Sunday, February 28, 2016

Republican deathmatch

I prefer to pick on the Democrat candidates: Bernie is just hilarious. Hillary, on the other hand, is possibly the most unlikeable, baggage-laden candidate ever. Sooo easy to take substantive pot shots at these folks.

On the Republican side are some of the best candidates in decades, and one clown. Carson is a great man, but having a hard time convincing people that he can be president, and that's a shame. Rubio has been anointed by the Republican establishment as "their guy" after Jeb crashed and burned, so I'm not all that enamored of him. Being that I'm a naturalized Texan, I find Cruz the most compelling of the group. I like the fact he's got enemies in all the right places. He's principled, very bright, and sticks to his guns (in multiple senses), all of which I like.

Then there's the gold-plated dumpster fire, Trump. He has both the most loyal core, apparently, at about 30%, but also the strongest unfavorables, as in 60% of Republicans are in the "never Trump" category.

So the Republican side has some good candidates plus one raging dumpster fire. Unfortunately, all the decent candidates are splitting the level-headed vote, and if some of those candidates don't stand down, NOW, the clown will be the nominee.

And for those who believe they like Trump: He is not the person he seems.

The Donald is a deal maker, co-author of The Art of the Deal. He is now in "deal maker" mode, trying to seal the deal with Republican voters. He will do and say whatever is necessary to make the deal work. What we're seeing now is the most Republican, most conservative, most Christian-ish that The Donald will ever be. Because once the deal is done, he no longer needs the conservatives, the Christians, the 2nd Amendment folks, etc., that he's now sucking up to. The "make America great" and "send all the illegals home" rhetoric is just what he thinks it takes to make the deal. Historically, Trump seems to be a mildly-right-of-center Democrat, willing to donate to anyone who can give him an edge.

As president, Bernie would be a sincere disaster. Hillary would be a Clinton. 'Nuff said. And Trump would be out to continue to promote Trump, which would also be a disaster.

Ah, but Cruz would be a dangerous disaster as well, right? Yes! But my kind of a disaster! As Robert Reich points out in the best unintentional campaign ad for Cruz EVAH!

Wonderful endorsement, Mr. Reich.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The End of Civilization, or the Earth, or Whatever

Paul Erhlich wrote The Population Bomb in 1968. I read it then as an impressionable kid. It was totally wrong then and moreso now. He predicted mass starvation by the 1970s. The world's population was 3.5 billion in 1968. The world's population is now about 7.4 billion, and the fraction of undernourished people has dropped by half, from 33% to 16%, since 1968. For the math-challenged, that works out to about the same number of malnourished people then as now, but the total population of the planet has doubled. You should be impressed. I am.

From Wikipedia's article on the book:
Famine has not been eliminated, but its root cause has been political instability, not global food shortage.[19] The Indian economist and Nobel Prize winner, Amartya Sen, has argued that nations with democracy and a free press have virtually never suffered from extended famines.[20]
In other words, if you want to complete the war on starvation you need African governments to get out of the way of democracy and freedoms. It wouldn't hurt if we had more of that here, too.

But what started this massive increase in the ability to feed people? Agri-tech. Norman Borlaug and the Green Revolution, plant improvement programs which allowed people to more easily feed themselves with disease resistant, higher yielding plants.

Ehrlich has left the land of Soylent Green and is writing eco-catastrophe books, which I'm sure are every bit as accurate as The Population Bomb.

A very similar story can be told about "peak oil" and dire predictions of millions freezing in the dark, versus our current situation with inexpensive oil and natural gas, with huge and increasing proven reserves. Petroleum engineering produced effective hydraulic fracturing technology seemingly at the best chosen of times. Why?

When someone believes money can be made by producing something more efficiently, more abundantly, more inexpensively, they start looking for solutions. Some start looking because of altruism, and good on them. But altruism won't put together the millions of dollars of investments needed to find huge amounts of new oil, or provide massive amounts of fertilizer and machinery needed to produce good and inexpensive food.

What about... scarce metals? scarce rare earth elements? scarce water? I'm worried more about scarce brains, but I can guarantee there are people now thinking about how to make a buck supplying more or better replacements of every scarce item you and I can think of. For instance, scarce water becomes a non-issue if someone develops a sufficiently low-cost and efficient desalination method. (The solution may be close.) Good grief: the planet is covered in water!

