Sunday, April 30, 2006

My Anthem

You probably heard about the new Spanish version of the Star Spangled Banner. While it is being billed as a way for Mexicans to share in the national anthem, it has other overtones. For one thing, it is not a translation. The first verse is pretty similar but the second verse if completely different.
So what is the point? It appears that they are saying that they are Americans on their own terms. This is a bad thing.
Understand that I am generally pro-immigrant. I have worked with a couple dozen immigrants from many different countries over my career. Many of these people were hired at my suggestion. The most recent, a woman from Columbia, started a week ago. I'm also fine with my daughter dating a second-generation Cuban.
The thing is that all of these people assimilated. They all speak English and most have become citizens. Similarly, the children of most Mexicans assimilate.
That could change in the near future. It is increasingly easy to live in America while retaining Mexican culture. Even in Columbus which is pretty far north, we have Spanish radio stations. The cable companies carry Telemundo. There is a Spanish weekly newspaper. Even self-serve check-out at supermarkets offer Spanish.
Countries with unassimilated minorities almost always have problems. Many European countries are now facing serious problems including France which has seen waves of violence from unassimilated immigrants. Unassimilated minorities in England were responsible for last year' bombings. Even long-established bi-lingual countries like Canada have severe stresses.
I would like to see some sort of official recognition of the current illegal immigrants. At the same time, I want to see them make an effort to assimilate. This is a fair social contract - you can come here but you are expected to become Americans. Otherwise we will see the creation of a permanent Spanish-speaking underclass.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Liberals and Christianity

The day after Easter, a co-worker from Nigeria asked me why there is so little commemoration of a major Christian holiday? He said that it was a very big annual event in Nigeria. One answer is that this is a reflection of American society's increasing movement to secularism and our sensitivity to the fact that we are now a country with multiple religions.

That's not the answer I gave. What I told him is that there is a vocal segment of our society that is embarrassed by Christianity. I continued to think about the issue and I can identify several trends and influences.

First, there can be no doubt that there is a wide-spread, long-term attempt to eliminate Christianity from public life. The ACLU, among others, is on record as saying that religion belongs in the home and church, not in the public sphere. That this campaign has been effective is also inarguable. Not only do government entities go to lengths to avoid the word "Christmas" but even major retailers who depend on Christmas shopping now refer to it as a generic holiday ("holiday tree", "holiday cookies", etc.). What used to be Easter Break is now a generic Spring Break that may or may not coincide with Easter. All of this has lead many to believe that there is a war on Christmas or even on Christianity.

Liberals argue back that there cannot be a war on Christianity. After all Republicans control the White House, Congress, and the Supreme Court. I have seen this argument several times in different forms but it ignores many realities. A big one is confusing Christians, Republicans, and Conservatives. Another problem is that this assumes that the people at the top set the tone for the rest of the nation. In fact, in our de-centralized nation, local authorities have quite a bit of power independent of the federal structure and this is where the battles are being fought.

There is a contradiction in the Liberals' argument that they are just pushing for a more mature, multi-cultural society. There are major exceptions made for other religions, particularly Islam. For example, cities with large Muslim populations Christians recognize this and it contributes to their feelings of persecution. Liberals, on the other hand, have internalized a double-standard and don't even see the contradiction.

While this does not constitute an organized campaign against Christianity, it does resemble one. There are dangers here. The liberal goal is to keep Christianity as a low-key, private movement rather than a national force. The surest way to provoke the very thing that they are trying to avoid is to make it seem that Christianity is being suppressed.

Things were not always this way. Going into the 1960s, the country was mainly church-going Protestants with Catholic and Jewish minorities and a tiny number of agnostics/atheists. Other religions were less than a percent.

40+ years later and the agnostic/atheist and "other" categories have grown significantly while the percentage of church-goers is at an all-time low. This follows a trend in countries such as France where most French are nominally Catholic but around 20% are Muslim. On a weekly basis a smaller number of Catholics actually attend church than Muslims.

So, what are the forces behind this and why were they internalized by the Liberals? There are multiple causes, many of them intertwined. i will start with the earliest and one of the strongest, the French.

The French Revolution.

The American Revolution was mild compared to the French Revolution. The Americans simply declared independence from England and continued on. The federal government took more than two decades to really coalesce and little in everyday life changed.

By contrast, the French Revolution tried to change everything. They overthrew both the church and the state. religion was banned. Even the calendar was changed to a ten day week to make it difficult for people to know when it was Sunday or when it was a religious holiday.

Eventually Robespierre, the architect of the Terror, realized that the people needed something spiritual. He tried to create a new religion, similar to some of the New Age beliefs of today. He created a new holiday for this with a huge parade through Paris. He even rode on one of the floats dressed as a god. This turned out to be his downfall. His supporters turned on him and he quickly fell from power.

Ultimately the French Revolution was a failure. Brotherhood, equality, and liberty were quickly abandoned. French governments changed quickly over the next few decades, alternating between Napoleon's empire, democracy, and a return to the monarchy.

Still the original revolution was never forgotten. Paris became a magnet for political refugees and would-be revolutionaries and the French Revolution was their template. It is no coincidence that the communist revolutions of the 20th century mirrored the bloody French Revolution. The revolutionaries believed that revolution needed blood.

