safe bet that it would include items such as the rights of self-determination, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and so forth. What’s the intersection of these two lists? Just ask my Congressman.

New York’s 24th district is represented by Richard Hanna, a conservative Republican millionaire who was swept in with the Tea Party surge of 2010. Now that the next election is less than a year away, we have begun receiving mailers from the Congressman informing us of the important work that he has been supporting. One arrived just the other day. The winning line for me was the following:

“Hunting, fishing, shooting, snowmobiling, and trapping are not only healthy hobbies – they’re fundamental rights that need to be protected.”

Apparently, sitting behind a loud two-cycle engine and breathing its exhaust is both healthy and a fundamental right. So is standing around and shooting at a target. And certainly everyone admits that fishermen and hunters are known for their buff physiques and strong hearts.

For the most part I don’t really care whether or not someone finds fishing or snowmobiling or the like to be a fun pastime. We each have our preferences.  I think it’s a bit of a stretch, though, to describe some of these things as healthy or fundamental rights.

Unless, of course, you’re trying to reach out to your base. In that case it’s better apparently to make them feel better about themselves and mention minor, tangential items that you support than to address the large concerns and necessary legislation that will, in fact, actually help people in a major way.

 

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Hand It To The Austrians

Really. I think this is perfect.

http://news.ninemsn.com.au/world/8272651/pastafarian-wins-right-wear-colander-in-licence

I don’t find a Pastafarian demanding to be able to wear a colander on his head for a license photo any more ridiculous than a Christian demanding to be able to wear a cross or a Jew wearing a star of David.

I do draw the line at practitioners of voodoo wearing dead chickens around their necks, though. Health concerns mostly.

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Running Douchebag

Yesterday I ran the Utica Boilermaker 15k. Decent weather (for July in upstate NY) and 13,000 runners. Not my best effort but I did manage a mid 57 and an age group medal so I can’t complain. About that. What I can complain about is dumb, clueless people.

Right after mile 8, a fellow a bit in front of me decides to do a cartwheel on purpose. I find that a little odd, but he was over to the left side and we were making a right hand turn, and besides, it wasn’t extremely crowded. Runners all around yes, but not like the shoulder to shoulder traffic a couple miles behind us. Anyway, he received a lot of hoots and hollers for this from the spectators, including some banter from a DJ who was set up at that corner.

A few hundred yards later he is directly in front of me and to the side of two or three women who are clearly racing seriously. We come up to a band and Mr. Cartwheel begins dancing and gyrating madly all over the place, apparently looking for more crowd reaction. In the process he nearly took out at least one of these women.  Fortunately, a little quick side stepping on their part got them out of harm’s way. It turns out that they were running in about 10th-12th place, the Boilermaker offering money 10 places deep plus 5 deep in the masters ranks. So they all were racing for a potential payout (at least one of them did get masters money, I don’t know about the others).

Needless to say, this could have been a disaster. He could’ve ruined the races of 2 or 3 potential money winners, and had they gone down, I most likely would’ve tripped over the lot. I don’t need that either. Anyway, we all got around Mr. Douchebag in short order. I mean, if you want to goof around in a race and play to the gallery, that’s fine, but do it where you’re not going to screw with someone who’s there to actually race.

 

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NY haz teh Gay

By now you may have heard that the NY State Senate passed a marriage equality bill last night making NY the sixth, and so far largest, state in the US to allow same sex marriage.  That makes me pleased. I like knowing that that sort of progressive thought is alive and well in my home state. In fact, I read recently that 58% of the state’s population supports gay marriage. Of course, this didn’t stop my stodgy and backward thinking state senator, Joe Griffo, from voting against it. But I was a little surprised by the comments I saw on the local paper’s web site regarding the announcement. And by surprised, I mean I saw a lot of well considered and thoughtful remarks supporting it instead of the usual drivel there. Granted, there were the usual howls from the biblical crowd, but on balance it’s heartening:

http://www.uticaod.com/features/x177089819/NY-Legislature-legalizes-gay-marriage

It should be noted that NY won’t officially adopt this until Governor Cuomo signs the bill, but as he stated it to be a top priority, it would be extraordinary if he didn’t sign it.

