Monday, December 31, 2007

The Democrat's Bad Year

A year ago Democrats were congratulating themselves on retaking Congress. They made a lot of promises. They were going to clean up government corruption, force a new direction in Iraq, and investigate numerous improprieties by the Bush administration.  While Congressional leaders warned against vendetta, the rank and file rubbed their hands and waited. It was only a matter time until either Karl Rove or Dick Cheney was "frogmarched" out of the White House and off to jail. Many of the faithful expected impeachment proceedings to begin by mid-Summer.

None of it came to pass. Corruption as defined by earmarks are worse than ever. The investigation over the leak of Valerie Plame's name came up empty. Cheney's chief of staff was only convicted of hindering the investigation and had his sentence commuted. The new direction in Iraq turned out to be sending in more troops instead of withdrawing them. Congress's desire to force withdrawal of the troops became less likely when the surge paid off and people started talking about winning Iraq again.

About the only meaningful thing that Congress accomplished was raising minimum wage. They also passed some mandates for fuel economy and light bulbs for a decade in the future.

In just about every major fight with the President, Congress lost.

The question for 2008 is whether their losses will drive the faithful to the polls, giving them a stronger majority, or if the faithful will be disgusted with the Democrats and stay home. The name on the top of the ticket may have a lot to do with this, also.

This cuts both ways. None of the Republican candidates satisfy everyone. Social conservatives are demanding a strong anti-abortion candidate (Huckabee) while fiscal conservatives are appalled by the religious test being given to the candidates.

Bush finished the year a winner. His approval ratings, while still terrible, are a good bit better than Congress's and he managed not to make any major mistakes this year. After winning several fights with Congress he appears a stronger President than he did in 2006.

Of course, any good news for Bush is bad news for the Democrats which makes their year that much worse.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Hillary's Experience Problem

Hillary is basing a lot of her campaign on her "experience" in the White House. This is giving Bill problems. The way a president is supposed to make decisions is to take input from several sources then made the final determination on his own. This doesn't help Hillary much. At best she is an input rather than a decision-maker. On the other hand, if Bill says that she actually made decisions in his administration then he is undercutting his own legacy. Right now they are trying for both - Hillary implies that she was making  decisions and Bill refers to her as a sounding board.

And neither is giving specifics. The one thing that we know that Hillary was heavily involved in, health care, is a liability so she is blaming Bill for that one. The records are closed by Bill's orders. He says that he will authorize opening the records but nothing has happened yet. When they are finally opened it will probably turn out that Hillary had very little input on policy.

Monday, December 24, 2007

The Left and The Unreformed Scrooge

I was thinking of writing about which side Santa Claus takes - is he liberal (progressive) or conservative but that subject gets written about pretty often. Here's one example pushing a conservative Santa. Instead I thought I would write about Scrooge and which side of him reflects which end of the political spectrum.

At the beginning Scrooge is cheap. He denies his clerk additional coal. He objects to Cratchit, the clerk taking Christmas off. When asked to give to a charity to help the poor he says that the poor should be taken care of by the state. He even makes a comment about them dying and reducing the surplus population.

After his conversion Scrooge is a believer in direct action. He gives a large donation to charity and a huge turkey to the Cratchit family. He personally assures that Tiny Tim's health improves. It was said of him that he knew how to keep Christmas well.

Of course, Dickens was a social reformer who meant the book as a morality play. The reader was supposed to be transformed along with Scrooge.

Before I begin matching things up I will admit that conditions in the mid-19th century were a far cry from today and that many institutions are not equivalent. Never the less.. I believe that Scrooge before his conversion most closely matches todays progressives and his improved version comes closer to today's conservatives. Here's my reasoning.

Scrooge hated to light extra lights or burn extra coal. Compare this with today's anti-global warming sentiments. Al Gore would applaud Scrooge (but not live like him).

Scrooge does not want to give his employee time off for Christmas. Many liberals, lead by the ACLU, want Christmas to be a private affair, celebrated within the family but not recognized in public.

Scrooge does not believe in (presumably faith-based) charities. Charities including faith-based ones provide a number of services for the poor. Progressives believe that this represents a failure and want the government to assume all responsibility for the poor.

Scrooge suggests that it would be good to get rid of the surplus population. Progressives and environmentalists have said similar things for decades. The main difference is that they are more extreme than Scrooge. Where Scrooge only suggests that the poor who refuse government aid (poor houses) should die, the left wants a significant portion of the population to die off. An Australian minister recently suggested taxing children to discourage population growth. An English couple had an abortion and sterilization so that they could continue flying on vacation, secure in the knowledge that, by relieving the earth of their offspring, they were living a carbon neutral lifestyle.

After the ghosts visit Scrooge, he is suddenly a believer in private charity and conspicuous consumption. He starts taking personal responsibility for the people around him instead of deferring responsibility to the government. He also has a lot more fun.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Light Bulbs

Congress is outlawing incandescent light bulbs over the next several years. Manufacturers assure that they will have alternatives. This is a "yes, but..." situation. I've been using compact fluorescents, halogen work lights, and LED flashlights for some time including LED Christmas light so I know the technologies fairly well. There are drawbacks to all of them. Here's a list:

Compact Fluorescents (CFLs):
  • Most of them give off an unpleasant blue-white light. I find them mainly suitable when used with a yellowish lamp shade to give it a more natural light.
  • They are not suitable for decorative lights.
  • They are larger. Many spaces designed for incandescents cannot take a CFL.
  • They cannot be used with a dimmer.
  • Sometimes they only last a few months making them much more expensive than incandescent bulbs.
  • They create toxic waste.
  • They don't give off as much light as promised. When I replace an incandescent with a CFL I almost always have to go up one level. I've seen some speculation that CFLs take a while to warm up and reach full strength. This could be an illusion caused by the eye adjusting. My guess is that the strength of CFLs is calculated based on the light the tubing gives off per inch of length. Since the tube is coiled, some of that light is lost.

Halogen bulbs:
  • They burn very hot making them a potential fire hazard.
  • They are sensitive to any sort of handling.
  • They are not suitable for decorative bulbs.

  • All of them give off an unpleasant bluish light.
  • LED light bulb replacements are clusters of individual LEDs. These are ugly and hard on the eye.
Incandescents (advantages):
  • Give off a pleasant, natural color light.
  • Make excellent decorative lights.
  • Easily fit into odd spaces (ex. refrigerators, garage door openers).
  • Cheap
  • Non-toxic waste.
Around 1990 Congress mandated that toilets use smaller tanks. The result was toilets that often need to be flushed twice for a net increase in water use. The object was not so much saving water as it was being seen to do something about a problem.

Starting this year the starting and ending dates for Daylight Savings Time were moved. No study was done to see if it would save energy nor will the legislation be changed if it turns out that no energy was saved or that more is used. Again it is more important to be seen doing something than to accomplish anything.

The light bulb legislation is the same thing. It will affect everyone in the country and, as people adjust, they will think to themselves, "Congress is doing something to save us from global warming."

The next question - will US automakers be put out of business by the new fuel economy standards?

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Romney's Religion

I've only known one Mormon couple well. They were a lovely couple and part of our wedding party. Their religion was part of their character and it had a positive affect on them.

There are some strange things in the Mormon religion. Members are supposed to refrain from smoking or drinking and they are supposed to keep several weeks worth of supplies on hand at all times. They bought their food in bulk and every meal had leftovers that were served later.

A friend who converted to Mormonism for a while complained that they never quite trust coverts since since so many drift away. In his case, they were right. By the time I knew him he had sworn off religion.

About a mile from my office is a Mormon temple. It was the first one built between Washington DC and Salt Lake City. As I understand it, at some point, married Mormons are supposed to confirm their vows at a temple and the church started making it easier for them.

None of this has anything to do with someone's qualifications to be President. All religions have points that sound strange to outsiders. It is unfair of Huckabee to run as a "Christian leader". As far as I'm concerned, this should disqualify Huckabee from the race.

Not that I'm thrilled with Romney. The insurance plan Massachusetts passed when he was governor has become the basis for Hillary Care II. That disqualifies him, not the faith he was raised to.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

NBC and the Thanking the Troops Ads

Last week NBC made the news by refusing to run a pair of ads that thank the troops for keeping us safe. Their reason? The ads ended with a web address and NBC found the web site too radical. I've looked at the web site. You have to look under "issues" to find anything and even that is pretty mild. Either NBC feels that policies supported by several Republican candidates are too radical or they were looking for an excuse to keep from running anything that looked pro-troop. Neither reflects well on NBC.

The whole thing backfired. The rejection got out which informed a lot more people about the ads than simply running them would have done. Freedoms Watch got more than its money's worth and NBC looks bad.

What about the ads themselves? I found them touching. This is what "supporting the troops" means.

Not so Huffington Poster, Michael Shaw. Where you or I might just see someone standing with a skyline at his back, he sees hidden messages.

