Bush rules to rollback environmental and safefy regulations

Mohave Generating Station, a 1,580 MW coal pow...Image via WikipediaHere's something really scary for Halloween. A number of papers are reporting that the Bush administration is trying to put together a mass of deregulation rules before November 11th. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has a number of projects under way, and OMB Watch is reporting on them.

Some may remember that Clinton's administration did the same thing, except in reverse. As the New York Times points out:
Midnight regulations, of course, are nothing new, and the Clinton administration made a name for itself with a raft of last-minute rules of its own. Many were aimed at strengthening environmental regulations and reducing greenhouse emissions.

But in the case of the Bush administration there are as many as 90 new rules under development to unravel environmental protections. Some of the rules are:

  • Reduce women's access to federally funded reproductive health services.
  • Change the way occupational health agencies calculate estimates for on-the-job risks.
  • Allow local law enforcement to engage in domestic spying without good cause

  • Erase catch limits on commercial scallop fishing

  • Ease rules meant to keep coal slurry waste out of the Appalachian streams

  • Allow natural gas pipelines to operate at higher pressures

  • Shift passenger security screening responsibilities from commercial airlines to the federal government

  • Change the way government agencies comply with the Endangered Species Act. The proposal would allow officials to approve development projects that could impact endangered species without consulting federal wildlife and habitat scientists

  • Allow increased emissions from oil refineries, chemical factories and other industrial plants with complex manufacturing operations

  • Ease limits on emissions from coal-fired power plants near national parks

  • Ease limits on pollution from power plants

The last rule would allow current emissions at a power plant to match the highest levels produced by that plant, overturning a rule that more strictly limits such emission increases. According to the EPA's estimate, it would allow millions of tons of additional carbon dioxide into the atmosphere annually, worsening global warming.

Usually, when these rules take effect they are hard to undo. It requires new regulatory proceedings, including lengthy periods of public comment, drafting and mandated reanalysis. Except in the case of GWB. When he took office in 2001 his chief of staff issued a government-wide memo that blocked the completion or implementation of regulations drafted in the waning days of the Clinton administration that had not yet taken legal effect. That's why this administration is pushing so hard to get the new rules done before mid-November.

Of course, they're also trying to wait until after the elections, since that could hurt any Republicans by association...

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I've graduated to the Standard Edition of AdWords.

It's been twenty days since I started the Flatout Press ad campaign to promote "The Age of Hot Rods", by my dad Albert Drake. I started out with the simple edition of google adwords, and got the following results, which you can see in the chart:

  • The ad showed 51,766 times

  • 45 people clicked through the ad to the website flatoutpress.com

  • The average cost per click was $.77

  • The total cost of the ad for 20 days was $34.44.

  • 94 visitors to the website (not shown in chart)

  • I sold one non-related book via the website

Not too bad of a result. I only ran the ad in the state of Oregon, which kept some of the costs down. One drawback to my test was that Flat Out Press doesn't directly sell The Age of Hot Rods, so other than increased traffic to the website and one purchase of another book, I can't tell how well the advertising worked.

As you can see from the graphic (above) the Standard Edition is way more complex than the starter edition. You can run multiple ads, and you can have several variations of the same ad. With the Starter Edition of AdWords you could choose to show an ad for a state or a zip code, but that was it. Standard Edition can run an ad in more than one region, so I can choose to run the ad in the PDX zip code (97215) and also in the Seattle/Tacoma region. I could also run it for the whole state of Oklahoma if I wanted.

The cost per click (CPC) was something that concerned me. It cost almost a dollar every time someone clicked through to the website, whether they bought something or not. That can get expensive. I'd heard the the Standard Edition of google AdWords could help cut down the cost by allowing you to bid for your CPC. If you bid high, you get promoted higher in the search, if you're low, then you're lower, and might even drop to page 3 or 4.

The following graphic shows my bidding strategy for one ad campaign that's running in Oregon and the Seattle/Tacoma region.

I've set most of the max CPCs to $.27. Some keywords are more expensive, so I've set the max bids on those higher. I'm hoping that through a combination of limiting CPC and more focused keywords I can drop the cost down to $.50 or $.70 per click.