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Too Not Funny To Pass On

So today I received an email from an associate. It was entitled “Too Funny to Not Share”. It was a sort of photo essay called “Civilian Riot Helmets of Egypt”. It featured photos of Egyptian civilians from the recent demonstrations, and in particular, their homemade DIY head protection gear. Below each was an appropriately sarcastic humorous comment for the reader’s entertainment. Lots of pics of men with a cooking pot tied over their head, the inside stuffed with rags. Or maybe a plastic bucket or even a cardboard box stuffed with cloth, and tied around and under the chin with another piece of cloth. And add to that an old life vest to serve as some measure of upper body protection. One young man had a bunch of small, empty plastic soda bottles secured with a towel on his head, the pic featuring the caption “Your classic 1979 tri-bottle helmet – a must in any type of combat”. A real side-splitter for the basic Consumerus Americanus to be sure.

I don’t get it. Are people so dim that they think these protesters actually believe these items constitute effective cranial protection and actively prefer them over, say, surplus army gear or even an old bicycle helmet? Does it not occur to them that if a protester actually had an old bicycle helmet he’d use it and leave the cookware home? Does it not occur to them that this constitutes gear of last resort?

When did it become funny to mock people who are so poor that they have to use a rag-filled pot to protect their heads from rocks and other weapons when they take to the streets to fight for their political and economic rights?

 

 

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Sorry, It’s Still M*A*S*H

I’m getting a little sick of the repeated announcement (thank you, corporate sports whores at the NFL) that this past Sunday’s game was the most popular TV event in US history. And of course, this is quickly followed by the “fact” that last year’s game is in the number two spot with the finale of M*A*S*H having dropped to third.  Here are the numbers that have been swirling around lately:

1. Super Bowl XLV — 111 million viewers (2011)

2. Super Bowl XLIV — 106.5 million viewers (2010)

3. M*A*S*H* series finale — 106 million viewers (1983)

I guess it helps if you conveniently ignore the fact that while there are an estimated 307 million people in the USA right now, that value stood at a mere 233 million in 1983. So if you look at it in terms of the percentage of people who chose to watch, M*A*S*H beats the pants off of both of them. And no, I am not some manner of disgruntled M*A*S*H fanatic. I thought the original movie was better than the TV show.

 

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DIY Bass Trap

So I’ve been busy lately.  Built a new recording/practice studio this summer/fall and I’m finally getting a few finishing touches done. One of those “touches” is acoustic treatment.

One of the more important aspects of studio acoustics is making sure you have a reasonable reverberation time. At the bass end of things, most untreated rooms are filled with the acoustic equivalent of mud. Trying to mix in such an environment is difficult at best. So, the front line treatment is something called a “bass trap”. You can find decent bass traps from a variety of companies such as GIK. The job of the bass trap is to absorb low frequency energy thereby reducing the sonic mud for a more clear and detailed response. Many bass traps are little more than a frame filled with a rigid fiberglass or rock wool material (denser than typical house insulation) and covered with a fire-rated acoustical cloth (such as loudspeaker grill cloth).

As part of the construction, I wound up with a box of 12 two-by-four foot sheets of two inch thick Owens-Corning 703 rigid fiberglass left over. So I purchased eight yards of Guilford of Maine fabric from GIK and sew-on Velcro from Industrial Webbing, made a pattern that is essentially a two-by-four foot box with a lid, six inches high. The Velcro covers the three edges. I dropped in three sheets of the 703, closed the lid, and bingo, four nice bass traps. The photo below shows one of the units open, ready to receive the 703. Note that there is an extra 3″ of fabric beyond the Velcro to help keep any stray fibers contained.

Opened bass trap

Bass traps are most effective in the corners of the room. These units are stiff enough that they stand up by themselves so I simply propped them in each corner. Here is one sitting behind my drum kit:

Bass trap in corner

These were relatively inexpensive to make, especially considering that the 703 was surplus from the construction. I can barely sew on a button, so a faithful family member did the sewing duties for which I am extremely grateful.

FYI, a thread about the studio was started on the VDrums forum this past summer. You can find it here.

