Thursday, June 29, 2006

Watching the News

A few items from the news before I go on vaction:


A couple of days ago the Surgeon General proclaimed that the debate over second-hand smoke is over. Around the same time, the British decided to look at the issue again because the studies on the subject have only shown a weak association. This column points out just how weak the case against second-hand smoke is. To put it in perspective, smoking exposes you to 250 times as much smoke as second-hand smoke does. It just doesn't make any sense that second hand smoke could have much of an effect.

Anti-smoking advocates in the 1980s realized that the only way to ban smoking was to expand the argument beyond personal responsibility. It's one thing to be killing yourself. It's a different matter if you can argue that smokers are killing everyone else around them, especially "the kids". So, the advocates funded some studies on second hand smoke and inflated the results. One wonders why the Surgeon General went along with this when the science is weak.

Gore and Warming

An AP story from a couple of days ago started with the statement:
The nation's top climate scientists are giving "An Inconvenient Truth," Al Gore's documentary on global warming, five stars for accuracy.

Pretty impressive. Later on you find out that they only contacted 100 scientists, that only 19 replied, and only five were quoted. As this points out, there are a lot of problems with the story. The movie is currently showing in 514 theaters - not a lot but scientists usually live in populations centers big enough to attract the movie. The AP also included scientists who read the companion book which is presumably in bookstores everywhere. The fact that only 19% of top climate scientists had bothered to see the movie or read the book says that most of them are not interested.

So why doesn't the headline say – "nation's top climate scientists have not seen Gore warming movie" – which is the salient lede in this bit of amateur polling? Or even "some climate scientists ok Gore movie's accuracy." The answer is that neither of these headlines makes for a compelling story.

But even if you accept the newsworthiness of 19 climate scientists, it is important to ask what is the probability that this very low response rate has resulted in selection bias? In other words, were those scientists who read the book or saw the movie more likely to agree with it from the outset - especially as Gore's position is no secret?

A couple of days ago I complained about the press seeing itself as needing to be advocates instead of neutral reporters on global warming. This is just one more example.


MSNBC reported a Supreme Court case this way: "Justices revise part of Texas redistricting". From that, you would think that the Texas Republicans lost the case. Not so. The Republicans won on the big issue - the redistricting itself. Since this was why the Democrats hounded Delay out of the Senate, it was a big win. The court did decide that a few districts had seen the influence of Hispanic voters dilluted but this is a minor adjustment. The Democrats had hoped to have the entire redistricting thrown out by the court.

Electric Cars

There is a new documentary out on Who Killed the Electric Car. It plays on conspiracy theories. GM had a test program for electric cars in the 1990s. When it ended, they insisted that everyone turn their cars back in to be crushed and scrapped. This seems like a mystery. Was the electric car killed by Big Oil? Possibly car mechanics who worried that they would lose work because of the simple, reliable electric cars?

This is stupid. The problem with electric cars is that they are very expensive and very limited. They are not zero-emission vehicles because they run on electricity that has to be generated somewhere. They are not all that efficient. There are power losses in transmitting the power from the generator to the battery and back to the wheels. They may be cheap to run but that is because they are feather-light in order to stretch the battery life and they bypass the highway taxes levied on gasoline.

With very limited range, heavy, expensive batteries, and little cargo space, these things are only useful as a second car for commuters and at $80,000 per car, there is no market for them at all.

So why did GM scrap them instead of letting people continue to drive them? The way they acted does make it seem like something was up. If you step back and assume that it was not related to oil or auto shops then GM's actions look like a company trying to avoid a liability problem. These things carry a lethal charge. Maybe GM was worried about future suits due to bad insulation. I don't know but this speculation is just as valid as the movie.

For more thoughts on the electric car, see here.

