Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Taking it to the Extreme

The old saying says that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend." Cindy Sheehan and Code Pink take that to the extreme. They hate President Bush so the are friends with... the Baathists we overthrew in Iraq.

Cindy and Code Pink recently went to Jordan to meet with a group of Sunni politicians from the Iraq Parliament. While billed as the "5th largest collition" they actually control only 11 of 275 seats making them about as representative of their country as Code Pink is of ours.

Regardless, they hammered out a peace agreement which reads more like an unconditional surrender. The terms are:

The common thread among this diverse group of Iraqis and Americans was a desire to set a timetable for the withdrawal of US troops, ensure no permanent bases in Iraq, and secure a U.S. commitment to pay for rebuilding Iraq. Other issues that emerged in two-days of intensive talks include the need to dismantle militias, provide amnesty for prisoners and the various armed groups, compensate victims of the violence, revise the Constitution and preserve the unity of Iraq, and reverse US-imposed de-Baathification and economic policies. We left this historic meeting with a commitment to make sure that the voices of these Iraqi parliamentarians are heard here in the US, and we will bring a group of them to the U.S. in the Fall.

Note - Code Pink feels the need to use pink fonts.

To restate the terms, the US will disarm all non-sunnis, reverse all democratic changes in the government and put the Baathists back in charge. We will then leave but continue to pay reparations to Iraq for daring to free them from a tyrant.

Just to be certain that we get the message, another member of the delegation tells how perfect things were in Iraq when Saddam was in charge.
Let’s go back to the Iraq before we invaded, there was a good education and health care system, food for everyone. That system didn’t belong to Saddam it belonged to the Iraqi, it belonged to years of creating what a civilization needed. If your parents didn’t send you to school they could be put in jail.
We are talking about the same man who used poison gas on the Kurds, drained the marshes in order to displace the Marsh Arabs, and built palaces with money skimmed from the Oil for Food program. Under Saddam, someone sent to Abu Grahib would be far more likely to have a limb cut off than to pose naked.

Probably the most perverse aspect of the trip was that one of the Iraqi delegates included Sheikh Ahmad al-Kubaysi who has donated millions to the cause of al-Sadr. In case you came in late, Cindy started her crusade against President Bush after her son was killed by al-Sadr's forces.

More on the trip here.

Unreliable Reporting

Nothing earthshaking here like the discovery of faked photos in the news. Just a complaint about press coverage in general and how false stories keep making the headlines.

First there is the circus around the JonBenet murder. Yes, John Mark Karr is a creepy guy but by the second day it was obvious that he had made up the confession. That didn't stop the press from covering his every move for the eleven days afterwards. Even if he was guilty, why did we need to know the details of his flight to America?

Then there was the fuss over the Plame leak. As it turns out, the leak came from a non-political source and was not an attempt to silence Bush critics by revealing their secrets. It was just a slip by a state department official who liked to gossip and didn't realize that Plame was still classified "undercover".

This one got so much coverage because the left was sure that there was something to the allegations. As recently as Easter they were insisting that the source was Karl Rove and that he was about to be arrested and frog-marched to jail.

The supposedly neutral press should have seen how thin this reasoning was and given the story a lot less coverage.

Then there is Katrina. On the first anniversary of the disaster I have yet to see someone point out how stupid it is to build a city in a hole located between a major river and a huge lake. It is even more stupid to talk about rebuilding the lowest parts of the city without raising them twenty feet or more but here we are. All of the coverage seems to be on how long it is taking people to rebuild, not on the likelihood of their new houses being washed away again.

Then there are the doctored pictures of Katie Couric. When the story is about a news division doctoring pictures of itself you know things are out of control.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Hoping for an Attack

Russell Shaw at the Huffington Post is hoping for an October surprise - one by terrorists. He figures that a major terrorist attack just before the election would give the election to the Democrats. He goes so far as to compare innocents killed in an attack like this to the American soldiers killed in WWII.
But on the other hand, I remind myself that without the ultimate sacrifice paid by 400,000 U.S. soldiers in World War II, tyranny could well have an iron grip on the world, and even on this nation.
[...] What if another terror attack just before this fall's elections could save many thousand-times the lives lost?
He then engages in some strange math. He assumes that the new Democratic majority will pass everything they've talked about and it will all work extraordinarily well. He also puts the current administration in the worst possible light. His list of lives saved includes:

Block the next Supreme Court appointment, one which would surely result in the overturning of Roe and the death of hundreds if not thousands of women from abortion-prohibiting states at the hands of back-alley abortionists;

