Don’t raise the ceiling, lower the floor.

Ron Paul’s solution to the debt ceiling impasse. It would buy the government more time to continue arguing over how to bring about a more permanent fix.

So far as I understand the plan: Imagine one day you loan yourself a considerable sum of money. Months or years later you find you can no longer pay all your bills, which includes the interest on the loan you made to yourself, because 1) over the years you’ve over-committed yourself (bought too much stuff), and 2) there’s no longer enough revenue coming in to pay all your bills – maybe you lost your job. Instead of borrowing on your Visa to pay your bills, you merely forgive the loan you made to yourself, thus you no longer have to pay the interest, and this leaves you with enough money to pay your other bills. In the case of the government and the Fed (Federal Reserve), the “loan” was made in the form of a bond sale, the Fed bought the bonds from the government.

Paul’s suggestion is to have congress tell the Fed – whose assets belong to the government – to destroy the bonds. This would lower the government’s debt by $1.6 trillion, effectively “lowering the floor” and leaving the ceiling unchanged, and allow the government to borrow more money now.

Brilliant. So far as it goes anyway.

The real problem is to get the government to stop over committing itself. Paul has some ideas for that as well.

Red Slayers

Flies meticulously tied with generations old wisdom. The fly rod balanced, perfect, well-worn but ready. Alone, you weave your way along the bank of a serene stream. A warm breeze ripples the water. Your secret hole cuddles a cut bank. The philosophical arc of the line; your first cast. The fly lights on the water, disappears in a sun glinted eddy. Drift. You wait, expectant. All is calm. Until, that first strike!

The quintessential fishing experience, right? Not ours! Instead, we – my bride and I – donned our chest waders, put on our slop boots, slogged along a muddy bank at low tide, stepped into the icy, silty water of the Kasilof river where it empties into Cook Inlet, shouldered our way into position among countless other netters, and noisily awaited the push of red (sockeye) salmon.

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For an hour or more all we did is sift water. We felt foolish, outwitted by the fish. Because you can’t see them run, the water is too murky. Someone standing next to me claimed he felt one bump into his leg. And I thought, “Maybe they’re swimming upstream behind us!” Clever suckers. Nutty Alaskan kids running barefoot through the surf. It was a mystery how they avoided turning blue.

But the weather was fabulous!

Mount Redoubt Volcano looms in the distance.

Dip netting is a uniquely Alaskan experience, as only Alaskans are legally allowed to dip net for personal use catch, which is 25 per person, and an additional 10 for each household member, none of whom need be present to fish for themselves. My bride and I fished the evening high tide, spent a sleepless night camped on the beach, thanks to the all night partiers camped next to us, and then I trundled out of the tent early (3 am!) and fished the morning high tide. We came home with ten in the cooler, just like these:

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When you consider we had to clean, fillet, vacuum seal and freeze these bad boys (actually, 3 were female) ourselves… well, it was a blessing we didn’t get more. Should last us through winter.

Next year, as Arnold says, “We’ll be back.”

End of the Road

Oh, for the time when I shall sleep
Without identity.

~Emily Bronte

Salmon Slayers

Nibbe Family: Fish fear them. At least they do now.

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Not bad for six hours of fishing. Everyone in the family hooked and landed an Alaskan King Salmon.

Nibbes left to right: Master, Mother, Sister, Brother, Father.

Today in Seward. Another crummy day in Alaska.

The view from our digs at Lowell Point:

So Long Sol

Behold: His ‘n Her Copper River red salmon fillets. Lightly brushed with evo and dusted with Johnny’s seasoning salt. Mine with a sprinkle of tarragon, hers without. Hot grill ~12 minutes.

They account for not even a smidgen of the total commercial harvest this year from the Copper River. And this one made it past the gauntlet of commercial nets, thinking it was on its way to reproductive success, only to be thwarted by a sport fisher further upstream.

We are over the solstice hump; the sun set ~30 seconds earlier than yesterday. And still you could tee off at 8 pm and easily get in 18 holes. I am famous infamous among friends for the reminder each year that the days are getting shorter. This year I made the announcement on a friend’s backyard deck during the first hour of one of our frequent soirees. Under bluesky and beaming sunlight, and having just emptied the bottle of Tempranillo Reserve (2004) I had brought, the annual indiscretion went almost unnoticed, receiving only a mild scolding from the person who heard it. Good food, friends, and wine can compensate for a number of bad behaviors. All were present in abundance that evening.

A Brief Theory of Origin

At first there was nothing. And nothing happened to nothing. Until, by chance, something happened to nothing. Which gave rise to everything. From nothing.


Desert Nostalgia

Reading around the web today got me to thinking about creative writing. How much I used to enjoy it. Here’s a quiet essay I wrote about fourteen years ago that got some nice comments, and was even selected for publication in a University anthology. One person commented that it read like a prayer. After all these years it still gives me goosebumps to read it.

