Saturday, December 30, 2006

Hit by a Ford

One of the top stories tonight was that President Ford disagreed with the war in Iraq and disapproved in general about the Republicans' move to the right. What should we make of this? Should this be a call for Republicans to move to the center?


Ford was the Accidental President. He never won a national race and he even had trouble securing the nomination as a sitting president. His time spent minority leader was under the two most liberal presidents since FDR.

Ford was not a part of the Republican mainstream since the early 1970s. This was shown most dramatically during the 1976 Republican convention. When Reagan was introduced his supporters shit down the convention for 20+ minutes with cheering. Conservative Reagan excited the delegates. Moderate Ford did not.

So why is an interview from 2004 news? Because the MSM share Ford's dislike for the Right and want to use the Ford interview as a club to beat the Republicans with.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Scrooge the Progressive

I watched the George C. Scott Christmas Carol on Christmas. Afterward I got to thinking about whose politics the unreformed Scrooge most closely matches and I came up with the Greens/Progressives.

Now I don't mean to suggest that Scrooge would think of himself as being part of either of these groups. He was what he was because he was a miser and his labor policies are diametrically opposed to the Greens and Progressives. However, Scrooge typifies many of the attitudes that these groups espouse. In fact, if they got their way, we would all be living like Scrooge.

To start with, there is Scrooge's way of life. He uses very little fuel for heat or light. In fact, he gets by on the bare minimum. I doubt that his lifetime generation of CO2 would match what Al Gore spends making a single PowerPoint presentation.

In addition to this, Scrooge probably eats local foods. There is a movement among the Greens to only live on food produced within 50 miles of where you live. While this was much easier in the 19th century, Scrooge had enough money that he could have consumed exotic spices and foreign fruits. These were available in Victoria's England if you had the money.

Scrooge's reluctance to spend money in general is echoed in the modern rejection of commercialism and consumerism.

Then there is Scrooge's reaction when asked to contribute to a (faith-based?) private charity. He thought that the poor are the government's charge, not his. Granted the workhouses and prisons of the day were far worse than modern welfare.

Scrooge's rejection of Christmas as a "humbug" fits right in with today's attack on religion by militant atheists.

Then there is is comment about reducing the surplus population. The Greens have been saying for decades that there are too many humans and wishing that something would thin the species, possibly even wiping us out. The modern Greens are often much more heartless and cold about mass human death than Scrooge ever was.

Gerald Ford

Every obituary I read for the late President Ford says that he lost re-election because he pardoned Nixon. They are wrong.

The accepted narrative is that Ford entered office with high (70%) approval rating but after he pardoned Nixon, the country never forgave him. Certainly the pardon did anger liberals who wanted nothing more from life than to see Nixon convicted. The frenzy a year ago over speculation that key Bush figures would be arrested and "frogmarched" over the Plame leak is nothing compared to Nixon hatred. The left never forgave Ford for depriving them of their moment and this shows in the obituaries.

But Ford was right. It would have been destructive to continue Watergate for months or years longer while a trial dragged on. Most of the country forgave Ford for the pardon and would have elected him had things worked out differently.

By "things" I mean the economy. The US economy in the 1970s was terrible. Nixon tried wage/price controls and tax rebates but it didn't work.

Ford came to office with stagnant economy and high inflation which was shortened to "stagflation". His main way of fighting it was to veto bills he deemed inflationary. He vetoed more bills than any other president, ever. He also came up with a program known as WIN for Whip Inflation Now. Thousands of WIN buttons were stamped but no one wore them. No one believed in WIN and it faded away without a trace.

Economic problems affected New York City and Cleveland, both of which flirted with bankruptcy. This drove home how bad the economy was.

It is a general rule of thumb that incumbents running during a bad economy lose. I have yet to see this mentioned but he was running on a platform of letting things alone and Carter promised economic changes. Had the economy been in good shape, Ford would likely have won.

Ford had other problems. I mentioned the number of bills he vetoed. This was symptomatic of his relationship with Congress. Despite decades in the House, Ford could not get along with Congress. He vetoed their legislation, they ignored his.

One of the things that Congress did during this period was cut off aid to South Viet Nam. Not long after we cut them off the North launched a renewed offensive and overran the south. This tainted the Ford presidency.