Be in a position to elevate the party's chances for a regime change in 2008. A regime change that would:

Save hundreds of thousands of American lives by enacting universal health care;

Save untold numbers of lives by pushing for cleaner air standards that would greatly reduce heart and lung diseases;

More enthusiastically address the need for mass transit, the greater availability of which would surely cut highway deaths;

Enact meaningful gun control legislation that would reduce crime and cut fatalities by thousands a year;

Fund stem cell research that could result in cures saving millions of lives;

Boost the minimum wage, helping to cut down on poverty which helps spawn violent crime and the deaths that spring from those acts;

Be less inclined to launch foolish wars, absence of which would save thousands of soldiers' lives- and quite likely moderate the likelihood of further terror acts.

Even assuming that any of this passed, his numbers are off. Universal Health Coverage ends up applying cost/benefit ratios to medical care with the result that health care is leveled instead of improved. Air and water standards across the board are as high or higher than during the Clinton administration and there is little evidence that tighter regulation will result in measurable benefits. Justifying mass transit in order to cut highway deaths is a major stretch. Gun control is at best neutral. At worst, it increases crime. Stem cell research might result in major cures or it may not but it has been oversold. Current proposals for boosting the minimum wage fall short of curing poverty and will boost chronic unemployment.

Then there is the question of "foolish wars". As of 9/11/6 President Bush had not engaged in any wars, foolish or otherwise. The wars we engaged in under Clinton didn't moderate the terrorists one bit.

This is one more example of Bush Derangement Syndrome. Shaw has convinced himself that Bush is worse than the terrorists so it would be better for them to succeed if it causes Bush to fail.


Friday, August 25, 2006

Are We Safer?

As we approach the 5th anniversary of 9/11/1, and an attempt at destroying British airplanes foiled just two weeks ago, it is natural to ask if we are safer now than we were?

I think so for the following reasons.

First, terrorists are not going to hijack planes and crash them into buildings. Not only are passengers being screened more carefully but other, more crucial changes have occurred. One is that airplanes now have heavier doors protecting the pilots. Equally important are the changes in attitude. On September 11, the policy for handling hijackers was treat it as a ransom situation and to cooperate. Now the pilots know that if they open the locked door to the cabin, everyone could be killed. Similarly the passengers know that they will die if they cooperate so they might as well resist.

We are safer from plots in general. Agencies are looking for terrorists and sharing information. This does not stop small, closed groups like the one that committed the London subway bombing last year but it does stop larger, more complex organizations like the one this month. Information was shared between the British, Americans, and Pakistani officials. Threats are being taken seriously and tips are being collected from unlikely sources.

One of the biggest things that has made us safer was George Bush's infamous statement, "You are either with us or against us." Liberals hate this statement but it has made a huge difference in international relations.

Prior to 9/11, Pakistan was openly friendly to the Taliban. In fact the Taliban grew out of Islamic schools in the mountains of Pakistan near Afghanistan. After 9/11, the Pakistani government supported the US. They allowed us to use their country as a staging ground for the attack on Afghanistan, they allow us to pursue al Qaeda and the Taliban in the mountains, they even supported us when we made an air strike against the family of a high-ranking al Qaeda member. And they shared information about the British plot. They also reigned in their nuclear scientists.

While there is still a significant population in Pakistan who is against the US, their government at least supports us.

Libya also took Bush's warning to heart and abandoned its nuclear program. This is important and often overlooked but Libya was close to creating their own bombs.

Does anyone think that the sanctions on Iraq would not have been lifted by now and Saddam would be reconstituting his nuclear program by now if we hadn't invaded? The threat of a nuclear Iran alone is enough to ensure it.

It is worrying that two countries with ties to terrorism, Iran and North Korea are close to building nuclear bombs. It would be even more terrifying if Libya and Iraq were also working on nukes and Pakistan, which has them, was still friendly with terrorists.

So are we safe? No. As I said, small, closed groups of terrorists are nearly impossible to stop. But there are limits to the damage they can do.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

In Denial

The left is convinced that there is no War on Terror. Here is a typical example from the Huffington Post.

A lot of people who oppose the Iraq War say the Afghanistan War was justified, but I'm not so sure: it wasn't Afghanistan who attacked us, and even if they were hiding Osama, the thing to do would have been to have him extradited.

