Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Personality Profiles and Global Warming

There have been studies where a group of volunteers was given a personality profile that was generated specifically for them based on their horoscope. Most people said that it described them very well. The trick was that everyone was given the same profile. They were sure that it was correct so they paid attention to the parts that were correct and ignored the rest.

You can see this happening with Global Warming. True believers keep seeing signs that warming has already happened and ignore the rest. Most of the country had warmer than normal weather from mid-December through mid-January. Respected columnists insisted that this proved global warming was already an accomplished fact. Thomas Freidman quoted his wife as needing a new "global warming wardrobe" - summer weight clothes in winter colors.

For the last two weeks, most of the country has had colder than normal weather. By the logic quoted above we must be heading for a new ice age. Friedman's wife had better order a new wardrobe of winter weight clothes in summer colors.

What actually happened is that a mild El Nino deflected the cold arctic air that normally dominates our weather. The El Nino has dissipated and the bottled up cold air i making itself felt.

A corollary of this effect is also happening - rejecting a document that does not meet prior expectations. It is a matter of faith among global warming believers that warming will be catastrophic. The upcoming IPCC (International Panel on Climate Change) report is expected to downgrade projected sea level rise. Previous projections had been for a rise of 20-55 inches. The new report is planning on cutting this to 5-23 inches. The previous low end projection is now the high end projection.

Since this does not match expectations, people are upset.

Of course, when a global warming disbeliever questions the true faith he is told that the IPCC is all-knowing. Suddenly the IPCC is as fail able as any other institution.

It is obvious that when Al Gore said that the debate on global warming is over, what he meant is that he is closing the debate. It has passed from scientific debate to religious orthodoxy.

Was 9/11 Really That Bad?

David Bell of the LA Times thinks that we over-reacted to 9/11. He points out that the USSR lost 20 million people during World War II. By implications, we are just wimps, unable to suck up the loss of 3,000 people and billions of dollars in infrastructure.

What an ass.

First, the idea that we over-reacted is not new. Michael Moore said it to former New York Mayor Ed Koch. Koch spent the next few years telling the world what an ass Michael Moore is. If he reads the LA Times he may have a new target.

Bell's analogy of the USSR during WWII doesn't hold water, either. The number of people killed after Nazi Germany invaded Russia has nothing to do with the level of injury needed to declare war. Now, if the USSR had waited until a million or so were dead before declaring war, then Bell would have a point.

Something else that Bell overlooks - al Qaeda did something that the Fascists were unable to do - kill thousands of Americans on our own soil.

Bell's comparison with WWII does have some bearing on our current conflict. The USSR lost millions of its civilians and kept fighting. We are ready to surrender after 3,000 combat losses.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Non-binding nonsense

The Senate is considering a non-binding resolution against the President's surge. Why non-binding? I can think of a couple of reasons. If they made it binding it could signal the end of the war with us the losing party. This would stamp the Democrats' name on the loss. President Bush could claim with some validity that he was prepared to continue the war and that his new strategy may have worked. All of this would make the Democrats happy in the short-run but it would be a great campaign issue for Republicans in 2008.

There is also the likely chance that the resolution would fail if it was binding. Assuming that Lieberman votes against it, it will take every Democrat plus at least one Republican to pass it. All it takes is one defector who is afraid of the consequences and it fails. The Democrats look powerless.

On the other hand, by passing a non-binding resolution, the Democrats are in much better shape. If the surge works they can say that they left the final determination to the President. If it fails, they are on record as having been against it. The best thing for them would be if Bush took them seriously and cancelled the surge. This would not only signal the end of the war, it would cast the Bush administration as a failed presidency.

So why are some Republicans talking about supporting the resolution? Apparently they think that they can take cover from the war. This may help them individually but it will hurt Republicans in general in the next election.

Here's an on-line petition to send a message to these Republicans. Here is a column explaining the point of the petition.

Monday, January 22, 2007


People are already comparing Barack H. Obama with John F. Kennedy but I'm not sure that all aspects have been considered. Lets look at the two.

First, the similarities. They are both charismatic and both are considered minorities (prior to 1960, an Irish/Catholic was considered unelectable). By 2008, Obama will equal Kennedy's four years in the Senate. They both positioned themselves as Washington outsiders who would shake things up. That's about it for similarities.

There are some significant differences. Kennedy was an anti-communist hawk. One of his major issues was the "missile gap" meaning that we had allowed the USSR to build more missiles than we had (once elected he found that this was not so). Obama is running as a dove. He was always against invading Iraq. Where Kennedy was fiercely pro-America, Obama is a multi-nationalist. Obama has been quoted that, as a post-Baby Boomer, he has moved beyond the concepts of good and evil.

