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.