Except we demanded that bin Laden be extradited and the Taliban threatened us.
Or maybe 9-11 wasn't the beginning after all. We know the Iraq War was being planned before 9-11, and probably the concurrent crackdown on constitutional liberties as well. The Bush cabal was just waiting for a Pearl Harbor-type incident to implement its plans.
This is a recurring theme - Bush knew ahead of time and was already planning to abridge civil liberties. Why? Because he's evil. Bwaa ha ha!
Other examples of denial - in 2004, the Democrats insisted that Bush was manipulating the terror alerts. There were no real threats to America, They were just distractions.
The current version of this is that recent terrorist arrests are not real. The group in Florida is dismissed as "just teenagers" who were all talk. The Canadian group is similarly dismissed. After all, they didn't even have any explosive (they would have if they had contacted a real supplier instead of a government agent).
At first the Left's reaction to the British bombing plot was the same - just Bush manufacturing a terrorist plot in order to distract people from the "historic" win by Lamont. They backed off a bit when it was pointed out that this came from the Blair government. Next articles such as this one started appearing insisting that the poor terrorists could never have actually created a working bomb in flight. The Left jumped on this. The Brits jumped the gun at Bush's urgings in order to take the heat off of Israel. The terrorists were all talk.
The fact that the terrorists were already booking test flights and making martyrdom videos shows that they thought that they could make bombs. Never mind all of that. The American Left knows best.
There is a reason for this pattern of denial. As long as the War on Terror or on Islamic Fascists is real then a reasonable person might agree with some or all of Bush's actions, especially domestic ones such as the Patriot Act and wiretapping foreign agents, even if they call the US.
Ironically, the wiretapping was an element in gathering information on the British terrorists.
But, is there is no war of terror then we are back to Bush grabbing power because he is evil. For some reason, the Left wants to believe that the President of the United States is an evil dictator who plots to see Americans dead so that he can advance his nefarious plans. This is more comforting to them then the idea that foreigners might want to kill Americans for reasons that pre-date the Bush administration.
For a group that thinks of themselves as "Reality-based", they are living in a fantasy land.

I wonder how they are going to explain away the newest reports - the British found explosives. See here. The video announcing the finds is here.

"However, we must be realistic. The threat from terrorism is real, it is here, it is deadly and it is enduring."

Friday, August 18, 2006

Fat Heads

Two articles in the new caught my eye. The first one says that the Chinese are now having an obesity crisis with one in five overweight or obese. Note this part on how they figured it.

In China, nationwide, 215 million people out of a total population of 1.3 billion were found to be either overweight or obese in a national survey in 2002, based on definitions given by the World Health Organization.

However, the author of the report, Yangfeng Wu of the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences in Beijing, thought the figure should be higher because the WHO definitions were designed for Caucasian populations.

According to stricter measurements given by the Working Group on Obesity in China, about 281 million people in China would be regarded as either overweight or obese, he said.

So, on the personal opinion of Yanfeng Wu, nearly 70 million people were re-classified as obese.

But is the BMI of any worth at all? Not according to this article.

Writing in Friday's Lancet medical journal, the researchers from the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine, Rochester, Minn., found that patients with a low BMI had a higher risk of death from heart disease than those with normal BMI.

At the same time overweight patients had better survival rates and fewer heart problems than those with a normal BMI.

This ties in with something I had written a few days ago. At that time I was looking at an article comparing the health of modern people with their ancestors. The finding was that the modern people were much healthier but are overweight according to their BMIs. By contrast, their ancestors who died younger and had chronic illnesses had "normal" BMI.

But, just to show that once a piece of bad science gets out it can never be recalled, the article on BMIs has this paragraph:

About 30,000 people in Britain die due to obesity every year and 300,000 in the United States where the condition is now thought to have overtaken smoking as the main cause of preventable death.
This came from a news release by the CDC a few years ago. It was retracted within days. There were three major flaws in it:
  1. It was actually based on studies of people with poor nutrition and lack of exercise, not obesity.
  2. The death rate was accidentally multiplied by ten. The actual death rate should have been listed as 30,000 for the US instead of 300,000.
  3. It was discovered that higher body mass has health benefits which, when factored in, almost reduce the number of deaths from obesity to zero. Note that this finding has been confirmed by this article.
In fact, since the revised CDC report came out, the emphasis on obesity has changed. Rather than causing increased deaths, it is now stressed that obesity will cause non-lethal health problems such as diabetes.

It should be no surprise that a calculation invented between 1830 and 1850 is a poor indication of health. They were still bleeding people that far back and the idea of washing hands before doing surgery was just taking root. Is seems rather silly to use a 19th century measure to figure ideal body weight.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Islamic Fascists

Last week, after news of the planned terrorist attack came out, President Bush said
It was a "stark reminder," President Bush said in his first public reaction to the events, that "this nation is at war with Islamic fascists," seeking to destroy freedom-loving societies.
The CAIR (Council on American/Islamic Relations) spokesman immediately denounced this term.