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This Might Actually Be Useful For Someone

In the midst of the general flotsam and jetsam that is the Refuge, I thought I would post something that some readers might actually find useful.
DIY Guitar Rack, Completed
It’s an inexpensive DIY multi-guitar/bass rack. The one I made holds six guitars/basses (seven in a pinch) and total parts cost was around $20. It’s made out of PVC and pipe insulation. It’s about 36 inches wide, 30 inches high and around 10 deep. It can be scaled easily for fewer or greater instruments. All you need to put it together is a hack saw (and a rat tail file can be useful too, which I’ll explain).
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Non Essential Sound Products

A while back I offered my thoughts on a particular type of over-priced and over-hyped audio snake oil, namely power cables. So today I get my new issue of Bass Player magazine and what do I see? Why it’s an add from Essential Sound Products hawking their MusicCord AC power cord with the headline “Your stock power cord is choking your sound!” If you go to their site (which I won’t link to) you will find unsubstantiated claims about other AC power cords producing “Thin, One-Dimensional Tone; Attenuated, Gutless Bass Response; Hiss, Buzz and Noisy Backgrounds;  High-Frequency Roll-Off; Blurred Imaging; Bloated, Sluggish Bass Response” and other issues. Geez, I certainly wouldn’t want my bass guitar to suffer from “Bloated, sluggish, attenuated, gutless bass response”. Granted, I always thought that “bloated” was rather the opposite of “attenuated and gutless” in this sort of situation, but perhaps normal AC power cords are worse than I thought. Of course, you won’t find anything on their site in the way of serious double blind listening tests to validate these claims. As I offered a light critique in the afore-mentioned post, I won’t rehash it here. I only have three things to say regarding this company right now:

1. Apparently they have discovered (or are at least hoping) that naive musicians offer a profitable new market beyond tweak audiophiles. And hey, given that higher end basses are in the multi-thousand dollar range these days, maybe $100 for a power cord is well within the budget of the “tone paranoid”.

2. Not to be outdone by the power cord, the company also offers a six outlet power strip. With surge suppressor mind you! On sale, the bargain price of just a dollar short of $500. Why, you save $100 compared to the normal price! Gee, I can think of an alternate route: Go to the local hardware or electronics shop, pick up their most rugged surge suppressor power strip, give $100 to charity, buy a new stomp box, fold up a bunch of $20 bills and stuff them under the leg of that wobbly table in the back room to level it, and you’ll still be ahead.

3. They are not the worst offender. Look at this. That’s right, $3500 for an AC power cord.  This is nothing short of vile.

While searching for some material on this topic, I came across this article discussing whether or not there are audible differences attributable to power cords.  When I got to this part I just had to laugh:

To many in the engineering community, blind ABX is an accepted experimental design. Using the blind ABX protocol, we failed to hear any differences between an assortment of generic power cords and Nordost Valhalla. Therefore, we cannot conclude that different power cords produce a difference using the blind ABX protocol. However, we also cannot conclude that there are no differences. We simply failed to prove that differences can be detected to a statistically significant degree using a blind ABX protocol.

So in other words, if a proper double-blind test doesn’t reveal any differences, the only thing you have shown is that a double-blind test doesn’t reveal any differences. Apparently, there are no further consequences or conclusions to be drawn and it has nothing to do with what humans can or cannot hear. Brilliant!

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Depravity: Secular Socialist

At the SRLC the other day, serial philanderer Newt Gingrich described President Obama as leading a “secular socialist machine”. It is a measure of the depravity of the Republican Party that calling someone both secular and a socialist is an effective means of denigration for the party faithful. Of course, it doesn’t matter that any reasonable analysis of President Obama’s stated positions would show him to be a centrist. For example, he did not support many typical liberal positions such as same-sex marriage and single-payer health care never even made it to the bargaining table. But for the 2010 GOP which happily embraces what we used to call “the lunatic fringe”, “socialism” is a word that is used to describe any policy that does not explicitly favor the Hoovering of the flaccid, diseased tool proffered by their porcine corporate masters. And as Frank Zappa once said “No one looks good wearing brown lipstick.”

