Friday, April 29, 2005

Smoking Gun?

This story made me seriously question what I believe about global warming:

'Smoking gun' on humans and global warming claimed.

[...]Using ocean data collected by diving floats, U.S. climate scientists released a study Thursday that they said provides the "smoking gun" that ties manmade greenhouse gas emissions to global warming.

[...]Average atmospheric temperatures rose about 1 degree Fahrenheit in the 20th century, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a U.N.-organized network of scientists, says computer modeling shows they will rise between 2.5 degrees and 10.4 degrees Fahrenheit by the year 2100, depending on how well emissions are controlled.
Is it true? It human-induced, runaway global warming a confirmed fact?


If you read a longer account of the article you come away with a very different story:

The study, which appears in this week's Science Express, a feature of Science magazine, reveals that Earth's current energy imbalance is large by standards of Earth's history. The current imbalance is 0.85 watts per meter squared (W/m2) and will cause an additional warming of 0.6 degrees Celsius (1 degree Fahrenheit) by the end of this century.
One degree? Not 2.5-10.4. Just one degree (the article goes on to specuate that there is already a degree stored in the ocean so we may be talking about two degrees total).

Two things here:

1) Although it is billed as a smoking gun, there is nothing in the study to show where the warming is coming from. It could be CO2 -induced, it could be solar, or it could be something else.

2) 1-2 degrees is moderate cooling. Crichton was nominated for a Flat Earth Award for saying that warming in the 21st century would be in that range instead of in the much higher range forcast by global warming computer models. Here is the passage from the Flatties: "Crichton “guesses” that the planet will warm 1.46 degrees Fahrenheit over the next hundred years." Now that NASA has confirmed this figure, maybe they will get the next Flat Earth Award.

For a different take on the findings, see William Kininmonth, a former head of Australia's National Climate Centre and a member of Australia's delegations at various rounds of United Nations climate treaty negotiations.
"The paper implies that it is possible to estimate quite accurately the global radiation imbalance," he told BBC News; other researchers, he says, have "explained why it is not possible to measure the imbalance with an accuracy better than several watts per metre squared"

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Interpreting the UN

The current movie the Interpreter has drawn some harsh criticism from the right as a propaganda piece for the UN. Some of this is justified, some is not.

I'll cover the parts that are not justified first because it is shorter. The movie originally centered on a fictional Arab country and was changed to a fictional African country to avoid politics. This is a minor quibble since Africa is less stable than the Arabian peninsula.

The other complaint is about an act of terrorism. Again, the complaint is that currently Islamists are the leading exporter of terror in the world but this act is performed by Africans. Again, it is really a minor quibble since this is actually an assassination attempt, not an act or random terrorism.

In order to cover what the movie got wrong, I have to go over the basic plot. A UN translator, Silvia Broome happens to overhead a bit of an assassination plot. In a major coincidence, the plot is directed at the ruler of her native country, Matobo, and she is the only interpreter at the UN who speaks its native Kos dialect.

Matobo is ruled by Dr. Zuwanie, originally a liberator but now as corrupt as the people he overthrew decades earlier. Zuwanie is about to be brought before the ICC (International Criminal Court) over something. He is hoping to avoid this by announcing open elections during an address to the UN.

This is where the movie shows the UN as we would like it to be, not as it is. We never quit hear what the ICC is going to charge Zuwanie with. He is brutal and has arranged for the assassination of political rivals but it is hard to believe that this would be acceptable as long as he holds open elections.

Matobo is modeled after Zimbabwe which also has former colonial roots (lily white Silvia is descended from English planters) and a brutal dictator. How does the UN treat Zimbabwe? They make it part of the UN Commission on Human Rights.

This is an example of the disconnect between UN supporters and detractors. The supporters see the UN as a fledgling world government, acting as a check on nationalistic power of nations including brutal dictatorships and the United States. Detractors see a dictator who has killed 20,000 political opponents being given a seat on the Human Rights Commission and suggest that the UN has no moral authority to judge the US.

Is it a fatal flaw in The Interpreter? It depends on how much you are willing to suspend disbelief. There are so many amazing coincidences in the movie that a minor thing like this passes under most people's radar. On the other hand, without the threat of the ICC, Zuwanie would have no need to come to New York nor woud the rest of the plot be needed.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

The Enemy of My Enemy...

Anti-war activists seem to think that they have common cause with anyone who opposes Bush (and Tony Blair). Consider former British MP George Galloway. Galloway was expelled from the Labour Party after praising Saddam (and taking oil-for-food money) and for calling on British troops to revolt against their officers. Galloway has created a new party called "Respect". He is running in a largely Moslem district on a pro-Islam/anti-Israel platform. How is this working out for him? Not so well. He has run afoul of Moslem extremists who believe that democracy itself if evil. At one point things got to this point:

"I was meeting people who live in the flats. Hizb-ut-Tahrir suddenly filled the room and blocked the door. I tried speaking calmly. They then said I was parading as a false prophet and served a sentence of death on me. They were claiming I was representing myself as a false deity and for this apostasy I would be sentenced to the gallows," he said. "They said they were setting up the gallows for me. Thank God my daughter was not with me. She was in the car outside. Otherwise there would have been nobody to call the police. The police saved my life."

Then there is Italian reporter Giuliana Sgrena who was certain that she was safe from Iraqi kidnappers because she was against the war. She still insists that she was deliberately targeted by US troops. She has yet to explain why the troops left her alive.

Then there is Liz Sperber from Brown University who recently wrote a piece entitled Put Down Your White Man's Burden, Support Iraqi Resistance. Sperber sees the situation this way:

Rather, if we support the Iraqis right to self-determination, it must be because we identify a common, equal humanity between us; because we recognize that US occupation of Iraqi land and the US-sanctioned torture, rape, murder, and theft are unjust. That, in addition to the plight of our soldiers, which many of them argue is worsening every day, is why we must demand troops out now. For no other reason. Accordingly, since the Iraqi resistance is the force working to regain Iraqi sovereignty, we support them-unconditionally.

We must bring American troops home simply because it is not their place to stop the insurgents. Granted, even the most inspiring national liberation movements had their crimes and their tragedies. Many liberation struggles, fought under the watchful eyes of the Cold War superpowers, even failed, in the end, to achieve their objectives (Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Algeria, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Chile, the list goes on). Yet, suffice it to say here that the limits or failures of a movement do not nullify its purpose, although they may hamper it. Past failures cannot justify the abandonment of our commitment to the right of people everywhere to self-determination.

Funny thing, I thought that huge numbers of Iraqis risking death to vote counted as self-determination. Sperber seems to think that this only comes from a gun carried by locals. The heck with elections, brutal dictators are just fine as long as they are home-grown.

But... do her precious insurgents count as local? The insurgents are made up of two different groups. The first is the remnants of Saddam's Baath party. They are local in that they are all from one part of Iraq. Is it a national liberation when the "liberators" are all part of a geographic and religious minority?

But the people Sperber is really thinking of when she gives her unconditional support are headed by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and he's from Jordan! According to Sperber, self-determination is everything but she fails to explain how an outsider from Jordan has more legitimacy than the US. In fact, it is clear that she doesn't care. The fact that he is not us is sufficient. Disregarded is the fact that Iraqis have rejected the Iranian/Taliban model of government that Zarqawi represents. This is a very strange form of self-determination.

Sperber cautions against romantisizing the insurgents:

On the other hand, though, this history often tempts us to romanticism anti-imperial struggles, and similarly has lead to the romanticism of Iraqi resistance. Such romanticizing obscures what I believe to be the most essential point of this entire argument. If there is one thing that we take away from 20th century history, it should be this: it is neither your place nor mine to decide who is worthy of what degree of autonomy. Not only do romantic portrayals of resistance rely on self-serving reductionism, they also implicitly pronounce the kind of moral authority and higher-judgment that are part and parcel of maintaining an imperialist way of thinking. Thus, to argue that resistance in Iraq deserves our support "because (insert homogenizing, descriptive reason here)," is to invoke the same paternalist authority, which, in another era argued that "the African (singular) is a savage and must be governed accordingly."

Never the less, Sperber falls into the same trap by assuming that anyone who opposes the US occupation and nation-building deserves support. Do they represent Iraqis in any way? Wh o cares - they want to rule/oppress Iraq independently from the US so they count as supporting Iraqi sovereignty.

She is also pretty forgiving of past excesses of national liberation movements although she conveniently skips over Cambodia, Cuba, Viet Nam, and North Korea. Were these successes? Yes, if your only measure is national sovereignty, but they are dismal failures by any measure of human cost.

And that's where her argument really falls flat. She doesn't care about anyone else in the world as long as they are independent. Civil wars, genocide, invading neighbors, religious suppression - nothing seems to matter. Liberals used to claim that they were the ones who cared about others but the wars with Afghanistan and Iraq have shown that this is no longer the case.