"Unfortunately, your statement this morning that America 'is at war with Islamic fascists' contributes to a rising level of hostility to Islam and the American-Muslim community," wrote Parvez Ahmed, board chairman of the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations in an open letter to President Bush Thursday.

"You have on many occasions said Islam is a 'religion of peace'," he wrote. "Today you equated the religion of peace with the ugliness of fascism."

Of course, Bush did not do that. Bush was referring to a specific group of Islamic radicals. CAIR is the one insisting that any reference to a Muslim must be a reference to all Moslems.

MSNBC questioned the term, implying that it is a new one invented by neo-conservatives. They even suggested that the term was invented by Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa. as part of his re-election campaign. Since I have been seeing conservative writers use this and the shorter Islamo-fascism for years, this is a strange article. It goes on to question if fascism can be applied to the goals of the terrorists.

Stanford University linguist Goeffrey Nunberg argues that fascism is not really the right word to describe this global terror network.

"There's no historical or philosophical connection between al-Qaida and fascism," says Nunberg, an expert on the language of politics. "They're creepy people, but that doesn't mean they're fascist."

The word fascism is usually associated with a particularly oppressive government, almost always hostile to religious clerics, he says. In the United States, it is most commonly associated with Hitler's bloody Nazi regime.

Nunberg says the term "fascist" has been broadly abused throughout the last few decades — by the Left and the Right to mean anyone, or even anything, oppressive and cruel. Although it has lost its definition, he says, it retains its emotional impact.

"Fascism is the epitome of evil," he says. "If you want to say something is as evil as evil can be, then its fascism."

Definitions aside, Nunberg says if the administration wants to stay the course in Iraq, and push difficult but unpopular security policies, its choice of words might be effective.

"Given that they have decided on this strategy, then the analogies to fascism seem rhetorically the smart thing to do in a certain sense," he says. "You want to evoke these 'just wars' of the past."

Is this true? There is no connection between al-Quaida (a recent invention) and fascism (which died with Franco in 1975). There were strong connections with most of the Arab countries and fascism, especially Nazism during WWII.

Is fascism almost always hostile to religious clerics? Not according to the Wikipedia entry on fascism:
Some expressions of fascism have been closely linked with religious political movements. This combination is referred to as Clerical fascism, a prime example of which is the Ustashe in Croatia.
Also, fascism, especially the Nazi variety, has been openly hostile to Jews. Hamas and Hezbollah have endorsed Hitler's Final Solution .

The government that bin Laden wants to establish across the world sounds very much like this:
Fascism is also typified by totalitarian attempts to impose state control over all aspects of life: political, social, cultural, and economic.

Other relevant sections:
Fascism in Italy arose in the 1920s as a mixture of syndicalist notions with an anti- materialist theory of the state; the latter had already been linked to an extreme nationalism. [...] It tended to reject the Marxist notion of social classes and universally dismissed the concept of class conflict, replacing it instead with the struggle between races, and the struggle of the youth versus their elders. This meant embracing nationalism and mysticism, and advancing ideals of strength and power as means of legitimacy, glorifying war as an end in itself and victory as the determinant of truth and worthiness.
All of this seems very much like the restored Caliphate that bin Laden wants to create.

So, why did a major news outlet go to lengths to discredit this term?

ACLU vs Christianity

Last year during Hurricane Katrina, 129 residents of Louisiana's St. Bernard Parish were killed. The Parish is erecting a memorial which will be dedicated on August 29 on the first anniversary of the deaths. The memorial includes a stainless steel cross with the face of Jesus. Obviously the ACLU objects.
So what is the basis of their objection? Are public funds paying for the cross? No, it is privately funded. Is it being built on public land? Again, no, it is being built on private land. So what could they possibly object to? It will be visible from a public waterway, specifically the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet which is blamed for much of the devastation in New Orleans.
The ACLU also says that, since the Parish government approved putting up some kind of memorial and the memorial later chosen is religious, it violates the ban on government endorsement of religion.
The ACLU is worried that an unsuspecting non-Christian will be travelling thought the MRGO, look up and see a 13 foot cross on private land and feel government pressure to switch to Christianity.
This article has a few choice quotes.
[...] parish President Henry 'Junior' Rodriguez had a simple reply to the assertion: 'They can kiss my ass.'