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Christian Science Monitor losing the paper

The Christian Science Monitor is going to stop producing their daily paper and just provide the web-based version.
The Christian Science Monitor plans major changes in April 2009 that are expected to make it the first newspaper with a national audience to shift from a daily print format to an online publication that is updated continuously each day.
The changes at the Monitor will include enhancing the content on CSMonitor.com, starting weekly print and daily e-mail editions, and discontinuing the current daily print format.
This new, multiplatform strategy for the Monitor will "secure and enlarge the Monitor's role in its second century."
Makes me wonder what will happen to all those Christian Science reading rooms? (There's one in downtown Portland) Will they be equipped with Internet drops?

Also makes me ask what will happen with the CSM's current ad campaign: "Special Offer: Subscribe to the Monitor and get 32 issues RISK-FREE!"? Will this be changed in March to say "32 issues almost-risk free"? And then 31 issues...30 issues...29....

I guess this change is just part of the evolution of news. I still remember when the Oregonian and the Oregon Journal merged in 1982. That's why we have two full pages of comics in the Oregonian (1 page from the O, 1 page from the Journal). I also remember when Willamette Week changed to non-smearing ink, and then to soy-based ink. I don't remember when Sunday comics shrunk, but I have some old examples from the 30's, 40's and 50's where the pages are poster-sized. Now those were comics. Makes me think of Little Nemo in Slumberland (this is an execellent book)...

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Observations on Japanese Culture - Part 11 - Tea

While we were visiting Japan we went to Sakushin Gakuin school in Utsunomiya. The kids we were with got to take part in a Tea Ceremony lesson. According to Wikipedia:
The Japanese tea ceremony is called chanoyu (茶の湯, lit. "tea hot-water") or also chadō or sadō (茶道, "the way of tea") in Japanese. It is a multifaceted traditional activity strongly influenced by Zen Buddhism, in which powdered green tea, or matcha (抹茶), is ceremonially prepared and served to others.

An instructor discourses on the finer points of the Japanese Tea Ceremony. Apparently he is a famous tea instructor. Our friend Hiroko thinks that she saw him on television.

You have to sit in this position for the duration of the ceremony.

The treats

Based on some of the kids' expressions, there was a mixed response to the treats

At this school only girls in 5th grade and up learn the Tea Ceremony. During this time the boys in the class go play rugby. But, because our kids were visiting the boys acted as guests and the girls served tea to them. Our boys, however, were on the girls' side making tea. One boy said that tea usually gives him a headache, but this tea was ok.

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Japan food blog

Kat and Satoshi's eating and traveling adventures around Japan is a cool blog.

They have a mix of Japanese and foreign food adventures and recipes. For example, this recipe for pork with eringi and porcini mushrooms which mixes French food with Japanese ingredients.

Blogger.com promoted this site was a "blog of note" in October.
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Fannie & Freddie's infinite playlist

During the second presidential debate McCain dissed Obama for taking money from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac:
McCain: Meanwhile, they were getting all kinds of money in campaign contributions. Sen. Obama was the second highest recipient of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac money in history -- in history.
If you check out this fact, Obama has received $120,349 in political donations from employees of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. By contrast, McCain received $21,550. Please note that the money is coming from the employees of these quasi-governmental organizations.

Now the AP is reporting that Freddie Mac secretly paid a Republican consulting firm $2 million to kill legislation that would have regulated and trimmed the mortgage finance giant and its sister company, Fannie Mae, three years before the government took control to prevent their collapse. This isn't any smoking gun because (a) I don't know what was in the bill, and (b) Freddie Mac was targeting only Republicans to vote against the bill since the democrats in congress were already against it.

But the suprising thing that comes out in the article is this: McCain's campaign manager, Rick Davis, or his lobbying firm has taken more than $2 million from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac dating to 2000. In December, Freddie Mac contributed $250,000 to last month's GOP convention.

So, McCain is slamming Obama for taking FM's money, while accepting more than twice that during an event designed to elect him as president. Where's the straight talk in that?