UNCONDITIONALLY-that's the way I support the Iraqi Resistance these days. While I do not offer political support to all groups involved in the anti-imperial struggle in Iraq, I work to support its collective purpose: forcing the troops out now. Forcing because the United States won't leave any other way.
Bush wants the troops out. They are a political liability and a constraint on his ability to threaten any other countries. If the Iraqi government holds and local troops are able to replace American and British troops then we will see a pull-out beginning this year. Supporting the insurgents only slows down the process and prolongs the occupation.

Fortunately for her, Sperber is safe at Brown. If she were to actually fall into the hands of Zarqawi she would quickly find out how little weight her support carries.

Not Ready for Prime Time

Right now the only Democrat running for Governor of Ohio is Columbus mayor, Michael Coleman. An incident last week shows that the Democrats are in a lot of trouble.

First some background. In Miflin High School, four boys attacked a developmentally disabled girl and forced her to have oral sex with two of them while a third video taped it. When this was reported to the school administration, they tried to hush it up. They wanted to call the non-emergency number instead of 911 so that reporters would be less likely to hear about it. By the time police responded, the administrators had left for the day. The principal was busy in a meeting and could not be disturbed by something trivial like a sexual assault on school grounds. Her meeting was with her boss but, when informed of the crime, she didn't bother to tell the boss. State laws were broken.

So what happened to these people? The administrators were given a short training, a two week suspension, and transferred to another school. The principal is under review and may be fired.

Enter talk radio show host Glenn Beck. Beck who has a disabled daughter wanted to know why the people most closely involved got off so lightly. He wanted to hear from the Mayor. But he couldn't get a hold of Coleman so he did a bit with his producer playing the mayor.

Coleman heard about it and called Beck. Beck asked what Coleman was doing about the school administrators? Nothing - Coleman is in charge of the police, not the schools. Ok, what about the investigation? Well, Coleman isn't involved in that either. He also admitted that he sent his kids to Catholic school (and no, he isn't Catholic).

Ok, Beck asked, "Mayor, as a man and a father, aren't you outraged by this incident?" This was Coleman's chance. He had come across badly but he could have talked about how this incident should not have happened, how the school administrators need to worry more about helping students than PR work for the school system. He could have promised to meet with the School Board about the incident.

But he didn't. Instead he asked, "Are you questioning my manhood?"

Beck had done no such thing. He was trying to get some reaction from the Mayor about a nasty incident that happened in Coleman's back yard, figuratively.

In fairness to Coleman, Ohio schools are run by the local school board which is only answerable to the state. As mayor, he has no direct authority over them. As governor, he would so the exchange could have been a good place to talk about what he would do as governor to make schools safer. He missed his chance.

Coleman won his last election unopposed but when running for his first term he ran on an education platform. At the time it seemed like he was a bit confused himself about who ran the schools. One of his first actions was to create a new department of education within the city to work with the school board.

Given all this, it's hard to explain why Coleman distanced himself so far from the incident.

One possibility is Coleman's temper. He has a bad one. I now people who have been on the receiving end if it. He may well have heard Beck's producer playing Coleman and called without any idea of what he was going to say.

It has also been a while since Coleman had to put up with any dissent. He's in his sixth year as mayor and he shared his campaign money in order to pack City Council with Democrats. He may be out of practice in dealing with hostile conservatives.

None of this helps his case for being governor. His likely opponent, Ken Blackwell, held his own against a Congressional panel investigating the election. Could Coleman have stood up to such pressure? Not based on this appearance.

Blackwell's campaign web site has already posted audio files of Coleman on Beck's show.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

House of Cards

When global warming was first advanced as a theory, historians shrugged it off. The world was a bit warmer in the 1930s and much warmer 1,000 years ago. The period between the 14th and 19th century was a major cool period known as the Little Ice Age. Any warming in the 20th century should be expected as the world cycle back to a warm phase.

This argument was finally answered in 2001 when the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a chart showing global climate for the last 1,000 years. According to this chart, the Medieval Warm Period and the Little Ice Age were nothing but local variations. World temperature had been amazingly constant until the beginning of the 20th century. Suddenly the temperature shot up making the graph look something like a hockey stick - a name that stuck.

Since then the Hockey Stick has been discredited on numerous fronts. The measurements used prior to the 20th century came fro tree ring data. As trees grow older, their rings are deformed. There are ways of compensating for this mathematically. Michael Mann, the author of the Hockey Stick, used a method that minimized variations. If a different method is used then the Medieval Warm Period and the Little Ice Age are back.

Mann under represented some samples. Most of North America's history is based on a single forest in northern US. Similar omissions occurred in the records based on actual temperature readings. Areas hundreds of miles in diameter are represented by a single thermometer record.

While tree rings are a good proxy for weather, they are not the only one. Other proxies world-wide show indications of prior warm and cool periods.

The margin of error in the readings is wide enough to allow nearly any shape graph.

Independent researchers working from Mann's published papers have not been able to reproduce the Hokey Stick.

Even Mann has conceded problems in his graph.

For more, see Breaking the Hockey Stick, Climate Legacy of the Hockey Stick, Bending the Hockey Stick, Mann's Hockey Stick Wrong?, The Hockey Stick, A New Low in Climate Science, or simply Google "hockey stick mann" and look at any of the top results.

Still, the Hockey Stick continues to be published as the definitive temperature record. Why do people hang onto it so tightly? One reason is that it was so well disseminated. As with many false claims, the initial claim gets the headline and the refutation is buried or not even covered. Also, the Hockey Stick "proves" global warming. True believers disregard evidence that conflicts with their belief.

Among global warming scientists there is a more urgent reason to cling to the Hockey Stick - tipping points.

Carbon Dioxide is not enough to raise global temperatures by itself. The theory is that it will raise temperatures enough to cause a tipping point which will cause other tipping points.

The theory is the carbon dioxide will warm the climate enough to increase the amount of water vapor in the air. This is a much more efficient greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide so it will raise temperatures even more which will increase the water vapor content further. This causes increased low level clouds with trap more heat. The polar ice caps melt, exposing dark ground to the sun, reducing the amount of sunlight being reflected away and increasing temperatures even more. Etc.

The Hockey Stick is vital to this theory because it says that we are living in the warmest times in recorded history. As we continue into uncharted temperatures we will hit the various tipping points.

But - if temperatures have been warmer than today within the last 1,000 years and no tipping points were reached then the whole model collapses. Global warming goes from a certainty to an outside possibility if the earth continues its modest warming for another two or three centuries.

Instead of talking about the world out children will live in, we are talking about a future as far removed as George Washinton and powdered wigs.

Should we kill ourselves, literally, because of climate changes forecast centuries in the future? Especially when current temperatures are within the norm?

The theory of global warming has become an article of faith among environmentalists. It has several advantages over the previous climate theory - that we are on the on-set of a new Ice Age. The Ice Age theory simply said that we are overdue for one and that there is nothing we can do to stop it. Global warming, on the other hand, is supposed to be caused by human and can be stopped if we only live the way that deep environmentalists wanted us to live all along.

When reasonable people suggest that more data needs to be gathered, the global waring alarmists reply with hysterical urgency that it may already be too late.

As I have shown, there are real flaws in the basic assumptions of global warming that need to be addressed before any action is taken.

Friday, April 22, 2005

The Costs of Fighting Global Warming

On the 35th anniversary of Earth Day, environmentalists agree that their focus must be on global warming. While warming is the current bugbear of the day, several things must be kept in mind:

  • There is considerable proof that the Earth is warming as part of a natural cycle.
  • There is considerable skepticism that global warming can be stopped, even if it is human-induced.
  • The Kyoto protocols will not affect global warming in any meaningful way. Only cutbacks in the 60%-80% range could possibly have any effect.
  • The Earth has been warmer than now as recently as the 12th century and the effects were positive.

Kyoto is considered the first step. It's goals are minor - a small reduction of emissions based on 1990 levels. Even that has huge costs. Consider the following:

Canada will not meet its goals and will have to buy carbon credits from elsewhere at a cost of billions. This is a legal slight of hand allowing countries like Russia which is in an economic slump to sell credits for the emissions that they were not making anyway. This does nothing to reduce emissions.

Poland has been told that it's carbon allowance is about 80% of what it projected it needs to run its factories.

In Japan and elsewhere people are burning wood pellets. These are considered a renewable resource and therefore carbon neutral. This will cause increased pollution of particulate matter - the stuff that caused 1960s-style smog. This is known to cause lung problems.

The building of new electrical plants is being discouraged world-wide because of carbon reduction. This means that millions of people will continue to live without electricity. It is estimated that 1,500,000 people die annually due to cooking over open fires.