Taking Your Income for Freedom

Laura Miller on Salon has a review of George Lakoff's book, Whose Freedom? The Battle Over America's Most Important Idea. The thesis is that freedom is actually a progressive value rather than a conservative one. OK, I read the review expecting to see some concrete examples. There are a lot of claims that Conservatives falsely claimed freedom by framing and repeating their message. In theory this book is an attempt to do the same for the left. To show them how to refrain the argument.
So, what do we get?
Lakoff wants his progressive readers to understand that when conservatives like George W. Bush talk about "protecting our freedoms" by, say, trying to eliminate Social Security, they aren't being simply hypocritical, cynical or "mean"; within their own moral framework, what they are saying is true. It's just that their concept of freedom is "so alien to progressives that many progressives cannot even understand it, much less defend against it." There is no single, shared definition of what "freedom" looks like because it's a contested concept.
Of course, Bush never suggested eliminating Social Security, he proposed partially privatizing it in order to put off the coming fiscal crisis. Somehow the concept that a pay-as-you-go, tax-financed entitlement might run out of money is beyond progressives.
What else do we get?
Instead of allowing conservatives to define, for example, taxes as a restriction on a person's economic freedom, progressives should seize the initiative and characterize taxes as each citizen's contribution to a commonwealth that provides more freedoms than most of us could afford on our own. Government regulations don't limit the freedom of business, they free citizens from threats to the commonwealth like pollution or defective products. They liberate citizens from unfair discrimination that would otherwise prevent them from freely realizing their dreams and potential.
Here we have it. Taxation = freedom. The more of your money the government takes the more free you are. Miller expands on this.
Progressives could demand that the wealthy pay their "fair share" to enjoy the "freedoms" guaranteed by such government-funded infrastructure as the highway system, the Internet, the court system, the banking system and so on. (Lakoff points out that the rich tend to use more of these resources than others do.) Instead of allowing themselves to be portrayed as anti-business, progressives should say that they want to protect citizens from the sway of big corporations -- like HMOs and oil companies -- which, unlike an elected government, have no accountability to the public.
Here we at least have some concrete "freedoms" although I wonder about calling a highway system a freedom. Our highway system was inspired by the German Autobahn which was built under the Nazis. Hitler also provided banks and courts.
What about government protecting the average person from the depredations of big business? Progressives might have a potential message here but it's not about freedom. It's about protection. There is a legitimate debate over government vs. business. Government is elected, but only at intervals. Big business might seem anonymous but it is nowhere near as immune to market pressures as progressives think. Just look at General Motors. Regardless, protection is not freedom.
The whole argument is a perversion of the term "freedom". To say that we will take your money, limit your actions and call it freedom is to lie. This entire exercise is an example of progressives congratulating themselves on how much better they are than conservatives and wondering why the rest of the world doesn't recognize their superiority.
The real problem with the progressive's message is that they don't know or will not admit exactly what they stand for. They want to expand government but how far and in what direction? Are they socialists? What vision do they offer?
Possibly progressives can craft an appealing message but they need to be honest about what they are offering. They are not offering freedom. They want us to give up freedom in exchange for security,

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

What do you call it?

What do you call it when a powerful military leaves before its goals have been accomplished because of minor attacks by insurgents? The Republicans are calling it "cut and run". The Democrats are calling it a "redeployment" (redeploying all the way to the far side of China). I call it defeat.

According to a USA Today poll, this is the will of the people.
In the poll, 57% say Congress should pass a resolution that outlines a plan for withdrawing U.S. troops; 39% say that decision should be left to the president and his advisers.

Even allowing for the fact that USA Today polls usually skew anti-Bush, that's a lot of Americans who want us to do what Michael Moore suggested in 2004 - go home and live with our shame. As I complained a couple of days ago, this isn't surprising given the news coverage of Iraq but it is still distressing.

The long-term repercussions of this are stunning. Our pull-outs in Viet Nam, Lebanon, and Somalia convinced our enemies that we are a hollow-people who can be defeated by a weaker but determined force. This will prove them right and make them redouble their efforts elsewhere.

There are implications for the rest of the world, also. Much of the world disarmed over the last several decades because they could depend on American military intervention. Europe, especially, has reduced its military strength to the point where they would be unable to send significant help to Iraq, even if they agreed to. This has contributed to world peace. What will become of this if the world decides that the US military is not to be relied on?

Responsible members of Congress must realize this, even the Democrats. That means that they are letting their hatred of Bush overcome their responsibility to defend the United States.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Shaping what you think

Last week I complained about a news story on MSNBC saying that a new study by the National Research Council confirmed global warming and the "Hockey Stick" reconstruction of historic climate. I was right to be skeptical. The story contained this quote:

The National Research Council panel concluded that the Mann-Bradley-Hughes research was "likely" to be true, said John Wallace, an atmospheric sciences professor at the University of Washington and a panel member. The conclusions from the research "are very close to being right" and are supported by even more recent data, Wallace said.

This is not what the report says. What it says is that:

1) The Little Ice Age existed as a period of global cooling. There was also significant, widespread, regional warming  confirming the Medieval warm period.

2) The proxies available are really only accurate for the last 400 years. After that, confidence levels go down. Despite this, they were willing to go on record as confirming an earlier warm period.