Kennedy was far more conservative than today's mainstream Democrats. It's hard to imagine any modern Democrat proposing a tax cut but Kennedy did, providing Reagan with evidence that tax cuts could stimulate the economy and increase overall tax revenues. Obama's liberal voting record indicates that he is closer to Ted Kennedy.

There are several reasons that Obama might not want to be associated with JFK. Kennedy never gave much support for civil rights. His outsider status meant that he didn't really know how Washington works and most of his agenda languished.

Then there was Cuba. First Kennedy presided over the Bay of Pigs. Then he brought the world to the brink of nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Plus he sent the first troops to Viet Nam.

Kennedy's personal life was nothing to emulate. Even assuming that most of the stories about his affairs are exaggerations, he did have some well-documented mistresses. This may have left him open to blackmail by J. Edgar Hoover. Kennedy suffered from Addison's Disease. Today there is a safe, effective treatment but this did not exist in the early 1960s. Kennedy covered up how ill he actually was but, between the Addison's treatments and the pain medication for his back, there is question about his mental state.

All things considered, Obama might want to run from the Kennedy comparisons.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

The Price of Gas

Gas in my area is currently selling around $1.95-$1.99 a gallon. That's around 10% less than election day.

Remember when gas prices began to fall from $3.00 a gallon in the Fall? Liberals were convinced that it was an election scam engineered by President Bush acting in collusion with the oil companies. I remember one poster on Huffington who was calling for Congressional hearings on gas prices. He was sure that this was how they could finally impeach Bush.

Liberals insisted that gas prices would go up right after the election.

Obviously it did not go up. There is no conspiracy.

What else have they been wrong about?

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Learning from history

I hear people talk about learning (or not learning) the lessons of Viet Nam. As formulated by Colin Powel, these lessons are that America does not have the stomach for a long or costly war so we should only fight when we can go in, crush our enemy, and get out fast. This says quite a lot about America and the former Secretary of State's view of it.

There are other lessons we can learn from recent history. Here is a short list:

The lesson of the Fall of Viet Nam.
The peaceniks said that North Viet Nam's takeover of the south would be peaceful. They were wrong. IT was a bloodbath and all of the peace activists except Jane Fonda admitted that they were wrong.

The lesson of Afghanistan and Somalia.
Failed states don't heal themselves. Failed Islamic states open themselves to takeover by hard-core fundamentalists. When we pulled out of Somalia in 1993, many conservatives jumped on the bandwagon saying that we shouldn't have been there in the first place. Rush Limbaugh was quoted as saying that the military is good at killing people and breaking things, not building nations. Most conservatives have learned since than that failed states fester. We let this happen in Afghanistan and it became the headquarters for al Qaeda. Somalia is in danger of going down the same path.

The Lesson of Desert Storm
Had we overthrown Saddam in 1991, it would have been much easier to build a new government. The people of Iraq trusted us, Islamic fundamentalism was not as strong, and Iran was much weaker. Instead we held off at the instance of our Arab allies. We "put Saddam in a box" through sanctions and no-fly zones. We hoped that his government would fall on its own and our hands would be clean. Obviously, that didn't happen. Saddam used Oil For Food money to bribe other nations and we were in a continuous state of hostility with Iraq for over a decade. Deferring a problem did not make it go away. Had we continued to wait instead of invading in 2003, the problem would only have gotten worse.

The lesson of Libya
During the 1980s, Libya was a big problem. It was territorial and it supported terrorism. After we received proof of their involvement in blowing up a plane we attacked their government with a missile barrage. The problem went away.

So, here we are with the Democrats protesting a surge (or escalation as they insist on calling it) and instead proposing a retreat (redeployment to Asia). I would ask them to identify an international problem that has solved itself.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Hot Air III

Last week the Union of Concerned Scientists announced that ExxonMobil is paying people to be global warming skeptics. My wife wants to know what I did with my cut?

I'm kidding, of course. My wife is almost as big a global warming skeptic as I am. I guess that ExxonMobil owes a payoff to both of us.

Keep in mind that Union of Concerned Scientists is not a union of scientists. It is a lobbying organization. By all rights its name should be the Union of Concerned Regular Folks but then their press releases would be taken a little more skeptically.

This one needs a close examination. They assume that any grants given to any organization that ever published anything against global warming must have been given specifically for that purpose. The editor of TCSDaily has pointed out that they have received oney from ExxonMobil but global warming is only a small part of their content and some of their correspondents are warming believers.