London is running out of water. A plan to provide water through desalination is being blocked by London's mayor. The mayor, known as Red Ken because of his political affiliations, says that the plant will use too much energy to be in line with carbon reductions.
"With increasing concerns over the damage we do to our environment and climate change, it's important that we reduce rather than increase the levels of energy we use in London."
Would you rather be warm or thirsty? Or possibly both?

When global warming was a new concept, the US government did a study. They concluded that the effect on the US would be about the same as moving 500 miles south. Native species would adapt or migrate. Farmers might need to plant different crops but longer growing seasons would mean increased yield. Some stressed forests might die out but that was the only negative that they could find.

Environmentalists went ballistic. This was the last thing they wanted to hear - that the world, or at least our portion of it, might come out ahead. A conscious effort was made to emphasize the negatives. New theories were put out that more heat means more and worse storms and every bad weather event was attributed to global warming. Bugs would become pestilential, bring with them tropical disease.

Just look at the opening paragraph of the introduction to the popular essay The Death of Environmentalism:

As I write this, the fourth in a series of violent hurricanes has just bombarded the Caribbean and Florida. In Florida, more than 30 are dead and thousands are homeless. More than 2,000 Haitians are dead. And ninety percent of the homes in Grenada are destroyed.
Yet no prominent national leader -- environmental or otherwise -- has come out publicly to suggest that the recent spate of hurricanes was the result of global warming. That's in part due to the fact that the conventional wisdom among environmentalists is that we mustn't frighten the public but rather must focus its gaze on technical solutions, like hybrid cars and fluorescent light bulbs.
2004 had a typical number of hurricanes but a stagnant mass of air in the mid-Atlantic directed them further south than usual. These were not even particularly strong storms when they hit land but they caused a great deal of destruction because they hit some major population centers, especially Orlando.

No responsible meterologist suggested that global warming was involved. To do otherwise is to cross from science into scare-mongering, which is right where the essay wants to go.

Surveys show that the majority of reporters in the MSM feel that global warming is too important to approach critically. Consider stories like this one
A new study of glaciers in a portion of the Antarctic finds that 84 percent of them have retreated over the past 50 years in response to a warmer climate.
The article studiously avoids mentioning that this is only a portion of Antarctica and that the majority of the continent is getting colder. It slants the news making flooding caused by global warming seem like an inevitability.

This story was not covered as widely:
But in a new study led by University of Washington researchers, an ice core of 1,000 meters was used as a sort of dipstick to show that a key section of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet probably never contained as much ice as scientists originally thought it did. That means it couldn't have contributed as much to the higher sea level
Environmentalists want us to cripple ourselves. They don't really care what the real results of global warming will be - if it isn't natural it cannot be good. They don't want to consider that it might not be happening or, if it is, it is minor. They certainly don't want to hear that anything good can come from it.

What they want is an end to the use of fossil fuels. What will we use instead? Hydroelectric? No- dams are bad for rivers. Wind farms? These are being protested by environmentalists in the US and UK. Solar power? Does any environmentalists really advocate covering an area the size of Nevada in solar cells? Biofuels (alcohol)? These require as much energy to distill as they deliver. Nuclear? Please.

Forgotten in all the hyperbole about the effects of global warming is the very real human cost of implementing any of these reforms. It is no exaggeration to say that this would cost millions of lives. With 75,000,000 killed by cooking fires alone over the next fifty years, the human cost of withholding electricity becomes astronomical.

We need to back off from the hysterical claims of the global warming environmentalists. They are no different from any prophet of doom, claiming that the world will end soon.

If I sound angry to you, read this column writen a year ago.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Earth Day

Happy Earth Day! It's actually tomorrow but I thought I would celebrate early. (Actually there is some argument about the date - some people think that it should be the March equinox).

Earth Day was invented 35 years ago at the beginning of the environmental movement. At the time, a lot of the country literally was a mess. For example, the tiny town of Philo, Ohio had a yellow haze hanging over it from the high-sulfur coal burned at the power plant across the river. Pittsburgh included air quality in weather forecasts in the mid-1970s and these seldom hit "acceptable". In 1969 an oil slick on the Cuyahoga River caught fire, tarnishing Cleveland's reputation for a generation. This wasn't even the first time the river had caught fire.

Since then, things have improved enormous. Car emissions have been cleaned up so much that the EPA is now looking at lawn mowers and chain saws in order to get further improvement.

The environmental movement is one of the great success stories on the late 20th century.

You wouldn't know if from the way that some people act. Typically for such movements, there is no need for exaggeration at the beginning. The facts are self-obvious. As the easy goals are met, the organizers are unwilling to admit victory. Instead they grow increasingly more hysterical. With no easily perceived targets eradicated, the environmentalists have moved on to Global Warming. This is big and scary. Since it is theoretical almost anything bad can be ascribed to it and it offers endless employment for environmentalists who want to turn society back to the stone age. An in-depth examination can be found in three parts here (part 1, part 2, part 3).

Environmentalists have been less than honest about the costs of preventing global warming (assuming it exists and can be stopped). Sites like this say that all we have to do is buy hybrid cars and switch electrical generation to other technologies and everything will be fine. This would help with the meaningless Kyoto goals but real change would require serious cutbacks affecting every aspect of life.

In 1990, there was a big interest in the environment. Earth Day's 20th anniversary became a major event. Ted Turner fed into this and starting that year, he produced a series of cartoons to "teach" kids how to be better residents of planet Earth. Called Captain Planet and the Planeteers, the show featured five teenagers, the earth spirit Gaia (voiced by Whoopi Goldberg), and Captain Planet himself, a blue superhero. (The kids represented the four elements plus "heart".)

The show went a step or two beyond propaganda. The kids were sent to stop polluters who always looked like some sort of ugly mutant. Pollution was never a byproduct of constructive activities, it was always an end in itself. Just to twist the knife a bit deeper, four of the kids were well versed in how to be earth-friendly. The exception was the American kid, the one the audience would most likely identify with. The Captain Planet web site describes him this way:

Wheeler is an impulsive, street-wise teenager from Brooklyn, always ready with a flip remark. He loves to provide comic relief to his fellow Planeteers and to goad the villains. Wheeler is the least knowledgeable Planeteer when it comes to ecology.

Although he sometimes fails to understand the issues at hand, his heart is in the right place. He fancies himself the "ladies' man" and flirts incessantly with Linka, the Planeteer from Eastern Europe.

This echoed a theory common within the ecological movement at the time - that western civilization had divorced itself from being in touch with nature and that all other civilizations are superior because of this.

Captain Planet, a poorly produced piece of propaganda, is emblematic of today's environmental movement. The Earth is represented as an intelligent goddess and no hard choices exist.

For more thoughts on the current state of environmetalism, see this response to the essay The Death of Environmentalism.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

What is the Purpose of the Catholic Church?

With the selection of a new Pope, it seems that nearly everyone in the MSM is disappointed. I asked a Catholic friend. He says that it is to help in the salvation of souls. I suspect that Pope Benedict XVI has a similar view.

I've been writing about the role of religion in politics, I might as well write something about the role of religion in the Catholic Church.

The Catholic Church is one of the oldest institutions in existence. It traces its existence back to the disciples of Christ himself. It is also the last vestige of the Roman Empire. For most of that time, for a significant portion of humanity, the Church has been the arbiter of what is proper in society. An institution like that has to take the long view. Women's rights and gay rights are popular now. Will they be in fifty years?

Gay marriage has never been tried on a large scale before, anywhere. This is a social experiment. Should the Church endorse it? What happens if it turns out badly? It turns out that being a single parent, either through divorce or because you were never married in the first place has a negative effect on children. Should the Church go ahead and accept it anyway because it has grown common in the last generation?

If you think that these are easy questions, either yes or no, then you are not really examining them.

To go beyond that, how active a role should the Church take in the modern world? Newsweek's Melinda Henneberger seems to think that the Church should worry about feeding the hungry and fighting injustice as its primary role.
The smoke and bells can’t mask the fact that feeding the hungry and fighting injustice is no longer the emphasis for the religion I have loved all my life
On Nightline, Cokie Roberts launched into a tirade about how the church should act.

After listening to weeks of people on screen telling us what the Catholic Church should be I've come to the conclusion that what they want is something with the trappings of the church but without the religious baggage. Sort of like Universal Unitarians except with robes an incense or possibly the Church of Buddy Christ.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Time for Ann

This week's Time features Ann Coulter as the cover story. Next to Rush Limbaugh, Coulter upsets the left more than anyone alive. Her columns are light-hearted, mocking the left with over-the-top suggestions.