3) The proxies are not accurate enough to project temperatures for a single year or even decade so statements like "The 1990s were the warmest decade in 900 years" should not be made.

Bottom line - instead of confirming the Hockey Stick, the report disproved it.

So why was it reported the other way? Because the press in general decided some time ago that global warming is so important that they have to filter the news. If ordinary people knew that there is legitimate dissent, they might not be willing to accept the drastic measures needed to stop global warming. and if global warming isn't a reality after all? That doesn't matter. People should limit their driving and power usage and strive to live more simply, anyway.

I noticed a similar policy of filtering the news on a completely different subject. The AP report for Iraq printed last Saturday listed American dead, coalition forces dead, Iraqi civilian deaths, the number of bombs that went off in the Baghdad area, and mentioned a brief battle between Americans and insurgents near the Green Zone in Baghdad. From the wire service report you would think that no insurgents were killed anywhere. In general, it's hard to remember any accounts of insurgent deaths that didn't include an account of an American atrocity.

I'm certainly not the first to complain about this but the coverage from Iraq is all one-sided. It is a daily count of deaths - American, coalition, and civilian but never insurgent. No military offensives have been reported since Faluga. Nothing but a constant drip of death.

After the initial coverage the networks swore off using embedded reporters. The complaint was that they were not reporting, they were cheerleading. The news services apologized for being so one-sided and promised to do better. Obviously "better" means one-sided for the other side.

Friday, June 23, 2006

A phoney study on warming

The National Research Council announced that Global Warming is real and vindicated the "hockey stick" graph showing that we are living in times of unprecedented warming.

Except it didn't. In a stunning bit of intellectual fraud, they only validated the most recent 400 years of the hockey stick. Earlier than that and experts disagree.

The thing is that everyone agrees that it was cooler 400 years ago. Before the hockey stick, this period was known as the Little Ice Age and ended around 150 years ago - the same time that the hockey stick shows the climate as rapidly warming.

The panel looked at a 2000 year period but the first 1600 years were glossed over. This is important because traditional climatology holds that there was a warming period from 800-1300 AD.

The panel was supposed to tell us which theory to believe - the hockey stick with its constant climate prior to the mid-19th century or the traditional view with natural ups and downs.

As it is, they might as well have announced that studies showing increasing warming during the period from January-June in the Northern Hemisphere prove Global Warming.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Pro-Defence Democrats?

Last week, Glenn Reynolds wondered if Democrats can ever get tough? Can they embrace such issues as national security and defense? The short answer, of course, is no. What is more interesting is looking at why this is so. I identify four distinct groups that are either part of the Democrat mainstream or have significant influence in it. Working my way from the outside in, these are:

The Democrats first attracted this group in 1972 during the Viet Nam war and it still influences them. This is the most ethically pure of the groups. They are against all wars everywhere. They are no where near the mainstream but they are vocal and their protests get a lot of press. This group had a lot of influence on Clinton's foreign policies. The interesting thing about this group is that there are a lot more people claiming to be part of it than actually are. I will explain as I go along.

These people think that America is corrupt, has always been corrupt, and always will be corrupt (unless we have a revolution and put them in charge). They look at the Democrats as being nearly as bad as the Republicans (this was Nader's main campaign theme in 2000). To them, even a "good" war like WWII was just an excuse to establish an American empire.

While the peaceniks are consistent, the anti-Americans will jump through philosophical hoops to justify their positions. Look at Afghanistan. Prior to September, 2000 there were numerous protests about the Taliban and its record on human rights with the strong implication that they should be overthrown by a benevolent outside force. When this happened, the same people started protesting in favor of the Taliban.

Members of this group insist that they are simply pacifists but they tend to be supportive of violent anti-American foreign leaders. They draw moral equivalencies between America and Israel striking military targets and terrorists striking civilians.

This group is broad and deep. It includes a number of intellectuals who are celebrated because of their anti-American views, people such as Noam Chompsky and Ward Churchill. It also includes pseudo-everymen like Michael Moore and Cindy Sheehan.

The big anti-war rallies are organized by International ANSWER and Not In Our Name, both firmly in the forefront of this group.

For the most part, the anti-American group is outside the mainstream but it does include a few members of Congress such as John Conyers. The majority of this group's influence comes from demonstrations and intellectual peer-pressure.

The Internationalists.
With this group we are moving into the Democrat mainstream. While they think of themselves as "internationalists" they really reflect current political thinking in Europe. After the fall of communism, Europeans looked back as centuries of warfare and decided that there are two specific root causes. These are religion and nationalism. Europeans solved the religious problem by becoming officially secular and they regard all expressions of religion as equally repugnant. Look at the Europeans quoted as seeing George Bush and Osama bin Laden as equivalent because they both mention God.