Although I don’t agree that rampant capitalism is always the best show in town and the most effective and equitable way to do things, I can at least understand a person who makes an honest argument for it. Such is not the case for the “secular” tag. If someone is against secular government, then it must be fair in this case to assume that they’re for the opposite, namely a non-secular or religiously-based government. Small problem with that: The US Constitution. Apparently, these folks are so busy servicing the afore-mentioned pestilent appendages that they have forgotten that the Constitution clearly states that there shall be no religious tests for office. The apparent reality, though, is that certain self-proclaimed defenders of the Constitution would very much like to mandate that only a nice, (preferably white) god-fearing man need apply for the office of President.

And what would an SRLC event be without a little elite-bashing thrown into the pot? The Newt added that this so-called machine is made up of labor unions and “liberal tenured faculty”. Yeah. Damn those unions and no-good college and university professors. What have they ever done for us? “We don’t need no edukashun, good pay or workin’ condishuns.”

Newt = Pinhead.
Followers = Worse.

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The First Nail

So here we are days away from the big vote on health care reform. In the lead up, I don’t think that I have seen people more polarized, agitated and even aggressive about a topic since the Vietnam War. I got to wondering why this is. Why are so many people getting red-faced over this? Why have I heard so many outright lies about what will (or won’t) happen if health care reform comes to pass?

Then something came to me. If health care reform passes and begins to work, and if it is then bolstered over the coming months and years and people begin to recognize that they and their neighbors are better off than they would have been without it, this will be the first nail in the coffin of Reaganism. Whatever else you might say about the late president, one thing is for sure: He took the dissatisfaction and mistrust that people had following Vietnam and Watergate, and instead of saying “That was an aberration, we can do better”, he instead fed peoples’ fears and preached that government can do no right, government is always the problem, and therefore less government is always a good thing. This argument elevated Reagan to a level just shy of deity in the eyes of some, and is firmly cemented as unshakable ideology and dogma in the political right wing. (Whether or not said politicians actually apply the ideology in a consistent manner is another question entirely).

Here’s the rub. There are few things scarier than having someone directly challenge your ideology. There is the initial shock that anyone could be so bold, rude even. After the initial shock, it will probably elicit a fight response. It doesn’t matter if a cogent, logical, rational defense of the challenge can be given; a direct attack at a core belief almost always causes people to dig in their heels, grit their teeth, and prepare for battle. Rational analysis be damned. Once invested, the tendency is to protect the investment, not admit to the possibility that it was a poor choice.

I think deep down, the leaders of the right wing realize that if successful and real health care reform comes to pass, their mantra will be broken. Who will believe them on any other issue if the citizenry discovers that the government can, in fact, do good things for people, in direct contrast to their continuing diatribe? How severe would this undercut them? Their power would evaporate like water in a desert.

The vote appears close, and even if it passes, some parts will take a few years before they come into play. And there remains work to be done to make it better. I guess we shall see. Oh, and I should mention that my Congressman, a “Blue Dog Democrat”, decided to vote against it as of yesterday.

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Hot Water Heat Pump

For most folks, the second most energy intensive activity in the home (after living space heating/cooling) is heating potable water. For a great many people the obvious choice is storage-based or on-demand fired by natural gas. But lots of folks (like me) don’t have natural gas service so we usually rely on storage-based electric water heaters. They’re relatively inexpensive to purchase (maybe $300-$350 or so for a halfway decent 50 gallon unit) but expensive to operate. Standard government estimates run around $500-$550 per year. This figure depends a lot on your usage and local electricity rates.

By themselves, electric resistive water heaters are relatively efficient in simple terms. Generally, between 90 and 95 percent of the electrical input is translated to heating water. This, of course, does not account for generation and transmission of said electricity, and as the average consumer is many miles from a generation plant, the system efficiency is much, much lower. In other words, bringing the fuel to the consumer (e.g. natural gas) and having them burn it on site achieves a much higher system efficiency.

Ultimately, an electric water heater is not much different from a toaster or space heater: You pass current through a resistive element, the element heats up, which in turn heats the water (or the bread, or the air).  So how do you make a system like this more efficient and less costly to operate?

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