The reason she bugs the left so much is that they take her seriously. When she says that we should go ahead and nuke North Korea right now, just to warn the rest of the world, she does not really expect this to happen. I will go so far as to speculate that she doesn't really wish that the entire staff of the New York Times was dead. But she does want to shake things up.

The funny thing is that the let lost its sense of humor. They think it's funny when activists send Bush pretzels, hoping that he will choke or when they sell "Kill Bill" take-off "Kill Bush" T-shirts. Twenty years ago a friend was passing out buttons reading "Lobotomize Republicans, it's not just a good idea, it's the law." How is that any different from Coulter's style of comment?

Over on MSNBC, arch-liberal Eric Alterman is outraged. One favorable story about a conservative and he gives up on them forever.

Time’s cover story/whitewash of Ann Coulter, will make it impossible for serious people to accept what the magazine reports at face-value ever again. It is as if Time had contracted a journalistic venereal disease from Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly and is now seeking to lower itself to their level in pursuit of their ideologically-obsessed audiences.
Personally, I think that carrying Alterman's blog makes it harder to accept MSNBC at face-value, but that's me.

Media Matters is another site that worked itself into a froth over the Time story, but that's their normal state.

This ties nicely into my last couple of posts - the left is so convinced of its own legitimacy that it wants to deny the right a forum. The right does well on talk-radio so the left first subsidizes its own version, the failing Air America, then it starts talking about reviving the Fairness Doctrine. Plus there are the attacks on conservatives - mainly pies but who knows when this will escalate.

Until Noam Chomsky or Ward Churchill is hit with a pie, this represents a desire for censorship of the right. Good thing these guys don't have enough power to pull it off.


Several conservatives have been hit with food - three in the last month. Ann Coulter, herself a victim, recently wrote a column about this trend.

Meanwhile, over at Newsweek, Gersh Kuntzman thinks that it is a great trend.
Throwing a pie at someone who deserves it is one of the most celebrated traditions in our so-called culture.
The operative phrase here is someone who deserves it. This is important enough that he quotes two other people saying it.

So, only conservatives deserve becoming part of a slapstick routine?

David Horowitz, a recent pie recipient has a different take on the subject.
Horowitz, predictably, disagreed. "These attacks are sinister," he told me. "The person who throws a pie is saying, ‘I hate you. I don’t want you to speak.’
More recently, students have moved on from pie throwing to other tactics:It's hard to give a speech after someone has attacked you, even if it only amounted to a pie in the face. It also spoils your authority.
Horowitz used an old World War II cliché to describe his pie-ing: "I never saw it coming," he said. "And it took away my dignity. When you’re lecturing, you’re supposed to have an authority. But a pie turns it into a food fight."
That's the whole point. Things are so polarized that liberals don't want conservatives to have a chance to speak. The Horowitz incidents are triply ironic. Horowitz in giving speeches on the Academic Bill of Rights. This would remove political speech from the classroom. Many liberals see this as a violation of their First Amendment rights so Horowitz's freedom of speech would abridge theirs. But, by disrupting Horowitz, his freedom of speech has been trampled. But the protestors see their protests (aimed at disrupting Horowitz's speech) as a First Amendment issue.
In the name of free speech, they are basically calling the police on protesters.
"I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it?" The current ideology says, "I disapprove of what you say so I will prevent you from saying it."

This is outright censorship. Newsweek's Kuntzman may not see it but it's there. Possibly Kuntzman would think differently if people he sympathizes with were being disrupted.

The same thing happened during the election. Kerry supporters complained about yard signs being stolen but it was Republican headquarters that were broken into, Republican vans that had their tires slashed, etc. The left is turning mean.

Monday, April 18, 2005


Last week I examined an article from the progressive web site In These Times. Now I', going to take apart another one, this one on the nature of the Blogosphere. "Digby", the author, says that the Blogosphere is organized like this:
The right blogosphere operates largely as part of the greater Republican message machine. Many of its bloggers are already part of that infrastructure, working as journalists for conservative publications, writing books and lecturing. Independent bloggers on the right hail from all walks of life, but the leading voices are either part of the political machine itself, like Mike Krempasky of RedState, or closely connected to the conservative media and think tank infrastructure, like Hugh Hewitt, Michelle Malkin and the PowerLine bloggers.
[...] By contrast, the left blogosphere is populated by “citizen bloggers,” who work in non-political occupations for a living and blog for reasons of personal interest. This sphere actually operates as a unique and potentially powerful political constituency rather than a part of the Democratic Party apparatus. Unlike their counterparts on the right, the lefty blogs have had to crash the party, but because they did it with energy, votes and money, they are making themselves a power in their own right.

Ok, the most popular blog by far is the Daily Kos. It is run by a professional Democratic fundraiser. The same is true for the popular atrios/Eschaton blog. Add in that sites like Talking Points Memo which takes its name seriously.

Now look at the right. The most popular site is Instapundit, a libertarian-leaning law professor. He gets maybe 20% as many hits as Kos. RedState was set up as a Republican-oriented blog and, unlike atrios, never hid it. Michelle Malkin is certainly conservative but she spends as much time arguing with the Bush administration as agreeing with it. The same is true of the Instapundit, Glen Reynolds and of Hugh Hewitt. Plus, only one of the PowerLine guys has done political work. The other is a banker.

From my viewpoint both sides are organized pretty much the same way - some political hacks, some journalists, and lots of concerned citizens.

So why does Digby see it differently? I can see three possible outlooks that would lead to this conclusion:

We're losing so they must be better organized. This is consistent with the left's mindset. They see everyone on the right as being part of a corporate conspiracy. They are the only ones who are pure of heart but, being private individuals, they are out-spent.

Most of these guys are centrist so they don't count. In These Times is a progressive site. "Progressive" is a code word that the far left uses to avoid labels like "socialist" that have negative connotations. Anyone who is not in favor of a massive expansion of government is to the right of progressives.

Facts, we don't need no stinking facts. This ties in with the other two points. Digby may have figured that he isn't part of the establishment and the blogs he reads are not and left it at that. Why bother looking things up when the facts can spoil a perfectly good column?

RedState has its own response to Digby.

Side note - Digby still believes in the RatherGate memos. No word on the Tooth Fairy.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Vast {Left/Right} Wing Conspiracies

In the progressive web site In These Times, Jessica Clark and Tracy Van Slyke, map out their view of the Conservative Media Machine and the Emerging Progressive Media Machine. Since one purpose of this chart is to show how much better the conservatives are than the progressives, the MSM is left off completely as is CNN and PBS. Only a few columnists are included and few of them are ones I would have picked. The effects of George Soros and his shadow party are minimized (even though they spent more money trying to defeat Bush than Kerry did). The amount and flow of money involved is also misrepresented. The chart for conservatives shows money flowing to the conservative media (Fox, Rush Limbaugh, etc.). In fact, these operations are not only self-supporting, they are money-makers (unlike Air America).

For a different take on the subject, look at this article on Soros's Shadow Party and how it directed the attack on Tom DeLay.

There are a few reasons for this discrepency. A big one is that progressives don't like to admit that the MSM leans liberal. The seize on individual stories that aren't written the way that they want or stories that don't make it into the news as justification that the press is neutral or conservative. They don't look at coverage as a whole nor do they acknowledge that the press, while not as far to the left as they are, is still left-of-center.

Another reason is that they lost and they want an easy answer. They don't want to re-think their philosophy. They know that their message is right (left?) so the problem must be in getting it out.

Clark and Van Slyke mention Dan Rather in passing without ever considering why conservatives hated him.
Paid political operatives posing as bloggers are taking down journalists like Dan Rather
Why was Rather a target and why do they feel his loss? Could it be because he represented their values? (And for the record, the DailyKos is run by a paid political operative who continued defending Rather months after everyone else gave up.)

Clark and Van Slyke move on to slightly firmer ground when talking about the mechanisms for the "Conservative Noise Machine".

In an effort to shift public discourse to the right, conservative foundations, right-wing donors and corporations worked together to create multiple organizations that in turn generated think tanks, issue-based nonprofits and conservative media outlets—all with their own highly paid and well-coached “experts.” Then, the right, ever more loudly denouncing the biased “liberal media elite,” inserted these newly minted experts into a mainstream media that was now on the defensive and vulnerable to manipulation.
Yes, these think-tanks exists and they do have experts. Conservatives see this as a response to the liberal bias of the universities where the well-coached liberal experts come from.

One thing that hurts the authors and the progressive movement in general is the refusal to give any credit at all to their opponents. Take this statement:
Where does this leave progressives? Stuck, as they are, with defending old-fashioned values, such as truth, fair play, factual accuracy, civility, the open exchange of ideas, the power of reasoned debate, and the honor of upholding the public trust.
I could write a whole columns on the election citing numerous specifics examples of how the anti-Bush crowd violated every single one of these values. As far as the open exchange of ideas, Clark and Van Slyke are in favor of a revised fairness doctrine.