Ford also eased relations with the USSR. While Nixon could be forgiven for going to China, the right did not forgive Ford for giving up on the Cold War. The loss of Viet Nam emphasized this.

Ford also appointed John Paul Stevens to the Supreme Court. Stevens was to become one of the court's most liberal members.

On top of all of these problems, Ford had to cope with SNL. After two failed assassination attempts, a fall down a staircase, and some golf games where his club went flying into the crowd he became a favorite target for SNL's first season. Many episodes started with Chevy Chase doing a bit as Ford.

I saw an early, live version of SNL under the name of the National Lampoon Comedy Tour. The opening bit was Chase walking haltingly across the stage. Someone said "Let me take you gum, Mr. President." After that he could walk normally. The bit was a reference to LBJ's statement that Ford couldn't walk and chew gum at the same time. The audience got the joke.

So Ford was running with a bad economy, a record of poor leadership, and he was a joke on SNL. No one can win against all of this. Against this, the pardon is nothing.

So Jimmy Carter, a one-term governor from a small state became president. Carter had no better idea how to cure the economy than Ford did. Carter also cozied up even closer to the USSR. He talked the Shaw of Iran into leaving office then talked the democratically elected interim government into allowing Ayatollah Khomeini into the country. We are still trying to deal with the fallout of those decisions.

In all, Ford served as a place-holder between the mixed accomplishments of the Nixon administration and the total disaster of the Carter administration. He was likable but undistinguished.

Monday, December 25, 2006

A Few Final Thoughts on Christmas

Merry Christmas (a bit late).

Or should I say "Happy Holidays"? I hear a lot of that these days. People are afraid of saying The "Christmas". The multi-culturist have convinced the country that it is offensive to wish a Merry Christmas to a non-Christian.

So, how does the non-Christian world regard Christmas? I have it on good authority that it is big and growing in China. It is big enough that the Japanese version of Iron Chef featured several Christmas battles. During the lead-in to these they asked the judges what they would be doing for Christmas. None of them said, "I don't celebrate it."

In India which has a very small Christian population, Christmas is very big - literally. An artist did a huge beach sculpture of Santa.

Bottom line - there are millions of non-Christians world-wide who happily celebrate Christmas without feeling threatened by Christianity. So why do people feel threatened in the US?

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Big Brother Is Looking Out For You

Ronald Reagan is often quoted as saying that the scariest words in the English Language are, "I'm from the government and I'm here to help."

This is being applied against the perceived obesity crisis. I say "perceived" because the real health threats come, not from weight, but from inactivity. As this article shows, someone who leads an active lifestyle with regular exercise are healthier than those with a more sedentary lifestyles. You don't have to lose weight for health gains.

That's too complicated for most people to understand, even people who should know better. It all comes down to weight and public officials are ready to follow the example of tobacco in trying to change public behavior.

First there is the New York City ban of trans-fats. Other cities and even the entire state of Massachusetts are considering a similar ban. This will nor change much. Trans-fats are too small a portion of the average diet. All this will accomplish is to make food taste worse.

The British want to go several steps beyond this. An article in the British Medical Journal suggests a number of measures starting with putting warnings and an obesity hotline on mens pants with a waist of more than 40 inches.

Somehow I doubt that putting a label on people's clothing saying "You are fat. Loose weight." is the ultimate solution.

The problem is that politicians are using the tobacco model on obesity. Tobacco is not as harmful as most non-smokers think. Most smokers are not harmed y their habit but enough are to make it worthwhile to try to reduce the number of smokers. There are few health benefits to smoking (ironically the main benefit is weight loss).

Food, on the other hand, cannot be avoided. Trying to separate good and bad food is meaningless. Despite titles such as "heart attack on a plate", no single serving of anything is going to clog your arteries, etc. Such foods can even be eaten regularly in small portions.

More important, just looking at someone's diet or weight is not enough. Without evaluating total lifestyle you simply do not have enough information.

Unfortunately, politicians seldom evaluate risk. They see perceived problems and they do something that will be seen as a fix. It doesn't matter in the slightest if the fix is effective.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Fear From the Huffies

I get the Huffington Post Daily Brief. This was today's featured entry - someone who is "terrified" because it is warm in December. It's 60 degrees out - is this a sign of Global Warming?