The press release ignores the fact that many of the leading critics of global warming work for the National Weather Service and NOAA. These people get their money from the government, not the oil companies.

The press release was not designed to be accurate. It was aimed at the general public with three goals. First, it re-enforces that global warming is real. Second, it discredits anyone who is a skeptic, giving the impression that there are no genuine skeptics, only hired guns. Third, it is designed to dry up grants given to anyone who is skeptical.

I think that we need an organization to counter the Concerned Scientists. I would call it the Union of Apathetic Scientists. The organization probably would not have any actual scientists, they are too apathetic. Why are they apathetic? Because they are scientists and they know the truth behind all of the end-of-the-world claims.

Now, as soon as ExxonMobil sends me a grant, I'll get right on it.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Hot Air II

So the current warm spell is due to El Nino. What about the ice shelf that broke away in the Arctic last week? Here's something I found on the AccuWeather site:

I got a lot of comments on the story of the calving of the Ayles Ice Shelf, including a very informative one from Mauri Pelto, a glaciologist at Nichols College. I sent an e-mail to Dr. Luke Copland, an assistant professor of geography at the University of Ottawa. Dr. Copland was quoted in the article I linked and he was kind enough to respond. Here's the text of the e-mail:

Hi Laura,

Thanks for the good question - there have been many breakups of ice shelves across northern Ellesmere Island over the last century so. When these ice shelves were first discovered in about 1900, they were a total of about 10,000 sq km in area. Today they have reduced in size by about 90%, to about 1000 sq km in area. The Ayles Ice Shelf loss was the largest breakup in at least 25 years, but it is part of the long-term trend of loss over the last century.

The important point to note with all of these losses is that they are essentially permanent. There is no longer enough glacier ice flowing off the land to replace the ice that is being calved into the ocean. Hence these 3000+ year old shelves are now gone forever.

You might also be interested in looking at a media page that we've put together:


I'm going to extrapolate a bit from this but as I read Dr. Copland's statement, it seems that he is saying that the Arctic ice has been melting for at least a century. The ice shelves were only discovered a century ago so this might have been going on longer. That says that this is not a phenomenon caused by recent warming. If this is the largest loss in 25 years then larger sheets have broken off earlier, presumably before recent warming.

I'll even speculate that if the sheets of ice are over 3,000 years old then the conditions that caused them must have changed without human intervention and they might even have been melting for a very long time prior to human-induced CO2.

Even without my specuation, it seems that this is not something new or a sign that the world is suddenly warmer than ever before.

Then there are the polar bears. They are threatened by Global Warming. Al Gore said so and the government is investigating classifying them as endangered.

The funnt thing is that, according to the Wall Street Journal, polar bears are at a historic high. How can they be threatened? The whole thing is part of a settlement. Some Green groups sued the government to force them to classify the polar bears as threatened by GLobal Warming. Granted that warming such as some project would change the bears' environment, possibly threatening them but they are not threatened yet and Al Gore's predictions are still questionable.

The current action is akin to filing for an insurance settlement because a forecaster said that this will be a bad year for storms and your beachfront property is at risk.

Hot Air

On Friday, NBC did a broadcast segment on the current heat wave. Their expert from NOAA said that it was all due to the current El Nino warming current. Normally during the Winter, cold arctic air cools most of the central and eastern US. The El Nino blocks this, pushing the jetstream and the colder air up to Canada and allowing warming air currents to flow across the US.

I was amazed that a broadcast network would allow abit of scientific truth like this to get out. After all, everyone else is saying that this is part of Global Warming. Columnist Thomas Friedman quoted his wife as saying that she needs a Global Warming wardrobe - Winter colors but Summer weight.

I was hoping to find a link to the story but they never posted it as a text article. The closest I could find is this Washington Post article. The first page is full of quotes such as
"I think it's a bit scary. It's too warm," said Ellie Motazedi of Bethesda as she paused during a bike ride.

"Days like this, I worry about global warming, and we're not doing anything about it," said Coby Dolan, an attorney basking in the sunshine on the porch of the clubhouse at the Hains Point golf course. Let the record reflect that he did not appear to be suffering.

You have to follow the link to the second page before you get this quote

"It's very dangerous to blame climate for weather," says Richard Alley, a professor of geosciences at Penn State University.

And finally, at the bottom, you get this

But Dennis Feltgen, a National Weather Service meteorologist, says climate change isn't the culprit. It's El Niño. Warm water in the tropical Pacific, changed wind patterns, lots of balmy air blowing our way from the southern United States.

"We're in an El Niño, which has absolutely nothing to do with global warming," Feltgen says. "It keeps a lot of the cold air locked up in Canada, and makes the West Coast of the United States stormy, which we've seen, and makes the southern one-third of the country wetter than normal."