The solution to nationalism is to temper the nationalist impulse with an international body - specifically the UN, the EU or, at least, NATO. This is why President Bush's "Coalition of the Willing" was never accepted by the Internationalists - no matter how many countries were included, they weren't the right countries.

Europeans have a huge aversion to war. Their preferred tools are sanctions and multi-lateral talks. To their mind doing things unilaterally, especially in the interests of a single nation, lead to Nazi Germany. This is one reason that the Bush/Hitler comparisons keep coming up (the other is blind hatred of Bush but I will get to that).

This group is well entrenched in the Democrat mainstream. John Kerry typifies it as does George Soros and MoveOn.

The Bush-Haters
Unlike the other groups, this one has no positions of its own. All it has are reactions. Bush proposes a modest reform to Social Security and the Bush-Haters insist that the current system is perfect. These are the people who insist that Bush was personally responsible for the levees failing in New Orleans and for Katrina itself.

Since Bush made national defense his signature issue, the Bush-Haters are against every part of it. Every action is interpreted in the worst possible light.

While many of the Democrat elite are Internationalists, the rank and file are Bush-Haters and they are led by the party chairman, Howard Dean. Not only are they against anything Bush ever did, they try to take revenge on any of their own who is considered to have helped Bush. There is a strong movement to dump Joe Leiberman, the party's 2000 Vice-Presidential candidate because he is seen as a traitor for being pro-defense.

So where does that leave the Democrats? The peaceniks are against anything military including defending our nation. The anti-Americans are against defending a country based on oppression (the US). The Internationalists want to depend on international diplomacy and French approval. The Bush-Haters would eat their own spleen before supporting any position Bush held. All of them turn on any Democrat who is the slightest pro-defense and all of these groups are too important to the Democrats to disown. That leaves the whole issue of national defense to the Republicans.

Friday, June 09, 2006

al-Zarqawi and Ann Coulter

When I checked the Huffington Post earlier today it only seemed to have two subjects - al Zarqawi and Ann Coulter.
al-Zarqawi was the most prominent terrorist in Iraq. He was responsible for numerous deaths, some of them done by his own hand on camera. He was actively trying to start a civil war - not a "low level" one but a major, all-out one. He also blew up the UN headquarters in Baghdad and the Golden Mosque. So what do the Huffies have to say about his death? Either that he wasn't really important or that we should have killed him four years ago - back when his relationship with al-Qeada was in question. Somehow I just can't see Eric Alterman approving of us killing someone in a foreign country who was, at the time, not a threat to America.
The truth is that something went right under Bush and it would kill them to admit it.
The other topic is Ann Coulter. Ann is a conservative shock jock. She regularly makes over-the-top statements. In this case, he was talking about a quartet of 9/11 widows. She referred to them as "witches" and said "I've never seen people enjoying their husbands' deaths so much."
Like I said - over the top.
But who are these widows and why would Ann say such things about them? Like Cindy Shehan, they are over-the-top themselves. One of them sued naming George W. Bush, Richard Cheney, John Ashcroft, Donald Rumsfeld, George Tenet, Norman Mineta, Peter G. Peterson, Condoleezza Rice, George H.W. Bush and Kenneth Feinberg, in addition to "Other unnamed past, present, officials, representatives, agents, and private consultants of the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA". She insists that President Bush knew in advance about the 9/11 attacks and allowed them to happen in order to build support for the war against terrorism. It would be nice if someone mentioned this when talking about Coulter.
It doesn't matter. The controversy will sell lots of copies of Coulter's books.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Red Flags in Canada

Over the weekend it was announced that 17 people have been arrested in Canada for acquiring three tons of ammonium nitrate. When mixed with other, easily available substances, this could be used to make a bomb three times the size of the one used in Oklahoma City. The suspects are all affiliated with radical groups inspired by Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. This raises two red flags.

1) The news media has been telling us that the American-style assimilation protected us from the sort of home-grown bombings that happened in England and Spain and the sort of general violence that occurred in France last Fall. Canada assimilates immigrants similar to the way that America does. The would-be terrorists in Canada have been described as "{...} very well-established professionals, well-established families, no criminal pasts whatsoever." If assimilation is no protection then America can expect more attacks.