They also believed that religion was inescapably tied to the old power structure. Marx referred to religion as the "Opiate of the masses." In order to free the people, the existing government, economic structure, and religion had to be overturned. Most communist governments have tried to suppress religion. The state religion of the USSR was atheism and was taught in schools.\

By the time this was boiled down to folk Marxism, it was diluted into religion = bad. Even people on the left who do not endorse communism are heavily influenced by folk Marxism.

So from the French we get the idea that religion, especially organized religion is a bad thing.


The counter-culture movement of the 60s and early 70s was a general rejection of traditional American values. It became fashionable to read Marx (or at least to quote Marx). This included the rejection of organized religion. Marx was against it and it was part of whitebread America so it must be bad.

For a few years Buddhism and Buddhist-inspired cults became popular. Most of the people who tried these eventually abandoned religion completely.

An other facet of the rejection of whitebread America was the rise of nativism. There was a strong belief that American culture was artificial and had been imposed on immigrants. Most other cultures were regarded as "more authentic". This led to programs designed to discourage assimilation. Immigration laws were changed to favor non-Europeans.

A lasting contribution of nativism is that allowances are made for non-Christians. This is one reason that Muslims appear to get favored treatment.

Much of today's multi-culturalism is water-down nativism. It is the reverse of social Darwinism. We must make sure that no portion of our culture is offensive to other cultures.

Much of today's left is rooted in the 1960s. This is when folk Marxism and nativism went mainstream.  It was also marked by a general rejection of traditional American values including organised religion.


In 1972, the Democrats began to actively court feminists. This meant adopting the feminist agenda as their own, especially abortion. It is not possible to be an anti-abortion Democrat. By 1980, the Republicans had taken advantage of this to attract the right-to-life advocates. While some people are against abortion on ethical groups, most organized support for this position comes from Catholics and Baptists. This polarized the parties on religious grounds and is the reason the the Republicans continue to attract religious fundamentalists. In response, the Democrats increasingly see church-goers as the enemy. This makes liberals/Democrats more likely to support restrictions on Christians.

Secular Jews

First, I want to make it very clear that I am not saying that Jews are attacking Christianity. Just the opposite - some Jews believe that they are defending themselves against Christians.

Jews and Christians have lived together for over a thousand years and there have been a lot of rough spots. Even countries that were considered open to Jews could turn on them. Spain in the 15th century (up until 1492) and Germany in the 19th century were very hospitable to Jews. Then these countries turned on them.

As related here, many Jews are told almost from birth that Christianity and nationalism were responsible for the Holocaust and that the best defense that Jews have is to try to fight both of these causes in the public sphere.

Unquestionably the organization that leads the attack against public expressions of Christianity is the ACLU which is disproportionately Jewish.

I could write a whole column on xenophobia and how outsider groups are usually treated
poorly regardless of the religions involved so I think that blaming the Holocaust on Christianity is off-base. The point is that people in the ACLU think otherwise and are so dedicated to this that they have someone working full-time just to eliminate Christian symbols from government seals.

For an other example, look at the initial reaction to the Passion of the Christ. Even before it was released, there were predictions that it would cause anti-Semitic violence. This was an attempt to suppress a movie based on the most important event of Christianity. The only explanation is that some people assume that Christianity is fundamentally anti-Semitic.

This is also a factor in the perceived double standard of treatment for Islam. It is not seen as a threat to Jews (!!!).

So we have an ethnic group who worries that public expression of Christianity will lead to persecution.

Put this together and we find that liberals have internalized a set of values that teach that religion is bad, especially Christianity. It is a belief that keeps people from being free, has historically caused the death of millions of people, is anti-feminist, and is only believed in by Republicans.

This is why Howard Dean was so uncomfortable talking about religion in presidential debates and why John Kerry had to go back to his childhood experiences as an altar boy.

At the same time, not every slight seen by Christians is an attack. Evolution is a science, Intelligent Design is opinion. The Gospel of Judas is a legitimate historical document copied from an oral tradition created within living memory of Christ by early Christians (Gnostics).

That brings us to the present. Christians see repeated attacks and believe that they are under an organized attack. Liberals don't even see these actions as attacks and are very uncomfortable with the resurgence of fundamentalist Christians. The fundamentalists in turn see this discomfort as a new attack. The two sides are locked in an increasing state of polarization with no end in sight and no understanding of the other side.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Why I Watch the Daily Show

As the Daily Show started last night I was beginning to wonder why I still watch it. One answer is that I stay up late and there isn't anything better on at 1:00 am, but last night's show gave me another reason. The guest was Efraim Halevy, former head of Mossad who was pushing his new book The Man in the Shadows. Part way in, Jon Stewart asked his usual question, "How did the US intelligence get it so wrong in Iraq?"

Halevy's answer, "They got pretty much everything right."

Stewart, "But what about the WMDs?"

Halevy, "They exist."

Stewart, "But where?"

Halevy, "Possibly still in Iraq."

He went on to point out that US troops found functional MiG attack jets buried in the sand.

Stewart was clearly at a loss. He's used to friendly experts who only need a bit of prompting to tell him how incompetent Bush is. Instead he had the former head of an intelligence organization with a strong interest in Iraq's affairs telling him that Bush got it right. You never see that on Leno.