The basic principle of the Fairness Doctrine—that radio and television stations have the obligation to address all sides of public controversy during the course of their broadcasting—was implied in the Communications Act of 1934, and then formalized in 1949. In practice, the Doctrine was meant to do two things: require stations to cover controversial issues of public importance and provide differing viewpoints on such issues. It was meant to prevent stations from broadcasting a single ideological perspective, day in and day out, without opposing viewpoints.
When this was first proposed during the Clinton years, it was known as the "Flush Rush" act because liberals hoped it would force Rush Limbagh off the air. This is their idea of " truth, fair play, factual accuracy, civility, the open exchange of ideas, the power of reasoned debate, and the honor of upholding the public trust."

Sidenote - how many progressives wanting to restore the Fairness Doctrine support the Accedemic Bill of Rights?

An interesting conundrum is that the progressives approach to media matches the rest of their philosophy - let the government handle it. They mention this in passing:
When liberal foundations do provide media grants, they shy away from overtly political media projects, and instead direct millions toward federally supported public media, such as the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) and National Public Radio, or to individual documentary film projects that might be shown on PBS.

And they wonder why conservative dislike PBS. This also shows a bit of hypocracy - for years American TV consisted of three networks and PBS but the Fairness Doctrine only applied to the commercial stations.

Another telling remark:
Yet these Washington-centric efforts are still not connected to grassroots, single-issue organizations. Too often, they lack the involvement of women, people of color and those who are not upper-middle class.
This is a reflection of progressives in general as opposed to liberals and Democrats. Ralph Nader was the most progressive candidate in decades and his demographics were mainly white men.

This is also reflected in a quote that they made from Mother Jones:
There is no time for canned political rhetoric. The focus is on winning. Here, strategy is honed. Talking points are refined. Discipline is imposed. … In building his coalition, Norquist has made a conscious strategic decision to go with a big-tent approach. At his weekly meetings, social issues like gay rights and abortion, which can divide the electoral base of conservatives and libertarians, are played down in favor of issues like tax cuts, tort reform, and the rollback of federal regulations and rules. These are the broad-appeal political winners on which Norquist is pinning the movement’s future. And they’re a strong lure for the corporate community, some of whose members—Philip Morris, Pfizer and Time Warner, for instance—also happen to supply funding for Americans for Tax Reform.
Conservates have descided that these issues are either not winnable or not worth fighting for. This confounds people like Clark and Van Slyke who based much of their political support on fighting for these causes. What do you do when you win? Do you give up and go home? Do you keep trying to rally people for a fight that they see as won? Do you move on and try to find new issues?

This is the left's real problem. Their fighting the wrong battles. Maybe the creation of new think tanks will result in new issues. Maybe not. Maybe the whole concept of a united front for the left is a waste of time. Howard Dean's anti-war supporters will never support candidates who are strong on defense. Other groups within the left are similarly at odds with each other.

The left already suffers from having an echo chamber. Look at the number of lefties who still think that the election was fixed. They keep telling each other that it was and pretty soon, everyone they know believes it. The trouble is that they only know people from the small group living in the echo chamber.

My wife wonders why I read this junk (the Democratic Underground, etc.). The reason is that I don't want to be fooled by living in an echo chamber. I read and evaluate lots of points of view. If it is persuasive enough, I change my attitudes. In this case, I write a rebuttle.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Church and State III

So where should the line be drawn between church and state? The French-style secularists want it drawn so that all expressions of religion are ruled out. Many Americans want religion - specifically their - codified into our government. Somewhere in between is where the line should be drawn.

First a quick look at history. Through the 15th century, Europe was officially Catholic. Jews and Moslems were tolerated, most of the time, but Christians were given a set doctrine. Disagreement got you in trouble with the law and punishments ranged from public recanting to gruesome death. At the same time, the church was increasingly corrupt.

The invention of the printing press allowed more people to own bibles. This in turn allowed translation into local dialects. During the 16th century people started reading the bible for themselves and arguing with the Catholic Church's interpretation. This led to religious wars through the end of the 17th century.

America's northern states were colonized by Protestants. Each colony used its own doctrine as the state religion. The reason there are so many small New England states is because of disputes over minor points of doctrine.

Nearly a century later the Bill of Rights was written. The authors wanted to protect their new nation against this.

At its core, freedom of religion means that you can believe what you want and cannot be penalized or marginalized for it by the government. This is at odds with both extreme. Just look at the secularists who think that Bush is unqualified to be president because he had religious convictions. Those at the other end would keep atheists and agnostics out of government.

Things get slippery. Just as someone's freedom of speech is protected, even when he calls for an end to free speech, everyone is entitled to their own beliefs, even when they are intolerant.

For example, some religious groups are planning a Day of Truth to counter the "gay agenda". I do not agree with this but I would be suppressing their freedom of speech and religion to suppress it. (Assuming that they are peaceful. If they call for anti-gay violence then they can be suppressed.)

A good rule to remember is that your side may not always be the one in control. Make sure that you give minorities the same rights that you would expect in their place. If you refuse to let someone engage in a peaceful activity then you will find your own activities curtailed when the roles are reversed (I hope that the Senate Republicans keep this in mind over the next couple of years).

If you start suppressing people because of their religion then eventually they will be in a position to suppress you because of your secularism. Democrats are trying to use the Schiavo case to argue that the Religious Right needs to be stopped. This will inevitably be met with a counter-attack against the secular.

Another hot spot in religion is in schools. For some conservatives hoped for a constitutional change to allow prayer in school (led prayer, silent prayer is a protected right). Proponents of this hope that 1) God will be so impressed by short, insincere, generic prayers that he will shower America with his blessings. 2) Non-believers will hear the watered-down word of God and be so impressed that they will convert. Can you guess my feelings on this?

Prayer in school is a blatant attempt at establishing protestant Christianity as the official religion of America. The courts have held that giving a pastor or other religious leader a generic prayer to say is also an unacceptable violation of free speech.

So, should all prayers in school be banned? No. I already mentioned silent prayer. A gray area is bible study groups. Many schools refuse to give them meeting space. This is also wrong as long as all religions are allowed to form study groups. I will not object to your Baptist group if you don't object to my wiccan circle (when I say all religions I mean it).

This leads into a different area - funding for religious groups. As long as the funding is available for others it should not be withheld on t he basis of religion. Look at my example of Old North Church. If the church was in private hands there would be no issue with the government issuing a grant to restore it. Since it is a functioning church, some people do object. The reasoning is that the money that they don't have to spend on restoration will be used for regular church functions, thus advancing religion. Never mind that the congregation cannot afford the work. By placing this restriction on the church, the government is discriminating against the owners of the church because of their religion.

The same line of reasoning is used against school vouchers. Liberals insist that this is nothing but an attempt by the Religious Right to fund churches. Again, as long as the money is available to any school. both religious and secular.

Should the government acknowledge religious holidays? This is a trick question. Christmas, Easter, Valentines Day and Halloween all have strong pagan roots with secular traditions added on top. Recongizing Santa Clause and the Easter Bunny does not advance Christianity in the slightest.

Thanksgiving is a religious holiday although it is a non-denominational one. There is no mandate who you should thank. I suspect that the French would have problems with it anyway.

The Pope was a world leader. In many ways he counts as a head of state including exchanging ambassadors with other countries. In addition, John Paul II was considered to have been a major force in the decline of Communism. I would expect any world leader in this position to be honored by putting flags at half mast. Does this advance Catholicism? Maybe a little - fifty years ago the US was hostile enough to Catholics that this would never have been considered so it also shows that the government is less anti-Catholic than previously. That's not going to win any converts. Go ahead and lower the flags.

I'll save the really hot issues - abortion and evolution - for my next post.

Still Contesting the 2004 Election

The loony left is still insisting that Bush cheated in order to win the 2004 election and that Republicans will do it again in 2006. Examples posted in the last few days include the Democratic Underground, the Columbus Free Press, and a web site in Havana. Even John Kerry is still talking about it:
Five months after the US elections, the ghost of fraud comes back to haunt the US, following accusations by senator and Democrat Party candidate John Kerry at a meeting of the Massachusetts League Of Women Voters on Monday.

Kerry assured the audience that many US citizens were denied their rights and access to the ballot box by means of deceit and intimidation.

Red State has a very different take on the numbers.