About two-thirds of the way through, there is a cozy scene of the Manhattan skyline at sunset, this "thank you" offered by a man in a dark blue scarf. In the scene, the man's right shoulder angles down but his left shoulder, which is more straight, serves to highlight where the Trade Towers used to stand. In the center of the screen, moving left to right, is a jetliner flying away from the area. After a "Thank you" is uttered by an actor in the preceding segment, blue scarf guy finishes off the phrase with the words: "for keeping us safe...." With the plane flying past the scene of the attack, the implication is that the actions of U.S. soldiers have somehow made it possible for planes (as well as the rest of us) to successfully "get past" Ground Zero.

How clever - the man's posture was chosen specially to point to something that isn't there. Worse - there is an airplane visible in the background!!! That could never happen in the skies over New York!

And the implication that the military somehow keeps us safe? How dastardly!

Someone needs to "get past" Ground Zero and it isn't Freedoms Watch.

It is too bad that the left is so polarized and anti-military that a straightforward thank you to the troops is dissected like this.

When all you have is a hammer

There is an old saying that when all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. The trouble is that a hammer is a poor tool for driving in a screw and it doesn't work at all for tightening a nut.

Similarly, when your climate model begins and ends with greenhouse effect then it limits your vision. I've seen the people at RealClimate try to explain ice ages with no other mechanisms than CO2 emissions.

Here's an example of this taken to the extreme - using the greenhouse effect to explain Venus.

... But this was not always so, says Hakan Svedhem, an ESA scientist and lead author of one of eight studies published on Wednesday in the British journal Nature.

Venus, he believes, was partially covered with water before it became doomed by global warming.

"Probably because Venus was closer to the Sun, the atmosphere was a little bit warmer and you got more water very high up," he told AFP.

As water vapour is a greenhouse gas, this further trapped solar heat, causing the planet to heat up even more. So more surface water evaporated, and eventually dissipated into space.

It was a "positive feedback" -- a vicious circle of self-reinforcing warming which slowly dessicated the planet.

"Eventually the oceans begin to boil," said Grinspoon. "We believe this is what happened on Venus."
Even today, Earth and Venus have roughly the same amount of CO2. But whereas most of Earth's store remains locked up in the soil, rocks and oceans, on Venus the extreme heat pushed the gas into the air.

"You wound up with what we call a runaway greenhouse effect," Svedhem told AFP in an interview. "(It) reminds us of pressing problems caused by similar physics on Earth."

According to this theory, there were originally no significant differences between the Earth and Venus. This is no isolated article. Al Gore has said the same thing.

This overlooks a lot of things. Because of the inverse square law, Venus's closer orbit gives it twice the solar heat that the Earth gets. Venus does not have our moon which may have stripped some of the heavier gases from our atmosphere. And Venus does not have a magnetic field. As this article makes clear, the lack of a magnetic field allows the solar winds to change Venus's atmosphere.

“The solar wind interaction is important because it defines the conditions at the boundary of the atmosphere with space and it is a very active boundary,” says Stanislav Barabash at the Swedish Institute of Space Physics, Kiruna, Sweden.

In particular, the interaction causes Venus’s atmosphere to lose its gases in the form of ionized particles. The Analyzer of Space Plasmas and Energetic Atoms (ASPERA) on Venus Express has been studying this interaction and has revealed, for the first time, the composition of the escaping particles. They are predominantly hydrogen, oxygen and helium ions.

The hammer-only people miss a lot of important cosmology. This invalidates their model of the evolution of Venus and, by implication, Earth.

Since the hammer-only people only have one tool, CO2-based climate forcing, they over-estimate the influence that this has on the climate. This in turn causes them to see looming disaster. As the people who are yelling the loudest, they get the most attention - more than they deserve.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Temperature Sensors, Heat Islands, and Global Warming

There is a volunteer project to check the placement of US temperature monitoring stations. This has found a number of stations that are improperly placed. NOAA guidelines call for the stations to be on grass, at least 100 feet from potential heat sources including pavement. Many of these stations are on pavement or gravel and some are near heat sources.

Al Gore's friends at RealClimate have an answer for this. Let's examine the issue.

First a note - I'm not positive that the RealClimate page I'm linking to was meant by them to be an answer to the problems with the monitoring stations but it was given as such in the comments section for my first link. Also, the first sentence at RealClimate refers to an assault on the measuring stations.

Before I begin I would like to point out that the problem with the stations is not the Urban Heat Island (UHI) Effect. RealClimate's first two points are spent "proving" that UHIs are taken into account. An UHI is caused by the accumulation of heat-absorbing surfaces found in urban areas. Parking lots and roofs absorb and radiate more heat than trees and grass.

All of that is irrelevant to the monitoring stations. A properly situated station will show warmer data than a rural one and that can be adjusted for (1) however a monitoring station that is located in a site warmer than the surrounding area will give false readings. A station placed in a field will show some warming from the surrounding area but one placed in the middle of a parking lot will be overwhelmed by the specific effects of the parking lot. This is also true of rural stations. If you place a station in the warmest spot within 1/4 mile then it will give false readings.

Yes, adjustments are made to urban readings to allow for the UHI effect but these adjustments are based on the the average of the UHI. If the station site is warmer than that then the adjustments will be insufficient.

RealClimate's 3rd poinis irrelevant. They point out that very little time is spent gathering the data so there is no time to validate the stations. This doesn't help their case.

Point #4 basically says that temperature measurement is really complicated so don't question it. This is refuted with the old acronym GIGO (Garbage In, Garbage Out). It doesn't matter how much you massage the inputs if the figures are wrong.

Now we get to the interesting part. Point number 5 points out that the glabal warming models are not connected to actual temperature measures so adjusting the measurements will not affect them at all. While this true, it will make it a lot harder to validate the models. If models do not reflect current temperature trends then why would we accept them in predicting the future. Not enough time is spent validating the models, anyway.

Their final point - that if only enough station data is thrown out then global warming will vanish has problems. Again, they fall back on the "it's really complicated" defense. They point out that only 60 well-placed stations would be enough but then they admit that the existing stations are not well-placed. They don't give any indication that the right 60 stations are being used. If a significant number of the existing stations are giving incorrect data then the redundancy in the system works against it. As a final "proof" they fall back on anecdotal evidence - receding glaciers, melting arctic waters, etc. This is a very poor defense since glaciers started melting before the CO2 build-up, antarctic ice is increasing, etc. Amazingly, while they admit to UHIs in their first point they never even consider its effect on early spring.

In short, RealClimate's defense amounts to saying that they know that global warming is real and there is nothing that you can do to shake their faith,

(1) Earlier this year it was discovered that the adjustments for UHI had not been made since 2000. That is why the temperature record was adjusted down for the last several years. This was discovered when one of the skeptics downloaded the raw figures in order to figure out exactly how these adjustments are made in the first place.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Culture Wars 2008

With the unnameable holiday approaching, it's time for one of my regular rants about the war on Christmas.

First - is there a war on Thanksgiving? No. While the theory has always been that people should be taking off the day to thank God, this particular holiday has revolved around food for at least 200 years. The Pilgrims were added to it later. The account of the "first Thanksgiving" where the Pilgrims and the Indians gathered together was part of a propaganda booklet put together to encourage more colonists. Rather than talk about the months of short rations, it talked about the three days the y gorged themselves on migratory waterfowl.

As for Christmas, I don't care for a lot of ways that the holiday has evolved.

As recently as the early 1970s the holiday season didn't start until the day after Thanksgiving (which had not yet been named Black Friday). It was considered gauche to put up Christmas decorations before Thanksgiving and even the people who put them up in late November were considered to be rushing things.

Most stores added Christmas displays in early November with more being added in early December.

Of course, catalogs with Christmas decorations started arriving in October but that was understandable. Back then, the average delivery time for mail order was 6 weeks. If you didn't have it ordered by Thanksgiving then it wasn't going to arrive on time.

Christmas trees went up late. Most people still used natural trees and they dry up and shed their needles after a couple of weeks so there was a strong incentive to put the tree up close to Christmas and take it down promptly.

Currently the Christmas season starts in stores the week following the last weekend in October (when most Halloween parties are held.
 Thanksgiving is no longer in the equation. People start putting up their Christmas trees and decorations in mid-November although, thankfully, some people still wait until December.

There is a line in the movie The Incredibles, "When everyone is super then no one is." The same holds true for Christmas. When Christmas season goes on for two months and decorations are up for three then it is no longer a special time. What with people being slow to take down their decorations, the Christmas season is as long as Winter, just shifted over a couple of months.

At the same time, there is increasing public pressure to make Christmas a private holiday - something that you might celebrate with family and close friends but you are not public about. People wish "Happy holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" in case someone might be offended at hearing the C-word.