[...]ACLU Louisiana Executive Director Joe Cook said the Parish Council approved the monument and was therefore sanctioning a religious symbol.

Of Rodriguez`s quip, Cook said he`d prefer if Rodriguez 'would kiss the Constitution.'

While the ACLU likes to make use of the Constitution, they do not actually believe in it. They have defined their own standards of civil liberties. One of these is freedom from any reminders of Christianity. Clearly, if there is no government money or land involved then the government should stay neutral. Instead, the ACLU wants to government to intervene to stop a religious monument from being erected.
Somehow the irony of trying to use the Constitution to suppress private observance of religion escapes the ACLU.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

The Enemy at Home and Abroad

I'm actually writing about who the American Left sees as its enemies. It's a fairly short list. At the top is George Bush (or a composite of Bush, Rove, Cheney, etc.). He is followed closely by Joe Lieberman, the nation of Israel, and finally al Qaeda. Here's my reasoning.

First, Lieberman has gotten a lot of ink recently. Currently rage against him is white hot. The Left has called on Democratic leaders in Congress to strip Lieberman of all committee assignments. They would like to see him resign, right now. They would really like to see him stood up in front of the Senate and have his buttons cut off and his sword broken (as in a 19th century dishonorable discharge).

They keep presenting their rage at Lieberman as being anti-war but it isn't. It's anti-Bush. Just look at the campaign. Lamont's biggest boost was a shot of Bush bending forward to have a quiet word with Lieberman. It has been presented as Bush kissing Lieberman on the cheek, "The Smooch". I've seen Lieberman refereed to as Bush's "handmaiden". It was not Lieberman's support for the war that lost him the primary, it was his support for "Bush's war."

So, while they are showering Lieberman with invectives, the person they really hate is Bush.

Note - the primary results should not be taken as meaning anything. The election was a referendum on Bush conducted by the anti-Bush wing of a blue state. No one really cared where Lieberman stood on any other issues. They just wanted to punish a Democrat for being too friendly with Bush.

That takes care of the first two items on the list. Next comes Israel. The Left has been quietly blaming Israel for 9/11 since 9/12/2001. When they talk about root causes, they mean US support for Israel. Currently Israel is in a fight with a terrorist group shooting missiles across the Lebanese boarder. The terrorists, Hezbollah, hide themselves and their munitions among the civilian population ensuring that any attempts by Israel to fight back will cause civilian casualties. So who is condemned? Israel, of course.

This morning it was reveled that al Qaeda was plotting to blow up several airplanes, killing hundreds or thousands of people. The response from the Left is illuminating. I'm using the Huffington Post as a proxy for the Left in general. Other sites tend to be even more extreme.

Peter Laarman thinks that the plot was a response to the Israel/Hezbollah conflict.
How must it have enraged the Sunnis who lead al Qaeda to see Hezbollah, a Shia-led movement, become the darling of the Arab "street," even drawing many Sunnis into its orbit of fans? Now we have al Qaeda's answer to such humiliation. Hezbollah might be able to thwart the IDF's drones and even tanks, but it's not yet ready to put the world on Red Alert. Al Qaeda can and just did.

In his zeal to place blame, Laarman ignores that the al Qaeda plot must have started long before the current conflict with Hezbollah. He also tries to blame Dick Cheney through use of a straw man argument.

Donnie Fowler blames Bush for taking his eye off the ball.
Truth is, Bush has not fought back at the real enemy. He picked a fight with Iraq that he said was going to be easy. He picked a fight that Cheney said would end with flowers and cheers by those the USA liberated. But they didn't pick a fight with those who really committed the crime.
Somehow he forgot the invasion of Afghanistan and all of those terrorist surveillance programs that the Left has been complaining about.

This one by Sheldon Drobny takes the prize.

Does anybody out there see the relationship between these two news items? Sure you do. About 4 weeks ago the Justice Department uncovered a terrorist cell in Florida that was planning to blow up the Sears Tower in Chicago. It turns out that these "terrorists" were a few black kids falling for am undercover entrapment so they could support their drug habit.

Today's announcement from our ally, the UK, suggests that 21 people were arrested for planning a massive bombing of flights from the UK to the United States.
That's comforting - there aren't any real terrorist plots against us, just ones that the government tricks confused black kids into falling for. We were never in any real danger. That London bombing on 7/7/2005 never happened. There are no British Muslims willing to kill themselves and everyone around them. Bush just made it up to distract us from Lieberman's defeat.

Russell Shaw says the same thing.

Earlier today U.K. authorities announced they had arrested 24 suspects in a massive plot to blow up 10 airliners.