One frequent cncern is that Kerry ran behind a Supreme Court candidiate:
Maybe Ms. Connally is such a force, although the election results cast that supposition into serious doubt. Her opponent, Thomas J. Moyer, won by 6.4% statewide. In fact, in 4 counties Moyer tallied more raw votes than George W. Bush did. Part of the reason for this is that, for the Supreme Court in Ohio, the ballots do not show party affiliation, and the candidates are not listed on the same line as the rest of a party's slate of candidates. The elections are supposedly non-partisan.
Concerning Diebold"
Unfortunately for this angle, the newer Diebold machines were not used in Ohio for the 2004 election. The vast majority of counties used punch cards, with 13 using optical scan and just 7 using some sort of touchscreen-- including Franklin, which was the county where George W. Bush did the worst compared to 2000, and happens to be the second biggest county in Ohio.
This rehash of the election is really pitiful. The best take I have heard to date came on last night's The Daily Show. The guest pointed out that Kerry was a really bad candidate and only came close to tying due to the support of George Soros and the Shadow Party.

Church and State II

A current column by Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Leonard Pitts Jr. starts out:
It was about 25 years ago that a magazine article first called to my attention something called the Christian right. The story depicted a movement of religious fundamentalists who sought to radically restructure American life - mandating school prayer, creationism and censorship. I remember thinking the article was a little alarmist.

Actually, it was prescient.

That realization crept over me much as Christian fundamentalism has crept over American life: steadily. The movement - well-organized, well-funded and with true believer zeal - has made itself the primary ideological engine of the Republican Party, climbing to power from school boards to state legislatures to Congress to the White House.

And along the way, books were burned and banned. Religion masquerading as science elbowed its way into classrooms. Legislation requiring recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance became law. Pharmacists, citing religious objections, refused to fill prescriptions for birth-control pills. A lawmaker suggested unmarried pregnant women be prohibited from teaching in schools.

And that movement came to seem a scary thing, indeed.
Here's another liberal attacking the religious right. Let's take a close look at his accusations:

And along the way, books were burned and banned. People have been burning books for centuries. Has there been an increase in the last 25 years? Has there been a government-sanctioned book burning? Rush Limbaugh's books have been burned. Is that done by the Religious Right? I check the lists during Banned Books month - we're mainly talking about school libraries here. Are some books inappropriate for students in their mid-teens? Yes, of course.

Religion masquerading as science elbowed its way into classrooms. Ok, he's got me here. I've read a lot of creationist literature and it has huge holes in it's science.

Legislation requiring recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance became law. How does this apply? Since when is the Pledge of Allegiance a religious issue? When I was in school, everyone said the Pledge daily. That was stopped around 1970. During the 1980s legislators thought that it should be revived. This was a campaign issue in 1988, pretty near the beginning of his 25 years. It's inclusion here indicates that he is uncomfortable with the Pledge and expects his readership to agree.

Pharmacists, citing religious objections, refused to fill prescriptions for birth-control pills. This has happened once or twice. One incident that I remember was a violation of company policy. More important, it has nothing to do with the government. I thought that he was writing about the Religious Right's rise to power. Citing isolated incidents of actions by private citizens proves nothing.

A lawmaker suggested unmarried pregnant women be prohibited from teaching in schools. A lawmaker? Was this a Congressman? A Senator? A state legislator? A candidate who was not elected? A local school board member? How about some specifics? Pitts is talking about changes over the last 25 years. That long ago, this would have been school policy. Legislators would not need to be involved. 30 years ago, schools still provided private tutors for pregnant girls so that they would not mix with the student body. There is a convincing body of evidence that says single-parent children are bad for society. It is no wonder that there is a legislator somewhere who would like to make this public policy.

I choose to believe it means people are beginning to have their doubts about the new American theocracy. Maybe they are looking at the theocracies of the Middle East and Africa and asking if these are really models to which we should aspire. Maybe they're realizing that for all its pious moralizing, the fundamentalist movement is less about right than self-righteousness, less about faith than intrusion and less about God than power.
Here we are again - America's Religious Right is just the same as the Taliban or Saudi Arabia. At worst, the people he cites would like to roll social evolution back 40-50 years. To equate this with regimes where public whipping and mutilation is still carried out is an outrageous slander.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Church and State

What is the proper role of religion in government? The US Constitution guarantees freedom of religion but exactly how that should be enforced has always been a controversial subject. I'm bringing this up now because of a couple of comments I heard. One was a segment in Thomas Friedman's A&E special on Europe. The other was a news article saying that the Ohio courts did not lower their flags to half-mast in honor of the pope because of separation of church and state.

The segment in the Friedman special rang true. He found some French students who equated President Bush and Osama bin Lauden because both are religious. While I reject the comparison, I accept that many Europeans think this way.

Side note - Afghanistan shows us what sort of government bin Lauden prefers. He was the power behind the Taliban. In contrast, Bush made no attempt to set up Christian governments in Afghanistan or Iraq. If Bush is trying to conquer the world for Christianity he's doing a bad job of it.

Still, Bush is religious. He refers to God in speeches. He prays for guidance. This reflects America where the majority of the population is religious to some extent.

Europe, especially "old Europe", has undergone significant changes in the last couple of decades. As recently as the 1970s, most of Europe was devote Catholic. Now only a few are. The official religion has become "secularism". This is being enforced. French schools forbid students from wearing any religious paraphanalia. Since both Moslems and Jews consider head covering part of their faith, they are the most affected.

This is the lens that the French view George Bush through - that no reference to religion should be allowed in public.

This attitude has also affected American liberals. It's easy to find examples. Look at Democratic Party chair, Howard Dean. Last year, when asked to name his favorite book from the New testament, he named the Book of Job (from the Old testimony). It was also obvious that this book didn't have any personal meaning to Dean, he was simply interested in the historical scholarship on it.

John Kerry was an altarboy. That was the beginning and end of his religious conviction.

The mainstream media has a bad relationship with religion, also. PBS anchor Bill Moyers recently published an out-right attack on the religious right as a threat to the planet.
We are witnessing today a coupling of ideology and theology that threatens our ability to meet the growing ecological crisis. Theology asserts propositions that need not be proven true, while ideologues hold stoutly to a world view despite being contradicted by what is generally accepted as reality. The combination can make it impossible for a democracy to fashion real-world solutions to otherwise intractable challenges.
I could make a similar statement about Moyers. He obviously accepts human-induced global warming as an article of faith despite being in a position to know better.

Other examples of liberal attempts to eradicate religion from everyday life include re-naming Christmas as "Winter Holiday" and the aforementioned refusal to honor John Paul II.

I really believe that this attitude is misplaced. Freedom of religion is supposed to allow people to be religious. As long as your religion does not harm anyone else, you should be free to practice it as you please.

Further, government should be able to acknowledge religion to some degree without advancing it. There was significant objection to using government funds to restore the historic Old North Church in Boston. This is the church where the "one of by land, two if by sea" lantern was hung and as such, it played an important role in beginning the Revolutionary War. There should be no question about preserving it but it is also a functioning church. Liberals feel that any use of federal funds that might, in any way, benefit a congregation is out of the question and should be banned. They would rather see the church crumble.

Similar objections have been raised to school vouchers. Liberals are convinced that this is nothing but a way to funnel public money to churches.

Where did this outright hostility to religion come from? I suspect that it is a combination of European influence and American intellectual eletism. A lot of it comes from Marxism's traditional antipathy to religion.

In the coming years we will probably see growing hostility between secular liberals and the religious. This will happen for several reasons. One is that secularists are increasingly wary of the religious. Moyers' column is a perfect example.

At the same time, the secularists think that they hold a monopoly on the truth. Moyers is convinced that global warming is real and that Bush's religion keeps him from acting on it. Considering the state of the science supporting global warming, this is as much an article of faith for him as Christianity is for Bush.

The secularists also tend to lump all fundamentalism together so Baptists, pro-Israel Jews, and Islamists all become part of the same movement.

This has hurt the Democrats. One reason that Barack Obama is considered such a rising star is his ability to talk about religion.

At the same time, this attitude is polarizing the religious. There should be no conflict between religion and evolution. Geology, biology, astronomy, and nuclear physics all say that we are living on an old earth in an older universe. To argue against all of this, you have to believe that god is a jokester, creating a new world with all of the signs of being old. Never the less, recent polls show that a majority of Americans accept creation over evolution. I think that this is an example of polarization.

I will admit that there are people who are trying to reclaim America for Christ. At the same time, they have less influence than George Soros. The results of them succedding will not look anything like the Taliban, either.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Satellite Radio and Wal-Mart

Just a few thoughts about things the two have in common:

  • Wider selection of goods than available from local alternatives.
  • Pressure on local businesses.


