Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Dateline: KIGALI

I had never formed an opinion of Cindy McCain, prospective first lady, until reading Michael Gerson's column in today's Post.
[In 1994,] following a call for help from Doctors Without Borders, [Cindy] McCain had assembled a medical team with the intention of setting up a mobile hospital in Rwanda. Arriving by private plane in mid-April, a couple of weeks into the massacres, she realized that the chaos made deploying her team impossible. At the airport, she paid for the use of a truck and set out for Goma in then-Zaire, where hundreds of thousands of refugees were also headed...

Arriving across the border in Goma, in what is now Congo, McCain found cholera victims stacked beside the road "like highway barriers." "I remember having to step over the decomposing body of an infant, covered with white powder, lime I guess, to get into one building." The field hospital covered four acres. McCain's team provided primary care for sick and frightened refugees, many of them suffering from dehydration. For nearly a month, McCain organized deliveries of food and water for the operation, collecting supplies at the Goma airport.
While the world watched the genocide on TV, very few did anything. I have the utmost respect for those who acted.
In the shadow of Barack Obama's world tour, McCain joined a bipartisan delegation... [and] came back to a very different Rwanda -- peaceful, well governed, and making, with American help, some of the most rapid progress in the history of public health. "What has struck me," says McCain, "is that most people are reconciling. A woman I met was gang-raped [during the genocide], her throat was slit, she lost her whole family, but was willing to forgive. The reason this will be a successful country is the women -- some of the strongest, most inspiring women I have ever met" ...

Over the years, McCain has taken medical services to a Sandinista stronghold after Nicaragua's civil war; set up a mobile hospital near Kuwait City while the oil wells still burned from the Persian Gulf War; helped in Bangladesh after a cyclone. And while in that country in 1991 she found her daughter Bridget in an orphanage -- "She really picked me," McCain insists. Sometimes the desire to save every child is properly concentrated on a single child.
Mr. Obama has a fascinating ancestry. But for actual accomplishments in their own years, I would pick either of the McCains.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Great Moments in Alternative Medicine

My wonderful and very self-confident grandmother is an exponent of alternative medicine, to all who will listen to her and many who will not. So she would be very dismayed to learn that one well-published practitioner of "energy healing" was not quite who he claimed to be.

The real moral of this story is that beards are more effective than plastic surgery. That's a form of alternative medicine that Global Review can get behind! Anyway, don't tell grandma.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Bike Trip

Two friends and I spent two days doing a rigorous bike trip around the Genesee Valley area of Western New York. Here's our route, which took us along the shore of Conesus Lake (right), up to 1400+ feet of elevation, and past the Swain Ski Resort at our furthest point.

The best eats? Get the 1/2 pound Patty Melt at the Lakeville Family Restaurant. At $5.95, that hunk of beef was just 20 cents dearer than the 1/4 pound Patty Melt.

For on-the-road food, Fig Newton knockoffs beat all comers. For a buck at Dollar General, I got about 3300 calories worth of low-fat, tasty cookies that are not (just) processed sugars. These fueled the last leg of the trip (and no, I didn't eat them all). Cheers to Evan for the tip.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Coburn for V.P.

Opinion Journal implicitly makes the case for Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) as Vice Presidential nominee (or President in 2012):
[Majority Leader Harry] Reid is telling reporters he will no longer tolerate the Oklahoma Republican blocking about 100 bills using the power Senate rules give individual member to stop legislation from coming to a floor vote. Mr. Coburn objects to many of the bills because he says they would enrich special interests and private developers at the expense of taxpayers...

"For those of you who may not know this, you cannot negotiate with Coburn," Mr. Reid told reporters. "It's something that you learn over the years, that it's a waste of time."
Stop the Pork. Coburn for Vice President!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Ode to the Speculator

Somebody in the Democratic Congress distributed talking points to the caucus, instructing them to blame speculators for high gasoline prices. This was good politics: most voters don't understand the function of a speculator, and it's always cathartic to blame someone one doesn't understand for events beyond one's control.

Not everyone, of course, is fooled as easily as the Democratic base. Robert Novak and many others in the MSM have called Harry Reid's bluff: all the experts they talk to affirm that forces far bigger than speculation are at work, and the prices we see are a product of rigid supply and growing demand.

But there's more to the story. Speculators are not merely uselessly annoying profiteers: they're very valuable profiteers, who do the rest of us a great service. They love risk (relatively) and they are willing to buy it on free markets. Their trading implicitly prices the risk, and tells the rest of us what to expect in the future. Obviously, their predictive power is imperfect, but it's better than other so-called experts': the speculators let their money do the talking, and stand to lose millions if they are wrong.

A Midwest farmer must decide in spring what grains to provide six months later - he can't change his mind at harvest time. Effective futures markets let him know that the world expects cheap wheat and expensive soy (for example) in the fall, and he plants soy. He benefits from higher profits, and consumers benefit too.

Likewise a Texas oilman may wonder whether it's worth plumping for new pumps - oil futures can help him make the most informed decision possible. If oil's going up, we'll appreciate the Texan's well-oiled machinery, and profit from a transaction that might not have been possible without futures speculators.

Suppose there were future markets on the homes in your neighborhood. You could check the prices and see what people expect a home to be worth 5, 10, 20 years from now. You could even decide to get "real estate insurance" by forward-selling your home. But you'd need a speculator - somebody willing to buy a house in the future for a payment today.

So don't blame speculators for problems you don't understand. Instead, thank them that gasoline isn't even more expensive - if it weren't for yesteryear's speculators, we might be paying $5 at the pump already.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Summer Movie

Michael Gerson makes me want to see Wall-E.
Though Wall-E says only a few words in the movie, his compassion, vulnerability and endearing clumsiness awaken the dormant humanity of everyone he meets, robot and human. Making this believable is a serious cinematic achievement, combining the emotional intensity of silent movies with the remarkable vistas of science fiction...

What is perhaps most surprising about "Wall-E" is its daring... the daring of savagely lampooning people in padded lounge chairs consuming supersized drinks -- who suspiciously resemble audience members (including me) in a luxury theater. The daring of attacking a culture of consumption that will determine whether "Wall-E" is a commercial success or failure.
Here's a clever trailer:

Breaking News: Lebanon Forms Government

Lebanon's consociational parliament has finally formed a government, reports the AP.
Lebanon's prime minister [, Fuad Saniora,] has formed a national unity Cabinet in which Hezbollah and its allies have veto power over government decisions.
This concretely delays the civil war that almost began in April. It must needs occur at some point: a house divided cannot stand. But it is better to delay the war until the pro-democracy forces have enough strength to decisively win it and the unpleasant neighbors are peaceful or distracted enough to stay out and let Lebanon determine her own fate.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

$1.50 Gas?

From Craigslist Rochester:
The Sunoco on Ridgeway in Greece has gas for $1.50 per gallon until 4pm today.
Full ad is here; if it's gone, the promo probably is over.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Best Hike in the Finger Lakes?

It certainly could be. This 3 mile scramble (routemap here) is awesome: climb up Saw Mill Creek from the eastern shore of Lake Seneca to the village of Hector. Pool after pool, waterfall after waterfall, slide after slide, this is God's idea of a water park. Bring your swim trunks and footwear with good traction; leave your camera in the car. Camp nearby at Smith Park on the lakeshore, or in rugged campsites nestled into Finger Lakes National Forest, as we did.

Here's a jump at the bridge that starts it all:

Free on Craig's List

I nominate this freebie for Best of Craigslist; go here to tag.