And of course, President Bush and Department of Homeland Insecurity chief Michael Chertoff used the occasion to tell us that we are all still vulnerable to terror attacks from Al-Qaeda.

This news comes less than a day after an interview in which Veep Cheney said that Joe Lieberman's defeat in Connecticut is likely to give comfort to the same Al-Qaeda by showing we- or at least the Democratic portion of "we," are soft on terrorism.

[...] Not saying the plot can't be real, but if you remember the history of how these things unfold, it often turns out a few days after these arrests, that all these clowns did was conspire on Internet chat rooms and via instant messenger.

Do you see the pattern? Despite terrorist attacks around the world for years with one big one here, they don't believe the threat. They hate Bush so much that they believe that all evil flows from him.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Climate Porn and War Porn

Here's an interesting concept - Climate Porn.
The "apocalyptic" way in which climate change is often portrayed in the press and on government websites succeeds only in "thrilling" people while undermining practical efforts to tackle the problem, according to Labour's favourite thinktank, the Institute for Public Policy Research.

In other words, by overselling the effects of Global Warming, the climate alarmists are making the situation sound so hopeless that people feel it is out of their control. This is nothing new. When the environmental movement started around 1970 the media was full of stories about it was "already too late". This long track-record of scare stories is one reason I've been a global warming sceptic.

At the same time, the article goes on:
He added: "Government and green groups should avoid giving the impression that 'we are all doomed'. The focus should be on the big actions that people can take to address climate change, like switching to a hybrid car, fitting a wind turbine or installing cavity wall insulation, not just small ones such as turning down the thermostat or switching off the lights."
This is the other half of the equation. Warming is being over-sold but the steps needed to stop it are undersold. Turning down the thermostat and shutting off lights will not cut your energy use by 60%. For that matter, neither will switching to a hybrid car and adding wall insulation so even this article undersells the societal changes needed.

In a sort-of-related matter, a wire-service photograph of Beirut was Photo Shopped to make damage from Israeli bombing seem worse than it was. This could be called War Porn - news being sensationalized in order to inspire a reaction.

The old news media stresses the need for editorial control in order to assure accuracy. So where is this? It seems that the MSM is broken. It probably always has been, we just didn't notice.

Raunchy Lyrics

Do dirty lyrics cause kids to have sex? I admit that I am not much of an expert on current music. I don't listen to rap, hip-hop, or even much rock - not surprising since most of it is aimed at people more than 30 years younger than I am. The stations I listen to are classified as adult contemporary and the music I buy is mainly traditional Irish. Still, I can spot the errors in this study a mile away.

In brief, a sample of 1,461 were interviewed. The original interview was done in 2001 with follow-ups in 2002 and 2004. The purpose was to see if music choice influenced subsequent behaviour.

While it is a valid conclusion that kids who like music about sex are likely to become sexually active earlier, it is not valid to say that the one causes the other. While the researchers say that they tried to account for other factors such as parental permissiveness, the lyrics still had a strong influence.

I would suggest that the type of kids who are more likely to start having sex early are also the ones who are drawn to music about it. There is an entire culture that pushes sex and degrading women. The music is part of it, but only one part. To say that music is the primary influence is a way of looking for a quick fix. If we only tone down the bad music then all of our social ills will vanish.

This has been tried for centuries. The quick fix never works.

Which isn't to say that most of hip-hop culture shouldn't be flushed down the sewer.

Raunchy Lyrics

Do dirty lyrics cause kids to have sex? I admit that I am not much of an expert on current music. I don't listen to rap, hip-hop, or even much rock - not surprising since most of it is aimed at people more than 30 years younger than I am. The stations I listen to are classified as adult contemporary and the music I buy is mainly traditional Irish. Still, I can spot the errors in this study a mile away.

In brief, a sample of 1,461 were interviewed. The original interview was done in 2001 with follow-ups in 2002 and 2004. The purpose was to see if music choice influenced subsequent behaviour.

While it is a valid conclusion that kids who like music about sex are likely to become sexually active earlier, it is not valid to say that the one causes the other. While the researchers say that they tried to account for other factors such as parental permissiveness, the lyrics still had a strong influence.

I would suggest that the type of kids who are more likely to start having sex early are also the ones who are drawn to music about it. There is an entire culture that pushes sex and degrading women. The music is part of it, but only one part. To say that music is the primary influence is a way of looking for a quick fix. If we only tone down the bad music then all of our social ills will vanish.

This has been tried for centuries. The quick fix never works.