  • Wal-Mart offers cheap prices, satellite radio replaces a free service with a monthly charge.
  • Wal-Mart is a mature company, large enough to dominate several lines of business. Satellite radio is in its infancy.
  • Liberals hate Wal-Mart and love satellite radio.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Pop Culture and Global Warming

Tonight's Simpsons episode was a rerun that begins with the revelation that Springfield Glacier has shrunk to an ice cube, probably due to global warming. At the same time, the movie Sahara led the box office. A major plot point is Sahara is that Africa used to be wetter. This plus a major storm allowed a civil war iron clad (it looked just like the Monitor/Virginia) to sail up a part of Africa that is now desert.

The movie is correct, Africa started drying up sometime in the mid-19th century. Some lakes and rivers are gone. This is causing African glaciers to shrink due to lack of moisture.

Maybe if Lisa Simpson went to more movies she would know a bit more about glaciers.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Does Europe Hate Us?

I just watched the second half of Thomas Friedman's A&E special on
Europe. It left me upset, both with Europe and with Friedman.

Friedman found several French students - both high school and college
- who were willing to equate George W. Bush and Osama bin Lauden. Why?
because both refer to their god. This is infuriating because bin Lauden
is a religious leader trying to start a world-wide religious movement.
Bush is a religious man but he shows a great deal of respect for other
religions. There was no attempt to place Afghanistan or Iraq under
Christian control.

But when reporting on something as massive as "Europe", it is easy to
find someone who believes in whatever message you want. Friedman gave
statistics on the ethnic makeup of Europe but not on the ideas he
showed Europeans saying. Are they typical? Are they unusual? We have
to trust Friedman.

In a situation like this, I look for facts that I can independently
verify. If they check out then I trust the rest. If they are wrong
then I do not trust anything else.

Keeping this in mind, consider a segment Friedman did on European
benefits. He showed an American film maker living in Germany. The film
maker told about how much assistance he gets from the government in
the form of day care and medical coverage. Then came the kicker -
Friedman asked the film maker how the tax rates compared. "About the
same, I think," came the reply. Friedman then went on to talk about
defense spending and how our money pays for an army that Europeans
feel is the only threat to world peace.

But it isn't so. Europe's tax rates are much higher that the US. In
some countries they approach 60% of income. Friedman disguised this by
having an American living in Europe give his impression.

A strong argument can be made in favor of European style government
with high taxes and high benefits. The argument must be balanced
against how fast or slow this style of economy grows and how long it
can sustain itself. Instead of addressing any of this, Friedman told
us that we can
have it all if we just cut back on the military. The way he presented
it was a bald face lie.

Friedman also did a short piece on a recent ban on cosmetics
containing phthalates (he didn't made the chemical family but this is
what he was talking about). He let a member of Greenpeace imply that
every cosmetics user in the US is at risk unless we follow Europe's
example. In fact, no study has ever shown that phthalates are harmful
but Europe adopted the "precautionary principal" which assumes that
all synthetic substances are harmful until proven safe. This can be an
arbitrary exercise and studies showing phthalates to be safe were
discounted for political reasons. Friedman skipped over this leaving
the impression that the US is willing to risk the safety of its
citizens. See this article for
more information

So, since catching Friedman in two lies, I do not believe anything
else that he says. His special is as suspect as something by Michael
Moore. Harsh, yes, but after catching him in bending the truth there
is nothing else for it.

There can be no doubt that Europe is more secular and more socialist
than the US. At the same time, Europe is facing economic challenges.
It's economy is stagnant and it has committed itself to environmental
goals that will ruin it without measurably affecting global warming.

Note - I usually depend on Blogger's spell check but it is not working
tonight. See this
for a list of Blogger's recent problems.

Update - just how high are European taxes? Consider this article from 2001:

A French worker making a mere $45,000 a year is taxed at the top marginal rate of 54 percent, plus 16 percent for social security taxes. Laetitia, whose salary is estimated to be $3 million, saves 30 to 40 percent just by renting a flat in Trafalgar Square. It gets worse. Those who save money pay a "wealth tax" of up to 8 percent. But the real fury of the revolution is reserved for entrepreneurs. Start a company, take it public and attempt to motivate talent with stock options recipients pay heavily for the priviledge. Realize a gain of FFr 1 million on your options and sell them in less than four years and you will owe 120 percent on the gain or the entire FFr 1 million gain plus 200,000.

So someone who makes four times the current minimum wage pays 70% income tax and it is possible to owe far more in taxes than you earned under the right (?) conditions. This is not "about the same as the US" and by including that clip instead of the real figures, Thomas Friedman lied.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Global warming - bringing a little sanity to the debate

Here's a great quote from a conference on climate change:

Garth Paltridge, an emeritus Professor at the University of Tasmania, says he does not accept the doomsday scenario painted by many in the climate change debate.

"I personally don't believe that climate change, even significant climate change, will necessarily be a doomsday outcome," he said.

"It's just as likely to be beneficial for a lot of people, and the thing that worries me about the whole IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] process is that they simply assume that climate change will be dreadful and disastrous and therefore we should spend as much effort and money as we can lay our hands on to stop it happening, and I just don't think that's the way to look at it.

"One hundred years ago when greenhouse warming was first mooted, the people at that time thought a bit of greenhouse warming of the world would be good for everybody. The only thing that's changed in the interim is that society seems to have become very fearful of any change whatsoever."

He says the other issue is that many governments are distrustful of the computer models on which much of the climate change debate is based.

"Because the modern numerical climate models are so incredibly complex it's very difficult for an outside scientist or someone who's not fully familiar with them to criticize them," he said.

"All that one can do is operate on intuition and so all you can do is take cheap, unqualified shots at the climate modeling community, and the trouble is that the climate modeling community sort of withdraws into its shell and says, 'Well you can't make any negative comments because you don't know anything about the subject', and this isn't the way to run science.

"You've got to have people from different disciplines being able to question what others have done."

Part of the problem is the amazing complexity of conditions that affect weather and climate. This article at TechCentralStation points out that the load of biological aerosols from flaking skin, fur, and pollen can make up between 25% and 80% of the aerosols in the atmosphere.

The latest report from the German scientists about dandruff, fur, and pollen is a reminder that our knowledge of controls on the climate system is far from complete, and as we see in the IPCC reports, new "forcings" of climate are added in each major assessment. Even if we had perfect temperature records of the Earth and numerical models that accurately simulated the climate system, we do not know enough about how the various "forcings" will impact the climate system over the next 50 to 100 years.
Given the scope of these unknowns, assuming that we know enough about climate to detect human-induced global warming and that we can do anything about it seems outlandish. That doesn't stop Tony Blair from pledging to reduce carbon emissions by 80% in the next 45 years.

Just for fun, read this FAQ about the difficulties of measuring surface air temperature.

And just to really confuse things, Follow this line of reasoning: warming alarmists want more use of wind power, Greenpeace is one of the alarmist groups worried about global warming. So what is Greenpeace's policy on a planned wind farm? They're against it.

The environmental campaign group, Greenpeace, is opposing a giant wind farm planned for the Western Isles.

It is concerned about the size of the scheme which will see 234 turbines sited across 30 miles of Lewis.

Greenpeace said that it backed the use of wind energy as a way of reducing global warming. But it said the cost of laying an undersea cable to the mainland had determined the scheme's size. It also fears for the impact on bird numbers.

Half-hearted support like this will never get 80% reduction in carbon emissions.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Balanced Education

There is an article currently posted on the Democratic Underground that rejects the idea of a balanced education.
For if conservatives succeed in framing the free exchange of ideas inspired by our constitution into a dichotomy having two equal perspectives, one right and one left, they can feel encouraged in their demand for an equitable fair share of the teaching and research slots in America's institutions of higher education.
We can't have that - a fair share for conservatives. Liberals have a monopoly on the truth.
Just as lifetimes spent inquiring into the significant body of evidence, experimentation, and thought we call "science" generally lead scholars to conclude that evolution is a broad, reliable, predictive scientific theory explaining the history and biology of life on earth, so, too, do smart, well-educated, well-informed, and open-minded investigators into today's broad universe of knowledge (unsurprisingly referred to as "the liberal arts") generally draw logically-connected, broad-based liberal conclusions about the way the world works.
I can't pass up such an easy target. Let's consider an associate professor of political science at North Carolina Wesleyan College named Jane T. Christensen. Among her degrees is a BA from Harvard so she has solid academic credentials. Now, look at her web site. There is a picture of her posing in paramilitary gear (assuming that she really is one of the masked figures in the picture). Among her links is one to a "news" article from 1/15/2003:
Israel is embarking upon a more aggressive approach to the war on terror that will include staging targeted killings in the United States and other friendly countries, former Israeli intelligence officials told United Press International.
Here is her final exam on "The Presidency":

Instructions: Write essays on each of the following 4 questions (25 points each). Your answers should be at least one page each, no less. You will be graded on your writing and organizational skills as well as your ability to bring the readings into your discussion. This test is designed to see how well you have thought about the materials we have read and discussed and your ability to discuss these materials after you have reflected on them.
1. How has the war on terrorism contributed to the powers of the Bush presidency? (Discuss at least 4 ways).
2. Discuss the sweeping attack on democratic rights under the Bush administration and what this means for the future of democratic government in America.
3. Whose interests are served by the foreign and domestic policies of the Bush administration?
4. Describe and discuss the role of the Bush advisors. Who are they? What is their agenda? And how is it being carried out?