2) Isolationists from the left and right have been saying for years that September 11 happened because we behave like an empire. If we would work with international bodies, pull our troops back to protect our borders, and support the Palestinians over Israel then we would be safe. In other words, instead of waging a war on terror, we just need to act like Canada. Obviously that is not enough. It is not enough to act like France, either. France has a history of terrorist attacks of its own.

The morals here - we are at risk and there are no simple solutions.

Various Topics

When Katrina hit and New Orleans flooded, the Left was up in arms. It must have been President Bush's fault! They quickly dug up some stories about levee funds being cut and crafted a message - if only Al Gore had won in 2000 (or if the Supreme Court hadn't "selected" Bush) then he would have seen the dangers and strengthened the levees. Moreover, he would have passed Kyoto which would have stopped the Global Warming that creates hurricanes in the first place.

Last week the Army Corps of Engineers admitted that they had done a terrible job of protecting New Orleans and that these problems go back decades. The problems include using the wrong type of soil for the floodwalls, assuming that New Orleans was sinking slower than it really is, reliance on outdated designs, and a general piecemeal approach.

In other words, Bus is in no way to blame. So, is anyone on the Left willing to come forward and admit that they were wrong?

A lot of articles are coming out saying that AIDS is 25 this month. Actually, it is several years older than that but the first description of the syndrome in a medical journal appeared in June, 1981.

I noticed at President Reagan's death a lot of people blamed him for the spread of AIDS and this will undoubtedly surface again. It is not accurate.

There is a long lag time between being infected with HIV and developing AIDS. This is often 5-7 years. During the late 1970s the gay bathhouses in San Francisco were notorious for what we not consider unsafe sex. This is where the disease really took off, before Reagan even took office.

Another myth is that Reagan never devoted enough money into finding a cure. This was also false. It was based on the idea that AIDS could be treated like a bacterial infection. It is a virus and we still do not have a cure, just treatments that extend the lives of victims.

A final myth is that it was only taken seriously when it started to threaten the mainstream population (heterosexuals who do not share needles). In fact, it never threatened this group. Studies of wives of infected men have shown that even when your partner is infected, you are unlikely to catch it through heterosexual intercourse. In order to catch it, you have to put something where it was not designed to go.

One last point, AIDS activists like ACT-UP must take responsibility for much of the spread of AIDS. They lobbied against wide-spread testing. They even objected to testing blood donations although they were over-ruled on that one.

There is a strong possibility that AIDS in Africa is being transmitted by means other than sex but, because of the activists from the 1980s, few experts are willing to suggest that transmission may be through medical equipment that is not properly sterilized.

I was looking at the Democrats' platform. I am not impressed. A few points really stick out:

Real Security
We will protect Americans at home and lead the world by telling the truth to our troops our citizens and out allies.
Sorry Howard, but "Bush lied" is not a policy.
Honoring Our Troops, Veterans, and Their Families
This from the party of John Murtha?
If you want job creation, a strong economy, and a fiscally responsible federal government, there's only one choice: vote for Democrats.
No specifics here but we can get an idea of how fiscally responsible they will be further down.

Democrats know that the key to expanding opportunity is to provide every child with a world-class education. We want to meet our responsibilities to America's children by ensuring that our schools have the resources they need to help our kids meet high standards.

Democrats will also help expand educational opportunities for college by providing relief from skyrocketing college tuition, increasing the size and access to Pell Grants and supporting proven programs that encourage more young people to attend and succeed in college.
That's great. It's also expensive but that's nothing compared to this next item:
In the wealthiest, most powerful nation on earth, no one should have to choose between taking their child to a doctor or paying the rent. Democrats are committed to making sure every single American has access to affordable, effective health care coverage.
That sound you just heard is the bank breaking. Then there are these points:
We reject the false choice between a healthy economy and a healthy environment.
Better ask Europe how false this trade-off is.
The Democratic Party is committed to genuine reform that protects our rights and ensures that elected officials act ethically -- not just within the law, but within the spirit of the law.
Every time Howard Dean talks about the Republicans' "Culture of corruption" I think "$90,000 in the freezer."

Then there are the flat-out lies:
Democrats believe that after a life of hard work, you earn a secure retirement. Our commitment to protecting the promise of Social Security is absolute. We will not allow anyone to endanger Social Security or take even a single step toward dismantling it. We are open to any and all ideas that ensure that the current and future generations of retirees receive the benefits they were promised without heaping trillions onto our national debt.
They are opposed to any and all reforms and will continue to be until Social Security collapses around their ears.

It has been pointed out elsewhere that the Republicans may not deserve to win but the Democrats don't deserve to beat them.