Which isn't to say that most of hip-hop culture shouldn't be flushed down the sewer.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Hot Air from NBC

Last night NBC insisted that the current heat wave passing over the US is part of Global Warming. Their proof? They didn't cite any except for the number of records broken. This in itself means very little since many of these records were simply for a specific location for that particular date. Here in Columbus, the temperature hasn't broken 100 since the 1990s and the number of days over 90 was higher in previous years than now. With the heat wave breaking, there is not much chance of meaningful records being broken.

Not to be outdone, NBC's new web site has an article on warm summer nights proving Global Warming.
A top federal research meteorologist said he "almost fell out of my chair" when he looked over U.S. night minimum temperature records over the past 96 years and saw the skyrocketing trend of hot summer nights.
Maybe he would have kept his seat if he had heard about urban heat islands . Forests and farms tend to be cooler and to lose their heat faster at night. Buildings and roads soak up the sun and radiate it back at night. You can verify this for yourself - just put your hand or a bare foot on a driveway after dark. It will be warmer than nearby grass.

This effect can cause a local shift in temperature of 2-10 degrees - equivalent to moving a hundred miles south. As our cities expand, it would be amazing if nighttime temperatures did not climb. But that wouldn't scare people.

Defending Conservatives

Bob Burnett has been writing about the failure of conservatism on Huffington. I'd like to take issue with him.

His first point
Since the Reagan era, American conservatism has steadily gained strength. Indeed, for the five years of the second Bush Administration conservatism has been the only visible ideology in Washington.

Conservative domestic policy rests upon one central tenet: the federal government must be drastically reduced. Accordingly, the Bush Administration and an obedient Republican Congress slashed taxes. They assured the American people that, as a "natural" result of these cuts, two things would happen: the economy would flourish and the federal government would wither. But neither prediction proved accurate. The economy showed modest growth, which benefited only corporations and wealthy individuals; meanwhile, the real income of the average American family went down. And, the federal government didn't shrink; it grew.
There are a few big flaws in this argument. The first is that Bush (father and son) are Reagan Republicans. G. W. Bush ran on a platform of compassionate conservatism. This turns out to mean tax-cut and spend conservatism. Bush is a pro-defense, social conservative, not a Reagan/Libertarian. Bush is not a friend of limited government. In fact, two of his pet projects, No Child Left Behind, and the Medicare Drug Plan, were major expansions of big government. In most other spending, Bush has been to the left of Bill Clinton. Government didn't just grow on its own, it was allowed to grow by the lose fiscal policies of the Bush administration and by Bush's reluctance to veto spending bills.

Bush is a fan of tax cuts as economic stimulus and they have worked better than Burnett is willing to give credit for.

It doesn't help that Republicans only have a tiny majority in Congress and some of that is made up of RINOs (Republicans In Name Only). When Katrina hit, these are the Republicans who refused to give up non-vital projects in their own districts to help pay to help devastated areas. The Pork-Busters have been keeping track of these.

Burnett says:
During the last five years, conservatives discovered that while Americans rail against the federal government in the abstract, they actually like the programs it provides, such as Medicare and Social Security. They want their mail delivered on time and levees maintained to guard them from floods.
...but this is more an indictment of RINOs than conservatives. I'll agree with him about this but my solution would be to see some real conservatives at work instead of moderate/RINOs.

He also says:
Alan Wolfe observes that since the primary objective of conservatives was thwarted—they couldn't shrink the size of government—they settled for preventing it "from doing any good." From the Department of Justice to the Environmental Protection Agency, the Bush Administration eased federal regulations and reduced oversight responsibilities; the result was an across-the-board abandonment of the public interest. Conservatives abandoned a vital historic role of the federal government: protection of our rights.
This is hyperbole at its best. With the EPA, for example, Clinton signed some new standards as a going-away present. As is standard, the Bush administration put a hold on the new regulations pending review and eventually passed them. The regulations were never looser than during the Clinton administration. There have been other examples where tighter standards are called loose. The standards for fuel efficiency known as CAFE were tightened but not as much as Democrats would have liked.

Burnett's next point:
Simultaneously, conservatives used the resources of the federal government as a vehicle for unprecedented political patronage; strengthening the Republican Party by securing huge donations from corporations. Conservative control of government unleashed an unprecedented wave of venality, a hybrid form of plutocracy where the interests of corporations where given primacy over the rights of individuals. This bias had many forms: sole-source contracts given in Iraq, bribery of Administration and Congressional officials, heightened influence of lobbyists, and elimination of bipartisanship — creation of an atmosphere where fairness and cooperation are seen as character flaws.