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It all makes sense now

Levi Stubbs has died. I guess I should have paid more attention to Billy Bragg's lyrics all along.

The comment on this video says "I want Levi Stubbs played at my funeral"

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How does Google AdWords work? Part 2

A week ago I started my AdWords campaign to promote the Flat Out Press website. Here's what I've learned about AdWords one week later.

AdWords is a way to place a small text-based ad next to the search results whenever someone uses your keywords in a google search. Google suggests a number of keywords based on the content of your ad. My product was "The Age of Hot Rods," with essays on Rods, Customs and Racing from the 1950s to today. You can see the ad in the left hand corner of the first picture, along with the keywords listed below.

The status screen here shows that my ad has appeared in google searches 16,784 times since last week. In addition to the google keyword searches, my ad showed up 15,339 times in google's "content network." I'm not 100% sure what that means, except the help says:
[Content network] shows how your ad performed on Google Network content sites relevant to your ad text and keywords.
Clicks, impressions, and costs from the content network are not attributed to individual keywords. Instead, this data is compiled into the 'Content network' row you see here.
I chose to show my ad only within Oregon. Google bases your location on your ISP's address (physical, or by mapping the IP address, I don't know). AdWords suggested a variety of keyword categories, and I chose about 20 words each from two of the categories.

Here's the nut of AdWords: your ad can show up thousands of times, but you only get charged by the number of clicks. In the past week only 15 people have clicked through to my web site. When they do, I get charged based on (a) how popular my ad words are, and (b) how many people have viewed the ads. If I chose some really popular ad words, it would cost more to get my ad higher in the search window.

From my data, it seems like "street rod" might be a more popular search than "1950s". The 1950s key word yielded 729 impressions, and 7 clicks to flatoutpress.com. Google has charged me $5.17, which is $.74 per click or $.008 per impression. Meanwhile "street rod" has showm my ad 238 time, and received 3 clicks. This cost me $2.65, or $.83 per click and .011 per impression. Seems to me like I should focus my keywords more on 1950s, and less on "street rod."

I'm still not sure why I have keywords where my ad has never showed up. Maybe I have to allocate a larger ad budget to get a wider spread. But, I don't see how to prioritize certain keywords over others. I guess you do that by reducing the number of keywords.

Speaking of budget, google has done a good job of keeping my ad in play. They have an heuristic that shows your ad paired to keyword searches until you reach the limit of your budget per day. So, if I have a budget of $50 per month, that means I can ring up about $1.67 in charges per day. If I get more clicks than that, then the ad stops running for the day.

There are also a couple nice graphs to track advertising results:

You get "Clicks per day", "Impressions per day", and "Cost per day" as well as the option to download your data into a spreadsheet. I'm not sure what the graphs really represent to me. I mean, when the "Cost Per Day" goes down, that's because I'm not getting any clicks.

Anyway, I got one sale from the web site, so that covered most of the $50 expense. Maybe next month I'll try another ad next month.

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Clip from upcoming Treehouse of Horror?

Something really scary from Matt Groening's family of Simpsons.

Almost makes me want to say "Don't blame me, I voted for Kodos..."

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New Yorker Cartoon Roundup: Wall Street Woe

2004 cover with dandy Eustace Tilley, created ...The October 6th edition of the New Yorker focused all the cartoons on the stock market crash. The result? It only hurts when I laugh.

(Ok, it's a little easier to take today after a record 11% gain in most of the broad indexes)

If you don't have access to the New Yorker, thanks to cartoonbank.com I've summarized all the cartoons here in the order they ran in the magazine. Also, if you have an iGoogle account you might want to add my "Random New Yorker Cartoon" gadget to your home page (it's way better than cartoonbank's widget).

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Dow 9,000 and dropping

A little over a year ago the Dow closed at over the historic high of 14,000.
Yesterday it closed below 9,000. Today so far it's been as low as 7882. That's about a 43% drop in a year.