(note the transcript was from memory and I probably got some minor details wrong)

Of course, the other reason I watch the Daily Show is that it is on before the Colbert Report. Colbert is supposed to be a liberal playing an over-the-top conservative but sometimes you wonder. Liberal guests always get tougher treatment. At the very least, Colbert remembers that he is supposed to entertain first and preach to the choir second, something Jon Stewart forgot a long time ago.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Why We Are At War

Over the weekend, Osama bin Laden released an audio recording. This was given minor coverage in the news, either because the MSM consider him old news or because his organization has not seemed very threatening recently. New bombings were just reported in Egypt which may or may not be related. Regardless, bin Laden gave his opinions on several issues. These include:

  • The Mohamed cartoons. He wants the cartoonists killed.
  • Cutting off funds to Hamas until they recognize Israel. He says that this proves a Zionist crusade against Islam.
  • The proposed UN peace-keeping mission to stop genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan. He is in favor of genocide.
This last one is interesting. Supposedly the US caused 9/11 by supporting Israel and occupying the Islamic homeland (Saudi Arabia). The slaughter in has nothing to do with these. Bin Laden's main interest here is that Muslims are the ones doing the slaughter so it must be OK. Also, Sudan gave him shelter for some years and he feels that he owes them.

All of this shows just how far from reasonable bin Laden is. There is no way that a few simple reforms in foreign policy would satisfy him or the fanatics he leads. It also shows that we will have to deal with this fanaticism on issues across the globe.

I'm probably flogging a dead horse here. Most Americans agree that bin Laden is a bad man. Still, I wonder about the writer in my last post who panicked when she found out that Christians ran her son's kindergarten. Does she see the threat from bin Laden or is she too worried about George Bush?

Sunday, April 23, 2006


In a recent column in Solon, writer Nina Burleigh relates her experiences in sending her son to a small-town school. She was forced to do this after spending two years in Paris because her apartment in comfortable, liberal New York was sub-let so they had to move into their vacation home in Narrowsburg.

They only planned on spending the occasional weekend in Narrowsburg without mixing with any of the locals. In fact, the locals made her very nervous.
Still, for the first few months, we felt uneasy. Eighty of Narrowsburg's 319 adults are military veterans and at least 10 recent school graduates are serving in Iraq or on other bases overseas right now. The school's defining philosophy was traditional and conservative, starting with a sit-down-in-your-seat brand of discipline, leavened with a rafter-shaking reverence for country and flag. Every day the students gathered in the gym for the "Morning Program," open to parents, which began with the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by a patriotic song, and then discussion of a "word of the week." During the first few weeks, the words of the week seemed suspiciously tied to a certain political persuasion: "Military," "tour," "nation" and "alliance" were among them.
When they found out that that the teacher and most of the other parents were religious, they actually panicked.
When we later learned that the cheery kindergarten teacher belonged to one of the most conservative evangelical churches in the community, we were careful not to challenge anyone or to express any opinion about politics or religion, out of fear our son would be singled out. Instead, to counteract any God-and-country indoctrination he received in school, we began our own informal in-home instruction about Bush, Iraq and Washington over the evening news.
Here is an example of her in-home instruction:
In simple language, I told my son that our president had started a war with a country called Iraq. I said that we were bombing cities and destroying buildings. And I explained that families just like ours now had no money or food because their parents didn't have offices to go to anymore or bosses to pay them. "America did this?" my son asked, incredulous. "Yes, America," I answered. He paused, a long silent pause, then burst out: "But Mommy, I love America! I want to hug America!"
Note - this conversation took place in December, 2004, over a year after the invasion of Iraq. Except for sporadic fighting in insurgent strongholds, most of the bombing at the time was being done by the insurgents.

Since then the school closed due to financial problems. The writer's family found the rural life too boring and moved back to the safety of Manhattan's Upper West Side. She says of her son's new school:
not surprisingly, the Pledge of Allegiance is no longer part of his morning routine. Come to think of it, and I could be wrong, I've never seen a flag on the premises.
About her son's brush with patriotism, she says:
Only once it was gone did I realize that, after our initial discomfort, my husband and I had begun to see our son's patriotism as a badge of innocence. His faith was a reminder to us that the reason we are devastated by the war in Iraq and the Bush presidency is that we too love America. We too want to believe in its potential for good and brotherhood.
There are several insights to be learned from this article. One is that liberals hate indoctrination as much as conservatives. It never seems to occur to her that the church-going people of Narrowsburgh would be just as shocked by her son's new school as she was by their school. She has her own ideas about what should be taught to children and wants her child raised to echo her views. In most colleges it is her views that are being pushed. She never questions indoctrination place in the classroom.

There is a bit of class snobbery going on also. She is in a position to buy a weekend house for $50,000 and live in Manhattan. The median income in Narrowsburgh is $45,000. She can't stand to live there for more than a day or two per week. When it first came time to enroll her son in school, she asked around but none of the people she associated with had ever set foot in the school.

She presents he issues with America as all relating to George Bush but there are indications that they run much deeper. The students sang the Star Spangled Banner and America the Beautiful. Guess which one chokes her up? (Hint - it's not the one that celebrates war.) Just being around so many veterans seems to make her nervous. I would bet that these attitudes go back further than the Spring of 2003.

Another issue - she grew up believing in America. She even says so. Yet somehow she managed to outgrow it.