No for several reasons. One is that earlier this month we had unusually low temperatures. Unless that was a sign of global cooling then a warm spell is not a sign of global warming.

Robert Heinlein once wrote that climate is what we expect, weather is what we get. In December, in these latitudes, it is generally cold in December and snow is possible but not common. I checked AccuWeather for today's date. The record high is 63 degrees, set in 1963. The record low is -7 set in 1989.
The averages are 40 and 25. This tells us that a 60 degree high is meaningless. It is within natural variability.

Like a fortune teller or a horoscope, people who believe in global warming remember the hot days and forget the cool ones. In this way they convince themselves that they are seeing global warming. Also, there was a cool period in the 1960s and 1970s. People who grew up then tend to think of this period as "normal" and the warmer period afterwards as unusual. On the other hand, my parents grew up during the warm period which caused the Dust Bowl (most of the records for things like number of days over 100 degrees, number of days in a row over 100, etc. were set then). Accordingly, the older generation thought of the 1960s and 1970s as being colder than normal. That's when talk of a coming ice age was at its height.

Bottom line, enjoy warm Winter days but don't panic over them.

The Huffington Post Huffington Post Home Huffington Post Home Forward to a Friend
Huffington Post Sponsor
BE A PART OF THE 100 ABSOLUTES Into blogs, bands, fashion, or all of the above? THE 100 ABSOLUTES is about passion. Pick your favorites among the nominees, within loads of categories. Voting will end at beginning of 2007, so make sure to make your voice heard.

Rob McKay: Its Beginning To Look A Lot (More) Like Global Warming...



From Rob McKay's Blog:

It is 60 degrees on December 18th in New York City. I'm hardly relieved I didn't have to bundle up my daughter and trudge with her through ice and now to go see "The Nutcracker" today. The temperature is terrifying. I want to crack some sense into the nuts who tell us there's nothing to worry about....

..Bush won't even use the term "global warming." He occasionally makes reference to the world's "climate change." Conservative politicians and pundits chalk up global warming to the next liberal bully pulpit, a rehash of "political correctness" or outcries from the "feminazis"...

...There's nothing ideological about global warming and the necessity of a policy agenda to protect the planet. We shouldn't need another call for bipartisanship to unite behind aggressive environmental protection policies that are so glaringly necessary...

Click here to read more.

The News From Iraq

Last week, Laura Bush argued with NBC News anchor, Brian Williams about how the major media has shaped public perception on Iraq. My own observation is that the major news outlets allow one story on Iraq per day. Which story is released is based on these priorities:

  1. Americans killed in Iraq
  2. Iraqis killed in Iraq
  3. Iraqis injured or kidnapped.
In addition, local news coverage carries stories about soldiers being deployed to Iraq, soldiers returning and the hardship that their absence caused their families, and the plight of young children whose parents are in Iraq.

No other stories are carried. There in never any mention of American offensives or insurgents killed. This gives the impression of Americans acting as sitting ducks while Iraq crumbles.

The MSM does allow one story about god news from Iraq per year. Here is this year's story. Don't blink or you will miss it.
Civil war or not, Iraq has an economy, and—mother of all surprises—it's doing remarkably well. Real estate is booming. Construction, retail and wholesale trade sectors are healthy, too, according to a report by Global Insight in London. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce reports 34,000 registered companies in Iraq, up from 8,000 three years ago. Sales of secondhand cars, televisions and mobile phones have all risen sharply. Estimates vary, but one from Global Insight puts GDP growth at 17 percent last year and projects 13 percent for 2006. The World Bank has it lower: at 4 percent this year. But, given all the attention paid to deteriorating security, the startling fact is that Iraq is growing at all.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Democrats Get Lucky (sort of)

There is real question about Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD) recovering from brain surgery enough to return to the Senate. If he is incapacitated then a Republican governor will name a successor - most likely a Republican. That would put the Senate at a 50-50 tie with the Vice-President casting the tie-breaking vote. In other words, the Republicans would be in charge of the Senate.