On Detecting Good Genes

One of my pet peeves is the oft repeated claim that the basis for one’s affection for another person is rooted in a desire for their genes. Something traceable to our “Caveman” days.

An example of this claim I read recently was made by someone talking about the Wiener affair. She explained – feebly I thought – why women should not pick attractive husbands. Excusing women (and men) for how they are “wired” to pick a mate she said this (bold emphasis mine):

But who can blame her? She, like so many women — and men — pick a mate based on pretty predictable factors, dating back to caveman days when all we were trying to do was survive and keep our species going, according to physical anthropologist and Why Him? Why Her? author Helen Fisher, who has been studying human courtship for decades. We’re drawn to guys like Weiner because they have good genes we can pass on to our kids. The downside is that we take a huge risk on whether he’s going to be sexually faithful to us.

There’s so many problems with the claim it’s difficult to know where to begin my criticism. First of all, men and women are not drawn to each other based on an affection for genotype; if anything they are drawn to each other based on phenotype, i.e. broadly on the features and behaviors the other exhibits. It is not possible to know simply by assessing somebody’s phenotype whether they have good genes or bad genes. One reason is that for the vast majority of human phenotypes, even those we might want our children to inherit, we have no idea what genes are involved. Take intelligence for instance. Undoubtedly, there is a genetic basis that explains some variability in intellectual ability. Although we don’t know what that genetic basis is precisely, we do know that environment and learning play a huge role in outcome. So if your goal is to have smart children, then you are as likely, or maybe more likely, to get them if you raise them in a learning environment similar to the environment other smart people experienced in their formative years, than by trying to identify a mate with “good” genes. Again, for the simple reason that we don’t know what genes code for intelligence, even if one somehow could detect “good” genes.

For the record, I share the belief of many systems biologists who think intelligence, like other complex phenotypes, can not be explained by the activity of one or a few gene products.

Another basis for my criticism is that, even if you believe that phenotypes (traits) are directly encoded by the genes, you would still fail to detect the “infidelity” gene(s) in Weiner because he is deliberately keeping that behavior secret from potential mates. I’m certain his wife was unaware of those “bad genes” when she married him. Had she been able to detect the “infidelity gene” in Weiner, and wanted to save her son (or daughter) from inheriting this perfidy, presumably she would not have married Weiner. Just as a person who, assuming their primary concern was the quality of their children, would hesitate to marry another person if they knew that person had a bad gene that might recombine during meiosis with their own bad copy to cause a debilitating disease in their child.  This is the basis for certain Mendelian disorders in children, caused by inheriting a bad (recessive) gene from both parents, nether of whom is affected. The biggest reason many of these diseases are not prevented in children is not because we don’t know the bad gene(s) involved, sometimes we do, but precisely because, contrary to what the author of the article claimed, we can’t detect by observation if a person has “good” genes or “bad” genes.

I think the reason people continue to repeat this silliness – generally, that what we do as humans is explained by our genes and our desire to mate with someone with “good” genes – owes to their being duped by an increasing number of books and pop science articles related to evolutionary biology, many of which greatly oversimplify human biology in order to account for what we do or why we do it. These people don’t understand the actual science, or the corresponding limitations of our present knowledge.

UPDATE: In the event you are skeptical that any scientist would take the idea that there is a human gene for infidelity seriously: here you go.

HTC Desire Oddity

I’m sitting outside in a lounge chair on the raised boardwalk I’m building on the south side of our house. Enjoying a glass of Chardonnay.  It’s sunny so I’m wearing my Maui Jim sunglasses, and I notice that when I turn the phone sideways to “landscape” view the display disappears. Something to do with the polarization of my sunglasses I assume, or the HTC screen, or both. Kind of annoying, since I prefer that orientation when typing a lot, like this post for instance. I wonder if there is an app to correct for this “feature”?

Summer Breeze

A friend of mine who lives in New Hampshire is flying to Portland, Oregon tomorrow to meet his father in-law. Together they will ride their bikes to the other Portland. The one in Maine that is. Four thousand miles. They figure it’ll take them 9-10 weeks. They’re blogging the adventure here. They’re soliciting donations for two charities; leave a comment if you’d care know which ones.

Weather here in Alaska has moderated a bit. Cooler today, but sunny and pleasant. We dug up the trees that were ravaged by the Moose this past winter and replaced two of them with Mayday trees. We placed them (we hope) sufficiently far enough away from the fence so as not to tempt moose to lean over and eat them, or worse, crash through the fence again and ravage them. We had the area in the backyard where the septic was repaired this winter re-graded and seeded. Already there is a soft, dense green whisker emerging. In a few weeks we’ll be mowing. Just in time for my parents visit! They will be here the first two weeks of July. Last time my father was here was close to twenty years ago.

In the meantime me and the misses missus celebrated our 5th wedding anniversary. Like it was yesterday. Pictured here at her boss’s wedding this past Saturday in Big Lake, AK.