What should we be teaching our children in school about America? And at what age should we begin? Is kindergarten too early to be teaching current events? I think so. The events in Iraq are much more complex than Burleigh is even willing to acknowledge much less explain on a 5-year-old's level.

My opinion is that, as a nation, we cannot continue to survive unless we teach some degree of patriotism. This is our national self-esteem. If we teach our children that America is worse than murderous dictatorships than what will be our future? Even Burleigh claims to have some good feelings for America. Are her feelings for our elected leaders so strong that she gave up all hope for her country because her candidate lost?

Or is Burleigh mis-representing her own feelings? Does she reserve her positive feelings for Blue America such as her neighbors in Upper West Side of Manhattan?

Strange. One of America's strong points is supposed to be our freedom of expression. That means that you acknowledge that your neighbors may not hold the same values that you do. They might attend church and show their children "Veggy Tales". They might have served in the military and not be ashamed. They might even have voted for Bush.

None of this is for Burleigh.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Tried in the Media

You must have heard about this. It has been a top story since it was first reported. The original report was that a black mother and college student was gang-raped by white members of a Duke University athletic team (it came out later that it was a lacrosse team). The accuser was swabbed for DNA traces. The DA waited for the results to come back before charging anyone.

Black leaders across America announced that they were watching the investigation closely. Two weeks later they were demanding to know why no charges had been filed yet (they were still waiting for the results of the DNA tests). When the tests did come back, they were negative. Undaunted, the DA hinted at additional test and charged two students the following week.

There has been more nuance but most people have not heard any more than this. One black student interviewed on NBC last night expressed her fears that the white students would "get off".

The trouble is that there is a great deal of doubt about the case. The defense already started making its case public. When the students come to trial, here is what the defense will say happened:

Two women were hired as strippers for a team party and paid $800 in advance. When they arrived, one (the accuser) was visibly impaired, either from drugs or alcohol. The other woman danced for 4-5 minutes until one of the students uttered a racial epithet. At that time, both strippers locked themselves in a bathroom for 20 minutes. They eventually emerged and were put in a cab. Before they left, the team asked for their money back but were refused. Still upset at the racial remark and unwilling to return the money, the strippers claimed that a rape had taken place.

The defense will also produce time-stamped photographs showing the one stripper dancing while the other simply sat and showing the two of them entering a cab, apparently in good health.

The prosecution will argue that the team drugged the stripper and the second stripper will testify that the two women were separate for enough time for a very quick assault. Their credibility will be challenged since they have reason to want to hurt the team (the money and the racial remark). It doesn't help that they make money by taking off their clothes. Society looks down on strippers more than on the men who watch them.

Given all of this, a conviction is unlikely. The trial will center on the possibility of an assault that did not leave DNA. The jury will look at the pictures of the strippers leaving and the negative DNA results and find the defendants not guilty.

Why did the DA even charge the students given how poor a case he had? He had to because the students have already been found guilty by the press. As shown by the woman on NBC, many people drew conclusions when the story was first reported. An assault must have happened or it wouldn't have made the wire service, right?

Recently bloggers got a black eye for expressing outrage at statement a hostage made while at gunpoint. This shows that the MSM is no better at waiting for the facts.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Nothing on the Table

As the 2006 campaigns start in earnest, Democrats have an interesting strategy - offer nothing. Eleanor Clift from Newsweek says that Democrats killed Ted Kennedy's immigration bill so that the immigrant protests on April 10 would be all about the Republican bills already introduced.
And it didn’t take much persuading when New York Senator Charles (Chuck) Schumer reportedly made the case that the failure to get a bill would be good for the Democrats. As the head of the Democratic campaign committee, Schumer is focused on getting his party back into power in November. With immigration protests planned for Monday, April 10, the thinking was that Senate inaction would leave the Republican House bill out there alone for the GOP to explain and defend. The House bill would turn undocumented workers into felons and impose criminal penalties on anybody who assists illegal immigrants.
David Sirota goes further, accusing Democrats of using a Seinfield strategy.
Because Democrats are only in the hunt thanks to gross Republican missteps--and they are going out of their way to make sure their potential election to the majority is about nothing. Call it the Seinfeld strategy.
Originally Democrats were going to win by fielding angry Iraq veterans. That hasn't worked as well as they hoped so now they are hoping to win by not being Republicans.

This may well help them with the swing voters but it still misses the big problem that Democrats have - defining themselves and what they believe in. Sirota wants to see some red meat Liberals (or is that White Tofu?). Anyway, he wants liberal candidates running on a liberal platform. He is probably going to be disappointed.

The big question is if a strategy that appeals to the moderate swing-voters will get the party faithful to the polls? When Gore tried a moderate campaign, the liberals voted for the Greens as a protest. Something like that might happen again.

At the same time, Republicans need to define themselves better, also. They've swung away from the budget-cutting, libertarian views of the early 1990s. Now they are pro-defense, big-spenders. I'd like to see more fiscal discipline. If the republicans keep their hold on Congress it will only be because the Democrats are just as disorganized.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Who Hates America

Eric Alterman quoted Time columnist Joe Klein as saying that:
The hate America tendency of the [Democratic Party's] liberal wing" had made it harder for Democrats to challenge Republicans on foreign policy.

Klein corrects the quote saying:
What I actually said was "the hate America tendency of the [Democratic Party's] left wing" had made it harder for Democrats to challenge Republicans on foreign policy.