This is great news for the Democrats. That means that the House can pass any number of symbolic bills, safe in the knowledge that it will never pass the Senate. They will have enough power to make a show but not enough to actually accomplish anything.

And they can blame it all on the Republicans.

On the other hand, the pressure will be off of the Republicans to clean up their act and get back to their roots, so it is bad for them.

The real winner will be the country for the next two years. With a split House/Senate, the Democrats will be prevented from doing much harm. Also, government spending night go down as the houses fail to agree on new spending measures. That is one of the reasons that Clinton had a surplus - the split between Congress and the White House.

So, as mean as it sounds, send Senator Johnson a get-worse card. Then send a card to the Republicans reminding them that they didn't earn the Senate.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Scrooge and Economics 101

An economist writing in Slate prefers the unreformed Scrooge. His reasoning is that, by consuming as little as possible, Scrooge left more for everyone else.
Scrooge has been called ungenerous. I say that's a bum rap. What could be more generous than keeping your lamps unlit and your plate unfilled, leaving more fuel for others to burn and more food for others to eat? Who is a more benevolent neighbor than the man who employs no servants, freeing them to wait on someone else?

Oh, it might be slightly more complicated than that. Maybe when Scrooge demands less coal for his fire, less coal ends up being mined. But that's fine, too. Instead of digging coal for Scrooge, some would-be miner is now free to perform some other service for himself or someone else.
A few years ago the BBC and PBS did a reality show called 1900 House. A 21st century family was to live as people did 100 years earlier. They also employed a maid but ended up firing her because the mother in the family couldn't bear to have domestic help. She justified it as "setting her free to do something else." The woman who was employed as the maid was livid. No one asked her if she wanted to be freed. In Victorian England, a significant portion of the population did domestic work. Had everyone followed Scrooge's example, there would have been wide-spread starvation as the market for domestic labor suddenly collapsed. You would think that an economist would understand this.

While Dickens did not understand modern economic theory, he seems to have a better grasp of some aspects than Slate's expert.

Scrooge was a miser. Presumably he simply horded his money. Economically, that is the worst thing that he could do with it. Money that is horded is wasted. It is not helping anyone. It would be different had Scrooge done something with the money. If he had invested it, it would be helping both him and the people he invested in. If he simply spent it, it would have gone for goods and services that people needed to sell for their livelihoods. By just sitting, it did none of these things.

What if everyone followed Scrooge's example now? It's not very hard to find out. Just compare the economy in December and January. In December, people are buying things that they do not need and spending money that they don't have to. In January they cut back, both because the holidays are over and because they are still paying the bills.

So which month do you think keeps the economy going - December or January? Unless you are selling fitness equipment, January represents the worst month of the year. If all months were like January the country would be in serious economic trouble.

So why doesn't an economist understand this?

Christmas in Seattle

The Seattle-Tacoma International Airport took down its Christmas Trees after a Rabbi threatened to sue to have an eight-foot menorah included in the decorations. The airport decided that once they included one religious symbol they could be forced to include anything that was important to the residents.

Patricia Davis, president of the Seattle Port Commission, said:
"We tried to come to some accommodation or some resolution and could not," she said. "They issued us several ultimatums and finally said they would sue is in federal court. … The time deadline was 10 a.m. Friday. … We were faced with the choice of spending unknown amounts of the public's money on litigation, or, in the next few days, trying to figure out how to accommodate all the cultures in our society."
Ironically the rabbi who caused this mess is upset with the way it turned out.

The man behind their disappearance, Rabbi Elazar Bogomilsky, told a Seattle newspaper he's "appalled" that the airport officials removed the trees. His goal was not to clear out Christmas, but rather to add a celebration of Hanukah. He asked the port of Seattle, which runs the airport, to build an eight-foot menorah and hold a lighting ceremony.

"Everyone should have their spirit of the holiday," he told the Seattle Times. "For many people, the trees are the spirit of the holidays, and adding a menorah adds light to the season."

[...] Bogomilsky's attorney, Harvey Grad, told the paper, "They've darkened the hall instead of turning the lights up. There is a concern here that the Jewish community will be portrayed as the Grinch."
The concern is well-placed. Despite the name, a Christmas Tree is not a religious symbol. While it represents the secular, gift-giving part of the holiday, it has no relation to Christ or Christianity in general. It is not used in any Christian rite. While most churches put up a tree, it is not always in the sanctuary and when it is, it is off to the side so that it does not obstruct the altar.