A couple of years ago Lowes got some bad publicity for a sign announcing their "holiday tree" selection. Somehow the internal memo was misunderstood. This year they announced their "family trees". They immediately apologized for using such a stupid term but even their revised catalog manages to hide behind manufacturer's terms. They only time they actually use the C-word is when it is part of the product name.

So we are expected to keep the economy going by spending ever increasing amounts of money for a holiday that we can't name for fear of offending someone.

Does something seem out-of-whack here?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Running out the clock?

I was going to wrote something about the Democratic Congress's latest attempt at losing the war in Iraq but there isn't much left to say. Instead I'm going to talk about Harry Reid's use of the term "Running out the clock". He has used this term more than once recently. Here's a quote from September 13, 2007
Tonight President Bush announced his plan to keep at least 130,000 troops in Iraq indefinitely, demonstrating that he is trying to run out the clock on his failed strategy and leave the hard decisions to the next president.
What bothers me is that this is a sports analogy. While some sports analogies can also apply to war, this one doesn't fit. Running out the clock is what a team does when it is ahead. Rather than take risks, the team will hold onto the ball until the clock runs out and the game ends.

There is no clock in Iraq but there is a game going on in Washington. Reid doesn't even seem to care much about the war. He is more worried about playing political games. As Reid seems to have defined the game, Bush wins if troops are still in Iraq when the next president is sworn in in January, 2009. The Democrats win if they force Bush to remove the troops by December, 2008.

For the troops and the Iraqis, this is life and death but Reid doesn't seem to care about that as long as he wins in Washington.

And none of the Democratic candidates for President have disputed this.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Social Security - Myth or Crisis

After Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton referred to changes being needed to keep Social Security solvent, the left went into spin control. This example from the Huffington Post is pretty typical of what the left has been saying for years about Social Security.

Back in 1983, when Social Security really was running out of money, with just a few months of payments on hand, Congress raised the payroll tax substantially. This was done deliberately in order to pile up a surplus to finance the baby boomers' retirement. And so it did: that accumulated surplus stands at more than two trillion dollars today, and is increasing at a rate of $190 billion annually.

As a result of this surplus, all the baby boomers' will have retired before Social Security runs into a projected shortfall in 2041 . That is according to the Social Security's (mostly Republican-appointed) Trustees. According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, Social Security can pay all promised benefits even longer, until 2046. By either date, most baby boomers will be dead, and almost all of the rest retired, before there is a problem.

Of course, there are some who maintain that the surplus "has been spent," that the Social Security Trust Fund "doesn't exist," and so on. These stories should be given all the credibility of reports about "Bat Boy" sightings in the Weekly World News. But unfortunately they are often taken seriously in the major media.

To say that Social Security's surplus "has been spent," is like saying that when you buy a U.S. government bond, your money "has been spent." Whatever has been done with the money, you are still holding a bond, and you will get your interest and principal so long as there is a U.S. government. If there is no U.S. government when you retire, well then you will have other things to worry about besides Social Security, including your private savings.

It's hard to tell if these people actually understand what they are talking about. In case you are not aware of the problem, this is it in a nutshell - every surplus dollar that goes to Social Security is immediately "invested" in a bond which the government issues to itself. The money is then transferred to the general fund and spent. Instead of a surplus, we have a pile of bonds. This is comparable to withdrawing your savings, writing yourself an IOU, then spending all of your money. You can say that you are good for your debt to yourself but you don't actually have the money.

When Social Security needs to cash these bonds the government will have to raise the cash somehow. There are several ways that this can be done but, given the enormous amounts required, none of these will be pleasant. Some of the options include:

Raising the retirement age. This will force millions to work longer. Some percentage will die first. If the government figures it right, enough will die to solve the problem.

Raising the SSN taxes. This will be tough as the percentage of workers to retirees declines.

Reducing benefits. At minimum the formula for figuring inflation is likely to be adjusted. If that is done soon then it will be fairly painless. If we wait then we will actually have to cut benefits to people already retired which will be painful.

Refinance the debt. We could convert the internal bonds to regular bonds and sell them off. This assumes that there is enough investment money out there to cover it and would obligate payments in the future.

Or we could ask Bat Boy for a loan.

Update - I really have a hard time understanding why the left is so defensive about Social Security. The math is pretty simple. Once the outlay is greater than the income then the money will have to be raised from somewhere. This will place a huge strain on the general fund which will hurt all liberal causes.

For years liberals have accused Bush of running up a big deficit so that in the future the government will be devoting so much money to paying off the national debt that nothing is left for social programs. Why then are they trying to do the same thing by denying problems with Social Security?

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Veteran or Victim?

The headlines read: Veterans are more likely to be homeless. Vets make up a quarter of the homeless but are only 11% of the general population.

This is part of a general movement to identify soldiers and veterans as victims. It began with John Kerry's Winter Soldier movement. They distributed fliers to parents claiming that being drafted would turn their innocent sons into drug-addicted murderers. This has evolved. Now veterans will spend a lifetime trying unsuccessfully to adjust to civilian life. This ties in with the liberal assertion that the only people who join the military are poor minorities who have no other choice. Micheal Moore made this a major point of Fahrenheit 9-11. Kerry was referring to this when he told a group of college students that if they dropped out they would get "stuck in Iraq" (he tried to claim that he was referring to President Bush who has a Harvard MBA).

How seriously should we take this new study? The details are not available yet but I can see one immediate flaw. They compared the proportion of homeless veterans to the proportion of veterans in the general population. This is guaranteed to inflate the proportion of homeless veterans. Why? Because most homeless and men and most veterans are men. By comparing two groups that are mainly men to the general population you throw the proportions off.

According to the article, veterans are 11% of the population. Assuming that 10% of veterans are women (I will admit up front that this is a guess) and assuming that half the population if men (it's actually lower than 50%) then veterans make up 20% of the male population. If 20% of the population makes up 25% of the homeless then the numbers no longer seem seem so alarming. For a real apples to apples comparison I would have to know the proportion of the homeless who are women but you get the idea.

Buried deep in the article and glossed over is an important point - there are 50,000 fewer homeless veterans now than 20 years ago.
2005 data estimated that 194,254 homeless people out of 744,313 on any given night were veterans.

In comparison, the VA says that 20 years ago, the estimated number of veterans who were homeless on any given night was 250,000.

That seems like good news.

Something else that is never stated - most of these veterans never saw combat. Between Viet Nam and Iraq we only had a few major combat operations. Only one a few involved ground fighting, mainly the Gulf War and Somalia and that was limited. That's what made me question these figures in the first place. I work with a lot of veterans. None of them seem damaged by their military service. In fact, that's where they received the technical expertise that qualified them for their current job.

When I was growing up and most veterans were from WWII the feeling was that having served made you a better man. That was back when we had respect for the military.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Is Hillary Inevitable?

A year from now we will have our new president (baring a recount and court battle). Will we be inaugurating President Hillary? Her supporters think so. Here is a list of reasons that they have for believing this and problems with their beliefs.

Bill. Hillary is running as part 2 of the Clinton Administration. She talks about the accomplishments of "the Clinton administration" and promises to repeat them. The trouble is that she is not her husband. We don't know how much of a hand she had in running the country. She was publicly given credit for the health care proposal. Now she says that she didn't like it but she took her direction from the President. I can see why she would want to distance herself from this. Not only was it a political disaster but it gives her Republican opponent something concrete to run against. Her name was linked with the travel office firings, several political errors and the hiring of Janet Reno. Neither she nor Bill has come forward and identified something positive that she did. Relevant records such as her calendar have been sealed by Bill.

The South. The theory is that Bill won a couple of southern states so Hillary can, too. But Bill ran as a moderate southern governor. Hillary is running as a progressive northern senator. Will the South vote for her because she lived there 16 years ago? Doubtful.

The War. Voters are supposed to go with the Democrats because of Iraq. Of the Democrats running for President, Hillary has the most nuanced record on the war.  Hillary has resisted apologizing for her war vote and she has been less strident in demanding an end to the war. At one point she allowed that she would leave 80,000 troops in Iraq for the foreseeable future. She has also called for a timetable for withdrawing the troops. If the war is going well in a year then she will be able to blame some of her actions on Bush's mistakes in the occupation. If it is going poorly then she will still be in a stronger position than the Republican (assuming that Ron Paul isn't on the ballot).

As Kerry proved, a nuanced approach that covers all bases is easily portrayed as flip-flopping. Voters like to know where a candidate stands on an issue. Hillary refuses to take strong stands on anything and is getting in trouble for it.

In 1992 Bill did the same thing. The best-remembered example was his promise to gays to allow them into the military - a promise he did not intend to keep. The result was the "don't ask, don't tell" policy which still has gays upset. Bill got away with it by claiming that his superior intelligence and empathy allowed him to see all sides of an issue and people often interpreted his understanding for a promise. Hillary is cold where Bill was warm. He made his conflicting statements in private gatherings while she makes hers on the national stage.