[...]The default position of leftists like, say, Michael Moore and many writers at The Nation, is that America is essentially a malignant, imperialistic force in the world and the use of American military power is almost always wrong. Liberals have a more benign, and correct, view of America's role in the world and tend to favor the use of military force if it is exercised judiciously, as a last resort, and in a multilateral contect--with U.N. approval or through NATO. The first Gulf War, the overthrow of the Taliban and the Kosovo intervention met these criteria; Bush's Iraq invasion clearly did not. That was the point I was trying to make at breakfast.
Klein's post at Huffington is full of comments (it's hard to tell if they are from liberals or leftists) insisting that they do so love America and that Klein is full of it.

Alterman argues back:
“Michael Moore and many writers at The Nation” are not a “wing” of the Democratic Party: They are not even in the Democratic Party, as far as I know. (I also don’t accept that they “hate America,” well, except Alexander Cockburn.) I know Moore was a vocal supporter of Ralph Nader in 2000 as were the people at The Nation to whom—I assume—Klein refers. When one speaks of the “left wing” of the party—that is, people who are running for office which was the clear context of the discussion—one is clearly referring to the likes of Ted Kennedy, Russell Feingold, Barney Frank, and the late Paul Wellstone. Those are the people whom everyone at the assembled breakfast understood Klein to be smearing, as he has done repeatedly in Time and elsewhere.
Many long-time Democrats supported Nader in 2000 as a protest against the party's "mainstream" choice of Al Gore. They all came home to the Democrats again in 2004. Moore in particular was sitting front and center at the Democratic National Convention, sharing a box with Jimmy Carter.

Alterman's selection of "leftist" Democrats looks more like my selection of liberals. There are congressmen to the left of his list. Candidates from the far left are seldom elected to the Senate where they have to run a state-wide campaign. They are more likely to be in the House or in local politics where they can develope a constituance among a smaller group. There are also failed candidates even further on the left who never make it to Congress because of their views. Tom Hayden comes to mind here.

Then there are people associated with the Democrats. Cindy Sheehan has hugged anti-American politicians but she was also photographed hugging Democratic presidential candidate Jesse Jackson. Plus, a Democrat got Cindy a ticket to the State of the Union address. Cindy is a high-profile hate-America leftist and the Democrats allow themselves to be associated with her.

Even 2004 standard-bearer John Kerry has some America-hating quotes in his past starting with his Winter Soldier testimony.

The organizers of the immigrant protests learned quickly. The first protests had people waving Maxican flags. Later protests showed a sea of American flags. The message they were sending was that they love America and want to stay.

The Democrats haven't figured this out. They embraced the anti-war crowd in 1972 and can't let go. Never mind that the anti-war people are often appologists for wars that America is not in and dismissive of any wars that the US fights. These are the people who insist that we are only in Afghanistan because of an oil pipeline that was never built.

Bill Clinton won the presidency in 1992 by appealing to the center. After eight years of centrist policies, Democrats wanted a real liberal. when they didn't get one, many defected to Nader as a protest. In early 2004 they supported Dean for the same reason before going with a candidate they thought would run well against Bush.

In 1992, Democrats wanted the White House enough to nominate a moderate candidate. So far they don't seem ready to repeat past sucesses. The first step is admitting that you have a problem. The Democrats (at least the ones replying on Huffington) don't even see their anti-American fellows.

This is good news for the republicans who otherwise can't seem to do anything right.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

High-Fructose Hysteria

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof recently wrote a column comparing soft drinks to plutonium and anthrax. (The column is hidden behind Times Select so you will have to take my word for it.) The column is almost a parody of rational thought. Let's give it a thorough Fisking. Kristof begins by telling about the enormous human costs of obesity. He gives the annual death rate attributed to obesity as 125,000 per year. The figures given by the CDC are actually 25,000 and even this is a mis-statement. The CDC's study was on causes of death by factors associated with poor nutrition and sedentary lifestyle. This is not the same thing as obesity. Studies actually following individuals over time show that the health problems are actually associated with sedentary lifestyle. BMI has little affect on health among people with an active lifestyle (and yes, it is possible to be obese and active).

Kristof then moves on to sweetened drinks and high-fructose corn syrup. Instead of quoting a link showing that there is a link between the two he says:
There's also a circumstantial case against high-fructose corn syrup, because it began to be used widely in the 1970s, just when American stomachs started ballooning.
This is junk science at its best. Major aspects of everyday life have changed since the 1970s including the rise of cable TV, VCRs, and video games and an increasing reliance on eating out rather than home-cooking. Regardless, Kristof narrows his focus on a single ingredient.

Another point in Kristof's case:
Some studies indicate that the body metabolizes fructose differently from other sugars, so that the body is slower to get the message that it should stop eating.
He has more to say about how the body feels full. According to Kristof liquids do not contribute to feeling full. There are several issues at work here.

First, lots of foods are metabolized differently than other foods. That in itself means nothing. Second, you stop eating according to multiple factors. One is blood sugar level. Another is how full your stomach feels. Liquids do contribute to this, especially the second. Drink enough liquids and you feel bloated and lose your appetite. The third factor is how much is placed in front of you. This is the complaint about "super-sizing" - that people rely on serving sizes, not feeling full.