Meanwhile, someone at NBC must have been appalled that an opportunity passed without warning the world about Global Warming. The word from one of the nation's chief weather predictors is not enough.

Tonight they ran a sort of retraction. They repeated a bit of the original story but then cut to someone who was only identified as Stephen Schneider from Stanford. Schneider said that Global Warming really was responsible for the warming.

So who is this spokesman? A quick Google on his name turned up his web page. It seems that he isn't an unbiased scientist interested in the truth. He is an advocate. In fact, he recently led a seminar designed to teach researchers how to lobby legislators on climate policy.

This is nothing new - a network showing an advocate without labeling him as such. It is just a disappointment that they would backtrack after showig a bit of scientific courage just last week.

Monday, January 08, 2007

The Future Car?

According to a Wired News article, GM is going to try again with an electric car. The new version has an on-board electric motor that can recharge the batteries. This solves one of the biggest problems with the electric car - limited range. It also has decent acceleration with zero to sixty in 8.5 seconds.

Hybrids have their own problems. The Prius uses a dual electric/gasoline system to run the car and to charge the batteries. At slow speeds the batteries drive the car. at faster speeds the gasoline motor starts up and adds power while recharging the batteries. This requires a very complicated drive system. Other hybrids run on gasoline most of the time but use an electric motor to help acceleration. This simplifies the design but doesn't help fuel economy much.

The GM idea would simplify the drive train - it would always run on electric. The gasoline engine simply recharges the batteries (you can also plug it into the electric grid). This allows the gasoline engine to be tuned for best performance. It ca also be made to run on alternative fuels or even power cells.

This does not eliminate the financial problem with electric cars. Batteries are expensive. This car is projected to use lithium-ion batteries which are more efficient and lighter than lead acid but wll cost $10,000.

Assuming advances in batteries, I expect this to be a more viable form of car than the hybrid. If batteries get cheap enough then it could easily replace the traditional gasoline-driven car as the predominant vehicle.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Rewriting the Cold War

The Left is re-writing the Cold War. According to the new thinking, it didn't need to happen and everything bad in the world today happened because the US chose to engage the USSR instead of just letting them co-exist. They were powerless and dysfunctional and would have eventually crumbled on their own.

(Spoiler alert). In the current movie, The Good Shepherd, a defector revels to the CIA that the USSR is no threat. He is ignored because the military/industrial complex needs a strong, if imaginary, enemy to fight.

A longer dissertation on the same theme was posted to the Huffington Post last month. This one holds that Trueman was the worst president ever because he started the Cold War.
But, it was Truman who started this disastrous policy and condemned us to a phony confrontation with the Soviet Union. People talk today about the failed and skewed intelligence concerning the threat of WMD from Iraq in 2002. That pails by comparison to the skewed intelligence that was used to make the Soviet Union our mortal enemy between 1945 and 1950. The National Security Act of 1947 that created the CIA was the final "nail in the coffin" concerning our post war relationship with the USSR. And although the Soviet Union was a totalitarian dictatorship, that country was instrumental in the defeat of Nazi Germany and they were not a threat to the U.S.
[...] The U.S. had the atomic bomb in 1945 and the Soviets were only interested geo-politically in protecting themselves from another invasion from Germany, something that had happened 3 times in the 20th Century. So the CIA got to work on this and fed the people with skewed intelligence about the Soviet threat. They even kept this up during the Reagan years when all of our real intelligence had shown that the USSR was on the verge of collapse. They just could not out spend us for 50 years militarily.
[...] In the 50 years that followed WW II, the CIA was busy exporting terrorism throughout the world on the false premise that so-called monolithic Communism was threatening the world. Reagan praised the so-called freedom fighters in Afghanistan who were fighting the USSR. In fact, Reagan's freedom fighters were the extreme Muslims that were responsible for the rise of Muslim extremism and 9/11. At the time, we could not conceive of the idea that the USSR was defending its border with Afghanistan in an attempt to support a secular government there that was aligned with the Soviet Union. When it came to Soviet Russia, an entire generation of Democrats and Republicans supported the idea of containment of the USSR that was expressed in NSC Directive 68.
All of this overlooks the fact that the USSR was exporting communist dictatorships to Asia and the Americas from the 1940s through the 1960s. It also overlooks the fact the the Taliban grew out of the Islamic schools in Pakistan where many Afghans were driven by the USSR.

The same writer posted a follow-up on Christmas Eve. A different writer wrote about the Military/Industrial Complex a few days later.