If the war is going badly then Hillary may gain more than she looses.

Bush. The President's approval rating is around 30%. Democrats interpret that to mean that 70% if the country is livid with rage against the president and his party. The problem for Hillary is that Congress's approval rating is around 10% and she is running from Congress. This leads to the next point.

The Net Roots. Of all the candidates, Hillary has the least to fear from the Net Roots. She managed to get her people in charge of several offshoots of MoveOn funded by George Soros. Several of these have folded since 2004 but she has a good shot at recreating them.

On the down-side, Hillary does not influence the non-Soros folks. Many of them are furious at the Democratic congress. By now they expected the war to have been ended and at least one person impeached. They have Hillary in a bind. If she courts them she will lose a lot of mainstream support but these are the people who raised millions and went door-to-door to try to elect Kerry. They may well stay at home for next year's election.

Campaign experience. This is one clear-cut advantage that Hillary has. She has been through two national campaigns and has a lot of experienced staffers. This is a clear advantage over the Republicans.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

What do geeks think of Gore?

Last week ZDNews published a defense of Al Gore.

But at what point does the growing body of peer-reviewed and published scientific literature on the subject trump the snarky put-downs? The latest report to examine the causes and potential effects of climate change was the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change study. Check it out in your spare time. It makes for sober reading.

The interesting thing is the comments section. Like me, these people don't just hate Gore, they have facts and figures to back it up. The best of them quotes this site which documents 35 errors in GOre's movie. Very few people came to Gore's defense.

The same thing happened a few months ago when the British computer industry journal The Register had a story on global warming. Apparently there are lots of skeptics out there and a lot of them are computer geeks and well-informed.

NBC goes green II

Yesterday I complained about NBC only giving part of the story in order to slant their green coverage. On Monday's segment they moved on to outright misinformation.

The segment was on a science station in the Antarctic. Near the end they said that the scientists there were monitoring the "hole" in the ozone and that it is shrinking. This was given as proof that international cutbacks on CO2 are working.

The problem here is that, despite Kyoto, no one has cut back on CO2. What was cut back was chlorofluorocarbons, specifically the refrigerant known as freon.

When they get such a basic fact wrong then you have to question everything else they say.

Monday, November 05, 2007

NBC goes green

NBC is doing "green" segments all week. The first one to air was a piece on the poles aired at the end of the nightly news. Their claims:

1) The polar ice cap is the smallest on record.
2) Polar bears are endangered by shrinking ice caps.
3) The west coast of the Antarctic is also warming.

What they didn't tell you:

1) The records mentioned are satellite records going back to 1979. Other records show similar loss of polar ice in the 1940s and around a century ago. While the ice at the Arctic is the smallest on record, Antarctic ice growth is the fastest on record.

2) Polar bears evolved around 40,000 years ago and survived at least on period of geological warming in which there was no Arctic ice. Of the existing bear heard, the ones in warmer areas seems to be healthier.

3) Only one small part of the Antarctic showed warming. There is no sign of melting except on the Antarctic Peninsula which is a tiny portion of the continent.

This amounts to lies by omission. This matters because it is being used to sell us on the idea that global warming is already affecting the earth and that we have to take immediate action. Already decisions are being made that will affect us for decades to come. Specifically, planned power plants are not being built with will lead to power shortages in a few years.

Reporters feel that they have to be advocates for change on global warming. The issue is too important to tell the full story because a reasonable person might conclude that global warming is not really a problem.

We will see what the have to say tonight.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Problems on the Fringes

Both the Republicans and the Democrats are having real problems with their fringe elements.

With the Republicans it is the Religious Right. After a decade of being courted by Karl Rove, these people feel that they own the Republican party. They have some justification since Rove was willing to jettison fiscal conservatives and Libertarians. The problem that the Republicans face is that the Religious Right considers abortion to be the primary issue. They want the Republicans to be in the same lock-step mode on abortion that the Democrats are, just on the opposite side. They have suggested that they will form a third party if they don't like the Republican candidate.

This is bad for the Republicans on several fronts. It fractures the Reagan coalition which controlled the White House for 20 of the last 28 years and gave the Republicans control of Congress for 12 of those years. It also puts the Republicans in a bad position for the future. Most young voters are far more liberal on abortion and gay rights than the Religious Right. This may change as they grow older or it may alienate them from the Republican party. In fact, the majority of the country reflects Rudy's position - it is a terrible thing but abortion should not be outlawed.

If the Religious Right follows through on their threat they will assure the election of a pro-abortion Democrat. The Democrats took this route in 2000 with Nader running as a 3rd party candidate in order to move the party to the left. It may have worked but very few Democrats are happy about it.

In the meantime, the Democrats have their own problems. For years the "net-roots" (aka the nut-roots) have operated echo-chamber web sites like the DailyKOS and This has given rise to a group of far-left activists who are furious with the Democrats. No matter how far the presidential candidates move to the left, it will never be enough for these activists. Recently they have taken to heckling prominent Democrats. Code Pink has held protests in Democratic headquarters. The "Don't tas me bro" guy is convinced that Bush stole both elections and wanted to know why Kerry hadn't impeached Bush already. A different heckler demanded that Bill Clinton admit the 9/11 was a fraud.

In many ways this is a bigger problem for the Democrats than the Religious Right is for the Republicans. The nut-roots represents a lot of money. They spent more on Kerry's behalf in 2004 than he spent directly. Just as the Religious Right represents a position that may be unacceptable to the majority of America, the nut-roots insist on a whole platform that is to the left of FDR and LBJ.

In both cases, the problem is one of the party's own making. I already mentioned Karl Rove and the Religious Right. Hillary and Kerry both have ties with MoveON and other George Soros-funded groups. Many of MoveON's 2004 spin-offs had Clinton people in charge.

The way that the front-runners have reacted to these groups is interesting. Hillary dodges and  weaves, refusing to let anyone pin her down on specifics(1). Rudy admits his differences with the fringes and points out that at least they know where he stands on the issues and that he is not pandering to them.

(1) I've read several accounts of what Hillary said about giving drivers licenses to illegal immigrants. She never seems to have given a straight answer.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Warming and Wildfires

Last week major fires swept across California. This lead to the inevitable question - did global warming cause the fires? Radio Show host Glen Beck said no, pointing to the revised figures for the warmest year on record. The progressive group Media Matters took issue with this, pointing out that the incorrect figures were for the US, not the world. Actually, both are wrong although Beck is closer to the truth.

Media Matters was correct that the temperature records that were corrected a few weeks ago were for the US, not the world. They are also correct that it seems to have been a mistake rather than a malicious action.

On the other hand, NASA went to lengths to prevent the person who found the error from having access to the raw data so they are not totally blameless.

More important, global warming is meaningless when talking about local wildfires. The only thing that matters is local weather. The figures that Beck was quoting are more relevant to California than world figures.

Actually, the real culprit in the wildfires is not heat. It is land use. As this article from the New York Times points out, the Baja Peninsula has many small fires while California has fewer but larger fires. California policies forbid controlled burns and call for putting out natural fires whenever possible. That means that fuel builds up for years. When a fire finally reaches it, there is too much fuel and the fire cannot be stopped.

In addition, people continue to build in danger zones. The number of threatened houses doubled since 1980. The tiny bit of warming that has happened in the US in the last few decades is nothing compared to the other factors.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The 2008 Election

The smart money says that the election will be over as soon as Hillary or Obama wins the nomination. The combination of an unpopular president and an unpopular war will cause a repeat of the election of 2006 on a larger scale. The thing is, the smart money isn't always that smart. Here's why:

Bush's approval rating maybe terrible but it looks pretty good compared with Congressional Democrats. Their approval rating is approaching the margin of error (the last I heard it was at 11% and still dropping). If the Republican candidate (I'll assume Rudy for the sake of argument) is weighed down by Bush, how much more will a senator be weighed down by Congress?

The war may not be as big a factor as strategists think. While liberals hate Iraq and moderates are sick of it, nearly everyone hated Viet Nam. Regardless, Humphrey nearly won in 1968 and Nixon won by a huge margin in 1972. What's more, things in Iraq are looking pretty good right now. Everyone expected that if the terrorists and the insurgents kept pushing the US would leave. Instead we came back stronger. We seem to be wearing them down even as the insurgents realize that AQ in Iraq is not really their ally. Hillary has been advocating surrender. Obama is even stronger against it. If things are still going well in a year then they are going to look pretty bad.

Did the election of 2006 indicate that the country has swung to the left? No. Republican losses were typical for a president's 6th year. Reagan had similar losses yet his vice president went on to win in 1988.

In the meantime, Democrats, convinced that the 2006 election was a trend have moved quite a ways to the left. No one is running as a moderate. They are disowning Carter and Clinton, two southern governors who ran as moderates. Instead we will have a senator running as a progressive on a platform of socialized medicine and trade restrictions.