Which brings me back to the humanitarian, Bono: "Capitalism takes more people out of poverty than aid." Not just poverty, brother, but thirst, and hunger...

As we wander into the political chaos season, please keep in mind the elements that foster abundance for the world: freedom, democracy, capitalism.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

The sad tale of Death Wish Coffee: a review

Death Wish Coffee is a thing now. A science fiction author whose books I've read has declared herself addicted. Apparently the company won 30 seconds of advertising time during the Super Bowl (which I didn't watch). It's got my curiosity up.

What is Death Wish Coffee, you ask?  It's marketed as "world's strongest coffee" and supposedly contains twice the caffeine of "normal" coffee, while never being bitter and having wonderful tones of chocolate and cherry. According to Caffeine Informer (and other places), Death Wish gets its caffeine content by using mostly robusta beans, which have not quite twice the caffeine of arabica beans. Death Wish also recommends using more than the normal amount of ground coffee per cup.

This is sort of a caffeine-driven programmer's challenge, and I work among caffeine-driven programmers. So a couple of guys at my office decided to split a pound of Death Wish (~$20) to taste for themselves. Then one of them passed on enough beans for me to make a pot.

So, some information about coffee, from a serious coffee geek:

I roast my own coffee at home. A home-roaster. I really like good coffee and I really dislike bad coffee. (I find Starbucks offensive on many levels.) I like my coffee to be roasted so as to bring out the best aspects of the beans. My favorites are probably Guatemalan beans from Antigua or Huehuetenango, roasted just to second crack, which often brings out cocoa flavors.

There are two commercial coffee genera, robusta and arabica. (Strictly speaking, robusta isn't a genus, but it's often used as such.) The best coffees are arabica. Robusta is used as a filler in some blends when they want to cost-reduce for mass markets. It should be used very carefully because it TASTES BAD. One coffee site refers to the taste as "burnt tires." Robusta, carefully roasted and judiciously blended, probably makes mass-market coffee only a little more awful than it would be otherwise. All "specialty coffee," which is what I drink, is arabica. If you care about coffee, you try to get good arabica beans.

The place I buy my green beans from sells arabica specialty coffees, but they also may sell robusta, irregularly. Sometimes these beans are for blending; sometimes they're for test-roasting and then tossing in the waste bin.

There are espresso blends that heavily use robusta and roast really dark. If you don't want to taste the bean, you roast very dark. (Starbucks apparently makes heavy use of this.) Dark roasting increases bitterness and cooks out the volatiles that might remind you that the bean came from a plant.

So, my colleague at work passed on a few spare ounces of Death Wish beans. The beans were obviously quite dark with the oil on the surface. The fragrance coming from the beans was unpleasant. Possibly the oils had turned. I made a pot. I drank half a cup, trying to keep an open mind. It was bad, but not screamingly bad. Sort of a more acidic Starbucks. Tones of charcoal, and a faint hint of toasted rubber. Sorry, but I didn't really like it.

Curiosity satisfied. Another triumph of marketing over reality. Don't bother.

See also: How to brew great coffee

Strange days

Yes, I've got the old Doors Strange Days song playing in the back of my head.

The two presumptive candidates for president are now an old unrepentant socialist, and a billionaire whose claims to fame include being on reality TV, a series of news-making bankruptcies, and a series of trade-in wives.

The runner-up (at the moment) for the Democrat nomination is a former Secretary of State and Senator who doesn't seem to be able to name her accomplishments, possibly because they all seem to have seriously negative connotations. Hillary-care. Benghazi. "Smart diplomacy." Security leaks. If this woman weren't so well connected...

One Twitter pundit characterized the primaries as 'pending indictment' (Clinton) vs 'Venezuela' (Sanders) on the Democrat side, and 'gold plated dumpster fire' (Trump) vs 'most punchable face' (Cruz) on the Republican side. It would be funnier if it weren't so close to true.

One amusement is seeing the Democrat candidates trying to out-Leftist each other, then reading the estimates of how many trillions their give-aways will cost. The Republicans are mostly trying to out-conservative each other, which isn't nearly as amusing.

Strange days, indeed.