Finally, sweetened drinks are not the main source of calories in meals nor is it a new thing to consume liquid calories with a meal. Beer has more calories per serving than soft drinks and has been served with meals since pre-historic times. Socially, sweetened drinks replaced beer as a beverage.

The outstanding flaw in Kristof's column is that studies have been done on teenagers and soft drink consumption. The result was that a) teens do not drink as much soda as supposed, and b) there was no direct association between soda consumption and weight.

A further complication is that obesity is classified as a world-wide problem but other countries experiencing weight gain do not use high-fructose corn syrup. Where is their weight gain coming from?

But, not one to let facts get in the way of a good rant, Kristof proposed a tax of $.06/ounce on sweetened drinks. That works out to $.60 per can and would more than double the cost of a two liter. Strangely, he did not propose an exemption for drinks with artificial sweetener nor has anyone else who entered the debate. This is a telling point. Since it is supposed to be the sugar in these drinks that is the problem, why ban the versions with no sugar? For some reason, soft drinks anger a class of people who are only too happy to invent reasons for banning them.

For a different (but similar) take on Kristof's column, see here.

This article refutes the entire issue of childhood obesity. It also refutes a wire service story from a couple of days ago. According to the story:

Ninety percent of Americans know that most of their compatriots are overweight, but just 40 percent believe themselves to be too fat, according to a study published Tuesday.
[...]This confirmed the findings of a 2004 study by G. Rodriguez et al. in the International Journal of Obesity which found 42% of males and 32.1% of females classified as overweight or obese according to the BMI did "not have really high adiposity."
So more than a third of people who are classified as overweight according to BMI are not.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Are We About to Nuke Iran?

When my clock radio came on Monday morning I heard some speculation that we are about to use tactical nuclear weapons on Iran. President Bush denied it. So did Rumsfield. On the other hand, Eric Alterman says, "Believe it this time, buster." and Fred Kaplan from Slate speculates that we are trying mind games with Iran.

How seriously should we take this? What is seldom mentioned is that the whole story comes from Seymour Hersh. Hersh gets a lot of credibility because he broke the Pentagon Papers in the 1970s. What no one seems to be considering is Hersh's more recent record. Specifically, he was making the rounds a bit over a year ago insisting that we were about to launch an attack on Iran in the Spring of 2005. Special Forces were already in Iran mapping out targets and the actual attack would come in April or May - certainly by June.

Now Hersh is making the same assertions. To me, he is an anti-war ideologue who keeps flogging the idea that the Bush administration is on the verge of attacking Iran. He got it wrong in 2005 but he is back with the same warning except now he insists that we are willing to do a first strike with nuclear weapons.

I'm not buying it. Hersh's recent history shows that he is an unreliable source.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Missed Opportunity

Democrats are missing a big opportunity. One of Bill Clinton's most memorable victories was when he joined with Republicans to reform Welfare. Democrats could do the same thing with immigration - join with the President to create a guest worker program that the Republicans oppose.

The gains to the Democrats would be huge. They would cement their relationship with Latino voters which would help them for decades to come and they would drive a wedge between the President and the Republican Congress. The only downside is that anti-immigrant voters might turn against the Democrats. This would not be a big risk. Republicans have already staked out an anti-immigrant position and the pro-immigrant demonstrations have heavy support from Democrat-friendly groups such as organized labor. On the other hand, by not acting they appear weak and indecisive - very Kerry-like.

So why aren't they taking advantage of the opportunity? I'm guessing that their hatred of Bush blinds them from the possibility.

Bush even handed them the chance on a silver plate - complaining over the weekend that Democrats had stopped the immigration reform. Their response was that it was the Republicans' job to pass something.

This fits the Democrats' general model for the past few years. They decided that their role as minority party is to be the opposition party. They don't propose anything. They only oppose.

This is why the Democrats are not gaining in the polls despite a number of Republican mistakes and scandals.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Believing Advocates

According to the Washington Post, the problem of AIDS in Africa was overstated. In the worst example, the actual infection rate in Rwanda is a tenth of what was previously assumed - 3% instead of 30%. The original figures came from tests done on women during pre-natal examinations. As it turns out, sexually active women living in urban centers who have access to pre-natal care are much more likely to have AIDS than the general population.

That explains where the exaggerated numbers came from. It does not explain why they were accepted. This has to do with issue advocates and their relationship with media and policy makers.

If a reporter or a legislator needs information on a subject, they normally go to an expert. This is fine if the expert happens to be an expert because of the type of work he does. Asking an engineer for advice on bridges is a safe choice.

The problem comes when the expert is also an advocate for the issue at hand. They are often very biased, exaggerating threats and denigrating contrary evidence. In this case, an entire UN organization was created separate from the WHO to work on AIDS in Africa. Between the prestige and the billions in funding, people from this organization are unlikely to announce that they threat was never as big as originally believed.

I have referred to Dr. James Hansen from NASA as a Global Warming evangelist. That is because he is a true believer and wants to convert everyone else. He is on record as exaggerating the facts. A decade ago he predicted a .8 degree rise in global temperature. It only rose .2 degrees. When asked about this he admitted that he exaggerated the expected increase in order to get attention.

This constantly happens with issue advocates. In one notorious case, advocates for missing children claimed that 30,000 children were kidnapped each year. It later turned out that they had taken the number of children who were reported missing each year from all causes (mainly run-aways and parental custody disputes) and attributed them all to kidnapping by a stranger.