Plus links to 9-11 conspiracy sites.

Is this the sort of "logically-connected, broad-based liberal conclusions about the way the world works" that the Democratic Underground thinks should have a monopoly on education? (Well, yes, but they don't admit it in public.)

A couple of notes - I do agree with them that teaching evolution should be protected. There is too much evidence against the biblical account.

There is a new breed of pop-under that works with the Mozilla browser and the Democratic Underground has it. Greedy capitalists. (!??!)

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

The Golden Rule

An old Wizard of Id cartoon defined the golden rule as "He who has the gold makes the rules." A report released by the Marshall Institute shows how this relates to global warming. Here is a summary of their findings:

  • Private foundations distribute a minimum of $35-50 million annually to non-profit organizations and universities to comment on or study various elements of the climate change debate.
  • Climate change-related projects accounted for over 25% of the 3-year total reported grants and contributions received by 10 of the top-20 institutions receiving support from foundations. For 6 organizations, climate change grants accounted for 50% of their reported grants and contributions received.
  • The federal government spent nearly $2 billion to support climate change science programs in FY 2004.
  • In 28 of the top-30 R&D performing academic institutions, federal financing accounts for more than 50% of the institution’s expenditures on atmospheric R&D.
An analysis of the report on TechCentralStation points out:

While the distribution of these funds to universities and private companies might be expected to be policy-neutral, the real situation isn't quite so simple. Government agencies that disperse research funds have an infrastructure that depends upon congressional support for their existence. Their level of continued support depends upon the level of the threat perceived by the public, which then justifies the expenditure of tax dollars.
In other words, you don't get grants unless you start crying that the end of the world is coming.

This ties in with the problem of ideologically polarized campuses. Most of the grants for climate research are going to universities. Skepticism on global warming is turning into a partisan issue with the left too busy being hysterical to allow rational examination of the issue. If research grants are given to politically polarized institutions then the results are likely to be biased.

The full Marshall Institute report lists the recipients of grants. It turns out that the University of Colorado, home of Ward Churchill, is the clear winner of grants for climate research.

The point is that the current funding structure makes it unlikely that many researchers will be given grants to disprove global warming.

Champions of human-induced warming theories dismiss skeptics on the basis of numbers. Since most scientists are believers, then the skeptics much be cranks, grasping at straws. As we can see, the system has biases built in rewarding researchers whose models support the scariest futures. ad penalizing anyone whose research does not conform to the accepted view.

Friday, April 01, 2005

The Dark Side of Libertarianism

So far I've defended both Libertarians from Republicans and Republicans from Libertarians. Now I have some complaints about the Libertarian Party and some of its core teachings.

At its heart, Libertarianism is based on the concept that open markets and free competition provides the best way of organizing society. Government exists to keep those markets open by forcing laws and contracts and providing basic security. Beyond that there is not much need for government involvement. In many areas this can be proven by the results of market-based and government-based efforts. Libertarians go further than this and apply their philosophy to everything. That's where it gets questionable.

The biggest point here is national defense and how it should be handled. Libertarians call for a isolationist policy. They would close all overseas bases and drastically cut back on the size of the military. They are also uncomfortable with nuclear weapons so they would pursue a small, high-tech fighting force with enough nuclear weaponry to discourage invasion. We would protect our own borders and possibly those of Canada and Mexico but otherwise we would disengage from the rest of the world, at least as far as our military goes.

The theory is that our military presence in the Persian Gulf is what precipitated 9-11. Had we withdrawn our forces in 1998, when the CATO Institute suggested, then all would have been forgiven.

There are two problems here. The first is that the presence of American military is only one of three bones of contention. A second one is American political power. I'm not sure how much of this the Libertarians are willing to give up since much of it is devoted to keeping markets open and eliminating trade barriers. If the US were to retire from the political arena we would rapidly see EU-style big government become world policy.

The third factor is the dominance of American companies and culture. The world watches our movies and TV shows and listens to our music. They drink our soft drinks and try to dress like us. This drives a lot of people overseas nuts and it is what Libertarians are cheering for.

The military gives the government credibility in dealing with world politics which keeps markets open. Recalling the military would close markets and the terrorists would hate us anyway.

That's the cold, hard, practical problem with isolationism. There are other issues. One is the moral one. An isolationist policy means turning our backs on world events, no matter how many people die.

War is bad and when the US is at war we do things that we like to think are beneath us. It is not surprising that we don't like to get involved but, far too often, if we don't get involved then no one does. That's when millions die.

Finally, there is the issue of world stability. As things currently stand, no one can take over the world. None of the big powers have enough military strength to do more than threaten a neighbor.

That's because of the US military power. While we might have trouble occupying it, we are strong enough to overthrow nearly anyone in the world. They know it but they also know that we are not likely to do it. Moreover, we tend to throw other countries out if they invade someone (yes, Afghanistan and Iraq are exceptions to this but Afghanistan was sheltering bin Laden and we were in continuous hostilities with Iraq since they invaded Kuwait.)

If the US withdrew, other countries would start building up their military again and the world would be less safe.

At some level the Libertarians know all of this. They just ignore it. Because the Libertarians are a fringe party, they don't have to advance real policies. They can give out policies that are ideologically pure, knowing that they will never have to deal with the consequences.

President Reagan and, presumably, President Bush (43) have strong Libertarian leanings but they also had to deal with the real world. As a result, they disappointed a lot of Libertarians.

The Dark Side of Libertarianism

So far I've defended both Libertarians from Republicans and Republicans from Libertarians. Now I have some complaints about the Libertarian Party and some of its core teachings.

At its heart, Libertarianism is based on the concept that open markets and free competition provides the best way of organizing society. Government exists to keep those markets open by forcing laws and contracts and providing basic security. Beyond that there is not much need for government involvement. In many areas this can be proven by the results of market-based and government-based efforts. Libertarians go further than this and apply their philosophy to everything. That's where it gets questionable.

The biggest point here is national defense and how it should be handled. Libertarians call for a isolationist policy. They would close all overseas bases and drastically cut back on the size of the military. They are also uncomfortable with nuclear weapons so they would pursue a small, high-tech fighting force with enough nuclear weaponry to discourage invasion. We would protect our own borders and possibly those of Canada and Mexico but otherwise we would disengage from the rest of the world, at least as far as our military goes.

The theory is that our military presence in the Persian Gulf is what precipitated 9-11. Had we withdrawn our forces in 1998, when the CATO Institute suggested, then all would have been forgiven.

There are two problems here. The first is that the presence of American military is only one of three bones of contention. A second one is American political power. I'm not sure how much of this the Libertarians are willing to give up since much of it is devoted to keeping markets open and eliminating trade barriers. If the US were to retire from the political arena we would rapidly see EU-style big government become world policy.

The third factor is the dominance of American companies and culture. The world watches our movies and TV shows and listens to our music. They drink our soft drinks and try to dress like us. This drives a lot of people overseas nuts and it is what Libertarians are cheering for.

The military gives the government credibility in dealing with world politics which keeps markets open. Recalling the military would close markets and the terrorists would hate us anyway.

That's the cold, hard, practical problem with isolationism. There are other issues. One is the moral one. An isolationist policy means turning our backs on world events, no matter how many people die.

War is bad and when the US is at war we do things that we like to think are beneath us. It is not surprising that we don't like to get involved but, far too often, if we don't get involved then no one does. That's when millions die.

Finally, there is the issue of world stability. As things currently stand, no one can take over the world. None of the big powers have enough military strength to do more than threaten a neighbor.

That's because of the US military power. While we might have trouble occupying it, we are strong enough to overthrow nearly anyone in the world. They know it but they also know that we are not likely to do it. Moreover, we tend to throw other countries out if they invade someone (yes, Afghanistan and Iraq are exceptions to this but Afghanistan was sheltering bin Laden and we were in continuous hostilities with Iraq since they invaded Kuwait.)

If the US withdrew, other countries would start building up their military again and the world would be less safe.

At some level the Libertarians know all of this. They just ignore it. Because the Libertarians are a fringe party, they don't have to advance real policies. They can give out policies that are ideologically pure, knowing that they will never have to deal with the consequences.

President Reagan and, presumably, President Bush (43) have strong Libertarian leanings but they also had to deal with the real world. As a result, they disappointed a lot of Libertarians.