Tuesday, May 18, 2010


Here’s a thought:
Being president is hard. People don't tell you what you need to know. They don't tell you enough that you even know which questions to ask. And you really can't be an expert on very much of what's going to come across your desk. Really -- what does Barack Obama or George W. Bush know about how to stop an insurgency, or how to help locals who assisted your occupying army, or how to respond to an earthquake in Haiti, or how to cap an offshore oil leak, or how to properly regulate complex financial products, or whether it's a good idea to put a permanent settlement on the moon, or whether anti-missile systems actually work, or what's the best way to fight drugs, or to drive down hospital costs, or to use federal incentives to get local schools to work better...can I stop now? They can't; there's still agriculture and trade and climate and inflation and AIDS/HIV (here and abroad) and housing and transportation and just go down the list. The brutal reality is that our presidents have very little expertise in almost everything they deal with. Take Obama: he knows Constitutional law, and worked on non-proliferation and some other issues in the Senate, but that's about it. Bush? Even worse; maybe some education policy, and perhaps a bit about business...that's about it. So presidents are constantly dealing with and relying on people who know far more than they do, even if they're quick studies (as Obama and Clinton are said to be) or incredibly hard workers (as Nixon was). And those people cannot, whatever Bush thought, be counted on to tell you things that reflect badly on them or the things that they're trying to get you to do.

Ta-Nehisi Coates has a nice post on sampling that reveals the previously-unknown-to-me fact that Dead Presidents II relies on a sample.

Conor Friedersdorf details the case against the Arizona immigration law with a case study.

Planet Money goes inside a payday lender’s shop.

How will the emerging market’s diet change?

Is Kabul under the control of the government?

How effective are batteries for the tasks we will need them for? This and this:
The all-electric Nissan Leaf car, for example—due out this year—will feature a 500-pound block of lithium-ion batteries that adds $10,000 to its price yet gives it a range of only 100 miles before requiring eight hours of recharging.

Similar limitations affect commercial electrical storage. People often wonder why we can't just build warehouses of batteries to store solar or wind-generated electricity for the days when the wind doesn't blow or the sun doesn't shine. But it would take 400 Leaf batteries to store 10 megawatt-hours of electricity—enough to power a small town overnight. If batteries last only three years, the costs soon become prohibitive.

Are there any breakthroughs on the horizon? "According to some experts," Mr. Schlesinger writes, the battery industry is "close to the end of the line of usable materials." There is some talk of "liquid metal" batteries that may open new paths of progress. Nissan claims that its Leaf batteries will be twice as powerful within a decade, but that may be wishful thinking. Batteries have come a long way in 200 years, as Mr. Schlesinger's chronicle vividly shows. But it would be a mistake to think that we are poised on the verge of another big breakthrough just because we desperately need one.

British inflation hit 3.7%. Very bad sign: looks like they’re traveling to a place called Stagflation Lane.

Intelligent Life talks about soccer during South African apartheid.

What happens when the stimulus runs out?

Why Merkley-Levin is necessary.

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