The Democrats have an additional factor working against them - lack of passion. Hillary is a cold candidate. While I have seen Rudy described as a "dark" candidate, he is an inspiring speaker who talks about America in ways reminiscent of Reagan. In 2004 the Democrats were passionate in their hatred of Bush. I doubt that they can muster that level of commitment against Rudy or any of his rivals. With an uninspiring candidate at the top of their ticket and an opponent they don't despise, they will not put forth the same level of effort. Besides, why bother when they already know that they will win regardless?

The wild card is Republican passion. The religious right is likely to sit out this election. The people against illegal immigration and the NRA have their own quarrels with Rudy. Will they let Hillary win in order to teach the Republicans a lesson in the future? That's what the Democrats did in 2000. It worked to the extent that it moved the party to the left but it also gave the country eight years of Bush. I doubt that many Democrats would make that choice again. It may have also moved the party too far to the left.

Will the Republicans learn from the Democrats' mistake in 2000? In 2004 the Democrats united behind a candidate who didn't excite them against a president they hated. Will Republicans unite against Hillary the same way?

The final factor is the "new face". Typically at this point the vice president would be running as a continuation of the president's policies. More often than not the public is sick of the current administration. This time none of the Republicans have ties to Bush. On the other hand, Hillary is still married to Bill. Rudy is a lot fresher than Hillary. Her current status as front-runner amplifies this. People may be sick of her by election day.

Of course, this is all speculation. At this point four years ago Howard Dean was getting fitted for his inauguration tux.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Kids, birth control, and the schools

A few middle schools are now dispensing birth control pills to students without parent's explicit consent. Personally, I am appalled.

The arguments for this are:

Kids are entering puberty earlier and having sex anyway so they should be able to get birth control. Besides, the parents have to sign a consent form for the kids to use the clinic.

My answer to this:

The kids are too young. We are talking about 11-14 year olds. Their bodies might be maturing earlier but their emotions are not. This is the ultimate extension of the "hooking up" craze where two people get together for no-strings-attached sex. When I was that age the hippies said, "If it feels good, do it," but I think that even they would have drawn the line at sex with an 11 year old.

The fact that kids are already having sex can be taken both ways. It can be a call for accepting something you can't change or it can be a call for more and better education and supervision. Just because they are having sex doesn't mean that they should.

Another aspect of the "they are doing it anyway" argument is that making birth control available will probably increase the number of kids doing it. It takes away the fear of pregnancy. Also, by involving non-judgmental adults, it gives the sense that what the kids are doing is ok and it is the parents who are out of step.

This is another example of liberals in general and schools specifically driving a wedge between parents and their children and is closely related to the controversy about parental notification when a child has an abortion.

As for parental consent, from the little that has been presented about this it appears that the parent has to choose between no medical help in case of emergencies and a blanket permission that includes birth control.

Going beyond that, there are darker aspects. Birth control will help conceal an unhealthy relationship with someone older. Even a relationship between an 11 year old and a 14 year old is a felony in most states.

The AP just broke a story about how wide-spread child abuse by teachers is and how it is usually covered up. This will only make the abuse easier.

Then there is the issue of STDs. Many adults are confused about contraceptives not protecting against STDs. Children will assume that the pills the school clinic gives them are all they need.

A couple of weeks ago Boston Legal had an episode where a girl contracted HIV and sued the school system for telling her that condoms are ineffective. James Spader's character was in high dungeon over a comparison between condoms and Russian Roulette. In fact, among "normal use" adults using condoms, 14% conceive each year. The odds in Russian Roulette are 18% which makes it a valid comparison. I wonder if Spader's fictional law firm would sue a school for issuing birth control pills without including a pack of condoms with the pills?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

An Inconvenent Defense

Last week a British court ruled that Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth was a piece of propaganda. The British government plans on sending copies of the movie to every school. The court ruling means that teachers will have to give a warning first. Global warming skeptics cheered the news since it means that an independent party looked at the evidence and found that the multiple award-winning movie is nothing but alarmism.

The left is rushing to Gore's defense. Here is an example.

So, is there anything to this spirited defense of the Goracle? No, and here is why.

The first claim is that the court validated the basic message of Gore's movie and that "deniers" cherry-picked at minor details. The court was not making a ruling on the IPCC's report, it was ruling on Gore's movie. This is an important distinction. Gore wasn't just trying to educate people about warming, he was trying to scare people into action. The fact that the court accepted the IPCC report cuts both ways as we will see later.

Next, there is the smear that the plaintiffs are so far right that normal conservatives call them "fascists" and that they were financed by oil money. Even if any of this is true, it doesn't matter. No one has accused the judge of any of malfeasance. His ruling has nothing to do with who financed the plaintiffs and this is nothing but a cheap shot.

One of the more alarming statements in the movie is that the sea level will rise by 20. The judge says
This is distinctly alarmist, and part of Mr Gore's 'wake-up call'. It is common ground that if indeed Greenland melted, it would release this amount of water, but only after, and over, millennia, so that the Armageddon scenario he predicts, insofar as it suggests that sea level rises of 7 metres might occur in the immediate future, is not in line with the scientific consensus.
Note, the scientific consensus the judge is referring to is the most recent IPCC report. Gore's defenders are on very weak ground on this one. They point out that Gore does not actually say when the oceans will rise, just that they will. They ignore that Gore asserted in interviews that
the sea level change will happen by the year 2100, not 3000.

At one point Gore shows (separately) a graph showing world temperature rise and a graph showing CO2 rise. When presented this way the two graphs appear to be identical providing proof that CO2 causes warming.
Gore's exact statement is
The relationship is very complicated. But there is one relationship that is more powerful than all the others and it is this. When there is more carbon dioxide, the temperature gets warmer, because it traps more heat from the sun inside.
Gore is not kidding when he says that the relationship is complicated. In fact, if the graphs were superimposed on each other they would show that the rise in CO2 followed the temperature rise. The judge says
In scenes 8 and 9, Mr Gore shows two graphs relating to a period of 650,000 years, one showing rise in CO2 and one showing rise in temperature, and asserts (by ridiculing the opposite view) that they show an exact fit. Although there is general scientific agreement that there is a connection, the two graphs do not establish what Mr Gore asserts.
The judge is being kind.

The drowning polar bears is another case where the judge uses the IPCC's report against Gore.
In scene 19, Mr Gore says: "Coral reefs all over the world because of global warming and other factors are bleaching and they end up like this. All the fish species that depend on the coral reef are also in jeopardy as a result. Overall specie loss is now occurring at a rate 1000 times greater than the natural background rate." The actual scientific view, as recorded in the IPCC report, is that, if the temperature were to rise by 1-3 degrees Centigrade, there would be increased coral bleaching and widespread coral mortality, unless corals could adopt or acclimatise, but that separating the impacts of climate change-related stresses from other stresses, such as over-fishing and polluting, is difficult.
You can read the rest of the judgment yourself. The bottom line is that Gore's advocates could not present proof for several of Gore's more alarming claims. That's the real truth.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Happy Columbus Day

Officially Columbus day was celebrated (or ignored) last Monday. Regardless, this is the date that Columbus actually made landfall and changed the world. Even granting that it was all a huge mistake, he was on the wrong continent, it was still one of the most important events in history. It started the biggest human migration ever - a migration so large that it continues to this day. Prior to Columbus, humans stayed pretty close to where they were born. They also tended to marry people from the same area. This meant that you could make a good guess about the general area someone was from just by looking at him. National identity wasn't just a matter of shared culture - it was also shared genes.

Things ahve changed radically since then and the rate of change is increasing. Old concepts of race and national identity are breaking down. People are exposed to new ideas, also. The exchange is not limited to humans either. Our diet includes plants and animals from multiple continents (for lunch, I just had turkey (North America) and cheese sandwich (European cattle and wheat) with potato chips (South America).

For the most part, the world is a better place than it was in 1492. In many ways it is immeasurably better. You cannot say that about the progress between 992 and 1492. The worst things such as genocide in Darfur have historic roots. Genocide was much more common in 1492 than now and no one cared.

Gore, the Award and the Election

Al Gore won half of the Nobel Peace Prize today, sharing it with the IPCC. This has given a big boost the the Draft Al movement. This may turn out to be a defining point in the election. Here's why.

The Draft Al movement reflects a dissatisfaction with the current Democratic slate, especially front-runner Hillary. It is a distraction to Hillary's carefully managed campaign of inevitability. With Obama Edwards failing, this is the best shot that the Stop Hillary movement has.  If you are a dedicated progressive then you are pretty ambivalent about Hillary. Her health care proposal isn't as radical as you want, she's never apologized for her war vote, and she has taken a hawkish position against Iran. The environment is, at best, a second-tier issue for her. Gore seems much better in comparison and already proved that he could win a majority of the national votes.