So, why the attack on a conflict that ended nearly 20 years ago? I can see a few reasons.

1) Parallels with the current conflict. Many including myself have argued that WWII is a bad analogy for the War on Terror (AKA the Long war or the War on Islamic Fascists). What better way to discredit the current version of the Cold war than by discrediting the one that we already won? If we shouldn't have fought that Cold War then we shouldn't fight the new one either.

2) Regret for the loss of the USSR. Communism might have been discredited but there are still a lot of unreformed progressives out there. I think that some of them miss the USSR. They think that,like a mistreated puppy that grew up mean, if the USSR had only been treated better, things would have turned out differently.

3) Blame America first. According to this reasoning, the US, specifically the CIA, set up lots of dictatorships in the name of freedom. We created the Taliban. We created everything wrong with the world today in the name of the American Empire.

One interesting point in all of this is how the CIA figures in. When they thought that the leak of a CIA agent;s name might result in the arrest of Karl Rove or Vice-president Cheney, the Left pictured the CIA as a group of heroes, quietly working in the shadows to save us from foreign threats. Now that this hope has been dashed, they have reverted to form. The CIA is back on their list of the worst institutions in the world.

The Coming Breakup

As the Democrats take power, their coalition is beginning to fracture. Ethics reform is supposed to be one of the Democrats' top priority but Cindy Sheehan disrupted their press ethics reform conference. She even took over their microphone. The Democratic Underground is pressing for immediate impeachment hearings. Others are calling for universal health insurance and an immediate implementation of the Kyoto Protocols.

As Cindy demonstrated, these interest groups are expecting big things from a Democratic congress with a tiny majority, a lot of moderate members, and a Republican president. How many others will follow Cindy's example?

In the meantime, the Democrats have to walk a tightrope. Some of their promises are self-contradictory. Their 100 hours agenda is going to be pushed through without any Republican input or even any debate. This is in direct conflict with their promise to let Republicans share in the power. They will have trouble implementing the 9-11 commission recommendations. The American public expects a "new direction" on Iraq, not an immediate surrender.

In order to do well in 2008, the Democrats have to show that they are responsible leaders. This will lead to a lot of conflict with the fringe elements that helped put them in office.

It will not take much of a shift to the Green Party for the Democrats to lose their majority again.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Lost Collegiality

Something that the older pundits have been lamenting with the death of President Ford is the loss of the collegiality that existed between the parties in Ford's time. Grated that today's politics are very polarized but a lot of things have changed in the last 30 years. These include:

A balance of power. During Ford's administration the Democrats had a 125 seat majority in the House and a solid majority in the Senate. There wasn't much that Republicans could do so there was no sense fighting over most issues. The Democrats could afford to toss the Republicans a few crumbs since they didn't have any real power. Even when Ford issued his frequent vetoes (more than any other president) he could be overridden. 25 of his vetoes were overridden.

Today the Democrats have a very narrow majority in the House and a single-vote majority in the Senate. Even when the Republicans were in the majority they never enjoyed the overwhelming majorities that the Democrats had post-Watergate.

Non-aligned parties. The parties were in the midst of new alignments. Republicans were generally conservative but not always. Some were downright liberal. at the same time, many Democrats were conservative. The south was solidly Democrat but often voted conservative. This was a left-over from the Civil War and Reconstruction. As late as the 1970s, many southerners could not bring themselves to vote for the party of Lincoln.

This was changing. The 1972 Presidential race cemented the Democrats as the party of blacks, feminists, and other special interest groups. Certain issues such as the ERA and beig pro-abortion became mandatory. Some of the older mainstream Democrats felt crowded out by the new crew.

Reagan's primary run in 1976 and his election in 1980 inaugurated the conservative/libertarian/religious alliance that became Republican mainstream. Several Democrats switches sides over the next several years. Eventually the South went from solidly Democrat to solidly Republican.

Rose-tinted Hindsight. While I don't have the close-hand experiences of George Will to judge by, there was plenty of animosity. After Ford pardoned Nixon, the Democrats held investigations into a possible deal. Many were frustrated at not being able to impeach Nixon and wanted to impeach Ford as a proxy. I already mentioned the record number of vetoes and overrides.

The collegiality was supposed to have continued on into the Carter administration but that began with an ugly fight over the Panama Canal. This was so hard-fought that the vote was carried live on network TV. In all seriousness, I'm not sure that Iraq has ignited as much general passion in Congress as the Canal.

The easing of the Cold War by both Ford and Carter also aroused strong emotions in both parties, especially Republicans.

I think that, in general, the parties may have been more polite to each other and members may have mixed more freely but that was more veneer than reality.