This sort of exaggeration is almost universal and is usually taken at face value by reporters. Worse, the reporters become converted and start acting as advocates themselves. Opponents of the issue are usually scrutinized and dismissed as having been paid off by some corporate interest or another. Nearly anyone who disputed warming is assumed to be a pawn of the oil companies (for lack of a better target).

Advocates have other harmful behaviors. In the case of AIDS, the original advocates were gays who feared that they would not sufficient funding unless the population was convinced that they were at risk, also. Accordingly, any studies on how AIDS is transmitted are discouraged. The truth of the matter is that the transmission rate between heterosexual couples is very low. Nearly every case in the US can be attributed to an exchange of blood, either through needles or gay sex. Twenty years ago when AIDS started appearing in hookers it was predicted that this was the beginning of its spread into heterosexual America. This never happened. AIDS in America is still limited to drug-users (many of whom earn money for their drugs by hooking) and gays.

Because of the gay lobby in the US, no study has ever been done on AIDS transmission in Africa. In Rwanda the numbers are low enough that the original studies could have been inflated by drug-using prostitutes. In other countries the populace could be infected through improperly-sterilized medical equipment. No one will look so no one knows.

In my last post I complained about the way that Global Warming is presented. Not only is it given as a fact but it is always given as a disaster. The issue advocates are at work here. They make sure that no one can hear about any possible benefits. The cause is more important that the truth.

Is there a solution? Not that I can see. The best advice I can offer is that the more someone insists in the urgency of his cause the more skeptical one should be.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

More Hot Air

Yesterday I complained about how Global Warming evangelists insist that they are being oppressed. The Washington Post has an article making these claims.
Scientists doing climate research for the federal government say the Bush administration has made it hard for them to speak forthrightly to the public about global warming. The result, the researchers say, is a danger that Americans are not getting the full story on how the climate is changing.
How is this being done? Well, for one thing, the Bush administration increased their funding.
None of the scientists said political appointees had influenced their research on climate change or disciplined them for questioning the administration. Indeed, several researchers have received bigger budgets in recent years because President Bush has focused on studying global warming rather than curbing greenhouse gases. NOAA's budget for climate research and services is now $250 million, up from $241 million in 2004.
The charges seem to be caused mainly because existing rules are being enforced (horrors).
Administration officials said they are following long-standing policies that were not enforced in the past. Kent Laborde, a NOAA public affairs officer who flew to Boulder last month to monitor an interview Tans did with a film crew from the BBC, said he was helping facilitate meetings between scientists and journalists.

"We've always had the policy, it just hasn't been enforced," Laborde said. "It's important that the leadership knows something is coming out in the media, because it has a huge impact. The leadership needs to know the tenor or the tone of what we expect to be printed or broadcast."

What about the assertions by James Hansen?

NASA Administrator Michael D. Griffin issued new rules recently that make clear that its scientists are free to talk to members of the media about their scientific findings and to express personal interpretations of those findings.

Two weeks later, Hansen suggested to an audience at the New School University in New York that his counterparts at NOAA were experiencing even more severe censorship. "It seems more like Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union than the United States," he told the crowd.

NOAA Administrator Conrad C. Lautenbacher Jr. responded by sending an agency-wide e-mail that said he is "a strong believer in open, peer-reviewed science as well as the right and duty of scientists to seek the truth and to provide the best scientific advice possible."

"I encourage our scientists to speak freely and openly," he added. "We ask only that you specify when you are communicating personal views and when you are characterizing your work as part of your specific contribution to NOAA's mission."

There's is an unofficial rule-of-thumb in judging debates - the first party to bring up a Hitler reference loses. Hitler and Stalin had people arrested and killed for saying the wrong thing in public. Anyone who says in public that things are that bad is instantly proving himself wrong.

Eric Alterman refers to the article this way:
Anti-intellectual liars who are sabotaging our future and contemptuous of free speech and scientific inquiry. That’s who fifty percent of your voted for. What the hell were you thinking?
This makes you suspect that he didn't make it past the first paragraph before linking to it.

In the meantime, warming is becoming a holy crusade in some churches. Lutheran Bishop Hanson warned:
"The forces unleashed by global climate change are literally washing away the earth," the bishop somberly preached, like Noah of old. "How will the rest of us respond to global climate change and its threat to the well-being of all creatures and species around the earth?" he asked darkly.
His solution? According to the article:
The "repentance" required by the Religious Left includes all the demands of the secular Green Left: comply with the Kyoto Accord, reduce economic growth, regulate the economy more, increase taxes, reduce U.S. sovereignty, maximize U.S. aid to the supposed global victims of America's pollution and greed.
This goes back to my other point from yesterday - if Global Warming is real and is a danger then this is an inadequate response. Following these recomendations will delay Global Warming (assuming it is happening) a couple of years. No one is talking about the real cuts needed to reverse CO2 levels and no one will - it's too costly.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Global warming - No Dissent Allowed

George Will recently wrote a column challenging Global Warming as being settled science. Eric Alterman thinks that Will should be prevented from writing about such things.
And while we’re on the topic, isn’t it irresponsible for newspapers and ABC News to promote the views of a man like George Will who has no expertise whatever about global warming but seeks to disarm us in the face of its threat?
Since Alterman has no more expertise on the subject than Will, his point seems to be that Global warming is too important to allow debate. Unfortunately, this is the general policy in the MSM. The magazine Nature ran an article in which the author reviewed nearly a thousand articles from Science and reported that they unanamously agreed that global warming is happening and that humans are the cause. An independant reseachers tried to duplicate these results and could not. He found that the vast majority of articles were not climate studies at all. The ones that were never came out and said that human-indiced global warming is happening. This got almost no coverage while the original article made the wire service and is now accepted wisdom.