Assuming that Hillary wins anyway, this weakens her. She will need all of her supporters to turn out in November, 2008. If the party gives her lukewarm support then a lot of potential voters might stay home or cast a protest vote. This is what cost Al Gore the election in 2000.

If the Draft Al movement succeeds then Gore will be the first modern candidate to try to build a national campaign in less than a year. This will be a huge problem. Gore might have to settle for running in just the blue states and a few swing states. This would be a huge boost for Congressional Republicans in red states. Also, Gore has shown that he is a lackluster campaigner. Bush is not a gifted public speaker but was able to hold his own in debates.

Gore carries his own baggage. His energy sink of a house is at the top of the list followed by his fraudulent carbon credits. Even his strong point, his movie, was judged an inaccurate piece of propaganda by a British court. All of these points would make great campaign ads for the Republicans to dismantle Gore's credibility.

The best thing that Gore could do for the Democrats would be to make it clear that he will not run and that the Draft Al people are wasting their time. I don't think that he will do this. Right now he is flattered by the attention. If he refuses to run then a lot of Democrats will turn on him. His performance during the 2000 recount shows that he is not one to put the country's interests ahead of his own.

If Hillary manages to decisively win the primaries and keeps her national poll numbers up then the Draft Al movement will die out. If Hillary seems weaker than expectations then the movement will gain strength and pull Hillary down. Either way, Democrats will probably look back at Gore as the person who cost (or almost cost) them the election.

Congratulations Al.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

False Consensus

This is an interesting article on its own. It seems that there is little evidence that dietary fat is bad. The article traces how a consensus can be wrong. In this case, a diet researcher named Ancel Keys decided in the 1950s that dietary fat was bad. He did an incomplete study to back this up. Because of his prominence, what amounted to personal opinion became scientific consensus despite the fact that several studies have proven otherwise.

This is given as an example of the cascade effect. When multiple people are asked a question as a group, the first one to confidently give an answer can sway someone else who is not sure. This in turn convinces others who think that the majority must have the right answer.

Because of this effect, groups are surprisingly prone to reach mistaken conclusions even when most of the people started out knowing better, according to the economists Sushil Bikhchandani, David Hirshleifer and Ivo Welch. If, say, 60 percent of a group’s members have been given information pointing them to the right answer (while the rest have information pointing to the wrong answer), there is still about a one-in-three chance that the group will cascade to a mistaken consensus.

Cascades are especially common in medicine as doctors take their cues from others, leading them to overdiagnose some faddish ailments (called bandwagon diseases) and overprescribe certain treatments (like the tonsillectomies once popular for children). Unable to keep up with the volume of research, doctors look for guidance from an expert — or at least someone who sounds confident.

When Keys first announced that fat is bad, the American Heart Association disagreed. Three years later it switched positions, not because of new science, but because Keys and some fellow believers were now in control.

In the 1970s Senator George McGovern's office issued a report suggesting that people cut back on fat consumption. The committee that drew up the report relied on the advice of a single nutritionist.

Meanwhile, there still wasn’t good evidence to warrant recommending a low-fat diet for all Americans, as the National Academy of Sciences noted in a report shortly after the U.S.D.A. guidelines were issued. But the report’s authors were promptly excoriated on Capitol Hill and in the news media for denying a danger that had already been proclaimed by the American Heart Association, the McGovern committee and the U.S.D.A.

The scientists, despite their impressive credentials, were accused of bias because some of them had done research financed by the food industry. And so the informational cascade morphed into what the economist Timur Kuran calls a reputational cascade, in which it becomes a career risk for dissidents to question the popular wisdom.

With skeptical scientists ostracized, the public debate and research agenda became dominated by the fat-is-bad school. Later the National Institutes of Health would hold a “consensus conference” that concluded there was “no doubt” that low-fat diets “will afford significant protection against coronary heart disease” for every American over the age of 2. The American Cancer Society and the surgeon general recommended a low-fat diet to prevent cancer.

All of this is interesting on its own but there are obvious parallels with global warming. In the case of warming, the confident voice belongs to Dr. James Hansen of NASA. In 1988 he convnced Congress that global warming was not only real, it was responsible for a heat wave gripping the country at the time. Congress authorized millions (which has since grown into billions) for research. If cascades can happen on their own, imagine the influence of so much cash.

Then there is the "reputational cascade". The background of anyone skeptical about global warming is examined to see if the skeptic ever received a penny from an oil company. If he did then he is denounced as an oil company mouthpiece and ignored.

The existence of the cascade effect does not prove the global warming is not happening but it should serve as a warning against placing too much faith in scientific consensus.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Obama's flameout

Last Spring things looked great for Barack Obama. He not only raised a lot of campaign money, the number of people donating implied that he had deeper support than Hillary. Polls showed Hillary ahead but he was close behind.c Also important, he came out better in match ups against potential Republicans. Hillary has strong voter negatives. All he needed was for Hillary to stumble and he would be in the White House.

Even the questions about him being "black enough" seemed to exist just to convince whites that he wasn't "too black".

But it is Obama who has stumbled. He had falled much further back in the polls. His fundraising is falling way behind Hillary.

A couple of weeks ago I pointed out his proposal for reworking the Income Tax. While some candidates can ride a major proposal into the White House, it is a danger sign when an established candidate suddenly starts coming up with major proposals. It is a sign that his support is failing and is desperate attract attention.

That brings us to Obama's proposal for a world-wide elimination of nuclear weapons. Every nation with nukes would destroy them but retain enough technical knowledge to re-arm if needed.

I have a one-word answer for why this will not work - smallpox.

Smallpox was eliminated world-wide as a contagious disease in the 1970s but the USA and the USSR kept small supplies in their biological weapons labs. In the 1980s it was proposed that these should also be destroyed but they never were. Neither side trusted the other. Both were sure that the other side would cheat and hold back a sample.

The same will be true with nuclear weapons. Most countries will not disarm because they don't trust the other side to disarm.

Obama should know that. Either he is playing to the extreme anti-war wing of the party or he is dangerously naive. Either way, this probably disqualifies him as a vice-presidential candidate as well as a presidential candidate.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Selective Outrage

After getting whipped over MoveOn's Betray Us  ad, the left has come back swinging. Based on a Media Matters report that claimed Rush Limbaugh says that any Iraq veteran who opposes the war is a "phony soldier", they are trying to equate the two.

The trouble is that this is not what Rush said. A caller was complaining about the peace groups promoting "anti-war veterans who came out of nowhere" and Rush added "the phony soldiers". Rush has said several times since then that he was referring to literal phony soldiers, people who pretend to have been to Iraq but have not. From the context, it is clear that this is what he meant. Rush has a long history of supporting troops.

Of course, no one on the left wants to hear the truth. As the movie quote goes, they can't handle the truth (more accurately, they can't use the truth). Not only does it help them defend against MoveOn by saying that the right is just as over the top, it also helps their on-going campaign against Rush. Here is just one example.

The attack on Rush is not likely to work. He has a good defense and his network is supporting him. I suspect that this will go into the left's collective memory to be pulled out as an example of how the right does not really support the troops.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Memogate resurfaces

A couple of weeks ago Dan Rather filed suit against CBS over the incident known as Memogate or Rathergate. The whole incident shows what is wrong with the mainstream media.

First a recap.

When George W Bush ran in 2000 it didn't matter much that he had been in the National Guard instead of going to Viet Nam. Bill Clinton had never been in any version of the military. Al Gore had been in the Army and had served in Viet Nam, but he was in a non-combatant role as a reporter covering an engineering group. Regardless, Bush's National Guard service was a red flag for CBS producer, Mary Mapes. She was sure that the only people allowed to get into the Guard during Viet Nam were the children of the rich and influential. She investigated this and ran into a brick wall. People in the know insisted that there was no waiting line to be a fighter pilot in the Texas Air National Guard. The requirement for a college degree and the commitment for extra time in flight training was enough to keep down the number of applicants. Regardless, Mapes didn't believe what she was told.

Four years later, things were very different. The nation was at war and the Democratic candidate's platform mainly consisted of his three months in Viet Nam. Bush's opponents started looking into his military record more closely. The found some gaps in the documentation and started questioning if Bush actually put in his required time. The White House responded with pay records showing that Bush had been present, even if other records had been lost in the 30+ years interval.

This is where Mapes entered the picture again. She was approached by someone who said that he had memos showing that Bush should have been charged with being AWOL but was not because of his family's influence. CBS was only able to get copies of these memos. They were worried about other sources breaking the story first so they rushed through verifying the memos and aired the story.

Then all hell broke loose. It turned out that CBS's verification process had consisted of asking some handwriting experts if the signature was valid. No one had validated the memos themselves and CBS had been cautioned that a copy of a signature could never be 100% validated.

