Carraig Daire

Life is a sexually transmitted disease.

- Guy Bellamy

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Let The Sun Shine In
Winds Of Change's John Atkinson has a new post on energy science and policy which mentions a subject very close to home for us at Carraig Daire Ranch:
Gov Schwarzenegger has proposed a pair of bills that would create a 10-year incentive fund, most likely paid for with a new fee on utility bills, to promote the use of solar power in California. Monkeysign takes a look at the bills, explains, and approves.
California has for several years now had a rebate program whereby homeowners can get a large proportion (up to half) of the cost of a grid-tied solar system paid for by a special Public Utilities Commission fund. In addition to the rebate, both the state and the feds offer a tax credit for photovoltaic purchases, and in California the tax-assesed value of your property cannot include solar power systems. In other words, the PUC, the state, and the Feds have been practically begging people to install solar systems.

I did the math early last year, and calculated that a completely new solar system sized to provide for all of our power needs would pay for itself in about 6 or 7 years. The components come with warranties ranging from 25 to 40 years, and there is no maintenance needed. It really was a no-brainer. It grated on my libertarian-leaning nerves to make use of quasi-government incentives

My wife and I took advantage of the incentives in December last year and installed a 7.5kW solar array. It's tied to the grid, so our surplus power during the day feeds the grid and we draw power from the grid at night an during high usage. For those of us who hate high utility bills, watching a power meter run backwards can be a transcendant experience. I even went so far as to videotape it the first time I saw it.

Our first full billing period recently elapsed, Jan. 15 to Feb 14, and I am delighted to say that our total electrical bill for the month was $5. Yup, five bucks. And that is all taxes and fees, not consumption. In other words, during the months with the shortest days and the worst weather, our panels still supplied all of our power needs. Yeeeeeee-hah, as Howard Dean might say.

The article linked above on the incentive fund has one egregious error of the type I find most annoying. The AP writer tries to throw in some explanation of how the solar system work, and he includes this whopper:
The goal is to have 3,000 megawatts worth of solar power by 2018, which amounts to about 5 percent of the state's entire electricity usage at peak periods - generally hot summer afternoons when electricity is most in demand, most expensive, and when solar panels are most efficient.
Emphasis mine. That single statement, which makes three assertions of supposed fact, gets two of them wrong. First, electrical demand is not greatest on summer afternoons. It is highest on summer evenings, when people have both air conditioners. stoves, washeers, etc. going. The second and flagrantly stupid assertion is that solar panels are most efficient when it is hot. That is exactly backwards from the truth, as panels effficency decreases dramatically as temperatures increase.

This is the kind of blatant error in basic facts that I see all too often in the mainstream media, and it does not speak well for their accuracy or education level. I mentioned this sort of thing on Jay Rosen's blog some time ago:
There is one thing that occurs to me I haven't seen mentioned. The Internet has allowed many people with narrow fields of expertise to quickly disseminate their views on media output, and this has devastated the media's credibility.

For example, I'm an engineer, and when I read the work of most reporters covering science and technology I am utterly dumbfounded at the inaccuracies, distortions, and outright ignorance often displayed. I know their coverage of my area of expertise is appalling, but that is all I can be sure of by myself.

However, when lawyers, doctors, historians, political scientists, etc can all point out similar mistakes being made by the media in their particular fields, and when they can make their views widely known, the net result is the situation we see now: ordinary people take everthing they read and see from the MSM with a huge grain of salt. More and more people simply do not believe you anymore, and they have very good reason not to do so.
This AP story is just one more example. Actually, two examples.
Compare and Contrast
Which of these two men is likely to enjoy liberty and sovereignty in the near future:

Palestinian masked militants of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a militia linked to the Fatah (news - web sites) movement, during a rally in Jebaliya refugee camp

A man carries his son, their faces painted with Lebanon's national flag, during an anti-Syrian rally in Beirut March 14, 2005.
I know who I'm pulling for.
I Think I'll Plant A Cedar Tree

Yay for liberty! It's both a natural right, and easy on the eyes...

Look at that guy on the left - he's checking out her ass! Note the sign behind her - they're quoting Mel Gibson's Braveheart.

Bad Kitty
Cat Shoots Owner
I Hope This Doesn't Spread
Several stalwarts of the blogosphere are in need of our prayers. Please offer yours for Glenn's wife Helen and Ed's wife Marcia.

There's been more than enough illness going around the blogosphere of late, so let's pray for the health of all of our friends.
Roger Simon Is Having Surgery
It's not life threatening, but please go on over and offer him your prayers and best wishes.
This Is What Passes For Crime Around Here
Nevada City Police Department

Three men were reportedly banging their heads on vehicles on the 300 block of South Pine Street at 8:38 p.m. A caller reported that they may have been smoking marijuana.

No comment.