This has been going on for nearly 20 years, since Global Warming was first announced during an August heat wave. Surveys of reporters have shown that they believe Global Warming to be real and that they need to be advocates on the subject. So much for professional objectivity.

Accordingly, any article that indicates new "proof" for Global Warming is taken at face value. Any sceptics are labeled as such but professional lobbiests are simply presented as "Global Warming experts".

At the same time, all a Global warming evangelist has to do is claim some sort of coercion and the media will report it uncritically.

For example, one of the biggest questions about Global Warming is how modern temperatures compare with historic times. If current temperatures are lower than at some point in human history then it is unlikely that the predicted appokolypse will happen. For several decades it was assumed that a warm period did occur around a thousand years ago followed by a cold period starting in the 14th century and lasting until the mid-19th century. The was challenge by a chart known as the Hockey Stick, produced by researcher Michael Mann. Mann's reconstruction of the last thousand years showed a fairly flat temperature range until the mid-19th century when it suddenly started rising sharply. The thing about the Hockey Stick is that it was published without peer review. In scientific circles, peer review is considered the gold standard and anything published without it is simply opinion. Moreover, Mann use government grants in producing his work and is obligated by them to make all of his research public. when congress pushed Mann to release his data he refused ad went to the press with complaints about being bullied by non-scientists. Congress backed off.

Similarly, NASA scientist James Hansen has alledged censorship, "In my more than three decades in government, I have never seen anything approaching the degree to which information flow from scientists to the public has been screened and controlled as it is now,".

Actually, there are no restriction on the information that Hansen can (and does) release. The rules that Hansen is complaining about restrict NASA from recomending specific policy to Congress. This is a sensible rule since NASA is supposed to to be a neutral science advisor, not a lobbiest. Hansen wants to go beyond that with Congress and, by taking his case to the press, has been allowed more lattitude than warming sceptics at NASA (yes there are some - see here).

Assuming that Global Warming is happening and that the world is hotter than it has been in 160+ million years, what are the effets likely to be? The coverage here is laughably one-sided. The truth is that no one has any idea. There have been attempts to use computer models meant for global weather to predict local effects but this is a misuse of the models and guarenteed to give bad data.

Hurricane Katrina was widely attributed to Global Warming with the warning that more devistating storms will follow. What was not reported was that no climatologist is on record as saying that Katrina was caused or even strengthened by Global Warming. Katrina was will within normal hurricane strength - it was only a category 3 when it struck land.

We are told that Global Warming will cause more Katrina-style destruction plus flooding, drought, plague, insect invasions, etc. There is no proof for any of this speculation. A study done by the US in the 1990s showed that the net effect on our country would be benificial. Farmers would have slightly longer growing seasons and fewer late frosts. There would be some adjusting of crops with a net increase of food produciton. The worst projeted was that a few already-stressed forests might die out. Greenpeace and other environmental rejected this projection and descided to push a doomday scenario. This has been accepted with the complicity of the MSM.

Finally, there is no discussion of the costs of reducing CO2 emmisions. This is usually presented as a painless cap-and-trade plan but the signatories of the Kyoto Protocalls have discovered that this puts a limit on their economies. Worse, the restrictions madated by Kyoto are meaningless. Real cuts would affect everyone in the world on a daily basis. There would have to be major restrictions on travel, lighting, heating, cooling, even food production and transportation. The extent of the cutbacks needed to stop Global Warming are never discussed. The result is that people will either buy into meaningless but painful restrictions like Kyoto or really painful cutbacks.

These are what is missing from the debate on Global Warming - the fact that there is still a debate, the likely effects if it is real, and the mitigation costs.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Victimizing a Victim

When reporter Jill Caroll was released she made an initial statement while still dressing in the Islamic garb including head scarf that her captors had given her. Shortly afterwards a web site released a video made before her release where she said that the USA was in Iraq illegally and would lose the war.

What should we make of this? Nothing. The statements endorsing the terrorists were made under threat of death. The first interview after her release was made in the company of strangers who, for all she knew, would turn her back over to the kidnappers if she said the wrong thing.

This should have been obvious. Never the less, some on the right suggested that she was a terrorist sympathizer. There were even suggestions that the kidnapping was a hoax. In the meantime, some on the left applauded her courage in telling how the situation in Iraq really is.

Presumably these people feel kind of silly now that Caroll has retracted all statements made during and immediately after her captivity. Not everyone has reacted intelligently. A post at Huffington complaining about the Left's reaction drew this comment:
can you imagine the shit that would hit the fan if Carroll said that she meant every word?...she and her family would no longer be able to have a life in option on this one but to backtrack and retract, beliefs be damned whether true or not...
Pity Michael Moore and Cindy Sheehan who said similar things and were forced to move to France.

I will admit, I wondered by Caroll was still wearing the head scarf after being released but I waited to see what happened. Now I know - she was still scared. Too bad others were so quick to jump on her.