Worse, there were major problems with the memos. They appeared to have been written in Microsoft Office instead of on a 1970s era IBM Selectric. The officer whose name was on them had already retired and was in no position to apply influence at the time that the incident allegedly occurred.  There were many problems with terminology, abbreviations, etc. Conservative bloggers jumped on all of these immediately. By this time Dan Rather was involved and he publicly defended the documents and the story for several days until the mountain of conflicting evidence became overwhelming and they had to back off of the story.

To this day, Mapes and Rather insist that the story was accurate. They even insist that they could have run it without the memos. The fact that the evidence does not support their story without the memos escapes them. They don't realize that all they have is unfounded opinion and opinion cannot be reported as news.

But that's only the first problem. The second, more serious problem is the polarization of the news in general and CBS in particular. This story was not going to be released in a vacuum. The Kerry campaign had advance notice of it and planned a campaign contrasting Kerry's status as a war hero with Bush's status as a deserter. No one at CBS seemed to feel that this was wrong. Everyone in the newsroom believed in the story strongly enough that no one listened to concerns raised by the people hired to authenticate the documents. When the panel that CBS brought in to evaluate the story included someone of unimpeachable reputation but with ties to the Bush I administration, Rather called it a political hatchet job and refused to consider the findings.

Rather's suit has revived the story as a whisper campaign. I've seen several liberals agree with Rather and Mapes that the story was true but the focus on the forged memos poisoned the story so that no one will touch it in the future. Since this is being presented in blogs and opinion pieces, no proof is required or given (the exception is Media Matters' biased recap of the story).

The liberal spin of numerous stories has passed into the generally accepted version. It is accepted that the Swift Boat Veterans attack on Kerry was all lies and that the Republicans linked Max Cleland with Osama bin Laden. Bush's stint in the TANG is likely to be the next
 commonly accepted untruth.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

End of a Golden Age

It is very possible that sometime in the next 10-20 years we will look back at the 1990s and early 2000s as a golden era with low unemployment, low consumer prices, easy access to a wide variety of foods and consumer goods and cheap energy. Depending on the next election, all of this may change.

First there is the issue of global warming. The lead story in my local paper, the Columbus Dispatch, was about power companies canceling plans to build new coal-fired power plants. They expect new global warming-based legislation that will make new coal-fired plants too expensive to run. Since coal is the cheapest way to generate electricity, power costs will go up as less coal is used. New power plants in general are being discouraged nation-wide. Eventually the growth in demand for electricity will outrun the current generating capacity and we will see brownouts or rolling blackouts. This is already happening in California where regulations have discouraged new power plants for decades.

I expect global warming legislation to affect most other aspects of life, as well. It doesn't matter cap-and-trade or carbon taxes are enacted, it will raise the cost of energy which raises the cost of everything else.

All of this is almost a certainty. All of the Democratic candidates and many Republicans advocate doing something about global warming, even if that something is ultimately ineffective.

Something else the Democratic slate is against is world trade. Two potent factions within the party, unions and environmentalists, hate world trade. Hillary and Obama have talked about the need to reign in current trade and Edwards has made trade barriers one of his central themes. The trouble here is that trade is the fuel for wealth creation. If you stop buying from a country they stop having money to buy your goods. If you erect barriers to stop their goods they create similar barriers against yours. Restraint of international trade was a major reason for why the Great Depression (actually a world-wide depression) lasted so long.

Bill Clinton understood this and championed free trade as did Reagen and both Bushes. (Hillary was too busy dressing in pink and talking about vast right-wing conspiracies to have learned this lesson.) The result is that third world countries like
India and China and perpetually stagnant countries like Ireland have booming economies.

Progressives have always hated international trade. Unions don't care about larger issues, they only want to protect union jobs (look at the current UAW strike against GM). environmentalists worry about CO2 emissions caused by manufacturing and transporting goods in foreign countries and are convinced that off-shore manufacturing only exists to get around US environmental laws. These interest groups pretty much control the Democratic Party and will choose the next presidential candidate.

If a Democrat wins I expect restrictions of both foreign goods and produce.

Put it all together and we face a darker future.

Monday, September 24, 2007

The "Fascist" takeover

According to Naomi Wolf, we are moving along the path to a fascist (or communist, she dithers) takeover of the US. Her proof is an interesting example of how  you can prove anything if you break it down into small enough pieces and compare it with similar tiny pieces from broad enough sources. She starts with the Senate resolution condemning  the MoveOn Petreus ad. A rational person can assert that the ad was an example of free speech and none of the government's business (and a reasonable person would respond that MoveOn is an unofficial wing of the Democratic party). Wolf goes much further, comparing the non0binding resolution to the Nazi's outlawing of dissent. She then lists a long string of ways that we are like either Hitler's Germany, Stalin's USSR, or Mao's China. These include choices of words that match or are similar to translations of words other people used. For example, the Department of Homeland Security uses "Homeland" and Hitler called Germany the "Fatherland". (It was my impression that the Democrats first suggested the Department of Homeland Security. They said so often enough.) Even more damning, an unnamed official said that, had the shoe-bomber succeeded,  " the world would have stood still" and Hitler said that 'When "Barbarossa" begins, the world will hold its breath.' I guess that unnamed officials on all levels have been given Hitler quotes to use.

Stalin warned of sleeper cells.
...these were purported to be secret terrorist agents of global capitalism who would pretend to be good Soviet citizens, perhaps for years, but who would rise up at a signal to wreak mass havoc on Soviet society. By 2002 the White House introduced the term 'sleeper cells,' which was not in common usage in America.
Her definition of a sleeper cell exactly describes the 9/11 but somehow the existence of real sleeper cells escapes Wolf.

She goes on at length about similarities between concentration camps and Gitmo. Personally, I think it is an insult to the millions of jews murdered by the Nazis to compare them to the 500 or so (now down to 300 or so) enemy agents held at Gitmo. I could write a whole book about why these are different starting with the fact that the Gitmo prisoners will not be gassed.

She sees embedded reporters as proof because the Germans did this. So did the Allies in WWII. The point being...

Then there is this gem:
Nazi propaganda claimed that Jews hid from arrest in 'mouseholes.' When the scene of Saddam Hussein's capture was presented to the world, talking points, widely picked up by the media, introduced, again, a term that was generally unfamiliar in the U.S.: Hussein had been hiding in what they called a 'spider-hole.'

They found Saddam in a camouflaged hole. Is Wolf suggesting that the US army put him there first in order to replicate a Nazi quote?

In all, Wolf gives no proof of anything. I've seen a move convincing essay showing that eating pickles has been a factor in nearly every great disaster in history. Regardless, by printing this breathless list she convinces others that our society has been taken over by unspeakable evil.

Flooding Jamestown?

According to an article released by the AP, Jamestown Island and other historic sites will be covered with water sometime in the next 50-100 years due to rising ocean levels caused by thermal expansion. The article goes on to say that this will happen, no matter what we do.

Where to start?

The last IPCC report did say that the sea levels will rise around one meter due to thermal expansion. They later amended this statement. The figures said 1 millimeter/year and someone transcribed this as 1 meter/century. There are 1,000 millimeters in a meter but only 100 years in a century. The corrected figure should have been 0.1 meters (less than four inches) by the end of the century. Like the CDC's press release about obesity killing 300,000 per year that was later retracted, the 1 meter/century figure is the only one reporters remember.

But, for arguments sake, let's say that the ocean did rise by a meter. What would be the effect on the historic sites at Jamestown Island? Nothing. The site would still be well above the water level. I've been there several times, most recently this year. The water is a long way down. What's more, the water is a river meaning that it is at least slightly above ocean level. This part of the river is salty and slightly affected by the tide so it is close to sea level but not there.

There are parts of the island that would be underwater if the river rose a meter. These parts are on the far end and few tourists would notice the difference.

The study quoted claims to have used US Geological Survey maps. This makes me wonder - is the US Geological Survey that far off? Did the scientists in Arizona misread the data? Did they exaggerate the sea level rise in order to gain more alarming results? Is there a problem with the compute model they used? Something is wrong.

Ironically, the study lists New Orleans as a city that would be partly submerged if global warming continues. Someone forgot to tell them that it is already below sea level.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Obama Flames Out

Barack Obama proposed a complete overhaul of the tax system. He also proposes simplifying taxes so much that the IRS will be able to do your taxes for you. They will send you your tax return, already filled out. You just sign it and send it back in.

This marks the end of Obama's run as a serious candidate. He will still go through the motions and lots of people still support him.

Regardless, this sort of proposal always comes from second tier (or lower) candidates - the people who have no chance of winning.