In contrast, a Menorah is directly related to a (minor) Jewish holiday. Its use is religious. Trying to force a religious symbol into a secular display causes exactly the sort of conflict that the airport is afraid of.

Once one group has sued to be included, other inevitably will follow. By insisting that the secular aspects of Christmas cannot be celebrated without including the Jews, he ruined it for everyone.

Of course the liberal line is that people who enjoy Christmas shouldn't expect it to be acknowledged on public land, anyway. The party line is that Christians have gotten a free ride through public endorsement of Christianity for too long and that all further references to Christmas should be limited to homes and churches. For examples, see here, here and here.

Friday, December 08, 2006

The Great Turn-Off

A group of concerned Australians will try to do their part this weekend by turning off their power. They have all seen Gore's Inconvenient Truth and want to do an experiment on what life would be like in an envisioned green paradise. For the weekend, they will cut power to their homes, unplug their phones, and refuse to even enter a powered building. To make life livable, they are allowed to burn beeswax or soy candles, to preserve their food with ice, and to take public transportation.

All of this is totally meaningless.

First, they conveniently chose the Australian Summer to do this. If they lived in Ohio where the current temperature is 25 degrees they might have some second thoughts. Just ask the 52,000 people whose power has been out for the last week. This is no happy lark in the winter. It can be a matter of life and death.

Of course, there is nothing to stop anyone from turning off lights or air conditioning. I used to know someone who didn't have a bedroom light because there was a streetlight near his window. It should be noted that candles are expensive, a fire hazard, and produce their own CO2.

Most of the rest of their ideas are wishful thinking. The ice that they use to cool their food and the food itself were produced with the very power that they shut off. Using power on Friday so that you can save it on Saturday is nothing but a shell game.

Yes, a century ago ice was harvested naturally from frozen lakes and shipped around the world. The population was a lot smaller back then and disease was common so no one worried about contaminated ice.

All of this is play-acting. Living a "carbon free lifestyle" for one weekend in the Summer is not a sustainable lifestyle and it probably does not represent a lifestyle that they would want to live on a permanent basis.

For a harsher view of the Great Turn-Off, see here.

What the ISG Report Really Means

There are two big ideas in the Iraq Study Group's report. The first is that a "cut and run" strategy would be a very bad thing to the region. This is unappetizing to the anti-war left.

The other idea should be just as unappetizing to the right. This is the suggestion that the US start open negotiations with Iran and Syria. This is a return to the realpolitiks that caused the US to support Saddam against Iran in the 1980s.

First a bit of background. As much as I hate to say it, Iraq is looking more like Viet Nam. Viet Nam was a proxy war between the US and the USSR. Our "peace agreement" in 1973 called for the USSR to slow down support for North Viet Nam. This allowed us to leave behind a stable South Viet Nam (until a couple of years later when we cut off support and the USSR ramped up their support).

Iraq has become a proxy war with Iran and, to some extent, Syria. US troops have recently found insurgents armed with weapons recently manufactured in Iran. Both Iran and Syria are hoping that they can induce enough suffering to get the US to leave and to break up Iraq into chunks that they can swallow.

The ISG report is essentially suggesting the same exit strategy that we used in Viet Nam. We talk Iran and Syria into slowing support for the insurgents long enough for us to stabilize the country and get out. What happens after that is no longer our concern.

That is bad enough in itself but there is the question of what we will have to give up in order to get these concessions. The most likely concessions are the Iran will continue its nuclear program and Syria will retake Lebanon (assuming that Hezbollah hasn't taken over Lebanon before we can start negotiating).

The long term consequences of this strategy are enormous. An expanded, nuclear Iran is a danger to the world in general and the US and Israel in particular. The loss of Lebanon will likely draw us into future conflicts involving Israel, alienating us further from the world's Muslim population.