This isn't doing much to alter the fact that the stock market has traditionally done better while a Democrat was president. As this site mentions:

The Grand Old Party (GOP) is known for supporting big business. So it pays to elect Republicans to the White House, right? If you analyze the stock market performance under Republican and Democratic presidents, the answer is a resounding NO. Democratic presidents generate average stock market returns in excess of the risk-free rate of 10.69% -- roughly six times the 1.69% earned under Republican administrations.

Investopedia describes the research of Pedro Santa-Clara and Rossen Valkanov who analyzed the value-weighted returns on stocks between 1927 and 1998 under Democratic and Republican presidents. And they found that the excess returns of stocks over the risk-free rate of return -- as measured by the Center for Research into Securities Prices (CRSP) indexes versus three-month Treasury bill rates -- were far higher for Democratic presidents (10.69%) than for Republican ones (1.69%).

Of course, these are just long-term statistics. Under the last Democratic president, stocks rose an annual average of 17.4%. The current Republican White House occupant has presided over an average annual decline of 1.1% -- the S&P 500 was 1,342 when he took over and stands at 1,233 today -- the only president of either party of the last 11 to oversee a decline in stocks.

This market under Bush will drop the bar for quite a while...

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How does Google AdWords work?

I signed up for Google AdWords and set up an ad campaign for Flat Out Press.

I only have a $50 ad budget, so I'll see how far that takes me. The image shows the dashboard for the ad campaign. The ad is only 100 characters, for my dad's book "The Age of Hot Rods." You can configure which keywords will trigger the ad to show up alongside your regular Google search. I'll track which words inspire clicks, and then focus more on those.

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Observations on Japanese culture - Index

Satellite image of Japan in May 2003.
This is the index to a series of articles about my observations while on vacation in Japan.
Part 1 - Money

Part 2 - New and Old

Part 3 - Trains and Efficiency

Part 4 - Uniform

Part 5 - Shoes

Part 6 - Manners

Part 7 - Cute

Part 8 - English

Part 9 - Toilets

Part 10 - Bathing

Part 11 - Tea

Photos: Sights

Photos: Food

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Observations on Japanese Culture - Part 3 - Trains and Efficiency

The interior of a 700 Series Shinkansen (Nozom...Nozomi N700 is the newest, most elite train in the Japan Rail fleet. The clientele on this train looked like cabinet ministers, rock stars and Yakuza. We were accidentally booked on the Nozomi between Nagoya and Kyoto, although our JapanRail passes didn't allow it. The conductor was very concerned about the incident, but our reservations showed that we hadn't made the mistake -- most likely an inexperienced ticketing agent -- so he let us continue the journey without paying the $2000 or so that it would have cost! I'm thankful for that!

The train was scheduled to leave at 12:14. It pulled into the station at 12:12 and left before 12:15. The trains were very punctual, and it looked like all the schedules for 3 months were printed in fat paperback books about the size of an edition of the Guiness Book of World Records.

Here's a shot of the cab for a "Rapid" train, which was two slower than the Nozomi.

The dashboard has a slot for the driver's personal pocket watch. The watch was synchronized with another digital clock on on the train.
Every minute as the train ran from station to station the driver would check the time with a schedule from the central computer.

Also note the cute white gloves. Every time he synchronized he would point into the distance in front of the train with his white gloves.

Part of what helped keep the trains efficient were the markings on the floor. Passengers would be assigned a specific car, door, seat. They'd line up at the markings on the floor. When the Shinkansen came zooming up to the platform it would suddenly slow, and then coast to rest exactly in line with the markings. In less than a minute everyone would be on board and the train was ready to zip away.

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SIERRA MADRE, CA - MAY 29:  Seventieth anniver...Image by Getty Images via DaylifeHere's a bit more info on SPAM Singles. Apparently they were introduced in 2007 as part of Hormel's 70th birthday of SPAM. These are the original pieces of SPAM from over 70 years ago, cut up, and sold in foil packages.

Newspapers love the new SPAMtastic stuff, probably because it gives them an opportunity to write about something positive other than pets and diets.

SPAM singles have their own website, as well as appearing on the SPAM stuff page.

If you want the facts about what's in SPAM singles, you can go to Hormel's site, or you can check out this taste test with eggs, or this one with a slide show.

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