There are a few reasons for this. In Obama's case, his simplified tax proposal is likely to upset too many special interests. A second reason is that he is making it revenue neutral while promising ta breaks for 150 million people. That means a tax increase for up to half the country - the half that has money. Keep in mind that Obama already expects the top wage earners to pay for his health care proposal so he is proposing a double hit on the rich (to be fair, his advisers claim that they have found other funding for health care) . Keeping in mind how loose the Democrats' definition of "rich" is. It is often defined as anyone in the upper 10% of wage earners which means that a family of two teachers could qualify as rich.*

While many people are willing to donate money to a candidate who promises to raise their taxes in order to cut someone else's, there are a lot more who succumb to self-preservation. Obama's donor base may well dry up.

As part of the new progressive movement, Obama is rejecting free market and the experience of the last half century or so. Current economic theory holds that placing a heavy tax burden on the top wage earners will cause a drag on the entire economy.

Fortunately, Obama's proposals seem more and more desperate. He has not been able to close the nearly 20% gap with Hillary. With the first primaries in four months or less and the nomination likely to be sewn up within five months, he is trying to offset his inexperience with specific proposals. This is a dangerous move. Once he has pinned himself down, his rivals have specifics that they can attack. There is no good way out of this. If he changes details he looks immature. If he sticks with them as announced, he may look stubborn, and immature. Either way, he looks like a candidate who knows he is losing.

* Currently they are tossing around a $200,000/year figure for rich but some Democrats define it as low as $100,000. In Columbus, the average wage for a teacher is over $50,000 so the fmily income of two teachers qualifies them as rich.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Jena 6

In case you haven't been paying attention to the Jena 6 case, it started with an ugly racial incident. A black student wanted to stand in the shade of a tree that some white students wanted to reserve for whites. The next day the tree was decorated with two nooses.

This is ugly. The students responsible were suspended from school for three days.

After that there were some racially motivated fights. In the worst of them, six black students beat a white student unconscious. Officials charged some of the attackers with attempted homicide.

This sparked a national cause. The complaint is that the white students (the ones who hung up some nooses but did not hurt anyone) were given lighter punishment than the black students (who beat someone unconscious).

Personally, I think that black leaders have seized on this as a way of stirring up their constituents. They don't way equal justice, they want an easier standard for blacks. Consider the Duke rape (non)case. In both cases a group of people were accused of attacking someone of a different race. When the accused attackers are black, the black leaders want the charges reduced or dropped. Then the accused attackers were white, these same black leaders wanted the book thrown at them.

How about some equal justice? Don't equate ugly but harmless action with a physical assault.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

"Truth" and 9/11

One of the most dispiriting events since 9/11/1 has been the rise of the "truth" movement. This holds that the Bush administration either knew in advance that the attacks were coming and did nothing in order to trigger an event that would further their schemes, or that the Bush administration actually caused the events and no terrorists were ever involved.

The roots of this date back the the event itself. While it should have been obvious that Islamic terrorists were responsible, that never occurred to many on the left. Their initial reaction was that some of their own had done it as an expression of outrage at President Bush. Reasons included the US boycott of an African conference on racism (which already drafted a document condemning Israel) and the "stolen" election.

When the FBI announced the results of their investigation and published pictures, many on the left complained about over-reaction. They insisted that we treat it as a police matter. That would have been the end of things since Afghanistan refused to consider extradition.

Obviously, to many on the left, the Global War on Terrorism was a distraction from the fight against the real enemy - George W. Bush.

The Truth movement solves this conflict. Bush was part of it. Bin Laden was either uninvolved, on Bush's payroll, or a co-conspirator depending on how charitable you are.

They claim that they are just following the evidence. In reality they know the end point already. It is just a matter of stringing the facts together in the right order. I suspect that 99+% of the Truthers believe in evolution but their approach to 9/11 is similar to creationists (a comparison that would mortify them). They seize on minor inconsistencies, constantly shift their stories, and ignore the big picture.

All of this is deeply disrespectful to the people who died six years ago, to their survivors, and to the nation as a whole.

Six Years Later

For a brief time, six years ago, the country seemed united. Yes, there were still some idiots but most of them knew enough to keep it to themselves. No longer.

MoveOn took out a full page national ad in the New York Times rhyming General Petraeus and "Betray Us".

Osama bin Landen released a new video a few days ago in which he sounds a lot like a progressive. Think Progress denies it saying:
Considering bin Laden’s threat yesterday to “escalate the killing and fighting against” America, Brooks and his fellow conservatives’ attempts at humor — and that’s a charitable reading of their words — are especially insulting, as it impugns not only the patriotism, but also the character and intelligence of literally millions of daily participants in the progressive blogosphere.
I've read the whole thing and the vast majority of it does sound like someone from the far left. During much of it he is telling us how corrupt western civilization is starting with the Spanish Inquisition (no one expects...) and the Holocaust. He assures us that the Jews would have been safe if they had fled to Muslim lands. All of this is strange coming from the man who ordered the death of nearly 3,000 Americans six years ago. He buys into the Kennedy assassination theory (although he thinks that the neo-cons did it). The folks at Olberman Watch compared ObL with Olberman and decided that Olberman is harsher.

Even the part about escalating the killing isn't something the left can disown. Remember Michael Moore comparing the insurgents in Iraq with the Minutemen?

Seriously, the Left should be taking a long hard look at themselves. They sound too much like an avowed enemy of the US.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

The Democrat's Problems

Over the weekend I saw various articles and posts about the current struggle for control of the Democrats. It boils down to some problems for them. Here's a run-down:

Governing. In retrospect it is obvious that the Democrats were not looking past the 2006 election. Their strategy was to recruit moderate candidates in possible swing districts in order to pick off vulnerable Republicans. This worked out fairly well for them as far as electing members of the party but it is causing headaches for them now. While the rest of the party has headed to the left, many of the new members are moderates, or even slightly conservative. This is especially true on defense. These new moderates quickly organized into the Blue Dog Democrats and vote against the liberals on some issues. There has been some talk of the Republicans still holding a working majority because of the Blue Dogs.

New Ideas. Do the Democrats have any new ideas? The new book, The Argument, says that they do not. The author, Matt Bai, points out that anyone debating what name to give to their ideas does not have anything new to offer. I've seen this countless times - the left insisting that the public is with them on the issues but votes for the Republicans out of ignorance. I sort of disagree with Bai. The Democrats do have a new idea - it is to become "progressive". This involves a hard turn to the left on virtually every issue. This is where they have their friction with the Blue Dogs.

Just look at the platforms of the Democrats running for president to see how this is playing out. They are currently engaged in a bidding war for how much their universal health care will cover. Over the weekend, Edwards upped his bid by including mandatory physical and mental check-ups.

While it is true that the Democrats have become much more progressive, I don't see much indication that the rest of the country has. Yes, the Democrats won a majority in 2006 but they were not running on a progressive platform at the time.

Reform. This is what the Democrats were running on in 2006. The issues they used were runaway federal spending, influence peddling in exchange for earmarked funds, and the need for a "new direction" in Iraq. Bush provided the new direction with the "surge". The Democrats have done nothing about other issues. Earmarks have increased as has spending. A lot of effort has gone into the fight between the progressives and the moderates with nothing to show for it.

History. Did the Democrats win in 2006 because voters preferred them or because a Republican president was in his 6th year? Historically, the opposing party usually wins seats in the 6th year. Even Reagan lost the Senate in that election. This does not mean that the country has shifted politically. Bush (41) won in 1988 and Gore almost won in 2000 even though their parties had comparable Congressional losses in 1986 and 1998. This means that the 2008 election is not a sure thing. Congressional approval is at a historic low which could easily turn into a backlash against over-reaching Democrats.

Net-Roots. The net-roots are not only focusing on electing Democrats, they are also concerned with "better" Democrats. Look at the Leiberman/Lamont fiasco. They spent a lot of effort trying to replace a long-time Democrat because he did not follow the net-roots line on the war. For a while they hated Leiberman as much as Bush and hailed his loss in the primary as one of democracy's greatest triumphs. Forcing a national party into an idealogical lock-step is a problem since it does not allow any room for centrists.

The net-roots are important in an election because of the amount of money they spend but they are independent of the party and are trying to force their views on party members. They are a difficult-to-manage group. Most of the white-hot hatred of Bush and the conspiracy theories come from this group. They control a lot of advertising money and some office-holders are members so the Democratic leadership has to take them seriously. At the same time, they are pretty far out of the mainstream and their vision of the party might not be electable.

Bush. Since 2000, the Democrats have defined themselves partly through their hatred of Bush. He will not be part of the 2008 campaign. Candidates running against Bush will seem dated.

A different problem - Bush was never a great candidate. He won against two stiff, wooden Democrats who came across as rich members of the DC establishment. The Democrats may have a more articulate candidate in 2008 but the Republicans will also. The current front-runners are all much better at public speaking than Bush. Hillary still comes off shrill, Obama makes mistakes, and Edwards has image problems. None should be considered a sure-thing against a charismatic Republican with a competent campaign.