The worst result is that this will cement the world's perception that the US has no stomach for a protracted war. Everyone involved remembers Viet Nam and our bug-outs in Lebanon and Somalia. For decades to come, any force we fight will know that all they have to do is keep fighting long enough and we will leave.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Flying while Threatening

You must have heard all about the Muslim holy men (imams) who were taken off of an airplane. The original reports indicated that they had done nothing wrong. According to their statements they had discretely performed normal prayers before boarding. Some of them had requested seat belt extensions because of their weight. In order to keep from scaring people by sitting together they moved to other seats. They were even talking about how harmful Islamic violence is. Regardless, a passenger became alarmed and passed a note to the flight attendant who passed it to the pilot who, in turn, had them removed for the crime of flying while Muslim.

There is a lot more to it.

The spokesman is about 100 pounds lighter than he claimed and did not need, or even use, the seatbelt extension. They prayed both before and after boarding the plane which is not standard practice. They did not ask before moving to other seats. A passenger who speaks Arabic heard them saying things in favor of Saddam and against Bush.

And they were not the only Muslims on the plane.

It was announced today that three different probes dismissed their claims of discrimination. These men were acting in a suspicious manner which is grounds for removal from a plane.

The silliest part of this was when a CAIR (Council on American/Islamic Relations) suggested that these men should have been above suspicion because they were acting suspicious. According to this logic, real bombers would never call attention to themselves therefor the only people the authorities should ever be suspicious of are the ones who are not suspicious.

Somehow this seems like the beginning of a Monty Python sketch, or possibly Abbott and Costello.

There has been a lot of speculation that this was actually a protest. If so, it is on par with telling the fight attendant that you are carrying a bomb then complaining about discrimination against comedians.

It is also possible that it is part of a campaign to make it easier to get terrorists on planes by making the flight crews think twice about suspicions.

On the morning of September 11, the ticket clerk who sold Mohamed Atta his ticket thought to himself that this was a man who looked like a terrorist. He then kicked himself for racism and sold him a ticket.

Sometimes suspicious people do mean you harm.

Boston Illegal

I regularly watch the show Boston Legal. I enjoy the quirky characters and the intellectual moral questions. At the same time, I am often really annoyed at the way that they slip in liberal messages. Often they frame questions in such a way that the audiance will not realize the broader implications. Other times they will drag in politics for no other reason than to deliver a message.

A few examples:

In the most recent episode a woman was suing for custody of her twin nieces. The girls were happy and healthy but they were being raised as racists. This should have been straightforward. The implications of removing a child from her parents over political beliefs are enormous and this would never be a question in real life.

Along the way the writers had the twins disapprove of Mexicans coming to America illegally and refusing to assimilate. Since this was presented as part of the girls' twisted attitudes the implication that anyone who agrees with this part is a racist, possibly a skin-head.

There was also a national security angle. This never fit very well but it gave James Spader's character a chance to tell us how bad the Patriot Act is, even though it had nothing to do with the case as presented and the national security angle was very weak.

A few weeks ago a recurring character was being sued after he fired someone for his religion. To get audience sympathy, the person fired was a Scientologist.  Now, if they had presented the victim as an Evangelical Christian, the case would have been exactly the same but the audience sympathy would have shifted. It's all in how you frame the question.

After that, the same character was being tried for perjury. In capitol cases, potential jurors are asked to swear that they believe in the death penalty and will apply it when called for. The reason for this should be obvious. If members of the jury do not believe in the death penalty then it is automatically off the table, no matter how vile the crime. Similarly, I would expect that someone who is in favor of drug legalization to be bared from a jury in a drug case.

Not in Boston Legal. In their strange universe, the reason for getting people who believe in the death penalty is to get a jury pre-disposed to convict.

What is more scary in they show is how the lawyers often get around the law. In one case, Spader's character hired someone to break into someone's home and tie him up. Spader then entered and promised that this would happen again and again unless the man dropped his case. While this was done in a good cause, it could as easily be used anywhere.

More often they use the same idea but hide it better. An anorexic girl agreed to go into rehab after it turned out that she had a web site with questionable advice. This was not the clincher. The girl's lawyer was not moved until it was pointed out that the girl had left herself open to multiple lawsuits. Rather than continue to defend the girl pro bono, the lawyer quit.

I know that the country's legal system is often unjust but I shudder at the thought that the sort of tricks this law firm plays are used in real life.