With all that patronage money you would think that Republicans election campaigns were out-spending the Democrats. They aren't. I'm sure that he is referring to Haliburten when he complains about sole-source contracts in Iraq but independent reviews have agreed that they are the only company able to provide the services needed. Lobbyists are better-organized and they target the party in power but that does not mean that Democrats will be any better.

Bipartisanship works both ways. Don't forget that in 1993 the Clinton administration made new Democrats take an oath that they would not cooperate with Republicans on anything. For that matter, look at how the Democrats are treating Joe Leiberman because of his bipartisanship.

Burnett is convinced that the government, when well-run, is the best source for all things.
In Federal agency after agency, conservative Bush political appointees privatized jobs that formally had been done by agency employees. This resulted in deterioration of service and massive cost overruns.
Remember the flu vaccine shortage of 2004-2005? That came about because the federal government is the sole-supplier for certain vaccines. This was done during the Clinton administration to prove that the government was better at managing health care than private industry. It didn't work.

Burnett's faith in government is also part of his follow-up. This is his take on welfare reform.
Corresponding to their naïve disregard for the federal government, conservatives advocated their brand of Social Darwinism: "you're on your own." They insisted government has no responsibility to protect the rights or wellbeing of citizens; claimed that the market will take care of everyone.
A true conservative (the Libertarian sort) will point out that LBJ's war on poverty created an entire underclass who depended on the government and that this was a drag on general prosperity. In contrast, in a robust economy there are jobs for everyone who wants one eliminating the need for long-term dependency.

His mission statement for liberals is
From this foundation, the new liberalism needs to state the obvious: Americans need a responsible federal government and it's our common responsibility to pay for it. Liberals should reassert their belief that government can be a force for good, so long as it is well run. Not only must liberals be persons of integrity, they must provide the leadership that America desperately needs.
The operative phrase there is "so long as it is well run." This is where conservatives take issue with big government. A program may start but being well-run but with no competition and with the lure of empire-building they will not stay well-run. Further, a government program usually has the force of law behind it and a mountain of bureaucracy that makes changes near-impossible.

Burnett's two closing points

Finally, a new liberal ideology must address two other conservative beliefs: The first is that government should not regulate business; that this is the exclusive responsibility of the market. This is wrong, because an equitable American society requires the active intervention of the federal government to protect the rights and wellbeing of our citizens. A cornerstone of the new liberalism must be the primacy of individual rights over those of corporations and CEOs.

Liberals would gladly regulate business out of business. When Burnett talks about protecting the "primacy of individual rights" he really means collective rights. This can lead to absurdities such as the government suing Sears because they were not hiring enough women to work in the lawn-care department. It turned out that women don't want to work there but that didn't save Sears from millions in legal fees.

The second conservative belief that must be challenged is that the U.S. defense budget is sacrosanct. Americans have been brainwashed to believe that having the largest defense establishment in the world—spending $550 million per year on the Department of Defense—keeps us safe. Citizens must be taught to distinguish between big and smart. America can be protected even though DOD is drastically reduced. Money must be redirected from our military budget and used for vital needs such as the funding of our "first responders."

Until they changed their message to cut-and-run, the liberal reaction to the invasion of Iraq was that Bush hadn't sent enough troops, that he had tried to do it on the cheap. The truth is that Bush sent the troops that he could but, even after activating National Guard units, there are not enough troops to secure Iraq. Burnett would like to see the military cut further.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Redefining Health

A recent study showed that there are very few differences in eating habits between people with "normal" BMI and those who are "overweight" and "obese". 75% of the obese say that they eat healthy. Comparable percentages work out, snack between meals, and eat out. Even the numbers who eat everything served are not great enough to explain the difference in body weight. The people conducting the survey did admit that they didn't include the quantity of food eaten. Still, this shows that there may be no simple difference. At the least, the obese are not living unhealthy lifestyles. Consider that other studies that show obesity (but not morbid obesity) has little harmful effect on health. Now combine that with the study I wrote about a couple of days ago showing that people in the 19th century tended to have a "normal" BMI but were subject to chronic health problems and you start to wonder about the "obesity epidemic".

Is it possible that our standards of what is "normal" were set at a time when people were undernourished and unhealthy and that the current "epidemic" is actually what healthy people really weigh?

A few other factors - when doing a story on obesity, TV always shows people who are 50+ pounds overweight but you can be just 10-20 pounds overweight and still be considered obese. The BMI figures were adjusted down in the mid-1990s so that many people who were normal according to the old measure are now overweight or obese.