UPDATE: You also have to watch our for those arbor-American burglars:
At 9:31 p.m., a caller on the 100 block of Winchester Street reported she could hear pounding on the wall near her basement. The caller said she thought someone was trying to break into her house. Officers checked the area for prowlers but could not find any. Twelve minutes later, the caller again reported pounding near her basement. Officers found a tree that was hitting the house when the wind picked up.
Burt Rutan Is At It Again
Fossett ready for non-stop tour
Some time this month, 60-year-old thrill-seeker Steve Fossett plans to climb into the small cockpit of an experimental jet aircraft and attempt to fly around the world without refuelling, without company and without sleeping.

To make the voyage before delirium sets in, Fossett needs to fly fast. But to set the record for the first non-stop solo flight around the world, he cannot take any shortcuts either.

The Virgin Atlantic-backed GlobalFlyer, a gangly and delicate aircraft designed under the keen eye and artistic hand of Burt Rutan, was built with these two goals in mind.
Good luck all in this endeavor.
Re-election Retreading
Since the last election, I've been trying to compose an essay about the new political situation and where the Democrats should be going to crack the iron hand of Republicans on the levers of power. While struggling with this, I tried looking back at articles and postings I made that touch on political questions, and I discovered (to my endless glee) that I already wrote this essay after the Democrats' debacle in 2002. Thus, to save myself the time, I'm going to repost that essay. I can't find a thing in it I was wrong on, but it is interesting there was much less of a secular vs. religious overtone among the punditocracy to that election only two years ago. I am quite smug now in recalling I identified Social Security privatization and the demotion of Trent Lott as winning issues two years ago.

< begin repost >

So What Comes After This?

The Democratic Party has been handed its most shocking defeat since Eisenhower. In 1994 they at least still had the White House. Now, they have nothing.

Our adversarial political system was not designed for one party rule, and most Americans find the idea somewhat threatening. Opposing parties tend to dampen each other's intemperate impulses.

What will the Democrats do to get back in the game? From the news, it looks like they are going to rush back to their base: civil service unions, identity politics grudge groups, leftist-socialist money grubbing statists, watermelon environmentalists. They've got one of the most extreme members running strong for Minority Leader in Nancy Pelosi.

I think this is a disaster. Retreating to the worst, most divisive elements of their base will alienate even more of the broad center of American voters. Instead of losing 53-47, they'll lose 60-40 or 65-35. They will consign themselves to the margins for a decade or more.

The Democrats need to remember how Clinton changed the rules of the game. He took portions of the opposition's game plan and made it his own, leaving the Republicans with nothing but polarizing cultural issues that generally run against them. Look at what the Republicans campaigned on (not an exhaustive list, and very generalized):

1. America-first foreign policy.
2. A more robust and flexible military.
3. A national security strategy that takes the battle to the enemy.
4. Gun rights.
5. Lower taxes.
6. Less government regulation of economic activity.
7. School choice.
8. Private Social Security accounts.
9. More government regulation of abortion.
10. School prayer.

Clearly parts of this agenda appeal to American voters; We just found that out in very clear terms. Which parts can the Democrats appropriate for themselves, and which should they leave the Republicans with?

I'll freely admit that I'm a libertarian, so I'm sure much of this is wishful thinking, but here is my prescription for remaking the Democratic party into a viable competitor for leadership in this country.

On foreign policy, military spending, and national security they should say "me too" with one addendum. They should campaign against waste and fraud in procurement, which is rampant. I know this for a fact, I've seen the way the military develops and purchases products, and it's vastly more expensive than it need be. It isn't bashing business if you can point out overcharges by Lockheed Martin or GE, it's fiscal responsibility.

Gun control is never going to be a winner for the Democrats. They should embrace liberty and throw Sarah Brady out the window. Let the gun grabbers agitate for a gun ban in their localities, but keep them off of your national stage. They're electoral poison.

Business regulation is a tougher issue for the Democrats. Some degree of regulation is a necessary evil, but the current systems are ludicrous. The bureaucrats regulating pollution standards, resource extraction, and the like are far too cozy with the industries they are supposed to be watching. Chuck the current top-down system altogether. It's time for cost-benefit based regulation and enforcement based on outcomes, not on adherence to arcane footnotes to the Federal Register.

School choice and private Social Security accounts are electoral winners for a very simple reason: they devolve power from the government to the people. We've had decades of government schools and government management of Social Security, and the government is rotten at both. The teachers' unions run the schools for the benefit of their members rather than the students. Social Security is nothing but a giant congressional slush fund. Statist solutions such as "more money for schools" will not work, and most people know it. It's time to try something new. Pick the winner and run with it, Democrats.

What does that leave to differentiate the two parties? Social issues. Abortion, school prayer, gay marriage, and all the rest. And on those issues, a huge number of people (including me) hold their noses when it comes to the Republicans.

Keep abortion legal, but don't promote it as some great and glorious thing. It's not, it's horrible. The only thing is, outlawing it would be worse. Even letting Roe v. Wade crash and burn wouldn't be a bad thing. It would simply allow the issue to be decided by the states and individuals, where it belongs.

School prayer becomes a non-issue if you back vouchers. Parents will have the freedom to pick the school, so this issue dies. That's a good thing, because a large number of Americans support the "moment of silence" thing. This negates the one social issue the Rebublicans have that polls well.

Gay marriage is a plus, if it's presented correctly. What is marriage, but the union of a man and a woman. The real issue is not marriage itself, but the legal and social treatment of the married man and woman. Gays need the same rights and guarantees that we straights enjoy, and phrased in that manner it would be a winner at the polls. Don't present it as a threat to marriage, but as a civil rights issue.

I realize that taking these stances will alienate a large amount of the current base of the Democratic Party, but is that base something they really want to keep, anyway? As long as they are fundamentally dependant on extremists who repulse the center of the American polity, they're going to lose. Al Sharpton, Ralph Neas, Kate Michelman, and all of the rest of the statist leftist radicals can go vote for the Green Party or the American Socialist Party.

They'll pick up far more than they lose, and they'll have taken them from the Republican column. Even more importantly, the Democratic party might begin to return to its origins, when it really cared a bout liberty and freedom. Like it was before it got hijacked by the various venomous factions that currently run it.

Do I expect any of this to happen? Hell no, not with the current leadership of McAuliffe and Clinton. But it is nice to imagine alternatives to that plastic-haired moron, Trent Lott.

< end of reposting >

I thing that analysis stands up very damned well, and I hope Democrat primary voters might read it between now and 2008. None of what I suggested actually happened except the unmourned demise of Trent Lott, and the Dems lost even worse than they did in 2002.

I only wish I had included Michael Moore and Jimmy Carter in that list of notables who deserved repudiation.
Virginia Asks, Virginia Gets
One of my heros, Virginia Postrel, has smacked me with her gauntlet and challenged me:
The Bush administration is going to take on farm subsidies, the NYT reports. If they thought Social Security was tough, wait till this firestorm hits. Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Thad Cochrane says he'll "work as hard as I can to oppose any changes." Will other Republicans stand up for fiscal responsibility and market principles? Will conservative pundits make a big deal of this issue? Will the libertarians and liberals who've scored the Bush administration for its earlier fiscal (and trade) foolishness? In other words, is there any kind of vocal, principled coalition to balance the concentrated interests of subsidized agriculture? A few environmental groups can't do it alone.
Virginia, I will take up that challenge. I have often smacked both parties over government profligacy, and as a (very small) agribusiness operator it's now my ox being gored. Shall I be consistent, or shall I duck-and-cover?

After due deliberation (cough!), I say BRING...IT...ON!

We've never applied for, asked for, lobbied for, or accepted a single dime from the government and we never will (neither subsidies, medical care, a phony "pension", nor anything else!) How 'bout this, Dubya? Don't just cut subsidies - shoot for eliminating them completely. They bastardize the economics of agriculture and make life miserable for anyone who wants to do the right thing. I could go on for days about how subsidies distort farming and ranching decisions, usually on the side of either saving (supposedly) or wrecking (actually) local ecology.

Virginia, here's my credo and battle cry on farm subsidies: W should not just cut ag subsidies, he should eliminate them. Freedom from the government teat for all!

UPDATE: Welcome Insta-readers! Thanks for the link, Glenn.

To reply to paul in the comments:
You get the Euros and the South Americans, including the Mexicans to cut their farm subsidies, and I'm with you.

Or, put import tariffs on ag commodities designed to counter the foreign farm subsidies. That would be fine, also.

Until then, F' bloody off. You Libertarian-types all want to swagger about acting like it's a fair fight. It's not, and it's not going to be you doing any of the fighting anyway.
Glenn has somewhat misidentified me as a farmer, but we actually are ranchers (really, my wife mostly runs the ranch. I work as an engineer.) We raise market goats, which makes our potential subsidy one of the most notorious - the justly infamous MOHAIR subsidy. So, in answer to you paul, this is my fight.

I don't give a rat's patootie what the Mexicans or Chinese are doing - it's their loss if they want to hand their money to American consumers. The nature of competition in agriculture today is differentiation: you have to make your product distinctive from your competitors' in a manner that offers a percieved value to the customer. If you cannot do that, you're dead and all the subsidies in the world can only animate the corpse of your business - they won't bring it back to life.

Wouldn't you rather do without, and keep your pride?

Think of the "new" ag products that have become widely available in recent years: organic produce, free-range chicken (which just means a barnyard chicken!), washed bag lettuce, exotic vegetables, branded vegetables (think "Victoria Island Asparagus" or so many others). The list is literally endless, as farmers, ranchers, and processor innovate in response to competition.

It's more than a bit ironic that many of these innovations have been spearheaded by the green-vegan-hippy types who one would normally associate with feel-good socialism, not heartless capitalism.

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